Monday, December 29, 2014

A related literary genre

In my last post, I forgot to mention a genre that I think of as related to Survival Literature: the I-Hiked-a-Thousand-Miles Confessional. In these narratives, autobiographers challenge themselves by hiking and camping their way across vast distances. The stories are framed by precise geographical coordinates (starting at Official Point A with the plan to reach Official Point B before winter); the threats faced are more often from people (including the authors themselves) than from the great harsh outdoors; and the authors discover great things about themselves and humanity in the process. They are self-absorbed seekers, like Siddhartha, but enjoyably so and, despite their flaws, way less annoying.

The genre includes books like Bill Bryson's laugh-out-loud funny A Walk in the Woods and Cheryl Strayed's recent Wild. I read most of A Walk in the Woods several years ago but, as is also my propensity with peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches, never quite managed to consume it in its entirety. I read all of Wild on a binge this fall, following Alive and Between a Rock and a Hard Place.

I have a friend who has hiked the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail each at least once, and the frequency with which people ask her if (as a woman) her experience is like Wild drives her nuts. I understand why people ask, though. Wild is to literature as a woman is to an academic department dominated by men, asked to serve on more committees than anyone else in order to speak for The Female People. On the bright side, if Wild were fiction, the protagonist would be dead by the end, or at least plain, if not ugly--the traditional literary ways to punish women who have sex and do drugs, let alone hike solo.

The great literary experiment falls into a crevasse and dies

2014 is almost over, and I haven't written about my epic Books-I-Hated-in-High-School Literary Revisitation Experiment since April, when I discovered my affinity for literary characters who most other people think are evil. There the experiment ended. I left my hero, Madame Dufarge, in the middle of her revolutionary subterfuge; may she continue to knit secrets in perpetuity.

Was whatever spark I once had for reading permanently dimmed by the literary canon forced upon me in high school, when I was too young to appreciate it? Yeah, probably. Did I enjoy rereading any of it as an adult? Yeah, OK, some.

To cleanse myself after the year of dutiful experimenting, I turned to a genre I usually enjoy--Survival Literature--and reread Alive for the third time. If the High School Literary Canon Committee ever wants to drop Siddhhartha, they could surely pull some excellent replacements from Survival Literature, which offers real-life tales of self discovery to shock and awe any teen. Consider the following:

* Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors by Piers Paul Read. A Uruguayan rugby team charters a plane that crashes in the snow-covered Andes in 1972. The narrative explores the emotional and physical endurance the survivors tap into to stay alive during their 10-week ordeal, including their difficult, respectful, and transformative decision to cannibalize frozen corpses. Although search efforts are launched by friends, families, and Chilean, Argentinian, and Uruguayan government agencies, rescue comes only after two survivors trek 60 miles through the mountains to find help.

* Touching the Void by Joe Simpson. Simpson and his mountaineering acquaintance Simon Yates pair up for an ill-fated climb up the north face of the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. When Simpson breaks his leg near the beginning of their descent, Yates rigs together a pair of ropes that he uses to lower Simpson down the mountain. At one point during the descent, Simpson unexpectedly slips over the edge of a cliff; dangling from a taut rope, can neither lower himself down nor climb back up. Yates, holding onto the other end of the rope a few hundred feet up the mountain, is unable to help without also sliding off the cliff. After a few hours, Yates cuts the rope. Simpson falls into a crevasse, but miraculously lands on an ice table; knowing he's presumed dead, he spends the next four days dragging himself physically (and mentally) back to the base camp, arriving just before Yates' departure.

* Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston. The author does what parents always tell kids not to do: he goes hiking without letting anyone know where he's going or when he'll be back. While exploring a remote canyon in Utah, a boulder slips, crushing his arm against the canyon wall. The emotional drama isn't told with the same quality prose as Alive or Touching the Void, but the story is nonetheless riveting; near death after being trapped for several days with barely any food or water, Ralston amputates his own arm--and then manages to hike out of the canyon and several miles back to a trail for help.

* Into the Wild by master story-teller Jon Krakauer. This isn't really Survival Literature, since the protagonist doesn't survive, but Into the Wild would make a great replacement for Siddhartha, should the Canon Committee ever feel so moved. Christopher McCandless does what Aron Ralston did, to the nth degree: he not only goes hiking without letting anyone know where he's going or when he'll be back, but he does it for months at a time and on purpose, intentionally cutting himself off from family and friends to live an ascetic life in the wilderness. Whether he was seeking Nirvana or something else, no one will ever know, since he didn't have any maps with him when he died of starvation in Alaska in 1992.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Paint colors

How does one get a job naming paint colors? I would like to offer my services to this needy industry,

There are a lot of awful paint color names out there--names of things that few people should rationally want smeared on their walls. Food, for instance. Behr offers an extensive menu of sweet and savory puréed edibles, as well as a range of non-puréed but generally easily-digested solids: cranberry whip, pumpkin butter, sweet marzipan (vs. unsweet? do they know what marzipan is?), cilantro cream, hummus, creamy mushroom, rye bread, toasted wheat, tapioca, cherry cobbler, and seaweed salad.

From the Let's Imbibe! palette, Behr offers several alcohol colors that probably won't complement the meal: mojito, reisling grape, coco rum, so merlot (vs. for/and/nor/but/or/yet merlot), and royal liqueur. Alcohol accent colors include intoxication and cork.

In the Relics of Imperialism palette, Behr offers colors such as folklore, ethiopia, tibetan temple, tribal pottery, japanese kimono, congo, kenya, and amazon jungle.

Perhaps it was after a night of inhaling fumes in a room freshly painted with cranberry whip, hummus, and congo that Behr's color namers came up with lizard breath.

Over at Sherwin-Williams, the color names are more matter-of-fact (or the color namers are more depressed). People who don't already spend enough time staring at computer screens should consider web gray, online, and software. For those who see paint colors as expressions of personality, a limited range of hues are available, including notable hue, sensible hue, spicy hue, and nervy hue (roughly speaking, light blue, gray, yellow-green, and brick red, respectively).

To my delight, someone with a sense of humor has infiltrated the depressed Sherwin-Williams naming think-tank and has inserted, in the midst of the many many shades of gray, the color names dorian gray (which ages nicely in your living room but not in your attic), gray matters (for the cerebral citizen), gray area (for equivocators), amazing gray (how sweet the sound), rock bottom (for those who aren't feeling sufficiently depressed), spalding gray (for avant-garde autobiographers), and anonymous (which would probably go very nicely with stenciled wall flowers).

As a snarky, over-degreed artist who experiences only mild depression, I feel I would be a perfect fit for the Sherwin-Williams family of paint namers. Naturally, I find inspiration and joy in the vivid colors I encounter daily in the world around me. Thus, Sherwin-Williams (whose sky high, maison blanche, bittersweet stem, and pebble now freshly grace upstairs walls in my house), I gift you with damp freeway, gravel shoulder, white stripe, yellow dash, and dried weeds.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A thank you poem for our local independent bookstore

Reason #412 to love The Regulator Bookshop: when your child is waiting for you in the car, bored, so he plays around with his brand new Regulator gift certificate so full of potential, leans it against the window to admire it, and it slips down the window and into the door, whereupon his lower lip trembles and salty tears leak out of his eyes, and the mechanic up the road laughs and tells you it's gonna cost way more than the value of the gift certificate to retrieve it, and, while your child stands by avoiding eye contact and feeling mortified, the kind folks at the Regulator listen to your story with a reasonably straight face, agree that it's too strange to make up, ask you to burn the gift certificate if you ever manage to get it out of the car door, and write your child a new one.