Things I learned…recently

It’s been a while since I have taken the time to sit down and write one of these blog posts.  It’s not that I haven’t learned anything, it’s just that I have a case of the lazies.

It happens.

So, what have I learned?

I learned…

…that field geology is not my thing.

This past semester I took a historical geology class to fulfill a science requirement.  It was an interesting class, challenging and time-consuming.  I learned a lot and that’s always a good thing.  The course was geared toward geology majors, and I was a little apprehensive about that at first, but my fear proved unfounded.

I rocked that class.

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However, one of the things my professor required for course completion was a bit of field work.  He believes that he cannot allow his students to walk away from historical geology without at least one day in the field – mud covered rock hammer in one hand, chunk of fossil-filled platy limestone in the other.

Okay.  No big deal.  I can do that.  Dig around in the dirt for an afternoon, maybe find a fossil or two, identify an unconformity or a fault, take a strike-dip measurement.  Not my favorite things, but whatever.

I did a little research on the site where we were to do our field work.  It’s a place on the North Sulphur River known to contain Cretaceous period fossils.  According to a few maps, the site boasts a park of sorts with an outbuilding and concrete stairs leading down the steep river embankment.  Okay, no big deal.  I can do that.

The day of the excursion was rainy, a chance of severe weather loomed, but we went anyway.  We are geologist, a little thing like a tornado watch isn’t going to scare us – or so our professor told us.  The site was in the backwoods of nowhere, down an overgrown two lane farm to market road – and not where we thought it was.  There was no outbuilding, and there were no stairs, but there was a trail – or so our professor told us.

Now, I have to tell you, my professor is an older man – late sixties, almost seventy, but he is the most energetic person I’ve ever met.  If Indiana Jones were a geologist, he would be my professor.  He is also a dirty rotten liar.  There was no trail, only a runoff path that spilled down a sixty degree drop through overgrown brush and misshapen trees into the river bed thirty feet below.

Sixty degree drop; thirty feet below. 

Oh.  Did I mention it was raining?  Yeah, so the ground had turned to slick as snot clay mud.   You know that stuff, right?  It might as well have been a sheet of ice.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I am not an outdoorsy person, and the whole scenario was so far out of my comfort zone, I felt like I might drown in my own anxiety.  That nagging voice of reason in my head was doing his best Lost in Space impression, “Danger, Will Robinson.  Danger.”  But I ignored him.  After all, I have expanded my horizons in recent years, ventured into uncharted territory, overcome a few of my more benign phobias.  I could do it.  

Right?

Right.  So, I took a deep breath, sat down on my butt and did the crab crawl –  inch by inch, down into that fucking river bed.   I spent two hours trudging through mud so thick it stuck the bottom of my shoes (I grew two inches) and caked the hem of my jeans.   I foraged for fossils, took a strike-dip measurement, almost dropped my compass into a mud puddle, and suffered the indignity of a really bad hair day.

Then I clawed my way back out, up thirty feet (at a staggering sixty degree incline) inch by fucking agonizing inch.

Success!

And it only took three weeks for all the cuts and bruises to heal.  Bonus.

The experience ranks right up there with whale watching from an inflatable raft in the middle of the churning Pacific.  I’m proud of myself for doing it, but I will never, ever do it again.  Ever.

…that one of my new favorite things to do is sit in a bookstore coffee shop with my daughter sipping a cold frappy, nibbling a calorie heavy treat, and reading a good book.

…that sometimes blog spam is amusing.  I normally don’t pay much attention to it – just hit the delete button and move on.  But today I found this attached to one of my reading challenge entries:

Thats just because youre still mad at him for winning the starting RF job over your man-crush last April.

It’s like I’m in a fight with someone and I didn’t even know it.  Such drama.

…that the 10 hour drive to South Padre Island is so much more fun than the 11 hour drive home.

