Sunday, June 23, 2013

Owl Wrangling 101

Once upon a time in the murky past, Dr. Airedaleparent was a wildlife biologist, or as they were then called, a zoologist. I know more about the Indiana brown bat than I should, because he wrote his thesis about them, and have a low opinion of flat worms owing to his dislike of his thesis director (for whom a species indigenous to Kentucky is named). Although I had a strained relationship with my father throughout my childhood and young adulthood, we could communicate about things biological.

Growing up, I had a thing for owls. Because I was 'smart', people gave me a lot of gifts and cards with 'wise owls' on them. I still dig owls, so does that make me a hipster because I thought owls were cool before owls Anyway, this morning, we were all reminiscing about my father's brilliant owl-wrangling technique.

At the Chez, there's a large fireplace in the family room. Often, in the winter, we'd keep a roaring fire going in it which was banked at night for reasons of safety. One night, as my mother was getting ready to relight the kindling, she put a paper torch up the chimney to check the flue. She was a little surprised when she saw, well, talons skittering along the iron flue frame. She leaned into the fireplace and was shocked to see a pair of beady eyes staring back. She turned to my father and said, "I think there's an owl in the chimney!"

Dad came over and checked, confirming that yes, indeed, there was a juvenile barn owl sitting on the iron flue frame. He said, "Surely when it gets hot, the owl will fly up the chimney and out."

It didn't. We kept hearing that poor little owl's claws ping on the iron all night as it danced frantically on the hot frame. My sister and I begged our parents to dampen the fire, but the night was cold and the furnace was out. We lost. The owl continued his skittering all night long, and then it stopped. Dad assumed the owl had found a way out, while my sister and I feared that it had died from the heat.

The next morning we arrived downstairs the sight of a pissed off teenage owl glaring back at us from the fireplace.

Dad walked out and returned wearing his official owl-wrangling gear, to wit, Mom's bright yellow dishwashing gloves, and carrying a towel. He instructed me to stand at the patio door and on his signal, open it and get out of the way. Mom gingerly held back the iron mesh fire curtain; Dad pitched the towel over the owl, snatched the whole thing up, and trucked it for the door. I flung wide the door; Dad hurled both towel and owl into the yard.

If we thought the owl was pissed off before, you should've seen it when it disentangled from that towel.

I just remember my father standing there in his blue bathrobe and the Playtex Living Gloves, admiring his handiwork. For a long time, we had a resident owl in the trees behind the house, and I've always wondered if it was our friend from the chimney, silently plotting his revenge for being thrown outside by someone with no fashion sense.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What is "True"? What is "Valid"?

A few weeks ago, I had a discussion with my sister about the lens of memory and its personal nature. This led me to consider who has the right or privilege to determine what is authentic or valid when we're engaging in our own narrative. I pointed out to her that I've tried to be clear as I've composed this blog that it's from my perspective, but there have been times that it's become a matter of debate.

So, who gets to define truth? Who determines what's valid? Who gets to say that their version of events is the most accurate, or in the more emotionally-charged sense, 'correct'?

My perspective will be at variance with hers- when I write, I'm talking about how *I* experienced something. This isn't about consensus, it's about being honest with ourselves about how we experienced certain things. Does anyone have the right to force us to change the story so that it lies more in their comfort zone? In my opinion, no. That robs the author of so many things, and at the very heart of it, it demoralizes and dehumanizes him or her.

Writing is my catharsis. As much as I talk, a lot of it is a defense mechanism because I'm socially awkward and don't know how to really relate to others. I do better when I can collect myself and commit my thoughts in writing. It's my release valve, so does anyone get to tell me that I'm not allowed to do it because it makes them uncomfortable? No. I'm not lying. I'm not airing the dirty linen. I'm pushing things out of my head so that they're not jacking up my blood pressure or causing me to lose sleep.

There is a degree of circumspection, and of course, a lot of what I write from here on out is governed by my employer's newly-minted social media policy. If you've noticed, I've hidden some of my earlier posts that may touch, however vaguely, on matters related to my life in academe- it's an editorial decision based on self-preservation, more than anything.

So here we are. I claim ownership of my ideas, of my past, and of my opinions. I claim the right to write them from my own perspective, but I can't force anyone to process them in any particular way. That's just the nature of intellect...

