Gayle Madwin's Journal
                              25 MOST RECENT ENTRIES
Monday, 3 August 2015
Monday, 3 August 2015 12:06am
Book Reviews: Seven Novels

I've read a lot of books lately and haven't had enough to say about any one of them to merit a full entry, but have had a little to say about many of them that I'd rather not forget, so I'm going to try to write down a little about all the more significant ones. I'll restrict it to novels, though, for the sake of preserving some degree of unity within this entry, and because most of the books I've been reading have been novels anyway.

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: I sufficiently disliked her novel Americanah that I probably wouldn't have bothered reading this one if I hadn't already owned it. Since I owned it, though, I went ahead and read it. I'm glad I did. This book showed some traces of the same cavalier attitude toward infidelity that annoyed me in Americanah, but that attitude was much less central to the plot of this book; the plot of this book doesn't require you to believe that cheating on one's partner is a credible way to find ultimate happiness. The ending of this one, unlike the ending of Americanah, felt very realistic and believable to me. The most interesting moment in this book, to me, was the author's choice to portray a generally sympathetic male character getting peer-pressured into taking part in a gang rape, and then feeling guilty for it afterward, but generally going on with his life - although when he returns home, he does find out that his own sister was a victim of a different gang rape. Since the book is told partly from his point of view but not at all from his sister's or his victim's point of view (they're both very minor characters) the main point of view that actually gets directly voiced in the book is "Isn't it awful to have been peer-pressured into raping someone?" rather than "Isn't it awful to be raped?" And I found it somewhat difficult (not totally impossible, but difficult) to sympathize with him. It did seem like a very realistic detail to include for the sake of conveying what the wartime environment was like, though. I don't particularly want to proclaim that it was handled either very well or very badly; I simply found it interesting that the author chose to handle it the way she did. Overall, I liked the book and found it very believable.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway: I sufficiently disliked the only previous Ernest Hemingway book I read - The Old Man and the Sea, for my tenth-grade English class - that I avoided Hemingway for the next two decades plus. But it was time to try him again, and this was the book I felt I ought to try. It was much more readable than The Old Man and the Sea; even though The Old Man and the Sea was only a novella, I remember being so bored by it that it felt more difficult to slog through than most 400-page books. By contrast, The Sun Also Rises was a quick, easy read. However, I didn't feel that it had much actual substance. The characters were superficial and difficult to care about; the book reminded me in that sense of The Great Gatsby. Is there something about Dead White Male authors of the so-called "Lost Generation" that makes them seem somehow even deader and whiter and maler than Dead White Male Authors of other generations? Because they really do not have a good track record for holding my interest.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd: Overall, I very much liked this book. Not only was it just plain well written, but it's particularly nice to see a white author writing a book in which racism is central to the plot. However, there was one false note near the end, I felt. spoilersCollapse )

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri: This is a charming multigenerational tale of a Bengali family immigrating to and integrating into the United States. What I liked best about it was that the author didn't attempt to tack on either a happy or an unhappy ending. Not everything goes right, yet not everything is terrible; life is just complicated and unpredictable. I liked the realism of this.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: I'd read this once before, for my eighth-grade English class. That was over a quarter-century ago, and I didn't remember much of it anymore, although I did remember that I'd liked it back then, so I was pretty sure it was worth a second read. (Unlike The Old Man and the Sea.) The main thing I noticed about it this time around, as someone who aspires to write fiction with a political message, is that the author spent the entire first half of the book on an apolitical subplot (co-plot? it's hardly even actually "sub-") before ever introducing any political issues, and then largely dropped the apolitical storyline before bringing it back at the very end so as to tie the two plots together for a nice, neat ending. I think that avoiding political issues for the entire first half of the book was probably extremely useful in engaging readers who might not have been willing to pay attention to a book that delved into political issues right up front. I admired the strategy. (And no, I'm not planning to read the "sequel"/first draft.)

The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta: This is an entertaining, highly readable novel about a politically liberal, divorced soccer mom and longtime high school sex ed teacher who is suddenly forced to start teaching her sex ed class in "abstinence-only" format. She's none too happy about this, but she somewhat inexplicably finds herself flirting with her daughter's soccer coach who belongs to the evangelical church that pressured the school into making its sex ed classes "abstinence only." The soccer coach also happens to be married. And all the people in this book who are on the "liberal" side of the sex ed battle seem to have no particular moral or ethical qualms about adultery; the protagonist has minor qualms that appear to be of a self-interested variety (she doesn't think there's much point in pursuing a married man since she probably can't actually have him), but the evangelical church members seem to be the only people in the book who actually feel strongly that adultery is wrong. This annoyed me; there is no good reason why thinking that things like contraception and same-gender sex are okay should somehow lead people to conclude that adultery is also okay. spoilersCollapse )

Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin: More than with any other book I've ever read, reading this felt like discovering that someone else had written a book that I had once fantasized about writing myself. Luckily it was a book that I wasn't terribly invested in the idea of writing. It's a novel about an intersex teenager, raised as a boy, and not entirely well informed about his condition by his parents, who gets raped, and gets pregnant from it, and therefore is forced to grapple with being intersex to a much greater degree than he'd ever done before; and his family is also forced to grapple with it to a much greater degree than they'd ever done before. spoilersCollapse )

Mood: busy
Speak Your Mind
Friday, 31 July 2015
Friday, 31 July 2015 1:29pm
Camping at Silver Lake, Part 2: The Hike to Gold Lake

I hadn't slept well on Saturday night because the air mattress was uncomfortable. On Sunday night I added more air to it, and I slept much better after that. Well, at least until some bizarre bird landed high up in a nearby tree at sunrise and spent about half an hour making very loud, extremely bizarre nonstop bird calls that sounded like nothing I've ever heard before. It had two separate types of calls: when it first landed, it cawed several times like a crow, and after that it spent the next half hour making a bizarre, repetitive sound that was something like bubbling water. It was a sequence of clear musical notes repeated identically over and over. The bird did the same thing at the same time on both Monday morning and Tuesday morning. I haven't been able to figure out what kind of bird it was. Later on Monday I saw a large black bird that I think was a raven and wondered whether that was what had made the noises - I imagine the bird making noises to have been very large because of how loud it was - and upon looking up recordings of raven calls I've found some degree of resemblance, but not enough resemblance to make me think the bird I heard was actually a raven.

I eventually resorted to getting up and making myself visible just to get the bird to go away. (I first tried just letting Boston out of the tent, but this was not sufficient to scare the bird away. Only I was sufficiently frightening.) Once the bird finally left, I went back to sleep for several more hours and then got up at around 11:00 a.m. When I got up, I immediately started preparing to hike to Gold Lake. I spent half an hour shelling some homegrown pecans and adding the shelled pecans to a bag of home-dehydrated banana chips to create a homemade trail mix, then checked the water level in my hydration pack, put Boston's harness and leash on her, and set out for the trailhead that I'd noticed the day before.

As noted in my previous entry, the landscape on this hiking trail was chaparral - mostly manzanitas varying from less than one to occasionally as much as four feet in height - so there was very little shade, and I was forced to place great faith in the power of my sunscreen.

I didn't visit Bucks Lake, but the wilderness area in the entire Lakes Basin region is named after Bucks Lake because that's the largest lake in the area. Bucks Lake is vastly larger than Silver Lake, which in turn is several times larger than Gold Lake.

Gold Lake Trail 2.jpg

Let me tell you about the hike.Collapse )

Mood: relieved
2 Minds Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Friday, 31 July 2015 12:33am
Camping at Silver Lake, Part 1

I went camping! Alone except for Boston. I'd never been camping without another human being before, but I was tired of waiting for an acceptable other human being to agree to join me, so I decided to go it alone. It was fairly successful!

Silver Lake campsite 4.jpg

When I was trying to pick a place to camp, I fairly quickly narrowed the choices to two places: Silver Lake Campground in Plumas National Forest and Camino Cove Campground in El Dorado National Forest. (They are both small, free campgrounds with no running water.) Then the area near Camino Cove caught on fire, forcing the closure of the nearby highway, so that settled my decision in favor of Silver Lake.

I left home Saturday evening and returned Tuesday evening. I had originally hoped to leave Friday evening, but I knew this was a long shot that depended heavily upon my being able to finish all my packing and preparations during the work week. There are some weeks when I can get a fair amount done on short breaks in the middle of my workday and in the evenings, but on this particular week, the work I was doing required intense concentration to a degree that made it very difficult to switch back and forth between work and camping preparation tasks. No matter: I'd taken Monday and Tuesday off work, so leaving on Saturday evening still allowed me enough time to camp for three nights.

There are two main routes of traveling from here to there. The larger, more traveled route is Highway 70, which follows the north fork of the Feather River for the majority of the distance between here and there, and therefore offers spectacular views of the river and the rocky cliffs sloping down to it on each side. The smaller, less traveled, and slightly shorter route is Highway 162, which offers the compensatory advantage of traveling through dense forest for the majority of the distance between here and there, and also allows you to travel for miles and miles without ever seeing a single other car. Basically, both highways are spectacularly scenic, but on Highway 162 you're enclosed and shaded by tall trees all around you to the point that you can hardly see any sky, whereas on Highway 70 the view is mostly of rocks and water and is more open to the sky, less closed in by trees. I took the forest route on my way there and the river route on my way back. I liked the fact that the forest route made me feel that I'd already arrived in wilderness extremely quickly after leaving my house.

The California Camping book I consulted when choosing a campground sometimes notes the poor quality of roads to and from campgrounds, but it failed to warn me that the last seven miles of the route to this one were on a dirt and gravel road carved into the side of a steep cliff, with no guardrails. I actually quite like driving on winding mountain roads carved into the sides of cliffs - the quality of concentration required for it is pleasingly meditative - but I could have done without combining this with a dirt and gravel road. My little Nissan Sentra does not have four-wheel drive, but I felt a need to put it ;all the way into first gear to try to get a decent grip on the road. Also, I happened to be arriving at the exact time of the evening when the angle of the sun lights up every speck of dirt on the windshield to the point of turning the entire windshield opaque - because dirt roads do not waste any time getting car windshields dirty - so I had to drive the road practically blind. I came to a complete stop very regularly while straining to figure out where the road in front of me was located and where the sheer cliffs without any guardrails were located.

But I survived! And I have lots of pictures!Collapse )

Mood: cheerful
Speak Your Mind
Wednesday, 22 July 2015
Wednesday, 22 July 2015 12:32am
Fairy Falls Birthday Hike/Swim

Since I'd already celebrated my birthday with my family on the day before my actual birthday, I decided to find something else fun to do for my actual birthday. I decided to hike to Fairy Falls in Spenceville State Wildlife Area, because I had never been to the falls before and had heard a lot about them. And I decided to bring Boston with me, because the trail allows dogs, and we needed some human-doggie bonding time.

Well, we found the falls! And went swimming at the top of them! And I couldn't seem to tear myself away from them until after sunset, so we ended up hiking the 2.5 mile return trip in darkness, with a hundred thousand stars shining overhead and a tiny flashlight in my hand. But it was a delightful birthday trip!

me at Fairy Falls

But let me tell you the whole story.Collapse )

Mood: busy
8 Minds Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Monday, 20 July 2015
Monday, 20 July 2015 6:32am
Five-Day Birthday Weekend!

It's my birthday! All of a sudden I'm 39. And I get a five-day weekend for it! I took Monday and Tuesday as vacation from work, but Friday was a surprise: the project I've been working on got rave reviews from an important customer, and I was rewarded with an unexpected day off work. Hooray!

I didn't do much on Friday - slept in, cleaned the house a little, talked to Mikie, went for a run. Fell down during the run, unfortunately. And it wasn't the slow kind of fall where you have a few seconds to try to catch your balance; it was an abrupt headfirst dive. Most of the impact was on the top of my right shoulder. I could hear the fabric of my shirt scraping loudly along the pavement for several inches and was astonished to find afterward that my shirt was not torn or damaged in the least, even though the skin of my shoulder under my shirt was bloodied. That is impressively strong fabric. Not such impressively strong skin, unfortunately. But considering the angle of my fall, I guess I should just be glad that I somehow managed to avoid any direct impact between the pavement and my head.

