Back in the Saddle

Hey there every peoples.

It’s been practically a year since I last wrote. It has been rough. Very rough. In fact this has been, hands down, the worst year of my life. My daily challenge is finding reasons to keep living. But that is neither here nor now. After mulling over the events that lead to my departure, combined with some encouraging words from others, I am going to try to get back in the game. Plus there are some things I have been wanting to write about. But I need to get this off my chest first.

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Just some Notes on my Ineptitude

Hey there every peoples.

This is not my triumphant return. Despite many kind words and reassurances from friends and internet folk alike, I still feel like I’m not cut out for this. I learned that the hard way when I got into that whole mishigas. They of course had their little cadre to reinforce their narrative while I was pretty much alone to wallow in my failure (the support kind of trickled in, a little late however). This is yet more purging of my inept idiocy. So don’t expect any more after this.

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The Book Route?

Hey there every peoples!

I keep going on and on about this museum project of mine, but what exactly is the purpose of it all? Well the reason i use the most is to create a home for Central Coast fossils. But the Central Coast is really a spearhead for an even greater mission: to give a platform to the fossils who don’t seem to get much exposure

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Chasing Ghosts?

Hey there every peoples…

Been a long time since i posted anything. The main reason was i was in Utah for 2 weeks after which i took a week to get back to normal life and at the end of that week i started school. I had a post in mind, but i have been really down in the dumps lately. I am still able to go about my daily routines, but my heart just ain’t in it. A cornerstone of my current slump rests in, what else, paleontology. More specifically, though, is a sense of hopelessness regarding that foolhardy goal of mine.

I’m going on ad nauseum, it seems, about this ridiculous vision of mine where i start a paleontology on the Central Coast. Is it viable? Can it be done? I have a feeling that it cannot. That sounds defeatist for sure, but allow me to explain. For starters, it would require a lot of resources, specifically money. Museums right now seem to be having trouble staying afloat. I mean, i still get donation requests from the American Museum of Natural History. The American Museum, one of the largest and most prestigious institutions in the world, is asking some unemployed hack like me for donations? Maybe that’s not the best example so here’s a better one. The San Bernardino County Museum had planned to open their Hall of Geological Wonders back in spring 2009. Last i checked, nothing has changed and the last time i visited the museum and looked inside, i saw nothing but a bunch of folding chairs. Further still, the Raymond Alf Museum’s Hall of Life renovation was delayed a couple years by funding troubles (it is slated to be finished in October, thankfully). The Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History had plans to build a new facility; now you can’t even find a link to the new building project’s web page in the main menus. I’m from a middle-class family whose mother was just laid-off after 30 years of teaching and i haven’t been able to land (or at times even find) a job since 2007. It should be obvious by now that i don’t have the dough to get things going.

That is one hurdle. The other significant hurdle is getting people interested in joining such a project. So far not one nibble on my rally call (though i didn’t expect that to go anywhere). I go to museums a lot. People love to see fossils and skeletons, but from my observations, it’s from a more “ooh, look at that” mindset. Fossils, and pretty much any natural heritage, don’t seem to mean to other people what they mean to me. And most people don’t seem to care about where they live. John Fuhring, who volunteers at the Santa Maria Natural History Museum, laid it out (He is talking about Santa Maria, while i submited my letter to the city of San Luis Obispo, who never responded):

You know Doug, this IS Santa Maria and we are not now nor have we ever been a town where its people are proud of the community they live in and feel any kind of community spirit. All the wealthy people, who have and continue to make millions of dollars out of the ground and soil around here, go off to live somewhere else with never a thought to beautify or culturally enrich the region they have exploited. The rest of the people here scratch a meager living and have little left for over for cultural things after they have paid their cable TV subscription and payments for the large screen TV. They certainly don’t want to pay any taxes that might go for something like cultural enrichment or beautification of their mini-LA bedroom community.

I’ve lived here (off and on) for over 50 years (since 1958) and it’s actually worse today than when the town only had 10,000 people. What I’m saying is that it is highly unlikely that a paleontology museum will ever be built here given our lack of community and cultural taste. Take for example our town’s Natural History museum. It is housed in a tiny, tiny three room shack, the main room of which was built in the 1870s as a bachelor apartment by Mr. Heart.

