Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Rains Come. Slopes Fail.


Over Memorial Day weekend a massive, miles-long landslide occurred in a remote area of back country wilderness in Colorado. Three people are missing. The slide came down with enough force to overrun several hills before coming to a stop and the resulting deposit of debris is estimated to be more than 200 feet deep in places. The slide left behind a near-vertical escarpment, a cliff of exposed and saturated soil and rock. There is a high likelihood of another slide. Three people are missing.

The media is interested in this story because of the human element, not because of the spectacular magnitude of the event itself or what we might learn from it. I suppose that it is fair enough. Still, all of the decisions moving forward, whether or not to send in search crews and when, how many resources to put into such a thing, how much further risk of human life to take, are informed and tempered by our understanding of the phenomenon itself. How and where and when will all be answered by what we think we know of hills and slopes and water. Perhaps we should tend to our understanding of such things.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Bite Sized Memoir 4- Sports Day


It didn't matter what sport it was, there was always that one kid. Sure, there were lots of the other kids too, the ones who trained and had dads that yelled from the sidelines and moms that brought cupcakes to every game, but it really didn't matter who else showed up as long as there was still that kid. That kid. The one that got to play the whole time, usually as something that ultimately turned out the be important like goalie or pitcher. The kid that no one like not because they were unlikable, but because they had neither aptitude nor interest. They were the coaches kid, or that guy that went to state when he was a kid's kid. They made daisy chains during the game, ate too much of the pizza afterwards, and generally didn't mind losing.

I wonder where those kids are now. Are they all in middle management? Car sales? Have they remained disaffected and bored? Did they ever find anything they cared about?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Notes On A Memorial Day


Every Memorial Day weekend I retreat to the woods, for better or for worse, and mostly in the rain. It is the beginning of the summer camping season, the mark of long days and warm nights. It is my first chance to reflect on the winter, and the hopes of spring. But mostly, I observe. A list:

A bald eagle circling the river's bend
Star-shaped marshmallows in red, white and blue
Sausages on sticks
Tiny pink butterflies
Wooden foot bridges
Rose gardens
Three red strawberries

Perhaps there is something there, within all that, but for now, I take them all, just as a they are.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Of Standing In One's Pot


There is no amount of pushing, cajoling, denial, or even hard work that can release us from life's inevitable periods of waiting. Regardless of our drives, passions, ambitions or even needs, the world seems bent upon a period of patience. Gratification, recognition, success, healing, justice, always require a pregnant pause in their unfurling. The stuff of life seems to me not so different from my tomatoes. It would be easy for me to discount them, point out how little sun they get, how small they still seem even this early in the season, how one leans dangerously to one side in spite of its staking. I could declare, already, their foreseeable failure.

But I would be wrong. In spite of my insistence on their stationary stature, they are undeniably on the move. There is no ignoring their new stems or the sudden appearance of flowers, a sure sign of fruit to come. It is my impatience that sees their flaws. I want to make it happen sooner. I want to conjure tomato. But it is no longer in my hands. In the beginning, I had influence. I placed them carefully in their pots, fed them, and staked them up as they began to droop under heavy spring rains. Now though, I have, for a period, done all I can do. It is up to me now to stand in my pot, and wait.


Monday, May 19, 2014

Magic and Fairy Tales


I remember unicorns and flying dogs and Hobbits and dancing tin men.

I remember aliens on flying bicycles, tiny green gurus, and David Bowie,

I remember Tinkerbell, dancing brooms, and psychedelic elephants.

I remember downtrodden princesses, knights in shining armor and evil stepmothers.

I remember Easter Bunnies, workshop elves, and teeth turned into silver dollars.

I remember sly foxes, cross-dressing wolves, and billy goats gruff.

I remember talking owls, roller skating bears, and crime fighting ninja turtles.

I remember sparkling lights, beautiful gowns, and ethereal singing.

I remember that flying is possible, transformation probable, and true love always winning.

I remember believing.

Photograph from the Lane Community College performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream April 2014

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Sometimes It Happens Like This


You work a piece with your dancers for two years, polishing, editing, crafting, training.

You take it to a belly dance festival in Seattle. They kill it.

You submit the video to a local collaborative arts event. They like it. But you are a late application, they are out of individual time slots. Would you be willing to dance with the headliners instead? Medium Troy?

Yes. Of course.

Oh, and they will ask RJD2 if he's into having dancers for a song.


