Friday, October 22, 2010

Tea Party

There was cake! There was tea! There were balloons! There were cookies, and candy too! Eight little girls gathered together on the 16th of October to celebrate Iza's birthday. They played Laser Tag at Boondocks. They beat down a stubborn pinata filled with goodies. They watched Alice in Wonderland on a swinging bed. Then they crashed and started all over again the next morning...  They played Twister. They drew pictures. They ate waffles and pancakes. They had a blast! Here's a movie in memory of the momentous event:

Iza's 9th Very Unbirthday Tea Party

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Indian Summer

I'm looking out the window this morning, and the sky is weeping. I'm watching the leaves fall in all their glory, dappled with myriads of colors, hues infinite. The orange pumpkin perched in front of the house next to the yellow chrysanthemums grimaces as a wet dog passes by sniffing for remnants of meaning in his life. I recall the strange dreams of the night wondering whether they are expressions of my true desires unleashed from the habitual restraits of reason. Perhaps water should be wet, but it doesn't have to be bitter. The drops of rain on the glass swell and make wet tracks as they fall, avenues of fortune. Don't wake me. I plan on sleeping in. I think I want the dream to last a little longer before it dissolves into the verisimilitude of life. I am too afraid to ask myself what I really want: the answer might turn out to be frightfully discrepant with reality. Maybe I'm reading it all wrong: after all, omelettes with gruyere are delicious. Who wouldn't choose an omelette with gruyere over hard boiled eggs? I should get out more often. But that's what got me into this trouble in the first place: looking out the window, watching the leaves fall in the rain. . .

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I Bet My Life on the Losing Side

The beginning of the school year... summer is officially over. My blogs have become scarce: not because I've suddenly nothing to say, but because I've suddenly no time to scratch my bottom, let alone write silly blogs that no one reads anyway. While driving my daughter to school today, I once again found myself disappointed in my apparent inability to complete all the tasks on my 'to-do' list. I meant to take a breather and write something obscure in this egotistical virtual space... I meant to finish reading Chandler's absolutely boring and incomprehensible book that has no immediate bearing on my own scholarship... I meant to be much more productive... And somehow time seems to slip through my fingers, while the list grows in size and overwhelms my puny existence.

Isn’t it just the same with pretty much everything in life? That thought brought me to the brinks of depression: if everything we do falls short of our own standards, we sentence ourselves to perpetual disappointment.

Let's have some examples. When my daughter was born, I wanted to feed her fantastic gourmet food, to homeschool, to turn her into a genius overnight--a Romantic reading machine that can spit out philosophical doctrines in a blink of an eye. Soon enough, I realized that perhaps if she were a rag-doll it would’ve been easy enough to manipulate her. But she is a living, breathing human being that resists certain efforts. She prefers a Subway sandwich over a succulent baked salmon fillet, Club Penguin over Mastermind, and iCarly over the Discovery Channel. She's got a mind of her own, and I've got a life outside of my parenting bubble. Then there are the mountains I want to climb: Labor Day weekend we were supposed to do the infamous Crestones. Mother nature decided to surprise us with some tempestuous winds. How am I supposed to climb a Class 5 route 45mph gusts? How about lectures? I'd like to audit some classes this semester, so that I can again pretend to have something in common with people at my own intellectual level, who have become alien to me by now. Perhaps, if there were 48 hours in a day, and two more days in a week, I could squeeze a lecture or two in. And there are the little tasks of quotidian life: washing my car, my dog, going dancing, climbing more, hanging out with friends... the list is endless.

The dark truth is that I seem to fail in every aspect of my life! My actual existence falls currently well below par of my ideal existence. It just doesn't seem to be humanly possible to do everything I would like to do. On the other hand, to stop trying, to give up, means to stop living altogether. How do you balance your aspirations with the cruel limitations of reality? How do you settle for less, when it is not within your nature, when every fiber of your being is screaming in defiance? Must we give up our lofty dreams in order to be happy? Or do I have the ‘princess’ syndrome: shouldn’t everything go my way?

If felicity depends on having our expectations satisfied, then the only way to live happily seems to require lowering one’s expectations, prioritizing, and celebrating each moment of triumph--no matter how insignificant--with a drink of your choice and chocolate. The thing about ideals is that their defining characteristic is perfection, and hence they exist only in our imagination. Admission of this simple fact is the first step to happiness.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Beam me up, Scotty

Today's confession: I like to watch. I especially like to watch interesting people--people who are doing something unusual, something strange to me, something I don't do. Voyeurism of this kind reveals reality as absolutely subjective. It creates alternate realities. It allows me to live more than one life, "to live deeep and suck out all the marrow of life."

My main life revolves around the academia: that's where I do what people would call "work." This reality involves dressing appropriately and expressing oneself in a dignified, somewhat elevated language. It presupposes a rational progression of events and a rational and well-mannered behavior of those around me. It necessarily distances itself from the uncouth, the uneducated, the lewd, the immoral, and the unpredictable. In other words, this reality has a prescribed set of rules, mannerisms, and behaviors. It is a very pleasant, sheltered existence filled with wine and cheese. It plays out to the soundtrack of jazz and classical music.

But who doesn't like to listen to some Guns 'n Roses once in a while? Who doesn't secretly crave a leeeettle bit of chicken fried chicken and biscuits and gravy? Who doesn't enjoy an occasional "ain't" and "y'all" to roll off the tongue? All of the above--to me a rarity, an excess, a sort of a luxury--form the quotidian reality of other people. Although I always feel like a fraud, an intruder in that reality, I enjoy watching that life and pretending to be part of it. I like to feel through that alternate existence.

Attending a biker rally for me is like walking on the moon. It's like reading a book or, better yet, entering a virtual reality simulator. The people who attend biker rallies usually live lives completely different from my own. They dress differently and talk differently. They react differently to pain and pleasure. They have a different sense of humor. And most of all, they have stories to tell, stories that are a mere fiction to me. This fiction is their reality. I wrap myself in it and feel. And live another life. I become somebody else. This metamorphosis allows me to see the world through different eyes. The strangeness, the uncanniness of that experience is intensified by the sheer contrast to my own. It is intoxicating. It brings immense pleasure. It feels like a taste of chocolate for the first time, like a hot shower on a cold winter day, like the sound of thunder tearing through the silence of the night. I am Eliza Doolittle at the Embassy Ball.

It feels good to be bad once in a while. Entering simulation:

video

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Breakfast of Champions

The summer morning beckens with sunshine and clear blue skies. Grandma and grandpa are finally gone. Iza is back. Woooo-hoooo! Today is just for the two of us! For breakfast we're baking a nectarine tart and drinking honey-sweetened iced tea to the beat of some fabulous summer tunes.

Nectarine Golden Cake
from Gourmet Magazine, September 2009


Serves 8

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
Rounded 1/4 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, soft
3/4 cup plus 1/2 Tbs sugar, divided
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/8 tsp pure almond extract
2 nectarines, pitted and cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg (use freshly grated nutmeg, please!)

Equipment: a 9-inch springform pan

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F with rack in middle. Lightly butter springform pan.

2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.

3. Beat butter and 3/4 cup sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in extracts. At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just combined.

4. Spread batter evenly in pan, then scatter nectarines over top. Stir together nutmeg and remaining 1/2 Tbsp sugar and sprinkle over top. Bake until cake is golden-brown and top is firm but tender when lightly touched (cake will rise over fruit), 45 to 50 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove side of pan and cool to warm.


Delicious! But the best part was making it with Iza! Now we're off to Boondocks!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Harvard or Bust!

After a warm-up on Princeton two weeks ago, it was time to go to Harvard. Mt. Harvard is Colorado's third highest peak. The hike from North Cottonwood Trailhead is 13.5 miles long with 4,600 feet of elevation gain. Saturday, August 14th we packed up the Jeep and headed West towards Buena Vista. While we went to get some water and provisions at 7/11, Indiana, who stayed in the car, devoured our breakfast: two egg and bacon burritos we made that morning! That completed his meal plan for the day!

We left Denver around 6:30am and got to North Cottonwood Trailhead (serving Mt. Harvard and Mt. Columbia) at about 11am. After circling the completely full parking lot, we managed to squeeze the Jeep in between two pines up in the forest and headed towards the trail. The plan was to camp out in Horn Fork Basin just below the treeline, at about 11,500 feet, and try climbing both Harvard and Columbia the next day, breaking camp, and going home. The trail entered the Collegiate Peak Wilderness, so Indiana needed to be leashed all the time.



