Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Villa Villekulla

I’m trying something new and scary called “organizing.” In spite of what I may state in cover letters, I have no talent for it. I firmly adhere to the aesthetic of rubbish. However, there is a fine line between a charming mess and an unsanitary pit of chaos, and the feng shui of my living space is careening towards the latter. Piles of books, piles of paper, piles of fabric, piles of receipt tape with notes scratched in the plastic coating – I cannot live a Zampano-esque lifestyle; it will not do. It's no wonder that I spend all of my time in the kitchen.

My bedroom contains six full shelves of books, and those that cannot squeeze onto these shelves are scattered in six piles in various places in my bedroom. These shelves are also a haven for kitschy fairy statuettes dismembered by the strikes of mischievous cat paws. It is the home of stuffed rodents, fortune cookie fortunes, and desiccated wisdom teeth in an envelope. There is a preserved rattlesnake head in a glass paperweight and a sizable collection of squirrel paraphernalia.

How do I go about organizing the books? I suppose I could organize them by color and put all of the green covered books on the north wall. I could alphabetize them by name. I could construct signs that will point me to the proper section of the alphabet.


I suppose I could sort them by genre. Perhaps I could squeeze all of the fiction into one bookcase. I can group the French language books and the Czech language books together with the travel guides somewhere between the hollow chocolate Satan and the Eiffel Tower figurine. I can put the mime technique books with the face paint. I can stack issues of the theology journal directly above the Vishnu paper lantern.

Or I can group all of the works by the same author together. My Oscar Wilde books should be set in front of the mirror so they can continually gaze at their own reflection. Books by Mark Dunn should be arranged so that the first letter of each title spells out a morsel of semantic vocabulary.  I could hide Mark Z. Danielewski’s books under a pile of newspapers inside of a trunk.

I will make a bookcase shaped like a three-tiered birthday cake for Leonora Carrington’s books and a UFO for Kurt Vonnegut's.My Edgar Allen Poe collection will naturally sit beside the bust of Pallas above my chamber door.  I will give Virginia Woolf a room of her own. Books by Samuel Beckett will be stuffed into a drawer full of bananas. And I could tuck the Amelia Gray books into a tangled nest of my own hair.

It won't be long before my bedroom becomes a superbly hygienic and navigable place once more.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Giant Mountain

Perhaps it was a bad idea, but I can’t say no to an adventure. Sometimes they can be so hard to come by. For three days I walked like an elderly cripple, dragging myself up the stairs by the railing, complaining loudly on behalf of my speechless, withered quadriceps. Having never hiked a single high peak before, I ascended two in one day. My meaty ex-gymnast thighs were caught completely unawares.

But why would I accept such a seemingly impossible task? I don’t even own the appropriate footwear. Perhaps it was the tremendously encouraging song in my head, repeating, “Do it! Just do it! Don’t think about it! Do it!” So I didn’t think about it. I did it.

Surely I must be manic.

My friends and I began climbing at eleven in the morning. Chipper from wholesome breakfasts, we ascended Giant Mountain and enjoyed excellent views of mountains. I won’t put you to sleep with the dozens of pictures of mountains that I took. One, I think, will suffice.

Someone once told me that when you are hiking you unknowingly walk under bears all the time, quietly hugging the tree trunks like Velcro monkeys. You don’t see them because they don’t want you to see them. Now that I know this, my eyes scan the canopy looking for a badly camouflaged bear. Someday one of them may lose its grip and crush an unfortunate hiker and that hiker will not be me.

It seems to be a tradition for hikers to leave symbolic piles of rocks on the paths and the summits. There is a name for them, but googling “symbolic piles of rocks” only brought up Jewish burial traditions. I, too, leave my mark on the summit, but not a pile of rocks. Mine is the result of drinking a liter of water in two hours. After bolstering my ego with some narcissistic photographs, I strayed from the path to find a quiet place to christen the Giant.

Here lies Carl, crushed by bears.
As I stood in the hidden overgrowth of ferns and wondered if I would later discover them to be poisonous, I noticed there was a middle-aged woman peering down through the trees above me, watching. So much for privacy.

We descended down the other side of Giant Mountain, a slippery mudslide of Death. Passing hikers in suspiciously pristine sneakers consistently lied about the difficulty of the descent and the amount of time it would take. In a moment of mental absence, I tumbled down a rock face and bashed open my leg. Sliding down vertical slopes on the seat of one’s pants was often necessary to prevent fatal injuries. I clung to tree branches like railings and plunged into the nearby bushes despite my efforts. I used up two of the four communal Band-Aids.

The path to Rocky Peak Ridge was tamer and riddled with enormous sheepdogs and mastiffs. Hikers were teased with unripe blueberries reaching into the paths and imposter blueberries that probably should not be ingested. From the summit we could see Lake Champlain and more symbolic piles of rocks marking the journeys of other hikers. I also marked my territory on Rocky Peak Ridge under the cover of an idyllic patch of Christmas trees.

