Sep 23

Going fast, and also seeing things slowly

I have two classes tomorrow, so a substantial part of yesterday, and almost all of today, have been spent in making notes for myself, trying to think up ways to keep students’ attention and give them some useful information. This is always a learning process, both in terms of pedagogical techniques but, sometimes, in the actual material. I learned a few things yesterday. Now I get to share that information with others. That’s a lot of fun. Hopefully they’ll think so, too.

Just kidding. I’m working on a lecture a few weeks from now. But I did learn some things. One of the things I learned is that some of the reading materials have disappeared, and so I had to scramble for suitable replacements. Another thing I learned involved something arcane and technical. The journalist in me would have benefited from the existence of this technology, but not understood why or how it worked. Sorta like me and, say, an important converter in a hydroelectricity plant, or the part between solar panels and light switches.

What was really fun, and quite gratifying, is when I get to a new section of notes and text for this lecture that will take place in a few weeks and realize, “Hey, I know how to do this. I’ve been doing this for a long time, as it turns out.”

Can’t buy the sort of confidence that comes with steady realization, I’ve always said, since at least the beginning of this sentence.

The one big break from all of that today was a bike ride this morning. Here we’d just been chatting, when I looked down and we were soft pedaling through the low 20s.

On this particular route we follow that road for some miles until it ends. Then we turn left onto a road that parallels the river. The road is mostly flat, but there is the slightest little gradient. And my lovely bride will crush a false flat. I could still see her when she got to the next turn, but I didn’t see her turn. Despite having a clear view down that next road, I didn’t see her there. She wouldn’t have continued on straight ahead, owing to the logistics of the ride, but no can see.

So I spent the next four miles putting in some of the ride’s best splits, just to catch back up to her, which I finally did. We talked again for a moment, which was mostly me just trying to get out “You’re fast!” Then I went past her. I held her off for four miles, after which she dropped me with a “Why’d you do that?” look.

Because being chased is every bit as fun as chasing. Moreso when your legs are beginning to feel pretty decent again. (That only took two months.)

Also, I set three Strava PRs on that ride. All of which is why there’s only one shot in the video. I was too busy, and then too tired, to get more shots.

The seventh installment of my efforts in tracking down the local historical markers did not come from today’s ride, but rather a weekend expedition. Doing this by bike is one good way to go a little slower, see more things and learn some roads I wouldn’t otherwise try. Counting today’s installment, I’ll have visited 15 of the 115 markers found in the Historical Marker Database. What will we learn a bit about today? I’m so glad you asked!

Downtown is an old town here. Quaint houses. Signs on the walls displaying the original or locally famous previous residents. Hitching posts out by the modern curb. Lots of cars, but the whole vibe. It’s a charming little place, and houses like this are part of why.

Built in 1724 by a second generation immigrant, Samuel Shivers had one of the first houses in this town, and it is still today a fine example of several different generations of architecture. Historians would point out that there’s four centuries of work here, included the remnants of Samuel’s father’s 1692 cabin. The house we see today, then, shows us work that spans four centuries. The door, the hinges and the rest of the hardware there are period original, but I don’t know which … again, several centuries of work are in here.

The mantel is original. Some of the window glass is original. It wasn’t long before the Shivers family needed more space, so Samuel bought a nearby tavern and had it moved onto his property. Samuel’s daughter and her husband took over the house in 1758. That man, Joseph Shinn, helped write the state constitution in 1776. Their son, Isiah Shinn, took over the house. He was a state lawmaker and militia general. Isiah presided over more additions in 1813, adding a dining room and two more bedrooms, and this was the look on Main Street until 1946. The woman that owned it then made a lot of changes and whoever produced this sign did not like it. But for the past few years a preservationist has owned The Red House and is restoring it to its original style.

Apparently, the first film produced by Samuel Goldwyn in his studio Goldwyn Pictures in 1917 was shot in this town, and all of the interior scenes take places in this house, or on sets modeled after it.

