Bees, Mead, Words… Meh.

On the one hand, my article is the lead in the Spring issue of American Mead Maker. On the other hand, my husband got the credit, and somewhere, some way, the second paragraph got severely mangled. And, on the other hand, he has the credit so technically, I’m not responsible for that poor grammar and sentence structure.

And yes, the article is quite thin, but that’s what happens when someone says: “Can you write an article by tomorrow?”

Also, my old photo of cut comb honey in a hive is the frontispiece. That photo has gone around the web times over, without any credit, so pffft…

Amercian Mead Maker, Spring 2014

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A Lament and Foreshadow

I want to write about what it has been like to rehab these two little creatures, these dogs, terribly treated prior to our home, and the work to bring them to flourish. Or mostly flourish. As The National sang: Once ruined, baby you stay ruined. While they now thrive, especially Polly, deep parts in both dogs remain vigilant for what their cells remember – muscle memory, conditioned response, PTSD.

These have been the tools used (applicable in most relationships): calm, consistency, patience, schedule, compassion. Some of these might read as synonyms, but are not when employed as verbs.

We are not a yelling people in our house. At worst, we bicker. And we hold no grudges, pull away, ignore. No one goes silent as an attempt to punish or test. It took the dogs very long to realize that no explosive reactions would happen. If a door slams, it is an accident.

If a book slipped or cup broke after she first arrived, Polly would cower in a corner, looking up, bloomed eyes from over a lowered nose, tail tucked and ears slick against her head. She has not done that for years. She would shake and cower if we moved too quickly or, if our voices raised at the TV for sports, she would dash from the room.

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Fred is smaller, and came to us far more traumatized than Polly had been. He has seizures, possibly brought about from head trauma, still dislikes his head being touched, and has poor vision. After he eats, he sits and cries. We don’t know why and never will and no amount of consoling him has helped, though the crying no longer lasts for much length of time. He still sometimes rushes away if we move too quickly near him, but not always. More often now, he sits and stares up at us, uncertain at worst. And, observing his worry, we scoop him up in a firm, secure hug.

I know that had we (as stewards of him) been different, more erratic, less patient, we would have driven him over the emotional edge he was occupying when we found him, and he would be a neurotic, chaotic dog in constant misery.

His fright has lessened considerably; he knows we won’t hurt him physically or psychologically. His mistrust of women, and strangers, is extremely lessened. He even becomes curious now and seeks us out, and that is something that levels me to see. While he starts off the night sleeping in a crate, at some point he joins us on the bed, and we often wake up with his head between ours.

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Last week we stayed at the Oregon coast. The Oregon coast is never warm, not truly. It is windy and fairly wild, and often rather stunning. In colder months it is sparsely populated. We took the dogs with, playing each day on the beach. No fences, just expanse, and a ball to chase. They were delighted, and we are delighted to witness their happiness, their trust and thriving. It humbles and levels me to watch.

If this all reads like a lament, in part it is. And I knew it even while we were at the beach. In 5.5 months our first child will arrive. I know from both simple logic and the reminding of others, that soon our dogs will be largely ignored out of necessity and for quite some time. At the beach, I needed to see how happy they can be, their capacity for it, how much they have changed.

I know that what I see in them, the remains of the trauma, is much about me and my own. It’s sort of Lacanian – needing to find a sense of mastery over something I had no ability  to control or effect. The home I needed to actualize for them is the home I have also needed to live in, with patience, calm, certainty, and terminal compassion. For a great portion of my life, I was not so different from these dogs and the state they arrived in, the results of their experience. There is no mystery in that.

Both dogs are alert to change. In the first trimester (of this pregnancy), the dogs took turns resting on my torso (in between my bouts of illness), just protecting me. And, whipping their heads about to watch what was in the air around me – perhaps the mutation of physical and spiritual states, or visitations. They sniff me curiously, lay immediately at my feet, bark at anything they suspect might be nearing our house, be it  leaf or wind or human. Soon they will be weary with me, late at night with a new mewling, wondering why we are up, why the new one is crying, when it will stop. They won’t understand why I don’t have the time for them I used to. But I know they are both healed enough to love the new little one from a place of assurance, and that despite changes, they remain loved, important, and wholly significant.

