Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Lazy, Hazy, Crazed Days...

Well,we’ve reached what is called summer in the Pacific Northwest: the moss is healthy and green, the slugs have reached their full 5-inch length and are making squadrons of replacements, the East Coasters have overrun the place… by which I mean the quack grass, Himalayan blackberry, morning glory, buttercup and other European-by-way-of-Ellis-Island transplants. Because they have no competition out here, they have basically taken over - and being from NJ myself, I know that Oregonians have few ways of dealing with our, shall we say, slightly more assertive stance on everything. I learned the Oregonian way to address these invasions, now that the New Jersey favorite, DDT, has been banned. I tilled the areas where the plants appear, killed off all the seedlings (a pitched battle) and planted natives. However they are as laid back as most Oregonians, and the weeds keep appearing daily. Their battlecry: “You want that bit? No? Okay, I’ll take it!”

But today -- for three days only! (sounds like an applicance sale) -- we have NJ temps (though thankfully not the humidity), so I’ve started off early to water those delicate Oregon-optimized peas, cabbage, tomatoes and other veggies which are bred to endure 60-degree summers. They are handling the 100 degree temps about as you might expect: keeling over like a grandmother in a NYC subway (okay, not from being clubbed and robbed). I have risked burning out my well pump in order to provide them this deep moisture -- I was told by the inspector, a young woman barely 20, that using a sprinkler or soaker hoses will cause the motor to turn on an off and shorten its life… she did not tell me what the other alternative is, so I listen as the motor goes on and off, and wonder when I’ll be needing to call the pump guys (probably not until visitors arrive on a Sunday). I am also enjoying the coolness before it shrivels in the sun, batting various spiders away from my laptop (everyone’s a critic, I tell you…) and watching the mosquitoes circle. Despite the new deadly illness du jour, I’m not wearing bug spray. First, I fear the chemicals they’ve invented more than the bugs (Remember: “__Insert Chemical Name Here__ is Your Friend”), and second, I have the kind of blood, or personality, that apparently makes me an absolutely last resort. Rarely get a nibble. Personally, I think it’s the coffee, but most people have suggested the acerbic wit that infuses my veins and my emails. In fact, I just watched a moquito attack my coffee cup (rather than me) so my friends must be right.

As idyllic as this is, it just can’t compare to the summers of my youth (do they still play “Roll out those lazy, crazy, hazy days of summer…“ anywhere on the radio?) I’ve been musing about why that might be. One possibility is that I’ve truly entered my dotage, and am blithering. One obvious one is that I now have charge of the checkbook, which is attached to the pile of bills, which is like holding on to a gently hissing stick of dynamite. A certain tension results. Even though as a girl, I was expected to cook meals, I wasn’t expected to figure out where they came from. And of course there is the ever-true, “the world was /safer/quieter/simpler/saner/ when I was a child.” And it was… most drug addicts and alcoholics stayed at home (I know - our family visits got mighty interesting), the stores actually closed on Sundays so there was one day at least that you couldn’t shop until your brains fell out, and there weren’t closed circuit cameras and computer keycapture software ready to play your life back at you and the general public on a whim. And once you need a refresher course on the basic skills needed to get through the week, you are “past it”. At a certain point in one’s maturity, one realizes the world is going to Hell, handbasket optional. “Hill? What hill?” my friends and I joke, but when you wake up and can barely unfold yourself from the bed without needing ibuprofen, and when the price of a pizza is the same as what you spent on your entire back-to-school supply list, you know you’ve passed the torch (or the gently hissing stick of dynamite) onto the next generation. Heck - when they advertise car loans now, they are talking about the $100 gas tank loans! ...Oh dear, I seem to have lost my train of thought... back in the summers of my youth, we didn't have to worry about trains of thought, I can tell you -- we walked everywhere!

