“Magnificent obsession.” I have been intrigued by this phrase I find oxymoronic ever since I first heard it as the title of a book and at least two films.
While an obsession can be helpful if it ultimately leads one to success after doggedly pursuing a vision about one thing above all else, it can be detrimental if one thing is pursued to the exclusion of all else yet the goal is never achieved.
Therefore, I don’t think an obsession can ever be “magnificent” because of all the other wonders that are missed while pursuing the one vision or goal.
However, I think it’s magnificent to be obsessed or passionate about something.
How did she know?
As evidence of how loving, obedient, giving, and helpful her teenaged daughter was, the mother would often tell the story of how when she was deeply occupied and intent on her writing, she would drink copious cups of tea. During these times, her sweet, kind, and perfect daughter, without any hint of resentment, would, when the cup was empty, ask her mother if she wanted more tea.
To keep the cup full, the daughter would have to interrupt the cleaning, washing, ironing, or studying that she was doing, walk down a long hallway to the kitchen, put the kettle on the stove, wait for the water to get hot, pour the tea, and bring it back to the front parlor where her mother sat writing. The daughter was mindful to fill the cup to the rim with hot water covering the Lipton tea bag, carefully carrying it so as not to spill any tea into the saucer where it would wet the wedge of lemon.
On one of these days, the daughter asked, “Mother, do you know that this is your 13th cup of tea?” The girl’s mother replied, “Yes, baby, 13 is your lucky number.”
Triggers of deep memory
Her feet are never dirty because she showers twice a day and uses a long-handled brush to scrub her feet with soap. Every time she scrubs her feet unnecessarily thoroughly, she recalls a time when she would use her forefinger to slowly rub the area between her ankle bone and Achilles heel into rolls of moist black dirt. Though she yearned for a bath, there was no opportunity.
She brushes her teeth more than twice a day when possible. Each time she has to caution herself not to brush too long and too hard. She is so grateful that she has what she needs to brush her teeth because there was a time when she did not have a toothbrush or toothpaste, and rinsing her mouth with water and using her forefinger to rub across her teeth was not enough to keep the green border from forming just below her gums on her upper front teeth. She covered her mouth when she smiled so the green would not show.
It is not enough that food be freely given – it must be plentiful and eagerly given or she will lose all desire for it. She will become angry with the person who, in her distorted interpretation of the situation, is withholding the food or grudgingly giving it. It’s only after one of these episodes of feeling infuriated and then ashamed for being so unreasonably angry that she reflects on why she reacts this way.
There was a time when her meals consisted of a small amount of food apportioned on a plate, which was left on a stove as if for a pet. Unable to access the snacks in the pantry or the popsicles and ice cream in the large freezer chest because they were padlocked, she chose not to eat at all.
“Here’s the thing . . .” During normal conversation when someone says, “Here’s the thing,” I listen more intently and know that this is what I should pay most attention to. However, during this presidential campaign season, the phrase, “Here’s the thing” seems to have become more of a habit or speech tic similar to the habit some have of ending every declarative sentence with the question, “Does that make sense?”
As we get closer to the official date for the end of voting for the leader of our nation, I am facing the reality that no matter who becomes President of the United States, and regardless of his good intentions and promises, there are many rivers and tributaries between the promises of the candidates and their ability to accomplish their stated goals. The reality is that our electoral system and the established checks and balances of our government will rule in the end.
Hopefully, the Electoral College will vote according to the preferences of the majority of citizens in their state. And, ideally for the intended purposes of checks and balances, Representatives, Senators, and Justices will always serve along with the Executive Branch in the best interest of the country. As we have seen in the past, however, these structures of checks and balances can be politicized to either support or blunt the desires and promises of the popularly elected leader of the land. Therefore, if the reality of checks and balances does not support the highest hopes of the individual voter, it could cause those who worked hard to get out the vote, campaigned for their candidate, contributed money to campaigns, and voted early to lose perspective and faith in whatever they believed in that inspired their activism.