We knew we had plenty of time to get to our intended camping area. It was about 3.5 miles in and 1,700 feet up. The trail gently weaved through San Isabel National forest crossing creeks and sharing with us its cornucopia of wildflowers, mushrooms, and wild strawberries. At about 11,000 feet my pack was beginning to weigh heavily on me, and I started getting impatient about reaching our destination. The thick forest did not permit a single glance at the mountains we were about to conquer the next morning. We finally reached the point where the trail forked: Columbia to the right, Harvard straight ahead. We walked a few hundred feet towards Columbia and started setting up base camp.

The afternoon was absolutely gorgeous: blue skies, sunshine, slight breeze, and perfect temperatures. The mosquitoes must have been enjoying the day as much as we had because there were hoards of them everywhere. I did not bring bug spray, so we started a little campfire so the smoke could keep them away. The campfire kept the mosquitoes away and instead attracted a lone doe. She walked through our camp, about 8 feet from us, until Indiana spooked her. He probably thought she was a gigantic dog!

After a nice dinner and coffee, and filtering more water for Sunday morning (Note to self: purchase a Nalgene bottle with a standard opening), we sat around the campfire and watched the hikers coming down Columbia's steep slope. Every one of them was cursing the day he/she decided to go up that mountain. Columbia's slopes are covered with scree, which makes for an unpleasant journey (whether up or down): it takes a toll on your knees and ankles as you slide down with every step. My enthusiasm waned. Since we had no direct visual reference, we took out our topo maps and compass and went over the routes again. From our base camp, we had about 1.5 miles to the end of the basin. From then the trail got steeper. Once on the summit of Harvard, we would need to circle the basin either on the top of Rabbit Ears ridge between the two 14ers or drop down to the valley on the East side and come back up Columbia's steep North ridge. I wanted to traverse via Rabbit Ears ridge; however, the route called for some, what looked like, short pitches of class 5 climbing. Dropping down the valley, meant no easy way out in case of bad weather: we would be on the wrong side of the mountain. But we withheld our judgment until next morning. I suggested an early start to summit at sunrise, so we could have more options open, but my partner was not much interested in enduring the cold of the night (Note to self: find another partner... just kidding!).

After a pleasant, warm, quiet night, I woke up at 4am, snoozed for a while longer, and started bustling about making coffee and repacking for the hike. It was still dark and the mountains enveloping the basin made sure it stayed that way until about 6:30am. We started out around 6am still in relative darkness. Once the trees thinned out, we saw the entire basin drowned in a deep fog.


About mid-way up the basin, the fog started lifting, and we could see Mt. Yale to the West in Alpine glow.


We kept on walking, crossed a creek or two, and once the fog lifted the peak came into view. It was not much of a peak: indistinguishable, kind of flat looking, and about the same size as the other little piles of rock on top of that ridge. Very unimpressive in my book.


We walked North in the basin until we reached a talus field. From there, we started a steeper incline up. The trail was very pleasant and well-marked and offered astonishing views of the surrounding mountains. Mt. Yale to the East was flaunting his stunning slopes. Mt. Columbia, much more distinguished, was towering to the Northeast.


Whereas Mt. Harvard we couldn't even see from when we entered the talus: it was hidden behind a slope that eventually evened out to expose another little basin. Once we crossed the grassy basin, the trail became very steep. It wound its way up Mt. Harvard's Southern slope at a steady 30-45 degree angle. I felt my legs turning to jello. Breathing became progressively more difficult. I adopted snail pace.


I also stopped taking pictures. I was too tired. I felt defeated by the darn pile of rocks! By the time we got just below the summit, I was exhausted.



The final push, was a class 3 scramble. Indiana leaped his way up to the summit. And I? The final step took all I could offer--a high step up a little slab with a nice little undercling--and I made it! It must have been about 10:30am.


The summit was tight. We did not find a registry or a marker. I started wondering whether we were at the right summit. But then, the trail led right up to it, two guys were downclimbing from it, and it was the highest thing on the horizon. Sitting on top, I knew I couldn't push for the traverse. I was tired. I was low on water. The Rabbit Ear ridge looked a bit too much for the dog. It was already too late: it would take us another 4 hours to reach Columbia and then the descent did not offer any relief--in fact, quite the opposite. By the time we'd be back at camp, it would've been 4pm. If we could end it there, it would not have been too bad. But we still had to break camp, walk down with full packs, and drive over 3 hours home. Another day, Columbia!

After we ate our peanut butter Sweet & Salty Nut granola bars (Delicious! Note to self: buy more!), we started down. We reached the camp at about 1pm, packed up, ate some lunch, and headed down the trail. In consequence of some motivational songs about steak and beer, at 3:15pm we were back at the trailhead. I have conquered my 15th 14er. It was time to celebrate at the Coyote Cantina.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Present Regained

If Byron thought the present had no existence (see Present Lost), Shelley managed to regain the present, although briefly, through love. In one of his last poems composed in June 1822, a month before his untimely death, Lines Written in the Bay of Lerici Shelley manages to hold on to "a state of immediacy," as Bloom explains, so intense as "to remind the poet, momentarily, of the possibility of living again the present" (Bloom 351):

She left me, and I stayed alone
Thinking over every tone
Which, though silent to the ear,
The enchanted heart could hear,
Like notes which die when born, but still
Haunt the echoes of the hill;
And feeling ever--oh, too much!--
The soft vibration of her touch,
As if her gentle hand, even now,
Lightly trembled on my brow;
And thus, although she absent were,
Memory gave me all of her
That even Fancy dares to claim:--
Her presence had made weak and tame
All passions, and I lived alone
In the time which is our own;
The past and future were forgot,
As they had been, and would be, not. (15-32; my emphasis)


The time spent with the girl in love's sweet embrace made the past and the future disappear, and he was able to live only for the present moment. He forgot the past as if it never happened and did not anticipate the future. For the time being he was perfectly satisfied to live in a time, which belonged only to the two lovers--the present moment. For Byron's Manfred, there is no present; For Shelley, in a moment of blissful sexual passion between two lovers the present only exists. So Manfred, like the poet in Shelley's Alastor, is guilty of self-inflicted solitude that leads to a disintegration of immediate reality into what was and what is to come. For Shelley, the only way to remain in the present is to experience an intense emotional connection to another human being. Bloom quite aptly writes, "The man cut off from others and from his own true imagination is in hell, for the Romantic hell is neither other people nor oneself but the absence of relationship between the two" (Bloom 371-2).

Friday, August 6, 2010

Present Lost

The fact that in mythology Prometheus and Epimetheus represent the past and the future respectively with an obvious lack of the personification of the present points to the ephemerality of the present. The absence of the Titan of the present suggests that the ancients recognized this ephemerality or, even further, that they felt the present did not exist at all. Perhaps Lord Byron feared the same. Manfred in Byron's drama of the same title in his habitual optimism explains,

We are the fools of time and terror: Days
Steal on us and steal from us; yet we live,
Loathing our life, and dreading still to die.
In all the days of this detested yoke--
This heaving burthen, this accursed breath--
This vital weight upon the struggling heart,
Which sinks with sorrow, or beats quick with pain,
Or joy that ends in agony or faintness--
In all the days of past and future, for
In life there is no present, we can number
How few--how less than few--wherein the soul
Forbears to pant for death, and yet draws back
As from a stream in winter, though the chill
Be but a moment's. (II.ii.164-77; my emphasis)

The present does not exist: we have only the past and the future, and those days--of past experiences and possible experiences--are filled with suffering and sorrow. There are only a handful of days when the soul does not "pant for death," but we fear death and choose to live still. If Manfred sounds very existential here, it is because he is expressing similar sentiment as Hamlet or Macbeth and Schopenhauer or Nietzsche. Since the Epimethean error, man began to desire (see The Fall of Man). His desires are driven by the irrational, instinctual force--the Will, which is the underlying principle of human behavior. The Will is also responsible for man's inherent drive to live and reproduce. So this drawing back from death Manfred refers to is completely irrational but natural.