-- and now a tiny spider has crawled under my F4 function key, so I’ll have to stop and do excavation.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Seeders of Lebanon

I am now four months into my planting season (how would I know in February that I was planting two months too early?? We had warmer temps back then than we do now!), and it has become obvious that my attempts to plant from seed have been, well -- a debacle. I think it was an tremendous amusement for the local birds, who have rubbed salt in my wounds by planting sunflower seeds that are doing better than anything I put in the ground. Anyway, this past weekend, I finally caved in and bought “cheaters”: three really fat and happy tomatoes, a 2-ft. pepper, an eggplant with 5-inch leaves, and a couple of struggling basil (apparently, it‘s a bad year everywhere for basil). I know it’s probably heartless to stick that 3-foot tomato next to the 4-inch jobbie that’s still struggling to get launched after our Ultimate Rollercoaster of Weather this spring. Likely create a huge inferiority complex -- do tomatoes get Short Guy Synrome? I’ll watch for attempts to jab me in the eye while I’m eating.The eggplant seedlings never made it out of the greenhouse/shed, so they won’t notice the Green Hulk who’s moved in.

What I want to know is how do these other gardeners - from Lebanon, the next town over - manage to get their plants so fat and happy? Some were commercial plants, and I guess those are treated like Olympic team members: all the food they can eat, the perfect conditions for working up big muscular physiques, and no extraneous duties. Oh, and probably steroids. But some were from the farmer’s market, where supposedly some of my townmen were supplementing their more exotic plant business (conducted nocturnally, on less populated streets) with some prosaic herbs (a way to justify the lights setup to the IRS, I suppose…or not. I hardly dare ask, because I am afraid to find out that an entire room of their house is given over to halogen lighting and hourly feedings…) As a typical suburban gardener, I used to follow the Memorial Day orgy of four-foot plant sales and instant vegetable gardens. But coming to my new place, I had dreams of becoming “more real” - actually being able to plant from seed and save seed for the next year. (At this point, the only way I’ll be able to save seed is to dig it back up and put it back in the envelope.) Not to mention, learn to identify the plant from the weed at seedling stage… I have figured out that if fifteen million of them come up, it’s a weed. A Storm Trooper Invasion of Weeds, to be exact. And all those bits of good advice about how to hoe up the weed seedlings so they don’t get a headstart on your plants -- do you know how many times I’ve replanted the damn radishes?? Granted, my non-standard (read: weird) layout means I can’t just roll a mini-tiller down my ruler-straight rows. I did attempt to follow the advice about mulching to save watering (although when you’re getting six inches of rain per week, it’s not that big a deal). Now I find the neighbor cats really like straw for kittylitter! I thought it would be too scratchy… live and learn…

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Pay Attention to This One!

They keep saying that business is becoming a science, but they’ve got it backwards. Science is becoming a business. If by business one means a method of making money for both the managers and investors; a way which involves continued self-justification and enhancement. When I worked for an ad agency (back in the Dark Ages), one job was to continue to find new uses for the products we advertised - new ways to make them irresistable. It’s taken science a while, but I think it’s gotten there. I read a NY Times article today quoting someone who apparently is “a leader in the new field of interruption science.” And of course, that person has written a book which they hope will make a lot of money. Interruption Science? Excuse me?? Well, any culture that accepts “shopping therapy” and “massage technicians” is unlikely to notice the corruption of the scientific method by slicing it into ever-thinner specialities, each of which seem licensed to a particular company which of course has perfected some product to make life more complete… you sense cynicism? Okay, read on.

From the NYT article: “The first step is to learn to speak a language of attention.” Oh, yes, that is exactly what we need - a new cacaphony of jargon by which to impress the consumers - ah, public. Ohmygawd… This humble wordsmith strongly suspects this is the science equivalent of the advertising slogan or jingle -- once we have you talking our language, you’re putty in our hands.

