Tuesday, November 30, 2004

I take requests

Is there anywhere in DC you're curious about? Requests, hatemail, lovemail? Let me know at funthingstodoindc@gmail.com...

Bite your tongue at work

LOCATION: Very serious and efficient places TIME: Never the right one EQUIPMENT: Yourself, your dirty mind

Either my colleagues were all particularly literal, or I've got a very dirty mind, but I had to bite my tongue a lot when I was working as a consultant.

#1: We were having a Lexis-Nexis training on advanced searches, and my friend Sadao raised his hand to ask about the LEN() string function. "Yeah, what I want to know is, where should I stick my LENGTH so that it works the best?" I snorted and tried to turn it into a cough, but the baffled silence around me and my coworkers' innocent stares only fed my giggles more, and I had to run into a bathroom stall to guffaw to myself.

#2: Out for a working dinner with some Jewish coworkers and some rather imposing, but sweet and polite, German businessmen. We were all quite drunk on expense account wine and the burliest German at the table started expounding on the differences between the business climate in the States and Germany. "You Americans are creative, you think out of the box, we cannot match it!" he declaimed, and described the typical image of the inventor in the garage, his voice louder with every word, face growing red. "But we Germans - we Germans - " here he began pounding on the table - "we Germans are good at EXECUTION!!!"

See a Jean Luc Goddard film at the National Gallery

LOCATION: National Gallery of Art, East Wing (4th St & Constitution) TIMES: See here EQUIPMENT: Yourself, particular human eye that makes film effective OPTIONAL: Black turtleneck and a clove cigarette

The National Gallery of Art will be holding free screenings of Goddard films through December; I went to see Masculin-Feminin on Saturday. The comfortable auditorium is in the basement of the East Wing. I got there late and sat on the edge, but could still see the screen very well.

I'm not a film buff but know that Goddard was a French New Wave pioneer; as far as I can tell this means that he throws in some slightly confusing scene cuts, and repetitive ultra-realistic scenes with men grilling women about philosophic issues. There were some funny moments - I liked the scene where the lead character is slighted by his girlfriend, runs outside and sprays angry political slogans on a wall (I feel like I've seen several other French movies - The Dreamers in particular - where political activism is shown as a sort of occasionally entertaining spillover of your far more important erotic psychodramas. In DC, is it perhaps the other way round?) But I'm a story slut. If you're not going to give me a juicy plot, you better be philosophically profound - and if Masculin-Feminin was, I just wasn't getting it. We're "The Children of Marx and Coca-Cola." Ok, that's cute.

Nonetheless, Google tells me that Masculin-Feminin is not considered to be Goddard's best work (apparently when he made it he was recovering from a bitter divorce). Weekend, screening this Thursday and Friday, and Notre Musique, showing on Saturday, are supposedly much better.

After the show, I ran into Ellen, a security guard I'd met a year ago when she was working at the Hirshhorn. She was in charge of the section with a Ron Mueck sculpture, Big Man - a truly eerie photorealistic sculpture of a gigantic, fat, naked, hairless man curled up in a corner. "Let me tell you," she'd said, "it's pretty weird being around that thing when it's night and I'm all alone. Sometimes I think that he's moving around. Whoo-eee! But I feel so sorry for him, he seems terribly sad." I always like talking to security guards at museums, since living with a piece of art day after day gives you so many insights - and some of them have remarkable opinions. They're usually of a different socio-economic class than, let's face it, most of the people who feel like they should be interested in modern art - and as a result, they come in without any biases or any expectations that they should pretend to like something even if they don't. Here's an idea for a zine, somebody: interviews with art museum guards around the world.

Ellen was enjoying her new job, although she didn't think much of the Dan Flavin exhibit that was showing (installations with fluorescent tubes that would have really impressed me...if I'd seen them at the Art-o-matic.)

Monday, November 22, 2004

Ode to a Worm Next to Three Pomegranate Seeds on the Stone Slab Outside the Brookings Institution

Coruscating ourobouros,
Finger-sized flopping serpent,
Beached earthworm without earth!
You flip and sway, writhe your way
Through the alphabet, spelling secrets
On the grey rock where you're stuck.

Beside you
Glow three red pomegranate seeds
Which I spilled while eating lunch.

You're getting somewhere
I believe
In your bleak stone's quest
Although I'll be back up to work
Before your story's end -
Researching ideas,
Investigating propositions,
Framing arguments,
And defending theories.

O miniature elephant trunk,
O slinky scintillating sod-snake
O back-flipping behemoth-lette -
You are not a symbol,
You are complete unto yourself!

Dear worm
On a rock
Near pomegranate seeds
Outside a

Visit Gandhi and think about development

LOCATION: Intersection of O and 21st, Gandhi memorial TIME: Take your pick EQUIPMENT: Yourself

There's a monument to Gandhi on the corner of 21st and O near Dupont Circle, although "monument" is a misleading term for this one; unlike most marble grandiosities in this city of power, it's a life-size statue, down close to the ground, with a single inscription: "My life is my message"; it does not call to you from a distance nor demand attention once you're near. There's a few benches, and a little patch of grass under a tree.

I was dating a guy called Dave for a short time; he was the most starry-eyed idealistic person I've ever known, and I thought his personality was weak and watery. He was very agreeable; his wrists were limp and flexible; he was plagued by insecurities (he once asked me mournfully, "Are my hands too small?") When I disagreed with him, he never defended his viewpoint with any force. I judged him ruthlessly and unfairly, with a complete lack of respect for his good intentions which are so rare in this world. He was a milksop, incapable of carrying out his ideals into action, someone who at the first hint of adversity would retreat to a safe haven in a cloud of pot smoke.

We were talking about the Gandhi memorial once, and he mentioned walking home one night at 3am, stopping by the statue, and gazing at it for an hour before going to bed. Told by another friend, this story would have made me smile in approval, but instead I said, "Gosh Dave...you're so sappy sometimes." He looked hurt but he didn't say anything.

A few weeks later I was walking home late at night and I stopped to look at the statue. It was a cloudy rainy night, so the late lights of the city were reflected on the clouds and the water on the street, and there were eerie colours shifting everywhere, and everything was very quiet except for the sound of the wind. And all of a sudden, there was Gandhi. It's a beautifully made statue. Gandhi is in the middle of taking a step, his muscles moving with relaxed exertion, and the sculptor has captured an expression on his face which is simultaneously steely and determined, but also soft, compassionate, and humble. And I stood there gazing at it for an hour. "My life is my message." (Sorry, Dave.)

Washington DC is full of thought-inspiring places; in fact, there's not a square foot in the center of the city that's not spitting distance from a monument to something or someone important, or an institution with world significance, not to mention the museums and sculpture gardens and concerts and community gathering points. (There's a cute scene in the movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" where the idealistic young senator arrives in DC for the first time and is four hours late for a meeting because he began wandering around the monuments and got distracted.)

But I think the Gandhi monument is one of the nicest. Gandhi believed in economic development taken slowly, on a small scale, without the use of advanced Western technology. He advocated using hand-looms, for example. He also believed in protectionism and high import tariffs. Whenever I mention Gandhi to my dad (a former World Bank economist) he points this out. "The man claimed to be so moral," he says, "but he tried to get his people to sit around using hand looms. And he tried to put up trade barriers so that the economy would have been destined to flounder. That directly translates into people not earning as much money and not having as much food. You know what happens when you sit around using hand looms? The country next door does it better and takes all your business away, and then they eat you. You've got to be able to compete in this life."