In preparing myself to accept the outcome of the presidential election, I think that I might use the speech tics I mentioned in my opening paragraph. For example, I will answer the literary refrain, “Does this make sense?” with the declaration: It does not make sense for me to stake my whole well-being on the outcomes of this election.
Further, I will pay close attention to how I feel when I say to myself, “Here’s the thing.” For example, I will internally debate my perception of the thing, and tune in to my feelings in order to realize that the thing is, as important as civic attention is to government, there is more to the context in which I want to continue to exist than what the machinations of government can influence. Like you, I have attempted to keep a sense of equilibrium by acting on what I can control and adjusting to that which I cannot control. I affirm to myself that I will not despair and abandon my dreams and the dreams of my ancestors who worked hard and suffered to pass on opportunities upon which I might build.
And finally, here’s the thing: For some, the results of the election will make the world better. For others, it might seem like the end of the world as they want it to be. But for all of us, it is not the end of the world.
Since the pandemic, I’ve not read or heard that colleges and universities and their students are thrilled about remote learning. Understandably, the majority want to be onsite enjoying the benefits a campus offers both in and outside of the classroom. But what if there were no pandemic that would require nearly universal remote learning? Would campus life be as it was in fall 2019? I have to think that if there were no pandemic and on-campus enrollment were up to full capacity this fall, there might be a different kind of challenge to address that would affect the safety of the academic community.
The academic community is not apolitical, and it is increasingly less of a haven for civil debate based on critical thinking and empirical facts. Students tend to be idealists and, in the past several months, we have witnessed more activism than we’ve seen in the past 50 years.
If there were no pandemic and students were onsite, rather than traditional campus protests to have college and university administrators address their demands, instead students might be protesting and counterprotesting one another based on their political party or favorite presidential candidate. Instead of safe spaces for civic engagement and civil conversations, campuses could be battlegrounds—even fomented by outside groups persuading students to stoke the flames of civil unrest.
With the current probability of disputes over presidential election results and ongoing rumors about the possibility of violence, the 2020 presidential election could have been the friction that sparked violent clashes among students if college and university campuses were at full onsite capacity.
Some may see this scenario as hyperbole, but it is no great leap to speculate that student-against-student campus unrest based on political choices could unravel the threads that create the ideal tapestry of higher education—learning to think, act, and live together.
If large numbers of students were on campuses this fall, those with larger responsibilities to keep students safe might have been caught between a rock and a hard place as they struggled to thread the needle between free expression and provocations that incite violence. Despite the hard place, administrators would dare not be caught flat-footed or blindsided to the possibility of violent clashes among students. In reality, it’s too horrible to imagine that students would resort to interpersonal physical violence in order to express their passion in support of a political ideology. But we’ve seen the unimaginable in so many ways in recent months, so nothing should be left to chance.
The upside of this dark scenario is that it appears that more campuses than not are making it possible for students to continue their studies remotely and, therefore, avoid the kinds of provocations that could actualize the unthinkable. Most importantly, we must have faith in those who choose higher education as part of their life plan.
Imagining this worst-case scenario may help some adapt more easily to the less-than-ideal circumstances and inconvenience of remote learning for a while longer. And remote learning could provide the kind of space for well-considered discussions on the election and what it means for the future of higher education. But this is only a microcosm of our larger society. If higher education ultimately teaches us how to better think, act, and live together, we must consider, too, the implications for the future of our nation and how we might be able to provide that same kind of space and well-considered discussion on a broader scale.
Having finally navigated out of the pitch-black courtyard after our stay at the unique Posada de la Soledad hotel in Morelia, we were finally on our way. Even after sunrise, it remained dark for quite a while due to heavy cloud cover.
We took turns driving every two hours with a stop in Guadalajara. In my mind’s eye, I can recall scenes in Guadalajara, such as the lovely flower-covered gates and street vendors, but perhaps because our stay was so brief, I didn’t record anything about our visit in my journal.
