Saturday, November 9, 2013

Intentional anonymity, or Un?

This post is not about the amusing/appalling mayor of Toronto, I swear; but for reasons you'll understand shortly, I have to open with a quote from a story about him in this week's Newsweek:
The defense proffered by Toronto mayor Rob Ford, caught in a video smoking crack, is astoundingly, bracingly forthright: "Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine.... Probably in one of my drunken stupors, probably approximately about a year ago." Let the smoke settle on that one: He's seeking absolution for drug use by claiming annihilation by alcohol. The ancient Greeks might have called that hubris. I call it genius. 
I think the Toronto mayor - about whose politics I know almost nothing, other than that they manage to combine stupidity and dishonesty in ever-more original arrangements - has chosen the shrewdest defense available to him, calculating that his white constituents' fascination with crack cocaine makes him seem more like a cultural adventurer than a desperate fiend.
The icky conclusion I've come to is that Ford chose the perfect drug to abuse. 
Now, here is the most interesting question inspired by the quote above: exactly whose opinion is this, really? I don't mean, "Who are the people who share the author's view?" What I mean, simply, is "Who the hell is the author?"  Period.  Again, not, "Who does he or she think he or she is to hold or voice this opinion?" No. I mean, "What is his or her NAME?"  In the first three paragraphs, the author is right there with us no fewer than four times: "I call it . . . I think . . . I know . . . I've come to . . . ."  WHO ARE YOU?

I'm all about using the first-person in formal writing.  I've never taught my students to avoid it.  But it should be intentional.  It should serve a purpose.  That purpose is defeated if the author is anonymous, unless the purpose is merely to set an in-your-face tone.  If that's the purpose here, then, "Mission Accomplished!"  Coward.  Really.  If you're going to make a point of putting your face nose-to-nose with mine while you voice your opinion, then come out from under your burka, Bob, or Betty, or whoever you are.

Interestingly, I can ask this same question about any of the articles in this week's Newsweek (maybe all of them since January; heck, I haven't really been paying attention that closely).  It doesn't come out in print any more, just in case you missed that.  Since last January, it's digital only.  That trend (or the threat thereof) was actually one of the principle reasons I chose to ask for an iPad for Christmas last year rather than a new piece of skydiving gear.  And don't misunderstand my issue here--I like the digital version.  I like the bright images and the ability to link to video or audio or right on out of the magazine entirely.  But I digress.  My point is, when did this anonymity become a feature of a major news magazine?  Or am I wrong to still think of Newsweek in that way?  Is it now a rag?  Has its cachet plummeted so precipitously that the writers no longer care to be credited for their work?  Fascinating.

Just in case, if there's a way to see the byline on these articles, and I'm just so much of a Luddite that I'm missing it, feel free to clue me in, by all means. And, of course, I know (or hope) that the author isn't really a coward.  I know that someone way above him or her in the corporate food chain decided this was a good idea.  And I'm thankful to my own cousin, Barry, for trying to warn me years ago where we were headed.

Oh wait!  I think they just answered my question. Here is the first sentence from the lead story in this issue; thus, the first sentence in the issue:  "No one could ever accuse Newsweek of undcovering [sic] the Kennedy administration."  Unless they're attempting to coin a new word (move over Shakespeare), I think they meant undercovering. Carmax has better proofreaders.

Rag. Definitely. Digital rag. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Intouchables

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a short note on Facebook about just how bad Prometheus was.  To wit:

Movie review: Prometheus sucks!!!!!!!! (The details are in the exclamation points.)
In short, when it was over, I really just wanted that two hours of my life back.

Tonight, we saw The Intouchables.  It was like getting the two hours back with interest.  Could be the best movie I've seen since Reign Over Me in 2007.  That's saying something.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Deja Carbonated Vu

Back in 1977, one fine Friday night before a SAMI (Saturday Morning Inspection), having finished polishing the floor, making the quarter-bouncing beds that we dared not sleep in, but rather on, hiding the dirty laundry beneath a cardboard cutout wrapped in the army-green laundry bag and placed perfectly level and square like a false bottom in the hamper, polishing the sink, rolling all the socks so that they smiled cheerfully, and perfectly spacing each hanger in the closet like so many mutually repellent ions in some state of equidistant neutrality . . . after all that, I departed the room I shared with two other freshmen and marched, squaring my corners as I went, down to the squadron ready room and treated myself to can of soda.  Coke I expect; this being before the days of Diet Everything, and my 18-year-old metabolism having no use for Tab.  Precious beverage in hand, swinging at my side as I marched back to the room, held upright by a thumb and three fingers extended down the side of the can, the top resting near my palm, I rotated it as I walked so that as I made that final right-angle turn into the room, my index finger was already positioned at the tab, ready to pop it and release that audible sigh of refreshment well-earned.

And pop the tab I did, just barely, before the whole can slipped from my fingertips, still upright, and accelerated steadily toward the floor, still upright, landing with a solid thud, still upright, and resting there for a second, just long enough for me to marvel at my good fortune that it had landed so, still upright, seal barely cracked . . . motionless . . . for just a second . . . while the vibrations and shock from that solid landing, that sudden stop, completed the transfer of energy, potential while the can was in my hand, kinetic during the trip to floor, and now, explosive as all that carbon dioxide, formerly in solution, under pressure, and held so by the walls of the can as vessel, became gaseous and made its way in a rude press of molecule upon molecule that would anticipate the crush of holiday shoppers through Walmart's doors in Black Friday openings years into the future.