My father used to work for the World Bank as a development economist, but he quit his job six years ago and moved to the private sector because he became so disillusioned about the prospects for actually putting ideals into action. And all of his colleagues I met seemed similarly bitter.

"Development economics": what does that mean, exactly? The study and practice of "rich" countries "helping" "Third World" / "poor" / "undeveloped" / "underdeveloped" / "developing" / "non-industrialized" / "South" countries "develop." (I place in quotation marks those terms still subject to philosophical/moral debate.) It's a sign of the field's underlying confusion that even the most basic terminology about who is helping who exactly changes as quickly as Madonna's hair.

But I suppose that's understandable; development economics is a young field, and the young are indeed frequently confused, and embarrassingly likely to spend long hours in front of the mirror experimenting with different hairstyles and philosophical paradigms to see if it makes them look fat. While countries have always given gifts to other countries (there's a 1,500-piece pure silver banquet setting from France on display at the Hermitage that was - oh! just such a thoughtful gesture), these gifts have always been directly tied to strategic outcomes, whether it be fostering diplomatic goodwill for the furtherance of alliances or the strengthening of political factions you think are favorable to you, or any of a host of other reasons. But the idea of spending money to help another countries, for purely altruistic reasons, because it's your moral duty, belongs to this century. How do you think Bismarck would have responded if you suggested to him that Germany give some development aid out of the goodness of its heart?

The first country to include a pure altruistic component in with all of the other motivations for giving aid was the United States with the Marshall Plan for reconstructing Europe after World War II. Although there were certainly many other practical economic and diplomatic reasons for the reconstruction program, it was the first time that a country had even paid lip service to the idea that moral duty could be a driver behind aid, and only the most hopeless cynic, I think, would suggest that it was only lip service.

Despite the other practical reasons for the Marshall Plan - it was possible to justify on the pure economic grounds of rehabilitating a useful trading partner - this moral duty concept was shocking in a way I think we don't understand now, in these days where "Kumbaya" has been performed and the UN has issued its "Millenium Development Goals." At the time, public debate focused on the fact that the Marshall Plan was limited, it would certainly stop after a few years, and the US wouldn't have to give altruistic aid again.

And yet like government programs tend to do, somehow foreign assistance survived, and was transmuted into a Cold War tool, and the US set up agencies to give economic and technical assistance to those "Third World" countries that might support it instead of Russia. Many of these programs were eventually consolidated into USAID by JFK, and some survive in the State Department and other places in the US government.

Contrary to popular assumption, aid given for pure development purposes is pretty rare. A recent survey, "US in the World," showed that American citizens estimate that about 10% of the budget is spent on foreign aid. In fact, it's 0.1% of the budget, and most of that sum is not spent on Kumbaya-type goals but on rewards, in various disguises, to strategic allies. (And unfortunately for us Kumbaya types, the report cards for aid effectiveness tend to mix together the results from aid given for pure economic development, and aid given for strategic purposes - adding to the popular belief that development aid is completely wasted. Even the Millenium Challenge Account, President Bush's new lean, mean, pure-aid giving machine, named a strategic ally, Georgia among its 16 new candidates for grants next year, even though it’s less eligible than some other countries that weren’t chosen.)

Nonetheless, although the altruism in top-level motives is muddied at best, although there is continued confusion as to who you’re helping and what you’re trying to help them develop toward, there are an incredible number of talented, idealistic people who are drawn to the field of development - any of whom would probably stop a while if they noticed Gandhi late at night. And, like my dad, many of them end up bitter when they realize that helping someone develop is just not that easy.

I recently read a paper by Dani Rodrik called "Growth Strategies." He opens with a set of quotes from Arnold Harberger. The first quote is from 1985:
"Least-developed countries that have run their economies following the policy tenets of the professionals have on the whole reaped good fruit from the effort; likewise, those that have flown in the face of those tenets have had to pay the price."
The second quote, also by Arnold Harberger, is from 2003:
"When you get right down to business, there aren't too many policies that we can say with certainty deeply and positively affect growth."

That’s the embarrassing spinach between the Western development establishment’s teeth: if you compare countries' economic performance with how faithfully they applied the Washington Consensus, there's not much positive evidence. Graphs of countries’ growth vs their WC faithfulness pretty much look like lovely scattered autumn leaves. It's getting harder and harder to point to China's success and argue that it's due to those few parts of their policies which are actually orthodox, while Latin American countries who faithfully follow the Washington Consensus nonetheless flounder.

Rodrik argues that although we are in agreement about certain principles of society, such as aligning economic incentives for producers, maintaining the rule of law, and upholding property rights, these principles are broad enough that there are a wide range of policy regimes which may work to carry these out - and that these policies are far more flexible than the Washington Consensus would suggest. When you take into account the existing power balance in a society - and the capacity for unrest if you disturb it too quickly - it’s possible that maverick policies are much better.

An example: China’s agricultural reform. Instead of instant deregulation, China has kept some government agriculture quotas, but now allows farmers to sell their surplus at market prices. As long as the quotas are lower than the market outcome (so that transactions are conducted at market prices at the margin), and as long as the quotas are predictable, this system actually achieves full allocative efficiency - yet preserves the existing wealth balance among the different players in society. It’s not an economist’s dream, but nobody’s rioting in the streets, and it’s an improvement.

Unfortunately, this isn’t to say that China’s agricultural solution would work well somewhere else. Every country is so different that the application of high-level ultimate goals like "rule of law" or "property rights" or "efficient incentives" requires a nuanced knowledge of the existing society and balance of power. In fact, the temptation for countries to "copycat" other countries’ institutional structures is often dangerous since it can short-circuit needed societal introspection. (In the same way that when journalists get a good press release, they often don’t bother to do any real reporting.) Of course it’s a huge advantage to be able to take advantage from other countries’ hard-earned lessons (there’s a reason that other European countries industrialized in a fraction of the time that Britain, the forerunner, did) - but some part of it is an art, not a science, figuring out which abstract lessons to crystallize from someone else’s example and how to apply them to your particular circumstance.

When reading development literature it's funny how quickly important ideas and concepts start to seem reminiscent of self-help books talking about personal self-actualization. Transitioning between learning by parroting others and making your own discoveries... The fact that it's often easier to enact institutional change in a period of growth, because people are more optimistic and energetic and in good spirits... Short periods of growth are often easy to attain with surprisingly small policy changes - the data is as full of examples of countries growing fast for five years, as your local gym is full of pudgy people in bright white Nikes on January 6 right after their New Years resolutions.

Yet growth is maddeningly hard to maintain in the long run. The contents of the cookie jar are just so tempting and delicious, and it's just so tempting for a society's leaders not to enact any hard institutional change when they have the chance but instead just ride on their political capital. Sometimes the only thing to do is put a padlock on the fridge, and sometimes all a country can do is peg its currency fervently to the dollar and keep it there, no matter how out of sync the local economy is with America's, because it simply cannot be trusted not to inflate its way out of debt.

It’s a not a new idea. Plato writes in The Republic, "Isn’t it quite necessary for us to agree that the very same forms and dispositions as are in the city are in each of us? ...It would be ridiculous if someone should think that the spiritedness didn’t come into the cities from those private men who are just the ones imputed with having this character, such as those in Thrace, Scythia, and pretty nearly the whole upper region; or the love of learning, which one could most impute to our region, or the love of money, which one could affirm is to be found among the Phoenicians...The just man will not be any different from the just city with respect to the form itself of justice, but will be like it."

