Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Cryptic Critters

Have you seen Bigfoot?
Do you know someone who has?
Do you wonder if he really exists?
Do you wonder how it is possible that the legend of Bigfoot persists year after year after year...DINGDINGDINGDINGDING!  We have a winner!

For today's blog subject, I salute Christi Coker, who controls (the topic of) my blog today, thanks to her generous donation to my Habitat for Humanity build in Poland. Christi wants to delve into the fascinating world of cryptids.

Cryptids. I just don't get it. The first two I learned about were undoubtedly Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. As a child, I would often read books my sister had read, sometimes at her prodding, and then follow up with her, seeking answers that she, in her wisdom and experience (a whole two-and-a-half years ahead of me) could surely provide. I remember doing this with Bigfoot. I think we wanted to believe. We dutifully read whatever children's paperback we had come across, with its "photos" (mostly of the Pacific Northwest forest, with a blur superimposed) and breathless anecdotes, and then we probably set about making some plan in which we, the intrepid Napikoski sisters, would travel to the wilderness and discover Bigfoot for ourselves.  Then I read about the Loch Ness monster. This was fun, because I had a pen-pal in Scotland, so I felt connected to the mystery, and I was eager to accept the pictures that showed, well, nothing much as so much evidence.

But even then, it occurred to me: if people have been reporting Bigfoot and Loch Ness sightings for years, and years, and years....even if they were real...wouldn't they have just died by now? Discrediting the later versions of the stories as impossible, temporally, made it that much easier to reject all the stories. Ahhh, I know, this is where the sightings of baby Nessies come in. They reproduce! They're real and they perpetuate themselves! Uh-huh. Sure, there's a whole family of these monsters living in Loch Ness, and yet they just never seem to reproduce to any sizable numbers, now do they? Why is all the talk about the Loch Ness monster, until somebody remembers that it needs to reproduce in order for them to keep making money off of selling t-shirts or tours or whatever?

Now, I enjoy a Jersey Devil The X-Files episode as much as the next gal, but come on, folks. Why are you so eager to perpetuate these myths? I think some people think, well, why would someone make it up? Beyond the incredibly obvious answers of attention and money-making potential, not to mention being delusional, I don't think that question is really a dealbreaker. First of all, well, why do humans make up stories about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny? Or Dracula and Frankenstein's monster? Or about Zeus and Poseidon?  Or about mankind being created from a spider's web/bear/sun/heavenly personage? Because we tell ourselves stories! And they often involve mythical beings! Secondly, why do humans do any of the weird crap that they do? They routinely shoot each other, or watch hours and hours of reality television, or eat larvae, or go to tanning salons, or any number of totally bizarre actions. It's just kind of how our species is. We fill our days with really weird moments. That doesn't make a random made-up story true.

Despite our childhood fascination with The Wizard of Oz, we don't really expect to fly to Munchkinland when the next tornado hits. We don't really think a poor, overworked girl named Cinderella watched a pumpkin turn into a carriage. We don't really believe that a leprechaun is going to lead us to a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. (I wish!) So why do so many adults persist in their beliefs in Bigfoot, Nessie, the Mothman, the Abominable Snowman, the Chupacabra?

Maybe humans have a hard time with the concept of mystery. In comparison, it's kind of like when atheists take a lot of flak for not believing in a so-called higher power. To be clear, atheists don't believe in God, but sometimes people criticize them with the line of thinking that "atheists think they're so important they don't need a God because they believe they're the most important thing in the universe" or some such thinking. (I'm not saying everyone says that, just some.) Because the atheist rejects the higher personage power and/or the beliefs of world religions, s/he is accused of not marveling at the Earth. This line of thought leads to pithy questions like, "How can you look at a beautiful sunset and think there is no god?" Well, it's easy. You look at the sunset and marvel at its beauty, and you feel inspired, and you feel like you have a lot to learn, and you feel happy, and so on. It doesn't necessarily translate into "And so someone must have designed this on the second day" or whatever. Many an atheist can sit there and just be impressed that the sunset exists without needing there to be an explanation in the form of a divine man-like-but-better being who created it.

