Categotry Archives: From the Road

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The Sojourn So Far

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, From the Road, Summer Sojourn 2009, Tags: , , ,

About a week into the trip and still in the state of California. The smart money says we better get out of here before the state officially secedes by printing its own currency. If you think IOU’s can’t be considered legal tender, you should consider that they have exactly the same properties that all our other tender does – people ascribe value to them and they are made of nothing tangibly valuable in and of themselves. But I’m getting all political and I haven’t even told you what I’ve been up to.

We’ve spent much of the trip with Em’s family – the Paul IV set in Tracy, followed by the Paul III set and Jen/Geoff and kids in Fresno/Clovis/Sanger. There was a whole lot of Transamerica, a pretty fierce board-game losing streak by me (I think my first loss of Puerto Rico among Em’s family in a couple years), and a lot of heat. It was hot enough for me to both wear shorts and get in an outdoor pool. As I commented repeatedly, it’s been seven years since I’ve seen summer. Quite a welcome change.

On Sunday, we wound our way up into the mountains above Fresno to visit Yosemite and get a wildnerness pass to camp in the high country. Emily and I have noted a devolution in the terms and practices of camping in modern America – “camping” used to mean taking a tent and a backpack into the woods and, after a decent hike, unrolling them for an overnight stay. Apparently this term has now come to mean driving one’s car to a parking lot and getting some things out of the trunk for an overnight stay within a stone’s throw of the bumper. Meanwhile, “backpacking” is now the term of choice for what camping used to be. And pretty much nobody does it.

I mean, not nobody, but it’s pretty proportionally rare. Legend has it that camping spots fill up in Yosemite between 9-18 months in advance, especially for summer months. And while the park deliberately keeps somewhere between 30-50% of its camping reservations free for same-day spontaneous booking (thus debunking the legend on face), it’s true that the “campground” spots fill up quite early in the morning, especially for summer weekends. Of course, close examination reveals that this is all for bumper-proximity “camping”, while there are essentially limitless wilderness passes for real camping, er, backpacking.

Of course, everyone could just be reacting to an up-sell practice from the local rangers that we only discovered on Sunday. Witness:

“We’d like a wilderness pass for one night and we’d love to get a suggestion or two.”
“How many miles are you looking to hike?”
“About four each way.”
“How about 6.2?”
[pause]
“Uh, maybe. Is it mostly flat?”
“Yeah, it’s kinda flat. I mean, there’s a pretty steep uphill just at the end, but it’s worth it. It’s a beautiful lake.”
[pause, wherein we realize that we could be totally screwed]
“Uh, sure.”

I mean, yes, we could have counter-offered and demanded four flat miles. But in response to our uncertainty, the ranger (who looked young enough to be my child had I lacked moral discipline in high school) waxed eloquent about the beauty of the lake, the grandeur of the views, and the quick pace with which we would conquer the mileage. We pretty much had no choice, lest we appear to this precocious thirteen-year-old completely unworthy of our wildnerness pass. And it wasn’t just about image – there would be a lot of regret if we wound our way through a runner-up mulligan trail that wasn’t so beautiful and did it with ease. We would always wonder if we could have done more. Plus, we’re still hoping to hike into the base of the Grand Canyon and back up (a mere half – or really less – of what I did in the summer of 2000‘s fabled Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim journey), so I figured this would be good preparation.

But there are some big differences between the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, not the least of which is that one can see and evaluate the Grand Canyon before descending into it. The main difference, in July at least, is what one packs.

In Yosemite, the lows (even in July) are in the high 40’s or low 50’s, which necessitates your narrator packing a variety of layers. In the Grand Canyon, if memory serves, the low might hit 85 or 90 in the base of the Canyon on a cold night, while the temperatures otherwise hover close to 120 if there’s anything resembling sunshine about. Plus, there’s no real need for a tent in the Canyon, or a bear canister (required silo for all food and scented items to prevent Marpellian “bear country” attacks). And, I wasn’t reading War and Peace in the Canyon. Yeah, I know, this sounds like a bad joke. But I start reading it a few days ago and thought briefly about ditching it for a shorter tome for one hike only. But then I thought it would make a good story that I actually packed in Tolstoy’s epic on an uphill journey into Yosemite.

I hope you’re enjoying the story, because I don’t think it proved worth it.

Part of the problem, of course, is that our juvenile delinquent of a park ranger totally sold us a bill of goods. The 6.2 miles were almost entirely uphill, with exactly four downhill stretches combining for some hundred yards tops. The first 3 miles were a gentle uphill, enough to create a false sense of security to be shattered on the loose rocks of the grueling latter half of the trail. We spent the last mile and a half pausing every few hundred feet. It was laughable. Spurred by the promise of a shining lake on the hill, we pushed ourselves well beyond any predicted limits of exertion, only failing to collapse in anguish by the sheer force of will. Emily encouraged me on with discussion of a forthcoming sense of accomplishment, but I think it unwise to trust anyone who spent high school running cross-country in matters of endurance or the reasonable expenditure of physical energy.

Suffice it to say, of course, that despite this pain (and the journey was still punctuated by lovely views, countless butterflies [and mosquitoes] of many shapes and sizes, and an expanse of blooming flora, making it enjoyable despite the struggles), we almost immediately determined the trip worth it upon arriving at the lake. The lake (Ostrander Lake for those scoring at home or considering similar trips in future) was gorgeous, contained the cleanest water I have ever seen in my life, and surrounded by enough boulders of varying shapes and sizes to satisfy a year’s worth of rockhopping urges (this is one of my favorite physical diversions – slightly better on rocks nestled amongst creeks, but pretty good without rushing water as well).

We navigated a few boulders, found a patch of flat dirt already tamped by previous campers nestled between three boulders, checked for minimal frequency of ant tunnel openings, and set up shop. We were still in the setting sunlight and had a good view of the lake and only when the tent was set up did we suddenly realize how starved and exhausted we felt.

After a scarfed and inelegant dinner of snack food (we were certainly not packing any cooking gear), I headed to the lake to do some rockhopping and soon discovered that the only sound audible for miles (we were the only ones at the secluded lake, one of the joys of Sunday-night camping) were periodic bloops in the water, which it didn’t take long to discover as fish jumping out of the lake to swallow surface-skimming bugs whole. I immediately had to trek back to the tent (almost getting lost amongst the Rohrshach of boulders, manzanita, and dirt) to retrieve the camera and waste many digital shots attempting to get one of a fish mid-jump. I’m pretty sure I got one (the image is almost inscrutably small on the digital camera’s playback window), which I may upload before we leave LA if time permits, but paid for the shot with about a dozen mosquito bites and near discarding of the camera in the lake out of quick swiveling to the sound of bloops as they crested the water.

Then I returned to the tent where Em was already asleep, to read War and Peace as the light faded. I spent a good bit of time laying awake thereafter, failing to acclimate to the silence punctuated by wind rustling the rain-fly across our tent. The first night I go camping after a long while, especially when there are no other people around and I’m camping either alone or with Emily (I’m talking about this like it’s a common phenomenon, though it’s been unfortunately relatively rare), I tend to have a hard time adjusting to sounds. And when there has been much prepping for how to deal with bears, mountain lions, and so forth, every sound sounds like an approaching predatory mammal. I almost never have trouble falling asleep, making the process of having trouble doubly consternating in this environment, all due to a primal irrational interpretation of auditory experience. Suffice it to say that I eventually had to haul out the booklight and immerse myself in Napoleonic Russia to the point of lid-drooping exhaustion, which I should have just done in the first place. But it’s so easy to go from that state to adrenaline-pumping frozen listening with just one good rustle that sounds for all the world like an approaching bear.

The moral of the vignette is that I need to get out more. Way out way more.

As an aside, it’s interesting to trace patterns of fear over the course of my life. Not only have I realized a marked increase in weird fears and even random paranoia as I’ve gotten older, being able to at once rationally grasp that I’m going through the hackneyed process of becoming more conservative and fearful as I age and yet irrationally feel it all the same, but my fear of death may be at an all-time high. As someone who was pretty sure he had conquered such a trivial phobia at age eleven, this is both extremely disconcerting and supremely annoying.

The problem, of course, is that I like my life way more than I did when I was eleven. Don’t get me wrong – I had baseball and animals and my parents were very supportive. But I frankly spent most of the years between 11-21 being able to take or leave my life. I talked pretty openly about this perspective with a bunch of friends and family, to most of their chagrin and loquacious objection. And I simultaneously touted a spirit of fearlessness and triumph over concerns about mortality with intellectual trappings that I now fear were somewhat baseless, at least on a primal level.

I mean, yes, I had reasoned out the limits of this mortal coil, consolidated my reasoned belief in God and an open-ended afterlife, and come to accept how insane it was to truly fear the only surely inevitable result of life on Earth. It seemed pretty academic, and it was. And certainly my bout with suicidalism just before shored up my appreciation of life and my understanding of its fragility. All true thoughts that haven’t faded over the last 18 years.

