Jul 23

I won’t talk about unpacking anymore (after this)

We are now down to unpacking the dining room. We have no pressing urge to unpack the dining room. And the guest bedroom. That will need some actual attention.

Today, some things got put on some walls. This is always an interesting exercise. New house, same decor. On the one hand, this is very comforting. The bedroom — aside from a wacky paint decision and, for the first time ever, having windows at the head of the bed — is starting to feel like a familiar place. Those picture frames are an important part of that. But then you might think, Oh this one again, eh?

And then you feel bad about that. Because you love that souvenir print, or the photo you took or the gift you received.

I wonder if people on makeover shows feel this way too.

This looks great, but why did you leave my freckles on my face?

These are the things that help make us who we are, though, and you do love that print, that photo and that sign you got a few Christmases ago.

Yesterday I unpacked my audio equipment. Now I just need to deaden the sound in my home office-studio. That’ll take forever to agonize over.

Today I unpacked my half of the library. The joy, the challenge, of unpacking your library is putting things back on shelves thinking, “I should read this again. And I should read that again. And I should read … ”

I alternated between thoughts of kicking myself, in the haste and hustle of packing ourselves, I did not think about it at the time, but maybe I should have photographed how I had my books displayed in their book cases. On the other hand, this is kind of freeing and I can make this a new start, with my old books. And also my new ones.

(At least I photographed how we’d built the cat trees, they were reassembled easily, and before most everything else for some reason.)

So, of course The Gloms are in chronological order here in my office. The other two bookshelves in my office, which hold the Books To Read have been loosely arranged in order of interest and priority. But in the library downstairs, there were boxes to open and shelves to fill today. How to do that?

I’m not going to say it took longer than it should, because these are books and this is important — and no I do not use the Dewey Decimal System or the Library of Congress Classification system and, no, I am not a librarian, why do you ask? It took as long as it should, because I reworked the shelves a few times.

Memoirs and autobiographies got two shelves. Cycling books got a shelf. Textbooks and the like got a bottom shelf. (I still have two bins of actual textbooks that are awaiting their eventual fate. They will stay packed up at least through the summer.) Pretty much an entire bookcase is devoted to history. And there’s a pile of things over on a chair that I’m going to donate, or put in a little library. And there are some biographies that are somehow missing … maybe they’re with the kitchen knife and the good scissors.

It is strange what goes missing when you pack in haste.

This evening, we had a lap swim. The Yankee easily outpaced the ducky.

For my part, I swam a half-mile, 832 yards. Not bad for my third lap swim of the last week, which was also my third lap swim since 2015. Oddly enough it felt … good? Is that the word I want there? Was that because the water was hot-in-July? Every time The Yankee finished a (much more impressive) set she’d break the surface and say, “Uuuugh,” in a non-ironic way. Swimmers like the pool to be colder. Helps with the speed. Goosebumps are hydrodynamic it turns out.

That’s not the case, at all, actually.

Anyway, I feel like I’m close to a technique breakthrough, or at least a conscious-brain understanding of something. It will have nothing to do with kicking, of course, but there’s a progression to be made. And I wasn’t even especially sore or tired. Because I only swam 832 yards. Let’s see what happens this weekend when I add on a few more laps. And, also, if I can raise my arms above my head tomorrow. Let’s see what happens there, first.

OK, this is the penultimate performance I’ll share from the Indigo Girls concert we saw last month, which also happened to be simultaneously both yesterday and 18 months ago.

This is a song from the 2004 album “All That We Let In,” and, while it isn’t a song for everyone, and it is a bit of a divergence from the band’s brand, it puts Amy Ray’s power squarely on display. And here’s the thing I learned about lifetime activists playing near their metaphorical backyard in these trying times — and during Pride, no less — they didn’t make a big deal of much of anything in this concert, though they certainly had the receptive audience. I’m sure they know what works for them and their fans by now. And I’m certain that people who do real community work, as Ray and Saliers have since the 1980s, know something said into a microphone is minuscule compared to raising money and using elbow grease. But in these moments, where showing one’s support is a sort of social capital, this is understated. Four words, right there in Nashville, right before one of the more straightforward socially driven protest songs in their catalog, and that was all. That’s all she needed.

Speaking of Ray’s power. Tomorrow we’re closing this little feature with the best song of the night. It was a moment, and I can’t wait to watch it again.

