Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I'm a new citizen!!

This morning I became a citizen of Canada, along with 93 other immigrants from 21 different countries. (I was the only one from the U.S.) There was another group scheduled for the afternoon, of similar size.

The whole thing lasted about 2-1/2 hours. We were all given laminated citizenship cards; a large, glossy booklet on the Symbols of Canada detailing Canada's history (with a huge, folded poster of the provinces' and territories' flags and flowers and birds), an official Certificate of Citizenship, and a framable, bilingual printout of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.

Everyone emerged from the premises, smiling. All in all a very interesting, and heartwarming--yes, they really make you feel that way--day.

Of the hundreds of times the judge must have presided at these citizenship swearing-in ceremonies, it must get to be pretty routine. Yet there was nothing pedestrian about his obvious enthusiasm, exemplified by his hearty handshake, beaming smile, and kind wishes. You cannot fake that kind of genuineness. He made time for every single new citizen to have a picture taken with him and two Royal Canadian Mounted Police in full uniform, personally greeting and shaking the hand of each and every one of us as if we were old friends.

My certificate says:

"As a Canadian, you must uphold the principles of democracy, freedom and compassion which are the foundation of a strong and united Canada.

Welcome to the Canadian family."

Uphold the principles of Compassion. A country as a Family. As new immigrants we were invited to contribute to "help make Canada a Great country." It already is a great country. Greatness is not measured by how big you are, or how rich you are, or the size of your military arsenal. It is measured by how well you take care of your citizens, how tolerant you are of their individual and cultural differences, how compassionate you are.

Canada has been that kind of home for me.

And now I have two countries, each of which I hold close to my heart--one by birth, the other by choice and circumstance. My grandmother came to the U.S. from Slovakia as a young girl. She never became a citizen. Somewhere along the generations, her native language disappeared. None of us, her many grandchildren, can speak it today. As to nationalism, I feel strangely alien in that regard. I understand the importance of history and the sense of pride in one's "home" land, in one's own culture. I have gone to utterly different countries from my own and felt immediately at home there; I've felt a stranger sometimes within my own culture. But I also cherish what seems to me the best of where and who I came from. Not everyone has the option of staying or leaving their homeland, or perhaps even spends a lot of time thinking about such matters.

I love that cultures can be shared, though, if not entirely understood. We're all citizens of the world, of the planet, and yet we still can't seem to all get along. Why is that?

I went today expecting it to be -- well, like every other official ceremony: a mite too long, too many speeches, too many people. Bring all your documents, two forms of identification, stand in line and get processed, sit and wait for the judge to arrive. Prepare to spend three hours, the notification said. Groan. Instead, I found myself entirely caught up in it, in the excitement of the moment, in the words of the judge welcoming us as new citizens, in the happiness eminating from the faces around me. I was absolutely ... impressed, and it was contagious, this feeling that arises when another country--wholeheartedly invites you to "belong" to it.

I'm now a Canadian!!

.... and still American.


*Photo by my mate, who stood up in the aisle to get this snapshot.

Friday, June 26, 2009

On Mourning

Michael Jackson, an icon in the music world, died yesterday and the news coverage of this event has been enormous. Footage of sobbing fans at candlelight vigils, making shrines to St. Michael, King of Pop; interviews with a rabbi in Finland (his spiritual advisor), fellow musicians, acquaintances, record producers, his lawyer, his neighbors, random people on the sidewalks of New York and Paris and London. Did he leave a will? Who will take custody of his children? Did his 'enablers' contribute to his suspected abuse of prescription drugs? How much was he in debt? They want to do an autopsy. Oh my God I can't Be-LIEVE it. Were you shocked? How does it make you FEEL? What are your thoughts about it? How are you coping? Play old clips over and over and over and over, 24/7. Let's take a short break now for some news: North Korea threatens to annihilate America. Now back to Los Angeles, we're awaiting a press conference. Stay tuned for more on the Michael Jackson "story."