We powered on to Mazatlán, arriving 12 hours after we began this leg of our road trip. We were fortunate to get a room at the first place we stopped. Our goal was to scrub our bodies, wash our hair, and eat in a nice restaurant. It was in Mazatlán where we ordered fried fish and were surprised when we were served a whole fish including head and tail.
After supper we sat on a concrete wall overlooking the Pacific Ocean and watched the waves for a very long time before retiring for the night.
I don’t know why, but clearly I was in a goofy mood when I wrote this journal entry:
Chuckie and Gwen left Mazatlán at 5:30 a.m. They thought the streets and beaches would be deserted, but they were so wrong. The Pacific, near the shore, was full of bobbing heads of people taking an early morning dip. People were walking the streets as if it were midday.
It took nine hours to drive from Mazatlán to Guaymas. Gwen only drove two of the nine hours. Poor dear Chuckie! The kids ate cookies, peanut butter sandwiches, and tuna with mustard all the way to Guaymas. After finding a room at the Guaymas Inn, with stuffed tummies, they went directly to bed.
We know that today is Sunday because by 7:00 a.m. the highway leading out of Guaymas is relatively free of farmers. Traversing a relatively flat terrain in sunny and warm weather was a joy. We made good time driving, reaching the border around noon. We had to return our tourists’ permits at the Mexico Customs Station, and at U.S. Customs we had to take everything out of the car for inspection. We were lucky that the Customs Officer we had was nice because he didn’t dump our things out like some of the other inspectors did when inspecting the cars of other tourists.
As we drove away from the Customs Station into Nogales, Arizona, Charles started screaming and pointing at stop signs, street signs, and store signs because they were in English! We were laughing and screaming because we were so happy to be back in the good ol’ USA!
We went directly to the AAA office to exchange the little currency we had left. We marveled at the fact that we didn’t have to check to see if we had enough bottles of water because we could just go to a water cooler and drink the water.
Tucson was about an hour’s drive from Nogales. We welcomed the 97-degree temperature in Tucson because we had been cold so much while in Mexico. Our first task was to find a laundromat to wash our dirty clothes. We knew that there would be one near the University of Arizona.
After washing our clothes, we went to a campsite where it cost $2.32 to secure a space to pitch our tent – the Giant Genie. (I have no recollection of why I called the tent the Giant Genie in my journal.) I put the tent poles together while Charles unfolded the canvas. When these tasks were completed, we moved quickly because it looked as if it were going to rain. I began to pump up the air mattresses while Charles put the poles in the tent. Lightning began to flash as the sky grew dark.
Just as Charles got the tent set up, a strong wind began blowing everything away, including the Giant Genie! While I tried to hold down the air mattresses and loose articles, Charles struggled to keep our tent from blowing away, but he wasn’t able to keep one of the poles from breaking. We worked for at least an hour trying to improvise a way to keep the Giant Genie up despite the broken pole.
While we struggled with the tent, the wind and rain turned into a major storm. Drenched, we took the Giant Genie down, let the air out of the mattresses, and repacked the trunk of the car. Wet all over, we drove back into Tucson to an Arby’s where we ordered roast beef sandwiches and milkshakes. We felt better after eating and set out to find a room.
In our hotel room, we had a telephone that we knew how to use. We each called our mothers to let them know that we were back in the United States. I was thrilled to see that there was a television in our room, since there had not been one in any place we stayed while in Mexico. With great anticipation, I turned on the tube. Unfortunately, there was only static. Thoroughly disappointed, we cleaned up and went to bed.
Although we had been drenched the day before and disappointed in not being able to watch television, we were in good spirits at breakfast as we made light conversation with the waitresses who were dressed in cowgirl outfits. We were feeling rested and optimistic as we discussed our options for the day: We could go to the Grand Canyon if we could get another pole for our tent. If we failed at this, we could visit Los Angeles.
