So we are getting organized to leave Larchmont and head home, by way of Princeton. Over a couple of weeks here, Mary and Rob made herculean exertions to cull junk from the rather large attic, where it has been accruing for decades. Their mom, Mary Lee, likes to hold onto stuff, and she has done some active curating, filtering, and retaining even as we carry dust-covered stuff down the stairs and out to the street (yes, I have helped a little with some of the brute labor).
Which makes her a lot like many of us, including myself. It's hard to let go of stuff. Much of it has been and often is retained for sentimental value, but much has also been held onto on the theory that "it could be valuable to someone," Which is true, to a point. It's just that the work of finding the people to whom it might be valuable is labor-intensive, and the return on that labor is low unless you know what you are doing. It is, in fact, value-additive, which is why there is an ecosystem of specialists and brokers to help you sift through your junk and find new users.
But what has struck me on this occasion is that, unless you archive well and carefully, it's much more likely that stuff will find a new home and eager new users while it is relatively new than when it is older. Which really validates my sister's practice of culling actively and regularly. Leslie tells me that she goes through her and her kids' (and, perhaps to a lesser extent, her husband's) stuff and gets it out of the house with pretty solid discipline. The house as a whole gathers less dust, and toys, books, clothes etc. find new homes before they are moldy and/or period pieces.
The irony is that the attempt to hold onto value in an attempt to make sure it is not lost in fact destroys it.
Because it is the last day of the year, the essay form suggests that I should loop this thought back and try to map it to reflections on the passing of another year. I probably could, but I am going to let go of that too. I need to do laundry and organize to get in the car in a couple of hours to go and see some more of our favorite humans, and that is more important than the thematic coherence of an individual blog post. Of which there will be more.
Thursday, December 31, 2015
So we are getting organized to leave Larchmont and head home, by way of Princeton. Over a couple of weeks here, Mary and Rob made herculean exertions to cull junk from the rather large attic, where it has been accruing for decades. Their mom, Mary Lee, likes to hold onto stuff, and she has done some active curating, filtering, and retaining even as we carry dust-covered stuff down the stairs and out to the street (yes, I have helped a little with some of the brute labor).
Monday, December 28, 2015
Bloomberg published an interesting article about American domestic migration patterns in recent years. One of the findings is that Americans are moving from high-productivity states like New York and California to lower-productivity states like North Carolina. One pair of researchers found that this diminution in productivity had held back GDP growth by 13.5% over some period of time.
One of the constraints is the lack of affordable housing in the big hitter states, and I can attest that this is true for sure, and indeed we can see that it's replicated in smaller markets like NC's Triangle. Chapel Hill is unaffordable for most middle-income people.
But is this all bad? If middle-income people move from high-productivity and high-cost of living places to low-productivity ones where their housing dollar goes further, aren't they in some sense getting higher productivity for themselves as each hour worked buys more house and more yard, so that in fact they are getting more? I'm thinking of something like the spatial equivalent of a hedonic index, which Republicans like to advocate (and not without some logic) into slowing the rise in cost of living adjustments to Social Security and the like.
Yes, when people move from NY/NJ to some parts of NC and the like, they may move from places where the "cultural density" goes down, there's less art and cultural diversity. For a time. But the newcomers bring new desires and new values, and the newly populated places can catch up quickly, aided by that great leveller, the interweb.
In any case, I dunno, just speculating. I just downloaded a short book referenced by the article, "The Gated City" by Ryan Avent of the Economist. Hopefully he will think some of this stuff through, and in a way that is not a total rehash of something I've already read in the magazine.
Back to work!
Thursday, December 24, 2015
Graham has successfully transitioned into middle school at Phillips, my old stomping grounds. He continued to progress to ever darker and more imposing belts at his martial arts studio, took up and studied chess, and generally continued to astound us with his erudition and curiosity. I don't know where that came from. Graham and I watched through all of the original "Star Trek" together, and have since turned the corner into "The Next Generation," which is plenty good.
Mary continues to deepen her engagement with the local autism and other special needs community and has been progressing through a new body of photographs of people with autism. Her new web site is up and running at www.maryberridge.com. On all of our household's behalf, she continues in her role as Chief Health and Nutrition Officer, ever more insistently pushing us in the direction of eating lower on the food chain, with less animal-based protein. However grumpy I may get from time to time, I remain grateful for her for taking care of all of us. Trader Joe loves us too!
As for me, 2015 has been the year my financial planning and advisory practice has gathered steam. Really my focus has needed to be on that, on chilling with my family as much as possible, exercise, and sleep. It has not been an easy year to build a practice, given the frisky markets. Market uncertainty may have helped me bring clients in, as it rattles people's faith in their own decision-making ability, but it hasn't been always been fun taking the responsibility for people's financial health in an stressful times. But that's how we learn things, by doing them, and doing them diligently and honorably.
Mostly, we must remain grateful for the fact that everybody remains healthy. I didn't even hurt myself playing soccer this year. I have been to funerals over the last couple of years of contemporaries as well as people younger than me, to say nothing of people's parents. All the people in my inner circle remain good as far as we know, and that's not chopped liver. May it continue to be so in the New Year.
Monday, December 21, 2015
The other evening, in stop and go traffic on the Durham freeway headed into Durham, I heard somebody revving a seemingly amped up engine and peeling out a bit. I looked to my left and all there was was a rinky dink Mazda 3, not usually a tuner's car. Then he did it again. That's who it was.
By contrast, coming around North Raleigh last Friday a nice looking car crowded me out of my lane and I thought "isn't that a Maserati." Indeed it was, a Quattroporte. If I had a car like that, I'd drive it a little more carefully. I wouldn't use it to threaten 2010 Priuses.
Yesterday was a very uneventful day coming up the East Coast. We went the Western route, up 86 to 29 and then over the Appalachians on 64 to 81. Made fine time, we did. It was interesting to note that a convenience store near Staunton, VA was hiring, offering $8.25 and hour plus health insurance and with a 401k (easy to offer that, since nobody could afford to defer into it). This on top of the $9.50 an hour they are offering at the Sheetz near RDU convinces me that there is indeed little slack in the labor markets, and that there are in fact lurking inflationary forces out there.
Then again, gas was $1.73 in Virginia, and I actually saw a sign for $1.79 a gallon off of 78 in New Jersey, of all places, where prices are typically high due to the fact that there is no self service.
This should give you an idea of how boring the drive was. But at least dad was not made cranky by stop and go traffic between Richmond and DC.
Friday, December 18, 2015
The Journal this morning reports on successful lower-cost programming coming out of TV channels owned by Hallmark. Amongst these offerings it mentions a program called When Calls the Heart, "a turn of the 20th century drama about a teacher who moves to a rural town coming to grips with a tragedy." This is the first time I've ever seen the phrase "turn of the 20th century" and, more importantly, it's the first time I've seen the prior millennium referred back to as a specific period about which we should be nostalgic. I wonder if it's really pre-9/11 that is referenced, or if there is really something intrinsic about that period that is starting to loom warm and cozy in the minds of viewers younger and older.
Certainly, this makes me feel older, but I suppose that's fine, as it encourages me to act more maturely. It also ties back to my comments on my growing conservative predilection for happy endings and plot resolution in general (as opposed to dangling uncertainty).
And my preference for order, reflected in a mild distaste for underdog teams (like Leicester City in the Premier League this year), which upset the established order. I mean, I don't really dislike underdogs. I think they are great. But they are also mildly disquieting because they make us need to become familiar with new players and reconsider hierarchies in the world.
I am, mos def, getting old.
Thursday, December 17, 2015
The pile of New Yorkers I had pulled from Mary's bedside table had grown ludicrously high over on my dresser. It was maybe 20 inches tall, threatening to totter over and splay itself all over the floor. Some of them date back to 2013. So I began culling it a couple of weeks ago.
Yes, it would perhaps be wisest to just stick them straight into the recycling bin, as more disciplined friends of mine do, but I nonetheless torture myself by looking through them to see if there are articles that I should be reading. In this most recent process I've pulled out articles by particularly esteemed folx: Andrew Solomon, Peter Hessler, and John McPhee.
McPhee, I know, can be a risky one, particularly when he breaks meta on the reader and reflects on the process of writing. Not that there are very many whose reflections on the craft would be much more interesting than his, as he has written many a good word about a wide range of subjects. But still, he can be pretty arch. But his piece on interviewing in an April 2014 issue was better than most, actually worthwhile, perhaps because it conveys his persistent enthusiasm for his craft.
