Thursday, October 28, 2010

It is what it is

Someone said to me the other day that they thought the phrase "It is what it is" was overused and cliche. This was right after I used the phrase. Ironically, it was only the second time I'd remembered using the phrase. And in the phrase's defense, it may be overused and/or cliche, but it is also dead on accurate in many cases.

Even Freud chastised people that a cigar is sometimes just a cigar. As a species, we are too quick to look for hidden messages or meanings in everything. We wonder what god's plan was or whether something was a government conspiracy or a big business ploy. But you know, nine times out of ten, it is what it is and there is no DaVinci code to crack. Maybe the Mona Lisa was smiling because she had gas (or Leonardo passed some).

I suppose this is disappointing to some people. If you climb to the mountain top and ask the guru in the cave what the meaning of life is and he or she says, "It is what it is," you are likely going to be a little pissed off. Because it is human nature to thrive on mystery and intrigue. We want there to be some master plan. And if the guiding principle to life is that shit just happens, there are lots of people who aren't going to want to get out of bed in the morning.

I don't think I believe shit just happens, though. On more than one occasion, I have made it clear that I firmly believe we make our own reality. So I believe shit happens because we make it happen. We set the stage for it to happen by the actions we take before it happens. But when it does happen, it is what it is. Because at that point you can't make it unhappen.

Oh, you can learn from it happening. But staring at it, dissecting it and stirring it around, doesn't change it. Asking lots of questions about why it happened doesn't change it happening, either. It is futile. I ask my children all the time why they do things like stick toast in the DVD player. They inevitably respond with something like, "Because." Why? Because there actions are what they are and they are who they are. Something motivated them to stick a piece of toast in the DVD player. Maybe it was just curiosity or they just like to see the DVD drawer open and close. Figuring out what the motivation was doesn't change that it happened. And more often than not, it won't keep it from happening again. I can tell them not to put toast in the DVD player and next time they won't. They'll stick a Pop Tart in there instead. And I'll ask them why and they'll respond, "Because." They cycle will never stop until I simply stop asking them why.

Time to digress. I have always been bothered by people who major in Literature of any kind or era. As a writer, I don't appreciate people who dissect writing. And by dissect, I mean they literally spread a piece on cardboard and pin it's legs and arms back for a vivisection, looking for god knows what. Maybe Melville was really just writing about a friggin' white whale, did you ever think about that? And what have you really accomplished by putting writing under a microscope? Writers are only projecting bits and pieces of themselves in their writing. It shouldn't be held up as some holy grail that masks the secrets to the universe.

End of digression. Just be thankful I didn't get started on film history majors.

I'll leave you with a quote from a great proponent of the philosophy of it is what it is, Popeye. He said it best when he said, "I yam what I yam and it's all that I yam."

Monday, October 25, 2010


I was in San Antonio a few weeks ago on business and managed to swing past one of America's top icons. Well, at least it is the most famous attraction in Texas -- the Alamo. It is hard to forget the Alamo since most people in my generation grew up with the phrase, "Remember the Alamo" etched into our small brains. And, after all, it is where at the very least two popular American icons from our early history died: Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie.

Davy Crockett's fame may have died at the Alamo if he hadn't been one of the early experts at self-promotion. He created his famous frontier persona to win a place representing Tennessee in the U.S. House of Representatives. His exploits were turned into plays and dime novels. Something tells me living up to his own legend landed him in Texas facing a vastly superior force of the Mexican army defending their country's property rights.

Davy Crockett ended up executed along with Jim Bowie who lent his name to the Bowie knife, a large hunting knife almost as big as a machete. Bowie wasn't from Texas, either. He was born in Kentucky and spent most of his life in Louisiana. He became for a fight on a sandbar in Louisiana in which he killed his opponent with his Bowie knife after being shot, clubbed and stabbed repeatedly. Bowie moved to Texas after the fight and eventually became a Mexican citizen before the revolution landed him in the Alamo trying to figure out how to fight thousands of soldiers armed with rifles with a big knife.

Obviously, I didn't spend a great deal of time at the Alamo reading up on the history. I was too busy trying to decide whether to buy a shot glass with a image of the Alamo on it or a Christmas ornament with the image of the Alamo on it. I didn't buy either, but I did buy my kids a couple of polyester coonskin caps which they refuse to have anything to do with. My daughter insists her hat was a cat and keeps it in a bag with her other stuffed toys. My son simply won't touch it.

I was a bit disappointed since I had one of the caps when I was a toddler and wore it proudly while prancing around in my diaper. I suppose wanting to be king of the wild frontier skips a generation.

But I digress.

More fascinating to me than the actual Alamo (which is pretty damned small in real life) were the Texas volunteers who staff the park. To Texas' credit, they don't charge you to visit the Alamo. Thus they rely on volunteers to keep people in line and stage odd reenactment tableau's on the grounds.

I took photos of the people dressed up in vintage uniforms from a distance because I have phobia of such people similar to my phobia of people who hand out free samples at the grocery store (a long story). I was afraid if I approached them they would engage my in scintillating conversation about trench latrines and hard tack.

I did find the reenactment people a bit more friendly than the people working in the actual Alamo itself. I stepped into the hallowed ground of the main structure and was immediately accosted by a volunteer who berated me for wearing a hat inside this holiest of Texas holies. He spied my camera and also warned me that photography wasn't allowed. Presumably flash photography is as offensive to the spirits of the brave but not terribly realistic defenders of the Alamo as baseball caps are. I fought the urge to suggest that I am sure Davy Crockett never took off his coon skin cap in the Alamo and just took off my hat. I hid my camera in it while the volunteer followed me around the crowded former church turned fortress waiting for me to try and put it back on again.

I have to admit that it was kind of neat seeing the Alamo. After all, it did spawn several movies including one of the only ones John Wayne died in (he was playing Davy Crockett and they couldn't figure out a way to get around him dying in the end when they wrote the script) and one where Billy Bob Thornton played Davy Crockett (hopefully sans a vial of Angelina Jolie's blood around his neck).

And all and all, San Antonio was a pretty cool city.