The Secret Hike.

Being without a car in Boston is not being without a car in Portland.  Sure, both cities are very bike-friendly.  Both have decent transportation systems.  Both could be better to pedestrians, but have at least some respect for the walker.  But the most glaring difference I’ve found is in the places outside the city I can get to easily without a car.  In Boston, I can get to the beach or to hiking trails.  Ok sure, even if I take the commuter rail the beach isn’t that great, but it’s ocean.  The mountains are not that far away, but for me it means renting a car or being reliant on others.  I hate reliance.

So when the vehicle I was relying on for my Labor Day hike fell through, I was in a bit of a quandry.  I could bus myself up to Forest Park and explore around a little, and that probably would’ve been surprisingly good.  But it seems so far to bus in order to walk.  I decided to ramble more locally.  This is what I found:

1) Random exercise signs that had been uprooted from who knows where and lovingly placed face down between tall pines.

2) Slugs.  Lots of slugs.  Brown, red, ridged, and green with blackish-brown spots.  Also a few pickle-colored ones.

3) Birches cut off at the roots and regrowing in thick bundles with multiple trunks.

4) An old aluminum clothesline, still shiny.

5) A trash heap or possibly a former resting place for squatters.

6) Access trails that ramble off into nothingness.

7) Trails made by goats.

8) Trails made by goats with really long legs and wearing boots.  Or humans.

9) A spider spinning a dandelion seed out of its web as the wind tugged and threatened the entire spanning structure.

10) The baking tops of ridges and the tinglingly cool depths of damp ravines.

More’s going up on the other blog as I add words to the pics to keep my writing hand in habit (and now that link is fixed…).

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Storyline – Mountain

There are some people who do not take photographs of their adventures because of the way it affects memory.  Suddenly, the captured image becomes the sole and solitary focus of the stories we tell ourselves about our own pasts.  Additionally, the mere act of taking a photograph can distance and withdraw the individual from the experience at hand.  However, I am a writer.  I know who I am through the telling and retelling of my own past, the shifting pattern of how I remember my own life.  For that reason taking pictures of an event or occasion does not bother me.  I know that I will re-evaluate the experience on my own terms, with my own story, rather than solely through the visual images I preserve. I may lose something by looking through a lens at times, but I gain something in momentary vividness and an attention to singular details of my surroundings.

My perception of hiking has been shaped by the woods and hills of my childhood.  I can remember running, nearly cartwheeling down into steep-sided ravines, poking into shallow caves set along the edges of paths, and stretching fingertips into a variety of rivulets and waterfalls.  While there were some steep climbs set throughout the hills, there was nothing like the hundreds and thousands of foot climbs I was to experience later in life.  There are no mountains in Indiana, and the Sierra Nevadas were mere illusory backdrop to my time in California.  Perhaps that is why the image of reaching some rarefied height retained its appeal.  To ceaselessly climb upward and then turn around and ceaselessly climb downward, despite poetic views of the surrounding countryside, is not the experience I once thought it was.  But going up and down around a mountain – what new discoveries could I make in just such a way?  I set off to explore Mt. Hood, not through risking life and limb to reach the summit, but to be on a more friendly first-name basis with the mountain as a whole.

The first thing you have to understand about Mt. Hood is the sand.  I don’t know if it’s a lack of rain, a lack of wind or an overabundance of it, the continual churn of erosion or the relatively easy breakdown of volcanic rock, but that entire mountain is covered in sand.  Sand lines the rubble of the steepest ravines and washouts.  Sand builds up to sustain alpine meadows of wildflowers and scrubby brush.  Sand blows in your eyes and grits your teeth and softens and shifts beneath you as you sleep.  It covers each face of the mountain and is only replaced by more loamy soil in certain pine groves that must have anchored eons of needle decay.  It is not altogether a bad characteristic, but I did not come to the mountain expecting to walk on dunes.