…that we have entered that point in tennis season where I am again forced to question my long-standing Federer allegiance.  I can forgive a loss at the Australian Open to Murray, but a loss on clay to Tsonga in the quarterfinals?  I’m at the breaking point…seriously.  If Federer doesn’t step up on the grass in London, I’m out.  I mean it.  For real this time.

that there is a Great White shark lurking just off the coast of Cape Cod.    Note to self:  no beach excursions during future trips north to visit my Boston peeps.

…that there is an Atlantic Green sea turtle named Allison at Sea Turtle, Inc. on South Padre Island with a prosthetic flipper (think boat rudder, only for a turtle) to help her swim.  Go read about her – and all of the good work this amazing organization does – (here).

…that I will take a Stats class over Art Appreciation any day of the week.   I had two objectives going into this summer – knock out a couple of required courses I have put off because I know they will suck and get a tan.  Well, it’s only a few weeks in and I’ve already failed.  No, my tan looks great, but I seem to have hit a hurdle with that other thing.  It turns out I’d rather jab a stick into my eye than sit through 10 weeks of art appreciation, and its endless string of mindless “art” projects and presentations.  I couldn’t drop it fast enough.  Of course, now I have to take an extra class in the fall to make up for it, but I think art history will suit me much better.  I sure hope so.  On a side note, Stats is going to work out just fine.  Who’d have thought?

…and last but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by my sweet daughter and her band awards.  I’m not proud or anything…

Blog? What blog?

Oh!  This blog.

Worry not, my faithful followers.  I haven’t been eaten by a bear or abducted by aliens or fallen down a deep bug infested hole in the middle of a secluded rain forest.

<shudder>

I’ve been busy.  You know, doing stuff.

What stuff?

I’m glad you asked.

The month of May marks the end of my semester and usually goes one of two ways:  1) I am overcome with creativity and spend endless hours either at the keyboard writing like a madwoman or viewing the world through a camera lens snapping photographs of every unfortunate bug and blossom to cross my path; or 2) I am overwhelmed by life, say screw it all, and overdose on trash television.

Sadly, it’s been the latter kind of month, and consequently, my brain is in full-on decomp after watching an endless stream of Ancient Aliens, Married to Medicine (an all-time low for me), and the Real Housewives of Orange County.

I blame science.  Specifically, historical geology.

I spent four months immersed in millions/billions of years of earth history- from its origins to the revelation of geologic time to the theories of evolution and plate tectonics.  I studied orogenies (the process of mountain building – get your mind out of the gutter), sedimentary deposition environments, bio – and litho – facies, faulting and folding, and learned to age date and correlate rock formations.  I can identify a whole slew of fossils based on a laundry list of characteristics.  If you ask nicely, I can even give you their kingdom, genus, species and period of existence.

While this is all fascinating stuff, it is not conducive to cultivating creativity – neither is “reality” television.   I spent the first 2/3 of May stuck in “left-brain” mode.  I couldn’t see the beauty of a rolling field of wildflowers.  I only saw an eroded anticline left over from a Mississippian period thrust event. I wondered if it was faulted; if the adjoining basin was filled with terrestrial material; if there was evidence of a transgressive or regressive marine environment; what fossils might be present.

Disturbing, I know.

To combat this troubling trend, I tried to drown my inner geologist with anything and everything offered up by the Bravo network.  It worked for a while.  Of course, there comes a point when one realizes that consuming junk might be satisfying in the interim, but it lacks sustainability and, in the long-term,  is detrimental – sorta like Oreos.

So, what does one do when faced with a situation such as this?

Go to the nearest art museum; attend a historical lecture; read some frivolous fiction; take a trip to the beach.

Kick that “right-brain” bitch out of bed and tell her to get her shit together.

I did.  I feel much better now.

A blog birthday

So, the old blog turns 2 today.

Cake balls for everyone!

photo source:  dallasnews.com
photo source: dallasnews.com

Camp NaNoWriMo: the aftermath

On Saturday, I surpassed my Camp NaNoWriMo goal by 4K+ words.

That means I won.

Yippee!

Time for a celebration.

Tequila and Ren Faire, it is.

Don’t judge me.

