August 24, 2005
I am 22 today. Huzzah. I celebrated by taking the day off from work (as I have finally reached an age where I can't be assured of the chance to do that every year on my birthday). I slept in, messed around on the computer, read a bit . . . Then got a call from Scholl in the early afternoon with the offer to go to CiCi's for lunch on the condition that I come pick him up. This I gladly did, and we had a great time gabbing and eating before returning to his apartment to play World of WarCraft for a few hours (but you don't want to hear about that).
This evening saw me at Ryan's Steakhouse with . . . (thinks) . . . Scholl, Anna, Doug, Moore, Toad, Molly, and Gillis. I really like the food there. And the company wasn't half-bad either. Then Moore, Doug and I returned to campus to play World of WarCraft together . . . getting as much gaming out of our systems as possible before the return of Wilson the Stern on Saturday. Oh, yes . . . and there were various and sundry phone conversations with friends and relatives who live far away, of course. I enjoyed myself today . . . but I can't wait for everyone to get back. Even though I know that, when they do, things are going to be crazy busy around here . . .
. . . like they haven't been all summer. I think I might have been depressed at various points this summer. I need something to motivate me, and there were times this summer when I had nothing: no job, desire to do anything, food . . . whatever. It wasn't a healthy summer. My instinct, everytime I run the past few months through my mind, is to say it was a horrifically unproductive summer, but that simply isn't true. Granted, I made hardly any money this summer, but I got 9 hours of college credit out of the way, and made A's in all three classes.
I attended some great performances . . . The Pirates of Penzance, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night's Dream . . . visited California for the first time, read some great books and journaled my thoughts about them, saw some really excellent movies . . . Why can't I shake the feeling that I just blew a summer?
Let's blame World of WarCraft, shall we? I've had a wonderful time playing it this summer, and it's been a great way to interact with people who weren't around . . . especially my good friend Andy in Colorado (who sent me the game in the first place). After a summer of playing, I have eight characters, and I can't seem to settle on just one, much to everyone's chagrin. So I play them all some, and continue to create even more. It's terrible. Alright, I'm only going to do this once. My characters and servers are: lvl 33 Tauren druid (Dragonblight), lvl 30 Night Elf druid (Icecrown), lvl 27 Human priest (IC), lvl 20 Troll priest (DB), lvl 16 Gnome rogue (IC), lvl 12 Human paladin (IC), lvl 12 Night Elf warrior (IC), lvl 11 Night Elf rogue (Thunderhorn).
On to my top ten movies of Summer '05, in no particular order:
This particular top ten is unusual for a few reasons. First, I had never seen nine of these movies before in my life (Rebecca being the lone exception). I saw White Oleander based on the recommendation of Paige, then read the book . . . I loved both of them, and recommend both of them (acknowledging the raw content, but not allowing it to interfere with my glowing opinion of the product). Judgment at Nuremberg . . . I need to own this movie. It was the best one I saw all summer. Pulp Fiction represents the only Quentin Tarantino movie I've ever seen . . . and what a movie (but I've discussed it enough in other places).
Pleasantville, which I saw three times this summer, was a delight to both the eye and the mind. Hotel Rwanda is just good historical drama. Magnolia provided some very interesting viewing, and kept me guessing where the heck it was going for three hours until the climax of biblical proportions. Never seen a movie like it. Ditto Dogville, but for very different reasons. I almost didn't watch Dogville after reading some reviews about it, but it was already here so I decided to brave it. I actually watched it with the Scholls over the course of two sittings, and we enjoyed it. It is a movie that relies wholly on the strength of its characters, and they pull through . . . and there is a fascinating Christian interpretation that can be applied to it. High-quality viewing, indeed.
I saw The Man Who Would Be King based on Fry's recommendation, and the turns of the main character's fortunes kept me on the edge of my seat throughout. Very exciting. Finally, Wit was a bit of a surprise. Ashley picked it from the library and I watched it with her . . . it's the only made-for-TV movie to make one of my top ten lists. It's based on a stage play, stars Emma Thompson, and pretty much ignores the "fourth wall" entirely. I didn't expect to enjoy it, but I couldn't deny that it was a fantastic movie once it was over.
Anyway, that's most of what anyone who was curious needs to know about my summer that I haven't written sometime during it. For now, I'm tired . . . both physically and of hot weather and "vacation." Bring on the semester.
August 21, 2005
Odds and Ends
And so I left California. There wasn't much more to it than that, really . . . Sunday was very relaxing. I sat around the house, tried my hand at painting (with questionable results), went to a drive-in theater to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory again (never been to one before, actually), etc. And then I went to board my plane in San Jose at the last possible second on Monday the 15th. We were delayed coming into Dallas due to whether and spent about 40 minutes circling over Wichita Falls. Scholl wanted to go to Waffle Shoppe after I got back, and I was game, so I went . . . and then Randy wanted to watch Six Feet Under, for which I was also game. So, all in all, it was ridiculously late when I finally went to sleep that night. Or morning.