Then on Saturday I went for a hike. Several hikes, actually. And that's what I'm going to spend the bulk of this post writing about. But before I get to that, I also want to say a little about the rest of the five-day weekend. On Sunday I went to my parents' house for presents and cake. Here's what I got:

Books:
  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  • Brick Lane by Monica Ali
  • The Devil That Danced on the Water by Aminatta Forna
  • Arabian Nights and Days by Naguib Mahfouz
  • Field Guide to Birds: Western Region by the National Audubon Society
  • Citizen 13660 by Miné Okubo
  • Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai
  • Great Food Fast: Bob Warden's Ultimate Pressure Cooker Recipes by Bob Warden
  • Journey to the West by Wu Cheng'en

Other Stuff:
  • California poppy seeds
  • baby blue eye seeds
  • bird's eye gilia seeds
  • globe gilia seeds
  • the CD The Messenger by Johnny Marr
  • two atmospheric vacuum breakers for my garden hoses

While opening presents, I observed that there seemed to be an ethnic studies theme to the literature. My mother asked, "Isn't there always?" To some extent, yes, but usually there's an occasional novel or two by a standard-issue First-World Caucasian Person™ to make the theme a bit less obvious. Also sometimes there's less actual literature and more gardening/wildlife/food books so the trends within the literature are less evident. This time it appears I'm just blatantly culture-sampling.

I've already read the Chinua Achebe - I was assigned to read it, in high school, and didn't actually like it much at the time, but wanted to try again - but the other books are new to me.

For my actual birthday (Monday), I hope to manage a short outing by myself, and then on Tuesday I'm planning to go to the California State Fair with my parents and my brother.

Now, about Saturday. Basically I decided to wander around several parks in Nevada City. I looked at Google Maps, noted where the green patches indicating parks were, and noted the directions to all of them. I figured I wouldn't have time to actually go to all of them, but I wasn't sure which ones would end up being interesting, so I figured I'd just go spend time in each of them until I'd had enough and then move on to the next until I ran out of time. I only ended up going to two of them. I also ended up spontaneously wandering around the downtown area a bit. Really, I should spend more time in the Nevada City/Grass Valley area; it's only 45 minutes away from me and is far prettier than anywhere else within 45 minutes of me. (With the possible exception of the Sutter Buttes, but those can only be entered on guided hikes that cost significant money.) Plus, the people there are much less Republican than the people here! Marysville is full of cowboy hats and State of Jefferson bumper stickers; Nevada City and Grass Valley are full of rainbow tie-dye and every kind of left-wing bumper sticker imaginable. They are much more my scene than my own town is. Not that I actually own any rainbow tie-dye. But it would be easier to persuade me to wear rainbow tie-dye than to persuade me to wear a cowboy hat.

You can't really tell, but I decided to wear trail-running shoes. First time I've ever worn them. Didn't actually run much at all in them, since it turns out that running uphill while carrying three liters of water and assorted other supplies on my back is not actually fun. Also, I found that I really do not like my trail-running shoes. My feet ached all day long from lack of arch support. I'll have to put arch support inserts in them in the future.

And if you're thinking that this is an odd outfit to wear for either hiking or trail-running in the wilderness . . . well, I've never claimed not to be odd.

medeercreektribute.jpg

The full tour!Collapse )

Mood: busy
12 Minds Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Wednesday, 15 July 2015
Wednesday, 15 July 2015 11:36pm
Radiology Follow-Up, One Year Later

Today I drove to Sacramento for a follow-up appointment with the radiologist who irradiated me from mid-March through early May of 2014. Before getting in the car, I paused for a moment to wonder whether I should look at a map first, in case I'd forgotten the way. But no: I drove there every weekday for almost seven weeks; even after a year away from there, I could still find my way there in my sleep.

After I got in the car, it occurred to me that I could have brought the hospital gown they gave me to wear during radiation treatments; it might be my last opportunity to wear it again. But really, who wants to go on thinking of themself as someone who comes to doctor appointments prepared with a hospital gown all their own because they need to wear it so often? So I didn't bring it.

During the drive, it occurred to me that I could have brought the mix CD from the care package that woo2step and recycledsilence sent me during treatment. (Thank you again for that.) Too late this time, but there will be future follow-up appointments that I may yet dig it out for.

I saw four cancer doctors last year: a surgical oncologist, a radiologist-oncologist, a hematologist-oncologist, and a supervising oncologist who oversaw the work of all three. When you are enduring terrible things, you tend to react more strongly than usual to any small kindness or unkindness, so cancer doctors are probably more likely to provoke strong feelings than general practitioners. I totally adored my surgeon; I felt that he consistently went very far out of his way to make sure I understood everything and felt free to make my own choices. But I will never have occasion to see him again unless I end up needing more surgery. Meanwhile, I totally abhorred my hematologist; I felt he talked down to me as if I were a five-year-old. And he is the person I was told would be in charge of all my follow-up care after this one final follow-up with the radiologist.

I felt nothing much either way about my radiologist or the supervising oncologist. I was very glad, though, to find out today that actually I will continue to have follow-up appointments with the radiologist for the next several years as well as with the hematologist. This means that at least there will be someone giving me information about cancer-related aftercare whom I do not intensely dislike. Yay.

Not all the news was good, though. The radiologist used the words "Because you're so young . . ." today. I heard these words a lot during cancer treatment, and in the context of cancer treatment, they are absolutely always bad news. They always mean that I have to endure worse things than older people do. In this case, today, it was, "Because you're so young, you have very dense breast tissue that mammograms can't image very well, so you should also get an MRI done every couple of years, and this of course increases the risk that we'll detect false positives and subject you to unnecessary biopsies." Not fun. My biopsy last year actually hurt worse than my lumpectomy did. And getting an MRI also means getting a needle stuck into a vein in my hand, which . . . well, I already explained last week how difficult my veins are. (The bruises on my forearms still haven't faded yet.) But I don't have to get my next MRI until winter, so I guess that's something. I have to get my next mammogram within the next month or so. Mammograms are not at all difficult as long as I don't allow myself to think about the fact that if the mammogram actually finds cancer in my right breast again the doctors are going to cut my right breast off. Probably within a couple of weeks. But hey! There is a 92% chance that my right breast will survive for decades to come. And an even better chance that my left breast will survive for decades to come. So probably I have nothing to worry about. Probably.

The radiologist was shocked to see how undamaged-looking my body is after all the radiation that her assistants sprayed at it last year. Yay? There is certainly damage, but it is a silly type of damage to complain about: "Give me back all the sweat glands and hair follicles you killed off in the lower half of my right armpit! It's not fair that I'm permanently stuck with 25% less stink-producing capacity than other people!" No one is ever likely to feel any pity for me over this. Mostly, the radiologist could hardly get over her amazement at my lack of any "discoloration," by which she meant that I did not acquire an oddly-shaped permanent tan on the irradiated portion of my body like almost everyone else ends up with after radiation treatment. Acquiring any sort of tan is just not something my body is capable of doing under any circumstances. Hooray for my pasty white skin! Really though, there are still all sorts of aesthetically unpleasant side effects that may yet set in in future years. Not yet, though. For now I look great! Though it would be more satisfying if anyone other than doctors were looking at me and saying so. Apparently I can't have everything. Stinking 25% less than other people is the extent of my superpowers. Well, if I ever have to have even more unpleasant medical procedures in the future, I hope one of them comes with the "after this, you'll be able to have everything" bonus.

Mood: busy
1 Mind Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Wednesday, 8 July 2015
Wednesday, 8 July 2015 12:17am
In Which I Am Clearly Hopelessly Physically Unfit Despite Seeming to Function Fine in My Own Opinion

On Monday I had to get blood tests done. This never fails to be an ordeal. The previous time I had blood tests done, the phlebotomist stuck me in the crook of both elbows before giving up and calling in a more expert phlebotomist who finally managed to get some blood out of my forearm. I explained this to the phlebotomist I saw on Monday, and she decided not to attempt the crook of either of my elbows; she started off on my right forearm instead. Since she didn't immediately declare this effort a failure, at first I thought that by some miracle I was actually going to escape from a blood lab with only a single puncture wound. It would have been the first time in years. But no: the vial only filled a bit over halfway before my blood stopped flowing, so she repunctured me in the left forearm. Both needle-sticks left highly visible bruises, so now I guess I look either like a heroin addict or like a Catholic school student who has been beaten across both forearms with a ruler by a nun. Not sure which. Am really far too old for the latter but would rather not think the former is plausible either.

Behold my bruised forearms and decide for yourself!Collapse )

Afterward, in frustration, I started searching the Internet for strategies to make my veins more accessible. I had already been told that drinking more water supposedly helps, but for both of my past two blood draws, I specifically made a point to drink as much water as I could stand to without making myself sick. It did not seem to do much good. The Internet also told me that phlebotomists who do nothing but draw blood all day in dedicated blood labs are more competent at finding veins than nurses in hospitals and doctors' offices who only occasionally draw blood. Well, my last several blood draws have all been done in blood labs, so that doesn't seem to be helping either. I kept searching and found two more suggestions. First, heat: apparently I should run hot water over my arms before I get blood drawn. And second, muscles: if I had more muscle strength in my arms, the muscles would make the veins stand out more. Apparently I may have less muscle strength in my arms than practically anyone ever. It's a wonder I can manage to lift a single sheet of paper in one hand! Or so it would seem from my lack of veins. Really, since when is having blood drawn supposed to require working out?

Personally, I think my veins are an evolutionary adaptation to prevent intravenous drug addiction: it is impossible to get addicted to intravenous drugs if no one can find your veins to be able to inject anything into them in the first place.

On another health-related note, some random 21-year-old in the Czech Republic who read one of my online profiles that mentioned my favorite foods and hobbies and interests contacted me this week to helpfully advise me that I am doing everything in the world wrong in terms of preventing cancer from recurring. This person wrote to me to inform me that I need to stop eating carbs and gluten (because untreated celiac disease increases the risk of intestinal cancer - never mind that intestinal cancer is not the kind of cancer I had and there's no reason whatsoever to suspect me of having celiac disease) and eat more red meat (because let's pretend there's no evidence at all that there might be any health risks to that) and stop eating fruits because they're all sugary (yes, the fact that I eat actual plants grown in my back yard is clearly a major health concern) and start eating a bunch of dark, leafy green vegetables (because let's pretend it's totally realistic that I'm going to make a habit of eating foods I loathe and detest, or let's pretend that everyone's taste buds are exactly alike and just because other people like eating green vegetables it isn't true that if I had nothing to eat but green vegetables I would probably resort to trying to digest dirt or rocks or something instead and would eventually starve to death).

Also this person wanted to explain to me that I should never attempt to run, because attempting to run just causes older, heavier women like me to get injured. Instead this person thinks I should do water aerobics, because the water will help support the weight of my apparently elephantine and decrepit body (and also because let's pretend there's nothing the least bit inconvenient about having to wait for the nearest public pool's open hours and drive to and from there whenever I want to exercise rather than being able to exercise whenever I feel like it, and let's pretend too that the choice of exercise methods should have nothing whatsoever to do with personal preference or what any given person actually enjoys doing, and let's pretend too that athletic activities cannot be undertaken with different rates of gradualness according to a person's pre-existing level of fitness).

Oh, and also this person added as an afterthought that they are not convinced that anyone can choose to be queer.

Isn't it wonderful to be 21 years old and know everything? How generous of this person to go around explaining to everyone else how everything they do and everything they think they know about their own life history is totally wrong! Probably the entire reason that this person is 21 years old is that this person has discovered the secret to preventing aging! This person is clearly a genius. Too bad this person does not have any of the necessary social skills to ever be able to persuade anyone else to follow their expert guidance.

Mood: okay
4 Minds Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Friday, 3 July 2015
Friday, 3 July 2015 11:17pm
Swimming in Spenceville

I made a firm decision to get out of the house this holiday weekend, picked a place or two to go to, started packing, and then discovered that the hydration reservoir on my hiking backpack has broken irreparably (an important piece of plastic broke off). Since I live in the middle of nowhere, traveling to buy a new one before the weekend is over would mean traveling significantly in the opposite direction from wilderness, which would cut into my wilderness time quite inconveniently.

However, I adapted to this news by deciding to swim rather than hike. I drove today to a swimming hole on Dry Creek in Spenceville State Wildlife Area, the same place I went last year and various previous years. First, though, I thoroughly sunscreened the entry hall of my house. Can someone please invent a sunscreen for single people that can be easily sprayed onto hard-to-reach spots on one's back? I have a spray-on sunscreen that I thought would do the trick, but the sprayer is awkward to grip, and becomes all the more so once my fingers are slippery from sunscreen; I found that I needed two hands to make it spray, and the need to use two hands really interfered with my ability to aim it. The result was that it took me twenty minutes to apply sunscreen to myself, and by the end of it, I had also applied large quantities of sunscreen to the mirror, the tile floor, an area rug, the wall-to-wall carpeting, a potted plant, my front door, and a chair. Then it took me fifteen more minutes to clean up the mess. I guess my entry hall will not get sunburned anytime soon. The good news is that I also do not seem to have gotten sunburned, so it seems I managed not to miss any spots.

