New Year’s Reflections 2019: For Auld Lang Syne

 

I haven’t written much in the past few months. Each time that I’ve tried to sit down to write, I found myself at a loss for words. Mostly, I’ve lacked inspiration. This year easily ranks among the most difficult in my life. It caps off a roller coaster decade filled with ups and downs.

Suffice it to say, when the clock strikes midnight, there will be no love lost for 2019.

In no particular order, here’s a short summary of the past ten years: I’ve welcomed my son into the world and two nephews to boot, completed law school, earned an advanced doctorate in law, moved to and lived in a foreign country, traveled the world multiple times, adopted a dog, moved home, moved to Wyoming, moved to Arizona, got married (8/15/09 but close enough), got divorced, saw my career develop, stopped attending church, saw my physical and mental health decline, gained weight, lost sleep, and saw the decade cap off with my Grandpa’s passing on August 2, 2019.

Along the way, I’ve also met scores of people from all over the world. Some are like family. All of them are good people. Folks that are passionate about their work. Some passionate about their faith. Others passionate about their families. To a person, these people have affected my life in positive ways and have inspired me to try and be a better person even when that didn’t seem possible.

While I cannot say that the decade has been a total bust, I think it’s objectively fair to say that it was a difficult one. Highs and lows. Not just little dips: soaring highs and shattering lows. It’s a small miracle that I’ve made it through. In retrospect, it’s easiest for me to think of the 2010s as a hurricane battering the little ship that I call life. Now, as I come into port for 2020, I’m a threadbare schooner, wood split in places with a broken mast. A new year, a new decade are most welcome for my money.

Still, a friend made me think about today and about the importance that I’m placing on a year that reads 2020 rather than 2019. According to her, “it’s just another night and a new year.” No big deal.

So why is a new year so important? To me? To us? To the majority of the world that’s celebrating as I type? My friend is right on some level. Just another day/night. There’s nothing magical about the date January 1. Nothing substantively will change in my situation from Dec. 31, 2019 to Jan 1, 2020. But I think the importance of a new year is less about the date on the calendar and more about the chance to hit reset.

A new year brings an opportunity to set in motion all of the goals a person can set for the year. It allows us to assess where we are as people over the next 365 days. It’s not the date that matters. What matters is the mindset we carry forward into a new year, and by extension the fact that it matters how we approach life as a new year kicks off. As a bit of caution, it seems pretty obvious to me from the past ten years that negative thoughts begat negative outcomes. Pessimism becomes the enemy of progress because it is self-sabotage from the outset. Nothing guarantees a bad year quite like making up the mind that it’s going to be a bad year.

It’s also unnecessary.

If I’ve learned anything from my tumultuous 2019, it’s that hope is the critical element of being happy in life (aside from God himself). When we lack hope, we lack that piece of us that makes us look forward to tomorrow. Hope is our internal motivation. It’s the reason we endure the troubles of a decade, fall asleep, and awake with the expectation that a new year will be better than the year and decade that has passed. (And while we are on the topic – how in the world did ten years fly by so quickly?)

So, in response to my friend, I think a new year is important because it reminds us to hope. Hope is important because it’s the means by which we wake up and do it all again no matter what life deals our way. And the motivation we have through hope is what keeps us living life rather than merely waiting around to die.

With that, here’s to 2020, friends. May the best of your 2019 be the worst of your 2020.

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And auld lang syne.
 
CHORUS
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,

For auld lang syne.

Courtesy of CNN.com

A Dispatch from New Zealand


The Tukorehe Marae is an unprepossessing structure. Nestled behind a grove of lush palm trees, its paint is gradually fading, unveiling layer upon layer of cosmetic efforts past. The predominance of white paint is strong in the front. But in the back, it yields to flecks of salmon, and some of the wood has worn itself bare.