“The exciting news is that the enigma of attention has just begun to be mapped, tracked and decoded by neuroscientists who now consider attention to be a trio of skills: focus, awareness and so-called executive attention.” Divide and conquer (government had that one figured out years ago)… take apart the process and attach labels, much like the information technology field has sliced and diced clerical processes so that the poor secretary (oh, sorry - administrative infomatics specialist!) is afraid to move from “input validation” to “data reiteration and consolidation” without checking and rechecking the flowchart. And everyone knows executives never pay attention - that’s what they have slaves - er, secretaries - er, administrative specialists - for.

Another NYT piece on ADD mentions it feeling “like having a bank of tvs in my mind and I don’t have the remote” - which could be why I don’t have an actual tv in the house - it would be superfluous. The gist of the piece is that we are all in danger of losing our minds to distraction. As someone who has had Attention Deficient Disorder all her life, I say, “Welcome to my world.” I’ve always strongly suspected that the Musak slyly introduced, first in elevators and then throughout every public building and store (sometimes a different damn song in each department!) was a ploy to soften our brains with distraction, such that we didn’t actual notice how much we were buying.

Except now with cloned stores full of cloned products, I'm having a hard time tracking which store I'm in. And we've gone from being occasionally interrupted to be brought a Special Media Bulletin to having the pixelated equivalent of a gaggle of teen girls chattering at us on every web page, every text page, and sometimes even in public bathrooms! (The teen girls are there all the time -- the advertising posters and flat-screen tvs are the newcomers.)Move over, Ring Around the Collar, Housitosis, and Feminine Itch. Now that they've given us Distraction, they're gonna make us pay to get rid of it.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Withy Dell

Well, I just found out my house lied about its age… many of us middle-aged do that, so I can’t hold it against her (homes, being the realm of Vesta, are female). I ran into someone who had come back to take photos of the neighboring house and told me he’d lived there (in the neighboring house) in ‘51, and my house was there, a good four years prior to the supposed build-time of the place… It was fun to hear about the neighborhood and how it looked then. I have always been a home historian -- if I can find out about how the place was built, or changed or who lived there, I have a great time. I can’t find any permits on record for the building, so I’m guessing it was all gerry-rigged. The last owner was a retired Boeing engineer, and we all know what that means! I’m finding “engineering kludges” all over the place, such as the old truck topper used as a shed, and what looks like a miniature railroad segment used to hang tools in the garage… oh, yes - and the iron pipe that sticks out of the wall on the outside of the kitchen which (I found out four months after I got here) actually drains all of the water from the kitchen sink… and since the water barrel that he must have had there was sold in the estate sale, has been pouring water down under the foundation all winter! I’ve duck-taped an old gutter pipe to the outlet “for now” - truly ugly, but a classic kludge, so I’m kinda proud.

Anyway, the place has the feel of a cabin, mainly because of the knotty pine walls and the old iron woodstove with the cabin scene embossed in relief on the side. It’s cozy because the former owners did insulate; I’m grateful for that, especially since the two bedrooms are unheated… but there’s another classic “kludge”: an old motor rigged to an old box fan has been “inset” (okay, jammed) into a hole in the wall near the woodstove that opens onto the back hallway. Now anytime I want to enjoy the sound of a busy airport, all I have to do is flip a switch and the fan will send the warm air from around the stove through the hole and into the hall at speeds that turn it into air conditioning…

Also, unlike me, the house got a facelift sometime in its past. Recently, one of the 50’s style concrete shingles came off, and I discovered solid pine beadboard siding underneath. So now I am in a careful but exuberant process of taking off the retrofit to reveal the cottage underneath. All things become fashionable again… but you won’t find me wearing hip-huggers or mini-skirts, even if they are all the rage!

So far, the excavations haven’t revealed too many nasty surprises. Still, I feel like those scientists who are checking out the near-miss comets: will “Comet Repair” impact my wallet, or will I be able to adjust the flight path to a near-miss?

Oh, and in case you’re curious - I’ve named the place Withy Dell, using the centuries-old tradition (still widely used in real estate) of giving a sow’s ear the name of a silk purse. I have enough saplings in the yard to create a small woodlot by the time I croak, and although I am cutting them down as fast as I can, I am trying to re-use my “withies” for various staking tasks. And it’s low enough to count as a dell -- nothing to do with the computer company, you nerds. Although… with all the kludges… who knows??