The whole movie is online.

The Red House, also, has this fancy plaque on the front wall.

I touched it. It’s some sort of vulcanized rubber. But the rest of the house, though, it’s something else. Some day I’m going to have to work my way into an invite.

What already seems like six or seven years ago, somehow, but was merely last Wednesday, I showed you the marker that stood by itself, with nothing to memorialize. It was a fire ring. There’s one other in town, and it is within just a few feet of The Red House.

And even though, last week, I shared a screen cap of the Google Street View car’s photo of that now-missing fire ring, it’s important to see it for yourself. So now here is a fire ring.

This all seems pretty obvious now. It sounds like this.

I’m just tapping the ring with the metal head of my bike pump but the sound really jumps. Imagine, years ago, hearing this in the middle of a quiet night, when someone full of adrenalin is striking this ring. “FIRE! COME QUICK!” I bet it was an effective system for it’s time. The Red House’s sign says it has survived, among other things, fires, so that ring must have been an effective call to the community.

Also, ‘Old Discipline’? What a great name. What a great name for anything.

If you’ve missed some of the early markers, look under the blog category We Learn Wednesdays. What will we learn next week? Something quite unique indeed. Come back and see!

Jul 23

“What really makes it new is the fact that we are here”

Tomorrow I’ll put four more big plastic bins in the basement because this weekend I prepared two fo them for storage. Also this weekend, and today, I emptied six more bins of books. Tonight I finished placing them on their shelves. First, all of the Gloms are now back in order in their bookcase. (One of the bins of Gloms got dropped when we were moving things into the house. It, of course, was the bin with the 120-year-old books. They seemed to do OK, the ancient books, but that was a stressful moment.)
The Gloms are going to pop back up in a photo capacity in the not-too-distant future.

After that, there also two other bookcases, filled with dozens of books I’ve yet to read. Last night I organized them into two stacks. On my grandfather’s bookcase, right next to my desk, are the books I’ll read first. There are about fifth books placed there, and perhaps about the same amount on the other bookshelf in the far corner.

Tomorrow I’ll set up the audio equipment. After that, it’s just reducing clutter, and then making plans for how I’ll actually use the space.

Anyway, most of the house settling is coming together. I’ve got two other bookcases to fill downstairs, and there are some odds and ends to figure out, but soon we’ll be on the way to trying to figure out where to hang things.

Which is good, because talking about how you’re unpacking for days on end might be the most boring thing on the web, am I right? So, starting tomorrow, back to the other riveting things I usually talk about here.

Here’s the important part. The most delicate things have been removed from balled up newspaper.

First one, then the other.

Phoebe and Poseidon are ridiculous, and they’re doing well. Quite settled, I’d say.

We had a nice little bike ride this weekend, which allows me to use the new bike banner once again. It was a lovely pedal through farmland and close to the lower basin of the Delaware River estuary.

We rode by crops ready to be pulled from the vine, cornstalks ready to soar and over a bit of the marshy river itself.

On this particular route, I think we only passed one church, watching over the fields and the people and the carefully planted trees.

It wasn’t a hard ride, but it was not without its challenges. It wasn’t especially fast, and at one point everything hurt. I am, I reminded myself, recovering from a move, Also, despite my lovely bride’s best efforts, I still got us off to a later-than-desired start, so the sun was ready to bake us in the last few miles. But the scenery was nice, and the company was wonderful.

I’m ready for the next ride, and maybe after a few more I’ll be ready for them to be a bit faster.

We took some time out for gymnastics. Tthe former All-American still has the Focus Face and the fingers and toes do what a gymnast’s fingers and toes do. I doubt she’s even aware of them, but it always amuses me.

She stuck the landing, several times.

Today, there were laps.

I swam some laps as well. I’m easing back into this, having now my second lap swim in just under eight silly years. In a few more pool sessions I’ll be up to a respectable warmup distance.

