Friday, June 29, 2007

Did It

This is my 327th day in a row of writing a 327 word essay and posting it to the 327 Words blog.


Originally, I planned to commemorate the run-up to my 50th birthday by writing a letter a week to people who had been important to me in my life. I did about half a dozen, and even though it was very cool to re-establish communication with a number of folks I hadn’t been in touch with for a while, I got kind of lazy (that business of addressing envelopes and putting stamps on them really takes it out of you) and let that project languish.

Meanwhile, I had been writing a daily 327 word piece all last summer except for two days in August I missed and so, along about September, when I had a couple consecutive months under my belt, I thought I’d go ahead and see if I could keep it up 327 days in a row.

Sometimes it was tricky during the school year and on a handful of occasions, I wrote in my office, thereby (arguably) misusing Washington State taxpayer dollars, although I justified it by only writing pieces that had something to do with teaching and learning or school in general.

I wondered, at some point, whether my quest would earn me any renown, like this guy in Seattle who swam in Lake Washington every day for a year or Julia Powell, who cooked a Julia Child recipe every day for 365 days, but eventually, it became more about the practice, like playing scales on your instrument or doing yoga regularly.

I’m not sure it’s made me a better writer, but it has made me a more frequent one, which at least counts for something.

Larry wondered whether my life would become meaningless once I completed my self-appointed task; I worried about that, too, so now my plan is 327 essays per year.

That gives me another 147 in 2007.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Put Your Whole Self In

Eventually, you get to the place where it’s not worth it holding back anymore. It’s too hard and it’s boring.

The effort of not being who you are outweighs the value of being who you aren’t.

That’s when we turn our lives inside-out and blossom.

We get glimpses of this beginning in childhood, anytime we do something useful for someone else, but it doesn’t usually unfold all the way down until around midlife, when we have enough experience to be fearless and fully present.

A kind of convergence happens between what makes us happy and what needs to be done and so the question “what’s next?” is answered for us. That’s when we naturally bring all that we are to all that we do without hesitation.

In personal relationships, this usually takes time to occur, too. We have to share experiences with someone else that reveal who we are, and have to have reflected back to us a similar degree of honesty and trust.

With young children, we bring this sentiment relatively easily, with adult partners typically only over time and with some consistent work. With the world at-large, though, it takes reaching a point at which what people think about you doesn’t matter as much as how you care about them.

That’s when we arrive at that place where it all flows.

You put your whole self in. That’s what it’s all about.

I’ve thinking a lot about the Hadza in Africa, especially this 94 year-old guy, Kampala, spry as an elf, and how they didn’t seem to be anywhere else than right there and no one other than who they were.

And it’s the best of each of us when we’re like that, when we allow ourselves to simply be seen doing what comes most naturally to us all: caring for others.

Why is the world isn’t organized to make it easier for us to help one another?

Isn’t that why we’re here?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

It's All a Metaphor

I’ve got three more days, including this one, on my silly little project to write a 327 word essay 327 days in a row. Unless something pretty unexpected happens, or I decide arbitrarily to stop before finishing just to spite myself, I’ll finish on Friday—and then decide how often I’ll keep writing and posting after that.

Today, though, I’m thinking of how I might construe the project—and especially the remaining few days—metaphorically, as an analog to the days of my life, where once they stretched before me all but endlessly but are now an increasingly scarce commodity all the time.

Whereas it once seemed an impossible chore to fill up more than ten months of daily pieces, now, there are precious few opportunities for me to undertake this task which, although it has worn on me more than a few times, has also been reasonably fulfilling and has given a modicum of purpose and direction to my days.

I imagine what it would be like if, as in some Hollywood hospital drama, I had but two remaining days to ever write a 327 word piece. What profound words of wisdom would I try to infuse my final few essays with? How desperate would I be to say something deeply important with my dying gasps of blog?

One would think that if I haven’t said it already, in 325 days, it’s unlikely I’m going to suddenly share in the final two. I think my main message is Woody Allen’s observation that 80% of success is just showing up; in my case, though, it’s probably more like 99%.

When I’m on my deathbed—which with any luck, will be a solar-powered anti-gravity one suspended over my indoor swimming pool, I hope I’m not going to be expected to issue forth some brilliantly illuminating message for posterity to record. Rather, I’d like to go with little fanfare, hardly recognized at all.

This is certainly a metaphor for that.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Life Begins at Forty

I remember when my mom turned forty—I would have been eight—and she got this card that read “Life begins at forty,” which was considered a great joke at least by Dad. I’m sure I didn’t really get it, but I do recall repeating it much to the amusement of my parents, at least the first dozen or so times.

The funny thing is, though, there’s probably more than a grain of truth there; at least for me, life—or, anyway, much of my current life—did begin at forty, and I’ve been thinking that, as I cast about for my next career, post-academia at some point down the road, that I might make some real hay (or even better, in the old Damon Runyon slang, “lettuce”) out of building upon this.

At forty, I bought a house, had a kid, started doing yoga seriously, and began flossing my teeth on a regular basis. I’ll bet that by the time that I’m seventy or so, I can create a program for young whippersnappers of forty to get their shit together for the next thirty or so years of their lives.

I’ve heard lots of people say they are too old to do something or another when the are forty. Aside from becoming an Olympic swimming champion and probably an Abercrombie and Fitch model, I don’t think there are really that many things outside of one’s potential at a mere four decades of age.

