Author Archives: Libbie

Surviving is A Matter of Resilience

I’ve been having a run of misfortune lately, so I was quite excited last week to find a four-leaf clover. Turns out, I’m allergic. Now I have a rash of good luck.

Note to self: Find followers with sense of humor.

Back to work. How many of you watch the TV series “Survivor?” It’s okay to admit it; it’ll never leave this room. (Evil smile)

For those who kept their hands down, “Survivor” is an alleged “reality” show following a group of strangers stranded on a desert island or dropped into Dante’s third level and given really disgusting tasks like eating bugs and stabbing each other in the back.

Every few days or so, the group, which has split into smaller groups, “votes someone off the island,” which is supposed to be a punishment. Imagine, being forced to return to civilization, hot baths, and no worm cakes. Sucks to be them, I guess.

What makes this so funny is that the last man (or woman) standing is the SURVIVOR and wins a ton of cash.

But in actuality, surviving a few weeks in what most of us would see as a vacation paradise, knowing rescue is coming and emergencies will be dealt with immediately, doesn’t really take that much stamina. The real trick is surviving this episode we call Life.

In this reality show, we don’t get to chose to participate. We don’t travel to exotic locales and we don’t get prizes for eating bugs and leaves. For some, that’s a luxury meal.

Our challenges aren’t to build a bridge of leaves and cross it, or start a fire with two wet sticks and a piece of charcoal. We get things like mortgages, bills, kids, work, traffic, stress, cancer, unemployment, and reality TV.

We don’t get to go home just because we don’t like each other. We’re pretty much stuck where we land, with no rescue in sight, no matter how uncomfortable or dangerous our circumstances become.

And we don’t get a gajillion bucks for sticking it out. When it’s over, we’re usually 6 feet under.

But, as in TV reality, people react to their challenges in different ways. Some whine, kvetch, moan, and go home with their tails between their legs at the least little toe stub. Others, however, stand tall no matter how strong the wind. They are unbending in an F5, swim strongly in a flood, stay on their feet in a magnitude 9 earthquake. They are, in a word, survivors.

But what is it that makes a person survive the most Life can throw at them, while others fall apart over a hangnail? What qualities make people stronger than it seems this fragile container of blood and muscles and bones should be?

I asked myself this question after a conversation with a friend several years ago. After telling her about losing my job and breaking up with my boyfriend on two consecutive days, not to mention the broken toilet in between, she gasped and said, “Oh, my gosh! What are you going to do?

I shrugged. “Now I’m going to bring my sweaters up from the basement because I have extra closet space.”

She looked at me with either admiration or horrified incredulousness, I’m not sure, and asked, “How do you remain so up all the time?”

Have to admit, I was at a loss for words there. So I began to wonder: What is it that keeps some of us going? What gives some people emotional resilience, the ability to pick themselves up after a fall and keep walking, blisters and skinned knees and all?

Emotional resilience is defined by psychologists as being able to spring back emotionally after difficult or stressful times.

Stress leads to negative emotions, such as anger and depression. When someone gets trapped in those emotions, they have lost their resilience. Resilient people are able to tap into their positive emotions no matter what the circumstance and pull away from the negative.

Emotionally resilient people—survivors—share some personality traits. Among those traits are a strong sense of control, reasonable expectations, persistence, responsibility, empathy, optimism, and a strong sense of humor.

People who have a sense of control over life, who have realistic expectations and embrace responsibility never get overwhelmed—for very long—even when Lake Ponchartrain is carrying away their antebellum mansion. They say, “I may be evacuating today, but I’ll be back tomorrow. And the house will rise again!”

That’s the attitude that will rebuild New Orleans, not the “The government failed so sue the (expletive deleted expletives)!” off non-resilient non-survivors.

My daughter told me she was hearing voices, so naturally, I overreacted and dragged her to a psychiatrist. He put her on some anti-psychotic medication and told us to come back in a week.

At the follow-up, he asked my daughter if the prescription had helped.

“Well,” she said. “Now I’m seeing things.”

“You’ll have to change her meds,” I admonished the doctor.

“No, I don’t want to change,” my daughter said. “Now I can actually see who’s talking to me.”

Optimism is, of course, the ability to see the positive side of any situation, the “glass is half-full” school. Pessimists, on the other hand, always see a half-empty glass and focus on what’s not there, whether the liquid in the glass is brandy or sulfuric acid.

I used to be the other one: not only was my glass half-empty, but someone probably spit in it when my back was turned. Being a pessimist made life a lot more predictable—nothing good was ever going to happen, so I was never surprised by disaster.

And you have to laugh at Life. Kids know how to do that.

M oldest daughter took the news of an impeding divorce between her parents rather matter-of-factly. She told me she thought our problems were largely psychological.

“How so?” I asked.

“You’re psycho and Dad’s logical.”

Persistence means never giving up. Some people call it stubbornness.

As babies, we don’t walk the first time we put our feet down to the ground. We fall. We stumble. We totter and fall again. Sometimes we fall easy, sometimes hard. But eventually, we get our feet under control and start cruising. That’s persistence. And it’s hard-wired into all of us. Some of us just lose it as we get older and more fearful.

Psychologist Peter Ubel, author of You’re Stronger Than You Think: Tapping Into the Secrets of Emotionally Resilient People, says most people underestimate how resilient they are.

“Many more of us have that kind of resilience or DNA within us,” he said in an interview for CanWest News Service in May 2008. “We just haven’t been forced to recognize or use it.”

Adversity can overwhelm us, but it doesn’t have to. Often, Ubel says, the trite saying is true: Adversity can help us focus on what’s important.

“If you don’t think every day is a good day, just try missing one.”

–Cavett Robert, Something to Smile About

So, I’m unemployed. And single. I’ve survived both before, and can again. I can find a better job, one more suited to my talents. And if I decide I need a man in my life, I’ll look for one who adores me and treats me like the goddess I am.

I can look at my life as half-empty or half-full. I’ll stick with the half-full, because while a glass half-full of beer is half as satisfying, a half-glass of castor oil is much less nasty than a full one.

Early Alaskan ethnographer’s journals give glimpse into Native studies

Tanana and Chandalar: The Alaska Field Journals of Robert A. McKennan 41elizxIE5L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Edited by Craig Mishler & William E. Simeone

The University of Alaska Press, 2006

$45.00

www.amazon.com

 

 

Like many people, Robert A. McKennan fell in love with Alaska. Although he never lived here, he became thoroughly enamored of the place and its people.

