Sunday Morning, Outside

Reading about how to be healthy, a consistent theme is to get outside. The mind is healthier out in the world, balance comes easier among trees than inside four walls, and we make better choices breathing fresh air. That's part of why I went for a run though I wasn't feeling like it. I put on the tights, shorts, socks, sandals, wool shirt, vest, hat, and gloves (it's a whole rigamarole, running in Syracuse's January) and went outside. Intending a short run I fell into a rhythm and went just over five. Being outside felt lovely, but there is more to being truly outside than just leaving the house for a run.

While running, I got thinking how much of my writing is about the inside of my head. I spend a lot of time and ink exploring the narrow confines of my thinking. Shouldn't I get outside my skull? I wondered.

My friend photographs the natural world without any sign of man's intrusion. The best thing about his work is that he withholds what so many of us cling to. There are no boathouses or docks on the river in his photographs, no church steeples rising through the bare trees, no runners through the forest. Instead there is the natural world captured as if we don't exist at all. I know Chris is behind the tripod but he's not the subject.

More often than not I'm the subject of my writing. Thoreau said — "I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well.” — but he was also one of the greatest observers of the outside world. He wrote of his experience, but no one so carefully saw, heard, smelled, touched, and tasted the world as did Thoreau. And he wrote those things down.

This morning's temperature hovered around freezing. The occasional light flurry of giant snowflakes fell and melted immediately. The sky was a special Syracuse grey that is both normal and oppressive. The streets were slick and puddles stretched from the curb to the middle of Meadowbrook Drive. There was no accumulated snow left and hasn't been for weeks. Something about the jet stream. My feet made slight slapping noises on the wet pavement and squished whenever I ran on the grass.

The brook moved fast but was not full. Used to be that it overflowed regularly but the city opened things up. There hasn't been a flood in a decade. Today it was all cliche, babbling and whispering. Out by the high school I ran close enough to watch and really listen. No ducks or muskrats today and not too much garbage. Just water that would be frozen were it not moving too fast to become still.

In the cemetery I passed two above-ground crypts and wondered why we resist returning to dust. It makes sense while we're living, but once we're dead? I shrugged both failing to understand the logic but knowing the feeling of wanting to remain no matter how grey the sky seems.

Down the hill back near the high school a bird circled without moving its wings. "Something on the thermals yanked his chain." It seemed like a hawk. A friend I teach with could tell me all about it and I almost wished he was there, but no, I was outside to be alone.

Three girls ran in the other direction back on Meadowbrook. Two were out front together while the third was well behind. They were across a lane of traffic, the brook, and another lane of traffic and my eyes are no longer so good that I could make out their expressions, but I pasted one on that girl at the back and it looked like me. Did she wish she was running by herself instead of chasing something she might not want? A car drove by and splashed a puddle on me.

On our street the house of a friend had a SOLD sign in the yard. She's moving out. I don't know when or where she's going. I have no idea who bought the house. Her table and chairs remained near the front stoop. Four bags of garbage waited at the road for pickup two days away.

The grey sky let go a few more snow flakes, a nod toward winter, a postcard, or a shaken globe. The hole in our driveway was filled with brown water and a few crystals. The garage door paint was peeling and cracked. I tapped in the code, waited for the door to open, and went inside where it was warm. I stood inside the dark basement, still breathing hard, wondering where it is I'm supposed to be going.

Temporal Bandwidth And Social Media

I like how Jaron Lanier isn't demanding everyone leave social media. Instead he wants a group of people to not be on social media in order to have perspective on the effects of Facebook, Twitter, and the like. Lanier convinced me to ditch social media in August of 2018 but I'm unwilling to leave Google, the ecosystem in which I put far too much of my work and trust. Lanier isn't hoping to convert everyone. His thinking is out there for us to take or leave. I like too how Ezra Klein takes some and leaves some. Thoughtful people having discussions too big for social media.

Can anyone tell me the last time something really big and important happened on social media? Don't tell me about the Arab Spring. That was chronicled and perhaps facilitated by social media, but it happened in the real world and has since fizzled. I want big ideas but can't find them on social media. They don't fit the model and I wonder if that isn't part of their design. Think of it this way: if you wanted to keep people penned like sheep, wouldn't you give them a communication tool that keeps their ideas small? I would.

Alan Jacobs, discussing temporal bandwidth shared these two quotes (which could have been written as tweets thus shredding my previous paragraph's idea):

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.
— L.P. Hartley
What force shall represent the future in the present?
— Hans Jonas

Social media does not account well for the past. Sure, Facebook occasionally surfaces what you posted years ago, but that's not the same as revisiting the past in order to better understand the world. Those resurfaced posts are most likely ways to remind us how great it is using Facebook and get us to share the post again. Jacobs' temporal bandwidth is a feel for the past that is much more than mere remembering. It is about understanding there have been other ways of doing things, other ways of being. It's like when I tell students about life before cell phones and answering machines. I don't do it in an "in my day I walked ten miles to school, uphill both ways" kind of nonsense. I want them to understand that the past was a foreign country and urge them to get a passport and visit to see how things were done there.

