Jenna’s AZ Bucket List nos. 84-79

Jenna’s Arizona Bucket List 84-79

  1. Tovrea Castle

When I was a kid living in the East Valley, the mark that determined we were crossing city line into Phoenix was driving past the Tovrea Castle, often on the way to the airport. The cake-like structure captured my child mind with wonder and intrigue. Was it a hotel? Was it some rich dowager’s estate? Was it merely a landmark that the city was invested in?

It turns out that throughout its lifetime Tovrea Castle, also sometimes known as the former estate of failed businessman Alessio Carraro, once was all of those things. Much has been written about this AZ landmark, so I won’t go into too much detail, but Carraro and family had originally hoped it would be a sensational hotel destination for Phoenix tourists (circa 1928). Turns out, in the early 30s a couple other AZ businessmen—cattle ranchers—bought up the land around it, started raising their herds and slaughtering right there near where the freeway bends now. This made the area stink to high-heaven—literally. Not so attractive for tourists. Carraro had a series of bad financial issues and eventually was bought out by E.A. Tovrea, the namesake.

Tovrea Castle image courtesy roadtrippers.com
Tovrea Castle image courtesy roadtrippers.com

His widow, Della lived there until she died in 1969. And then the fate of the odd architecture job was up in the air. There were all kinds of different plans; some called for demolition, some private owners thought of buying it. Eventually the City of Phoenix bought is with monies from a bond election. but even the city had trouble nailing down a business plan. As a teen when ever my family would drive by I’d long for the day I could set foot in this strange, iconic landmark. I wrote an article on the place in 1999 for Get Out Magazine (Tempe Tribune) and one of my sources suggested it may never be open to the public—too structurally unsound. That broke my heart.

Fortunately, through the concerted efforts of a community that really cared for the place as I had all these years, the City of Phoenix got its restoration plan together and they now open it up to volunteer-led tours. There is an admission to consider ($15), and you have to plan ahead of time. It’s only open certain hours and reservations should be made through the Tovrea Castle Tours website.

It’s well worth it. The tour leader drives your group up the front door on a shuttle and you get a couple hours inside. The place is sparsely furnished, but the tour volunteers are all trained as docents, full of fun stories and history. Like the time one of the workman’s sheds caught fire. And another time Tovrea’s elderly widow was tied up and held at gunpoint (there’s even a bullet hole in the kitchen ceiling!). The Tovrea Carraro Society oversees these volunteers and holds special events from time to time. For more information, email: Info@TovreaCarraroSociety.org

  1. Diving at Lake Pleasant

Someone once told me: Hey, Jenna! Go jump in the lake. So I was like, OK.

No, but for reals. I just completed my PADI SCUBA certification with some students and faculty from my school. This weekend we did our real and true first open water dives in Lake Pleasant.

I know what you are thinking: Lake Pleasant—disgusting! Isn’t it all murky and full of drunken boaters?

And …

you would be correct,  Sir or Madam! But when you are 26 feet below the surface level, all of that crap doesn’t seem to matter so much anymore. You can think to yourself: I am breathing! Underwater!! Like a fish!

So, thanks Lake Pleasant, for helping me reach one of my Bucket List goals. I am now PADI Open Water certified. Headed back to the lake in a couple weekends to achieve Advanced certification status.

Lake Pleasant SCUBA diving image courtesy Examiner.com
Lake Pleasant SCUBA diving image courtesy Examiner.com
  1. Return to Chiricahua National Monument

When I was a kid, my dad would take us to Vegas on his weekends a lot. But my mom, on her weekends, would take us camping.

I have to give her a lot of credit for this. It isn’t easy to wrangle the kids, wash all the sleeping bags, pack up the tent, the charcoal, the coolers, enough water to get through the weekend AND remember your spare batteries, bathing suits, towels and camping cutlery. But somehow my mom had it together. In fact, I think after a few tries, she probably had a quick-to-go kit on the ready, not unlike something FEMA and varoius other state agencies encourage us all to have. Oh—but how few of us listen! Check out Google searches for FEMA Grab and Go and Ready.gov if you have no idea what I’m talking about.

Anyway, those little excursions into nature were refreshing and sometimes breathtaking. There was the time we thought we were going to be attacked by bears out n Southern Arizona. The campground is literally called Bear Canyon Campground. It was extra dark that night and we heard all kinds of unfamiliar sounds. I think my mom went and slept in the car, leaving my little sister and I all alone in our big scary dark tent. There was a hike we did out at the Superstition Mountains where we got—legit—trained in desert survival by this cracked out old hippie guy with a gray beard. I still remember how to build a still well!

