Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Decay and Deterioration

I just put The World Without Us in my library queue. I don't know that much about the book, but my (possibly inaccurate) understanding is that it is about what would happen if humanity was wiped off the face of the Earth and how plants and animals would go about reclaiming the planet.

I was just thinking about this book when a spider dropped down from the ceiling and into my field of vision. Rusty (the cat) saw it, too, and immediately started chattering and positioning himself to pounce. Just as quickly the spider skedaddled back up its thread to the ceiling.

It's ventured down a few times since and gotten within inches of Rusty's striking range (he went so far as to balance precariously on his hind legs), but the spider managed to dart out of reach each time. (Good.) Amazing. Prey and predator--right in my dining room.

I guess the book also takes a look at how much time, money, and energy we spend trying to keep Nature at bay. I was actually sitting here thinking of possible examples--swiffering and/or vacuuming all the dirt and Doug fir needles that get tracked into the house, scrubbing the toilet on a regular basis so as to prevent a disgusting overgrowth of bacteria, mowing the freakin' lawn--when the spider dropped by and provided another example--keeping arthropods out of the house (the one and only service Rusty provides).

Another reason this book appeals to me is that I find decay and deterioration (although not of my own body) to be really interesting, whether its the way a snowman melts or the way an old barn lists into collapse. Plus, I'm a fan of The Twilight Zone. Wasn't the premise for about every other episode of that series that some guy wakes up to find that he's the only person left on Earth?

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

My Future Self

I’ve decided. Pilates is not for me. I took at least one Pilates class a week from April through early August, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve got to be the most remedial Pilates student ever to gracelessly place her feet in the stirrups of a Reformer. For some reason, I couldn't seem to retain much of the information the instructors provided about how to perform an exercise. Whatever they'd say would just evaporate from my brain in a matter of seconds. Even when I did retain what they told me, I’d usually not be able to get my body to do what was required in a very satisfactory way. And I was trying, honest!

It wasn't the instructors' fault--they were first rate and, jeez, incredibly patient. (It must have been frustrating for them to have someone come in week after week and not be making any measurable progress.) They kept telling me not to worry and that “muscle memory” would kick in. Do I need to interject here that Pilates is almost entirely about the abdominal muscles? Well, mine are and always have been exceptionally weak and flaccid. Apparently, they also are incapable of remembering anything that I try to hammer into them. Way to go abs—always letting me down!

Plus, it was really hard to justify the expense.

I started taking Pilates because I was burnt out on yoga and because I wanted to address a hip problem, which, interestingly, has gotten much, much better. But was it Pilates? Maybe. But it also might be that I stopped spending hours and hours sitting in the wrong kind of chair. Or maybe it just got better on its own.

Last week, I spontaneously decided to go to a “shoulder-opening” yoga workshop. Three hours straight of yoga poses that target the shoulders, arms, chest, and neck. You know, the fourth chakra, or the hunched-over-the-computer chakra.

It was totally great and I'm now all jazzed about yoga again! Yoga makes a lot more sense to me than Pilates. Even though I’ve never progressed very far with it, the basic principles haven't seemed to ooze out of my brain the way the Pilates stuff did. Also, yoga brings instant results. All you have to do is one or two poses and you can feel the benefits, even if you are doing a modified version of the pose, so by the end of three hours, I was feeling pretty stretched out and opened up. It was wonderful, and I needed it.

The instructor mentioned--and I’ve heard this before--that opening up the fourth chakra (heart chakra) can be an emotional experience. When I hear stuff like this, my first inclination is always to dismiss it as New Age hooey.

But I have to admit that on more than one occasion, I’ve found that doing anything fourth chakra-related does bring up some checked baggage. For example, at the end of the workshop, the instructor did this guided mediation thing in which she had us visualize a peaceful place (e.g., a forest or beach) and a familiar-looking person walking toward us. This familiar-looking person, it turned out, was to be our “future self” who was bringing us a message and then backing off into the middle distance again. For some reason, just the thought of my future self made me want to cry. In fact, tears did spring into my eyes (good thing I had my eye pillow in place to soak them up).

Even though this was supposed to be a positive, affirming thing--and it was on some level--I couldn’t help but think that my future self is going to be a withered husk of a woman, who’s about 4 feet 8 inches tall and utterly alone. In fact, I feel like I saw her today at the farmers’ market. I was standing at one of the stalls when a stooped, white-haired woman asked me to please grab a plastic bag for her (the bags were at eye level for me) because, as she told me, her spine had shrunk 4 inches and she had no hope of reaching the bags. She bought a single tomato that was probably an extravagance (fixed, poverty-level income) and then hobbled away (osteoporosis, arthritis).

