December 12, 2000

Please accept -- with no obligation, implied or implicit -- our best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral, celebration of the winter solstice holiday...

The plum tree in the backyard has shed all its leaves, a bouquet of sticks silhouetted against the still green trees around it, the lemon tree with its bright spots of fruit hanging over the neighbor's fence and the climbing rose blooming in December. The lemons, the roses, the birds that come to the seed generously provided by the upstairs neighbors, they all starkly contrast last winter, where the sky and the river were the same murky gray and there wasn't a green thing to see for silent kilometers. This past year has seen us travel in more then time.

We rang in 2000 in a valley full of fireworks, standing in the subfreezing wind atop a tower with a Roman foundation. After the celebration, we settled down to "life as usual," or what passes for usual when you are living in a German castle.

February found us celebrating carnival in Cologne, in costume with the rest of the city's population. The travel bug bit in March, and we visited Amsterdam on the pretense of checking out tulips. Failing that (it's hard to find the motivation to admire flowers when it's constantly raining), we wandered into Belgium to buy chocolates and the local version of French fries. Returning to our castle home, it felt too small and quiet for our tastes, and with Spring starting to wake up the landscape, staying to watch the barges on the Rhine just seemed silly.

Thus began our wandering. We celebrated my April birthday in Italy, visiting Pompeii then weaving our way across the country: Rome during a jubilee year, Renaissance review in Florence, counting lions in Venice, hiking in the Cinque Terre. We cruised to Barcelona, fell in love with the city and Anton Gaudi's architecture, and discovered the exact differences between American and Italian ice creams. There were paintings in Madrid, spring time water fights in London, curious lambs watched by jaded ewes in the Lake District, and a reunion of Bryce users in Paris. We discovered a new favorite cocktail, learned that Mexican food is never interpreted the same way in different restaurants, and walked holes in our socks.

June found us re-acclimatizing to American culture: the roads and the markets are both huge. Ian's August birthday party was also our housewarming, finding us settling this time in San Francisco. The autumn days of 2000 have seen us playing at home improvement and gainful employment. Ian is the Director of User Experience at, a web site fanning the flames of a radio revolution. It's a new kind of position for him, and he's enjoying the learning and stretching involved. I stand in as a temporary receptionist at various places around the city, while attempting to concentrate on my writing while researching the next invention of myself.

And so here we are at the close of another year. Looking at the naked plum tree outside, I think of how far we've traveled and already I'm out of breath. Who can say, with this track record, where this new year will take us?

November 22, 2000

I feel curiously blank today. Empty. Like if you were to pop open the top of my head, you would be able to see clearly the inside of the skin on the bottoms of my feet. All my inner parts are missing, and I am weightless with their absence. I am nothing but a hollow skin.

The noise of the train rattling down the street bounces around inside my head, echoes in the spaces of my hollow self, reverberating most where my stomach used to be. The train is gone, over hill, around corner, and I can still hear it, still feel the pounding in my feet.

I am on the verge of dissolving. Just the right breeze or scent or word or touch and I will puddle here on the sidewalk between the coffee shop and the day spa. How these conversations will slowly cease, four benches of people lowering their paper cups of coffee, their words fading to silence in midsentence, looking at each other, question marks for eyes. The bearded man will let his proposition to the hairdressers go unpunished; new mothers will look up from their children, streams of nonsense suddenly thin on their tongues. I am nearly invisible, and it is only my liquefaction that will interrupt them, although they won't really know why. They will shrug off a chill, shake their heads, and stumble about in search for the threads of their abandoned conversations.

Even if I don't dissolve, I am still fragile, brittle, moments away from crumbling to pieces. Strike me just here, tap me just lightly; I will ring briefly, a person-shaped bell, then fall apart. My fragments will be silent, transparent and thin, dead-leaf dry, crumbling to dust in the passing wind, between your curious fingers.

I will fly away, scatter before the sunset winds, dribble down between the pavement cracks. I will be everywhere, riding the whim of the breeze, and I will be gathered here, feeding the stubborn bits of green that grow in ruptured sidewalks with the poor nutrients of my soul. They will spurt up in the first wash of my dissolving self, then hesitate. The longing to grow swift and large and vibrantly green is there, the desire for sun and sky, but it is laced with the bitter flavor of doubt. In the moment of indecision, balancing the burning need and the question of place, all will be lost, the fresh green heads ground low in the idle shuffling feet of the coffee drinkers as they settle back to their revived conversations.