Where did the present go? I think what Byron wants to emphasize is precisely that phenomenological problem of the intangibility of the present moment. The present is like a knife's edge: the past and the future have some kind of a durationl; the present none. However, Byron does say, "In life there is no present."  Does he mean that there is a present in death? Before the Fall, man was outside of time. After the Fall, man has no present but lives in time. Is Byron suggesting that once we die we enter another realm where another temporal structure applies?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Imagining the Cure

If Time is Romanticism's disease, then Imagination is its cure. There are two agents that help Wordsworth retain memories, stay connected to the past: the first is Dorothy as he explains in Tintern Abbey and the other are "spots of time" as formulated in The Prelude. Through Dorothy he is able to see himself as he once was (see Romantic Epimetheus). The "spots of time" are particular but trivial episodes in one's life that are vividly remembered when triggered by a circumstantial return to the same place:

    There are in our existence spots of time,
That with distinct pre-eminence retain
A vivifying virtue, whence, depressed
By false opinion and contentious thought,
Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight
In trivial occupations and the round
Of ordinary intercourse, our minds
Are nourished and invisibly repaired--
A virtue by which pleasure is enhanced,
That penetrates, enables us to mount
When high, more high, and lifts us up when fallen. (XI.257-67)

A vivid memory surfaces in the consciousness of another episode from the same place but a different time. It's an experience of a sort of time warp, but, as Wordsworth explains later in the murderer incident, the memory of the initial episode is stripped of its emotive content that might have been attached to it when it first occurred. This memory brings pleasure and "lifts us up when fallen." It has a redemptive quality. However, I doubt we can talk about "the function of the spots of time," as Bloom does in The Visionary Company (Bloom 161). "Function" implies an intention, but it seems that the initial episode so vividly stored in memory accessible at a later time is not consciously chosen to be stored or remembered and certainly the trigger that brings it back to consciousness is equally arbitrary.

In both instances--of enhancing his memory through Dorothy and repairing it through "spots of time"--Imagination is the faculty responsible for the correlation between the immediate and the remembered experience. In the first case, the act of memory through which the present Wordsworth can see his past self is possible because of a ritualistic displacement of perspective from his own to that of his younger sister, which can be accomplished in the Imagination only: he imagines himself enjoying the surrounding beauty of Nature with a younger, more acute sensibility. In the second case, Imagination functions through memory to revive an old experience in a new context. So memory is possible because of Imagination. If memory is redemptive and only possible through the power of Imagination, then Imagination alone is responsible for the leaps in time.

Therefore, Time--the objective, universal, clock time--can be bent, twisted, or otherwise manipulated through the Imagination on the subjective platform of temporality. If through the power of the Imagination we can escape the rigid temporal structures of phenomenal experience, then we can experience the world as we did before the Fall... before Epimetheus screwed everything up (see The Fall of Man).

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Romantic Epimetheus

In my reading of Harold Bloom's classic, The Visionary Company I find parallels between Wordsworth and the Promethean myth and, at the same time, evidence that Romanticism was not really about Nature, not even about the power of Imagination (as Bloom supposes), but about the poets' preoccupation with that cultural anxiety about time, its passage, its relation to the mind, and man's final defeat by time in death.

William Wordsworth privileges the past. He looks back and reflects. He dwells on the past and thus is trapped in a sort of stasis. He's "more like a man/ Flying from something that he dreads than one/ Who sought the thing he loved," as he explains in Tintern Abbey. Seeking implies a look towards the future; fleeing one's own ghosts of the past is a blind leap into the future. There is nothing to look forward to, only a hasty withdrawal from what once was. Wordsworth is the Romantic Epimetheus! (see The Fall of Man).

The poet fears prometheia because after his disillusionment with the efforts of the French Revolution  he distrusts the Promethean gift of elpis. In The Prelude he confesses,

                                            now believing,
Now disbelieving; endlessly perplexed
With impulse, motive, right and wrong, the ground
Of obligation, what the rule and whence
The sanction; till, demanding formal proof,
And seeking it in every thing, I lost
All feeling of conviction, and, in fine,
Sick, wearied out with contrarieties,
Yielded up moral questions in despair.

Elpis dissapointed conditions one to fear. The enjambments of the passage support the feeling of confusion and the prolonging of this ideological stasis the poet finds himself in. For Wordsworth, according to Bloom, "Love of Nature had led to love of Man, love of Man to revolutionary hope for Man, and the thwarting of that hope to this unnatural abyss" (Bloom 158). By "this unnatural abyss" Bloom means the Blakean realm of Ulro, the land of the solipsistic self-reflection, the winter, Dr. Seuss' "waiting place." It is also the land of the Epimethean over-reflection. I find it curious that Bloom's explanation works equally well for both Wordsworth and Prometheus: his "love of Nature led to love of Man, love of Man to revolutionary hope for Man, and thwarting of that hope" to the fall of Man and his punishment. Now Wordsworth has chosen epimetheia as his guiding light instead of prometheia that has so chastised him for his revolutionary hopes that his dissappointment in those unmet expectations cause him suffering. He doesn't want to hope anymore. He is satisfied with the certainty of the past: whatever happened cannot be undone because it is factual and, therefore, it is certain. Hoping requires a belief in the unknown, an investment in uncertainty. So Wordsworth abandons the Promethean endeavor in favor of the Epimethean reflection because he fears the future now that hope yielded nothing more than disappointment.

But memories are fragile for Wordsworth: he fears he will forget. And since his privileging the past, the remembrance of the past is precious. In Tintern Abbey and in the poet's incessant efforts at revision of The Prelude there is a marked urgency to remember and fear of forgetting. In Tintern Abbey finds in his younger sister, Dorothy, a reminder of his earlier self, of his younger self who was so atuned to natural beauty:

                             and in thy voice I catch
The language of my former heart, and read
My former pleasures in the shooting lights
Of thy wild eyes. Oh! yet a little while
May I behold in thee what I was once,
My dear, dear Sister!

As in the passage from The Prelude, the enjambments betray an anxiety or perhaps even desperation: Dorothy is his time machine, through which he can access his earlier self. This realization that one needs another in order to remember, in order for the memory to stay true and alive, in order perhaps even to conquer mortality, is the reader's epiphany but not really Wordsworth's. Wordsworth continues to worship solitude and seeks Nature as his only companion. He fails to realize what Percy B. Shelley satirizes in Peter Bell the Third and, again allegorically, in Alastor:

But from the first 'twas Peters rift
   To be a kind of moral eunuch,
He touched the hem of Nature's shift,
Felt faint--and never dared uplift
   The closest, all concealing tunic.

As Bloom notes, "[Wordsworth's] bride was Nature" and that, according to Shelley, was his most tragic error (Bloom 131). This is precisely why Shelley has Asia--the personification of sexual energy and Love--be the catalyst of Prometheus' release in his lyrical drama, Prometheus Unbound. Love conquers all, may be a cliche but Shelley is convinced that solitude, celebacy, or sexual repression are unnatural, a denial of life.  Shelley's Prometheus is victorious because he shares his passions with another. Without this interchange of emotions, he still would be chained to a rock. Shelley offers another alternative to the Epimethean stasis of remaining in Ulro because of fear, a passage to the Blakean Generation perhaps--a step Mr. Wordsworth was not willing to take.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Going to Princeton

Reading, reading, and some more reading so I have no time for writing. In fact, I'm currently ruminating on literary criticism of the Romantic period with an occasional break for hiking or climbing. I feel I should write about my work but instead I will write about my extracurricular activities since they're infinitely more interesting. My last successful endeavor: Princeton, one of the Collegiate Fourteeners, not the educational institution.


Mount Princeton (14,197'') is one of the peaks in the Sawatch Range. We decided to take it on as the warm-up of the season because the hike is relatively short and there is some four-wheeling involved in order to get to the trailhead at 11,600''.

Wednesday, July 28th, we left Denver around 2:30am and reached Buena Vista at 5am. It was raining in Buena Vista. I was a bit concerned but still determined to proceed: NOAA called for a 30% chance of rain later in the afternoon, so I figured it would stop before the afternoon storms rolled in. Indeed by the time we reached Princeton Road, it stopped. The Land Rover swayed comfortably on the narrow, rocky road. The dogs looked out the window and tried to retain composure: one dog saw a wall of dirt on his side; the other, a steep drop into an abyss of darkness. We made it past the radio towers, the camping spots, and after a few more hairpin turns chose to park the car where we found a bit of room to turn it around. I did not know the condition of the road further up and driving backwards would have been rather scary. So at 6:30am up we went on our own feet still following the road to reach the stone steps that marked the beginning of the trail. It turned out that there was only one more turn where we could have parked before the steps.

We ate breakfast at the steps, while watching some guys trying to turn their truck around on the narrow road and commented on the irresponsible choice of a red SUV that just parked in the middle of the road. We started walking the trail after 7am.