Is it just me, or does this excessive detailing of Every. Possible. Angle. on celebrity and/or crime events eventually reach a saturation point? There IS other news out there today ... isn't there?

I was remembering a funeral I once attended. And that at my father's funeral, it didn't rain. In keeping with the mood, I thought that it should have. You're all sad and weeping and there's the sun, shining away, birds singing, a beautiful day. The scene doesn't fit the mood. The sun, it seemed to me, was a little too, well, "sunny." My mother's funeral took place in the middle of a blinding snowstorm and half the people couldn't get there. Again, nature seemed to intervene, as if to say, hey, the ceremony is just a ceremony, a dreaded performance where you dress up and play a part, act out your final goodbye, read lines that barely touch the surface of what you really feel, a devastating rendez-vous everyone has to go through, then you go home and succomb to the overwhelming emptiness: Your loved one is no longer THERE.

Even when you expect it, the actual event still comes as a shock. Everyone mourns differently. The dead, I think, somehow understand this. Daydreaming, I imagined this scenario: a woman mourning her husband--a soldier or firefighter or bricklayer or accountant or musician or writer, it's not important--she's present physically but absent emotionally, numb with grief and completely Alone, despite the outpouring of sympathy and support--when she suddenly senses him there, beside her.

One That Didn’t Come Back

I’m sorry for your loss
the officer said.
I’m so sorry for your loss.
My sympathies.
Accept my

I thought it would rain but it didn’t.
It should have rained today
like it does in the movies, at funerals.
Sombre skies, chilling winds …
but no,
we have full sun.
Blazing, burning, blinding, brilliant
People wipe the sweat from their faces,
squirm, all sticky
in their plastic chairs,
wishing they were back
in their air conditioned homes.

I’m sorry for your loss
I didn’t know him, but …
The flowers wilt.
The priest drones on.
I can imagine you rolling your eyes,
a small smile slowly sliding across your mouth
"Oh for Pete’s sake
Get on with it."
I’d forgotten how much I loved
your laughter.

Past tense.
I miss you, dammit

I’m sorry for your loss,
the officer repeats.

-- awyn

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bonne Fête Nationale du Québec!

[For a history of the St. Jean Baptiste national holiday in Quebec,
click here. Et en francais, allez ici.]

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Lost Way

Photo by awyn
A being
wandering the wood
enters fear
and the mind can't help
lions and tigers coming forth
and those hungry ghosts
of childhood's hell mirrored
as if alive now, parading out of the past.
At first he walks slow
Pretense of the benign and no worry in
One step and another and then the stalking
rushing rustle from behind,
as if pursued, so dare not
turn the face back to see it.
The wood darkening,
tigers, lions, and these ghosts of the heart
more vivacious, movie-like.
Alas, fleeing
one foot eastward
one westward,
and then suddenly where is
the road after all.
The real tiger may have ravaged him,
or was it his own fear.
The wood remains as its usual self
radiating in a gold-rimmed dusk.
The way clear enough
a vivid light—
only few recognize
and walk out on it.

-- Yang Jian

Translated by John High and Kokho. From: Talisman Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Poetry, edited by Zhang Er and Chen Dongdong. This poem appeared as one of several "New Poems from China," in Fascicle Two /Winter '06-'07.

Yang Jian [杨键] was born in 1967 in An Hui province. He started to write poetry in 1986 and won the first Li-An Liu poetry prize in 1995. His poetry collection, Dusk, was published in 2003. He is a Buddhist monk living in seclusion.

[John A. Crespi met with Yang Jian at the First China Poetry Festival in 2005 and discusses his poetry here.]

Monday, June 15, 2009

Farewell to Two Friends

One day, 2 years ago, I passed by a neighbor's house and saw this little dog. He reminded me so much of Harry, our family dog of many years ago. The dog's name, I was told, was Pom-Pom, and I offered to take him for a walk. So began a daily ritual, every morning, to arrive at Mado's door to take Pom-Pom for his pee & poop walk.