They will not hear the note of sadness, my fading sigh upon the wind weakly shifting their hair as I feebly punish their heedless cruelty.

November 09, 2000

"The people have spoken.
Now, we just have to figure out what they said."

May I take advantage of the noise surrounding our presidential election to bring up something that seems to me to be nearly as important as determining the winner. Amid the clamor for re-counts and re-votes, the dismay over confusing ballots and close races, and while protesters wave signs, "Abolish the Electoral College," no one has mentioned the appalling failure of our U.S. history and government classes.

If my public high school experience is in any way indicative of high school experiences for most of the country's population, completing a semester of U.S. government is a graduation requirement. That's over four months of representative democracy, three branches of government, checks and balances, state versus federal rights, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Since most of us finished high school, I will assume that most of us passed the class.

Somehow, since then, many of us seem to have forgotten the bulk of what we were supposed to have learned. What remains appears to be a widespread belief in individual "rights" and an expectation for government to simultaneously take care of the citizens while staying the hell out of our lives. People demand legislation to ensure themselves retirement money and to increase pedestrian safety, all the while resenting the taxes necessary to fund these programs.

It is easy to latch onto a phrases like "democracy" and "of the people, by the people," but America is no more a true democracy then ancient Athens. It's a representative system, founded that way in the late 1700s by a group of educated men who couldn't bring themselves to make intelligence a requirement for voting privileges, (although they had no trouble excluding women, men without property, and people who weren't white) but who feared what might happen if uneducated masses were allowed to influence government. Since France was experiencing a particularly bloody manifestation of mob-rule, they had reason to be fearful. Furthermore, the population has never been equally distributed through the United States, nor have the state boundaries ever attempted to contain uniform quantities of land. A representative system ensures that California and New York, the most populous states, may not choose the path for the entire country, benefiting themselves while ignoring the Midwest.

With the developments of last Tuesday's election, people seem to be in a hurry to demonstrate their ignorance. While it is certainly desirable to be certain of an accurate tally of votes, now is probably not the time to demand extensive revision to our electoral system and the dismissal of the Electoral College. This is not to say that just because something has always been done is certain way, it should never be reviewed and changed if necessary. Many, many things have changed since the founding of our country, and I am not prepared to believe our founders infallible and all-knowing.

However, the folks making the most noise these days are those who either supported Vice President Gore or who didn't want Governor Bush in the White House. While, personally, I don't much like the idea of a man with such a loose grasp of the English language representing our country to the world or someone so steered by special interests deciding policy for the entire nation, I would like even less rashly rewriting the Constitution because the election didn't turn out the way I'd hoped. And, to my ears, that is exactly what the protesters are asking for.

There are several things to take from this moment in history. I hope that whoever lands at 1600 Pennsylvania next January never forgets how close he came to not being there, and that he strives to win the trust and respect of the citizens who didn't vote for him. I hope the population will take this opportunity to become better acquainted with the American political system. Perhaps these events will lead us to reevaluate the effectiveness of our government. If a change is truly necessary, I hope it will be it the product of careful thought rather than a knee-jerk reaction of a group of sore losers. And I hope this prompts us to take education more seriously. For few things will be as frightening as a country run "by the people" if those people are as uneducated, short-sighted, and self-serving as we are currently demonstrating ourselves to be.

November 05, 2000

"The lion killed the tiger.
Which one it is dead?"

He was standing uncomfortably close to me while I finished one box of cereal and opened a new one.

"We leave at 8:30 when Mom, Kathy takes me."

"Right. But my watch says its 8:15, so I still have time for breakfast."

"8:15 is what my watch says, too." A pause. "Will you come in with me?"

"No. I'll drop you off at church, and then I'll be back to pick you up at noon." I'm fishing for a spoon out of the dish drainer because he's leaning on the silverware drawer.

"Oh." His voice is mostly flat, a little whiney. He wanders between the kitchen, the bathroom, and his office, not quite watching me eat. Strangely, I remember that Grandma told me last night that he has lost the word "weeds."

