Tuesday, April 29, 2014


Nothing I do ever comes whole and complete and original from my brow, of course, like Zeus, or even Seuss.
(Didja know Dr. Seuss pronounced it "Soyce," by the way? Didja?)
Everything comes tethered to memory. No less with this project for fellow facebook swimmer Inez Maurer from Down Under.
(Is "Down Under" considered pejorative to Australians, or at least tiresome, like calling California the land of fruits and nuts? [Ha ha! get it?] Then my sincere apologies.)
Could I do something fairly quick, please, for her son's bicycle motocross team as it goes to the national meet? Inez asked.

I built a couple of bicyclists in Illustrator and then created a crowd of them flowing from the center by repeating their shapes in two fans. The resulting cascade forms an "S" for Sydney.

The frog in the "D" of Sydney and the randomly placed frog eyes refer to the green and golden bell frog of southeast Australia, a vulnerable species that makes a sort of anti-mascot for the club. It's not allowed to have lights at its track, to protect the frog, so it runs all its races in the heat of day.

The yellow circles hearken to the Sydney Olympic Park logo (a yellow circle from the Olympic rings!) where the club competes. The flying clumps are negative shapes from in between the clumps of riders.

That clump comes from visceral memory, when I was a kid and bicycle motocross was just beginning. It didn't have the cool BMX call letters, nor helmets, nor organizations, nor bikes designed for the sport. It comprised our re-fashioned Huffy™® Dragsters and Schwinn©® Sting-Rays — off went the sissy bars and banana seats, on went junk-yard 10-speed bike seats — and a field where grown-ups would let us alone.

The craze must have reached our out-of-the-way town somehow, because I remember somewhere in town we could buy the number plates to fasten with wires across our handlebars, and stickers promoting motocross bikes. We liked Bultaco©® and Husqvarna™™, just for the names.

Steve and Dave Marzio, two houses down the street, drove the craze in our neighborhood. They were the builders and tinkerers. They also rode the rise of skateboards, which coincided with severe drought and high property tax burdens in California, which caused homeowners to drain their swimming pools, inadvertently turning them into skate parks. The Marzios had a pool; as far as I know, it's been empty since.

Though the skateboard craze passed me by, a whiff of W-D 40®© always brings me right back to the Marzio's workshop in the front of their garage, where I passed many afternoons seeking counsel on the gloom of junior high.

Our neighbor Buddy Butler was the envy of the street with a Yamaha bike with front shocks and maybe even suspension beneath the seat. The Marzios helped me turn a Schwinn frame with solid chrome-plated forks (I may have gotten it from Buddy) into a passable bike. In short time we went down to race in the abandoned field.

My time there was short. Grownups had shown up, grouping kids into races. I found out the hard way in the first race that my front sprocket was too big to get me anywhere on the dirt track. The crowd of elbow-to-elbow bicyclists, the one that spurred this illustration, soon passed me by. I turned my budding career to trick jumping.

My grown-up self cannot believe what my kid self used to do, especially me, hardly the adventurous type. I would speed across the vast sloping parking lot of the Catholic Church eight doors down, aiming for a low corner curb of concrete sidewalk that encircled the Catholic school building. The parking lot against the sidewalk sloped sharply to a gutter, and a blob of tar had balled up right at the base of the curb, forming a perfect ramp. Beyond the corner was one of the roads leading into church property.

With enough speed, it was possible to leap from that curb, about five feet in the air and maybe 25 feet out. That big sprocket made my bike a rocket.

I did that over and over again, often by myself, not giving much thought that it was impossible to know whether a car — unlikely as it would be on a weekday — would be coming up the road on that blind corner, or whether a kid might be coming around on the sidewalk.

What cut short that career, though,  was when I landed wrong on a jump and fell over the handlebars, draped helplessly as the bike somehow coasted across the road, into the woods and into a fence. I think I got rid of that bike. Loved those forks, though.

