Thursday, January 31, 2008

Box of Chocolates, Indeed

I stumbled across this photo today and there's a Forrest Gump quality to it, dontcha think? It's a young pimply Bill Clinton meeting JFK at the American Legion's Boys Nation in 1963.

I'd seen it in a blip many years ago but today, in light of the Kennedy's enthusiastic backing of Obama, it carries an eerie Twilight Zone sensation.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Edwards Bows Out

Today, John Edwards announced he is quitting his campaign for President and I'm pretty disappointed. I know all the jokes about his hair and I agree with Fang that perhaps he was a bit too focused on 'corporate fat cats' when we are busy trying to win a war (that he voted for and admittedly regretted).

But, I can't help it, I like the guy. Maybe it's because I met his wife who is freakishly smart. (That's John and Elizabeth at left, on the day they both graduated from law school.) Maybe because it occurred to me during the god-awful Kerry campaign that they had the wrong guy in the front. (BTW: This New York Times shot to me was the defining moment of difference between the two families. Theresa: 'Don't suck on your thumb, darling. We've got an image to uphold here.' and Elizabeth's face that says, 'Keep your grubby ketchup paws off my child. If there weren't witnesses, I'd kick your ass.')

Bottom line is, I really believed that he believed, that he was sincere is his concern for the struggling middle class, the neglected poor and the healthcare crisis facing this country. I feel - and still feel - that he had the potential to be Jimmy Carter with a better haircut.

I told my cousin, Ryan, last night that if I had to vote immediately, it would be Edwards. I met a bunch of folks on the train last weekend who felt the same. Now, I wasn't blind enough to think that he could overcome the Hillary-Obama Machine but I was at least hoping he'd last to Super Tuesday.

On the other hand, this does settle my concerns for his wife. How could he effectively look after Elizabeth as she battles terminal breast cancer while running the country at the same time? Seems like it would have been a lose-lose all the way around, especially for Elizabeth and their kids.

Also, I have to commend his sacrifice to the higher good in today's announcement. He recognized that if he stepped out now, he would do more good to strengthen the party and the remaining candidates rather than staying and splitting votes.

All I can say is, I hope he doesn't go away for good. Thanks to a certain empty-headed dolt and his evil shoulder parrot, the world is a mess and we're gonna need all hands on deck to clean it up.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

300 and Still Chugging Along ...

This imperfect photo from my Ski Train adventure on Sunday seems timely. Today's post marks #300 and I'm still chugging along. Mind you, today's entry has no significance other than to recognize mankind's inherent love for a round number ... and the number '300' seems as fat and round as they come. Hey, if you're a bowler, it's the best you can hope for.

When I launched this blog on August 9, 2005, I could not have imagined the persistence of this little experiment, not to mention the widespread growth and ultimate legitimacy of the Blogosphere itself. What began as an innocent forum for one's personal life has become a serious disruption to print journalism and traditional media. (Note: This summer will mark America's first political convention - Democratic - where bloggers will be credentialed media. Don't think I am not trying to weasel my way in there because I most certainly am.)

Meanwhile, on my little cyber porch here, it's been quite a parade view. I've used this space to show photos, tell stories, express glee and, often, to vent about Bush & Co. (Though I think Fang does a better job.)

I will confess that I have no idea how many folks stop here along their way to somewhere else. I did have a SiteMeter in place but I found myself checking it obsessively and worrying about the audience numbers. Evidently, if my own ego were a state, it could kick Texas' ass so the meter had to go.

While there is the urge to be constantly 'entertaining' and upbeat, I would rather keep it honest. I have an interesting life full of characters and random adventures but I'd hate to give the impression that things are always peachy fucking keen because they are not. ClizBiz is not owned by Disney and we maintain a strict warts-and-all editorial policy here.

Anyway, whoever reads this, thanks for stopping by! If you are a Lurker, than I'd love to hear from you - even if it is only on this occasion. Meanwhile, I'll keep the self-congratulatory posts to a minimum - expect the next one at #400.