He is waiting when I come down from brushing my teeth. In the car, I remind him where his seat belt is, and we drive in silence. I flip between 4 pop stations, singing along with what I know, switching when I don't. He stares at the station frequency number.

"It sounds just like K-LOVE."

"Not to me. I can hear a difference." I can't discuss with him that this music has variety, these artists are trying new sounds, these lyrics are about things besides God's great power and love and how we'll all be happy now. These are songs about heartache, about loving difficult people, about believing yourself damaged goods.

There is no more conversation until I stop at church. And that is only me telling him I'll be back at noon and him saying thank you.

I should be grateful for that. I don't think Mom gets a thank-you when she takes him to church.

I want to flip open his head and see what thoughts might be in there. Does it frustrate him to take all week studying for a Tuesday night Bible study group? What goes through his mind when he tries to tell someone he pulled weeds at the church work day but can't find the word "weeds"? What does he hear when he mistunes his radio and gets the Spanish station or the urban station instead of K-LOVE? What does he think when I tell him I'm not going to church?

While I pass the time in this coffee shop, I think about lunch since he'll want it the moment I get him home. There is the laundry to finish and his room to air out. Perhaps I'll stare at the fridge and try to start dinner so it's an easy thing to do when Mom comes home.

And I think further ahead. The doctors say we should start thinking seriously about residential care. I wonder when his obsession with bathrooms will become incontinence, when he'll decide that he doesn't need a shower at all. If he's lost the relationship between the words "killed" and "dead," how much longer will it be before he can't even form the simple sentences he did this morning? When will his body finally admit the loss of his mind?

Will I be ready when it's time to bury this shell that was my dad?

November 04, 2000

"Good heavens! Is that your voter pamphlet?!?"

It's 4:00 on a Saturday afternoon. I've been reading voter pamphlets and sample ballots since before 10:00. And I'm not done yet. Nearly 30 propositions is way more than I want to handle in one sitting.

I like the principles that went into making America a democracy. Governments, I believe, are supposed to work for the people, and I like the idea that the citizens of a community have opportunities to express how they want government to work. But frankly, this election has started to feel a just a little ridiculous. (And I'm not even going to bring up the circus this year's presidential election has become thanks to the clowns competing for office. Besides changing arguments and personalities the way spoiled children change "must-have" toys, neither inspires my use of descriptive adjectives like "intelligent," "even-keeled" or "globally minded.")

Are voter pamphlets meant to inform the voter? Or confuse me? I read well and frequently, ten books in the last month, yet it takes me six hours to wade through the summaries, estimated impacts and arguments pro and con for 16 propositions. Is there a law somewhere that says things political must happen in language so dense and convoluted that normal people can't make heads or tails of the arguments? Or that the opposing arguments must spend the majority of their words distorting the reasoning of the other side, and then being inflammatory? Why can't there be a simple summary of how things are now, referencing context, an equally simple summary of the proposed changes, and concise, impartial descriptions of how those changes would impact daily existence, again in context? Perhaps a space could be provided for short statements for and against written by those who would be most immediately affected.

And why is it necessary for a single proposition to contain multiple effects? If this passes, these four things will change. What if I only want one of those imbedded items to be addressed? What if I like all but #3? Either way it gets a "no" vote, and everyone loses. By making the propositions so complicated and then permitting only a yes or no response, how are the authors to know why I declined to accept the proposal? Perhaps there was a gem of an idea in there that I would have loved to vote yes on if it had only been by itself.

People love to cite the low voter-turnout numbers and wail that no one cares anymore about the country. Perhaps it's not that Jane Voter doesn't care about her country, state, or city, but rather that the system originally designed to collect her opinions no longer interfaces well with Jane. Perhaps, like me, she's confused and frustrated by the tangle of language in and sheer volume of her voter pamphlet. Perhaps, like me, she sees candidates who place showmanship and name-calling above issues. Perhaps, like me, she wonders exactly how much of an impact on a bloated bureaucracy her little tick marks on preprinted bits of paper are going to have anyway.

