Philosophy

One of Those Days

Ever had one of those days where nothing seems to go right, a day where everything, in fact, goes the opposite of right? A day that deteriorates to comic proportions, everything about it unraveling until it becomes almost predictable. Every joke’s on you.

It seems almost surreal, doesn’t it, like a conspiracy of the universe to destroy you? Karma is pissing on your head. Practice deep breathing and visualization, stress management techniques and transcendental meditation. Practice aggressive passive aggression. Stay calm in the face of cacophonous calamity. It could be worse, right? The universe can only nod its head in your direction, an unwavering affirmative to your inquiry and thanks for asking. It could be worse and so it is. Care to wager again, double or nothing perhaps?

Laughing helps, but there’s a point where laughter becomes hollow and painful, a point where laughter makes the hurt worse. At some point the body and mind become numb, survival mechanisms kicking in and flooding your neural circuitry with endorphins to lessen the anguish. It could be worse becomes it’s not so bad. Turn that frown upside down and buck up buckeroo.

There’s always tomorrow.

Having a bad day? (by Missy13d69 on Flickr) – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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The Nature of Texture

Texture is a feeling. Texture is an appearance. Texture is a consistency. Texture implies depth. Texture can be used to describe the look, sound, taste, or feeling of an object. Texture makes things interesting and delights the senses with contrast. There are so many competing textures in the world around us that sometimes they get lost in the sensory overload that is the modern experience, with all its immediacy and umbilical attachments to technology .

But one thing about texture is that it denotes a depth of experience that is best experienced in person, in three dimensions, and for that reason texture is difficult to convey on the flat surface of a video screen. But that will never stop us from trying.

Posted for the DP Weekly Photo Challenge: Texture

See more garden textures HERE (on my dedicated garden photography blog)

The Impermanence of Memory

“Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.”

― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore (via goodreads)

 

Back before the Fall

Back before the Fall

On a recent trip to the doctor my mom and sister were driving home and were stopped at a red light. Plastered on the bumper of the car in front of them was a bumper sticker declaring, Joy Comes From Within.

What do you think about that, Mom? Joy comes from within.”

I can almost hear the annoyed sigh my mom must have made. “Joy come from within, huh? Well, let me know when it comes out.”

This has become an inside joke amongst us as we battle for meaning in the face of my mom’s Alzheimer’s. We will remind ourselves that joy comes from within as we laugh in the face of the depression we feel. These are the memories I will hold on to. I don’t want to remember the tears, the confusion, the sad pleas for help. I want to remember the joy that comes from within.

I have accepted the fact that my mother is dying slowly, not unlike my father. Her path will be different, but the destination will be the same. In my father’s case his body went before the brain, while my mother’s descent will proceed in the opposite order, her mental state deteriorating until the body fails. I often wonder as I watch the Deer Hill Dinner Theatre which is preferable, to lose control of one’s mind or one’s body. When I struggled through those years watching my father battle his own body after his accident, many of his favorite things in life taken from him as a C-4 quadriplegic, I could imagine no greater tragedy than being confined to a wheelchair. But having seen my mother’s sad dive into dementia, I realize that there are so many important parts of life that stay unappreciated. How many people give thanks for the ability to walk, the ability to feed themselves, the ability to remember yesterday? How many people truly understand the significance such simple actions?

Seeing the people you love suffer is not easy, but the shock is somehow eased through the process of acceptance. In the case of Alzheimer’s, what is perhaps saddest is that my mother herself will never be able to reach this final plateau of the grief hierarchy, that she will never be able to embrace her condition and comprehend the trajectory. Not only is she unaware that she has a disease which will eventually destroy the part of her brain that controls the autonomic function of her internal organs, but she has no idea that she is even sick. Another cruel trick of fate. She still calls the disease old-timers, and considers her memory only slightly hindered. Sometimes she has a moment of lucidity and realizes that something is wrong with her, but cannot understand the implication of the reasons before the moment fades away. My father was well aware of the fate that eventually awaited him, and I’d like to think he was able to accept it and move on. I often wonder if that gave him closure.

Closure is another ambiguous term that gets thrown about when people discuss grief and loss. Is it coincidence that the fifth and final step of the standard lesson format most teachers learn in their training programs is called closure? Closure provides summary and context. Closure deepens understanding through scaffolding and connections with preexisting knowledge. Closure creates a bridge between what happened today and what will happen tomorrow. Closure is supposed to be the part where the other portions of the lesson introduced earlier come into focus, leading to deeper meaning and understanding. Closure is when everything gets wrapped up in a neat little package that students can take with them. It is considered the most important part of the lesson, and is also the hardest part to get right. Unfortunately not all lessons can be so easily wrapped up with a bow. Some lessons are open ended and ambiguous. Some lessons remain ongoing and aren’t ready to be closed. I felt that if I transcribed all these memories and saw them on paper, that meaningful closure would come to me. I am still searching for it. I know it must be here somewhere.

