Fortune 40

Today, I had my annual check-up. Except, I’ve only been once before, so annual is a strong word to use here.

Up until now, I’d stuck my tongue out at the doctor, not for the doctor. Well-checks, exams, and preventative medicine were for other people, not for me.

But forty isn’t young. It isn’t old, but old isn’t impossible anymore, and older vehicles need more maintenance. So, when I got home, I ate spinach for lunch – lots of spinach.

Later, I was digging around in my car console when I came across this slip of paper from a fortune cookie:

"Son said: 'Even Popeye didn't eat his spinach until he had to.'"

Apparently, this comes from Cynthia Copeland’s book, Really Important Stuff My Kids Have Taught Me. I can’t speak to the rest of the book; I just read the fortune cookie, but it’s Confucius-wise.

It’s time to eat the spinach. But what they don’t tell you, is that by the time you need it, you might actually like it. How fortunate.

Photo of can by Sam Kim, cropped

Conspiracy Beeries

Conspiracy Beeries

I know someone who likes conspiracy theories.

It’s all of us; we all like conspiracy theories.

We’re wired to link disparate events and people, finding hidden connections and uncovering the meaning we so desperately crave. It gives us the advantage over our less sentient co-animals, but it can lead to some pretty crazy ideas, too.

Like this blog post, for example.

I was at The Bar in the Middle of the Road one evening, in Carolina Beach, NC. It had another name, but I don’t remember it now; we only ever called it “the Bar in the Middle of the Road.”

I liked that bar. It was lodged awkwardly in a fork of the main road. What they lacked in ambiance, they made up for in absurdity. Who puts a bar in the middle of the road?

It was there that I first (and last) tried Rasputin Imperial Stout. It ranks as the darkest, thickest, stoutest stout I’ve ever drank. Look at the picture on the bottle; it tastes like the expression on that gnarly mystic’s face. It tastes dangerous.

Outside the Bar in the Middle of the Road, a man was playing music, trying to be heard above the roar of traffic. He had a karaoke machine that kept accompaniment while he sang and played intermittently on his guitar. Never before or since have I seen a performer rely on a karaoke machine.

He asked for requests from the (small) crowd, plugged the song into his machine, and sang along, strumming the guitar when he saw fit, all the while making snarky comments about the patrons’ song choices and looking at the crowd with a clear sense of disdain. Who’s judging who, here, sir?

“Any suggestions?” he asked, sure we’d name the lamest songs ever.

Rasputin in hand, I called out over the rush of cars, “James Taylor.”

“Oh what? ‘Carolina in My Mind’? ‘Fire and Rain’?” he asked with a sneer.

“‘Millworker,'” I said. A dare. No one knows “Millworker”.

His face cleared; he turned off the machine. “I actually know that one.”

He played “Millworker” beautifully, soulfully, authentically. Everyone stopped talking to listen. The cars buzzed on.

He finished, and our eyes met. Yes, that’s a good song.

James Taylor’s “Millworker” was written for a Broadway play, for use in a scene about a steelworker’s struggles.

“Yes, but it’s my life, has been wasted
And I have been the fool
To let this manufacturer
Use my body for a tool”

I’m currently reading David Cecelski’s blog post, “The Revolt of the Lint Dodgers: The Lumberton Cotton Mill Workers of 1937.” I like ALL his work, which is extensive, so don’t be surprised if I mention him repeatedly.

“Revolt” details the strike of 1930s cotton mill workers less than two hours away from the Bar in the Middle of the Road. The work days were long, the pay low, the hazards high. The workers were as young as twelve (or younger, pitching in to help mom); they lived in homes owned by the mill company. The work was becoming faster-paced, more grueling, less humane. Their bodies and lives were tools of the mill owners. Cecelski’s story highlights how they (mostly peaceably) pushed for changes in this system.

Rasputin was the spiritual advisor to the last Emperor of Russia and his family (including Princess Anastasia, featured in a Disney movie). The last Emperor became the last Emperor because the working class rose up against him in dissatisfaction with working conditions and social inequalities, non-peaceably. Rasputin unwittingly helped their cause by giving bad press and bad advise to the monarchy.

I once attended an anarchist meeting. That’s what they said they were, which sounded exciting to a first-year college student with a love of punk music. But it was a bunch of talk about labor laws abroad, the World Trade Organization, and other peoples’ revolutions. Turns out I wasn’t serious about anarchy, after all; I just wanted to stick up an occasional middle finger to the Man.

So where am I going with this?

If you drink Rasputin beer while listening to a song about the struggles of millworkers, in a bar a few hours from an old unionized mill town, and you once attended an anarchist meeting, and you find a connection between those events, you’re either a conspiracy theorist or a writer. I choose writer.