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Weather Report

In a subtle climate, one becomes quick to notice smallest changes; everything we are is about the growing season and how much snow is on the mountain, how high or low the rivers are. Winter has been a worry, on the heels of an odd autumn. Autumn was a prolonged dry spell, with an uncharacteristic metallic sun hanging, and no rain to put the season to bed. The bees were tested with no food left to collect and no signal to huddle inside and wait it all out.

Winter has been sinister-dry with the same sun but a brass color with cheap gold overlay. Except the rain has finally come, not in usual constant drizzle, but in sporadic, protracted, great torrents. Enough to startle us from sleep to check the basement, foundation, outside areas. Today I picked up tree parts in our yard, deposited by trees we don’t even have.

The Daphne is a month late. And now that it has bloomed, those blooms bear brown spots as if it is ready to quit. The usual scent of ambrosia has a sour note like glue; like on its last legs. The ground is past soaked sponges, gone to deep mud for slipping — everywhere is footprints filling in behind.

During a national conference of permaculturists 4 years ago, one told me: Yeah, this will be a rain forest in 50 years. I can see it, and I think about it a lot. Our voices, music, TV have to be turned up over downpours. It’s loud. It sounds like we are living in a washing machine.

We always speak of moving, but where is there to go?

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Some of the more hopeful Daphne.

American Hustle: Review

It took me just over a quarter of David O. Russell’s American Hustle to realize that something else was going on entirely. What I expected was: ‘Oh formula, common-genre, Casino redux with Bale as De Niro.’ And Bale is De Niro, on purpose, but his appearance is 100% Tony Clifton. It would be easy to see the extensive employment of so many hallmarks of American culture as homage, but what’s going on is far more faceted.

It’s soon clear that the title, American Hustle, refers more to the film itself, as well as the film industry and media at large. More than once the characters offer: “People see what they want to see.” While I think the need to underline this fact is heavy-handed and already clear to thinking viewers, it really is the point of the film. Before the film begins, text flashes on the screen claiming: “Some of this actually happened.”
The larger statements of American Hustle wade into theory about art: about sincerity, authenticity, and irony. For anyone that has read it, not recalling Lionel Trilling’s book “Sincerity and Authenticity,” during American Hustle, is nearly impossible, as well as Susan Sontag’s wonderful essay, “Notes on Camp.”  In modern film, where does the sincerity begin and authenticity end? Which is being sacrificed for which, and what is the larger statement? Why do audiences expect entertainment to be hyper-realistic, even when employing genre or fantasy? Where is the artifice and to what end? Why do we ask to get “lost” in film, to perceive it as a reality and suspend disbelief and how far do we really expect that to go? Where do reality and entertainment meet, and why do we need them to meet?
There are stellar of moments of watching Russell exploit artifice to the end of placing all of the above questions squarely in the lap of the audience, whether they know that they are ‘Seeing what they want to see,’ or not. Wonderfully, the heavy stage makeup of Renner and Cooper is regularly visible on their collars. This presents a moment for the audience to make a decision: look past it as a production mistake and stay immersed in the narrative, or observe that Russell is pulling the film down on itself.

There is another absolutely stunning moment between Bale and De Niro. It is framed within the narrative as Bale wondering how much De Niro knows – how much the jig is up, or at least, in jeopardy. But the way Russell crafts Bale’s and De Niro’s characters, what we are watching is Deniro seeing Bale doing his best De Niro in sum totality. It is awkward, and fascinating, and like watching a Father speaking volumes of knowing, frustration, and threat to his son without a single word; without creating a scene. It’s the ultimate: I know what you are doing. You are on thin ice, buddy…

It was said recently by two actresses (Sarah Michelle Gellar and Lizzy Caplan) at a panel on women in TV, that TV allows for 3-dimensional female characters, which is why they prefer the medium. Gellar stated: ‘In movies you can be the wife, the daughter, or the girlfriend, and those roles don’t allow for much development.’ It’s a true statement, which is why Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, (as well as Elizabeth Rohm) are so towering in these roles. They are multi-faceted… finally.

