At Home

Home from school I opened the door to find our dog yodeling from the top of the basement stairs. I stood shaking my head at an animal who has no sense of decorum. Her yodel is a high-pitched yelp and whine that involves her tail wagging her body. She curls her snout into what we call the horrible smile, a kind of baring her teeth without snarling. Her tongue lolls out of her mouth and she bobs her head up and down, sneezing like she's having a seizure. It's some greeting.

My part is to yell in a high voice, "it's you!" which is what I imagine she's saying over and over. "Oh my god, it's you!" I tell her while clambering upstairs. I stop near the top of the stairs and take her head in my hands for a good shake. Sometimes she lets me come into the kitchen but times like today she really, really needs to show me exactly how much love she has for me and I stay on the steps accepting it.

For some reason I was in the mood to make our dinner of roasted vegetables and cheesy egg cups. Chopping vegetables is clear and simple, worthwhile and rewarding. Things my school work often isn't. Vegetables almost never argue back or tell me suck my dick, nigger! Eggs crack without slamming fists into the lockers saying, fuck this place! I washed and sliced cauliflower, rinsed and quartered brussel sprouts, peeled and diced carrots and potatoes, and threw in a bowl of leftover chopped leaks. When I doused all that with olive oil, salt, and pepper, it allowed me to massage it together, spread it on a cookie sheet, and slip it without fuss into a 425 oven for half an hour. Even the clean-up was easy work with results about which I could feel good.

While I cooked, my wife was online at the kitchen table finding jobs to which I might apply. She cast the net wide, doing work I dislike and feel inadequate in doing. I told her, "This is awfully nice of you." She told me it was nothing and that she was happy to do something to help. As if she doesn't help me pretty much every day of the twenty-seven years we've been in love. When she was engrossed in the computer screen, I took the opportunity to stare at her, wondering how someone grows lovelier each day and is devoted to me. Then I decided to accept it, my good fortune, and felt like the dog standing atop the stairs wagging her whole body. I thought, "it's you! Oh my god, it's you!"

Our younger daughter came into the kitchen dressed up in character. She twirled and smiled, glowed really with happiness and security, knowing no one in the kitchen would find her anything but wondrous. When my wife questioned part of her look she consulted the book from which the character springs and read a section to us, losing herself in giggling. She left me smiling as she said that she had better get ready for dance, something she does mostly as herself rather than in cosplay regalia.

The cat wanting to get in on the action jumped onto a chair near where the dog was lying and swatted at her without baring her claws. "Come on! Let's brawl!" The dog, alarmed by any interaction with the cat stood up wagging her tail and retreated to another room. The cat rolled on her back and stretched her paw through the back of the chair for the hell of it. It looked like it felt good that stretch and roll.

Who knows where the other cat was? She's mysterious until it's time for food.

Our older daughter joined us for dinner while her sister was at dance. It took three times of us asking but she came up with something to tell us about her day at school — a screw-up with the metal detector and entry system that had them all late for first period. I watched her eat three servings of roasted vegetables, two pieces of toast with jam, and four egg and cheese cups. When my wife mentioned how much she had eaten our girl replied, "I'm hungry" in a tiny-kid's voice straight out of her first three years. She then told how she and her friend swam 4,000 yards though swim season has been over for months. Like a shark, she's the perfect swimming and eating machine, and one long, lean muscle.

It's evening now. Our younger girl is still at dance. Our older girl is rubbing the dog's belly and criticizing her for being lackadaisical. My wife is on the couch still looking at jobs for me and for her. The cat is on the foot stool not attacking anything. Who knows where the other cat is? I have a record on the turntable and these words coming out of my fingertips like magic lightning. The house is warm and were it in my power I would never, ever leave this place, these animals, and most of all these people. What with all that and the writing, I can't imagine what else I might ever need.

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.