What has changed, though, is an ever-increasing feeling that I have something to lose in this mortal experience on this planet. And the big difference between 21 and 29 is that not only do I have Emily, giving me a massively unprecedented reason to live, but I am now about to embark on the first open-ended stage of my life where I am doing what I feel I should be doing with my time and mental energy, namely in writing full-time. It’s hard to fully convey what it feels like to have felt like one is primarily wasting one’s time or building limited and mostly pointless skills for some unnamed and unmarked future for three decades. Three decades. I realize, of course, that most people live their entire existences in that state, often discarding the idea that they should even try to do something they feel called or driven to do amidst the endless compromises of their passing life. But to actually be in the midst of transition to that higher use of time and energy is to understand how vivid the contrast is between that state of being and everything else.

It’s a white-hot glow of excitement approaching euphoria, yet it comes with a burdensome sense of responsibility that mostly seems to be manifesting in really really not wanting to die. Which, frankly, is a newish feeling for me. So maybe this will help shed some light on why the wind rustling on the tent in the secluded wilderness bothered me even more than usual, bothered someone who used to brag about having cast out fear of death like a pair of shoes that no longer fit.

Anyway, morning brought an end to the fitful sleep and more pain for my already backpack-sore hips. For some reason, Emily and I have decided along the way that bedrolls are excesses in camping trips, given their awkward bulk and limited assistance. My hipbones are the only part of me that ever disagrees with this assessment, but they were certainly singing about it Monday morning. We had breakfast, relaxed by the lake (wherein Em managed to get severely sunburned reading amongst shining white rocks), did some rockhopping, and packed out. The downhill version of the 6.2 miles was a cool breeze, though the last 1.5 miles were painful (I think our self-assessment of 4 miles each way was pretty much precise, though hopefully we’re stretching out our endurance by processes like this). We then booked it by car to the Wawona Hotel, wherein our Yosemite experience shifted gears from hardcore wildnerness exploring to refined old-school hotel visiting.

Both aspects of the trip were fantastic and complemented each other nicely. The Wawona Hotel was not our first choice from the largely misleading Yosemite website, but proved to be by far the best option (it was the only place with vacancy when we booked, which made us sad right up until we actually visited the various lodging facilities). The oldest standing hotel in the park, the Wawona has retained most of its 1870’s appeal and appearance, and was replete with baseball-park-style bunting that bothered me less than most displays of American patriotism, probably because it just seemed nostalgic rather than jingoistic in this particular manifestation. We lucked into some really prime real estate within the hotel, a second-floor corner room of the main building, with claw-foot bathtub in-room and a sprawling green veranda(h) overlooking the lawn, swimming tank, and other buildings.

We celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary with a leisurely four-course meal in the downstairs restaurant, sitting outside on the hotel’s front porch as we worked our way through some pretty decent vegetarian food for a place aspiring to finer dining. The highlight was a lentil-and-spinach soup, but every item was surprisingly edible and the overall experience was exquisite.

The next morning (we’re up to yesterday morning), we toured a bit more Yosemite, including the expansive historical village, then flew down the mountain all the way to LA, with Emily picking up a good stretch of driving while continually telling me how much of her promised 8% of the total trip she was already fulfilling. Years of “splitting” driving on roadtrips with me have convinced her that “under-promise, over-deliver” is the method of choice, made all the more amusing to me in light of our wedding “sermon” that her brother delivered six years ago, highlighted by his apt and eloquent comparison of marriage to a long car ride.

Our slate is rapidly filling in LA, with most every trip to LA being somewhat similar but all quite rejuvenating and fun. I was going to note something in here as well about how I have really struggled to write about this trip while on it so far, but I’ve pretty well shot that theory to pieces with this post. Indeed, I have a green comp book with me that remains unsullied by written word as yet, despite my intent to write most every day. Perhaps I just haven’t had enough time for reflection until this morning, with Russ asleep and Emily dozing and reading. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last eight years, it’s that I need time for reflection to write most anything. I’m hoping, however, that when Internet is less plentiful, I still have time to chronicle this journey. I guess my journals like this always get off to a slow start – I’m thinking of Russia ’95 and India ’08 in particular. Someday I will transcribe all those to the web as well.

For now, people are stirring and there are games and activities to pursue. I am elated to consider that we still have a month left on this trip, that it really has just begun. And that all of this is just prologue to the greatest adventure of all, my upcoming foray into the written word. No wonder I put so much stock in how well I can use same to track my progress toward that shining year on the hill to come.

Pray with me that I make it there against these weirdly resurgent fears that actually signal hope and promise of a future that matters.

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On the Road Again

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Quick Updates, Summer Sojourn 2009, Tags: , , ,

We have departed from Berkeley for our 6-week, 16-state tour of eastward travel. The last week has been filled with incredibly busy days and nights of packing, shipping, cleaning, and saying goodbye. Sometimes there just isn’t enough time (or a hooked-up computer) to chronicle the happenings.

Currently in Tracy, CA and on the way to Fresno sometime this afternoon. More updates, likely on a quite sporadic schedule, when time permits.

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Out Here in the Fields

Categories: A Day in the Life, Awareness is Never Enough - It Must Always Be Wonder, From the Road, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , , ,

There is a quiet communion about the world as it is meant to be. I write this while sitting in a pasture, llamas in the distance, gentle winds overwhelming the wheaty grasses of the Central Valley of California. Not connected to anything, even the Internet (I will upload this later), my back against a metal fence that is just the right balance of sturdy and sufficiently comfortable. There are bird sounds and trees reacting to winds, the sun bearing down under mixed clouds that threaten an eventual sullying of this dried landscape. Bugs hover and dive amongst the grasses, perhaps subtly aware that they have just a few hours until rains will temper fulfillment of their tasks.

Today, they tell us that the oceans are so full of garbage that there are spare airplane seats in the flight-paths of missing jets that are not from those jets. That it’s perfectly reasonable to expect all kinds of discarded material to show up in the sea, since we’ve been leaving it there as long as we can remember. Our species has so blatantly disregarded the gifts we have been given that we don’t consider them gifts anymore – the only gifts we can accept are those we give ourselves. We have lost a sense of perspective, of balance, of harmony. We don’t sit in pastures anymore, trying to describe what we’re missing. We think everything we’re missing is on the Internet.

And yes, I’m aware of how both (1) unoriginal my comments are and (2) how ironic it is that they are appearing on the Internet. The Internet offers us wonderful things as well, like the ability to connect with others from a field with just the minimum of time-delay.

Nonetheless, I have to think that we lost our way, collectively, when science split from religion. Or vice versa. Surely there were crimes committed on both sides, as there always are in human disputes. Conflict is nothing if not mutually assured on my home planet. But when the scientists stopped being interested in God and the religious stopped being interested in solving mysteries, then surely something was irrevocably torn asunder. How anyone can accept the answers offered by one group in total ignorance of the other eludes me daily.

(As though to taunt me, a wireless network has just been found by this laptop. Or maybe a metaphor about ability to make connections from remoteness or the seeming lack of connection? You decide.)

In any event, we can all look to extreme examples and see the absurdity. Science reducing all human existence to a collapse of uncontrolled synapses, eliminating free will and indicating that all human existence and creation is a lie, while pleading endless randomness in the face of the most wondrously perfect system ever built or discovered. Religion claiming that God will decide all and answer all, that those who die are meant to, while those who are afflicted should not fight but simply resign themselves to a fate larger than themself. A similar abdication of free will, a similar destruction of meaning, a similar breakdown in the purpose that ought drive human existence, both on a macro scale and the individual level. How are these examples not sufficient to get everyone to attempt to strike a middle-ground? Even atheist scientist friends are uncomfortable with the elimination of free will altogether, and certainly don’t live their lives like they believe it’s true. Even religious zealots seem to assert themselves as though they have the ability to change something around them. So why all the trouble seeing across the divide?

Surely the closest society to holding these interests in balance was the first society to settle on my home continent. Or series of societies. There was wide-scale recognition of higher powers behind every aspect of the universe they saw, as well as interest in developing and advancing to higher levels of understanding of that universe. The respect that was afforded each of these concepts led to the development of a minimally invasive culture, with much time for contemplation and communion.

But it was not a culture designed to particularly assert control or dominion, and it is a telling lesson about my species that this is one of the few cultures upon which an all-but-complete genocide has been visited in recorded history. The very idea of trying to learn more from the land than one was taught was so reprehensible that its adherants were forced to either change or die.

My wife, Emily, is not particularly spiritual, not much of a believer. About half of our conflicts for the more recent half of our marriage so far have evolved from some sort of discussion about this topic. I struggle with reconciling my love of Emily and my respect for her intellect with the fact that she not only doesn’t overtly believe in God, but finds the question to not be fundamental to existence on the planet. It should be noted that most of my friends feel this way as well, and while this also concerns me, one’s identity is far more wrapped up in a spouse than a friend. It feels like more of a reflection of oneself when one’s own life partner rejects something so fundamental to one’s own perspective.