Peter Hessler, however, somehow seems to have not quite arrived in Egypt in the same way he was in China, though he has now been there for four years or so. It seems that he is viewing deep cultural immersion as something of a parlor game that he thinks he can repeat, but Egypt doesn't seem to have drawn him in in the same way as China did. I suspect it is because he was young then, and now is less so. And that its hard to perform at an improbably high level in any field forever.
Monday, December 14, 2015
I actually made myself go to the gym tonight. I had better do it now and again, since I pay for the damned thing. Though it is cheap to go the one at the Mall.
I still do the same stretches I did when we were young, and perform basically the same weightlifting stuff I started doing in grad school, with no instruction. Basically I run three miles on the treadmill, then do 25 sit-ups, then exercise some male vanity muscles.
It is silly, but nonetheless better than nothing. Next year, since I'm turning 50, I should really consider getting some actual instruction at something. I have been meaning, for example, to take up yoga since I went off to grad school in 1991. It keeps slipping my mind. Really, tennis lessons would be good, especially serving lessons. It would be considerate to the people I play with, especially if I ever play doubles again.
We shall see if any of this happens.
Sunday, December 13, 2015
On most days I wake up around six, often fixated on the obsession du jeur, whatever that is, but on Sundays I try to sleep later. Sometimes it works. Today I slept in till 7:30 or so. Mary sleeps soundly, and I envy her that, and at times even resent her ability to do so.
The irony of all this, in my mind, is that as I have progressively over the years become aware that my anxiety and control orientation derives fundamentally from a lack of faith and trust in the world at large, in the belief that everything will trend towards the best, or at least not capsize in some sort of catastrophe. My youthful and persistent inclination has been to approach all problems empirically, to try to learn and read as much as possible to get a handle on all of them. I have felt at some core level that that was and is what is expected of me.
As I have "matured," I've come to realize that that's an unreasonable expectation, that I have to let go of problems and trust that they will work out for the best, and the easiest, most consistent, most somatic way of approaching this has been to cultivate a religiosity in myself. Otherwise my brain will endlessly, recursively, loop back to fear and doubt.
Mary, by contrast, is fairly anti-religious. She expressly doesn't believe in any kind of God, and steers clear of religion. But she fundamentally believes that things will work out for the best, and therefore sleeps well, once she hauls her night owl self to bed.
A woman I went to college with, one Lisa Friedman Miller of Teacher's College at Columbia, recently came out with a book called The Spiritual Child: The New Science of Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thinking, the thesis of which is that parents' spirituality -- and particularly mothers' -- is hugely impactful on their childrens' well-being. I should probably read it. I like to think that Mary's implicit trust in the world conveys itself to the kids and washes over some of my struggles, which sometimes manifest themselves in crankiness and irritability.
Or maybe the book is just plain wrong. The only way to know is to read it and ponder it. I don't think I can wait for the movie.
I also need to go back to Kierkegaarde and Pascal.
Thursday, December 10, 2015
I was sitting on the subway last week looking at a couple of African-Americans, both in their 20s-30s. A particularly-dark skinned woman and a guy who had some features in common with Alonzo Mourning, the same regal cheekbones. It occurred to me how pathetically unable I am to hazard much of a guess as to where people of sub-Saharan African descent hail from. I mean, I know the difference between an Ethiopian and a West African, but from there it really goes downhill. Nothing compared to the level of phenotype consciousness I have for people of European descent or even East Asians, where I can pretty well differentiate between Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, etc. It is odd, given how much time I've spent living relatively near to Black people. But that's how we tag people in America.
Saturday, December 05, 2015
I got a haircut in a new place today, Menscutz on Elliot, next to where Locopops used to be. I had been going to a kind of redneck barbershop, and it's good to have exposure to those guys some just to be in tune with their thinking, but I had gotten sick of telling the guy to use setting #2 on my head and then feeling like he probably used a 3 or maybe even a 4, just so I'd go back sooner. And it wasn't all that cheap, either.
I didn't know what to expect, but when I went into the new place, but I was greeted by a pleasant Asian woman who asked if I had an appointment. I said, no, and she pointed me to the nearest seat, attended by another Asian woman. There was a 3rd, and then black woman and a black guy manning the chairs.
It was very pleasant, much joking and banter between the people cutting hair, the black woman and the guy whose hair she was cutting new each other from their kids' basketball teams. A couple of young Asian guys came in and were a little bit bashful about who was going first: "you go first," "no, you do."
It was, in short, America. Nobody made any sly underhanded comments about Obamacare or gun control. It wasn't that cheap, but I'm pretty sure she used a #2, and at the end she massaged my head a little with a hot towel.
The woman who greeted me was watching the woman who was trimming me quite intently, and then they spoke to one another in what I'm pretty sure was Chinese. I wasn't sure if she was learning or overseeing, it turned out it was the former.
I think I'll go back, and next time I'll talk to the women more. Find out where they're from.
Friday, December 04, 2015
Just had a quick one night jaunt up to New York. A fine lunch and afternoon in Brooklyn, saw a couple of people at MidTown late in the day, a sushi feast with Kevin in the evening. Today, breakfast with someone I hadn't really talked to in years, then a productive coffee on the Upper East Side, followed by (I kid you not) a $7 piece of pizza. It was, after all, the Upper East Side. Admittedly, it was large, and tasty, but that was ridiculous. I was hungry and hadn't found banh mi.
Then a not so excellent flight home through Newark, followed by an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, in which the boy Wesley, son of the doctor, is invited onto the bridge and promoted to Acting Ensign by Captain Jean-Luc Picard. It was dark in the room, so Graham couldn't see that I actually cried when the Captain dubbed him. I can never tell when my yearning for the paternal approval that was never really forthcoming will bubble over like that and come for me. It did then.
Saturday, November 28, 2015
The first time I went out on Zappo's, I was overwhelmed by the variety of shoes there, thought there were many great ones, and went away. That was months ago. Today I came back, determined to fill the gaps in my footwear portfolio, and went through all the contenders in the categories in question (brown shoes, man clogs/slip ons), and found that there wasn't all that much. Perhaps it is just fear of making a commitment that is striking me.
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Natalie had her first behind the wheel driving lesson yesterday, and when I picked her up at the high school at 7:30, she got in the car and burst into tears immediately: "I hate driving, I don't want to learn how to drive." Unfortunately, it had been her first time behind the wheel. It had crept up on us, I hadn't realized that we were supposed to acclimate her a little, she had made zero effort to prioritize it over all of her activities (debate, mock trial, service hours, ultimate frisbee) or over the well-earned time she spends watching TV shows on her phone, relaxing.
So the first time she was behind the wheel was with a total stranger and another kid in the car. Not good. She was not confident steering, couldn't reach the brake properly, etc.
She is so self-possessed, so confident, so hard-working, so self-tending, we tend to forget she is vulnerable and needs guidance. On the one hand, I don't want to be controlling and helicoptering. All we have really needed to do has been to facilitate with Natalie.
Which exposes us to blind spots like this one where perhaps we should have been more attentive. In the end, having a child is one of the ultimate lessons in powerlessness. There is only so much one can do.
One thing. It is clear that she is infected to some extent by the zeitgeist of college goal determinism, which is to say viewing getting into a prestigious college as her ultimate end. And how could she not be, as the daughter of Joe Yale Columbia PhD and Josephine Michigan Yale MFA, growing up in a place like Chapel Hill. If she didn't have a million things to read, I would give her Frank Bruni's Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be for Christmas. I should probably read it and digest it and look for ways to convey its meaning to her. Though I've read enough excerpts to get the gist of it.
In any case, after I picked her up last night, I took her to her favorite pizza place and got her a couple of slices, one of which she took for lunch today.
Sunday, November 22, 2015
When talking to Charlie Rose Knausgaard mentioned shame as one of the core experiences he was confronting and seeking to work through as a writer, and that struck a chord in me.
The interior of our 2001 Volvo has some issues: one of the seats has a split seam, as it has for maybe 5 years now, and the header fabric on the sun roof has been hanging down for some months. None of this should be surprising in a 15-year old car. Likewise, retractable, solar-powered shades on one of our skylights has been messed up for over a year now. These things bother me, but not Mary.
But when we are having people over for this or that, other things bother Mary. For example, places on the armchair in the living room where the cats have gone to town with their claws, and similar spots on the well-aged couch in our rec room. To say nothing of the cleanliness of our bathrooms. When it is just us in the house, this stuff just rolls right off of us, but when people are coming over we whip into a frenzy of cleaning, hiding, minimizing, remediating.
