Sunday, June 29, 2008

Jack Kerouac

This video features Tom Waits, who performs the musical score, but it gives a haunting performance of Jack at his most comfortable, reading his prose over the music of jazz. Just listen and dig...

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Book review
Jack's Book: An Oral Biography of Jack Kerouac
by Barry Gifford and Lawrence Lee
I bought this book at City Lights bookstore when visiting San Francisco. I wanted to learn more about the life of Kerouac, the writer I adore the most. After reading about fourteen of his books since my teenage years, I feel as if I know him well already, but I still wanted to fill in the gaps. I wanted to know the reasons for his eventual unwinding in the downward spiral of his latter years. I wanted to know what became of his friendship with Cassady, and what killed his relationships with women.
In the end, the book did not offer me any answers for two of the questions I wondered about originally. I liked the author's literary device of allowing others to actually tell the story, but felt like there was not enough of that. It came across as a narrative full of holes interspiced with sections from interviews with the other players, whose stories were as difficult to follow sometimes as the narrative. Some chronology was lost in both the narrative and the interviews, and I would go back to see if I missed something often, only to realize it was just never there or fully explained.
This book was originally published in 1978, so reading what Kerouac's friends, lovers, and acquaintances had to say about him needs to be tempered by the fact that this was less than ten years after he died. It has now been almost forty years, so I think it would be interesting if these authors did another set of interviews and see how perspectives have changed.
The authors set out to let these people who knew Jack intimately tell the story of his life. In the introduction, they state their objective as "we hoped [the result] would be a big, transcontinental conversation, complete with interruptions, contradictions, old grudges, and bright memories, all of them providing a reading of the man himself through the people he chose to populate his work."
It is interesting from a psychological standpoint this choice the authors made to let people tell the stories the way they remembered them, after their personal internal "revision" of events. The authors allowed the reader to decide for themselves which version was closest to the truth. In the end, they let Kerouac's lifelong friend and fellow "Beat Generation" crony Allen Ginsberg read the uncorrected galleys before publication of the book. Ginsberg's response, Gifford says, was branded in his memory: "My God, it's just like Rashomon - everybody lies and the truth comes out!"
Just like Kerouac himself, each of the versions of the truth present contradictions and yet somehow are strains of the truth, the truth as revealed through the eyes of perception. This is apparent even in his novels. Kerouac is known for his method of prose which involved telling a story of his varied experiences, often with the same circle of friends, but many of those friends interviewed for this book expressed that the version Kerouac presented in his novels was often different from the way they remembered it. For instance, the woman who was the model for the character Mardou Fox in the Subterraneans says about reading the manuscript of the novel when it was completed that "these are not the times as I knew them and the people, with the exception of his friends, were not as I knew them." This is a common refrain, and it would suggest to some that Kerouac was adjusting the truth, or perhaps not telling the truth, but I believe it was that he applied his unique filter to the experience, like we all do, and perhaps offered a romanticized version of the truth, such like the ones we all tell ourselves.
In the end, I decided that it was John Clellon Holmes whose version of truth in this novel most likely coincided with my opinion on the truth. He, of all of Kerouac's friends, seemed the be the one who understood him the most intellectually, and Ginsberg seemed the one who understood him the most emotionally.
Holmes was a fellow writer whose book Go, (published after Kerouac's first novel and before the publication of On the Road, the book that made Jack famous) was the first written mention of "the Beat Generation", and the phrase entered American lexicon when Gillbert Millstein reviewed Go for the New York Times. In 1952, Millstein asked Holmes to write an article defining the generation for the Sunday section of the Times, and Holmes complied with "This IS the Beat Generation", and this set the stage in some respects for the movement move into media hype which in the end, became part of Jack's demise.
Holmes seemed to understand that with Kerouac, with all of us, it is not the black and white, but rather the shades of grey that define us. He understood the man behind the contradictions. Others offered varied interpretations of Kerouac's baffling religious beliefs, but like Holmes, I understand that it was possible, although it seems counterintuitive, that Kerouac could both be a practicing Catholic and a budding Buddhist. Kerouac was known in his latter years for his interest in Buddhism, and several friends recount seeing him carry A Buddhist Bible around with him, but yet he could never turn away from the idea of his "little lamby Jesus" and continued to turn to his saints and Catholic traditions to feel closer to his savior. Both the ideas of Buddhism and Catholicism are apparent in his work, and he sort of moves between them. It makes sense to me personally as a former Catholic who only truly feels closer to God through worship after a traditional Catholic Mass, but who has explored Eastern religions as well, and believes one can blend those ideas into a coherent personal philosophy about religion. This is not a popular idea among fundamentalists in either sect, and even Kerouac's friends remember being confused, or simply thought Kerouac could not let go of Catholicism because of his mother.
Naturally, Kerouac's mother is present throught the book, and several friends offer up understanding along a lifelong theme of Jack's interdependent relationship with his mother. Perhaps that relationship has to do with Kerouac's inability to maintain successful relationships with women. The authors do little to explain Kerouac's marriages, and in fact no interviews with the three women Kerouac married are present in the book except for at the end when his last wife, Stella, discusses his return to his hometown and the day he died. She had been married to him for two and a half years at the time of his death, and helped him in those years take care of both his ailing mother and himself, by this time deep into alcoholism and seclusion.
Neal Cassady, the central figure in most of Kerouac's work, was present very little in the last ten years of Kerouac's life. I think this is an interesting facet that could be explored more deeply, and may look to other sources to help me understand what happened to their friendship that inspired Jack to both develop his unique writing style and give him material with which to fill at least two of his thirty published books. At the height of Jack's fame, right after On the Road was published and and during the media storm that followed, Cassady was arrested on trumped up drug charges and spent two and a half years in San Quentin. Kerouac explains the changes in a television performance, perhaps an excerpt from something written, as saying "we are still great friends, but have moved on to different phases of our life", but Cassady expressed some bitterness in a letter to a journalist quoted in this book, "I'm not interested in Jack's book or all that phony beat stuff or kicks....Jack and I, we drifted apart over the years. He became a Buddhist and I became a Cayceite [the prophet Edgar Cayce]. Yeah, he was impressed with me. Let's see if he was impressed enough to send me a typewriter."
After Cassady's release, Kerouac still saw him occasionally, but their lives took different directions. In the latter phases, Cassady was heavily involved with Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters, and Kerouac was heavily involved with alcohol and his inner demons, which mostly revolved around his inability to deal with the sudden fame that On the Road provided him. Kerouac was held up in the media eye as "The King of the Beats", a title he resisted, and his drinking seemed to result due to this inner conflict, but because of this fame, he was finally able to sell the other books he had written.
I found those latter years most intriguing. I had read Big Sur, his book that chronicled his downward spiral at his darkest moments, but never thought about the fact that this was 1960 and his despair continued until his death in 1969. I think it is sad that after all his interest in religion, he could never find that faith that would allow him to transcend his fame. His friends all talk about wanting to help him during those years, but being unable to stop the vicious cycle of binge drinking and depression.
The flavor, then, of this book at the end is bitterness and a failure to triumph over these demons. It is reminscent of the last ten years of Elvis Presley's life, and their lives both ended in a similiar aspect, with their agony being flushed away in the great toilet of life. He didn't live long enough to see the lasting effects of his legacy. If I could rewrite the story, it is the ending I would rewrite, much like Kerouac's mother requesting Jack change the ending to Pic, or Kerouac himself rewriting the ending to The Town and The City, what I think is his greatest novel, with the character most like him simply walking out into the West. That is the way I would like to remember Kerouac, simply walking out into the sunset for further adventures.
I would like to explore further how "beat" became "beatnik", and examine Kerouac's meaningful relationships more thoroughly, but that is beyond the scope of this review. For now, I will just leave the readers with the video above, to listen for themselves the scope of Kerouac's genius and develop for oneself your impressions.

