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August 2006

What have I been doing?

I've been inventorying my books at Library Thing. I have 80-85% of them done, and felt it was time to move on to other things for now. But it's such a great place, I had to recommend it. You can see a few of my books on the right there; it should change randomly, and I think it links to my own inventory. I want to continue to add pictures for the books that are too old to have covers available, and tags.

Right now, I'm preparing for our camping trip we'll take in a short while. We are going to Cooper's Rock State Forest in West Virginia, and Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, with a visit to Grandma in between.

I have not been updating the photo blog because the actions required for resizing and such create a lot of stress on my wrist and forearm, due to how this laptop is designed. But these places we're visiting are so beautiful! I will have lots to share.

And then I intend to get back to poking fun at life. I was pretty shocked and disturbed by what happened in my seabreeze blog, and I think that kept me from continuing on as usual. Enough of that.


the ocean is a desert (unfinished)

With its Life Underground

As with other exercises, no editing to be done at all. This is part one of two or so.

Lately, I've read several books in which one or more of the main characters smoked cigarettes. This always puzzles me and I wonder if authors who smoke add in these descriptions because they feel natural to them, or if a non-smoking author actually sees it as a valid way to add color and detail to the story. Since my desire this week was to write a story that challenged me in some new way, I decided to attempt to write a character who smoked, and, further, make that character someone I'd find interesting or even attractive in some aspect. Well, I found I couldn't leave it much in the background, because the idea is so wild and repulsive to me. So I made a bit of an examination of the phenomenon, and I hope anyone who reads this who feels the way I do on the matter will indulge the experiment without deciding I've turned traitor on our collective common sense.

I leaned over the rail as far as I dared, still a little fearful of the depth of the sea far beneath my feet. The natural human instinct is to breathe in deeply and heavily, allowing the salty air to fill your lungs and possibly your spirit, so I took a deep breath, held it for a moment, and was rewarded with the sound of a slightly phlegmy cough right behind me.

I sighed and turned to look. "Night air too bracing for you?" He approached the railing, and I noted he was a litttle slimmer than I'd originally thought, with a well-defined upper body, and a weathered, care-worn face, with a strong brow and thin but well-placed mouth. I almost dared find it attractive until I saw his hand, shaking slightly, reach into his jacket pocket for a packet of cigarettes. I rolled my eyes and turned them back towards the water, my back to the offender. There was enough of a sharp breeze that I needn't concern myself with the stench of tar and nicotine overtaking the nearly overwhelming but comforting sea air.

He made a little sound of disgust as I looked away. "You Americans. Freakishly concerned about smoking, yet living on a daily diet of cheeseburgers and lattes."

This kind of statement brings out the grrr in me. I turned to face him as he lit the icky little paper tube with an expensive-looking lighter that glowed silver in the moonlight. "First of all, I think cheeseburgers are disgusting. But at least when people eat them around me, they are not filling the air and my lungs with a burning, nauseating stench of poison. The only harm is to themselves, and possibly a cow with a desire for seeing more of the world than the inside of a meat-packing plant. And second, go right ahead and dry out your insides. It's no concern of mine."

He just laughed, leaning his shoulders against the railing, and I could see him relaxing before me, as though the inhalation of smoke had loosened a series of rubber bands tightly wound around his skin. It was an interesting thing to observe.

Normally, watching someone smoke is, for me, about as pleasant as watching someone defecate on the ground. I can hardly bring myself to even look, knowing the smoker is narrowing his eyes and drawing the muscles around his lips together as he inhales, and to look at his face while he's doing it is like watching something dry up and blacken into decay before my eyes. But I somehow found myself watching him in a sort of sideways manner, and I'm certain it amused him, though he had made no reply to my little furious speech.

