Friday, January 27, 2012

Locked Horns

In my novel-in-progress, two characters--an acrobat and his boss, the circus owner--argue interminably, getting exactly nowhere. I won't mention the topic of all that arguing; the point is the interminable arguing. A month or so ago, while working on these scenes and this relationship, the phrase locked horns came to mind. As it goes with the kind of writing I do, when an image seems fertile or resonant, I want to know more about, to see where it might lead me. So I googled locked horns, and learned quite a bit.
     As some of you likely know, this phrase is a literal reference to horned animals and the kind of trouble they can get themselves into.

If you have those complex things on your head, you best be careful. As I read in several places, the situation of locked horns doesn't happen all that often because most animals know how to evaluate the dominance hierarchy, and where they stand within it. As a help in this regard, animals know how to position themselves just so to show off their size and strength. Any animal can see, the theory goes, who's the Alpha, and the non-Alpha knows enough to back off. Nevertheless, errors are made, and then trouble for the lock-ed ensues. Here's another pair.

        As you can guess from these photos, and see in several online videos, including this one, once locked together, the two may not be able to unlock. Thus they cannot eat or drink, and they cannot move without the other. They drag each other hither and yon until one or the other dies, and then the still-alive one is trapped by the dead one, barely able to move, and so the two become locked together in death--a gruesome situation.

Here's a three-way, which I bet is not very common.

To understand all this, I probably spent about an hour--gazing at images, reading reports from hunters and others who had observed one of these to-the-death engagements, plumbing it. Only a few small details from this research will likely appear on the printed page, but I feel enriched by having learned all this. It won't be lost on you to say that many of such battles seem to be afoot or potentially afoot in this little world of ours today. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Economic Indicators

A while back, I wrote a post about a a cafe in Iowa, and its business uptick (people ordering "a full lunch") as an indicator, perhaps, of an uptick in the economy. There, I also mentioned that what might be good for the cafe (higher bills/customer) might not be good for the customers and the rest of the world (more calories, larger waistlines, more heart disease and diabetes). Today, I have four more possible indicators--all from stories I heard on the radio this week.
     1. Law School.
Apparently, many law students are concerned about their job prospects vs. the cost of a law school education. Complaints focus on misrepresentations by law schools and the ABA about the current career climate for lawyers. As my husband pointed out, it's easy to add more chairs to a law school classroom; it's not like in a science lab, where students needs high-cost equipment. There was a time (a long time) when a law degree was an excellent credential for a lucrative career path. It practically guaranteed one. I believe that this is not the case anymore.

     2. Nuclear waste.
In a small town in Spain, described in the radio story I heard as located in the land of Don Quixote, the unemployment rate is so high that the townspeople (at least those interviewed for the story) are celebrating the deal they've just made to become a nuclear waste site. It is jobs that the people of this town want above all else. I am grateful that I am not in a position to have to decide between having a job and living above a nuclear waste site.
     Here's another view of the town--with more of the Don Quixote feel.

     3. Guns.
The economy in the Flathead Valley in Montana is booming because they manufacture guns there. The manufacturers are having a difficult time finding enough workers with the technical skills required, as these are more than straight assembly-line jobs. To try to satisfy the need for highly skilled workers, the gun manufacturers are partnering with local community colleges to implement training programs that suit their industry.

     4. Mattresses.
A new nonprofit company in Nashville, called Spring Back Recycling is taking on the rarely attempted task of mattress recycling. In their words, they are working to "protect the environment by offering retailers, institutions, and consumers an economical alternative to dumping used mattresses in landfills," which, I learned from the radio story, is where most mattresses end up. 
Each year more than 30 million mattresses are sent to landfills across the country. Because of their large size, mattresses take up considerable space and can take decades to decompose. Additionally, mattress springs frequently get caught in bulldozers, loaders, and trucks causing extensive damage.

The mattresses are broken down into raw materials such as cotton, metal, wood, and foam. Each of these component parts is bundled and sold to area scrap buyers to be reused in other applications.
Equally impressive, Spring Back employs previously incarcerated and homeless men to do this work.

We can all draw our own conclusions from my compilation of economic indicators, but I always like to see a little light at the end of a tunnel.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


Tomorrow is my daughter's birthday, and I am sending her this digital cake. I wish I could send her or make her an analog cake (meaning a real one), but she lives too far away for that. Anyway, as many people know, having a child is one of the most life-altering experiences there is, so a child's birth-day, no matter how old she becomes, can stir things up. Last week, my husband reminded me of a memory I'd put aside for quite a while, and I think it fits well as a Discomfort or Diversity, so I've decided to tell it here.
     Because we are Jewish, when our daughter was young (say 4 or 5) and Christmas came around, my husband talked straight to her about Santa. The reason was that he did not want her to feel left out or ignored by the jolly old gent and all his jolly gifts.
Perhaps he was being overly protective, but he did it out of love. If we lived in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood or town (as I did when I was growing up), perhaps he wouldn't have felt the need, but we don't, so he did.
     Back then, we were very close friends with a family that also had young children. That family was not Jewish, and Christmas was a great, magical event in their home--tree, wreaths, lights, cookies, scented candles, and all the rest. One evening, around Christmas, we were visiting at their house. The children were in one room playing, and the adults were in a different room doing what adults do--probably talking.
     Suddenly, the children came running in, a little frantic, and one of them reported that our daughter had declared Santa to be not real. No one knew what to do or say. Not the adults.

Not the children. Including our daughter, who I think might have been a bit shocked at the power of her words.

I understand the urge to protect the innocence and illusions of childhood, though I never had any particular feelings about Santa except terror. As a young girl, I did somewhat cling to the tooth-fairly illusion, which my parents were very cagey about--never really admitting how the exchange of tooth and coin occurred.
    Perhaps we should all just "stick to our own kind" if we want to protect the innocence of our children. You know I'm kidding, right? But it is kind of confusing.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

It Was Indeed a Matter of Time

A few weeks back, I was talking to my friend L, on her birthday. We've known each other for many years, since we were college students, living in the dorm, so we've been witness to many profound and formative moments in each others' lives. For her, it was a birthday with significant meaning, and she said that one phrase kept running through her mind: "There's so little time." And this made me think--and say, "But it wasn't always that way. There were times that seemed endless, as if they would last forever." And this made me remember the way summer days or nights felt when I was a girl, that time meant nothing at all. And it also made me remember the endlessness of time in a different way--summer days in my 20s, when I was directionless and lonely, and I wasn't sure how to make it through a entire and endless, empty day.
     I'm certainly not the first to write or think about the relativity and elasticity and sometimes-brevity of time. But that day, in that phone call with L, I felt it completely and intimately, and way down. As usual, context is everything, and in the context of our friendship, feelings run deep. We told each other stories--laughing and crying. Some of them felt like fairy tales.

I wonder how it would be if time were a mother instead of a father. What might she carry instead of a scythe?