Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Zombie Ants

I'm not sure how trustworthy this site is, but Ms. Dancehall sent me an article from there entitled "Zombie Ants Controlled by Fungus." How can you not love that headline?

The gist: a fungus in Thailand infects the brains of carpenter ants and gets them to climb down from the comfy tree canopies they prefer to hang out in. They descend into the low leaves, and then clamp down hard on the leaf stem right before they die. Why? Because it's the perfect spot for the fungus to grow.

After the ant dies, the fungus continues to grow inside it. By dissecting victims, Hughes and colleagues found that the parasite converts the ant's innards into sugars that help the fungus grow. But it leaves the muscles controlling the mandibles intact to make sure the ant keeps its death grip on the leaf.

I, for one, welcome our new fungal overlords.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Smile, dammit

My sister micromanages my facial expression inside a photo booth at Woolworth's in Otummwa, Iowa, in the mid-sixties.

Happy (belated) birthday, Jennifer.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Pg Up

I mentioned in my last post that it took me 2 hours to get through 6 pages of a rewrite of the Novel. Didn't write Tuesday, as full tilt first-full-day-of-school craziness took over the household. Hilarity ensued.

Last night, I didn't feel like writing. Dead tired. And yet. I made myself do it, and got through the second half of the first chapter, and the entire second chapter. In addition to the feeling of accomplishment, I'm beginning to see a path where dumbing down the novel might make it a better novel. More focused. Leaner.

My Page Up button quit working yesterday. This morning I pried the little plastic key off, blew off a bit of something that had been trapped underneath the key (I'm guessing a Cheetos crumb; I'm a pig). I've been struggling ever since with getting the little plastic key reattached to the keyboard. It is consuming my workday. Your tax dollars at work.

Snail news. Since I last reported on the miraculous reappearance of the snail, it has disappeared and reappeared and disappeared again. And just yesterday, it reappeared yet again! It's back in a jar of moist peat moss and rocks and an errant baseball card. It is no longer named Prince and Princess, however. It is now named Pedro Martinez. After the baseball card.

More Cassini: this picture is of an unnamed moon causing ripples inside Saturn's A ring. A movie is here. Notice there are ripples on either side, traveling in opposite directions. Cool, huh?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Crawling Bats, Flying Turtles

Back to school yesterday. During the weekend we bough school supplies and new shoes, instituted wildly unpopular earlier bedtimes. About 10 p.m. on Sunday the girls ran into the hallway screaming. Bat! Bat! We saw a bat in our rooms!

Hux and I were at first dismissive (it's just a bad dream, go back to bed), but there were so adamant about it, and we did have a bat sighting several weeks back (crawling along the carpet of the dining room no less, a seriously trippy sight to see). So. Hux and the girls dragged their blankets and pillows downstairs into the living room, and slept huddled around the couch til morning.

Started the third rewrite of the New Novel on Monday as well. Getting rid of a major character, big changes to another one. Smoothing out the abrupt shifts in tense and point of view I was so proud of when writing it. Yes, I'm dumbing it down a tad. Yes, I'm hungry to get it published.

The results of my first day of rewrites? Two hours to get through the first 6 pages. Yikes.

New school year, new draft of the novel, and who better to guide us through these new beginnings, these challenging straits than Gamera, friend to all children, protector of boy scouts. In the original Japanese, with English subtitles. Come on, Space Monsters, bring it on! Let's cut and poke!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Have fun. Do your best.

I've been coaching my daughter's tee ball team this summer. Yesterday was the last game. I will miss it.

The rules? Score keeping is not allowed. Everyone gets to bat, every inning. You swing til you hit the ball. Even if you're out, you stay on base. So, some innings have no outs. Some have five or six.

Errors are so common there is no stigma. Making a play correctly is met with joy and disbelief (did I really just catch the ball?). And the look on a kid's face when they do the job well is quietly eloquent. That sense of accomplishment is something that will follow through to writing, to music, to math homework, to preparing and presenting a good meal.

I end every game by asking them, what are the two rules of tee ball? The answer: have fun, do your best.

I fed the girls their first barbecued ribs a couple weeks back. At first they couldn't figure out how to eat them. Once they did, they were hooked. Like crack for carnivores. Youngest said, and this is verbatim: I just had a minute of heaven.

