Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Feline Visitor

feline sprawlWe had a visitor today. Kristin called her Muffin and Anth seemed quite attached, but I think she already has a home-- seems pretty taken care of and domesticated. Well, we had fun playing with her for a little bit anyways. I made an improvised cat toy out of a card board strip (a great success). She also hunted down a fly and a moth. She seems young, as she doesn't quite fit into her paws yet. She had a bushy tail like a raccoon.

YUM Let's Play!who you lookin at? Regal

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Remembering Jamal Mouzaffar

Yesterday evening, I went for a walk to clear my head...or to look for a sign to make sense of all this. I saw flowers growing in weeds, I saw new leaves growing from a lightning charred tree. I tried to run, but couldn't run fast enough. I sat in the garden. I searched for some comparison, something that would give me a reason. I couldn't find any. I spent some time writing in my Nature journal that i had put away back in the beginning of June. I wanted to feel connected to the Earth.

God Willing
like we don't have
a choice
Because we really don't
It means
I want the best
for you and yours
but have no way to guarantee it
God willing
by and by
Vaya con Dios
We all have a way to say it
but how can we make sense
of your death?
We're not supposed to
but God willing
one day we'll see
Go with God, Jamal
We don't have a choice
in this life
when we come and go
but God willing
I will see you again habibi
dear one

When I returned home, I found a passage in one of my books of poetry by Rumi that struck me as particularly relevant. I'm sharing it with you here:

On the day I die, when I'm being carried
toward the grave, don't weep. Don't say,

He's gone! He's gone. Death has nothing
to do with going away. The sun sets and

the moon sets, but they're not gone.
Death is a coming together. The tomb

looks like a prison, but it's really
release into union. The human seed goes

down in the ground like a bucket into
the well where Joseph is. It grows and

comes up full of some unimagined beauty.
Your mouth closes here and immediately

opens with a shout of joy there.

~mevlana jelaluddin rumi - 13th century

Monday, August 27, 2007

In Memory of Jamal Mouzaffar

I heard on the radio first thing this morning that one of my students had been shot and killed. Jamal Mouzaffar was in my Microsoft PowerPoint class, and had taken two other classes with Ron. He was signed up to take Publisher with me in September. Jamal was here from Syria for medical treatment. He had a prosthetic leg that was getting some adjustments. He had completed some study at the university back home in Journalism, and was planning to complete it on his return in a few weeks. The radio said he was opening his Uncle's deli, a gunman demanded money, Jamal complied, but he was shot anyways. It is such a terrible loss. And such irony that really doesn't give any comfort right now- he came to this country TO GET BETTER, and this is what happens. My heart goes out to his family right now, both here and back in Syria. I called the only number I had, which was at Jamal's apartment, and my throat caught when I heard his voice on the answering machine. I can't make sense of this. He always had a smile, he was so kind, so friendly, so curious, so willing to learn. Sometimes the world doesn't make sense. Rest in peace, Jamal, I hope wherever you are is better than this world where such things can happen.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sinking a Coconut in the Monogahela

Yes, living in Pittsburgh is always an adventure. As a completion of the tasks left to my friend Vijay after his Hindu house blessing ceremony, I assisted in the sinking of a coconut in the river. After his Mom blessed the house, it was left to Vijay to properly dispose of the holy objects left over. He had to pour the Hanuman holy water on a tree, give the coins to a child, and sink the coconut in a river. It was mid evening and the sun was at that stage where the shadows are really playing off the ground. The foilage around the river seemed extra green, and the tide was moving pretty quickly. We (Vijay, Rachel, and I) first attempted to sink the coconut by putting it in paper bag with a rock. Having nothing to close the bag with, after throwing it out, the bag surfaced, and eventually the coconut broke free. The tide brought it close enough that I dragged it closer with a stick and Rachel picked it up. Vijay called his Mom, who advised him to crack it open and then it should sink. So we located another sizable rock, with which Vijay cracked open the coconut, submerged it in water until it had some inside of it, then tossed it out again. This time it sunk. Mission accomplished. It was a beautiful evening to be on the river, and there was some sense of nostalgia or history not my own; some tradition that I was allowed to become a part of, however briefly.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Possessed by Pigeons?

The pigeons are haunting me. That's all there is to it. Why, oh why, won't they leave me alone. It's been a long saga with pigeons. At times I have hated them ("rats with wings"), others I've been ambivalent or apathetic, more recently intrigued. I posted earlier of how I wasn't sure how to feel about the forced pigeon birth-control in Hollywood, of how I ordered a book about pigeons to research before I formulated an actual opinion. Well, since then, I have been encountering pigeons everywhere. Even on the murals of Pittsburgh. This mural was by Whole Foods in East Liberty. Why the pigeon has bling is beyond me, but it is a pigeon with gold chains and a diamond ring (You would think such accoutrements would weigh it down in flight).

