Sunday, April 27, 2008

Battle Lines
This Saturday was the annual San Jacinto Battle Reenactment, and I had plans to go. My oldest son and I have been talking about going to this for a few years. This year, I actually remembered to watch for the date, and it so happened there was a geocaching event on that side of town in the evening, so it was good justification for the drive.
We were going to make it a family affair, but my husband backed out at the last minute and offered to stay home with the youngest, and when I told my oldest it was time to go, he fell apart because he wanted to play with the neighbor boy across the street and have a sleepover. We agreed to a compromise, which was to invite his friend to come. I packed a picnic lunch while they got permission and prepared.

We got about five minutes down the road when my son suddenly had to go to the bathroom urgently. We stopped at the first fast food place we came to and he ran into the facilities. While we were waiting on him, the neighbor kid, who I'll call JB, and I were watching the parking lot. A painting van pulled up, and two hispanic men wearing paint covered coveralls got out and entered the food place.

JB looks at me earnestly and says, "Isn't it true that the mexicans are coming here to steal our money?"

"What?" I asked, not sure I heard him right.

"Some people say the mexicans are coming here to take all the jobs and steal money from the Americans. Isn't it true?"

Oh yes, suddenly I remembered the views of JB's father, and the problems resulting on our street as a result. I thought of the men I work with, who are all of hispanic descent. I thought of my heritage as the grandaughter of an Irish immigrant. On their honor and those who came before, I stepped over the battleline that was drawn, to the other side of the coin, and turned it into a teaching moment.

Our conversation rolled on as I drove them down the freeway. I explained to them the economics of immigration, trying to dispel this myth that "the mexicans are taking our jobs and stealing our money". I pointed out to them the struggle of daily life that some people who come to America had to deal with in their native country, about things like poverty, military rule, violence, political instability. I tried to develop empathy in them by telling them of men moving to, working in the US and sending their money home to a family who would rarely, if ever, see them. That moved them, and they speculated on what it would be like to struggle just to survive, and if it was fair for someone to move to another country to make a better life for themselves. We talked about the history of the US, who the indigenious people of the area where and what happened to them, where the "white people" came from who entered this land and then felt they had a claim to it, which "justified" the persecution of the Native Americans, and why the settlers were here in the first place. I wanted them to see that unless a person is a Native American living in this country, that all of us living here are descended from people who immigrated here to make a better life for ourselves and our descendants, so what makes it morally acceptable for us and our ancestors, but not the current immigrants?

In a way I surprised myself by taking such a strong stand for the immigrants from Mexico. Who would have thought that a somewhat sheltered middle class suburban white girl would have such strong feelings on the immigration issue? The radio station I sometimes listen to talks about this issue a lot, and the DJs are on the other side of the fence as I am, and from what the callers say, I think the majority of Houstonians, maybe Texans, maybe Americans do not stand on the same side I do. Every time I think about it, though, I think of the faces of the men I work with, good men who would be the first to stop if you needed help, the struggles they have gone through to become citizens here, their reasons why. I think of my grandfather, five years old, being put on a ship that took him away from Ireland and his tenant farming family and carried him to Ellis Island on the hope for a better life. He escaped famine and poverty when he left Ireland. My grandfather romanticized his time in Ireland, but when he talked about going back someday with one of his brothers, his brother said he had no interest in going back, that the only thing he remembered about Ireland was being hungry. By the time my grandather retired from his government job, he owned a beautiful little house overlooking the Chesepeake Bay and had raised three successful children, none of whom had to deal with the conditions he knew as a child.
We shifted our conversation from the immigration issue to the history of the battle we were going to watch the reenactment of. Most adults growing up in Texas are well aware of the story of the Battle of San Jacinto, where the Texan uprising beat out Mexican forces and took Santa Anna prisoner. Texas schoolchildren and to some degree our students in the state colleges have Texas history rammed up their throats for years. These boys, though, being only in second grade, haven't gotten to that part of the education system, though, so I have to bring them up to speed.
The story I tell runs along the lines of this: once upon a time, this area known as Texas belonged to Mexico. They invited settlers (of European stock) to live on the land and develop it, but then the settlers, known at the time as "Texians", decided they wanted to be independent, not ruled by Mexico's laws anymore. The Mexican government sent a large army over to fight the settlers, led by General Santa Anna, and this army defeated the small band of Texans at The Alamo and the Battle of Goliad, but then at San Jacinto, the Texans turned the tide and won their independence in a battle lasting less than eighteen minutes.