There’s a well-known Ashtanga teacher, Lino Miele, who I understand didn’t really start practicing until after forty. And the mystery writer, Raymond Chandler didn’t write his first book, I think, until his fifties.

Forty seems young to me these days, although to tell the truth, I don’t feel any older now than I did ten years ago. I’m a little more wrinkled and a bit grayer, but dim lights and hair bleach more than make up for that.

Here’s a scary thought: “life begins at fifty.”

Monday, June 25, 2007

Bar Wounds

My friend Harley used to call them “bar wounds”—those little bumps and bruises you get that you can’t remember where you got. His assumption—and a reasonable one at that—is that you’d incurred them at some time after a drink or three, falling off a stool, or bumping into a wall, or, as I did once, banging your head on a coat rack reaching for your hat.

Of late, I haven’t been knocking myself about in taverns, but I do find myself unexpectedly injured here and there in ways and places whose source is unclear.

Today, for instance, I’ve got this bruise on my right forearm that, while it isn’t incredibly painful or anything, does make it difficult to rest my elbows and wrists on the drafting table as I write or, as I discovered this morning, set up and go into headstand.

I can’t recall getting this injury; my conjecture, therefore, is that I must have sustained it over the weekend, in all likelihood during the evening of the “La Furia de la Calle” Race.

I’ve also got a fairly fresh scab on my calf, a couple inches long, but not too wide, a cut I have no recollection of receiving; maybe it’s a bowling injury from Mimi’s party on Friday.

I don’t really mind these little bar wounds; in fact, there’s part of me that appreciates them in the name of not becoming completely old and stodgy; I guess it’s my little approximation of the “Fight Club” spirit. The first rule of bar wounds, then, is never to talk about bar wounds.

But see, I’m so hard core that I even break the rules of the rule-breakers. Nice.

As a kid, one of the merit badges of summer was skinned knees; when both were scabbed over, you could count yourself as officially on vacation.

I may not have torn through my jeans to lacerate my kneecaps; but I am occasionally bleeding from unexpected places.

Party on!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

La Furia de la Calla Race

Last night, I took part in a combination alleycat race/scavenger hunt called “La Furia de la Calla” which I guess roughly translates to “road rage,” although the organizers of the race and the contestants I met and talked with couldn’t have been sweeter, themselves.

The event was a benefit for a bike shop in Mexico City and was sponsored by, among others R.E. Load Bags and Revolution Cycles and attracted a bunch of serious cyclists—a number of messengers and a pretty fair contingent of fixie kids, all way faster and more intent upon competing than me.

So my strategy was to just pick one of the stops, ride to it, and hang out drinking beer with the folks who were stationed there. This worked pretty well and allowed me to really feel like I was part of the event without having to wear myself out tearing all over the city.

The race had a post-apocalyptic theme; the manifest required riders to complete six challenges in the cause of ensuring people’s survival in the wasteland of industrial demise where “the waters of the Puget Sound are nothing but a mire of toxic sludge.”

At the stop I visited, by the “Wall of Death” underneath the University Bridge, riders had to pick up empty plastic bottles and return them filled with fresh water, a precious and rare commodity in the post-apocalyptic environment. I got a real kick out of how seriously racers took the task; I think it’s the mark of an excellent alleycat when participants get fully into the spirit of the thing like this.

When it seemed like most of the riders were through, I headed directly to the end of the race, in Georgetown, behind the Rainier Cold Storage building. There, I got to mingle with the finishers, listen to live music on several different stages, and enjoy another long and lovely early summer evening in our fair city, which—in its pre-apocalyptic state—was looking just fine.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Hardly Ever Matters

Once again, after having spent a bunch of money on computer hardware and software upgrades, I’m underwhelmed by the improvements and am asking myself whether the expense was really worth it.

I bought a new Airport Extreme, thinking that it would expand the range of my wireless enough that we’d be able to get internet in the new studio for Jen but that’s not really the case. And, while it claims to be as much as five times faster than the first version, I’m not really noticing the speed bump.

And I also upgraded to Office 2004 from Office X, mostly so more than one of us in the household could be using Word at the same time. The new version is supposed to be more intuitive and Mac-like, but I can’t really tell the difference other than that there are a number of new features that I’ll probably never use.

It feels to me like I’ve been the victim again of marketing hype; I’ve had induced in me the sense that if I failed to switch to the latest and greatest version of some such thing-or-another, that I’d be missing out on something important or valuable. But now that I’ve got that thing, it’s not obvious that my life is improved in any measure.

I can’t even remember last thing I bought that really made me happy. It might have been some chopsticks. Jen and I had received a dozen as part of a wedding gift and slowly lost them until we were down to just four. So every time we ate rice, I’d have to go searching frantically through the silverware drawer for the remaining two pairs.

One day, at the Chinese store, I realized I didn’t have to live like that and bought a pack of twelve for two bucks. Ever since then, it’s a joy to no longer be chopstick-challenged and I celebrate the purchase every time I eat rice at home.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Double-Digit Daughter

Today is Mimi’s 10th birthday, which means that for the rest of the time I know her, she’ll always be a double-digit age. (I certainly won’t live to be 140, and even if I could, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to.)

Naturally, it’s shocking to me that ten years have passed since her birth; it’s the usual experience of time: on the one hand, it seems like just yesterday she was emerging from the womb; on the other, when I think of all that’s happened since that morning a decade ago, it feels like about a century has gone by.