McKennan was a cultural anthropologist, trained at Dartmouth College, in Hanover, N.H., and Harvard University, specializing in Native American studies. He joined the Dartmouth faculty in 1930 as an instructor of sociology. With the exception of his field trips and a three-year absence during World War II, he spent 40 years there.

McKennan took his first trip to Alaska in 1929, at the suggestion of a professor, Roland Dixon. He took a second trip, a longer one, in 1933, with a new doctorate from Harvard and grants from the Social Science Research Council and the National Research Council. He spent the summer studying the ethnography of the Gwich’in Natives. It was only the first of several anthropological studies in the Territory.

McKennan was one of the first ethnographers to study Alaska Natives, and became one of the premiere ethnographers in this subject. He published two major works detailing his studies, The Upper Tanana Indians (1959) and The Chandalar Kutchin (1965).

Ethnographies of the time were formal studies, written in the third person, “objective and empirical,” editor Craig Mishler writes in the Introduction to this work. Ethnographies document a culture and lifestyle, but do not interject the observer into the community. To do so, Mishler writes, would have pegged the writer as “egotistical and self-indulgent.”

McKennan himself writes in the preface to The Chandalar Kutchin, “I readily admit that I like the Chandalar Kutchin, their country, and their way of life, but I trust that I have balanced empathy with objectivity in my depiction of the native culture.”

Field journals, in contrast, are day-to-day observations written by the anthropologist, and by nature include much of the soul of the researcher, as he depicts not only life in the community being studied, but how he interacts with and becomes a part of that community.

The journals heretofore were kept in the Dartmouth archives since just before McKennan died in 1982. They were found by a former student, already typed up (the handwritten originals have never been located). Editors Mishler and William E. Simeone have allowed us a fascinating glimpse not only of an anthropologist at work, but the Native cultures he studied. At a time when most of the Natives had had very little contact with white culture. McKennan’s journals reflect cultures on the brink of transformation.

The journals are a “contemporary, postmodern sensibility that we now find more compelling than the original ethnographies. The field journals are written reflexively and critically in the first person. They are in a lively narrative form. And they openly reflect the author’s personal biases and inner feelings,” Mishler writes. Both the journals and the studies are important, Mishler continues, as the one represents the humanistic side of the anthropological tradition, the other showing the scientific tradition.

The book also contains numerous photos, most taken by McKennan during the course of his studies.

McKennan’s first trip, to the Upper Tanana, took place between September 1929 and June 1930. He lived in tents and cabins, traveled by foot, horse and dogsled, and found himself sharing some of the same concerns as the Natives he studied, mostly in terms of food. Living as he did in the same isolated villages, McKennan found trading posts and stores few and far between. The tradition of sharing with visitors and the scarcity of provisions meant he often worried that he would run out of food. He did, however, take enthusiastically to the subsistence hunting lifestyle, and many of his entries document the great hunts he participated in, both with Natives and other white men.

The journals are compelling reading, as McKennan has a keen eye and witty pen. He details everything, from the state of his abodes to the stature and habits of his study subjects.

There is a map before each section, showing his journeys and the villages in which he stayed, allowing the reader to follow him in his journeys. The entries at first are introduced with both the day of the week and the date, but eventually the day is dropped and only the date remains.

Interspersed among the journal entries are letters written to McKennan’s wife, Kay, and other members of his family. The journal entries are written in an epistolary style, chatty and familiar, bringing the reader into the intimate circle of the writer’s life.

McKennan was far from a stuffy, professorial anthropologist. In addition to keen observations, occasionally waxes poetic as he observes Nature and her power.

He observes, on Jan. 13, as he prepares for bed: “The dogs have been unusually restless tonight and every time they start howling I rush to the door, only to see nothing but a big round moon. There it shines, cold and serene, making dark shadows on the snow-white peaks that surround me. Tonight it seems cold and cruel as it shines there so stoically.”

And yet, the practical scientist is never far away. He finishes the entry with: “And so to bed.”

The only technical fault I find is end notes as opposed to footnotes. End notes, while easier for the editors, are a pain for most readers, as the interruption to page back to the note section and finding the correct entry is far more distracting than looking to the bottom of the page.

Additionally, when sections are as long as these are, end notes are even more annoying.

But, as I said, technical nitpicks. Maybe other readers will not be so annoyed.

Readers looking at this book with 21st century mores will note some arrogance and patronizing attitudes towards the Natives and some of their habits. There is a lot of ethnocentricity here, and a few instances of double standards, such as McKennan’s disdain for Native leaders who turn their back on Native ways, while at the same time preferring to spend time with those Natives who are more “civilized” and cleaner than their ignorant brethren. But wise readers will remember that McKennan was a product of his time and anthropology was still in its infancy, so to speak, with many lessons on people and cultures yet to be learned. It’s best to send the political correctness police out for doughnuts while reading this book. Make no judgments—just enjoy McKennan’s clear writing style and his witty observations of human nature.

Bottom line, this is a good book for anyone interested in Alaska’s history, Natives, culture and heritage. McKennan, although not an Alaskan by birth or choice, nevertheless, like so many others, “got” Alaska and her people; he understood what it is that attaches people to this place.

It makes him an honorary Alaskan, at the very least.

Crash story one of survival – and reconnecting

Touching the Ancient One: A True Story of Tragedy and Reunion41Z14Ha2JEL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_

By Rupert Pratt

Wheat Mark

2006  $26.95

www.amazon.com

 

 

Alaska’s history is littered with aviation tragedies. According to the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, the commercial aviation accident rate in Alaska is four times that of other states. And with a long list of well-known names lost in plane crashes – including Carl Ben Eielson’s disappearance in 1929, Wiley Post and humorist Will Rogers in 1935, William Huatala’s death in 1943, and U.S. Reps. Nick Begich of Alaska and Hale Boggs of Louisiana in 1972 ‑ stories of gravity’s victory over man’s attempt to soar are numerous.

But Rupert Pratt’s memoir, “Touching the Ancient One: A True Story of Tragedy and Reunion,” is a story of a different type. As the title suggests, the book isn’t just about the crash, although that compelling story is the first half of the book. The story is really about Pratt and the men who survived a tragic accident – and how they reconnected years after the crash. It’s not so much a tragedy as a tale of survival and strength.