It would be at least two more years before I would understand the conspiracy of Bernoulli and Venturi (even now, I can't swear to the exact laws in play) in that tiny crack at the top of that soda can.  As that one blissful and deceiving second came to an end, so did all the meticulous preparation that had gone into making our room a shining example of spotless perfection.  Soda shot straight up to the ceiling in a razor-fine line emanating from that seal the cracking of which had been the last act of my last finger to leave the can.  Well not straight up exactly.  It was off center enough to turn the can from an upright fountain to a spinning grenade of sugary brown disaster.  Not a wall, not a bed, not a mirror, not a closet, not a desk, not a roommate, not a far corner of that room beneath or above any bed, desk, or bookshelf escaped that spinning arc of The Real Thing before it ceased its whirring and lay only gently rocking a last second or two in a bubbling puddle at the center of the room.

All things considered, it's a wonder I survived that night and the ire of my roommates.

Which brings us to the present.

I was putting away the Jameson in the liquor cabinet in the study tonight, and I bumped a can of Coke Zero from the top of the stack.  The distance it fell to the floor wasn't even as far as that can traveled 35 years ago.

And yet, the rest, as they say, was history . . . repeating itself.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

An Apple a Day

It's only appropriate that the last post I made here worried that RIM was on the rim.  This post--and probably quite a few to follow--will be singing the praises of my new iPhone 4s.

"An Apple a Day" is really a title that looks to the future.  A more apt title for this post might be "Never Say 'Never.'"  I did.  Say "never" that is.  When Apple did their deal with the devil (AT&T) when the iPhone first came out, I swore I would never own one.  It might be the coolest phone on the face of the earth, but my disdain for AT&T was so great that I couldn't conceive ever really minding cutting off my nose to spite my face on that one.  I wasn't about to switch from Verizon. (Say what you will, they've been good to me over the years.  If that ever changes, so will my cell carrier.  Just ask RIM.  I'm all about loyalty, but loyalty is a two-way street.  Go to sleep at the wheel, start moving backwards, cease to innovate, and you're no longer deserving of loyalty; rather, you're just hoping that your consumer base will confuse that laudable quality with mere inertia.  Dream on.  Take a lesson from Palm.  Heck, it's too late for that.  Take a lesson from yourself.)

All of which is to say: I made the switch last week, and in the time since, buyer's remorse hasn't even been in my vocabulary.

Any of you longtime Apple devotees out there should just stop reading now, unless your smug-low-level light is on, in which case, what follows should extinguish it for good.

Often I've asked friends who gave up their PC for a Mac long ago what it is that they like most about Apple products, and frequently the answer has come back as, "It just works."  At which point, I would always think, well so does my PC, my Blackberry, etc.  Duh.  Only in the last few days have I come to understand what that phrase has meant.  My Blackberry for instance, would usually do what I asked of it, s  l  o  w  l  y, and often only after I had submitted my request in triplicate, for a second time, or third, earlier efforts having been returned stamped "Disapproved! Resubmit in 30 days."

The iPhone, on the other hand, well, it just works.  Freakin' instantly.  And I don't even have to learn how to hold my mouth right when I press the "buttons."  Sure, there are some things I can't do on the iPhone that I could on the Blackberry.  I'm going to miss those things.  But I'm not going to miss those things enough to miss the platform they came with.  Categories for my tasks, notes, and contacts.  I'll miss that.  I'll get over it.  I'll fill that ten seconds of longing by accomplishing five tasks in the time it used to take to do one.  And I'll do all five at the same time, switching seamlessly between them, and never see a message that says my application memory is low and don't I want to remove something?

I don't mean to become Apple's greatest fan, but I do mean, if I can find the time, to post now and then about some of the cooler apps I've found.  I'm not much about games.  I'm about getting things done and getting them done faster and with less frustration.  In that respect, the iPhone 4s is making more strides than any gadget I've ever owned.

Yeah, I know.  You told me so.

Friday, October 14, 2011

RIM: on the rim?

Hmmm.  As I sit in the Richmond airport at 8:00 a.m., kicking myself, the veteran standby-flight traveler, for not knowing better than to show up for the comfortable 7:00 a.m. flight when the first flight of the day left just before 6:00 a.m.--with seats empty that should have been occupied by some of those ticketed passengers who filled the seat I'm not in on the 7:00 a.m. flight either, I find I'm having the same kind of luck with getting any work done on the Blackberry.  Apparently, the RIM network I'm not connected to at the moment is as full to overflowing as was that aircraft I'm not on.  After two and a half years now on a Crackberry, this is only the second time I can remember when this has happened with a duration long enough to be noticeable to me.  The disconcerting part is that those two times have happened within the last two weeks.  In the lingo of an old aircrew evaluator, that makes this a trend.  And that is cause for concern.

I switched to Blackberry from Palm because Palm went to sleep at the wheel.  Having made their fortunes, they let service slide, software "upgrades" moved backwards, coming with fewer features and more glitches than each previous version.  So, I did what any committed capitalist does: I voted with my feet and my $, and took my business elsewhere.

I'm not all that fond of change, really.  I love adventure, and when forced to it, I can embrace the new cheese with Sniff and Scurry all day, but I'm also a great believer in the value of loyalty.  The thing is, loyalty has to be a two-way street, especially in business.  Companies that stay in business a long time have one of two things going for them: either they have no viable competition doing a better job, or they give consistently excellent and reliable service.  Only the fickle go looking elsewhere without good reason.  That's what it means to be fickle.

I'm not fickle, but nothing I'm reading about RIM, its latest outage and its management principles is giving me a good feeling about what I should expect of Blackberry in the days to come.  Most of what I'm finding online suggests that people aren't really happy working for RIM these days.  Big companies are like the human body, the health of the whole is a reflection of an infinite number of smaller parts.  The bottom line is just a face.  Managers forget that too often.  Some never learn it.

