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.)

Mar 23

The final trick of winter is upon us

At last, I noticed the last of the series of winter’s tricks. I’m a few weeks late in the observation, but we’ve now worked through the full sequence. The sun returns. Then you have a random day or two of unseasonably warm weather. We’ve done that too. And now, these guys.

That’s about as low angle as I can get in coat and tie. But when these emerge, from this particular spot, in a bed between the parking lot, the street, and our campus building, that’s the signature trick of winter here. You want it to be spring; just look at these petals …

… but winter isn’t done with us yet. You don’t know when, or why, but winter will be back. This stems from a 2017 observation. Oh, I was fooled that first winter. The next year, I had that in mind. You want to believe the outliers break your way, but outliers don’t always break your way.

One’s a dot, two’s a line and three is the dawning of understanding a pattern. By the time 2019 rolled around I recognized this for what it was. The winter and first flowers of 2019 didn’t fool me. I was, by then, wise to Mother Nature’s tricks.

Thing is, this has been a remarkably mild winter. It got up to 75 today! It makes you want to believe. But winter isn’t done with us yet.

We are 51 days from spring.

Not many people liked this album, apparently, and most of them were wrong. That’s the takeaway from today’s installment of the Re-Listening project. We’re listening to Seven Mary Three’s third studio album, and that puts us in the early summer of 1997.

My roommate and a friend and I saw them in a small venue the year before. It was very much a post-grunge type show. (Moe opened for them. Their bassist did the stage-dive-crowd-surf thing. His giant clodhopping boots were a danger to society.) And the band was continuing down this route, even as “RockCrown” was flirting with the idea of becoming a concept album. It went to number 75 on the Billboard 200. Two singles hit the top 40 on the Modern Rock and Mainstream Rock charts. But critics kinda panned them and the one-hit wonder jokes started right away.

I liked the record.

This one was just uploaded three weeks ago. It’s a 2008 performance. And the original song isn’t acoustic, but maybe it should have been.

The problem, I think, is that most of the songs on this album aren’t designed for airplay. That doesn’t make a project bad, or even unsuccessful. Maybe everyone had misplaced that concept for a time. But if something sticks in your head for whatever reason, it sticks in your head.

There are a few lyrics from this song that still come to mind unassisted — sitting quietly, working in the yard, walking down a sidewalk, they just float to the surface — all these many years later.

These guys are from Virginia, and using a guitar like this is allowed on that side of the mountains, I guess.

This was always a car CD for me. Windows up or down. Better when moving around at a fashionable speed. And I don’t know if it evokes the desired response, but this song always makes smile.

So it is good to hear all of this in the car. And the next CD has started, to my delight, which means we’ll be Re-Listening here again soon. We’ll be going all the way back to something released in 1991, though I picked it up six years late. I enjoy it every time I listen to it, though. I may listen to it twice. But that’s a topic for another day.

Feb 23

‘Hey kind friend’

I’m in the middle of the three longest days of the week. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Thursday and Friday will be postscript and epilogue. But yesterday was 10 hours, today was 10 hours and tomorrow is 12 hours. Tonight, tonight I had a bowl of soup for dinner at 9:30.

It isn’t the hardest work in the world, or overly demanding, but the hours do accumulate.

Also, despite my best efforts, no amazing anecdote emerged from the day. No outlandish story, discovery or incredible sequence of events fell into my lap. No astounding coincidence, tale with a surely fabricated punchline or other incredible thing happened. It was a Tuesday, he said, grateful that he did all of the ironing on Monday.

Some things from Mastodon, which is where all the cool kids are now that Twitter is sliding int its news inedible pot of broth.

Saw this on campus today and picked one up.

It’s a getting-on-our-feet first issue, 10 pages. Heavy on design, light on copy, but rich in information.

You wonder about the practical feasibility of research like this. It seems like we should have this and a few verifying elements of research and then, ya know, implement it.

But the corporate bosses don’t read studies like that, I’d bet.

Every time you turn around archeology is discovering a new not-so-small discovery that resets our understanding of what we understand. It says a lot about what we don’t yet understand, and all of the things there are to learn.

If you click through the link, and wait out the preroll ad, there’s a fantastic NPR package here.

I can’t go all the way to Charlottesville for a photo exhibit, but if I was at the University of Virginia, I would definitely spend some time with those displays.