Compared to the men, they are far more realistic – flawed and gifted and charming and terrible at once. By flipping how genders are usually portrayed, Russell allows the women to be the center of the movie, and all gravity generated in the narrative is created by them. The male characters are the one dimensional, doing their best impressions of character actors. It’s perhaps the most important statement about what we expect to see / want to see, and what we are actually seeing. American movie-goers expect women as scenery, providing pure emotion in an inconvenient way for male characters, but what they get in American Hustle is the wonderful, terrible mess of Lawrence, and the gravity, intelligence and perception of Adams. In many ways, this is Adams’ film.

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Amy Adams. American Hustle. Sony Pictures. 

I’m no student of all things Andy Kaufman / Tony Clifton, but with 40 extra pounds on him, Bale (visually) as Clifton doing De Niro is speaking volumes about entertainment, con-art, lying, impression, and authenticity. Throughout the film, women are physically removing his colored glasses, trying to get to the real person, but we can’t know what that means for Russell, or upon first viewing, us.

Russell’s Hustle creates far more questions than it gives answers, but two sorts of audience members will walk out of the film: those that saw what they wanted to see – a fun rehash, and those scratching their heads, with a smile on their faces.

First Sting(s)

Following is a blog post I wrote for Winged’s blog.

The first time I got stung by a bee, I can’t be sure it was a bee. In retrospect it was likely a yellow jacket, but I can’t know. I remember it was a hot, mid-western summer day with insects screaming out their songs: “scKzzzzssT… scKzzzzzssT,” and I was small – probably 6 or so.

I was standing in our narrow garage which was opened to the driveway. Likely I was deciding which vehicle I was going to take out for a spin: the Big Wheel, the pickle car (don’t ask), or the Green Machine. I was not a bike rider. My siblings’ bikes were always too big for me and I was fearful of the heavy frames and the extreme distance to the ground once seated; I wanted to be able to bail out with a soft tumble if need be, not take the hard fall on the concrete, yielding stinging, scraped legs and arms.

Even at that raw age, friends and siblings had long warned me about the possibility of getting stung by a bee, so I wonder if I didn’t just want to get it over with. I had been promised by my friend across the street that the pain would be like death; that I would probably want to die. So that day when a bee flew in the garage and began inspecting me to see if I could possibly yield nectar or pollen, I panicked. I eschewed the instruction that had been drilled into me by my wise, experienced friends and siblings, being: Don’t move, and it will go away.

Naturally, I moved. A lot. In a remarkable, small-child’s dance motivated by fear of an unknown pain. And I began swatting, a lot. From what I can remember, the bee or wasp stung me on the right arm.

(Young me, dressed as something scary for Halloween.)

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Growing up in suburban Chicagoland, there was almost no authentic relationship with nature; everything was abbreviated. The bug-spray truck drove down our street every summer night and we deeply inhaled that spray while trying to fall off to sleep. Our yard was chemically treated so no dandelions ever appeared. The corn fields at the mouth of our subdivision were sold and built up with houses before I was 10.

Despite that, some of my most vivid and important memories are of the verdurous nature that I could find. I was fascinated when we studied milkweed pods in the first grade – the way they broke and gave up white fuzz.  We had to wear rain boots that day which I didn’t have, so the teacher put garbage bags and rubber bands over my shoes and secured them up my legs.

My best friend had a Macintosh apple tree in her yard. I was charmed. That the tree could swell small green fruits into the ripe red ones I plucked off on warm days and immediately begin gobbling was thrilling. (The humble Macintosh remains one of my favorite snacking apples for this reason.)

The same friend once insisted I borrow her extra pair of ice skates so we could go skating on a pond near our houses. It was the first time I had ice skated and with the snow coming down, it remains a favorite memory. That solid pond, the snow, layers of clothes, no one else around, the gray sky and the pond wrung around with dry straw weeds and tall brown grasses frozen into place.

