Categotry Archives: Just Add Photo


The Sojourn in Pictures: Iowa

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, Summer Sojourn 2009, Tags: , ,

Part 10 (should be 9) in a 16-part stately series pictorially documenting the Sojourn.

So in my rush to get these out, I forgot Iowa. I know, I know. My 48th state of all time. So while yesterday’s post was Wisconsin, it should have been Minnesota. For those of you scoring at home.

Fields of Opportunities!

McGregor, Iowa. If I had to live in Iowa…

I still kind of can’t get over this restaurant’s name:

The effigy mounds. They are difficult to photograph from ground-level:

It was a hot day:

The park is beautiful, with or without mounds:

The mighty Mississippi:

Next (actual chronology): Wisconsin
Next (posting chronology): Illinois


The Sojourn in Pictures: Wisconsin

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, Summer Sojourn 2009, Tags: , ,

Part 9 in a 16-part stately series pictorially documenting the Sojourn.

Yesterday: Minnesota

One of the most elaborate state signs, replete with governor… I guess when you have governors for 4 consecutive terms (see Tommy Thompson), it feels like something to etch on a sign:

The capitol, which we sadly forgot to take the camera into – overall, perhaps the nicest of the many state capitols I’ve seen:

On the way to the Dells, we saw this sign. Em was captivated, but we didn’t stop to sample the cuisine and compare it to Em’s beloved in Oakland:

This is more or less what most of the Dells look like. For some reason, it was not what I was expecting:

One of the cooler formations:

The “stack of pancakes”:

It occurs to me that while the subtitle for the Sunset to Sunrise Summer Sojourn 2009 was “National Parks and Baseball Parks”, it could have just been “Rock Formations”. I mean, really. We saw a few:

Green… in the wa-ter…

This picture… rocks.

Toadstool formation:

Those aren’t rocks – those are bricks!

There wasn’t a game within a number of days of our visit to Milwaukee, but they still let us in to a part of Miller Park, from where we could see the field:

Emily was enthralled by the AAGPBL exhibit, honoring the Wisconsin-based basis for perhaps her favorite movie, “A League of Their Own”:

One of the niftier takes on retractable roofs I’ve seen:

Tomorrow: Illinois


The Sojourn in Pictures: Minnesota

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, Summer Sojourn 2009, Tags: , ,

Part 8 in a 16-part stately series pictorially documenting the Sojourn.

Friday: South Dakota (part two)

One of the cooler state-entry signs:

The Jolly Green Giant in Blue Earth. It’s hard to see because of the trees directly behind her, but Em is standing under the Giant, between his boots:

The Blue Earth DQ. I love DQ.

The Metrodome! In its 30th-to-last baseball game ever:


The dramatic nightscape of Minneapolis on the postgame walk back:


Sadly, in the early morn rush out the door for the camping trip, I forgot to take my camera up to Duluth and points north. Thus I have no pictures of Highway 61 (yes, that Highway 61), Duluth, Lake Superior, Gooseberry Falls, or the campfire. This makes me sad, though I think one of the couples we camped with got some shots that may one day find their way back to us. So just imagine what those things might have looked like and we’ll see you…

Tomorrow: Wisconsin


The Sojourn in Pictures: South Dakota (part two)

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, Summer Sojourn 2009, Tags: , ,

Part 7b in a 16-part stately series pictorially documenting the Sojourn.

Yesterday: South Dakota (part one)

Today, we finish up South Dakota, with the Badlands through Mitchell…

The Badlands are a bit like a lunar landscape:

Or perhaps like Mars:

But with rabbits!

Our first day there, it was quite stormy:

There are paths atop most of the formations, leading out from the ridgeline upon which people can walk:

‘Twas nice and windy too:

The formations are all quite dramatic, a bit like getting to drive through the base of the Grand Canyon:

It had cleared up some by the time we headed out for our camping trip:

We were advised to register in the Backcountry log so someone would know we were out in the hinterlands – there are no other passes, fees, or registrations for Badlands camping!


A view of the rock formation which we camped against:


The line cutting diagonally across this formation is a different type of rock that looks for all the world like a ribbon or a sports field line:

A rabbit?

An eagle?

A sunset!

A moonrise…

The next morning, it was plenty bright:

Still windshield with grasshopper:

One of our hikes later in the day involved this epic ladder:

It was worth getting to the top, though:

A Martian metropolis?

Bubbly formations in close-up:

One of the widest-spanning views:

We depart…

…for Mitchell and the Corn Palace!

San Francisco, a la corn:

This is a pretty corny scene:

Next up: Minnesota


The Sojourn in Pictures: South Dakota (part one)

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, Summer Sojourn 2009, Tags: , ,

Part 7a in a 16-part stately series pictorially documenting the Sojourn.

Day before yesterday: Nebraska

I have decided to divide South Dakota into two parts since there’s so much to cover. Today will cover Wind Cave through Wall, while tomorrow will be the Badlands through Mitchell. Never been to South Dakota? It may be the most underrated state in the union.

This is a lot of America stuff for one sign:

Wind Cave National Park is actually one of the oldest, if more obscure. Here our intrepid tour guide on the Natural Entrance Tour demonstrates how fast the wind is coming out of said cave:

Wind Cave is famous for “boxwork” formations, which look like this:

I saw an old pirate skull in the cave!