Back to the Re-Listening project, and we have a lot of catching up to do from the long car ride. Let’s chip away, shall we? (I’m still a dozen discs behind.) Remember, I am listening to all of my old CDs, in the order in which I acquired them, and trying to think of something to write about them here, while I embed videos from YouTube.

Fiona Apple’s “When the Pawn…” was released in November 1999, the second studio album for the young phenom. She won a Grammy for a debut record in 1997, which came out when she was 20. The followup got two more Grammy nominations. Spin magazine called it the the 106th greatest of the last quarter century in 2010. For Slant Magazine it was listed as the 79th best album of the 1990s. No less than Rolling Stone ranked “When the Pawn…” at number 108 on its 2020 “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list. It finally went platinum that same year.

To me, her debut, “Tidal” is an incredible record. And more than a quarter of a century later it still feels fresh and raw, sure, but also accomplished and something which demands attention. “When the Pawn …,” however, easy to have on in the background without notice. I don’t write the Re-Listening project entries as reviews, of course, but usually try to associate them with some silly memory or odd bit of personal trivia. But I can’t think of a single thing that goes along with this record. I can’t even recall hearing it in the car this time around, though I know I was in Ohio at the time, and that was just two weeks ago. (To be fair, I was very tired, and probably distracted.)

The next thing on the playlist was another sophomore release, Filter’s “Title of Record.” They got good alt radio airplay, and even MTV spun their video, and so they moved more than 800,000 copies between August 1999 and early 2001. Sometime after, they went platinum.

Three singles, but I only bought it for one, a good belt-out track. I was apparently not alone in that. This song climbed into the top-20 on nine different international charts. Domestically, “Take A Picture” reached number 12 on the US Billboard Hot 100, topped the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart and peaked at number four on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and landed at third on the Modern Rock Tracks chart at number three. It also settled at number seven on the Adult Top 40, and number 15 on the Mainstream Top 40 at number 15. The year 2000 was a good year for Filter, one hopes.

I was in a grocery store parking lot, a Meijer, in Middletown, Ohio when that sixth track came on. (Their next show, in August, is at a festival in Ohio.) It’s always been a car track to me, and so this was appropriate, even if I was riding at a parking lot speed as opposed to the usual interstate speed.

Funny how I think of almost every car song as being heard on only really fast roads. High(er) speeds just go with music, and most of the commutes of my life.

Let’s do one more CD, just to get it out of the way. After Filter there was Third Eye Blind’s “Blue.” Didn’t care for it when it came out — if I know how much airplay they were going to get I would have not purchased it — and I don’t care for it now.

That was quick. But not interstate quick.

Apr 23

The one where he complains about spring for a change

The apple tree is abloom. You would be forgiven for thinking that we are in spring. But, alas, I know better. I know better because, now in my seventh April here, I know better. And, also, I can read the forecast. It might break 45 degrees on Saturday.

Spring will not begin here until next weekend, the running of the Little 500 bike races mark the official recognition of the seasons changing here. Our first year it happened during the actual race — a soft, subtle, two hour transition that you could actually feel if you were sitting there attentively, desperate.

Even as I note that spring does not begin until the third week of April, I should note that this has been a mild winter. But! There’s still a week-and-a-half to go …

I had a nice, brisk ride this evening. My lovely bride was sitting in the backyard, enjoying the weather and reading, I was sweating, going up a virtual hill on Zwift. But I had, on this stage, three of my favorite visuals on the game. The windmill, the mountain which creates its own weather system and an empty road.

At times, this route was fast, at times it was slow. So like every other ride, really. But I got in 33 miles, and that’s not bad for a Thursday, even if, just at the end, right about at 90 minutes, I started getting bored. I think it has something to do with being indoors on a nice weather day.

I am reading John Dower’s Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II. I am 11 percent in, the stage is set, the context is in place, and the truly memorable anecdotes are now appearing.

That repeal was just three weeks before the American occupation ended. Despite some advocates, daylight saving time has never been restored in that nation. If the author puts a half-paragraph into something like that, you’re going to get a lot in the coming pages. And there are a lot of pages, a lot to cover, socially, politically, economically, culturally. But, at least, we know how they felt about springing the clocks forward.

