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This Island Earth.

Source: littleisland.org

A coworker and I were talking about travel and I said I really love islands, especially small islands because I feel it’s possible to explore every part of them and not miss anything.

“Are you a completist?” she asked.

I’d never heard that term and it sounded vaguely insulting but I just said, “Yeah, I guess I am.” And I liked the term. It sounded better than incompletist which is probably more accurate, but that’s another story.

That was a few years ago but I was reminded of it by New York City’s new Little Island Park, an artificial island set on top of a bunch of funnel-shaped pilings that look like something out of a futurist utopia. If it were in a movie I’d think it was a special effect but, no, it’s really real—smaller than Gulliver’s Laputa, but nicer, and easier to reach.

Source: My Modern Met

I keep looking at those pillars, though, and thinking how fragile they look. My inner cynic says that every utopia has its dys, an ugly underside that props it up, but it’s really more complicated than that. Little Island Park is a beautiful, if unintentional, metaphor for our world: a great place to be but carefully balanced and dependent on collective effort. Our world is an island unto itself but also connected to and floating in a very dark, very cold sea.

Source: My Modern Met

In spite of that somewhat morbid turn I’d really love to go there. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to New York but if I ever get back Little Island Park will be high on my list of places I’d want to go, even if it means missing something else.

Source: My Modern Met

Let It Commence.

Commencement Address, Catalpa University, May 2021

Class of 2021, congratulations. You’ve made it through significant challenges and unforeseeable challenges which no other graduating class in history has ever had to face. Your struggles and accomplishments are utterly unique. Just like every other graduating class in history. What you’ve been through is the sort of thing that would make great material for a college application essay if you weren’t already graduating from college.

Congratulations on making it here.  Most of you, having made it here as freshmen, were statistically unlikely to graduate. Or statistically likely. Or maybe it could have gone either way. I really don’t know. I haven’t looked at the numbers. Anyway congratulations on being a statistic, but in a good way, and not like somebody who’s been struck by lightning three times which, I think, is pretty statistically unlikely, but also makes you statistically very likely to be the sort of person people move away from at parties.

As I look over and slightly to the left of your faces I, having once been where you are now know exactly what you’re thinking. How long am I going to talk before you can get your diploma and get out of here? Someday, maybe very soon, you’ll be wishing you could have dragged this out for a lot longer. But bear with me. Be patient. I promise to only speak as long as I’m contractually obligated to do so, and sometimes putting in the absolute least amount of effort can lead to great success. College taught me that. Specifically when I I aced a test on statistics.

I would kill time up here by reading the phone book but they don’t have those anymore, and it’s a shame. Tough guys used to demonstrate their strength by tearing phone books in half. Believe me, you don’t have to be that tough to tear a laptop in half. You just have to be fast enough to run away from the guy it belonged to.

You know what you never hear about? Someone being bitten by a shark while mountain climbing. You know what you also never hear about? Someone being mauled by bear while they were at the beach. That’s something you can think about if you can’t think of anything else.

Because you’re here you’ve passed many tests. Those of you who are finally here after five or six years of trying also failed many tests. Once you leave here you’ll face many more tests. With luck, determination, and hard work you’ll pass most of those tests. However in spite of luck, determination, and hard work you’ll also fail many tests. Don’t worry about it. You won’t be graded on most of them.

It’s a shame phone books are no longer around. Once some friends and I called for a pizza. We didn’t know the number for the place so we looked it up in the phone book. There were two listed. We called the first one and ordered a pizza and then we had to go pick it up so we wrote down the address. But we wrote down the wrong address and when we got there they didn’t have any record of our order. We ended up getting two pizzas.

You’ve had to answer many questions as part of your education, but as you’ve already learned, life is full of questions, many of which don’t have clear answers. What will your career ultimately be? What challenges will you face going forward? Why do people make videos of themselves watching videos? Does anyone really know where Suriname is? Why are there no single-A batteries?

These are the kinds of questions you can use to fill up space if you’re trying to fulfill an obligation to take up a certain amount of time, but I don’t recommend using any of them to pad out a resume, but if you’re ever in a position to do so I hope you’ll stick some of them into a job application. Hire anyone who says they don’t understand the question. Hire anyone who has a funny answer. Hire people with eyepatches because you know they’ve got a story to tell.

 Thank you for your time and patience, and and for falling asleep and letting your heads droop forward so I could see the cool decorations on your mortarboards. I’d like to stay longer but I’m pretty sure I see a guy who wants to talk to me about his laptop.

Other People.

While things are gradually returning to normal, or at least a new normal, there’s still no clear word on when I’ll return to my old office. The place where I work is still under semi-lockdown which makes sense: it’s near a hospital and the higher-ups prefer to err on the side of caution.  The other day my wife, who’s arranged to work from home permanently, and I were discussing what we’d do when I do finally go back.