Here's how we reached the top of Princeton. Most of the trail was a talus field. Although it was relatively easy to follow it, it tended to disappear sometimes and then reappear again. We missed an earlier turn off to go up the Tigger-Princeton saddle. Tigger is Princeton's 13'000-foot mascot that you skirt on the way up Princeton (to the left in the photo above). Having noticed a large cairn on the saddle, I headed up the talus to reach the trail proper. This is where we ran into the owner of the red SUV, who was rather apologetic about his unfortunate parking.


Once we reached the saddle around 9:30am, we could smell the summit. I tried to set a fast pace, because I've been watching the barometer all the morning and the pressure just kept dropping, which was bad news. It suggested a slow but steady approach of a storm, and I didn't want to be caught in it on the summit. I failed to share that information with my hiking partner.


Looking back on Tigger. The pale trail is within view.


Looking up at the remaining stretch to the summit. About 200 feet below the summit, we ran into this memorial plaque:

 
I wondered whether the unfortunate woman's accident was a freak occurrence or, more likely, an error in judgment. When I got home, I looked up the brief article on the Summit Post. Although the article was not specific, the fact that her friend turned back suggests that she was guilty of hubris and ignored the warning signs. RIP. We reached the summit at 10am and within minutes we were covered in a shroud of clouds.



After a short break to sign the register, take pictures, and eat a snack, we headed down the moutain. The trek down was not much faster than up: the talus required careful stepping. At least the breathing was regulated now. During the descent, the summit was completely covered in clouds. By the time we got to the saddle, my barometer shot up for the first time that morning. Soon the clouds dispersed and the sun graced us with its presence. For the rest of the hike, we followed the ridge all the way to where the ascent up Tigger began. Route finding was much easier this way. Then we dropped down the steep slope back to the trail. We were back at the steps at 12:30pm. Another 30 minutes and we reached the truck.

Going down Princeton Road was frustrating. We ran into a few SUVs filled with tourists who felt compelled to follow the road up for no particular reason. Passing on the road is tough so we had to back up to allow the other vehicles to squeeze through. We eventually made it down, slowly but safely, and headed to the Coyote Cantina in Buena Vista for a well-deserved beer and meal. All in all, a successful trip!

Coming up on August 14th: an attempt at Colorado's third highest peak, Harvard and his close college friend, Columbia.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Dog-Haters, Beware!

I've taken a break from reading to research routes on Colorado's 14ers and visited the best place for it, 14ers.com. As I tend to do, I decided to enter the forum and see what people were writing about these days. Of course, I found a current thread on dogs. It seems that most of the community is against dogs on 14ers. Well, excuse me, but if I am going to enjoy a hike up a big mountain, why wouldn't I take my dog? And why would people take an issue with dogs on hikes? Why do you approach me, you belligerent prude, and tell me about some imaginary leash law?

First of all, I do agree that there is an etiquette that dog owners should follow but that they are too often too ignorant to mind, such as picking up after the dog, making sure it doesn't chase wildlife, doesn't get off trail, doesn't bother people who don't want to be bothered, doesn't eat others' food, doesn't get into a fight with another dog, to name a few. And I do agree that certain breeds are just not well suited for these sorts of hikes.

However, if there is a U.S. State with the potential of a dog to be happy, it's Colorado: It's big; it's colorful; it's got running space, meadows, and mountains.... I never had a problem encountering a dog on a trail; sadly, I can't say the same about humans. Does human hypocrisy know no bounds? Let's protect our animals, become vegetarians, get dogs/ cats from shelters rather than breeders, and certainly NEVER wear fur or leather, but god forbid we allow a dog the freedom to enjoy the beauty and grandeur of nature. ](*,) WTF?

It seems to me that the lawmakers of this country have all sat down and decided that freedom will be limited until all people can do is sit home and watch TV... only certain kinds of TV, that is. No nudity! No nipples showing! No violence! You will not smoke in public places. You will not smoke ganja at all. You will not drink beer in public places. You will not wear a thong on the beach. You will not drive a black car on Sundays (Seriously! CO law!). You will wear a helmet if you're riding a bike. You will not ride your motorcycle into certain towns (Golden, BTW). "You will not cry, or sneeze or barf or fart!" Who are these laws meant to protect? Now I opened up Pandora's box! Don't get me wrong... I love America because it has plenty to offer, but I'm not going to keep my eyes averted from the obvious faults either. It's a country run by a bunch of extremist prudes, who want to protect the stupid few at the expense of everyone else's freedom. But you've heard this before.

So I will take my dog on the trail on every 14er and hike (up to a certain class of difficulty, of course), so he can have his day off leash doing what he does best--RUN--(it's a shepherd) and to protect me from other people... not from other dogs!

Oh, yeah... and thank you for petting my dog! But if you stop me on the trail to tell me about some imaginary leash law, I will give you lip! :)

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Fall of Man

The originary man before the fall, according to Rousseau at least, was reliant only on his own natural ability to survive, reaching for nothing beyond the stretch of his own hand accessible within a walking distance. He could only grasp without manipulating, without making tools in order to manipulate nature. He had nothing that would be inessential or unnecessary to his own survival. He relied purely on what was inside of him rather than exterior objects. "His desires never [went] beyond his physical wants;" in fact, he didn't have any passions. "The only goods he recognize[d] in the universe are food, a female, and sleep: the only evils he fear[ed] are pain and hunger" ("A Dissertation On the Origin and Foundation of The Inequality of Mankind and is it Authorised by Natural Law?"). If he didn't have passions, he didn't grasp for knowledge, he did not anticipate anything, he didn't have a future, he was outside of time. If he did not anticipate anything, he did not anticipate his own death, and so did not fear it, and in a sense was immortal. Mortality only exists if the subject is aware of his own finitude. He did not work, speak, or have skills or knowledge. He only imitated animals. He had at his disposal only his natural abilities.

But, lo and behold, Prometheus took pity on the man because he lacked a special power, gift, or some ability that made him better equipped for his survival on earth. The other animals had all sorts of powers that Epimetheus distributed among them based on a principle of compensation: the smaller creatures received wings or dwelling underground; larger, already had an advantage over others. But Epimetheus, who was not a particularly clever boy, exhausted all the powers on other animals forgetting about humans. So Prometheus, his wise brother, stole from Hephaestus and Athena the gift of craft or skill in the arts along with fire so they could use this techné to their advantage.

Because of the Epimethean (belonging to the Titan of afterthought, the past, recollection, and reflection) fault of forgetting and the Promethean (of the Titan of foresight, the future, anticipation) fault of theft, humans became differentiated from animals as the only creatures that partook of the divine, that acknowledged gods through worship and sacrifice, and that became aware of their own mortality vis-à-vis the immortality of the gods. Due to the Olympian conflict that ensued from the brothers' faults, Pandora released elpis from her box. Elpis being both hope and fear or rather expectation is an extension of suffering. In Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound the Titan says that he bestowed on humans "blind hope."

So through the faults of the Titans humans have fallen. They became aware of time. They began to anticipate and fear death. They discovered articulate speech. They invented houses, bedding, automobiles, clothes, Prada.... They became both producers of commodities and consumers. And--like the Promethean liver--their hunger, ills, suffering, and labor returns every day for eternity. And the liver, the organ of all the humors and passions, is the cause of their suffering. Because of their techné, skill or craft, they learned to manipulate nature and to destroy it. Being the only creatures in between nature and gods, they neither belong to the natural nor the divine world. They are perpetually incomplete, inadequade, imbalanced, unstable, always disatisfied. They either rely too much on the past or look too far into the future; they have no present but exist in time.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Pimpin' My Crib

It’s amazing what a little paint can do: it can fully transform a room, remove dirt and mess, and improve karma. Seven days of work and $200 later, voila!


I know. I’m a compulsive painter. But I needed to get the kitchen project done before the semester began, otherwise I’d never find enough time to do it. My inspiration came from thinking of Iza’s birthday party this year, but that’s a subject for another blog.

How did I do it? Well, I did not have much to work with: kitchen cabinets from the 60s, I believe, all metal, some with wooden doors—plain, with no design whatsoever, soiled after years of abuse. The top cabinets had no handles, which contributed to the dirtiness. Bottom cabinets sported silver, retro handles. Floor? Linoleum with a funky brown, yellow, turquoise, and green pseudo-mosaic design. Yes, it is possible! Countertops? Turquoise with gold swirls.

The challenge: transform this kitchen without a major investment.

