Tuesday, August 31, 2010
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Insightful first person narrative of a brain scientist who gained spiritual and personal insights when she had a severe stroke. About the time I read the book, a good friend, who is a college professor and a great writer, also had a stroke. This book and my friend's experience make me anew recognize the variety, delicacy, and intricacy of life and experience.
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Our camp rested at the base of a forested ridge that rose up behind it to the north. Our beige canvas tents, which we paid rent for and were probably Army surplus, were situated on mostly level ground in the sagebrush flat, out in the open, exposed to the summer sun. There must've been ten tents or so, and the tents were big enough for six or seven people, but usually only housed four or five, max. We slept on cots in sleeping bags. Each tent had a stove in it, and we put ours to good use in the early, brisk mornings. We'd have fetched a nice log or two, sometimes split, sometimes not, that would fit comfortably into its belly the night before. Then we soaked the mess in diesel fuel, so starting a fire in the brisk morning air would be no challenge whatsoever. It was also the reason it didn't matter if the logs were split or not. It took no time at all to have the pipe coming out of the stove and going up through the roof of the tent glowing red hot in the first morning light. After the tent was heated up we rolled out of our sleeping bags and comfortably dressed in the warmth.
We were buggers, but not buggers in the sense that the English use the term to denote a sodomite, a contemptible fellow, or a fellow chap, although we would come to know that we were often held in similar derision. We killed bugs, at least that was the reason we had been hired, but that was never the reason for anyone holding us in derision.
The camp was located within Teton National Park in the Pilgrim Creek drainage. The year was 1965. I had just barely turned seventeen. I had finished my junior year of high school and would be a senior in the fall. This was my first paying job.
I have Norman Hansen, a goodly neighbor and friend, who lived behind our lot, to blame for it. Or to bless for it. He had talked me into it, or rather, told me about the opportunity, which I readily chomped at, eager to work and to earn money. Of course, Norman hadn't experienced the work and didn't know its expectations upon us; otherwise, I doubt he would've ever told me about it or thought to go work there himself. In retrospect, I suppose you'd have to be semi-crazy to have worked that job.
Norman's dad, Phil Hansen, had a garage full of tools; Phil was a salesman who traveled around selling tools for mechanics around the west. He had also worked as a mechanic, I think, so he had a garage full of every conceivable tool that a mechanic would envy having. In any event, Norman and his older brother, James, were always in the shop at their house using those mechanics' tools. Shortly after Norman got his driver's license, he began assembling a dune buggy. He got the frame off of some old jalopy, used a welder to cut it in half, and cut out a piece of the frame on both sides to shorten it. Then he welded it back together. He continued assembling the dune buggy, giving it a seat, an engine, and, what I remember most, an aluminum beer keg for a gas tank.
Not only was that aluminum beer keg unique, it shocked me to see that Phil, a highly spiritual and religious man, allowed Norman to put it on that dune buggy.
In any event, it was in that dune buggy that we traveled up Highway 89, through Jackson Wyoming, and on up to Teton National Park.
Friday, August 27, 2010
I do remember the doctor above me with his tool in my nose, pushing on it, and the pressure I felt, along with some pain. I remember the fear, but not major fear, only minor. I remember the lights above me, shining into my eyes.
I don't remember the specifics of much of anything else. I don't remember my sister's reaction. I don't remember my brother's. I do remember that Brent brought me a gift, something to reconcile himself to me, something to give me comfort. It was a mitt, a baseball glove, a first baseman's. He got it, I think, using his parents' S&H Green stamps.
One other thing I do remember. I remember at home looking in the mirror before we went to the doctor's office. I remember seeing my nose underneath my right eye. I also remember that there was a gash in my nose. The doctor gave me a couple of stitches to take care of it.
That's about it. Beyond saying that I would have to invent. Even at that, I am aware of the frailty of my memory and the propensity of mind to create and fill in the empty spots we think we need. I will say this. The breaking of my nose was a major event in my young life, one that has stayed with me and in some measure molded me, in conjunction with the choices I freely made, to become the person I am.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
I remember distinctly so few childhood experiences that almost all of them I do remember must have left a lasting impression on me.
