About Coffee

December 15, 2009

O macchinetta, stovetop maker of delicious espresso, I love you!

Yes. I must, finally, write about coffee.

If you’ve visited our Cafe Press store (http://cafepress.com/ragingmagmalife), you will know – well, ok, you’d have to have poked around there a bit, too – that we have pre-coffee-stained apparel.   You may also know that this is because coffee flies to white t-shirts – on me, at least – like moths to a flame.  Like dogs to squirrels.  Like cats to the laps of those allergic.  Like the buttered side of toast to the floor.  Like – well, you get the idea, perhaps.  And so, I figured, why not just take the uncertainty out of it all?  Why not just put it right on there, with my proud declaration of loyalty?

But here’s what I didn’t put on there.  Not just any coffee will do.  No.  I don’t pretend to be a connoisseur by any means; but I have figured out what I like, and I had rather not have coffee at all than have something that doesn’t fulfill my particular desire.  I don’t care about the caffiene, or the temperature, or many other things.  But it pretty much has to be dark roast, and made in a macchinetta, or moka, and it has to have a milk product in it with sufficient milk fat to make the flavor roll around in my mouth for a while.  (There are a few other things, too – but really, how much does the world need to know about my coffee preferences?  The thing about the shirt was probably more than enough.)  If the coffee meets all those picky little requirements, it brings me a ridiculous, all’s-right-with-the-world-for-this-moment amount of tasting pleasure.

And just recently, a friend brought me from Italy a one-cup macchinetta, which makes just enough for one espresso cup – and makes it perfectly.  That, in the bright orange or bright yellow espresso cup (also from Italy), is so absolutely perfectly the right amount of the right flavor in the right presentation…  But I’m straying into too much information again.

Here’s the important thing to know: with a macchinetta, if someone else has left any coffee in it (I, of course, would never do that), it is extremely – extremely – easy to splash coffee on one’s shirt.  And it is worth every single, unremovable spot.


Dance, Partners

October 3, 2009

We danced that one time,
(was it Salsa?)
taking turns with the roles
naturally curious, both of us explorers.
Then talking as we drove home
reflections on the instructor, the other students, ourselves.
“I’m surprised…following was better for me.”
A clear contradiction to my normal way in the world.
And you?
Leading came with such grace – we both felt it.
Sometimes a yes is so clear, the question ceases to exist
(serving only to birth more questions)
This one stands before me now:
how is it that your lead, my follow, is our most awkward movement?
(something so natural – why are we so damn bad at it?)
Is it as simple as inexperience?  as pathological as resistance?
are we hopelessly mismatched despite all our dreams?

There is no escaping the demand for our mastery:
your expertise, your desires, your boundaries, your vision,
each day asks only more.
[It’s so tempting to think:
I could follow if only you would…]

But back to Salsa (or was it a Rumba?)
What did I learn?
…seek my excellence in the steps that are mine
…be substance to your flow (that’s how we are form)
…ask only this:  what is this beauty we create?
Curiosity, exploration – there is no other way.
How do I remember this now
with deadlines and anxieties
and the misdirections of my mind?

If the deadlines are the tempo
and our goals are the beat
and you are the lead
how do I know my part?

Those dance lessons…they weren’t Tango or Foxtrot or Waltz.
(or did we waltz, for just a bit?)
But the lessons – what were they?  Samba maybe?
I cannot recall.

But that day –
that day I knew.
And that day – we danced.
Once again, the lesson is the same:  it helps to know intent.
(It’s the music that’s the cue.)

High Noon – Men and Boys

September 24, 2009

Through a lifetime of loving westerns, I had never seen High Noon, perhaps because both my parents were more John Wayne than Gary Cooper – fans, I mean – and I didn’t get around to Mr. Cooper myself until recently.  In any case, it was not what I expected.  I expected a fairly standard, if high quality, shoot ’em up western.  Instead I got a wonderfully rich examination of what makes a man rather than a boy, of what makes a woman, and of duty.

These have all been on my mind for quite some time, partly because I met and got to know a few men who were noticeably different from other men of my acquaintance, who held a different kind of maturity and centeredness, and who seemed perfectly comfortable interacting with me and other women.  I had been so used to guys who were charmingly boyish – and rather unreliable, as well as awkward in one way or another around women (worshipping, on the make, ignoring) – that I had stopped considering the possibility of other options.  And then suddenly there they were.  I must say, it was very sexy.

So, I found myself completely fascinated. 