Monday, June 23, 2008

West Palm Beach Adventures
I just returned from a five and a half day trip to Florida. I was there to attend a conference for work, but I had some time to go geocaching and to the beach as well.
What can I say about West Palm? Rain, rain, and more rain. As soon as I arrived, the storm clouds began rolling in. I realized early on that I was going to have to adapt and lower my expectations about how much I was going to be able to fit in.
The first half day, I had time to find two microcaches and hunted for two other caches that appear to be missing. I had noticed while researched nearby caches that many in the area I was staying in were poorly maintained, so I had concerns. About half the caches I had bookmarked had at least one, and some several, DNF (Did-Not-Find) logs on them. That would include the one in the location above, which was disabled while I was there (owner of the hide officially marking it inactive until it can be checked on). It was a great place to check out the beach, though, and take pictures of travel bugs.
After this, I was famished and looking for a place to eat, and I found Testas, which I found to be vaguely overpriced. I was quite full after, but I think $25 for a salad, soup, and soda was a but unreasonable. The bread served tableside is awesome, and the service was okay.
At this point in the evening, it was a lull between storms and I managed to make it out about five miles west to a regular sized geocache down a nature trail, where I was able to drop off two of the fifteen travel bugs I brought with me. Then it started raining again and I relaxed the rest of the evening in the hotel and attached bar.
The next day, first whole day in the location, I got out in the morning to head down south to some of the beach areas on Highway A1A. I was so focused on the afternoon hiking I was going to do that I was dressed completely inappropriately to be walking down the beach, and had forgotten the rule about "when in Rome". I should have brought my bathing suit. I was really kicking myself for that but I was on a roll with geocaches and didn't want to drive all the way back to the hotel. I kept looking for a surf shop but the only one I saw wasn't open yet.
The highlight of the adventure was the second of the three caches I found, and a DNF. At the second cache, an older gentleman gave me a nice seashell as he came up the boardwalk. He told me he walks down every morning and gets the seashells, so he has no need ot this one. "It's my therapy," he grinned at me, and I thought hey, pretty cheap therapy! After he left, I was looking on one side of a boardwalk for the ammo can and spied a large black snake making its way into the foliage on the other side. Then I realized the cache was right there, near where the snake had originated. I left two more of my travel bugs at this spot.
Very soon after this, I went after a cache in a very nice park in the Boynton Beach area with a lovely marina and cool shady benches. I really enjoyed the park itself, but I didn't find the cache. I was having my Indiana Jones moments looking for it, back in the wet tropical forest in the rear of the park. The plants were huge and
wet, and everywhere I went I was hypervigilant of snakes. Like Indiana himself, I hate snakes.
After this little adventure, I really wanted to go change my clothes and I was a bit overheated, and I had a strong desire to sit in a cool restaurant and try some local cuisine. On the way through Lake Worth, I found South Shores Tavern and soup and a burger there. It was decent food but I only ate half.
I started back to the hotel, and struggled with a couple more caches. I bet over the time I was there I only found half the caches I actually looked for, like this one near the fountain in the heart of Lake Worth's city center. I looked for another one in the Lake Worth area and didn't find it, but did stumble upon this benchmark.
The storm clouds were rolling in by now and the air had cooled, so I decided I should make the most of the time I had left and headed to Okeeheelee County Park, where there was a cluster of caches. I grabbed one cache as the storm rolled in, with booming thunder and high wind. It started raining as I got into the park, and I decided to wait it out in the park's Nature Center. I bought some items for the children and checked out the displays, and finally the rain calmed down, enough for me to make it down one of the trails, despite the concerns of the employees about lightning (I have had advanced lightning training in my years on scouts, and what I saw wasn't worrying me). I dropped off another coin and made it back to my rental car just as another downpour came.
I managed to find a quick park and grab micro in the park, but the heavy rain didn't appear to be letting up. I went to a nearby Applebees to wait it out, but when it was still coming down hard after I ate, I just went back to my hotel to prepare for the evening's festivities.
I thought I would have some opportunities to still get a couple close caches once my conference started, but once again I adapted, this time to spending all my time at or near the conference center, talking and learning. Right across from the conference center was the City Place, a shopping area with restaurants. I ate lunch there at a place called Brewzii's with a group of people I met from a local foundation, who happened to have an open position at their company and who encouraged me to speak to their boss. I did eventually, but never mentioned the job vacancy, as my agenda with her regarding something else.
Although my conference was geared to a specific audience, there was a wide spectrum in interests within this audience that ranged basically from field to lab work. The presentations involved current research within this wide range. During one lecture on field conditions and species in Madagascar, I found myself missing a very close friend. I suddenly saw her through the impressions I had when we first met, of us together at an ethology talk and being enthused on the same level, of her interest in conservation biology and traveling to exotic places. It made me sad in a way because of how we drift, as people, further from who we were in the past. I want to cling to my idea that people don't change, but it has been so long since I have seen my friend at my side in these types of talks. I had forgotten that part of her, but finding the ghost of that memory here made me nostalgic.
Although I haven't achieved the academic aspirations I had during that time, I have never left this field. In some ways I have continued to be a student of animal welfare my whole career, in varying capacities. At this conference, I was surrounded by the big names in this little field, and the people who I met right off the bat where the folks writing the papers that I in turn plan to reference in my paper, those PhDs and DVMs who work in the little field of behavioral research that is highly applicable to my job. These are the movers and the shakers in my world.
I found them to be highly accessible and enthusiastically helpful. They all pushed me on different levels to get my data out into the world and hoped I would do a talk on my subject next year. I got promises to sent me references, methodology, and offers to edit my paper or assist in some way. In that respect, I was serving my personal agenda.