How do you introduce the rule of law to a society unfamiliar with it? (How do you build your own disciplined habits?) How do you encourage corrupt leaders (or yourself) to exercise restraint? How do you inspire people to exercise their entrepreneurial spark? How do you build institutions that can be trusted and respected? How do you help people to develop? Will we ever come up with actual prescriptive tools that work - development in a box - or will it always be an infuriating mystery?

There’s a story about the physicist Richard Feynman sitting down to dinner. His charming hostess said, "I’m afraid we can’t talk about physics - nobody knows a thing about it." Feynman replied, "Ah, the only conversational topics are things that nobody knows anything about: weather, psychology, politics, love. The reason we can’t talk about physics is that somebody knows something about it." I’m afraid that the field of development economics is still squarely in the first category.

...But somebody does know something about personal development, though. Yoga is basically the science of how to be happy. Anyone who practices the yamas (non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, control of the passions, control of greed) and the niyamas (cleanliness, contentment, disciplined work, self-study, openness to the divine*) with their mind, and the asanas with their body, is going to make their lives better.

Oh, whenever I think about these things, I feel so stupid and so unsure. Maybe there is a secret to life, maybe there are hidden parallels behind everything, maybe all of our conversational topics that we know nothing about are just facets of the same deep mystery. Gandhi has this look on his face like he knows something I don’t. Maybe if I hang out near his statue longer, he'll tell me a secret.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Buy a rose near the Dupont fountain (but don't wet your feet!)

LOCATION: Fountain in Dupont Circle, intersection of 19th and Massachusetts EQUIPMENT: Yourself, $2, knowledge that urine is sterile

Anyone living in the Dupont Circle area quickly comes to have fond memories of the Dupont fountain, that bread & butter rendezvous point. It's kind of nice to think that if you sat in the middle of the circle, you'd see everyone who lives in the area walk past, eventually. It's a focus point for businessmen reading on their lunch break, bums playing chess, movie-going yuppies, Christian proselytizers with microphones, field trips for folk-dancers from Scandinavian high schools, capoeira groups, break-dancers, performance artists with feather boas and polaroid cameras, hippies passing out philosophical tracts, kiosks selling political bumper stickers, yoga teachers from the Tranquil Space studio taking a fresh-squeezed veggie juice break, Rock Creek Park runners, people with guitars playing Radiohead songs, activists passing out free food, slam poets, Sunday drum circles (although much more anemic than those at Meridian Hill Park), nervous people meeting for blind internet dates, chalk artists, Friday night fire jugglers, and more.

I was there late one evening with Rik, sitting on the rim of the fountain and having the kind of charming and engaging conversation that's inevitable with him, and maybe holding hands, and we must have looked snoogy romantic. A man rushed up to hand me a rose. He turned to Rik. "Ah ha, you're here! I was so worried that you weren't going to show - but look, I waited, and everything's perfect." He looked at me. "Your boyfriend is so romantic!" he said with a wink. "He arranged with me beforehand that he was going to take you to sit under the stars right here at 10:20 tonight, and I would meet you with a rose."

Unfortunately for our enterprising bum, Rik is very definitely gay. We smiled at each other, and then Rik handed the man some money and bought me a rose anyway.* "Points for effort," Rik told him. "That was a pretty good story." The man grinned, and it seemed like he was sizing us up. "Yeah, well, enjoy that rose!" he said. "I stole all these roses off the White House lawn this afternoon."**

Another time I was sitting near the fountain on a hot summer evening with a date. We were having a very romantic conversation about nuclear proliferation, and I was dangling my feet in the water of the fountain. A man ran up to interrupt us. "Excuse me," he said, "You haven't lived here long, have you?" "Uhh...two years," I replied. (I had a pretty good idea what he was about to say.) "Well, you just don't want to touch the water in the fountain," he said, with a disgusted expression. "Bums piss in there! I know it for a fact."

I have to admit that the thought had actually crossed my mind, and I'd dunked my feet anyway. It was a hot night, and it felt so good, and urine is sterile, and after all we swim in the ocean and where do you think whales pee? And anyway the damage was already done! But in front of the combined disgust of this man, and now my date, I sort of shrugged bashfully, and pulled out my feet.

But I still wade in the fountain all the time.

*So I've had spur-of-the-moment roses three times in my life: once from my best friend, once from Rik, and once from my brother. Sigh.
**Which, I'm sure, if the foaming-mouth Dobermans hadn't got him, the snipers would have - but I'm sure it was a crowd-pleasing story around Dupont. That man was a good entrepeneur.

A Thank-You Note by Wislawa Szymborska

When my platonic friends forget to call, I laugh it off and hug them the next time I see them - and know they'd do the same. We can go to a museum and spend the whole afternoon walking through separate rooms, and have a good time. When they make new friends or lovers, I am genuinely and whole-heartedly happy for them. It's not that the love of friendship is less important; it just has fewer thorns. Oh, what would we do without it?

Since I'm an all-too frequent denizen of the "lyrical and rhetorical horizonless space," this poem by Wislawa Szymborska is very special to me.

A "Thank You" Note

There is much I owe

to those I do not love.

The relief in accepting

they are closer to another.

Joy that I am not

the wolf to their sheep.

My peace be with them

for with them I am free,

and this, love can neither give,

nor know how to take.

I don't wait for them

from window to door.

Almost as patientas a sun dial,

I understand

what love does not understand.

I forgive

what love would never have forgiven.

Between rendezvous and letter

no eternity passes,

only a few days or weeks.

My trips with them always turn out well.

Concerts are heard.

Cathedrals are toured.

Landscapes are distinct.

And when seven rivers and mountains

come between us,

they are rivers and mountains

well known from any map.

It is thanks to them

that I live in three dimensions,

in a non-lyrical and non-rhetorical space,

with a shifting, thus real, horizon.

They don't even know

how much they carry in their empty hands.

"I don't owe them anything",

love would have said

on this open topic.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Paint the milkcrate on your bike blue, yellow, and red

Also I glued rosebuds, refrigerator poetry words, peacock feathers, and seashells on it.

Now I'm giddy from rubber cement fumes.

If only I was still in fifth grade - I could tell my favorite teacher in the universe, Ms. Meyers, all about it.

Go to the Art-O-Matic and think about quality and community

LOCATION: Corner of 3rd and H St TIME: Through December 5 EQUIPMENT: Yourself, steady nerves OPTIONAL: Flamboyant outfit, notebook

I went to the Art-O-Matic on Friday and Saturday last weekend and it was very interesting - squicky encounter with Jorge aside. Friday, the opening night, was filled to the gills with a selection of DC's artsy fartsy types, gleefully crowding together in one of their rare chances at community. Wandering around made me feel I'd drunk about fifty cups of coffee: colours! shapes! ideas! people in interesting clothes! music! poorly ventilated paint fumes! My nerves were tingling and I kept jumping up and down whenever I had to stand still. Even the phenomenally relaxed Sadao was looking perkier than usual, and Natalie, who is like a sensitive Alpine flower and frazzles readily, had to leave early: "I'll come back sometime when I can concentrate on the art," she said.* (On the other end of the spectrum, I met an extremely relaxed and eerily magnetic Burning Man veteran in a fuzzy cowboy hat, Ky, who said he just wasn't excited at all. "I'm too jaded."**)

The Art-o-matic space is huge and labrynthine, with five floors and long series of rooms leading into each other, punctuated by installation rooms, larger meeting rooms, bathrooms and sink rooms (usually with buckets of paint and supplies in the bathtubs). It's also, unfortunately, rather dirty: the air everywhere smells of chemicals, there's quite a bit of dust, and some rooms have ancient grungy grey carpeting that remind me of a horrific scene in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, where the hero's psychotic father vacuums underneath a mattress that hasn't been moved for twenty years. The spaces crowded with people are ridiculously stimulating - but the eerie empty corners, with just you and the art and the paint fumes, deep in a conceptual rabbit warren, are probably the closest simulation to tripping on hallucinogens I can imagine.

