Monday, November 30, 2009

Beat that

In honor of their appearance in the New York Times , I give you more from Explode into Colors, Lisa on the drums


Sunday, November 29, 2009

All night long

Saturday night, around the clock. Dancing to jerkin' music, dancing to Lionel Richie, dancing to Explode into Colors:










Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Dope Show

After my article about Oregon's first Cannabis University opening ran today, I got a call from a guy asking if I can help him find some marijuana.

"Don't worry about leaving a message on my machine," he said. "Only my wife and I can get the messages."


Here's my article:

HILLSBORO -- Classes at the Oregon Medical Cannabis University are usually packed. But as Claudia Lavander demonstrated how to create a muscle-relaxing salve (key ingredient: marijuana), she spoke to a mere audience of one.

Having a reporter attend the class had scared students away, she said.

"I'd love for you to be here with a full class," she said. "But I have pilots and lawyers, and they don't want to get labeled."

Even as more patients turn to medical marijuana, even as rules relax and cannabis cafes open, people still worry about stigmas. That's why Lavander's salve recipe includes marijuana-masking tea tree oils. And that's why her business partner, Clancy Adams, dresses nicely and speaks scientifically.

It's all about image, Lavander says. If they want to get down to their preferred business -- "helping people help themselves" with medical marijuana -- they first have to help the world see they're legit.

Read the rest here

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Before he left for Sudan, Ryan left this for me:


Thursday, November 19, 2009

My mother's dreams, dying

Years ago, I wrote a column in the Jackson Free Press about my mother's greatest dream. The gist is this: She wants to meet the Bee Gees. The clearest way she can see to making that happen is through Oprah Winfrey.

For years (a decade?) she bugged me to write Oprah a letter, the kind that would inspire Oprah to have my mom on her show for a private Barry Gibb concert. That column was my sort-of giving in. I mailed it to Oprah.

A few months later, I got an e-mail from the Bee Gees manager.

"While Barry Gibb cherishes the idea of a mother and daughter bonding over his work, he is no longer able to tour due to severe back troubles. Please send your address for an autographed photograph."

I called my mother, thinking she'd be excited. "So," she dead-panned. "He doesn't want to meet me?"

She hadn't given up hope, but this week has been a sad one for my mother's dream. First, the Bee Gees (minus Maurice, who died a few years ago, sending my mother into a three-day wailing period of mourn) appeared on Dancing with the Stars. My mom updated her Facebook thus:


Then, today, the nail in the coffin: Oprah Winfrey is retiring.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

This is what the 2000s sound(ed) like

Everyone's making lists. I love lists. It's the end of the decade -- My decade. In the 2000s, I graduated high school, graduated college, graduated adolescence. Here, at its end, I have my own insurance and an apartment and a job with a decent savings account. The songs I loved before this 10-year set were mostly Christian or oldies (or Counting Crows), but the 2000s held so many discoveries. Below is a list (with links to some songs!) of the 25 most important songs (to me) from the past decade.

The list includes only songs that came out since Jan. 2000 (a real list of importance would have Bruce Springsteen! The Replacements! The Velvet Underground! Joni Mitchell! The Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs!). It's not necessarily a list of my favorite songs, though there are some that are favorites. This is a list of songs that changed something for me or has persisted in some special way. It's a list of songs that hold moments memorialized ("Maps" sounds like heartbreak; "Read Your Mind" sounds like falling in love.) They're not in any kind of order.

1. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Maps (2003 - "They don't love you like I love you")
2. Wilco - I Am Trying to Break Your Heart (2003 - I had never heard anything like this before. So noisy. So pretty.)
3. Kelly Clarkson - Since U Been Gone (2004 - By my estimate, the most perfect pop song ever.)
4. Ciara f/ Ludacris - Oh (2005 - Southern Gothic R&B rap - This song, along with a few others on this list, made me a hip-hop fanatic. They changed the way I listened)
5. 50 Cent f/ The Game - Hate It or Love It(2005 - This is THE song that made me love rap, made me start seeing the songs as ethnographies.)
6. Usher - Burn (2004 - One of the hardest break-ups I ever had; "I'm twisted 'cause one side of me is telling me that I need to move on; on the other side, I want to break down and cry."
7. Radiohead - Idioteque (2000 - The first time I got drunk)
8. Interpol - The New/Leif Erikson (2002 - Technically two songs that spill into one another. I spent most of college listening to this record in the dark.)
9. Ryan Adams - Come Pick Me Up (2000 - Maybe the best night of college involved a dorm full of people, the guys each taking a turn on the guitar. Ryan F. and Lizz sang this. I've never heard it better.)
10. Jay-Z - 99 Problems (2003 - Literally, at that point, this was the most shocking thing I had ever heard. When I heard it at a party, I wanted so badly not to like it, not to listen to the word "bitch" used so gratuitously. But I was hooked. And once I lightened up to listen to the rest of the lyrics, I realized just how genius it is.)
11. Kanye West - Jesus Walks (2004 - I listened to this on repeat in Africa. "The only thing I pray is that my feet don't fail me now.")
12. Sarah Harmer - Don't Get Your Back Up (2000 - Adryon and I used to sing this in our dorm room together. Harmer was the first female folk artist I like, which led me into all sorts of gay.)
13. Avant - Read Your Mind (2003 - The sound of falling in love, wholly, without resistance. See also: Beyonce's Crazy In Love)
14. Tegan & Sara - Where Does the Good Go? (2004 - The sound of devastating heartbreak. See also, below, The Walkmen's The Rat.)
15. Arcade Fire - Crown of Love (2004 - How to pick a song from this album? A year before it came out, a guy named Jason told me they would be the biggest band of our youth. When I first heard this song, with all of its weird change-ups, I knew he was right.)
16. OutKast - I'm Sorry Ms. Jackson (2000 - The sound of my senior year of high school.)
17. Bright Eyes - Something Vague (2000 - Paul Davidson played this along with some Belle and Sebastian songs out at Jim's camp one night. It was the first indie music I had ever heard. I spent the night at Sadie's, trolling Audacity for more of the same. Needless to say, my music world changed.)
18. Living Better Electrically - Richard Hung Himself (200? I have no idea when this actually came out, as it was never actually released. I found it online in 2003. It was the first Jackson, Miss. song I ever heard. I had no idea local music could sound like that. This song led me to friends, which led me to starting the Collective, which led me to the Jackson Free Press, which led me to the journalistic life I have now. In short, it set in motion the rest of my life.)
19. The Dixie Chicks - Not Ready to Make Nice (2006 - I still remember hearing this song in the car that spring. I knew the country was different, knew country music was different.)
20. The Walkmen - The Rat (2004 - Maybe my favorite song ever. The furious guitars are what pulled me, finally, out of depression last summer.)
21. Sleater-Kinney - Combat Rock (2002 - This isn't my favorite SK song, but it is the one I passed out to students as the war was starting. I thought I could change hearts with a killer song. (See also: Green Day's Jesus of Suburbia))
22. The Postal Service - Such Great Heights (2002 - Again, this sounded like nothing I had ever heard.)
23. Neko Case - Deep Red Bells (2002 - Neko Case made me a better writer. "It tastes like being poor and small and popsicles in summer.")
24. The Strokes - Last Night (2001 - I heard this for the first time in the winter of 2001 at the Veteran's Affairs hospital at 5 in the morning. Rock music, I knew, was back.)
25. The Knife - Heartbeats (2005 - What to say? I think it's perfect. Every moment I've had listening to this song seemed to last, pleasantly, forever.)

And, finally, a bonus: Mariah Carey - We Belong Together (2005 - The return of Mariah Carey, in my opinion, warrants mention.)

(I'd like to say for the record I am missing so many songs I love, like the entirety of Pinkerton, as well as Cat Power and Yo La Tengo and thousands of others. And Int'l Players Anthem!)

