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Posts Tagged ‘questions’

To me, this is the beauty of the united states: the glorious opportunity for a mismatched group of people to find peace together. For diversity and coexistence to come to life. There are so many beliefs, so many interests, so many personal ideals all living under one “roof.” Life is like a record store, Forrest: everyone’s vinyl is a different vintage. Some folks are jazzy, others full of metal rage. There are soft-spoken crooners and exploratory concept bands. And due to luck, fate, alphabetics, they might all be leaning against each other in the “C” box. Coltrane. Claw Finger. Crosby. Cooper. I discuss this concept with one of my favorite housemates, a grad student named Hank who does the New York Times crossword every morning. He disagrees. No man, life is like a fridge with magnetic words all over it. Sometimes they come together and make a sentence, and sometimes it’s just non-sense. But the point is, green and mother and moon are all on the same playing field. It’s just a matter of who will notice and put them together. It’s the divine spirit, the god and goddess writing a giant, ever-changing fridge poem. We contemplate this, as we drink fair trade organic coffee from chipped thrift store ceramic mugs.
“Hank. I know you have all the good mugs in your room, dude. Time to share or prepare for a raid.”
He smiles says, “Ten letters. Tom Cruise Mission.”
Impossible. I laugh as he walks away with a pen, newspaper, and yet another cup to his room. Jen and Lars come down from the attic in their pjs, which consist of a giant Steve Miller band T-shirt and a silk robe, respectively. I ask them what life is like. Lars slides next to me on the bench.He says, “It’s like some modern abstract painting: no one fucking knows what it means. Even the artist makes up some bullshit ethereal contemplation, but he doesn’t know, man. It’s all these colors and lines and shadows. Fucking beautiful.” Jen likes this because she’s the modern abstract artist. She slides onto the bench too, with two steaming cups of tea and honey. They sip gratefully, the warmth wet on their lips. Her eyes wander up and to the left, meaning she’s thinking of something good to say. Hmmmmmmm. Her eyes then close. She purrs, “Life is like a library.” She’s quiet again, as if she will keep her revelation to herself. And incredulous Lars comments that she probably hasn’t been in a library in years. She ignores him and explains: “There’s non-fiction and fiction separated into different rooms. Magazines and movies and newspapers get divided. Allende and Alcott make it so South American spirits sit next to young Victorian heiresses. Homeless men sleep in corners and yuppie kids play chase around bookshelves. Chaos and order in the same place all the time.” As she says this, Adam comes in and asks if she’s talking about our kitchen. And then he sighs because there are no more mugs in the cupboard. I stretch and pass him mine as I stand to face the day.

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-AUTHOR’S NOTE: Thanks for the poll responses!  As the writing progresses, I have many new thoughts about formatting and the overall layout of the novel.  Things might change up a little bit here and there, as I settle in to the tone and direction of the stories.  Thanks for your patience!  And for those of you who are interested, I have simultaneously started writing about the writing process as I do this.  Feel free to read alongside! http://theblankpagedwriter.wordpress.com/  Cheers!-

He came home, opened the door, as if he knew (and he did know) that the dog was right behind the door, tirelessly wriggling his whole body in anticipation of that door.  They didn’t skip a beat; after a jolly reunion they headed straight for the thin but well-worn footpath.  

            What a particularly annoying day at work, and an extra loud day on the bus.  Thank god for this walk, just two minutes in and my heart starts to beat faster in happy exhilaration from moving my legs, from breathing crisp air, from escaping the squeeze of man-made things.  I’ve got to get a new doctor- that shmuck doesn’t even know what’s good for me.  High blood pressure. Bah. 

The afternoon sun is lower on the horizon.  The nights are producing more and more dew, until one morning we will wake up to white-edged frost painting every jagged leaf and pine.  Makea runs to the right somewhere, her wet nose just barely skimming the surface of the padded ground.  Shafts of sunlight stand tilted between trunks of douglas firs and pasty aspensThe trees have mostly dropped all their cones, as if they were women tossing handkerchiefs at a military parade.  Clay looks at them, and lost in recounting the day, the leaf litter blurs behind his thoughts.

 Pine cones. That little kid kept asking me questions about pine cones today.  He just had to ditch the family outing and interrupt me while I was raking. Reaching into my piles of leaves and needles and holding up a cone, asking me what tree it was from.  Asking what they were for and why they were shaped that way and why some were different colors and why why why why until I shouted at him to go buy a book about pine cones.  His eyes got big and he looked like he might cry and then- I can’t believe it- he started asking more questions!  Where do you buy books about pine cones and do I have one he could borrow and do I like my job and…I mean, I guess the kid had some good questions.  But it was as if his parent’s had never shown him a tree before.  And I’m not about to give the kid a lesson in plant reproduction. 

