Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Tricks on tourists

When we got to the airport in Austin a few week back, we went to the Alamo desk to get our rental car.  I had ordered, if not the cheapest category of car, one that was pretty low down there:  "Mid-Size", which in their mind was like a Corolla.  I was banking on a free upgrade.

"Would you like to buy an upgrade?" Asked the woman at the desk, pleasantly enough.  "Nah, I'm good," I responded. Then, when we got up to where the cars actually were, the guy says to me:  "Pick out whatever you want, except for an SUV."  So we got a nice Nissan Altima.  I could have had a Dodge Challenger or something like that, with a Hemi in it, but I thought that would be a bad temptation in Texas, and a bad mileage example for the kids.

Reminded me of a time we were in Florida in the early 80s, and were going onto Sanibel Island.  At the bridge onto the island, you could pay for one way or round trip, which was cheaper than two one ways.  So we bought it.  Then, when we were leaving the island, we saw there was no charge to leave.  Dad thought this was admirably slick.

Things I have said but not written

Last night I saw a post on Facebook from a friend from college who is apparently working through some deep depression.  Having lost a couple of people dear to me over the last year in ways that were clearly contributed to if not outright caused by alcoholism and mental illness, and with another friend floating out there somewhere, having disconnected his cell phone and evincing increasingly erratic behavior, I feel I should write some things that I have said many times, but have never written.

When I quit drinking 22 years ago -- and I hope to make it through till midnight tonight without a drink -- I was seized by a profound sense of gratitude.  Having drank and smoked pot for years and having sporadically but with no success tried to manage or cut it back, I felt that my situation was hopeless, that I would never be able to stop.  So, when I found that, with the help of AA, I could, I was overwhelmingly grateful.  At a profound, cellular level.

And, after experiencing this gratitude for a while, I realized that it didn't make sense for me to be grateful to nothing.  Which is to say, that the very fact of my gratitude presupposed something on the other side of it.  There had to be something that I was grateful to. This is what I called my "Higher Power", in 12-step terms.  But it only makes sense when I really take it to heart, it can't be a box-checking exercise for me to fit within the framework of the 12-step paradigm.

For much of my life I have realized I was fortunate.  To have been born into a family that values education in a place that values education, relatively wealthy within a historically wealthy society during a time of great technological progress, the list goes on and on. Honestly, I have to include on the list being white and male. So many attributes have conspired to make my life easier* than those of others. And also to have realized I needed help at a young age, and that I was willing to accept that. But, as I've thought about it, idea of "fortune" or "being fortunate" implies that these attributes have attached to me randomly, within a vision of the world that views things as just happening.

It makes better sense for me to conceive myself as being blessed.  This is a more challenging rhetoric to swallow, because the idea of "blessing" is so wrapped up in the Christian worldview where God is (at least here in the US of A) another while male with a very nice white beard.  But I don't have a better term for it just now, and my days flow better when I basically view myself as being blessed, and try to roll with it.  And if I can communicate that, and try to bear it in mind in my behavior, so much the better.




*And, to be clear, the issue here is the ease conferred on me by being a member of these groups, not that these attributes make us or me in any way intrinsically better

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Separation

Over the weekend we watched "A Separation," an Iranian movie from 2011 which I remember had a super-dramatic trailer, really an impressive one, and which I snuck into our Netflix list while Mary wasn't looking.  I have had a hard time selling Mary on movies from Iran, ever since I dragged her and some other hapless victim (Eric Schwab) to Lincoln Plaza in 1995 to see Abbas Kiorastami's "The White Balloon."  This was a very slow movie.  Very "atmospheric," as they say.  That we are now married and have two fine and healthy children is a tribute to her good nature.

And so, "A Separation."   Also not a plot-driven movie.  No car chases.  But a very rich picture of the complexities of living, of living in Iran, to a certain extent, but really not so much. There are no saints in this movie, and no villains, really, just people trying to get by and deal with complicated shit. Getting the hell out of the country.  Being the only child of a dad that has Alzheimer's.  Being poor and having a hotheaded husband.  Having a little more money and privilege.  Being torn between two parents, each with a compelling need to do things that tear them apart.