From all this I am reminded above all that I have lots to be thankful for, but in the tumult of daily life it is easy lose sight of this fact. It usually takes tragedy to remind us of these things we should be thankful for, which ironically is a tragedy in itself. Must we really have something taken away from us before we can appreciate it? Is it that absence makes the heart grow fonder, or can we never truly see that which is right in front of us? Are we destined to lament and covet what is missing rather than exalt and celebrate the amazing abilities and relationships we still possess?

These memories of my father and mother are the memories that have shaped me, and I hold on to these memories tight, afraid to let them go. Some even argue that our memories make us, that without our memories we would not be the same person. I’m not ready to tackle this debate, in truth. But in order to prevent forgetting I will continue to write them all down, everything that makes sense and especially everything that doesn’t. I will read it over and over and try to reach an understanding of what it means. Hopefully the act of writing it all down will prevent me from forgetting. Somewhere in this act I will find closure.

Understanding now that the persistence of memory is never guaranteed, I don’t want to lose these memories, no matter how painful, because if we don’t have our memories, what is left?


 

Written for the DP Weekly Writing Challenge: Memoir Madness

I had been working on this piece to publish this Wednesday, but decided to publish a little early for the Weekly Writing Challenge.

What do you think? Any feedback, advice, or constructive criticism is always welcome.

The Age of Grasses

SONY DSC

a path at Bamboo Giant Nursery

My Story about Bamboo

So part of the reason I like bamboo so much (besides the fact that it’s awesome) is that it was the first plant that I started to propagate and sell for cash. The story goes like this.

Once upon a time my Dad went through a Japanese Garden phase, (which is probably the root of my affinity for Japanese gardens), and planted some bamboo next to the patio of the house I grew up in. It was planted in a metal partition that was intended to keep this very aggressive bamboo (Phyllostachys aurea) from spreading. But after my Mom and Dad separated and my sis and I went away to college, the yard went feral. Of course the bamboo burst through the partition and started taking over the yard, sending shoots up over fifty feet away from the original planting. Every once in a while the rhizomes would even make it all the way under the house and send up shoots in the front yard.

For years I went over to help my aging mother with the yard maintenance, and I would just cut the bamboo down, and sometimes even dig up the rhizomes. Sometimes I would just grab a stalk of bamboo and start ripping up the long underground roots, like pulling frayed carpet fibers away from the carpet backing. When I was done I would just throw all the boo into the green waste. Then one day I decided to try to put the rhizomes in pots to transplant them. After some simple trial an error in methodology and substrate I achieved a success rate of about 90% with my divisions. I would mix in a lot of sand into the soil mix to help increase drainage, which is very important for almost all species of bamboo. I would go to the dollar store and buy gallon dish tubs, because the bamboo grew better in wide, shallow containers.

Soon I began selling divisions of Golden Bamboo (P. aurea) on Craig’s List, planted in dish tubs, and returned to my Mom’s house about once  a month to restock my supply. I also started selling other plants on Craig’s, but the bamboo was my biggest and most expensive plant for sale. I made almost $1000 selling bamboo in one summer. Not exactly the summer job I had in mind, but from there things started spiraling out of control, not unlike the rhizomes of bamboo tangling through the soil in my Mother’s backyard.

Now, 10 years later, I am a complete plant junkie. I still have many of the divisions of golden bamboo that I dug up. I don’t sell them anymore. Instead I planted them in large pots, and they are all bushy and 8-10 feet tall. They are waiting patiently, I feel, for a careless moment when they can escape their container and begin taking over my yard, the state of California, and eventually the entire planet. I’ve thought about planting some in the earth, but decided I was tired of  breaking shovels trying to dig bamboo out of the ground. For now at least.

Bamboo has gotten such a bad rap as being invasive and rampant, and in many cases its true. Golden Bamboo is considered an invasive weed in many areas, and seeing how it started sending a web of rhizomes out through my Mom’s yard I can understand why.

