november, 2004

Fri Nov 5 17:18:27 EST 2004

Had this been yesterday, this would have begun with:

Il pleure dans mon coeur
Comme il pleut sur la ville ;
Quelle est cette langueur
Qui pénčtre mon coeur ?

And the answer would have been forthcoming, of course. Sheets of rain as I walked to work yesterday, still tired, but better equipped to face the day than on Wednesday (when, after two hours of two-beer sleep, and a four-hour drive through Beltway traffic from Philly back to DC, I tried to work but left in tears shortly after news of Kerry's concession trickled through at 11:15; went home, fell asleep in my orange chair listening to his speech from Boston, and then crashed). Seemed to be raining in sympathy with 49 percent of the nation, an actual minority this time 'round. Walking through Adams Morgan for a quartet rehearsal Wednesday night, the streets were deserted, bars closed, people talking in hushed voices, the syllables "Kerry" audible every third word. The majority of the nation may have voted for this monkey, but the rest of us are in stunned, sorrowful silence.

In short, we're going to hell in a handbasket, and even the biggest grassroots voter mobilization effort (20,000 ACT volunteers in PA alone, which we won by 2 points! Run Against Bush trips to Ohio! Emily's List trips to Florida!) couldn't stop a huge turnout of the right wing's base. I honestly didn't think this country was this stupid, hardnosed, gullible, and malleable. (Growing up in bubbles, and having never moved out of them, though, why would I?)

That said, it's heartening that every progressive I know has emailed around something reminding us that we're up against a well-oiled, finely-honed political machine that the Republican have been building for decades. Apparently values of compassion and equality (why I'm a Democrat) aren't self-evident, and can't stand on their own; to build the same sort of machine we'd need to confront what we're up against will take years.

But today: sun; the promise of salsa in the evening; a potential viola teacher; a little metaphorical aisle-crossing to be done. Even as he IMs me links to IQ breakdowns by red and blue states, Gabe reminds me that I have my health. Seems small in comparison to the health of a country, but then again, it's amazing what two good nights' sleep can do for a body, and one's outlook. Back to the political grindstone.

Sun Nov 7 22:56:16 EST 2004

la fille aux cheveux de lin

So much yes, and so much no. Awoke yesterday having dreamed I was playing Debussy: I, a flutist, on a long silver harmonica, gently blowing the opening bars to La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin (conflating not only my identify with Olivia's, but that piece with L'Aprčs-Midi d'un Faune); Richard's compliments; the warmth of a back on which to rest my head while the music somehow continued. (Bodily warmth, welcome these days: spooning briefly in Philly; dancing with a Peruvian the night before (may I kees you? -- no. May I see you again? -- no. Just dance with me.)) Rolled out of my dream and into an orange and yellow Chelsea morning, full of French impressionism; let Satie carry me through the next few hours.

And today, again on Amy's back porch, we were again hashing through rhythms of the Four for Tango. Ironic that our group especially should be so metronomically inept! I'm not inculpable, but the years of Bartók, youth orchestras, and twelve-tone have certainly freed me from the foot-tapping manacles (and correlatively increased my impatience).

Wine and food, though, bring a glow to my cheeks (especially on these ridiculously warm November days!), and Pablo was soon animatedly shaking his head in agreement as I described the soul-crushingness of a certain community orchestra I seem to have gotten myself shanghaied into one concert with; the puerility of its members; the complacent stupor of the professional musician. Though his grey hair belies his age, he's probably the youngest of anyone I will have studied with -- but as Joe de Pasquale proved, age does not a good teacher for me make. A critical ear; technique; passion. I'm optimistic.

And Mendelssohn viola quintets. Relentless lower-string resonance. To read these all day -- to play them, and more, not just on Sunday afternoons but all through the week! Eventually.

Yes, to passion and to Mendelssohn's viola writing; no, to the caustic truth of a recording Amy's boyfriend made of us, and to our collective arhythmia. (Yes to Rebecca's recipe for vegan lemon poppyseed cake with Grand Marnier.) And yes to the next chapter in my viola studies: with a passionate Chilean.

Sun Nov 14 15:37:49 PST 2004

Thai brunch: under an awning, Viennese Biergarten-stile (but chaotic! mothers with babies; curlyheaded little Jewish boys ordering Thai like pablum; an old acquaintance met for every two sets of toes trod on in the crowded tent), having run into Morgan (also dating a Swarthmore Tim), I note the ubiquity of alternative haircolors. Pink over Eric's shoulder; green across the lawn onto which we've taken our sticky rice with mango and red curries, next to a boy plucking an acoustic. Picking up on my extrovert's need for attention, Sasha points out that this means that I might not stick out as much as I'm used to, were I to move here. I admit it, but note that it would probably be good for me: everywhere, to see people dressed even less party-line than myself, reading publications far to the left of my DC-iconoclastic VegNews, conforming less -- less, in short, against which I would stand out.