In short, it's a good movie.  Watch it.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Spooky!

Interesting article in the Times sports section this morning about a the old Hilton in Oklahoma City, which is reputedly haunted.  This spooks out the opposing players who stay there, meaning they get less sleep, and play less well the next day.  So they call it the "6th man" for the OKC Thunder.


This caused a few reflections.  First off, you can see how this place might need to be Ghostbusted.  Pretty spooky.

But why would a bunch of NBA players be particularly freaked out.  For one, it was build in 1911, and you can imagine how old buildings from back in the day from slave areas (Oklahoma was not admitted to the Union till 1907, but it was a "slave territory") might not elicit the warmest of fuzzies from a predominantly African-American cohort.

You might also think that these black guys, many of whom cut their college careers short so they could assure themselves of big paydays before they messed up their knees or ankles, and so are perhaps on average less-educated than the typical wealthy clientele of high-end hotels like this, are easily spooked.  Compounded by the persistence of Christian faith in the African-American population, which leaves the door open to thinking about the dark side of things.  I thought this stuff for a minute or two, and there may be something there.  But that's 10% of it, if that.

But I will say this. Me, with my Ivy League PhD and all that, I don't really believe in ghosts.  But scary movies freak me the fuck out.  The end of "The Blair Witch Movie"? I prefer not to think of it, too real.  I still have scary associations from "The Sixth Sense." None of this stops me from getting up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.  But I will tell you honestly that I prefer not to sleep in the house alone. Not because I'm really afraid ghosts are gonna get me, not because I think somebody's gonna break in, and certainly I don't think Graham would protect me in either of those cases. But still.  Would rather not be alone.

And hotel rooms?  I don't like em when I'm alone.  Particularly the first night I'm in one.  That is when I am most likely to have recourse to the sleeping pills I make sure I take with me when I'm on the road.

So I feel for these guys.  The fact that they are able to perform at a high level going from hotel room to hotel room night after night is impressive.  As for Oklahoma City my suggestion is this:  go down the road to another hotel. I'm sure that OKC/NBA has a special deal worked out with this hotel, but they should cut another deal with another one. Let the guys sleep.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Cleaning my All Clad stainless steel pans

Now, I'm sure you really give a flying hoot about this.  However, I Googled it once before but couldn't remember it exactly, so I'm putting it here on my blog so I'll know where to find it next time.

Barkeeper's Helper is nice if you really want to work out your arms.  This is easier and works better. 

Fill your pan as high as possible/necessary with water mixed with baking soda.  Boil it.  Put a top on it if you have one (I guess.  I do.  Maybe not necessary but I think it helps get the edges up where you can't quite get the water).  Let it sit there.  Drain it.  Now scrub it.  Burnt on crap comes off pretty easy.  You'll still have to apply a little elbow grease, but not too much.  I find that, honestly, fingernails are the most helpful in getting the crap off.  It's a little gross, but rewarding.

The sadness of one

I try not to immerse myself in the tragedies of the headlines of any given moment, probably because if I do, I am susceptible to overidentification.  I just get too sad, so I have to wall myself off a little.  But as the story of the Korean ferry unfolds -- to the extent that there is any unfolding, as opposed to a ship at the bottom of the sea with 270-odd people aboard it, almost certainly with us no more -- I can't help but to think back to the Economist's survey of Korea some months back.

Thing is, the birth rate in Korea is about 1.25.  Most families have only one kid, and they pour their heart and sole into that kid.  Everything depends upon the big college entrance exam, because you have to go to one of the top universities to get a job at one of the few chaebols, the big conglomerates -- Samsung, Hyundai, or LG.  Otherwise, the perception is, you have failed.  So the day of the big exam is a day of pressure unlike anything we know.  It's like our Ivy League focus cubed. So these families have lost not only a child, they've lost their only lifeline to the future.