Back when Jen and I were engaged in our endless ruminations over whether to have children or not, I asked my dad about it and he said that pretty much all the highest highs and lowest lows in his life were associated with parenting—which he meant as an argument for conceiving. While at that time, he had on the order of 35 years experience as a dad, I can say that after a mere decade as one myself, I absolutely agree.

I have no regrets whatsoever about having become a parent and only, if anything, sometimes wish we’d gotten started sooner and had another kid or two when we might have.

Still, I do sometimes wonder what these past ten years would have been like had we remained childless.

For one thing, I almost certainly would have my Ph.D. Without the diversion of parenting available to me, I’d have had no excuse not to finish.

I probably would have visited India at least once and Jen and I would likely have been abroad a few more times. We might be living somewhere else than Seattle, especially if I had gotten a job at a 4 year school.

Mainly, though, I would, in all likelihood, be much grouchier and more uptight; nothing like a kid—and a double-digit one—to teach you how to chill out.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Generous or Stupid?

I like this band, Band of Horses well enough; (I really liked their precurser, Carissa’s Wierd) and they’re gonna be playing July 2nd here in Seattle, when Mimi and Jen will be out of town and I’ll be looking for something to do, but the show is sold out, so I was poking around on Craigslist to see if any tickets were being offered for sale.

There were a few, (but not nearly as many as requests for them) and most were asking around fifty bucks which led me to believe—I’m not sure why—that the list price was thirty, so when I saw an ad for one or two, best offer, I emailed that I’d be willing to spent forty for one and would throw in a little bit of what they usually refer to on Craigslist as “420” to sweeten the deal.

Within minutes, I got a reply saying that this was an offer that couldn’t be passed up, so I rode my bike downtown and gave this nice young woman two twenty dollar bills and an envelope with a thumb-sized clump of the deal-sweetener as promised. She smiled pleasantly and thanked me; we said good-bye and went our separate ways, satisfied in a deal well done.

But when I got home, I looked at my ticket and it turns out the price of admission is only fifteen bucks, so not only did I treat the seller to an added bonus, I also paid more than double the original price. No wonder she leapt at my offer.

So I feel pretty stupid now, but why can’t I just feel generous? After all, I was perfectly happy with the transaction until I saw the original cost of the ticket, so what’s the problem? I should just feel pleased that I did a perfect stranger such a good turn.

And maybe I’ll run into her at the show and get her to buy me a drink.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Doing Nothing

It’s probably impossible to do nothing; if not, though, I’m especially bad at it.

I can never just be—I’ve always go to be doing something, and it’s usually the next thing.

For instance, here I am at our campsite, drinking coffee, where you’d think it would be enough to simply enjoy the outdoors and savor the first cup of the day, but no. I’m concurrently tending the fire, trying to write, thinking about changing my clothes, organizing breakfast, jumping up to move a piece of gear here or there, looking for the book I’m reading, reading a passage, swatting mosquitoes, and planning our trip back home.

It’s beyond me to do nothing more than appreciate the experience—or maybe this is just how I do it. If so, though, it’s still curious to me why that in itself isn’t enough and why I insist upon gilding its proverbial lily.

I’m inclined to say that this is the human condition—never satisfied, always grasping at the next thing, but it’s not obvious to me that all humans are like this: witness those clerks at Radio Shack who just sit there, so I fear that it’s just me—or some general, but not particularly large subclass of people like me, (not really Type A, more like a B-plus.)

I’m not sure, anyway, that doing nothing is something that should be aspired to; and even if it is, I’m pretty sure that it’s an unresolvable paradox to do so.

But certainly there’s something to be a said for being less frenetic and experiencing life more fully.

People from all sorts of traditions I admire, from Buddhists to functional alcoholics point out the value of taking things more slowly; Richard Leider regularly refers to the “hurry sickness” of the contemporary world.

I’m all for curing that; I’d like to be able to be less scattered; less hurried, less rushed.

But how do we do that? How does one do less?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Bikes on the Beach

Our family astrologer, Katy Kaye, said that since I’m a fire sign, and Jen and Mimi are water, that our shared family time should include visits to environments where hot things meet wet things, like volcanoes a the ocean. As if we needed incentive to plan a trip to Hawaii, now we have it.

In the meantime, though, there’s at least one thing we do together that seems to meet out shared need for overall familial pleasure, even without the astrological underpinnings: riding bikes on the beach.

We first experienced this last year at Cape Disappointment State Park and have been enjoying it immensely these last few days at Grayland Beach.

The vast, largely deserted oceanfront here provides the ideal spot for careening, ambling, and poking around on two wheels, and each of us takes a real measure of delight in the experience, each in our own way, even—or perhaps especially—the dog, who gets to romp about at high speed while we attempt to shepherd her somewhere between the surf and other people’s canine pets on leashes.

I like that I’m on a bike with family, free of worries about traffic or destination; Jen and Mimi appreciate their ability to cover lots more ground in the never-ending search for beach treasures, and Becca is just happy to run.

I’m surprised by how few other cyclists we see—none, actually, in the entire three days we spent riding about; I find it hard to believe that we’re the only parents and kids for whom this pastime is cheaper than therapy.

Perhaps it’s the fear of sand and salt in the machinery; our chains weren’t particularly crazy about the powdery grains of Washington’s windswept coast; but a few quick spritzes with the garden hose, and a few squirts of lube with the excess wiped off put them all back in order.

