Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The First Step

As I entered my eleventh year of primary education, I made a decision that would change my life: I applied to be an exchange student.

The selection process started in September 1977 with an expression of interest to my school guidance counselor. I was then interviewed by a committee, after which I was given a 17-page application to fill out. By the time I was done with the paperwork, I had something that would have filled a small three-ring binder. This application was delivered to the regional AFS representatives, who in turn conducted a lengthy interview with each candidate and a parent.

Up until this point there had been a lot of discussion between my parents and myself with regard to the country to which I may be assigned. You see, in the AFS program of the 1970s, students were never allowed to choose their country of temporary residence: They were assigned according to availability of host families and compatibility of the student. This is what we were told. Still, we could not help but discuss the possible location to which I might be sent.

Candidates were provided a list of locations to which AFS was currently sending students. I was a deeply religious young woman, and I very much wanted to visit the Middle East. The only country in the region that was on the list of approved locations was Jordan. I told my mother I wanted to go to Jordan and she flipped. She said that I would not under any circumstances be allowed to go to Jordan: too dangerous. I argued that it must be safe if it was on the list, but she was adamant. So I started examining other countries listed.

AFS had opportunities globally: Asia, Europe, South America, Central America, Australia, Greenland, the islands of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans...even Mexico and Canada were possibilities. Evan though I knew we weren't allowed to choose our destination, I still gave a lot of thought to the possibilities. If I was going to another country to learn about culture and international understanding, then I hoped that it would be exotic and enormously different from what I was used to. India was at the top of my list. Next, I thought Greece would be amazing with its history and culture. Last I thought Australia because it is so vast, and yet so few people live there.

I was green-lighted for the regional interview, so on a chilly autumn evening my dad and I set out for Osceola, Iowa, where the interviews were being held. All told, the trip there and back was an hour and a half, and the interview itself was about an hour. I remember this brief trip very fondly because it was one of the few times I did something just with my dad.

The AFS representatives encouraged me to not only apply for the summer program, but also for the 11-month program. We followed their instructions and I applied for both programs. What we didn't know was that summer candidates were selected first. Once a candidate had been selected, their application was pulled from the process. Therefore I would not be considered for the 11-month program if I was selected for the summer program.

Right before Christmas of 1977 I found out that I had been selected to be a summer semester International Exchange Student Program through AFS. Even though I wouldn't be going for the more lengthy program, I was overjoyed just to have been given the chance to be an exchange student. But...I wouldn't know where I was going until May!

The next four months were among the slowest in my life. I thought I'd probably end up going to Canada. Knowing the way things went for me, I'd be within a stone's throw of the Canadian-American border. That, however, was not to be.

I was lucky to be given 4 weeks leeway in finding out the destination of my journey: At the beginning of May, I found out that I was going to Australia. Australia...isn't that where they have kangaroos and billabongs? Don't they wear lopsided hats and live in the "outback" (whatever that is)?

Truth be told, I really didn't know much about Australia--but I was about to find out. I had been selected by the American Field Service (AFS) as one of the 48 students in 1978 to represent the US in schools all over "Land Down Under". I was 17.

(to be continued...)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Remembering Sherrie

Once long ago, the small girl fit into a drawer at night to sleep. No crib, so they made due; a drawer, in reach of sleeping mother, easily accessible but safe.

The girl got older, and could not be protected with such ease as she stepped out into the world. When she fell into some nasty, rusty wiring, she was not so small any more. As the blood poured from her leg, mother bundled her like the baby once more and ran...ran about a mile to the doctor. The car was inaccessible that day, and so she ran, remembering the babe who once had lain in the drawer, so easily accessible and safe.

The girl got older still, and could not be protected with such ease as she herself ran...and ran, and ran. Fleet of foot and full of grace, she ran for competition. She'd twist an ankle out there running, and come limping home. Mother held her as she cried, finding her feet would not carry her, at least for a little while. But she was home now, and mother would take care of her, make sure everything she needed was easily accessible for the daughter she loved: the radio, a can of pop, some suntan oil. She would lay out in the sun, warm: safe, at least for now.

When the pretty girl, whom by now was loved by all who knew her, got into a car that night after a meet, mother thought, 'No, not so easily accessible but safe--safe with him; he'll keep her safe.'

But he didn't.

Car crashed.

She died.


And now, she lays in a nearby grave; sleeping, so easily accessible...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Trek versus Terminator

Taken from Facebook entry on Sunday, May 24, 2009

At 7:00 on my 48th birthday, William took me to see Star Trek in an Imax theater. Seated with us were about 298 of our closest friends. As we munched on hot, buttery popcorn and slurped softdrinks through straws, we cheered, we laughed, we cried, we boo'd...we did, one and all, thoroughly enjoy the film. Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Chekov, Bones, and Scotty were embodied by different actors from those with which we were familiar, and yet there was a certain familiarity still...they did not parody, but actually became those whom they were representing on the screen, carrying us away into an alternate universe of thrills and knuckle-biting, with just a few bits of humor thrown in for good measure.

