Monday, June 30, 2008

By car at 70 mph

It's time to flex my fingers again. I've been away sightseeing North America. What I can tell you is that West Texas is a long trip across an interstate. Hell, all of Texas is. Also, the road heading north from I-20 into Carlsbad, New Mexico is loud, meaning lots of tire noise. I believe it's highway 285, but I could be wrong after all the highways I've been on lately.

I can tell you that even though the Johnny's Pizza south of exit 114 in West Monroe, La is a bit farther off the interstate than I thought it would be, the pizza is as good as any Johnny's Pizza anywhere.

As far as "tourist spots" go, Carlsbad Caverns is worth the trip north from I-20 or south from I-40. It's just overwhelming. Wear tennis shoes; try to take photos in the cave without flash, with long shutter speeds.

Roswell is neat. I saw more police officers patrolling the roads in and around Roswell more than every other location in over 3500 miles. I got there too late to visit the UFO museum and research facility in downtown Roswell, but I did find a neat little tee shirt and gift shop across the street. In the downtown area, there are plenty of them. In the rest of Roswell, it's an ordinary town in the middle of nowhere.

The Grand Canyon may be one of the 7 wonders of the natural world, but it was a wonder to me how anyone can enjoy visiting it by car. We stayed in Tusayan, one mile south of the south entrance to the national park, and that was fine and all, but truly underimpressive for the cost. But then, we drove up into the mountains due north of Flagstaff instead of taking hwy 64 off of I-40, and we had one of the top 2 most incredible drives of the whole trip by doing so.

But back to the canyon: we went in the park early in the morning, before it got hot and full of people, and while the park service has done a great job of providing a shuttle to take sightseers to each of the main overlook sites (for free, with your $25 per car admittance), it takes a lot of walking to get to the overlooks, and it eats up a lot of time waiting for the shuttles, riding the shuttles, etc. We did that for one spot, then we went back to the car and just did it ourselves after that. We saw what we wanted to see, we had minimal difficulty finding parking, and after an hour, we were more than done.

Yes, it's a big and amazing hole in the ground. Maybe time of day factored into it, but the haze in the canyon was a bit disheartening for me (wielding my camera and all), and the view was pretty similar everywhere we stopped. Our conclusion is that the best way to see the canyon is from the Colorado River by raft, on a mule ride into the canyon, or hiking it. At any rate, I left with a large sense of "ho hum". You could say it was a mile deep sense of "ho hum".

Still to come: photos, more about the trip, and some of my favorite moments on any vacation ever.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sword of Truth cuts

Warning: Spoilers included.

For years I've been a faithful reader of Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series. It began with Wizard's First Rule and ended with Confessor. In between I followed the characters through some very smart twists, turns, beautiful developments, and read them to life as complex beings in a multi-dimensional universe wholly created for the series.

And I loved every single page right up until the end of the series' last book: Confessor. There, in the last pages, his main character -- his hero -- goes off on a diatribe about God. Up until that very monologue, any spiritual references were to "The Creator" and "The Underworld" and the "Keeper of the Underworld". No God, no devil, nothing. Out of nowhere Goodkind's protagonist, Richard, uses "God" in specific reference to theological belief on several occasions in just two short pages.

What the hell, Goodkind? There was no God before your little rant! Why is there one now?

I can't even begin to fathom what the author was thinking the day he wrote those pages. Or what the editors were thinking when they overlooked it. Suddenly "The Creator" became "God" and no one notices. Except for me, and I still am pretty steamed over it.

For you see, until that very moment, Goodkind had done an impressive job of spinning a tale so thoroughly detailed that it was far more ideological than theological. It was a balanced statement about faith, politics, beliefs, free will, free enterprise, creative expression, capitalism, prophecy, education, magic... and an open mind could take it all in and come up with their own interpretations, their own significant and personal meanings, without feeling pressured to have chosen to side with or against the author. Goodkind had done that kind of good writing... where the author takes no sides in his work, just tells the tale as true to the characters he's writing about, and the reader can do what he or she wishes to with the subtle possibilities within.

But then, in this rant of Richard's at the end of Confessor, Goodkind makes a statement, and a powerful one at that. When Richard sends a group of people who blindly support an ideology bent on submitting themselves to a belief in the will of The Creator and a desire to utterly vanquish any who stand opposed to their beliefs (and support freedom of personal choice)... and then he calls that creator "God", he is making a pretty strong statement about his own beliefs of how religion and free will mix.

