Sunday, September 28, 2008

Kerouac: A Biography
by Ann Charters

The word on the beat streets is that Charters' biography is the best of the works intrepreting Jack's life and influence. This was the book to read, so when I came across it, naturally I had to buy it.
I read the preface by the author first, written in 1986, some fourteen years since the book's original publication, which was about four years after Kerouac's death.
In it, Ann Charters describes how her husband Sam, who was a poet and novelist, helped her write the book while they were living in Sweden as a protest against Vietnam. She notes that Gary Snyder and Micheal McClure gave her encouragment along the final stages, which is interesting to me. These are the two literary minds and friends of Kerouac's helping to preserve his legacy after his premature death, because they felt his story needed to be told through Charters. The book is dedicated to Allen Ginsberg, who gave Charters great assistance during the writing of the book, with interviews and unlimited access to his archives and photos.
Initially, the book felt very dry to me. I was just starting to get disappointed that I wasn't reading anything I didn't already know, based on reading the "early" books of "The Duluoz Legend" - Visions of Gerard, Doctor Sax, and Maggie Cassidy. It seemed to be reciting facts that we all knew to be true - that Kerouac was born in Lowell, MA; was an athlete at school; lost a brother at an early age.
Around Chapter Three, the story began to broaden some, when Kerouac moves to Ozone Park and begins dating Edie Parker. This is an interesting relationship to me. He marries her, then leaves her two months later, saying later he felt himself getting too comfortable.
Depth was given to the relationship between Allen Ginsberg and Kerouac in this novel. It becomes very clear that Ginsberg was a major help in getting Kerouac published, and yet was rebuffed by never being developed into a major romantic hero in his novels, with Kerouac instead writing character study novels featuring Neal Cassady and Gary Synder. In the book is a photo Charters snapped of Allen Ginsberg, John McClellon Holmes, and Gregory Corso linking arms at Kerouac's funeral.
Jack got a little help from his friends. Ginsberg worked tirelessly to promote him among the literary set, poets and writers from New York and San Francisco. Holmes is credited with naming the Beat Generation and his novel Go was the first to be published covering this group of people, the circle of literary influence. Gregory Corso was by this time a well known Beat poet.
Through this novel, one could see how it would have aggravated people like Kenneth Rexroth, who had spent his professional life developing the San Francisco poetry scene, to see these characters - three guys from New York, and one from Lowell - become known for bringing the "Poetry Renaissance of San Francisco", where poetry was never dead.
This book comes alive with the relationships between people, and a sense of who each of them were and their place in Jack's life. To me, this is part of what I enjoy about the Beat poets - how they helped each other during different times with inspiration, editing, typing, and promoting. They influenced each others work or provided a muse. These "power friendships" amaze me.
Without Neal Cassady, without Allen Ginsberg, if made to face his responsibilities instead of having cross country adventures, what would Kerouac have been? We are all influenced by the people around us, and in this case, it led to a revolution of the mind, and the legacy of an author who transcribed the world he saw around him.
In the end, there was many details about Kerouac's life that I learned through this book, and it was an enjoyable read. I have a greater understanding of the relationships with people and places that helped Kerouac transcend his own unraveling, becoming the legend that he always thought he was meant to be.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The past few years have brought social networking sites to the forefront of online life. I heard it said you could find old friends through sites like Myspace and Facebook, and so first I joined one, then another. The advantage to a networking site is that you have immediate access to people in your social network that have drifted out of your geological zone, and whom you don't casually run into anymore and have the chance to catch up with each other's lives.
It is in renewed contact with people from different times in our lives that we can see ourselves in comparison with where we used to be. It is where the past catches up to the present.
I find it very interesting from a psychological perspective the unique connection that brings, and how those comparisons play out. For instance, I have noticed that with our world growing larger, we find more in common with those in our immediate world. We have access to millions of people, and so the fact that this person was not in your clique in school doesn't seem to matter anymore when you consider they grew up in your neighborhood and went to all the same schools as you, and therefore has a common ground of experiences with you that most people don't.
It can also illuminate how different you might have become. Lately, I have been considering this idea that an old friend threw at my Facebook page. She questioned if I was having a midlife crisis, based on the things she saw on my profile.
My profile reads basically the same as my info on this site. To me, this is just the same old stuff I have always been into, which is why I think about her comment so much.
Am I supposed to have changed? Have we just changed so much that I seem different to her, or did she just never really know me? Have I changed? Or has she?
I have always been committed to preserving my identity. This commitment to being true to my self started when I was in high school and had some experiences that I had to make it through. I did some soul searching and inner self reconstruction in order to come out better on the other side, and when I finished, I saw who I was and vowed to keep that person intact.
When I became a mother, I saw myself and the women friends I knew with kids the same age lose parts of ourselves to become mothers and wives. I noticed that my experience was a common one with the women I knew, in that the first three years of their children's lives, the mother's life completely revolves around mommyhood. We don't have time for hobbies between holding our babies and keeping our house.
When I was in that stage, most of my reading was Parenting magazines and baby care books. I would list as my hobbies "cooking and cleaning". Changing diapers and making bottles came before reading and exercising, and when you did have time for yourself, you were too tired to do anything with it.
...But in those days, I still had my horse, my dog, my journals, and my Kerouac, my "pop philosophy and psychology", an interest in the esoteric, the reading, the walking, riding, and writing, and my dog Rascal, for the love of I went to work every day...
When I finally woke up one day, washed the baby drool off my shirt and re-entered the land of the living, I realized I had lost some of my essence, and that essence remained vital to my sense of fulfillment in my life.
