Monday, July 15, 2019

Once more

Back from the lake, my face is scratchy from its deferred date with the blade. Made surprising progress over the weekend re-reading Eugene Onegin, getting ready for my upcoming September lecture at NC State on the topic. Which is, by the by, going to be huge and of considerable interest to all.

But now I must get in gear and get out to the office. Long day of stuff to do, thankfully most of it interesting.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Getting moving

Gotta hustle up to the lake so will keep this brief.

After a week of not swimming much, my lower back pain is back (not acute, but worse than yesterday and the day before) after maybe 25-30 minutes in the water yesterday evening. Hmmm.

Also spent some time around dusk yesterday getting the house ready for the party next weekend. First I swept leaves and grass cutting out of the driveway. I wrote not long ago of the place of keeping the driveway clean in the The Great Program, and I cannot help but to think back one of the original moments that led me to think about this, watching shopkeepers sweep the sidewalk in front of their shop. I forget where I was, Italy, Spain, Harlem, Brooklyn, somewhere. And I thought "why would he do that? It will just get dirty again tomorrow." But, as time goes on, and it becomes clear that keeping one's space relatively clean, and thereby bracketing not entropy itself, but its impact on those who enter your space, is one of the few instances of control permitted us by the universe. So, far from being futile, this Sisyphean effort to sweep the sidewalk, it is fundamentally noble.

Also makes the place look nice, attracting more customers.

More later.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Ghosts of things past

Today being Sunday, it was of course pancake day, so I made pancakes. Graham has come to prefer pumpkin pancakes, even in warm weather, so I made "pumpkin" (actually substituting sweet potato because he can't tell the difference and I am a little sick of pumpkin myself). But today's batch tasted funny. Had Graham forgotten to put sugar in the dry ingredients, which he mixed? He had not, he allowed surely. Hmmmm. What was it?

Turned out, it was the baking soda. We had left a thing of it in the back of the older Prius after Mary thought she had squished a baby mouse in the door many months back. I was never sure about that, but there was a smell. Well, the baking soda didn't absorb all of it, but clearly it absorbed some. Neither Graham nor I finished our pancakes.

Later in the day, after we had checked Graham into TIP over on Duke's west campus, we were eating lunch in Brodhead, Duke's swanky new uber dining hall/food court. After we got our food and sat down, I realized we were in the old dining hall, and I remembered the last time I had been there, in early 1990. I was auditing courses in Duke's graduate program in literature with Fredric Jameson, and he together with the Duke Slavics Department had sponsored a conference on new trends in literary and historical thought in Russia. We had a great set of people come over, people I didn't know from Adam but who turned out to be players.

Surprisingly, in the crowd of attendees, I saw a name tag that said Joseph Kosuth, who turned out to be the Joseph Kosuth, who back in the 60s had been a leader of the Conceptualist school of art in New York. A pretty well-known guy. I pointed out to Jameson that he was there, then introduced myself. Turned out he and the guy he was with, maybe a finance guy from New York, were hungry. I escorted them over to the dining hall -- the one we were sitting in today. We went through the line, and Kosuth got very excited when he got to the soda fountain and he realized he could combine sodas however he liked. So he went at it, mixing up Coke and Sprite and Mountain Dew and root beer.... like an 8-year old. It was pretty disgusting. Artists.

Friday, July 05, 2019

The meeting

Went back to Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowlands after some time away to read a couple of suspense novels (an Alan Furst after the Highsmith I mentioned). Shortly back into it, the heroine meets with a professor who lavishes great praise on a paper she had written and tells her to go to grad school. This is the second time I've read such a passage recently, the prior time being in Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot, and each time I've been profoundly moved, wishing that some professor had given me such a talk. Not that I was treated unkindly in grad school or even college, mind you, I just never had that talk. Well, OK, my undergrad advisor did promise to get my senior essay published, and actually saw to it that it happened, but still.

Clearly I still identify all too strongly with the hole that Lahiri's heroine has in her ego, which needs to be filled in, even all these years after I have passed beyond academia. Oh well.

Also, my back hurts, I am lying in bed, and a storm is blowing in, which promises to make it difficult to grill, as Mary had hoped I would. But it's pretty.

Being the market

Some years back, as I was transitioning into the financial advisory world, I asked a woman whose firm I was considering joining, who invested only in actively-traded mutual funds and herself traded little, only to rebalance to fixed asset allocations on a quarterly basis, why she read about individual companies and trends if she was outsourcing the task of implementation to others. "That's a really good question," she allowed.