Sunday, June 22, 2008

If You’re Happy and You Know It… Shut Your Trap!

I read a blog the other day that attempted to frame some concepts of good country living with those contrary examples that pervade children’s literature (although this was supposedly for adults): Mr. Wonderful and Mr. Hopeless. As a child, I read about “David Do-good” and “Donny Dumb-ass”, and “The Goops’ Misadventures”, etc… all to “give life to” the author’s opinions about the right and wrong ways to do things. This particular blog/lecture concerned (I kid you not!) “Mr. Happy” and “Mr. Grumpy” -- or “Mr. Half-assed” which I’m sure was his real point of view. Mr. Happy had all his jobs done so well that he sang through the day, while Mr. Grumpy ran into one snarl after another -- all, (you guessed it) because he had not taken the time to “do it right”.

I gotta speak up for the Grumpies of the world here. Firstly, if The Great Farmer had meant us to sing through the day, he’d have invented karoake machines much earlier. Second, sometimes compost just happens. If you‘ve read any of my other entries, you know I empathize with (or epitomize!) Mr. Grumpy, and his piles of wickedly clever obstacles -- as someone who tries to saw boards on top of half-collapsed cardboard boxes (because proper sawhorses need a) money, b) time to build and c) room to store and use), I understand that what seems to be incompetence is in fact a calculated gamble that the falling House of Cards will pile up right where you need a card pile, at least for a moment. Alright… not so much “calculated” as “gamble”.

I noted that the Happy author never mentions where Mr. Happy had found the time to do all these things “right”… because one of his points was that it does take extra time “at first” but it “pays off later”. Just like those poor folks who can’t invest in a top-of-the-line appliance that “saves money over the long run”, maybe poor Mr. Grumpy just didn’t have the time to spend perfecting every task! Maybe he didn’t have slave labor in the form of a wife and four terrorized - er, “well-behaved” - kids to assist exactly when he needed them. And Happies probably also start with at least a Journeyman’s level of construction competence, rather than a stack of Handyman magazines and some half-rusting tools from Goodwill.

I wish the Happies -- or, lets face it, the Smugs -- of the world would find a better use for all that free time they save by “doing it right” . Stop wasting it chortling about the rest of us!

The Happies never have a day that starts with putting bread in the machine to bake, then having the pest man come and inform you he has to fog and you have to leave - now - and no, the bread probably shouldn’t be baking while he’s fogging…. [Note: Hauled the batter out to the overheated greenhouse, hoping that a couple hours there would be similar to the “rising” part of the cycle - rather than part of the “compost” cycle. It worked, sort of… as in, I ate it and didn’t die. Tasted like sourdough.] The Happies don’t have psychotic bluejays that persistently peck at their sideview mirrors and then their studio windows, causing the tension rod holding up all the handmade necklaces to slip, cascading the whole lot to the ground and taking half the birdhouses-in-progress with them! (But Happies never start anything they don’t finish… I forgot). Happies never get everything out to mow the lawn only to find their grass-cutting clothes (so designated because the non-shielded weedwacker creates permanently grass-encrusted jeans) have just come out of the washer and are on the line to dry for two days in the damp summer chill.

But you know, I’m guessing that Happy is not a family trait. In fact, I can just hear Mrs. Happy now: “David - have you stopped to fix that gate? I need you to fix my clothesline!”
“You’ll have to do that yourself, dear. I need to Do this Right.”
“How long will it take? It was your turn today to pick up Hulda at ballet.” (okay, 4-H)
“It takes as long as it takes, dear. Doing it Right is worth the time.” (He’s one of those who can Talk in Capitals.)
“Easy for you to say - I‘ve got the wash, then lunch… and now kid-chauffeur?!”
“But think of all the time you saved, dear, because I got your butter churn to seal perfectly and your spinning wheel to turn without friction.”
“I’ve already spent that time - drinking your homemade vodka. To drown you out.”

