Wednesday, September 29, 2004

What if time wiggles?

We assume time is neatly linear and can be measured to mindboggling finite values, but what if it really wiggles?

It's rather customary for us to view time as both linear and discrete. We divide and subdivide time into units impossible to measure except by computers or mathematical computation. Most of do not live life in nanoseconds, which is one one-billionth of a second, or 10 to the ninth power. I tend measure time far less accurately, looking at events as simply before, during, and after. I measure it by marking off a calendar or staring helplessly and impatiently at my watch.

When I was in college I took an advanced class in sociology and ran smack into Mircea Eliade (1907 - 1986.) I was reading an ethnography on the a tribe of Apaches that were uniquely matrilineal. The book was called Thunder Rides a Black Horse: Mescalero Apaches and the Mythic Present, by Claire R. Farrer. You can read a fair review of the book here. The key thing about this tribe are evocative phrases such as "in the time of the grandfathers," which is a unit of time that could be anywhere from thirty to one thousand years past, or maybe even farther back in time: events that occurred then also occur now.

One of the highlights of a young Mescalero's life is her coming of age ceremony, an event spread over four days and involves everyone in the community. They speak of a mythic figure, White Painted Woman, and during the four day ceremony the girls are not merely enacting rituals: the girls become White Painted Woman, she who exists in both the present and the past. They are believed to hold in them the power and magic of the original. There are reports of girls actually healing disease and illness when the re-enact the great rituals that mark them as women.

The most remarkable thing, to me, is not the miracles but the view of time. Time isn't linear. These girls enact the rituals that link them to the original through time. This isn't possible if you view time as linear. But I invite you to step away from our western notions and consider this: maybe time is a spiral with a single plane, a line if you will, that runs through the spiral touching all curving lines. Such a view would hold that everything is linked, not just distantly and with a sense of comfortable remoteness. What if time does unfold in a spiral that reiterates prior events like echoes in a canyon? I found that concept fascinating. It could explain the endless repetitions we, as a species, seem doomed to repeat. It could even go so far as to hint at explanations for that troubling sensation of Deju vu some claim to experience.

When I was writing my paper, I stumbled into Mircea Eliade's profound work, Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return. I admit he is better know for his work, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, both books I read and reread because they fascinated me. (What can I say, I found and was ruined by Joseph Campbell at an early age.) By reading him, and Farrer's book, I could see the connection within my own childhood, in what has to be the only western link to illuminate events in and out of time for me.

I was raised as a strict Roman Catholic, and I attended parochial school (more years than I ever want to think about.) One article of faith for Catholics is communion and how something so everyday becomes a link to our religious past. Not just the act of receiving it but the act of blessing it by the priest. In that moment, a simple unleavened wafer and red wine at transformed into the body and blood of Christ. We are not witnessing this from the secular present -- well, we didn't then as the entire mass was in Latin -- we are there and connected to an event that the faithful believe occurred almost two thousand years ago, and continues to happen with each mass. In the precise moment when the chalice is raised and consecrated, we are present at the Last Supper. It is an article of faith that the objects raised and blessed in fact are the body and blood of Christ, and we become a part of the last supper, if only through our latter day consumption.

When I was a child, if you dropped a communion wafer, after blessing, you had to wait for the priest to come, pick it up, and place it on your tongue, because it was consecrated and holy. I lived in fear of dropping a wafer at my first communion; I think every pre-Vatican II child feared that worse than the boogieman.

I looked at mass from the safe and secular present I live in, I that no longer practices any faith, and it still gives me goose bumps. What if the Mescalero are right and all time is linked together as a spiral and events that occurred one thousand years ago can have a deep and powerful, yet knowable, influence on our very modern lives today?

I am probably one of the few people that thinks about such strange things, or finds them both meaningful and moving. Personally, I like living in a state that allows for the unknowable side by side with the mundane and practical.

Photo taken near Basalt, a town in between Aspen and Glenwood Springs. I play trout bum there in the summer.


Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Time, notebook, and pen.

At last, I found my people and the mothership is calling me home! And it revolves around something as simple as a pen and a notebook.

