Saturday, March 28, 2020

Tucson, AZ: COVID-19 Unfolding, Part 7: Creature Comforts: Ginger Beer / Ale

Swamp Pop ginger ale. Lafayette, Louisiana. February 2014. Which I never tasted; I just admired the brilliant local-centric marketing.

The phrase "creature comforts" has come up in several of my English lessons recently.

In the time of corona, it soothes the spirit to indulge in small comforts. ("Soothes" also emerged in a lesson the other day.)

Last week, I indulged in a two-liter bottle of diet root beer and a bottle of ginger ale.

A ginger beer-ale thing seems to be shaping up for my corona confinement, a term more typically applied to post-partum mothers.

It all started with a stunning experience when I drank a glass of CeeDee's Jamaican Kitchen homemade ginger beer. 

At the very first sip, my taste buds sprang up in shocked awe – BOING!! – the drink had an intense ginger flavor with a sharp, spicy bite that invigorated. Kind of like riding a roller coaster that was really scary, but after it was over, saying, “Let’s do that again!”

You may know this already, but even though the name is ginger “beer,” it is typically non-alcoholic. (I did not know that.)

It likely has a ton of sugar, though, so it’s not something I can indulge in too often.

Last week I bought Canada Dry ginger ale.

This reminds me of a CCD (Catholic catechism) class when I was around 16. A married couple taught it. One day, they addressed pre-marital sex. The couple made a case for not having sex before marriage, mostly dealing with sin, of course, but they also presented this argument, which they seemed to direct most pointedly at the girls (because it was the girl's responsibility to keep her legs closed, because boys will always be boys):

Let's say you want to buy a car. 
You've never driven a car. 

You go to a Cadillac dealership.
You test drive one of their cars. 
Hoowee! This is nice! Looks good! Feels good! Yeah!

And then you visit a Ford dealership. 
You test drive one of their cars. 

Moral of the story: Do not test drive boys. Or something like that.

Speaking of cars, boys, and girls (especially bad girls), it's time to revisit one of my favorite girl-power songs:

Getting back to ginger beer / ale.

Too bad I had that CeeDee's homemade ginger beer before I had a Canada Dry ginger ale.

So in my most recent hunt-and-gather foray, I pulled down a six-pack of zero-calorie Live Soda Ginger (packed with MILLIONS of probiotics, which I didn't care about).


Even so, I'll try a different brand next time because now I'm on a ginger beer / ale quest. Kind of like my instant coffee quest in Longmont, Colorado.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Tucson, AZ: COVID-19 Unfolding, Part 6: Fissures

Near Mora, New Mexico. August 2013.

Within a 48-hour period, I learned that:

A niece's husband has been laid off.

My daughter works in a business considered an essential service, so (good news!) she still has a job, but (unfortunately!) her employer has not set things up for remote work, so there is daily exposure among co-workers for potential infection.

In Tucson, a friend (and all of her co-workers) abruptly lost their jobs. Two weeks of severance plus any accumulated personal time off (PTO). Bang. Done.

In New Orleans, a friend's daughter has been ill with the crown for two weeks, going on her third. She's feeling better. She's isolating at home. She works(ed) in health care and a co-worker had the virus.

In Missouri, a friend and her sister were hospitalized on Monday (March 23) and placed in isolation. My friend, "Cherry," suffers an underlying condition that has rendered her already physically fragile, with chronic pain, and easily fatigued, even by talking on the phone or writing. On Wednesday morning, when talking with a mutual friend, Cherry continued to feel very weak from the new infection, and couldn't speak for long. Tests have come back positive for the virus.  Inexplicably, the hospital discharged Cherry and her sister on Thursday (March 26), and they made their way to a relative's house, over an hour away, for self-isolation.

The sisters became ill in one county, hospitalized in another, and are now in a third for isolation. Whether or not the hospital reported the confirmed test results to any of the county health departments is in question. Or if the hospital or any public health entity informed the extended stay hotel where the sisters had been staying, so that their staff might be made aware.

Caution: Although my information comes from mutual friends who have direct contact with Cherry or the local health care system, it's possible - even likely - there are variables that are unknown to any of us, and which make my narrative flawed. 

Here is the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control's infographic for hospital discharge criteria. Two criteria are two consecutive negative results and the lessening of symptoms.

Magical thinking

Based on what I have heard about my friend's situation, it suggests there is a grave lack of coordination between hospitals and public health entities. At least in some communities or some states. And even though they are not yet in one of the red zones, such as NYC.

I share this story because there are some folks who seem to take a city, county, or state's minimal infection numbers as accurate - or close to accurate. Or we hold unrealistic confidence in systems that work smoothly in fair weather, but are not equipped for a hurricane, even though we "know" it's headed our way.

To me, this is magical thinking.

We've got to "act as if" community spread has already occurred in our community, notwithstanding its size or population density.

