Day of the Dead

A year ago today, I was frantically figuring out how to get to Seattle with my wife. We had just finished watching the DVDs of Dead Like Me, which finished with a Halloween episode about how the line between the dead and the living is starkly fluid during the season. The next day, The Day of the Dead, had a similar theme for a holiday. And before the Day was even complete, my father-in-law had crossed over that line, and we were walking the nearby trail in the dark, trying to make sense of the situation.

So, this transition marked the beginning of an insanely change-driven year for me. I have taken a role in attempting to sustain the family business, and I've had to re-orient my dissertation topic. We have a new nephew and a friend had a close call.

But in those first few days, I had no clue. And I don't still. But, while we were trying to figure out what to do about a hastily organized memorial, and how to handle the business, I felt needed, and valuable. I had stepped up, and done well in handling the stress. Except that I failed in one way.

At the memorial, I just couldn't quite stand up and talk about what Nick had meant to me. I was anguished, and I didn't know how to say what I wanted to say without hurting others who were present.

Nick had been like a father to me, maybe more because I had been like a son to him. Before I moved to Virginia, he played Magic: The Gathering with me. We would go see movies that his wife and daughters wouldn't be caught dead near. I had a huge appreciation for how he had managed to build his life: the independence of his own business, built on his own expertise; the time and work that he had put into his relationships with his daughters; a constant quest to expand his knowledge about the history and science of our existence. He was a storyteller, and a deal-maker, and I felt like I could do him no justice while standing there and trying to hold it together.

Now I've had a year. In trying to keep his business operational so that his accomplishments might not be lost, we've found little mistakes that he's made. It has been a hard year, with a lot of self-learning. And now we're approaching the end of the Day again. We have a little altar, with some of his favorite books. Soon the line between the living and the dead will lose its brief permeability.


Theme II: Starlings

Starlings must have a significant pull on the literary mind. I've read of them in a short story by T. C. Boyle and at least two different comic books. They are an invasive species, outcompeting native species, for food and real estate (nesting spots).

I can't remember one of the comic books (the idea from this post coming from long ago), but I remember the Boyle story, when a flock sets up shop near a farmer. One of Boyle's recurring themes involves humanity's interactions with the natural environment, that which can't be controlled. For the farmer, the starlings represent horror, destroying his crop and his sleep.

Kevin Huizenga has a piece in the first Drawn & Quarterly showcase where he focuses on the language of starlings, which are given ominous significance. Critiques of this story focus on how Huizenga uses the starlings to expand the language of comics, either in expressing the sounds the starlings make, or presenting their flight patterns. But the starlings clearly hold a broader thematic appeal for these creators.

  1. First and foremost, they are mimics, reproducing the sounds they encounter in their own cries. It was this element that Huizenga brought to bear in his innovation. Both authors deal with the cacophony that results when these mimicry is merged. To Boyle, it is another form of pollution, destroying the reigning night time peace, and in Huizenga's work, the collected squawking settles over the environment like an acid-tainted rain cloud.
  2. They are invasive species. The metaphors abound, to the point where it almost doesn't bear mentioning.
  3. The circumstances of their invasion are surrounded by irresistable literary irony:
Although there are approximately 200 million starlings in North America, they are all descendants of approximately 60 birds released [in 1890] in Central Park, New York, by Eugene Schieffelin, who headed an acclimatization society trying to introduce to North America every bird species mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare.
(Wikipedia: Common Starling)

How beautiful is that! Of course, now I am partially concerned with invasive species, but how I wish that I only needed to be as concerned as anybody else.


Hawk Moments

Sometime, a couple of winter's ago, I discovered that if I miss my bus, I can hike through a little dual-park system to catch an alternative that gets me into town 15 minutes later. This last winter, I realized that the alternative route doubles back to a point just a little but farther than the normal alternastop, about six minutes later, so this last semester has been a lot about carefully managed morning procrastination. How much later can I leave from normal, and still catch the alternabus.

One time, in February, when I was feeling stressed out about my impending qualifying exams, I was walking a portion of this bath, and noticed a great number of red birds amongst the dessicated shrubbery. Not entirely unusual, but still noticeable. As I walked further I noticed a stump, not five feet from the path, that I hadn't seen before. I stopped, and realized the stump had an eye, a rather piercing one. It was a hawk, and the closest I'd ever been to one.

I'm pretty sure that it was watching the cardinals as a tasty treat. I wonder if it actually went down that way. After stopping to stare for a minute, I had to leave to catch my bus. Since then, I've felt a lot like one of the red birds.


Dubya the Raffle

Lynne Perella artwork, part of Prize 1 from the Dante Raffle
In a depressing turn of events, it now appears that personal fundraising to fill the insane gaps in our nation's healthcare system just get more common. Or maybe I'm getting older and I know more people getting sick. The Crusie fans have set up an auction to assist a comrade who is fighting breast cancer. I'm behind on my mailing-list e-mail, but I gather cancer treatment medicine is undercovered by her family insurance.

Closer to home, good friend, children's author, teacher, and Green Party candidate for Congress, Dante Salvatierra has a raffle set up in his honor. He is recovering from the removal of a rather sizable brain tumor, dubbed "Dubya" for fighting inspiration (as in, "Must Destroy Dubya!"). Again, the schoolteacher's insurance package leaves a large gap in coverage, here labeled co-payment. There are 20 different prize lots (slow page load), lots of beautiful art and art supplies. The tickets are $4, and are on sale through 5 May.

I get the feeling that we're going to see a lot more of these fundraisers before some sanity gets knocked into our health care system.

Original Mary Engelbreit artwork, Prize 20 from the Dante Raffle


That's about one km away ...

Menards off of Highway 1 in Iowa City

So, we've made it through the big blow unscathed. I went in to town for a discussion group, but that was partially an excuse to gawk at the damage. On the way home, from the moving bus, I got a photo of the damage that occurred closest to our house. This would be the Menards that was the focus of most of last night's newscasts. This is about one km from our place.

Most everyone we know we've heard from. For all the damage downtown, it sounds like there was very little in terms of people that were hurt. Pretty much the best news that one could hope for, though it is a shame about all the damaged landmark buildings (i.e., anything except the Menards and the Wal-Mart).