Mysteries of Pittsburgh (not the Chabon novel)

Ah, Pittsburgh. A city of infinite mysteries. Like the spot on a sidewalk in S. Oakland where, according to MRW, you can stand to be teleported. Like the button in East Liberty outside of Kelly's Bar that you can press to disappear. This I saw first hand. I thought about pressing the "button," and was documenting the attempt (see above), but then I started thinking about the definition of "disappear." Now, if I would become invisible, cool...but, if it means I would cease to exist in past, present, and future incarnations, I became a little wary. After receiving advice from a bar patron awaiting the door opening for Happy Hour ("How will you be served if they can't see you? I'd at least wait until after you had a couple of drinks"), I decided not to tempt fate at this juncture. Maybe next time.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Wedding Waltz

Wedding Waltz
White Dress
Black Tux
You Begin
The New
And Tomorrows
This Comes First
And Last
The Old


My sister Risa Masamura was married to Scott Saunders on July 15th, 2007. To see more pictures of the big day, see http://www.risamasamura.com/wedding/download.html . To order a copy of the book of poems I wrote for the couple, go to http://www.lulu.com/content/686404

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Amusing Commercials II

Here's another commercial that never left my head since the time it aired. Which I am pretty sure was in highschool (I graduated in '99), because I can semi-clearly recall using my "cape" on my Marching Band uniform and running up and down the bleachers asking people to be my sidekicks and claiming to be Batman. Yes, I was (am?) a strange bird. Anyways, without further ado, the commercial that inspired me, the Batman Snickers commercial:

On the Nightstand

Well, I don't have a nightstand, but if I did I'm sure the books I'm reading at present would be on it at night. I had 4 books on hold at various times the past couple months thru Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (excellent service, this requesting of books on the Internet to pick up at whichever branch one desires). They came up at different times, so there are three separate due dates for four separate books, which would be a bit of a hassle except that the Library also offers an e-mail reminder service for due dates (good thing or I'd be paying a lot more late fees). In any case, the four books I got from the Library, of which I am really only reading 3 at a time, but give me some time and I might get all four going are as follows, with my initial impressions. In order that I received the books:
  • Book of Blues, by Jack Kerouac: I am alternatately awestruck and stupefied. At times I find the writing brilliant and full of such clarity and true vision. At other times I am not sure what I'm supposed to be getting out of it. Sometimes I am struck by the accuracy of the unexpected metaphors and imagery, other times I am baffled. I guess that's Kerouac until reading more Kerouac hopefully trains me in how to read Kerouac. This is my first real forray into Kerouac's poetry outside of anthologized material. My favorites so far are the 27th chorus in "San Francisco Blues" (the city as muttering bum), the 38th, and the first half of the 30th chorus in the same:
    Old Age is an Indian
    With gray hair
    And a cane
    In and old coat
    Tapping along
    The rainy street
    To see the pretty oranges
    ... (p. 31)
  • White Teeth, by Zadie Smith: I was just rereading the jacket of this book to try to give you a more concise summary of it than trying to recount everything I've read so far. I'm a little annoyed that Zadie Smith was 24 when she wrote this. I guess I should be happy that she's so brilliant at 24. Anyways, this is a very compelling book so far. It does, as the jacket states, take on "the big themes-- faith, race, gender, history, and culture-- and triumphs" The stories and characters are strong. There is some jumping back in forth through time, but it's structured so that it's manageable. My only issue with it has been the voice of this omnicient narrator who isn't always there jumping in from time to time. At first it pulled me a bit out of the flow of the story, but then I started liking the humor and cynicism it brought to parts of the story that might otherwise have come off as cliche or overdramatic. I am not sure WHO this all-knowing-eye is, perhaps the writer herself, but it helps keep perspective. Current status: p. 201/448pp.
  • Bushido: The Way of the Samurai, based on The Hagakure by Tsunetomo Yamamoto, edited by Justin F. Stone, original translation by Minoru Tanaka: I was first turned on to The Hagakure by watching the movie Ghost Dog, mentioned in the previous post. In this movie, Forrest Whittaker plays a modern day Samurai, and the movie is interrpted with quotes from The Hagakure, some of which I found quite intriguing. I put this one on hold a while back, but there's apparently only one copy and others had it for a while before it got to me. I'm now on page 30 of 98. Some of the words strike me as very apt and wise. Others strike me as being the ideal, but hard to achieve. Yet others are too superficial for my liking, and at tension in my mind with the more philosophical and intrinsic entries in the same book. I have greatly devoured the sections thus far on thinking and self-discipline and achievement and perception of oneself. However, the portions on not yawning, on not doing arts and crafts, on how to behave at parties strike me as less useful. I suppose how others perceive you does have an effect on an outcome you may be trying to achieve, but I hate playing a game.
  • Disappearing Acts, by Terry McMillan: This is a book that is on Rhoda Mills Sommer's list of suggested reading (as was White Teeth). I have not started on it yet, so I'll quote her blurb here:
    "This is one of her first three books. These were more substantive than the books that followed afterwards. She beautifully captures men who don't follow
    through" ~ Rhoda Mills Sommer

Well, that's a long enough break from the reading. I want to be finished with all four by the time my Fall university classes start!


