Saturday, October 29, 2011

We're Spinning

Is this book stellar? Cosmic? Heavenly? Is that too cliché of a characterization?

Well, yes and no, I guess. It depends on how literally you take it. At least in my mind, this work probably deserves something like a 3.5 or a 4 rating. I definitely found it a better read than 3.0 or below.

I am certainly no historian, scientist, or astrologer, and those who are, or who pretend to be, seem to have given their ample, comprehensive, and fairly convincing reviews so far relative to this work based upon perspectives and expertise. I defer to them on such matters. I also submit to them relative to their recounting the structure of the book and summaries of its contents. I can do no better than they have.

So now I will just throw in my two cents as a common reader, certainly underqualified as anything more, who picked this book up because I enjoy the interplay of the roles of the church (or theology), the government, and the discovery of knowledge, both in the past and in the present. Most people generally realize that Copernicus played a significant part pertaining to the historical tensions between theology and the church, government, and accepted knowledge as his discoveries rolled forth and spilled the glass of wine. His discoveries changed perceptions and minds. But it did so only after it caused great pain and hardship and grief. Probably much soul-searching. This book, of course catalogs some of those problems that had to be endured or worked around --- celibacy, the deference to interpretations of others regarding history and scripture, legitimate applications gazing at the heavens could have --- that eventually led to changes in apprehension. It does so with historical documentation and narrative, but also with insightful nuance through fiction. No matter how complete a historical record is, we are never able to fully comprehend the past, even our own lived ones. One of Ursula Le Guin's fictional characters described truth as a matter of the imagination. As it pertains to comprehension, truth is a matter of the imagination. You cannot divorce yourself from its effect. I think probably Sobel realizes as much, and I personally delighted in the play that was inserted between the dense, although very interesting, prose sections.

Religion has played a role throughout my life and in my society, especially in the locality where I lived most of my life (Utah). It continues to do so. No less so have my church, my government, and the increasing knowledge in my environment had significant impacts upon me. I suppose that's probably true, to some degree or another, of everyone. The tension between discoveries of knowledge, science, and mind over against the sway of theology, religion, and worship --- the mystical, if you will --- intrigues me. Faith versus knowledge. Obedience versus discovery. I read Sobel's previous works, LONGITUDE, and GALILEO, and, from reading the latter, was fairly certain A MORE PERFECT HEAVEN about Copernicus would be insightful. And I was not disappointed.

If you are intrigued by the interplay of church, government, and knowledge, as I am, you surely will benefit in reading this book.

Friday, October 28, 2011

He Still Doesn't Cooperate

"But I didn't drop him," Papa says when everybody stops giggling.

They all laugh again.

I don't think Papa would've dropped me. I trust him.

"So you were there, too, Mr. Romero?" Sedge asks.

"Oh, yeah, I was there," Juan says. "It's good, too. Who can say what would've happened if I hadn't been. After all, Emilio dropped the baby."

People who get immigrants across the southern U.S. border are called coyotes. Juan had kind of been an unofficial one for my parents, helping to lead them across. He had experience crossing the desert and was a lot cheaper and safer than trusting a real one.

"He was mostly ordering us around," Papa says.

"Telling them where to go," Juan says.

"No kidding," Papa says.

"So you didn't get lost. I was trying to hustle my sobrina along, hoping she'd make it to civilization before Alejandro came out."

"But they didn't make it?" Sedgwick asks. "Alejandro was really born in the desert?

"Uh-huh," Juan says.

"Oh, that's so sweet," Sedge says.

Not so sweet though. They always told me it was on the wrong side.

"I carried him across that desert," Papa says, "past the saguaro and prickly pear cactuses, keeping him away from king snakes and cottontail rabbits, all the way in a sling. He was naked against my chest, without a diaper. There was nothing to catch his pee."

"Or poop," Juan says. "I had to keep telling Emilio where to turn, urging him not to stop, and reminding him of creepy crawlers: poisonous scorpions and rattlesnakes, sidewinders and centipedes, Gila monsters and tarantulas."

"I don’t remember," I say.

"It wasn't fun," Mama says. "No doctor or midwife. Only Emilio and Tio Juan. It's lucky you even survived, Aljehandro."

They usually don't tell about being nervous about la migra—the Border Patrol. Not to people like Sedge, anyway.

"At least Alejandro was pequeño when he came out," Juan says. "But he sure didn't stay little."

"He came out early," Mama says, "that's why he was so small."

"He was a niño when you wanted a niña," Juan says. "And right off he didn't cooperate."

My grandparents and parents agree, nodding. Mama had wanted a girl. She still does.

