SATURDAY, January 24, 2015

The Work: My Search for a Life that Matters

I received an early review copy of Wes Moore’s The Work: My Search for a Life that Matters. Thank you LibraryThing.

My main take away from this memoir is that kindness, support and friendship in key moments of our lives help us to reach our potential, and one of our greatest avenues to a meaningful, truly successful life of our own is to give the same to others.

I liked Moore’s narrative about choosing to serve in Afghanistan rather than continue in a lucrative job in Wall Street as Army Reserve with the 82nd Airborne, and leaving that world of golden handcuffs again to eventually to pursue his passion and put him on the path to who he is today. In these stories he really did take unexpected risks and opportunities, and was rewarded on multiple levels for them.

The book is not so much self-help, but self-reflection, though there are a good set of questions to walk through inspired by the lives of those who touched his in the appendices if one wanted to continue to discuss a person’s journey for finding fulfilling work.

I haven’t read Wes Moore’s first book, The Other Wes Moore, which I understand some people prefer to this one, but he is an eloquent writer and knowing what this and the other one in general is about, I could see them used as texts for the exploration of self and how our environment contributes to who we are – perhaps in a cultural anthropology or civic subject matter course.

I’ll be interested to follow Wes Moore’s future work, in all its forms.

BTW, the first passage I marked in Moore's book talks about preparing for deployment -- some of the first books he read, the first phrases of Pashto he learned. He mentions Steve Coll's Ghost Wars and Alexander Alexiev's Inside the Soviet Army in Afghanistan to learn about conflict history, culture and terrain, but aslo says he read novels:

I thought this was an excellent point he was making about not forgetting the humanity of those with whom we are in conflict.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Exchange Student Matthew McConaughey

I was flipping through old magazines the other day over at a relative’s house and was surprised to learn that Matthew McConaughey was an exchange student to Australia during the 1988-89 school year. It was under an article he wrote himself called about the “10 Moments That Changed My Life.” It wasn’t an easy year for him. He writes that he was used to “catching green lights” or having everything come to him pretty easily before he left on exchange, and then his life changed to having to start from scratch and asking himself questions that he didn’t have the answers for at the time but, “in hindsight, the fact that I was asking them for the first time was the reward.” I thought that last quote actually summed up well how many exchange students I have known seem to feel about what they experienced.


While web searching the story, I found out that in 2009 there was buzz McConaughey was planning to produce a film about exchange students, based on his experience, but also another – “One [person] will have the time of his life, while the other goes off the rails.” For the one who goes off the rails, I would love to see a little of the nihlistic thinking he brings to his character Rust Cohle in True Detective. But only a little. That is a great series I am enjoying now on Netflix.

I also wonder how McConaughey's rebound year went. It would be nice if any forthcoming movie also covered that.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

One Semester of Spanish Spanish Love Song

A friend sent me this. The end is the best part.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Taos Eventide

Below are some pictures of the glorious Taos winter scapes, at the pueblo and a couple of miles off the plaza. I love this place. There is such romantic, creative energy alive in these mountains for me. I understand the muse that has captivated so many Northern New Mexico artists when I am here.

TaosMtn1 Last of the Sunset

TaosPueblo The Red Willow Village of Taos Pueblo

TaosMtn2 Clouds Rolling In

One of the nicest collections of art in Taos is at the Millicent Rogers Museum. The item I like most in the museum is this letter, which always touches my heart and makes me feel peaceful.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Feral Cats


For the past couple of days I have been busy preparing and executing a plan to trap spay/neuter and release feral cats who live across the street from me under a house that has been for sale for way too long. It is the first time in my life I have done this. I don’t think I set out to do anything about them, events just conspired to make my actions happen. Mainly it was that I adopted my own kitten this year and he goes outside on supervised walks now and that is when I started noticing them.

Getting involved with feral cats make me think about inequalities in our human society. There are disturbing parallels.

For example, I found out that what I thought were three sibling kittens are in fact a male 2 years old, a female one year old and another female 10 months old. I had heard from another neighbor that there was a momma cat that was hit by a car and had six kittens and she took three. I thought these might have been the other set as they were so tiny. They weighed 7.5, 6 and 5 lbs, respectively -- after the probably 2lbs each they have put on since I started feeding them. My own kitten (the only animal we have currently) is 9 months and about 12.5 lbs, nearly twice the size of the two year old. The vet says if ferals don’t eat as well as a domestic cat, they stay small.

