Thursday, January 29, 2009

Myth of the [technology] Cave

I heard a report on NPR about people at the inauguration who, instead of watching Obama, watched their cell phones watching Obama. The reporter pointed out that people increasingly seem to be digitizing life rather than living it. I mean hey, I’m reporting on a report of a trend, rather than having noticed the trend myself. Argh.

Maybe we’re all just tired of being anonymous, tired of waiting around for our Warhol 15 minutes, so we bob to the surface of the dogpaddling masses by exposing every sordid detail of our lives, every un-clever thought, every misdeed, every contorted image, on Disgrace Book or CrySpace or DupeTube. Somebody LOOK at me, dammit…I’m bloggin’ here...

Maybe technology is the Great Buffer. If we filter everything through a phone, iPod, computer, camera, webspace, etc., we have a layer of cushy protection between our tender feelings and the real deal—we can PRETEND to experience and not have to go through the icky, messy business of actually experiencing, creating digital (fictional?) lives for ourselves so we don’t have to LIVE. Maybe technology is the myelin coating on the whopping bundle of overstimulated, overworked, fearful, insecure raw nerves most of us have become.

My brother, a calm voice of reason when I’m piling phone books on my soapbox to get a little higher, reminds me that technology has also increased food production, advanced medical care, and made it possible for me to buy discount Joseph Siebel shoes on line…mmm…gooooood.

I’ve circled the labyrinth again and come back to koyaanisqutsi—life out of balance. Maybe we’re simply not creatures of balance, just bumbling naked apes who love excess, extremes, and a good poo fight. It’s romantic, especially when I’m sweating like a racehorse over a canner full of tomatoes, to think that “back in the day” before technology, we were more in tune with the true rhythms of life. But I don’t think too many prairie women stuck to the butter churn once they got their hands on Land O’Lakes. Still, margarine is just WRONG. But don’t touch my electric coffee grinder or my digital guitar tuner.

Check out (the image is from Maybe Plato really WAS a smart guy, and the myth of the cave wasn’t such a myth after all. Maybe we were never in balance. Maybe balance isn’t something to get BACK to, but the NEXT evolutionary step.

After I heard that NPR report, I had a brief urge to “blow up the TV,” as John Prine suggested. But I guess I’ll just turn it off now & then. And record all my shows on the DVR. Then take pictures of the screen with my cell phone, of people taking pictures with their cell phones.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Knitting the Labyrinth

The semester is underway and I’m already so far behind, I can’t see the catch-up line in the foggy distance. I have three classes, several presentations or readings coming up, and the U’s student literary organization has a journal to publish by April. Let’s see…that leaves about 8 hours in 24 to eat/sleep/bathe, blog, and tend to the ever-demanding Row zoo. Family, friends & fun…hmmm…I guess I could cut back on bathing.

So I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed, and when the shifty feel cornered, they knit. For me, knitting works like koans, a labyrinth, or conundrums—those unfathomable puzzles that keep the mind or body simultaneously cranking away and at rest. Knitting is meditative—breathing & heart rate slow, blood pressure drops, twitching stops, muscles untwist, and for a minute or two, I’m once again a tolerable human being.

I have several projects going right now, including gorgeous alpaca & mohair fingerless gloves, a blue scarf/hat set knit partly with ribbon, and a kiwi scarf/hat set with splashes of red. I knit at night, when my brain can no longer process information or solve problems. I use fuzzy yarns and warm, softly-clacking wood needles. I drink wine or hot tea. I knit with a dog in my lap. I’ll stash the finished stuff in a basket and haul it out for Christmas presents next year.

But prairie folk are always looking for a better mousetrap. So I’m currently conducting an efficiency study to see if knitting plastic grocery bags into festive beanies, which I’ll knit on plastic needles WHILE I shower, would free up an extra 10 minutes I could spend with Ray, Mom, the kids & friends, without sacrificing personal hygiene. Think how grateful they’d be…for the cool hats, I mean.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Free Facials & Spontaneous Skiing

Yesterday, I was supposed to head to the Big City for an afternoon poetry reading, where I would have been one of ten poets reading in a beautiful, intimate little theatre. I’m not sure why I love doing readings so much. Maybe after years of playing in bands, poetry readings are a way I can still get a music (poetry does have music) and performance “fix.” Or, maybe poetry readings add the inflection & gesture that give poems more life. Or, maybe I’m just a born ham. Or, maybe it’s a chance to dress up, which practical prairie people don’t often have. Whatever the reason, I was really looking forward to it, but Jack Blizzard was up to mischief.

It was sunny and in the 20’s yesterday, a gorgeous day and very nearly a heatwave. Ray chopped up a drift at the end of our driveway, and the road looked decent. Guess I should have paid closer attention to the prayer flags madly flapping all morning.

Mom and Mathilda were on their way over to ride up with us to the reading. We were running a bit late when they called to say they’d already turned back from one drifted-in road and a car in the ditch, and they’d try another route. They called again minutes later—Mom was high-centered on a drift. I called the Big City to say I wouldn’t make the reading, Ray and I bundled up, and we headed out for Search & Rescue.

