Thursday, January 24, 2013

First Bike Ride

First Bike Ride. Copyright Andrea Paterson. Amaranth Road Studio. 2013.

I bought a Chariot Caddie from Craigslist about a week ago, hoping that I would be able to get back on my bicycle for the first time in two years. In the summer of 2011 I was pregnant and far too sick to even think about getting on a bike. In the summer of 2012 I had a new baby who was too small to put in a bike seat or trailer. This year I had no excuses and I wanted to start cycling season as early as possible. The trailer is technically a birthday present for my little guy, but he won't know that he got it early!

I had to stretch my engineering brain to its max getting the hitch for the Chariot attached to my bicycle. The instructions were horrendous and after an hour of frustration I was convinced the hitch wasn't compatible with my bicycle. I was deeply confused since I have a pretty standard hybrid bike and could see no reason for it to have unusual construction. I was up half the night annoyed that I had wasted my time and money and would have to turn around and sell my great Craigslist find. In my midnight delirium I had an epiphany about how to install the hitch and I managed to get it on the next day.

I then waited a week for a non-rainy, not too cold day when I could take my child out without making him uncomfortable. I wanted him to enjoy the experience so that he'll look forward to future outings. Our window of opportunity came today with a  mild, overcast, but not rainy afternoon. We took an easy 40 minute ride and I thanked my lucky stars that Richmond is flat. The extra effort required to pull the trailer might have killed me on the hilly Vancouver roads. I checked out some safe bike routes that run through quiet residential streets towards Terra Nova. The trailer rolls smoothly and I was really pleased with the whole trip. Cycling is a go this year! And doesn't H. look adorable (read: ridiculous!) in his new helmet?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Everest, Endurance, and Pursuit of Life

Oh Canada at Everest
I just finished reading Dark Summit by Nick Heil, an account of the controversial 2006 climbing season on Everest that claimed twelve lives. Heil presents a chilling vision of the struggle for survival above 8000 meters. At that altitude the human body undergoes astonishing changes--blood turning to sludge, fingers and toes succumbing to frost-bite, and severe risk of edema, amidst other life threatening conditions. Climbers frequently find themselves on the brink of death yet refuse to turn back with the summit so close. There is a deadly compulsion to push on to the top and stand at the highest point on earth.

The obsession, foolhardy behaviour, and willingness to die on the mountain astounded me. I couldn’t imagine the pull of the summit being stronger than the biological desire to survive. Heil’s sheds some light on this paradox and when quoting Peter Boardman comes, I think, near to the core of the issue. Boardman was a high altitude climber and writes the following about endurance in relation to scaling some of the world’s highest peaks:

"But it takes more endurance to crush the hopes and ambitions that were in your childhood dreams and to submit to a daily routine of work that fits into a tiny cog in the wheel of western civilization." (Heil 38).

Boardman sees passion for climbing not as a route to death but as a path to life. Pushing the body to its limits of physical endurance simultaneously frees the mind from its quotidian struggle. Perhaps it is the psychologically destructive force of the daily grind that is the more dangerous road. I have been thinking about Boardman’s contention and see some truth in it. If you have felt the crush of your day-to-day life and have experienced the elation of seeing the clock tick over to the hour of your release you know something about enduring. How many of us dreamed of spending our lives attached to our office chairs, shackled to dead-end jobs, struggling to find meaningless work just to pay the bills, shouldering massive amounts of student debt only to find that education is worthless in the current economy, getting in that car or onto that bus day after day in order to ferry yourself to a place you loathe to serve an ungrateful public or perform mechanical tasks that give you no sense of personal worth or accomplishment whatsoever? No, as children we had dreams that knew no boundaries. We were not constrained by the fences of social or economic reality. We wanted to be astronauts and jungle explorers. We wanted to discover new worlds, be acrobats in the circus, fly high speed jets. We wanted to throw ourselves into the act of living with pure abandon and I think that’s what climbers on Everest are doing--they are trying to reclaim their sense of childhood wonder, of invincibility, of physical strength and boundless energy. They are trying to climb to the top of Everest to prove that they are more than human drones, that they are, in some fundamental way, alive. It’s sort of like pinching yourself to see if you’re awake. The experience of pain and exposure to the elements drives home the essence of our mortality and by extension our vitality. The closer you come to the edge of death and yet survive to step back from the precipice, the more intensely you have experienced what it means to be alive. Climbers on Everest take this philosophy to the extreme, exposing their bodies to some of the most punishing conditions on earth, yet I have encountered similar themes in relation to more common physical circumstances like surviving cancer or other serious illnesses and birthing.

As strange as it seems proximity to death may throw life into stark relief, setting our imaginations on fire. It might be that the extent of our boredom matches the extent of our risk-taking. The more challenging it is to endure the soul-crushing nature of your daily life, the more desirable it seems to push your body to the edge of its own endurance just to remind yourself that there’s something more, something bigger, some way to feel that you are flying rather than simply skulking around on the ground begging for life’s scraps.

