Thursday, November 20, 2008

Whimsical Inspiration and the death of dreams

I am not a spontaneous book buyer.  I have a dorky file on my computer of authors to follow, books I’ve seen before that may be of interest to me, and may of titles that have stuck in my head for one reasons or the other.  Sadly, I’m one of the bad guys that is actively working to put brick and mortar book sellers out of business by supporting the dominance of internet retail.  (I’m broke so leave me alone.)  It was truly a surprise to me when I found myself in a real bookstore.  

Even more shocking was walking out with a title I had never heard of before.  Something about Paul Coelho’s twenty year old The Alchemist said, read me and so I did.  Me acting on a whim, is somewhat rare, but it wold seem that this was a good one, as it only took me two days to read it and the book was enjoyable.  

I refuse to do a, ‘review” but some explanation is needed to make my point so bare with me.  It’s a pseudo fairy tale, that so careful walks the edge of fantasy.  I would call it urban fantasy if it were being read in the time that the story takes place.  

The book is meant to be inspirational and uplifting more so than the action adventure type fantasy novel.  to make all readers feel like there is something more for them in the world, and that they have the means to achieve it: our own ‘Personal Legend’ as it is put to the story’s lead character, (who has a perfectly good name, but is annoyingly referred to as, “the boy” for the duration of the short book.  More on that later.)

Santiago’s ‘Personal Legend’ is a buried treasure somewhere outside the Pyramids of Egypt as he is told by an “Old King” of obscurity yet profound character.  His journey takes years, entails hard work, falling in love and is filled with hardships.  Coelho has unique ability to knowingly jump into plot cliches but not offend the reader.  The climax comes when he is captured by a warring Arab faction and is friend/mentor and fellow captive promises the Arabs that the boy can turn himself into the wind or they may take his life.  

He ends up having conversations with the desert, the wind, the sun, and finally the Hand of all creation.  I’ll start making my points now and leave the stories out come for you to discover.  

When do we stop dreaming?  At what point in time do well give way and steer off the path of our ‘Personal Legends?’  The “Old King” only talked to children, because they were willing to believe, and the elderly to remind them of all they could have achieved.  Fear of achievement was one reason offered in the book to stop chasing after what we really want in life.  After we get our ‘Personal Legend,’ what next?  The fear of whatever great void of bordem comes after the accomplishment of our lifetime is better not confronted in some peoples minds.  After such a grand adventure, what else could there be worth living for?  

After finishing The Alchemist my strange mind took me to a short story by an author who isn’t usually thought of as inspirational: Kafka, of all people.  A message from the Emperor is, to me, the most brilliant story ever told in under two hundred words.  The inspiration value there was a man who knew he would fail at his given task--who knew there was no chance of success--yet still tried.  Perhaps that is a romantic ideal; hence the attraction, perhaps it’s human nature to admire something as stupid as an ideal, but Kafka was no romantic and the reality we live in is unforgiving to idealism.  

For me, the end of hope, the death of my personal legend happens everyday at about seven thirty in the morning.  The alarm goes off, and I go to work.  It’s a good job for the time being, but my personal legend?  I should hope not.  We grow up and become cynical, and find justification in shunning what we once held as our dreams.  In part due to experience and choices we made in part because we are too jaded to whole-heartedly accept those choices that slowly but surely steered us away from our dreams.  

Hope is fun and Never Never Land is great but reality is harsh and the weather is rarely so pleasant.  Perhaps our personal legends develop and mature as we get older or we convince our selves of our childish stupidity as the years go by and life is made easier by the conventional choices.  

I’m weaker than I like to be and that is no surprise.  I can’t even remember what the old king told me was my personal legend and I’m held back from memory and even desire by something as mundane as my cell phone bill.  I’d never tell anyone to not follow their dreams; by all means get to the Pyramids or Deliver your Message; only make sure your efforts aren’t curbed by something so weak as growing older or social complacency.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Iron Curtain of Class

Planes are strange.  At best you have an international flight with no creepy-yelling-Tourette's -lady, but foul smelling Herr-stanks-a-lot-von-Kaiser.  At worst you’re stuck with an Asian reeking of decade old kimchi and an infant that screams like Satan is tickling it’s taint with the sharp end of his trident.  My passport, my wallet all that can confirm or deny my identity is on this plane.  If I get up to stretch my legs or use the toilet, it could all be gone at the will of some asshole who thinks it might be fun to steal my stuff.  But it doesn't happen.  Further more people are (generally) on their best behavior on a plane.  Ass-hats will always exist--for the moment I’ll turn a blind end to a certain Jihad-ing band of said ass-hats--but for the most part, air plane ambiance is a model for human behavior.  

“Please sit down and fasten your seat beats.”  No one gets an attitude when they hear this; they just do it.  People don’t talk on their cell phones in the same obnoxious manner the do in the grocery store or bank, they even use their inside speaking voice when conversing with their neighbors,  People are generous and polite in their conversation and even cordial in making niceties they really don’t give a good-god-damn about with other people.  

How is this beautiful state of mass existence possible and can it be created outside of a plane?  I have no answers but if it wasn’t for the leg room I’d be all for trying to maintain the air plane atmosphere at all times.  

Oh yeah, and on some international flights the booze is free… that can’t hurt anything.   

Sadly our high altitude utopia is not as flawless as it seems.  There was a great divide on my flight, a separation of class among all the plane’s passengers if you will.  All the French people I spoke with were very kind and as genuine as you can expect a human being to be.  Now as for the bilingual staff… Wow, I’ve never seen such a superiority complex in a person before (and this is coming from a guy who wakes up in shock of his own sex appeal everyday).  Happily, there was only one person of this type on the plane to the best of my knowledge.  She went to the University of Wisconsin where she majored in French language studies--as she made it known she was an unpleasant person, I did all I could to learn about her as to properly represent/hate on her here in my blog.   She is all done with school and is a flight attendant for Northwest who apparently holds herself in higher esteem than all other non-French speaking Americans.  

Why?  Does the ability to speak another language actually set us apart; particularly if we share one in common?  Here, I bring up again that it was her, and not the native French people on the plane, that seemed pained--somehow offended--when she had to speak English… her native tongue.  To foreshadow my next blog entry, I bring this particular person up because during my trip I feel I discovered a bit of the Language of the World.  There is a universal denominator for communication and not it’s not American (or French) Idol.  I had a blast in France, and some of the best time I spent was in the company of people that didn’t speak English.  Mitigating circumstances didn’t allow me to learn even the most basic French, but that didn’t stop me from truly communicated with people.  How is a flight attendant, whom I did share a language with, was at such odds with with her native tongue?  

I am really good at reading people for first impressions, beyond the first one I don’t have much skill, or perhaps--more than likely--I lose interest in the individual to really notice how they act.  This particular flight attendant didn’t like me.  This was made apparent the more I made her answer my questions concerning her education, travel experiences and employment.  As the seven hour flight worn on, I failed to grow on her despite my best and repeated efforts.  I know what I did to pissed her off, and I wasn’t out of line.  Nonetheless, her visible contempt of having to speak to me in English in a section of the plane that was so heavily loaded with French people was really too much for me to handle.

An American on an airplane being an asshole stood in stark contrast to all the super polite Parisians, not to mention the almost over bearing generosity of the citizens of Bailleul, I dealt with in my seven days abroad.  And here I thought extreme douchebaggery was a French claim to fame.

Class has nothing to do with the price paid for a ticket character can’t be paid for and class--and the lack there of-- is an innate possession that can be shared but not sold.