Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dueling Monsters Challenge 2010

Happy Halloween, everybody!  I hope you are all having some spooky fun today!  I have been catching up on my spooky reading, thanks to Heather J. and Jill/softdrink.  Once again they have teamed up to host the Dueling Monsters read-a-long.  This year's monsters came to us in the stories of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

I had never read either book before so this was a good chance for me to catch up on some classic reading.  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was delightfully short-I had no idea-a mere 84 pages!  It was an easy read, and I enjoyed it.  Dorian Gray was not quite as short-about 243 pages-but I think I would have enjoyed it more had it been only 84 pages since the last 84 pages (exactly 84 pages-I just checked!  Spooky coincidence??) is where all the good stuff takes place. (Seriously, I spent quite a lot of the first half of the book wishing that Dorian, Basil, and Lord Henry would just get in on already because, really, isn't that what they all wanted.)

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Bantam Classic)Let's start with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  As I said, I enjoyed this book.  I really didn't know what to expect other than the man and the monster.  It's been noted that there aren't any female characters of note in this story, but the first note that I wrote relates to the servant who witnesses Hyde's murder and then faints dead away.  What I wrote was, "Why with all the fainting?"  Victorian women seem to be famous for fainting (they even made couches specifically for this purpose).  Why?  Did they actually faint all the time?  I'm guessing they did, otherwise why make the couches?  OK, so then why were they always fainting?  Was it the restriction of the corsets not allowing them to get enough air to their brains?  Was it a combination of the heat and all that Victorian clothing?  Was it simply a convenient excuse to leave an uncomfortable situation?  Perhaps it was the cost of the couches themselves.  Eee!  That would make me swoon too!

Anyway...I think that Edward Hyde won this round of Dueling Monsters.  Although both books deal with the physical manifestation of evil, Hyde was a scarier creature because he eventually started to take over Jekyll against his will, the assumption being that someday the takeover would be complete.  The way Jekyll described the progression of the changes reminded me of a heroin addict.  Eventually the drugged state becomes normal and without it you become ill.  Eventually you need that which made you sick to make you feel better, but each time you need more and more of it.  Eventually it consumes you, and either you kill it or it will kill you.  Jekyll, himself, was a little wordy and boring for my taste, but overall, good job on a quick creepy story, Mr. Stevenson!

The Picture of Dorian Gray (Penguin Classic)It could be argued that Dorian Gray (D.G.) is a scarier monster because his debauchery seems to be more willful.  He has the ability to decide at every turn whether to do good or not, and, apparently, generally chooses not to; but I have to wonder if he behaves any worse than a common criminal.  What makes him dangerous is simply that his evil doesn't show on his face.  Hyde's evil was out there for people to see-people were immediately repulsed by his appearance and thus knew to stay away.  On the other hand, people are taken in by Dorian Gray's beauty and his charm, "that indefinable attraction that Dorian seemed to be able to exercise whenever he wished, and indeed exercised often without being conscious of it."...much like a vampire...who never ages...and he does seem to suck people's souls dry.  Hmmmmm....interesting...anyway, the point is, people still choose to engage with him on some level.  If he's dealing with criminals, we assume they are complicit in their deals, if he is having some wild and crazy sex, we assume his partners are willing, although I suppose it's possible that that's not the case.  If he's doing drugs, well, somebody is likely selling them to him.  Certainly the murder he commits is a grizzly, terrible thing for which he shows little to no remorse, but that seems to me to make him a psychopath, not some otherworldly creature.  Not that psychopaths aren't scary, but in this day and age, they are no new news, I'm afraid.    

Both books had some things in common that I found interesting.  For one thing, they both seem to be a bit (or perhaps quite a bit) autobiographical in nature (which, admittedly, makes the vampire psychopath thing a little more scary).  Both the Afterword of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Jerome Charyn and the Introduction of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Peter Ackroyd point to this.  For me, both books were frustratingly vague when it came to just what kinds of terrible acts Mr. Hyde and Mr. Gray were guilty of.  Aside from a couple of murders and some drug use, we don't know very much.  From what I could gather, their greatest sins seem to be that they were out having a lot of bawdy, raunchy, indecent sex.  This may have been shocking to their Victorian readers, but, again, it's just not very scary today.    

botox can smooth out those lines around your mouth.  Been eating too much?  Liposuction can get rid of all that excess in no time.  Been having irresponsible sex?  Penicillin can clear that right up.  Been doing too much meth?  Well, honestly, there's not much to be done about that-let this be a lesson to you kids!  Don't do meth!  Been (sin of all sins!) aging??  Face lift, my friend.  And we do this all in the name of beauty, which was, of course, Dorian's great love.  *gasp*  Oh my!  Maybe this was a scarier book than I thought! 

I still have to give the win to Mr. Hyde because his inherent evil repulsed people on sight, and I've been around those people, the ones who give you the willies even though there's nothing specific that you can point to as the reason why.  Also, a much less painful read.

So, now I'm genuinely curious.  If you could see the physical manifestations of all your evil deeds on your likeness without those signs ever showing up on your physical person, would you be more or less likely to behave badly?  Remember, there's no way to alter your likeness.  The effects are cumulative.  Once the evil is done, it's done, and it's recorded forever.  On your face!  Mwahahahaha!   