Some of my friends never made a clean break. Some lost themselves and their identity to motherhood, and that is all that they are now. These are people like the mommybloggers and soccer moms of the world. I didn't want to be like them. I thought I was a pretty hip chick and I wanted to stay that way. I missed the way they used to be, and I didn't want to wake up one day and feel that way about myself.
When I had my second baby, I fought to keep my sense of self. I did something every day with my children, or maybe alone when my husband was home, to keep myself feeling like me.
I spend lots of time in introspection and self assessment, so I have always felt like I had a really good sense of who I was. The problem we run into with introspection, though, is that who you think you are is really only half of the picture. It doesn't matter what we think of ourselves when viewed through someone else's eyes.
Perception is reality. If someone percieves me one way, then I do exist in that way, to them, and no amount of disagreement on my part changes their reality of who I am.
Who are we, then? How do we really know what people think of us? They never come right out and tell us exactly everything they think of us. The only way we can tell is by reading into the clues that they leave in the things they say.
For instance, I have some clues on what others think of me lately.
Out at the piano bar, "Indy" introduces me to his girlfriend with "she's a really good writer, and she shows dogs..." she was so sweet - "And very pretty...!" she said, and I to church, my old friend introduces me to the minister with, "and she's probably the deepest person you'll ever meet.." and the small group study circles all nods in affirmation, murmuring "she's really deep..." and my geocaching girl friend telling me she was surprised with how much I read, and says it probably explains why I am a good husband doesn't want to tell me something because I "have no compassion" and my best friend scoffs and says he must not know me, then, because you know that's true...
Compassion, the force that drives me to my life direction. I am still the girl who made a vow to her childhood dog to take a stand for animals, after finding the dog being kicked by boys and unable to get away because I had tied her up....a loyalty to a dog that became the collective "Dog" and the collective "Animals". I am still the same girl who later calmed an outlaw horse and made him hers, the same who could touch the male bongo that no one else could touch, and got to name his fall baby. The same one who held dying dogs in her arms in animal shelters, and dedicating herself to animal health care, and shelter dogs, and stress in captivity in general.
"She was overexposed to animal euthanasia," one doctor wrote about me in a letter of recommendation, and so I was injected with passion to preserve the human-animal bond through education and training, a teacher of Puppy Kindergarten with twenty people and ten dogs bouncing around the clinic waiting room.
An old friend sees me the same way as ever, she says, "warm, kind, intelligent, beautiful" and I to her, another sees me as "creative"...and a contemporary friend who remembers me as being really into geocaching...."a true friend, which is a rare thing these days," says an ex...
The thing is, I built this thing, this person in here, with the help of God. God had a plan for me, and I feel fortunate that it was revealed to me early on. I have certain talents, or gifts, like compassion, empathy, and the ability to focus on something intently for a long period of time. I felt strongly that he wanted me to make the world a better place for animals and equipped me with the ability to do so. This has been "me" since around eight years old, this core belief that provides me direction.
Curiosity, the force that drives me to seek adventures and knowledge. I have always been a seeker. I want to know the answers and go to the places and experience everything, which made me open to many different impulses and places. I want to learn, to study, to ask questions. I want to taste all the food and meet different kinds of people. In my younger and wilder days, this spirit would manifest in a general "sex drugs and rock n roll" manner but now manifests in interest in traveling, or the picking up of different hobbies, like dog showing or geocaching.
I am of the opinion that I haven't changed much over time. I am still into the same things. my mother used to always explain me to people with the same line - "she's into the 4 'R's - reading, writing, running, and riding" (horses). The first two are the same, though my tastes on those has changed over time, and although I only run ocassionally these days, I still like to get all self-competitive with solo sports. Dogs have been substituted for horses, and although I can't ride them, I still get the benefit of developing a mutually beneficial relationship with an animal who speaks "another language", but with whom you find a way to communicate with.
Recently an college coworker told me I had changed from the way he remembered me, with my kids and "enjoying what you do yet and want more" not who I was to him. When I questioned why my circumstance would imply I had changed, he suggested because my wild lifestyle when he knew me was incongruent with being a mother. He had me locked in the image of the "party girl" I was in my college years.
In some ways we change, yes. We evolve. We mature, grow up, move past the party life and into the family life. Yes, suddenly we're baking cookies and passing out Kool-Aid instead of cantering along on the back of a horse. We have a trunkful of tack that hasn't seen the light of day in seven years sitting in the garage, and bills instead of tests, and careers instead of jobs.
I, however, have been very proud that in spite of the changes, I remained true to who I was. I speaks of loyalty to me, like holding on to the friends of our youth and former flames. I want to be that loyal, still holding the halter of the horse she sold years ago, still looking through the old love notes from days gone by, silly and sentimental but always honest.
If I let it go, then it wasn't real. I was always real.
And I don't want to be the woman whose past didn't exist after she became a mother, or a lover, or born again. I want to be a woman shaped by her past but not defined by it, nor by the present, but rather somewhere in between. I am who I am, who I'd always been,who I'll always be.
To me.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Over the years of being a Kerouac fan, I sometimes would try to examine what it was exactly that I liked so much about his work. Part of the appreciation I have for him as an "artist" with words lies in his ability to describe scenes in such detail that one gained a unique sense of being in the action.
This feature of Kerouac's writing he called "sketching".
Before I realized that was his label for it, which makes sense, I was doing a little sketching of my own. I was never a visual person, but I was driven with a need to explain my existence in the world through a creative medium. I have come to feel that writing is a tool for expression that has more dimensions than a visual still life.
I like my life to come alive.
I, like Kerouac, was known to my friends as always having a notebook in my backpocket, transcribing experience. I usually tended towards free verse. Here is a sample of a sketch of my own, written in 1998 in Manitou Springs, Colorado.