Rocks at Chiricahua National Monument
Rocks at Chiricahua National Monument

But the ultimate best adventure camping and hiking that we ever did was in Chiricahua National Monument. The place came up in a conversation with a new friend recently and I was elated that he knew about the place and seems to love it as much as I do. I don’t feel like I am exaggerating when I say this is the most beautiful national park I’ve ever been to (including Grand Canyon!).

First, the thing that takes my breath away is the diversity of natural topography within the park. On the same little parks maintained road you can go from woodsy, to exotic forest with maple trees (yes! maples! in AZ!) to high desert. Second is the incredible mix of wildlife you will encounter. Chiricahua is right dead smack there on the migratory bird path up from Central and South Americas. That means it’s not unusual to see roadrunners, wrens and jays, all kinds of hummingbirds, but also more exotic movers n’ shakers such as: ruby-crowned kinglets, Pacific-slope flycatchers and warbling virios. The National Park Service has recently updated its Birds list.

Apparently there’s a back way through the park that takes you almost through New Mexico but then up to a little town amidst the monument’s highest altitudes, but I don’t want to give away all the good secrets here in my blog. What I do want is another chance to go back to this magical place—it’s been a good dozen years for me. Any campers out there, email me stat. We could go this summer!

  1. Dine at The Stockyards

This one goes along with No. 84. I don’t have much to elaborate on this, except that it’s a dern Arizona landmark and I’ve always wanted to eat there!

I ate at Bill Johnson’s once as a kid. I guess that’s a good thing to brag about, seeing as the company has shrank and several of their outlying locations are gone.

I believe in ethically raising beef and of course, humane living conditions and slaughter. That said, I would sure like to share in the AZ cattle tradition and eat a nice big steak in a place that can proudly say it has called AZ home for 69 years! I suppose this adventure could be rolled in with my day out at Pueblo Grande. Also in the area is…

  1. The Hall of Flame Museum

The building is incredibly nondescript and there really isn’t much to catch the eye. Still, I’ve rolled past it probably 50 times or more and always thought to myself: Hey! I should go to the Hall of Flame Museum some day.

I mean for only $7, even if you spend just ½ an hour that would count. I think I only spent less than an hour at La Brea Tarpits in LA. I actually think I paid more for parking that day than the actual attraction.

Besides, who doesn’t love to look at some firefighters? Even photos of them. Am-I-right?

  1. Hot air balloon ride over Happy Valley

I realize I am going to have to get up at the ass-crack of dawn for this one, and that will be a compromise; I’ve never been a morning person. But I imagine it’ll be amazing. If anyone knows pricing, or even better “knows someone,” I am all ears.

Hot air balloon, Lake Pleasant, AZ
Hot air balloon, Lake Pleasant, AZ

I actually asked my hubby when we got engaged if he’d be willing to tie the knot with me up in a hot air balloon. It looked good… on paper. We both realized we hate flying. So we decided—the courthouse, it is!

Still, I’d like to go up there with a bottle of champagne, check out some romantic views, and then come back down to earth. Hopefully avoiding the I-17.

Jenna’s Arizona Bucket List, nos. 100-96

Note: these items are not in any particular order of preference, or by theme.

I have been writing a lot of reviews for TripAdvisor lately (read them here: jcduncan2001) and I decided I’d like to try reviewing some local Arizona treasures. I will start with things and places I’ve seen and experienced, and then I will get to a longer list of AZ things I think everyone should try before they die in or move on from Arizona.

100. Karchner Caverns
When I was in my early 20s, I did an Americorps Conservation Internship in Carlsbad Caverns National Park New Mexico. Most of my job took place in the library (I served as the Park Historian’s assistant). But every single day I found a way, a reason an excuse to go into caves.
This interest started when I was a kid—an early teen, I believe—and my mom took us on a family trip to the caverns. The giganticness of this underground space seized my imagination. You could actually get lost down there! It was astounding.

It took me another ½ of my life to get around to finally visiting Karchner Caverns. What was my problem? Well, there were a couple of half-attempts, but it took me a while to figure out that to go to Karchner you need a reservation. It’s not like Carlsbad where you can just roll in any day of the year (literally, many, many national parks are open all days of the year except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, check NPS.gov for details). Anyway, this was the first and most noticeable difference to me; the fact that Karchner is a state run park and therefore the hours are limited and the rules are different.

The other big difference is the commitment to conservation the AZ parks people have made to Karchner. I’m not saying at Carlsbad they aren’t committed to conservation—they are. Well, nowadays. It wasn’t always that way. As a result, decades of high-volume visits from the public have dried the caverns out and made the formation growth less active. Not the case at Karchner—this is very much a living cave. The entire cave system underground is probably gigantic, but it hasn’t all been mapped and explored (Carlsbad hasn’t either. Very highly explored (around 119 caves that are known of), but probably not entirely, plus it had a possible link to Lechugilla (at least 138 miles long) which is a whole new animal when it comes to massive cave systems). Anyway, Karchner is being protected with a sophisticated system of airlock giant tunnels and doors that are opened only occasionally to let folks in and out. There are two tours available: the Throne Room/Rotunda and the Big Room. The Rotunda tour has been operating longer and it’s an easy trek. I don’t know much about the Big Room tour because we did not do that one, but according to the website, it’s not for children under 7 years of age.

