Plastic Bags, Coffee Grounds, and Boiled Celery: Living a Low-Waste Life in the City

This story is about a lot of things, but mostly about idiots.

Anxious People, Fredrik Backman

But aren’t we all idiots at times? I know I am. One of my sayings is “We’re just trying our best.” It’s what we can do. So when we moved to Quito, Ecuador from Florida about a month and a half ago, we lived life. Trying our best.

I’m reading Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman right now (HIGHLY RECOMMEND), and one of the reasons I love Backman is that he zooms right in on what it means to be human:

. . . it’s always very easy to declare that other people are idiots, but only if you forget how idiotically difficult being human is. Especially if you have other people you’re trying to be a reasonably good human being for.

Uh, yep! You hit the nail on the head, Backman.

When we first arrived in Quito to a dark sky and city lights, we were in that survival mode where we had simple objectives: get from Jacksonville to Quito. Don’t die. Try not to get Coronavirus. Don’t lose any of the kids. Don’t be complete idiots.

Well I’m happy to report that we achieved those objectives.

But now that we’re here, survival mode has turned into this hairy little Popples beast that clings onto our chests, occasionally reaching up to slap us right in the face. We’re in a foreign (to us) country (slap), we don’t really speak the language (slap), we know only a handful of people (slap), we don’t have a vehicle or even bikes (THE HORROR), and we have a difficult time getting our key to open the gate to our apartment compound (slap). I won’t even mention our weekday schedules of dealing with the boys logging on and off of zoom-school getting the Zoomie Gloomies, trying to prevent the apartment from becoming an absolute disaster zone, feeding three growing boys and a grown boy, changing poopy diapers, and folding all of the laundry. So it’s easy to fall into the survival mode way of thinking. We have a lot going on. We certainly don’t have time or energy or brain capacity to think about how we can lead a less-wasteful, better-for-the-environment kind of life. Just reading that paragraph was exhausting. I’m sorry.

But my friend Backman gets it. He understands:

Because there’s such an unbelievable amount that we’re all supposed to be able to cope with these days. You’re supposed to have a job, and somewhere to live, and a family, and you’re supposed to pay taxes and have clean underwear and remember the password to your damn Wi-Fi. Some of us never manage to get the chaos under control so our lives simply carry on, the world spinning through space at two million miles an hour while we bounce around on its surface like so many lost socks.

Looking back on our first several weeks here, dealing with *all of the things,* I did feel a little like a lost sock bouncing around, just trying to survive.

When we first went to the grocery store, we didn’t know what the heck we were doing. Definitely idiots. So we did what we saw others do, and came home with (it seemed like 1000) plastic bags of food. The next time we went grocery shopping, we tried bringing this huge Costco bag that we found tucked next to the refrigerator when we moved in. We used it at the store. AND WE ALL LIVED. And came home with fewer plastic bags. The next time we hit the store, we saw that reusable bags were for sale. We bought some. And now we come home from the store with zero plastic bags. Level up. (Have I mentioned how much I loathe plastic bags? It’s the Californian in me.)

One of the things waiting for us in our apartment when we arrived was a lovely little bag of coffee beans sitting on the kitchen counter. So starting morning one, I was able to enjoy my making-coffee-and-then-drinking-it ritual. In Florida, my coffee grounds would eventually make their way to the compost bins in the backyard. So on morning one of Quito life, I didn’t know what to do with the grounds. I couldn’t throw them away! So I dumped them in a little glass jar I found in the cupboards. Since we have a little outdoor space with some fruit trees and various flowers in our apartment compound, I thought I’d wait until the jar filled up, and go dump the grounds outside somewhere. So that’s what I do. And the plants thank me because coffee grounds are great for the soil! Simply knowing that I’m not just dumping something that could be useful into the trash makes me feel a little less like a bouncing sock. Level up.

Another issue we’ve had since living here has been something probably most everyone deals with when moving internationally: VEGETABLE BROTH. In Florida, we had gotten into the handy habit of buying our veggie broth at the store and then recycling the box it came in. Since it isn’t sold here, we had to bounce to Plan B: make our own! I had done it before, but, as things do, it trickled out of my life when it was so easy to buy it at the store. Quito, thank you for reminding me how easy it is to make your own veggie broth. Instead of throwing my veggie scraps in the garbage (oof, that hurt my heart just writing it), I throw them in this crappy tupperware container I found lurking in a cabinet and then store it in the freezer. When it’s full, I dump the frozen scraps into a big pot, add a bunch of water, some peppercorns, and herbs, and let that bad boy boil for a few hours. Then I pour it through a sieve and have delicious, homemade veggie broth. I store some in the fridge and some in the freezer and always have plenty on hand.

But what to do with the boiled, limp celery and other sad scraps? My husband and I talked about it, and the next step for us is to dig a small hole in part of our teeny tiny yard, dump in the scraps, and bury them. We don’t have a shovel or even a trowel (yet!), but I for one am very excited about this next level-up in our lives.

So there are lots of easy things you can do in the city to lead a less-wasteful life:

  1. Avoid plastic bags by remembering to bring your reusable bags. And if you have plastics bags lurking under your sink or in a closet already, use them! Don’t simply throw them away. Don’t be an idiot.
  2. Sprinkle used coffee grounds into your garden. Good for the soil. Good for the soul.
  3. Make your own veggie broth. This eliminates dealing with packaging of store-bought veggie broth, and it’s healthier. Then dig a little grave for it, sing a song, say a prayer, etc. It’s like on The Office when they have the funeral service for the bird — but for veggie scraps.

But the most important thing when going through life (dealing with an international move or not) is to get the chaos under control so our lives are not simply carrying on.

Because simply carrying on isn’t good enough. We have such rich lives, ripe for new experiences and deep relationships. Getting plastic bags at the store simply because most everyone else does isn’t good enough. Throwing away coffee grounds and veggie scraps simply because it’s easier isn’t good enough.

