Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tree Hugger Goes to the Gulf War

After hearing Marcus Eriksen speak at Santa Monica College's excellent literary series, I just read his marvelous book: Marcus Eriksen’s My River Home a Journey from the Gulf War to the Gulf of Mexico. His book adds to the growing list of Gulf War and Iraq War soldier memoirs. Eriksen’s book, published in 2007, interweaves two stories:his1990 service in the Marines in the Gulf War and his 2003 trip down the whole course of the Mississippi River on a raft he made out of soda pop bottles. Yes, he made a raft out of soda pop bottles! He endangered his life on the Mississippi in order to regain humanity he felt he had lost in the Gulf War

Early on in his service Eriksen’s Marine buddies call him “tree hugger” for making comments about the environment. He grew up near New Orleans in a blue collar family, exploring with his friends the Louisiana swamps, playing with dangerous snakes and collecting snakes and reptiles. He joined the Marines because he was inculcated with dreams of being a warrior—the book is very good how these media fantasies shape teenager blue collar boys—and also because he wanted the G.I. education benefits. He shows how the military used the boys’ idealism to do good to recruit them.

What’s fascinating is that of Eriksen’s two journeys, the raft trip down the Mississippi was more dangerous, took more bravery and more persistence. Eriksen and his Marine friends never saw combat in the Gulf War; Eriksen conveys the landscape of polluted hell in Kuwait: “Black clouds suffocate the sky. Specks of oil rain down on us and make us filthy.” He and the other Marines had to survive the filth, the boredom, the heat, and the loss of innocence. They spent their time looting corpses and collecting souvenirs. He interweaves the Gulf War stories with stories of rafting down the Mississippi, pulling the raft around logs when the river at first is a tiny stream, often feeling defeated by the slow moving river in Minnesota, almost getting run over by barges numerous times.

With the eye of a naturalist he later developed getting a Ph.D. in science education at USC, Eriksen notes that Iraqi soldiers often had the same equipment made by U.S. and British arms manufacturers and sometimes even better equipment for desert fighting. The boy who once was amazed by the bounty of nature and who once collected reptiles now collects machine guns and other weapons in Kuwait. What offends his warrior pride is his country’s arms manufactures were selling to both sides, endangering himself and his buddies. What begins to restore Eriksen’s spirit in his country is meeting with so much generosity on the river from Boy Scouts, river rats, fisherman, and townspeople from the towns he docks nearby.

What affects Eriksen the most is his four visits of the Highway to Death, the road from Kuwait to Basra, Iraq, where 500 vehicles of fleeing Iraq soldiers were killed by the U.S. Air Force. The landscape full of dead bodies would “resurface in our dreams of Kuwait and to thwart our search for reason and the return of humanity to our hearts.” After the war Eriksen felt used, manipulated, so he isolated and cut himself off from others, buried himself alive in books. He writes with the mature perspective of someone who looks back at his younger selves able to be critical and humble.

What begins to restore his spirit is going down the river, hanging out with generous people on the river in their homes or at bars, revisiting his country’s history in museums and tours of historical sights in St. Louis or Memphis or or Vicksburg or a host of towns. He gains a feeling of confidence that he can master the river and a sense of belonging to his country and seeing once again the goodness of his county people. He becomes a man with a heart not in the Gulf War but on the Mississippi. The stories of the Mississippi are wonderful, updating Mark Twain's view of the river. Eriksen has written a fine tale of going home to the river of his childhood to find redemption.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

March from Hollywood to the Port to Get a Raise

A group including actors, janitors, longshore workers and other working people will march 28 miles April 15-17 in Los Angeles to get better jobs in our city. They symbolize 350,000 workers in Los Angeles from screenwriters to janitors to longshore workers to actors whoare fighting in unions this year for a decent wages and to keep out of poverty, so they have organized a march for decent jobs from Hollywood kicking up with Screen Actor's Guild actor Esai Morales and AFTRA member Jason George speaking at a 4/15 rally at LaBrea Tar Pits and ending three days later with a rally at the port of Los Angeles. jThe ILWU (longshore workers) drill team will lead the march. Los Angeles needs a raise! People will walk twenty eight miles from Hollywood to San Pedro to start getting that raise!

For more information see http://www.hollywoodtothedocks.org/about.asp

Sunday, April 06, 2008

No Paper No Plastic

So for six months I've struggled to eliminate paper and plastic bags from whenever I go shopping, and I feel like a recovering addict finally getting over the addiction.

