Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Prettiest Interstate Highways for Driving

The big road trip is complete, and I ended up driving some really nice interstates, and driving some not-so-nice ones, so this is a summation of a few of my favorites. First, my criteria for favored roads: visual interest is a must. It may be a winding or straight road, it may be wide-open or closed in with trees, and it could be heavily traveled, but I prefer that it not be. My favorites are always rural; while I am awed by the view of big cities, I do not favor them. I would rather see something wild or pastoral, not urban. The gold-standard of scenic byways has to be the Blue Ridge Parkway, because it has all of these qualities, but sometimes it is just nice to be going someplace quickly while enjoying the ride - thus, pretty interstates is my topic. Now a word on my least favorites: The Florida Turnpike, all of interstate 95, the interstates around Nashville, and I -65 north of Louisville. What these interstates share are: poor road condition, crowding and busy any day or night, and singularly ugly views of Americana. The rest areas are industrial, large, smell weird. They have food that you eat because you are hungry, but don't relish. Even on highways I enjoy driving, there are some of the bad qualities, but for the most part the bad is minimized or the views at least make up for it. Some of my favorites Mile 299 of Interstate 75 in Florida is one of the prettiest miles and I drive it regularly. It is beautiful in any season (not that there is a whole lot of difference between how it looks in each season, because we don't get snow), but it is a favorite because of the tree spacing, the rolling hills, the cows, the clouds, and the quality of light. I enjoy it every time I drive through. Sunset is a particularly beautiful time, as the road follows a crest and the view is open for miles, especially with a few clouds that get a backlight from the sinking sun. Spring is just gorgeous, with its emerald green fields and grazing Holstein herd. Interstate 66 from Washington DC to I-81 near Winchester is a real treat. I have traveled that one several times, usually in summer, and have enjoyed its forested hills, raw rock cliffs, quaint old-fashioned small farms tucked into valleys, and though it is short, the view just continues around every bend. Interstate 81 between Winchester and Asheville is another pretty road. It is not as gorgeous as I - 66, but it is usually in good condition, not too crowded, has plenty of good farms to look at, plus being able to look across the valley at the Appalachian mountains and the Blue Ridge cannot be beat. I realized this past trip, that they are prettier from the distant view than the up close one, riding the blue ridge parkway. That distance puts a nice soft focus on everything. And my new favorite: Interstate 390 in New York! Wow, spectacular views. I loved it in the middle of summer, and I imagine it is stunning this time of year with fall colors creeping in. It was fairly remote, with not many towns to go through. It basically is a connector between the norther I-90 (ugly, don't bother) and the southern I -86 (another gem in my book). I would love to drive that one again. Interesting city: Cleveland, Ohio! I really liked it. Not so pretty: Buffalo, NY! Barf! Even in the summer it's ugly ... can you imagine how awful in the winter? I can't even! Those northern cities are really different from southern ones. It reminds me that our southern cities are still growing. And that is probably not the case up north. I would love to do that I-390 again though. And comment if you have any favorites!

what makes a good tragedy

I remember back in high school, especially in the Shakespeare class, discussing the elements need for a tragedy. You had to have a strong like-able main character, but he/she must have a tragic flaw that brings about their downfall. And this I understood fairly clearly, and really enjoyed King Lear and Macbeth and to a lesser extent Hamlet. I wasn't really sure why I didn't like Hamlet as much as the other ones, and now I think I do. But first, let me explain what lead to this 'aha' moment. I watched an anime movie called "Millennium Actress" and it was pretty good. The story is about a woman who is 'discovered' and sent to be an actress in the late 1930's and she decides to do this only after a man bumps into her and gives her a mysterious key. Her family hides the man (he is a political refugee) and she falls in love with him in the few short days. He escapes her town, and she sees her acting job as a way to travel to his area and search for him to return his key. We never know what the key is for. She runs into him one more time, but they are tragically apart the rest of their lives. The story ends with her death and the realization that what she really loves is the search for this man. So it is a 'good' tragic story. I liked it. Then I wondered why I liked it so much. I realized that while I liked the main character, and liked that she set her heart on this man and searched to find him, I never got too close to the main character. She was admirable, but still a little remote. I understood her actions, even though I would never copy them. And it is the little space between us that allows me to appreciate the tragedy. I think her tragic flaw was just dogged devotion to an ideal. Contrast this to the tragedy I read for book club: "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" by David Wroblewski. Now this book was a best seller, Oprah book, etc, and the author set out to write a tragedy. I didn't know that going into it, but ideally you shouldn't have to. About two-thirds the way through, you saw that things were headed badly, but there was still hope for a happier ending, but...then it just got worse and ended as unhappily as you could hope for in a tragedy. Okay, so I HATED this book. Why? It was critically acclaimed, lots of people loved it, and it made me so mad that I literally wanted to return my copy to the bookstore and demand a refund. I think the main difference is that I really loved Edgar, the main character. I was really invested in him. His death makes no sense if you are too close. I could not be remote and unattached. Every bit of the writing in that story made you want to hug this boy and take care of him. Also, he really didn't have a tragic flaw. Unless you count trusting your own uncle too much. But really? that is not a flaw in a boy. In a man, maybe, but not in a boy. He had no other faults. So that is what makes a terrible tragedy - no space between yourself and the main character. And that got me thinking back to Shakespeare. I liked the old King (Lear), but I didn't love him. I could clearly see his faults. There was a space. I enjoyed Macbeth and could sympathize but not necessarily empathize. I enjoyed the main character of Millennium Actress, but I didn't want to be her, protect her as other characters in the story did. There was always that space. So that brings me to Hamlet. I thought I didn't like Hamlet because he was too whiny and undecided a character. Turns out, I love his character too much. I was too much invested, and his tragic flaw seemed ... not sooo bad, right? I really wanted him to win out in the end, and I was so disappointed he didn't. Too close. If you want to write a good tragedy, don't let your audience get too close to your tragic hero.

