Sunday, October 31, 2010

Susan Choi: A Person of Interest

The last time I wrote a fiction review, I kind of said I wasn't going to do it anymore. Which is why I finished this book a week ago and haven't written this yet. Susan Choi has written an interesting book (yuk yuk) that I wouldn't have read if it weren't a Dad hand-me-down. I'm really not reading much fiction lately, and I rarely read psychological mysteries, which is what I think this is. Suspense or something. The book was actually quite good, and I had to put it down sometimes because it was too creepy. But I don't have anything to say about it. If you want the book, a weird mystery thingy set at a university, it's all yours.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

But His Tail's Wagging!

Monday I had an incredibly frustrating experience at the vet. Mac had his first appointment with the chiropractor, and it just didn't go well. As though these things can be chronicled with lists, I keep telling people that Mac is on narcotics, steroids and anti-inflammatories, and that he's gone to the chiropractor, had (m)acupuncture, acupressure, and aqua pressure. As if listing these things in my dry way will somehow make them more humorous, less real, more tolerable. As if the amount of refills we go through a week, the maneuvers I'm learning so that he can't get the pills out of the peanut butter (and trust me, Mac is about the easiest dog I've ever had to pill), are all hum-drum.

I guess they are hum-drum- getting old is part of life. If I were the zen person that I keep telling myself I am, I could accept this the way that I am doing a decent job of doing until my weekly vet appointment comes around. Every Monday when I get to the point of the vet saying "oh, this gets better" and I find myself arguing that Mac is NOT in fact getting better, I lose it. I don't like crying, and I don't like crying in public, and I don't like the way the vets and front desk staff look at me, blankly- the same way I probably look at people who are bawling in an incoherent way, saying things like "he is not allowed to die." That makes total sense to me, and not a whole lot of sense to many other people.

The chiropractor was horrible. I think it probably actually really helped Mac, because he's still in his two-days-after-vet-visit-relatively-pain-free mode, but she made me feel like shit. Like I was giving up on him. She hadn't read his chart, didn't know his name, asked me repeatedly how he injured himself, including if he slept wrong. I'm pretty sure I haven't slept with both eyes shut since then, to ensure that Mac sleeps "right." I'm not sure what sleeping "right" is, since this is a dog with no nerve endings. It reminds me of that second time Mac and I crossed the country in the Volvo, with my mom- the car was packed to overflowing, and Mom and I thoughtfully created a seat for him, but the other two spots in the backseat were jammed full. I'm not sure Mac sat in "his" seat once. He sat on top of the stuff in the other seats, sometimes with his head dangling down into "his" seat, sometimes upside down. I wish I had remembered this when the chiropractor asked me. Well, actually, lady, about 8.5 years ago, Mac did this weird sleeping thing for 8 straight days. I'm pretty sure that was it!

She was so impressed at what a happy dog Mac was at the vet. Mac is always happy at the vet, and that day, he didn't look very happy. He was panting and his eyes were very wide. I could see that he was stressed, agitated, and even painful. Mac almost never pants- this has started with the pain. When she touched him, maybe 5 times, he rotated himself away from her fingers in a subtle avoidance move. In "normal" dogs, again, I'm sure she would have thought, oh, it's a little tender. But this was Mac. The fact that he was painful only 3 hours after his pain meds, when he's normally clear, killed me.

And then she told me that he was doing great, because he was wagging his tail. Mac's tail never stops wagging. I don't know how to describe it without hyperbole because his tail IS hyperbole. And it was going and going like that in the vet's office. She said "most dogs with lumbar sacral can't wag their tails." Two days before, I saw Mac's tail tucked for the first time in 8+ years. I tried to articulate this to her, and she said "but it's wagging now!" No, that wasn't the point. The point is that this isn't getting better. Sure, you could call Monday a good day, or you could see it as I saw it, Mac's owner, keeper, partner. He wasn't having a good day, he was having a mediocre day. He was fighting- his tail was wagging- and he was in pain.