There is remoteness and isolation, along with neighborliness and small world coincidences.  Hours pass without other hikers coming along the trail, and yet cell phone reception never quite fades.  There are bears; there are cougars – sometimes you see them instead of simple signs of their passing.  People give you gifts – a banana, a favored shortcut, a cup of hot tea in the cool of dusk.  You run into law school acquaintances and create new friends.  I personally told the story of my Elliot crossing experience in colorful detail at least a dozen times.  The wind shatters your personal silence while wrapping you in a cocoon of noise. You spend four days of reflection, and at the end know yourself perhaps not better than you did before, but in a more concrete, visceral way.

My first day, as all the days that followed, was extraordinary and wonderful and extremely challenging.  The first slopes were easy – they were all downhill.  The first river crossing was comparatively safe and secure, though I found my own route across the rocks that would support the reach of my legs and the unwieldy imbalance of my pack.  The first uphill climb seemed to last forever and breath abandoned me.  Food flavors gained in power and attraction.  I became accustomed to the chemical taste of treated water.  Sitting down was my new favorite activity.  I walked until dark and then walked a bit further.  Eventually, the safety of sleeping near the windy ridgetop I struggled not to fly from outweighed the safety of crossing ice fields in the dark.  Of course, for others this balance was different – one hiker passed me as the sun was setting with several more miles in wind and ice to go before he was stopping for the night.

Breakfast on the second day was delayed until finding a relatively sheltered spot where the stove could be lit.  I get hangry normally, and no breakfast after a long long day of hiking probably pushes me to the knife-edge of sanity.  But once provided, breakfast became something more wonderful than otherwise possible.  It became…heavenly.  Then I was off to discover the first of two little stone huts, probably ranger shelters.  The first one had weights attached, probably to keep the corrugated roof from blowing off.  Someday, I will build myself such a shelter somewhere, rock by rock.  I made it down into the dangerous Elliott washout quite easily, via a narrow track.  However, the other side was just steep walls of rubble that could cascade back down to the bottom at any time, or give way in a rockslide on your head.  My natural monkey skills were made for just such an occasion though, so I got up without much problems and without having to take my pack off.  Also said monkey skills were called into question, so pride and stubbornness helped me scrabble upwards extra-fast. Of course, after all that there was a more dangerous river crossing just above a waterfall later that day.  The only route across was via wobbly, spiny pine logs.  I crawled.  (monkeys like upright trees, not tress over rivers).  Finally, to finish the day off, about a mile away from the intended campsite, it started pouring down cold rain and remained chilly the rest of the night.  Fortunately there was enough mostly-dry wood around to allow for a campfire and added warmth.

Day three was the most unexceptional of the days.  The day started off in alpine meadows full of flowers and ended in the deeper cool of tall pines.  I passed a variety of named areas of the mountain, wound up and down and around for an extended period, and finally reached Ramona Falls for an early camp that night.  Several slightly deadly washed out areas were crossed without slipups or falls.  I figured my klutz was saving itself for the last day.  I think this is the day I saw the green grasshopper with red legs, but I could be wrong – that could’ve been the last day.  No photo, alas.  Also, evidently Ramona falls is one of those places frequented by campers who may not be backpacking.  At our particular site, this meant a larger group with a nice, roaring fire and s’mores to share.  I learned a new game that I don’t know what it was called – ‘hat’ or ‘salad bowl’ or something else containerish.  But it was nice to be around new people for awhile, and focus on my usual non-camping hobbies like ‘games’ and ‘eating’.  This was also the day I ran into a former NALSA officer on the mountain, just out of the blue.  How often does that happen?

Final day four, I met the nicest group of old people on a day hike.  They offered me blister protection, but I figured by that point my raw wounds couldn’t really be helped.  Ah well.  Also, the hike was slightly extended by a trip up to Paradise Park, which is one of the key areas people visit on the mountain.  It was lovely, covered in flowers, and high enough to be level with the clouds.  The mountain at times pierced its way into view, and at other times was partially or wholly obscured.  Someone saw a bear, but I, sadly, did not.  I chose the return to the trail that was shortest, but it was also the steepest down and probably a little hard on the knees.  There were also extended elevation changes, which is not fun when you’re already tired.  And, of course, because mountains like me so much, right at the end of the trek it started to hail. But then the sky cleared, and though my legs were stiff for the next several days, they had gained something as well.   I want to not lose that, as the semester begins.  Something about movement and mild strain is lost to the muscle memory when it is my mind alone that is focused.

