Thursday, December 31, 2009

Projects for the new year

I don't like making resolutions, because they only end of being broken, but at the beginning of the new year I do make a list of projects to work on. Here is (most of) this year's list:

  1. Train for a triathalon.
  2. Asana: work on abs, forward bends, back bends
  3. Pranayam: I'd like to decrease my resting breath rate to one per minute. I don't know if that's physically possible.
  4. Drastically cut back on my television watching
  5. Eat local/organic meat only
  6. Writing project? Not sure what. Maybe one that I've contemplated in the past but haven't had the courage to start.
  7. Visit Berlin and/or Paris and/or Ireland and/or... somewhere else
  8. Read all of Jane Austen's novels
This is a much larger and more complicated list than I usually make. Fortunately, I'm not much attached to whether I accomplish these things. I do seem to be happiest when I have challenges to work on, though.

Welcome, 2010. Arthur C. Clarke would be so disappointed.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

asana sequence

I taught this on Sunday, and I think most of the class didn't know what hit 'em, so I want to record it for posterity (and so I can teach it again):

Start in down dog. Inhale forward to a plank.
Take side plank (vasistasana) on the right side. Left hand grips left big toe in yogi toe grip, and left leg is extended to the ceiling.
Inhaling, lunge the left foot forward and come onto the ball of the right foot. Take a few breaths in the lunge, both hands on the floor.
Then lunge the right foot forward and past the left foot, taking the right big toe in yogi toe grip with the right hand, and extending the right leg forward as you come up to stand. (padangusthasana).
Inhale - open the right leg up to the right, bringing the gaze to the left. Breathe.
Exhale the right leg forward, back into padangusthasana, then inhaling, sweep the right leg behind you, taking hold of the top of the right foot and extending the left arm up to the ceiling. (dancer pose - natarajasana).
Breathe.
Transition into half moon, ardha chandrasana, by releasing the right leg, extending the right hand to the ceiling, and bringing the left hand to the floor. Hips stack, shoulders stack.
After a few breaths, bring the right hand to the floor and the left hand up towards the ceiling for parivrtta ardha chandrasana.
Then bring both hands to the floor, and extend the back leg (right leg) up towards the ceiling for standing split (can't remember the Sanskrit - something eka pada something).
Then, bending in the left knee, jump back to three legged down dog, move through a vinyasa, and return to down dog.
Repeat on the left side.

Monday, December 14, 2009

and now, a few words from Woody Guthrie

I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose, bound to lose, no good to nobody, no good for nothing, because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim, too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling. I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built, I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and your work.

more scribblings

A list of reminders to myself I have written on a card in my wallet, which I never remember to read in moments of need:

  • Passion. Beauty. Joy. (I took this from an interview with Bill Nye, the Science Guy - it's his response to a question about what motivates him.)
  • Prayer doesn't pay the bills.
  • Go where going takes you.
  • Save the drama for your mama.
  • Soldier on.
  • One hand for yourself, one hand for the ship. (I tend to pour myself completely into things (like work), leaving nothing left to give if anything else arises with which I need to deal. So I end up totally loosing my shit over tiny little things. I need to remember to keep one hand for myself.)
  • Make hay while the sun shines.
  • Build what you cannot borrow, buy what you cannot build. (My adage on frugality.)
  • Show up and see what happens. (You can do all the planning in the world, but it still won't make you completely ready for whatever happens.)
  • Live like a yogi. Die like a Buddhist. (This is probably my favourite. I think I came up with it during a session with my therapist a few years ago. I'm less fond of the second half of this imperative than I once was.)
  • You'd do well to recognize when your anger is masking a well of sadness. (Cause, you know, it usually is.)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

an offer I couldn't refuse

A few weeks ago, my best friend from high school called me and asked if I would be willing to be godfather for his daughter. I was kind of shocked at first; partly because I know he's not religious, partly because he knows that I'm not religious, and partly because I don't think I'm the obvious choice to be responsible for anyone else's spiritual well being. Yes, yoga and all that, but I don't even really believe in anything that's easily recognizable to the average bear as spiritual. I just ask a lot of annoying questions. Guess that makes me a Saganist.

My friend's mother is religious, though, and I imagine that she lobbied hard to have her granddaughter baptized. The way it plays out in my mind is that I was the concession. "Okay mom, we'll agree to dunk her head... but F's going to be the godfather." Probably (almost definitely) not true, but it makes me smile to imagine it so.