Now I've heard Oprah and some others say that a sense of reverence or awe in the face of nature's amazing spectacles is spirituality, and that to her and others is the opposite of atheism, because feeling richly "blessed" in the lucky sense to just be alive is seen by them as spiritually felt. That obviously gets into how everyone defines their feelings (and perhaps the word "spirit") differently, but that's not really relevant here. My point is just that people seem uncomfortable with mystery. They have a hard time beholding the mind-boggling universe and accepting that they might never, ever understand it all unless there's a God and a heaven and an afterlife. They have to invent reasons and creation myths and legends and gods. Others, well, they are totally cool with realizing that there might never be an answer as to "why" they are here, but they can easily live an awesome life without this "why." And maybe the cryptid-believers are those people who need there to really be something out there. They can't grapple with the fact that a bunch of people say they saw some blurry creature in the woods. They can't just say, "Oh, something ran by, and you have no idea what it was--that's nice" and leave it at that. They have to build a legend and backstory.

It might seem like those who say "Dude, there's never been any proof of Bigfoot; it's all made up" are uncomfortable with mystery, because they request proof--proof ends the mystery. But really, they're obviously comfortable just letting randomness be the "explanation" for life. And they maybe can't be bothered to delve into all the Abominable Snowman lore because the random crap that humans dream up every day is often useless and certainly not all of it needs to be pursued. Maybe one day a new species will be discovered in the Himalaya and it will look like a family of abominable snowmen/snowwomen, but I doubt it, because we have ravaged so much of the Earth that I can't imagine many undiscovered but really big species being undocumented.

The fact that you think you saw something -- Bigfoot, a ghost, the murdered children who used to live in this house fifty years ago, whatever -- does little to impress many of us. But boy, do the anecdotes gain power, like The Blob, when they join together, getting bigger and bigger and drawing more people in to their self-perpetuation.

For clarification purposes, this topic was Christi's, but the thoughts spewed above happen to be mine. I don't normally give much more thought to cryptozoology than I do to fairies or werewolves or zombies. (So, basically, none.)  Cryptids. What a silly world we live in!

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Death of Robin Williams

I can't remember feeling quite this shocked and devastated by an actor's death. Robin Williams was many, many things, and many, many people have mentioned his struggles/torments/demons (however they choose to put it). I'm blown away by his talent and have always admired him for how much he gave in his performances and creativity. His internal battles were tragic. His life's work was astounding. 

By singling out one performance, I don't want to imply that any others are less valuable or less of an achievement. But I will testify that Dead Poets Society is probably the #1 essential movie of my lifetime. I routinely put it in my Top All-Time Films list, and I have often mentioned my Life Arc Trilogy that I feel explains me better than I could myself: Dead Poets Society-Dolores Claiborne-The Hours, in that order. Today, thinking about Robin Williams' death, I realized that Dead Poets Society is for me the most essential film, the one I can't give up. If there were any other film, even one of my favorites, that you wanted to take away, but I could keep all the other films in existence, I could conceivably make that trade--OK, you can have this one as a price for all the other films of the world ever. But after Dead Poets Society, for me, there can be no going back. Even for everything else out there, I couldn't give it up. 

Remember the ending where, amid shouts of, "Sit down Mr. Anderson! I'm warning you!" he just stands there in the doorway, a face full of realization? And then he speaks the last line. 

Thank you, Robin Williams. Thank you.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Karen Curtis controls my blog for a day!

Welcome to the thoughts of Karen Curtis! Today, I yield the blog to her, thanks to her generous donation to Habitat for Humanity.*
Karen (aka my mother) says:

Right now I'm pretty much fired up over stupid and irresponsible low life people who leave their children and pets in hot cars to die. There is no excuse for this. One news show recently aired a public service announcement from Mississippi suggesting people leave their cell phones in the back seat next to the child. It showed the man getting out of his car, walking away, then feeling his pocket and realizing he didn't have his phone, so he went back to the car and, lo and behold, there was his child. I hate that and if I lived in Mississippi (so glad I don't for many reasons), I would write to someone and tell them how stupid they are. The guy remembered his phone - not his child - and that's why he went back to the car. I can't stand it.

This brings me to my general annoyance with cell phone users (not cell phones). I am so tired of seeing people driving around with their phone to their ear, or walking around grocery and department stores chatting away. I'm also tired of going to lunch with friends (?) and spending the time watching one or all texting their husbands or kids or their Aunt Martha, and not turning the stupid device off so we can visit. What is it with people? Why do they have to be on the phone all the time? What am I missing? Is there something wrong with me?


