Tag Archives: A Day in the Life


Bipolar Schizophrenia

Categories: A Day in the Life, Tags:

I change my mind about everything so often these days that I feel like I’m seven different people.

At least I’m not alone.

I was going to write a post all weekend. I know, I still haven’t managed one on Sunday. You can see last week’s post-Sunday post for the reasons. Was it really only a week ago? That’s weak. You could well convince me that it was months ago. Well, it was… last month. And what a difference a month makes.

It’s time to get rid of the pumpkins. October is gone, and what’s replacing it may be just as scary, but without the illusion or the mask. I’ve never been a fan of smashing pumpkins, either the activity or the band, but the pumpkins mold so fast these days they stand as a metaphor for political integrity. The face that smiles at you with a consistent look when you have the most hope about its designs is already rotten by November.

I go back and forth about things so quickly. Sometimes I think that all of human fear can be traced to our adaptability. We adapt so quickly to changes or new ideas that by two hours after we’ve thought of something, we already fear changing and letting it go. Our rapid-fire adaptation becomes our undoing, because it still takes that initial surge that beats down inertia to get us going in the first place. And each of those pulses or surges, overcoming our fear and our status quo, takes its toll of exhaustion and demoralization.

There is also joy and euphoria, though. The elation of knowing that the future is unknown, unfixed, able to be altered. In living life being close to many people, I have found that few others know that true exhilaration. Most only see the panic, the terror, the insecurity and instability innate to not knowing what tomorrow holds. But embracing that sensation, wrapping both arms around and holding on for dear life, squeezing the unknown till it begs for constraint – that is, in some ways, what life is all about. I crave that feeling, much the way I crave heights or breakfast burritos or good conversation. Smashing one’s ruts and routines like so much rotted squash.

But then I don’t. As soon as I decide something, get excited, put all the ducks in a row, there’s a change of heart, or of mind, or of … will? I don’t know. Turn and turn and turn again. It makes it hard to think or write or conclude when all I want to do is change. Change is good, but when change is the only constant, things become more of a struggle. Usually when I’ve used that phrase before, I’ve at least meant day to day or week to week. These days, it’s up-to-the-minute.

Through my life, people have accused me of being a manic depressive. I’ve playfully embraced the label, now called the oxymoronic “bipolar disorder”. From bi, meaning two, and polar, meaning poles. But anything which has poles has two of them. And this is “disorder”. From dis, meaning I’m putting you down, and order, meaning the way things should be.

In that succinct two-line phrase, we have all the metaphor we need for the modern state of “mental health treatment”. Taking a basic premise of everyone’s reality (or even aspiration) and calling it a problem.

Throughout much of my writing, I have defended the sine-curve lifestyle associated with so-called “bipolar disorder” or “manic depression” (note the contradictions in the old name, too) as being preferable to any other perspective in which one lives. It’s all over Introspection, usually fueled by rage. That people aspire to flatline their emotions is emblematic of what I find to truly be wrong with our society. People have been rendered afraid to feel, afraid to be governed by instincts and gut-level reactions that have been honed for centuries as guardians of our understanding and even our safety. For a society so critical of the reserve and restriction of the Victorian era, it is amusing that we still admire the emotional numbness of that era’s ideals.

Plus, the “treatment” just doesn’t work. I could give you a list of names of people who are on drugs for seeing the world properly at my place of work, or my last place of work, or countless other environments. You can spot the flattened effect a mile away. In contexts outside of “bipolar disorder treatment”, flattened effect is itself labeled a disorder. And yet the even-keel, robotic drone of mild pleasantness is seen as positive change, even salvation. Side effects may include fainting without warning, loss of bladder function, nausea, sore throat, and suicide. But you’ll feel okay about these things!

Okay. My intent here was not to take a tire-iron to this dead horse that angers me so. My intent was more to draw a (surprise!) metaphor for what’s going on. I told a friend a few weeks ago that he should not give into the temptation to think that what he was going through, what he was feeling, was not real. Because it is real. It’s real and true.

The world spins on an axis and it travels on an orbit. Level and rate. We have no reason to believe that the solar system itself does not have a similar experience, perhaps also spinning and certainly orbiting or drifting through the absolute space (such as it is) of the universe. Every second, the Earth is in motion in two or three or four different directions, simultaneously, effortlessly, but at a speed that would make fighter jet pilots flinch.

The serf farmer born tied to a Russian plot of land in the 1700’s, living and dying there every moment of his century of life, traveled as much as any jet-setter of the modern era in terms of absolute space.

This is the amount of change we experience every day. Massive, rapid, unfathomable alteration.

Last week, upon the death of a clam who predated and outlived our Russian serf, I called to mind the image of a nervous planet whistling into a darkened woods. In truth, of course, that planet is a whirling dervish, flying like a top (bey-blade?) in a circular dance almost unaware of what is in the path. There may be spooks and spiders and goblins aplenty. But the planet just spins and twirls and dances away, regardless of surroundings.

Earth’s course is predestined. Those of its inhabitants are not. As long as we pay attention. As long as we let ourselves feel.

To feel the rhythms of reality, to be aware of the endless change and travel innate to existence. To attune to the unknown, the unanticipated, the overwhelmingly vast but ever-ever-ever-turning.

Watch for falling goblins.


At the Zoo

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

Early this morning, we posted a new video for The Mep Report, my former podcast with which I still interact from time to time:

Most of the material is old, but it’s repackaged in a nifty new way intended to promote the show. This one isn’t going to take over the world, but it’s hopefully the kind of thing that makes people want to listen.

Not many people wanted to listen today. In general. It was, again, one of those days that makes one question nearly every assumption, every action. I came so close to not making it into work today. I can’t even tell enough to know whether going in was a mistake or not. At this point, I’m past the point of caring.

On the way home, a prophet got on the BART train. He was a firebrand preacher, raised in the ‘hood, with a goon on either side of him mugging, leering, and laughing as he spoke his truth. The man was eloquent and profound. He found his target audience, a man twice his age from the Vietnam era, engaging him in a repartee of the man’s life and his own perspective. He quickly found more than his target audience. After one stop, I had to put my book away to listen.