But this (sobering as the initial shock would probably be) is precisely the idea! DC for me is not so much the big-fish-small-pond problem as the fish-out-of-water one. And though I can get my oxygen from the air, how much more pleasant to absorb bit through the gills: to swim, not flounder on legs grown but out of evolutionary necessity. To fuse them into a mermaid's tail and jump into the Bay ...

A satsuma (or clementine? small; juicy; orange) lingered on my fingers long after I'd peeled and devoured it on a sleepless Saturday morning -- and this from a woman who had denied a proffered orange at Dulles on the way out, citing pith and lack of succulence. This citrus, though -- bought off an outdoor stand on the way into San Francisco -- burst with juice, amazingly flavorful. Like a surprise encounter with an old friend: delicious, unexpected, and memorable.

California citrus. Clean air (brugmansia, honeysuckle, and pine-laden). Tap water you can drink. Bartók from the carillon tower on the Berkeley campus; opera yesterday in Café Trieste. A hippie in her natural environment. (I know it's the dreds, but I'm enjoying the credibility they bring me here -- James's friend Eric commenting, as Colin predicted, that I seemed to belong in Berkeley even more than he does.)

Reading the sonnet epic Golden Gate, I'm now thinking in tetrameter:

James, hours after last night's dancing
(At 1015, a three-room club
Of spun hip-hop, hard rock, and trancing)
Invites a friend. The two show up
On Sasha's doorstep. James now proffers
A cookie. Vegan. Chocolate chip.
I stare, and doubt, and spurn the offer;
I call him liar; give him lip:
I protest that it would be too
Improbable to just be true.
Sasha, at this, points out to me
A different probability
Governs the West Coast. I give in,
And delectate: a pleased vegan.

There are negatives, I hear. Less intellectual rigor. Fewer seasons. Eh, I'll take my chances. Emily: February?

Tue Nov 16 13:34:55 EST 2004

Thu Nov 18 22:15:08 EST 2004

It's not surprising that, after three days of bouncing around the Bay Area at breakneck speed, and a redeye back into this seat of swampish wonkery on Tuesday morning followed by a full day of work, my immune system should be weakened. Knowing how I operate after college all-nighters, I fully expected to crash around noon. Instead, making it through 'till almost five, I grudgingly but prudently abstained from either African dance or salsa, and slept thirteen hours hours. Woke up sniffling -- my just deserts for having taxed my body so hard.

But so worth it! When better to cavort around the Elysian -- I mean, Californian -- fields, but when I am young, unattached, footloose, and fancy-free -- not to mention thoroughly disillusioned with my current city? When better, for that matter, to move there? Not to wax fatalistic, but there are Swatties not much older than I getting married. And once another factor enters the equation, it becomes much harder to move anywhere, let alone the opposite side of the country -- and do I want to be stuck on the East Coast at that time? (Not to mention the fact that there appear to actually be non-square, straight men on the West Coast! But maybe that's just an outside-the-Beltway thing ...) I don't know how much longer I have left of this utter singularity of singleness, and not like marriage is right around the corner in my plans, to say nothing of its inclusion at all, but I'd rather be in a city I love than one I hate when I start to make the next round of life decisions.

Such as: career. I majored in computer science for a reason, it's true. But I also auditioned for Oberlin and Juilliard as an undergrad for a reason, the same one that prompted me to fill my Swarthmore transcript with sixty percent music, and the same that makes me hate DC. Monday morning, sleeping off a wine-tasting for Jaime's friends Maia and Zach's wedding planning in San Jose, we emerged from a series of Caltrain, streetcars, and buses into a one-block-square mission building on 19th Avenue and Ortega: the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The only school of its kind west of Ohio, Diedre did her undergrad there; it's been on my radar ever since.

I'd phoned ahead to say I'd be coming, inquire about tours ("they start whenever you get here," I was told). Alex the admissions director immediately picked me out of the crowded hallway into which we wandered: two 5'4"ish girls, the one trying to navigate, the other, stunned with the strains of opera and violin emanating from the half-open doors packed tightly along the corridor, a grin pasted on her face, clearly soaking up the musical ether like oxygen. I was surprised to hear my name, but then realized that, in a school of 315ish (smaller than my graduating college class!), and awestruck, I must have been hard to miss.

The novelty-inspired adrenaline shook me out of a dazed, unshowered somnolence (the third day of our ramblings, both Jaime and I were starting to show signs of fatigue; by Tuesday morning, we were barely ambulatory). I explained myself to the admissions director: B.A. in hard and soft sciences for undergrad; window of indolence; now on the prowl for something I could be happy doing for my entire life. Fall 2006 (a year pushed back from the original thought, but hey) is a reasonable goal. Alex showed us (well, me) around the tiny building -- cramped, but set to expand into a beautiful new space downtown by the exact time I would get there. Grilled him about chamber music, student collaboration: not only do the have the wonderful (and highly competitive) Master's in chamber music, but ensemble is half what the school's about. My heart flutters higher with every word.

He's right that I need to do exactly this for every school I'm interested in. Visit NEC and Boston; visit Mannes and New York -- and preferably while I'm still on the east coast. Because all this visit makes me want to do is accept Emily's proposal, liquidate here, uproot, and transplant myself West. If not now, when? If not because of this, then why?