After breakfast, we stopped at a service station for gas and selected an option that we had not previously discussed. The service station attendant noticed that our right front tire was low, so he suggested that we let him put the car up on a rack to check the tire for a nail. With sympathy in his facial expression and voice, the attendant told us that we were in for big car trouble. While there was no nail in the tire, he informed us that the front wheel alignment was off and, as a result, our tire was going to be completely destroyed.
Resigned to adjust to this new development, we unpacked the other maps, bought food supplies, and headed east for home. We drove to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and stayed the night.
After a sleepless night because of a storm, we took a tour of the campus of the University of New Mexico before hitting the highway. Impressed by the pueblo-style buildings, we’d never seen a university campus such as this.
We drove for about an hour before stopping for breakfast at the Longhorn Ranch restaurant. The street looked like what we’d seen on television as main street in Dodge City during the days of Dillon, Earp, and Hickock.
After breakfast, we went to the adjacent shop where I bought necklaces made of beads and corn. We sent postcards home, and for the final leg of our road-trip honeymoon, we hit “Highway 66” toward Oklahoma City and did not rest until we got home sweet home!
Not that it makes any difference whether it’s the weekend or not when we don’t have to go to work, but today is Saturday—what is usually a shopping day for us—so why not shop today?
We got up early to drive from Taxco to Cuernavaca, where one of Charles’ aunts who had visited Mexico years before directed us for a particular kind of leather purse for her. Once we were there, it took us about an hour to find the store. There were no leather purses like the one we were supposed to get for Charles’ aunt.
With nothing else to do and feeling less like tourists now, Charles drove us to Mexico City, where we went directly to the San Juan Market. After buying two purses that might be what Charles’ aunt wanted, we decided to shop more at another market, La Merced, where I bought a large sewing basket and a bread basket.
After shopping, we were famished, so we stopped at Kentucky Fried Chicken! This food we understood, and it was a welcome change. Since Charles had driven earlier, I drove back to Taxco, where we just collapsed. We even slept through the supper hour and didn’t wake up until the next morning.
We wake up to a cloudy and rainy day. In fact, given the fact that our hotel is atop a hill, we find ourselves actually in the low-hanging clouds. This was an unusual experience for us.
It rained hard all day, making it impossible for us to get out of our room. We were going stir crazy! Trying to find something to do, Charles repaired a broken handle on the sewing basket we bought the day before, while I washed clothes in cold water in the small wash basin and ironed two shirts and a dress on a tiny square table.
We talked about how we missed eating the foods we were accustomed to back home. We even crafted a seven-day menu, including a lot of artery-blocking foods that were our favorites. Later, we regretted that we had spent a lot of time daydreaming about favorite foods and planning menus before going to dinner at the hotel restaurant because our real dinner was definitely no comparison.
To break up the monotony and to get out of our room, we took a drive after supper before returning for yet another game of Gin Rummy. Our road-trip honeymoon is beginning to drag, though neither of us admits it.
We were up early, excited to get on the road to Acapulco. It was an easy drive, and we were happy that it was warm and sunny after so much rain and cool weather.
Acapulco, itself, and the hotel we planned to stay at were the ultimate destinations for our honeymoon. I had read that our hotel, Las Brisas, was the hotel where the Kennedys had spent their honeymoon. The hotel is high on a hill, commanding a full view of Acapulco Bay and the city of Acapulco. At $45.00 a day, we thought that this must be one of the most expensive hotels in the world—and it was worth every cent!
Everything was painted pink and white. Our pink-and-white cottage, enclosed by a white concrete wall on one side and shrubbery on the other, has its own private swimming pool and terrace facing the ocean. Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages of every type are available in the refrigerator. Breakfast is brought to our cottage every morning and fresh fruits are brought daily, as well. This is living!
Midday, we went to town for a walk-around and a snack. When we returned, we luxuriated poolside before going back to town for supper. What a life!