Social media does not account well for the future. Tweets and Facebook posts are gone as soon as they're posted. A viral post has the lifetime of a mayfly. Then we are onto the next trending topic. Only the continuously outrageous maintain presence and keep attracting present attention.

Social media is confined to the moment with no care for past or future. That's why the buffoon in the White House is so attracted to it. He has no care for the future, no understanding of the past, and lives only in the moment of his own ego. Social media is perfect for that. It is absolutely in the moment, though I imagine even Zen Buddhists giving me the finger for saying so.

All that said, yesterday I was introduced to the Twitter feed of Capt. Andrew Luck and reminded how creativity shines in any medium. Capt. Andrew Luck is both an NFL quarterback and a Ken Burns Civil War soldier tweeting of coming battles, the misfiring of his sidearm, and, of course, squirrel oil. A friend, his wife, and I were out to dinner last night broken down laughing as she read from his feed. Glorious!

Like Jaron Lanier I've no real interest in converting people beyond my interest in seeing Facebook and Twitter reduced in influence and revealed for their deeper effects on our world. Who would have thought social media would help elect such a terrible president? Well, maybe those people with proper temporal bandwidth could see it. I was too busy scrolling through feeds for news of the moment which all turned out to be couldn't as I scrolled through my feeds wondering what was happening in the moment which turned out to be tales told by idiots, full of sound and fury, signaling something I didn't have the bandwidth to fully understand.

Persistence & The Long Haul

I am thinking about persistence and the long haul. Because of the new year of course. Big plans, don't you know. Plans so big it will take a year to accomplish them. Which has me thinking I probably won't accomplish them at all.

It's not that I have zero faith in myself. No, I believe. I just don't believe I can persist. You're reading an essay I have to draft in one burst because I know that walking away even for ten minutes means I won't come back.

The record on the turntable just ended, but I'm worried if I stop to change it I'll lose the thread of this thing. Let's see what I can do.

Phew, I made it back.

Elizabeth Warren announced her candidacy but I would be thinking about persistence anyway. My persistence (or lack of) isn't in the face of the patriarchy (though I sympathize and try to help). It's about overcoming the habit of giving up when the going gets tough. Were I a cross country runner, coach wouldn't put me in the hurdles for fear of me stopping at the first one then drifting off to read a book.

Projects requiring my persistence include:

  • getting a new job
  • treating my increasingly demanding bouts with depression
  • writing a book I've been thinking and writing about for four years
  • buying a Tesla Model 3
  • continuing my happy marriage and family
  • growing a bigger audience for this blog

I like these projects. They seem good not just for me but for my family and others in the world. Yay. But...

  • I'm likely to get rejected for the job to which I recently applied
  • depression knows how to defeat my efforts to treat it
  • I can't finish a book in one sitting
  • I haven't saved the Tesla's down-payment let alone the monthly payments and insurance
  • the family has to care for me as much as I care for them
  • growing the blog is more challenging without social media

None of these hurdles are so high I can't clear them. It's that I lose the faith as hurdles appears in my path and think maybe I should sit on the couch, turn on a re-run, and eat Doritos. Yeah, that will do it. That's the right decision.

Or maybe I should work on this persistence thing. I kept writing this though I went and changed the record. I came back to this after a quick interruption from my daughter. There's hope for me yet.

I've stuck with my plans through all of two days so far this year. I've even gone out running each of the last six days and felt good doing it. Crazy.

Hurdles are coming but I can probably get over them. In stride. At speed. With room to spare. Even if I hit one, I'll probably be able to keep going and make the next one clean. And if I fall down, I'm told that the possibility exists that I might just get back up and persist in the race.

The gun has sounded and, look at that, I'm off and running.

Happy New Year

There are all sorts of parties and gatherings happening tonight. We're not at any of them. Instead, the four of us — my wife and daughters and I — are in the kitchen making appetizers and other silly foods. The dog eagerly awaits any drops. Our youngest girl is rolling sushi, something she taught herself while school has been out. The older girl is eating bacon-wrapped scallops, something she learned at a very young age. My wife and I are floating in and out of different food prep, dish washing, and occasional kisses and smiles at how lovely this all is.

In school I often have kids write about wants versus needs. This evening fits both of those requirements. I easily get lost in things I want and forget simpler pleasures. I'm not saying that I have to focus on family and love every second, but here at the end of 2018 I am content, happy, thrilled to be spending the evening as a family, just the four of us (and the dog and cats). I'm ending the year in love.

There have been times when I've really forgotten how important my family is. I'm not proud of that but I'm not too ashamed either. Forgetting allowed me to come back. I'm looking around this kitchen at one daughter who will soon go away to college, another daughter full-grown but naive and childlike in the ways I love, and my wife who is cancer-free and healthy, totally in love with her girls, and still somehow the same woman I fell in love with so long ago on the Oswego shore of Lake Ontario.

Mine is a good life. 2018 was a pretty good year. I remember tough times but they were far outweighed by good times, love, and warmth. 2019, for whatever reasons, already feels like a great year before it has begun. It probably has to do with the company I'm keeping on the eve of 2019's beginning.

Happy New Year to all of us. To mess with John Lennon's lyric, let's make it a good one without any fear.