Bookstore Baboon

Roseburg, Oregon is not a city known for its bookstores. But those who know While Away books come back again and again…for the books….for the coffee….

…and for the company.

     In the wild baboons eat leaves, blossoms, seeds, gum, pods from acacia trees, green grass, roots, flowers, herbs, bushes, roots and small animals.

     But in bookstores, if you look closely, you can see this baboon likes Alice Sebold, Chopin, Larry Woiwode, and Nicholas Sparks, among others.  We know postmodern culture has been influenced by food and food metaphors….but a baboon’s literary tastes – not to mention actually eating books – may give us insight into political and social fragmentation, patriarchal oppression, and repressed sexual desire, among other things.
     I’m getting hungry. 
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Waiting for Death…and waiting for the Apes

I don’t think about death a lot.  It is not part of my daily routine, it doesn’t fill my thoughts.  I remember, some years ago, talking with my friend Roma, who is a doctor, and being struck by the ways in which she talked of death. Mainly with her patients.  Occasionally she would ‘lose’ a patient, someone whom her healing skills (and she was, and is, a healer in addition to being a mere ‘doctor’)  could not save.  She spoke of these occurrences with feeling – but I remember thinking that in her job she dealt every day with life and death and everything in between. Whereas I deal with….words primarily.  Death does not sit at my table.

But this week it is on my mind.  Because of my close friend Carole, my former roommate, who is now in the final stages of a cancer she has been battling for several years. Even now I use the euphemism ‘in the final stages of’ – instead of just coming out and saying, more simply, she is dying.  When she was a roommate, she was ambulatory and generally animated, devoting a great deal of energy to the daily preparation of her almost 100% raw vegetable (and veggie juice) anti-cancer diet. And often even more energy to the ideas and issues with which she is and to which she has been passionately committed and involved. Carole is for want of a better term a hardcore environmentalist. When she was physically able, she went out to put her body on the line, standing with others in front of old-growth stands of ancient timber which were slated for clear-cutting by profit-oriented timber companies, protecting other ‘life forms’ by risking her limbs and, so it seemed, at times her life.  She speaks passionately about the wholesale massacring of species and habitats by ‘humanity’. Earlier, for years, she lived in the wilds of Gombe national Park in Tanzania, working with and for Jane Goodall and doing field work and research on the beings she loved the most, tribes of wild chimpanzees.

Jane Goodall and chimpanzee friend

But now, on hospice-care, Carole is weak and bedridden. The painkillers she takes frequently seem to have subdued her.  Her energy is low and looking at her, one is reminded a little of what the adjective cadaverous means. Like I say, death is not part of my life.  Sitting with Carole, in her company, it feels like we are waiting together for something inevitable that she is dealing with 24/7 but that is more of a stranger to me. But it impacts me as well. We were talking about a movie I went to see several weeks ago – The Rise of the Planet of the Apes – written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, a movie which is very good in general and, in moments, brilliant.  A movie which, with its underlying message of the dignity of species, and its specific theme of intelligent ‘apes’ revolting, I know – and knew – would please Carole. When I mentioned it to her and suggested that, if possible, we organize a movie-going expedition (something necessary if you are on hospice bed-care in your final days, as opposed to the simplicity of just doing what ‘most folks’ do, going out to the movies whenever we feel like it or our schedule permits), she perked up. She loved the idea. So we came up with a plan, an afternoon expedition to a nearby theater for the approximate 2 hours it would take. But the plan was put on hold temporarily, possibly permanently, the other day: Carole called me back to tell me that, realistically speaking, it couldn’t happen.  She was – is – in too much pain – and too weak – to be able to handle a 2 hour ‘outing’. She just couldn’t do it.

Part of me, the indomitable and irrational optimist, says that health is like a roller coaster, with its peaks and valleys, and that, even when dying, you can bounce back and have a high point in which the reality, as well as the idea, of a 2 hour ‘outing’, is feasible, doable and possible. Another part of me says: nope. Not going to happen.  In this lifetime. So I sit here thinking about death and dying. How it impacts and changes the daily routine, le quotidien, el cotidiano, of many. Most of whom I don’t know.  But not right now.  I know Carole….I know she is dying. And I hope there is a way I can take her to see the movie….just for the joys I know it will bring her.