Thus ended my grand time in California, and thus begun my hectic last few weeks before school started. A few highlights:
Wilson and I met with Dr. Hudson (new Vice President of Academic Affairs) and Dr. Coppinger (Assistant Vice President of Academic Affairs and my Academic Advisor) to voice some of our concerns and suggestions regarding the LeTourneau's History Program. Our basic problems are threefold. First, we have two professors in the history department along with a certifiably insane adjunct who teaches one survey course. Dr. Johnson specializes in American history (but also covers political science and a few other things). Dr. Kubricht specializes in Russia and the Cold War (but also covers Western civilization and things like Constitutional Law). We don't have anyone who teaches upper-level courses dated before about 1700, which is sad.
Additionally, Dr. K will be leaving on sabbatical next spring, leaving history majors everywhere up the proverbial creek. Wilson and I will both lack one upper-level history course in our final semester. There are exactly two being offered, and we have each taken one of them. So, unless something is done, or we go elsewhere to transfer in credit, I will be taking American Constitutional Law with an adjunct professor (a subject which I have no interest in whatsoever at all) and Wilson will be taking Texas and the American West (he'd rather die).
Even beyond our personal complaints, survey history courses have shot well into overload every single semester for several semesters now, because we simply don't have enough faculty to teach everyone anymore . . . and the university continues to grow! It's madness! We consulted LeTourneau's 10-year plan, which I believe was drafted in 1999. It says that we ought to have 4 full-time faculty members by now, but we don't. Kinesiology, meanwhile, has nine out of a planned five professors. I feel hated on.
Our second problem involves a lack of exclusivity. Not to sound all snobbish, or anything, but I get really tired of sitting in, say, 19th Century Europe with someone who has never taken Western Civilization . . . or any other history course. The few history courses here that actually have prerequisites do not bother to enforce them, which means I'm in an upper-level class of 25 with 5 people who are actually interested in history. That sucks.
History courses right now don't even have an English comp requirement . . . which means that we get people who have never had to write a formal paper. And what this basically means in the end is that everyone suffers. The real history majors have the course dumbed down and don't learn as much. The poor techies flounder helplessly. The professors have to decide between flunking most of the class, or changing the way they teach. There are no history courses for history majors . . . the way every single other major has (bible, english, education, business, engineering, aviation . . . everyone but us . . . I'm feeling the hatred again).
And that brings me to the third point: courses we don't require. I feel like when I leave LeTourneau I will have received an education that was well-worth my time, and I feel this way for two reasons. Neither really has anything to do with being a history major. One reason is the excellent english faculty and classes, and the other is the invaluable supplement offered by specific Honors courses. After taking the Honors Historiography course last spring I feel more like a "real" history major than I ever have. It's a crime that we don't require a course like that of all our history students, but only offer it to a select group. No one should be allowed to seriously pursue history without that course.
Also, by virtue of incessant whining by Wilson and myself, we and a few other select history students have been given the opportunity to take an independent research seminar on American intellectual history. The course came about through a combination of Dr. K's clout and Dr. J's kindness (the university isn't, I understand, providing him with any additional compensation for offering this course to us). The idea for the course as I understand it is to give us a chance to take a course similar to the format of a grad school course (in addition to learning more about the particular topic in question). Courses introducing history students to proper methods of research, and preparing students for grad school, should also be required for history majors at LeTourneau . . . but, once again, it is offered in this case only to we few who have demanded it.
Anyway, that's a slightly jumbled overview of what we went to see Dr. Hudson about . . . The meeting went very well. Of course, I realize that I'm duplicating a lot of Wilson's post on this same topic, but I felt like writing it all out myself as well. Sorry if you already read it over there and are now bored to tears.
I also began my new job working at the LeTourneau library. It looks like, at least for now, I'll only be getting 10 hours a week, but I'll have over 30 hours in before school starts. So that'll be nice. So far I love the work. And, while it may look and sound like I and the other student workers at the library don't do much of anything, that's not strictly true. Working at the library is nice because you are allowed to read, do homework, or blog (furtive side-glance) if there is nothing else going on, but there is still plenty to do, I assure you. My favorite task is helping the people who call or approach the desk with research questions. You never know what they're going to ask next, and I enjoy the challenge of finding what they need . . . the lack of monotony alone puts it head and shoulders above most other jobs I've had.
Anyway, that's the bare bones of life at the moment. Everyone is trickling back into town now, and I don't expect to do much over the next week except work at the library, take care of odds and ends before the semester starts, and play computer games with the people who are here. But I think I'll save my summer summary post for later.
August 13, 2005
The Bounding Main
I should probably preface this account with a statement of apathy. I will probably get something wrong in the telling of the story, because I am no kind of sailor. The terminology is fun to toss around, but it's not something I'm an expert in. Well, if I do get anything wrong, I don't care, and therefore I don't want to hear about it.