And don't get me wrong - plenty of smart, capable, experienced, well-educated women and men are on the job! They are working their asses off. They are not stupid!

However, I've observed over the years that intelligence, training, and experience are not reliable indicators for effectiveness, especially in a crisis. Often, an ability to quickly assess a situation and then timely execute on same - that's the key.  Like this guy in Bristow, Oklahoma.

I hope, as COVID-19 continues to unfold, that I acquit myself well as a responsible and supportive member of several community circles. I'm already doing some things of support for others (including, of course, keeping to home most days and social distancing when I do go out), but I will do more.

Recently, I've come to realize there are some forms of action I'm not good at.

On one hand, this grieves me because I wish I were good at them. On the other hand, there are kinds of action I am good at. So as COVID unfolds, it's useful for me to understand this, to go with my strengths, and, therefore, be more effective for others.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Tucson, AZ: COVID-19 Unfolding, Part 5: Grups and Onlies

Rustavi, Caucasus Georgia. May 2012.

In a day when serious news, lunatic fringe news, a "balance" of op-eds, and celebrity news all enjoy equal status in one's news feeds, even from such venerable organs as the New York Times, Washington Post, et al ........... my mind reels from a whirl of old movies and TV shows that turn on unbidden.

Sacrifice the old! 

Kill the grups!

Turning 30? Enter the Carousel!

Or the more recent horror movie, Midsommar, in which old folks sacrifice themselves for the greater good by dropping off a cliff. Not showing a clip as it is so grisly.

Everything's fine! 

The socialist, commie, leftist, liberal, snowflake, stoopids are just exaggerating! Come to the beach! The house of worship!

Remember Jaws? Keep the beach open!

Hoarding, buying ammo .... 

From Panic in the Year Zero:

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Tucson, AZ: COVID-19 Unfolding, Part 4: A Second Kindness

This morning I went to the food rescue at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church on Fort Lowell. I arrived near its 8:00 opening, thinking there wouldn't be many people there, at least not at the start. Hoo boy, was I wrong! A crowded parking lot and a long line.

OK, then.

I gave the people in front of me and behind me a generous portion of space for their protection and mine. I brought gloves with me. Exact change ($12) so neither the intake guy nor I would have to handle any more bills than necessary. I inserted my paper "account" card into a plastic ID carrier so I could clean it later. Prepared to read aloud my card's number instead of expecting the intake guy to hold it so, again, neither of us would have to handle this stuff unnecessarily.

Waited in line. Did some stretches.

And you know what? When I arrived at the front of the line, I learned that someone way up ahead had paid for FORTY people behind him! Just to save you the math energy, that's almost 500 bucks!!! As each of of us approached, we had the option, of course, to continue paying forward or to accept gracefully the gift. I happily paid it forward because, damn, I still have work, I don't have a lot of bills, and I don't have young'n's at home.

The intake guy wore a mask and gloves, and the usual taking-down-of-the-card-numbers was in abeyance for this week.

I was grateful to bring home good vegetables for the coming week:
  • Grape tomatoes
  • Roma tomatoes
  • Baby acorn squash
  • Green beans
  • A honeydew melon
  • Mini red bell peppers
  • English cucumbers

 In other shopping news, the shelves are still bare of these items:
  • Toilet paper
  • Paper towels
  • Bleach
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Gallon water jugs
  • Eggs

In the event I come down with the crown, I laid in a supply of some symptom-relieving meds. As my liquid hand soap supply is running low, I'm transferring to bars of soap, and I bought some of those today.

For my comfort items on Survivor Island, I bought a two-liter bottle of diet ginger ale and one of diet root beer.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Tucson, AZ: COVID-19 Unfolding, Part 3: Salt

It's no secret that I like my salt. For example: January 2011: Must-Have Travel Item #2

A few days ago, as I considered what items I might stock my pantry with in the event of a two-week self-quarantine, I checked my salt supply. It was probably OK, I thought. Besides, I'm trying to unload extraneous pantry items before I head out of Tucson the end of April.

But then, I re-thought. Is probably good enough?

Noooo, maybe not, a little brain worm niggled at me.

"Remember, Mzuri," the worm whispered. "Alas, Babylon. Alas, Babylon."

Yes. The 20th century tale of life after a nuclear war, by Pat Frank.

On the third day, Helen finds that all the food in the freezer has thawed. Randy goes into town to get salt to preserve the stock of meat. The supermarket shelves are empty, but he finds Pete Hernandez, the manager, in the stockroom guarding the last of the supplies. Randy pays him $200 for two sacks of salt. ....

 .... August, at the end of the summer, brings about scarcity; they run out of oranges and grapefruits, armadillos destroy the yam crop, the fish stop biting, and they run out of salt. Everyone in Fort Repose has depleted the salt supplies, and everyone is suffering. 

So I added salt to the list, which already included coffee, some canned soup and vegs, Crystal Light, and fresh fruit.

