28 January 2004

In my world, it's the weekend! Yayster!

And here's why: In the last three days, I have managed to clock in 30 hours. Yesterday I was at the center at 7:30 am, and today I was in at 7:00 (which means that I have to leave my house at 6:35 AM -- my commute's been longer since the cops have focused their attentions on speeders on I-40 in the canyon between Albuquerque and Tijeras). It goes without saying that I am exhausted. I have to spend my entire weekend (Saturday - Monday) in Santa Fe at a conference (LAME!), and so I am taking tomorrow off to give myself a little weekday weekend.


Today I learned a lot about bats!

For example:
-- Without bats, we wouldn't have tequila, for bats are the only pollinators of the agave plant
-- Bats are number ten on the list of most common carriers of rabies. Number one is pet dogs. You hear that, people? You are more likely to catch rabies from your dog than from a bat!
-- There are more than 1,100 species of bats in the world, from the largest (the gigantic flying fox of the South Pacific, with a wingspan of six feet) to the smallest (the bumble-bee bat, which weighs less than a penny).
-- Of these, only a very few can alight from the ground. Because they don't have feathers, most bats can't get enough lift to take off from the ground, which is why they hang upside down.
-- When you see scary bats in movies, they're FRUIT bats! They're hungry for rotting fruit, not for blood.
-- There are three species of vampire bats, all of which live in Africa. These bats drink the blood of cows and chickens, but only take two teaspoons of blood out of the animal (at the most), and the donor almost never notices.
-- Vampire bats are helping humanity, because their saliva contains an anti-coagulant that's been beneficial to people with heart problems.
-- Bats aren't blind. They have perfectly good vision. Many of them do echolocate, but they use this tool in addition to their sight.
...and lots more!


One particularly horrifying article in Mother Jones is about Grover Norquist, who is the "national ward boss for the right."

"We plan to pick up another five seats in the Senate and hold the House through 2012... and rather than negotiate with the teachers' unions and the trial lawyers and the various leftist interest groups, we intend to break them."


Or this:
Norquist calls it the "Leave-Us-Alone Coalition," a grouping of gun owners,
the Christian right, homeschoolers, libertarians, and business leaders that he has almost single-handedly managed to unite. The common vision: an America in which the rich will be taxed at the same rates as the poor, where capital is freed from government constraints, where government services are turned over to the free market, where the minimum wage is repealed, unions are made irrelevant, and law-abiding citizens can pack handguns in every state and town. "My ideal citizen is the self-employed, homeschooling, IRA-owning guy with a concealed-carry permit," says Norquist. "Because that person doesn't need the goddamn government for anything."

Of course -- whether intentional or not -- he says the ideal citizen is a guy. Because I'm thinking that women still need the goddamn government to protect them. As well as, you know, poor people, sick people, old people, young people, people with different skin colors, and people with different religious beliefs, not to mention wildlife and the few wild places left in this country. It hurts my heart. The scariest thing is that this man is extremely powerful in Washington. Powerful like Karl Rove wants to be his BFF.

Powerful like

"At Rove's request, Norquist flew to Austin for a private meeting with the
then Texan governor and presented the agenda he wanted George W. Bush to back:
broad income-tax cuts, school choice, the privatization of Social Security, tort reform, and free trade."

Powerful like

"Norquist's goal is nothing less than a well-oiled national, state, and local
political machine that can roll over and crush the last few bastions of Democratic Party support."

Powerful scary.


On a slightly more cheerful note, this article about a man who works undercover as a car salesman. It's extremely long, but very compelling. The author describes the psychology of sales, as well as the spooky beer-can-crushing testosteroney atmosphere of the high-volume dealers. If you're not so interested in the narrative, you can skip to the end, where he sums up some of the things he learned that might help you not to get totally screwed next time you buy a car.


Today at Crossroads (the alternative high-school):

Me: (after staring at the classroom map of Africa for the last five minutes of class) Hey Mr. Bond, that's a pretty old map there, huh?