So, now it’s over.  The euphoria that comes with accomplishment is waning, and I am left with the aftermath of writing willy-nilly for a month straight without rereading or editing a single word – just a lot of marking and moving on.  A difficult concept for me, and frankly, the thought of facing what I’ve committed to paper scares me.

I did, though – at five in the morning, over my morning coffee.  My walk through was brisk.  It was all I could muster after four hours of sleep and the realization that I had forgotten to pick up french vanilla coconut milk coffee creamer on my way home.  Black coffee sweetened with refined sugar does not make for ideal shitty writing reading conditions.

I hear war stories from the NaNo veterans.  They assure me that cringe worthy writing is the norm.  After all, NaNo is not about producing a finished product, it’s about a commitment and dedication to the act of writing.  I suppose in this context, what I found was on par.  It is a bit overgrown in places, a little sparse in others.  There are rare bursts of brilliance encapsulated within thick sticky sludge.  Anna is still missing her retribution.   The fragility of her state of mind is not quite right, and her brother is without a completed introduction scene – again.   And the typos – sweet baby Jesus, don’t get me started on the typos.

It is a work in progress, ever evolving.  I am not displeased with what I’ve done – it could be worse.  I’m far from finished, but I am closer to the end.  In the last few days, I have been struck by an idea for a new opening scene.  It is something I’ve struggled with for a long time – where does Anna’s story begin?  This new scene captures Anna’s inability to cope, her helplessness and hopelessness, her quest for absolution.  In other words, Anna hitting rock bottom.  I think it works.  I hope it works.  I’m sure my writing group will tell me if it doesn’t.

On a side note, its inspiration comes from an album that I’ve listened to countless times and never before made the correlation.

It’s all in the timing, I suppose.

So, now what?

More writing, of course.

Anna needs to get her retribution back!

 

Almost Friday

Another gorgeous weekend is so close I can almost reach out and touch it.

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Lions, tigers, and bears…

Okay, maybe not.

But I did run into a spotted leopard, a funny looking bear, and a cheeky koi while on vacation recently.

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The look of 40

Last June, I turned forty.  A dubious milestone no woman strives to achieve but like most unpleasant things in life, aging is completely unavoidable.  I took it on the chin.  I didn’t take to my bed in a blubbering fit of self-pity, or trade in my 4 door sedan for a zippy Maserati, or wake up with a tequila hangover and a mystery tattoo.   Being the boring mature adult that I am, I opted to celebrate with a quiet dinner, a glass of wine, and a Daniel Silva novel.

The first time my age came up in casual conversation, I was honest and straightforward.  There’s no shame in forty.   Anyway, I don’t really feel any different from when I was 39, even if the elliptical at the gym insists that I somehow burn fewer calories for every forty-five minute workout since my birthday.   The evil work of some abstract algorithm, I’m sure.

“You’re forty?” said the young optician measuring my pupillary distance for my new “no-line” bifocals.  “You don’t look forty.”

“That’s very generous of you,” I said.

“No, seriously.  You look good.  I hope I have such good complexion when I’m your age.”

Hm.

I assured her there was no mistake.  I’d seen my birth certificate – born 1972.  It had an official seal and everything.  At the time, I accepted her declaration as a compliment, vowed to continue using the overpriced anti-aging cream from that high-end department store I loathe, and went on my merry way with a little extra spring in my step.  Yes, vanity is a sin; and yes, I’ve been guilty of it on more than one occasion.  Sue me.  In the seven or eight months since, others have echoed her disbelief, but the initial boost to my ego has waned.  I should probably feel jubilant, over the moon even, that I appear to look so young and vibrant – especially, for someone of my advancing years.

I’m not.

I’ve said it before – I am a personality fraught with flaws.  The list is endless.  Near the top, just beneath chronically phobic is:  tends to over-analyze life, often prone to bouts of irrational suspicion in others, and is perpetually awaiting the other shoe to drop.  A dangerous trio that makes it impossible for me to let these benign bits of frivolous flattery roll by without further examination.

What does it mean when people say I don’t look forty?

What is forty supposed to look like?

Is there some predetermined criteria?

