I got to thinking about rock climbing. For me it was never about reaching the top. It was the process I loved, the total concentration of the moment and what you are doing. It’s almost Zen. And I realized actually, I’m just not a goal oriented person, and realizing has changed my perceptive. It’s not easy to be that way as our society teaches us to be goal oriented. That only those that set goals and drive towards them single mindedly are successful. But that’s not necessarily true. Maybe it’s taken me longer to get to certain landmarks, like a bachelor’s degree, but that doesn’t make me a failure. I am not a goal oriented person, and that’s O.K.. I just approach life differently than those who are.
I think my Dad was the same way. The only goal he seemed to have was to provide for his family. His CB call sign was “Drifter” and he was happiest when he could do that, just wander and see the world. Yet he still worked on the Mars Sojourner rover and his name, with the rest of the engineering team, is inscribed on it somewhere. He was one of the first people to make it, albeit vicariously, to Mars. At some point, hundreds of years hence, Sojourner will probably end up in a museum somewhere and there his name will be, for all time. Not too shabby for someone who wasn’t “driven to achieve.”
I guess so long as you keep moving, it doesn’t matter so much if there is a goal you are driving towards or not.
13. I have a SCUBA certification. Too long lapsed now, but I have one. I never dived as much as I wanted as I never had a steady dive buddy, but I loved diving whenever I had the chance in Southern California. Just the experience of “being in the fishtank.” Kelp diving was simply beautiful. A cathedrals of light and green leaves. I’ve seen plenty of fish, sharks and rays while diving, but no mammals as of yet.
14. I was bullied mercilessly through elementary and junior high. The problem with small towns is that once you are assigned a role, it is next to impossible to break out of it. For whatever reason, I was assigned “the kid to take your frustrations out on” for my elementary school. Parents get into an argument in front of you over breakfast? Push Kip into a wall. It will make you feel better. Not feeling important enough? Make fun of Kip for how much her Dad makes, which neither you nor she knows. Accuse her of sleeping with her dog, too. That’s always good for a laugh. Puberty not quite working out for you today? Steal Kip’s backpack and toss her feminine products around the bus to show what a cool dude you are. I watched someone literally tell a stranger in the grade above me, “You should hit her. She a weirdo.” And what do you know? The person did. Complete stranger, didn’t know me from Eve. Smack. One time, one of my chief tormentors found me crying in the bathroom and she freaked out because it simply had not occurred to her that I was a human being and what she was doing was hurtful.
Of course, within a couple weeks, she seemed to forget all about that moment.
Sadly, it was not until I shot up during puberty and got the nerve to roll up in people’s grill that it abated to tolerable levels. It also helped that I began riding the bus with my brothers. One time my already six-foot eldest brother leaned across two seats to tell the kid giving me a hard time to lay off or he would fuck him up. But it was still a battle to be at school everyday. I frequently feigned sick just to not have to go. My parents were trying to figure out how to afford a private school to get me away from it as the school administration’s attitude was “Well, that’s just the way kids are. Whatever.”
And the thing is as the schools in my district consolidated, it was easy to find the other kids who had also been cast as “the one to pick on” in their schools. I remember attending the orientation for what would have been my high school had I stayed in Maine (that summer was when we moved to Southern California) and you could pick them out of the crowd as they stood there like plucked parakeets, waiting for the next verbal or physical blow.
When I got to Southern California, it took me a while to adjust to the idea that no one in my 2,000 student high school gave a fuck, but once I did it was so liberating.
15. I did a semester at sea program when I was 38.
B awesome, B watch!
The specific program was about studying the impact of colonialism on the indigenous cultures of the Caribbean (which was catastrophic, obviously). So, after six weeks of taking classes on land, we spent six weeks sailing a 135 brigantine from Key West around Florida and up the coast a ways through the Sargasso Sea, back down to the Dominican Republic to Jamaica around the far side of Cuba and back to Key West.
While the main focus of the trip was anthropological/historical, we also conducted oceanographic research and so had two research projects, one anthropological or historical, one scientific. My historical project was studying the development of the Jamaican Defense Force naval organization (their military is not divided into branches like the U.S. and U.K.’s are) post independence. When I went to talk to people at the JDF about their history, it turned out no one had really complied it.
But a couple years after my visit, they had created an entire section of their website devoted to history of the JDF. I like to think I was kind of a small catalyst in someone getting that together.