The Rotunda/Throne Tour is interesting. A ranger rides a shuttle with you to the cave mouth and you wait for instructions before you are let in. Once in you hang out in a humid damn antechamber while the ranger tells you some history of the caverns. The cave tour is only ½ a mile and you move at a snail’s pace following the guide and waiting for new portions of the path to light up so you can travel them. It’s an informative tour, but after Carlsbad it feels small and a little slow. There is a weird orchestral light show in the final chamber on an amazing formation called Khubla Khan. When we went you could barely hear the music from the weak speakers and by the time we got there we really just wanted to walk around on our own anyway. So the tour was a tad disappointing. If we had all day, I’d say do both tours. Oh, and then take a drive down to Mexico—you will find yourself only 20 minutes from the border.

99. Barrett Jackson Auto Auction
I’m not particularly a gearhead, nor do I love hanging out in places where most of the people have more money than they know what to do with, but… that said… I’ve always wanted to visit Barrett Jackson just to see what it was all about. Last year I had that chance. During the opening weekend, I snuck up to Scottsdale to check out the event for myself.barrett_jackson2015_4

Shockingly, I had no problem with traffic nor parking. Perhaps it’s because I arrive at 2:30 on Friday afternoon. The ticket line wasn’t a problem, either. Because I had no other agenda than just to go inside and roam around, maybe eat a corndog, I wasn’t deterred from anything by crowds or long lines.

I was impressed with the interesting vendors. I got to sit in a tiny commuter car especially designed for only one driver/rider (move over Smart cars!). There were cool amphibious vehicles from WWII. There were clown cars and crazy antiques, sparkly glittery cars, and cars that could go from zero to 120 mph in only seconds. Basically this show made me feel self-conscious about driving my Prius, and I used to feel COOL for it!

barrett_jackson2015_8I sat in on the auction for a while just because I always get a kick out of those barrett_jackson2015_9fast-talking callers “Do I have a sixty-sixty-five, c’mon-baby-keep-it-alive, seventy-seven-thousand, baby let’s go eighty, 80-thousand, ninety? Ninety-no? Eight it is! SOLD!”

I’m sure I picked exactly the right time to go and I got out of there in an hour and a half before horrendous traffic, too. A terrible crowd would have been a deterrent. But… I surprise myself when I write this: Barrett Jackson is a fun, family event and I’d recommend anyone should go. Once.

98. Lucky Boy Burger
I’d heard the rumors of this legendary place but did not believe it could rival Whataburger. Well, it can and does!

Lucky Boy burgers (3430 N 16th St, Phoenix, AZ 85016) is near my house. Driving by, you would never assume this might be a place you’d want to frequent. The blue paint on the exterior is flaking off and the parking lot is frequently overgrown with weeds. At best, it looks like a place that was abandoned at the 1960s.

But once you try it you’ll find the service is friendly. I wouldn’t say “fast,” because it took a good 15 minutes to get my order, and I only two burgers and two orders of fries. But it was worth it because I could tell the food had been freshly made and wasn’t just sitting under a heating lamp.

I got the Lucky Burger and Lucky Original because they were recommended. These are your standard burgers with lettuce, tomato pickles. There isn’t anything particularly distinguishable from what your mom might make (on a good night). Still, they are great! The fries were great, too. So, long story short, we WILL be back.

Other items on the menu are standard burger joint fare: fries, fried zucchini, hot dogs. They have a long list of shake and malt flavors including banana, Oreo cookie, M&M, peanut butter and cinnamon (I know, right: Cinnamon? But that sounds delicious!). Next time I go I’ll get a dessert and then I’ll update this entry to let you know how it was.

97. Japanese Friendship Garden
I once tried to meet a friend at the Japanese Friendship Garden 1125 N 3rd Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85003) on a weekend around 4 p.m. in the summer. To our dismay, we found it closed. I can only assume this place has limited hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m. most days, closed Mondays) because it’s mostly volunteer run. Still, I wish it were open longed hours and more often so more of us could enjoy it during the week.

Also disappointing is the giant condo complex going up on the Southside. Not my favorite thing to see when I look up and around, pretending to be “out in nature.” But what can the caretakers of this charming little garden really do against Big Development in Phoenix?

