Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Humor Self-Test

I really love teaching my Alaska Literacy Program class, but I had a special treat this last semester: the unit on Humor. First, we had to work on our vocabulary. Imagine being new to English and encountering these expressions. It makes you realize how many land mines a new language presents:
  • It went over like a lead balloon
  • I don’t get it.
  • That’s too much.
  • That went over my head.
Our book took us through a Humor Self-Test of funny pictures. Or not-funny, if you didn’t get it. Or not-funny if it was just stupid. We had to rate them on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being very funny.

Quiet Insook rated everything a 5. As we went through each picture, and as Insook rated it a 5 yet again, we all found that hilarious. We’d wait for Insook’s vote and then laugh all over again.

Which was not as raucous as our laughter club. We’re supposed to improve our health and wellbeing by laughing for no reason. So we chuckled, looked at each other, and laughed some more. Soon we were helpless with laughter, sweating from laughter, tears streaming down our faces. Lori, the Literacy Program’s program director, came in because, as she said, her walls were shaking. We laughed harder. (Supposedly, all that laughter lost us between 10 and 40 calories.)

Everyone had to tell a joke in English to the rest of the class. Just imagine trying to tell a joke in another language! How would I even tell a knock-knock joke??? (I stuck with bringing in the peanut brittle can that explodes with snakes when you open it.)

Anne from Germany told this one: ‘Two toothpicks fight their troublesome way through the forest, taking many hours. Suddenly, they are passed by a porcupine. So one toothpick tells the other, “If I had known there was a bus route on our way, I would have waited.”’

We had to take some time to process mentally. Anne said, “Originally, the joke was about a hedgehog, but I thought maybe everyone would know porcupine better.” But that was only the beginning of our cultural adjustments. Some of us were still working on toothpicks, on waiting for buses, on forest. There is a lot of cultural translation that has to happen when you hear a joke. Moments later, we got it!

Rosario from Mexico told hers: ‘I gave my mother-in-law a present for Christmas, a cemetery plot. The next Christmas, she said, “Why haven’t you given me a present for Christmas?” I said, “Well, you haven’t used the one I gave you last year!”’

Some of us laughed, but Insook of South Korea was horrified: if a joke like that were told of a Korean mother-in-law, it would be scandalous. It would be a terrible, terrible insult. Definitely not a 5.

Meanwhile, Insook’s co-worker told her a blonde joke. In a room full of Asians and Latinos, the blonde joke doesn’t even compute.

Our workbook and CD had a few examples of practical jokes. We had to learn vocabulary like:
  • be the butt of a joke
  • cross the line
  • take a joke
“You’re invited to a friend’s costume party. When you arrive, everyone else is nicely dressed in business clothes, and you’re dressed in a chicken costume.” How do you rate that joke? It’s a 0 if it’s you, but if it’s someone else, we admitted, we’d go home and tell our families about this hilarious practical joke. It’s all a matter of perspective.
The toughest vocabulary to explain was “politically correct.” In a workbook scenario, someone told an offensive joke about an ethnic group. When the object of the joke was insulted, the joke teller accused him of being too politically correct.

So how do you explain to immigrants the recent cultural phenomenon of “politically correct”? How someone’s experience of hurt and insult is turned around to being their problem? That rudeness gets a free pass in the guise of opposing “political correctness”?

It’s all a matter of perspective, and every day, I appreciate the opportunity to see the world from many different directions.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Acquisition Exception

The rule in this Third Third household – this household committed to decluttering – is No New Acquisition Unless Something Goes Out. Nothing In unless Something Out. This applies to the upcoming holidays, too.

Mostly, the rule was created to apply to pottery. Pottery is so beautiful and so irresistible, but pottery impacts kitchen cabinet space. It demands limits.

Sometimes the rule is really easy, like with clothes. Mostly, clothes don’t enter my closet until something is hopelessly worn out or out of date, so that’s not really an issue. Art supplies was a tough one, but since I seem to have less and less time for art-play as opposed to art-production (which I guess is a whole story there), I don’t need to be surrounded by art supplies I’m not using. They haunt me.

And containers are tough, too. It’s hard for me to turn down a good box. Recently, I recycled a perfectly wonderful reams-of-paper box with a lid, and it nearly killed me. Then, at a meeting, someone randomly mentioned they were moving and needed boxes, and I was unable to help (which, of course, is one of the prime reasons for acquisition to begin with: the lure of eventual helpfulness).