Only a tape recorder would have done him justice, but one key moment was his declaration that television is a harder drug than anything else out there, “except maybe alcohol and cigarettes”. He broke down television to its component parts: “tell-lie, and that’s their vision.” His target audience was clearly impressed, verbally affirming. Many of the others surrounding were annoyed or afraid. And just as many, like me, were listening.

After two straight days feeling debilitated despite working for one of the most important social services agencies in California, hearing this man was the most inspirational moment of my week.

He wasn’t perfect (at one point he said he liked Hillary more than Obama, though at least he prefaced it by saying that there’s no point in voting because no one’s vote counts), but it was a damn sight better than anyone else who’s standing up and calling out these days. It made me wonder why I’m not doing more of the same. It also made me wonder how he’d react if I asked for his contact info and said that he should be speaking to more than just BART trains.

Probably, he’d feel patronized. Who the hell am I, anyway? But the man had a voice and a vision. He was able to capture the despair of this day and mix it as a message of unification for a muddled mass of misfits rolling northward toward nowhere.

And why did it hit me like a testimony to our time that this man was speaking to BART trains instead of crowds? Why wasn’t he leading the charge, the voters, the revolution? The inspirational populism of All the King’s Men came to mind, and I had to acquiesce, as I was walking away from the northbound train, that he had no reason to be less corruptible than anyone else. Sure, “the best minds of my generation can’t make bail.” But also, “show me the money.” In the end, he would probably be just as buyable, just as susceptible, just as able to adjust his story and perspective to meet the needs of the imp of self-interest.

In a way, are we all doing the same thing every day? In a small, small, but damning way? Why do I not speak truth to BART trains? Why do I not rave at those who might listen, at those who don’t listen, at those who seem inexorably locked into demanding that I listen?

It’s not fear. It must be a sneaking suspicion of self-interest.

Out, damn imp.

Above ground, now. Walking westward, toward the sun and its descending shadows, still not gone yet by an act of Regress. A woman, seconds before entering a gym in her designer work-out gear, screams at a young woman on a bike in angry sarcasm: “I’m so glad your mommy bought you a bicycle!”

I wasn’t there to see chapter one of this interlude. I only saw the aftershock. Maybe the woman almost got run down. But the dripping bitterness just seemed out of proportion. The younger one stood perched over her bike, stock still, in that kind of silent shame that cuts deepest when one is sure one has nothing to be ashamed of. And did this woman really just yell and then bolt into the carded confines of her high-priced gymnasium? After unleashing invective at the allegedly spoiled?

She eventually moved on. And so did I, hurrying now. And the wandering mind recalled the ongoing rage of a born bicyclist who uncharacteristically turned his rage on everything this afternoon, just before this journey began. Usually his rage is confined to bicycles, but today it was for everything, valid or in.

“He seems in a weird space today. Let’s just leave him alone.”

The zookeeper is very fond of rum. I feel that the last 48 hours have brought me closer to an understanding of why people drink alcohol than I’ve ever had before. There have been many moments of thoughts akin to temptation in the past. A mid-sophomore year (college) night above a pulsing party in the space below comes to mind, as the scent of cannabis wafted to my window. “It would be so easy,” I moaned. Over and over.

I remain, as then, steadfast. But these are trying times. Times without measure.

Stand up, ye prophets. And I may even, soon, have the courage to stand with you.


This is Where the Summer Ends

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

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

Trick or treat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

1600-2007. RIP, clam.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The clam turned 345 during Hiroshima.

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

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

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

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

Happy Halloween.


At the ER

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

Someone told me it’s all happening at the ER.

A day ago at this time, I was still holed up in the charming waiting room of Kaiser’s Oakland Emergency Room. I was waiting for Emily, as I had been for more than 2 hours prior. I had read through her copy of The Economist (magazine), haphazardly, almost cover-to-cover. I hate magazines.

Note to self: next time leaving for the ER at less than breakneck speed, bring the book you’re reading.

About a month ago, I was in Albuquerque at my Dad’s (first) cataract surgery. This was not an ER and had thus been planned, but the waiting room was similar. They’re all similar. The oppressive decks of fluorescent lights, washing everything in sight to pale apathy. The drone of the TV, always tuned to the most insipid show imaginable. (Seriously. “The View” during the cataract surgery. “Dr. Phil” at the ER. At night. I didn’t even know they aired Dr. Phil at night.) At some point, someone must’ve decided that the silence mixed with buzzing of fluorescents was too brain-rattling for a waiting room, so they posted up a TV in every corner. For distraction, I suppose. But there’s something so wrong about the normalcy of a terrible TV show that just makes my focus on whatever’s going on that much worse.

But in Albuquerque, I had brought my book. And I was at least able to wander inward, become engrossed as though on a train ride, and not constantly think about what was going on and what could be going wrong. Waiting rooms could not be more aptly named. But the whole game of surviving them is to make it less about waiting and more about being. A good book is extremely good at this purpose.

Instead, I had a magazine. Magazines are the compromise where everyone loses. They are too long to be sound bites of news (especially The Economist), but too short to be narrative. They are too old to be news and too young to be history. Advertising is overwhelming and garish. The pages rip easily. I can’t stand magazines and, perhaps more than any other container of written words, I don’t understand how they are successful.

So the waiting room was a lot about waiting.

I had a pretty good sense that Emily was going to be all right, though by hour three this feeling was starting to hit some snags. I had not carried her into the ER unconscious and bleeding from the head. She had not been shot. She was not missing anything. She had walked, more or less of her own recognizance, in through the front door. We would have gone to urgent care, but urgent care closes at 7:00 and she wasn’t convinced she had to go till about 7:35. Isn’t that always the way.

What she did have was a spinning head. She kept saying that her brain felt like it was moving. She was dizzy and disoriented, sometimes dropping scarily out of touch in the middle of conversation. She kept saying her brain instead of her head. And it had happened much of the day, but gotten much worse rapidly that night. It was time to go.