Monday, January 28, 2008

No Bullys

This weekend, I went to pick up Velrene from her school and stumbled upon a rowdy ruckus on the playground. Evidently, since January 21, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the kids have been learning about the March on Washington and other notable protests in history.

So, the teachers decided to let the young 'uns stage an open-topic protest of their own. The kids crafted issue specific signs and argued against the annoyance of their choice. ("No More School! Free the children!" was a favorite slogan.) It was a glorious unorganized stew of madness - lots of screaming, jumping up and down and nobody listening to anyone else. It looked like Congress.

Speaking of politics, I love this little opportunist. He had nothing to protest but did want to take advantage of valuable air time. He simply wanted votes. Was there a school election? Well, no. What was he running for? He shrugged his shoulders, "Whatever's open."

Methinks Michael has a great future in politics.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Two Firsts

On Saturday, I rode a horse in the snow for the first time! Ben, an Arab that belongs to a friend (above, at left), got spooked by the blowing wind that brought ghostly snow swirls onto the road but we worked it out together. I rode Ben again on Sunday with no wind he was better but not thrilled about barking dogs or passing cars. We both have hang-ups, it seems.

Horses, in fact, have a ton of hang-ups. Their entire survival system is based on paranoia, which is what makes them dangerous. Bob, the studly Paint on the right, is a tough guy but he is deathly afraid of flags, trash cans, dumpsters and newspapers wrapped in bright yellow plastic. When Bob freaked out over one Sunday paper package after another, I had to sympathize, "Well, it is the news... he has every right to be afraid."

To understand my unabashed joy around the second First, you'll need some back story:

In case you have not noticed, I am somewhat obsessed with the old West and American life in the 1800s. (Curse you HBO for cancelling "Deadwood"!) In the absence of a working time machine, I find other ways to entertain my fantasies. Living in the gold rush capital of San Francisco made this fairly easy.

When I first began working in downtown San Francisco - before I was sucked into the corporate vortex or made any friends in that world - I would take my sad little sandwich and walk straight to Wells Fargo bank on Montgomery Street. This was no ordinary bank branch but it happened to be the first Wells Fargo and it was also a history museum of the bank's history and the West.

The museum had two stagecoaches, one authentic antique and one built for show. The fake one upstairs was rigged so you could get into it, push a button and it would simulate a real stagecoach ride with mechanized jumpy movements. Along with the physical experience, you also heard the recording of an actor's voice reading from an actual travel diary of some hearty dude who had ridden from St. Louis to San Francisco sometime in the late 1800s.

And that is how I would spend my lunch time, about once a week or so. Dorky, I realize.

Flash forward to my Sunday shift at the NWSS when I was helping out with The Wild West Show. What a blast! Talk about getting a front row seat! Not only was I opening and closing the gates for all the horses and performers, I actually got filthy from all the flying dirt and mud. It was GLORIOUS.

At one point, the head dude, Chet, came up to me and said sternly, "Heather, after the Silver Screen Cowboy segment, you haul your ass back to the paddock."

"Yes, sir!" I responded dutifully. "Um, so what do I do when I get there?"

"You get in the stagecoach. You're riding in the final segment."

"ARE YOU SERIOUS?!?!" I sputtered. I may have even pulled on his arm and continued my gleeful rambling, "Omigod, omigod, omigod! No way!"

"And don't forget to wave to the crowd," Chet said. "And take off your cowboy hat and wave that around too."

The man did not have to tell me twice. Anyone who knows me can tell you - these are the kinds of spontaneous gifts that I live for; they actually define me and are one of the few true perks of living in my skin.

WHEEEEEEE! What a treat! I piled in, along with a few others, including a lovely and very funny gal named Tracey Nelson, Miss Rodeo Queen for Douglas County.

So there I was at last, squealing with delight in a real stagecoach, with horses attached and everything. It was all I'd dreamed of and more. The show biz aspect, with the roaring crowds, was just the icing on the cake. But, I have to admit, I loved waving to the masses next to a real live Rodeo Queen.