            He continued hiking up to one of his favorite spots- a grove of aspens in the folded v of a valley.  It was almost perfectly hidden from the trail, and from where he sits, the buzz of the town has completely faded to silent.  He savors the quiet, as if it were a tangible thing to taste on his tongue. His fingers soak into the spongy moss; and he smiles at the sensation that the ground softly gives way to his weight.  The breeze pushes the leaves into making a shushing sound and  gently tumbles through his hair

              It’s amazing the things I miss even when just walking on the trail.  As soon as I stop moving I hear the chick-a-dee-dee-dee singing and I see a nuthatch hopping in curls around a thick branch. Alright, so a plane flies overhead, you can’t completely escape.  But this is where I fit.  Every living thing around me knows its place and purpose and the good sense not to ask why or try and take more than what they need.  No more, no less- this is my definition of equality. 


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Do you mean the near future? Or do you mean the next five years?  Or a life plan? Are you referring to a career or personal goals? Or definitive plans or pipe dreams?

 (I would just like to know when you are going to graduate from high school, and if you know what you want to do after that- career wise?)

Well I graduate on June 7th this year.  And I’m already doing what I want to do after that.

(Could you please elaborate on that?)

On graduation or on what I am doing?

(You can pick whichever is more important for you to talk about.)

I am a painter.  I paint landscapes and people and still life and native Alaskan line art.  I paint on canvases, on totems, on drums, and masks.  I like using oil paints and thin, fine brushes because then I can control all the details.  Have you ever seen Tlingit art?  It’s all about symmetry and images within images and symbolic use of color and tiny details.  I like painting because I can get lost in it, because I can be in a world of bright turquoise, and not look up at the trash blowing down the street, or hear the kids picking fights with each other, or my brother playing violent video games too late at night.

(Do you earn a living doing this?)

A little bit.  But mostly I work after school for a historical tour company.  I don’t really like it too much, people get off their cruise ships just long enough to take pictures of our mountains and ooh and ahh over our artwork, and to ask dumb questions like what elevation are we at? (Duh, you came in on an ocean liner.)  Why do you think people enjoy doing things like that on their vacations?  They memorize “Fun Facts and Points of Information” about a history that’s not even their own, and then return home to a place who’s history they don’t care about knowing, so they can brag to their friends about how much they know about the world.  What’s the point?

(Do you know a lot about the history of where you live?)

It’s one of the most important things to know, along with the true names of things. You see, the names and the history are the same; to know one, you know the other. In Sitka, there are two predominant native Alaskan tribes: the Tlingit and Haida, which have been around longer than America was called America. To say you are a “Tlingit” from “Sitka” originally meant you were one of “The People” from “The Outside of Shee Island.”  Most Americans don’t give much thought to their names, but to our people, the true name of a person, place, animal, or object is to give it respect.  For example, in common speech you would say, “There goes Shaun Sloan, a high schooler from Sitka.”  But if you wanted to say it with truth and respect, you would say “There goes t`sagwalt` from Shee At’ika, an artist and student, of the Lukaax.adi clan.” Which tells more of a story.  The Tlingit are divided into two moieties- the Ravens and the Eagles. I am a member of the Ravens, and furthermore, I am part of the Lukaax.adi clan, whose crest is the Red Salmon.  Every name has a history, a purpose.  Including my own.

 

 