Also, I really need my shoulder to stop spasming. This is a Memorial Day weekend thing, followed by the stress-of-a-move thing. But, hey, I can still carry things. First, heavy boxes, then books by the armload and finally, when that got old, moving entire bins of heavy books. I’m sure that has in no way contributed to this running issue.

Yes, I am going to get one more week of videos out of the concert we saw last month at The Ryman. I recorded it, you get to hear it. “Shame on You” was a 1997 single from the “Shaming of the Sun” record. Love that album, love this song, love the banjo.

There’s a reference to the year 1694 in the song, fit in as rhetorical rebuttal. Not a lot seemed to happen in colonial America in 1694, but it doesn’t make the point any less valid, but the migration was underway. These sorts of things happen slowly, until you one day look around and everything is different, and new challenges and realities are emerging. I suspect that’s what was happening in the 1970s and 1980s and early 1990s when David Zeiger released his documentary, “Displaced In The New South” which has a theme that inspired the song.

The opening line of the documentary is the title of the post. I suppose it has always been that way, as well.

Mar 23


After the cab to the Barcelona airport, we hustled inside, hoping to beat the large crowd of obviously American high school students who were filing in. Happily, they were not on our flight, and not on our airline. By virtue of some frequent flier gimmick we got a VIP security experience. The ticket agent handed us little strips of paper that said “VIP Security.” Everyone went into this funnel for a security check, but when we showed our little passes the person standing there officially, courteously, urgently, waved us farther down the building. There was a different security checkpoint for us. It was expedited.

Which was great, because we’d arrived two-and-a-half hours early and now we could spend our time in the terminal, surrounded by other travelers, including a woman who couldn’t stop coughing. And some old people from Atlanta who, I gather, spent the bulk of their time in Spain complaining about Spain. And there was a long line for a sandwich snack, and a woman doing Spanish chamber of commerce type surveys, and a young woman who looked too young to be traveling alone. She was traveling alone. I am now old enough to see people and think “Isn’t this person too young to be going on an international flight by themselves?”

I’d expect that from other people, but, remember, I am daily surrounded by young people in a professional capacity. I can no longer discern these things, it seems. It isn’t a big deal, or something I would ordinarily do anyway, but I had the time, because I am a member of the VIP Security experience.

We flew from Barcelona to JFK. I watched four movies, including the Oscar winning Everything Everywhere All at Once. It’s silly. It’s gross. It’s poignant. Some of it is going to feel dated very quickly, so see it before, you know, the all at once happens.

I also watched Devotion, because Jonathan Majors is in it. It was a decent enough movie to watch on a plane.

Then there was Nomadland, which I’ve been meaning to watch, and, again, this was a good time and place for it. Frances McDormand is so, so great at doing all of the little things in a big way, and the few big things in the right way.

Then there was Paddington 2, a movie franchise which I enjoy much more than I probably should.

I had a scratchy throat in New York, and peppermints wouldn’t touch it. Started going downhill after that. At JFK, I stood in the incredibly inefficient passport control line for almost two hours. Global entry, go right through. If you have scanned your passport into this app (what could go wrong?) go right through. You might stand there long enough to think they’re trying to inconvenience people who aren’t paying the premium fees. That would be a quintessentially American thing to do, wouldn’t it?

Everything else worked well, though. We collected our luggage, deposited it with another desk. Stood in more long security lines. Got on a plane for Indianapolis, and so on.

On the one hand, we covered 4,454 miles — as the crow flies — today. On the other hand, it took 27 hours to get from the sandy beaches of the Mediterranean back to … Bloomington.

Unloaded the car, took a Covid test — I’m sick, but negative. Had a later takeout dinner, and started the unpacking process. I’ll spend the weekend coming down from jet lag and whatever sinus cold I’m getting.

Another wonderful vacation is in the books!

Mar 23

Should we continue trying to travel in March?

Or traveling at all?

Here is where we are. Spring Break is next week. We’re taking a few extra days for a conference and that meant a trip to the airport and that’s where the fun begins.