Sketches from a Manitou Laundromat
There's a boy,
A thinker, observer, dreamer
He sits and watches the street
Glances at the others now and then
I wonder what his meaning is
And if he finds it here
A girl pulls up in a shiny red car
Baby seat in the back
Couldn't be more than eighteen
Pensively washes her man's clothes
Twists her lip nervously
Her shorts hang low
So we can notice her navel
And its shiny adornment
Flashing above long legs

Three Mennonite women
Wearing matching silk dresses
And white bonnets
Speaking a strange tongue
Bewildered by machinery
They all wear nurses shoes
And add coins to others dryers
Just to be nice

A woman walks in
Hair a mess
She wears a nice dress
With a fanny pack
And a confused smile
Must be a nice little nut
She wears socks over her
Knee high stockings
And drools a grin your way

Another boy, loner like me
Carries all his belongings
In a duffel bag
Washes his socks and underwear
Long deep scars over his arm
Nicely dressed
He walks off down the street
To a friend's couch,
perhaps, or a welcoming girl

I pass him on the way home
He is still walking

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Regular readers may be wondering why, after writing about geocaching for months, I would not have a single story about caching on the entire page.
I'm down with caching.
But I'm not the only one around here who has lost that lovin' feeling.
It is catchy, collective, contagious.
It's the post-Ike caching ick.
In the Houston Geocaching Society forums, someone else summed up the general feeling.
This is bbqbob2's comment in response to Georeynozos's thread asking if anyone had started caching in Houston after Hurricane Ike:

"I tried a new cache in Clear Lake yesterday and the mossies were small, nasty and plentiful. Couldn't get into the hunt though - two houses missing fences looked out onto GZ and the people were working moving debris in their back yard. I walked away. Seemed like there had to be something more important I should be doing."

Last night, I got my first smiley in two weeks by meeting up with some other cachers at a hamburger joint. The mood was solemn.
At our first get together at this place a few months ago, about seventy people showed up. The atmosphere was raucous. We were all talking excitedly about geocaches, the runs we were planning, the puzzles we were solving, the trackables we were trading.
This night, some fifteen of us sat around and talked about other places, other things, but somehow coming back to the same subject over and over.
"You got power yet?"
"Yeah, finally. You?"
We talked about clearing up tree debris, about camping out in our house, about how we had been hunkering down, or trips we've been on lately. Noticably absent was the talk of caching. When asked if they had been caching lately, most people shrugged their shoulders and said, "I've checked on a couple of mine, but that's about it."
The reasons are fairly simple, but I find it interesting it would effect the community in such a similiar way.
With Hurricane Ike's 100 mph winds, everyone assumes that most geocaches were damaged, moved, destroyed, or simply disappeared. It is going to take some work to build our hides back up again. No one wants to trudge through wet grass and fallen forests with the premise that they "might" find what they are looking for. We are waiting for owners to check their hides before we go looking for them.
As hiders, as cache owners, we are somewhat reluctant to leave our houses to go check our caches because of the post-Ike traffic (which HAS to be said like you are Jimi Hendrix singing "Cross Town Traffic". This amuses me every day. Oh, to be easily entertained...). Full power has not been returned to Houston and the surrounding areas yet. Traffic signals are on a blinking red all over town, causing congestion. Gas stations are back online, but most people have in the back of their minds a memory of the lines backed up for blocks.
Oh, and the rain has brought out a force of Texas sized mosquitos. I half-heartedly went after a park and grab style hide on the way to the event and although I was only going fifty feet from my car, I was swarmed with so many mossies that I sprinted quickly back to the safety of my Camry. Screw that.
For the entire month of September, I have a grand total of ten finds.
Usually I try for ten finds a week, otherwise I find myself slipping on the Grand High Poobah List.
I haven't even looked at my rank on the Grand Poobah List in at least a month.
I was excited about caching before Hurricane Ike. I had great plans to spend my birthday engaging in this pasttime, ending up at the HGCS September Birthday Event. I wanted to get to my #1200 find in one fell swoop.
Now, though, I am feeling like freysman, who said this:
"I just can't get excited about being eaten by mossies for a string of DNFs and bad news..."
I'm hoping things turn around soon.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

IPOD Journeys
Three weeks ago (has it been that long?): noticed the new Ipod caused me to be more excited to get up early in the morning to exercise before my husband leaves for work.
Two weeks ago: realized I could tuck it into my shirt at work and have my own soundtrack for my day, which was handy since the overhead music went out that week.
Last week: I loaded a "hurricane" mix of songs that we listened to in the kitchen while entertaining our friends, while I baked up goodies, and in the bedroom while the adults played
Today: my youngest sister came over with her birthday gift for me, an I-Tunes card for more music for the new Ipod.
So I changed up the playlist a bit.
Here's what I'm listening to now:
Alternative jams: Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sublime, Green Day, The Offspring, Metallica, Matchbox Twenty, Stone Temple Pilots, Linkin Park
Classic Rock: Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Aerosmith, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen (more), Lenny Kravitz, Fleetwood Mac, Jimi Hendrix
Old School New Wave: The Cure, Depeche Mode
Rap: Beastie Boys (more), Eminem, Snoop Dog (less)
Chick Rock/Dance Music: Indigo Girls, Melissa Etheridge, Pussycat Dolls, Fergie, Nelly Furtado, Justin, Britney, Shakira, Colbie Callait, 10000 Maniacs,
Folk: Gypsy Soul, Jacob Johnson, Joe Cassady & West End Sound, Rusted Root. Kerouac reading excerpts of his writings.
Classic Country: Waylon Jennings, David Allan Coe, Hank Williams Jr., Willie Nelson
Go ahead. Put me in a box, give me a label. Give it a try, I dare ya!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Book Review