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Intention Attention

The optimism sites keep insisting that writing down your intentions gives great power to them and helps the Universe to grant them… does it make a difference to the Universe if your handwriting is illegible?? I have been writing over and over that I wish to make a good living with my writing, however, it might be read “with my wiring”… and I worry that someone might suddenly show up and ask me to donate my nerves for scientific research.

Unfortunately, this written repetition of intentions brings me back with excessive clarity to my first grade classroom where I had to write 100 times, “I will not talk in class”… and on that double-lined paper that allowed six sentences to the page, I went through my whole notepad on the second day! The humiliation and the writer’s cramp never seemed to cramp my mouth, but it’s probably what cramped my penmanship for these last 45 years.

And, because it’s impossible for a writer to resist, I keep editing the damn intention so that when I get down to the middle of the page it’s gone from, “I intend to support myself by my writing” to “I intend that my writing will be received with acclaim and great financial reward”… and by the time I get to the bottom, it’s shrunk to, “they’ll pay me for writing” -- and I have to go soak my hand to get rid of the writer’s cramp.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Making a Dint in the System

(Note: I swear to you everything in this post is true and unexagerated, unlike some posts of mine.)

While I was trying to get my old phone disconnected, (a company un-named but sounding like a Beery Arising) I found that the carrier’s oh-so-educated voice machine apparently doesn’t understand the word “no” -- something which I had long suspected. It must be easy to drop a word or two from a computer’s vocabulary, but it was still amusing -- in a nail-biting way -- to hear the pleasant female voice respond, “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand your last statement” after I’d answered, “No” to one of her questions. And of course, the five humans that they have left in place to handle the 756 calls-per-hour from the customer service line were all busy helping other customers -- and probably calling 911 for those customers, because if they had actually held on long enough to reach a real human being, they were either dead, unconscious or totally insane.

And that is not even as hairy as my encounters with my cell phone company -- again, unnamed but with a dint of a hint, you might catch a glint of the company I’m thinking of -- this one had been mailing my bills to an address two back, over a year old, and no amount of writing on the bill (when it eventually got to me) helped. In a Kafka-esque evening a month ago, I began to find out why. Several weeks before that I had, in fear that my credit might suffer because I wasn’t getting the bills in time to pay them, attempted to mail a check to the company with an old bill stub. I had called and asked the customer service rep for an address and she gave me one in Kansas City (after about 22 minutes wait-time… I sorted old bills, first alphabetically and then by amount, while I waited). So I was stunned when it came back in 10 days with a “Post Office Box Closed” note… so the company had moved without telling the service reps? Of course, mail to India is slow…

So then I decided to try to pay online, as they encourage us to do. I tried to create a new account, gave them all my information, created a user name and a password (stupid1, if you want to know) and then they wanted a PIN number, too, with its own password (If someone catches me wandering down the street, mumbling, “susie345, 9845, catbill89” you will know that I have reached the limit of internal memory and am chasing through alternate realities after my PIN numbers). I tried to create a PIN, but my address didn’t match the one they had for me (imagine that!) and so they asked me a series of questions to be sure I was me… the problem was, they were multiple choice questions: you could select only one of four, and their question was “which of these addresses didn’t you live at?” -- and of course, they had listed 3 of those and only one that I had lived at! So I couldn’t answer correctly, and therefore they said they’d have to do more research and get back to me.

But I could still sign on, using the new user name and password (we are now at another 30 minutes, if you’re timing it). There was one glitch -- because I didn’t do a PIN, they needed to text message the validation code to my phone. I was to type it in and proceed. Anyone want to guess the punchline? No text message -- not then, not anytime during the weekend when I tried again and again… But just at that point, I gave up and searched the bill for a phone number to call, to pay up… and when I dialed the 800 number, the message told me the paying procedure had changed and I had to call another (non-toll free) number or use the *3 function on my cell phone. I didn’t want to use up all my monthly minutes on hold for a bloody representative, so I gave up completely. I wanted nothing more than to pitch the phone through the window, but I know that anyone who stole it would also be so good at hacking that they’d get through where I failed, and that would be humiliating.