Speaking of vets, they were very nice and competent, but the closest one to my house that participated in the Spay Neuter Release program I am going through is in a poorer area of the city right next to the noisy freeway entrance. I have two vets within walking distance of me and they don’t participate. Not that I blame them. I am sure it is much easier to pay their downtown rents with the full-priced customers from my neighborhood, and the reduced rates at the other place are easier to cover with lower rents that go with unsavory parts of town. In fact, maybe they even stay in business through hard times with the constant income of ferals from more affluent neighborhoods like mine.

To mark a feral cat they have to tip the left ear. That is a universal sign they have been spayed or neutered and they carry the sign with them for life. People normally don’t adopt ferals because they won’t warm up to a humans and their civilized lives so easily, so that is why if they are beyond a certain age, they are released back from where they came.

A non-spayed feral cat in a span of 10 years is capable of having 150 babies. It was a let down to me to realize that their mother is still out there. And I think I know who she is. I have seen a fluffy, very pretty cat come to house a couple of times to watch these three eat (and maybe eat leftovers herself). She was so pretty I thought she must belong to someone, but now that I think about it she was very skittish. I wonder what her life is like if she is having babies every few months, and how many she has lost for whatever reason. She was there when I caught the last one in the trap, just watching me.

Feral cats look at you with a quiet, forlorn stare unlike the mischievous, playful, possessive or loving looks I get from my own little guy. It is like they know their situation in life and have so many fears of something worse.

In the morning when my guy goes out he likes to play. The one feral he plays with wants to eat first before he can play. It reminds me of the philosophy of Head Start programs – that kids can’t learn if they are hungry.

I have had some people on my street thank me for trapping and fixing the cats, and tell me they have thought about it and just didn’t have time, or whatever. But then they also say they didn’t want to feed them because they would start hanging around their houses as well. The problem would become theirs. They warn me that helping the cats will make them mine.

I also instructed the vets to vaccinate all the ferals. They told me almost all feral cats carry feline leukemia, though, and if they already have it, the vaccine won’t help. So, even if my kitten is vaccinated he could get it. “But my cat plays with one of them,” I told the vet tech. She told me just to let him enjoy his life and not worry too much about it. Still, I’ve thought about making my cat own cat stay indoors from now on; about segregating and protecting him somehow from them. The literature also says that once they are “fixed” other ferals will shun them and not join their colony because they can’t reproduce.

And then there is the question of making them dependent on aid. I can’t see myself not continuing to feed the cats now if they are hungry, but I wonder whether perhaps I should wean them off the quantity of food to make them truly more self-sufficient so they go and catch mice or other things that cats can live on in a suburban area. But that’s a tricky thing to do in practice. It takes some thoughtful policy.

It is a tough life for feral cats, but if more people trapped and fixed them, maybe the shelters wouldn’t be full of them, and a higher percentage of cats in general would find a home.

When all is said and done, maybe these have. ☺

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Thinking Behind the Title

I knew early on I would like Luz to be the title of the current novel. Two years ago I began showing it around with this name. The word "Luz," pronounced something like lose in English, means light in Spanish, and is part of the motto of Kara’s school in New Mexico. It figures into the story on different levels.

However, when it came time to publish this novel, the single title Luz was taken and it was a bit of a bummer I couldn’t claim it anymore. Yet, I now think it for the best. It made me dig deeper to think about other important themes in the novel, and the subtitle Rebound is one.

"Rebound" in the case of this novel, has a particular meaning. “Rebounder” is a term first coined by Rotary Youth Exchange to describe exchange students who have completed their youth exchange, and is now a part of the terminology used by the global exchange community at large.

Rebounders, like “outbounds” (exchange students who have left on their exchange program) and “inbounds” (exchange students who are being hosted by a local exchange community) can experience culture shock when they return home. This is the disorientation and frustration students seem to go through as they adjust to their life during and after their exchange. Part of this story is about the experience of coming home after an exchange year.

But then there’s also a messy romance…

And "rebound" has another connotation there.

You’ll just have to read it to know how the two come together.