Saturday, November 28, 2015

Immortality in a Threatening Wind

What a nice morning it had been: moderately cool, calm, and sunny. Coffee Girl and I had just finished a mountain bike ride up an arroyo where, at the beginning of my travel career, I had stumbled onto a "cliff dwelling." Not an official one, of course. But it was possible to imagine turning it into a cliff dwelling or emergency shelter. Back then I took a chance in dragging my trailer upstream in the gravel arroyo, with only my rear wheel drive van. And I camped there that night, and made a fire in the little cliff dwelling, and amused myself with making shadows on the ceiling. (Plato would have been impressed.)

Alas, the cliff dwelling seemed less romantic today than it did way-back-when. This stung. Did it mean that my travel lifestyle had become too predictable and tame?

We laid down for the usual post-ride siesta, relaxing to a movie with a good musical score. But it became difficult to hear the movie because of the howling wind. What the hell was going on, out there!? Since I had already learned the hard way about opening 32" wide doors in the wind, I had a good cord attached to the side-door. Curiosity got the better of me. I opened the door no more than 6" before it almost exploded open into the wind. The finger holding the cord got a nasty rope-burn. 

But I was surprised and relieved that the door had not literally been blown off the hinges. The standard RV doors on cargo trailers are nothing more than aluminum-foil-clad styro-foam laminates, held on by thin aluminum trim that is glued to the door's perimeter. There is no tube frame!

I could not even re-close the door, let alone latch it. And all the time the wind was trying to rip it out of my hands. It was like being a sailor on deck during a storm, and grabbing ropes and ducking masts, all in a state of desperation.  I had to surrender by opening the door fully, which made it parallel to the wind, and therefore, stable.

Now what? Panic, that is what. I started trying to pound the door back into shape with a block of wood and a hammer. Eventually it did close, but it was so tight that it wouldn't re-open.

So I unlocked the ramp door in the back (aka, the stern) of the trailer. It opened by lowering directly into the wind. Thank goodness it wasn't the barn door geometry, like at the back of a van.

But now stuff was blowing out of my trailer, streaming across the mesa. I went chasing it. To a spectator, it must have looked like some slapstick comedy from the silent movie era.

A photo from the archives. It expresses the idea of this post.
But from my point of view, it was no joke. Objects seem to take on a life of their own in the wind. They balance and spin upright, like a spinning bicycle wheel. Sometimes your hand is a matter of inches away from grabbing the object, and then a gust removes it from your reach. These objects and the wind had become almost sentient and malevolent.

After a couple days, I have recovered full operation of the door and rebuilt the inner wood screen door, which had shattered. From the point of view of hindsight, this was a worthwhile experience, an authentic experience with nature.

Long-suffering readers are used to me advertising any experience with nature other than postcard idolatry, which I relegate to the tourist trade. Perhaps the reader has taken a sailing or windsurfing lesson, and experienced fear and panic from a strong wind. It is a primal force in nature.

But just think of humankind's relationship with the wind, through the ages. Most of all, think of what sailors went through in storms, when they were heeled over at 45 degrees, and sliding all over the decks. Most of them couldn't swim, and even if they could, hypothermia would have killed them anyway. At least my trailer and mesa stayed horizontal during this madness!

What courage and skill they had! And then look at me: I hadn't even noticed which corner of the trailer was making the most noise. If I had, it would have told me the wind direction.

While the fear and embarrassment were still fresh, I persisted in dwelling on the heroes of the past. Is it too swoony and moony to say that appreciating their courage and skill was an act of connecting with the eternal, the immortal?

Another photo from the archives, in this case, from my first blog post.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Dealing with a Difficult Writer

For the umpteenth time I have started some Dostoevsky novels and short stories, only to surrender 50 pages in. Yes I know, it seems like common sense to be a good sport about this, to shrug it off, and to move on to a different writer. But it is worth giving the benefit of the doubt to a writer who has a high reputation. On the other hand, I should dismiss the opinions of the "experts" if it doesn't agree with my own experience.

Perhaps the best reason for not giving up on Dostoevsky too soon is that something might be gained by trying to explain why reading him just doesn't work for me. I used to think that his books had too much religious guilt and physical suffering in them for my tastes. Russians are pretty good at suffering, but I am not.

The more I thought about it, this time around, the more the blame went to his unsympathetic characters. I simply don't care what happens to his characters, and therefore, have no interest in the story. Don't think that I am lobbying for perfect characters or goodie-two-shoes. Such characters would be pretty boring, actually. But they have to have something about them that makes you want to "stick" for them.

Perhaps Dostoevsky did think his characters were somewhat sympathetic. Read a biographical blurb on him sometime. It is amazing what he survived. Perhaps he lost track of how weak and spoiled his readers are compared to the hardships of his own life. (And that includes me.)

Well then, if this is the right explanation for my difficulty in reading Dostoevsky, what should he have done? I am not going to argue that he should have given up at being a serious writer, and devolved into a pulp writer, who follows all the easy formulas that make a book a commercial success.

But couldn't he have let the reader 'come up for air' now and then, with more action, some humor, or even a little romance, as silly as that sounds. But this doesn't sound very inspiring to a serious writer, does it? It sounds like I'm advocating watering his work down. It might backfire because of its obvious condescension to the readers.

Isn't there a way to admit and accept the readers' humanity, including their weaknesses, without being condescending? Is there some way to visualize adding things to his books, rather than merely diluting them?

If reading his books is an non-success story for me, we need to come up with success stories. Next time I will give examples of movies that talked about serious subjects in a non-serious way; and by doing so, they fit better with an audience that isn't superhuman, but merely human.

Here I am, trying to make an allowance for my readers' humanity by offering some eye-candy in a Nevada arroyo. But it has nothing to do with the post, so it backfires, because it treats the reader in a condescending way.