While I was watching/you did a slow dissolve

30 04 2009

Skinny Cat is dying. Kidney disease.

She’s home, now. I had to bring her home.

She’s not in any pain, the vet said. She’s not suffering.

Still, he said

I know. This is not unexpected. But I was not prepared, not today.

I wanted her home, for a little while longer.

Just a little while longer.

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Is time long or is it wide?

29 04 2009

Skinny Cat is in the hospital.

She’d been having weight problems, but seemed to be getting better, i.e., gaining weight. I was sure of it.

Over the past couple of days, however, her behavior changed: While she continued to eat, she basically stopped moving except to get to the food dish and the litter box. She stopped climbing on to the chairs, stopped climbing into bed, stopped coming into the bedroom in the morning yelling at me to get my ass in gear and feed her the canned food.

So I spent the morning looking up and calling around to vets, finally finding one I could get to by bus and who would see her today.

The first thing he said, upon examining her and finding out how old she is—18—was, ‘You have some decisions to make.’

I find out tomorrow what kind of decisions they will be.





This is the last day of our acquaintance

27 04 2009

The whole world ending is only an abstractly-sad prospect. A particular person’s world collapsing is acutely so.

Jon Katz at Bedlam Farm has been chronicling the last days of a dairy farm, noting that he had been hoping to persuade the farmer, Jon Clark, to allow himself to be photographed.

Go, look at the photo of Jon Clark, posted at 9:02pm, April 26, and the other shots of the barn and the cows and the emptiness which follows after a man’s life has been tugged away from him.

I grew up in a small town in a dairy farming area. When I was a little girl I wanted so much to live on a farm. I loved animals and the whole idea of haylofts and horses and running through rows of corn.  Then I got older, and my loves shifted to theatre and partying and, oh yes, sleep. Still, when my high school friend K. asked if I wanted to help her with the evening milking at her family’s farm, I said sure. Hey, it’s all automated now, isn’t it?

Ha. Yes, there are milking machines, but each one has to be hooked up to each cow, and each teat has to washed before or after (or maybe both—I don’t remember) to prevent mastistis. Anyway, once you’ve managed to slip the suction cones over each teat, you have to plug the tube running from the cones into the overhead pipe, where the milk is sent streaming down the length of the barn to the milk-collection room. Given my vertical disadvantage, this was a challenge.

Hell, given my clumsiness, the whole operation was a challenge. K.’s family had, I don’t know, a hundred? a few hundred? cows, and the twice-a-day milkings each took a couple of hours (even when they weren’t, um, helped by the likes of me). Then, of course, there was the moving of the cows out of the barn and into the pasture and back again. And checking the chickens and feeding the horses. And the mucking out of the stalls, and the hauling of the piss-and-shit-layered hay out of the barn and into I cannot remember where.

Wheelbarrows: They seem like such a simple technology. Really, what could be harder to push around? Well, add a hundred or so pounds of whatever, and you keep it on the straight and narrow. At one point I had K. in the barrow, and I managed to steer so well she ended up in the shit trough. (Yes, she got me back.)

Farming is incredibly hard work, and family farmers especially always have to be concerned with prices and credit and commodities markets. For those of us who like both to eat and to take care of the animals (or whose products) we consume, paying attention to where our food comes from is not just paying attention to the animals, but to the men and women, boys and girls, who tend to them.

Men like Jon Clark, who loaded his favorite cow Sable into a truck and sent her away.





Walking in your footsteps

26 04 2009

REM’s It’s the end of the world as we know it or Lou Reed’s Fly into the sun (opening lyric: I would not run from the holocaust/I would not run from the bomb) are the more obvious titles to a meditation on the apocalypse, but what the hell, we here at AbsurdBeats like to mix it up once in awhile.

Where was I? Ah yes, little blue-green planet goes boom, death, devastation, et cetera, et cetera. It’s a great theme for books, and I have a particular weakness for B-grade movies about an imminently-imperiled or just-toasted Earth. I’ve also had my share of nuclear nightmares, and the movie 28 Days Later added zombies into the nighttime bad-dream rotation.

As a general matter, however, I don’t much worry about the end of the world. Oh, I’m not really joking when I tell my students that I’m glad I’ll likely be dead before the environment collapses, and I won’t be suprised (though I will of course be shocked) if a dirty bomb is lobbed into some urban center. And yes, I keep my eyes open to the damage microbes can do (thank you, Laurie Garrett, for that), and am not uninterested in reports of a nasty strain of swine flu flying around.

Still. If the world ends, it ends. It’s sad to think that we as a species would have blown our chance (and the chances of our fellow creatures) to have figured out how to join the universe, and that in ending ourselves we probably will have destroyed the evidence—the art, architecture, music, literature—that we were more than just violent and greedy idiots.

But this is a detached sadness: if we’re gone, there’ll be no one around to mourn or regret. Death is sad for survivors, not the dead themselves.

C. recently posted on her ‘go’ bag, a pack to which she’s been adding what she’d need to survive if she had to get the hell out of the city. It’s not a bad idea, and given my predilection for preparedness, I should probably put a pack together as well.

But, as I noted in a comment to her post, I have no desire to survive a truly world-ending event. To tramp down ash-laden roads, as do the father and son in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, in search of some place beyond the fire? Forget it. Or to wait around a few days or weeks or even months for my skin to fall off? Pass. Maybe one shouldn’t go gently into that good night, but when the world ends, so do the good nights.