Wind Cave is the largest source of boxwork in the world. It’s different than typical stalactite/stalagmite cave formations, but no less cool:

This ranger at the Wind Cave station was a great animated storyteller:


We went for a hike in the Wind Cave area, looking for wildlife:

We found another cool rock formation instead:

The buffalo didn’t really show up in earnest till we crossed into Custer State Park:

Classic bison pose:

There was a herd:

Mother and child reunion:

Other large mammals:

Another buffalo herd – we saw well over a hundred buffalo in CSP:

A calf getting a snack:

These antelope looked for all the world like they’d leapt in from the African savannah:

This is pretty much funny only if you’ve visited the Taj Mahal. Emily’s simulating the motion that many tourists were making when posing for pictures in front of said Mahal. The problem is that I didn’t have time to take the shot from the correct angle because all these militantly patriotic people were looking at us like we were urinating on their vision of America. So we had to make it quick. In some ways, though, I think that makes this shot even funnier:

Not only did the world change on 9/11, but apparently so did Mt. Rushmore. There are all these new installations to deal with the increased patriotic traffic. But this Bush administration contribution was our favorite – naming Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus as one of his 4 (four) “National Highlights”:

This was my actual favorite part of Mt. Rushmore – evidence that its sculptor saw the project more as a memorial to a country that would someday be gone, not a swaggering announcement of American permanence. This statement contradicted so many of the other quotations about the carving, which stated that it showed America would last for a million years.

Wall Drug!

Wall Drug is like a big theme park dedicated to kitschy stores and the Old West. I absolutely love it. It purports to be “America’s Roadside Attraction”. I think its restaurant inspired (or helped inspire) the design of the Frontier in Albuquerque. Where else can you see a twenty-foot T-Rex that periodically rises up and roars with smoke and steam pouring through his nostrils?

Seven foot rabbit!

A riding jackalope!

Five-cent coffee! (Yes, they still sell it for a nickel a mug. I had several.)

Huge pterodactyl!

Tomorrow: More South Dakota!


The Sojourn in Pictures: Nebraska

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, Summer Sojourn 2009, Tags: , ,

Part 6 in a 16-part stately series pictorially documenting the Sojourn.

Yesterday: Wyoming

The Good Life!

Having never been to Nebraska, I was in a rush to pick up my 47th state:

Obligatory self-portrait with the good life:

I had been told that Nebraska was entirely flat. This is not flat land, kids:

Sadly, we didn’t get the camera out for the diner in Chadron. So this is all the photographic evidence we have.

Next up: South Dakota


The Sojourn in Pictures: Wyoming

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, Summer Sojourn 2009, Tags: , ,

Part 5 in a 16-part stately series pictorially documenting the Sojourn.

Yesterday: Colorado

Forever West:

Wyoming purports to be the first government in the world to grant women equal rights, as this statue Esther Hobart Morris, an early Wyoming suffragette from the 1860’s, attests. Contrary to some rumor that Emily heard, this is a copy of the one in the national capitol’s Statuary Hall, so she is honored by Wyoming both there and on the state capitol grounds, pictured here:

The symbol of Wyoming, the bucking-bronco-bound cowboy, also on the capitol grounds:

Some irony in the genderization of the sign with the testament to women’s rights in the background:

Home of the Jackalope!


Tomorrow: Nebraska!


The Sojourn in Pictures: Colorado

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, Summer Sojourn 2009, Tags: , ,

Part 4 in a 16-part stately series pictorially documenting the Sojourn.

Yesterday: New Mexico

Colorful (and dizzying) Colorado:

An intense game of Pac-Man in the massive arcade in Manitou Springs:

Also in Manitou Springs, Coke and Pepsi together again:

I almost came back, but Emily got me 7-5 in air hockey:

Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs – this is called the “kissing camels” formation:

Pretty impressive work by the rock here:

Union Station in Denver. I don’t know the percentage of cities whose train station is called “Union Station”, but it’s got to be high.

Gametime, Coors Field:

Fred Lewis is coming for the Rockies:

Glaciers in Rocky Mountain National Park:

A neat lake as we started our ascent into RMNP:

Emily checks the darkening skies as the horizon retreats:

And then the rains came:

People don’t like rain:

Emily’s hat is waterproof:

Mine, less so:

The rain was in the upper elevations, so we retreated to the lower Moraine Park:

Emily found the river a place of peaceful contemplation:

As did a coyote:

Next up: Wyoming


The Sojourn in Pictures: New Mexico

Categories: A Day in the Life, Duck and Cover, Just Add Photo, Summer Sojourn 2009, Tags: , , ,

Part 3 in a 16-part stately series pictorially documenting the Sojourn.

Yesterday: Arizona

From a car in the dark with a migraine:

In line at the beloved Frontier Restaurant:

My parents’ backyard has become home to a small squirrel colony:

Much of my time in Albuquerque was actually spent on the issue of public outdoor drinking fountains, such as this one here in Petroglyph National Monument:

My favorite petroglyph (or Duck’s eldest ancestor. Speaking of which, Duck and Cover should be back next week.

While not as scary as the centipedes, millipedes in Nuevo still pack a mighty scare. This was one of about 12 we saw on the trails at Petroglyphs:

My second-favorite petroglyph (they aren’t all of duck-like birds, by the way – I’m clearly spoiling your sample here):

My parents in front of my Dad’s nifty carriage house garage doors:

Madrid is one of my favorite towns in New Mexico, where most of the houses look something like this (it’s pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable, which is pronounced just like the word “mad”, so instead of sounding like the Spanish capital for which it was surely named, it sounds like someone named Drid is upset):

One of my favorite buildings in all the world, the La Fonda in Santa Fe:

Two of my favorite things: Emily and La Plazuela, the restaurant inside the La Fonda. I know “the La Fonda” is grammatically incorrect, but it’s how I grew up saying it and now I can’t stop. Also, they have substantially ruined La Plazuela with its redecoration, mostly by making it too light and open when it used to be turquoisey and mysterious. I blame consultants.

Tomorrow: Colorado


The Sojourn in Pictures: Arizona

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, Summer Sojourn 2009, Tags: , ,

Today marks the beginning of what will be a roughly two-week series chronicling our recently ended odyssey in pictures. I’ve decided to break it up by state, since that divides the pictures into pretty neat little chunks (who wants to look at 250 pictures in one sitting?) and it so happens that my first pictorial post of the Sojourn covered all the noteworthy pictures of California – no more, no less.

