Categotry Archives: Primary Sources

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An Opportunity to Learn

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Primary Sources, Telling Stories, Tags: , , ,

Part of the problem with a worldview devoted to science and the belief that everything is completely random and coincidental is that it can blind us to the pattern-seeking wisdom innate to our species. Thus people can see events transpire that, in combination, send a clear message and patently refuse to acknowledge the message under the guise of their faith in a random universe. Setting aside the inconsistency of a “random universe” having ordered and explicable laws which these people seek to define, refine, and demonstrate the consistency of, it’s just not a good use of the human brain to assume there’s nothing to be gleaned from stringing patterns together and trying to discern a communication. We are pattern-seekers for a reason and that reason is probably not to help keep us from surviving.

The pattern clearly being expressed of late is that lousy methods of power-generation are going to kill us. No, really, they are. And probably a good bit faster than the relatively glacial pace of the alleged global warming/climate change/neo ice-age/buy fluorescent bulbs movement. I’ve long considered the above to be sort of a noble lie, a bit of a fudging of things in order to get us to move away from patterns of global organization and behavior that are clearly problematic for other reasons. Basically, if Al Gore’s theology is the only reason you’re going to cut down on your waste and lobby for better energy sources, it’s better than not taking those steps at all. Except, you know, when you believe that individuals instead of corporations move the bar on these things, or when you believe that buying new things to replace old functional things is somehow the solution. But hey.

Getting back to the point. Oil will kill us. Nuclear power will kill us. Coal will kill us. Not slowly, not over time, but quickly and fiercely and with the power of a dark, choking asphyxiation. And you can sit there and say “Gee, isn’t it funny that we went through a massive phase where coal-mining cave-ins were the biggest news story on the planet, and that was almost immediately followed by a massive phase where the biggest, most devastating oil spill was the biggest news story on the planet, and that was almost immediately followed by the emerging reality of sequential nuclear meltdowns triggered by a highly predictable and common event being the biggest news story on the planet – wow that must be random.” You can say that to yourself if you want to. But if you do, with that conclusion, then, respectfully, you are an idiot. And you should think about what is making you an idiot and how you can fix that.

I’ve posted a bit (mostly on Facebook, which is starting, even for me, to steal time away from this page) about Zeitgeist lately and the accompanying movement and the three movies and all that. And while I find their dismissiveness about deeper meaning and accompanying faith in science to be in line with what I criticize above, I do at least value the movement’s general sense of urgency about the problems facing our planet and the obvious unacceptability of what so many people unthinkingly put up with on a daily basis. One of the most frustrating things about being alive on Earth at this stage of history is having to feel crazy all the time for finding the problems apparent in almost every aspect of human structures to be so obvious while everyone else thinks they’re more or less fine (or at least intractable). I’m not saying it would be easy to create Utopia tomorrow, but it does seem clear that major steps we could take in that direction are relatively simple and apparent. And they all just require that internal recognition of what’s distracting us and how to get away from it.

Of course, I can also see the extreme effectiveness of capitalism as a general system in distracting us from what’s important. Surely capitalism isn’t the only structure in place keeping us from realizing the potential we really have to improve our lot and our planet’s lot, but it’s by far the biggest and most effective at present. Discussion of creating actually sustainable forms of power that lack the ability to go awry and destroy ecosystems or small swaths of civilization (or perhaps the entire planet’s ecosystem and civilization) is waved down by the shrugging declaration that the market will somehow solve for calamity, that the invisible hand is smart enough to anticipate short- and long-term consequences that don’t involve money. It’s relatively obvious to the thoughtful that corporations will not start investing with any seriousness in sustainable forms of energy until unsustainable ones have become unprofitable. And it should be relatively obvious now that the risks associated with those more traditional forms of energy are overriding any profit gained from their use. Unfortunately, the profit motive has no slot for accounting for human welfare.

When a government is found to be oppressive, people are lauded and cheered for rebelling against that system. Why not with an economic mode of oppression as well? Here is a clear and stark demonstration of the fact that corporations, capitalism, and the system that keeps them in place as the dominant ways of conducting human affairs are going to kill us. Quickly and painfully. They will kill our animals, they will kill our people, they will kill our way of life. You know, all those things terrorists are allegedly about to do because they “hate” us. Except that capitalists are indifferent to such things, something that can prove far more devastating than hate. Hate at least acknowledges the need for value structures, emotions, prioritization of values. Indifference is lethal, is swift in its disregard. Yeah, that’s right. I said it. I fear capitalists far more than terrorists. The capitalists are actually killing us in high volume numbers, and with far less self-awareness.

So what’s the prescription? What’s the answer to watching every form of popular energy generation go haywire and cause increasing levels of disaster? What’s the answer to watching economic riots generate massive instability and upheaval that also offers the opportunity for change? It’s to embrace the change, to push it further, to take advantage of the power of examination that comes from things being difficult, to start advocating stringently and ardently for an end to the status quo. For something, anything, to replace the currently accepted standards of resource distribution and the currently accepted resources themselves. For the process by which we change these things and which we ultimately decide on to account for things like human meaning and the importance of human values and lives, not merely faith in that system itself. Devoted faith in any system, be it the scientific method, the invisible hand, the concept of randomness, or even the concept of democracy, can blind us to the flaws and failings of such systems. And as we are seeing all over the world, this yields disastrous consequences.

I pray for the people of Japan, just as I did for those on the Gulf Coast and those trapped in mines and will continue to for all the victims of our idiocy. It is not kind that this world requires death as the only antidote to stupidity, that until people start keeling over in large numbers, no one pays attention. It is perhaps the natural consequence of an overpopulated planet in a rudimentary stage of development. It will not always need to be so. But I do hope that these people and those like them can be spared to the greatest extent possible, while we still manage to learn from their suffering.

Which reminds me, before I close, about one of the last major earthquakes in Japan and what hypocrisy and myopia that one reminded me of. Since nothing really became of this poem I wrote in 1995, I might as well attach it here as another addendum about the nature of humanity and how the answers should be clear, or at least clearer. This was written on January 21, 1995, four days after the major Kobe earthquake of that year, amidst Japan initially refusing aid from the West and getting massive criticism for this decision.

SHAKEN EARTH
by Storey Clayton

The earth shakes and the World moves.

We look to Kobe
A city in Japan
We look from the western world
The world of united states and european communities
The world that is so vastly far and different
From Japan
And Kobe

We look and see a town
No a city
No a metropolis
No the seventh-largest group of humanity on our Planet
It is torn apart
By its own Earth
Ripped from its foundations
By the very Home it sits upon

Thousands die
Hundreds of thousands lose their homes
Millions feel frightened

‘Tis a frightening thing indeed
When the mere trembling of our Planet
Tears millions of children
And women
And also men
From deep within Kyoto
And Osaka
And also Kobe

We look and see humans
Different and similar
As are all humans
Different and similar
The west stares urgently upon the East
And says to its fellow Humans
“We shall help, Brothers and Sisters”

And
With vague politeness
But
Solid rejection
the Answer
is No

No Help
No help for the people of Kyoto
No help for the people of Osaka
No help for the people of Kobe
Who sit in the cold and
very Carefully
Warm their hands
to the Fire
That burns the city
through the Aftershocks
But warms their hands

that hold no food and little water

The west criticizes it’s afflicted Brothers and Sisters
And these Siblings’ government

But these people of united states and european communities
No longer say
That the people
Are equal
To their government

Perhaps they realized
That Bill Clinton
And John Major
And Helmut Kohl
Are not the perfect embodiment
Of every western human

Perhaps

Perhaps in the East
Where thousands freeze
And starve
And dehydrate

Perhaps then they thought about
The Last Time the Earth Shook

The Last Great Earthquake of this
Great Land

That one too took an unbelievable Toll
And on children and women as well as men

Perhaps the two momentous earthquakes
Of 1945
Made Japan’s leaders
Think Twice
And Twice Again
About accepting their western “siblings”

Was anyone in Kobe
in mid-January of 1995
Who had also been in
Hiroshima
or Nagasaki
50 years before?

