clinging onto words

May 12, 2009

Front-page news in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:
The price of stamps increased two cents due to the fact that post offices have been hooked up in too many unsuccessful blind dates and are now suffering rejection from everyone.

The editorials inside offer an altogether different but related story:
Printed journalism has been stabbed in the stomach and watches while its stomach acids flow out the wound and slowly devour its skin.

What we can conclude from this:
People have secretly consented to an implied boycott on tangible information sources. They are pandemically forfeiting the writing skills they learned in kindergarten for the typing skills they learned in middle school (possibly because this is the only memory worth hanging onto from middle school).newspaper nostalgia

I’m a desperate romantic when it comes to words. I want familiar pages to wake up with me every morning and friendly packaged papers waiting faithfully for me next to the door when I come home. The internet keeps intruding on my affair with words and only offers a one-sided relationship in its place: it never waits for me and makes me do all the work.

I prefer words to come to me in containers that I can smudge with fingerprints. I have an overwhelming need to spill my milk on words, circle points of interest in them,  make origami out of them, carry them with me for a bus ride, rip out pieces of them to save or share, doodle on the spaces between them, use them as floor shields when I paint, roll them up and hit someone over the head with them, crumble them up if they make me angry, kiss them if they make me fall in love.
Or at least have all of these option available.

I suppose this lament stuffed inside a computer screen does little to help. The internet has that obnoxiously useful boyish charm that I can’t escape.

But letters and newspapers are irreplaceable. They constantly advocate for slower and more intentional movement through life. I support their cause.



May 5, 2009

Yesterday at the gym, a man turned the tv so it screamed its moving colors toward my face and he climbed onto the machine next to me. “I’m a tv man,” he declared as he began moving his legs but kept his eyes glued to the screen.

I’m a music person, I thought as I set my headphones to “drown it all out” mode and experimented with treadmill-running while closing my eyes. It didn’t work well.

I don’t care for being constantly bombarded with the top stories Wolf Blizter talks into the ground. As I over-heard Wolf and endless “experts” give their input on pirates, pandemics, killings, and the GOP (all the general newsworthy events made specific daily), it reminded me of a soap opera where they stretch out plots every day and nothing much changes.

morning news

I’ll admit that my possibly favorite part of morning is my venture onto the porch to search for where the newspaper landed. Then I have a brief love affair with its pages and a bowl of cereal.

I scan most of the stories in seconds because I know they have high potential to appear as topics of conversation later in the day. But the facts get too tedious. Where’s the imagery, the rhythm, the breath behind the words?

Maybe this is why I indulge in mandatory poetry breaks throughout each day. But it’s also why the editorials comprise the most worthwhile part of any newspaper.

I’ll take ideas over facts any day. And music. I can always take music.

beneath the floorboards

April 9, 2009

“That guy who killed the Pittsburgh cops this weekend,” my co-worker said. “Everyone they interviewed kept talking about how nice he had always been to them.”

“There’s no way he was nice. There was nothing good, nothing good, nothing good, about that man,” someone interjected.

At that moment Sufjan Steven’s song John Wayne Gacy Jr. floated through my head.

That song has haunted me lately. It’s incredible how pristine Sufjan can make the acts of a serial killer sound by describing it in light images within the context of a gorgeously chilling ballad. But the part that really gets me, and probably gets to most people who spend time listening to the lyrics, are the last few lines:

And on my best behavior I am really just like him.
Look beneath the floorboards for the secrets I have hid.

I looked up the lyrics on and was sorely disappointed when I browsed through the explanations that people provided for the song. They ranted about how Sufjan could never really be comparing himself to a monster like Gacy, or, alternatively, they tried to label his lyrics as overtly Christian by offering that this line refers to the way we are all sinners in God’s eyes. floorboards

It’s becomming increasingly evident to me as I spend my days working with drug addicts, alcoholics, homeless, the abused, people with mental health diagnoses, and ex-convicts, that these labels I just listed off do not define any of those people. That people are not equal to their worst behaviors. That the man who recently shot the police officers in Pittsburgh did a horrible thing, but it was one action, one day in an entire lifetime. And he will forever be defined by that day. That short period of time has eternally replaced his identity in other people’s eyes as a person for that of a killer. Such a title oversimplifies life.

Reading John Wayne Gacy Jr.‘s story is disgustingly painful, but I can’t help to see through it all that although he did things that make him seem absolutely disgraceful and inhumane, he was still a person. He had a family.  He swung on swingsets. He laughed.

We all cause other people pain. But I can’t think of anyone who would want to be defined by the worst they can be.

It’s too easy to overlook that we all have a best.

whole against the sky

March 31, 2009

I recently learned of the growing trend to “twitter” (can you use that as a verb?) when a story about it’s popularity made it into the Pittsburgh Post Gazette (which is reflective of how attached I am to reading things I can hold; I learn about the internet’s developments from the newspaper). I’ve been contemplating the nature of online offerings like  twitter and facebook “status updates” ever since.


Yesterday when there was a twitter icon on my favorite postsecret website, I consented to check it out. There I found postsecret postcards that were available exclusively on twitter and other “insider information” to which  only I (and the other 51,999 postsecret twitter followers) had access.