Anyway, I went on a Friday morning after visiting with some girlfriends at Lola’s after coffee. We breezed through the little park at a not too slow pace. When I return, I’d like to spend more time there. It has some cute pagodas and lot of delicately manicured plants, even water lilies. The path is gentle and easy—anyone could do this walk (although when we went they had just watered and the path was a little tiny bit slippery). There’s a reflection pool area and places where you could sit in the shade.

I imagine this is an ideal place for a small private event such as a wedding or company luncheon. We have so few cute outdoor spaces around downtown Phoenix, that I hate to be a naysayer, but… the Japanese gardens in Portland and Seattle are really astounding compared to our quaint little one in Phoenix. It’s cute, and I hope it doesn’t close, but it’s also not grandiose or elegant.
96. Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour
From the moment I first heard the name of this fancy signature cocktail joint, I knew I had to try it. Bitter & Twisted (1 West Jefferson St, Phoenix, AZ 85003) is a novelty for Phoenix but the type of fun, fancy cocktail place you’d find in Brooklyn, Austin, San Francisco or the hipper parts of L.A. It’s dark and there are huge plush booths and the place gets packed on the weekends—sometimes you have to wait in a line out the door. It’s located in the historic Luhrs building downtown. Be prepared to pay $10 to $20 for parking lots on game nights.

That said, it’s worth the wait to have expertly trained bartenders shake you hand-made cocktails from a loooooong, very long, list of cocktails beyond your basic Manhattans, gimlets and martinis. They have a seasonal drink with the catchy name “Slap & Tickle,” and they had a fun one called the Rosie Perez that I want to say contained watermelon juice? Don’t ask me, they were strong. I think I had two one night and then had to ask a friend for a ride home.

The food menu, like the revolving cocktail menu, is a tad experimental, too. But mostly good. You can’t go wrong with the bar snack popcorn (covered in butter, garlic sesame spices, sushi and crunched up spicy rice crackers), mouthwatering brisket street tacos and the meat and cheese board. They used to have a pork belly dish that was interesting, but they tend to change the menu around (drink menu, too). The desserts always look good (they serve campfire-style ‘smores!), but I always get full on drinks. And, I have to say about the Banofee pot: don’t they have the same thing just down the block at that Sam Fox nightmare place, Butcher-something? Salted pudding, or something gross?

Anyway. I will be back to Bitter & Twisted because it’s cute, cozy and I have some out-of-town friends coming to Phoenix that I want to impress.

What the BLEEP do we know?

To me, one of the most interesting philosophical conversations we can have as human beings is about knowledge. Does “knowledge” come only from our logical minds? Or can it also come from learned experience? Or, is knowledge limited to appearances and experiences (is there such thing as “absolute truth”)? (Kant).

I find most the acceptable explanation of “knowledge” to be that it comes from what we are able to work out in our logical minds. An outlook I find most engaging and plausible is the idea of rationalism, especially the thoughts put forth by Plato. In the mathematical world, facts can almost always be worked out in terms of absolutes. That means things can be proven or dis-proven as factual; true facts are not just theoretical. This certainty cancels out theory in many respects. But does theory have a value in our lives? Is it worth our time to speculate about things that are probable or possible, even if we can’t prove or dis-prove them, 100%?

I believe that within human knowledge, there are different ways of knowing. And I accept that for each individual, “knowing” something often is based on a combination of solid facts and evidence, plus perception, plus lived experience. While I like the rationalist argument about knowledge, and I think it supports my working definition of “knowledge” in the strongest way when it comes to absolute truth, I also give credit to those “known” things which are gathered from lived experiences (empiricism). To me, this “knowledge” is just as valid (and valuable!).

Another important topic in philosophy today is to examine the different ways to sum up the nature of the mind and the self, and to figure out how to define what makes an individual an individual. For many centuries, philosophers have asked this question: what makes me unique? What makes me separate and special from other human beings? I believe a fine line exists between mind and body which part has more control. As rational human beings, I’d say that most of us are mostly guided by our minds. But for some people, the strongest guide is their spirituality.

However, I see that most people recognize another individual by associating that person–the essence of that person–by what is tied to his/her body. When it comes to identity, I mostly accept the Body Theory (we are most connected and defined by our own physical, human vessel). However, there is a romantic, spiritual part of me that believes that all people might have a soul that lives on, even after our human body dies away, and for that reason, I appreciate the Soul Theory, as well.

I’d say most people accept the Body Theory because, culturally, we are used to identifying an individual by what they look like physically. In our minds, we tie actions, ideas, and achievements to a person’s form. The Illusion Theory I find to be hard to accept because while people do grow and change, this growth or change doesn’t mean we start all over again being an entirely different physical identity. It just means a shift or an evolution. The Memory Theory, too, has flaws. Mainly because just because a person could, again, change or grow simply because he/she loses his/her memory, it doesn’t mean other, outside persons wouldn’t consider them the same person essentially because he/she still has the same physical body. Characteristics of that person would still physically be the same, even if the person’s memory was wiped completely clean. For this reason, I think the Body Theory is the most applicable to human experience; as the book says, “same body, same person.”