I had often thought that this behavior was shame-driven on her part, without stopping to consider that I have the same feelings, just with regard to other objects (car, skylight). I am fully on board with the desire to have clean toilets for guests, mind you. At any case, my obsession with the specific instances of decay that bug me vs. the ones that bug her really gets down to basic power struggle and resentments within the marriage and the fact that we don't find time enough between the two of us to talk things through, as we are caught up in our own shit all the time and taking care of the kids.
And yet, what is the shame all about? It is natural that things fall apart, that's just entropy. As good members of the bourgeoisie, deep within ourselves, we feel that we should not let our things fall apart, or that we should not be seen to be letting them fall apart. So you replace things when they display decay. If you don't, the fear is that you are seen to not have enough money to keep your stuff in shape. Hence shame.
So there is a fear of the perception of poverty, but just behind it is the fear of death.
It will be interesting to read more about what Knausgaard has to say. I have purposefully held off on reading more of his thinking while I did my own.
Yes, as concerns the furniture, one could argue that we should just declaw the cats. But that's another discussion.
Saturday, November 21, 2015
Graham and I wrapped up watching the original Star Trek tonight, and I will confess to being deeply saddened to come to the end. Particularly since there was no sense that it was the end, Kirk, Spock and McCoy just ended an episode, not even indicating that they were wrapping up a season, and that was it. They had really grown on me, and the last episode was rather special, since Kirk's soul is switched into the body of a cunning ex-girlfriend mad scientist type, who had always wanted to be a starship captain but had never had what it took.
The impostor Kirk (his girlfriend's soul in Shatner's body) kept trying to keep the real Kirk (in the female body) down, but eventually they figure it out. Spock's steadfastness in asserting that it is indeed Kirk in a woman's body -- even as he is court-martialled and threatened with death -- was particularly touching. I need me some friends like that!
So, anyway, I guess we will move on to The Next Generation. Everybody says it's awesome. We shall see.
My mom and I went to see Natalie appear in a play at the high school last night. It was called DNA. I forget who wrote it. That kind of thing seemed significant at one point in time, now I don't really care. We had planned for Graham to go see it, but Mary had seen it the night before, so Graham stayed home with my mom's husband David and watched Sponge Bob, which I think was more to both of their tastes.
Thursday, November 19, 2015
I had, in all honestly, never heard of Karl-Ove Knausgaard until a couple of months back, or whenever it was the Times magazine published a piece by him about coming to America, getting stuck somewhere in the maritime provinces waiting on some bureaucratic nonsense, and then somehow making his way to Cleveland or wherever. I read some of it and thought, "who is this guy and what's it all about?"
Then, little by little, I became aware that Knausgaard was a literary sensation, writer of an acclaimed series of autobiographical works in which a first-person protagonist writes in considerable detail about the course of his life, including raising children, etc. It sounded, in short, like a much more serious and fictionalized version of a certain blog. Which made me even more resentful of him.
And so, when I saw that he had published a review of Houllebecq's Submission in the Times Book Review, I thought I would give him a chance. I read it. The guy is serious, thoughful. Unlike me, he has managed to attend to the craft of writing, which only makes sense, given that he writes for a living and has done quite well by it, or so it would seem. It would appear that I am going to need to read it.
I was impressed by his diligence, I must confess. He starts reading Houllebecq and discovers that the book revolves around Huysmans, so he goes back and reads Huysmans.
For some reason, it makes me want to read Chekhov stories, in Russian, but I can't find what I believe to be the one volume I have. Oddly, after selling most of my Russian library in Princeton back in 2003 I seem to have retained only things that were core to my major research projects: Mayakovsky, from my senior essay, and Turgenev, Goncharov, Belinskii, Dobroliubov, Pisarev, and Annenkov, from my dissertation. Plus Pushkin. Curious, how I pick things.
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
The news about Charlie Sheen being HIV-positive this morning was a bit of a shock. Not because of his disease status, when you think what he has been known for in recent years, it shouldn't have been a big surprise, and indeed in most ways it really wasn't.
Instead, it was disruptive news because HIV and AIDS seem to have receded so much as an existential threat, even as the behavior which gives rise to them -- people running around having unprotected sex -- has gotten so much worse as the omnipresence of internet pornography has rippled out through popular culture into the sexual behavior of teenagers, college students, and twenty somethings.
And it took me back to my own college and post-college years, when I was promiscuous as hell so that I could get ongoing ego validation from a range attractive women, and really wasn't as careful as I should have been. And I was afraid to get HIV tested because my fear was so great, so I didn't, for a long time. Which fed snowballing anxiety, and the underlying, somatic sense that everything would soon go off the rails, which I recently alluded to.
How happy I was, then, to get a negative test, and then to settle down into a life of married monogamy. Really. Likewise, how happy I am to have a daughter who does not appear to get inclined to get herself into situations where she could be in trouble.
But I think back to how quickly I flipped a switch from being a kid who didn't get in trouble to one who did, and it makes me really wish I would be home for dinner tonight.
Sunday, November 15, 2015
A busy day of driving around here in suburbia. To AA and back. Natalie and friend to Durham for mock trial, now I've still got to go get them. Graham and friend to the library, then to the friend's house, then home (fortunately that is all rather close by).
In the middle, I ran around the lake. While doing so, as I pushed through the pain of a little groin pull from soccer yesterday (Z -- compression shorts are indeed good, but not a cure all, sadly), I first fixated on some recent unpleasantries around politics associated with a board on which I serve. I realized that, in doing so, I was going back to a pattern of letting myself get hung up on struggles with boss-like figures, and that this whole pattern of perseveration goes back to a core belief, somewhere deep in myself, that things will turn out for the worst, and that I am somehow responsible.
Which is just silly. So Graham and I watched Star Trek, and everything turned out OK.
Saturday, November 14, 2015
I was just coming back to the house and I saw a guy in a Red VW Scirocco, probably from '85 or so. Then I got a view of the driver, who appeared to be 80ish. I could not help but smile, because I figure he's probably the original owner.
I feel the guy. As for myself, I am wrestling with whether or not I should put $600 into the interior of our 2001 Volvo S40. Rationally, it's probably stupid to do so, and especially from an emissions perspective. But it is the cheapest way to hold onto a car we know works, and with Natalie coming up on getting her license soon, it's probably smart to do so. We may have to become a 3-car family.
But I know that's not what it's really about. I like holding onto old things. The cassette deck in the car pleases me, and the broken cupholder doesn't break my heart either. There is a perverse pride associated with having things forever, like the stupid futon just behind me here in the office that Mary got when she went off to grad school in '89 or so. It does a great job of holding my briefcase when I come home from work, or the bass guitar that Lor gave me when I was up at his house sometime last year. So what if nobody ever sits on it.
Yes, in my heart of hearts I'd rather replace it with a comfie couch on which I could take naps.
But back to the Volvo. There's just something about holding onto it, making it last. It is part of the fundamental, underlying conservatism in my nature that just gets more pronounced as time goes on.
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Monday, November 09, 2015
Just started reading a piece by Liesl Schillinger about Karl Ove Knausgaard, partially envious of how cool it was for her to go and hang out with him, even though I am manifestly unswayed by what little I have read of his work. Then I realized that, just as I must resist the temptation to watch sports on TV when I could in fact be out exercising or even doing sports, I must fight the tendency to read, and particularly to read about writers, when I know I should be writing. For what is reading about riders if not fantasizing about being one. And all one really needs to do to be a writer is to write.
Or, it is rather to have something to write about. I just got off the phone with a fellow board member, with who I had spoken for an hour about the dysfunction of our HOA board, which was so very manifest behind the scenes at our annual meeting for the general membership. It was the second longish phone call of the day, and, as such, was rather exhausting. I know, I know what you're thinking. Whatever the hell was I going through my mind when I put myself forward to be on such a thing.
I suppose I was trying to be a grown up and good upstanding member of the bourgeoisie. Being on boards is very responsible sounding. I'll bet even Clark W. Griswold served his community in this fashion.
This after a day of mostly obsessing about figuring out how to be a good fiduciary and make a well-informed and considered recommendation of a 401k platform for a new client.
It is all just as exciting as it sounds.