You have two weeks. You reset the piece to Medium Troys Balkan Ballers. You do not know if you will dance with RJD2 and if you do, you will find out at the last minute.

That's fine, you say. We are tribal belly dancers. We do synchronized group improvisation. We are trained to be flexible, you say. We can dance to anything.

You remind your dancers they can dance to anything. You make them practice to random RJD2 songs. You tell them not to stress, to work the dance and their technique. It may not even happen. Focus on Medium Troy. You stress for them.

Day of show. Hours go by. Still no word. It was a long shot anyway you tell yourself. The show starts, Medium Troy is about to take the stage, they should have other things on their minds. But Jojo, the mastermind of this huge event, taps you on the should. He has been in make it happen mode all day.

Ruby, this is Ramble John. This is Ruby and her belly dancers. He shakes my hand and leans around me to peer at my dancers who all stand up straighter behind me, in full costume. Looks us over for a minute. Yeah, okay, he says, let me think about the set. He is taking a huge chance on us.

Twenty minutes later, he is playing his set through in his head next to me while I wait to go onstage with Medium Troy. He says, okay, you know The Horror? Not by name I say. But we have 40 minutes and its on my ipod, we will by then. There will be no song breaks, and I know that live, RJD2 sounds totally different than in recording, everything is more complex, looser, and woven into the thing next to it.

We dance. The moment we leave the stage we run backstage, beg a speaker off a group of b-boys getting ready to hit the stage, and huddle around, listening. We gather, dance it once, dance it twice. Call it ready. This is an improvisational form, I tell them. Expect the unexpected. This is what we do.

Half an hour later we are onstage with RJD2. He is in the tail end of an amazing set. At some point we turn to face him. He smiles at us.

This is what we do.

Medium Troy's Balkan Ballers

RJD2's The Horror

Red Moon Rising:

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Bite Size Memoir 2- Jinks and Japes


This post is part of an ongoing small-memoir project by Lisa Reiter. To read other bite-sized memoirs from the project or contribute one of your own go to:

Mr. McPartland was the kind of high school teacher that nobody knew what he was doing there, not eve himself. He was prone to long ramblings, "music days" and oral exams, all of which were awkward, to say the least, in a trigonometry class. Most days, he would chuck his keys at whichever of us he encountered in the hallway so he could arrive fifteen minutes late and then ignore us for the rest of the period. It got to be pretty boring.

So one day Josh gets this idea about climbing into the ceiling like that scene from The Breakfast Club, which worked, except he didn't really have anyplace to go. While he was perched up there checking it out Mr. McPartland finally came to class. I figured he would notice the open hole in the ceiling right away and so did everyone else, but he just came in, put the next weeks problems on the board, and started deriving some identity. Josh, meanwhile, was still trying to figure out what to do, not wanting to actually get in trouble for climbing into the ceiling. From my desk I could look up and see his arms and legs starting to shake with the effort of holding himself in position. And then, about forty minutes into class, he just gave way and came crashing back down onto his desk. Mr. McPartland almost had a heart attack, we all got in trouble, and he started coming to class on time. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Throwback Thursday -Let Them Eat Cake


There are a lot of great, albeit traditionally left-winged reasons to eat locally. Eating locally supports small family owned farms and food producers, decreases the carbon footprint of your meals, discourages industrialization of farming practices and therefore the prevalence of pesticides and herbicides, supports your local economy, increases community sustainability, decreases dependence on the migrant workforce and foreign energy sources, and generally results in healthier meals and fresher/tastier food on your table. And we wonder why more conservatives haven’t hopped onto this bandwagon.

But there are a couple of reasons for eating locally that the conservative right can get behind. Eating locally is the best protection against food-related outbreaks of illness and diesease and eating locally is the best way to combat agroterrorism. That’s right, agroterrorism, the malicious use of plant or animal pathogens to cause devastating disease in the food supply.

In 2006 Michael Pollan wrote an article for the New York Times discussing the role of industrialization in the prevalence of food-related outbreaks. While his article was written in the context of a spinach-related E coli outbreak, the recent problems with the peanut industry and the worldwide outbreak of swine flu have brought the issue back into focus. In his article, Pollan argues that the centralization of food processing and distribution centers leads to more frequent and widespread issues of infection and contamination, whereas food grown, processed, and distributed locally decreases the reach of food-related outbreaks and allows for faster and more efficient identification of sources and solutions to food-based illnesses. Pollan further goes on to note that when Tommy Thompson retired from the Department of Health and Human Services in 2004, he said “For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply, because it is so easy to do.” This sentiment was reiterated by the G.AO. in its 2003 Bioterrorism report to Congress, “The high concentration of our livestock industry and the centralized nature of our food-processing industry make them vulnerable to attack.” And they’re right, in 2006 eighty percent of beef in the United States was slaughtered by four companies and seventy-five percent of all precut salads were processed by only two companies. The implications of these numbers when viewed in the context of the spread of disease and our current healthcare crisis is terrifying. And the proof, at least lately, is in the peanut butter.