In general, these birthrate issues are a big big problem.  Was just reading how Japan's had gone up froom 1.25 to 1.41 as more women entered the workplace.  Better, but still not great.  It is difficult to imagine how Japan and Korea will not look a whole lot different in 30-40 years.  Not just greyer, but different.  They need to open up to immigration, or the societies will die.  Western Europe has the same problem, but the societies there are marginally more open, have had to be, because of all the land borders down through time.

But we know that, this is getting boring, so I'll quit here.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Resistance

You would think that Graham would want to go and see the new Captain America movie, now wouldn't you.  But no, he doesn't.  And why, you may ask? Because he has read the plot summary on Wikipedia, and therefore doesn't see the need. Ridiculous. I may be able to get him to go see the new Muppet movie, we shall see. 

He like to had ripped my eyeball out wrestling earlier.  I kid you not.  And tomorrow he starts a new level at his martial arts studio.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Cinema in Graham

While waiting to witness a neighbor executing some documents, I was talking to a couple of paralegals who had come out from his attorney's office.  One was from Graham, one from Apex (which tells you something already about the affordability of Chapel Hill real estate and its perverse impact on sustainability -- they have to drive in to their jobs).

I started talking to the one from Graham about their awesome downtown, and asked in particular the movie theater there.  She said it was nice, and I like it's business model:  $4 tickets, $6 all you can eat soda and popcorn, self-serve ("as much butter as you want.")  She also said the movie theater has a balcony.  That is kicking it old school indeed. (picture below slightly dated)


I asked if it did good business, and she said that right now it was showing "God's Not Dead" and that it had lines around the corner.

Having not heard of the movie, I looked it up.  "God's Not Dead" is a typical story of the culture wars:  it narrates the tale of a Christian kid in college who is being oppressed by radical secularism, and then debates his leftist professor on the existence of God and wins. Some people die, but are born again beforehand, etc.  Panned by the mainstream press, it's been a big box office smash, raking in $41 mln in 4 weeks on a budget of $2 mln.  Certainly it speaks to the hunger of small-town, Christian America for cultural production that speaks to them.

The theater also shows other stuff, so I'm gonna keep my eye out for something I'd like.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Woman Upstairs

Just finished Claire Messud's most recent book, titled just like this post.  I was excited to read it, though not excited enough to buy it hardcover.  I am one cheap bastard.

But the book got me back. I was reading it while flying to Austin for spring break, having just heard the news about Akin.  As I got rolling, I was getting really into it, was kind of in an emotional place, understandably.  Then, in the hustle and bustle of getting off the plane, I left it in the seat pocket, just like I left a copy of You Can't Go Home Again on a plane 5 years ago when we were considering moving home to Chapel Hill.

So I had to have a copy delivered to my iPad.  Which negated the money I saved waiting for the trade paperback. Talk about poetic justice.

The book is entirely character-driven, not plot-driven.  There's a 40-ish woman who teaches school, wanted to be an artist but got nudged away from her dreams.  She becomes obsessed with a kind of glamorous Euro-intellectual family living there in Cambridge, mother artist, father scholar, son precocious and sweet.  She gets her groove on, and then she gets got.  As it were. You wouldn't think it would be a page-turner, but in its own way it was.  You want the character to do well, break out of her rut, keep going.  And she kind of does...

I will say that I read it with some mixed feelings, as I have the same sort of envy of Claire's glittering success as the narrator does of her seeming BFF.  I knew her pretty well in college, she was a writer then, talented, and she kept at it, and now look at her.  I, by contrast, dabbled at writing, and now all I have is this blog. I'm sure that this is part of the book's considerable success. Most everybody can identify with the theme of compromise and diminished expectations, and the sometimes crushing envy of those who didn't compromise and rocked. And knowing how ridiculous it is to feel that envy, and wishing them well at the same time. More than any book I can think of, this one is optimized for the book club market.  Why sell 1 book at a time when you can market to groups of 8 or 12?