Our host at the marae is a man named Shawn, or “Papa Shawn,” as the kids call him. And while he’s hardly the garrulous sort, he clearly loves this place – a place that he simply calls home. 
Māori in New Zealand often call a particular “mare,” such as this, home. For the descendants of Tukorehe, a Māori ancestor from the distant past, this marae is theirs, carrying with it all the trappings of ownership as if they had helped Tukorehe himself hew the logs that support its roof. 
By way of explanation, the focal point of the marae grounds is the meeting house, or wharenui, which resembles a small wooden chapel that congregations in the Southern United States might have used over a century ago. However, far from practicing Christianity, Māori consider their meeting houses to be the living iteration of their ancestors. Photos of deceased relatives line the wooden walls of the wharenui, each ancestor looking after the occupants in a very literal and symbolic way. The walls themselves are ornately decorated with wood carvings and flax tapestries that tell both the exploits of the ancestor, as well as the philosophy/theology that undergirds the Māori worldview. 

The marae, then, is not so much a chapel as it is a cenotaph dedicated to the presence of the absence of ancestors who never truly left to begin with. 
If there’s a nugget of wisdom I’ve gleaned from the complexities of the Māori cosmology (one I will, admittedly, never fully understand), it’s that they do community rather differently than we do in mainstream America. 
I won’t say it’s better, because I’m not sure it is. But it is different, and special. 

The first difference is the Māori emphasis on all things communal. Sleeping in the marae, for example, is a wholly collective affair. The end result is that our group of ten from the University of Wyoming have spent the past three days sleeping in the wharenui, sharing snores, showers, and sleeping patterns alike. This is, of course, a stark contrast to America where privacy is the order of the day, no matter how much the NSA might say otherwise. 
The second difference is in the Māori emphasis on social extroversion. Back home, my normal routine involves quiet, reflection, dedicated time for writing, and the occasional game of Call of Duty
For Māori, nearly every interaction is focused on the shared, lived experience of family or whanauFamilies and extended families all come in equal turn on the marae, sharing meals, entertainment, and social activities in common. Needless to say, this American’s time for reflection has been almost non-existent, and in all honesty this has taken its toll on my frazzled nerves. It seems I crave quiet in the same way Māori crave togetherness. I suppose both the individual and the collective have their place and needs. 
Of course, I knew all of this coming in. The marae was never a mystery to me given the year/plus that Gwyn, Clark and I lived in New Zealand. But perhaps the difference on this trip is the presence of the absence of my own whanau. While the Māori ancestors look after us from behind their frames in the wharenui, my own family is ensconced miles across the mighty Pacific, visiting family back in Indiana. 
It seems this is the real lesson from Māoridom. There’s precious little that’s more important than family.  Of course, we all take this to different extremes. 

On Leaving

The hardest part of the holidays is always the ride back to OKC Airport. I’ve made the trip a fair few times now, and while it becomes more familiar, I can’t say that it’s ever any easier.

In my discipline, we often talk about the unique connection that American Indians have to their lands. And I think that’s right.

But on days like today, as we prepare to depart and return to the regular business of busy and hectic lives, I wonder if we’re only discussing half of the issue in the relationship between native peoples and their lands.

For my view, any attachment to place has to be coupled with the family/friends/loved ones who are there. Without relationship, a place is just a place. Land is just land.

But when one adds in family, and friends, and loved ones, and multiplies this across the generations, an attachment to lands makes a lot more sense.

In a way, we call this attachment, “home.” And leaving home is always a hard thing to do.

An Ode to the Rising Sun

 
It’s a drop past 4pm here at Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City. As the canard goes, it’s not lost on me how ironic it is to name a state citadel of aviation after a man who died in a plane crash. 
 
Airborne
 
A few hours ago, I said goodbye to Gwyn, Clark and Fan after a bittersweet farewell in Walters with Dad, Mom, Papa, Andrea, Jacob, Garrett, Seth, Chelsey, and our sister Randi Lynn and her son Drey. I made this latest trip home to see exactly this set of people. If there’s anything one can count on at all in matters of Comanche culture, it’s the opportunity to see family when one comes home. 
 