I know my dog. I love my dog probably more than I've ever loved anything before, and it's easy to say more than I'll ever love anything else, but I can't know if that's true. This is awful. Eventually, if this doesn't get better, like the vets keep telling me it will, I will have to make an awful choice. I know it's their job to keep telling me not to let go. But it's also their job to respect my understanding of my dog. To know that I'm not looking for the worst. That the last thing I want to do is give up on my monkey, the monkey who can sleep in a 3" space with his head hanging upside down, who has already made it through more than 8 years with me with such an awesome attitude that he has never tucked that tail. I'm not giving up. I owe it to buggy not to give up, and not to let him suffer.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

To Every (Baseball) Season

A little over a year ago, I redefined Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD is kicking in a little early this year- standard time, or whatever it's called when the time changes, hasn't even happened yet. What has happened is that the Phillies lost yesterday, and baseball season is really truly over for me. I honestly don't care about the Giants. I just don't. I am thrilled that the Yankees didn't make it to the Series, but I could care less about the Rangers, and while it's nice to see a local team in the Series, seeing the Giants play only-a-little-less-worse than the Phils in Game 6 doesn't exactly make me want to root for them. Brian Wilson creeps me out, their infield is mediocre, and they just don't have my boyfriend, Joe Blanton.

I was excited to go shoot some stuff in the city today, but it was raining. I adore the rain, but the downpour cramped my public transit style. And this is how SAD begins: baseball ends, the days get shorter, shooting gets more difficult, and malaise sets in. Woe, woe is themacinator.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Michael Pollan: The Ominvore's Dilemma

Over two years ago, I posted the short version of my long pondered question: why do people eat artichokes? As long as I've been alive, we've been going to the same spot at the beach, and as long as I've been alive, we've been driving through the same vast fields of artichokes where those pictures were taken. Artichokes do *not* look like anything resembling food, at least to the modern American eater, even a modern eater raised next door to the Gourmet Ghetto in Berkeley, with adventurous parents who more to cook and serve homemade Mexican black beans and Chinese-style stirfry than hamburgers for dinner. But artichokes always puzzled me. Who thought of eating them? How did they figure out to get the fruit? Who on earth figured out that the heart was edible, or that the leaves were good if you scraped them with your teeth? Just weird.

I don't usually read in themes, but if you've been following along as themacinator drifts from her normal topics (pit bulls, baseball, animal welfare, photography, and, well, Mac) to food books and food and food books again, you'll see that it started with Novella Carpenter in August with "Farm City." The more distanced I am from this book, the less I like it, mostly because of Carpenter herself, and the NIMBY sensation I have. Did she have to do this in Oakland? The short answer is probably yes- like me it's awesome to be next door to the Gourmet Ghetto in Berkeley. And she lives (lived?) in Oakland, so yes, she had to have her backyard farm in Oakland. But the farm, especially once she added the pigs, disgusted me, both as a sentient person- GROSS to pig shit and rotten scraps- and as an animal person- her rabbit ethics especially disturbed me, and knowing this is going on in my town really put me off.

So I decided to bite the bullet and read "Eating Animals." (see also The Pain and Hypocrisy.) This book troubled and moved me, and also demanded, ala Carpenter, that you know where your meat comes from. In a way, as a long time vegetarian, I felt vindicated. Only in a very, very small way. You can only opt out a little bit, as an American, as our culture is all about meat, and fast meat at that. I don't really opt out, either, not in any meaningful way, as I consume fast dairy and eggs, and Mac eats meat, meat that I don't pay particular attention to where it comes from- I wish I could say it does, and I wish that saying that I pick my battles was a good argument. It's not, but it's what I do, and what I can do at this point in my life. The book prompted me for the first time to consider being a vegan. I'm not, and won't be, but did make me consider more than the extremism that the word usually provokes in me.