One last thing.  Early on, our narrator says outright that she is not The Underground Man (from Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground).  And in truth, she ain't him, but she has no closer literary cousin, as the book's very title hints.  And, as I remember like it was yesterday reading the Dostoevsky for the first time maybe 31 years ago, sweaty, sitting up in bed in my room directly downstairs from this where I sit now, now the guest room, it's no wonder it resonates with me so.  I am the Reader Upstairs.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The day after

Akin's service yesterday was beautiful, but intense.  So many people, reaching so far back, so many memories, some good, some hard.  John Howie's Clash cover at the end of the service was hauntingly beautiful.  But then, when the Veldt came on, I dunno, I lost it.  I guess I had been holding back.  Glad Jared was sitting there next to me to calm me a little.

Today, just recovering mostly, trying to enjoy my birthday a little while getting back into my coursework, where I've fallen behind a little.  Breakfast with the Liners, Drake, Tim Brower, that was awesome, then a nice birthday feast and a delish coconut cake made by the ever-talented Natalie.

And then I got started watching these My Brightest Diamond videos, more listening than watching I guess.  Shara Worden is an epic talent.


And, an update to yesterday's post.  It appears that I have reinjured my left big toenail and will likely lose it again.  The astute readers amongst you will recognize that this is in fact a bad omen, owing to this toenail's prior history as a marker of recessions.  It is in fact painful.  However, it is not painful enough to make me not want to go out and play again tomorrow, weather permitting.  Because it is game on time.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Rejuvenation

Since Akin died I have been feeling old.  Physically.

Then yesterday I played soccer.  It was hot out there, and I had just been sitting out in the sun watching Natalie's team play field hockey for an hour (they won!). I had a little time off to go get some Gatorade, which was good.

Then I went over to where we were gonna play to warm up.  I wasn't sure I should play, because my aches and pulls from the last time I had played, two weeks and change before, hadn't entirely subsided.  But I love the game.

There was a baseball field right there, and a dad was working with three boys, maybe 12-14 years old, on their hitting.  I went into the dugout to change into my soccer gear, because there was shade there.

He had a boombox in there and was blasting some tunes, and they were his tunes, not his kids.  Now, I'm generally no big Rush fan.  Geddy Lee had really bad hair, not a great voice.  But those guys were real musicians, and listening to their lyrics we could hear some commonality with what we punks were about.  The song "Limelight" was playing, one I had never listened to, and I caught the chorus.

Living in the limelight,
The universal dream,
of those who wish to seem,
those who wish to be,
must put aside alienation,
get on with the fascination,
the real relation,
the underlying theme.

Now, I think he overplays his lyrical hand with the last two lines of the stanza there.  His point was already well made.  Then again, I've never written a song that good, and could never play like that.

Then I played soccer, and it was great. Niklaus and Spruyt were there, had some good combinations.  No new injuries, ran pretty hard, not too hard.  Talked to a couple of the other older guys on the team about how they avoid injury.  Made one big mistake in play, but it didn't result in a goal.  And we won, without injuring any opponents.  What's not to like?


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Visit with a tenant

We've had a water leak at one of our 8 rental units in my mom's home town, and though we've dealt with the major issue, we suspect a toilet or two might be leaking. Over the years when she was more hands on in the business, mom developed the practice of going in and showing renters how to use red food coloring to determine if they had a leak/faulty clapper. When we were up there the other day, we went into a unit and engaged in this little educational effort.*

One lucky tenant was at home, as if just waiting for us. My description here is not meant to be judgmental, I'm just trying to catalog as much detail as I saw. Most of us fortunate enough to have been blessed with income, education, and/or assets (and they do run together, don't they?) don't spend a lot of time with those who don't.

She was sitting near the door, watching Korean soaps on an old Wintel machine, eating an orange or maybe a clementine or something. She has another laptop sitting on a wheeled walker thingie near the door. She was heavyset, probably technically obese. When I shook her hand, it was calloused, so it was clear she had done more manual labor than I had in her life. The apartment was hot and stuffy, on a beautiful spring day. And dark, with something covering the windows.