Did I mention, she is a storyteller? Her stories – which she has written down and, recently, when she was still ambulatory, occasionally told to rapt audiences of both children and adults at local libraries in Southern Oregon, deal with….apes.  Chimpanzees.  ‘Monkeys’.  And some of the amazing, incredible, disturbing and moving things she experienced with them – witnessed – and lived with, in her multiple years in Africa.  Carole has also struggled for years against the many and sundry and very real things which prevent storytellers from telling their stories – and prevent many of us from accomplishing the things we truly need wish or want to. Things that author, novelist and screenwriter Steven Pressfield calls, collectively, the ‘Resistance’. Pressfield says, “If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.” He’s got a point.  And the struggle continues, every day, till the day we stop breathing.  The day we die. A day which will come for Carole, my friend and, at times, fellow storyteller, sooner than it will for me.

I don’t know when my death will come, or how.  But this morning I am thinking about it.  I’m also thinking about The Rise of the Planet of the Apes – and finding a way to get Carole to it, while she is still, to use another metaphor, ‘with us’. But not just for her: for myself, too. While I’m still breathing as well.

Jessica Goodfellow: Poem for my Friends

Jessica Goodfellow is an award-winning poet and essayist living in Japan. She has a full-length collection called “The Insomniac’s Weather Report” and a and a chapbook* entitled  A Pilgrim’s Guide to Chaos in the Heartland”. Jessica currently lives in Japan with her husband and sons. She’s received numerous awards and serious critical acclaim.

That’s more or less what it says on her bio page.

She’s also one hell of an amazing writer.

And this poem – “Poem for my Friends” – is right up there in that small list of poems that I love, and read again and again.

Here it is –

POEM FOR MY FRIENDS

I have no friends.
My friends have no friends.
On the way to a wedding
I don’t want to attend
I pass a homeless person
scuffing along
and I think,
I could do that.
I need never go
to a wedding again.
My solutions are more drastic
than my problems.
All my friends are friendless.
They cannot be counted on.
I cannot be counted on.
Whatever it is I count,
there is always one missing.
Or two. Or more.
Or else there’s an extra.
I cannot concentrate.
My friends cannot concentrate.
There is an underlying noise,
a whirring sound in this world,
a waterless sound.
It catches me off-guard,
though when I strain to hear it,
as I do now,
I cannot hear it.
My friends cannot hear it.
I have no friends.

Jessica Goodfellow

 

* What is a chapbook?  Good question, especially for those of us who were not Lit majors.  ‘Chap-book’ came into being in the 19th Century, among bibliophiles and book lovers. It is a small pocket-sized booklet, originally used for pamphlets, religious tracts, nursery rhymes, folk tales, poetry, what have you.  Today, in our 21st Century New Millenium epoch, it is often used for and applied to poetry.

El Son Xarocho / El Colás

I grew up in SoCal listening to Richie Valens sing La Bamba. Well, okay, not literally: Richie died in the plane crash along with the Big Bopper and Buddy Holly. But we kept listening to his songs, not just the teeny bopper romances but the catchy rhythmic ones, the ones we could dance to –

Para bailar la Bamba

Se necesita un poco de gracia…

To dance La Bamba you need a little grace…a little style.

Then, years later, I discover La Bamba isn’t just a song Richie made up.

It’s a traditional folksong from the state of Veracruz, in southeastern Mexico.

And it isn’t just a song, not merely una canción…

It’s a son.

A Spanish word which, used in context, doesn’t merely mean a ‘sound’ – but a kind of music.  A way of playing music.  The people of Veracruz call themselves Jarochos – or Xarochos to use the older Spanish form of spelling the “j” sound with a “x”.

Sones are a musical form found in Mexico, in Cuba, in Puerto Rico, all across latinoamerica. The classic traditional Mexican son is in 4/6 time except for exceptions – like La Bamba – which are in 4/4 time.  And the Son Jarocho – or Son Xarocho, que viene del sur de Veracruz – which comes from the south of Vera Cruz – is one of the few sones to feature both 4/6 and 4/4 time. Oh, yeah, and the other thing about un son is – it has an unlimited number of verses (usually couplets) – each of which is a complete thought unto itself – and (saving the best for the last, always) the son es música para bailar – the son is always played for dancing.  You don’t just listen to a son….you dance to it.  You have to.