Had they survived through
the Bombing
the Radiation
the Fallout
the Cancer
the Memories

To come to a new life
In a new city
A fresh city
Named Kobe

Had that person awoken
Five decades later
To the same morning
That had haunted the person
For their entire life?

Perhaps the person felt the Earth
that person’s own Earth
Shake
as they then felt their
Mind
Shake
Endlessly

Fifty years chased by ghosts
Phantoms of the past
Shadows in one’s eyes
Shadows blocking one’s mind
Shadows enveloping one’s body
Shadows knocking on one’s soul

And then the sixty seconds
That erase half a century of
Recovery

Perhaps

Perhaps the nation of Japan
On its several West-Pacific islands
Was not so quick to forget
The last time Japanese soil
Shook and
Crumbled and
Burned

And yet we
in our united states and european communities
Do We Understand?

Maybe

Maybe if the United States had forgotten
The thousands of
Volunteering
Trained
Military
Fighting
Men
who died instantly in the waters of Hawaii
in December of 1941

Then

Maybe

Japan could forget
The Thousands of
Unprepared
Civilian
Peaceful
Men, Women, and Children
who died both instantly
and over time
in Hiroshima and Nagasaki
from 1945-1995

But who would know?

They were “our enemies” last time
So we had a right to do what we did!??????!

Didn’t we?

Of course these United States
Have the right to
Play Creator
By making the Earth shake
With the impact of colliding plates
And a fear inspired that is
A Million Fold
Greater

Of Course

a tremor from within is the Will
or Whim
of the Planet we all must inhabit
as Humans
we have no control
none have control
we all have hope

a tremor from outside is the Will
or Whim
of another Human that few of us
really Know
let alone
Trod Upon
Daily
we have no control
some have control
we have less hope

If one has the power
To vanquish “enemies”
With the strength of
Ten-thousand
Kobe earthquakes
Why should one stop
Before that point?

After all,
it is Human Nature
to “KNOW”
that one’s enemies
are the bad ones
and the beholding Human
is good and right

So

Is Japan Justified
in not trusting a people
who fifty years ago
confused the grand people of a lost nation
with the lost emperor of a grand nation
at a cost
unspeakable and
unexperienced in
our western lands

Are they justified to let their people starve
After those United States made their people die?

A question

One for philosophers to ponder

On a well-fed night

That is chilly outside yet warm within

A question to ponder

Some night when

There is no “enemy”

There is no 1941 or 1945 in the Human records

And there is no possibility for an earthquake

From the ground or

From the air

on our Planet

the one which we all must inhabit

as Humans

Different and Similar

Tied to different parts of the World

but all Tied to the World.

by

Portentious Weekend

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Pre-Trip Posts, Primary Sources, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , , ,

Most of my descriptions of the past are remembered and recollected, which gives me the opportunity to discuss them in the style of my current writing, to couch them in the perspective of my present vantage point. And while that has a lot of advantages, since I’m a better writer than I used to be and have more experience, it comes with drawbacks as well. The past is tinged in a different way in light of my current standing. Things that used to work out or seem good or be for the best may be more complicated now. Truth is vision without perspective, yet we can never really transcend our own perspective in the moment of looking from it. The best we can do is to suspend or question the trappings of that viewpoint in the moment we are peering out its filtered windows.

But one of the advantages of copious record keeping, of not having a bonfire of all my worldly goods and papers (yet), and of living so publicly, is that I can offer unedited perspectives of the past to describe the past. And in collecting the evolution of these perspectives and sources, and periodically revisiting them, I can arrive at something closer to objectivity about a wider swath of time. Which is not to say that objectivity is necessarily ideal, since there is much to be gained, as in debate, from simply having a perspective. But at least some of the biases of the moment can be strained and teased out, or juxtaposed with biases of other moments.

There are two significant anniversaries this weekend, one that most are contemplating, and one that only debate people would have cause to observe. The first is the twenty-five year anniversary of the Challenger explosion, a seminal moment in my own childhood, the Kennedy assassination or 9/11 of its era. The second is the ten-year anniversary (this debate-scheduled weekend, if not this precise calendar date) of Zirkin and I winning the North American Championship for Brandeis.

I could describe these key moments in my life in poetic detail, could frame them in light of what I’ve learned or experienced since then. But given my ability to present vivid first-hand accounts, I will favor those instead. Actually, the first is already a reframing – it’s my college essay written at seventeen about being five. The second is the direct first-hand reporting of my life from Ithaca, New York, that fateful weekend just shy of a decade past.

Obviously the second anniversary is more directly significant to my current existence than the first – I am not about to board a spaceship at this moment, but I am about to head to New York for a North American Championship. It will be my first as a coach – we lacked the money to attend last year. The snowfall, just flurries tacking on to the nearly-two-foot total already achieved in Jersey and NYC, is doing its best to make the world into a little impression of Ithaca. To say I would have high hopes for this weekend would put far too much pressure on the situation. But, as ten years ago, I am at home with the presence of possibility. Like every pre-debate morning, the air is pregnant with the promise of unpredictability. If there is one take-home message from my life that I can draw today, it’s that anything – anything – can happen.


College Application Personal Essay
Storey Clayton – circa December 1997

The crisp winter air was never too cold in that part of California. Fog, the closest we ever got to snow in California’s Central Valley, hovered just a few feet off the ground, blanketing vision with a soft, gray thickness of sky. In Visalia, a fairly small town that virtually no one had ever heard of, I was growing up. Like all five-year-olds, I had hopes and dreams for the oh-so-far-away future. I was almost six, after all, and that birthday would bring me another step closer to the great adulthood that somehow loomed, though inconceivably, in my mind.

As I walked through the fog that managed to nestle itself in my backyard, I wondered what turning six would mean to me. True, it was a month away, but anticipation has never been a weakness of the young. For example, I was busy anticipating the invention of time travel that would rush me quickly back to the age of the dinosaurs. I had dinosaur coloring books, pop-up books, full-length in-depth books, plastic toy models, the works. Only one thing surpassed my deep desire to immerse my life in the examination of every aspect of dinosaurs.

For that, I looked to the sky.

I don’t remember exactly when I first realized that I wanted to be an astronaut. I don’t even remember exactly what drove my curiosity about space, about the universe high above the clouds. There was something fascinating about what couldn’t be seen, about what was just beyond the realm of vision, truly of comprehension. It was kind of like Sunday School, except that no one who tried to explain space to me ever set limits on it. Outer space, and the exploration thereof, was the only thing truly big enough to consume my imagination.

I spent hours exploring the backyard fog, mentally exploring the clouds. I never quite got the feeling of weightlessness, but I was disoriented enough, surrounded by the dense gray that stood just inches from my nose and encircled the rest of me. I kept thinking that if I could just get beyond that fog, just reach the other side of the thick mass of cloudcover, that I would see Mars or Saturn only a few feet away. That all the solar system, and perhaps others might be within reach.

I talked with my friends about this wild fascination with the vast realm of outer space. They always made fun of my belief in time travel and the expectation of seeing dinosaurs someday. “That’s not real,” they’d say. “You can’t do that for reals.” But space travel, now that was “for reals.” People had done that before. More importantly, people would be doing that even more in the future–a lot more. And to man all those spaceships going zillions of miles in the air, they’d need fanatics like me. And I would be ready.

My young life had almost never been filled with absolutely uncontainable excitement. Certain birthday parties and Christmas Eves, and probably the trip to the Natural History Museum in L.A. with all those dinosaur skeletons had excited me almost uncontainably. But it was simply not comparable to my teacher’s announcement one winter morning. “Class,” she said, “next week we’re going to see the space shuttle take off. You all know about the space shuttle, don’t you? Well, we’re going to see it next week as it happens. Right on the TV screen.”

