Friday, September 19, 2014

Maybe They're Writing a Novel...

I've been having a really nice couple of days lately, because I went apple-picking yesterday.  This means a weekend full of baked goods is on the horizon, and that can never be a bad thing.

Don't worry: I swim and I bike.  I'll be okay.

I confess, I used to dread making pies because I didn't have a good pie-crust recipe.  And then my best friend gave me an AMAZING cookbook and my life has never been the same.  It has some of the best whole-grain recipes ever.  (Yes, ever.)

And one of them is for a really good pie crust.  It's so simple, and yet so wonderful.  I just made 3 pie crusts, in less than half an hour.

You take 2/3rds of a cup of oatmeal, grind it in a food processor, then add 1/3 cup of regular flour, 1/4 tsp. salt, mix it all up, then cut a stick of butter (4 oz) into pieces, pulse that into the flour, and add about 3-4 tbs of ice water.

When it all comes together, you take it out, wrap it in plastic wrap, let it sit in the fridge for a bit, and then, when you're ready, roll it out.

The trick to homemade pie crusts, I've learned, is not to fiddle with them.  The butter has to come straight out of the fridge and stay cold and the water HAS to be ice water.  Cold is key.  The more you fuss with a pie crust or handle it, the less likely it will be that the crust will hold together when you roll it out and the less likely it is that it will be light and flaky when you bake it.

So, when it comes to making pie crusts, I say move quickly and be done with it.  And this recipe is good for that.

Last night, I stayed up reading Coetzee's novel, Disgrace.  I did finish it.  I wish I could say I liked it.  I wanted to like it.  And believe you me, I gave it a serious chance.  And then some.

For the first 50 or so pages, when I was trapped with a self-centered narrator who did little more than whine about the fact that he was 52 years old and couldn't get laid as frequently as he did when he was 20, I thought, "Maybe it's about his eventual enlightenment.  Let's wait and see."

And then he began sleeping with a student (did I mention he was a professor?).  Great.  Just great, dude.  Uh-huh.  Okay.

And he was kind of a stalker about it, actually, and then that got chalked up to "the god Eros" or some such nonsense, which started reminding me way too much of the experience of reading Lolita and then when he lost his job over it, I got the impression that I was supposed to somehow see that as "unfair" in some way and to take a very ironic attitude toward the whole notion of "disciplinary proceedings" and "ethical conduct."

A group of young women who were opposed to rape were mildly ridiculed along the way.  At this point in my reading, I actually closed my eyes and took a deep breath and said, "Just keep going.  I'm sure it will get better.  It must be about his becoming more self-aware about his arrogant, misogynistic, pig-faced, jackassed behavior.  I'm sure that's what this novel is about."

It was an assumption that had no basis in anything I'd actually read up until that point, but I digress.

So then he lost his job (thank god) and went to live with his daughter and call me old fashioned, but I couldn't quite get over the fact that she just called him "David."  Just like that. With no explanation for why they might have been on a first-name basis.  Just "David."  Plain as could be.  So I turned a whole bunch of pages sustained by the thought that, at some point I'd find out why she called him "David" and that would help me understand his previous behavior and it would all culminate in his becoming more self-aware.  ( I was really hung up on that.)

And then, we found out that his daughter was a lesbian, but she was a lesbian who wasn't actually in a relationship with a woman at the time, so we never really had to deal with that.  The ex was conveniently in Johannesburg (this was mentioned more than once), but she never came back, so I'm not sure why it mattered, really, except it was supposed to make what happened to her later in the novel that much more upsetting.

Because some horrible things happened later in the novel and when they did, I thought, "Okay, now will be The Turning Point.  Self-awareness, here we come."  And that was basically the mindset that carried me through the remaining hundred or so pages.

At this point, it probably won't surprise you to learn that I once stood (yes, I said stood) through a five-hour (yes, I said five-hour) Russian Orthodox service, sustained by the thought, "I'm sure it'll be over in about five more minutes or so.  It must be almost done."