The drive is 45 minutes long, of which the last 13 minutes or so are on a rough gravel road that it feels somewhat foolhardy of me to take on in my eleven-year-old Nissan Sentra without the benefit of four-wheel-drive. I take some comfort, however, from the fact that even if I lost control of the car, there's really not much I could possibly crash into. As long as I could manage to miss the occasional oak tree, it's just miles of dead annual grasses. Anyway, I did not lose control of the car, so it wasn't an issue. I arrived safely. And I always forget how beautiful this place is! I never feel that I can safely bring my camera with me, because my camera is expensive and came with warnings that I should not leave it sitting in a hot car because parts of it might melt. And if I didn't leave it sitting in a hot car I'd have to leave it unguarded on the bank of the creek, where it might fall into the water or get stolen or, again, simply melt in the heat. So I leave it at home. But this means I can't properly show you how beautiful the place is. I will just have to describe it for you as best I can.

The first glimpse that always gets to me is the sight of the deergrasses lining the entire bank of the creek: huge, fluffy, bright green grasses, native grasses that I grow at home in my garden, but they're a brighter green when growing on the bank of a creek. Seeing them lining the entire bank of the creek makes me think I've wandered into one of those Dr. Seuss books in which characters are transported to strange landscapes full of billowing pillows everywhere.

I always enter the creek at the first place I come to, directly under the bridge that I park next to. For some reason, no one else ever enters the creek here. Everyone else walks downstream to a wider spot in the creek, where the water is a bit deeper and there's a rope swing that many people jump from. But at the spot where I enter, the water is deep enough that my feet occasionally can't touch the bottom, and even when they can touch the bottom, I can choose not to let them and swim up and down the creek for a bit farther than the length of most backyard swimming pools. I descended the bank, which was dotted here and there with California poppies, and hung my car keys on a dead tree branch, and placed my sunscreen at the foot of the tree; I'd locked all my belongings in my car except for these. Then I walked into the water. The water was not particularly cold; in fact, in a few places it was shockingly warm, to the point that I could have sworn it was heated. It wasn't that warm where I first got in, but it wasn't cold enough to be at all difficult to get used to. Immediately I saw fish swimming around me, fish about the length of my hand, greyish in color but with white outlines around the edges of their fins. They were shaped like sunfish, but I don't know what species they were. There were two of them; they seemed to stay in a very small area in the shade of the bridge at all times, because whenever I looked for them, they were always still there. Above me, the underside of the bridge was covered with cliff swallow nests, and I could see a few cliff swallows poking their heads out of their nests to look at me. All the birds I saw seemed less afraid of letting me come close to them than birds usually are; I had the impression that when I was submerged in water except for my head, the birds perceived me as a much smaller creature, only the size of my head. In addition to the cliff swallows, I saw several dark-eyed juncos and some house finches. I also saw dragonflies and damselflies galore, and quite a number of monarch and swallowtail butterflies visiting the buttonbushes blooming along the creek. I also saw a Pacific tree frog sunning itself on a leaf. And I glimpsed a lizard between some rocks, though I didn't get a good enough look at it to be able to identify it.

Eventually I made my way downstream, wading in the creek, toward the wider and deeper spot in the creek where everyone else always congregates. It would be much quicker and easier to get out of the creek and walk on the bank; the creek bottom is uneven and painful to walk on in thin-soled water shoes, and I always fall down a few times. But it always feels like more of an adventure to wade in the creek than to walk on the bank, and anyway, I'm pretty sure that walking on uneven rocks is good for strengthening the arches of my feet, which is considered important for preventing plantar fasciitis, which I've had quite enough of in the past and would not like to encounter again. So I wade in the creek. Much of the distance from the place I enter to the larger swimming hole is too shallow to actually swim in, so I have no choice but to wade. Along the way, I help myself to the invasive Himalayan blackberries, which have crowded out the native Pacific blackberries that ought to be there, and I admire the remaining native plants: field mint, mugwort, rosillas, ragweed, common horsetail, California grape, white alders. I've grown most of these in my garden - everything but the ragweed (too ugly and weedy), the horsetail (too impossible to control), and the alders (water-guzzling trees that I don't want to allocate adequate space and water to). There's something amazing about seeing a wilderness area in which nearly all the plants present are the same plants I'm growing at home.

Eventually I emerged through some minor rapids into the main swimming hole. I stayed and swam around there for a while, but the rope swing had been commandeered today by a group of teenage boys and young men probably in their early twenties who had very little sense of caution; they were riding the swing two or even three at a time, trying to do simultaneous backflips within inches of one another, and this made me increasingly uncomfortable. I felt that by increasing the size of their audience I might be partly responsible if one of them got maimed for life, so I decided not to stay there any longer; I crossed to the opposite side of the swimming hole and continued to follow the creek further downstream until I reached an impassible barrier: at a particularly shallow spot in the creek, all manner of large branches and small twigs had piled up across the full width of a creek. It looked like a beaver dam at first, but on closer inspection I wasn't so sure; perhaps the current had piled eeverything up on its own. Anyway, there was no good way to get out of the water there and go around the barrier, so instead I turned around, waded back to and through the main swimming hole, and returned to my original spot under the bridge until the sun set.

On the gravel road in and out, I noticed signs for Camp Far West Lake, which reminded me that I've never been there yet. I'm resolving that next time I go swimming, that's where I'll go.

Mood: refreshed
4 Minds Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Friday, 3 July 2015 12:30am
Polygamous Rights

The full recognition of same-sex marriage across the United States has made it less politically fraught to discuss the possibility of recognizing plural marriage, and Politico has taken advantage of the moment to publish two articles voicing opposing view on the topic: It's Time to Legalize Polygamy: Why Group Marriage Is the Next Horizon of Social Liberalism" by Fredrik deBoer and "No, Polygamy Isn’t the Next Gay Marriage: Group Marriage Is the Past—Not the Future—of Matrimony" by Jonathan Rauch. Both articles frustrate me, because neither article actually addresses the points made by the other article. Fredrik deBoer's article basically just states that being deprived of the right to marry hurts people, and asserts that there is no justification for this. Jonathan Rauch points out, correctly, that Fredrick deBoer's article does not in any way address the evidence that polygamous societies, historically and cross-culturally, have tended to leave large numbers of low-status males unable to find wives and thus prone to engaging in antisocial behavior. Fair enough: some attempt does need to be made to address this and find ways of taking precautions against that potential problem. However, Jonathan Rauch's article frustrates me because it basically changes the subject from the type of modern, liberal polyamory that Fredrik deBoer's article was discussing to a more ancient, conservative polygynous system and pretends, in the absence of any real evidence, that an ancient, conservative, polygynous system is what we would end up with if we tried to recognize plural marriage in the modern United States. I mean, it might be what we would end up with! But I think it really depends a lot on how we would choose to write any potential laws for potential plural marriages.

Historically, monogamy has served many different purposes. Some of those purposes are now obsolete. For example, one major purpose of monogamy historically was to let men know which children were genetically theirs. Nowadays we have paternity tests that can establish this without monogamy. But monogamy continues to serve other purposes that are not obsolete. If practiced honestly, monogamy is helpful for preventing STD transmission. Monogamy can create a different emotional dynamic in a relationship, which may either increase or decrease the stability of the relationship, depending on the relationship needs of the individual people. Many people seem to feel that monogamy provides a greater sense of security, possibly at the expense of some loss of excitement. These assertions are debatable; monogamy means different things to different people. But the alternatives to monogamy tend to look significantly different in modern, liberal cultures or subcultures than in ancient, conservative ones.

Modern, liberal polyamory encompasses many different forms of plural relationships, but relationships approximating polygyny do not appear to me to be an especially common form. The most common form I see is more along the lines of "free love," with everyone in the relationship considered free to form relationships with anyone else they want to, which does not appear to lend itself to creating an underclass of men who can't find spouses. I'm not sure, though, how many of these sorts of poly people would actually want to get married; it appears to me that for many of them, an absence of formal commitment is part of the appeal of polyamory. But this could also have been said of some gay people, and I think the question of how many polyamorous people actually want to get married should not be considered relevant to the question of what right we have to deprive polyamorous people who do want to marry from doing so.

Granting legal recognition to plural marriages is much more complicated than granting legal recognition to same-sex marriages, because plural marriages raise a lot more issues that aren't addressed in existing marriage law, that we would have to figure out how to address. Just to name a few: Should married people need their spouses' permission to marry again? What should be the default legal relationship, if any, that your spouses' spouses should be considered to have with you for purposes such as inheritance and medical decision-making, in the absence of a will or a living will? You cannot be compelled to testify in court against your own spouse; should it be possible to compel you to testify against your spouse's spouse? Should the spousal Social Security benefits of a person with multiple spouses be divided evenly among the spouses and thus reduced from the amount that a monogamous person's one spouse would receive?

No movement for legal recognition of plural marriages is likely to be able to gather much momentum until a fairly clear consensus is formed about how to answer these sorts of questions. How can people decide to enthusiastically fight for something until they have a fairly clear idea of what the thing they're fighting for is likely to look like? So this is a conversation that poly people need to start having, if poly people care about marriage rights. And the way in which poly people decide to answer these sorts of questions can help either validate or address and resolve Jonathan Rauch's concerns.

Personally, having been deprived for gender-based reasons of the right to marry, I am extremely uncomfortable with the idea of depriving anyone of the right to marry for numbers-based reasons. I am, I suppose, a big-government liberal: I tend to think that government regulation is valuable. Of course, the government can and often does regulate many things badly, and the government's previous restriction of marriage to opposite-sex couples was an example of the government regulating marriage badly. (Also of course, I am not advocating rushing people into marriage against their will; I am advocating that people should be allowed to choose when and whether to invite the government to regulate their relationships.) Still, I do not think that a deregulated, anarchist appoarch to marriage is ideal. Government regulation helps mediate the division of assets in hostile divorces and hostile inheritance situations. Government regulation helps homemakers who've sacrificed their career prospects for their spouses' sakes receive some compensation. Government regulation helps, in general, to somewhat protect the interests of the most vulnerable people whose interests might be more thoroughly trampled on in the absence of government regulation. So I would really like to see the poly community take an interest in pushing for marriage rights and deciding on what those marriage rights should look like.

But I am not poly, so I am not in a good position to lead this discussion. I just want to say that I hope some good leaders show up who do start this discussion soon, because if the poly community sorts out what it wants and presents a clear vision of what poly marriage rights should look like, I hope to be able to support them.

Mood: political
7 Minds Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Friday, 26 June 2015
Friday, 26 June 2015 4:43pm
Marriage!

Same-sex marriage is finally legal all across the United States!

Perhaps if this had happened back in 2008 when I got engaged, Susan wouldn't have been able to lead me on for five more years by saying she wanted to marry me when she didn't actually have to go through with it and might quite possibly have backed out sooner if she did have to.

Or then again, possibly she would have actually married me and then we would have had to bother with divorce lawyers. Who knows? But I'm glad that many more people will now be in a position of being both allowed and expected to actually go through with it if they say they want to marry someone.

(And may no one ever, ever, ever again have to do what I had to do in 2008: to drive a car, while newly engaged, down streets lined with protesters waving signs campaigning to call off my wedding. It should be completely unthinkable for anyone to ever be allowed to vote on anyone else's wedding for any reason whatsoever, no matter how good or bad the arguments for and against their right to marry may be. Voting on anywhere near such a personal aspect of someone else's life as that is a completely unjustifiable inducement to lifelong grudges, family feuds, and violence.)

Mood: celebratory
Speak Your Mind
Thursday, 25 June 2015
Thursday, 25 June 2015 11:10pm
An Open Letter to Basically All Manufacturers of Women's Clothing

Dear Sirs,

I'm not going to bother adding "and/or Madams" because it's very clear that you never wear women's clothing, so even if some of you do have female gender identities and/or anatomy, I think the fact that you wear exclusively men's clothing makes it likely that you're sufficiently genderbending to be fairly comfortable being addressed as "sirs" at least occasionally.

On that note, I'm writing this letter to explain to you that most women do not actually want our clothing to reveal every aspect of our anatomy to everyone. That is, most women do not actually want our clothing to be transparent. This fact about women still applies, believe it or not, even in summer, when you drag out all your clothing made from the cheapest, flimsiest, most utterly worthless fabrics ever created by whatever unskilled child laborers you hired in your sweatshops in various second- or third-world countries.

In particular, we need to talk about the skirts you start selling every summer. Yes, I am aware that we women have the option to compensate for transparent skirts by wearing slips underneath them. But you seem to be unaware of two reasons why this option does not actually make your transparent skirts wearable or summer-appropriate.