What of disasters which simply alter, but don’t end, the world? Rod Dreher at Crunchy Con isn’t exactly waving a ‘The end is near!’ sign, but he’s mighty interested in those who do. Sharon Astyk (at Casaubon’s Book) similarly waives any claim to apocalyptic thinking, but she’s preparing, nonetheless. Gather ye rosebuds (and corn and whatnot) while ye may, because the times they are a-changin’.

I dunno. I tend to skim those pieces on how This Time! we’re gonna be thrown back to the farm, what with this modern way of life collapsing under its own decadent, alienated ways and all. Neither Dreher nor Astyk is a particular fan of modernity, and each seeks a return to a less individualistic, more communal way of life. It’s not that I’m accusing either of actively wishing for The Big One, but they do sense opportunity in a series of little earthquakes.

I’m more po-mo than pre-mo, and have had my own arguments with modern theorists and my own criticisms of modern life. But it’s also the milieu of my life, and that of my friends and family, and we have been shaped by this modern world. Yes, I think there’s got to be a better way to live—but until I come up with that better way, for all of the inhabitants of this little blue-green orb, I’m not about to cheer the end of this fucked-up, violent, compromised, weird old world.

And if things change drastically? Well, that happens, periodically. Unless we do manage to blow ourselves to smithereens, we’ll manage with what comes next.

That’s what we do.





It’s an inconvenient time

22 04 2009

Fuck. Where did my week go?

Reading and papers and teaching and retailing and reading and papers and teaching and then more retailing retailing then more reading and papers and teaching. . . .

Fuck. Where is this month going?





What next Big Sky?

19 04 2009

I don’t Believe much, although I believe all kinds of things. And I don’t Dismiss much, although I dismiss all kinds of things.

Yes, the caps signify one of the Big Issues: Is there anybody out there? Or in here, or laying about. . . somewhere? Anybody?

I mostly don’t believe, although it’s a congenial, changeable kind of unbelief, one which ambles in no particular direction and avoids no particular consequences. There’s a god? Okay. No god? Okay.

Either way. It’s not as if I have much to do with the existence of God or gods, or that gods have much to do with me. Maybe they look in on us every once in awhile, beer in hand, munching nachos and commenting on those crazy Grabowskis or McFees or Olapundes. And then they go back to doing whatever godlike things they do over beer and nachos.

Okay, so that’s a bit cute. And I’m also fudging on the notion that any god(s)’ existence is separate from us: What if they only exist because we believe they exist?

That’s the conceit which underlies Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, a thoroughly enjoyable shamble through the back alleys of American beliefs and folkways. Some—many—of the old deities are nasty, and require a ritual of violence which, for the most part, has been smoothed away from contemporary religion. They’re not nice, and the people who invoke them aren’t always nice, but you nonetheless feel, along with the main character, Shadow, that the loss of these gods would, in fact, constitute a real loss. To forget the tricksters and warriors and shape-shifters would be to forget ways of being in this world, to lose mysteries and secrets and fortuna herself. And, in Gaiman’s world, the gods themselves are bereft, abandoned and small, trying not to disappear.

Even though I’m a big fan of reason, I’m not particularly surprised by my tender reaction to American Gods. As a child with an, mm, active imagination, my default position was that everything—and I mean everything—could think and feel. It wasn’t that I felt this way at all times, but that, when I wanted to, I could conjure up a sympathy with my favorite tree (an elm behind the garage, with a low branch for easy access) or cows in a field or the old cannon standing guard over the lagoon.

In fact, I don’t know that this was so much about my imagination as it was about childhood in general. Kids believe all kinds of nonsense—this is one of the delights and terrors of childhood—and readily share their stories with one another. And they learn not to share too much with adults, who at best indulge them and at worst tear their stories away and shred them. Grow up, they’re told.

As a child who experience the full range of delight and terror, I don’t particularly care to romanticize childhood. I like reason and explanation and science and the whole notion of demonstrable cause-and-effect. And I’m quite taken with the notion of chance and physics combining to form canyons, camels, and the cosmos.

But chance isn’t the same as fortuna, and the indifferent universe can disappoint as well as exhilarate. Most of the time I think, Well, we’re here for 70 or 80 years, and that’s it. If your life is to have any meaning, it’s up to you to make it, and even then, you might fail. Don’t count on anything beyond this world to bail you out of your sorrows, or let anything beyond this world to get in the way of your joys. Anything you have, anything you feel, anything you become is all here, is all you have.

And yet. And yet I think What if? I close my eyes and summon that child-sense of Isn’t there something more? You can see that in my writings today, that semi-constant questionof Is there something more? Wasn’t there something more?

I can’t put that there into words beyond the more; it is in fact beyond me, around me, running ahead and pulling up behind me. I walk under ladders and step on cracks and wish that there were ghosts and spirits and hope that not everything can be explained.





Give up

16 04 2009

. . . and then we’ll talk.

From today’s New York Times:

“Israel expects the Palestinians to first recognise Israel as a Jewish state before talking about two states for two peoples,” a senior official in Netanyahu’s office quoted the new prime minister as telling George Mitchell, U.S. President Barack Obama’s special envoy.

Why not just tell them they have to hit themselves repeatedly in the face with a hammer before you’ll deign to speak with them?