As for the coplas (verses), La Bamba supposedly has hundreds – not just the ones Richie Valens sang, but new ones that are being created every day. Part of the son tradition is improvising and inventing new verses.  Who does this? The singers of course, los cantadores, and the músicos, the musicians – with new lines and verses adlibbed on the spot, every time a song – un son – gets sung.  Of course this isn’t merely a Mexican tradition – inventing new verses is done everywhere, in Appalachia, in the Scottish Highlands, on the beaches of Madagascar – but los soneros Xarochos do it with wit and style.  Making up crude and bawdy jokes and insults is part of the tradition too – a dangerous part sometimes depending on how much tequila or mezcal has been drunk, who has a machete or a gun, and whose wife – or husband – you happen to be singing about.  But of course that’s half the fun…

And let’s not forget the instruments.  The arpas (harps), panderos (tambourines) and violins get complemented by dozens of percussion instruments, including the tarima, a wooden platform on which dancers pound rhythms with their feet, a tradition which goes back to the African slaves that were sold and traded in the ports of Vera Cruz. And then there are the tradiciones indídgenas. The Totonas and the Huastecs have been fighting to preserve their culture and ways of life from the Spaniards, and before that, from the hated Aztecs, for hundreds of years. And the Son Jarocho is part of that tradition.

Which finally brings us to the music, which is what this is all about.  The group – Son la Fábula -surprisingly are not native Xarochos – but are urban folkmusicians from el D.F. – el Distrito Federal – what people who live there call Mexico City.  They’re not just good musicians….they’re fucking great.  They seriously rock.  And this song – El Colás -is among their best.  A traditional favorite – a classic of the son xarocho – it’s loosely about a guy called Nicolas.…. or ‘Colás’ for short.   

So….put on your dancing shoes.

Tell your best lies.

And be very careful that that jealous husband or wife….hasn’t come back to town, unexpectedly.

First the MUSIC…

And then the WORDS – the lyrics – followed by my ad-libbed translation.

EL COLÁS

Ahhhh.….¿Qué quieres que te traiga

mujer, de Puerto Rico?

Una paloma blanca

¿También un abanico?

¿Qué quieres que te traiga

de Veracruz?

Una paloma blanca

¿O una paloma azul?

ESTRIBILLO/CHORUS

Colás, Colás

Colás y Nicolás

Lo mucho que te quiero

Y el mal pago que me das.

Si quieres, si puedes

Si no ya lo verás

Con esos ojos negros

me miras y te vas.

Amada Marcelina

¿Mujer adonde vas?

Me voy para el fandango

Al cantar a Nicolas

Amada Marcelina

Mujer adonde vas?

Me voy para el fandango

Al cantar a Nicolas

ESTRIBLLIO/CHORUS

Qué buen caballo tiene

mi amigo Nicolás.

Camina pa’ adelante

Camina pa’ atras.

Qué buen caballo tiene

mi amigo don Simon.

Camina pa’ adelante

Camina pa’ el rincón.

ESTRIBILLO/CHORUS

Si cierro los ojos

Miro la oscuridad.

Pero cuando los abro

De ti me acuerdo más.

Si cierro los ojos

Miro la oscuridad.

Pero cuando los abro

Te quiero más y más.

ESTRIBILLO/CHORUS

Con eso me despido

porque ya no puedo más

Aquí se va cantando

Los versos del Colás.

Con eso me despido

porque ya no puedo más

Aquí se va cantando

Los versos del Colás.

TRANSLATION:

Girl, what do you want me to bring you

from Puerto Rico?

A white dove

and also a fan?

What do you want me to bring you

from Veracruz?

A white dove

or one that is blue? (Veracruz & blue rhyme in Spanish)

CHORUS

Colás, Colás

Colás and Nicolás

I love you so much

And you treat me so poorly.

If you want, if you can

If you won’t see me

With those dark eyes of yours

You look at me, then you leave me.

My darling Marcelina

Girl where are you going?

I’m going to the party

To sing to Nicolas.

My darling Marcelina

Girl where are you going?

I’m going to the party

To sing to Nicolas.

CHORUS

What a great horse

my friend Nicolas has.

It walks forwards –

And it walks backwards.

What a great horse

my friend Simon has.

It walks forwards –

It walks into the corner. (Simon & corner rhyme in Spanish)

CHORUS

If I close my eyes

I just see darkness.