Hanging around Steve and Dave made me more confident, and I was able to do most of the work rebuilding yet another bike another neighbor gave me. I decided it would be the beast of the neighborhood, a beach cruiser before there were beach cruisers, a big 26-inch frame.

I stripped the frame and repainted it, brick red. I cleaned its parts (the Marzios probably directed this, because I was a dud with ball bearings and threaded pieces) and got new parts when I needed and when I could.

It was a true gem, wheels straight, slick and oiled and smooth and powerful — for one day.

The next day, riding it around the church parking lot, the bike broke in half with one hard pedal, right where the seat tube and down tube meet. The frame, having sat in a yard all those years, was rusted through and I found out too late. I walked the parts home and, for whatever reason, probably didn't ride a bike again until college.


Friday, April 25, 2014

"We're just in from the country"

Or, What I Did on My Spring Break, by Shawn C Turner

Last week (in loose chronological order) I:
  • watched the first half of an Arena Football game, Cleveland Gladiators vs. the L.A. Kiss. The Kiss is a new team in the league this season, apparently — apparently owned in some fashion by the rock group Kiss, a monster band when I was in high school during the last century, now magicians of new media and getting people to look at them.

    The broadcasters explained Arena Football rules constantly, which is their enduring burden, I suppose. The field is about a fourth the size of a regular football field; it looks like a padded hockey rink; the playing field in Anaheim's Honda Center is gray. It's a passing game, or should be, the broadcasters said constantly, and the wide receivers start running in great arcs before the snap, timing to cross the scrimmage line just as the quarterback gets the ball.

    Cleveland has a wide receiver who was drafted by the Cleveland Browns a few years back, played four games in the NFL. He's first to show up for practice and the last to leave. He's hungry to win, the broadcasters tell us, constantly.

    The L.A. Kiss wore chrome-plated helmets fringed with flame; Cleveland wore the matte helmets that more and more teams seem to like now. Arena football feels like a test market for future NFL fashion.

    A mom and dad and their 2.3 kids, their L.A. Kiss official game jerseys draped like Bedouin tents about them, waved to the camera.
  • lunched with Nancy and my sister at a place in the Santa Ynez wine-growing region where wine is served Automat-style from a wall. Servers give you a credit card, which you slip into a slot next to the displayed wine you want, the bottle nested behind a little window. A clear tube stuck in the bottle draws and dispenses your order, whether you buy a sample, half glass or whole glass.

    No need to listen to someone talk about the wine before you drink it. No need for conversation at all. Make your picks, drink your wine, eat your lunch.

    I had beer instead.

    (Figueroa Mountain Davy Brown Ale, quite good.)
  • met the sister of actor Kurt Russell, who runs a wine saloon near my hometown and pours the wine that Russell makes, also the wine that actress Kate Hudson makes, also the wine that Kurt Russell's wine-growing mentors make.

    "Isn't your brother Kurt Russell?" my sister asked. Kurt Russell's sister liked that she asked it that way.

    She poured a flight of wine for Nancy and my sister, talking about each wine before they drank it, talking about planting by the alignment of the planets and time of day, talking about the unusual quiet of this little town on a Sunday afternoon (it's rocking on Friday and Saturday, apparently), talking about where Kurt Russell is at the moment (skiing in Colorado, I think), talking about how much he loves to be in the saloon talking with fans.

    I had a walk instead …

    ( … to hear shortstop Brandon Crawford hit a walkoff home run. San Francisco Giants beat the Colorado Rockies, 5-4.)
  • swam in an aquarium. You know it as the Pacific Ocean, Southern California annex.

    For months and months I've read the facebook posts of many who swim the ocean off Laguna Beach and La Jolla. Months and months of reading about crystal waters and garibaldi galore. Months and months of expressing my jealousy, months and months of their extending an invitation.

    Finally last week we took them up, camping for a few days along the coast so I could swim with them.