Or maybe some families are just happy in cars; we did see a lot of those.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Camp Fire Psychiatry

So, Doctor, we’re camping; it’s around 6:00 in the morning and I’m trying to get my first cup of coffee happening. Meanwhile, it occurs to me that the way I am with the campfire is, I think, a pretty good illustration of the way I am overall.

Above all, I demonstrate impatience. I have a hard time letting the flames do their flaming thing. I’m constantly compelled to rearrange the logs, blow on the coals, and otherwise—as my dad used to say when I could even leave the little flame of the candle at the dinner table alone—“potch” in the thing.

The is probably some kind of attempt to overcome some vague or unresolved feelings of inadequacy regarding fire-making, right, Doctor?

Even though right now, the flames (albeit abetted by lots of paper and kindling) are licking merrily at my coffeepot, I still view the process as little short of a mysterious miracle. It’s difficult for me to accept that the fire will light, burn, and keep burning if I don’t constantly mess with it—of course, exactly the opposite of what I should do.

What does this mean, Doctor?

And why do I go through so much wood so quickly? Is this, too a metaphor, Doc?

But then, perhaps everything is a metaphor for something, no? We are fractals in all we do: the pattern is the same at every level.

Take anything we undertake: dish-washing, shaving, bike maintenance, they’re microcosms of the macrocosm, are they not?

The way I brush and floss is the same way I approach the world: quickly, with a minimum of effort, and usually before anyone else is up.

Such breakthroughs I am having here, Doctor; would you not agree? Is it the bracing morning air, here by the beach? That I slept in a tent last night?

That I’ve finally got my coffee poured and can now sit back and enjoy the fire—with just one more log?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Father's Day

Today is, as the checker at the co-op put it, “the Hallmark card holiday for celebrating male genetic material donors.” Then he asked me if I was included in the group being feted and I allowed that I am.

So, hooray for me and for all male genetic material donors, especially those who are actively involved in their kids’ lives.

Instead of the traditional (tradition being anything done at least twice) trip to the horse racing track, we’re heading out on a camping trip today. I remain as ambivalent as ever about an activity that requires so much advance planning; however, I’m really looking forward to a couple of days sleeping outside and having beer for breakfast.

We’re heading down to a place called Grayland Beach, west of Aberdeen, that being Kurt Cobain country, I guess. Last year, we went a bit farther south, to Cape Disappointment; one of the main things we hope to be able to do is ride out bikes on the beach as we did that time.

My own dad wasn’t much of a camper; the closest we ever came to sleeping in a tent was the Winnebego trip that he, me, and my best friend at the time, Timmy Short, took through the National Parks in Montana and Wyoming when I was thirteen. His own vacation tastes ran more to sitting in a deck chair at the beach or dining at nice restaurants and going to art museums in big cities.

So, I guess it’s to be expected that for me, being a happy camper does not always entail camping.

After going to Africa last year, I came back all energized about the out of doors and adventuring into it. I still feel that way by and large, but I just wish it were easier to get to.

On this Father’s Day, though, I’ll revel in the preparations, however complicated they are. This is my breakfast in bed and I’m enjoying it.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Fremont Solstice Parade

Mimi and I rode the tandem through Montlake and down by the UW on the Burke-Gilman trail to catch the Fremont Solstice Parade, the annual hippie-dippy celebration of the year’s longest day and our town’s most exposed flesh. We saw your usual collection of naked people on bicycles, glittered-up youngsters on homemade parade floats, and sunburned toothless street people wandering about aimlessly among the crowd.

In other words, it was a reasonably good time and at least we got a bike ride of out it although it never occurred to either of us that that experience would be enhanced by taking off our clothes and covering our bodies from head to toe with fluorescent body-paint.

I’m glad that there are folks who enjoy doing so; Mimi and I were both favorably impressed with cyclists whose paintworks most resembled cycling or circus outfits. One group featured half a dozen riders who had fashioned “Where’s Waldo” leggings and tops out of greasepaint quite effectively; on the other hand, we both cringed to see the shriveled up penises of old men who hadn’t even painted themselves at all.

And that very few of the nudes put coverings on their saddles was also cause for some concern, but so be it: anything that gets people out on two wheels is fine by me.

Some of the floats and costumes in the parade-proper were impressive, too, notably a group who were dressed like the scary apple trees in the Wizard of Oz, with articulated branches and everything. We also liked a troupe of Cleopatras who belly-danced down the avenue to a driving Casbah beat.

Still, in the end, I felt like I do every year: going to the fair is one of those things I expect to enjoy more than I do and inevitably, I end up wondering why I bothered anyway.

Jen declined to join us, saying she wanted to have gone but not enough to actually go. Me, too, neither.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Riding Free

The peak moment for me on the .83 ride last night was near the end of the evening when the remaining cyclists were enjoying a final nightcap in a pirate skateboard park off of Alaskan Way. I was lying down with my head resting on the gently curving side of one of the homemade half-pipe ramps gazing up at the stars, but the image was one I couldn’t resolve. The celestial sphere seemed to be quilted somehow, with thin lines like metal cables partitioning it off into sections. “What the fuck is with the sky or am I just really stoned?” I mused aloud.

The two guys within earshot of me burst out laughing and so did I as I realized my question was answered by my asking: it wasn’t the sky I was looking at at all; it was the black painted underside of the viaduct!


Safe to say, I’d achieved the level of disengagement from the ordinary I’d been reaching for all evening.

