good

The house is almost out of food, but my feet hurt too much to grocery shop and it’s too hot to cook anyway, so here I am, writing, prolonging the inevitable.

I had a good week. My car, which had been making a sound that concerned me, was discharged with a clean bill of health (and a mere thirty dollar bill) by my trusted mechanic. My partner and I watched through the new Netflix original show, GLOW, which we enjoyed immensely and recommend.

I planned every morning to get up early so I could make coffee and lunches and have enough time to sit on the couch and drink my coffee instead of heading directly to work…and I made this happen one whole time! Monday morning I had enough time to do all of the above, and to finish a short story by The New Yorker author Yiyun Li, from her stories collection Gold Boy, Emerald Girl. The experience was so lovely, so the rest of the week I continued to set alarms for 5:30, 5:45, 5:55, 6:00, 6:10, and 6:15, but, alas, my half-asleep self has always been a stubborn, brutish fiend. I hope someday to replicate the experience. Maybe when I’m forty.

The heat and humidity has once again turned my kitchen into a sauna, and my plants are loving it. Candice the Caladium seems to have new leaf growth every day, and my partner won’t stop exclaiming about the success I’ve had with my avocado plant. (Yes, it does work! Expecting homemade guacamole in approximately three to fifteen years.)  I keep having to incrementally raise the window blinds because I believe Candy and Avi are having a height competition. Finally, my ginger root decided to become a plant again, its only stimulus from my end being disuse.

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Candy
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Avi. Just decided on this name right now, if you couldn’t tell.
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Well she’s not named Blondie. Do I need pets?

 

It just started to thunder. I’m hoping the torrential rain sends a much-needed cool night our way. But right now, as the walkway floods, I’m enjoying the heavy sound of close thunder and fat rain.

boiling eggs

I am good at following directions. This has made me a teacher’s pet, an over-critical manager, and a passable cook. But following the letter of the law sometimes fails me, as it did today when I was boiling eggs.

I decided to try a new recipe for egg salad in an attempt to cut grocery costs (E. has expensive taste in lunch meat) and because it incorporated radishes, which sounded delightful. A few months ago I finally stumbled upon the best, most hassle-free, repeatable way to boil eggs perfectly, and I was excited because it was easy enough that I could add it to my [very small] collection of “recipes” I know by heart. (Although I must admit, all I remember is that it involves a steamer insert and the number thirteen.)

Fast forward to this evening. I noticed that the new egg salad recipe seemed a bit strange in how it said to prepare the eggs. I even thought the words, “This won’t work.” But directions are directions, and I followed the steps flawlessly. When it came time to peel the eggs, I went to roll the first one along the counter to break up the shell. The entire egg smashed beneath my hand, leaving a gooey, raw mess. I felt utterly betrayed. My partner ignored me as I yelled and cursed in the other room about how it wasn’t fair. Then I did something even stupider and tried peeling a second egg.

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Bottom: four of the six original eggs, round 2. Top: the replacement eggs, boiled according to my own judgment. Reflection: me angrily taking a picture.
I reboiled the remaining four and started afresh with two new ones. After recovering from my anger at the instructions, I am now only angry at myself. May this be a lesson to me, to listen to my better judgment and, for God’s sake, to memorize more basic recipes.

see

Occasionally, my friend and I take trips to garden centers together. Although we have yet to leave empty-handed, we mostly do it for the fun of browsing. We point out the things that move us, say why if we can, and the other joins in the movement.

During one of these trips he observed to me that the plants and flowers that catch my eye are very different from the ones that catch his. Different colors speak up, different forms stand out.

But this happens all the time. When I take a walk, as long as I’m not looking down (I’m prone to trip), certain things catch my eye that, based on my partner’s responses (or lack thereof), I know are not conspicuous or interesting to everyone.

I walked to work today and decided to remember some things I noticed on my way. Here are a few.

A squirrel eating a pinecone.

The cloudless sky.

A beautiful gate enclosing a shitty yard (a metaphor not lost on me).

Bricks and angles. 

The small weeds that grow in sidewalk cracks.

An old window on a collapsing house.

Chipped paint.

I don’t know why I notice the things I do, but it’s an interesting exercise nonetheless. What do you see? Why do you see it?

android

We sometimes hear stories of innocent suspects falsely confessing to crimes. They fail to get a lawyer in time and become entangled in probings and accusations until fact and fiction blur and their minds create a new reality for them – one in which they’re guilty.

