Sunday, January 15, 2012

Christmastime Road Trip Adventure: Introduction

A week ago, I started to write about the Christmastime road trip. This introduction never even made it back to its original point, which it probably will in the silliest blog post title I may ever write - Introduction Part Two. Since it's lengthy, and since a week has gone by, I'm going to publish it as is.

The end is a good time to reflect on the beginning and everything that has happened since. The reflective end of our Christmas trip arrived at dinner in Boise at a Basque place called Bar Gernika.

[Ed. note: Stay tuned for Part Two, when I finally get back to this point!]

The city of Handsome Man's provenance is a drive of less than twenty hours from Portland. HM and I both enjoy road trips; the topic of discussion the night he wooed me and asked me out was road trips we had both taken and the role these had in our decisions to move to Portland. The last time we flew to Colorado, I became so frustrated on the plane that I drew pictures of all of the reasons that driving would be preferable to flying. That collage still exists somewhere in a currently misplaced "to-be-scanned-and-written-about" pile. My logic was that we can't just hop on a plane when we're ready, but we can hop in the car whenever we want. If we get out of work at 6pm and already have the car packed and ready to go, we can leave right from work and be there by 2pm the next day, if we drive straight through. But if we have to wait until the next morning to get on a plane, and if we have a connecting flight in Seattle, and we have to wait in between flights, and then there's the drive from Denver to HM's home town and if that falls during rush hour traffic...well, by the time we've gotten to our destination, it's actually been more than twenty hours!

Driving a thousand miles can be exhausting, but so can artfully cramming breakables into a suitcase and ensuring your toiletries are in plastic baggies and sitting in a tiny seat breathing recycled air next to a flatulent iPhone addict who has no respect for the armrest that is rightfully yours or the flight attendants' constant requests to turn that fucking phone off while we're in the air. The energy expended on the passive aggressive battle for the armrest is equivalent to at least 200 miles of car time.

In September, HM set out on a road trip home of his own. While I stayed in Portland (and my mommy came to visit), he drove himself to Colorado in one day. He left in the morning and arrived in the middle of the night. With only one driver, he did not stop for the night. With two drivers, this seemed an even more likely undertaking. We estimated the cost of the trip based on the cost of gas at $4.00/gallon with the gas mileage of the car on the low side, and came up with a total cost of travel at less than half the cost of a plane ticket for just one of us. This allowed for a stop at a hotel, which could cost as little as the airline's fee to bring two suitcases on the plane.

So we began to plan. We factored in extra driving time, in case of Christmas traffic or winter weather. We checked the weather a week before our set departure, and every subsequent day. Each day brought the same reassurance -- cold but clear weather all along I-80 and I-84, except for a 20% chance of snow showers in between Eastern Idaho and Western Wyoming. We planned as an extra precaution to take I-80 past Laramie, past the direct route through potentially-icy mountain roads, to I-25 in Cheyenne.

And yet, despite our planning, it was the road trip that almost wasn't. The night before we were set to leave for Colorado, the weather forecast changed. The 20% chance of snow showers had become a chance of snowstorms in Northern Utah and Western Wyoming. We were prepared, however. We could prepare for anything! We mapped out a few alternate routes, including a scenic northern route through Montana which would only take us an extra four hours. Counterintuitively, we would encounter less winter weather in Montana. We went to bed that night having not completely made up our minds, opting to worry about it in the morning or perhaps at some point on I-84 in Oregon that would enable us to divert north.

And then the morning of our departure, Handsome Man discovered that during the night - the four hours after he went to bed at 1am and I woke up at 5am - someone had smashed the back windshield of his car and taken our suitcases which contained nothing valuable to a thief, but all of our clothing. Not just all of the clothing we'd packed, but a good proportion of the clothing we both owned. And winter is a bad time to travel without a back windshield.

Despite potential bad omens, we cleaned up the glass, got the back windshield replaced, repacked our bags with what remained in our closets, and set out, only seven hours later than scheduled, for I-90 and the northern route to Colorado. We made it to our hotel in Northern Idaho later that night. An evening nearly a week later would find us in Idaho again, headed home this time and reflecting. [Ed note: reflecting over delicious paella and croquetas, but more on that next time!]

