Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Walk Down Memory Lane

(I hope you don't think I'm too lazy)

Here is a post from my old Myspace blog...when I used to spend all my money running around the world.
Remember when we used to be able to take liquids on planes? This blog is about the day that all ended:

August 11, 2006

When You Don't Buy Me A Drink, You Let the Terrorists Win

Thursday morning, 6:15 a.m. London: I arrive at the check-in for my United airlines flight out of london....there is a huge line. i get a little nervous that i'll miss my flight. I ask someone. "Oh...there are just a 
few security concerns, we're taking some precautions."

6:45: airport staff starts looking for people are two specific flights, one being mine. they take me out of my line (queu...because i don't want to confuse anyone) and move me to another one, where they instruct me to put all my carry-on luggage into a huge plastic bag they have given me. "only keep your money, passport, and prescription drugs." can i take my chap-stick and my book? "nothing." but...."nothing."

7:50: I am escorted from check-in to security with a group of other people on my flight. i throw my "things" in the little bin and ask about my shoes....don't worry about it...the guy tells me...i'm wearing flip-flops. i go through the detector thing. then....oh joy of joys...cause i really needed it...a woman searches my body. you know how usually when this happens, they're real careful, and tell you everything they're going to do...and touch...before they do it...and touch....well...she just felt me up. it was hot. then she yelled at me for not sending my flip flops through the xray thing. "shoes are shoes." but...the guys said....whatever...not worth it.

7:55 we are instructed to run to the gate or we will miss the flight. I get there....i didn't need to run....they search my body...again. then i sit...for about an hour and a half.

8:10 this is when i notice the news on the t.v. apparently some peeps were trying to blow up my plane...and some others. I get a little sick to my stomach. i lean forward and put my head between my knees. i can't get anything to drink because i don't have any change...and i can't take it on the plane.

9:30 we start loading on the plane.

10:00 maybe...i had no concept of time at this point...i had no watch or phone to tell me. we take off.

11:15 i get something to drink...for the love of everything that is holy. i feel like crap. the movies are crap, i don't have a book, and the music eventually starts repeating. i sleep for a few hours.

1:00 p.m. chicago time (7:00 p.m. London time). 8 hours and twenty minutes have passed since the plane took off. we are greeted at the gate by armed homeland security guards that can't believe i've been out of the U.S. for upwards of five weeks. who would want to leave this place for that long? your mom. now give me my damn passport and get me away from this plane.

1:10: baggage claim. announcement: it will be around 45 to an hour before we can get our bags. they are going through a second screening. it takes about an hour and a half. there are no phones before you get through customs. i cannot call my mom. i am tired.

2:20 i get my bags. i go through customs. "czech republic? what'd you do there?" teach english. "did you drink a lot of that delicious beer?" too much. " don't seem like a threat. you can go on through."

2:25: someone grabs me outside of customs. do you have a connecting flight? yes. they tell me where to go...they tell me the wrong location...i have 20 minutes before the flight leaves. i check my bags. outside there are crowds of people yelling questions at me. did i just get in from london? what's taking so long with the bags? blah blah blah? how long were you stuck there? i call my mom. i get on the train to go from terminal 5 to terminal 1....sonofabitch. i get there. i need a boarding pass. i have to go through security again.

2:38: i'm waiting in security for this guy to stop being mad about them throwing away his vitamins.

2:40: my flight has been delayed.

2:45: I start thinking some french fries might be good...and a dr. pepper. oh wait...i haven't changed my money. shit.

3:20: i get on my hour and a half to m-town....right?

3:30: the pilot speaks. "hey folks. I'm (whatever his name was) and i'll be your captain today. i'd like to able to tell you that the flight will be smooth, BUT it probably won't be. so....sorry about that. we'll get you to memphis though....where it and humid."

3:45 we leave the gate and begin to taxi around the airport.

3:55 we arrive...back at the gate. the pilot speaks again, " are a lot of storms up there, so we've been redirected around them, but we don't have enough fuel to make the new we're going to fuel up. also...i'm going to make a phone call." because we care...about the phone call.

4:10: the pilot speaks again, "okay. we've probably got enough fuel now to travel around the country, but we'll just go to memphis. enjoy the flight."

5:20: the pilot speaks again, "go ahead and buckle your seat-belts, we're coming up on some really bad storms, i'm going to try to get around them, but i may not be able to. we'll be landing in about 20 minutes. the weather in memphis, i hope you're sitting down for this (i love a pilot with a sense of humor) 105 and sunny. 105. yes. 105."

5:30 i look out the window. half of the sky is clear and gorgeous. i can see the world below. the clouds all around me have built cities out of themselves. we are flying around them. i can see the curve of the plane's course. for the first time ever...i wish i could fly outside of the plane....but not actively fly...just float. some of the clouds are pure and white...some are angry....deep in the core of the cloud city there is a lightening storm. i catch my breath.