As for the art: there's a huge selection that varies hugely in quality. Blake Gopnick recently wrote a scathing review of the show in the Washington Post that seems to have become the locus of a lot of internal debate in the DC arts scene (my favorite forum is here). Gopnick's basic argument seems to be: Most works at the Art-o-matic are not fine art! Their standards are incredibly inclusive! Nobody applied any critical judgement! Why waste $100,000 on what's essentially a big party for woolly-headed, slipshod, shallow-minded, politically kee-rect schmaltzy liberal hacks to clap each other on the back, when we could be concentrating on the Real Stuff? Bring back elitism! And responses to his article seem to fall in two camps: 1) defending the quality of the work itself (pointing to individual exhibits that are good) 2) Arguing that quality standards aside, the camaderie and collaborative aspects of Art-o-matic are worthwhile - encouraging everyone in a community to nurture their creative instincts, even if they will never be a Great Artist.

I think that there is real merit to argument #2, connecting to the larger "buy local" movement that seems to be picking up across the world in response to globalization. I spend time reading Shakespeare because he is the best. Even though he had a completely different life, in a completely different place, he touches such deep human universals that his writing is incredibly valuable to me. But I also spend time - precious minutes from my dwindling store before I die - reading emails from my mother, not because her writing is as good as Shakespeare's, but because she is directly relevant to my life. Both Shakespeare and my mum matter to me - Shakespeare because he's a genius, and my mum because she's close to me. And of course there's an infinite grey scale between those extremes. I might not have actually known the artists at Artomatic, but many of them are quite close to my age, living in a similar social setting in DC, and reacting to many of the same political and social issues that I have to deal with. They might not be talented enough to tap complex human universals to make their art immortal, but they are nonetheless very relevant to my life. So I would strongly recommend that anyone living in DC pay a visit - but it's probably not worth it to travel all the way from California for (hugs, however are another story).

*I think she should do yoga! It would help her process the stimulation!
**I think he should do yoga! It would help him become more sensitive to life's smaller pleasures again!

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

After a Bad One Night Stand

I'm so sorry about last night
I hope you understand
The boiling hot wax
Was never part of the plan
And what you were wearing
When you woke - nobody took any pictures.
I mean, many. Well, feel free
To wear it home. I'm not sure
What happened to your real clothes.

If you wouldn't mind, before you go, to clean
Your puke from my floor - and there's some
On the bookshelf there. And the kitchen, too,
I think. Thanks.

Well, we certainly were intimate
For people who'd met
Just five hours earlier. I saw
Your naked body and
Everything. That scar
From when you were eight
And you fell off your bike
And all the other kids in the class laughed.
And that one
From a punch thrown in anger
By your best friend in college.
You didn't tell me why.
The chip in your tooth
From skydiving. And - how could I forget?
The new tattoo! Who's "Fido"?

In the future you might want to wash your feet
More often. You left dirt in my sheets.
There are a couple of strange smells
Now that it's the morning.
(Did you know that you have a smell?)
I'll give you some money for the metro
I saw you give your wallet to a stripper.
(Did you enjoy it?)
You've got a nice body
But there's some cellulite on your butt.
You're in your twenties - the best
Shape of your life - so it's probably never,
Never going to go away until you die.
How does that make you feel?

Well, there are some cold hot dogs
If you'd like some breakfast. But oh -
Careful! That's not mustard!

I was sorry to hear about the time
Your babysitter touched you in the bad place
But about the other time, with your cocker spaniel -
That, I just didn't need to hear.
I think my friend Lucy
Had a good laugh though.
She was drunk, so hopefully
She won't remember.

Strange to think I've seen your face
In a moment of sheer, unguarded
Sexual bliss
Pore-poppingly close.
It's never going to happen again until we die.

I wonder how your life will go
How many other regrets you'll have
How many other people will know
About the scar from the bike
Or the smell
The cellulite
The babysitter
Or the spaniel
About this night
Or any other
How your face looks when you sleep
Or some of the other things I don't know
And never will, I hope.
Oh yes, the new hair
Looks great. Very

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Stay away from the energy vampires

Dear reader, I interrupt my story of the Russian charmer I met at the Masquerade Ball, because I realized that she is an intensely private person and would never want me talking about the intimate details of her life, no matter how good the story. We used to go to bars together, and she'd always make up fake names and biographies; she thinks that when people knew your real name, it gives them power over you. So - a sequel's coming, but I'm going to make it partly fictional. It may seem bizarre, but it will certainly be less interesting than the reality.

In the meantime, reader dear, since I am in a pensive mood:

I was walking across the intersection of U St and 16th St the other day when I saw a car screech to a halt in front of a man in a crosswalk. The man's face went crimson, and he leapt after the car, banging his fists on its hood. "You fucking idiot!" he yelled. "I have the right of way! I was in the crosswalk!" - and then words failed him, and he simply roared, tendons popping out on his neck. He turned his head from side to side, and his rage seemed to encompass me, and everyone else he saw, in fact, the whole of this universe that dared to include such an obnoxious car. His aura was about three yards wide, and bright red. It was profoundly disturbing; for a few moments, this man was insane, and I am glad he did not have a gun.

What are we, if not social animals, oh my reader? We take our cues from society around us, and our beliefs and actions are sometimes remarkably plastic. And so, confronted with this drastic violation of behavioral norms, my instinctive reaction was to look around for fellow witnesses. Luckily there was indeed another man nearby who was doing exactly the same thing I was. We made eye contact for a so-beautiful ten seconds, during which we exchanged eye-rolls, shook our heads, and chuckled. It was a shared chuckle, which started tentatively, but deepened, and became more certain with reinforcement, a chuckle which expressed, "Gosh, what an unreasonable old crackpot he is! Us normal pedestrians would certainly never be so silly, would we?"

And so I kept on walking with a smile and a whistle, and I must thank my unknown commisserator, who surely saved me. Because the fact is, sometimes people can hurt you. Sometimes - like my crosswalk man - those people aren't out to get you; they are just unhappy strangers whose energy somehow affects you, and you get a taste of the poison in their souls. Syreena calls these people "dark angels." Sometimes people want to hurt someone, anyone, or everyone, and you just happen to be handy. But sometimes, for whatever reason, people do want to get you. They want to hurt you. And because of some alchemical connection, as mysterious as the chemistry of love, there is a particular pleasure they think they can get from hurting particularly you.

I used to attract a lot of those people when I was growing up, and I'm not quite sure why. Perhaps it was a certain quality of arrogant, completely self-sufficient happiness that pissed them off. Anyway, I've since become more careful about being happy in public - or perhaps less arrogant - and I've managed to reduce the number of people who hate my guts, oh, probably tenfold. So I tend to forget just how awful it was, when people wanted to eat me.

I wrote a few months ago about meeting a musician called Jorge at Kramerbooks, who said he liked me because I was a hippie. I was taken aback, slightly, by the size and fragility of his ego, but decided in the end to sympathize with his dreams of artistic creation - and invited him to my next party at the Fondo Del Sol. During the evening Jorge pushed me into a corner. "Oh, you look so good tonight! Oh, you smell good, you're such a hippie," he said, grabbing my shoulders and leaning towards me. Trying to be polite about it, I put my hands on his chest and pushed away. "Can I have your number?" he asked. "Maybe I can call you later tonight and...you know."