At the same time, weighing on the back of my mind was the ticking clock of the promise of a great new job that came my way. I have been in what I would characterize "enthusiastic talks" with another company that is offering a higher position and higher pay, in the area of the world we want to live in.
Most of you know my husband's great desire to move to the Pacific Northwest, and a company is up there with an open position for a great job within my skill set. The nagging problem is the fact that the job would not be focusing on the area of behavioral research that I find so fascinating. On one hand, it would be a way in so that when the ideal position opened up, I would be at a close angle, or could use the job as a stepping stone to the national centers nearby.
On the other hand, once I leave, I give up the rights to my data. Right now I have stumbled upon some success in solving a problem that hasn't been successfully solved. Putting my data out in the world could help me achieve some of my academic goals. Suddenly, it becomes very pressing to get my work out, and at the same time use it to serve my career in the best way. I asked a lot of questions about publication turn around times at this conference. I confirmed my decision while here that I still wanted my place in behavior research, and that I really need to slow my stroll with the new job.
On the second night of the conference, I went to dinner at Brewzii's with a small group that included my colleague from the Reno site, the woman from Bastrop who had told me she wanted me to work for her, and her friend who did a very interesting talk that afternoon.
Over drinks and dinner, we were talking about a book. Eat Pray Love.
The context of the story a woman rediscovering who she is, reclaming her individuality after divorce. I mentioned how my friend's mother who works at our church has always counseled us about maintaining our individuality, and warned about friends of hers who got divorces once the kids were raised, because the women had forgotten who they were without children. Without that individuality, she warned, you will be left in the lurch at some point down the road. I commented that I thought that happened to these women because most were stay at home wives with working husbands who just grew apart over the years.
The woman from Bastrop says "it's interesting that you see it that way," which I think was quite a tactful way of saying "I disagree with you." She believes it is the common experience of women to sacrifice their individuality in relationships to men. She and her friend agree that as women, they always plan their lives around the men in it and have difficulty in making individual plans. In my life I have the opposite problem in that I strongly retain my individualism at the cost of intimacy in the relationship.
We all decided this was probably adaptation to spending three of the nine years of marriage with him away with the military. It was a survival technique to absorb myself in hobbies and social groups while he was gone, and naturally there would be a struggle when he got back with how much he was willing and able to be a part of this life I created for myself.
The third day of the conference ended early, and my Reno cohort and I went to explore the beaches. I put sunscreen on all day but still ended up with a nasty sunburn. I ended up taking us to two of the beaches I had discovered while geocaching.
I have always said that my idea of bliss was riding on a horse bareback, cantering, and letting go of the reins to reach up to the sky in connection with the universal and divine creator. Today I remembered another kind of bliss - to float spread eagled in the ocean water, eyes closed, warm sun radiating along your body, to rock in unison with the waves and in connection to the universal and divine creator. I was "at one with the universe" during our hours at the beach.
We had lunch at an Asian fusion place, Thiakyo (I think, funny that I am unclear on that now), that blended Japanese, Thai, and Chinese in the same location. The food was good, though. I had the shrimp pad thai. After this we went to another beach, and talked all afternoon. I was so relaxed when we got back to the hotel, but I had sand in all kinds of places and painful pink skin. We prepped for the banquet and met downstairs to head out to the venue, the Palm Spring Zoo.
They put on quite a party. Zookeepers were on hand to bring out animals to show off. We were served cocktails and hors-doeuvres within the zoo near some exhibits, then taken over to the Tropics Cafe for food, dancing, and more wine. It was a great chance for people to put their hair down. Dawn and I started out singing along to Violent Femmes, and ended up on the dance floor busting moves, along with all the other mad scientists. I had a great time making more friends and talking to friends I had made earlier, but then we left about midway through, tired from a long day. Dawn needed to get up early to catch her flight and I didn't want to drink anymore.
The next day was my last day there. I returned in the morning to the Okeeheelee Park to go after the caches I wasn't able to get in the rain. They were all decent hikes of at least 0.2 miles, and I grabbed five in two hours of hiking. I dropped off all my remaining travel bugs. I left fifteen on the trip and came back with two.
Before checkout time, I got back to the hotel to grab a shower and pack. I am so glad I took a shower then because it left a nice cool, clean residue for the rest of the day. I grabbed a quick cache in downtown and headed out for Apoxee Park, where I was going to do some more big hiking. Turns out Apoxee Park was closed, which was fine because it started storming right then anyway. I was looking for a place for lunch and some more caches, and ended up at the Riviera Beach Marina, looking for Captain Joe.
Captain Joe runs a boat taxi that will take you over to Peanut Island, a man-made island paradise recreation area. He almost didn't take me due to the weather. He asked me what I would do there, and when I told him "hiking" he seemed okay with it, and by the time two other people got on board, it turned sunny after all and it was quite a nice walk. It was 1.3 miles around the island, and I found one cache and took pictures. This brought my trip total to 16 geocache finds, and I dropped all fifteen travel bugs.
By the time I got back to the mainland, I was about a half hour behind schedule to get to the airport, but it turned out to be all right. It was starting to storm as I pulled up to the airport, and as I sat at the bar, the locals and tourists aliked joked about the relentless rain.
In the end, it was one moment during this trip that seemed most memorable. At the closing banquet, as we walked into the rustic porch area of the lodge, another storm was rising. Lightning lit up the dark blue background as hundreds of white birds, egrets, flew swiftly in circular patterns over the lake, or landed in nearby trees. The DJ booth was playing a song from Lion King, the song in the beginning scene, and it seemed to blend perfectly, and I could feel the energy of the birds in the air. All around me were gathering researchers and scholars, world class primatologists. It reminded me of a part in a letter I wrote a former boss recently, about how at this job I have now, I had learned to fly. At this moment, I was. I haven't lost me. I know exactly who I am.
Who I am Is
A bird soaring
A body floating
A person dancing
A woman smiling
A student learning
And I am
Still Here.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