Boredom and Fear

Something I’ve noticed about growing older, as the decades turn, is my growing unwillingness to take risks.  This is not evident from my general life trends.  In the past ten years, I’ve lived in a foreign country, moved to a new city knowing practically no one and nothing, quit jobs, quit couplehood, and quit various support networks.  Still, I feel my life is generally ruled by fear.  I do small things in conformity with other’s expectations because I am afraid to disappoint.  I do large things with extravagant flamboyance to prove I am not afraid.  I think it is rare that I make a truly independent decision.  I hope at least some choices I make are in consideration of others, rather than in fear of their judgment.

There’s a quote somewhere out there, perhaps well-known but only vaguely outlined in my memory, about the majority of people living their lives bound either by boredom or fear.  In my case, I know the binding to be fear.  It is a main imperative.  But I don’t think this has always been the case.  My parents say that I was always an independent child, someone very self-possessed at a young age.  When I went to Australia in high school, they said this was an outward expression of my singular self, but not the origin of it.  Still, I don’t think I was ever aware of myself with the individuality others saw in me.  Perhaps what others see is more honest than my own inward perception.

I can remember an earlier time when my own worldview was predominant, and no fear would distract me from my own imaginings.  I can remember being wildly self-involved.  I can remember being stubborn and angry and feeling any variety of extreme and therefore negative emotions.  I have somehow slipped out of that mindset, and become someone who considers the world and my impact on it more broadly.  Is that wisdom, or the loss of something precious and wondrous?

Tomatoes!

For a long time, though not quite for as long as I can remember, there has been a competition between my sister and my grandfather.  He has no love of sweet tea – she fares best without tomatoes.  Despite this, or perhaps because of it, he’s always sure to save a few ‘for Shelly’ from his backyard garden plot.  She, in turn, always makes sure there’s sweet tea available when he comes to visit.  Regardless, when it comes to tomatoes, they are who I think of first, both politely shoving on the other what will swiftly be refused.

I myself have always been a fan of tomatoes.  Those globes of juicy ripeness always seem to glow, little suns packed with the energy and vitamins we need to grow.  I can feel the soft skins of them yielding to my bite, exploding in juicy goodness, sending rivulets running down my chin like summer fruit is supposed to.  Somehow, apples just don’t even compare, despite shine, despite crispness.  There’s something about a tomato that flirts with temptation, which may be why Mr. John Gerard considered it ‘poisionous’ in his English Herbal, despite being eating in Italy and Spain.  Those Papists, after all, were almost as bad as Eve when it came to oral fixation.

So with all this upside-down nonsense getting big, I decided to go to the experts.  Just what does hanging this thing upside-down accomplish?  What kind of tomatoes should I grow in such an inverted potter?  Tell me about staking, because I know nothing.

As I soon found, the majority of ‘real’ tomato growers pish-posh the inverted idea.  They say it has no benefits, or doesn’t provide enough soil for the plant to really root, or puts undue strain on the tomato stalk in order to support the fruit, or as one particularly irate plant vendor stated, “tomatoes weren’t made to be grown upside-down”.  I suppose that’s strictly true.  Elephants weren’t made to travel by roller-skate, and squirrels weren’t made to fly, but I’m not sure that means they can’t, or should be prevented from trying.  I’m not sure I believe the hype about upside-down fruit being better for you in some way, but you must admit, the idea of fruit topsy-turvy is somehow appealing.

I decided I would try it.  Two factors influenced my final decision.  The first was the aforementioned plant lady.  SHe was quick to tell me that growing a tomato plant in a pot required at least a 5 gallon bucket.  And staking – these hardy little things need all the help they can get to keep from being top-heavy.  Especially when planted in a giant, weighty, bucket of a planter.  So, since I don’t have mountains of money to spend on mountains of dirt, I opted for the upside-down gallon jug variety.  According to online instructions, this variety needs only what is necessary to top off a 2-liter bottle (or, in my case, gallon jug).  The second factor was a friend’s various gardening projects.  He was into making all kinds of things, tossing off ideas to turn his backyard into a wonderland.  Since I have no backyard, I was jealous, but I at least have a great balcony.  Hanging plants seemed like the perfect way to get DIY and still have delicious tomatoes by the end of the summer.

