*Names and identifying details have been altered to protect the innocent people who could sue me.

February 16, 2011

Day 47

Dear all,

First, a few items of business:
1. Happy 91st Birthday, Grandpop!
2. Yes, moose meat (and caribou meat) is kosher. I checked.
3. For all of those who have been (im)patiently waiting, I have health insurance again.

No photos this week – I’m trying to back up my computer before I add anything more to it. Just (a lot of) words instead. Consider yourself warned. Next time I’ll have some good shots of the trees, the mountains, and the moose. (Oh, and me learning how to chop wood. You won't want to miss that.)

I’ve been reading more Jane Austen this week (I have to retake the Praxis tests in order to try and switch my teaching license) and thinking a lot about communication, and language. In Austen’s time more could be said indirectly through social codes than directly. Pride and Prejudice’s Elinor Dashwood can’t even ask her own sister if she’s become engaged for fear of crossing the boundaries of indiscretion. And yet the simple act of Marianne (the sister) writing a letter to Willoughby (the man in question) acts as a coded signal for if they weren’t engaged, Marianne could never, by the rules of the uber-polite society to which she belonged, hazard such familiarity. Where direct communication is impossible, indirect language – coded through actions and etiquette – becomes verbose.

I’ve also been listening to the radio far more than I have ever cared to in the past: pop music at the bakery and “Focus on the Family” in the mornings when I’m not at work. (Cause-and-effect of these scenarios: the radio is turned on, I happen to be present, thus I listen.) With Valentine’s Day coming (and going) I’ve heard an insufferable amount of today’s love songs (at the bakery) and a good amount of advice on relationships (at the house). According to our pop music stars, I should either “take a grenade for love” or “stand there and watch you burn.” Meanwhile Jim, Juli, and John advise that I learn to speak my partner’s “language of love.” (For the record, I find “Focus on the Family” to be the more reasonable.)

This past weekend I went up to Anchorage via plane, which takes about 25 minutes. The plane we flew in seats about 9 passengers. My disbelief that we were actually able to fly through the air was topped only by my utter astonishment that we were able to land safely on the icy runway. I find all attempts at flight amazing – it’s just that in a plane this size I am not so removed from the process of flying that I can forget to be in awe of it.

Chester and I went to see the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra perform “Classical Mystery Tour,” which I had assumed would be a collection of Beatles’ hits performed by a classically-trained orchestra. And it was, at first – a nice medley of pop tunes and love songs enriched by a large group of wonderful musicians. And then, it got better.

I have to admit that my focus was first on the costumes (gray matching suits with skinny ties), and only secondarily on the music. I was primarily curious if the mop-tops of “John,” “Paul,” “George,” and “Ringo” were wigs. They were: their haircuts changed time periods along with their outfits, from skinny suits to oversized, shiny Sgt. Pepper uniforms and back to skinny with 70s era jeans, vests, and peace necklaces. To truly communicate “The Beatles” to us, these veteran impersonators used all kinds of language, from the visual symbols of costumes and haircuts to the aural code of somewhat contrived Liverpoolian accents. Most of all, they used the language of music, communicating messages of love both potent (“Maybe I’m Amazed”) and painful (“Yesterday”), of hope (“Imagine”), of loneliness (“Eleanor Rigby”), and of … marine mammals? (“I am the Walrus.”)

The primary communication, though, was of joy. After I had tallied the costumes, lights, and stage mics (old habits die hard), I sat and watched the audience watch “The Beatles” entertain us with wonderful songs (and slightly less wonderful between-song patter). The kids next to me, eight or nine years old apiece, were as entranced with “All You Need Is Love” as those in the audience who could remember hearing it the first time around. And as much as I loved the songs, the live performance, and yes, the impersonations (“John” was by far the best), it was this act of communication that struck me the most – the one that brought together an entire hall of disparate persons into one place, one time, one shared experience of happy entertainment.

On the way back from Anchorage it was windy out, and we buckled into the plane with full warning that the ride might be somewhat “bumpy.” Bumpy, my friends, is certainly one word for it. As I attempted to keep my eyes closed, thoughts calm, and stomach firmly in place, I found myself grateful for the language our pilot expertly knew how to speak, one of dials and gauges and wind currents and who knows what else.

When I moved to France for a year, it was hard to be patient as I slowly grew accustomed to the language -- of French, yes, but also to the language of culture that had me feeling very far away from home. Here I am now just as far away as before, but with new forms of communication that make all the difference in the world. Cell phones, text messaging, email, video chat, and, implausibly, even a blog – I am so grateful for all of the communication I’ve been able to keep up with you all. At times it makes me feel much farther away, but it’s worth it.

I never thought I’d be able to convince myself that keeping a blog was a good thing, but then I never thought I’d find myself listening to “Focus on the Family” in the mornings. Or, for that matter, see the Beatles play a live show. As we say around here: with God all things are possible. Even, implausibly, hurtling through the nighttime air to land a tiny plane on an icy runway in a lot of wind.

Much love,

1 comment:

  1. Did you fly on Era Alaska? We've been watching the show "Flying Wild Alaska" on television. Sk8terdude particularly loves the fact that former pro-skater John Ponts is one of their pilots. We will be very excited if it turns out he was YOUR you'll have to let us know (and if he's your pilot in the future, you might have to get Sk8terdude his autograph!).