Monday, September 26, 2016

As at an abstraction

At the corner of Franklin and Columbia today, as I was waiting to turn to go get Niklaus for lunch, there was a very attractive and funky young college woman, definitely someone I would have had a crush on in college, waiting to cross the street. She was wearing leggings or yoga pants or something like that, entirely form-fitting, and I could not but admire her figure, at least in the abstract, and I realized I was taking her in somewhat as an abstraction.

This took me back some 25 years or so, to when Czeslaw Milocsz was in town, and I nailed him after taking offense at saying he looked at his young lover seated on the edge of the tub "as at an abstraction."  I recounted this here.

Now that  I am 50, I guess I kind of get it, it is certainly a more age-appropriate way to appreciate the charms of young ladies. And I guess that's more the point, aging doesn't make men blind or ignorant of certain facts. The key is not to go around trying to sleep with women 30 years younger than you, and, even more importantly, to not be successful in trying.

Big trucks

Driving on Eastern NC.  Headed to New Bern. Always astounded to see the number of massive trucks people drive, and the amount of effort they expend to control the growth of plants, especially grass, in the middle of freaking nowhere. Each, in its own way, a sad attempt to establish dominance, while secretly demonstrating the fear -- almost an admission -- that it ain't happening.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Beach

It had been a long time since we had been here. The Beach, generically. Wrightsville Beach is a place where I had never spent any time before, a fine place, somewhat less forelorn than Atlantic Beach seemed when we were up there a couple of years ago for Father's Day. Fewer derelict motels that have tried but largely failed to convert into condo complexes. Everything pretty upbeat here. Sunny, but not too sunny at the end of September (ask me about that again when I come back from the run I should have taken first thing in the morning, like those toned tri people). But in the end it is first and foremost, a beach, and, as such, a subset of The Beach.

Which Mary generally fears because of sun, her being rather fair, the children having gotten her skin rather than mine. Plus the sand, all the seafood, the heat.

But we are here, nonetheless. and here in the afternoon, after a near nap, in the cool Airbnb house with the period paneling and retro couches (Mary approves highly of the styling), looking out at the inland waterway, it is rather nice. David is napping, mom is kind of napping, protesting that she never naps, and Mary is photographing her. The kids are kind of doing homework, maybe, lying in bed under there respective blankets, with their devices.

All is good.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Book on Cancer

I just pushed through Siddhartha Mukherjee's "The Emperor of All Maladies."  As my readers may have observed, although I am not afraid of attacking thick tomes, I am not by nature engaged to tackle the fatties devoted to hard science topics.  But since my new office is at the NC BioTech Center, and we are circulating amongst lots of entrepreneurs who are developing drugs and the like, I figured it behooved me to educate myself about this kinda stuff.

I was inspired in particular by a conversation with the CFO of a small, speculative firm that works in the drug discovery space, who has a platform to help other companies facilitate the development of molecules (yes, you read that correctly). He was also not native to the drug world, and allowed that transitioning into it had been a particularly steep learning curve.

So I read this book. It was not light reading. Cancer kills lots of people, and has been doing so for a long time. (Just this morning I was texting with a client whose husband was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer which had metastasized some. He was in the hospital for chemo).  The "war on cancer" has been fought on many fronts for centuries, and while there has been a lot of progress on some fronts, on others there's been much less forward motion.

Let's be honest, it was an excruciatingly difficult book for someone like myself, being averse to medical detail. Particularly the chapters about super-aggressive radical mastectomies, of which I will spare you the details.  It was rough reading. And the lack of forward motion along many research vectors was disheartening as we moved into pages 300-350.

And then, finally, some really effective drugs targeting breast cancer, lymphoma, and some specific types of leukemia!  Ahh, it is beautiful.

Mostly, I must say, the book reminded me, as if I needed reminded, of the vastness of what I don't know, and the number of workaholic geniuses out there trying to solve problems. And the complexity of funding research for diseases that occur rarely. What do you do when you need $100 million to attach a cancer of which maybe 100 a year pop up?  It's a tough sale.