It’s plastic and coffee and veggie scraps for me. What is it for you? What can you do beyond simply carrying on in survival mode, bouncing around like lost socks? The thing with that beast, survival, is that it lies to us. It tells us that we can’t do anything beyond what we’re doing. And it slaps us. (Not cool.) So if you think that hairy beast is clinging onto you still, it’s time to rip it off and throw it on the ground (because you’re an adult . . . and also because happy birthday to the ground).

Look around to see what you can do for others and for the environment. It doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be something.

Memphis is helping me pour out the used coffee grounds. Thanks, Memph!
My veggie scraps! Aren’t they pretty?
THE COSTCO BAG. And a couple of guys I love, one of them with wolf ears.
Oh, and Quito? We love you. Even if we have to wear masks all the time.

We’re Burning Down Our Own Island: Lord of the Flies, Chapter 12

Roger sharpened a stick at both ends.

“Cry of the Hunters,” Lord of the Flies, William Golding

Oh, boy. A stick sharpened at both ends. You know what that means, right? One end for the head, the other to stick in the ground. And who are the boys hunting in this final chapter?

Ralph.

A stick sharpened at both ends.

Ralph lies in a covert (like a pig), knowing that if he’s found, he will be stabbed to death.

How did things get to this point? How did the boys go from building shelters, getting water, building sandcastles, and swimming . . . to this?

Humans have done (and are doing) some horrific things to each other, and I do find myself asking How did things get to this point?

And we think of ourselves, here, and just know that we’d never do something so bad as take the life of another human. We’re good, honest people after all.

I think the point of this chapter is to show that even “good” humans can get to an unrecognizably evil point.

In the Hidden Brain podcast “Everybody Lies, And That’s Not Always A Bad Thing,” guest Dan Ariely talks about how it’s not about humans being good or evil, honest or dishonest — it’s about opportunity. He gives an example of cyclist Joe Papp who ended up becoming a drug user and a drug dealer. The compelling part of the story is that it all began with Papp simply filling a prescription for EPO (a drug that increases red blood cells — i.e., energy) that his doctor ordered and that insurance covered. Something seemingly mundane and completely justifiable. But something that would lead him down the path to eventually become someone who imports EPO from China for himself and others. He becomes a drug user and a drug dealer. But Ariely assures us that even though Papp ended up doing things that are deemed “bad,” that there’s so much good in humans — more good than bad, actually. So Ariely might agree with Ralph when Ralph, thinking back to the murder of Simon and Piggy, says, “No. They’re not as bad as that. It was an accident.” Ariely might just say “opportunity” instead.

So the boys on the island are hunting Ralph, and have realized that the best way to catch him is to smoke him out. They light a fire. I should rephrase that. They light the island on fire.

And then out of nowhere, we have God from the machine — deus ex machina — AKA, a uniformed naval officer who appears and saves all the boys, especially Ralph, just in the nick of time. How lovely! Ralph was about to be murdered and beheaded, and the boys were literally burning down their home, the island (conveniently, this is what alerts the officer to the island — you know, an entire island in flames and smoking). Before the officer appeared, things were looking grim for the boys.

The officer asks the boys if anyone’s been killed (they say two, forgetting the boy with the mulberry birthmark) and how many of them are there (they don’t know — remember, Piggy tried to get a list but everyone scattered to build that very first fire). The officer seems surprised (“I would have thought that a pack of British boys … would have put up a better show than that…”). It’s all about the “show” to the officer, and he’s disappointed that the boys haven’t put up a better one.

But is that what it’s about? Putting on a good show? This diction is alarming. It makes you think that maybe this naval officer believes killing humans is just part of a good “war show,” full of heroes overcoming the evil villains. And if we think of war in that way, it’s palatable. It becomes a movie, a show, about the good guys winning.

And it’s justifiable.

But it gets tricky when throughout our human history we have had to justify murdering people. Something just doesn’t seem right about it.

Golding ponders in Notes on Lord of the Flies that even though the officer rescues the boys in the midst of a manhunt, “who will rescue the adult and his cruiser?” In other words, that’s nice that the manhunt got thwarted, but who’s going to thwart THE WAR?

Who will rescue the adult and his cruiser?

It’s the *big question* of the entire book, and the one that should resonate with you long after you finish reading.

And in the middle of them, with filthy body, matted hair, and unwiped nose, Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.

And while Ralph weeps for the end of innocence and the darkness of man’s heart, I implore you to hold fast to what is good. As we end out on this series of posts, I’d like to leave you with some prayers from the book Prayer: Forty Days of Practice by Justin McRoberts and Scott Erickson:

May I have the courage
to expect good for my life
and world,
And resilience if and when
those expectations are disappointed.

May love and forgiveness for others
be less and less optional.

Even in conflict, may I see people
as beloved
Instead of problematic.

And finally:

May I have the eyes to see this
as a good world in need of
restoration
Rather than a bad world and
an obstacle to my personal peace
and rest.

Amen.

White Fragility and More Murder: Lord of the Flies, Chapter 11

What’s grownups goin’ to think?

Piggy, “Castle Rock,” Lord of the Flies, William Golding

I play a game with my students towards the end of the book. I read various quotes, and they race to raise their hands to tell me who said them. This Piggy quote is definitely one of them. At this point in the book, you should well know that Piggy is concerned — nay, obsessed — with what grownups think.

I should also tell you that the game is basically their test — but on paper. “Fun game!” — what all my students are thinking, I’m sure.

But this line is so important (and so Piggy) because it underscores yet again the biggest irony of the book: the grownups — the people kids are taught to obey and respect — are the ones killing each other in a war. Piggy, bless him, can’t see this, though. Even after his words Piggy said back in chapter 5 — “There isn’t no fear…unless we get frightened of people” — he still can’t see it.

People are the problem. Piggy, you’re right! But in his myopic view, he can’t see past the boys on the island to realize the scope of his words.

Aren’t we a lot like Piggy sometimes? We know truth, but we suppress it. We’ll take just enough truth to be in reality and live among other humans. But digging deeper into that truth? It starts getting messy. And humans don’t like messy.