Apr 23

New old books, new old music, and much more

Today was the first of four, no, perhaps, five late days in a row. It’ll be a long week. But it won’t feel like it, until it does, which will probably be … Wednesday.

I walked outside twice today. Once, in the middle of the day for a reason I’ve already forgotten. And then, in the evening at about 7:45. (As I said, long week.) This was the first day of the year I’ve been surprised by how warm it was when I took that step across the threshold. And then I wondered why I couldn’t conduct today’s meetings, and emails and all of the rest, outdoors, under a tree.

Tomorrow it will be a mind-boggling sunny and 82 degrees. Wednesday, rainy and 72. Then the 50s and 60s into next week.

Spring officially begins in 16 days.

Time to return to the most popular feature on the site, the weekly check with the kitties.

Phoebe has re-discovered the guest room, and a great place to hide from me before I head out in the morning.

What doesn’t make so much sense is how habitual she is. This is the time of morning when she should be sunning herself in a window — she will wait in our bedroom until we open the heavy curtains, because she knows where the sun is — but this room, the guest room, faces the west.

Poseidon was cold this weekend. And shy.

He also was able to wriggle his way into forcing me out of that chair, which was an impressive feat for a 10-pound cat.

I finished the Willie Morris memoir this weekend. He took a plane from New York back to Texas, to speak at his alma mater, and then drove over to his home in Mississippi. His little boy in tow, seeing the old places with his mother and grandmother, and then, the next morning, he caught a plane back to New York. An altogether unsatisfying ending, but that’s a memoir at 31, for you.

Still, some 36 pages before the end, this is the part that has stuck with me.

So I started, yesterday, a journal by the poet May Sarton. A local author I know quoted her last summer on the anniversary of her death. “Keep busy with survival. Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember nothing stays the same for long, not even pain. Sit it out. Let it all pass. Let it go.” I did a little research and bought four of her books, her journals, just on the basis of that quote. I’m now on the second of those four books, a year of dear diary of a woman trying to figure out life, herself, her poetry and her gardening. But around all of that she will make you sit up and re-read a passage now and again, like this one.

I figure I should read a month at a time, and in two weeks I’ll need another book.

Another book to go with Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, which I also started this weekend. This is a 2000 Pulitzer Prize winner, and I am reading it on my Kindle, where I have a collection of dozens of books waiting for me.

I need to read more books, and so I will.

Believe it or not, we are still playing catch up on the Re-Listening project. I am playing all of my CDs, in order, in the car, and I am woefully behind in writing about them here. These aren’t reviews, just for fun and, sometimes, memories. And, at this point in 1997, we are entering a jazz phase.

And there’s some really good jazz in here. Up first, is a 1993 record from Jay Thomas, a multi-instrumentalist, with, now, 50 years of music on the books. Even back then, he’d been at it for a long time. You can hear him playing trumpet or flugelhorn or alto, tenor, or soprano, or flutes on more than 100 records. He’s fronted almost two dozen of his own. And you may not know his work, if you, like me, aren’t deep into jazz, but you’ve heard it. He shows up in commercials and movie scores quite a bit, too.

That’s the title track Blues for McVoughty. I wish I could say I had a good ear for jazz as a young guy, but I picked this up by chance off the giveaway table.

Somehow, sadly, most of this record hasn’t been uploaded to YouTube, but if you need an entry point to jazz, or easy atmosphere, or need to know what all the cool jazz aficionados were listening to in the 1990s, this is a fine place to start.

I am sure I picked this up to add something more sophisticated and mature to my collection. Can’t imagine why, though. And we’ll have two more jazz records back-to-back in our next installment(s) of the Re-Listening project.

For now, enjoy some of this nice weather, before it grows stormy again mid-week.

Mar 23

Cats, a book, a bike ride, and music

I have been twice informed that we are way overdue for a check in on the kitties. This is, of course, the most popular weekly feature on the site, woefully neglected these last few weeks, and how dare I? “Oh. big cats, oooooh. Not the point, friend.”

Twice I have been thusly informed.

Mainly by Phoebe, sitting on the stairs, as if to say “What gives?”

And also by Poseidon, who can’t even cast his gaze upon me in disbelief.

The cats are doing great, even if they have been thusly neglected. Oh, so tragically neglected, just ask them.