Only to discover that all of the table salt had vanished from the shelves. Sure, there were glass figures of pink and other "gourmet" salt, but no plain, ol' salt. Sheesh.

Except, there were three boxes of these remaining:

Salt. Tucson, Arizona. March 2020.


Another shopper and I looked diligently for a more reasonable alternative, but none was to be found.

Sheepishly, I bought a box, as did he, after calling his wife for an executive consultation. 

Fortunately, it was only a dollar and a half, so I don't feel that ridiculous.

And by golly, I've got the salt issue licked.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Tucson, AZ: COVID-19 Unfolding, Part 2: Neighborly Kindness

Neighbors helping neighbors make churchkhela. Kardanakhi, Kakheti, Caucasus Georgia. October 2011.

I walked to my car, noticing that various cars had a folded, white page of paper tucked into their windshield wipers. Ah, as did mine, I saw.

Opening it up, I read this, which was printed in both English and Spanish:

Hello! Do you need non-perishable food items or supplies right now? 

We are a group of neighbors who want to make sure that everyone in the neighborhood has the food and supplies they need in the coming weeks. We are not a church or an organization. 

Please call or text this number if you need non-perishable food or supplies: xxxxxxxxxxx. 

We can drop things off at your door. You can call or text now or at any time in the coming weeks. 

You can also call or text the number if you would like to donate food or supplies for your neighbors, or if you would like to volunteer to help deliver supplies. 

Please do not hesitate to call or text this number: xxxxxxxxx. 

I admire folks who see, early on, a problem they can help with, and who have the wit, grit and capacity to act right away, whereas I am a slow thinker.

My unknown neighbors' act reminds me of populations that survive because of neighborliness, such as in Caucasus Georgia, for millennia the target of invasions from other lands. And in rural South Louisiana, in which cyclical hard times and the isolation of  'otherness' at the hands of others, coalesced neighbors into local, informal circles of social services.

A beautiful thing.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Tucson, AZ: COVID-19 Unfolding, Part 1

Jícama on sale at Food City. Tucson, Arizona. March 2020.

As with many of us, I am watchful of the phenomena surrounding the eruption of COVID-19 née coronavirus or, as I've heard from my English-studying students, simply "corona."

I am fortunate. I have the luxury to be watchful in a detached way - for now.

I work remotely in two income streams thus far unaffected by the pandemic, so I can simply continue working as before. At least, that is my reality today.

And as an introvert who enjoys her cave time, the encouragement for all of us to stay home to help #flattenthecurve is a pass for guilt-free solitude.

But the ripple effect on so many from the closures of school, restaurants and bars, musical performances, festivals, museums ... It is awe-ful. Both awful and, at the same time, a phenomenon that compels one's respect for a lumbering, bellowing storm that bends low the trees around you, and darkens the sun.

Chicken liver omelette from Bobo's. Tucson, Arizona. January 2020.

It is odd to stay mostly at home in these days, where virtually all of one's conversations (both social and work-related) touch on "corona," and then to make a shopping or visiting foray, and things appear - on the surface - normal. (Well, except for some of the empty shelves at the markets.)

As I write this, it reminds me of my visit to Bayou Corne in South Louisiana, the epicenter of an astonishing sinkhole that released billows of methane gas, and threatened to suck the town into its dragon mouth. From appearances, animal and plant life seemed almost to throb with robust health, like a person whose rosy cheeks belie a burning fever within.

And this brings me to my photos in today's post.

I went to Food City yesterday for my jícama re-supply, and lo! There was a gigantic bin of jícama! On sale! And it was gloriously fresh jícama, with smooth, baby skin, promising juicy-licious crunch within. As I approached the bins, with angels singing in my head, a man also approached. We each stood before the bin, reverently. Albeit strangers, he and I exchanged words of love over the smooth infant heads. "With lime juice and Tajin?" "Oh, yes!" We smoothed our hands affectionately over the tender globes. We gathered little ones into our respective carts. And parted.

This morning, a Sunday, en route to visit a friend, I passed an iconic Tucson restaurant: Bobo's. Just like every Sunday morning, people hovered around the entrance, waiting for their turn at a breakfast table.

I had entered this holy temple with a friend in January, and I ordered a chicken liver omelette. About as rare a delicacy as fettucine alfredo with chicken livers. In the photo, you can see how plump the omelette is, shiny with flavorful grease, pregnant-to-popping with the chicken livers and sour cream within.

The semblance of normalcy.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Flashback to 2013: Alamogordo: The Disappearing Mountains

The mountains had presence in Alamogordo, except when they disappeared.

A re-post below from 2013.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Alamogordo: The Disappearing Mountains

I live perhaps half a mile - maybe less! I will clock it - from a front line of the Sacramento Mountains.

My apartment is oriented north-south, and I'm near the easternmost edge of town, and whether I look out my front window or back window, I see the mountains right there, so very close.