And yet, Emily says that she feels something whenever she is isolated out in nature. That connecting with animals, with the basic forces of the natural world (wind, water, flora), simply being “out there” is enough to get her thinking about the bigger picture and often feeling some conviction that there is something greater afoot. She often remarks, either in nature or when confronted by amazing constructions of human hand that she finds less impressive, that she has never seen something made by humanity that can measure up to the lowliest product of nature. While this sometimes surprises me, grandson of an engineer who learned about bridge-building and to differentiate styles of columns before most anything, I think she has a telling route map to those who are otherwise disinclined to believe. What makes us (collectively, as a species) think we’re so great? Why do we even bother scarring the Earth’s surface with our contributions when nearly everything impressive is already there?

It’s a competition, in part, or even an offering as an aprentice. That we have something to contribute which can hope to allude to the grandeur and beauty of what we already found when we first opened our eyes. Look ma, no nature. I did it all by myself. Like a crude reflection of the world around us for taping on the refrigerator with a quietly pitying love. And just as high-quality, just as worthwhile in the face of the real thing, as a four-year-old’s lazy finger-painting.

Which is not to say that there’s nothing worthwhile in the Pyramids, the Internet, language, or art. But compared to the systems and understanding implicit in your average field, your average patch of non-garbage-infested ocean, your average rainforest? I think the metaphor flies.

Part of what I’ve never understood about the pitched battle between science and religion is the respect that each have for order. Science even calls the discoveries it makes about the universe’s order of operations “laws”, the same word religion uses to indicate its principles and guidelines for living. Science interprets the world around it with a presumption towards order, towards compacting what it finds into a series of laws that are never abridged, or at least never contravened except where another identifiable law overrides. And indeed this bears out – we hardly see gravity working some of the time in Iowa and then failing to at random times. But somehow, science is disinterested in a source of all this order and law and perfectly behaved matter, insisting that all order came from one moment of complete chaos. This theory itself fails to stand up to science’s own presumptions and policies of rigorous study – were it about anything other than something in impenetrable pre-history, it would be rejected on face. But because there’s no other explanation available without resorting to the three-letter no-no, it is offered as fact. How can science not feel that every additional law that holds up, every extra consistency and element of order that is found, how are these not evidence for God?

The only explanation is that religion has mangled God into seeming arbitrary, somehow the opposite of order. Because in its rejection of scientific practice, many religions have tried to ascribe unending magic and mystery to the figure of God. Mysterious ways, inexplicable methods, something that cannot and should not be known. This idea is just as dangerous and worthless as atheism. Perhaps moreso, for it rends people’s conception of the most important aspect of the universe from the reality of that aspect, thus nullifying it for the interpreter far more thoroughly than mere denial would. This resorting to inexplicability is just as senseless as resorting to the Big Bang – for wont of explanations, those who expect themselves to seamlessly explain everything appeal to something wholly inconsistent with the rest of their theory. And then wave the crutch of paradox or the rest of their intellect about to try to fend off naysayers.

The truth, of course, is that science can prove God with all of its order, and thus God is knowable. God is not mysterious and inaccessible and hopelessly oblique – God is in the systems that work every day to maintain life in its countless manifestations. God is the laws and rules and policies and structures that keep it all just so in ways that humanity fails laughably to imitate. How is it that humans have never made a computer that can’t break down, and yet life on the planet persists from well before humanity to (likely) long after it?

But perhaps this would rend the people who pursue science and religion from what they’re really after – power. If they were not maintaining some sort of supremacy in their ability to properly interpret God or the laws of the universe (truly the same thing), what use would there be in the respect they are accorded in our hierarchies? And if they did not do battle, how could they build their power by tearing each other’s down, by fighting for followers, by bringing the urgency of a following and extreme loyalty out because of the urgency of a false conflict? You think nation-states are the only ones that can raise a false-flag to ask unthinkable sacrifices of their minions? No, only by mystifying and cloaking the fundamental and simple realities of their alleged domains can scienctists and religious leaders exert their authority over those they attempt to mislead.

Perhaps not always with such a nefarious intent, I’ll grant. But certainly with that level of nefarious effect.

So what is to be done? How do we get to a place where people recognize the order in the universe as the signifier of something greater than themselves rather than the converse? How do we make peace between scientist and religious leader before it is too late to fish the garbage from the ocean, or worse, before it is after anyone cares about such things? Like all of the important realizations, it cannot be forced or likely even persuaded. It must be found within each person, of their own volition.

In the meantime, I spend time in the pasture, contemplating a day I have long dubbed Mortality Day, a reflection of a larger scientific/religious order I find in the planet’s course of movement through the same space every 365 days. A day laden with symbols (6), the memory of an unbelievably significant mass-murder (D-Day), the steady approach of a day when the planet is held in balanced opposition to itself. It is vital to neither dwell in the anticipation of death nor to ignore its daily possibility, but for me, setting aside a holiday of sorts to recognize the mortality of myself and others, has worked well. Eighteen years to the day after the death of my mother’s father, I continue this personal tradition, sometimes to the fear of those around me. But fear not for me in the context of death, for I have conviction that it would be merely a step, and probably ultimately a relieving one. I have not felt less that way than now for some time (about the relief), and yet I still can recognize that no matter how much I personally desire to cling to this planet and help it out, there are wonders beyond my imagining ahead, other planets and other learning to be had.

And whenever this faith wavers in the slightest, as it sometimes trembles like the trees in the wind, bending with the difficulty of a given circumstance or a cold black fear, I come back out to nature. And the wind itself reassures me, reminds me of what I know even in the worst challenging moments. How can you look upon the world, upon an “ecosystem” or a “valley” (whichever you prefer to call the same thing) and not be awed by the presence of God? How can you understand the depths of human understanding and think this is all for the purpose of one isolated planet, 60 or 80 years only?

Go out into the fields. Walk. And then come tell me it’s all random, happened for no reason, that there’s no purpose to anything we do or try or contemplate. Tell me all these rules are either figments or coincidence. And tell me that, somehow, the pursuit of a means of exchange or sheer hubris is worth destroying it all.

A plane tears through the sky, close enough to hear but not to see. Through the clouds that are darkening the sky and escalating the threat of rain. Rain that will not be enough to wash it all away.

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Bubbles

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

We could live beside the ocean
leave them far behind
swim out past the breakers
watch the world die.
-Everclear, “Santa Monica”

Russ and I went down (up? over? out? – I have no sense of direction in LA) to Santa Monica yesterday and wandered around this open-air mall area near the ocean. We had a good time and caught some sun, but I was also sort of overwhelmed with the sense of impervious obliviousness of the people of Southern California. I had a hard time putting a precise finger on what was befuddling me, but I had a strong sense that a meteorite could have landed nearby and no one would particularly pay attention. A combination of intense absorption in one’s own world with general apathy to everything.

This then sparked a debate about LA apathy vs. NY apathy and Russ defending NY as an insider, which contrasts with my general perception of NY as an outsider. Place puts a real filter on the way one perceives what’s going on, though. This is not a new concept, but it can be startling to see (really feel) it in action. If nothing else, the Bay Area feels very raw and exposed. It’s as though there’s a bubble or force-field around LA that shields it from everything, while the Bay Area just feels completely open to whatever’s going on, if not actually having a magnifying glass bear down on it for extra fun.

But watching the stock market revel this morning, I get the sense that my bubbly feeling in Santa Monica was enhanced by a larger denial rippling all over the place. The ostensible reason being proffered for a return to 8,000 on the Dow is the impending demolition of mark-to-market accounting, which you can find under “accountability” in your financial dictionary. Without this rule, the same financial geniuses who created our current economy would be freed to attribute whatever value they wanted to whatever assets they have. Keep in mind that this entire mess is largely attributed to a massive bubble, followed by a period of uncertainty sparked by not knowing how much someone’s holdings are actually worth. Now you’re trying to cement a reality where we bubble up in positive reaction, followed by a world where everything is valued by unconfirmed self-perception? Really?

If you think people lack confidence now, wait till absolutely everything on the balance sheet is measured by optimistic, self-interested accountants! Sure, this house could go for a million if everything transforms tomorrow. I mean, there’s no evidence that this Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card will ever be worth six figures, but if I value it at that price, why not give me credit for same? Don’t you want to invest in my outfit that has access to millions, nay billions, because of a stockpile of baseball cards, used books, and cat litter?

It makes sense as a reaction to a world where currency governs most everyone’s life and currency is manufactured out of whole cloth (literally) by the government at their random and manipulative whim. It is the perfect answer to a country spinning out of control in its own realization that it has no idea what anything is worth, what anything even means anymore. It’s a little like the whole place just became LA. Put on your sunglasses, get gussied up, and let’s go pretend everything’s fine. Bring the credit card and the substances, for tomorrow we die.