Rupert Pratt grew up in Salt Rock, WV, a rural area in the Appalachian Mountains. He joined the Army at age 20, because “in the early fifties, entering the military was almost a certainty for a healthy young man.” Although he deferred his services for several years while attending college, eventually, Pratt was tired of the process of deferrals and ready to begin his service. He wanted to be a pilot, but poor eyesight precluded that, and he was assigned to petroleum school for eventual work in “petroleum laboratories.” He was assigned to Ladd Air Force Base in 1953 for a two-year stint.

On his arrival, however, he found his petroleum lab was a myth; he and his buddies Ed Knapp and Don McDonough were assigned to drive oil and gas rigs, a dirty, smelly job that was far from the glamour Pratt had envisioned.

Pratt writes of his introduction to the Fairbanks cold, disillusionment with his assignment and his personal story of loves lost and found. It’s a meandering journey, first here, then there, throwing in an explanation as almost an after thought. It’s not the chronological, 1-2-3 order most of us expect when reading history, but it’s more real, as if we’re sitting down face-to-face with Pratt as he tells us stories about his life. The back story is necessary to help us understand how Pratt ended up on that C-47 that ill-fated day, and, like any real life journey, begins long before the actual event, with fits and starts along the way.

Pratt and his buddies learned there was a petroleum lab in Anchorage, but because Ladd was short-staffed, they were pretty much stuck in their dirty, smelly job. But finally, they were “loaned” to the Army’s lab in Ft.Richardson, TDY (temporary duty) for up to three months. They landed in Anchorage in November 1953; they were recalled back to Ladd on Feb. 3, 1954.

Pratt was told their loan to the Army was over; he was to notify Knapp and McDonough and be on a flight back to Fairbanks by Feb. 5. Atypically, he writes, he let the order to find a flight slip from his mind, and it wasn’t until late the next day that he was reminded – forcefully – by his superior.

“ ‘You get all squared away with air transport about your flight to Fairbanks?’ [Capt. Reardon] asked.

“I felt my knees go weak as I realized I’d forgotten to make arrangements. It had been nearly 24 hours since he’d given me the order to take care of it. It hadn’t crossed my mind all day.

“ ‘Sir,’ I managed to say. ‘I haven’t yet made those arrangements.’

“ ‘What! And why not?’

“ ‘I forgot, sir.’

“ ‘Dammit, soldier!’ he said loud enough for anyone within a hundred feet to hear. ‘I am not accustomed to having my orders disobeyed.’ His face was red.”

So it was that Pratt got himself and his friends on that unfortunate C-47 out of Elmendorf, finding himself plummeting to earth when the plane broke up over Denali National Park and his subsequent landing on Kesugi Ridge.

Sixteen men boarded that flight: Pratt, Knapp and McDonough, pilot Lt. Earl (Bob) Bescher, co-pilot Col. Edward Burge, crew chief Cpl. Richard Knickerbocker, and passengers Edward J. Fox, Eli LaDuke, Edward W. Olson, Huey T. Montgomery, Bobby G. Sallis, Edward Knapp, Edmund McMahon, Alvi Raymer, Jacob Siplivy, and Lt. Col. William West-Watson of the British Royal Air Force (assigned to the British Joint Military Services in the U.S.).

Six men survived the explosion, break-up and parachute-fall to the ground. The survivors were rescued by Bush pilots Cliff Hudson and Don Sheldon. The six men were airlifted to Elmendorf, where they underwent recovery and eventual reassignment. And life after that.

Such is retired schoolteacher Pratt’s writing skill that even though you know – you KNOW – that only six men walk away from the downed craft, the reader hopes along with the author for the safety of all of them. Pratt has tapped deeply into 40-year-old memories, bringing the reader vividly close to the experience – I felt the cold wind rushing through me as I fell from the plane, earned bruises from landing on unforgiving rock and waved frantically at an unseen plane flying overhead, hoping I would be seen.

But this book is not a mere survival tale. Pratt finishes out the first half by detailing his reaction after returning to Fairbanks – too much booze, time and what we would these days call Post-Traumatic Stress. But he pulled himself together, finished his military time, married his sweetheart and got on with his life.

Until 40 years later, when he began wondering about the other five survivors and the families of those who hadn’t survived. Who they had been, what they were like, how their families had fared. With the aid of his letters home (saved by his mom), newspaper clippings and a CD-ROM with all the residential telephone numbers in the U.S., Pratt began with the five men who had shared the mountain with him: Fox, La Duke, Olson, Montgomery and Sallis.

It was slow going, but eventually, Pratt found them. The story of his search is as compelling as the tale of the crash, because he is honest about the emotions dragged up from the wells of memory. He worried that the others wouldn’t want to remember the crash, and that the families of those who didn’t survive were resentful of those who had.

“The reunion idea just popped out,” he writes early in the chapter. “I guess the idea had occurred to me before, but I hadn’t given it much thought. Now it seemed the most logical thing in the world.”

And the others thought so too.

Eventually, Pratt found family members who were willing to talk about their lost loved ones – indeed, the forward to this half of the book was written by Keith Betscher, who was 20 months old when his father piloted his last flight.

Pratt writes vivid biographies of both the survivors and the victims, using information he garnered from family members, survivors’ stories and newspaper clippings. He speaks with wonder at the interest the reunions picked up – newspaper articles, a film documentary, and calls from families. Eventually, the survivors plan a trip to Kasugi Ridge, thus closing out a chapter in their lives that colored everything they did.

Pratt’s book is not just another plane crash story. It is literally a survival tale – not just surviving the actual crash, but surviving the ensuing years – the guilt of living while friends died, the pain of loss, the stress of getting back to the mundane job of waking up and being fruitful after such an intense experience. It is about overcoming fears –he eventually learns how to fly, thus slaying the final demon – and rejoicing in all that makes life sweet – family, friends and waking up each day.

Pioneers of Alaska blazed trails we still follow

Alaska Gold Trails Volume 3: The Pioneers315DiyzC5HL._BO1,204,203,200_

By Jim Madonna

A.P. Publishing, 2005

[amazon asin=www.amazon.com&text=www.amazon.com]

 

 

History matters.

We are a product of what happened before we were born; our lives have been shaped by those who blazed the trail ahead of us.

Alaska has an incredible past that lends itself to great stories, which, after all, is what history is: the story of the people before. And Alaskans seem to really enjoy listening to their elders and pioneers recall their exploits and experiences.

Jim Madonna, professor emeritus of mining extension at the University of Alaska, understands this. In the late 1980s, he hosted a radio show in Fairbanks featuring Alaskan pioneers, who spent an hour each week sharing their frontier adventures.