A third important conversation in philosophy that was covered this semester is the debate over the existence of God. After an early life of religious instruction, much self-reflection and critical thinking on this topic, and after considerations raised by our book and readings from the class website, I still find that there is no definitive proof one way or the other whether God exists or not, and that embracing or rejecting the idea of a higher power is purely a personal process that is largely dependent on one’s upbringing, culture, life experiences and world view.

Personally, I believe in the possibility of an existence of a higher power because I believe that I have witnessed and experienced certain moments in life so great, or so otherwise inexplicable, that, to me, this must be the answer to how or why they occurred. However, I don’t really believe in what thinkers like William Paley (argument from design or intelligent design) or St. Thomas Aquinas (governance and order to the natural world by divinity) have put forth as “proof” that there must be a God, because in both of these cases I see the men’s arguments as inherently too simplistic. They don’t PROVE anything, they just offer a quick and easy observed explanation for the ways of nature. Without any single, solitary, physical, or observable proof, it’s impossible to quantifiably prove the existence of God. Even if you have a good theory. It’s simply impossible to prove this to another person. Period.

When considering the meaning of life, I think its interesting to see how various different cultures, and even people of different eras, have organized their times around their activities to show what was important to them or what were the major factors in their lives at different times and in different places. The big question of What is it all about? Can have a multitude of answers, depending on the individual. Personally, in my talks with friends, colleagues, students, and acquaintances, I have heard all kinds of different ideas for Why we are here. Some people believe that humans, as a part of nature, were solely designed just to procreate; to keep advancing our race and to assure perpetuation of our species. Other people, especially in our modern Capitalistic society, believe that the meaning of life is to accrue as much capital and as much power as is necessary to be termed “successful.” Still others in our society are on a quest for “happiness;” and other people yet believe that the essence of existence is to serve other people—to make others happy and comfortable.

On this question, again, I can accept the things that other people would define as their own, personal, meaning of life and life motivation. However, I agree with the book and the online reading, especially the reading “Feminist Philosophy and Visions of the Future,” that if we want to become a more ethically responsible, civil, advanced society, we need to, collectively shift our values and our thinking to a set of ideas and practices that are more humane, egalitarian, eco-conscious, nurturing and supportive. This will mean putting an end to tyranny and oppression, and potentially even war and competitiveness. I am not sure exactly how we will come to do this, but I think that it is the right direction for humans to embrace in order to work towards advancement and growth of our race. It only holds us back when any people of the world are suffering, scared, abused, neglected or have to go without their basic needs being fulfilled.

When I think about philosophy and the “meaning of life,” my personal values center around humanism. I like to think of myself as an accepting person. I really think our culture needs to value more flexibility in ways of knowing and relating to the physical world, and allowing openness to outlooks of spirituality. In general, I see a lot of open-mindedness and Socratic considerations going on, and I think that’s a good thing.

While I stated that I do embrace rationalism, and accept as absolute truth those things which can be mathematically and physically proven on earth, I also think it is important to embrace abstract theories of explaining phenomenon, and also to recognize different “ways of knowing.” The human mind and experience is just so interesting and so varied. I believe that no two people—even identical twins—can possibly have EXACTLY the same life experience here on earth. For that reason, it is important to make accommodations to hear EVERYONE’s viewpoint and to consider all the different perspectives and opinions that might exist on a given topic. This is what I teach my students when we discuss rhetoric and research-writing; to give equal thought and consideration, and oftentimes support, to all sides of the argument. This might seem daunting, or even at times, impossible, but I believe that recognizing all the players and all the different, diverse lived experiences that make up the human condition will help us become more advanced, consideration, sympathetic and humane as a race.

On an outside note, I have recently been following the thoughts of Arizona State University professor and atheist Lawrence M. Krauss who has been active in the discussions about the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, a discovery made by researchers of physics of what could be one of the “original” particles that led to the creation and formation of our universe. Many are calling this little particle the “God particle,” and claiming that its mere existence must solidly, scientifically prove that God in fact does NOT exist, because the finding of this particle very strongly helps support the Big Bang theory. But the flaw with this reasoning is this: sure, if Big Bang is correct, then our Biblical explanation of the start of the world found in the Book of Genesis (Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve) must not be correct. Fine and sure, plenty of scholars have already argued the story’s implausibility all over the place in the past. But how can scientists really think that the mere existence of the particle really disproves the existence of a greater power? In support of the idea of God, couldn’t someone else just come along with this statement: “Sure, the Higgs Boson particle supports the theory of the Big Bang. But let’s go one step even further: Who created that particle?”