Mr. Bond: Why?

Me: Um, Zaire??

Mr. Bond: (smiling) Whatever do you mean, Molly?

Me: I'm pretty sure it's been the Democratic Republic of the Congo since I was in high school.

Mr. Bond: Do you know that in seven years, you're the only one who's ever noticed that?

Random Student: Dude, you're smart!

Of course, I admitted that I wouldn't know anything about Africa if my best friend hadn't moved there. Thanks, Ali!


Along these lines, I'm always looking for good books about Africa. Any suggestions?

my list so far:

Gordon, Sheila. Waiting for the Rain.
Jones, Ann. Looking for Lovedu.
Kingsolver, Barbara. The Poisonwood Bible.
Malan, Rian. My Traitor's Heart.
Mathabane, Mark. Kaffir Boy.

...and I've been meaning to read Achebe's Things Fall Apart since I was 15! Maybe that's what I'll do over my "weekend."


And finally, apparently my mother was educated by the Sisters of Loretto! Who knew??

Happy weekend!

25 January 2004

oh my gosh...



The other day, I went to this amazing Chinese restaurant called the China King, which has the biggest buffet ever, and you get unlimited trips to the buffet for five dollars. Jennie and I have been there several times (she took me there for lunch my last day at work before Christmas), because there's nothing Jennie likes better than lots of inexpensive, good food.

At the end of the meal, of course, the waiter brought us fortune cookies. I wouldn't say that I'm superstitious, exactly, but I am always on the lookout for signs. Eager to see what the universe had to tell me, I cracked open my cookie.

This was my fortune:
Aunque sea un pequeno regalo significa tanto para alguien hoy.

I stared at it in disbelief. My fortune's in Spanish??

As best I can translate, it means Though it will be a small gift, it will mean a great deal to someone today. Er, or something like that. My Spanish is pretty rusty.


So I had this dream in which I gave birth to my second child. I named him Nathan Peter, and he was dark brown (and a little fuzzy). My first child was named Basil, and he was light-colored. Note that my mother's dog is named Basil, and he came first in our family, and my dog, while not named Nathan Peter, is dark brown and fuzzy, and he came second. This makes me think that my unconscious mind confuses babies and puppies.

Anyhow, so I had these babies (puppies) and I took them shopping. At the store, I was carded, and for the life of me I could not get my driver's license out of my wallet. After much struggle, I finally gave the checker my credit card as ID and left. When I got home, I was unloading my truck, and couldn't find my babies (puppies). Note that I expected them to be in the uncovered bed of my truck. I couldn't figure out if I had left them at the store, or if they had blown out of my truck while I was driving.

Moral of the story: Molly Backes is not allowed to have children!


I talked to Ila yesterday! As talking to anyone from home does, it made me both happy and sad. Happy, because it's so great to catch up with my far-away friends! And sad, because I wish I were closer, especially when my far-away friends are going through a rough time of it.

Hats off to Ila Grace Gates-Thomas, who is great and who has a pretty live journal about muppets!


Kevin just finished his first real collaboration with Zander Cannon (Zander wrote, Kevin drew), called The Mustache and Topcoat Club. Zander is a Grinnell College alum who's also a cartoonist, who also lives in Minneapolis, and who also has a studio in the Handicraft Guild building, but who isn't (strangely enough) related to Kevin.

Several years ago, Kevin had an internship as Zander's assistant, and was able to sneak a few secret messages into Zander's book (with Alan Moore) Smax.


In other news, if the classicists just marketed The Metamorphoses as the Days of Our Lives of Ancient Rome, I bet a lot more kids would go for it. Seriously, the plot twists are weirder and the characters more impulsive and insane than the soaps could even dream. Days, for example, has never had a character be cursed with never-ending hunger so that he was forced to eat his way through his fortune, then sell his daughter into slavery to buy more food, and finally eat his own flesh.