In the kitchen I saw white bread, not perfectly ripe tangerines or whatever she was eating, pasta, and potatoes. Aside from the desk chair she was sitting at while watching the soap opera on maybe a 17" monitor, there was no TV, and maybe two other chairs. But her internet service was pretty good. I don't remember if there were any books.

We went through her bedroom into her bathroom. It was really pretty dirty. Mom put red food coloring into the back reservoir of her toilet while we looked down at the toilet bowl to see if any came through. But the toilet bowl was really dirty, and the light in there was not great, so it's not like there was a perfect white backdrop on which to see red leaking through.

This tenant is on Section 8. This means that, in her case, about 2/3rds of her rent comes from a Federally-supported program. On the one hand, that gives us incentives to vote for Democrats, who support the program. In the larger picture, we'd rather see strong economic development to help this woman find a better job so she wouldn't need the Federal program. On balance, it didn't seem like she had the happiest life.

*Part of the backstory is that, while landlords cannot legally charge for water, we can and really must try to put incentives in place to keep our interests aligned: we need tenants to pay attention and tell us when there's a leak or other problem, or water bills can go nuts, and money goes to the water utility instead of to maintenance or upgrades of the property.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

More on Texas history

After visiting the Texas History Museum, we ambled onto the campus of UT, letting Sergei and Larry guide us to the nearest fine purveyor of coffees, yes, that one, which I will not name outright until they pay me some money.  Having slaked our thirst for caffeine (or lemonade, in Graham's case), we made our way up to the campus's iconic bell tower, which protrudes from the massive central main building of the campus. It's hard to get an idea of the depth of the thing, but the overall impression is like in kind, if not quite in scale, to that of the main building of Moscow State (the one at the bottom).  In this case, however, Texas flat out loses the battle for size.


The next day we checked out the Texas state capitol.  Here, the Texans have tried to be big, and in some regards I think they told us it was even bigger than Our Nation's Capitol in Washington.

But the really striking thing I learned from the tour, aside from the depth of Texas's unique myth of origin in the glorious Texas Revolution for independence from Mexico, after which they deigned to enter the union, is Texans' pride in membership in the confederacy.  There's a huge memorial to the valiant confederate soldiers outside the Capitol, which tells of the heavy losses of the confederate army, and basically says:  "we lost because we were small and they killed all of our soldiers."

And then in the Texas Senate there's a big portrait of Jefferson Davis, hanging to the right of that of Sam Houston.  The tour guide doesn't call it out, but he's right there.

And so on and so on.

Maybe there's more official pride in the confederacy throughout the south that just isn't condoned in Chapel Hill and the Triangle.  Certainly, yes, there are memorials to confederate soldiers -- there's one in front of the old Durham Courthouse, one right in front of the Alamance County Courthouse, there's Silent Sam on UNC's campus.  But mostly we try to pass by them and ignore them, tolerate them as part of our history.

In Texas, they love it big time.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Courthouse as Cathedral

While in Texas over spring break, we visited the Texas Museum of History in Austin.  On the wall there was a picture of a courthouse being built in some small town.  It was magnificent, and I was reminded of nothing so much as the construction of the great cathedrals in Europe like Chartres, built over many decades to exult God.  And it took me back to some of the stunning courthouses around here, the Caswell County Courthouse in Yanceyville, or the Alamance County Courthouse in Graham.

Each is grander than anything that surrounds it by a factor of 5.  Does this tendency to build grand courthouse reflect an elevation of the principle of the Rule of Law in America to a position similar to that of the God's Law in medieval society?

Like all questions, it's pretty complex.  Let's look at Texas, for example.  On the one hand, you've got a society that projects an image of the wild wild west, each man a law unto himself.  But you go out on the highways, at least around Austin, San Antonio, the hill country, and nobody was speeding.  If the speed limit was 65, traffic was going 65.  If 70, 70.  My host Justin said that wasn't true in other parts of Texas.

