The Last Frontier

 

So on Monday afternoon, I got on a plane to Anchorage, Alaska because I was blessed with means and opportunity. I’ll be here until Saturday evening, just seeing some things worth seeing and trying out the whole Alaska thing. I’ll give you a quick rundown on what I’ve done so far and then leave you with a few thoughts.

Before we get to the Alaska stuff, though, the plane ride itself. Because I’d never had occasion to fly over the Olympic Mountains before and they were positively breathtaking. Turn, coming down over Alaska, more breath was taken as we descended over glaciers and water and sub-arctic forests.

On Tuesday morning, my friend (we planned this to together not quite spontaneously but still only a but ago) and I got caught in the rain walking to breakfast. We knew rain was in the forecast but were inexplicably confident it wouldn’t start until after we returned. Alas. Breakfast was wet. Then we rented a car and set out.

Driving along the Seward Highway, the rain continued pretty heavily and most of the landscape was fairly deeply obscured. Our first destination was the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and as we approached, the weather started to clear up a bit.

The Center itself involved walking a little long among the various enclosures. Unlike a zoo, which is totally uncomfortable, the animals mostly are there for two reasons: they were wounded and unable to survive in the wild (like the bald eagle who had one entire wing amputated when they found him) or they are part of a conservation/reintroduction program. The major highlight was, of course, seeing my beloved mush oxen which remain and forever will remain my favorite animal.

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After stopping for lunch and a bit of shopping, we decided to continue on to Whittier. I really want to tell you the whole story of Whittier, Alaska, but I don’t think I’d be able to do it justice in this space. Suffice to say that the majority of the population of about 200 lives in a single building built for the army during the Cold War. The other building from that era is in ruins and is very creepy. Also, to get to Whittier, you must pass through a very long, one-lane tunnel which changes directions every half hour. It is quite an interesting place. That is all I can say about it.

Yesterday, we spent the morning exploring Anchorage a bit, the downtown if I may call it that. Some nice little shops, tasty food, lovely views. Then we headed up into the mountains (still within the city limits) for a hike that turned out to be much more of a hike than we anticipated. Tabletop Mountain starts fairly steeply but reasonably, but the last portion of the trail is truly just rock climbing and we weren’t about that life. The best part of the trail was that there was never not an excellent view.

 

Overlooking the city, the expanse of tidal flats, snowy mountains in the distance. No picture does it justice, alas.

Today holds a trip to Denali, the highest peak on the continent.

I’m not sure how I feel about Alaska, the so-called last frontier (we all know space is the final frontier so…). Obviously, it’s incredibly beautiful, beyond description or photography. But it’s also in perpetual danger because humans are trash, even when they live in such a place. In some ways, the state is politically progressive and in others very regressive. It’s plagued by social ills to a degree beyond most other states but it also fosters its people in unique ways. I honestly don’t know that much about it but it’s a weird place.

As always, I’ve contemplated if I would live here and it’s hard to say. For one thing, snow. For another, it’s been sixty and rainy pretty much this whole week, which doesn’t bode well for summers generally. And the politics. All that balanced with the Beauty of Nature and a kind of isolation, even in Anchorage, that I find appealing.

 

Either way, it calls for further study and I would very much like to come back and explore more. I require more data points. Come to Alaska (just don’t be trash about it).

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In a Place

Happy August! It is my favorite month. Blackberries in season, best beach weather, golden sunlight, what’s not to love. I have a frantic two weeks before getting in my car and driving away for a long time. There’s a lot to do but I’m mostly feeling okay about being ready, logistically. Whether I’m personally ready is anyone’s guess.

As things have been coming down the linel I’ve been thinking (a dangerous pastime, I know). There’s a phrase I’ve been using a lot lately, as I try to prepare for my upcoming move. Whenever a parent or grandparent ask if I’d like to take X thing with me–or have it shipped, as the case may be– I’ve often find myself responding, “Once I’m in a place.” Things that I do want, but don’t want to have in Michigan, yet another year-long sojourn.

It’s been a bit frustrating, to tell you the truth. And it’s a little difficult for me to explain, so I’ve tried to boil it down to a few pretty simple statements. They are contradictory, yes, very well, I contradict myself. I contain multitudes and all that.

First, I love my hometown and Washington State. They’re fabulous, even with all their flaws. Second, I absolutely cannot picture myself here long term and never have wanted that–ever. Third, I really enjoy traveling around the world–not just to travel but to actually stay and live for extended periods. Fourth, I deeply desire a single place, my place, to call home.