We flew, today, from Indianapolis to New York. We did that after giving up on a bike ride, which was the right idea, for a change. That allowed us more time, so we were well ahead of schedule and relaxed going to the very large building with the planes attached at odd angles.

Our flight from Indy to JFK was just fine. Arrived on time. The plane pulled into the same terminal we’d use for our connecting flight, an overnight trip to Spain. Here we are, waiting to board the plane to Barcelona.

We got on the plane, let’s assume it is that one, and everything was just fine.

And then someone kicked out the extension cord that connects the plane to the airport’s power. The plane goes dark! But we’re on the ground, so not a problem. Because there’s ground beneath us. I think about all of that ocean we have to fly over — power and gliders and altitude and ocean — but the crew did not seem concerned. The power is restored, either internally, or via that extension cord. Boarding took forever, and so we pushed back about an hour late.

We got out on the taxiway to learn we had to go back to the terminal for a maintenance issue.

And that ate up the entirety of our second-connection window.

But it allowed me to watch two movies, first, Minari.

Lee Isaac Chung wrote and directed the movie. He was just about to give up on Hollywood, taking a teaching job, when he decided to try one more script. Odd, but lovely, Willa Cather became his inspiration.

She drew upon memories of life in the Great Plains and wrote a series of intensely personal works that are among the most moving novels in American literature. She said, “Life began for me, when I ceased to admire and began to remember.”

I wondered if the voice was leading me to these words, so that I would begin to trust in my own. As an exercise, I devoted an afternoon to writing my memories of childhood. I remembered our family’s arrival at a single-wide trailer on an Ozark meadow and my mother’s shock at learning that this would be our new home. I recalled the smell of freshly plowed soil and the way the color of it pleased my father. I remembered the creek where I threw rocks at snakes while my grandmother planted a Korean vegetable that grew without effort.

With each memory, I saw my life anew, as though the clouds had shifted over a field I had seen every day. After writing 80 memories, I sketched a narrative arc with themes about family, failure and rebirth. That’s how I got the idea to write “Minari”; it began for me, when I ceased to admire and began to remember.

I also watched Clerks III, which, I assume, Kevin Smith wrote and directed because he wanted to cash in one more time. Truth be told, I knew this was in the works. I was skeptical. I didn’t realize it had already been produced and released. But here it was, on the plane, full of its own brand of contemporary nostalgia.

The first movie was 23 years ago, so there’s nothing contemporary about this nostalgia. But it bristles a bit that we’ve now become a nostalgia generation. But, befitting our role in this timeline, our self reverence is saved for reference to other media. Star Wars is all over the Clerks trilogy, so much so, there are two meta references right there in the trailer.

Give the third movie this: it is better than the second one, and has, perhaps, the best heart of the series.

Tomorrow, the rest of the journey. Or part of it. Or the beginning of a new side-journey.

Anything is possible.

Except for our booking travel in March, ever again, after these last two years.

Feb 23

1,000 breezy words

Is it just me or is everyone lately wiped out by Thursday? It wasn’t always this way. There must be some corner of Reddit where I can find the best and most reasonable theories.

I’m not searching for them on Reddit, or anywhere else, but someone is writing about it somewhere. Most of these ideas are nonsense, but someone is going to accidentally stumble on the cause. Fox Mulder will read about it, but by the time he gets back to his computer to follow up, “They” will have removed the thread entirely.

The 10th (in 2016) and 11th (in 2018) seasons of X-Files aside, that show will come back around for a relaunch in another decade or so. It won’t be nearly as believable or as charming or as well-received in the next go around. Given what goes on in the open, and what is imagined online, these days, the atmosphere will be all wrong. The original 1993-2001 run may as well have been from another age entirely. Maybe it was.

Someone could write scholarly works on this.

Oh, look.