    The first swim was out of Shaw's Cove in Laguna Beach. At 6 a.m. My exact response to the invitation: Ulp! We didn't know our way around Southern California, never mind in the dark. Though we scouted Shaw's Cove the night before, it didn't guarantee we'd find it in time.

    Like kids at Christmas Eve, we couldn't sleep. Hard ground helped. We were on site with time to spare, coffee drunk, bodies warmed.

    Sun behind the overcast brightened the morning to slate gray, and in the light emerged the stars of all those facebook posts, like the cast from a favorite TV show, produced for my own enjoyment, now asking us for a guest appearance.

    Into the cove we went, the water comfortable, the waves obliging. Not 20 feet out, the fish scales fell from my eyes. Even though I'd read how clear the water was, I wasn't willing to believe it. Something moved below me and I did a doubletake: Great stalks of kelp swayed and reached from far below to the sun, and I could see all the way to the far below.

    Then fish! Poppy-colored garibaldi, the state fish, and silvery darting little fish, a world going on below me. I've seen three fish in four years of swimming my Lake Natoma.

    Lynn Kubasek, swimming my speed (though I still think she had some gears she wasn't using), stayed at my side and within sight at all times. She took me through Patsee's Portage, named for swimmer and tidepool photographer Patsee Ober, a shallow trough through some intertidal rocks, conveyed by the the rocking waves.

    I was giggling, even though it was not Giggle Crack, one of the group's other thrill rides.

    Homeward on the first morning's swim, Ray Meltvedt took me through Ray's Crack, a sloshing frothy space between cracks in tall Seal Rock named for him.

    "You wanna do this?" Ray asked. With every swim I looked to the swimmers' faces for cues. They were confident, smiling. I joined, and Ray took us through the washing machine through the rocks, a trick of timing with a coming wave, of stopping in the right place as the waves withdrew so we didn't bang into the ragged rock, and swimming fast with the next wave to escape its violent tossing.

    The gang took me on another route the next morning toward Bird Rock, when I realized I'm not the water baby I thought I'd become. I had lost my ability to dive, a necessary skill for escaping the canopy of the giant kelp. I swam over the heavy scratchy leaves instead.

    (Note to fellow butt buoy users: The bright orange inflatable bladder that I wear in Lake Natoma to alert boaters to my presence does not work in kelp. Not only wouldn't it let me dive, it also caught on the great stalks, and I had to unleash it and throw it ahead of my, like a water polo ball, on my first swim back. I never wore it again at the ocean.)
  • listened to our Giants win — and lose — by the force of a hundred butterfly wings. Though they won two out of three from the Dodgers in L.A., the Giants lost two out of three from the Padres in San Diego, and barely hit in any of the games. It looks like the Giants are re-creating the team-wide no-hit, barely-pitch, forget-the-fundamentals slump that sunk the team last year.
  • got the grand tour of La Jolla Cove with Dan Simonelli, a swim coach who helps run the La Jolla Swim Club. Dan swam where I could see him at all times on a leisurely long look at his playground.

    I forgot to breathe many times, trying to take in the world below, the great fields of sea grasses whipping violently below me, the garibaldi hiding halfway in rocky nooks, the starfish gardens of almost perfectly round holes set deep into the rock, that Dan said he had just learned about even though he's swum the cove for years.

    With a wave's help, Dan took me into a tunnel along the coast where a couple of sea lion slept, wet and brown as the shelf of rock on which they lay.

    On the way to the starfish garden, a sea lion swam below me in the opposite direction, giving me a sidelong glance.

    The waves crashed hard against the shore close to where Dan dove to point out the starfish. He didn't seem to mind the waves, so I didn't either.

    We were done too soon, but long enough to know I want to come back to La Jolla and Laguna.

    My beloved lake back home was going to have a hard time measuring up.
  • never shook the feeling, from Camarillo into Orange County and out again to Barstow,  that we were always in someone's way wherever we drove.
  • watched a crazy (good) movie in a crazy (strange) theater.