1. Sitting underneath a tree for shade in the hot summer time with friends, then dozing off, and then waking up knowing that I had missed some important conversation and possibly some activity.
2. Taking a bath.
3. Breaking the glass in the coffee table.
4. Going with my dad to salvage lumber at Hill Air Force Base.
5. Having my nose busted by Brent.
6. The announcement of the winners in the decathlon contest at my elementary school.
7. Digging out the dirt underneath the house in Clearfield.
8. Cleaning out the attic in sunset.
9. My grandma cussing out Helen Dunn.
10. Going to the movies with my sister.
Now, the idea is to select one of the above and then to freewrite about it for ten minutes.
Okay. I've written about it before, but I will write about it again here. Number five.
My best guess is that it happened in the springtime. For some reason it seems like the leaves on the fruit trees behind Tom's house were fresh and perhaps in blossom. In any event, we had gathered there behind his house early and had enough time to spare to play before leaving for school. I'm thinking we were all sixth-graders, eleven or twelve years old. I think it was that sixth year because that is the only year I think I had classes with both of them, Tom and Brent. It may have occurred in fourth grade, however, and I'm just not remembering clearly.
It surprises me to think that we had gathered there early enough to mess around with a bat and ball before heading out to school. My recollection of behavior from back then is that I generally left home and went straight to school without any deviation. However, on this particular occasion, my father was home asleep and my mother was at work. I wouldn't have remembered that except for what happened.
Tom was pitching the ball, and Brent and I were taking turns batting. For some reason, I'm pretty certain that it was Brent's bat, however, I could be totally wrong about that. The edge of the bat around the bottom that permits a batter to keep his grip when swinging all out had been partially knocked or chipped away --- maybe the bat was old and had been mistreated or whatever. Anyway, Brent was up. While Tom was retrieving the ball, Brent was swinging the bat with all of his might. I was waiting for my turn at bat. The next thing I knew, however, the bat was headed straight for me, and there was nothing I could do about it. I didn't even have time to raise my hands up to protect myself. It came around from its twirl and caught me directly in the nose, moving my nose beneath my eye.
Blood gushed out my nose. I guess I started howling and moving toward home, and home was about a half a block away, so I was leaving a gruesome trail of red blood along the sidewalk all of the way. I wasn't paying attention to who was following me or anything. I was just headed for home. I don't remember much, other than my father told me to stick my head in the sink --- although my father always said zink instead of sink --- so I wasn't dripping blood all over.
Eventually, he packed me up and took me down to the clinic to Dr. Peterson, a tall man who was slender and older than my father. Dr. Peterson put crowbar-like instrument in my nose and moved my snoze back where it should be.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
The fellow whose book I'm reading --- well, one of them; it was written by two men --- was more like I am. He didn't have a compulsion to write. It took some doing for him, kind of like it has for me. He indicates that at first he hated individuals who have that innate compulsion and desire and, perhaps, talent. Actually, he says he and beat them. He says as a child he composed stories in his head but he didn't like to get them down on paper. I can identify with that. Well, I can to some degree. I'm not sure I ever liked to compose stories in my head that much. I've thought a lot about that and I don't think I did. There might have been a time when I was quite young that I like to do that, playing with the cars and toys in the sand, but after that I didn't do it that much at all.
There were times off and on when I tried to journalize my thoughts --- to keep a diary --- but I was never successful. I'd start out gangbusters and then peter out. I always seem to do pretty good in the subject of English, however. I seem to remember that I did alright writing essays and short stories and the like. I always got Bs or better, even when I didn't always finish my homework and, especiallystudy my spelling words. I even did alright on vocabulary tests because I always made the effort to look words up and create my own list of words to learn and then studied the words on it.
The author tells about a conversation he had with a friend that he describes as loose and unstructured when he realized that hour after hour of conversation had yielded them significant insights about the topic they were discussing. And he realized that they had been trying to do that; it had just happened. They had done it by merely saying things off the cuff, things that they haven't analyzed and nudged here and there to get just right. They had simply talk with a degree of sincerity and openness to each other. He learned from that to concentrate on the process and not the resulting piece.
The assignment today is to address the internal critic, the Watcher, and tell him what I think.