Monday, January 14, 2013

You Shouldn't Need a Literature Sherpa to Navigate a Book

I recently tried to read The Sound and the Fury by Faulkner. I tried, and failed. This is difficult for me to admit since I spent the entirety of my post-secondary education studying literature. I'm supposed to "get" the hard stuff. It's sort of my job. But I have to admit that I didn't "get" this book, not one bit but the realm of the almighty literary Canon says that this book is important. I got to thinking about writing and literature and what makes some books great and others trashy. I have this theory and the theory is this: You shouldn't need a literature Sherpa to navigate a book. I would say that if you need dozens of academic theorists, a few guys on acid, a masters level literary theory course, and a dedicated conference to figure out what a book means then it probably isn't very good writing. I posted a review of The Sound and the Fury which I'll reproduce here:

The Sound and the FuryThe Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I tried to read this. I really did. I read all the fabulous reviews and I pushed on because people seem to think that there is something astounding in this book. I have to admit that I couldn't stand it. This may make me unsophisticated (and I certainly feel a bit stupid) but I really didn't get this. I waited and waited for something to make sense and it never did. When I read a book I want there to be a story, something that speaks to the human condition, something that deepens my knowledge about what it means to be alive on this planet. This book just frustrated me with its linguistic opacity and its completely disorienting narration. I read 50% of this book and I still can't tease out how the characters are related to each other or what events have or have not occurred. I couldn't really tell you anything in terms of this book's plot. Maybe it doesn't have one. Maybe that's supposed to be modern and enlightened, but I just don't buy it. Books like these make me feel that the author is toying with people--positioning himself as a genius while the rest of us readers just can't grasp his deep meanings. I became annoyed and though I promised myself I would finish this book to see if it ends up having redeeming qualities, I just couldn't do it. I need a story. I need something that has a certain degree of accessibility. I would really love to hear other people describe what they liked about this book. Perhaps I've missed something earth shattering, but I just can't waste my life on books of riddle-like prose with nothing to anchor me in the text.

View all my reviews

In general I contend that if a majority of people cannot derive meaning from a text without an intense amount of effort then the text is poorly constructed. Don't get me wrong. I love linguistic experimentation, concrete poetry, and novels that have depth. I like a book that you can spend years with, constantly finding new layers of meaning and ways to approach the narrative. The best writing has miles of things to explore beneath the surface, but no one is going to bother traversing the hidden depths if the surface is a deadly tempest of authorial masturbation. I feel like Faulkner was celebrating his belief in his own genius here and demeans his audience by making 90% of them feel stupid in their attempts to untangle this mess of consciousness. That isn't to say that there isn't something good in this book. Maybe there is true genius amidst its pages, but the author would have done well to make his genius more approachable. Or maybe I just need to rally up some good drugs and try reading this again. It's possible that psychotropic pharmaceuticals would clear all of this up nicely.

Has anyone else read this book? What did you think? If you loved it I would particularly like to hear why. Really, I want to know.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

I Should Be A Pro Wrestler

I have what might be called a "spirited" child. This term may bring to mind freely frolicking horses kicking up their heels, running with the wind, rearing up in joy,  bucking off any riders. Now imagine trying to put a diaper on such a horse, or maybe a onsie, or a sleeper. You  now have a good mental image of what I go through trying to put clothes on my child.

A diaper change goes something like this:

I get H. to lie on his back. He flips over. I put him on his back. He flips to his front. I put him on his back. He starts screaming. I give him an obnoxious toy that plays an out of tune version of the "ABC" song and this distracts him long enough to wrench off his pants and get the dirty diaper off. I pin him down with one arm while trying to spread out a clean diaper with the other. I consider using my teeth. I get a clean diaper underneath my child and he then starts to buck--he does these pelvic thrusts that effectively propel him backwards while lying on his back off the diaper. Sometimes he  runs into the wall while doing this which results in more screaming. I pull him back onto the diaper. He takes this opportunity to pee all over the fresh diaper and the change mat. I throw out the now wet diaper, get a new one, and start over. I sing a song hoping this will calm him and  he laughs at me, flips over, and crawls with the speed of an Olympic sprinter out of the room completely naked. I chase him down, catch him just before he launches himself head first down the stairs, and drag him back to the bedroom to complete the diaper change. I pull out my final maneuver: I straddle H. so that his head and shoulders are pinned between my knees. I then just  have his kicking legs to contend with, but I can manage those long enough to get a diaper on and the tabs fastened. I inevitably pay for the shoddy job I did positioning the diaper later when it leaks and soaks his clothes.

I think I should join the WWF. I could call myself the Diaper Demon. That has a nice ring to it.