Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Knee Pain Denied

Over the last few weeks and getting worse during the orgy of cross-legged sitting meditation and 5-hour a day yoga classes and then exacerbated this last weekend with a 70 mile bike ride followed by more cross-legged sitting and yoga, my left knee has become increasingly sore, especially on the inside of the joint, especially when I sit in lotus, but even when I sit on my heels, knees bent back.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had such pain, but the difference this time around is that I’m resolved to believe (that is, I do believe) that while it hurts, I’m not really hurting. I’m sore, but I’m not injured. And so my strategy for making the pain go away is to keep telling myself that it’s all in my head (or at least of my own making) and do my best to work through it, bending and getting into poses as best as I can in spite of the twinges I’m feeling.

This attitude is informed in part by past experience and by the work of John Sarno, M.D., whose book, Healing Back Pain: The Mind/Body Connection saved my life (well, ass—well, back) some years ago and which I still refer to when I experience aches and pains of a certain sort.

Sarno’s claim is that most back pain (and much joint pain) is a result of muscle tightness brought on by our clenching those muscles as a way to avoid feeling unpleasant emotions, especially anger and fear. I’m a believer.

About 7 years ago, I had horrible lower back pain that wouldn’t go away with massage, rolfing, Percodan; I read Sarno’s book, took his advice, and in two weeks was virtually pain-free. Same thing happened about 5 years ago with similar knee pain as I’m feeling now.

My mantra is: “I’m not injured, I’m angry.” And it doesn’t even really matter about what as long as I cop to it and keep stretching.


Monday, July 30, 2007

Based on True Events

I was riding past a movie theater where the film Rescue Dawn was playing and the marquee read “based on true events,” which struck me as sort of interesting because when you get right down to it, every story ever written is based on true events, isn’t it?

It’s just a matter of how much embellishing goes on, at least that’s what I think.

So, for instance, if I write a story about how I’m winning the Nobel Prize for Literature (in the new category of blogging); I’m heading up to Stockholm to collect my award right after my come-from-behind victory in the Tour de France (in which I was never caught taking any performance-enhancing drugs), well that’s based on true events, right? After all, it’s true that someone wins those prizes and that race and it’s true that if I did win it I would certainly follow up my cycling victory with a trip to Sweden to pick up the prize, so who’s to complain that I’m pulling the facts out of thin air?

In general, I’m not that much of a fetishist about the truth, which is an unfortunate disposition for a philosopher to have. I usually prefer a good story to the facts; that’s why I like reading literature more than the news—not that what typically passes for news these days contains an overabundance of facts.

Of course, when people say “based on true events,” they mean that the connection between the story and what really transpired is pretty close, like how the movie “The Buddy Holly Story” stayed relatively true to how the famous musician lived and died, as opposed to something like Fox News, which doesn’t pretend to bear any sort of relationship between actual events in the world and the way those stories are told.

But I suppose that given my penchant for embellishment, all that I’m saying here should be considered suspect even if it is based on true events.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Philosophy Camp II

Wasn’t such a bad way to spend a couple of days: meditating, doing yoga, and reading and talking about the nature of happiness and what it means to be in the present on an old dairy farm in the woods by the banks of the Stillaguamish river under beautifully blue skies and starry, almost-full-moon nights with a dozen and a half other people, eating lovingly-prepared food, taking walks, and napping in the afternoon.

What was I so worried about beforehand?

I had been pretty ambivalent on Thursday, but the whole thing turned out great: all the participants were into the experience and the philosophical content, the meals were convivial and delicious, and the yoga class I led unfolded just fine with only a few missteps on my parts and no one noticing when I almost forgot the words to the opening incantation to Patanjali.

So, I guess my horoscope was right about putting myself into situations outside my comfort zone, although I wasn’t quite able to take that all the way to diving headfirst into the chilly river water on our morning walk to it (although I did immerse myself completely later in the day when the sun had burned through the clouds).

I remained really impressed that such a solid group of young and older folks would be willing to undertake our pastoral philosophy experiment; even now, I’m not sure entirely what it was about or what we accomplished, but to a person, everyone said they found it worthwhile, and so did I.

We started by reading Schopenhauer, but that didn’t deter us; and even Emerson, in our lovely rural setting, seemed to make uncommon sense.

My favorite quote of the weekend was from Pierre Hadot discussing Seneca: “The secret of Epicurian joy and serenity is to live each instant as if it were the last, but also as if it were the first.”