Madonna has since put his interview into a series of books called “Alaska Gold Trails.”

“The Pioneers,” volume three in the series, features such Alaskan notables as Ray Lester; Sandra Stillion; and Arnold “Swede” Wasvick.

From the beginning, Madonna makes no secret of his admiration and respect for the subjects of his interviews. “There are always challenges we dream of facing in our lives, but for some reason, known only to us personally, we never quite get around to them. … Fortunately. those of us interested in the rugged outdoor adventure associated with Alaska’s vast wilderness can live some of our dreams through the lives and experiences of the early frontiersmen and settling pioneers.”

There will be no ambush interviews, Madonna is teling the reader, no gleeful digging into secrets, no revelation of embarrassing or criminal pasts. Just a recounting of adventures, in the adventurer’s own words.

The format is strictly transcription from the taped interviews, exactly as heard on the radio shows. Madonna talks of the efforts made by his wife, Leah, in taping the shows and helping with guest selection. Friend Sharon Kessey transcribed the tapes, he continues, acknowledging the “long hours” she spent in the task.

But the real stars are the pioneers, telling their stories and showing Alaskans how this state was settled. Madonna introduces each player briefly in the introduction, giving just a hint of what the reader can expect. And he gets the adventurous juices flowing with this: “As you read these accounts of their colorful frontier lives and the obstacles they faced … perhaps one of their experiences will stir your restless spirit and spark an unresistable [sic] challenge that forces you to take the first step down the trail to that one last big frontier adventure—the fulfillment of you destiny.”

These are fascinating people, who came to Alaska before it was a state, who thrived through harsh winters. Miners, pilots, hunters, farmers—most came to Alaska from Outside, whether through the military or a thirst for adventure, and never left, having been bitten by the Alaskan spirit.

Their backgrounds are as varied as their experiences: Ed Ashby came up with his cousins in a 24-foot boat with a 1926 Dodge motor, the trip taking 29 days from Seattle to Ketchikan. He talks of the struggle, running out of food, having an error-filled chart and scrounging fish and deer along the way. Bob Jacobs, born in West   Chester, Penn., found his way here through an ad in Alaska Life magazine. Janet Cowgill migrated from Tennessee, after working in Chicago as a “Rosie (the Riveter)” for Hudson Motor Co.

Experiences range from wolf and walrus hunts to placer mining to living out in the Bush during the diphtheria crisis.

If I have any nitpicks with this book at all, it is that Madonna never really introduces his guests thoroughly. For someone new to Alaska, the names aren’t familiar, and the interviews don’t often lead to a clear understanding of the interviewee’s place in Alaska history. Madonna provides a brief glimpse of their lives after the radio show at the end, but it’s not enough for those true history buffs who want to know more.

I have to wonder if it was a deliberate omission on his part, giving those with a real interest a nudge to research and discover more about the early pioneers.

Whatever. This is a fascinating book, central to the understanding of what makes Alaska such a unique place. I highly recommend it.

Shiba in the Sun

Written October 17, 2001, after losing our chow-sheltie mix Shiba, a part of the family for 14 years.

 

Ragged bundle of

orange fur

Frighteningly still and silent.

Quiet

Surreptitious

I check for breathing.

Peer over the heap, watch for rise and fall.

One eye opens.

Through the dull covering of

cataractic coat,

the bright brown gleams

and the small puppy winks.

Tail flops once.

Twice.

“I’m okay. Thanks for asking.”

 

Morning.

Stiffly stumbles down the stairs.

Standing hopefully, ears high,

under the table,

hoping for just one Cheerio.

Some sour milk.

Anything but kibbles and bits.

 

Sharp rebuke …

the ears go flat,

the head falls and eyes

plead silently.

She turns slowly

painfully

away

and flops down,

brown muzzle between

dainty orange paws

and waits.

Guilt.

 

Doorbell rings. I wait for

click of nails

on hard wood floor,

frantic pace as she

races to protect what’s hers.

Raging barks ¾

short

hysterical

destined to inspire terror;

louder and more fierce

as she approaches the intruder,

nothing between

but the fragile wood

of a thick oak door.

I wait …

And hear a soft

fragile “Woof.”

And dim thump of the tail.

“Call me if you need me,”

she seems to say.

“But only if it’s a real

emergency.”

 

I remember a small fuzzball,

all orange fur and black tongue,

sharp nose the only gift

from a Sheltie mother.

Small when she sat in my hand.

Wild puppy days that lasted too many years.

“Will you ever calm down?”

we cried in despair.

Chewed shoes, shredded dolls,

leapt fences.

We wish for those wild puppy days again.

 

And yet,

some days,

when the sun shines high and warm,

the sky is blue and cloudless,

after a particularly vivid dream

that has her legs racing,

she jumps up.

Her ears are high, her black tongue ¾

fading and dull (like her eyes) ¾

drips excitement on the deck.

“Where’s the kitty?” I yell.

Her favorite game.

She looks here.     There.

“Where? Where?”

She pounces on the unsuspecting

puddle of black

that is our grumpy feline,

and gets scratched on the nose

for her trouble.

Shaking head,

wounded eyes.

It’s all too much.

She collapses,

and becomes, yet again,

a ragged bundle of orange fur,

frighteningly still and silent.

Guest Blog #3- Casey Burk

What doesn’t kill me makes me….

 

Struggling to make ends meet day to day isn’t something new to me. I have been on my own for a long time and there hasn’t been a day since then that I haven’t struggled. Emotionally, financially, sometimes even physically. It’s no surprise to me that the upcoming arrival of my second child is causing more stress than most pregnant women experience. I am a single mother of almost 2 children, no job, and no promise of hope in the near future. All I have are my children, some scattered family members for some support, and a back bone that gets stronger every day.

I started working when I was 15. Not because my family was poor and I had to but because I wanted to. I wanted my own money and my freedom. I liked work back then. I wasn’t forced to be there, I didn’t have rent to pay or food to buy. Working gave me a new sense of responsibility and made me feel independent. It wasn’t like I was working in some special career that would last a lifetime, but I felt good about myself. I had no idea that one day working would feel forced and I would be so unhappy doing something just to keep a roof over my head.

I chose not to go to college right out of high school. I got into some trouble in my senior year and barely finished school as it was. College seemed like the last thing I should be doing. I didn’t think it would have an effect on my life. I had worked many jobs by then, creating a buffet of skills that employers would be pleased to see. I figured I could get a great job and start my lifelong career with no training at all. I had no idea what that career would be, but that didn’t worry me. Besides, soon I would meet my husband and could stay at home with my children, right?