When one is sitting in an ER waiting room, with little to no idea what is wrong with one’s spouse, having surrendered said spouse to the care of those who deal with everything and anything, there is a sense of heightened awareness. In taking in the idle surroundings, normally a source of mild musing and perhaps casual scrutiny, one suddenly realizes the magnitude these memories may carry on later. For someone who naturally and unconsciously examines their life as much as I do, everything is constantly being analyzed, considered, and reflected. I recalled the things I would recall if something went terribly wrong… little omens, small annoyances, distractions that led me back to worst-case scenario thoughts, and the dissonant light-board that constantly scrolled, stacked, or built up the anachronistically cheery message: WELCOME TO THE KAISER EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT.

And on page 57, more about Darfur.

And then, after 11:00, the shootings in Oakland on the late local news. It was enough to make one consider whether anyone showing up on the screen was on their way to the physical location. At least this waiting room was wisely constructed to the side of the main entrance, ensuring that we would never know.

We. There were growing fewer and fewer of us. It seemed that many people had just missed the 7:00 cut-off when we entered a nearly packed room. By 11:10, it was just about myself, a homeless man who kept starting awake, and a very calmly reserved young man who either had everything or nothing wrong with him.

The triage nurses were chatting, crossing their invisible barrier where they independently intently stared at those seeking help and instead discussing weekends and relationships and weather. Just a job. Everyone has one, and every job has regular people in it. I will remember this, I knew (if something goes wrong). I will forever be bitter at the nurses who were just living life when.

And then my jacket pocket started shaking. It wasn’t an earthquake, or even the end of the world. It was Emily’s phone, which she’d insisted on leaving me, so that she could give them a number to call. Everyone has a cell phone nowadays. Emily has two. I have zero.

It was Emily. She was okay, even sounding relieved. She was on her way out.

She has vertigo. It is almost certainly not a prelude to a stroke. But, the doctors said, it was one or the other. And given those choices, it was good we came in. After all, she has never had vertigo or any symptoms thereof in her life. It is rare for this to start out of nowhere. Rare, but most fortunate when compared to.

Emily wants Drew Tirrell and Dan Stafford and even Pete Lee to know that she has a newly profound sympathy for them and their plight. Vertigo sounds like a bit of a trumped-up malady to most. It is an easy joke. Far too easy to ape and to question. Em described it as “just about the worst feeling in the world” early this morning.

No way of knowing if it’s permanent or temporary. Most likely the latter, but everything starts sometime. For now, she’s not driving and is taking work slowly. Getting up and lying down remain impossibly discombobulating. The medicine does little to nothing noticeable.

But it’s all good, relatively speaking. I can forgive the nurses their banter. I can let go of the grains of red sand building to the word WELCOME. I can watch “Dr. Phil” again (though, why?) or even the late local news.

For now.

Because nights like this, like last night, they’re run-throughs. I have often distilled the fairness we are given in this lifetime down to this: We all (almost all) will either die prematurely or watch our loved ones die before us. Or some combination of a bit of both. This is the curious curse of existence on Earth, our blessed gift of tragic learning.

There are a few, several standard deviations out, who may watch everyone they love be slaughtered and then be killed at age 7. And some who pass at 89, just before everyone they ever cared for.

But almost all of us have the same lot.

So it’s a run-through. It may not be Emily, ever. But if not, it will probably be me for her. It may not be for years. It may be tomorrow.

So there’s something to be said for the experience. And for thanking God it’s not tonight.


School of Hotel Management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sleep well, Hilton.


Getting Through Sunday Somehow

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

It’s a bit of a cliche in my family (both families, I suppose – that which I share with my parents and that which I share with Emily) that Sunday night is a dreadful time to be conscious. I expect this is hardly unique to any of the families which I could claim, even (perhaps) the human family. Even if you like your job, you probably don’t like Sunday night. Maybe because it reminds you of Sunday nights before you liked your job. Or maybe because no matter how much you enjoy your job, it’s still inferior to unfettered freedom.

I mostly enjoyed my job last week, for the first time in a while. I still didn’t enjoy last night.

Then there was the compounding factor – the Red Sox’ sweep of the Rockies that wrapped up at the same time. I’m sure this dulled the pain for a good deal of my friends, but I was actually rooting for Colorado. Somehow the combination of leaving Boston and 2004’s World Series has taken the teeth out of my Red Sox fandom, and who doesn’t like the Rockies? Especially this year. Though for the first time in, say, three years, I actually liked both teams involved. Before 2004, we have to go back to 1993 (Blue Jays/Phillies) to find a Series where I didn’t dislike at least one of the teams in the Fall Classic. And in ’04, I at least had a clear rooting interest. So this Series was certainly a luxury, and I still didn’t mind watching the Beantowners frolicking on the field.

But it was a disappointment. And a sweep? Was that really necessary? At least it was a close game.

So now we’re without baseball. It’s only four months till Spring Training and five till the regular season again, but watching Bill Bavasi’s off-season moves is going to make it seem so much longer. Or make me wish it were. I can’t wait till we sign some washed-up starting pitcher for $42 million a year. Maybe Steve Trachsel will be available. Or Dave Dravecky.

And we’re almost fresh out of October. I’m not really ready to let go of the month yet. Clinging to the familiar themes, Em and I went to Six Flags on Saturday for their annual “Fright Fest”. After meaning to go for years, there was really no excuse during the year which we owned season passes. It wasn’t quite a disappointment, but it could’ve stood to be spookier. I got funnel cake and three rides on the swings, though, and I was in a mood to wander around crowds at night.

But oh, Sunday, you just seem to take the life out of things.

There seems to be some sort of conflict in approaching weekends between the idea of relaxing and the idea of “doing something”. And the more one tries to do something, the less one can relax, and the less it feels like “having a weekend”. When it feels like work to have a weekend, one isn’t really having a weekend at all. But it’s almost worse to sit around and try to enjoy a Sunday where one does next to nothing. The paradox seems uniquely Sunday’s. Because even if one does nothing on Saturday, there’s a day’s worth of padding to follow.

And you’ll note that I have yet, in the history of this blog, to post on a Sunday.