The Natural History Museum of Santa Maria, in its tiny 3 room shack, is the best this town is capable of and we just have to face the fact that this isn’t a community that supports anything cultural. Consider too the fact that our symphony has to use Baptist and other Fundamentalist Churches to play in since building any kind of municipal auditorium is out of the question in this town.

He does have a point, even if he was talking about a different town. Who out there on the Central Coast, from Paso Robles to Moorpark, care if the fossils documenting the rich prehistory of their home are locked up out of sight in far flung institutions? How of them care about a piece of that heritage (see below) is rotting away, never to be seen again? I could probably count them on two hands. Science has to beg for crumbs when it comes to funding and volunteers and paleontology seems to get stiffed even then. Because people are more concerned with enriching themselves with money and because the right wing and christian fundies have waged all out war on science, can there be any hope getting people to contribute to this ridiculous vision of mine? I don’t think so…

No about that piece of the Central Coast’s fossil heritage rotting away. I am of course referring to my sea cow. I have tried everything to get it dug out: no scientists i referred to it want anything to to with it; i would try to dig it out myself bu i need permission to do that and the fucking Harbor District will not return my letters or emails. I mean, the answer doesn’t even need to be yes, i just want a response. Ok, a yes would be preferred, but not absolutely needed; an approval would be appreciated, a rejection would be manageable, but no response at all is unacceptable. And i wish for permission to collect not just for the sea cow but for other stuff i might find, like this bone:

I'm not sure what bone this is or what it belongs to, but we may never know...

It broke off, most likely due to all the rain we have had this year. I can’t probe around in the dirt to see where it might have been buried by runoff but i can’t without a permission (or for that matter, if i had permission before had i could have salvaged it before it broke off). Bobby said he was working on a permit for a long time, but he’s just so busy with other sites, school, and apparently being a publishing machine. Plus i have seen him taking about going to college in New Zealand, so obviously he and his permit won’t be around forever. Plus he said that he had to go through hell to get the application. If mighty Bobby Boessenecker had trouble going through the right channels to get an application, i certainly would have stood no chance. Don’t worry Bobby, i ain’t blaming you for anything.

My therapist told me to forget about the sea cow, to not go there anymore, but i just can’t. I have know the site since high school and obviously the chance to do paleontology would be a morale booster. If i could dig it out, prep it, and give it to the Santa Barbara Museum (where is the best pace to send it, thy are a regional museum on the Central Coast), that would be a huge boost to my nonexistent self-esteem. Or just a chance to get out into the field. Spending an afternoon at Carrizo Plain hunting for invertebrates was a nice start, but it’s like crack; you can’t have just a sample, you crave more almost insatiably (at least for me that’s how it is). I have gone o a couple commercial ventures, out to Lake Manix an to Red Rock Canyon. I have signed up again for Red Rock Canyon, but even though nothing has happened yet, it’s got me a little down. I didn’t find anything last time (just like at Lake Manix) while other people did (including people who have been doing this quite a while). People keep telling me I’m smart, but i don’t see it. Where i go, I’m not some known or appreciated member of the body academic; I’m just another dumb tourist with a camera. I mean, i have to pay to go prospecting and so far i have yet to produce anything with the exception of Carrizo Plain (that’s 2 to 1 for those keeping track). We will have to see how this year’s goes.

That last paragraph aside, the rest of this post lays out how i often think about giving up on the Grand Vision. The odds just feel like they are stacked against it. I mean, i bought a little book of inspirational quotes about accomplishing your goals at the Forestiere Underground Gardens and have been reading it almost every day but it’s just not cutting it. Truth be told i don’t know why i hang on to such a foolish notion as being able to open my own museum here on the Central Coast. I could be very happy not opening it if i could just be a paleontologist here on the Central Coast. But where would i work? I don’t think i’d be able to due to lack of job opportunities. I would love to help the Santa Barbara Museum build their fossil collection, but i don’t know if they would go for it. I have have toyed with the idea that instead of building a museum up here, maybe try working with the Santa Barbara Museum to create a little satellite down there, like  the Tye Warner Sea Center, devoted to paleontology. But again, i don’t know if they’d go for it. Right now I’m trying to get a permit to go fossil hunting in Barstow to find them stuff (Barstow has many of the same animals found in the Caliente formation) but only time will tell how far i can get. I feel like getting out into the field is the only thing that can get me out of this slump. But i ain’t holding my breath.

