Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Inspiration from my latest read...

I am just getting into this book (page 58), but I am so hooked I don't want to do anything but read. Fancy that. I know: I'm as surprised as you are. But really, it is unusually engaging. A mysterious request, a secretive author, an obscure bookstore, and a very thoughtful young woman. A woman whose proclivities are so much like mine it's scary. Read these excerpts:

(I never read without making sure I am in a secure position. I have been like this ever since the age of seven when, sitting on a high wall and reading The Water Babies, I was so seduced by the descriptions of underwater life that I unconsciously relaxed my muscles. Instead of being held buoyant by the water that so vividly surrounded me in my mind, I plummeted to the ground and knocked myself out. I can still feel the scar under my fringe now. Reading can be dangerous.)

People disappear when they die. Their voice, their laughter, the warmth of their breath. Their flesh. Eventually their bones. All living memory of them ceases. This is both dreadful and natural. Yet for some there is an exception to this annihilation. For in th books they write they continue to exist. We can rediscover them. Their humor, their tone of voice, their moods. Through the written word they can anger you or make you happy. They can comfort you. They can perplex you. They can alter you. All this, even though they are dead. Like flies in amber, like corpses frozen in ice, that which according to the laws of nature should pass away is, by miracle of ink on paper, preserved. It is a kind of magic.

I have always been a reader; I have read at every stage in my life, and there has never been a time when reading was not my greatest joy. And yet I cann ot pretend that the reading I have done in my adult years matches in its impact on my soul the reading I did as a child. I still believe in stories. I still forget myself when I am in the middle of a good book. Yet it is not the same. Books are, for me, it must be said, the most important thing; what I cannot forget is that there was a time when they were at once more banal and more essential than that. When I was a child, books were everything.

"Life is compost."
I blinked
"You think that a strange thing to say, but it's true. All my life and all my experience, the events that have befallen me, the people I have known, all my memories, dreams, fantasies, everything I have ever read, all of that has been chucked onto the compost heap, where over time it has rotted down to a dark, rich, organic mulch. The process of cellular breakdown makes it unrecognizable. Other people call it the imagination. I think of it as a compost heap. Every so often I tak an idea, plaint it in the compost, and wait. It feeds on that black stuff that used to be a life, takes its energy for its own. It germinates. Takes root. Produces shoots. And so on and so forth, until one fine day I have a story, or a novel."

So here's the link to amazon if you want it. The book is called The Thirteenth Tale and it's by Diane Setterfield.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Some very randomness

Usually Friday nights are my bleary evenings, the pent up energy of a workweek finally given permission to release itself in a cloudy burst of something that seems like satisfaction. But for whatever reason (maybe because of that blessed/blasted snow day yesterday), tonight feels like a Friday night. I'm sure it has nothing to do with the wine.
I am sitting here before my computer wishing I had something to talk about so that I could sound witty and slightly funny, but all I'm able to muster is a slightly (no, it's a worrisomely) deflated weariness.
But this has been a week of learning for me, and a week of great strides. Here is my week in review, in reverse order:
1. Last Friday, I screwed my courage to the sticking place and stopped complaining about [that thing] at work that has really bothering me. And I talked to [that person] about it in a rather calm and articulate (okay, mostly nervous and shaky) but very passionate way. I haven't heard yet whether my plea had any effect, but it was made and that is something. I have since only complained about [that thing] hmm, well, maybe I'm not done complaining, but I still feel pretty empowered.
2. Lolly, a blogger I stalk (I mean read regularly) gave me great inspiration for card making, and I made somethings that were very beautiful. If you haven't read her blog, stop reading mine and go to hers. It's much more funny. And she puts a lot more pictures on hers. And I must say, posting MORE pictures than I post on my blog is not a difficult feat. You only need two and you win.
3. I discovered and Barlow Girl. Well, that's a bit of a lie. I KNEW both existed, but I hadn't fallen in love with either. Now I am. In love. Especially with Barlow Girl. This is the song I love: Never Alone. Go to playlist or something and listen to it. If you don't love Jesus, you can pretend they're talking about love. It works, kinda.
4. This is why I love bing. If you search for videos, and then you hover your mouse over one of the little image thingies, it starts to play the video. But it's tiny. That is very cool. I like tiny things. Like babies and small hearts cut out of paper.
5. I also like wine. And chocolate.
6. Another thing I did on bing: find wallpaper. I have always been one of those "I use cute pictures of my kids for my computer wallpaper" sorts of people. No longer. (Sorry, kids. Mommy loves you. She just loves bing more.) And I found a cool picture of people in Paris in the 1940s or something sitting at a cafe. You find it too! Go to bing and search under images for "Paris Cafe Wallpaper." Scroll past the pictures of Paris Hilton and other ladies in their undies and you'll find this lovely picture. It's the wallpaper on my laptop.
7. And today at school (on my prep hour, of course, whilst I was multi-taskingly also grading Creative Writing papers), I found this really neat wallpaper for my computer there. Okay, well, I wanted to show you, but bing is feeling stinkery, so I'm not going to deal with him anymore. Not now.
8. Began groundwork for another article for [that magazine] I've been writing for. (Okay, I've only done one other article so far, but still. It sounds very cool).
9. I heard about something very interesting at Jonah's Science Fair tonight: a liquor luge. I don't know what it is, but I'll find out tomorrow. And, by the way, did I mention Jonah got a First Place ribbon for his art project "Ninja Mask" with other Japanese instruments of death (origami construction) as well as a First Place Ribbon for his science project "Which Paper Airplane Will Fly Farthest?" He got a medal for that too. We have no idea what all those ribbons and the medal signify. But still, they seem pretty cool.
10. My favorite writer friend, the one who is most inspriational, genius, creative, ambitious, and bald, and I embarked on a top-secret CREATIVE PROJECT. Tonight. That's when it all began to unfold. While I was grading papers/drinking wine/listening to my new favorite group (that would be Barlow Girl, in case you forgot about that part already). And we've already got the first TWO PARTS DONE.