I used to escape this dilemma by working 16 hours a day on Sunday. And Saturday never quite felt like Sunday during the Seneca era, though the dread of Saturday night was very real. This is the first full-time work setup where I’ve actually had traditional Sunday nights, between working 6 days/week, Seneca, or working from home. And I’m not about to become the spokesman.

The irony remains that one can often make better use of free time during workdays than one can during the weekend. Something about valuing it more and having to make good use of limited time. Which is one of the only things making me question the possible Next Big Step (TM) in this life. Though I have a more positive model (Summer 2001) than my fears.

Of course, we all know what happened when that ended.

Maybe I should start using Sundays as mini-Summer 2001’s. They can’t get any harder to get a handle on than they already are.

That sentence is just awkward enough to convey what I feel.



Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Video Games Killed the Free Time, Tags: , ,

It’s in the game.

MVP 2005 is widely recognized by those who are obsessed with baseball video games (most of my friends) as the best baseball video game ever made. The only reason that we have not gone on to anoint EA-constructed games MVP 2006 and MVP 2007 as eclipsing this game is because they weren’t made. After the 2005 season of games, MLB sold their baseball license exclusively to 2K (for the next decade, I think), and we’ve been left to play 2005 forever. It’s fine, though, because MVP 2005 lets you play through 120 seasons and that’s enough to keep one plenty occupied. Plus, savvy people are releasing roster updates for the computer version every year.

I, however, play on the PS2. And until recently, I’d been following a very predictable and stable pattern of sports video games. In the first season (in this case, obviously, 2005), I win the World Series on a relatively easy (but not the easiest) level. For 2006, I upgrade to the next level and, again, win the WS, but winning far fewer games. For 2007, I upgrade to the highest difficulty (in this case, the eponymous MVP level). Normally, I would expect to make the playoffs barely or just miss them, and probably have to wait till 2008 to return to a world title.

However, my ’07 Mariners, built into grandeur by the reputation of back-to-back championships and intelligent front office management (I’m coming for your job, Bavasi!) are 5-36.

It’s not even like I’m getting better. After a dismal 4-22 (.154) April, I am 1-14 (.067) in May.

I have tried everything. I have tried taking almost every pitch, not swinging till I have 2 strikes. I have tried starter-by-committee, where no one is allowed to pitch more than 3 innings. I have lost plenty of 1-run games, including a back-to-back 2-1, 1-0 set of losses that were so profoundly frustrating because the pitching was actually good. Loss #36, incurred this morning, extending a losing streak to 10 games, was 13-5. 5 runs would have been good enough to win any of the 4 previous games.

I even get thrown out of about 25-30% of games lately (usually in very late innings), which is consistent with a real situation in which defending champions who brought their same starting 5 pitchers back for the next season (in this case, Mark Mulder, Randy Johnson, Joel Piniero [but good], Curt Schilling, and Gil Meche) would be like. I just got an e-mail from my front office warning me of a possible firing if I don’t turn things around. After all, my team is rated to be the 5th-best in the majors, with the 3rd-best pitching and the best speed.

This is mind-numbingly frustrating in a way that video games almost never are. I adore this video game, putting it in an echelon with Civilization and SimCity, maybe DAoC, and trumping all prior baseball video games. This is the baseball game I always wanted to be playing, from the days of the Miller Associates all-text adventure and my hand-held 2-player game I used to play with friends on car rides to Seattle. It has everything, from detailed general management to management to stunning graphics. It has taken out most every other video game for the better part of a year, even securing the cessation of my addiction to Dark Age.

And yet, I hate it. I hate playing it. It is really not fun to lose 88% of the time. Even the Mariners never did that in real life.

So I now go through this weird Pavlovian shocking situation every time I want to play video games. I immediately want to play MVP (even after exactly 365 regular season games, plus 6 rounds of playoffs), but then recall how aggravating the experience has been. I usually end up turning it on, only to wonder why when I contemplate breaking my controller over my knee after swinging at a terrible pitch, or screaming swear words after giving up another homerun that was barely a strike deep in the opposing hitter’s cold zone.

I hit up Russ, grand guru of this game, for some advice, since he has been winning championships on MVP mode while having 5 players break the home-run record in the same season. He gave advice that was good at getting most games down to being close, but still not being enough to, say, win more than one game out of 15.

At this point, I am cleanly torn between trying to reap the benefits of hating my favorite video game (more time for other more productive pursuits) and switching back to the last level at some point in the season to see if I can claw my way out of this colossally deep cellar.

But video games usually take up free time when I wouldn’t otherwise be productive (probably like drinking-alcohol-time for most people). And if I hate this enough, I will find another one to play. So when is the right time to switch back? I was originally going to wait till the All-Star break, but I somehow think hitting the halfway point with 11 or 12 wins is going to be questionable. Even by switching to the easy mode, it would be hard to salvage respectability from that point.

Maybe at 50 losses. If they don’t fire me first.


Drawing Blanks

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

But the bacteria are coming
to take us down
that’s my prediction
it’s the answer to this culture
of the quick-fix prescription.
-Ani DiFranco, “Garden of Simple”

I think I have a staff infection.

No, not a staph infection. I’m fond of plays on words. People are freaking out about something that resists drugs, because it’s what people themselves can’t do. Drugs are almost universal, they infect almost everyone. Something that can resist drugs is the scariest thing we can fathom. No wonder I’ve always been interpreted as intimidating.

Yeah, it’s that kind of mood today. I’m torn asunder somewhere between righteous fury and complete apathy. Between leading a rally of one into the center of the earth and demanding to speak to the “leader” and crawling into a hole with water, a book, and a prayer of survival. Everything seems stark and vivid, like a world of sharp high-contrast shadows. Not a form in sight. Not a shade of gray. Someone flipped the scanner setting from grayscale to monochrome.

I initially couldn’t think of anything to write about this morning, but it seemed there was nothing more important I could do with my time. I took a shower, hoping for inspiration. All I found was the same self-inflicted diatribe on leadership, the lack of it, and how the natural traps of age and capitalism combine to imprison us all. We should try twenty years where all the Presidential candidates have to be under 35 years old and see where we get. Or have to act like it. This isn’t about straight-line age, any more than it’s about anything else simple. I know 20-somethings who act like they’re 60. I’ve met at least a few people over 70 who think they’re 25.