Monday, November 16, 2009


I bought a Fuji Instax camera about a year ago. Since then, I've taken a photo of every dinner guest who comes on Monday nights. Mostly people do not look their best, but Audrey has proven that a true model looks good in any format:


Sunday, November 15, 2009


Recent beloved and decorated correspondences (to me):



Saturday, November 14, 2009

Big news in the small town


A story of mine that's running in tomorrow's paper:

NORTH PLAINS -- Mitch Ward has covered all the big news in North Plains. He has written about drive-through prayer boxes, Eagle Scout promotions and the opening of a store that specializes in fireplaces. The Elephant Garlic Festival has been front-page news four times.

Before Ward started The Beacon last year, word got around the old-fashioned way; businesses advertised by nailing a sign to a light pole. So most people were glad to get a monthly publication that snoops so they don't have to.

But every now and then, some controversial news comes through North Plains, and not everyone likes what the local rag has to say. So it was earlier this year when Ward found himself embroiled in one big small-town argument.

The town dust-up centered on annexation. Should the sleepy, bucolic community grow? Ward's detractors say the paper is "nothing more than a pro-annexation fish wrap," that he's trying to turn North Plains into the next Hillsboro.

But it's not just what he writes that irks them. It's that he writes at all. Having a newspaper is itself a sign of growth.

To read the rest, visit the Oregonian Web site

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

First person: Kate L.

Kate talks about growing up with two writer parents. She tried to resist becoming a writer herself, but now, she's a journalist working for the LATimes.

First person: Kate from Casey Parks on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My stuff: Colin

Colin explains:

1. set of plates -- I had these exact plates in a furnished rental on an island in Washington. I wanted to take them with me, but I couldn't. Then I came across this set at the Mormon thrift store for $1 a plate.

2. cowboy boots - I got these is in the Mission in San Francisco. They have been through a lot of fun parties. I freaked out because they ended up with my ex for a while, but he finally returned them.

3. cymbal - Someone gave it to me when I was first started playing drums. I had no idea at the time, but it's an old Turkish cymbal. According to the stamp (and my three hours of research), it dates to 1959 - 1966.

4. James Merrill - The Changing Light at Sandover - This is a trilogy of poems he wrote side-by-side with his partner. A lot of the material is drawn from their ouija board sessions. I took a summer and read through the whole trilogy. It was one of the most inspiring things I've ever read.

5. French poster - Someone I didn't even really know gave it to me as a gift. My room didn't really have any decorations. You don't come across something like this every day.

6. Anthony Bourdain cookbook - It was a really big inspiration when I first started cooking at a restaurant. It pushed me to keep cooking, to keep being creative.

7. jacket and ski vest - They're hilarious. I found one in Houston and one in Portland, but they have the exact same retro color theme.

8. keychain - In high school, they gave these to all the seniors. It's not my favorite because I liked high school but because it reminds me of one of the most intense, crazy times of my life. If I can get through that, I can get through anything.

9. score by James Dillon for "Helle Nacht" - This is one of my favorite orchestral pieces from the late 20th century. I just found it while browsing the sheet music store. I started listening to his music while studying composition at Oberlin College.

10. prescription sunglasses - They have backed me up when I either lost or broke my regular glasses.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Pig photos

*Warning there is one dead pig photo at the bottom (but in black and white)

This is the sow, alive, I recorded on Thursday.



All the other pigs made eye contact any time I had the camera. This pig did a few times, but mostly she hid in the hay.

And, finally, after the kill:


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Day at the pig farm

I woke up with yet another headache. It’s been like this for a week. I figured I should get up and eat something. But what do you eat on the morning of a slaughtering?

Most mornings, I eat eggs, but that didn’t sound good today. In a few hours, I’d be recording audio of a pig’s death.

I showered then settled on a Snicker’s bar. It wasn’t a healthy start, but what can I say? It’s what I chose.

I’ve never seen an animal’s death — not in action, anyway. In high school, my freshman year biology teacher often brought road kill to show off in class. But I had never seen the actual moment where an animal no longer is.

Most men in the South hunt, but my father wasn’t that kind of guy. He wasn’t masculine or focused enough to sit out in the woods with a gun, waiting for dinner. Our meals were never so direct. We ate hamburgers every Monday night — the ground chuck bought in bulk from Wal-Mart then stored, in aluminum foil, in our freezer.