Then, out of the blue, a company salesman called me -- all unsuspecting -- to tell me that I wasn’t using enough of my cell phone minutes (and he called me during prime time, to make sure I wasted some on him) and that I qualified for a brand new phone -- he got no further, swept away in a tsunami of invective from my last nerve being stepped on. I really should have saved my breath; English was his second (possibly third) language and he likely understood only a quarter of what I was yelling. When I paused for breath, he jumped in and assured me that he could take care of changing my address for me. I huffily agreed, and spent the next ten minutes trying to get him to repeat a correct address back to me. When that was done, and he said he’d submit it and it would change “sometime in the next week”, he insisted on setting up my PIN number (remember that failed attempt?). At that point, I baulked, saying because he’d called me, I didn’t really know who he was… eventually, I gave in and gave him a number -- then he said he had to ask a challenge question: “What is your favorite hobby?” “Yelling at phone salesmen,” I answered before I could stop myself. It took him a moment, but then he chuckled weakly. Anyway, to shorten this (and it was a long phone call), he took the info, wisely did not try to give away that “free phone”, and hung up. Three minutes later, he called back -- to tell me that the address change was in, but I had to call *2 on my cell “before tomorrow, in order to verify it”… so who had I been talking to?? My last nerve was throbbing, so I waited until after the “unlimited night minutes” had kicked in before calling.

I finally got through to a person, a young thing called Jasmine who spoke so fast and mumbled so badly that I had to get her to repeat just about every sentence. I tried to explain why I was calling, but it sounded lame and a bit delusional even to me. She resorted to the time-honored rep response, “May I please have your account number?” Perhaps she was expecting to find a red flag and the cause of my insanity in the files. Eventually, we got to my address -- and sure enough, it was the same old, two-back address! So much for whoever I’d been speaking with! Grimly, I held on the phone, trying to wash dishes with one hand as Jasmine pecked and poked the keyboard -- it literally took her 11 minutes to type in my two-line address! And then another five minutes after it occurred to her that I might want a current bill… and then, just as she was about to hang up, I heard her gasp, “Oh no!” -- the address had reverted to the old address in front of her eyes!!

So I guess I had to take back all the curses I’d landed on the hapless clerks -- that was one sick computer system! She first wanted to put me on hold for tech support, but I pointed out that it was her computer, not mine, that was sick; then she put me on hold while she sat on hold for tech support -- and sometime after five minutes, the line went dead… oh, well…

This had finally gotten to the YouTube stage. Since I couldn’t videotape some idiot serviceperson, I wrote a letter to the CEO of this cell phone company, highlighting my recent experience. And since I’m experienced at CEO letters, I also send a copy to the head of technical research at Consumer Reports -- I thought he’d be amused. I was gratified to receive a phone call just five days after I’d mailed the letter -- from the CEO’s “assistant”, a polite young woman who assured me they wanted my business and asked me if my problem had been resolved. Of course not, I said, but I found it amusing to give her the excrutiating details of her sick computer system.

She found my record, verified that the old address was still firmly entrenched, and proceeded to change it -- she thought. Back it sprung, as I surmised from hearing her gasp. Try again -- at least she could type well -- it only took her seconds. Nope - she gasped again, and groaned. Then she said she would definitely report this to tech services - then a whoop! as she got it to take hold. She was so proud, and I shook my head -- it had only taken about a hour and a half so far to change my address -- no, make that three or four hours, if you count all the extra work I’d done when I wasn’t on the phone or online with them.

Then she just wouldn’t rest on her laurels -- she wanted to prove to me that the PIN number had also been set up… so I got online. No PIN number… it still wanted that d*mn validation code that it wasn’t text messaging to me. She gave me a number to enter. I did -- the screen rejected it. She gave me another number. The screen rejected it and insisted I exit my browser and start again from scratch! I did that, and she gave me a third number - the system bounced me back to the home page. She told me to enter my username and password a fourth time -- and finally the system recognized me!