I think we all got a few inklings of what that’s like.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Philosophy Camp

A couple years ago, I met a guy, Stuart Smithers, who teaches South Asian studies and religion at University of Puget Sound and who has some land and a farm up in Arlington, Washington, and we got to talking about this idea to hold a philosophy camp in the summer, where we would invite people to come out and talk philosophy for a couple days in a pastoral setting.

Well, we never quite got it off the ground, but recently, this spring, we started up discussions again and so now, this weekend, about 20 people are joining us for 2 and a half days of doing meditation, a little yoga, and reading and talking about Schopenhauer, Spinoza, Emerson, and some others.

Neither Stuart nor I are quite sure how the weekend will unfold; worst comes to worse, I’ll get a nice long bike ride today—about 70 miles to the farm—people will be able to enjoy the out of doors and we’ll all share some food and conversation over the next 48 hours or so.

Best case scenario: we all have a profound experience and get re-energized about ideas and dialogue, and come home ready to change the world for the better.

I’ll be happy if my legs hold out on today’s ride.

I am a bit scared and ambivalent about what’s in store; this is one of those things that seemed like a great idea when it was months away but now that it’s here, you’d rather just hang out and drink beer at home all weekend.

Plus it’s Critical Mass tomorrow and I lent a guy my bike trailer so he could tow his 83 year-old grandmother in a chair on it; that I would really like to see.

My horoscope this week, though, said that I should put myself in unusual and uncomfortable situations so I don’t get too complacent; not to take advice from an arbitrary newspaper column, but I guess I’ll see.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


In what qualifies as authentic an expression of summer leisure as a mid-week wake n’ bake (which surprisingly, I’ve yet found time to do this season), I spent most of today sitting on the couch, snacking, and finishing up Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

I promise no spoilers below other than to say that after the first thirty pages or so, it turned into a real rip-roaring potboiler of a page-turner and propelled me into the magical world as surely as any disapparation spell launches the characters from one location to the next.

I’m still sweating under my armpits from the excitement of the book, but at least tears have stopped leaking from my eyes as they did on several occasions during the text. And take my weepiness as no indication of lives lost or not; in general, I was far more moved by the sentimental parts of the book than I was by battles. Typically, what got me most was seeing characters I’ve come to know like old friends over the last decade reappear and reveal aspects of their personalities that had been submerged or dormant up until now.

Neville Longbottom, for example, who I’d always favored for his expertise in herbology (get it?) and general clumsy geekiness rocks, that’s all I’ll say.

Some reviewers have likened J.K. Rowling’s seven-part masterwork to Tolkein’s trilogy. I myself wouldn’t go that far, although in this latest book there are more similarities than I’ve seen in any of the others, in particular (and this should be no spoiler) Rowling’s ability to get her heroes in and out of unbelievably sticky situations. Tolkein certainly has her beat in the epic department, although there’s something compelling about how her stories emerge out of (and merge with) a world not so terribly different than our own.

So anyway, now that I’m done with this, I guess it’s back to Wittgenstein and Spinoza. Or more likely Stephen King and Elmore Leonard.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Dopey Dopers

I guess you don’t have to be that smart to be a world-class Tour de France racer; or maybe you just have to believe that you’re invincible and different from mere mortals (which may be true); but one thing seems sure: you either have to believe that you alone aren’t likely to be caught by the systems for catching riders who use banned performance-enhancing drugs and techniques or else you must really just want to get caught, perhaps so you don’t have to keep suffering day after day in the saddle up the Alps and the Pyrenees.

Today the news is that Alexandre Vinokourov, one of the pre-race favorites, winner of this year’s stage 13 individual time trial and yesterday’s mountain stage 15, tested positive for homologous blood-doping and has, along with his team, Astana, withdrawn from the Tour.

This follows in the wake of allegations against Tour leader, Michael Rasmussen, who has been dropped from the Danish national team for missing two random controls run by the Danish anti-doping agency earlier this year.

So, while I’m still a fan of the tour—and especially Rasmussen, who at 5’9” and 130 pounds is probably one of the smallest men in all of Denmark but still a fucking animal on the bike, particularly up hills—I’m reminded, in all of this that, when it comes to bikes, I really like cycling a lot better than cyclists, a point I’ve certainly made before and probably in writing, too.

I tend to forget that even though bike-riding is ineluctably wonderful, not everybody who rides a bike is nearly so cool. Lots of creeps, liars, and cheaters can be found on two wheels, and although the percentage of them is probably way less than you’ll run across behind the wheel of a Hummer, it’s still significant.

The thing is, I’m not even sure I mind if riders cheat; I just think they should have to admit it without complaint when they get caught.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Dump Run

Few things in life are more satisfying than a dump run; we do about three a year and afterwards, for a few glorious days, our basement and back yard are emptied of stuff that has somehow accumulated, in spite of our best efforts to lead simple lives so that others can simply live, right?