Sunday, November 08, 2015
Much to do today, a difficult instance of time allocation, on a freaking Sunday, of all days
- I'd like to finish my book on the neurobiology of markets
- Need to get leaves managed down, especially those on the roof. This has been quite difficult this year, with all the rain. But the ones on the roof really need to come down, because they trap water in corners and a big dump of rain is expected early in the week
- Memorial service for Scott Clarke
- Already did load of shirts so I'd have a clean white one for that
- Go pick up Russell beforehand, since he can't drive since he had a stroke
- Lake Forest Association annual open meeting at 7:30, where I need to present on the dam and my efforts to get to know it and take care of it, and to fulfill the state mandate to put in place an Emergency Action Plan
- Watch Star Trek with Graham, share a few words in the hallway with Natalie
Saturday, November 07, 2015
Graham and I were at the library today. He's pretty well picked through a lot of the stuff in the kids' section, and I've been trying to get him to look at some of the adult sci-fi and mystery stuff. As we left the library, we were walking past the teen room, and I was like "hey, maybe you should look in there, you're almost a teenager yourself."
And Graham goes: "Yeah, I'm in my late tweens."
Monday, November 02, 2015
I made my way through Richard Ford's Let Me Be Frank With You. I was going to say that I had finally made my way through it, but then again it actually didn't take me all that long to read it. It just seemed like it took longer than it did. Which is to say I didn't enjoy it much.
It's difficult to say why. I really loved the first three Frank Bascombe books. Independence Day in particular really hit home, and I cried at the end of The Lay of the Land when it became apparent that Bascombe was going to be OK.
But now I'm ready to let him go. Ford can just kill him off. Maybe it's because the most recent book is so ham-handedly organized around the topic of Hurricane Sandy, or maybe because somehow the wry neo-Holden Caulfield voice of Bascombe is so incongrous in the brain of a man as old as he is. Maybe it's my fear of my own aging: am I going to sound like that.
Whatever it is, the book's just not as good as its predecessors. Of course, it is a durned site better than any book I have ever written, I'm well aware of that.
On to the next. Mouse brought me some very nice books from McIntyre's today at lunch. I'll dig into one of those soon.
Sunday, November 01, 2015
The NY Times week in review today had a piece on how Silicon Valley -- in its ultimate wisdom and arrogance -- thinks it has reinvented philanthropy. We can see it in the Gates Foundation's emphasis on metrics, Mark Zuckerberg's attempt to reengineer Newark's schools with a huge dump of cash. There's even a deeply ironic quote from Marc Andreesen saying the Airbnb lets people with spare rooms rent them out, thereby combating unequal distribution of wealth. Which is crazy talk.
Now, I am not entirely disbelieving of this thesis. I think that Gates, in particular, has really put his back and brain into trying to figure out how to best use his riches. But overall, the technorati are definitely patting themselves on the back with selfie sticks. It's hard to give money away effectively, it's hard in general to determine what is the right way to allocate resources.
That is, in general, what we have government for, and why we elect representatives -- so we can delegate the resource allocation function to people who have made a profession of thinking about it. Now, it is understandable and understood that government doesn't always do this well, that government institutions develop their own inertia and instincts for self-preservation, and that corruption is a real and difficult problem.
But that doesn't mean that the right solution is to have technorati aggregating huge sums and then running out and solving our problems for us. I think it is reasonable that there should be a healthy tension between non-profits and government agencies. The former can move more quickly than the latter, and are more likely to innovate. Government can learn from the non-profit sector, for sure. But the idea that key governmental functions should be ceded to young geniuses just because they made a lot of money and want to feel like they are doing good is silly.
Saturday, October 31, 2015
Back in 2004-7, when I was building a hedge fund practice for the consulting firm where I worked, I read books about hedge funds, amongst them Hedgehogging, by Barton Biggs, who had been at Morgan Stanley before going out and founding his own hedge fund.
More than anything, I remember how Biggs characterized his weekends. He basically said that he read all day long to stay informed and deepen his knowledge of what he was doing, investing other peoples' money.
I must confess that that sounds pretty good to me, particularly when I spend so much of the week talking to people or trying to do so. And I do read a lot on weekends. Which in some ways hamstrings the growth of my business, because weekends are when people are out so much.
I remember early on in my sojourn into the world of sales, talking to another guy who sold for a financial firm. He said that he had talked to sales recruiters who said that they liked to recruit athletes, and lacrosse players in particular, because they were impervious to pain. Makes sense. We also talked about how much each of us liked to be out talking to people and he was in the 7 days a week camp, whereas I am more in the 3 to 4 days a week.
Right now, I have to talk to people more often than that. In some ways it is only natural, as I'm making up for the 9-10 months where I sequestered myself and studied for the CFP. Then I talked to people rather infrequently. To say nothing of the years I spent working on my dissertation.
Truth is, that was excessive in the other direction. I like talking to people, and listening to them, because in the end people are all we have, and books are in sense a way back to people. When I studied, I always carved out ways of engaging with people (smoking breaks, calling to raise money for this or that or recruit people to a team or reunion).
I think it's natural for me to oscillate like this, between periods of greater and lesser socializing. But I tell you, it's vital to keep reading and ingesting media other than direct conversations with folx (film, music, dance, whatever), or I shrivel up and die.
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
Being a geek and someone who roots for the underdog, I have always been intrigued by the concept of standards, which are so integral to the everyday functioning of our lives but are so hidden that people can't think about them. Just think about the standards that are enabling this blog post:
- HTML -- tells the web browser how to lay things out
- TCP/IP -- lets the computers talk to each other
- UNICODE or ASCII -- I don't even know, honestly, whatever cross-platform standard there is that tells the computers to associate letters with keystrokes
- Medium of exchange
- Store of value
- Unit of account
Monday, October 26, 2015
I drove Natalie, her Croatian friend Dora, and her Korean friend Esther to a debate tournament at Enloe High School in Raleigh first thing Saturday morning. Pulling into Enloe's nabe on Clarenden Crescent Drive or some other such Anglo nonsense, I took note of a range of brick ranches with baronial features which told me that probably, when this nabe was being built, back in the mid- to late-60s, it was probably considered rather prestigious.
When we got to the high school, at the first turn in, there was an Indian high schooler holding a sign with an arrow on it, dancing around a little, probably to stay warm in the morning chill. The arrow told me to keep going to a subsequent entrance. I had to get pretty close to it to see the arrow, because my new glasses prescription doesn't correct all that well, sadly.
At the next pull-in to the high school, it was an East Asian kid with a sign, doing a similar little jig.
When I finally pulled in to the right entrance, there was a third kid, who seemed to be of maybe mixed East Asian and Anglo parents, pointing us to where to pull up to the curb. There was an African-American mom escorting her kid in.
And there were some goofballs from the marching band headed out onto the field to practice.
What else could I think but that I was glad to be in America.
Sunday, October 25, 2015
At AA this morning there was a discussion of grace and acceptance. Big topics.
In the course of my profession, I talk to a lot of people, and I hear a lot of very real stuff, both on the telephone and elsewhere. In the last couple of weeks I have heard of
- Recent diagnoses of breast and colon cancer (thankfully, not in the same person)
- Bad news about somebody who has been fighting lymphoma
- Someone's 6-year old getting hit by a car in a way that would have been fatal to an adult
- A friend who has bad peripheral neuropathy, so numbness and tingling in the extremities
- Some other degenerative neurological condition (was it muscular dystrophy?)
- Marriages falling apart for various reasons
Friday, October 23, 2015
Left the Prius on the whole time I was playing tennis with Z this morning. Stupid hybrid.
Later, was sitting on the couch reading a light morsel of an article by my neighbor Daniel Wallace when it occurred to me that I had really better be writing than reading, so I came upstairs to do so, when my eye espied the bass guitar that Lor gave me some months back. So I played that for a little while, before remembering that I was meant to write.
And now, here I am.
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
I had breakfast with a woman a month or so back. She is in a "business development" -- aka sales -- role for a consulting firm of sorts. She allowed that she had not, as yet, sold anything. She also said that she could so some recruiting but -- she hastened to add -- she could not hire anybody with gaps in their resumes, because if someone can't go out and find a job, well then, they're just not any good.
And I'm thinking, but if you're in sales and have sold nothing and brought in no revenue, you arguably should not have the job that you have.
Later, she was telling me about her husband, who was retired. He had a Phd, and not only that, had had a post-doc. Now, why the reputation of someone who has had a full career should be burnished by having had a post-doc is well beyond me. I had one. Big deal.
People are funny.
