Saturday, August 29, 2009

Taking [Wood]Stock

The recent anniversary of Woodstock made me all dreamy-eyed. I fondly remember my halter tops and jeans with paisley wedges sewn in the seams…my long hair in braids laced with flowers…the experiments in expanded consciousness/enlightenment (TM, Sufism, the Bible, Catholic ritual, wicca, psychedelic music, mandalas, yoga, various herbal, chemical, or psychological shortcuts, poetry, etc.)…bumming around the country with musicians, waking up one morning in an artist’s studio in Taos, NM, where I found an invitation to a party being hosted by Joni Mitchell and Ry Cooder (I’m still kicking myself for not crashing that party)…living in an old school bus in a state park with two little long-haired toddlers…leaving all parts of my body unshaved…meeting Timothy Leary and feeling an overwhelming urge to kiss his ring.

Not long ago, my friend Paige said of someone who seemed locked in 1960, “Yeah, he never really crossed over.” That was a great way to put it. Drugs, war, or post-adolescent social anxiety took a few folks I knew right off the planet before they ever got a chance to decide. The rest of us, it seems, crossed, didn’t cross, or are still feeling our way along. Of course it’s completely anti-hippie to pigeonhole, but we do seem to have ended up in some interesting groups…

Fence Straddlers – I’m probably in this bunch. We crossed about halfway over and can’t decide if we want to go the rest of the way. One day I shaved my legs. One day I bought a TV. One day I got a full-time job. One day I rented a house and bought a bookshelf. One day I zoned out on refined carbs and CNN…oh wait…that was today.

Evolved Hippies – These folks crossed over, taking the best of the lovebead days with them. They’re still following an enlightened, slightly modified hippie path, growing their own food, not buying into the consumer imperative, being dedicated, loving stewards of both their nuclear and global families and of the earth. They’re gardeners and activists. They catch rain in barrels. They recycle. They go to town meetings. Some may even light up a joint out by the garage twice a year. They shop at the Civic Council. I both admire these people and aspire to be more like them.

Throwbacks – These folks chose not to cross. They’re stuck in 1960, living in a perpetual state of nostalgia. They have an uncann[er]y knack of working stories of their “free love days” into conversations about dietary fiber or retirement planning. They don’t have any stories dated later than 1973.

Lost Souls – A few folks, “lost souls,” never made it across because they took too many chances. They sizzled (and some continue to sizzle) brilliant minds, spending increasing amounts of time now in free clinics, bars, rehab, public defenders’ offices, or local food pantries. You’d like to help, but they’re too far back to reach.

Fence Burners – As sad as the lost souls are, it’s just as sad to see those who crossed over so completely that no trace of that hippie idealism remains. They burned the fence behind them. They’re stuck now in a quagmire of money-making, clicks, beeps, scheduling, texts and stock market updates. “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers,” as Wordsworth said.

It’s playful romanticism to pretend I’m still all love-is-all-you-need as I type away, in my tie-dye and Birkies, burning Frankincense I bought from the Franciscans. But I’m typing on one of our two computers, while my “Le Femmes” iPod playlist songs waft through our house sound system (speakers in the living room, kitchen, and greenhouse). And I work more than full time in academia (in many ways one of the most rigid, “up tight” systems The Man ever dreamed up), so that I can keep myself in glorious materialistic comfort. Genuine silk underthings. Joseph Sibel shoes. HD 42” flat screen. Mmmm.

Pretty soon, though, I’m gonna get back to my braids & beads & roots and mow a labyrinth in the south pasture, where Ray and I will cosmically center ourselves each sunrise. Maybe I’ll throw away the TV and grow me some peaches, like John Prine suggested. Yeah…I’m gonna do that as soon as I comparison shop on line for a self-propelled electric mower, while streaming Neil Young wannabes on YouTube, while sending Facebook updates via my smart phone.

In the meantime…peace, man.

Friday, August 21, 2009

So Many Peas, So Little Time

Time is running out on summer here at Uncannery Row. It’s already dark when I get up in the morning, and it’s been cool enough at night to close a few windows. Weird. And it’s the middle of August, but the tomatoes and wild plums STILL aren’t ripe, corn-fused by the frequent rain and lack of heat. That means eventually juggling four classes at Little Town U and marathon canning of salsa and jam. Yikes & yum.