Addendum to #7: Just tried bing again. Maybe it's my computer's fault. Since I got her back from the shop, she's been tetchy. Poor girl. All her parts were exposed and analyzed and reformed. I wouldn't like me either. But we will need to do some lessoning. She can't keep moving words around on me and refusing to load my bing.

So that's what I've been up to, and now it's my bedtime. Happy dreamings.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What's for dinner?

This is gross to think about, but in terms of diet, we humans have a lot in common with rats. Both of us our omnivores, meaning we can eat just about anything. And even though this offers us (both) great variety in terms of diet, it also brings a daily (or more often than that) dilemma: what should we eat?
Michael Pollan probes that question in his book The Omnivore's Dilemma, where he takes a close look at how humans make choices about food and explains (which was even more interesting to me) where our food comes from.

The book is divided into four basic sections, and each of them revolves around a meal. The first meal (McDonald's) is the product of industrial agriculture, and even more surprising--mostly corn. Corn, or its byproducts, are in the pop (high fructose corn syrup), in the burger and nuggets (filler, starch, frying oil, batter, and much more), in the ketchup, the salad dressing, even partly in the gas tank of his car. Now, corn is a veggie, so it's good for us, right? Well, yes, but I am thinking that THAT much corn may not be. And Pollan proposes (eloquently) that the more stops your food makes between the farm and your dinner plate, the less beneficial it is to your body.
We've all heard stories lately about the horrors of animal processing facilities, but Michael Pollan explains why they are wrong: not just hurtful to the animals but hurtful to us as well. See, cows are made to eat grass, right? That's why they have all those stomachs. But cows in feedlots eat mostly corn (along with antibiotics and liquefied chicken fat) and their bodies aren't really built for it. So they get gassy and need more medicine. And some of that is bound to end up in our meat. Doesn't this sound yummy? Don't get me started on industrial chickens, who are bred to have enormous breasts--and end up so front heavy their legs can't support their weight. Good thing they don't live very long.
Pollan's premise is that all this industrialized food is harmful to the environment as well as our bodies. Planting just one product on hundreds of acres--never any variety--leaches nutrients from the soil, and the pesticides add toxins to the earth. Also, transportation of those goods from the farms to the supermarkets uses up fossil fuels. And when we consume this processed food (fast food, convenience food, you know what I'm talking about), we consume complex, chemically engineered ingredients our bodies don't need--even, perhaps, can't process. Pollan says this is why our nation struggles as it does with obesity and ill health.
And he blames capitalism for all of it. But I'll get to that later.
Next, Pollan investigates organic, and it is a two-pronged investigation. First, he looks at the organic products we could get at a store like Whole Foods. He finds that the nature of the store (national chain) doesn't truly lend itself to the ideals of organic food. Because it is a chain and because it seeks to turn a large profit, it must transport its products across great distances and buy from large producers. Suddenly, organic seems a lot like industrial agriculture.
Pollan waxes most poetic when he writes about a farm in Virginia. The farmer, Joel Salatin, calls himself a grass farmer because grass feeds his enterprise. Most of his animal enclosures are movable, and Joel moves his cows and chickens daily in a complicated rotational pattern to allow them to take full advantage of the grass, the insects, and the fertility of manure. Michael stays on the farm for two weeks, helping move animals, slaughter chickens, and turn compost. He is impressed at Joel's genius for his craft and his deep appreciation for nature. Joel sells his products locally to households and restaurants, refusing to ship anything--for that would compromise his firm belief in the value of freshness.
Pollan's last meal is the product of his garden as well as hunting and foraging expeditions. He says he has gardened since he was a child, but he has to learn how to hunt and forage. He kills a wild pig and learns to hunt mushrooms. This meal, which he shares with those who have taught him to hunt and harvest, is (he says) perfect. But it takes months, really, to prepare. And how much of us have the time, the inclination, or even the opportunity to hunt and gather all we need to survive?
But Pollan says that the intelligent choice is to eschew supermarkets entirely and fight the capitalist system that is sending American into a spiral of obesity and ill health. How realistic is that? We don't all have a Joel Salatin in our neighborhoods, and even if we did, we couldn't all afford him. So what should the intelligent eater do? Languish in dietary misery as I follow one fad after the next? Spend half my income on locally grown produce and cage-free/hormone-free/antibibotic-free/you-name-it-free meats? I don't think it's possible.
But even if Pollan's ideas aren't entirely practical for me or most Americans, in the end, I am glad I read this book. If nothing else, Pollan made me consider the ingredients in my food and renew my desire to eat more local produce (meaning: totally pilfer from my dad's fabulous garden) and to preserve what we don't eat in its season. He's right: locally grown seasonal fruits and veggies ARE much tastier than those you can buy at the supermarket--especially if you buy them out of season. I'm not ever going to be a vegetarian, but I am going to look for alternate sources of meat--and protein.
And there were two more things that made me like the book, one at the beginning and one at the end. In the beginning, Salatin knocks fad diets like the Atkin's diet, which prohibits the consumption of carbs. He says mankind has been eating bread for millenia, so why should we suddenly stop now--and ruin a perfectly good meal? Great point; wholehearted agreement. Then at the end of the book, he compares Joel Salatin (the hero) to Luther (because both men want(ed) to change the system, not destroy it). Endorsements for good bread and Luther: you can't get any better than that.