“Maybe we can just skip paying for a parking pass,” she said. “I wouldn’t mind driving you to the bus stop. And then on days when I’m not working you can get a day pass.”

That she offered to drive me to the bus stop surprised me at first but then I started thinking about it. We both get up at the same time every morning because of the canine alarm so it’s not as though she’d get any extra sleep if I drove to work, and, as short as it may be, the drive to the bus stop would be a chance to spend a little more time together before starting the work day.

And I thought about all the benefits of riding the bus. I get to sit back and relax, I don’t have to worry about finding a parking spot, I get some exercise walking to and from the bus stop. In a small way me riding the bus benefits other people too.

Back in the pre-pandemic times whenever I’d drive to work I’d pass by people standing at bus stops. Some of them I even recognized. I’d frequently see a guy I knew from the bus. We never talked but I remembered him because he’d sometimes ask the driver to pull up about fifty feet so he could get off at the entrance to his apartment building. Why there was a stop fifty feet from the entrance to an apartment building and not, you know, right in front of it, is a mystery to me, but the bus drivers were always willing to go the extra distance.

When I’d see him, or others, I’d always think about pulling over and offering to give them a ride. There are a lot of reasons I never did. For one thing if there was heavy traffic there was no way I could safely pull over—I’m not driving a bus—and anyway by the time I recognized anyone or even saw someone at a bus stop I was already going by. For another thing I don’t know if anyone waiting for a bus would accept a ride from a complete stranger. I’ve had strangers offer to give me a ride. The only time I ever took one up on it was when I was chasing a bus I’d just missed and a guy pulled over and offered to drive me to the next stop so I could catch it. I’ve forgotten his name now but I’ll always be grateful to him for that.

To get back to my point, though, the reason public transportation exists is because people use it. Nashville’s public transportation isn’t great but as long as people use it we can hopefully prevent it from getting any worse. Maybe we can, collectively, make it better—although that would be more likely if more people rode the bus. I’m just one rider so, as I said, my contribution will be small, but at least I’ll be contributing to the continuing bus service, and that will benefit other people.

This doesn’t have anything to do with Memorial Day so here’s something that does.

In Position.

Several years ago I went to local yoga classes. It was fun and good exercise, mostly—I liked a lot of the poses but really hit my limit with the Sarvangasana, and I just couldn’t manage to go all the way into the next pose, Halasana. I told the instructor, who was younger, that at my age I didn’t think it was a good idea to put my ass over my head, but the truth is it’s something I always had trouble with, even as far back as seventh grade when I got a low grade in gym class because I couldn’t do a forward roll. Coach Withers said, “Come on, I’ll help you through it,” and he got me to tuck my head down as far as it could go and then he grabbed me and flipped me over. I immediately got up and said, nope, never doing that again. I still got a passing grade because, let’s face it, no one flunks gym, not even that one kid who refused to take a shower, but that’s another story.

I’m pretty sure I got a passing grade in the yoga classes too, even though we weren’t being graded, and we had two different instructors who alternated Saturdays. One was kind and supportive and tried to gear her choice of poses for the beginners in the class. The other was kind and sort of supportive and also working on a high level yoga instructor certification and would get all of us to try out more rigorous poses. She’s the one who got me to do the Sarvangasana for the first time, which involves lying on your shoulders and stretching your legs upward, and then suggested I go for the Halasana, which is the next position and involves lowering your legs toward your head, and said, “Come on, I’ll help you through it,” and that’s when I said, nope, not falling for that one again and headed for the showers.

The “Namaste” pictured above was carved into the railing at the center of this bridge which is a nice spot for looking at the lake.

Seeing “Namaste” carved into the center of the railing of the bridge at Radnor Lake reminded me how much I enjoyed those yoga classes, which, regardless of the instructor, always began and ended with the Hindu greeting. Hiking is great exercise and I very rarely have to worry about overstretching or getting into an uncomfortable position on the trail, but I need to get back to the challenges of yoga, even with the possibility that I might fail.

Rut-tine.

Source: fromoldbooks.org

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about routines, or at least trying to because my brain has pretty much turned to cabbage with all the days running together. It’s not just this year; it seems like it’s every year, around this same time, that the days start to flow one into another without much distinction. Maybe it’s still a holdover from childhood when the first few days of summer were a kind of null space where I had to create new routines to fill where school used to take up the gaps. Or maybe it’s the heat. The days melt together like the box of crayons I left in the back of the car the last day of second grade.

I’ve noticed that a lot of successful people have routines. aybe having a routine is one of the habits of successful people. Maybe it’s just the routine and all the other habits they have just inhabit it, although I guess technically a habit and a routine are pretty much the same thing. The only difference is you can inhabit a home but you don’t inroutine it no matter how regularly you go in and out, but that’s another story.