Now… was that so hard?? Isn’t that an improvement over the old days, when we mailed a check or paid the phone bill at the counter of the local pharmacy?? No? I don’t think so either… but I’m glad at least that CEOs still know how to read… and delegate.

If we ever wonder why time is going so fast these days, we might want to add up the number of minutes (hours, weeks...) that we spend trying to get our high-speed connection devices to connect to anything useful! Oh, and by the way… I have now forgotten that online password, and still am paying my bills by mail.

Veggie Garden Update

I realize that the last post on my veggie garden was in the midst of a mid-April snowstorm, so I figured I'd quickly let you all know that it survived. Despite the snow and then, exactly a month later, four days of almost 100-deg. weather, then a precipitous drop to the low 60's where it's pretty much been since May - most of the plants grew, and I've been eating lettuce, broccoli, radishes and even my first peas! But of course the progess hasn't been easy. More on that later.

Ye Olde Almaniac

I picked up a copy of the 2008 Old Farmer’s Almanac -- proudly aware that now I could legitimately say I needed to consult it. “Consult” might not be the best word… dig into it, plow through the ads and promotions, looking for the actual almanac… as far as I could tell, the first almaniacal information (on the year’s weather) started on page 80, the masthead was on page 84, and “How to Use this Almanac“ was on page 110! Obviously, this is one publications that knows about “compost”! That’s a heap o’ turning to get to the good stuff… and then, to add to the fun, the tables themselves -- the part with the information -- is printed in 5 to 8 point type! Given the average farmer’s age, you’d think they’d package this with a magnifying glass…I suppose if they made a Large Type edition, it would be the size of an encyclopedia (you remember -- those were the big books that held up various piece of furniture because they were so uniform in size?) And then they compound the problem by playing with typeface -- I didn’t even know they had Olde English typeface in 5 point type! I have to enlarge the page on my copier/scanner just to read it.

And then there’s the instruction page, with its bold arrows and arithmetic equations for deciphering the numbers for your individual town and state. I paged back and forth several times, squinting at the examples and finding the key letter for my town… okay - my town is not listed, (of course not! it’s a small rural town! Where the farms are!) but I found the two closest cities and then all I had to do after I figured out the proper key was to position the number of minutes to add or subtract somewhere between the two numbers given. (Huh?) I was glad I wasn’t doing sunrise or sunset rituals or fasting for any daylight ceremonies, because I don’t have to be exact to the minute. In fact, I generally forget the time the moment I close the book. But it’s comforting to know that I can check the table if any day I think the sun has gotten lazy… And reading the monthly Table of Events is a trip - not too many books have lists of the saint’s days alongside the start of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame… but I’ll bet the old Almanacs didn’t have ads for Viagra (it wasn’t a veterinarian version, either).

But not all of the pages before page 80 are pure ads… there are some “entertaining articles” (which are created purely to tease readers into opening the pages full of ads). Page six has a list of predictions for the new smart houses of the future, which, they say, will be called ‘responsive houses”… these houses will be able to shrink in the winter to conserve heat, shake snow off the roof, and have windows and doors that change size and type, and open/close to regulate heat/temperatures… that sounds like living inside a dog! What, exactly, do they think will happen to the good china when this house shakes itself to get the fleas -- sorry, snow -- off? And will it heel like a loyal lab, or will it be a bumptious mongrel that flares the windows and doors for fun, while you stand there howling for it to behave? I can just imagine the fun of living in a place that changes size when it decides it’s needed. Some morning I wake up in a bedroom the size of a breadbox! But perhaps they’re expecting that by then the furniture will have “contraction sensors” and will downsize accordingly… and I’ll be like Alice in Wonderland, sitting in -- or wearing -- a room and wondering where the bottle marked “Drink Me” is! It makes me wonder what these farmers are growing…