The “Writer’s Digest Handbook of Novel Writing” (I already read the updated one; now I’m reading the 90s version) calls this “segmented reality.” Call it what you will; it’s the stuff that stories are made of.

Photo: Bernt Rostad from Oslo, Norway, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A Hairy Subject

Warning: This post is 99% tasteless jokes, 1% serious writing. I tried to do better. You see, I wanted to write a smart and sensitive post about eunuchs, but I didn’t have the balls.

I warned you.

The pun all began with a quote from an article in this month’s Smithsonian (Jan/Feb 2023), “Sheer Willpower: The Life of the Last Empress,” by Tony Perrottet. In the decades I’ve been reading the Smithsonian, I don’t think there’s ever been a dud issue. If I had to let go of all other periodicals, I’d keep the Smithsonian.

Perrotet says, “Born around 390, the daughter of a patrician named Galla and Emperor Theodosius the Great, (Placidia) spent her infancy as a nobilissima puella, “‘most noble girl,'” in the Great Palace of Constantinople in modern Istanbul, where the royal family could watch dolphins at play while being fanned with peacock feathers by eunuchs.”

Eunuchs. Now there’s a practice long gone out of style. Though maybe not; what would I know? I’m no nobilissima puella, though I did take several years of Latin. How can something so beautiful be so painful to learn? It’s like classical ballet – those shoes hurt.

Eunuchs. How cruel, that servants of the ancient world were castrated to render them harmless to the upper echelon’s families. To think, ancient Romans were more comfortable around those with an altered gender, while we (the royal we) stigmatize transgendered people.

That’s nuts.

Eunuchs. They bring to mind my current experience with male hormones.

I have androgenic hair loss and am treating it with an androgen blocker. As far as I can tell, the drug’s Latin name translates to “twisting milk tension”. Sometimes, the cure is worse than the cold.

Apparently, my scalpular sparsity is due to male hormones. You’d think a little masculinity would make me hairy. My husband, The Yeti, is hairy. But somehow, no. It gives me male pattern baldness instead. I don’t have strong muscles or an extra twenty cents per dollar salary, just the baldness.

How might this medication change me (besides growing more hair, please)? If I’ve been manly this whole time, I’ve enjoyed it. I’m not sure I want to be eunuchized. But then again, in the words of Betty White,

“Why do people say, ‘Grow some balls’? Balls are weak and sensitive.
If you really wanna get tough, grow a vagina. Those things really take a pounding!”

And that concludes today’s deep thoughts. I’m sorry. I promise to do better next time. Until then, carpe diem testiculis, ya’ll.

My Favorite Book

Those are big words. Can you really have just one favorite book? Maybe not, but John Crowley’s Little, Big has been my favorite for the longest – since I was about sixteen, when an aunt gifted it to me with unnatural intuition as to what I’d enjoy.

I decided to read it again, with attention as to why I like so much. The book’s so well-worn, I figured this read, I’d sink in the final dagger and mark it up – underling and bracketing sentences and passages I especially like (and want to emulate).

There’s lots of words I don’t know in this book, despite multiple readings. That probably doesn’t speak well for my powers of perception or follow-through. I’m circling every word I don’t know; I’m on page 75 and up to 20 words: amanuensis, biomorphic, cafe royale, campagna, chesterfield, corpuscular, gymnosophists, inexorably ( I kinda knew this one), infundibular, intaglie, maquerau, mullioned, phthisically, plangency, plinths, prolegomena, rustication, sclerotic, stringcourses, tattersall. Feel free to weigh in on how many of those you know, smarty-pants.

On page 8, there’s a sentence 260 words long. It’s a list; to break it into smaller parts would have broken the momentum and its meaning.. The more I pay attention to the fiction I’m reading, the more I think that, perhaps, the rules of grammar are made to be broken; the only ones who follow them are the uninitiated. How else can all of these authors be getting away with it?

Little, Big is an example of magical realism. It won the World Fantasy Award in 1982, the year I was born. But it’s not the dragon-and-fairy kind of fantasy, with heroes and villains. It’s set in the real world, with occasional visits from another, smaller, bigger fantastical world: “I mean by this that the other world is composed of a series of concentric rings, which as one penetrates deeper into the other world, grow larger. The further in you go, the bigger it gets. Each perimeter of this series of concentricities encloses a larger world within, until, at the center point, it is infinite.”

I found science to be like that, which is one thing I liked about it (my degree is in Biology). You could learn a list of all the mammals (the outer ring), then their anatomies (going in makes it more complex), and if you take it to the cellular level, that’s a huge amount of detail. Start talking atoms, sub-atomic particles, and energy, and you’ve hit the infinite.

Little, Big plays with these layers in a fantastical way. I like my facts spiced with fiction – heavier on the fiction side, really, like a carrot cake; we all know it’s mostly cake. But tell me it’s good for me; tell me a story.