*That would include me. In the morning, after writing the above, it occurred to me that -- though I was harshing on this woman for being judgmental of others who had been nominally unemployed, look at me there standing in judgment over her, someone whom I had met only briefly a couple of times, someone I hardly know. Life is complex, for sure. The real question is: what put me in a mood yesterday to get all high and mighty on her.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
When I suggested to Graham this evening that we watch Star Trek, he insisted that he first have time to read the new Nutrition Action, so that he'd be better informed about updated details of dietary research that he could in turn lord over his peers in school. He got his reading done, and then we did get in an episode before bedtime. Spock said "sensor" several times, which I just love.
On Natalie's side, a big moment was the arrival of the soundtrack to Hamilton, purchased generously by Mr. Auntie Bethy. When I told Natalie it had arrived, she belted out an enthusiastic "Yes!" which echoed to the rafters of our crib. She has since been singing along with the soundtrack in her room quite a bit.
Saturday, October 17, 2015
In driving through Virginia and then the DC area over the last few days, experienced the ebb and flow of NPR: out in the country, you can't find it because it's not there, but in DC metro, it's difficult at times to tell what is in fact NPR from things that just sound like it. At one point in time I felt like I had come upon Israeli public radio, so long was the focus on matters from that region.
Then there was CSpan radio, which I listened to for a good while. First off, there was an excellent interview with Mitch Daniels, current President of Purdue University, one time Governor of Indiana, before that head of the Office of Management and Budget. Great guy. I'm not sure I'd vote for him, since he's a Republican, but it makes me happy to know that smart policy wonks like him still exist in the Republican Party, even if he has been pushed to the right and then marginalized. I certainly enjoy listening to him, even when I don't agree with him.
Later, I heard what seemed to be Supreme Court arguments being delivered about some very abstruse point about citizenship. At great length. It got so wonky I got lost, but it did comfort me to know that policy was being dug into at considerable depth by some erudite sorts, and that others were assumedly driving around DC or even sitting still while listening to it, because they cared.
I also stayed with friends who work in different parts of the government and are good and earnest people, working hard to execute within their respective corners of the public sector ecosystem. Overall, it reconfirms my belief that the whole "throw the bums out" discourse which dominates both right and left is misguided. Mostly, I think, it derives from the fact that communicating the principles and practices of conscientious governance is so far removed from the short soundbite/Twitter update mindset of a populace whose attention span grows ever shorter.
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
I needed some lunch, so I stopped into a comely Golden Skillet along my path to Charlottesville today. The only place with an outlet to charge my phone was in the back, so I sat there.
A couple of booths were filled by a group of six people in their golden years, five of them women, which is no surprise, since women live longer than men. Of the six, only one seemed to be talking much. "It was a pound cake from a mix. Betty Crocker. And it was pretty good, actually." She repeated her declarations about the cake from a box a couple of times, it seemed because the pair of ladies in the adjacent booth couldn't hear her.
But then it became apparent that she was talking more because it was her role in this group to do so. She was the perky one, the bringer of energy, the ringleader. She showed the others some pictures on her digital camera: "They gave it to me for my 80th birthday, that was six years ago."
It was, in short, very sweet. Nobody else had much zing left, they had been talking to each other for who knows how many decades. So she shared what she had, and that was that.
I had a delicious fish plate with cole slaw and green beans which, though clearly from a large can, were curiously not very salty.
I went and saw Richard Ford speak last night at Flyleaf Books. I think I have blogged in the past about enjoying the Frank Bascombe series of novels, particularly Independence Day. Really a great series of books, and I'm glad that there's a fourth so we can get to spend more time with Bascombe.
After he read, somebody asked a question of Ford about coming back to Frank, after thinking that the 3rd novel would be the last. Ford said this, more or less: "I feel like, through Frank Bascombe, I am able to fully express myself," and it was clear that this is a very clear goal for him.
This morning, I saw another short Gary Vanerchuk on Facebook. Vanerchuk's message is also very clear: anybody can be a success as an entrepreneur, but only by dint of ceaseless and unyielding application. "Since I was 14, I worked weekends, holidays, etc." I'm not sure what he made his money in, selling wine I guess. He's a name I've heard as an entrepreneurial guru.
His energy is good and his message is kind of inspiring, but at what cost? He also seems to be kind of a jerk.
On balance, I'd rather be Richard Ford. But, as with so many things, I am somewhere in the middle.
Gotta hit the road now. Off to Charlottesville, than to DC, thence to Martinsburg, WV, on Friday, to see people and try to get some business flowing. It should be a beautiful fall road trip.
Sunday, October 11, 2015
I am sometimes slightly annoyed when people overgeneralize the use of exclamation points, particularly when texting. I don't know why. Perhaps it is a Scrooge instinct. Mary used to say that, of all the characters in Pooh's world, she identified most with Eeyore. Which I had never thought about.
But I am not bothered when it is my daughter doing the punctuating. With her, I see it as a lovely way to view the world, where any given instance of anything is something to be excited about! Why not?
Which, in turn, makes me think I should revisit my attitude towards exclamations in general! Why not endorse the enthusiasm, after all?
As I mentioned recently, Mary and I have been watching Parks and Rec with Natalie. One thing I've been digging is Rob Lowe's character Chris Treager, though perhaps not even so much the character himself as the fact that Lowe is so able to enjoy playing him.
He was always an easy guy to hate, such a pretty boy -- kinda Christian Laetner-like, and then when he got snagged for sex tapes back in the 80s, it was easy to pile onto him. In retrospect, his transgressions (having sex with a fan above the age of consent but too young to be filmed) seem relatively minor. Compare him to Kobe Bryant, or Bill Cosby, or Tiger Woods, or Woody Allen...
In the end, whatever, he goofed up a little while younger and got dinged for it. Looking down his filmography, I don't see any masterpieces he's acted in, but then again I'm out of the flow of movies a little bit.
But in Parks and Rec, he's good, he's funny. Admittedly, it is still not the most multi-faceted character of all time, but it's a sitcom, and his character is good-hearted and self-effacing.
I think I pull for him in the same way I pull for Fernando Torres of Atletico Madrid, another pretty boy who has been brought low and is fighting back.
And now, it is time for me to go and kill weeds growing up the dam behind my house. Not fun, but needs to be done.
Friday, October 09, 2015
I had coffee this afternoon with a teacher from my high school, a guy I didn't know very well back in the day. As we were parting, he said that back in the day there were those who thought I was a jerk, but that I have turned out to be quite a nice guy.
Time was, I would have been bothered by the fact that people didn't used to like me. Now, I really don't care. I was insecure back then about a lot of things, with the exception of my intellect and wit, which I felt pretty good about. So I used it as a weapon.
I try to do that less these days, and I am appreciative of the fact that, though I may be clever about some things, there are a whole lot of things I don't have experience in and know little about, and that I therefore consult with and entrust to others. I'm cool with that.
And if people didn't used to like me, that's OK too.
Wednesday, October 07, 2015
We are experiencing a golden era on Netflix here at the crib. Graham and I are making our way through the original Star Trek, while Natalie and I (and sometimes Mary) are plowing through seasons 1 through 6 of Parks and Rec. The highlight of my day is when Natalie and I sing along to the theme song of this fine show.
Nothing more to say.
Sunday, October 04, 2015
I was reflecting earlier that I haven't really blogged all that much about how I feel about money, which is odd given that I'm in the business of managing other people's money, as well as my own, and therefore have to and do think about it all the time. But I haven't written so much about how I think and feel about money.
Or have I? A quick keyword search of the blog on "money" turned up a number of posts, more, of course, than I have time to read.
In any case, money and wealth are two of the most complicated questions in our culture, and certainly in my mind. On the one hand, as I look around this room where I sit and type, which is effectively my man-cave, even though a bunch of Mary's photo stuff is here, I can't help but love it. Maybe 270-300 square feet which I basically have to myself. A desk, an external monitor, a bunch of books, a 20-year old armchair (declining fast), a 25-year old futon (mostly good for storing stuff on it), some guitars.
I definitely love having the room, both as a private space for me, but also as a place where Graham and I can mush together (for how much longer????) into the armchair and watch Star Trek in the evenings. This room is, no doubt, a great luxury, as is our house as a whole, all 2900 square feet of it.
And I wouldn't mind upgrading the futon to a more comfortable couch, one which would, ideally, be suited for napping. Problem is, of course, that I so rarely make/find time to nap.