First, there are very real limits to how much transparency a slip can compensate for. It's one thing if we just need slips to add a little opacity in case our skirts are not quite opaque enough to look quite socially acceptable in the event that we are occasionally backlit by bright sunlight. It is a very different thing if our skirts are so transparent that the effect of wearing slips underneath them would be to provoke friends, acquaintances, and random strangers to greet us by exclaiming, "What a beautiful slip you're wearing under that transparent skirt today!" Most women are not actually hoping to receive that sort of compliment.

Second, you know that shiny nylon fabric that you manufacture every single slip everywhere out of? Well, it's not a breathable fabric; it tends to get rather hot and sticky if worn in the summertime. The result is that, although you keep trying to market these transparent skirts to us under the guise that they are more comfortable to wear in the summertime than thicker, heavier skirts would be, in reality it is far more comfortable in summer to wear a properly opaque skirt that does not require a slip, even if the skirt itself may be very thick and heavy indeed, than to wear an absurdly flimsy, transparent skirt with a hot, sticky nylon slip underneath.

Now, we also need to talk about your latest invention that you are trying to sell as the hot new trend of this particular summer: "reversible" skirts. It is extremely clear how these "reversible" skirts got invented: clearly your sweatshop laborers, in the effort to save time and money, produced even more spectacularly unusably thin fabric than they usually do, and some quality assurance worker in your employ who had a drop or two of integrity pointed out to you that a single layer of such utterly transparent fabric could not reasonably be marketed as a skirt that any woman should actually venture out in public in. So, in your determination not to let this fabric go to waste, you came up with the bright idea of sewing together two layers of this utterly transparent fabric, and choosing different colors or prints for each layer so as to be able to market the skirts as "reversible." Well, here are the problems with that. First, two layers of utterly transparent fabric are not actually enough to come anywhere near avoiding the "What a beautiful slip!" remarks when we are out and about. Second, the color or print on the bottom layer blatantly shows through the top layer, so it isn't actually as if we get a choice of wearing the skirt as a floral print or a polka-dot print; rather, we get a choice of wearing it as a floral print with polka dots showing through or as a polka-dot print with flowers showing through. Either way looks bizarre and is apt to provoke yet more odd "compliments": "What a beautiful slip you're wearing under that transparent floral-print skirt under that completely different transparent polka-dot skirt today!"

In conclusion, could you please hire some adults, pay them enough to produce actual properly opaque fabric, and sell us some clothes that aren't transparent? Much obliged.

Sincerely,
Gayle

Mood: annoyed
1 Mind Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Wednesday, 17 June 2015
Wednesday, 17 June 2015 8:50pm
June Garden Blogger's Bloom Day

I'm a little late for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day this month, but here I am - though slightly the worse for wear because of the heat, and the same can be said of my garden. Last week brought our first 100-degree weather of this spring: it reached 104° F (40° C) on Monday and 106° F (41° C) on Friday. Several of my plants transformed, over the course of one day, from looking perfectly alive and healthy to looking entirely dead. Some of them resumed looking alive, though somewhat less healthy, after I watered them. Others of them might actually be dead, but I'm not completely sure yet. Also, the suet in my suet bird feeder is melting! Suet is a mixture of birdseed (and sometimes nuts or fruit) and beef fat (to provide the kinds of nutrients that insect-eating birds need). The beef fat is melting out of my suet and creating a grease spot on my cement patio under the suet feeder. This is the first summer I've had a suet feeder, so I didn't know this was going to happen.

One does not spend one's life in the Sacramento Valley without learning a few tricks for coping with heat. Here are mine:
  1. Douse your head in water regularly. A lot of people think it's better to have as little hair as possible during a hot summer, but this is only true if you don't have the good sense to keep your hair wet. Long, thick hair is an excellent tool for holding water; it is very useful if treated as such. Also, there's never any need to worry about drying it off before going out in public, because on a 100° day, all you have to do is step outside the house for ten seconds and your hair will be instantly dry. (Also, if you have curly hair like mine, the constant dousing with water will have the bonus effect of making it more intensely curly than ever.)
  2. Buy some stretchy fabric headbands, preferably four or five inches wide. Stuff ice cubes under them regularly. Make sure the dye in them is colorfast, though, because otherwise you'll end up looking like you just murdered one of the alien species from Star Trek who have oddly colored blood. (I speak from experience. Experience with non-colorfast headbands, I mean; not experience murdering Star Trek aliens.)
  3. Carry an insulated thermos of icewater at all times; drink fifty gallons of icewater per day from this thermos. It must be insulated because otherwise the icewater will cease to be icewater in about ten seconds.
  4. Freeze any and all other beverages and consume them as popsicles.
  5. When gardening, always water yourself just as much as you water the plants.
But on to the plants. Spring ended earlier than usual in my garden this year, and now it looks like August. Ordinarily this would mean that September was just around the corner, which would be a good thing, since the weather generally cools off a bit in September, and the plants start to perk up a little. In this case, though, I'm pretty sure I'm in for at least two more months of August.

Buckwheats are best known for blooming in the fall. Here's Eastern Mojave buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) blooming in my side yard right now. The smaller white clumps are the buckwheat flowers; the larger white clumps are yarrow (Achillea millefolium), which generally blooms in July but is already winding down this year.

Eriogonum fasciculatum (Eastern Mojave buckwheat) with Achillea millefolium (yarrow)

More pictures!Collapse )

Mood: busy
3 Minds Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Thursday, 21 May 2015
Thursday, 21 May 2015 8:12pm
Ten Things I Wish Everyone Understood and Remembered

1. There are about seven billion people currently alive and about 100 billion people who've ever lived. Unless you have extremely good evidence that a particular experience is entirely impossible, it is a very bad idea to assume that no one has ever had that particular experience. And if the particular experience has happened to you, the odds are extremely good that it has also happened to other people, and even that some of those people are currently alive. So you are not alone. Don't ever let anyone make you feel like you're "the only one." And don't ever tell anyone else they're "the only one."

2. There are few more reliable ways of making oneself feel better than by helping others feel better. It doesn't necessarily matter whether the others you're helping are people you actually know or hypothetical strangers you believe must be out there somewhere. If you succeed in reaching the latter, they'll become people you actually know.

3. It is possible for one flower in a backyard garden to make the difference in whether a pollinator species becomes extinct or not. It is possible for one or two or three backyard gardens to provide a corridor for a species that would otherwise be isolated on one tiny wilderness preserve to travel between multiple wilderness preserves and thus greatly expand its habitat. It is also possible for one person to make the difference in whether another person survives or not. It is possible to make a lot more difference in the world than you might think.

4. Feelings are a way of processing information. Thoughts are another way of processing information. They are interrelated; the thoughts you have can influence the feelings you have, and the feelings you have can influence the thoughts you have. For example, if you find reason to believe that a certain political belief is more reasonable than you previously thought, you will probably feel more liking for the people who hold it; or if you feel a particular fondness for one person who holds a certain political belief that you've previously considered unreasonable, your fondness for this person may make you more receptive to the idea that perhaps their political belief is less unreasonable than you've previously thought. Thus, neither your thoughts nor your feelings are random events inflicted upon you from outside; you have some control over them. On the other hand, your thoughts and your feelings are both valuable ways of processing information, so deciding to just stop processing information at all and to randomly start feeling perfectly okay about a terrible event is just as clear an indication of mental health problems as deciding to randomly start believing blue is orange and two equals three.

5. People in other countries are real people. Murdering them because you don't like the actions of their government is just as bad as someone murdering you because they don't like the actions of your government. Talking about their deaths in numerical statistics does not change the fact that each and every one of the thoundands who die dies as an individual human being with individual thoughts and feelings and is mourned by other individual human beings with individual thoughts and feelings, all of which are just as complex and intense as yours. Also, people who are different from you in any other way are also real people and also have real thoughts and feelings, even if their thoughts and feelings are ones you find baffling, dislikeable, or just plain wrong. Cruelty toward them is still cruelty.

6. You are a real person. Insulting yourself or physically mistreating yourself is just as bad as insulting someone else or physically mistreating someone else. Also, do you know how it feels to watch helplessly while someone verbally or physically abuses someone you love? That's how it feels to anyone who loves you when they have to watch helplessly while you verbally or physically abuse yourself.

7. No one can love you for who you are unless you tell them who you are. The way to tell them who you are is to actually tell them. Not to sit around thinking about maybe someday telling them. And also not to just tell them the easy parts and hold back the hard parts. The hard parts are the ones you actually most need to tell them.

8. What random strangers or people who are emotionally unimportant to you think of you does not have to matter at all to you unless those people pose some sort of actual physical danger to you. But how you behave toward them matters because that affects what you and the people who are emotionally important to you think of you.

9. Anytime you behave badly, even if nobody catches you at it, you add to the list of hard parts you'll have to tell someone later before you can be loved for everything you are. (And worse, you add to the list of recent hard parts, the parts you can't plausibly distance yourself from by dismissing them as long-ago mistakes made by a far less mature version of you.)

10. If you are lonely and have no one you can stop being lonely with, it is always much better to go be lonely on a gorgeous mountaintop covered with flowers than to be lonely in your own dark, dingy bedroom. At the very least, if the experience itself isn't enough for you, you can bring a camera to the mountaintop, photograph the flowers, post your photographs on the Internet, and find people who'll want to talk about your trip with you. And then you can tell those people about the feelings that brought you to the mountaintop and the feelings you had while you were there.

Mood: helpful
8 Minds Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Tuesday, 19 May 2015
Tuesday, 19 May 2015 10:53pm
I Met q10!

Yesterday after work I drove to Berkeley to meet q10, who was visiting from the East Coast, and carnap, whose home q10 was staying at. I don't actually know carnap, and for that matter my knowledge of q10 (whom I've never met in person before) was interrupted by about a 10-year gap during which I sort of failed to pay attention, until I recently met q10's ex from a decade or so ago and was reminded of q10's existence and also made aware that they are still in regular friendly contact with their ex. And it seems to me that there is pretty much no better guarantee that someone is worth talking to regularly than if they have an ex who still or again actually wants to talk to them regularly, years and years later. Or if there is any better guarantee, it is that their ex is someone I quite like and believe to have pretty good judgment, which is certainly true in q10's case. So I resolved to start paying attention to q10, which led to meeting them in person.

Trying to find them in person was an interesting challenge, because I had never seen a photograph of more than a fraction of q10's face and had never seen any photograph of carnap at all. I also was not sure whether other people might be with them (there were some "maybe" RSVPs) so I couldn't even rely on the number of people in the group as a clue. Also I don't have a cellphone at the moment and therefore couldn't text them to ask where they were. I did have a general visual description to work from, including a clue to look for purple shoelaces. I arrived about five minutes early (actually I arrived half an hour early, but I used 25 minutes of it to find a parking spot and walk from the parking spot to the cafe) and went inside, looked around, and decided that no one in the cafe seemed likely to be them. I was only about 95% sure about this, but I went back outside and waited for them outside anyway, hoping that they weren't actually indoors after all. I ended up not needing to recognize them; q10 recognized me from across the street. Hooray! I am findable.

First impression: q10 seems significantly younger, tinier, and more delicate-looking than I was expecting. Which means my expectations were silly, since I already knew their actual age and their actual height. I think I'm in the habit of expecting professors to seem visually imposing and authoritative. Which apparently equates to tall, large, and old. This is clearly all sorts of problematic. Can someone deprogram me, please?

Second impression: I have rarely been so decisively the least nerdy person at a table of more than two people. Even when I've been at tables of people with Ph.D.s, I've sometimes found them not to be convincingly nerdier than me. This time, though, I felt out-nerded. My sense of identity was mildly shaken.

Third impression: Oh, I understand the social dynamics here! We are doing introverted social awkwardness with heavy academic overtones and an intense sprinkling of feminist/transgender theory. Got it! I am totally at home here!

And so I remained totally at home there for the rest of the evening.

We were at the Saturn Cafe, a vegetarian diner with a '50s retro theme, and we were seated at a table that q10 aptly described as being "decorated with a patriarchy theme." Under the glass of the table was an array of makeup, curlers, and cosmetic tools of various types that baffled all of us, along with vintage 1950s advertisements for all of the above, and photographs of 1950s starlets, often wearing little clothing. And also a few random, inexplicable advertisements: one for sex toys, one for a medication for urinary tract infections, and one for a $29.95 portable radio (equivalent to $265 in today's dollars, carnap determined) that was described as having a golden "midriff." q10 wondered whether all the tables were decorated with a patriarchy theme or just ours; carnap investigated and determined that the other tables had different themes. He was unsure whether the other themes were any less horrifying. I wondered what exactly would be equivalently horrifying: perhaps nuclear bombs and Joseph McCarthy? Maybe there was a racism table somewhere. I suppose we'll never know.

q10 generously bought dinner and dessert for all of us. Dinner was good, and dessert was better. Dessert was interesting! Dessert was vegan. Well, carnap's dessert was only accidentally vegan; he ordered the non-vegan version and received the vegan version by mistake. My dessert was intentionally vegan, because I wanted to know what a vegan sundae would taste like, and also because lactose and I don't get along well anymore. We all agreed that the vegan whipped cream bore no resemblance at all to real whipped cream, beyond being white and sugary, but that it was very good despite being nothing like whipped cream. The vegan ice cream did actually strongly resemble ice cream, much more than the few storebought vegan ice creams I've previously tried ever did. Smothering it in chocolate sauce and vegan whipped cream probably helped.