And, as a programming note, to help you index the Sunset to Sunrise Summer Sojourn information more efficiently, I’ve created a category called Summer Sojourn 2009. Just click on it above and you’ll see all the similar subject matter, neatly sorted.

To the pictures!

Obligatory blurry taken-from-moving-vehicle state sign picture (this is one of the best of the collection):

Emily’s first sight of the Grand Canyon (Mather Point):

Emily’s favorite tree near the South Rim at dusk:

View of our destination from the top – we were headed for Indian Garden, which is the collection of trees and greenery in the center of the picture, in the bottom of the near, visible ravine:

Heading down the trail in the morning, in good spirits:

At the bottom – 110 degrees in the shade. They have all these signs throughout the Canyon discouraging people from pushing themselves, lest they die of heat exhaustion or similar:

A view from the bottom:

We were going to wait till sunset to hike back up to the South Rim, but a thunderstorm was coming in, bringing clouds to offer us cover from the midday sun:

The trail behind us as we walked up:

Almost to the top:

Obligatory squirrel with don’t-feed-the-squirrels sign:

Emily, just shy of the top, surveying our journey:

Just too tired to smile (yes, that’s the shirt I bought in the summer of 2000):

This gives you a good idea of what the Bright Angel Trail is like:

And here’s a profile of some of the Bright Angel switchbacks:

Em’s favorite rock formations in the Canyon:

One of the neatest parts of the downtown Flagstaff skyline:

We showed up to Flagstaff pretty late in the day:


Standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona:

Me too:

Next up – New Mexico!


Catch Twenty-Two Pictures

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Just Add Photo, Summer Sojourn 2009, Tags: , , ,

Yesterday, I wrote 2,944 words about our trip so far. Today, as the old adage goes, I will add 22,000 or so. But you know what I think of that adage. I guess this is for those who disagree with me…

Our goodbye party (Ohlone Park, Berkeley) setup on Sunday the 5th of July:

All packed up and ready to ship:

After our last dinner (at Bangkok Thai in Berkeley) with Gris & Anna:

The old place, finally empty and clean:

The Prius, full and ready to go:

One last visit to the Grand Lake on our way out of town. Normally we wouldn’t have seen “Ice Age 3D”, but the Grand Lake made it worth it:

Fast-forward to Saturday the 11th of July, which we spent mostly in Kings Canyon NP. Here, Emily had just bonked her head on the interior of a fallen sequoia:

We also went into Boyden Cavern in the national forest just outside Kings Canyon:

Sunday midday, heading out to embark on our hike to Ostrander Lake:

Emily looked happier somehow:

6.2 miles!

See, I really did pack in War and Peace:

Further review today revealed that I failed to get a shot of a mid-jump fish. But the lake was still beautiful:

Our campsite:

A marmot said hello when we awoke in the morning:

My John Muir impression on the walk back:

And Emily’s:

We made it!

Buffalo guarded the car while we were up the trail, as per usual on cross-country roadtrips:

The Wawona Hotel. Best parking spot ever in the foreground, our room in the top left corner, and the restaurant just below:

A mule deer ran through the Wawona grounds at dusk:

On the road again:


What I Did This Weekend

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, Tags: ,

If you prefer photos, you can see a nice sample, including my second lifetime tux wearing in the pictures displayed here.

I dropped off Pandora successfully at her temporary home with Emily’s cousins in Altadena. The meowing calmed to once a minute after about 45 minutes and then once every 3-5 minutes after about 90 minutes.

I met Russ’ new main squeeze, Cyn. I also met Octocat.

I went on a long hike with Jake, Fish, Gris, DK, Eliaii, and Jake’s college friend Vlad to serve as his “bachelor party”. Highlights included discussing how much time the human species has left on the planet and playing frisbee over a pond at the base of a waterfall near JPL.

I also threw a frisbee around in the Pacific Ocean.

I puttered around in a pool at the infamous AIG-junket resort – a pool where 40+ people were around the pool but only 3-5 were in it at any given time, only 1-2 of them strangers to me.

I saw Jake get married.

I had perhaps my best-ever visit to Disneyland, including my first trip to California Adventure and the corresponding Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, which may be the best ride ever. We also had dinner in the Blue Bayou, the fabled restaurant inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

I visited the turtles in Santa Barbara. You’ll love Santa Barbara!

I drove home to start packing.

One week till departure. Half a year till 2010.


You Can Never Escape, You Can Only Move South Down the Coast

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, Pre-Trip Posts, Quick Updates, Tags: , , ,

At least, I hope the cat won’t escape.

Pandora and I are heading to LA today. She’s going to her new two-month temporary home with Em’s cousins in Altadena, then I’m on to the BH to hang with Russ for a while before festivities officially begin for Jake’s wedding.

Given that Pandora has never once been in the car without meowing at least three times per minute with increasingly mournful cries, the next six hours are going to be an adventure.

Here’s the unsuspecting Pando, just moments ago:

Here’s what she’d look like if she knew what was coming:

(This photo is completely unaltered by any program – it’s just a result of the fun effects of flash photography in the dark on cat’s eyes.)

Finally, as a bonus animal pic, here’s a great one Emily snapped in the Academy of Sciences on Saturday:

Updates from the road possible; upon return definite.


In Case You Missed It…

Categories: A Day in the Life, If You're Going to San Francisco, Just Add Photo, Tags: , ,

We did it:

Watch live video from Adam’s Block (San Francisco) on

And also:

Watch live video from Adam’s Block (San Francisco) on

We learned a lot from this run. Our firstbasewoman was completely out of the shot for most of the game. The shadows were bad (fullscreen mode is better). We may run it back sometime. But man, did that make the workday better.