I started by painting the cabinets, since it would have been too expensive to replace them. Oil primer, a coat of white paint, and some joint compound at least cleaned up the room and patched holes and cracks. But it looked awful! So I put down the white paint and went to the hardware store for some color. I also knew it was necessary to use more than one color in order to keep the eye focused on the pretty design, rather than the strange floor and countertops. With the floor and the countertops, the color scheme was pretty much prescribed: turquoise and green. Now I just needed to find decent hues that would be pleasant and fresh. The kitchen is rather small, so the colors needed to be relatively light and bright. Since there is no door to the kitchen, I also had to be mindful of the colors blending well with the purple living room. Another essential purchase: contact paper for all the cabinets.



I trudged to the contact paper section first. The designs are limited, and I thought that perhaps I could use it on the outside of the cabinets as well. I chose a blue flowery design, and headed over to the paint department. I picked up a blue that worked with the contact paper: tropical lagoon. Then a nice, bright green: spring cactus. That’s when my concept was born: green cabinets with blue flowers offset by dark green molding. Spanish olive was a nice complimentary green. The molding department offered pretty 3/4-inch molding and some fabulous embossed wood appliqués. I talked to some random contractor who was browsing in the store and wanted to pat my dog, and he recommended Liquid Nails as an adhesive. Then to top off the design I picked simple silver knobs for the top cabinet doors. 


I had a nice dark wood wine cabinet in the kitchen and a small, wicker square table with two chairs of the same color I purchased years ago at Pier 1 Imports. With a little bit of help and a few days the kitchen was completed! Now I can go back to my summer reading.

Friday, July 2, 2010

At Puck's

I'm currently sitting at Wolfgang Puck's establishment at Logan airport in Boston, and since I still have an hour or so until I fly out, I thought I'd give you the skinny on airport food. Being a snob such as I am, I probably chose the most expensive food joint where alcohol is served, so I can relax my pre-flight nerves. For those of you who don't know... I don't like flying. I don't like airports. I don't like crowds. And I especially don't like yuppy couples making out right in front of me, making googly eyes at each other over their expensive glass of cheap chardonnay. Which brings me back to my topic: restaurant review.

Wolfgang Puck--a classy fellow,  celebrity chef, successful businessman--probably thought it would be a good idea to add some finesse to airport fare. And he was right! For me at least, choosing between Dunkin' Donuts, McDonald's, and Puck is no brainer. But does he live up to his name...

Let's do a bit of menu analysis, shall we?  Wolf, as he prefers to be lovingly called, starts with booze on his menu... I'm already intrigued. Nice touch... you don't have to eat anything... after all, you don't want to look fat when you meet with your honey when you land. He's got some premium options in the hard liquor section: Grey Goose, Patron, 15 year Scotch. In beers he doesn't do too bad either: Stella Artois, Sam Adams, Bass... In wines, however, he falls short... Mirassou? Ecco Domani? Beringer White Zin? Come on now! Cater to your (pseudo) sophisticated clientelle, please!

In terms of food, the sandwiches caught my attention. We've got
  • Turkey Remoulade Sandwich with red onion, romaine lettuce, and remoulade sauce (for those of you who don't speak snob, it's a kind of tartar sauce).
  • Smoked Ham and Swiss Sandwich with creamy dijon, red onions, romaine lettuce and plum tomato.
  • Pesto Chicken Salad Sandwich with red onion, romaine lettuce, plum tomatos, and garlic pesto.
  • Turkey Avocado Club Sandwich sporting avocado, bacon, plum tomatoes, red onion, and remoulade sauce (yes, the same).
  • Chicken Aioli Sandwich with provolone, romaine lettuce, plum tomato, red onion, cilantro aioli warmed in the oven.
All of these are served on "artisan whole wheat ciabatta rolls" with "seasoned french fries." The first thing I noticed was the limited list of ingredients: five sandwiches with three main ingredients (turkey, chicken, ham) served with red onion, romaine lettuce, and plum tomatoes. I figured I'd try the Aioli Sandwich (by the way, aioli is also a remoulade of a sort) because it's oven-warmed with a glass of pinot grigio. The ciabatta roll was less than satisfactory, but the aioli made the entire sandwich (I wonder if they get it in jars). All in all, for around $10 not a bad deal. The seasoned fries? I'm not sure what Mr. Puck considers seasoned, but they tasted not unlike the Micky D's fries next door. The lady next to me commented on their "hand-crafted pizza" she ordered, and I quote, "It was surprisingly delicious."

As a desert, I opted for the classic East Coast coctail, cosmopolitan. I have no complaints: tangy, subtly sweet, with an ample amount of vodka in it. Potent! Very nice! Just what I needed to get me on that steel bird without freaking out. The entire meal, cost a little over $40 with a generous tip included, and frankly considering the competition in price-quality ratio, Wolf gets my vote, despite his shortcomings.

Feeling Time

And the two and a half weeks went by like a dream. Only memories remain. Two weeks ago there was an eternity until my departure; the time seemed to have stopped for a while. Now I find myself writing my final blog from the sunny Massachusetts wondering, "How fast did the time pass?" Where did the time go?

Considering my experience of the passage of time, I cannot help but believe that temporality is subjective: it depends on the individual. In Kantian terms, it's mind dependent: time is imposed by the mind on the world. At the same time, there must be something like objective time, or measured clock time. By "being" I don't mean that it's some kind of a real, distinct entity... but rather that I agree with Heidegger that clock time is an artificial structure possible only because temporality is possible. Humans at some point realized that moments were arranged temporally, more or less linearly, that there is a "before" and "after," and they decided to come up with a standardized way of talking about time. Hence, they divided the day into hours, minutes, seconds... months into weeks... the year into months... following some obscure guide--astronomical signs--because the sun and the moon seemed to be bigger than they were and much more consistent than anything in their little world.

But that standardization would not have been necessary, if we all experienced time in the same way all the time. Our experience of time changes every moment of the day and with it the duration of the present changes as well. William James figured that out but he stipulated that what we call the present is anywhere from a fraction of a second to three seconds. In this I think he was off: I think the present can last for minutes, even hours. But it's completely subjective and depends on the situation. Take reading, for example... you can spend hours reading, in the same position, your thoughts focused on one thing, and it feels like the "now" for hours. But when you're falling, the duration of the fall to you is much longer than it is to the observer: the "now" swells into minutes, when it's actually only fractions of a second. So our temporality contracts and expands the actual clock time.

According to Bourdieu, normally we don't notice time, and the only time when we notice time is where there is a breakdown. Breakdown of what, you ask? Breakdown between what we expect to happen or what is possible to happen and what actually happens. Everything we do happens in a social sphere, and our actions are controlled by a set of bodily dispositions. His analogy involves a team sport, such as football: we all run around on the field playing the game according to some arbitrary but nevertheless existent rules. Say you have Fabiano passing the ball to Robinho. When Fabiano passes the ball, he is not targeting Robinho's position at the time of the pass, but rather he anticipates Robinho's position when the pass is completed. When the pass is completed successfully, both players don't think about the time. However, the breakdown occurs when Robinho doesn't take control over the ball, despite Fabiano's efforts: the anticipated result is not reached, and so both players, according to Bourdieu, are suddenly aware that time is passing, and they experience an uncomfortable anxiety. Time is only experienced when the anticipated event does not come to fruition.

If we can extend this analogy to the 19th Century, it explains the apparent cultural anxiety: since the French Revolution failed, or rather did not bring the anticipated result, than the people would have, according to Bourdieu's theory, experienced a temporal breakdown with a sudden consciousness of time as a result. The world was then waiting to see what happens next. Waiting for Bourdieu (and for Dr. Seuss) is a form of submission, and a sign of powerlessness. Perhaps, this feeling of powerlessness explains Shelley's revolutionary spirit: he refused to sit still and submit to tyranny. He believed in his own power... in the power of humanity in general.

Right now, I anticipate waiting for a plane at Boston Logan, and I have a feeling that my experience of time will be quite elongated. Robinho, on the other hand, is feeling his time rapidly running out as Brazil is ten minutes away from losing to Netherlands.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Placebo

Martin made an interesting and quite revolutionary assertion: he inverted the traditional paradigm of thinking that objective time or clock time came prior to temporality or subjective time. For him, clock time comes after temporality--after our conception of time. In other words, because we experience temporality, clock time is possible. Further, he insists that if we accept this model, this understanding allows us to live more authentically in relation to our finitude and to be able to hold onto the present more effectively.