I could barely emit the words from my bubbling almost-six-year-old mouth when my mom picked me up from kindergarten that day. Not just a satellite with no one on it. But an actual spaceship with people on it, would take off as I watched it, at the very same second. Spoiling it only a little, she told me that she had known already. Everybody knew. It seemed that the entire town, no, the entire world would be watching this spaceship as it went up in the air. Off to the Moon, or to Mars, wherever, it didn’t matter as long as they were leaving Earth and heading off into the endlessness of space.

Only overjoyed excitement could enter my consciousness as we congregated in the first-grade room. The first-graders were in their desks behind us, the second- and third-graders standing in the back, and we were sitting on the floor, looking straight ahead at the chalkboard which contained the spelling list. It was filled with words like “space,” “ship,” “shuttle,” and, as an extra-challenge word, “astronaut.” Just as I was analyzing these words, sending my imagination flying once more, the television was wheeled in front of my vision. The vastness of space was about to be mine to watch, to observe, to savor.

We were reminded one last time that everything we saw was taking place at that precise moment. Through the much-celebrated “miracles of modern technology,” we would see what took place at the exact second in which it took place. Nothing had been rehearsed. This was the real thing.

The countdown came, and we all shouted along with it, a classroom filled with a hundred screaming children, all counting in reverse order from what our teachers drummed into our heads daily. “Three, two, one…” and then silence. We remained in an overwhelmed, fascinated silence. No one breathed for seconds. Only the vague sound of cheering from the crowd in Florida, so far away, and yet at this precise second.

Then, the space shuttle exploded.

The silence remained. The teachers were not near the television’s off button because no one had expected a reason to turn it off. We all watched, all knew, could not comprehend or understand, but still fervently knew. All but one of us knew all too well, and he asked, “What happened?” to break the minute’s silence. The moaning of the announcer in Florida seemed so desperately far away as the pieces of the shuttle fell to the water below in a fiery mess, at this precise second. No one answered my classmate’s question. A teacher had finally found the off button. The disaster faded into the comforting blackness of silence.

When I went home that afternoon, I hadn’t cried much. But my dream had died with the seven astronauts aboard the Challenger. It was over for me. I picked up my plastic stegosaurus and stepped out the back door. I could see the back fence all too well. The fog had evaporated.


Introspection, My Worst Friend
Storey Clayton – 2-4 February 2001

2 February 2001
-Ben Harper was solid, but in comparison to a lot of my more recent concerts, not quite fantastic. Glad I went though. The first encore (all acoustic) made it all worthwhile. I’ll post a setlist sometime when it’s not 2 & a half hours before I have to pack & leave for Cornell for the weekend. Woohoo NorthAms.

3 February 2001
[from Ithaca, New York]
-You gotta get pumped. & worship the coffee. & jump around. There’s been no dancing at this tournament, but there’s still the pumped-ness.
-Where are all these alleged Canadians? Zirk & I were 0-for-6 on the ol’ Canada train. But still, it was some of the best debating we’ve done in our careers. If only we can keep it up going into tomorrow, we might have a shot.
-Banquets are not my scene.

4 February 2001
[from Ithaca, New York]
-So I was sitting there, the whole time, telling myself “prepare to hear ‘Yale A’ so as not to be disappointed, prepare to hear ‘Yale A’ so as not to be disappointed…”… the second I heard “Brand–“, I went nuts. & I felt good about going nuts. We have been on fire all weekend.
-Overwhelmed.
-North American Champions. That will take getting used to.
-I expect this to sink in by Wednesday at the earliest. The thing is, I’m still just overwhelmed by the crowd reaction, by the fact that people cried in our round from being moved, that the Weisenthal case exceeded expectations, that Zirk & I got everything we could’ve wanted outta this tournament & so much more, that this was utterly transcendant in every way that a debate round can be transcendant. & Harry & Jeffie really gave the case a just opp. & I just don’t know what else to say. I am blown away.
-4 & a half days is still plenty of time to miss someone.
-Team.

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For the First Time

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, Primary Sources, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , ,

I am doing my dishes
for the first time
taking care not to nick, chip, scratch
the shiny new colors
as they turn in my yellow-gloved hands

The sink is smaller now
the light harsher, more grim
but my hands are just the same
holding the plates and bowls with care
that you seemed to disregard

It is stormy outside
like that day in the Badlands
the picture you chose to define it all
your new paradigm, status, independence
a day with me, and we were happy

I can see your reflection
in the plate’s concentric circles
glinting light off the o’erhead fluorescent
like the cloudbent sun on your glasses
that tumultuous day

I hope you’re happy now
but you’re not, and I’m not sure I mean it
it’s something people say
when they mean it and don’t
and I understand, oh I understand

I love you and hate you
like these dishes
you helped me buy

Your parting gift
as you turned your head, walked away
toward a future you long pictured
but never bothered
to truly see

A sequel to For the Last Time.

by

For the Last Time

Categories: A Day in the Life, Primary Sources, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , ,

I am doing your dishes
for the last time
trying not to drop tears
or nasal runoff
into the too-hot soapy water

I see each crack
groove, nick, chip, scratch
in each plate and could tell you where it’s from
when it happened
I was always the one with the memory

I wish I weren’t

I would do your dishes forever
if you’d let me
just to have a role in your life
to make it better, cleaner, simpler, easier
I would do anything

People say these phrases
but they don’t mean them
not until now, at the end
when they actually lose it all
everything’s different when it’s too late

It’s not too late

by

When it Rains…

Categories: A Day in the Life, Primary Sources, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , ,

A prevailing theory behind the recent series of events to befall my life is that I am actually the living incarnation of the Biblical figure Job. Suffice it to say that this theory just got a big boost from recent events up north in Jersey:

Public Safety and the Department of Facilities assisted residents of the Butler Apartments who were affected by the severe thunderstorms that generated high winds and dumped rain shortly before 5 p.m. by establishing a shelter in the Frist Multipurpose Room.

Cots and toiletries were available, and Dining Services made food and beverages available to Butler residents who were not allowed to return to their homes. Because of the downed trees and power lines, homeward bound residents of Butler Apartments were instructed at 6:45 p.m. to go instead to Frist Campus Center. Residents at home were informed that they should not go outside, as those who left their homes in some instances were not being allowed by municipal emergency responders to return. These displaced residents also were being asked to seek shelter at Frist. University shuttles were sent to Butler to transport residents.

Early estimates were that fallen trees damaged at least four homes at Butler, among trees that fell in more than a dozen locations across campus. There were no injuries.

Given Emily’s and my calamitous history with insurance claims in the past year, including an overturned moving truck, a direct three-car collision while we were stopped at a red light, and Emily tripping in a crosswalk and landing on her nose, it would only be fitting that our house was one of the four in the direct line of a falling tree. I won’t know for sure until we get some all-clear updates from Princeton and I wander back up that way anyway, which will probably be Wednesday at the earliest.

In light of the way things have been going, it would only make sense if the house that hosted the best year of our marriage decided to literally fall apart under some disastrous series of events. I am not trying to tempt fate or egg on disaster, but I am at that point of existence where I feel utterly incapable of being surprised. If my return drive to Jersey involves being chased by a localized hurricane that is exactly the size of a car footprint, it will hardly faze me. We are at the stage where more ridiculousness only enhances the eventual story to be told some day when, incomprehensibly, the pain might not be quite so acute.

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Multimedia Bonus Coverage

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

Consider this an addendum to my earlier post today. Go read that, because I think it’s more interesting than this one will be. But this one has videos! Feeling strangely prolific today, like all my energy from traveling has been stored up and is ready to be unleashed.

In hell, you can watch all the baseball games you want, but every single commercial break between innings or for pitching changes carries the exact same sequence of commercials. And in the ninth circle, the commercial sequence in question leads off with a horrifically over-masculine aggressive commercial for a new planned-obsolescence rollout of conventional shaving apparatus. You know, like this:

Unfortunately, I live in hell, masquerading as a place called “New Jersey”. As Robin Williams said in one of the twenty greatest films of all time, “I found you in Hell – don’t you think I can find you in Jersey?” So this is my experience with MLBTV. It makes me a lot more likely to exit early from a game the M’s are already losing 8-3, but might also make me cut bait on a game where the score is reversed. I have never moved so fast for a mute button so many times. Ugh.