Man! When those six horses took us off, we went fast! I was smiling so big, the back row of the arena could probably see my molars. It was amazing to me how many people - not just little kids - waved back. We circled the arena three times and nobody seemed to tire of the waving. Big music, big lights, big horses and thousands of cornball humans in cowboy hats, just moving their hands around. It was sheer delight.

So, I have to marvel at life, it truly is a series of trade-offs. One day, I'm sucking my thumb and singing the blues and the next, I'm riding a stagecoach in a Wild West show. You can just never tell what is going to come out charging of those gates. I guess the trick is to just keep showing up for your shift.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Too Much of Not Enough

Yesterday was horrible. I should have known it was coming as I was deliriously happy the night prior. (The Rodents had our monthly comedy improv show at the Avenue Theater and we kicked ass, if I do say so myself.)

Nevertheless, the morning after brought a downpour of stress and angst - both professional and personal. My brain was tense, twisted and wrought with a thousand details and demands. My soul felt black and blue all over from persistent bottom-of-the well loneliness. Several times, I just had to go and lie down, shut my eyes, enforce denial, shed some tears, and just feel it.

Perhaps it is the requisite mid-life crisis that that is trying to break its way through. There is the throbbing mantra of, "Is this really how I am going to spend my life?" and answering, "No. No, it couldn't possibly be." (To my credit, I did stay up all night earlier this week drawing up plans for my Dream, which I will detail in this space when I've completed it.)

I know myself well enough to know how sloooooooowly I sort-of-maybe mature, sometimes, but I'm now old enough to realize how little time I have left on Earth and there is a panic rising within me to create something positive and lasting. Chop, chop.

To alleviate my sense of Loserdom, I try to practice gratitude. Yesterday was a stretch but I came up with one thing. At 10 p.m. last night, I showed up for my volunteer shift at the National Western Stock Show. (I am part of the stage crew for the Wild West Show. I get to hold a long rope with other folks to create a 'chute' for the trick riders to aim for when they stand on their heads or whatever while riding horses bareback at breakneck speeds. They're NUTS and they're my heroes.)

So, I'm standing off to the side, just trying to blend into the wall and drink my caffeine. "Um, excuse me, ma'am," said a soft male voice behind me "Excuse me, please." There is a light sniffing right at my ass and I turn around to see this about three inches from me:

I nearly jumped straight out of my shoes, flattened myself against the wall and clutched my heart. I'm just not around giant, pointy animals that much, what can I say? (Keep in mind that the cowboy on the back is about 6'5", 300 lbs.)

Perched atop the Longhorn steer, the cowboy sighed with great satisfaction and then deadpanned: "I never, EVER get tired of doing that to people."

That was the best thing that happened to me yesterday - I needed a laugh.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Just Another Day in Denver

When I moved to Denver, some locals still referred to it as a "cow town." I didn't realize they meant literally ....

Today, Beanie and I met up downtown to check out the Stock Show Parade. It was short but loaded with cowboys and horses - my favorites. Funny, I grew up as an urban beach bunny and had no interest in such things - skipped clean over my mandatory adolescent pony phase - but now I can't seem to get enough. I turn into a seven-year-old when I get anywhere near the equine culture.

I found myself jumping up and down today, clapping my hands and yelling "YAY!" with alarming sincerity. And when Miss Rodeo America waved? Yeah, that's right, I waved back. Meanwhile, Beanie quizzed me, "What breed is that horse?"

"Um, the cute kind?" I offered, weakly. I was never good at pop quizzes.

Check it out - the dude on the right? On the gorgeous Palomino? He's got quite the day job as the Governor of Colorado. Goes by the name of Bill Ritter. Folks like him, I think. The parade was over but he was heading back to the Governor's Barn or whatever and he gifted me with a gubernatorial smile

The parade was very Western-focused but there was this 'Equine Theatre' group that somehow slipped in. They looked a tad Medieval and I believe one of them even sported a jester's hat. Funny, I consider myself an actor but I get uncomfortable when I see troupes wearing deliberate 'acting clothing.' Rainbow suspenders give me immediate hives.

Despite my own hang up, I was highly impressed with this get-up. First of all, this horse was GIANT. Beanie said it was a Friesian but I coulda sworn the breed was actually BadAssMotherfucka.