Which is roundabout way of saying it’s probably good I rode the Quickbeam on the freewheel side of the rear cog after all; doing so allowed me to concentrate a little less on the mechanics of riding and more on experiencing transcendent weirdness in last night’s route.

We took the Longfellow Creek trail from near the West Seattle Bridge to White Center, a charming off-road meander highlighted by Aaron’s carrying on the front of his Baksfeits a Lazy-Boy recliner chair he’d picked up off the street.

After the designated southwest-end taco truck stop and requisite pitchers at the Pacific Rim Brewery, we piled into another forest-trail adventure, an wooded overlook somewhere above Delridge which afforded a dynamite view of the Duwamish industrial zone as long as you didn’t fall off the edge of the eroded cliff, which remarkably, no one did.

One final safety stop during a mechanical on the route back downtown and my night—and night sky—was made.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Riding Fixed

The Quickbeam has a flip-flop hub with cogs on either side so you can ride with a freewheel or as a fixed gear. Nearly all the time I’ve had it, I’ve ridden on the freewheel side; my usual line has been that I’m not gnarly enough to ride fixed, and basically it’s true: I like to be able to coast downhill and around corners. Right after I got the bike, I spent an afternoon tooling around on the fixed cog and decided it was more trouble (and danger) than it was worth, so I set the chain on the freewheel side and haven’t gone back.

Yesterday, though, in part because I have this old Motobecane frame my neighbor gave me I built into a single-speed that I never ride and I’ve been thinking that if I put a fixed cog on it, it would be unique among my stable and I might use it more often, I set up the Quickbeam fixed and started riding around. Today, I’ve gone all over town on it that way and am reflecting on the experience.

At first, I was going to say that riding fixed was fine and all but that I definitely preferred having a freewheel. This view was informed in particular by my ride down the hill on Martin Luther King from Union to Madison; I had to squeeze the brakes a lot to keep from spinning out and eventually I did anyway, feeling scared and overwhelmed by the cranks spinning out of control.

At lunch though, I had a couple—well, three—margueritas and found the ride home especially interesting. What I didn’t like at first—my cranks urging me ever on—I came to appreciate, especially uphill. I also like the sense of control over and connection to the bike that being fixed gives me.

I’m not sure I’m brave enough to ride fixed on tonight’s .83 ride; we’ll see.

A couple more margueritas might help.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Fishing for Atheists

Stanley Fish wrote a piece for the Times reviewing recent books by a trio he calls “The Three Atheists”—Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris—all of whom have written critically (although in slightly different ways) of religion and religious belief. Fish’s review features his usual smarter-than-you snarkiness which makes for an especially provocative read, as evidenced by the hundreds of comments posted to the Times website in response.

I don’t want to get into (or in the middle of) this pissing match in part because I don’t think the debate between theists and atheists is really amenable to reasoned discussion and also because at some fundamental level both sides are probably right. It’s like you can spend your life arguing whether Sandy Koufax or Warren Spahn was the greatest lefthanded pitcher ever, but at some point, reasons fail and it just comes down to a matter of taste.

Getting worked up over whether God exists thus seems to me to be something like getting all exercised over which is the superior flavor, chocolate or vanilla—and even if it’s not, all the books in the world, and all the criticisms of those books, is pretty unlikely to convince either the chocolate or vanilla lovers to change their minds.

Me, I sort of wish I did believe in God, but I just can’t seem to make the move from the ineffable mystery of the Universe to something (and especially some One) behind it. Creation itself is god enough for my tastes; assuming a Creator diminishes the All-ness-That-Is in a way that makes me uncomfortable—but maybe that’s the point, after all.

I’m inclined to think that in any case, God’s existence depends on people’s belief in Him; if no one believed in God, He would cease to be. It’s like the “stars” on American Idol wouldn’t be stars without their fans.

And I’m not really sure if that’s a reason for believing in God or not.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Lost Keys

If I had back all the time in my life I’ve spent looking for my keys, I’d be ten years younger, at least. (Of course, I’d be sleeping outside in the yard, but that’s beside the point.)

I don’t exactly know how it happens, but I consistently fail to leave them in their designated spot, even though I consistently admonish myself to do so—and even when I’m perfectly sober.

This morning, for instance, I strolled around the house for at least half an hour on the prowl for my key ring, which I’d somehow failed to hang on the little hook it’s intended to reside upon.

My search technique tends to be sporadic; I don’t like to admit to myself that the keys aren't where they’re supposed to be, so unless it reaches a real crisis point—like I need to unlock my bike right now—I sort of amble about, hoping the missing items will reveal themselves to me on their own.

I go through the requisite seven stages of loss as it gets increasingly dire:

Shock: “What? No keys! No way!”
Denial: “Oh, my keys aren’t really lost; they’re right around here somewhere.”
Bargaining: “Please, just let me find them this one time; I’ll never misplace them again.”
Guilt: “How could I be so stupid to lose my keys? I don’t deserve to have locks!”
Anger: “Fucking keys! I hate them!”
Depression: “Life without keys is not worth living.”
Acceptance: “Screw it. I’ll just leave the door unlocked.”

Typically, I find the damn things immediately after I give up looking for them. But I have to really give up; I can’t pretend to have thrown in the towel for strategic purposes.

Today, I really did give up. The only key that’s really a problem would my office I won’t need it for three months.