As I am telling this, it occurs to JB that we are have here the same heroes and villians and he tries to bring those two seperate groups together. "So," he says, "the Mexicans used to have this land, and the Texans came over and wanted it for themselves, and now the Texans have this land, and now the Mexicans are coming over and want it for themselves?" Texas pride would have us identify with the Texians, and we still celebrate the bravery of the men who battled for what basically were squatter's rights. I can see him puzzling over how this agrees with what his family has taught him. It gives a whole new meaning to "this land is my land, this land is your land..."

I should explain the social climate on our street before going further. JB and his family live across the street from another family with whom they have an ongoing feud. JB's father does not like the other family because they are "mexicans", and his kids aren't allowed to play with them. Ironically, the other family in question actually identify themselves as "indians" and are offended by the term "mexican". They immigrated here from a South American country (I've talked to the father about where but it escapes me now) because they wanted a better live for their children, and it really hurts their sense of pride and their emotions that they have to deal with racial prejudice on a daily basis. This is not what they expected from their life in America. The debates get heated and the cops have come out a few times, and both men have a restraining order preventing them from entering the other's yards.

In our neighborhood, the battle lines are being drawn every day, over these issues of racial prejudice and justice. My son wants to play with both boys. We have been teaching him for years to treat everybody equally and make decisons about people based on what is in their hearts, not what they look like, and he is really good at sticking to that. The problem with being this way is that sometimes you lose popularity. He has come home crying many times because JB's family saw him playing with the "mexican" boy and now they "hate him" and won't play with him. Even though it comes at a cost, we have taught him to stand up for what he believes, and if he believes the other boy to be a good person that he enjoys playing with, he shouldn't let the condemnation of JB's family stop him.

When I am consoling him during these times, I think sometimes about the Japanese internment camps our country formed during WWII. There was an internment camp in Tulelake, CA, where we used to live, and we drove to it a couple of times. There is a plaque standing on the site now that explains what the fenced in area of barracks was for, and why it still stands, and it reads: "These camps are reminders of how racism, economic and political exploitation, and expediency can undermine the constitutional guarantees of United States citizens and aliens alike. May the injustices and humiliation suffered here never reoccur."
I am not saying that this battle we fight on our street is anywhere near this devastating. Freedom to play with whomever one chooses is not equal to the freedom to survive unpersecuted, free from violence, in safety and security, and where one chooses. However, I think it is interesting that these camps are still maintained as a reminder, like it states, of what can happen, and suggests this is something from our past. It is the twenty first century, I always think when wiping my son's tears away, why are we still fighting this? Haven't we moved past this already?
So we finally made it to the battle reenactment. We hiked through the fields around the monument while the kids imagined they were soldiers. We sat in the hot sun and watched actors and history buffs act out the battle, with real ancient cannons, muskets, and battles on horseback. I thought it was interesting that you could not tell by looking at a person's skin which side they were on. There were large people, skinny people, old people, young people, women, men, people of all shapes, sizes and colors, reenacting the battle, and the uniforms they wore were the only way to seperate the sides, much as I imagine wars are today. We live in a blended universe and are all united by our humanity.

After the battle, we introduced our neighbor to geocaching and took him to the event with us. We had the sleepover. In the morning, the kids sat down to join me as I watched a movie, "The Pianist". In the movie, we watch the struggle of a Jewish piano player, Wladyslaw Szpilman, for survival in Nazi-occupied Poland. The children begin to empathize with the main character and ask questions. Why is this happening to him? What is going on here? I explain to them the basic facts of the Nazi occupation as we root for our hero to survive. The movie depicts some of the cruelties of the war, and the children watch in horror as the SS soldiers gun down Jews in the streets, as Szpilman sees his family being taken away to concentration camps, as he is forced to perform slave labor, as he stumbles, in the end of the movie, desperate with hunger, around burned down houses in the ghetto of Warsaw looking for food.

The movie brings up more questions of fairness, justice, of the reasons humans can be cruel to each other. Through their empathy of Szpilman, through an awareness of his struggle to survive, the children develop compassion for others. JB asks me, as we are talking about how difficult life in their country was, "where did the Jews go?" He wants to know if they got away. I told him that lots of them died in the concentration camps, even kids their age, but some were able to flee to freedom, especially during the early stages, and some ended up in America.