On Thursday, The Black Van (think UPS truck) was loaded for departure to Santa Cruz Harbor. There was food. There were shotguns and clay pigeons. There was bedding. There was a dinghy. And there were five people: self, Rachel, Jon, Julie, and Larry.
Hold on a second . . . *scrolls down* . . . oops. That last is Rachel's dad. Good grief.
Anyway, we drove out to the dock, all prepared to load up the Surprise (which would be a 33-foot sailboat, named after Jack Aubrey's ship from the series by Patrick O'Brian) and set out southeast across Monterey Bay. The boat, however, was 80 minutes into a two hour charter, so we sat down to eat lunch while we waited. I was informed that the trip across the bay would probably take somewhere between three and five hours. All I can think about at this point is the theme song from Gilligan's Island. Oh, and taking a double dose of The Special Pills.
The boat pulled in, right on time, and we loaded up. I did my best, once again, to stand somewhere out of the way so as to minimize the appearance of uselessness. The girls stowed junk below, the guys got things shipshape above. I mostly watched. And then we were putting out of harbor with the motor. It was a beautiful day; very sunny and very calm as we floated into open water. The wind was blowing, I think, mostly from the west, so as soon as the sails came out we tilted alarmingly to port. I say alarmingly . . . Rachel was the main person who was alarmed. Of course, she was also on the starboard side of the boat, holding herself into her seat with her feet braced so she wouldn't drop five feet and land on me.
I had been asked by everyone whether or not I got seasick. My answer was that I've never been in a boat long enough to find out, but I do get motion sickness in cars on windy roads. Well, I can answer the question now: Yes, I can get seasick. That's really the only interesting thing to relate about sailing across the bay, because once we got out of sight of land, everything became cold and grey and it was difficult to tell that we were moving forward. This was especially true considering all the motion in directions other than forward . . . side to side, up and down, etc.
And so, as I say, the only thing that really differentiated one minute from the next after awhile was whether or not someone was throwing up over the side. Which made things rather monotonous, as there were only three such occasions. Julie, who was not doing well at all on the way down, went for the railing twice. I had the honor of relieving the relentless sameness the third time, just as we came in sight of land.
I could have held out, I think, had the waves not been hitting us from the side. The extreme motion this produced was just a bit too much, and I lost my turkey sandwich, my package of cherry fruit snacks, and (presumably) both motion sickness pills . . . but I didn't taste those coming back up.
But anyway, enough of that. I was fine for the rest of the trip, so it's all good. And it just made me all the hungrier for the delicious fish and chips and clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl I ate at supper. I actually had never experienced clam chowder before visiting California. I haven't been to an American coast in about 13 or 14 years, and seafood is something I just don't dare to eat in Guatemala. Anyway, I liked it.
After we ate, it was generally decided (and looking back, I don't remember how or why) that Jon would go get ice cream while Larry and Julie walked to the dock nearest where the boat was at anchor. And Rachel and I would go down and row the dinghy over to pick all three of them up. We had a lot of trouble. I couldn't get Rachel to row at a steady rhythm with me and we were constantly listing to port. Very frustrating. As we tried to work this out in our usual peaceful manner (sic), we bumped into something and were nearly deafened by a series of sharp, deep-throated barks.
We had hit a buoy occupied by an extremely territorial sea lion. We didn't want his buoy, but he didn't know that. So we rowed quickly away and he slowly subsided . . . sort of. As we pulled off, Rachel let out an explosive "Ewww!" and we saw that . . . On second thought, I'm not going to say what we saw. I can't deal with the search hits it would produce. Ask me about "hung like a sea lion" sometime.
Anyway, we made it to the correct dock without too much trouble. Julie and Larry came aboard and Jon eventually came along as well. As we made our way back to the boat (still unable to row in a straight line) Julie noticed that my oar had gotten twisted around and was going in at an angle. Which was why . . . yeah. Grrr.
Fast-forward to Friday morning. We slept in, ate a delicious breakfast, and set out to sail around the southern tip of the bay to Carmel on the other side. Julie steered most of the way and didn't get sick. After avoiding jagunormous islands of floating seaweed, we dropped anchor and rowed over to the dock. Then we walked across the Pebble Beach Golf Course and then spent the day wandering around Carmel, poking around in art galleries and so forth. Most of them were larger than the Longview Museum of Fine Arts (or so I'm told . . . I've never been there). Lots of cool paintings and sculptures . . . and then more seafood. Actually, I had a lamb shank, but I had to try a fried oyster and a mussel. Liked the former, didn't like the latter. Anyway, then we trudged our weary way back to the boat again and read ourselves to sleep.
