Em oi! #402: Why-fi

em_402

This made more sense about three weeks ago when I had a dream about Doctor Who and woke up wanting to draw Matt Smith’s face. He has such a weird face, don’t you think?

matt smith
I was going to write more about Doctor Who, but I don’t really have that much more to say. I used to watch it and talk about it with my dad. Now I can’t. Sometime I’ll go back to watching it though. I miss it. Also there is a lot more to say about the specters of British Imperialism and White Man’s Burden and the question of sexuality and modern life that the show raises, but I don’t really have time/energy to subject it to that kind of critique. Please feel free to click here to visit the Postmodernism Generator and come up with your own critique.

Anyway, I have still been really busy with work, which is why it took me three weeks to draw/ink this damn thing. I have a work cycle that goes like this:

  1. “I’m bored. I’m depressed. I need more work.”
  2. Get some work. Hey, this is exciting.
  3. Wow, this is a lot of work. I am tired and kind of burned out. I wish this project would finish.
  4. Gee, I’m bored. (Return to step 1).

Right now I’m in step 3, and have been pretty much since I sketched this comic on the 24th. That’s why I haven’t had much time to write about the Tyranena Beer Run half marathon, which I did on November 11th. So if you’ll sit back, I’ll give you a very brief sketch of what happened.

  • Weather: It was cold. At first it was sunny, and I unfortunately left my sunglasses in the car. Then it got cloudy again, because this is Wisconsin and we wouldn’t want you to have enough sunlight to feel happy or anything.
  • Traffic: I picked up my friend Kristi and we drove to Lake Mills together. The Beltline was bumper to bumper for several miles (and maybe 30 minutes) because…a crew was painting stripes on the road? On a Saturday morning? For real? But although we were slightly late and the pre-race email said packet pickup ends at 11, they still gave us our packets at 11:05 or something. Very nice.
  • Everyone lined up and we took off. The picture below shows a map, but basically we ran around the lake. The first half (mostly roads) had a few good hills; the second half (mostly trails in the limestone sense, not single-track) was flat and had the kind of scenery describable as scenic. Had the race been held two or three weeks earlier, the leaves would have been amazing.tyranena
  • After the race, there was much food. I had a root beer, which was reasonably good; I heard the beer-beer was great, but I had to drive back to Madison to finish making challah for a relative’s 50th birthday party.
  • I ran in all of my layers because it was cold, and so I froze and shivershivershivered after the race for 45 minutes while I chatted with folks. I also just got a new coffee maker and have consequently been hitting the sauce pretty hard during the week, and by the time I got home I had six kinds of caffeine withdrawal headache going on. Super not awesome.
  • Speaking of chatting, everyone goes to this race. I saw a ton of Madisonians, and also got to meet up with Sheila, aka Crackhead, whose excellent triathlon blog I have been following for lo these many years. Or a while, at least. She was super fun and exciting to talk to. It’s nice to not be the craziest person in the room. “Oh, you haven’t done a 50-miler yet?” is not a typical reaction to my running CV. Also, check it out, I made her race report!
  • Finally, the race. I took off at the gun, and later met up with Kristi a little after mile 2. We ran the rest together, clocking a lot of sub-9 miles. We kept saying, “We should slow down!” but then we didn’t. It was windy, but at least part of the time we got a tail wind (not at the end, though. Ugh.). I finished in 1:53:13, my fastest half this year. (My other half was a trail race, so it’s not that shocking. But still, my goal was to go under 2 hours, so 1:53 is great!)
20141108_133416-SMILE

Kristi and me, post-race.

20141108_140549

Sheila and me.

My next race is the Berbee Derby, also known as the local turkey trot. And after that, I’m not racing again until 2015! Yikes. It’s starting to be time to think about what I would like to sign up for next year, and to be honest I’m not sure. I have a sort of half-serious goal of trying to figure out how to run a marathon without running over 18 miles in practice, but beyond that…don’t get injured is pretty much my only major rule at the moment.

Okay, wrap it up. Let’s file this comic under PN1992.8 S35 L86 2014, for Drama–Broadcasting–Television broadcasts–Special topics–Other special topics, A-Z–Science fiction. It may or may not surprise you to know that the LCC doesn’t have a subject heading for hipsters. Apparently they are insufficiently documented.

Em oi! #401: The Worst Flight Ever

em_401a

em_401b

This is a record of our flight from ORD to SLC. O’Hare, or O’Hara as the locals call it, is a giant zoo of an airport at the best of times, but the day we were there it was even more kerfuckened than usual because of lingering issues from a guy’s attempted suicide in the traffic control area. Basically, all flights into and out of the Midwest were last week being directed by air traffic control in Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, and I think Indiana. Something like that. Maybe they still are. When we flew home last Saturday, our flight was delayed in part I think because of the same air traffic control problem, and the flight didn’t even go through ORD.

This flight in particular was especially bad because first I was starving and then I started getting a migraine. I think I mentioned this in passing in my race report last Monday, but I didn’t really figure out that I had a migraine until we got to the B&B and I had lain down on the bed for a while. When I got up, my vision was all blurry, a classic migraine prodrome symptom. (Why was I getting it after I’d already had a headache and nausea for a good long time? I don’t know.) If it has never happened to you, count yourself lucky. I will just say it is a very weird sensation. I have bad eyesight (you might notice I draw myself with glasses), but it doesn’t exactly feel like eyestrain, and when I put my glasses on, it was still there. It’s pretty freaky. Not quite as weird as a scotoma (or scintillating scotoma, which has happened to people in my family before but I don’t think has ever happened to me).[1]

20141007_184544

I have no idea if I’m sleeping here or just trying not to vomit. Whee, I never thought I would write that sentence.

So this flight though. Not only was it two hours delayed, not only was there some pointless bureaucratic reshuffling of luggage (luggage in the cabin counts as passenger weight apparently, so they don’t have to add more gas or whatever), but it was the single most uncomfortable plane either of us had ever been on (I think it was a Canadair regional jet, flown by some company d/b/a United). And then I became intensely nauseated. In this photo B took, you can see me in my stupor. And maybe you can see how uncomfortable the seats look.

Also I think I should add that Daniel and Claire are actually quite attractive, contrary to how I’ve drawn them here. They deserve better than my artistic skills, frankly. Sorry guys.

Anyway, I think I have written a lot about running races, but very little about recovering from them. That’s mostly because recovery is the boring part, but perhaps you have never run thirty miles and would like to know what it is like. Here is a brief overview of my week.

  1. Sunday: I slept late. I was not intensely hungry directly after waking up (somewhat unusual). I was in pain (mostly quads–surprisingly my bad foot was fine). A long time ago when I did my first marathon, my friend Ray[2] told me to go down stairs backwards after. I couldn’t do that this time–I could barely go down stairs at all, eventually adopting a method of bracing my back against the railing/wall and sort of sliding down sideways. When not standing upright though, I felt very good. We lifted weights in the afternoon.
  2. Monday: I swam 2000 yards in the morning, trying not to kick. Tasks like standing up and sitting down were still quite difficult, arm-supported activities, but at least I could go down stairs backwards. We lifted in the afternoon.
  3. Tuesday: I ellipticaled for 40 minutes, then lifted weights. My legs felt sore but decent. I was still swinging my hips weirdly to go down stairs, but I was going down forwards again. When walking the dogs, I tried to jog a little and my legs wouldn’t do it.
  4. Wednesday: 30 minutes of elliptical followed by 40 minutes of swimming. My evening workout was replaced by watching B run on a dreadmill at a running store for half an hour. Oh well, I was pretty cold and tired all day. My legs felt practically normal again and energetic, with only a few moments where I stumbled because my quads sort of seized up.
  5. Thursday: I ran 7.4 miles, including two miles at an 8-9 minute pace (trying to get a 1st on Strava for a particular route, haha). My left quad was slightly more sore than my right quad, but on the whole legs felt relatively normal. Later we lifted (deadlifts and leg press, ow, I went light) and I ran with B for 5 minutes on the track before aikido.
  6. Friday: Woke up feeling tired and didn’t swim, but in the late afternoon did 20 min of elliptical and 5 of running on the track with B. Legs (hamstrings and glutes especially) sore from yesterday, but now feeling good and eagerly anticipating hitting the trails tomorrow. Bonus story: When I was getting my flu shot today, the pharmacist lady felt my deltoid and said, “Wow, you’re strong!” I was all like, “Oh, thanks, I lift weights.” So definitely get your flu shot–CVS is apparently offering a free ego boost to go with.

Tomorrow I’m hoping to do about 10 on the trails, and then possibly hit a local 15K on Sunday, schedule permitting. My hope is that my foot will hold up and I’ll be discharged from PT on Monday, and then this whole incident will just be “Remember that weird time Em accidentally got PF but ran a 50K anyway?”

So this comic–I’ll point out that in the fifth panel, I’m sitting behind Walter Benjamin, who previously appeared in Em oi! #372, one of my favorites. We’ll file this one under PN6231.A445 L86 2014, for Collections of general literature–Wit and humor–Collections on special topics, A-Z–Air travel.


[1] I don’t really get migraines much anymore, though I did in my early twenties (I think running has somewhat changed my system). Back then, I used to get abdominal migraine, with a main prodrome symptom of sensitivity to touch…which, the best I can explain it is “You are suddenly totally aware of all of the clothing you are wearing and how it is pressing on your body.” Yeah.

[2] Ray has been in a couple of comics, but I can’t find them. Perhaps they are no longer online. But at least one of them is still up on my mom’s fridge.