I like scary movies. It’s October, after all. A couple weeks ago, before all the good movies came out, I dragged Emily to “The Last Winter”. It was terrible (though not, as she dubbed it, “the worst movie ever”). The central issue causing the horror was the issue of the Earth fighting back and expunging the human virus. It would’ve been a lot scarier if they hadn’t manifested this desire through the form of ethereal ghost-caribou whose most fearsome weapons were snarling and pointing their antlers.

But apparently the planet is fighting back with resistance that would make the Democrats look strong. 18 inches of ocean in 93 years! It’s going to be really hard to adjust to that. A veritable tsunami. Somehow, I don’t think that was quite the nature of Noah’s flood of legend. Fearsome retribution comes for all those who stand in the same place for a long lifetime.

And maybe that’s the lesson, and the only metaphor we can hope to grab here. Don’t stand in the same damn place. Don’t stand in the doorways, don’t block up the halls. Maybe we won’t be drenched to the bone, but I guess our knees could get wet. What does it take to make people take themselves, each other, some sort of composite reality seriously? Allegedly a bunch of millionaires are coming together in a stadium in San Diego, uniting in the common bond of their losses. I suppose it’s a start.

The BART train is whistling down from Richmond, calling me to another day of head-butting walls as hard as I can. My only regret is that I have but one skull to give for this lifetime. If anyone has a helmet, drop me a line.


I’m Feeling Lucky

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, Blue Pyramid News, Read it and Weep, Tags: , , ,

I have spent the better part of the last 2.5 hours finally updating the list for OMBFP. (This stands for One Million Blogs for Peace, but I really only call it OMBFP. That’s how I roll.)

Anyway, updating this list for the first time since 9 September (read: +67 blogs), laboriously copying and pasting into my detailed database (read: spreadsheet), and sifting through the attempted splog signatories (read: many many cialis many) has transformed my mood from, say, somber and reflective to, perhaps, giddy and punchy. (I seem to really lack a giddy-n-punchy post here as yet, but parts of this are close.)

So I was wending my way towards the end of my computer evening by doing my last nightly round-up of websites, many of them to see how the Blue Pyramid’s doing today. (Despite this blog’s resurgence, October is a way down month after a banner September and a very good August.) And I got this post as one of the recent updates, which of course reminds me of the fact that if you type in “best books ever” on Google and click I’m feeling lucky, you get the list I made. And not even the updated list I made or the good list I made with tens of other people. It’s this list I made in 1998. For years now, that has been Google’s definitive #1 answer to the question of what the best books ever are. With quotes or without. Rain or shine. Lucky or discerning. And boom.

The irony? About the not being widely read in fiction (yet) but my opinion on books is my great Google success? Oh yeah.

You’d be amazed at how often people try to find the “best books ever”. A lot. Just since switching to my new servers on 3 October, people have headed for the BP after searching for best books ever 1,095 times, best books of all time 325 times, best books ever written 240 times, greatest books of all time 110 times, and greatest books ever written 83 times. There are seven more similar search strings with 50+ times.

Why me? To what do I owe this bestowal of random authority on books?

One of the only things I’ve ever been able to discern about this supernaturally high ranking (a cool 142 million sites show up for best books ever) is that my posting of this to the web on 22 February 1999 just gave me “dibs”. (Someday I will again be able to think of this phrase and not think of the crunchy ice cream snack. Curse you, Dreyers, for replacing my thoughts of swell 50’s-era phraseology!) I got in the door first, and everyone had to get in line behind me. This is not exactly how search engines work, but it’s close to some principles thereof. It hasn’t held up for the quizzes as much, which have flirted with front-page rankings and since subsided. But dibs in 1999 and dibs in 2003 are way different animals. Ice cream aside. (Incidentally, Dibs the ice cream has overtaken Wikipedia’s article on dibs the calling-aide for the coveted I’m Feeling Lucky spot for dibs. I wonder if they called dibs.)

There has to be more to it than getting in the door first, though. And I think a lot of it has to do with people being afraid of using a term so definitive as “best books ever written”. There has been much made throughout my educational history of it being intellectually savvy to equivocate. It occasionally backfires for politicians, but it’s quite sound for an academic. As long as one is willing to hem and haw, to go back and forth, and to constantly modify every statement (“‘I’ statements, please!”) with qualifiers, then one can’t possibly be driven off their point, however watered down into oblivion. I, being an extremist, had no problem dubbing (note: not dibbing) my list with an incredibly over-the-top phrase. (Though note again, not without some self-awareness, in tacking on the all-important “(More or Less)” to the back end of the list. See, that’s being able to laugh at yourself while still being an extremist! Note also that, to date, not a soul has found the BP by searching for the phrase more or less.)

The point is that anyone else who was willing to make a list of 100 books that they thought were the peachy-keenest (peachiest-keen?) would also be very careful to moderate their title for it so it seemed reasonable. And so it was probably years until anyone else went grandiose on their title. And by then, they had to get in the back of the line.

Not all of my Googular victories are so coveted. It’s possible the Weakerthans already had some inkling of who I was, because I’ve topped the list for weakerthans setlist since shortly after the show in SF in December ’04. Depending on whether you put a space in setlist (please, sir, can I have more semantics?), there are only 5k-19k competitors. I get both, despite the words “set” and “list” not appearing separately in the aforementioned setlist. Google is getting smarter.

Despite feeling so lucky here, only 8 times has someone landed at the BP after searching that string (this October).

I was pleased to note just today that I also top the list for 2008 presidential ticket, mostly (I would surmise) because of the ungainly nature of that phrase. Despite the election year fervor, this string shows up less than a quarter-million times on the interwebs. And I named a quiz after it!

It’s also worth noting, though (lest I feel too lucky), that not once this October, but twice, someone has shown up at the BP after entering the following words into Google:
the parralel between jim crow and to kill a monking bird

Maybe it’s time to start a third incarnation of the Search of the Week. That or start investing in the acquisition and sale of monking birds. I hear they’re like crows.