I have been very pleased by the results.  There will be a picture update soon so that all of you lovely readers can appreciate those results as well.  I ended up going with a small tomato variety, about cherry size, just in the weight on the stalk was an issue.  Only one problem – once they turned color, I wasn’t sure they were really ripe. I guess I have no experience picking cherry tomatoes.  On a big tomato, when they’re ready, they practically help themselves off the vine – a little twist and they’re in your hand.  Not so with cherry-sized minis.  Or not so for mine, anyway.  After days of waiting, twisting gently, and gazing longingly at my delectable beauties, I finally called my grandparents to ask how I know when these things are really ripe.

“Well,” says my grandmother, “you know they won’t get as big as regular tomatoes”.  Yes, I do know that much.  “And they probably won’t get much bigger than a golf ball.”  Yep.  “So…I would just pick one and eat it.  Then you’ll know if it’s ripe.”  So why I have I been waiting days for this baby to give me a real sign, beyond color and soft pliancy to the touch, that they are ready for eating?  The world may never know.  But yes, all those that had changed color appropriately were quite edibly ripe.  I give you, grandma’s mouth test for tomatoes! (It never fails.)

A few words of advice for anyone trying this themselves.  First, if you can get clear gallon jugs, use them – it’s easier to water the plants appropriately when you can see how deeply the water is seeping and how quickly.  I painted one of mine and not the other (cause I got lazy).  The painted one may be prettier, but the one I can still see into is much more effective.  I also ended up planting herbs on top instead of using the bottom of the jug with holes in it as a trickle-down system.  This works better with plants that are really rooty – cilantro is excellent, thyme not so good.

The Oven Glove gets a little crazy

It’s been some time since I’ve written at all, let alone about my workplace.  Part of that is my extreme, frantic, pace of life recently, what with going back to school and moving across the country.  The other part is no longer working, and therefore not having a workplace to write about.  My workplace is the universe?

In the past, however, I’ve been part of my share of workplace cranks and fun ridiculousness.    There’s the covering an entire workstation in saran-wrap gag, or the hanging various objects from the ceiling surprise.  But the most classic of all is the ‘your office doesn’t exist’ gaff, or the slightly-less-used ‘your office is something else’ bit.

My former workplace does these well, probably because there are frequent changes in the office layout and because we have a good working relationship with the management company.  This time the theme is ‘the necessary’.  See below:

It's cozy!

This was an office of considerable size at one time, rather than a 3×3 space to sit and contemplate.  I have no idea what a certain individual is going to do when he/she ‘returns to work’.  I look forward to finding out though, through the grapevine, though no longer up-close and personal.

Pam Karlan is my hero

It’s the little things in life that really make it all worthwhile.  Sure, I’m doing a ridiculous amount of work which I pay others an exorbitant amount of money for the privilege of being allowed to so.  Sure I have no social life in an entirely new city that is simply begging to be explored.  Sure, I have stress levels close to my all-time highs of self doubt and depression.

But there are rewards, if few and far between. Free hors d’oeuvres and wine at local smoozy lawyer events put on by the college is one.  Getting to try Moose Drool with a Montana friend is another (it’s a beer, I’m not that desperate to view the moose).  Drinking Spanish coffee from a ‘dark’ owl mug because I’m African so I get the dark one is another.  Talking about the foolish things I do, like cutting my hand opening a bottle of Scotch, is a fourth.  Somehow these have all so far involved alcohol, but I promise, parents, sisters, and other family, that my liver and kidneys are fine and I’m being moderate.

A final reward is the speakers and panelists we get to hear from that the law school brings.  Some of them are long winded and unaccustomed to giving speeches, even though they all know their stuff.  However, all of them are interesting, and some are really good, really informative, and really funny.   Tonight’s was just such a one.