I don't want to be too harsh to you. You have caused me some grief but I recognize some value also in what you do. In fact, I suppose I have valued what you do more than perhaps I should have. Perhaps I should give this other a try, and let you sit on the sidelines for a while and watch. Then call you up after I have had my way without your interference to help me out. What do you think about that? Can he do that? That's, I think, what I want to do. To put you out of the way and let myself go. Deal? Why am I asking you? I guess, because I have great respect for you. But for now, let's do it my way, this new way.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Refuge excels in interweaving several different narratives: that of a dying mother, the influences of natural phenomenon on life and death, the beauty and ugliness of the world, the wantonness and the care and concern of mankind and its institutions, the nuances of religion for good and for bad. It's a book I should revisit, because its subtle shouting voice and its terrible tender stories are ones that seem kindred to me. It somehow captures not only the serene beauty of the bleak desert and the dead sea of the Great Basin where I often live, but also similar places found inside culture and people whereever you are. There is an ebb and flow, not unlike the lap of waves on silent shores.
Monday, August 23, 2010
The whole universal system is held together through love, harmony and cooperation. If you use your thoughts according to these principles you can transcend anything that gets in your way. --- Dr. Wayne W. Dyer.
A couple of thoughts come to mind. One of them is the expanding universe. I'm not convinced that it necessarily manifests love, harmony and cooperation. The other is evolution. As Darwin put it, there is a competition between species for survival. While I personally believe that everything is held together through love, harmony and cooperation, it isn't that hard also to see hatred, disharmony, and polar opposites fighting with one another. In my entire lifetime, I don't believe I've ever experienced the degree of outrageous behavior, self-righteousness, and intolerance by the conservative realm. So you can see why it seems to me difficult to believe that the whole universal system is held together through love, harmony, and cooperation.
On the other hand, we are talking about a "holding together". Cooperation, of course, brings us together, holds us from separation and divisiveness. Competition, on the other hand, tears us apart. It results in war and destruction.
Therefore, I subscribe to love, harmony and cooperation. Now I need to implement them better in my life.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Everything in the universe flows. You can't get ahold of water by clutching it. Let your hand relax, and you can experience it. --- Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
These notions of Dyer's are somewhat difficult to wrap my mind around in isolation the way they are. It seems like I need some context or something.
Okay, I agree that everything in the universe flows. When I was younger I had courses in high school and college in physics and so to some extent I know the dynamics of the world in which we live. Truly, a piece of iron is composed of basic elements and there is plenty of activity there. There is in everything of a substantive nature. Of course, in Mormon thought, it seems as if there is nothing but substance in one form or another, refined or unrefined. So yes, I can agree that everything in the universe flows. Certainly my thinking does.
So let me grapple with the next part. You can't get ahold of water by clutching it. That is simply a statement of fact. How does it relate to the preceding sentence? Water, as it is calmly conceptualized in the first instance, is something in the universe, and it's easy to see and understand that it flows. Likewise, generally speaking you can't get ahold of it by grasping it; however, that's not always the case. In water's frozen form you can clutch it. Or does Dyer expect me to call that simply ice as distinguished from water? water is water, it seems to me, no matter what state it's in. But I guess you could say that in its gaseous state it is steam, in its liquid state it is water, and in its frozen state it is ice. But that doesn't do anything to help with respect to the first sentence which is all inclusive. All of those states of water are included in items in the universe, which he says flows.
Then the last sentence. Let your hand relax, and you can experience it. I take that to mean that you are to let your hand relax within the water referred to, in liquid form, that you cannot clutch or get ahold of and you will somehow have a greater experience of it.
It's as if the example of the liquid water and you trying to grasp it is a kind of metaphor for the notion that in order to comprehend the universe you need to relax and let it pass you in order to fully appreciate it. You can't get all uptight and try to grab it.
Is that it?
Saturday, August 21, 2010
Dyer says three things clog your soul: negativity, judgment, and imbalance.
I'll have to think about that.
It seems I have to admit to some degree of negativity, although I'm not entirely negative. In fact, from my perspective I'm quite positive. I doubt that many others see me in that way that much, however. But I think it's true. For example, I'm pretty positive about trying to write and trying to become more and more proficient at it. Others, who began writing about the same time I did, don't seem to be still writing like I am.