It is once again time to clean up the browser a bit. These are some tabs I’ve been holding on to for … quite a while, as it turns out. Too good to close and never be found again — and bookmarks being a different, quixotic enterprise altogether, I guess — I’m collecting them here.

This one is dated 2021. Is it possible I’ve had it opened for that long?

A self-made millionaire and CEO shares 5 ‘quick tests’ he always uses during job interviews to decide whether to hire:

Having these quick tests in your back pocket helps you make smarter business decisions. Why? Because the more we think about something, the more our minds will try to play tricks on us. We second-guess, we let doubt and fear creep in, we hesitate, we overthink. The purpose of the five tests below is to get past all of that and get back to the truth that you’ve known deep down all along.

This is especially true regarding two of the most important decisions that managers at my company, Compass, make: When to hire someone, and when to pass on them.

All of those will strike you as general, but not incorrect.

I stumbled upon this sometime early last year and thought, “Clearly anyone can do this.”

I just need some canvas. (And paint. And artistic talent.)

This was a much more recent, perhaps realistic, find. Buckwheat chocolate chunk cookies:

I am a chocolate chunk girl all the way because they melt into the cookie so much better. In contrast, chocolate chips hold their chip shape even after they are baked due to their waxy coating. I also love the size variation that the chunks give. This recipe also doesn’t make you choose between milk chocolate or dark chocolate because it has both! The inner kid in me loves milk chocolate way too much to leave it out, and I think the sweetness balances out the bitterness from the dark chocolate perfectly. Always use good-quality chocolate — especially when it is the star ingredient.

This recipe yields a slightly thin cookie with the crispiest golden edges and a gooey center — just how a chocolate chip cookie should be! It calls for mostly all-purpose flour, with a touch of buckwheat flour. This addition adds a delicate texture and a hint of nuttiness. Lastly, a finish of flaky salt on top adds the perfect amount of crunch. Flaked salt just makes everything better — what can I say?

Say “Pass the cookies, please!”

Because of an impulsive decision to close some shopping sites, a decision no doubt brought on by a distinct lack of cookies available as of this writing, I am now down to just 30 tabs on my phone’s browser.

Today we also return to the Re-Listening project, which is where I’m working my way through all of my CDs, in order of acquisition. Not reviews, but sometimes memories, and most often an excuse to revisit music — most of it great!

This installment brings us to the late spring or early summer of 1997. I bought my second Indigo Girls CD. The first was the double-live “1200 Curfews,” this was a studio record, and “Shaming of the Sun” solidified my love for the band. I saw them that May and, thanks to the web, I can see the setlist.

Thin Line
Power of Two
Don’t Give That Girl a Gun
It’s Alright
Shed Your Skin
Get Out the Map
Scooter Boys
Everything in Its Own Time
Shame on You
Southland in the Springtime
Cut It Out
Chiapas Bound
Here I Am
Closer to Fine

Nine of those songs are on this record. I wish I could remember if I’d already bought it by then. Probably so. (I also saw them the next year, in Atlanta. I’ve seen the Indigo Girls more than anyone else, I imagine, and almost always as a two-piece.) It became their highest-charting album, at least in the United States. It hit number 7 on the Billboard 200.

The most important memories from this record would come still a decade later. The first two tracks are songs The Yankee and I sang together on a long car ride.

This is important because I don’t really sing in front of people, or sing with people outside of church. But it had been a good week and the sun was bright and the road was long and we were actually using an actual map.

Sometime later she made me a mix CD and that song is on there, too. We’ve also seen the Indigo Girls together twice, in Atlanta and Indianapolis. But for Covid, we would have seen them in Nashville too, just to round out the map a bit more.

The still-intriguing thing about this record is that it still fits at any time. Also, there’s a lot of message music on here. Protests and the like have never especially appealed to me, or sent me away, but the messaging is obvious, even to me. When I first got this I was still mostly taken by Emily Saliers’ incredible writing, even as I was starting to pay more attention to Amy Ray’s background vocals.

It was the next record when I would really learn to dive into everything Ray did. They compliment one another so well, of course. At the time, what Saliers wrote, the way she played, it all felt so true and intently earnest. And sometimes brooding and mysterious.

I just wasn’t hearing Ray yet, which seems hilarious in retrospect. (I have her entire catalog now, and I’ll ramble on and on about it in future installments, I’m sure of it.)

Those harmonies!

That’s why you sing along with a pretty girl, even if you’re not in the habit of making such a small thing about yourself available.

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.