My beat poet based traveling adventures are over for the year, but I continue my quest to read all of the "Dulouz Legend" in the entirety. I recently finished three Kerouac books in a row and would like to share my perceptions and comparisons.
Tristessa: "Jack the Lover"
This is simply a novellette about a love gone south. It was published in 1960 and is a brief 96 page tribute to an affair that really wasn't. Over a period of a couple of years, Jack visits Mexico, and his life there was intertwined with two women and the people they knew, the life they lived there in Mexico City. One of the women is Tristessa, a junky who Jacks falls for due to beauty alone. He finds her captivating and frequently shares space in her worn adobe living quarters with her, her older female companion, a chihuahua, a flea-ridden young cat, a rooster, a chicken, and a dove. In between and sometimes during, he hangs out with "Old Bull Lee", one of Kerouac's pseudonyms for William Burroughs, a heroin addict and former junky, as well as another in the beat poet umbrella, and travels back and forth again from New York City.
The language in this one is poetic prose, and leans on the entirely sad, suffering, and sappy existence of Jack as a Lover, Jack as a Man. It speaks of the desolation of loving someone you can never really touch, and seeing the beauty that lies behind a true ugliness. It was the possibly the best of the three novels I read, although the next one is very close in quality.

Visions of Gerard: "Jack the Boy"
The most amazing thing about this book is the details related in the story of the death of Jack's older brother, an unusually beautific character in the road of life. The reason those details amaze me is that those remembrances of Gerard, told with such clarity, were memories from very early childhood. Gerard was nine when he died of rhuematic fever, and Jack was only four years old at his brother's funeral. Yet, out of this time, Jack wrote 130 pages detailing remembrances of Gerard, of his character, of specific events, some details imagined as it might have happened or as according to family legend, but some as nuggets gleamed in true reflective memory.
Kerouac's friends when he was growing up used to refer to his as "Memory Babe", because of his amazing ability to remember details. His friend and fellow beat poet Lucien Carr says of him in Jack's Book: An Oral Biography of Jack Kerouac that "He really had a memory like few men that you will meet...He had a fantastic memory". In none of his other books is that as clear as this one, where he recollects his brother, family, hometown, and family history with such specificity. He describes Gerard's relationships with the people, places, and animals around him, little facets of personality, such as the way he held his head and the way he described his experience.
This is the sweet story of a family dampened with loss, a loss young Jack doesn't percieve as so terrible. The last six months of Gerard's life, he lived with such pain that little four year old Jack ran to greet his papa to tell him excitedly of Gerard's death. Throughout this historical character study, you can almost see why Jack would be almost gleeful - in his mind, Gerard was able to leave the earth and head to Heaven, where he had wanted to go, even perhaps with his little wagon pulled by two white lambs right up to God Himself, a dream depicted often by a slowly dying Gerard.
In this story, you also get to see the town of Lowell, MA, through the eyes of the young boys. You can imagine, like a black and white movie, this small town in 1920s Massachusetts, the sister nuns who spend time talking with Gerard, whom they consider to be blessed, the Catholic school and ceremonious prayers, and the raging of the Merrimac River, also all present in differing form in the next book as well.
After reading this book, I can see how this experience in Jack's life shaped him and inspired him to be the writer he became. Perhaps the act of remembering was developed here, in trying to keep Gerard's spirit alive through memory alone, and the first stabs at darkness, a darkness in the back of Kerouac's soul that inspired him to type up the experiences of his life into novels.