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Guest Kitty

My sister lost her elderly long-haired ginger tomcat a few months ago. The cat had been with her through thick and thin, including three moves, a home invasion, her getting married and merging households with her husband's silver tabby and Golden Retriever, the death of both the silver tabby and the first Golden Retriever, the acquisition of the second Golden Retriever as a puppy, and the arrival of Guest Kitty, a small, declawed strong tortoise cat who is very, very sweet. The Big Orange Cat was her heart cat. She mourned him horribly. Now Guest Kitty is also terminally ill.

Guest Kitty had a small fatty tumor on the left cheekbone near her eye that I noticed when staying with my sister and brother-in-law a couple of years ago while Mom was in the hospital in the Big City. When they took Guest Kitty for a thyroid checkup, the vet thought it was a harmless fatty lipoma and told them as much. As such, nothing to do about it but kind of let it alone.

I love this little cat. She got out of the house last summer and we had to blanket the neighborhood with fliers to try to get her home. After a couple of weeks, some people just over the rise found her on their porch and phoned. Guest Kitty came home. We were a little frantic until she was safely back at my sister's house.

Guest Kitty has a parlor trick that's really endearing; she will pat you gently on the shin when she wants attention. If that fails, she'll get on the furniture closest to your face and pat you lightly on the cheek. She also sleeps with me when I'm staying there, hence "Guest Kitty". My own tortoise cat is hateful, so I really appreciate how sweet this one is, too.

Yesterday, my sister called as I was on my way to an out-of-town doctor's appointment. After several minutes of her explaining how sick Guest Kitty is, I said I'd drive on over to the Big City (another sixty miles) to see her. Guest Kitty will likely not be with us much longer- she has what the vet believes is a very aggressive cancerous tumor on her lower jaw. It's enormous, invasive, and the poor thing is suffering. They will have to make the decision soon, because she's not going to live through this.

I picked her up a few times and carried her around their house. She's drooling freely because of the tumor, so we'd wipe her mouth and chin with a paper towel every once in a while. When it was time for me to leave, my sister picked her up. I let her head-butt my chin, and just before I stepped back, that little paw moved painfully forward...and...she gently patted me on the nose.

I may never see Guest Kitty in this world again, but she's a good kitty. I'll really miss her.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Fair is Foul and Foul is Fair

The county fair is underway back in Smalltownland.

For my family, this meant a great many things: that my sister would spend time on Kids' Day chasing a piglet covered in Crisco (yes, they had a Greased Pig Contest), someone would tell me after the dog show that our English Pointer was a 'good lookin' dog' (whereupon I'd have to explain that Bozo was none too bright), and I'd be chastised by the cooking contest chairwomen for entering my chocolate cake in the adult homemakers' contest rather than the 4H baking category (and I won or placed second often enough that by high school it was a real bone of contention).

We also lived on a cliff overlooking the county park, where the fair was held. That meant a week of loud noise, weird smells such as the combination of fried onions and horse manure, and a fireworks display that detonated about thirty yards beyond the lip of the cliff at what was basically, for us, eye-level.

There were beauty pageants, of course, and also, of course, I never entered them because I was a fat girl and my father objected on general principle...his mother was the very first Miss Arizona, and he had a low opinion of any competition that required a woman to stand around, look pretty, and not do anything else. Don't get me wrong; Daddy adored my grandmother. He had seen, however, how having been Miss Arizona was pretty much the big highlight of her life, and how badly other aspects of her (she was as sweet as pie and the most loving, giving soul you could ever have met) were frequently overlooked because it was overshadowed and superseded by "she was the very first Miss Arizona."

One year, my sister decided that she would enter the Miss Junior County Fair pageant at the last possible moment. It was largely motivated by the fact that one of her friends, who had entered far earlier, had developed cold feet, and she wanted to be there for moral support. It was a mad last-minute dash where we ended up borrowing a friend's sister's prom dress (the sister was very tiny) and engaging our hairstylist to fix her hair. Needless to say, in that category, the girls were supposed to be very cutesy. My sister, widely regarded as one of the most beautiful girls to ever come from our county, lost to a girl whose front teeth had recently fallen out (the age category was something like 7-10 years old). Neither my sister nor her friend placed; it was my sister's first and last pageant. Our father did not attend, as he had opposed the whole thing.