"Nope, sorry, Jorge," I said. "I'm just not into it."

He stepped back with a little artificial laugh. "Okay, well, that's fine," he said, with another strange laugh. "You know what? You're really missing out." He leaned closer again. "Because I'm spectacular in bed...and what's more, I'm really huge."

I snapped, "More of a thing you don't want isn't good!" and walked away, but not before I saw his eyes: they were ice.

After the party was over I set up my guest, Ben, on the futon in the living room, and went to bed. I woke up with a start in the middle of the night to see the figure of a man in my doorway. "Get the fuck out of my room!" I yelled.

He came closer. It was Jorge.

"No, no, listen," he said. He told me that he was walking home and couldn't find a cab. He felt unsafe walking across Dupont Circle. "Listen, there have been three murders right around here in the past few weeks. And they've all happened around this time. I was just scared. I didn't know what to do. So I knocked on your door and Ben let me in." (Poor Ben. He'd seen Jorge at the party and just assumed he was a friend of mine.)

Yes, obviously it was bullshit. But what could I do? No matter what the circumstance, if a human being shows up at my door and claims to be afraid for their life, I've got to take them in. "Fine," I said. "You can crash on the couch. Go on into the living room."

He stepped closer yet again. "Listen," he whispered, "I know you weren't into the sex thing, but can I sleep here with you? There's just something I love about female energy..." and he reached out to stroke my hip underneath the blanket.

"Get the fuck out of here onto the couch, Jorge!" and I pushed him away.

The next morning I gave him a cold stare, ignored his hints about wanting to use the shower, and ushered him out the door as fast as I could, locking it behind him.

Over the next few months, I occasionally ran into Jorge on Dupont Circle. He'd always make a particular point of greeting me. His words, if I were to transcribe them, would simply seem friendly and effusive, variations of "Hi, Zoe, so good to see you again, how are you doing?" But there was violence in his eyes, and a certain dark, shared game: "We both know what is going on, but I am being polite to you in public, and there's nothing you can do about it." Once I passed him sitting with a girl next to the fountain, and he murmured, "Zoe! Speak of the devil. I was just talking about you." My skin actually crawled. (Know how that feels?)

I went to Art-o-matic on Friday and Saturday nights (about which more later) and saw Jorge there both times. He came up to me on the opening night. "Zoe!" he exclaimed. "So good to see you."

"Hey," I said flatly.

"Give me a hug!" and he was already moving in for one. Oh, curse you, culture of mine! You make it so hard for us women not to be polite! I sort of grudgingly yielded to the hug, keeping both my arms up in front of me, and the peacock feather I was holding brushed against his face.

He sprang back, and clutched at his lip. "You cut me!" He pointed to the quill of the peacock feather. "You cut me with that! I'm bleeding!" He glared at me accusingly with those deep-down icy eyes. "You made me bleed!" Then he turned and stomped away before I could look more closely.

"That sure was weird," Natalie said. "What was that all about?"

It's strange how it works, isn't it, dear reader, with those people who get under your skin? Jorge hasn't really ever done anything to me except rudely proposition me and make up an excuse to sleep at my house. I haven't come to any physical harm because of him, and I'm reasonably sure I never will. Yet there's some kind of intense connection between us - and both of us know it - that allows him to creep the fuck out of me. I saw all kinds of interesting art at the Art-o-matic: the Earthenforms exhibit, some marvellously political Funky Furniture, the sly works in the Girls Club, and yet, as I was heading home with Roberto, the first thing I told him was the story of Jorge. And I've just spent entirely too long telling you all about it as well.

Folklore has some lessons about vampires for us, I believe; garlic is supposed to work, and crosses, and mirrors. But most of all, never invite them into your home.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Meet a femme fatale from Moldova at the S&M Masquerade Ball (part I)

LOCATION: Changes every year TIME: Ditto EQUIPMENT: Yourself, mask, safety pins, eyeliner, etc., etc. OPTIONAL: Naked slave on a chain

I'd only been in DC for a few weeks when I noticed an inconspicuous ad in the City Paper for an "S&M Masquerade Ball" at the Edge Nightclub. The ad mentioned that masks and fetish wear were required; you'd be turned away at the door without them. If you haven't noticed, I love a chance to wear a costume, so I talked it up to my friends. None of them had heard of the event or seen it advertised anywhere except for that one tiny ad in the City Paper, but they were willing to humour my costume obsession.

Josh, Rik and I decided to meet the afternoon of the ball to get suitable props from a sex shop (there are an abundance of them in Dupont Circle). Our first stop was the Pleasure Place; we wandered in past the breast-shaped pasta and the alarming yard-long purple dildos and asked the assistant for masks. "Oh, we sold out weeks ago," she said, twirling a strand of bright-red hair around her finger. "Everyone's going to a masquerade ball tonight, it's, like, the best thing all year." Feather boas, spiked collars, corsets? They'd sold out of those too.

The seven-foot tall man in studded chaps who presided over The Leather Shop gave us a pitying look when we wandered in asking for masks. "Long gone," he grunted. "Masquerade ball." Then he turned a keener eye on Rik and moved closer. "Hey, you're cute." We fled.

After we'd visited all the area sex shops, Commander Salamander, and Smash, we tried a general costume shop. "Oh, sorry!" the clerk said. "We've had a real run on masks. I've got no idea why - it's months until Halloween. Would you like to special order something? It will only take a few weeks!" A woman standing in line behind me holding a vampire costume winked at my disappointment and mouthed, "Masquerade Ball?"

It was certainly eerie to realize how many subcultures can coexist in a city, each with their own important events which are almost completely invisible to outsiders. But philosophical reflections aside, we had a real problem: how to acquire masks, on short notice, in a city that had apparently been stripped clean of the prop by a teeming horde of underground fetishists? Luckily I try to always keep a selection of art supplies.* So we cut some masks out of construction paper and stapled rubber bands to them to hold them in place. Rik mismeasured his eye holes, so he couldn't really see out of his mask - "It's all right," he said, "I'll just put it on to get in and then take it off again."

Josh was resplendant in a French nobleman's costume he'd actually rented, Rik wore a black t-shirt with a dog collar (from a pet store), and I wore things I luckily had already: a black and red corset, fishnets, stiletto boots.

After a giggly metro ride, we arrived early to find that Edge was already packed; I guess if you've drawn black curlicues around your eyes and you have a shaggy red mohawk, there aren't many other pre-party options. There were all the colourful people there my heart could have desired. Dominatrixes wearing nothing but fishnet body stockings, walking around dragging their slaves on chains; a man wearing a chain mail suit he'd woven himself out of rings he'd ordered off eBay ("It took me three months," he explained. "It's like knitting. I just sat in front of the TV with tea"); women dancing naked in cages; loinclothed men doing backflips and eating fire.

But the most remarkable aspect of the evening was the warm fuzzy friendliness that everyone shared - something which I've come to realize is common to most subculture events, since a bunch of people usually considered freakish by mainstream society finally have a chance to spend time around other people who understand them. The atmosphere was positively giddy, especially in the women's bathroom where everyone was lingering to fix their elaborate makeup.

"I just love your dress!" gushed a tall Aeon Flux ringer to a black-pleather-sheathed goth.

"Well, your hair is just super," she giggled.