But when I open them

I remember you even more.

If I close my eyes

I just see darkness.

But when I open them

I love you more and more.

CHORUS

Now it’s time for me to go

I can’t take it anymore.

We’ll just keep singing

More verses of El Colás.

Now it’s time for me to go

I can’t take it anymore.

We’ll just keep singing

More verses of El Colás.

Idiosyncratic Rituals and Places we Sleep

Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison are a husband-wife team of fine art photographers. They began collaborating on photographs shortly after graduate school, when they began constructing and choreographing scenarios about mans affect on the landscape. Robert ParkeHarrison says: “My photographs tell stories of loss, human struggle, and personal exploration within landscapes scarred by technology and over-use…. [I] strive to metaphorically and poetically link laborious actions, idiosyncratic rituals and strangely crude machines into tales about our modern experience.”

Of course, having spent almost a year laboring on a sci-fi series whose underlying theme was, “in the future, technology affects the human spirit,” I am a sucker for their work.  And having spent the better part of last year laboring on another sci-fi series – which takes place in the horribly overcrowded and overpopulated Afterlife – images like this one make me smile —

Sleeping quarters

I don’t know where my own obsession with beds and sleeping comes from. It predates my reading of “A la recherche du temps perdu“, Marcel Proust’s classic which begins with the words, “Longtemps je me suis couché de bonne heure…”  For a long time, I went to bed early.  I think back to some of the beds I slept in in my own childhood, one bed in particular which conjures up vivid images, tiny details, shadows and cracks in the plaster of the ceiling above me that appeared one night to be animals, another night to be the silhouette of a mysterious lurker.  There’s something about the places we lay ourselves down in, to sleep and, as the bard says, perchance to dream.

I think some of my best thinking – certainly my most twisted – has come near sleep.  In bed, thinking.  Or just free associating.  Loosening the fetters of rationality and letting my so-called mind run free.  Minds are like gardens in a way: they need to be watered, and given nourishment and perhaps sushine – the cerebral version of photosynthesis – for ideas, stories and other creative forms of communication – to grow.  And the things that grow,  sometimes, are not what you expected…

     Maybe it’s the fertilizer….or the minerals in the seed bed…maybe it’s layers of mental compost….but something is stirring in the soil….growing….

That tiny green head, emerging from the dark moist earth… and those tiny glowing green eyes.  They’re looking at me.  This can’t be happening….I must be asleep…..I’m dreaming…..I need to wake up.

Someone turn the lights on.  Please.  Do it now.  Before it….they….

too late

Once upon a time…

How stories begin:

Once upon a time…

Erase una vez…

Il était une fois….

Once upon a time | Drew Melton: the Phraseology Project

And then the magic happens…

“Once upon a time there was what there was, and if nothing had happened there would be nothing to tell.” 

-Charles de Lint (Dreams Underfoot)

And then of course…

Once upon a time there were three little sisters,’ the Dormouse began in a great hurry; ‘and their names were Elsie, Lacie, and Tillie; and they lived at the bottom of a well— ‘

What did they live on?’ said Alice, who always took a great interest in questions of eating and drinking.

They lived on treacle,’ said the Dormouse, after thinking a minute or two.

They couldn’t have done that, you know,’ Alice gently remarked; ‘they’d have been ill.’

So they were,’ said the Dormouse; very ill.’

-Lewis Carroll (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)

And of course…

Once Upon a Time in the West

-Sergio Leone

And let us not forget….

Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo… 

-James Joyce (Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man)

And finally….

Once upon a time, in some out of the way corner of that universe which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems, there was a star upon which clever beasts invented knowing…

-Friedrich Nietzsche

So here we are. Things that once were. And little sisters. Doormice. Curious girls. Italian cowboys. Moocows and nicens little boys. And clever beasts. And all of us gather round the virtual campfire with its crackling burning wood and reddish embers that glow in the darkness which shrouds us, and then Mustafa the StoryTeller begins his tale and his words work their way in, behind our eyes, through the tympanic membranes of our inner ear….and suddenly the darkness is dissolving and we find ourselves in…

A place we have never been. But that seems strangely familiar…

That hidden spot deep in the cerebral cortex where neurons dance…synapses fire….and stories are born…live and die….

…again and again and again and again…