Antelope Island 50K

The top of the Hill on 1st (1st and Aish) in SLC

The top of the Hill on 1st (1st and Aish) in SLC

Ok, now that I’m back in Madison and have slept some (a lot), let me see if I can talk about the Antelope Island 50K in a brief yet entertaining manner.antelope island

First things first: Where is Antelope Island? It’s the largest island in the Great Salt Lake of Utah, so specifically it is about 46 miles from my brother and sister-in-law’s apartment in Salt Lake City. When B and I decided to go out to Utah for a fall visit, I noticed that this race happened to be right around the time we were going out and arranged our travel schedule to coincide. So I didn’t OFFICIALLY travel out there for the race, I just happened to be in the area and the race was happening. (I have a personal rule that I don’t travel more than an hour from home for a race unless it’s a super awesome race.)

We flew in Tuesday afternoon. I had originally planned to run Tuesday and Thursday this past week as the last bit of my taper, but then I was up in the night Monday night/Tuesday morning with. . . something. Was it food poisoning? A norovirus? Only her intestines know for sure. At any rate, things sure weren’t 100 percent when I got up Tuesday morning and I didn’t go for a run, and I even told B that if I still felt super crappy come Saturday I was going to cancel the race. My conditioned waxed and waned throughout the day (including a long stopover at O’Hare), and by the time we arrived I had a pretty intense migraine (complete with nausea, light sensitivity, and blurry vision). Bodes ill. But Wednesday morning when I got up I was fine. In fact I felt so much better than I had in twenty-four hours that I was positively jubilant. Daniel and I went for a run around SLC’s Liberty Park in the afternoon, and I felt pretty good. My foot gave me some trouble on the last part of the run, especially going up the hill from State to A on 1st Street, but the view is so rewarding I couldn’t complain. Then I had two full days of rest, which I knew would make both my foot and my PT happy.

Pre-Race Selfie

Pre-Race Selfie

Saturday morning, I woke up at 5:50, a full forty minutes before Daniel and Claire were coming to pick me up, so that I could eat and also reconsider my life choices. I was suddenly very nervous, in a way that I seldom am before races anymore. I felt a little crappy (too much wine the night before? Too little water?), I was nervous about the course and elevation, and I just kept thinking I should call Daniel and tell him not to come and crawl back into bed with B. I could go for a run later, maybe even go up to Sugar House Park and do twenty miles, and. . . but I didn’t follow through on any of this. I kissed B goodbye and went down and got in the car.

By the time we got to Antelope Island I was feeling better, physically anyway. When I got out of the car to check in, I heard gunshots in the distance. The women working assured me that it was just hunting and “not on the island, we hope.” They also said, “Don’t bother the buffalo and they won’t bother you.” Ok, good to know.[1]

Sunrise

Sunrise

My Lovely Hosts, Daniel and Claire

My Lovely Hosts, Daniel and Claire

Daniel and Claire dropped me off at the starting line just as the sun was beginning to climb over the mountains and paint the sky pink. It was beautiful—and cold. I told them to come back in not less than five and a half hours and thanked them again for their tolerance of my weird hobby. Then I had to take off my sweatshirt and go wait around for the race to get started. The RD announced a last-minute course change owing to mud that took the course from 31 miles down to about 30. I stood in line to use the port-o-potty behind a guy who had his arm in a really complicated sling owing to some sort of surgery (he was still running, which made me feel possibly a bit better). Then a few minutes later, we were off.

The First Climb

The First Climb

Starting Line to the First Aid Station (Mile 5.8)

The race started with about half a mile or so of flat on a gravel access road of some sort. We went along a fence until we came to a break and turned onto a dirt trail that took us in slow switchbacks up the foothills of the mountain (I think the main mountain is Frary Peak, but I’m not totally sure that was the one we were running around, so you’ll have to just guess at the geography). We were at times running east, into the sunrise, which was very pretty but made it hard to see the trail. Luckily, the trail here wasn’t very technical, with only occasional rocks to dodge. There were a lot of false summits—I would look up the trail, thinking that just beyond the coming ridge things must flatten or even descend—only to find when I arrived that the trail continued up. Luckily the hill was quite gentle, so the continuous trekking didn’t bother me and I kept up a pretty steady pace between 10:30-12:00 min/mi. After mile three, the trail turned downward (and west) and suddenly I was skimming along, taking in all these breathtaking vistas I hadn’t had a chance to look at before. Oh, wait, the breathtaking part—that was the altitude. And sure enough, after two miles of lovely downhill, the path turned sharply upward and we hiked it in to the first aid station. I arrived right around the one hour mark.

I wasn’t too concerned about calories so early in the race, but I knew I couldn’t fall behind, especially with the comparatively long distances between aid stations (most were five to six miles apart). I think I had a Fig Newton and a couple of potato chips. Then I was off again. I actually made it through a bit faster than several women, some of whom I would leapfrog with for much of the rest of the race.

Mountains at the Beginning of the Course

Mountains at the Beginning of the Course

Mile 5.8 to the Second Aid Station (Mile 14)

elevation

Elevation Profile. Click to Embiggen.

As I left the first aid station, the staff said that there was a nice bit of downhill ahead, “About a mile of downhill.” And it was very nice, good enough to hit a 9:40 split. I started thinking about how fast I was going to finish—maybe I would hit a 5:15:xx and be lounging around when everyone came to get me. Then suddenly, in one of those weird moments you seem to encounter in the mountains where the ground tells you something your eyes/inner ear don’t necessarily get, I went around a corner and the trail turned sharply upward. The rest of this section was largely not nice; it included steep climbs (about 1,700 feet over seven miles, with over 600 feet of that in the last mile alone); downhills too rocky to run; sections of trail ankle-deep in sand or shifting, golf ball-sized gravel; sections covered with rocks the size of bricks I was not nimble enough to bound between; and of course absolutely no shade. I began to run low on water and at times felt a bit dizzy, but there was really nothing to do but keep going to get to the next aid station. Luckily, I was able to sort of tuck into my brain (I thought about a lot of rather silly things, like the book I have been editing) and keep going. Each time my watch buzzed, I felt a bit surprised that another mile had passed. My splits during this section ranged from 9:21 (the downhill) to 22:42 (the last 600 feet of climb and a stop at the aid station to pull a rock out of my shoe).

It was very nice to get to the aid station and eat some potato chips and potato dipped in salt and refill my water. I also got to blow my nose, which was nice. My nose always runs when I’m out, er, running, and I’d neglected to bring any tissues.

Mile 14 to the Third Aid Station (Mile 20ish)

At the mile 14 aid station, I heard one of the guys say that the next aid station was five miles away. I was excited to leave—both because I had told B I would try to text him around mile 15,[2] and because mile 19 seemed very achievable and also very close to the finish (at the time I thought it was only ten miles out). Also, at this point the trail turned downward again, and we got to give back all that vertical gain. I ran for a while with a woman from Layton, UT, who mentioned that she had never done a 50K before and had trained only to sixteen miles as a long run! She left me behind when I once again couldn’t navigate the rocky descents fast enough. I also found that whenever I tried to accelerate a lot, I developed a stitch in my ribs (the altitude? Pushing too hard?) and I just couldn’t keep up. I had been gunning to finish strong, maybe even top three in my age group, but I realized at this point that I was going to have to just run my own race and finish when I finished.

That is the dao of the trail, I guess.

Mountains, near the End of the Course

Mountains, near the End of the Course

During this section, I came down around a bend and looked up to see two buffalo standing in a field. They were maybe a hundred and fifty feet from me, without any sort of protective fence between us. Wow. So I stopped and took a picture. They were unimpressed.

No Fence

No Fence

After the buffalo, the trail eventually narrowed and went into this area along the western side of the island where there were a lot of plants very close to the trail that were dry and kind of spikey, perfect for scraping the fuck out of my legs. Seriously, plants, what did I ever do to you? I was bleeding in half a dozen places by the end of the race, not fun. The best cut was right on my right ankle, perfect for accidentally kicking with my left foot (I am not graceful), and then good for a quarter mile of pain.

Eventually I reached the aid station and dumped some water over my head, which made me feel better. But I was tired after all the up and down of the first twenty miles, and pretty much ready to be done.

The Two Close-Together Aid Stations (Mile 20 to Mile 24ish)

This was the section where the bargaining began. I was feeling pretty woobly from the heat, so although the course was pretty flat, I started to walk. For a while, my right hip flexor was cramping up. But I knew I was so far from the finish line that I couldn’t just walk until I felt totally better, because I would never feel better until I could stop running and I would never get to the finish line walking. So I started to make deals with myself—run for half a mile, then you can walk for .05 miles. Repeat. Although my times were a pretty steady 11:30 min/mi during this section, and I felt really pretty terrible, I kept passing people, so either I wasn’t the only one having a bad time of it or I managed to out-strategize a lot of people.

The fourth aid station was over a ridge near mile 24. I had been planning to walk, but I crested the ridge and saw it, so I kept running. Yay, more water dumped over my head. (Sadly, none of the aid stations had ice.) Yay, more potato chips.

Mile 24 to the Finish

Leaving the mile 24 aid station, I was relatively sure I had five miles to go. The aid station personnel thought the distance was more like six to seven. They also thought that there was a water-only aid station between them and the finish, though this turned out not to be true. I continued my run/walk strategy for a while here, crossing the 26.2 mark in 5:21:43 (a personal not best) and picking off several more people. Despite my slow speed, I was making progress. The course at this point was very boring—lots of scrubland, the salt lake kind of in the distance, no real change in altitude from mile to mile, nothing to focus on but the passing of a few trees and rocks and the odd pile of ossified buffalo droppings.

Right around mile 27, and just before I was about to allow myself another walking break, I came up behind that woman from Layton again.

Remember her?

As I came up behind her, debating about whether to try to pass or to walk and let her get a lead again, she turned around and said the most magical words I could have heard: “I think I see it.” I was actually kind of unsure at this point what “it” was—the drink station? The finish line? Maitreya Buddha? But I actually did not care. She took off and I took off after her.

