Friday, June 26, 2009

The King is Dead


“I want someone to say it, Becky. I want the most influential person—someone with respect, clout, money and power—to say it: ‘The GREATEST pop singer the world has ever known has died, and we should mourn his tragic life.’”


My sister said this to me last night in reaction to all the crap that’s been written about Michael Jackson’s death, and it struck a chord. She’s right. His music has had a profound effect on my life. Michael Jackson’s “HIStory” album came out when I was in the 8th grade (1995), and I listened to it until my ears went numb. I worshipped and adored the words and unsurpassed quality and poetry, and I was compelled to discover Michael’s previous decade of work. He was beautiful.


Unfortunately, though his art was matchless, his life was a damn mess.


Roger Ebert said in his eulogy:


“We have all spent years in the morbid psychoanalysis of this strange man-child. Now that he has died we will hear it all repeated again: The great fame from an early age, the gold records, the world tours, the needy friendships, the painful childhood, Neverland, the eccentric behavior, plastic surgery, charges of child molestation, the fortunes won and lost, the generosity, the secrecy, the inexplicable marriage to Elvis's daughter, the disguises, the puzzling sexuality, the jokes, and on and on.


I have no idea whether Michael abused the children he "adopted." It is possible those relationships were without sex; he seemed frozen at a time before puberty. Whether he touched them criminally or not, it is easy to see what he sought: To create, with and for these Lost Boys, a Neverland where they could imagine together the childhood he never had.


His father Joseph was known even then as a hard-driving taskmaster, and was later described by family members as physically and mentally abusive, beating the child, once holding him by a leg and banging his head on the floor. Michael confided to Oprah that sometimes he would vomit at the sight of the man.


Mixed with that was perhaps a lifelong feeling of inadequacy, burned in by the cruelty of his father. That might help explain the compulsive plastic surgery, the relentless rehearsal, the exhausting tours, the purchase of expensive toys, the giving of gifts.”


I am now filled with a sense of loss, and even more, a sense of compassion. Michael was a mysterious, lonely, sad, and strange creature. I’m inclined to believe he spent his entire life attempting to regain and/or heal an utterly devastating and shattered childhood.


I refuse to demonize or reduce him to a “pot shot” joke. I also refuse to believe he was a sinister creature.


He was the GREATEST pop singer the world has ever known, and I mourn his tragic life.


Friday, June 19, 2009

Love The Beast

“There’s not a lot of room for bonding with objects and even people sometimes. I think that’s tragic.”

--Dr. Phil McGraw

In 1990, when I was eight years old and still living on the now shut down naval base in Philadelphia, I met a neighbor down the street who was washing his red cruiser style motorcycle. I don’t remember the make, model, or year—I just remember hearing it rev and wanting a ride.

He then called to his three children, who were scattered in different places on the very small backstreet in the neighborhood, and proceeded to give them each a ride around the block, one by one. After everyone took a turn, he called out to me and asked if I wanted a ride.

I wanted one alright.

But I also remember feeling apprehension that my mother would find out what I'd done, and for some reason that scared me. The machine itself also left me with a weird mix of exhilaration and terror—it was so much bigger than I was. In the end, I chose not to take his offer.

image 1230348388-1
(A 1990 Honda Gold Wing, with similar color and style to that first motorcycle.)

The years passed, and I completely forgot about the experience.

A little more than a decade later, I was twenty and attending college at BYU. I was broke, but dying for some means of transportation. Up until that point, I had owned two indisputable lemons—a beat up 1990 Plymouth Sundance and a crappy little Indian-made (as in the country) moped. I was ready for something better.

So I started browsing the BYUWilk Board,” where students essentially place 3X5 index-card-classified ads with promotions of everything from vehicles to used hair dryers. And that’s when I saw an advertisement for this—
CM450 (USA) image
A 1982 Honda CM 450.

Asking price? $850.

Did I have the money? Barely.

Did I own a helmet, leathers, license, insurance, or even the ability to ride it from the selling location to my apartment three blocks away? Absolutely not.

My life until I acquired that bike? An endless torment of misery.

It took me a half an hour to get it home after I bought it. I was still unsure of which side was the clutch and which was the brake. When I finally got it home, I parked it and stared at it for another half an hour.

I was in love.

Its greasy smell, its loud engine, and its amazingly fast pick-up—I'd never felt that way before about any piece of machinery.

When I sold it three and a half years later to help recover the costs of tuition and impeding surgery fees—I was graduating and I had also blown out my knee—I wept.

Nevertheless, after only a brief year’s stay in Florida post graduation, I was back in Utah and broke once again.