Then again, this is the part of the country where sherriffs have taken it upon themselves to become arbiters of constitutionality in recent years, refusing to enforce laws that seem to them wrong.

My mind also races back to the story I was reading about Anadarko and its $5.2 billion settlement to remediate something like 2700 waste sites from the last 50 years or so.

Maybe it's the myth of the rule of law that is sacred.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Back from Texas

The family and I were out in Texas for a week, more on that later.  As we were being dropped off at the airport (thanks, Mom!), I got a call from a friend.  I asked to call him back, but he said it was urgent.   A friend of ours had killed himself.  Stephen Akin.

Turns out, he didn't kill himself, though in some ways he precipitated his death by not taking care of himself.  It was a lot like my dad's death, in fact, a year ago in just a few days.  I am tempted to reflect on the parallels between their deaths, but why.  I already talked about it in a meeting.

So it was a melancholy vacation in some ways, with my phone ringing off the hook and buzzing from texts for a couple of days, and me reaching out to friends in different places so they wouldn't find out on Facebook.  Until I learned he hadn't killed himself, I lost sleep a couple of nights thinking about what he must have gone through leading up to his death, and even knowing he didn't quite kill himself, the basic situation isn't changed much.

He had a big laugh, a big smile, but is no more.  We played a lot of soccer together, backpacked through Europe together at the tender ages of 17 and 18, were in our first band together.  And yes, we drank a lot of beer together, and ate a lot of junk food too.

I will no doubt return to this over time, thought I have been returning to it all too much over the last week. Right now, I gotta go feed Graham lunch before granny comes to take him to get his new bike adjusted.


Friday, March 28, 2014

Pain, and Texas

Played soccer again yesterday, first practice we've been able to have because of all the rain and the swamplike conditions. Once again, I am in pain, though the good news is that the pain continues to be spread around to relatively new parts of my body.  In 3 times out, I've only been hurt in the same place twice!  Otherwise it's pretty equitably distributed around my lower body.

Yesterday there were a number of young ladies out there, and I had my first experience of playing against several really highly skilled and well-coached women.  There were three of them, all in there mid- to upper-twenties.  Graduate students, it would seem, who probably played at the college level.  And they were all playing up front, along with this kid who plays on my team who plays for a local high school now.  So these ladies weren't that fast, but they were composed, and they were picking us old dudes in the back apart pretty good.  Receiving, seeing the field, distributing, crossing.  One of them even deftly lifted the ball over my head.  It was pretty cool.  Several times I pretty much knew where one of them was gonna pass it, but couldn't get my foot there to block it.

And so, I am getting a new perspective on constraints on the soccer field.  I had already some years ago come to grips with the fact that I couldn't slide tackle, because people gotta get to work the next day.  Now, I am having to accept that maybe my reactions are a little slower.

I'm watching some of the other older dudes out there kicking the ball with their toe, which is technically a no-no but..... I'm wondering if they do it because it's less painful than swinging for the ball with a proper kick. Which is one of the places I'm having some pain. I may have to ask.

Tomorrow, however, we go to Texas.  Austin. BBQ.  Hill Country. Wild Flowers. The Museum of the War in the Pacific.  Alamo.  And, begrudgingly, because Natalie has surely read about it, the River Walk in San Antonio, which is really kind of a shit hole.

UPDATE:   After going on the River Walk on a beautiful spring day, I revise my earlier opinion.  It was really quite lovely, without the throngs and all the alcohol and the tepid water of summer.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Great prose

I've moved on from a Ruth Rendell novel which dragged on a bit (maybe more on that later) to Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma.  At the beginning, Pollan spent a little too much ink and energy attacking the poor Twinkie.  I mean, what food writer and non-extrusion specialist doesn't have it in for the Twinkie, it's too easy a target.  I thought he had gotten lazy.  But he hadn't.