I was looking, but I could not for the longest time see whatever she had been referring to. Finally I saw a glint of light at the top of a hill—maybe light off a car’s windshield, but it could have been our destination. Layton and I had some discussion about how far we thought the race actually was. As she said she wasn’t sure if we were going twenty-nine or thirty miles, another woman came up behind us and remarked that she was still telling her friends she did a 50K. I said, “Of course!” We chatted for a brief bit, and then when the trail widened I sped up and passed both of them. For a while I thought we would stick together and finish the race, but they were slowing down, and I could smell the barn.

"SAY CHEESE"

“SAY CHEESE”

I reached the fence we’d run along at the very beginning and crossed though an open spot, only to face another climb. My watch suggests it was about 224 feet of elevation gain in a mile or so, I think about a 5.8 percent grade. I was kind of annoyed, but stumbled up it using a hike/run strategy. At the top, just by the turnoff for the half marathon course, was a herd of buffalo (on the other side of the fence this time). Wow! They seemed unimpressed to see yet another runner stumble past.

The road turned down for one final descent. There was a guy ahead of me in a yellow t-shirt, and I suddenly wanted to pick him off and add one last catch to my list, so I sped up as much as my incredibly tight quads would allow. Better yet, as I came within range of the finish, B, Daniel, and Claire were all standing there cheering me on! I crossed the finish line within a few seconds of the guy in yellow (I was so close to catching him!) and was awarded a coffee cup. I think I said something really intelligent to B, like, “They gave me a coffee cup!” Then I sat down for a while before I could fall over.

Final Tally

Some of My Cuts (and an Amazing Amount of Dirt)

Some of My Cuts (and an Amazing Amount of Dirt)

I finished 29.88 miles (according to my watch) in 6:04:24, a 12:12 min/mi pace. According to my watch, the course had just over 3,100 feet of elevation gain. The results at UltraSignUp.com are still somewhat preliminary as of this writing, but I am listed as 6th woman, 4th in my age group, and 22nd overall finisher. I learned that I should be careful of climate differences (WI had a cold snap, so it had been quite a long time since I’d run in warm weather), bring something to shade my head/neck from the sun (no trees), and give the elevation its due. I did a good job at staying on top of salt and calories all day, and I think my run/walk strategy was pretty successful, considering how many people I passed in the last ten miles.

My foot was actually totally fine though the race, giving me no more than passing discomfort. At some point my hip slipped out (my SI joint got stuck) and I finished with knee pain and lower back pain because of it, and I also totally blew up my quads, and my calves are hurting if I sit for too long, but other than that I feel remarkably good. My PT will be happy. The race was well-organized and enjoyable, the course a real challenge. I had a hell of a time.

A special thank you to Bryan, Daniel, and Claire, for not just making this madness possible but for supporting me through to the end. Having you guys there to cheer me on in the last moments was really amazing. Also special special thanks for helping me get a new Garmin last minute. It worked out really well and was super useful during the race.

20141011_140442-20141011_140446

My Finish (Photo by Daniel)

Also I’m going to stick to half marathons for a while. Holy cow.


[1] When I was a kid, my parents used to stick me in the car and drive me out to Fermi Lab (the supercollider) to look at the buffalo (really, this was a method of making me fall asleep). The sign at Fermi Lab said, “Don’t try to cross this pasture unless you can do it in nine seconds, because the bull takes ten.” I have no recollection of how big the pasture was (though I do think I wanted to feed the buffalo Cheerios, as though they were ducks), but in my mind this means that buffalo are both fast and mean.

[2] Does that sound lame? It was an important psychological goal—during the last few miles of climb leading up to the mile 14 aid station, I was counting down—“Only three more miles before I get to text B.” The idea was to tell him my time at the halfway point to help better gauge the SLC crew’s departure to Antelope Island. Unfortunately I realized after the race that my text hadn’t gone through. Whomp whomp, sad tromboon.

Amazing Post-Race Liege Waffle at Bruges (SLC-Area Waffle Stand)

Amazing Post-Race Liege Waffle at Bruges (SLC-Area Waffle Stand)

Em oi! #400: She Gets It

em_400

Since we came back from France and Belgium, this is something I have been going back and forth on. On the one hand, sites like Facebook are immensely entertaining, especially when one is bored or trying to waste time (that “I’m scheduled to go for a run now but it’s 35 degrees out” time of the morning). On the other hand, almost all websites operate on an outrage-for-clicks system, which means that people are constantly posting links to articles that are meant to be provocative. These articles typically upset me. And of course, there are several studies that suggest that Facebook can be bad for your self esteem. And that doesn’t even touch on Tumblr, which is basically an entire community of people who have set out to post the most upsetting and useless “social justice” things they can think of, in addition to retumblring each others’ inane drivel about things no one cares about. That’s not to say that there aren’t a few blogs on Tumblr worth reading.[1] But at some point, the anxiety/frustration that I get from reading this crap has come to outweigh the pleasure I got if people momentarily noticed MY drivel. So I’m trying to step away. I think it has been good for my mental health thus far.

I’ve been reading a lot of running/triathlon blogs instead. Ultra runners or “normal” distances, it doesn’t matter–if you can string your words together in a reasonably coherent and entertaining fashion, I’ll read about your climb up Pike’s Peak, your half IM, or even your 4×400 workout at the track. Maybe it’s because this foot injury[2] has forced me to run less, but I find it quite gratifying at the moment.

So the foot. As I maybe mentioned, I’ve been seeing a PT twice per week since I got back from Europe. My therapy has typically included ultrasound, poking at it with a stick until I say “ow,” and various types of stretches and exercises. This past week, we tried trigger point dry needling, which is like acupuncture except that it doesn’t rely on “meridians.” There’s some evidence that it works (unlike acupuncture), but my understanding is that there haven’t been enough high quality studies to really draw any firm conclusions. Nevertheless, if I were told that standing on my head until I black out every day would cure it, I’d do it.

That’s rational, right?

For those wondering, here is a list of things I have tried:

  • Icing
  • Rolling my calves (with the stick, with a foam roller)
  • Orthotics (both Happy Feet and Dr Scholl’s heel cups)
  • New shoes
  • Heel raises (both feet on the ground, both feet on a step, one foot in both positions, both feet bent knee/straight knee, and using a leg press machine)
  • One-legged squats
  • Calf stretches
  • Toe curls (alone, with a book on a towel, with two books on the towel)
  • Side steps with an elastic band around my ankles
  • Hamstring stretches
  • Actually a lot of various stretches
  • Ultrasound
  • “Breaking up adhesions” with a plastic thing
  • Trigger point dry needling
  • A Strassburg sock (at night)
  • A little elastic sleeve thing that is supposed to support the arch of the foot

Actually, while this looks like a long list of disparate and in fact desperate treatment options, I think they’re actually working. This morning, testing out a new pair of trail shoes, I ran twelve miles along the Ice Age Trail. At the beginning, the trail is pretty rutted and my foot was complaining, so I wasn’t expecting much, but after that calmed down it stayed calm for the rest of the run. This is definitely the best run I’ve had since the marathon, and I wasn’t taped. Was it the trails (nice and soft from yesterday’s rain), the new shoes, or the needling? I don’t care so long as I can repeat this at the 50k next week. TWO more runs before I hit the starting line!

By the way, in the comic above, Mom is carrying a cane because she fell off a horse. Presumably while chasing after cattle rustlers. Because she is a bad ass that way. (Not really–she said the straps came loose because of the humidity. But one has to admire that she came to Europe anyway and hiked around with that cane for a week and a half while she was healing. This is where my stubbornness came from.)

We’ll file this comic under HM741 .L86 2014, for Sociology–Groups and organizations–Social groups. Group dynamics–Social networks–General works.

The comic, by the way, took place on the Pont Neuf, which is a bridge. The sides look kind of neat, like this:

Pont Neuf detail.

Pont Neuf detail.


[1] If you’re reading this, I totally mean your blog, don’t worry.

[2] It’s plantar fasciitis (or plantar fascists, as B calls it).

Em oi! #399: He’s a Fan

Next time he'll perform "Eat It."

If you haven’t heard Janet Jackson’s classic song “Nasty” at this point, I don’t even know what to say to you. I’m not even the first comic artist to do a strip about it. Highlights from the music video include male crop tops, shoulder pads, and those funny squared-off haircuts that seem to have been popular in the 80s.

Everything was so square in the 80s, in a literal sense. What was with that design choice?

So following my marathon last week, which you may have read about here, I decided to run ten miles on both Wednesday and Thursday, sort of to see how I was feeling (the answer: tired). Then Friday we lifted legs. Some of you know that I lift with moderate seriousness[1]. This is something Bryan got me into just about six years ago next week(!) when we got our first gym membership together. Over time, I have come to appreciate leg day, because legs are a large muscle group and one that can do a lot of weight, so you can justify eating a lot of food after lifting legs.[2] For the last couple of months, I have been de-loading my squat (i.e., lifting less weight) to fix some problems with my form. So I was usually lifting about 95-100 lbs, but Friday I decided to go back to my typical working weight of 135 lbs (aka 100% of my body weight). Although I decided I would do five sets with five reps each rather than my more usual three sets of ten reps each, my quads unsurprisingly were not sold on the sudden increase. Then Saturday morning, I met my running group for thirteen (rather painful, hilly) miles. At this writing (Saturday night), my quads are no longer speaking to me. Basically I am currently sitting on the ground in front of the sofa and although I’m hearing a noise from the other room that suggests the dog is doing something untoward, I am having a really hard time motivating myself to get up and go check on the situation. Even the process of getting from a standing position to the floor where I could use my foam roller was rather harrowing. I may stay here forever.

Consequently, a new comic. Because I could sit on the ground and watch cooking videos and finish the inking. But hopefully my sabbatical is over and there will be more to come soon.

Anyway, dogs. So as the somewhat controversial Cesar Millan likes to say, dogs like to have jobs. This is especially true for working dogs like German shepherds and Australian shepherds, but it also seems to be true for regular normal house dogs like the shiba inu and the “mostly a flat-coated retriever.” If you don’t give the dogs a job, they come up with one themselves, I guess, because our dogs have certainly made a decision that they are each in charge of watching one of us. For the most part, when we are working during the day, we are in different rooms, and Edgar will be in my room while Maya is in B’s room. I am not sure how they came to this assignment, but it seems to be pretty consistent. If I move to another room to work, say, while Edgar is asleep (dogs spend most of their time asleep, much like cats), soon he will wake up and come find me in the new location. Similarly, I will find Maya either in the room where B has gone to nap, or occasionally in the next room if he has closed the door. Why do they act like this? How did they make the decision of which dog to assign to which human? And crucially, if we added either another dog or another human to the mix, what would happen?[3]

Questions that will probably not get answered.

Dogs who want my lunch.

Dogs who want my lunch.

We’ll file this under ML88.J3 L86 2014, for Literature on music–Aspects of the field of music as a whole–Visual and pictorial topics–Pictorial works–Musicians—Individual musicians, A-Z.


[1] Moderate seriousness defined as lifting 50-100% of my weight on most exercises, but without grunting, flexing in the mirror, or dragging along a gallon jug of either water or BCAAs to drink while lifting. Anyway, we lift on a body part-based rotation rather than an upper/lower split or that sort of thing. This fact included for the lifting nerds?

[2] Not that I need that sort of justification to eat a lot. Since my race, my diet has consisted mostly of romaine lettuce with parmesan cheese and Cesar dressing (a modified Cesar salad) and also cookies.

[3] When Daniel and Claire came to visit last, I think Edgar spent some of his time watching Daniel as well as me, but we were working in the same room enough that I can’t say for sure. He did really like Daniel though. We haven’t had any other guests either dog seemed to be as fond of.

North Face Endurance Challenge — Marathon in Eagle, WI

nfec results This has been the weirdest “b” race ever, guys. Not only was the training weird, but I tapered for the race, which I never do, and it was a weird taper.

For one thing, it was the only taper in my life that I spent in Europe eating Belgian waffles and French pastries. It was also the only taper (of recent memory) done without a pool available.

Swimming is typically my go-to cross-training because it gives me sexy shoulder muscles, can be done inside (an important consideration this time of year in Wisconsin), and is non-impact. But for this taper at first I was in Belgium and France for two weeks, and while I could have gone over to one of the local pools and gotten a day pass, I was under some obligation to spend time with my family. Anyway, I was walking a ton (it’s Europe), so it didn’t really seem necessary to “work out” outside of my every-other day schedule of running. To keep up my cardio fitness, I ran 8–10 miles at a go every other day, and occasionally did body-weight exercises with B.[1] The day we got back from Europe was the day our gym started its annual cleaning of the lap pool; it reopened the Monday after the race. So I was been totally on my own for the last week.

When a pool is unavailable, there’s always biking. I enjoy biking, sort of. I’m not good at it. So last Sunday after
my run I biked 10 miles to my Chinese class and back (5 miles in each direction to the Social Sciences building—and I got to watch the IM marathon when I was heading home). Monday I biked around some of the rural area outside of Middleton, about 25 miles total. Then Wednesday. . . it was both 45 degrees and raining, so I went to spin class. Friday it was also 45 degrees and raining, so I did more spin. You would not believe (or maybe you would) how energetic one feels when one is in marathon shape, and how difficult it is to get what feels like a good (tiring) workout when you are totally primed to run for four hours without stopping. I guess that means that I had a successful taper because I felt strong and a little crazy.

But still: What is it about spin bikes that no matter how hard I think I’m pedaling, the little odometer always tells me I went 25 miles in an hour? And why can I do only half of that on the mean streets? And why do I sweat so damn much while spinning? And how can I make it stop irritating my bad foot when I stand on the pedals?

20140913_084808

My foot, taped by both the PT and myself

Such questions. I apologize about this blog, by the way. I’ve missed you guys. But here I am almost five hundred words in and I haven’t gotten to the race yet. Also I apologize that I’ve yet to make up my mind about whether I think a colon should be followed by a capital letter (whether or not it introduces a full sentence). I changed the “w” above.
I signed up for this race as a way to gauge my fitness/training before the Antelope Island 50k next month. It also served as my last and longest training run. In a world where I was paying attention to things like having a training plan, my long runs would have gone something like this: (various stuff working up to) 15, 18, 15, 18, 20, 26.2 (and then some taper before the 50k). Instead I have done, starting the first week of July, 17, 13, [10k—tri day], 20, 13, 18, 20, 15, 10, 10. The 15 was the day before I left for Europe, the second 10 was the day after I got back. On the one hand, I actually missed or shortened three of the planned FIVE twenty-milers the plan my friends were following had scheduled. On the other hand, I am not someone who can run over twenty miles a lot and remain uninjured. I am backed up by historical data on this. I need to write myself some reminder post-it notes that say: Don’t do track speed work; don’t wear minimalist shoes; don’t run more than twenty miles once per marathon training cycle (or potentially: don’t run marathons); don’t do two-a-days.

I have done every single one of those fucking things during this marathon training cycle (er, except for the “don’t run marathons” part—though I guess I just did that?), and not surprisingly my right foot is a little angry about it. But not angry enough that I needed to miss the marathon. Just angry enough that I am running on “step down” (which means every other day rather than my normal five days per week schedule), and I had my PT tape my foot on Friday. I’m hopeful I’ll be back in full fighting shape by October, but for now I didn’t have high expectations going into the NFEC. My goals were like this:

  • A goal: Sub-4 hours. I was in shape for this, with the exception of my foot that won’t get with the program. If it were a road marathon I would probably expect to clock in right around four hours, even with the issues. However it was a trail race, which means probably not.
  • B goal: 4:30:xx. This would be a solid time for a technical trail marathon, and per last years’ finishing times would still put me in the top five women. So it was probably a pipe dream.
  • C goal: Sub-5 hours. This was probably a reasonable time given foot and terrain. It would probably be a pretty solid time for this course. (This assumption based on my experiences running elsewhere in the Kettles.)
20140913_064717

Early morning pre-race selfie

Writing this introductory portion of the race report the night before, I should note that my week has looked like this:

  • Sunday: Run 10, bike 10
  • Monday: Bike 25
  • Tuesday: Run 10
  • Wednesday: Spin class (“25”), aikido
  • Thursday: Run 10
  • Friday: Spin class (“30”, because I started early)

B looked at this and said, “Have you heard of a taper?” So taper is as taper does, apparently. (Help me out, what does that actually mean?)

The Race

The race had a late start (9:00am) so I was able to sleep in until 6:25 before getting up to begin my pre-race rituals (eat a raspberry Pop Tart while reading The New Yorker). At 7:15 I stuck my stuff in the car. Then I panicked and ran back upstairs for an emergency piece of tape for my foot (in addition to the tape that the PT put on yesterday). I rolled out around 7:20.

20140913_080732

I-94 to Eagle, WI

The drive over was fine. I felt relaxed. Then after a while I felt tense. I arrived about 20 minutes early and jogged over to the park bathroom (which, by the way, had actual flush toilets and soap!). And. . . my foot didn’t hurt at all. I jogged back to the car. It was still fine. Incredible. I decided to add one more piece of tape to a spot that was sort of bugging me (see picture above). I put on the t-shirt with my number pinned to it while cramming a protein bar in my mouth, grabbed my hydration pack, and set off for the starting line.

1410615992454

“It’s 45 degrees outside”

One thing I have to say is that I was impressed by how much parking was available and how close to the starting line I got to park. Another thing that was impressive was how cold it was (about 45 at the start, I’d guess). The race officials had little heat lamps and fire pits for us to warm our hands over.

The race started. I had decided on the following strategy: Run a conservative first half, then pick it up. Walk hills if necessary, and be prepared to hike it in if the foot gives out. So I went out at a pace that felt pretty slow. We ran along the side of a road (Cty Highway ZZ I think) for a while, then turned onto a grassy/muddy path going up a rather mild incline. Later I found out I made it through the 1.8 mi aid station in about 16 min—a 9:16 pace, not exactly relaxed.

20140913_085840

Starting line

It took me about twenty minutes to get bored. While ultra runners are typically a chatty bunch, road marathoners are often quite serious—they have times to hit, Boston to qualify for, that sort of thing. Well, nuts to that. In what is a giant leap out of my shell, as soon as I came up next to someone who was going my pace, I started chatting with him. He was from Sandwich, IL, a 21-year old guy named Shane who worked as a restorer of houses and was interested in becoming a pastor. We talked for about twenty minutes, then he left me behind and I started talking to a professor of entrepreneurship from Marquette University. He was an interesting guy, had studied classical Chinese back in the day and had a son who was totally fluent in Mandarin.[2] The professor thought he was on track to win his AG (men 64+), so was running a pretty conservative race. I hung with him for about forty-five minutes (through the seven-ish mile aid station and beyond) before he stopped to stretch a calf and I rolled on ahead.

20140913_110657

The prairie area

After a few switchbacks we emerged onto the prairie. I met up with two other marathoners, Nicole and Matt, and we chatted through the 11.7-mile aid station. I was still feeling really good at this point—my foot was doing really well on the soft ground (the rain from the last few days proved useful I guess) and I felt strong and happy. I ate a gel at about 1:50:xx and then grabbed some potato chips and a piece of boiled potato dipped in salt going through the aid station; although it wasn’t really a hit-the-salt-hard day, I have been struggling with stomach cramps all summer caused by salt issues, so I decided I wasn’t going to forego it completely.