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Thoreau and I

In order to make myself feel even more inept, I decided to re-read Thoreau’s Walden, that story of a man who built his own cabin and lived in it two years, so far from his fellow man that a child wandering in the woods would have to walk an entire mile to find him… unless he was walking on the Walden Road, of course… but that’s as may be… I had read Thoreau in high school, and as I remember, my classmates and I made much of him. We were impressed by his statement, “Most men live lives of quiet desperation”. Now, thanks to the Internet, that is no longer the case -- now they are desperate loudly in your face! But Thoreau wrote many other sentences. A couple paragraphs down from that very famous one, he writes (and I quote): “Old people did not know enough, once, perchance, to fetch fresh fuel to keep the fire a-going; new people put a little dry wood under a pot, and are whirled around the globe with the speed of birds, in a way to kill old people, as the phrase is.” Now, unless I am going senile at a very young age, Thoreau seems to have neglected his mycology before trying to eat off the land. I hadn’t realized they had those kind of mushrooms in Connecticut, but live and learn…

I, of course, am hoping to glean my own sapling wisdom from my land, though I am perhaps a bit more connected to “civilization” (which is quite obviously not the same thing as civilized nation) than he was. Still, in the past six months, I have racked up an impressive number of solitary hours, and even weeding out those hours spent contemplating the very practical questions of how to plug leaky shed roofs and how to clear out the ex-mouse nest behind the oven (it was a very ex-mouse), I have devoted quite a bit of time to contemplating the Universe, civilization and The Big Questions. Mostly I do this with an ice pack on my back, or while rubbing arnica on the new bruises, but -- and this is the important point -- I am doggedly pursuing those questions and writing down my results. I’m also deeply pondering what kind of bug is devouring my strawberries (unless it’s one of those tiny stray black holes that quantum science has been looking for).

And sometimes I think my friends aren’t quite as grateful that I have dedicated myself to this pursuit in their behalf (I’m guessing Thoreau’s little group had the same response - “gee, thanks, David - you’re sitting there contemplating the Universe while I’m just slaving at the bank; can’t tell you how grateful I am”, etc. ) When I do manage to get hold of friends by phone or email, they seem, well -- pre-occupied. “Yes, true, the fallacy of the linearity of Time could be important, but I’ve got to get back to these overdue taxes,” they say, or “Right, right - did I tell you I’ve got two sick dogs and we’re meeting at work tomorrow to see if they’re gonna lay us off?” Which leads me to believe, with David T., that it requires a period of de-coupling from civilization before we are properly able to stand outside of it. I say “outside”, but I acknowledge my freezer of beef, the baseboard heaters and internet connection, not to mention visits to the chiropractor… but then again David was much younger than I am, and his friends dropped over more often [hint].

Here are some of the deeper questions that have occurred to me in this rich silence (broken only by the sounds of the leaf blower neighbor, the metal recycler across the river and local hot rods):”Is this increasingly visual culture losing its ability to form linear thought?“ “Is this perhaps a move toward holistic thinking that might break through the illusion of linear Time?“ “Did I eat all the cookies?” and “Are those damn scientists gonna black-hole us to oblivion with that damn particle accelerator?” I’m not the only one worried about the last one - it’s all over the internet. So I was intrigued and -- what’s the opposite of reassured? -- to find out that there are at least five more REALLY BIG science projects that aren’t as “sexy” (the author’s words) as the particle accelerator, aiming to really get into the Big Questions - like “What’s inside this planet?” (the Big Drill - and right on a major oceanic fault line, mind you!), and “Have any nearby stars blown up?“ (the Big Nova Alarm Box for detecting supernovas in our galaxy - at least a half hour before we all “detect” it by being wiped out)… the others have been mercifully wiped from my memory. I can assure you I am doing much less harm as I work the Big Questions… but then, I didn’t get the billion dollar grants, either. But it’s peaceful today in my garden - no noticeable supernovas or stray black holes, but I’m keeping an eye on the strawberries, just in case.