Welcome to Vacationland

This photo is the property of Gritty’s, I assume.

So “welcome” isn’t exactly the right salutation… it’d be more along the lines of “Five months and counting” in Vacationland, which sounds weird. The whole thing strikes me as odd. Most people get, what? maybe 2 weeks of vacation a year? I’ve been living in Vacationland since March. Sometimes, I’ll look up after a hot day in the field forgetting completely how insanely picturesque my environment is. It’s like waking up suddenly from vivid dream and coming to the conclusion you must still be dreaming based on how unreal the scenery looks. Honestly, though, it just dawned on me how fitting the nickname is for Maine. There’s even a local beer named Vacationland (above), bottled with a bright green label featuring a bear offering up a cold one he stole from a campsite.

Maine is known as the state well-to-do (hell, even just well-meaning) parents send their kids off to for summer camp. The whole place is like one giant camp complete with swimming areas, trails, waterparks, boat rides, whale watching, rafting, canoeing…you get the idea. They even call their summer or vacation homes “camp.”

The state is entirely populated with a whole bunch of happy campers, too. There’s something about Mainers, it seems like no matter how hard their work day/week has been that there’s always room for a little fishing, camping or hiking. “Hey Jack, just finished my 18 hour shift at the Iron Works, what say you to some casual, deep-sea fishing or crabbing to cool off?” Bless them.

I got out on the Appalachian trail, enjoyed the novelty of it for about 3 days before I began plotting my escape route to the nearest shower. [More on that in a post on my experiences hiking the AT.]

It’s also the only state I’ve ever lived in where it’s sunny even on a rainy day. I saw my first double rainbow here and documented it thinking “How rare! I must collect photographic evidence for posterity.”

At this point I’ve seen and photographed so many freaking rainbows I had to delete some of the images from my gallery to conserve space. Maine is so cheerful and vacation-y that rainbows are as common place as fog in London and sunshine in southern California.

 

Is it really surprising, though, that the state that brought you “Whoopie Pies” and $5/lb lobsters would be such a cheerful and well-meaning place? My boss’s car broke down on his way to a farmers’ market, and a Burger King employee jumped into action offering to drive him and all his market set-up to the farmers’ market because “he was on his break.”

The Burger King manager on duty obliged, but was not available for commentary because he was probably having a cookout and pool party during his own15 minute break at work.

Discredit Eater.com

Eater.com (specifically the Chicago chapter) has swooped in to play the unbiased mediator to a predictably heated slew of commentary that was posted by readers in response to Eater.com’s ongoing series of “articles” about Craig Schoettler leaving The Aviary.

After multiple posts in the span of a few days on Craig leaving/getting canned which garnered way too many responses from catty restaurant goers, ex-coworkers (and most likely some ex girlfriends and former friends) eater posted this somewhat contrived article asking their readers to “keep it civil.”

Bravo, guys. Play the “let’s keep it civil” card in a situation that you knowingly created for the umpteenth time. These so-called “Chef Shuffles” are Eater.com’s bread and butter.

It’s one thing to feel bad for causing commotion unwittingly, but let’s face it: this is precisely the business you people are in. Eater.com is pretty much the Enquirer or US weekly for the restaurant industry. I recognize its place and am absolutely guilty of following Eater.com on a daily basis, but let’s call a spade a spade.

Don’t be coy, Eater, you aren’t fooling anyone.

The Passing of an Era

I heard something on NPR today that really tripped me out. The passing of Venus will occur tomorrow evening. For a few hours, we will be able to see a seemingly insignificant black dot pass across the face of the Sun. Hundreds of years ago, this was a huge deal. Astronomers across the world were able to coordinate with each other in order to estimate the distance between the Sun and the Earth using the passing of Venus as a gauge.

Today we know the distance from Sun to Earth within a matter of meters, no triangulation between Venus transit spots needed… we’re also probably far too busy checking facebook updates  and twitter feeds to look up at the sky for a few minutes and watch an event that will not happen again until 2117. Numbers can be tricky. Let’s rephrase.

No one alive today will be around to see the next passing of Venus. If I had a child in the next few years, that child will not live long enough to witness this event.

If you really let that sink in, you realize that we take so many moments for granted. We put things off because there’s always tomorrow. This whole passing of Venus thing certainly puts things into perspective.

Yeah. Maybe if you put off calling that old friend or going on that trip you’ve been secretly planning for years you can somehow justify the procrastination by saying anything I could have done today, I can always do tomorrow.

Venus would beg to differ. If you put off watching poor Venus drag its sorry black spec of a body across the sun tomorrow, you will never be able to see it again.

I’m making this my year of actively pursuing the things I want in life. I will not let laziness, fear or expectations hinder my progress…. and you’re damn sure where to find me tomorrow at 6pm. I’ll be looking up at the sun through my handmade pinhole projector, hoping to catch a glimpse of that fleeting little dot making its way across the Sun for the last time in our era.

Learning to canter from a walk

Yesterday I made it my mission to teach an old horse new tricks.

This is not a bad mare, but I’d definitely call her a lazy one. She’s 23, I think… and has made it her mission in daily life to make it back to the barn as quickly as humanely -or horsely- possible. She belongs to a young girl who tends to let her get away with bad habits.

So when I took her out to exercise her, I made it my goal to give her a good workout. On a previous ride, I was told that she won’t canter unless the horse with which she’s in the ring is also cantering. Balderdash, thought I. It helps that I’m an adult who has spent a fair amount of time riding and can spot those telltale signs leading up to full on misbehaving. It also helps that I weigh more than a 10 year old and can ancor myself into my saddle after smacking a horse to teach it a lesson.

So I grabbed a crop and worked that poor horse until she finally realized she wasn’t cutting corners and smoothly agreed to transition from walk to canter.

So you can teach an old horse new tricks… who knows, maybe she knew the tricks but conveniently forgot them once she hit 20 and her owner became a young girl. Either way, I can’t help but compare myself to good old Penelope (that would be the old mare). Like poor Penny, I had become accustomed to a certain pace and style of life… and like Penny, I went from walk straight to canter. No time to ease into things: my first week on the farm I was performing surgical procedures on piglets!

Just when life gets to be rather tiresome, some crazy new experience comes along to shake things up. For Penny, I was quite the new experience. For me, I’d say moving across the country to take up life on a working livestock and organic produce farm satisfies the “new experience” criterion.

That said, I will be posting weekly in various categories (TBA). I intend to come up with set categories that will be easier for me to update, because so much has already happened, I need to compartmentalize!

For now, thanks go out to Penelope for reminding me that you can always learn new tricks. I desperately needed the reminder.

Some thoughts on The Marriage Plot

I’m hesitant to even write this post because I can already tell that I’m over-thinking the simple book review that was asked of me. Certain people are expecting my reactions on this fascinating work of fiction, written by Jeffrey Eugenides. I was told specifically that I needed to shed some light on all the “bookish” aspects of the novel. Apparently, that cloying feeling of self recognition with which I was met each time Madeleine (the largely un-actualized heroine) graced the pages of the novel was not lost on my friends and family members who also read the book. The similarities weren’t limited to the bookishness of Madeleine either, for me at least, which is the scary part. It begs the question whether people who obsess over literature (to the point of making it their careers) are really just seeking control that they are incapable of feeling over their own lives. Is it a way of delaying reality somehow? In theory, extending academia from the carefree undergrad days of limited responsibility -while still feeling a part of the real world- into one’s career is a great way of  clinging to those last threads of a simpler, regimented life. I’m sure the same could be said of anyone’s obsessions, but academia is a particularly glaring example of this. It’s a great way to feel like you’re doing something worthwhile without taking too many risks or forging too far off the beaten path. I digress.

Since I am indeed overeducated, at least in the literary field, I’ll concede and provide a simple analysis of the book and its themes and references to other literary currents…you know, explain those “bookish aspects.” I’ll try to keep my own opinions on marriage to myself as I don’t wish to overcomplicate this post. Just the literary facts, ma’am. 

“It took courage to let things fall apart so beautifully.” This is a thought Mitchell, a confused and stagnant young man who is madly in love with the idea of our heroine, ponders while scanning the rooftops and balconies of Paris. In my opinion, it is the most poignant sentence of the novel. It comes about 1/3 of the way through the book and describes the beauty and very crux of the problems in this novel. That is to say that it describes the fear we all have when confronted with the need to make difficult decisions in life, but also the complacency with which many of us instead react when faced with life falling apart. I suppose you could liken it to “fight or flight, ” but in fact, it reminds me more of an ostrich burying its head in the sand… though these characters tend to favor books to sand. I suppose there is something to the philosophy that the author ascribes to the French, it’s more than a laissez-faire attitude, it’s almost pride or morbid fascination of seeing time take its course. If I really want to get all “Madeleine-like” on you, I would mention that this obsession with the relentless nature of time and its effect on the human psyche is not foreign to the French. I won’t get all PhD on this topic, but all you’d have to do is pick up Baudelaire or Proust (or Balzac for that matter) to see what I’m talking about. TIME IS BAD, IT IS UNSTOPPABLE AND WILL CAUSE US ALL TO GO MAD BEFORE OUR INEVITABLE DEMISE.

You see, although the novel is called The Marriage Plot, marriage functions more as a piece of string that loosely intertwines the novel’s plots (I’m pretty sure the pun was intended on the part of Mr Eugenides). The thing is, the aforementioned “marriage” string is slowly disintegrating as you read the novel; the reader and characters alike realize that there are more important (see more glaring) problems to face in life, despite what we think society is telling us. The funny thing about this is that the marriage plot is a sort of self-inflicted, festering wound to our psyches. Perhaps because we see it as a norm we assume it’s what is expected, but never in the novel do Madeleine’s parents actually pressure her to get married. It’s a construct and ideal that Madeleine (and Mitchell, I suppose) projected onto themselves. It’s something to which our minds can cling and, as humans, about which we can and will obsess. These characters wallow in their obsession with confirming love [marriage is just the most obvious means of confirming] just as Leonard wallows in his “condition” (because that, to him, is more pressing). Later in the novel, Madeleine wallows in her own penchant for literature. And what’s more, Madeleine should be the expert in the field of wallowing as her literary obsession is the Victorian Era. If my equation of wallowing to Victorian writers doesn’t compute it’s simply because you haven’t toiled alongside the heroines of Jane Austen’s novels or gone down the rabbit hole, so to speak, or obsessively checked in on a withering portrait of yourself in far too long. While one might argue that there was, in fact, a marriage plot in the 19th century before it was acceptable for women to provide for themselves, Madeleine should recognize her creation of a similar plot when she rather ironically devises a system revolving around marriage.

Madeleine develops -I would argue rather flippantly- a theory, that people get married in one of three stages. Stage one was for the traditional people that marry their college sweethearts. Stage two concerned those who got married at around 28. Finally, stage three were those who married in their late thirties out of desperation. It’s interesting that Madeleine appears to have portrayed her “ideal” self to Mitchell as existing outside of her own theory. She wants to get her career settled before she marries. Perhaps Madeleine realizes her own paralysis once she leaves college she becomes Leonard’s caretaker (Leonard is said college sweetheart and struggles with manic depression: a mental illness that still carries quite a bit of stigma in the late 80’s). She ultimately falls into the first category, the one she most criticizes. I would argue that this is actually a safe way of avoiding the marriage plot (and real life!) or at least delaying it, because I don’t believe Madeleine is actually that dumb. She sees the impending failure of this plan to marry Leonard, and, I think, takes comfort in the fact that no one could blame HER if her marriage to a manic depressive fell apart. See, for Madeleine, it took very little courage to let things fall apart beautifully. But it was in fact the very same philosophy Mitchell recognized in the French landscape. She was banking on letting things fall apart.