When I was 18, I met “the man of my dreams”. I moved out of my mom’s house to be with him (at the exact time my mommy moved thousands of miles away for her Mr. Right). Things seemed to be going in the direction I always thought they would. We were poor and I had to continue to work, but I knew that one day he would step up and be able to take care of us while I started a family. We struggled with money for a long time, and I started to get worried that my fantasy of the perfect life was just that; a fantasy. I questioned whether or not this was the right man for me and came close to leaving that life behind. Until I got pregnant. We got married. All of a sudden my fantasy was back on track and I was getting the family I always wanted. Except I was still working. I didn’t get to stay at home and raise my son the way I had pictured. Most of the time I was the one who had the job while daddy got to stay home with the baby. Something was seriously wrong with that picture.

I can’t pinpoint just one reason as to why that marriage didn’t work out, but that’s not really important. Just as fast as I had fallen in love with him and started a life with him, it was over. I was broke and alone with a confused three year old little boy. We couched surfed for a little bit until I found a permanent place for us to live. We had to split time between myself and his father while I held down a full time job, hoping to make enough money to get a place for the two of us and to make some sort of life for us. This was all wrong. This was not what I signed up for.

After some unfortunate events, I ended up with primary custody of my son and had to move away from my job and my life to live with my sister. I remember waking up in a panic sometimes, wondering when my life would settle down and I would have at least some piece of that fantasy back. Stress from worrying about making ends meet began to wear my body down. I was emotionally and physically deteriorating. All the while I had a bright eyed little boy looking at me and forcing me to stay strong. If I couldn’t do it for me, I had to do it for him.

I managed to make it through that time in my life relatively sane, but not nearly as physically strong as I once was. My body slowly started to give out on me and I found myself in and out of doctors’ visits and even in surgery. A new relationship helped get me through that, and I had some hope that maybe that fantasy wasn’t too far off. But once again, I was the one working while he sat at home. I was supporting us, even when I was too sick to do anything else. How had I managed to put myself in the same kind of relationship as before? To make a long story short, I ended up pregnant and alone (who cheats on their pregnant girlfriend and then expects them to stick around?)

I sit here today, 8 months pregnant, with all the stress and fear that I had before, except now I have TWO bright eyed children that I am responsible for. I lost my job when I got pregnant and have been unable to work since then due to having a high risk pregnancy (having surgery while pregnant isn’t the best idea.) I once again live with my sister and her family. I wake up in the middle of the night with that same panic feeling, wondering how I got myself in this same situation. I figured I would learn my lesson the first time, I figured I would have grown at least smarter, if not stronger. I have that voice in the back of my head reprimanding me for letting it happen again.

I feel that way until my son looks at me and says things like “You are the best mommy in the world” or “I love you more than any kid loves his mommy ever”. Coming from a five year old who has been through his share of emotional letdown that has to mean I’m doing something right. Comments like that are what keep me pushing forward. His hugs and kisses keep me from completely melting and hiding under the covers every day. The love that he has for his unborn little sister gives me all the hope in the world that not only can I make it as a single mother, but I can give my children the life and love that they deserve. I may not ever have someone to take care of me and give me the things that I need, but I have a feeling I may be strong enough to do it on my own.

Saying Goodbye is Never Easy, Even to A Dog

I’ve always kind of snickered at people who refer to their pets as their “children.” I mean, come on – they have four legs and a tail? Who are they kidding? I have inherited my father’s allergies and antipathy to felines. Dogs, though – no home is complete without one. But that doesn’t make them one of my children.

However …

Dogs have a way of worming themselves into our lives. Before you know it, they’ve got those big hairy paws on your lap, that hard head resting on your knee, those soulful eyes watching your every move intently. Soon, that big butt’s on the sofa, stretched out, taking up far more room than you’d think a 70-pound mutt should take, snoring contentedly.

By the time they wake up, they’ve wrapped themselves so tightly around your heart that removing them means removing a big part of yourself well.

Having them adds a burden on our lives and gives us responsibilities no one ever prepares us for. A pet is a commitment for life – and that life can be 10 or more years. Like children, they need us to give them food, water, shelter, love. And when the time comes, we have to decide how their lives should end.

Our 14-year-old chow dog Shiba was diagnosed with cancer about a year ago. The vet was grim about her life expectancy at the time, saying at her age, she didn’t have the strength to fight it. Besides, he said, we’d already beaten the odds – chows usually only live to be about 13.

Shiba (“brushwood” in Japanese) was 5 weeks old when my 2-year-old convinced her daddy the handful of orange fur with sparkling black eyes was desperately needed at home. Never mind that Cori had a 6-month-old sister – a puppy would be way more fun.

What no one bothered to mention is — chows have issues.

Number one: they don’t like people. Or kids. Or cats. Or other dogs. Chows are genetically alphas – at the top of the hierarchy. Shiba attached herself to my husband, because she knew a softy when she saw one. She tolerated me, because I fed her. She tolerated the older girl, because Cori spoiled her and used her orange fur as a pillow. Shiba didn’t like the baby, but mostly because the baby kept trying to eat her food.

And under no circumstances could we let her stay around when other kids came over. She’s so soft and furry little kids couldn’t resist, but Shiba had a tendency to snap when annoyed.

She chewed – everything.

And she shed – mounds of orange fur everywhere, no matter how often she was groomed and I vacuumed.

It took seven years for her to outgrow the chewing stage – typical with chows, I’m told. She’s over hating kids, too, although she still doesn’t like anyone messing with her face or feet. She still hates other dogs, loves to chew on cats in the yard, but tolerates the half-Siamese black cat that torments her hourly. The third child (she came along two years after Shiba so is seen as an annoying puppy that won’t grow up) treats her with respect, so Shiba tolerates her.

Shiba is still trouble, though. She’s allergic to wheat, so for years we’ve had to buy expensive “designer” dog food. She won’t tolerate baths, so we have to take her to a groomer monthly to keep the fleas and fur at bay. When we want to go away for a few days, she’s the one we have to make arrangements for.

The cat is fine if we leave out lots of food and an open window. Dogs are more high maintenance. And given a chow dog’s anti-social temperament, we can’t just send her over to a friend’s house for a sleepover, like we do with the kids. Chows have no friends. We used to be able to give a neighbor kid five bucks to come in twice a day to care for her, but not anymore. Shiba takes her guard dog duties highly seriously. And now, she’s so deaf and blind she assumes anyone who sneaks up on her is an enemy. And we’re all sneaking up on her, she thinks. So there’s the added expense of a kennel.

