Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Place from Childhood

Sitting in this spot, a spot which is more cherished today than when I first encountered it, I can see incredible distances. Beyond the distance traversed in mere seconds, time itself is bent to my will. I may choose to visit Disneyland (1964) or Pensacola Beach (1961) complete with the go-kart and paddle boat races. The colors just as vivid, the people restored to youth and vibrancy. One of my personal favorites, the igloo built by piling snow into a huge mound, a hole burrowed for a door, and the inside expanded to create Nanook's nook.

Such is the American Magical Reality of the Bell & Howell slide projector. The first time I encountered my magical spot I was 5 or 6 yrs. old, the spot being the seat next to this wonderful contraption. The whir of the cooling fan laboring to keep the ultra bright bulb from self destruction. The aroma of the heat coming from that bulb, its light focused on the screen which emitted a kind of chemical odor. My father would turn the nob and work the sliding mechanism, projecting the next image onto the screen, providing instant transport to a distant moment in time.

We would gather together, immediate family, extended family, friends and neighbors to view the color images of these captured moments in time magically transported into our living room. We would tell the story of the man that was a dead ringer for Harry Truman, swimming in the same Pensacola waters we swam in. The collective "awww" of adults verifying the cuteness of Stevie and brother Peter, anglers of incredible courage and skill, warmed by the Florida sun and secure in the knowledge that dad was only a few feet away. There is the image of brother Bill, smiling large with vanquished squirrels hanging by their tails in each of his fists. His name sake, Uncle Bill, standing behind him with the knowing look. Always good for a laugh, that one.

I'm a member of a kind of club, I'll call it the Kodachrome Club, connecting me to others of my generation. The phenomena has been documented in song (thank you Paul Simon) and countless nostalgic musings. All the members of the club have their own magic spot where they sat before the conveniently sized stinky white screen, listening to the whir of the fan cooling a really hot bright bulb, enduring the rehashing of family vacations, Christmas mornings, Thanksgiving dinners, various parties and coming of age events. What makes this club so great is there are never any large gathering of its members. Instead we each operate individually, like a terrorist cell, subjecting our victims to the physical demands of time travel and birthday parties.

I was recently listening to "Talk of the Nation-Science Friday". A physicist was explaining that a time machine, if it could be built, wouldn't be able to transport itself (and occupant) back in time beyond the day it was constructed. He obviously isn't a member of the Kodachrome Club. Little does he know of time travel. Members of the "Club" have time machines, these machines make noises and smells and are made up of complex components, controlling these time machines sometimes requires operator technique. The complex components are individual to the operators, each of us having our own slides that transport us to or individual histories.

I worry about my magic place and the time machine that takes me there. Who can I leave it to? My daughter can't be transported to my magic place, she has to find her own magic place. That requires her own version of a time machine, which she carries in her hand and sometimes in her purse. But the day will come when she inherits my time machine. I envision her using the more complex components, the slides, and converting them into something she values. Maybe a lamp shade or a ridiculous dress to be worn on Halloween. The projector and stinky screen are destine to be dumpster fodder. But, if she captures their existence in her time machine, they will live on as she travels to her magic place reliving the events that make her who and what she is. Just as I do, when I am in my magic place.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Happy Trails to you...

On the kitchen table rests, "The Happiness Project" a book by Gretchen Rubin. A quick scan of the cover elicits the cynical thought, "happiness, what a quaint concept!" As I flip through the contents of this book, it dawns on me, this book was placed here as a not so subtle hint. "Please, Stephen, abandon your curmudgeonly ways!", my loving wife's futile plea.

So I sift through this book, hoping for amusement. But just reading about Ms. Rubin's exhaustive research and preparation to find happiness, leaves me weary and unhappy. I find many of her suggestions suspect. I don't mean to disrespect Ms. Rubin nor discount her noble effort to help people find happiness. So I ponder the whole happiness concept. It seems to me happiness is purely subjective.

I wonder about people who seem to be happy all the time (aside from them just annoying the hell out of me). Are they truly happy, or addicted to positive attitude? Are there other elements in play here? How much of our happiness is a product of our DNA, how much a result of our environment? Ms. Rubin's research indicated that as much as 50% of our capacity for happiness is our genetic make-up, and as much as 30% is a result of our environment. That would leave a slender 20% for a positive attitude to reverse the effects of who you are and where you came from.

Does geographic location effect one's happiness? Life in paradise could lead to happiness. Is there a wall chart some where, a map of the world marked up by a Sharpie, indicating people from this area are 20% happier than people from another locale? I hope I'm wrong, just the thought of such a chart makes me unhappy.

I've decided to start my own happiness project, one that appeals to my own subjective sensibilities. But there must be rules! First, I mustn't be unduly cruel to the terminally happy, even if it would make me happy to do so. Second, I must document what I did that made me happy and why it made me happy (even if the effort to document makes me unhappy).

Day One: Jason and I went to the shooting range for some target practice. I got some practice getting used to my newly acquired S&W 10mm. It's a substantial gun that feels good in my paw, and after about 40 rounds I was getting a reasonable grouping at 3 meters. I shot the Ruger .22 and even at 10 meters it provides a nice tight group. I shot Jason's Ruger 9mm and it is a very nice gun that is easy to shoot. I was entertained by the guy in the booth next to me, he had a bunch of really nice guns. I really liked his Beretta .40, what a beautiful gun, and boy does it bark! This was a fun outing, but did it make me happy? It cost $60 in fees and ammunition (that doesn't make me happy), and I was gone from the shop for an hour in the middle of the day. Did my absence cause some undue cruelty to a terminally happy person? It's hard to say, there were no anxiety ridden messages on the answering machine, but that's not to say someone didn't stop by while I was away.

This is getting too complex (which makes me unhappy), am I allowed to flush conscience and responsibility in order for me to consider this a totally happy experience? Maybe I'll just give it a 2.5 on the happiness scale (a 1 being a not so happy experience and a 5 being a really happy experience).

Day Two: Saturday!! That makes me happy already, I'm going to give today a 5 on the happiness scale. Well maybe a 4, I do have to help Paul with his remodeling project, when what I ought to be doing is working on my own list of the million things that I've got to get done. I think I'll just drop by and offer Paul some encouragement, let him borrow a few tools (which I hate to do, it could provide unhappiness) and get to work on my own stuff. Then there is the movie factor, if Machete turns out to be the truly funny movie it promises to be, today could salvage it's 5 rating...

Tomorrow is Sunday, which normally would be an automatic 5 rating. The Sabbath, a day of worship and rest from cares of the world. But a couple of weeks ago I was called to be a counselor in a Bishopric. This is a calling that carries much responsibility, which in and of itself doesn't bother me. It's hearing about all the problems people in our ward have, difficult hard to solve problems. This could severely impact tomorrow's happiness rating, but I'm going to take the positive attitude approach. I'm just a counselor, all the real responsibility and heavy decisions are the Bishop's problem. I hope Hank is up to the challenge. Maybe I'll give him a copy of "The Happiness Project", a book by Gretchen Rubin.