Tuesday, December 29, 2015


St. John’s was just over the border in Ontario, but a lifetime away. We waited, my parents and I, with a bunch of kids with rucksacks and duffels, for permission to get aboard. It was a short plane ride into another world. Far away. At the time I worried it might be too far from everything I had known.
It felt like we were being chased to the edge. There was a war on and things were getting worse every day. It was getting darker and dirtier. People were frightened. I knew my mother worried about me going so far from home, but I knew she was already worried. I could see them on the edges—men with guns and big face masks, the kind that protects from gas, and we knew that it would be safer on the other side.
It was. When I arrived I was one of many coming to St. John’s, to study and to live. It was bright and the air was fresh. Just over the border, but life was thriving. The other kids at the school were robust and friendly. I got involved right away in a hospitality club. Classes hadn’t started yet, so we had lots of time to discuss club protocols. How should tables be set? Should there be candles and flowers? Would the club director decide everything, or should we get to choose for ourselves? No one was surprised when I voted for the latter. I was surprised though when everyone else did too. We posted our notes on a high green chalkboard to keep track of everything.

The kids at St. Johns loved to swim. And living there, so did I. I swam well and quickly. There was a massive pool at the school. It seemed to go on forever, with long staircases leading down to various levels. Kids swam in teams and raced against one another. Everyone had fun. I felt that I was one of them, fitting in easily with my tight swim cap and muscled shoulders. We all headed together to the changing room, towels around our waists. Classes were about to begin.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Maps from a Dream

The lock on my door was just a hook and eye, but it was fine. I knew I was safe. I thought I was safe. We all did then.
I was waiting for Almonzo. It was dark and I closed the window. My bed was unmade and it was dark inside too except for some dim light coming from somewhere. Our hall was one of the cheaper ones in the compound because it was so close to the road, but the apartments were nicer. At least I thought so. Mine had lots of wood and dark green carpet, wall to wall, and there were pretty little lead glass windows that looked out onto the pasture. There may have been horses out there that night. Almonzo loved the horses. He seemed to understand them somehow, their wildness. He even looked like them a little. That sounds strange, doesn’t it? His hair was corse and curly. It felt wonderful in my hands.
The first time we kissed was at his place down the hall. He had a bigger apartment, big enough for two or more, with an upstairs and a lovely high ceiling in the living room. We were leaning against his long wooden bar and he pulled me near, slowly.  His lips were so soft. I wanted to stay in his arms forever, but then there were footsteps. His door was open and the footsteps stopped at the threshold.
“Clarissa. She’s seen us.” Almonzo ran ahead of me and I snuck out through another door leading into his garden. I paused there behind a wall covered in vines—I could hear them arguing—then scampered down the steps and around to my place. No one saw me.

In those days I liked to keep my hair and makeup neat. I spend as much time as it took to get them both just so. I thought of it all as part of my work. I’d come far in my field and I wanted to look right. I only had to wash my hair a couple of times a week but I wet it everyday in the shower. I shaved everyday too. That was what we all did though, all us girls. The clothing requirements were pretty strict: pencil skirts of light wool in the fall and winter and linen in the warm months, simple cotton blouses, heels. Nothing over two inches. No jewelry except for gold chains with lockets and no hanging earrings.

I added my own touches and no one said anything. All the girls had to keep their hair short or in an updo. I liked to keep my hair in a really full bob. Rollers and plenty of hairspray everyday. Sure, I was vain about my hair. I guess I was vain about a lot of things. I used makeup. Not too much. I didn’t want to look trampy, but I did like a little drama. Dark kohl around the my eyes. Mascara, on the lashes and brows. Pale lipstick. I kept it simple but, well I guess assertive would be the word. I liked an assertive look. And I liked to be able to think and move. The work required both.