On Day-Jobs

The reason I haven’t been able to live up to my New Year’s Resolution (write and post new blog post each month) is sort of a cop-out. I can admit that. But I can not admit to is writer’s block. I just don’t believe it exists. Even if you are just writing out checks, writing your name on the wall, writing comments on someone’s terrible research paper, at least you are writing. Putting pen or pencil to paper; touching fingers to keyboard. That still counts as writing! Doesn’t it? (Um… I think).
I’ve been searching for the perfect creative project, and–to be honest–I feel a little stuck.
I have one longterm, academic paper I’ve been working on since last summer. And the problem with that one is not that is doesn’t currently hold my interest–it definitely does. It’s just that every time I touch it, it seems to grow. Now it is so unwieldy, I think it might have to be a book.
And that is a problem.
It’s a problem because now, in my adult life. Let I admit this? yes, I guess I do–I let: I am, now in my 30s, having time, as in leisure time/free time/beach time/jerk-off time/”me”-time grows scarcer and scarcer. Those moments in which I actually get to sit back and reflect on myself, and maybe even seconds in between I get to think about my writing, grow fewer and farther between.
This is a hard reality of growing up. (Oh, graduate school! And your long hours of contemplation! Getting to sleep in because I didn’t have to go to my day job while I was living it up in student-loan-land. Toiling for hours upon hour on equipment rented for free from my school. Toiling for hours and hours more editing and assembling my beautiful projects. Even if only I thought they were beautiful. Oh, beautiful grad school! How I miss you. You went by too fast).
What I’m driving at is this; even though I NEED it, and I somewhat enjoy it, my day job is getting in my way of producing creative content. And I am feeling frustrated and mad and frankly, empty. I’m feeling lately like I need positive reinforcement in order to keep working–in order to keep having ideas worth writing about.
I’ve slowed down. I haven’t met my goal of at least one blog post per month. And it’s not because I’m burnt out on writing. I fear, it’s because I am growing burnt out on my day-job. Which, ironically enough, is TEACHING WRITING.
So, forgive me, but tonight I am using my little WordPress blog here to be selfish and air my frustrations about not writing. While I continue to brainstorm and develop new ideas for the future, at least I can go to sleep together with this very small satisfaction:
At least for tonight, I’m writing about writing.

Showing Kindness towards a Monster – Analysis of Frankenstein

When Mary Shelley wrote the story Frankenstein, it is very likely that she received a lot of critical feedback at home. That is not to say that everyone in her personal life must have criticized her for writing such a dark novel, but, her husband Percy Shelley was also a writer of note and it’s very likely that he had some opinions—positive and negative—to share about her work. He is quoted as summing up the moral of the story by saying, ““Treat a person ill, and he will become wicked; divide him a social being, from society, and you impose upon him the irresistible obligations [of] malevolence and selfishness.” In his estimation, the point was that mistreating someone will naturally lead that person to internalize the wrongness and/or neglect and as a result, by nature, he would become a monster. This seems to be the outcome for the Creature in Frankenstein. A serious lesson can be taken away in regards to ethics; is the “creator” or father of a person or thing responsible for the way that person or thing turns out? How obligated is a person to take care of, nurture and guide the fruits of their productions, or their own offspring?
Some of Victor Frankenstein’s actions immediately following his experiments which result in the “birth” of the monster are surprising and could even be interpreted as unethical. When Victor first comes across whatever formula he conceives to create life, he says, “The astonishment which I had at first experienced in this discovery soon gave place to delight and rapture,” (54). As he is recounting the story to Robert Walton, he explains that he had been hard at work in his lab for a very long time, trying to prove to his father and other mentors that his ideas about the origins of life are valid. But the part of his story that is puzzling to me at this point is the absolute lack of application or thought of ethics in his situation.
Victor seems to be an intelligent man. He is a scientist and he surrounds himself with other thinkers. However, he doesn’t seem to apply much thought to the potential consequences of his actions (in his experimenting). In school, one might assume he would have studues Humanities and/or the “Classics.” It seems likely that he probably had read or heard of the story of Prometheus, the god who makes men out of clay, and then later steals fire from Zeus (king of the gods) and gives it to man. What Prometheus did not do before he bestowed this gift on man was think through the potential negative consequences. He never thought that his beloved little creatures (men and women) running around on earth might have fatal accidents with fire, or even use fire violently against one another in acts of war. And when the people eventually did these things with his gift, Prometheus was shocked and then crestfallen.
The same thing happens with Victor. Though he’s finally unlocked the secret of life that he’s been searching for, he fails to have the foresight to know that if he does “animate” some living being—if he assembles a man and then ignites the “spark of life” in him, this could have potential bad consequences for that living being and, indeed, for all of humanity.
But, no. Victor takes no time at all to consider any bad scenarios. He goes straight to work, hastily assembling the man from parts stolen from cemeteries and biology labs. And then he does something even more irresponsible. As soon as he is done and he brings to life his hideous Creature, the thing is too much for him, and he abandons it. Yet another poor move on his part, ethically speaking. To be truly ethical in this situation, Victor should have immediately stepped up and taken full responsibility for the Creature. He had an obligation to attend to its needs, or immediately destroy it. But he doesn’t. He doesn’t do anything to try to stop the monster or curb its actions. Instead, he abandons his lab. He takes to his bed. He allows the strange, brand-new, and seemingly lonely Creature just to wander around on its own with no guidance or authority. This was extremely irresponsible.
Without guidance, the monster goes on to its own devices. Victor is weak and terrified. He spends a good amount of time in bed. He further acts unethically when the monster kills his brother, William (70-71). He doesn’t tell the family and the court the truth about the monster he has created. Although he has the power and opportunity to save Justine from execution, he fails to do this, too (82).
Finally, in denying the creature his one wish—for a companion—Victor fails in the greatest way ethically. He owes it to the monster to provide him with some companion, as the monster says this is the only way to assuage his grief at feeling horribly and unjustly exiled from the human race. It is a fairly easy to accept result, then, after Victor has not upheld any of the obligations he had to this thing of his own invention, that the monster would turn on Victor and murder everyone who was close to him. As Percy Shelley summed it up, this “person” who longed for closeness and companionship, who wished to be part of society but was denied turned bitter from his rejection. Perhaps if he had been shown kindness by society, been embraced by people, or given a friend or a mater by Victor, he might not have ended up the terrifying, murderous, monster that he was doomed to be.

