Thursday, August 26, 2010

When Screaming and Scolding Fail

“Oh! If to dance all Night, and dress all Day,
Charmn’d the Small-pox, or chas’d old Age away;
Who would not scorn what Housewife’s Cares produce,
Or who would learn one earthly Thing of Use?

“But since, alas! Frail Beauty must decay,
Curl’d or uncurl’d, since Locks will turn to grey;
Since painted, or not painted, all shall fade,
And she who scorns a Man, must die a Maid,
What then remains but well our Pow’r to use,
And keep good Humour still what’er we lose?

“And trust me, dear! Good Humour can prevail,
When Airs, and Flights, and Screams, and Scolding fail.
Beauties in vain their pretty Eyes may roll;
Charms strike the Sight, but Merit wins the Soul.”

Esdras Barivelt, pseudonym used by Alexander Pope, The Rape of the Lock, 1715

In my never-ending quest for the prime metaphor, a sort of grand unified metaphor of everything, I can never go wrong with hard-boiled noir detective fiction a la Raymond Chandler. To me, elegant metaphors are the hallmark of intelligent writing - sort of like writing full of wisecracks and irony metaphorically cut a path of death and destruction through good writing like that left in the wake of a turbulent hurricane cutting across an Oklahoma countryside.

I recently read a mystery story that began with a big mistake in a workplace, followed by a ranting boss, threatening that his workers better clean things up, or more heads would roll than cabbage in a cole slaw factory. I have absolutely no recollection of what the rest of the story was about, so taken I was, by the visual magic of that metaphor.

Meanwhile, back in the actual world, the faux pharmacist Esdra Barivelt (aka Alexander Pope) says it’s better to have a sense of humor than good looks because the former presumably remains shiny and bright, while all beauty fades. Wrong.

A sense of humor is, I think, subject to the normal wear and tear of a human life, and is just as subject to being slowly worn down as youth and beauty. Imagine how smooth and round Sisyphus’ rock must have become from being rolled up and down that hill all those years. One’s sense of humor may end up rubbed down by overuse, nicked and scarred by the slings and arrows of ennui, the attempted suicides, the bad hair days, court-ordered anger management classes, and the failed gardening ventures of life. Good metaphors encapsulate a life of love and loss without the overt anger and bitterness of an exhausted rant. I’m just guessing here, but if he was writing today, I suspect that pharmacist Esdra Barivelt would run a meth lab.

Gardening in this season is like watching an aging beauty refusing to go gently in that good night of old age and early bird specials at Golden Corral ("We deep fry every buffet dish in lard, so you don’t have to!"). Unfortunately, knowing this and practicing this are fish of two different kettles. I’m not ready to give up and accept that screaming and scolding may fail to make my garden thrive. Regardless of what this may imply with regard to my gardening/parenting/hairdressing skills, I continue to hope that once my boy gets out of jail, and my daughter finishes her community service, they’ll give up their own attempts at cooking meth and take their places beside me and Pa as jugglers and clowns in the circus. After all, if life is but a joke, at least we can use our powers well to make the punch line worthwhile.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Winds of Change are Blowing

" You don’t need a weather vane to know which way the wind blows."
Somebody Else

Ok, I know I’ve said this before about summer coming, but it’s really here now. A week of temps in the 90s with dry winds that signal only the beginning of the santa ana hot dry fire season. We may not get oil spills or floods, but we get earthquakes and fires.

I haven’t felt all that inspired to work outdoors during the last few mild weeks and months. So, naturally, I spent yesterday afternoon in the back yard, sweating and moving my little wheeled seat/tool cart around the patio to keep it in the shade. I weeded between the paving stones, something I’ve never had to do before.

This summer, I’ve had the patio watered with a timed sprinkler. It hasn’t received enough via my hand watering for the past several years since the automatic sprinklers died. Who knew? And after removing clover, what I think my Mom used to call chick-weed (sp?) and some other ubiquitous weed that grows like ground cover, I carefully put in creeping thyme cuttings dippend in root hormone. Martha in Michigan calls one of the thymes lime - I think because of the color of the foliage - and it has small pink flowers if it gets enough sun. There’s another kind with foliage that is more bluish, and I also put in some of that. I may actually achieve my dream of a sustainable flagstone patio as long as the water holds out long enough for the thyme to establish itself. Once established, I think I can cut back on watering. Time will tell.