My whole life I have had this secret vice. I am addicted to fine paper and fountain pens. I cannot pass a stationary store. When I moved to Germany, fifteen odd years ago, the first place I went to was a small stationary store in Fischbach FRG. The first thing I bought in Germany was a wonderful Pelikan fountain pen. It is not the kind of vice that was acceptable in a generation that ingested vast quantities of drugs in the increasing need to escape our inner-demons and conflicts. I have always felt alone in this little secret vice, but no more.

There is something to the heft of real paper that calls out to me. The same is true of the scratching of a fountain pen over thick paper. I have just about every fountain pen currently made -- except a Sailor -- and all those little boxes and tins of ink cartridges. I even enjoy the feel of my hand as it moves across the texture of the paper. I love calligraphy and have always wanted to try my hand at illuminating a manuscript or even a single page. (I saw the Book of Kells as a teenager, when it first was exhibited in the United States.) The thing about writing in a Moleskine with a fountain pen is that it slows you down. It forces you to be mindful, to be aware as you write. We live in a world of constant distraction, rhetoric, and noise that tries to suck us into the maelstorm. The act of sitting down with a pen and notebook is one of defiance to modernity. (Ironic that I compose this on a computer. Trust me, the irony isn't lost to me.)

Maybe a part of this is the rebel in me, the one who must be dissatisfied. I want the fastest computer and DSL, but I also want a Moleskine notebook and a fine-nibbed fountain pen with black ink. And I don't want the world bugging me when I use them. It's all about the dichotomy between life at the speed of sound and the quiet and deliberate passion of putting pen to paper. It is one of the conflicts of my generation, how do we live between the contradiction of convenience and ever increasing speed versus any deliberate and purposeful action. I don't know that any of us can answer that.

Lastly, I think I am in the phase of my life when I begin to value slow and meaningful over more and faster. By anyone's most generous estimation I moved into middle-age this year. Time is different now, or I experience it differently. Before there was never enough time, I always needed more, life was so hurried and crammed full. I now feel more focused, less frantic in the face of deadlines, I am in this percise moment now, and I know in five years I won't even remember this project. Now I don't feel neurotic guilt for taking time to fly fish or draw in silverpoint. Sometimes I lay in the grass and study the random shapes of clouds. These things might, in one's twenties, seem an odd or even self-centered, but now they are ingrained habit. I find I understand my parents and grandparents better as I grow into their baffling years. Time will teach us when nothing else can.

PS. The image has nothing to do with this posting, I am sure you figured that out by now. I just like the picture. I took this on the drive back from Aspen last year. Every photo in this blog is mine, or I swiped from my sister. Any that are not mine are duly noted.


It's that time of year

What to do when the circle of life sort of runs right over you.

Look close, you'll see about twenty elk in this picture. I took this as the elk came down for their evening drink. This time of year it's dicey in the basins and meadows in the high country. The elk are in rut, this is announced by an incredibly eerie sound: the bugling of the bulls, which sounds day after day. The cows, which are normally quiet and travel in small family groups, suddenly combine into enormous harems and wait while the bulls sort themselves out.

Any other time of year the elk are very mellow, as long as they see you coming and you don't chase them with a camera, they won't bother you. I've been fly fishing, paying attention to the sky -- sudden blizzards can explode here, even in July -- and my fly. And suddenly I won't be alone in the pool. I've had as many as six young bachelor bulls come right into the water with me. The closest one was a mere three feet away. They almost ran over me getting to water. Then they ignored me and got down to some serious drinking. They had the small antlers of two year-old elk, covered in softest dun colored velvet.

They stayed with me until some idiot tourist started chasing them with bread and cameras. I don't know why but tourists seem to think Colorado is one massive petting zoo. I saw the same thing in Yellowstone this July, when I went up to Idaho and Montanna to fly fish. I watched a very dumb man sneak to within fifteen feet of a two-thousand pound very annoyed bison. It's quick way to get hurt or dead. At one point we had almost 300 bison surrounding us as we tried to leave. I was more than a tad bit nervous. For as big as they are, they are shockingly quiet, I could only hear the soft sound of leaves moving as they grazed off grass and trees.