And it is one I could easily ask of myself, since I use ETFs and mutual funds to implement portfolios almost exclusively. In the final analysis, I feel obliged to read about individual companies and their securities because there is a simple pleasure in being the market, in observing the warp and woof of history as it plays out in its infinite complexity.

I would say also that the work of the markets, by and large the broad provision and distribution of goods, services and opportunities to the world's population, is a relatively uncontroversial good. Yes, the ecology of it all is complicated, to the extent that we would appear to be rendering the world progressively less if not outright un-inhabitable, but we are working on that. Hopefully quickly enough, though I'm not sure. Also, there is a very reasonable and time-honored debate as to how good the markets are as arbiters of who gets what, and what is the role of the state as both regulator and provider of capital. I doubt this debate will ever reach resolution, but we may hope that it will trend towards optimization.

This is by way of contrast with politics and social discourse, which are themselves also complex, fluid and dynamic to an extent none of us can grasp fully, but only as they unfold on a day to day basis. But they are ever fraught with conflict and minefields, so it is hard to try to take them in anything resembling an objective fashion, without being drawn into the emotions of their flow.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Saccharine rides

Went for a walk this morning with a friend who sells software to corporations. At the end, I brought the conversation around to carbon offsets, as I often do, and we got into the tired discussion of whether or not what we do as individuals matters in aggregate. Of course it does.

We started talking about car mileage and he starts telling me that in the tech sales community, you have to have a sweet ride or you have no credibility: "You'd get hazed if you drove a Prius." I was not too surprised by that, because I had recently heard how another guy had been harassed by "golf buddies" into selling a Prius within a couple of weeks of buying it. He ended up with an Audi, and also has a couple of Porsches. Still, it's pretty pathetic for adults to get pushed around like this by peer pressure.

I got home and went for a swim, because the walk -- a slow walk of 4 miles -- really wasn't enough exercise to justify my love for food. On the way out I saw another guy who sells tech in the corporate world. So I asked him: "Nope. I drive a 2010 Acura, paid off, 100k miles. If I had to drive a lot to cover my territory I'd be looking for something with good mileage."

So there you have it.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Together again

Graham and mom came back from their Italian biking adventure last night at around midnight. Mary and I both went to pick them up, though mom's new boyfriend insisted on bringing her from the airport separately.

It was a long day of flying for Graham, involving some sleeping and, surprisingly, some puking at Dulles, though that seems to have been a passing thing. We'll get more of a download later today.

On the way to the airport it occurred to me that this was far and away the longest I had ever been away from him since his birth, by about a factor of 3.

Our little phase of test run empty nesting went well. No fights, got some things done, had a nice trip. We did not open a portal to marital magic, but then we didn't really expect to.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

I'm bacckkkk

Mary and I got back from Boulder last night at about midnight. It is not the magic time of day when blog ideas drift gently through my brain freely, but I'd better end the drought quickly. A few reflections.

  • Here it is humid, there it was dry, but the sun was intense.
  • Elevation is no joke. Mom and I had gotten a little altitude sickness our first day in Mexico City, which is about 7,000 feet above sea level. Boulder is about 5,200 square feet, which we adjusted to pretty quickly. But when Mary and I went up to Rocky Mountain National Park, all of a sudden we were at 8,400 square feet at the start of our hike, and I could definitely feel it in terms of getting tired coming up hills, and I think I even saw it reflected in slightly elevated anxiety regarding storms blowing in. And the weather was mighty fickle up there. The sky would darken, the wind would blow, maybe a little rain would come, and then it was sunny.
  • It's interesting to see NIMBYism in its many manifestations around this great land of ours. In Boulder, there is apparently pretty strict code about adding height to any structure, anything that would cast a shadow and/or impede a neighbor's view of the cliffs. So housing prices are way jacked up. Plain-looking, unreconstructed ranches 4 miles out of town go for $900k. You see things like the below, a Tesla charging in the driveway of a house in need of a little TLC.

To be clear, however, any snarky remarks the Grouse may have offered on Boulder by no means offset its many many positives. It's a beautiful place with tremendous municipal amenities, first and foremost an incredible and convenient set of public hiking paths (also bike paths). We only bothered to leave town once. There are great used book stores, good coffee, pretty solid if not exceptional food. I had the best Vietnamese dish I've ever had (steamed fish with eggplant and heaps of basil). All the things that the Grouse thrives upon. We will be going back.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Drummers

It was about 7:30 as we pulled into the parking lot at the top of Flagstaff Mountain outside of Boulder. A rather aristocratic, grey-haired man in a trim down jacket came over to our car. I thought for sure there was a wedding or something going on. "Are you here for the drumming circle in the amphitheater?" he asked gently. I allowed that we were tourists just checking the place out. "Well there's still plenty of parking," he said, and gestured over towards an empty spot.