Till next time…

The Grand Vision vs The Noonday Demon

Hey there every peoples!

Things have been pretty silent around here. I’ll give 3 guesses as to why but you’ll only need one. But with finals over with and no school until the fall I can now get back to writing here and spreading the good word 9whatever it may be).

I am always talking about my foolhardy museum goal. I am also always going on about depression (I have come to refer to it often as “the Noonday Demon”, after the title of a book on depression). I guess it was inevitable that I would do a post on how depression affects my hopes of starting a museum here on the Central Coast. I guess the word that would come to most people’s minds is “detriment” and they would be about right. It is quite crippling, robbing me of vital confidence and creating hurdles where there probably shouldn’t be. Seeing as I am getting school under control (especially after the recent revelation that I have a learning disability) this is becoming one of the bigger parts of my depression.

For starters there is just the daunting nature of such an undertaking. Museums don’t get founded all the time by regular Joes like me. It takes years, often decades, to get these sorts of things established. They require funding which even the larger institutions can have trouble obtaining. And given how our culture is gaining a greater and greater disdain for science and education, I don’t see much hope in pursuing such a cause. At least from where I am standing now.

Then there is the little matter of qualification.  Do I really have the qualifications to get this project off the ground? I don’t feel like I do. People who have done what I have set out to do usually have lots of experience and/or knowledge as well as a fiery passion. I have the passion but that’s about it. I am not leadership material as I lack the confidence and the management skills required. I am constantly being told I am smart but again I don’t feel like it. I would say I am better at regurgitating information rather than the critical thinking skills required for science. My fossil prep experience is a drop in the bucket compared to what most lab volunteers have done. And I haven’t even published anything [as opposed to folks like Bobby, “the Master of Publishing” (let’s see how many people get the Resident Evil reference)]. At this point I am little more than a fossil fanboy: one who babbles on at length without doing anything relevant, acting as if he has something to say and gets in fights with trolls. I have depression and a learning disability. Does that sound the winning combination for founding a new museum?

One of the more outlandish mental blocks I have concerns finding fossils. When I read about fossils or see pictures of them, I can’t help but notice how the best specimens (or all for that matter) were collected decades and decades ago and reside at the big old institutions. Hell most specimens I have encountered from the Sespe formation reside at the LA Museum and were found by Chester Stock in the early 20th century. Same goes for fossils from the Caliente formation, except most are up at UCMP and a few in LA. Two new species and a new genus of camel were named from Caliente formation fossils but the paper never mentioned when they were found. Basically what I am trying to say is that I have this irrational but constantly nagging feeling that, at least in the places I want to look, have been found. I know it’s silly and stupid but that’s how I feel. It may be due to the lack of information, but the fact that everything I find was found so long ago doesn’t instill with much confidence (which as you know by now, I desperately need). Hopefully someone out there can prove me wrong…

Why do I write about this? Am I grubbing for pity? No, because I don’t expect any (probably because I don’t deserve any). I talk about because I need to vent. But more importantly (and likely more foolishly) I write about it to illuminate the tribulations of a depressed person trying to become a paleontologist. I try to make clear how depression affects ones thoughts and paralyzing it can be. It’s nowhere easy to get over. But I am trying. I do my best to soldier on

Since the city hasn’t written back about my proposal, rather than get moppey about it I have decided to fall back to my contingency plan. Basically I am going to have to try to organize interested members of the community. Not sure how yet. I have begun working on a pitch, with Alton and Andy giving me very useful advice. I think I have a venue that should work. Problem though is getting enough information. I need to convince people that this is doable but without knowing where to look, it’s going to be a tough sell. Plus it would help to be able to show them some of the fossils we could be finding, but pictures of fossils from the Central Coast have proven infuriatingly scarce. If anyone has any ideas, I’d appreciate them very much.

Till next time!