Also, note Karen's use of the phrase "fired up" at the beginning. She alludes to one of our favorite moments from one of our mutually favorite TV shows, Designing Women, in which Mary Jo wants Julia to get "fired up" about an issue so Mary Jo can watch and learn from Julia's passionate speech. Watch a video clip from that episode, "Killing All the Right People," here. Around the 1:17 mark, Suzanne has a great suggestion about which Julia could get fired up!

*If you, too, are interested in having your say here on Linda Without Borders, it's not too late! Just click here to contribute to my Habitat for Humanity build in Poland, make a donation of $25 (or more), and this blog will be yours for a day!

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

What do I want to know and when do I want to know it?

My questions for the world today are simply:

1. How do I get on all these e-mailing lists? How does it happen? Total unsubscribe party happening.

2. Why do you think it's better to start the school year in early August than to start it in September like normal people? (This one directed at Arizona.)

3. How many deaths will it take 'til they know/that too many people have died? (I didn't make that one up. But I would like the answer.)

Those are my questions.

Meanwhile, in the hoopla over the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon's resignation, let's not forget that this means it's also the anniversary of my boy Gerald Ford's ascension to the throne. What a great time to be in the G-Rap (area)!

Monday, August 04, 2014

Pure Michigan

I was going to talk about the incredibly difficult and mentally painful process of attempting to get health care, which I began last fall via the ol' healthcare.gov, continued in the spring with many Arizona web site and phone call customer service experiences, and have sadly extended through the summer, with even today there being no answer as to my ever-pending potentially eligible status. Nearly a year later. Still waiting. To see if I am insured through Arizona's health insurance or not. Still. Waiting. Yeah, I was going to talk about that, but that seems so...futile. Let's talk about Michigan instead! (If you're interested in my incredibly painful health care application process details, let me know, and I will blog about them another day. We can discuss hilarious things like the fact that the application asks you if anyone applying for assistance is pregnant, and I could actually have been not pregnant, then been pregnant, then had a baby and become not pregnant again, all in the time since I first signed up on healthcare.gov.)

Well, as much as I love being an Arizona resident and attempting to hear from the state of Arizona regarding my eligibility within thirty business days, or even two or three or four times that amount of time, at the moment I find myself sort of vacationing in Michigan. I say "sort of" because our time here has been extended beyond what we thought/intended/desired and now it's become more of an unfortunate incarceration (joke, Designing Women reference). But at any rate, I have spent a lot of time in Michigan. I can't really decide what I think about it.

Lots of states and regions evoke extreme emotions of one form or another. Just the ones I have lived in might go something like this:
Arizona - nostalgia! sunsets! wide open spaces! cowboys! deserts and pines and high country and mountains and Grand Canyon! saguaros! and the chance to laugh at anyone pronouncing that last word with a hard 'g'
Utah - mountains! Mormons! more mountains!
Wyoming - Dick Cheney! Teapot Dome! more cattle than people!
California - carefree life! freedom! creativity! convenience! coast! a million film and TV and song references heard 'round the world!
Massachusetts - colonial history! progressive politics! two-family houses! mill towns! college towns! a million college students! no Mexican food! lots of Dunkin' Donuts!
New York - wondrous chaos! people who don't know where any other states are!
Illinois - corrupt politics!

But Michigan somehow seems more calm and steady. This despite being an economic wasteland and all. Now, the folks who are from around here definitely have the home-state passion --hooo! boy, do they!--but I can't quite feel the intensity yet. The thing about Michigan is that it's got a lot of things to do, but it's definitely not a flamboyant state, so you kind of have to poke around and sort of rustle up the things to do by yourself. It's a shame, because there's, like, tons of stuff: lakes ("4 out of 5 Great Lakes prefer Michigan"), other outdoor fun (peninsulas & waterfalls & bike trails & even a bit of skiing), charming towns (Saugatuck and Petoskey, just to begin with), famous places that are on your radar your whole life without you really knowing why (Traverse City, Kalamazoo), the greatest city possibly in the world ever for journalists, according to one of my USC professors, that being Detroit...It's got the hometown of my boy Gerald Ford, and in that hometown (also Brian's) are a MILLION restaurants and artsy things...It's got the hometown of my (really) boy Michael Moore...It's got Big Ten schools and fruits for the picking and symphonies and ballets and rock n' roll...And everyone who's anyone has a family vacation house near a lake, or, as they call them, "cottages."  But you find out about almost NONE of this stuff until you come and spend a lot of time here.