The bulk of today’s stuff was construction materials left over from the studio project, a couple fairly big stumps from when the backyard apple tree was pruned last spring, and half a dozen bags of odds and ends that, all by themselves, accumulated in the basement during the winter and spring.

Dropping all this junk off at the Fremont “transfer station” was deeply satisfying, both to my bias for de-cluttering things and my occasional need to heft large objects over the edge of concrete barricades. The station itself is a trip: loud, dusty, and rather post-apocalyptic in its dark interior; but it is infused with a sense of relief as one after another, drivers arrive to divest themselves of all kinds of broken-down crap that’s been cluttering up the joint for god knows how long.

What’s scary, of course, is the sheer amount of shit that gets thrown out. We fancy ourselves fairly frugal and not all that acquisitive; still, we pile tons each year onto the collective scrap heap; this trip alone barely fit in the pickup truck and we could probably roam around the house and load up another whole run were we feeling ambitious.

I’ve been thinking how important it should be to try to clean up all your shit before you die. If I croaked today, some poor souls—mostly likely Jen and Mimi—would have to wade through several boxes of bike parts and a few old trunks with retired writings and journals. It hardly seems fair that they should have to clean up after me this way.

A dump run on my own life is in order.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Polka Dot Rocker

I’m doing this race called the Polka Dot Rocker right now; in fact, I’m in the middle of it as I type. It’s a timed Alleycat; it started at 2:00 and finishes at 6:00. The themes are hillclimbing, whiskey, and suffering; since I’m a fan of two of those three (you decide which pair), I thought it would be fun to participate, and so far, it has been.

The race route spans from Queen Anne to the north, Magnolia and West Seattle west, Lake Washington Boulevard to the east, and then all the way down to about Burien south. I decided early on not to hit all the checkpoints, so I just did the Queen Anne stops with a group, saw some views that I had never seen before, then came east to hit a stop at the top of the Interlachen hill, before picking off three spots I was relatively familiar with in my neck of the woods, more or less, near Lake Washington.

I’m home now for a brief respite and then plan to join up for the finish at the Summit Alehouse, drink some beer, and catch a bit of the Tour de France on TV. That’s bicycle-themed fun at its best.

There are some serious cyclists in this race but the mood seems very friendly; I realize, of course, that I am a generation, at least, too aged for these things, but it’s fun to take part, anyway, and nobody seems to mind too much for the old guy to be tagging along. It doesn’t make me wish I were 20 years younger or anything, but it does cause me to wonder how I’d ride if I were.

The organizers of the race encourage us, on the final page our manifest, to be creative and leave them a picture or a bit of writing about the experience. I have a haiku:

Polka Dot Rocker
That’s a lot of fucking hills
Too much suffering.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Bridge to Nowhere

On last night’s .83 ride, we spent some time on the so-called “Bridge to Nowhere,” the unused and apparently abandoned section of freeway overpass at the north end of the arboretum in Montlake. It was a lovely evening, with ochre and pink cotton-candy cloud skies at dusk—we’d even seen a rainbow earlier in the evening—perfect for bike riding and beer drinking. And something about the post-apocalyptic quality of an empty elevated roadway just added to the beauty of it all.

I’d been to the BTN, also called, I’m told, the “Ghost Ramp” on several occasions, but never when it was still light, so I never so much appreciated its desolate charm. This gives me hope for our post-oil future, when we’ll have no end of such places to gather together enjoying the sun-drenched concrete giving up its warmth as twilight descends.

I love the concept of a bridge to “nowhere,” because, of course, it does lead somewhere, just not anywhere that people, at least people in cars, are headed. When the several dozen of us were languishing about, slapping mosquitoes that rose from the marshy lagoons of Lake Washington below us, we weren’t “nowhere;” even in my slightly intoxicated state I knew I was in some place that existed as an identifiable location in space—athough probably not on Google Maps.

When I pointed this out, someone mentioned that old Buddhist (or is it George Carlin) saw, “wherever you go, there you are,” and there was no doubt this was true: each and every person standing or sitting there was there, even if our minds (well, mine, anyway) weren’t entirely present.

If this is the bridge to nowhere, I wonder if we, having followed it, were all in the middle of nowhere, a funny concept, not unlike the idea of being at the center of the universe.

But that’s what we were talking about later, when some of us were in that new bar, Smith, on Capitol Hill.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Lost Voice

Somewhere in the last few days, I lost my voice.