Pigeon Problems

Sonny Valerio: Where's he live? (regarding Ghost Dog)

Louie: That's the next strange thing. I mean, I can't just call him up. Instead, he contacts me every day through a bird.

[pause] Sonny Valerio: Did you just say he contacts you through a bird? Did I just hear you say that?

~Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

I don't know where to categorize this in my mind. "Hollywood turns to birth control to clean up its (pigeons') act". I admit that I did not particularly care for the pigeon poop raining down on me in Amsterdam so that I was forced to raise my sweatshirt hood. I, too, have called them "rats with wings." Then in 2005 I met a woman whose husband breeds show pigeons. ("You can show pigeons?" I asked. "Yeah, there're all different colors and types," she answered) Then I saw the Forest Whittaker movie, Ghost Dog, and started thinking about the services pigeons can provide, as he used them to deliver messages. In the movie, and this just might be Hollywood, the pigeons seemed to show some sort of affection or at least loyalty to Ghost Dog. Then I read the article on forced pigeon birth control. I don't know how to feel about this. OvoControl P is basically a poison that they are putting in the pigeon feed. It is supposed to just interfere with egg development. How they're going to make sure only pigeons eat it is beyond me. What they will do if it completely sterilizes the pigeons is also beyond me. I know there is a difference between pigeons and humans, but it still brings to mind what hospitals used to do when undesirable women gave birth-- they would birth the baby by c-section, then just take the uterus while they were at it.

The first country to concertedly undertake compulsory sterilization programs for the purpose of eugenics was the United States. The principal targets of the American program were the mentally retarded and the mentally ill, but also targeted under many state laws were the deaf, the blind, the epileptic, and the physically deformed. Native Americans were sterilized against their will in many states, often without their knowledge, while they were in a hospital for some other reason (e.g. after giving birth). Some sterilizations also took place in prisons and other penal institutions, targeting criminality, but they were in the relative minority. In the end, over 65,000 individuals were sterilized in 33 states under state compulsory sterilization programs in the United States.

~"Compulsory Sterilization" on Wikipedia

I know this isn't the same, but it still strikes me. I still feel like something bigger or more metaphorical might be being said, but I'm not sure what. My feelings on pigeons are somewhat nebulous at this point, so I am seeking more knowledge. I ordered Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World's Most Revered and Reviled Bird. Perhaps it will help me process this.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

An Excerpt...

...from my 7 page travel narrative of my experiences in Trinidad and Tobago, "Between Worlds," for your reading pleasure. I was in T&T from July 6th through 21st:

before Sunday School in TobagoOn the smaller island of Tobago, the population is something like 98% black, and we were lumped with the only other white people on that island: tourists. In line for a beer at the weekly street party, Sunday School, in Tobago, a guy with short wide dreds sticking at angles from his head started shouting his order and reaching his money forward. I hadn’t had anything to drink since supper at 6. It was 10:30. My face always gives away my emotions, and I expressed my displeasure through the crease in my forehead.
“Hey tourist, don’t look at me like that.”
I may have given him a look, but it certainly wasn’t undeserved. “Well, I was here first and I’m thirsty,” I heard myself whine.
“Okay,” he thought out loud, “Then you order my drink.” He handed me two five dollar bills. It seemed a fair resolution.
I ordered his Carib, and passed the bottle back to him along with his dollar in change. The whites of his eyes were more the color of the red beads on his red, yellow, and green necklace. Rasta colors, taken from the Ethiopian flag. Green earth. Yellow gold. Red blood. My skin was reddened from the sun, but I was still colored white. “And you have to dance with me before you leave,” he commanded.
I wanted to tell him I wasn’t a tourist. But what could I say I was? A student? A traveling writer? What difference would he see?

Pittsburgh VS. Trinidad and Tobago

Okay, so maybe it's not a fair comparison since Trinidad & Tobago is in the Caribbean, but what do they have that we don't (besides the Caribbean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, a Rainforest, and year-round warm weather)?
TobagoOkay, so maybe the Caribbean Sea is slightly more blue than the Allegheny River ...
Herr's Island, Pittsburghbut it's' just as green on Herr's Island as it is in the rain forest in Tobago!!