I know, I know. It's cumulative. One pebble, one raindrop on it's own is insignificant, but placed just so one more pebble can start a landslide, and landing just here a raindrop can trigger a flood. But I am neither pebble nor raindrop. I like to know my significance. Perhaps if politics found a way to make Jane Voter and myself feel like we were valued individuals, with minds and hearts to be respected, politics would find us more willing participants.

October 30, 2000

"You know, secretly I hope the power stays off."

I'm sure it was an innocent mistake. Whenever I've driven a large truck (moving truck size), I've been a nervous wreck. The truck is so very huge, and I'm so very unsure of where its edges are, where the edge of the road is, where the other cars might suddenly appear from.

Perhaps this driver was a novice; perhaps he was an expert. Perhaps he was sloppy, perhaps it was a true accident. Either way, when he drove away, something snagged, then caught. There was a loud, dull thud, a sound the newly arrived rain made me briefly confuse with a thunderclap without the rolling reverberation. Outside, the truck stopped, a length of support cable trailing behind, while inside the lights blinked off and a room of computers spun down to silence.

Power failures don't faze me much; small town, rural childhoods will do that for you. We could be electron-less at my house on an otherwise unremarkable day, while more populated areas would see no interruptions. If a storm dropped a tree over the lines near us, my family could be days without power, waiting for PG&E to attend to businesses and those closer to cities then us.

When I was small, if the power was out for much more than an hour, school would close, and everyone would be sent home early. Before long, my classmates and I learned to greet flickering lights with cheers. Getting out of school was a treat, one we always conveniently forgot would cost us an extra day added to the school year before summer break. By the time I was in high school, students were never sent home for something as inconsequential as a power failure. Growing up, we discovered, meant that the expectations remained, lights on or lights off. Open the curtains, open the door; the only places too dark for anything were the restrooms.

Perhaps it is this training that taught people to resent the power disappearing in the snap of a cable. This morning our dark hallways are not a thing to be enjoyed for the novelty it is but roundly cursed as an interruption and a detriment to business. Someone uses two cellphones simultaneously, canceling this conference call, rescheduling that meeting. If the power is out all day, I doubt Warner/Elektra/Atlantic will be beyond recovery.

How much of our lives are enabled by electricity, and likewise, how much of our living is crippled when the power fades. My CD player is silent, my computer dark and uncommunicative. There will be no faxes and no copies. Over half the offices are unusable since they have no windows. Even the phone system is useless without the power to drive the call routing and the voicemail.

I sit in the lobby and watch the people walk by on the sidewalk outside. Some hurry in from the rain, some stand and stare at the truck and the broken cable in the road. A woman with a walkie-talkie wants to know how long the power will be out. I don't know. Perhaps if it is out long enough, the office will close and I'll be sent home.

October 20, 2000

"If they stole my parking lot for some show, I'll have to go out there and kick someone's ass... "

The parking lot outside my window is empty of cars, surrounded by a chain-link fence and crawling with men in hard hats. They are raising a large canvas overhead, a feat requiring poles, guy ropes, and perhaps the tractor that keeps driving in tight circles underneath the partially erect tent. The plywood wall that will encircle the lot soon enough is going up in stages. A worker was painting the public side yesterday, careless of her brush in the breeze, splattering passers-by with blue latex. When confronted, she claimed to see no damage.

Rumor runs wild among those who gather at my lobby windows to appear at the workers through venetian blinds. A circus? A show of some sort? Construction? Of what? The rumors are laced with bitterness, for everyone here, until just last week, used to park in this lot.

I like the construction theory best; the tent is to shelter what happens there when the fog drip gets thicker. But I'm not sure how much sense this makes, especially if they have to dig to lay a foundation. What will the tent supports rest on then?

Actually, what's the purpose of sheltering a construction site? Should you really be building if your materials can't survive the local elements? Wouldn't it be wiser to reconsider location and materials before building something that will need reconstructive maintenance before it's officially completed? No, I think they're sheltering the area because they are about to launch an archaeological dig. There are significant historical remains under the cracked and faded pavement of this parking lot by the Giants' home stadium.

They will use pick axes and shovels to remove the blacktop; jackhammers might damage delicate artifacts with the vibrating. After the power tools will come armies of graduate students and local labor crawling through the dirt with trowels and wire brushes; they will turn up the usual archaeological treasures for California, and what they find will go to a small museum corner in the stadium lobby.