Alamogordo, New Mexico, 2013
The constancy of their presence is pleasing. I like to see how a day's changing light creates shadows on the mountain planes, shifting colors and depths in interesting ways.

Alamogordo, New Mexico, 2013

Some days the mountains disappear.

Alamogordo, New Mexico, 2013

Could be dust or snow or fog. It's uncanny.

The other day, I took the video below going east on Indian Wells to show how a dust-wind can completely obscure the Sacramento Mountains. You're looking right at the mountains in this video - but you can't see them, not til about 1:24.

Below is a video of the exact same route on a clear day. Mountains!

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Loose End from El Paso: Tumblewords Project: Erasure

Returning to El Paso from Juarez. November 2016.

One year ago today, February 2019, I attended the Tumblewords Project led by Gustavo Enriquez. I remembered him from a previous workshop, on corporeal poetry, I believe, in which his poem about a part of his body blew me away with its fresh creativity.

So on this day, Gustavo walked us through erasure poetry, which was new to me. It also goes by blackout poetry.

Gustavo distributed several stacks of magazines and old books around the horseshoe of workshop writers, inviting each of us to select a few pages from this or that, and then to black out what we didn't want from a text, leaving visible a poem. 

I mined two pieces from the ore.

It's Not Personal

The birds,
They see the wind.
That wind means no harm.

The earth turns.

Life intends to not cause pain.

The storm come and it pass.

The sun shines.

After the Storm

Up early.

The sun, drink.

Ready for



From failure.




In the rainbow, sat quiet in the brightness

Purring to


P.S. Talking about erasure reminds me of a witty, biting, sometimes hilarious book by the same name, written by Percival Everett.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Arizona: Phoenix: We take our bathroom security very seriously

I stayed at a modest motel in Phoenix over the weekend.

I had occasion to use the restroom in the lobby building. It's kept locked. The door has a doorknob set higher than the norm, such that one must actually raise one's arm a bit to turn it. That was a surprising touch.

When I went to the reception desk to get a key, the woman reached into a drawer under her counter, then hefted a heavy-ass chain onto the tall counter between us. It was a chain that you'd find attached to a damp stone wall down in a dungeon.

Somehow, I didn't say anything, but I know my pupils must have dilated in surprise, and inside I was chortling. Holy geeeeeeee, are you kidding me?! And here I didn't have my camera with me.  Which I later rectified, as you can see from the fact that I did get some pics from a visit upon check out.

Motel restroom key chain. Phoenix, Arizona. February 2020.

Motel restroom key chain. Phoenix, Arizona. February 2020.

I wondered to myself if the weighty chain is also considered a potential weapon in case the lobby should be stormed by somebody with bad intentions. Because I could see that maybe happening at that motel. It has an Anything-Could-Happen-at-Any-Moment (and has already done) kinda vibe, in addition to a We-Don't-Put-Up-With-Any-Kinda-Your-Shit vibe.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Flashback to 2012: Caucasus Georgia: Georgians Are Not Afraid of Electricity

Sometimes it amazes me how completely clueless I can be about the most obvious things. Like un-shelled eggs inside a chicken. What did I think before? I think I thought nothing about it at all, thus was startled to see something so unexpected. Read on for the details.

Monday, February 20, 2012 

Georgia: Georgians Are Not Afraid of Electricity 

Georgians are not afraid of electricity like we Americans are.

Men and women regularly fix electrical things with pliers, tape, and I don't know what else.

My host, Irakli, opened up a power strip, fiddled with its guts, applied some tape on its cord, put it all back together again, and plugged in a radio.

Rustavi: Irakli fixes a powerstrip

Rustavi: Irakli fixes a powerstrip

Speaking of guts, my hostess, Neli, cleaned up a dead chicken while Irakli worked above. Did I know unlaid eggs were in a hen when it was butchered? I guess if I'd thought about it, I'd have maybe said yes. But I didn't, so I was morbidly scientifically interested in seeing this.

It's the damndest thing.

Rustavi: Eggs in hen

Rustavi: Eggs in hen

Rustavi: Eggs in hen

I didn't know this, but Neli uses these unlaid eggs in a special soup she makes of chicken broth, flour, milk and herbs. The soup I ate earlier today, from a different chicken.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Word of the Year 2020: Build 2

Clark Bridge over Mississippi River, between W. Alton, Missouri, and Alton, Illinois. May 2011.

Thus far

Word of the Year: Build 1

At a Tumblewords Project workshop I attended during my early-2019 revisit to El Paso, I wrote the poem, Family Fronterista, at the bottom of this page.

Dr. Yolanda Chávez Leyva (who writes the blog FierceFronteriza) led this February workshop.

She introduced the workshop by noting the anniversary of the February 2, 1848, signing of the Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo.

Mexicans who lived in the territory lost by Mexico to the United States in the Mexican-American War had one year to choose whether or not to be US citizens (and stay or move) or Mexican citizens (and move).