This may be a weird time to mention that I won $781 in an online poker tournament the night before last, more than paying for the trip I’m on. Hooray gambling.

Tomorrow morning, unemployment figures will be announced for the US in March. They will be worse than anyone could imagine, probably fueling an even greater rally in the stock market (it’s how they roll). It’s a nice thought that we can value our household appliances and trinkets at millions of dollars to make up for the fact that no one will pay us for anything else anymore. But eventually, an economy based on tying people in the bondage of day jobs and profiting from their enslavement will fail when no one is employed anymore. I promise.

If you need me, I’ll be at the beach or in the casino. Seriously.

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I Love LA

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

I could never imagine living in Southern California, but this region of the world has pretty much always served the same role for me. It’s basically the exact role in my life that it pitches to everyone everywhere at all times with carefully spent marketing dollars. Southern California is a place to come and relax and leave your cares behind.

It’s not something that SoCal would be for me if I didn’t have a continual stream of friends in La Jolla or Pasadena or Beverly Hills or other vacationland sounding destinations with their sun and smog and beaches. And what I end up doing in SoCal is usually a lot longer on video games and all-night conversation than anything beachy. And yet, when I think of SoCal, it’s exactly like watching some minds-eye palm-tree laden commercial, knowing that days or weeks spent in this area will recharge me and get me through whatever obligatory nonsense I feel I need to complete (college, work, etc.) or emotional wreckage I’m in the wake of (see, for instance, May 2000). If only I’d had friends in SoCal in the summer of ’97. Or ’90 for that matter.

It makes me wonder if, long after all my friends have left LA, I’ll still feel this emotional attachment to the area as the place to go to rest up and regroup. Not that there’s anything particularly daunting facing me now, beyond another April/May that will hopefully be my last two months of day jobbing for at least two years. Maybe I’ll always have friends in this area. But I attach such emotional significance to place that this association will probably transcend the scale of whoever ends up living here. Would I still come here in the aftermath of something really trying even if there was no one to see? I guess it’s unlikely, since in the end, truly, people are home to me and place is just association.

For the purposes of chronicling, highlights from this particular incarnation so far have included Denmark beating FIFA on the second hardest level after just a day and a half, actually filming crazy celebrations of same for possible YouTube clip-show purposes (stay tuned), epic chess matches of an hour of calculated brilliance usually coming down to some tremendous blunder, buying Russ a coffee maker because it’s cheaper than going to Starbucks for a week, the inevitable revisiting of the year where every move we made held the universe in the balance (quadfecta, etc.), and watching our most recent YouTube creations conquer the Internet.

We’re gonna ride it till we just can’t ride it no more.

by

620!

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Quick Updates, Tags: , ,

Just wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas (for those interested in such) and an even Merrier Christmas Eve, which we all know (at least in New Mexico) is the real holiday.

There is some debate from past years as to whether the previous record for luminarias was 525 or 576, but the record has fallen this Christmas Eve, as Emily & I constructed 620 luminarias, which I single-handedly placed as Emily contracted a flu this morning. My Dad helped light them (to the tune of about a third of the total), but otherwise, I placed and lit all 620 between 7:30 this morning and about 5:15 this evening. I even took a couple breaks here and there.

I was hoping to instantly upload some of my favorite shots of the record-setting display (talk about your instant media), but we are facing technical difficulties in camera compatibility and failure to bring a cord. So you will have to imagine, if you will, luminarias from street to roof and every level in between, totaling 620 in number, with not a seam put wrong. (Though we lost about 8 bags to fire, but they were replaced and thus only counted once in the 620 total.)

My legs and neck are sore, even when at rest. I feel vaguely dazed and thoroughly overwhelmed. And yet, I couldn’t be much happier (minus the Em being mightily sick thing). It may be the last Christmas in America, but it’s quite a Christmas. My heart will always swell for luminarias. I’m going back out to the cold, the candles, the sand, the bags. This is my holiday, the day on which I probably work the hardest.

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High School Never Ends

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

“Then when you graduate
You take a look around and you say “Hey wait!”
This is the same as where I just came from
I thought it was over, aw that’s just great.

Seen it all before
I want my money back!”
-Bowling for Soup, “High School Never Ends”

Early in our senior year of high school, my friends and I designed a T-shirt as part of the contest to design the official class shirt for the Class of ‘98. We were not the “in” crowd; we were the guys who played chess in the commons. In the style of a popular series of T-shirts of the day, our design submission theme was “Co-Ed Naked Albuquerque Academy: We Have to Pay for It”.

It is thus not surprising, perhaps, that I am just hours from paying $35 for appetizers and access to a cash bar with a collection of my high school classmates.

The T-shirts never got printed. Not because our design didn’t win the contest, but because the Academy wouldn’t allow such a controversial design to carry the noble school’s official sanction. We actually won the contest vote twice – first in a primary landslide, and then in a secondary run-off with the Academy faculty making it very clear that our design was still eligible to win, but would not be printed or sold by the school if it did win. It won anyway, and no one got a class shirt that year because we didn’t want to finance our lark of a design.

I often describe Albuquerque Academy as a school in the middle of the West trying desperately hard to be an elite New England prep school, without the boarding and the uniforms. There is no dearth of ridiculous description of the Academy – we called the cafeteria a “dining hall” and had assigned seating with ten students and a faculty “table head” (to facilitate appropriate mealtime discussion) per table, plus assigned student “waiters” on a half-quarterly rotating basis who brought out the family style meals. We were dominant in every realm of pretension and pomposity, garnering sour looks from any non-Academites who we gulpingly admitted our alma mater to. My time at the Academy was single-handedly responsible for my flat refusal to apply to any Ivy League colleges, weary as I was of wealth, class, and elitism.

And yet my years at the Academy were predominantly fabulous. I made most of my most enduring lifelong friends there. I learned how to debate. I wrote and read and even felt academically challenged once in a while. I started dating. I became a vegetarian, started growing my hair out, became outspoken and dramatic. I spent five years there, a personal record by more than double at a single school to that point. I attended until the end of the prescribed term, a first in fifteen years of attending educational institutions.

There were horrors there too. One in particular comes to mind, but there were others. The antagonism that only adolescents can offer other human beings. Unmotivated teachers whose only offered challenge was to see how much one could get away with on their watch. Ultimate frisbee.

Tonight, I revisit ten years of history, or really sixteen since that day in August 1993 when I was one of two new kids in an eighth-grade class pushing 150 students. My parents, full of hope that I had finally found an academic home, exchanged looks of grave concern as I broke out into open weeping in the restaurant where we dined after they picked me up. Sobbing in the aftermath, I wasn’t sure that I could face returning for even a second day to this foreboding brick wall of insular classism.

I wish I could tell that near-hyperventilating young man about the ten-year reunion he would voluntarily attend 193 months thereafter.

The question seems to have arisen of late as to why I am going. My parents took it for granted that I would go; most others assumed just as strongly that I would not. Far too much of my willingness to attend hinged on the prisoner’s-dilemma reservation tracking website and how a few particular battleships navigated the seas of Yes, Maybe, and No. An early perception that many of my old crew, my lifelong friends, would be attending was erased after I had locked in a ticket. In the end, there were too many people I wanted to see to pass up the chance. It was really as simple as that.

Then, with some of my friends dropping out in every direction, Emily and I saw the film “American Teen”. While not the most brilliant movie of any kind, it captured most viscerally and profoundly the essence of being high-school aged in America in my generation. While I admittedly didn’t recognize the abundant text-messaging from my own days, everything else was the same. The raw emotional force of each day, each interaction, each second of life, unmatched before or since, is so well portrayed in this movie that it actually makes one feel 17 upon exit. When one comes to one’s senses, the only remaining feeling is a crisp, pristine relief that one is not only not 17, but never has to live through being so again in this lifetime.

Thus, I’m still riding out the excitement of that movie, of a handful of people about whom I am genuinely interested and curious (yes, both), of a few long-term friends who it will be good to see in our old hometown outside of winter. I feel certain that I will have changed less than almost anyone. I still think of myself as approximately 20… and now I even look like I did back then (perhaps with longer hair). I’m sure at least one person will call me out for having stayed in the United States despite promising my junior year history class that I would leave in disgust shortly after graduating college. I’m sure at least one person will ask me where the old ‘51 Buick is. I’m sure at least one person will fail to believe that I still don’t drink, do drugs, or eat meat.

I’ll see you out there soon. I’ll be the one in the Mariners jacket.

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Take Me Away, Country Roads (or: If On a September Eleventh a Traveler)

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

It is morning in America. Early morning here, just past six on a Friday morning. I’d normally be just stirring, an hour’s timezone west, wondering what the last day of the week was about to bring at work, wondering if yet another gloomy looking Friday for the country was going to pan out that way. Duck and Cover would be a toss-up between a failing financial institution and the impending doom of another poised hurricane, and likely end up with a nod to both as those punny animals mixed their disasters once more.