Flashback to chapter 10 when Piggy thought that Jack’s raid was to get the conch. Piggy understood the truth of Jack’s being bad and stealing, but denied himself the real truth of Jack’s stealing his glasses. Think about it: had Jack’s concern been the conch, that would have given everyone a glimmer of hope. He would have acknowledged his respect for what the conch symbolized: order and rules. But he didn’t want the conch.

Flash to the current reality of our leader acknowledging the coronavirus (part of the truth), but denying the fact that at this time the US is 8th on the list of mortality rates (the full truth). He said that the US has “one of the lowest mortality rates in the world.” That’s like Piggy saying that all we need to do is “meet and have tea and discuss” like grownups do and we’ll be alright when in reality the grownups are blowing each other’s brains out. Piggy, buddy, friend, champ — we do NOT want to be like grownups. We do need to be frightened of people, and not just the boys on the island.

Part of the truth isn’t good enough.

But even a little bit of truth is threatening to people like Jack and Roger. They’ve painted themselves, moved camp to a rocky section of island that is unsustainable for life, beaten poor Wilfred up just for kicks, and, of course, stolen Piggy’s glasses. Suffice it to say, they are not concerned with the truth of their situation. They get to do whatever they want with no consequences! What human doesn’t want that sometimes?

So when Ralph confronts Jack about stealing Piggy’s specs and tells him, “You’ve got to give them back,” Jack responds by saying, “Got to? Says who?” Jack doesn’t have to follow rules! He’s dictator! He does whatever he wants whenever he wants!

Ralph and Jack then proceed to do what we expect them to do at this point: fight with sharpened sticks. Meanwhile Roger is hanging out by a big boulder (watch him). Piggy is desperately clinging to the rock, knowing that one wrong step for him means falling to his death. But Piggy realizes the importance of coming to face Jack, and he tries to remind Ralph: “remember what we came for. The fire. My specs.”

Poor Piggy. He can’t even see what’s going on, but I’m sure he can hear them fighting. I’m sure he’s thinking “meet . . . have tea . . . discuss.”

Then, somehow in the scuffle, the twins are grabbed and tied up. Jack’s pretty proud of this, but Ralph loses it. He yells, “You’re a beast and a swine and a bloody, bloody thief!” (Interesting to note here that Ralph uses the word “beast” — the evil thing the boys are so afraid of throughout the story.)

Piggy decides to speak up and delivers several logical, rhetorical questions to the boys:

“Which is better — to be a pack of painted Indians like you are, or to be sensible like Ralph is?”

(Answer: sensible.)

“Which is better — to have rules and agree, or to hunt and kill?”

(Answer: have rules and agree.)

“Which is better — law and rescue, or hunting and breaking things up?”

(Answer: law and rescue.)

Can you imagine presenting logic to a group only to be met with “booing,” “clamor,” “yelling,” and “Zup” ? Sounds like my department meetings. It’s aggravating, really, when people can’t understand what the right thing to do is.

(But have you been watching Roger in this chapter? Hanging out next to the boulder? Leaning on a lever that — with his weight — would tip the boulder onto the path right where Piggy is standing?)

Piggy finishes, holds up his fragile white talisman while the sound of the boys becomes an “incantation of hatred.”

It is at this point that by Piggy presenting bits of truth and bits of logic, something becomes unsettled in Roger and he, “with a sense of delirious abandonment, leaned all his weight on the lever,” releasing the boulder — directly towards Piggy.

Piggy falls forty feet to his death, the tide pulls his body out to sea, the conch “exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist,” and the twins have now been taken captive.

Piggy thought that the only fear is the fear of people.

Simon thought that the beast was really inside them all.

Both of them verbalizing ugly truths about humans. Both of them murdered. By humans.

When truth seems threatening, it’s our chance to face it and reconcile with it. Is it true that Black Americans have been discriminated against since the forming of our nation? YES. Now what are we going to do about it? Feel threatened? Hear “Black Lives Matter” and have to clap-back with “No, no, no — all lives matter” and “No, no, no — blue lives matter”? All lives matter is the part-truth — the part where we tell ourselves that the focus needs to be on everyone, that giving anything extra to black people is wrong and unfair. But when white people have been getting extra for over a century, maybe the fair thing now is some reparations. Let’s even things out. Maybe we can talk about equality. Maybe we can go from this:

To this:

The chapter ends with Roger advancing upon the twins “as one wielding a nameless authority.” Friends, this is evil. Recognize it. Resist it. Don’t be like Roger. And don’t follow leaders like Jack.

See you next time for our very last LOTF post! Read chapter 12, “Cry of the Hunters,” and as you read, ask yourself “How can lessons learned through the reading of this book make me a better human?” Because that’s what it’s all about:

Being better humans.

He Was Asking for It: Lord of the Flies, Chapter 10

That was Simon. That was murder.

Ralph, “The Shell and the Glasses,” Lord of the Flies, William Golding

Ralph admits it.

They murdered Simon.

And remember what Piggy said back in chapter 5? “There isn’t no fear…unless we get frightened of people.”

Well, Ralph is frightened now:

“I’m frightened. Of us.”

Can you just take a moment and think about how you’d feel if the most frightening thing in your world was other people? Having just finished reading The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson, I have been shocked and heartbroken to understand just how frightening white people have been to black people in our American history. Even after the Civil War. Even in the North. Even after the Civil Rights Movement. Even still. Today.

But even after his insight about fear, interestingly, Piggy is the one giving excuses about killing Simon: “It was an accident . . . Coming in the dark — he hadn’t no business crawling like that out of the dark . . . He was batty . . . He asked for it . . . It was an accident.”

He asked for it.

When the police are out there killing people, even with the body cams recording everything, they (maybe we?) are still saying that what they did was justified. That from our angle, we couldn’t see that actually the black man was threatening in some fill-in-the-blank way. That from the limited footage, we don’t really get the full picture of what happened. You know what that is? It’s Piggy Speak. It’s a distortion of reality. Here are the facts:

That was Philando Castile. That was murder.

That was Breonna Taylor. That was murder.

That was George Floyd. That was murder.

So let’s stop with the Piggy Speak already.