Anyway, it was a delightful evening, and I was glad of the chance to meet q10, and for that matter also carnap. It was completely worth driving to Berkeley for! If any of the rest of you want to visit someplace two hours away from me, I'd be up for driving two hours to meet you, too.

I've been thinking a lot afterward - provoked by my second impression above - about how I view my role in relation to academia. I'm not an academic, obviously, and I don't particularly want to be an academic; yet I do want, and to some extent feel like I have, a role to play in relation to academia. I perceive my role in regard to queer by choice issues to be largely that of a translator, translating what academics are already writing in queer theory books from the almost impenetrably dense academic language of those books into a language that ordinary, non-academic people can actually understand. I consider myself pretty good at understanding academic language, but it isn't a language I've ever really made much effort at writing in myself. Writing in it doesn't interest me. But I think I'm pretty good at translating it to ordinary language. My professional specialty is in assessing what grade level a given block of text is appropriate for (often using various references and tools in addition to my own judgment) and adjusting it to be more appropriate for any desired grade level from kindergarten (for which you can hardly ever write complete sentences of even the simplest sort) through 12th grade (for which you can almost just write like a normal human being and not stop to evaluate whether your words are too difficult for them, except there are still a few surprising words that turn out to be beyond them, so you have to stop yourself occasionally and rewrite things). My personal interest is in trying to be comprehensible to more people, because I like being understood, and I seem not to be a very easy person for most people to understand, so it's been necessary for me to try harder than most people need to to figure out how to explain myself as clearly as I can. Which means I don't want to speak in academic language. But lately I've gone a while without reading much of it, and if I'm a translator, it probably behooves me to stay in practice.

Mood: pleased
3 Minds Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Monday, 18 May 2015
Monday, 18 May 2015 1:10am
Plant Shopping Challenge: No Labels Allowed!

On Saturday I drove to Oakland because a native plant nursery that I'd never been to before, but that I had long aspired to go to, was having a sale. My hopes for this nursery were sky high: its website gave me the impression that it carried hundreds of species that no other nursery in the state carried, and on top of that, its owner is a Facebook friend of mine and a frequent contributor to various online discussion forums that I read regularly, and, well, he consistently impressed me on all sorts of different levels. You might say he was a gardening idol of mine. So I was very excited to finally visit his nursery.

Most native plant nurseries have lists on their websites of what plants they have in stock. These lists, in my experience, are usually years out of date and bear no relation to what they actually have in stock. In this case, though, the owner specifically stated that he'd updated the list last week. Also, the list included a feature I don't usually see on such lists: an indication of exactly where in the nursery each plant species was located. I was impressed by the thoroughness. I downloaded the list, deleted all the plants I wasn't interested in, sorted what remained by location within the nursery, and felt brilliantly prepared to march in and locate exactly what I wanted.

The visit did not go quite as well as I'd hoped.

The first thing that happened, almost the first moment that I arrived, was that a sudden ripping noise alerted me that a rusty wire protruding from a post had torn a four-inch gash in the skirt I was wearing, around mid-thigh level. You know how it feels to be excitedly looking forward to an extremely fun outing and then realize you're going to spend the whole time embarrassed by some unexpected problem with your appearance? That happened. The rip was on my left side, and a bit too low down to be covered by my purse, but I switched my purse to my left shoulder anyway and pretended to be left-handed for a while, just because putting my purse there blocked the rip from my own line of sight, even though it didn't block it from other people's. It is awkward, though, pretending to be left-handed when you're actually not. Especially when bending down over plants a lot, when purses tend to swing around and you need to use your hand to keep them under control. Really, perhaps I should just take to carrying a few safety pins with me at all times in case of wardrobe malfunctions. It might at least somewhat reduce the feeling of awkwardness.

Having driven two hours to get there, though, I certainly wasn't going to turn around and go home without doing my plant shopping. So I forged onward. Where was the first plant on my list? No sign of it. Where was the second plant on my list? No sign of it either. More to the point, there were hardly any signs of any plants. This was a nursery full of thousands and thousands of plants, but only about 1% of the plants in the nursery had any labels to tell you which species they were.

Okay. Deep breath. This particular problem was not a problem I had ever encountered at a nursery before, nor even imagined ever encountering at a nursery. But surely there must be some way around it. How do they sell any plants at all here? Well, at least I did have the list of where each plant was supposed to be. Unfortunately the locations given on the list only narrowed it down to something like "This plant must be one of the 300 plants in this row," and only about 3 of those 300 plants had any labels, but still it was something to go on. I had a decent idea of what most of the plants I was looking for should look like, either because I'd owned or seen them before or because I'd owned or seen other plants in the same genus, or at least in the same plant family, so I could take a guess about which plants might possibly be the ones I was looking for. A lot of the plants I was looking for were plainly not there at all; presumably someone else had bought them during the past week. But others I was able to locate. Often if I could pick out a group of 50 pots that were all obviously the same species as one another and that looked as if they might possibly be the species I was looking for, I could eventually find a plant label in one of those 50 pots. Unfortunately many of these labels were obviously wrong (no, this fern is not a redwood tree, and no plant label claiming it's a redwood tree will ever convince me that it is), and a vast number of other labels were simply blank. It was maddening. And a few plants sometimes turned up in different locations than where the list said they would be! Argh.

I perservered. I came to see it as a test of my plant identification skills. Other customers resorted to simply grabbing a nursery employee and telling that person which plants they wanted, and getting the nursery employee to go retrieve the plants for them. But those customers were generally buying 5 or fewer plants. I was buying . . . well, I ended up with 28 plants, but the list of plants I was trying to find was a lot longer than the list of plants I actually succeeded in finding and buying. It wouldn't have felt reasonable to me to make a nursery employee spend an hour looking for a hundred different plants for me. So I did my best on my own. Mostly I did okay. A few times I resorted to asking for help. Once I asked the nursery owner, "Is this Sidalcea calycosa?" Yes, it was. Another time I asked two employees, "Which of the grasses in this row is Poa secunda?" (There were about 15 different species of grass in that row, and in most of them, none of the pots had any labels.) The two employees looked at each other blankly and resorted to Googling for pictures of Poa secunda on their cellphones to try to figure it out. Eventually they took a guess and brought their guess to the nursery owner for confirmation. Was this Poa secunda? No, it was Festuca idahoensis. Poa secunda was somewhere on the other side of the nursery entirely, not in the location where the list said it would be. The employees retrieved it for me.

It was abundantly clear that the nursery owner knew instantly exactly what every plant was and had no need for plant labels. It was equally clear that nobody else was anywhere near as skilled at identifying things. One of the drawbacks to being brilliant is that one may have difficulty comprehending how much less knowledgeable other people are and properly accommodating other people's limitations. The nursery owner is brilliant with plants but less brilliant at understanding how hard it is for other people to navigate a nursery without any plant labels. I will forgive him his failings, because I like him, but I'd probably have bought more of his plants if I'd been able to find them. I decided that a lot of them weren't important enough to bother asking someone to find them for me if I couldn't find them myself.

Also I was convinced I'd already spent a ridiculous amount of money, although it actually turned out that I'd spent less than half of what I thought I had. The plants were cheaper here than plants normally are. He could probably charge more money for his plants if he bothered to label them.

As I shopped, a nursery employee who spoke Spanish almost exclusively (there was clearly no sense in torturing him by trying to ask him to identify plants for me, even if the actual plant names were in Latin rather than English) fairly unobtrusively but fairly dedicatedly followed me around for an hour, taking plants out of my hands over and over and carrying them all to a table for me, since there weren't any shopping carts. Then the nursery owner came to the table where my plants were grouped and tallied the plants for me, and gave me tips on how to take care of some of them, and commented on what unusual plants I'd chosen. Yes, that's because I already owned the more usual ones and only bothered driving to Oakland to find the less usual ones. One of the employees who had helped me locate Poa secunda told the nursery owner, "She really knows her plants. She did all that shopping almost entirely by herself!" That's right, but I would have done more shopping if it hadn't been ridiculously difficult.

While tallying my plants, the nursery owner noticed that one of my plants was not what the label claimed it was, and exchanged it for me for the plant I actually wanted. (I wanted Viola glabella and mistakenly picked up a pot of Viola adunca that had been mislabeled as Viola glabella. It wasn't in bloom, so I couldn't tell that the flowers were the wrong color, and I'd never seen Viola glabella before.) After I got home, I realized that another of my plants was also not the one I actually wanted. I had wanted "goldenfleece" (Ericameria arborescens, pictured here), which is native around here, but I ended up with "goldenbush" (Isocoma menziesii, pictured here bearing ridiculously close resemblance to goldenfleece), which is native only within about 100 yards of the Pacific Ocean. The goldenbush probably will not survive here. I did not intend to drag it to a terribly ill-suited location and slowly torture it to death. But this is what happens when a nursery has no plant labels.

The Spanish-speaking employee helped me carry my plants to my car. I had parallel parked, which was probably only about the fourth or fifth time in my life I've ever needed this skill, and was blocked in, and I was proud of myself when I managed to escape from the parking spot successfully. (Though it was easier than it could have been; I had more maneuvering room than is sometimes available.)

Then I went home. Along the way, I took a slight detour through Sacramento, where I saw the cutest gay male couple ever to exist, walking down the street holding hands in front of the state capitol. When they paused to wait for a street light to change so they could cross the street, one of them kissed the other, and I may possibly have died of the cuteness. But if so, I was miraculously resurrected and continued driving home.

On Sunday I planted 11 plants. Only 17 left to go!

Mood: accomplished
2 Minds Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Friday, 15 May 2015
Friday, 15 May 2015 6:15pm
May Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

It's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day again, and the flower show continues to be shockingly muted compared to last year. And I continue to blame the drought. I didn't water much at all this winter, so watering more could probably have compensated for a lot of the damage (albeit at the expense of further draining California's reservoirs). It wouldn't necessarily have compensated for all of the damage, though. The drought is being caused by unseasonably warm weather, and the unseasonably warm weather would still affect some plants' growth no matter how much I watered.

Boston under the pecan tree, May 2015

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Mood: busy
1 Mind Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Wednesday, 13 May 2015
Wednesday, 13 May 2015 8:20pm
Health! Bicycling! Hammock-Sitting! Not Dying!

I bought a thing!

And I assembled the thing! From about 50 different parts! It took about two hours, and the tools that it came with were not really adequate to the job, but I found adequate substitutes and made all the pieces cohere into a single unit!

And then I used the thing!

It is a FitDesk. A stationary bicycle desk. So I can continue to have a job that involves sitting at home typing all day and yet not die young from the ill effects of sedentary lifestyles. Though it might have made sense to wait until the end of this month to see whether my temporary contract at work actually gets renewed or not. But hey, the price dropped substantially, so I went for it.

The odometer tells me I absent-mindedly bicycled 25 miles during my workday today. Which is fairly meaningless since there are vastly different tension settings to choose from. I had it set to 4 out of 8, but that's still meaningless unless you have a stationary bicycle of your own that has exactly the same tension settings. However, meaninglessness aside, it sounds impressive to my own ears! I've never bicycled while editing before. Also I seriously doubt that I've ever bicycled 25 miles in one day on an actual moving bicycle, because moving bicycles were always determined to hurl me onto the pavement before I got that far. Stationary bicycles are much better because it is much harder to crash them into things. Probably not even I can manage to crash this one.

I more often hear about treadmill desks than bicycle desks, but I think bicycle desks are a better option. Mainly because they're substantially cheaper, but also because I think it's probably easier to read and type while seated and pedaling than to do so while walking. Typing while bicycling worked surprisingly well for me. You definitely need to stop pedaling if you're doing something like drawing pictures and need to be very precise about cursor placement, but I doubt that's any surprise to anyone. Also, the computer screen does vibrate slightly if you're pedaling, so if you're trying to very closely proofread a large block of text and verify the placement of a lot of tiny punctuation marks, you might again need to stop pedaling to be able to focus your eyes well enough. I stopped pedaling a lot and just didn't worry about it. The placement of the meter so that it's hidden behind the laptop tends to take the focus off the pedaling anyway; pedaling is just something you can occasionally do absent-mindedly when you feel like it, not something you need to worry about trying to achieve any specific goals on.