    "What does 'Luxury Cinema' mean?" Nancy asked as we made our way to a matinee. We found out soon enough.

    We were in Cinépolis in Laguna Niguel, the only theater within miles showing a movie we felt like seeing ("The Grand Budapest Hotel," loopy fun, a tale well told around the digital campfire; see it at least twice, to catch everything and revel in the mirth).

    First strangeness: No ticket booth. We walked in and across the lobby to a concierge desk.

    Second strangeness: The woman processing our tickets immediately showed us a computer screen with a diagram of where our seats would be if we chose. She highly recommended these seats for optimum viewing. She also told us only one other couple was scheduled to see the movie, which is a weird bit of information for the operator of movie theater to convey.

    I'm not sure, but I suspect we could have paid a lower price for seats farther back in the theater.

    We had only come to see a matinee and feel like kids playing hooky. Instead we paid more than usual evening prices for whatever it was we were getting into.

    And it was this: The theater is off-the-Strip Las Vegas lounge meets "Wall•E:" Instead of theater seats, the terraces are carefully arranged in pairs of massive leather(ish) recliners. Each row would accommodate only 10 or 12 people. Little tables separated the chair pairs, and lamps lit them softly. Food and drink menus stood at each table. Patrons could press a button and summon a server to take their meal orders.

    Not us. We had already spent more than we could have imagined.

    The other couple walked in shortly after us and took their chairs one row up.

    "Have you ever seen anything like this?" I asked the man.

    "Oh, yeah, we come every week. We like Tuesdays."

    Which is when I wanted to say, "Well, we're just in from the country. We aren't used to such as this." I slunk in my chair instead.

    The irony of CinĂ©polis is that it's not for movie goers; it's for pamper hobbyists. When a server takes an order, as we saw one do for the other couple, the server talks. And the patrons talk. And talk. Orders take some talking, as you well know. De rigueur in a restaurant … defeating in a movie theater.

    Imagine if we had a theater full of hungry patrons. The movie may as well have been silent.

    It was hard not to note the parallels of "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and our time in the fabulous section of Orange County in which we had been tootling. Both bespoke an embarrassment of riches. All a bit too bright, too big, too palatial, too clean, too other-wordly for my comfort.

    Both even had a funicular, though the one at Strand Beach in Dana Point was broken.

    "How was the movie?" a server asked a third couple that had snuck in (why weren't we informed?!). We like watching the end credits and listening to the music; someone went to a lot of work to create them, after all, and sometimes they hold surprises. But the server and couple talked all through that.

    Like I said, not really for movie goers.
  • braced against the winds at Manzanar War Relocation Center, where in World War II American citizens of Japanese descent were forced to live out of our national fear and shame. It's a National Historic Site now.

    It's easy to pass by on Interstate 395, up against the snow-dusted spires of the Eastern Sierra. That's a shame too. Drivers should be forced to drive right into Manzanar, should be required to stop and rejuvenate their sense of justice, and of how easily injustice can go south.

    Of course, forcing people to do such a thing would violate our principles of freedom, but the irony would be palpable and refreshing.

    It's ironic that the inhabitants of the camp named their newspaper the "Manzanar Free Press," ironic that the nearest town is called Independence, ironic that men interned who said they would not fight for the government that held them captive — and would not disavow allegiance for the Japanese empire for which they didn't have any allegiance in the first place as American citizens — were considered a danger and sent to bleaker camps still.

    Ironic that in spite of this, our government still does this to U.S. citizens, and we let it.

    Few barracks remain of the 540-acre encampment, as if the memory of this dark time is still being erased. The camp's auditorium is a visitors' center, where you can get your fill of the story and the stupidity.