Mado, who is 85, had no children and lives alone; she rarely leaves the house. She has difficulty walking. She sits on her little porch with Pom-Pom, taking the sun, listening to her radio, reading, or doing crossword puzzles, watching life go by on the street.

Yesterday I learned that she is being moved, at the end of the month, to an elderly residence, for those who can no longer take care of themselves. Her house will be sold, and her niece, Social Services and concerned neighbors are all scrambling to find a new home for Pom-Pom.

Mado has become very forgetful lately. She does not realize what is happening. It will devastate her not to have her beloved dog with her.

Imagine leaving a house in which you have lived since birth. Eighty-five years of memories in your kitchen, in the views from your windows. Your closest and dearest companion, suddenly gone. You wake up one morning and don't know where you are. Nothing is familiar. Everything you know and love has been suddenly removed and replaced. Strangers surround you... you are no longer in control of your life.

The latest news is that someone in the neighborhood might take Pom-Pom in. I would love to take him, but we already have four cats and it would be impossible. But if he's somewhere in the area, perhaps I will still see him--and Mado will be but a short bike ride away, not far at all.

All things change. Routines get altered, broken, stopped.

How these crazy little creatures, les chiens et les chats, move into our lives and capture our hearts. I say crazy, because they all have their little quirks--some annoying, but most, endearing. Pom-Pom, for example, runs in circles when he's happy. He is the friendliest, most lovable dog I know. I wish I could keep him.

The morning walks will simply not be the same anymore.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Guardians, Memories, and New Beginnings


They borrowed our dreams
Our guardians
Before we'd had time to dream them for ourselves
Those for which our forefathers toiled and died
Those for which we were destined
Our true inheritance
Our brightest thoughts filtered through the ages
The diluted essence of our universal aspirations
They dreamed-up more convenient dreams for us
Our guardians
Ones in which we sit in little boxes with headsets
Talking shit
While line managers count down the minutes we take to piss
Logged-in to machines that record the minutes of our lives
Snacking against the clock
Reconstituted meat
Wrapped in processed bread
Bleeding sugar and other
Multicoloured additives
From cardboard luncheon boxes
Our eyes glued to screens
Our bodies hostage to debts they invent
Our minds junked, lest we recall what we were meant to be.

-- Mathieu Cambier

The poem speaks to what Cambier calls "the idea of thinking beings with proud cultural histories reduced to being automotons." His concern is that "the path forged for us by our cultural ancestors has been usurped/corrupted by post-post-modern society with its empty commercialism, empty messaging," etc. and feels that culture and spirit are closely bound, "so that if you damage culture, you inevitably damage the spirit."[correspondence].

His paintings are "a story of sorts, only you have to piece the narrative." He highlights the contemporary with "an increasingly distant past... until eventually there is no more present, only a chronology of pasts, a filament of memories, a piece of string sinking measuredly into the depths... a painted album of half-collected memories."[1]

Memories ... of faces, and places... of conversations; recorded hopes and dreams, realized or quashed, or yet to be fulfilled ...

I was particularly drawn to this one: The Wedding Dance. Enmeshed in a circle of love, of blended hopes and unmitigated joy, they twirl into the future, dizzy with anticipation.

I was drawn to it because ... the image was so familiar--I've BEEN in that moment, deafened by the music and one's own heartbeat, dancing to some internal rhythm, everything else a blur, peripheral--"outside"--wishing it could go on forever. In a sense it does ... it reappears, again and again, to re-live, at will, merely by remembering. (Thanks, Mathieu.)

~ ~ ~ ~

Mathieu Cambier has two novels forthcoming with Raider Publishing in the U.K., under the pseudonym Mathew Carter: Twelve Chesterfield, and A Perfect Day.

Friday, June 12, 2009

At a Coffee Table in London

Look, our cups are interpenetrating,
clinklessly ...

World quietly dissipating!


