Monday, March 29, 1999

The Scintillating Inner Scream of a Bunny with Ever Shifting Teeth

"Did you ever have a dream that you couldn't explain? Ever meet your accusers face to face in the rain? She had lone brown eyes that I won't forget as long as she's gone."

My leading critic (or at least the one I'm most familiar with) once said that I was much too intense, that I couldn't simply sit back and enjoy things because everything has to "mean" something to me. She was (as she most often is) right of course. One needn't look much deeper into my many neurosis to understand the root of a lot my graying hair is my need to analyze every bit of life's minutia, trying to attach a meaning to why things happen, and often being disappointed to discover that so much in life is merely random.

As aware as I am of this personal issue, I find it as difficult to listen to music as mere background noise, or to go to a movie as just another evening about town, as it is to wear women's pants. There is nothing that involves me quite as thoroughly as a really good, or a really bad piece of music. And the movies that inspire me either remind me of places I've been to and give me another perspective to a memory or a lesson I did or did not learn, or they take me to a whole other place, one I've never been to. My inner critic just can't quite ever fully go to sleep. So there I was at the Mall of America (only for my fourth or fifth time) on a Sunday afternoon with my favorite runway model, watching (and do I dare admit?) enjoying my favorite actress' latest film, trying my best to view it as just another movie while doing my best (honest) to ward off an intense allergic reaction to the bombardment of my overly sensitive and sleep deprived senses.

Forces of Nature is the type of movie Sandra Bullock should make. It is a familiar movie with a lot going on beneath the surface, kind of like a chocolate covered Kahula ball, and it is a movie that is hard to dislike- both qualities readily apparent in Ms. Bullock. The film, which co-stars Ben Affleck, is a movie about an accidental road trip the two take after surviving a plane crash (who was it that said relationships that begin under extreme circumstances never last?). Both are on their way from New York to Savannah to take care of personal business- Affleck to get married, and Bullock to get divorced, sell her bagel business for $25,000 and try and reestablish a relationship with her young son.

On one level the movie is a straightforward little romantic comedy that depends heavily on the charm and chemistry between Bullock and Affleck. But with some nice visual touches, and some subtle writing, the movie has an ethereal quality that makes it, in many ways Bullock's most satisfying film to date. Her character, Sarah, is different from her usual affable girl next door role of While You Were Sleeping and Love and War, and is a more free spirited nuturer, a bit rough around the edges but inspired walker. Sarah seems to be running away in more ways than one, and the closer she gets to home, the more lost she seems.

Affleck, too is effective in the movie. His character is as sensible as he is predictable, yet underneath his calm exterior is the heart of a hopeless romantic. The movie is in essence about his struggle to reconcile the security of settling down with another, while still wondering if there is out there somewhere, a soul mate for each of us, that we may or may not discover and are meant to but don't always end up with.

There is a wonderful shot at the end of the movie of Affleck trying to make up his mind which way he is going to proceed forward- his scheduled wedding is splitting apart at the seams as winds from a hurricane swirl a mixture of decorations and flower petals all around him. It's as if the storm that has been brewing inside of him all movie has finally been released and now he merely has to make the most difficult choice of his life. We see Bullock watching him from afar, knowing her heart which she has closely guarded throughout the movie, is intertwined with his fate. What is on the inside is finally clear as she is on the outside looking in. It is a priceless moment.

The movie's message is ultimately one of hope and despair. We see that this couple brought together for an all too brief but intense moment through some fateful forces, will be with each other forever in one way or another whether they want that or not. But we also see that no matter how hard any of us try and hold on to something just out of our grasp and not give in and let it go, is to distill all of life down to its basic level and finally understand that everything that exists in this world is only temporary. Yet much of it stays with you, and it's not always easy knowing what you have to do to avoid having to go through the same things twice. Relationships come and go leaving behind lingering memories that aren't so easily shed. Even meaningless trivialities like images from a movie may or may not be as hard to shake as who you share a particular movie with. Existence is a small piece of the puzzle of nature, and the moments that link us with another, if only for an all too short period of time, are the greatest force of all.