Although classes won’t start for another week, the workshops and meetings are already underway. I’ve been keeping my anxiety in check with copious carbs and frantic knitting. My newest knitting binge is a series of hoods—so you know what you’ll be getting for Christmas—called “Lyra Hoods,” named after the hood worn by the main character, Lyra, in The Golden Compass. Our Australian Shepherd Jada reluctantly models an unfinished hood in the picture. The hoods knit up fast and allow me to use up my chunky yarn stash, especially the bumpy wools I’ve spun up over the last couple of years. I still have at least two huge Rubbermaid tubs of wool and silk to spin up...I wonder how my brothers will look in Lyra hoods?

In an interesting development at the Row, all four peahen mothers still have all their babies. That’s 14 peachicks darting around the yard—the Chicklettes, the Raylettes, the Popcorn Triplets, and the Quints. Little Edgar (Winter) is the only white chick of the bunch. Usually by this time, we’ve lost a few chicks to predators, but either these well-fed peas—27 in all now—have better defenses this year, or the sheer numbers wilt the confidence of even the hungriest raccoons & redtail hawks.

Yogi, our Schnoodle, discovered two kittens in the barn recently. We knew we had an all-white mama cat and an all-black tom spooking around, and now we’ve got one each white kitty and black. I’ve also spotted—twice now—a wild turkey hen and three chicks out by the meditation tower. I figure word’s getting around the neighborhood about our corn and catfood bird buffet. Gossipy peacocks!

The flower gardens have had to fend for themselves this year, so they’re tangled beds of blanket flowers, lavender, baptisia, bachelor buttons and lilies, struggling up through lambsquarters and bindweed. Ray and I did manage to wrap the windmill tower partway up with chicken wire, and we planted a dozen trumpet vines in three colors along the fence. So next year, we hope to have one gigantic hummingbird feeder out in the yard.

I really should be hard at work on syllabi, schedules and lesson plans for Comp, Lit, Honor’s English and College Reading, but the mower, a ball of brown tweed wool, and a box of Triscuits are calling my name…

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Way to a Woman's Heart...

A psychic once told me that in a past life in China around 1000 BCE, I starved to death giving away every last morsel of food I had to those in need. I’m sure I had a death wish and wasn’t really that altruistic, but I like “starved to death in a past life” as a rationale for my unnatural relationship with food in THIS life. A good past-life excuse sure lets you off the hook…

Some part of me thinks that food is at the root of all happiness. Think about it. Wars are fought over land (where food is produced), resources (food), or political ideals (if you’re not a democracy, you might take our food). Relationships, as complex as we like to make them, are really just about who's providing & preparing food for whom. And sex? Well, animals (including human animals) squabble less and reproduce more when the food supply is up.

It seems to me that food = happiness because we suffer from one or more fundamental delusions: (1) When the nacho cheese Doritos bag is empty and you have that pumpkin-colored ring around your mouth, you’re rewarded with carb-induced euphoria, at least until the ex-Catholic schoolgirl guilt sets in; (2) Family and friendship ties & loyalties have always been and must continue to be cemented with mashed potatoes; (3) The way to a man’s/woman’s heart really IS through the stomach, just ask anyone on Lipitor for the rest of her/his life; (4) You must figuratively hunt down a wild boar and stock the larder if you hope to survive the winter; and (5) You suspect you’re desperately alone in this world except for your non-judgmental, unconditionally-loving BFF, Food.

Some folks luck out and are only plagued by one or two of these misconceptions. Me, I’ve got ‘em all, leading me to obsessively hoard, prepare, consume, and foist food. My pantry shelves are jam-packed (literally…I made 32 jars of jam last week) and really, how many cans of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, capers, and artichoke hearts does one family need? I can only cook for 20, and there are only 2 of us at home now. I’ve got no time to work, play, or exercise, because I must devote that time to eating all this angel hair pasta with a good basil pesto. And, as my friend Sunbeem says, if we don't overnurture (with food of course) every living thing on the planet, they will all DIE horrible anguished deaths, and it will be our fault (see ex-Catholic schoolgirl guilt above).