So I decided to read Michael Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma." Like Carpenter's book, this book was not particularly readable. It wasn't as morally difficult as Safran Foer's book, but more morally unpalatable (yuk yuk) than Carpenters. It takes Pollan 2/3 of his book to get to his title: The omnivore's dilemma is the dilemma of the artichoke. "The blessing of the omnivore," Pollan finally writes on page 287, "is that he can eat a great many different things in nature. The curse of the omnivore is that when it comes to figuring out which of these things are safe to eat, he's pretty much on his own." In the first part of Pollan's book, he talks about monoculture: America has turned a vast diversity of food options into one thing: Corn. Basically, we live on corn. Everything we eat- animal and vegetable, and all processed food can be traced back to corn, which is grown in giant monoculture. Farmers, the few of them that are left, grow corn. They ship corn. Corn is processed in a few different ways, fed to animals that have been redesigned to eat corn, which they didn't do a few decades ago, and they then are slaughtered, processed with more corn (which has been reprocessed into a variety of things) and then they are served up with corn in the form of soda and other beverages and side dishes. Delicious and not-very-nutritious. Yum.

The second part of Pollan's book- the conceit he uses to get to his main point is following three separate meals from the very beginning. The first is a meal at McDonalds, hence the super processed corn. The second meal is from a farm he finds that truly sounds sustainable and local. He has to kill chickens, but the chickens, he believes, live real-chicken-lives, which makes it OK. As OK as it can be. He eats everything right there, on the farm. The third meal, when he finally gets to the omnivore's dilemma, is a hunted/gathered meal- which involves mushrooms. They can be dangerous, fatal, even, which proves his point: if you don't know what to eat, you can die. If you know what to eat, you can have the best most awesome meal possible, available only to people, because they will eat anything. And the community that comes together to eat this meal enjoys a "perfect meal," because they were all involved in the making of it, including the ritual of cooking, another human thing. (Interestingly, Safran Foer starts his book discussing the ritual of meals, and how something is lost with the eating of meat, although he believes it is replaceable.)

Questioning and killing the eating of animals, Pollan stresses, is a new thing. Being a vegetarian, or even worrying about the animals we eat, is new, and kind of odd. In the same vein, the kind of mass production of animals, industrial farming, that Americans rely on, is also new. Both novelties are part of the same thing: distancing us from the fact that humans are also animals. Killing and eating animals is an animal thing. Being on the second farm, and having the "kill area" open to the air was a kind of transparency that Pollan found refreshing, and almost a defining part of a sustainable farm. Customers could and did come watch the process: if they didn't approve they could skip on the purchase. Pollan found himself immensely proud of shooting a pig, something he thought would repulse him. But both processes- the slaughter of a chicken who had lived a chicken life and the killing of a wild pig- reminded him that he, too, was an animal, doing an animal thing: preying on a prey animal, in a human way- with guns and knives. Primitive? Yes. More realistic than a vegetarian's idealism and an industrial farm? Also, yes.

I was sold by this, almost as much as I was sold by Safran Foer's arguments against eating animals. I've always argued that I don't eat meat because of the way we over-do it. If everyone ate meat in moderation, I've said, maybe I would, too. If people ate meat in the ways that Pollan ate meat in his second two meals- through local, transparent farms and in the once a year hunted meal, it would require moderation, and awareness. The animals would be real animals, not just meat for the table, which I think even Safran Foer might agree with. The humans involved would be treated as humans, not just assembly line workers. The environment, the earth, would be treated as a part of the process, not just a resource to be mined. Together, the pieces of both philosophies work. Separately, they're pedantic. In all likelihood, they're both improbable. If they're going to start anywhere, they're here in Oakland or Berkeley. I wish Carpenter, who had the most likelihood of doing it right, had done it right, rather than dabbling in every possible food animal. Maybe there's still a chance.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Oakland Is

h/t to J of StrangerProject.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Cuz Mac is Back

(that's a Mary J Blige reference...)

Thanks to everyone who commented, called and emailed to check on Mac. He's doing great on his new pain meds- a muscle relaxant and a temporary does of prednisone. He's got a disc issue down there by the lumbar sacral thing, and hopefully it will resolve itself by somehow calcifying (or something?) and then the pain will go away, or some other way that I can't remember. Regardless, the medications have brought my normal, wiggly, soft body Mac back. No more mincing!

I know he's still old, and that this stuff isn't going away. But having Mac back reminds me where he was, and that keeping him comfortable is critical. It keeps me comfortable, on the selfish side, but as I wrote a few days ago, I owe the Professor this much.