It was quiet in a certain way; the sea roaring around us, but somehow motionless at the same time, owing, I suppose, to how the ship cut quickly and effortlessly through the water. No one else was around, and I found myself, rather than annoyed at the disturbance, comforted by the idea of a companion who seemed as uninterested in chatter as I'd been all day, roaming from one packaged group activity to the next until, sated by the huge late evening buffet, most of the other passengers had returned to their berths for the night.

I felt at ease. Except--I could see the dim glow creeping slowly toward his face each time he put the cigarette to his lips, and I just felt I had to voice one more objection on the matter.

"You should know that if you drop the end of that thing into the water, I will do my level best to see that you go over with it."

He drew his head back slightly, as though this surprised him, and, turning to face me as directly as my current posture allowed, he held the thing up, pinched the burning end between his fingers, and put the extinguished remainder back into his pocket. Then he nodded, and spoke, "Good night then," and walked off back toward the stairwell.

I saw him several times the next day, at brunch, in the casino, and in the swimming pool doing laps. Swimming is good for the lungs, to be sure. I don't know if it staves off the effects of smoke-blackened lungs, but I was impressed with his endurance. We didn't acknowledge each other, but I thought it likely that he noticed me the way I pretended to notice him; strangers in the night exchanging glances, nothing more.

I hated myself for finding him intriguing. I tried to justify it by noting that British people have all sorts of habits we would find distasteful on our side of the ocean, like eating organ meats and salty fish at breakfast. I watched him laugh with his companions at the roulette table, ordering his drinks with polished ease, yet assuming a somewhat self-conscious posture when anyone seemed to play up to him too much, uncomfortable under the spotlight of praise or probing questions.

Late that evening, as I sat in a deck chair under the clear, darkening sky, hoping for a good view of an August meteor shower, he seemed to come tumbling up the stairs accompanied by a giggling dark-haired girl in a slinky black dress. I say girl, although to be frank, she was a bit of what people used to call "mutton dressed as lamb." But who am I to judge? They were clearly under the influence of a certain amount of vodka, which poured rather freely after dark on this vessel, and she kept fussing with his collar, while he made a big show of leaning in to whisper in her ear even though no one else was around. This kept sending her into giggles, and then they both lit cigarettes and confidently blew their acrid smoke into the cool night air, while I, bored by the little spectacle, settled back into the chair to count the Seven Sisters and count the shooting stars. I doubted they even realized I was there to witness the play.

After a short time, though, the woman complained of the cold, and started to flick the remainder of her cigarette to the deck. I watched as he stopped her, and, repeating his actions of the night before, extinguished it and his own with his fingers, only instead of putting them into his pocket, he carried them past me to a metal basket which had not been removed from the deck for the night. As he passed, he turned and nodded his head at me. I heard her ask, "Why would anyone be out here alone at this time of night?" I didn't hear his reply.
 


dragonfly

After I've been out of the house all day, I'm saddened by the remnant of poodle pee odor that hits me when I walk back through the door, because I'd quite forgotten about it in the meantime. I say poodle, though I don't really know what sort of dog it was. All I know is that it wasn't our dog, because the smell predates our life here.

I imagine the poodle as the sort who was both fussed over and neglected, like a child who is very badly behaved around other people, but whose parents see him only as creative, fun-loving, and quite possibly "gifted." Then I imagine that the poodle got out one day while its owner was answering the door, and nearly had its little existence wiped out by the careless postal worker who careens up our street at inconsistent times of the day. Doted upon beyond reason, the poodle was operated on, no expense spared, by the vet a few blocks away, who fitted the yippy little creature with a prosthetic foreleg, as well as a glass eye.

The poodle adapted to the false leg easily enough, but never quite got its balance back with only one good eye. When it ran around in circles, it would become disoriented and dizzy, and flop down, panting and puking up a significant percentage of the morning's 1/4 cup serving of Natural Balance Ultra Premium Dog Food, leading the owners to consider psychotherapy for their pet, whose name was Alex.

