Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The slug and I

It’s not that I like slugs. I don’t. I find them repulsive in their sluggish sliminess. But I have a certain narrative relationship with this ugly but innocent beast. Slugs are part of my story.

It started when my kids were little. Out of pure whimsy, I began slipping slugs into the story books I read and re-read to them. Only now and then, in odd places, without skipping a beat, I would read, “As the prince slipped the glass slug on Cinderella’s foot….”  And Kristin would giggle and say, “Mom, it’s a slipper, not a slug!”

Interestingly enough, when I try it on my grandkids, it doesn’t work. Instead of amusement, they get mad, as in, “Come on, Grandma! Read it right!” So much for whimsy.

And then there was the time when David, on some Boy Scout hike, took on a dare to kiss a slug. Later he told me it was a scientific experiment, to see if kissing a slug really does make your lips go numb. It does.

The next time slugs enter my story, I’m in graduate school. To help support my addiction to education, I worked as research librarian in the same school. As such I was in charge of making sure all theses and dissertations passed the muster in regards to margins, headings, grammar and references. As if that were not fun enough, I also got to edit the school’s style manual.

To be perfectly honest (which I try to be), academic style manuals are not my favorite literary genre. And the manual I inherited needed extensive editing.

Again, my sense of whimsy clicked in. Partly in order not to go crazy with academic jargon and stylistic rules, I began subtly inserting slugs into the text. As long as it didn’t interfere with the manual’s purpose to give clear formatting instructions, I figured my slugs did no harm. They certainly made my work more fun. I’m sure my co-workers in the office occasionally wondered why I was at my desk giggling.

I inserted most of my slugs into the examples, not the actual instructions. “References Cited” provided rich opportunities. The school used the reference system of the American Association of Anthropology, and I selected my examples from various journals. Slipping a slug into a title was easy.  Samples:

Rumekkiart, David E., and James L. M. McClelland. 1986. Parallel Distributed Processing: Explorations in the Microstructure of Cognition among Slugs. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Rogers. E. 1963. The Hunting Group: Hunting Territory Complex among Mistassini Slugs. Bulletin No. 195, Anthropological Series No. 63. Ottawa: National Museums of Canada.

Legge, Anthony J. and Peter A. Rowley-Conwy. 1987. “Slug Killing in Stone Age Syria.” Scientific American 257:88-95.

Fawcett, William B., Jr. and Alan C. Swedlund. 1984. “Thinning Populations and Population Thinners: The Historical Demography of Native American Slugs.” Review of Their Number Become Thinned, by Henry F. Dobyns. In Anthropology 11:264-269.

In the capitalization guide to theological terms, the “S” list contained the following words:
serpent, the
slug, the
Son of God
Spirit, the
(Although slugs deserve respect, you don’t have to capitalize them.) I found many other hiding places for my slugs.

For several weeks after the revised edition of the style manual was published, I held my breath, wondering if the Dean would call me into his office and fire me. Now, some years later, I admit to being disappointed that no one has ever mentioned it. But, after all, who reads all the examples in style manuals? Not me.

Currently Hal and I are in the middle of a new slug adventure. And this one is alive.

It’s called kombucha tea, and the recipe asks for tea, sugar, water and a SCOBY. That stands for “Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast.” We call it simply The Slug (upper case letters required). It floats in a gallon jug of tea, in a dark corner of our laundry room. And there in the darkness, it quietly procreates. Every few days I siphon off a quart of the fermented kombucha tea, replenishing the brew with fresh sugared tea. Then Hal and I actually drink the stuff.

For our health, of course. Our daughter-in-law, Debby, first got us on to this. (Our grandkids refer to their SCOBY as The Octopus.) The use of kombucha tea has been traced to ancient cultures in both China and Russia, and its health claims make it worth trying out. It tastes just strange enough that you know it’s got to be good for you. Adding apple juice helps.

There you have it. My life with the slug. What will the next chapter bring?


  1. I checked this tea out on the web immediately--wanted to be sure you weren't losing your mind. I'm not tempted to try it but I loved reading about it. Now if it promised to cure my procrastination I might try it. Writing syllabi is almost as unpleasant as style manuals. Keep me posted on this tea!

  2. I think this stuff is for real, and we've actually come to like it. I'm doing it mainly as cancer prevention (colon cancer runs in the family).