therestlessnest

where life's not empty, it's restless.

Archive for the month “May, 2012”

Safety

I’m a big fan of optimism. Often, I’m brave enough to actually call myself an optimist. Other words I like are: Hope. Compassion. Love. But sometimes—and this is one of those times—we have to acknowledge that there is evil in the world. And because evil is often so random, arbitrary, senseless—all words I don’t like at all, and I’m sure you don’t either—because this is true, there is no such thing as total immunity from evil.

Safety is an illusion. Let it go. Be sensible, don’t go courting evil, but just let go of the fantasy that it won’t ever touch you.

Ask the families and friends of the four people killed and two wounded in gun violence in Seattle today. Today: Wednesday, May 30, 2012. One shooting happened at a café in the University District, the other in a parking lot outside Town Hall. We don’t know much more than that yet, but we will soon. We’ll learn names and heartbreaking details.

Ask the family of Justin Ferrari, caught in the crossfire of an argument on a Seattle street last week, dead at 43 from a gunshot wound to the head.  May 24. Ask the family of Nicole Westbrook, just 21 and brand-new to our city when she too was killed by a stray bullet. April 22.

Ask the parents of Etan Patz, missing for 33 years and in the news again because Pedro Hernandez has suddenly confessed to killing Etan, a New York 6-year-old who was excited about walking to the school bus stop by himself for the first time. If Hernandez did it, we’ll still never really know why. Or why he waited so long to come clean.

Ask Chong Kim, whose real-life story was featured in a film called Eden, the most moving film I’ve seen so far at the Seattle International Film Festival. Kim was 18 when she was kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery: not in some distant corner of the globe but in the southwestern United States. It took her two years to find a way to escape: two years in which she witnessed the depths of degradation and evil to which humans can sink.

Here’s where my optimism comes in. In telling this horrifying tale, director Megan Griffiths, lead actor Jamie Chung and the rest of the Eden cast and crew are bravely shining a light ON evil: the kind of evil that hates light, that shrinks and sometimes even dies in the heat of it. And Griffiths is also taking made-in-Washington filmmaking to a level of seriousness—in terms of content and artistry—that thrilled me. The Film Festival program hails her as a “local filmmaker,” but in the Northwest that has long been code for “not as good as we wish.” No more. Griffiths has made the words “Seattle” and “filmmaker” proud to be seen together in the same sentence.

When I saw Eden I wondered: why is Megan Griffiths not getting the same kind of spotlight some other young directors are getting?

I think one reason is our discomfort with the subject matter. It is hard to focus without flinching on the darkest side of human nature. It is hard to dwell on how casually evil chooses its victims: a boy on a New York street; a Seattle dad caught in a crossfire, a naïve girl plucked from a bar in Nowheresville, New Mexico.

When Eden plays again in Seattle, as I’m sure it will, go see it. Be proud of Chong Kim for telling her story. Be proud of Megan Griffiths for making this movie.

There is no such as safety. But courage is alive and well. I know: I saw it on the screen just a few days ago.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

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Imperfection

I’m having an imperfect moment. My coffee’s lukewarm. It’s a cloudy day. My go-to classical station is playing a composer I’ve never heard of.

But wait: this tune is hauntingly beautiful. Balakirev, whoever you are, your Spanish Melody in D Flat is soothing me into seeing this morning differently. I now see that this gray sky is hiding some brightness; look at the way the fifty different greens of the trees are popping against it!

Imperfection: It’s a great way to go.

I just came home from a gloriously imperfect trip to France and Finland. Our budget was middle-brow: a dollhouse-size room in Paris; 3 to a room in Finland. But I love traveling this way. I love knowing that imperfection is going to abound, because it removes all pressure to achieve that nonexistent, vacation-ruining goal of Perfection with a capital P.

We Americans don’t take enough time off. Expedia’s annual survey rates us as one of the most vacation-deprived nations in the developed world. That puts enormous pressure on the time we do take. We want every moment of our trip to be perfect. If we don’t get perfection, we feel let down. If we’ve sprung for a big plane ticket to another continent, the pressure on our precious vacation moments is especially intense.