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Dreams of academia

After waiting for years on my To Read list, a library copy of Bill Bryson's The Mother Tongue: English and how it got that way is in my possession. I am reading it very slowly, either because I have been reading in bed and always conk out after a few paragraphs, or because it is dense and academic. It is, however, enjoyable and fascinating. The paragraphs I have been reading the last few nights (before conking out, shortly after announcing an interesting fact to Handsome Man), have dealt with the origin of language, the theories that languages are either all from a common source (an original Proto-Indo-European mother tongue) or that the world's languages are not all related to one another. Languages used as evidence both for or against are those such as Basque-languages of ethnic groups that had been for some time relatively isolated and thus, their languages now bear no resemblance to those of surrounding areas. For example, Basque is as different from Spanish and French as is Chinese (or so was explained to me by the roommate who first explained the existence of the Basque ethnicity in 2007. It either came up because he'd just learned that a place he'd visited in Europe was now no longer safe, plagued by Basque separatist terrorism, or because we had received another gift from my grandmere of Basque shepherd's cheese.) Anyway, this part of The Mother Tongue quite possibly stuck in my mind more because I have just been to a Basque restaurant in Boise, and I am supposed to write about the nice time I had there, but since I also want to include it in a larger post about Boise and Idaho and the entire road trip, I haven't gotten around to it yet.

Anyway, what I found fascinating was that, while many scholars assert that Basque bears no resemblance to any other living language, and that it's quite possibly the closest relative to the language spoken by Neolithic Europeans, other evidence shows unusual similarity between Basque and other outcast languages - languages of other until-recently-relatively-isolated ethnicities. These languages bear no resemblance to those of the areas geographically closed to their speakers, but they do resemble each other (and Basque.)

The result of this, and the reason I'm writing, is because I had a very odd dream last night in which I was coming up with my own theories about this. I announced in the dream that the first syllable of "Euskara" (which is Basque for "Basque") was a sign of its relatedness to other European languages, that it wasn't actually so different from Latin. In my dream I was rattling off word roots similar to "eu" that meant something like "ancient" or "origin" and that this was proof that those self-aware Basques named their language in a way that indicated its ancient, true closeness to the root of Latin and Sanskrit and other Indo-European languages. These word roots included "eu-" for true, as in "Eubacteria," and "ur," which, attached to German words, refers to the original, old root of something. Before you think I am some genius in my sleep, I was also listing some word roots that my subconscious mind completely made up, and I kept talking about "eu" as a Latin word root when it is actually Greek.

I'm not sure what it means, these academic dreams, where I am developing theories that are sort of nonsensical. I don't know if it means I'm mentally preparing for school to start on Monday, or if I don't know how to take a break even when I'm asleep, or if I merely fell asleep reading a dense book. This is not the only time this has happened; in 2003 or 2004, while enrolled in a very difficult chemistry class and some English classes, too, I had a complicated dream that it was 2005 or 2006 and that I was at the library doing research for my thesis. I was trying to combine my interests in science and literature in my thesis on the writings of J. D. Salinger. In the dream, I was intently researching the chemical and physical properties of Glass with the plan to make conjectures about its relationship to Salinger's choice for the last name of his reoccurring characters, Buddy Glass, Seymour Glass, and Franny and Zooey and the rest of the Glass family. This, too, would have been most likely bullshit; there's only so much Mr. Salinger could have intended, or perhaps he meant nothing at all. Perhaps there is no relation to the transparency and viscosity of glass to anything having anything to do with Buddy and Seymour.

I did ultimately write my senior thesis on J. D. Salinger, in what was supposed to be an in-depth analysis of the under-appreciated and unusual novella, "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters." It was not on the role of science in the novella about which I wrote my thesis. I did not actually get to pick my thesis topic, and that is an interesting story about which I've planned to blog but always stop, thinking it might get back to my thesis advisor that I am trashing him or her on the Internet.

Against my will, I wrote about the role of religion in the text, which is such a common theme in literary analysis that I wonder if it's just a mold which some researchers just can't break out of. (I know I just ended a sentence with a preposition, but all of that "of which" was making me feel like an ass.) Fortunately, I wasn't made to hunt for some kind of Christian influence on the writing of Salinger--a Jew with a penchant for Eastern spirituality. Although I wouldn't doubt that more than one academic has cast Seymour Glass as a Christ figure, or something. I believe in the final draft of my terrible thesis, I ended up echoing the sentiments of some theorists who believed that the religious figure embodied by Seymour Glass was The Superlative Horse of the Taoist parable of the same name, and this may not be very different from casting Seymour as Jesus.

(If you really want to know, I think that the novella, which lacks a clear plot, is so much outside of standard English language short story structure that standard tools of analysis, such as quickly drawing lines between Seymour and positive-religious-figure-of-your-choice, do not apply. But I didn't get to write that thesis, so I have nothing else to say.)

Anyway, I had that glass/Glass dream when I was a sophomore in college and had not yet made the decision to double major in English and a science. I felt like this choice might be foolish or impossible, and I felt quite a bit of anxiety over it. Now that I think about it, I am feeling similar anxiety now about making an academic choice.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

12 things

I felt this way three years ago exactly. The New Year in fact felt like a new beginning, not in some dramatic way, but more like most loose ends had been tied up and rather than feeling behind on deadlines or overwhelmed, what lay before me was an open road, a clear path, not quite a clean slate but a calm, smooth way ahead on which I could build or plant or place things as I fancied. In normal language, my house was clean, there was food in the fridge, my bills were paid, my car was working, and I had a well-organized routine and schedule that enabled me to accomplish necessary tasks and see my friends all at a rate that pleased me. Before you hate the guts of me from three years ago, let me add that a few days after that pleasant, calm, New Year's Day, my carefully crafted routine got dumped on its head and the events occurred which set into motion my move across the country from the place I had lived my entire life.