And so it is at the Comanche Homecoming Celebration, going strong some 63 years after its first incarnation welcoming home veterans following their service in the Korean War. 
 
Last night, sitting at our camp, with a canopy of stars under the dark Oklahoma sky, I was able to sporadically reconnect with friends and family alike – some of whom I had not seen since the last time I attended the Comanche Homecoming Celebration in 2005. Soaking up the moment, I was pleased to chat with long-time family friend, Tom Kavanaugh, a former Anthropologist and Curator of Collections at the University of Indiana’s Mather Museum. Tom is nothing if not friendly and blessed with a keen sense of storytelling, wrought from forty-odd years of accumulating insights into the history and culture of the Comanche People. His knowledge and enthusiasm is infectious. 
 
After listening a good while, I asked what someone with his experience would miss the most about the old days of the celebration and the old ways of doing things. True to form, Tom answered without hesitation, “I miss the people. They Keewainais (keh-why-nighs) who are no longer here but should be.”
 
I didn’t have much of a reply. It’s sometimes hardest to respond when a person is so strikingly correct. 
 
Later that night over cigars with my brother Lucas Davis of Houston, TX (a distinctly Comanche brother who shares neither my tribal identity nor even my ethnicity), I thought about the event and its ability to pull together so many people, from so many places, and allow them to be a family. 
 
While I watched the crowds of people milling about the dusty creek bottom, I found that I couldn’t escape my conversation with Tom. A small place in my heart pinched at the thought of families and friends forever seared into my heart and mind – the ghosts of celebrations past who are forever sitting around the arena in Sultan Park. 
 
My son Clark received a Comanche name earlier in the day, one of the principal reasons hastening my return home. Such events are rare in life, watching one’s firstborn and his ascent into the ranks of warriors past. Fortunately, Clark was well-served in his naming by family friend/relative and my personal mentor Bernard Kahrahrah – a former Chairman of the Comanche Tribe. After much prayer, Bernard gave Clark the name Thaiori (Thy-oh-rē), which translates to the sun is rising.
 
Denver
 
I didn’t realize this at the time, but Clark’s name gives me a great deal of solace as I struggle to make sense of life, and all of the changes and opportunities that lie ahead. I think that even when one becomes melancholic for the ghosts of the arena, perhaps it’s wise to follow their example and pray for the generations that are to come, rising like the sun in the east, calling us to embrace the future of a new day.  
 
It’s always a good thing to come home – no matter how difficult it is to leave. 

The Lone Star Restaurant, New Zealand Style


Having long grown tired of my much-too-small flat, I decided to brave the wilds of public transport and mosey on down to the Lone Star Cafe & Bar.

As you can see in the photo above, the decor is almost spot on. Wood floors, exposed beams on the ceiling, and above all American country music blaring on the speakers. Granted the music is country music circa 1990, but it’s still quite good relative to the rest of New Zealand.

Naturally, while the restaurant excelled in ambiance the food was sorely lacking. The first tell was the sign in the photo above. No self-respecting, Texas-imitation restaurant would ever advertise lamb as their special of the day. That’s much too ‘high falutin’ for Texas. Most Texans can barely spell lamb. Needless to say, when I saw the sign above, alas, I knew I was doomed.

The second tell was the arrival of my burrito meal, which was inexplicably served with what was billed as the New Zealand equivalent of cold slaw.

My “burrito” meal is below.

IMG 1635

Having lived in Arizona and having there enjoyed some of the best Mexican food there is, I’m obviously not an objective critic. But even by frozen-Mexican-food-from-Wal-Mart standards the burrito was subpar.

For starters, the alleged burrito contained BBQ sauce on the inside, a holy accoutrement that should be reserved only for steak and ribs – as all good Texans know. Unless of course one is from Austin, in which case, the bar for knowledge is considerably lower.

The meal did get one thing right, however, and this impressed me greatly. It was served with a small cup of sour cream and salsa, just like God Himself intended. How the Lone Star got this detail right and, nonetheless, put BBQ Sauce on its burrito, is something I’ll never understand.

