Terrible Lizards: Is There Anything More Mundane Than Lizard-Catching?


Photo courtesy of Matthew D. Kulisch

This week, our team has been discussing the Backwords Blog roots, along with our mission and methodology. Our approach to wrestling with our own histories and personal experiences, through the deepening of research. And, yes, our sometimes-departure from that form.

In light of the number of, say, “political posts” from us lately, and given the tenor of the times, the blog’s undertaking has occasionally felt like an inadequate vehicle for speaking our truth—especially to power, or to those who do not share our particular form of moral certainty. The mission and methodology of the blog, then, has struck us each (differently, and at different times in the past 6 months) as less important than addressing the timely, of doing justice through writing, of explaining (or stabbing at trying to explain) this new world we’re all suddenly in.

I was watching Oscar’s highlights last week, basking in Moonlight’s well-deserved and thoroughly-startling win, marveling at how few seconds it took for the victory to devolve in the Comments into a standoff of political platforming… One might safely ask: What does President Trump have to do with the Oscar’s? Or: What does La La Land losing have to do with the alt-right? While there are no doubt answers to these questions, I question the need of the requisite mental gymnastics to land on them.

Nevertheless, it seems politics are everywhere these days. Every subject, no matter how ostensibly removed, is an opening for some baiter to make things political. (You’ve probably heard the standard argument, a favorite of poly-sci majors and critical theorists alike, that everything is always and already political anyway…) And what passes for political discourse these days, rather than an occasion for discussion or empathy, is usually just an excuse to name-call: the political is personal these days, inextricably bound to the kneejerk reaction that rationalizes cutting a friend or family member out of your life because they disagree with you; they’re just stupid, you might say, or they make me feel unsafe, a weird marriage of dismissal and overindulgence.

Our team has had a number of discussions about this, public and private, and come to no real solution. Maybe there isn’t one. For my part, out in society, I feel a pattern has already taken hold and no amount of reasoning shakes people from the quietude of unthinking.

In a climate such as this, what good are art and presence? What purpose does reflection or personal inquiry serve when any toe out-of-party-line is likely to be stubbed out before it’s halfway across the threshold of ideas?

Photo courtesy of Matthew D. Kulisch

And in light of this, there’s a place and a story I can’t shake. In the early autumn of 2008, I drove a box-truck full of tooling and tent poles to Vernal, Utah to put on a wedding. I don’t remember much about the couple in question or the décor, and even less about the town and her people. It was rural Utah, so certainly it was some form of dry and conservative. Even for mid-September, it was extremely hot outside as I worked. Not my cup of tea.

The job was odd for another reason: my regular supervisor, a close friend called Grant (who died unexpectedly late last year), was absent with other plans and I was setting up the event myself. A member of our sales team, Michelle, a blonde no-nonsense woman in her 40’s, was coordinating the event for us and had brought her family to Vernal for the whole weekend. Her two sons, Jackson and Hayden, were conscripted to assist me: one short, mop-haired shadow tailing a second shadow, pimply and high (like a paler, adolescent James Franco from Freaks & Geeks); together we were a kind of three-headed hydra for the weekend, me pointing to a task and they begrudgingly following suit. All weekend.

When the wedding finished on Saturday, Michelle insisted I remain—it was a three-hour drive home—and she didn’t want me driving alone, plus (not so secretly) wanted me to continue looking after the boys. Dinner and breakfast were promised to me, in addition to the per diem for a hotel room. Michelle had a destination in mind, too: The Dinosaur National Monument, 20 miles east of Vernal on the border of Colorado.