Once we were on the road, it was clear that Jack had turned our little neck of the plains into a wind tunnel and our nice flat roads into a slalom course. We plowed through several impressive drifts, heading south then west. We got within ¼-mile or so of Mom’s car when we came to a “dead-end” drift; there was no plowing through this one. We parked our car, Ray grabbed a shovel, and we trekked to Mom’s car.

If you don’t know what blowing, ice-encrusted snow feels like when it hits your face at 30 mph while you’re slipping & sliding along, scaling one drift after another, trying to stay upright as you hike west INTO that wind...just imagine being sandblasted. I’m pretty sure the walk to Mom’s car did some fine dermabrasion and that I’m now sporting a lovely pink layer of new skin.

Ray’s digging, bless his heart, didn’t help. But the mailman did. Rural mail carriers are the country version of Neighborhood Watch. So the mailman, snowsuited guardian angel, came along with his pickup, hooked Mom up to his monster chain, and pulled her backward off the drift. Mom and Mathilda headed straight back to their respective homes to thaw out. Ray and I hiked to our car (much easier going WITH the wind), and plowed back home the way we had come. The snowy road pic is from the Labrador Highway in Canada, but you get my drift. Ha ha.

Jack thinks he tripped us up. But really, he just gave me a facial. And he helped me field test my Ebay find, a Hänsa-Bränta igloo parka warm as walrus blubber (pic from Ebay, where one is listed right now). And, for those of you dabbling in Weight Watchers, I gave myself a handful of activity points for surviving the trip to & from Mom’s car. Try as Jack might, prairie people know how to take it in the chin. So today, I’m gonna read poetry to the peacocks, warm as toast & all a’glow in my radiant pinkness.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Perils of Panic

My classes start tomorrow—Intro to Lit and Creative Writing (both classes I LOVE to teach), and I’m a nervous wreck. Ray bears the brunt of my internal combustion, smiling patiently as I snap like a twig if he doesn’t change the channel fast enough or puts a spoon in the wrong side of the sink. So in order to preserve our bucolic bliss, I’m trying to figure out why I’m always a sparking ball of bare electrical wires before school starts…

I have things mostly ready to go now in spite of being the Queen of Procrastination, so lack of preparedness isn’t jangling my nerves. I have a great schedule this semester, so a time crunch isn’t unnerving me. I’ve taught both of these classes many, many times before, so uncertainty about what to do isn’t it, either.

My first theory is perfectionism. In addition to inheriting obsessive nurturing from my mom’s murky jungle gene pool—the one where lionesses gather to disembowel hyenas that looked cross-eyed at lion cubs—I also seem to have the obsessive perfectionist (redundant?) gene that bobs around in both parental ponds. No matter how ready I am, my brain is always a-twitter with umpteen gazillion more things I could do to be the perfect teacher with the perfect class. I think somewhere in this perfection fantasy I’m wearing a pink satin ball gown, pink fur cape & rhinestone tiara, white elbow-length gloves, and maybe cradling a ruby scepter, accepting the first-ever Teacher of the Universe award.

I wouldn’t say I’m a pathological perfectionist, though. According to experts, personality traits of the neurotic perfectionist include: emotional guardedness, need for control, fear of making mistakes, thrift, need to be above criticism, tendency to be stubborn or confrontational. And lord knows I’m not thrifty.

My second theory is caffeine overload. I’ve spent the last two weeks, thanks in part to Jack Blizzard and arctic cold, holed up with a bottomless cup of coffee—freshly-ground Sumatran black oil beans mixed with Luwak “recycled” Indonesian beans—working on lesson plans, syllabi, writing assignments, etc. My sleep cycle during this period has been more like a series of catnaps punctuated by sudden starts into utter wired wakefulness, where I force Ray to listen to my new plan for tackling subject-verb agreement problems. I look like Death, just barely warmed over.

My third theory is carb poisoning. Every wakeful start demands Doritos. Or chocolate. Or chocolate melted over Doritos. My muscle is being replaced by fluffy balls of Crisco.

My final theory is Imposter Syndrome. Not officially recognized yet as a psychological disorder, Imposter Syndrome occurs when someone has an unfounded fear of being uncovered as an “imposter” or “fraud.” I hate quoting Wikipedia, but this is just too apropos: “This syndrome is thought to be particularly common among women who are successful in their given careers and is typically associated with academics. It is also widely found among graduate students.” Seriously. It says that.

I guess in the long run it doesn't matter why I'm like this. I just need good coping strategies. I meet all three of my classes for the first time tomorrow, then, with the exception of a Women’s Dinner Friday night and a poetry reading Saturday afternoon, I'll spend the rest of the weekend crashed & comatose. That's a good coping strategy, right? But for now, let's hope tomorrow goes perfectly, I’m not unmasked as the know-nothing fraud that I am, and Ray has the good sense to keep tossing me M & M’s.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Post-Snow Pea Census

After a couple days of bone-chilling cold and bitter northern winds, the temp climbed enough yesterday to result in hours of hypnotic snowfall. Jack Blizzard has cleaned up the dingy brown of prairie winter with a beautiful blanket of white. A good snow muffles sound, too, so the Row is exceptionally quiet today. I’ve got a batch of bison jerky in the dehydrator, a pot of vegetable soup cooked up, two hats and a pair of fingerless gloves to finish knitting, and—argh—a late faculty evaluation to get done.