But while scrolling through twitter’s details regarding the life of postsecret creator Frank Warren, it began to sound simplified. I got too much corrupting explanation surrounding the weekly secrets that I’ve always considered to be invaluably abstract. Anonymous artistic postcards displaying hidden secrets hold a lofty value for me while they’re found soaking in abstraction, and it seems that people are somewhat better that way too.

Some of our largest curiosities are motivated by the distances and unknowns that exist within the relationships between people. And perhaps communication websites like twitter are so popular (at least to some extent) because they create the facade of breaking down the distances between us. They can provide the assurance that others care about our constant changes of heart or thought even when no one is around, that perhaps we are more connected to people when a less undefined silence exists and a concise sentence that describes a fraction of a thought is constantly updated and shared between us.

Some of my favorite passages in literature deal with the unconquerable distance between people. Like Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities where one chapter begins:

A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses it’s own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses it’s own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!

And a prescription to address the dilemna from Rilke:

Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.

whole against the sky

I love that image of seeing someone whole against the sky only when you can embrace the implications behind doing so: that a person’s mind will never create a genuine map to aid in our navigation, that words rarely sound like the thoughts they reflect, that eternal secrets exist between every pair of people which can never be shared.

It’s better that way. Mostly because that’s the only way it can be, but also because there’s a graceful movement of life in embracing the mystery which can’t be said.

As we reach the end of George W.’s presidency, I realize that there’s one thing about the past 8 years that I’m really going to miss: David Letterman’s “Great Moments in Presidential Speeches.” I just can’t help but enjoy watching Bush’s latest blunder whenever I watch The Late Show:

My favorite might be his comments about Iran… “I mean Iraq.” I watch this in contrast to the “Yes We Can” video based on one of Obama’s speeches. of The Black Eyed Peas did an impressive job making Obama’s “Yes We Can” speech into a song with the help of a handful of celebrities :

The words of Obama’s speech are so poetic and inspiring (especially when sung by John Legend and the girl who played Ashley on the Fresh Prince of Belair), and the song is so well done, that it has all kinds of people singing it—like this acapella group that label themselves Barackapella.

I can’t help but include the link to a spoof of the Obama “Yes We Can” video that someone made about John McCain. It cites the humorous line: McCain 2008: Like hope, but different.

Obama voices a sense that many of us have that things have repeatedly gone too wrong in the past, but we have the choice to do things differently. I think there is surge of eagerness for making drastic changes to the way we live and the way we regard the world within my generation. The difficulty arises here when we put too much hope in our government to change the world, and we forget to recognize that the most important change for each of us must spring out of the way that we daily lead our own lives.

I’ll miss chuckling at the terribly misspoken words of George W. I have concluded he would make a friendly and funny grandpa even though he made a pretty bad president. I always have to shy away from nationalism and putting too much hope in the capabilities of this empire when led by any person, but I can’t help but hope to repair this world.

Thank you Cleveland Plain Dealer for putting that all-influential power of the media to good use.

As I picked up yesterday’s newspaper in search of something good to read as I munched on my honey nut cheerios, I couldn’t resist my habitual tendency of flipping directly to the Arts & Life section. Despite its obnoxious reviews of the latest celebrity goings-on, this section pretty consistently offers what I consider to be the most interesting articles of the newspaper. And if not, then there’s always the comics printed on the last two pages.

Anyways, today’s main article of this section was entitled “The wheels on the bus go round and round.”Although this phrase may immediately bring to mind days of big yellow buses, angry bus drivers, and that one kid who always seemed to throw up on the school bus to make for a smelly ride to school, this article by John Campanelli tells of the bus for adults. He endorses the use of the RTA bus system to get around Cleveland. Despite the negative regard and paranoia about safety that often revolves around the idea of riding the bus, this article embarks on the commendable journey of altering public regard of the public transportation system. Campenelli writes,

“For those of us who haven’t been on a bus that wasn’t yellow, riding RTA can be intimidating. Some might view it as a loss of freedom or a sign of defeat.

They’re wrong.

Riding the bus is a victory, for you, for the community and for the environment. And with the cash and aggravation you save, you’ll feel liberated.”

He goes on to describe the nuances involved with riding the Cleveland RTA that one may be unfamiliar with and therefore hesitant about.

Now if only the RTA would expand its routes to make its benefits plausible for more people to use. But it seems there’s no hope for that. Turning the page of the paper, I discover another article: “RTA use grows; service wont.” Although RTA use has grown more than 10% this year, the increased usage fails to keep up with the increasing price of the diesel fuel that buses use. Letting down my hopes that the increased price of gas would lead to widespread use of public transportation, it seems that the costs are weighing too heavily on the bus companies to carry more routes and more people. “We’re not going to add more service. We may have to cut more service because we have to pay for the diesel fuel,” says the general manager of Cleveland’s RTA system Joe Calabrese. RTA is already estimating losing $18 million dollars due to gas prices in the upcoming year if they don’t make any changes. Ouch. Looks like the Plain Dealer offered their endorsement for the RTA a little too late.