But do I need it? Sometimes it feels like an albatross, a gift which keeps right on taking. Yesterday I spent 3-4 hours just cleaning screens and windows getting ready for a party. And you know there's more work to do (I am writing, in fact, against the deadline of cleaning toilets and a few more windows).
I am kind of infected by the perverse house pride of our generation, though I also look at nabes with smaller houses and yards and therefore better community and wish I had some of that.
In any case, the intrinsic relationship between wealth, class, and self-esteem/image is a vein I need to mine more here on the blog, because it is real.
Friday, October 02, 2015
So I had an appointment for coffee with a guy who owns a store that sells specialty retail goods, guy stuff. High end outdoorsy stuff. I won't be more specific than that.
We were supposed to meet at 10, when the store opened. He had, I think, 5 employees. A couple of guys who were basically mechanics, one guy who managed the parts department and phones, and another couple of guys who were ostensibly in sales.
But this guy did everything on the floor. When the phone rang and there were complicated questions about products, he had to answer them. When some clients came in to look at purchasing what might have been a $300-$400 item, it was he who had to show them how to get it ready to work, how to pack it up, etc. His salespeople weren't even paying attention, didn't even try to learn.
At one point in time he got frustrated with a slight mess on the shop floor and he cleaned it up himself, while muttering under his breath.
It was really pretty shocking. I stayed there for over an hour, waiting for him to break free, but he never did. I got a lot of stuff done there on my phone, talked to a client in Europe, made a couple of appointments for next week, caught up on some reading. But I had plenty of time to watch this guy.
Now, I had asked for the meeting, and odds were he didn't need my services. Maybe he was trying to demonstrate that to me. But I think not. Mostly I think he had either hired people who were glorified bumps on logs, or he just didn't encourage them, or he didn't know how to manage. Or he couldn't hire decent people because he didn't pay them enough.
Who knows. It was a mess, I'll tell you that. I'm not going to bother calling him back.
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
I just read through to the end of Atul Gawande's Being Mortal. There is a reason that it is a best seller, and indeed that all his books are, and that is that he is not just a great writer, but a beautiful soul. He manages to bring both prodigious erudition and curiosity together with tremendous bigheartedness in pretty much whatever topic he tackles.
In this case, he writes about aging, and dying, and how it can be better facilitated by the medical world.
Around the time I first cracked Being Mortal, I also started reading Graham Greene's 1959 Our Man in Havana, which is basically a spy novel as farce. You would think that would have been more entertaining. But no, it was Gawande who pulled me through first, so real was it. It made me think back all too often to my dad's last couple of days. Difficult though they were, I feel that, ultimately, we made the right choice in not seeking to keep him alive by whatever means necessary. He had no interest in living a half-assed, half-witted life in some institution.
Sunday, September 27, 2015
I was talking to someone I used to drink with in the late 80s in North Carolina, who ended up getting sober in the West Village in the 90s, unbeknownst to me, while I was doing the same on the Upper West Side. At some point in time she characterized her path in life, or her current state, in terms of "grace." This is a rhetoric which at one point in time would have been repugnant to me, but where I am in life now, I was right with her.
This morning I went to an AA meeting that I try to get to as often as I can, maybe one week in three on average throughout the year. In front of me there was a guy who had once shared about killing someone while driving drunk, and the guilt and shame he felt about it. Afterwards I had said to him that it could have been me, could have been many of us, because he was by no means alone in driving drunk.
Sometime during the meeting someone asked (and this usually doesn't happen in the middle of meetings) if there was anyone there who had less than 30 days sober. The guy in front of me raised his hand.
And I was brought back around to my incredible sense of gratitude for the fact that, somehow, through submission, however imperfect, to the concept that I am powerless over certain things -- and as I proceed through life my consciousness of my powerlessness increases more and more -- that I have been able to stay away from an ever-wider list of things which harm me: alchohol, drugs, cigarettes, even junk food (an ongoing battle, to be sure).
What's more, I can't help but to recognize that I am of the ruling class, more or less, while this guy does not appear to be. I think about people working through dependence on drugs, alchohol, and other challenges and entering the workforce only to find it incredibly hard to find decent ways to earn decent livings. Not that it's impossible, but it ain't easy. Nor is a policy solution to it.
It was good to see the guy in a meeting, fighting the fight for today, but it was sad to see him leave before the closing prayer. I had hoped to congratulate him on his time. It is said that alcoholism is a cunning and baffling disease, and that's no lie.
Saturday, September 26, 2015
I went to a business networking lunch a couple of weeks ago for a group that meets in the same place every week. The service wasn't good. Particularly when it came time to pay, the wait staff was slow to come give us bills and take our cards.
Monday, September 21, 2015
I took a bunch of boys to see Inside Out as part of Graham's 12th birthday party. After the movie, as we were driving home in a borrowed minivan, I heard one of the boys behind me ask "why do stories always have happy endings?" The boy seated next to him responded: "I read a book one time that didn't have a happy ending. It sucked."
So, there you go. That's where we are at age 11-12. I have shared before my growing if not unconditional predilection for the happy ones, so while I'm not 100% down with where the kid was coming from, I still get it.
Sunday, September 20, 2015
So, Graham's 12th birthday party is almost done, and the most important, and stressful part of it -- the preparation -- was completed hours ago. This would be the 27th birthday party we have hosted, and though I did fairly well in the run-up to it, there was a moment when I lost track of the Zen of spousal relationship around birthdays. That is -- don't fight it. Just do what is asked. All of the house-cleaning is eventually good in that the house ends up cleaner and more orderly than it was before you started. All the anxiety of preparation is about the fear of looking sloppy in the eyes of other moms dropping off and picking up. This is a fear that must be acknowledged, honored, and moved through. Resistence is futile, nay, counterproductive.
Saturday, September 19, 2015
I keep struggling to get back into Robert Caro's Master of the Senate, which I am about 2/3rds done with, which puts me at having read about 3,000 pages of his in the last couple of years. I am, to some extent, sick of his style.
But then I read Nicolas Krystof's piece "From Somaliland to Harvard," in last week's Sunday NYTimes, in which he described a kid who used to spend two hours a day hauling water from a well to his home, and I really understand what that means to a household when I think back to Caro's chapter about LBJ's herculean efforts under the Rural Electrification Administration to bring electricity to the Texas hill country in the thirties, and how transformative that was for the lives of rural women in particular, but also children. The ability to pump water up from water sources cuts out that 2 hours or whatever of water-hauling.
So I know that there is so much in Caro for me. I just must muster the patience to take it in.
The kid in the Krystof piece is, of course, the one who has gone to Harvard (with the help of $ from some hedge fund guy), and who plans to return home to Somaliland to try to bring change there. Let's hope he sticks to the plan.
Thursday, September 17, 2015
Graham and I are now well past the halfway mark in watching the original Star Trek, and he has already articulated a very important principle that he has observed. All the main characters, Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scottie, and Uhura, are said to have "plot protection." That is, no matter how dangerous the situation, we know that they will not die.
Now, this is an important learning for a kid to have. I think that in time we all come to realize that this is true of main characters, and it is one of the great assurances, indeed the key functions of narrative of this sort, to instill in us this belief. That no matter what happens, the hero will survive the episode, the sun will rise tomorrow. It instills in us the optimism to keep plugging forward, no matter what obstacles life puts in our path.
Actually, Graham is already in touch with the idea of "Deus ex machina" coming in to save the day.
It makes me think back to the time, 5 years and change ago, when we went to see Toy Story 3 (chronicled in this post), and Graham did not have anything resembling this level of trust in the masters of the plot. So it is good to see what some years of imbibing plots will do for a young fellow's intellectual and temperamental development.
Tonight, it looked not so good for Kirk, McCoy, and especially Spock, who boldly set out in a hovercraft as the Enterprise was being drawn inexorably into the center of a 11,000 mile long energy-sucking amoeba, which was threatening to reproduce. Luckily, Kirk thought of injecting some anti-matter into the chromosomal core of the thing, based on some analysis Spock had radioed, seemingly with one of his dying breaths. Luckily, it worked, and everybody survived, and a hearty laugh was had by all. But it was tense and, it must be owned, a little emotional.
Sunday, September 13, 2015
I drove up to Raleigh yesterday for a Rally for Recovery, a public event for people in recovery to come together and celebrate their progress. It is all connected with a movement to make recovery community more visible to the world, to peel back the layer of anonymity and shame which covers it and help people better understand that:
- Substance abuse is an illness, like diabetes
- There are lots of success stories
- There is substantial ROI in investing in mitigation
When I got there, I found that there were lots of people smoking, and that a non-trivial portion of them were drawn from the less-affluent portions of society, including a lot of people of color. They were giving away free food, which always makes me hungry, but then when I looked at the line for people getting the free food I saw that it was a lot of people who looked like they needed it, whereas I just wanted it. Particularly one of the sausage biscuits from Bojangles. So I didn't get in line.