I lost my companions after the aid station and went on for a while alone. My foot was beginning to bother me, but in truth the pain from the tape rubbing on my skin was worse than anything else. The terrain was very runnable, the weather still comfortably cool. Around (what I think was) mile 17, I passed a guy who made a remark about how he was going to follow me, since I had a good pace going. I laughed and we chatted for most of the next nine miles. His name was Wes; we talked about running, our jobs, his kids, and lots of various sundry things. We also met the single largest climb in the race—it was right around mile 19, and nowhere near as scary as Shane (remember Shane?) had suggested to me that it was. Certainly it was quite steep, and I hiked it rather than try to run it, but it wasn’t super arduous, and I probably could have run it if I’d had a gun on me.

By mile 20, my foot was starting to hurt. And my other foot hurt. And so did my ribs and my abs and. Well, you get the picture. But I knew something was going to hurt. You don’t come unscathed out of a marathon. So onward I went. The terrain had settled down after the big hill and was really pretty easy to run despite my discomfort. As we neared the end (I think close to the two miles to go mark), Wes dropped back to take a gel and I decided to try for some kind of finishing kick.

20140913_131847

More typical Ice Age trail (aka the hill where my quads died)

I passed a couple of people (50k-ers and marathon relay people) and started up a really long, low grade hill. This was the point that I tried to speed up and realized how trashed my quads were. I was being passed at this point by a seemingly endless stream of marathon relayers going in the opposite direction and a few coming back. Eventually I crested the hill and tried to push it a bit back to the finish, including passing a lady (50k, sadly, not marathon) in the last fifty feet before the finish. When I turned around, Wes was right behind me—apparently he’d been trying to catch me but couldn’t. We fist-bumped and I wished him well.

20140913_133355-MIX

Post-race selfies

I’d finished in 4:30:47 (watch time); I assumed, based on the good (cool) weather and course conditions, that I wouldn’t have placed. But I decided to wander over and get my results anyway before I left. Surprisingly, I was the 11th woman overall, and the 3rd in my age group (of 7). So I hit my B time and still managed to place. Nice. I got a little baggie of prizes, including sleeves, which I am excited to try out sometime this week.

Post-Race

I stumbled back to my car and stopped at a gas station on my way back to Madison for coffee and chocolate milk. I was already sore as I shambled around the store, and things only got worse by the time I got home. But despite my feeling (at the end of the race) that my left big toe was probably bleeding and that my right little toe might have fallen totally off, here is the sum total of the damage:

  • Bruise on back from hydration pack
  • Sore quads
  • Some chafing of various soft tissues
  • A blister the size of my thumb under the tape on my right foot
  • Everything from the knees down a bit muddy

So that’s not too bad at all. As I write this (following icing and ibuprofen), my foot feels really good (except for the blister). Score one for the PT.

I think that’s all I have to report. For those thinking of doing it, the NFEC is a great course, very runnable but not unchallenging, in a beautiful park, and the race is really well organized. I’m impressed on all counts.


[1] At our last hotel in Brussels, we actually had access to a universal machine in the gym, which was nice but a little confusing—rather than labeling any of the weights as pounds or kilograms, it just said “10, 20, 30” and so on. 20 what?

[2] If you want to be famous, the Chinese seem endlessly amused by Westerners who can speak Chinese fluently. I have never myself been that fluent. Actually, I don’t really understand the draw—as I’ve told some various relatives, there are about 960 million native speakers (as of 2010), making it far and away the most commonly spoken language on the planet. This means that when you learn Chinese, you are doing nothing that has not already been done by LITERALLY a billion people. But the Chinese seem to find it so entertaining! Compare that to Americans, who tend to think that learning English is basically THE LEAST you can do.

20140914_230619

My medals from summer racing — Viroqua tri, Couples duathlon, and NFEC

Episode 5: The Lotus Eaters

A few brief bits of housekeeping before we get going: first, I have back-linked all the episodes of

Datura.

Datura.

Ulysses so far commented upon to the introductory blog post, which will now also serve as an index. It can be viewed here. Also, in many cases I have made some small tweaks to the writing to make the style slightly less bombastic or grandiloquent or I guess casual and more something my MA advisor wouldn’t have shaken his head at and dismissed out of hand. Still not perfect. Oh well. Also, for those of you who are sick of Ulysses, I should have another comic ready to go soon. The summer sabbatical was nice, but I am starting to feel like drawing again. Hooray? Also, you might have noticed that I moved all The Joy of Fishes-related links to this page. Just a reminder, if you read it, please consider reviewing it on Amazon or Goodreads. Thank you!

And now, Ulysses. Enjoy.


This section of Ulysses, “The Lotus Eaters,” takes its name from an episode in the Odyssey referred to somewhat briefly in chapter IX of Homer’s text. Odysseus and his men land on an island to get fresh water and food. Odysseus sends a few men into town to see what’s up. It turns out everyone on the island eats lotuses, and the lotuses are so delicious that once you taste them, you don’t want to do anything else but lie around eating lotuses all day. (Please make your own joke about the 1960s here.) Odysseus marches his men back onto the boat and gets out of there tout de suite.

In their 2000 film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” which happens to also be an adaptation of the Odyssey, the Coen brothers used the episode of the Lotus Eaters to refer to religion—specifically, as our heroes are wandering through the countryside, they come across a long line of (somewhat stoned- or hypnotized-looking) people dressed in white, waiting in line to be baptized.

Not coincidentally, although almost certainly unrelated to the Coen bros, this episode of Ulysses has a lot of religion in it. In fact, the whole book has a lot of religion—it’s set in Ireland, after all, a place where divorce was illegal until 1996[1] because of the influence of the Catholic church. But if you are about to quote Marx’s quip about religion being the opiate of the people and think we’re done, think again. This is Joyce—nothing is so uncomplicated.

In the first episode (Telemachus), we saw several different ideas about religion. Stephen, called a “fearful Jesuit” by Buck Mulligan, seems to believe in a deity he is unwilling to worship. Like Lucifer[2], at the end of Portrait, we get this scene between Stephen and his friend Cranly:

After a pause Cranly asked:
—What age is your mother?
—Not old, Stephen said. She wishes me to make my easter duty.[3]
—And will you?
—I will not, Stephen said.
—Why not? Cranly said.
—I will not serve, answered Stephen.
—That remark was made before, Cranly said calmly.
—It is made behind now, said Stephen hotly. (Portrait, 259–60)

Stephen claims that he “neither believe[s] in [the eucharist] nor disbelieve in it” (Ibid.), but his stance in Ulysses is a bit less equivocal, telling Haines, “You behold in me . . . a horrible example of free thought” (1.625–6). “Free thought” meaning “thought free from the dictates of ‘Christian revelation’ “ (Gifford 24). He is quite firm on this point, to the extent that he is unwilling to take communion to appease his dying mother. But as much as he makes these claims, he’s still very much in the grip of religion, seeing himself as well as “a servant of two masters . . . an English and an Italian. . . . The imperial British state . . . and the holy Roman catholic and apostolic church” (1.638–43). In fact, like Lucifer whom he quotes, Stephen is defined by religion and God, regardless of the latter’s existence; his desire to disobey the church brings him into much more strife than simply not caring about religion would—compare his refusal to take communion to appease his dying mother versus Bloom’s relaxing through a church service he doesn’t particularly understand or care to learn about.

In the first episode we also see Haines, who “couldn’t stomach that idea of a personal God. . .” (1.623), and Buck Mulligan, who is an irreverent medical student (as I already quoted, his feelings about death are put to Stephen like this: “And what is death . . . your mother’s or yours or my own? You saw only your mother die. I see them pop off every day in the Mater and Richmond and cut up into tripes in the dissectingroom. It’s a beastly thing and nothing else” (1.4–6)).

Finally we get to Mr Leopold Bloom. His attitude towards religion seems to stand somewhere between irreverence and ignorance.[4] For example, it is difficult to know whether or not he is joking when, watching a service, he muses, “Letters on his [the priest’s] back: I.N.R.I? No: I.H.S. Molly told me one time I asked her. I have sinned: or no: I have suffered, it is. And the other one? Iron nails ran in” (5.372–74). Similarly, he attributes the use of wine during the Eucharist ceremony to it being “more aristocratic than for example if he drank what they [the parishioners] are used to Guinness’s porter or some temperance beverage. . .” (5.387). During the mass he thinks of sex: perhaps he will meet Martha “one Sunday after the rosary” (5.375); imagines the priest murmuring to the communicants “Shut your eyes and open your mouth” (5.349–50); considers the confession process as a sadomasochistic ritual in which the confessor asks the priest to “punish me, please” (5.426); and imagines a woman confessing her infidelity (5.427–32). It should be noted that Bloom actually proposes the idea of the mass as an opiate during this section: “Good idea the Latin. Stupefies them first” (5.350–51) and sees the communicants as walking with “blind masks” (5.353) to take communion.[5]

What does this add up to? For Stephen (and probably for Mulligan, whose “Ballad of Joking Jesus” is showcased in several sections), religion is a source of creative energy if not comfort. For Bloom, it’s a source of mild interest. For none of them is it actually a sedative or distraction from the true woes of the world. But perhaps other things are—for example, Bloom ignores the gravity of the service to think about sex. While walking, he meets M’Coy, who is so wrapped up in preparing for a trip to the races that he will miss Paddy Dignam’s funeral (5.169–73). In another scene, Bloom calculates the amount of porter a local businessman must have sold in order to make a million pounds (answer: about 15 million gallons)—a lot of porter, and another common addiction (5.304–12). Bloom muses on drugs as well—cigars have “a cooling effect. Narcotic” (5.272), and the Chinese might prefer “an ounce of opium” (5.327) to learning about Christianity. All these things (sex, drugs, gambling) are in our modern time are commonly understood as things that one can become addicted to, which is to say that they can certainly be so distracting as to take one away from the duties of one’s life.

