Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Up, Up, and Away

In keeping with earlier posts about the blurred line between truth and fiction, I give you this. It is all truth, but, it's worthy of fiction. Absurd, existential, comic fiction that hits you right in the gut, but fiction, nonetheless.

I leave the details to the Telegraph.co.uk. But imagine the feeling this guy must have had as his balloon drifted away without him--a little Dorothy at the end of the Wizard of Oz?

And, apparently, if you find his balloon, you may as well just keep it.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Order in the Garden of Good and Evil

The yard was nothing but a fence
The sun just hurts my eyes somewhere
It must be time for penitence
Gardening at night is never where
--REM, "Gardening at Night" (all lyrics approximate)

Nature is not an orderly thing. It’s unruly. It’s messy. Life and death usually are.

It’s about competition and dominance. It’s about procreating to the fullest and elbowing out all competition through strength, growth, and offspring. How does the European starling come to be so prevalent on a continent it never even saw until the 1880s? By copulating like mad and storming every nest they see to evict the owners and set up their own residences. That and the enviable ability to ingest everything from seeds to French fries.

Monkey and I have set up our own residence, as you know, in a house that is, ostensibly, our own (held in a minority partnership with a mortgage company already several times removed from the one we originally drew up a contract with, but, I digress). In the past, our living arrangements have been of the rental variety: apartments in giant complexes, beater houses in “less desirable” neighborhoods. (In the interest of full disclosure, there was a short period of time that involved a sort of squatter arrangement with her brother, but that really is irrelevant to my thesis.) After one year of ownership, it’s still a new experience for us. And, it involves a lot of work that I never expected myself to be doing and, dare I say, enjoying.

The upkeep of our former residences involved minimal effort. The cracker-box apartment (labeled so because it was small, not because it contained any crackers, metaphorical or otherwise) was on the second floor. We had no property at all, and no house plants to worry about. There was no mowing, weeding, whatever. The bungalows of the past demanded a slightly greater demand, usually a weekly mow in the growing season, some shoveling in the winter. In the interest of beautification, there was some experimentation with container planting, but the maintenance of those was not even enough to warrant consideration as labor. The high mortality rate of flora in and around the Monkey House was evidence enough that not even the minimal amount of care was being provided to those poor plants that had the misfortune of crossing paths with this dude. But, this is a different story, and, like all stories, we need to understand some back story in order to see where the protagonist (that would be me, for those of you with less acute skills of inference) stands philosophically.

I have railed in the past about the waste of water and the contamination of the soil that many homeowners engage in an effort to keep their lawns and yards looking beautiful, tidy, and ordered. I always thought it was stupid to water grass simply to encourage growth that required one to mow more frequently. Why would someone want to make more work for herself? Also, it seemed to me that gardens were attempts to bring some of the diversity of nature into one’s own little patch of earth, but, in the natural world, the beauty we appreciate isn’t a rose bush all by itself surrounded by cedar mulch and a few pansies playing ring-around-the-rosie at its base. Nature was a mulberry bush muscling out some joe-pie weed all in the midst of a scruffy clutch of ferns and a patch of wild onion pushing up through seasons-worth of leaf litter and other detritus. My mother, spending hours on a Sunday to pull everything that was deemed a weed was the most ridiculous thing I could imagine.

Yet, here I am, out in my own yard, slowly and systematically restoring order to patches of border that have been “overgrown” with who-knows-what kind of ground cover. What is wrong with me?

One thing, it seems, is the influence of others. Our neighbors on either side have beautiful yards and enviable landscaping. I don’t want our house to be “that house.” You know, the one that people look at and say, “What kind of trash lives there?” I’ll leave that to someone else. The goal here is not to compete with my neighbors. I don’t need my yard to be something out of Southern Living, I just want it to fit in with the rest of the neighborhood. I’m not about to weed and feed the lawn, although I have watered a few bare patches where I reseeded the grass. But, I am pulling weeds (a lot of them) and I am laying mulch (and, dammit, it looks nice). Not only that, but, this morning, I am off to the garden center to buy some hostas to fill in a few spaces once overrun by some unseemly gang of miscreant growth.

And, you know what, while I am out there violating every philosophical belief I used to have about the insanity of unnatural nature, remaking beautiful chaos in the orderly (and, somehow, more beautiful) image that I want, I am going to be enjoying every minute of it.

Friday, May 23, 2008

A Metaphor for Life

I always tell my students that when they can’t figure out what a piece of literature is about that they can be safe in assuming that it is a metaphor for life. I am being mostly facetious when I tell them this. The truth, of course, is far more complicated than that, but, like most hyperbole, there is an element of truth to it.

I risk sounding pedantic here, but all literature, even the worst rot, the lowest form of written text that barely can lay claim to the title, has some reflection of life within it. The most made up piece of science fiction, the most romantic flower of other worldly fantasy contains the seeds of reality from which the story, the character, the conflict stems. That is a simple fact of the product. It’s all based on something, be it imagination or memoir (which, as we know contains not a small amount of imagination). The root of the story comes from reality.

I am working on a script. Working, in the sense that I have about 45 pages that I have let lie fallow for nearly a year. I return to it from time to time. I read it over. I smile with pride at this passage, I cringe with disgust at that. I haven’t made a change to it since I paused on page 45. The main character, whose travails thus far are loosely based on my own and other folks’ lives, has just suffered a major calamity. A freak accident has left him paralyzed in the midst of a romantic crisis. I don’t know what will happen. However, at one point, I did know.