You know the scene in movies where through a series of hijinks (usually but not always involving clueless people, like dads or kids, being left in charge of the house while mom's away) suddenly the washing machine or dishwasher goes crazy and starts spewing huge mountains of soap suds and water all over the room, eventually filling the entire room with bubbles?

Yeah, well. Apparently that really happens.

24 January 2004

First Things First:

Happy Birthday, Dan Itzkowitz!

Some great/interesting things about Dan:
1. He claims that Unitarians have great hands, and therefore give good backrubs.
2. Though he's not a Unitarian, he gives great backrubs (to Unitarians -- namely, me).
3. He also claims to like me best when I'm at my most cranky, because that's when I'm the funniest. That's why, in college, he was one of my favorite people -- because I was always cranky.
4. He can't eat cheese. When I first found out about this, I felt so bad for him I almost started crying.
5. He's good at darts.
6. He's also good at drinking beer.
7. Though lots of poor college and post-college kids talk about participating in a research study for cash, Dan actually did.
8. He liked to come on Hot Dish and joke about how he wasn't wearing pants. He wanted to be a shock jock.
9. He sleeps in the same Grinnell pants as I do (his are gray, mine are blue).
10. He is the funnest.

It's Like The 1992 Olympics

As I was reading The Metamorphoses tonight, I got a surprise phone call from one of my favorite Daves in the world: Dave Pascoe! (In shop class in 8th grade, we used to sing "These are the Daves I know I know, these are the Daves I know..." and then make up lyrics about the Daves we knew. This practice continued into high school, when we'd sing about Davey -- "This is Dave Pascoe, I don't know much about him, but he catches frogs and he has a dog and he likes to play piano! Oh, these are the Daves I know I know, these are the Daves I know...." On the 1995 orchestra trip, about half the bus spent the entire trip from Albuquerque to Santa Fe singing songs with the words changed to make them about Davey: "Oh the Dave Pascoe Wagon is a'comin down the street..." or "Someday my Dave will come....")
Tonight Dave was calling me from Columbia, MO, where he's interviewing for a residency. Only 25, the brilliant young doctor prepares to go into the extremely competitive field of dermatology. Apparently, he spent $2,000 applying to residency programs. Jeez. Before he can begin his residency, of course, he needs to spend four months in Spain. Obviously. Anyhow, his call made my night, and I reassured him that my offer to let him marry me and support my writing still stands.
Best of luck, Davey!

It's Gonna Take a Lot to Drag Me Away From You

(There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in africa....
la la la... I seek to cure what's deep inside....
something something like Kilimanjaro rises above the Serengeti....)

Point being: Ali now has her very own Adventure Log!

Riding Somewhere South of Heaven

Cindy came to visit me last weekend, bringing some gray Wisconsin skies with her -- I so wanted New Mexico to show off how pretty it is, and like a petulant child it wrapped itself in dark clouds and even rain all Thursday, most of Friday, and part of Saturday. Of course we need the rain (desperately), but nonetheless I wanted Cindy to experience the particular quality of light here that I first fell in love with when I was fifteen. Luckily, each day had its moments.

Friday we went down to Old Town in Albuquerque, and in that lovely hour just before dusk the sun finally came out and illuminated all the warm browns and corals of the stucco buildings. Before I moved here, I never realized there could be so many different (and beautiful) shades of brown. Most striking was the San Felipe de Neri Church, lit up by the setting sun against the stormy blue sky. In the east, the Sandia Mountains were a brilliant, ethereal pink at sunset, and seemed to float like mysterious ships in the snow-clouds. Sandia means watermelon, and they're so named because (allegedly) in winter they turn the color of watermelons in the light of sunset. I didn't believe it until Friday, when Cindy and I stood in the old plaza and gazed at the very tops of the mountains over the low buildings of old town. Watching the sun set on the eastern mountains helps me to believe -- not just to know, but to feel -- that the earth is round. As the sun drops farther and farther down past the western horizon, the line of sun-color inches up the mountains, until only the very peaks are lit, and then -- slowly -- the sun slides up off them altogether. It's as if the mountains are slowly stepping into giant socks of darkness. (That's right, Mr. Gale, socks of darkness!)