I sound like the squeaky-voiced teen on the Simpsons, especially when I try to speak loudly. My friend Harley suggested that this might be some sort of hangover from my silent yoga/Buddhism retreat the other week and that seems like a fairly reasonable, if somewhat woo-woo conjecture, but I’m thinking it’s more likely an allergy of some sort, especially given that I feel fine otherwise.

It’s sort of interesting not being able to give real voice to my thoughts, at least vocally, and it’s made me measure my words more. A couple of times in the last day or two when I would have given Mimi some unsolicited parenting or let Jen know something she already knew, I’ve held my tongue, a phenomenon I’m not particularly known for generally.

At the barbershop today, I didn’t have to engage in polite conversation with my haircutter, which was kind of nice. Once she noticed how I was struggling to make myself heard, she picked up the conversational ball and ran with it. Now I know lots more about her daughter’s summer camp than I ever expected to.

At the bank, where I went to try to retrieve another! lost bank card (every six months or so, I leave the damn thing in the ATM), I think the teller thought I was trying to disguise my voice or something because he looked at me very suspiciously when I tried to explain to him what I think happened. In any case, the card wasn’t retrieved, so now I will have to use my voice to talk to someone in India to order a new one.

I’m sure there’s something more significant to this loss of speaking ability than I’m letting on to myself. No doubt this is a sign that I’m either talking way too much or failing to express myself as I should.

In either case, I’m shutting up now.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Driving Rain

It rained pretty steadily for the first time in weeks today and everyone in cars, it seems, forgot how to drive, while many pedestrians lost the ability to walk.

On my errand downtown this afternoon, I almost got creamed on three separate occasions, and twice I almost rode into pedestrians.

You’d think that in a place where it rains like 200-something days a year, that people would remember that roads get slipperier and that visibility is compromised when it’s wet. But for some reason, this knowledge doesn’t seem to last. I saw no end of drivers racing down sodden streets, slamming on their brakes, and then sliding ahead to spots way forward of where they expected to be. Another guy tried to scoot out from behind a bus, spun his wheels and skidded sideways to block the street. Somebody else was reaching around from her driver’s side window to wipe off her windshield; I could smell the pot she was smoking, so I cut her some slack, but still, I had to pull up short to avoid getting smooshed between her car and a minivan.

Naturally, it’s always fun (and such an easy target) to go ranting about drivers, but that’s not really what I mean to be doing here. Rather, I’m curious about the phenomenon of forgetfulness that I saw exhibited so clearly today. I would have thought that driving a car is like riding a bike (in the sense of being something you can pick right up again, not something that promotes mental and physical health, saves the world, and gives you the moral high ground), but apparently not. Apparently, there’s a lag time between finding yourself in a familiar position behind the wheel and having it be familiar again.

Or maybe the automobile drivers I encountered today were all suffering from early onset alzheimer’s.

By contrast, nobody had to remind me to put on my wet-weather gear when I went out riding today.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Thumbnail Sketch

Proving again that there is no limit to the degree of self-absorbed navel-gazing I am willing to engage in, I write today of my thumbnails.

Quite frankly, I have the ugliest pair I’ve ever seen. They are ridged and wrinkled, cracked and peeling, gray-green-brownish, especially down the middle where the deformity is most apparent.

One of my students asked me if I had cut myself down the center of my thumb with a band saw; and while I have never suffered that misfortune, her conjecture was perfectly reasonable given the sorry state of my nails and cuticles.

The right one is slightly more atrocious than the left; its wrinkled depression runs deeply down the nail’s center sort of like an eroded riverbed. The sinister twin is more crushed and splayed out but appears to have a bit more life in it. Both, however, look like something slammed in a car door not too long ago, although in truth, it’s been over forty years since that happened to me last.

They started getting this way during my thirties; when I lived in Santa Fe and it was really dry, my thumbnails began to wrinkle a bit, but then, when we moved to Paris and later, LA, they seemed to get better.

In Minneapolis, during the winters, my left thumbnail started to wrinkle; I tried painting it with some peppery stuff you put on baby’s thumbs to keep them from thumbsucking; all this did was flavor my nail-biting.

Since moving to Seattle and, I think, getting caustic bike-cleaning and lubricating chemicals on them more frequently, the deformity has really accelerated.

I go back and forth between being fascinated by this condition and disgusted by it. A couple months ago, when I was stoned, I came to believe that the spirits of my dead parents inhabit my nails, Mom on the left, Dad on the right. That hasn’t improved their looks, but at least I’m heartwarmed looking at them.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Afternoon Nap

We stayed up later than usual for a Sunday night last night hanging out with our friends Scott and Klara who are house-sitting down the block from us, drinking shots of homemade plum brandy with Klara’s dad, who’s visiting from the Czech Republic and doesn’t speak much English but does know how to communicate extremely well in the universal language of shlivovitz. (This is actually the second time I’ve had this pleasure; the first was a couple years ago when he and his wife were here and the evening transpired in much the same way that time: at first, the language barrier created a distance between us, but after polishing off a bottle of the paint thinner-like liquor, we were fast friends and I had acquired all the Czech I needed—“nostrovie”— to make myself perfectly understood.)

Anyway, as a result of last night’s festivities, I’m feeling a bit sleepier than usual and so I’m contemplating an afternoon nap. (Actually, I’m doing more than that; I sit here in a comfy chair with my computer on my lap and everytime I close my eyes, it takes longer and longer to open them.)

Possibly, the afternoon nap is the purest expression there is of having entered the vacation mode and not surprisingly, you can fairly well manifest the full-fledged spirit of fucking off just by taking one.

There are many different styles, but my favorite is the fully-clothed crashed out in a chair version. I also like it when I get a bit of drool to dribble down my cheeks. That’s what I’m going for right now, in any case.

The only potential downside is that if I do nod off now, I might find it more difficult to go to sleep tonight. However, that wouldn’t be entirely without its own benefits; if I lie awake to the wee hours in bed, I’m likely to be exhausted again tomorrow and once again ready for another mid-day snooze.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Tall Bike

Mimi and I spent most of yesterday and some of today putting together a tall bike; it’s got a mountain bike on the bottom and a BMX bike on top. We put it together by connecting the fork of the BMX bike to a hub that we clamped into a BMX-style handlebar stem inserted in the steerer tube of the mountain bike and then we zip-tied the chainstays of the BMX bike to the metal frame of a saddle in the seatpost of the mountain bike.

It rides, but it’s pretty wobbly; we dubbed the bike the “Deathtrap,” and Mimi made some decals which we taped to the frame.

My original idea was to ride it in the upcoming Dead Baby Downhill; I’m not sure I’m that bold. So far, the longest ride I’ve taken is down the alley and back. Steering is a challenge as is mounting and dismounting, although the latter, I’ve got more or less down, as long as the bike isn’t already falling when I’m getting off.

The good news is, we only spent $10.00 on the project; that was for the handlebar stem to hold the fork of the upper bike. Both frames were salvaged: I found the mountain bike in a vacant lot near the Post Office and the BMX bike in a trash heap outside a house in the Central District.

It’s pretty fun riding around so high up in the air even though—or perhaps because—it feels pretty dangerous. What I fear most is catastrophic failure of the fork and/or wheel of the lower bike. If that happens, I’m going head over heels to a face plant from about ten feet in the air.

I’m probably too old to be engaging in this sort of nonsense, but I’m glad we did it. We gave new life to two discarded bikes and had a couple days adventure putting the thing together.

Next, Mimi wants to build a chopper bike.


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Worrying About Worrying

I may have made this point before, in any case, it bears repeating: it seems strange to worry about the future (as much as I do) given that it doesn’t really exist, can’t hurt you, and isn’t that likely to turn out the way you’re concerned it will anyway.

That said, I do spend an inordinate amount of time stressing out over the merely possible. I lie awake in the early dawn tossing and turning as I turn over in my head various scenarios that might ensue if I do or fail to do this or that other thing.

For instance, this morning, I occupied my brain with worries about the upcoming school year and the various challenges and difficulties I will face in the months to come. But that’s still months away and who knows what fall will bring? For all I know, the space aliens might attack in August and come September, we’ll all be living in cages, fattening ourselves up to be eaten for an interstellar mid-morning brunch. (Now that’s something worth worrying about.)

It’s essential to plan, of course, but as often as not, I end up winging whatever I’m doing, so the hours of forecasting I do about what might possible occur could probably be better utilized by simply enjoying myself—or sleeping as the case may be.

One time we were putting together some event—a party or day trip or something—and my friend, Nick was being particularly antsy about our preparations or lack thereof. I said something intended to downplay the potential dangers ahead and he responded, “Well, someone’s got to worry about it!”

I’m not really sure this is true. Indeed, someone has to do something in most cases in order for something to happen, but it’s not obvious to me that worry really has to figure in to the picture.

That said, I still can’t help worrying that if I don’t worry, then I will have something to worry about.


Friday, July 13, 2007

Hipster Librarians

Even the “paper of record” is guilty of publishing “dog bites man” stories; this one, on the rise of “hipster librarians,” that I linked to from the blog of an unintentionally hipster librarian herself, Kendra K., strikes me as hardly newsworthy given the obviousness of the story it alleges to be presenting—after all, librarians have always been hip, as long as your hipness antenna are appropriately tuned.

