Tuesday, November 29, 2016

so. many. black. ships.

As noted earlier, I finally finished Moby Dick (which is often hyphenated, but only the title) It brought me many a night of peaceful winding-down before bed. I read maybe a couple of pages at a time, with the luxury of not actually having to remember anything; I can scarcely fathom having to read it for school. I never did, and it's easy to see why English teachers wishing to awaken a love of literature in their students would shy away from what is surely one of humanity's greatest examples of soporific exuberance in art.

I said the Iliad "isn't long," which is...not exactly true. For the past few nights, it has helped J get to sleep if I read from the poem, and I've started to feel the rhythms Robert Fagles put in. Since I'm not actually a poetry person at all, this also gives it an exotic feel that seems fitting. I read aloud about 10 lines per minute, and the poem is over 15,000 lines long, so...not short.

I mentioned this to Anna and her techie brother over Thanksgiving, and it turns out her techie brother studied Homer in Greek at Harvard, as one does. Her other brother wrote a senior thesis on Classical Greek, and could read the New Testament in the original, so...that's a thing. He describes the original New Testament text as being in color, while all the translations are in black and white, so I was wondering what the Iliad sounds like in the original. Of course, we live in The Future™, so it's on YouTube.

Unless you know Greek, this is a sequence of mostly-meaningless syllables, which is why you should read this comparison of four different translations, and suddenly it's clear why the poems have lasted 3500 years.

The reason the Iliad itself interested me, since I've already consumed a lot of that era's history, is this fantastic Radiolab segment about Homer's deeply weird use of color (a total lack of "blue," for example).

I'm reading the interviewee's book, Through the Language Glass, and it is super interesting.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

mammal population restored.

We flew north for Thanksgiving this year, and we boarded the dog again: just like when we went camping, proper dog management would have made it miserable for all involved. She may yet settle down, but I'm not making plans around it.

Instead of the swanky Bay Area chain--where, no joke, you can buy your dog a room with a queen-size bed and Netflix, so they can relax after their spa day--the holiday crunch sent me to one of the local indie kennels. As expected, Leela panicked on the way in, settled down quickly for the duration, and then was hyper and yelping when she saw I came back. She basically ate dinner and fell asleep in her accustomed divot in the armchair's leg-rest, reassuringly squooshed against or on top of my legs.

Since I've been working from home all this time, we've spent essentially every day together for the 6 months since we adopted her, and it turns out I don't like being without my dog. The house is too quiet without the thundering of tiny paws, the snarling at squirrels, and mad dash for any sound that might be the crinkling of a bag of Trader Joe's White Cheddar Corn Puffs, her favorite human food. (In fact, she likes them so much that they are useless as a training treat: if she even suspects you might be holding a cheese puff, that's where 100% of her attention goes, so she can't focus at all on what you're trying to teach her.) She also knows that Anna and J are highly reliable sources of crumbs, so the Beagleshark makes a special effort for them.

There's this non-human creature in the house, with her own wants, preferences, and emotions, but also with a strikingly alien cognition, a very limited sense of the passage of time, no theory of mind, and behavior generally driven by countless feedback loops of basic conditioning (intended or not). She's one of the family, and--notwithstanding the horror of the damp nose--J has only gotten more comfortable since that first or second week, when he was eating at the table and started repeating "dog, dog, dog, dog, dog." We all express love in our own way.
"Hey, J, god and I are going for a walk."
"Okay. [pause] Wait. What'd you say?"
"I said, 'dog and I are going for a walk.'"
Our little conversation piece!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

seasons. sort of. moisture, anyway.

It's mid-November, so here in the Bay Area, winter is coming along with the kind of brisk punctuality you can expect from a semi-desert that used to be Mexico. Prompted by the occasional frigid 55ยบ morning, leaves are starting to turn brown. And we got measurable rainfall for the second time since...I don't know, really. April sometime?

The Figpocalypse is long finished, and with the rain, the entire carpet of figs on the driveway burst simultaneously with scary-looking white mold, before decomposing into a merely life-threatening lubricant. The apple tree put out some pretty good apples, this year! We got to taste a few that the opossums or raccoons didn't want. There were some pomegranates, but since we don't really eat or drink pomegranates, mostly we let them go. (And we're still not 100% sure when they're ripe.)

After 17 years in California, I still find it weird that some fruits literally ripen in February and can happily stay on the tree through June and beyond; that said, the orange tree looks content.