Saturday morning, Julie was picked up by her mother so she wouldn't lose anymore food over the side on the way back. I half-heartedly took a couple more pills and prepared for the inevitable. But it never came. What did come was a very exciting trip back. Not long after leaving Carmel we spotted a pair of whales dead ahead. We sped up (still running on engine at the time) but found we had overshot them by a good bit when they surfaced again. So we came to a halt and just watched from a distance. And they both breached. So cool.
Then there was a line of about 10 dolphins (or maybe porpoises) skipping through the water alongside the boat. We were sailing pretty close to them for awhile. As we got out towards the middle of the bay we came to a stop and pulled out the shotguns and clay pigeons. We shot at those and at things in the water until the ammunition was exhausted . . . I say shot at, of course, because I think I hit one clay pigeon. I don't care what Focus on the Family or whoever tells you about training in violence . . . I can snipe 100 baddies in a row on an FPS computer game, head shots every one, but I couldn't nick the Glaske sculpture point-blank with a shotgun. And the motion of the boat didn't make it any easier to try.
After we set out again, I took the wheel for awhile. Actually, I almost immediatly spotted a whale off the port bow, and Larry took over. It was just coming up for air and going back down for a few minutes at a time. We turned towards it and waited for it to surface again, scanning the water on all sides. I was the first one to spot it, so of course I yelled out "Thar she blows!" I've always wanted to say that for real. We chased that whale for about 40 minutes or so, getting a tiny bit closer to it each time it surfaced for air. But just as we got within about 50 yards, the wind picked up and we blew right by it. By this time, late afternoon was coming on and we needed to be back, so I took over the wheel again, just cuz, and we continued towards land.
The rule was something like, whoever steers picks the music, so I was playing various and sundry soundtracks. As we neared harbor, I got tired of Last of the Mohicans, and told Rachel to go put something else on. She picked Pirates of the Caribbean . . . so that was what was blaring out over the speakers as we sailed into harbor and docked. Heehee.
We unloaded the boat, reloaded the van, cleaned everything up, etc. etc. etc. and took off for church, arriving just in time to catch the tail end of worship. And then we returned home, exhausted and ready for a restful Sunday. Coming soon: My Departure From California.
August 10, 2005
Part the Second
On Monday morning I awoke amidst a mad flurry of activity and did my best to, y'know, not stand around and look useless. Sadly, I think Jen was even more useful than me, and she wasn't even going. Anyway, the camper was successfully loaded and most of us piled into that while a few piled into the car to follow us to The Lake.
Knowing, as I did, that a three-day sailing trip was in my near future, I had purchased motion-sickness pills (may cause drowsiness) and I decided that this might be a good time to try them out. So I did. And I slept all the way to The River. But wait! you say. What, then, was all this talk of The Lake? Well, the multitudinous subtleties of the plan for the trip had not yet trickled down the chain of command to reach my ears. We were going to spend a day at The River, a couple of hours down the road towards The Lake, and then depart early the next morning to travel the remaining few hours to The Lake, there to stay until Wednesday lunchtime.
So . . . we got to The River and ate lunch. And then most of us, except females above a certain age bracket, set out on an expedition. The general idea was to hike two miles or so out into the hills to a place where we could easily climb down to the river, then float back to camp. I talked Rachel into coming along, and both of us immediately regretted it.
She started whining approximately five steps out of camp and continued, quite literally without pause, until we reached the river. It didn't help that we missed the path and wound up walking an extra half mile or so. I suspect, judging from the state she was in when we reached the water, that she was in the early stages of heat stroke . . . expending extra breath and saliva on talking didn't help. But the cold water helped immensely.
We wandered lazily downstream . . . about half of it was deep enough to swim, and the other half consisted of rocks to clamber over, so it was fun, if exhausting. We found a few ledges to dive off of, and so forth. For all of our jumping about, I think Rachel was the only person who hurt herself. And she also didn't jump. Ironic. She slipped on a rock and scraped, scratched and bruised a sizable portion of her left side. Ouch.
Aside from such minor mishaps, we returned, tired but happy (again, except for Rachel) to camp and had steak and potatoes. Yum. And then I went to bed more or less when the sun did . . . I never do that. In fact, I should note that I went to bed and got up earlier all week than I have since, like, high school. It was crazy.
After breakfast early Tuesday morning (and getting yelled at multiple times by the neighbors because of all the noise) we departed for The Lake. I slept most of the way again. As a consequence of this, I have no idea whatsoever at all where this lake is, what it's called, how far we drove . . . nothing. It could have been in Idaho for all I know. It wasn't, but it could have been and I never would have known.
We spent a happy day at The Lake, swimming and chicken fighting and so forth. I got burned, as usual, but not too badly. And I read and napped. Not exciting to read about, perhaps, but relaxing to experience, certainly. After supper I talked Rachel into taking a walk. She spotted a concrete building not too far away and thought it might contain bathroom facilities superior to the port-a-potty variety, so we headed that way.