Nearly 25 years ago, my husband and I started our marriage by quitting our good jobs at a Seattle TV station, pooling our modest stash of cash and buying round-the-world plane tickets. We traveled for ten months and came home flat broke. There were people who thought we’d lost our minds and others who thought we were simply foolish and irresponsible. But it was a deliberate decision. We wanted to seize this brief window before we had children, before we set ourselves to the 20-year task of trying to achieve work-life balance, and instead learn a very different, but no less important, skill: how to partake of the banquet of the world. How to savor the imperfect moment: the picnic on a stalled Spanish train, the cold papaya on a sweltering Bangkok street.

Paris is particularly challenging for perfection-seekers. It offers some of the world’s most stunning cultural treasures, most delightful strolling and people-watching, most renowned food and romantic vistas. But unless you’re in the top oh-one percent, you will likely stay in a room that redefines the word “small.” Unless you’re a celebrity, you will stand in line to see the treasures of the Musee d’Orsay and the Louvre. And unless you speak fluent menu-French, you will not always get what you want at the charming bistro or café you were so sure would be perfect.

All of which makes Paris the perfect place to embrace imperfection.

It rained while we were there. Quelle dommage! So we crowded into the nearest café, which happened to be the plastic-tented patio of the historic Florence Kahn Bakery in the Marais district. We sipped our tiny coffees and ate pastries we never would have tried—Parisian versions of samosas and rugelah—had it not rained.

In fact, it rained several times on our trip. And each time, we wound up somewhere we might not have on a sunny day: an arthouse cinema showing old Marlene Dietrich films; a massive museum exhibition devoted to Bob Dylan.

This summer, I’ll be staying closer to home. But I’ll be seeking and reveling in the imperfect moments. Because here’s the good news: they are always right here in front of us, rain or shine, in Paris or Seattle.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:45 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

Apologies

High School was a long time ago. And I like to think we’ve all grown up since then. But the story of Mitt Romney chasing down a classmate and forcibly cutting his hair gave me chills. And his so-called “apology” turned my stomach. “IF I hurt anyone,” Romney said. Did no one ever teach this man who thinks he’s qualified to be our next president that an apology that comes loaded with the word “if” is no apology at all?

I wasn’t bullied in high school, but I always felt just a few missteps away from the nightmare of being targeted.  After one of my best friends in junior high dumped me for not being cool enough, the popular girls mostly ignored me and I knew it was safer to keep it that way. Thinking about it now, a million years later, I can still feel the pain of being dumped and the humility of being invisible. Mitt Romney’s high school “pranks” may seem trivial to him, nearly fifty years down the road, but you can bet the living victims of those pranks have never forgotten how it felt. You can bet the “if” in the middle of his apology clanged like a high school fire alarm on their aging eardrums.

George W. Bush was fond of high jinks too, back in the day. You have to wonder: did that make it easier for him to condone torture? Does the youngster capable of bullying grow up to be the president who says yes to waterboarding? Or in Romney’s case: does such a boy grow up to be a man who is very good at acquiring companies and firing a lot of people without blinking an eye, just so he can make another quick buck he hardly needs?

It was unfortunate for Romney’s campaign team that the bullying story, with its gay-bashing undertone, coincided with President Obama’s announcement of his support for gay marriage.  Now we have the president who finally takes a historic stance for equal rights for all, “no matter who you love,” versus the candidate who, as a boy, eagerly led the charge against classmates who were “different.”

Unfortunate for Romney, too, that the story of an Inglemoor High School teacher whose chemotherapy coverage would have run out, had Obama’s Health Care plan not been passed into law, shared breaking-news coverage with the Romney bullying story. Like Obama’s mother, teacher Suzanne Black had to confront the bullies of the insurance industry as she battled cancer. No wonder the president wanted to give her the chance to introduce him to his Seattle supporters. Obama knows, from witnessing what his mother went through in her final months, what it’s like to have a moderate income and a serious illness.