Mostly I just wanted a way of exercising that cannot be derailed by smashed toes, sprained ankles, blistered heels, 110-degree weather, or any potential 60-hour workweeks that might arise again. This will serve for all of the above purposes.

fitdesk.jpg


Then after work I brought my laptop outside to type this LiveJournal entry in my hammock on my patio, looking out over my freshly mown lawn (well, mown two days ago), playing music (which I verified was completely inaudible at all fencelines, because I am a considerate neighbor unlike some people), enjoying the scent of blooming southern magnolia and Confederate jasmine (the American South theme is the previous homeowners' doing, not mine, but it smells good), watching a hummingbird visiting the Ithuriel's spear flowers in the patio pot where my blueberry bush is planted, and looking forward to another plant sale in Oakland this weekend (I think this will be the last of them until fall) and to meeting q10 in Berkeley on Monday.

And it is lovely.

hammock.jpg


In other health-related news, The New Yorker has an article this week by Atul Gawande about unnecessary medical care and how it damages people's health. Some of it is about cancer, and in the extremely tiny part of it that is specifically about breast cancer, he throws his lot in with practically every popular medical writer everywhere in advocating for fewer mammograms on the basis of data showing that mammograms do not save lives. I like Atul Gawande, and there's certainly no question he knows plenty more about medicine than I do, but I don't think he or any of the many who agree with him are giving adequate respect to the pro-mammogram side of the argument.

I am one of the people whose cancer treatment was arguably unnecessary. Current U.S. guidelines call for women to have their first mammograms at age 40, unless their personal or family medical history puts them at special risk. Many people (the vast majority of popular medical writers) call for pushing back the age of first mammograms to 50. I got mine at 37, for no good reason whatsoever, simply because my doctor misinterpreted the medical guidelines and thought my family medical history put me at special risk when it didn't. The mammogram did for me exactly what the anti-mammogram people complain that mammograms tend to do: it found a tiny cancer that might have just gone away on its own if left untreated. This means that treating it might have been unnecessary. And the data show that treating these cancers early makes no significant difference in the death rate: I could have gone without any mammograms and remained undiagnosed until it developed into a palpable lump that would get my attention even without a mammogram, and my risk of death would not have been significantly altered by this delay.

However, if I had waited that long, I would have needed chemotherapy. (Chemotherapy is necessary if the cancer is invasive; it's unnecessary if the cancer is pre-invasive, because if it's pre-invasive it's definitely trapped in one small area and there's no need to treat any other part of the body.) I would have felt much less free to refuse to take tamoxifen. I probably would have needed a more major surgery and might have lost some of the use of my right arm. Death itself is not the only thing to try to avoid here; quality of life also matters. I would not have gotten the same enjoyment from lying in a hammock watching the hummingbird if I'd been suffering through chemotherapy, tamoxifen, and lymphedema. I would have been too busy worrying about my health to pay as much attention to the freshly mown lawn and the scent of the flowers. I probably wouldn't have felt well enough to plan two trips to the San Francisco Bay Area within the next five days.

Of course, I don't know whether my cancer would ever have developed further at all. It might have just gone away. Or then again, it might not have. Medical science has not yet developed far enough to be able to take much of a guess about what my cancer would have done, and this makes it quite difficult to figure out how to weigh the risks and benefits of bothering with various treatments. I do not have any magical answers for anyone; people all have to weigh their own individual situations for themselves. I got more treatment than some would advocate for and less treatment than others would advocate for. I'm satisfied with where I drew my personal line, for the moment.

And I don't mind that medical writers are questioning the usefulness of mammography and other diagnostic tests that detect large numbers of very early-stage cancers. That is a conversation that very much needs to happen. And I do not have any opinion at all as to whether women should get their first mammograms at age 40 or at age 50; I do not feel qualified to have an opinion on that topic.

But I do ask that the conversation should not focus narrowly on death rates alone. I think Atul Gawande is doing readers a disservice by citing death rates alone in arguing that breast cancers, thyroid cancers, and prostate cancers are excessively screened for and excessively treated in their early stages. I don't know whether they're excessively screened for and excessively treated or not, but I do know that being alive or dead is not the sole measure of good health. So please, please, stop judging certain forms of health care as "unnecessary" solely because not receiving those forms of health care doesn't tend to actually kill people.

Mood: content
5 Minds Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Saturday, 9 May 2015
Saturday, 9 May 2015 11:55pm
Accidentally Walking a Mile Barefoot and Accidentally Buying Books

Last night I walked a mile barefoot through the streets at 1:00 a.m.

This wasn't exactly my plan. Well, it was my plan to go walking at 1:00 a.m. Because, although I shouldn't go walking until my sprained ankle heals, it's hard to tell how much it's healed unless I try to use it, and anyway I've been going stir-crazy and couldn't stand being trapped in my house anymore. And, well, daylight hours are just never as convenient as nighttime hours. Particularly since going outside at all during daylight hours tends to involve seeing certain undesirable neighbors. Is there an online support group somewhere that I could join, exclusively for people whose fiancées left them for someone else, married the other person less than a month later, and then bought a house with their new spouse within sight of one's own house? I imagine the group would consist of everyone posting sarcastic daily updates on the ridiculous actions that our exes and their new spouses have been undertaking in their front yards each day, interspersed regularly with horrified exclamations of, "Why the hell do I even know what my ex and spouse are doing every day? All I actually want is to never have to see them again for the rest of my life! But instead they've parked themselves continually in front of my face where I can't avoid seeing far too many details about their ongoing daily lives!"

Anyway, the middle of the night seems to me to be the best time to venture outdoors lately. This is a little inconvenient due to the unspoken rule that women are kind of not allowed outdoors alone after dark. But I solve that problem by bringing Boston with me; it seems to me that any creepy people who might be inclined to bother a woman walking alone at night are probably quite a bit less likely to bother a woman walking a large-ish dog. So last night I took Boston for a walk at 1:00 a.m. And it was a very nice walk, until I got about a mile from home. At that point I abruptly became aware that I had no skin left on the backs of either of my ankles. I was well beyond "hot spot" and even beyond "gigantic blisters"; I was into the stage of "gigantic blisters that have already popped and are oozing agonizingly."

This happens to me far too often, and I don't know why. Do I just have ridiculously fragile skin? I was wearing very good socks, running socks. I was not wearing running shoes, but I mean, I wasn't running. I didn't run a single step of the way! I was walking, and I was wearing what I took to be sensible walking shoes. The shoes in question don't seem to be for sale anymore, but they were a variation on these shoes (and I also own a pair of those exact shoes, in purple, of course, because everything is better in purple). Are these not sensible walking shoes? The marketing blurb calls them an alternative to sneakers. They do not look to me like the sorts of shoes that one should beware of attempting to walk a dog in. So why did I end up with blisters?

If I had been hiking, I would have had moleskin with me to deal with this sort of eventuality. I don't think, though, that people usually feel a need to bring moleskin to take their dogs for a walk. I feel like I'm the only person who blisters this easily.

Anyway, I was a mile from home, and I could not walk in my shoes anymore. I took them off, and my socks as well, and walked a mile home with bare feet, carrying my shoes and socks under my arm. It wasn't too bad on the sidewalks. Crossing the asphalt streets was the problem. And even then, it depended on which street I was crossing. Some streets were nearly as smooth as the sidewalks. Other streets, though . . . other streets will haunt me in nightmares.

Today I bandaged my feet as best I could, put on a different pair of shoes, and went Mother's Day shopping. I had mail-ordered a present for my mother a week and a half ago, and under normal circumstances it would have arrived by now, but for some reason the store has been dithering for a week and a half and failing to ship it. I could have just explained to my mother that her present hadn't arrived yet, and I thought about doing that; I also thought about bringing her a token present of some sort - flowers from my yard, for example - while explaining that her real present hadn't arrived yet. But I decided to just go buy her another real present. I went to Barnes & Noble. It wasn't the same Barnes & Noble where I first met Susan - it was a different Barnes & Noble also in Sacramento - but all Barnes & Nobles look fairly similar, and I realized when I walked in the door that it was the first time I'd been inside a Barnes & Noble since Susan left me. I wondered vaguely whether I should hold a grudge against Barnes & Noble now. But you know, Barnes & Noble and I go way back, and I can't let this get in the way of my relationship with them. Not that I apparently have that much of a relationship with them anymore, since I haven't physically visited them in all this time . . . but that's because it's just generally easier to order books online than to drive to Sacramento for them.

It was strange walking into a physical bookstore and realizing how much narrower the selection was there than online. My mother has basically four interests: Jane Austen (whose books she's already read all of, but now she reads terrible spinoffs of Jane Austen plots by other authors), Star Trek (which she's already read anything related to if it wasn't published in the past year), the San Francisco Giants (ditto), and science (with an emphasis on nuclear physics and astronomy). I walked in and wondered where Barnes & Noble might have placed a shelf labeled "terrible Jane Austen spinoffs." Upon realizing that Barnes & Noble wasn't actually likely to have such a shelf, I began to wonder whether there was any hope of finding anything for my mother here at all.

Back in 2007, when I was waiting in the other Barnes & Noble to meet Susan for the first time, I started looking at the gay studies bookshelf, because it seemed the thing to do while waiting to go on only my second date with a woman in my entire life (and the first one had been a thoroughly dull one that led nowhere). Finding nothing of interest there, I moved on to the adjacent women's studies and cultural studies bookshelves, and on the cultural studies bookshelf I picked up Jung Chang's autobiographical book, Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, and read one and a half chapters of it before Susan showed up. I didn't buy the book then, but I bought it a few weeks later, to finish reading the rest of it.

This is still how Barnes & Nobles are arranged: the gay studies bookshelf is still adjacent to the women's studies and cultural studies bookshelves. Furthermore, everything on the gay studies and women's studies bookshelves continues to bore me, and I still end up far more engrossed in the cultural studies bookshelf. It's not that I don't want to read books about gay people and women, but rather that I don't want to read the kinds of introductory-level "About Gay People and Women" books that end up on those few tiny shelves at Barnes & Noble. The cultural studies shelves are no less tiny - you get about 25 books selected to supposedly summarize The Black Experience, everywhere from America to Africa, and about 25 books about being Any Sort of Asian Anywhere, and so on. Probably the only reason I find them any less dull than the gay studies and women's studies shelves is that I haven't actually lived those experiences. They are definitely not the sorts of shelves where you can hope to stumble onto any rare and fascinating treasures of the sort I used to find in my university library - this is only Barnes & Noble, after all - but there are occasional books I'd consider reading, and some familiar names.

A James Baldwin memoir, No Name in the Street, tried to follow me home today from the cultural studies bookshelves. It was hard to resist, because James Baldwin is one of those few writers who are like family to me - not just in the sense of being a fellow LGBT person (although he was that too, and that does help), but in the sense of being . . . familiar, I suppose, and identified with. This is different from simply being a great writer. Italo Calvino is a great writer, and I could read his books for weeks on end and never get tired of them, but I don't feel like I know him at all; he's simply some unknown person who has written all manner of marvelous books. James Baldwin is different; he's someone I feel like I've had long personal conversations with, gotten to know well, and learned to trust and rely on for good advice. This seems to happen mostly with LGBT writers, but occasionally when a writer is good enough, when a writer inhabits his or her characters deeply enough to willingly engage with more aspects of the human experience than ordinary people do, I think writers can transcend those sorts of categories. Sherman Alexie, especially, is a writer who feels like family to me, and I've never heard anything indicating that he's necessarily LGBT (he is married to a woman), but in his writing, gay experiences do not feel walled off and kept at a distance; they feel embraced as part of the entirety of human experience. This is in contrast to the more common approach of heterosexual writers - Carol Shields in The Stone Diaries, for example, created a gay character who came across to me very much as The Gay Character Who Is Not Like Normal People Because He's One of Those Gay People Instead, and You Should Feel Very Sorry for Him Because It Must Be Very Sad to Be One of Those Gay People. It wasn't intended to be an unsympathetic portrait at all, but it was kind of an excessively sympathetic one, in my opinion; the character seemed to exist almost exclusively as an example of how pitiable and pathetic gay people's lives are. (I'm probably being a bit unfair here; it's been a decade since I read the book. But I remember being quite irritated back when I read it.)