A specific example I know is Oliver Sacks, who used to have all his outfits for the week put together and hanging in his closet, and also all his meals mostly prepped and ready and stored in containers so he didn’t have to think about what he’d wear or what he’d eat and could spend his time thinking about the nature of consciousness or how cool it was to be played by Robin Williams in that movie that was sort of but not really about him.

Having an established routine can be mentally liberating, but ironically I think for a routine to be effective it has to be used consciously, and that’s where I’ve been failing. I have a routine: I get up in the morning, I take the dogs out, I help my wife feed them, I take a shower, I have coffee and spend ten minutes thinking about what to have for breakfast, then I go to work. It’s all pretty mundane which might be why most days I can’t tell if it’s Mundane or Thursdane.

There’s a fine line between a routine and a rut. One’s a path already established that you stick to because it’s easy; the other is a path you make yourself because you dig it. How I got this far in life without realizing that is a mystery but beating myself up for things I could have, maybe should have, done sooner is one habit I hope to break and hopefully replace with better ones. Maybe I can start by getting that box of crayons out of the back seat of the car.

The Kids Are All Right.

So a guy hijacked a school bus full of kindergarteners and that could be the beginning of a really dark story but instead it turned out to be the beginning of a hilarious story. The kids kept asking the hijacker questions, and although the news reports don’t say so I’m pretty sure at least one of them asked, “Why aren’t you taking your own car?” and he got so annoyed he finally got off the bus, although I’m sure it was, “Why is the sky blue?” that pushed him over the edge. No adult, even those of us who know why the sky is blue, has ever been able to answer that question to a child’s satisfaction, but that’s another story. The bus driver hails the kids as the real heroes and while I think he’s not giving himself enough credit—he stayed calm which certainly helped—he’s also right. The kids really saved the day here just by being typical kids who are curious about the world and I hope they never lose that curiosity.

That’s really all that can be said about that story but it did get me thinking about how many people are annoyed when they’re on a plane and some other passenger has a crying baby. Maybe it would get to me more if I flew more regularly but when I’ve been on a plane and there’s a crying baby I just feel bad for the parent or guardian who’s doing everything they can to calm the kid down and who will inevitably have to listen to a lot more crying even after they’ve left the plane, and I feel bad for the baby. That moment on every flight when my ears pop is bad enough for me, and I know it’s coming. If I were less than a year old and had my ears suddenly feel like they were stuffed full of cotton and then clear I’d be crying too.

It also made me think about the summer I worked as a camp counselor. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t a hijacker but someone who voluntarily worked with children but the kids’ questions never annoyed me, not even, “When’s lunch?” because usually the time they started asking that my own blood sugar was getting low and while that generally makes me testy I understood how they felt. And we had enough activities, from water slides to modeling clay, that I could distract them if they asked any questions I couldn’t answer.

Possibly the only time the questions got awkward was one morning before the camp activities started. I often got there before the kids and would bring a book to pass the time, and one young girl pointed at my copy of The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath and asked, “What’s that about?” I would have felt guilty lying about it so I carefully explained that it was about a young woman who wants to be a writer and attempts suicide, and that it was somewhat autobiographical and that the woman who wrote it eventually dd commit suicide. I braced myself for a lot of uncomfortable questions, but the young girl just said, “That sounds interesting. I may read that someday.”

To avoid any further awkward moments I left The Bell Jar at home after that and just brought a small volume of tales by Edgar Allan Poe.

A Matter Of Time.

Source: Fanpop

A couple of weeks ago when I met friend and fellow blogger Ann Koplow one of the things we talked about was the art of blogging, a subject I meant to bring up in my first post about our meeting, but I got distracted, which often happens to me, especially when I get into an engaging conversation, as Ann and I did, although I can also get distracted when I’m by myself, and I was going to share an example of that but now I’ve forgotten what it was because one of the dogs started barking in the other room and I had to go see what was going on and while I was doing that I thought I’d get some water and the next thing I knew I was outside in the driveway surrounded by parts from our car’s engine, but that’s another story.

Anyway Ann asked me an interesting question: “How long does it take you to write a blog post?” And I was so surprised that I said, “About a day,” which seemed like an honest answer at the time and which may be correct, but I’ve never really thought about it and feel guilty about not giving the question more thought before I answered, or at least not saying, “I don’t know. I’ve never thought about it.” I could have said that everything I write has taken me my whole life, and it’s true that every idea is the summation of a lifetime of experience, but it’s just as true that all writing is selective—everything’s edited even before the actual editing—and there are things I could have written earlier in my life if I’d just gotten the idea. Some posts take hours to write and even though I’m an obsessive reviser don’t have a lot of changes. Some take months or years and end up being something very different from my original idea. Before I started actually writing this I wanted to fit in a joke about “How long is a piece of string?” but that got cut.