Now, we’re facing some high vet bills. Maybe it’s easier just not to have a dog.

But when we told the kids about her cancer, they were devastated. Kind of surprising, in view of their benign neglect. In light of our concerns about high vet bills, hygiene and potty issues, and others problems with an old sick dog, they advocated patience.

The youngest reminded us she’s never known not having the dog.

Cori reminded us of the years of loyalty and devotion, no matter how much the kids tortured her.

And the middle girl reminded us they have been smelly and noisy and messy and expensive, but we kept them.

Good point.

And we’ve all had days when we felt we had no friends and life sucked, only to have the 55-pound lap dog look at us and remind us we are loved, no matter what.

Never mind that thunder sends her into a frenzy – it has the same effect on the 14-year old.

Never mind that she takes up half the couch – so does the 12-year-old.

Never mind that she uses her deafness as an excuse to ignore me – at least she has an excuse, while the oldest just ignores me.

So, like my biological children, my four-legged “daughter” with a tail has spent her life with us, sharing moves and new babies and fears and concerns. She’s become so much a part of the family that, like my two-legged kids, I cannot imagine coming into the house and not have her sitting there. While they usually greet me with grunts, Shiba’s ears perk up and her tail wags so hard half her body goes along with it.

So I guess I can’t snicker anymore. I have to accept the fact that I have four children, not three – a blonde, a brunette, one with hair that defies color definition, and an orange-furred, black-tongued, blind and deaf canine who still chases her tail and thinks she’s a lap dog.

Shiba

Six months later …..

She gave it her best, but age, gravity, and a lifetime of loyal service finally got the best of her. Though she tried hard to convince us – and herself – she was the same grumpy, strong protector she’d always been, it became increasingly obvious Shiba was losing the fight we all lose.

It’s not an easy thing to decide to take a life. When I made the appointment with the vet, I was looking at an animal barely breathing, whose eyes were filled with pleading. She had had some really bad nights, and putting her out of her misery seemed the only humane thing to do.

No matter what euphemism one uses – euthanasia, putting to sleep, putting down – it really means killing. You walk into the vet’s office with a living, breathing, four-legged animal, and you leave with an empty collar and dangling leash. It’s important to keep that in mind.

Years ago, I was at the vet for one of Shiba’s regular checkups. I watched a woman bring a dog into the office. The animal was old, but seemed spry enough. A few minutes later, she came back without the dog, just a leash. I didn’t think anything about it until I looked out the window and saw her in her car, her head down on the steering wheel, her shoulders heaving. It was the most poignant, heartbreaking sight I have ever witnessed.

Well, last week, that was me. When it was time to get into the car and go, suddenly that old dog was up, her tail wagging joyfully. Her ears perked up and she began her “Let’s get going” dance, the one she’d always done when it was walk time. This was not a dog who was suffering; I began to wonder if maybe I had acted a little hastily. But she couldn’t hop into the Jeep – I had to lift her. And she seemed more carsick and dizzy than usual – she was never much for riding in the car.

Doubts assuaged.

Being a normal day, I had teenagers to pick up on the way – they filled the car with noise, and Shiba seemed happy to be a part of it, even though she’s never been a “people dog.” Once at the office, I asked the vet if maybe I’d been wrong – Shiba seemed fine, interested in the fascinating odors, trying desperately to find the cat she smelled but couldn’t see (she’d been blind for months). Dr. Shuff, who’d known Shiba for years, looked at her and said many dogs pull a final burst of energy out of their reserve. He didn’t know if it was because they know we need them to, or what, but it wasn’t unusual.

He took her into the room, and we did what had to be done. I had the choice of staying or going, and I chose to stay. No one should die alone, especially not an animal who gave her entire life to protect my babies.

Watching her relax, knowing she was finally at peace and not feeling the pain of arthritis or cancer, did not make it any easier. I had still made the decision to end a life, and it’s always been my contention I do not have that right.

And there was that seriously painful empty spot in my heart – you know, the one I swore I didn’t have (the heart, I mean). Now I understand the pain that other woman felt, and I’m not sure how to fill that hole.

This is not something I’m going to be able to make a joke about and move on. There’s no clever ending, no phrase to get me out of it easily. It’s a part of life we all have to deal with, and it never, ever gets easier.

Due to the imminent birth of grandbaby #6, postings and reviews will be on hiatus for two weeks. Check Facebook for baby news and thanks for your understanding.

Objects in the mirror are bigger than they appear

I should know better. I really should.

After all, I spent my entire adolescence not fitting the mold of the “perfect” girl. In a world of California girls – tall, thin, platinum blonde – I was short, chunky, dishwater blonde. I was a band geek. Got good grades. In short (no pun intended), I was so less than perfect I took pride in my outré appearance and actively worked to be different.

I spent the years of my daughters’ childhoods trying to convince them the gorgeous women they see in the media don’t really look like that – even Halle Berry has a hair/makeup team and has to be airbrushed. And they in no way represent average women. Most of us – admit it – do not wear perfectly applied make-up even to the post office, we don’t work out at the gym two hours a day to keep our figures – I’m lucky if I walk to the television, and only if the remote is missing. We don’t have personal chefs giving us a balanced nutritional diet guaranteed to keep our skin smooth, our hair shiny, and our butts tiny. How many of you had McDonald’s for lunch three or more times this last week? Don’t worry, we won’t mention names.

Knowing how hard life can be on those who are not perfect, I started early preparing my daughters in case they ended up just average, like their mom. I praised their brains, their accomplishments, and their compassionate works. I gave them positive uplifting books to set their self-esteem. I even forbade Barbie dolls, for gosh sakes.

When my oldest daughter went through her really chunky phase, I avoided mentioning weight, didn’t push the healthy snacks or exercise, and tried to let her know we love her for who she is, not what the mirror shows.

So why am I falling into that societal trap that says women must be thin and attractive, even after they’ve hit 50? After all, I earned these extra pounds – three kids, hours and hours of driving them everywhere, numerous plates that needed to be cleaned, untold amounts of chocolate to help me get through the day. Why do I feel I need a washboard stomach, firm breasts, and a tight butt?

It certainly didn’t come from my now-ex-husband. He liked his women round, he said. Something to hold onto and keep him warm at night. And the puppy I now share my life with thinks extra pounds keep her warm.