Seriously, this guy was 18 hands and fashioned like a dragon - tail and everything. Gotta hand it to 'em, they looked very cool together - like they could have run right over Miss Evergreen Rodeo and left nothing but a pile of rhinestones and a fake eyelash or two.

Speaking of big, check out these Longhorns strolling down 17th Street:

They were very pointy and all business.

So, I LOVE the image of old transportation alongside the new(ish) - the fantasy-in-action of horses mixed with city life sends my mind whizzing back through time. Remember, there were several transitional years in American history when horses and cars had to co-exist in our cities, and not always peacefully. Car horns, for example. Horses are not big fans and have no current plans of evolving around that.

I'm telling ya kids, when we run out of oil - or even before when it's $25 a gallon - this is what we'll have left. Horses. Bicycles. Shoes. And then, every day will be a parade.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

National Western Stock Show

This past weekend, I began my first year as a volunteer for the National Western Stock Show, a massive event that features tons of rodeos, livestock and a bazillion other events, including the National Fiddling Competition. The NWSS has been going on for 102 years so it's a big deal on the circuit. It is also what's known as a "terminal show" which means much of the livestock that are showcased here for judging are then "put on a truck" meaning soon appearing at a meat department near you.

There's 525 volunteers this year and we help out with everything. Armed with pockets of tissue (I'm battling a persistent sinus infection), I ran around the complex helping out and doing what I was told. On Saturday, I helped the Livestock crew - mostly crowd control and clearing the way for perfectly coiffed heifers and antique tractors. We also had sponsored a 14-year-old girl named Taylor in some 4-H type contest. She'd raised her calf for a year and then a week before the event, it up and died. Random heart failure. She was crushed! Still, she won some other big award since she had to turn in records of her calf care over the last year. Happy ending, I guess.

Then, despite a throbbing sinus headache, I moved on to my next shift: Cowboy Hospitality. This means making coffee, providing drinks and meals for the brave souls who get on bucking broncos and mean-ass bulls. This was the night of the Mexican Rodeo and it was marvelous. Best thing about it was Escaramuza Charra, an amazing 'drill team' of gorgeous senoritas who wore beautiful, elaborate dresses and performed all their stunts side-saddle. I know this is how all ladies used to ride but I'd never seen it before; that can't be easy.

When I came home, I emptied my pockets and realized I'd snagged a handful of freshly sheared wool from the International Sheep Shearing Contest for reasons unclear to me at the time. I absentmindedly tossed it on the carpet for Simone, my cat, to sniff over. My God, she went NUTS! Mind you, this is a feline who sort of responds to catnip but is mostly indifferent. Well, Simone immediately made love to these tufts of wool right in my living room. It was embarrassing after awhile. "Hey, can ya'll get a room or something?" I said. Her eyes rolled back in her head in some weird wool-induced state of ecstasy. A few days later and she's still clinging to the tufts, albeit, with more emotional control.

The next morning, I arrived bright and early for my next shift: Photography. I got paired up with a volunteer veteran, Greg, and our assignment was to photograph other volunteers 'in-action.' We just ran around the whole place and Greg knew everyone so I was his sidekick. "Yeah, she just got off the short bus this morning and we felt sorry for her so ... I'm letting her follow me around," he'd teasingly tell folks while I'd give my stupidest look possible.

After that, I joined a tour of other freshman volunteers and helped the tour leader, Keith, keep the herd in line. I was the Flag Lady and had to walk around with a big flag so folks could find the group easily amongst the crowds. (The National Western Complex is HUGE and it takes a few years, we're told, to fully grasp the lay of the land.) Just before we left each spot for the next, Keith would shout, "Are ya ready, Heather?" and I would respond, "The Flag Lady is ready!" and we would move on. It felt like being in Camp Fire Girls all over again, for some reason, only with guys around.

After a satisfying meal at the "Feed Lot" with a fellow volunteer, I went shopping. I snagged me some jeans and some cute cowgirl wear, which means, I s'pose, that I will have to start going places that demand Cuteness. I hear the Grizzly Rose is fun ... ?