I really need to update my favorite films list. It may include this:

Yes, I am telling you all about seventeen times to see this movie. You need to listen.

Seriously. You can watch the whole thing on YouTube in twelve parts. Do it already.

Also, this:

That one’s available on Vimeo. In one take. People are just giving away thought-provoking cinema, people. Take advantage.

Finally, I’ve used the appellation “Tiny House” so many times lately that I realize I may never have explained the origin of same. It’s not just because the house is small; it’s also a reference. To this:

I have to agree with the YouTube commenter who expressed anger when he realized that this was just a spoof commercial and not an upcoming reality series. That is, I felt that way until Em & I began our own personal reality series last August when we got here.

If you missed it in the last post, please let me know if you want to read The Best of All Possible Worlds and you haven’t done so in some way already. Eight people signed up on Facebook already. Don’t risk being the thirtieth person on your block to read this book or something. And by “your block,” I mean “planet Earth.”

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When Bad News is Good News

Categories: A Day in the Life, Primary Sources, Telling Stories, Tags: , ,

Please note that, despite the timing and the strange headline, this post is not in fact related to April Fool’s Day.

Also, please note that I discuss reviews of the first 5,000 words of American Dream On below. I try to avoid spoilers, but tread a little lightly if you want to read it and haven’t yet.

Just got done reading my feedback from ABNA and I couldn’t be much happier. No, they didn’t make some mistake and fail to put through my submission despite its glowing reviews. But the feedback was so positive on what I need it to be positive on and the negativity was either (A) innate to the contest or (B) innate to the fact that American Dream On is hard-hitting and bleak.

So I thought the excerpt would be judged largely on hook and, when it didn’t advance, I was concerned about this. Needn’t have been:

The flow of the story is easy to follow and to connect with. The words fly off the pages impacting the reader. American Dream On tugs at the reader’s heart and conscience. The characters’ pain and determination to get their message or action across is experienced by the person reading. The things that once mattered now seem almost as though it was a wasted thought.

How about character development?

The strongest aspect of “American Dream On” is the author’s ability to create a character. This excerpt has great character development.

Whew. So why didn’t it go through?

The tone of the story needs to be worked on. The negative aspect of American Dream On is overbearing. When writing a sequence of bad, unfortunate, or even dismal beginnings, there has to be some sort of light to take away the effects of the darkness.

While some people (my own mother, for example) agree with this assessment, I think this is largely a problem with the contest. Number one, I don’t think Amazon Vine Reviewers are largely comprised of people who read dystopian works or critiques of their society. But more to the point, they probably assumed that they were reading the first 10% of the novel, not the first 3.7%. My work was one of the longer ones submitted, and very few seemed to be over 100k words, with ADO weighing in at 135k words. Indeed, one of the two reviewers went on to say:

I would like to note that I strongly suspect that the excerpt is from a short story collection rather than a novel. If that is the case, then “American Dream On” violates the submission rules for the ABNA contest. However, to be on the safe side, I am reviewing this excerpt as though it is a novel consisting of three independent stories interwoven together.

This makes one of the most damning aspects of the contest the failure to provide the pitches with the excerpts. I simply cannot comprehend the failure to do this, but for three years, they’ve done it the same way and it seems to be a deliberate choice. They wouldn’t print a book without a back jacket flap, so it befuddles me why they insist on making readers judge excerpts without any context. Of course, there are 5 threads in this novel and only 3 are introduced in the excerpt, so it’s no wonder people came away from the experience confused. If only they could’ve grasped the breadth of this work.

They didn’t fail to grasp its bleakness, though:

“American Dream On” is the type of novel you wouldn’t want to read if you are already suffering from depression. It may drive you to attempt suicide. Written in a morbid style that varies in degree from one character to another, this novel may turn your American dreams into American nightmares.

Wow. Talk about impact. This is actually the kind of comment that makes me elated, not because I’m sick or morbid or want people to be suicidal, but because I can see that I’m really affecting people. Two total strangers read this work and both came away distressed. The paragraph above the one just posted above called it “provocative”. Bingo. This is what it’s all about.

I wonder how many times Orwell got comments like this:

The writing style creates a depressing mood that never relinquishes. The reader can’t help but wonder if the entire novel is an emotional downer. Isn’t there enough sadness already in the world to create more?

Clearly, this contest was not a match for this novel. But I’m really energized by the nature of the critique of the excerpt. No one thought the writing was bad or failed to be engaging. People reacted to the characters, drawn in by their pain and even driven in one case to “hatred”. The work is emotionally vibrant and jumps off the page, grabbing people. A lot of them don’t like the experience, don’t want to go there. That’s fair enough. But there’s serious writing and then there’re feel-good stories. One of these prompts people to change their life and one of them makes them go to bed assuming everything’s just hunky-dory.

Now if only I can find a publisher who isn’t looking for the feel-good story of the year…

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Twenty-Five Things About Storey You Never Knew to Ask

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

The latest viral meme to hit Facebook has taken off faster than most anything. I’ve been trying to figure out the vibrant appeal in the simplicity of “say 25 things about yourself”. I think it comes down to just listing a bunch of facts requiring that it elicits some depth after a while. Sure, some people are posting 25 popcorny tidbits of trivia, but most folks get into some really personal stuff pretty fast. Or maybe I did it wrong….


The Twenty-Five Things:

1. I wear a hair-tie on my right wrist at all times (except in the shower). But when I have to remember something, I consciously move it to my left wrist. I say what I have to remember under my breath and remember where I am so it will quickly recall the act of saying this so I can remember it later. I remember reading comics when I was young about people (usually Dagwood Bumstead, for some reason) tying a string around their finger to remember something. And it never made sense to me, mostly because I thought a written note would have to be attached for the remembering to really work. Apparently, this is something one can only understand as an adult – I’ve only been doing this the last couple years.

2. I deliberately failed a class in college as a way of proving to myself that I was no longer interested in grades (which I’d been rather focused on in high school) or future schooling. I got an 8% by skipping the final exam.

3. I have kissed 10 girls in my life. The first 9 were eldest children. The 10th – my wife, Emily – is the 4th of 5 children.

4. I proposed to Emily in front of about 300 people, almost none of them strangers.

5. Emily and I have absolutely identical wedding rings. We regularly exchange them as a party trick and/or at sentimental moments.

6. I have been actively growing my hair out since I was 18. I have been a vegetarian since I was 17. The night before I left for college, my Dad informed me for the first time that he had been a vegetarian and grown his hair out when he was just older than I was. I asked him why he never told me and he said, without a trace of irony, “I didn’t want to be too big an influence on you.”

7. When I was five, I wanted to be a paleontologist or an astronaut. Then Challenger happened and I dropped the latter. Which is why I’m now a paleontologist.

8. I hated my junior year of high school History and English teachers. They were ruining my two favorite subjects. I thought they were simply stupid people. I wrote an essay to test each of them for their stupidity. I submitted a massive term paper to the History professor on why European states, including the Netherlands, would have reconquered America had the Erie Canal not been built. I wrote a personal essay proving that I don’t exist to my English teacher. Both of these papers received A+’s.

9. I was a catcher for years in Little League and up through 8th grade, despite my lanky frame. My first speech-and-debate like activity ever was giving a presentation at the County Fair on how to be a catcher.

10. I did debate for 9 consecutive years, spending many of them thinking that I was burnt out of the activity. There is nothing in this world that I miss more or would go back to faster, if the opportunity arose.

11. When I was midway through 4th grade, I skipped four grades and enrolled in 8th grade at the local middle school. I got great grades and felt academically challenged for the first time in my life, but was subjected to massive abuse from my classmates, especially bullies who had been held back. It did not end well and remains the single most formative event in my life.