Monday, October 18, 2010

Here's How My Summer Vacation Started

I already told you about the middle part of my vacation, where I spent a lot of time freezing my butt off on top of a mountain, watching people paraglide.  For the first few days of our vacation, I spent a lot of time sweltering in the sun, watching people paraglide.  Are you seeing a theme here yet?

Since Hubby's been spending all this time flying and will continue to do so, he thought it would be a good idea to take an SIV course.  This is a course that teaches you how to recover if your wing does something funky like collapse mid-flight, lets you practice things like spirals, and gives you an opportunity to throw your reserve 'chute*.  Of course, you hope that you never have to throw your reserve 'chute in real life, but if you do, it's  nice to have some idea of what's going to happen when you do.  All of this is done over a lake with a boat crew standing by for retrievals.

To start things off, the boat would tow the pilots around the lake until they gained about 4,000 feet in altitude, then the pilot would unhook the tow rope and instruction would begin.

The particular lake that we were at is Lake Berryessa, about two hours outside of Sacramento.  I had never heard of this before, but I really liked it.  Even though we were there over a weekend in June, it felt like we had the whole lake to ourselves.  It was really hot on the lake shore, but we did have a nice big oak tree that we were able to park ourselves under while everyone in the class took turns going through their maneuvers.

As a general rule, and for various reasons, I think spouses/significant others are generally not encouraged to attend; but I was curious to see what was going on, and I think I managed to stay out of the way and not be too big of a distraction.  When other people heard that I sat and watched, they inevitably asked, "Weren't you nervous, watching him do all that??"  The answer is no.  In fact, I think I am probably more comfortable now, having seen just how recoverable the wings really are and how well you can actually fly, even with half a wing collapsed.  The other thing that made me not worry was that I was on the ground with the instructor who was in radio contact with the pilots at all times, so I could hear everything that he was telling them to do; and, I have to say, he is probably one of the coolest, calmest, most collected people I have ever met-very confidence-inspiring.  Seeing somebody's wing collapse mid-flight is one thing-that'll make your heart stop for a second; but watching somebody's wing collapse as the instructor is next to you, calmly talking him through an induced collapse makes it more interesting than heart-stopping.  

More interesting, less heart-stopping, because I know this was a planned event.  

All in all, an interesting, if unconventional, start to my summer vacation.  We met some really great people, and I think it's safe to say that everyone walked away feeling a lot more confident and, hopefully, a lot safer.  

Up next:  Camping in the red woods!     

*7/7/11-I would just like to admit here and now that it took me this long to realize I had spelled 'chute (as in parachute) "shoot".  Stuff like that would have never slipped by me 10 years ago.  What's going on??

Friday, October 1, 2010

Hey, Slacker, Whatcha Been Up To?


Oh, you mean me?  Yeah, okay, that's fair.  I've published a whopping eleven posts over the last four months, which, let's face it, is slacker-rate at best.

So, let me tell you about my summer!

Some of you may remember this picture from a previous post:

Good heavens!  Where was I?  Siberia?  The South Pole?  Running from the law?  No.  I was in Oregon.  Granted, I was on top of a mountain in this particular picture, but still.  It wasn't a big mountain, just windy as all get out and freakin' cold.  

Why was I on top of a mountain?  Because my husband is a paraglider and our mainland vacation happened to coincide with Rat Race, the paragliding competition which is held annually at Woodrat Mountain.  Hubby didn't compete, but he wanted to check it out and see what flying on the mainland is like and how competition flying works.  Turns out, it's freakin' crazy!  At least, from my point of view.  There were over 100 registered competitors, and they all had to be off the mountain by a specified time each day.  The day that I sat and watched everyone launch, it took about an hour; I'm told they did it all in about 20 minutes one day!  To give you an idea how this works, here is a series of pictures I took of one pilot launching.

First, the pilots lay out their wings and make sure all their lines are straight and not all tangled in knots or wrapped around twigs or anything.  Once they are ready, they wait for a good cycle of wind.  Don't ask me to define "good", but you can look at the windsock in the background to see what's going on in this particular scenario.  (Click on any of the photos to enlarge.)

As the wind catches the wing it lifts it up in the air and over the pilot's head.

If everything still looks good (no twisted lines, no folded up wing tips, etc.) the pilot, in a slight fit of insanity, runs off the side of the mountain... the wind lifts him gently into the air.

Now imagine that happening 100 times in 20 minutes, or even 60 minutes.  Crazy, I tell ya!  But a pretty cool sight, none the less.


Did you notice how the pilot started off facing his wing and then had to turn around to run off the hill?  That's called a reverse launch, and that's how they do it in higher winds.  Basically, there's enough wind that by the time they have turned around and started running toward the side of the mountain, they are already starting to lift off the ground.  On days when the wind is not blowing as hard, they do forward launches.  This means they face away from their wings and have to start running in order to catch the wind to bring their wing up.  This is more nerve-wracking to watch because they essentially just keep running until they are off the hill.  Eeee!    

Anyway, it was mostly reverse launches this day because of the high winds, hence my bundled appearance in the middle of June. 

So, that was the middle part of our mainland vacation.  I'll tell you more about the beginning, the rest of the middle, and the end later!