How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
by Malcolm Gladwell
This is without a doubt the best book I have read this year. It is a book that will change the way you think about people, fads, fashions, and events.
Published in 2000, this book generated a lot of buzz in the business world. In fact, I had heard it mentioned in my company, a speaker at a conference addressing how we could use the ideas in the book to push our agenda within the company, or the industry as a whole.
When I had a chance to borrow it, I did. It took me a few weeks to finally decide to pick it up. The back synopsis seemed dry and did not attract my interest. Once I began reading it, though, I couldn't put it down.
The concepts that Gladwell puts out there in this book now provide a framework for the way I view social and business interactions. I found myself using the lexicon in the book with a friend and realized when she gave me a blank look that I would have to loan the book to her before we could continue the conversation. I want all my friends to have read this book so we can talk about it.
The main idea of the book is that social epidemics work through certain principles, and the inspiration of this book is to apply those principles to cause ideas, trends, and social behavior to cross "the tipping point" in a positive manner.
The principles outlined in the novel include an examination of the "Three Rules of Epidemics" - the Law of the Few, The Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context. Through several real-life examples, Gladwell shows us just exactly what those rules mean and how they work.
The examples are just as fascinating as the principles themselves. I was particularly intrigued by the Case Study on Chapter Seven, entitiled "Suicide, Smoking, and the Search for the Unsticky Cigarette". It examines why antismoking programs have not been successful in stopping teen smoking, and offers another approach from examining the problem under the filter of the principles. It is a great example of how sometimes people make generalities or assume they understand what the cause of the problem is without really looking at if the data fits it.
In this case, as in the other examples in the book, Gladwell has really done his homework. He is trying to determine how those principles apply to this problem. The Law of the Few shows us, through the data from Hans Eysenck's work, there is a certain core "smoking personality" that includes attributes that most heavy smokers share, and that those attributes are considered rebellious and impressive to teenagers, and makes them more likely to try smoking themselves. However, of those teens who try smoking, only some of them find it appealing enough to continue as a habit.
Through the work of Alexander Glassman, a Columbia University researcher, Gladwell identifies the "stickiness factor" of smoking as it relates to psychiatric disorders, and implies that the secret to how "sticky" smoking is relates to the genetic makeup of an individual; e.i., how the body processes serotonin and dopamine. Preventing smoking through billboards and advertising that explains the harmful effects of smoking, therefore, would not be as effective at reducing the "stickiness" of the habit as treating depression would be, or treating the cycle of addiction.
There is more, lots more, but you'll just have to read the book to check it out for yourself. You'll read about the "broken windows" theory, and how, when applied to graffiti and farebeating on New York subways, this simple idea created safer subways. You'll learn about the techniques the Childrens Television Network used to make Sesame Street "sticky". Most of all, you'll learn techniques on how to effect change yourself, in your part of the world, in a way which benefits society at large.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Scene: Wal-Mart, surburbs of Houston, 1:30 pm, five days Post-Ike.
Feels a little like getting-back-to-normal at first glance. Lights are on. Shoppers are everywhere.
We talk to a neighbor coming in who also has her two boys with her. She is still without power but is "doing fine", the common refrain in our area.
Bread is back up. Stockers are everywhere, loading supplies on to shelves that disappear soon after arrival. The fruit is back in full force, including the plums.
We walk past the beer aisle without looking. We are simply on a quest for dairy products today. We saw a man in the parking lot with milk in his cart and exchanged gleeful pleasantries with him.
We find the milk, but it is going fast. A few pudding and yogurt items sit forlornly in the dairy shelves. Butter is not back online, which dashes my hopes for finding ingredients to make cookies. Eggs are nonexistent as well. Guess I will have to postpone further baking urges.
Canned food aisle is packed with shoppers. We don't even go there.
Meat case stands obscenely empty, as does the frozen foods. There is ice cream though, which we get, with cones to go with it. At least the boys will have some sweet treats.
We hike all the way down to the pets section because my husband's pre-storm estimate that we had "lots" of dog food was, in fact, false. I am sure the dogs are glad that Wal-Mart is back online, although maybe they secretly hoped we would run out and not be able to get more dog food, in which case we would have to feed them what we were eating.
Which, tonight, is pizza, because now I have cheese again. Last night we had company, a couple we are friends with who still don't have power, and I made chicken soup with biscuits on top. Before that, we were still trying to finish off leftover casseroles and foods prepared over the grill, skillets of hash browns that were going soggy in a powerless freezer, meat we had to use or lose.
Large groups of shoppers talk excitedly about their experiences, joyful to be alive and see some semblance of normalcy return.
The traffic lights are working on this side of town, and the lines for gas are down to only two deep per pump. All the fast food places seem to be up and running a booming business.
We are still glued to the Hurricane Ike Aftermath on the TV, now that we have power, and the radio before, our lifeline to the world outside our door. Kids haven't had school all week and I was told not to return to work until further notice. This day, 1.3 million Centerpoint customers are still without power. Overall, the reporters say it may be close to 3 million still in the dark, without A/C or ice.
We are adding words to our cultural lexicon, things like "FEMA pods" and "LED lanterns". People are finding that camping skills come in handy, and sometimes flattened fences open boundaries with their neighbors. Generators are in short supply.
And meanwhile, we are all in suspense, waiting. Waiting for friends to call us and let us know they are okay. Waiting to see people come back online, on forums and networking sites. Waiting to go back to work, to school. Waiting to not talk about Ike anymore.
Waiting for life to be "normal" again.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Book Review
Wagons West!
A Series by Dana FullerRoss