Ann writes a blog post every day which is impressive but I could also understand what she meant when she said it was a meditative process for her. I write almost every day and try to write every day, even if it’s just a few minutes of jotting thoughts down in one of my journals, because I feel better when I do.

Something else I think most writers can relate to is I’m always thinking about writing even when I’m not engaged in the act. Probably every writer has had the experience of suddenly coming to in their backyard surrounded by car parts and thinking, “There’s a story in this.”

There’s no single answer to Ann’s question and that’s what makes it so important and useful for consideration, so I thought I’d throw it out there. How long does it take you to write a blog post?

Source: Fanpop

As You Sow So Shall You Reap.

Source: Twitter user Lesego Semenya (@LesDaChef)

In the beginning there was wild mustard and it was good. It was pretty tasty and the seeds were good for spicing up food, especially sausage which had just been invented. It was nutritious and everyone was fine with this plant as it was.

Then it was cultivated and the cultivation led to collard greens. And this was okay too. Collard greens were also nutritious and while some didn’t like them most people were just fine with them.

Then more cultivation led to cabbage. Some people didn’t like cabbage but most did. Cabbage was useful. You could boil it or wrap other foods up in the leaves. Cabbage rolls and coffee got a lot of people going in the morning. Or the afternoon. Or whenever. It was good for making cole slaw. It was also good for serving with corned beef, which was called that even though it had no corn in it. Corn hadn’t been invented yet.

Then came brussels sprouts. Brussels sprouts were basically tiny cabbages that grew on a stem. No one could explain why this was necessary, but the prevailing belief was that it was because Belgium was annoyed with the Netherlands for also being called Holland and for having people known as the Dutch, which is too many names for such a small country. Brussels sprouts were divisive. People either really hated them or were moderately okay with them. They were pretty good roasted and were deemed acceptable when drenched with cheddar cheese, which had just been invented.

Somewhere in here kohlrabi came along. No one was sure what to do with kohlrabi or how to eat it or if it should be cooked or served raw. Finally everyone just decided that the best thing was to give it a weird name and move on.

Then came broccoli. People were okay with broccoli. It was like eating tiny trees, and everyone got a kick out of that. It didn’t have a lot of flavor in spite of being a descendant of wild mustard but people could at least claim they were having something healthy at office parties by eating broccoli smothered in ranch dressing, which had just been invented.

Shortly after broccoli cauliflower came along. No one was sure why and half the people wanted to call it a flower and half the people wanted to call it an amniotic membrane. No one was sure what to do with cauliflower but since it was related to broccoli it was put on the vegetable trays with ranch dressing. Cauliflower could also be boiled and mashed into a paste so that people would think they were getting a nice big serving of potatoes until they ate it and it just tasted like wet cardboard.

And then there was kale. No one was sure where kale came from but everyone agreed that it should go back. In spite of efforts to make it palatable by turning it into chips or mixing it with bacon, which some falsely tried to claim had been invented for just that purpose, no one liked kale. Cheese ran in terror from it.

Kale would have been the black sheep of the brassica family but not even sheep would eat it. Regardless of when it had been invented it was the dead end of a once proud lineage, a cultivar that only existed because some cabbage grower somewhere hadn’t stopped when they were a head.

 

Window View.

Source: Google Maps

When friend and fellow blogger Ann Koplow was here in Nashville one of the things she noticed about downtown was the lack of houses with windows. It was an interesting observation, and while I’d never thought about the lack of windows one thing that’s always bothered me about Nashville is that it’s a city that for a long time kept business and residential areas widely separated. At the heart of downtown there are a lot of things to see and do but not a lot of places to live. This even created problems for tourists sometimes. For several years I went to the Southern Festival of Books, always held downtown on a weekend in late September, and while there was a lot going on at the festival it could be hard to get a good lunch because most of the restaurants and other businesses in the area simply shut down for the weekend. Their regular customers were the business people who were only around on weekdays.

Just a few blocks from the Festival was the Nashville Arcade, and while it’s now a bustling part of the Arts District, for several years it was deserted, even on a Friday afternoon.

Source: Old Town Trolley Tours

In the mid ‘80’s and early ‘90’s there was an attempt to revitalize downtown with a summer weekend festival called Summer Lights that combined booths for businesses and free concerts, but all it ever really did was highlight how much of downtown was empty. Once the festival was over everybody left and there was no reason to come back.

As you head outward there are more houses, although there are some weird exceptions too. A stretch of 17th Avenue South, for instance, pictured above, looks like it’s a street of nice little houses, but look closely at the yard signs and you’ll see they’re all recording studios. Homes have been turned into businesses.

That’s slowly changing, especially downtown where some former businesses are being turned into homes—or at least apartments, but it was interesting to hear an outsider’s perspective, to see the city through the window of Ann’s eyes.

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