Sign Post

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

Buddy, can you spare three-quarter mil?

I am gradually coming to terms with the fact that our house may never sell. This is not the worry that most people saying that sentence have – we of course don’t own our house, but just live here. Still, it does seem at least somewhat disconcerting to be in this kind of flux.

Berkeley’s renter-protection laws are perhaps the best (strongest) in the nation. We have strict rent control that only accelerates with cost of living (so I guess we’re in for a 25% hike this year). We are mandated to receive an annual interest payment on our deposit. We cannot be evicted for much of anything, certainly not for the sale of the house where we reside.

(I say “house” by the way, because the building is a house. But there are four one-bedroom apartments herein. Lest you get the idea that we somehow occupy a whole house.)

I don’t even remember exactly when the house went on the market, but it was sometime in late spring or early summer. It was before the Winnebago showed up and thus well before it disappeared. It was long enough ago to feel like a lifetime, or at least like life was comprised of different time. Like a house priced so cheaply in such a neighborhood might sell quickly and easily and there would still be markets for such things.

There are liabilities, to be sure. While two of the apartments have been vacant since a month or so after our arrival here (March ’06), one has been occupied since the mid-1970’s. The rent controlled rates on that kind of longevity are not exactly commensurate with the current market rates. And then we’re in decently below market as well, since the same factors keeping the other two apartments vacant almost kept us from renting the place. Let’s not spend a lot of time on this, but suffice it to say that our landlord crew (it’s a whole family and its patriarch’s passage is the catalyst for the sale) is “eccentric” and “interesting”.

All this crew wants is to be rid of this house. One can’t divide a house amongst bickering parties (or one could, but that’s generally best left to reality television). One can’t eat a house (with dental work intact). One can’t turn a house into cool, liquid cash, thus applying it to whatever one’s personal vices (or virtues) or taste.

All over America, people are facing this issue. And not just people who would be eligible to play Family Feud against themselves. People are wrestling with the permanence and stability of owning a house when all they want is a little flexibility and freedom. People are dealing with the finality of equity in a world where there are more diverse financial concepts than leverage. People are crying foul in every direction, talking about how they only did what they were told, what they assumed, what every knucklehead was doing because it was free money.

It’s unclear to me whether the sign out front (pictured up top) will be fixed or not. And while it may seem obvious what I’m talking about fixing, it’s noteworthy to mention that the sign lacks any reference to the word sale. It is, in the best postmodern spirit, a “for sale” sign without the words “for” or “sale”. I’m still struggling with the implications here, but they seem multitudinous. We have come to a point in society where such signs are so ubiquitous and self-evident that they need no label or declaration. They are transcendent of their own intentions. Or, perhaps contrarily, maybe there was never any hope of sale in the first place. It’s just a marking of territory, a notice of whose responsibility it is to fix the sign. Goodness knows the landlord crew forsook their already paltry commitment to fixing things as soon as the sign went up.

It may be a little early to predict the universal presence of these signs at every domicile or piece of property in North America. For one thing, the budget for upkeep would need some work. But what happens when we get to a point where 50% of the population is unhappy with where they live? 60%? 75%? Americans take freedom of movement as their birthright and interest in moving as their unique proud tradition. When this is compromised, what will make people feel American? Certainly not the lack of credit cards and shopping malls.

This occupant is starting to feel a little disturbed.


Crass Commercialism!

Categories: A Day in the Life, Blue Pyramid News, Duck and Cover, Just Add Photo, Quick Updates, Tags: , , , ,

Hey kids!

Lest you somehow think that I have completely wasted this weekend, I am conflictedly proud to announce the availability of Duck and Cover merchandise!

Here’s an example of the kind of unparalleled quality and homespun handwritten charm you can expect from said products:

Or, if you prefer more overt puns:

This is the completion of a long-ago resolved (but undone) task of mine, at the request of a couple of regular D&C readers who aren’t even personally known to me. Also, it’s fun. Also, it’s just in time for the holidays and remarkably BP Merch sales haven’t slacked year-over-year from last year. Good thing it’s not available in malls.

Also, your money won’t be worth anything this time next year, so would you rather have money or your favorite political cartoon characters on a shirt? I mean, really.


Diminishing Temporal Returns

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Just Add Photo, Primary Sources, Tags: , ,

Despite how it may sound, this post is not about the stock market. At least, not directly.

People often wonder why it seems like life is speeding up as they go, why it seems that an hour just doesn’t mean what it used to, let alone a day or a year. People attribute this perception to irrationality, to craziness, to an overarching sense that time is careening toward some flat-line horizon of horror in the not-too-distance.

What people don’t often realize is that this perception is real. And completely rational. It is a logical, graphable function of the nature of existence on a temporal plane.

Nearly four years ago, I compiled a compact disc to serve as Emily’s and my New Year’s letter for the annum. While I’m a big fan of New Year’s letters conceptually, Emily and I have sort of run aground in an ongoing conflict over the nature, tenor, and sourcing of these letters, and thus have released only two in seven years of cohabitation, at New Year’s 2003 (letter) and 2005 (CD).

2005’s aptly named Welcome 2005! was mostly other people’s songs, but it did include two readings of other people’s writings and two readings of my own original work, primarily written for the CD itself. One was a sort of fiction/parable that was as much a vehicle for its closing punchline as anything else, called “The Legend of Jill and Will”. The more serious piece was an essayish thing called “The Shortest Year”, wherein I outlined much of my theory about the logic behind each person’s sense that time is literally getting shorter. With begging of forgiveness from those who received this CD (hey, it’s been four years, you might’ve forgotten), I reprint the text here:

The Shortest Year

In contemplating another year’s conclusion, it seems only obvious that it has passed too quickly. Too recently were we contemplating the same changing of numbers, the same lighting of lights, the same long nights. And short days.