I capped off the weekend with a peek at the Dog Pull, where dogs of all sizes try to pull a load of feed many times their weight with mostly adorable, victorious results. It was amazing to see the smaller dogs pull so hard that they managed the feat on their hind legs. The whole thing was an ad for TENACITY.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Funniest Thing I've Seen Today

"Phone companies have cut off FBI wiretaps used to eavesdrop on suspected criminals after the agency failed to pay its bills on time."

Oh yeah, I feel so safe knowing that my government has everything under control. And it's especially comforting knowing that the best crimefighting minds in our nation are on the job, even if there's no one at home paying the bills ... Heh.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Blog Post from the Grave

If you haven't already, meet Major Andrew Olmsted, who has blogged from the front lines of the Iraq war since last May for the Rocky Mountain News. Olmsted, who had been based here in Colorado, began blogging after his unit was sent to Iraq with the mission of helping train the Iraqi Army.

Last Thursday, a sniper killed Olmsted as he was trying to talk three suspected insurgents into surrendering. The following day, his friend, Hillary Bok, a professor at John Hopkins University, posted his final entry as he'd requested, one written specifically for the occasion of his demise.

Olmsted quotes Plato, the TV series, "Babylon 5" and the military spoof, "Team America." He's funny ("I'm dead, but if you're reading this, you're not, so take a moment to enjoy that happy fact."), humble ("I was at least smart enough to pay attention to the people with real brains and even occasionally learn something from them.") and defiant (" ... if you think I wasted my life, I'll tell you you're wrong.")

He talks about how much he enjoyed blogging, his life in the Army and - hardest of all - says goodbye to his wife, Amanda. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by his loving, open-hearted style while facing his own death.

Maj. Olmsted also makes a special request, that his death not be used for politicking for one side or the other. Therefore, I'll skip my opinions and let this very courageous dude do all the talking in his "Final Post."

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Guest Post: Dr. Dowdy Does the Iowa Caucus

My good friend, Mark Dowdy, participated in the Iowa Caucus last week. Here's his take on the action:

The excitement is palpable this year, as we choose between a number of decent Dems, all of which would be a vast improvement over the imbecile currently squatting in the Oval Office. But there is no doubt that most of the excitement this year is due to the "surging" campaign of Sen. Barack Obama. Compared to the buzz created by Obama, Sen. Hillary Clinton's bid to become the first female president has faltered considerably. She simply doesn't inspire the way Obama does, partly due to her hawkish voting record, but mostly because she's about as charismatic as a reptile. (Props to Donegan for the simile.)

There is, of course, former Sen. John Edwards. Many progressives prefer him to Obama because he has staked more progressive positions. I seriously considered supporting Edwards (as well as Dodd) at various points. But while I like the message coming from the 2007 Edwards, I wasn't down with the 2002 Edwards and his vote in support of the war in Iraq and the Patriot Act.

Frankly, I don't trust Edwards. He talks a real good anti-corporate game for a former hedge fund manager. In fact, I think his wife would be a better, more credible candidate than he, were she not stricken with a terminal disease. Moreover, at this early stage of the campaign, Edwards has also taken serious hits from the Right Wing Hate Machine, which has portrayed him as pretty boy "faggot" with a $400 haircut, so I don't have much faith in his ability to counter the inevitable shit thrown at him by the bigots of the GOP. (They cannot -- absolutely cannot -- say what they want to say about Obama. I'm guessing many of them will push loose their buckteeth in their attempts to stifle the "N" word.)

Still, I wasn't sure. None of these candidates were perfect to me. Obama's unity message wasn't my cup of tea, and he sounded dangerously like a milquetoast moderate with no real conviction. But that's me, and if the average American voter was like me, the two major parties would be the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. I'd seen Obama speak last year stumping for my congressional representative in the 2006 election, and it seemed like so much feel good rhetoric, with very little substance. So it was with these reservations in mind that I attended one of his rallies the day before the caucus.

I arrived a chary skeptic, and departed another giddy ObamaHead.