Gary Cooper’s Kane, who has just married Grace Kelly in her first major film role (manner of speaking), has only some initial hesitation about where his duty lies when a killer he sent to prison is set free and returning on the noon train, bent on vengeance.  His new wife’s begging, threats, and eventual departure don’t sway him, because he knows he is right.  He’s not belligerent or angry or defensive about it; he’s  just quietly – and regretfully – certain. 

Can you imagine marrying Grace Kelly and then finding out moments later that you’re likely to be shot to death before you have a chance to – well – enjoy it?  What might a boy do in that situation – run away with her, and hope the bad guy can’t find them?  Take her off to the barn and shag her, quick before the train comes?  Whine?  Drink?  Lash out?

Fortunately, there’s the “boy” character in the film (Lloyd Bridges as Harvey), and the wonderful Katy Jurado (as Mrs. Ramirez) to point out to all of us – and to Mrs. Kane in particular – the difference.  Mrs. Kane eventually sees the light – and the beauty of a man who knows what he requires of himself and holds to it.

Kettle Calls Self Black; Pot Denies Caring, Accuses Kettle of Roundness

September 24, 2009

“I think it’s important to realize that I was actually black before the election.” Pres. Obama on David Letterman, 9/21.

“If we’re not able to criticize his policy because he’s black, we’ve lost our country. Us sitting here having to defend having this different view and we’re talking about race shows how effective that tactic is. Because we’re sitting here now having to talk about race rather than the issue. And the issue is that we’re going socialist.”  Steve Fitts, Selma AL, on NPR’s Morning Edition, 9/24.

Are we still racist?  Yes, of course.  Will we always BE racist?  Probably.  Maybe.  I don’t know.

I admire Jimmy Carter for his almost bizarre courage in speaking political truths (or, minimally, partial truths) that others shy away from.  It was quite bold of him to bring the race issue up around the health care debate, and I myself have no doubt that there is some foundation of truth in it.  On the other hand, it also seems clear that folks are more frightened about how their health care may be changed than they are about the race of the president.  The race issue likely adds a certain spice to the mix, but it’s not the whole stew.

Just what is the meat that provides the body of this stew?  Fear of death and illness.  And the broth that everything is swimming in, that everything is flavored by, that encompasses and drowns the whole?  I don’t know what to call it, but it’s related to the quotes above: the tone of the debate,  the use of heavily emotionally loaded language and imagery, the steadfastly-presented feeling that the other side is just plain evil and must be smashed as quickly as possible, the with-us-or-against-us argument.

Every time we wield those hot button words – racist, socialist, Nazi, death panels, and so on – we diminish the chances of understanding each other.  And that’s the point of them, unfortunately: we’d rather win than come to an understanding.  We desperately need health care reform in this country – if you don’t trust the patients on this, just ask any doctor.  And yet, do we hear about the details of the proposals for change?  No.  We hear about Joe Wilson shouting “You lie!” at Pres. Obama.  We hear about “death panels.”  We hear about socialism.  And now, we hear about racism.  All of these could be enlightening discussions, but they’re just presented as titillation and emotional manipulation.

When will we grow up?

Health Care Reform – Resources and Analysis

September 24, 2009

It bugs the heck out of me that, even on supposedly serious news shows (radio, tv, cable), the main things we hear about the whole health care reform piece are the emotional manipulation and attention-seeking sound bites.  So, in an attempt to counter that, I am accumulating here a list of resources for information on the actual issues.

More to come, as I find them.  If you have suggestions, please comment or email me.

Forging the Samurai Sword – of Self

July 10, 2009
Tough into hard - how the Samurai sword blends the best of both.

Tough into hard - how the Samurai sword blends the best of both.

A few nights ago, a friend inveigled me into watching a Nova episode called The Secrets of the Samurai Sword.  I had intended to do other things – some leftover work from the day (or week, or month…) was weighing on me a bit.  But it was irresistibly fascinating.

The first thing that caught me is one of my common questions: how did they ever figure that out?  Who, and how?  How did people come to know that cooking iron-bearing river sand in an incredibly hot oven (up to 2500 F) with charcoal for 3 days would produce the types of steel they needed for this?  How did they figure out that one type broke easily but held a very sharp edge, while another type was much more flexible but didn’t sharpen well, and so putting the flexible into the sharpen-able would produce a resilient and still deadly sword?  How?

The next thing that caught me was the degree of discipline, expertise and patience that goes into each step of the sword-making.  There are 3 segments to the making of a superior sword: the creation of the proper steel, the forging of the steel into a sword, and the finishing (polishing and honing).  Each is its own specialty.  Each demands consistent attention to the process over a significant period of time.  There is no shortcut to the production of a quality Samurai sword.  Men (and yes, they do seem all to be men) train and develop these skills over a lifetime.  It is their livelihood, their pride, their legacy, and part of their spirituality.