I also managed to plant some more in my layered tall pots that I got for $8 and $10 at the lamp store. I think they’re supposed to be ceramic lampshades, but Tech Support Guy drilled holes in the bottom and I’m planting them with what I envision will be a killer succulent arrangement. I won’t post pics until I see how things turn out. The top 4 inches of these 20” and 15” tall planters is full of small holes almost like lace. The pots themselves are very dainty and have already been glued back together. Again. Time will tell.

This has been a rough summer for me physically with more than a fair share of aches and pains.

I spent the last half hour of my outdoor time, sitting in the chairs, meditating on happiness and controlling pain, because of course, I strained my back at the end of the day. Later, after some killer homemade meatloaf with a healthy dose of roasted tomatoes and peppers, I resorted to controlled substances to control my pain. I have a pretty high tolerance for chronic back pain in the cervical spine but I’m not so biblically accustomed to low back pain. But as my crazier relatives often say: It’s getting better.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Manual of Detection

“If you are not setting a trap, then you are probably walking into one. It is the mark of the master to do both at once.”
“Woe to he who checkmates his opponent last, only to discover they have been playing cribbage.”
- Jedediah Berry, The Manual of Detection

Have you ever had a workday filled with rain and gloom, and felt you were the only awake person populating your nightmares filled with zombies? If you answered yes then have I got the book for you. Here is how one character describes it:

“…that is how I feel sometimes, as though the world has already ended, the shades drawn over every window, the stars burned down to little black beads, the moon waned beyond waning, all life a dollop of ash, and still I remain at work trying to explain what happened”.

Allow me to digress.

Before retiring from my secret identity as a bureaucrat with a brain, and becoming a gardening superhero, I had a lot in common with the book's protagonist, aptly named Charlie Unwin. As my retirement to a cottage in the country approached, I began to shut down some of these dreams of dreams and dreamers in my professional life. I paid for my own last set of business cards. Instead of using my “payroll title” of Buyer IV, I printed “Buyer Princess”. Some people asked what the fuck, but most people silently shuffled these cards into the deck of business cards exchanged like poker chips at the outset of any meeting of three or more overlords in management. They might have been sleepwalking.

But I digress.

Unlike Unwin, my last official act before I got promoted to retirement, I too took steps to leave my own mysteries behind. I left the following message on my voicemail and changed the password, from the number neatly printed on masking tape to the phone: Hello, today is October 24, 2003. I’m not available right now, but I care about your call, so please leave a message and… Yeah, no, wait. I’m retired. I could give a rat’s ass.” Followed by a first class evil laugh bbbwaaahaahaa.

I dreamed that this message was finally deleted by tech support at the request of an unnamed middle management overlord who, when this matter was brought to his attention by an angry overlord who out-ranked him, felt it necessary to employ considerable use of the f-bomb in describing his rank and importance, not to mention his opinion of the level of sick humor and fucking wooden-clogs-thrown-between-gears this once loyal and highly competent former teamwork-award-winning employee (me) managed to do to his customer satisfaction ratings.

I papered some of the certificates of recognition I’d received, removed their plastic frames, and embedded them in the wallpaper behind some rooms in my dollhouse, in an attempt to leave clues to this mysteries. But again, I digress.

For all my bureaucratic exploits, the bureaucrats in this book make me hang my head in shame at my own level of competence. My business correspondence never rose to the level of obfuscation employed by the sinisterly named Miss Burgrave:

“This will not do… You know what it means to be on a schedule, of course, so I will not rebuke you unnecessarily, as that would be tantamount to redundancy, which I already risk by speaking to you at all, and risk again by observing the risk, and so again by observation. In this we would proceed endlessly. Will you not relent? Are you really so stubborn? I ask these questions rhetorically, and thus degrade further the value of my speech.”

