Sunday, March 20, 2005

Head 'em Off at the Past

As I continue to blog, I've come to realize something about the form. It's really all about weaving information, memories and connections, into a unique pattern that reflects the life or interests of the blogger. Ultimately, new strands must be drawn in, and this search for strands, for me, has become a recall of memories of the past. After all, memory is like a song in search of a refrain. Or so I thought.

I've been sending out notes to old friends. "Check out my blog," I write, hopefully, then ask: "What do you remember of those strange days when we always had something to say, when we were too fascinated with life to have anything to do with boring people? Recall some of the routine magic we conjured up, the fatal errors we survived, the intentional deaths we took in stride."

So far, no one has taken me up on the offer.

A couple of old friends are too caught up in present day realities to dwell upon the past. A note from one of the pivotal figures of the "olden days" wrote me the following:

"What we did in the 60s and 70s..... I don't remember.  The parts I do remember would probably sound more like a confession...the other areas would not be believed.  I have a hard time believing them, sometimes...."

I guess it is a lot to ask, for people to distill the most sensation-drenched period of their lives into an anecdote or two, but I'm puzzled by the reluctance of some to revisit the past. So this entry is simply another invitation. What was a defining experience for you when you were still young enough to be defined by experiences?

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

An Idea I Intend to Steal

What follows is a list from a blog belonging to Steven Riddle that I stumbled upon. I love the concept and may try to turn it into a magazine article. It reminds me of a story that local historian Fritz Wetherbee tells about how he once peed on Betty Davis (he was a baby at the time). My dad, famously, once ate meat from a prehistoric animal (mastodon? giant sloth?). Anyway, I need to ponder my own list (which will not be nearly so impressive as Mr. Riddle's), but I eagerly solicit submissions from my readership (all five of you) of your own lists of things you've done that most others probably have not.

Flos Carmeli: March 06, 2005 - March 12, 2005 Archives: "10 Things

Okay, I've resisted temptation up until now, but like Oscar, 'I can resist anything but temptation.' So my list of ten things most others might not have done:

1. Won first prize in an annual James Joyce writing competition for a poem composed in a composite language modeled on Finnegan's Wake

2. Named a species of fossil after my wife. (It was a compliment not any implication about the spouse.)

3. Had dinner and a knock-down drag-out fight with Stephen Jay Gould over the theory of contingency and whether it properly understood was science or not. (Okay, I admit it, that's an exaggeration. Let us say an animated and lengthy discussion complete with table napkin drawings and other paraphenalia.)

4. Went to a poetry reading (and read) in a State Penitentiary

5. Demonstrated origami for International Children's Days on the National Mall.

6. Assisted in digs on Mount Vernon Grounds and Williamsburg.

7. Helped excavate a mammoth, a dog-faced bear, and a peccary the size of a horse.

8. Went on a field trip to San Salvador, Bahamas to study modern carbonate depositional environments and joined the islanders in an iguana and conch feast.

9. Sat on Sophia Loren's lap in a helicopter shuttle for Kennedy Airport to La Guardia.

10. Presented a paper in a National Geological Convention on the periodicity of Mass extinctions and was congratulated and assisted by no less than David Raup and Jack Sepkoski themselves.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

What's in a Name?

I got the following note from my father the other day. I've been meaning to answer it, so I figure I might as well post my response here.

Dad wrote:
   A thought which I had early (about 4 or so AM) this morning, was the changing of one's name--even in a small manner, in the course of life. I'm sure someone has written about this. Percy [Gilmore - friend of dad's since his youth] changing his to Ken. My given Irvin to Bruce, and yours, slightly, to Rick. There are certainly reasons we do this, and, maybe consequences which might be interesting to explore. I know mainly that--I "ve gone through a few existential doorways during the early part of my life and for some now mainly forgotten reason--Irvin did not seem to fit. But the consequences, though not serious, sometimes create confusion in the ordinary commerce of daily life. "OH, I thought your name was Bruce!" And I got to thinking, could this give you a new and different persona, personality---maybe not.

I reply:
It's alway amuses me when I'm around my dad or one of my old friends and get called "Ricky." When I was 6, I actually "changed" the spelling of my own name to "Rickey." I don't know that any deep reason was behind my adding an "e" to distinguish myself. I remember I was at Lakeshore Drugs in Baton Rouge and looking through one of those racks of personalized badges, you know, "Aaron to Xavier," and the only one with my name on it had that peculiar spelling, so right then I adopted it. I was Rickey until I became Rick, I think in junior high. For a year or two, my son Daniel (his friends call him Dan) took to signing all his class papers "Dan!" -- no last name, just an exclamation point -- to the bemusement of his teachers. I do think that changing or modifying one's name is a rite of passage. Of course there are plenty of Biblical references to this rite: Jehovah changing Abram to Abraham, Jesus changing Simon to Peter, the passage from Revelation: "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth [it]." I think it's safe to say that our relationship to our names has something to do with our relationship to eternity, or to God. After all, a name is an artifact, something added to you by an authority outside yourself, but it's also the only thing about a person that doesn't constantly change. Everything else is either superficial, like belongings, or temporary, like body cells and fluids, or evolving, like thoughts and affections. Your name is the one part of you that doesn't change unless you change it, or at least allow it to change. And it's the part of you that most genuinely survives death in the mortal world. A name is the icon by which someone is remembered, revered or maligned. So, maybe there is some real insight to be gained from how a person manipulates this icon in life. But, as Dad said, surely someone has written on this.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Milkweed Hill: Not Just for Ladies

Milkweed Hill: "I had a SAHM first this week, and surprising that it should have taken so long for this 'first' to come about. David, Sofia and I embarked on our first playgroup session. As a mom of a 2 and 1/2 year old and nearly 10 month old, you'd think I would have made it to at least one of these by now, but nope. Not formally, anyway. We've gotten together with other small groups of moms and their kids, but nothing quite so organized as this. I found myself looking forward to it and then immediately thought, 'oh how sad that this is exciting for me.'"

The above is the lead for a nice entry to the blog of my friend Kristen. Her site is ostensibly dedicated to "attachment parenting," a child-rearing concept that I would have viewed skeptically back when I thought I knew something about parenting (i.e. before my kids began talking back). Now, with my own brood eyeing college, I ascribe to the "whatever gets you through the night" school of parenting. Anyway, Kristen's blog doesn't really advocate for anything so much as it presents a keen eye on the circumstances and details in the life of a talented, dedicated stay-at-home mom. It's as warm and invigorating as a perfect cup of tea.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Broussard's Black Rice

Everyone should discover a tribute Web page like this (link below) somewhere, posted by an old friend. This one, dedicated to my family, has been up for a long time, thanks I guess to the stability of the Geocities community. It looks like the site hasn't been updated in a couple of years. The author of the page, Nancy Garrett Brown, was one of my best friends, growing up. She was pretty, funny, smart, talented and kind -- all in equal measures. Not to turn this into a mutual admirational society, but Nancy's own family (at least her brothers and her kids) always resonated with a spunky grace and a recognizable vibe. They were (probably are) all musical and brilliant and so inherently curious about people and things that in their presence you felt like your soul was drawn in, admired and tickled.

The recipe that Nancy uses to lead the page is one of three or four meals that defined the Broussard household at the farm. Two of the others were a savory lemon chicken and an incredibly rich beef stoganoff variation that my mom made. My sister still knows the secrets (though she's become a vegetarian) and my brother was the chef heir apparent after my mom died, but I'm getting more interested in cooking lately. I may have to attempt to recreate a few of these great meals from the past.