You must understand I’ve been in something of a funk.  I’m stressed about school and getting things done, especially my appellate brief.  I’m stressed about finding a job.  I’m especially stressed about networking, because I hate it.  I’m a klutz, and somewhat proud of it.  I have very little dignity and only a modicum of shame, which allows me to enjoy myself but really doesn’t give me the elegance you might expect from a higher-level professional lawyer.  I’d rather wear my boots.  This evening changed that to a certain extent, or at least broke me out of my funk.  Sure, it was a very professional speech, very well presented, and accurate and informed and interesting.  But the stuff I covered my hand with in red ink was the jokes.

The first joke involved an old Louisiana case about nepotism in steamboat pilot licensing.  Ok, actually there was lots of joking about big-headed terms used, but how it was ok as they were French and it’s Louisiana.  Anyway, the first snortable was her comment on the court’s decision, which basically upheld the Louisiana statue by saying it wasn’t nepotism, it was a romanticized, Mark Twain style life on the river – in direct contrast to a decision that licensing should be based on some other determinative, like ‘merit’ or … ‘random’.  Random is my favorite way to decide the legality of issues.

Next, she mentioned in passing a speaker we’d had on campus the previous day, Paul Smith, who evidently went to her elementary school.   Of course we got the funny anecdote about primary education.  In this case it involved his sister and herself in a Halloween costume competition rivalry, in which she “beat his sister like a drum”.  Snorfle.

In concluding, I realize that even though I have to finish writing this crummy, boring, and poorly designed appellate brief, that doesn’t mean I have to lose my sense of self.  The ridiculous will always be there for my amusement, inside the court system and without.  I am free to remain unrefined, direct, and possibly abrasive without losing my chances to be someone great who gets schmoozed to by lawyerly kind.  And now that I’ve spent way too much time musing on how great my life is, I’m off to sink a few more hours into the boring kind of writing before bed.

Dreamland

Sometimes I have vivid dreams.  Sometimes I have dreams I can remember very clearly.  Sometimes I have entire cinematic episodes in my head, conscious or unconscious.  Perhaps this means I should be a movie director, or a fortune teller, or street bum who talks to herself.

Regardless, the most recent epic is about me, from the future, coming back in time to relive my life and rethink my decisions.  You see, in the future, I was working for a big old corporation that was up to no good.  There were some natives who had some stuff they wanted (the same old story) and they were determined to get it.  I was sent in as some kind of consultant to try and get said natives out of our way.  Of course, it didn’t work, and of course the mean old corporation was going to push them out by whatever means necessary.

In this case, ‘whatever means necessary’ involved a highly sophisticated device that looked just like a vacuum cleaner.  There was some sort of related vacuum-type air suck portion to the machine, that would selectively blow natives away from the goods we wanted without damaging the items themselves.  However, the visual similarity with more mundane devices meant that you could stick a vacuum brush on one of the nozzles and completely blend in with office cleaners anonymous.

That’s how I stole the thing the first time.  I decided it wasn’t right to blow away the natives (literally) and I was going to do something about it.  With my newfound vigilantism however, I made the world bad for everybody.  I used the device on corporate headquarters, and it ended up taking out the whole office building, as well as a sizable amount of the city around it.  Economies collapsed – anarchy broke out, and gray and dusty and dreary holocaustic times set in.  But I had a chance to go back and make things right, to try to find a better solution.

Of course, my return involved romance.  That’s what second chances are all about, right?  So I tried to talk to someone in the corporation’s hierarchy about how what we were doing to the natives was wrong, and this time I actually had some time to get someone to listen.  The younger son of the corporation owner in fact listened, fell for me and I for him, and I told him the whole story.  I told him what had happened last time, how horrible it was for everyone, how driven I’d felt at the time to do something, anything to get someone to listen.  I told him about all the damage I indirectly caused, and about my second chance.  And he talked to his dad, and got me the opportunity to talk to the old man myself.

The old man, of course, was exactly what you’d expect – crotchety, generally dissatisfied with both me and the world, and hard of hearing when it suited him.  I told him my whole story, everything that I’d confided to my love interest in secret.  I told him what could happen and what I didn’t want to happen again.  I tried not to make threats.  I appealed to his superior wisdom.  I told him reminded him how the whole thing was like Dances with Wolves, but that he had the chance to change the ending.  In my dream this made sense, but it’s really been too long for my conscious mind to understand how the dream is like the movie.