Naturally, we had to investigate the drumming circle, though I was a little scared to get too close, lest some one might hand me a dembe or something. It was a bunch of white folks working on their best African rhythms, led by a guy who was saying "rhythm is medicine to your body" and things like that.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Boulder

Mary and I are out in Boulder, CO on the first trip we've taken without the kids for many years, staying at Leslie and Walter's new house. It is pretty darned nice here. A little less than a mile from their house is a trailhead which opens onto a pretty major system with miles of trails going up into the hills. Not too shabby.

It does feel, if anything even more coddled and sheltered from reality than even Chapel Hill. Certainly it's a good deal whiter.

But it is our vacation so I'm not going to complain, am just noting. I am also making some progress reading through a novel (Patricia Highsmith's 1986 Found in the Street, which I happened across at a used bookstore recently, pretty sure it was the one in New Haven where the convenience store was when I was in college -- a great improvement, although the cheap hot dogs at about 1 in the morning hit the spot back in the day). It is good to get traction in a book, for sure, however light, after flailing against a number of weighty ones recently. There is something -- and I think I may have blogged about this recently, about just reading a lot, just letting the ideas pass through like krill through the baleen of my mind. It doesn't matter what they are, so long as they flow.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Donut sticks

In the vending machine in the break room next to my office there are these donut sticks, each a little bit larger than a Twinkie. They come in packs of three, and are glazed. I had been eyeing them for some time, thinking of them a little too much, until last week I broke down and got them, figuring that they probably woudn't be that good and that by sampling them I could get them off of my mind.

I could not have been more wrong. They were instead simply scrumptious. I looked at the nutritional information and discovered that they contained a lot of calories and also saturated fat, which did not surprise me. Thankfully I did that before I had eaten all three, so I put one in my desk drawer (in the wrapper, mind you) and ate it that next day. It was just as good.

Thankfully, they are none in the machine right now, so they are not taunting me. Soon I will move to a new office, further down the hall, so that their siren call will be somewhat more removed.

The day I bought them, I saw something shiny and substantial down in the reservoir where purchases fall. It proved to be a Snickers bar. I ate that too.

Monday, June 17, 2019

A little guilty

Somebody I know is dying, a guy I used to run around with a little in the years between college and grad school, back when I was smoking and drinking and generally bouncing around. Not my best years, mind you, but thankfully I didn't kill anybody.

So this guy, whom I'll call Billy, never quit drinking or smoking, or just generally hanging out in bars. He doesn't seem to have formed any deep relationships, certainly not a family. I used to have fantasies about running into him in AA but somehow it never happened. In his case, the memo never quite arrived. And now he is dying of lung cancer.

The last time I saw him, he was doing something pretty asinine, and most of the times that I saw him in the last decade or so he was kind of a jerk. So part of me feels like his dying is really no big loss, even though I see an outpouring of affection for him on Facebook.

At the end of the day -- which is about where he is -- I think what is nagging at me is the sense of superiority that creeps into my sense of who I am relative to him, when that flies in the face of the concept of substance use disorders and mental illness as diseases. The guy is just sick, and it has killed him in the end. Something else will kill me in my time.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Keeping it cool

Saturday morning. My personal shabbos, in the best of times, but in fact so much of that is an effort to bracket and fend off the things vying for my attention in the short term and elongate my horizon. Work stuff, Board stuff, politics stuff... try to focus on parenting stuff and health stuff.

But it's hard as ideas and responsibilities stream into my mind. Call this person about this, write to that one about that...

And it is made even harder when I sit down in my thinking chair to be quiet and my neighbor cranks up his leaf blower to blow the leaves out of his driveway. Though of course, I understand all too well what he is doing, and why he is ultimately doing it. After all, Mary did slip and fracture her arm in the driveway this spring, and if I had been more systematic and consistent in keeping our driveway clean of organic debris by blowing and even pressure washing, it would not only look cleaner, it would have been less slippery even after a crazy rain season and she might not have had the accident.

I must also acknowledge that the blog is sometimes one of those things that nag at me, I feel it within me when I have neglected it for too long. But the process of writing is itself akin to diet, exercise, sleep, reflection, and the cleaning and maintenance of physical things, it is all part of the Great Program.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Politely yawning

Oh lordy am I glad that finals season is almost past, and will be this afternoon. For the last couple of weeks I have been pretty consistently spending evenings and some weekend afternoons with Graham at the dining room table, helping him grind and polish his study skills for the classes that require a little more discipline: math, Latin, engineering.  My math is rusty, my Latin amounted to all of one year back in 1982-3, and I've never studied engineering, so I was doing some learning myself.