Did the x-files prime us for the QAnon era?
Deceive, inveigle, obfuscate: Post-structuralism and the staggered retirement of Fox Mulder
The paranoid style for sale: Conspiracy entrepreneurs, marketplace bots, and surveillance capitalism
The truth is everywhere: Reconceptualizing far-right conspiracy theories in the Information Age
9/11 and its aftermaths: Threats of invasion

The papers continue, the quality might vary. Sometimes, I think, we’re just trying to shoehorn things in between reality and pop culture, but that’s for actual sociologists to worry over at the downtown hotel at their next conference, forgetting, there was always something fun about turning the lights off and watching Mulder and Scully wrestle with faith, science, monsters and conspiracy. The point is, things and times change. That how we watch things has changed probably plays into it too.

They never got into this Thursday thing, though, which leads me to conclude …

See how easy that is?

Talking with my mother this evening, she asked what I was reading right now. Threw me for a complete loop. Why I was in a loop threw me for a second loop. Now I am dizzy, loopy even.

I don’t know when I was asked that last, but it’s good, right? It makes sense for my mom to ask; she’s seldom seen me without a book or three since she taught me to read.

I’m going to start asking people what they’re reading. It’s a far more interesting question than what they do — though I have an effective strategy that can make for lively conversation, for the answerer — and more useful than asking someone how they’ve been. Maybe that’s just how I’ll start conversations now. By way of greeting, “What are you reading?”

The only problem is if the question catches someone off guard. Got me, tonight. I couldn’t even remember what was on my nightstand.

What I’m reading, and I hope to wrap this up soon, is an autobiography of Mr. Spock. It is titled The Autobiography of Mr. Spock. This was a gift from my mother-in-law, who always has a book or three ready for me. (A few years ago a friend of hers was ready to clean out a bunch of books from his personal library and she grabbed them by the armful for me, just in case. Many of them are now on my bookshelves.) If you asked me how I’ve lately been getting my books the answer is “I see a Kindle sale, or I see my mother-in-law and now look at these almost 200 books waiting to be read …”

But, first, Mr. Spock.

When I got this, this Christmas, I misread the title as a biography. That’s interesting, I thought, a biography of a beloved fictional character. This should fill in some holes. But, being an autobiography, it is written in the first person of a fictional character. Not a novel idea, by any means, but calling it an autobiography of a fictional character, that’s kinda different, for me at least.

And how about the authors that take that on? Writing such a beloved character as that? Bold strokes, Una McCormack and David A. Goodman. McCormack’s got 40 titles on Amazon, all sci-fi, most from very popular franchises, at least two autobiographies — the other is of the war criminal Kathryn Janeway. Goodman, similarly, has two dozen books on the site, all sci-fi, and has another autobiography, of Jean-Luc Picard, there.

Spock is writing this to Picard. Here are two brief portions, the first one centered around The Search fo Spock — so, 40-year-old spoiler, I guess.

And, in this passage, Spock is referencing events that took place during The Undiscovered Country — so, 30-year-old spoiler alert. (Thirty years? Geeze.)

McCormack and Goodman have this job of fleshing out what we see on screen, for a character metaphorically torn between two worlds, and making that seem reasonable. Instead of inventing too much new Vulcan culture, they continue the theme of the character trying to learn and reconcile both of his cultures. In his voice, and with more time than a sequence in the second-act of an episode, or without having to worry about cinematic beats, it works. The Valeris part comes up a few times.

Understated in the films, with the exception of one bit of exposition, is Spock’s ideological disagreement with Kirk, but the book gives it a few more passes.

It’s in the prime universe, if that matters. Post-Reunification, timeline-wise, meant to exist somewhere in or around the time of the Picard series.

I’ve yet to watch any of the Picard series. It’s on my list. I just can’t bring myself to start it. Sometimes, when I start a thing, I’m just that much closer to the conclusion. Varied reception of that series aside, it is always ongoing, until I start it.

There’s some pop-psychology on Reddit, or real scholarship, elsewhere, about that phenomenon, too.