Mar 23

That last photo, though!

When I mentioned, last Thursday, that this site recently marked its 5 millionth visitor I coolly said I have no idea why people visit. Only I do know why.

You’re here for the cats.

Phoebe, as ever, is here for the sunshine.

This is my second favorite in-house joke right now. I say to my wife, I say, “On the floor of our house is a medium-grade residential carpet pad. On that carpet pad is stretched a standard 21st century carpet. On that carpet, there is an overstuffed ottoman. On that ottoman, there is a pillow. And that is where your cat is sleeping.”

Perhaps an even better joke is this one. I say to my lovely bride, I say, “On the floor of our house is a medium-grade residential carpet pad. On that carpet pad is stretched a standard 21st century carpet. On that carpet, there is an overstuffed sofa. On that sofa, there is a fuzzy throw blanket. On top of that fuzzy throw blanket, there is another fuzzy throw blanket. On top of that second fuzzy blanket, there is a third fuzzy blanket. And that is where your cat is sleeping.”

Occasionally, Poseidon also looks for the people inside the television.

They’ve gotta be in there somewhere …

This was the Day of Three Presentations. It was a day full of presentations. Many presentations were given, some of them better than others. One was maybe great! That’s the thing about having a lot of things: there will be variance.

I’ll spend all night staring at a wall thinking about every flinch and stumble. Every tone and tenor, time I squinted or had vague eye contact.

But none of that is important. What’s important is what is coming up at the bottom of this post.

Yesterday afternoon’s bike ride featured some dinosaurs. How many giant reptiles do you see in this graphic? I count six.

After that ride, we went outside. This is The Yankee’s first bike ride since her massive crash last September. Look at that smile!

Part of this is physical, sure. The bone is now starting to heal. (Turns out, she busted herself up so badly it has taken this long for the mending to begin.) Part of it is about getting out of your own way. This is perfectly understandable and reasonable. I was in a similar boat in 2012, when it took me five months to even want to ride again.

So we went out for six miles on quiet, empty roads. Whenever a car came along I put myself between the two of them, and we smiled some. It was cheery and emotional. It was a little more normal.

Mar 23

A note to self about coasting, and other things

I’ve been mulling over creating a syllabus for a trauma interview course. The idea starts with understanding that not all interviews are the same. Some of them require a more delicate care than others. Some would benefit from having some purposeful training.

The idea, for me, started several years ago. I read a profile, which I can’t re-locate, about a reporter in New York renowned as the guy that interviews people immediately after they’ve just found out a loved one has been killed. (What a thing to be noted for, huh?) He talked about his process — the respect involved, the solemn decorum, even the way he dressed for it. It was a thoughtful thing, and it’s worth expanding on.

I remember discussing this in a reporting class during undergrad. I think we did about 20 minutes on the concept. It was essentially, some people want to talk. Some people will not be prepared to talk. Some people will think you a ghoul. Accept whichever response you get, and don’t take it too personally.

It was, I guess, a different time. I think we can do better. Perhaps some people, in some classes, do. But I would argue it needs to be more than a simple unit.

The idea starts, basically, with social worker and trauma specialist Resmaa Menakem’s definition.

Trauma is a response to anything that’s overwhelming, that happens too much, too fast, too soon, or too long — coupled with a lack of protection or support. It lives in the body, stored as sensation: pain, or tension — or lack of sensation, like numbness.

That’s from a 2020 interview, but I ran across it again the other day, and an entire lecture or conversation — a conver-lecture — sprang to mind fully formed.

The back-of-the-envelope notes suggest there’s a mini-term class here, easy. I am sure, the more I dive into it, there’s a full semester in the idea. Perhaps there is more. You don’t know until you really get into it. And I’ll get into it after Spring Break.

It’ll start here.

Trauma reporting
Listening to trauma
What happened to you?
Covering violence
Grief and COVID-19
How to approach people affected by tragedy
When interviewing trauma victims, proceed with caution and compassion

I, of course, think of this in a journalism context, but there are institutional approaches here, as well. And, furthermore, there are other elements to this, most critically, the second-hand trauma that impacts journalists from time-to-time. This was never discussed in any class I took, or any newsroom I worked in. There’s no newsroom I can think of why that shouldn’t be approached. There’s no reason why I can think of that isn’t taught, considered, and re-visited.

So I’m speaking it into existence, as it were.