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

My father had his second cataract surgery today. There were complications. In the dormant period of time between Introspection and StoreyTelling, you may have missed the fact that I attended his first cataract surgery, an unfettered success. Both were held in Albuquerque, and we decided to forgo me making a second trip because the first went so smoothly. No matter the ridiculousness, one feels a certain amount of responsibility for something like this.

A friend is having communications today. There are complications. In the dormant period of time between Introspection and StoreyTelling, you may have missed the fact that this friend visited Berkeley and imparted to me tales of a series of life-changing events. It seems I am uniquely placed in this world to help this person through this struggle and, in so doing, find another reason for what has transpired in my life. I used to say “happened to me”. I almost did again. One starts to take a certain amount of responsibility for something like this.

Hillary Clinton is running for President today. She is a woman and a Democrat. But she is also complicated. She typifies neither women, nor Democrats, if anyone does. And what would that even mean? I am not prone to doing anything other than laughing at FoxNews, which makes it all the more chilling that they are the source of one of the most compelling political articles I’ve ever read. The man writing it is a libertarian, coming from a vantage point I have significant distaste for. Yet there is something deeply common in our perspectives that allows us to see through all this absurdity of partisan illusion and realize that Clinton is Bush. And Bush is Bush. And Bush is Clinton. And when Hillary extends the dynasty’s reign over America past the twenty-year mark, will anyone take responsibility for this?

My Dad is okay. He had an allergic reaction and is due for a rough night, but the morning’s return visit should fix everything. And my friend will be okay as well, through the choppy surf of sine curves that eventually ease, but never subside. Hillary will be more than fine, but what of the rest of us? Note the definitive tone that Balko uses toward the end of the article, despite raising electoral vulnerabilities of Hillary, taking solace in what will be fun to watch in the destined presidency ahead.

We all like to tell ourselves stories. Things are easy, straightforward, simple, monochrome. There are good guys and bad guys, and we are all good guys. There are villains out to get us, but we can stay strong and triumph.

The truth is a lot muddier than that. Ariel once told me, I think paraphrasing a more well-known source, that one’s “friends are just assholes you like.” I think there’s something to that, although I might be more tempted by “one’s enemies are just people you hate.” It’s complicated.

Doctors, lovers, and Democrats are not here to save us. They are not perfect people, blessed by the right holy hands, ready to bestow their graces in turn on an otherwise hopeless population. They are corruptible, fallible, often terrible people. And getting sick, being betrayed, voting Republican – these are not the unmitigated vices they may seem. Surely they hurt. But sometimes pain is our only hope of positive change.

As we were setting up for our Second Annual Pumpkin-Carving Extravaganza at the house on Saturday, our neighbor intoned in a horrified whisper: “You’re not going to light those, are you?” I choked back a hundred wry comments to instead mumble something about “not during the day…” only to quickly cover it with “We’ll be careful.” She replied with paranoia about fires and thinly veiled threats of police action. For candles. In pumpkins. On Halloween.

Even that which we take for granted is complicated.

But it was my father who told me at a young age that what makes the phrase “Love thy neighbor” so compelling is the fact that one tends to have a really obnoxious neighbor. You might get along well with the whole neighborhood, but there’s that one neighbor… And until recently, this probably wasn’t even her. But love? What’s love got to do with it?

Compassion for complication. Today, it may be our only hope.


O, October!

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

My thoughts are scattered and they’re cloudy.

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

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

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

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

So what is it about October, anyway?

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

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

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

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

Thanks, October.

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

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

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

They are ghosts, after all.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That illusion shattered in about six hours.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.


Who’ll Stop the Rain?

Categories: A Day in the Life, If You're Going to San Francisco, Read it and Weep, Tags: , ,

When it rains in the Tenderloin, it’s easy to lose your footing.

Not only is the rain itself slick in this oft-forgotten neighborhood of San Francisco, but the sidewalks are so often coated with various debris that it mingles with the rainwater to create conditions reminiscent of a Slip-n-Slide. But there are few fun and games when it rains here, only the usual mass of poor, tired, and huddled, alongside the pimps and the dealers.

Everyone, even the pimps and the dealers, look a little more miserable in the rain. When your life is out-of-doors, especially overnight, there’s no such thing as appreciating a rainy day. As Richard Adams notes in Watership Down (my favorite book of all time), “Many human beings say that they enjoy the winter, but what they really enjoy is feeling proof against it. For them there is no winter food problem. They have fires and warm clothes. The winter cannot hurt them and therefore increases their sense of cleverness and security. For birds and animals, and for poor men, winter is another matter. Rabbits, like most wild animals, suffer hardship.”

And since there is no snow in San Francisco, the biting wind-blown rain is our winter.

I’ve been reading Shantaram lately, highly acclaimed by many of my friends. Much of the book is centered in the slums of Bombay. The descriptions and insights remind me much of the Tenderloin, though obviously on a much vaster scale. Which makes me wonder, sometimes, why I’m not in the slums of Bombay, or Baghdad, or the camps of Darfur. Surely there is a deeper need there. The rain falls harder in the land of monsoons. Or perhaps doesn’t fall at all.

I know all my arguments for positioning myself here. The United States remains the epicenter of world influence and thus, obviously, the best place to write, to speak, to be read and heard. One can change the minds of the poor and forgotten, but they have already been disregarded. One can change the minds of the rich and remembered, and watch the ripples fall out from there. I don’t like it, I wouldn’t choose for it to be this way, but I can’t deny practicality out of hand. Besides, it makes a certain amount of sense. The people of the Tenderloin are living much like rabbits, or any other being on the constant brink of survival. Survival does not afford one the luxury to consider larger aims of philosophy or politics. Survival clouds out all other issues and concerns, dominating the landscape with decisions of fight or flight. Part of our mission at Glide is to get people above the survival level, so they can again consider the larger questions. But the landscape of those larger questions will always be dominated by those who have the most time and energy to consider them. And thus, I remain here. Or at least I justify remaining here. Every day, it’s one or the other.

