Monday, October 19, 2015

Not so small stuff.

When I notice the engineering and technical expertise that it took to tame the West, I go into culture shock. Goodness, I think, what serious work it was to build the Bonneville Damn, construct passages across mighty rivers, connect electrodes to a diseased heart and keep it working and ticking on time with a pacemaker. What did it take for all these things to come around and improve our life in so many ways?

My neighbors are living way beyond the age my parents reached when they died and I wonder what it was that has kept them alive for so long, what in their genes or lifestyles or luck produced a long living life. They didn't grow up without childhood diseases, without possibility of starvation or poisoning. Dietary guidelines weren't even on the horizon during most of their youth as well. A balanced diet, exercise, stress reduction are late comers to the scene. They probably all had measles and whooping cough.

When jogging came on the scene, and with it, running shoes, matching clothes, I was a new mother, juggling work, shopping, keeping the household running smoothly. I owned one pair of tennis shoes with flat soles that were thin and made of rubber that seemed to come apart in strips every time I actually tried to use them for tennis.. They were hot and flimsy for shopping; never mind using them on a hot asphalt in Southern California, where tennis courts and swimming were exercises I could have indulged in.

Ten years later, high heels at work began to give way to flat or semi-flat loafers and high priced running shoes with basketball heroes emblazoned all over the back heel were paraded everywhere, sign of status among high school students as well as their teachers. Ties disappeared from apparel at the same time. Sweat pants were seen everywhere, among joggers as well as on shopping mothers.

You'd think that with all that emphasis on exercise and all the ingenuity of medical devices for the last few decades, our health as a nation would have improved, and our lifestyles would be enhanced in so many ways.

Were we naive about the choices we made? Or the elimination of Home Economics and P.E from schools' curriculum kept us in the dark? Or the addition of so many fast foods and packaged snacks replacing old fashioned oatmeal and fresh fruit changed our taste?

Were these big or small decisions?

Were they even decisions? 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Reflections on Ishiguro's The Buried Giant

I don't know that I ever read a story written in such simple form that could cover so many themes, and speak to me so intimately in my present state. This is a modern fable unlike anything you'd find on the shelves of contemporary book stalls. From the start, we meet our protagonists,Axl and Beatrice, an old man and his old wife, as he awakes on a cold foggy morning, bothered by some distant thought or another, lovingly moving about not wanting to disturb his sleeping wife. This will be their story, a quest to find a solution to their present situation where they are away from family, relegated to live in the dark at the end of a long warren without heat, to search for a son they have not seen in years, along memory's trails to find whom and what they have forgotten from their youth, each element of their lives lived together slowly becoming clear to themselves, and to the reader.

The setting is England after the Romans have left, and after the conquests of KingArthur and his Knights of Camelot. As our protagonists travel the land in search of their lost son, they encounter various characters, some amicable, some unpredictable, as cultural consequences of both the Roman conquests and the Arthurian wars that aimed to bring various factions, Britons and Saxons, warriors and clerics, myths and realities, under a common flag.

These are parallel journeys of remembrance, the personal story for each of the character, each on a quest to perfect or pursue his/her aim in life, to lift the fog of forgetfulness, to see the land and its inhabitants in a clear light, to right the wrong according to personal code, regardless of personal consequences. Each encounter reveals the status of institutions, and the connections each character has had to the same. These understandings reveal the ultimate dilemma: to remember is both a way to be cleansed of the fog, revel in the joy of lost memories, and a way to be hurt again, as the hurts that have been buried deep in one's psyche, deeply concealed, the way the buried giant conceals all the bones of those who were atrociously cut down in their prime because of King Arthur and his knights' crusades or some other national atrocity committed for a cause that was sold as good for all.

What an apt bedtime story of us old folks.