What this means is that food consciousness is no longer the proprietary holding of the liberal left, but a necessary and immediate change that must be made in the daily lives of ordinary citizens for the protection of public health and safety. Take back your health from the hands of industry, eat locally, and with compassion.

To read Michael Pollans article:

For more information on farmers markets, eating locally, and CSA food shares:

Image courtesy of:

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Sunday Jam


Most Sunday afternoons you can find me lurking with a rag-tag group of people that are alternately either twice or half my age, under the awnings that surround a small downtown building. On the outside, we look like we might be on break from our AA meeting or waiting for the cannabis clinic to open. None of us look like we should be hanging out together. There are teenage kids in jeans and t shirts, tall men in impeccable suits, and hunched hippies in deer skin jackets with long tassels. From the outside there is no reason for us all to be together, much less for the easy conversation and obvious camaraderie. 

Like most things, it's what's on the inside that counts. On the inside of this little building is the Sunday Jazz Jam, an all-comers welcome event that is headed by some seriously talented musicians and filled in by anyone who walks in the door and wants to play. This is not a place for divas or show boaters, though both show up and given their time in equal measure, this is a place for students. This is where you go to see how it's done by the kinds of musicians that play three gigs a week, and figure out your own style. This is where you go to listen to singers find their range, their own unique timing. This is a place to go to listen, to forget about the scene, and to return to the roots of the improvisational Jazz form.

It is a kind of Sunday service, and one that I have come to cherish. It is community, education, fun, and some damn good music. Check it out:

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Dub Ball


I love a good backlash movement. I love artists that buck trends, retrograde coolness, or find new ways to use the latest trend in technology. Medium Troy, a Eugene-based dub band, is doing just that. Medium Troy, with the help of dozens of artists local to Eugene, Oregon (and a couple of nationally known headliners, RJD2, ahem) is putting on a multimedia dub extravaganza this month at the Hult Center, the largest fine arts performance hall in the city. Why there? Because this is no ordinary electronica concert. This dub ball is backed up by a live orchestra. It is an approach to electronic music that has long been wanting from the scene. Audiences miss the sound of real instruments played in real time, the filling of a stage with performers rather than staring at one dude behind a laptop, and the ability to see the music being played. Medium Troy recognizes that and knows that sometimes, the new wave emerges out of an old-school idea. Medium Troy is putting their neck on the line to prove that electronic music can be cross genre and cross demographic.

Get your tickets here:

Monday, May 5, 2014

Wooly Bully


I was recently hired by a large, multinational computer company to teach their programming staff the Wooly Bully for an in-house event. I had to Google it. What I discovered was that line dancing, in all it's varied forms, is still alive and well in South Korea. Especially in cafeterias. I have no real explanation for this but am inclined to relate it to the South Korean propensity for synchronized group exercise. The why is not what's important. It's the watching. Happy Monday:

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Bite Sized Memoir I -School At Seven


This post is part of an ongoing small-memoir project by Lisa Reiter. To read other bite-sized memoirs from the project or contribute one of your own go to

I remember learning words in phonetic groups; cat, sat, hat, mat and numbers by ones, twos and fours.

I remember standing at Miss Nancy's desk proving I could count and add together the shiny, polished stones she held in her palm correctly.

I remember too, the slow sounding out of words by her side; painfully slow, too slowly for my age.

I remember being able to form the letters with an always stubby pencil but not string them together into anything useful.

I remember watching my friends move forward through the books on the reading shelf.

I remember trying to guess the story from the pictures, desperate to connect them to the words.

I remember waiting in the hall with my parents for the teacher conference.

I remember hearing Miss Nancy explain how far behind I was, how other kids like me had learning disabilities, that they went to special ed classes.

I remember her pausing, looking at me, deciding my fate, and finally saying, "She's smart. She can do math. I think she's just waiting for something. Let's give her another year."

I remember, one year later, walking down the hall each day for reading class in the room three grades above mine, no longer waiting.