Since I have already crossed the country from New Jersey to California by Greyhound bus, I will choose the Armtrak train on returning trip to New Jersey to enjoy the beautiful scenery across the country without being crammed into a flying compartment on air, not being able to move around for hours at a high price. And forget about driving a car, which may sound adventurous but is dangerous.
Dangerous because what if I happen to encounter some vile group of people who have pledged allegiance to their secret creed of violent belief hell-bent on harming fellow human beings as in the movie “End of the Road,” in which the Queen Latifah character and his family on the road to Texas future from California past encounter series of manacing racist strangers. On the contrary, traveling in the company of people, although strangers, provides me some sense of security and relaxation, freed from maneuvering navigation and driving, which sometimes will prevent me from appreciating the pleasure of watching scenery listening to music, the moody sweets of my spirit.
It was in the same manner that emigrants -not necessarily foreigners but those from the east coast- crossed the continent on oxen-driven wagons as accounted in Horace Greeley’s An Overland Journey from New York to San Francisco in the Summer of 1859 in which the renowned editor of the New York Tribune and once a president hopeful opposite Ulysses Grant. This book inspired me to come to California by bus, which I considered a modern-day equivalent of a wagon. What used to take a good 6 or 8 months for the easterners to arrive at West overland by wagon took me a week to reach California by bus. Notwithstanding any inconvenience in the road trip, it was my version of reenactment of the Oregon Trail in the spirit of frontierwoman to start anew in the Wild West.
The question about self-evaluation reminds me of self-criticism used at people’s court in totalitarian communist countries, especially during the cold war era. It was also the same question from the assessment test for a job I applied for, for which I had to choose from levels 1 (the lowest) and 10 (the highest). My answer was, with a pang of conscience and shadow of remorse, 10, protesting inwardly to the origin and purpose of such a meritocratic question that no one will answer truthfully anyway.
It’s easy to numerically evaluate one’s value on a scale of 1 to 10 as if it were a gymnastic game. But life cannot be measured in pythgoratic calculation. A level of confidence can fluctuating, contingent on many factors, such as biological or environmental factors. No, such a question contradicts human nature that cannot be evaluated by meretricious material success. The ancient Greeks believed that we could not change our fates but that our response to what the fates might have destined for us in our lives, however checkered and arduous they would be. The worship of heroism in ancient Greece was more noble and honest at same time than the worship of rich, power, and fame in our society.
Sociologist Robert Cooley’s “Looking Glassed Self” denotes that we become what others think we are, whether you disagree with a grimace. Accordingly, confidence is built upon the feedback from others, although often erroneous, prejudiced, overlooked, or careless, depending upon where the subject of the feedback comes from. A confidence level is an oxymoron because it can’t be measured, is precarious, and is variable and subject to one’s mood, environment, and social/biological background.
I believe history is a branch of literature full of events and stories made by artists and artificers weaving facts into myth, and vice versa, into a timeless tapestry of the world that was, is and will be. In that regard, Kipling is an artist who spins beautiful tales of how animals became what they look like into a poetic wheel of ear-delighting and cadenced words aided by gorgeous illustrations distinctively graceful and dazzlingly beautiful.
Kipling’s evolution of animals explains why they look the way they are, such as a Leopard with spots, a Carmel hump, and many more. The stories become a fable and a history of its kind. It’s a literary version of Darwin’s Origin of Species, the wonderful menageries of Man and Beast that cannot live alone despite the differences in species because we are the inhabitants of this world, Earth. But, above all the fantastic tales of wonder, the Cat’s tale stands out in the story and the subject. Kipling’s Cat is proud but not arrogant, independent but affectionate, and vain but graceful. It’s a cat who walks by himself, and everything is alike to him and nothing else. The Cat is a beautiful stranger even if he likes to be a family, a kind of forever loner, the Puss in Boots with a cowboy hat and an empty holster. Kipling’s writer’s eyes saw the romantic solitude in a cat, and the result is one poetic Cat that rhymes well like the graceful way cats do their amazing somersaults.
Just So Stories are not just for children even though it is classified in Children’s literature on the shelves of libraries. It’s a book for everyone who loves legends and magic, who still has a childlike innocence that refused to put away as an adult because it’s in nature. The stories are not for academic analysis or psychoanalysis but simply for the enjoyment of the mind and the delight of the heart. Remember Freud’s saying, “Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.” So are Just So Stories, so delightful and so pleasant.
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