Before I put one word on the page, I sat down and outlined the whole story. I mapped out each of the three acts. I knew how the hero would start out, I knew what conflicts he would endure, and I knew how each conflict would be resolved. It wasn’t the outline of a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but, it seemed a story worth telling. It was a new way for me to start a writing task.

I have never been good at planning. Since my earliest years, I have been the sort of person who simply rode the currents of life. Sometimes those currents rushed me down the rapids of days, roaring and splashing in white water, bouncing, usually harmlessly, off of rocks and roiling swirls. Sometimes those currents were waves, lifting me up on their faces, carrying me at awesome speeds toward the shore, and, more often than not, depositing me with a momentous crash on the sand. And sometimes, well, most times, those currents eddied and curled near the bank of the river of my existence, taking me nowhere at all for long periods. I rarely made much effort to paddle out of these slipstreams. That was just fine with me.

Maps had no use to me. Itineraries were unwanted. Lists and calendars I avoided like they were ancient curses, or some other bad magic. A monkey’s paw or a hand of glory. I didn’t outline my papers in school. I didn’t plan my route on road trips. I didn’t study the potential consequences of my actions to determine the best course for me to take. I simply stepped out, put one foot in front of the other, and wandered the path. It was easy in the short run, but, and I’ll be the first to admit this, in the long run, it probably caused more trouble than not. But, that’s how I operated.

If I did make lists, if I did plan or prepare, I usually discovered one of two things: either my list was misplaced in the other detritus of my desk, backpack, notebook, or wallet (and, sometimes, among the refuse piled up on the long unseen floor of my car), or all my preparations were knocked a kilter by one or a hundred mammoth or miniscule unanticipated events. So, I learned to trust my innate lack of desire for planning.

The outline for my script? It has gone the way of numerous lists and itineraries. Lost. Be it somewhere in the recycling bin or somewhere in a drawer not very far from this computer, I cannot find it. And so, the hero of my script, he whose life is not completely unlike my own in several intentional details, is cast adrift. Crumpled in the wreckage of a 1987 Honda Civic, somewhere aside I-95, between Savage, MD, and Washington, DC, his unfinished life hangs in the balance. He could recover, resolve his romantic difficulties, and live most happily. Or, fate, in the guise of my imagination, may have something slightly or grandly more tragic in store for him. It will not be known until it is known, for the outline of his story is lost. He has no plan to follow. His has no list to tick off. He has no choice but to follow the arc of his story until some resolution is reached. He has no plan, because I have no plan.

And so, I wonder, should I tell my students that literature is an imitation of life, or that life is an imitation literature?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Two Golfers Walk Into a Bar...

So, I'm reading the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated, and they have a feature on some golfer I have never heard of named Boo Weekley, a happily self-described "redneck." Because he likes to hunt and fish, he calls himself a redneck. I don't know about you, but I think it takes a lot more than that to be a redneck. The one thing that might definitely make him one, however, is the fact that he's happy to call himself one. Get 'em, Flash! Get 'em.

What made this piece remarkable to me, friends and neighbors, was a short discussion Ol' Boo had with his interviewer about retirement. Retirement? He's a golfer who hunts and fishes. It sounds like he's freakin' retired already. What, I asked myself, is he going to do when he "retires" from golf? Get a goddam job?

I guess that's all.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

When Not to Vote

Today is Primary Election Day, here in Nebrasky. And, for the first time in a long while, I am not heading to a polling place on a voting Tuesday.

Why, you might ask? Well...

Beside the presidential race (the results of which, here in Nebraska, have no bearing on the delegate count--really, they decided that at the Caucus in February), we have a state senate race and a US Senate race going on, and, after less than a year here in this place, I have no idea who to vote for. I have some suspicions, but I feel woefully uninformed (even with reading a newspaper everyday). I hope to correct that by the time the General Elections roll around.

In adittion, there are a couple of ballot initiatives out there, but I don't know for sure what they are. I don't really know how I can be this unaware of what is going on, except to blame it all on a state-wide media conspiracy to keep the citizenry of Nebraska ignorant of the issues and the candidates stance on said issues. Not only does this theory put me in tight with the Left wing radicals that I try to befriend (Hippies!), it also alleviates me of any responsibility whatsoever.

Then again, maybe it's just stone cold apathy.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

What's Wrong With These Horses?

I have been a fan of horse racing since my formative years. I remember an August day at the fence at the back of midway at the Maryland Sate Fair, watching a dozen thoroughbreds rumbling around the track, snorting and sweating and making me feel their power all the way up through my chest. It was majestic. I was awe-struck.

I watch the Triple Crown every year. I catch what I can on TV: Breeder's Cup races, and the occassional other races on ESPN's cadre of networks. I know what the sport is like. I know how the horses are bred (I don't mean the birds and bees aspects, I mean the qualities breeders look for). I look forward to the races.

But, over the last three years, I have seen too many horses injured and euthanized. Saturday's legendary performance by Eight Belles, the only filly in the race, was amazing. She truly seemed to run her heart out, only to fade at the last and lose to a mountain of a horse in Big Brown. Sadder still, as she pulled up, she apparently broke both of her foreleg ankles. She was put down within minutes of the end of the race. She follows many recent tragedies, not the least of which was the super-publicized ordeal of Barbaro a couple of years back.

So, what's happening? Well, here's my theory. Thoroughbreds are a small population of animals relatively, and champions are usually bred from other champions, so the gene pool may be reduced even more. Is it possible that these horses are being inbred to the point where they are incapable of safely performing the tasks they are bred for? I have no evidence, but, it might be possible. I don't know.

But, after the Derby this past weekend, I am really wondering if I can go through another break down. I might not watch the Preakness.