Instead, I’m wide awake in the wilds of Colorado. This is Sarah Palin country, they would tell me, where free-spirited mavericks who believe in war without end run around in cowboy boots. Never mind that a woman Sarah Palin’s age in a Target parking lot in a tiny town was on her cell phone talking about trying to see Barack Obama. Never mind the details. We are supposed to be in a house divided along clearly definable boundaries and I am on the “other” side. Never mind that I probably won’t be voting for Obama either and am tempted to write in Mickey Mouse when I fulfill my obligation at the polls in less than 60 days. With many in the far left clamoring behind a ridiculed ex-Democrat, with Ralph Nader well over any sort of hill of reasonability, and with Obama once again on the waffle-train to a platform of bombing Afghanistan into the 6th century BC, I’m probably okay. Once again, shockingly, no one on the ballot really speaks for me. And don’t talk to me about lessers of evils. You could go blind trying to parse out distinctions between evil in this country.

But I’m not here to talk about my own consternation in a few short weeks. I’m here to talk about getting to rural Colorado, about flying to Denver and driving to Steamboat Springs. The flags were not only at half-mast yesterday, they were at this bizarre-seeming quarter-mast, as though someone hadn’t quite finished the job of taking them down. As though the thunderstorms rolling across the Rockies had just set in as the flags were coming down (or going up) and those next to the lightning rods had run for the hills or cover and forgetting all about Old Glory tacking in the breeze. In mid-morning, sometime between the breakfast burrito devoid of green chile (which always contains pork in Colorado) and the Target for Obama, I had to inquire why the flags were all at half-mast.

“Who died?” I asked my traveling companions.

Trying to restrain a look of emergent horror, Em’s Dad offered in the plainest tone possible, “It’s September eleventh.”

“Oh, right.” Feeling sheepish, I wanted the subject disappeared. The whole interaction indicated that I represented the worst fears of God-fearing Americans: I had already forgotten. Not that anyone aware of such a date on this continent could ever truly forget, but somehow in bumbling through security to board a sleepy empty plane (I mean, really, 25-30 people on a plane that can hold 250) I hadn’t thought of the date. It was a day off of work, after all. The date matters a lot less on the first day of vacation. I hadn’t even written a Duck and Cover, with no time in the extremely early morning to make scanning noises while our guest slept next to the computer (I was still steaming from my lost half-post on Em’s laptop). So many chances to remember, but I had slipped all of them. So much for never forget, just 7 years later.

But seven years? What’s in seven years? 9/11 was “The New Pearl Harbor”, after all, which puts us at December 7, 1948. My Dad had been born, Brandeis founded, WWII three full years in the rear-view. No doubt 12/7 was marked as a somber occasion and the flags were probably at half-mast (are they still? they must be…). But the country was ready to move up and move on, already eying the fifties and recovery and an era not entirely defined by the past. And there had been further horrors and atrocities after 1941… surely on both sides, and more from the USA (Dresden, Hiroshima, etc.), but at least there had been give and take. The promised continued terrorism and antagonism hasn’t really followed against our brave nation this time around.

And yet it’s hard to imagine 2008 not being continually defined as the whole decade has been, hijacked by an obsession with terrorism. It may not matter how long we go without a renewal of the blood of patriots, so long as we keep shipping our good boys off to fight their evil boys. Never mind that our boys are often twice the age and education of their boys. If you oppose the war but support our troops, then you must doubly support their troops. They’ve been hoodwinked just as much, if not more. Read Bel Canto (thanks Fish). They’re even younger, even more impressionable, even more convinced that what they’re doing is right. And to boot, they’re actually “defending” their homeland, or at least fighting in it. They’re not still punishing foreigners for some esoteric and unrelated battle seven years old; they’re actually fending off invaders.

By every standard we have of justifying war, you have to support the “terrorists”.

Not that I advocate this. Let me underline this, everyone, I am not advocating support of the terrorists. For the same reason I don’t “support the troops”. No matter how young and manipulated, you should know better. God and your conscience are not dead to you and you should never kill for any reason. Never point a gun and threaten. Never train for battle. You just know better, no matter how little you are attributed to know.

So back to Colorado, with the special super-half-mast for September eleventh, me steaming at myself in the van for being so clumsy as to admit violation of “never forget” in the presence of people who will vote for Sarah Palin. The signs of foreclosure and failure are more subtle in the wide-open spaces than they were in the close-clustered communities outside Sacramento in the summer. People may be hurting, but it’s harder to see under the big sky. No matter how much lightning may be descending, how many storms on the horizon, how much distant events may be conspiring against one.

The raindrops pound the window, trickle down the side, fly away in the artificial machine-winds. Before the day’s end, there will be Mexican food and bowling and laughter and good discussion of the day’s events. What can be more hopeful than a wedding and the surrounding activities? What can represent more investment in the future?

It’s still September. And I am undecided.

by

An Hour After the End

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Pre-Trip Posts, Tags: , ,

“I suppose you are wondering why you are here.”

Seven billion souls shuffling their feet, which many at once notice are not exactly feet while somehow failing to not be feet. Even those who did not have feet just moments before now have these quasi not-feet feet. They at once seem to be in perfect health and yet be a collection of mid-size blue bubbles, slightly suspended off the floor.

“I’m sure you have many questions, and it is our work here and now to answer them. We will try to, ah, anticipate them. That is something you will find us very good at.”

A good-natured half-chuckling from the seemingly endless company of bubble-people entities behind the speaker. They are at once bubbles and highly reassuring, trustworthy people. The half-nature of everything is less unsettling than one seconds ago seemed to suspect it was.

“For example, many of you are wondering where you are and what this is and what this has to do with anything from, ah, before. I both appear to be speaking and yet not using language and yet you understand perfectly well. Yes?”

Seven billion souls murmuring, each to themselves, to the speaker, a general sense of affirmation.

“I think if you search your inner perception, you will understand exactly where you are and what this is.” The microscopically briefest of pregnant pauses to let this sink in. “Now then, this is a very unusual and special circumstance. Normally, this is a very private and intimate matter. We would normally spend a great deal of what you think of as time with you individually first before ever bringing you into this type of experience.”

Not so much confusion among seven billion souls as utter lack of recognition of what is being discussed. Yet not with the frustration of misunderstanding so much as the best-natured curiosity regarding what this could all possibly be about.

“In terms that you are used to perceiving, I would say we don’t have room for you all individually. You all came in such a rush. We couldn’t possibly accommodate you all with so little notice. Of course, that has nothing to do with the truth of operations here. We could, in fact, seamlessly accommodate the normal circumstances without the slightest of inconvenience or difficulty. But there is, no doubt, something to be said for making this transition gradual. And where you come from, there is no question that we would be beset by such practical challenges.”

Some acknowledgment or general sense that this all must be about to make sense in a minute, so there’s no use fighting over the details now. A collectively unuttered “fair enough”, if you will.

“Now then, a moment ago. An hour ago? Time is another concept that we will be weaning you off of here, but for now let us communicate as though bound by the temporal. An hour ago, something happened. A very significant something. And it brings us to this, this moment, this collective gathering.”

Seven billion wracking heads (minds? bubbles?), peppered with just the slightest handful of knowing staring at the floor. As though one could sink through a floor one isn’t even making contact with that isn’t quite a floor. The concept of universal paradox, of reality simultaneously being impossibly unreal and yet feeling more real than any prior memory or experience, is starting to sink in. They are becoming acclimated to it, like breathing underwater or at very high altitude. Each moment, the impossible is becoming easier and everything is innately what it is not and it is okay.

“Perhaps you have heard of the Large Hadron Collider? An ambitious project of your species, designed to simulate what leading scientists declared to be the origins of your universe. Using principles much akin to those of, ah, your greatest weapons of self-destruction.”

Those who’d been feeling the faintest glimmers of the desire to hide now are thankful that these blue bubbles appear impossibly alike. And yet they seem to radiate varying levels of familiarity and communication, as though other identical blue bubbles are somehow just like they still perceive themselves, encasing fully identifiable bodies that somehow seem aligned with the prime of one’s life. It is all infinitely processed and reprocessed each moment. There is the sense of the progression of time simultaneous with a great universal all-time at once. And all this is distracting from efforts to blend in, to hide, to shield.

Meanwhile, of course, there are others who have only the vaguest idea what is being discussed and have never heard of Colliders nor scientists nor weapons of self-destruction. And they have only the slimmest clench in their stomach-bottoms that they are about to be informed of something terrible, a death in the family or an attack on the community. This feels like all the bad news of before, rolled up at once, and the apprehension is rippling across seven billion bubbles.

“There are some of you, a scant few, who predicted this might happen. You should not feel wronged or cheated, saddened that you were not heeded. You shall come to understand that it is perhaps for the best that your cries were met with derision and, ultimately, silence.”

Only a very few of the souls can follow this chain of logic, but they float rapt. Can any others be truly said to be less attentive? Even when incomprehensible, there is a sense that these are most essential matters that are coming to pass.