    And the wisdom:
    As long as the world shall last, there will be wrongs, and if no man objected and no man rebelled, those wrongs would last forever.  Clarence Darrow
    They who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.  Benjamin Franklin
    When will we ever learn?
  • used the can opener on my multi-tool for the first time. Heck, used my multi-tool, a gift from my Boy Scout Troop eight years ago, for the first time. The peanut butter may never come out from its gleaming like-knew nooks and crannies.
  • found campsites in Joshua Tree National Park almost comical in their geologic abandon. Some sites were nestled amid stacks of rounded boulders the color of yams and the size of houses and locomotives. Others hugged shining mesas of Joshua trees against stark mountains, vastness and quiet beyond.

    We didn't camp in any of those.

    We camped in the one place in the park that allows reservations, a place of civilization on the northwest corner that nature is actively and savagely winning back. The road in is more pothole than pavement, the sites sort of randomly placed on slopes of scrub. We weren't in a receptive mood, having left the ocean for gray dark wind and a place that didn't look anything like the pictures of the national park. By our last morning, the sun shone and the campground blazed crisply with the spiky green-yellow Joshua trees, making us feel better about our choice. Still, I wonder why campgrounds in the center of the park are first-come, first-served.

    A volunteer had wandered off with the key to the cash register at the visitors' center the first day, so the camp host couldn't sell us a topographical map. We drove 16 miles to the main entrance of the park to find one.

    "Do you also sell park passes?" we asked the clerk at the visitors' center there.

    "Sometimes," he said, explaining at length the conditions in which he may sell passes. This day did not fit those conditions. Finally he explained that the ranger at the park entrance could sell them. He offered the park brochure and newsletter we had already received.

    "You don't really need that fancy map," the clerk said. He had already sold us the map.

    It is a strange land.
  • saw:

    1 roadrunner
    13 sea lions
    2 1 eagle ray
    3 bat rays (Lynn dove to show me; my goggles proved too dark at sunset to see them clearly)
    Too many garibaldi to count
    1 skunk
    1 California striped racer
    black lizards
    silver lizards
    California brown pelicans in healthy number, enough to make themselves pests of charter fishing guides trying to clean off their boats at Dana Point
  • ended up in a tiny box of varnished yellow pine for Easter. Our Savior of the Mountains in the little town of Lee Vining, in sight of Mono Lake east of the Sierra Nevada.

    It took Nancy some doing to find us a Mass to attend, just her and her smart phone against the signal-crushing granitic might of the mountains. Our Savior offered a mid-morning Mass. We were forced to take our leisure on our last morning of vacation. It was the only part of the week we hadn't planned.

    The caretaker of the little church informed the little crowd that the priest was running late, racing from and overflow Easter Mass in Mammoth Lakes 30 miles south. And he was tardy as a rule. Look for him in his white jeep, rolling in on two wheels Joie Chitwood style, the caretaker said.

    A half-hour later, in rushed a Spanish speaking Friar Tuck, prankish and happy. He switched from English to Spanish at random. He doused us with holy water from a 5-inch paint brush, smiling as he sloshed the keyboardist twice in the face. Over and over again he raised the giant paschal candle toward the ceiling, each time exhorting us to clap and cheer and whistle. He gave us all thin plastic crosses that we could also use to measure things in inches and centimeters.

    "The world is like a mirror," the priest told us. "When the world sees you frown, it sees you and acts accordingly. When the world sees your smile, it radiates to the world."

    We skipped the Easter egg hunt and the coffee and doughnuts to make our way home, happy.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Desert trumpet plant, seemingly assembled upside-down
when the instructions were lost in the wind. The bulbous
upper part is hollow and contains carbon dioxide. Some
insects like to leave their larvae in it.
Neither first or last, I nonetheless declare Joshua Tree National Park the source of Seussian fever dreams.

Now that I think of it, didn't Theodor Seuss Geisel live in La Jolla, just a couple of hours from the Mojave Desert?
(Now that I think more on it, didn't editorial cartoonist Scott Stantis get born in San Diego and educated in Long Beach, not far from the Mojave Desert? His [annoyingly bad] comic strip "Prickly City" used to feature a tumbledown background of stacked rounded boulders, so much like the Jumbo Rocks of the National Park.)
We camped at the dreams' source last week.