From "Vase Painting (The Banquet of the Dead"), 1922
(James Blair Leishman, Rainer Maria Rilke Poems, 1906-1926
Hogarth Press, 1957)

[Photo by Luis Lazaro Tijerina,
London Collection]

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Joy of Less

A friend sent me an article yesterday from the Happy Times section of the New York Times, its contribution to "The pursuit of what matters in troubled times": The Joy of Less, by Pico Iyer, a fellow who decided to live life more simply, so he left everything behind and went to Japan, where he lives in two rooms and does what we would all like to do--quit our day jobs and just write.

He extols the virtues of the "Less is Better" mindset and I can relate to much of what he says. What unexpectedly interested me more, however, were some of the 695 comments people left at the conclusion of his essay. (Six hundred and ninety-five!!! by last count.)

What kind of a person would plow though 695 comments of anything?! (Don't answer that!) I didn't, of course. But the majority of responses that I did read were fully supportive, and I imagine people secretly salivating at the idea of being able to one day live the simple life, as Pico Iyer defines it. Several have already done so, and elected to add their own stories. But it was the number of peevish, judgmental and seemingly almost anger-ridden comments that seemed to jump out, like a tomato flying out of nowhere, suddenly sailing into a painting, adding yet another dimension to the dimension.

The author is chasticized for being "a self-involved baby boomer, un-immersed in community, spewing out 20,000 lbs. of carbon dioxide annually on his flights to and from the States. Walden he is not." [The commenter was referring to the fact that Iyer returns to visit the U.S. every three months.] [Walden, by the way, is mentioned often in the comments.]

Another reader criticizes Iyer for his seeming disengagement from the society in which he has chosen to take root ("21 years in Kyoto and you dont speak the language? I would call that ignorant..."), while another rigorously defends him, saying he (the reader) has studied Japanese for 12 years and STILL can't express himself in the language.

Regardless of whether one would actually want to do as Iyer has done, some people seem to have a problem, in general, with those who absent themselves from the status quo and go off to seek a different, less stratified life elsewhere: "I challenge all serenity masters to get angry at some of the problems of the world. Pick one and be its champion! Volunteer for Doctors without Borders if you want to check out the simple life most people live." (I hear in this, concern for those for whom life is never simple--but also discomfort with those who aren't "doing" anything.)

Iyer is simply recounting his own experience and suggesting that having less can be a cause of joy. He "has" less, and it feels joyous (to him). So he wrote about it. A good number of the readers, though, seem bent on interjecting a dose of reality into the equation:

A fellow ex-pat named Earl reminds Iyer that things may not always turn out as one expects: "This laid-back Caribbean paradise life is anything but, it is not stress free, and is more expensive for basic human needs. The water is unsafe to drink and full of parasites,the electricity goes out very often and food in the refrigerator goes bad... There is no sanitation and often you can smell human waste coming up from the pipes as you brush your teeth... I long for a glass of tap water in front of a fan that works while eating some organic French cheese on crackers."

A single mother of five, who has been living with LESS-than-less, for YEARS (the tone in her comment comes through loud and clear) wants to know how she could partake of the "joy" of which Iyer speaks, as she is not able to afford a plane ticket to take off and relocate somewhere less stressful, echoing several other commenters' acknowledgment that for them, "Opting out is not an option."

Well, you don't actually have to get a plane ticket and go somewhere. A reader named Jessica transplanted to Alabama writes that "Rural America can provide for the same escape as a foreign country: lack of technology, lack of consumerism, inability to understand the language, culture shock, etc.," and this forces you "to focus on what really makes you happy."

Ah, so it's not the Place itself, then. It's one's Attitude. Yes, says one reader, "Happiness is a state of mind, not a physical dimension. You decide if you want to be happy or sad, and pick the arguments that will justify it."