Some fans and critics have said this new Star Trek contains none of the social statements found in earlier installments of the mega-franchise, but I noted a new statement never formerly broached by the writers: That of the differences it makes to grow up in a single-parent home. In the original story, James Tiberius Kirk grew up in a home with two parents. His father stood proudly by as he watched his son's commissioning as captain of the famed USS Enterprise NCC-1701, a Constitution Class starship. In the new film, Jim Kirk grows up as the child of a single mother, perhaps acquiring a step-father at some point. He gets into trouble with the law at a young age, and by the time he should have been entering Star Fleet Academy, he was picking fights with Cadets at a local bar in Riverside, Iowa, just for kicks. At the urging of a Star Fleet officer who wrote about the ill-fated "father" Kirk, this young Kirk joins Star Fleet. Ultimately, he receives a field promotion to Captain while the ship is being held by a Romulan mining vessel from the future. The social comment: How life is different for those who grow up in single-parent homes.

I do believe the film delivers: I give it a whopping 5 stars (on a 5-star scale), finding it to be just about perfect. Not only did Director JJ Abrams deliver to a hungry fan base a film that could be relished over and over, but he provided the meat and potatoes that would fulfill the newcomer to the Universe of Star Trek.

Two days ago, William and I attended the first Friday showing of another long-anticipated science fiction offering: Terminator Salvation. With regard to this film, dear reading, I have one piece of advice--wait for the DVD. The acting was flat, the story was shallow, and the special effects were bland. Come on!!! We waited 6 years for this! Couldn't you have given us something with at least a story that fit and was befitting a sequel to the original film? This was a chance to show us that John Conner of which Kyle Reese spoke; that man who inspired the last remnant of humanity to rise up and fight, turning the tide of the war in favor of mankind. Instead, we got a grizzly-voiced Kyle Reese played by Christian Bale, and a Kyle Reese who was actually more inspiring, played by wide-eyed Anton Yelchin (whom I found to be about the only redeeming quality in the film).

I wanted to like the Terminator film...I really did. Instead, I sat in a full theater which suffered from a heaviness...nobody cheered, laughed, cried, or even boo'd. The movie fell flat. At the end, people practically bolted from their seats to get out of the theater before the credits rolled. Spare yourself...don't waste your money on this mess.

One star.

OK, so that painful bit of prose behind me, I must point out one interesting thing the two films have in common: Russian-born American actor, Anton Viktorovich Yelchin. This is the same fella who plays the 17-year-old Pavel Andreievich Chekov in the Star Trek film! Yep, the kid from Hearts in Atlantis has two films in the box office at the same time! Way to go, man. I hope we see more great things from you in the future.

So, there you have it. Star Trek is a must-see (preferably on a big screen, about 5 rows back, in the center), and Terminator is one for the dusty DVD shelf. Do you disagree? Hey, that's your right.

- Palemoon Twilight

Special Note: At the time of this publication, the author has seen Star Trek four times, and still can't find anything of which to complain...except maybe, actually quite disheartenedly, Spock's ears. You see, the elder Spock very obviously has detached earlobes, while the younger Spock has attached ear lobes. Hrmmm...Nature versus nurture?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

l'heure bleue

GrĂ¼ss Gott.'s often thought of as that hour between sunset and dusk; neither daytime nor night; neither light nor dark. The French have a pretty phrase for it: l'heure bleue, or "the blue hour". During twilight, Sister Moon sometimes shines pale from the heavens, unable or unwilling to give us her full light for fear she may insult the sun. It is a time often thought of as magical, when faeries and lightening bugs emerge from the bliss of sleep and romp about with frivolous abandon until they fall exhausted into the grass...waiting for the next blue hour.

My life has often seemed like a moment waiting to happen, the actor waiting in the wings, the diver standing on the platform, a child waiting for the mailman to deliver that anticipated sent-for item, a loved one waiting for the doctor to emerge from the operating room. You know that feeling: poised for a moment that will change everything...or nothing at all. Once the moment comes, things are never the same...sometimes. Yes, my life has often seemed like it was comprised of nothing but these moments--as if I were on the precipice of some very anticipated event. And so I pay homage to the faeries dancing in the dew during that very special moment, l'heure bleue.

It is from this viewpoint that I am often blindsided by even more spectacular events than the blue hour--the moment of the Black Swan. For centuries, Europeans thought that swans came in only one color: white. However, during an 18th century expedition of Western Australia, it was discovered that swans do come in another color: black. Inexplicable! Impossible! And yet here it was, right before their very eyes: a black swan.This original Black Swan Event has been used to describe the theory that the impossible may not always be unattainable. Black Swan Events must meet three criteria: 1) It must be a surprise; 2) It must have major impact (either positive or negative...or even both); and 3) It becomes rationalized after the event, as if it had been expected. Examples of Black Swan events include the emergence of the Internet in the 1980s, and the terrible tragedy that took place in New York City on September 11, 2004.

In memory, we often are unable to separate the events in our own lives from the events occurring around us at any particular point in time, especially if the events are Black Swans. Because of this, you might hear someone say, "I got married in 1985, the weekend after the Space Shuttle Challenger accident," or "They visited in 1993, right around the time of the Great Flood." It seems to be part of the human experience to relate to time this way. This blog will contain a monologue of my own experiences woven with those of our nation and the world around us.

I look forward to sharing my life, ideas, insights, joys, and pain with you. I hope you find something here to take away, and I invite your comments, questions, and feedback as we embark together on this journey.

- Palemoon Twilight