With a writing prompt linked to the possession/loss of a national identity, or at least a cultural identity, and on the rigidity or fluidity of borders, the family story of one of my El Paso friends came to mind. In both cases, it was necessary to build a new family, to lay a new hearth.

My friend's story inspired my poem below.

 Family Fronterista

Six sisters
Drew a line
And said to Seventh Sister:
"You are not of us anymore.
"You are on the other side of this line - -

Seventh Sister
She closed her eyes
She turned around
To survey her new land
A desert it seemed.

She squared her shoulders
She made a life
A husband for awhile
Children forever
A business.

She climbed mountains, forded rivers
Crossed borders, except
That one -
Her visa revoked.

One day, a phone call.
A woman, unknown.
"My family name is Abrán .
"I am told yours is the same."
"Yes," said Seventh Sister.
"It is the name I was born into."
"Are we family"? the woman asked.

The women walked
Up and down and over the
Lines of grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles.
No connections.

Finally, the woman named Abrán said:
"No matter.
"Come to us. We lack a Seventh Sister."

And Seventh Sister smiled.
She said,
"Yes, I've been looking for you.
"I am coming home."

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Tucson, AZ: Threading

I had my brows and face threaded yesterday at a shop here in Tucson.

Holy mother of God it hurt! Maybe I exaggerate a little. But I don't know: It was intense.

I didn't remember such acute, scissor-like pain when I had my brows or face threaded before.

As I sat in the chair, I remembered past brow-zings with wax, tweezers or thread, some of which I collected in a post from 2015, and which I offer below:

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Rootless Brow - zing

The other day, I had my brows waxed. While I lay on the table, I remembered other such times.

In Awassa, Ethiopia, two men at a salon threaded my brows. After my brows got cleaned up, I continued my walk "home," and saw:  
... there were 15 giant storks. Huge. One alighted, then disgorged food into the mouths of two gangly "teenagers." I watched, agog. A short walk further, directly before me, another tree filled with storks. Walking underneath (glad I had my hat on), I looked up and counted more than 10 oversize nests. As with the Bale Mountain forest, this was the stuff of medieval fairy tales.

Around the corner-ish from my temporary digs in Istanbul, I got my whole face threaded. Amazing how that works, cause you wouldn't think it would.

In 2010, on a road trip with my mother, I had my face cleaned up in a Walmart in Canyon City, Texas.

In Rustavi, Georgia, there were a couple of rugged waxings at a local salon. Yeow. But speaking of Caucasus Georgia, the Georgian women have spectacular brows.

Here's one woman's experience getting her brows done in Nice (waxed) and Palestine (tweezed).

Friday, January 17, 2020

Weekend in Yuma, Arizona, Part 5: Dateland

Dates, Dateland, Arizona. January 2020.


"Like a lot of people in Arizona, these [date] palms are not native to the Southwest."

On my way to Yuma, I zipped by Dateland. I promised myself to stop there on the way back home on Sunday. Which I did. 

The moment I walked into the Dateland travel store, I saw them. Jars of plump dates perched on the bar to the left. Succulent, decadent dates. Angled toward me in an inviting way, encouraging me to raise the steel lids, to pluck their thick bodies from the glass wombs, and gobble them up. Like a hen on a grub, fat and chewy.

I felt wonder at the prospect they might be available for tasting. I asked a store clerk: "Are these for tasting? Free?"

The clerk nodded affirmatively.

Oh, my. 

Spoiler alert:

Dates, Dateland, Arizona. January 2020.

The honey dates are the sweetest, moistest, sinful-est best.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Weekend in Yuma, Arizona, Part 3: Elvis is Still in the Building

Elvis competition 2020, Quechan Casino. Winterhaven, California. January 2020.

Without hesitation, I plunked down 40 bucks to go to the Saturday night Elvis Presley impersonator competition at the Quechan Casino in Winterhaven, California, just outside of Yuma.

Elvis competition 2020, Quechan Casino. Winterhaven, California. January 2020.

For me to throw down 40 bucks for a couple of hours of entertainment is extraordinary. I'm not even particularly swoon-y over Elvis, though I do admire the singer's recorded-for-posterity voice, persona, swagger, and good looks. I liked watching his movies as a kid, and I have a cousin who, as a teen and young man, looked very much like Elvis in his prime.

While I lived in South Louisiana, I found this hypnotic song between Elvis and Kitty White, singing Crawfish, from his movie King Creole:

So. TEN Elvises on stage? When would this opportunity ever come by again? And what else could compete on a Saturday night in Yuma? This had all the cachet of going to the Olean Testicle Festival, but in a climate-controlled room in a comfortable seat!

The Elvises delivered, with the exception of the guy who chose to sing - out of all of the songs in Elvis' immense catalog - the so-called American Trilogy.