5:45: we land...smoothly....i close my eyes and feel memphis wrap around me. home has a feeling. just the feel of the ground beneath the plane...and then my feet. reaching up through the soles of my shoes....grounding me....the soul is connected to home....always.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Safe Distance Book Report

I finished reading Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres exactly two years ago, and I now feel that I have had ample time away from the book to be able to look back on it with discretion and far less emotion than I would have at the original time of completion. I found the book at a charity shop in York, England while on my way to Newcastle, and I was excited to find it published by the same UK company that had published the copy of Smiley's The All True Travels of Lidie Newton that was given to me by my "Literature of the American West" teacher during my final semester in grad school. Matching books!! YAY!

I began to read the book on the train to Newcastle, and immediately fell in love with the language:

"I was always aware, I think, of the water in the soil, the way it travels from particle to particle, molecules adhering, clustering, evaporating, heating, cooling, freezing, rising upward to the surface...The grass is gone, now, and the marshes, 'the big wet prairie,' but the sea is still beneath our feet, and we walk on it."

A Thousand Acres is about a family farm in Zebulon County, Iowa. Beyond that, it is a remarkable retelling of Shakespeare's King Lear. All the books that I have read by Smiley (all two of them) have been about the prairie. The harshness of the landscape and the constant battle to tame nature may be a bit of an inspiration. She writes about women, and their endeavors in such a climate, always environmental and always political.

If you are not familiar with King Lear, I will sum it up for you. While Hamlet is considered to be Will's greatest play, King Lear is probably his greatest "achievement." SO, it's not really all that funny. It's a lot more tragic. Maybe not as tragic as Hamlet, but probably a lot more relevant. In short, Lear is about the aging and undoing of a king, a man, and a father. King Lear decides to divide his kingdom between his three daughters. In Smiley's version, it is land (an American's "kingdom" I suppose). However, he requires that his daughters each profess their love for him. His two oldest daughters gladly step forward to make daddy feel good about himself, but the youngest, Cordelia, refuses to make a spectacle, "Nothing, my lord." "Nothing?" "Nothing." "Nothing will come of nothing, speak again." "Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave my heart into my mouth. I love your Majesty according to my bond, no more nor less." And, thus, she makes dad real mad, and he decides to divide his kingdom between his two eldest, because they clearly love him so much more.

Smiley has her Lear (Larry) divide his thousand acres between his three daughters, the youngest of whom (is that right?), Caroline (tee hee), feels doing this is a bad legal move ('cause she's a big ol' lawyer). The story is told from the point of view of one of the eldest, Ginny, and her story is inspired by the fruits of dysfunction.

Shakespeare's Lear, at first glance, is about a crazy old king that likes to talk a lot and is eventually exiled by his mean, selfish daughters. Smiley is not one for surfaces, from my experience. She digs down to the heart of the matter, which is more than I can say for myself upon reading Lear for the first time. I can talk a big game and glibly pronounce the validity of Shakespeare, "We can all totally connect with every subject he writes about, y'all," but I suppose an education at Vassar requires a bit more of a lady. I believe a review I read used the word "illuminates," to describe the actual effect of the work.

I think, and maybe this is just me, that we tend to look at the basics of Shakespeare's work: Romeo and Juliet is all about tragic love, Hamlet is about revenge, A Midsummer Night's Dream is about doing acid, etc...It takes a true scholar/artist to break beneath the surface to find the heart of the truth that Shakespeare's work truly touches on every possible human experience.

I'm not going to summarize the book, or tell you the way it ends. That would be mean. I'm also not going to recommend you read the book unless you have a strong constitution and someone close by that has also read the book when you finish it. That would also be mean. I finished A Thousand Acres over the course of an entire evening in a dorm room in Pilsen, Czech Republic. It was during this time that everything...EVERYTHING...caused me a great deal of anixety, not the least of all being feeling the sunlight come into my room while sitting in bed pouring over a book about the dissolving of a family and an idealism.

A Thousand Acres is an immensely emotional novel. It is a truth to be reckoned with. I had been told by people I didn't even know, that happened to see me reading the book, that it was a book that had an intense effect on them emotionally. I suppose that is part of why I kept reading: to figure out what they meant.

There is no lost love (of a noble nature per se), and there is no build up to an insanely tragic conclusion. Like the reality of life that Shakespeare set out to portray with King Lear, Jane Smiley paints for us a picture of the gradual decay from within that is derived using the metaphor of the poisonous ways we attempt to control the ever changing landscape. Nothing is overtly romantic. Nothing is terribly evil. People hurt each other. People hurt themselves. And everyone will grow old and die. Nothing more. Nothing less.

In the Epilogue, Ginny, our storyteller, is looking at her sister's children, and she observes, "I see in them what I am too close to see in myself, the fusing and mixing of their parents. I see how their inheritance takes place right there, in the shape of their eyes and their glance, the weight of their bodies and their movements, in their intelligence and their inheritance is with me, sitting in my chair...All of it is present now, here; each particle weighs some fraction of the hundred and thirty-six pounds that attaches me to the earth..."

There is nothing that can separate us from our kin.