Who knows why, maybe she was buying time…. the reason this is plausible is simply because another main theme with which we are grappling is the scariness of self actualization. No one in this book is truly making any of his or her own decisions to start forming a life. I mean, hell, Mitchell recognizes the first true action on his part while he’s in India. He confronts death directly by bathing a dying man, and he runs away from it like a bat out of hell. I would argue that Leonard is the first to take a step towards actualizing when he ends things with Madeleine, then Mitchell -and the jury’s still out on this one- but you might argue that his first steps towards making his own decisions are when he finally tells Madeleine how he feels and gives up. It’s a little unclear though because he does it in such a fuzzy (I would say romanesque) way, which just made me angry. I would argue that the novel ends without Madeleine’s first steps towards self actualization. She is still just letting things happen to her. My mom used the word “wallowing” and I think that’s correct. These characters are all a bunch of wallowers, coincidentally so were the characters with which Madeleine became obsessed for her Master’s Degree. Talk about semiotics. HA.

As for Barthes, there’s a phrase from A Lover’s Discourse that reappears throughout the novel like a refrain: after the first avowal of love, it no longer has any meaning. It’s sort of Madeleine’s road map to justifying and understand her relationship with Leonard, as misguided as that sounds. She uses it to explain away any behavior of Leonard and make herself feel better about decisions she isn’t comfortable making- like the decision to stay with a man who really isn’t capable of loving her the way she wants. What’s most interesting to me, is the fact that Mitchell never actually makes his avowal to Madeleine. He does in a letter, but that letter never reaches her. So we can choose to see this two ways. Mitchell has made peace with his avowal of love of which only he is aware. I could see Mitchell really enjoying the idea that his profession of love is floating around out there in the universe, and he has chosen to let it sit out there in the cosmos “with God as his only witness of his true love.” Or we could go back to semiotics and see this conclusion (or lack thereof) as proof that their story is far from over, calling into question any growth whatsoever of any of the characters.

The Girl Who Kicked the Ground-nesting-wasp’s Abode

It’s exactly how it sounds. Today, this particular girl found out that ants are not the only insects who make little hills in the ground.

I suppose as someone who proposes to start her own farming operation it is necessary to become familiar with the hidden dangers of working with the earth.

I was plodding through the grass today (in retrospect, rather like a bull in a china shop) and thought absolutely nothing of stepping on what I assumed was a small ant hill. What followed was mother nature’s version of a Godsmack. I recognized my error almost instantly when I heard a humming sound coming from underfoot. I was frozen in fear. I didn’t know whether to keep my foot where it was (covering the exit to the irate insects’ nest) or to flee the scene like the Knights of the Round Table from the “most foul, cruel and bad tempered rabbit you ever set eyes on.”

After considering how I might go about attaining my life’s goals without taking my foot off the wasps’ nest, I made like the cast of Monty Python’s Holy Grail and ran awaaaaayyyyyy.

I was followed by a stream of wasps for a good 1/4 mile until they either lost interest or realized they had better things to do than chase a wailing human across a field (like rebuild the home I just demolished with a big toe).

I’m calling this the first of many life experiences culminating in “I’ll never make that mistake again.”

[photo credit go to google image]

A short interlude concerning zucchini

Apparently there’s an age old joke in Maine that goes something like this:

Why do Mainers lock their car doors in the summer?

-To keep people from filling their cars with zucchini. 

In the late summer (squash season!) there’s a very real problem of too much zucchini.

People show up at their neighbors’ homes with buckets of zucchini…

There are tables set up in major junctions with piles of free zucchini…

People just desperately trying to get rid of zucchini.

Last night, we grilled the hell out of a bunch of zucchinis, and I could absolutely imagine doing that once a day for the foreseeable future.

I will do my part to help the poor Mainers with their overstock of zucchini.