“He knew he would have to believe in order to go where she had been; knew that, if he believed, he could go there even if it didn’t exist, if it was make-believe.” Isn’t that what reading is?

What books have remained your favorites for years (decades?), never loosing their charm from one read to the next? Tell me a story I’ll want to believe.

Here Be Dragons

Here Be Dragons

Dragons make everything better. Fairy tales, New Year’s celebrations, yoga. Real dragons, of course, would be a major downer, but dragons aren’t real (are they?) They’re fire-breathing, treasure-hoarding, flying magical creatures of our imagination. They might consume a fair maiden or two, but look what they give in return – great stories.

My son and I are reading Michael Hague’s Book of Dragons right now. Most of the stories are familiar – Smaug from The Hobbit, Eustace in C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawntreader, St. George and the Dragon. If you’ve never seen Michael Hague’s illustrations, look him up – the pictures alone make one of his books worth reading.

It’s a good time for dragons. The Chinese New Year, on January 22nd, features dragon dances for good luck. And I’ll be doing my own dragon dance this Thursday.

I teach gentle yoga every Tuesday, but I also substitute in other classes. This week, I get to teach a Vinyasa Flow class, which I haven’t taught in awhile. I’m pretty excited, and I’m going with my favorite yoga sequence of all time: the dragon sequence.

You can find several variations online, but I like the one my first teacher used. That was ten years ago, and I’m likely misremembering it, so the version below is an amalgamation of her sequence and my preferences. Once you get the hang it, it’s a full-body stretch, workout, moving meditation, and the only yoga flow I know that tells a story.

Here’s how my version goes:

  • The dragon sleeps (chair pose with prayer hands)
  • The dragon awakes (mountain pose)
  • The dragon crouches (lizard pose)
  • The dragon looks out its cave (lizard pose with bent elbows, look to sides)
  • The dragon stretches its wing (twist with arm up)
  • The dragon breathes fire (high lunge with cactus arms and lion’s breath)
  • The dragon flies (Warrior III)
  • The dragon waves its tail (3-legged dog and scorpion dog)
  • The dragon shows its belly (wild thing)
  • The dragon flies around the world (move through goddess pose to frame opposite foot)
  • The dragon sleeps (chair pose with prayer hands)

Here’s a video, totally different than what I described

You can then cry mercy or move through the whole sequence again in reverse, landing back asleep in your cave. It’s a challenging sequence, but I love imagining myself as a yoga dragon.

What are your favorite dragons tails?

The Vegetable Revolution Resolution

“Gotta eat yo vegetables, eat yo vegetables” – Broccoli Brothers

The Broccoli Brothers said it all. Vegetables are good for you, tasty, necessary, and in my house, in need of a revolution.

Last night, we lost power about 8pm. When I was woken by the four-year-old at 3am, it was still out. As I tried to get him back to sleep, visions of a life without power danced in my head.

It was New Year’s Eve – time for big changes. What if some nutjob had knocked out the whole power grid, Fight Club style, and we’d be without power from here on out? Was I ready?

I like where I live, but it’s not good for growing food – the soil is too sandy, a little bit salty. We’ll have to move.

Also, I need to learn how to grow food.

Good thing I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It’s the story of how she and her family spent a year eating only locally grown and sustainably produced foods, livin la vida locavore. It’s not exactly a how-to book for subsisting off the land, more of an inspiration to try. She describes harvesting asparagus spears so sweet and tender, it’s a revelation. Me, I want to grow a leafy green – probably kale; we like kale chips.

But more importantly, I want to eat more vegetables. Even and especially ones I’ve never tried before.

Last night, my husband declared his New Years resolution to eat more vegetables. And without a competing resolution of my own, I jumped aboard the veggie van.

We were at a friend’s house, built in the 1700s, surrounded by reminders of a past without much meat or fast foods. I’d been walking with the lady of the old house, talking about recipes and foods – searching for that new meal that would wow a 4-year-old and a foodie alike. Maybe it could be found at Trader Joe’s, or maybe it could be found at a Tienda Mexicana.

I got that idea after reading all of David Cecelski’s NC food articles. Cecelski’s visited Hispanic restaurants and grocery stores (and grocery store/restuarants) across the state’s coast, and he made them sound so…so…so…delicious. I, too, want to eat goat and cactus. No one’s even offered it to me before, and to think – it’s right here in my state, just a language barrier away.

There are bound to be unexplored vegetables in the Hispanic grocery. Or the Asian grocery. Or anywhere I haven’t looked before. Maybe, in my backyard. Maybe, in your backyard. Let the Vegetable Revolution begin. Party on, Broccoli Brothers, and Happy New Year!