I finally realized that the only way eliminate paper/plastic was to BREAK THE HABIT by keeping my own recyclable bags in my car trunk: for grocery shopping a big multi-cultured plastic bag, a backpack, a white string bag, a black cotton bag from Washington D.C. art museum, and about 5 Trader Jo's large paper bags. I grocery shop every week for 4 people, and we eat home almost every meal plus having regular lunch/'dinner parties at home, so I weekly bring in a lot of groceries, needing about eight bags to haul it all in. I developed this new habit of hauling in my bags whenever I entered the grocery store. As my mother said, life is about habits, and I developed my new habit.

The one problem was fruit and vegetables which demanded little plastic bags. I've learned that plastic bags are toxic to birds--birds as well as animals and fish eat them and die. Thousands of plastics bags wind up in rivers or oceans. For two months now I've been reusing the old plastic bags--stuffing the little plastic bags into the big bags in my car trunk--so I'm outfitted for shopping. But I discovered reusablebags.com, a website that sells organic cotton produce bags, so I ordered 13 of those. Now I can go shopping with my reusable small cotton produce bags as well as my large recyleable bags.

What I discovered is that now that I'm not storing paper/plastic bags in my kitchen drawers, I'm freeing up space in the kitchen--one nice benefit of debagging.

Yeah, I still drive a car but that's for another blog.

Author Rafts Down Mississippi on Soda Bottles!

Santa Monica College has had a wonderful literary series this spring.

The next speaker (information below) is Gulf War veteran Marcus Eriksen will discuss his unusual journey down the Mississippi River on a homemade raft kept afloat by empty soda bottles and a lot of ingenuity. Free. Call (310) 434-4303. So Erikesen is recreating Mark Twain's voyages down the Mississippi over 150 years ago Twain describe in his book Life on the Mississippi. I'm wondering how the Mississippi has changed in 150 years? What is it like now to go a long distance now. When I was in New Orleans I took a short tourist steamboat ride down the river, but a long trip on a raft is different.

Erikesen will speak
main campus of Santa Monica College, Concert Hall, 11:15-12:30 pm
April 15, Tuesday

Parking is bad on campus, so best way to get there is park a few blocks away to walk in
or park about a mile away and take the Big Blue Bus on Pico which stops right in front of the campus.

Last weekend, a publication party and a bookstore wake

I'm reading Sara Forth's Eve's Bible: A Woman's Guide to the Old Testament because Sara is my friend, a feminist theologian, and published one of my poems "Miriam's Song," in her book. Sara had her book party last Sunday in at a spectacular wooden house in Brentwood full of fantastic folk art. I read along along with Sara, of course--the star--and also Terry Wolverton, leading L.A. poet/novelist/writing teacher; and Dinah Berland, who read from Hours of Devotion: Fanny Neuda's Book of Prayers. Fanny Neuda was a 19th century German Jewish woman who was the first Jewish woman to write the first full-length book of prayers; Dinah has rendered them into English, helping bring Neuda's lovely prayers to our consciousness.

In her introduction in her book to my poem Sara actually was the first person in history who understood the poem! I was touched. I mean I've read from my book Shlulamith, which has poems in the voices of biblical women, and people just don't understand it. Some poetry audiences often think I'm some kind of fundamentalist for writing poems inspired by biblical woman--odd. Sara said,

"When contemporary circumstances required specificity the Bible lacked, the rabbis would start with a biblical story and then, using its characters or context, spin a new tale that addressed the question at hand. Modern women of many religious persuasions have used the form to create everything from short parables to book-lengths works. Here is one example of what biblical Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza calls a 'narrative amplification' of an existing story 'Miriam's Song' by Julia Stein.'

When I read that, I nearly cried, as that was the first time in four years that my book has been out that someone actually understood it. Sara's party was splendid, with the interweaving of voices who read; Sara and her family's great hospitality; and the breathtaking house with a skylights over a two-story living room. Sara's book is terrific midrash of the Bible, bringing the Bible alive to us once again, helping us connect, explore and understand.

After the publication party, I then went to the closing party for Dutton's bookstore Brentwood. As I arrived the courtyard was packed to the rafters, people on the stairs, and more people on the balcony. Dutton's staff gave talks at the microphone including Doug Dutton himself who has just been one of the most terrific most wonderful supporters of writers in Los Angeles for decades now. Doug has two loves: books and music. He's going to teach music at LACC, Santa Monica College, and Colburn School of Music, but he and his bookstore will be missed by thousands of us.

Then poet Scott Wanberg who worked at Dutton's for many years read a marvelous poem about the store. Then former mayor Richard Riordan said a few words at the mike how in the Irish tradition this party was a wake for a bookstore--and a great wake it was.