Lo and behold, though, as soon as I thought that, there they were, hidden on my workbench under some wrenches.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Home Disrepair

I pretty much hate fixing things around the house—although this feeling is not really informed by experience, because, generally, when I attempt to repair anything—faucet, window blind, clamp that holds the hand-held shower head to the bar on which it slides up and down—I end up making it worse and then have to struggle to get things back to the state of broken-but-usable that we’d been living with for as long as anyone can remember.

Today, I got all energized to replace the aforementioned clamp. It’s a cheap piece of plastic that cracked in half more than a year ago, a mere nine months into its usable life.

Since then, we’ve made due perfectly well with the shower head zip-tied to the pole. Granted, you can’t remove it to wash your back or privates, but at least you don’t have to hold the thing over your head with one hand while soaping yourself up with the other.

It took me no longer than five minutes to completely strip the head on one of the screws that holds the bar into the wall. Subsequent attempts to either remove the damn thing or just tighten it back down proved fruitless except as a means of engendering four-letter diatribes issuing from my mouth.

Arriving at the plumbing supply store with the broken part in hand was similarly frustrating. I was told in no uncertain terms that I needed to have the manufacturer and part number in order to order a replacement that might not even be available if I did have the proper information.

So now, several hours later, the whole shower head contraption is worse off than it was before I started trying to fix it. All my efforts have just made things worse.

What this tells me, though, isn’t entirely depressing: it’s clear from this experience that the best thing I can do in the cause of home improvement is, thankfully, nothing at all.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Sopranos

I’ve never seen The Sopranos.

There, I’ve said it.

Those who feel so inclined can now sneer at what a loser I am and shake their heads at my complete lack of pop culture competence.

The NY Times today referred to the show as “widely proclaimed as the greatest drama ever created for television.” While that may be damning with faint praise, it certainly counts as something. I always thought Twilight Zone was pretty good but who am I to argue with the paper of record?

All week long, the media have been waxing rhapsodic about Tony Soprano and company as the show prepares to air its last episode. You’d think it was Queen of England stepping down or Brett Favre hanging up his cleats the way they’ve been going on about it.

I like a good mob story as much as the next guy, but all this hoopla seems over the top. It’s not even a network show, after all; shouldn’t a bigger deal have been made when Malcolm in the Middle taped its last episode?

Maybe if I watched the program, I’d feel differently. It’s downloadable for the iPod, I think, so I could even tune in while riding my bike.

Perhaps this summer, instead of studying Indian philosophy, I’ll devote a couple hours a day to catching up on all the episodes I missed. The problem with that, however, is that the phenomenon will be over by the time I catch up—just like my experience of going to San Francisco in the mid 1970s, long after the Summer of Love had passed.

Oddly, however, all these years later, when I tell people I was in San Francisco at that time, they tend to assume I was right there when the hippie movement was in full swing. So, by that logic, if I watch all eight Soprano seasons this summer, thirty years from now, people will assume I was a fan from the start.

Saturday, June 09, 2007


I sat through graduation ceremonies for my school last night, and really, all things considered, it wasn’t bad; the evening moved along relatively quickly and, as a matter of fact, the proceedings were very sweet and quite touching at times.

It’s charming to me how classically scripted the event is: faculty in their ceremonial robes, “Pomp and Circumstance” playing as we enter, the college President giving a standard speech with all manner of inspirational quotes about seizing the day and making a better future for the world.

Several students spoke and their words, if occasionally somewhat trite, were from the heart; I even got misty-eyed a few times when they talked about how much they’d learned as Cascadia and what their time at our school has meant to their lives and dreams.

In the long slog through the school year, it’s all too easy for me to forget that for lots of students, the experience represents a life-changing (or at least life-affirming) opportunity; it’s good to be reminded that what we’re doing as teachers isn’t simply moving young people through a rote process that ends with little more than an official piece of paper. We actually are helping to provide opportunities for students to craft lives that they want to live.

Now, I’m sounding like a graduation speaker myself. (In fact, I’ve done that twice: first, at my graduation from the U of Minnesota, I was the student speaker; and then, a couple years ago I was the faculty speaker at Cascadia’s ceremonies.)

Do I have any sage advice for the graduates this time around? Typically, my advice is the paradoxical admonition not to take anyone’s advice.

Today, though, I’ll simply point out that one of the meanings of the term “graduate” is a cylindrical or tapering container; all graduates, therefore, should regard themselves in their bathroom mirrors to determine whether their education has made them tapering cylinders.

To which I say bless their pointy little heads.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Summer Projects

As three months of relatively unstructured time looms before me, I can’t help but start filling up the days with things I’ve always wanted to do, feel I ought to do, and/or can’t yet find a way out of not doing.

If I were a more relaxed and self-possessed person, I think I’d be better able to go with the flow, taking each day as it comes, letting whatever happens, happen. Unfortunately, my reliance on large mugs of caffeine relatively early in the day makes that sort of easy-goingness out of the question; I’ve got to have a plan which—even if I don’t follow it—provides some sort of shape to my days.

Above all, I’ve got to make some serious progress on this book that Richard Leider and I are supposed to be delivering to our publisher in September. Its working title is Something to Live For and presumably, it will provide some sort of advice to people in the very question that I’m currently unable to answer in my own life: what do I now?

There’s a bunch of little home repair projects I should take on—fixing the upstairs bathroom shower head, replacing the outside windowsills, building a false wall in the basement for a little grow room—chances are, though, if it will be all I can do just to mow the lawn semi-weekly.

I’m supposed to be completing a correspondence course in the study of Pantajali’s yoga sutras; will I be satisfied if I simply finish the novel Sacred Games?