“You see, while this Collider proved, in some absolute sense, to be the most destructive force in your history, it was relatively painless. It was instant. It was immediate, here and gone, a snap of the fingers, a blink of the eyes. And the alternatives, well. They were not so simple. Which is not to say, of course, that there needed be alternatives with the same ultimate outcome. Nothing is inevitable, nothing at all. There were, however, likelihoods. Probabilities. Actions create other likelihoods of actions, in a prevailing course that leads to a great deal of suffering.”

A dull ache of remorse and concern is now welling, like a crick in the back of most necks of the souls. Not, of course, that they have necks so much as a ball of uncanny sensations.

“Perhaps a metaphor would be more fitting. It seems your species is fond of examples.” The slightest acknowledging motion toward the row behind the speaker. “After all, you will come to learn that your entire time just before has been a metaphor. It is one of the great realities of life that life itself is modeled as an unending cascade of examples. Most fitting indeed, then.

“So, it is, perhaps, the pulling of an electrical cord. A plug. The plug has been pulled, and the power gone out. One instant, one burst, everything gone. Which is unfortunate, of course, for power. However, as compared to a slow draining of power, where one first must give up one appliance, and then another, and then a third, constantly struggling on the way down to maintain control. How shall they be compared?

“Or another view, perhaps, that of the disappearance of the crops. This is perhaps more accurate. Is it better to be beset by a drought over vast time, with death and suffering in each day, as the losing battle of survival is fought on and on? Or would, perhaps, it be better to experience a single tsunami, an instant flood that wiped out everyone, crops and people and animals alike, in a single apocalyptic day?”

The penultimate word sends shockwaves that are immediately calmed, in the same manner that everything here is profound and then gone, replaced by its opposite. There is a sudden torrent of understanding. The crowded hall, seven billion incomprehensibly strong, now suddenly feels a closeness, an intimacy, as though each were in their regular living space, perhaps where they slept, with only a few friends as though gathered at their deathbed. It has all become terribly clear, stark and frightening and yet somehow relieving.

“And thus, you are here. And it is not so bad, yes? It is perhaps, acceptable. Fair enough. A fitting end. It cannot be said that you were treated unfairly?”

Here this seems utterly ridiculous and then immediately obvious over the course of the few short sentences. They have gone, almost instantly, from being wronged to being set right. And come to it of their own volition.

“Thus, what we’d most like you to focus on, to consider, ponder, discuss amongst yourselves, is this. With the recognition of life as metaphor, with your experience just upended as a series of exemplary lessons… what can you see in this incredible reality? What do you take from being gathered here, just an hour after scientists who had delivered so much knowledge and understanding promised yet more with the touch of a button, with their simulation of the creation of all things? Is there anything to be learned from this?”

The question at first seems rhetorical, then hangs on the air as truly thought-provoking. Slowly, without yet turning directly to other bubbles to engage in the alluded discussion, there is a sense of understanding overriding the relief. Of the childlike joy of putting together a puzzle that initially seemed complicated, far too intricate. The feeling of a concept snapping together like it was obvious from the beginning. There is the sense, if not the reality, of nodding one’s head vigorously eighteen or twenty times with increasing speed, letting out a little whoop, and then almost crying from sheer exhilaration and exhaustion. No one seems immune to this tidal wave of emotion as it ripples up, down, and around, washing the seven billion souls in a deeper sense of depth than they have ever felt before.


[This post was written in its entirety before I left for Colorado, but more than half was lost due to an uncaught internet disconnection and lack of sufficient backup. I think I liked the original version slightly better and I was despondent in my inability to post it before leaving. I have just now, in Steamboat Springs, completed the post a second time. So it goes. This is why the post is categorized as both Pre-Trip and From the Road. But at least, God willing, it is up for the reading.]

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Cinderella Sweeping Up

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

“Grandpa, tell me what it was like back in the old country before the fall.”

“Well, what do you want to know?”

“I dunno. What was it like just before the fall? Did anyone know what was about to happen.”

“Oh, I think some people did. Back in ’08, Grandma and I went up to Gold Country for a little trip.”

“Were you looking for gold?”

“No, no. We were just going to a place with a little history to celebrate our anniversary. We’d been married for five years at that point.”

“History? Like how old?”

“Well, the first night we stayed in the oldest hotel in Placerville. It had been built in 1857.”

“Grandpa, that’s not old! Everything here in _______ is older than that.”

“Not everything.”

“Just about.”

“Anyway.”

“So you really weren’t looking for gold?”

“I mean, we joked about it a little, but all the gold mining novelty shops were sold out of equipment. Too many other people were trying to find it.”

“What’s ‘novelty’ mean?”

“Hm. It’s like a knick-knack, or a little trinket. Something you don’t really need, but you buy because it’s cute or you just impulsively want it.”

“That’s weird. I’ve never heard of that.”

“Yeah. I guess not. Huh. There used to be shops full of them in America, before the fall. But not so much right before the fall. Most of them were closing.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. On that drive up to Gold Country, we passed all these half-deserted towns and suburbs. There were all these signs saying ‘For Lease’ and ‘Space Available’. But they looked like they were in the middle of nowhere. Places people had built thinking everything was always going to grow and expand. But then… it didn’t. And there were just shells of buildings.”

“Kinda like Gold Country, huh?”

“Yeah, I guess so. Old buildings and old towns that were kinda deserted. People moving on. I guess the difference is that no one knew where to move on to in the suburbs. Back in Gold Country days, there was always more opportunity just over that mountain.”

“Or so they thought.”

“Yup. So maybe it was the same.”

“When did the banks start failing? That was a big part of what started it, right?”

“Oh definitely. Let’s see, that was… huh. That morning, actually. I’m almost positive. I’d brought the laptop up to Gold Country and checked the news that morning and it said IndyMac had failed. That was the first one. It didn’t seem like much at first, but people knew then that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were going down too. And they were half the housing banks.”

“Why’d people choose such funny names for banks? They sound like people.”

“That’s a good question. I guess they wanted to sound friendly and helpful. ‘Like a good neighbor,’ that was one of the old slogans an insurance company had. Just like some regular Joe on the block who’s helping you out when you need it.”

“But can’t balance his own checkbook.”

“That’s pretty much exactly right. I’m not sure anyone in the old country knew how to balance their checkbook at that point. It was pretty clear that nobody really cared. Until all the banks started failing and then everything changed.”

“When did you and Grandma get out?”

“Of Gold Country or the old country?”

“Old.”

“Probably not soon enough, dear. Probably not soon enough.”

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Saturday in the Park

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

Been nearly two days in Chicago with a day to go. Have seen a full game in Wrigley Field (Cubs 3, Pirates 2), seen both of the previously unseen campuses I passed up as possible collegiate choices, and managed to smash up my wedding ring finger into a purple pulp. You didn’t think this town was gonna let me off easy, did you?

This post will likely be short, in large part because typing with nine fingers is a task I’ve never had to learn. Rather than being 10% slower, it really seems about 98% slower given how long it takes for me to decide which finger to sub in for the S finger. Luckily, this finger is only responsible for three letters (and two of them are w and x), but unluckily s is pretty common. I don’t know if the finger’s broken or not, but I’m leaning towards not at this point given that it’s pretty much stopped hurting. Last night when I willingly took two painkiller pills, was talked into a third, and never refused ice, the signs were pointing to badness.

The method of the smashing was picking up a bowling ball. Just nanoseconds before lifting, I was wrapping my left hand around the ball as support and the old-school see-saw ball-returner shot a ball into the row at breakneck (or break-finger) speed. The entire stopping point of the chain-reaction impact was my hand, primarily focused on one finger with peripheral contact on the two neighbors. Sandwiched between a 14 and a 12, this did not lead to warm fuzzy feelings. Somehow, in about 20 years of bowling, this had never once happened to me. And it really bugged me because it was entirely preventable. And because it hurt.

This is hardly the focal point of the trip, though, and shouldn’t be where I put so much emphasis. The trip has been about an old friend and his new friends. Fish has been the consummate host, as always, and given me a glimpse of both Chicago and alternate pasts that I have turned away from. His group is what I remember of groups assembled at schools – smart, funny, interested, and interesting. Everything about school except for school was always great. If everyone could self-select and come together for such things in the interest of some sort of club or life commitment (or even society?), things would be really cooking. But sadly school seems to be the only thing deemed worthy of bringing like-mindeds together from such distant places in a socially comfortable setting. And thus my path is barred, by my own volition.

Nevertheless, it’s good to see a friend doing well, to immerse in his world, and to talk through all the things it seems go unsaid these days. Examining one’s own life is often so difficult without the full-length mirror that is someone who has known you across a multitude of years and situations.

Debate and discussion. The caterpillar story. A coat forgotten and regained. Misty walks on paths not taken. Cheez-its and carrots, coffee and Cheerios. Once more unto the grocery store. Everything’s different and nothing’s changed. Everything’s perfect and Fish is god. Ow.

It is still too early to be too late.