First off, the man is funny. Really funny. In a subversive, smart way. He repeatedly referred to Dick Cheney as "my cousin," and at one point he remarked, "You know, when people do genealogical studies of your family, you hope to find out you're related to someone cool. You know, Abraham Lincoln or Willie Mays, not Dick Cheney."

He's also, of course, an amazing orator, and I have to admit, I was impressed with the way he coasts along in a light and engaging fashion, only to turn on the gravitas at the right moment. He made an excellent case, in fact, that his so-called lack of experience was a canard, that what matters most is how you deal with the people you encounter in your formative years. He reminded us that if we voted for him, we'd be voting for a man who wouldn't just uphold the Constitution, but who had actually taught it.

After speaking for about 45 minutes (it seemed like 15 minutes), Barack wrapped things up. All the talk about the energy of one of his rallies is true - it took another 45 minutes just to get out of the parking lot. And all of that talk about reaching out to red state voters is apparently also true. The car in front of me sported a Fred Thompson sticker on its bumper. I left thinking this man has the political gifts of Bill Clinton, but that he had more of a conscience and better priorities. He wasn't a triangulating Republicrat. He was a real Democrat, only he wanted to move beyond the usual Bush-bashing.

The next day I arrived at the caucus. Usually, this is a fairly mundane affair: it involves standing around for about an hour with your fellow supporters and then heading home to catch the returns on television. Not this time.

On the way in, I got lost and walked by the Republican caucus, where there was a fairly modest line. "Is this the Democratic caucus?" I asked. "No, this is the Republican one. Yours as at City High, two blocks that way." The nice Republicans who gave me directions looked envious, like they wanted to come along with me. (Many Republicans, in fact, did participate in the Democratic caucus, which allows voters to register at the door.)

When I arrived at City High, I encountered chaos. There were throngs everywhere pushing and shoving. People were afraid they wouldn't get in (the doors officially close at 7), and some in fact did not. I myself was feeling the stress. I had postponed my move to Florida just so I could participate in this caucus, and I didn't want to be shut out.

Luckily, after a spell, I made it in to City High's packed auditorium. There was no more room for the Obama people, so us latecomers were directed to the balcony. The only other candidate with that many supporters was Edwards, who had a smaller contingency up in the balcony.

Here's how the caucus works: On your way in you are handed an index card with a number written on it. If you know who you're supporting, you give your card to one of your candidate's group leaders. If you don't, you stand apart and await the onslaught of appeals from the various campaigns. In our case, there were only about six undecideds among 500 + voters.

After all of the cards -- excluding the undecideds' -- are counted, leaders from each party come up to the podium, announce the number of supporters they have, and then make a pitch for their candidate. Here's the gist of their appeals: Richardson was the only candidate to call for a carbon tax, Kucinich the only one to call for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Biden had more foreign policy experience than the others, while Dodd had stood strong against Bush's attempts to spy on Americans. Clinton was lauded as the most competent of the gang, Edwards as the one to take on corporate interests and lobbyists, and Obama as the Great Uniter.

In order to be "viable" and thereby receive a proportion of the eight delegates from our precinct, each candidate had to receive at least 82 votes. The vote tally went something like this: Richardson: around 30; Kucinich: ? (His representative, Brandon Ross, a former city councilman who had clearly seen his share of Dead shows, wouldn't say); Biden: around 20; Dodd 6; Edwards 110; Obama: 234, and Clinton: 70. When Hillary's numbers were announced, an audible gasp filled the room. She wasn't even viable yet. Meanwhile, the growing sense of inevitability was emerging around Obama: he had gotten twice as many supporters as Edwards, who has always been popular in Johnson County.

But there was still one more round. For the next half hour, supporters of non-viable candidates could either stand behind a viable one or attempt to make their own candidate viable. Meanwhile, the undecideds had to make up their goddamn minds. It is here that the wooing began. One of Clinton's supporters came up the balcony and was greeted with guffaws. She saw one of her friends up there and said "Sally, wanna come over and support Hillary?" Sally just smiled and said she'd support Edwards before she'd do that. "Geez," said the Hillary supporter, flummoxed by the degree of disdain many Dems hold for Mrs. Clinton.