Indeed, the shortest day of each year – a strange reference to a timeframe that lasts 24 hours just as any other day – falls in late December each year. Though winter always seems to be closing in through the year’s early months, the days are actually on their march back towards springtime equilibrium. Just before Christmas, in sight of New Year’s, night wraps its dark fingers tightest around the receding daylight.

Yet in examining the shortest day, it seems to find itself a parallel in the year just ending. Was not this year the shortest on record? Can we not seem to feel the pulse of time speeding, hurtling us ever closer to years that seem more science fiction than contemporary? Whatever happened to the endless waiting of childhood, when next Christmas, birthday, or even schoolday seemed impossibly distant?

It may be of some comfort to understand that there is a statistical basis for this rug-pulled-out-from-under-us feeling that each winter brings. Each year that passes, though 365 days in length like the 24 hours of the shortest day, is less time in one’s life than the year prior. While your third year of life was a full 33% of existence to that point, the fourth was only 25%, and the 10th just 10%. Finishing a year that struggled to be more than 4% of my life is indeed daunting. The knowledge that the percentage will only shrink from here speaks like an urgent call to action in my soul. Time is running out!

While it may seem trivial that the first year of life was, at the time, all there was to life, can we really imagine how much we learned in that year? More and more it seems clear how childhood has greater presence and impact on an adult’s perspective than all the subsequent years put together. While highly significant events can increase any given year’s impact beyond its percentage at the time, time still seems to pass faster with every passing day.

And as I am about to launch into a call to haste, if not near-panic, I am reminded of what seems to be perhaps the most valuable lesson of this, the shortest year. Patience, the ability to wait without concern or a sense of urgency, is among the most vital and under-rated skills one can develop. Whether one is trying to increase a stack of chips at the poker table, trap a king of the opposite color, encourage a governor to sign a piece of paper, or convince a child not to throw a fist, patience is essential. In American society especially, patience seems the lost art of those who somehow replace stress with serenity. Doctors and dentists especially are lost without patients!

Thus we face the importance of patience in a life of ever-shortening years. It is likely unsurprising that such schizophrenic conclusions emerge from reflecting on the shortest year. How else but with paradox can we account for the lunacy of these times? This country, mired in a highly unpopular war, offers only candidates who promise to extend and perpetuate that war. This world, able to produce sufficient food to feed its human hordes, still starves millions with its inability to properly distribute such food. This era, filled with tremendous technology and wealth, still finds cruelty and misunderstanding in almost every corner of the swiftly-shrinking planet. And even at home, I struggle with the knowledge of how much needs to be changed and the utterly overwhelming odds against any such change occurring, let alone with my having a hand in it.

My friends, it is a very difficult time to have hope, to have joy, to have happy holidays.

Which brings us back to patience. The serenity to ride things out, to wait for better, to know that the days will again lengthen and the light will return. It is something akin to faith, to resigning oneself to possibility rather than insisting on dread. It is not easy to do in the shortest year, but it appears to verge on necessary.

And how else but with an eye to the waning percentages of the shortest year can we resolve ourselves to address the problems still plaguing us? We must be spurred on by the ever-shortening years, understanding that the horizon always draws near and only we decide whether the road to the horizon is one of potential or peril. A resolution to our paradox may be found in making haste to act in these shortest years while somehow having patience in seeing results from such actions. Indeed, we may be better off waiting for Godot than for such results. But does such futility diminish the need for action in the shortest year?

Songs and stories will follow this open letter. Not all are merry and bright, but then not all Christmases are white. In the time of respite between the shortest day and the newest, even shorter year, we have time to hope. To resolve. To reflect, as the snow reflects the light of both sun and moon. Dear friends, make patient haste. May we all take joy in the thoughts, deeds, and yes holidays of peace. Actual results may vary.

What I didn’t do in 2005 after developing this theory, and what occurred to me to do this morning in the shower, while contemplating meetings I needed to prepare for with graphs at work (the meetings were subsequently cancelled upon my arrival at work, a growing theme lately), was actually graph the rate of diminishment of marginal temporal returns.

In other words, by plotting the percentage of each year (or even day) of one’s life in terms of its percentage of the overall amount of life one had lived thus far, one could visually see how much longer units of time would seem to someone in the early years vs. the late. And this staggering graphic representation would illustrate exactly the magnitude of apparent speeding up that life undertook in any given year (or day).

To wit:

Look at that. It’s breathtaking, isn’t it? If you ever wonder why people are obsessed with early childhood development and its impact on the trajectory of one’s life, or even why psychology seems deeply rooted in understanding childhood influences, wonder no more. It’s no wonder. Look at that graph. Childhood really does impact life by an insanely disproportionate rate. Time in the first year of life is five times as significant seeming than in the fifth year of life and twenty times the twentieth. Even the fifth year is four times the twentieth.

Practically, this means that a season at age twenty will feel like a month did at age five. A year at age sixty will feel like that same season at twenty or that same month at five.

But this graph makes it look like things really slow down at around age twenty and just trail off indefinitely, with little difference between the years. This graph does a great job of illustrating the unexaggerable significance of the first ten years or so of life, but one could reasonably glance at this and assume the rate of speeding up one feels thereafter is not so notable.

Au contraire:

Here we see that while the rate of sheer maddening speeding that happens over the course of childhood is diminished, adulthood nevertheless speeds up over time at a notable clip, especially early adulthood. A year at age 100 is roughly equivalent to two months at age 18. A year at age 50 is roughly a season at age 18. This is still significant speeding… most of my audience is approaching 30 and would do well to consider that the twenty-four hour day you just had will feel like eight hours if you’re lucky enough to reach age 90.