Aside from the fact that they're white males, there's one commonality between some of the authors I'm coming to view (and, admittedly, it's a pretty canonical list) as the great non-fiction writers of the last generation or two:  Robert Caro, John McPhee, Peter Hessler, Michael Lewis, Pollan.  They are able to infuse small observations and conclusions within their arguments as not just necessary but monumental:. note how the specific procreative methods of corn destine it for dominance!  Even as a child, Lyndon Johnson had already acquired the devious habits that would carry him to greatness!  How the specific geological properties of the soil in the mountains above LA contribute to the growth of fire-prone brush and the preconditions of massive mud slides!

There's all this little stuff, but it concatenates into a narrative of necessity, as if of its own accord.  Thing is, it's a narrative no one other than the author has ever seen, or at least nobody's ever patched it together. I think that what holds these guys' best work together is enthusiasm, which lets them spelunk into the details and then spin it together in a lovely but robust yarn.

Back to the point on the white maleness of it all.  First off, as Caro fully and repeatedly acknowledges, the success of his enterprise derived from his decades-long partnership with his wife Ina, his sole researcher for many decades.  She's got books of her own, maybe I should check them out, though the subject matter's not so compelling. I do need to look for more women non-fiction writers.

Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickled and Dimed, by contrast, is held together by outrage rather than enthusiasm, and she delves into stuff we already kinda know but don't want to think about, just like we don't want to think about how hamburger happens.  It could be that enthusiasm is just another privilege of which I like to avail myself.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Mindful running

I don't know if I've posted about this before, and my computer is running so slowly these days that I dare not try to run a search on the blog to figure it out, so oh well.

When I'm out running, I try to run on the grass next to the sidewalks or road as much as possible to mitigate the pounding my mighty frame imposes on my knees, feet, ankles, etc., and also to get the benefits of running on an uneven surface for tendons, balance, and -- some lead me to believe -- core strength.  Because lord knows I hate doing all manner of crunches and other stuff that really strengthens your core. And I incorporate trails into my circuit wherever possible too.

But, because I'm running most of the time in a residential neighborhood, and next to streams and a lake, I try to be mindful of the impact my feet have on the soil.  Because I know that compacting the soil just increases run-off and cuts into the soil's ability to absorb water.  Not that that's too much of an issue right now, because we've had so much precip over the last n months that nothing can soak up anything.  It's all running straight out to the ocean, I figure. If only UPS could ship some of this rain out west.

I also take the condition of the grass into account.  In places where people have been taking good care of the strip between the sidewalk and the road, I tend to respect it and stay off it.  By contrast, if it looks like crap, I'm there.  I also stay off of the strip in front of Dr. Tucker's house, always have. When he was still around, I'd see him out there gardening, and he was so wonderful with Graham, that even though his grass was pretty scraggly, I left it alone.

But today, in one place where I'd been running on the grass, this friendly-looking guy a little younger than me -- in a very fetching flannel shirt, I'll have you know -- had been laying down some grass seed.  So that's one more place I've gotta stay off.

I know, I know, yet another example of ridiculous overthinking.  But recently I have gone and done something that would seemed inconceivable when I was young.  I have gotten myself put on the Lake Forest Association Board.  I swim in the lake all the time.  I need to get out in front of issues involving its health.  But I may have to start leaving everybody's grass free to grow, if just for political reasons.

But then will I have to do ab videos?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Taking Russia in

Умом Россию не понять,
Аршином общим не измерить:
У ней особенная стать —
В Россию можно только верить.

The mind cannot understand Russia
Nor grasp it by a common measure
It has a peculiar trait
In Russia one can only believe.

This short poem by the nineteenth-century poet Fedor Tiutchev are amongst the favorite and most-cited of poems by Russians, many of whom still value and esteem poetry, distant as that may seem from our mindset.  And there's a lot of this going on in Russia right now, stuff that it's just hard to get.



Russians want to believe in Russia right now.  They perceive that they have been beat down but that Putin can restore the nation to its rightful greatness by swaggering and throwing its weight around.  Actually, it's not so far afield. Chinese nationalism is being stoked by the perceived humiliation of western imperial domination, followed by hard times under Mao and the Cultural Revolution. They are sticking it to the west with fake Guccis and whatever else and a fleet of Audis and snapping up farmland in Africa and Smithfield Hams, they feel they are restoring themselves to their rightful place in the world. 

