Selfies from Mother Nature

Ever since the Oxford Dictionary people proclaimed “selfie” as the word of the year for 2013, I’ve been struggling to find a way to use it in one of my essays. It would not be my first choice. As a word, it has all the charm of that scummy ring of hairs at the bottom of your bathtub drain. But in writing, as in life, sometimes one just has to go with the flow.

So I got to thinking about what kinds of photo self-portraits old Mother Nature would post, assuming she even had a smartphone. They might go something like this:

Here I am sitting by a tidal pool at the start of it all—over three and a half billion years ago—when life first appeared on this planet. Welcome to my kitchen. They’re too tiny to see now, but in these waters chains of complex molecules are slowly coming together. Wait till you see what they become.

And here I am at the bottom of the sea during what you humans call the Cambrian Period. It was one of my favorite times, when the diversity of living things on this earth literally exploded. The creature in my hand may look like a horseshoe crab, but it’s actually a kind of trilobite. Paleontologists have discovered over 20,000 different species from every continent. Must confess, I got a bit carried away with the cute little critters. They were the first animals with complex eyes. They ruled the seas for nearly 300 million years, and then they were gone. Oh well, time to move on.

Here’s me riding a Triceratops—yippee, ride ‘em, cowgirl! We’re nearly at the end of the Mesozoic Era when dinosaurs of every description ruled the earth. I have a little surprise for them.

You see this big shadow where I’m standing? I’m on what humans will later call the Yucatán peninsula of Mexico. It’s going to get dark around here real fast. That’s because a huge asteroid is directly overhead and just about to strike the earth. When that puppy hits, all those dinosaurs will be history. Have to admit, I hate to see them go. But 165 million years is long enough. Out with the old, in with the new, I say.

Here I am at the beach under clear blue skies again. Boy, my “little” asteroid sure made a mess of things. Couldn’t see the sun for years. It got so cold I had to put on my woolies. But it’s over now, and we’re at the beginning of the Cenozoic Era. OK, I admit, there were a lot of casualties besides the dinosaurs. Over three quarters of all living things on earth went extinct. Evolution is a messy business, and sometimes you just have to hurry things along a little. But fortunately I still have plenty of stuff to work with. See my squirrel-like animal friend here? He doesn’t look like much. But he and his warm-blooded kin are about to become the next big thing. Humans sometimes refer to this era as the Age of Mammals, but it could also be called the Age of Flowers. Just look at the beautiful magnolia in back of me.

I’m standing at the edge of Grand Canyon, one of my most sublime creations. It gets more hits on Facebook than Madonna or Justin Timberlake, whoever they are. It still amazes me after all these years what you can accomplish with a little uplift and erosion. I don’t much cotton to politicians, but there was one by the name of Teddy Roosevelt who said it best: “Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages (that’s me) have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.”

Here’s Lucy and me lakeside in what humans now call Ethiopia. She doesn’t know it yet, but she’s going to be famous someday. Smile for all your future followers, Lucy. There, I got it—great one. She’s not much for words, but she’s one of the earliest humans. Soon she will die—sorry, Lucy—for life was very hard back then, especially if there’s a big cat like the one over there that’s about to eat you. In about 3.2 million years, give or take a month, human scientists will discover some of her bones and go gaga over them. 

Think I’ll go online to check out what pix you humans are posting these days. Oh dear—what is that? It looks like somebody’s… Gross! And there’s more. After all these years I thought there was nothing that could shock me. I was wrong. What are you people thinking?  Hmmmm.… maybe it’s time for another asteroid.            

                                               ©Gene Twaronite 2014        

Originally published in 5enses April 2014   http://www.5ensesmag.com/selfies-from-mother-nature/

Favorite Humorous Stories – Woody Allen

Choosing the next writer to include in this series was a no-brainer. Known to many chiefly for his legendary movies and comic routines, Woody Allen was also a master of the humorous short story. But selecting which three stories to include here was a difficult task, one that forced me to spend the better part of a morning rereading some of his story collections. Not a bad way to spend some time. No demons or dark thoughts could survive against the relentless onslaught of Woody’s absurdity.

I’ll start with “The Kugelmass Episode.” If you’ve never read the story, right off you’re wondering, Who the hell was Kugelmass and why should I care? Since you’re hooked already, I’ll tell you. Kugelmass is a professor at City College who’s unhappy with his marriage. So he seeks the services of a magician by the name of The Great Persky, who promises to bring some excitement to his life. He tells Kugelmass to climb into a cabinet where he “can meet any of the women created by the world’s best writers.” All Kugelmass has to do is choose a book and Persky promises to project him into it for however long he wishes. Choosing Madame Bovary, Kugelmass proceeds to have an passionate affair with Emma, while at the same time dismaying literary professors and students the world over who puzzle over the sudden appearance of Kugelmass as a new character in the book. I’ll stop there. You’ll just have to read the story to find out how the affair turns out.

Another of my Woody Favorites is “The Shallowest Man.” Like most of his stories, it starts in some familiar setting in Manhattan and is told in the first person by an urbane narrator who is usually well-versed in literature, art, philosophy and the latest trends in modern culture. While sitting in a delicatessen, the narrator Koppelman brings up the name of Lenny Mendel as “positively the shallowest human he’d ever come across, bar none,” and then proceeds to tell a story backing up his claim. The story is deliciously cynical, and I’ll leave it to you to decide whether Lenny truly deserves this title.

One of the things I most like about the story “This Nib for Hire” is the preposterous name Woody gives to one of the characters—E. Coli Biggs. It is safe to say that no other writer in literary history ever considered using E. coli for a name. The main character, Flanders Mealworm, is offered a job by film producer Biggs to write a novelization of a classic old movie starring the Three Stooges. Flanders, who considers himself  a writer of serious literature, flat out refuses, then reluctantly decides to sacrifice his integrity for promised riches. Check out the story to see how the novelization works out.

Many of Woody Allen’s stories first appeared in The New Yorker. “This Nib for Hire.” can be found in his book Mere Anarchy, while the other two are part of the collection Side Effects.