So, I'm here to tell you that there was no Turning Point in that novel last night.  There was no Self-Awareness, in the end.  It just went in some odd directions and had some truly implausible characterization (in my opinion), and the whole sleeping-with-a-student thing was returned to and justified, in some weird way, and God was mentioned in passing, and then it ended.

I sat with the book on my lap and stared at it for a bit. And then I stared at the clock for a bit.  And then I said, "Well, good-night," to no one in particular, because my cats had fallen asleep hours earlier.

And that was basically that.

But I really don't want to say that I don't like Coetzee's work so, masochist that I am, I'm actually going to try to read his novel Foe tonight.  I started it a while back, but I need to restart it and just get through it and see what happens.  Maybe Disgrace was a fluke.  Just not my cup of tea.  But the other novels he's written, who knows?

At this point, I would like to offer another confession: I hate William Hurt.  As an actor, I mean--I don't know him as a person.

Remember how popular he was in the 1980's?  And how he kept being nominated for all kinds of awards?  Well thank god that ended.  Because I kept wanting to figure out what it was that everyone liked about him (since personally, I didn't ever find him even remotely attractive), so in the 1980's, I saw Every. Damn. Movie. William. Hurt. Made.

In 1991, I told myself, "Enough. You've given it a decade.  Stop this." 

No one can ever say that I don't give things--and by "things" I mean "people"--a second chance.  Because I definitely do, to an extent that is probably rather unhealthy.  So when I found myself thinking, "I didn't like Disgrace, so I need to read Foe.  And maybe something else after that...", I did mentally warn myself not to "do that whole William Hurt thing again" with Coetzee.

We'll see.  I think I'll be okay.  And I really do think I'll like Foe.  (what is wrong with me?)

Meanwhile, I had been noticing for days that my keyboard on my laptop was having problems.  I'd type "s" and there would be no "s."  Same thing for "k" and "o" and the occasional "j."

I kept thinking that maybe the keyboard driver was corrupted, but as it turns out, there was a somewhat simpler issue:  the keyboard was full of cat hair.


I'm usually pretty good about taking care of that kind of stuff.  But as I began to notice the fur sticking out of the edges of the "s" and the "k" and the "o" and a little bit around the "j," I tried to remember the last time I actually cleaned my laptop's keyboard.

I took a sabbatical in 2008, and it really was a wonderful experience in many ways, not the least of which is that it left me with a very clear chronological marker that my occasionally faulty memory can draw upon.   You see, I have a tendency to think, "I just did X the other day" or "last week" or "a little while ago," only to realize that "the other day" or "last week" or "a little while ago," is actually "2 years ago" or "before my dad died" (in 2006). 

Basically, if I remember doing something in the house I lived in before I went on sabbatical, but not since, that means I probably haven't done it since 2008.

Likewise, if I remember last seeing some object or possession "before I went on sabbatical," I automatically declare it "lost" and just assume that I threw it out or, if I'm feeling slightly more accusatory, I announce to whoever is listening that "the movers probably got it."  I find that it saves me a lot of time and emotional energy in the moment, and on those rare occasions when I've eventually found the thing I declared "lost" or "gotten," I'm extremely happy.

It gives me hope.

I would like to say, however, that I'm quite certain I must have cleaned my keyboard sometime since 2008, because as it turns out, there was no orange fur in it, and my poor little kitty who died in 2012 was orange.  All the fur clogging my keyboard this time around was grey.

And ye gods, there was a lot of it.  I started with the air-can, but it quickly became clear that wasn't going to cut it.  So I had to use q-tips and, I confess, tweezers.

But now it looks so clean and even kind of shiny, it's quite nice.  I asked my kitties how this fur-backlog happened, but the only thing I got in response was a vague reminder from Freya that I have the tendency to leave the laptop open all the time (signaled by an extensive bout of face-rubbing on the corners of said laptop) and the assertion that "shedding happens" from Smokey and Juno.  (This assertion was then punctuated by Smokey's descent into the basement to dramatically cough up a hairball.)

But perhaps there's more to this whole keyboard-full-of-fur-thing than meets the eye...

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."