When things got more serious with Almonzo and me we began to work together. We were in one of the smaller offices with a row of desks. There were a few other men besides Almonzo and no other girls. Almonzo ran the office of course. He was always one of the smartest men. He had a fire in him, like he really cared. There weren’t many like that in those days. Maybe there aren’t any now. 

I knew I was like that too in my own way. I was important. I guess I got to where it meant a lot to me, working with him. Even before things got bad and we were concerned.

See, there was this video from the old days, from before the current administration. The guy in the video was older and he wore wire glasses. I remember noticing that because nobody wore wire glasses in our time. He had on a suit, like the ones Almonzo wore, with a tie. But he wore a small pin on his lapel. There had been a lot of work done to zoom in on that pin, so see whether it said anything or had an image. We wanted to learn as much as we could from this man, you see. He was our link to the past, to a time that we saw as freer than our own. We could sense it in his voice. His fear, the tremble in his voice and a wetness in his eyes. No one but Almonzo was so free with his feelings in our time. Men like the man in the video were passionate. We had even given him a name for the only detail we had about his identity: that pin. One of the men on our team had come up with an image of what was on the pin.
It looked like this:
None of us knew what it meant, but there was a lot of speculation. Since the man was obviously educated, some thought the E was for Engineers or Engineering. The wings, which were obviously metal with rivets, bolstered this theory. One of the Fs was probably for Foundation or Federation. There were a few who thought he might have been advertising for some deity or other, but since practicing any form of religion was punishable by death in our time, and had been for many years, we didn’t have enough detail to explore that theory.

The letters, for our purposes, would be his initials. We all agreed immediately upon Edward for his first name. Then someone suggested Franklin. We all liked that. No body said anything for a while. I guess no body but me knew any other F names.

“Frazier,” I said. I’d heard it somewhere. Everybody looked at me but when Almonzo smiled that was it.

The man became known as Edward Franklin Frazier. In the video he talked about going out in a boat on the canals near where we lived. He said he felt a terrible pain in his head and heard a low buzzing sound. He felt compelled in a way to continue on. Eventually he found a building rising up out of the water. He said it took him exactly 57 minutes to get there. He looked and sounded very afraid.

Whoever Edward Frazier really was, he made this video for people to see at the time when he made it. It was very important to him that whomever watching remembered that number. 57. He spoke as if he was desperate for help. What was amazing to us was that the tape could hold an hour of video and his part of it was only three minutes long. The rest of the tape wasn’t blank, it was recorded over.

Around that time there was an election in our region. The current administration won reinstatement easily. We were all so very disappointed but it was especially hard on Almonzo. He was so passionate about our work. He wanted things to be better, freer. He had a vision that I honestly don’t think the rest of us understood. We were just there because it was clear that he was leading from his heart. 

I could see it wearing on him. We were still hiding, you see, from his wife. Clarissa refused to to let him go. It would have been madness for her. She would have been disappeared. That was part of it, most likely. We knew it wasn’t because she loved him. She didn’t. She hated him, but she hated his work more. His work with us working against The Program. 

The Program was how we all lived. The administration was part of it, of making The Program and all the Instructions and Helpers, but even before this administration there was another. The Program went back before history. No one knew anything different, except, it seemed, Edward Franklin Frazier. You could tell by the way he looked and sounded. To us it was clear that what he feared was The Program, or something like it that came before.

After we saw the video we began our work. We were building a different Program, one we called Maps. These were meant to be ways for people to connect to each other and to the whole world without Helpers. We were building Maps to be similar to the Program, so that people wouldn’t be afraid of them.

It got to where the only times when I was happy was when I was with Almonzo. I just couldn’t stand that. I didn’t want to be that kind of girl. I didn’t want to feel that hollowed out feeling of being alone even when I was with others. Hollow, dead, that’s how I felt when he wasn’t around. That’s because our group didn’t use Helpers. You see, in order to follow The Program you needed Helpers. The Instructions weren’t enough. Without Helpers everything was gray, dead. The colors, the sounds, and everything inside. We managed without them for a while because we kept each other going. I’m not sure how, maybe because we were doing something important.