Hilary has been kind enough to give my post on the tenacity of weeds a Post of the Week award. Hil, you are too kind. Go visit her here. She's really nice.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Three Cool Things

My favorite citizen of the solar system, Saturn's moon Enceledus (the moons that switch orbits every four years are a close second and third*).

Three cool things about this picture.

One: that tiny flare of light coming from the bottom of the moon is caused by ice geysers, spewing ice hundreds of miles out into space. Carbon particles have been found in the ice. Water, carbon, and a heat source that causes the geysers. Sounds like Arthur C. Clarke's monolith is at work deep under the ice. It's full of staaaars....

Two: that faint line behind Enceledus is Saturn's E ring, composed almost entirely of ice particles form those crazy geysers, settling into orbit.

Three: look at the pattern of light and shadow on Enceledus. The bright crescent of light on the left, the dark bit, and then another bright section. There are two light sources! The bright crescent on the left is caused by sunlight. The light on the right is Saturnlight, the glow from the planet 150,000 miles away.

Thanks to Cassini, NASA, and Bad Astronomy for the pix and the info.

*the mysterious clump of particles orbiting Saturn that may or may not be a black hole is a distant fourth.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pas de Cinq

It keeps getting better. Saw three of the four planets low on the horizon yesterday just after dusk. Venus was very bright, Mars and Saturn less so. Mercury was hiding in the glare of the setting sun. I'll look again tonight.

For the next few days they'll be joined by a sliver of a crescent moon, technically marking the beginning of Ramadan (more commonly it's marked by the new moon, but some say you have to actually SEE the crescent following the new moon). And the gravy: Venus and the crescent moon form a facsimile of the Islamic flag.

Actually, the flag is more accurately the facsimile of the actual thing. But you get the drift. Assalamu alaikum.

MORE GRAVY: as Artsparker points out, the Perseid meteor shower peaks tonight! Wait til after midnight, when you're on that part of the Earth that is plowing directly into the comet dust. Set your alarm.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Hedwig and the Happy Meal

Had a wonderful blogger meet-up this weekend: Hux and I went to a play with Irrelephant, Mrs. Phant, Dancehall and Tolstoy. Sans kids! Went to see a very good production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. I won't say great, as I had a few quibbles with the production - the music is kinda forgettable - but the brilliant long monologue that weaves between the songs and the pure theatrical power of the guy doing the monologue (Nick Sugar) more than made up for it. Good dinner beforehand, conversation and laughs and cigars in the backyard afterward (I was only a spectator during the cigar bit, fearful the tobacco would reawaken my long dormant cigarette habit).

I love theater. It's hand-made, not focus group tested and mass-produced, with merchandising tie-ins at McDonald's (though if they threw little Hedwig action figures into Happy Meals I'd buy one). It's intimate; you're right there in the room with them, you can look each other in the eye. Each production is different, and each night within an individual production is unique as well. No two shows are exactly alike.

If all the movie theaters burned down tomorrow, people would come together in garages and living rooms and act out stories. And sure, they'd churn out a few Diehards and Pretty Womans - hey, I liked Diehard too - but I'm guessing it's far more likely people would tell stories of their lives, the lives of the people they loved, stories of the world around them, the sky above.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Unlikely Tenacity of Weeds

Backyard existentialism.

The Unlikely Tenacity of Weeds

I rarely mow my lawn. No need to. The relentless sun, the lack of rain. The weeds have an easier time of it than the grass, dandelions, bull thistle, henbit, they grow faster, are more hearty. No bother, the weeds are easy to control, and colorful. I do not use poisons or herbicides. I pluck them by the roots, or ask my daughters to pick them, a penny a stem. I feel no need to eradicate them. I like bio-diversity. We maintain a cautious truce.

I fight a losing battle with the junk trees, the alley trees, the ones that go by the giddily euphemistic term “paradise tree.” They are voracious, predatory, tenacious. Nothing can be done to eradicate them, and only with great effort can they be fought to a stalemate. So. I fight. Weekly. If I do not they will take over the front yard. I stoop to pull them out by their shallow roots, foot by foot, limb by limb, I stoop until my back cries in pain, stoop knowing they will be back in one more week, only to be battled again.