I’ve also heard it said that if bamboo is so invasive then it would have taken over the world by now. But it is important to remember that the grass family (Poaceae) is relatively new in the plant kingdom, rising to its peculiar prominence during the most recent Cenozoic era. The Cenozoic is commonly known as the ’Age of Mammals’ (with our fauna-centric view of the world), but it could just as easily be called the ’Age of Grasses’. Even though Mammalia is a Class (K-P-Class-O-Family-G-S) and Poaceae is a family (two steps lower on the taxonomic hierarchy), there are twice as many identified species of grass than species of mammals. In fact, familyPoaceae is the fifth largest plant family, and three of the four most important food crops are grasses, not to mention the forage grasses provide for domesticated livestock. Grasses have not only drastically changed the course of human evolution, but the evolution of the entire planet as well.

Bamboo may still take over the world yet. It’s just getting up to speed. All it needs is another million years.

don’t let it escape!

 

Expect the Unexpected

Carl Sagan“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”
― Carl Sagan (via Goodreads)


In sixth grade science students are still learning the basics of the scientific process, which in our curriculum involves six steps: problem, hypothesis, materials, procedure, data, conclusion. We really try to hammer home all these parts in sixth grade, so that in seventh and eighth they can begin designing their own experiments with control and experimental sets and carefully measured data.

When we start any lab we alway start with the problem, which is a question that the students hope be able to answer by the end of the lab. Then comes the hypothesis, which is the prediction (educated guess) to the question they’ve asked. We ask them to write down what they think is going to happen and why.

Later on during the conclusion portion students are usually asked to reflect back on their hypothesis and decide if they were right or not. Often times they feel that if they have gotten the hypothesis wrong then they have somehow failed the experiment, but this is totally backward. It is through the observation of the unexpected that scientific knowledge is advanced. If the experiment goes exactly according to plan and the hypothesis is totally correct, then we have learned nothing. It is only by observing what we don’t expect that we learn anything at all.

Of course the sad part is most people only see what they want to see, which is what they expect to see. When you expect the unexpected you may actually learn something new, so search for the unexpected, not only in the science lab, but in all aspects of life. Expect the unexpected.

Science experiments can be truly amazing! (by George Thomas on Flickr – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Book Hoarder

I’ll admit it–I am a borderline hoarder. I keep things I know I probably won’t need, thinking that in some convoluted wrinkle of fate it will come in handy during a future crisis. In truth, I’m afraid the ironic tendency of the universe will cause me to need any item I  dispose of, most likely moments after the recycling truck takes it away forever. Some items have travelled with me through numerous moves, and though I don’t need it currently, I just might someday, and then who will be laughing?

But books are different. Back during my impressionable twenty somethings I used to love to go to used book stores and peruse the shelves for esoteric and thought provoking books that I didn’t necessarily want to read, but I wanted people to think I read. Sometimes I actually attempted to sit down and read the books, but for some reason or another never finished. I usually read just the introductions or maybe the first chapter so I could sound like I knew what the book was about, in case anyone asked. I wanted to seem all philosophical and well read without actually putting the time in to read. My problem is I am a pretty slow reader and I have ADD. Sometimes I read so slow that I get distracted in the middle of the sentence and have to start over. I can’t read fast enough to keep my own attention.

I bought the books because I was always told that writers must read a metric ton to find inspiration and to learn the craft. I was also told that if you want to be a writer then you should buy books written by other people to support the business. I liked to imagine what my own book would look like on the shelves. At one point I had milk crates full of these used literature and philosophy books that I schlepped around with me so I could put them on my bookshelves and look at them. I have sold and donated boxes of my books in recent years, but not all of them. Some I have held onto. Some I still hold the illusion that I will sit down and read someday, which is why I haven’t gotten rid of them yet. I was curious what books I hadn’t sold, so I went into the garage and looked.

So without further adieu, here are twelve plus one of the outrageous, audacious, and courageous books I found hoarded away in my garage. I will include a jacket blurb, and just what in the hell I was thinking when I bought it in the first place. (more…)

Is it today yet?

Yesterday is uncertain,
distorted by memory and the
unreliability of eyewitness reports.

Tomorrow is unpredictable,
a glittery bauble dangling
like a carrot on a string.

Today is all we are assured,
so pay attention and
make it count for something.

Is it today yet?

…Time… (by ĐāżŦ {mostly absent}) on Flickr – (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Today’s rant was a piece of philosophical nonsense that had snuck its way into a story I was writing. I was about to erase it into the ether of the delete key when I decided that it sounded slightly poetic. Rather than delete I should post it as a sappy poem here instead.  But the question remains.

Is it today yet?