Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Let us be gentle and use good light

Express Staff Writer

I've been practicing my reading—use it or lose it, everybody knows that—and here's how it happened to me: I used to ski Exhibition on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, but years have gone by since that last Friday. Today I couldn't ski Exhibition even early in the season before it's carved into canyons and cliffs and there'd been a dump the night before and a helicopter set me on the lip just as a string of groomers finished rolling out their bolts of corduroy. How sad.

My big-time outdoor losses came with age and timidity, I figure, and not for a minute do I think timidity struck first.

With my major outdoor skills goin' gone, I wondered, what next? What if I lost something really big—like reading? So these days I'm using my reading a lot, and I think it's working.

It's not focused reading I do. I do all kinds—fiction, non-fiction, biography, autobiography, true life adventure, political stuff if it glosses my prejudices. They're all good practice niches. I don't do mysteries because I read too many in high school. I'm not keen on historical fiction, and romance novels read like sci-fi, another niche I nix.

The thing about use-it-or-lose-it reading is that with so much stuff coming in, most of it goes right back out, which is OK when a novel goes on and on with description. You know what I mean: "Carl set out across the parking lot to his car, gingerly stepping around flattened cigarette butts and sticky blobs and dark globs that looked like spewed chew. Midway, propped against an overflowing dumpster with a bunged-up lid hanging askew, was a wet paper bag obviously scrunched around a bottle—a dime-wine bottle, not balsamic vinegar, Carl figured, squinting against the dust tornado that gave erratic flight to papers large and small, the height and length of each flight determined by its aerodynamic characteristics. Carl thought newsprint had the airworthiness edge."

Carl hasn't even fished out his keys yet, and you just know that when he does he'll accidentally snare a quarter too, and it'll fall and roll and he'll have to scrounge around and find it since it's the only quarter he has and he'll need it for the meter when he gets beyond the dime-wine neighborhood and finds a parking place in front of The Caffeinated Cup where he looks forward to reading the Times—the New York one, not the Washington one. Enough ... enough.

Even though it's rambling reading I do, once in awhile something sticks, as did this bit from "The Ravaging Tide" by Mike Tidwell. It didn't stick whole, but the gist of it did.

To put the quote in context, several years ago, Mike embarked on a personal crusade against global warming. Sometimes when you read about global warming your eyes glaze over even if you're an exemplary citizen, but Mike's stuff won't cause glazing.

Here's how he started his one-man crusade: "As a first step, I rushed out and bought twenty compact fluorescent lightbulbs. Compared to my wasteful incandescent bulbs, whose super-hot glow was as good at burning the hands of young children as it was at lighting a room, the fluorescent lights were small miracles. Each new bulb used 66 percent less electricity, lasted ten times longer, put out an agreeable warm light, and, over its life span, would keep 260 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere while saving me sixty dollars‑per bulb!" The italics are Mike's.

I think this piece of Mike's great adventure stuck because I own a couple of fluorescent light bulbs, which I bought on sale about three years ago. Global warming wasn't on my mind then. Sure, I knew that lite light is environmentally friendly, but all I had in mind was slowing down the kilowatt keeper, and I believe I did, though it hasn't been a saving I could document.

These weird light bulbs aren't pretty; in many lamps they hang below the shade. And they don't come in 150 watts, the blast of light I prefer. But even before Mike's book, every time I'd sit down to do a practice read and flick on the weird bulb I'd get a fuzzy good-global-citizen feeling I've come to savor.

Chances are you're still a long way north of worrying about stop-loss reading. Probably most of the stuff you read sticks like Velcro, and if something from this read sticks I hope it isn't the bit about getting Carl to his car.

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