I really want to do some bicycle touring—at least a few overnighters if not a week-long adventure. Let’s see if I do anything more than ride to the store for beer and ice.

If I look around my house, I’m instantly confronted with dozens of projects I could undertake; today, though, is only the first day of many; I think I’ll go outside for a spin around the block instead.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Made It (Again)

I’ve still got some loose ends to tie up and I haven’t yet officially submitted my grades, but for all intents and purposes, I’m done; I’ve survived another school year.

“Survived” is, of course, just a manner of speaking; at no time, in my occupation as Philosophy instructor at Cascadia Community College during the last nine months was I really at risk of dying; and the one time when I might have been in any actual physical danger—during the blizzard on the trail back in December—was between home and school, not in the classroom.

This makes five years I’ve been a fulltime college teacher; I’m not sure I’m getting any better at it, although there were a few high points this time around.

My Philosophical Ethics class in winter quarter might have been the most intellectually stimulating course I’ve taught in my career; the students were really into the material and the questions they asked of me about the stuff we were reading were probably the most sophisticated I’ve had to field.

I really enjoyed the Philosophy for Children class at the UW this year; that’s primarily because I was able to bring college students together with middle-schoolers. This seems a model for real learning; I’d like to figure out how to do more of this in the future.

The most stressful part of my job these last 10 months has been being Faculty Assembly facilitator. Over time, I’ve gotten pretty good at leading discussions with students; I’ve still got a lot to learn about managing the voices and egos of highly-trained professional educators. Fortunately, I don’t have to do that next year; instead, I get to be one of the difficult-to-manage egos myself.

When I was a teaching assistant, I always used to dance around with my arms in the air and sing the theme song from “Rocky” when I finished my grading.

I guess I’m still a grad student at heart: da-da-daah, da-da-daah…

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Slow Down

Most automobile drivers drive too fast.

I realize that saying this marks me as a grouchy old curmudgeon, the sort of wild-eyed, splittle-spraying nutjob who’s always yelling at you to turn down that goddamn music and get the hell offa my property.

So be it.

I still remain amazed by the speed at which the vast majority of people behind the wheel shoot through intersections, roar down straightaways, and fly around corners all the time.

Today, for instance, I almost got creamed as I rode up Jackson Street—solo on the tandem after dropping Mimi off—by a guy trying to achieve escape velocity in the fifty feet between the Walgreen and Red Apple parking lots.

Later, I had to slam on my brakes to avoid rear-ending some lady who burned rubber around me only to pull up short a few car-lengths later at a stop sign.

And after that, I had to hightail it through a crosswalk when I misjudged the rate at which this minivan was bearing down upon me as it race to soccer practice or music lessons, I suppose.

I understand, though. Whenever I’m in a car, I can’t wait to get where I’m going either and get the hell out of the cage, but still…

You’d think with all the amenities built into automobiles these days—iPod connections, drink warmers, beer coolers—that people would be happy to simply amble down the road, in no rush to leave their protective cocoon on four wheels.

I’m not saying every single driver is like this; why just today, I had a nice lady slow down and stop at an intersection so I could pass by in front of her. She even raised her gloved hand and blinked the lights on her Studebaker to show that she cared.

I loved seeing a driver traveling at a calm and deliberate pace; unfortunately, that line of six cars behind her honking madly didn’t see it that way.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Who Cares?

Sometimes—although not so often of late—Mimi gets into this full-on nihilist mode where her response to any suggestion is “I don’t care.” It’s usually when we’re trying to induce her to do something like finish her homework or take a bath. We offer up the typical parental rationalizations—“If you don’t learn your multiplication tables, you’ll never get a satisfying job,” or “Unless you wash your face, your pierced ear will get infected,” but she remains unmoved. I’ve even been known to respond to her apathy with the classic, “Yeah? Well, I’ll make you care!” to which she nevertheless remains steadfast in her claim that none of it matters anyway.

While I think her alleged indifference is mostly an act and not a position any reasonable person—even the kid herself—really holds, I do, sometimes, feel a kinship with the view. Sometimes—today, for instance—the effort to be empathic and/or concerned about the future is just too much. I, too, feel like the only response to people’s pleas or admonitions is “I don’t care.”

Even things I care about I don’t care about.

Doing my part to reduce greenhouse gasses by riding a bike? Fuck it; I’m gonna by a Dodge Charger and drive everywhere with the stereo blaring.

Mitigating the challenges students face in balancing school and work? Too bad; suck it up and turn your papers in on time!

Being a compassionate and caring husband and father? Enough already, you guys, I’ve got my own problems!

I realize how crummy this attitude is and, like I tell Mimi, if one really doesn’t care, then one wouldn’t care about not caring, either, and so should be able give it up without a second thought.

Still, given the often hopelessness-inducing nature of the world today, it’s hard to sustain a sense that anything is really worth caring about.

Except of course, 327 words for 327 days; that matters for about three more weeks.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Trusting My Intuitions

I’m at the bookstore on Sunday with Mimi and I see this book I’m intrigued by but I think that’s it’s sort of silly to spend fourteen bucks on it when I can get it at the library; on whim, though, I do anyway, although I have some buyer’s remorse when it comes time to pay up, and end up thinking I should have trusted my intuition and not spent the money.

So then, I drop Mimi off at the birthday party she’s going to and when I’m putting her helmet and the book in the bike bag, I think I really should put the book under her helmet not inside it but for some reason—laziness, probably—I just leave the slim volume on top and ride away, even though my better judgment tells me this is a mistake.