Doctor Sax: "Jack the Dreamer"
This is my least favorite Kerouac book of all time, and I almost didn't even finish it. I had no interest in reading it, even coming from someone who adores hearing descriptions of Lowell and Kerouac's childhood. The only reason I decided to continue reading it was because the biography of Kerouac I am reading now talks about the meaning of the book and helped me to understand it in a different way.
I didn't like it because it was such a departure from the typical Kerouac style of retelling an experience like he was telling a friend. The story is similiar to Visions of Gerard in that it relays some of his childhood, but he intertwines it with a fantasy involving a mysterious shadowy vampiresque figure who visits the area in a final climax with his battle against a great snake. The Doctor Sax of this odd fantasy is reminiscent of The Shadow, a radio personality of the time period who seemed to be a great influence on Kerouac. The book and its final pages seem to speak of a coming of age and the transition between a man and a boy.
Next entry - Florida!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

In one week, I will be on a beach in Florida, soaking up some rays and knowledge. I decided it would be a good time to use the rest of my gift certificate for the nail salon (see previous post - "Just What the Doctor Never Ordered). There is a good likelihood I will be getting some beach time with my friend from another work site that I might want to work with some day, so having professional looking nails seemed like a good idea.
This time the place was dead, so I had two women working on me at once, one at my feet and one working on my hands. They of course went for the upsale at once (see Anjela Johnson's Nail Salon jokes). They tried to sell me the deluxe package, which I declined, but then one looked up and suggested an eyebrow wax. "Show off your eyes, make you look pretty", she says. She then says something in Vietnamese to her coworker, which I think was a comment on my appearance, and the one working on my hands quickly looked at me with pity in her eyes, which guided me to think it was not flattering. I was not really concerned with this, and I mentioned to them that getting my eyebrows done "always hurts a little bit".
"Oh honey, but beauty IS pain."
My immediate thought was, So that's what I've been doing wrong these years! Which was a joke to self, really. In my honest reflections, I know that I am not as pretty as I used to be, and in my darker moments, I mourn the loss of my beauty. When I say things like that, people assume I mean that I don't feel good about my appearance, but it is not that at all. I am comfortable with what I consider as my "reasonably attractive" appearance. Like most people, I have good and bad days. I can put on the shine and look nice, and I can look downright ugly.
However, I can tell that I am not as attractive as I once was because of the way people respond to me. We like to tell ourselves we don't judge people on their appearance, but it does factor in to the way people treat you. People don't treat me the way they used to.
In my younger years, I learned how to use the power of my sexuality to get what I wanted from people. It was a trick in the toolbox of manipulation that I wasn't really aware of how to use until college, but then I perfected it. I would go to bars with no money in my pockets, knowing full well I could get drinks by flirting with men. My attractiveness worked on women as well, helping me to impress during interviews and work the networking ladder. It was especially helpful in getting me out of speeding tickets. I talked my way out of thirteen tickets during the years of my physical prime, but nowadays, the cops take one look and they start writing the ticket before I even start talking.
I know that some of it is age and life experience. I see the biggest differences in my appearance in my face and my weight. I can see it in my face most clearly. When I look at pictures of myself from five to ten years ago, I see how much smoother the skin on my face was. There is an absence of lines and blemishes that seem to appear around the time I had my first child and increase exponentially through the years despite my skin care regime. I am carrying fifty, sixty pounds more than I was back then, which I can blame on having two kids, my metabolism slowing down, the lack of a proper exercise schedule, poor diet, and/or my overriding desires for cheeseburgers. Stress and hormones haven't treated me well.
Even so, though, I don't feel bad about the way I look, I just notice things are different for me. I think there are nice features about myself that still get noticed. When I met Indy's girlffriend for the first time, she slid into the seat next to me and said sweetly, "You're really pretty." I smiled at her and replied, "Thanks, so are you!" I had put on the makeup and the nice dress that night, but most days I don't bother, because I am not that concerned with my physical appearance. I would rather someone find me I was smart or interesting than attractive.
Perhaps, though, these girls in the nail salon are right. I coasted along in my prime years off of what God gave me. I never really had to work at being attractive, and I haven't really ever endured pain for the sake of it. The closest I have come to feeling a true understanding that "beauty IS pain" might be some brutally intense physical workouts. I have an obsessive mind and sometimes it focuses on exercise, and during those times, I lost thirty to forty pounds pounding the streets, treadmills, and stairmasters of various gyms around town for a year or so before losing interest and moving on to the next obssessive behavior (which very possibly could be cheeseburgers again, leading me into some vicious get fit-get fat-and-back-again cycle).
I haven't sacrificed for beauty, and in some way in the back of my mind, I think maybe we shouldn't have to. I mean, what is the function of beauty anyway, as I am fond of asking? At the heart of this is a philosophical debate that I could elaborate on but will choose not to in the interest of brevity (brevity, she says? What does she know about brevity, laughs my inner jokester). In my opinion, the function of beauty is to find a mate. Does it really matter if anyone else finds you attractive other than your mate? Does beauty simply rely on external factors, or is it a combination of a number of features? Does beauty exist in a vacuum?
In thinking about beauty in the terms of relationship with one's mate, let me examine two statements made by my husband regarding beauty. One day we were looking through a tabloid magazine, and there was a page with several fresh-faced Hollywood women. He went through and pointed out which ones he found to be more attractive, who were not the more conventional choices. "You wanna know why I picked these ones?" he said, "It's because these women are smiling. These ones over here look unhappy. To me, what makes a woman beautiful is when they are happy inside, and you can see it on their face. This is a woman you want to be around."
I thought of another time he made a statement about beauty. Those who know our recent history have heard the story about our Great Flood Story, when we had to be rescued by boat when a river flowed into our campsite in the middle of the night. We had only made it to safety by pushing each other through the shoulder-deep water to our vehicle and climbing on top. As the waters raged around us, I held my ten month old baby to my chest, hair dank with river water in the dark of the night, and prayed that God would help us get out safely. My husband said later, "You never looked as beautiful to me as you did at that moment."
Clearly my husband has an unconventional idea of beauty, or perhaps he, as others do, understands that beauty is "more than skin deep", that "beauty is as beauty does", and half a number of the other cliched statements we make but yet have trouble living by. Over the recent years, I have come to see that my husband's attraction for me has less to do with what I look like, and everything to do with how I act. A smile and kind words goes further with him than fresh makeup and a tight sweater.
I went ahead, though, and agreed to a little bit of pain for my beauty today, telling them that since it was my wedding anniversary, I did want to look nice, and so perhaps an eyebrow wax might be beneficial. It does seem rather odd to me, though, that today's standards of beauty involve the removal of hair from places God allowed it to grow. I think if God intended for us to perceive beauty as freshly waxed, shaved, and plucked body parts, then wouldn't He just stop it from growing? Of course I am being facetious, but at the same time don't understand a society that places value on false appearances - fake tans, nails, breasts, hair. Why can't we be happy with the way God made us, individual yet all beautiful in our own natural way?
I could write an entire essay on what I think is wrong with cultural standards of beauty and how it affects women and their self esteem. But not tonight. Tonight I am going to shave my legs. I am going to style my hair, put on my makeup and jewelry, and prepare to go on a romantic date with my husband to celebrate our ninth wedding anniversary. I'm going to put on my cutest outfit and bring out my most beautiful self. Before I walk away from the vanity, though, I going to put on the finishing touch, the one last special touch - a genuine smile. It might be the sexiest thing I'm wearing tonight.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