In short time, the Joshua trees became normal. The writhing, spiky non-tree trees inspired Mormon pioneers, or so is said, to name them after the leader of the Israelites, raising arms in supplication to God.

They grow in the Mojave Desert far apart from one another, as if planted there by some Johnny Joshua Seed, casting seedlings oh so carefully.

Relaxing beside them for a couple of days gave us a chance to examine them closely. Their fronds are bayonets, merciless against the complacent camper. Despite that, Gambel's quail and cactus wrens darted about their prickly defenses without a flinch.
The spikes fold down as they age, as new spikes from the ends of the tormented branches. Aging spikes become a barky beard enshrouding each branch.

The trunk is tree-like, rough like an elm or ash.

Having come to peace with the Joshua tree, I could obsess about other strangeness, notably the desert trumpet plant.

It's an anomaly. It shouldn't survive desert winds, being fat where it should be thin and vice verse. Yet there it stands by the side of the road, reaching to the spring sun, gray green in spring (we couldn't tell if spring is early, late or on time here). By fall the trumpet plant branches like neurons in the brain, and turns cream and red. Last week the top of each stem ended in little curlycues of future weird stems, future floo floopers, straight out of Whoville.

Happy Earth Day.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

On Wisconsin!

The chance arose to design the T-shirt/swim gear for the Wisconsin Masters team competing next month at the Masters Nationals championships* in Santa Clara.

Swimmer Trina, whom I met in this wonderful virtual global community of swimmers, wanted a swimmer doing the butterfly at the Golden Gate Bridge.

Early sketches did not impress:

But that's what early sketches are for — focusing the conversation, screwing up royally with the minimum investment of time and graphite.

One early idea remained intact, at least: Part of my research included touring Wisconsin (from the convenience of my computer) and noting how well Wisconsin's silhouette could find a humorous home in the shape of the bridge towers.

But I misinterpreted Trina's description of the "swimming" on the road's surface. I saw the massive cables of the bridge and recognized them immediately as lane lines.

The tower would be submerged or reflected on the water's surface. Somehow. Hadn't figured that out yet.

No go, Trina said, very kindly.

Another sketch got closer:

"2014" I thought, should read like a pool deck clock at a swim race. It seemed like a good idea at the sketch phase, but it also seemed forced.

When I started work on the approved sketch, something else was just not working right:

I was stuck in the literal — which is funny, considering — that the bridge deck should have multiple lanes.

But that made the swimmer very small, and this is all about the swimmer.

The swimmer should swallow the bridge, as imposing and grand though it may be.

So I whittled the image to one giant lane, made the bridge railings into lane markers. The towers still tower.
Fun fact: Irving Morrow, Art Deco architect of the Golden Gate Bridge, actually incorporated the shape of Wisconsin in his original design of the towers' lateral supports, an homage to his love for Wisconsin cheddar doodles. Though tried, the design was soon abandoned in a bitter dispute with ironworkers over the structural integrity and potential safety hazard of Green Bay.

Fun corollary: I just made that up.
Go Wisconsin!

* Official name (deep breath): 2014 Nationwide U.S. Masters Swimming Spring National Championship

[editor's note: I'd really like to know what is going on with blogger©™ and posting illustrations; my main illustration looks fuzzy, and in every iteration save for this is clean-edged; all my illustrations have also carried a slightly gray cast, as if to muddy them up. if this is a blogger™® feature, i don't like it. if i can return my art to the sharp and clear jpegs of the past, and you know how, i'd love to hear it. this is getting old.]

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Happy flight!*

This year, I'm all like:
This time last year, I was all like:

The San Francisco Giants — my Giants — are tearing up the season already, tearing covers off baseballs, tearing up the National League West champs the Los Angeles Dodgers.