12. The next year, I skipped four more grades and enrolled in three classes at the local community college. There were these little signs all over the school that said children under 12 had to be accompanied by an adult and the administration actually enforced this, drafting my Dad to accompany his enrolled 11-year-old son to the door of my classes. The administration was similarly supportive of my efforts in other ways and I ended up withdrawing with a B average.

13. The above events contributed to me attending 13 schools before high school, plus two separate stints at being homeschooled. They have also relegated me to a life of wondering how my life would’ve turned out on a Doogie Howserish path that had been allowed fulfillment. Mostly, it makes me sad, especially when my life is ordinary in any way. And things like the Super Bowl’s cars.com ad just kill me.

14. After the second stint of homeschooling, I enrolled in the local Catholic school in (age-level) 7th grade. The year was almost a complete bust, but I made a good friend who I went on to exchange about seventy letters each way with over the course of the next five years.

15. I wrote my first novel in two and a half months in Summer 2001. I have spent the subsequent eight years failing to write my second. I have concluded from this experience that I cannot simultaneously hold a day job and write novels.

16. I hate day jobs. Conceptually and experientially. I tend to be very good at them, usually through sheer force of will, but I hate them. This tends to lead to a lot of anger, especially when I’m away from the jobs where I can really express it.

17. I am really into the number 17. So predictably so that, during college, my phone code was 1717. And Mesco and Lisha guessed this and recorded over my phone message with an inside joke reference they found hilarious. I didn’t realize they had done this for months.

18. I have survived a suicide attempt.

19. I feel an incredibly powerful and deep connection to my paternal grandmother. She is my only grandparent I never met.

20. When I was little, my favorite animals were turtles, lobsters, elephants, penguins, and rabbits. I would engage adults in detailed discussions of my five favorite animals and why it was perfectly reasonable to have five favorite animals. Later, we got ducks and another cat and it became a whole pantheon of favoritism.

21. I have never owned a credit card nor ever been in official debt of any kind (to one’s friends over a few days doesn’t count, right?). I attribute my passionate dedication to this principle to watching my parents cut up and melt their credit cards in the fireplace during the late 1980’s.

22. When most people doodle, I make up extended long division problems and work them out to relax and distract myself.

23. During most of high school and all of college, I had to play 2-10 games of Tetris before starting work on a paper.

24. I am possibly the most deadline-motivated person of my generation.

25. One of my favorite exercises as a kid was to sit quietly and think about what the concept “forever” really entailed, and especially the idea of living forever. The idea of going on and on and on was at first inaccessible, then completely terrifying, and ultimately quite peaceful and reassuring. No matter how many times I did this exercise (thousands), it always felt the exact same way, in that progression. The effects are dulled now, but I still do it sometimes.


(Cross-posted on Facebook.)

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Most Babies Chronically Depressed, New Study Warns

Categories: Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Primary Sources, Tags: ,

Groundbreaking research out of the University of Iowa today has confirmed what many have long suspected: most babies are clinically depressed.

A shocking 83% of babies have been found to have the hallmark symptoms of a newly identified strain of depression. The numbers may be even higher among infants.

“When you think about it, it makes sense,” noted Steven Bernard, MD, part of a team that led the study. “Most people are able to cope with the struggles of life without breaking down crying multiple times a day. Babies are notorious for being unable to demonstrate these coping skills.”

In the study, to be published in the February issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, Bernard and his team explain that most parents miss the critical warnings that their baby is depressed. “Parents assume their baby is simply crying, when it may actually be a cry for help. Crying more than once a day is a sign of a serious inability to integrate with the expectations of normal, healthy life in society.”

While the causes of the disorder are unclear, the symptoms are not. Crying, incontinence, and low attention span are hallmarks of extreme and chronic depression. One theory about the causes of the disorder prompted researchers to tentatively dub this strain of depression Womb Exit Trauma Disorder, or WET-D.

The solution? Medication.

“Babies are notoriously undercommunicative about their feelings,” Bernard says. “They are unlikely to respond to talk therapy as they tend to have underdeveloped language skills.” Resistance to the development of language skills may, itself, be a further complication of depressive disorder. “When people don’t want to talk about their feelings, that’s a warning sign. Having to act out on emotions instead of using words is a red flag.”

Tragically, many parents may not get many warnings before it’s too late. New research is attempting to link this disorder to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). “Babies may actually be exhibiting a form of suicide,” Bernard warns. “Further study is needed to demonstrate a causal link between WET-D and SIDS, but it looks promising.”

In the meantime, parents can watch for the warning signs and request a battery of new drugs just approved by the FDA. Bernard and his team urge parents to be patient when trying medication. “Babies may not always react right away. That’s not a sign that medication doesn’t work, but that the dosage may have to be increased.

“The worst thing you can do for your baby is let the symptoms of WET-D go unchecked. If your baby continues to cry repeatedly, it’s a sign that more medication is required.”


(Cross-posted at The Mep Report.)

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Words of the Prophets

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Primary Sources, Quick Updates, Tags: , , ,

Transcript of a conversation between a Homeless Guy (HG) and myself (SC) on a sidewalk in Berkeley this morning, between 24-Hour Fitness and the Downtown Berkeley BART station entrance at Shattuck & Addison. Given that I was rushing to BART to head to work, the conversation was sort of shouted over shoulders and at no point was either participant at rest. He started walking ahead of me and I ended up well ahead of him because of our relative natural paces.

HG: What they all working out for? We’re all gonna die!
SC: Maybe some later than others!
HG: Maybe so. We’re all gonna die soon, though!
SC: You think so?
HG: That Obama. He’s gonna ruin everything!
SC: You think so?
HG: He’s a crook!
SC: They’re all crooks!
HG: Yeah, but he’s the worst! He’s the Antichrist!
SC: I don’t agree with you there!
HG: You’ll see!
SC: We’ll all see soon enough!
HG: You got that right!

It is probably worth noting, though I do so cringing, that “Homeless Guy” quoted above is African-American/Black. Though I think that such observations make me slightly racist, they at least reassure the reader that his raving about Obama as Antichrist is not racism. Or at least not simple outsider-based racism with which such overt opposition to Obama is generally associated.

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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.

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The Night Before All Saints

Categories: A Day in the Life, Primary Sources, Tags: ,

‘Twas the night before All Saints, and all through the House
and Senate: no movement, no clicking of mouse.

The ballots were set by the mailbox with care
in hopes that St. Obama soon would be there.

Incumbents were out on the trail and stump
hoping to find just one more hand to pump.

And I on the couch with a bowl full of candy
had settled in front of CNN with it handy.

When a knock at the door threw me out of my seat
my first inclination was to quickly retreat.

But I knew that I’d have to answer the door
maybe for a neighbor, perhaps someone poor.

Perhaps for a candidate, wanting my vote
or a wayward painter, offering a new coat.

When I cracked the door, my mind filled with wonder
my view of the world so soon tore asunder.

For there on my porch, where I had to play host
I came face to face with a real live ghost!

As I stared at it and my face flushed with heat
it raised up a bag and said “Trick or treat!”

Relieved from my fears, I turned for my bowl
all too happy to pay a sugary toll.

How could I have forgotten the point of this night?
Children begging from strangers under moonlight!

So imagine my fear as I turned back around
the door had been closed without making a sound!

All I could hear as my face turned to ash
was CNN talking today’s market crash.

But maybe the child had left for the streets
not wishing to wait any longer for sweets.

As I drew in my hand, and was turning around
there was the ghost, no longer earthbound!

It was floating about, as light as the air
and you’d best believe that this gave me a scare.

There were no limbs a-dangle and no strings attached
in my whole life I’d seen nothing this matched.

Its eyes were dead empty and my heart skipped a tick
I had to admit that this was quite a trick.

Feeling faint and woozy and likely to choke
I barely could hear when it actually spoke.

“You know, do you not, this can’t go on any longer
a whole nation of people with their goal to monger.

“You steal and thieve while calling it ‘work’
you’re rude to each other and then go berserk.

“You assume, do you not, that you deserve it all
but blame everyone else whenever they fall.

“And your only true faith is in science and guns
while you mortgage the future and buy by the tons.