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(Let me explain a bit about why you are reading this.  I’m not going to be presumptuous enough to declare why you chose/ found/ were given this particular book.  You can read lots of studies about how people do judge a book by its cover, by its author, by the lighting and shelf location, and the timing of fate.  Sometimes you go to reach for an interesting book and someone walks by with remnants of dog poop on their shoe and you are repulsed by the smell, so your hand instinctively shrinks back and thus you have dodged some unknown.  This is not what I am going to be (or am even capable of) explaining.  Instead, let me give you the back story about how this book got to where it is.  It started out as a conversation, a few years back…
I was a radio talk show host; my program was about recent news or studies, anyone could call in or email to share their thoughts, opinions, questions. Usually I have guests, experts or eyewitnesses in a field related to the topic of the hour.  It’s fun, check it out sometime, I’m pretty sure it’s still running.  Anyways, the topic on that fateful day (Of which I have no recollection of the date…Isn’t that funny? A life changing moment and I can’t even tell you exactly when it was. I feel like so often people remember explicit details at important moments, like “I was drafted on October 12, 1940” or, “I met him on the E. line at 67 Avenue on a sunny Monday afternoon” or, “I was brushing my teeth  and wearing my favorite flannel pajamas when I heard the news.”  I’m sure I could look it up in radio archives, but never felt the need to revisit- as if I could forget what happened anyways.) (Ahem, the topic) was celebrating community.
Seems innocent enough, people were calling in about nice neighbors and gay parades and city projects to support the disabled.  I was actually getting really riled up and excited about it, maybe even borderline preachy, telling everyone how important it was for us all come together on the same page about what it means to be a community. I was spewing out words like diversity, municipality, local, global, progress.   Hell, if you didn’t know any better you would have thought I was some Yankee Doodle Dandy about to vomit out a new world motto.  You know, community, I was talking about it, and so was everyone, and we were all on the same page.  Except, about 45 minutes into the show, you-know-what creeped in to the conversation.  (Okay, side note again! Don’t roll your eyes, this one’s important.  I am describing this Unanswerable Question in terms of fear and negativity.  But let’s be honest, my whole career is based on questions, my job is to give people tough questions to think about, the most brilliant people in the world are good at asking questions, we are born asking questions.  I love questions.  But in this case, the question in question (!) didn’t provide me with a sense of academic thirst, or a child-like wonder, or a journalistic squirm.  Instead, I felt ignorant, dread, and impotence at my inability to round together even a reasonable reply.  Something that should never happen to a well-known talk show host on-air.  I was beaten at my own game.  And for that question, while I am grateful for what the search for its answer has taught me, I will forever hold a deep and fearful respect for.) I answered a call from a young man in Alaska. He started with the typical “Thanks for letting me talk, I have been listening with interest about what everyone has said,” etc etc.  It was a little static-y because of the long distance, but suddenly  his words rang loud and clear: “But what if we define it differently?” )

(And then the show was suspended in mid-air for a moment.  And I began to pick up the pieces of my shattered understanding. The thought was followed by eloquent, controversial, beautiful explanation; clearly born out of struggle to understand the concept of community. I sat quietly, while I (and many of the listeners) absorbed the well-thought-out monologue.   As I took in the words, I knew that there had to be more, that out there were other diverse and unsung definitions living among us.  So I began this project: whose results have produced the words you are reading now; to interview a variety of people who define community in different ways, including the caller with The Question; to let them do most of the talking; to put their ideas onto paper and let it be read by the world; to start a million conversations in which we can re-interpret words we think we all define the same.)

(My questions and prompts will be in parentheses throughout their narratives.)

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This is a work of fiction. Enjoy!

(What do you do when a question is unanswerable?  I mean, there are the questions that you simply don’t know the answer to; and there are questions you prefer not to respond to because of sworn secrecy; and there are the standard theoretical questions that are used somewhat as a statement more than a query(see line one).  But then.  There is a separate category  altogether, of questions that are begging and shouting and pleading for answers; questions that make your mouth hang open or your pulse quicken or your mind race in no particular direction; questions that your soul and your brain are stirring to respond to but ultimately fall short of answering.  What do you do when you are fielded such an anomaly? Please tell me because I still want to know, even though the last time that happened to me was years ago.  Please tell me, because if it happens again, I want to be prepared this time so it doesn’t so radically change the course of my life. )

(It turns out that The Unanswerable Question can be surprisingly simple.  It doesn’t have to involve complex social theories or dense scientific data.  Nor does the syntax of the sentence need be long and complicated.  For me and my experience, it was six words followed by a question mark.  But again, let me remind you this is no ordinary question mark.  This symbol of inquiry hung in the air and grew until it filled the room.  It pressed out all other sounds, leaving a suffocating and pounding silence.  It squeezed into my lungs and left me no room for breath, let alone the chance to make a sound.  It blinded, it gagged, it threatened and menaced.  Color faded to black and white, everything in the room was broken, even time was cut open by the sharp edges of the mark.  It took about 2.3 seconds to ask; and eons to process what had been asked.   But before you get grandiose ideas about this seemingly mind-breaking inquiry (too late), know that it was certainly not the first time it has ever been asked.  In fact, it might not have even been the first time it has been asked of me.  And yet, this question did more than move me, it strapped me to a moving U-Haul and shipped me down Highway 70. It’s incredible that this small and otherwise unnoticeable part of my day has meant so much.  And yet here you are, reading about it.)

To be continued…

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