Moreover, why the hell did we go into Iraq?  Why did Americans back that?  It was because, after 9/11, we felt that somebody else had to get hurt, and Afghanistan wasn't big enough.  Saddam seemed about right-sized.

But, to return to Russia, we threaten them with sanctions.  But Russia's proudest moments in history have been times of deprivation, when they have been brought together by war.  The 900-day siege of Leningrad, the battle of Stalingrad, the Great Patriotic War (WWII) generally, these are greatest hits in Russia.  Russia loves to martyr itself to defeat the enemy from without.



Check out this blog post from 2005.  Russians beat their chests with pride when remembering self-sacrifice.

We are in a bit of a pickle just now.  We can only hope that the westernization/consumerization of Russia has progressed far enough to outweigh their deeply ingrained ascetic tendencies.  Often enough, they prefer swords to plowshares.

If only, however, they had done more birthing of babies.  They are a bit depleted of army-age males, as they have been drinking and smoking themselves to death for some time now.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Just to post: a soccer update.

God I hate it when I look at my traffic counter and there's only one hit for the day.  I know it's ridiculous, but that's how I feel.

So today I played soccer for the first time since the fall, and in a league for the first time in, oh, 26 years.  It was awesome, which is more than I can say for myself. Actually, I did OK, but somewhere early in the 2nd half I started cramping up in my left calf.  I chased down a kid 20 years younger than me (I should have been playing behind him, honestly, so it was my bad that I had to run him down), but that was really more stress than my hamstrings/gluteal muscles were used to, reminding me that, after all, sprinting is different from jogging.  Therefore I need to do more sprinting.  However, in the end, I was able to finish the game with no injuries that would fall into the debilitating camp.  And that's the main thing.

For those with an interest in the score, and that would be people confined largely to people whose names begin in Z, we won 4-3.  Actually, the we scored 6 goals to their 1.  Problem was, two of our goals were own goals.  Ah well.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Feng shui of the soul

It is the time of year when students begin planning for next year, and in Natalie's case that means planning for 9th grade and doing course selection. This morning over coffee with a couple of people -- one of them a guidance counselor -- we were discussing this process and the way it ramps into career planning and projects out into life with what seem at times to be alternately momentous or grave consequences.

Trying to arrive at what I would ultimately like to see for my children in terms of how the order the various components of their lives and selves:  professional, personal, blah blah blah, I arrived at the phrase:  feng shui.  I.e. that there should be a feng shui of the soul itself.

I'm not sure what this means, but it sure is a catchy phrase.  Now I must repeat it 10,000 times, until, in Malcolm Gladwell terms, I have mastered it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Forces tugging

Being blessed with the gift of relative hour-to-hour freedom, it is all too easy to get swept up in the chorus of voices that tug at me from all directions, inside and out:  "you should call that guy, he needs a successor," "we need to clean this or that," "you're already in business for yourself," "get your taxes done," "I should really get involved in this or that to make a difference over time and justify myself at a higher level."

This morning I woke up from an anxiety dream about something dissertation-like.  My advisor/reader, modeled on this French Professor from Columbia who always reminded me of Roland Barthes (and I think he was working that look, frankly [pun intended]), was going through this project of mine going "it's brilliant in all these places, but it doesn't make sense."  And I awoke in a tizzy, thinking "what project is this he was talking about?  I defended my dissertation years ago.  And it occurred to me that the dissertation in this case was probably a metaphor for my life.

But then, at the bus stop in the morning, I noticed that Graham has been habitually tying his shoes very loosely, and that it's a danger for him out on the playground.  I remember how tricky that was as a kid, not just the tying part, but holding them taught while you do it.  It's hard for little hands. Hell, I haven't entirely mastered it myself.  That is something I need to come back to in the evening, lest he bust his face on the asphalt.