Thursday, December 08, 2016

Judging Iowa, Part II

“By allowing us to survive, the efficiency of intelligence also offers us the possibility of complexity without foundation, thought without usefulness, and beauty without purpose.”
- Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Thought without usefulness is almost an oxymoron to me. But not to everybody, apparently.  I was recently startled by a question posed to me by an Iowa native. I mentioned that I would like to learn a bit more about regional geography, specifically where the city of Ottumwa, Iowa is in relation to Des Moines. I said casually that I ought to know this now that I live here.

“Why?” she asked. “Why would you want to know that unless you needed driving directions?”

Why indeed, squander one’s finite cerebral activity on a matter beyond the city limits? Or even beyond the parking lot outside the window and the road leading back home. Although not inclined to gamble, I would be willing to bet my best pair of shoes that she couldn’t tell me where Aleppo is. Or why we should care. Such lack of curiosity - or even interest  - stuns me.

Or, perhaps this is simply what Barbery’s protagonist meant when she said this side effect of intelligence is some kind of flaw. After the sentence quoted above, she goes on to say “It’s like a computer bug, a consequence without consequence of the subtlety of our cortex, a superfluous perversion making an utterly wasteful use of the means at its disposal.” I don’t get this any more than I get why I shouldn’t want to know more about where I live.

To me, any thought is useful in that it means my brain is functioning. I get Barbery’s point that searching for truth and beauty doesn’t necessarily elevate us and make us somehow more than thinking animals - with a brain perhaps a bit bigger than necessary to find our way to Ottumwa if our life depends on it. We can find our way to Ottumwa just for the hell of it. Sorry, I’m judging that as failure of imagination if not intelligence. To me, an absence of curiosity about what’s around the corner makes for a claustrophobically small universe. I’m curious, therefore, I am.

Then again, this woman did ask me why. She was curious as to why I’d be curious. That’s something. She’s probably going to the Trump thank you party tonight. Thank goodness it’s here in Des Moines, and not wherever the hell Ottumwa is. In any event, I wasn’t invited.

Friday, November 25, 2016

First Impressions

“Tis a common Fault to be never satisfied with ones Fortune, nor dissatisfied with ones Understanding.”
-       François VI, Duc de La Rochefoucauld (1613–1680)

I recently had the opportunity to reinvent myself. I have avoided blogging while I decided whether I want to keep this up and if so whether I want to shake it up. One of the things I could do for example, would be to become suddenly nice and stop being snarky.

So, that decision only took ten minutes, you say. What else have I been waiting for to resume blogging?

Sensory overload has me spinning in place trying to make sense of my new environment. My once lush So Cal garden is gone. Friends tell me the new owners cut down the 50 year old eucalyptus trees in the front yard and painted the house a mustard yellow. I could not bear to imagine how the backyard paradise that I made over 25 years has been transformed.

My exile in the Pacific Northwest ended after just short of a year. I was going to sum that up by saying I’ve had a lovely nine months and eleven days but this wasn’t it. But what about giving up being snarky, you ask? I said the decision took ten minutes. I never said I wouldn’t continue to employ strategic snark in nucular (sic) doses at whatever target has attracted my momentary rage. I also never said I was an intelligent, articulate and literate genius. I am a terrible person who has taken to heart that advice about doing one thing and doing it well.

I did have a garden in the interim home near the Olympic fault line. There were figs, hops, grotesque hydrangea that seemed to rebloom all year at odd times, and all manner of flowering bulbs and trees that produced pollen my immune system decided to get all drippy about. So my entire gardening experience this past year has been to plant a wisteria in memory of my lost California home and to apply water desultorily when it turned out after six months that it doesn't actually rain EVERY day there. Shit pretty much grows without the need for divine intervention. I used Benedryl like gummy bears and I started having Amazon Prime deliver gummy bears in 55 gallon industrial drums. I have enough empty steel drums to start my own steel band, mon.

My garden now on my 16th floor balcony consists of my bonsai ginko, one of the handful of potted plants that made it from my yard, once filled with so many potted plants that I abandoned dozens after having friends take home their choices for months before moving. I have a blue ginger, a black aeonium and a holy basil that insisted it would live longer than any Trader Joe’s potted basil ever had if only I’d water it once in a while. I bought a 5-gallon fishtail palm locally, hauled it down the block from where my car lives and placed in my sunny window where I am as surprised as it is to still be happy 6 weeks in.
While I’m still new here, I want to say a tiny bit about first impressions of people in urban Iowa. But first, a disclaimer about my understanding of the difference between stereotypes and people. I am about to make a few gross generalizations that totally involve an un-ironic white-knuckled grasp of the obvious. Stereotypes exist for a reason.

I shall now describe my first impressions of the stereotypical 60-something woman from Iowa.  It should surprise no one that she is white. She has a short bob of untinted gray or white hair. It’s November, so she is wearing a sweater. She is about 10 pounds overweight and her cloths fit well: meaning she has been this size for long enough to establish a wardrobe of clothes that fit. Meaning she isn’t caught in the west coast cycle of so many women of a certain age that at some point we are trying to fit into cloths that don’t belong in our present diet cycle. Meaning that my Stereotypical Iowa Woman either never succumbed to the increasingly desperate vanity of trying to be stylish, or she is as over it as I am of fondue.