People were borrowing eyeliner, artfully ripping their stockings, and doing each others' laces. It all was so cheery, so communal, so perky, so all-American ... except when girls pinched me on the ass.

"Your corset is gorgeous, where did you get it?" Aeon Flux asked me.

"Victoria's Secret," I admitted, and she gave me a long, slow, pitying, I'm-trying-not-to-judge-you smile.

I managed to lose Rik when I ended up dancing sandwiched between an angel and a devil (both of whom turned out to be decidedly of this earth); he seemed quite happy, though, being whipped by a new friend on the outside deck. By the time we staggered home at 4am, I'd made more new friends than I would have in a typical month of going out. My only other note from the evening was that there seemed to be a statistically disproportionate number of accountants among the submissives. I wonder what that's all about.

So naturally, one year later, not being plugged in to the S&M scene, I had to excitedly scour the ads in the City Paper every week. This time I went with the divine Mehr (in a ballgown, naturally) and Elina (as a Russian princess), and we had real masks to flash at the bouncers in front of the Ball's new venue, the Bohemian Caverns. Towards the end of the evening, I found myself dancing with a tall, heart-breakingly beautiful blonde with black pom-poms on her miniskirt. "I'm so glad I found you again!" she exclaimed in a Russian accent. "I walked past you on the stairs, and you gave me the most wonderful smile. I've been looking for you for hours, I thought you might have left already! Write to me, please." She passed me a slip of paper with her email address, "Sapho."

To be continued....

*It's funny the different tools we consider essential. I remember Sef, attempting an impromptu engineering feat at my house one day, asking me unsuccessfully for a series of specific screwdrivers. He curled his lip disdainfully. "If only we were at my house," he said. "I've got all that stuff." I've had similar reactions to my lack of a hairdryer, hammer (I use my rock bookend), coffee maker, iron, and television. Yeah well, I feel that way about scissors, fabric glue, ribbons, oil pastels, and construction paper, aight?

Have people over for a poetry reading and create exquisite corpses

LOCATION: God's great green earth TIME: When inspiration strikes EQUIPMENT: Musical words, wine, cheese, whiskey to be drunk from the bottle

Poetry!!! I spent an hour getting everything in the living room perfect - books strewn around, ready for tea, inspiring statements taped to wall, pillows, candles, incense, snacks, wine, music! All my friends always want to do things like go to bars and clubs and out to movies and stuff like that. Me, to be perfectly honest, I'd be just as happy sitting at home reading Charles Simic out loud in my living room. And it's so much more fun having a live audience than my stuffed lamb, Jamin.

Among other activities: the game "Exquisite Corpses." You pass around a piece of paper with a collaborative poem. Each person writes a line, and each person folds over the piece of paper so that the next person can only see one previous line. We created two:

There are so many things I've forgotten from my childhood
But who cares, I've been drinking
Life is movement, let's drink that!
Swirling, like an ether-drunk ballerina
who leaps and falls to my surprise then opens our eyes and shuts our souls
with monumental enterprise, like a stripper on a pole
....a totem pole, spiraling up into the night sky
with fireflies swirling around and round up high
I taste a caffeine midnight, and tell a pretty lie.

Peacocks tilt their heads, purple green feathered friends
But we're a flock of different feather and dare not ever bend
as an arrow, reaching toward its hungry goal
scratching a rent in the sky's starry bowl
When I can only afford a basement studio in the hood
and leave my duct tape & newspaper slippers,
staples, clippers, and pocket protectors,
by our design are our connectors, and we give them all too much place
allowing for a single plant a vast cornfield, a single chair; an empty room.
Let people look for freedom; let them find it; I just hope they know what to do with it!
Or if they don't, let's make a cup of tea, and find a comfy place to sit.
And bury me, in an apple orchard, so I may kiss your lips again
and breathe the ciphers in the cyanide seeds
buried in the drip juicy fruit of late ripe winter.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

So, actually do the yoga

So I just spent an hour and a half writing about yoga instead of actually doing it, which is a problem I think many of us share, in many parts of our lives. The most important part of the yoga is the practice, not my empty words.

If, dear reader, instead of spending ten seconds thinking "Maybe I should do yoga sometime" (assuming my constant diatribes have spurred you at least that far) you would use that same time to simply raise your arms with an inhale and lower them with an exhale, taking a stretch with perfect concentration - well, you'd be a lot better off than me.

Take a yoga class (again)

Friends pointed out that my yoga guide to DC put less emphasis on the reasons for doing yoga in the first place. When you know a lot about something it’s easy to forget that other people don’t have your experience - which is why I thought it would be helpful to write something about what yoga means to me and why I’m so excited to teach it. I often tell my male friends, "Come for the hot girls, stay for the enlightenment!" But I don’t want to trick anyone. There are a million reasons to take yoga that relate only to your health, vitality, and improving the physical beauty of your body. It’s the best workout you could ever have. Yet it’s hard to do yoga for very long without the emotional and spiritual benefits creeping in - even if you’re incredibly skeptical of them.

Why is yoga such a good workout? One of the silliest myths about yoga is that it "relaxes you." Yes, it certainly does. It also incorporates poses that are so energetic and physically challenging that you may be pouring a river of sweat by the end of your yoga session. Of course, there are lots of ways to exert yourself hard. When I used to go to the gym, I’d climb on the stair stepping machine for forty five minutes while watching television, and then do a few stretches, mostly variations on stretching forward to touch my toes. I’d certainly be tired at the end of it! I’d also have moved my body in just a few directions, so that some muscles would be incredibly tired, while others wouldn’t have worked at all. And although our bodies can move in a thousand different ways, I would have only stretched a few of them. Of course, other activities - running, rock-climbing, or playing tennis, for example - exercise your body through a much greater range of motion. Yet because of repetitive motions that pound on your joints, they often carry a risk of injury. And none of these activities include the comprehensive focus on every single different way your body can stretch, move, and articulate that yoga does. As a result, every different capacity of your body is worked and strengthened. For that reason, there are yoga poses that can help with every other activity that you do (rock climbing and dancing are particularly good fits.)

Not only does every part of your body become strong, it learns to work together gracefully. At a party I went to recently at the indomitable Matt Bye’s house, I was giving piggy-back rides to 220 pound men, literally picking them up, running around and spinning them in circles. It’s all part of the yoga evangelism!

But yoga also does relax you, and this is where other health benefits come in. One of the things that annoys me most about the Western attitude towards medicine is a failure to continually acknowledge the fact that your own body is the only thing that can heal you. All medicine can do is remove symptoms or strengthen you in other ways, so that your own immune system can do its job of fixing itself. And our bodies are in constant need of healing: it hurts to live. From the little cut where you nicked yourself with a pin, to the bruise on your shin where you cracked it on the desk, to the slight rash on your neck where your shirt was rubbing you funny, to your liver metabolizing the toxins you introduce to it purposefully (alcohol, drugs, medicines) or unawares (pollution, pesticides on your food, natural toxins in the vegetables we eat), to the circulation being cut off in your butt because you were sitting still for so long - if we didn’t have an inner force allowing us to heal ourselves, we’d quickly fall to pieces. When we have tension in our muscles, it drains off some of that inner healing force to the job of maintaining the tension there. That’s why, when we’re totally stressed out and all our muscles are clenched tightly, we’re more prone to sickness - our inner fire has been distracted from its important job of constant healing, into the effort of keeping all those muscles tight all the time. When you learn to truly relax all your muscles and do it on a regular basis, you will notice remarkable improvements in skin tone, ease of breathing, and the ability to shake off the little colds and sniffles and funks that descend from time to time (especially in a city).