And like the kids Romney and his pals picked on, Obama knows what it’s like to be the different one.

We spent eight years with an entitled frat-boy prankster for a president. Finally, we traded him in for the most unlikely president in American history: an African-American man with a Muslim name.  What a backslide it would be to elect Mitt Romney. What a triumph for entitled pranksters and fake-apologizers  everywhere.

“IF I hurt anyone:” guess what, Mitt, you did, and a real grown-up would own up to that.  Because a real grown-up knows how to apologize.

(A footnote: Of all the many commentaries and essays I’ve read on this subject, Tom Junod’s incredibly honest piece in Esquire stands out. I wonder if Mitt Romney could be persuaded to read it.)

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

May Day in Helsinki

“Demand less!” shouted a tall, stylish blond into a megaphone, right above my ear. “Love is free!” I spent this May Day in Finland, where there was no vandalism, no mayhem; just several thousand marchers strolling in the sunshine, waving signs and shouting the occasional non-threatening slogan. Occupy your mind. Demand life, not capitalism. Spring comes to everyone!

Spring is a big deal in a country that straddles the Arctic Circle. May Day is as much about celebrating snowmelt and sun as it is about politics. In Helsinki, May Day begins the night before, with a giant celebration of education in this country with one of the most acclaimed public school systems in the world. High school graduates—of all ages, not just this year’s grads—don their traditional white, nautical-style school caps and throng the center of the city. A cap is thrown on the head of everyone’s favorite mermaid statue, champagne bottles start popping, and spring, graduation and May Day are all officially welcomed.  The next morning, the party continues with the all-city May Day march, after which everyone adjourns to lavish picnics in the central Kaivopuisto Park.

I marched and picnicked with my sister, my niece and my Finnish friend Kirsi.  Kirsi and I met 25 years ago, when she was an exchange student in Seattle and an intern at the TV station where I worked. Now, she’s a producer of documentaries and TV programs in Helsinki. She credits that long-ago intern opportunity with launching her career. I credit her with giving me an experience of Finland I never could have had if I’d stumbled into Helsinki on May Day as just another unsuspecting tourist.  (I would also like to thank the inventors of the Internet for helping us keep in touch over the many years in which we both raised children and were busy building careers.)

Before we started marching, Kirsi took us to the tent headquarters of Helsinki’s Occupy movement, where we warmed our hands over a wood stove and talked for a few minutes with two young men who had been living there, off and on, for months.  We stopped into the nearby symphony hall to use the restroom (yes, it was open to marchers!) and ran into a TV director friend of Kirsi’s, who invited us up to his booth for a bird’s eye view of the stunning, brand-new venue, where the symphony would be playing a free Welcome Spring concert that afternoon.

It was all so congenial, so easy-going.  Not all of the protesters agreed with each other and there were bystanders and concert-goers who had no interest in marching at all. But everyone respected each other’s right to have an opinion and to express it out loud.

And yet there are Americans who think “European” is a bad word, as if it connotes—what, exactly?  A place where people spend too much time picnicking and protesting and not enough time working? A place where people are spoiled and pampered by big-government perks like basic health care and high-quality education?

This was my first trip to Europe in ten years. My first ever, to Finland. I am coming home inspired in ways that surprise me. There’s a love of community that I want to bring home to my neighborhood. There’s something to be said for sinking roots in a place about which you care deeply, as opposed to moving on when you get restless, an impulse far more common in newer countries like ours. And something to be said for folding new ideas like free speech into ancient rites like welcoming spring; celebrating in age-old ways, but with new faces in the crowd: immigrants and visitors from far-away places. And new slogans: “Demand Less!”

What an idea: we could make the world better by demanding less. Living in smaller spaces. Driving smaller cars.; walking, biking and using public transportation. Taking pleasure in simple things, like a picnic in the park.

I think there’s a place where that’s happening. It’s called Europe.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area. Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

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