I need professional help, I know. My twisted relationship with food is the reason for the 22 tomato plants in our garden. It’s the reason for the peacock population explosion (from 6 three years ago when we inherited the tiny flock, to this summer’s waddling, corn-fed, follow-the-CornWoman 27). It’s the reason I must now peel, grate, and freeze 82 of the biggest zucchinis you’ve ever seen, then spend hours on-line looking for zucchini recipes. It’s the reason I’m a Weight Watchers “don’t give up” poster girl. And, it’s the reason I must now stop this silly blogging and frantically search the cupboards for my only true friend, my exceptional listener, my devoted paramour, Mr. Twinkie.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

OCJ: Disorder or Brilliant Strategy?

I’m tenaciously clinging to summer, in spite of days that smell like back-to-school and 50-degree temps at night. I have a bit less than a month before the fall semester starts at Little Town U, and I have miles to go before I’m even ready to get ready.

Every year around this time, my anxiety level ratchets up. It’s partly school starting, with its attendant meetings, book orders, syllabi & schedule devising, juggling, balancing, tapdancing, impending gradinggradinggrading, and the possibility that if I don’t have everything perfectly prepared and exquisitely executed, I’ll be outted for the sniveling, insecure fraud I surely am. Ratchet.

It’s also a late-summer social calendar that would drag any self-respecting midlife woman through the mire—Jazz Fest, Folk Fest, open mic night downtown, Sisters of Perpetual Disorder dinners, family gatherings, road trips, etc. Because I don’t do much except work while the semester’s on, I have a desperate (probably pathological) need to cram as much fun & frolicking as possible into every single hour of every day, right up to the minute I walk into the classroom on that first day. Ratchet ratchet.

My oldest son, his beautiful wife, and my two superhumanly gorgeous & gifted grandkids have been here for the past week, visiting from WA. And because I don’t get to see them more than once or twice a year, I can’t possibly sacrifice a moment of that time for school prep or house cleaning, causing that nasty procrastination devil to whisper in my ear, “Put…ratchet…it…ratchet…off…ratchet…”

And what about all those handmade Christmas presents I was gonna get started on early this year? What kind of no-good slacker am I not to take my knitting to the Folk Fest so I could work on that alpaca baby sweater while I swill dark beer in my lawn chair? Hear that ratchety sound just under those fiddles?

And although school is still almost a month away, school-related emails
have been trickling in for several weeks now, forewarning the unmanageable flood that will soon let loose. Cl-i-i-i-i-i-ck.

Luckily, I have a built-in, self-preserving (bad canning pun) mechanism that kicks in when anxiety reaches critical mass—OCJ (Obsessive-Compulsive Jamming). That’s right, I clear everyone out of the kitchen, crank XM’s “Deep Tracks” over the kitchen speakers, and I jam, man.

Over the past week, I’ve made 32 jars of jelly and jam, starting with grape jelly I made with grapes given to me by a neighbor, which I’ve had in the freezer for 12 years and two moves now (the grapes, not the neighbor, and I see you wincing, but I sampled the grapes and didn’t die, and you boil the stuff hard, twice,
in the jam-making process). Digging out the grapes from the freezer, I found black raspberries (probably in there as long), so black raspberry jam was next. Finally, I made strawberry-rhubarb jam, “rhuberry,” after coming across rhubarb in the freezer, too. I wonder if I could make jam out of cornmeal, pesto, and old candles, ‘cause I have loads of that stuff in the freezer, too.

OCJ is a lot like covering your ears with your hands and singing “lalalalala” when someone says they need your syllabi on file ASAP—it doesn’t really work in the long run, but you can live in blissful ignorance for as long as you can keep singing. And, with OCJ, you can sing with your mouth full of sweet, jam-laden toast.

So if you get jelly or jam by the bucketload for Christmas this year from Ray & Marlene, just know that indirectly, at least, you’ve helped me survive late-summer high anxiety. And if you could do something about global climate change and El NiƱo weather patterns long enough for my wild plums to ripen, I’m sure those book orders will wait a while longer...