Rode my bike this evening. It goes like this: following all that climbing last weekend, there were rest days — brought on by necessity and scheduling — on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and then a brief ride yesterday. It felt rough. Tonight’s ride was faster, but maybe felt worse.

That avatar in front of me was fun. We paced one another for 10-plus miles. This was my first time ever on this particular route (though some of the roads on this one are on other Zwift routes) and I could tell from the HUD that this was his second lap, at least for the day. He knew the course, which is important.

We took turns pulling, which is the polite thing to do. Everybody gets a little draft and conserves a tiny bit of energy that way. Somewhere along the way he got tired of that and attacked. I let him go, but pulled him back a short time later. Then I started toying with him. For the next two or three times I pulled through I stopped pedaling for just a moment. It’s a question of touch and timing, but you can pass the other person when your avatar’s feet aren’t moving. It’s a funny joke, to me anyway. Look at me! not trying! Now I’ll pedal some more …

So we kept taking turns. Him in front, me drifting by him, then taking a quarter-mile pull or so, then him in front again. I like to think that my little joke aggravated him, and then made him grin with grim determination.

On that route there’s a little climb over the last mile and he was waiting for it. Just after the bottom of the hill that guy exploooooded. He was gone, suddenly 30 seconds ahead of me, and then a minute. I got about half of it back, but he buried me something good.

I learned this: I should coast less — or is it more? And, hey, it’s the weekend …

2023 Zwift route tracker: 78 routes down, 46 to go.

Mar 23

‘It may be a commodity to me, but something else to you’

No one wants to read other people’s dreams. But, here’s the thing, I seldom remember any dreams I have. They may as well not even take place. And when I do remember them, or are aware of them, they only rattle around in my brain for just a minute or two.

Sometimes you try to hang onto them, pull more strands together, tie in details and tidbits to make a more coherent whole. Then the mental quicksand kicks in. The more you pull, the salient points move farther apart. And what was context when your eyes were first trying to focus is just a yellowish blur later in the day.

Or is that just me?

I woke up this morning from a dream where my grandmother was correcting me on the finer points of commodities and commodification. She was using bolts of cloth as her widget. She was explaining the error in something I’d said.

She was a rural homemaker, my grandmother, a textile worker. She quoted a first century Syrian poet in her high school yearbook. That’s one of those things I only learned about her later in her life and, now, I wish I had asked her more about it.

She was attuned to world events, always read the paper, watched the news twice a day. My grandmother watched the A-block on one channel and the B-block on another. I talk to students about broad consumption and critical media analysis, and that’s basically what my grandmother did. She knew which station was best at this and that, and she found a system that worked for her, out there on the gravel road. She knew some stuff.

As for the dream, I don’t know how old or educated (I only have a minor in economics) I was, but I spent a few moments looking through some research this morning to see how accurate our “chat” was.

Turns out — having glanced at some of the sociological anthropological work of Peter Ekeh, Bruce Kapferer and Igor Kopytoff — that, in the dream, my grandmother was perhaps trying to make a point about the commoditization of goods.

The title of this post is basically what she told me in the dream. It’s a pretty incredible paraphrase of Kopytoff who, to my recollection, I haven’t read before.

Also, it appears that she was right, and dream-me was mistaken.

What a real delight some dreams can be.

What a delight!

Regretfully, I forgot to do this yesterday, but here’s the updated cycling chart through February. I know you felt like something was missing here, too. But, after thinking about it most of the evening, did you realize, when you were setting out your things for the next day, that what was missing was an obscenely oversized graphic?

This is what happens when you set up site rules for photographs, so you can deliver nice images in a consistent style, but didn’t think you might one day run a simple Excel chart as filler, too.

Anyway, that purple line is where I am on the year in terms of mileage. It’s humble, to be sure. Nevertheless it’s a high, steady pace for me. And I added to it a little this morning. I woke up early, within that amount of time that going back to sleep and getting anything out of it seemed futile.

Eleven miles doesn’t seem like anything, but I figured I could ride a half hour this morning, or try to ride this evening.

I decided to do both, but one of the cats decided I needed to provide pets, instead. Good thing I got up this morning, then.

Speaking of stats, I haven’t looked at the site data in a bit. Last month I had my 5 millionth visitor.

Five million! That seems like a lot for a humble personal site.

I don’t know why you all come here. I know it isn’t for the occasional dream or the too-frequent talk of my bike rides, but thank you for the visits. (It’s the cats. I know. They know it, too. More from them on Monday.)