I did have a truck, but the summer I bought it, I drove from Florida to Ontario, Canada and back. When I left Florida, I put an additional 2,500 miles on it. I was racking up the mileage, and I knew that if I kept up the pace, I would ruin my truck—a vehicle that would have to last me through grad and post-grad school.

While contemplating different ways to spare my truck, I was walking through the library and came across a documentary I had never heard of, The Long Way Round, with Ewan McGregor, of Star Wars fame, and Charlie Boorman.
(The cover art for their same autobiography that accompanied the 2004 film version.)

The film was a six hour ode to cross-country motorbiking. Charlie and Ewan took their bikes all the way from London, England to the furthermost eastern tip of Russia. There, they hopped a flight to Alaska, drove through Canada, and then the United States, finally ending into New York City.

Here, watch an advertisement for it.
Here's another advert for its 2008 sequel, Long Way Down.

I saw the first film, and I got an idea of how I was going to "save my truck." I was going to buy a beast.

I knew that I couldn't afford the fancy BMW's pictured above. Now that I think about it, I couldn't really afford anything, as I had just barely gotten a job as a security guard. But I had $1200 in the bank I was eyeballing with the express purpose of acquiring a motorcycle.

I knew I couldn't settle for anything less than 900cc. My Honda 450 had been a great vehicle, and I loved it. But I learned a few things about having a bike with that small of an engine. One, it was too light--even moderate wind could blow me dangerously out of control. Two, it was too small--I felt like a bug when I went around semis. Three, driving uphill, the engine was pathetic. And finally, its top speed was 70 miles an hour on the freeway.

So I began looking through the KSL ads (a local online classified for Salt Lake City), searching for my beast. And then I came across this--
A 1982 Yamaha XJ 1100 Maxim (Mine is confederate red.).

It was love all over again.

For the last two summers I've driven this, and only this. Wind, rain, sunshine--I can't get enough of it.

Maybe someday I'll finally get one of those fancy BMW GS 1200 Adventurers, but until then, I'll love my Beast.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Going It Alone

Lately, I’ve felt a streak of melancholy enter my existence. The streak is made up of two things. So I guess, technically, you could call it two small streaks. Or maybe the two streaks combine to make one big streak. Perhaps streaks are the wrong metaphor altogether.

I digress.

Let’s talk.

This past week, I came to a realization—the women’s BYU ultimate team is beginning to dissolve. People are jaded, injured, or ready to move on (marriage, grad school), and the time has come to say good-bye for awhile—maybe forever.

This change got me thinking about how many years of my life I’ve invested playing this obscure sport. How much joy and heartache it has caused me mentally, physically and emotionally.

(A side-by-side comparison of my legs after my second knee reconstruction surgery in 2006.)

I’m not really interested in a “walk down memory lane,” as of yet. What I am interested in talking about is the emotional hole I’m beginning to feel open up.

This loss is combined with another problem I’m starting to face—the loss of youth. I’m getting older, uglier, and fatter by the day.
(This 2005 picture of my bicep shows me in peak condition. Why don't they warn you're not going to feel that good forever?)

These are just the cold hard facts. Life is changing.

I’m not saying I don’t have some constancy. My older sister and my parents are a big help in that department. But I am single, and I'm sure most people would agree, out of preservation for healthy autonomy, single people require semi-permanent relationships in order to cope with their lack of permanent family structure. The only problem with this is, eventually, these structures fall apart, and one is left to emotionally fend for oneself.

Consequently, a festering question has formed in my mind—“If home is where the heart is, and the heart is where loved ones are, what do you do with yourself after everyone has left? Where is home?"

I’m tired of being the one left behind.

I’m tired of my ambition, because as gratifying as it is, it offers little consolation for this particular brand of lonely.

When I stare into my undivined future, I realize how many miles I have left to go. And I'm afraid I might have to go them alone.

Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there’s some mistake.
T he only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

-Robert Frost

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

My Eclectic American Heritage.

I lead a very charmed life when it comes to where I live. I say this for several reasons. First, it is absolutely beautiful living in down town Salt Lake. Second, I'm just a few miles (sometimes less, sometimes more) away from every amazing natural attraction on the Wasatch. Third, I have very sane roommates (which has, unfortunately, not always been the case.). Lastly, I am exactly where I'm supposed to be right now. And nothing feels better than knowing where you belong. Es las verdad?
Anywho, last night I went for a quick jog around the capitol building, and I noticed the beautiful arrangement of the state and national flags. And that got me to thinking about all the places I've called home and all the flags that I've lived under. I even got a little misty eyed (although that could have been the sweat from my forehead rolling into my eyeballs.).
So here's the Utah flag. Ain't it grand? I get a bitter kick out of the two "established" dates. The US government has a lot to answer for when it comes to their bigoted treatment of my Mormon forefathers. I guess the U.S. just wasn't ready for us.
Nevertheless, I wasn't always here in Utah. If we want to get nit-picky, my genes started somewhere in Germany...