Judgment. Dyer says judgment clogs the soul. I'm not quite sure what he means. I guess he means don't be judging others. I doubt he's suggesting that you should use poor judgment in making choices, however. Maybe so, however. The problem with his claim is that it doesn't have enough surrounding context to understand exactly what he means. If he means it categorically, I'd have to disagree. I'm mostly opposed to the categorical. On the other hand, if he means it in the Christian sense, that a person shouldn't judge others lest they be judged themselves, I'm right there with that notion. Judgments should be made with love and concern and compassion.
I don't know exactly what he means by imbalance. The definition of imbalance is simply having a lack of balance. And balance is defined several different ways. It's a weighing device. I don't think he means to use that definition, however. It's a state of equilibrium or parity which is characterized by cancellation of all forces by equal opposing forces. I think that's the definition he is interested in. A person should try to have balance. I think this is the same as saying that there should be moderation in all things. Except for the categorical, I think I agree pretty much with a necessity to be balanced.
I think I'll try to do better and be more positive, to make fewer judgments of others, and to have better balance in my life.
Friday, August 20, 2010
So Dr. Wayne W. Dyer says that all the abundance you want is already here. You just have tune in.
Thinking about the statement, the first one, it seems to me that the abundance here exceeds anything I could ever want. Furthermore, relative to the second statement, it seems like I tune into whatever degree of abundance I really want already. However, it seems like Dyer is saying that the more you tune into wanting more the more you get. It seems to me that there is a balance necessary. If you tune in too much to what you want more than you already have, it seems like you give up something.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Okay. Here's what I'd like to do. Dr. Wayne W. Dyer authored a small book published as Everyday Wisdom. I got it for Christmas or something from somebody in the family. I didn't note who gave it to me or when. Vaguely, I think I remember getting in my sock, so that would suggest it was from Shelley. In any event, it gives a snippet of "wisdom" to contemplate for each day. Perhaps I'll attempt utilizing it as a guide to some free writing and thinking, trying to do maybe one per day and perhaps posting it. So here goes, the first one:
"You are not a human being having a spiritual experience. You are a spiritual being having a human experience."
I have so often heard that quotation at church, that I assumed it came from some scripture or from a General Authority or something. I am surprised to learn that it came from Wayne Dyer. I wonder if he stole it from someone else or paraphrased what someone else had said. I suppose that's true of everything that's ever said, isn't it?
It could be said that the notion expressed goes to a fundamental truth LDS people cling to: that we had an existence as a spirit being before we became human beings. I don't know if that's what Wayne Dyer had in mind or not. It would be interesting to know if he believes in an existence via spirit before the existence of body. My inclination is to believe he does.
I have believed and continue to believe that I am a spiritual being clothed in a physical body in concert with what is taught in Mormon theology. Of course, I don't have any memory from a life before this one, and I don't have any experience with anyone coming back from the dead to give me any objective evidence of the continuation of life hereafter. It is something I accept on faith after having listened to and studied out what others have said and believe on the subject. Additionally, there are self-serving reasons for believing it. The notion of complete obliteration after you die isn't something that appeals to me or, I suppose, most people. Perhaps that accounts for most people's belief in a hereafter.
Naturally, there are times when I kind of hope there isn't a hereafter; for instance, when I contemplate my failings and that there will be some sort of accountability there. On the other hand, there seem to be times when something from a past seems to be there, an insight or intuition, that I can't account for in the earthly life that I have experienced and that I remember.
So, bottom line for me is that I do believe in a duality of personality. Part of that belief includes the notion that in some stage or another I have always existed and always will. Perhaps that belief, however, stems from a longing for life incompatible with death.
Friday, August 6, 2010
Donald Maas says you should write what you know. Natalie Goldberg doesn't think it's a good idea to write what you know. Donald admits that the writing what you know has a tendency to produce unexciting protagonists, settings that can put you to sleep, and plot lines nobody wants to read. Natalie suggests that we think about how little we know before concluding we should know what we write. Her point is that writing what you know severely limits the field of what you can write. Furthermore, she maintains the reason we have imaginations is in order to write what we don't know.
