Sunday, March 27, 2011

You Must Bear Your Brother's Burden Within Reason

After a week-long hike through the charming English countryside with my brother and sister-in-law I had a charming 7 hour flight home. The movie options were somewhat limited, so I watched three movies, two of which were about brothers and sisters passionately loyal to their siblings (the third was Monsters Inc, but that's just good entertainment).

In Conviction, Hilary Swank's character believes her lovable nogoodnik brother is innocent of the murder he's been accused of, so she decides to become a lawyer to overturn his conviction. Which means she has to go to law school. Which means she has to go to college. Which means she has to get her GED. (In other debates, I suspect Swank represents the kind of college student who perhaps doesn't need a lot of GE courses...) She never once entertains the idea that her sometimes violently angry brother might actually have committed the crime as she not only goes to school, but suffers economically, emotionally and even loses her husband and sons in her effort.

On the other channel of the itty-bitty screen, I watched some movie with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson on a revenge rampage to kill off the gang of criminals that killed his brother when he and his brother were in a gang of criminals. Lots of criminals. He guns them down, attacks them with ice picks, the whole gambit. He doesn't care how these scumbags live now, any more than he cares about the assassin and police tailing him. He's just going to drive that lonely highway in his Chevy Impala until he kills them all or gets killed himself. No one gets away with shooting his brother.

Watching these, I wonder what the limits of my fraternal loyal are. I mean, I certainly enjoyed spending time with my brother and I'd certain help him out if he needed emotional, financial, etc. help. I'd babysit as a live-in nanny, say, or pull strings to get him a job, or maybe even get in a fight with someone who wanted to fight him. But could I go on a killing spree to avenge his death? Probably not. Partially this is because he wouldn't want that kind of tribute. Could I dedicate (possibly ruin) my life and family to the faint hope of his innocence and exoneration? If my Dave were falsely imprisoned, of course, but if I had a brother as violent and unpredictable , with a criminal history as long as Hilary Swank's brother's? I don't know.

I guess all of this musing about limits of loyalty is all theoretical, and I'm probably more loyal than I think. In fact, in ordinary things, I'm very loyal, not letting people talk bad about my family members and calling periodically and supporting their goals and projects however I can. But these movies made me wonder how deep I could go if called upon to do so.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Arrival Protocol

Okay, so here's me getting bossy again, but I was thinking about how I return from a trip and how to do this best. Here's my free advice, and you get what you paid for. You don't want to be overwhelmed and depressed by coming home, but you want to return peaceful, refreshed and happy to be in your normal life again with such good memories. To ensure this, I think a successful reentry from a trip requires as much planning and care as heading out. That starts even before you've left.

Before the Trip:
  • Get someone to feed the pets, get the mail, etc. You don't want to return to disaster.
  • Clean house, including making the bed & having some clean clothes. You want to come back and see your home at its best and you don't want to have to do dishes or pick up before you can rest after a hard day of travel.
  • Clear out any perishables, but have some non-perishable food ready in the cupboard. With airlines being so stingy these days, you'll probably be hungry when you come back, but too tired to go out.

Immediately upon Return:
  • Shower. Morning or night, even if you're way tired. This should be one of first things you do. You'll feel better, more at home, and you won't carry all the germs of you picked up on the trip and flight. Also, this may be the first time in a while that you've had some good "naked time," so look for moles, rashes, ticks or anything you might not have noticed while changing in your sleeping bag by flashlight.
  • Dump your laundry. Yeah, I don't even sort it, but really--if you rinsed it in bathroom sinks and sludged through mud it in, I'm guessing it's not dry clean only. And usually clothes are a big part of our luggage so unpacking won't be such a chore in the future.
  • Clean out electronic noise. Delete spam email and irrelevant texts all at once. You'll find it makes reentry so much less daunting without all that extra stuff clambering for your attention. You can deal with the important matters latter, but just commit yourself to deleting the special deals from J. Crew and evites to parties you missed.
Within 24 Hours:
  • Label or post photos. Even if you felt like you'll never forget your trip, you may find yourself frowning over a thatched cottage or pile of ruins thinking, "there was some reason why I needed to photograph this, what was it?" Labeling while you're fresh also helps you to digest your trip, reflecting on the whole experience.
  • Talk about it. Maybe while picking up your mail with a good friend or just calling your mom, find someone who is willing to listen to you talk for awhile about your experiences. It doesn't have to be a two-hour debriefing with slides, but you'll find that several weeks down the way, you most remember the stories you told about your trip soon after your trip. Describing the tropical bird that swooped down on you or the old lady who sold you garlic in the street cements those memories in your mind.
  • Thank all the little people. As soon as you can, send thank you notes to those who watched your house or financial supported your volunteer efforts or inspired your packing lists. It's nice, too, if you have some little gifts, like exotic candies or photographs, to send. Don't forget to post reviews on Trip Adviser or for the good experiences you have. The people who work in tourism live and die by reviews.
  • Enjoy your home. Just walk around an reacquaint yourself with the books on your shelf, the ingredients in your cupboard, the view from your window. When I came home from this England walking tour, I looked in my closet and was awed by how many pairs of shoes I had to choose from. Everything will seem sparkly and new after your trip.
  • Unpack. The longer you leave everything in your bag, the less likely you are to find things you need, or look at what you brought home. Are all those ticket stubs worth keeping? Do you really want to keep that grocery bag from Taiwan? Which toiletries belong in your bathroom and which go in the 72 hour/gym kit? Get everything out and start airing out your likely smelling bags.