Based on my statistically invalid sample of three Stereotypical Iowa Woman, they were born in Iowa, grew up here mostly on rural farms, left at some point early in their marriages, and have returned to the big city in retirement. They have been around, if by around you mean they have visited their grown children in Oklahoma City, Kansas City or Omaha.

They have all been to Chicago. When one lady told me that by way of explaining how worldly wise she was, I said, yeah, the hog butcher to the world and she gave me the sweetest blank look. You’d have thought I was quoting the freaking Duc de La Rochefoucauld on self-awareness.

It will be interesting to see if these stereotypical first impressions ultimately say more about me than about the new people I’m meeting. I hope so. My fortunes are pretty fortunate these days, so The Duc is wrong there – at least about me being unsatisfied with my fortunes. I am actually hoping that he’s also wrong that I think I understand things I don’t really understand at all. I hope I will become dissatisfied with my current superficial understanding of my new neighbors. That’s why I wanted to record my first impressions.

For now, that’s what I’m seeing. But I’m new here and as terrible and snarky as ever. I’m insecure and falling back on looking down on people in the flyover states from the lofty perch of my coastal arrogance. Also, I’m uncomfortable because my pants are too tight.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Extraordinary Days

"A person can stand almost anything except a succession of ordinary days."
 - Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

According to Medicinenet, The Baskerville Effect is “a fatal heart attack triggered by extreme psychological stress.” The term derives from the Sherlock Holms mystery in which Charles Baskerville suffers a fatal heart attack due to extreme psychological stress.

“The term "Baskerville effect" was coined in 2001 in the course of a research study that found Chinese Americans and Japanese Americans had a 7% greater death rate from heart disease on the 4th day of the month (BMJ 2001;323:1443-1446). There was no such peak mortality for white Americans. Since both Chinese and Japanese regard the number four as unlucky, it appears that heart fatalities increase on psychologically stressful occasions.”

While I thought it was delusion and karma that caused all my negative actions, anxiety is in there somewhere a lot lately. But that was then. Back in the day, I worried more about tomorrow instead of enjoying today.

I am getting better about letting go – at least of the psychological stress of imagining hounds are trying to kill me. Since my latest heart operation, I can drink more. More trial and less error, y’all. It looks like my heart may hold out a while yet. Having learned a lot from surviving my surprises this past year, I am less likely to succumb to the Baskerville effect any time soon – barring extraordinary surprises.

And anyway, the term is only 15 years old: probably, not old enough that it’s been listed as a Cause of Death on somebody’s death certificate. My short-term goal is not be the first in this state. If I make it thru the coming week, that mission will be accomplished. Then, they can release the hounds here because I will be enjoying ordinary days somewhere else.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Bodily Dangers

“Good God, how much reverence can you have for a Supreme Being who finds it necessary to include tooth decay in His divine system of creation? Why in the world did He ever create pain?'
'Pain?' Lieutenant Shiesskopf's wife pounced upon the word victoriously. 'Pain is a warning to us of bodily dangers.'
'And who created the dangers?' Yossarian demanded. 'Why couldn't He have used a doorbell to notify us, or one of His celestial choirs? Or a system of blue-and-red neon tubes right in the middle of each person's forehead?'
'People would certainly look silly walking around with red neon tubes right in the middle of their foreheads.'
'They certainly look beautiful now writhing in agony, don't they?”

I spent a large amount of money this week to stop grinding my teeth. I’m getting a red neon tube to attach to my forehead. Let’s see how that works. That pretty much sums up the kind of month this had been.  I’m looking forward to my one-way road trip next month.

I’ve had a lovely 10 months. This hasn’t been it.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Unconventional Thinking

“There comes a time when the world gets quiet and the only thing left is your own heart. So you'd better learn the sound of it. Otherwise you'll never understand what it's saying.”

There is too much politics on the internets and too many conventions. There is too much hate. Oh yes, and there’s too much of everybody with an unfiltered emotion, and uninformed opinion, and an inarticulate scream of unfocused rage. And don’t get me started about poor grammar and shit.

I checked online to see the results of my latest EKG and the word about my heart is that the rhythm was "borderline". So I need to listen to that and stop spending time on the heartbreaking internets.

I’m going to self-medicate and have popcorn and cocktails for dinner.  Then I’m going to read some David Foster Wallace because it’s that kind of day. 

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Ask a Terrible Gardener - Boys

If you succeed in cheating someone, don’t think that person is a fool. Realize that the person trusted you much more than you deserved.

Dear T. G:

I need some advice about what I should do when guys try to make me cry. The trouble I’ve had trying to explain to boys why it’s not nice to make girls cry is that most guys are no longer conscious when I get to that part of the lecture. Besides, I can’t possibly reach every mean boy out there with my personal hands-on approach. So that’s actually not what I’m writing to ask.

It has come to my attention lately that a lot of the boys have slipped through my tutorial net and grown up to be stupid men who think women wanting to be equal is equal to women wanting to castrate men.

So here’s what I’m writing to ask. Two-part question:
Can you offer any advice about how I can school such men not to be dicks to women?
Second, can you recommend any particular action that would not provide actionable cause to bring felony murder or intentional infliction of emotional distress charges against me?

Big Girl

Dear Big Girl Who Apparently Doesn’t Cry,

While not directly related to gardening, I have decided to answer your question. First, no. I have no idea what to do about the plague of dicks. 

Given your preference to avoid tortious or felonious conduct, I will answer your second question with a question of my own. Do you?