This was the South in the ‘80s. No one I knew bought organic or grass-fed or local. We bought what we could afford. Vegetables came in cans. Hamburger came pre-ground, all pink and raw, but resembling nothing close to a real animal.

About 20 minutes after my Snicker’s bar, I felt hungry again. I might as well eat an egg, I thought. Who knows if I’ll want to eat lunch.

The eggs I buy now are cage-free, grain-fed. I started buying them earlier this year in an attempt to impress a girl. After a while, I kept buying them because they tasted better. I hadn’t been saving much buying the cheaper eggs anyway.

I fried my egg in Country Crock Shedd's Spread — one last, solid hold-out from my youth. Real butter just seems so inconvenient compared to the spreadable Country Crock.

After breakfast, I packed up my gear and headed out for the hour-long drive to Pure Pork Farms. On the way, my iPod, shuffling through thousands of songs and podcasts, chose an episode of the radio show Fresh Air. In this broadcast, Terry Gross was interviewing a New Yorker writer about a CIA program that uses unmanned drones to kill high-ranking Taliban officials. Soldiers in Virginia operate the drones, which fly almost noiselessly through Pakistan, looking for targets. What does it mean when a soldier is killing without being — physically — there?

“We’re morally insulated to this horrific thing that’s going on,” the author, Jane Mayer, tells Gross.

Still, the soldiers are reporting high instances of PTSD. Even at a distance, death diminishes a person.

For years, I was a vegetarian. I wanted nothing to do with death, even death I could not see. But gradually, I started eating meat again. These days, I rarely eat it, certainly don’t cook it. But sometimes — at a friend’s for dinner or on a busy day when fast food is the only option — I do eat meat. By the time the food reaches me, there’s no animal there, no life to confront.

The road to Pure Pork winds past several other farms, each with a stunning view of Mt. Hood. In the eastern part of my county, the volcano seems so much larger than it does from my apartment. Out east, it’s bonafide, imposing.

By 11 a.m., I pulled up to Pure Pork. Roosters crowed. Piglets ran loose. And my subject — the unnamed, unweighed 5-month-old sow — rested in a stall by herself. The kills-on-wheels guy wouldn’t arrive for a few hours, but I wanted to record the pig alive first.

The photographer, Beth, was already there, chatting up the farm owner in the barn. My pig -- the pig I had come to record -- had mostly buried itself in hay, so I started by taping some of the piglets sleeping in a pile. The microphone amplified their sleepy breathing. I watched for about 10 minutes before a whole crew of people arrived.

We were there to document something Levi Cole does once a year. Half-a-decade ago, he decided he didn't want to be a vegetarian or a hypocrite. "The only other option," he told me, "was to kill the animal myself."

He paused to take a sip of brandy. Levi had showed up with students from the Robert Reynolds chef studio. They came with a prosciutto lunch and a bunch of booze.

"It's a party," Levi had said when I first met him.

Now, we were in the back of my SUV -- the quietest place I could find for an interview -- talking about why he started killing his own meat. Today, he planned to shoot the pig. But his first time (five years ago with an 80-pounder), he had stabbed it in the neck.

"It was terrible," he said. "I don't like to talk about it."

He took another drink. "Yeah, it was terrible."

Levi is a critical care nurse, a guy who spends his work day easing pain. That first kill went all wrong. The pig didn't die instantly. It suffered, he said.

Even today, even with the hand-gun waiting in his truck, Levi seems more nurse than killer. While we waited for a mobile slaughter guy to show up (Levi would do the shooting, but the other guy would drain the pig's blood then skin her), Levi played with the pig. He scratched her back. He talked to her. He brought her beer. Six Blue Moons in, the sow was drunk.

"Pigs love beer," he said. "Plus, if someone is going to kill you then eat your ass, the least they can do is get you drunk first."

In my car, we locked eyes then he said, "It's a living thing that looks at you with human little eyes. The thing has no hatred for you. It has an interest in you. It's just like any other pet."

"You saw me in there with her," he said. "It has no idea I'm gonna shoot it in the head."