The ceremony itself... h'mmm. The priest passed out scripts from which we all read; somehow, my new goddaughter got her hands on one, and had a terrific time swatting it against mine all during the ceremony. Eight months old and already causing a ruckus in church! I couldn't be prouder. I guess if I were more inclined to approach religious ceremonies with an air of solemnity, I could have moved out of her range, but her distraction and delight made the baptism much more meaningful for me.

I was honoured that my friend asked me to be a part of his daughter's life in this way; actually, I teared up a bit when he first asked me. And although a lot of the script we went through with the priest as part of the ceremony left me cold, I do like the idea of having a role in someone else's spiritual development. And perhaps I am a good choice, if not an obvious one. I made a promise in that church that I would guide her development as a Christian, and I will do that... if it's what she wants. But I'm going to make absolutely certain that she knows what that means first, the history of Christianity (both the light and the dark bits), and what her other options are. If she chooses one of those other options, or like me, decides to figure out for herself what makes sense, well, I'll be happy to help her with that too.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

search strings

According to Google Analytics, these are a few of the search strings that people have used to find my blog:
  • carl sagan haircut
  • cold and drunk as i can be
  • inappropriate things to write on a cake
That last one is my personal favourite. I should probably come up with more inappropriate things to write on a cake so I can be sure I'm pleasing my audience.

Monday, November 16, 2009

untitled poem

I submitted this poem to the Chronogram for November, and apparently it made the short list but didn't fit in the final layout. The poetry editor suggested that I resubmit it in the future. Since it's a spring-themed poem, I think maybe I'll resubmit it in March. Until then, I make it available here for your reading pleasure!


I have known silence
luscious and austere, all coarse and rarefied -
louder than a drum
louder than any hustle and bustle
I could ever devise.

In the fractional pause
between ringing gadgetry
and digital embrace,
some quiet thought
pervades -
some kind, unfettered thing
softens the void.

I learned to listen
in north Ontario, early spring.
In that sharp, naked season of light
not so much as a bird chirping
nor wave lapping
stirs the cool, dry air.

and Sometimes
I can still hear
that raw Canadian landscape
creeping across my threshold
bearing treasures and trinkets -
Longing
and Release.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler - a review

So, I've once again been chewing my way through Drawing Down the Moon, by Margot Adler. This is my third try; I first picked it up in spring of 2001 (inspired by liner notes for a Dar Williams song), but was soon distracted by an immediate and unforeseen need to leave the place I was living at the time. I started reading it again a few years ago; can't remember why I didn't make it all the way through that second time. Anyway, this is attempt #3, and I'm making good progress. I'm further into the book than I got on my prior attempts, and a lot of it is sinking in and making sense (or in some cases very clearly not making sense).

I just finished the chapter on "Women, Feminism, and the Craft". The first half of the chapter didn't do much for me; I'm reading an old edition of the book, and a lot of it seemed dated. Second wave feminism. I understand (at least, I think I understand) the importance from a historical context, but it all seems a bit reductionist/dualistic to me. I'm glad we've moved on.

With those caveats in place, there are some really rich passages in this chapter. Let's start with these two quotes from page 210:

Despite what some psychologists say, no one really has the slightest idea what a woman (or, for that matter, what a man) is.


"...the great mystery of our society is that men and women are exactly alike and this truth is hidden from us under an incredible load of bullshit."


That second quote gets right down to the heart of the matter. Politics, religion (which is just another word for politics), and 99% of what we call gender - they are all based on the bullshit of false dichotomies and a fearful desire to call things Other. Apart from the gross physical level of genetics, hormones, brain structures, and plumbing (important to note that the last two list items are wholly dependent on the first two list items), is there any inherent difference between men and women? (For the moment, let's pretend that these two categories are mutually exclusive and exhaustive.) And how amazing is it that this dichotomy that every one of us buys into to some extent is almost wholly fabricated? We as humans have the capability to invent something that orders our entire universe and never, ever gets questioned. Wow. I'm not saying that's either good or bad. Mostly it's just amazing.

Also, quoted from Robin Morgan's Sisterhood is Powerful on page 206:

If you are a woman and dare to look within yourself, you are a Witch. You make your own rules. You are free and beautiful. You can be invisible or evident in how you choose to make your witch-self known. You can form your own Coven of sister Witches (thirteen is a cozy number for a group) and do your own actions...


Your power comes from your own self as a woman, and it is activated by working in concert with your sisters...


You are a Witch by saying aloud, "I am a Witch" three times, and thinking about that. You are a Witch by being female, untamed, angry, joyous, and immortal.