To make a long story short, apparent distances of lights at night can be very deceiving. Those lights were actually the entrance to the park, at least a mile and a half away. By the time we got there, it was pitch black. Happily, there was at least a bathroom there, so the search was not entirely for naught. What I had at first taken for some sort of line dancing convocation nearby turned out to be a small youth rally. That was kind of trippy. I was halfway tempted to join them, just to see what would happen, but I was pretty tired. And so we wound our slow and weary way back to the camper in the dark, with less trouble finding it than I feared (we were gone for over an hour, I think) and I collapsed, exhausted, into my cot.
Wednesday saw everyone braving the freezing temperatures of The Lake for an early morning swim. I passed. Once everyone else was dry, we set out once again, this time back the way we had come. I fell asleep. Again. Yes, I'm boring. Go away. We had lunch on a beach on the way home, and explored the finger of haphazardly piled boulders that jutted several hundred yards out into the water. And then we got home and began to prepare for the next expedition.
Stay tuned for part three of my thrilling visit to California, coming soon. Don't worry, I spend less time asleep after this.
August 07, 2005
. . . Or Bust
For those of you who somehow missed the fact . . . Well, alright, I guess I didn't exactly blog anything about it. I meant to shortly before departure, but the opportunity eluded me. Anyway, I am in California right now (and have been since Friday night), visiting the Bamboo Giant Nursery (and surrounding area) until the 15th. If a visit to Bamboo Giant seems excessively random to you, you probably weren't aware that Rachel lives here. I have come to meet her family, see where she lives, and get a taste of California (having never traveled farther west than Colorado before).
My flight from Dallas was set to leave at 7:35 Friday evening, and Anna and Scholl were good enough to drive me to the airport. It was a pleasant enough journey, save for one thing: Scholl, in his infinite wisdom, had consumed sandwiches made of garlic-flavored bologna for lunch, and had sent a carbonated beverage chasing after them. Thus, our trip to Dallas was punctuated by repeated blasts of foul-smelling (in addition to the usual foul-sounding) emissions from his oral orifice. Guh.
I should have realized that this was an ill omen, but even if I had it wouldn't have done me a great deal of good. Upon arrival in Dallas I learned that bad weather in Denver would be delaying my flight by a full hour, thus causing me to miss my connection to San Jose, thus making life suck for me. My options were:
-Return to Longview and then come back to Dallas for a 6:45 am flight (ha! . . . not an option).
-Stay in Dallas and take the 6:45 am flight.
-Fly to Denver as planned and spend the night in the Denver airport, leaving at 8:30 the next morning.
None of these was particularly appealing, and the airline was no help whatsoever. Some asinine company policy stated that if the flight were cancelled they could find me accomodations with another airline or somewhere to stay the night, but if I miss a flight due to bad weather then I am simply considered "late for the flight" and thus get nothing. Because I control the weather, you see.
Well, I wandered over to the pay phones and sent calls flying in all directions. I called the Scholls, my friend Andy in Colorado Springs, and Rachel. After a good deal of negotiating, it was decided that I would spend the night in the Denver airport and arrive in California at the earliest possible moment. The ticket lady only checked my bag to Denver and said I would have to claim it there and re-check it in the morning. I snatched my ticket and stalked through security to wait for the plane to arrive.
To make a long story short, as I listened to announcements and kept a careful eye on my watch, I began to suspect that "late" was a fairly relative term in this case. In the end, we arrived in Denver precisely five minutes later than we were originally scheduled to arrive. Furthermore, I walked out of the arrival gate and heard "Now boarding all rows for San Jose" almost directly in my right ear. I turned, and lo and behold, there were people boarding the San Jose plane not 10 feet from where I stood.
I walked over to the airline dude behind the counter, explained myself, and requested permission to board. This permission was granted, with the condition that my luggage would have to follow me the next day. Well, duh . . . I didn't even have time to find a phone and inform Rachel of the change in plans. I certainly didn't have time to trot myself down to the Baggage Claim, claim my baggage, check it back on, re-clear security, and return to the gate in time to make the plane. Leaving the luggage just seemed like an excellent move all around, so I trotted aboard and took my seat in the very last row.
I asked a stewardess if there were any telephone facilities aboard (thinking of the kind which I used to see so often in the backs of seats), but I was informed that there were not. Frontier Airlines has replaced communication with entertainment (every seat had a small television). Happily, the guy across the aisle offered me the use of his cell phone, and I called ahead and arranged to be picked up on schedule. I gratefully returned the cell phone, settled back in my seat with a sigh, and decided that I would not be at all upset if this were the most exciting thing that happened to me for the next 10 days.
Rachel and her sister Julie were waiting to pick me up in San Jose and we returned to home base and went directly to sleep upon arrival. The next morning, Rachel decided it would amusing to bring the dog (Chudley) along to wake me up at 8:14. Hahaha. And then I had a couple of minutes in which to prepare myself to meet everyone else at breakfast. Rachel has nine siblings, but David, the eldest, no longer lives at home, and Rebecca (between Daniel and Jonathan/Julie, who are twins) had already left for work. Jonathan I know from school, and Julie I had met the night before.
