Tag Archive | Community

Inert

I'm still afraid. There's so much potential to do something worthwhile. Growing food and feeding people, for instance. Teaching folks about inclusive performance and play, and how those activities intensify the bonds within local communities. Forming economies of trade and mutual generosity. Moving across the earth to learn about different peoples; dispersing those experiences by the simple act of traveling to the next place and striking up a conversation. So much possibility.

Yet I remain afraid to unmoor myself from the steady job that accomplishes none of these things. I keep thinking: next year. Or someday. When the means present themselves, perhaps. But when will that be? Or, probably the better question: will that be? I suspect the answer is no. Without some sort of radical leap, it will not. As long as complacency – as long as fear – hangs in the air, there can be no momentum towards anything. So…how does one find the courage to leap?

Flesh and blood hearts

When people sit in cafes with their laptops and other screened devices, sipping a poor excuse for amphetamine and chewing on invisible sugars, what percentage of that time do you think is spent floating around in the Wi-Fi ether? How much of “going to the coffee shop to work” is work, and how much is procrastination oscillating against distraction? Experience tells me that drift accounts for a significant portion of these sessions. My purely unscientific research puts the portion of effort spent disengaged in the task at hand at 63%. For college students, that number might jump up as high as 76%! We either don't really have enough to keep us productively occupied, or we just don't like to get to it. (Because getting to it means that “it” will inevitably be evaluated, and not starting down the path often seems easier than ending up at the other end of it. But that's a different topic.)

In their last issue, Willamette Week ran a story touting the ten best proletarian coffee shops in which to study. Their criteria for goodness included availability of fast Wi-Fi and an allowance to occupy a table for hours on end. The anti-virtuous locale in this exposé was Heart, on East Burnside and 22nd Avenue; the complaint being an abundance of wisdom about roasting, but too little warmth for the elite thinkers ostensibly invested in their labors. Given the figures in the non-study above, I applaud Heart for earning this distinction. They deserve even more kudos for something that Willamette Week didn't mention: they turn off their Wi-Fi on weekends.

Let me name my hypocrisy before someone else does. I love to sit in coffee shops for long stretches, doing very little that applies to my excuse for being there in the first place. All that science up above? That's all based on an estimate of my own historical habits. To wit: I've been sitting here, drinking iced coffee, surfing, and daydreaming for a couple of hours now under the pretense of composing this post. Guilty.

Still and all, my complaint about this pastime – and my concomitant admiration for Heart – is not really about lack of productivity. I actually believe that the circuitous route to a goal may often be the most fruitful. Mentally wandering around the periphery of an objective frequently builds associations that are impossible to see from the direct route. By all means, spend lots of time getting where you think you're going. It's merely that, if we are going to drift, then let's find venues that encourage us to drift together…live…in the flesh. I count ten of sixteen people in this present space living in relationship to a screen (yes, me, too). Some of them are sharing a table but living in entirely distinct virtual realms. Perhaps there are other people in other cafes on the other sides of all that Wi-Fi. Perhaps they are all over the world and indeed that's a miraculous thing that the Internet has done for us. But maintaining at least a little bit of live-and-in-person still holds value, and a lack of Wi-Fi may be a coffee shop's best attribute.

Go forward

“Go back!” my friend, Nathan, and I used to scream with instantaneous delight, whenever something extra super funny happened while watching a pre-recorded show. “Ahhhhh! Oh my god, go back!” We’d back that bad boy up maybe have a dozen times before our glee was satisfied enough to go forward again.

More and more these days, I find myself engaged in some activity on my iPad while inning after inning of the baseball game unfolds, unwatched, in the background. Only when the commentators’ voices achieve a particular tenor do I look up at the screen. By that point the event is usually in its sunset, and I reach for the remote control to reverse all the little bodies and witness for myself what happened.

We’re so accustomed, in our technology-infused era, to exercising god-like power over time. Sometimes I wonder about the implications of that ability. It may be the difference between someone who drinks Shakespeare’s language as it is spoken, and someone who mentally gropes for the pause button just as Mercutio gets fired up. The difference between the person who looks forward to the next home run, and the one who finds a thrill in reliving the last home run from ten different angles. Puzzling though something by turning page after physical page forward, and puzzling though something by navigating backwards and forward through a strange continuum of web pages.

There is undisputed value in being able to contemplate images, events, and ideas slowly and repetitively. Exceptional knowledge has been borne of intense study into activities that used to arrive and evaporate in a veritable sensory blur. Yet has part of that transaction included a sacrifice of presence? Does each of us tend to be less attentive because we can always seemingly “go back?” And if we are each moving back and forth in our own disconnected presence, what does that mean for communion in time? The moments replayed and replayed and replayed some more by Nathan and I certainly used to bring us together. Yet that collective experience was an experience of only two. And more often than not it was an experience of one. Dominion over time has granted people great power and capacity. Unfortunately, it can be a very lonely reign.

Belabored Breath

A train screams out there somewhere, through the single-pane window. A tree seems to threaten the south side of the building. It effortlessly towers above a stucco and tile structure that required extensive effort when it was built in 1928 (some argue 1930). It’s 10:00pm and still not entirely dark yet. It will be, and in the morning, just about seven hours from now, it will be light in this curtain-less room. I taste dust. The ceiling is shedding its gradual revenge, covering its tracks by planting powdery seeds of respiratory destruction that will inflame the heaving hovel much later, when this night has been erased from memory.