And, according to one family legend, the Iroquois Confederacy.
You could call the majority of me British, but I wouldn't.

Life actually started for me in Fort Ord, California. The only thing I could remember about living there was a pile of dirt I ate as a two year old in the backyard.
Then there was Alabama.

Then Germany (It was two countries back then.).

And let's not forget Pennsylvania...

Where I met my favorite Canadian friends.

At times, I felt more "at home" in Canada, than some of the places I was actually living. In total, I've probably lived there for less than a year. But many of these provinces I've thought of as home.

Quebec... New Brunswick... Ontario...

British Columbia...
Nova Scotia...
and P.E. Island.

And now I want to shift my focus to the glorious state in which I went to high school: Florida.
Which makes me think fondly of this flag.

Unfortunately...because so many ignorant white rednecks insisted on turning it into a symbol that has more in common with this piece of crap....

These will have to do.
The Confederate States flag.

And the Bonnie Blue.

Isn't if fun to think about all the places you've been and all the places you'll go?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

What Does "Family" Mean, Anyway?

This is the Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls Idaho. It provides substantial proof that Idaho isn't completely ugly.

My relationship with my biological father is strained at best. Not because I don’t feel love for him or wish him well, but because his role in my formidable years—age 11 to 21— is an absolute blank. Was he a good man? Was he a bad man? I have no fair answer. He was absent, nonexistent, estranged—which is to imply a pejorative impact, but it's not necessarily reflective of an evil character.

I mention this because over this past weekend, my older sister and I had the opportunity to go to a family reunion of sorts in Idaho. There we met with my biological father’s entire side of the family for the first time in my memory. Two of my father’s three younger sisters I hadn’t met since early childhood. One of the two I couldn’t remember at all.

It was surreal to look at these family members--many of whom look a lot like me--and realize that I probably knew my co-workers better than these people. They were all very polite, if somewhat indifferent, and with exception of one Aunt (we'll call her amazing Aunt Alaska for the sake of this blog), I couldn't think of one thing I had in common with any of of them.

When we finally left the reunion, I started to feel depressed and ambivalent. My heart and mind began to wander into a room that has long since, for the most part, been shutoff and left to collect dust in the inner sanctums of my conscious. I have deliberately avoided this room, because it contains hundreds of empty boxes where memories with my father should be. As I tentatively entered to drop off these new memories, all I could hear was an echo. It left me feeling angry and dejected--I resented this room's emptiness.

Perhaps one day this will change. In the future, it might be better for me to store the new memories in a different room altogether. I’m not sure. What I do know is not all of my memory rooms are this sad and lonely, and for that I’m eternally grateful. I have been blessed in my life with a series of unconventional familial connections. These connections have made such indelible impressions that I am forced to reevaluate my definition of “family.”

1. First, I have a step father who has been absolutely supportive since the first day we met. I am moved by his kindness and impressed by his unfathomable capacity for patience. I'm also grateful for someone in the family who has similar interests to mine. He's an outdoors enthusiast, knowledgeable about the Southern culture, highly educated, and he loves the gospel. He truly is the father I never had.

2. The second set of people who've had a huge impact on my life are my uncle and aunt--who, in actuality, are only related as fifth or sixth cousins. That familial connection, however slight, was reinforced to within an inch of its life while I was growing up. I cannot say how many meals I've eaten at their table or how many times my uncle helped me with homework in high school (-"Want to hear a joke about inertia, Becky?" -"Now that you mention it Uncle, No. No, I don't."). I am also excessively fond of my cousins. One I idolized (we shall call him Sethie-poo) and another with whom I have enjoyed years of sibling rivalry, fighting, and eventually an quasi-intellectual truce ("-My argument is logically sound." -"But you're still wrong." -"How wrong would I be if I offered you some chocolate?" -"How 'bout you give me the chocolate, and let me think it over?").

3. Lastly, I have enjoyed an incredibly short list of best friends who've had an astounding impact on my life: Jaime, Jea9, & Bep. You ladies know who you are. I would not be who I am today without you.

"Family" doesn't just mean blood. It means love.