But after Piggy spews Piggy Speak, he begins to backpedal. He realizes that he can’t justify what they did, so he switches tactics to denial: “We was on the outside. We never done nothing, we never seen nothing.” Interesting to think about what we’d actually see if one of the boys was recording all of it with his cell phone. And then even more interesting to hear how Piggy would Piggy Speak it.

Piggy Speak aside, though, we need to be aware of our response to injustices. We can’t allow ourselves to justify bad behavior, but we also can’t allow ourselves to become desensitized to it. In his article “Videos of Police Killings Are Numbing Us to the Spectacle of Black Death,” Tamil Smith says the following:

Unfortunately, the increased visibility of trauma and death at the hands of cops isn’t doing as much as it should be. The legacy of our increased exposure to black death has merely been the deadening of our collective senses.
. . .
I tremble to think what act, or accompanying footage, will be required for the powers that be to finally see what’s going on.

After reading that, it seems silly to talk about a fictional book about little boys running around on an island. It’s easy to think that the events in this fictional book don’t matter. And they don’t! But what they represent matters. Because remember: Lord of the Flies is an allegory. It’s not really about boys on an island. It’s about us.

Later in the chapter, the sadistic side of Jack is revealed further to us when Robert says, “[Jack’s] going to beat Wilfred . . . He got angry and made us tie Wilfred up.” Robert doesn’t understand why Jack is going to do this, but he’s giggling excitedly about it nonetheless when he says that Wilfred has been “tied for hours, waiting.”

Upon hearing this, Roger (remember to keep an eye on him) “sat still, assimilating the possibilities of irresponsible authority.” I’ll tell you right now, Roger is excited about this irresponsible authority. And that, readers, should scare us.

And this irresponsible authority? Well, Jack is in full denial of Simon’s murder. He tweets claims that “[the beast] came — disguised.” And that any source that says otherwise is #fakenews.

The chapter ends with Jack and crew sneaking into Ralph’s camp in the middle of the night to steal Piggy’s glasses. During the scuffle and in the darkness, Ralph doesn’t realize what is happening or who is there, and, desperately, he “prayed that the beast would prefer littluns.”

So Jack’s tribe now has control of fire. And Piggy has been rendered effectively blind, although if you were to ask me, Piggy has been going blind for awhile now (so blind, in fact, that when Jack et al. came to steal the glasses, Piggy thought he was coming for the conch).

As we live our lives, let’s make sure our eyes are open, especially as people led by irresponsible authority are lying in wait, ready to snatch the glasses right off our face.

Lots to think about. Lots to do. And on top of all that, you’re to read chapter 11, “Castle Rock.”

Another Murder of an Unarmed Youth: Lord of the Flies, Chapter 9

Evening was come, not with a calm beauty but with a threat of violence.

“A View to a Death,” Lord of the Flies, William Golding

Well we knew it was coming.

Murder.

But maybe you thought it’d be Piggy. After all, he’s been the one bullied and made fun of the entire story so far.

Who would have guessed it would have been . . .

Simon.

The chapter starts with Jack, “painted and garlanded, [sitting] like an idol,” claiming ” ‘the conch doesn’t count on this end of the island.’ ” The symbol of rules and order — not counting? That’s foreshadowing alright, and not of anything good. And remember in chapter 4 how when Jack painted on his mask he felt liberated of shame and self consciousness? Now he’s painted, garlanded, and completely free from any rules that the conch might have previously dictated.

This is not good.

So when the boys get a big fire going, cook up their pig, and even Ralph and Piggy enjoy the feast, Jack is feeling pretty good about himself. He thinks that since Ralph and Piggy ate of the feast, they are beholden to him. (R & P might be feeling a little regret at this point. When Ralph challenges Jack about the importance of fire over food while literally holding a gnawed up pig bone in his hands, well, he doesn’t make a great case for himself: “Ralph went crimson.” Awkward.)

Tension among the boys is high (and in the air, too, as a storm has been building up since the beginning of the chapter).

And then:

“All at once the thunder struck. Instead of the dull boom there was a point of impact in the explosion.”

Piggy knows there’s going to be trouble when he says “There’s going to be trouble.” He urges Ralph to leave, but they don’t.

Rain starts pelting them, the littluns get scared, and Jack, the true and wise leader that he is, yells,

“Do our dance! Come on! Dance!”

Cut to // Simon discovering that the “beast” is really just a dead parachute dude, then crawling down the mountain to let everyone know. The storm is raging at this point, and the boys are dancing around like little savages, yelling “Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!” These boys are AMPED UP. So when “A thing was crawling out of the forest . . . darkly, uncertainly,” we know that thing is going to be stabbed to death by boys with sharpened sticks doing their “dance.”

This “beast” was “crying out . . . about a body on the hill,” but the boys didn’t listen or care, even when they probably realized it was Simon. Instead, they “leapt on to the beast, screamed, struck, bit, tore.”

“There were no words, and no movements but the tearing of teeth and claws.”

It doesn’t even sound human.

Even Piggy and Ralph are in on it:

“Piggy and Ralph, under the threat of the sky, found themselves eager to take place in this demented but partly secure society.”

These boys convinced themselves that Simon was the beast, and it didn’t matter that he wasn’t. They decided he was a threat before he even got a chance to explain to them where he had been and what he had seen.

To be clear: Simon was not a threat. He was unarmed. He came to help the boys.

And yet.

The boys perceived a threat, perception became justification, and then it was too late for poor, kind, introspective Simon. Sounds eerily familiar to a name that’s been in the news lately: Elijah McClain, a kind, introspective, violin-playing, animal-loving 23-year-old black man. Here’s the description from an article from The New York Times:


Mr. McClain
 was walking home from a convenience store on Aug. 24 when someone called 911, saying he “looked sketchy” and was wearing a ski mask and waving his arms.

The police arrived, and after struggling to handcuff Mr. McClain, officers brought him to the ground and used a carotid hold, which restricts blood to the brain to render someone unconscious. When medical responders arrived, after about 15 minutes, paramedics injected him with ketamine, a powerful sedative.

Mr. McClain went into cardiac arrest on the way to a hospital. He died a few days later.

It doesn’t sound human. Elijah was not a threat. Elijah was unarmed.

