Friday, October 28, 2016

Stepping back

Back in the day, when you had to get film developed, quite a bit of time could elapse between taking a picture and seeing it. There's no story to go with the photo above, because by the time it was printed, no one in our family remembered what Grandma and I were reacting to. Earlier this week, Mom was looking for it so she could add it to the group of photos she was taking to the funeral home.

"That picture of you and Grandma looking like..."

"I know exactly the one," I interrupted. "I have it on my phone because I took a picture of it the last time I was at your house."

But there was no way for us to get it off of my phone and into a frame, a weird little reminder that sometimes "progress" is little more than a synonym for "overly-complicated."

Grandma was 94, so her death was not unanticipated, but the timing was a little unexpected. The whole family dropped everything to come to Illinois — everyone made it — and while it was a very sad occasion, it was also proof of the incredible importance of family, and of how none of the things that keep all of us so terribly busy all the time can't be walked away from. We all stopped so we could come together, and the world kept right on spinning while we did.

For some time now, I've been thinking about taking a break from blogging, and I think now is a good time for me to do that. Not "quitting" or taking down this blog...but relieving myself of the pressure to post. To not feel obligated. Because I do feel obligated. I put that pressure on myself, and when a week or two goes by and I haven't written anything, I feel bad. And that's emotional energy that is not being well-spent.

The important-seeming things that fill up our day-to-day aren't always that important. I have a deep and persistent feeling that I'm supposed to be doing something right now that I'm not. I don't know what it is, but I don't think it has anything to do with blogging.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Hard to watch

It was an allegory, playing out in real time: Male Aggression was represented by a hulking man in a suit, yelling incoherently, threatening to lock up the woman in front of him, throwing her marital issues in her face, and seething menacingly behind her as she spoke.

Female Ambition was a composed but ultimately tired woman in a pantsuit, rattled in this arena with no predecessor to serve as guide, and being forced to confront every piece of her soul that she'd sacrificed to get there, punished both for her husband's transgressions and for playing by the rules (which in politics are crooked).

But when Trump said he admired Clinton because she won't give up, that was Donald Trump speaking, not the demon that has overtaken him to feed off the hatred of change. And that was Hillary Clinton who quietly listened to him say it, not the earthly warrior on a do-or-die quest to break the final glass ceiling. The last few minutes were the only redeeming factor...and it wasn't enough.

Something died in America last night, and all of us watching turned off our televisions worse off for having seen it happen.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The marvels of modern technology

Over the weekend, I upgraded my phone to iOS 10. Intrigued by the new messaging features, I promptly (and by "promptly" I mean "accidentally") texted my mother two of what she called "strobey hearts." Grateful she'd been the last person to text me (and thus the person whose conversation I opened to test the texting app...there are many people in my phone for whom sending two strobey hearts would not have been appropriate), I closed the messaging app and moved over to my photos.

New to the photos app is a feature that identifies faces, which you can then link to the contacts stored in your phone. Inexplicably enthusiastic about this, I spent quite a bit of time identifying everyone's pictures and linking them. But when done, it didn't appear that the pictures were visible from the contacts app, nor was contact information available from the pictures app. So I'm not sure what the point of that exercise was.

The third stop on this whirlwind tour of electronic exploration was to upgrade my iPad. Upon doing so I quickly discovered that none of the tagging I'd done on my phone had carried over. So again, I'm not sure what the point of that exercise was.

The last Apple product of mine to get my attention was my computer, the very one I'm using to write this entry. The computer upgrade was slightly different than the mobile-device upgrade, and, not knowing what to expect (but expecting big things nonethless!) I opened the photo app here.

Despite all three devices sharing the exact same set of photos, my computer grouped faces entirely differently than my phone and iPad, and on top of that, it didn't seem to know what the hell a face was.

Here are some things my computer thought were human faces:

This collection of running bibs

This tire

This pile of acrylic paint

My parents' cat

My dad's hands holding an owl

This bookcase

Britney Spears' stage

This hotel lamp

This hand-in-jacket

This Emergency Drinking Beer

This Christmas ornament

And me as a little kid watching myself pee
(along with whatever the hell the thing in the next photo is)

Confused, and not fully trusting the process, I tagged only myself on my computer, rationalizing that I'd wasted too much of my life already identifying people in photos whom I would never forget the names of anyway.

But before we get too harsh on the desktop upgrade, allow me to add that after all was said and done, the computer count stopped at 47 pictures of me. On my phone, where most of the tagging was done automatically, the count is 63. Even though, again, it's the exact same set of photos.


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The world of now

As I sat there waiting for the vice presidential debate to start tonight, I wondered how we got here — "we" in this case being me and "here" being in my living room waiting for the debate to start.

I said I was going to stay clean this round, but my resolve turned out to be weaker than that which was working against it this political season. This isn't normal politics. This is junk food politics. This is the election equivalent of eating a box of Twinkies. Instead of staying away, I've instead spent my lunch for weeks now scarfing my food while consuming the politics subreddit, watching late night talk show clips, and, when I want to eat my vegetables, retreating to Nate Silver's sanctuary of cautious rationality. I can't look away. Or maybe I don't want to. This is a race tailor-made for the Netflix era, distinguishable from scripted television only in its absurdity. To quote Tom Clancy: "The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense."

Earlier today, trawling the internet, I came across a Washington Post profile of a Trump supporter, a woman caught between her circumstances in life and her anger toward them. She had long worked in a man's world. She had long been treated disrespectfully. For a fleeting moment, she had a chance at being recompensed, but then she was screwed over. It wasn't fair. A lot of her life hasn't been fair. She has latched onto this election because this is the first time, perhaps in her entire adult life, that she feels she's not alone. She believes things about our current president and about the state of our county and the state of the world that are incomprehensible. But this election has shown her there are others like her — it's opened up such a world for her that it's not that she's unwilling, but that she can't see that the man she's pinning her hopes on is an augmented replica of the very men who drove her to this path of anxiety and distrustfulness in the first place.

But underneath the paranoia and fury there's something about this woman I get. Without condoning her justifications, I sympathize, empathize even, with her frustration, with her longing for validation, which are neither Republican nor Democratic in origin, but deeper and profoundly human. I can see some of myself in her fear because I've felt a version of it myself. This entire election cycle I've been thinking that the way I feel about Donald Trump must be the way so many people feel about Barack Obama. And then I think, but no, because my fears are real and theirs aren't...but of course they think the same about me. If I was scared of our president, and if life had dumped on me at every turn, and if I didn't have the support to pick myself up, who's to say I wouldn't think a little more like the woman in the article does? The tragedy isn't in the Republican nominee; it's that her story is commonplace enough to have elevated him.

To talk about that, however, is throwing substance into a race that is flourishing without it. Another thing I've been thinking about this cycle is how our nation would cope if the race was boring, or if the outcome was never in question. Presidential elections are both prime entertainment and big business for those in the position of feeding them to the masses. The first presidential debate was the most-watched in history.

Tonight's debate, however, is unlikely to set any records. Watching two politician-looking men debate the issues in a traditional way during a vice presidential debate feels...antiquated. Or, at the very least, tedious in comparison to the fireworks I see each night on the evening news. My attention has slid from that screen to this one as I write this...

And again I wonder, how did we get here?

Graphic source.

Monday, October 3, 2016

In contrast to the last post...

...(which I honestly did mean every word of but was a little twee even for my usual drivel) I went back to the dentist late last week.

After the life-changing root canal that I haven't shut up about since March, you'd think my teeth would be in top-notch condition, but I had another tooth that was bothering me. Fearing the worst, I laid back and got the news that...

...I'm grinding my teeth so much at night that I've worn away the enamel on the tooth that's bothering me. I've worn a night guard for years, but it's losing the match against the destructive power of my clenched jaw.

So yes, I wrote a peaceful and warm list that read like a crush on October. But the important flip side is that I then went to bed and continued to subconsciously mutilate the hardest part of the human body. Positive and negative. Light and dark. Yin and yang.

Life is a balancing act, and one I'm not sure I always accurately reflect in expressing myself — not in my work life, which sometimes overwhelms me to the point of shutting down; not in my personal life, which sometimes brings enough pain I can physically feel it; not in my health, which I prioritize but in a way that falls short of the devoted rigor people attribute to me; and not in my creative pursuits, which too often leave me feeling as if I've failed.

And yet just as surely as these things are true, there are times when I would deny any of it was an issue, and would mean, to my depths, that everything was copacetic. Like, it's all peace and tranquility. Like, it's a list about October.

In many ways, I have never felt as grounded as I do right now. And I am grinding my teeth away at night. These are not antithetical statements. They are two equally genuine parts of the same reality.

Saturday, October 1, 2016


Here in Memphis, it sometimes feels like we plunge from the middle of summer straight into winter. But if fall has a month, it is the one that just began.

Though I'm more of a springtime person myself, I'm also an optimist, so here are a few reasons I'm looking forward to the month of October:
  • jackets being of use again
  • the smell of fires in fireplaces drifting through the neighborhood
  • hot tea on chilly mornings
  • Tour d'Esprit (which was this weekend!)
  • Poldark on Masterpiece
  • reading ghost stories around Halloween
  • Halloween
  • the crunch of leaves beneath your feet
  • the sound of wind through newly-bare branches
  • waking up at your normal time, but it's dark, so you feel like you've secretly got a jump on the rest of the world
  • cool, steady rains
  • runs that leave you feeling strong
  • houseplants coming back indoors
  • the quiet as lawnmowers are retired for the season
  • the sudden lack of humidity
  • pumpkins
  • long-sleeved T-shirts
  • the feel of change in the air
  • the way the sky looks on gray days
  • lighting candles in the evening
  • the sound of the last crickets, holding on
  • layered clothing
  • sleeping with the windows open
  • Rhodes Homecoming (no one goes on the off years, but we all reach out every year to ask each other anyway)
  • the musty warmth of turning on the heater for the first time
  • clear nights when you can see the stars
  • patio weather
  • spiderwebs
  • this line being true for the first time this year: "We are nearer to spring than we were in September."

Thursday, September 29, 2016

On permanence

I did some minor redecorating in my apartment this week, and one of the things that came down was my Heath Ledger Sin Eater (aka, The Order) poster, which was one of the few pieces of wall art I bought specifically for this place when I moved in a decade ago.

I bought it back then because, oooooh, Heath. Less than two years later, it became oh, no...Heath. In the ensuing years, it transformed yet again - slowly, but unmistakably - from memorial to nostalgia to remoteness to irrelevance, a fate shared by many of my surroundings.

Present-day irrelevance isn't a bad thing. It in no way diminishes the meaning that was once there. It simply means that change was given the space to happen.

Carefully, I rolled the poster into a loose roll and added it to the collection that resides in one of my closets. It's a collection I treat reverently. I take it out from time to time and flip through it so I can appreciate it...but then it goes back in the closet. Once you hit closet status, you almost never make it back out to the wall.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

We are what we think.

A few years ago, a friend of mine called me from an unfamiliar number, which was weird since I already had three numbers for him saved into my phone. When I asked how many phone numbers he had, he steadily replied: "Enough."

"Enough" is also the number of journals I keep, and today I'm pulling quotes from the Buddha journal. "The Buddha journal" may sound like something that contains peaceful reflections about the nature of existence, but that's a generous interpretation. It's basically just the fourth Breakaway journal (journals 1 - 3 have been overly-flatteringly excerpted here) with a picture of a Buddha statue on the cover.

So here are some quotes I like from the Buddha journal, which all come from the 2016 calendar year, and I can't imagine they'll mean much to anyone who isn't me, but that's okay.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Let's talk about food

Whether it's actually true or not, I like to think of myself as someone who is willing and open to try new things...and I find this is helpful when it comes to nutrition because a person can't get from breakfast to dinner these days without some new diet study coming out.

For the first twenty-five or so years of my life, I didn't pay much attention to what I ate. My parents were health-conscious and fed my brother and me well when we were kids. But when left to my own devices, I primarily lived off of frozen dinners, saltines, and Sprite.

At some point that changed; I don't know how or why. (Probably just age, but it's not important to our story, so it doesn't matter.) And at some point after that, it changed a lot. For instance, for many years now, aside from alcohol, I have not drunk anything but water and decaffeinated tea. Does this make me a better person than you? Who knows? But it certainly makes me a boring person to go to Starbucks with.

Eating something terrible, no doubt
For about two years, not long ago, I switched to being mostly vegetarian. Then I read that eating meat was really good for you, so I started eating it again. Then I read that some fat is also good for you, so I stopped buying things that were "low-fat." Then I read that juicing was awesome for you, so for a year and a half, I juiced once a day. Then I read that juicing strips all the fiber out of fruits and vegetables, so I reverted back to mainly eating whole produce. Then I read that carbohydrates are horrible for you, so I started counting carbs and reducing my pasta and cereal intake.

And then, last weekend, over the Labor Day holiday, I realized just how sick and tired I was of most of the things that I eat, since I have a tendency to eat the same things over and over until I read something that tells me I'm doing irreparable and permanent damage to myself by eating those very things (at which point I start eating other things). So I ventured into the world of food blogging, and what I found was that there are a hell of a lot of bloggers out there who are freaking hardcore when it comes to their food.

I was looking for something new to eat for breakfast and for lunch, and I stuck to Whole30 and Paleo recipes, not because I think either of these diets are such a good idea, but because they were uncharted waters for me. Not being interested in adhering to them every day for every meal didn't mean they didn't have something to offer.

So after finding a couple of promising recipes, I whipped up a batch of egg-sausage-and-tomato things to heat up for breakfast each morning, and I made a chicken salad with avocado (instead of mayo) to wrap in lettuce (instead of bread) for my lunch. This took hours. It was more time than I've spent in the kitchen in one go in my life. I felt deep pride by the time I was done. And everything smelled delicious. But unfortunately, everything did not taste delicious. Truth be told, everything tasted a bit like cardboard. That is, of course, the number one pitfall of super-healthy eating: much of what tastes the best in our modern world is exactly that which does the most damage to us. I choked both things down all week, but I'm not sure I'm up for putting in the effort to make those particular recipes regulars in my rotation.

In conclusion, and in summary, my life did not change with my diet this past week, but it was worth the experiment. The information available about food is infinite, and it's contradictory, and it's constantly changing. Just when I think I'm doing well, I find out I'm not.

So, as with all things in life, in nutrition I aim to adhere to the mantra of everything in moderation. 

Happy eating. And good luck out there...