Puts a new spin on living longer, doesn’t it? Makes one wonder why the drive is to extend life without being nearly as mindful as the quality of that life. Can one really say that living to 120 is such a joy when each of those years past one-hundred feels like a month did in mid-childhood?

The line does flatten a bit toward the end, by the way… the difference between time at 50 and 100 is significant, but the difference between, say, one’s sixties and eighties is not all that notable:

So that’s a mixed blessing of later life – while time is constantly speeding up, the rate at which it speeds is constantly slowing, such that time will all feel about the same very late in a long life (though still a veritable blink compared to childhood or even mid-life). Is it thus any wonder that people have a harder time remembering such relative insignificances as the last few days at the end of such a life, yet very few old folks seem to have trouble with long-term memory? The immediate past may seem more relevant to a younger outsider whose years are still around 2-3% of their life at that point, but to those filing away days that are less than one-two-hundredth of a percent of their life, how important are such days? Especially when contrasted with shining days that were a whole twenty-fifth of a percent?

And yet of course, it must be observed that this is all a study in perception, not actual time itself. It can be well debated how much time is a construct for a perception or a legitimate objective reality, but let’s leave that on the side for now. The fact is that a second (probably) lasts for exactly one second, be it a moment after your birth or a moment before your death of old age. Time is time. One can take control of this day just as much as a day years ago and it will have just as much opportunity for productivity, use, and benefit to the future.

But it won’t feel like it, mentally. Because one is not an amnesiac, is not discovering life for the first time, one will feel this day as a point against so many days that have come before, the collective memory of a life piled up to get to this moment. And it’s that weight of history and memory that came before that squeezes this little day into feeling like the shortest yet, and all to come will infinitely follow the same mold.

The trick, then, to getting the most out of life seems to be twofold:

First, one must do everything possible to maximize the impact and use of the early years. This is very challenging, especially in modern America where everyone has been taught from birth to invest in the future, defer things till later, put off everything fun or expensive till retirement. This reality may seem in stark contrast to the realities of debt and short-term gratification standards that American life has really manifest into, but nevertheless people train themselves to always wait till later to really make the most out of their meaning in life. The extensive and extending amount of minimum education that America requires of its children to get by is an excellent example of this ever-onward march toward investing now to reap later. Combating this trend may be the best possible way to make one’s life more significant. This does not necessarily mean dropping out of school, of course, but engaging in life during those times with the seriousness that its relative weight in one’s ultimate memory connotes. This really is in stark contrast to how most people in their teens and twenties live their life. As a serious person at that age, I remember just how weirdly alone I felt in being so.

Second, one must do everything possible to counteract the perception of speeding up that life has. One could make a decently strong case for forgetting everything one has done prior to any given day. This could indeed create a sort of infantile rebirth of one’s perspective and lead to some really fruitful midlife years. However, the expense of losing the lessons learned and the improved ease of navigating life that comes with age seems too prohibitive to make this the ideal solution. A better solution seems to be about taking steps to slow down one’s perception of life in any given moment. People have made bazillions of dollars writing books and crafting self-help videos and seminars to this very purpose, but I think mostly without the context that the theories and graphs above provide. And not wanting to jump into the self-help market myself, I can only offer you this kind of writing in this context: find a way to really appreciate each hour and to make sure you’re doing the most with it. Remember how long a day felt when you were in first grade and try to recapture that slowness, that extensive volatility over the course of one whole day.

The biggest impediment to this second course of action, of course, is that most adults have constructed lives that are 90%+ filled with things that one wants to get over with as fast as possible. Indeed, living a day at work that seems as long as a first grade day used to seems downright terrifying. Most of us give thanks that days at work go way faster than days in grade school, that even boring and dull days now can’t compete with the interminability that was a hallmark of such days decades earlier.

So the solution must be not only extending the days’ apparent length of time but… watch out now… filling the days with things worth remembering and taking one’s time on. There’s the rub, no?

And while that may sound like a pipedream, the luxury only of the very wealthy or those who forewent education and thus are not saddled with debt (and, you note, may be dead of starvation in a year or two), this period of history may be your grand opportunity, your time of great hope to cast aside the trappings of an ever-shortening life filled with lame drudgery. Because, of course, you may soon lose your job. Lots of us, everywhere, may be about to have one thing in a larger quantity than we ever expected: time.

And while those who wish to eat may (we don’t know for sure – things may be economically too dire and hopeless) have to spend at least part of that extra time hunting around for another source of interminable drudgery (i.e. a job), we may end up capitulating and finding free sources of sustenance and shelter and just all being in the same boat with a whole bunch of suddenly re-lengthened time.

This looks a lot like some terrifying monolith to most folks, but it makes me giddy with excitement. If we have all that extra time to think again, to play, to contemplate the future, it’ll be just like being a kid again. But with less awkwardness and angst, plus more knowledge and understanding. To me, that sounds like the greatest opportunity America’s had in a long old time.

So maybe, folks, instead of clinging to that almost-chopped job with all your might and last tendrils, it’s time to just let go. To release, be free, rediscover the childhood you weren’t paying sufficient attention during in the first place. Let yourself be. Be. Take your time. Literally.

I guess this post was about the stock market after all.


But I Can Feel, I Can Feel: A Counting Crows Show on the Verge of Everything

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Just Add Photo, Pre-Trip Posts, Tags: , , , ,

It must be observed that this has been a week beyond the average.

To attempt to capture it all in some sort of laundry list seems to trivialize it (as, indeed, the very nature of the phrase “laundry list” captures). Besides, I sort of gave a preview in this post just 12 days ago. To think of a time when I was “searching for direction” seems almost laughable now in the face of directions very much found (chosen?) by the collective perspective.

If nothing else, the turmoil and heightened activity is certainly well captured by my recent prolificity in this very format of communication. It is surely oversimplification to say that when one is writing more, it is a reflection of more events worth living through – but no doubt the volatility in my own mind (or perhaps “mind at large” as my Dad would put it) has manifest in an outpouring of understanding. Like I said, I need to process everything and I get there too.

