Jan 21

We failed, we can succeed

If you haven’t noticed it before, it was made a bit easier for you to see today: we’ve failed.

The failures are, at all levels, institutional. A lame duck president and his lemmings, too vain and disbelieving to face the inevitable, behaved in ways most seditious and terroristic. We have failed in the teaching of our civics. That so many continue down this path, listening to outlets that serve no purpose but to stir fear and anger, show we have failed in teaching media literacy. That so many have shown themselves so susceptible to this nonsense shows we have failed in teaching critical thinking.

A seditious mob descended on the United States Capitol while the elected representatives were doing the nation’s business. A woman died. The vice president and next several members of the presidential line of succession were in immediate danger. Someone erected a slapdash gallows in front of the building. Perhaps others will die in the hours and days to come. Dozens more were injured.

The failures are, at all levels, institutional. And, thus, the failures are, at every stage, also individual. Impressionable, angry people made these decisions, and they have been meet with condemnation and revulsion, with further consequences to no doubt follow.

In the days to come it will be natural to seek a single failure point. People will study video frame-by-frame and pour over photographs. Jobs will be lost. And there will be investigations, too. You simply can’t inconvenience Congress, foment a coup and commit terrorism on cable television and not trigger dozens of investigations. Some will yield startling results across a wide array of agencies and jurisdictions. Some will provide disappointing outcomes.

In these ways, and perhaps more, we’ll come to realize in the coming days, we have failed. It is a frightening thing to confront your failures. A challenging thing. A necessary thing.

How we succeed is no less challenging.

As I write this, the Congress has gone back to conducting the business of the people. In some ways glorious, in others no doubt quite frustrating indeed. That’s the way of the legislative branch. Sometime in the overnight, or tomorrow, they’ll plod their way through the ceremony and a new presidential administration will ultimately begin.

Today you heard from President Trump and President-elect Biden and you saw them in stark contrast. Tomorrow, and later this month, and, hopefully for the next many years over the course of many administrations of different parties and congressional configurations of different makeups, we will start to undo the damage we have inflicted on ourselves today, and in our recent past and, indeed, throughout our history.

History is an important word loaded with hints and allusions and inferences and truths. I like the pursuit of history. Telling the truth of a story is a noble thing. I like the humanness of it. It is not to be ignored. Ignoring things brings us here, seeing our problems manifest today.

If we simply stuck to the problems above — a narcissist-in-chief, failings of civics and literacy and critical thinking are ultimately as cultural as they are individual — the challenges to correct them are immense. But we like to think we are at our best when we are faced with immense challenges. It’s comforting, it fits us. And, friends, the immensity is before us.

I don’t pretend to have all of the answers. I know we won’t always be good at reaching for all of the remedies, even the obvious ones.

But, without trying to sound platitudinous in a too-tough week, I want to celebrate the words that become the ideas that move us. I hold onto the idea that we are an experiment. No less an architect than Thomas Jefferson and no less a keen observer than Alexis de Tocqueville used the word to describe us. An experiment is still alive in the moment, where the possibilities lay, where we can still impact the outcome.

The American Experiment. It really began with those few simple words that can stir you each time you really think of them, the ones found right near the beginning, in the preamble that you, perhaps, learned in school. The words that said simply, we are here “to form a more perfect Union.”

We are flawed, but we are forming. As I am sad and shocked and share in the hurt of the nation tonight, I think of those words, “to form a more perfect Union.” There’s so much power there. It was given to us. The power is still alive, in our hands, in our national will, where the possibilities remain, and where we must still determine the outcome. This is how we will succeed.

Nov 20

A note 10 years in the making

On Saturday we went for our bike ride and it was 46 degrees. I had on a pair of full finger gloves, two pairs of socks, a wind jacket and a DIY gaiter I made out of a toboggan. In perfect pitch with the season, it was gross and rainy. But right on this stretch of road something neat happened.

So every mile for the rest of the year — including the last three or so on that ride — marks a new personal best.

Why, yes, I do have a spreadsheet charting these things. Doesn’t everyone? Previously, 2013 was the best year. We did a lot of racing that year and I was starting to pile up solo miles to make up for losing out on the second half of 2012. And, I think, somewhere in those solo miles I started to see my riding as something that was mine, a carefree interlude from the rote things that control so much of our lives. Because of the triathlons I was in the pool twice a week and running several days a week and riding as much as possible. Between that and excessive work hours and the ridiculous commute I came to think of it as My Own Time. Which is, I know, a radical way to think of one’s free time.

I remember the view from the ridge I was on when the realization came to me: this is you carving out something for yourself. It was a disproportionately powerful realization; this thing that you do for fun is something you actually do for fun. It’s a conscious realization of agency you’ve always had.