That last I’ll decorate with all my artwork and sing in a local choir, maybe play in a local band, maybe tutor, maybe take further Russian classes, subscribe to The Economist with a permanent address that isn’t my mother’s, acquire sophisticated baking tools. I have a whole list of things on my phone. The list is called ADULT THINGS. It includes those and many others.

But here I am, off to another stint somewhere that will probably not become my place. It may, who knows. I had initially wanted to stay in Korea for two years and look how that turned out.

Anyway.

The thing is: this is the three-year anniversary of this blog. In other words, it was my birthday. I just want to be in a place in the most desperate sort of way. We’ll see, maybe Michigan will defy all expectations. Maybe Michigan will be the fork in the road that sets me toward my place.

I’m feeling old, in the relative sense, and just kind of want things to get a move on. I’m not overly anxious to be an adult in many ways. I think I do fairly well with blooming where I’m planted and enjoying the journey without being overly concerned with the destination. But still. I’ve got some mid-twenties angst that I would love to resolve. Or, if a place isn’t in the cards for me, learn the art of contentment. We’re all works in progress.

There’s a fun tool in running this blog that gives me general overview-type statistics. As of this post, I have contributed 110,687 words to the internet via somethingwittypossiblyinvolvingcats. Not sure how many of those words are meaningful or relevant or even read, but here, at least, is a small piece of internet that is my place. And for a wandering millennial, I guess that’s good enough for now.

Forgettable

 

I have a terrible memory. I can memorize song lyrics, country flags, stuff like that. But my actual life, as anyone who knows me can tell you, is pretty vague in my mind. I was talking to a couple of my parents recently about places we had gone as a family and they kept listing places and I would just shake my head, “No, I don’t remember that one either.”

I felt awful at the time. It must be a little bit crushing to have gone to the effort of ‘making memories’ for your children and then learn that, in fact, no memories were made. But I think I’m putting together an alternative perspective that might make you, parents, feel better. Of course, I’m in no position to offer parenting advice but since when did having no authority stop people from giving their opinions?

I think most of the meat of life is actually pretty forgettable. It’s like on the spot describing for someone what you did at 6 pm last Tuesday (maybe you’re great at remembering that sort of stuff, good for you). Oddly, though, I’m starting to think that being able to forget the little stuff is a kind of blessing.

I don’t remember a lot of the things we did as a family when I was young but there’s no doubt in my mind that we did them. I couldn’t give you details but I know that my family did things together. I know my family is my family. And I think that’s probably more important than the details (however expensive or trying those details were). Some people aren’t sure of their families, regardless of things done or not done together.

It’s easy to get lost in searching for the Major Thing that will Make Memories. Nothing wrong with those things, of course, but they will not make up the great proportion of the substance of our lives. It takes a great deal of understanding to acknowledge that the small, mundane, forgettable moments are what we are actually made of.

It takes humility and courage to seek those moments, to be ready to participate in them, knowing that they will never really be a Big Deal.

I’m also going to take this opportunity to thank people–mostly but not exclusively my parents– for the moments they’ve had in my life, whether I remember them or not. They’re the foundation of our relationships and I’m very grateful for them. Those all-too-often forgotten (by me, at least) and exceedingly ordinary acts of service and presence matter. They matter so very much.

It probably won’t take long for these periods at home since graduation to fade into generalized recollections that aren’t quite memories (that’s how I do) but even so, they matter. So thank you also, family, for letting me come home. Twice. For just a lot longer than any of us expected. You let me just kind of do my thing but also made sure that I was still involved in family life. It matters.

I’m trying to be ready for boring moments, now that I’ve thought of them this way. By their very nature, it will be difficult. But I think that if we all put a little more meaningful presence into the ordinary, we just might be able to build the extraordinary without realizing it.

Coast; Thoughts

I thought about making this post a Jeff Bezos rant, and just rich people in general (wealth is immoral, ask me about how I feel and I’ll tell you) but I couldn’t quite manage it. I have lots of rants stored up, and some of them aren’t even that bad, but I just wasn’t feeling it for this week, I guess.

On Monday, I did go on a bit of an adventure to fulfill some Washington things that I’d been meaning to do for ages. We drove out to La Push and Cape Flattery, the northwestern-most point in the state (and the contiguous US). The weather here had been surpassing hot and I just had to get out.

First, La Push. It’s in this strange, stringy little arm of Olympic National Park out on the coast-coast. We went partially to escape the heat and indeed, instead of 93°F, the temperature fell as we approached the water, some places more along the way to the tune of 60°F though the beach itself was more like 70°F, very pleasant.