So what’s the Acquisition Exception? Rocks.

Rocks like you walk along the beach and there’s a perfectly round, smooth, beach rock. Do you just leave it there? Or rocks like you’re at the Kennecott Mines historic site and the ground is littered with rocks of bright turquoise-green. Or you’re in the Badlands of South Dakota and the red earth is so astounding in color, how can you not bring home a sample?
I’m not talking about the big boulders from the backyard that I get to leave out at the curb with a big sign saying, “Free.” And I admit, my disposal-to-acquisition ratio gave me lots of leeway after our house was robbed and they took my decorative boxes filled with … rocks.

I am talking about the twelve rocks that came home with me from the beach in Homer last weekend.

It always starts with perfectly smooth rocks that just feel good in my hand.
But this time, I also found a rectangular rock. I noticed it because it was smooth but had sharp edges, rare in a beach rock. It looked like a rectangle of a flag, so I had an idea. I would paint it to look like the Alaska flag, and when I visited my parents’ grave in New York, I would leave it on the headstone. My bit of Alaska paying respect.

Once the rock-painting idea was planted in my brain, I was reminded of the latest art challenge of my Bricolage group: playing cards. Those challenges mean “do whatever you want having something to do with playing cards.” Amazingly, rocks turned up on the beach in the shape of playing cards! After the first one, I admit I was scouring the beach for playing-card-shaped rocks (which are very hard to come by and require great stretches of the imagination to resemble playing cards). I’m not sure how I’ll paint them. Will their kings and queens become Fred, Barney, Wilma, and Betty?
I’ve seen quilts with rocks embedded in them that were gorgeous, and when I discovered Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr, who makes whole art of differently-shaped rocks, I was enthralled. I can’t do justice to his works, but here’s a sample and there’s more about him here.

Nuts! I should have looked at his work again before we left for Homer. I’d have spent the whole time combing the beach for … More Rocks!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Cure for Indoor Torture

I hate sweating indoors. I hate the humid, steaming cloud that develops around my face as I sweat indoors. No, I detest sweating indoors. I ABHOR sweating indoors.

But I’m kind of stuck with it. Ever since the knee injury, I haven’t been able to run. I can’t run until I develop really good supporting muscles around my knee, and even then, on the advice of my doctor, the pounding of running is not really good for my joints.

So I swam. But since this is a Third Third story, soon my shoulder started hurting. I took to hiking (with trekking poles to reduce pressure on my knee), but I can only manage hiking one mountain a week (if that). There isn’t enough snow for cross-country skiing yet, so flab grew, pounds appeared, and pants and bras got tighter. And, as we all know, life expectancy diminished and odds of dementia increased. Meanwhile, worrying about all that increased my cortisol levels. Soon I’d be a goner. A depressed goner.

There was no way around it: I had to go sweat in the athletic club.

I could give the elliptical machine a try. It resembled running in an odd, loping, incongruous sort of way, and it wouldn’t pound my knees. Plus it would do my arms.

I picked a machine, checked the TV screens in front of it. My choices were football, NASCAR races, and more football. I put the little foamy covers on the earpieces of the headset and tried to turn on the channel and volume. It didn’t work. I peeled the foamy covers off and moved to another machine, where I put the little foamy covers on, and that didn’t work, either. Not to mention I had to stare at the guys around me to see how the headset is supposed to sit on my head. Upside down?

“You have to pedal to turn the sound on,” one guy said.

Okay. While I was trying to figure out my “options” (weight and age? What kind of options are those?), the machine told me to “Pedal faster.” So I pedaled while I fiddled with dials. I’d aim for 30 minutes of NASCAR.



I tried playing games with myself: Don’t look at the time remaining until the next commercial.

27:58 Does that count as “making it to 27” or is it really still mostly 28?

27:26 Oh, this is excruciating! My eyes wandered to every other television in the room. By the time I got back to my TV, the cars were still going round and round. There was a moment of excitement because a piece of lint got stuck in front of a brake air vent or something and somehow the pit crew cleared it while the car was still racing around.

26:01 Wow, that piece of lint was worth a minute and a half of distraction!

Eventually the steam started coming off my body. I was breathing sweaty air! I was breathing everyone else’s sweaty air! I had to think about something else – NASCAR had to get more interesting – or I was going to have a panic attack from insufficient fresh air.
Eventually – because time moves on, even on an elliptical, even when it’s torture – I got to 0 minutes remaining. And then, I actually went back another day. It happened to be a weekday at 3 pm.