They are already leading the league in home runs. (!) Even with two World Series rings in the last four years, the Giants have not been known for power.

It's early yet. Yet, my parade: Do not rain.

Last year this time the Dodgers were giving the Giants of taste of how the season would end. Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw threw a shutout AND hit the game-winning homer.

I was trying not to sweat it this time last year, but I kept a weather eye out for trouble.

Now — no ill will meant — Kershaw is hurt and may be out as many as two months, and the Giants are ripping the ball.

No schadenfreude here. Not even a little. Not my style, nor my nature. OK, maybe a molecule … 

I got my mind right for the season, watching "Angels in the Outfield," the 1951 zeitgeist-y original with Paul Douglas and Janet Leigh, sweet and slightly schmaltzy, players in their blousy uniforms, the angels vivid and powerful in their help for the hapless Pittsburgh Pirates namely because we couldn't see them. The remake with Danny Glover and Joseph Gordon-Levitt and a lot of computer graphics ruined all that for me.

And I read one of my favorite poems, by Robert Francis:

His art is eccentricity, his aim
How not to hit the mark he seems to aim at,

His passion how to avoid the obvious,

His technique how to vary the avoidance.

The others throw to be comprehended. He

Throws to be a moment misunderstood.

Yet not too much. Not errant, arrant, wild,

But every seeming aberration willed.

Not to, yet still, still to communicate

Making the batter understand too late.

I will take it easy as a fan this year, enjoying the moment, taking nothing personally. Last year I nearly drowned in my own tears when the Giants finished in fourth.

I exaggerate for effect. It was really my own flop sweat.

Play. Ball!


Our home contains no tweezers that I can find. Not that I need tweezers a lot, but when I do, I really do. A big sliver slid into the palm of my hand Saturday.

But our home does have, readily accessible in a bathroom drawer, a rattlesnake bite kit. It's the kind with the two rubber suction cups, molded with a vaguely snakeskin pattern, that draws out the venom and encases the cutting tools afterward. Poisonous serpents are so afraid of this fact they have never shown their pit-viperous faces around here.

Twenty years ago, as many as 1 million Rwandans were slaughtered in three months, primarily Hutus killing minority Tutsis. A most horrible genocide for utterly inhuman reasons. Not that any reason can be made.

We could not be bothered over here, gripped (so to speak) as we were by an issue of vital national consequence: Whether a leather glove fit O.J. Simpson's hand. Remember?


* "Happy flight" is a phrase attributed to Giants center fielder Angel Pagan, meaning the team's mood on the plan after a winning road trip.

Pagan holds high regard in our family, so high our children made him the angel atop our tree two Christmases ago.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A swim

all stop

we gather in prayer
       of course. of course! this moment,
            more than most, impels it.

this hovering: not our own doing, after all
amid these tents of green light, and of cold, these folds of glass
      these cascading rays

          this harpy song of the sea, everywhere and always,
we may not hear until

we are in it, above it, 
         of it.
we think ourselves angels
— or what mistake in us we may call angelic —
when in that moment the muscles of our hands
         pull and lock

         we release a calm salty sigh, no longer afraid,
              made new

to close the circle.

one of us prays above the wind
     we, connected, accept it:
for this grace of hovering, we fluorescent crown
     of eight daisies, bobbing;
for those awaiting and away;
for those going back,
       for those going on.

released, we act on prayer
swimming our way: home, or farther still,
flying as we think angels fly.
we are more than the turmoil that suspends us,
     but not much more. in pitch and soar,
breathing fast now,

we hope for home
     raking the canyon slopes, ever in change,
     bridge of gold in sight, wealth of ships, end of land.
we hope to return just new enough for those
awaiting and away

     we think ourselves angels

shawn c turner

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Democracy inaction

Dedicated readers often wish to hell they had something better to do know I'm a milquetoast American citizen.