I find myself wondering about what was here before the city. When San Francisco was a small town, before the miners came searching for gold, what was the landscape like? Before the Spanish came building missions along the Pacific Coast, who lived here? How did these hills look in the sunrise before they were covered with cookie cutter houses? Was there a beach along the waterfront or was the line between short and bay blurred by marsh reeds? Before the sound of jackhammers and dot-com stocks rising and falling, before the sounds of hammers and miners' charges, how long could a bird's call echo in the fog overhead?

October 18, 2000

"What is up with this weather? Yick!"

I love autumn. That is reaffirmed for me every year as soon as the last dregs of summer fade. Of course, as soon as the flowers start to appear at winter's end, I will proclaim, just as loudly I'm sure, that I love spring. I must have driven everyone around me nuts this past spring, exclaiming over every flower, from the flats for sale outside the Bad Breisig florist to the orderly tulips in the Netherlands to riots of unchecked growing in private Cinque Terre gardens.

But it is autumn in San Francisco now, and I love it. I love the wind that messes my hair and lifts my cloak as I walk from the train station. I love the crispness of the air and the scent of moisture in it. I love the broken clouds skittering across the moon, casting the night in pale, flickering light. I love the proliferation of warm drinks, the ready acceptance of soup and stew, the shift to darker colors and bulky sweaters. This is the season for brisk walks, crunching fallen leaves (the few there are here), then retiring to a warm corner with a mug of cocoa or spiced wine and a blanket to wait for the sensation to creep back into chilled fingers and toes.

It is a season of retreat. Vitality shrinks away from the hints of winter, hiding away until spring's returning warmth lures it back. If you are patient, you can watch the retreating. The leaves fall from the trees so slowly that I fear I have missed it entirely this year. Those which are not evergreens already stand bare, their tangle of branches finally exposed.

Perhaps what I love best, perhaps the reason I love all the things I do about fall, is the sense of transition. Autumn is a season of change, of movement. This is the dithering period between summer and winter.

What a shock it would be to finish one day at the height of summer and begin the next in the deeps of winter! The plants would have had no readying period and likely would go all sickly soft and mushy with decay. Entire wardrobes would suddenly be beyond inappropriate and, without a fall shopping season, the rush of people to stores would probably decimate the economy. Wildlife would be caught unmigrated and without heavy fur. The instinctual hoarding evoked by fall and harvest time would have never materialized, and instead we would all be trapped in a season of scant supplies after our summer carelessness.

It's interesting that people have fallen so out of sync with the natural rhythms. The seasons change with the same regularity they always have, sometimes treading lightly, sometimes heavily. Still we act as if a new season is a thing unseen before, expressing amazement and dismay as the sky clouds over and rain falls, marring the weekend car wash. We shiver rather than put on a sweater and cuss at the increase in the energy bill. Strawberries and watermelons give way to pumpkins and winter apples; we mourn the passing of the first without celebrating the arrival of the second.

What is so upsetting about the changing of seasons, about the fading of summer? Is it a reminder of Time's ceaseless march? Is it a fear of aging? Of changes we can't control? Of endings?

October 13, 2000

"Who let the dogs out?
Woof! Woof! Woof!"

They started coming before 11, clogging the street and filling the parking lot, then streaming toward the stadium. Despite the early fall chill in the air, they came in summer clothes, T-shirts emblazoned with the Giants' black and orange logo, caps covered in buttons. There were some with jackets, with the required emblems and colors of course, but mostly they came as if the sunlight wasn't filtered through a high haze of fog.

I sat in my windowed office space and watched the parade stream past. The air conditioning was turned up too high for my taste and even in my turtleneck sweater I felt slightly chilled. A strange sort of homesickness settled on me, a longing for small English towns and a pub-lunch of soup and cider by the fireplace after a walk in the rain. My mind full of turning leaves and the scent of autumn, I watched summer incarnate walk by.

The final weeks of the season have arrived; playoffs are well underway. Even the part-time fans have become rabid supporters with the possibility that the local team may make the World Series.