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Quicker Update from India

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, India & Nepal '08 Trip, Quick Updates, Tags: , , ,

I’m back in an internet cafe, one with a painfully slow 33.6 Kbps that makes me yearn for the national parks of Nepal. We’re holed up in Orchha, India, a village of a scant 9,000 people with an incredible number of beautiful Hindu temples and a gargantuan palace of the Mughal era.

The palace itself was one of the nicest surprises of this trip, since Orchha initially looked like the lowlight of the whole journey. It’s a beautiful place, though, although admittedly vaguely tourist-trappy. There have been few places we’ve seen that aren’t at least a little touristy, though, or seemingly designed for a good bit of the population to cater specifically to Western visitors.

As predicted, I have made myself internet-accessible mostly to check in on the American political situation. CNN is a painfully slow website in general, opting for millions of bytes worth of loading instead of making information simply available. Nevertheless, I’ve gotten so accustomed to their format and their vote-counts that I can’t try to navigate another site on this connection. So I’m still waiting for it to load. I got a look at earlier results, however, and it looks like I may have been wrong about which party will have a hung convention. Although when there are only two candidates, one can’t really have a hung convention in the end, even if someone ends up winning by a single delegate. Maybe Edwards will refuse to drop out and cling tightly to his 26 delegates in the hopes that those few can swing the entire election.

Of course I still find it completely inevitable that Clinton will eventually be President, so this is all pretty academic. It’s looking more and more like a repeat of the 1996 election – a Clinton against a hopelessly old has-been who is about a decade past his political hopes and dreams.

But enough about America; I’ll be back there soon enough with very little else to ponder. I’m hoping to design a webpage to commemorate this trip upon return, but I’m already over 1100 digital photos taken (I’ve gotten used to my first digital camera in a hurry), so it’s going to take a good deal of time to get things posted. I am completely mentally unprepared to be back, save for a few bizarre work-anxiety dreams about the new post that I’ll be in within 16 hours of landing back in California.

The trip remains overwhelming and amazing and overall an incredibly positive experience. Trying to describe it in small bits seems to undermine the effort to describe the whole undertaking in full grandeur and detail, which I’ve kept up with nicely in my comp notebook. (Of course transcribing that will also take a while…) Suffice it to say that this is a beautiful country and different from North America in many of the very best of ways. Certainly not perfect, of course, and it’s been hard to transcend the experiences of a tourist to really get to the core of the country. It may be impossible, especially on a trip this short and this guided, though.

Emily’s Mom keeps saying on this trip “How could you possibly describe this?” and “You couldn’t possibly explain this to someone else.” I’m hoping to prove her wrong with my pages and pages of writing and hundreds of pictures.

But for now I’ll have to leave you with that and keep you in suspense.

Tomorrow, on to the Taj Mahal and then back to Delhi. I may run out of things to do in Delhi and post again, but I doubt it with the Gandhi Museum still to see…

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Quick Update from Nepal

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, India & Nepal '08 Trip, Quick Updates, Tags: , , ,

Hello from Chitwan National Park in Nepal!

I won’t attempt to try to describe the events of the past few days, but they have been among the most memorable in a very long time. I am currently sitting in an internet cafe in a village on the outskirts of the Chitwan National Park, maybe a third of the way through our journey through Nepal and India. I have been taking copious notes in a comp notebook about the whole trip and I will probably dump them all straight into a “primary sources” entry upon return home. Already Emily and I have taken over 400 digital pictures and I’ve written over 30 pages chronicling the trip.

So I’ll save most of the details for when I get back. It’s been an amazing and extremely positive trip so far. I got a little sick (cold/ear infection type) the first couple nights, but have seemed to knock it out cold (if you will) with some crazy Australian cold/flu medicine that’s powerful stuff indeed.

Our group leader is phenomenal, a Nepali-born resident of India who has been showing us around and giving us the inside scoop. Our group is joined by three Australians and a British couple and we’ve all been becoming closer as we share this completely unprecedented journey. Yesterday we went on an 8-mile hike through the National Park and got within a few feet of a wild rhino, not to mention seeing a tiger in the wild, which is apparently incredibly rare here.

Less than an hour till my elephant ride, so I’d best log off soon. As this internet cafe and many of the things I’ve seen prove, the smaller worldview of interconnection has definitely come to Nepal, to a far greater extent than I could’ve possibly anticipated. We may be traveling “grass-roots,” but the whole world is traveling through the series of tubes.

I hope to update again sometime before return, but no guarantees. Maybe on Super Tuesday (since I primarily logged on to see what happened in Florida). Though now it looks like less is in suspense and everyone’s folding in behind Clinton/McCain. Surprising, but perhaps demonstrative that America’s obsession with voting for winners trumps all other political concerns.

Namaste for now.

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Iowa

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

But way back where I come from
we never mean to bother
we don’t like to make our passions other people’s concern
and we walk in the world of safe people
and at night we walk into our houses and burn.
-Dar Williams, “Iowa”

I neither come from Iowa nor the hyper-isolationist East Coast that Dar Williams is referring to in this song and I remember thinking when I first heard this song how emotionally broken those regions are. Not that the West Coast is probably much better, but it has a slightly higher portion of betterness, I would imagine – people willing to take risks or embrace their freedom to a certain extent. This isn’t meant to be a condemnation of other coasts or regions or my friends who come from them. Just a common critique I have of general tendencies, which becomes quite revealing when analyzing the two states which, in the next six days, will anoint the new so-called leader of the so-called United States.

Despite everybody’s dead-sprint to the front lines of the primary/caucus chronology in this young year, Iowa and New Hampshire will still have an insanely disproportionate impact on the election of the President, as they have for decades. A large portion of voters are undecided up until the day of the election, annually amazed at just how poor their choices are yet again in any given year. And almost all of America wants to back a winner more than they want the next President to be good, so those undecideds immediately bum-rush whoever seems to be the most likely winner.

Thus people like John Kerry come out of nowhere and get nominated to be President, despite having no personality and no chance of defeating George W. Bush, just based on a handful of people in Iowa. (And, perhaps, I must duly admit, the media’s willingness to sink someone who isn’t towing the party line by trumping up one small whoop to the level of certifiable insanity.)

My personal schizophrenia should also be noted here to provide context for my comments. I am well convinced that there are no viable choices in either party, and that it’s possible that Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul are actually being paid off by the establishment to seem far crazier than they are to make their reasonable perspectives seem like unthinkable lunacy to the mainstream of America. Once again, as in 2004, we will have an incredibly unpopular ongoing war with no actually anti-war candidate. No one willing to go any further than saying it wasn’t an ideal choice to start the war, but hey, now that we’re in it we might as well stay till 2025 or so.

But (the other half of my schizophrenia here) I also have an insatiable interest in the machinations of politics, and am always drawn back to political analysis despite my confidence that it’s all rigged, irrelevant, and incredibly depressing. I will inevitably watch hours of political television coverage tonight, despite the fact that the candidates are functionally interchangeable and all will continue to run the country into the moral and economic ground.

So back to the show. Regardless of which side of the schizophrenia I’m on at a particular moment, it’s abundantly clear that Hillary Clinton is the inevitable winner of both the Democratic nomination and the Presidency. The name-brand recognition, the rose-colored memories of Bill’s eight-year reign (which only looks good when comparing it pound-for-pound to the reign of King George II), the utter lack of experience of any rivals (not that she actually has much political experience beyond a marriage), and the fact that she has seemed to be a front-runner from the outset (remember the back-a-winner psychology of the American voter!) will all combine to propel her to relative landslides in both races.

I’m still on vacation in Shaver Lake till the weekend (and we’re finally getting snow today!), but were I to have access to write a Duck and Cover today, it might go something like this:

Duck: Are you ready for the coronation of Queen Hillary I today?
Turtle: Don’t you mean caucus?

Duck: A ceremony by any other name would appoint just as well.

Turtle: Could you get any more cynical?
Duck: Just wait.

The real question is who she’ll beat and whether Iowa and New Hampshire will combine to create a Republican front-runner who is chosen by tiny states to become unstoppable, or whether the party’s complete disarray will lead to the first watchable convention since 1968. I realize I’m reviewing things I discussed in my last post of 2007, but when I logged into Facebook this morning, so many of my friends were listing statuses that showed baited-breath anticipation of hope and optimism related to this race. And here in the extremely Republican Garin Clan, there is slightly less interested interest in a variety of candidates on that side. So I feel compelled to spend today reviewing why I don’t share the enthusiasm and any more than politically academic interest in today’s events.

But we started this with Dar Williams and her discussion of how emotions in the Midwest and Northeast lead to people not taking risks. I’m not saying that we could guarantee that if Nevada or New Mexico carried the opening primary with as much respect and homage as people currently confer to Iowa and NH, results would be a lot different. After all, my favorite case that Steve Rabin and I used to run was that we should have a one-day national primary (a case which debuted with a 4-1 win in the semifinals of a tournament in New Hampshire). The whole progressive drag of small state primaries deciding for the nation is a completely busted system. But we still have people in especially low-risk states trying to evaluate how they can best go back to their friends and say they backed a winner.