My daughters always told me I am one of the better-looking moms among their friends, and I certainly – according to a number of people – don’t look like I’m 50, with five grandkids.

And yet, I go into a store to try on clothes, and stare at the figure in the mirror and wonder who that fat old broad is. Where did she come from?

I grew up with television as a constant source of background noise. With that noise came images of what life should be like – including what we should look like. A patriarchal society, which is what we are, no matter how we try to deny it, tends to diminish the feminine to keep its power. The best way to control women is to brainwash them into thinking their sole purpose in life is to be attractive, because if you’re not attractive, you won’t catch a man, and that’s the ultimate goal, isn’t it?

Even though consciously I have rejected that concept since I could walk, deep down – in the subconscious, where I can’t reach it – those images and expectations still wrap themselves in and around my brain, making me self-conscious when I turn sideways.

It’s insidious, this idea of femininity. Everything we see – television, movies, magazines – while they tell us we as females are empowered and “We’ve come a long way, baby!” are actually saying, “But not too far.” The words are there, but, as with children, what they say isn’t as powerful as what we see.

We can tell our children not to smoke, for example, but if we’re lighting up the cancer sticks, the words go in one ear and out the other. Children do what we do, not what we say.

So it is with the media. We hear the words, but we see the thin, beautiful, perfectly coifed image telling us we don’t have to be perfect to be happy. What we hear is empowering, what we see brings those subconscious feelings of inadequacy right into our brains, and makes us vow chocolate will never cross our lips again. Then, of course, knowing we can never look like that, we turn to the chocolate to make ourselves feel better.

It’s vicious.

I’ve been semi-successful with my daughters. Although all three turned out absolutely beautiful (and it’s not just a proud mom talking, trust me); the oldest is unaware of her beauty, and doesn’t worry about her looks. The youngest, 24 and almost out of graduate school, alternates between giggly girl and rough-and-tumble tomboy. We won’t talk about the middle girl, brainiac turned Barbie doll. I’m sure it’s just a phase she’s going through. I hope.

And what about me? I’m still standing in front of the mirror, wondering why I don’t look as good as Susan Sarandon or Sigourney Weaver. They’ve got a few years on me, but still look incredible.

Maybe shattering the mirror is the only way out. It’s certainly easier than shattering expectations.

The Coldest Crimes Aren’t Always Unsolved

Cold Crime: How police detectives solved Alaska’s most shocking cases9780974501444

by Tom Brennan

Illustrated by Brian Sostrom

Epicenter Press 2006

$14.95

 

 

 

CRIME!

The first editor I ever had loved that word. Whenever he’d hear something going down on the scanner, he’d jump up and yell that word.

He used a deep, guttural voice that started deep in his chest and rumbled all the way up, so it sounded like a volcano letting go. He managed to make that one-syllable word last for 30 or
40 seconds, drawing it out so it sounded like this: CRI-I-I-I-I-IM-M-M-M-ME.

Maybe that’s why I love the police beat so much — when you learn from a guy who can’t get enough of it, there’s no way not to become a cop groupie. Which is why I enjoyed Tom Brennan’s books. I read his previous book, “Murder at 40 Below,” a compendium of horrific crimes in Alaska that had the residents fearful their Last Frontier was becoming the Wild West (I actually remember a few of those cases from my childhood in Anchorage).

Cold Crime: How Police Detectives Solved Alaska’s Most Shocking Cases, is more a police procedural than true crime documentary. Whereas in the first book, Brennan focused on the crimes, in this one, as the subhead indicates, he spends more time on what part the police and Alaska State Troopers had in solving 13 of Alaska’s more shocking crimes occurring within the last 50 years.

Brennan began his journalism career on the police beat, as most of us do. Brennan spent hundreds of hours interviewing detectives, investigators, troopers, and other police officers, asking them about their best work, collecting anecdotes and memories of cases that made headlines, and looking at evidence accumulated during the investigations.

Brennan has a dry, journalist style, which sometimes seems to lack compassion or empathy, but is appropriate for the type of stories he’s narrating. The crimes of which he writes aren’t minor misdemeanors or even slight felonies. He’s reporting on mayhem and violence, greed and passion killings, and too much passion or emotion might be overwhelming.

Of course, he’s not always the dry, dispassionate reporter, as evidenced by some of the titles he (or perhaps his editor, I’m not sure) chose: Ketchikan Burning; Mystery of Mendeltna Lodge; The Deadly Dentist; A Cold-Hearted Undertaker; well, you get the idea.

Before going into the crimes themselves, Brennan “profiles,” to use some law enforcement jargon, the investigators and detectives who solve crimes. He talks about what motivates them and how they manage to keep coming back to scenes of carnage and murder, day after day, without losing their humanity.

Most of us don’t think about the human equation in the solving of crime, except for maybe the victim. We sometimes forget investigators have families and friends, and we tend not to wonder how seeing the nastiness human beings inflict on each other affect one’s relationships with other human beings.

Brennan, whose son is an officer in the Soldotna Police department, can be forgiven for his often rah-rah rapport when talking up the members of law enforcement. But he does spell out what it takes to be a good cop and why many people would do no other job, despite the horrors and dangers often associated with it.

He also peels back the myths and mysteries of police work, explaining why investigators operate the way they do. In one paragraph in the Preface, he clarifies why officers often ask the same question over and over again, albeit in different form:

“Asking the same questions again and again and again in recast form often trips up the guilty. As one investigator put it, “‘People can tell the same truth over and over, but lies are hard to remember.’”

Didn’t Mom tell us that?

The cases he documents made state-wide headlines during their day: In the early 1950s, Ketchikan and its all-volunteer fire department were plagued by blazes that sprang up everywhere, unpredictable and unstoppable. By 1960, the blazes had become frequent and serious: Losses climbed and people were fearful — some even sent their children to live elsewhere for safety, Brennan reports.

The FBI got involved, and eventually, a volunteer fireman by the name of Bill Mitchell was identified as the firebug. He left the state, but returned numerous times before trial to set more fires, disguised as a woman. He eventually spent a few years in prison in Washington and returned to live in Manly Hot Springs.

Brennan documents the Anchorage dentist who, in the late 1960s, had numerous patients die of cardiac arrest in his chair; he over sedated and under-monitored, killing at least five patients before being caught. A public uproar arose when he was sentenced to six months in jail, suspended, and five years of probation, along with loss of his Alaska license.

