Categotry Archives: But the Past Isn’t Done with Us


I Ain’t Gonna Work on Maggie’s Farm No More

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Tags: , ,

I have yet to see “I’m Not There,” allegedly a very good film about the many sides of Bob Dylan. And maybe “I’m Not There” is all the message one needs. I have written so much about being there or here lately that it’s hard to imagine what not being would be all about. But I’m thinking it’s time.

Well, he hands you a nickel,
He hands you a dime,
He asks you with a grin
If you’re havin’ a good time,
Then he fines you every time you slam the door.

I’ve never done the manual labor described in the song, but I don’t think Bob did much either. Maybe a little, in those early Minnesota days, but my Mom had a good friend that went to school with “Little Bobby Zimmerman” and he didn’t exactly have the farmer physique. Me neither. The point becomes, really, that any labor can end up feeling physical and manual if it’s bad enough. People go home for backaches, stomach aches, are “just sick” and won’t be coming in for days. There is a word, psychosomatic, but it’s not psycho at all. Why work when nothing is working? Why try when everything’s trying?

Eventually it all feels like you’re out on the farm, being ground into the ground by a machine that nickels and dimes you but carefully controls your feelings and perspectives. Has insidious, trained ways of drawing you back in. Even if you manage to dodge the raining (reigning?) bullets of debt and fear and materialism, they’ll find a way to strike you down, to huff and puff and blow your house down. And hope is not far behind.

My Dad has long (six months?) been saying that “nothing is working anymore.” I’m skeptical as to whether it ever was. But the more I see, the higher my perspective, the more laughable it all seems. What would it even look like? Who is working? Why? The situation is well-nigh screaming at me to cut bait and take my losses. It’s like What is Success? rolled up with Seneca with a sprinkle of Broadway and the Advocate and everything else. I can give myself an India reprieve, maybe. But that depends a lot on the next 7 days. Open future, options and decisions to be made. Is humanity worth saving? Some things are so broken that it’s best to start over.

Emily and I cried at “The Great Debaters” for many reasons, but perhaps most of all because we missed debate. Imperfections aplenty, and some really bad people (mostly great, though)… but rules and order and intellectual rigor and curiosity. Everyone on a (roughly) level playing field in the quest for discourse and powerful voices rising to quiet the din of a confused and ill-informed public. Ivory towers rising to the sky, for sure, but to get above the nonsense and into the light. We will never go back, even when we go back. It’s all over now, baby blue, and maybe when people reunite to run the country it will be different this time. But we know which ones will rise in that way and those were the ones we would’ve voted off the island first (and won the elections there, just as elsewhere, of course). So it’s all for naught, even in the best of cases. What is worth saving?

Well, he puts his cigar
Out in your face just for kicks.
His bedroom window
It is made out of bricks.
The National Guard stands around his door.

I talked at length what seems like eons ago (it was, chronologically, just over six weeks ago) about Distribution and how few to no people in the world would “need to work” if the world were properly distributed. Or how we could all work a few hours a week (like six or eight) and more than comfortably provide for everyone. Maybe this doesn’t sound like the most exciting thing ever to most people, but I would imagine it does. “The Great Debaters” touched on these issues, and many more, about the nature of work and whether it helps or is necessary or is just one of those hurdles a manipulative society puts in the way of its people.

The point is, we have all been trained and raised to believe in work, no matter what that looks like or how absurd it is. I’m reviewing here. But it takes repetition to break down stereotypes. What are you working for? What am I working for? (I’m really asking here.) For debt? For needless planned-obsolescence gadgets? For the opporunity to give offspring more debt and more obsolete gadgets?

Well, I try my best
To be just like I am,
But everybody wants you
To be just like them.
They sing while you slave and I just get bored.

I am chronically addicted to telling the truth and busting the doors open on perceived needs for privacy, and it is for this reason more than any other that I am getting blindly angry this past week or so. When people try to restrict my ability to speak, to say what’s going on, to share and communicate, especially when it’s completely obvious that such communication is the only road to functionality and the converse is the road to ruin, I get really frustrated. And more so the more it goes on and builds up. It gets hard to even sit still, to breathe, to know what to do. If some place is willing to compromise you more than you even knew you could be, what are you doing? What am I doing? (I am asking here.)

I know all my counter-arguments, my rebuttals, my refutations. I understand the temptations that I am drawn in by, the draw of influence and power, proxies for the opportunity to lead. To provide leadership. To be a leader. In some ways, the worse and more profoundly silly things get, the stronger the argument for staying and fighting and cutting through the madness. I could fix this, give me six months and enough “buy-in” (code-word here for the ability to unite, to wield power for the positive, to bring people together). That’s all it would take.

And maybe, it occurred to me just this morning, the job of every worker at a non-profit should be to put themselves out of a job, just like the work of every non-profit is to put themselves out of work. Everyone who’s doing right by non-profiteering is trying to get our distribution away from needing the work of the non-profiteers. We’re making up for things that shouldn’t be as they are. If we do our job, then we won’t be needed anymore. How many parables and lessons carry a central figure as a traveling teacher whose stint is brief but more powerful than 13-17 years of an educational system?

So six months, maybe twelve, to put myself out of work. Then forget it.

But in six days, mark this, it may already be too late.

Let’s go, time’s a-wastin’.


Be There Then: 2007 in Review

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Tags: ,

2007, I miss you already.

I don’t often do full-scale year-in-review pieces, but I have always enjoyed reading them. In particular, my work-friend Pete’s 2007 in review was particularly striking to me. I liked his idea of top ten moments of the year, little snapshots of what will really be remembered about the annum. Other things that come to mind include Dave Barry’s annual absurd skewering of the year on a month-by-month basis, or even summation montages on news television (do they still do these?).

I had my own way of reviewing the year on the BP – a little synopsis page that led to my 5 favorite books read during and movies of the year. Here’s 2005, for example. But you’ll note I haven’t even done 2006’s yet, let alone 2007. Not that I don’t intend to still do those pages for 2006 (and 2007), but that’s sort of part of a larger theme in itself. (If you’re wondering, I still can’t discern which would be the top book I read in ’06 between The Picture of Dorian Gray, A Man Without a Country, and The Year of Magical Thinking. Meanwhile, ’07 pretty clearly seems to belong to Crime and Punishment.)

So I have undertaken a year-in-review process for a year that dawned with much potential, seemed sort of disappointing and drifty overall, and then (upon this review) looked pretty good. I’m still sorting out the impact of just that process, let alone the whole year. But I think a chronological thing might be better than a ranking. I flagged about 18 moments, some of them days long and others seeming fleeting seconds, that will really stay with me. But a year is not a Book List or a Movie List, so we’ll see how this looks…

2007 Year in Review

Overall Themes
Before getting into a chronology of the year, it seems there are some overall improvements that come to mind in 2007 (as well as disappointments, but I’ll get to those later). Among these are many basic steps that were taken to improve quality of life – some deliberate and some rather passive. These included (1) reading more, (2) getting into tennis with Emily, (3) staying in much better touch with my parents (not that we haven’t been in close contact for a long time), and (4) following baseball more closely by attending and watching more games (and the M’s having a decent season). The other two big highlights that stand out are (5) the transition of this blog (and maintaining it) after Introspection petered out and (6) managing to hang on at Glide despite a tremendous amount of tribulation there. Implicit in this last one are concepts of my making myself somewhat indispensable (including a mid-year promotion) without having the job overwhelm me or other efforts. And since I like sevens better than sixes (7 for ’07), I’m going to say that the last overall theme of positivity is (7) maintaining Duck and Cover for a full year, while changing its release schedule to better correspond to my life.

Nuevo Year
In January, the year dawned at the Tank (my decade-plus appellation for Fish’s parents’ house), which seemed like a long-standing tradition at the time, but is (with the passage of time) notable in itself because it was probably my last new year rung in at the Tank. I can’t give you an exact count right off the bat of how many years of my life began there, but it’s a high number. Start counting the other memories and it gets a little overwhelming. While there again in December, we all realized that the Tank was the last remaining of any of our close Nuevo friends’ original houses from when we all went to high school. Everyone’s parents had moved. And now Fish’s will be joining the pack, in all probability. In any case, this new year was marked by games of Mafia, snow, and endless speculation about flight delays. No small part of this highlight is the epic snowstorm, one of the largest in decades in Albuquerque, that blanketed the city I love in my favorite kind of weather for days on end.

On 15 January, I hiked Point Reyes with Gris & Anna on MLK Day, one of those stand-out hikes on a pristine day where all the animals seem to be willing to let humans seamlessly integrate as fellow creatures. We talked much of the future and the past and the day seemed like the perfect complement to a new year. Incredibly chilled, we had a warm Mexican meal in a local restaurant on our way back and much hilarity about milkshakes.

Never Forget
February brought the dawn of a short-lived but intense era of Mep Report videos, starting on 2 February with the release of 1-31-07 Never Forget. This lampoon of the events of 1/31, in which the city of Boston collectively mistook hastily-erected AquaTeen HungerForce advertisements for terrorism, was an idea that almost made me return home while walking to work so I could start on it. Instead, we (Greg, Russ, and I) stayed up all night that night to complete a masterwork of humorous tribute. The video was discussed in the Boston Globe online, was our first successful foray onto the front page of a section of the infamous, made several YouTube charts in the first 24 hours, and has (of this writing) been viewed 63,548 times. It was one of those breathtakingly fun experiences that seemed to bubble up out of nowhere. Less than a year later, Russ would start using skills he was demonstrating here to pick-up a great job with Boing-Boing TV.

A borderline highlight is 17 February’s launch of One Million Blogs for Peace. This is borderline because while it was exciting and has done well, it has been yet another example of me starting an online project that is very high on maintenance and sets altogether too-lofty expectations. It was really exciting at the time, and now seems like a key component of a laundry list of why my post-collegiate life has been hard to control.

A no-doubter, despite lasting only a half-hour at most, is my walk home in the rain from a movie seen on the night of 24 February. The sky opened up and dumped on me for a 10-block walk, but I was suited up with hat and jackets in preparation and got to just be in the storm. It was one of a few transcendent moments in nature for the year, one of those moments that one feels perfectly aligned with everything.

On 11 March, we went to Clovis for Emily’s paternal grandmother’s birthday, finding her surprisingly lucid and in good spirits. But another transcendent moment was found when Paul IV (Em’s eldest brother) hauled out digitally salvaged home videos from a trip taken across the country and then on to Italy over 50 years prior. The memories flooded back to her grandmother almost immediately, and she kept pointing out people and places long seemingly forgotten. She was enthralled, and we were all moved. This highlight has gained significance in the passage of time, since it was one of the last really lucid moments we had with her and her condition has since begun to fade. Knowing she had this moment then is great comfort to us.

On 29 March, Emily finally departed PIRG, perhaps my most profoundly joyful day of the entire year. The day itself was ambivalent and strange, in part because of that institution’s incredible ability to continue to disrespect one of its brightest and strongest workers in its history. At the time, there was still a good deal of Stockholm Syndrome being manifest in Em’s perspective, but by now in the full light of time and others’ reassurances, she has come to see how poorly they treated her and how cultish much of their behavior is. We still have friends at PIRG, and most every person I know seems to have worked there for at least a few days, but their methods are medieval. Exhibit A in why the ends don’t justify the means. Putting years of struggle with work behind her was a major step for Emily and for the two of us as a whole.