I feel like this post is rolling around a lot of things I’ve said in the past and I keep flitting wildly between the two sides of my schizophrenia. At this point, I’m just going to go ahead and bank my predictions and move on…

(D)
HClinton – 36%
JEdwards – 29%
BObama – 27%
JBiden – 3%
BRichardson – 2%
Others – 3%

(R)
MHuckabee – 27%
MRomney – 24%
RGiuliani – 20%
JMcCain – 13%
FThompson – 10%
RPaul – 4%
Others – 2%

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Follow Me Down to the Rose Parade

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Tags: ,

I’ve never been much of an Elliot Smith fan, but I feel like I could really hang out with him today. I mean, not literally. I obviously couldn’t literally hang out with him, because he killed himself. And that’s really another post altogether.

Somehow I missed the Happy New Year train.

Happy New Year.

Today, believe it or not, I’m even almost objecting to the use of that phrase. I know I have a bit of a reputation as a contrarian already, but I’m really not sure that’s the best thing to hope for from a year. When was the last time someone wished you a Thoughtful New Year? Or how about a Peaceful New Year?

I recognize that I’m straw-manning this situation a little bit, because obviously the etymology of the “Happy New Year” construction is about the day of New Year (actually “New Year’s Day”)… the phrase is actually meant to signify “Happy New Year’s Day”. This simply puts the phrase/day in line with almost every American designation for holiday greetings, save for perhaps Christmas. And wishing someone a Thoughtful or Peaceful day is a little ridiculous, or at least would get Americans to look askance at you.

They asked me to come down and watch the parade
and to march down the street like the Duracell bunny
with a wink and a wave from the cavalcade
throwing out candy that looks like money…

It’s not that I don’t have hope for the new year of 2008, or even the new year day of 1/1/2008. See? But there’s something a little bit off right now, and it feels important to detect what that is. The TV is telling me it’s the Year of the Rat, though they note that this doesn’t get underway till February 7th. It makes me look up to the television to see tens of American girls whose lives are peaking at this moment. Their televised appearance in formal gowns and dresses, high atop flower-adorned vehicles, will be the highlight of lives specifically designed to aspire to the life of a princess. They will never be closer than today. And when you ask them along the course of the next 30 or 50 years, they will mention their marriage (until it goes sour) or the birth of their child (until they rebel), and it will probably not be till 2067 or so that they turn over in their aging recliner and whisper softly to their granddaughter that “Don’t tell your mother, but the day I was in that parade was the best day of my life. My whole future was in front of me and I could’ve been something or done something. Promise me, promise me now that you’ll do something different.” And the granddaughter, age 7 (or maybe realistically it’s a great-granddaughter, with the speed that most Rose Parade highschool queens run at) will blink and promise and have no idea what grandma is talking about and go watch a movie about princesses and sigh softly to themselves.

But today, Miss Wherever, enjoy it. I can see that the biggest thing you’re concerned about is worrying whether you’re being too ardent or too reserved in your exact waving technique. By the end of the parade, you will have resigned yourself to however you have the stamina to acknowledge the crowd, but for now the anxiety about proper waving technique is probably ruining at least half your happiness on what you will look back on as the pinnacle, the apex, the Best Day of Your Life.

The day that they told me the best way to be part of the Wheel of Fortune crowd, and maybe even get called to play on Wheel of Fortune, was to demonstrate mindless, even vapid enthusiasm during the taping of the show was a big one for my perception of the world. It came another step full-circle when Emily & I, together with some of the Garin clan, attended a taping of The Price is Right 5 years ago. Now as I listen to the commentary, I am reminded how much of the world has this mandatory vapidity check at the door. Even CNN, still wearing its “most trusted name in news” label that was accurate in the mid-90’s, has hired an army of smiling toned young people to convey the collapse of various aspects of the planet with a smile and a nod to advertisers and the incredibly insipid tactic of faking impromptu conversation between anchors. Reading informal inter-anchor dialogue off a teleprompter must be one of those truly surreal experiences for its participants.

I’d say it’s a sight that’s quite worth seeing
it’s just that everyone’s interest is stronger than mine

This post is starting to feel more like fragments of a story than any sort of nonfiction presentation of the realities of my (or other’s) life. I’m sure the story has been written already and maybe in many ways, probably often with a strange moment of seeming redemption where the person who has devoted their life to the false prophets of fame and fortune quietly accepts their role as a middle-income middle-interest middleton who can be Happy Just the Way They Are. Alternately, maybe one of them has the ending I would write, where they spend one afternoon or dark night of the soul facing everything they’ve committed to and believed in and then, just before dusk or dawn, decide to willingly (metaphorically) gouge their own eyes out with a pitchfork, and undertake a dedicated regimen of controlled-substance-consumption, or obsessive collection of Pokemon cards or beanie babies, or maybe setting a goal for themselves of sleeping with as many people as possible before they die. And then, if we’re going for maximal irony, even this wanton goal is upended by either some unexpected death or even more damningly a small but important reminder of their “real life obligations” that puts them right back where they were at the beginning of the story, spending almost the entirety of their days quieting the voices of disappointment in the back of their head.

This is the point in the narrative where I usually feel strongly impelled to write some trite reassurance to my friends and cohorts that I am not actually feeling this dark and melancholy, and that sometimes I let my mind run away with my emotions and wind up in a place that I don’t really feel. I’m going to go ahead and take a pass on that opportunity.

It’s not that I’m chronically unhappy, or even particularly unhappy at this point in my life. (Dammit, this isn’t taking a pass after all.) It’s just that being thoughtful about the human experience, especially in the happiness-obsessed nation called the United States of America, always leads me to a realization of just how short we are of the way things should be. And observing this shortness, exploring it, trying to absorb it and put it on display, this process looks very sad. It is, however, deeply hopeful in the end. One could give up, stop caring, decide that humanity/America/vapid individuals are not worth saving, and then turn away and write about something “happier”. My sadness is my hope. My anger is my clinging to this planet and its meaning. I know Elliot is sponsoring this post, but I feel like I need to shout “If you’re not angry, you’re just stupid, you don’t care” from the rooftops most days.

I wonder if Elliot Smith and Ani DiFranco ever met. They seem finely attuned to have one of those profound love-hate relationships that leads to torrid romance, incredible blowout fights, and ultimately some sort of suicide pact.

and when I traded a smoke for a food stamp dollar
a ridiculous marching band started playing
and got me singing along with some half-hearted victory song

I’m working on longer pieces (outside the bounds of this blog) about the nature of rite and ritual and how our personal desire to fill our lives with such lead to us slowly carving meaning out of our lives with a spoon. Today, I think my take-home message about New Year’s is about the problems with its rituals and traditions. The entire point of a New Year is to embrace the new, the unexpected, that which we can change. And yet what defines 12/31 and 1/1 for people? Doing the same thing over and over again. The same toasts, watching the same shows. Followed by the same morning and the same (you guessed it) Rose Parade.

I was personally soaring at the idea that our TV somehow couldn’t get Dick Clark’s special last night, given that it’s both (A) a three-hour-old broadcast appearing on tape and (B) the exact same thing every single year, for years on end. All of these traditions proudly talk about being the 94th Rose Bowl or the 119th Rose Parade or Dick Clark’s 35th New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. How can it be reassuring to do the exact same thing every year to embrace a brand new year of opportunity and possibility? Why not make it a tradition to do something you’ve never done every single year?

Emily and I got into a bit of a fight about how overt I was in my opposition to watching an East-Coast broadcast. But really, I can think of very few relatively trivial things that get me so profoundly angry as West-Coasters starting their new year by watching a three-hour-old taped film of what happened in New York City. I mean, blind-rage, literally-seeing-the-things-in-front-of-me-with-a-tinge-of-red-that-must-be-some-sort-of-squeezed-blood-entering-my-eyeballs angry. The entire point of observing a new moment, a turning over, a changing, and actually seeing something that happened far away, three hours ago, and is not really happening now (or even close to now) and this being the seminal moment of change and turning. I feel my soul frothing at the mouth just thinking about it.

And yes, I hear you. The New Year moment itself is no more meaningful, really, than any other second. After all, in my very last post I decried New Year’s Resolutions as getting in the way of valuable and important change 98.08% of the time. But symbols and metaphors and emblems are important and do have a certain weight or value. After all, this whole planet, really, is just an exercise in metaphor. And so that moment of crossover, of turning, is an important reminder that we’re living a complicated life with an open future and that we have an incredible amount of control over the future that we create for ourselves.

There are still hours left in your New Year’s Day. Go do something different. Don’t start a new tradition, but do something important you’ve never done on a New Year’s Day. Embrace the open future symbolized by the four numbers 2, 0, 0, 8.

Thoughtful New Year.

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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”…

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