Monday, September 17, 2012

My Problem with Jesus

Yeah, I knew that title would get attention. But beyond the debate over whether he was is or supposed to be the Jewish Messiah, the redeemer of Israeli power in Roman times, My main issue is that he seems really unapproachable, unfriendly, short-tempered, grumpy, impatient, and a lot of other things that he shouldn't be, if he is supposed to be the great teacher. It reminds me that although he was supposed to be God-like in his superhuman abilities, he was all too human in his emotions, and bound up in his physical body just like the rest of us are. I guess that is supposed to give us hope, his humanity, his physicality, but I just sigh, because he seems no 'better' spiritually than a few other smart Jewish guys I know. I am reading "Mystic Christianity" and it was written about 100 years ago by a Yogi - a practitioner of eastern religion who has used his focus and intellect to explain some of the New Testament stories in the light of traditional Eastern mystical thought. He explains that Jesus did visit the eastern countries of China and India (among others) and gained considerable learning and mastery there that enabled him to return to teach his disciples about the true nature of God, the brotherhood of man, our purpose on earth, and what happens after. There are eastern writings of a visitor who impressed the Yogis and Monks with understanding and ability in their own mystical arts, which are attributed to Jesus. Cool, so far, right? I love that Jesus may have learned there, that some of the miracles of healing, and that the loaves and the fishes are not so different from miracles of long ago AND may still be seen today in India or China. In the East, they have realized to a much larger extent how a person can heal him or her self, which in the west, we derisively call the "placebo" effect. But how is it that this Mystical Jesus, a genius in spiritual knowledge, gets so bitchy with his apostles on the boat when the storm comes up. If you'll remember the story, Jesus was asleep, a huge storm whipped up, the disciples woke him up and he calmed the wind and seas, then basically says, "Why did you wake me up, couldn't you have taken care of this yourselves?" which is essentially saying "Why aren't you as awesome as me?" Really? What kind of Master behaves this way? Why don't the apostles reply, "DUDE, if we can't wake you up for a really big storm that is about to sink our boat, what CAN we wake you up for?!?" And healing the leper. The story is the Leper came through a crowd, Jesus healed him, and then told the leper "not to tell anyone about this". Seriously? If you are so smart, son-of-God, how is it possible that you think that this could even in your wildest imagination be a directive that could be followed?!? Apparently, it didn't take the leper more than five minutes to shout out about his cure. So is Jesus stupid? Is he naive? Did he give a command that he knew would be disobeyed? WHY would he even bother? The thing is, you know that he rather the leper not talk, because he already was too popular among the sick and poor, and he didn't need any more attention. And his compassion did not allow him NOT to heal the leper. SO why bother telling him off? I don't know, read your bible and tell me I am wrong. There are more examples. I understand he was a hard-ass. But Jesus, really, if EVERYONE quit there jobs, gave away all their stuff, and just wandered around preaching and relying on God to feed, clothe and shelter them, REALLY?? who would do the work? who would raise the crops? who would haul the water? Why are the body's physical needs (like for food) so abhorrent to you? I mean, even in the loaves and fishes story, you can see Jesus getting pissy because the crowd's hunger was getting in the way of his preaching (ok, teaching). And I don't see why you can't be truly spiritual AND raise crops or do any of a thousand other legitimate jobs so that you don't suffer needlessly from hunger, thirst or exposure. Is that what it means to be a Mystic, to be so above the common and base needs of life that you no longer consider it a factor in others' existence? Why would this engender my respect for you?