Jeopardy was on! I watched and answered (or rather asked the questions), and when Alex Trebek took a break, I looked at my remaining time: 15 minutes! Time had flown! It was miraculous! I knew the words were from Australia’s national anthem, that Cervantes had written Don Quixote, and that antidote and anecdote were often mixed up.

I still sweated and breathed sweaty air, but I didn’t notice.

Now I even go a little earlier to make sure I get the foamy earpiece covers on in time. Tim asked if I go to the gym to watch Jeopardy. No, I go to the gym to exercise … but I’m only happy when Jeopardy is on. I once was stuck with a CSI or an NCIS or an SUV or whatever, but it didn’t make time fly as much as Jeopardy. Jeopardy exercises my brain, too!

My whole life, I always equated watching daytime TV with sickness or depression or degeneracy. With being a slug. Now, in my Third Third, daytime TV is making me fit. Ha!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Quest for New-ness #4

The quest for New Things is always a win – for variety, for newness – but the exact result of the quest sometimes yields a few duds. Recently, I’ve scored two clear wins, but the jury is still out on the dud.

They all came from classes at Anchorage Community House, my new go-to place of learning and doing New Things. The other things I’ve made there have been wood projects, but the class description for Indigo Dyeing said, “Create beautiful indigo creations using the shibori dyeing technique.”

In class, we took our fabric and folded it, tied it, clothes-pinned it. Basically, we made a tight little wad so that when it sat in the indigo dye bath, we’d leave the marks of where dye absorbed and where it didn’t. Yes – shades of tie-dying! – that’s shibori.

This was a clear success. I think I’ll cut my bluish indigo-ish fabric into squares and make a quilt, but that’s a project for another day … or year.
While we were busy dyeing indigo, Meg told us of another Community House offering: Bundle Dyed Scarves. What I got out of this one was that we’d roll flowers and vegetables up in cloth and make patterns. This sounded sufficiently goofy and fun and useful – right up my alley.

Yup, we rolled rose petals and leaves and eucalyptus and flowers and bugs in silk. (The bugs are from cochineal insects which produce the crimson color. I first met them when visiting weavers in Peru.) Then we wound the silk around tin cans or sticks and tied it on really, really tightly. Then we stuck the bundle in boiling cabbage water.

Finally, our dye bath was over, and this one, too, was a great success. An artistic, silk, loop scarf will challenge my usual schtunk attire, but it’s soft and pretty … and can always make a nice gift.
So now we get to my last New Thing class:

“Learn to make bags out of plastic grocery bags. These bags are EXTRA sturdy and hold lots of weight. It’s easy. Just bring a scissors, a crochet hook the size of your pinky, and patience.”

What really amazed me was that everyone in the class brought their own Bags of Bags. We all have Bags of Bags … along with Boxes of Boxes and Containers of Containers. Even using cloth shopping bags, plastic bags accumulate. We were supposed to slice our plastic bags into strips, loop them together, and make “plarn,” plastic yarn. This class was a decluttering/recycling opportunity!

My only experience with crocheting was a Brownie project when I was little. I would ride my bike to Mrs. Goodhartz’s house for help crocheting Pierre the Poodle. Every trip, Mrs. Goodhartz would say, “My, my, these stitches are so very tight.” They were SO TIGHT they were impenetrable. If Pierre had ever been finished, he would have been airtight.

But this time, I was armed with a crochet hook the size of my thumb!

A crochet hook the size of one’s thumb is no protection against tight stitches. My thumb nail hurts from trying to pull stitches off the crochet hook. When I come around a row, things are so tight and jam-packed that it’s hard to tell what exactly qualifies as a stitch. Peggy, who took the class with me, said I must be adding stitches: instead of going up, my shopping bag is going out. I am making a plastic rug.
Mimi, who also took the class, said this sort of project would drive her mother crazy. Her mother doesn’t get quilting (“Why cut fabric up only to sew it together?”) so the idea of slicing plastic bags in order to crochet them together to make another plastic bag would strike her as ludicrous. I’m starting to agree.

I had to take a break for my thumb nail, cuticle, and spirit to recover, but then I cut my thumb slicing an onion. After bleeding on my plastic bag, things have ground to a halt.

In my Third Third, I get to abandon projects that aggravate more than they please. Maybe I’ll recycle my crocheted plastic and call it a draw. Then I’ll sit and re-admire my indigo-dyed fabric and flower-dyed silk.

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