And yet.

There are lessons to be learned — when you look for them — even from a book about barely-dressed boys dancing around fires with sharpened sticks.

Homework: Work to understand humans before perceiving them as threats. Think before acting. Oh, and read chapter 10, “The Shell and the Glasses.”

Boys (With Sharpened Sticks) Just Wanna Have Fun: Lord of the Flies, Chapter 8

Fancy thinking the beast was something you could hunt and kill!

Pig Head, “Gift for the Darkness,” Lord of the Flies, William Golding

Goody goody gumdrops. This is a fun chapter. And by fun I mean highly, highly disturbing.

Just look at the chapter title: “Gift for the Darkness.” Eek. Here’s a quick run-down:

Piggy calls Jack’s hunters “Boys armed with sticks,” Jacks gets very offended about it, Ralph and Jack disagree about what’s to be done with the beast (really just the dead parachute dude, remember), Jack calls Ralph a coward then asks the boys to raise hands if they don’t want Ralph to be chief, the boys awkwardly don’t raise hands, Jack runs away like a little brat-baby . . .

(take a breath . . . )

One by one the boys start leaving to join Jack’s tribe, Ralph and Piggy and Samneric remain, Simon’s off to his secret spot and gets thirsty (cue critics who say he’s like Jesus fasting in the wilderness), Jack and his crew decide to “Forget the beast” and instead hunt a mama pig with piglets, Roger stabs a piglet, the boys kill the sow . . .

AND THEN THINGS GET WEIRD.

–Pause on the quick run-down for a few moments.–

Here, struck down by the heat, the sow fell and the hunters hurled themselves at her. This dreadful eruption from an unknown world made her frantic; she squealed and bucked and the air was full of sweat and noise and blood and terror. Roger ran round the heap, prodding with his spear whenever pigflesh appeared. Jack was on top of the sow, stabbing downward with his knife. Roger found a lodgment for his point and began to push till he was leaning with his whole weight. The spear moved forward inch by inch and the terrified sqealing became a high-pitched scream. Then Jack found the throat and the hot blood spouted over his hands. The sow collapsed under them and they were heavy and fulfilled upon her. The butterflies still danced, preoccupied in the center of the clearing.

So that was awkward.

I remind my students that this is an allegory and that the boys literally have hunted and speared and killed a pig.

And yet.

On a deeper level, it is clearly rape. The boys derive pleasure from the violent killing of the mama pig. They derive pleasure from pain.

What’s more disturbing, though, is that Golding is writing this story to highlight elements of human nature. Little did Golding know about the Me Too Movement to come in 2006 with women sharing their experiences of men sexually harassing and abusing them. The Me Too hashtag started becoming viral in 2017, showing the world just how ubiquitous sexual harassment and abuse really is.

BUT WHY IS THIS THE CASE? Why do some men derive pleasure from the pain of women?

In LOTF, the boys feel a raw power over another living thing. Remember how Jack’s hair is red? And how red represents blood-lust?

Let’s be mindful to be good humans out in this big world of ours. If you feel the need to exert power over someone, get yourself a punching bag.

–Resume run-down–

So after the boys kill the sow (and after Robert yells “Right up her ass!”), they cut off its head, sharpen a stick at both ends, slam one end of the stick in the ground and “jammed the soft throat of the pig down on the point end of the stick which pierced through into the mouth.” Pig head on a stick. Gift for the darkness, indeed.

Pan over to Simon in his secret spot: he finds himself face to face with the pig head. On account of the spilled guts, there are LOTS of flies buzzing about, drinking in the runnels of his sweat, and “in front of Simon, the Lord of the Flies hung on his stick and grinned.” So the pig head now has a name and a gender. It is Lord of the Flies. And it is male.

Meanwhile, Jack and his tribe cook up the pig, and invite Ralph and Piggy and Samneric to join in the feast. They’re not sure about going “in the jungle.”

Back again to Simon in his secret spot: Lord of the Flies (the pig head) starts in with a full convo, and Simon is not about it. LOTF taunts Simon and chides him like a little schoolboy, telling him “we shall do you . . . Jack and Maurice and Robert and Bill and Piggy and Ralph. Do you. See?” Sounds a lot like a threat to me — a violent threat (and perhaps a little like Satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness). And did you notice that Piggy and Ralph are part of the group of boys that LOTF says will do Simon? Ugh, say it isn’t so.

And that’s the chapter, folks! Take note that the boys went ahead and killed off their food supply (the piglets will soon die without their mama, and with mama dead, she won’t be getting pregnant and birthing any more pigs). Interesting to remember that the boys on the island are . . . boys. There is no way for them to procreate. So the fact that they killed the mama pig is fitting I suppose. Boys-only island!

Oh, and one last quote to finish off:

“Sucks to your ass-mar.” — Ralph to Piggy

Catch ya next time for chapter 9, “A View to a Death” (oh, no…).

Blackout (Tea) Tuesday: Lord of the Flies, Chapter 5

Things are breaking up.

“Beast from Water,” Lord of the Flies, William Golding

Indeed they are. We start the chapter reading about the tide, and I always stop here and reflect: the tide is a beautiful and consistent force in nature. It comes in. It goes out. The tide rises. The tide falls. It never stops. So when we read about the tide in literature, more than likely we’re catching the wave motif of inevitability. For the boys on the island, there hasn’t been much hope for good, and now with the tide coming in (in the chapter entitled “Beast from Water”), it’s looking like more of the same: bad decisions, immorality, and poop near the fruit.

The big realization in this chapter comes from Piggy, but it starts with Jack. Take a look:

Jack: “There aren’t any beasts to be afraid of on this island.”

Piggy: “What would a beast eat?”

Boys: “Pig.”

Piggy: “We eat pig.”

Did you catch that? Piggy is starting to put it together. He’s realizing that there may be some similarities between the boys and the beast. Maybe more than just similarities, as Simon also notes:

Piggy: “There isn’t no fear…unless we get frightened of people.”

Simon: “What I mean is…maybe it’s only us.”

This is a scary chapter because the boys begin to realize that the beast is within them. They realize that they have the capacity for evil and for violence. When Jack yells out “Bollocks to the rules,” it seems any semblance of order is on its way out with the tide.

Piggy doggedly holds onto his picture of grownups (“Grownups know things. They ain’t afraid of the dark. They’d meet and have tea and discuss. Then things ‘ud be all right — “)

And Ralph tenuously hopes for “a sign or something” from the world of grownups. And a sign he gets in the second paragraph of the next chapter — don’t miss it! (Spoiler: It’s not a good sign.)

So things are bleak. And evil is inevitable.

But here’s where we really break off from the book to examine our own lives. This is where I remind my students that we don’t read books bouncing along, bobble-head nodding in agreement with the author’s point of view.

I can’t help but feel that bleak feeling right now, though. In the midst of a pandemic we’re in the midst of racism and murder and violence and protests and looting.

Have we learned nothing from history? It might be time for us to realize that “the grownups” might not know what’s best this time. If what they’re doing is demeaning, degrading, or disgracing others, maybe it’s time to take a step back and do some rewriting of the rules. Perhaps take a more human-centered approach. Maybe train our law enforcement to respect human life more than they do.

Luckily, we don’t have some metaphorical tide of inevitability in our lives. We have hope for better things. As much as we chuckle at Piggy’s naivete, he hits on something important: meeting and having tea and discussing. It might be a good first step. Let’s come together. Maybe have a cup of tea. And discuss how black lives matter.

Up next? Being better humans. Making black lives matter. Action.

But for the boys? All we know is that the next chapter is called “Beast from Air.” So grab a cuppa, and meet me back here for chapter 6.

There isn’t no fearunless we get frightened of people.

Don’t Miss Your Ship: Lord of the Flies, Chapter 4

Roger led the way straight through the castles, kicking them over, burying the flowers, scattering the chosen stones.

“Painted Faces and Long Hair,” Lord of the Flies, William Golding

I told you to watch out for Roger! Here he is, leading the way. And what is he up to exactly? Kicking over sand castles that the “littluns” had been building. That’s just wrong, Roger. Being mean to little kids is a special type of evil.

Here’s what’s going on with the littluns in this chapter: lots of diarrhea, stomachaches, and night terrors. And sand castles getting kicked over.

Here’s what’s going on with the bigguns: more blatant cruelty, violence, painted faces, long hair, the thrill of power, and some good, ol’ fashioned selfishness.

Cruelty: Roger and Maurice kick over sand castles. Maurice “still felt the unease of wrongdoing.” Roger? Not so much.

We may not go around kicking over little kids’ sand castles, but are we without cruelty all the time? I’m sure we never think of ourselves as cruel, but maybe we ought to really ask ourselves if there are times that we are. If we’re having an argument with our spouse or our parents or even our kids, are we cruel in our tone of voice? Are we cruel in the things we say to them? I bet the answer is yes. Even if ours is “righteous” anger, there’s no reason to be cruel. Ultimately — hopefully — the objective of an argument is to resolve an issue. Yelling or having a sarcastic tone of voice or bringing up garbage from the past is taking steps away from resolution, not towards it. We thank Roger and the sand castles for this lesson.

Violence: Jack gets annoyed with Piggy (surprise!) and punches him in the gut. Smacks him, too. Breaks one of the lenses of his glasses. (That’s bad. Really bad. Not only can Piggy now see out of only one eye, the boys now have only the one lens to use to start fires. Poor planning, boys.)

Again, you may not go around punching and smacking and breaking people’s glasses, but you might let it happen, which some say is just as bad. You might punch and smack and break indirectly by the leader you vote for, the laws you create or follow or promote, the organizations and people you support, the products you buy, the flag that you fly. Be aware. Don’t follow a Jack. Or, heaven forbid, a Roger.

Painted Faces: “Jack planned his new face.” Yikes. Jack paints a mask onto his face, behind which he “hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness.” Shame and self-consciousness are necessary emotions for Jack (and all people) to have. We can only imagine what idiot moves Jack is going to pull in the rest of the book without experiencing shame or self-consciousness (it’s Piggy’s gut and glasses now; what will it be next?).

Well, well, well. What are the painted-face masks that we have? This is one I think we can all resonate with because we actively choose how we want the world to see us. Some of us might use social media as a mask. Some might use a happy, I’ve-got-my-life-totally-together face as a mask. Some might use busyness as a mask. I could go on. So what is it for you? What is your mask, and what is it hiding?

People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls.

Carl Jung, psychiatrist

Long hair: The boys clearly are becoming little uncivilized savages because oh my gosh look at their long, shaggy hair. Yes, Golding, we see what you’re doing there.

Hey. Hey there, Friend. I know we’ve been in quarantine. But that doesn’t mean you have to turn into a savage. If you feel you need to, I encourage you to go ahead and cut your hair. Here’s the video I watched to learn how to cut my own hair.

Thrill of power: There’s a special kid in this chapter. His name is Henry. He is playing down at the beach, dragging his stick into the sand to create runnels for the water and these little sea creatures called “transparencies” to flow into. This may not seem significant, but it is. First of all, the transparencies are said to be scavengers. Just tuck that fact away for later. Second, Henry is enjoying his game a little too much: “He became absorbed beyond mere happiness as he felt himself exercising control over other living things.” This is not about a boy dragging a stick in the sand, creating runnels for the water and the creatures. It’s about absolute power and the thrill it gives.

I ask you this: what or whom in your life do you have unhealthy control over? There’s probably something. Or someone. And there’s a difference between being a parent, exercising healthy control over our kids, and becoming absorbed beyond mere happiness as we feel ourselves exercising control over other living things. *uncomfortable clearing of throat* So, Friends, let’s all take a minute and make sure we’re not being like Henry.

Good, ol’ fashioned selfishness: Jack wants to hunt pig. Jack wants to hunt pig with other boys. Jack takes boys tending the fire away from fire to hunt pig. Fire goes out. Ship comes. No smoke. Ship leaves. Jack realizes what he’s done. Isn’t sorry. But is excited about hunting pig: “We needed meat.”

This is the classic needs versus wants discussion. We’ve all thought about it. Maybe we’ve even talked about it with a spouse or a therapist or a pastor or a friend. Maybe we’ve made a T-chart! Well, good for us! But we need to continue to think about it. Every single day. You never know when you might miss your ship because you wanted to hunt pig.

Takeaways from chapter 4: don’t be like Roger, don’t be like Jack, and don’t be like Henry. See ya next time for chapter 5, “Beast from Water.”

Sharpened Sticks and Tattered Shorts: Lord of the Flies, Chapter 3

A sharpened stick about five feet long trailed from his right hand, and except for a pair of tattered shorts held up by his knife belt he was naked.

“Huts on the Beach,” Lord of the Flies, William Golding

The boys are really gettin’ naked now. And skinny. And with longer hair. This book could have taken a wildly different direction if Golding had realized that the boys are basically turning into runway models.

The chapter begins with Jack “bent double” — oh, how very devolutionary, Golding. This is always a special day when I teach. I make sure to wear pants this day, and I definitely get down on my hands and knees on the classroom floor to demonstrate how Jack is “bent double” — so low to the ground, in fact, that he can cock his head up to see the underside of a tendril, polished from the bristly-backed pigs running through and to feel the warmth emanating from the “olive green, smooth,” steaming pile of pig poop. He hears the “hard patter of hoofs” and it feels to him “seductive.” Yikes. (I say that a lot during this book. I feel that a lot during this book.)

The question here is: What weird (gross?) thing in our lives is seductive to us? Maybe for the hunters out there reading my blog, it actually is pig poop … or deer poop … or some other kind of animal poop. But maybe it’s something more socially acceptable and ubiquitous like money. Do we want to get so close to money that we can feel its warmth and see its steam? In this chapter, Jack’s eyes are described as “bolting and nearly mad,” but I don’t know that that’s too far off from our eyes when we become lustful for whatever it is we decide we want. Yikes.

He tried to convey the convulsion to track down and kill that was swallowing him up.

Whoa. That’s seems pretty deep for 12-year-old Jack. And two lines down from that:

The madness came into his eyes again.

And then he acknowledges,

“But you can feel as if you’re not hunting, but — being hunted, as if something’s behind you all the time in the jungle.”

Just a friendly reminder, Readers, that this is not just a story about boys running around in tattered shorts getting sunburns on an island. This is about us. When Jack senses something hunting him, it hits us that he’s not talking about a literal beast. He’s talking about something intangible. He’s talking about his own evil nature. And, Golding might add, it’s not about Jack. It’s about us — the inevitability of our own evil natures constantly hunting us.

How refreshingly pleasant.

This is where I remind my students that just because we’re reading this book does NOT mean we have to believe in Golding’s philosophy. (I actually hope they don’t!) While we probably all have evil within us, we don’t have to live feeling like we’re being hunted down by it. I believe we have hope against evil. I hope my students believe that. And I hope you believe that, too. (Sucks to your ass-mar, William Golding!!)

But as their pee gets absorbed into the sand, so does their hope. Their clothes (symbol of civility) are in tatters, their shelters (symbol of civility) are shaky at best, their short hair (symbol of civility) is now long and unkempt. Oh, and the adults are still fighting in that war, you know, killing each other. But maybe there is a little hope. After all, hope is the thing with feathers as they say (well, Dickinson, anyway). I’m afraid, though, that the hope-birds flew away a long time ago when the boys hurled a boulder down the side of the mountain in chapter 1:

Echoes and birds flew, white and pink dust floated, the forest further down shook as with the passage of an enraged monster: and then the island was still.

Just to make sure we get the enormity of the hopelessness here, Golding mentions, “Jack had to think for a moment before he could remember what rescue was.” Jack was so obsessed with hunting pigs, he forgot what rescue was. HUH?? How could he possibly forget rescue? It’s literally the boys’ one job. The question begs: What is the “rescue” in our lives? What is the one thing we should be striving for in life? That might look a little different for everyone, but possibly some answers might be:

  • loving well
  • being kind
  • doing good
  • being honest
  • staying humble

All good things, I think. But, like Jack, we get distracted (or even obsessed) by other things. For him it was hunting pig.

But more importantly, what is it for us?

Other things of note in chapter 3:

  • Jack decides they should paint their faces in order to better sneak up on the pigs (here we go with mask symbolism).
  • Simon peaces out. The boys think he’s weird. He probably is. He finds a secret spot surrounded by a screen of leaves. This is a spot he’ll return to later in the book. He seems to enjoy time alone to do some deep thinking. (Remember that critics out there think Simon is a Jesus figure.)

See ya next time. Until then, read chapter 4, “Painted Faces and Long Hair.”

Wise Words from Thoreau: Eat Apple Fritters

“Our life is frittered away by detail.” –Henry David Thoreau, Walden

If I’m being honest, the first thing that comes to mind when I read this sentence is . . .

apple fritters. (Yum.)

But if you’ve loitered around on my blog at all, you know that simplicity is something I strive for — both in my belongings and my goings-on. Thoreau (bless him) had a nice chunk of money that enabled him to simplify — to leave the conventional world, to burrow away on a farm, to ponder life’s mysteries. How nice for him. Most of us don’t necessarily have the gold bars to provide us with that. And I don’t know that I’d want to leave my family and friends to walk around a property philosophizing about poets putting farms to rhyme, metaphorically skimming the metaphorical cream off the top of the metaphorical farm-glass-of-milk and leaving the farmer with the metaphorical skim milk. Metaphorically speaking, of course. (Read the entire text here, thanks to Project Gutenberg.)

Metaphors and cream aside, details do seem to have a way of scurrying around in our lives, causing us to feel rushed and frenzied and stressed. The devil’s in the details, as they say. How very true.

And I don’t like the devil.

So onward! Onward, that is, with fewer things and fewer plans and fewer details and maybe without the devil. Feeling good about this. And looking at the denotation of the word “frittered” (used as a verb, not as the donut-noun), we see that it basically means to waste, little by little. The definition I linked also uses the word “squander” — oof, harsh. (I like it.) I don’t think anyone wants to squander or waste their life.