One day it’s going to take, too!

Clearly the endorphins were out of whack that day.

A person’s interaction with their bike can be one of the most passionate relationships they have. It can sometimes be a mercurial one. A few years ago I ran cold on the idea of bike riding. It was something to be checked off the list before I could do other things. Almost sounds like a chore, doesn’t it? It got to that point and, suddenly, the thing that used to be an interlude was an interruption. It wasn’t my thing. It was, of course, interrupting nothing. I saw it, recognized it, and knew it. Still haven’t remedied it, but clearly I’m tapping out a rhythm to my own drummer over here.

By a curious coincidence that same year, 2017, was when my form, such as it ever was, started to vanish. It was subtle, but obvious. Couldn’t go as hard for as long, or as fast as suddenly as I once did, and so on. These are all things that are, of course, very relative. The important thing is that it happened and I noticed and it’s never been recovered.

But hey, that’s age, and not enough talent, or time. And, like any relationship, you have to put in the time. It doesn’t hurt if you bring a little innate talent to the thing, or want to work on it, besides.

I go back and forth a lot; its a thing on the list, it’s a thing I do. It’s a thing I have to do; it’s a thing I want to do more. Still trying to figure it out. I always take the ride, but the consideration always seems to be there. This isn’t, perhaps, about my bike riding at all. A year or two ago (who can even tell?) I made a Things I Want To Do List. The idea being these weren’t the tasks one must muddle through to achieve, but the things one does because they are pleasant. I spent some time on the list. There were a few drafts, as I found the proper rank order for all the common contingencies and considerations, because you should do that for your list of enjoyments. At the top of the list was “Ride your bike: whenever the weather is good.”

Maybe the solution is a lot more of those long, meandering rides that take place just because they can.

So, almost any sunny day we get for the rest of the year, because I’ll have some availability and because I am now in every-mile-is-a-new-record mode, I hope to have a little time in the saddle.

It will take many pairs of socks.

I say sunny because, otherwise, you’re just going to get glorious views like this.

Isn’t that inspiring? Doesn’t that make you want to get out there and do … something?

Like install blackout curtains through mid-March or so?

This week’s forecast includes some actual sun. I’ll be sequestered in the office. I was on work from home duty today, but tomorrow it’s back to campus. And next week, I’ll be back at the home office, or at least at the house.

Today I edited an interview I’m publishing tomorrow, caught up on email, and generally prepared for this last week of in-person work.

Most crucially, I started charting out what the next several weeks of work from home will look like. And, happily, there will be things to do. There are always things to do.

OK, perhaps that wasn’t the most crucial thing. I also had a Zoom meeting about some upcoming stories that students are reporting on. I think I may enjoy those more than they do, but I hope my participation is at least in some way useful for them.

Also, I got two new tires for the car today. I’d developed a slow leak in one that was going bald anyway, and the other wasn’t far behind. So I drove over to the tire place and put on my mask and nodded at the “Must wear a mask” sign on the door and walked inside.

And I immediately noticed that a good mask does not filter out the peculiar smell of unused vulcanized rubber. A guy was on the phone in the back office. He saw me, finished the call, hung up and put his mask on. The Boomer sitting in their chairs waiting on his car to come down off the lift did not have a mask on.

I’ve really had it with this sort of thing.

So the guy working there asked me what I needed. We went and looked at the car. He drove it into their work bay. I said, You know, it’s a nice sunny late afternoon. I’m just going to stand out here if you need me.

“I don’t blame you,” he said.

What I didn’t say, and I don’t know if he inferred, was Because I don’t want to sit around that guy, or your unmasked coworkers.

But I took his response to mean that he knew what I was on about.

So I enjoyed the sun in a medium-light jacket and caught up on some current events and began wondering if I should scale that Sisyphean exercise back next week, when my car came down off the work lift. Inside, to pay, I saw that the unmasked Boomer was thankfully gone. Two of the unmasked employees were right there. And I mean, right there.

So I left just as quickly as I could. Used their hand sanitizer — I see it like water in the South, now. If it’s on offer, you take advantage of the opportunity — and got to the car and used mine, wiping down the wheel and the door features and so on, just to be sure.

I rolled down the windows, because it was, in fact, a lovely afternoon, for a few blocks to let any cooties escape. And I listened to the hum of four good tires on the road.

By the time I got back to the house it was growing dark once again. So I set about doing a few household things until dinnertime. It was the productive Monday I’ve been trying to have for the last several Mondays, really. And there’s some satisfaction in that.

Sep 18

What’s the last (non-grocery) thing you bought in a store?