As I alluded to earlier, the frozen Chimichangas at good ‘ole Wally World are a better substitute for the burritos at The Lone Star Cafe & Bar in Hamilton, NZ.

But I heard Johnny Cash’s Jackson in New Zealand. And, by God, that ain’t bad.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Winter Books Reviews – 2013

IMG 0872

It seems no sooner did I resolve to post more often then the first week of the new year slipped away.

Much is afoot here in the Sooner State. My family and I are planning a temporary relocation to New Zealand (more on that later) and it seems like the paperwork for our visa applications will never end.

Closer to home, I am planning three book reviews for the winter months – all of which look quite promising. Here’s a brief run down of coming attractions:

Ron Rash’s The Cove debuted in the Spring of 2012. The paperback came out recently, reprinting the haunting tale of an outcast girl, and a mysterious wanderer who happens upon her isolated homestead.

Alexander Snegirev’s Petroleum Venus is set for release next month. The book is on he shortlist for the Russian National Bestseller Prize. The novel depicts the relationship between a single father and his soon who was born with Down’s syndrome.

Finally, Nell Leyshon’s The Colour of Milk was released in late December. The slim book explores the temptations of a young father’s daughter as she leaves the family farm to work for an aging couple living nearby. The young girl is introduced to knowledge of the intellectual and carnal variety as she is forced to grapple with the consequences of both.

In all, a busy schedule but one that hopefully generates many more conversations to come. As always, stay tuned.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Boston and Blue Skies, Smiling At Me

Boston

This post finds me sky high above the charming hamlet of Detroit, MI, which is yet further proof that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

As with most Southwest Airlines flights, the aisles run six across and passengers are stuffed into their seats like fat sardines. However, one of the saving graces of this flight is Southwest’s relatively inexpensive access to the internet. Of course, at $5 per flight, the internet connection is maddeningly slow, prompting an unexpected yearning for the good old days of dial-up.

Chalk this one up to first world problems, I suppose. 

My travels today ultimately take me to Boston, a city that I have not visited since July 2007. What strikes me about my return to Beantown is how much life has changed. In the city I once called home, I now know almost no one. The friends who once feted my departure are now distant ghosts themselves, having long since moved on to warmer climes.

The thought reminds me of just how transient life is in one’s twenties. At risk of extrapolating too much from my surroundings, one’s twenties are a bit like all of the passengers stuffed together in this plane. Some people make the most out of a location by finding new friends. Others hunker down and get to work. Some keep to themselves. But the lone commonality that all share is the simple lack of attachment to the particular place. The landing of a five hour flight has a funny way of dispensing with sentimentalities. And that’s how Boston was for me at age 24 – a lot of fun, but completely void of a reason to stay.

It’s true that I’m not quite thirty. But being married with a dog and a child on the way, and grad school now well behind me, I can’t help but feel a bit older than I am. To be clear, I would not reverse the clock. Living in “The Hub” made for a fun couple of years, but when I left it was more than time to put away childish things, as they say.

Still, reminiscing does make one appreciate the carefree days of youth – when my biggest concern was making weekend plans, and my most pressing dilemma was whether to visit the gym on my lunch break or not. If only I had made the visit more often… 

The View From the Top of the World

Some eleven years ago, Vanity Fair contributor Bryan Burrough wrote a lengthy, if not macabre, article about the disappearance of a pair of mountaineers who were attempting to become the first individuals to summit Mt. Everest.

The two were an odd pair. The leader of the 1924 expedition was renown British mountaineer George Mallory, who was making his third and final attempt to reach the top of the world. His partner was an accomplished, yet comparative neophyte climber named Andrew “Sandy” Irvine. The trek up Everest was Irvine’s first.

As the duo braced for the final push, ascending the mountain’s infamous “second step,” fellow mountaineer Noel Odell spotted the two in the distance:

From what Odell could see, they had barely 900 feet to go before they reached the summit. Then a veil of high white clouds dropped across the mountaintop, obscuring Odell’s view, and the two men disappeared.