(It can often be hard to accept that it’s not the medicine fixing you, nor the faith healer curing you, nor your teacher teaching you, but only yourself. And it’s sometimes hard for the teacher as well. When I teach yoga, I cannot forcibly make you understand the things I’ve learned. I can only clear a path for you to walk down. When I have beginner students in my class and they perform a pose in a way that I know could be improved on, I sometimes feel very frustrated, and try to move them into the correct place with my hands. Forgetting, of course, that it’s a pose that took me years to really learn and that they’re progressing much faster than I did!)

Beyond simply strength and health, over the course of your yoga practice, you experience a series of little epiphanies about the relationship between your body and your mind. Each of these epiphanies allows you to deepen your yoga practice and improves the happiness of your life (in the Socratic sense of "happiness"). I’ll try to explain the ones I’ve had, although we’re getting to the part where you don’t really understand unless you’ve practiced. (Nor have I succeeded in completely transferring these lessons from the mat to my life - as any of my friends who have seen me in a cranky mood can testify. I’m not trying to be arrogant here. In fact, yoga has simply allowed me to see some far-off destinations, and I’m humbled by the realization of how distant those places really are!)

My first epiphany was the way active motions should be linked to inhalations and relaxed, exact motions linked to exhalations. Not only did this allow me to stretch farther - comfortably touching my toes for the first time in my life - it allows for more graceful performances of such life activities as striking the first ball in a pool game, opening a jar, dancing at a club, or carrying my bike up stairs to my apartment every day. Further, it leads to a heightened awareness of the rhythm inherent to life on both a micro- and a macro-scale - there are times when it’s appropriate to work, and times when it’s appropriate to rest, and you have to be able to seize those appropriate times and allow them to reinforce each other.

My second epiphany was the way that when the core of your body is active and engaged (the floor of your pelvis and your lower stomach, in yoga called "mudha bandha" and "uttayana bandha") all other poses become simpler and more graceful, and you seem to draw in universal energy - making such actions as biking uphill or running up six flights of stairs to get to my office positively enjoyable. It is the physical expression of whole-hearted enthusiasm. On the yoga mat it allows you to jump as high as a grasshopper and land as lightly as a feather, and in the course of your life it allows you to relish all of your experiences with the zest of a small child. (This lesson is not confined to yoga, of course! From a book on aikido, called "Ki in Daily Life": "People of the Orient, from ancient times, have placed emphasis on the importance of the pit of the stomach as the birth place of true human strength...It is a joint point for both mind and body. Once you have mastered it correctly, you will for the first time be able to unify your mind and your body..." Although I don’t know much about these other disciplines, I have a feeling that lessons from tai chi, aikido, qi gong, falun gong, or capoeira would all seem very familiar.)

My third epiphany was the way that performing each yoga asana (pose) requires a certain mental and emotional state. You cannot hold "Warrior I" for a long time enjoyably without feeling fierce and brave, and you cannot linger in "Child’s Pose" without beginning to feel very soft and tender. Hence, each time you do yoga, it can become a way to practice these emotional/spiritual states as reflected by the body, and an opportunity for your mind to simultaneously reflect, assess, and dream about these different ways of being. It’s a way to practice and prepare yourself for being courageous, openhearted, humble, keen-witted, soft and tender, and resolved and stern. You can then use these qualities more effectively throughout the course of your life. My friend Ben seemed most skeptical of this third assertion, so I will try to elaborate. When a person walks into a room, often you can tell if they’re happy, angry, sad, afraid - their body language, the whole of the way they move, betrays it. A yoga asana is, in a way, the crystallization of body language that reflects a certain state. If this still seems nonsensical, I can only implore you to practice with an open mind.

I know that there are fourth and fifth and many more epiphanies awaiting me as I continue my yoga practice. That is why I love yoga and I am so grateful for it. (I have read about some of these further epiphanies in books, but I have not had them yet, so I don’t feel qualified to tell you about them.) Yoga is in the process of saving my life. I could never be as happy as I am now if I had not had the joys of what yoga has taught me. And that’s why I want as many people to learn it as possible. I would teach anyone yoga. If any stranger asked me to take two hours out of my day to teach them, I would do it happily in the certainty of improving their lives, and feeling lucky to have been able to help. No matter what you’re doing, if you’re doing yoga, you’re doing it better. This is why B.K.S. Iyengar insisted that the physical, mental, and spiritual versions of yoga are all completely identical. They all get you to the same place: beauty on the inside and out.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Go to a Faith Healing

LOCATION: P St., between 14th & Whole Foods (but it might not still be there) TIME: Serendipitous EQUIPMENT: Yourself, your wounded soul OPTIONAL: Smelling salts

I visited a faith healing in a tiny church next to the Dupont Whole Foods about two and a half years ago when I was new to DC - but I have a feeling it's been gentrified away. I was grocery shopping with Josh - my roommate and contemporary unhealthy love interest - and we were walking home around 9 or 10 on a Friday night, when we noticed a long line of people spilling out onto the street, in front of a nondescript store front. We joined the line and were welcomed into a room with a crowd of people sitting on plastic folding chairs, watching a solid middle-aged woman with a huge white hat who was holding a young man by the shoulders and chanting at him. Everyone in the room was black, and we were white, and they all seemed to know each other - but people were very welcoming, smiling at us and reaching out to shake our hands.

It became clear that the line of people were all waiting to be healed. Each person would come and stand in front of the woman, and she would hold their shoulders and stare into their eyes for a few seconds. Then she turn her large eyes to the ceiling and intone, "Molly is sick, she has a problem with passion, please help her with the things she cannot control, please help her with her urges, please help her with her addictions..." and continue the catalogue of the person's sick soul for a few minutes, becoming steadily more fiery and rhythmic. Both her subject and the church audience would interject, at appropriate intervals, "Ahh yeah...Praise Jesus..."

At a certain point (ramp-up time seemed to vary) the healer would grab her subject around the temples, and the subject would begin shrieking unknown words - speaking in tongues. Then their eyes would roll back into their head, and they would faint. There were helpers waiting who would immediately rush forward, grab the subject by the armpits, and drag them off into the corner to be revived with smelling salts. And the next person in line would present themselves.

The man sitting in front of Josh and me turned around and smiled at us benevolently. "Do you want to get in line to be healed?" "Oh...no....thanks," we said bashfully.

At the time, my patronizing secular response to the scene was amused fascination. It was so quaint and cute that people could manipulate the religious placebo effect to heal themselves. But maybe what I really felt was envy. I'm sure that at least some of those people that night were genuinely healed of their problems; my sense of the crowd was that the woman had enough of a reputation to inspire the long lines on a Friday night. Me, I've never so caught up with passion as to speak in tongues, and I'm sure if I'd waited in line and let the faith healer talk to me, it wouldn't have worked, because I didn't believe. We mock, those of us who have never let go so whole-heartedly, and we dismiss healing as the placebo effect - but isn't healing miraculous no matter how it happens? How remarkable, to believe in something so strongly that you speak in tongues. How amazing, to be able to cure yourself, just by letting someone touch you with their hands!