The American Trilogy is a medley of three songs:
  • I Wish I Was in Dixie
  • Battle Hymn Republic
  • All My Trials (or Sorrows)

Why, of all songs, would an Elvis competitor choose this song? And why would the contest folks permit it?

Presenting all three songs in this emo-inducing medley gives equal weight to a sentimental yearning for the "grace" of a plantation idyll, to marching Union solders, and to the cry of a mother to her infant.  ....

Oh I wish I was in the land of cotton
Old times there are not forgotten
Look away, look away, look away Dixieland.

Dixie doesn't deserve any fair-handedness. Dixie is a dark, dark period in our history, and we need to treat it as such, and stop romanticizing it.

Except in the group shots on stage, there are no photos of that Elvis who chose to sing this song.

A slide show of Elvises below:

Elvis Presley Competition 2020


Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Louisiana Loose End: New Roads and In Memorium

Ernest J. Gaines. Photo credit: Source: Academy of Achievement interview, 2001.

In memorium: Ernest J. Gaines

I've written several times about one of Louisiana's (and arguably, California's) sons, author Ernest J. Gaines.

He died in November.

Mr. Gaines was one of my two most important cultural interpreters for my time in Louisiana. (The other was James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux.)

Mr. Gaines told generations of stories of Louisiana. No, that's not right.

Mr. Gaines told stories of relationships. Relationships between men and women, between parents and children, between people who were enslaved and people who had supreme power over their daily lives, between people whose melanin content fell on a continuum from maple to walnut, between people whose ancestors originated in France and people whose ancestors came from what is now Senegal and Mali, between people who spoke French and people who spoke English, between black sharecroppers and white Cajun sharecroppers, between black Louisianans who stayed in Louisiana and those who joined the decades-long diaspora north or west.

Louisiana did play a role, of course. Louisiana was the one constant among the changing names and eras of Mr. Gaines' flawed heroes and heroines, villains, those who saw, those who saw and did not see, those who stood by, and those who stood up.

I drove three times to the New Roads area, driving by his house in nearby Oscar, pulling into the drive in front of his gate, pressing the intercom, in the hopes I'd be one of the lucky few to be able to visit the church on his grounds, the church he'd attended as a child, which he'd moved from its original location, to save it.  And, oh yes, to perhaps meet him in person. My attempts were for naught, alas.

En route to New Roads, Louisiana. January 2016.

New Roads, 2016

New Roads, Louisiana. January 2016.

On one of the New Roads trips, I poked into town.  I walked around one of the historic neighborhoods and took pictures of pretty bungalows, like these:

New Roads, Louisiana. January 2016.

New Roads, Louisiana. January 2016.

New Roads, Louisiana. January 2016.

Since I couldn't connect with Mr. Gaines directly, I looked for him through his past. As a tween, Mr. Gaines attended the St. Augustine Catholic School for several years before migrating to California. I found the church and attended a service there.

St. Augustine Catholic Church, New Roads, Louisiana. January 2016.

St. Augustine Catholic Church, New Roads, Louisiana. January 2016.

Wayward buggies

The "buggies" in New Roads, Louisiana, loiter wantonly just as they seem to do in all of Louisiana.

New Roads, Louisiana. January 2016.

On further reflection, the above photo suggests a conscious gathering of carts, likely up to no good.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Louisiana 2019 Loose End: Babies Jesus at the Flea Market

Babies Jesus at the Lafayette Jockey Lot. Lafayette, Louisiana. January 2019.

A year ago at this time, in South Louisiana, I said goodbye to my old travel mate and hello to my new. I was in the process of leaving my previous tourist-in-residence behind and en route to my new.

A friend and I visited the Lafayette Jockey Lot one morning, a weekend flea market, where I saw Babies Jesus.

Babies Jesus at the Lafayette Jockey Lot. Lafayette, Louisiana. January 2019.

Babies Jesus at the Lafayette Jockey Lot. Lafayette, Louisiana. January 2019.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

The Meaning of Yellow Flowers

Yellow flowers and rain gutter near Campbell and Fort Lowell. Tucson, Arizona. May 2019.

Yesterday, as I lay on my airbed reading a young-adult science fiction novel, I was warm; the surface supporting my body, soft. If I had to go to the bathroom, the toilet and sink were literally around the corner of my bedroom. Hungry? Get up and walk a few steps to my refrigerator or pantry, in clean socks, on a clean floor.

In a parallel universe, in Mexico City, was a young guy who'd slept on the street last night. It dropped into the 30s. In the past 18 months, he'd survived:
  • Journey in one of the caravans from Honduras to Mexico City
  • Journey into the US, where he was detained in an "icebox" for some time
  • Illness and despair when he returned to Mexico City
  • Year, in all, in Mexico City, with food and shelter insecurities
  • Isolation from family and friends back home, and the friends and short-term security he'd held while at Casa de los Amigos
  • Faltering hope

Such long-term hardship - beginning before he embarked on a self-rescue mission, when he joined that caravan from Central America - has pushed his spirit into a crevasse, and this weekend, maybe he is on a bus to Chiapas, Mexico, headed back in the direction of Honduras.  Honduras. Whose nickname from the Reagan era was: USS Honduras

He told me: "I don't want to keep suffering."