I was also trying to teach Graham an inchoate set of skills: how to study. Which is something I've been good at in my day, but it's also something that I haven't done that much of in the last few years -- since my CFP cramming days -- and certainly not for these disciplines. More importantly, it's something I've never taught.

This morning when the alarm went off I was dead tired, definitely wanted it to just go the fuck away. But I hauled myself out, fed the cats, made the coffee, meditated, sit ups, push ups, did morning reading, checked email, calendar, market futures, made my task list (as always, plenty full). And now here I am, ready to shave and whatnot and face the day.

It must be owned that, thus far, it is a beautiful day. It was downright chilly, breezy and fresh out on the porch as I started my reading cycle. I think it promises to be relatively mild all day. Onward,

Monday, June 10, 2019

The grass

We had a new structure built out by the lake, "The Pavillion," it has been dubbed, really a little shelter with picnic tables inside it, as well as ceiling fans. It is pretty nice. But the crazy rains of winter and spring made the project drag out for much longer than any of us thought that it would, and then the town took its own sweet time issuing permits and generally blessing the thing.

The contractor had to cut a little road through the grass to get material and equipment over to its location, sheltered up close to the trees across the park from us, so there was an ugly gouge cut through the grass and around the shelter itself, a small sea of red clay in the otherwise verdant park. As late as two weeks ago, maybe three, just red mud.

Then the contractor smoothed it out and threw down some grass seed and hay and hauled off into the sunset, and I thought nothing was gonna grow there. I was, frankly, in my low bore way, slightly obsessed with the thought that we'd be staring out at the red clay, and that the park was going to be somewhat unusable through the summer months.

But then, but then, the grass began to grow, or maybe it's weeds, but it is in any case green. I am, of course, still mildly obsessed with it, charting its progress with a little too keen an attention. It will be good for Mary and I to get on an airplane in a couple of weeks and leave town so that the poor grass can be left alone to grow on its own, away from my prying eyes.

Soon it will be gone, just like the cut on my hand from New Haven a few weeks ago, and I'll have to find some other little process of Mother Nature's onto which to project my mighty will.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Body language

When I was in New York a few weeks ago I had lunch with a friend of mine who works at the New York Times in its new lunchroom. For lunchroom fare, the food was not bad, if not cheap. But hell, it was Manhattan.

One thing that struck me was the vibe of the room, the body language of those there. Not good. There just wasn't much energy or joy. It was very quiet, which is cool, but not very vivacious, for a lovely spring day. Maybe it was the self-selection of those who had to eat in the lunchroom instead of venturing out into the streets on such a day, maybe they were bummed about that. I dunno. Or maybe it was the aftermath (I think) of the Mueller investigation, in which the Times was to a certain extent caught out by its presumption of guilt by the alleged colluder. That orange bastard.

But for one of the organizations upon whom we lean most heavily in the fight for limitations on the power of the executive and the government, I would have liked to have seen more panache, more visceral joy, or at least righteous indignation.

After lunch I went down to the lobby and, on the way out, checked out the "Moveable Type" installation by Ben Rubin and Mark Hansen. This was powerful stuff, giving a mystical sense of what it takes to make the news, to edit and curate the world, as it were, on an ongoing basis.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Goal setting

Indian helicopters found a few more bodies along a little-tried route to the top of Mt Everest in recent days. This after the world was regaled with images of the traffic jam at the top of the mountain during a rare window of opportunity to summit. Way to go, people.

In other news, Dubai-based private equity firm Abraaj collapsed, Tesla seems increasingly unlikely to survive as an independent corporate entity, Softbank is having trouble raising another $100 billion fund, and Uber and Lyft are struggling after their IPO. All of which signals that the era of the unicorn may be drawing to a close, which is something I can live with and even celebrate. The ultra-rich, apotheosizing their extreme wealth and seeking to nurture it in private domains away from the discipline of public markets, may be having their comeuppance as they seek to exit.

Meanwhile, Rome burns as climate change progresses unabated, opioid deaths increase, populists are elected everywhere, and discord reigns throughout the planet.

What's the common thread here? Despite all the talk of the import of setting goals, we haven't gotten good at sharing values and setting good goals. Wealth and conquest remain key goals for too many. I am doing what I can.