I found it abhorrently out of character for the Richard I had come to know and respect over more than 6000 pages of the series. I found it to read a bit redundant, as well. In fact, that whole section sounded like a petulant child throwing a temper tantrum.

And I lost a good deal of respect for the entire series because of it.

I saw all sorts of potential parallels in that series with possible references being drawn to economics, politics, party lines, Christianity -- including the Crusades --, Jesus, Satan, Democracy, Communism, Socialism, the occult, afterlife, ecology, biology, zen... just to name a few. And through it all, what I enjoyed the most was how well thought out it all was, so that I didn't feel like the author was drawing me in to agree with his point of view, instead maintaining a great story while remaining ambivalent in his statements. Until God showed up.

I felt that Goodkind punched me in the gut. I felt that the entire series was a ruse to lure me in and give me a sense of security that my own thoughts and opinions were protected and respected by him, only to have him then demand I make a choice to side with him or against him in the end. I didn't want to side at all! I wanted to see him end his series with the same strengths that had carried me through years of following his story line, contemplating his philosophies and analayzing his strategies and learning on my own and coming to my own conclusions about the challenges he presented me.

Yes, I realize that this is just a book, written to sell copies and make money. I realize that after all this time Mr. Goodkind could indeed be bored to tears with his own creation, and his rant could've been a finalizing touch to over a decade of work, through which he has more than likely changed, himself. But getting sloppy as a writer in the last few pages is not how you handle it. Unprofessional, sir!! It wasn't Mr. Goodkind's time to make a personal stand in the shoes of his hero Richard. It was Richard's time to speak, and I feel that Mr. Goodkind very cheaply stepped into his hero's shoes in Richard's stead.

But that's just my very heated opinion.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Romantic Poets

I've been reading a lively tale of the Romantic poets of early 19th century England: Keats, Byron, Wordsworth, Shelley, Coleridge. The book is Wildly Romantic by Catherine M. Andronik, and I doubt it's the last thing I read by her, but I digress.

Inside its pages, I learned that Lord Byron was infamous as an incestuous, bi-sexual, abusive, irresponsible nomad. My favorite line about Byron is also by Byron: "I felt that, if what was whispered and muttered and murmured was true -- I was unfit for England, -- if false -- England was unfit for me."

Percy Bysshe Shelley was the inadvertent mastermind behind his wife's -- Mary Shelley -- most notorious novel, as he was one to enjoy experimenting in the lab with things that went "boom" and with electricity. His experiments included sending shocks of electricity into dead frogs' legs to watch them twitch and wondered about the possibilities for reincarnation. His penchant for telling horror stories and Mary's own interest in her husband's eccentricities were all pieces of the puzzle that became Frankenstein. The Shelley's were also fiercely and publicly atheist.

Wordsworth was self-indulgent and pompous and was very sure of himself. In his youth he enjoyed the ideals of "free love" and in his old age he looked down upon the up and coming poets who embraced his earlier fanciful ideals. Coleridge was an opium addict, and it cost him much throughout his life.

Between the lot of them (and their wives and children) there were more illegitimate children, adulterous affairs, divorces, suicides, and illicit behavior than even Jerry Springer could cover in one show. If some wise professor of English literature had bothered to give me something behind all those antiquated words in their poems, I not only would've enjoyed studying the genre and the poets, but by now I'd have completed that damned P.h.D. and be a happy professor teaching the next generation of the scandals of literary legends that helped flesh out their greatest works.

Think on it. While the English Loyalists took up arms against the American Colonies, these poets lived morally loose lives and wrote and published poems meant to be read in "plain" language accessible to everyone. These fellows were pre-Victorian era, in a time when almost anything went, although the winds were changing towards the end of Byron's life, so he became a "guilty pleasure" before his death. His sister and ex-wife saw to it that his autobiography manuscript was burned to salvage what was left of his reputation and to protect their own.

I'm so intrigued by it all that this one book alone has rekindled a love of literature for me that has been missing since my university years. But perhaps it's not so much the literature as it is how the literature can be utilized to tie in real lives to real times, and how it all is strangely timeless in that it is no more sensational than what is occurring in modern society, and how such lifestyles can be traced even farther back to earlier eras. It gives complete weight to that well-known and depressing fact: no new thought is ever original.

There is so much philosophy in that fact.