The fact of the matter is, I was a little uncomfortable being around people who are not like me. And I need to get over that, because a lot of this world is people who are in fact not all that like me, save that they are Americans with dreams and problems, but fewer advantages than I've had.
There was tall, skinny, young African-American guy who was standing near me listening to the speakers. He had gotten a bag of food from the line, and it was at his feet. It had potato chips, bananas, an apple, maybe other stuff. Absent-mindedly, he stepped on the bag and tripped a little. He quickly picked up the apple and took a bite, maybe because he wanted to get it in his belly before it bruised, or because he was just anxiously conscious of the fact that he had almost squandered a resource. Or maybe I'm projecting.
I was driving over to a client's house in Carrboro an hour or so back, listening to Stephen Malkmus, wearing flip flops, on a beautiful sunny day. I caught myself moaning to myself that I was working on a Sunday.
Tuesday, September 08, 2015
I met a lawyer in Durham today who grew up down the street from my dad, was maybe 7 years younger than him. He said that my dad came and talked to him about law school when he was considering applying, and that my dad's encouragement was part of what made him choose the law.
Which is funny, considering how my dad came to revile the profession. Still, it is very interesting to go around Durham and hear all these stories of what dad was like back in the day.
Sunday, September 06, 2015
I talked to my friend Nick yesterday, and it brought back memories of going up to his family's farm in Pine Plains, NY, most often with his brother Tony, in the late 80s and early 90s. I must say these are some of the warmest memories of my life.
Pine Plains was a pretty Chekhovian place. Nick and Tony's dad had left Wall Street many years before and bought up 400 acres up in Dutchess County, beautiful land, hilly, with views off into the distance where the Hudson is. To keep preferred tax status, he needed to generate a certain amount of revenue, and hay wasn't doing it. He needed cattle. Meanwhile, the ranch house they lived in had been subjected to what is termed in institutional circles "deferred maintenance." There was a spot on an old sofa where Tony's dad liked to sit that was dark from dirt from his work clothes. We called it "the hole" or something like that.
But it was always great to be there. In particular there was one weekend, probably in the fall of '91 or '92. Their family was ramping up its production of beef cattle, and as part of this effort we were putting up metal fencing around what where to become paddocks. It must have been late October or November, so it was chilly, and Tony and I were working pretty hard driving posts into the ground. I remember taking shelter from the cold in the barn, hanging out on some bales of hay. I was probably smoking a cigarette at the time, like an idiot.
Then there was lunch. Liverwurst sandwiches. Something like a direct infusion of fat and protein into the bloodstream at a time of great need. Yum.
All in all, there was just something great about getting away and doing physically tiring work with a clear goal in a beautiful setting with a good friend, during a time of some transition and uncertainty. Which, in retrospect, is just life.
Saturday, September 05, 2015
At Al Anon this morning the topic was how people meditate and pray to connect with their higher powers. Yes, this is how we talk.
I will confess that meditation does me no good, I can only pray, and I try to do it each morning. We are enjoined by Step 11 to try to achieve conscious contact with "God as we understand him," praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out.
Already the first thing in the morning, my mind shoots off on its habitrail of concerns about business, this client and that client and the market and the responsibility of managing peoples' money and funding my family's operations and this that or the other with one of the kids... It is hard to center myself. And yet, I try to do it each day.
Having been raised Christian, of sorts, or at least among "Christians", the only way to do this that feels natural and comfortable is more like prayer than meditation. The problem is, I don't exactly believe in God, and certainly not in the sense of some grey-haired human-looking guy up there in the clouds pulling strings to make things happen and having a plan for everything.
But nonetheless when I try to connect my mental model is that of prayer. And I must confess that, rationally, when I look at the external circumstances of my life, I really can only be grateful, and as I believe I have blogged before, it makes no sense to be grateful to nothingness, and therefore something on the other side of my gratitude is presupposed.
I haven't figured it out yet.
I did think that, having recently read the chapter in Dean Smith's bio about his faith, that if I were to believe in God, that Dean Smith's concept of a deity seems a fairly decent one. Gotta love the guy. It was appropriate, therefore, that I was sitting at the time in Binkley Baptist Church, where Coach Smith went for almost half a century.
(two days later) Just found a note in a private journal on this topic. In some sense, when I try to figure out the concept of God for myself, to make a firm decision on the existence or non-existence thereof, and/or what a deity looks like/consists of etc, I am trying to outsmart everybody else once more. This attempt bespeaks insufficient humility before the question itself, which is what I really need to strive after. I am not going to resolve this question. I can only let go.
Pascal's Wager remains so pertinent.
Tuesday, September 01, 2015
Watching Man U lose to Swansea the other day, I found myself challenged at some basic, root level. On the one hand, I think it's good for things to get shaken up, and I should like to see a team like Swansea do well. I have no reason to like Man U in particular. They are the Dallas Cowboys of soccer.
And yet... something in me longs to see the traditional order of things continue, and it saddens me to see them perform so shittily. Why should I care at all? The roster of players has turned over almost entirely. It's pretty much just Rooney and Valencia left from my early days of watching them, and of the rest, there's very little compelling about them, though I like Phil Jones.
Nonetheless, I kind of want them to win, because they represent a stability of sorts that is appealing to me. Just because. I suppose that's kind of a middle-aged white guy way to view the world.
Sunday, August 30, 2015
Be Loud! 15 has come and gone, and it was a rousing success, as last year. Such an incredible couple of evenings of music and people and love.
As for the music, to my mind the technical high point was Preeesh! doing the Pretenders' "Kid" with Mary Huff of Southern Culture on the Skids channeling Chrissy Hynde. So beautiful. This morning, as I try to sing that part, I find my voice breaking a little bit, and I start to fight back tears.
I may have shared about this in the past. Not infrequently, when I try to sing something that is genuine and emotionally charged, it is physically and emotionally difficult for me to do so. I start to cry. I think it has something to do with some sort of psychic disalignment deep within me, a sense that I am perhaps doing the wrong thing in life.
I am easily bumped off course internally, a little fragile. Just now I was reading Stephen King's interesting piece in the NY Times about being prolific, and I fell victim to that old "I shoulda been a writer" vein of thought. So, naturally, I came upstairs and wrote.
But it is a silly line of thinking and feeling for me to be dragged down into. There is no one thing I should be doing with my life. I did just fine yesterday. I raised some money for Be Loud! Sophie. I showed up on the soccer field and played 70 minutes in 85-90 degree heat in the first game of the season at sweeper, a position I haven't played in years, anchoring a decent defense to a 4-2 victory. In the middle of the day I even roped in a solid recruit on the spot because I knew we'd be a little short-handed.
I also talked to a bunch of people (50? 60?), so that at the end of the day I was just emotionally drained. Today, I will hang out exclusively with family, as much as possible.
Thursday, August 27, 2015
I should have noted that my post on earlier this week on the high point of summer was prompted by my reading of Boys in the Boat, about the University of Washington 8-man crew that went to the Berlin Olympics and won, upstaging Hitler much like Jesse Owens had. Admittedly, they weren't black, but still.
Up in Larchmont there was great fervor about this book, apparently some poobah of some sort anointed it the greatest work on non-fiction since sliced bread. Naturally, this called forth the sleeping cynic in my breast, ever-envious of anyone who might pretend to write the greatest book of any sort, which I believe, of course, is in fact crouched somewhere within me, waiting to pounce on something.
But I read it anyway. And it was good, if not transcendent. Even though I knew what the denouement must be, it was suspenseful nonetheless. It was difficult to not like the main character, Joe Frantz, particularly since the author worked so hard to make him likeable. The fact is, even though I knew where it was headed, and even he telegraphed the moral thrust of the book -- that these hard-working honest working-class kids from bumfuck nowhere looked deep within themselves to rise up and conquer the elitists of the East as well as Nazis -- I found myself crying at the end. It projects an ideal of America that we, or at least I, want to believe in.
What's more, I learned quite a bit about Goebbels, Leni Riefenstahl, and the pig dog apologists on the 1936 US Olympic Committee. All told, a fine book.
And it reminded me of Seattle.