Alex's "parents" preferred non-gender-defining names for their pets and the children they planned to have later on when life had been fully experienced enough in order to accommodate the change in lifestyle a family of four humans plus Alex would require. The children were to be named Darby and Darcy, no matter which came first.

That was for later, though. All that mattered for the present was making sure Alex's emotional needs were tended to, and for that, Alex's parents turned to Dr. Lumpkin, leading pet analyst of Ocean County. The name Lumpkin didn't do much to engender confidence in his patients' owners, but as his esteem rose along with his consultation fees, Dr. Lumpkin felt that his somewhat awkward name would one day become synonymous with excellent pet mental health. The Lumpkin Legacy, as it were.

At first, it seemed obvious to Alex's parents that Alex was having a difficult time adjusting to both a prosthetic leg and a false eyeball, but Dr. Lumpkin dug a little deeper by employing his patent-pending pet hypnosis technique, whereby he discovered that the root of the problem was in Alex's concern over having brown fur, whereas most of the other poodles Alex met had white fur. These white poodles were primly concerned with the absolute whiteness of their coats, preening and licking, and largely disdaining Alex, having been taught that their own coats were never to be marred with the dirt and dust of the external world, lest they need to be vigorously shampooed back to a more natural glossy alabaster state. This was done on a weekly basis at the groomer's anyway, but best in the interim to avoid any possibility of taint that would require extra bathing.

Not that most of them minded a good hearty bath anyway. Poodles were bred to enjoy being fussed and fawned over, so that the dog grooming industry had somewhere to go beyond semi-annual coat and nail trimmings.

Poodles, in short, and unlike other breeds of dogs, are self-aware.

I surmise that the poodle Alex peed on our carpet on purpose. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Alex's parents insisted that they had always let Alex know how much they loved and admired the rich chocolately brown fur, and that they enjoyed coordinating Alex's winter sweaters and spring raincoats with the color, but Dr. Lumpkin pointed out that Alex might have seen this as a passive-aggressive attempt to hide the brown fur from a world which disdained a poodle that came in any color other than snowy white. Even efforts to dress up the prosthetic leg would be seen as subterfuge by people who cared for Alex but were ashamed of the poodle's physical differences.

Alex, in addition to semi-weekly sessions with Dr. Lumpkin, began attending a group physical therapy class. There were four other dogs in attendance, but only one of those a poodle. A white one, naturally, but Alex felt some measure of superiority as a Miniature poodle, while Terrance was a Toy. Toy poodles might have a certain caché among some show people, but to a Miniature, they are simply small enough to be kicked around, if a Miniature could be bothered, which it really couldn't.

During the time of Alex's therapy, his parents worked hard to keep the carpet shampooed and fresh, even though Alex, eager to please as ever, still puked up gourmet breakfast on a regular basis. The exercises in class were meant to restore balance to a one-eyed dog, but Alex's heart really wasn't in it, though awards were given each week for Most Improvement. Terrance never won an award, but he scoffed at the idea, muttering about the stupid working breeds and their constant need for approval.

In the afternoons, Alex liked to run around in the backyard. Specifically, around the pool, counter-clockwise. It was only running clockwise that caused dizziness at this point, so Alex's parents didn't worry about their little pet falling into the water. Alex would run and run and run, stopping occasionally to jump around in the lily patch, or to pee in it.

Lilies have a subtle scent which nevertheless can be carried a long way on a breeze. Alex didn't understand how a scent could go away from something that never went anywhere. Even a poodle has limitations of understanding.

Then one day, sometime after the petals fell from the lilies and only a green knob filled with genetic material for more lilies remained on top of the stalk, Alex spied a new flower in the lily patch. A flower which breathed, though it did not move. Alex plunged a little furry nose into the top of the flower to have a sniff, only to have the flower fly off across the yard. It was a dragonfly, though Alex did not know this. The idea that a flower could just leave, rather than dry up and fall to the ground, was amazing to Alex.