Forever.

[Link]

The fate of the two men, and their success was a complete mystery, left shrouded in Everest’s icy mist until May 1, 1999, when a gaggle of American climbers found the proverbial needle in the haystack on Everest’s icy slopes, and discovered the body of George Mallory. Whether Mallory and Irvine actually reached the summit remains unclear.

Burrough’s tale is, of course, gripping. He describes Mallory and Irvine’s ascent through the “death zone” of Mt. Everest, and explains the remarkable odds faced by climbers who challenge the angry mountain.

Since Everest was first conquered by Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953, roughly 219 people have perished in their attempt to follow suit. The death of Francys (Fran) Arsentiev is a particularly harrowing account. Arsentiev was an American climber who was discovered alive though ailing on the mountain by a group of climbers. After assessing Arsentiev’s condition, and the weather conditions on Everest, the group left her to die as they made their ascent.

The accounts and documentaries on the difficulties of summiting Mt. Everest, leave me utterly entranced by the human need to accomplish. We homo sapiens seem to have something hard wired in us that cuts across cultures, and prompts us to test our limits. In the Arsentiev story, climbers saw the risks that awaited them, yet left her to pursue their climb anyway. A more callous interpretation of the story is that the climbers’ need to reach the summit trumped their concern for human life, sentencing Arsentiev to death – though the matter is admittedly much more complex. As for Mallory and Irvine, climbing in 1924, they were attempting the impossible. Everest had never been climbed. Their gear consisted of woolen jackets and hobnail boots. The odds of success had them doomed from the start. And yet, they climbed. Some theories even have Mallory actually summiting before his death – a full 29 years before Sir Edmund Hillary.

Mallory reputedly said he wanted to climb Everest simply, “because it’s there.” Whether the quotation is true or not, it aptly sums up a great deal about the life we live. Why did mankind go to the Moon? What prompted our scientific advances in medicine? What made Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak create the Apple I and Apple II computers? What makes an otherwise sane person pursue a doctorate (in any field)? What makes a group of disgruntled taxpayers think they can defeat the most powerful nation on Earth? Why do we set New Year’s resolutions, run marathons, smoke cigars, play video games, or create works of art, literature, and music?

In the end, all of our creative and aspirational undertakings amount to some variation of Mallory’s “because it’s there.”

I doubt that I will ever climb Mt. Everest, but knowing Mallory’s story leaves me with the inkling there’s something fundamentally human about the view from the top of the world. It’s in our DNA. It’s the feeling everyone gets when we conquer our respective mountains – literally, or figuratively; wherever, and whatever they may be.

A Dispatch from Taos

It’s a drop past 11AM here in Taos Pueblo. The temperature has languidly paced it’s way into the 50s. A cool breeze makes its way beneath the carport here at my Grandmother’s house.

It’s mid-October, but wood stoves burn in the distance, and the smells of piñon waft through the air as it has done for centuries in this ancient, mysterious place.

There’s a shed across the dirt driveway. It is filled to the top of its 9-ft tall ceiling with enough wood to last two winters. I suppose the excess is important during the cold winter to come. But I’ve never seen the wood shed at less than capacity during any season.

Maybe that’s the point. The cares and concerns here are about history and routine. Irrigating. Agriculture. Fishing. Hunting. Home repair. Tradition. Custom.

In most respects, Taos is a full-throttled embrace of the historical. This disposition allows for language and tradition to coexist alongside the western/anglicized City of Taos less than a mile away.

Naturally, this makes a balance with the unhistorical nearly impossible, as Nietzsche would say. Living in the moment, living for self, and the now are supreme challenges for Taos Pueblo and its denizens. Western arts, culture, and technology (aside from the ubiquitous Chevy trucks) are scarce on the reservation.

Yet, as the leaves rustle, marking the passage of time, it’s a comfort to know that places like Taos still exist. Off the grid. A shrine to history.

A place where time stands still.