All We Are Saying....Is Give Peace A Chance

On 93.7 The Arrow this morning, they were talking about the performance posted below, of Paul McCartney performing "A Day In the Life" Live in Liverpool. The remarkable thing about this, the DJs pointed out, is that it was the first time Paul has sang a (primarily) John Lennon song live in concert, and with Yoko Ono in the audience nonetheless. For those familiar with the late years of the Beatles, you might understand how time must have healed some wounds.
Hearing this over the radio, I was overcome with emotional connection to the music, and several thoughts struck me. The first was that Paul's voice has changed with age, and maybe not for the better (which in no way takes away from his musicial genius), and that Paul does not do a good John. Their voices were actually so different from each other, and the beginning of this song loses some of the effect without John's nasally influence. I was a huge Beatles fan in my younger days (and of course still love their music), but it was always John for me. Maybe I wasn't a Beatles fan as much as I was a John Lennon fan.

Anyway, to me this song seems to be about futility of life and the smallness of our individual existence. The first part, about the lucky man who blew his mind out in a car, reminds me of this movie we watched in college, Faces of Death, and a scene where a man in court pulls out a gun and blows his brains out while the court stenographer cannot help herself from laughing.
Although the news was rather sad...well, I just had to laugh.
Sometimes life is like that. Sometimes we have to laugh to keep from crying. Sometimes laughing is our first and most absurd reaction. Sometimes laughing helps us from taking it all too seriously. If we really think about it, really take in all of what life has to offer, it might be so overwhelming black and sad and futile that we would want to give up. If we reflect on the insignificance of the individual existence, it can make our lives feel meaningless. Oh sure there is the thought of what lies beneath, or above, where our souls go, that provides meaning to a meaningless world, but I am talking about the physical life on earth, and what we leave behind.
In the long run, do the things we belief and act on even matter? What parts of us will become a piece of our lasting legacy, or is legacy a dead issue anyway except as it relates to extreme talent or genetic success? In a hundred years, will our lives have made any kind of lasting impressions, will our names be remembered? Will our life have been meaningful beyond ourselves? Most of us will never know the answers to these questions.
So we take it one day at a time. We apply meaning to our actions on earth.
We wake up, get out of bed, drag a comb across our head....
I always wonder if they meant that we turn to our visceral experience or the metaphysical when we then says I'd love to turn you on.....

But then suddenly in this version, Paul drifts into another John Lennon song, "Give Peace a Chance". At first I found it unsettling, the tired refrain of an old anti-war hym. Haven't we all gotten past that? It was a remnant from the past, it was a long-haired John Lennon in hotel room love-ins with Yoko, it was a protest of a war that we have all put aside for now. Then I realized that of course this song is still relevant today. Different decade, different war, same message.

All We Are Saying....Is Give Peace a Chance.
That message might never go out of style.