Monday, March 22, 1999

Be Not a Stranger

Dear Ms. Sandman,

You've probably been wondering where I was all week. Well I just tallied up the results and I worked 57 hours this past week, and slept (or was available to sleep) 28. A wise fella once said something like "work smarter, not harder." Obviously those words don't always penetrate my cerebral cortex. But then again, I'm too tired to think about it.

I already knew it, but it most certainly was reinforced, just because you work twice as much as you sleep, doesn't mean you will get twice as much done. At a certain point your little brain just shuts down and everything seems as if it is underwater. Swim little fishies swim. Still I got my work done and I defy anyone to sit through a six hour Senate hearing about spending $60 million on a power plant that will burn turkey poop as fuel, and not feel just a little bit bemused. How did I do it? It really makes a difference when you actually enjoy your work- doesn't seem so much like work then.

I've written this column in pretty much every one of my multitudes of moods but I think this is the first time I've written one groggy. You were quite notable by your absence this past week. One gets used to something being there every day and when it's gone, even for one week, you really struggle to get by without it. Your moods are different but more than that your whole outlook is different. Every thing can really change in a week. Beauty is often hard to forget.

Oh Ms. Sandman. Believe me you're on my mind more than you know. When you're not there I swear you used to be. I like sleep as much as the next person just sometimes I'm not so good at it. Sometimes it scares me. Sometimes it evades me. Sometimes it's all I can do. But why can't you be always be there when I close my eyes? Maybe it was because you weren't around much this week that I acted the way I did when you asked what was on my mind. I couldn't find the words to say, the ones I thought you might want to hear. You said you had a difficult time reading me. "Tell me your thoughts, what you are feeling..." Whoppers, I just wanted to munch on my carton of Whoppers.

You and I always measured the moments not by time but by the distance. A bent fender. A fent bender. You said, "I feel the same as always." And it was then when the journey seemed to be over. Sometimes the silence can be because you have too much to say. Sometimes it can be that you don't know what to say. Sometimes it's because you don't know how to say it. But sometimes it can even be because you have nothing to say. It's not as if I don't want you to know what's going on. It amazes me because in sleep years you have known me for such a short time. Still in many ways you know me better than anyone ever has or perhaps ever will. All this time I was thinking it was I didn't have a chance to say good-bye. I really truly believed that. It was kind of what kept me going. Now I see it goes beyond that. Sometimes a person doesn't want to say good-bye and doesn't understand why they have to.

Pardon moi, if none of this makes any sense. It does to me. Besides, the editor went to sleep hours ago. It may seem absurd a person can even reach a point where they are too tired to sleep. I really should know, I've been down that road once or twice. Sometimes your mind is racing a mile a minute and you see yourself careening toward the wall but it can also be there is too much on your mind that nothing gets through and the numbness isn't so much a fog as it is twenty pound bag of goose feathers strapped to those sheep you've lost count of.

I wanted you to visit this week, Ms. Sandman. I really did. I knew you were out there. And it is a brand new experience to reach out to you and somehow get what I need in return and yet still come up short. I'm only five feet five after all. And I swear you seem to be able to see right through me. I know you know what's going on or should know. I'm not only a window I'm a mirror and the reflection is as transparent as it is empty. Glassy eyes. Best fishes to you too.

A person can dream while they're awake after all and sometimes sleep isn't so much about rejuvenation as it is being unable to escape those dream demons. This is all there is and it's just as important to be awake for it as it is to sleep. To grab just a few winks I'd even ask everyone who ever mattered to sleep with me but I honestly don't think I have enough room in my bed. Actually I have two beds, well one is technically a futon, as well as a very uncomfortable couch, so maybe it's a matter of not having enough blankets. And don't expect much of a breakfast. We can all have pop tarts. But the whoppers are mine. All mine. By the way I've seen this movie before and you were with me then too. Three little fishies and a momma fishie too. So be not such a stranger, OK?