And then, still wandering about impressed as all get-out with those things, I began to think about character refinement and how like the creation of a Samurai sword it is.

Stage 1: The oven.  There are things we have to learn, things that must become a part of us.  We’re not going anywhere until we learn those lessons, or perhaps skills.  If you’ve ever been caught in a cycle of bad relationships, bad jobs, bad habits (including all addictions), or unproductive ways of thinking about things (the world, other people, yourself,…) that kept you stuck, you know the oven.  Once you hit that place of never going back to your old form, you’re done with it.

Stage 2a: Removing the slag.  In this stage, the steel is heated and pounded, folded, heated and pounded more.  The pounding actually squeezes impurities out of the steel, leaving (remarkably!) only iron and carbon.  This process is very much like what we do once we are on a self-growth path.  We know we want to change, and we do what we know how to do to remove the “impurities” – that is, those things that no longer work for us, that impede us from doing what we deeply desire to do.  I’ve also heard this called “peeling the layers of the onion.”  The repeated heating, pounding and folding serves exactly the same purpose: we test ourselves, challenge ourselves, observe what’s there and refine it, look at it differently, and begin again.

Stage 2b: Forging the sword.  This critical phase of the process is one I had not thought explicitly about before, but it hits home for me.  See what you think.  By now we know ourselves pretty well.  We know which parts of us are or can be sharp but fragile, and which parts are perhaps blunt but quite resilient.  From the sword forging process, it is clear that both parts are necessary.  With only the sharp but fragile parts, we will shatter under pressure; but with only the blunt, resilient parts, we will never cut through to the truth.  And so we must find a way to blend the two, to make use of the best qualities of both.  In the sword, the tough (more flexible) steel goes on the inside, and that makes sense for us as well.  Our internal resilience, our ability to bend and not break, comes from the inside and strengthens the outside.  Our sharp edge, our ability to see clearly and accurately and cut through pretense (our own or others’), we direct at least partly externally. 

Stage 3: Honing and polishing.  The polishing and honing of the sword of our self, the quest to fulfill to promise of our uniqueness, our own individual beauty.

A couple of years ago, I had a dream in which one of my teachers said to me, “I am constantly sharpening my sword.”  That has taken on new, more profound meaning now.

Kung Fu Panda and “The One”

May 24, 2009

I wasn’t intending to see this movie, but then someone I respect recommended it highly.  And then, it was on HBO, making it all so easy.  (Thank goodness for that!)

kfpWell-executed and entertaining, it nevertheless fell neatly into my “The One” movie category.   In these movies, the character destined to be “The One” is some kind of underdog or even goofy-off, though often with a secret passion.  Someone – a fairy godmother, a master, a mysterious man in sunglasses – lifts the poor sap out of obscurity by designating him or her as “The One.”   Next comes a process of transformation, followed by the final testing – which “The One” invariably wins – and “The One” is placed in the duly earned spot of honor.  See The Matrix, or Star Wars, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer – or Kung Fu Panda.

In Kung Fu Panda, Po is a big, goofy panda with no kung fu training.  He is chosen by the old turtle master as “The One” to defeat the fearsome Tai Lung, a big, muscular, orange-eyed white tiger with evil in his heart – who, incidentally, has been training his kung fu for his entire life.  Po goes through about 1 day of training, and he destroys the tiger.  Why?  Well, because he’s “The One,” and because he believes in himself.

It’s such a seductive idea.  No matter who we are, how goofy we are, how little we’ve worked at becoming what we truly want to be, there is always the chance that someday someone will recognize our true worth and point to us as “The One,” destined to save the universe (or be a princess, or whatever).  And, in fact, there’s no real reason to work at things, because those poor slaving saps are always the ones who THINK they’re going to be “The One” and end up getting passed over for the goofball panda.  In fact, not only do they get passed over, they end up BOWING to the goofball panda.  Why work your ass off when you know the only result will be having to bow to the goofball?  You NEVER get to be “The One” by working your ass off.  How much easier – and better, more legitimate – just to wait for the mysterious master to notice you and pluck you from the crowd?

Oooooh, ouch.  How self-defeating is that? 

Anyone else susceptible to this?  I know I am.  It took me quite a while to recognize my internal knowing of when and where I was “The One” – and despite finding that, I still occasionally find myself waiting.