I am sadly nearing the end of North Toward Home. I want to continue, but I want it to continue, you see. It’s an odd sensation, even as I have a small stack of other Willie Morris books in the To Read collection. I don’t pretend to understand the phenomenon, not wanting to finish things I enjoy. Is this a vein of anti-completism? An unwillingness to part beloved things? There are TV shows I’ve never finished for the same reason. If I don’t watch the finale or read the last chapters, it is all still out there and we never have to part.

Here he’s talking about his friendship, and his readings, of Albert Murray and the great Ralph Ellison.

I haven’t read this memoir before, but it isn’t my first time around with Willie Morris. I know the broadest strokes of his life and have a comfortable understanding of the style he’s using in this book. In the last 40 pages of so, which I read tonight, he’s written about the changes coming to the upstate community in New York where he’s bought a farm to escape the harsh realities of the city. He wanted to give his son and family a life, while he took the train 70 miles into town. He detailed seeing accidents on the train, the shifting attitudes of people as they got closer to the city, or closer to their homes. He wrote about how he learned about the sniper shooting at his alma mater, the University of Texas, while on the train. He wrote painfully, rawly, about how aghast he was, while his fellow passengers noted the news, and moved on. Suburbia is creeping in on that farm, which is too close to the big city, and too far away from the idyllic small town world he grew up in. He wrote about that too, watching the developers drive out, point this way, look at maps, buy that plot, cut those trees.

“It was impossible,” he wrote, “not to become deeply attached to this old country of the Indians and the Dutch and the Yankees, to the quiet hills and farms of western Connecticut, to the great sweep and flow of the Hudson Valley.”

He quotes the passage from Sleepy Hollow, about “A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere.” Morris tells us that reading Washington Irving to his son on a windy November night, writing that he was glad, for the sake of the child, that a real writer had lived in the neighborhood years before.

By then, before then, it had grown obvious where he was going, but it was breathtaking all the same.

The thunderclap of rightness, which he says came upon “not apocalyptically but slow as can be, slow as good sourmash gets its mellowing or as a young man matures and finds balance” is, somehow, why I don’t want to finish the last pages of the book.

I had a fast little ride this morning, getting in a quick 19 miles before work. I set PRs on four Strava segments, including on two climbs.

It felt like I could have done a lot more, but for time.

The 2023 Zwift route tracker: 87 routes down, 42 to go.

Finally, we continue to catch up on the Re-Listening project. Each CD, in the order in which I acquired them. It’s a thing to do in the car, and to write about here. Mostly it’s music and memories and a bit of whimsy, which is what music should be about.

The memory I have with this CD is that I picked it up off a giveaway table because the cover art was great. Otherwise, I have discovered, over and over, try as I might, that Michael Hedges just isn’t for me.

But if you like technically proficient guitar work, new age lyrics and a classically trained flute, the posthumously released “Torched” might be for you.

Mar 23

Turn around, don’t mow down (pedestrians)

Still under the weather, today’s good news is that it feels like any cough could be the big, final cough that signals the end of a cold, and my return to health, which means in June, I’ll finally shake the rattly thing.

It rained a lot today. Here, the soil sits over limestone, which does not play well with water. That means, that if more than three or four people on campus spit at one time in Spanker’s Branch* outside our building, it’s going to flood. And today, it rained a lot.

That flooded the creek, overwhelmed the nearby drainage, which happens a few times a year, and gets into the meadow and the bordering road. I have a view of this from my office. One of these people narrowly avoided being brought up on charges.

I’m slow walking Willie Morris’ North Toward Home, because I never like it when great books end. I am in the third act of this memoir now. He’s moved to New York, to become, at 31, the youngest editor ofHarper’s Magazine. It’s 1967 here, and he’s taking the temperature of the middle of the country.

The more things change … the more we find that things aren’t that much different at all, half a century later.

We just don’t enjoy 1960s branding. (Thank goodness.)

I wonder how much longer I can drag out this book. I know where it’s going, I just want to enjoy the process of the writing and Morris’ storytelling for … quite a lot longer, actually.

*Spanker’s Branch was an early name the little body of water on campus had. Then they named it after a former college president. That deceased man’s views on eugenics have lately led to the things named in his honor being renamed. These days, it is officially known as Campus River. Spanker’s Branch it is, then.