As we know, and as many philosophers have theorized, perhaps starting with Augustine, the present is a rather slippery concept. We know that the past is all that has already happened, that we can recapture by remembering. We know that the future hasn't happened yet. But what is the present? What is "now"? The "now," as William James, Hegel, and Husserl stipulated, has one foot in the past and one in the future but itself is quite intangible. Further, because the present seems to be over before we know it, it gives us an impression of being late, or of losing time. There is no present because before long it's already the past. However, if we live in constant anxiety because we feel that we are losing time, don't have enough time, or are always late, we live inauthentically.

What do I mean by living authentically or inauthentially? I use the terms narrowly as technical concepts from existential philosophy. Authenticity is the conscious self's coming to terms with its own materiality and finitude, an understanding of its condition in relation to the world. An authentic Dasein is always on time: time passes but it feels a coherent continuity rather than a disconnected jerking from one missed opportunity to another.

If we again agree that the Romantics were obsessed with time and that there was a cultural anxiety about a certain discontinuance between the present and past evident in the works of poets, than the entire generation suffered from inauthenticity. Blake and Wordsworth wished they forever remained in childhood. Wordsworth was concerned with those fleeting "spots of time" and with the effectiveness of his own faculty of memory. Coleridge disagreed with Wordsworth. Shelley wanted to deny that time had any effect whatsoever on his existence. Byron's narratives were sometimes fragmented and sometimes neverending, as if he tried to extend his stories into eternity in order to defy his own finitude.

Of course, this cultural phenomenon also manifests itself in the period's compulsion to measure time precisely. The 19th Centure was all about watches and clocks. Georges-Auguste Leschot from Geneva pioneered mass production of watches starting in 1830s. By inventing interchangeable parts watches used stardardized parts that were cheaper to produce and, hence, more readily available. Big Ben started ticking on 31 May 1859, so that everyone in London--from all socio-economic strata--could know the time.

This emphasis on clock time or objective time seems to further alienate the 19th Centure Dasein from the world. Instead of getting a better understanding of one's existence, it became increasingly paranoid and neurotic as it got further lost in time and in the world. The mid-Century Dasein felt a compulsion to measure time because its own temporality, its subjective time-measuring device, was malfunctioning. In other words, it reached for drugs to relieve the symptoms without looking to understand the disease and to eliminate the source of these symptoms. So instead of gaining more control over time, it kept losing it at an increasing rate.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Being Boring

Mr. Heidegger says that boredom permeates the "modern man" and is the attunement of the present age. Now, he's writing this around 1930. In the work he distinguishes three types of boredom. Boredom is just one way that people attune to the world. It's the emotive connection. Now, according to Martin, one could be (a.) bored by something outside of oneself, (b.) bored with oneself, or be (c.) profoundly bored. The final boredom afflicts the general "modern" subjectivity. Although his analysis of this human emotion is impressive, I don't think it's exhaustive. I would like to explain each kind of boredom, then try to find some affiliation to the Romantic period, and perhaps even to our own time.

In order to be bored by something, there has to exist an object of one's boredom. For example, waiting for a train or listening to a lecture on Heidegger's phenomenology. In order to escape this kind of boredom, one tries to pass the time. That activity usually involves some menial distraction to the purpose of "shortening" time in order to make it go faster. For instance, checking the watch incessantly while waiting at the train station or sitting in a lecture hall. Feeling of emptiness results from this kind of boredom. It's a looking towards the future, looking forward to something. A promethean activity, if you will.

If one is bored with oneself, such as at a social gathering, there is no direct object of one's boredom because that feeling is generated by oneself. We are boring. Even though the social situation might seem pleasant, we find we are bored, not so much by the environment or the lack of external stimulants, but because we lack a proper response to the situation at hand. The method of dealing with this type of boredom is to waste time, as if time was a commodity, in order to stop time altogether or bring it totally into the present moment without any concern for the past or the future.

Profound boredom, the spirit of Martin's age, is being bored with the world and with ourselves--a condition responsible for our alienation from the world and from others. This withdrawal also makes us ironically aware of ourselves in the world. Our Dasein, or existence in the world, is revealed to us. This kind of boredom is also associated with a feeling of melancholy, which also often, but not always, engenders creativity. This is sort of an epimethean activity as it looks to the past. Most importantly Heidegger says that the object of  this kind of boredom is fundamentally time itself. The feeling is opressive as we feel at once timeless or removed from the flow of time and at the same time burdened by the weight of time. We are involved with a close reading of each passing moment in order to prolong it.

All of these types of boredom or attunement are our ways to try to control time.  It's ambitious but illusory. If we believe Terdiman that the communal subjectivity of the 19th Century after the French Revolution was disturbed and severed from its past, causing a temporal fissure in the continuity of history or the phenomology of time, then the Romantics were dealing with that cultural disorder by trying to control time, each in his own way. Mr. Wordsworth, besides being "boring," as Shelley tells us, was also profoundly bored: he looked to the past, analyzed each moment, and bemoaned his finitude. So not only was he profoundly bored but also inauthentic in existentialist terms. P. B. Shelley, on the other hand, was afflicted with the first and second type of boredom, and I have a feeling he kept looking towards some future that would cure that disease, while at the same time he lived so large, so in the moment that he almost tried to ignore time altogether. He was at odds with himself. But he was fundamentally attuned to the world through anxiety. Where boredom subjectivizes a subject, anxiety individuates: boredom produces inaction, whereas anxiety involves the will to take control of one's fate and destiny. I think what I'm going to find with Beddoes is that he was profoundly bored but authentically: he embraced his mortality, but that's still to be determined.

What about today? What's our affliction? We certainly are bored, but I think our boredom is still different: we seem to want to care about everything in the world... we have causes... we rally for one thing or another.... But this care is so superficial. We want to make a difference in the world, and society convinces us that we can. This is our illusion: we deny the fact that we are bored of ourselves, by trying to get superficially involved. We live in the moment with no real concern for the past or the future, yet we want to believe that we do care. We are not capable of melancholy, so we're not a creative generation. But we sure love to waste time! We are bored because we are boring while vehemently trying to affirm our enthusiasm and excitement. And that, my gentle reader, is the spirit of our age!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Call Me Lenny

I'm reading one of the best satiric epic poems in the English language: Lord Byron's Don Juan. I can't help to wonder whether Byron was as charmingly witty in his quotidian existence as the Byronic hero he created. I know that he was famously described as "mad, bad, and dangerous to know," but could he in easy conversation make a fool out of his interlocutor, if he so desired? Why am I asking? Well, because I can't if my life depended on it! I can be sarcastic, brutally honest, and condescending. I can hold an intelligent conversation. But if I'm surprised with some obscure comment or, better yet, an obscenity coming from some low-life trailer-park trash, I am incapable of coming up with a witty repartee at the time when one would be appropriate.

Now, this is annoying, because I consider myself an intelligent girl, capable of effectively using rich vocabulary, filled with knowledge of both academic as well as common nature, well-mannered, and charming. But I always feel so disappointed in my performance when faced with an unexpected ass-hole. This individual is usually of more than unrefined nature, sports a vocabulary of an apeman, but is willing to use obscene and crude language and/or gestures. Sometimes he will even resort to using physical force to get his point across because that's the only way he knows how to deal with a strong woman, who's not afraid to voice her opinion. And me in a crisis situation? I just stand there like a mute taking it! The moment when the situation is over, I suddenly have an inflow of brilliant, witty responses... but the moment has gone... it's done... the mustard is served after dinner! And the stupid ass drives away perfectly satisfied with his insult. And I stand there--head full of witty remarks--kicking myself in the back end for being such a tard. There's more.... I keep thinking and rethinking my lack of response for at least two hours afterwards: I analyse it; I reproach myself; I brood...

Yes, my panties are up in a twist because I had such an encounter yesterday. "Again?," some of you will ask. Apparently I have that kind of an effect on the lower-class male population. Perhaps there should be a law against women who refuse to act according to their "inferior" status in this still male-dominated society. I was about to cross the street from the service area restrooms to the parking lot, when I was nearly run over by some beefed up, bold-headed, punk-ass simpleton. He finally stops his obnoxious pseudo-sport vehicle about a foot away from me and let's me pass. But right after I'm on the other side, he opens his window and addresses me with the very eloquent, "Hey, Lady" (I'm sure he wouldn't recognize one if she sat on his head), mumbles something about there being a crosswalk behind, and how dare I dare detain him from flogging to his weekly ritual of drinking cheap beer at the Neanderthals-R-Us meeting. I turn around, I look him right in those blank eyes, and say.... nothing! Anything at all would've been better! "Oh yeah... well f*&@ck you!," would've sufficed! But no... I can't cuss! I can't respond to this boorish behaviour... information overload.... cannot compute... cannot compute.... error... error.... Why is it so easy to disarm me... to paralyze my intellectual capacities? And by whom? I have no excuse...