It was four o’clock in the afternoon and we still had to climb down Rocky Peak Ridge, clamber up the dreaded mudslide, and down Giant again before sundown. It is hard to race a celestial body like the sun; it has so many unfair advantages. The mountain was growing darker by the second and we were still stumbling and butt-sliding down the path. It was eight at night. A glimmer of hope came in the form of a man in a miner hat climbing the mountain with his daughter. “I know, we’re crazy,” my friend said, and he replied, “You’re not crazy. In an hour, you’d be crazy.”

Shortly after, we emerged at the highway. I’ve never been so thrilled to see a dark stretch of pavement and a slew of headlights in my life. Ice cream was in order. My legs will probably never be the same.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Mind Reels

The inspirational music of Soul Surfer is seeping through the cracks of my door. Now I feel confident that I can do anything, including but not limited to writing multiple blog posts. Seeing bits and pieces of the film as I amble into the kitchen for chunks of cantaloupe has made the films strips of my mind reel with alternate endings. Perhaps if it were not based on a true story, and if it were renamed Moby Dick, things would have concluded differently.


The Soul Surfer paddles out into the ocean on her board, now confident in her ability to surf with one arm. The plot comes full circle as the fin of the same shark that attacked her before surfaces. She sees it cut across the water and her eyes narrow with the wisdom that she has gained from her journey. Since the accident, the Soul Surfer never paddles out to sea without a harpoon. She uses her remaining arm to launch the harpoon into the approaching predator. Blood surfaces on the water. The waves carry the Soul Surfer and the struggling shark to shore, where she guts the fish and retrieves her severed arm from its esophagus. Modern science provides a way to reattach the limb to her body. Modern taxidermy provides a way to mount the cartilaginous skeleton above her decorative marble fireplace – providing the film’s closing image.


The Soul Surfer paddles out into the ocean on her board. A fin surfaces, the fin of the same shark that previously attacked her. She assaults the shark with her trusty harpoon and a knife between her teeth and drags it to land. As she guts the shark on the lonely stretch of Hawaiian shore, she finds no trace of her arm. For retribution, she slices off the fin of the offending shark and leaves it, gills heaving, in the sand. Modern science provides a way to attach the aquatic limb to her ocean-amorous body. An image of her gliding across the curling waves on her board, extending her shark fin for balance, fades to black.


The Soul Surfer paddles out into the ocean and sees the fin of a shark moving towards her. She hurls her harpoon, skewers the shark, and guts it in the smoldering crystal sand. Triumphantly, she leaves the beach with a surfboard in her hand and a shark fin between her teeth. An eye for an eye; a fin for an arm, she mutters unintelligibly as she spits the fin onto an operating table. The tide gently pulls the suffocating shark back to sea. The shark community is outraged by the story of the 100 millionth human attack on a shark that year, imagining that the lost fin went on to be fermented into hakarl, a traditional Icelandic dish. The wounded shark is told that it will never swim again, but against all odds, it does.


The Soul Surfer is making banana bread one morning when she hears a sharp knock on the door – the sharp knock of a shark. The predator apologizes for the whole incident, admitting elusively that it thought she was someone else. It announces that the shark community’s advances in stem cell research have produced a new arm for her. Then it returns the partially digested arm and gives her a large loaf of banana bread as retribution, making the situation all the more awkward for the Soul Surfer as she wonders what she should do with the banana bread batter she already has on the table. Should she freeze the batter, bake the bread and freeze it in some foil? Who knows? She decides to re-gift the shark bread.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Pins and Needles

While I should have been blogging or writing about pterodactyls, the urge to make something colorful and slightly idiotic became too strong to resist. It has been a long time since I last exercised the full range of my fine motor skills. I cracked open my sewing machine case and descended into lunacy for many lonely moons.

In a weekend of frenzied stitching I produced a new bag to replace the one I made last August for my European travels. The bag I brought to Prague tattered and ready for a comfortable retirement. The new one looks slightly Southwestern to me – perhaps it’s the button? Now that I’ve broken my one year pursing fast, I have an uncontrollable need to make clothing and curtains and cacti.

Continuing with the Southwestern theme, here is my cactus pincushion in all of its spiky glory. There is a breed of cactus called a pincushion cactus, so I've actually sewn up a lame visual pun and rendered it humorless with explanation.

The cactus is made of 100% XXL men’s tee shirt found in a free pile at college. I have many ridiculous pieces of used clothing that will probably become whimsical cacti in my idle hours. I just need a lot of tiny terra cotta pots to do it.

I also made a rather sad attempt at wire wrapping a vase. This is a technique I apparently have yet to master. The hook from which I intended to hang it is all barbed and mangled and I haven’t quite figured out how to fix it. Perhaps what it really needs is a tiny cotton cactus inside of it...