So, in the end, it was a fine book. One I'm glad to be done with.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Pushing through

Yesterday ended up being a great day, in an odd way, if extraordinarily bustly (140 miles in toto, after driving to a soccer game in the AM then to Raleigh and back twice in the late afternoon and evening).

Graham's birthday party came off well.  Four boys showed up, one of whom is new in Graham's orbit, and the email hadn't gone through to his dad, so Graham hand-delivered the party deets on Friday, and he showed!  Then another boy, whose parents are freaking space cadets and had forgotten about Graham's party in prior years, came after I called his house and his dad said: "Oh, it wasn't on the calendar and Jenny (not her real name) is out of town."  Plus the DVD of Monty Python's Holy Grail was scratched, but we managed through it and they saw maybe 80% of the movie anyway.

Then, in the afternoon, I was working on my presentation for today, and my computer crashed and then couldn't find a boot volume when restarting. I knew my data was backed up to the cloud, so was concerned primarily with what machine I would take to do the presentation. So I ran some diagnostics -- which kept looking bad -- then I rebooted a couple of times and, sure enough, in true Dell fashion, the computer eventually realized it wasn't actually dead. To quote Monty Python:  "I'm not quite dead yet!"

Finally, come evening time, we were out at a small party, and my phone started acting dead.  Would not come back to life. This being a 13 month old Samsung Galaxy 5, so a perfectly decent phone, which had had decent battery charge before I went into the party.  I didn't freak out or fret too much (as I am at times wont to do).  I just plugged it in when I got back in the car, saw some signs of life, then rebooted when I got home.

This morning, we woke up and found out that the cat had puked again.  I'm not thinking about that for a little while.  Gotta prep for this afternoon.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Birthday weekend

And so, Graham's birthday weekend is upon us, and with it another frenzied cleansing of the house in anticipation of a small number of adults visiting the house at drop-off and pick-up.  I mean, I guess it is worthwhile to clean the house a couple of times a year, just for good measure. But in the end it is shame-driven.

This after at work today, one of the partners in my firm was encouraging me to get upgrade from my Prius to a Tesla for appearances sake:  "you should reward yourself, it is consistent with who you are, clients like it."  But it costs a bunch of money, too.

Anyway, off to bed now. Soccer game at 9.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Never forget

I was thinking yesterday that I'm not 100% certain what it is that I'm never forgetting.  I mean, no, I will never forget standing on 5th Avenue watching the Twin Towers burn and realizing that I couldn't stand there and watch because if I did I would start smoking again. That I didn't need to watch. We didn't know, couldn't imagine that they would collapse.  When I heard it had happened I really didn't quite process it.

I will never forget the craziness of that day, or the unity of sentiment in the days following it.

Nor will I forget the opportunism and alacrity with which the Bush administration latched hold of the "Axis of Evil" construct to justify wars on multiple fronts, and the way we squandered the good will of the world just when we had an opportunity to slipstream off of it by undertaking a war for hearts and minds that might have done us some good.

Or a bunch of other stuff. Basically, September 11 was a great opportunity squandered in an orgy of revanchist and neo-authoritarian bloodlust.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Enthusiasm deficit

There is a marked enthusiasm deficit around Hillary Clinton. We find her difficult to like, so it is hard to get behind her with passion, though we all know that we hate the Donald.

What's up with that?  Undoubtedly she is held to a higher standard than men, and if she projected the kind of things that we like about women her age, grandmothers, we wouldn't find them electable.  So in a sense she is in a can't win situation.

There are few women in politics who were her age and "likeable."  Really only Ann Richards of Texas springs to mind, and she was a good deal younger than Hillary is when she rose to prominence in national politics. It is a shame that she passed away a decade ago. The interweb informs me that Richards drank and smoked a lot, and indeed passed away of esophageal cancer at a relatively young age. I'm willing to bet that trait, that she drank and partied with powerful men, taught her behavioral tricks that allowed her to cross over to likeability: a sense of humor on the rostrum, of knowing how to work a crowd and a room.