Friday, June 25, 2010

Vertigo

I took this picture yesterday when I was coming back from work outside of Fall River.


Duchamp, eat your heart out! There's still some ingenuity and art in the world of the industrial worker; you just have to look for it and take time to appreciate it. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense: the industrial worker does not only belong to the underappreciated yet necessary working class but also transcends certain societal taboos. The john is certainly necessary, but oh how often do we forget to give it proper respect. After all, Western culture avoids showing toilets and the private activities associated with these fascinating porcelain plumbing fixtures. Queen Elizabeth, for example, runs water in the facet to prevent anyone from hearing any uncouth sounds that might come out from her private session on the loo. During Roman times, however, answering to the call of nature in public was perfectly acceptable. In fact in the ancient city of Ephesus, one could do one's business while discussing politics with a fellow citizen who would be sitting an arm's length away. The blue-collar worker quite often has no hang ups about his physiological needs. Notice we're immediately stereotyping: blue-collar worker, ergo a male. The gender stereotype certainly adds to the beauty of the sign: it further labels the manual laborer as part of a homogeneous group. He is deprived of identity. Just like these toilets, the blue-collar worker is just like another--necessary but unrefined and vulgar. So much so, that we make him the object of ridicule. Think Al Bundy, Fred Flintstone, Homer Simpson, the cable guy...

Of course, this stereotyping doesn't account for oddities like me. Too often when I'm working with my dad's crew some dufus assumes that I don't speak English, I'm an illegal alien, and/or perform the job because I can't do anything else. These people will often use hand gestures and simple language when they address me. Else, they comment on my (rock climber's) tan and how painting outdoors must contribute to its depth of color, as if this menial complement was to lessen the burden of my condition. That condescending look of pity is quite disturbing: "Poor girl, she's so pretty but so underprivileged." It's moments like these that make my job so much more enjoyable. I get a delicious sensation of vertigo--a dizziness caused by a sudden, illusory shift in the strata of socio-economic infrastructure.

Perhaps, this is why I enjoyed my little adventure of driving around on the scissor lift yesterday. [In case you can't figure out the image to the right, it's a view down from the top of the lift.] This thing was great! I could manipulate the vehicle horizontally as well as vertically. Drive up somewhere, then move a lever, BINGO! I'm ascending into air. Then move it again, I'm moving downwards. I had a feeling of so much power, almost divine! Floating, towering over the clouds of convention. I love this job!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Get off the Train!

If Mr. Coleridge is right and we should "NEVER PURSUE LITERATURE AS A TRADE," because we should not waste our genius on crude monatary pursuits, then I was so right years ago to refuse to seek a degree in the fine arts.

Now, let's get something straight: I don't pretend to be a "genius" by any means. My epiphany is more subtle than that: if I have any abilities that would remotely approach that of a genius, or rather that would exert my creative abilities to produce some worthwhile achievement of the imagination, than the medium in which I find I can express my creative soul most effectively is most definitely painting. In other words, as I told my mother years ago that I refuse to become an industry whore and sell myself, I wouldn't want to paint for a living. Why not? Because as soon as we make a profession out of our activity of leisure, the activity can no longer be considered "leisure"--it becomes work. And if it is work, then it becomes something of a responsibility. And if it's a responsibility, it no longer affords pleasure. If it no longer affords pleasure, it becomes boring and undesirable. And, therefore, it becomes an activity, which we would prefer to avoid. On the other hand, if we treat the activity, which affords us pleasure and which we can perform adequately, if not proficiently, as a "tranquil and unbiased choice" of our pastime, then we're not performing it mechanically and can focus on the pursuit of excellence. Our motivation is not only more admirable because it's not tainted with the desire of financial gain, but because somehow it seems more humanitarian.

Unlike our genius, our talents are expandable and can be devoted to the "acquirement of competence in some known trade or profession."  But how, my dear reader, do you distinguish between talent and genius? Mr. Coleridge explains that the difference is predominantly in degree: an excess of talent is genius. In my case, since I have some feeble talents only, and certainly no genius that has manifested itself in all those 34 years, I couldn't allow one of my favorite creative outlets to become a labor. As to English, I have been studying the language and literature all my life, and since interpretation of literature or poetry does not drain as much creative energy, I can use this passion as a means for supporting myself financially. I see you snickering! ok... perhaps it's not the most financially rewarding trade. You're right! It's not meant to be. I am not pursuig a Ph.D. so I can get a job. Seriously, who needs higher education to make money anyway?

At the beginning of the semester, I always make it a point to ask my college students, "Why are you here?" And everytime I'm astounded as to how many students are motivated by the desire to get a good job after they graduate. What is wrong with our generation, I ask? This materialistic society has fallen victim to greed: we worship pecuniary idols. There was a time when higher education was reserved for the elite, for the privileged few who could devote their time and money to the pursuit of knowledge. Now every college program, even in the humanities, seems to be geared towards career-building. Why? These kids will leave college with an half-ass education, a piece of paper, and a debt that runs into thousands, and they'll go to work in an industry that most likely will have nothing at all to do with their course of study. Why go to college? Why not improve our public K-12 curriculum and have these guys get jobs after high school, if that's what they're after? Trade schools? Yes, please. Apprenticeships? Certainly. Higher education is not for everyone, people. It's liberalism gone bad. I'm not being elitist, I'm only pointing out the obvious: if your end goal is to make money, why not take the direct train for a dollar rather than pay ten for the scenic route, where you're not even looking out the window?

Ok, I'm done with my rant for today. Now I'm going to go make some money painting a gas station, while I enjoy this proletarian illusion!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Summer Soundtrack

The greatest summer songs ever! Some are summer related in content, some in title, some in form, and some have some strange, subjective mental connection to summer: they remind me of a particular summer or an event vaguely associated with the season. Here you'll find American classics such as "Lazy Days of Summer," "Summer Night's," "Surfin' USA," and "Summertime Blues." Then you'll run into some Polish classic summer hits: "Tyle Slonca w Calym Miescie" and "Monika Dziewczyna Ratownika." And, of course, there are those that mean nothing to you--"Can't Help Falling in Love" by UB40, Sabrina's "Boys" (hilarious!), and "Zakazany Owoc" Krzyska Antkowiaka--but they hold a special place in my heart. In no particular order, a list of 50: 
  1. Mungo Jerry – In the Summertime
  2. UB40 – Can't Help Falling in Love
  3. Alphaville – Summer in Berlin
  4. Waly Jagiellonskie – Monika Dziewczyna Ratownika
  5. The Beach Boys – Surfin' USA
  6. John Travolta & Olivia Newton – Summer Nights
  7. Nat King Cole – Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer
  8. Anna Jantar – Tyle Slonca w Calym Miescie
  9. Bob Marley – We’re Jammin’
  10. Michael Franti & Spearhead – Say Hey (I Love You)
  11. Blondie – The Tide is High
  12. Chris Isaak – I Wonder
  13. Formacja Niezywych Schabuff – Lato
  14. Eddie Cochran – Summertime Blues
  15. Czerwone Gitary – Tanczyla Jedno Lato
  16. Captain Jack – Iko Iko
  17. Majka Jezowska – Na Plazy
  18. The Turtles – Happy Together
  19. Joe Cocker – With a Little Help from my Friends
  20. Sabrina – Boys
  21. Bruce Springsteen – Dancing in the Dark
  22. Chuck Berry – No Particular Place to Go
  23. The Animals – House of the Rising Sun
  24. Bryan Adams – Summer of '69
  25. The Beach Boys – Kokomo
  26. Zac Brown Band – Toes
  27. Dwa Plus Jeden – Chodz Pomaluj Moj Swiat
  28. Jimmy Buffett – Margaritaville
  29. Duran Duran – Rio
  30. Bananarama – Cruel Summer
  31. Waly Jagiellonskie – Corko Rybaka
  32. Don Henley – The Boys of Summer
  33. Weezer – Island in the Sun
  34. The Surfaris – Wipe Out
  35. Green Day – Basket Case
  36. Vanessa Paradis – Jo Le Taxi
  37. Eva Cassidy – Fields of Gold
  38. Bolter – Daj Mi Te Noc
  39. Van Morrison – And It Stoned Me
  40. Elvis Presley – Don't be Cruel
  41. Red Hot Chili Peppers – By the Way
  42. Little Eva – The Loco-Motion
  43. Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong– Summertime
  44. ABBA – Waterloo
  45. Bobby Darin – Beyond the Sea
  46. Al Bano Carrisi & Romina Power – Felicita
  47. Connie Francis –VACATION
  48. The Jamies – Summertime, Summertime
  49. Billy Joel – Uptown Girl 
  50. Krzysztof Antkowiak – Zakazany Owoc 
What's playing in your head? Feel free to contribute!

