Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008: Looking Back, Moving Forward

Some years go by rather uneventfully—2008 was on of those years for me. Given the current state of the economy, and how many people lost things this, houses and peace of mind, I guess I can consider myself lucky. Young and underpaid, I didn’t have much to lose. That’s not to say that the ill effects of a down-turned economy haven’t trickled down to my family. They have. I think most Americans can agree that we’re ready to move on from a rather crummy ’08.

Personally, highlights of the year included places I got to travel to. Tommie and I really enjoy seeing different parts of the country—Tommie mainly enjoys sampling the local food. Although it’s hard to take the time off work and spend the money on traveling, I think we’ve both realized how important it is. Not only is it mentally healthy to take those breaks but it’s also enriching. This year we vacationed to Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Durham and Wilmington, North Carolina where we saw our first wild crocodile. We loved the little downtown area of Chapel Hill and beautiful UNC campus. Also, for you Dawson Creek lovers (it’s okay, you don’t have to admit it out loud), Wilmington is where they filmed the show and I almost swooned when I saw Dawson’s house from across the creek. We also went to Los Angeles and Sequoia National Forest (California) to see the giant trees and stayed in a quaint cottage on a river where I made Tommie slide down rocks into the water until he ripped a hole in his new bathing suit. We also went home (to Salem, Mass.) for Tommie’s brother’s wedding, which was so beautiful in the fall, and everything felt so harmonious we decided we wanted to plan our move back there. I also went to Indianapolis and took my flashy younger sister to Las Vegas on business. I hate it there. She wants to live there.

Our plans to move back across the country this spring (from San Diego back to Boston) will surely shake up my 2009: new apartment, new job/s, old friends, and old places. It’s going to be interesting.

Nationally, 2008 was anything but uneventful. The economy took a nosedive and we had one of the most interesting elections. As a cynic, it’s hard for me to believe that we’ll be able to rise above the mess we’ve gotten into...but as a dreamer I have to believe we can. 2009 is our chance to become better people and a better nation. Nothing good got us into this situation...war, greed, lies, thoughtlessness. We tried all that. Now, we need to try the opposite.

I already know that 2009 will be a year of change. There is a famous quote about change that goes: “If you’re in a bad situation, don’t worry it will change. If you’re in a good situation, don’t worry, it will change.” We have ups and we have downs. During the hard times it’s important to remember that there were good times...and there will be more in the future.

Happy, happy New Year.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Bookend: A Separate Peace

One side effect of my incompetence with numbers is an aversion to the subject of history. Did Columbus sail the ocean blue in 1692…1492…1842? It could be 1992 for all I know. My mother, a self-proclaimed history buff (and fan), is ashamed. I just never took much interest in a subject that relied so heavily on numbers. Even in elementary school, before memorizing dates became the standard theme of history tests, I thought my history classes were classes about war. World War I, World War II…here we go with numbers again.

But, every once in a while, a story (sometimes real, sometimes fictional) surfaces from one of those “meaningless dates” and I’m grateful that someone put that moment in history into a story I could enjoy. If history had been taught through stories I would have tolerated it much more.

I just finished reading A Separate Peace by John Knowles and although his novel is fictional, it is set in a very real time: 1943, a couple years before the end of World War II (yes, I looked that up). For me, the best thing about this novel was that while WWII loomed over the characters like a gray cloud, the story itself wasn’t about the war. Set in a boy’s boarding school in New Hampshire, the novel tells a story about a personal war between a 17-year-old adolescent, Gene (the narrator) and his “best friend” Phineas (aka “Finny”). And in a way, it is a story about Gene's internal war/struggle to find his place in the school.

Like any good book, I was invested in the characters. I cared about them in their little microcosm. I attended an old, New England college and I could relate to that sense that while you are there, you are in a “bubble.” You are isolated from the larger issues facing the world. You are in a peaceful place, but even in the most sheltered places, there are conflicts. Gene is most certainly a flawed character, but what 17-year-old boy isn't? This is a good read for boys particularly because it deals with the competitive nature between males, which is so often used to mask their real emotions like jealousy, affection or shame.

I also enjoyed the book because it was spot-on with its descriptions of place. Anyone who has spent time in New England will understand the way the seasons take on certain personas; the way the scenery actually becomes part of your mood. Knowles has a way of describing the seasons to metaphorically represent the events and changes happening through the school year. Just as the seasons change, so do the friendships and feelings of the young men who go there…and so does the war, which by the end of the story, has taken over a building on campus and overtaken some of their classmates.