Sometimes a reader's comment contains information of which you might be unaware, and finding it is like stumbling upon a tiny bit of hidden treasure. This one, for example, from a reader named Lee:

Mr. Iyer’s writing made me think in many ways of “Hojoki” (A Tale of My Hut), an early 13th-century autobiographical text by a Japanese priest named Kamo no Chomei. Tired of natural disasters, famines, and political unrest in the imperial capital, Kamo retreated from society and moved to a simple hut in the hills outside of Kyoto. It’s a self-reflective piece of literature in which Chomei notes the irony that he became a recluse to escape worldly desire (attachment) but in the end he finds himself driven by his desire for his hut.

Thank you, Lee. You got me googling to find out where to find a copy of Hojoki!

It was also amusing to learn, inadvertently, that including your URL in a comment will sometimes (based on the quality and content of your posting--or simple curiosity) lead readers of those comments to check out your blog. As I did--click on someone's mentioned blog, that is, to find them giddily ecstatic at the number of "hits" as a result of their posting that comment. Sort of like leaving an internet calling card (Never leave cyberspace without it!). Well gosh, how else would people find you, ha ha.

The focus of the above was more on the responses to the article mentioned, than to the article itself. Human nature is fascinating. It's like you go to see a movie and start watching the screen and all of a sudden you're aware of all those other souls around you, munching popcorn, holding hands, sniggering, slurping their sodas, saying "Shhhhhhhhhhhhh!" Oh to be able to tune it all out.

Iyer was talking about less THINGS. Possessions, accumulations, attachments, "stuff", that kind of thing. He was talking about finding Happiness in living simply. But some readers took this to mean escape from responsibility, socially isolate oneself, and remind him that sometimes one's lot in life is not a matter of choice. He was not saying "BE me." In fact, "I certainly wouldn’t recommend my life to most people — and my heart goes out to those who have recently been condemned to a simplicity they never needed or wanted."

It's just what it is, folks, calm down. One man has less, and finds joy in it. Maybe you're envious. Maybe what you're really saying is, "I want what you have." Or, in this case, what he doesn't have--he doesn't have to slave at a job he hates, engulfed in debt, he's free (and can afford) to travel. He's just saying, "Having less makes me joyful."

He's affirming that Happiness is not elusive or unobtainable. Anyone can find it. For Iyer, less is enough; it's also, in some respect, "more." One man's joy may be another man's misery, and vice versa. Happiness is a state of mind.

One final comment (I couldn't resist):

"Great essay.
But I still like my stuff."
— Dave

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Many Faces of Life

The Seasons of Life

Το διάβα της ζωής στο πρόσωπό της.
Ζάρες γέλιου από τα παραμύθια στη χειμωνιάτικη παραστιά.
Γραμμές πίκρας για γιούς πού 'χει θαμένους.
Δέρμα, άλλοτε μαλακό, όλο ζωντάνια,
τώρα αυλακωμένο από χρόνια βροχής και ήλιου....
Το πιό όμορφο πρόσωπο πού 'χω ΄δει ποτέ μου.[1]

The seasons of life are carried on her face;
creases of laughter from stories around the late night fire.
Lines of sorrow for sons she has buried;
skin, once soft, now leathery from years of sun and rain.....
she has the most beautiful face I have ever seen.


The Centenarian from Lasithi

To be in Crete is to celebrate life,
to live its sacred energies pantheistically,
obeying the archetypical order of Greek mythology.....





He laughed a lot; he frequently cried…….
often, he was a chatterbox ; at times he kept in silence for days…….
there were moments that his eyes were lively, sparkling;
but for days, they would become vacant…….
He would be calm and quiet in one moment;
then he would turn verbally abusive…..
he was there; now he is no more……..

Farewell, Giorgos.


The Mountain Lady

One hundred years old and I run into her
up on the high mountains of Crete,



He is there, on Union Square, downtown San Francisco; alone;
at times he is hungry, at times he is cold, or wet from the rain….
but his smile is always on; he never loses his spirit;
give him a smile and he will give you one back;
give him some change and his face will light up with joy and love……
to him, the glass is never half empty……….