Anyway, the James Baldwin book almost followed me home, because I read all his novels when I was in college, so I tend to forget that there's still more writing of his that I haven't gotten around to reading yet, and then when I find some of it, I get terribly excited. But I managed to talk myself out of buying it, on the grounds that I already have a floor-to-ceiling bookcase at home filled with books I haven't read yet, that I really should get around to reading before buying more, and also on the grounds that I could go home and add the book to my wish list for future holidays so that other people will buy it for me, and that way I'll get it for free. I used this same argument to talk myself out of buying several other books; in fact, by relying on this argument, I managed to look through the entire Literature section of the store without buying anything for myself. I got in trouble, though, when I looked for some Star Trek comics that my mother wanted (that the store did not have), because graphic novels tend to be sufficiently quick reads that they aren't likely to significantly slow down my brogress through my bookcase of unread books. So one of the graphic novels, American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, followed me home. It made a persuasive argument by spending a third of its length on a tale about the Monkey King, which I recognized as a reference to the Monkey tales in Journey to the West by Wu Cheng'en, which I haven't read and do not own, but to which I do own a sequel, The Tower of Myriad Mirrors by Tung Yüeh, which has been sitting on my unread bookshelf for years. I'd probably have gotten around to reading it by now except that every time I pick it up I rediscover that it's a sequel and become reconvinced that I should probably buy Journey to the West and read all four volumes of that first before trying to read its sequel. Anyway, the graphic novel informed me today that it would help spur me to read The Tower of Myriad Mirrors, but then I got home and picked up The Tower of Myriad Mirrors and remembered again why I haven't gotten around to reading it. So unless I'm suddenly inspired to buy Journey to the West very soon, the graphic novel probably lied to me. Oh well.

I did also manage to find my mother a present, eventually. So the trip did achieve something other than causing me to buy stuff for myself that I hadn't intended to buy. Also, I've already finished reading the graphic novel, American Born Chinese. It was . . . how can I put this? Even though it was on the graphic novel shelf rather than the cultural studies shelf, it had the same tone: it is an Introduction to Being Chinese-American at the most ultra-simiplified level. Also, it harps rather a lot on the idea that being Chinese-American consists largely of wanting not to be, which sometimes comes across awfully similarly to It Must Be Very Sad to Be One of Those Gay People, even though this is an insider's view of being Chinese-American. (There are also a few gay writers who write this way about being gay.) There is more to being a member of any minority group than just being harassed and discriminated against. Go ahead and acknowledge the suffering, but can we please also take some pride and pleasure in our identities? The Monkey King story seems like it was an effort in this direction, but it ends up not really working very well for that purpose, in my opinion . . . particularly since it ends up basically calling all Chinese and Chinese-American people stinky monkeys who should not pretend to be civilized by trying to wear shoes. Really, as an effort at cultural pride, this comparison seriously lacks something.

Within the genre of autobiographical graphic novels portraying their authors' childhood cultural experiences, this book is not nearly on the level of Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis; it's much shorter and less complex than that. Still, it does have some interesting rhetorical devices and plot twists. The Monkey King tale folded into the other plot lines in ways I hadn't anticipated and that were certainly interesting; now, if only it had managed to be less self-hating.

And now, off to see my parents and my brother tomorrow.

Mood: tired
9 Minds Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Thursday, 16 April 2015
Thursday, 16 April 2015 4:04pm
April Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

It's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day again . . . but here in California, we might want to call this one Garden Bloggers Complain About the Drought Day. Because this is April, and it doesn't entirely look like spring. At least, it certainly can't compete with April of last year. And I assume the reason for that is that the drought has gotten even worse than it already was last year.

April 2015.


I mean, it certainly doesn't look bad. There are definitely many more flowers blooming right now than there were over the winter. But the flowers that were late to the party last spring, like baby blue eyes, haven't shown up at all this year. And some of the flowers that were spectacular last year are almost completely absent this year. The most noticeable losses are the blue flax and the unusually colored California poppies. The poppies have probably just interbred back to their usual orange, so the disappearance of the unusually colored poppies is probably not related to the drought. But the drastic reduction in my blue flax population is almost certainly attributable to the drought.

Penstemon heterophyllus "Blue Springs" (foothill beardtongue), Penstemon pseudospectabilis (desert beardtongue), Iris reticulata (dwarf iris), Rosa sp. (roses), April 2015.


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5 Minds Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Sunday, 12 April 2015
Sunday, 12 April 2015 10:28pm
Plants! And Cake! Made from Plants!

Now I have more plants! There was another native plant sale today. This one was in Chico, and I didn't find out when it was going to be until the night before. There should still be one more sale later this spring, but I haven't heard a date yet for that one.

Today I bought showy milkweed, silver bush lupine, sticky monkeyflower, scarlet bugler, evergreen currant, Sonoma sage, California skullcap, California goldenrod, and two rather large trees that I'm going to have trouble figuring out places for: California buckeye and California bay laurel. The bay laurel, in particular, was a somewhat unrealistic purchase. But it was only $4, so if I can only grow it for a few years before it dies or I have to kill it for lack of an appropriate spot for it, so be it. In the meantime I'll at least get a few years of enjoyment. (And apparently it sometimes reacts to being poorly located by just staying tiny for a very long time, so maybe I'll get lucky and manage to turn it into a permanent dwarf somehow?)

It's always interesting trying to plan a garden while having no idea what plants I'll end up with. Native plants are not easy to find, and there are many species I found once at some point years ago but have never found again since. So I make long lists of plants I'd ideally like to find, then buy whichever ones I can find that are on the list. Today one of the nursery owners saw me with my list and said, "You look very organized and on task." I agreed. I study better for native plant sales than I ever did for exams. I take native plant sale studying very seriously. The bay laurel was not on my list, though. I disobeyed my list and bought it anyway.

There was a native-plant tea-tasting booth at the plant sale. I tried a native blackberry tea. The woman at the booth made it extremely weak, so it mostly just tasted like water. I've never met a tea that I liked the taste of, though, so the taste of water was an improvement.

Also I inexplicably volunteered to bake my mother's birthday cake this year. This was not sensible; I have neither much free time this week nor much knowledge of how to bake cakes. But I do have a good head start on the baking; I actually already baked the actual cake. What I need to do now is extract the second half of the cake from the pan without breaking it, then invent some sort of frosting and use it to stick the two halves together, then frost the rest of the cake, then decorate it. And then freeze it until next weekend. Hmm.

It is an orange-pecan cake, made from my homegrown oranges and pecans. This is the only explanation for why I volunteered; I must have wanted to show off my gardening skills, because my cooking skills are not generally something I want to show off. There was a conversation on Easter about how all the family's birthday cakes for the past couple of decades have been storebought, and it was entirely unnecessary for me to volunteer to change that, but I did. Anyway, the cake now requires homemade frosting just because its other ingredients are so homemade and homegrown that it would be wrong not to continue the pattern. Even the eggs I used in the cake are from chickens that, although I didn't raise them myself, I have met them and even taken care of them for a few days; they belong to my friends Alyson and Jackie, and I house-sat at their ranch last year and fed the chickens (along with the ducks, guineafowl, goats, donkeys, etc.) The only thing in the cake that I can't claim any role in creating is the sugar. I did not grow and harvest my own sugarcane. Sorry. (Oh wait, there's also one teaspoon of baking powder in each half of the cake. I have no idea what one would even do to create one's own baking powder, but whatever it is, I didn't do it.)

Mood: busy
6 Minds Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Friday, 10 April 2015
Friday, 10 April 2015 6:38pm
"The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu

My LiveJournal friends list is full, today, of commentary on the Hugo Awards, and on the war being fought this year over cultural and gender diversity within them. Somehow this led to a dredging up of winning stories from past years that did reflect cultural and/or racial diversity, and a debate on the literary merits of those stories. One thing that got dredged up was a 2012 LiveJournal entry criticizing the story "The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu, arguing that it did not deserve to win a prize (it won three of them: it swept the Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards in 2012), and suggesting that a different story, "Tiger Stripes" by Nghi Vo, would have been a better candidate. Specifically, that LiveJournal user asserts that "Tiger Stripes" is a better story because the ending made her cry, while the ending of "The Paper Menagerie" did not.

A different LiveJournal user, who shall remain anonymous here because the entry was friends-locked, novalis, felt a need to respond to the accusation that "The Paper Menagerie" won specifically due to a desire to include stories reflecting a multicultural and racially diverse society. He responded that although the story "The Paper Menagerie" is so terrible that one might reasonably think "nobody could possibly enjoy such tripe," the story probably did not actually win for political reasons but rather because "the truth is just that otherwise reasonable people have terrible taste sometimes."

So I read both stories. I read "Tiger Stripes" first. It was okay. I found the tiger's sudden, inexplicable transformation into a human a little awkward at first, but the story did have some good points; overall, I didn't dislike it. The ending certainly did not make me cry, though. Then I read "The Paper Menagerie" and liked it better. Then I got to the end of "The Paper Menagerie," and . . . it made me cry. I mean, not inconsolably or anything, but it made me tear up for a moment. So, uh, I guess that pretty well settles the question of which story I feel deserved to win prizes . . . I'm on the side of the story that actually won them.

One of the arguments some people made for why "The Paper Menagerie" should not have won these awards was that the fantasy element, the origami animals that come to life, supposedly was not integral to the story, but rather tacked on just to qualify the story for entry in these contests. I completely disagree. If you excised the origami animals from the story, could you still create a story with what's left? Sure. But would it be at all the same story? Absolutely not. It would be a profoundly different story - one with, in my opinion, rather less literary merit.

But what baffles me most is the idea that "The Paper Menagerie" was chosen for its progressive commentary on cultural diversity. If I were looking for a story to make progressive commentary on cultural diversity, this one would absolutely not be my choice. The whole trope of the Eastern culture being associated with magical powers while the Western culture is not? It would not be all that difficult to accuse the writer of "exoticizing" Chinese culture in a rather politically regressive way. I don't quite mean to accuse Ken Liu of actually doing that; there are in fact some literary merits to his choice, as a representation of the character Jack's perception, and I don't want to say that no writer should ever make that choice. What I do want to say is that it's a questionable choice to make; it's playing with fire, and sometimes playing with fire is worth the risks involved, but it isn't always . . . so if I were choosing a story specifically as a model of anti-racist literature rather than as a model of great literature, I would choose one that made politically safer choices.

And another thing: I found it confusing that the mother in the story, who is from China, makes origami animals, which are a Japanese tradition. The Chinese have their own paper-folding tradition, called zhezhi, but it does not usually involve folding the shapes of animals. So if I were looking for a story specifically to reflect cultural diversity, I'd probably look for one that reflected it less confusingly.

But in terms of their power to bring tears to my eyes, I found "The Paper Menagerie" far more effective than "Tiger Stripes." So yes, some of us do in fact enjoy "such tripe."

Mood: So there!
3 Minds Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Sunday, 5 April 2015
Sunday, 5 April 2015 12:49am
Spring Native Plant Sales!

Today I attend the first of the spring native plant sales. It was in Placerville - about an hourand a half away from me, but quite close to where my parents live, and practically right next to where my brother lives. I'm driving to see my parents tomorrow, but I'll be going via a different route, so between the two days of this weekend I'll drive more than 300 miles and pass through six counties: El Dorado, Sacramento, Nevada, Placer, Sutter, and Yuba. I also came within sight of Yolo County today, but I didn't cross the river to actually enter it.

Actually, I only entered Sacramento County and came within sight of Yolo County because I missed a turn. The missed turn landed me unexpectedly in Rancho Cordova, where I lived from 1999 to 2008, and I needed gasoline, so I thought, "I'll just drive through my old neighborhood and go to the gas station that I always used to go to." But I've been away for long enough that the neighborhood was less familiar than I expected it to be, so I got distracted by all the new sights and the unexpected foreignness of it all and missed that turn too, so then I stayed off the freeway for much longer than I'd planned because I had to look for a new gas station, and along the way I ended up on a strange tour of my entire past life, in that way that only happens if you've lived your entire past life in a fairly small geographic region. It went like this: "Oh look, this is my early adulthood! Now here's my college! And I had a doctor appointment here once about ten years ago! Now I'm somewhere near my dead grandmother's house! Ack, here's where I proposed marriage in the form of a Spenserian sonnet that I wrote myself, which was all very well except that it turns out I picked a terrible person to address it to. And now here's where I got radiation treatments for cancer last year! And my high school co-best friend lives near here too, with her husband. And here's Lavender Heights, where the gay bookstores used to be that have both gone out of business now. Ick, this was where my icky boyfriend from 20 years ago (!!!) used to work. Which is also part of the scene of a more recent bad date. And now I'm where I met sammka earlier this month. . . . and now I'm on the freeway, following the same route I used to take to see my irritating ex who trapped me in Marysville by buying a house with me one year before dumping me."

So my life sort of flashed before my eyes, and continued doing so for half an hour or so. Some of it was parts of my life that I got to write for myself, more or less. Other parts felt more as if other people vandalized my life and scribbled all over it with things I never wanted in it. Oh well. Life for most people seems to consist in large part of making the best of other people's vandalism, trying to come up with one's own designs to overwrite it with, like the way people seek to cover up unwanted tattoos by designing new ones that creatively incorporate the old ones.