Here's the thing. There will be suffering in Honduras, too. But maybe it will be closer to family and old friends, so perhaps a more familiar suffering, with people who love him?

I say this with a question mark because I really don't have a clue. I can have an intellectual grasp of his life in this moment, but not the gut understanding of one who has also lived through a war. Because a war, it is, for the usual things: power and greed, both in-country and from out-of-country, and where men, women, and children, individuals like my cheeky, charming young guy are just collateral damage.

Oh, right. The yellow flowers.

In the U.S., yellow flowers bespeak happiness and joy. In Central America, death and funerals.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Tucson, AZ: A Human Heart in Hands

Heart-holder outside Borderlinks. Tucson, Arizona. September 2019.

I took these photos in September.

The person holding the big heart stands outside the Borderlinks entrance on 6th Avenue.

At first, I presumed the heart-holder to be a woman. Probably is. But when I looked again at the photos, the person's gender is uncertain. 

Heart-holder outside Borderlinks. Tucson, Arizona. September 2019.

This is fitting. I like that we are in a place where a person is (increasingly) able to adorn themselves in any manner they wish, including crossing traditional gender lines for hair, clothing, cosmetics, colors, how they carry themselves, or how they express their love.

The tall, rosy, heart-holder still stood when I was again at Borderlinks in December, for another desert run for Tucson Samaritans. I was glad to see them.

Friday, January 3, 2020

2000th Blog Post

Newspaper toilet paper at Mtskheta museum, near Tbilisi, Caucasus Georgia. November 2011.

I recently published my 2000th blog post. 

A retrospective of benchmark posts

I've been writing Living Rootless for nine years now.

In the past nine years, blog rules, roles and rolls have evolved.


Prior to 2010, when I first entered the blogosphere as a writer (in pre-Living Rootless iterations), earnest bloggers promulgated earnest rules. A memorable rule was the dictate to be transparent about all edits to protect the sanctity of one's original published blog post. To be transparent, a blog writer should overlay a strikethrough across the old text and highlight the new.

There was a puzzling presumption of ethics that went with this rule. Never mind that writers of prose, poetry, plays, stand-up comedy, songs, and performance art edit their work all the time, stopping only when the piece is literally cast in an unchangeable form, such as print or film. Even then, an author can serve up new, revised editions in the future.

Yeah, well, I never followed this blog rule.


The popularity of blogs seems to have peaked a couple of years after I debuted Living Rootless.

The monetization appeal

At the time, the web was awash with how-to's for monetization, the importance of SEO, how to get the best placement on the various search engines, "link love," ad placements, guest posts, "Best of" lists, etc., etc.

There was a moment, early on, when I included some ads, got my blog onto various blog registries and search engines, played about with meta tags, and so on. It wasn't long, however, before I discovered how all this began to influence decisions vis a vis content and the frequency with which I posted.

At the end of the day, I wanted to write a blog that:
  1. Gives me pleasure in the writing, and in the revisiting of moments that I would likely forget otherwise
  2. Exercises my writing muscles
  3. Might be of interest to my descendants
  4. Pleases any strangers that stop by

 I stripped away the ads and felt freer for the loss.

Blog disrupters

Other social media platforms that entice with the promise of fame-by-followers have waxed and waned since the height of blogs: Pinterest, Snapchat, Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube ...

Most of the blogs I used to follow lay fallow.

The reasons vary:
  1. Their authors moved to a new chapter in their lives, and therefore, their blogs are complete.
  2. Their authors migrated to Instagram or other venues and intentionally abandoned their blogs. 
  3. Blogging was a trend, and as with all trends, writers and readers exchanged the old for new.
  4. Authors followed the common wisdom to build an online presence across multiple platforms, and have been unable to maintain their blogs while also feeding content to their Twitter or Instagram accounts, which are greedy little birds. Related: Former blog readers found 24-7, constantly changing content in the smaller, snappier social platforms, and turned their attention to these. 
  5. An indirect factor, perhaps: Wordpress did a bang-up job of marketing itself as the premier blog platform for the mass of bloggers, with a companion message against Blogger as a loser platform. The problem here? Wordpress, when done up well, is a sleek, elegant application to host one's blog. But Wordpress' dirty little secret is that it is difficult to learn for most. I've tried several times to build a wordpress site, and although I've got more technical savvy than the typical blogger, I've quit the attempt each time because the learning curve is such a frustrating, counter-intuitive pain in the ass. Blogger has its limitations, to be sure, but almost anyone can get one up and running in minutes. How many would-be bloggers attempted to use the presumed best platform to launch a blog, only to be cowed into surrender? 