(This post, by the way, has earned the categorization “Read it and Weep” by virtue of discussing books and reading, not by necessarily being sad. The titling of my books/reading category being “Read it and Weep” is my own joke at myself for liking sad books. But this is not meant to imply that you should weep at this post in general. What you choose to be sad about is your own prerogative.)

I lack a window in my crowded narrow office, insulating me from momentary reminders of the rain or the rabbit-people of the Tenderloin. I have a warren. They do not.


Out of the Woods

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

Just dropping a note to let everyone know that I am out of the woods (literally), having spent about 31 hours immersed in the woods and 41.5 hours without food.

I wrote extensively in a notebook while I was out there and I intend to transcribe the whole thing here. I think that will tell the story better than I can recount it, at least trying to recount it in too much detail.

Suffice it to say for now that it was a positive experience, but nothing exactly earth-shattering. (I’m not sure I expected it to be.) I didn’t get quite as much solitude as I was hoping for, but was sufficiently detached from the normal routines and distractions that I think I got a pretty good idea of the overall nature of the experience. It will be very interesting to see how I reintegrate with routines like work. I’ve already spent the last hour or so reconnecting with the online life that I detached from for the weekend.

I will say this: Chipotle veggie crispy tacos, already among my favorite foods in the world, never tasted so good.


Fry Day

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

It’s Friday, I’m in hate.

I didn’t write anything here last Friday, save for posting the week’s final Duck and Cover. It was about an Embassy, which is supposed to be an extension of diplomacy and peace, being unable to open because of animosity toward the US. Which is inspired, in no small part, by the fact that said Embassy would not be about diplomacy and peace, but exerting control and influence, running a shadow government to ensure that Iraq functions as a colony for decades to come. It’s no coincidence that it’s supposed to be the largest embassy structure in world history.

Today’s Duck and Cover is about another subversion of peace, perhaps even more damning because of its source. The Nobel Peace Prize has long been sliding into some strange territory, but it wasn’t until today that I was really willing to concede that the committee has been corrupted or lost its way entirely. I had this debate with my Dad not two weeks ago, and now I have a heaping pile of crow on my plate and it’s time to dig in. I’ll be flushing it out with my fast soon anyway.

I know a lot you are thinking that my objection is laden in distaste for Al Gore as a person, his recent movie, and my disbelief in global warming as a concept (at least the way it’s being packaged to people). And you’re right that this sours an already low moment, but it’s not the core substance of my objection. Even if I were to grant that global warming is the biggest threat facing our planet today and that Al Gore is its leading crusader, there’s no justification for giving him the Peace Prize. Global warming has nothing to do with issues of war and peace, violence and non, human interaction on a basic living-together getting-along level. I know the argument you’re going to levy – global warming will eat our resources and living space, making the struggle for limited quantities that much more painful. So if Al Gore’s work were to figure out a way to divide resources fairly, or to negotiate conflicts based on refugees leaving the bay that was Bangladesh, or anything along those lines, then maybe (but still probably not). But he’s trying to “prevent” something that, if it is to be believed, is inevitable and insurmountable at this point. If you really believe in global warming, it’s time to batten down the hatches, start moving people to higher ground, and figure out how to vacate the Equator.

I’m getting away from my point. The point is that giving Al Gore the Peace Prize in 2007 is like giving Jon Stewart the Nobel Prize for Medicine because, after all, laughter is the best medicine.

And maybe you’d agree with that move. But if your lifetime aspiration were to be a medical researcher who cured something devastating, wouldn’t you feel like your goals were lost upon the announcement of Jon Stewart’s award?

It’s a familiar theme for me this week, despite all the anticipation I have going into this weekend’s fasting trip (see three posts ago, if you missed it). The struggles I have at work are reaching a boiling point (and now check two posts ago…) it’s really hard for me to anticipate where things are going to go. And as much as I love and embrace the unknown, a place of employ is just a hard place to do that. I can’t really engage all the details here, nor am I sure that this is how I want to spend my last few minutes before getting in the shower and starting up the track that inevitably leads to another work day. (Though not full, because I spent 11 uninterrupted hours there yesterday.) Suffice it to say that my pendulum swings radically between thinking I’ll be at Glide for the next five years and wanting to give notice. I can’t tell you why unless I do the latter, and I won’t want to if I do the former. Today, as on many Fridays, my pendulum has swung almost full-arc toward the latter.

Friday is usually a good day for people, especially at work. For a number of factors, some of them explicable, Friday is quite the opposite for me. Part of that may be sincerely wrapped up in holistically enjoying the work that I do and not wanting it to end for the week. I don’t think about it or feel it that way, but I think it must be a subconscious factor. Additionally, there are usually things that need wrapping up before week’s end, and that puts extra stress on its final day. And many people are often gone on Friday, shifting the weight of the workload.

I think it’ll be fine. I need to be on my way. The drum-beat of time still has me in its grip, for less than a day now. It’s decidedly October, and the butterflies in my stomach have the aura of sinister moths.

“Squint with one eye, hum a show-tune, and wait for your ride to say, ‘Oh, that’s where you must have lost your way.'”

All our accidents went purposeful and fell indeed.


Fasting is Fun!

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

Oh John Schneider, where are you now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Vermont: Neither Green nor Mountain (discuss)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Assorted Thoughts Before Vermont

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Metablogging, Pre-Trip Posts, Read it and Weep, Tags: , , , ,

All right. Turns out that this whole “keeping posts long and narrative” idea works pretty well, but seems wholly unfitting for times like the morning before I depart on a big trip. I have a long-standing personal tradition of firing off correspondence and/or public missives before departing on trips, of getting up a little earlier to do so. Deep down, I know that a large part of the reason for this is the heightened perception of the risk of death during travel. Even though it’s absolutely not true, human beings feel this elevated threat level on planes that in someone like me (even though I know cars are eleventy-billion times more dangerous and life-threatening) makes me want to tie up loose ends… or at least give people awareness of what I was considering on the final day. Truth be told, it’s really amazing how much of my life I spend anticipating and preparing for final perceptions like that.