Saturday, we first drove up Sandia Crest, but the farther up the mountain we got, the more the roads were a problem, and eventually we had to turn around before reaching the peak. Sandia's ski area has nearly a foot of snow, though Albuquerque in the valley below is completely dry (and rather warm), and the roads were terrible. Driving down the curvy, snowy mountain road (with flakes falling on the truck the whole time) was a lesson in winter mountain driving --- completely different from driving in the winter in, say, Iowa, where if you go off the road you'll most likely end up in a cornfield. Strange, too, how about two-thirds of the way back down the Crest, the snow stopped and the roads were magically clear again. This elevation thing never stops amazing me -- intellectually I understand it (it's not too complex), but physically it surprises me almost every time.

From the Crest, we headed north on the Turquoise Trail to Madrid (pronounced MAD-rid), where we ate nachos in an historic old tavern from the days when Madrid was a coal minin' town, not an artist's colony. The walls of the tavern were papered with one dollar bills that people had signed with sharpies. It sounds weird, but it looks cool, even though it bothered me to think that I could pay my rent with the wallpaper.

After lunch, we drove down into Santa Fe, where we poked around galleries and shops (I found the funny jesus store that Mom and I so loved when we were there in August -- one of the only stores in the world that I find irresistable), walked around the plaza, talked to some of the artisans, and of course went to the St Francis Cathedral. St Francis is one of those places in the world that draws me in to it, so that I can hardly visit Santa Fe without stopping at the cathedral. It's just beautiful, as well as being a very telling example of the interesting blend of aesthetic and cultural influences in this state. Whenever I sit inside the cathedral, I think that I'd like to attend a service there, but then I think that the space is so inspiring that I'd probably have to convert to Catholicism -- so then I think, maybe I'll just come to Mass in Spanish. It would probably be prettier if I didn't know what they were saying, anyhow.

After St Francis, we went to the Loretto Chapel, which was supposedly patterned after the Sainte-Chapelle church in Paris (only little!) to visit the Miraculous Staircase!! I was so excited. We'd been there with orchestra in 1995, but though I'd looked for the chapel on subsequent visits, I never found it until this one. I was so thrilled to find it that Cindy let me go into it (and came with me) even though we had to pay $2.50 just to get in. It was worth it, in my opinion. The staircase has a very mysterious story behind it, but more importantly it's beautiful. It's astonishing what beauty, particularly in surprising places (a staircase, for one), does to us. Or should I say me -- I don't know that everyone gets the feeling that their hearts are being constricted while at the same time they are filled with extraordinary peace when they are confronted with exquisite beauty.

Sunday, Cindy and I drove north to Bandalier National Monument (speaking of beauty), where we climbed up into the ancient cave dwellings of the Anasazi people. Luckily, the weather was stunning (though chilly in the shade), and our hike through the canyon was far less scary than my last experience there, when sunset caught Kevin, Cynthia, and me by surprise and we had to feel our way down the path in utter darkness back to the car. Bandalier is the only national park I've been to that has signs posted about watching out for ghosties. Yikes! It's only scary in the dark, though. In the afternoon, when Cindy and I were there, it's lovely. We got a kick out of imagining Memo there, climbing into the caves. How he would love it! Of course, who wouldn't? Sunday was my third time to Bandalier, and it's different each time.

Driving back toward Santa Fe that evening, the sunset over the Sangre de Cristos was -- as usual -- incredible. The Sangre de Cristos are particularly gorgeous right now because they're all snowcapped, and at sunset they turn dark violet against an rosy tangerine sky. Sunsets over the mountains never get boring, and though I've seen a large number of them since I moved out here, they always make me feel -- at least a little bit -- like a foreigner. As in, how could I possibly belong to such an amazing place?