Monday, March 15, 1999

Smiley Smile

"God only knows what I'd be without you."

I'm nothing if not a Taebo fanatic. I love Taebo. Lately, it's all I think about. The workout is always exhilarating and uplifting. Everything in the world feels right after you do Taebo. Although I was only introduced to it a few weeks back, it feels like it has always been a part of my life and I'm looking forward to many more strenuous Taebo moments. When I'm feeling sad all I have to do is close my eyes and think of Taebo and the image I see warms my heart and melts the blues away.

I think sometimes my passion for Taebo frightens Mr. Max. He's not quite sure what to make of it yet. Last week as I was out front trying to dig my way out from snow that was up to my lil' arse, Mr. Max sat watching me from the front picture window and I think he thought I had taken my Taebo outside to another extreme. Believe me he saw more than a few curse words come from my mouth. By the time I had my sidewalk clear, it felt like I had been Taeboing for days.

The snowstorm made for a long week, the type of week that would have been nice to spend in, say, Mexico, but there was plenty of work to do here. Occasionally I'd close my eyes and when I wasn't thinking of Taeboing, the music I heard didn't quite get me to Mexico but did get me all the way to sunny California. It is always inspiring when you discover something that doesn't so much change your life as it does rearrange the other pieces so they make a little more sense and you can appreciate them even more.

And rarely do you have a chance to go to a concert of a living legend where twenty minutes before the show is supposed to start, you see the artist being walked out by his assistant holding his hand showing him around the stage. When Brian Wilson finally hit the stage for real with his twelve piece band Saturday night at the State Theater, he still seemed a little unsure of himself. Opening with The Little Girl I Once Knew, his voice struggled to hit the high notes, and his falsetto disappeared into the harmonies as it did for most of the night (a Beach Boys song without a falsetto is like Taebo without the kicking). As shaky as his voice sounded at times, and despite how deliberately he moved around the stage, there was something very special about being in the same room with the man who has created so much wonderful music. His best songs are raw nerves and emotion, as courageous an expression as they are breathtaking.

Early on he announced his intentions for the evening, "I'm sorry the Beach Boys couldn't be here, but I'm here to represent them." Represent them he did, with nostalgic performances of many of the group's best known songs (Good Vibrations, Surfer Girl, Surfin USA, Fun Fun Fun, Barbara Ann, Help Me Rhonda, Don't Worry Baby, and In My Room to name just a few). Although it was disappointing he only did three songs from his latest CD, Imagination, the performance of the title track was the highlight of the evening. At times he seemed to lose himself in the music and other times he seemed lost in other ways. Yet moments like his cover of Phil Spector's Be My Baby showed he was in charge of what was going on musically around him. Brian the perfectionist played the part during Do It Again, when he told the crowd to clap along and then scolded them for continuing to clap during the quiet bridge of the song.

Generally the first half of the show was exactly what you'd expect, polished, professional and entertaining yet it lacked the spontaneity of the best live performances. He opened the second half with two songs from Pet Sounds- Wouldn't It Be Nice, and Sloop John B. The poignancy of the moment was astounding. Pet Sounds is my all time favorite CD, one of the few I have that takes me to a different place no matter where or how I am. The performances on both songs was downright spine tingling . (How many rock stars include a french horn player in their sonic mix on stage?) He introduced the next song, Lay Down Burden, by saying, "This is the sad part of our show. My brother Carl passed away last year and I wrote this for him." From a nakedly passionate version of Lay Down Burden he segued into the song Carl sang with such heart, God Only Knows. Brian's voice wavered at times and it was the most moving moment of the evening. Clearly he is still mourning the loss of his brother and singing the two songs meant something special for him, and being able to share in the moment is what makes his music so cathartic. (It was just one of the few times during the show where I cried.)