He nods his understanding. These people whose struggles he had witnessed, maybe some of them were able to come to America and have a better life. What happened to them is not something they asked for, and he can see now how hard their life was in the country they were born in, and why they might want to escape.

Right after the movie ended, I went to Sunday school. The lesson this day was on the sin of "Pride", and in our discussion, we concluded that having pride in yourself for doing good is not the sin, but the sin exists in elevating yourself above others. This reminded me of racial prejudice, of how it still exists in this world, how there are people out there who think other races or types of people do not deserve the same respect or rights equal to theirs, who want to close borders and homogenize towns.

I think that part of the cure for racism is to teach our children to put themselves in someone else's shoes, to show them the hardships others face, to develop this compassion and empathy for others, and to continue to battle against the sin of pride, of thinking ourselves better than anyone else and therefore more deserving of human rights and privileges, like the privilege of living on a country that protects our freedom.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Book Review
by Dick Francis

Yes, folks, I have deviated from my Kerouac fanaticism for a second to bring you something completely different, a "horse of a different color". I feel this book is notable, and deserves to be reviewed.

It is notable in the respect that it is a Dick Francis book I actually read and enjoyed, first time I can say that. I have acquired several Dick Francis books over the years, mostly from my mother. I can't really say this is her fault, because I never mentioned that I disliked them. I suppose she thought that I would like them because his books all have horses in them.

I was going to mention that perhaps she thought I would like his books because I was addicted to Walter Farley books when I was I was an adolescent, which are primarily about horseracing. Then I thought about it and realized most of the books I chose to read as a child were about horses (elementary school I was all about the Billy and Blaze series and Marguerite Henry), and in fact the reason I was an early and avid reader was because my motivation to learn to read is so that I could read this book we had called All About Horses.

However, those stories are all different than the kind of books Francis writes. His books are primarily "whodunnit" mysteries that have horse racing as a backdrop. Originally I thought I didn't like them because of that fact, because I would say I really didn't like mysteries. Then I started thinking about if that was really true, because for one I have been reading a lot of mysteries in the past couple years and also, in a way, every book is a mystery. If you didn't have the desire to find out what happens next, whether it is who the main character is going to get out of the mess, if the star-crossed lovers will ever be able to work it out, or what becomes of a family or character in the book, then you aren't really interested in continuing to read it. The reason a person finishes reading a book is to know how the story ends, and in a way that is solving a mystery.

Every book may be a mystery, but not every book is about sleuth, about a character using deduction and logic to solve a crime. That was the primary action of the main character in this book, Alan York. Alan York is a steeplechase jockey who sees his good friend, who is racing in front of him, take a nasty fall on his horse and die as a result. York is convinced this was no accident, and for the remainder of the book, he is trying to solve the mystery of "whodunnit" and why.

The reason I think this book is superior to the other Francis books I have tried to read has something to do with this character, York. You just can't help but like him. He is a determined, intelligent fellow who will stop at nothing to find the truth, even if it costs him the thing he wants most at this point (the love of a woman). He has a code of ethics he follows even when it would behoove him not to, showing him to be honorable and a man of integrity.

An example of what I mean by this is that when he was visiting the grand home of his love for the weekend and meeting her upper-class relatives, who looked down at him in disdain because of his profession, he did not come out and admit to them that he was an amateur jockey and that he was a man of wealth and means who actually had a more professional job as a trader of securities. He could have pulled his family's card out of his hat at that moment and admitted that his father was the head of the wealthiest trading company in England, and had bought him a fancy car and three horses so that he could dabble in his little hobby on the side, and this would have won his love's family over. However, he doesn't tell them this because he wants to keep the playing field level between him and his fellow jockey friend who is also competing for the heart of the same girl and not take an unfair advantage. It was a sense of loyalty to his friend that prevents him.

This same sense of justice and loyalty to his friends is what compels him to seek the people responsible for the death of his friend Major Davidson, even though he is wounded several times in the attempt. The horses do not play a large role in the book, except as a backdrop, but my favorite part of the book did involve an amazing getaway ride from the racetrack to the countryside, with York riding Davidson's horse Admiral, reputed to be the best racer in the country, over rough obstacles to outwit the bad guys.