The funny thing was because I was meeting with them, I wanted to show proper respect so I bought a suit with me. So I went onboard a sailing vessel with a business suit. lol! And it probably was unnecessary. But the people I met were really nice and interesting and the functional fluidity of the JDF is fascinating.
My science project was about the sargassum mats being used as fish nurseries, but we were traveling too late in the year, past most fish breeding seasons, so it ended up being kind of frustrating. I liked working the sampling gear though.
It was shortly after my father’s death, and I got a crush on one of my instructors. I kept it in sensible check, but he went so far out of his way to put me at arms length, it began to impact my educational experience as he would treat me differently than other students and not give me the same amount of instructional attention (which is kind of important on a ship). I had to speak to another instructor to intervene. As soon as the trip was done, so was my crush so obviously it was some manifestation of grieving, so in the end it was no big deal for me. But a couple years later I heard he had left the school.
But that was a minor sore point in what was otherwise an amazing experience. Many of the sailing moments I describe in SIMJP really happened. (And the ship in the story was modeled after the ship we sailed.)
The Sargasso Sea does remind one of the sea of lilies at the end of the world in Narnia. Dolphins did bow ride our ship a few times. (And there is no more pure example of joy de vivre than watching dolphins at play. You can’t be in their presence without your spirit lifting.) The lights of other ships did appear like ghosts in the night. I did turn out to have a talent and love for navigation. Sleeping in the foc’sle was occasionally like sleeping in a zero gravity chamber, in very brief and violent moments in heavy seas when the ship would crest a swell and drop into the trough. And the colours of the sea and sky out there, there is nothing like it.
And we did go swimming in the middle of the ocean, in fact over a sea canyon that was three miles deep. One of the instructors went up the mast to keep an eye out of sharks. He was a great instructor and very funny. His focus of study was plankton, and so he had a (pretend) grudge against more popular sea life. When the dolphins would show up and all the students would be “oohing” and ‘ahhing” over them, he would sniff and grumble, “Charismatic megafauna.” But he would be saying it with a smothered grin.
Amazing, simply amazing trip.
16. The year before he died, my father rebound the family copy of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 1825 edition, all eight volumes. He read it, and I will read it for the same reason: Just to say we did. (We read Cuppy’s Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody for the same reason too: We liked it. 😉 )
17. I have my father’s Gibson guitar, which is at least 50 years old now. I had it restored, but sadly I can’t play. None of the kids inherited my father’s musical talent. He could pick out tunes by ear. This was one of his favorites:
It was only after he died I realized that the fact he learned Carter’s “scratch” picking style all on his own, just from listening to it and seeing a couple of TV performances, was kind of impressive.
Lotsa Dad in this post.
(If you’re thinking he looks like Clint Eastwood and Tommy Lee Jones had a love child, you would be right.)
18. I, and my father, once drove 20 hours, round trip, to retrieve my dog.
I had broken up with the BF I was living with (in L.A.) and he was going to drive out to Texas to live with some friends. We had split the dogs in the “divorce.” He was taking the Pit mix, Argus, and I was taking the Keeshond, Kuluk. I had not found a place to live yet that allowed dogs, so the agreement was he would take Kuluk with him to Texas and would fly her back (with the money I gave him) when I found a place. A couple days after he reached his friends’ house, he called me and started to tell me about his trip.
Don’t caaaare. “How’s my dog?”
“Oh, I lost her.”
“I was spending the night at a camp ground and she got loose. Couldn’t find her the next morning, so I took off.”
The stream of obscene invective that came out of my mouth would have made a sailor blush. I slammed down the phone and took a moment to catch my breath. I picked up the phone again.
“Exactly where did you lose her?”
He gave me the name of a camp ground in Wilcox, Arizona, which is near the New Mexico border. I called the campground. The campground sent to the the City Hall, the City Hall sent me to the volunteer dog catcher, firefighter, rescue squad guy who asked, “It is a sawed off malamute looking thing?”
“Close enough. I’ll be there tomorrow morning.”
Dad wasn’t about to let me drive all the way out there by myself, so he came along and we switched off driving. Sadly, the trip was not as enjoyable as it could have been and we spent much if it in silence. That was my fault.
But the next morning:
Besides a host of ticks, she was fine.
So 19 & 20….Hrm.