The Manual of Detection helped me understand that when I retired, I took something more than the smoke and ashes of bitterness with me. I took: “The long-term memory of our esteemed organization. Without it we are nothing but a jumble of trivialities, delusions, and windblown stratagems.” I can hardly tell you how sorry I am about that. I couldn’t be sorrier.

So, bureaucrats rise up! With all due respect, I insist that you discard your copy of latest the organizational guru cheerleading substance-free book/cd/2-day continuing education course with the phrase “…making the most of hidden skills…” that your management development team manager recently assigned. Buy the Manual of Detection and study it well. Then, google “sabotage,” wake up, and promote yourself.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Idle Gardener’s Mind

"Dic mihi quid melius desidiosus agas"
The line from Martial (8.3.12) translates "Tell me, what better will you find to do in your idleness?" Alcaito's jestbook

I have a very vocal cat. Pacifically (sic): a Tonkinese, which is supposed to be a cross between a Siamese and a Burmese. Since neither of these countries existed when this breed was created, my cat may be a lurking illegal alien. Or as we like to call them here in mellow inland San Diego, uninvited guest. She’s vocalizing at the moment, pacing up and down the halls whining that she needs love, which, like we all do. Lily is a bit “dumb” in a “cute-but” kind of way. I say it’s no small wonder we all don’t pace and whine like she does – though perhaps with less righteous passion than her walnut-sized brain can muster. I prefer to assume she’s crying for me than to worry that she might be a terrorist-in-waiting, a sort of sleeper-cat, and that she’s really crying “Death to America”.

Besides, at least my Tonkinese cat has “papers.” My camera and my new pressure cooker also have papers too, which means I could ship them to my sister in Arizona, no questions asked. Or at least, questions about papers answered. So my pressure cooker would be a more comfortable resident of Arizona than the bilingual American citizens who use leaf blowers to clean my front yard.

I am not worried about alien invasions. I am also immune to the scary threats of fools. With the possible exception of my cat, I do not to suffer fools gladly. But, like a psychic once told me at the fair, at least I do suffer glad foolishly. I could spend all day with her (my cat, silly) (not the fair psychic) on my shoulder as I rock her, purring advice into my hearing aid.

Finally, needing something better to do with my idleness, I managed to clean up the patio yesterday. The guys just blow the leaves and pine needles into corners for mice to inhabit. A job that once took me an hour, now takes me most of the afternoon. My gardening is becoming more like tai chi – slow, purposeful and conducive to meditation, rather than the ass-kicking karate gardening I did in my prime.

In addition to the cat purring into my hearing aid therapy, I need any exercise that serves to lengthen my attention span while it stretches my kinking muscles. These days, my tired muscles are the kinkiest part of my life. Fortunately, I have all day to accomplish this task of cleaning up the patio, and find the finished product just as satisfying as if I’d done it in an hour.

The yard guys who come every other Friday mainly keep the sorry all front yard hill from pegging out at the bottom end of the curb appeal scale. The state of my front yard is not quite at the point where I dot the landscape with a few cars on blocks, a whimsically placed old door-less refrigerator laying on its back and breeding pestilence, and hostile parasitic net of acid yellow dodder vines slowly engulfing rusty piles of unidentifiable junk. Not quite.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Global What Now?

" I sit. And I listen.
When I return to California,
to my life with its many engines—I find myself changed,
the city somehow muted, frenetic and fully charged with living, yes,
but still, when gifted with this silence, motions have more
of a dance to them, like fish in schools of hunger, once
flashing in sunlight, now turning in shadow. "
- Brian Turner Here Bullet

Horoscope Update: The good news is that no pianos hit me yesterday. The bad news is that today’s horoscope says I’m in a coma tomorrow from being hit by a piano yesterday. So this might not be an actual post, it might be a figment of my imagination.

Long Hot Summer: The month of June was, according to the Guardian UK, was “the hottest June recorded worldwide, figures show.” Furthermore, “US government climate data suggests 2010 on course to be warmest year since records began.”

Here’s the article, referenced by the Guardian, which is referring to information released in July by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), suggest that 2010 is now on course to be the warmest year since records began in 1880.