So it Goes
On 7 April, we attended the wedding of Mesco & Afsheen, to much fanfare and jubilation. It was a great wedding and a really fun trip to Atlanta overall. I got to see the fabled whale sharks on a plane (no longer on the plane), see ‘Lisha before her jaunt to Malawi, and hang out for some quality time with Mesco, Afsheen, and friends of hers from bizarro-Brandeis. And there was much Waffle House. One of those almost unfettered great trips, all told.

Five days later, on 12 April, just hours after the death of beloved author Kurt Vonnegut, Russ, Greg and I had pulled another all-nighter (to be fair, I don’t think Greg made it the whole night) to release So it Goes. (Kurt Vonnegut 1922 – 2007), a tribute which at this point has even passed the previous video in YouTube views (67,445). It makes most people cry and demonstrates that while we’re pretty funny guys, we may have a greater talent for meaning and mourning. Before the phenomenon was over, we made the front page of (a larger accomplishment before they’d even heard of Russ), Lily Vonnegut (Kurt’s daughter) ended up sending us an e-mail, and most YouTube commenters admitted to crying every time they watched it. This is probably the greatest success of the Mep Team of all-time (collectively), to date.

LA Story
A late May visit to LA was one of the best such SoCal visits of all-time, and really enabled me putting a cap on what is nearly always a dismal April/May season for me. Highlights included a baseball game, reconnecting with the LA friends (Jake, Mesco & Afsheen), and a candidate for Conversation of the Year, in which I caught up Russ on the facets of my story that I had somehow overlooked telling him in the midst of us becoming friends back in college. We didn’t manage to get to the Casino for poker, but I think that was the right call in the end. The fires of Venice Beach reminded us all that life is far more transient and malleable than we would ever normally let ourselves admit.

A New Form of Story-Telling
Even before the emergence of this blog, early June brought a rare and strangely enjoyable opportunity to moderate a game of online Mafia/Werewolf for the APDA Forum community. A Forum crash may have wiped out the record of this game forever, which reminds me somehow of those sand mandalas that Buddhist monks create and then destroy for the purpose of demonstrating the impermanence and stunning beauty of our time on this planet. Not to say that “The Witches of Parliam Village,” which lasted a fortnight and was the longest Forum thread ever to that time, was as beautiful as a mandala, but I really enjoyed it. It reminded me of some of the aspects I most deeply miss about debate: intellectual play with many other intellectuals. That’s probably the most fundamental thing I feel I lack on a daily basis post-college.

Oregon Revisited
Emily’s & my trip to Oregon was probably the dominant event of 2007, coming squarely mid-year (July) and throwing my perspective off its axis. I had already been drawing conclusions about the necessity of living more by direction and less by momentum, but this trip was able to throw my perspective into sharp relief against the backdrop of where my consciousness really blossomed. Revisiting (and showing Em) the scenes of all those “formative years” dredged up memories good, bad, and ugly, and brought me to a precipice of self-examination that was necessary to attempt progress. Ultimately, it seems clear that I am still feeling the reverberations of this experience, and still have many changes to be made or clarified. And it wasn’t all heavy weather – much of the trip was just a great deal of fun, as Oregon in the summer usually is.

Old Friends
In August, Lauren Cusick came to visit us and I was surprised at how well we all reconnected (and how quickly). While Lauren and Emily had always been close, she and I have probably never connected so much as we did this trip, making it an unanticipatedly great time and strengthening friendships all around. There are many people who I’ve always been confident that I can reconnect with immediately after extended times apart, and adding a new person to that list was especially good in light of how few friends I’ve made since college.

Prius Present
While September dawned difficult and a long-planned visit from my parents did not go entirely as planned (with Emily having to return home for a funeral), it facilitated the fruition of a plan I’d been developing for months. To wit, I was able to give Emily a blue (in probably her favorite precise shade of blue, no less) 2007 Prius for her birthday with her having absolutely no idea this was coming. I literally bought the car and parked it a few blocks from our house and invited her on a walk of no seeming importance, only to spring the car on her as a birthday surprise. Her reaction took a long time to recover from shock and meld into some sort of happiness. Neither of us are materialists or ever really make big purchases, but with the amount she’s driving for her new job and the improved safety and fuel economy (not to mention car color!), this was sort of a no-brainer. And the fact that months of planning led to a perfectly carried surprise was essential to the joy.

A Magical October
Most of you may think that I overrate the significance of October, but this one was largely demonstrative of why I do. It began with a Weakerthans concert experience that I can do no better than to point you to the original post to describe. It’s not like meeting John K. Samson in itself was a huge deal (though it was awfully cool), but the way this whole night unfolded seemed emblematic of, again, being exactly where I should be.

Less than a week later, Em and I were in Vermont to witness Stina & Dav’s wedding, which proved to carry its own multifarious magic. I may be coming off as a sucker for weddings in this review, but seeing two of my very close friends find, establish, and codify their happiness is one of the best experiences I could imagine. And most all of my friends have jettisoned the traditions they don’t like in favor of establishing a new set of traditions, which is the only way to go if you ask me. As with the prior wedding, there were key friends to reconnect with here (primarily Ariel and Kate), and the memories that eight of us shared in the waning night at the reception hall, restaurant, and fireplace were beyond profound and utterly timeless.

Less than a week after that, I departed for a 40+ hour water-fast, most of it in the woods of Marin. While not a perfect experience, it was part of a continuing series of grounding exercises to remind me of the life I want to be leading and the path I wish to be walking. As a continuing part of the fallout from Oregon, I have been reminded this year that simply being happy, wandering a course without obvious pitfalls, and holding key aspirations is not sufficient to make a decent life. Those three things are all good, to be sure, but a larger component of deliberate movement has to be exerted to bring everything together and make it sing. I’m clearly not all the way there yet, but the quest is joined at this point and I am mostly keeping my focus on what needs to be done. Keeping all this together in the big picture is one of the key challenges for 2008.

Taco Time
When I first made this list of key events in the year, November was the only 2007 month to lack a single highlight moment. Maybe it’s too recent and was too sloggy to really count. My fatigue with my job hit an all-time high and I came tremendously close to giving notice. Day faded into day, leaving me tired and bereft. The only thing I can bring together is a night shortly before Thanksgiving in the San Francisco Chipotle (oddly I seem to have a lot of revelations there) on New Montgomery, between the Palace Hotel and the Academy of Art. It led to this post about my history with Thanksgiving and more context with the larger picture. Of course, this was quickly followed with a brush with materialism and standard America that made me want to move forthwith to Bhutan. So let’s just leave it at Chipotle.

Perseverance and Rejuvenation
December, though recent, already stands out as a month of great highs and lows, but lows which seemed triumphant despite their difficulty. The lows were mostly embodied in having to run the two largest events of our year at work in the midst of a terrible and debilitating illness. There is something telling, perhaps, in that both of my big sicknesses this year were marked by not being able to rest (and thus making them much worse)… the other was debate Nationals at Vassar in April. I simply couldn’t be absent for most all of the days, throwing my voice out twice as I tried to keep things organized and on-point. Fish came to visit as I was reaching a psyhcoemotional low for the whole year and helped salvage me from the worst, even making a big contribution of time and effort the day of our first major holiday event. Getting through those events successfully, hearing from old-timers that it was the best they’d ever been run, was about the biggest thing (on paper, at least) that I “accomplished” in ’07.

Then it was time to launch what I have dubbed the 2007-2008 EmStor Winter World Tour, with quick whirlwind trips to Albuquerque, back to Berkeley, and then to Fresno/Shaver Lake. I saw seemingly infinite numbers of folks, almost all in quick succession of hellos and goodbyes. I got a bit more time than the average with my parents in Nuevo, with Beth in Berkeley, and with the Garin Clan at Fresno/Shaver. Not enough time with snow, really, in any of the events, but these trips combined to provide a restful recuperation period for the year, and a chance to touch base with many people, however briefly, and connect.

The Downsides
I don’t want to dwell on the biggest disappointments of 2007, but it seems like a few are worth noting. Primarily (1) not writing enough, (2) not paring enough from the schedule, and (3) getting sick at Nationals. The middle factor there may be a bit of a red herring, because at least in 2007 I embarked on the concept of paring things instead of just taking on more and adding projects. But I’m still overall disappointed with how much has been left hanging. And most of this is online and thus sort of silly… a bunch of projects that I “feel” I should maintain despite them not being an important or quality use of time. The temptations of so many chapter ones, the “instinct to nurse every idea to health.” That line just skewers me every time, it’s exactly my experience with projects and opportunities. So I have to continue to fight that instinct, to distill time and its expenditures into the refined projects that have the best chance, the most upside. Which is very closely related to the not writing enough, of course. And getting sick at Nationals was just unfortunate timing, because I didn’t get much chance to hang out with people, I felt cruddy when I did, and I still had to do a good deal of work. And I was sneezing and wheezing through key outrounds, which just can’t have been fun to argue toward.

Looking Ahead…
At this point, I don’t really have time or energy to contemplate 2008 beyond what I’ve already done. I find it all but inevitable that the trip to India, now a scant 11 days away, will set the tone for this year in my life. If a mere trip to Oregon can bend 2007 in a new direction, one can only imagine what my first real international travel in more than 12 years (Scotland so doesn’t count) will do. And that trip is so different than any prior experience that I have that there is simply no point in trying to anticipate it or build expectations. It will be completely fresh and unexpected. And the rest will follow.


Snow Chance

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, From the Road, Keepin' it Cryptic, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , , ,

It’s the last day of the year called 2007. I am the last one awake in a cabin at Shaver Lake, California. Most all of the Garin Clan is here, save one component family. It is late, and there are less than 24 hours remaining in this annum.

I am writing mostly to check in. It’s been a difficult last few weeks of the year, and this blog in particular has demonstrated that with sparse updates which bear out the frustration of the time. Being sick was debilitating and working through it doubly so. Wrestling with the nature of my job and some of the people I work with wrecked much of my motivation to create or explain.

There is hope, as there always must be, for 2008. There’s a reason we pile the expectant and expected holidays in the middle of winter, and it has very little to do with the weather. Here indeed, we came for the snow, but there is little about. You can call it global warming, but the snow in Boston was allegedly record-breaking for December, they tell me. There’s a reason that people started calling global warming “climate change” instead. The mistake that the last 12 generations of weather-doomsayers made was predicting that things would go in one direction or the other. Saying that things will go in both directions saves us from any contrary evidence. Even the scientific method has been beaten back by propaganda and marketing spin. At least in 2005, everyone banked on more devastating hurricanes. That was a sure bet for 2006-7.

But nothing is sure, as that does a pale job of illustrating. This was meant to be a personal check-in and I’m already off on my high horse about political issues. And ones most of you don’t agree with me on, to boot. That’s no way to end a year. Maybe I’ve forgotten how to write these things. Or maybe the laptop in a foreign house is just no place to be coming back to a familiar venue.

My Dad and I have a running debate about how many units of housing there are per person in the United States. Or, hopefully, the debate is about how many people there are per housing unit. I guess that’s part of the debate. Regardless, it has occurred to me already on this trip that we have utterly forgotten vacation rentals, timeshares, and other such pseudo-units in calculating the equation. How, after years of Pismos and Aspen (PIRG) and a couple cabins at Shaver (Garins), not to mention an entire childhood on the Oregon coast (Seaside) this factor eluded me is beyond me. But it’s not beyond me anymore – vacation rentals must be a huge part of the equation. Em said NPR told her it was in the “high millions” a few days back. Borrowed housing, borrowed time. It’s a great opportunity, like “being in the Real World” noted one of the Clan as we entered the house. Most of my readers won’t need the explanation that this was a reference to a TV show. The Real World is a TV show. Being there is like being on TV. Are we getting somewhere?