The message here is difficult to tease out, and of course different readers will draw different conclusions. Is Joyce suggesting that religion is problematic, but other things are problematic too? That “worldly” things like sex and gambling prove more of an opiate than religion? That somehow the removal of a deity from religion causes it to become one more distraction like any other? Any of the nice moral summaries I come up with sound pat, and I’m not convinced that Joyce actually believed any of them, since he notoriously indulged in both drink and sex himself (see for example Chiasson 2014). Ultimately there’s not an easy answer here, perhaps because there’s no author trying to pass judgment—although I’ve used the word “addiction” in the preceding paragraph, Joyce wouldn’t have, even were he alive today. This is just life—sometimes some things blind us to other things that are going on; preoccupied, we find ourselves unable to interact with every encounter the way that we should. In other words, perhaps everyone is an eater of lotuses.[6]

Notes

[1] As noted by (I’m sorry) Christopher Hitchens, the repeal of this law was opposed by, among others, Mother Theresa herself. (He noted this in several places; see for example his letter to the New York Review of Books here.) Also, I note from her Wikipedia page that she is now The Blessed Theresa of Calcutta, M.C., which is annoying because she’s from Macedonia.

[2] I’m not prepared to walk you through the mythology here. I suggest a reading of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. It’s a good book. Or, the relevant reference, as summarized in Portrait:

Lucifer, we are told, was a son of the morning, a radiant and mighty angel; yet he fell: he fell and there fell with him a third part of the host of heaven: he fell and was hurled with his rebellious angels into hell. What his sin was we cannot say. Theologians consider that it was the sin of pride, the sinful thought conceived in an instant: non serviam: I will not serve. That instant was his ruin. (126)

[3] “Easter duty” refers to “the obligation to receive Holy Communion at least at Easter time . . .” (Catholic Essentials website, quoting “A Catholic Dictionary, 1951”; link below). Receiving communion requires that one have confessed first as well, so Stephen’s mother is essentially requesting him to go through the whole ceremonial shebang. See http://catholicessentials.net/easterduty.htm.

[4] Bloom later comments that Christianity is “more interesting if you understood what it was all about” (5.423–24). It’s hard to know how to take the INRI remarks in view of this.

[5] It’s worth pointing out that Bloom’s attitude towards Judaism is typically more reverent—and tinged with remembrances of his father. See for example 7.206–13: “Poor papa with his hagadah book, reading backwards with his finger to me. Pessach. Next year in Jerusalem. Dear, O dear! All that long business about that brought us out of the land of Egypt and into the house of bondage Alleluia. Shema Israel Adonai Elohenu. No, that’s the other. Then the twelve brothers, Jacob’s sons. And then the lamb and the cat and the dog and the stick and the water and the butcher. And then the angel of death kills the butcher and he kills the ox and the dog kills the cat. Sounds a bit silly till you come to look into it well. Justice it means but it’s everybody eating everyone else. That’s what life is after all.” Sharp readers will note this is as slightly wrong as the earlier INRI (it’s not “into the house of bondage”), which certainly leads to more questions. However, the topic of Bloom’s (putative) Judaism exceeds this essay, so I will return to it at a later time.

[6] Having spent my past week hanging out with a bunch of actors, I feel pressed to add something about the performativity of the mass scene—the way in which the priest seems to be moving through a series of steps (suggested by him reading things off cards and the like) rather than truly engaged in the service. So, too, one could ask if the predictable actions of the parishioners are meant to suggest members of an audience, or even of a Greek chorus, performing some kind of specific role. But no space for that here. Perhaps another time.

References

Catholic Essentials. “Easter Duty.” 2008. http://catholicessentials.net/easterduty.htm.

Chiasson, Dan. “ ‘Ulysses’ and the Moral Right to Pleasure.” The New Yorker, 16 June 2014: http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/ulysses-and-the-moral-right-to-pleasure.

Hitchens, Christopher. “Mother Theresa.” The New York Review of Books, 19 December 1996: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1996/dec/19/mother-teresa/.

Joyce, James. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Edited with an Introduction and Notes by Seamus Deane. New York: Penguin Books, 1992.

Mankind is Something to be Overcome: A Review of Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer poster. Via.

Somewhat to my surprise, since I’d already seen a movie this year, I found myself seeing Snowpiercer this past weekend. I am still not sure what to make of it; it’s a hodge-podge. The film is based on a French comic book (Le Transpierceneige, created by Jacques Lob and Benjamin Legrand), directed by Korean director Bong Joon-ho, produced by Korean producer Park Chan-wook, (among others), filmed in a studio in the Czech Republic with glacial shots done in Austria, starring a cast of mostly quite famous American and British actors with a few Korean faces thrown in for good measure—names you might recognize include Chris Evans[0], Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, and John Hurt. If you’re into Korean films, you’ll recognize some of those actors as well–Song Kang-ho is kind of a big deal. Or if you’re face blind it will all be kind of a weird mishmash to you. Sorry.

Let’s go to the synopsis. Warning, this review contains spoilers for basically every major plot point.

The film kicks off in the rearmost compartment of a train. Following an attempt to stop global warming around 2014, the last remnants of humanity are crammed onto a high-speed train that circles the globe at a rate of once per year. After eighteen years of this, Curtis (Evans) has had enough; after watching an unidentified woman in a yellow jacket take two of the tail car’s children for unknown purposes, he decides it is time to launch a revolution. Accompanied by his gang of misfits, including an 18-year old kid named Edgar[1], an old man with only one arm and one leg named Gilliam, an angry black woman named Tanya (mother to one of the taken children, Timmy), a sad and wild-haired man named Andrew who has one arm (father to the other taken kid), and a sassy tattooed martial artist called Grey, they kill a bunch of the guards and manage to burst into the prison car where they release Namgoong Minsoo, designer of the locks on the train car doors. They offer him drugs (a solid industrial waste product called Kronol) in exchange for him opening the doors on the way to the engine.

As an aside, it seems weird to have a) have the prison car between the tail and the rest of the train, and b) have the guy who designed the locks in prison. If the prisoners are all in suspended animation, it’s a shorter trip for the guards if the “economy class” car is before the prison. And wouldn’t you want to keep the lock designer happy to prevent him doing EXACTLY WHAT HE IS ABOUT TO DO?

Anyway, Namgoong lets his daughter (Yona) out of another cell and they agree to head for the front of the train, although Namgoong makes it clear that this isn’t his first choice. A few cars later, after discovering what goes into the protein blocks (hint: not the stolen children, as I initially assumed), they get into a long and bloody battle with axe-wielding guards in scary knit balaclavas. The cinematography here is really great—the train goes through a tunnel, giving the director an excuse to shoot in “night vision” as well as regular light, and the fight choreography is similar to the hammer scene from Oldboy.[2] At the end of the fight, Curtis chooses to let Edgar die in order to capture Minister Mason, who is apparently the only government official on the train and who acts as a go-between from “the people” to Wilford (the engineer/train owner). There are several interesting set pieces as they continue to advance up the train, but I don’t really want to summarize everything. The short version is that it is repeatedly impressed upon them that the train is a closed ecosystem—like the biosphere experiment—and balance must be maintained. A bunch of Cutris’s friends die, because that’s what happens in ensemble films with multi-racial casts. And then, just like that, the survivors (Curtis, Namgoong, and Yona) are outside Wilford’s (played by the amazing/creepy Ed Harris) door.

Let’s talk about Wilford for a minute. His name is very interesting to me—a combination of “will,” which brings to mind all kinds of Nietzschean imagery (the will to power, i.e. Nietzsche’s conception of ambition, whatever it is that drives humans to be all they can be), and “Ford,” which brings us around to “Fordism,” which is either a clever way of expanding the market for your product by bringing your workers into the middle class or a truly diabolical way to keep your workers impoverished by encouraging them to buy the very product that they’re making (further separating them from the means of production as you go) and convincing them it’s all their idea.[3] Having become an overman[4], Wilford is not interested (as Zarathustara was) in educating the people about overcoming man (or Christianity, I guess). Instead, Wilford has recreated the world within the train, and it’s a peculiarly Calvinist one he’s come up with. As has been reinforced throughout the film, people are born into a role and remain there until they die.[5] Everything that happens on the train is essentially under his absolute control.

At this point, the revelation that Curtis’s little revolution was stage-managed by Wilford should come as no surprise to the viewer. Curtis gets, in a short span of time, offered the opportunity to take over for Wilford (because he’s also an overman, I guess, or because Wilford likes the cut of Curtis’s jib or something), and he finds out what has happened to the missing children (hint: the train is running out of pieces). The camera pulls back a bit and gives Chris Evans a chance to really ACT. Curtis has eaten babies, seen his friends die, seen children put into small compartments to perform questionable feats of engineering. . . it has been a rough couple of days. And then, suddenly, we are reminded that Namgoong and his daughter are still in the hall outside Wilford’s room, and Namgoong is planning to use the Kronol to blow a hole in the side of the train to escape through.[6]

So here we have a choice presented to our hero. Side with the power, the authority, the DEITY of the train, or side with the tiny, crazy, chaotic element against the authority and all it stands for. On the one hand, a dictatorship is not a great way to live, but they are surviving under Wilford’s leadership, and arguably his choices are. . . at least somewhat necessary. On the other hand, they’re not really living, sitting in darkened bunks day after day as the world clicks by under their feet—the world they inhabit is not one that affords them access to the full spectrum of human emotions and experiences.[7] And—well, live free or die hard, baby.

Curtis of course makes the choice to choose anarchy instead of autocracy, and he and Namgoong huddle together to protect Yuna and Timmy (remember Timmy?) from the explosion. The train derails, killing (probably) everyone except the kids.[8] A few minutes later, we see Yuna and Timmy regain consciousness and step out into the snow, where they see. . . a polar bear, proof that life has, as Ian Malcolm put it, found a way.

Act, Chris, act! Earn that Oscar nod! Via.

Aside from the fact that if you are seventeen years old and have lived on a train all your life, you are probably unprepared to deal with the realities of meeting a polar bear in the wild, what does this ending actually suggest to us? Of course, opposing autocracy is portrayed as a brave and bold move, but the result is not so much anarchy or freedom as desolation. Even if the earth is now inhabitable again, two people do not a gene pool make. And of course the actions of the anarchists may have in some limited sense have aided a few people, but Curtis and Namgoong just killed an awful lot of people who were not given a vote on what they’d like to see happen. In a certain (utilitarian) sense, choosing autocracy here is really the better choice, since after becoming leader, Curtis could have made more controlled decisions to bring a more democratic system of government to the train, and even an end to the train ride.

Of course, fuck utilitarians, am I right? Philosophically speaking, the choice is really supposed to be a non-starter. Choose autocracy and you lose your humanity but keep your life; choose anarchy and you die a human death, because is there anything more human than one man standing alone against an incredible power that will totally kill him at the end of the act?[9]

One other way that the choice can be viewed is as a rejection of Calvinism and a turn towards Sartre’s theory of radical freedom. While Wilford’s world contains within it the imputation that all the inhumane stuff—the eating babies, killing people to maintain a balance in the environment, the protein blocks, the general terribleness—is all justified because that’s the way the world is. You are either elect (first class) or not elect (coach), and that’s your place in the world forever and ever amen, and then whatever baby eating you have to do is pre-ordained and therefore doesn’t affect you getting into heaven. On the other hand, Sartre saw freedom as an integral part of humanity, and, as the man says, “existence comes before essence” (itals. in original, Sartre, 1946). That is a fancy way of saying that by exercising choice, man creates himself, his life, his personage, his. . . destiny seems like an inappropriate word, so let’s say his life. Curtis, having been borne though the train like a leaf on a stream is now, finally, able to make one true choice. Perhaps the first choice of his life.

What I was really struck by was the total uselessness of it all. The civilization of the train, if you can call it that, doesn’t give any reasons why human beings are worth saving at all. At best, they are a summary of the terrible, petty, terrified parts of human nature, all huddled together in a desperate attempt to survive, going nowhere fast. Maybe I’ve been watching too many episodes of Cosmos, but what really is the point of human survival? Ultimately it means nothing; the sun will go nova in a billion years and nothing of us will remain.
Let me put it another way. I have a dear friend who once told me she found that thought comforting—no matter how badly humans fuck up the planet, fuck up each other, in the longest of long runs, it’s totally irrelevant. Saving my own incredibly present fear of death, I can see her point. Watching this film, I was reminded of the futility of the struggle, and found myself asking, “Why wait?”

Was it a good film? I don’t know. You should see it though. Unless you just read my review, in which case I totally spoiled the ending for you. Sorry about that.[10]

Notes

[0] He was in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, which I think I actually saw. Here, he’s made up in the way that Hollywood makes up very attractive men to be somewhat grubby and broody, so you know it’s a Serious Film with Thinking and Implications and whatnot.

[1] It is a little disconcerting to hear that name on the screen, when everyone knows that Edgar is the big black mop of a dog who is currently sleeping on the floor behind me as I write this.

[2] The original Oldboy, not the pointless American remake.

[3] Like many things, it depends on who you ask. What Ford (or Freud, as he occasionally allowed himself to be called) actually did was pay his workers enough that they could buy the cars they were producing.

[4] Alternative translations are a bit loaded—Superman or Übermensch. Smooth rhetoric aside, I do think that from the way the character is portrayed and from a lot of little details I don’t have space to discuss, we are meant to understand him as an overman. However, beyond that, he didn’t get the name by accident, you know?

[5] And then what? Not covered in the film. Presumably fed to the fish.

[6] There is of course debate about whether or not the endless winter has settled down enough for this to be a tenable plan. Namgoong claims that a plane wreck he has been looking at is increasingly uncovered each year—apparently there are no climate scientists onboard who might confirm or deny this assertion. Having lived through many a Wisconsin winter, I can say I sided with Namgoong, but also he could have found a better place to put his plan into action than when cruising through the mountains.

[7] It does give them the opportunity to eat things like babies and legs though. So there’s that.

[8] I felt very sad at this point that the amazing aquarium that they all walked through probably got smashed and all the fish died.

[9] Hint: Last time, he got nailed to a tree. Or, as I put it to my friends, you don’t get to be a Christ figure and die a nice death at home of old age surrounded by your family and children.

[10] I just wanted to note that every time I typed “autocracy” during the writing of this review, I typed “autocrazy” instead. That seems appropriate.

References

Sartre, Jean Paul. “Existentialism is a Humanism.” 1946. Marxists.org reprint, 2005. http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/sartre/works/exist/sartre.htm

Viroqua Triathlon Race Report

Ok, Viroqua Triathlon race report. I’m going to try to keep this short because I’m pretty tired and I got stuff to do. Got up at 4:30 in the morning (a time I’ve concluded should not exist) after a few hours of fitful sleep, ate a poptart, and dragged out of the house by a few minutes after 5. I’m glad I took extra time to pack everything up and put my bike in the car the night before, because triathlon requires so much gear and preparation that trying to do it at 4:30 would have led to me driving off sans helmet or something terrible like that. I had actually planned to leave the house by 5, assuming the drive was 90 min, so I would arrive by 6:30. The drive was actually longer than that, and I had to stop for gas. It got a bit nerve-wracking, actually. I was just pulling into the outskirts of Viroqua (a town with a “watch out for horse-drawn buggies sign on the main drag, as well as actual horse-drawn buggies galloping along) at 7.

At 7:10, I arrived at the pool. There were a few bike racks set up, so I dropped my bike off and ran inside, where no one seemed too concerned that we were 20 minutes away from the beginning of the race. Packet pickup went quickly enough, and I changed into my swimsuit and set up my transition area in about 15 minutes total for all three activities, so that by 7:28 I was standing on the deck of the pool. I was in the first wave of swimmers (at the time, I assumed that this was because I registered super early so I couldn’t convince myself not to do the tri. More on this later though.). We were assigned two to a lane in a really nice six-lane pool. I was in lane 1, and it was really wide—we probably could have gotten another person or two in without issue. The way the pool was set up, there was a wall with an opening in it that led to a shallower area (probably for water aerobics), and consequently the pool was super warm, at least in comparison to the pool I usually swim in, which is kept at 81 degrees. So everyone gets in the pool, the lane counter explains how everything works—eighteen laps, I’ll signal when you have one more using a kickboard and then signal when you’re done, have fun and good luck. I was a little nervous, suddenly feeling unsure about decisions like wearing my earplugs in the pool, wearing my watch, signing up for a tri when I’m obviously not a triathlete. . . . Pretty normal pre-race jitters, I guess. A few minutes after 7:30, the race director got on the microphone and talked and then we started.

Because of the nerves, I was feeling out of breath by the time I got to the end of the first lap (unusual for me). I guess I was probably pushing the pace, and also trying to do flip turns, which is always a bit stressful in a new pool. I consciously slowed myself down, focused on my stroke, and decided to stop with the flip turns for the time being. Things improved. By the time I hit nine laps, I was really moving—I passed the guy who was sharing the lane with me. I felt like I was flying, super aerodynamic despite the watch. I finished the swim in 17:24.3, the second fastest swim split!

Transition was run out the door and down to the transition area, dry off as fast as you can, regret the choice to try to put on tight spandex tri shorts over wet legs, hop about like an idiot, make sure your ear plugs get into your bag of stuff, grab the bike, duck underneath the rack of bikes because I don’t really know what the hell I’m doing, and sprint for the exit. 2:53.8. I think this is comparable to other tris I’ve done. (Actually, I just looked it up, my first transition in my first tri was 5:05, but I had to take off my wetsuit and I dropped my chip and all kinds of terrible stuff. I apparently didn’t blog about my other tris.)

The bike course was really pretty amazing. The first five miles were mostly downhill with a few rolling hills I was able to get up without issue. I knew ahead of time that there were only two really serious hills on the course. The first came a bit before mile 10, I think. According to MapMyRide, it was a 4.3% grade, which is pretty steep but not as steep as the hill I do hill repeats on. I knew it was going to be trouble when I was listening to the RD give me a description of the bike route, and when he said, “And then you turn left on Helgerson Road,” some guy standing behind me said, “Oh man, we have to go up Helgerson Hill?” Hills that have names are not fun hills. In person, it seemed very, very steep, that kind of lung-sucking climb that makes you grab the handlebars of your bike and bend over and just gasp to try to get through it. Sitting up straight is a better strategy though. Also, as I slowed down, a gigantic cloud of bugs came to attack me. Awesome. The second hill was longer but less of a climb (1.9%) and I went up it without any issues—it was actually almost fun compared to the first hill. As I was just getting to the base of the second big hill, some of the first sprint racers started to catch me. One asked if I was in the Oly. I said yes and that it was nice to see someone, since I’d been basically alone for the last ten miles. She mentioned that there were only six people doing the Oly, and only two women (so that was why I was in the first wave). I knew the other woman had gotten out of transition a few seconds before I did and was really fast on the bike, since I hadn’t seen her since. So at that point I knew I was basically racing for second place. Maybe she would have a bad run and I’d be able to catch her.

The best part of the bike was going past all these little small-town Wisconsin buildings. I passed a very small white clapboard church with a steeple, and a small graveyard behind it. It was like biking through Our Town. As I crested a hill, a flagger shouted to me, “Don’t worry, it gets better from here!” and then added, as I was almost out of earshot, “And then it gets worse again.” An accurate description of life. I finished the bike in 1:23:31, a pace of 16.8 mph if you believe their course measurement of 23.41 mi, and slightly slower if you go with the 20 miles my watch measured it at. Yes.

T2: Put on your shoes, blow your nose, remember to take off your helmet and go. 1:48.5.

As I was coming over the last small hill on the bike course, I’d seen the lead woman who was quickly overtaking the kid I’d shared a lane with (the run shared the same road as the bike course). She was really moving, so I knew I wasn’t going to catch her. At the same time, I’d passed another woman who was doing the Oly (turns out there were more than two of us) at around a mile into my run, so I had to push it a little to make sure I didn’t get caught myself. The run was a 10k on an out-and-back course—it ran almost entirely downhill to the turnaround, and almost entirely uphill back to the finish. I feel like I’ve learned two things from ultra running—the first is, always stop to fix small problems before they become big ones. And the second is, run with the terrain when you can, because it will totally turn against you. So I did the first 5k really fast, I think I was running 8:30s. The turnaround was a guy sitting on the bed of his pickup with his puppy. I got a glass of water from him and headed back. I passed the other runner who was on her way out to the turnaround and we attempted to high five. I cheered on a lot of the last few bikers and told them they were only a mile from the finish, and they cheered for me. It was cool and overcast, and the rolling fields and small houses made it feel like a Grant Wood painting. I slowed down to a 9:10ish pace on the way back because of the hills. With about one mile to go, my legs were pretty done. But then I got a little more downhill and made a respectable finish. Run time was 55:14; total time was 2:40:52, well below my goal of three hours.

My awesome post-race selfie, for those (Mom) who didn't see it on FB.

My awesome post-race selfie, for those (Mom) who didn’t see it on FB.


It turns out that there were in fact seven athletes who competed in the Olympic tri, five women and two men. The lead guy was out of the pool and out of transition before I managed to get to transition, so I never even saw him—he finished in 1:59:xx. The last woman, who must have been so far back I don’t even know if she’d started the run by the time I finished it came in at 4:04:xx. The age groups wound up a bit weird (why was it Men 20–29 but Women 26–35?), but I was the only woman in my age group and consequently got a medal. Overall I finished fourth of seven participants and the second woman of five. The woman who beat me did the swim in almost exactly the same time (she was a few seconds slower than I was), then did the bike in 1:11 and the run in 44.5 minutes. So clearly there’s something to aspire to.

And that’s it. I had a sweet roll from a local bakery, put my stuff back in the car, and drove to Green Lake for my husband’s family’s family reunion. Conclusions: All the time I spent doing 5×100 at I-want-to-die speed in the pool paid off. I should have spent more time pushing myself to go faster on the bike and working on hills instead of just training for distance. Running track has helped me keep my speed decent, despite the high training volume; my legs felt good and I think I would have been faster in a non-tri race. I can’t say I was sorry to get up this morning and “only” run without having to do a brick (a workout where one does at least two of the three tri disciplines), but I’ll miss some of the variety of triathlon training as I transition to getting ready for my last big race of the year, the Antelope Island 50k. Of which more later, because this “short” race report is now suddenly 1,800 words and I need to go make myself some dinner and maybe walk the dogs. Thanks for reading!

Episode 4: Calypso

20140704_100403-EFFECTSLeopold Bloom. Let’s talk about him. Let’s talk about how awesome he is.

Okay, first I have a confession to make. When I first read Ulysses, I did not think that Leopold Bloom was that awesome. I thought that he was kind of a failure. Now I am convinced he is one of the best characters in literature. I was I think 20 or 21 when I first read this book. Now I’m 31. Could be me that has changed.

I will give you a little warning here: I’m going to talk a lot about Bloom, and mention some things that are alluded to here but not really revealed until later on, as well as some things that are just flat out not mentioned until later on.[1]

Who is Leopold Bloom? Is he someone special, or “just this guy, you know?” (Adams, 153). Bloom is often referred to as an “everyman,” but I think this is a disservice to him. Bloom is a complicated fellow, a wanderer on the streets of Dublin, a man who may in fact become a hero. Bloom is our Odysseus.

We meet Leopold Bloom in his kitchen. He is up early; later today he will be attending a funeral for a friend of his, but now he is preparing breakfast for his wife, Molly[2]. He talks to his cat[3] while making Molly’s toast, and eventually decides to walk around the corner to buy a kidney for breakfast.[4] At the butcher’s shop, he ogles the maid from next door. When he gets home, he brings Molly her tea and the post, and they chat about various subjects. Although he nearly burns the kidney, he manages to save it and has his breakfast while reading Milly’s (his 15-year old daughter) letter to him. After eating, he steps out into the garden; there has been a drought, and the plants are overgrown[5] and in need of tending. Then, in one of the scenes that got the book marked as obscene, uses the jakes.

We actually learn a lot about Bloom from this day-in-the-life section. We see that he cares for Molly, but get a sense that something strange is going on between them (for example, he notices Molly has hidden one of the letters she received at 4.308). He thinks about their son, Rudy, who was stillborn (see 4.418–20), and we get the feeling he is still sad about it. We also see that he’s a curious person, and he seems like someone who has spent a lot of time reading, although his hypotheses are not always correct (for example, his discussion of cats’ whiskers at 4.39–42). Bloom also thinks about mortality, especially in light of the funeral of Paddy Dignam that he is shortly to attend—he’s genuinely sad about the death. Bloom is not an educated person the way Stephen Dedalus is with his command of several languages, but he’s interested and engaged in the world around him. We actually see him engaging in some interesting Orientalist fantasizing about being “[s]omewhere in the east” (4.84):

Wander through awned streets. Turbaned faces going by. Dark caves of carpet shops, big man, Turko the terrible, seated crosslegged, smoking a coiled pipe. Cries of sellers in the streets. Drink water scented with fennel, sherbet. Dander along all day. Might meet a robber or two. Well, meet him. Getting on to sundown. The shadows of mosques among the pillars: priest with a scroll rolled up. A shiver of the trees, signal, the evening wind. I pass on. Fading gold sky. A mother watches me from her doorway. She calls her children home in their dark language. High wall beyond strings twanged. Night sky, moon, violet, colour of Molly’s new garters. Strings. Listen. A girl playing one of those instruments what do you call them: dulcimers. I pass.

Probably not a bit like it really. Kind of stuff you read . . . (4.88–99)

There are so many interesting things here I can’t spend time on all of it, but in brief: the “cries of sellers in the streets” mirrors Stephen’s note that God is “[a] shout in the street” (2.386) from episode 2. The language itself conjures up very beautiful images. And finally, the rejection at the end of the passage means that Bloom has more insight into the truth of (i.e., the lie behind) Orientalism than Buck Mulligan.

One of the things this episode really shows is how effective stream-of-consciousness narration can be. Without necessarily understanding all of the stuff I’ve mentioned above, we are allowed to perceive many of Bloom’s thoughts that prepare us for the later truths. For example, we see him notice the missing letter, but don’t grasp immediately why it’s significant. We understand that he had a stillborn child, but don’t immediately grasp the impact this has had on his life. These small points prepare us for the revelations about Bloom’s life in the rest of the novel, as well as symbolically setting up certain themes. Narratively, Joyce manages to accomplish all of this without having to actually tell us anything more than what a normal morning at the Bloom household looks like—a neat trick.

The other important theme introduced here is that of metempsychosis, or the transmigration of souls. As Bloom explains, “Reincarnation, that’s the word . . . . Some people believe . . . that we can go on living in another body after death, that we lived before. They call it reincarnation. That we all lived before on the earth thousands of years ago or some other planet . . . . Metempsychosis . . . is what the ancient Greeks call it. They used to believe you could be changed into an animal or a tree, for instance” (4.361–86). Bloom is actually off a little bit here at the beginning—metempsychosis is as he says at the end, “the passing of the soul at death into another body either human or animal” (Merriam Webster, s.v. “metempsychosis,” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/metempsychosis), whereas reincarnation is “the idea or belief that people are born again with a different body after death” (Ibid., s.v. “reincarnation,” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/reincarnation).[6] Recalling that we are dealing with a work that has strong thematic ties to the Odyssey, this theme may begin to make sense.

Next time: Sex, drugs, and religion, what fun.

Notes

[1] For those wondering about how these essays are being constructed, I am constantly wrestling with the issue of discussing the episodes qua episodes versus discussing the episodes qua the book as a whole. Here, I’m going to do the latter a little bit.

[2] Short for Marion, née Marion Tweedy.

[3] For a number of reasons, I really enjoy the little moments with animals that turn up in Joyce’s works. Stephen watching a dog running on the beach in the previous section, Bloom’s interactions with the cat—all of them strike me as very well observed. In addition, for historical reasons, it’s interesting to me to see how people interacted with their pets at the beginning of the twentieth century.

[4] In what may be the first of many reminiscences, I want to note that in honor of this scene, my father once went out and got himself a pork kidney and cooked it while my mother was out on call. Although my parents didn’t keep strict kosher, they did eschew pork products; as my father told the story, Mom wasn’t pleased when she got home and found out about the kidney. (To be fair, this may have had something to do with my father’s chronic inability to remember to wash the pans he’d used after he cooked, rather than the kidney qua kidney.)

[5] As any English professor worth her salt will tell you, the overgrown gardens are a metaphor for the relationship problems between Molly and Leopold.

[6] People being slightly off on things they say is another theme in the book—for example, Bloom occasionally misquotes a piece of an aria as “Volglio e non vorrei” (I want to and I wouldn’t like to) rather than “Vorrei e non vorrei” (I’d like to and I wouldn’t like to).

References

Adams, Douglas. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. In The More Than Complete Hitchhiker’s Guide. Stamford, CT: Longmeadow Press, 1993.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 348 other followers