Saturday, January 19, 2008

Stars at Noon

I haven't written in this blog for awhile mainly because I've not been very interactive with Web 2.0 but I do enjoy the posts that others are maintaining. When I have a minute, I pop on to read "the regulars". I'm glad they are there.

I was on the treadmill today and thinking about a book I just finished reading that Paul recommended to me months ago, Stars at Noon. I don't actually recall what brought the title up for Paul right now but it was something within our conversation made him recommend that I read it.

Stars at Noon is an autobiography of Jacqueline Cochran. A rags to riches story that unfolds from 1906 to the year I was born, 1953. This is not an easy read and I'm sure the difficulty for me was much different than Paul's experience reading it. I don't recall him sharing any information about the disturbing nature of it. Perhaps, this is because, from a feminist point of view it could be perceived as political nightmare. For some hard left feminists, no doubt, its a clarion call for everything that is wrong with this country. I bit the bullet, however; tended my wounds with Bactine ( a very 50's treatment for minor cuts and burns) and trudged through the tome as it unavoidably took me back to my childhood. I tried to maintain a perspective and, yes, appreciation for this woman who aggressively pursued her career as racing pilot; altered American aviation for women by establishing a woman's military pilot program; plundered her connections for political gain and piously took advantage of the poor while appearing to be benevolent. (Somewhat like McDonald's does today. Unfortunately an acceptable, if dirty and unimaginative application of democracy.) Her political enthusiasms and giant ego notwithstanding, I don't think it is fair to toss the woman's accomplishments aside in such a cavalier manner for the sake of current political correctness. I think we might be in danger of missing the point when we approach history without the consideration of the actual pressure of the"times" and the anecdotal information therein. I mean, overlooking the reality of the times in history threatens to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Thomas Jefferson springs to mind as a contradiction yet he's obviously a profoundly gifted person of historical merit.

Unlike our own media mavens of today like Ann Coulter who have nothing much to contribute but rhetoric and attention to themselves, Jackie Cochran actually manifested something and despite her huge ego, attempted to divert attention from herself in regards to the public eye on political matters. I grew up in the shadow of unbelievable stories of Americans like Jackie Cochran and the threatening propaganda of the cold war. I read about the war machine and great American heroes in little pamphlets that were supplied to me by the modern American educational system. Often reading them while I was waiting for a bomb drill in the perceived danger of a nuclear attack. Most of these stories were clearly American propaganda. I sometimes think my younger friends think that fear mongering in America is a current thing. It is not new; it's just tempered and more subversive. What was once dumped by little slips of paper on the unassuming public from low flying aircraft to find and read, is now fed to us via advertising and the media. Just to keep things in perspective, patriotism was at a fevered pitch in the 50's when this book was written.

In spite of the fact that Jacqueline Cochran claims she carried water for elephants while helping with the circus - alarming me and undermining her credibility, I still found her story interesting. I suppose the sucker punch in finishing this book is the fact I cannot wrestle free of the feeling that I may be cut from a bit of the same cloth as Ms. Cochran in terms of absent parents and having to live by my wits as a child. Foster homes and lack of a higher education are an intimate part of my personal history and I can wince at the fact that I sold koolaid at a fire in the 60's only understanding it was an opportunity to take advantage of a gathered crowd. (An event that made the local paper much to my dismay in later and more enlightened years.) We conveniently forget about these embarrassing incidents from our pasts and only an idiot would forget that they weren't good enough for achievement, right?

No one talks about this (an added taboo, certainly, within the university setting) but there is more than one way to gain knowledge and success in this country. There can be an advantage to living on the edges of society. You are forced to pay attention to survive and it gives one a perspective that the inner circle may not even consider. This information allows a person an arsenal of information and opportunity and, sometimes, enough delusion to produce an inordinate amount of luck. Subsequently a type of faith develops. It's the same faith as church and steeple but not delivered in the same way to those who live primarily with their feet on the ground. (I say this, too, with my privilege as a white woman, knowing full well the abundance of knowledge a woman of color may gather on the edges of society would not buy her a 10th of the chances I would have.)

I think the courageous tale that Jackie Cochran begs us to consider is underneath the ribbons and bows of her cosmetics industry ego/persona and aviation prowess. It rests quietly as a spawn of her own personal history. I don't even think hers is really a gender tale. Just knowing and applying what can be done when someone, for whatever reason, be it survival or moxy or hard-wired extroversion, are compelled to follow a hunch or a dream. At any rate, I think she would agree with me that it is sad that so much of American ingenuity is consumed by our own country's lack of imagination and compassion. Unlike me, she would do something about it. Jacqueline Cochran's real tale is about wrestling the finest aspect of democracy and liberty from the constraints of our own good intentions and filling ourselves up with opportunity and life. She lived a life of making things happen. She reminds us that, for so many of us, we have our stars at noon and they are still there but for the asking.

1 comment:

Night Monkey said...

I bumped into Paul today and found out why I could not recall what we had talked about that prompted him to recommend I read the autobiography of Jacqueline Cochran....He did indeed recommend The Stars at Noon but he meant the book by the same name by Denis Johnson!! We had a laugh about that! So many titles (some of them duplicates!); so little time!