There was also a dance at the end of the fair. I went a few times in junior high and high school. I remember one year that it got so hot in the pavilion that I left and sat on the playground swings for almost an hour until Mom came to get me. Sometimes I'd wander around looking for friends to ride the rides with me...although I had a higher tolerance for things like the Tilt-a-Whirl and the Scrambler that caused them to barf. Often as not, I didn't have enough money for tickets, so I'd just hide until it was time to leave.

I also had a single fair-related gastronomical weakness: red candy apples. I was permitted one during the week, so I tried to wait until Thursday or Friday to buy it. I didn't want funnel cakes. I didn't care about cotton candy. I wanted that stupid red candy apple- because I knew I could only have one per year; like anything else containing sugar, they were 'bad for (me)" and 'will make (me) fat'. I'd buy it, and if I didn't finish it, I'd wrap it in the provided doily and take it home; the trick was to finish it before the candy coating melted into a molten slick of sticky goop.

I'll be there over the weekend, but I will enjoy the festivities at a distance rather than brave the park. I'm a little long of tooth for the county fair these days, and I can't stand the taste of those apples anymore.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Eminent Fracking Outrage

There is this thing called "eminent domain" that most landowners will only talk about after sprinkling themselves with holy water and praying for ten minutes. It's the right of the government to take your land for projects 'benefiting the greater good' such as widening roads or improving utilities. In the case of my family farm, it's involved selling ever-widening easements across our property to the natural gas utility.

Now, with the onset of fracking (hydraulic fracturing), the industry is at it again. I've written about my farm before; I've also written somewhat angrily about the bartering away of Hopkins' family's ancestral land in support of his father's vanity. Their farm was very nearly as old as mine...and here in the sunny South, that is some serious business, threatening someone's ancestral seat. We view it askance.

Sure as anything, our buddies over at the gas utility want to run a 24 inch pipeline all the way across the state, parallel in my mother's home county to the existing lines. What does that mean? The Gas Men will come waving wads of cash under our noses and quoting their favorite veiled threat, yes, you guessed it: eminent domain. What that means is "Sell it to us (un)willingly or we will take it for pennies on the dollar, with the help and blessing of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the United by God States of America".

Can you tell I'm a little worked up about this? Do I really need to go out to the middle of the family farm armed with a rifle, to scream at these bespoke-suited landsharks, "GIT OFF MAH LAND!"?

I don't know, but I can tell you this: I don't want their 24 inch pipeline across our property, because 24 inches translates into another hundred-yard-wide berth slashing across largely unblemished arable land. I don't know what I'm going to do with that farm when it becomes mine, but I also know that I don't want to keep letting the gas companies carve it up to their benefit, either.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Beware of All Endeavors Requiring New Clothes

It finally hit me that I've spent the last several years buying boring clothes. As a librarian, of course, it's expected that we're not going to dress like we just stepped off a runway, and certainly, as a woman of size, it's harder for me than someone who wears, say, a size 12 to find anything that doesn't look dowdy or matronly. Sleeves, for example, are the bane of my existence- while I like sleeves, I don't like elbow-length sleeves because they aren't flattering to me. Most wrist-length sleeves are  a hair too long. Sleeveless? Oh, now there's a whole new set of challenges- anybody who sews can tell you that patterns, even plus size ones, are typically drafted for a B cup breast. Guess what? I haven't been a B cup since the seventh grade.

The other thing is that while I like patterns, a lot of what I've been seeing the last little while reminds me of a Rorschach test. How is that flattering? It's distracting, I suppose, if that happens to be what you're shooting for, but when you have hyper-intelligent friends, what invariably happens is that they'll spend your time together interpreting the design. "That looks like two rhinosceri sparring." "No, I think it looks like two ducks attempting to rip a junebug in half." "Well, personally, I think it looks like the Crab Nebula." You get the general idea.

Last summer, I went against type and bought a bright yellow gauze skirt. I figured that with the color that far from my face, I could get away with it- sunny yellow makes me look embalmed otherwise- and it's been sort of fun. I'm just wondering if there's anything, I don't know, maybe "peppier" that I could add to the mix that might be more cheerful. I don't want to look twee, but I do need a little pick-me-up of some sort. I might be middle-aged but I'm not dead, either.