The first song of the encore was Brian without the band for the first time all night, sitting at the piano singing Love and Mercy from his 1988 solo album. He screwed up the piano part and abruptly ended the song, and yet the fragility of his voice was matched by the confidence of knowing that even though he messed up the song, it still said what needed to be said. He is a survivor, and it is somewhat of a minor miracle that he was up on that stage seemingly having the time of his life (who would have imagined that possible fifteen years ago?). Through his music he continues to prove there is a lot in life that can break down but there's nothing so resilient as the human spirit.

Monday, March 8, 1999

Carpet Recycling Saves the World

Sustainable development, high profits, and good economics are mutually supportive of each other, the CEO of a leading manufacturing company told the Senate's Environment and Agriculture Budget Division, Wed., Feb. 24. Sen. Steven Morse (DFL-Dakota) chaired the hearing.

"We are myopically focused on financial capital, yet we ignore human and natural capital," Ray Anderson, of Interface Inc., said. The Atlanta based company is the world's largest producer of commercial floor coverings.

Anderson said that in 1994 he was asked to give a speech about his company's environmental practices. "I sweated over what I would say. When it came to an environmental vision I couldn't think of anything beyond complying with the law," he said. It was then that Anderson read "The Ecology of Commerce" by Paul Hawken, a book he said that forever changed his life. He said reading Hawken's book, a stark look at how business practices are destroying the Earth's resources, was "like a spear in the chest." He said the book convinced him his company had to act upon what he believes is "the crisis of our times."

Interface manufactures over 40 percent of the world's commercial carpet tiles, employs over 7,500 people, and has 33 manufacturing sites in seven countries. "By any conventional measure you would have to say Interface is successful, but not by every measure. We were terribly unsuccessful in one important area. We never gave one thought to what we were taking from the Earth," Anderson said.

He said the current environmental condition of the planet is disastrous. "We have polluted rivers, polluted and over-fished oceans, lakes dead from acid rain. We have forests that are dying, polluted crop fields, wetlands disappearing, aquifers depleted and farm lands that are toxicated. The ozone is stressed and in decline," he said, "There have been some improvements. You can now see across the street in Pittsburgh, and the Cuyahoga River no longer catches on fire."

Sustainable industrial development, Anderson said, means not only taking as little as possible from the planet, but putting back more than what is taken. He said that in order to begin to achieve this goal, Interface began working on a seven-step process. The first step was achieving zero waste by developing an internal reduction effort on eliminating product costs that don't add customer value. Next was eliminating emissions that have negative or toxic effects on the environment, and developing renewable energy sources by focusing on sustainable sources such as solar power instead of nonrenewable sources such as carbon based fuels. The plan also included "closing the loop" meaning redesigning products and processes for recycling, and using technology to increase the flow of information while reducing the distance people had to travel. Anderson said the final steps were creating a community that understands the value of natural systems and the human impact on them or "doing well by doing good," and focusing on delivery of value rather than on the delivery of material.

He said the company's use of the processes has led to improvements. In 1994 for every dollar of revenue earned, Interface consumed 1.59 lbs of natural resources, while in 1998 a dollar of revenue was equal to .94 lbs of natural resources used. He said Interface continues to explore environmental programs such as leasing carpet to its customers so the company better controls recycling. The company is also currently looking to develop a fabric that is more recyclable than the nylon used in most carpets, Anderson said.

Morse asked Anderson what role government could play in sustainable development. "Government has two roles, that of the carrot and that of the stick," Anderson said. He said that by ending government subsidies to businesses, incentives would be created to encourage businesses to seek ways to maximize their profits in other ways. Interface has increased its profits from securing business, despite submitting higher bids, with companies in support of sustainable development practices. "Government also has to continue its regulatory efforts to businesses that just don't get it. Creating a floor below which businesses are not allowed to operate," he said.

