Monday, June 30, 2008

A Hat...

I grew up in a culture where a lot could be said about a man, without breath passing lips, by his hat. It always struck me as one of the more admirable things about cowboy culture, such awareness of identifiers. Its something a lot of people miss. As an adult, now part of no particular culture, I'm one of the few people I know who notices things like boots, belts, hats, etc. I live in a town where one of the major industries is providing training to first responders and soldiers. We are regularly overrun with Police, Fire, EMS, agents of three letter agencies and so on, and my friends are always somewhat amused (if not annoyed) when I will randomly point out an identifying characteristic of one of these folks, when we're out to eat or the like. I will notice a brand or type of boots, a particular choice or cut of garment, pocket clips for folding knives, "riggers belts" (heavy duty nylon webbing belt often w/ emergency rappelling attachments - Originally sewn up by bored Army parachute riggers), and quietly peg the bearer of said items as a whatever. By the same token, they have often also assumed I was one of their classmates because my more recent background, employment and habits lends me to many of their dress characteristics. But such things, such observation and awareness, are not the common product of the common culture - Far from it. If you want to say the unsaid, let people see the unseen, you have to scream it, or build a fire a'top it before most of them notice.
Being the gray-man, the unnoticed, has its distinct advantages, but sometimes it is simply boring. I'm at the point in my life where being boring is not what I want, and am fortunately in an environment where standing out (probably) wont make me an obvious mark on any predatory radar. College is fun like that.
I used to have a baseball cap I liked quite a lot. It said a lot about me. It was a cheap wally world cap with Stewie (the baby from Family Guy) and a proclaimation of "Victory will be mine!" across the front. I had restyled it after what soldiers and private military contractors have taken to calling "dont shoot me" hats: The hard button on top removed and replaced with a tab of Velcro for attaching an IR reflective marker, and with Velcro on the front and across the back for attaching other identifier, or morale, patches. Mine bore morale patches, as I have no need for identification as a ‘friendly”.
One of the morale patches mounted to the bill said Infidel in large capital letters. Going to a school with a fair number of Muslim individuals, I'd occasioned to wonder if this perhaps offended anyone, but have never given that line much consideration as, frankly, I dont care. Simply because, I am an infidel.

Infidel is in the common lexicon today as a word associate with extremist Islam and terrorism. Their justification for killing us is that we are infidels and wish to corrupt their pure and good society with our infidel ways (by for example, not stoning women to death for "daring" to be raped).
The word has a broader use than just in the context of Islam, but I think everyone’s idea, including my own, of it now is heavily involved with that context more-so than any other.
Context aside, the word means an unbeliever, someone who doubts or rejects the central tenants of a religion.
Now, I am not a man without belief, but I am most certainly a man without religion. I don’t have much use for it, and it separates me from my God more than it connects me. But, my infidelity is not to a religion, or even religion itself. My infidelity is thus:
If you are an enemy of Enlightenment, Spiritual and Intellectual Freedom, the Right of Personal Decision, an enemy of Science, and Medicine, I am your enemy. If you use religion to justify your hatred, and attempts to destroy, those things in which I believe, then I am your Infidel, and proud of it. My depth of infidelity and animosity towards you who would destroy the world of knowledge and light, for darkness and ignorant superstition, is beyond description - And I am unrepentant in my attitude and desire to see you struck from the earth.
If you are not one of those people, if you are not a destroyer, a bonder of people to ideas and decisions not their own, a cruel hand of ancient tyrannies, then we are not enemies and I am not your Infidel. In all likelihood, we share ideals, beliefs, and common goals.

There are few things in this world that I am prouder of than being an Enemy, and Infidel, of the destroyers of education and freedom. When I had it, I wore my marker with pride. All those who it offended, will have few greater and more dedicated an enemy. All those who embraced it, will have few greater and more dedicated a friend.
I need to get that hat back, or make another one.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Reading Down the Bones

I was raised "interesting". It did not seem so at the time, but what child ever really understands that their life may not be normal? It is in a nature of their very being to take whats put before them and run with it. What was put before me was a life in the outdoors, surrounded by art and books and guns, without other children, among the company of writers and cowboys, wetbacks and artists. And I thought that was how everyones life was.
In my grand old age of 22 I now wish I had paid more attention. But at the same time as I cannot fully grasp what I may have lost due to inattention, I dont think I can fully grasp how much I gained that I simply take as "the way it is", that yet few others have or could understand.