I rented a roto-tiller and plowed under a large section of yard this spring, in order to plant a garden at the side of the house, and pulled out a large swath of the tree’s root system, the roots shallow, misshapen, bulbous as fetuses. I piled them in a unlikely tangle on the sidewalk; they look like something found in a carnival sideshow bell jar. I wondered at the time, and continue to wonder often, why weeds have not taken over the world, with their efficiency, their unstoppable energy. It is a wonder there is room for other life to thrive. But other life does thrive, I only have to look around me to see it to see the improbable flowers mixed in the weeds, the wild roses, the tulips, the day lilies. Most I do not know the names of. This house is over a hundred years old, with perhaps a dozen owners, each with their own garden, their own floral tastes, the seeds now mixing through one century and into the next, intermingling, hopelessly tangled, a history told in a confusion of perennials.

I finish plucking trees from the front yard, I turn the wheelbarrow of treelets around and head for the compost heap. So much wasted energy, but the trees make for good compost fodder, so perhaps it is not wasted at all. Perhaps nothing is wasted. My hands smell of the sap, an unpleasant cloying scent that will not easily leave the skin. It is hot. I am irritable. My back hurts. I stop at the garden by the side of the house to turn on the faucet, pull the hose toward the dry cracked garden earth, it catches on an errant stump, I flip the hose and watch the wave travel the length of it, leap lightly over the stump to freedom. In some way this small victory me feel better, as does the feel of cool water on my hands, my feet my shins. I move to the clutter of the back yard. Naked muddy abandoned dolls. Sports equipment, water toys. Scooters. And yes, this is a family of four, but we have seven bikes, seven, four current bikes, two outgrown but still used by neighbor kids or when one of the main bikes gets a flat, one still too large but bought to be grown into, like shoes, like clothes, like college funds. I disentangle the wheels and handlebars and kickstands, put them away behind the shed one by one. The dolls I leave in a disturbing heap by the back door for my daughters to pick through. So much broken, so much left behind. I lug all the sports equipment, the water toys into the shed, bats and balls and rings and racquets, pools and tubes and wiggly water worms. Bats are bent, balls discolored and lopsided, the tubes and pools leaking air the moment they are filled with air.

I pick my way out to the compost heap. At our previous house I built a compost bin that was over-full mere weeks after building it, and so built the one in this house extra large so as to accommodate us and still find it is nearly full. So much waste, so much discarded, so much left behind, and yet so much remains, we are overfull. Shoes, clothes, college funds. I dump the trees into the heap, then shovel the bottom of the heap toward the top, cycling the trees in with the leaves, the weeds, the eggshells, the coffee grounds, all of this will go into the garden next Spring; some will cycle back into the heap as leaves and vines and the chopped ends of withered vegetables. Perhaps nothing is wasted. I look back across the back yard, the lawn, the side garden, bursting with life. Eggshells, baseball bats, discarded dolls, tangled bikes. Overfull. So much discarded yet so much remains, too much, this stubborn gift of life, this refusal to hew to boundaries, this ridiculous prodigal giving, the unlikely tenacity of weeds.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Magic In the Science

On Sunday morning the youngest covered a piece of construction paper with glitter glue, then asked me to put my hand on it. When I lifted my hand, and the paper stuck, she began laughing and jumping up and down, screaming "it's magic in the science, it's magic in the science!" This was her mantra for the next 20 minutes or so, after which it was forgotten, and never mentioned again.

I remembered, though. I feel that way all the time.

Ran across this quote in the Sunday paper: "The past that has not been tamed with words is not memory, only a sort of spying." It's from Laura Restrepo's novel, "No Place for Heroes." Love the quote, even though I disagree. Taming the past with words alters it, sculpts it into a shape that fits your personal narrative better than the actual events. Some aspects emphasized, others left in shadow. Though perhaps that's Ms. Restrepo's point: that the personal mythology is more important than accuracy. That the altered memory is in some important sense more "true" than a bald retelling.

While we're on the subject of memory, Fresca has posted pictures of the depression era Band Box Diner, where I worked the graveyard shift, 11 p.m.-7 a.m., as a short order cook for several years. I waited tables, cooked the food, served the food, washed the dishes, all by myself (it helped that the place held 14 people tops) Paid $5 a hour, under the table. One of my favorite jobs ever.

Thirty years later, my breakfast making skills are still a wonder to behold. Hash browns, bacon, eggs over easy.