Of course the real world is not a TV show, and little could be less like a TV show than the real world (Brandzel’s theory of my life duly excepted). But that pioneer of reality television has brought us an ever-cascading series of series that package the life of aspiration into narrower and more expensive boxes for people. It’s not to say that what we’re doing here (here, as in at the cabin) isn’t great, but it gets me thinking late into the night. How long has the American economic bubble of housing and consumerism been kept afloat by houses intended only for brief visits? And where do these fall in the overall picture as it slides down the screen?

Already three legs into what I tongue-in-cheekily dubbed the EmStor Winter World Tour 2007-2008, I realize I’ve reported on naught so far. It’s been a whirl of hellos and goodbyes, lights on trees and in bags and in skies and on screens. I can no more recount the details on this particular night than I can attempt to sum up the year that falters and fades this very eve. I will say I have had a great time so far and expect much more. That goes for the Tour and the year, and perhaps every day therein.

My expectations rarely are as well developed as they are on this particular cusp. I think it comes with getting older, being a little more conservative, feeling like on has a little more to lose and things to really hope for. I guess that’s the opposite of at least part of the popular perception, but it’s where I’ve been for awhile. Youth is as free as the openness of the future, which tends toward the vast. With age comes a more finite vision, and that specificity lends itself to careful prodding of the future, squeezing it and shaking it like so many wrapped gifts, and having something fixed in mind when tearing open the package. Watching my nieces and nephew this Christmas, I was reminded of my own time when I simply tore at the package in blind blank anticipation of what lay within, letting the surprise hit me at once instead of feeling it out.

I’m sort of walking away from a chance to do that now (or technically soon), instead choosing the more sedate (but wiser?) method of analyzing, holding on, weighing, and deciding. There’s no telling whether that’s the right call (and this fact, in itself, gives me a bit of that bald open future rush), but I feel confident that this is the decision that leaves me the least likelihood of immediate and irreparable regret. What a sad standard that is. It sounds so safe, so sedentary, so moderate. But I used to weigh debates by the better worst-case scenario. And how better to view that than through regret? And yes, I must dance this cryptic dance a few more days until someone gives me the official signal to speak. But many of you know already.

I think this post may exhaust every category I have for this blog. At the very least, it’s exhausting me a bit. Or maybe that’s just my age, or the significance of a year (which I’ve always revered), or the cancer seeping into my legs from this laptop.

You already know I don’t look to 2008 with the aura of political hope. Many do, and I bid you all the best of luck. How you will react to the inevitable crowing of Queen Hillary I from the House of Clinton remains to be seen. Had two royal families ever conspired to take turns with each other and steal the word “demos” from the Greeks, we may never have had experiments in voting and the current widespread form of government in the Western world. But they weren’t as clever as the modern plutocrats, and so we get to test the experiment a little late in the day. I think anyone who knows me knows why I can’t stand Hillary Clinton (well beyond the royalty thing). She will probably start as many unending wars as her predecessor, combining the general Bush/Clinton hawkishness with a unique desire to prove that women aren’t “weak”. And her ability to prove that being someone’s wife is a higher credential than any other experience, leadership, or character for a woman….? That will set everyone back a good few decades.

Whether she gets to kick around Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani will probably not be decided till summer, or whenever the Republicans are having their convention. While Hillary will lock things up with a 5-point outright win in Iowa (she has a role-model martyr without having to die, after all), the Republicans are facing a scenario I first anticipated over a year ago with all of the colliding early primaries. They seem almost destined to have the first undecided (read: meaningful) convention since the infamous Chicago ’68 sham put on by the Democrats. Rudy’s fading and the Huckster’s coming on strong, and Mitt may enter the convention with the most delegates but the startling reality that the Republicans will never ever nominate a Mormon to be their horse. The party bosses are most likely to close in behind Giuliani, depending on how 9/11-crazed people are and just how many decomposing corpses are exhumed from Rudy’s closet. Huckabee will possibly be standing out as a clean bit of contrast and the only mainline traditional Republican in the bunch, so he could end up with it. But McCain has enough followers and Thompson enough watchers to almost guarantee that this convention will see no one close to the magic number going in. It will be exciting to watch, and even more interesting to see the various implosions of the party as they try to consolidate and can’t and end up spending months running 2-3 people against Queen Hillary I.

The most interesting thing to see will be whether the Republicans, after the shellacking of ’08, will be able to convince King Jeb I to return the favor King Bill I dealt King George I and jump in 4 years early in ’12. Unlikely, though… it’s far more dignified to let the monarchs have 8 years to reign. Even if it turns out the way King George II did.

So, no, my hope for ’08 is not political in nature. It is wrapped up instead with projects and possibilities, travel and even turmoil. 2007 has been good, but has felt like a long extended period of practice. 2008 will hopefully feel a bit more of a game. With any luck, that would leave 2009 as the beginnings of a real showcase or tournament.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I don’t really do resolutions, being open to the future and all. Anyway, if a resolution occurs to you, you should probably start doing it right away if it’s a good one. Which means that only 1/52nd of the time that really leads to a New Year’s Resolution. Anyway, the last thing I need is to be making more commitments and promises at a time like this. Let’s just agree to hope for today and leave it at that.

Keep checking back, because I really owe you more details. As they say on the TV shows, “stay tuned”…


Historical Perspective

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

My Dad and I have a running debate about whether there’s reason for hope these days or not. In general, not in specific. We buck all kinds of generational assumptions by him being the one who believes there’s hope, and me being the one who’s starting to think everyone’s soul would be better off not having Earth as an option anymore.

I know, I know.

But hope isn’t dead yet. Though, if I’m going to reference that post, I think one of the things that limits my capacity for hope is the simplicity of the possible solutions that humanity ignores. It’s not like solutions that improve quality of existence tenfold aren’t mind-numbingly obvious. They don’t require some revelatory genius to come down from on high and overthink through the possibilities. Most of them, in fact, are derived from lessons regularly taught to kindergarteners. Don’t hit people. Even if they hit you first. I know, there’s a whole book about this. But seriously, world leaders. Get a library card.

But something occurred to me when posting on the APDA forum the other day (though they’ve hidden all the interesting posts now, including the one I’m referencing… I guess it was only a matter of time before the future leaders of America got really uptight about their collegiate privacy), and then again this morning when I was researching melanoma (I have an itchy raised mole that’s started to twinge and hurt). We’re really in the dark ages here. I mean, yes, the dark ages were really in the dark ages, but we will seem like that to future generations.*

*-if we make it that far

The point is that we laugh and scoff and carry on about medieval humans, or the ancient cultures, or really even the 1950’s. We still haven’t paid attention in kindergarten any better than any of those people, but our advanced (if completely schizophrenic) science and super-fast transportation (that produces at least a million corpses a year as a byproduct) make us feel all superior.

If we are actually superior, it is only by the slimmest of margins. And with a full vision of history, those margins flatten to near-invisibility. Yes, the internet is a way better way of communicating than the Pony Express. But to what end? Has the bottom-line changed? We can share more information faster, but we’re still killing and maiming and ruining lives. The rich still own the poor. Most people work incredibly hard their whole lives for nothing other than to pad the coffers of some overlord, or to kill people in said overlord’s name.


So how do we get from here to there? Science still has many things completely bass-ackwards, and has lost its own ability to question itself thoroughly in becoming a new blindly-accepted religion, but it’s hard to deny that science has advanced since, say, 1352. How did that happen?

People had to (A) question their assumptions and (B) take their observations more seriously.

Science really advanced, at its core, through improvement of medicine and technology. The pressures in play were people dying and things being prohibitively inefficient. And people observed that just wishin’ and hopin’ and prayin’ for things wasn’t getting the job done. They needed applied thought and experimentation.

Experimentation. There’s a concept we could really benefit from in philosophy, politics, diplomacy. Whatever happened to the scientific method? Most international actions are justified by precedent, tradition, and principles that are universal to playground bullies. What about something different for a change? Testing various possibilities to see what a new outcome would look like? Replacing current methods of conflict resolution with, say, a best-of-seven chess series? Just to see if that reduces strife in any way.

I’m obviously getting carried away here. Even if an agreement to play chess would save a million lives, no one’s going to actually do it. That would just be crazy-talk. The macho principles of status quo leaders and words like “realism” and “realpolitik” and “real stupid” make sure that hope stays well out of reach for those who care in this world.

The overarching point is that we have all the tools we need to fix everything. They’re located between the crowns of our heads and the roofs of our mouths, and despite all evidence to the contrary, we all have them. The only thing we need on top of that is the will. The will to do something differently, to change it up, to take a leap of faith while banking on the unprecedented and almost incomprehensible ability of the human perspective to adapt and change. And the only evidence for all this faith and hope anyone should need is a history book. Look at what we can do now that we couldn’t do then. Are you really telling me we couldn’t apply that progress to improvements in peace, equality, and spiritual fulfillment?

You gotta want it. It’s our only hope.


The Ants Go Marching

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Tags: ,

The ants came in from the cold this weekend.

We first saw them in Tracy on Friday morning. To be fair, Kaitlin, just turned 4, the youngest of my 4 nieces/nephews (why is there no communal gender-neutral term for such relations?) first saw them.

She let everyone know, right quick.

Now Kaitlin generally likes bugs. Loves them, in fact. Once demanded that her grandmother (Emily’s mom) pull over to the side of the road because she saw a rock out the window that looked like it would be bug-laden, ambled toward it, pried it up, and giggled uproariously at the creepy-crawlies below that confirmed her drive-by intuition. She then picked some up carefully, trying to identify and befriend them while her grandmother fretted behind her and made sure nothing was likely to bite or sting.

Not generally the child you’d first expect to let out a bloodcurdling scream at the sight of nearly microscopic ants.

One of the things I love about children is that they haven’t learned to lie yet. This is perhaps not altogether true … some children must learn to lie very early on to survive (and not just in the Nazi Empire, circa the 1940’s). And siblings probably introduce lying pretty quickly, because the whole blame game can foist responsibility aside and allow unfettered exploration. But the types of lies they still haven’t learned, especially at age 4, are those which spare feelings or stand on ceremony. They just plain call it like they see it, often with a refreshing matter-of-factness that adults obsessed with navigating expectations can’t fathom.

So I found a certain comedy in her continually reminding our host (my sister-in-law Colleen) that there were ants on the floor running about and this would make it hard to enter the kitchen. When Colleen had already been mortified at their presence and was doing her best to get rid of them. She certainly didn’t need a haranguing urgent chorus of “but there’s ants!” Maybe it’s cruel that I was so amused by this, but it’s also cruel that the solution was deemed to be to kill at least some of the ants. At least in that household there seems to be debate about the issue of whether or not to kill ants.

In our house (Emily’s & mine), there is no such debate. We returned home from Tracy to find that ants had run amok in our bathroom and kitchen, and thus it was time to haul out the cinnamon. Ants hate cinnamon, but it does them no actual harm, making it somewhat akin to putting up a wall of sour cream in whatever path you don’t want me to take. It’s the humane way to manage our tiny industrious friends, one that Em and I have been employing for years now. Inexact, but humane.