Alex wanted to be that flower-which-was-really-a-dragonfly. An object which was meant to be still, yet somehow could move, without being told to heel and stay by something very large with a treat in its hand. An object of bright, brilliant color, which flew without effort, answering to no one.

When Alex was called in for supper, the answer was clear. The only thing to do to assert some individuality and control, was to pee on the freshly-cleaned carpet. Alex's parents were horrified. They scrubbed and sprayed, and patted Alex and pointed their fingers in a loving but admonishing way, and the next day, Alex did it again.

Dancing in a counterclock-wise circle, jumping and yapping and filled with glee, Alex conquered the puking problem in one stroke, as it were, and began a new habit that was to plague his parents for six months, til they gave up and moved to a new house completely fitted with floors made of Pergo and handmade Italian tile. They also fired Dr. Lumpkin and cancelled the PT classes, choosing instead to send Alex to an outdoor daycamp. On the day the movers came, before Alex was fitted into the little kennel strapped into the Jeep Liberty for the ride across Ocean County, Alex ran in circles and peed and peed and peed all over the newly cleaned slate blue carpet.

The owners had the carpet shampooed all over again, but without replacing the padding beneath the carpet, they ensured that whoever rented the house next would forever be plagued by the remnants of Alex's reach for freedom of spirit. By the time they rented the house out, they had quite forgotten the smell that rose up to meet them when they first entered the building, but asked for a 500 dollar deposit against cat pee, which they'd always heard was an impossible smell to remove from a floor.


What happens is

I'll be out driving, and think of things to share, but when I get home, I've forgotten.

Apparently, there are hours available for audio recordings on my camera, so I guess I should put it in my purse again.

I want to talk about the renewal I go through every August, like I'm harvesting and preparing for the end of the year. It's hard to explain, but August is always a great month for me. Even in the Augusts where I seem to get less done, I feel somehow productive, in spirit if nothing else.

Preparing for the school year, for my NaNo book, for the memoirs, and for the season spent largely indoors is a happy challenge for me, although sometimes lack of resources makes the challenge greater than other times.

This month, I am harvesting herbs to make some seasoned oils and vinegars. I'm having a terrible tomato and pepper crop, but there are a few peppers to dry, and a few tomatoes to enjoy each week, though not enough to make any sauces to save for later.

There's also just a little time left to enjoy doing not much of anything at all. We should all have some of that time in our lives. Too many people grow up and think that idle time is wasted time. I just can't agree. We need contrast in order to enjoy both busyness and the lack of it.


Please

Please please let me get what I want.

I'm recreating the whole thing.

It's not a question of vanity that makes me want to do that rather than starting over. It's a visceral feeling that it belongs to me, and I want it all contained in my box.

This will take awhile.


Tastes like Texas!

Yesterday, we had fried tofu for lunch, with a dipping sauce that was made of Japanese soup broth, ginger, and soy sauce.

Anyway, it doesn't taste like chicken, but it is still Texas hot out, and now you know how my mind puts random occurrences together to form a non-coherent picture. Here's something else delicious I made the other day:

Drain and smash one 10 oz can of garbanzo or white beans, and add a healthy teaspoon of chopped garlic, a tablespoon of lemon juice, and 1/4 cup of olive oil. Blend it together well, and season with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

We sliced different kinds of bread, dabbed a bit of olive oil and sea salt on them, and baked them, then dipped them in the bean stuff. You could leave off the olive oil. We only used a tiny bit. If I only could eat Japanese and Mediterranean-style food, that would be okay by me.

But today I'll probably make a shredded pork dish for supper that is more Mexican in style and flavor.

Anyway, do I have a legacy to leave the world? I still just think of that in terms of my children. I want to instill in them a sense of gentility, the good kind that allows you to go anywhere and meet anyone and be someone others are glad to have around. Other than that, I guess I have to think about whether my individual personage counts for much of anything.