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.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Continual adjustment

Sore as hell after the once-a-year glee of playing basketball yesterday, my organism is surprised again that it's dark in the morning the day after daylight savings time kicks in. And then Graham, in his excitement to get onto the bus, runs into its path as it approaches.  No problem, as the driver is very professional, on top of being oh-so-punctual.  But still.  It's worth discussing with the youngun.

Speaking of, last night Natalie came out and watched the first installment of "Cosmos" with Neil Degrasse Tyson with us. As I may have said, Natalie has of late been joining Mary and me for a little Sunday evening TV with us.  "Downton Abbey", "Sherlock," she has developed a taste for PBS/BBC goodies.  Which is great. Most of her consumption is on her iPod from the comfort of her bed or beanbag chair.

So it's nice to have her out with us, absolutely.  But during the commercials, she whipped out her iPod and chatted with her friends.  On the one hand, I'm glad she has friends.  I would like to see more of them physically, and we encourage sleepovers and play dates, or whatever you call it for a teenager.  Coming over.  But physical presence is apparently overrated for her lot, when a few bits and the occasional byte will do. So I actually told her to put the iPod away, but didn't enforce it too energetically, and it snuck out again.

One cannot command presence, I guess.  We need to make it worthwhile. Which is a tall order for someone who doesn't really want it.  Ahh, but what else is new?  Teenagers.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Reflections on reflections

In preparation for a 2nd interview on Monday, where I'm being asked to discuss my network and what would be reasonable expectations for me in terms of bringing assets into a firm I'm talking to (and it's one I really like, I should add), I decided to see what kind of analytical tools are available for me to answer this question.  Breaking it down into sections like, based on my Facebook and LinkedIn contacts, how many people do I know around here?   And elsewhere?

So I plugged my Facebook network into Wolfram Alpha.  And it chugged through my Facebook data and came back with a report.

And the most interesting thing is that the most liked and commented upon post was the picture my sister took of my dad on his 75th birthday, sitting in his favorite cafe in Hillsborough, gaunt and smiling in an old sweater.  She had just showed him something, I think it was on Facebook, about some preacher lady in Manhattan who had read some of his poetry or preached about He's Not Here or something.

It was validation from afar of the worth of something he did, which was very important to him, because so much of his life was spent resolutely marching to the tune of his own drummer, in the face of society, really saying fuck you much of the way.  But he desperately wanted approval.  Especially from pretty women.  And I know that it was hugely validating for him, in that moment, to feel it from afar, over this crazy thing the internet, which he knew fuck all about.

And what this says to me, just now, is that I must go and play with my kids.  Probably, in fact, get them some dinner.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Yet again, but why not?

This morning, over coffee, I found myself once more discussing work, life, balance, mission, marketing, composting, blogging, parenting, who should talk to whom about what, etc.  All over 45 minutes.  This time with someone who's written a book on the life-career stuff and is trying to grow her business.

And part of me thinks, oh no, not this work-life-mission discussion again, I've been at this for years.  But then I think, well, what better to talk about, in truth.  UNC's foul shooting woes?  The academic scandals?  The way an 12-game winning streak seems to wipe the slate clean and put the other stuff in the rearview?

Fact is, it's all part of one discussion, anyway, and if it we weren't talking about it, it would be like we had all the answers, in a sense.  Which we don't. So, the big questions inhere in both the themes and the mechanics of it all down beneath.

As an addendum, let me say that this morning's coffee mate had read the Grouse and was FULL OF praise for the Grouse commentariat, even venturing to say that the comments were part of the HUGE success of the blog, not just for their LENGTH, but for the BREADTH, or -- dare I even say -- the GIRTH, of the wisdom they offer to the reader on a topic of interest to everyone. And so, to my dedicated readers and commenters, let me just encourage you to KEEP IT UP.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

To Liberty

Yesterday Graham and I drove out to Liberty, NC, to visit with our distant relative Guy T--y.*  My dad met and then introduced me to Guy back in the eighties, when he got on his geneaology kick, which is something that men of a certain age apparently do.  I wanted Graham to meet Guy because of Graham's abiding interest in all things military, and because Guy had been a military guy.

So we rolled on out there.  It was supposed to be cloudy, but it wasn't, and it was beautiful cruising through the NC countryside.  Interesting to note the changes as well.  At Eli Whitney, there is a Tienda now, attached to a Mexican Restaurant called Ulvia's.  Open till 10, looks pretty good.  Me, I want to go.  Out in the middle of a field somewhere in there, also a soccer field rather than a baseball field.  But there were also some old Anglo greasy spoons that also had appeal, and golf courses hiding out here and there, and maybe hippy pottery places or art studios or something.  All in all, I was just curious.

Certainly more so than Graham was.  We stopped at Johnny's in Carrboro to get coffee for me, lemonade for him, and maybe 5 minutes later I turned off of 54 west to make my way down towards Old Greensboro Highway, and Graham says:  "are we almost there?"  I had said it was gonna be an hour, and it apparently already felt like an hour to him, even though Ira Glass and crew were aboard a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier on "This American Life" (what could be better than that?)

Anyhow, we made our way out to Liberty and turned onto T--y Estate Road, which led us to the home of Guy.  Guy is in his 90s now, but still possessed of the characteristic vigor of a career army guy who was also an Olympic pentathlete in 1952 in Helsinki, bounding up stairs two at a time, with a very firm handshake.  Guy regaled us with tales of the Olympics, and of an interesting military career that culminated in a lengthy stay in military intelligence based in Vienna.  We also petted his dog Dixie, herself kind of an old-timer (and with the flatulence to prove it) and dug into some of Guy's substantial library of military books.  Then Guy and I skyped with his son out on the West Coast and updated some stuff on, which they're very into.  Somehow Graham has not acquired this taste for digging into the details of relatives, and preferred to bury his nose in a classic tome on the history of WWI.

All in all, a fine afternoon.

*I'm obscuring names here a little out of respect for Guy's privacy and his household security.  I think you know the middle letters of his name.