“And your only answer for the traps that you’ve set
is to accrue and accrue infinitely more debt.”

Before I even had the chance to reply
it soared up the chimney, away it did fly.

I wondered if others would be getting this warning
I wondered if I would wake up the next morning.

Then I heard an exclamation that made my mind riven
“Happy Halloween, you will not be forgiven!”

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Storey’s Favorite Stories

Categories: A Day in the Life, Primary Sources, Read it and Weep, Tags: , ,

I just assembled a PDF packet of my seventeen favorite short stories of all-time. Given that the short story is probably my favorite use of the written word, this was a pretty big undertaking for me. I like the benefits of it being accessible online, but I don’t really want to have this become a regular Blue Pyramid project that everyone can access and gets indexed on Google because, well, it’s not exactly respectful of copyrights. But this system beats the heck out of copying 200 pages and shipping them to people.

So, uh, e-mail me if you want the URL. I’ll share it with whoever’s interested… I just would like to limit it and not make it fully public.

Maybe it’s ironic that I feel compelled to limit access to great short stories, but not my daily emotional reality. It makes sense to me.

As an introduction, here’s the intro I wrote last night that appers on page 2 of the 196-page packet:

It’s actually been a couple of years since Matt “Fish” McFeeley and David “Gris” Gray and I were sitting around and came up with the idea to share our ten favorite short stories with each other. Gris made his list relatively quickly and printed out a packet for Fish, which I believe he still has to this day. And I dallied on making my own list, only becoming re-inspired recently upon reading a new story and thinking to myself: That has to make the top ten! (And so it did, at #10.) Fish joked that it would be pointless to reprint Tim O’Brien’s “How to Tell a True War Story” ten times. (This story narrowly missed inclusion with this compilation.)

In any case, as you can see, I found it difficult to restrict myself to ten stories. After all, seventeen is my favorite number. And at a certain point, the exercise’s point is equal parts to rank a top ten (which this expanded compilation does achieve) and to showcase the most memorable and profound stories experienced in a lifetime of reading. And indeed, this latter may be the larger purpose behind the effort. Thus, the prime criterion in selection was to choose stories that had most deeply impacted me in both the course of reading them and especially in my days to follow. This not only makes it easy to compile these stories (they can easily be recalled), but often the test of time is the best judge of a good short story.

The best short stories are ghosts. They follow one around, haunting and affecting one’s mindset for years to come. They’re waiting for you around street corners, behind people you meet, over your bed when you go to sleep. These stories have all played that role in my life (with the exception of the new one, whose haunting season has only just begun). No doubt I will be chided for the extremely healthy portion of Ray Bradbury stories, but there’s a reason he’s my favorite author. Six of the reasons are herein included.

Please note that all these stories are copyrighted by their respective authors or estates. This is a much more efficient way of compiling them and presenting them to everyone than copying on actual paper, though you should print on your own if you prefer to curl up and read instead of staring at the screen. But please don’t spread this URL around too far so that I get in trouble with the copyright police. I have the deepest respect for these authors and don’t want to steal from them. But until I’m an author that people are expecting to compile short stories for republication and public consumption, this’ll have to do.

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An Open Letter to Anyone Contemplating Undertaking a Major Homicidal Incident

Categories: Primary Sources, Tags:

The events in Tokyo yesterday got me thinking.

So Dear Whoever You May Be Who Wants to Be Next, please accept this open letter:

There is a better way.

So, this would be a pretty major life-changing event, right? Whether you’re looking at a suicide or want to go through the legal proceedings and calmly explain to the police why you killed so many people, it’s going to change everything. You’ll never experience anything like freedom again, at least in this lifetime. So it’s worth taking some time to really slow down and consider whether you’ve done everything you want to do first.

Maybe this urge would be satisfied just as much by an extended vacation. Or a permanent one. You could always disappear and start a completely new life on the other side of the state/country/world.

But I’m guessing if you’ve gotten this far and are seriously considering killing lots of people at once, you’ve already ruled out such alternatives as trivial. Maybe you don’t have the financial means to completely makeover your identity and leave everything else behind. Maybe you couldn’t face trying to contemplate the mundanities of life again, to take everything that seems so meaningless seriously again. Maybe life has become so meaningless that you don’t want to find a way to make it meaningful again.

There’s still a better way.

Here’s the important thing, or one of them: You aren’t crazy. Life really is this mundane and silly and seemingly meaningless. I know you know this already. But sometimes it might help just to know that other people realize that life is so ridiculous. Most of society’s systems and institutions are set up around meaningless trivialities. Most people spend their entire lives pushing the cogs that make one of a million wheels turn in sync, for no real purpose except turning the wheels. People are living for the sake of living, marking time for the purpose of watching it pass them by.

You aren’t crazy. It’s really as stupid as it seems.

But there are other ways to wake them up. You don’t have to kill them.

Indeed, isn’t that what you really want? An awakening of some kind. Wouldn’t it be better to get everyone to see how ridiculous and stupid their lives and expenditures of time are? You don’t really think killing a small swath of them is going to do that, do you? Or even a big swath, fine. How does that help? Doesn’t that just entrench them in clinging more dearly to what they already value too much? Doesn’t it just glorify the martyred lives of those who are meaningless, or torment you, or don’t even see you? How does martyring them achieve your ends? No one’s going to remember any message you had and you’ll only serve to amplify the heartfelt beliefs of whatever trivial people you want to off.

Instead, why not somehow simulate the killing of them, in a way that might even get you killed if you really want that, but as a martyr instead? Intrigued?

I don’t know a lot about guns, but I bet there’s some realistic-looking paintball guns you could go get. You might have to paint the tips black, but kids have been doing that for years.. So you could, could go out and run through your whole gameplan you’ve devised with a paintball gun.

How would this impact people?

Don’t assume you’d not be taken seriously as much as you might when first considering this. If you walk into a crowd at your high school, or in public, or at the mall and start paintball-gunning people down, it’s going to be taken seriously. People will get the same kind of crazy-scared. You will still feel that rush of power and dominance and control that you so crave in the rest of your life, that you feel you deserve. Nobody in public (or school) is expecting someone to walk in and start shooting anything. It will take a long time for them to figure out people aren’t dying, if they do at all.

And yet, you will also create an incredible kind of revelation in the people who are themselves hit. Anyone hit in that kind of panicked environment that you have already contemplated creating is going to pretty much assume they’re dead. Paintballs hurt enough that the pain will not dissuade them from this thought. Especially since most people have no earthly idea what it feels like to be shot. They will assume they’re in a shooting environment and react accordingly.

And yet, at some point – minutes or hours later – they will realize that this was not, in fact, their day to die. That no matter what horror they feel they’ve been through, what trauma you’ve made them endure, they have been given the opportunity to live. Frankly, in some ways, given that opportunity by you, who could’ve just as easily chosen to take their lives this day. Yeah, you get plenty of power in this alternate scenario.

Now how do people tend to react in this circumstance? Well, near-death experiences are probably pound-for-pound the absolute best way to get people to take a second look at their lives. To contemplate what they’re doing or not doing, to make the changes that will fundamentally alter their course and add some meaning to their existence. And yes, killing some of them would give others that near-death impact with even more verve, but it would all be clouded by the fact that they were mourning their friends, elevating the dead to sainthood in the face of such tragic randomness. You would be an agent of cementing their belief that everything is hopeless and meaningless and abysmal. While they take your tormentors or random meaningless people and revere them for all-time.

And maybe you really want everyone to believe that life is random and meaningless and trivial after all. Maybe that’s your take-home message. But let me ask you this, even if you believe that: Wouldn’t you do almost anything right now to convince yourself that this is not the case? If you could wave a magic wand and convince yourself that life is indeed meaningful, has purpose, matters in any small regard, wouldn’t you wave at will?

Be the magic wand. You can wave it at everyone else. And maybe, in so doing, even take a crack at yourself.