The book is an action packed read that never keeps you waiting. Every incident is crucial to the entire story, with not a wasted word in there. It read, in fact, like a steeplechase race in some respects, galloping along and up and over obstacles. Even on York's breaks from racing, he is pursuing justice and stumbling over clues that get him closer to the finish.
The book was written in 1962 and was the first book Francis ever published. After this one, he cranked out one book a year until his wife's death in 2000 slowed him down. It takes place in England, and I don't know if it is the time or the place, or if is the fact that it is the steeplechasing arena the book takes place in, but the horse talk is a little different. York refers to the racehorses as "hunter 'chasers", which is a term I have never heard. Around this part of the world, we call similar types of horses "hunter/jumpers". Steeplechase is a horse sport that is much bigger "over the pond" than in America, and maybe I haven't heard the term because it is particular to this sport. Francis shows his familiarity with the world of racing by vivid descriptions of setting, taking the reader into the jockey's changing areas and letting them in on the locker room talk, and introducing jockey slang.

Among the words he introduces is the phrase "dead cert", which is simply shorthand for "dead certain." It is a phrase the jockeys and bookies used to describe a horse-rider team that was certain to win a race. The problem with being a "dead cert" is that people know you will be out in the lead, first one over a fence, first one into danger. Major Davidson was the first "dead cert" introduced in the book. Will Alan York succumb to the same fate, or will justice be the next "dead cert"?

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Sherlock Holmes style smarts combined with a little horseplay. Read it, I'm dead certain you'll like it.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Old Friends Episode 1
This year, I got on this random kick to find people from my past, old friends I was close to at one time. I was going to have the opportunity to see two old friends this year that I had found with an internet search, and another friend whose email address I have, but whom I rarely see. The latter I will see in San Francisco next month, and she is my oldest friend in my life. I have known her since kindergarten and we became close friends when I was twelve, thirteen. Look for this reunion in Episode 2.
One of the two friends I found over the internet was coming into town this weekend. In the last two years of high school, he dated my best friend Mari and swam on the swim team with my boyfriend, so I had spent a lot of time with him. Our first year of college, we spent quite a bit of time hanging out, probably wrote letters - I wrote lots of letters back then. I always felt like I had a strong friendship with him, like I could relate to him on some level. His best quality was his sense of humor. He has always been very clever, very hilarious.
Somehow along the way we lost touch. School, new relationships, experiences, marriages, careers, kids. I love this websearch engine that gives you phone numbers, and I looked his up.
It turns out his sisters still live around here and his in-laws settled here as well, and he comes down often from his home in Ft Collins, Colorado.
The last time we had seen each other had been ten years ago. Once around that time, I saw him and one of his sisters in Austin, and was introduced to a girl Matt had just started dating, who is now his wife. I met her again a few months later in Colorado, when they came to visit Matt's brother, who lived in the same town in Colorado that I did. In fact, I used to hang out at his brother's place when I wanted company. When you are friends with one of their family, you are friends with the whole family. His family is very close.
I was thinking before I saw him, suddenly thinking would he have found that I had changed much? Would he be surprised at the way I am? I wouldn't really think so, but I had to think back. Who was I during the age when he knew me? Do I still have any of those same qualities?
When I would try to get my mind to focus in on that, though, I kept encountering the problem with perception. I couldn't bring myself from that time into focus, and realized I was missing the key information: In order to determine if he would think I had changed, I would have to know what he thought of me in the first place. What was his perception then? No matter how much I remember how I was during that time, I, from the inside, would not have the same perception of myself as an outside observer.
It reminds me of this school of thought in psychology that one can never really know oneselves. I don't like that conclusion, because I think it is possibly to know one's self through introspection, but this school of thought argues against that with the problem of perception. Part of "who you are", this philosophy advocates, is actually "who you are seen by others", and no matter how much one analyzes themselves, they can never know this information.
I believe it is possible to pick up on how others perceive you through direct communication and behavioral observation. When I thought about how I might have perceived at that age, I thought of a time when we were all studying for our SATs, and we were working on vocabulary, and they decided (well, mostly Mari) , that I was the definition of "effervescent". They agreed that is the way they saw me, as "bubbly". I thought of a time later, in college, when Matt and my boyfriend would tell me I was too loud. "Shhhh!", they were always telling me. I am sure they thought of me as "talkative". I know these things from what they say and how they acted towards me. I remember we had lots of laughs together.
Nowadays I don't talk or laugh as much as I used to. I finally got to a point in my life where I realized everyone had already heard what I had to say. I had finally gotten it all out. I actually have trouble thinking about what to say to people now, but that never used to be the case.
And I am sure Matt probably doesn't think that's the case, because I think I talked his ear off while we were hanging out. I was showing him photo albums. Somehow I felt it was relevant to discuss the road I took to this point in my life, catch him up with my pertinent history that he had lost during the time we weren't in touch. What seems pertinent now? What are the items that stand out when trying to explain the last ten years of my life to someone?
The story of my horse. Some trips and a move to Colorado. Animals at the zoo I worked at during the time I last saw him. The development of the relationship between my husband and I, dating, moving in together a thousand miles away in a ranch in Northern California, pictures of Rascal as a puppy and a growing baby inside me. Stories of Oregon in-laws. Moving back home, career choices, having children, finding a church "home".
Things are the things that shaped me, the experiences that changed me in little ways that caused the evolution in my life. It is my belief that people never really change, they simply evolve. In conversations with Mari, we decided that I haven't really changed, but I have evolved in the natural way that people do over time. My decisions, perceptions, and attitudes about things have changed, the way I handle people or life events has maybe changed, but the basic essence of "who I am" hasn't. I am still someone who has a big heart for animals, who devours books, who analyzes relationships, who writes as a cathartic form of self-expression, who is loyal to her friends, who has a liberal ideology, and who can't sit still for any length of time. A "do-er", a talker, an active and adventurous sort who wants to tell you all about the journey, one who will get up and disco dance no matter who is watching.
That is one of the things I remember most about Matt, the disco dancing we used to do at his house. I like someone who is not afraid to let go of social impressions and just have a good time. We would crack each other up. I have fond memories of his friendship, and we never had a bad moment, even though both our lives are defined by struggle.
Some people can just let those people go. My friend Lara says she has no interest in people from her past, that the past is best left there. I started to think maybe I was abnormal in my attempts to reconnect with those people, but then she tells me, "Oh no, lots of people are like that - look at Facebook, at Myspace, at the reunion websites - those things exist and make lots of money simply because there are lots of people like you who want to find people."
I read something once on friendships, and it was talking about different types of friends. One type they called "friends of the road", and basically it meant people who were your friends during a certain time and shared an experience with you, but then you went your seperate ways. I don't like the idea of "friends of the road". I want to keep my friends forever. You can simply say that is because I am a loyal person, but it goes even deeper.