I imagine Adam Duritz to be somewhat like myself. This is quite an understatement – I have spent much of my life believing Adam to be somehow a kindred spirit, and no doubt a fostering of this perspective through highly empathetic lyrics is at the core of Counting Crows’ success over the years. I was not even the first person to describe a CC show as a “religious experience” to myself – I had heard many others say this was so before I even particularly new many Crows songs. And yet the discovery of the truth of the statement was in no way contrived or unduly advertised when I saw them for the first time in New York in 1999. I dubbed it “the perfect show” and am still unsure if it’s ever been eclipsed.

Trying to describe a Counting Crows show to the uninitiated (or those who, heaven forbid, don’t like or know the band) is a little like Plato struggling with the forms. Yes, we’re still talking about chairs and rooms and people, but you’ve never really seen any of these things in your life until you’ve been to a CC concert. I realize that I’m sounding hyperbolic to the point of undermining what I’m trying to express, but really. For emotional sponges like me, a CC show is like an oxygen tank for asthmatics. Suddenly, for the first time, there’s enough of everything I need.

Last night’s show was no exception to any of these rules, though there are a few cautionary notes. It was both a summer show and a double-headliner, both slight drawbacks from maximal emotional flood. They’re on tour with Maroon 5 of all people, a band that is perhaps the least like them of anyone they’ve ever toured with and seems to combine vapid, repetitive sound with lyrics that sound like a kindergartener regurgitating the most average pop songs they’ve ever heard in staccato. It occurred to me early in the show that they selected this matchup to heighten the contrast between the opener and closing act to pack an even tighter, more profound emotional punch.

But the summer shows (yes, it’s September, but it was an outdoor concert with summer-type billing) tend to be shorter, slightly less focused, and a little more crowd-pleasing. It’s important to stress that these are all questions of degree – the lamest Crows show ever is still probably the best concert experience you’ll ever have this side of Simon & Garfunkel.

But it’s worth noting because I feel that even Adam got in too deep too quickly in last night’s show and had to back off a little bit. Which both heightened and flattened the effect of the message, making me wonder if there isn’t something even larger and less grapplable going on that we’re just scratching the surface of.

The stage featured an almost pyramidal array of stair-steps toward the drums, keyboards, and then a massive fake-brick wall peppered with a large screen and several smaller ones. The most striking component of the set-up, though the clustered sodium lights were notable, was a huge clock in the center of the wall, set to 11:00. It’s the eleventh hour, and Adam’s letting you know. Already, the chills were underway.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Adam in such a mess as a show began as last night. Emily leaned in and remarked something to this effect, implying he was somehow intoxicated, but it looked much more to me like he was grappling with some kind of emotional chasm that was entirely unchartered. He couldn’t get some words out through teary bleary overwhelm. He changed everything about every song, peppering the opening “Round Here” with plaintive cries of hope against hope. The only thing familiar were strands of “Have You Seen Me Lately?” intermingled with new riffs into the song, made all the more stunning when the second song of the act was the original “Have You Seen Me Lately?”.

But before I even knew that was happening, the screen filled with upraised arm silhouettes clawing for some sort of solace or retribution, all aiming at 11:00 on the wall. It was the most viscerally moving and distressing thing I’ve ever seen at a concert in my life. This was on display for the whole final third of a “Round Here” rendition that must have taken ten minutes. I was openly weeping, not even knowing how to take this and being altogether sure that I was not ready for the depth and breadth of the show I was about to witness.

It was thus at once disappointing and relieving that the rest of the concert never reached the tremors of that level of expression. It’s exceedingly rare for a CC show to peak on the first song, but it felt like peering over the abyss, building up as though to jump, and then thinking better of it and dancing on the edge instead. Enough Maroon 5 fans were walking out as the show went on anyway that we have ended up with a concert for a thousand people had he pushed it. And that’s not what summer shows are about, no matter how close they fall to October.

While the show had many obvious and more surficial themes, including a concerted effort to include every song with any sort of reference to California (there are many), key threads of desperation and hope against hope in the face of overwhelming odds seemed to carry throughout. You could argue that these themes are constants for Duritz and company (company probably including me), and you might be right, but it doesn’t make it any less relevant. Those may be the themes of the last decade or so, after all, and the coming few years. If indeed we have years to come.

Early on, it formulated in my mind that the show felt a bit like Adam’s suicide note. And then again, perhaps just a love note. Isn’t every suicide note a love note? And of course, I’m sure I mostly just have suicide on the brain in the wake of David Foster Wallace’s recent action. Then again, it’s worth noting some stark similarities between DFW (born in 1962) and AD (born in 1964). After all, they look like they have something in common:

I’m not the only one that sees a resemblance, right? Then again, for that matter:

Perhaps I’m pushing things a bit far, but this is how CC gets its fans to relate to what’s going on. The intro to the show featured a tribute to the late Isaac Hayes and I was practically expecting something similar for DFW at the show’s end. But DFW didn’t make music, and for all I know Adam Duritz didn’t even read him.

Still, the thread of self-destruction was prevalent in the show and it was hard not to see it as a possible farewell. The unbelievable stripped-bare vulnerability of “Colorblind”, the dramatic trauma of “Cowboys”, the mostly seemingly ad-libbed earnest regret of “Miami”. Every song seemed to have some tie-in to the entire question of deciding whether to exist, though once one starts looking for something in a CC set, it’s hard not to find it. By the time the “feathered by the moonlight” line from “A Murder of One” was folded into “A Long December”, I was just about ready to lose it again.