But she would probably have been undercut and hacked to death by a thousand paper cuts too had she run for President.

RBG pulls it off these days, though she has to be careful.


Sunday, September 04, 2016

What is art?

At the "Southern Accent" show which just opened at the Nasher this week (if you're in NC, go see it, great show), there was a wall of work by William Eggleston, including the one below.  Mary mentioned that Eggleston was one of the first "serious artists" to use color, as opposed to black and white.

It occurred to me that treating color photographs as art is very similar to what Iurii Lotman and the Tartu School said about poetry and prose. Poetry, according to this line of thought, is the first form of verbal art because it is so clearly differentiated from everyday speech. Prose, therefore, as art, is more complex then poetry, because it has to differentiate itself from both poetry and every speech. It must fight harder to prove that it is art, and, as such, has a tougher job.

It seemed deep at the time.

 
Now must go throw frisbee with Graham, then take a swim.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

In the thick of it

It has been a busy week.  The Volvo started having electrical issues -- just when I was about to put some money into fixing the interior, our cat Leon continued to puke all over stuff and had to be taken to the vet, who for $400 gave us some drugs and told us he wasn't eating, a friend of Mary's found out that -- if it wasn't bad enough that brain cancer was killing her slowly, that stage 4 lung cancer would be killing her more quickly even, thank you very much.  One client got fired/laid off, another found out she was getting audited.

Meanwhile, I have been having some lower back pain, partially tracing back to standing on the concrete floor of the Cradle all last weekend, partially from my crappy -- if stylish -- desk chair. Must get up to Carrboro to pick up my hand me down from the company that mom just shut down.

I realize I am beginning to sound all too much like Andy Rooney.  I'm just saying.

Mary just came in and told me the vet might call and tell us that Leon has pancreatitis and that "we may have to make a decision quickly," and that pretty much takes the wind out of my zen sail. Waves keep washing over me, at once cooling me and making me deucedly salty.  Now must take Graham to martial arts.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Dog day of the soul

A long day stretches before me:  Graham to martial arts, soccer game at noon, MC a little at the Be Loud! afternoon show, home to rest, back to the Cradle for the evening show.  In the middle of all this laundry must get done so I'll have a clean Be Loud! t-shirt for the evening.

Tomorrow an alumni function Durham Bulls game. I sometimes wonder how I let myself get dragged into joining that board.

Last night at the show I had a number of instances of people recognizing me and saying we had met, and/or me getting peoples' names wrong. God how I hate that, but it is so hard to keep peoples' names straight.  I think I have said this before, but this is what CRM software, social networks, and friends are for, to help you fill these gaps.  Of course I know that the people didn't walk away shocked that I had forgotten their names, they are not blogging about it this morning, but still.  I suppose it rankles in particular as I am watching my mom and others age and display memory issues, and the memory of my maternal grandmother's protracted battle with Alzheimer's and my dad's struggle with oncoming dementia in the months and years leading up to his death scare me a little.

Particularly for someone like myself.  I view myself as living by my wits and intellect. Increasingly, I think I need to transition to living less by brains, more by spirit. If I can just try to do the right thing at each moment of the day, and accept that even that is a hard thing to do, that will have to be good enough.

Even in that regard, it may be a question of limiting scope. I need to try to do the right thing, but equally endeavor not to take too much on. I know darned good and well that I cannot predict interest rates, so I try not to make decisions based too much on expectations of their direction. Though I have to take them into account.

In any case, right now I need to brief myself for this afternoon's MCing and pack water bottles and sunscreen, cuz it's gonna be a hot one.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Keeping it in mind

Long day yesterday, from at breakfast in the park sponsored by Ernst & Young looking at BioTech capital markets over last few years and expectations going forward, including a very interesting presentation by CEO of Patheon, to an evening event for NC's Secretary of State (both events featured "free" food, by the way), followed by a board meeting at our house.