They seem to adjust their taste every year, but they’re always scouting around for something appetizing. In the pantry of the Big Blue House, they once unearthed a nearly full jar of sugar. They always seem to love cat food, though not this weekend. This weekend, they were obsessed with the coffee maker. Even when the trail had been siphoned back out the door by walls of cinnamon, the exiles on the coffee maker were frenzied over the blend of the day.

Thus, I have been relegated to going across the street to Nation’s to buy large cups of coffee to-go, supplanting my normal morning routine of brewing up a pot. It’s annoying, but it beats murder. Eventually, they will get bored and wander somewhere else. They’re fundamentally as fickle about food as the American public is about media.

There’s another metaphor in there somewhere too, maybe “The Ant and the Grasshopper”. Ants are mighty industrious and work harder and more communally than probably any being on the planet. But there’s something sad about those who used to be depicted as saving up for the winter while others played instead scavenging indoors for the winter. And in urban settings, they have no alternative… there’s no arable land left for ants in the cities. So it makes perfect sense. But somehow, the old fable doesn’t play quite as well with the ants inviting the rueful winter grasshopper into a raid of the cat food bowl.

I haven’t always viewed ants so compassionately. In grade school, living in Oregon, I used to be one of those kids who killed ants recreationally. Not often, maybe not even more than once or twice, because I did feel incredible remorse about it. But I recall a specific incident, related to one of my favorite backyard activities in those days, which was playing with the hose.

We lived in view of the ocean, so the dirt on our acre and a half of rural Oregon was all sand. This made water-play ideal, and I would either wet down an area or just leave a steady trickle on as I developed my creation. And then I would form peaks and valleys, lakes, rivers, and oceans, and countries between. It was an outgrowth of one of my favorite made-up games, which was drawing maps between hypothetical countries in pencil, then erasing and redrawing borders after disputes and resolutions. Was I a child of the end of the Cold War or what? In the shorthand of my childhood, this game became known as “Zorland”, because that was the name of a ubiquitous and often domineering imperial country on the scrap-paper maps I would draw.

So the sand and the hose gave a unique opportunity to bring Zorland to life, adding elements of geological geography previously untapped. Just studying the contours of water passing the path of least resistance was fascinating. And (you probably saw where this was going), one day there was an anthill right near Zorland. This was too tempting a dynamic to put in play, and so the ants soon had to deal with the Great Flood. It wasn’t pretty. While I was initially entertained, little floating mangled ant corpses would haunt me for some time to come. It ended up, to this day, filed away in the vault of mortifying shameful experiences that I think about all too often and still make me blush.

Two incidents in particular come to mind, if we’re dredging up that vault. They were from the same year (as each other, not as the Ant Flood), my first grade year at St. Paul’s Episcopal School, the school that would carry the distinction of being the only school I attended for two full years (Kindergarten and 1st grade) until 1995, when I completed my second (9th grade) year at the Academy. We were living in Visalia and happened to be fairly regular attendees at the affiliated church, where my parents were raising me to be a somewhat tongue-in-cheek Episcopalian. I had caused a stir at the church the Christmas before for insisting on being an angel in the Christmas pageant instead of a shepherd (they divided angels and shepherds along gender lines) because “angels are closer to God”.

The first memory is simple but powerful. I punched David A. in the upper arm after he cut in line. I still remember the incident, the weather, can go live in that memory whenever I want. I even remember the kid’s name for Christ’s sake (I probably never knew his full last name). I think it was the last time I ever committed violence without being physically threatened. It wasn’t the trouble I got in that prevented future occurrences, it was simply the shame of having done something so disproportionate. David A. was the kind of kid who cut in line all the time, and I remember thinking that was crazy kinds of unfair. That someone had to put a stop to this. But really thinking about him being hit, about someone hitting me, made me cry profusely when someone stopped to talk to me about it. That was pretty much the end of my belief in the commission of violence for justice. Sorry, Malcolm X.

The second memory is one that is very high on the list of things I feel shame for, despite having done some legitimately lousy things in my life. It has to mostly be about the pseudo-sexual nature of the issue. It’s one that mortifies me on the first hint of thinking about it, and it’s hard to believe that I’m about to put it in writing publicly when I’m not sure I’ve ever told anyone about it. Maybe one or two people.

We were working on workbooks in some sort of enrichment class in first grade. Kids were talking too much, but the assignment was ridiculously easy (that year I stayed in from about five recesses for loudly complaining that things were too easy when we weren’t supposed to be talking), so I wasn’t really minding distraction. We were seated loosely in pairs at tables of four.

I don’t remember this kid’s name, but he was a boy. He leaned over to me and told me to do something.

Boy: “Say ‘penis’.”
Me: “Why?”
Boy: “Just say it.”
Me: “Okay. Penis.”
Boy: [laughs] “Say it again!”
Me: “Penis.”
Boy: [shrieking with laughter] “Say it again! Again!”
Me: “Penis. Penis.”
Boy: “Mrs. Vickers! Storey said ‘penis’!”

The white-hot depth of this memory is almost terrifying given that it was over two decades ago and I was just six years old.

Mrs. Vickers, one of the people I liked and respected most at both the church and the school, took me aside. I go to absolute pieces today (and every day in the past) thinking of what she must have thought of me during this dialogue:

Mrs. V.: “Did you say ‘penis’?”
Me: “Yes.”
Mrs. V.: “Is your reading about penises?”
Me: “No.”
Mrs. V.” “Is your work about penises?”
Me: “No.”
Mrs. V.: “Then why did you say that?”
Me: “Because he told me to.”
Mrs. V.: “What are you supposed to be doing right now?”
Me: “The reading and the work.”
Mrs. V.: “Okay. Then go do that, and no more talk about penises.”

That incident was my first lesson that people, even children, are not to be trusted.

And, over the years, has become a second lesson about the power of shame and my memory and my inability to let things go.

There are other things like that which stick out. It might not be the best time to rehash everything or this will be a laundry list of my misadventures. I remember, in particular, throwing away one of my earliest attempts at a diary (written when I was eight) when I was about eleven because it contained copious detailed notes on a crush I had on a girl at the time. The crush seemed profoundly inappropriate in retrospect, an eight-year-old talking so boldly about admiring a girl, wanting to spend all his time with her, and so on. I have regretted the decision to sneak that journal into a garbage can in the garage ever since. (I knew my parents would stop me if they saw me throw it out, being collectors of my artifacts and also encouragers of my keeping journals and diaries.) I can still see its orange cover. I remember vague topic areas – the girl, primarily, and also an early frenemy who worked on my campaign for class president. But I would do a lot to actually read the words and see the handwriting, verbatim, again.

Especially now that I’ve heard friends say they openly called people their boyfriends or girlfriends at ages younger than eight!

But that orange-covered journal is gone, and somewhere industrious ants are probably chewing through the remains of my earnest age-eight confessions. Picking up a little scrap of paper, holding it aloft like the Ten Commandments, and carrying the weighty tome to an underground factory of use and consumption.

Ah yes, Ants Marching…

“Take these chances
place them in a box until a
quieter time
lights down, you up and die.”

Tell you what, ants. Bring back my orange-covered diary, loosely reassembled, from 1988 and I will throw the coffee maker in the backyard. Yours to keep. Whaddya say?


The Ghost of Thanksgiving Past

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Tags: ,

Today has felt portentous.

There is something about the arrival of cold. Cold and dark. I have always liked winter, as long as I can remember, and there are few places in the world when it isn’t finally cold(er) and dark(er) by late November. Richard Adams’ caveat about winter still stands – humans like it because they can resist it, not because colder and darker really feels better. That’s part of it. But there’s something deeper, closer to the core of winter. Maybe it’s that this time, more than any other, forces us to band together. Rabbits could feel that as much as humans, as much as those on the streets of the Tenderloin. Summer is a time for isolation and a casual attitude. If you’re not huddled together in winter, it’s over.

So winter is finally here, and for some reason I’ve been quite reflective on the passage of this Thanksgiving. I’d posit it’s a larger feeling than just my own – this particular holiday seems charged with something larger than itself. And it’s making me contemplate this, perhaps the best conceived of all traditionally celebrated American holidays.

I don’t mean conceived as in created for birthing. I mean the concept. Because the birthing process for Thanksgiving, as I’ve discussed in Introspection and probably elsewhere, is a flaming scar on the American landscape. It’s hard to imagine a German holiday celebrating a hearty Seder with Jewish immigrants, perhaps commemorating a date in the 1920’s. Harder still to picture it being the centerpiece of the secular German calendar.

But the concept, once we get past the actual creation of Thanksgiving and the subsequent destruction of the culture who inspired it, is a good one. Giving thanks. Appreciating what you have. Not taking things for granted. Not working yourself to death. It’s all very unAmerican. No wonder we slaughtered the folks who helped us think of it.

But the tradition remains. And in thinking how my tradition has changed over the years, it’s interesting to note that most everything that stands out is from college. The high-school years all blend together in a sea of similarity. There was one particular Thanksgiving in Oregon spent with a friend’s family and much Scattergories and basketball that sticks out. But mostly, it’s college.

Sometimes I wonder about high-school and college, which tend to stand out in an irradiated hue as opposed to the rest of one’s life. The glow (warm or creepy) that these 8 years cast across one’s life seems to reverberate through most everyone’s experience. I didn’t expect this to be the case for me, but of course it’s proven mostly so, especially in light of holidays and other annual instances. The cascading highs and lows, the sheer breadth of variety and emotion, this surely must be at the heart of the elevation of the power of these years. It’s not that any were the best years of my life. Nor were most of them particularly formative (with perhaps 2 notable exceptions – junior year in high school and senior year in college). But life stabilizes so much after college (or at least mine did – after all, I’ve been engaged or married since college) that sometimes the patterns meld into a similarity. This is not a bad thing – it’s very comforting that life is less of a struggle. But the big Thanksgivings that stick out were from the days before…

In 1998, I was invited down to Philadelphia by good friend Kate Myers, who was still in high-school at the time. It was bizarre and wonderful in many ways, both in the way Kate and I related in her hometown, in the participation in a glorious Thanksgiving Day Parade, and in the relating to a family – anyone’s family – who was not my own. Kate and I had good times and bad times before and since, yet it often seems like that trip encapsulated what was and is best about our friendship. It was also crazy, less than three months deep into college, to be home for someone else’s Thanksgiving on the East Coast, having spent precisely the prior 18 Thanksgivings with my own parents.

The next year, though, was different. Kate had gone to college herself and there may have been a repeat invitation, but I didn’t want to crash her homecoming. I seem to recall at least three or four invitations from various sources, but it was nothing doing. I was struggling through one of the lowest points in my life, a sophomore slump that was both profound and pervasive. On the verge of leaving Brandeis (for a semester or perhaps for good), feeling utterly isolated, I checked into a Chinese restaurant in Harvard Square for dinner and then proceeded to a downtown mall (Copley, maybe?) for several movies. I remember just making the train to get me to just make the last commuter rail back to Waltham by mere seconds. On the ride back, under heavily labored breathing, it occurred to me that missing the train might have been a more fitting end to my solo Thanksgiving. Finding a cheap hotel or huddling in a subway station as the rest of the world dozed on too much dead animal.

