high-minded drivel

high-minded (adjective) - refined; cultured; particularly civilized. drivel (noun) - senseless talk; nonsense.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Guilt and validation, please, in the eggshell finish

Now that the summer vacationing is concluded for the year, things have settled back into the typical pattern.  Running in the morning, working during the day, working on the house or taking care of other tasky things in the evening, cooking a meal when possible, and reading before bed.  Then, after pretending to go to bed, slipping out of the house in my leotard and fighting crime through the night.

How am I ever going to know which color to choose?
This week was a bit different than the normal week in that Monday was Labor Day, so instead of going into the office I stayed at home, and Nate and I got some painting and trim work done on the porch.  The decking on the porch was a bit rotted, and rather beaten up in general, so we tore it off and have since replaced it with new cedar decking, as well as new columns to support the roof.  While we're not going to paint the cedar, we did paint the new columns and the ceiling.  Of course, any time there is a painting job at hand, some decisions are necessary about which color paint to use.  For our primary color, we chose Roycroft Vellum.  You could say that Roycroft Vellum could just as easily be called "cream," but that would be neglecting the many other slight variations on a basic cream color that you can purchase from Sherwin Williams.  Allegorically speaking, Sherwin Williams has a really, really, really large box of Crayolas.  And the crayons are breeding.

For the accent color we chose Craftsman Brown.  Or as Nate likes to call it, Inoffensive Brown.  But seriously, what exactly is "Craftsman Brown" supposed to describe?  Is Craftsman a generic term, or is it the name of a specific personage?  You know, like Craftsman Brown is Encyclopedia Brown's blue collar brother, or Farmer Brown's wayward son who didn't want to raise corn anymore.  Is there an Unskilled Laborer Brown as well?  Who comes up with these names?  Was the color Craftsman Brown inspired by something in particular, or were the Sherwin Williams folks just lightening/darkening a basic brown by different degrees and dubbing the resulting colors with the first word that came to mind?  If I had a microphone, and a trenchcoat, and a cameraman, and I saw a Sherwin Williams executive climbing out of the back seat of a nice car with tinted windows to make their way into an office building, I would totally harass them with these questions.

The thing is, if you were to mix Roycroft Vellum and Craftsman Brown, you wouldn't simply get Roycroft Brown, or Craftsman Vellum.  No, instead you'd get "Morning Latte" or something like that.  Actually, Morning Latte is far too descriptive.  It would be something more puzzling, like "Farmhouse Simplicity."

In addition to our Labor Day labor of painting, I spent a good portion of the day relaxing and reading.  Unlike holidays such as Thanksgiving, or Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, or Memorial Day, where you have the day off work but should really give some thought to the reason for having the day off, Labor Day is a holiday where the whole point is to rest from your labors.  Therefore, time on the couch with A Song of Ice and Fire is guilt-free.

When you play the game of thrones,
you win, or you drivel
Although I say that reading is guilt-free on Labor Day, I struggle with the possibility that reading in general is a passive, mindless, non-self improving indulgence.  Reading has a better reputation than television, but is it earned?  It is any more "admirable" to come home from work, plop down on the couch, and crack open a fantasy novel than it is to flip on the TV?  Some may say "yes" because reading theoretically requires more mental engagement, a more active imagination, and the effort of turning pages.  But it is still just entertainment at heart, where you can be the recipient of a story being told with little effort put forth.

Reading a novel seems just as easy to me as watching television, but I suppose there is a real difference between a novel, even a poor one, and a poor television show.  While an episode of Battlestar Galactica may be roughly equivalent to a chapter of A Song of Ice and Fire, the same cannot be said for A Song of Ice and Fire and Wipeout.  The difference is in how much thought occurs.  In a good novel or show, you have to be mindful of character development, and foreshadowing, and underlying messages.  But having said that, it is possible to read through A Song of Ice and Fire and not think too hard, basically allowing yourself to slip into a zone where little mental engagement occurs.  Case in point: Yesterday I was reading a bit of A Storm of Swords when I came to a scene where one character is telling another character a story.  The story being told is supposed to serve as a parallel to events that occurred with the family of the listening character while also providing insights to the reader about the larger plot of the book.  The character, who is a boy, does not pick up on the parallel between the symbolic figures in the story being told and his own family members, so the character telling the story keeps asking "Are you sure your father never told you this story before?"  Of course, this prodding from one character to the other also serves as the author Martin's way of prompting the reader to pick up on the insights being offered, making it a little easier for the reader by saying "See?  See?  Are you understanding what I'm telling you here?"  Now, this is my second time reading the whole A Song of Ice and Fire series, and this scene does not ring any bells from my first reading.  So yea, despite how painfully obvious it seems this time around, I'm pretty sure I glossed over this chapter last time, and instead of picking up on the insights as Martin intended (and tried to highlight), I must have just read it thinking "Hmm, that's a nice story this character is telling!"  Not much mental engagement.

