Thursday, September 09, 2010
I just finished The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Barry Udall a few days ago. A very enjoyable read. Reminiscent of John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany – but better. Better because it was less sentimental and not as corny. Irving's books almost felt like guilty pleasures when I read them long ago.
Now I'm reading Timothy Egan's The Big Burn. I've been wanting to read The Worst Hard Time, Egan's book on The Dust Bowl, before his latest book, but it didn't turn out that way. I was given a biography of Teddy Roosevelt by one of my acting students years ago and I wanted to read that prior to The Big Burn as well. I've learned though, that sometimes you just have to dig in. I love reading history. I was a history major, actually, though that seems very long ago, and as I specialized in Mexico, it seems even more remote. I even earned a lifelong membership to Phi Alpha Theta, the history honor society, though I've yet to put that on a resume. Growing up I loved American History. I had a set of encyclopedias in which I wore out the entries on all the American Wars and the Presidential biographies.
However, in the early 90s when I went to college, I was studying Spanish and Mexican folk art. And there was a renowned scholar of contemporary Mexican history that had just come to Portland. I became his student. When I went down to the Universidad de las Americas in Puebla - the USC of Mexico - for a semester I took a seminar on The Mexican Revolution. Professor Schuler's lectures and assignments prepared me well. Even though the course was conducted in Spanish, I earned an A+ on my first essay exam.
One of the joys of blogging is to be able to recall such forgotten moments in one's life. It has no relevance and to mention such a minor triumph seems almost immodest, but it I think it's good to remember such things. To write them down and make them real. For no one other than myself, and perhaps any reader that needs a reminder to recall their own small victories.
What it does for me is to evoke the whole person that I am. To overcome my habit of editing myself to the point of nullification at times. I am a pinball. I ricochet from one interest to the next, immediately forsaking much of my hard-earned recent experience, gathering all of my energy for the next target. I roll bright, shiny and confident toward it, though I feel the chaotic randomness of my path acutely. Pinball really is a good metaphor for my life as it is a seemingly random game that actually can be played with skill and sometimes bravado.
It's important for me to remember as my fascination with 20th century American History reignites that my Mexican scholarship wasn't a waste or something to ignore. However distant it may feel. To be honest, it felt distant when I was studying it. Not only was it history - events in the past, but it was foreign in so many ways. As I traveled around Mexico, meeting people and staying with friends' families, they often remarked that I knew Mexico geographically and historically better than they. Maybe this is part of the greater puzzle that I am trying to piece together - no matter how much someone says I know, I tend to doubt it. Fear.
One thing I'm coming to view as a strength is the seeking and the chasing – the ricocheting pinball rolling at a high speed toward yet another pin, knowing full well it's not going to find stasis as it hits the bumper but will likely gain velocity and a new course. This is a pivotal insight. For so long, I've been trying to find some sort of equilibrium. For others to hear this usually produces at least a scoff. I'll admit it's a funny way of going about it. Reminds me of the wisdom to know that the playground bully is often the most afraid - tough to believe, especially when his wrath is coming at you, but invariably true.
I have no need to justify my interest in the subject of Timothy Egan's National Book Award winning, New York Times bestselling book. Plenty of people didn't drive through forest fires in the early 70s with their grandparents or study history in college or have an acting student that was obsessed with Teddy Roosevelt or have an affinity for vintage American work wear or have an old friend that's a legendary forest firefighter have read this book and enjoyed it and have done so presumably because they feel connected to the stories within simply because they're human. Maybe that explains my need to enumerate my qualifications - I don't find it easy to connect. Maybe because I'm a steel ball bounding about. And maybe because I find it so god darned difficult to be satisfied with simply being human. It doesn't feel good enough much of the time. It's important that I don't beat myself up about this. I can just take a look at it. I must really want to, because it's pouring out of me. Today all I really wanted to blog about was what I've been reading. To be really honest, I just wanted to post the image of the cool slide from the New York Public Library archives I found at the top of the page. But the thoughts come. And then they go. And some of them come around again and again.