Our brand is crisis?

14469652_564576230393957_3537145904902612686_nThere is nothing like coming back from vacation to help you see life through new eyes, particularly if you’ve been lucky enough to spend a chunk of time somewhere that is quite different from the world you inhabit on a daily basis. If you have such good fortune, you will likely be asking questions like these: Why do we move so fast? How come we are always going somewhere? Why do we get so antsy when we lose our almost constant input from numerous electronic sources? Okay, may I should just speak for myself when it comes to the antsy part, but you get the point…

I was also surprised at how difficult it was to receive almost no world news for days, and more surprised when I came back to the campaign rhetoric going on in my own homeland. My house was as comfy as ever. A salad from the local farmers market was still a treat. The wine we brought back was delicious. So what is everyone so upset about, I wondered. To hear the ads slathered around the swing state in which I live, we are suddenly on the verge of destruction. Quick, duck and cover. It’s awful, what-ever-it-is, and it’s coming fast.

Really?  Right before we left on vacation my husband and I happened to watch the movie “Our Brand is Crisis.” It came out in early 2016, stars Sandra Bullock (a favorite of mine) and Billy Bob Thorton and it tells the tale of two opposing U.S. campaign strategists as each tries to help a Bolivian candidate win the highest office in the land.

I found it a good movie, though not a great one. The characters are all well written and well acted, however the dirty tricks that make up most of the plot are only mildly interesting, and the overall tone has an odd moral ambiguity until the end, when it takes a sharp turn into easy schmaltz. I’m kind of okay with easy schmaltz, actually, but the transition is a little jarring.

I later learned that the movie was based on Rachel Boynton’s 2005 documentary about the real 2002 election in Bolivia.  If true, it’s a much sadder story than is conveyed, and the characters, in my opinion, should have been shown less as sexy and smart and more as ethically repugnant. But hey, that’s me. I don’t have much of a sense of humor about some things.

The movie came to my mind after I got back from vacation, because of its central premise which is conveniently placed in the movie’s title. If you want attention, if you want action, you need to persuade people that there is a problem. A big problem. It’s how you make people buy things. (Your acid reflux is serious.) It’s how you get them to donate money, and vote. Scaring people into doing things works.

The only problem is that you end up with scared people.

Image result for political ralliesThere are some places in the world that are almost literally on fire right now, but I don’t live in one of them and I bet you don’t either. Don’t get me wrong, I fully recognize that we have plenty of things in our society that are screwed up and that we need to fix. My list is probably different than yours, and quite possibly longer. (It’s that “not much of a sense of humor” thing.) But surely we can agree that we are not in a crisis. We really aren’t.

Others, many others with all sorts of beliefs, have a vested interest in convincing us that we are, but we can refuse to be manipulated by all of them. So please, take a breath. Look around. Find some small thing to appreciate in your life and then go ahead and find another. Once your feeling calmer about it all, consider tuning out the pundits who are determined to work you into a frenzy. The people of Bolivia would have made much better decisions if they had done so.

Now, once you’ve found that calm place, you should definitely vote. After that, the antacid tablets are optional.

(For other oblique election commentary see my posts Everything is Going to Be AlrightWe need to talk about this, just maybe not so much, and Is it over yet?)

(For more vacation-inspired epiphanies see The Moon Rises on my c3 blog, Happy International Day of Peace, Alberto and Maria on my x0 blog, and That’s Why They Play the Game on my d4 blog.)

On the Road

What is your dream vacation? I’m headed out the door on mine, and it is surprising how few of these I have taken. I’m talking about going somewhere I’ve never been; somewhere far enough off well-traveled roads that no one I know has ever been there. Except for my travel companion, I won’t know a soul. I have no plans for what to do when I get there, and no real expectations for how this will turn out. There is enough time, a whole week, for exploring and relaxing and seeing what will happen.

The truth is that I love out of the way places. I keep tucking them into my books, from the town of Flores on Lake Peten Itza in Guatemala in z2 to the to northeast corner of Greenland in d4. You can’t get too remote for my tastes.

charles-kuraltOn the other hand, my traveling companion, who is usually referred to as my husband, is noticeably agitated about this dive into the uncharted, combined with a notable lack of advanced reconnaissance.  I agree that it adds potential for problems, and I try to think of why such an adventure calls to me in a way that sight seeing and visiting loved ones and going and laying on a beach somewhere simply does not.

And I remember Charles Kuralt.

When I was a kid, we watched the evening news with Walter Cronkite. On a good night, the broadcast would include a segment called “On the Road” where this older, balding guy would wander into some town in the middle of nowhere and, always, discover a fascinating story to tell. I loved him, loved his travels and loved his stories. One could say I’ve spent much of my life trying to become Charles Kuralt, and I don’t know why. I even seem to have moved to his home state of North Carolina.

What was the charm? Maybe it was finding something you could not predict. Perhaps it had to do with taking a step back from busy life, and enjoying, for example, the simple pleasure of watching 8000 dominoes fall over.  See for yourself in this video from 1983.

Will I make discoveries like this on my vacation into the unadvertised, non-simulated nooks into which I go? Oh, I hope so. I really hope so.

Nature calls it even

wavesI’ve been thinking recently about the concept of a tie, or draw in a contest. (See my post about ties on my x0 blog here.) I’m on vacation, relaxing. I am also realizing that I let myself relax all too seldom. There’s work, a necessary evil. Family. Relationships. Joyful but not effortless. Writing. Blogging. Both my passions but not effortless either. And then there’s that damn kitchen counter that always needs a wipe down.

This week I am at the beach, on a screen porch that overlooks the ocean, and captures the sea breeze and the sounds of waves. I think maybe I should get off the porch and do something and then I think, why? This is my vacation.  So I sit here and ponder the tides. It is low tide now, so the sea has receded and paused. It rests in equilibrium, a perfect tie between the pull of water as it follows the tug of the moon and the sloshing back of the water as the moon looses its grip.

moonThere is a full moon tonight, another wonderful resting point of nature that will be shown in all its spectacular glory, sparkling off the waves. For two weeks the moon has waxed, growing ever larger. Tonight it will pause, caught between expansion and contraction. Tomorrow the forces of waning will begin to win, for two weeks or so at any rate.  Then a dark moonless night filled with the wonder of a million stars will accentuate another temporary draw in this battle of the waxing and the waning moon.

Although I call work a necessary evil, the truth is that my profession in geophysics is born of a deep fascination with the earth and sky and physical forces that shape the universe around us. It shows up in my novels, where I have gotten to describe earthquakes, tsunami, and storms at sea.  In z2 I made the path of the sun overhead part of my plot. That is a place where nature reaches a different kind equilibrium. Here the night grows longer and darker, until the point of greatest darkness, when like the tides or the moon, things pause.  But this pause, called the solstice, is not the “tie” but merely the turning point. Days will grow longer now until for one single moment the powers of light and darkness are equal. We call it the spring equinox, and it is the moment when nature grants a tied score. Then the day grows still longer, and that brings us to now.  Late May, with the summer solstice approaching. Me sitting on a porch pondering nature and equilibrium and thinking that at the very least I ought to go inside the wipe down the kitchen counter, left in quite a mess after the lunch that faded into the nap that faded into these seaside thoughts.

I get as far as opening the door into the house when I see that my son has not only wiped down the counter, he’s loaded and run the dishwasher as well. My my. All things have cycles don’t they, and it appears that we have reached some sort of equilibrium point regarding kitchen clean-up. I love it when nature allows for balance. I smile my appreciation, and head back to the hammock for a second nap.

hammock2

For a few later thoughts on the merits of a close game please visit my y1 blog here.