I suddenly feel semi-oriented

In late May, I bought a new backpack. It arrived in a timely fashion, and I stowed it away in my office. Of course, as planned, not too long after that I didn’t need to use a backpack. But I needed a new backpack. The shoulder straps were growing threadbare. The little handle at the top, the one you use to pick the bag up if it is on the floor, was all busted up. A zipper on one small compartment was broken beyond repair. Most distressingly, the bottom of the main compartment has two growing holes.

Friction. Rubbing my belt. Riding my bike to work. Dragging it on the ground. Whatever it was, my laptop and the other items carried in there would soon be at risk. It was time.

But it was a good bag. Carried all of my things. Spacious. Plenty of pockets. Lasted years and years. I don’t remember exactly when I bought it, but I remember where and the circumstances. Call it 2013 or 2014. Anyway, it worked well for a long time for a bag I tend to carry most every day. So I got my money’s worth from the cheapest bag I could find at a small office store, the bag that I thought, at the time, was too expensive.

So I bought the same bag again.

Why reinvent the method of moving my things? Why lay out a new way of lugging things? Why set up a new system? Why establish a new packing paradigm?

Last night, I emptied the old bag, and put all of my things into their same spot in the new bag. My computer and two small notebooks in the main computer. A camera stick, some tabletop tripods and a microphone in the secondary pocket. A bottle of Advil and two handkerchiefs in a side pocket. Two ponchos and two garbage bags — for emergency poncho or any other number of uses — inside the other side pocket. A small assortment of Post-it notes, multicolored, a few pens and sharpies, a thin container of bandages. Two umbrellas, four masks and a thumb drive or two. All of it where it belonged, in the same spots, in the new bag.

I discovered three additional smaller pockets inside a medium pocket on the old bag while doing this.

This morning, I hefted the new bag on my shoulder for the first time. The straps are stiff and new. And, somehow, it feels heavier, even without a few extra pieces in it I didn’t need today. Probably, I’m out of practice: I have carried a great many heavy things recently, but I haven’t put a backpack on my shoulders since mid-June.

Today, though, we went to Rowan. First day of new faculty orientation. Three days of this. Some of it is very helpful. Some is aimed at new faculty and, hopefully, those people are getting a lot out of those elements. Everyone is excited and happy, it seems. Attitude is important. Passion is important. Students and the work are important. But so is your well-being. This was, largely, the theme the president, Dr. Ali Houshmand offered in his welcome address at the brunch this morning.

And so everyone there was happy. Enthusiastic. Deans from different parts of the campus complimented the programs in drastically different part of the campus. Most everyone that spoke made a special effort to point out how long they’ve been at Rowan, and how it’s still a wonderful experience. That’s great. Very encouraging. I hope that’s the case for everyone, and not something they were asked to say. Even a Q&A session, the sort which could easily turn into a grouse fest was particularly upbeat. Very encouraging.

At the end of the day there was a little outdoor mixer. We talked with our dean. I chatted with an associate dean, a fellow who came over to administration from political science. He said that, I glanced at my lovely bride and she smiled, because she knew that was a good 15, 20 minutes of conversation taken care of. And so it was! He talked about his previous research, the structure of American-style politics. I asked him if he missed that sort of work since he’d gone over to administration. Then I asked him about the new paper on Article 3 of the 14th amendment. He said he hasn’t read the paper yet, but he knew of it, and he had some thoughts. Everyone has thoughts about that paper.

My little name tag, meanwhile, of course says “journalism,” but there I was, talking poli sci. Then I remembered what was on my name tag, so I asked him some broader and philosophical questions. It was a fun conversation.

The mixer was winding down, so we went over to say goodbye to our dean. We ran into Houshmand, the president. And the three of us talked for about 20 minutes. He easily shows off his keen, innovative ways of thinking about higher education, and his passion for the place and the task at hand. It was a delightful chat. It felt, almost, like getting permission to do something you weren’t expecting.

It was the longest conversation I’ve had with a university president in all my years, on any campus. I hope we have the opportunity to have several more.

But enough about me, let’s get to why you’re really here, the site’s most popular weekly feature, checking in on the cats. Phoebe, it seems, has rediscovered this little buffet table. She presently seems intent on making the surface, the floor below it and the airspace around it, strictly hers.

Poseidon was a very good boy much of the weekend. Which is not a thing we can say a lot. He was also quite cuddly this weekend. These two things often coincide. But he just looked, last night, like he was planning his next mischief.

And the good traits, of course, were not to last. He’s been a jerk all evening to his sister.

Probably that’s why she’s staking out that table top.

I had a big bike ride on Saturday. My lovely bride had a longer ride scheduled, and those are (usually) my favorite ones. We have, on our last two rides, added some new roads, which is wonderful, because there are so many new roads for us to explore. Saturday’s adventure involved a road we’ve been on a few times, some others we’ve been on just once, and the back half of the usual, easy hour route.

It was a big ride in the momentous sense. We were only out for about two hours, but on the back end of the ride, indeed, right in that area of the last shot in the above video, I broke my record for the most miles pedaled in a single year.

It’s a humble record, comparatively so, but it’s a new high for me. And the best part is I did that in August — even if I am behind on my spreadsheet’s projections — there’s a lot of time to build the new PR.

Yes, I have a spreadsheet for this. It’s one of the only spreadsheets I like, because it is simple, but also because the numbers only go up.

We also spent Sunday afternoon outdoors.

I swam a mile. Well, I actually swam 1,700, but I discovered that Strava gives you a little message “Congratulations, this activity is your longest swim on Strava!” when you set a new mark.

I also discovered I like seeing that message. Generally, internet badges don’t mean much to me because they don’t mean anything, but seeing that little box is a nice bit of encouragement. I’ve had longer swims, but they were long before I began using Strava. And since I am not training for anything in particular right now, and my swim is my own, and because I like that note, I might just increase every swim in small increments, just so I can get that message a lot.

This might be why I’m not terribly efficient in a gym, pool or anywhere else where new standards can be set.

As for the swim itself, it was rather spontaneous on my part. Seemed like a good idea. My shoulders disagreed for 100 yards or so, but after I ignored them for a while, they gave in and performed slightly more efficiently for a while, and the laps clicked away easily. It was a nice feeling.

I also sat in the shade and read the first third of Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings (1984). Welty is from Jackson, Mississippi, is revered as an incredible talent, a giant of her generation, and, for reasons that I don’t recall, I’ve never read the first bit of work, probably just because I don’t read much fiction, and the loss has been entirely mine. Here she’s examining the differences between her and her brothers. They were the in their laughter, but their anger is where their differences came up.

This book emerged from three lectures she delivered at Harvard, and were eventually turned into this memoir. The three sections are titled “Listening,” “Learning to See,” and “Finding a Voice.” All of it is self-possessed, none of it all consuming. She’s painting a triptych, I think, showing her surroundings in this delicate, sweetly innocent way, filling in her surroundings to show what makes the great author.

It’s all eminently relatable.

It has to stay in the house. Can’t go in the new backpack; I might be tempted to reach for it in between meetings.

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