If you were ever my friend, then you are always my friend, because I believe, like I said before, that people don't change that much. If I called you my friend, I saw something good in you, and that good doesn't go away over time. Same with love. If I ever loved you, I always will love you. I don't take love lightly (though my romantic history might make that seem like the case). If I loved someone, I saw qualities in them worth loving, and those don't go away just because the relationship changed. This is why I like to stay close friends with my exboyfriends, particularly the "Top Five Loves of My Life", and get disappointed when friendships with them don't work out. I don't like to lose friends to time and distance, and I am one of those people who will keep emailing, writing, sending Christmas cards and photos year after year, or randomly call someone out of the blue ten years later, saying "hey, I was thinking about you."
And you know what? I am glad I did that with Matt. He has changed somewhat over time, in the "natural way people evolve", but he is still funny, still clever, still a good person whose company I enjoy. I had a really good time seeing his sisters again and spending time with him. I liked hearing about his life now and hope to see him and his family again in the future. I am hoping we can continue to share a friendship and stay in touch over the years.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Book Review
Maggie Cassidy

by Jack Kerouac

In my old age, I intend to collect all my work and reinsert my pantheon of uniform names, leave the long shelf full of books there, and die happy
- Kerouac

Among the body of works that Kerouac considers part of his "Legend of Duluoz", his collection of books all dealing with the same subject (his visceral life experience and the places, people, and ideas he had come across along the way) is this short and sweet story of teenage love, Maggie Cassidy.
This story takes place in Kerouac's hometown of Lowell, Massuchussets in the mid to late nineteen thirties. Since Kerouac was born in this town in 1922, that would put him at the age of a teenager during the time the book spans, and his description of family events contains autobiographical information, so it is easy to believe Kerouac is telling you of a love affair in his life. The time, the setting, the family situation all matches. Therefore is this story true? Unfortunately, Kerouac has been dead for almost thirty years and we can't ask him, but it is fun to speculate about.
The main character, in fact, is named Jacky Duluoz, sometimes called Jack, or "Zagg" by his best buds, the troup of teenaged boys he hung out with. He is a football player and track star at the high school, and meets an enchanting youg girl at a school dance. They have a love affair, only Kerouac, in his youthful immaturity, doesn't really know what to do with it. He wants to love her, he doesn't know how to love her, he struggles with himself.
I'm throwing that in there for my friend JJ, who told me once a story has to have one of the classic "Man versus ___" themes. I would say that this story's theme is man vesus himself. It is also about the fragility and intensity of young love. We all know what that is like to have such powerful feelings about someone else during this age, but not knowing how to handle it.
We have also all had to walk away from our past into our future, like this main character did in the novel. Eventually, he graduated from high school and went off to college at Columbia. This we know from Kerouac's history was the place where he eventually met the other men who would also be included in the "beat generation" of writers and muses, such as Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, and William Burroughs. This book, however, ends around his sophomore year of college, right before he met the men who would influence his writing and his life decisions.
I'm not going to tell you how the story ends, you'll have it to find that out. Overall, though, I think that one would find this a saccharine and sublime novel. Kerouac's writing is concise and suberb, and also manages to convey a depth of feeling and inner angst.