The weirdest two things that I've witnessed happened at the same time. I was in Wyoming fishing the North Platte river, about ten miles north of Colorado. A young fawn came right up to me, watching me cast. I felt like I ought to hold my breath and wait, motionless. It felt so magical that I didn't want to break the moment. When I said hello to him he bolted. I was still shaking my head over it when I saw an even weirder sight: A moose was travelling with an orphaned deer fawn. They came up to the river, directly across from me. I slowly pulled in my line and began to carefully back away from them. Moose are no joke, they will happily pound you into a broken pile just because they feel like it. One travelling with young is twice as ornery and needs a great deal of space and respect. If you see a moose in the forest start backing up very slowly and hope you get clear before it decides it really doesn't like you.


Sunday, September 26, 2004

Lighting and mood

Storm in the Rockies.

I felt so drawn to this moment of change depicted in this photo, I don't really know why. I downloaded it from a free image library, changed it to 75 ppi and cropped it in Photoshop, I'm not very visual, but sometimes you just find an image that somehow communicates how you feel in a precise moment of time. That's what this is for me, a perfect visual metaphor for things I can't even begin to articulate or understand.

Another reason it speaks to me is that I live in that sudden space that borders the endless eastern prairie and the Rocky Mountains. It isn't unusual to get snow in August, or see a bald eagle fishing, or watch herons stalk prairie dog pups. In this belt of land that snakes up and down Colorado, you'll see mule deer, bears, moose, mountain lions (well, no one ever sees them, you can find them by scat and tracks,) elk, big horn sheep, wild mountain goats, and just about every predator bird you've ever heard of. We have year-round Canada geese, and I have (believe it or not) been harassed by pelicans when fly fishing. I live in a place with great seasonal flux, at altitude (around 6,000'.) It’s fluid and dynamic in the daily encroachment of prairie versus mountains. You can literally see for 30 miles or more, on a clear day. The sky seems endless and you sort of feel naked before it.

Last night we had some very serious hail (again!) that dimpled my sad car. I still haven't removed the dents from the last hailstorm, which lasted ten minutes and delivered hailstones larger than a golf ball.) My garden is a mess, all the lavender is listing to the south, and the basil plants will probably croak today. I guess making pesto is out this fall. The cloud ceiling is below 600 feet; the Divide is completely shuttered away behind this massive cold front. The sky has that funny San Francisco look to it, being slate or gunmetal gray, and it is so still out. I saw only one flock of Canada geese out, and they were flying low and fast.


After the Fall

Some frightening events spark very strange responses. In my case, surviving an ambush in Mogadishu, Somalia led to writing a poem, about the only way to express the wide-open shock that someone wanting to kill you inspires.

After The Fall

Rind, orange and curled
dusted by sand, on
bloody pine boards,
under a lidless
African sun.

We dream of rest,
oil bores,
lock and load.
We dream of the
after the fall,
when sleep is prayer.

This is probably the only piece of creative writing I have done that I actually like. I learned to write fast, though not well, by playing in on-line poetry slams. I am fairly good-natured about sucking as a poet, I was in it for the fun and comraderie.


iPod: entre the dark side

iPods, international copyright law, and downloading communism. Learning I am not cut out for the dark side.

I think I am the last person on earth to get an iPod. My sister sent me one as an early Christmas gift. I suddenly found myself plunged into the dark world of MP3s, Limewire, and various other download sites, curling my lip at RIAA and wanting to chant "Death to suits." It did occur to me that I was probably old enough to be everyone's mother on those sites. That realization sort of took the gothic edge off being nefarious.

It also occured to me that I am probably the only person with only 3 GB's used on an iPod. The rest is just gleaming white space on the little harddrive. That got me thinking about music and how I suddenly transformed into my older cousins. When I was a kid my cousins would kidnap me, take me places, and force me -- during the ride -- to listen to 1950s "Golden Oldies." I was less than enthusiastic since I was a child of the 60s, the last of the Baby Boomers. My idea of good road tunes were CSNY, Melaine S., Joan Baez. Sorry but hearing about someone wanting to cry because it was her party left me monumentally uninterested. I mean, where was the social commentary and demand for change?

So almost all the music on the iPod, excepting Counting Crows and Nora Jones, is at least 20 years old. I have oodles of CDs I listen to at work, and the kids come into my office and roll their eyes. (A few of them, the ones with ex-hippie, commune-dwelling, tofu-swilling parents were raised on this. Do you know how deflating it is to hear "Hey, my mom and grandmom love that song.") So I have slowly become my cousins, abusing children with tunes like Helpless, Joe Hill, Blinded by The Light. And they, like myself as a teenager, roll their eyes at my choice of music. I guess its only karma.