And of course they had wanted an American. A girl and a citizen, that's what they had wished for.

"He still doesn't cooperate," Sedge says. "I wanted him to do my Spanish homework, and he wouldn't."

Everybody laughs still again.

"I just wouldn't help you do something wrong," I say. "Besides, you need practice."

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Alejandro the Great

  I play only pickup games with neighborhood kids here at the small park in East Clayton, near my house. I've got a reputation for being rock-hard and fast, two traits most people don't put together in soccer players. Nobody can catch me, and nobody I've played with comes close to being as bulky strong.
Fink comes at me again, fuming. It yet again ends badly for him, and he whines. "You're a freaking wetback, Alejandro, I know you are. Someday they'll come and arrest you and send you back to beanerland. You stupid illegal."

I don't say or do anything. My best friend, Sedgwick Benson, comes over to Fink, and I jog off, continuing to follow the game's action. "Knock it off, Keith," I hear Sedge say. "You know he's a mini version of The Hulk. Pull your panties out of your butt and let's play."

"He's a freakin' fire hydrant," Fink says, "and one dog too many's peed on him. He smells like piss."

Later, heading home, I ask Sedge over for supper. Earlier Mama had said it was okay to invite him; it's not something I've ever done before. My family trusts Sedge and his mother too, like they do Maggie's family, even if they're citizens and Mormons. Mrs. Benson --- her name's Ivy --- and Sedge's sister, Tonia, are going to some church dinner just for mothers and daughters. Sedge's father is dead; he died in Iraq a couple of years ago. He was a soldier.

If I don't invite Sedge, he'll be home alone eating something microwaved instead of Mama's home cooking.

Sedge knows we lay low. I'll ask him what he thinks it means to be an American.


"Alejandro was born in the desert," Mama tells Sedge, "in November 1995."

In the Mexican desert, I've always been told. Nobody's told Sedge about it before. I know I haven't, but I think he assumes it. Mama doesn't say now that I came out a few yards south of the U.S. border, but that's what I've always been told. My family wishes I'd been born in the U.S.

"So he was born in a desert and not in a hospital?" Sedge asks. "You're kidding, right?"

"No, it was a desert," I say. "Papa saved me. I would've dropped straight out of Mama's belly onto hot sand and cooked weeds, but Papa caught me. Papa's got good hands."

"That's right," Papa says. "I caught him."

“You dropped him on a cactus,” Juan says. Juan's mama's uncle, Grandma Augustina's brother.

We all laugh. Juan always says this whenever the story comes up, usually around the family or other undocumenteds we trust. It's Sunday, so my family is all here: my parents, Emelio and Mariana; my grandparents, Carlos and Augustina; my uncle Juan, grandma's brother; and me. And of course Sedge.

“It’s how your hijo got that scar on his caboose,” Juan says.

It's a legend ---that scar --- a family one. Part of it, at least, is a myth. I do have a big mark that looks like a scar en mi trasero. Whether it's a scar or birthmark is anybody's guess. It’s where it’s hard to show anybody: on my right cheek, near the crack. The only place anyone could ever see it these days is in the shower, after gym class; I doubt anyone would be looking. It's not as cool as a lightening scar on your forehead.

"Harry Potter's got nothing on me but location," I say. I always do say this when the story comes up. It gets a few laughs.

"Butt location, B U T T," Sedge says.

Everybody laughs again.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Sonoran Desert --- Still No Daffodils, 2009

  I don't see Keith Fink coming because I'm looking the other way and thinking about a writing assignment for Mrs. Moll: what-it-means-to-be-an-American. So Fink and I collide, to the max. First, I hear the air go out of him, and then I hear an oomph as he hits the ground. I try not to smile, thinking that Keith's teeth must still be jiggling. All right! I pump my fist, but I don't say anything. That's got to hurt him, although it barely fazes me. I'm solid, unlike so many other skinny and out-of-shape ninth-graders. Some kids call me the fire hydrant.
  Anytime I can play pickup soccer and take out a Fink, it's a good day. Only thing better would be if I'd taken out his dad, George Fink, co-founder of Grassroots Boots. But I'd settle right now for a good idea for that writing assignment. And it'd help to be an American.
  I pass the ball off and turn to see if Fink's still lying there. He's all pissed off like the weenie he is, squinting as if he's hurting and it's all my fault he ran into me. The red rises in his white face. Big baby. A little blood trickles out his nose. He swipes it with the back of his wrist.
  "You freakin' beaner," he says as he pushes himself up. "Idiotic spic." He faces me and spit flies from his mouth. "You're a stupid greased pig; that's what you are."
  He comes at me, but I stand my ground. I keep my mouth shut and stay cool. I have to.
  His body runs into me again, but it just bounces off. Another impressive oomph escapes from Fink. He doesn't fall this time; I'll give him that.
  I look toward the backyard of Maggie's house that borders the grassy field. Maggie's my girl, although if you asked me, I'd deny it. I'm not sure if she realizes it yet either. My family knows hers from the Cathedral, and Maggie goes to school with me. Often, she sits on her deck to watch who's playing on the field behind her house, maybe checking out the guys. I see her smiling at me now. She waves. I smile back and signal. Her family is one of a couple outside the ring of undocumented immigrants like us that my parents trust. Yeah, my family, we're what a lot of people call illegals.
  As I play, I make use of my solid body as well as I can, especially with sissy-prissies like Fink. He's used to "team play" in fancy-shmancy uniforms with referees and a coach to protect and baby him. Even in organized games, he's a wuss, shooting off his mouth when he doesn't get his way. I've watched from the sidelines lots of times. For years I've been watching him and the others. I think I know what it means to be an American; I wish I was one. If I was, maybe I'd tell him to stick it where it stinks and there's no sunlight.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Down the Rabbit Hole