And again in Anchorage — it’s just that it’s a big city, with more population, not that it’s a crime metropolis — in 1973, an undertaker was caught cheating customers, mistreating the dead, recycling caskets and liners, and cremating many bodies together.

The Fairbanks stripper who had her husband murdered by her lover rather than divorce him in 1972. Cab drivers, hikers, superfluous husbands, cheating wives; Spenard, Eagle River, Alyeska, Tazlina; stabbing, shooting — even a car bombing. There’s enough crime and justice to satisfy the most enthusiastic cop groupie.

Brennan has meticulously researched these 13 cases. He gives a great deal of background on both the locale and the criminals, and is able to describe the crimes without getting too graphic or putting in too many gory details; a result of his journalistic training, I imagine.

For true crime aficionados, this is a must-read. It’s also a good read for those who are interested in darker Alaskan history and the malevolence of some of our neighbors and friends. In conjunction with “Murder at 40 Below,” this is a different way of seeing the 49th state, and a reminder that the place most of us enjoy because of its lack of formality and crowds is exactly what attracts those with evil in their hearts.

Why I Want To Go To Mars

The story so far … When we last left the intrepid explorer wanna-be, she was wielding shields against the forces banding against her in her quest to leave the fragile ship Earth for planets in space and beyond. Today, we will watch as she musters her weapons in her fight for self-determination and exploration.

So, how do I explain to those foes who would thwart my desires to leave this planet? What arguments do I formulate and exposate to bring them into the fold?

First, why do I want to go to Mars?

That was the first question Mars One asked. Why do you want to go to Mars? I answered:

When I was a child, I looked at the sky and saw possibility. The stars were dazzling, and somehow I knew there were other worlds, other places to go. Humans always want to go somewhere new — to keep pushing the boundaries, and space is the ultimate boundary to push. Though I was born just a few years too soon to really take advantage of the women’s movement and become an astronaut, I never lost that yearning to keep going up and out, to explore the next planet, galaxy, universe, dimension.

As a sci-fi fan, I’ve read so many stories about Mars and space exploration, but reading it, even though I have a good imagination, is never the same as doing. I really want to do it.

Yeah, right, I’m surprised they didn’t toss my name in the round file and be done with it.

Of course, most people who’ve known me for more than a few years know I was born without the risk gene. You know, that something inside explorers and adventurers that makes them dare anything, try everything, go anywhere. I never got that. I never liked risk, or surprises, or anything that even remotely looked adventurous. Most of my life, I followed the rules, or else broke only the safe ones (you know, like cutting boring classes or walking when the sign said “Don’t”).

I liked the status quo, the regular, the rut. It was safe, it was easy to anticipate (no surprises), and it took little effort to be amazing. Of course, then I had kids, and realized life is anything but safe and boring. Still, I stuck with the normal, the expected – stay-at-home mom, room mother, swim parents, Girl Scout leader. It made life simpler.

An unanticipated divorce shattered everything I thought I knew about life and my role in it – my plans were no longer relevant, and following the rules and doing what you’re supposed to didn’t seem to matter anymore. So why bother?

Thus, I ended up in Fairbanks, Alaska, a land of vast landscapes and bone-chilling cold. Of adventure and surprises and nothing ever goes as planned.

And I like it here. While surprises still shake me up a bit, especially the big ones, I find I roll with them better. I even – gasp – thrive when my back is to the wall and I have no choice but to fight. My mind starts racing faster, my creativity goes into overdrive, and I have energy and attention and the will to make things happen. I guess that’s what they mean by adversity making you stronger.

So now, adventure is no longer a dirty word. In fact, it’s a word I’m beginning to be quite fond of. But I know at my age, the real adventures – those here on Earth – are beyond me. Most of what’s left is for those younger and stronger and far less risk-adverse (or maybe I should say getting-into-real-trouble-that-might-be-painful adverse). That leaves outer space.

Yes, I know it won’t be easy or even fun. I know the dangers are high, the risks enormous, more so than anything I could do here on this planet – but I also know that with high risk comes greater rewards. Dust and radiation – bring ‘em on. Living in a tin can with 99 strangers in a highly stressful environment – no problem. Leaving Earth and everything and everyone I’ve known – well worth it.

Because I will be one of the first Earthlings to see the Red Planet up close and personal.

I will watch my feet sink into the reddish grey dust, see it puff up about me, coloring everything with its rosy hue. I will walk past mountains and canyons carved by ancient geologic forces, just like those on Earth but different, because the background will be different. Instead of looking up at a red dot in the sky, I’ll be looking up at a blue marble, watching it in awe, knowing how small it is, even as I believe it is bigger than anything else.

Yes, I understand – intellectually and emotionally – I will never see my kids, parents, siblings, and friends again. I will not have a furry companion keeping me safe and warm at night. I will be dependent on strangers to watch my back and help me survive. And they will be experiencing the same thing, depending on me for survival.

Maybe I’m not articulating this well. It’s such a powerful want I’ve got – stronger and more all-encompassing than any feeling I’ve known or imagined. Trying to explain seems as futile as trying to explain why I keep breathing in and out – because I must. Because I should. Because, finally, I can.

I’ve always believed science is the key to making us better human beings – to cracking our superstitious, mythological thought processes. And the ultimate science — the ultimate rationality – is to leave this planet and let science take us someplace else. Someplace not made in the image of a mythological omnipotent being who is a little confusing with his/her requirements. Some place where humans can truly be the beings we are meant to be – at one with and part of the universe, rather than attempted masters of.

So, I’m going to finish up my application, including the (ugh) 3-minute video. I’m going to try to put into words the why. I know what I can contribute – that’s easy. All adventures need to be recorded for posterity – blogged and tweeted and facebooked and print-booked so everyone knows what and how we did it. That’s how I make my mark on the world – words.

As to my grandchildren hating me, I prefer to think they’ll understand – after all, kids have that sense of awe and wonderment until it’s beaten out of them by parents, school, and life. Kids believe it’s possible to go to Mars – and what’s more, they don’t understand why not. Why not go to Mars. Why stay here when you can go somewhere else? What’s the point of life if you just stay put, letting the water fill up and boil around you?

So, when I do the video, I’m going to tell the Mars One people I’m going because of my grandkids – so they don’t spend their lives doing what they’re supposed to just because they are supposed to. So that maybe, when given a choice, they’ll drop everything and climb into a tin can with a bunch of strangers, flying off to who knows where and what, just because they can.