Over the Next Week:
  • Do what you can do at home. To keep my mind off how much I want to travel some more or how I miss the people I met, I like to cook a little, or go for a bike ride, or do something that I took for granted before my trip but is now new and fresh.
  • Embrace work. Answer all those email, finish up that homework, plan that may seem like unpleasant drudgery, but remind yourself why you went into your line of work in the first place. Think about what you contribute to the good in the world and to your organizations. Ponder how what you've learned about gratitude or nature or humanity changes the way you do your work. My travel to radically different cultures has made me a more sympathetic teacher for my international students, and personally engaging with historic areas has eased my anachronistic thinking in my research.
  • Share with others. Don't be a snob, but there will probably be a lot of people asking you about your trip. Invite a few of them over to enjoy a meal you discovered on your journey and look at a (brief!) selection of pictures.. Don't make this a party all about you, but engage others in the questions and ideas you encountered. They can help you make sense of your experiences and see it with new eyes.
  • Keep contact. Facebook or email all those people you met and promised to touch back with. It's great to get a Facebook update from a Canadian I met in a hostel, or our Belizean cook long after we parted ways. Remind your new friends of where you met, so they don't think some creeper ended up with their email address. By contacting them soon, you'll minimize the likelihood of losing those bonds forever.
  • Adventure locally. There are plenty of good experiences to have even at home in the afternoons and evenings. Invite over friends for a movie night. Go to a restaurant you love. Visit a museum in town. You might even make plans for the weekend to hike a local trail or take a historic walk. Remind yourself that just because your trip is over, the good times don't have to come to an end.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The (Not Such an) Emergency Kit

Far be it from me to use this forum to prescribe ways of living (except when I do), but sometimes I think we get the wrong idea about emergency preparedness. The point isn't that the world is about to end and we all need several 75 lb bags of wheat in our basements. The point is that we better be careful and prepared to be self-sufficient.

My brother-in-law once gave a genius talk about how there are 3 kinds of emergencies:
1) the world is going to end and, honestly, your wheat probably isn't going to save you, so better focus on being spiritually prepared to meet your maker
2) you're in a tough economic place for a long time and really what you need is money and good credit (and probably also some food storage, clothes, gardening and handiman skills, etc.)
3) something unexpected happens and it takes 2-3 days for Red Cross to show up and in the meantime, you and your family needs food, water, diapers (depending on age) and depends (depending on age).

This is pretty clever advice, but I'd like to talk about emergency level 4: when you're just too lazy and cheap. I've stocked the back of my VW Golf with a backpack and a half case of water for convenience, and, frankly, I've gotten a lot more use out of my 72-hrs kit than I would have if I had planned only for emergencies. In fact, I've probably gotten 72 hours of use out of it. Here's what I pack:

1-Food. Sometimes it's not the end of the world, but you did forget to pack a lunch. I like to pack nuts and dried fruit because they hold me over, are reasonably healthy and can withstand heat and cold pretty well.
2-Water. Ditto, really, but I mostly "rotate" my water because I don't like the way Austin tap water tastes (I'm sorry! I just haven't gotten use to it yet!).
3- Money. Yes, sometimes I drive my car and then realize I left my wallet (and license) at home. I pack a little cash ($10-20), a credit card and some valid, but rarely used, ids (my ISIC card, for example) just in case the lady at the donut shop wants to check on my credit card. Rarely happens. But the cash often comes in handy for a donation at the dinosaur museum or photobooth pictures.
4- Clothes. I used to just pack scrubbies, but under the non-emergency guidance, I now only pack what I would wear in public. Still, I pack jeans and a t-shirt for situations like when I used my emergency pants when I wanted to trim hedges, but was wearing a skirt. I've on-again-off again packed PJs, too, because sometimes sleepovers happen, but I often don't change at sleepovers. Instead, though, I do like to have...
5-Workout clothes. In case I have a couple hours and the gym is right there and
6-Shoes. Sneakers, usually, what with the workout clothes, but I've had hiking boots back there in the winter in Utah. Well, in the summer, too, when I might want to go for a hike after teaching in heels.
7-Leatherman. Man, I use this all the time. Screwdriver, knife. Some might say that usually when I use it I need it in my home, but then I ask: when am I home but my car is not? Now I always know where it is and don't have to search for it and if I ever need a can opener at school, I'm set.
8- Medicine. Day-quil, ibuprofin, baby aspirin, Pepto... I've made a lot of sick people happier and I've helped myself many a time.
9-Medical miscellany. Band-aids (used often) to CPR kit (thankfully never used), I have a lot of small random first aid stuff. I feel good having this, but I also like having my Red Cross handbook to refer to in case I do have to do something about a jellyfish poisoning. Oy, and my epipen. Important and relevant to a funny story I can never repeat.
10- Pen and paper. Important for leaving notes. Also for taking notes when you forgot to check for a pen in your bag this morning. Business cards, too, are useful to have so you can give someone your number in a hurry.
11- Kleenex and hand wipes. Tre useful.
12-Rope. I once wished I had rope in my car when we were sledding and trying to get back up a hill of solid ice. Ever since then I carry a roll of thin, strong rope. I haven't had much occasion to use it, but it feels pretty useful.
13- Toiletries. Should go along with the exercise stuff, but I often need to use a little emergency make up when I was in a hurry to get out the door and then arrive with a few minutes to spare. Again, try to pack stuff you'd actually use. And soap and shampoo from hotels works great for this. And lady products are super useful, too. Also, toothpaste and a toothbrush for sleepovers.
14- Playing cards, scriptures, mad libs. Because sometimes boredom is the enemy.
15-Gas. Okay, so this isn't in the kit, but it's a standard emergency preparedness thing that's also great for non-emergencies. If I always have a half tank of gas, I can always get down to 6 Flags (but not always back). I don't have to worry about if I have enough gas for something. If this seems like a weird thing to keep up, just make one day a week your "gas up and clean car" day. I make it Friday so I'm ready for adventures.
16- Flashlight. From Raid-over-Russia games to exploring a cave to taking a night walk by a busy street to finding an earring back, very, very useful. I like the windup kind so I don't have to worry about batteries.
17- Standard, wilderness-y things. Poncho, emergency whistle, matches, compass. You might never use them, you might find reasons to use them (the matches came in handy lighting New Year's fireworks a few years ago), but you'll feel better and smugger having them.
18- Blankie. Sudden cold spell at a star party or sudden urge to picnic, a good t-shirt-and-jean quilt is pretty useful in the back of the car.

After you build a not-so-emergency kit, keep thinking about what you wish you had in a certain situation, and then add that. I like to listen to music, so I keep a cheap, beat-up iPod shuffle and headphones in my trunk. I sometimes have random temple urges, so I keep my temple bag in the trunk. I sometimes for forget people's birthdays and holidays, so sometimes I keep a few note cards and cheap gifts, like pencils and yo-yo's, in my kit, too.

If you believe it, everything here fits into one backpack, minus the temple bag, half-tray of water, blanket and gas. (And hiking boots, when that's what I have.) Once you set it up, though, you need to keep it. It's a good rule of thumb to pull everything out and see what you need to restock, rotate or throw out every 6 months. I like to do it at Conference time, between sessions. This also works well because you can stock up on warm socks and herbal tea packets around October conference, and Clariton and flip flops in April.

I find that I not only make up for my absent-mindedness, but I actually live life better carrying around this bag of stuff. I do more because I can do more. I live life more abundantly.