Considered a "minor classic," A Separate Peace was a cleverly disguised history lesson and well worth the read.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Would You Steal My Sunshine?

Although it's been almost three years since my move from New England to Southern California, and therefore three years since I've experienced the four-seasoned years I grew up with, the seasonal time clock inside me has never stopped ticking. Despite the eternal sunshine that fills the sky every month of the year in San Diego, there are nights in December when the blinds are closed and I feel like I could open them up to a snow-covered landscape.

I never thought that I would—that I could—
miss winter. Aside from the holidays and the very first snowfall with its mystical beauty, it is an utterly miserable season. To people who grew up in San Diego, it is unimaginable. "You mean you literally have to shovel your car out?" Yes, and scrape ice off the windshield. Sometimes you have to walk through freezing brown slush up to your ankles just to get to your car. The wind is so cold it literally stings your face and your nostril hairs freeze. They wrinkle their noses in disgust.

Something strange happened when I moved here. Summer came...and summer stayed. It was unreal. I felt like I had cheated mother nature. A whole year came and went without snow...then another and another...then the strangest thing of all happened...the sun actually started to annoy me. I yearned for a rainy day, heck, even a cloudy day would have been nice. Something to slow us all down. Something to remind us we are only human and still susceptible to the mood swings of nature. What did we all do to deserve these never-ending sunny days? Any day like the ones I have seen out here would have given me happy goosebumps back in Massachusetts: The way the sun would finally break through the clouds after a long winter and warm the back of my neck on my walk home from the bus stop. I worshiped the sun.

It's been reasonably cold in San Diego lately (the low tonight will be 41 degrees!). We have no heat. Our little San Diego-born doggie curls up with a blanket at night and shivers early in the morning. When the sun inevitably comes out during the day I let her on our bed to warm up and I think to myself, she gets it. Sprawled out in the warm rays of sunlight, she closes her eyes and lets out a deep sigh of satisfaction.

I'll say it: I miss winter. When you suffer through winter you deserve sunshine. You earn it. You appreciate it. That's the kind of sunshine I miss—the kind that comes out after what seems like a never-ending winter and warms me through to my soul—the kind that makes me close my eyes and sigh happily.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Rebel Without a Cause

"One cannot spend one's time in being modern when there are so many more important things to be." --Wallace Stevens
This is a big step for me. Not only am I promising myself that I will use this space as a forum for writing more often and resurrecting my creative side, but by choosing to begin a blog, I’m succumbing to another aspect of dreaded technology.

Whenever possible, I resist technology. I do it for several reasons. First of all, I’m cheap. If I can save money by buying the older version of something (or not buying it at all), I will. Secondly, I’m dismayed (and yes, slightly jealous) that engineers and computer technicians make all the money while writers and artists are continually underpaid and underestimated. Because of that, I resist technology to prove a point...even if only a minor point that no one else cares about. I don’t need technology. I was perfectly content with cassette tapes and VHS until the CD and DVD came along, forcing my old means to become obsolete. There is always something new. I can’t keep up, so I don’t try.

The worst part of this personal rebellion is that I can’t win. For instance, I bought a new cell phone without
Bluetooth capabilities because I hate how important those ear buds make people look. No one is that important. It wasn’t too many months after my purchase when California passed a law stating that you need to use a hands-free device in your car. I’m currently still resisting that one. I suspect I’ll have to give in at some point...probably when a cop spots me yelling a one-sided conversation into the phone I’m holding out at arms length (yes, I know the rule isn’t “ear’s-free,” it’s “hand’s-free”) because I still can’t find my speakerphone function. (Choosing not to learn how to use speakerphone is also part of la rĂ©sistance.)

I know, I know. The only person I’m inconveniencing is myself. But really, even people who do keep up with the times have to go out and buy a new version, update or product practically every other month. Let’s all just agree right now to take a hiatus from technology for a little while. Let the Blackberry come to its natural end; halt the making of Nintendo 4000 (okay, I made that up). Let’s just slow down a little so I can get Blue Ray discs without thinking it’s stupid because they too will be replaced in another few years by little
HD microchips we insert into our Bluetooth and play inside our heads.

Let’s see if technology and I can come to some sort of truce. Let’s see if I can not only find my way back to writing on a more regular basis, but if I can do so while embracing (or at the very least accepting) this form of communication. The fact that I have successfully figured out how to post this is a sign that I am, however slowly, learning.