Vote and grouse, that's my modus operandi — vote for the issue and person that tires me the least. Grouse in what amounts to shouts in the wind, small and weak and scattershot.

I am an April fool. For most other months too.

A couple of weeks ago, President Barack Obama wrote me back — typing two spaces after every period, which is the strange thing I noticed first.

Yes, I know he didn't write it. Yes, I know that citizens writing about certain topics get a crafted response from someone in the White House; I'm guessing it's the press office via the State Department re: "Talking points, Syria," pulled from a digital pigeon hole.

"Thank you for writing," President Obama wrote. "Three years into the Syrian conflict, we face a brutal and protracted civil war, which extremists are exploiting and which poses a threat to stability throughout the region. I am glad you took the time to share your concerns."

Mr. Obama capsulized for me the history of the current crisis in Syria, the causes — violent responses to peaceful protests against the Bashar al-Assad governent —and the outcome, more than 130,000 dead and millions finding bleak shelter in dead spaces in their ravaged country, and across ragged borders.

All stuff I know from the daily osmosis of public radio.

Then Mr. Obama said what the United States is doing and how it helps — humanitarian assistance, negotiations for greater international aid, participating in negotiations between the Syrian government and its opposition, that sort of thing.
One thing I have said since the beginning is that I will not pursue an open‑ended military intervention in Syria,
Mr. Obama wrote.
Last year, when the Assad regime violated international law by using chemical weapons in an attack that killed over 1,000 Syrians, I was prepared to respond through narrow and targeted military action. But when a diplomatic option opened up, we took it—because I believe any chance to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force is one we must pursue.
"Targeted military action" is why I wrote Mr. Obama, puffing out my dove feathers to urge the United States not to enter another protracted war. Some dove: Syrians are being slaughtered — literally, slaughtered! — with no one to help, and I told Mr. Obama: Don't let it be us!

I blogged about it — twice.

There you have it: My exercise in democracy, my stepping out of the rut of citizenship into the merest definition of activism. I tapped a letter like I'm tapping now, and pressed "send."

And the slaughter continued. And continues. The "diplomatic option" was Russia agreeing it would see to Syria's dismantling of chemical weapons, half of which have now been destroyed or made inert, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons reported last month. The United States, China, Denmark and Norway are reportedly contributing resources and expertise to remove and neutralize the weapons.
And in the months ahead, we will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve—one free from dictatorship, terror, and fear,
Mr. Obama concluded, before thanking me and referring me to its Web page regarding policy issues with Syria.

Here's the thing:
  • The Web page's last reference to the Syrian conflict is last Halloween, and
  • I wrote President Obama in early September
Since then, the world has happened. Maybe it's no worse than many terrible ages of our time on earth, but it bears its own brand of impending collapse. Not the least of which is that Russia called in a major good-guy discount by helping de-horrify Syria (which is still a horror and which Russia still supports, which I don't get, but my country stands by some egregious world neighbors out of American interests, so pot, kettle; kettle, pot).

The discount makes Russia's sweep of the Crimean Peninsula, right into Ukraine's backyard, awkward for the United States, because Europe depends on Russian energy and doesn't want to poke the bear too hard, and President Obama really doesn't want to make more war and end his presidency where he came in. At least, that's what I suppose.

Better that President Obama — or his office — had not written back at all. I already knew how busy his administration is — how hellishly busy any administration is trying to balance our country's place and might — I did not expect a letter and I'd have felt better if every single person had better things to do than write me. Even if it was to click "send."

On the other hand, I did expect a letter would be exactly like this.

Syria chews away while we attend to the crisis in Ukraine. The world chews itself up. Corporations and monied interests seem more driven to chew away on us, our money, our children, or freedoms, because they can, because we let them, until we either get mad enough finally to move against them, or until no more is left.

All that's left to conclude from my blog posts is that I have not moved off my ambivalent, frustrated, grousing ass, looking for a way to make a difference and not remain a good man, doing nothing.