This must be how the rich and famous live. Waking up around 10:00 a.m. to the smell of coffee and fresh rolls brought to our room is still unreal to us. It is here at Las Brisas where we experienced breakfast in bed for the first time and, possibly the last time, in our lives. With nothing to do but lounge around and play in the pool, we didn’t leave the hotel until midday. Because it was cool, we put sweatshirts on over our swimwear and went to town for lunch.
For our trip to town, I had worn beach walkers, but Charles had not worn any shoes. He was full of regret when the pavement heated up, so we set out looking for sandals. To our surprise, every shop was closed between 1:00 and 4:00 p. m. If we had taken more time to read our tourists’ materials, we would have known about this custom.
Since there were no sandals to be bought this afternoon, and we didn’t want to go back to the hotel yet, we went to the beach. The waves in Acapulco Bay were strong, turbulent, and beautiful. We walked down to the waters’ edge and sat in the sand like two children enjoying the waves as they washed over us leaving us covered with sand and salt.
After a while, we went back up the hill to Las Brisas, where we cleaned up before returning to town for supper. Before retiring for the night, we played our twelfth game of Gin Rummy. The score is six to six. We sure do miss television.
It’s not bad having a birthday in Acapulco ensconced at Las Brisas. We decided to splurge and order lunch from the expensive hotel restaurant. I won’t go into the description of the pepper steak we ordered, but it was not money well spent. We had to go to town for a burger.
We dressed up for our evening meal to celebrate the special occasion at an expensive French restaurant called Normandie’s. We looked forward to this night out with eager anticipation, and we were not disappointed. We had a delicious meal and felt a great sense of satisfaction about the way the day had unfolded as we went back up the hill where we could luxuriate one more night in our pink-and-white cottage.
We got up at 4:00 a.m., checked out of the lovely Las Brisas Hotel, and were on the road by 5:45 a.m. Driving through scenic mountainous country, we ran into low clouds and rain periodically before we arrived at our destination in Morelia.
Our destination was a hotel named Posada de la Soledad. Charles and I liked a lot of the same kinds of things and that’s why our relationship had so little friction. However, this hotel showed us that we didn’t agree on everything.
Charles was fascinated by how unusual the hotel was and I was so disappointed. Before we arrived at the hotel, I decided that I would stay in our room and relax while he went to supper. I was getting concerned about my expanding waistline.
We were taken to our room and let in by a man who took the key with him. There was no key for us and no way for us to lock the door from the inside. Our very cold, high-ceilinged, dark room was large with heavy Spanish-styled dark furnishings. Above the bed was a huge picture of the Virgin Mary gazing down at the bed. The windows were covered with thick wooden doors. When I told Charles that I had changed my mind and would go to supper with him after all, he laughed and said, “Don’t tell me that you’re afraid in a monastery!”
The dark and dank restaurant was in what used to be a dining room for the monks who lived in this monastery. The few of us who were there for supper sat at a long and narrow wooden table in extremely uncomfortable chairs. The flowers that should have brightened the room just made the place more eerie to me because there was a funeral parlor next door, and I could not help but think that the red gladiolas were left over from someone’s funeral.
Ordinarily, I would be reluctant to get up at 4:00 a.m., but not on the day we were to leave the Posada de la Soledad. When we left our room, we were surprised to find that the desk was closed. At all the previous hotels, there seemed to be someone at the desk all night. Since we had paid in advance and had no key to return, we slowly and cautiously moved through a pitch-black courtyard toward what we thought was the exit.
When we reached what seemed to be a door, we found it barricaded! As we stood there shivering from the cold and fear in the dark, we heard a shuffling noise behind us. Unable to see anything because it was as black as night wherever we were, Charles called out in a deep but querulous voice, “Who’s there? I say, Who’s there?” Suddenly a man appeared directly in front of us. Using every word we had ever learned in Spanish, we tried to communicate that we wanted to leave. The man removed the barricade, we gave him a generous tip and moved as rapidly as we could to our car.