"How do you keep yourself from
going crazy watching kids all day?",
asks my mother-in-law
"Get a book", says her sister.
While out on the western front, watching kids play at my mother-in-laws, I really needed a book. I had temporarily misplaced the Solzhenitsyn book I discussed in a previous entry.
I'm not really good at sitting still, as my friends know. I need to have something to do.
My mother-in-laws sister had given her a box of books from a rummage sale. A collection of them caught my eye and eventually I picked one up, Texas!, and read it in about two days.
Then I picked up another one, California!.
Then followed Oregon!, Independence!, and Washington!.
This had me reading this part of the series in the following volume order: Fifth, Sixth, Fourth, First, Ninth, out of twenty four, covering American history from 1837-1876.
I spent so much time in my head with wagon trains and pioneers, and being out in the Old West, that I begin to think like one. I viewed the world from the mentality of a survivor. I enjoy books the most when they teach me something, and these books were full of history and a peek into a different kind of life, where women had to make meals from scratch around the campfire and men had to hunt and fend off predators and enemies.
I also gained some new understanding of the "manifest destiny", and how settling these areas was important to the future of America as a young country. Pioneers were not just adventurous and self-reliant, they were also patriotic.
I was most intrigued by the characters in the story. I didn't realize how emotionally invested I was with them, though, until my favorite character died in the ninth volume. I missed him, and so did the family he belonged so. That is the hook that draws you into this series.
I felt like Ross's writing style was much like Danielle Steel, with more diverse characters and less romance. There was a lot of love in these books, between families and friends, but it stopped short of being sappy or droll.
Instead, it was a vibrant look into history, and made it come alive with human nature and understanding.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Pre-Ike Sky
Neighbors nervously stared at the sky over drinks for courage
We asked each other the same questions, asking eyes and glances
A light rain started to come down
Here's how we hunker down in Houston town
Eek! It's Ike!
Rain was beating down as we hit sleep
All four cuddled up in one great bed
Around four the wind began to change
A soothing surf quality to his roar,
What later they referred to as "the freight train"
It sounded good to me, like a night on the beach
It was during the absence of lulls
That its malovence struck
A chord of concern
Within one's soul
Windows and doors fluttered
Against their frames
Sometimes brought more frightful sounds
A bang, a crash, a thump, a thud
The sound of the trees agonizing defeat
Againts Mother Nature's Son
Not sleeping for awareness
Restless toddler pressed against my chest
Older child who didn't want to wake up now
Although he insisted to stay up before
Husband patrolling perimeter
Nothing's wrong, he says,
We drift off into dreams
And wake up to
Massive power outages
A downed tree
The dog's shade tree
To be exact
Missed it all
On the way down
Wet. Leaves. Stickiness.
The day before, I made casserolles
We ate cold noodle dishes
Over plates and drank
bottled water
juices, frozen treats
cold cereal
Use up the milk
Chips and beer
They say
The first things off the shelves
Day two off the grid
Hurricane Ike recovery
playing nonstop
On battery radio from college
I haven't used in ten years
Reports called in from
stores that are open,
Where you can buy gas
Mayor and Council grilled
over open flames
by reporters pressing
for timelines
As we wait to find out
Where we can get ice...
Our cooler is low
But we don't worry about it
And sure enough Ole Steve
Was a boy and brought one
Over anyway
And later, it was a generator
When his power came on
And ours was still out
Only for three more hours
In which we microwaved
Our casserolle dinners
And watched some TV
Cleaned the yard
and then
some boy outside shouts
"The power is back on!"
And we return the generator
And look out in our yard
And see it playing out
on the TV
"360, 000"
have power returned
Only 1.75 million to go....
in the Post Ike parade

Friday, September 12, 2008


One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich
by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Winner of the 1970 Nobel Prize for Literature