I've not directly known cancer's grip on/in my body...yet. Maybe it will come to me --- chances are probably good; but maybe it won't. Nonetheless, like almost everybody living, it's affected me, it's affecting me. That's how I came to pick up EMBRACE, RELEASE, HEAL. There are some great reviews of it already out there, so I'm not so much intent on recounting what it contains. Reading it is probably worth your while if you have cancer or are dealing directly with someone who does.

My wife, a brave dear soul if ever there was one, presently has fourth-stage peritoneal cancer. She had a severe case of Hodgkin's disease some twenty-six years ago and overcame it, living cancer-free with relatively good health until about a year ago. She loved and appreciated the doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers who helped her through those times. Now, there's this new challenge for her...for us.

Recently, my wife wrote that she had finally finished reading ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND for the very first time. Of course, she was familiar with the story from childhood books, the movies, cartoons, etc. But she had put off reading the fantasy for several decades, indicating it had always seemed too "...curiouser and curiouser!" to take on.

After being diagnosed with cancer again, and after undergoing various procedures and treatments, she decided things couldn't be much curiouser and curiouser than they were at that point in life. She indicated, however, that when she finally began reading the book, she had to constantly keep in mind that Lewis Carroll was writing dream-like scenarios. She quoted from the work:

"Alice, childish story take
And with a gentle hand
Lay it where her childhood's dreams are twind
In memory's mystic band
Like Pilgrim's wither'd wreath of flowers
Pluck'd in far-off land."

Cancer, which shows up any time in the middle of life, whether you're young or old, can be, I suppose, a lot like young Alice falling unexpectedly into Wonderland. It certainly is curiouser and curiouser, but usually not, I can only surmise, in as fun or entertaining a way as in Lewis's fantasy. It seems more like Horrorland. It certainly can be for someone like me, who is only tangentially affected by it, and seems like it can be for people I have observed closely like my wife.

So, I enjoyed reading the case studies, analyses, and personal life stories in EMBRACE, RELEASE, HEAL. Certainly, firsthand accounts tend to confirm the disorienting nature of falling down the cancer rabbit hole. I liked that Leigh Fortson recounted her own story and retold some of the stories of others, who had mostly positive experiences down the hole. I also liked the alternative approaches to the problem people recounted to cope with the problem of being down the rabbit hole, trying to get along enjoy the experience as much as possible, and trying to get out alive.

The thing I didn't like so much about Fortson's approach was its lack of balance, perhaps, I'd say it's dreamlike quality. There seemed to be throughout her book a sustained attack, although subtle, on the conventional medical establishment. It is fine to tell a tale, to go down the hole into Wonderland --- and I delight in that as much as the next person does. However, at some point you have to face life outside of Wonderland. Sure, there're greed and avarice built into the healthcare system. I acknowledge it. Greed and avarice, I'm afraid, have a foothold in just about everything. But it doesn't, in my experience, predominate within the medical field. There're good, kind, gentle practitioners, caregivers, researchers, and even people who work at and run drug companies. There are also villains, just like there are in Wonderland or in Horrorland. The author seems somewhat to suggest that medical professionals' hands are tied in pursuing viable alternatives. Maybe, to some degree, they are. But that is not always the case. There are viable studies underway.

Not every hole that people go down is wonderful. As I've mentioned, often there is horror and you don't always come out once you go in. The biggest hope is that we can dream.

Overall, I give the book kudos and appreciate the positive, life-affirming approaches.

View'>">View all my reviews