Am I somehow deficient?

Like most women of any age, I look at myself in the mirror every morning and cringe.  I am no great beauty – perhaps passably pretty, if we’re feeling generous.  I run on the wrong side of average, with thick thighs and flabby arms.  I have to sweat a lot to maintain a consistent weight in the mid-120’s, and I’m not known for my overt fashion sense.  My mouth is flanked by laugh lines, the delicate skin around my eyes crinkle ever so slightly when I smile, and every six weeks the silvery-grey hair I work hard to hide winks at me from beneath the glare of the bathroom lights.

It’s an image I’m quite familiar with, and it is an image that has gone virtually unchanged over the last few years.   I find it strange that no one commented on how good I might look for my age when I was 37, or 38, or even 39.  It’s only after I have reached the pivotal age of forty that I am suddenly an oddity in the eyes of my peers.

This inconsistency makes me wonder by what standard forty is judged.  From my own experiences, there seems to be some preconceived notion of one’s physical appearance once a certain age threshold has been crossed.  It’s as if at forty, one abruptly reaches the apex of physicality and is then expected to begin a rapid downward spiral into the dark abyss of crippling old age.  I am, after all, now traditionally considered “over the hill.”  Or so, I’ve been told.  But am I really?

A quick internet search told me that in ancient Rome, a woman’s average life expectancy was between 20 and 30 years depending on her social status, the age she married, and the number of children she bore.   According to Sarah Woodbury, women living in the Middle Ages fared slightly better reaching an average age of 40.  This was, of course, provided she survived infancy, avoided contracting some sort of plague, and didn’t perish giving birth to her own offspring.  During the Industrial Revolution in Victorian England, life expectancy hovered around the upper 30s, but by the beginning of the twentieth century, those numbers rebounded to a staggering 50.  This upward momentum continued through the 1900s, and today women living in the United States can take comfort in the fact that, on average, they may live to be 82 or so.

Hm.

I have long wondered what it might be like to live in another time period.  Now, I know.  It drives home the true meaning of the old adage “life is short.”   While I am grateful to have been born in twentieth century, the numbers do paint a sobering picture.  At forty, I am now truly middle-aged.

Over the hill.  Long in the tooth.  A mutton dressed as a lamb.

Perhaps that Maserati isn’t such a bad idea, after all.  I wonder if it comes in red.

Even so, this depressing revelation doesn’t answer my original question:

What am I supposed to look like at forty – you know, now that I have statistically reached the midpoint of my life?

Should I have developed a hunch back?  A stilted gait?  A weather-beaten face?

Should I suddenly forget how to apply make up?  Allow my hair the freedom to convert back to its natural gray streaked frizz?

The more I think about the answer to this question, the more I’m convinced that age is simply an outdated societal construct designed to confine individuals to easily discernible categories in order to dictate acceptable behavior.  Generally, in our twenties we are considered young and beautiful with carefree spirits and the luxury of worldly ignorance.   In our thirties, we are plagued by the pressure of conformity, the harshness of reality, and the need to settle into designated career and familial roles.  By forty, any hint of the youthful spirit and beauty of our twenties is thoroughly eradicated and replaced by the exhaustion of motherhood, the cruelty of gravity, free-falling metabolisms, wrinkling skin, and mom jeans. By fifty, we are destined for the early bird specials at the local pancake house and an AARP lifetime membership.  Fifteen years later…well…it’s all over but the crying.

Do these categories represent reality? Perhaps there is a measure of truth to be found somewhere floating in the depths of these stereotypes, but I certainly do not believe that we, as individuals, fit into such nice neat boxes.  I don’t wear mom jeans, drive a minivan, or feel the weight of motherhood bearing down on me.   I did all of that in my early thirties.  Now, at the tender age of forty, I am on a wondrous journey of self-discovery and have never felt more alive.  This proves to me that I am right in my belief that age is a relative concept.  You are only as old as you perceive yourself.  I do not perceive myself as old, over the hill, or long in the tooth.  Therefore, I am not.

So, what does forty look like?

Fabulous.