There's a magnet on the fridge at Delafield that I just noticed two weeks ago: Everything is sweetened by risk. Prudence is not the name of the game when I'm twenty-four. I will not have regrets when I am fifty, or eighty, or one hundred years old. And were I not to do this, it would always linger as one of those sliding-door what-ifs.

Before then, however I must get well. I'm still fighting this cold. The quartet concert tonight was all the more interesting because I didn't have a full range of hearing. As per the heroic couplet ending the anapestic sonnet I sent Jamesward last night:

Despite my 13 hours' sleep of late,
I'm toast. I'm sick. Now to recuperate.

Wed Nov 24 18:49:37 EST 2004

From a six-hour layover, due to snow storms in Chicago:

I am stuck in an airport, and wishing devoutly
I could get the hell out. But should my wish come true,
I would still be in Pittsburgh, still flightless, and loudly
Bemoaning the fact I'd have nothing to do.

Ah, this Thanksgiving travel! Gate changes! Delays!
I had hoped to get in to Chicago by seven
And though "weather alerts" seem they'll ground us for days,
In good faith, we will likely get in by eleven.

They are piping in waltzes, then, smooth-voiced, a crooner
Spits out, ad nauseum, a whole codex of carols.
(Is it me? Or do Christmas songs yearly get sooner?)
I find peace in my iPod, blot out all the perils

-- Or at least, drown them out -- of Thanksgiving commute.
But tomorrow: consumption, libations, and food.

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: No Surrender
The New York Times

November 5, 2004

No Surrender


President Bush isn't a conservative. He's a radical - the leader of a coalition that deeply dislikes America as it is. Part of that coalition wants to tear down the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt, eviscerating Social Security and, eventually, Medicare. Another part wants to break down the barriers between church and state. And thanks to a heavy turnout by evangelical Christians, Mr. Bush has four more years to advance that radical agenda.

Democrats are now, understandably, engaged in self-examination. But while it's O.K. to think things over, those who abhor the direction Mr. Bush is taking the country must maintain their intensity; they must not succumb to defeatism.

This election did not prove the Republicans unbeatable. Mr. Bush did not win in a landslide. Without the fading but still potent aura of 9/11, when the nation was ready to rally around any leader, he wouldn't have won at all. And future events will almost surely offer opportunities for a Democratic comeback.

I don't hope for more and worse scandals and failures during Mr. Bush's second term, but I do expect them. The resurgence of Al Qaeda, the debacle in Iraq, the explosion of the budget deficit and the failure to create jobs weren't things that just happened to occur on Mr. Bush's watch. They were the consequences of bad policies made by people who let ideology trump reality.

Those people still have Mr. Bush's ear, and his election victory will only give them the confidence to make even bigger mistakes.

So what should the Democrats do?

One faction of the party is already calling for the Democrats to blur the differences between themselves and the Republicans. Or at least that's what I think Al From of the Democratic Leadership Council means when he says, "We've got to close the cultural gap." But that's a losing proposition.

Yes, Democrats need to make it clear that they support personal virtue, that they value fidelity, responsibility, honesty and faith. This shouldn't be a hard case to make: Democrats are as likely as Republicans to be faithful spouses and good parents, and Republicans are as likely as Democrats to be adulterers, gamblers or drug abusers. Massachusetts has the lowest divorce rate in the country; blue states, on average, have lower rates of out-of-wedlock births than red states.

But Democrats are not going to get the support of people whose votes are motivated, above all, by their opposition to abortion and gay rights (and, in the background, opposition to minority rights). All they will do if they try to cater to intolerance is alienate their own base.

Does this mean that the Democrats are condemned to permanent minority status? No. The religious right - not to be confused with religious Americans in general - isn't a majority, or even a dominant minority. It's just one bloc of voters, whom the Republican Party has learned to mobilize with wedge issues like this year's polarizing debate over gay marriage.

Rather than catering to voters who will never support them, the Democrats - who are doing pretty well at getting the votes of moderates and independents - need to become equally effective at mobilizing their own base.

In fact, they have made good strides, showing much more unity and intensity than anyone thought possible a year ago. But for the lingering aura of 9/11, they would have won.

What they need to do now is develop a political program aimed at maintaining and increasing the intensity. That means setting some realistic but critical goals for the next year.

Democrats shouldn't cave in to Mr. Bush when he tries to appoint highly partisan judges - even when the effort to block a bad appointment fails, it will show supporters that the party stands for something. They should gear up for a bid to retake the Senate or at least make a major dent in the Republican lead. They should keep the pressure on Mr. Bush when he makes terrible policy decisions, which he will.

It's all right to take a few weeks to think it over. (Heads up to readers: I'll be starting a long-planned break next week, to work on a economics textbook. I'll be back in January.) But Democrats mustn't give up the fight. What's at stake isn't just the fate of their party, but the fate of America as we know it.


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all this ©nori heikkinen, November 2004

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