Among the undecideds, the Biden, Richardson, and Edwards’s people had enacted the full-court press. My lovely ex was among them: she delighted in telling the Biden and Edwards’s people that the white man had had 43 turns as leader of the free world and that this election cycle would coronate either a black man or a white woman. Always the contrarian, she threw her weight behind Hillary, since, in her mind, Obama clearly didn't need any more help.

After a seemingly interminable period in which I devoured all of the free food and beverages available (mmm ... brownies, sandwiches, and bottled water) while supporters of unviable candidates sought to drum up support, we finally reached a finally tally: The Hillary people had managed to get the 12 votes needed to make her viable. The Biden, Kucinich, Dodd, and Richardson people had not. The 8 delegates were divided as such: 4 for Obama, 3 for Edwards, and 1 for Clinton.

I left happy to see Obama on top. Text messages from friends in other precincts had been pouring in, with similar results. There was a growing sense of elation among everyone, even those who didn't support Obama.

It wasn't until, hours later, in a hotel room in Moline, IL, watching the news coverage as I prepared for a flight to Florida the following morning, that I realized the full historical import of this event. Obama was the first African-American to win the Iowa caucus, and the buzz over him was growing even more (and still is).

I'm a little surprised, however, that others are so surprised that a state as white as Iowa would support a black man: Iowa Democrats are more liberal than most Democrats, just as its Republicans are more knuckle-draggingly conservative than most Republicans. Nevertheless, I'm happy to have participated in this historical event, and sincerely "hope" he becomes the nation's first African-American president.

In the meantime, I need to get back to California. The last thing I want, as an ultra enfranchised Iowa voter*, is to become a disenfranchised Florida Democrat during the general election.

Meanwhile, there has been a great deal of debate over the undue influence of Iowa and New Hampshire in our nation's electoral process. Frankly, I agree with this criticism. Iowans like to argue that they are more politically engaged than other states' citizens. This, to me, is downright arrogant. Who wouldn't be more politically engaged if they had various presidential candidates dropping by their diner every other day for a year or two before the election? Do Iowans feel they're entitled to this privilege?

Mostly, Iowans feel neglected and ignored by the nation most of the time, and feel like this is the state's time to shine on the national stage. Whatever. It seems to me a state like Idaho is more overlooked than Iowa. Iowa spawned Ashton Kutcher, Elijah Wood, Tom Arnold, Johnny Carson, and John Wayne. Iowa killed Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper. It is the future birthplace of Capt. Kirk. Geez, Iowa, stop worrying about the provincial bi-coasters and what they think of you.

As a Californian, I had grown accustomed to having the primary race decided by the time I got to vote. It was fun voting for Jerry Brown or whatever protest candidate du jour was on the ballot, but it stood in stark contrast to my Iowa experiences, where I saw more movie stars than I ever saw in California -- and they were groveling at me! I know it's hard Iowa to let go of such a luxury, but, really, as fair-minded, common-sensical Midwesterners, you have to acknowledge that the present system's kinda whack.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Art of Restraint

"If I knew how to take a good photograph, I'd do it every time."
-- Robert Doisaneau [1912-1994] French photographer

Being an expressive sort, I am not one to hold back. Still, I’ve been pondering the idea of restraint. Not the S&M variety that show up in emergency rooms, I’m talking healthy perimeters - mainly with regards to photo snapping.

In 2008, I’d like to shoot less and say more, think less and feel more - to shoot from my gut and edit without doubt. With this ideal in mind, I pretend I’m still shooting with film - really, really expensive film. If I’m feeling especially creative, I might imagine myself an unemployed and particularly filthy Parisian alley dweller. If I can’t sell my prints, no croissants for me.

And, there’s nothing like a road trip to test my resolve so …

I capped off the recent Holiday Extravaganza with a much-anticipated three-day adventure with Dad, my favorite travel buddy. I’d only seen the coast of Mississippi and knew there was more to the Magnolia State. So, we headed northward, stopping in Jackson long enough to hang with fellow blogger and photographer, Susan, and her swell family. With Dad driving, I had to be damn sure of my vision before issuing a command: “Turn around – I need that shot!”