The other weather thing, though, we discovered on the short 20-minute trail from where we parked down to the beach. The last five minutes or so were blanketed in a sudden and dense fog bank. So thick, in fact, that is almost seemed like it was raining as the moisture condensed on needles and leaves and fell on us. Very spooky. The beach was no different, a mysterious and arcane view greeted us when we finally came out of the trees. Sandy beach, lots of driftwood, seaward boulders, all opaque and obscured and opalescent.

 

We walked along the beach some way, then returned before the rising tide stranded us on some rocks in the middle of nowhere. After a bit of lunch, we drove up the coast toward the Cape.

Upon arrival, we were greeted with sunny weather, no mysterious fog banks, and a gorgeous sight. The view on offer included a number of rocky islets, formed by the slow (or maybe not so slow, actually) erosion of the underlying bedrock. We stood, in fact, on top of a number of sea caves and that land would soon collapse and form more rocky promontories. We also could see a good chunk of Vancouver Island which seemed not at all distant and very beautiful.

 

All in all, 10/10 would recommend both destinations if you’re in the area. We were very blessed by great weather, the Washington coast spends most of its time gloomy, chilly, and just very, very rainy.

I didn’t want to do a ranty post this week, as I’ve said, but I do want to include a little something here at the end. I’ve continued to call this blog Journeyman because, MPhil or not, I’m still not a master at life but I continue to work on myself. In humility, I submit to you this: let us question our lives deeply, examine ourselves honestly, and put in the work, be it ever so laborious, to make ourselves–and the world–a better place. We may never do enough, but are we even doing at all?

Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Nelson Mandela, so I’d like to conclude with a few of his words. About apartheid and about how we live our lives.

The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.

In Which I Tell You about Sobekneferu

I believe in knowledge for its own sake. Learning does not have to be useful. Learning reveals to be how incredible this world is; sometimes incredibly awful but also incredibly beautiful. Also, just interesting and quirky.

In furtherance of that idea, I present you with this titular fact: Sobekneferu (whose name means ‘the beauty of Sobek [the crocodile god of the Egyptians]) is the earliest evidenced female pharaoh, ruling in Egypt’s Twelfth Dynasty from 1806-1802 BCE. Other women may have come before her, but she is the earliest definitely substantiated. The only statue of her with a head attached was kept in a museum in Berlin and was lost during WWII.

Sobekneferu is, as far as I have been able to discern, the first well-documented female ruler in history. I am certain that others came before her, matriarchal societies have long existed, and Egypt itself has some supposed queens before her. Even so, that is still quite a pedestal to occupy.

There’s our fun fact for the week.

I have very little else to report this week. The weather has returned to lovely, sunny days and so there has been plenty of reading outside. Very much been enjoying the summer weather, the leisure of the season. I have had occasion to try a couple new recipes, which were fun.

First, we made Earl Grey cake, flavored with the tea. Apparently bergamot is orange? Who knew. I don’t like the tea but had the cake somewhere (possibly New Zealand) and enjoyed it and since have tried Earl Grey ice cream and enjoyed that as well. There were three parts: the cake, with tea inside, then a syrup of tea between the layers, then a frosting between the layers and on the outside. The frosting was super difficult, involved a double boiler and meringue that never meringued, but it still tasted fine. The finished product was pretty tasty but probably won’t try it again.

 

The second was ice cream bread because why not. The recipe is: 1 cup melted ice cream, ¾ cup self-rising flour, bake at 350°F for 30 minutes. That’s it. We used butter pecan because they cautioned against using something with chocolate bits in it. I thought it tasted lovely and was great because it was super easy. Parentals weren’t impressed.

Both were accomplished with significant help from familials and I was quite pleased with both.

There’s really nothing else going on for me.

I’m just adding a little note here to reiterate how much I value knowledge. Never before have so many people had access to so much information. Two caveats: people don’t always deal with information well (ex. fake news ect.) and some areas of knowledge have been largely lost (ex. traditional history/culture, languages ect.).

Even so, I can’t handle it when people sometimes exclaim about people being on their phones and stuff all the time. Yes, there are problems with it. Of course there are problems. But imagine an average peasant on Hispaniola in 3 BCE and compare even to a dumb American today–without effort of recall, we can acknowledge entire continents that people in history didn’t even conceive of. This says nothing about how we deal with that information but still.

I don’t know really what I’m trying to say. Value knowledge, I guess. Count your blessings. The rising tide of enlightenment, if you will, truly does lift all ships.