Perfect

Last night, San Francisco Giant Matt Cain hurled just the 22nd perfect game in Major League Baseball’s history, and the very first in the team’s 129-year existence. I watched this game on television almost as it occurred in San Francisco. It was nothing short of thrilling, and an object lesson crushing the argument that the home run is the most exciting facet in baseball. As statistics metaphorically tell us, good pitching will always beat good hitting.

As the last three innings methodically unwound their historic tale, the sense of anticipation – tinged almost unbearably with trepidation – was absolutely material. You could feel the excitement of the fans in the stadium, the tempered wonder of the commentators, and the determination of the defense all converging methodically on the mound. It was as though everyone’s breathing began to fill up the small space immediately surrounding the determined pitcher, who established with his arm the general pattern of respiration for the entirety. We could feel the collective air leak out briefly in the tone of Mike Krukow’s call, when Gregor Blanco made his improbable catch in right field. It almost exploded from the crowd’s final surge, as Joaquin Arias shifted to his back foot but threw forward across the diamond to record the final out.

I’ve been pretty vocal throughout my sports-viewing life about the idiocy of ‘we’. When a fan claims, “We did it!” as her/his respective team puts a game or a series out of reach of the opposition, I tend to think, “Oh really? What exactly is it that you think you did? I mean, besides drink your sixteen-ounce beer while eating nachos as dessert to half a meat lovers pizza?” But last night, as pitch after dreadfully taut pitch passed over home plate, this Giants fan of thirty-two years understood the sentiment, and felt part of something much larger than one person’s accomplishment.

 

NE London

I don’t know London very well. Not the authentic city, at least. I’ve been to the Tate Modern and the National Gallery. I’ve stood next to Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower and that sort of thing. And of course the great opera house near the Harbour Bridge. Of course that! But I’m not familiar with places in the city where people actually live, and I wanted to find out what they’re like. So yesterday, having my whole afternoon free, I chose a quaint London neighborhood to stroll through.

Albert Street is in the center of the city’s northeast quadrant. It is a long, haphazardly configured row of small shops and eateries. Avenues stretching away from this main drag are lined with homes. These houses are unremarkable, and so I didn’t spend much time away from the commercial spine of this district. Trees line the sidewalk along Albert Street, each one growing up and out of a small unpaved square embroidered with bright red brick. It’s so impressive, the care taken by the area residents with little details like this. Somebody must have spent entire days deciding on, locating, and learning how to set these bricks. You’d never find anything like that in the United States of America. We’re all too pragmatic.

But anyway. The most lovely store window I saw that day was that of a shop called Soleil (‘sun’ for those who live near Albert Street and speak the native language). An orange-petalled yellow-hearted flower made of papier-mâché took up nearly the entire window. Radiating away from it were crinkly orange streamers. It sounds simple, but really it was the most elegant and unpretentious window display I think I have ever seen. I was across the street, so I didn’t go into Soleil. But I must imagine that they sell weathered gold candlesticks and small rustic furniture pieces, and just generally everything that a home full of white linens – probably like those in the adjoining neighborhood – would need.

Taking in rich surroundings provokes the appetite. “Though the eyes eat, the stomach may not be fed,” I think the saying goes. The first place I considered was in a multi-level building that looked like an Escher creation with three intersecting levels. His childhood home being not far from here, it is conceivable, though nobody told me this, that the architect of this building was inspired in design by the 18th-century artist’s work. The exterior was covered by brown shake, and the upper level of the boxy building had a balcony that added to the overall structure’s complexity. A man stood alone on the balcony in a short-sleeve floral shirt and straw fedora. He looked out into the distance, over the other buildings, seeming to contemplate the rolling hills and forested land just a mile of so off. “BRE-AK-FAST” was scrawled in chalk across three contiguous blackboards hung from the overhang. As charming and full of repose as this place seemed, I didn’t have a taste for breakfast and so kept walking.

I’m thankful I didn’t stop! I would have missed out on the splendid Bone 7. This is a true locals bar. The walls are orange and blue, and the tables of simple Scandinavian design. People in fashionable attire line the bar, some waiting to order a drink while others chat with drinks already in their hands. All are dressed in that at-ease yet young professional manner required for positions in philanthropy, or advancing responsible business practices across borders and oceans. The tavern’s owners must be true lovers of their picturesque little town in the valley, since the aperitif menu includes a cocktail called The Stockholm. Which reminds me! I passed a man on the street wearing a blue sweatshirt with white lettering that read ‘Stockholm’. It’s not only the bar’s owners who love their city, it seems.

I sat at one of the two-tone tables inside, but through a doorframe I could see a fenced area out back. Bamboo reeds shot up parallel to the fence-line, shading two rows of wood benches. Exposed beams supported a translucent roof. A giant patinated Christmas ornament-looking sculpture hung off the segment of fence that I could see. The metalwork housed a light, the beams from which shone determinedly through round gaps in the bottom hemisphere. I could smell the no-nonsense ocean between slats in the fence, and I envisioned the clay red cliffs standing parallel with the shoreline that lay just beyond.

I had a catfish sandwich, fries, and an Old German, after which I spent the rest of my afternoon walking it off up and down Albert Street. The sky opened up and rained down on me for most of the afternoon. But isn’t that to be expected in the heart of dreary old London?