Broom in hand, I made a fourth pass over our screened in porch this weekend, trying to make it an even better place to hang out, in order to recapture that Montana-like feel I wrote of last week. It looks pretty good. The happier I am at home, the less carbon I will burn going somewhere else. While sitting out there, I saw some peeling of white paint which reminded me that I should call Marvin and bring him over for a painting consultation, which will both help me take care of the property but also hang out with my friend Marvin for a little while. I don't see enough of him.

Gotta hop.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Speed, reading

I have been passing through a difficult period with books of late. Having started any number, I keep grinding out in the middle of them, unconvinced that it's worth it to keep going. Right now I'm halfway through Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowlands, but am flat out not feeling it, my view partially tainted by a couple of people I've talked to recently saying what a bitch she is. Likewise, I am struggling to gain momentum in Ezra Vogel's bio of Deng Xiaopeng.

But what I love is churning through reading material, knocking the pages down, feeling the enthusiasm. I have recently resorted to the rare expedient of reading New Yorker articles, drawing from the rich archive of back issues I have stacked on top of my chest of drawers, harvested from Mary's bedside table, where they pile up.

Ultimately, a diet of magazine articles doesn't get me where I need to go, but sometimes I just have to refresh my palate.

Im-posture?

As I meditate more and also focus on core strength, I am paying more attention to posture. It has long been clear that if I sit and stand up straighter, my body looks better, particularly my belly. Mary and I laugh about that sometimes.

But maybe all those people who seem to have great abs etc. focus more on their posture. The problem with posture is that it seems like an attention drain, one has to keep one's mind on it. It is also conceivable that if one is mindful about posture more often, one develops muscle memory and over time it takes less attention.

Who the fuck knows? Never really gave it a shot for long enough.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

First thing, the second

As I said, heading out on the porch in the morning has been a fine thing. This morning, after a week of brutal heat and then some cleansing -- if pretty intense -- rain, the air out on the porch reminded me of going out on the porch for coffee with Natalie and the delightful little dog from next door last summer in Montana, near Glacier National Park. My guess is this kind of moment could be pretty well captured just by getting outside earlier more regularly.

But what is the biggest impediment to doing so? Most likely, it's the difficulty I have getting up early, which is largely a function of getting to bed too late. And one of the things that aids and abets my challenge with early bed time is cable TV and my tendency to turn it on and look for some sport to watch (basketball, tennis and soccer are the only ones worthwhile) at around 10.

Which gives me further impetus to just fricking cancel cable. It's $100 a month I'm spending for no good purpose. We hate our land line. 98% of the calls that come on it are robocalls of one sort or the other. Need to talk to Mary about that.

The other issue with getting to bed early is the kitchen. If I do a better job there, it will give less crap for Mary to putter around with, and maybe she will get to bed earlier.

Worth trying.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

First thing

My morning routines keep shifting, slightly, in tone and practice. A month or so ago, when my meditation practice was brand new, I was waking up extra-early every day, excited to start the day. Not quite as much right now, though I keep getting up earlyish. Thoughts of the day and of business are drifting more into my mind as I meditate, and I'll be damned if I've figured out how to stay still and mindful for much beyond when the coffee is ready.

I am likewise less excited about my current book, Joseph Telushkin's Jewish Wisdom, than I was about my prior one, Chogyam Trungpa, though this ebbs and flows sometimes on a daily basis.

I have taken to going out on the porch to read to capture some of the morning coolness, and it's interesting to see who's out there. There's an older dude who walks his cat on a leash with his morning cup. It would, of course, not be surprising if I saw the guy up close and discovered that he is my age. That's about where we are in life.

All in all, what I see consistently over the years is that one hunk of my life, in this case my morning routine, will feel like I have it nailed for a little while, and then that sense of having it just right will wither and decay, so I have to change things up. And keep on truckin.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Accountability partner

I thought of this over the weekend, then resisted doing it, for obvious reasons, but here goes. The blog has had many uses down through the years, here is a new one: accountability partner.


I hereby pledge to getting my weight down to 175 by the beginning of next soccer season. I was 183 this morning. It's not that I am fat, but I carry more weight than I need to around the belly, and I am well aware that my diet is suboptimal, and that as I age this becomes more and more real. And I can feel the additional weight in the waist bands of certain pants.

It is going to be hard to get this done based on exercise, so I will have to work on diet. Thankfully, as time has gone on and Mary continues to pummel us with things she reads about meat and the environment, it is easier for me to reduce meat in my diet, especially red meat. Though we did eat a fair amount of it while she was out of town, just cuz it's easier to make dinner around meat than around not meat. Also cheese. Am trying to reduce that.

There. I've done it.