Speaking of my future self. Tomorrow is my somethingieth birthday. I keep getting older. What is up with that? I absolutely cannot believe how freakin-ass old I’ve become. I probably say this every year, but I still feel and feel like I act very immature. Maybe it’s because I’ve never gotten married but persist in living together with my “boyfriend” (it’s laughable to refer to him as such [he’ll be 49 in a few months]) and we don't have any kids, so I feel like I’m at about the same stage in my life as people in their 20s. But I’m oh so very much older. So antique, in fact, that I go out of my way to avoid ever telling my age to people. Yes, I have some hang-ups about aging (see previous paragraph) that I wish I could unburden myself of. It takes quite a bit of effort to keep remembering to not drop clues from which people could extrapolate my age. So silly. I was going to go ahead and try to get over this ridiculous aversion by revealing my age to the blogosphere, but, meh, I can’t bring myself to do it.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Step Away from the Thesaurus

I just finished reading Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, the first graphic novel I've ever read. Except it's not a novel, it's a memoir.

Nutshell synopsis: The author/illustrator recounts what it was like to grow up with her very exacting, difficult-to-please, unemotive father who was both a high school English teacher and a mortician. Shortly before her dad commits suicide and about the same time the author comes out as a lesbian (at age 20 or so), she finds out that her father was a closeted homosexual.

All this is revealed in the first few pages, and the rest of the book is basically Bechdel reexamining and illustrating events from her childhood, with the knowledge that all along her father was subverting his sexuality (not always successfully). It's a sad and very interesting story, and Bechdel does both a very good job and a very bad job of telling it.

It's excruciatingly obvious that she does not feel comfortable writing narrative. Somewhere along the line she evidently got the idea that being a writer means combing unabridged dictionaries and thesauruses for the longest and most Latinate (a word I'm sure she'd love) words she could find and then using as many as possible in every sentence. Hello! It's a comic book! Give it the Jughead test. Would the words "fricative," "lacunae," and "solipsistic" ever issue forth from Jughead's mouth? No? Then eschew don't use them! Even worse, sometimes she didn't even use the words correctly or seem to grasp their subtle connotations. I mean a few ten-dollar words used sparingly and correctly is great, but larding every sentence with four or five of them is like dumping a tablespoon of every spice in the spice rack into a pot of soup.

OK. I'm done finding fault. Bechdel is a very talented illustrator and storyteller. She has a wonderful sense of detail. For example, she attaches sly little labels on a drawing of her father and her preadolescent self identifying her father's jacket as being made of "velvet!" (as if to say, "The guy wore velvet and we never suspected he was gay?") and the sailor suit dress she was wearing as being the least girly dress she could find in the department store. So much better to flesh out personalities that way than to write sentences like, "And festoons of the noxious substance proliferated beyond my control so my preventive measures spawned more stopgap measures." Huh? (I guess I wasn't quite done finding fault.)

I think what I liked best, though, or at least appreciated most, were the period details. For example, in one frame she's carrying an H.R. Pufnstuf lunchbox. In another frame showing a scene of Greenwich Village in the early 1970s, she's got an arrow labeled "Brut" pointing to a man who's not even fully in the frame (but you know that even after he was blocks away, you'd still be able to smell his cologne); another arrow points toward a subway entrance and is labeled "urine and electricity"; "menthol" points toward a man's cigarette; "diesel" points to a bus; and "putrefaction" points to a festering trash can. Wow. Talk about setting a scene with a few masterful details. It's brilliant. And she does that on just about every page. If only she would have had enough confidence to write the narrative that way.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Toadstool Pie

King Bolete? (Boletus edulis)

What's this? A freshly baked pie abandoned on the forested flanks of Mount Hood?

King Bolete? (Boletus edulis)

Nope. It's a mammoth mushroom (or toadstool, if you prefer). The stem was roughly the circumference of a coffee mug. The cap was almost exactly the size and shape of a deep-dish apple pie. Holy shit!

I think it's a king bolete (Boletus edulis) AKA porcini or cep. One of my mushroom books, All That the Rain Promises and More..., opines that "no mushroom is more substantial or satisfying to find."

I won't dispute that. In order to get to where these things were growing (we found more than a dozen), I had to cross a raging glacial stream on a teetery fallen log. I know this is no big deal for most people, but I'm a total squawking chicken when it comes to crossing water without a nice solidly engineered bridge. Fortunately, there were no witnesses (apart from B) to see me scooching along the log on my butt.

We then climbed 1,400 feet up to a meadow with a dead-on view of Hood. The wildflowers are no longer blooming, so that was a disappointment, but the monster shrooms made up for it.

So did I load up my backpack with my substantial and satisfying finds and are they at this very moment being sauteed in butter in a jumbo skillet? No, I did not and they are not. A) As a mushroom identifier I remain a rank amateur--I've eaten exactly one mushroom (a super-easy- to-ID chanterelle) I foraged from the forest. What if instead of being king boletes, these things were the dreaded Satan bolete, causer of "severe gastrointestinal distress"? B) While I may not have been certain about the species, one thing was certain. These fungi were elderly--well past their prime and close to expiring into a mass of grub-ridden slime. C) Even had they been in the first flush of youth, I had no mushroom-picking permit with me. Of course, it's not like there was anyone stationed at 5,200 feet enforcing Mount Hood National Forest's mushroom regulations, but a rule is a rule!