I decided to go out in the canals. I’d only been there one other time, with Almonzo. When I got there I realized that I couldn’t remember anything I’d ever done without him around. It was foolish of me maybe but I was desperate. It was getting to be too hard to live the way things were. The Programs that the administration was putting out were getting harder and stronger, harder to refuse.

While I was in the boat I remembered the video. The man talking, the way be became frantic. At that moment a Program shot up out of the water. It shot up on a screen and I hit Decline. After that it got harder. I felt ill at ease and started to feel ill. I was going further than Almonzo and I had gone before. Around a little bend in the canal I saw it, the building. It was glass and very tall. I couldn’t imagine what I’d do when I got to it. 

Another Program rose up out of the water. By now I was vomiting over the edge of the boat. That was the last Program I remember. I Accepted it and the Helpers came out of a window on the screen. I put them in my mouth. The next thing I knew I was here, talking with you.

Where's Almonzo?

Friday, March 8, 2013

If You Love Words

You'll love the work that MyriapodProductions is doing. Among other things they've created this lovely site, Mysteries of Vernacular. Using paper craft animation (that looks much simpler than it really is, I'm sure) artist Jessica Oreck explores the twisty tales behind some of the most interesting words in the English language. Check out their entry for "clue," below.

There's also a interesting entry about hearse and another on assassin. They're slowly building up their archive. I suggested limousine for L, but they'd already chosen a word.

Friday, February 1, 2013

In Memorium

The same day Rep. Gabrielle Giffords testified before a Senate committee on gun violence, a disgruntled client opened fire in a Phoenix law office during a mediation session, killing an attorney and another client.
The lawyer was Mark Hummels, a husband, father of two and lawyer still in the early years of his career.
He was also a former journalist. Mark got his master's in journalism from U.C. Berkeley at the same time I did. I remember him as one of the sunniest, warmest people in our class -- which included some of the loveliest people I'll ever know.
After j-school Mark moved with his girlfriend Dana to New Mexico and got a job reporting for the Albuquerque Journal and later for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He got frustrated with journalism and quit, entered law school and was hired by a firm in Phoenix, Osborn Maledon, where he died Wednesday.
The shooter was unhappy about the outcome of a mediation session and shot Mark and the other client at the session's conclusion.
Mark is survived by Dana and their two children.

If any of us need any more reminders to hold the ones we love close, here's one more.
I for one feel that gun violence has hit a little too close to home for me to just sit back and read the papers.

I Like Tiny Street Art

Not art made on tiny streets, but tiny art made on streets and public surfaces. 

The German artist Evol lives and works in Berlin. He paints miniature apartment buildings on utility boxes, concrete blocks and park walls. 

He uses a layered stencil technique.

And my favorite:

grazi twistedsifter.com.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Making Music Out of Garbage

There is a village in Paraguay that is built on top of a landfill. The people there work digging through the garbage and selling what can be used again. Sometimes they make things themselves from things they find in the dump.
Some documentary filmmakers have completed a project that highlights the fruits of this "up cycling" -- the Landfill Harmonic.
Villagers make violins, cellos, flutes and all sorts of other instruments using oil drums, forks and whatever else they can find. The teaser for the film shows children proudly displaying and playing their instruments, both alone and in groups. There could hardly be a more potent example of the power of making music. It is a gift that should never be taken for granted. It gives our humanity a chance to peek out and be seen.
Consider supporting this film project by sharing the video -- and make a little music of your own!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

'Ghosts of History' Creates Visual Mash Ups of Photos from 1940s and Today

This post I wrote for Open Culture tells the story of Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse, a Dutch historian who found a box of old negatives at an Amsterdam flea market. She spent the next several years identifying where the photos were taken (mostly around The Netherlands) and when (before and after World War II. Then she took pictures of the same places today and merged the images together. History, as her work shows, is all around us all the time.