But in the end, the old man was unmoved.  For whatever reason, stockholders or inflexibility or the color of shoes I wore, he wasn’t buying it.  “That’s not even similar to Dances with Wolves” he said.  So he basically told me to get out and leave him alone, in the most barking way he could to his son’s love interest without endangering their relationship.  And then I was left with what to do, yet again.

I couldn’t stand still.  I found that even though I knew the results of my actions, I had to do something.  And there was really only one thing to do – I stole the bomb that was a vacuum lookalike, again.

You’d think the second time around they would’ve learned their lesson.  And they did have some security – an armored car for the device itself, and plenty of armed guards walking the car to corporate headquarters.  But still, a woman in a  cleaning uniform is eternally overlooked.  Once again I just stuck a brush on and walked off with the thing.

Of course my love interest found me.  And when he found me, so did the old man.  But then I not only had a bomb in the office, but two really important hostages.  I wanted to cave, I just wanted to get out of the situation without hurting anyone, native or not, but I didn’t know how.  I talked to my love interest, and told him the whole thing, even though I was holding the man by force.  He motioned to his dad as I spoke, talking about how I didn’t want to go through with it.

“You don’t have to,” the old man said.  “I went to see them, the natives, and you’re right.  It IS just like Dances with Wolves.  I understand now.  You don’t have to hurt anyone – we’ll find a better way to come to an agreement with them without using the device.”

And that was that.  No holocaust, no bombs or forcible removal, no need for a weapon at all.  The vacuum stays a vacuum, albeit an unusually powerful one.

Dating.

In some ways, it’s unfortunate that myself and others in my closest friend circle remain single.  However, there are benefits in the choices we make, the freedoms we have, the adventures we can choose to embark on (or not), and most importantly, the stories we are later able to share.

Among the diverse dating hypotheticals that could come up in singledom, the one that’s caught my fancy for the moment is Captain Hook.  If we’re true to the musical of course, Hook stole Wendy to be his and his crew’s mother, rather than to get a date.  However, if Wendy were a little older, things could’ve been very different.  I mean, how hard is it for a hook-handed man to get a date even, let alone maintain a serious relationship?  Sure, he’s good for a back scratch, but what about a foot massage?  Have you ever received a one-handed foot massage?  Not the most pleasant.  And what if you’re double hooked?  Or what if you’re just a stumper, with no cutlery at all?  Or what if you have extras, like that girl with six fingers and no thumbs?  How does this impinge on your datablility?

Sure, we’re in a highly technological society.  Protheses are no longer limited to metal implements and peg-legs.  But birth defects and injuries still happen, and the solutions to such problems are still reactions, rather than complete preventative measures.  Somebody still has to cope with not being able to physically do what other people can do.  And yet, genetically and otherwise physically a person could be totally ‘normal’.  What does this mean?

I guess that although I haven’t come out on top on the dating scene yet, I also still have all my limbs.  So that’s a positive.

The Great Escape

DISCLAIMER: There will be nothing about WWII in this post, though a certain kind of airman might be mentioned.  Sorry, wrong great escape.

There are certain stories that we relegate to the kiddie library without really thinking what we’re doing.  There are the typical toned-down Grimm’s tales that were made by adults for adults to contextualize their worlds.  There are the Roald Dahl stories with only slight undertones of his creepier adult fiction.  There are the much-edited mini-versions of classic tales: Frankenstein, Oliver Twist, Macbeth.  One of the key ingredients to the acceptability of such stories for children is their unreality, whether or not they are based on actual events or could be.

One of the authors that directly disturbs this illusion of fantasy is Jules Verne.  Ok, so we haven’t made it to the center of the Earth and discovered a whole new world full of weirdo people and strange dangers.  But a submarine?  We live on ’em.  Around the world in 80 days?  Way less, probably about 3.  I’m guessing here though, and using commercial flights.  Evidently his Paris in the Twentieth Century was fantastically accurate, but I haven’t read it.  In fact, other than the three I’ve mentioned, I haven’t read any of his 55 ‘known’ full-length works.  I couldn’t tell you what they’re about.  But probably they give a  depressingly accurate of the way our own advancement has trapped us in closer contact with each other and the broad world. We can’t downplay these as fantastical, and it’s hard to ignore the gloom and doom  attitude even the most positive versions show.