We made our way to Clarksdale, specifically to visit Ground Zero, Morgan Freeman’s blues joint. As I ate Fried Green Tomatoes and drank beer, Dad and I tapped our foot to Big T & The Family Band while watching the Giants v. Saints game. We was livin’ large.

In Clarksdale, I took just three shots – none brilliant, all for documentation. This is supposedly the crossroads where famed Delta bluesman, Robert Johnson, sold his soul to the devil in exchange for unearthly guitar skills. Standing on a corner in Clarksdale, I waited patiently but Lucifer failed to make me a similar offer for mind-blowing photography skills so ... it looks like I'm still on my own.
"If it ain't been in the pawn shop, it can't play the blues."
--sign in Clarksdale blues club

From there, we headed down along the “Blues Highway” – Route 61. We pulled off in Vicksburg and history popped up everywhere. We even came across the old courthouse where Jefferson Davis made his political debut. This did not matter to me as much as the way the late afternoon light was hitting the old cement columns. Later, standing alongside the mighty Mississippi River, I was captivated by its size and power; neither the camera nor I could fully grasp it.

Then, we caught up with the beautiful Natchez Trace, a 440-mile-long path extending from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee. It was used extensively by Native Americans and early European explorers as a trade and transit route in the late 1700s and early 1800s. We passed massive farms, shotgun shacks and one fireworks stand after another. Splendid scenery though I opted to absorb most of it in my face, rather than the lens.

Dad and I spent New Year’s Eve exploring Natchez, established in 1716. We even took a Ghost Tour – where I chose to embrace the overwhelming evidence of haunted antebellum mansions and my father chose to ignore it. Hmph. Doesn't he know it's only fun if you're fully creeped out?

Time and again, I walked around, fully using my eyes and heart first, before the camera. More often than not, asking myself the question, “What's the story here?” helped. Several times, I paused, set up the shot and then declined it, knowing deep down that it was more of a twitch than anything else. Basically, I let my emotions run the show.

Back home now, I've noticed that there were fewer stinker shots to delete. Turns out a little pause here and there improves my aim. Just like yoga, childbirth and stand-up comedy - seems I've got to remember to BREATHE.

Meanwhile, check out three (or more) photographers who do just that:

Canadian Andrew Edmond offers his unique worldview, with a focus on urban industrialism, in Worksongs.

Behold, Spudooli - a group photo blog by the Cooper family – Dave, Gabriel, Sarah and Alice who “all live in supreme happiness and contentedness in North Shore City, New Zealand.”

Finally, hats off to Diana, a 66-year-old hobby photographer living in Hudson Valley, NY:
“Since I do not have a car my photo ops are limited to where I can walk and the occasional tag-along with a more mobile person. Trips to the city are rare but valued. Photography has been a hobby for many years but also has been abandoned for 10 years at a time - only to be picked up once more.”

Diana’s stark images show little and say a lot. She's way ahead of me.

(This is a cross-post from BlogHer. Check out more photos from my Mississippi Road Trip here.)

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Happy New Year!

I always love the clean slate that comes with a fresh year. All mistakes of the previous year are waved off with the excuse, "Well, that was last year. THIS year will be different." Hence, resolutions.

On the sleepy airport shuttle ride back to my snowy cave last night, I thought about what I'd like to change about my life, about myself, about the world. As mentioned, I'm going to make a quasi-vegetarian effort (fish OK) this year - for nutritional and personal reasons. I am a naturally hungry, lusty gal so we'll see how well I do here.

It occurred to me last night, I should also cut down on my swearing. For fuck's sake, is it really necessary? Makes me sound colorful but angrier than I actually am. Also, I'd like to include more children in my life so this may be a requirement.

Thankfully, this resolution does not apply to blogging.

[Photo: Dad took this shot of me beside the Mississippi River in Vicksburg, MS a few days ago.]