I have, through no organized intention, recently returned to some of the more interesting people of my childhood via literature. Now, I claim no particularly deep knowledge, connection, or friendship, with these men - Simply that I knew them, via my father, and ignored them in the way only children can adults.
Stephen Bodio was that weird guy with the dogs and falcons that my dad used to talk country living, guns and hunting with in the post office, gas station or coffee shop for what seemed like tedious hours to a six year old. I always knew he was a writer, but never really paid much attention until recently. While searching blogger several months ago I came across his excellent blog, Stephen Bodio's Querencia, much to my surprised delight. It has been a regular read ever since. At my parents home a few weeks ago, I was raiding their bookshelves for a few different volumes - Intending to borrow 10,00 Goddamn Cattle by Katie Lee, and Horseman Pass By by McMurtry, and whatever else I could lay hands on, I saw they had somewhere acquired a second paperback copy of Bodio's autobiographical work Querencia, so I nabbed that as well. It was, as its turned out, the only member of a foot-plus tall stack which I've read since taking it. Other reviewers have already said a lot about this work, and its depth, and power, which I dont disagree with, or feel like repeating. Correct they are that Querencia is a great work, a heartfelt memoir of a person, a place, and a time. It is that, and at least for me, much more. Filled with rich details of people, falcons, guns, hunting, the country, and simple day to day life in an incredibly unique place, Querencia, is more than a simple memoir of loss. It is a fundamental account of exactly its title, a querencia.
As a writer who firmly believes, yet also struggles with the idea, that the best writing is done scared, done aching and afraid of whats on the paper but knowing it would be unhealthy to quit, I was fascinated and moved by Bodio's writing. Writing so freshly on the heels of a great loss, and detailing not the loss alone but the life before it, must have been both painful and healing, and it shows in the words, some of which simply bleed. Further, as a native resident of the small mountain community Bodio describes, more than the words of hope and sorrow bleed for me - People, places, events I knew, or have known, since childhood are described in loving detail. Seeing these individuals and things through the fresh eyes of Bodio, writing as the outsider coming in, was immensely pleasurable at the same time as it was often sad. Querencia has earned a permanent place on my bookshelf as a work of great love, and a documentation of a place and time that also exists somewhat in my own history, which is now gone.

David E. Stuart was one of my father's professors during a return stint to college, working on an archeology degree. Being homeschooled I tagged along to many of my parents classes while they were finishing up their degree's and sat in on many lectures, including from Dr. Stuart. Recently I've been reading his novel Flight of Souls, and quite enjoying it. Having spent a great deal of time in Mexico (particularly the Mexico that was), his insights into 1960's Mexico and the life available to an American ex-pat there are probably second to none. His writing is not as vivid, or stylish, as other writers tackling similar topics, but it is none the less rich, compelling and rewarding. The benefit of his anthropological and archaeological background Stuart sneaks into the fairly taught, well crafted, story of intrigue, many details on place, and culture, both of the time and of antiquity.
Several years ago I gave my dad two of Dr. Stuarts non-fiction, autobiographical, works, The Guaymas Chronicles and Zone of Tolerance, which I never read but now think I shall have to pick up.

I am glad that in my childhood I did not entirely ignore the people around me, the adults of my parents social circle, and that they encouraged me to be among them even in my youth. I cannot ever remember being told I was not welcome at a table, or leaning on a corral fence, or gathered around a fire, even when I was the only child. And from that, I am thankful that as an adult I can return, with the experience of a couple more years, to the works those individuals have offered, and get so much from them. It is such a fundamentally satisfying experience to read a good author, a voice you can identify with, particularly when it is a voice you have actually been exposed to.

Left barber college, lookin' for knowledge...

"I left Barber College, Searchin’ for knowledge, Went to the university. I must confess, Sir, This lady professor She turned me on to anthropology. Now I’m a Homo Erectus, Got to connect this, Bone that I discovered yesterday.
Lived in the forest,
Died because its heart got in the way." Kinky Friedman & Panama Red
I was talking with an acquaintance the other day in the rock climbing gym about Erebus Crystals. Erebus crystals are a rare type of Feldspar found primarily on Mt. Erebus, Antarctica. They are one of the rarer feldspar types around, given that they are found in only one other location and are formed under circumstances still not positively known. Ejected from the volcano inside bombs of volcanic glass, which subsequently wears away exposing the feldspar Erebus crystals within, the crystals are rather prized by those who can obtain them (among the small number of people who go to Antarctica, an even smaller number are actually allowed on the volcano).
As someone who has always wanted to go to Antarctica, I was of course somewhat insanely jealous of Julien's little pile of green rocks - As I have been previously envious of Julien for simply going to Antarctica, being a phenomenal climber, etc. - and it spurred me to find out more about them and where or how I might get some. The logical answer is, of course, go down there and be doing something that would permit me access to the volcano.
So, off to the website of Raytheon Polar Services, the division of Raytheon contracted to provide all support services to the research operations at the U.S. Antarctic stations. Looking through their job listings I came across several very interesting jobs that I hope to be qualified for in ten years (provided I stay on my current path), several more I will never be qualified for if I even wanted to do them, a few that could be interesting if I felt like getting the required degree, and then one, one, for which I am already insanely overqualified for, already this far into a science degree. Hairdresser.
Yep, they need hairdressers at McMurdo station.
I should have gone to barber college.