Anyway, I guess I'd better stop tossing around the boring details . . . it's too complicated. I met Rachel's parents. I met her five youngest siblings (ages 5 to 15, names Andrew, Robert, Anna Racquel, Roger, and Daniel). After breakfast I met her grandma, her grandma's good friend (commonly known as "Aunt El"), and her co-workers. After a brief look around the nursery, we left to pick up Rachel's friend Jen, who is leaving for China for a year on Friday (at least I think it's Friday). Then we drove down to Santa Cruz and walked around on the boardwalk and out to the end of the wharf.
All of this was fairly entertaining. Sea lions like to jump up onto the supports of the wharf at high tide and sleep and we saw dozens of them resting under there. A few were fighting over various spots and making a great deal of noise doing it. After wandering about here for awhile and eating lunch, we returned home to get ready for church. The Gullmans go to Santa Cruz Bible Church, which meets on Saturday nights.
After church we went to a Chinese restaurant, were I was told that I would be eating with chopsticks. I've never eaten with chopsticks before in my life. Rachel swiped my fork on her dad's orders and then three or four different people gave me tutorials while we waited for the food. In the end, I did get enough to eat, and eventually I did alright with the chopsticks, I suppose.
At first, I was doing so badly that the waitress slipped me a fork, which Rachel promptly confiscated. MoM Gullman (sitting to my left) took pity on me at one point and also surreptitiously slipped me a fork. I was feeling stubborn at this point and I left it where Rachel couldn't see it and kept practicing with the chopsticks. Finally, Rachel herself quietly passed me a fork, and when the chunks on my plate where down to the size of a single grain of rice, I went with the fork.
Jen spent the night and we watched a few movies before going to bed. This morning (Sunday) we drove up to La Honda, about an hour to the north, to visit (in no particular order): David, the redwoods, Rachel's old house, Rachel's old church, etc. We stopped at a lighthouse on the way, and that was pretty cool to see. All things considered, we had rather a good time, but I need to get to bed now. We watched another movie tonight, and tomorrow morning, bright and early, Jen will go one way and everyone else will go another. The RV will be loaded up and we will all troop down to The Lake, which, I am told, is about four or five hours south of here. We'll be there until Wednesday . . . perhaps you will hear from me again then.
Wish me luck.
August 01, 2005
Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita: The Horror of Proximity
I have done it. I have finished reading Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov within a mere hour of the arrival of Harry Potter 6. Having seen the movie last semester, and given it top marks, and considering the nature and quality of the literary version, I find it is impossible to proceed without writing something in the way of my impressions of the novel, and how I think it compares to the cinematic version.
This is the first (though by no means the last) Nabokov work which I have read, and I was floored by it. The only works of prose fiction that I have found which can compare with the skill and beauty of Nabokov's use of the English language are the "Gormenghast" novels by Mervyn Peake. The opening sentence of the novel is "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins." It proceeds, sometimes in a wild and feverish tone, sometimes in a dry and sardonic conversational tone, as the confession of a heinous sinner who has reached a point of almost ridiculously blunt honesty simply because he has nothing to lose by telling every word of the truth.
And yet English was not Nabokov's first language, nor even his second. Nabokov, like Joseph Conrad, is one of the few authors to gain special renown for their incredible deftness with a language which was not their own. I was quite shocked, in fact, to find this pronouncement by the author himself at the very end of Lolita: "My private tragedy, which cannot, and indeed should not, be anybody's concern, is that I had to abandon my natural idiom, my untrammeled, rich, and infinitely docile Russian tongue for a second-rate brand of English."
However, some might, and indeed have, argued that the sublimity of Nabokov's prose, while impressive, does not succeed in masking the rotted, amoral heart of the novel's subject matter. Beautiful writing may be all well and good, and certainly there is much to be said for it, but really, at its core, Lolita is simply a book about a 12-year old girl who is forced into two years of sexual slavery to our narrator, who is in almost all other respects a highly sympathetic, intelligent, and good-looking main character. Or is it? Is it really possible to dismiss so lightly something with which we are uncomfortable on merely moral grounds, or does it not rather depend on how the book treats the subject? Obviously, I am siding with the latter choice.
I mentioned earlier that the entire book is narrated by the semi-penitent pedophile, Humbert Humbert. This is not entirely true. Humbert's account takes up approximately 98% of the novel, however it is sandwhiched between an introduction, ostensibly written by an editor selected posthumously by Humbert's lawyer, and an afterword by Nabokov, finally writing as himself. Each of these three voices has something very important to tell us about the book and what it has to say. The first, strangely (considering we see it before the story proper has even begun), is the most detailed of the three. However, it is also the most shallow analysis of what we can take out of Lolita.