In the middle, we discovered that Mary's Mac is having significant issues (had to call up Paul Rosenberg, guitarist extraordinaire of CHHS '84 and computer guru).  Then in the morning we awoke to cat puke on the sofa.  Ughh.

Overall, rather tired going into a weekend of Be Loud! Sophie concert fun, with first soccer game of the season at noon on an August Saturday, capped by an alumni event, then back to school next Monday.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of it all, it is easily for me to be knocked off-kilter and for me to lose sight of how incredibly blessed I am to have what I have and do what I do.  Right now I am honestly just trying to marshall my energies and focus on doing the most important tasks over the next 72-96 hours.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Presence of mind and body

Early this morning David and I played tennis for the second day in a row, raising my total of tennis playing sessions for 2016 to a grand total of three. Once more I heard the chorus of voices in my head: "Oh I am feeling old and creaky... I should really get out and play more... I should go to a coach and work on my serve... I really need to get some instruction in the gym to build core strength... I should take up yoga."  At length I was able to wrestle these voices to the mat and get to a worthwhile observation: my footwork is lazy on my forehand side, so I end up hitting with my weight going backwards all too often, resulting in looping shots. In essence, I am lazy on the forehand because I know I can usually get it back over the net and deep enough to make it not easy to return aggressively, because I exert so much mental effort getting my feed in position on my backhand, where I know I can't be so casual. So my brain is tired out for forehands.


Once I got to that realization, I started to focus more, be more present, and hit the ball a little better.

Still, I really should do all of the things I listed above. I just won't, because in the end I will prioritize soccer.

After the excellent drive north on 95 a couple of weeks back, coming south today was hell. Some of it was traffic, in the normal spots, but mostly it was torrential rainfall between Delaware and Fredericksburg, VA, in short in the places where traffic sucks the worst.

But we made it home.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Flow

I have been listening to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's Flow:  The Psychology of Optimal Experience in the car recently, and it is a pretty good listen.  One point he makes is that often people seem fixated on one aspect of experience or another: food, or exercise, or music, or whatever, and they may tend to talk about this incessantly.  Csikszentmihalyi notes that, while such monomania may become boring (I won't argue with him on that), the ability to appreciate various aspects of experience (say, all of the ones listed above and more) and express appreciation for them does seem correlated with a good life, and makes for pleasant conversation. I buy that. Seems like a pretty simple observation, but I've never thought about it just like that.

That's all I got for now. Back to the coal mine.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Dog Days

It's rather hot here in Larchmont.  For the most part, we are holed up in the back of the house, in the four rooms coolable by window units. It is not unlike being on a small boat, indeed, there are conspicuous similarities, given the predilection for nautical motifs of these historically boat-loving Berridges, and the view of the Long Island Sound through the kitchen window.

I nonetheless braved the elements this morning and went for a run. For the first time ever, I saw deer in Larchmont Manor. Baby dear. I mean, I have long since stopped being impressed by seeing deer on the East Coast, but this is a pretty dense, semi-urban place, this neighborhood, less than 1 mile between US 1 and the Long Island Sound. That was a surprise.

In general, it has been a pretty lazy Sunday, capped off a few minutes back by frittering away  some time watching Olympic ping pong. Those are some hard core geek athletes. Gotta love it.

Now must go make progress on my new book, Siddhartha Mukherjee's The Emperor of Maladies. Not light reading.  I just polished off Kate Atkinson's Case Histories, a very solid book dressed up as a mystery novel, which I had felicitously snatched up for a buck at the PTA Thrift Store a few weeks back after hearing of it for the first time on NPR not an hour previously. Good karma.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Good day on 95

It was that rarest of things, a fine day driving up 85 and 95 to New York.  We left at 9:30, arrived 7ish to Larchmont.  Natalie drove the first leg to the VA border, mostly without incident (in which I was as at fault as she was -- overreacting a little as she drifted off the road while learning to change lanes).