Donald maintains writing what you know doesn't mean you have to record everything that is plain and usual. A person should draw upon their experience in order to make the story personal, passionate, and true.
This debate of writing what you know versus not writing what you know comes up relative to me in writing about Alejandro. I really don't know about Alejandro, per se. I was never an undocumented immigrant, I don't know Spanish, I was never a thespian. On the other hand, I have an imagination, and I read of a girl going through the dust bowl during the depression in Oklahoma who I thought was in a situation that presented enough of an analog to what an undocumented immigrant boy like Alejandro might experience. Maybe that's cheating. I don't know. Anyway, that was the way I was going about it.
Donald says writing what you know means writing what you see differently, what you feel profoundly and know that it's important for the rest of us to understand. He maintains none of us need to have lived a life of merit or through a newsworthy phase, of sorts. We only need our own unique outlook and the will to write with a new purpose. Natalie says to lose control when you write. To write such things as what you're not thinking of it and what you don't remember. She contends if you get out of your box and do some exploration of a new place you will be able to find the hidden, the extravagant, and the mysterious life of a wild mind.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
It seems a person must proceed with a degree of optimism and confidence even in the face of great, perhaps impossible, challenges. Well, if such a person doesn't so proceed, it can mean not proceeding at all, becoming so discouraged that they can't go on.
How does a sixty-two-year-old English-speaking white man (me) capture the voice, the setting, and circumstances of a fourteen-year-old Latino boy (Alejandro) in America? It takes a considerable amount of conceit to even make the attempt , although, perhaps, I wasn't smart enough to apprehend just how much moxie it would take. Yet that is precisely what I've been doing for several months now, writing a manuscript that I am around 220 pages into about Alejandro, a boy who is here in the United States with his parents, and none of them, not him or his parents, have legal documents to be here. They are illegal immigrants.
Now, it seems being in the place I'm at, as I try to tie things up into a climax and a tight conclusion for the novel, this project becomes more dicey than ever. My fellow critiquers, especially one in particular, raises new and bigger red flags of its difficulty to speak for this culture, this situation. Caution! Proceed at your own risk. Danger ahead.
This friend has been to a recent writer's convention and attended a panel that discussed this very issue, writing about Latinos. So, through him, I become more and more aware of the sensitivities in taking this on. The irony is that the very people who live in such circumstances --- undocumented immigrants --- usually don't have an opportunity to write for or speak for themselves because of their situation: trying to lie low and survive in a culture and society that views them as filthy lawbreakers, worthy of deportation and not much more. Some even characterize them as terrorists and invaders of this country. It is partly from such a perspective, recognizing these people's lack of sympathetic voices, that I decided it was important to write about Alejandro to begin with.
The challenge facing me raises various issues.
Do I want to even continue the attempt? To the degree I have a natural competitiveness, and I do although mine isn't as great as some people's I've experienced, do I want to proceed with the project and finish it in order to show everybody I can do it?
Do I want to cut my losses and turn to something else? I already worked for an entire career, enjoyed the work I pursued for well over thirty years, but retired , intending in retirement to do less. However, doing less certainly didn't mean doing nothing. I fully intended to do something in my retirement, and at the time I retired, I fully intended to continue writing and honing that particular craft.
Do I want to step up my efforts? If I want to receive recognition and some of the success others have received, like, for example, the friend I received the cautionary warning from mentioned above, I'll have to do more. That friend, who has publishing deals for three books with Scholastic, has a better background to be a writer: he has been dreaming of it, has been consistently reading and studying writign, and even began writing, it seems, at the outset of his life. Not me. Additionally, my friend seems more intelligent, better trained for writing, and more well connected in contemporary life and society than I am.
Is it fun enough?
Even as set forth these ideas, I know I want to do it. I know I want to complete it and to make it as good as I can. Nonetheless, there is some ambivalence and some wavering.
Plus, it just occurred to me that perhaps I should write this story from a first person perspective as an observer of the boy's life. Then, perhaps, I couldn't be accused of being anything but the dumbass I am.