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Listen to David Lynch and John Hagelin talk about Transcendental Peace, then visit Art-O-Matic

LOCATION: Kay Spiritual Life Center; American University, 4400 Massachusetts Ave, NW TIME: This Friday, 8:15pm EQUIPMENT: Yourself, your third eye

Film and Television Director David Lynch and Physicist John Hagelin will speak about their peace activism efforts at 8 p.m., Friday, Nov. 12th at American University’s Kay Spiritual Life Center. Lynch is a three-time Academy Award-nominated film director, whose work includes Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, and Mulholland Drive, as well as the TV series Twin Peaks. In addition to his filmwork, he is a dedicated peace advocate who has traveled the world to meet with heads of state and other government leaders about effective new approaches to prevent violence and conflict.
Dr. Hagelin is a renowned quantum physicist, and the director of the Institute of World Peace at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, a unique community dedicated to sustainability, renewability and peace. In addition, he is the President of the US Peace Government—a complementary government that offers proven programs to prevent problems in health care, education, defense, energy, agriculture, and the environment.

LOCATION: 800 3rd St. NE -- corner of 3rd and HSt., NE TIME: Friday night and ongoing EQUIPMENT: Yourself, artistic flair, disdain for all things bourgeois OPTIONAL: Misunderstood genius

Come to Artomatic 2004's Opening Party and go art wild. Hit the door, grab something to drink, plunge into the best arts party D.C.'s seen since the last Artomatic opening. Drench yourself in art in this open showcase for regional arts. The thousands of works, hundreds of performances, and dozens of educational presentations and discussions, make Artomatic DC's most exciting, unpredictable arts event.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Walking Home Near 14th and V

Marcella kisses Zoe Posted by Hello

It is midnight. We are at 14th and V.
We've had the kind of night that lets you believe
In this world, pretty girls have it easy.
We've been flirting and dancing and putting on a show
Feeling fine from our heads to our oh-oh-oh-so-sexy toes
Assuming we'd earned it
Thinking we deserved it
Boys watching those curves hit
Telling us they loved it that tight fit
Buying us drinks & telling us to work it...

So...we're walking.
You know, when you're coming down
From a good night.
The tiredness
Is kicking in - but it's all good - and you can believe -
Yes, for a little while you can tell yourself
That all is well on God's great green earth.
Those people over there - they're happy!
Humans are all the same
And none of us really understand
The rules of the game
We were handed from birth.
We've all got the same search
The same worth
We tread the same dirt
We all hurt - hate - celebrate - anticipate
We all feel joy....

Yeah. So. Anyway, 14th and V. Midnight.
There's some reaaaaalllllly long shadows
On the side of the road
When you're a sweet young thing walking home
In nothing but a party dress, cleavage, and high heels.
(Know how that feels?)
And my friend Marcella says, "Stop.
Can you hear that?" "What?"

One of the shadows isn't empty.
In fact, it is a party.
But a very different kind
Than the one where I'd been
With such glee and such lack of humility. This is
A very different party indeed.

A man pushed a girl up against a fence
And he is punching her in the face. That
Was the sound we'd heard.
His fist - On her cheek.
Four of his friends
Are standing behind them, in a semicircle.
They are laughing.

I feel sick say "We need help quick
We can go across the street -
I'll call the police -"
Reach for the cellphone in my bag -
Are you listening to me?
There is blood
On her cheek.
Her blood
On his fist.
And every feeble word I'd said Marcella missed.
"I just can't watch that. A man hitting a woman.
It's wrong. I can't just watch."
She is already running
Toward them - this pretty little miss
In her pretty little dress,
But her eyes are blazing like two supernova suns
I said her eyes are burning like Judgement day has come
Her eyes are shooting spears of outrage
At those men in the shadows
She will take no excuses
For their sinful abuses -
And she walks right past those four tall men
Into the middle of the shadow,
And she grabs his fist
In the middle of his blow.
"What are you doing, man? You're hitting a woman?"

It's all so slow and fast
I don't know how long it lasted
Time feels like molasses
And my mind says "help"
And my feet say "run"
My mind says "courage"
And my feet say "run"
My mind says "friendship"
And my mind - just - won.

So I walk up behind her
A child following teacher
Playing follow the leader
(Understanding for the first time
the phrase "walking on eggshells")
Thinking, Well
My stiletto heels are pretty sharp
I might get a good kick in the dark
Then take them off to run
(As long as noone's got a gun...)

They all turn to look at us.
"I just couldn't watch that. A man
Hitting a woman."
And she draws herself up to her five foot two height
And pierces them all with those eyes so bright the light
Of justice shines from those eyes and she says to the woman
"Are you all right?"

None of them move
I guess they are shocked
By her audacity
The felicity of her reciprocity
Of the bonds of sisterly sympathy
And then the man -
The big strong man with blood on his hands - he says
"No. You don't understand.
She screwed me over. I mean, she ratted me out.
She's a bitch - " and again he raises his fist
As he assigns the blame but
He doesn't actually hit
And I see he is ashamed.

The friends are all muttering
As they look at me cringing
Behind my friend like an embarassed fluffy puppy
Raising my wee voice to say
"Yeah you guys have got to stop
I've called the police!" and if I'd been alone
I can tell you it's kinda clear
It wouldn't have gone well for me.

"That doesn't matter, look
A man can't hit a woman
Man, you just can't do it..."
And she takes her sister by the hand
And sweeps away like a queen.
Then I follow in her lead
Muttering "Oh shit, Marcella, they're
Totally going to follow us home."
"They won't. They're not going to hurt us.
I won't let them hurt you."

I've never felt so naked in a little silk dress
Like you could see right through to my belly, butt, and breasts
As we walk away
And we don't look back.
We take her home
Walking slowly all the way.
It is midnight and the shadows
On the street are there to stay
And I try to speed up but Marcella says,
"Wait. It's okay." And we are.
We are safe.

I feel good to finally be of use
I wash my sister's face and give her juice
But her sobs are coming in a mob
Wracking her sides choking her eyes
And so I hold her and say
and out...
And we give her a hug
And we tell her "It's okay"... at least, for today.
And I go on home to my overprivileged bed
Memories racing through my timid meek head
And you know I can't say
I'd do any better today -
In a situation where I know what's right
But I'm so afraid...

But this poem is for Marcella
Who did NOT run away
Who faced down five fierce men
In her righteous rage
My friend who flew to her sister's aid
My friend who lived to fight another day
My brave friend
Who could not

Monday, November 01, 2004

On Being Self-Involved

An invisible spotlight follows me (even
when waiting at the stoplight
the mirror beckons
for just one reassuring glance...)
Ghostly paparazzi stream for miles
their loving popping camera flashes
easily outshine the light from cold, far stars.

In fact it seems mirrors
are everywhere.
Shop windows...
a polished spoon...
three plates in the living room...
puddles in streets...
the bathroom of course
(getting up, sometimes, in the middle of the meal)...
reflective glass on the Rembrandt in the museum -
Yes, I've checked my hair there.
Shiny paint on cars, gleaming metal
is irresistable and what's more
the dawn light in my lover's eyes.

And my own eyes:
I peer into them in mirrors
and see my face in them, its eyes
carrying their own tiny incubus.
My soul richochets off these surfaces
and booms back to me a thousandfold louder
Oh let it go on without end
my dance through the hall of mirrors
for in the empty spaces
it's very dark, it's very very still.
If you let your soul out there
it may never bounce back.

Civilization and its Nincompoop Commentators

Sorry, this is not a fun thing to do in DC. But has anybody else noticed how, in the introduction to "Civilization and its Discontents," Freud says a friend defended religion to him by mentioning the feelings of transcendence, apart from logic, that people directly experience. Freud dubs it the "oceanic feeling," comments that it mystifies him since he has never felt it himself, and then (although he has never felt it!) proceeds to explain how it must simply be a psychological prop caused by ego boundary problems.

That guy was such a jerk!!!!