People can experience this self-delusion in a less drastic way, as well. How many times have you stood in front of the mirror and told yourself you’re a strong, independent woman, when in reality you don’t earn enough to live alone and can barely dead lift fifty pounds? The idea is that if you say it enough, you’ll start to believe it.

It works with negative things, too. When people ask me how wedding planning is going, especially in terms of decorations, I have found myself repeating the mantra, “I have poor taste in design” (not because it’s true, but partly because I don’t enjoy decorating and am trying to slough the burden off onto another person, and partly because I want an excuse for not having gotten further along on this project), until I am now fully convinced that I’m the last person in the world who should be making decisions about my own wedding decor.

It’s especially easy to rewrite the self-esteems of children. Lasting damage can be caused even by simple suggestions. For example, if you imply to a child that everyone in the family is bad at math, you’ve given them reason to think they will be bad at math too, and it can make them expect failure. If this supposed obstacle is repeated to them often, math might seem too daunting of a task to bother overcoming at all. And that is how you end up with a lot of English majors.

With these things in mind, I would like to make a proposition regarding a well-loved character from a well-loved sci-fi show. A few years ago, Netflix graced us with the full body of Star Trek shows, including all seven seasons of The Next Generation. Being a Trekkie and infatuated with Commander William T. Riker from childhood, but bound by the restraints of cable, reruns, and bedtime, I was excited to finally see the episodes in order and in their entirety (and commercial-free!). My friend beat me to the punch and I ended up watching many episodes sporadically during his binge sessions; however, my partner and I started from the beginning last fall and are now on Season 6.

*Be advised: spoilers and extreme, unabashed geekiness of the philosophi-sci-fi variety to follow!*

There are certain TNG episodes that immediately get you excited (for example, Q episodes), bummed (Geordi episodes), or scared (Borg episodes). But nothing beats the realization that you’re about to experience a Data episode.

Lieutenant Commander Data is an android and the first artificially intelligent lifeform to become a Starfleet officer. He put himself through Starfleet Academy and over time earned his position as third in command aboard the starship Enterprise, where he holds the position of Chief Operations Officer. He was given human functions by his maker, as well as the ability to reprogram himself, i.e., to adapt to his surroundings. One of the very few things he incapable of is human emotion – a fact he reminds people of at the slightest provocation. Data makes attachments (read: friends) by growing accustomed to people’s presence and idiosyncrasies. He has sex. He, in a manner of speaking, reproduces. He mimics art and music and even laughter (sort of…), but he is not capable of experiencing or sharing the passions behind them. And in this one aspect Data falls hopelessly short of humanity.

Or so he is convinced.

I, however, am convinced that Data can – and does – feel.

In Season 4, Episode 3 (“Brothers”), Data finds out that his maker has built an emotion chip specifically for him, which will allow him to finally feel the human emotions he has wished to experience for himself his whole existence. This immediately becomes problematic for me. If he’s programmed to be human but is not given human emotions, is it also part of his programming to notice that lack and to strive to fill it as something that would make him complete? And if that is the case, in what way does this noticing-a-lack-and-striving-to-fill-it differ from desire, the essential human urge at the root of emotions like love, lust, and loneliness?

The beauty of a story built over the course of 178 episodes is that you really get to know the characters. And the beauty of this story also being something that you watch is that you can pick up on visual hints from the show which, in writing, would be implicit at best. You get to watch Data’s face as his maker offers him the emotion chip. And you get to watch his face when, in Jacob-and-Esau fashion, he finds out that his evil brother has duped their maker into giving it to him instead.

Did I simply impose that flicker of hope on Data’s face? Did I project his devastation? Maybe so. In the most recent episode we watched, Data asks his best friend, Geordi, whether his original poetry elicited an emotional response, and Geordi doesn’t answer right away. Data says, “Your hesitation suggests you are trying to protect my feelings. However, since I have none, I would prefer you to be honest.” After hearing him repeat this spiel over and over again over the course of the show, even to people who definitely know it well by now like Geordi, it begins to sound like self-delusion.

To be a human comprises what one does and what one feels; to be a robot comprises function without feeling, utility without self-consciousness. As an experiment, I asked Siri a few formulations of the same question.