From there it was pretty much smooth sailing, a little traffic on the Balt-Wash Parkway (as the Google Maps lady is so fond of calling it), a little on the approach to the GWB -- though we used 46 to cut a chunk of that off, this time with good guidance from our eternal friends Sergei and Larry.

There was, however, mildly less family togetherness than on prior rides, as each of us was, in turn, sucked into our devices. Even Graham spent most of the ride listening to the soundtrack to Hamilton on his ancient iPod, which continues to suffice for him. On the ride south, we must concentrate more on shared media, more podcasts from Dear Hank and John, or even the ebook about a container of rubber duckies that fell into the sea in the Seattle bay and helped scientists learn a lot about currents and much else (the book is fully 15 hours long, so there must be much there) I downloaded from the other somewhat evil empire.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Ron Weasley

I was taking Natalie over to mom's house to do some moving-related stuff today, and she mentioned she had a good idea for keeping the kids occupied while sitting around grandma's house:  "We could read parts from the new Harry Potter screenplay/play thing" (whatever it is).

Of course that seemed like a fine idea, and she continued "the adults could join in too." So I asked which character she thought I would be best suited to play.  "Mmmm.  Probably Ron Weasley, he's a stay-at-home dad."  Part of me wanted to be Harry, so I said "Not Harry." And she was like, "Nahh, he's all tortured and tormented."

I was actually touched and flattered by that, that she perceives me as a stable presence rather than tormented, whereas, as regular readers of the blog (and Mary!) can attest, I am at times a little tormented by the big questions of life, touched by a wee dram of the Hamletism. I will not rush to disabuse her of this perception.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Commitment

One of the things about being out of the flow of pop or even alternative culture, but having the archival resources of the internet and other people at your disposal, is that I get to make discoveries long after others, things that are in a sense pre-curated for me.  One great recent example is Neutral Milk Hotel. I remember a couple of years back they played in the parking lot in front of the Cradle as part of Merge Fest, I think, and I was like "who the heck is that?" There was some good reason I didn't look them up at the time, plus it was gonna be a million degrees out in the parking lot, but sometime later on Facebook somebody posted a song and I checked it out and was like, dag, this is special.

Apparently inspired by the story of Anne Frank, it really doesn't matter. What shines through is the intense level of commitment of Jeff Mangum, the front man, to his vision of whatever universe the album occupies. They're from the south, so I always thought it was kind of Faulkneresque, with all the wombs, rattlesnakies, sweaty bodies, semen and dreams, sounded like trailer society to me, but what do I know. Mangum's voice isn't that pretty, but it is intensely expressive and he fully inhabits the songs, and part of it is that, as you teach yourself the songs on guitar and start singing them, it becomes clear that he doesn't breathe much as he sings them, and he stretches his lungs, and there is something to the sheer physical demands of the songs that is compelling.

As with the Shins, there is a huge subculture of particularly teens alone in their bedrooms playing these songs that is discoverable on YouTube.  Maybe this is true of lots of artists these days, not just the ones I get intrigued by. Whatever. It strikes me that great songwriters create new dimensions of soul, which others step in to inhabit with covers.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Top notch

Last night at the Bulls game, it became apparent to me that my wallet was no longer in my pocket. We looked high and low, but it was in neither of those places.  Ah well. I think it has been well in excess of two decades since I last lost the thing, but there you have it.

We were able to get the credit cards cancelled quickly, and I saw that I could get a replacement license online, but we need to drive north on Tuesday for our traditional August northern jaunt, so I had to go to DMV pronto.  I got there early, but not early enough to really beat the rush. So I got a front row seat for watching this woman handle the front-desk triage: checking to see that people had the documentation they needed to do what they wanted to do, assigning everyone numbers, and generally handling crowd control by setting expectations for the throngs gathered there.