I didn’t even feel that way about it at the time, that it was an emblem of loneliness. Loneliness can be different than isolation. I had plenty of both that semester, but that Thanksgiving almost felt like a reprieve from loneliness. I was voluntarily embracing being alone, taking it in, putting both arms around myself. It seemed far preferable to trying to find a way to communicate across an abyss with families of various classmates who’d invited me to their festivities. So much pressure, so much East Coast/Catholic school feeling of inadvertent wrongdoing and misstepping. That Chinese restaurant and those movies felt like freedom. “Anywhere But Here”. “The Insider”. I still remember the films I saw that night, and their titles were my anthem.

I was telling my work friend Pete Lee about this Thanksgiving of 1999 and he said it sounded dismal and stereotypical. He aped several pop culture scenes of me as the despicable lonely wretch, who can’t even find someone to be with on Thanksgiving. I wasn’t ready to fire back with a dissertation on loneliness in crowds and the nature of true isolation. I meekly went with “It was kinda fun.” And it was.

The next year, however, stands out as perhaps the best Thanksgiving of my life. It seems cruel and even crazy to say that about a holiday spent without my parents, my wife, or my wife’s family, but there was something magical about that weekend. My friend Ben Brandzel (no webpage to link) had secured an invitation to “Haystack Mountain Farm”, a trumped-up name for a fall retreat that a professor friend of his had in New Hampshire. He was able to bring three fellow stranded Westerners up to the Farm, and thus Brandzy, his then girlfriend Michelle, Gris, and I embarked for a truly wacky adventure. I feel like a tremendous portion of Brandzel’s and my inside dialect was derived from that trip. (Or maybe just the one joke about the fish and the water… yes, our dinner gift for the host family was the “Big Mouth Billy Bass” talking fish from Cracker Barrel that sings “Take Me to the River”.) We played Clue with a full six people. I had countless talks with Gris and with Brandzy & Michelle, and I think even with just Michelle, though we’d just met. When everyone else had finally gone to bed, I plucked a book off the shelf of the utterly spectacularly cozy library that was my bedroom for the night, which proved to be Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods, one of the 25 best books I’ve ever read. I finished almost half of it before drifting off to peace.

That weekend was simply magic. Maybe it’s something about finding family in people who aren’t your family. Maybe it’s something about connecting with a range of people. In that set of four, each of us had at least one person we’d been incredibly close friends with for years and years, and at least one person we’d just met. And I couldn’t have been much more grateful for the whole thing.

The Thanksgiving to follow, though my life was in infinitely better circumstances overall, could not have been more diametric. On my way to meet Emily’s family, which was to be a surprise to them (not my idea), I had as close as I can think I’ve come to a panic attack in the Phoenix airport. By no means was I prepared to meet her family then or under those circumstances. I already knew that I was in love with her, that I was almost certainly going to marry her. And yet she had this gargantuan family that I’d never encountered, who I had to care about what they thought of me, which is a position I tend to be in with approximately no one. The feeling of other people being able to hold that kind of control over me was enough to make me sick. Almost literally. And it was nothing against them personally, it was just the circumstances.

Emily’s mom did not take the surprise well. She looked pale and on the edge of fainting. I knew how she was feeling. In an effort to make me feel less awkward, she likened the surprise to “Y’know, expecting an orange life-saver and you get, uh, cherry instead! It’s not bad, exactly, just different!” I wanted to drill myself into the asphalt of the parking lot where we were standing in a very warm November.

The family was huge and boisterous and all knew each other really well. It was like my first day at the Academy again. Except the Academy hadn’t had a veritable photographic shrine to Emily’s ex-boyfriend in the main thoroughfare hallway. No one had thought to taken the pictures down because, right, it had been a surprise. And because some people left their exes on that wall forever. At least two siblings still have them there.

I remember a panicked call to my parents where they offered to come pick me up from Albuquerque. I remember starting the tradition of holing up in an upstairs room with a book and feigning sleep. Some day I will write a memoir entitled Pretending to Sleep in Other People’s Houses. The title has rattled in my brain for nearly a decade. I think it has to do with the loneliness in crowds vs. freedom in isolation thing again.

This probably sounds terrible and Emily’s probably going to be mortified at me writing this. But it’s real and true and it’s been 5 years. Each year has been better than the last. The pictures have come down, and I’ve come downstairs more and more. The family has developed a penchant for board games, which brings everyone together in a most positive light. There has been a cascade of kids, getting older and thus more interesting by the annum. I’ve gotten to actually know this wonderful family, rather than seeing them as surprised strangers who are hosting an alien for dinner. The alien who made their daughter/sister a vegetarian. Even on Thanksgiving.

This year, we’re not making a big deal of Thursday. Some of the Garin Clan is assembling on Friday in Tracy for a limited version of the usual affair. Even the 10 people present will dwarf my family’s traditional trifecta Thanksgiving, but it’s not the full 15. And this is looking, in a couple ways, like possibly the last year of 15 being the full number. If nothing else, it is good for Emily and I to have the full experience of each other’s completely different families.

I will get to rest, to take time, to take stock. To give thanks. There may never have been a year when I have so much to be thankful for. Nor never a year prior when I actually had to worry about how much I was eating. But there are always changes. I’m actually excited to be giving Gris & Anna a ride at 3:45 this morning, just for the difference of it. It might make this year a little more memorable.

As the years start to recede, it’s the highs and lows that stand out where the water used to be. And I can be glad not to be in them, but to appreciate their depth and gravity. And thank God I got here in one piece.


Smells Like Grandmothers

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, If You're Going to San Francisco, Quick Updates, Tags: , , ,

Glide has several buildings in the Tenderloin, and while I primarily work at one (the Family, Youth and Childcare Center), I often have occasion to visit the others, especially the “main” building at 330 Ellis.

This building is the home of most of our programs, including the free meals program, which serves 1,095 free meals a year, which just happens to equal (365×3).

The fog and condensation of San Francisco around this time of year (or really, any time of year) often creates a moist and damp atmosphere that certainly pervades the main building. After all, the door is always open there (it’s not just a metaphor). The environment, the very texture of the air is almost exactly akin to so many rainy or almost-rainy days in Oregon.

And thus, it just takes the right ingredients during an active or nearly-active meal downstairs in the basement, with all the hot air set to rise, to transport me to a kitchen in the suburbs of Portland, circa the late ’80s and early ’90s. Bacon, especially, helps. And maybe just a hint of cigarettes.

I have been a devout vegetarian for over a decade, but there’s something about the smell of bacon that I will never stop loving. That something is precisely this association. My mother’s mother lived in her bathrobe in the kitchen for a vast portion of the days that I would spend with those grandparents in Oregon. A chain smoker, she would chew on straws between the multiple packs a day. This probably doesn’t seem like a flattering image, but I adored my grandmother, and would make a special effort to be the first one awake every morning when my parents and I stayed at the house. She was always up before my grandfather, and I was always up before my parents. Early morning was our time, in the kitchen. And she would cook bacon and chew on straws and we would talk about politics and our day and play dominos and I would promise her up and down that yes, I would go to college and no, I would never smoke a single cigarette.

Tomorrow will be forty years exactly since the death of my father’s mother. Those of you handy with math can tell that this indicates that we missed each other on this planet by more than 12 years. And as much as I loved my grandmother who I shared nearly two decades of time with, the one I missed would have been my favorite. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of someone who would understand me better than she.

So I can only imagine. But for now, today, on the steps of the main building, they can share. Why not? And I’ll pause, take in a full breath of poisonous smoke and murderous bacon, and smile. This is home. This is a moment, a portal to worlds of youth and before I was born.

Grandmothers, I kept my promises.


This is Where the Summer Ends

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

…in a flash of pure destruction
no one wins.
Go nuclear.
The calm
the beach
and the remains…
-Ryan Adams, “Nuclear”

Trick or treat.

It’s Halloween, in many ways my favorite day of the year. I am blessed to work for a children’s center for my fourth Halloween in five years, allowing me to delve into the holiday as much as I would want to, usually from afar, as an adult.

I could barely sleep last night. I had various projects to work on, not the least of which was putting the finishing touches on my costume. I’m going to be an elephant, in a technical reprise of 1992, my last Halloween in Oregon and really my last childhood Halloween. That was also the night of the “real” Halloween haunts, when a strange old man in the backwoods of Oregon seemed to pretend to not know what Halloween was. Either he was very confused or I was making a really good move to back slowly off of that porch when he invited me in for a real meal.

Someday when I have more time, I’ll reprint that whole dialogue. Good times. In any case, I have upgraded my hastily thrown together gray outfit with paper-plate mask and sock trunk for a new elephant-head hat and recycled gray body from a costume of Emily’s past. Em says I’m easily impressed by a decent costume. I reminded her that I used to go to grade school wearing construction paper when the mood struck me. In the rain. On St. Patrick’s Day.

As joyous as Halloween makes me, there’s more to why I’m here this morning. I have had a post percolating for awhile about the symbolic passage of summer and the road the planet is traveling on. Picture a globe whistling nervously to itself as it takes what must have been a wrong turn into a haunted wood, watching as the scene darkens, owls and ghosts come out to play, and the globe’s watch breaks.

What? Globes don’t wear watches in your imagination? Well neither do I.

Maybe it’s just me, but this article hit me like a sign of the times. For those of you who can’t believe that the second news story I’ve posted on this blog is also from Fox News, the headline reads Scientists Find Oldest Living Animal, Then Kill It. A clam off the coast of Iceland was determined to be about 407 years old. Humans killed it within minutes of finding it.

1600-2007. RIP, clam.

And maybe the ghost of a clam coming back to haunt us doesn’t make you weepy this All Hallow’s Eve. But perhaps it should scare you.

The President, continually demonstrating either immense stupidity or chilling brilliance, is babbling about World War III if Iran gets the bomb. Here’s the problem. Iran will get the bomb. Everyone will get the bomb someday. This is the nature of technology.

I know nuclear bombs are very complex. But the idea of keeping technology in limited hands, especially limited along the lines of nation-states, is antithetical to the nature of the human experience of technology. When was the last time someone said that as long as Mongolia doesn’t get toasters, everyone will be safe? Would it even make sense to keep toasters from people? Or if you don’t like that example and want weaponry, how many nation-states failed to acquire cannons (the nuclear technology of their day) within a few decades of Napoleon’s time? Or firearms in their day?

The clam was alive for the whole Napoleonic era, by the way.

Sure, there was strategic advantage enough for genocides to be carried off with aplomb. But that was before the super-wired Internet Age. Information took months where it now takes nanoseconds to travel. Technology took centuries to advance where it now takes weeks.

I want to be clear. I think proliferation of nuclear weaponry is terrible. The creation of the weaponry in the first place was unforgivable. But now that it exists, terrible or not, the proliferation of information on how to spread this technology is inevitable. It’s not a question of if, but when.

And if this terrifies you, it should scare you more that the only people vile and ruthless enough to actually use the worst weapon ever on other human beings were the first to develop it.

The clam turned 345 during Hiroshima.

So the real question, as it is always going to be with issues of war and peace, is not staying one step ahead of the curve or killing enough people who might find out how to make nuclear bombs. After all, oft-labeled “terrorist states” Pakistan and North Korea acquired the bomb and the world still exists. Note how US rhetoric on these doomsday scenarios has neatly shifted to accommodate conflicting reality.

The real issue is how to get people to not want to bomb the world into smithereens.