It reminded me, though, of human evolution, both personal and political.
I saw images of the Beatles in the early pop years contrasting with the long haired freaky people look of the Maharashi years, juxtaposed Help! with the White Album. Imagine the screaming fans in black and white stadiums across the country, and then the studio years, all long hair and psychedelics. I thought about the bitter split between Paul and John, and the legal battles, and then now, a sixty five year old McCartney onstage doing a tribute to Lennon.
In listening to the song, I was taken back to another era in my life. I was thinking about how it might seem very odd to someone who knew my pothead political ideology back in the day (you say you want a revolution well you know) that I ended up marrying a soldier. I was the neohippie, with boots on, waiting a chance to spring into action on the peace scale ladder. There was beaded necklaces made by hand, bell bottoms, hippiespeak, and a ten year plan for promoting world peace (we all want to change the world). I remember wearing the shirt of John Lennon wearing the "New York" shirt, how I would listen to the Beatles all the time, how fly that shit was on hallucinogens, how I would never compromise my personal beliefs.
My friends who knew me back in the day would sometimes wonder how someone like me could support the war, and I would quip that "I don't support the war, the war supports me", or, "I don't support the war, I support my soldier". All my anti-war beliefs didn't stand in the way of care packages or moral support for our own war hero.

You tell me that it's evolution, well you know...
Sometimes we move along in our personal evolution so far that it becomes hard to recognize ourselves. I look back at that person I was and she seems like someone else, like viewing a movie of someone else's life. I will fervently deny that people change, and I think there is some part of the essence of one's self that will always remain true. The problem is discovering that essence. What are the fixed parts of our psyche that remain unchanged by evolution?
I remember a conversation in recent years with the father of my high school sweetheart. I was telling him about my church and he was surprised, and commented "You never struck me as the type for organized religion." I wondered when he said that how well he had known me at all, because during the time I was dating his son, I was becoming a confirmed Catholic. There were nonpracticing years in there, and now I am a Methodist. Does that make me a different person? I don't think so, I simply see it as someone capable of deep spirituality seeking the right fit.
Does it make Paul a different person to be doing a tribute to his dead friend, when he wouldn't even show up to the Beatles induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, citing unresolved difficulties with the remaining members of the band almost two decades after they broke up? Is it change, or is it evolution?

Or is he simply giving peace a chance?

Paul McCartney - A Day In The Life [Live at Liverpool, 2008]