Basically, what I am saying is that maybe Michigan needs a better PR team. I mean, unless they want to keep all the good stuff secret so they can have the place to themselves. But how well has that worked out? (See: economic wasteland.) Of course, they could also use some better weather. The fact that you are buried under lake effect snow for seven months of the year isn't helping draw visitors, I imagine. ("Come to Michigan! Rent a car and dig it out! Sit in your hotel room and enjoy the snow falling outside your window!")  I never really understood as a child the idea that summer didn't begin until the solstice on June 21st, because it was obviously so much earlier than that that one began swimming in the backyard pool, chasing the ice cream man, watching terrible blockbuster movies, and so forth. Here in Michigan it really might not begin until the end of June. If then. With schools in Arizona starting in August or even the END OF GODDAMN JULY nowadays, as evidenced by my home state peeps on my Facebook news feed, this leaves a very small window for a vacation in Michigan, no?

On the other hand, there are certainly people who do vacation here. We have spent a good portion of this unfortunate incarceration (Anthony! I'm telling you, Anthony! and if you don't get it, you just don't, so sorry, or, rather, #sorrynotsorry) at Brian's family's lake house ("cottage") in Holland, Michigan (tulips! Dutch ancestry! um...a random windmill or two!), a town I actually rather like (when it's not sweatshirt weather in the middle of July), and a few of the neighboring "cottages" have been filled with an endless stream of renters who come with their gaggle of kids, cousins, siblings, aunts, and whatnot for a week of, well, vacation, before disappearing and making room for the next lot. I am curious how these people chose a rental cottage at Lake Macatawa/Lake Michigan in Holland, Michigan for their vacation spot. (But not curious enough to walk next door and ask them, because I prefer my position of anti-social comfort on the porch with my cats.) How did they know this place was here? Family? Friend's recommendation? Travel agent? Brochure? It certainly never would have occurred to me as a family vacation idea when I was a child (it's really far from Disneyland) nor as an adult (it's really meant for people who like to self-cater, i.e., cook, whereas I say half the fun of vacation--make that more than half--is that you are totally really justified in eating out every day, as opposed to the rest of your life when you have to actually convince people it's a good idea to eat out every day).

Lonely Planet declared Brian's/Gerald Ford's birthplace (see, I was born where Dick Cheney hung out, and Brian hails from where Gerald Ford hung out; I definitely get the worse end of that deal) of Grand Rapids to be the Top U.S. vacation spot for 2014. And just based on the beer alone, they are on to something! The whole craft brewery thing is kind of amazingly out of control here. Plus the aforementioned arts. Did it work? Did travellers arrive here in droves? I don't know the numbers.

I also must say that Michigan has a lot of trees that all look the same, plus really straight roads and highways. That might sound like it's not a unique thing (trees? highways? just hear me out) but really, it's kind of bizarre. There are a lot of roads (on which your car may feel free to emit all it likes, as there is evidently no emissions testing to register a car here?!) in Michigan; despite all the driving, I wouldn't call it a land of wide open spaces so much as a land of carved up spaces. But so then you're driving along I-96 or I-196 or I-696 or I-94 or US-31 and they all look the same. Not the way "all interstates look the same" but there is just rarely a time that you are in anything but a highway corridor through the trees. Which seem to be all the same trees. I find myself getting really excited when there's, you know, a curve. It's too flat and tree-y to ever open up into wide vistas, I suppose. Those wide expansive highway vistas of which I speak are a staple of driving in the West, but they aren't just out West - you get the vistas in Nebraska and Iowa and Texas and stuff, too (dotted with cows). And in other states where you're hemmed in by trees (Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts) the roads seem to be smaller and more winding. Or it's southern and swampy, like in Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana, with lush branches draping themselves over one another above the bayou, or above the alligators. Michigan is just hiding everything, and you have to get off the highway to see it.

What do you know (or want to know) about Michigan?