But by the time I was in highschool, nature had become a foreign locale. As it will, social life had long since taken over as wholly enthralling. At one point my group of friends got really into camping and going away for the weekend. On one trip to Devil’s Lake, everyone decided to go hiking which would involve some basic rock climbing. I eagerly set out with them. My friend Nick, looking down at my shoes, said, “…are you going to wear those?” I shrugged. I had no idea that black and white patent leather wingtips (with leather soles) might not be ideal hiking wear. I somehow managed to hike like a champ with those lovely dress shoes on.

 *

Before I moved to Portland, Oregon, in 2006 the three geographic choices that were before my boyfriend and I were: Portland, New York, and Philadelphia. I advocated for Portland, as I wanted to live somewhere exceptionally beautiful and I was tired of large-metropolitan city life. Chicago had wrung me out. I was depleted, afraid of how hardened I was becoming, and fearful that I couldn’t easily turn off my accent at will.

Upon arriving in Portland, the town was beautiful. I tried to be in love with it or at the very least, meld into it; its newness, fuzzy green firs towering, lush green expanses, welcoming, young population. The relationship I was in quickly fizzled. In one version of the story, the one my friends tell for effect, I dumped him and took his job. The truth is more faceted, but the result was the same.

Spring in Portland is a sublime impossibility, holding the violent bloom of the season against the ache of winter breaking, in one unbelievably sustained note. There are sheer months of walking on beds of petals while the trees billow timid, earnest fragrances. Fall in Portland is equally protracted; months of walking on one long carpet of wadded orange leaves. Residents rake giant mounds into the streets so cars can’t park.

Image(Bees in our first hive passing nectar. The bee on the right has stung and lost her abdomen. Her last act is passing nectar to her sister.)

It was in Portland, one autumn day in 2008, that a bee flew into the apartment that belonged to my new husband and I. We had met at an antiques show the year prior; we had only been married a few months. The bee had flown in through a wonderful old kitchen fan vent and was resting on the counter. My instinct was to find a cup and paper lid to catch and put her outside. But it was a gray and cool day and my husband knew she was exhausted and cold. He had the good mind to heat a plate by running warm tap water on it, drying it off, and dropping a little honey on it. We put the plate near the bee. She quickly smelled the honey and ran over. As she lapped up the drops, she began flexing her wings and abdomen and warming up. We moved her on the plate to the front doorstep and watched her. She ate some more, cleaned herself, and zipped off into the air, but before she left she very clearly hovered and looked around, orienting herself and noting the location.

The next day when I opened the door to leave for work, about a dozen bees were pelting the screen trying to get inside because that’s where they had been told the honey was.

The next week we had our first bee hive.

*

It is said by many beekeepers that the bees choose us, we don’t choose them. People long-fascinated by bees generally have some kind of memorable experience which serves as a final motivation to start keeping bees. Personally, I was rather anti-bug as a child and adult, but then, most of my encounters were with mosquitos, house spiders, or later, gigantic silverfish that continued to crawl even after being smashed in half when living in Chicago. Bees are quite different. Bees have moods and cycles that they will make you aware of. While largely indifferent to their keepers, they will happily inform you when you should leave them be and show clear signs when something is wrong. Bees in no way need us, but we most definitely need them.

The first time that I’m sure I got stung by an actual honeybee, I was on a swarm call a couple of years ago. Swarms are exciting and generally extremely easy to catch. Bees swarm when the population of a hive grows too large for all of the bees to thrive so the mated queen leaves with about half of the colony to establish a new home. The virgin queen remains behind with the rest of the colony, honey stores, and the brood. She is set up to succeed. Swarming is a natural means of reproduction and propagation and because the swarmed bees have no brood or honey to protect, they are generally quite docile.

(A swarm in one of our apiaries.)

For this reason, I tend to get risky with the protective gear. As long as my face is covered, I generally feel like I’m good. At some point during the catch I had taken off my gloves while speaking with the homeowner, and waiting to give the branch the swarm had collected upon another firm shake in order to drop the bees into a box below. But as I walked up to the swarm to monitor their state, one feisty, flying lady landed on my hand with a single mission: she immediately stung me, and died.