Monday, August 24, 2015
While up North, on those days that I didn't play tennis, I did some running around Larchmont. It was difficult not to notice how many of the fine homes in the Larchmont Manor were being spruced up. One house that I have often thought amongst the worst exemplars of the "car commercial" house had apparently bought or begun developing some land across from it so it could have symmetrical semi-circle driveways on either side of the road (it's hard to see due to shadows in the pic below, but this gives you a notion of what the house is like)
So. Lots of $ going into private residences.
Meanwhile, the streets and highways were falling apart. They're building a new Tappan Zee, hoorah, but lots of other roads are just in crappy shape.
Meanwhile, the world's markets are going to hell because there is a commodities glut.
So, here's my modest proposal. If things keep going south in the markets, we need quantitative easing that buys up not mortgage-backed securities and the like, as before, but that buys bonds slated to build bridges, roads, even the damned tunnel that Christie and Cuomo are arguing about. Use the cheap commodities to build things at fire sale prices.
Sunday, August 23, 2015
Seeing my friend Mark for the first time in almost 20 years was also pretty epic, but that was more of a personal treat than a family one.
Our best meal of the summer, by general consensus, was at a French restaurant in Vancouver, after we had endured a hot and sweaty afternoon nearly circumambulating (oh yes I did write that) Stanley Park. Natalie got many fine selfies there.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Is metaphysical speculation, like sex, a young man's game? 10 years ago if I had posted reflections on a long drive from north to south, they would likely have been filled with more deep thoughts. Today, I am more empirical in orientation. Is it simply from a lack of energy for speculation, or am I intrinsically less likely to speculate?
The fact that I am asking these questions now suggests a couple of things:
- I ain't dead yet
- The morning is a better time to think expansively than late at night, when I am tired from a day of driving.
Tuesday, August 18, 2015
We drove home from Larchmont to Chapel Hill today, taking a slightly different route. At the start, we took the New York Thruway rather than the West Side Highway down to the GWB, owing to traffic, and as we curled slowly around the entrance ramp to the Cross-Bronx, it was hard not to take note of the masses of filthy, melted plastic bottles that people had tossed out of their windows along with other assorted trash. Nor could I say I could really blame them, because when you think of how the highways cut through the old Bronx nabes like they were nothing so that Moses could get suburbanites in and out of Manhattan and or from NJ to Connecticut, it's hard not to see the communities themselves as much other than human trash.
Further south, we took 301 from just past the Delaware Memorial Bridge all the way down to just north of Richmond, effectively skipping all but the easternmost edge of the DC-Baltimore sprawl. Maybe 30-45 minutes longer than using 95 and all its tributaries through there. Or, depending on traffic, maybe not. Certainly not as much of a hellhole as 95 between Richmond and DC. Lots of beautiful old motels and other roadside Americana, much of it just hanging on.
Saturday, August 15, 2015
It being a quasi-vacation week, I have been somewhat remiss in my blogging. Just sent Graham off to bed, and I'd better get my fingers, brain, and browser aligned here before I get distracted.
Tennis again with Rob today here in Larchmont. We decided against keeping score, which was good, and we hit together well for an hour or so, but at the end I needed to hustle back to the house to head into Manhattan. My phone, which had been snuggly nestled inside of my racket cover, went into my pocket and then, as if all that computing power gave it an actual brain of its own, it hopped right out and tumbled to the court. Crack! Went the screen, and that phone is toast. I can't even answer a phone call, so screwed is the screen.
And so, I fumed and flagellated myself mercilessly, but I had to get my shit back in gear, as Mary had convinced me that I should escort the kids into Manhattan to see Hamilton, which had received such rave reviews from everybody with a pen and a platform to publish on, and which Beth had somehow gotten tickets for, 3 days into its Broadway run after debuting to rave reviews at the Public.
The show, in point of fact, was phenomenal. I will try to give it its due in a later post, but now I must go and put Graham to bed.
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
Played tennis with my friend David the other day in Princeton. It followed a pretty predictable script. I started off serving poorly, but playing well, even as I felt in my mind that I was fucking up.. But I kept playing conservatively, letting him make mistakes. Pretty soon I was up 4-1. He was frustrated.
On the one hand, I felt good for playing well. But a conflict arose. David and I are generally pretty evenly matched, and to crush him would upset the balance of power, and we don't see one another very often.
I by no means tanked the match. I would have liked, honestly, to have had the discipline to keep executing according to plan and playing well. But I didn't really care to mess with my boy's head.
Plus, playing conservatively and letting him make mistakes is somewhat boring. Also, he was a little angry. He stepped up his game, and I started going for some winners. Indeed, I hit some. But before long, he was up 6-5, and the sun was getting high in the sky, and it was time to swim. We decided that we would not be playing a tiebreaker, no matter what. It ended up 6-6.
Although I lost the eye of the tiger as far as winning goes, the second half of the set was much funner than the first half, because I stopped focusing on beating him and got into the groove of having fun.
Which brings us back to the broader question of goal-directedness, and the general focus thereupon in contemporary "success" thinking. What was my goal in getting on the court? Winning? Exercise? Having some yux with my boy? Clearly 2 and 3 were more important than 1. So that's how it went down.
Sunday, August 09, 2015
So there was a guy who went to college with me, he was friends with some guys I roomed with freshman and then sophomore year, they all played soccer for Yale. One time he was working on a paper on Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground, and he was asking me about it and talking about how he thought it was a commentary on the oppressive Soviet regime. Never mind that it was written in the early 1860s. I thought he was a lunkhead.
While in college, I told that story to others in the tony literary circles in which I circulated, as a demonstration of how limited some student athletes were and how, by extension, superior we self-appointed intellectuals were.
I ran into him on the subway once when I was in grad school. He was in med school or in residency uptown at Columbia Presbyterian, and he was very friendly and pleasant (as indeed he always had been). I tried to be the same.
Not long ago, I heard that he had died. Suddenly, at the age of 48. It turned out he had become a... brain surgeon. In fact, the head of neurosurgery at a major hospital, where he mentored lots of people, performed 300 operations a year, published hundreds of peer-reviewed articles, all about aggressive brain cancer.
The moral to the story is, aside from the fact that insecure 20-year old potheads do not have the greatest judgment, is that it's really difficult to know people in any way unless you make the time to talk to them at length. What the hell did I know about this guy? Diddly.
And, unfortunately, this really seems to validate the theory of the Dunbar number, which says that any given person can really only begin to know about 150 people, and of them you can claim to know only a handful well.
So, eventually, you have to abstract up and start to behave towards people based on gross generalizations. But the best way to do it is to try to be generous and assume the best.
Friday, August 07, 2015
We hadn't watched John Stewart for a while, he is on too late, but when I heard on NPR that last night was to be his last show, I knew that it would be special.
And it was. The first bit where he gathered all of his alumni together ran on a bit, but it was sweet in nature, and I guess that's how it had to be because that's how big his posse was. Same thing for the second bit, where he went backstage and introduced us to everyone who was back there. It was a big team, but he did the right thing by introducing every single one of them, seemingly.
Then there was the last bit when he just looked at us and gave us a little sermon on bullshit. And then Springsteen played.
By the end, I was in tears. I am, in fact, crying a little bit now. Partially from exhaustion from having gotten up early two days in a row and then staying up too late last night.
But partially because it is, in the end, just sad, truly the end of an era. When I had watched the show in recent years, which was an infrequent occurrence, I felt like it had slipped a little bit into a rut. But who doesn't, after all? Doing a show, or even a blog, daily over years is an extraordinarily hard thing to do. Staying funny and relevant is incredibly difficult.
In the end, it was his purity of heart and spirit which distinguished Stewart, and will continue to do so. Watching Colbert speak straight from the heart to Stewart last night was truly special.
And I realized this morning that there has been only one true parallel moment to Stewart's passing the baton like this. Not Carson. Not Letterman. Not Leno.
Cronkite. Walter Cronkite defined what it meant to cover the news and public discourse when we were young, and he did it with incredible dignity and forthrightness, and his retirement was an epochal moment, really, the beginning of the end to broadcast news. I was 15, and I still remember it. Stewart, despite operating within an ironic mode, did the same thing. He was funny, he told jokes, but right below the surface he was deadly serious, and we knew and know it. It wasn't the many layers of indirection of the Colbert Report, beneath which we knew what Colbert was up there. Stewart's earnestness was always just millimeters away.
And so, sigh, we will wait to see what comes next. Hopefully, it will air earlier in the evening.