No, thinking about it somemore, I previously considered that possibility. While I don't rule it out --- it always hangs there in the back of my mind as a possibility lurking in the shadows --- I'll try to finish in the way I've begun.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
So, here I am two days in a row thinking about writing something about The Lonely Polygamist. Not so much writing about it as writing a review of it, but perhaps that's a difference without substance. It would be easier just to stare out the window and watch the clouds float by in the deep blue sky. Of course, that would be easier than just about anything else anyway.
Brady Udall wrote The Lonely Polygamist. Udall is a big name in Mormon country. There are some famous names in government with that surname. It's a big name in Arizona, where I guess most of the Udalls of Mormon heritage hangout. Well, that's my generalization. None of that, however, has much to do with the novel, except to some degree relative to, perhaps, its setting in the desert somewhere not far from Las Vegas. Maybe Brady Udall had some history, some ancestry, of sorts, or perhaps even some contemporary members of the extended family who engaged in the practice of polygamy. (Why do people have to practice polygamy? We don't go around saying we practiced monogamy, do we? We just simply say we're monogamists, if the subject comes up at all. Yet, there is something mighty strange about polygamy, you have to admit it.) So, perhaps Brady had a hankering to explore the subject and flesh out a character he could imagine being a polygamist in these modern times, even though probably his ancestors gave up the practice when the main body of Mormons did back at the turn of the twentieth century.
Who knows why a person stumbles onto a topic. I stumbled onto polygamy from a totally different perspective. I'm not aware of ancestors in my lineage who ever practiced polygamy, although it's entirely possible some of my early ancestors on my mother's side did --- it appears those ancestors were immigrants from Denmark, who came here and settled in Central Utah.
If I could talk with Brady on a casual level and sense somehow that I could ask him a question without giving any offense and having some self-assurance that I might get an honest answer, I'd ask to know how he came to the subject of polygamy.
I know how I came to it. A friend told me and my wife one Christmastime his wife was leaving him for a polygamist. All of the modern polygamists I knew anything about at the time were totally weirdos, meriting only disdain and mocking. I had read about them in the newspaper, because whatever antics they had been up to had merited a story, usually one on the front page of the newspaper or as a headline in the television news for some stupidity, including murder and intrigue. This couple, had a few kids, and there was no doubt that if momma left the daddy for a polygamist, the kiddies would suffer and be exposed to such idiocy.
How could I resist writing about such blather?
Monday, August 2, 2010
When I get to this stage, the stage where I have time and energy to do this, usually late at night when I should be thinking about getting to bed instead, and actually sit down and write, it is always difficult to decide just what it is I want to say. Life is a demanding thing. It is no less so for me than it is for anybody else, I suppose. No less demanding, nor more demanding. There is always so much to be done that you have to be more selective in what you choose to do or you will never get to what you want to do. Or rather, you should be, perhaps, more selective than you are in what you put down. Obviously, I'm not selective enough nor consistent enough, or I wouldn't be going through this pathetic exercise of saying all of this. I would just dive into what it is I want to say.
Someday soon I want to do and post a comprehensive book review of The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall. I read it some time ago now, and I have wanted to do a book review of it ever since I started reading it, maybe even before then. It, however, is a comprehensive book, a novel of great length and nuanced narrative and composition. Now, I don't want to review it frivolously or short shrift it.
I picked up The Lonely Polygamist originally for self-serving reasons --- perhaps, truthfully, a person never picks up a book otherwise. However, I wrote a novel about polygamy long before Brady Udall did. Well, at least I think I did. I don't know all the particulars of when he began writing his book or the chronology of his finishing it and getting it, with the help of his publisher and whatnot, out there. Obviously, he had the success I didn't have in getting an agent and a publisher to work with him on it. He had had previous publishing successes. But I picked the book up because I wanted to compare my writing to his. Isn't that pathetic? That I would want to compare my writing to his?
Well, from my perspective, it isn't pathetic. I figure that, since he got published by a big publishing house and received wide critical acclaim and attention, he must be a pretty darn good writer who can stand as a decent measurement for me. So sometime I intend to start writing drafts of critical reviews of his novel. Maybe just for the fun of it I will post them here. It'll give me something to do, something to work on until I get it done, something I don't have to think about every time I start thinking about making a post.