Part of the reason I started with the discussion of gender was to lend this description of witchcraft some degree of universality. What I love about this quote is that it makes it very, very clear that witchcraft/neo-Paganism is not about superficial action; it's about essence. You can't convert. You either are or aren't, and if you aren't, there's no way in, and if you are, there's no way out (stakes and bonfires notwithstanding). Also, modern witchcraft, unlike conventional religion (and much of the rest of neo-Paganism), is independent of power structure, hierarchy, bureaucracy. It is wild, untamed. "You make your own rules."

Another element of witchcraft/neo-Paganism that's really struck me on this third voyage through the book is the idea of imminence rather than transcendence. The divine is not off floating in the clouds shooting the shit with saints and angels. If it's anywhere, it's right here. Where else could it be? And here's where the connection to yoga comes in. (You knew that was coming, right?) The first line of Patañjali is atha yoga anusasanam - now, yoga instruction. The key word is NOW - not yesterday, not tomorrow, not in the afterlife. Now. Here. Imminence. Not transcendence.

The risk with a philosophy of imminence is that the divine has nowhere to hide; it's all out in the open, immediately available to everyone. This is a threat to traditional religion because traditional religion is based on hierarchical power structures. If those at the bottom of the hierarchy have equal access to the divine as do those at the top, it obviates the need for the hierarchy. Also, the game of "I know god's will but you don't so you need to listen to me if you want to go to heaven" becomes impossible to play. There is no heaven, there is no hell, and we all have access to divinity.

This post is dedicated to the memory of my friend Byron, who would have been 40 today, and probably would have humoured me by listening to all these musings.

Monday, November 9, 2009

freiheit

Some scribblings from my lunch break, after spending all morning listening to reflections on the CBC about the twenty year anniversary of the Berlin Wall:


the danger of history
is viewing the past as an inevitable series of events
like dominoes, clockwork, death.

the danger of the present
is approaching the future as an untouched canvas
open to experimentation and wild, boundless play.


Addendum:  song for today - Titanic Terrarium, the Tragically Hip

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

from the IT department

Fellow employees,

We in the IT department, in accordance with recent regulatory mandates, have recently updated our password policy. Effective immediately, all passwords must meet the following criteria:

  • At least 47 characters in length, containing 12 or more of the following: lowercase letters, uppercase letters, numerals, nationals, cyrillic characters, Japanese Kenji characters, and Chinese ideograms.

  • You are required to change your password(s) every 14 seconds. If you do not, your access to our computer network will be terminated immediately, you will be stripped of your clothing, and you will be thrown out on the street. We will disavow any knowledge of you.

  • You are not permitted to reuse any password you have used in the previous 30 years. If you attempt to do so, we will hang you.

  • If you are like most computer users today, you probably access dozens of services which require passwords. You are not permitted to use the same password for more than one service. If you do, we will shoot you.

  • You are not permitted to record your password(s) in writing anywhere. If you do, we will hang you, then shoot you, then hang you again.


  • We have provided several examples of good and bad passwords:

    Bad password:
    IHeartPuppies!

    Easily remembered good password:
    fjdsakl;ierpowENIVA;OSI%$@$AIAOIDAEOIWFNDV

    We in the IT department have every expectation that these simple to follow rules will vastly improve the security and efficiency of the company. NOW GET BACK TO WORK!

    Sincerely,
    Your friends in the IT department

    Tuesday, November 3, 2009

    "Escape Is At Hand For The Travelling Man"

    Last Tuesday, I walked down town to the bike shop on my lunch break to sign up for a bicycle repair course.  The weather was lousy; misty rain, chilly weather, grey skies, piles of wet leaves everywhere.  I loved it.  I just wanted to keep on walking until my legs would carry me no further, but I had to get back to work.

    There is a lot of appeal, I've been thinking lately, in not doing the thing that you think you're supposed to do.  What happens when you start colouring outside the lines?  Not out of mean-spiritedness or a desire to throw other people's plans all akimbo, just out of curiosity of what we miss when we always do what we assume we're supposed to or expected to.  Are our actions fated or freely chosen?

    old scribblings

    I was cleaning out my nightstand/bookshelf last night, and I found a few scraps of paper that I want to be able to throw out, but not before first recording their contents.