When I was visiting my friend Misso, I was in open admiration of his large collection of books, mostly of social and political significance. I asked him if I could borrow one, just one book for my trip. He thought for a while, and then said, "I", and handed me a copy of this book.
I would recommend to anyone planning on reading this book to make sure it is an issue published after 1967, the "new edition", and to stop first and read the publisher's note, introduction, and the section entitled "Instead of a Foreword". Without reading those pieces, much of the cultural and historical significance of the book would be lost.
The publisher's note includes a letter written by Solzhenitsyn to the Fourth National Congress of Soviet Writers in 1967 which outlines offenses against creative works by the Soviet censorship agency, and rebukes the Union of Soviet Writers for not taking a stronger stance to support the forward movement of Soviet culture by opposition to the censorship of works. He accuses the union of turning a blind eye to unjust imprisonment, persecution, slander and press abuse of its writers without showing them public support, and in fact being the very ones to hand over the names of 600 writers to the government, who promptly sent these writers to prisons and labor camps for nothing more than expressing "their anticipatory judgments about the moral life of man and society, or to explain in their own way the social problems or the historical experiences that have been so deeply felt in our country."
The last part of the letter is a list of personal grievances towards the Union, including the theft of his intellectual property, a novel called "In the First Circle", which was taken away by the state and denied publication, but then published and passed around a select group of literary officials.
Curiously enough, during the time I was reading the reviewed novel, Solzhenitsyn and "In the First Circle" were making the news, now some forty years later. This now celebrated work is being published for the first time in English, in an uncut version anticipated to be released by HarperCollins in 2009.
Reading this letter gives a good sense of the political situation of the time, and an understanding of why some citizens were in the labor camps of the time period, the setting of the novel at hand.
The novel is exactly what it is titled - one day in the life of a man named Ivan Denisovich, who is a prisoner in one of these camps. There is nothing terribly remarkable about Ivan, or "Shukhov", as he is also referred to. He is not a leader of a revolt against the guards. He is not a highly regarded member of the labor force who gains special privileges, nor is he a lowly peon who gets picked on. He is the middle of the road, average, every day prisoner, and in choosing that type of person, on a day like every other day, with no spectactular action happening, lies Solzhenitsyn's genius.
One would expect the characters to feel depression about their situation, about unfair punishment, being forced to perform difficult manual labor outside in the Siberian winter, with the temperature below zero and with very little nourishment. Here, though, lies the beauty of human beings, the ability to adapt to their situation and find sources of joy and hope, even in the most hopeless of situations. The feeling one gets upon reading this novel is that during times of survival, the character of man is more resilient than one would think, even if happiness exists only in making it through another day of life, or obtaining a special treat through an act of loyalty or acquiscence. Even though Ivan's life left much to despair about, like a wife he hardly knows after years of forced seperation and will probably never see again, or a physical surival based on conserving the small portions of bread rations and soup made from rotten fish and old cabbage, he doesn't go to sleep at night lamenting his fate, instead feeling happy and lucky.
Comparing the situations of the prisoners in the book, and with the addition of knowledge gained by written the introductory pieces, to today's culture in America, one walks away with a renewed appreciation for the freedoms and protection granted by our Constitutional amendments. The book serves as a reminder of the importance of creative works in preserving historical context and deepening our understanding of human nature.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Scene: Wal-Mart, surburbs of Houston, 10:45 pm,
Less than 48 hours before Hurricane Ike's projected landfall.
Feels like a third world country. Entire bread aisle stands empty. Stockers bring out towers of bread from the back and don't even bother putting it on the shelf. Shoppers are grabbing loaves and big bags of bagels straight from the racks.
There is no fruit left except a handful of plums, which one woman looks through languidly.
Beer aisle is completely disintegrated into wide white shelves upon which rest orphaned cans and dismantled cases.
Canned vegetables rest on their sides, rolled over from giant stacks that stand no more. Mixed peas and carrots give shoppers the hairy eyeball from their side profile. Soup cans have been carelessly flung about, in random order on the shelves.
Shoppers walk by, most in groups, with frozen faces and wandering eyes, huge pallets of bottled water stacked high on their carts. Bags of chips, dip, crackers, pretzels and cookies beckon from the side "special" aisles.
Dairy section stands untouched, the lower caste of the nonperishable item rush. Frozen section stands lonely and ignored.
Mothers look through cheese and lunch meat sections as young folks grab for hot dogs and great rolls of sausages. Entire cases of tuna are elusive, only seen in rare shoppers carts. There are exactly two packages of beef jerky left. Nuts and trail mix are surpised to find themselves still standing.
The only size batteries left standing are the C's, who feel unwanted. Duct tape has become extinct.
Large groups of shoppers mill restlessly in long check out lines, too tired to make small talk.
Beep...Beep...Beep...Beep... is the only sound we hear in this long dark night, waiting.
Waiting for Ike.
Drawing the Wrong Conclusions
I have been doing a lot of thinking about people, running around the same theme in scenarios that were bugging me and books I have been reading. Until thinking so much about this, I hadn't realized that I had little tolerance for people drawing false casualities between unrelated or coincidental information. Now that I realize what it is that bugs me so much, I see examples everywhere.
Just because A and B exist together does not mean A caused B to happen.
Although this seems like something I am just realizing about myself, my friend Michelle apparently knows me a little better than that. Michelle, who is one of my oldest friends (twenty years now), is with me in a Bible study group in which we are discussing a Max Lucado book, John 3:16. I don't have a problem with the lessons, exactly, but I have a real problem with Lucado's line of logic in the book. Last week it was Michelle's turn to lead the discussion, and when she brought up the assumption that Lucado makes in Chapter 2 that "if the heavens exist, than there must be a Creator", I was suddenly up in arms.
"I knew you would have a problem with this," she says to me.
Of course. It is an illogical statement. Just because stars are in the sky does not prove that God exists. I wonder, now, about how visible my thought process is to others.
Apparently not always that visible, as in the case of my best friend's husband. We were talking about memory and he mentioned, "you know what I remember about the last time we hung out?" He proceeded to tell me that on the night he came over last, I was acting less friendly towards him because of his recent lifestlye change, which meant I didn't accept his decision.
He actually accused me of acting like he had cooties.
I was acting less friendly. He did have a recent lifestyle change. However, in this case, B did not cause A. I actually had just had a terrible fight with my husband, was sad/depressed/tired, and the minute this friend's husband came in, he instantly offered me a drink called a Green Frog, which is very strong and, as alcoholic beverages tend to do, made me more sad/depressed/tired. And apparently bad at cards, as well.
Perhaps the real reason I was acting less friendly towards him was because the drink he gave me (well, two drinks) caused me to lose the ability to make coherent decisions and therefore blew my chance at beating his wife in the hot game of cards we've been playing. Hmm, think about that one, M.C.!
He put it out there when he talked to me, he said that word, assume. "I assumed you were acting that way because of the decision I had made." That is the common basis for what is bugging me about each of the situations, and you know what happens when you ass-u-me.
My boss does this all the time, and it drives me insane. She takes two unrelated bits of information and tacks them together and calls it "cause".
My favorite example of her doing this is the Pink Calculator story. I am still laughing about this.
I was upset about a decision management made regarding my boss and another employee. This is the story I refer to in my blog story called Pathological Footprints. I was pissed, to be frank.
During this time, my boss told another employee that I was acting weird, and said, "I have this pink calculator I got. Do you think if I gave it to her, it would calm her down?"
Meanwhile, my kids were really sick and I had to take some time off to deal with them. She had been more than generous with my time off requests and asked about my kids, and I responded to her kindness with open friendliness.
She then went and told that other employee that I was acting much better since she had given me that silly little thing.
"I think that pink calculator really did it!"

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Some of you who read this regularly might be curious, then, about the job interview I was going to Washington for. I am still not really sure if the interview was an excuse to visit the in-laws or visiting the in-laws was an excuse to go on a job interview. At any rate, it was the motivating factor behind planning the Best Western Adventures.
I feel like I should briefly explain some background. I moved down to Texas from Oregon when my husband was on military deployment. The idea was always to move back to Oregon. We've been talking about this for so long that our friends just don't believe us anymore. We were supposed to stay six months, we've been here six years.
Meanwhile, he was deployed again while in Texas. He has spent three of the nine years we've been married in a desert on the opposite side of the world. All conditions being the same, he will leave again next summer for another year and a half deployment in Iraq.
He hates Texas, and is expecially miserable in Houston. The heat, humidity, hurricanes, and bugs just really get to him. He would be happier near the mountains, and so would I.
So this has always been there, and then I saw this job opening, and I just went for it. It's not Oregon, but it is close enough and has what we were looking for. We had never been to that town, nor did I know much about the company, but there was an opening for a job I am qualified for, though at a higher level and pay grade than I am now. I sent them my resume, figuring it would sit on someone's desk for a while and maybe they'd call, but they called within two hours. They were pressing to do a face to face interview.
We researched the town, and checked out the surrounding areas in Google Earth, and it just felt right. We were pretty convinced this was it.
Being up there in that part of the world, we were sold. We loved it there and Seattle felt right to us. The mountains were very appealing. So was the fact that if we move, there will be no Iraq deployment, at least as long as Washington or Oregon's guardsmen don't get called.
I had certain conditions for this job offer that I had decided would be the determining factor in whether I accepted it or not. I wanted 20% higher wage to make up for cost of living differences, and I wanted my relocation paid for.
Looking back, it seems kind of unrealistic. The job title I have is not one that would typically offer paid relocation. The wage I was asking is what I was told would be the salary range for the position I was interviewing for, but it also requiring a skill set that I could get to quickly, but wasn't quite at yet. Also, it would mean turning my back on the part of my job that I love the most, and in fact what I really spend the most time doing in my current job, and what I really want to do with my life. And then there is the issue with my paper I am trying to publish on my data, data that I won't have rights to if I leave, but which could make my name in my field.
So as we were traversing through the territory I described in the last two Best Western Adventures, I was on the phone negotiating with this company.
In the end, what they offered was very generous, but didn't fit my stipulations. We did not have the same needs. I needed time or money to move, and they didn't offer paid relocation and wanted me there in 45 days. They offered me a position in their company doing what it is I love, and I feel like they created that position for me, and they offered me a wage higher than the top end of the pay bracket for that type of position and a generous sign on bonus, but it wasn't enough for me to jump on.
In the end, I think I learned many things from going on that interview. I saw what was really important to me right now and in my career direction, and committed to what I wanted and understood more what I didn't want. It was a hard lesson for us, in that we very much wanted to move there, but saw that we just weren't ready. The cost of the vacation, including the price of four airplane tickets, the rental car, gas, food, etc, was a harsh wakeup call that we were just not financially prepared for that kind of move.
Now our plan is to GET READY, so that next time that offer is made, I can jump on it.
As long as they offer me 20% higher salary. :)