But that’s not what Bush, raving idiot or cold calculator, wants to talk about. He wants you to envision our whistling globe getting pounded to pulp by the ability of humans to learn and develop technology that other humans came up with 60 years ago. Dead at the hands of the mere passage of time and obviousness, like so many quadracentenarian clams.

Iran will get toasters, my friends. And everyone else too.

Happy Halloween.


School of Hotel Management

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, If You're Going to San Francisco, Tags: , ,

On my walk home from Glide each day, I pass by the back end of the Hilton. The Hilton on the edge of San Francisco’s Tenderloin is a gargantuan 46-story hotel that Wikipedia tells me is the largest lodging facility (1,911 rooms) on the West Coast. There’s a joke around Glide’s disaster preparation circles about “depending on which way the Hilton falls” in the event of the Big One. If the Hilton, across the street from our main building, falls west, everything becomes a lot less relevant in our preparation.

The block covered by the back end of this monstrous hotel is also the block of “no-man’s land” that separates the Tenderloin from the high-end tourist district denoted by the Powell Street cable car turn-around and Union Square. That only one long block can separate these worlds (and that I cross between both every day) is an endless source of wonder for me. And the Hilton’s back end, replete with a massive loading bay and three full dumpsters, makes an eerily quiet neutral zone to secure this distance.

Not only do large stocks of brand-name food and drink come in and endless supplies of eternally foul-smelling refuse go out, but the back-side of the Hilton is also the designated smoking area for staff. No small number of them enjoy smoke breaks while seated on the immense marblesque blocks at the base of the structure. Sometimes they even push back on these blocks to nestle themselves almost invisibly between or behind the oversized pots for plants and trees that adorn this area. There is an insipid illustration on the wall of the “Team Member Entrance” of the Hilton at the center of the back-end, showing servility heightened to a virtue in a row of uniformed staff members. The live people, fortunately, tend to have a bit more spunk. Though sometimes one can detect exactly how their soul is being squeezed up out of their windpipe, and how much longer they can keep it down.

Amidst the descending fog and spirit of premature nightfall on this particular night (that would’ve been the first weeknight of real darkness, were it not for Congress’ determination to ruin Halloween and our Outlook calendars with an extra week of so-called Daylight Saving), I was somewhat heartened and even comforted by the thought of some two- to four-thousand souls bedding up for a long autumn night in that hotel as I walked by. Of course they weren’t yet bedding up at all, but the fleeting thought in my mind took me to one of my strange professional fascinations. Namely, to be a Night Manager in a hotel.

I have had many such fascinations (let’s not quite call them fantasies – that word implies a whole lot more than is involved in these particular fancies) over the course of a quarter-century of conscious life. Being a farmer is a big one, one that still tugs on the heartstrings sometimes despite my overall distaste for physical labor. Baseball player comes to mind. Rock star. But Hotel Night Manager might trump all the rest. Well, except baseball player.

With a few profound exceptions, being a Hotel Night Manager is a serene experience. There is quiet in everything. One has time to breathe, to read, to observe. Contact is incidental and completely devoid of context – the people who are staying in hotels are living a life outside of life, and one gets to live along with them. For the HNM, these contacts are predominantly insomniacs, lovers, the inconsolable, and the weariest or most spontaneous of travelers. Stellar company, altogether, perhaps a list of my ideal chosen cohorts.

It should be noted that this particular desire is not centered in a hotel like the Hilton – I can’t imagine there is just one HNM there, nor that any of them get much ease or quiet. It’s much more pictured in an idyllic hotel setting: a swanky but small downtown establishment, a National Park lodge, the La Fonda in Santa Fe, or perhaps the stereotypical New England inns (see “Newhart”, “Gilmore Girls”, Hotel New Hampshire). The La Fonda would be ideal. But there’s only one place like that in the world.

No small part of this daydream is encompassed in my own love of hotel lobbies, like the ones listed above, at night. The first inspirations for taking interest in such a job were probably little beyond spending many late hours in a wonderful hotel lobby and observing the Night Manager. It had to occur to me many times, as I turned the next page or chatted idly with a friend, that the only difference between us was that they were dressed up and got paid, while I could go to bed whenever I wanted.

Often, I didn’t want. One of these key hotel lobby moments that springs to mind is in Baltimore in May of 1997. It was not exactly a good time in my life. I was at Catholic Nationals, the next-to-last debate tournament of my year, and I had all 5 preliminary rounds the next day. I couldn’t sleep and I had no desire to. The lobby of the hotel (my kingdom to recall its name) was gorgeous, and I spent hours with a walkman borrowed from Barrett watching the activity therein slowly dwindle and pondering what had become of my existence. I got not a minute of sleep. The tournament the next day swirled in slow surreality. Between rounds 3 and 4, someone started up a pickup baseball game on the pristine grass quad of the prep school hosting the tourney, and I got to live out two of my professional aspirations at once, never to be fulfilled. I debated well, but fell just short of the break rounds. They counted ballots and not rounds (3 judges in each round), and I would’ve made it had they just counted rounds. Or maybe it was the other way around. Barrett broke. The next day I would spend one of the most solitary days of my time on this planet at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, wondering how low the needle could go.

For all my dislike of corporations, there are some that I must admit provide a necessary service. Hotels must be one of these, though nice ones cause concern for my conscience. This does not mean, however, that I could ever really bring myself to spend significant time or energy advancing the will of a corporation (even a hotel) when there is so much else to be done in this lifetime.

Maybe. After all, the job would be a lot like bartending. Endless fodder of experience and conversation for the books.

But sooner than that, I have to get writing those books already. So the lobby will have to wait.

Sleep well, Hilton.


O, October!

Categories: A Day in the Life, Blue Pyramid News, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Read it and Weep, Tags: , , ,

My thoughts are scattered and they’re cloudy.

The Blue Pyramid, despite the fact that it’s still deciding what exactly it wants to do with itself and where it’s going next, is quite popular according to Technorati. And Technorati should know. But despite spending at least a week with its listing as being in the coveted Top 100 of Technorati blogs, it still fails to actually show up on this list. It should be about 71st, they say. But it isn’t.

This could be due to many factors, including the gut-check reality that the Blue Pyramid itself is not, strictly speaking, a blog. But this isn’t keeping it from being listed as one anyway. In any event, I will be happy with the BP for exceeding the likes of Andrew Sullivan and CNN’s Political Ticker and Cute Overload.

I really wanted to post yesterday. It was one of those dramatic crazy days where most of the people one knows have become pod-people overnight, often losing their self-awareness in the process. Everyone was able to recognize that it was a tremendously weird day, but also insisted on finding organic reasons for the problem. Including it being close to “the holidays”.

Not even in my world, where Halloween reigns supreme, are we close to “the holidays”.

So what is it about October, anyway?

I spent too much of the other morning and last night trying to track down a foreword or afterword from Ray Bradbury where he succinctly cuts through so much of the October mystique. Bradbury, already my favorite author when I read the passage the first time, cut through so much of what I’d felt about October my whole life in a single series of passages, with bone-jangling clarity. I was taken aback and, like the Watership Down passage I quoted a few days ago, it has stayed in the back of my mind ever since.

But try as I might, especially in a dedicated quest last night, I couldn’t find it among any of my seemingly endless Bradbury tomes on the shelves. Granted, our books are still disorganized 20 months after moving into our current apartment, so searching is not as straightforward or likely to be fruitful. I searched about twelve times through The October Country (the man has a book about October and it’s not in there?!) and just got frustrated.

I went and updated my Facebook profile. Facebook asked me for favorite quotes. All I could think of was the increasingly resonant line from “Magnolia” (the movie), “The book says we may be done with the past, but the past isn’t done with us.”

I went back to the bookshelf. Yestermorrow seemed like an impossible longshot, but let’s give it a go. All I found, buried against the spine like it was trying to hibernate through a long winter, was a movie ticket on page 5 from a special theater showing at Century Rio of “Gone with the Wind” from 7/26/98.

Thanks, October.

Today, I almost thought it was the prologue from Something Wicked this Way Comes. But it wasn’t quite extensive or thorough as I remember. It might be the one I was remembering, buffeted by the continual references to the seeping of the October world into one’s mind in a novel set entirely in the last week of this pivotal month.

But I somehow don’t think it was. And I still can’t find it.

There is something in this fruitless search that is like the month of October itself. Elusive, frustrating, and yet exciting and seeming perhaps more monumental than it really is. I tried to put some ghost lights up next to my pumpkin lights today at work. They flickered and died shortly after being hung. They spent much of the morning going on and off at will. Now they’re just off.

They are ghosts, after all.

Perhaps I can substitute Bradbury’s exposition on October with my own attempt to capture this fleeting spirit in Loosely Based (not coincidentally the opening paragraph of Chapter Thirteen): “It was the first night in October, but Matt would’ve bet money that it was the last. He had a sense of foreboding that could easily be associated with Halloween, with the prowling night and its wayward spooks. Leaves had already begun to flee the trees, and a large branch, now barren, swung between a lamppost outside his dorm window, leaving a continual silhouette against the cloth shade. The outlines of this haunting shadow were just visible in the descending night, as darkness fell a hair earlier on this eastern side of the building.”

Things come alive in October. That life you always knew you were living, but couldn’t quite place amongst the day-to-day comes ricocheting out of its cocoon at 120 miles an hour, knocking everything in its path sideways. You are in its path, and go sideways, and suddenly see how it was all supposed to be all along, horizontal turned vertical. Sick to your stomach, you wonder why every day can’t be like this, why everything is half-asleep and tepid. After three days of it, you burn for the tepid, or anything calmer and slower than this.

Yesterday, I was burning. Today, the tepidity is challenging me with its own brand of fiery madness. It’s like 2002 has smashed right into 2007. And why not? Five years. Is it time to let go of this phase, this chapter, this repackaged but lucrative version of time in the seat? If I didn’t respect it in school, why do I respect it here? Because I have the illusion of more control and of change? Because I like feeling part of something larger, with many hands on deck? Because a little bit of schedule seems like the only anchor between me and a life of Octobers?

The baseball commercials remind me “There’s only one October.” And how. This is my twenty-eighth, and I promise you they’re all the same.


There is No Perfect Place, Yes I Know this is True

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Tags: ,

I think, despite it all, that I live with a lot of illusions.

Key among them, perhaps the biggest of all-time, is that there is some place – a brief stopping point or a full destination – where everyone will have the jump on me. Where I will have to scramble like mad to keep up, where I will constantly be living in the shadow of my inadequacy, and where I will be at risk of drowning in being overwhelmed at every moment.

Needless to say, this would be the best place of all-time.

I do not mean a place that my emotional torment would bring me to the brink of disaster. I’ve been there several times, most notably in April/May ’90, April/May ’97, and April/May ’05. (Not that there are any patterns there. Whatsoever.) Like Tiny House, that is not awesome.

I mean a place where I’m challenged so constantly and thoroughly (for the right reasons, in the right ways – mentally, intellectually, even spiritually) that I can just barely hang on and barely keep up. And I’ve always thought, nay, assumed that it was just over that mountain. That the next step, the next stage, the next chapter would contain this paradise of struggle.

Maybe Broadway was my first introduction to this concept, though I know I had yearned for something like this beforehand (or I never would’ve ended up at Broadway in the first place!). But Broadway was wrapped up in the physical and emotional torments therein, which frankly provided most of the “challenge”.