Feb 23

I’m not even sore

Happy Monday. And to make your Monday just a bit more tolerable, we’ll begin with the site’s most popular weekly feature, the weekly check in with the kitties. This weekend they have been quite the cuddle cats. That could be because the heater was, for some reason, turned off on Friday and it was midday Saturday, when it never got warm inside, before I noticed.

They’re also loving and needy little things, that’s a part of it, too. Last night, I wasn’t sure if they would let me go to sleep, for all of their “Pet me. Pet me. PETME,” demands.

In our house, there is a mid-grade residential carpet pad. And on that carpet pad sits a nice, low shag carpet. And on that carpet there’s a throw pillow. And on that pillow there’s a folded pair of jeans.

And that’s where Phoebe is choosing to nap.

What I love about this picture is that it demonstrates Poseidon’s ability to anticipate, and his understanding of the sun’s direction of travel. He’s not half in the shade, he’s waiting for the sun to come around.

That’s a smart cat move.

This was the weekend of going uphill. That’s not a metaphor. I was actually going uphill. Virtually uphill, anyway. It’s a silly thing, but there was a series on Zwift this weekend, a three stage showdown of some of the more demanding climbing routes. And since I am trying to ride all of the routes anyway, I figured, why not?

Friday evening I rode the first of the three stages, climbing 2,500 feet. Knowing what was to come, I was determined to take it easy on Friday. And I was largely successful with that, but I felt too good late and so I pushed a bit on that last climb. I have no idea how to preserve my energy over time. Most people don’t, I think, so that’s OK. I set two Strava PRs on Friday, celebrated by putting on the compression boots and got ready for Saturday.

Saturday, there was the Alpe du Zwift, the game’s (apparently realistic) take on the legendary Alpe d’Huez. This stage was harder, and it has 3,900 feet of climbing. I decided I was going to pace myself up that beyond category climb because Sunday’s route was even more demanding. So on the alpe I set seven Strava PRs, including taking more than seven minutes off my best time up the climb.

I’m no climber. Really, I’m not, but the progress is progressive. But my avatar looks great descending!

At least the switchbacks on the alpe actually provide a little relief on the ascent. No such help on Sunday, on the hardest route of the weekend, punctuated by a slow climb up the vaunted Ventoux.

Ventoux or d’Huez, which is harder? They’re both a big challenge. Ventoux has a bit more of a gradient, and it’s almost continual. Eight percent is the norm, and there’s a lot of 11 and 12 percent, and there’s no accelerating up that. Plus, leg fatigue is, of course, cumulative. The only thing Ventoux has going for it on this particular route was that the finish line came about two miles before the summit. Even abbreviated, the route had 3,953 of ascent, and Strava considers it another beyond category climb. I was pleased with the earlier finish, though. Long before that, I was hoping to just finish well.

It started out great. If you look to the right of this graphic, you can see where I am in the field. For a brief, brilliant, shining moment, I was at the front of the field, pushing on at 30 miles per hour.

When the climbing started, I fell away pretty quickly. I am not a climber.

But I was happy to finish in the top 50.

I was happy to finish 50th.

I was happy to finish.

After finishing all three stages of Rapha Rising, I believe 249th overall, I had another 10,400 feet of elevation gain in my legs over the last three days. (That’s a lot for me!) I earned a day off. My Zwift avatar earned some Rapha kit. The only time I will ever afford Rapha is when it’s free.

The 2023 Zwift route tracker: 76 routes down, 48 to go.

This is where I stopped reading last night. Willie Morris has spent four pages talking about riding around Texas with W. Lee O’Daniel. He’d been the governor of Texas from 1939 to 1941, running and governing in the all-too-familiar populist demagog style. He went to the U.S. Senate, beating LBJ in a special election, for the rest of the 1940s. Then he returned to private life, running a ranch in Fort Worth, and making money in real estate and insurance in Dallas. In the second half of the 1950s, he ran for governor again.

It’s a poignant, bittersweet thing, Morris’ detailing of three days canvassing Texas in an air conditioned Cadillac. O’Daniel was aging, and he knew it. Morris saw him as an old man “trying to retrieve the past.” His constituency was aging, and he knew that too. Or they were dying off, and he could see it, in the dusty, small towns he visited. Not that he was the same draw as he’d been as a famous radio host back in ’38, but also, the makeup of the state had changed underfoot. Not because of him or in spite of him, just around him, a colorful character with much of the color washed away by time.