I think about this a lot, and it was only in the past few months that I realized that while I had still felt a strong connection to that place and the contents of the life I had three years ago, many of those contents--the ones that are real live breathing people--have removed me from the forefront of their consciousness. Why shouldn't they? Even in this day and age of e-mail and Skype (which is probably going to be phased out by myFace or whatever the video chat of iPads/iPhones is called), maybe it's the people one sees in real life more effortlessly take up mental space than those who exist like imaginary friends - unseen, or seen only through a screen, or words, or heard in some digitized form on a phone.

I don't know how true this is, actually. I don't really know what I think about this. Only that I was starting to think that the reason that old life felt so real and present to me is that I made an effort (although not a conscious one) to keep it that way--I held onto the idea of certain places and people with a tight, barely-yielding grip, like a clenched fist. It was only recently that I could go back to visit without a manic need to re-visit each of my former favorite places, so that I wouldn't miss out on a single springtime at Willowwood or late November toad lily at Buck Garden. Only recently I tried to stop living two lives, or only half-living the one I have here.

I hope no one interprets this as a statement of having cut out completely my "old life" or anything like that. I still talk to my family approximately every day. I still feel the same love for my friends, only now I've accepted that you don't have to talk every week or even seen one another every year to be close.

Anyway, today I feel very much like I did three years ago. (Perhaps this is what happens when you don't wake up on New Year's Day with a hangover.) I have some creative freedom with my To Do List. I could make bread. I could re-organize my file drawer. I could study for the LSATs (more on that later.) I could finally knit the green winter hat with owl cables for which I purchased the materials in 2009. I could walk to Lloyd Center and try to replace the third of my wardrobe that was recently stolen. I could make lentils using the recipe on the back of the bag, which is in French, because my family's tradition is to eat lentils (not black-eyed peas) for good luck on New Year's Day. I could buy a calendar for my office. I could even go to Seattle. (That is going to be on my 2012 to-do list, by the way. Nearly three years in the Northwest and I still have not been to Seattle, not once, except to change planes, and that might actually have been in Tacoma. As blog is my witness, I will go to Seattle this year!)

I originally sat down to write, overwhelmed by the multitude of topics available. I even have handwritten notes on paper, not scribbled on a dry-erase board or a napkin. They are in a notebook for once (although some are on the back of a beer bottle label/tour ticket from a brewery in Colorado.) Not sure where to start, I planned to just list them, to get myself started, and I'll write about all of it later this week (because classes don't start until the 9th and I have no more Christmas cookies to bake; I have nothing but time!). And then I wrote this long intro. So without further long rambling intro, here are twelve things for 2012 aka twelve things from my road trip notebook/beer bottle label and a few more from my head from the last couple of days of December.

1. A license plate holder about John Galt; confession: I read Atlas Shrugged and liked it. Does that make me a Republican? 2. Sitting on my dream couch in my office, looking out the window, reading and writing--doesn't it just sound perfect???? 3. Big-haired Jersey driving in Wyoming unexpected adventure. 4. Whenever I'm in Portland, I don't want to leave; whenever I leave Portland, I dream about someday leaving, like how I left for Portland in 2009. 5. Artichoke dip should be a traditional New Year's morning breakfast. Served with flax seed crackers - easy and healthy and cheap and why didn't I know about these earlier? Also, they may satisfy every possible dietary exclusion of every possible party guest. 6. Symbolism in life and in fiction and even nonfiction - the first time I attempted to employ this literary tool in a short story, the teacher who read it and wasn't too thrilled, how insults are often more a reflection of the insulter than the insultee, and some signs that might help tell the difference. 7. A brief rant about dietary exclusions and attempting to accommodate multiple varieties at once. 8. Weird fruit returns to Portland grocery stores--my favorite part of West Coast Winter. 9. My life right now is the life I dreamed about when I was younger and I need to stop forgetting that. 10. Review of New Year's resolutions from 2011 - in short, I actually stuck to all of them. 11. Thoughts about interstate exits. 12. The "collect 'em all" mentality of an 80's upbringing and how it relates to soda and beer and traveling.

That and many more things, coming soon...

Oh, and as compared to three years ago, this New Year's Day feeling makes me less cockily sure that smooth roads and easy choices are ahead. Now I wonder, what next? What should I prepare for, or should I finally accept that some things can't be planned?

In conclusion, the beginning of a road on a morning in Northern Idaho: