Monthly Archives: October 2013

ISBN-13: 978-0-7432-8441-7

The Elephant's Secret Sense by Caitlin O'Conell

The Elephant’s Secret Sense by Caitlin O’Conell

Because my blog posts have morphed into some strange hybrid of diary entry and book review, I wanted a model of a classic essay to see just how far off the beaten path of the modern essay I’ve veered. I selected “Shooting An Elephant,” by George Orwell as my example. It was written in 1936, so it seemed classic.

I barely made it though the shooting of an elephant part.

There are things to be said about that essay, building up to the shooting, tragedy of experience, and the truth of the event. Not all writers can make themselves go to the dark places they’d rather forget—or ignore.

It gave me a better glimpse than I had before of the real nature of imperialism—the real motives for which despotic governments act.”

As I read the essay, I thought of all the elephant facts I knew: elephants bury their dead and have graveyards, elephants greet each other, elephants have matriarchs, elephants communicate via feet. Via feet? Wait. Had I remembered that correctly?

It’s not a far-fetched concept. My chair, desk, and entire house have vibrated around me for the last month while workers repave the road in front of my house. Sitting at my desk today is akin to using one of those feet massage machines at Brookfield Zoo. Only difference is I don’t have to pay a dollar for the experience. Husband pays several thousand dollars in taxes over the next ten years. Point being, I know what’s happening without hearing or seeing it.

After a trip to the library, I found out that, yes indeed, elephants do communicate via vibrations in the ground. It’s called seismic communication. Caitlin O’Connell was the first scientist to document and test this phenomenon in elephants. And <<bonus>> she wrote a book about it: The Elephant’s Secret Sense, The Hidden Life of the Wild Herds of Africa.

CO first studied bugs. Hawaiian planthoppers to be exact. The subtle difference between vibrations detected by a planthopper on a leaf and vibrations detected by me at the desk is that the large machinery in front of my house does not intend to mate with me. At least I hope not.

Some seventy years after GO’s essay, those pesky elephants were still up to their crop-raiding-civilization-destroying antics. After her bug work, CO was hired to study the behavior of elephants with the hope of using research to help farmers deter them. She noticed some of the same behaviors of the planthoppers in elephants and set up experiments to prove her theory.

What were the odds that CO would have the opportunity to study both planthoppers and elephants and have the ability to recognize similar patterns between the two? While that is a riveting question, I will have to leave it to a statistician, as it is not the focus of this essay. And according to CO’s book:

My challenge as a scientist wasn’t that there weren’t enough interesting questions to ask but that I would have to remain focused on the first question and find the answer while being open to the next question presenting itself.”

My original question: how far have I veered from the modern essay?

Next question: is there an example of an essay that answers this question?

Next question: what does imperialism have to do with a dead elephant?

Next question: can elephants communicate with their feet?

Next question: what will I have for lunch?

Next question: what do bugs have to do with elephants?

Next question: what do elephant’s feet have to do with imperialism?

Next question: why would anyone want to be a statistician?

Next question: how far have I veered from my original question?

Next question: can I apply reading about elephants to essay writing in general?

The modern and classic essays are both forms of communication that take one small experience and apply it to a larger concept. Except in a modern essay I can get away with stating I had an ice cream cone and a cup of tea for lunch if readers understand how much I have veered without explicitly stating it.

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Filed under Animals, Books, Funny, humor, Life, Non Fiction, Random

ISBN: 978-0-399-15901-5

Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson

 

I had the great idea to discuss Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson via text message with D.

 

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Apparently we did this stuff when D came to visit:

 

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Yeah, that's shotgun shells.

Yeah, that’s shotgun shells.

 

This plays music.

This plays music.

 

Back to the book:

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You know what? Let’s not talk about the book. Let’s talk about my life instead.

It’s my birthday week, and I can’t go hiking today as planned. Does it matter that I’ve already gone to see Cirque Du Soleil’s Almaluna?

No.

But one may say, there were peacock feathers, light up nunchucks, the god and goddess of the wind, a lady with a cello that came down from the ceiling, a male pole dancer, a reptile juggling fire, an all women rock band. I had a stale pretzel and bought the CD, commemorative tote, and program with delightful photographs.

So.

Does it count that I went to a thrift store that sold items by the pound and nearly got knocked over by a crowd of professional thrift shoppers that swarmed the bins like angry box elder bugs? Or that I bought a hideous green floral coat with a faux fur collar missing a belt and button that is slightly soiled and two sizes too big out of sheer excitement that I could buy clothing by the pound? The type of coat any pimpess would be proud to flaunt? And what about the worn leather purse I got for only $1.50?

Try again.

What about the sushi?

I eat sushi for breakfast.

Does it matter that I went to the Soap Factory haunted house  and they made me wear headgear and a jump suit because I would jack up my clothes and possibly hurt my face because the haunted house is that intense? Or that I cried the safe word after getting through only two rooms because the actors could touch you and I was separated from the herd only to be told to go into a dark room when I am terrified of the dark? TERRIFIED OF THE DARK.

Not really.

Even though I was taken to Insidious 2 immediately after to make up for the fact that I was only in the haunted house for 7 minutes?

Nope.

Or that tomorrow I will go to a small town where I plan to hit up every antique store and try not to purchase any books, even though the books will smell like old books which is really mildew, and if I don’t buy the books I can still stand there in the store and huff the books until someone drags me away? And that very same night I’m going to stay in the supposedly most haunted hotel in all of Minnesota?

Not even close.

Okay, how about the fact that I plan on spending the ENTIRE day of my actual birthday writing so I can finish a draft of a short story I’ve been working on for a month that I thought I could bang out in a weekend? There will be ice cream cake . . .

Pssssssshhhhttttt.

The George Saunders reading on Thursday?

No! No! No!

I have to use up the parks pass that I bought for $25. This means I need to hit up a park at least five times this year. I only went once and it’s already October. I want to feel the “WOW” of fall! I want changing leaves! I want to go hiking!

I want to go hiking for ten minutes and then piss and moan that it’s raining and freezing cold. After which, I buy post cards from the gift shop because, yes, parks in Minnesota have gift shops. Sometimes people forget to bring their pocket knifes. Or those little metal sticks for roasting marshmallows. If you forget the marshmallow sticks, you’re up ship’s creek without a paddle.

Now I can’t do that because the government, which I thought was essentially open all the time like a 7 eleven, is closed. As the Colbert Report pointed out this morning, Smokey the Bear is out of a job. Only I can prevent forest fires people! How can I prevent forest fires if I’m not in the forest today?

You’re lame government. Not only are you ruining my birthday week, but you’re messing up other people’s lives, too. Don’t worry government. As pointed out on JL’s blog—

WE GOT THIS.

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Filed under Art, Bipolar Disorder, Books, humor, Life, Literature, Memoir, Non Fiction, Politics, Random, Writing