The Shepherd


My Summer with George


First Love


Two Good Friends

He is nearly always there, in front of Notre Dame, in Paris,
playing with and feeding the birds.......



... in the streets of Berkeley


The Father

A kind, yet tough priest in the village of Milia, Greece


A Pair of Eyes


My Name is Nikos



From the Faces of Crete Collection


Got a Light?


Life Play Back

Saying Goodbye


A Century on My Face

"I cast a final glance around me. To whom should I say farewell?
To what shall I say farewell?
Mountains, the sea, the grape-laden trellis over my balcony?
Virtue, sin? Refreshing water?....
All these will descend with me to the grave."



At Monet's Gardens, in Giverny


A Penny for Your Thoughts


Watching the World Go By


Apocalypse Now

A street performer in Paris


The Midnight Talker


What Next?


Happily Surprised


A Gentleman in Paris



If you are wondering where I found these wonderful photographs, it was random blog-surfing last night when I stumbled onto the Deviant Art website. The photographer is Vaggelis Fragiadakis, an "eclectic photographer, responding to the beauty, the humor and the tragedy" he sees in the world around him. He travels the world, capturing images of the seasons of life, with his camera. In his own words:

Among the variety of subjects I have shot, over the years I have found myself repeatedly drawn to create images of “street people”. These people are not just a group or mass or statistic, but are individuals like the rest of us, each wearing his own life on his face.

Though occasionally I will take an anonymous shot from a distance, I prefer to approach a person, learn a little about him, and with his permission take a series of shots hoping to capture some aspect of his reality in one of the portraits. I like to get close to a person whom many other avoid. The black and white versions reveal the critical essence through their emphasis on shadows, light and contrast.

For me the faces are both beautiful with their humanity, and frightening with their hopelessness. I want to share them with the world, both as my art, and as a visceral reminder-- we are all but one bit of bad luck away from this state.[1]

Thank you, Vaggelis, for your kind and generous permission to share these incredible faces, and their stories.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

R.I.P. Bill Witherup

Poet William Witherup died yesterday afternoon, of leukemia. I didn't know him, but a friend of mine did. Bill's sister, Sandy, had told his friend, Luis Tijerina, that Bill was dying. Luis had talked with him just three weeks ago, when Bill told him he had a flu that he "just couldn't get rid of." The diagnosis of cancer came as a complete surprise.

They had been friends for many years, and had had several discussions, in the past, about death.
Luis wrote a farewell poem to Bill, in which he recalled:

the last time we walked in a neighborhood park in Seattle,
both of us holding the hands of my little son,
while you talked to me about the poetry of Machado ...

..... how you told me there was nothing
like cherry pie, a good woman, and a shot of whiskey...

I will remember all our talks over the years.

We all die, even the girl next door dies.
But you, dear Friend, you will live on
in a crimson flame of words
shaking, like a mighty wind,
the complacency of our small lives.

In life, Witherup's "dedication to poetry remained unrelenting."[1].

Click here to see a video interview in which he reads several of his poems.

"As I got older, I got more radical..." he says in the interview. Bill Witherup wrote poems about the things that mattered to him: social injustice, war, nuclear proliferation, radioactive contamination, isolation and ... loneliness.

Poets who turn burning, deeply personal issues into poems. This turns some people off, I've discovered. People don't want to hear another impassioned screed against the war, racism, or that nuclear power plants contaminate the environment and cause cancer.

I like poets who wake us up. Make us think. Paint with words the images that jar us out of our self-absorption, remind us there's a world outside our writing world, encourage us to actually try to DO something about the things that gravely concern us.

These lines of Witherup's poem "On the Death of Theodore Roethke", sadly, now apply to Bill, himself, as well:

He laid down his pen and went out,
feeling the weight of his flesh,
sensing his time of singing was done... [2]

The death of any poet is always a loss. These poet-'singers' may now be voiceless, but their 'song' of words are still read.

And remembered.

Rest in peace, Bill Witherup.