My view on this is tainted, of course, by having had an overdose of librarians in my life. My mom got her Master’s in Library Science when I was in grade school and so I grew up with the peculiar brand of hipness that such training inculcates. (I was the only kid in my 5th grade class, for instance, who included footnotes in his shoebox dioramas.)

My sister and her boyfriend are also librarians, and they occasionally come out here to Seattle for conferences, so even now I get to see the grooviness that is the contemporary librarian as evidenced by their conference schwag that is cool enough to function as unexpected presents for my daughter and her friends.

The stereotype of the square librarian is, I guess, fostered principally in works of popular culture like “The Music Man,” with its Marian “the librarian” Paroo; but even Professor Harold Hill—a hipster if there ever was one—saw through the bun and glasses to the hidden spitfire, a “don’t judge a book by its cover” lesson that Ms. Paroo could have given him a slew of references for.

In Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” when Harry Bailey sees the world as it would be had he never been born, his lovely and vibrant wife, Mary, is turned into an uptight bespectacled spinster librarian—at least on the outside. (If we could see the books she’s checked out, we would probably recognize her hidden hipness.)

I’m sure it’s only a matter of time, now, before the Times publishes a story on hipster philosophers.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Ten Thousand Waves

We’ve established a family tradition (tradition being anything you do more than once) of going, on our last night in town, to Ten Thousand Waves, the Japanese-style bathhouse on the outskirts of Santa Fe, for a soak in one of the lovely outdoor hot tubs at the venerable City Different institution.

Tuesday night, after a couple of dinnertime margueritas and a short, personal safety meeting in the spa parking lot, I slid into the warm water in the Waterfall Tub, a deep pond of the softest, silkiest H20 on earth.

Immediately, I was transported to a place of interstellar calm and serenity; the self-conscious concerns I had about wandering around a semi-public place in a kimono melted away; my worries that I was breaking all sorts of unstated rules of behavior in the locker rooms evanesced, and I floated through liquid space in the harmonious presence of my loving family, not a care in the world other than that our scheduled hour would be up too quickly.

In contrast to our experience at another place we liked when we lived here—Mark Miller’s Coyote Café—Ten Thousand Waves remains beautifully cared for and lovingly run. A real spirit of mindfulness and compassion pervades the place. No truer proof of the spa’s healing powers is that even Mimi was imbued with a sense of expansiveness; Jen and I both received more than one unsolicited hug and kind kid words of love.

Our room had a cold plunge with a small waterfall that poured over your head; I tried that once for intensity, but mostly, I liked languishing in the hot water; an underground wellspring pumped tiny bubbles upwards in one area of the tub—you felt effervesced, as if tiny electric eels were lightly shocking your body with giggles from toes to topknot.

The three of us fairly floated from the place afterwards, and even retained some of that calm through our four hour flight delay on the way home yesterday.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Santa Fe

Anyone who’s ever lived in Santa Fe, N.M., myself included, wishes the powers-that-be had locked the doors after his or her arrival and encased the town in amber, preserving it forever exactly the way it was the day he or she got here.

When Jen and I left here 20! years ago, we already thought it had been ruined compared to the charming place we discovered in the early 1980’s. But if you talked to anyone who got here before us, they’d tell you it already was a pale shadow of the place it had been 10, 20, or 50 years before.

Santa Fe is a magically beautiful spot, but ever since white people started coming here and building stuff, the place has undergone changes that have transformed the natural into the human, making those who were drawn here for something ineluctable lament its loss.

To me, right now, the biggest difference from when we lived here is the size of the cars—SUVs have altered the experience of Santa Fe in a new way: giant vehicles on tiny streets make me feel like I’m among dinosaurs moving slowly through canyons, but I should talk; we have a rented Toyota Highlander, a brontosaurus in its own right.

I have my bike here, though, and I’m amazed that I didn’t ride at all when I was a resident. Santa Fe is an ideal town for biking—you can cross the entire downtown in ten minutes, easy. Places I thought I had to drive to back in the day, I can pedal to in moments. Whenever Jen and Mimi drive and I ride, I get there first.

And then there’s the mall-ization of the place. Real quirkiness has been replaced, by and large, by faux quirkiness. So, instead of a funky independent coffee shop, you’ve got a funky Starbucks.

I guess this is the future, but I still prefer the past—the past exactly as it was when I lived here.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

I Hate Sitting

At this workshop/retreat, twice a day, at 7:00 AM and 5:30 PM, for essentially an hour, we sit in a darkened room, cross-legged on round cushions, with our eyes closed, not talking, doing nothing.

To say that it sucks is, for me, an understatement.

In general, I hate sitting down for long periods of time and I can’t stand doing nothing; other than that, it drives me crazy not to have a chair back to lean against and I’m no fan of having to be so quiet that it’s uncool even to clear your throat.

So certainly, this must be very good for me, but just as certainly, this isn’t a practice I will keep up when I return to normal life.

We get six minutes an hour of “walking meditation,” where you slowly step, breath by breath, a move I’m familiar with when arriving home late at night, although in this case, I’m not carrying my shoes.

No doubt meditating in this way is a fast track to liberation and enlightenment, so I’m either going to get there much more slowly or not at all.

Sitting there, I try to just let my thoughts bubble up and pass away, but mostly I count breaths trying to distract myself until the time is up.

Sometimes, feeling very subversive, I open my eyes and look around.

Everyone takes it very seriously; I haven’t caught anybody else cheating like me—another illustration of my relatively flawed character.

I appreciate that this is a form of self-examination that—unlike yoga—is accessible to people at any age and in nearly any physical condition…but then, how is a person supposed to show off?

At least if we sat around with our eyes open we cold check each other out and envy those who were the most still. This way, I’ve got nothing to occupy myself with except myself, and that’s hard enough to stand—or sit—for two seconds a day, much less two hours.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Squandering Life

At the end of our nightly “dharma talks” during the four day “Liberation Through Yoga and Buddhism” workshop I’m taking here in Santa Fe, the final admonition from the Buddhist teacher, Roshi Joan Halifax, in her rendering of the “four vows” (of Buddha, I guess) is something like “Let me respectfully remind you, life and death are of supreme importance. Do not squander your life.”

That advice creeps me out for a couple of reasons.

First, obviously, because I fear I might be doing just that with mine. All the time I spend getting high and riding bikes, for instance, I could be spending time alleviating suffering in the world—well, at least, suffering other than mine.

But second, the recommendation to not squander your life also seems sorta creepy to me because I’m not sure what it means or how you can tell if you are wasting your existence, anyway.

I suppose if I were a heroin addict who didn’t do anything but take drugs and steal to support his habit, that would be an example of a squandered life, but maybe even then, being an exemplar of an undesirable life would make mine worthwhile in a way.

I know I could be a much better person—why all it would take would be to be more conscientious about washing the dishes—but does not being all that I could be mean that I’m nothing?

Maybe it’s completely subjective and people can only judge for themselves whether their lives are being squandered. Maybe any time I pass up an opportunity for joy, that counts.

Or maybe it’s more objective: anytime I fail to end suffering that I could have, then I haven’t lived as I should have.

It’s certainly an open question whether I’m squandering my life in the hundreds of hours I’ve spent writing this blog.

And I suppose it’s an equally open question whether a few minutes of reading this counts as squandering life, as well.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Up and Out

I'm here Santa Fe for a three day workshop called "Liberation Through Yoga and Buddhism" (whatever that means) and I wanted to bring my bike, so on Monday, when I took Jen and Mimi to the airport, I dropped off the bike box I'm borrowing at the airport luggage storage; my plan was to ride the Quickbeam to the bus stop and take Metro to the airport, where I would then retrieve the box and pack up my bike for the plane. The one wrinkle was that since I was traveling on July 4th, the bus would be on holiday schedule and so to catch a ride in time for my 7:20 AM flight, I would have to leave the stop downtown at 4:56 AM.

No problem, I set my alarm for 3:50, which would give me plenty of time to get up, do a few stretches, and shave before heading out at 4:30 or so for the 10 minute ride down Jackson Street to the bus stop.

I had been out on a .83 ride Tuesday night; I didn't overindulge, but I was a little tipsy and slightly stoned when I retired. Fortunately, I did have the presence of mind to get all packed and lay my stuff out by the door before going to sleep because when I awake Wednesday morning, it wasn't as a result of my alarm going off and it wasn't 10 minutes until four.

Slightly disoriented, I pick up my clock and read 4:40!

Fuck! I'm fucked!

I leap out of bed, do a quick teeth brush, throw on my clothes, grab all my stuff (making sure I've got my wallet, at least), leap on my bike, race down Jackson Street, and arrive at the bus stop thirty seconds before it pulls up. I'm shaking, still not quite sure I'm not dreaming, but I've made it.

I just hope I didn't leave the water running in the bathroom.

To go: 133
Days remaining: 179

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Bike Blender

I tend to agonize over discretionary purchases; I’ll go weeks bouncing back and forth about whether I really need a new pair of jeans; moths fly out of my coin purse before I buy some new shoes; my underwear developing holes is what it typically takes to get me to fork out for some fresh ones; heck, Jen and I took five years to invest in our first real piece of furniture, a couch. (Oddly, I tend to not be like this when it comes to spending money on dining or travel, which just goes to show how backwards, from a fiscal responsibility standpoint, I have it.)

So, for a good year or so, I’ve been visiting the Juice Peddler site, checking out the B3 Bike Blender, wishing I had an Xtracycle so I could install it. About a month ago, I realized that the blender could be installed on a standard bike, and this made me covet the thing even more.

So, last week, I had Alex at 2020 Cycle order me one. It came the next day, and I installed it on the XO-1 in about an hour, with Mimi’s help, on Saturday.

Immediately afterward, I began trying it out, first with limeade, then with strawberry margueritas.

It works pretty well for smoothifying fruit, but I haven’t really been able to crush ice with it yet; I think it’s a matter of speed and I’ve yet to attain the necessary RPMs to make frozen blended drinks.

I swapped the original Pasela tire I had for one without a sidewall; on the 1.25” Tourguard they're pretty slick and it seemed like the aluminum roller that powers the blender was slipping. Now, I’ve got a 1.5” Panaracer with no sidewall and it seems to give better traction.

As always with such things, I did experience a bit of buyer’s remorse, but when I made strawberry-pink drinks for the guys a the bike shop, it all felt better.

To go: 134
Days remaining: 181

Monday, July 02, 2007

Oh, Come On

No doubt loudmouths like me are everywhere firing up their adenoids in response to the news that President Bush has commuted the sentence of Louis “Scooter” Libby, claiming that thirty months in prison was just excessive, so I’m pretty sure anything I might say is already being said somewhere else and probably more perspicaciously.

My goal here, therefore, is to—rather than rant about the injustice of it all and how once again the Bush administration demonstrates total contempt for the rule of law—try to get inside the head of the President (now there’s a lonely, scary place) and imagine the justification for his decision and what implications this might have for other people who are facing incarceration.

Taking Bush at his word (already this is making me kind of queasy), we have to accept that he sincerely believes that Libby is being punished enough via conviction and monetary penalties and that prison represents, essentially, cruel and unusual treatment. I would feel this way, too, if one of my buddies were being sent to jail for something I didn’t really think was all that bad, so, the question then becomes: who gets to decide appropriate sentencing?

Apparently, Bush believes he knows better than the presiding judge what’s fair and, in principle, there’s probably something to be said for the compassionate perspective a friend has in such assessments.

But then again, if people with a vested interest to those involved get to decide, shouldn’t Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson have a say?

Perhaps the debate over this decision will break down between those who justify punishment on retributive grounds—bad behavior warrants punishment—and those who justify it on deterrence grounds—punishment is meant to discourage similar acts.

People might argue that if Libby doesn’t do time, then he (or others) might be more inclined to obstruct justice in the future. But I guess that’s not a worry for the Bush administration.

There’s now way they could do more of that.

to go: 135
days remaining: 182

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Manual Labor

I sometimes wonder what my role in the pre-industrial world would be. As a relatively scrawny, extremely myopic male without a particularly strong tolerance for pain, it’s unlikely that I would have performed the role of heroic warrior in my kin group. In fact, before the invention of corrective lenses, I might have been consigned to sitting on the king’s stoop with a tin cup, begging for alms.

This reality is continually brought home to me anytime I’m forced (and it usually is become I am forced) to undertake any serious physical labor: I’m just not very strong and few things bring that home to me any more clearly than digging and/or lugging things around, two activities I’ve spent much more time doing in the last few days than I usually do and certainly than I prefer.

We’re trying to finish up (well, start, I guess) some landscaping projects in our backyard; one entailed my having to move a big pile of dirt from one side of the lawn to the other; the second required the removal of a Cyclone fence that runs along the alley that borders our property.

I spent two hours filling up a wheelbarrow with dirt and rocks and pushing it around on Friday; on Saturday, with the help of a guy who does odd jobs in our neighborhood, I spent another couple digging out metal fence posts and dragging chain links around.

Bobby, the guy who helped me, is over 60, and has had a few small strokes, but he totally kicked my ass in the strength department. I’d be huffing and puffing and feeling like crying out of frustration as I tried to yank one of the offending posts from the ground, and he’d just wrap his hands around the metal, grunt, and pull it out, like a rotten tooth from the mouth of a meth head.

Still, I’d be satisfied with my manly accomplishments if I weren’t so sore today.

to go: 136
days remaining: 183