Cindy's visit was a gift to me, because I got to play tourist here again, when so much of my life here is just normal -- I go to work, I come home from work, I let the dog out, I go shopping for groceries, I check the mail, I take the garbage out. Being a tourist again allowed me to see everything through new eyes, which was especially fun in Albuquerque and the East Mountains, places I see so often I sometimes forget to look at all.

Changing the Subject... (ha!)

As I mentioned before, Dave's call interrupted me as I was reading The Metamorphoses. I made it about half-way through last spring, and then put it aside when everything got so crazy in Grinnell. I just picked it up again recently, and was revisiting some of my favorite passages tonight.

From "Phaethon":

And while they stood bewildered, bark embraced
Their loins and covered, inch by inch, their waists,
Breasts, shoulders, hands, till only lips were left,
Calling their mother. She, what can she do
But dart distractedly now here, now there,
And kiss them while she may. It's not enough.
She tries to tear the bark away and breaks
The tender boughs, but from them bloody drops
Ooze like a dripping wound. "Stop, mother, stop!"
Each injured girl protests; "I beg you, stop;
The tree you tear is me."

Doesn't that just kill you? As Dan Beachy-Quick would say, "Oh my god. Class dismissed."

11 January 2004

Penitence, A Reflection

The girls begin to fall away like petals,
like brittle shingles from the roof in wind
as if to prove that they will only settle
for less. Before a mirror they stand, their skin
translucent in the neon lights, their pale
blue veins like roads across their tiny thighs.
Too dark, they frown, too much. And turning their frail
heads upon their laddered spines, with narrowed eyes,
they calculate their daily intake, each bite
another bead along a string of sins
against herself. Today a pear, tonight
she’ll go without to counter the extravagance
of fruit. They’re crumbling beneath the weight:
repentance and desire, Hail Marys in each empty plate.

10 January 2004

Saturday night 1/10/04

Ali left today, to begin the first leg of her year-long adventure in southern Africa. I had hoped to talk with her before she left, but apparently she called late last night when I was in the middle of a long teleconference with Mr. Cannon, debating and weighing the merits of these or those names and birthdays for the five main characters in our collaborative efforts. More about that in a moment; the point is that Ali couldn’t get through and my goodbye with her was an email from her when I checked my box late this afternoon, whining to me that the phone was busy and asking about the quotation “Knowing you is like not hitting a deer with my car. I love you.”

Perhaps it was better this way anyhow, for Ali and I are both notoriously bad at goodbyes. The bigger the goodbye, the more traumatic and therefore truncated they become for us. The night I left Grinnell, in August, knowing I wouldn’t see Ali until Christmas – the memory of it still makes me sad. We spent the whole day packing and cleaning my apartment, packing the truck, storing things in the garage at Ali & Adam’s house on Summer Street (I could not have moved out without Ali), and though Cam and Jamie and Adam had all been helping us on and off throughout the day, in the end it was just Ali and me, dropping a final load of stuff off at her house, going to the Dari Barn for dinner just before 10:00, sitting at a dirty white picnic table beneath the tractors, eating fried cheese curds and cyclones beneath the stars, trying not to talk about the obvious & horrible finality of the moment... and finally, Ali dropped me off at my truck still parked outside my apartment on the corner of 4th and Main, and we hugged briefly before I jumped in behind the wheel and drove away, biting my lip the whole way out of town, don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry, listening to the Get Up Kids under the full moon on I-80, and doing whatever I could to not think about how I’d just left my best friend in the entire world.

I’m excited for her now, excited that she’ll be teaching and that she’ll be living away from computers and televisions and malls and all the things that distract a person from the serious business of reading and thinking and writing and breathing. I’m excited for her to write. She doesn’t have faith in herself, but she’s a great writer when she can manage to stop listening to her internal critics. As are most of us, I’m sure.