Baseball, to me, and I'll confess to knowing about 2% more than nothing about it, somehow seems synonymous with summer. "The boys of summer," someone once labeled the players standing in the middle of a field of mown green grass and lazily shifting dust. Hot dogs, the summer food of fairs and carnivals, are handily available at the games. And when else is there a time for dusty backyard games, with the dog playing catcher, than the summertime.

So baseball in the fall is backwards looking. I'm ready for autumn, for warm drinks and cozy sweaters, and all the people streaming by my windows, in their short-sleeved shirts and logo'd caps, are mourning the passing of a season. It seems a desperate, clinging reach for the ease of vacation, the bliss of grass under bare feet, the simplicity of ice cream dripping from the bottom of the cone. Going to the playoffs, and maybe the World Series, means you can hang on to those long, lazy, golden afternoons just a little longer, pretend that summer vacation isn't over, that the gray of winter isn't making its entrance.

By one o'clock, the crowds outside had thinned, and, shortly after, a roar erupted from the stadium as the game began. The voices of so many crowded together merged into something distinctly other sounding. It's an inhuman roar, sounding more of water falling from a great height or wind in the palm trees, not thousands of screaming fans. I imagined the stadium as a place of transformation; if I were to glance inside, I would not find people there.

Three and one-half hours later, the deed was done, the home team victorious, and the parade resumed, retracing its steps. The fans spilled from the gates, flooding through the parking lot, their hands filled with souvenirs free and purchased, reliving the highlights. The conversations were animated, joyful, and in the secret language of baseball fans, a code of names and statistics and abbreviations.

I pulled my cloak up close around me in the chill of the evening and the fog offshore. They may keep the barking dogs of the ninth inning soundtrack, the smell of hotdogs and beer, the dying season. I'm going home to a bowl of soup and fresh bread, to a cozy corner to watch the rain streak the windows.

October 04, 2000

"I've been around the world..."

A year ago today, I woke up in Germany for the first time. If I close my eyes, and tune out Sting on the stereo, I can still picture that morning.

We had arrived at our hotel in Andernach quite late. I remember standing at the window the next morning looking over the biergarten below our room and admiring the age of the stone gate across the road. The light was golden in an early fall sort of way, gilding my nervousness for this adventure with a fierce excitement. Despite the long day of travel and the bewilderment of a foreign language in a strange land, or maybe because of that, I bordered on giddy. It shows, I think, in the pictures Ian took of me that morning.

That morning feels so long ago; so much has happened since then. Yet, somehow, it seems as if I should have more to show for this past year. There were three months of apartment living in Bad Neuenahr, followed by three months of castle living in Rheineck. We brainstormed reams of ideas for a company still in its infancy and crawled our way through the entire castle listing out all the items that needed attention: light fixtures to replace, hallways that smelled of swamp gas, walls that had lost their grip on the plaster. I went through the building again to determine its actual square meterage.

We then spent two months wandering Europe. Two notebooks, 50 rolls of film, a bottle of limoncello, and two prints by Subirachs later, we returned to the States. The first months back saw us moving around constantly before finally landing in our own apartment in San Francisco: Seattle, Boulder Creek, Oakland, four suitcases, three backpacks, and the two of us. There was the trip to Santa Barbara to fetch our stuff from storage, then the joys and frustrations of moving into our very own space. We no longer wake up wondering, "Is this the day they'll tell us to move?"

My sister got married; Ian's sister came to visit for week. My father continued to decline; we said a final farewell to Ian's mother. We have readjusted to the sheer size of the most ordinary of American streets and the general shoddiness of American public transportation systems. I have a hard time remembering I can turn right at a red light. (It's illegal in Europe.) I miss pedestrian culture and riotous flower boxes and Italian style ice-cream.

It seems so slim. I can sum up an entire year in three paragraphs. But there was so much while it was happening that if all I have is three paragraphs, surely I must have forgotten something. What becomes of the little details that add that soft patina to my memories? The butter cookies served with Killybegs' Irish coffee? The ducks that spent a frigid winter stubbornly diving in the swollen Ahr? The halo behind the mountains as the sun sets on the Lake District? The almost-smile my dad wore when he danced with my sister on her wedding day? How do I measure these?