There were things that I found just plain weird. One was that you can find almost every Johnny Cash song on Limewire. Can't find certain modern day singers, but I found tons of Patsy Cline. There was even some Neil Diamond! Jimmy Buffet, come on in. The other funny thing was that, given the nature of Limewire, finding bible study software listed right next to porn passwords documents/pdfs. The internet makes for strange bedfellows. I mean, come on, that has to boggle everyone's mind. What would an uber-born-again Christian in need of bible-study software be doing in Limewire? What's next, selling crack to buy bibles for Russia? Anyway, I think I am just too old to enjoy the vicarious thrill of warez and stealing software, ebooks, and music online. But I am not too old to find some of the content just funny as Hell!

(And the downloading of communism? There was a gif floating around the internet a few years ago. A kid at an iMac downloading warez/mp3. Behind him is this menacing dictatorial type, drawn in Russian poster style. The caption said: "Everytime you download MP3s you are downloading communism. It still makes me laugh.)


Saturday, September 25, 2004

visual irony

What can I say, I've always been drawn to the visual irony.

I took this in March of this year. We were still off, in terms of snowpack -- an indicator here of drought -- but if you check out the top of the sign, it is normally 12' tall. This was taken just north of Vail in Aspen Canyon. I have this on another site where I am a mod.

I've been reading a lot of blogs lately, and I find them a compelling form of comunication that is intensely personal that moves into a sphere that is utterly public. I have kept an online journal for two and a half years, but its in a format that is locked in and not very flexible. I like how this looks, and it seems idiot-proof, which works for me. Also, friends at work, including students, know my user name at the other site, so I want to move these ramblings here, under a different user name, so I maintain some privacy.


Front Range

Living life in the slow lane: Boulder, Colorado on a lazy sunny afternoon. Just a bit about me to get started.

Originally uploaded by webgecko.
Just a picture I took late in the afternoon a few years ago. I was facing west, aiming at the layers of the Flat Irons as they give way to the Rockies.

The light in the late afternoon is incredible, amber and and clear. Its the kind of light they want in car commericals. You can't see it but the cottonwood trees were blowing and sending puffy packets of seeds to collect in small snow drifts.

I don't really know what I want to focus on. I am trying a mess of sites and software to try and make an intelligent choice and find what suits me best. (Although, I have to admit I am leaning toward NoteTaker and Ecto.)

I joke about being bi-platform. My situation is reversed of everyone else though as I work in a mac enviroment and frequently use a Windoze laptop at home. I also have a G3 laptop running OS 10.2.8. I do prefer life on the mac though, especially for writing, I find it more creative and it seems so simple and elegant. (Trust me, I know from work it isn't.. as does anyone who ever heard the Chimes of Doom.)

I often say I am the jack of all trades and the master of none. About the only thing I am foaming at the mouth rabid about is catch and release fly fishing. I fly fish most of the summer (I work in education and have summers off.) I tie flies in the winter. I spend every possible moment tucked away in the Rockies. I live in the Front Range, in what we mockingly call The People's Republic of Boulder. I am a tad conservative politically, in other words I am not your typical Boulder Granola-head. I actually find some of it hysterically funny. For example, in Boulder you do not own a dog. You are its legal guardian. They passed that last year while the rest of the state shook their collective heads, chortling, "Only in Boulder."

Anyway, I expect to talk about fly fishing (as a form of reflective living,) education, therapy, and maybe technology (though I lack expertise in the latter category.) I don't have a religion, although I was raised a very strict pre-Vatican II catholic including more years than I want to think about in parochial schools. I might talk about my checkered past. I have lived in Africa, Europe, and Asia, and worked in many different cultures as an American Expatriate. (Except time in Africa.) I've been in the Army, worked and taught paramedics, and sold critters in a pet store as a teenager.

I try and live fairly simply. Other than the expected bills, I seldom spend much money. (Well, okay, I spent a lot on fly fishing rods, but I have all I need... except maybe that new 00 weight Sage rod!) Well, I guess that is enough information for now.