Anyway, I got plants! I got up early, drove to Placerville, and came home with all these plants. Then I spent a few hours talking to Mikie, and then I spent a few hours planting the plants. I got most of them planted. I saved some of the larger ones for later because I haven't finished deciding quite which shrubs I want where. I might save them until after the next plant sale so I'll know what other shrubs I'll have to choose from. The plants shown below are (read from left to right and top to bottom as if the two boxes were pages of a book) bush anemone, golden currant, Oregon grape, low blueblossom, seep monkeyflower, two narrowleaf mule ears plants, another seep monkeyflower, two-tooth sedge, soap lily, Eastern Mojave buckwheat, death camas, and hummingbird sage.

plantsale.jpg


I'm still rather disappointed with the way my garden looks so far this spring. It just isn't living up to last year in my eyes. I blame the drought. Though we had that last year too! So I don't know what to think. But I do have a decent field of meadowfoam blooming in my culinary garden now. (Meadowfoam seeds are edible, so it does make some sense to have meadowfoam in the culinary garden, though I've never yet actually tried eating them. I should probably do that this year.) Here is my field of meadowfoam.

meadowfoamfield.jpg

Mood: accomplished
1 Mind Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Saturday, 28 March 2015
Saturday, 28 March 2015 12:57am
Americanah

I just finished reading the novel Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The author is a brilliant writer. I kind of feel that she might be a not very good human being, though.

She grew up in Nigeria and now divides her time between Nigeria and the United States. The title of this book, which is also about a woman from Nigeria who moved the the United States and then back to Nigeria, is an exaggerated spelling of a Nigerian pronunciation of the word "American" - with the final "n" stretched out admiringly into an additional syllable for emphasis. It's not pronounced like "Americana" but rather like "American" followed by "ah."

Beyond that . . . well, if you're planing to read this book anytime soon - soon enough that you'll still remember this plot summary - you should probably not read the rest of this.

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Mood: contemplative
2 Minds Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Monday, 23 March 2015
Monday, 23 March 2015 11:59pm
Bomb Day at the Marysville Bok Kai Festival

Marysville's annual Bok Kai Festival, our holiday to honor the Taoist water god Bok Eye - who is a very important god to try to please and gain favor from at the moment, considering California's ongoing drought - was this weekend. In past years I've attended the parade, which always takes place on Saturday, but this year I instead attended Bomb Day, which is always Sunday. (Apparently I'm not enough of an enthusiast to attend both days in the same year. Though I did leave the house and do stuff on Saturday, just not parade stuff: I helped my friend Alyson with her daughters' Girl Scout cookie sale, because she was legally required to have a second adult present and couldn't find any actual parents to help her out that day.)

This was my first time attending Bomb Day, although I'd read quite a bit about it ahead of time, so it was interesting to finally see it for myself. It's a pretty big deal for a small-town event; even the New York Times has an article about it today. It's certainly, unquestionably, the biggest event of the year in Marysville, every year.

W. T. Ellis, Jr., mayor of Marysville from 1894 to 1898, described Bomb Day in that era in his autobiography, Memories: My Seventy-Two Years in the Romantic County of Yuba, California:
New Year's day celebration was always followed in the next month with the Chinese "Bomb Day," when bombs were shot up in the air with numbered tags attached and the one who caught the wicker ring with the attached tag when it descended to the ground was entitled to call for and retain for one year a prize screen which was expected to bring good luck to the holder for that year. Great crowds would congregate to witness the scramble for possession of the wicker rings, when they were shot up in the air, particularly for the big prize one, and in those days I have witnessed over 150 Chinese pull and haul and tug for over an hour, trying to get possession of this prize, their clothes torn to ribbons, their hands and arms scratched and bloody, until finally some one of them would be successful, with the aid of his friends, to escape and run as fast as he could to the Joss House where the prize would be awarded him. Then would follow processions and banquets where large roasted hogs, "cooked to a turn," would be the piece de resistance.
That, of course, was back when Marysville actually had a large Chinese community. Back before Marysville, along with much of the rest of California at the time, violently drove all the Chinese residents out of town in February 1886, after which Marysville (along with nearby Wheatland, Nicolaus, Lincoln, Chico, Grass Valley) became for many years a sundown town in which Chinese people were threatened with violence if they attempted to live there or remain there after sunset. The Bok Kai Festival continued to be held in Marysville every year despite this - it is now the oldest continually held parade in California, having been held annually since at least 1880, but also apparently held at least sporadically as far back as the 1850s - but the actual Chinese American resident population of Marysville never recovered and is now possibly in the single digits. We do, however, still receive hundreds of Chinese American visitors once a year for the Bok Kai parade, and it seems that a few of them (less than a hundred, I'm pretty sure) either returned for a second day or stayed overnight to attend the Bomb Day celebrations as well.

Far fewer people not of Chinese descent bothered to attend Bomb Day, though. I expected the crowd to be smaller for Bomb Day than for the parade, but I was a little shocked at how much smaller it was. On parade day, you have to show up early to have any chance at a parking spot within ten blocks of the parade, and that's even though large spaces not ordinarily used for parking are converted to legal parking spots for the occasion, and nearby residents offer to rent out parking spaces in their driveways. So on Bomb Day, I drove as close as I thought I possibly could, then kept driving closer while wondering why there were still parking spaces available, and finally just decided there couldn't possibly be any more parking spaces available any closer to the event than I already was, so I pulled into one and got out and started walking . . . only to find myself walking past five more blocks of empty parking spaces.

As I walked, I began to hear firecrackers. The event was supposed to start at 4:00 p.m., and it was only about 3:50 p.m. when I started hearing the firecrackers, but I guess they aren't very particular about exact times. It wasn't really the sort of event you need to be there to see the very beginning of anyway: Bomb Day events begin with lighting the first of a two-block-long string of firecrackers stretched down 1st Street from D to C Streets. (That's two blocks because Oak Street is between D and C.) These two blocks, plus a block of C Street on each side of 1st Street, comprise what's left of our Chinatown. The Bok Kai Temple, and the similarly historic but not so Chinese-themed Silver Dollar Saloon (built in 1851, and rather proud of its former use as a brothel), are at one end, and the Suey Sing and Hop Sing tong buildings are at the other, and in between are the old Chinese school, the Chinese American Museum of Northern California, and a couple of Chinese restaurants. (The tongs, historically speaking, were basically gangs, and could be violent, often in defense against violent white people. I had a memorable conversation a couple of years ago with the man who runs the Chinese American Museum; he described having to engage in perpetual battles in the streets of Marysville in the late 1950s. The conversation was memorable because it isn't often that well-dressed, well-spoken, well-mannered men in their 70s vividly describe to me how they used to beat people over the head with heavy metal chains during their teenage years.) Anyway, the west end of the long string of firecrackers had been lit by the time I arrived, but it hadn't burned very far yet; I watched most of its travels through the small crowd that had shown up. The two-block route was fairly well lined with people; I'd guess there were between 200 and 300 people there, of whom maybe a third appeared to be probably of Chinese descent. (We don't have all that many local residents of any type of East Asian descent, so I think it's safe to assume that the vast majority of Asian people there were of Chinese descent. And have you ever been in a crowd where nearly all the people of one race are from out of town and nearly all the people of any other race are from the local neighborhood? The divisions between out-of-towners and locals tend to be pretty visible even without the race difference. Even more so in a small town where many of the locals know each other.)

When the line of firecrackers reached C Street, it curved around into a large spiral, which was roped off to keep the crowd a little distance back. The people who'd been lining other parts of the route, including me, crowded into a circle around this spiral. When the entire spiral had exploded, it was time for the special "bombs" with the numbered rings of thin rope inside to be shot off. First, the competitors who would grapple for the rings were chosen. Unlike in W. T. Ellis's day, there were probably not 150 people of Chinese descent in Marysville yesterday, let alone 150 youngish males of Chinese descent who felt like volunteering to fight for numbered rings of thin rope with one another, so there were only maybe 15 competitors chosen.

The competitors do all have to be male. I'm not sure why - although, given the physical nature of the competition, if women were allowed to participate, they would probably be competing separately in women-only contests over the rings. But tradition dictates that women are just supposed to stand on the sidelines; only the men are invited to tackle each other and wrestle each other over numbered rings of rope. The competitors also all had to be of Chinese descent, with one exception: our mayor, Ricky Samayoa, was also invited to compete. (And he caught one of the rings! Yay, Ricky!) The competition also appeared to be limited to somewhat youngish men (the oldest competitors were probably in their early 40s), although I think that was a matter of self-selection: older men don't care to volunteer to be tackled and wrestled with by much younger men.

Once the competitors were chosen and lined up inside the rope circle, the man shown below started lighting the bombs with the rings inside them, one at a time, on top of this tree stump, while another man pounded on a gong in the background. Supposedly a total of 100 numbered rings are shot into the air. I'm not sure whether that's really the current number or not. What I did see was that there were two different types of firecrackers being shot off during this section of the festivities: some of them contained numerous rectangular objects, while others contained a single ring of thin rope. I think there were about ten of the firecrackers that contained a single ring of thin rope, so if 90 other numbered rings were also shot into the air, they must have been contained in rectangular boxes.

Bok Kai 022.jpg


When the rectangular objects were shot into the air, there were enough for many of the competitors to catch one, so the competitors all ran different directions. But when the single rings of thin rope were shot into the air, all the competitors had to fight for the single ring. If no one caught it while it was still in the air, everyone would dive for it on the ground, which is what's happening in the picture below. (The mayor is the guy in the bright orange shirt. This was not the round in which he successfully caught the ring.)

Bok Kai 015.jpg


There seemed to be several methods of obtaining a ring. The easy way was to be tall, good at jumping high, and able to catch it in the air. The harder way was to fight for it after it fell to the ground. If you have basketball-player skills, there doesn't seem to be much sense in resorting to using wrestler skills. Though some of the numbers are considered luckier than others, with the number 4 considered the luckiest of all, so I guess if you really want the number 4 and you didn't manage to catch it in the air . . .

Bok Kai 021.jpg'


But if you prefer not to get hurt, waiting for the next numbered ring to be shot off and just jumping for it is the way to go.

Bok Kai 020.jpg


In the picture below, the guy near the center, wearing a white shirt and grinning, has just caught the ring. You can see it faintly in his right hand.

Bok Kai 019.jpg


So now I've seen Bomb Day for myself. It was interestingly different from the parade. The parade mostly consists of a bunch of non-Chinese people dressing up in Chinese costumes while most of the people who are actually of Chinese descent sit on the sidelines and watch. Then on Bomb Day, the non-Chinese people are relegated to the sidelines while the people who are actually of Chinese descent get to participate. So I guess it balances out?

Anyway, the festival seems to have achieved its main purpose this year by pleasing the water god, Bok Eye. It rained last night!

(Historically, the parade and the temple were for the purpose of protecting Marysville more from flooding than from drought, because the debris that the gold miners in the mountains dumped into the rivers during the Gold Rush raised the riverbeds and created severe flooding problems; Marysville is now completely encircled by levees to protect it from this continuing problem. It's said - in the parade advertisements every year - that Bok Eye has never allowed it to rain on the Bok Kai Parade. This year, too, the rain waited until after all the ceremonies were over. But we definitely needed the rain, so it was good to receive some.)

Mood: excited
1 Mind Spoken | Speak Your Mind
Sunday, 15 March 2015
Sunday, 15 March 2015 5:07pm
It's Spring! (March Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day)

It's officially spring! Not officially according to the calendar quite yet, but officially according to my flowers, which are more authoritative on this topic than the calendar is. My first California poppy bloomed yesterday. My first Douglas meadowfoam flowers bloomed a few days ago. It's definitely not high spring yet, but spring has officially begun. Just in time for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.

My California lilac (Ceanothus 'Joyce Coulter') is making me very happy. I've had several of these plants, starting at the hellhole duplex I used to live in, but the others never got as big as this. This one still isn't very big - it doesn't look much at all like what the plant is supposed to look like at maturity - but it's making progress; by next spring I think it might start looking significantly more like a small version of its adult form. I've planted it under my southern magnolia, which was a bit of a gamble, because the southern magnolia needs a lot of water and the California lilac needs to not be exposed to a lot of water, but my gamble was that the southern magnolia would drink up all the water and leave the California lilac dry. It seems to be working so far. Also, the California lilac needs some sun, but not as intense of sun as we get in the Sacramento Valley, so I planted it under the sunnier side of the southern magnolia, and that also seems to be working so far.

Ceanothus "Joyce Coulter"

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Mood: busy
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