Sometimes I’m sure I do my best writing in email. I wrote this as a part of one email this evening.

I went to Macy’s yesterday, just to see if they are still open. It is tacked on to the back of the mall here and we drive around it some days in the pursuit of tiny little errands. Every time the Macy’s lot is just about deserted. Closed Kmart deserted.

Both Kmart stores and the Sears have disappeared since we got here. This is not the first town that’s happened in. We are like the Fifth Horseman of Sears closings. (This would be a great gag, not just Four Horsemen, but a lot of them, and each successive one is less fearsome.) I went in, and it feels like Blockbuster and Circuit City during their last painful retail heaves. Over the death rattle you could hear me think: Who is paying $80 for a shirt? People doing that surely aren’t doing that at Macy’s.

The mall is also physically lashed onto the Target, which is the appropriate amount of brick-and-mortar successful. I haven’t seen the data, but I bet that Target and the adjacent Chick-fil-A keep the whole mall afloat. Eat mor chikin. Buy mor stuf.

That all sounds desperately condescending in that way that feels most natural to my Mallrats generation. (An association I wish I could shake, while also keep most of my mall experiences intact.)

I spent 14 seconds peering into a few shelves and racks, though, listening to the few employees on the floor giggling about whatever, though, without feeling like doing a web 2.0 dance. There’s no happiness in retail going under, just a loss of more jobs and more empty real estate. One Kmart here is right now some sort of auto mechanic holding pattern, but will become that early 21st century commercial development “multiuse.” The city is trying to figure out what to do with the second one. They are soliciting ideas. The Sears became a grocery store, sort of.

I’m a culprit here. Most of my shopping is now online. I’m having a difficult time thinking up the last thing I bought that wasn’t a food or a drink in a store. Probably it was lumber.

I will go out and see those Going Out Of Business Sales. I hit both of the Kmart stores here. The nearest one stocked up the house once or twice. The other was just a way to avoid traffic for a while. The last time I did that at a Sears the prices were still ridiculous. We bought a dryer, but maybe only because it was easier to borrow a friend’s pickup than to get Amazon to ship that Prime.

At Macy’s though, I looked at the shirts and thought, even at the sale price, and after that promised 20 percent off when you sign up for The Credit Card of Poorly Informed Mistakes, that’s still more than I paid for the last shirt I got online. The economics are all screwy. And when I got home there were two new pieces of cycling kit in the mailbox, which I purchased at a fraction of the retail price.

I’m not saying anything new there, but just imagine what the subsequent Horsemen would be. Granted, the drop off from Death to Closer of Past Their Prime Retailers is a steep one. A few more down the line and you get Phantom Nose Itch or Disturber of Daydreams.

We had barbecue last night, and a homemade stir fry tonight. Ask me about those stories sometime. Both dishes were good, at least one of the stories is mildly entertaining. I also put together a bunch of slides on lead writing, and thought more about op-ed pieces than anyone ever should, really, and did that in two separate sittings. But that’s where we are in the world today. The op-ed-related horseman being 45th or so.

No, the last thing I bought in a store was buttons. I had to sew on a new cuff button for a Brooks Brothers shirt. I purchased that online sometime last year.

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Dec 17

You can here reflect on substance

I’m the sort of guy that sees reflections and tries to figure them out. And that’s why I found myself standing in an alley across the street from the office today, waving my hand around like a big goof, trying to interrupt the light that was hitting this wall:

Sometimes you just have to know where the bounce is coming from. Only, this time, I could not find it. The neighboring building was too close to throw light from the roof, the angle was all wrong. There was nothing directly opposite on the wall, obviously, and no trash can lids or aquarium bowls or anything else in the alley that corresponded to this shape, either. This does nothing to dampen my curiosity.

Think on that: We aren’t always aware of the light being cast upon us, or on what we’re sharing with others.

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Oct 17

The winter squash whodunit

One of our students was carrying around a pumpkin today. I think it was a home economics exercise. He’s toting around a child cucurbita, or a grandbaby gourd.

(I suppose it could be for Halloween.)

Anyway, he left the pumpkin at the television studio this morning. I could have offered to take good care of the squash plant, but it seemed more fun to hold it for ransom. Pay up, or get him back in (pumpkin pie) slices. Give me what I want or the jack-o-lantern-to-be doesn’t get an ear. Call the veggie cops, and he gets crooked eyes.

I couldn’t even work through all of these puns — and they get even worse pretty quickly — before the student swooped in and picked him up. The cultivar custody caper was resolved.

Some shows the students produced last night. A sports desk show:

And a talk show that they’ll put on the air on Sunday night:

But let’s not get that far ahead of ourselves. There’s still a whole weekend to enjoy.