Update: June 11, 2009: Bill's Obituary in the Seattle Times.

Honoring the Tank Man: Tiananmen Square 20 Years Later

One lone Everyman standing up to machinery, to force, to all the massed weight of the People's Republic — the largest nation in the world, comprising more than 1 billion people — while its all powerful leaders remain, as ever, in hiding somewhere within the bowels of the Great Hall of the People.


Honoring those who died in the Tiananmen Square massacre, June 4, 1989.

And to the unknown tank man, wherever you are, whatever was your fate--you will be remembered, long after most of us are gone.

A symbol of peace and resistance that cannot be erased from memory, despite the current news blackout and efforts by the Chinese government to repress all discussion of this extraordinary, horrific event that occurred 20 years ago.

[Click here to see the 90-minute video Documentary "The Tank Man" from PBS's Frontline.]


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Project NATAL: Milo

My husband is a gamer. I am not. He occasionally reads the things I write and comments upon them but because English is not his first language and because he doesn't normally read poetry or short stories, writing per se is a passion he doesn't share. And while I find some games fun--especially word games where you have to construct words out of constantly changing grids or bubbles full of random letters (in which you are timed)--even that reaches saturation level at some point.

But we listen to one another, when one of us gets excited about a certain piece of writing (in my case) or a particular great new game (in his case). And so that's how I found out this morning all about Milo and Project NATAL, Microsoft's new, X-Box360 interactive game that probably won't be available until 2010.

It's the buzz of the Internet today. What's new and revolutionary about this game is that the digital character (Milo) is programmed to recognize you when you speak. ("Hello awyn, how are you today?", I imagine a cartoonish figure walk up, face and address me from the TV screen.) Hmmm.

"Meet your character", spokesman Peter Molyneux explains in this video demonstration. "Feel connected to Milo's world."

The character ("Milo") can recognize emotion--changes in your tone of voice, whether you're happy or angry. That in itself is kind of creepy. (What ELSE does he know about me?)

Not interested in being friends with an 8-year-old boy? Molyneux said there will also be a "Millie" – a female equivalent. Whichever gender you choose, Milo (or Millie!) will form a relationship with you and, if you so choose, other members of your family. Molyneux asked us to imagine leaving Milo on the screen, and allow various family members [to] interact with him. Milo would have a different relationship with each person, and would even reference you (or them) in conversation with the other. In other words, think of Milo as a family friend ... who just happens to live in a box on your wall. [1].

Somehow THAT's even creepier!

You don't need a controller to have this interactive entertainment experience--you can drive a car, simply by turning your hands as if you were turning a wheel. You can paint a picture just by saying the color and throwing invisible buckets of paint at the screen. ("Look, Ma! I'm an artist!")

If you're into interactive playing guitar, drums or singing at the mike along with the Beatles, check out XBox360's new Beatles Rock Band.

I'm amazed at this rampant enthusiasm for increased interaction with digitized images on a TV screen. I tried the Guitar Hero once and it was damn hard. Proved to be more frustrating than fun and not as much satisfaction as say, being able to pick up a REAL guitar and play from memory, improvise, or compose. Not that I can do that--but if I could .... (Gamers everywhere throwing me dirty looks about now, ha ha.)

Granted, it'd be a novel experience, and for those who love this sort of thing, hours of entertaining, interactive gaming pleasure.

What interests me here is the seeming NEED of people to interact--but to do so vicariously. Technology has made it possible for us to do that without ever leaving our house. It affords us the possibility to create our own character, write our own "story", so to speak, and other on-screen characters are able to recognize and verbally interact with us. And now they can even recognize our moods. "Everyone who's experienced it--their hairs are standing up at the back of their head!" gushes Molyneux. Mine, too--but for a different reason.

Comments re: Project NATAL run the gamut from wildly enthusiastic to darkly skeptical:

The cheerleaders:
"This is very exciting stuff, its the possibilities that are exciting."
"I am totally mind blown by this!"
"This is the solution to loneliness everywhere."

