Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I Didn't Know That

You can't Google Chuck Norris because Google knows you don't find Chuck Norris.
He finds you.

A Crude Post

Current Reading: Forty Signs of Rain, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Inspirational Quote: "This too shall pass." -- The Bible, I Corinthians 10:12

It's April 27th. I woke up this morning to find a light dusting of snow lying over the kingdom. I hadn't gone more than 2 kilometers south before it vanished, but still. Snow in late April is unexpected.

On my way home the other night, I ended up behind a plumbing van. Across the back of its rear doors, it had the blurb, "If you *@#$ today, thank a plumber." Something about it, other than the wingding censoring, struck me as wrong and I spent the rest of my drive home thinking about it.

I don't think I'll thank a plumber for my ability to excrete. I don't think a plumber has anything to do with it. It's a product of construction and intake.

I wasn't made by a plumber. I was made by a combination of an electrician (my father), a whiskey bottler (my mom) and God/Fate/Random Chance/Genetic Diversity. At least that's the story they've stuck to all these years.

Given that I inherited my sense of humor from my parents, calling them up to thank them for my ability to move my bowels would lead to nothing but a good two hours of hilarity.

Thanking God for my ability to pass processed food strikes me as a low-priority use of God's audience. There are other, more important things I'd like to address with Him/Her should the opportunity arise.

However, like every other functional human on the planet, I produce organic waste and it's a bit of a miracle if you think about it, so I suppose I should thank someone. Not a plumber, though.

Farmer's a good candidate. Especially one which produces high-fiber grain. They're the ones I'm going to rely on, more and more as I get older, to ensure that things continue to move smoothly.

But I don't want anyone to think I owe no debt to plumbers. They are important. They are necessary. Although I do not thank them for my ability to refine fertilizer from high-quality organics, I thank them for the mechanisms that carry it away.

So I propose the following revision: "If you *@#$ today, thank a farmer, or God, or your parents, if you have the nerve. If you didn't have to sit around in it, thank a plumber."

And why is it we talk about "taking a crap," but always leave one behind? And does anyone really "give a crap" about this?

Am I spending too much time thinking about this? Does the pope *@#$ black bears?

Monday, April 19, 2010

It's All Downhill From Here

Current Reading: The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Inspirational Quote: "If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right." -- Henry Ford

Things have not been going smoothly. Work is not a place of happiness, home life with two teenagers is often volatile, and the writing has been difficult. Last Thursday, one too many stresses made me feel helpless and lost and on the edge of despair. My short vacation to get some alone time had not worked out at all the way I had needed it to, and so my urge to run screaming into the night was checked only by the knowledge that sunset was several hours away. To kill the time, I mounted my bicycle and set off for a tour of the Kingdom.

Ithaka is not a flat place. A few million years ago, it lay under an ice sheet of significant depth, and when the sheet retreated, it dropped debris it had scraped up in its long march south. We've got hills. In fact, there is only one direction out of Ithaka that is not sloped, and it is occupied by a river, which is even less hospitable for bicycling, being deep and fast and cold. The largest hill is one I climb in my car every morning on the way to work. Those of you who live near mountains will hardly consider it a hill. Those who live in the prairie will wonder why it's not called a mountain. It's tall and steep and on this day, with a headwind, I decided I was going to ride up it.

Once upon a time, Penelope lived in a house at the top of this hill, and a 17-year-old Ulysses lived by another river some twenty kilometers away. I didn't drive. I did, however, have a ten-speed bike, a gorilla's legs and a teenager's hormones and so riding twenty kilometers and climbing a 200-meter tall, 30-degree slope to visit the woman of my dreams was no biggie. At forty-four, however, and with Penelope comfortably waiting behind me in the home we share, I lacked both the youth and the motivation I had in those times.

All I had was my determination: a desire to do something I was pretty sure I couldn't do, but wanted to do. The difference between success and failure was going to be a matter of will alone.

Bicycle riding has always cleared my head. It's the kind of moving meditation that martial arts practitioners tell me I should be able to achieve while practicing to take out someone's appendix with the ball of my foot. All the necessary meditation aspects are there: breathing, clearing the mind. The clutter of existence falls away pretty easily when you need all your energy just to turn the pedal sprocket one more revolution. Thoughts come easily, but slip through my mind without leaving a ripple behind. It's a wonderful state, a relief from stress that has the added benefit of a cardio workout. And I sweat so much I smell like a wet goat.

My point in all this, and I do have one, is a particular thought which struck me on the way up when my legs were shaking and my lungs were burning.

I can do this.

It's a powerful set of words, a self-fulfilling prophesy. I can do this.

Mr. Ford had the right of it, and I saw it then spread out before me as clearly as I could see the valley below. I can do this. I don't need to know how it's all going to end. I don't need to hold back until the right moment. I can do this. And when I do, it will be the right moment. The ending will be what it needs to be.

We are not responsible for the outcome of our lives, only for our efforts. But to own any part of that outcome, we must make the effort. We have to ask, "What can I do about this?" Then we have to do those things, and find some contentment in the doing regardless of the outcome to which it leads.

It's no wonder so much philosophy and religion come to us from mountainous places. I think oxygen deprivation leads to deep thoughts. It also leads to hypoxia and unconsciousness, but nobody ever said enlightenment came without lumps.

Incidentally, the view at the top wasn't anything spectacular. I saw it every day through the windshield of my car on the way home. However, I did find a little road that I'd never been down before that led back in the direction of the Kingdom. Beautiful area. Lots of pine and oak. There was a tiny lake back there, bisected by the road, and some truly gorgeous houses. It was also mostly downhill, for which my legs were grateful.

So again, I set out to work, to live, to write, armed with a determination to see all things through if for no other reason than to see how they end.

I can do this.

Of course, one thing I couldn't do was move very quickly the next day without making some pathetic noise or other. But, if there's another truth in life it is this: there's a price to be paid for everything.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

I Forgot to Put on a Title!

Current Reading: Forty Signs of Rain, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Inspirational Quote: "Honey, time marches on and eventually you realize it is marchin' across your face." -- Robert Harling, Steel Magnolias

Things that have occupied my alpha-waves:

1) Netbooks. Alright, I confess. After stating quite clearly that one should never seek an external solution to an internal problem, I bought one anyway. It's an Asus Eee 1201hab. Reviews have indicated that it is somewhat underpowered (a single-core Intel Atom Z520 processor) and the graphics capabilities are not up to HD video standards. I don't care. One reason I bought it is so that I would have a workspace without temptations (GET THEE BEHIND ME, FOUL INTERNETS!), so although netbooks are designed for e-mail, surfing, chatting, video conferencing etc., I'm leaving mine unconnected. For Freemind and OpenOffice.org Writer, I don't need much processing muscle nor much pixel-swapping power. What I do need is a good keyboard and a large display, and the 1201hab has me covered there.

It has a 12" screen and a keyboard so close to full size that my stumbling fingers are able to find almost everything they need in fairly short order (the key layout is different from my desktop keyboard, of course, especially in the placement of navigation keys). The keyboard tactile response is good, the battery life quite good, and the display clear and readable.

Also, I'm turning 44 this week, so I decided I deserved an indulgence. Go me.

2) I took Thursday and Friday off last week. I was starting to snap both at work and at home, so it was time for me to unplug. I was hoping to get a lot of alone time, but Wednesday night, Aeneas came down with an eye infection that kept him home from school. So instead of truly relaxing, I had to ride herd on a teenager. And it rained. And the temperature dropped to about 5 degrees Celcius (40 F).

Still, I managed to squeeze some extra sleep in, and a few bicycle rides around the kingdom, and the aforementioned high-tech shopping spree. So I'm a little more relaxed. I'll go back in Monday and probably be ready to snap again within an hour.

Does anyone out there need a slightly used computer programmer/technical trainer/telecom engineer/legendary greek warrior and leader of men? I think I may be in need of a career change.

3) I don't know what the big deal is around Krispy Kreme donuts. Sorry. My sister-in-law was selling them as a fund raiser and everyone had told me they were terrific. They're okay, I guess, but a long way from ambrosia. When it comes to pastry, give me an apple turnover. Better yet: give me half-a-dozen apple turnovers. And one of those strudels. And that baguette... no, the other one. Right. And is that lemon-meringue pie fresh? No, don't bother bagging it up. I'll eat it here.

4) It was a beautiful day today, and Cassandra and I walked down to one of the parks in the Kingdom. We had fun climbing and sliding and swinging, although I'm about twice the optimal size and five times the optimal age for that sort of thing. She is such a delight, chattering away and skipping and discovering just how much she can do, learning to trust herself to climb higher and reach further. I'm privileged to be with her. With any of them, really.


...and that's all I have to say about that.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Book Report: American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

I don't know if you could consider this a proper prequel to Anansi Boys, although it was written before and some of the same themes and ideas are present here as well. It's the story of Shadow, an ex-con who only wants to settle back down with his wife and his job and get back to the business of living. Unfortunately, his plans are derailed first by accident, then by the machinations of a man who calls himself Wednesday.

It's interesting ground for mythology buffs, because Gaiman gives us a glimpse into where the gods, ancient and modern, came from and he has some fun putting them into lives that aren't out of place in modern America. It's also the story of a true hero, in the Joseph Campbell monomyth sense, who manages to be wounded and human and still archetypical.

Ulysses Rating: 3 - (I enjoyed this)