Yesterday, I took a letter to the post office to send to Lesotho, and the postal clerk hardly glanced at it before stamping SOUTH AFRICA on it. She looked at it again, looked puzzled, and I almost said something about the letter needing to go to Lesotho, which is a country, which is not the same as South Africa, but I didn’t say anything, I just smiled and thanked her. In the parking lot, I saw that the receipt said, “postage to South Africa,” and mentally kicked myself. But I suppose it happens a lot, and anyhow postage to Lesotho can’t be more than postage to South Africa. Then today, emailing a response to Ali’s note about how I was on the phone and where did that quote come from, I realized I had no idea where or when she’d next be able to check her email. In Johannesburg? In a few days, or in a month?

I’m beginning to realize that this is merely the beginning of a year of uncertainty, that this is my initiation to a world of faith in the international postal service and trust that the world will see fit to deliver my messages to Ali. Too, after so many years of relying on the phone and email for near-instantaneous communication, it will take a while to get used to the time-delay of letter writing. Yesterday I wrote Ali a letter, knowing that she wouldn’t read it for several weeks, and yet planning to get up and call her in New York as soon as I finished the letter. I feel like I’m throwing bottled messages into the ocean.


Anyhow, I’m back, I’m home, and I’m just now beginning to settle back into my routine here. Jennie sent me home early from work every day this week because the head-cold I picked up around New Year’s was just killing me. When going to work means increasing your elevation by 1,000 feet, the daily commute becomes a sinus hell. The worst day was the first back, Tuesday, when I drove up to Cedar Crest and then back down to Moriarty and then back up to Tijeras and farther up to Cedar Crest again, changing my elevation every three or so hours. I just wanted to kill myself, or at the very least drill some holes in my skull to release the enormous amount of pressure behind my nasal cavities. In spite of all that, I did manage to finish all of the biggest projects hanging over my head.

I’m still not entirely unpacked, and I’m feeling pressure to get that taken care of and to get the house all nice and clean for Cindy’s visit next week, to hide the fact that I normally live in squalor. One great thing is that the addition of my rocking chair and my old lamp and an old painting from Kevin, along with Danielle’s obsessive game of musical chairs with the artwork on our walls, have come together in a beautiful way to make our living room – for the first time ever – actually feel pretty cozy. Now I just need to do the same for my bedroom, and get rid of Danielle’s 500 empty boxes in our big empty nothing room, and the house will be in fairly good shape for visitors. Inside, at least – the backyard gets more holes in it every week, thanks to my Desert Digging Dog.

Last night I had a two and a half hour long conference with Kevin, in which we firmed up the five main characters in our collaborative project. He made fun of me when we talked about it last week, and seemed to think that the naming of the characters was incidental, but last night he got into it and actually ended up making a bigger deal of things like the characters’ birthdays than I would have (though I was the one who insisted we know the characters’ birthdays in the first place). It was exciting, at the end of our meeting, to have a whole page of fleshed-out characters in front of us, kids with names and birthdays and siblings and parents and hobbies and fears. The oddest moment was when the question of legal issues came up: Kevin made some joke about dumping me and stealing all the rights to our work, and I countered with something about needing the artistic equivalent of a pre-nup, at which point K got serious and said, no seriously, we should get it in writing that we share the intellectual rights to these characters 50-50. I agreed with him, because I know he’s right, but it just feels so... I don’t even know what, premature maybe? Or just incongruous. Like, why in the world would we need a legal agreement, why would we need to put this in writing, when this collaboration is just an experiment, just a project? I see that our different reactions say something about each of us as artists, and about the way we see this project – and all projects, really. Kevin’s very idealistic, and very money oriented, which you’d have to be in order to be supporting yourself as an artist, whereas I’m more modest in my vision, more experimental, more process-oriented. Which one of us is the more realistic in terms of this project remains to be seen.