When I arrive at the barber shop to get my hair cut, anticipating a long wait, I reach into the bike bag for my book, but it’s not there. As I feared (although not enough to take better precautions) it has bounced out of the bag somewhere between GameWorks, where I left the kid, and Rudy’s downtown shop where I now stand, a distance of some 10 blocks or so.

Briefly, I consider turning around and looking for it, but decide it’s probably fruitless so I go inside and get my ears lowered as Mom used to say. Heading out, having to snug my helmet straps a bit, I decide to retrace my pedals on the off chance no one’s picked up my fallen book.

And they haven’t: it lies, somewhat worse for wear, in the middle of the westbound lane on First Avenue, right about where I cut around that stopped car on my way to the barber.

I pick it up, dust it off, and put in back in the bike bag, this time safely underneath Mimi’s helmet.

Good thing it wasn’t a library book.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

What Am I Scared About?

I keep reading articles like this one that say the world will be a less safe place for Americans if we leave Iraq—but which don’t really explain how the terrorists in Baghdad will get their car bombs and IEDs across the ocean to the streets of hometown USA. I was also confounded by today’s report of the foiling of a terrorist plot to blow up Kennedy Airport where the plotters had, according to the Times, no explosives, funding, or timetable. (If that counts as a “plot,” then a lot of conversations I’ve heard in bars qualify as business plans.)

I know the world’s a scary place and that there are lots of angry, deluded, and fanatic people all over who would kill, maim, rob, and rape me if they got the chance. But for some reason, that people involved in supposedly preventing potential killing are actually being killed is way more frightening to me than the allegedly terrifying prospects their efforts are intended to ward off.

Fourteen actually dead soldiers in Iraq this weekend scares me much more than some number of potentially dead civilians in America at some possible future date.

No doubt this attitude represents a failure of imagination on my part, but except when it comes to coming up with reasons not to grade papers, I guess I’m just not all that creative. It doesn’t make sense to me, for example, that so many people should have died just because some other people might have died. This seems to make potentially dying worse than actually dying, but maybe I’m missing something; as I said, I’m not all that imaginative.

War supporters say we can’t pull out troops from Iraq because of what might happen if we do, but many of these people are the same ones who predicted that the fall of Saddam would lead to a flourishing of democracy throughout the region.

That these people are still making policy really scares me.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Nine Years

It was today nine years ago when I went to my first Ashtanga Yoga class. I did a month long “intensive;” an hour and half a day, five days a week, 6:00 to 7:30 AM, with Satya (then Catherine) Garrigues, learning a little over half of the primary series.

Afterwards, I just kept going and here it is, almost a decade later, and I’m still going to the Ashtanga Yoga School on the order of 3 or 4 times a week while practicing at home the other days, usually getting in some selection of asanas six days out of seven except when there’s a full or new moon, on which ashtangis traditionally take the day off.

After all this time, I’m still a novice, although I’ve come a long way from where I was originally. Starting out, I couldn’t even sit in lotus whereas now, I can do so upside-down with my legs over my head, knees touching my chin, a pose called pindasana, which, I think, means something like womb pose. (I know I often feel like a baby when I’m in it.)

To say that Ashtanga has changed my life would probably be something of an overstatement; still, I have modified a number of my behaviors as a result of becoming serious about it. It didn’t take me long, for instance, to curtail my liquor consumption somewhat. (Few things feel worse than sweating through ten sun salutations with a raging hangover.) I also tend to go to bed earlier than I used to; I’ve always been kind of a morning person, but now that morning is often 5:30AM for me; it’s made 10:00PM much later.)

I plan to still be doing Ashtanga nine years from now, but we’ll see. If I improve as much from now until then as I did in the previous passage of time, I’d be very amazed. If I still can touch my toes at age 59, though, I’ll be pleased.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Fixing Up the Tandem

I have this amazing Rodriguez tandem that I got a screaming deal on a couple years ago from a guy in Bellevue who was selling it because he hurt his back and no longer rode it. He sold it to me for $700.00 even though he could easily have gotten twice that; but I promised him it would be well-loved and ridden regularly.

It is and has been.

Mimi and I use it a couple times a week to get her to school and of late, Jen and I have been riding it around to evenings out. We had a grand time the other night taking it to a fancy restaurant wearing dress-up clothes for our anniversary; afterwards, we came home, changed into some things more comfortable, had a little safety meeting, and cruised to Capitol Hill for a drink and back.

People love seeing a tandem pass by. They often serenade us with the tune of “A Bicycle Built for Two.” And now, because we fly a rear-mounted pirate flag leftover from the Fucking Hills Race in February, it’s not at all uncommon for kids especially, but grownups, too, to give us a rousing “Aaarrr, Matey,” as we roll on past.

Since I’ve had it, I’ve slowly but surely turned it from something of a racing bike to an everyday steed. I exchanged the original handlebar stem for one that’s shorter to give me a somewhat upright position. I swapped the Sella Royal saddles for Brooks, front and back. I added fenders, shellaced the handlebars, and installed MKS touring pedals to give it a handsome old-school look.

The one thing I hadn’t done, though, was to do some necessary maintenance on the timing chain, which has been running slacker and slacker of late.

Today, though, I took the bike over to 20/20 and Alex showed me in a minute how to adjust the eccentric bottom bracket.

Now the tandem not only looks great, it rides even better, too.