Future roles

I don't know the future of blogs.

If blogs decline in a major way, the likelihood of a blog platform such as Blogger (owned by Google) being terminated will become a concern. Transferring a blog, especially one as long-lived as mine, from one platform to another, is a task fraught with anxiety over the possibility of partial or wholesale loss of content, formatting, images, links, permissions, etc.


Blog rolls - lists of blogs that a blogger follows - used to be a really big thing. To get on someone's blog roll was a way to boost one's blog rank in search engines, thereby drawing more readers to one's blog, thereby lying in wait for them to click on one of your monetization ads, thereby ....

From a less jaded perspective, blog rolls are a convenient vehicle for a blogger to track the blogs they personally enjoy reading. They are also a valuable service to a blog's readers who might be interested in the same blogs the author finds appealing.

The longer one's blog roll, the more arduous the task of checking currency of the list. All too often, a blog on a list is defunct.

(Ha! This reminds me of a related housekeeping issue, especially for a nine-year blogger like me - not having a system for checking past posts for dead links - guilty!)

Here's to a 10th year of Living Rootless.       

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Flashback to 2011: Email Accounts Maintenance

Below flashes back to my January 2, 2011, post on email accounts maintenance.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Email Accounts Maintenance

Too many email accounts?

I dumped one email account today. Which brings me down to eleven. How'd I get so many email accounts? I've got:
  1. The one with my real name that I use professionally;
  2. The one I use for newspaper and other media registration so I can submit online commentary;
  3. The one I use for a flickr account;
  4. The two "stupid" accounts I set up with two different providers for when I am on the road;
  5. The one I set up to join a listserv and maintain anonymity;
  6. The one I had to set up with a particular provider so I could join a group related to the listserv;
  7. The one I set up to replace the one google shut down, only to regain the earlier one just a few days after I created the replacement account;
  8. The one I use with facebook
  9. The one I use for administrative stuff; and
  10. The one I set up for a genealogical archive, which I'll hand off one day.

It's absurd. Can I be rootless with so many email accounts? Does having 11 email accounts fall into the too-much-stuff category? I don't know  Probably yes Yes, but I'm not ready today to delete any more than the one I released today. Perhaps tomorrow.

Here's what some others have to say on the topic:

You can also get a 10-minute email account. Genius.

Account maintenance today

I made sure every account had a designated password-recovery account the provider can send a password reset email to.

I reviewed all of the passwords to make sure they were strong, but still simple for me to remember. I changed many of them.

Or you can go here to find out how long it would take for a "brute assault," using computers, to crack your password. It's suggested you not enter the exact password you use or intend to use. The site's owner, Eric Wolfram, writes this interesting article about good passwords.[2020 update: Go here for what I believe is the current best practice for most of us - passphrases instead of passwords.]


Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Word of the Year 2020: Build 1

Washington State Park, Missouri. October 2009.

In 2018, my word of the year was Courage.
In 2019, Action.

This year: Build.

I've gone round and round about the best word for 2020 to describe what I'd like to do in the coming year. Build. Create. Foundation. Connect.

Build doesn't quite do the trick, but it is good enough. And, "good enough," I've found, is often ..... good enough. Good enough to keep oneself from staying lost, good enough to enrich one's finite time on the planet, and good enough to prepare one's body and spirit for the inevitable vicissitudes to come.

Mineral Spring Park, Borjomi, Caucasus Georgia. April 2012.

My pen name, Mzuri, has two meanings for me.

One is its translation from Swahili: fine, good.

Another is that it sounds like the name, Missouri, as in the river.

As with the desert, a river is both beautiful and deadly, indiscriminately. 

My ''house" was built - generations before my birth - on a river flood plain. I was born on the flood plain, grew up on the flood plain, spent a goodly amount of my adult life on the flood plain.

Periodically, floods came into my house, then retreated. I could right overturned furniture, sweep and mop much - never all - of the mud left behind, launder soiled clothes and curtains and rugs. For most of my life, I had not the vision to see that the foundation of my house needed repair. Well, and I really didn't want to see it, anyway. It would cost too much to fix, and I didn't have the resources to do that.

... let's fast forward through the flood analogy, shall we?

Eventually, I did see the failing foundation, and I gathered some resources to repair it, with some success. Until the next flood, then the one after, and the one after - which simply washed away the house, leaving behind the repaired foundation.

This past year, I've been living in a tent next to that foundation, the house above it gone.

I could choose to rebuild on that foundation in that flood plain. But no, I think not.

Mtkvari River, near Rustavi, Caucasus Georgia. September 2011.

Instead, I'm going to build a new home on a new foundation, within sight of the beautiful river, but on higher ground, in stable soil, and in connection with people who live in the light.

Hahahahaha, not that I'm ready to plop down my physical roots yet.