And then, a sudden retraction, almost as though he was scared of what he was saying to himself, let alone the fans. “Come Around” closed the set, after a brief explanation that the song was about coming back to cities on tour, no matter what else was going on. A song, for the first time, about constancy and a lack of change. And then, after the briefest encore departure in history and only one more song, just four words, each a sentence, loudly into the microphone: “We. Will. Be. Back.”

There was the briefest of hopes that he meant tonight as he walked off stage, but the first strands of “California Dreamin'” over the stereo indicated that he was making a promise for the future. Or maybe trying to convince himself. It’s a weird thing to say to your hometown crowd when half the show chatter was about staying at home with the parents and doing laundry, seeing old familiar places, how much he loves Berkeley, which he sees as the town where he grew up. It’s the kind of thing you say to Pittsburgh or Cleveland or the Philippines when you’re not from there, when those places are remote and perhaps vaguely undesirable, but you’re convincing people to tough it out and wait for you.

And maybe he just means that about the planet. It would certainly be understandable, if so. It’s not an easy place to be, sometimes, and not looking much easier. Me, I have reason for personal hope right now. I haven’t even begun to engage the 10-year reunion homecoming implications of this weekend’s trip for which I depart tonight. I almost wrote a post called “High School Never Ends” a month ago and it still needs to be declared. I joked with Fish about offering live updates on the blog after each interaction with classmates.

But I think, for now, I’d rather feel things in the moment. Live each second as it comes, no matter how packed and overwhelming. There is anticipation, excitement, dread. Reason to believe there’s no idea what to expect. I am ready, I am ready, I am ready, I am fine.

Round Here
Have You Seen Me Lately?
Los Angeles
Richard Manuel is Dead
Ghost Train
Washington Square
A Long December
Come Around

Rain King (with Augustana, Mr. Jones alt)


The Misery Index

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, Let's Go M's, Tags: , ,

The world of finance, of which I’ve become just slightly more aware/interested lately, has something called a “Misery Index”. Herein, undesirable conditions for individuals like unemployment and inflation are combined to demonstrate just how much harder it is to be financially viable under those conditions. I’ve been thinking a lot about personal misery indexes lately, in part because all the meters seem to be pretty high.

Misery Index: Weather Edition

Hey, if a popular TV show can put four words together in a non-sequitir with a colon in the middle and the word “Edition” on the end, why not me?

In any case, this would be the index that determines how frequently a given city or town has weather where the high stays below 72 and the low stays above 32, with no interesting “weather events”, such as rain or extremely high winds. While many people might make an index desiring such a state, mine would uptick the misery for every day where such conditions were met.

I’m guessing San Francisco gets a 325 (the scale is 0-365, of course). Higher is more miserable.

The only thing intolerable (or indeed, even less than stellar) about the Bay Area is the weather. And my goodness, is it ever intolerable. This much middling, piddling, nondescript but still a little crappy and cold weather is just killing me. Give me rain, snow, heat, frigidity, anything but this. I mean, look:

The last time it got over 72 was May 17th, when there were, admittedly, 4 days of decently warm weather. The last time it got below 32… the data I’m looking at doesn’t go back that far.

I need some extremes, some seasons, something other than slightly miserable weather for months on end.

Now I’m really curious what would score well (low) on my Misery Index… I’m guessing places like Chicago and Albuquerque, which have weather I love. It would be great to find a site with actuals (averages don’t really cut it) for a year or two and just run the numbers.

Misery Index: Personal Edition

I stayed home from work today with a raving migraine. Despite vastly improving my migraine status with my own self-regulation and stabilization of caffeine intake, combined with the profuse wearing of sunglasses and maintaining a non-fluorescent work environment, I still do get migraines from time to time. And this was a doozy that made the idea of being on a BART train, let alone sitting in front of a desk for 8 hours, utterly laughable. It was starting to clear by about 6:30 or 7:00 this evening, this after I had spent basically all but an hour or two in bed from waking up at the parallel time in the AM until 3:30 in the afternoon. In a word, joy.

Last night, I got a $328 bill from AT&T. For calling Canada. You are no longer handling my long-distance, AT&T. SBC was a wonderful company, but AT&T is currently proving itself to have ravaged everything that was even a little good about SBC. I’ve hated AT&T my whole life, and owning the Giants’ ballpark isn’t going to get them out of this. I called Qwest this morning to switch long distance, and my internet might be on the block next. The hate I cannot exaggerate. I actually wrote a diatribe on the memo portion of my check.

I have seemingly forgotten how to play poker. Which is not a big deal (none of these things are what we would call a big deal), but it makes everything else worse, or at least feel a little more miserable. Of course, there are just enough times when I play really well, but get outdrawn at the last second that really cut to the quick. But still, early May was one of the best poker periods of my life. That time is gone.

I am no longer in Albuquerque. The trip was great, but it’s over now. And I’m left with that drought where I have no scheduled trips or breaks to look forward to. Having something to count down towards is an essential part of making life less miserable. And I’m fresh out. And there may be the ‘Deis debate reunion thing in August in Vegas, which would be great (though less so per the paragraph above, I suppose), but August is a long way down from now.

There are other things I could put here, but I really should self-censor. They are in arenas that it is just best if I don’t post about for the time being. But they are probably the most difficult/miserable items.

And the M’s are 20-34. This is, however, somewhat mitigated by the fact that the best game of all 54 of them was last night and I got to watch all 9 innings. It was a 1-0 shutout gem where Yuni Betancourt (my second-favorite position player on the current team) smacked a rare homer to cement a Bedard/Morrow/Putz strikeout-laden shutout victory, a second straight over the defending champion Red Sox.

This last fact is the only happy thing I can really think of today. That, my friends, is – what’s the word? – miserable.

Apologies for the complaint-laden post, especially when all of them are mild and only really combine to make for much misery. But in the sine-curve lifestyle, one has to take the chutes with the ladders.

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