The not-so-enthusiastic, "Let's be cautious" group:
"This thing seems totally staged .. and the whole thing is very obviously scripted."
"There's no escapism here. I can do all this in real life, with real people. Microsoft trying to control the frickin world again."
"Amazing, but this could mean the end of the world..."

And then, this comment:
"Its not about making a virtual friend. Think about what this implies: games that incorperate actually being able to talk to characters in real time and have them responding to you based on what's been said. That's an incredible break through in technology.
Though I'm still not getting it, when Milo becomes self-aware we're all dead."

What the video demonstrates is the possibility of "emotionally triggered gameplay". The digital character reacts to what you say and how you say it. Claire (in the video) "perceives" that Milo is worried about not doing his homework (because she "knows" him now) and when she asks him about it, Milo responds by lowering his head. You, as the gameplayer, now realize that you can cause a reaction in Milo. What would Milo do if Claire, instead of being concerned, suddenly starts yelling at him? How is he programmed to respond in that situation?

"Milo ... go fetch me a glass of water." (Will he comply?)
"Milo, who's your favorite baseball team?" (scripto-glitch? What should we have him say?)

I don't know what to say about Milo and Project NATAL. I can appreciate the advances in technology vis-a-vis interactive gaming, but...

What's that got to do with writing? Oddly, I keep coming back to the opposite world of writing fiction and poetry. In fiction you invent a character and place him/her in imaginary situations. You make the character real to the reader (or try to) using words. In poetry you hope the images you struggle to convey will enable the reader to see the whole picture as you see it, or something very close to it, hopefully ... and of course, who wouldn't like to know the reader's reaction? Did your words connect? Were the metaphors recognizable? Did the writing have *meaning* for the reader?

Does it matter?!!
(I mean, if one simply finds it entertaining, or momentarily interesting but then moves on... (so much to read, so little time! ha ha).

If one COULD interact with a digital reader who "recognizes" you, would that count? I'm trying right now to imagine an interactive writing experience where instead of Milo, the digital character is, say, some famous, revered writer.

"So ... what'd you think of my poem, Walt?"
(Whitman's character fingers his voluminous beard and averts his eyes.)

"How 'bout you, Henry? Care to take a stroll down by the pond and compare notes?"
(H.D. chews on a twig and sets off in the opposite direction.)

I see I am having no luck with the dead. They seem adamently opposed to digitization. But imagine this sort of technology applied to interactive writing workshops, poetry slams, or teleconferencing with fellow writers and poets worldwide! Everyone (except you) is a character on your screen with whom you can chat, suck up to, criticize or simply share a coffee with. THAT might be interesting. These are people, of course, with whom you'd orinarily never be conversing, people who perhaps wouldn't even give you the time of day--or are deceased. They're not really REAL. What would be the point. It'd just be another (albeit entertaining) interactive Game.

As the indomnitable Miss Brodie said (head held back, nose in air) to her impressionable young minions: "For those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like."

Okay gamers, just teasing.

Sorry, but I just can't seem to relate to cartoonish characters mimicking real people or digitized actors replacing unemployed human ones. I confess I DO enjoy MadCaps, Greedy Words and Bookworm Deluxe though (a lot!) and find them relaxing and entertaining ... sometimes even mildly addictive ... (did I mention the Need for Speed car racing ones?) but I think I'll pass on Milo and his digital family.

Hey, it's bad enough they have refrigerators that talk to you ("You're running out of milk. The green beans are moldy, what are you going to do about it? That's your THIRD pint of Cherry Garcia this week!"). Imagine turning on your TV, only to see a blank screen and a scolding voice incessantly whining: "Remember, we agreed you weren't to watch Frasier re-runs again until you spent at least two hours working on that novel!!" hahahahaha

[The time I spent penning this blog entry could have better been put to use planting the cucumbers in the back yard and cleaning out the shed. Ah well.]

Over & out....