I say this every time I return to his work, but I love the way Morris writes.

Feb 23

Flying into the weekend

Look who is passing back through. The nearby ponds are a stopover. And since they’re only here for a short time, and since their presence is a welcome signal, we welcome the site of the Canada geese. The squeaking, honking, flapping, fluttering geese are back.

May they fly north with great speed, and may warm weather be in their wake.

We’ll see 50s and 60s for the next few days, and some sun. I’ll happily take a few more weeks of that, and then complain internally until the real spring weather arrives.

Timing is everything for spring weather. Those geese know it. That’s why they’re heading north now. Some of the trees understand it. That’s why you’ll see buds emerging at some of those naked little twigs. The days are getting longer and the insects are noticing all of this, too. Now we just need to prevail upon the prevailing weather patterns.

Spring will arrive in 54 days.

I’m doing a bit of a silly thing. As regular readers likely recall, I’m working my way through all of the routes on the Zwift bike riding game. It’s a great way to work up base miles, between outdoor riding seasons and trying to tackle all of the routes at least provides some variety. There are 124 routes and growing. I started that at the beginning of January, ticking routes off this checklist. Not all of the routes are available every day, and, of course, I have to work around my regular schedule, as well. At some point all of this will get a little more demanding, because of that selectivity, and because I started crossing the easier routes off first.

And now we come to the silly part, I am going to try to knock off three of the more demanding courses this weekend. The gimmick being that if you do all three, your Zwift avatar gets a nice new Rapha kit to wear.

So, tonight, I rode the first of the Rapha Rising stages. I wound up climbing 2,500 feet, all of it felt nice and easy, but it will get more demanding. There are another 7,400+ feet of climbing to go tomorrow, and Sunday.

That’s a fair amount of work to do for a virtual kit, I think. But I need to get those three stages off the list anyway. It’ll dominate the weekend’s fun, and just might impact how I feel about stairs on Monday.

In this installment of the Re-Listening project, where I am playing all of my CDs in the order that I acquired them, we find ourselves firmly in the summer of 1996, and listening to Tonic’s debut album, “Lemon Parade.” It went platinum and featured three singles, including “Open Up Your Eyes,” and the smash hit “If You Could Only See.” The former got a lot of rock and alt rock attention. (This will come up in a future edition of the Re-Listening project.) The latter topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks, and number 11 on the Billboard Airplay Hot 100. That single spent 63 weeks on the chart. The record itself peaked at 28 on the Billboard 200.

There’s a lot of texture and distortion in the guitars, but the rhythm section deserves some attention throughout the record, too. And we’ll come to that, but first, the one that was, I guess, inspired by Steve Earle or The Pogues, or perhaps both.

You can hear what I’m hinting at with the drums and the bass line, if you listen all the way through. And that’s great, but the ballads are, to me, the best part of the record.

Here’s the other standout. And there’s a video, which is … odd. This wasn’t a single. Fine little ditty, though.

Tonic struck at the right time. The sound was just right for loud big speakers and soaring, noisy solos. Along the way, they earned a few Grammy nominations. I’m listening to this in the car, trying to imagine having all of this in headphones or earbuds. It seems a challenge.

They released five albums, the first and the second saw their biggest chart success. It was the mid-late 90s and pop music was about to change underfoot. They self-released their last record, in 2016, as a lot of people were doing by then. On the website they’re now a three-piece, and there’s one show listed this fall, in Oregon. The lead singer, has released three solo albums. The other two guys do a fair amount of work scoring TV and movies, it seems.

Up next in the Re-Listening project was a John Mellencamp maxi-single. This was a radio station giveaway, I’m sure. It features four tracks, one of them the single he was promoting that summer, and two B-sides you already knew, so we won’t spend a lot of time here. But this, which I had no recollection of at all, really captured my imagination last night.

Like you, I had no idea I needed Mellencamp to cover James Brown, but now I realize the error of my oversight.

In 2018, Netflix released a documentary-of-sorts. It was a live concert from 2016, with Mellencamp doing voiceovers, telling extra stories about life and art and whatever else. It was worth watching, if you ever found yourself nodding along to Johnny Cougar.

He released his 25th studio album last year, and, a few days ago, the 71-year-old set out on a North American tour that will keep him on the road through June. Maybe that’s what the geese were on about.