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Series 14

I was dreaming of mountains. Great big snow covered mountains. Large looming jagged mountains. Hiking on wet brown Pacific Northwest trails hunting big ole ammo cans with lots o swag. It was this dream that was getting me through the frustrating parts of our vacation. We had to get there first, and to that end, I sacrificed a lot of geocaching opportunities along the way in the interest of time. We stopped when it was convenient to, when kids needed to get out to stretch their legs.
We stopped once just south of Bend at a cache called Frozen Fire, which I really wish I had gotten pictures at. I had to walk across lava rocks for 400 feet before making the find, which was tricky traveling. We made a quick stop in Bend at one called Aspen Cove, where I picked up a travel bug. We also stopped for a late lunch/early dinner at a fast food joint that makes me nostalgic for my childhood, Del Taco. I have never seen one of these since the eighties except here in Bend, and we hit it every visit.
After Bend, we headed north and visited an interesting virtual in Madras, a park and grab in a neighborhood in Terrebonne, and one weird virtual/micro near a hiking trail while driving through the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, which encompasses over 1000 sq miles in North Central Oregon.
But still I was holding out, passing them by, because I had about twelve caches downloaded for the Mt Hood area. I was waiting until we reached Government Camp to really let the geocaching hammer fall. I wanted to get twenty along the trip to the airport, with twelve of those being in the Mt Hood National Forest.
Oh, I had great, grandiose expectations. Expectations that were soon dashed with a splash...of rain...some drops...a sprinkling, a general misting...a general splashing....
I can still cache in this, I kept saying, I'm not going to melt or anything. I don't care about getting wet....
Until I tried, and realized that this rain was not like Texas rain. It was heavier, and it dripped down from the ferns and greenery, making trails slushy and shoes soggy. I needed Gortex and hiking boots, not tennis shoes and t-shirts. I needed satellite reception and help with finds, not a "lost reception" message on the GPS unit and a husband who refused to bring kids out of the car and hunt with me. I needed to feel relaxed and confident, and not feel afraid of a predator around every twist in the trail.
I needed to make a find. The first one I tried I panicked and came running back down the trail to the car. Let's just go, I said, breathless and scared. The rain came down harder. You really want to do this? my husband asked me with a you-must-be-crazy look.
Rain poured from the sky, windshield wipers working furiously and falling behind. Cars behind us and in front of us prevented the sudden stops and turns that us geocachers sometimes commit in our particular pursuit (wait, turn!). I passed up more.
And you couldn't even see the mountains for the fog. We drove right past Mt Hood and
I began to realize that my plans were going downhill, while we continued to travel up. I had to make some adjustments. I settled on two finds that I absolutely did not want to give up.
One was an ammo can in the forest, not far from the road, outside a "park". I was thinking playground, etc, but in this case, "park" was akin to wilderness area. I wanted to go after this one because it supposedly had a geocoin in it that wanted to go to Texas. I had posted a note that I wanted to grab that coin.
As soon as I got on to the trail, following my compass that said "350 feet", I lost reception. I could no longer rely on the GPS unit to get me close. I kept walking thinking I could guesstimate the distance and use the clue I was given - "Left side of trail next to uprooted tree".
Turns out there were many things that sort of fit the clue, and the trail split off several times. Finally after I almost felt like giving up, I found what exactly resembled the clue right as I got reception back and my GPS unit said I was within "24 feet". Cool! The geocoin was gone, though, darn it. A Red Jeep travel bug was left in its place, which of course, I took.
The trail was beautiful, though, in a surrealistic manner. I had never been in this kind of forest before and it took my breath away.
After this, I let go of any other caching opportunities in expectation of The Great Big Find - the site of the Original Geocache.
This involved a detour off the highway to a town called Estacada. This is where the great game of geocaching got its start, when Dave Ulmer hid a bucket in the woods and advertised it to his techno-geeky friends on their forum about possible civilian uses of GPS technology. This was in May of 2000, and by the end of that year, there were 75 "geo stashes", as they were called then, in America. Today, eight years later, there are 648, 741 geocaches listed on They are hidden all over the world by all types of people in all kinds of places. All you need is a GPS unit and a sense of adventure to find them.
Finding the site of the Original Stash Tribute Plaque was not hard. It was right there by the side of a road in the middle of nowhere, several christmas farms past Estacada. There is a nearby ammo can with the original log. Although the original cache is no longer there, having been destroyed by a lawnmower, this replacement cache has been up and running for five years, and is the geocache with the most number of logged finds, at 2075 logged visits. It is one of the three most popular caches, a part of the "Northwest Trifecta" that also includes the APE cache and Groundspeak Headquarters in Seattle.
There is also another historic old cache nearby, the Un-Original Stash, and I was going to get that one, too, while we were there. I kept trying but as soon as I got on the trail, it was pitch-dark in there and I couldn't make the find without a flashlight. It was, after all, nearly nine pm by this time. My husband and I got into a terrible row about it because he didn't want me to get the flashlight to get it and he didn't want to watch the kids for me because he was too enthralled with the Original Stash. Here I am the geocacher in the family, and he is the one pawing through the ammo can, ooh-ing and aww-ing over old log books, traveling items, and swag trades.
However, I did have time there to do one silly little thing. They say that if you place your GPS units on the plaque, you will have extended battery life and super-accurate satellite reception afterwards.
So here's to luck, to myths, and to better caching days ahead....
GUESS WHO.... no longer the only girl without an Ipod?
Early birthday present from my parents - an Ipod Shuffle. I desperately needed this item for getting my groove on.
So this evening I had been loading it up. Curious about what's on it?
The expected - Indigo Girls, Melissa Etheridge. No I am not a lesbian, I just listen like one.
The unexpected - Fergie, Shakira, Nelly Furtado, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Pussycat Dolls, Colbie Calliat. Shania Twain. Snoop Dogg. AC/DC.
Old school - Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Lenny Kravitz, Eric Caplton, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bob Marley, Pink Floyd, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Green Day, Aerosmith, Sublime, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Jimi Hendrix, The Cure.
Past decade additions: Matchbox Twenty, Eminem, AudioSlave, Linkin Park, The Offspring
New music: Gypsy Soul
Forgot to add: The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, the Beastie Boys.
Guess I'll be back to make another playlist soon...after I check out how this one works for me.
GUESS WHO is back, rearranging music.
Once I played with it a week or two, here is what the Ipod shuffles:
Same, maybe different albums: Indigo Girls, Tom Petty, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Aerosmith, Johnny Cash, Lenny Kravitz. Linkin Park, Matchbox Twenty, Nelly Furtado, The Offspring, Pink Floyd, Bob Marley, Gypsy Soul, Melissa Etheridge, Willie Nelson, The Cure, Fergie, Shakira, Britney, Justin, Gypsy Soul, the Pussycat Dolls, Stone Temple Pilots, Sublime, Eminem, Snoop Dog
Added: Beethoven, Hank Williams Jr, Waylon Jennings, BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN how did I forget him, The Silver Beatles (I was tricked) and various Beatles/Lennon covers, Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, Rolling Stones, The Beastie Boys