I'm also considering some changes to hair and makeup. Professionally, I wear an almost bare makeup palette, and lately I've noticed that I look tired and washed-out. My hair is so long and fine that I have no choice but to pull it back in the stereotypical librarian bun. I feel old. I look old. I have to do something. As much as I'd like to get a makeover at the Bobbi Brown counter, I'm still a loyal MAC girl- but I need something doable, not something that will take three hours every morning. I'm just too impatient to fool with that anymore.

When I was in high school, I was on TV twice with the quick recall team. What we were told was: "Don't wear white or black, and girls, don't wear dark lipstick. This won't photograph well. Blue or pink shows up nicely on-camera." Being that guy at the D&D game who has boobs, and, well, the ONLY girl on camera both times, I wore the button-down Oxford sported by the two boys on my team, and the first time, mine was pink (it was blue for the second taping). When they took the PR still for the local paper, I gave it my best smile,'s the best picture ever taken of me. I've lost my copy of it, but I still remember.

That's what I need to get back- a look where I can be happy and not hate what I look like, especially if somebody decides to haul out a camera. I guess I'm sick and tired of looking sick and tired...

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Fat Cooties

Last weekend, I trooped off to the Big City with Hopkins in tow. Now, I'm aggravated that he has passed comment on my driving (remember, I survived his in high school, which was less-than-stellar, trust me), but I'm still glad that he went. I was also mortified to learn, three days out, that during a few minutes when I'd excused myself he paid for my ticket to the improv show...and has yet to utter a single peep about it.

I'd picked up dinner, but I had an ulterior motive: while it stands to reason that I have a higher income/it was not a date/it was technically I who invited him, the bald truth is that my little ego couldn't take the Public Request for the Splitting of the Check. I ran the acute risk of offending him, but I calculated that against my own potential embarrassment. Sorry, Hopkins, I threw you on the fire, sweetie, and I know it... also, his dinner had cost a bit more than my ticket. That's why we'll call it even and not speak of it again.

What happened next in the tiny theater is what haunted my sleep last night. The seating is set up cabaret-style, with chairs surrounding small cocktail tables. They're crammed into a tight space and there was a large reservation scattered around us, although Stefan, my friend in the performing troupe, had made sure that our party was seated house-center. My choices were to crowd Lizzie, or to be a little too close to Hopkins. I figured that I probably had more latitude impinging on his space, but I misjudged it. When I sat down, my chair was too close, and my leg was pressed against his.

I didn't say anything because what played through my mind was, "Oh, crap, if I move, I'll call attention to it." He must've been on the same page. When the gallon or so of water I'd consumed at dinner kicked in, I hopped off to the ladies', and when I returned, Hopkins had quietly shifted his chair about a foot to the right. That felt a little excessive, but I had to admire his discretion. The completely closed body language that followed, though, is what hurt more. To frame it in sarcastic childhood reference, it smacked of Ye Olde Fat Cooties...or worse yet, was it Airedalegirl Cooties?

It's one of those "Suddenly I'm sixteen again, and NOT in a good way" feelings. I felt a sick flush creeping up my neck as I arranged my skirts and tried to do my best impression of a hedgehog, the same as when I have to travel by air and there's some poor schmuck sitting next to me cursing his or her fate for getting stuck next to the land whale.  Trust me, I get it: I take up more than my 'fair share' of space. I don't need to have that pointed out...but I bathe regularly and go to extreme lengths to make sure that I don't add to that old chestnut that 'fat people smell'. I try to compact myself as much as physically possible so that my fatness doesn't rub off on others.

I don't like this body. I've been judged on its lack of merit and found wanting so many times on so many levels throughout my life that it's my personal hell. I'm not comfortable in it, but I accept it. It can't change overnight, and I've always tried to be pragmatic about it...but there's something especially crushing when that subtle rejection comes, and moreover when it's by someone about whose opinion one cares. You can do everything under the sun to try to emotionally prepare for it, but it will never be enough. It hurt thirty years ago and it still hurts. Some personal demons just refuse to die.