Unlike the ensuing meltdown I no doubt had when I was young and had gotten stung, I was so fascinated by watching the bee sting my hand – her rear and abdomen ripping off and the stinger remaining behind – that I forgot about the impending rush of pain that would inevitably occur once her venom pumped in. And that pain did occur, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the next two days, and the ceaseless itching that occurred.

I often try to think of what small Jill would think of adult Jill. I think in a lot of ways she would think adult Jill is kind of a badass; I think that young Jill is very proud of adult Jill. Young Jill would be wholly impressed that adult Jill is a writer, a teacher, an artist, and gamer (young Jill loved Atari). She would love how much time adult Jill has spent in school. She would probably also think adult Jill was slightly unhinged… what with the lack of food-related limitations and repulsions, and making a life and living out of bees and beekeeping. And she would think it was weird that the homemade bee costume I wore in grade school panned out to mean something – to be a kind of epic foreshadowing, and that despite the somewhat hermetically-sealed suburban and then urban existence I’ve had, the bees chose me.

things & stuff

* I forgot to say I made a blog post over here, and am working on another: http://wingedbook.com/2013/10/26/free-to-bee-you-me/

* My doctor asked me last week if I feel, “an impending sense of doom”. At once I wanted to respond both (and equally): “No more than usual,” and “Not until you just said that.”

* After much ultrasound imaging, I don’t have cancer. While that is the best news in the world, especially given family history, I’m no closer to knowing why for three weeks out of each month it feels like someone is tightly wadding up all my organs like balls of tinfoil and jumping all over my uterus and intestines while wearing those shoes older people use to aerate their yards or why I have no appetite and constant nausea.

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aerating sandal thingies. image:curbly

* “Frances Ha” is really charming.

* 12 Years a Slave is really that amazing. I think my favorite McQueen is still “Hunger,” but all of his films are nearly perfect.

* I accept that I have taken on too much recently and am falling apart (partly) from stress. All I’m doing to change this is to pretend that it’s not true. Allie Brosh once summed it up nicely here: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/06/this-is-why-ill-never-be-adult.html

* I regularly stumble upon documents of epic length that I have no recollection of ever having written, yet it’s clear that I did.

* My car has a CD player for a single CD. This means finding and having certain CDs is paramount to travel. I have misplaced my Moonface and Perfume Genius CDs and this makes me angry at my car as a whole. Because this process is so taxing, I sometimes go for months listening to the same CD. During grad school, I listened to The National’s “High Violet” for almost 2 years straight.

* Pick any aspect of life… I’m behind on it.

* I haven’t worked out in any way or shape since before I got sick in October. Thus, I feel like so much useless and horrid jelly. I’m supposed to run a half-marathon next year. Ha.

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portrait of me. image: westkarana.com

* Our house has pretty, but crappy, windows from the 40s and we need a ton more attic insulation. It’s supremely cold. The local Swedish sauna and steam room gets a lot of my money in the winter.

* I have an recurring day dream about taking a road trip, dogs incuded, to Palm Springs.

To read: 75 Years In The Making — Harvard Just Released Its Epic Study On What Men Need To Live A Happy Life

The below linked article, study, findings and subsequent book are fascinating.

http://www.feelguide.com/2013/04/29/75-years-in-th-making-harvard-just-released-its-epic-study-on-what-men-require-to-live-a-happy-life/

A side note that reading this brings to mind: Though I’m not a believer in: “Happiness-is-ALL-and-what-we-should-each-be-striving-for!” person, a baseline of contentment is key (of course) to fostering any fulfilling, mutual relationship and providing a foundation for community and sustained attachment.

I feel the major goal of life should not be the illusion of “happiness at all cost,” but to experience every aspect at its utmost: grief, joy, fault, accountability, elation, humility, self-empowerment, indecision, shame, and so on. Real, personal growth occurs in the most uncomfortable places and when we do not distract ourselves from that experience, but embrace it, sucking the marrow out of every aspect and turn of life. We cannot be versed, multi-faceted individuals if we never remove ourselves from our familiar, worn-grooves of living. That said, this study remains wholly interesting and I need to acquire the book.

(And I’m thrilled that images from “The Tree of Life,” are attached at the bottom. I cannot love that film more than I do.)