He paused. Took a drink. "It has no idea. And I feel terrible."

We stayed that way for a few seconds, crouched in my car, looking each other in the eye with a long microphone wedged between us. The car smelled like apple brandy.

I started to ask another question, but Levi interrupted. "He's here," he said. "It's time."

I looked out the window. The mobile slaughterhouse was a truck with a huge trailer and a few silver hooks. Levi downed the rest of the brandy then climbed out.


What can I say about the shot? I wasn't ready for it. The recorder was on, capturing, but I wasn't looking. I turned just as it had gone off, after the noise, after Levi had pulled his hand back then dropped to the ground to catch her.

The pig seemed to fall in slow motion. I had expected it would die immediately, that a shot to the brain would be it. But Levi cut the aorta and blood gushed as the sow flailed.

I thought I'd vomit watching all that blood pour out of the pig's neck. Then, when it kicked the microphone out of my hand, I clasped a sweaty hand to my mouth and cried instead.

I hadn't actually expected I would cry. But there I was, kneeling in a barn with a microphone pointed toward a sliced aorta, crying.

"That's okay," Levi whispered to the pig as he held her. "It's okay."

Where was he finding this balance? The killer then the nurse within seconds.

Later, after the slaughter guy had skinned and split the pig, after its head was gone, once it started to resemble food, Levi and I walked back to my car. He grabbed a beer.

"I couldn't have done that sober," he said.

I asked him about holding the pig. He was quiet for half a minute.

"Every time I've done it, I've held it, so it doesn't writhe around."

"I hold it while it dies," he said quickly.

"I don't really like people to die alone, to die without my being there," he said. "As if that means something. It probably doesn't. But there's a reverence for that minute when the pig dies. For me, it's important to take note of that minute."

Our minute -- the interview -- was coming to a close. He didn't have long to talk now. The pig had to be put on ice. The blood washed from the barn. We climbed out of the car. The roosters were still crowing.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


She must have read about it first in a Jack Chick tract, one of those hand-held cartoon books designed to scare you into being good. Those books were always floating around church, and I remember the Halloween one clearly. There were virgin sacrifices, demons rejoicing in the ignorance of humans now celebrating their head boss's most evil day. Halloween was for the devil, my mom told me when I was young. She had tract evidence to show for it, and I never doubted.

We spent the Halloweens of my youth "home sick" from school. The nights, we spent either at the mall or at church, anywhere but home. Each year, my mom drew a sign for our door: "Sorry, no trick-or-treat. Jesus loves you."

In college, I started trying to unravel all my feelings about God and church and the tract-like scare tactics that had formed my life. Somewhere in there I researched Halloween and decided, really, it had nothing to do with the Devil.

The fight with my mother was huge -- so huge I didn't even celebrate. In the years since, I've tried a few times, half-heartedly, to have a real, costumed Halloween. The trouble is, I'm no good at it. Do you hone those skills in your youth? My best attempt was two years ago as Amelia Earhart. I had loved her as a kid and my short hair seemed perfect. Still, my costume was pretty half-assed.

This year, a co-worker invited me to a costume party. This is the year, I thought. I'm going to make a real costume.

I spent the next few weeks freaking out. No costume seemed right. Plus, I didn't really want to spend a lot of money on something I'd wear only once.

Two days before Halloween, another co-worker suggested Where's Waldo, which I loved. I spent two days prowling the town Goodwills until Ryan and I spotted this shirt in the American Apparel window. Ev got one in blue and white to be a Waldo decoy. People recognized us all night. I woke up Sunday morning, feeling not particularly sinful.


Ryan dressed up as health care legislation aka death panels aka socialism.


PS: I found this about Jack Chick's biography. Why does being a teenager mean one is destined for hell?

Right after the book was printed, he was driving down the road, when his eyes were drawn to a group of teens on the sidewalk. Jack remembers, "At the time, I didn’t like teenagers or their rebellion. But, all of a sudden, the power of God hit me and my heart broke and I was overcome with the realization that these teens were probably on their way to hell. With tears pouring down my face, I pulled my car off the road and wrote as fast as I could, as God poured the story into my mind."