Anderson said while government has a key role in the process to better the environment, the business community is at the forefront of what must be accomplished. "The business industry must lead in pioneering the next industrial revolution. The first one is just not working," he said, "We have to learn to see the economy as a wholly earned subsidiary of the environment."

Monday, March 1, 1999

The Same Game

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It's gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny day

If this column has proven one thing in the past six and a half years, it is that I am not a man possessed with a great depth of knowledge. The more I go along, the less I seemingly know. At the same time I think it fair to say that the things that I do know, I'm somewhat neurotically obsessive about. I may not have a lot of different interests but the ones I do, passion prevails and I MUST know everything about them.

Many blue moons ago (or at least two) I tried my best to tone down that passion and try to approach things with a bit more moderation. It wasn't the way I was used to living, but it got me through a rather prolonged string of not too good days feeling a bit too much. For the most part I tried my best to keep doing the things I had done in the past, just without the same amount of intensity. One of the things I cut way back on was going to movies. Movies can enhance emotions like nothing else- the best hit you stronger than a stiff drink, stay with you a long time; the worst can still contain images, snippets of conversations that forever change the way you view things.

During this time a person came along (albeit with a noticeable limp) who convinced me to reconsider my movie ban. One day this person and I were taking a break in the little cubby hole Al had built at #80 for kids to watch videos while their parents shopped. I was telling her about my new approach to things and she said to me, "What you need to do is create new memories to replace the old." She didn't say it in a critical or judgmental way; she said it with a clarity that was more than a little refreshing. And over the next year we did exactly that- create a bunch of new memories that to this day I can't quite forget.

I think I can make it now, the pain has gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is the rainbow I've been praying for

Anyway, this person (albeit with a noticeable limp) and I ended up going to many movies together. Never have I known anyone who I enjoyed the experience with quite as much as her. It wasn't like she did or said anything that made going to movies that much more enjoyable. But only after a few movies I discovered she shared the same passion for a good film (though we didn't always agree on what made a good film) as I did. She was the Siskel to my Ebert. Without being told, she knew the best way to enjoy the entire experience from where to sit, to what kind of food to get, to knowing when to laugh and when to make an appropriate comment during the show.

After she left (albeit with a noticeable limp) I again found it difficult to go to movies although I knew she would be upset to know I had allowed myself to let the experience be spoiled again. I certainly couldn't go with other people, because they just didn't have the protocol down and it was more enjoyable going by myself. I got around this by discovering the best way to determine whether or not someone was worth getting to know better was to go to a movie with them. You can learn a lot about a person by what kind of movies they like, and how they go about watching a movie. Certainly there are better ways to measure the value of a friendship, but in many ways I haven't found a more accurate barometer. Show me a person who goes to a movie as just another thing to do and I'll show you a friendship that will eventually show its lack of depth somewhere down the line. I have gone to plenty of good, bad, and mediocre movies with plenty of good, bad, and mediocre moviegoers.

A couple years back I finally found another suitable movie going partner. She and I seldom agreed on the merits of a movie but I quickly learned to respect her opinions on the effectiveness of a film. Despite being one of the few people I've ever known who didn't like popcorn, I still rediscovered my own love by her own enthusiasm for movies. She will probably go down in history as the only one I actually appear in a movie with, and for that and many other reasons, I will always be more than a little grateful. It isn't like she left me totally in the dark.

Recently my favorite Nagel Woman and I tested the strength of our friendship by attending a movie together. I must admit I was a little worried that she would be the type who chortled during the inappropriate time, talked incessantly about trivial plot developments, or who viewed watching a movie as a passive activity. I should have known better. The movie we saw was Enemy of the State and she is now on my short list of people who made a movie better by sharing the experience together. Weirdly passionate is how she describes herself. And like in other areas we have shared, I understand fully what she means by that.

Look all around, there's nothing but blue sky
Look straight ahead, nothing but blue sky
I can see clearly now, the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind