Monday, December 31, 2007

Entertainment over the break

Biggest disappointment: The Golden Compass

As my son said to me about half way through, "it feels like the movie is on fast-forward"--exactly! My critique is NOT that it wasn't as good as the book, a comparison I rarely find useful, but rather that the pacing and characterization were terrible. And it's not that the movie cut or changed too many things from the book (there were changes and deletions as there always are) but that they needed more deletions in order to slow things up a bit OR, and maybe this was out of the director's control (I heard he quit the film once), it needed to be a 3 hour film. A wonderful opportunity to broaden the audience of this brilliant trilogy forever lost.

Best find by oldest son: The Red Green show: Stuffed and Mounted 1 on DVD

The whole family, especially the oldest son, have really enjoyed this. A Canadian show that clearly demonstrates that money and Hollywood are overrated. I get such a kick out of the handyman skits where Red often starts with hardcore tools but ends up slapping on duct tap.

Most fun at the theatre: I am legend

Will Smith does an amazing job balancing sheer terror and loneliness with humor. Many great scenes: hunting deer in the city, chasing his dog into the warehouse--gawdam that scared me! and reeling in a "vampire."

Best movie preparation for book club: Branah's Henry V

Branah is simply amazing in this film and has a long list of interesting projects. And thank God for his Shakespeare adaptations which helped me understand how to read Shakespeare as an ungrad.

Best way to experience x-mas eve: It's a wonderful life

I know, no big surprise here but something is special about a movie which presents a view on life I disagree with (that if we were not here people would be vastly different because of it), has much silliness like Zuzu's petals and "every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings," and yet causes me to cry each time, no matter I've seen it 20 times, when the town rallies to save the fallen Jimmy Stewart.

Best old TV series on DVD: Northern Exposure (we are in season 5)

Humorous quirky characters yet serious, philosophical, and intertextual--I couldn't ask for much more.

Best adaptation of a book: Atonement

This experience helped me recover from my exasperation with the GC--for me easily one of the best adaptations of a book. The pacing was right on and the performances from Keira Knightley and James McAvoy were brilliant. I was nervous they would flub up the sexual tension (the fountain, letter, and library scene) but they didn't. I was totally sold by Knightley's confident demeanor as she strips down and plunges into the fountain for the broken porcelain and the letter scene is perfect, the "word" never uttered only seen, the typewriter keys haunting us throughout the rest of the film. And, I knew I'd seen and liked McAvoy but didn't remember the film till I IMBD'd him: Dr. Kerrigan in The last king of Scotland. Two very interesting roles for him; I'm excited to see what he does next.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Tales of first grader

Wisdom

So I've been living for almost seven years?

Yes.

That's a really really long time, right?

Patterns

UNO marathon when son stayed home from school sick: son 16 games won, dad 21 games won. Dad imagines son will tire of UNO at some point but dad is very mistaken:

Are you tired of UNO yet?

No dad. I'm doing a pattern like my teacher said. I watch tv, then play Leapster, then play UNO with you. And do it all over again.

Personification

My guy is hurting.

Your what is hurting?

My guy! See (pointing to crotch). He's having a bad day.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Re-creation

Yesterday I finished the third, and final, book in the His Dark Materials trilogy. With 20 pages left to go I began to sniffle, with 10 a tear of two, with a page full on weeping. I cried for the loss Lyra and Will accepted. Lyra, the brave little 12 year old girl who left her world to save the universe, the Eve figure, the center of the retelling of the creation story; Will the uncared for boy who takes up the tool which can sever worlds. Of course the broad strokes are familiar: a grand journey filled with truth devices like the Althiometer and knives that cut into worlds, where children matter and understand something adults do not. But the details were breathtaking at times: Will's battle for the “subtle knife,” “god’s” thrown in heaven, animals who travel on wheels, brave male angels in love, and the grand reconstruction of the fall.

What got me the most, brought on the weeping, was the ending: “The Kingdom of Heaven, it was all finished. We shouldn’t live as if it mattered more than this life in this world, because where we are is always the most important place.” While a poignant idea, the tears were tears of reader response. My own life journey has just come around to this very conclusion. Finishing I saw clearly the simplicity of what I’m working for in life--the brevity, the moment, the words spoken about me by others’ lips. These are the only Celestial Kingdom I hope for.

Having enough of weeping, I pet the cat and then got ready for bed. Snuggling up close to my already sleeping wife, I thought about the very short time I would have to spend with her and each of my children, children who, as a good friend once said, will never love me as much as I love them.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Ass Woman

I'm having stomach/ gastro tract issues again even though I've cut alcohol, all caffeine, and now chocolate. So I sought out a different doc and was referred to Dr. Holly _____. Yeah, Holly. I know I know I'm not supposed to care about this (it's just a social construction of gender based on power), but look I've never had a female doc (my lived experience!) and as you might guess a female gastro doc is worse--I mean it's the ass MAN not ass woman! But that's ok she came highly recommended and I really feel I need a second opinion. I Google her name to find out the phone number, hoping she is bland looking, maternal, even mean (I know, further social constructions of beauty, etc). But No luck!

I am man, hear me whimper!

Friday, December 07, 2007

387148 KB of Email

In the past I would get a warning about my email size a couple times a semester which would then force me to check out and delete emails from one of my listservs and/or go through my sent file. But over the last year or so it seemed the size limit was unexceedable. Well, I've found out there is indeed a limit--I got a warning at 387178 KB.

Of course I have no idea how much that really is. I do know that I have 1500 emails in my sent box, about a 1000 in my Inbox, close to 4,000 (I am just relishing Middlebrow's, the deleter of all deleters, outrage at all this) in my WPA listserv folder, and almost 2,000 in my children's lit listserv. And of course, several 100 emails that I've saved in all manner of categories (cycling, E-Portfolios--there's even one from MB, Faigley pilot, Friends, Multimodal literacies, OED--I'm unsure what's in there, personal, Trips etc.)

Technology is certainly not simplifying my life but it is allowing for redundancy which for me, a person who could forget his coat in a snow storm, is a pretty good thing. Unfortunately redundancy systems unchecked can than create a whole other level of forgetfulness and chaos. Ultimately, I believe technology makes me a better worker and person as it allows me to remember all kinds of details I wouldn't be able to get my fingers on (like responding to an adjunct a semester after visiting their class by rereading our email exchange) but as the numbers show the total build up of stuff threatens to tip over the entire project.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Golden Compass to 1 Nephi 13 in 5.6 seconds

I meant to write long post about the censorship of the new movie, The Golden Compass, based on Phillip Pullman's spectacular trilogy, His Dark Materials, but I never got around to it. In fact I meant to throw out a post and then revise it and send it in as a letter to the editor. Turns out "my" Mormon stake president found it his duty to have each ward call a special meeting in order to denounce the upcoming movie. I did not attend but heard about it from neighbors who readily admitted that only one person in the group, and it wasn't the stake president, had actually read the books.

It infuriated me because I realized with one fell swoop this myopic stake pres. could wipe out hours and hours of work we had just done in my children's lit class where we read the first book and several articles about the censorship debate--all that thinking, for some young mormon women, would be erased in a flash at such a pronouncement. Anyway, I never wrote that rebuttal, nor put the imagined huge Golden Compass poster in my yard, nor asked for a meeting with said stake president.

But I did get thinking, as I've read several articles about the movie, that mormons really should embrace this film as it takes up an old mormon practice that I participated in while serving a mission in Spain: bashing on Catholics. I mean come on, the mormons have a long-standing tradition of equating the Catholic church with the great and abominable church in 1 Nephi 13. And earlier mormon prophets kicked up the criticism a notch or two:

"Both Catholics and Protestants are nothing less than the "whore of Babylon" whom the Lord denounces..."
- The Seer, Vol.2, No.4, p.255

"The Roman Catholic, Greek, and Protestant church is the great corrupt ecclesiastic power, represented by great Babylon which has made all nations drunk with her wickedness, and she must fall, after she has been warned with the sound of the everlasting gospel.
- Apostle Orson Pratt, Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon, p.84 - p.85

So, I'm thinking mormons should be all over this film: "We told you the Catholic church was evil." And what better face of evil for Catholics than the diabolically cunning face of Nicole Kidman?? If I were a believing mormon, I'd be sending checks into Pullman, buying up movie tickets, and getting the B of M language out there:

"Yes, this movie may be a bit hard on believers but it is spot on when referring to the abominations of all religions."
"Did you say abominations? Does it say that in the film?"
"Yes, I did. Not in so many words but basically that's the message. If you want a more clear criticism let me show you an ancient book of revelations from the Americas. The Book of Mormon."

This movie could help missionaries all over the world. A new cutting edge, modern version of the Golden Question, "Have you seen the Golden Compass?" That's much more in vogue than, "Do you want to read the book of mormon?" or "What do you know about the mormon church?" And then they could follow up with, "Do you know which church Nicole Kidman represented in the movie?...would you like to know another name for this church?....great abomination." And boom there are you are sittin pretty and cool talking about 1Nephi 13--modern fantasy epic to the Nephites and Lamanites in the Americas in 5.6 seconds!

What a waste of time thinking about a letter to the editor or my stake president--silly notions of interrogating assumptions and disrupting power and hegemony. What I need to do is take a meeting with someone at the MTC. I can package all this in a small pamphlet and make thousands.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Letting go of God with "Pat"

Last night I went to Julia Sweeney's (better known as Pat on SNL) amazing "Letting Go of God" with the other heretic in my book club, Spontaneous Expression. As you might imagine given my current journey into hell, the performance held me alternately between deep heartfelt laughs and poignant tears. It was particularly hilarious for all of us ex-mormons as Sweeney's spiritual journey toward atheism ironically began with the Mormon missionaries:

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Preserving the Commons

I was a bit miffed that I would miss the BYU/ Utah game today as the cable offer we did in the summer in order to watch the Tour de France expired. Even though it wasn't that big of deal since I've barely watched any football this year, but eh this is the 34-31 rivalry. So I Googled around a bit and found it for free here

Small glimmer of hope in this commercialized world--just maybe the Internet can help maintain a free public commons...just maybe.

And yes I'm rooting for BYU because they have the highest rating and a slim chance at the BCS. I went to both schools so I have this privilege. (A Seinfeldian Kramer "ehhh!") I don't want to hear it.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The youngest child

It took several incidents of rustling and crumpling for me to realize that a fairly large mouse had setup shop under the bed in my office. It seems this was the best place to hide his halloween stash from his older siblings.








Yesterday was
a spectacular late fall day for roasting hot dogs and smores and it kicked ass over any church meeting I've ever been to. We probably won't be short-sleeved and out in the woods until the spring thaw.

AND, check out them roasting skills!






Hard to accept that our six year old will grow up some day. I wonder if he will always seem younger--more innocent, cuter, softer--no matter how old he gets.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A new blog, Miyazaki's Nausicaa

My brother-in-law, just to the right and left of me politically, has been commenting here (remember my atheist post with all-star contentious responses?) for quite some time and now has created his own blog: http://accountingforidiocy.blogspot.com/ First official post questions Gore et al on global warming. I'm finally getting a critical mass of far flung blogging family members: a cousin, a cousin-in-law, a brother-in-law and sister. Kind of fun.

***

Next week in children's lit I'm going to have students read the first volume in Nausicaa: of the valley of the wind by Miyazaki. Last year we read the first volume of Spirited Away; since then I've realized that Spirited was adapted from the film but Nausicaa was first manga and then made into a film. So, it seemed more authentic to read Nausicaa. Unfortunately that's about where my expertise ends in all things manga. Still, it seems worth it to learn together about an amazing artist. Seeing my first Miyazaki film, Princess Mononoke, blew me away and I hope this will happen for a few students.

The book's inside cover announces,

"IN A FEW SHORT CENTURIES CIVILIZATION HAD SPREAD FROM THE WESTERN FRINGES OF EURASIA TO SPRAWL ACROSS THE FACE OF THE PLANET. PLUNDERING TEH SOIL OF ITS RICHES, FOULING THE AIR, AND REMOLDING LIFE FROM AT WILL, THIS GARGANTUAN INDUSTRIAL SOCIETY HAD ALREADY PEAKED A THOUSAND YEARS AFTER ITS FOUNDATION: AHEAD LAY ABRUPT AND VIOLENT DECLINE . . . ALMOST ALL OF THE SURFACE OF THE EARTH WAS TRANSFORMED INTO A STERILE WASTELAND..."

Clearly my mostly young, soon-to-be-elementary ed teachers, are going to love this story!!

This environment gone wrong is a theme Miyazaki often invokes, like in Princess Mononoke. But often it's a rich, complicated rendering like in Princess Mononoke where Irontown, run by Lady Eboshi, is clearly contributing to environmental degradation, but she is also using her money to free prostitutes who then work for her--there's never any clear sense of who is the good or bad guy.

Nausicaa is a princess of the wind based off the princess who helps Odysseus get home and the Japanese folk hero known as the "princess who loved insects." I think our world could use more princesses who love insects.

I'm quite excited to read it. Unfortunately I will be reading it right along with my students as I never got to it till now. My only claim to any authority is that I've seen all of his films several times and read a few articles about Miyazaki. And on that note, I'm off to wikipedia my way into authority.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Must blog, must blog, gust mlog: a meandering on TIME, life, and Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman

I've said this before and I will say it again...I don't ever remember being this busy EVER. I mean is it possible that I'm busier now than when I was working full-time as a high school teacher, plus two nights of night school, and getting a Master's degree? (and we were having our 2nd child and I did many more projects around the house since I was cheap). It sure as hell feels like it.

How does one add up life? Of course it never makes any fuckin sense. To wit (always wanted to write that in a post), I've currently cut out of my life all kinds of things trying to find more time for the essentials: no exercise (which has ballooned at times to 10-15 hrs a week, so this is not a rinky-dink savings); no Jazz or football (ok, I turn on the 4th quarter of some games and watch/read/talk to son if it's a close score); I read nothing other than what I'm prepping for a class or what we are reading in book club; I take extreme evasive action whenever potential house/yard projects are bandied about by wife (ok, I did get sucked into putting stairs into our attic, well, to be honest, I only assissited our 70 year old repair guy--how pathetic); and, for the most part, I forbid myself from blogging unless I'm all caught up, which is never so... Maybe if I weren't blogging right now, I'd have more time and could be caught up--yeah, right.

AND................GAWD ALMIGHTY I hate this "AND".....And I have so much more stuff I should do, could do, want to do, feel guilty about not doing. For example, I have about 10 students I should meet with weekly--if I were a man, I would require it. I'm confident a high percentage of these 10 students will not get the passing "C" they need in my course and some--3 or 4??--would pass if I were meeting with them weekly. Also, I should take time to experience wonder, like in my ice photos/posts of last year. Also, I should read stuff, like, you know, magazines and online articles--I mean I do teach English for godsake!!! And, hey how about a non-required book once in awhile. And how about taking time now to think of thoughtful x-mas gifts for each of my children, sisters, and, especially, wife? (I did decide to get my son a subscription to MAD magazine but it's a bit of a Homer gift as I get all dizzy with nostalgia thinking back to the many hrs I spent cozied up in my bed with MAD, putting the nifty covers togther to create the new cool picture, flipping desperately through the pages to find any bare breasts, getting my kicks off the satire of the Love Boat).

Ok, enough of this--I must focus on our book club pick, "Surely, You're joking, Mr. Feynman!" by Richard P. Feynman, a theoretical physicists who worked on the Los Alamos bomb project and then later won the Nobel Prize in science. If you ever read this book, skim the first part (it is badly written and a bit silly) until he gets to Los Alamos which is interesting for its history and then, amazingly, the writing gets better sylistically and the story is engaging: how to pick up women in bars, cracking safes...good stuff. And speaking of time, how the hell did this guy get smart enough to be chosen to work at Los Alamos and win the Nobel all while spending hours cracking safes, hitting on babes in bars, and writing a freakin' memoir?

If I don't finish this book by Friday, I'm blaming it all on YOU! Yes, YOU. I mean why do you sonsofbitches keep insisting on stealing my time!!!! It's really quite UNFAIR.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

"The steady drip of dubious prose"

I'm breaking my vow of bloggering silence, descending from my higher pursuits of basic survival, because my email has been down all day. I hate to admit this but I feel a loss of connection when I can't email. It's like I'm disconnected from what's going on in the world, especially at work (of course probably not much going on since it's my work email that's down). Still, I needed something, so I allowed a short foray into the blogosphere which got me thinking about "You call this progress?" by Seth Shostak where he states that "E-mail has become a steady drip of dubious prose, bad jokes and impatient requests."

That steady drip phrase really caught my eye--a steady drip, a drip line which reaches embarrassingly to the very core of me. Because of these dangers, I've had to set email vows too as it can get out of hand. I do not allow myself to check email after 8 or 9pm and if I happened to check it I will not open any email that may be upsetting in any way (e.g. office politics, anything that smells of criticism, conference rejections, students I haven't seen for two weeks or who I chewed out...). So while I feel connection and have certainly connected with folks through email that I wouldn't have otherwise, I have to agree with Shostak when he says email is a "sure source of stress and anxiety." But I assume most of this anxiety is not connected to the genre of email itself--it's "built-in, insistent arrogance" as Shostak says--but rather because email is the portal to my various work projects, my students, and my social world.

But email can really consume me. And I think Shostak is right to insist that the "esthetic debilities" that we hear about too often in popular media are not the big threat: "rather it's the unstoppable proliferation." Yeah, I know that. Like when I try to set up a committee meeting and email out a couple of possible times and agenda items--later my box is filled with 20 emails some in chronological order, others coming in late, some chiming in without reading the sequence, all and all a tanglewood of prose, time/dates, and propositions. You'd think I'd just delete the mess but I don't--I mean someone has to go through these things, right?

As Shostak recounts, a friend of his confided that he couldn't afford to die because there's be no one to handle the pile up of emails--the drip, drip, drip...the horror of modern existence.

Friday, October 12, 2007

What happens in Vegas . . . unless you blog about it

Highlight of Vegas Conference trip so far—all before the conference even begins

** I naively forget about cell-phone in cargo pants pocket which upon the second infraction automatically triggers a sequestering behind tall glass walls and full-body metal sweep with long rod: “Hey, can you not put that radiation sticks so close to my boys?”

**Stupidly I decide to buy a bagel 15 minutes before scheduled take-off where a man with a voucher is trying to spend every last nickel (after buying a bagel sandwich, cookies, extra bagel with cheese: “let’s see I’d also like one of the special bagels, no not that one…so what happens to what I haven’t spent? Can you give it to this charity you are advertising”). All the while my now nervous colleague Brittany (note to self: take Brittany to lunch) stalls them at the counter: “I promise he was just here. This is his stuff. Can I take his stuff on? . . . Will you watch it, then? I’m sure…he’ll be here”

**When asking for directions at a booth on the strip:

Really, you guys are cute.

Well, thanks, but we are colleagues…

That’s not a problem. You can get married for 15 bucks have some fun and then get divorced for 5! What happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas.

**The not so bright before-mentioned person: “Why don’t we skip the tram ride? The Dancin’ Queen is still coursing through my veins and I need to walk it off” One hour and 10 minutes later, one arrested hooker, much broken glass, and one cheap marriage/divorce offer: “Boy, these blocks are really making me tired.”

And now off to the conference.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

O that I were and Angel

The round extensions of my body rolling over matted leaves, rocks, and mud. Beds of colored leaves on the trail, an exploding red maple in front of me. The Green Pond trail just below Snowbasin, a mere 25 minutes from my home, transports me to another world. From here clich├ęs are my only tools: amazing, brilliant, awe-inspiring, enormous, epiphanies… Or I could try Thoreau: “I wanted to live deep and suck the marrow of life” and “to be awake is to be alive” and “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to confront only the essential facts of life.” And I did want all of these, wanted to lie down in the earth and roll around in her, taking in the smell of leaves and trees and dirt.

I recognize the ironies—the $2000 full suspension mt bike between my legs and the manicured trails—yet can’t deny the connection. I pop out into a tree cleared ski run—there’s a deer looking up at me. I stop, watch, she turns part way and crosses the ski run; I continue my traverse following along with the deer until we both enter the woods on the other side.

But this doesn't capture it, too staged, too perfect and this ain't no night at the theatre. Maybe this:

After ascending Lost Chance and reconnecting with Needles, I begin the descent, a descent many have paid for by way of the gondola, but in true Thoreauvian manner I climb each one hundred feet of elevation with my own strained muscle and pounding hearts and lungs, just as he found each board and nail. And then I plunge down and across, back up short stints, right pedal down back brake engaged slight S-turn left. On the straightaway gaining speed mud flips up on my legs, face, and back, stinging like the branches hitting my hands and arms. GOD I’M IN LOVE with this, the MOUNTAIN, the recklessness, the ABANDON, the air, the SOUND and ease of my rolling body over sharp rocks and roots.

Like Joseph’s powerful character, Alma, in the Book of Mormon, who declares “O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!” I too want to shake this mountain with my joy, calling to repentance my own soul and the souls of so many lifeless corpses, hands at 10 and 2, navigating through the lanes of I-15: “Awake my sons and daughters, partake of this bounteous offering from GOD, the leaves and everything in it, the mud and earth, the deer and birds. Behold this is ME, this is GOD.”

Friday, September 14, 2007

A six year old under the bed counting feet

My youngest son is right now under the bed in my office. Since starting the 1st grade he has taken to hiding out under there playing his Nintendo and spying on our feet as we walk by. I think the close space gives him security during this rough time—the other day he jumped up on my lap, got his face right close to mine with tears in his eyes, “I want to be with my mom and dad more.”

It’s been a difficult transition to full-time student. I’m not sure why I’m surprised that he is struggling—duh!, he’s been ripped away from the arms of his parents, set down with 30 other kids and some strange woman. I have to say the whole schooling thing we do is a bit odd if you really think about. I mean why do we send them away for 7 hrs a day to sit in a room learning stuff they forget over the summer? Mostly, I think, so they don’t drive us crazy. All that talk about learning, reading levels, and incremental learning is bullshit. Have you ever helped out in a first grade class? Talk about inefficient: some kids reading Harry Potter, others struggling over “the”; lots of noise and confusion, lots of songs and cupcakes.

I guess all an all it’s not as rigorous as say the manhood training described in Roots (our current bk club book): stealing the kids away at night, rumors of getting your “foto” cut off, permanent exhile from your mother's home, etc. But in the end maybe both events are basically the same. The most important thing about going off to school is the way it functions as a rite of passage, a separation from mother and father on the journey to adulthood and that’s it, nada mas.

The details of what we do in all kinds of situations (evaluating an essay, punching a time card, learning the times tables, giving a presentation) are not at all important. The only thing we carry with us is the ritual, the act, the fact that we did act. Of course one could then say why have kids learn all this stuff, why not do something else or nothing at all? But we must do something and we must do something with faith that it matters.

It seems to me that life is one faith sponsored act after another, that there might be very little real difference between the devout Muslim or Mormon and the skeptic atheist English prof. who religiously marks off each assignments, takes role, and evaluates carefully each piece of writing as if it all really mattered.

May that marvelous God in Heaven be with little Andrew as he sits alone in class today, missing hugs from his mom and bike rides with his dad.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Guitar Heroing with the kids


I'm embarrassed to say that I'm hopelessly addicted to Guitar Hero (the very cool game for PS 2 game systems). Until now I haven't blinked at any of the games our oldest son has played, but this one is somehow different, more participatory, more opportunities for a type of learning I understand. For those who haven't played, you actually have a guitar-controller and hit the "notes" as they come down at you on the screen. It's nifty because if you don't hit them then the song doesn't play that note. You feel quite like the superstar when you nail 40 or so notes in a row.
My rationalizations for spending time on that which I have no time for:

1. As pathetic as it sounds, it's the closest I will ever get to actually producing music as I have NO music background--none, no piano, can't sing tenor, nada

2. I am listening to and learning the titles to music, something I've always sucked at. Favorites so far: Smoke on the water by Deep Purple, Sharped dress man by ZZ Top, and More than a feeling by Boston from GH I AND Cherry pie by Warrant, Rock this town by the Stray Cats, and You really got me going by Van Halen from GH II (see complete lists here I and here II). It's amazing how many songs I'm familiar with but do not know the title or artists--i.e. Smoke on the water and Cherry pie

3. I get to spend quality time with my two sons. Of course I can't even come close to competing with my oldest as he has already passed off all the songs on medium and some on expert. But I was, for awhile, pretty competitive with my six-year old--an you thought the new music thing was pathetic. Eventually I did start falling behind so one day after I got home from work, he says, "Dad, I was feeling bad for you so I passed off two songs for you under your career" (each person has their own career where you add songs, venues, and even equipment as you pass off songs).

4. It's really quite challenging and takes an immense amount of focus; finally passing off Heart-Shaped box by Nirvana, though I don't particularly like the song, was quite an accomplishment for me. It's kind of unnerving when you start missing notes: the "crowd" starts to boo and then, if you keep missing, the song stops completely with a bing "zonk" type sound.
5. I'm participating in the cutting edge of physical participatory (ok, that might be a stretch) gaming. Still, how can one not enjoy this game as you move your fingers along the colored frets, while strumming the notes and hitting the wammy bar on the long notes?

Friday, August 24, 2007

High School Reunion Obsessional

I figured I might as well blog a bit as I basically wasted most of yesterday reading bios on my 20th high school reunion site, composing my own, and finding pictures to go with it. At first I wasn't going to get involved, as I say in the bio, but I was so taken in by everyone's life-stories I just had to. I'm no expert on high school reunions, but it seems the pre-reunion online bios is a must. Kind of loosens everyone up, convinces many (at least that's what lots have said) to attend and gives people who can't attend a chance to participate.

I really took to heart the advice I always give to students: compose early and then revise revise revise. I started writing my bio about a month ago. It's not like I was working on it daily, but every once in awhile I'd read over it. In fact until I came up with my "I used to think..." trope, I was absolutely positive I wouldn't send anything in. I just couldn't do the standard life-travelogue, my kids are amazing post. Don't get me wrong--I've enjoyed these kinds of posts, but it just didn't feel like me. Instead I had to play off the whole genre of the bio, take a few risks, and speak to the realities of life, so I could then later obsess about how it all will be received. Sometimes I think I'm a raving fucking lunatic.

I still can't believe I posted a bio and then immediately sent in $38 for the reunion dinner--where have my "I don't care," anti-high school selves gone? I doubt I could clarify my convoluted feelings on all this with 20 visits to my therapist. And what do I do with to salve my obsessional wounds? I write some more stuff that you all can look at and say, "Wow, that guy is a fucking lunatic."

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Six Stitches, Seven dum-dum suckers, and a Frosty

Last night, right before we got the kids down, I was wiping brownish colored water (sign that cooler is a piece of crap) off my swamp cooler thingie and was just about finished with said job that I had put off for some time, when my wife (what was she thinking!) allowed our six year old son to fall in the tub, splitting his chin wide open. I jumped off the stool and wife immediately--she was like so much better in the panic than me--said, "Let's go to Weecare." Shit, shit I thought, selfishly grasping at fading images of my nightly microwave popcorn and episode of Northern Exposure.

Six stitches and seven (one for not crying during the stitches) dum-dum suckers later and we were headed to Wendy's, a post-stitches tradition, where son ordered a vanilla Frosty:

"Hey, dad?"
"What son?"
"Hurting my chin wasn't too bad," he said grasping all seven dum-dum suckers in his left hand and taking a large bite of Frosty in the other. "And it's late, right? I get to stay up late, huh?"

Well, I'm off to split my chin on the tub.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Listservs

I've been reading a backlog of emails for an hour or so from my children's lit listserv in preparation for teaching ch lit this fall. So far I found (reading a listserv is kind of like finding a cheap treasure at the DI) a great link to an article about Harry Potter by Stephen King which I'm going to pair with an article MB sent me about HP by Michael Berube. While I have never completely read a HP book and will not have my students read one, I do want to use the HP hysterium to discuss issues of writing for children, publishing, movie tie-ins, and, especially, children literacy or the perceived lack thereof, etc.

I still have 1735 messages to go through, the price I must pay to consider myself worthy.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Serendipity Supremo

Sometimes things work out much better than you could ever imagine—serendipity supremo. I’m cycling through Kaysville today coming back from a short yet fairly intense 30 miler. I’m at about mile 27 and it’s 100 degrees. Before my ride I spent 10 hrs in the sun at Lagoon—I’m wasted, very ready to be home. As I come up to a 4-way stop I slow down as a big truck pulls up to the side of me. A young male leans out of the window, “Hey asshole get on the sidewalk.”

It’s too much. I just can’t leave it alone. I look right back at him, my 130 pound ectomorph body glistening with sweat, “What did you say?” For a split second, seeming like minutes, I’m not sure what to do next. Then from somewhere, “Do you want to make something of this?” Shit, did I just actually say that? Luckily I’m saved by the one thing you could never hope for, could never imagine, could never even dream of…as I edge ahead of the truck, a Davis County Sherriff appears above their hood stopped on the other side of the 4-way. Without pause, as if planned, I point to the Sheriff, “Do you want to take this up with him?”

The sheriff turns his lights on and pulls the truck over. I recount what happened; he has me wait by his truck.

He returns, “Just a bunch of dumbass kids.”
“I figured. It’s just everyone seems to take pot shots at us ya know.”
“I’ll chew ‘em out good” he says fingering the two driver’s licenses his holding.

The adrenalin carries me at 24 mph all the way home.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

I'm out of the Tour

Last night after an amazing, non-chemically enhanced mountain bike ride down the “Bobsled” above the U of U, I returned home late and tired. Instead of getting to bed like I should have, I stayed up watching 5 hrs of Tour coverage. For the 3rd time Rasmussen battled with both Contador and Leipheimer on the steep climbs of the Pyrenees. They threw everything at him—accelerations, team tactics, stare downs—and he still crossed the finish line first.

Can you imagine my surprise this morning when I turned on the Tour and did a double take when I didn’t see the little yellow jersey symbol indicating that the yellow jersey rider was in the peloton. Today is a flat stage near the end of the Tour—if the yellow jersey is not in the peloton then something disastrous has occurred. Sure enough, his team had sent him packing for saying he was in Mexico climbing when he was actually in Italy (where there are many drug docs) and missing several out-of-competition drug tests.

I was crushed. Hadn’t we all experienced this with Floyd Landis last year? It couldn’t, just couldn’t, be happening again.

Still I can’t be well up in ire at the individual cyclists because a huge portion of the blame must be accorded to the cycling organizations, teams, and sponsors who, for years, turned a blind eye on this problem as they lined their pockets with money. Nor can I self-righteously condemn them as cheats as I, in the same situation—wary that most, many or even just some of my main competitors were using drugs--would “cheat” too. In fact when training and failing to ever complete the Wasatch 100 which meant nothing in terms of livelihood or stardom, I routinely used oral steroids (prednisone) to fight inflammation. Not the same as anabolic steroids but still there is risk and it “unfairly” advantaged me.

And how about the Tour announcers (Phil Ligget, Paul Sherwin, Bob Roll, and Al Trautwig) who, this morning, began to speculate on who is clean in the Tour. What a farce! No one knows if anyone is clean. Instead of sticking to that line they began to suggest certain riders, the Canadian Cadel Evans, have looked like they have suffered on the climbs therefore they must be clean. Great, so anyone who doesn’t look like they are suffering in sports is dirty and those who stumble along are clean. Doesn’t that destroy the very wonder of sports? To see a Jordan effortlessly flying both horizontally and vertically? To witness Lance Armstrong, yet again, destroy everyone on the climb?

Now I participate as a fan and athlete in a tarnished sport, yet somehow baseball and football keep moving along, doping scandals a mere speed bump towards the cash. Of course baseball has certainly cleaned up its act. Just look how tough they’ve gotten: a 6 game suspension! Over the long haul maybe cycling will be revered as the sport who first took drug doping seriously. Or maybe it will just keep going on and on underground through newer and better synthetics.

All I ask in the meantime is that someone explain to my 12 year old son why I was up at 1am last night hooting and jumping around like a mad man as Rasmussen pulled away from Contador and Leipheimer and now that same Rasmussen is basically a criminal no longer in the race, his performance and my joy a figment of our imagination

Saturday, July 14, 2007

July

The traditions of July are in full swing, a time when I can change up the pace a bit.

I upgraded my cable, as I've done the last three years, so I can watch each stage of the Tour de France; today was the first mountain stage, a steep category II climb in the Alps. A young German took the stage and the yellow jersey but tomorrow the real GC (general classification contenders) will probably take back the time he got today. Still, there's no apparent favorite which is exciting, for a change, after seven years of Lance domination and the Landis debacle. I picked yellow beans yesterday and today; today I searched out the first few early beans in barefeet, the dirt and beans working my visceral nerves. In addition to beans we ate delicious summer meal: spinach salad with bacon and homemade red onion dressing and chilled shrimp. On Thursday my six year old Andrew and I rode our bikes five miles to the dentist for our check-up, then ate at Jake's over the top--must dirty up those clean teeth as quickly as possible. Today, Seth (my oldest) and I searched the stacks of on sale shoes at our local Striders (a great privately owned running store btw) and then ate at a great little Thai place next door. Finally, I did 25 miles on the bike yesterday in 100 degree heat--it was great to clean out the old pores. As a bonus I caught last week's This American Life and listened to "Not ready to make nice" by the Dixie Chicks for like the 50th time. Each time I get a charge from "It's a sad sad story that a mother will teach her daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger. And how in the world can the words that I said, send somebody so over the edge, that they'd write me a letter, saying that I better shut up and sing, or my life will be over." If that doesn't get you up over a hill, nothing will.

So the summer goes. Even in the heat it feels quite refreshing.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Kitschy Kitty

There is a little kitty biting my toes under my desk. While I'm not much of an animal lover and I basically think it's unethical to intentionally allow your cat to get pregnant or impregnate (I'm not sexist) another cat, little kitties are amazingly cute and curious.

To be fair to me, it was my daughter's idea and how could I deny her?



Or his face? (a close 2nd in pleading for a kitty)

It's a beautiful kitty, you have to admit.




Once we took it home, it took to my son's favorite stuffed animal (Rabbi); in fact she tried to nurse from Rabbi.



From God to kitschy little kitties. Evolutionary predisposition binds believer and non-believer together whether they can agree on anything else or not.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

A-dios God

Note: if you are a believer and sensitive of heart, please do not read this post; if you are a believer and read it, please do not think I'm judging you anymore than you are judging me when you express your beliefs in God or prophets or eternal life or the resurrection or the Bible.

I'm done with GOD; it's over or at least I'd like it to be over. I think I want to rewrite that great Simon and Garfunkel song "there must be 50 ways to leave your lover" (my ex-girlfriend played this song the first time we made out after my LDS mission--I'm confident she relished the irony knowing she'd dump me soon; still after-two-years of nothing, the make-out was tremendously delicious). I'm not a lyricist so I won't try anything silly, but the sense that you better "make new a plan" that you'll have to "get out the back" and "not discuss much" makes a lot of sense. God is a jealous lover. While I don't regret believing in "God" for about twenty years, it's damn hard to get out of the whole gawd damn GOD system. It seems human's conceptions of God, if you go down that road, seep into every crack of life: prayer in the morning, before bed and every meal, during a difficult time, connections to loved ones, marriage vows, THE reason for living, THE reason for doing good, ALL explanations of how we got here and where we will go after... It's an endless list of comfort thoughts.

I went on a couple hour bike ride through the potato fields of Rexburg, ID this past week. While riding I was listening to a Terry Gross interview with Phillip Roth. As they discussed his new novel Everyman, which is about the lonely deterioration and final death of a man who does not have religion, Terry seemed determined to raise questions about religion and belief. She asked Roth if he ever had the desire to believe in something (she knew he wasn't "religious"), he countered, "I've never desired delusion." Even when you were young, Gross pushed, "never." A powerful moment for me, a building of my new philosophy of life and death. As Richard Dawkins put it in The God Delusion one of the worst effects of religion is that "it teaches us that it is a virture to be satisfied with not understanding." Oh, the places one can go without the self-limiting baggage of religion. Not that these places or ideas will make one happier (Shaw said "the fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is not more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one"). I have a stirring desire to face life for what it is: 70 or so years (probably) with my family, friends, an amazing wonder which will then END, fading into the memory of those who knew me. I want to hold up my head and proclaim: I'm going to face this mother fucker head on, doing my best because that's what you do and that's it. I

Of course this isn't much different than I felt while "believing" in God as I was never too comfortable with the "rewards in heaven" speech. I just never understood, starting with that old girlfriend I mentioned and many others, who have told me they would live differently if they didn't believe in God and the consequences which follow. Several have told me they'd drink a lot, try drugs, have sex, cheat--what a strange way to live life. I mean if you want to do those things, do them, enjoy them and try not to hurt anyone, but to live your entire life being "good" because you hold a belief, one without any physical proof, that you will get a reward for being good... what a waste. Of course I know there are many religious people who, like me over the last twenty years, have a more existential, non-mathmatical view of it all. And even those who profess this type of do-good-now-for-rewards-lataer, wouldn't, I think, actually go do all those crazy things if they didn't believe in God. Which leads me to a mistake I think many religious folks make, including me on occasion.

We create a causal link between a person's disaffection with religion and their "bad" decisions. First, there's a huge evaluative judgment here--drinking, for example, is just fine and moral for many people though many Moromons would blame this "sin" on the someone's inactivity. But let's assume it is a real "bad" decision like a vicious and selfish divorce. Now, we can say, "Yep, if only he'd stayed active, but it was all downhill after he stopped going to church." Of course this kind of causal argument can easily be dismissed: there could have been any number of other essential factors like depression, a terrible wife, work stress, etc. But again let's assume that the mean-spirited divorce wouldn't have occured if the man had continued as an active church member. Yet again this is faulty reasoning because the idea of being active or inactive, going to church to prove one's worth etc., is a social construction which sets up real feelings and consequences in this life whether the religion is based in an real truth or not. Therefore the man who makes the bad decision could easily, conscious or not, be applying the rules of the constructed religion even as he moves away from it: "Because I'm no longer religious, I'm a bad person and will now act accordingly or at least have the leeway to do so." The very beliefs believers profess would have saved the man work against him in the negative.

There's some tough talk here, but in reality I'm quite nervous about proclaiming my new philosophy. I'm reminded of the Spanish film I watched several years ago, La Lengua de Las Mariposas (Butterfly in English), where a young boy, Moncho, develops an affection for his teacher, Don Gregorio, who teaches them about the amazing natural world around them. The film ends with Moncho angrily yelling, though probably feigning, with the rest of the town, "Ateo... ateo" (atheist) as they take Don Gregario away in chains, the now revealed communist. We sure hate godlessness. I hadn't heard the spanish word "ateo" for years until this past week. A man and a woman, speaking in spanish, were walking by our home looking for a "buton" (button) she'd lost. I interrupted my game of catch with my son to talk with them. Turned out he knew my mission president who presided over me in Spain. As we talked they, naively, assumed I was true blue believer. As we discussed Spain, he talked about how his cousin had dated several men from Spain and you know what, he pejoritively with much self-righteousness declared, "Alla todos son ateos." I was dumbstruck, finally mumbling something about how many of the Spanish people had struggled with corrupt "curas" (priests) which of course he agreed with, confirming his belief in the one and only true LDS faith. I considered clarifying my view but knew it wasn't worth it and would be difficult at best in spanish. Right then I realized with clarity that I too am some sort of "ateo" and all the terrible things that go along with it. Maybe it was so powerful because I was hearing the word in spanish, the langauge I had used to testify against godlessness during my mission.

As we figure out how to fully include gays and lesbians into the communal fabric of the US, we better start working on ateos, those godless sons of bitches. And this isn't merely pity party for atheists: it has immediate real impact at the highest levels. Tim Weiner, a NY Times reporter, in an interview again with Terry Gross, tells how President Eisenhower told the CIA to "inspire Jihad against the godless communists" in any way possible. This led to much arms and money, arms and money that are now used to fight against godless capitalism in the US, the most religious developed country in the world. What a waste of resources. And to think we will elect a president if he proclaims a belief in God, but we will not even seriously consider an impeachment process when it's clear his government created false accusations as the basis for a war which has killed tens of thousands; yet can you imagine any serious presidential candidate making it for a minute as an atheist or even agnostic? Not a chance. Much better to believe in God and then repent of laisons with mistresses, denunciations of blacks and gays, shady million dollar book deals, or any number of lies and atrocities.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Three men in a doctor's office

Can he see me today?

Yes, Mark, but it will be a little while.

Ok, he says with voice cracking. I’ll just sit down I guess.

***

Hey, you ok? says the man already waiting

Jussst real d-down, depressed.

I know what you mean. I’ve been depressed for seven years.

24 years for me.

I’m on Clanapin, Paxil--anti-depressants—Lithium for the mania and one other.

Really? Does it work?

Yeah, especially the Clanapin and Paxil together.

I’m going to tell my doc to put me on those two. I-I just don’t like the side-effects. They make me tired and I get limp dick.

Yeah, they all give me limp dick, goes with the territory.

***

How much longer is the doctor going to be?

Quite awhile; he’s booked.

Well, I gotta go now so I will come back. He gets up and goes out the door, passing Mark in silence.

***

Mark begins to tremble. He fumbles with his hat, looking straight down at the floor. He convulses slightly while groaning.

He gets up, hunched over, approaching the desk. It seems he may crumple into a ball and disappear.

Mark, are you ok? Do you want to come back in a room?

He begins weeping, his shoulders heaving.

The door opens and he’s gone.

***

I finally open up the book I brought along and try to begin Rosaldo’s “Grief and a Headhunter’s Rage”:

“If you ask an older Ilongot man of northern Luzon, Philippines, why he cuts off the human heads, his answer is brief, and one on which no anthropologist can readily elaborate: He says that rage, born of grief, impels him to kill his fellow human beings.”

Sunday, June 24, 2007

I should really blog something serious...

It's been like a freakin stupid month and my last post wasn't anything to write home about--but I just can't. I mean I'm tired and I have to get ready for my 7am class tomorrow and, well, I don't have anything serious to say. Ok, that's not true. I have a lot of serious things to say, but when I start composing a post in my head it sounds dreadful, dull, and downright depressing.

For example I could say something about family trips, how they impact children, create memories...I can't, it's too painful because I'd have to mention that our four day camping trip to Bear Lake was cut to a one nighter, a night filled with scooping up barf out of...ok I won't go there.

Or I could say something about the whole God/god/gawd question I've been rolling around in my noggin. Hell, going to hell I'll bet, it's just a muddled mess in my head. Someday I need to write more about this, maybe after I finish the Dawkin's book or maybe after I become a practicing Buddhist, because god knows I can't discuss it with anyone I know. Either they don't understand my angst because they've never really believed in God or they would take my criticism of "God" so personal that our relationship would never be the same...ok, ok I'm not going write about this either.

I could also, and I'm quite tempted, write about my looming 20th high fucking school reunion. Of course the dropped F bomb already indicates that this topic is too raw for me to reflect on. Talk about depressing: I was forwarded the address to the in-process class of 87 (I won't mention the school in case my blog would turn up on some past high school acquaintance's Google search nostalgically tooling around for pre-reunion gossip) website. Oh my gawd I was depressed, Holden Caulfield like depressed, when I read through the little statements people had posted about their lives. Some mentioned all the great amazing things they've done with their lives; others revealed things they should only be sharing with a loved one (and we ain't your fuckin' loved ones! It's been 20 years!!!). Obviously I can't write about all this--too painful and clearly I'm being way too hard on these, I'm sure, lovely people from the past. Not too mention I'm an insincere bastard since I've been checking for updated bios two or three times a day--I have issues. I really do hope they spend some quality time together without me.

Well, since there's nothing to write about I'll just stop myself right now.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Summer Movies and Books

I'm kind of in between semesters except for a few hrs in the writing center and a number of projects I should finish before summer semester in a week and half. Having this extra time I've endulged in several movies and finally gotten around to a few of the books stacked on my desk and end table.

Wife and I watched Shut up and sing about the Dixie Chicks (well really the lead singer, Natalie Maines) "controversial" statements about being embarrassed that Bush was also from Texas. Wife and I really enjoyed the film and our respect for the Chicks grew--only slight disagreement was when I said, in earshot of a kid or two, in defense of Natalie's use of the F-word: "I think she is quite sexy when she uses the F-word." By which, I quickly added, I mean every time she used it in the film she was highlighting her tenacity in fighting against Bush, the war, and the shalacking they were taking by country music fans and radio stations. I think women can be sexy when they are tough--that was my point. Next time I might wait till said children are in bed to offer such profound insights into the F-word.

I just finished The Good Shepherd and I'm going to go out on a limb, even though I don't have a carefully crafted argument to support my claim: TGS should have gotten several nominations, one for best actor, Matt Damon, and one for best picture/director (it only got best art F.... direction! I thought it was genius but it seems understated, low key, subtle movies/
performances often get overlooked unless they are of the Merchant-Ivory variety. The film continues to float around in my head, especially Damon's character which was skillfully portrayed with nuance and reservation.

Oldest son and I finally watched Independence Day (certainly a fun popcorn movie as one review put it) and Pan's Labrynth (after hearing about it during the Oscars). Pan's was a wonderful, deliciously dark fantasy mixed with realism. A few gratuitous violent scenes which we fast-forwarded but the rest was spot on. I really appreciated how the film works both as a "real" (like this happened) fantasy/fairy tale and as a realistic psychological display of a child's struggle to deal with a the wicked (and very evil) step-father.

I'm reading both The Spiral Staircase: My Climb out of darkness by Karen Armstrong and The God Delusion by the infamous Richard Dawkins. I'm not as far in the Dawkin's book as it doesn't have an engaging narrative like Armstrong's story of her recovery from seven years in a convent, but still the parallels are stricking. Armstrong, renowned religious scholar, retells her painful journey back to "regular" life, working through anxiety attacks, dangerous amnesiac episodes, and a bout with anorexia. Not only does she fail as a nun, she then fails her Oxford dissertation, thought a very controversial failure, after years of work. Somehow, as I kind of know how things will turn out, she makes it through all this to become a self-sponsored scholar, writing definitive works on all of the major relgions. Amazingly, on some level (not as "believer"), she works through the hate and dismissal of religion and turns it into her career. I can't wait to see how exactly she does this and compare it side by side with Dawkin's absolute refusal to see religion as anything but deception.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Why I may rip off my ears and gash out my eyes if anyone mentions yet again how much they LOVE High School Musical (HSM)

1. Because it’s NOT (you stupid executive bastards) about tolerance and helping kids, it’s about making millions of dollars

2. Because the “nerds” in the film like Gabriela (Vanessa Hudgens) are stunningly beautiful, thus solidifying the exact opposite of what the film portends

3. Because my 12 year old son’s teacher decided to practice and then put on parts of the musical INSTEAD of having P.E. for the entire year (can you imagine how pissed my son has been for 9 months?)

4. Because songs meant to change cliquish behavior, digging at kids who “stick to the stuff [they] know…stick to the status quo” do NOT work even though every school, church, and community group are running like wild hogs to put on some version of HSM in order to inculcate positive values

5. Because the very act of talking about, trying out for (one high school had more students try out for this play than any in history), and *liking* HSM creates an in-group mentality (“You didn’t like HSM??!!”) which contradicts the so-called message of HSM

6. Because the Ryan and Sharpay are…isn’t anyone else grossed out?...brother and sister!! Can you say incest!

7. Because the people who benefit the most from HSM success are Disney executives—they even charge public schools a fee if they perform the play

8. Because my family (including sister and parents) were subjected to watching my son grit his teeth through 20 minutes of HSM skits after his teacher informed the audience that there had been problems (i.e. if you can believe it, they hammed it up) with the earlier performance (my son was one of the main culprits) and they should not be surprised if she had to walk onto the stage in order to remove any students who were being offensive

9. Because if any number of family members and friends read this, including my own daughter, they will never forgive me for criticizing the Holy of Holiest High School Musical.

10. Because, even though I recognize everything listed in 1 thru 9, I still have to admit, son of a bitch, that I inevitably catch myself tapping my foot and replaying the music in my head

Monday, May 21, 2007

A photo retelling of SF



Oldest son in salty muck outside of Wendover



Youngest son drugged up on video games and movies
***

Who said there's nothing between Winnemucca and Reno? Certainly not Chief Thunder maker of Thunder Mountain

(for more info see http://www.thundermountainmonument.com/index.htm)

***


About 30 hrs of this
***
I love REDWOOD TREES
***
and THESE...
***
And particularly THESE sturdily holding me even with burnt out trunks
***
And THESE which we will Snapfish into a small poster print which Mormon friends and neighbors will then mistake for Joseph Smith's sacred grove--what blasphemy
***
Big bubbles and beautiful faces at the Exploratorium
***
Familiar things in places strange and far away
***
"cool" brother with bubbly sis
***
The memories as my father-in-law would say turn sweeter each day.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Returning to Chinatown

Sometime ago I visited San Francisco for a conference. We ditched the conference one day, driving to Muir woods and Point Reyes (lighthouse). Walking through the redwoods, thinking how I could take my kids to Chinatown and on the cable cars, I knew I'd return with my kids once they were grown. Almost a decade later, here we are resting in our hotel room on Lombard street about 1/2 a mile from Fisherman's Wharf and three blocks from the cable car line after three days of SF fun.

Unfortunately we failed to bring the little digital camera cord which would allow me to upload some SF images. I will say I'm exhausted by all the things we've done so far: a 4 mile hike in Muir Woods, Golden Gate Park (we really enjoyed the Japanese Tea Garden), boat ride under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz, a guided tour of Chinatown (by me with help from Frommer's, 2006), Aquarium, windy Baker Beach and many other little things along with a couple of "where the hell are we?" moments.

I thought I'd been in Chinatown twice and, of course, I have eaten and walked in Chinatown both times I visited SF for conferences, but I never really experienced it. This time I read up on the Frommer's guided walking tour. We didn't do everything but here are a few highlights. After riding the cable car to Chinatown, we hit Stockton street's markets at 8am in the morning. The fish smells and the bustling Chinese people pushed my kids to the limits of their abilities to take in their surroundings. At one point my six year old son said, "I don't want to be in this place where we are different." Ah, mission accomplished! Next, we went inside a couple of silly touristy stores on Grant Street to buy some Chinese junk as we made our way to Waverly Street which is supposedly famous for its painted balconies. This was the low point of the tour--Waverly street was underwhelming, the Stockton market had overwhelmed, kids were crying about trinkets not purchased, and the tour guide was unsure where to go next. Luckily we pushed ahead, denying the urge to sprint for more familiar ground, and lucked onto Woo Woo (I'm serious) playground.

Here the adults rested their legs while the kids played on the equipment. It seemed that this playground was a bit of a cultural center; several men exercised near the equipment and about half a dozen women were doing Thai Chi to music in an open area. Rejuvenated we hit Old St Mary's Cathedral (the oldest--1850--Catholic Cathedral in Sf) where a white priest was, paradoxically, instructing what looked like Chinese tourists on John the Baptist. Turns out the church, which made it through the famous fire, was built by Chinese immigrants. We quickly dropped down to the Gateway Arch for a few photos on the lion. Then we retraced our route back to the Buddhist temple on Waverley Street, Tin How, where we ascended five flights of stairs to the one room temple. It was interesting; we learned something by listening to the grade school teacher instruct her class out on a field trip though the incense was so strong we could hardly breathe. For my finale we ate pork dumplings and sweet rice at a recommended hole in the wall (we were the only non-Chinese diners) and then went around the corner to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie company. Here we got several samples from the flat/broken fortune cookie pieces and we bought some yummy chocolate fortune cookies and almond cookies. This sounds much more official than it was though. In actuality the "company" was a back door in an alley with two women taking hot little pancakes off a press and shaping them into fortune cookies.

I feel like we soaked up China town and for that I'm grateful. It's cliche, I know, but there's some intangible quality to an experience like this which makes it all--the weariness, the screeching child, the ocean soaked pants, the one room accommodations, the sunburn with freezing ass temperatures, the gigantic Visa bill, the fights over directions--worth it.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

A tale of scrapping flesh, gagging lunch, and many hills

WARNING: Post contains much masculine bravado and mind-numbing cycling details

Just one month ago my cycling summer looked dismal—the bursitis in my hip had not healed even though I took several months off, in fact it seemed much worse. My longest ride was a mere 25 miles at which point my hip generally gave out completely leading to a sorry-ass limping back home. I’d even subjected myself to several cocoa-butter-plastic- tool-beatings (a new fangled physical therapy treatment—ASTYM--where, in my case, one’s leg/hip/butt are scraped raw).

But all that changed on our St George trip. I knew the Bountiful-Mazda Cycling Club (BMCC) I’d joined and ordered gear from (hundreds of dollars wasted I figured at this point) would also be in St. George. I’d considered riding with them so I went out with the club the Wednesday before to see how I’d do—humiliating: so I began to talk myself into a solitary 25 miles max riding summer which my wife loved. Still, I wanted to take advantage of the St. George weather so I left for a ride Saturday morning (while my wife hit the Temple) thinking I’d ride around Snow Canyon park for about 30 miles. After taking my necessary hip-stretch-stop at a park, I got back on the bike and headed up to the main road. At that very moment a huge cadre of the BMCC club rode by, “What the hell, I thought—it must be destiny.” I hooked on to the end of the peloton. By the time I was done, I’d gone up to the top of what they call Utah Hill and put in 50 miles, my longest ride by 20 and my hip felt great (the group road to Mesquite for a cool 100 miles). Maybe that cocoa butter scraping was working.

And it did start working, culminating in the week of many hills. On Tuesday the “easy” ride takes off from Centerville at 5:30; this night we went south till we hit 4th south in Bountiful and then headed up towards the Bountiful Mormon temple. Hills usually treat me well—my 130lb frame seems to be designed for such activities—so I took off with the lead guys and quickly it became a duel (well, I thought it was a duel) between me and one of the ride leaders (i.e. they decide where we go). I was feeling pretty good so when I saw the top of the hill, I stood a bit—which makes one faster--and took it to him. Unfortunately, this was my first time cycling up this hill and I’d misjudged the top by several blocks, totally spent I began, as they say in cycling, to go backwards, the lead guy moving at a furious pace ahead of me. At the top I asked him how old he was: 17--double his age and he’d still be four years my younger.

Then we headed south across Bountiful Blvd. and dropped down into North Salt Lake at the rapid pace of 50mph. At the bottom of the road there is a turnabout which, incredulously, the youngster fully circled till we were once again face to face with the hill. “Ok, I can do this. Just take it easy; no need to impress anyone.” I survived the hill, once again behind the 17 year old, and we then head back north along Bountiful Blvd. but instead of staying on the easy rollers back past the temple we take an immediate right up past the golf course. My engine is already overheated—it’s one of the hottest days this year--and near the top I gagged on part of my lunch or possibly part of my pre-ride peanut butter sandwich trying to keep up with the youngster: I have a “tasty” cough for the rest of the ride. On the way down 4th North in Bountiful I hit a new high speed two-wheeled record: 53.9, one guy hits 58.

Today I finally make it to a Saturday ride to round out my week and guess where we go? Yes, the Bountiful hills. High point (literally and figuratively): I out sprint the two fastest hill guys who had beaten me on the first hill to the highest point in the homes just south of Mueller park, right where I’d regurgitated my food on Tuesday. Low point: I’m almost immediately in trouble once we reach the flats—a skinny ass does nothing for one on the flats. After avoiding pulling (where one has to take on the wind plus keep up the pace) I finally take my turn. I know it will be a short one, but it's no turn at all: the 250lb (I kid not) 50 something guy who struggled some on the hills, moves to the left signaling he’s done pulling. At this point, after having had minutes of the best pull imaginable, I’m supposed to maintain the speed, allowing him to move to the back of the peloton. Instead, I can barely get a half a bike lead on him and within seconds he whips into the lead and embarrassingly takes the peloton around me to the left. When you see someone get passed on the left you can pretty much figure it’s over for them and it was for me. I make a weak attempt to catch on to the end of the peloton as it passes but it’s not happening. Now I face the last 10 miles of our 50 mile ride solo, riding in the wind and the threatening rain. I keep hoping someone will flat or miss a light; at one point I swear I see orange just up ahead (our new club colors) but it turns out to be an orange hazard cone, a mirage of the worst kind. I never catch up but I make it back home before the rain hits, just in time to sit out in the cold for an hour to watch my son play soccer.

While most BMCC members are training for some big event—LOTOJA (a 200 mile race), Sport Mt Bike weekend competition, Category road racing, week long tours—my goal for the year is to keep up on training rides without anymore tasty coughs. That’s about it and I’m fine with it--at least for now.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Herpes Simplex of the mouth

Cold sores are a curse I have had since I was youngster.

My earliest memory of cold sore really getting in my way was at Junior Prom. Of all weekends to get a cold sore. Ironically, I’d gone skiing the weekend before with the same girlfriend—the wind and sun always brings them out on me. At prom, I was embarrassed but actually, if I'm honest, more concerned that we wouldn’t get in an hour or so of making out. Fortunately my girlfriend still gave me some lip time. I’m not sure if it was a huge sacrifice for her to kiss my blistered lips, but it sure made me feel better about myself.

As an adult I’m no longer embarrassed about a cold sore. I emotionally understand it doesn’t represent my worth in some way, though I’m still conscious that I have one and I notice that others are too. It’s hard not to notice. Even having been a consistent sufferer of cold sores, I still can’t quite keep my eyes off the broken out sore of others—it’s like a magnet. Maybe this goes back to some sort of deep seated evolutionary (I am biology boy) nervousness about disease. Or maybe it’s because cold sores are, they tell us, a type of herpes. They say it’s just the oral kind. Like that helps—we’ve smooshed oral/genital/sores together in one heap, certainly something one would stare at. Or maybe it’s about blemishes. We don’t like ‘em. As children we pounce on the kid with any type of sore or scar on their face . I remember a kid who had one corner of his mouth all messed up—they said he’d chewed on an electric cord when he was little. At least cold sores eventually go away.

Whatever the obsession might be, when someone notices a cold sore I sure wished they’d say something like: “Shit, that must be a painful sucker.” It would really clear the air. We both know it’s there so just acknowledge it, maybe express some sympathy, and move on. After you’ve acknowledged it, you won’t have to worry that you might be staring anymore—there’s apprehension now because the cold sore bearer knows you know.

I was quite relieved this morning, after a day of no comments yesterday, when my neighbor said, “Boy, big herpes.” Finally, a brave soul to soothe my tender feelings.

Escaping the grind for a moment

I haven't blogged for a bit...very busy and no blogging desire. Blogger blues.

I actually wrote a couple of short little things over the last few weeks but upon further consideration the writing felt lifelessly stupid.

I did mean to blog about the St George trip--we have some great photos--but I knew it would take time to do it right so I just didn't do it. I will say: good to get away with spouse sin hijos. Why we don't do this every year, I just don't know. I will also say that local St George stuff is overshadowed by big Zion stuff: Snow Canyon State Park, boulder hiking/hopping just north of St George, several great restaurants.

I . . . am . . . basically . . . stalling, writing in my blog in order to avoid writing evaluations of final projects to students.

Ok, must stop stalling, must read three more papers before I allow another break. No, not two, but three...must read three.

Monday, April 09, 2007

St George weekend

It's been about three yrs since my wife and I have gotten away for the weekend sin hijos. Three yrs ago it was Colorado Springs, a great trip except for the uncontrollable shivering and forced oxygen at the top of Pikes Peak but that's a story for another post. This weekend we head to a closer less amazing, but hopefully enjoyable place: St George. I've been searching around for stuff to do. Certainly we will do some hiking at Zion's or maybe just locally at Snow Canyon Park. I'm also scoping out Joshua Tree Road, a 14 mile drive through the Mojave desert with spring flowers a blooming.

Any favorite non-golfing St. George activities? Restaurants? Shops? Anything??!! Please share as I coerced this trip out of my wife and now must make it work, i.e. be able to avoid the old, "So why exactly did we drive 5 hrs in order to see a movie we could have seen 5 minutes from our house?"