 

What differs between Siri and Data is that Data is sentient. He’s alive and he knows it. He has thought about having human emotions; in fact, his pursuit of it consumes the majority of his free time (which is considerable, because he doesn’t need to eat or sleep). We often find him in his quarters painting or talking to his cat, Spot, or working on his Shakespearean acting skills or practicing his laugh.

One reason why Data episodes are so beloved in our household is because they’re extremely touching. Despite being rather stoic, my partner usually tears up during these episodes and expresses his love for the android. Are we touched because Data can’t experience love even though he is undeniably lovable? Are we sad because he can’t feel how tragic his story is? I, for one, am touched and sad because he has convinced himself that he cannot have the full human experience, when it is clear to those close to him that, despite all his automated claims to the contrary, he already experiences a variety of emotions: friendship, loyalty, amusement; desire, disappointment, isolation; and affection toward his cat.

friends

Last weekend my partner and I took our first camping trip of the year in Green Ridge State Forest. It was our first time staying at this camping area (we had originally intended to return to the magical Big Run State Park/Savage River State Forest we went to last September, about an hour west of Green Ridge, but it was supposed to be much colder there). Despite cool temperatures and some rain, we were able to enjoy fishing, hiking, a midday hammock nap, off-roading in my tiny but surprisingly adventurous Kia hatchback, and wildlife viewings.

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Polly the Kia got a well-deserved wash and vacuum after this excursion.

We paid for campsite use at the headquarters ($10/night), where two very lovely middle-aged women talked with us and helped us choose a site based on our interests and lack of four-wheel drive. We ended up at campsite #4, the north-most site in the forest and a short drive to some nice fishing spots, although if we ever return, we’ll opt for one of the more remote, forested sites farther south.

The first thing I did after unloading the car and setting up camp was walk the perimeter of the site to observe the nearby land, plants, and small creatures. Under a grove of pine trees, I found an eastern (red-spotted) newt. I had just recalled the other day how my cousins, sister, and I used to find dozens and dozens of eastern newts (although we always called them salamanders) in my grandmother’s yard growing up, until one day we couldn’t find them anymore. I hadn’t seen one in years. But there it was, hanging out in a bed of fallen pine needles, as adorable as ever.

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A small friend

This boded well. The following day, it was sunnier and warmer, so we hiked the Twin Oaks Trail (the purple trail) and looped back around on the Pine Lick Trail (blue), four miles in all. We stopped for lunch where the trail fords a stream, skipped some rocks, and kept going. The loop is described as a moderate hike; there were many ups and downs, but it was never too steep in any one place. At the steepest ascent, my partner saw a small creature scurry across the trail onto a tree. “That was a fast toad.” But it wasn’t a toad – it was a lizard! I’ve never seen a lizard before in the States, having spent the majority of my life in New England. With some research, we determined it to be a female eastern fence lizard and this location to be about the northern-most habitat where you can find them. She was much too quick for us to get her picture.

Here are a couple other small friends I found:

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A gray moth, enjoying the woodland view
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Found this friend drying its wings after some rain
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Whatever the heck these are

We saw many fish swimming in the stocked pond down the road. A whippoorwill sang off and on all night. But the biggest friend of all that we saw that weekend was an American black bear.

It was about 9:00 in the morning, and we were drinking our coffee but hadn’t pulled out the food for breakfast yet – we of course keep all tasty smelling things secured in the car. Suddenly my partner tells me in a serious voice to get to the car. About twenty yards away at the perimeter of our site, a young bear was watching us from the trees. We backed slowly towards the car, talking loudly at the bear (as you’re supposed to do; but it makes you feel like a fool!), hoping it would lose interest. “Hey, bear! Go away, bear! Please leave us alone!” It circled to another part of the site, never getting any closer, just observing our setup. After about five or ten minutes, it lumbered back into the woods.

We didn’t see it again, although we were extra careful with our food and trash for the rest of the time. Both of our phones were dead (and in the tent), so there’s no photographic evidence of our curious Ursus. My hypothesis is that it smelled our coffee and wanted some, too. Coffee is, after all, hard to come by in the forest.

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Needed more tinder… worked on my third attempt
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Fishing spot. If only it was warmer, I would’ve loved to swim!
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Bluets
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Just hangin’ out
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Campsite moonlight
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2017 Camping Trip #1 complete!