I was a little surprised at the content. Since Kerouac sometimes used the pseudonym "Maggie" for Carolyn Cassady, whom he supposedly had an affair with, and the last names are similiar, I thought I would find similiar aspects to the relationship in this novel. After reading the novel, though, I don't think that there is a connection at all. It sounds like something else entirely. I am a little surprised also about the writing style. Kerouac's trademark spontaneous poetic prose is missing from this novel, and so far the books I had read of his that he includes in the "Legend of Duluoz" is written in this fashion. His epic novel The Town and the City, which includes a more orderly prose and story development, is not included in that collection of books. I would not have expected that this one was, either, but it is listed as such.
In one way, though, it makes total sense that it would be in that collection, because of the strong autobiographical nature told as if he was telling a friend. The collection does have that in common, as well as the story, told over time and in different ways, of a boy turning into a man turning into a star, a star that burned out with a liquor filled heart in the end. In that respect, it makes this novel significant as a piece of his history, the story of his youthful heart.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Great Oregon Travel Bug Race
For Christmas the year before last, I had ordered us four travel bug tags, one for each of us.
We decided to enter them into a race to Bend, OR. My husband really wanted to move there and the running joke is that I forced him to be stuck in Texas.
We each picked characters that would represent us and gave us side missions that revealed our personalities. Here are the racers with their goal statements from their respective pages:
AJ’s Captain Jack Sparrow 2007 Racer
This Tb is in a race with other travel bugs to see who can get to Bend, OR the first. On the way, this one would like to have its picture taken at beaches. This belongs to AJ, who is seven and really likes the beach. He would like to see it go lots of neat places and end up meeting it again when our family moves to Bend. Please keep it moving! We want to see if it can get to Bend by the summer of 2007.
Kaleb’s Leapfrog 2007 Racer
This one is in a race with other family member's bugs to see who can get to Bend, OR first. We would like the bugs to get to Bend around the summer of 2007. Along the way, this one would like to visit the things that baby Kaleb likes: other kids, dogs, and lakes. Please post pictures and stories of his adventures and keep him moving!
Mom’s One Eyed Alien 2007 Racer
This TB is in a race with the other family member's bugs to see who can get to Bend, OR the fastest. This one would like to travel through Colorado and stop in mountain caches as well. We would like to meet her again in Oregon in the summer of 2007. Please post pictures of her adventures and the other bugs she meets along the way. Keep her moving!
Dad’s Bend Or Bust 2007 Racer
This one is in a race with other family member's bugs to see who can get to Bend, OR first. We would like to see the TBs end up there around the summer of 2007. The others have side adventures they would like to have. This one, our Dad, would just like to get there already. He wants to go straight to Oregon, no fooling around! Our Dad loves Oregon and talks about it often. Please take photos of the places he has been along the way.
The race is officially over as of this week.
Mom's One Eyed Alien Racer won, getting to Bend in fifteen months after traveling 2015 miles and being dropped in eight caches and three events. She was officially released at an event and reached her destination at an event. Right now she is traveling Bend with ArmyMustang, who says she will get a ride to GeoWoodstock VI.
AJ's Captain Jack Sparrow Racer is second, and will also be joining us at GW6. It was almost there, in Portland, but then it went down to California and might as well just stay there now. It has traveled 4485 miles, has been dropped in fifteen caches and three events, and the last cacher who picked it up said, "Captain Jack Sparrow, Sir, You are going to GeoWoodstock!!!"
Kaleb's Leapfrog Racer is lost, sadly, out in the travel bug black hole. He disappeared after being on the road for eight months, and hasn't been heard from for nine months. In that short amount of time, it traveled 1197 miles, was logged in six caches and three events, and had six pictures uploaded.
And Dad's Bend or Bust Racer? Stuck in Texas!