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Best Western Adventures
Series 13
It was time to go. Our ten days of adventure in the West were coming to an end and it was time to head home.
First, though, we had to get to the airport in Portland, upper west corner of the state, from where we were in the lower east corner of Oregon.
So the Last Great Road Trip of the Summer begins with a stop in the town of Lakeview, OR, the closest town to the in-laws house, for fuel and snacks. Lakeview is named for its proximity to Goose Lake, and served as a hub for the sheeping and cattle industry that attracted Irish and German immigrants in the mid to late 1800s. The lumber industry played a role in the economy of this town, known as the "Tallest Town in Oregon" because of its elevation (4793). It has a small town feel, with a population of less than three thousand, and grocery errands with my mother-in-law would involve small town talk with people she knew in the store.
We headed north from Lakeview on 395, then took the Paisley-LaPine highway running northwest towards the Bend area. None of us had ever been this way before.
I had looked at this shortcut late in my trip planning, so I didn't have a lot of geocaches loaded for this part, which was fine because we needed to make some time.
Our first stop along the way was called Chandler Park Wayside, and it was at a rest stop area. It is funny how from reading the descriptions on the cache page, you formulate one idea of what to expect when you get there, but it doesn't always match what you imagined. In this case, I was surprised at the steepness of the hill we had to climb to get to the cache. My oldest son and I went together, and we started strong, but both were gasping for air by the end of the short climb. On the way down, I taught him how to slow his sliding descent by aiming your body for appropriate flora and fauna to act as body brakes. It sounds weird but it works.
We picked up a geocoin from this cache that I dropped off at a cache in my neck of the woods about two weeks later. I have the same kind of coin myself, and I bought it because it reminded me of the Pink Floyd song. Mine is currently traveling all over Sequoia National Park and the person carrying it promises pictures and a drop in San Diego when he is done having fun with it.
After this we did a short park and grab style cache and then entered the most desolate piece of country I have ever been in. Nobody was home for about three or four hours of driving.
The only residences we saw as we drived through Paisley, and until we got to LaPine, were the ones pictured at the top. Attached to the property was a salvage yard, with hundred and hundreds of junked out cars. As we drove by, we both made the same joke referencing a horror movie. Don't break down in Paisley!
The scenery was amazing, though. Here are some of the many pictures I took from this part of our journey. Incredible geographical features abounded.

Abert Rim - a great place for hang gliders

Dust storms
around the dry edges of Summer Lake

Nice house! I want one!

Next and last installment of the Best Western Adventures will cover the journey from Bend to Portland, since it was vastly different than this leg.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Best Western Adventures
Series 12

"It can't always be rainbows and butterflies," he says
"But can't it sometimes be?", my reply
Our unending chorus

This day, a couples adventure
Destination: At the End of the Rainbow
A geocache at another mining area
It's lunchtime at the hay fields
Suicidal butterflies dive in droves
Flinging themselves
Head first into the front of car
Drive past Wild Plum Winery
Down highway
Past swathers at rest
Bales of hay dotting fields
Along shores of Goose Lake
To the Davis Creek Store
Hmm, been here before
Many times this week
To get useless map and permit
Backtrack along Goose Lake
Past tractors and grass fed cows
To dirt highway to mines
Pass campground
Forest Service truck
Miles up old dirt roads
Twists and turns
Up the mountain
Bumpy, rocky roads
Littered with obsidian
Sharp gleaming black shards
Falling logs, danger
Elusive Rainbow Mines
Elusive wooden signs
No road is the right road
We can't make it, find our way
Series of dead ends and roadblocks
We give up, head back down
Can't get there from here,
Not with the sun in our eyes
Hunger in our bellies
Back down dirt highway
Flying down blacktop
With so many suicidal butterflies
Hitting the dash
Carelessly careening
Headlong into their demise