Ray was out early with the snowblower, making peacock paths. We lost another of the ABBA boys sometime over the past two days. He’d been limping around on legs that looked broken or splayed, until finally, he wasn’t able to roost or make it to the food. Ray found him this morning, a peasicle tucked out of the wind behind the bird food can. He’ll go in the burning cage later today, ashes to ashes. So now we are 13.

I’m not pining, though. Mom reminds me that had the pea-boy lived, I would have done myself in trying to rig up some sort of pea-walker to help him get around. And when I run the numbers in my head—6 peacocks when we moved in, 13 now a year-and-a-half later—it’s scary. I have visions of myself wandering the acreage one day…I’ll be reading poetry, dressed only in peacock feathers, nibbling on gamebird pellets, with 2 panting dogs and 150 high-stepping peafowl in tow. I’ll lose my capacity for human vocalization. I’ll scratch up grass seed with my overgrown toenails. I’ll sleep at night perched on the footrail of our brass bed frame. Tourists will drive by slowly, hoping to catch a glimpse of the “crazy peacock lady.” Poor Ray will have to arm himself against the reporters crouching in the brush, their high-powered telephoto lenses perched on tree branches.

X-Treme nurturing seems hereditary in my family—my mom keeps her mail carrier supplied with Chex mix—and it could very well be my undoing if Jack Blizzard and Mother Nature, in their infinite wisdom, didn’t occasionally step in to even up the scales. But Ray carved out a beautiful path to the pyramid building, so I’ll ponder life’s amazing tendancy toward balance as I head out to feed the barn cats…

Friday, January 9, 2009

Out from Under the Bush

“Do not hide your light under a [george] bushel.” I think this little admonition from the Christian Sermon on the Mount is good advice in the new year. It’s time to stop quivering in the bushes and step out into the sun.

Over the past decade, Madison Avenue, along with and inspired by the Bush administration, has been systematically scaring the bejeezes out of us. Bush seemed to think of himself as a benevolent parent doing what’s best for his precocious toddlers. It’s sort of like when your well-meaning dad says if you don’t stop throwing Barbie heads down the heat registers, the troll in the basement will eat you in your sleep.

Madison Avenue just assumes we actually ARE toddlers—drooling, mouth-breathing, nose-picking, butt-scratching morons, our Pampers stuffed to overflowing with disposable cash, completely incapable of distinguishing between need & want, fact & pitch.

Well, I’ve allowed myself to be sucked into blind consumerism and manipulated by fear mongers long enough. It’s time to R.I.P.! This isn’t rest in peace, although I see that as a lovely benefit; it’s Resist Inessential/\Ineffectual Product. The “product” we’re supposed to buy [into] is typically government/military control, legal control, pharmaceutical control, or spiritual control, and they sell us this stuff by making us quaking idiots. But resistance is NOT futile. I’m gonna start by resisting well-funded, brilliantly marketed fear of the following:

∙ Pinko commies
∙ Erectile dysfunction
∙ WMD’s
∙ Sin
∙ Mesothelioma
∙ Inordinate tax debt
∙ Mice
∙ Roaches
∙ Women in power
∙ Foreclosure
∙ Small breasts
∙ Large breasts
∙ Peripheral artery disease (PAD)
∙ Rogue terrorist nations
∙ Asbestos
∙ Shipyard workers (re: asbestos)
∙ Dirty hippies
∙ Breast cancer
∙ Recession
∙ People with mispronounced Arabic names
∙ Meth addiction
∙ Dick Cheney
∙ Gays
∙ Arthritis
∙ Catholic priests
∙ Pimples
∙ The Antichrist
∙ Gangs
∙ Yellow teeth
∙ Fat
∙ Fat people
∙ Any ethnic minority (your pick)
∙ Avian flu
∙ Stock market crash
∙ Funeral costs
∙ Lack of insurance
∙ Stroke
∙ Heart attack
∙ Home breakins
∙ My pets’ nails
∙ Dry foot skin
∙ Frizzy hair
∙ Slow dial-up
∙ Undercooked meat
∙ Germs
∙ Armageddon

The result of this fear peddling is that we no longer ACT. Instead, we live sorry, scaredy-cat lives of PR (prevention & reaction): prevent horrible stuff if you can (by buying the product), react in utter panic to horrible stuff if you can’t. Either way, it’s horrible.

So R.I. P., people. Today, I’m gonna rake up germy peacock poo by the birdbath, stain my teeth with some good strong coffee, and have myself a stick of butter with a spoonful of white sugar. I’m out from under the Bush. Let the light shine.