Monday, April 07, 2008


In the past few months at my job, I've watched the behavior of my boss degenerate. I suspected some kind of mental issues beforehand, but of a kind of benign nature. However, with the added stress of a percieved threat, her mild bipolarism of before has lapsed into some kind of paranoid desperateness. I would say it is odd to watch this happen before me, but some of you who read this recognize that situation as a kind of dejavu. Oh, I really don't think this time it will go as far as the last situation did - my boss doesn't own this company, so if she freaks out, she is not going to run it into the ground - but worst case scenario is it could cost someone their job and professional reputation. My goal is to stay out of the crossfire, but I find myself caught sometimes in the middle, sometimes simply due to the nature of my position and sometimes out of a desire to protect the innocent party.
Meanwhile, I continue my work, which is to look for pathological behavior in my patients. Every day, I am observing, identifying abnormal behaviors, trying to ascertain the stimulus, determine the stressor, so I can remove it and hopefully cause the patient to revert to a normal behavior pattern. I put my "behaviorist" hat on and watch carefully with a tuned mind, clipboard in hand, while my patients merge around me, and make notes. This is normal, this one is not normal, what is going on here, what's wrong here, making observations, thinking about plausible connections.
Sometimes I forget to take off my "hat" and I see things around me in a different way. Sometimes I see my boss as a person in charge, and sometimes I see her as a victim of her own pathology.
Like most of us, I am beginning to suspect. I remember one time a friend asked me if I have ever wondered why I seem to always end up with insane bosses. I am not convinced it is something about me that draws me to these people, although my own pathology could lead me to stay in situations other people might not put up with.
My own pathology is also abnormal, and sometimes I see that as a direct result of my upbringing. There is probably some genetic interplay in there as well. Both of my grandmothers had some kind of mental pathology as well, maybe an undiagnosed anxiety or depression problem. My father and sister have both been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, and maybe that is a part of my abnormality as well, but my psychiatrists never get past the bipolar or anxiety/depression labels with me.
I am not convinced I have a true problem, because I function fine without medications. Sure, there's been the occasional panic attack or overwhelming sadness, but it has always happened when I have been emotionally worked up about something, and I still think it all ties into to my mother, who constantly rejects me.
This is part of her pathology, and like I said, plays a large role in mine. I brought my friend over to her house the other day, and I finally had a witness to it. My mother will get this look on her face, and I know it is coming; then she lays it down, some kind of heavy-handed criticism. Constant rejection, constant doubt of my ability to do anything. The past years, it has been mostly related to my parenting skills. This is the latest thing for her, but this kind of behavior has been going on with her for years. She gathers my sisters around her like allies and encourages them to gang up on me. She finds something in me to knock around every time I see her.
I no longer believe the things my mother says about me. It only took me about thirty years and a lot of therapy to get her negative feedback loop to stop playing in my mind. I decided at some point that even if my mother didn't believe in my worthiness, I did, and that is all that matters. Lately, I put on my hat and look for the triggers. I gaze at it with observer-neutral eyes.The trigger for her lately seems to be protection of my children, which I see as unjustified. I take care of these children just fine.
However, her pathology does affect me in this area. My biggest fear is that I will end up with a child who feels about me the way I feel about my mother. I want my children to feel loved. However, there are times when showing that love is difficult for me. Sometimes I am angry with the children, or tense, or short on patience, particularly in the morning, and particularly with my oldest son. His (currently unmedicated) ADD issues make it really taxing when we have to get out the door by six thirty, and the toddler is frequently cranky. My youngest son is a lot of work at this age. He wakes up crying sometimes and the only way he stops is if I hold him. This goes on sometimes in the afternoon as well, so I end up holding him a lot, or having to watch him attentively as he wobbles along in the house, trying to stick everything in his mouth or a socket. Meanwhile, my older son flits around and only sometimes and painfully follows directions. Everything is a struggle, and sometimes I am not the nice mommy, but the freakout mommy. I feel angry.
My worry is that this struggle I describe will someday become part of my older son's pathology. Will I be judged, as he enters manhood, for the good I did as a mother, or my failures? Will he suffer self esteem issues as a result of pushing and prodding, the frustration when he can't sit down to finish his homework assignment, the irritation when instead of following directions, he gets distracted in his bedroom looking for a toy to sneak into school?
I worry about the pathological footprints I am leaving on his psyche. My mother passed the baton, and every day I make conscious decisions to not be the kind of parent she was. Every night my children are hugged, kissed, and told they are loved. I try to make sure I tell my son what I love about him, what the good is in him. Sometimes it is hard, though, sometimes it takes searching, and I loathe that about this part of life.
The other day, there was an odd situation with my dog Scout. The youngest and most exuberant of the dogs, he had gotten excited with I was playing and laughing with the toddler. Scout was running around throwing a mitten up in the air and attacking it as it came back down, but sometimes when he runs around like that, he doesn't pay attention to the baby and knocks him down. I commanded him to calm down, and he quit running, but he came up to us and began barking. I asked him to lay down, and he backed off a few feet, but then he began barking a series of sharp barks - woof! woof! woof! I gave him the command to quiet, and when he continued to bark I tried to get his attention and realized I could not reach him. His eyes were glassed over and his body was quivering, and his woof was a steady even stattaco.
I stepped out of my role as his owner-mistress and put my behavior hat on. This was aberrant behavior, and something about his body position struck me as symptomatic of "rage syndrome", usually seen only in Springer Spaniels. I actually became concerned that in this state he was in, he might behave aggressively. I was concerned about the potential impact that his pathology held, and considered the consequences. I understood the trigger for the incident, which was a frustrated play drive, but the way he handled it was abnormal. It could be something that gets worse, or continues, a symptom of something darker, some untapped aggression, only time will tell. I will have to wait and see if this manifests into a true pathological condition, as opposed to an incident. Wait and see.
Likewise,with my boss, with my patients, with my son. Sometimes it is not clear what the ramifications are until what is becomes what has past. It seems unfair sometimes that it is so easy with the patients. I can rearrange their situation to decrease the stress, the pathological behavior. It is like a puzzle I can fit together different ways. With my mother, with my son, with my boss, I don't have that luxury. I can't simply rearange their environment and increase positive interactions. There are no easy solutions, although from the outside, it might appear so. Or maybe solutions never came easy for me.
It makes me think of the Serenity prayer, which I remember seeing stitched in a framed piece of cloth at my grandmother's house during my childhood.
Grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Rachael, this one's for you....bottoms up!
Making Heads or Tails of the
Myth of the Tequila Worm