What a wonderfully cheery thought for five in the morning. But hey, if anything, I’m opening up even more with StoreyTelling than Introspection, because long explanations sort of require back-story, and back-story often requires taking a can-opener to those rusty containers that long ago developed botulism.

Regardless, the point here is that I have all these leftover thoughts and ideas that, now that I’m back in the blogging spirit, would normally have found their home in delicious two-liners on Introspection’s format. But there’s no place to put them. So they’re about to go here… periodically I’m probably just going to have to do posts like this with relatively unrelated assortments. I don’t think any of today’s are cryptic… I already have a whole “Keepin’ it Cryptic” category/tag planned too, since there will be inevitably be times when some other person feels they have a right to privacy, or I don’t really feel like forcing the issue with some person I know right here on this blog. But not today. So this will be like the appendix post.

Speaking of which, they allegedly found the purpose of the appendix this week. Nifty, huh? There’s a reason for everything. The proof for God is in the logical purpose, people.

Baseball is clearly something I’ve still been paying attention to, since it’s October and that’s one of the things that makes October great. And I am blessed to be paying Comcast an inordinate amount of money to get channels like TBS, so I’m not missing out on the playoffs. Hosting the baseball playoffs on TBS makes about as much sense as putting Top Chef on the History Channel. Especially since it’s the second playoffs in 465 years to not feature the Atlanta Braves. You could sort of draw a link between the channel and the show (in the same way that APDA draws links to resolutions), but no one who normally watches the channel will want to watch that show, and everyone who wants to watch will be vaguely frustrated to have to find a channel they never watch. Maybe that’s the strategy though, TBS gets to spam adds for their bizarre shows at a whole new audience. In 20 years, the Anime Channel will bid for the baseball playoffs and we’ll be inundated with ads for the latest blend of medieval fantasy themed Japanese characters with crazy hair and soap opera interactions between innings. And I’ll have to debate with Em about the value of adding the premium Anime Channel for 2 months and whether Comcast will respect our right to cancel it even though they’re already taking $746 a month.

I tend to be exaggerative in the morning.

My only real point in bringing up baseball was to observe how completely unlikely it is that anyone could’ve envisioned a Rockies/Diamondbacks NLCS even a month ago, let alone earlier in the season. And yet it looks extremely likely that this will happen. Granted, the Phillies are in the exact same position as the ’95 Mariners in their Division Series … down 2-0 going on the road. And we all know what happened then. (Or maybe you don’t. The M’s won 2 games in NY, then came home and won the decisive fifth game in extra innings in the greatest game in Mariner history.) And given that the Phils basically are the Mariners from a few years ago (not really, but the pitching staff is… after all, Pat Gillick’s their GM), it’s all possible. But at this point, the Rockies will probably be winning the World Series, so I wouldn’t put much faith in a Philly comeback.

I’m also starting to believe that a 5-game series just might not cut it for baseball. Or if it did, you’d need to have a 1-1-1-1-1 schedule, instead of 2-2-1. But it’s way easier to just go 7 games instead of changing venues for every game. The first World Series was 9 games. You don’t play 162 contests to get ousted by a 3-game losing streak. It’s just too short.

(By the way, the paragraphs directly above will earn this post the category/tag “Let’s Go M’s”. This is not because the M’s were briefly mentioned, but that will be my baseball title in general. I’m trying to limit myself a little here.)

Ack! In finding the link to that series recap on Wikipedia above, I just realized that I’ve been incorrect in my memory about the ’95 ALDS for years! Apparently they used to do a 2-3 schedule for the ALDS!! Two-three?! So the M’s were down 2-0 going into 3 straight home games, which they won all of. I’ve been recapping that series incorrectly for ages. Wow. That really blows my mind. Whoever thought 2-3 was a reasonable schedule for a baseball series? See, this really proves that it needs to be longer than 5 games.

Hm. Now I’ve gotten myself so hyped up about baseball that I’ve forgotten most of what else I was going to say. So it goes. I should go pack and clean out the catboxes anyway.

I’m going to Vermont, by the way, for Stina & Dav’s wedding, which will be in Octobery fall colors confines near the borders with New York and Quebec. It should be beautiful, and a little chilly. Em and I are changing planes approximately 4,000 times on the way out, so we’re loading up the books. The next book I finish will put me over the top of last year’s total (21), which is right about the pace I’d like to maintain for a year. My commute has been very good for keeping me reading… and I don’t want to read much more than 25 books a year, because then I’ll never write. I can’t quite decide if I like David Foster Wallace or if he’s just messing with everyone (or, I suppose, both), but his imagery is some of the strongest stick-to-your-mind kind of stuff ever.

(Gah, now I have to add a book/reading category/tag too! This is getting to be too much. I’m now believing that the way I really should have approached this morning’s posting is to post 4-5 separate posts, all neatly categorized and separated. But that would sort of be like a strobe-light-blog, wouldn’t it? Hrm.)

Thank you, by the way, to everyone who has written me e-mails in the last few days about this blog and welcoming me back into the communication fold. I really appreciate it and I will respond to everyone individually soon, but sadly not before leaving. But I want to acknowledge how touched I’ve been by your reception… it’s good to know I haven’t alienated all my readers by taking a couple months off.

Also, to delve into the slightest metablogging, I can’t figure out why the second post I made here was labeled as the third, and thereafter all the numbers have seemed to be off by one. This is the kind of thing that really bugs me about using automated blogging software and what I was always afraid of. Having an accurate postcount is one of the things that I was excited about with automation, and the slightest inaccuracy (and what could be more slight than an inaccuracy of one?) drives me crazy. When I return (there’s no time now), I will have to delve into the actual files of this database and see if I can alter everything to restore order to the numbers. So be mindful of permalinking these few early posts. If I restore the numbers and they count properly, I’ll never change them again. As I look at it now, though, it’s possible that WordPress is just terrified of a sophomore slump – category #2 doesn’t seem to exist either. Don’t fear the deuce, WordPress!

Okay, now to clean Pandora’s box.

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