    Saturday, June 19, 2010

    Watching the Ships

    Yesterday, while working, I learned something new about myself. We were painting a house in Wareham, a quaint little town in Massachusetts sitting right at the head of Buzzards Bay. The house was a two story (really three) waterfront property, with a small dock for a boat and a large, covered deck that circumvented the Victorian. It was tucked away way in the woods: a narrow one-lane dirt road led to it. Most people around seemed to be seasonal residents, although I don't understand how one could own such a house and not live in it all year round. But I stood on the deck, my hair gently caressed by the morning breeze watching boats go by, and I thought, "I could live here"--hypothetically, of course.  With this epiphany I wondered: what is the basis for my attraction to this kind of living? After all, I never could see myself residing on the East Coast again: too many people, trees, automobiles... too much civilization. This is why I'm slowly working on my dream of owning a mountain property. But here in Wareham, I can imagine sitting on the porch with an iced tea and a book in perfect tranquility. Why?

    Let's side-track for a moment. I want to live in the mountains, so that I can wake up every morning to the natural beauty of the country, overwhelmed by nature, isolated from the noise of civilization, where people do not disturb my quiet existence, where I can spend sunsets on the front deck and listen to the grasses swaying, watching the surrounding peaceful giants prepare for their slumber in a bed of clouds. And every window of the house, a living work of art, tableau vivant.

    Now to go back to Wareham: the view of the bay sure is beautiful, and I guess it does represent the forces of nature. Although watching a storm on the beach would be more spectacular on an open ocean. But a house on the beach, open ocean, doesn't have the same appeal to me, probably because the view would get rather boring: water, water, water, horizon, more water. Here on the bay, you can see all the way across to the other side... there are little houses on the other shore, boats going by, distant bridges, and seagulls perched on bopping buoys.

    But, you say, what about the people? There are people. Yes, but these are not real people. By "real" I mean they are not your ordinary neighbors--they're on vacation. So while you live there, they are merely tourists! You see them every weekend, with their children and dogs, having BBQ parties with their friends, fishing, but then they go away. The people themselves are a sort of a live picture. They're lively. They're beautiful. They are enjoying themselves, not living their ordinary lives, but living a dream. They're not concerned with everyday mediocrity. And so they're beatiful because their existence is temporarilly stripped of problems and routine.

    Thursday, June 17, 2010

    Trees and Men

    Ah, Massachusetts... the place of the infancy of my adult life. Colorado may be my beloved home, but I will always consider myself a Bostonian. Something about the Old World charm of the city has had an attraction for me ever since I moved to this country: the cobblestone streets smoothed with age, the red brownstones, and the moss-covered cemeteries, where the ancient souls levitate above the gravestones sighing over the surrounding world--the world they are in part responsible for creating.

    The first thing that always strikes me when I land at Logan is the shortness of the runways: the plane swerves and shakes as it tries to slow down after touchdown. The general claustrophobia pervades the entire state. Once I get used to the tightness of the airport, the town, highways, streets, I can't help but notice the trees. Mind you in Colorado, we do have trees, but they're not so thick and abundant and they don't crowd the roads so much. It's as if they were all waiting for a bus at the side of the road or, like prostitutes, were looking out for that long-distance trucker to stop and hail one for a quickie.

    This promiscuous evergreen and deciduous overgrowth spreads its limbs limiting your field of perception: it obstructs your view, not only of what's behind the trees but also of the sky. In the West, the sky is expansive, huge, and free. The mountains are the only giants who can compete with its enormity and eminence. In the East, the earth seems to be in constant contest with the sky, fighting for prominence. I wonder if the natural characteristic of the landscape has any influence on the mentality of the people. Could it be that this need to wage wars, to dominate, to conquer, to grab land and slaughter whole races is in part dictated by man's compulsion to imitate nature?

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010

    Romanticism in a Nutshell (Part I)

    I'm done with the primary readings of the so-called "first generation Romantics," so it's time for a reductionists-R-us version:

    1. Your sensibility is heightened when you're (a.) an innocent child or (b.) high on opium; it makes for good poetry. 

    2. Nature can teach you about morality, whoever you may be; society breeds corruption of the soul, injustice, and tyranny.

    3. Religion--be it Christianity, pantheism, or the worship of Urizen--is subjective; institutionalized religion is evil.

    4. Physical and spiritual wandering is good; it leads towards the truth.

    5. Raping, imprisoning, or otherwise oppressing women is wrong, especially if they're nuns.

    6. The revolution was good and bad, depending on how you look at it.

    7. Time is subjective and fragmented; memory and imagination allow for an escape from temporal and spatial confines.

    8. There's joy in suffering and suffering in joy, good in evil and evil in good, virtue in excess and excess in virtue: the world runs on opposites and contradictions.

    9. Reason is overrated; imagination is not.

    10. Gothic is good unless you're Coleridge; then it's just creepy.

    Monday, June 14, 2010

    Falling

    Another summer weekend gone by. The weather did not exactly cooperate, so our usual climbing venture had to be limited to the indoors. If I can help it, I avoid climbing in the gym. But yesterday I was somewhat distracted and upset, so instead of staying home staring at the weeping sky, harboring dark thoughts about the source of my anger, I opted for plastic. One reason I'm attracted to rock climbing is the activity's amazing ability to clear the mind of all the noise. When I'm on the rock, I cannot think about anything else but the next move. Of course, yesterday I needed an extraordinarily powerful method, short of lobotomy, of emptying my head and letting the demons out, so lead climbing needed to be implemented.

    Leading is a special kind of a mind-f*&$k. Although it may be true that anything you can top rope, you can lead, your own mind tends to prevent you: it has the ability to completely paralyze. A few weeks ago, while climbing in Clear Creek Canyon, my climbing partner was attempting to lead a route and couldn't get passed a roof. So I decided to climb up to the crux and try the move. Here's the sad part that has been bothering ever since: I found the move, I made the move, but couldn't convince myself to climb above that quickdraw. After that blow to my morale, I tried to find a reasonable explanation for my failure. I couldn't. There isn't one. Lead heebie-jeebies, that's all. 

    But I figured, if the mind engendered the anxiety, the mind can eliminate it. So whenever my thoughts bent towards climbing, I thought about leading and that irrational fear. Like a dork, a couch climber, I visualized falling from above the clip. I thought about the last whipper I took, how it felt, how I felt when I knew I was about to peel off, and the duration of the fall.

    In climbing Henri Bergson's philosophy of time finds its testing ground: during the fall, your conception of the length of time that elapses (what he would term durée) is totally different from the actual time of the fall (or to use a Bergsonism, clock time): the durée or duration is much longer than the clock time or chronological time. When you peel off, every fraction of a second turns into an eternity... every thought crossing your mind (and boy! there are a million) seems perfectly clear and focused. Your eye records every feature of the rock, movement of the rope. Strangely enough, panic is not one of the emotions you feel. While this movie plays out in your head in slow motion, the actual event of falling before the rope catches takes a fraction of a second. Once you experience the slight tug of the rope on your harness, its stretch under your weight, and the recoil, in some masochistic gesture you just want to climb back to the spot where you fell from and try the move again. Again panic or fear is nonexistent. In fact, the entire experience of falling is rather pleasant and liberating. But once you are down on the ground, undoing your figure eight, looking up at the route, thinking about the fall from the observer's perspective, your legs suddenly turn to cotton.

    The power of the mind is truly astounding! Yesterday's lead climbing session was not only successful but also perfectly delightful. How come? Because once the anxiety of falling is gone, you stop thinking about how far you've climbed above the last clip, and think only about how to get to the next clip. And suddenly you are no longer holding on to the wall with your teeth, butchering every move, forgetting every technique of climbing, but enjoying the vertical movement as you get to the next clip and wonder what the hell you were afraid of before. All your troubles disappear and you feel tranquility and pure joy. Mind you, this confident feeling can be gone the next time I lead, but at least I'll have a reference point.

    Friday, June 11, 2010

    Cherry Blossoms


    Cherry Blossoms, 2010. Acrylic on canvas, 32 in x 32 in. 


     Detail. 

    Thanks to Christopher Heikens for the photograph.