Thus far I've really been talking about fictional books and shows, but there are obviously also books and shows from which you can learn history, or science, or whatever.  And while it is perhaps more admirable to read a novel than to watch a television show, it is even more admirable to read some book that educates you, because it can potentially teach you things that will make life more rewarding or more interesting.  Sure, reading A Song of Ice and Fire may impact my life by causing me to use phrases like "must needs" and think in terms of jousting, but it won't necessarily tell me about how the financial markets can hope to turn around, or even how to make an omelette.  Don't get me wrong - I think that even a novel can hold great value for educating us about life, but it is still easy entertainment more often than not.

Not a dilemma
One recent read for me was The Omnivore's Dilemma, and this book falls into the non-fiction category.  The Omnivore's Dilemma is all about the production of food, the concepts of "organic" food and "locally sourced" food, sustainability, and other questions surrounding what we eat, including the debates about veganism and the ethical treatment of animals.  This is a book that clearly could sway your mindset and change the way you live day-to-day.  But before getting into all that, let me first say that you can also read this type of book without truly becoming mentally engaged.  Fortunately, this did not happen for me, but for a brief second I thought it might have happened when someone posed the question "So, what is the omnivore's dilemma?"  A good answer was not at the tip of my tongue, but I saved face and was able to come up with a reasonable summary (an omnivore has lots of choices available, unlike a carnivore that limits itself to just a few types of prey, but variety of choice also makes it more necessary to think about which foods to select).

That brief brain fart I experienced reminded me of a time in high school when I had to deliver a book report to my English teacher.  The book I had read was Fools Die by Mario Puzo, and as I discussed the book with my teacher, he asked me "So, what does the title mean?"  And unlike with The Omnivore's Dilemma, I couldn't come up with a good explanation.  Today I would probably say something about how the story features all these characters who rise and fall, and how they succumb to the harsh world, and how the main character is a survivor, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's happy, or something like that.  Instead, I said something like "Well, there are all these characters, and they end up dying, and the main character says 'Fools die,' and....uh....for some reason the one character kept saying 'Are you sure your father hasn't told you this before,' and uh....."

Probably the real answer is just that Mario Puzo thought it sounded like a cool thing to say.

Anyway, this did not happen with The Omnivore's Dilemma, and it was convincing enough that I decided to try doing some grocery shopping from local markets and such where you can get locally grown food.  The first thing you notice in one of these markets is that things are significantly more expensive.  So why shop there?  Well, for one thing you could argue that there is a cost to the environment when purchasing mass-produced food.  But a better argument, in my opinion, is simply that if you want to have these nice little markets in your neighborhood, then you have to give them some business, because otherwise they'll close.  So when shopping at a local market, it's probably best to just go in to see what they have available, and plan to buy things you want regardless of the price.

On my most recent trip to one of these community markets, the list of purchases looked like this:
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Peaches
  • Krema peanut butter
  • Dark red kidney beans (canned)
  • Colby cheese
  • Wasa bread
These few purchases took me to a bill of about $20, but the local peaches are really good, and the local lettuce was really fresh.  Strong qualities on which to base a buying decision!  As for the beans, you can check them out here, and see how wholesome and neighborly the website is compared to a corporate behemoth like this, what with their corporatey flash animation and their corporatey Twitter account.  Nice try B&G Foods!  You'll have to do better than invoking the name of a famed teenage girl martyr to get me to buy your can of beans!  Now away with you!!

Mmm, so creamy, so self-righteous
Of course, the best part of shopping at the local market is that you end up finding neat items that you don't find at the major grocery stores.  Such is the case with the Krema peanut butter and the colby cheese.  Krema is a Columbus business, and I've run past their little shop on Goodale Boulevard many times, so it's really cool to buy their jar of peanut butter at the store and know that I'm supporting them (at the same time that I'm supporting the local market that sells the product).  The colby cheese is also an item that you probably wouldn't find in the Giant Eagle or Kroger, as it is produced on a small scale by a farm in Minerva, Ohio.  It's like most other colby cheeses, but friendlier, and friendly kind of tastes better.  In fact, I've taken to calling it by the name "Minerva cheese," as it seems more personal.  It's not just "colby cheese."  It's "Minerva cheese."

Which, I might add, would be a great name for whenever Sherwin Williams needs to go one shade lighter than Roycroft Vellum.

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