I mean, sure, I would imagine that paintballing a mall full of bystanders is somehow criminal. There may be some assault charges or some confinement in a mental health facility. And maybe you’d rather die than face these consequences, in which case you can always find a way to take care of that if you really must. I’m not advocating suicide, but that alone is a way better alternative to taking people with you.

It’s your legacy I’m concerned with as much as anything – how are people going to perceive you after you’re gone? I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but nobody really thinks much of these guys after they’ve offed themselves. I know, I know, you don’t care what people think. But don’t you want to be understood? I know you’ve given up on any hope of that. But don’t you think if you passed up the opportunity to slaughter people and instead paintballed them all… don’t you think that would at least give you a shot (pun intended) at being understood?

I mean really – did anyone make an effort to understand the last few guys who did this? Maybe you did. I’ll grant that you probably tried to understand, maybe even understood. Maybe in some perverse way, you see this as a legacy to be carried on from spiteful outcast generation to generation. But other than your lone understanding, has anything been achieved by this or accomplished? Is any progress being made? Are you changing anyone’s mind or life?

No, no, and again no.

But you don’t even have to paintball. You could achieve a similar, maybe even larger, impact without even lifting more than a pen.

Yes, this is going to be corny. Pen is mightier nonsense. Bear with me… I think you’ll like it. Time is one thing you’ve got right now.

Think of all the people you’d be trying to gun down (or stab, I suppose). Each one of them – those who have wronged you, those who you’ve grown to hate. Get their addresses. Write them a letter.

It doesn’t have to be signed (but it can be). It doesn’t have to make sense (but it could). You could tell them your whole plan, in bloodcurdling detail, sparing no horror as you describe what you could do to them. It could be short and to the point, like a ransom note of old – newspaper cutout letters telling of their doom. You could even do what no shooting has ever done, what no mass-shooting has ever had time to even attempt: explain to them exactly the message you are trying to convey with the action you are contemplating.

Now wouldn’t that be profound and original? (I won’t tell that you got some help on the idea.) You could explain to these horrible people just how desperately seriously they need to take you, or their actions, or their life. How horribly wrong they’ve been for so long. Indeed, the receipt of such a letter might be so unsettling that it gets them to rethink every decision they make, to truly begin to live each day as if it were their last. I bet they’ll be a bit nicer to people too. A little more likely to not do whatever it was that made them so awful in the first place.

Maybe you’re only interested in the illusion of power, in the seeming bluster of the power to choose to kill. But half of power is the power of restraint – in the choices we don’t make. And when coupled with an actual power – a transformative one, wouldn’t that be something? Wouldn’t that make you more than wanton force of a painfully unfair random universe, but an agent of what could be possible if people took their heads out of their collective rear-ends? Isn’t that all you really want in the end? Wouldn’t that make life worth living?

Maybe?

You’ve got time to think about it. Those people aren’t going anywhere. There are probably five more alternatives that I haven’t even really thought about. Something really creative to scare people into submission or change or being better people.

Guns? Knives? There’s nothing new there, nothing to accomplish. Nowhere to really make your name. People have only been murdering like that for thousands of years, day in and day out. You might as well join the military.

And don’t kid yourself into thinking that you’ll set some sort of record. The records are impossibly high at this point, and even if you set it, some other guy will break it in a couple years. Someone less thoughtful, original, understandable than you.

There’s still time to be understood. There’s still time to find some sort of meaning, some sort of reason. It may not be enough to make you want to persist in this awful life. But consider – just consider – the alternatives to forcing someone else out of that decision for themselves. You’d still have all the control… in the end, the choice of them living or not would be in your hands.

It’s worth a shot.

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Transcript of Notebook Jottings from October 2007 Fast

Categories: A Day in the Life, Awareness is Never Enough - It Must Always Be Wonder, Primary Sources, Tags: , ,

The following is a direct transcript of the notes I took while immersed in my ~40-hour fast in the woods (41.5 hours of water fasting, 31 hours in the woods). Background information available here and here.

I briefly thought about scanning the notebook pages and posting them here. It would be a more raw reflection of the experience. But it’s not exactly what I want to convey. Besides, there are too many pages (the notebook was very small) and the handwriting is just too unnavigable. Keep in mind that Duck and Cover is the result of me really trying to temper my handwriting into a palatable form… and many of you still complain that it’s incomprehensible at times. The handwriting, not the humor. Okay, that too.

This text is presented unedited, unabridged, in its original syntax. So here we go:

13-14 October 2007 – Marin Headlands, California

13 October 2007

Have arrived at Haypress camp site in Marin Headlands. Emily dropped me off at around 10 AM. I had not eaten in over 8 hours at that point. Last ate ~1:15 AM today.

I think I’ve brought too much water. The journey in was arduous due to weight of pack, but went very quickly (less than 1 mile).

I like my spot and my view. I think I will hike some today since camp is all set up. I am still very time-focused. There are many animal noises and I am not as isolated from humans as I might choose to be. There are 5 groups slated to camp in this area tonight and they are not particularly secluded from each other.

Hungry, but able to delay with water.


I have hiked out to the beach (so-called Tennessee Beach) and found a bench just overlooking it. As the waves crash in and quietly recede, I see the bench is dedicated to the memory of Timothy P. Murphy, who died in June 1984 a month and 4 days short of his 28th birthday. I cannot but notice that this made him just 2 months and 3 days older than I am today. Something feels significant about that, obviously, as many things have already. On my way out here, someone had dropped their watch on the side of the trail. An affirmation of the decision to let go of time… what else could it be? The watch’s presence, only to be discovered by its owner not 15 feet up the trail, seemed so contrived as to be blatant. Awareness is never enough, it must always be wonder.

I am perhaps explaining things in more detail here than I would normally – I can’t tell how clear things will seem later upon returning to a world of food and time as they seem now. So I’m taking an extra step, just in case.


It should also be noted that the epigraph for Timothy P. Murphy is “Life is not measured in length, but in depth.” Amen.


Much of the walk back from the beach was spent overhearing a conversation between 3 young women, at least 2 of whom (if not all 3) apparently either work or worked for Seneca Center. It wasn’t till pretty deep into the conversation that I heard “Seneca” – at first they were just trading stories of kids that sounded like the old days. Suffice it to say that I’m running out of coincidences this trip.

After putting in ~7 miles today, I think most of the physical exertion portion of our program is over. I initially hadn’t thought I’d even hike that much, but I think it’s good to sweat out the toxins as well as starve them out.


A long nap, followed by a tiny walk around the area. I decided to move my tent further from other campers, given the apparent opportunity to do so. Despite being told that I got the “last one”, it seems there are only 2 other groups and thus 2 no-shows tonight.

The tent starts out inside the backpack. Then the backpack goes inside the tent. Finally, the tent returns to the backpack. There is something right about this way of living.


Been dozing through much of the early evening, especially since there are many loud campers nearby. At least one is a long-time park ranger with a sonorous voice and many tales to tell.

I awoke in dark night with the classic dilemma of getting up and going to the bathroom vs. staying “warm” and holding it. Of course the former is the long-term warmest option, so it was taken.

The stars bowled me over. I think I sometimes forget the stars are even there in anticipating the night sky. It sounds silly, but I had really not been expecting the depth and breadth of the stars.

I lingered in the cold to take them in. Even though the distant voices persisted, I was able to fully appreciate the enormity of the universe.

I don’t know how anyone can stare at the stars for a long time and not come away feeling the reassuring grace of God’s presence and benevolence.


14 October 2007

It must be. Darkness passed to foggy lightness. Night was an unending span of dreams, hurried overwhelmed awakeness, then somewhat settled sleep. There were brief times that the passage of time was so slow I thought that surely I had died.

I haven’t been able to really divest myself from time-awareness the way I’d hoped. It seems that nature is our first introduction to conceptual time and while it may not demand that we tie ourselves to minutes or even hours, it certainly makes us aware of morning, afternoon, evening, and night. And in so doing, it’s easy for the “civilized” human to take the next step and attempt to extrapolate more granular sands of time.