With the first rain, I got to experience several dog-walks culminating in a wet dog. She was not a fan of this whole "water falling from the sky" concept, and seemed even reluctant to go outside on her own to pee. I started considering a dog-raincoat, and a friend said, "Oh, you've got a princess!". Thinking it through, two thoughts came up:
  1. If she's 2 years old and has spent her life in California, she will have had very little experience of rain. (Even young kids have trouble adjusting: when my friend's son was 4, they were in the car and he said, "Mommy, what's that rattling on the roof?" because he didn't know the sound of rain on a car.)
  2. If I get the dog a raincoat, there should be less of the damp-dog smell in the house.
 The other bizarre thing about "winter" around here is that this is when plants do their growing, because this is when water abounds. (We still don't quite know where things like our Zombie Rose get water in the off-season.) The mash of leaves I haven't cleaned up on the patio, under the bird feeder, seems to have decayed enough to support sunflower seedlings. I'm always impressed by the formation of soil in places like gutters.

And, of course, the compost bin is full of writhing balls of earthworms, which is usually a sign I need to at least turn it.

Earthworms are actually an invasive species! Which...too bad. There's a lot of them.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

reading rainbow

I haven't been blogging so much, mostly because when I feel like it, it's already 9:30pm, and then I'm up all the way to 11 writing, and then I don't sleep well. And really, I have enough problems.

I have been reading, which is how it's early November and I've finished 85 books this year. Taking books out of the library and reading them via the Kindle service means that they're accessible and synced on my Kindle, iPhone, and iPad, which means that at any moment, I have, immediately accessible, all the books I'm in the middle of.

Related: now that my books-in-progress count is not limited by paper--storage, cost, portability--I am discovering some limits to how many books I can actually productively be "reading" at one time, in the sense that I can dip into a book and remember what was happening when I last put it down. I think it's somewhere in the 15-24 range. I have about 500 books available in the wings still, so there's plenty to keep me going. (90 or so are books I labeled "work," often lightweight stuff by consultants that I will skim quickly and possibly never finish. Some are labeled "boring," which means I'll either read them before bed to settle my mind down, or I'll just never read them.)

I finished Moby-Dick! It wasn't a bucket list item or anything, but when I was in Chile and we read whatever books were available, I read a few things I would not have otherwise: Reading Lolita In Tehran, Siddartha, The Alchemist, The Shack, and East of Eden. All good in their way, and all with serious flaws, except for East of Eden, which felt like the kind of pure clear jewel of a book that an author should win the Nobel Prize for.

I'm not sure how to hedge about Moby-Dick. It's not...interesting, exactly. It's very good, in its way, but the reader must let go the idea that a "novel" is a "story" where things "happen." Having done that, you can then roll with the endless digressions, which start right at the beginning and continue through to the last chapter, which is the only one that has a white whale actually on-screen. The narrator doesn't board a ship until 25% of the way through, and this is not a short book. Character-free discourses on whale behavior, anatomy, and flensing occupy, conservatively, a full third of the book. You get the idea. It's fine bedtime reading.

Somehow J started reading the The Iliad, and since I've never read it and needed a new bedtime classic, I've added it to the rotation. I had been thinking Don Quixote, I got bogged down picking a translation. Meanwhile, The Iliad isn't long, and the opening sets its hook in you:
Rage—Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles, 
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses, 
hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls, 
great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion, 
feasts for the dogs and birds, 
and the will of Zeus was moving toward its end. 
Begin, Muse, when the two first broke and clashed, 
Agamemnon lord of men and brilliant Achilles.
Right? I assume the Greek is better, but read that out loud and hear how Robert Fagles makes this a story you'd hear over the fire, back when humans had to be afraid of the dark. (Back when Europe had lions!)

I'm curious now why I read The Odyssey in high school instead, while my older brother read The Iliad; maybe I'll read The Odyssey later. (He did take some kind of Classics class, since I also remember his copy of Virgil's Aeneid kicking around; maybe he took Latin also? It wasn't something we discussed as a family.)

I chewed through 5 sci-fi novels by Peter Watts. First the two Firefall books (Blindsight, Echopraxia), then the Rifters trilogy (Starfish, Maelstrom, Behemoth). His writing is kind of cold and bleak, so it's just as well I need to move on to something else.