Communique in the Age of Immediacy (or, Let’s Go Viral!)

In the age of user/generators and sender/receivers, those of us who are plugged in and logged on textually are directly affecting the use of language. In mere milliseconds, a new phrase or term could “go viral” via SMS texts, Facebook posts, Tweets, or on the wave of a myriad other digital delivery systems. We shape our language by effectively voting for what terms appear again and again in common usage, simply through our speech and textual communications.

As a demonstration, a community of user/generators were nvited to post their responses and comments during my presentation, “Hypertext and the Evolution of the English Language” at Nerd Nite, at Carly’s in Phoenix in May 2011. The effect was not as amazing as I had hoped. But hey, now we have Periscope and live-tweeting. I think the effect I was going for organically caught on without my help.

Sherman Alexie: Prairie Indian for the Masses

Read on, the better part of the review comes after the “official” reveiw:

“Spokane Indian poet, screenwriter and sometime-comedian, Sherman Alexie beguiled a small audience of graduate students, artists, Native Americans and a grab-bag of the Tempe community with his tales of second-hand store shopping in the gay neighborhood in Seattle, his displeasures with homophobes and Bible fundamentalists and his own quirky, but well-measured advice for how to maintain domestic bliss at the Tempe Center for the Arts Monday, February 7th.

The theme of the night, “People, Places and Stories,” suited Alexie just fine, as much of his work is location-based, and he’s no stranger to a good story. He dropped some religious critiques and spoke of the truths and falsities of our shared history. He also shared his notes on the ancients, language, philosophy, and he had some words of advice for young writers in the audience: “If it’s fiction, it better be true.”

Realism played a part in the reason why his young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was banned from so many junior high and high schools in states such as Illinois, Missouri and Oregon; too much masturbation.

Alexie argued that this topic was totally relevant to audiences in junior high and high schools.

“If I tell you a story, not only do I change you, I change me,” he said, suggesting that there is transformation of the teller when opening up for an audience. It is true, one often must lay oneself bare. But Alexie is a natural at storytelling, even if he seems reluctant to embrace the notion that he’s continuing the Native American oral tradition. His natural style in speaking is at once engaging and conversation. He is warm and funny, and not afraid to drop the f-bomb on stage, even before an academic audience. Plus, he’s got the comedic timing thing down completely, pausing just long enough for his audience to get the joke and respond, or to wonder what else might be going on in that enormous noggin of his. Alexie is like a Prairie Home Companion from the wrong side of the prairie (or the right side, depending on whom you ask).

And to top the night off with yet another layer of humanism, Alexie made an appearance in the lobby after his talk, signing books and shaking hands with his many admiring friends. Present was one of the crowned Miss Navajo Nation princesses in her full regalia, wearing a crown, a sash, beaded belt and slippers and all. For a free night out on ASU’s campus, it was worth every penny spent on gas money.”