She was awesome. She stayed positive but firm while delivering news that people mostly didn't want to hear, either that they didn't have what they needed, or that, even if we did, that we were in for some waiting due to factors entirely beyond any of our control. It was masterful customer service from someone in an occasionally-reviled organization, one which, it should be noted, has been hamstrung by branch closure, even in the wake of NC's restrictive voter-ID laws, which does not appear to be coincidental....

Hats off to this most excellent professional! Tis a shame I take such blurry pictures, and that I failed to ask her name.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Haircut

The other day I went back to the barber shop near Whole Foods, which is staffed by guys who are a little more country than the dominant local population.  I have talked politics with them before, so I figured I'd see where they were at with the upcoming election.

The guy who was cutting my hair, a fortyish guy, said that it looked like we were damned either way we voted. I.e. Hillary's just as bad as Trump. I didn't press, figured it was good enough that they weren't pulling for Trump. "Eight more years of the same thing we been having."  I paused for a bit, and then asked what concretely had been so bad about Obama.  "Well, I just never liked him much."  I tried to draw them out a bit, mentioned how I knew businesspeople who felt that the expense and regulatory burden of Obamacare was something they didn't like, and he said, "Yeah, Obamacare, that's one thing." I didn't bother to actually ask how it had hurt him.

I tried to nudge the conversation around to Hillary concretely and one of the customers, an older white guy, started making jokes about "Billary." At least they didn't call her crooked.

Then my haircut was done.  I gave the guy a decent tip and left. Basically, it seemed pretty clear that they weren't comfortable having a black guy or a woman in the White House.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Changing perspective

Over the years I have written a lot about the themes of entropy, flux and contigency, and particularly how they relate to and/or are made manifest in yard care and/or house care. Basically, the idea that we trim and rake and cut and clean and dust to inculcate order into our surroundings and exert control over nature and the external, forces that seem to beset us at every turn. When I started reflecting on this, I viewed it somewhat ironically and at a distance, in the abstract terms of the slightly warmed over humanities scholar.

By now, I know it is personal, or at least it has become so for me. The desire to impose order on the world is all about aging.

I feel it in particular with regard to my house, and my car... I look at signs of overgrowth of plants, on the one hand, or mold or worn paint, on the other, and I feel a need to battle them, but not the energy. I really should outsource more of it.

I just did a quick search and found that I have already written much the same post, back in November. Here it is.

So let me shift gears slightly.  Last weekend I decided it was finally time to wash the Volvo, which looked pretty disgusting. So I took it to the car wash on the road formerly known as Airport. I was pulling in to the drive through one there, which I like because you get to let go inside the car and take a little nap while the sound of swooshy swoosh washes over you, but this older Caribbean gentleman who worked there looks at my car and points back to the self-service area, where you spray your car yourself and says:  "if it were my car, I'd take it there, driving through this thing isn't gonna hardly do anything."  Then he said something and "high-pressure rinse" so I said "OK" and drove over where he had pointed.

So I put like ten bucks in the thing and went through all the steps and felt like I had done a pretty decent job. Sure, some of the much didn't come off, but it looked much better to me.  And I pulled through to the vacuuming area. The older guy comes along and looks at it, shakes his head a little and says "How much money did you put in there?"  So I told him. And he goes "back it up into there and let me work on it a little."  Then he goes and gets a card that lets him get free time using the machines, and spends about 15 more minutes on it.  Really working it.  He used "tire wash" on the whole car because it was, as he said, the strongest soap.

In the end, the car came out looking great, and he reluctantly accepted a nice tip. And I learned how to wash a car as filthy as that.

I too felt great, having pushed back the craggy fingers of death a little further away from our fine old car.  And that car wash -- whose owner played baseball in high school 60 years ago with my departed uncle Heywood -- cemented a customer for life through excellent customer service.