Viewed simply as a novel, "Lolita" deals with situations and emotions that would remain exasperatingly vague to the reader had their expression been etiolated by means of platitudinous evasions. True, not a single obscene term is to be found in the whole work; indeed, the robust philistine who is conditioned by modern conventions into accepting without qualms a lavish array of four-letter words in a banal novel, will be quite shocked by their absence here. If, however, for this paradoxical prude's comfort an editor attempted to dilute or omit scenes that a certain type of mind might call "aphrodisiac" (see in this respect the monumental decision rendered December 6, 1933, by Hon. John M. Woolsey in regard to another, considerably more outspoiken, book), one would have to forego the publication of "Lolita" altogether, since those very scenes that one might ineptly accuse of a sensuous existence of their own, are the most strictly functional ones in the development of a tragic tale tending unswervingly to nothing less than a moral apotheosis. The cynic may say that commercial pornography makes the same claim; the learned may counter by asserting that "H. H."'s impassiouned confession is a tempest in a test tube; that at least 12 percent of American adult males - a "conservative" estimate according to Dr. Blanche Schwarzmann (verbal communication) - enjoy yearly, in one way or another, the special experience "H. H." describes with such despair; that had our demented diarist gone, in the fatal summer of 1947, to a competent psychopathologist, there would have been no disaster; but then, neither would there have been this book.
This commentator may be excused for repeating what he has stressed in his own books and lectures, namely that "offensive" is frequently but a synonym for "unusual"; and a great work of art is of course always original, and thus by its very nature should come as a more or less shocking surprise. I have no intention to glorify "H. H." No doubt, he is horrible, he is abject, he is a shining example of moral leprosy, a mixture of ferocity and jocularity that betrays supreme misery perhaps, but is not conducive to attractiveness. He is ponderously capricious. Many of his casual opinions on the people and scenery of this country are ludicrous. A desperate honesty that throbs through his confession does not absolve him from sins of diabolical cunning. He is abnormal. He is not a gentleman. But how magically his singing violin can conjure up a tendresse, a compassion for Lolita that makes us entranced with the book while abhorring its author!
As a case history, "Lolita" will become, no doubt, a classic in psychiatric circles. As a work of art, it transcends its expiatory aspects; and still more important to us than scientific significance and literary worth, is the ethical impact the book should have on the serious reader; for in this poignant personal study there lurks a general lesson; the wayward child, the egotistic mother, the panting maniac - these are not only the vivid characters in a unique story; they warn us of dangerous trends; they point out potent evils. "Lolita" should make all of us - parents, social workers, educators - apply ourselves with still greater vigilance and vision to the task of bringing up a better generation in a safer world.
Incidentally, the ruling of 1933 that is referenced above decided that James Joyce's highly controversial Ulysses, which had been successfully kept out of the United States for over a decade, was not pornographic. As such the significance of this ruling should be readily apparent. That interesting tidbit aside, this view of Lolita preserves a very important distance between the audience and Humbert Humbert. We, the "parents, social workers, educators," the moral compass of society, the fine, upstanding citizens should see in Lolita a call to increasing vigilance against the prowling lion.
It is certainly true that the book functions on this level. As Humbert carefully plays out his hand in the acquisition of sole, unrestricted access to the young Dolores Haze throughout part one we see the serious blunders made by responsible adults all around both Lolita and H. H. They could have seen this coming, and they could have prevented it. This element continues throughout the two-year period of captivity in part two. A number of adults enter the lives of Dolly and Hum who might be capable of grasping the enormity of the situation if only their eyes were open. Sadly, they do not. Lolita points with a gnarled and trembling finger at evils which we must constantly guard against, and it does so in a vivid and unforgettable manner.
However, there is still this distance which is maintained in the introduction. That distance is erased from the first sentence of chapter one. Humbert Humbert, who has generously offered to guide us through the dark and twisted paths of his own story, will now attempt to explain himself, his background, his motives, his dark obsessions, addictions, and descent . . . He will reveal all. Or will he? I have very little doubt that H. H. believes that every word he tells us is the absolute truth, but after all, that doesn't mean that it is, does it? We must never forget that every passage of his journey into sexual obsession, manipulation, and finally, domination is viewable only through his own impossibly-biased eyes. Lolita herself, sole witness to most of what transpires in the book, is dead, even were she given the opportunity to speak (which, importantly, she is not). More on this later.
The point here is that now we are fully inside the mind of Humbert, and looking about us we certainly cannot claim to like what we see . . . but do we recoil in disgust and repulsion because we fear his depravity, or because we recognize it? The following passage was, to me, one of the most compelling in the book by far, as it outlines the vicious and never-ending cycle of fall into sin, guilty and remorseful weakness, and renewed temptation.