We were in church, and we were talking about drinking. Now let me just say that this is a frequent topic of conversation in our Bible Study - hey, we're Methodists, not Baptists - and that the minister brought it up. He was telling us a story about his daddy and moonshine, not that his daddy ever drank it, but he sure was good at making it. Rachael's mind starts going, and she starts talking about tequila, and then she asks, "why does tequila have a worm in it anyway?"
I didn't know what to tell her. It seems like I might have known this at one time but I had forgotten. Must have been all that alcohol killing my brain cells. It seems like I also used to know how to make jello shots and trash can punch, but geez, it's just been so long.
She says, "maybe you could research THAT for a blog entry."
So okay, Mrs Rach, this is what I have learned....

Somewhere in the 1940s or '50s, an art student named Jacobo Lozarto Paez came up with the idea to start adding a guzano "worm" to his bottles of mescal - a varation of tequila - to make them stand out. The marketing ploy was so effective that the tequila worm has become a North American cultural reference and a false indicator of authenticity of tequila.
A possible reason Paez added a guzano worm (which is actually the caterpillar of a butterfly, or in some cases a type of weevil) as opposed to something else is because the "worm" itself does hold some legendary properties among the Oaxaqueño, whom include the guzano in their native cuisine. It is thought to have magical or aphridisiodic properties, although that well be an urban myth as well.
Some people claim that the worm demonstrates the alcohol content of the liquor, others have a rite of passage involving eating the worm, and our cultural reference these days is that the worm is supposed to come with our bottles of tequila. We have preconceived notions about what the worm says about the liquor, and how the worm makes us feel based on a marketing technique. I think that is very interesting in that respect.
I think about the way I would feel about a friend throwing down a bottle of tequila - we're getting ripped! - and how I would feel if it was mescal, worm floating at the bottom, and she cracks a smile and says, "And tonight we eat the worm."
Freaky. Would you, or wouldn't you?