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Travel Bug Feature #5 - Post GWVI UPDATE
I introduced my readers in TBF #4 to the various travel bugs I was bringing with me on my trip to California, and also had mentioned the ones I own that might also be making an appearance there. Now it is time to update you on what happened to the bugs since the big (bug) event.
Since I left my sheet at the hotel with the phone numbers of the people who had my bugs, as I mentioned, I had hoped I would see them in the bin for the Southeast states, but when I went through the trading area, there were only two bugs in that bin and neither of them were mine. I was looking at lanyards all day, hoping to recognize the names of the people who had my bugs with no such luck. This is what has happened to them since:
AJ’s Captain Jack Sparrow 2007 Racer : I mentioned in TBF #3 that this one was in a race to Bend OR, which was won by my racer. Tmkbk had grabbed it and was in contact with me before the event, but I never saw them. The bug was picked up then by lyonden_ut, who dropped it off in a cache in Utah. I am going to change its goal to come back to Houston.
American Heroes : CelticCacher had this one and had been in touch with me for a while. Too bad about the numbers thing (hey, but you know, I think I gave MY number to a lot of these people, and I didn't get phone calls either come to think!). Anyway, I kinda wanted this one to keep traveling anyway. It has gotten the best photos. It is a Army medal my husband earned while serving over in Iraq, and its goal is to be photographed with other soldiers. Here is my favorite photo from the gallery. It is currently in the hands of twobison and was recently placed near the General Patton Museum.
Oh wow, I gotta tell y'all about this one's journey! Okay, so I had gotten these Partners in Caching Geocoins when I first started out like two years ago - they are a set of two coins in the shape of dogs. I dropped them off at a park - one in a cache on the west side, one in a cache on the east side, with the goal for one to travel west and one to travel east and see who got farther. Well, the one on the west side was picked up by a newbie cacher who never let it go. He has had it for a year and a half and originally responded to my emails but has long since stopped, and hasn't logged into since April of last year. Anyway, this one got picked up and was moved WEST (was the east oriented one) and has all kinds of adventures and pictures taken with dogs. Well, after it left GW6, it was taken by WhirledCache to the Original Stash Tribute Plaque! This is a plaque erected at the site of the original geocache placed in May of 2000 that started this crazy game we love so much. The first cache was eventually destroyed by a mower, but there is an ammo can near this plaque for trading items, and that is where my coin was placed, and picked up again, and now is in a cache nearby. So I was lately in this quest to find the cache with the highest number of finds - this one has 1805 logged finds! The highest number I have found in Houston is around 250, to give you some perspective.
Sweet! This cool bug made to the event and was picked up by Scooby, Shaggy and Velma and dropped in a cache in Rocklin (nearby) after the event, then moved to a cache around Sheridan (on the way from Rocklin to GW6), at which point it was picked up. It is a cute little thing whose goal is to have pictures taken with candy.
I brought three bugs back to Texas that traveled to California with me. I did not plan to actually let them go in the exchange. Cameron's Flip Flop had a goal of moving to Florida and having its picture taken on the beach before heading back to California. I am taking it there in two weeks and will leave it in Florida in a cache near the beach after taking its photo. Yellow Bunny has not traveled to Florida and has a card to check off states it has visited in its bag, and is simply in a race with other bugs for mileage. I will leave this one in Florida, too.
Another one, Rubix Rings, was kind of a late edition to the group. It is a large bug and I have no idea why I did not leave it in the exchange or drop it in a cache along the way. Somehow it made it back with us, and I am going to try trading for a smaller bug at one of the events I am going to soon. I think my idea was to hang on to it for dropping in a cache along the way postGWVI, but I kept forgetting to bring bugs with me to leave, or to write their numbers down when I left them (since I had not pulled them out of the mega-event yet).
When I reached the travel bug trading station at GW6, I had eleven bugs in my hands. At the last minute, I decided NOT to drop Fly N Fish in the event. I suddenly remembered that I had wanted to try to meet its goal by taking pictures with it and fish in Sacramento and San Francisco. I totally forgot, and I handed it to Snoogans right at the TB station because I knew he was good at meeting goals of TBs and he was headed to Sacramento. He told me he was going to eat some sushi so he would be able to get some pictures.
I dropped the following bugs in the station for trading:
Fireman Flash: this one wanted to go to Maine, and is already there! It was picked up by kayakerinme and the last log says it is in Maine and going to have a photo before being dropped off again. How very exciting that taking it to GW has helped it reach its goal.
Georeynozo's The Girona Fire Salamander Geocoin, Engine,Path Finders , and Traveling Antenna Ball - all picked up by Scooby, Shaggy and Velma and headed for Seattle. They must have come through the trading area right after me. Here is a picture of their team I swiped from the event page.
Geocaching Zone USA - Eastern - Geocoin Proxy - picked up by wandering4cache and headed for MA, where it will be in the ET zone that it wanted
"Stanford le Hope-Corringham, United Kingdom" Unite for Diabetes Travel Bug: this one was picked up by scottyj and has already been dropped in the UK!
"Macclesfield, United Kingdom" Unite for Diabetes Travel Bug: picked up, dropped in a cache 27 miles away, and picked up again already
Georeynozos November 2006 Geocoin Club Geocoin - MaxB on the River : this coin belongs to a friend of mine and its goal was to be handed to MaxB, so that is what I did, in exchange for my Travelin' Tin Man, who is now safely home again after many great adventures with MaxB. I noticed that MaxB later checked this geocoin into a cache in Crater Lake, OR, which is near where we used to live and one of my husband's favorite places. After this, the coin was logged in some very exciting locations, including Montana and Saskatchewan! It is currently traveling through Canada with MaxB.
"Alabama Creek (AK)" Red Jeep and Zordnick the Straw-bearded Gnome have yet to be logged out of the event, as well as the one I gave Snoogans. Some people are probably still traveling, logging their finds, or just are late loggers. I saw that the travel bug station was completely taken down and no bugs were left, so I know they went somewhere. P.S. As I write this, the Jeep was logged out, but Zordnick still awaits a log entry.
The ones I brought home in exchange include:
Mack's 'Brokeback' Geocoin: this coin has a generic mission to"travel from cache to cache spreading goodwill and equality toward mankind!" It was marked to take to Texas, so I grabbed it, but I am not really sure why. I think the name is funny, and the coin owner says they don't know anything about the reason for the coin but they bought it because it has a cowboy butt on the back and they thought that was funny!
Groove Monkey: this is just a laminated groovy monkey postcard that is in a race to get to the Return from Project A.P.E. cache in Austin. I go to that cache fairly often - every time I go to Austin pretty much. It is this huge ammo can in the woods that is chained to a tree and is always filled with bugs. I think I can get some groovy pictures of this one at my job if I am very sneaky about it. I think the race is over, so pictures would probably be appreciated more than personally driving it to Austin at this point.
This coin wanted to go to Abilene, TX after visiting at least 20 caches. Each person that helps move it along will get their name entered in a drawing for a new geocoin. I think that is a pretty good idea to keep people motivated to move it and not keep it. It had my curiousity piqued because it was in a closed velvet bag, so I really wanted to grab it just to see what was in there.
Voodoo with his Mojo bag: I grabbed this one because it looked interesting. It is a very odd bug but there is no photo so I suppose I will have to take one and post it soon. I thought it was a doll wrapped in a piece of Asian cloth, but turns out the inside is like some kind of straw thing and it is kinda falling apart. It wants to make its mojo more powerful by having cachers "go to strange,mysterious or historical places and collect a piece from each place and put it in my mojo bag."
Then there is Hurricane G., who looks awfully familiar. Hurricane G was released in 2004 by a third grade class with the goal of traveling around the world and returning to Miami in 2005. It has not made it back yet, apparently, from looking through the places it has been on the travel bug page. So now I will bring it much closer to home.
At first I thought it was a bug I had a long time ago and really enjoyed, Cousin It. Do you see the resemblance? I think it is the same toy.
Picked up and going with me to Florida are:
Mrs IceCreamMan's Personal Coin #09 : This traveler would like to make it to Florida for the Fourth Annual Florida Finders Fest in the Osceola National Forest on the weekend of October 25, 2008. By dropping it in W Palm Beach, I can at least make sure it is in Florida four months ahead of time.
Angel of the Atlantic, a helicopter that wants to travel along the Atlantic seaboard, having pictures taken at Coast Guard air stations.
Son of Rodan: I picked this one up because I saw a Florida tag. The details include a goal of wanting to visit as many states as possible before reaching Florida, and Texas only makes three, but we'll see. I may or may not finally drop it there.
VDUB TrekNFind: this one wanted to visit California and then head back to Florida, so it will have done that, but it wanted to go traveling along the coastline and have pictures taken in the sand. That didn't really happen, but if I drop it in Florida, at least it is closer to its owner and returning home. Maybe I can take some cool pics of it in Florida.
I am actually planning on spending some time taking TB photos. I just hope no one from my conference spots me, as I might get labeled as that strange girl who plays with toys on the beach! I'll let you know how that works out!