I recall certain moments, let us call them icebergs in paradise, when after having had my fill of her - after fabulous, insane exertions that left me limp and azure-barred - I would gather her in my arms with, at last, a mute moan of human tenderness (her skin glistening in the neon light coming from the paved court through the slits in the blind, her soot-black lashes matted, her grave gray eyes more vacant than ever - for all the world a little patient still in the confusion of a drug after a major operation) - and the tenderness would deepen to shame and despair, and I would lull and rock my lone light Lolita in my marble arms, and moan in her warm hair, and caress her at random and mutely ask her blessing, and at the peak of this human agonized selfless tenderness (with my soul actually hanging around her naked body and ready to repent), all at once, ironically, horribly, lust would swell again - and "oh, no", Lolita would say with a sigh to heaven and the next moment the tenderness and the azure - all would be shattered.
A Father Brown book I have recently finished contained the following quote: "There are two ways of renouncing the devil . . . and the difference is perhaps the deepest chasm in modern religion. One is to have a horror of him because he is so far off; and the other to have it because he is so near. And no virtue and vice are so much divided as those two virtues. You may think a crime horrible because you could never commit it. I think it horrible because I could commit it." Humbert Humbert may not be committing an "average" sin, but I would contest that he is certainly the average sinner. He is selfish, dishonest and manipulative, in addition to being addicted to his pedophiliac lusts and being obsessed and consumed by his desire for Lolita. This makes him almost a sympathetic figure.
But I'll get to that in a moment as well. As I mentioned earlier, there is one more narrative voice that casts light on Lolita, that of the author himself. As I have already shown, the book has a great deal to tell us, both about others and about ourselves, but what exactly is it that we are being shown? The answer to that lies in Nabokov's explanation of his original inspiration for the story:
The first little throb of Lolita went through me late in 1939 or early in 1940, in Paris . . . As far as I can recall, the initial shiver of inspiration was somehow prompted by a newspaper story about an ape in the Jardins des Plantes, who, after months of coaxing by a scientist, produced the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal: this sketch showed the bars of the poor creature's cage. The impulse I record had no textual connection with the ensuing train of thought . . .
I cannot say with any certainty that I know how Nabokov got from point A to point B, but consider for a moment the nature of Lolita. The subtitle is "Confessions of a White Widowed Male" and the entire book is (ostensibly) produced by this person. I know of no book that precedes Lolita which does what Lolita attempts to do. It is, in fact, the first novel ever produced by a self-confessed pedophile. And it shows us the bars of his cage. Lolita explains Humbert's every move . . . why he acts as he does, why he makes the decisions he does, where he comes from. It is not a cage from which there is no escape, however Humbert is unwilling or unable to make his escape on his own. This, I think, is one of the most important aspects of the book.
This would be as good a time as any to get back to a few things that I mentioned earlier, and begin my comparison between novel and movie. The movie, in terms of plot, is virtually identical to the book. The only changes I can think of are in things that are omitted from the movie version, either as I time consideration, or to sneak the movie by the censors. On the surface, the movie and the novel relate the events of the story in precisely the same manner. The key difference, which separates the two from each other entirely, is in the point of view.
In the book, we see everything through the eyes of Humbert. In the movie, we see everything through the eyes of the camera. This is a problem. Yes, Humbert is still the storyteller in the movie, and technically we do witness everything from his point of view. However, there is an inherent assumption by the viewer that what is on-screen is unbiased reality. While the novel might make it quite clear that everything we hear from Humbert is being told with his slant on it, the average movie viewer assumes that it is impossible to similarly trick the eyes. What we see on the screen is what is happening, and we believe this and form our opinions of the situation accordingly.
I would like to mention first that reading the book did not diminish my appreciation of the movie in any way. If anything, it had the opposite effect. However, it is important to realize that the movie we are watching is still a filmed version of Humbert's account. Lolita still does not have a voice and cannot speak for herself.
I have spent a great deal of time so far showing the tragedy of Humbert's character . . . his flaws and weaknesses and the damage that these do to his soul as he is trapped in a prison of lust. But all of this does not diminish the fact that Humbert is not the primary victim of tragedy in Lolita. That label goes to the title character alone. Lolita herself is the one deserving of pity and sympathy. Humbert, throughout his final denouement, expresses a great deal of remorse for what he has done, beats himself up over his failings, etc. But once again, as he has stolen Lolita's innocence and childhood and two years of her life, he is attempting to make off with our sympathy for her, to transfer it onto himself. I don't think he even realizes he is doing it. His character is so very manipulative and self-centered that he is incapable of doing otherwise.
But I wasn't fooled. It does not take much effort throughout a reading of Lolita to see that nothing which takes place, no matter what Humbert may say or how he may justify himself, is her fault. Throughout the novel I was captivated by the story, awed by the prose, filled with sympathy by the actions and emotions of the characters, and even somewhat convicted (I, too, can be quite self-centered and manipulative). Lolita is an incredible literary experience, just as it is an intense cinematic experience, and it would be a shame to hate it, or ban it, or dismiss it completely simply because we are uncomfortable with its subject.