Get it right RIM.  Quickly.  It may be too late already.  The bronze head may have already spoken.  Time is.  Time was.  Time is passed.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Shem Creek and Sydni

Update: Okay, the original post is still below, but I find I need to apologize to those who know me and know my dog.  I am so sorry for scaring everyone.  Especially both my oldest daughters, my sister, and my former spouse.  Sydni is still with us and doing great for a 13+ year old dog.  But she's slowing down, can't climb the stairs by herself, is deaf as a post, and can't make it further than around the block before she's ready to be done with the walk.  Not that she isn't as excited as ever to get out the door--she's just done by the time you turn the second corner.  Still, she's as beautiful as ever (really, she looks better than she has in five years), and fuzzy and loving and she smiles.  Especially when she's sleeping, which is most of the time.  (I find I'm back to that stage I was in right after my girls were born, when I checked on them during naps and in the middle of the night to be sure they were still breathing.)  And all of that is why I said I'm going to miss her.  Both of Laura's old dogs passed this past year, and so I'm just hyper-conscious of Sydni's age and more grateful than ever for every day that begins and ends with nuzzles and husky-hugs from her.  That's all.  My bad.  So sorry.  Truly I am.  I expect better of myself when it comes to proofing my own work from a reader's perspective, but clearly I skipped that step entirely with this quick little post whipped off during the workday to capture a nostalgic moment.  Clearly.  When my ex called tonight she'd been crying, as I expect I would to think I was hearing similar news of her dog.  By the time she was laughing, after my profuse apologies, she summed up the gaff pretty well.  "That's the last thing I would expect from you, the Wizard of Words."  More like the Scrivener's Apprentice today.  Again, sorry.

For some reason, the smell of the ocean is strong to me today--possibly not a good thing, it being about 100 miles away.  But what has been nice is the flashback to all those morning and evening walks with Sydni in Charleston that usually ended on the pier jutting into the tidal marsh of Shem Creek, back in those days when the tide charts were part of my daily crosscheck.  I am going to miss my dog.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Value of Silence

As a youth, I actually had little to say, but it didn't keep me from talking a lot. When I consider the difference between me now and me then, I often wonder that the friends who've known me the longest don't sometimes think I've been replaced by an alien double. Not that I'm shy or rude or taciturn. But when it really matters, I try to measure my words more carefully every year.

There are tons of adages that urge us to such behavior:

I've often seen signs that read, "Better to keep one's mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt."

My stepmother, not long after she came into my life, hung a plaque in my childhood kitchen that read, "A wise old owl, the less he spoke, the more he heard."

Early in my military career someone shared the sage advice that, "When in the presence of a superior officer, you should never miss an opportunity to keep your mouth shut."

But all the adages and anecdotes in the world pale next to experience.  And that's what's really made me quieter as I've aged--the simple truth that through the years I've far more often regretted what I did say than what I didn't.

Silence is a blank canvas that can be filled with beauty if we're careful enough when we choose our words, but the barbs that escape us before their time can never be called back, and sometimes, the damage they do can't be repaired.

After nearly 52 years, I think the best adage I've seen to express it is the epigraph with which Brian Turner opens his poem "Sadiq," and which I will use to close this post.  Peace y'all.

"It is a condition of wisdom in the archer to be patient because when the arrow leaves the bow, it returns no more. -Sa'di

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Move, Eat, Learn

These are worth watching.  All three.  Either via the embeds below, or directly through their Vimeo post.

3 guys, 44 days, 11 countries, 18 flights, 38 thousand miles, an exploding volcano, 2 cameras and almost a terabyte of footage... all to turn 3 ambitious linear concepts based on movement, learning and food ....into 3 beautiful and hopefully compelling short films.....

= a trip of a lifetime.

move, learn, eat

Rick Mereki : Director, producer, additional camera and editing
Tim White : DOP, producer, primary editing, sound
Andrew Lees : Actor, mover, groover

MOVE from Rick Mereki on Vimeo.

LEARN from Rick Mereki on Vimeo.

EAT from Rick Mereki on Vimeo.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Good Reading

Good reading is something I only wish I had time for these days.  Thanks to my wife, there's no shortage of it.  Thanks to my current position, there's no time for it.

I think I can only survive this particular job for so long.  I think being a Dean is not supposed to be like this.  I think you're supposed to have time for reflection, to pursue ideas to improve the school for everyone, maybe even to do a little research on a project or two of your own.  Always Hemingway comes to mind: "Isn't it pretty to think so."

But some of you who read me have time on your hands, so let me offer a few discoveries from an evening of catching up on my lovely wife's blog, and pulling on a few of the strings dangling from its edges.  I've added these to my own list of "Daily Reads," which once upon a time lived up to its name.  These days it's merely an ambition; not even that really--more like a fond wish.

So for those of you with time on your hands to surf and to read . . .

Try A Passing Glimpse.  A worthwhile mix of words and photography, and either worth the visit for its own sake.

After that, mosey on over to 80 West, where it's more about the words, or more accurately, about the mind behind them.

Finally, around dinner time, drop into E.A.T. for some ideas on what to do with nature's bounty on a very local scale.  I know more than one of you to be a fellow foodie.  You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


An observation seeded by and elided from an e-mail I had to send today.

Improvement has three steps: 1) recognizing where it’s possible, 2) suggesting a better way, and 3) implementing that solution.

Those who often and publicly take the first step without ever making it to the second drag everyone down.

Those who consistently take the first two, but regularly witness good ideas die on the vine, seldom witnessing that third crucial step, eventually lose hope in the project or institution and abandon it, if they have options.