Or CCC? Maybe CCC really provided the best mix. It wasn’t perfect, but it really set in my mind the idea that there was a place where I’d have to pour out all my energy to just stay afloat. There were some issues wrapped up in the lingering problems with District 10 and the extremely unsupportive administration, but CCC might’ve been the closest I’ve gotten to a pure encounter with this elusive land of challenge. I think to when I was sitting in that computer lab, forcing the paper on success that just wouldn’t come, ultimately turning in two and a half sterling pages for a five-page assignment. I got either a B- or C+ with comments indicating that I had done a near-perfect half-assignment. That moment, that experience may have been my closest breath of this place, wherever or whatever it is.

It’s been all downhill from there. And, in all likelihood, that experience cemented my belief that not only did these things exist, but they were common, even ubiquitous.

I was convinced, despite having no real rational reason to believe this, that college would mark the arrival of this reality. Perhaps because CCC was a college (of sorts). Perhaps because everyone had told me my whole life that college was the promised land. Perhaps because college kids were supposed to be somehow more mature, near-adult people. Perhaps because I was just due for a challenge.

That illusion shattered in about six hours.

Okay, how about work? Surely work, with all its nuances and adult expectations, surely this will be a place of unending raising the bar?

That illusion may have taken even less time to crumble. And Seneca offered its own challenges, but far too many of them were wrapped in the same emotional traumas of yesteryear, and the debilitating lack of support from much of the administration. I had jumped into something I had no experience with and little backing for, and it was indeed hard. But it was hard because the hours were long and the position was emotionally draining. After a few weeks or months, there was no mental stimulus in the challenge. It was simply an issue of emotional survival. And that is a very different beast, which led to the whole April/May ’05 gambit.

And now here we are. Again, I have to slidestep around details, but it’s just amazing to me how much time people waste here. How much time I waste here, and still come out doing as much as anyone (perhaps more). Ultimately, as in so many situations, the only standards and expectations I really seem to be competing with are my own.

And maybe that’s my own design and how I’d want it anyway. At Brandeis, I felt the need to reject the grade game as hollow and meaningless, going out of my way to challenge myself with how far I could push the bounds of my scholarship while still keeping it secure. When I feel the pressure of too much obligation, too much bending to the will or critique of others, I rebel and break out. So maybe I’m blocking myself from the very kind of situation I claim to be craving.

And there are larger challenges that drown me every day. Challenges of my own discipline. It’s not like all of life is somehow on easy mode (it occurs to me that this post might sound very arrogant) and I just don’t have challenges or problems. As this running record back to ’98 can attest, quite the opposite is true. But they are internal wars. They are struggles with my own bars. I search in vain for that place where everyone just expects me to keep up with something I find very difficult to keep up with, and yet I find the pursuit to be meaningful and exactly where I should be. (This last caveat is important, because I could easily go try to become a physicist and get my rear kicked. That’s not quite the challenge I mean, either. It has to be something I find fulfilling, meaningful, and in line with what I want to strive for.)

And now I’ve probably put enough constraints and clarifications on this that it sounds so obvious as to be stupid. “Of course everyone would want something where everything is exactly how they want it!” There is a strong temptation to dispose of this post altogether.

But I won’t, and thus here is some raw mental chaff for you. All this really was about is trying to trace a core feeling of dissatisfaction that not only is no one expecting me to work more and harder at my job, but most people are telling me to do less.

I need some umph. Some verve. Someone to push back. Someone other than the voice in my head.


Fasting is Fun!

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , ,

Oh John Schneider, where are you now?

When I was in high school, I was something of a firebrand. I won the Bible-beater “award” (really a gag gift of a stolen hotel Gideon) four out of four possible years at the annual New Mexico Model UN conference in Santa Fe. I stood in front of a car full of friends, as though I were in Tienanmen Square facing a tank, refusing to let them pass after one of them had offended me at just the wrong time. I spat on an ex-girlfriend’s car almost daily for a year, usually aiming for the driver’s side door handle. I was often righteously angry, raging or ranting at this or that situation. And, as now, I was quite an absolutist and extremist.

The softer side of this ball of fury included a propensity to push limits. I experimented with not sleeping, growing my hair out, changing my eating habits. I concluded one day that “Americans are obsessed with sitting” and refused to seat myself for a full day of school, standing in the back of the room during classes. I even stood for an entire session of our incredibly stuffy lunch (assigned seating, 10 students per table with one faculty head to generate appropriate mealtime discussion), eating with about 30% efficiency as I precariously carried my food on a fork from my waist to my mouth while standing. By the next day, I had decided that the whole sitting thing made a bit of sense.

Some of these experiments stuck. I still sleep less than most, though I am sleeping vastly more than the alternating sessions of zero and four hours of sleep per night that graced much of high school. Vegetarianism was clearly a good move. I am fond of growing my hair out.

But something that didn’t quite stick was periodic fasting. Fish and I engaged in a Ramadan-style fast during daylight hours of a summer month (July 1997, if memory serves), ostensibly “for” the success of our upcoming play that we co-directed that fall. I joined a Yom Kippur-style fast at Brandeis “for” the people of Bosnia a couple years later. After each fast, I came away refreshed and renewed and, while glad I could eat for the moment, convinced that fasting is really quite useful and beneficial in a variety of ways, from physical to spiritual.

The title of this post was a sincere comment I made to John Schneider, a good friend in high school, when describing the fast with Fish. He laughed uproariously and would proceed to bring it up for years afterward when he wanted to cite something absurd that I had said as the basis for giving me flak about my craziness. Schneider, a bit of a hedonist, saw self-denial as innately laughable and inherently unenjoyable. For him, my line was a bit as if I had said that self-flagellation were fun, or perhaps bathing in live scorpions.

Of course he was the one who ran cross-country.

Well, fasting is back. Having mentally prepared for this and pondered the parameters for a few months, I have chosen this weekend for a journey of sensory withdrawal (deprivation sounds so negative) and contemplation.

I still need to pick out a precise location, but it will be somewhere around a mile up or down a trail from a specified “drop point” in a county or state park not far away. I will bring only water, a tent, a sleeping bag, and paper and pen. No other sustenance of any kind, no electronics, and no books. No stimulus. The paper and pen will not be used to work on some creative or escapist project, but simply to record my thoughts, observations, and feelings as I embark on this 40-hour quest.

And while I take this project very seriously and intend to learn a lot from it, I must admit that I see this as a bit of a trial run, as practice. My hope would be that this be at least some sort of annual event, and that the distances and maybe even the timeframes could be stretched in future efforts. For now, though, I want to stay relatively close to home. And there’s something about the 40-hour span that just sings to me.

There are a lot of reasons that now seems like the time for this journey. My need to examine and make changes is all over this young blog, all over my thoughts and perspectives for the last few months. I feel far too “plugged in” in general, reliant on computers and electronic media, reliant on a constant level of noise and activity that all too often comes out like static. And I’m too caught up with what’s going on. Conflicts at work bleed into the rest of my day, spoiling my mood and my inspiration. I feel a deafening thud of routine overwhelming my creativity and vibrancy. Oh, how I want to break free.

Back in high school, I went on a “wilderness solo” camping trip as part of our experiential education curriculum during my sophomore year. The idea was extremely captivating to me, despite my lack of positive camping experiences and my horrendous feelings about the prior experiential ed trip, freshman year’s Philmont of doom (and torrential rain). The solo was pretty light-core and there was no fasting component, but we were supposed to hike out to our own predetermined spots and be alone for roughly 24 hours. While not required, we were encouraged to not bring books or other stimuli, in an effort to break below alpha and beta waves into our “theta wave state”. (There was actually a very long exposition about these relative brain wave states, which I have learned almost nothing about before or since, from the teachers running our trip.)

Most people snuck in alcohol and just drank. I really tried to honor the parameters of the trip, even though I had initially seen this as a great opportunity to just get away and read for a long time. In my early musings, I started humming the Kinks’ song “Lola” in my head, and it wound up stuck there for no less than 12 hours. It was torture. Eventually I had to break out a book in an effort at distraction, to no avail. I tried to sleep as much as I could.

And the teachers couldn’t even maintain the 24 hours of solo. They came to check on each one of us at about the 12-hour mark, just to make sure we were okay. I think the school’s liability standards were a bit in conflict with the project concept.

I think I’ve made a lot of progress in the last 12 years, especially regarding my perspective about the value of limiting stimuli. I may end up with “Lola” or some equally annoying drivel in my head for the bulk of the trip. I may end up thinking the whole time about what I’m missing, though I believe that would be quite informative in some way. I might just get a migraine and be in a low state of capacitation for most of the time.

But I doubt most of those scenarios. I have a feeling that I will be able to flush out much of what has been bothering me over the last few months, to really reset and focus on what’s important. To, as my Dad put it, “put my ear to the ground and truly listen”.

Obviously, while some of the inspiration comes from that wilderness solo attempt so long ago, some of the inspiration here is from Native American spirit quests, where young adults were dispatched to find their path upon reaching the age of majority. It’s clearly a different time in my life, one where I’ve passed or reached many of the plateaus and perspectives that young Native Americans were seeking. But there is still much to seek, and much to find. And the Native Americans had the advantage of being able to return to a world filled with people and bustle, yes, but devoid of clocks and electronics and infinite distraction. In our current incarnation, we have a much wider bridge to cross to be at home in the world.

Right now, with two days of work, routine, bustle, clocks, and electronics to go, I can’t wait to stand on that bridge, throw my arms to the sky, and just look around.


Vermont: Neither Green nor Mountain (discuss)

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Metablogging, Tags: , ,

Emily and I spent the weekend in Vermont, with roughly 20 hours in the air (and airports) and 36 hours on the ground. We went to witness and celebrate the marriage of Stina (Robison) Gagner and Dav Gagner. Congratulations!

A wedding is precisely the kind of event that made cryptic, three-line blogging such a joy. Sometimes I would punctuate some occasion like this with a line of congratulations (see above), but often I would write some airy words of wisdom or brief observation that seemed poignant and lyrical. And that would be that.

Trying to do more – to break down the event and do some sort of play-by-play – seems oddly inappropriate for an event like a wedding. I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s because details can really make something mundane, or at least appear more mundane than it felt at the time. Since you weren’t there (unless you were), you may read a narrative about a wedding simply mining it for details. Dress? Cake? Location? And in that, you don’t see the glint of the reflection off the water or the gust of breeze carrying laughter across the grass. Of course, I could just write a bunch of lines like “the glint of the reflection off the water or the gust of breeze carrying laughter across the grass”… but then I’d really just be doing three-liners instead of telling a story.

But maybe that’s okay. I may never escape metablogging. Maybe I’m just not in the right mindset to navigate a story lyrically tonight.

Obviously, the foremost thing one feels at a wedding is happiness for one’s friend(s) who are getting married. I think this is almost universal, except when one doesn’t approve of the match or if one is one of those increasing number who don’t seem to approve of marriage at all. Though those souls tend to be the same type who dislike (or claim to dislike) judgment as a concept, so even if they consider marriage to be a laughable promise mired in mysogyny and hopelessness, they will still wish their friends the best. A bad match is trickier. Fortunately, I both believe in marriage and heartily approve of this match, so all is/was well. It was great to bear witness to such happiness and joy, and the expression of that with others.