 

This is a review I wrote to try to impress a certain local magazine editor. I guess it didn’t work because I never heard back from her. Guess I don’t blame her; it’s a total love-fest with all the edginess, all the truth left out.

When I reread this to myself, I recognize all the “journalistic” training that I paid so much money for to University of Arizona 12 years ago. I see the formula: the inverted pyramid style. The attempt at objectivity. The attempt at trying to have a voice while simultaneously disguising your “voice”; muting it.

What I didn’t tell you in the review, Dear Reader, was what a rock star Sherman Alexie was. I left out the part about how he had the audience in the palm of his hand all night. I chalk it up to timing, and his was superior. He had us on the edge of our seats waiting with bated breathe at his dramatic pauses. And he paused for some comedic reveals, the timing just right to result in an arena full of well-timed belly laughs at the funny parts.

Yes, we waited. Always waited on those obligatory pauses. For the pay-off; the punchline. And when they came we knew we’d gotten our gas-money’s worth.

In one of his poems, he gave a nod to the song “Because the Night,” and I wanted to stand up and cheer just because I love Patti Smith so much and he’d name-dropped one of my idols. Instead I gasped a little into my cupped hands.

Alexie was smart, colorful and funny most of the time. But the most impressive part, I thought, was the way he was able to catch everyone’s full attention and come off as so natural. He seemed to be himself the entire time. It’s something I value, personally, for a few reasons.

One of the big things about Alexie that impresses me is his ease of addressing his audience. I’ve always had a hard time with public speaking, personally. While I have plenty I want to put out there, I hate the feeling that someone is looking at me while I speak, analyzing me with a critical eye. My response used to be either to be shaken by bad nerves and stand there like a shy little kid with voice quivering, shaking all over; or to overcompensate with my delivery and come off as some personality completely outside of myself. It’s sometimes too scary to reveal the real You, especially to a roomful of strangers. So you put on an act; flirt too much or overdo it with bravado and come off as an arrogant asshole. I have played both of these parts in place of the shaky, shameful, nervous wreck. But in none of those parts have I felt comfortable. Alexie in front of an audience seems to exude comfortable. Not only do you automatically like the guy and feel calm, he makes you imagine befriending him. Meeting him on the basketball court one day, or going out with him and his family for fried chicken.

The other thing I never would have mentioned in my text-book journalism review of Sherman Alexie is that while he was speaking I was watching his aura, and I saw that man’s spirit shadow do some incredible shit!  First, during the reading of one of his poems, I saw the (black, not white) aura turn into a giant vulture (or eagle, but I think vulture) and spread its massive wings, then fly away from the reader’s body. Next, while Alexie was talking about himself and his family, and how he relates to other Indians, I saw his shadow mount a small pony and ride away, presumably into a sunset. It was incredible for me, because, usually I only see auras when I am concentrating; looking for them. And typically with a speaker, I only go there when I am bored with what the person is saying, or done listening. But please believe me, Dear Reader, I was so engaged at Alexie’s reading, I was listening the whole time. When his aura showed for me, I saw it effortlessly. To me this means I was so drawn in to his words and his person, that I didn’t need to do any more work. The man was being soul-baringly honest before us; he was letting us, as the Audience, in.

[You might be wondering just how I see auras. Sorry, but I’ll have to save that for another blog post.]

Back to the issue of journalistic review writing vs. writing the personal: because of the trained objectivity in “journalistic” writing (or the implied objectivity), most times, you, as the reader, are not getting the whole story. A good journalist is not supposed to tell you straight-up whether they like/love/loathe the subject they are reporting on. They aren’t supposed to indicate their political inclinations in a straight news story. When you get an assignment, you are supposed to cover that person/thing/event with fairness, being impartial, and reporting “just the facts, please, ma’am.” But when I teach writing to my students, I always feel obliged to mention that no matter how hard any one of us (writers) tries to be 100% objective, every person out there who approached the pen or keyboard is coming forth with their own build-in backpack of experiences” What you have live through and witnessed automatically taints an experience, no matter how much you try to avoid it. One can’t help but be biased on most issues; if you didn’t experience an emotional reaction to most things you witness you wouldn’t be human. You would be a robot. And no matter how hard my schooling has tried to “program” me to write like a journalist, no matter how hard I consciously try, I am still inclined to report things the way I see them. That’s why I appreciate poets so much. With poetics you not only get to be  honest, you can also be clever. And I think Sherman Alexie, with all of his ironic, dramatic pauses, witticisms and sometimes shocking opinions is, above all else, devilishly clever.

I regret that I didn’t stay longer at Tempe Center for the Arts and stand on the long, long line to shake the man’s hand. And I hope that the opportunity wasn’t the only one I ever get. Should I have the chance again, I know what to do next time.