My job as a supervisor is to always be participatory and encouraging in that process along every step of the way. I should be looking for imperfection in our processes and open to hearing it from my subordinates and those above me. I should be innovative in finding better ways and encouraging to suggestions for them from below and above. And finally, I should be the impetus behind implementation of improvements, not the source of inertia or fear that roots every process in the status quo.

Now if I can just live up to what I know.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Dandelion Wine

The summer of 1971, I was 11 years old.  Sixth grade was behind me.  "Middle school" loomed ahead.  Both parents worked.  I and my two sisters were tended to by a nanny.  Her name was Mary.  Her son's, John and Jerry had been my playmates on and off for years.  I lived To Kill a Mockingbird and I'll Fly Away.

I woke every day that summer by 7:30.  I cooked my own breakfast--cereal, or cinnamon toast, or toasted cheese--and by 9:00 every morning I was in the garden.  I hoed and harvested tomatoes, squash, okra, radish.  With cousins who lived two houses up the road, I built "forts" in the field beside our home--areas where the near-head-high (to an 11-year-old) rabbit tobacco plants were bent down at the end of a maze of an entry path.  I played spin-the-bottle and got into all manner of other trouble with female cousins and neighbors.  (When I consider the freedom we had to wander back then, I consider it a wonder we survived.  Clearly none of us think our own children capable of the same responsibility at such early ages.)

But my favorite memory of that summer consists of the reading I did lying in bed each morning, enjoying that last fleeting hour of coolness before the sweltering southern summer sun turned house and world both into a place where any clothing more than cutoff jeans and a wholly optional tee shirt were too much to bear.  I remember Dandelion Wine and The Martian Chronicles.  And by remember, what I mean is, I remember that I read them, and that I enjoyed the former in particular, tremendously. As for the action of either, I've not a clue.

Fast forward forty years.

Tonight, out walking with the family after dinner, the air was laden with the smells of summer in the country.  I live in the city mind you, or what native Richmonders refer to as "the near west end."  I laugh at that.  Four blocks "nearer" and it would be in The Fan, and no one disputes that as being essentially in the city.  But the alleys here are alive with the smell of flowers, of cut grass, of treated wooden fences, of the dirt beneath your feet, of gardenia, magnolia, and honeysuckle's last gasp.  Rabbits run down the alley before you and squirrels scold from fence top.

And if you close your eyes and take a deep breath, you can travel through time to a summer of lazy mornings, food fresh from the garden, Royal Blue spray paint and fresh bearing grease applied to a boy's bicycle, crawdads snatched from beneath flat rocks in streams about to be dammed to create perfect ponds for skinny-dipping deep in the hollows of grandparent's old homesteads.  You can smell the leather of new wallets perfect for tucking away money earned pricing groceries in a family store--money saved with the object of a new RCA clock radio in mind.

And you can wake again the next day to that clock radio, pull the paperback book from the nightstand, and embrace again a dawning day and the beginnings of a lifelong love of the wonder of the written word.

All in a breath, if the right four-year-old is tugging at your finger to show you the treasure of newly discovered unidentifiable metal plucked from the otherwise inconspicuous dirt of the roadway.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


I posted this months ago, but a critical piece of it was misunderstood, and so I took it down.  The misreading behind that should no longer be possible, so, here it is, to stay I hope.
catharsis [(kuh- thahr -suhs)]

An experience of emotional release and purification, often inspired by or through art. In psychoanalysis, catharsis is the release of tension and anxiety that results from bringing repressed feelings and memories into consciousness.

--The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Reading The World According to Garp, back in 1981, I reached the point where one of the children loses an eye in an accident. I put the book aside, and it was weeks before I picked it up again.  I thought for years, decades actually, that it was simply that I couldn't stand for bad things to happen to children, even in fiction.  Time has refined the things I understand about myself.  I've realized that what I'm really bothered by is the sacrifice of innocence or beauty to something that is neither innocent nor beautiful.

For about the last 24 hours, I've felt physically ill.  I can't say for certain whether it's something I ate that affected me so, or, more likely, something I read.

My longtime mentor in the world of books gave me one over the holidays.  A book, as he said today, not casually chosen.  Nor am I sorry to have read it.  The book was Laughing Boy, the 1930 Pulitzer Prize winner by Oliver La Farge.*  The climax of the book and the accompanying cathartic moment came barely 30 pages from the end.  The climax: sudden revelation of the truth by an accident of fate, action taken on that truth.  The cathartic moment: the necessity of a choice.  Cathartic because I recognize that having faced the same choice, I lacked the self-awareness of La Farge's protagonist.  I lacked the strength of character.
   Now I must choose between her and myself.  If I stay with her, I lose myself, really.  I am a man.  I am a warrior.  If I do not give her up, I become something else from what I have always been. . . .
   I must go away.  I cannot stay with her.  She is worth everything in the world, but there is something in me that I have no right to trade for her.  That is what I must do.
What we appreciate about great literature is its ability to put into words what we know but can't express, what we experienced but couldn't recognize for our immersion in the experience itself.  I'm grateful to La Farge and to my friend for both.

*Whatever you do, don't read the grossly inaccurate plot summary of the novel on Wikipedia.  Grossly inaccurate.

Friday, May 20, 2011

When did that happen?

I played golf last week.  First round I've played in Richmond, after living here almost two years.  Rotary Club tournament.  Captain's choice format.  We finished four under par.  Had a great time.

Why blog about it?  I'm not.  I'm blogging about a revelation that occurred on the course.  I had a decision to make about something.  I can't even remember what that something was.  I just remember suddenly being aware of the decision process.  Again, the decision is unimportant.  The process is everything.  The revelation came in suddenly recognizing the process.  In recognizing that it governs an awful lot of the decisions I make.  Too many perhaps.

The beauty is that from this point forward, having recognized the process, I can harness it.  The most interesting thing is that I didn't recognize it earlier.

The revelation came like this.  Facing a decision, two options seemed eligible.  I leaned toward one.  I wondered why.  In realizing why, I foregrounded an aspect of such choices that has long been there, but fairly automatic.  Awareness makes it conscious.  The aspect?  Which of the two choices would most people not make?

Not that I seek to shock. I don't really.  I simply seek to be anything but normal, average, run-of-the-mill, boring.  The difference on the course the other day?  Awareness.  I've been anything but boring for a long time.  It just happened.  I've been aware of it for a long time.  What I've not been aware of is how strong a role that need plays in most of my decision making.

All my life, I was the youngest this, the first that, the something some other thing.  On the backside of fifty now, whole new vistas of firsts open up in the opposite direction.  I expect I'll be the oldest this, the last that, and still something some other thing.  My point is that all of that just happened.  I didn't set out to be exceptional in those ways.  I just set out to do this or that thing that I wanted to do.  Then when barriers came in the form of, "Well you need to be this age to do this," or "You need this rank to fill this position," or "You need this experience for this post," I always managed to find the waiver authority for whatever rule was being invoked and to get the rule bent in my favor and then do a better job at whatever it was than anyone who fit the profile I was the exception to.

But choosing a path that makes you an exception and choosing a path because it will make you an exception are two different things.  It was the occasional entry of the latter into my decision making that I recognized on the golf course this week.  And recognizing it, I then wondered when it had become so strong a force.  When did the drive to be the exception become a motivating force in its own right?

For instance, I've been jumping out of planes for so long now, and love it so much, that I can no longer remember the exact motivation for taking that path.  But I'm sure now that part of that decision was that skydiving was something most people wouldn't do.  A HALO badge is something few soldiers and fewer airmen wear.  A liaison tour with the Marines or the Army is something most people are drafted into, reluctantly--I volunteered twice.  In 2007, I actively sought an assignment to Kabul as the Air Attache to Afghanistan, and would have won the assignment except that the embassy wouldn't re-open in time for me to complete the tour before my mandatory retirement.  (Don't think I didn't look for a way to bend that rule too.) 

In the end, I recognize that this decision process may not be the surest route to longevity.  But I can tell you this: my life is not, nor will it be, boring, or normal, or average.  For the most part, I detest those latter two words (unless they're being spoken by my doctor or, more specifically, my gastroenterologist, and occasionally, even then).

When I lived in Colorado, I used to gather with my classmates once a month for wine tasting.  Ostensibly.  Really, it was a monthly ritual in which we engaged simply to remind ourselves that, while aging was inevitable, maturity was largely optional.  Monday's revelation may mean that even the latter can't be escaped forever.

I'm not saying my decisions will necessarily change.  I may have a new awareness of the decision process that I lacked before, but faced with pancakes or crab cakes, I'd still choose crab cakes.

Blue Skies.  Doc

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bring out the Lollipops

Funny how I get my news these days.  I was skydiving all day Saturday and Sunday (eleven jumps, all with people new to the sport), so my first inkling of the biggest news of the last few days came in the form of a text from one of my daughters: "Good morning! Happy bin Laden is dead day! Every patriotic Toby Keith song has played on my radio."  And that was how I got the news.

Later in the day, my own spouse made it clear that she thinks any rejoicing in OBL's demise is misguided.  And I've heard the same from others.  Many on Facebook have now begun posting the words of MLK: "I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."

While I appreciate the sentiment, I believe the mistake these people make is conflating rejoicing with hatred.  While that may have been the case on the bridge in Fallujah--and for some it may be the case here--it doesn't have to be.  The argument can be made that the Munchkins, as a species, are incapable of hatred; yet they rejoice when nothing of their nemesis but the ruby slippers is left unflattened by Dorothy's house.

I grieve at the death of one innocent.  Even more so when that death is the result of intent.  But I believe I could put a bullet between the eyes of any of OBL's ilk in perfect cold calm, without the need of hatred to drive me or to spare me regret later.  I don't pray to be released from that capability; rather, I thank God for it, and that it exists in others who protect us.

Evil exists.  To rejoice in the death of innocents is its own form of evil.  To rejoice in the death of such a one as OBL is to be rightly thankful for deliverance from a threat, a cloud, a menace, a catalyst to other dark and darker souls.

So ding dong, I say, without apology.  At least one wicked witch is dead.  Bring out the lollipops.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Bragging Rights

For the past two years, busy opening a new campus of a Level V, SACS-accredited school, I've had little time to write here.

But my lovely and much better half has taken up the slack.

Her latest submission for publication made the front page for the One Kind Word Project today.  And her own blog is humming along nicely as well.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Of Big Boys, Bad Boys, Little Boys, and Life

"Men have forgotten this truth," said the fox. "But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed."
My stepson, bless his heart, has had a hard time of it of late. He is, as we used to say in the Air Force, "all thrust and no vector" (used in its single-dimensional if non-lexicographic sense of direction only without magnitude). He cannot control himself. He is not angry or malicious, mind you.  That phase passed long ago, the inevitable result of a world turned upside down by divorce.  No, this version of non-existent self-control is more driven by curiosity, over-abundant energy, above-average intelligence, and a disposition to disregard all boundaries of space and property.  I awoke Saturday morning to find his bed empty and the tiny man downstairs, in the study, where he knows he's not to be, playing on not one, but two computers, both verboten. His repeated random keystrokes and who knows what else had vexed mine right into the blue screen of death. Not an auspicious beginning to the day, and it went downhill, in the Tiny Man's case, from there right through Sunday evening when, after dealing out consequence as dispassionately as I was capable of for nearly 36 straight hours without much detectable effect on behavior, I was granted parole to go see a movie in the interest of my sanity.

The movie is not important.  Important is that, as I was putting on my coat to go, having had mostly only attention in the form of one consequence after another for the better part of two days, around the corner came a tiny man with a surprisingly flattering request: "Can I come with you?"  "No son.  Good night."

A brief exchange, it's true, but weighty.  I needed a break.  He needed . . . me.  Never mind that other than a brief six-hour respite at work I had been on his case like white on rice for two days. I had thought he'd be as glad for the break in constant surveillance as I, but no.  Nor did it change this morning.  Out of bed nearly an hour before he should be, he was sent back to it, but chose instead, to avail himself of the pre-dawn darkness to rummage his sister's room while she slumbered.  Busted yet again, his last sight of me this morning was exasperatedly tucking him in, kissing his brow, and closing the door to his room.

Fast forward through a long day at work where sometimes even the grown ups, when they don't get their way, are a trial more akin to rearing a four-year-old.  Fast forward to bed time, and a calm conversation about consequence, about why again tonight there will be no Wii for the young hacker.  And once there, freeze frame.  Freeze on a bundle of four-year-old boy sitting in a half-century of lap, cradled, protected, nurtured, and loved, and listening calmly, and answering correctly when asked, "Why is there no Wii for you tonight son?"
"Because I went in the study and I played on the pooters."
"And why did you lose blanky this morning?"
"Cause I was in sissy's room playing wif her stuff."
"And who has control of how these things go son?"
"I do."
"That's right."
"I got blanky back."
"So I see.  For putting away all your clean clothes in their right drawers I hear.  Very good, son.  I'm proud of you."
"Will you carwy me downstairs?"
"Carry you?"
"Okay.  Let's go."

Zoom in to angelic face of featherweight boy bundle snuggled into broad, man shoulders with blanky for pillow, arms around neck, tiny head tucked against bearded chin.  I thought I might melt.  The import, really, of "Will you carwy me?" is simply this: "I'd prefer my feet never hit the floor again tonight.  I like here."  Velcro.  Even the squirms mostly worn out of him by a rambunctious day.

So down we go to rocking chair in living room.  Man, boy, blanket, BlackBerry.  Why BlackBerry?  Simple: music.  For the next thirty minutes, we snuggled and surfed.  We worked our way through a series of music videos on YouTube, tiny hands holding the boy-sized screen as we worked our way through songs, me singing with most of them, each ending in the same refrain: "Can we do anover one?"  Half an hour like this until, eyelids droopy, we headed up to brush teeth, don jammies, and be tucked in for the night.

Who needs whom most at the end of such a day is never really clear, not really even relevant, perhaps not even answerable.  We empty our boy and man pockets on a common table: security, vulnerability, strength, fragility, age, youth, wisdom, innocence, calculation, impetuousness, anticipation, trust, and love.  It works, this sharing.  He's tall already, but in these moments he fits still in the crook of an arm.  Safe.  Calm.  At home.

What I offer below is a list of those videos, that music.  Soundtrack of a life.  Witness to the wisdom of a license plate: love wins.

Monday, December 6, 2010

On the Rarity of Familiarity

I spent most of the day yesterday blessed by an uncommonly beautiful merging of two worlds, introducing new family to old friends without ever once really worrying about what either would think of the other, taking for granted that the things I loved in each would make them equally dear one to the other.  Only in retrospect does the magnitude of that assumption, and even more so the miracle of having been right in it, seem clear to me.  And so, this evening, as I sat to pen a brief thank you, I found myself wanting to capture the essence of the day in a way that would convey my gratitude for so much more than mere hospitality.  I found myself wanting to say thank you for a friendship that has spanned more than thirty-four years thus far, a full two-thirds of my life.

And so, as I was writing a "thank you" note tonight--not the obligatory kind required by social custom, but the kind you write for relief when your soul is full to overflowing and needs spill itself or burst--I found myself returning to that favorite phrase of mine from Robert Penn Warren, "the friend of your youth."  And coming to my own blog where I knew I could find the quote I was looking for, I found not only Warren's words, but my own, already echoing the very thoughts I'd penned tonight, and I was reminded that this was not the first time I'd felt this gratitude.  And therein lies one of the greatest benefits of blogging, or of journaling (which, blogging really is, just more publicly)--it gives us the opportunity to see our own thoughts return to us like kites upon the wind.

What I wrote tonight was this: "There are fewer than a half dozen people still in my life of whom I would use Warren's term and call 'friends of my youth.'  But when I think back to some of the very best times of my life, you are there.  And here you are again.  There are those for whom we don this or that persona, seeking acceptance, and there are those rarest few with whom there is no such thing as a persona; rather, we find our truest selves, our better and even best selves, drawn out, restored, presented to us again, whole and untarnished, as a gift."

What I wrote almost three years ago was this: "Because what such friends see in us, celebrate in us, treasure in us is that thing which is inscrutable to others, but which they see clearly, without needing to strike through any mask. And that thing is unchanging, even when we ourselves lose touch with it or forget its nature. The joy that we feel in the company of our true friends originates in the role they play in facilitating the emergence of that best self. And the overwhelming joy we feel in reunion with those friends after lengthy separation is, in some ways, as much a joy at reunion with ourselves as with them."

And so, to my friends, those friends of my youth in far better ways than Warren meant, thank you.  Thank you for welcoming introductions and for making a gift of re-introductions.  Thank you.  And thank you.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Ahh, but this . . .

Yeah, unlike my friend Connelly, I still want nothing to do with free climbing radio towers unless intentionally "falling" off is part of the plan.  But this?  This I would so love to do.

Last Walk Around Mirror Lake - Boom Bip (Boards of Canada Remix) from FroschYankee on Vimeo.

Friday, September 17, 2010

And they say I'm crazy . . .

I'm afraid of heights.  There.  I said it up front.

Yeah, I've summitted three Fourteeners, and I teach skydiving almost every weekend now, but that's different.  I'll crawl all over the outside of an aircraft as long as it's above 1,000 feet and I'm wearing a parachute.  Mountains?  Well, the first one I did, the north Maroon Bell, in Colorado, back in 1978, I was feeling pretty sick at the top.  "That's just altitude sickness," said the lead climber in our group.  "Yeah," I thought, "The kind of sickness you get in the top of a tree that you weren't all that sure you could make your way back down."  We finished that descent by moonlight, by the way.

Anyway, I said all that to say this:  These guys are crazy.  This looks fun under only one circumstance: wearing a B.A.S.E. rig the entire time.  Under that condition, sure, I'd do this.  But otherwise, unclipped, unrigged, unenclosed?  Not on your life.  Nuts.  Plain and simple.

So, without further ado, here's the video.  If you can start it and watch one minute and not watch the entire seven plus, then you're a better man (or woman) than I.  And that's all I have to say about that.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Where Did Everyone Go?

I began blogging in earnest in 2007, inspired, largely, by my cousin, Barry, over at Enrevanche. Blogging was, in some ways my most important intellectual outlet.  Through 2008 and the first half of 2009, it was also the place where I hung out with friends.

Then, in 2009, marriage, a new job, a new city, and the blogging didn't so much taper off as simply stop, precipitously.  It dwindled to a short post every couple of months, if that.  Not writing, I was also not reading.  But that watershed year is behind us now.  A custody suit is over (in our favor), a SACS accreditation visit to the new campus I've spent a year getting off the ground is complete (with an unheard of single recommendation about something no one could have anticipated, and the visiting team's single word summation of the inspection was, "Wow!").

In many ways, I've begun to live again.  I no longer work every weekend.  Late days at the school still occur, but they are no longer the rule.

Eventually, I might even begin to write again.  And more importantly, read.  But whom shall I read?  There was a small group of us, who followed one another's words and lives with regularity.  For over a year, I've shared little and read little, and the ether world that I knew has changed.  It's like returning to your hometown after a year or more deployed.  People will have moved on, gotten married, taken up new hobbies.  So it is here.  Barry, my original inspiration, hasn't posted to Enrevanche since July.  Jay, over at The Extended Table, whose beautiful family I met in Colorado, and whose fine gift of spirits I enjoyed some remainder of with my new father-in-law/old friend last night, not since June.  Phil, whose perspective I always enjoyed at The Archer Pelican, hasn't been heard from since April.  And Lex, of Neptunus Lex, I'm sure is still blogging somewhere, but not at the address I used to visit.  Only Buck, whom I'm convinced is a reincarnation of Addison or Steele, seems to have kept the torch burning over at Exile in Portales.

The world can change a lot in a year.  The real world or the digital one.  I hope my friends are out there still, and well.  It won't be the first time I've come back to a place and had to spend time searching for the friends I left behind.

Monday, September 6, 2010

"They'd Trade Labor Day for Days of Labor" -Scott Simon

"Any one of us who is lucky enough to have a job today must worry about losing it. This Labor Day, we might salute the millions of Americans who don’t have jobs, but who in many ways work harder than ever."
On the way to the drop zone on Saturday morning, lucky enough not just to have "a day job," but to have an extracurricular activity that's sometimes better than break even as well, I heard a short piece on NPR that moved me.  NPR is my normal accompaniment on the way to work during the week, but on a weekend, I start out tuned into something a little more designed to get the blood flowing.  I was grateful this past Saturday was different.

You can read or listen to Scott Simon's reflection here.

This Labor Day, I hope you will.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

At Least Somebody's Writing

And really, really well at that.  Of course I knew this when I married her. :-)  It's quiet here at They Rode On, but if you like reading for the beauty of the stories and the words, check out the last few days work over at Cafe Catiche.  You won't be sorry.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Humanities Degrees and Jobs

Reflections on the reality of searching for a job with a degree in the humanities:

Something my better half is struggling with at the moment.  The writer’s response to a solicitation for donation from her alma mater will make you smile:

“As all of the benefits you gave me were intangible, I assume you understand and appreciate the value of my sincere gratitude, in lieu of a financial contribution.”
--"Isn't it pretty to think so." --EH

Friday, April 30, 2010

Three Mile Platform

I cannot believe no one has yet compared the growing ecological disaster in the gulf to Three Mile Island.  Different energy source, yes, but the near meltdown in Pennsylvania set back the development of nuclear power in this country in ways from which it is still recovering.

For the case of offshore drilling, BP's sunken platform still spewing crude into the Gulf of Mexico is going to do the same.  Mark my words.

And perhaps not wrongly so.

This is the first shrimp season in Prince William Sound since the Exxon Valdez ran aground.  Herring have yet to recover.  This disaster promises to dwarf that.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Recharging Our Batteries and Our Worldview

As we age, I think we sometimes tend to devalue the philosophers that shaped us.  Having found them in our youth, we may think of them as something we should have outgrown.  We shouldn't.

I could do worse than making a habit of using the shift to and from Daylight Saving Time as a reminder to change the batteries in the smoke alarms and re-read The Prophet.

Here's a thought for today, courtesy of Kahlil Gibran:

You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts;
And when you can no longer dwell in the solitude of your heart you live in your lips, and sound is a diversion and a pastime.
And in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered.
For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly.

There are those among you who seek the talkative through fear of being alone.
The silence of aloneness reveals to their eyes their naked selves and they would escape.
And there are those who talk, and without knowledge or forethought reveal a truth which they themselves do not understand.
And there are those who have the truth within them, but they tell it not in words.
In the bosom of such as these the spirit dwells in rhythmic silence.

When you meet your friend on the roadside or in the market place, let the spirit in you move your lips and direct your tongue.
Let the voice within your voice speak to the ear of his ear;
For his soul will keep the truth of your heart as the taste of the wine is remembered
When the colour is forgotten and the vessel is no more.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Tiger: The Price of Fame

Okay.  I should be above this, I know.  And I have to say that Tiger's public apology--while hardly worthy of monopolizing the evening news as it did--was as gracefully done as such a thing can be.

That said, this is still funny.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Nothing Less than a Wonder

Nothing less than a wonder
To embrace the spoken word again
As recognition of an undeniable is
Rather than wilting wish
For what will not be.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Life with a "Foodie"

Being married to a self-proclaimed "foodie" is a beautiful thing.  I hardly know where to begin.

Eating Out
It's a given that we overfeed ourselves in America.  If I were up to full blogging speed, I'd attach one or two links to that statement as proof.  But I flash-blog these days, so you're on your own.  You know it's true though.  As did the authors of The 9-Inch Diet, (which I pretty much read cover-to-cover standing in Barnes & Noble one evening).

Anyway, the beauty of life married to a carnivorous foodie, is that we can split almost anything when we're eating out.  I can't think of anything that one of us loves that the other doesn't as well--with the possible exception of blue cheese, for which I've yet to develop any sort of real enthusiasm.  So, knowing that most restaurants tend to overdo portions, we split a lot of main courses.  Result: we enjoy more food in the long run.  We start with two appetizers instead of one, and almost always have room for dessert.

But eating out isn't what inspired tonight's post.

Eating In
We both love to cook.  And on occasion, we even collaborate.  Take tonight for instance.  Take the turnips.  Yes, turnips.  At least two months ago, my better half introduced me to a vegetable that I'd never actually seen on the table.  Sure, I used to pluck one fresh from the field now and then, out quail hunting with Dad and my Uncle Floyd or Cousin Roy, and bite into it raw like an apple, but I don't recall turnips ever making an appearance on the dining room table when I was growing up--growing up smack dab in the middle of fields of turnips, I might add.

I would reach the half-century mark before first seeing them at the dinner table.  Oddly enough, the turnips in question would come from my father's garden.

Whole Foods
I should take a moment here to note how lucky we are to live close enough to my Mom and Dad to see them once a month or so, and to carry back to Richmond, on a regular basis, the fruits of their labor.  In the summer it was tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, potatoes, and some of the sweetest watermelon I've ever eaten.  With the advent of fall, it became pecans and turnips.  Back in late December or early January, I brought home a larger bag of turnips than I thought we could possibly eat, in part because not having grown up eating them, I couldn't imagine exactly how we would eat them.  But Laura does a better job of using everything in the pantry or fridge than anyone I've ever known, myself included--and that's saying something.

She had no more idea what to do with turnips than I, but that didn't stop her from preparing an absolutely delicious dish of them the first week we had them.  I think she baked them.  I say, I think, because by the time tonight rolled around, she could no longer remember.  We just both remembered that we really liked them.

So tonight, two months later, after a really great day of getting things done around the house and in the study--a day that began with an almost three-mile walk with Sydni and finished with a hour at the park with the kids--we tackled dinner.  I say we, but really, I was just the sous-chef.  She'd been thawing chicken most of the day and was busy prepping it for the oven when, digging through the vegetable drawer for a lime I needed for the margaritas I was about to concoct, I came upon the second half of that bag of turnips.  Sure they were two months old, but turnips are one of those foods you can store in the ground itself through the winter months if need be.  These had been in our fridge since their arrival from Mom and Dad's garden, and the elapsed time from ground to veggie drawer, as if it mattered, was probably less than six hours.

From Red Clay to Tawny Port and Cream
"Shall I slice up the turnips for dinner?" I asked.  "Sure."  So I sliced while she tried to remember how she'd made that dish we loved so much, now more than two months into the past.  Drawing a blank, she'd settled on sauteing them.  One Google search later, I confirmed that she was on the right track, and so she started them with a little butter, a little olive oil, some salt and a lid, and set them to simmer.

Now I'm more than a little bit sensitive about anything I'm cooking, and figuring that she is too, I didn't want to mess with what she had going, but as everything neared readiness (there was a pan of green beans simmering in just a little water and a lot of vinegar to round out the colors of the meal) I couldn't resist a little experimentation with a small portion of the turnips.  So I spooned a few of the now tender slices into a smaller omelet pan and added a splash of Tawny Port and another of half-and-half and a little more salt and waited to see what would result.  (I'd have used Madeira if I'd had it, but this was the first time I'd missed it since our arrival here, and the Port seemed a near enough substitute.)  After it had simmered enough to reduce the cream and port to a mere hint of something clinging to the turnip slices, I took the chef de cuisine a bite to sample.  From that bite came blissful blessing to dress the rest of the turnips in the same fashion.

The result will be a staple around here, and the next time we're offered a whole armload of turnips from the overflow of Mom and Dad's garden, instead of taking just half because of not wanting to waste food we're not sure how to prepare, you can bet we'll find room for all the turnips they can spare.

Life with a foodie
The baked chicken was mouth-watering and the green beans, well, let's just say that thanks to me, they had enough vinegar in them to keep the mosquitoes at bay well into July, but I liked them.  All in all, that mirror over the dining room table makes more sense every day. ;-)

So much for flash blogging. ;-)