Far too much of my trip has also been influenced by neighboring campers. It seems most of them will be away early today and I can achieve some solitude. But the cooking of their fires has made me even more aware of the food I’m not eating. Avoiding that temptation was part of the reason for not bringing food at all, even for “emergencies”.

I did get some solitude, though, on the high hills above these headlands. I took off without a pack – just water and a light and many layers – in search of quiet contemplation. I found it in the heavy fog about 1/2 – 3/4 miles up the Fox Trail, almost all steep uphill. A spiderweb was highlighted with dew and caught my bright attention. It couldn’t fool anyone with any vision at all, but the spider remained patient in its center.

I turned uphill from almost that precise location to see a scene of deep-rutted foggy path that almost precisely mimicked a scene of several of my dreams (though none from the night before). There was nothing more momentous from this observation – I continued up the path a bit and decided the uphill was more strenuous than I wanted for my last 10-12 hours without food, so I should get back. Still, I paused for some minutes to simply take in the enormity of the blanketing fog.

Three natural phenomena have overwhelmed me this trip: the ocean, the stars, and the fog. Neither uncommon nor unpredictable targets of adoration and appreciation, but powerful nonetheless.


The foghorns are going like crazy, as though to remind me that I really can’t find seclusion here. There is a dialogue of two high notes followed by a very deep and low sustained note. The dialogue is not always precise, thus carrying on the air of a conversation that can only use two words. Its unpredictable timing make it more distracting than a good meditative baseline.

In any event, I am hungry. Not as severely as I expected to be, but then water can be used effectively to combat the worst of the hunger pangs. I have definitely been much hungrier in my life.

Yet food does seem like a real focal point. I dwell on it. Thinking about having Chipotle tacos when I’m released from this fast has really helped keep me going. My mouth actually has a slight ache from the absence and inaction. I have had meandering headaches, but nothing debilitating. This is impressive, because I haven’t had coffee since early Friday morning, putting me on a scheduled 72-hour fast from coffee by the time I plan to break that.

By the way, take that, people who think my headaches are some sort of caffeine withdrawal! Coffee is good migraine-prevention medicine, but absence of preventative medicine does not equate with immediate sickness.

The fog and my irregular sleep are helping to join forces to make me less aware of time. It could be morning or afternoon right now – I know not which. The foghorns are subsiding a bit, leaving only the ubiquitous quails in the area – there are many and they are in herds (or whatever quail groups are officially called), and they make many noises which neatly balance between familiar bird sounds and bizarre interpretations which are the quails’ alone.


I was contemplating a last hike, but my legs quickly told me that this would not be in the cards today. At least 10 miles of hiking without food is plenty for my body that has not exactly been acclimated to 5 miles/day of activity.

I was wandering around this nearly abandoned campsite when I noticed two rabbits out of the corner of my eye. I danced to approach them – pausing every time they looked up with concern, giving them time to get used to me at this distance, then approaching again until they seemed to need me to pause. One, the larger, was too skittish and eventually bolted for the brush. But the first, smaller one, maintained a watchful eye but stayed outside to forage for food. Both were tiny rabbits, looking almost like pikas. They must have been young.

I eventually reached a bench about 20 yards from the smaller rabbit and sat down to become part of the observant landscape. Over the course of 30+ minutes, I was able to hang out with the rabbit, ocassionally joined by the other rabbit, a number of quails, and a traveling crew of very loud bees or wasps.

The rabbit ate the whole time. I did not. The winde kicked up and seemed to scare the animal more than I did. It gave me my best time of reflection and grounding this whole trip so far.

In the midst, I thought about the wind and the water and all nature’s creatures. They seem to find an ineffable common thread – they take the path of least resistance. This is nature’s way. And given all the things I am out here to find or consider, maybe there is not as much wrong with living by momentum instead of direction. Maybe I am condemning an existence in line with nature’s calling.

But then again, do I answer to nature? Nature eats meat, nature destroys, nature is often cold and harsh and unforgiving. Nature guides by survival above meaning. So how could I adopt a principle of nature, just for its seductive beauty and the wonder of its path-carving? As Professor Hirshman, my second favorite of Brandeis’ philosophers, always graced her classes, “Bears shit in the woods.” Not only did she use this as one of many devices to shock students into thought, but it was her oft-used take-out argument for Aristotle and other naturalists who wanted to embrace whatever they were given by the world around them as what was also right.

And even on my retreat to nature, there is a Port-o-Potty on camp site. 2, in fact. Even I am not retreating to the standards of bears on this, a journey to reject civilization.

So what am I left with? An affirmation of what I already knew? Maybe I should be suspicious of anything else.

And despite their grandeur, the woods aren’t going to give me any concrete answers anyway, even without food or distraction. A bobcat is not going to walk up to me, lick its paw, and tell me what I should do with my job or my website. I know that. That’s not why I’m here.

As I strain for the quiet in the wake of the last other campers here departing, I realize that there is no quiet. There are quiet noises, but no real quiet. I feel I’ve joked with myself many times that this trip would be better pursued in a sound-proof lightless chamber than out in the open. But that’s not really the intent either.

The point is that the wind, the birds, the trees all make noise. Some of it is enhanced by my own tent, but without it there would still be sounds of all variety.

Perhaps nature is just reminding me of others – that we are not on this planet alone. A basic lesson, and one I know, but it bears repeating. To help each other can, ultimately, be our only purpose.


It’s amazing how closely tied bad parenting is to having too many children. This may seem obvious, but it’s really consistent. Sure, there may be some exceptional parents who can handle many kids and some bad parents of even a single child. But generally, parents become inattentive and frazzled with multiple kids, especially at 3 or 4 or more. And they manifest this frustration all the time – saying things like (just overheard) “nobody likes a squealer”. Perhaps the biggest issue is how indelible the marks left by lousy parent comments can be. Children in their first decade of life (and even more so in their first half-decade) are almost wholly formed by their parents’ critiques and molding. When parents make obnoxious comments that are the result of feeling overwhelmed by having too many children for their attention, the results can be devastating.

This is neither a new thought nor one terribly tied up in this trip in particular, but when I witness such profound examples of it, I cannot help but take note. Literally.


I must also admit that starting at around noon today, I’ve been cheating and occasionally checking the time. I had to bring some sort of timepiece or there would be no way to assure meeting up with Emily at the proper time to go home. And earlier today, I cracked into it because I had no idea how close I was and I thought I might have to start packing up soon.

Ha! It was only 11:54. And the time that’s passed since has been the slowest yet. I’ve checked a couple more times. It’s really starting to crawl. I’m hungry and I think I feel I’ve passed most of the productive or valuable/meaningful time I’m going to get. It’s also colder than yesterday and thus much colder than I’d like. I’m ready to pack it up, pack it in. But I ought not begin too early or I’ll have time waiting in the parking lot, which would be even worse.

I think the bulk of this trip’s impact will really be felt upon return. How will I see time, food, and other people differently? Right now I’m yearning. Upon return, will I be appreciating?


Well I came outta the woods a little early – I got a little freaked out around 4:00 (yes, I checked again) and was surprised at how dark it was already. I had been figuring on packing up at 5:00, but 4:00 was feeling like the time to go. It took me about a half-hour to break camp and another half-hour to hike out – both were shorter times than I expected. Em is scheduled for an on-time arrival, so I have a couple more hours to be outdoors.

It’s cold and I’m hungry, but I’m very glad to be out of the woods. So to speak.

I had one last good message from the woods on my way out. I had tied my sleeping bag under straps behind the backpack. Quite tightly, I thought. But about 1/3 of the way down the trail, it fell out. Rather than remove my pack and reattach the bag, especially with the understanding it would probably fall out again, I simply picked it up and carried it.

I was immediately delighted by both how much lighter my backpack now seemed and how I was somewhat comforted by the feeling of hugging my sleeping bag to my chest.

At first, I thought “lighten your load!” But immediately I saw that wasn’t quite it – more accurately the message was “shift the weight: your burden will not be any less, but it will feel lighter.”

Now there’s what we call a take-home message.

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