So why are we letting the details of our lives do just that? Time to follow Thoreau’s sage and philosophical advice — advice that probably took months to manifest into one word:

“Simplify.”

Perhaps he had simplified a wee bit much, though, in his own life as he found himself likening a mosquito to Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey:

“I was as much affected by the faint hum of a mosquito making its invisible and unimaginable tour through my apartment at earliest dawn, when I was sitting with door and windows open, as I could be by any trumpet that ever sang of fame. It was Homer’s requiem; itself an Iliad and Odyssey in the air, singing its own wrath and wanderings. There was something cosmical about it; a standing advertisement, till forbidden, of the everlasting vigor and fertility of the world.”

(When I simplify my life so much that I start befriending and anthropomorphizing mosquitoes, please — someone, anyone — intervene.)

Let’s find a nice, healthy balance between allowing our lives to be frittered away by detail and buying best-friends-forever necklaces (like this 14K beaut on Etsy on sale for only $114) for our mosquito BFFs.

It’s all about balance.

And speaking of balance, my four-year-old is adeptly riding a pedal bike sans training wheels. Because he started on a balance bike (linked here), which is basically a little bike with no pedals, he got the feel for the balance it takes to ride a bike and transitioned very easily to a bike with pedals. Highly recommend this method for kids. Dare I say he didn’t need the added detail of the training wheels.

So even those “details” designed to make our lives easier (simpler??) sometimes add an unneeded layer to the already sweet and savory parfait of our lives. (“What’s not to like? Custard? Good. Jam? Good. Meat? Good.” –Joey Tribbiani, Friends)

Take a moment to think of the tools or gadgets or apps you have that are specifically marketed to make life easier and simpler. I think of some of my kitchen tools:

  • bench scraper: I use this to slide underneath sticky bread dough to cleanly remove it from the counter. I like this. I use it. It makes my dough much easier to split and to handle.
  • KitchenAid mixer: I use this when I make big batches of sourdough. I like this. I use this. If I hand mixed, it would take more time in the actual mixing and the cleaning up of the inevitable mess.
  • standing grater: I use this for grating cheese and zesting lemons. I like this. I use this.
  • mandolin: I use this for . . . I don’t really use this. I thought I would use it for thinly slicing carrots or potatoes. And I did a couple of times. But then it was too much of a nuisance to put it together and then take it apart to clean and then put it back together to store.
  • salad spinner: I use this for . . . I don’t really use this anymore. I did use it occasionally, but now I’m mostly too lazy to rinse my pre-rinsed mixed greens. Or I rinse stuff from our garden and then just plop it onto a towel on the counter for a few minutes.

I could go on and on and on — I have LOTS (read: too many) kitchen tools and gadgets. I think the mandolin is still squatting somewhere in a deep, dark cabinet, but the salad spinner has been gifted and is gone.

Hopefully by now you’ve thought of some stuff or some apps that you have, so take it one step further. Ask yourself (honestly): Is this thing or app actually simplifying my life? Or is it cluttering. And if it’s cluttering, it’s frittering and not the yummy donut kind of fritter. Remind yourself, too, that if you have stuff that is simply cluttering (that is, it’s just sitting somewhere gathering dust and it’s not sucking any life or time from you), someone, at some point — whether it’s you or probably family — will have to deal with it. My life was cluttered frittered away by detail when I had to get rid of literally every thing in my dad’s house after he passed away. I remember trying to gather some stuff to donate while he was still alive, but he wouldn’t let me. Then I ended up taking care of it anyway. (And as an important clarification and side-note: My husband — bless his SOUL — worked very hard (harder than I) on clearing out my dad’s house and cave of wonders garage. Without him, I might have gotten sucked forever into the vortex of dusty Hudson and Saab manuals behind the Maico dirt bike out in the garage. So to my husband I say Thanks a bunch.)

Time to get rid of some stuff. And some apps. And maybe even some — gasp — books. We have public libraries, and unless it’s a book you read weekly, there shouldn’t be a huge need to keep it. (That said, my husband and I do have books in our home that are not on loan from the library. But we’ve pared them wayyyy down and we continue to do so. It’s a work in progress.) Books collect dust and silverfish and those icky little pincher-bug thingies — and no one wants those in their house. Keep a few cool ones (books, not bugs), and get rid of the rest.

Simplify your home, simplify your phone, simplify your life. Use those gadgets and apps that are meant to simplify to do just that. And if you find they aren’t actually simplifying, TOSS THEM AND DON’T LOOK BACK. (“No Ragrets“)

As a wild side-note, as I was writing this post, I came across an article in The Atlantic titled “Why Americans Are Always Running Out of Time.” It’s right in line with what I’m saying, and it gives lots of fun research to back up the ideas (there we go with that logos). Derek Thompson writes, “In the 20th century, labor-saving household technology improved dramatically, but no labor appears to have been saved.” Well huh. Why is that? He writes that it involves our shift in what we want and what we think we need. He talks about how before the advent of automatic washers and dryers, “humans blithely languished in their own filth.” As in, humans used to be perfectly fine in their own filth and the filth of others.

And while I’m allll about personal hygiene, I have to wonder if we’re a little quick to throw that pair of pajama pants into the dirty clothes hamper after a single wear. (My sons LOVE to throw a pair of pants they wore for an hour — if you have kids, you know that this just happens some days — into that hamper when they aren’t at all dirty.) If you’re familiar with my Instagram stories, it’s turned into a kind of game to spot the laundry basket lurking in the shadows in all my pictures and videos. So much laundry always . . .

In writing all of this, I have one simple request of you (well, two, actually, because I’d ask that you go back and read that Atlantic article): be mindful of the stuff you use (and enjoy) and try to get rid of the rest. If you don’t, someone will have to. And that’s just rude to let that fall to someone else.

Let’s not let our lives be frittered away by detail (or anything else, for that matter).

Thanks for reading, friends. Now go support your local donut shop by getting a delicious apple fritter. My favorite is Donut Wheel in Cupertino, California — open 24 hours! Enjoy.