The others were a fair source of the joy as well, especially for my own lens of viewing the wedding. I think I may have seen more Brandeisians who I like than I could expect at a class reunion (though still fewer, to be sure, than at a debate reunion). And not just ‘Deisians, but many who I had long neglected to contact… and we all came together like it was somehow the turn of the millennium again. But now the questions we’re expected to answer are “What do you do?” and “Oh, what does that mean?”

I think one of the most exciting parts of getting older is the idea that we will get to see what other people we know or have known do with their lives. Moments like this weekend give me a glimpse into the idea that a great deal is to be learned by how unpredictable the life that unfolded for so many really is. And yet, so many people feel so little control over what’s going on. I’m caught between feeling it’s self-imposed and that it’s an extension of the powerlessness of our generation. I think tunnel-vision trumps powerlessness most of the time, though. And debt. Mounds of debt.

These thoughts must seem very distant from the wedding itself and especially the people doing the marrying. The thing about weddings is that one gets very little time with the prime-time couple… it’s rather like going to a stage play. One spends all their time watching the characters on stage, but the real contact is with the other guests at the show. Whoever you go with, or see when you get there that you know… those are the people who really impact your experience of whatever came up on stage.

Of course, I’m generalizing profusely, and this last paragraph above didn’t really even hold true for this wedding. It was relatively small, and I was blessed to be part of a small cache of people who hung out with the happy duo long after everyone else had retired. A couple couples peeled off toward the end, but four couples remained and whiled away hours in the tavern, then in the lobby, right up till Stina fell asleep. Fortunately the laughing-fit preceded the sleep. Something about shared experience spanning the distance of nearly a decade to dominate twin thoughts on a momentous evening indeed.

The rest of Vermont was peripheral, of course. It was mid-fall, so the reputed verdancy of Vermont was replaced by a blaze of colors made all the more striking under the obliquing fog. And of course the alleged mountains are scant hills in a region of the world that literally attempts the old cliche with the moles and such. Ben & Jerry, long since sold out, sold us ice cream after a tour of their legacy. In America, you do what you need to in order to retire comfortably and start doing whatever it is you actually wanted to be doing. Even if it was something as fun as making ice cream, or mountains from molehills for that matter.

There must be a place, if only imagined, where there is less concern with comfort and more with doing.

But comfort comes with joy, and there is no joy like love. Back in Berkeley, days later, it has begun to rain against my window. The rain comes in at an angle hitting the eastern window, despite the source being ever from the western ocean. There was very little crying at this wedding. Laughter. Cheering. The unbridled wonder of fulfillment amidst a lake and walls made from equal parts of glass.

The cars drive through small roadside pools on University, kicking up the jetting sound of splashed water, carrying students and teachers to their rest.


Introspection, My Worst Friend (2000-2007)

Categories: A Day in the Life, Blue Pyramid News, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Metablogging, Tags: , , ,

After 2,681 consecutive days (take that, Cal Ripken!) of updating Introspection, my first-ever blog has come to a close. It ran daily (though yes, sometimes updates were actually typed and uploaded afterwards) from 13 March 2000 through 15 July 2007.

While there was no particular significance to the first day of updates, the last days were laden with noteworthiness. The last Introspection entry was just two days after my fourth wedding anniversary and just 9 days after the 10,000th day of my life.

It was never my intention to give up on Introspection. If you had asked me most any time during its seven-and-a-half-year run how long I’d be keeping up the blog, I’d have told you “forever”. But forever never seems to be around when it ends. So it goes.

At the same time, I probably never could’ve anticipated the rapacious appetite which I brought to blogging in the first place when Introspection started the morning after that strange dream of many teeth. It wasn’t even called blogging then. Prior to the project, I’d never been able to maintain a journal or diary past a couple weeks on a daily pace, or more than five days out of fifty at a more forgiving rate. I’d always aspired to the concept, but they had fallen down like so many “chapter ones” it paralleled. Somehow, Introspection was able to quickly transcend all prior benchmarks and capture my imagination. No doubt the public nature of the journal had a great deal to do with that, and the early reactions it got (most of them negative). It was a way to try to shake free of the doldrums of one of the worst years of my life, measure its rapid change, then return, and then just became a method to try to talk my way out of whatever I patterns I’d fallen into in a relatively lonely college existence. The rest, as they say, was history… for a while.

Like most things, Introspection didn’t just heave up and keel over, but it faded over time. It was starting to seem like a chore more than a joy, and there were a couple of large hauls where my updates had to be backfilled for weeks at a stretch. I knew it was a red flag once I’d let updates lapse for my own benchmark of 40 days… the fabled line for designating someone for “Italics Purgatory” on my own (now rarely updated) list of friends’ blogs.

Then I went to Oregon, and came face-to-face with a life lived long before Introspection or the internet. My life there (from 1988-1993, ages 8-13) was incredibly tumultuous and successful, with independent experiences coloring every individual year. Never before had I been able to look at this period of time as one unit, to (paraphrasing Jake) pull a string through it and reveal myself as I really was. The trip was ostensibly to celebrate our anniversary and show Em where I spent those (all too stereotypically) formative years, but I wound up showing myself much more. After a night at the Coaster Theater in Cannon Beach watching a delightful play, having run from a half-decade’s worth of ghosts all over Clatsop County (ghosts made more present by the absence of anyone who had actually been there from ’88-’93) for a week, I just about broke down. What would everyone then think of me now? Look at how little I had managed to accomplish! Whatever happened to the kid who skipped 4 grades, got beaten up, and then skipped 4 more instead? Who wrote for the paper, took first at the state fair in photography, starred in plays? Is that really all that became of him? He was going to be something…

That night, I didn’t know how to write about it. Nor the next. Nor certainly upon my return. I was rapidly faced with my “Ketchup Doughnut” of blogging – the writing piece to end all future writing pieces of that form. (Though at least in KD’s case, I had actually written the piece itself. Additionally, the irony of the setting of KD being in the heart of those Oregon days is duly noted.) Meanwhile, the whole experience was prompting a whole revival of questioning and self-doubt in my path in life. The echoes of my all-caps declaration on 10 June 2007 (echoed on the next-to-last day, 14 July 2007) about living by momentum instead of direction continued to reverberate. By the time a whole bunch of nonsense started breaking out at work – things I couldn’t really talk about in less than cryptic ways on Introspection – there was just too much to overcome.

Many people noticed, some seemingly calling my attention to the lingering lack of updates as though I myself had somehow missed it. Some said it was time to just “start it up again”, chalking up the days gone by as missing time and returning to Introspection like an alien abductee months removed and unaware that anything had happened. But I, it has been said, am an absolutist, and Introspection was always about the daily updates. That was as much the project as anything else. And it was broken.

Like so many other things, it was time for a change. This period of time after my trip to Oregon has been borne with a significance of changing that which needs to be changed, especially in how I spend my time and what my presence is online. I quit The Mep Report, my podcast with Greg & Russ (who are still continuing the project with Greg’s wife Clea). I have de facto suspended Questions for God, putting it in the category of many other supposedly frequently updated facets of the Blue Pyramid. I stopped using an Introspection-level requirement of daily updates for Duck and Cover, my webcomic, relaxing it to a looser weekdays-when-I’m-around schedule. More such changes and overhauls are probably in the works. I did manage not to quit my job, though it was probably close there for a couple weeks.

And now to blogging. (I have made peace with this term, by the way. I used to despise it in the early years of Introspection. It still sounds awkward and superficial. But there’s only so long one can resist a term that language has chosen for a phenomenon without just being resistant to the concept of language.) Much as I always thought Introspection would go on as long as my life, so I thought blogging would naturally be a part of it (this is tautological). My fervor for the concept of blogging, of a life lived in public, of communication with a broad base of friends and strangers about innermost perceptions and feelings, has not waned. But some things have to be different this time.

Change is naturally something that seems scary to most. But change is also rivetingly exciting, and gives us the opportunity to do things differently than we did them last time. This is as near a simulation as we get in this lifetime to doing things right the first time, something which most thoughtful people yearn for daily. So I’ve been mulling over the changes that need to be made, and hopefully this blog, StoreyTelling, will be a reflection of that.

The biggest thing that need(s/ed) to change is the length of entries. The tendency of Introspection to speak in quick cryptic bursts was dually the result of my primary (almost exclusive) original blogging influence, ‘Lisha, and my own inclination to write quickly and frequently. While it worked for a long time, it’s not the best practice for someone whose current writing projects almost all have targets in the hundreds of pages. As ridiculously corny as it sounds, I need to stretch my writing muscles. I have been a sprinter most all my life, and I need to work on being a distance runner. (Don’t quote me on this, folks, it’s a metaphor… I do not intend to show Miss Gatewood how fast I want to run.)

The other thing that has to go is the obsession with daily updates. It’s a good goal, a good target, but it’s remarkable the impact that relaxing about this has had on Duck and Cover. It’s incredibly difficult for me to not be an absolutist and extremist about everything, and to push myself to the limits of what a project will allow. But I’ve done that show, and I have 2,681 shiny days to show for it. I think I can be happy with that. (You have no idea that the fact that this number is longer than Ripken’s games-played streak in baseball really does make me feel better.) Now it’s time to start creating more space for myself. I really don’t do well when under a “sense of obligation” (I’ve had countless debates about this concept with a lot of friends in the last few months, so don’t get me too started). And no one puts more obligation on me than myself (though this sometimes makes me feel even more insulted when others do it). So maintaining projects like blogging openly, honestly, and without holding back without the burden of a daily drumbeat should be really helpful to making a better overall result. I will miss the ability to point to any single day in my life and know something I was feeling at that precise moment, but I’m hoping it will still be a rare day when I can’t do that.

Finally, there’s something to be said for all this fancy new blogging technology they have nowadays. Most all of my webpage is hand-coded and will probably continue to be. And this auto-blogging still feels clunky to me and I’m frustrated with how inexact some of the things are as the result of relying on a template (albeit one that I altered pretty significantly). But I can learn to work with these parameters. Meanwhile, I pick up the ability to automatically have an RSS feed, pinging, and (most exciting), sortable categories for my posts. This ability to cross-reference and sort information has always been among the best aspects of the web and the very concept of links, and it’s very exciting to think that this blog can be read exclusively for one facet or another of its content. (For example, it’s likely that someone could come here next season and read this only as a Mariners blog. Meanwhile, you non-baseball people won’t have to be overwhelmed by the quantity of Mariners content and feel disinterested.) I can easily see amassing an overwhelming number of categories (ahem, Helen), so I’ll have to watch that. But maybe it will be okay. These things are pretty flexible with all the quick-change updating and editing options.

Plus, I get more titles and endings. And if I know anything about what I value in writing, it’s titles and endings. Seriously.

Oh, and even though I can’t seem to get rid of them looking like they’re going to appear, there will be no comments. There’s such a thing as too much change. I welcome your e-mails and your own blog posts, but there’s never been any part of this project that has involved wanting other people attaching their comments to it. This is a stand-alone work. At their worst, comments are from random people and extremely negative; at best, they are the equivalent of permanent small-talk. E-mails and other blog posts rarely seem to have the same issues.

So I’m back. So keep checking back. Not all the posts will be as long as this one. At some point, I will fill in other missing details between July and October 2007 (it’s really not that long, is it?) in an effort to keep a pretty continuous narrative dating back to 1998.

There are times that I can’t believe that’s still less than 10 years. And then there are times where it’s hard to convince myself I’ve even been alive that long.

I don’t think either of those feelings will ever really go away.

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