Of course the most clear example is 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  Nemo is the bad guy of the tale in many ways, mostly because he’s living his dream, away from the tainted world of man.  We identify with this.  We want this, in a world that seems to press in against our personal freedoms and allows us few choices.  Why else do so many intelligent young people switch professions or linger in higher education, seeking fulfilment?  Why else are there so many wanderers across the now highly connected globe, seeking something else in a different place just over the horizon?  Why the lust for adventure, for danger, for some montain-climbing, river-riding rush?  We are looking for our measure, which is hard to find in a world with no barren places, no hidden corners to really explore.

As Verne struggled with this, as he struggled with the idea of the scientific mind as a means and a tool for such escape, I wonder if he actually came to any conclusions.  Nemo dies, his dream failing.  Fogg and Lindenbrock both achieve their goals, get some acclaim, and supposedly live happily ever after, but who really buys into that?  As a scholar noted at a recent speech, “Verne is not intent on saving the world, but on creating a secondary world where he’s in command.”  Isn’t that hat all writers do?  It is enough?

The Elephant box.

Being home for Christmas has been somewhat unnerving.  True, there have been all the comforts of coming home to rest – not having to cook for yourself, an endless supply of toilet paper, and an easy recognition of your personal preferences and habits.  But there are also all the flaws as well.  Family are always the people who know how to really twist the knife deepest, no matter how far you grow beyond your childhood, or how far away you may currently live.  But there are other more subtle flaws that can come upon you unawares that are very unsettling.  Certain objects of everyday use that have resided in a particular drawer or cupboard for 20 years will no longer be stored in the same place.  Routines of getting the mail, bathroom use, and bedtimes are disrupted.  No longer is it just your roommates hogging the shower, but it’s a whole host of obligations and behaviors you had set aside.  Finally, there comes that time when some central place to your former life no longer smells right because you haven’t been using it.  There’s no identifiable ‘bad’ smell, the place just no longer smells like home.  It can be unsettling to confront the idea that the place you came from no longer exists.  It unbalances your ability to look forward.

I came to law school in the fall eager to DO Something, though I wasn’t sure what.  I did realize what I was getting myself into.  The work was actually not as strenuous as I’d thought, but I haven’t been exploring all the options I thought I would be.  This three year period is supposed to be discovery time for me, and so far, I’ve discovered very little.  Not that I haven’t been living, mind you.  I have accomplished certain social goals to keep myself from studying too hard, and I’ve managed to make Portland a little bit more of a familiar place for myself.  Still, I’m worried about the recurring theme I hear when I bring up my dissatisfaction to others.  There’s this idea that I’m doing all the right things, and working hard but not too hard, and that law school is something I need to get through, a challenge to be met that I am so far rising to.

It’s the wrong idea.  Law school isn’t something I just need to get through.  I want to live my life, not just ‘get through’ it.  So I need to be very aware of how it’s shaping the person I am.  Am I becoming more of who I want to be through what I’m doing now, or am I fading in some way?  What are the things that I will choose to integrate into my life and what will they say about me?  Do they count for more in the pressured environment of law school, or are they merely the things I should have been giving time to all along?

There is an idea that the truly great among us are defined by how they stretch and expand despite the confines of the environment.  Like a tree that grows around and eventually encases a fence, or the tomato that grows over its little box, there is something compelling about the idea.  We all want to stretch a little, to break the bounds we feel upon us.  Often we don’t through fear or sloth or even the rationalized concern over shattered bits of environment we might propel in our stretching.  And fear and rationalization and sometimes even sloth are legitimate.  After all, the slow growth into and around your personal fences can be painful.  Personally I’d rather be in an elephant box than a tomato box, with space to grow and the opportunity for mild but continual change, but so far I have been unable to find one of my own.  We can hope law will be such a box, but somehow I think not.  Ah well.

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