My New Friend, Pádraig

A quick note on last week’s post to get started. A friend of mine brought to my attention the motto of North Carolina, a quote from Cicero (among others): esse quam videri or to be, rather than to seem. It just made me feel validated to share the same sentiments as a poet and old Latin guys (and an old Greek guy said something along the same lines). It’s a fun group to be a part of, apparently along with the State of North Carolina.

In other news. Last Saturday, I drove down to the outskirts of Portland and purchased a car for my very own. My initial ambition was to never own a car, then it was to have the first car I buy be electric. It is, alas, a hybrid but something is better than nothing. Also, after considering a variety of names, I have settled on Pádraig. I’ve just learned that the name shares its etymology with patrician which is fun. Also, for those of you who are unfamiliar, it’s PAW-drig. The other contenders were Paolo and Peter so participation trophies for them.

Perhaps you’ll meet Pádraig someday, he’s a pretty cool guy.

On Monday morning, I was up early and off to Issaquah, which I don’t think I’ve ever visited before. I was meeting a friend of mine to hike Poo Poo Point because why not. My erstwhile hiking partner has recently relocated and I haven’t been out much since, so that was nice. It was also lovely to catch up with my friend and his brother, who I met for the first time. The views were beautiful, draped with plenty of mystical clouds.

Not much has been going on here otherwise. Slowly acquiring a few more household accouterments necessary for the move and furnishing my place. More reading in the sun. Snuggling with cats.

Yesterday, I did go to a friend’s house to celebrate the most American holiday. He lives on a lake but there wasn’t much swimming because, though it was warm, it wasn’t sunny one minute and did in fact rain a little. Even so, it was a lovely time just hanging out, having nice food, watching pretty fireworks.

I recognize that I am very blessed by being an American alive at this time. But I also did not feel quite up to celebrating America. There is so much work yet to be done and so much of ‘America’ is only America to some. It’s a bit of a balancing act, recognizing the incredible gifts that we are given and also being convicted of the need for radical change.

I’m not really sure what else I want to say about it and I don’t really have other news to report. So there you go. Until next week.

Finale of Seem

There is a poem by Wallace Stevens, The Emperor of Ice-Cream, that I memorized during a poetry course at university. The message of the poem, in general, borders on hedonistic with its encouragement to enjoy life while one can. I wouldn’t consider myself a hedonist in really any sense so the poem sits a little awkwardly with me though I thoroughly enjoy it.

There is one line that came to me as precisely appropriate for this week. The narrator commands us: “Let be be finale of seem.” We are urged to let reality shine through illusion; to truly be who we are and relinquish, as much as we are able, the seem in our lives.

In preparation for Seattle Pride on Sunday, I finally got around to binging Queer Eye on Netflix. I knew, through the grapevine, that I had to get through at least the whole first season and the first episode of season two so that was what I did last Saturday (I have since finished season 2). And I was not disappointed.

The show is not at all my style. Though I have no qualms about watching awful television, my tastes strictly exclude reality TV of any sort. But I thought I’d make an exception for this, seeing as I still haven’t seen any Drag Race (my gay culture now is a strong desire for Antoni). The show is indeed worth a watch and I’m glad I got around to it.

Though not every episode made me tear up, it is consistently not about superficiality or selfishness or vanity (though it’s hard to avoid them altogether). It is about learning to love yourself, to value yourself, and let that then pour out of you into others.

Anyway. I did go to Pride and let me tell you, I was not adequately prepared by the Korean Queer Culture Festival last year. I brought my Korean/French rainbow fan from last year (it being the only rainbow thing I own) and met up with a friend who lives in Seattle. I also happened to run into a couple other friends by chance, which was fun.

Here’s the thing: I am no longer in the closet; I have no problem reconciling my faith and sexuality. Even so, there are plenty of moments of fear and anxiety. Times when I’m not sure how someone will react to something I’ve done (for example, getting a manicure and having rainbow nails) or something just feels awkward and you let it slide (for example, if someone asks whether I have a girlfriend, I typically answer ‘no’ instead of ‘I’m gay’).

Pride is what gives a time of freedom from that. Some people use that freedom to bicycle naked in a parade, which… you do you. For me, I just stand there, sometimes smiling wildly, feeling all fluttery when I see people holding hands.

Honestly, the parade wasn’t that interesting. I don’t know if it’s possible for me to be that interested in a parade of any kind. But the pride, the Pride, was what I came for and what I felt. What I feel. It’s less about what happens and more that it happens. Less an event and more a feeling. A collective sloughing off of seeming, if you will.

Someone put it this way, loosely: sometimes, pride is the opposite of humility but sometimes, it’s the opposite of shame. And that latter is worth celebrating.

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