September 13, 2000

"I figure if they don't come home with scrapes and bruises,
then they are not learning anything."

I enjoyed a walk with a certain young man, all of 20 months old, and his parents yesterday. The day was lovely in the way that summer-to-fall transition days often are, simultaneously warm and golden, yet still somehow cool and foggy. We walked among hills burnished with dry grasses and small-leaved members of the sage family, in a sea of feathery pampas grass waving over our heads. By our feet, the blackberry leaves were starting to shift from green to reddish-brown.

Our climb to the top of a hill was steep; the child, riding in the most complicated frame pack I've ever seen, was distressed. Once we'd achieved the summit and freed him from his buckles, straps and portable shade, his disposition returned to its usual sunny state. While Mom caught her breath, he explored the hill top with Dad, the blonde-brown of his thickening curls appearing and disappearing over the tops of the dried grasses. I watched the grasshoppers flee in droves before his wandering feet.

He refused to ride back down the hill, insisting instead on his independence, tugging his hand away from the assistance of his parents and taking off at a rapid wobbling walk. (Interesting that we manage to learn to walk with diapers bunched between our legs. Suddenly, I understand why we call them "toddlers.") The ground was dry and slick with loose pebbles, and our toddling companion didn't yet know how to recognize and respond to this potentially dangerous footing. But try to carry him over the uneven terrain, and he'd cry and ask for "down." Leave him on the ground, and he'd slip and fall, scraping an elbow or his forehead, dissolving into tears; pick him up to comfort him and, sure enough, he would insist again on "down."

He settled on a compromise after he'd fallen twice and would reach for his mother's hand when he felt the ground was not quite baby-friendly. Thus protected, he'd look a little closer at the gullies carved in the path by the winter rains and the berry leaves changing colors. This walking thing, this exploration, was pretty cool.

What a balance to keep! The parents' instinct to protect, a child's urge to explore and desire for independence. How difficult it must be to stand back and allow your child to suffer the injuries of discovery and self-determination. How do you know when to step in to prevent major harm? How do you know when life's little lessons are about to become major accidents? A misstep could scrape a knee or break a leg... At what point do you step back and pray for the former?

September 01, 2000

"My name is Moby, and I have a dirty little secret to confess...
I like to go out to raves and dance until 7:00 a.m.!"

We enjoyed Moby's third (!) sold out San Francisco concert on Monday. The genius behind the amazing Play (more than one year among the top five bestsellers) is obviously in love with sound: making it, layering it, exploring it, bathing in it, reveling in it.

From our balcony seats, I watched the audience reactions as much as the performance. The main floor was so completely packed that the inclination to dance translated itself to a limited up-down bounce, like some large, gelatinous sea creature regularly rippling its surface area in a quest for movement. Dancing in the balcony area was easier, confined as we were in narrow rows and squeezed between overheating individuals on either side. The smart few made it into the aisles, dancing there in flagrant disregard for any fire marshal who might have been present.

I watched one individual sway gently to the rhythms, watched as he raised his hands, palms open, above his head. And suddenly, I was younger, transported to another musical gathering, to a space with better ventilation. I am at a sing-along with the youth group, I am at Christian Music Night at Great America, I am at Westmont Vespers. Rather than the technology which layers Moby's compositions, the music is simpler, carrying a roomful of voices in a repeated chorus. Eyes are closed, hands are raised, bodies gently sway, and one lone person in the back of the room has started to sing the harmony.

I haven't given "worship" much thought lately, especially since I stopped attending church and discovered I could appreciate the holy on my terms, outside rituals so formulaic they felt dead. But watching the raised hands of the audience at Moby's last show, I found myself wondering, were these people dancing or was this worship? If it was worship, what was being worshiped? Moby? Music? Dance? God? Being under 35 and technocentric? Flashing lights? Endorphins?

Is it a one time worship, sort of an instinctual, gut-level reaction to the situation here: the community, the rhythm, the flashing lights? Is it a worship that is manifest elsewhere? Does the worshiping Moby concert attender go to church on Sunday or to Friday night raves? Or both?

Or perhaps I read too much into casual observances. Perhaps what reminded me of worship was simply no more than an overflowing of warm, buzzy feelings brought on by good friends, a good music, and a great show.