      A quote from Charlotte Brontë:  A Passionate Life, p. 145: "Jane Eyre is, above all, a pilgrimge.  It follows child and woman through pitfalls en route to her new Eden:  a love which unites goodness with the dream of sustained passion.  In this new map for the soul, the Fall is not disobedience; it is obedience - unthinking obedience.  Mrs. Reed, Jane's guardian aunt, complains that she has never seen a child like her.  What sets Jane apart is that she is incapable of not thinking for herself."


    This quote well encapsulates what I loved about Jane Eyre, what made it such a vibrant and revolutionary novel.  If I weren't in the middle of something else right now, I'd want to go back and re-read it.  Charlotte Brontë:  A Passionate Life is an excellent biography of all three Brontë siblings, with an emphasis on Charlotte, who outlived Emily and Austin.  I remember thinking how familiar a lot of their life story sounded, and how similar their childhood was to mine in some respects.  I could see how the emotional stresses of early life affected the way each of their lives unfolded, for better or for worse.  All three were incredibly creative, but only Charlotte and Emily seemed able to find relief by this route; Austin unfortunately channelled his energies into addiction and anger.  The unsettling possibility that that difference is attributable to gender has not escaped my notice.

    I also remember the horror of realizing that Emily, Austin, and their father all died within about a year and a half of each other.  I can't even imagine living through that.  But of course, we are a lot more removed from death than our forebears were, even a century or two ago.  So perhaps everyone developed stronger skills for dealing with loss back then.


      Additionally, I found a scrap of paper with an old to-do/wish list:
    • finish Anne [a novel I started writing some years ago; it remains unfinished]
    • rebuild the Rideau Queen [a rather fanciful idea that sometimes haunts me.  The Rideau Queen was a steam ship that transported passengers up and down the Rideau Canal in south eastern Ontario around the turn of the 20th century.]
    • Ghosts Along the Rideau [an idea for a novel that I toss around in my head sometimes.  I'm unclear regarding the plot, theme(s), and characters, but other than that I think it's a good idea.]
    • buy house [done]
    • teach yoga [done, or in process anyway]



      Another scrap of paper entitled "Phases of Rideau History" (probably preliminary notes for Ghosts Along the Ridea):
    • Pre-Euro residence
    • Trapping?
    • Surveying
    • Construction
    • Military
    • Commerce - logging [I remember hearing on CBC radio that at the turn of the 20th century, 1/3-1/2 of the men in eastern Ontario were engaged in logging.]
    • Tourism - Rideau King & Queen
    • Tourism - Fishing
    • Tourism - Cottaging
    • (Anyone who sees any overarching themes in these phases of history, speak up!  I'm kind of stumped (ha-ha, a logging joke.).)

    Friday, October 30, 2009

    yoga quiz

    I took a quiz over on Yoga Dawg's website; got a nice chuckle to start the morning with (although, knowing Yoga Dawg (or his/her website, anyway), probably everyone gets this response):


      You are God. You love to sit back and watch the deluded masses do yoga. You love making snarky comments with the ascended yoga masters about what is going on in the yoga scene in America today. The Holy Yogis are the most amusing to you. You have a good old time every time you hear a Yoga Star spouting philosophical hooey, hokum, hogwash, hype and hocus-pocus regarding yoga. Most amusing of all is how you set up the GreatTranscendentalYoga SuperStore to see who was smart enough not to fall for all the cheap tricks of the Yoga-Industrial-Complex (not many and those that don’t seem to live in Kansas and Iowa).

      You are endlessly amused from the scandals involving Yoga Stars and the rivalry between the style of yoga and especially all the crazy branding of yoga that is being invented daily. But most amusing of all to you are the yoga zealots who claim to have all the answers but somehow turn out to be complete ass-hats who are drowning in their self-piousness.


    Well, if that doesn't hit almost all of my yoga buttons, I don't know what does. I love the fact that there are (other) yogis out there who recognize the deep irony of yoga marketing (the yoga-industrial complex) and who don't hesitate to call others in the community "ass-hats" when it's warranted.

    "Drowning in their self-piousness" - that's going to have me smiling all day!

    PS - I'm back. I think.

    Monday, October 19, 2009

    the Tragically Hip, 15 October 2009, Albany - a review

    About two weeks ago, T and I drove up to Albany to see the Tragically Hip. By far, it was the best show I've ever gone to. The Hip's front man, Gord Downie, is a maniac, and I mean that in the best sense of the word. His stage presence, jumping around, dancing, engaging with the audience, was incredible. Several times throughout the show, he walked out into the audience on the backs of the seats as far as his mic cord would allow him (he came within 3 feet of us at one point). The Hip have been together for 26 years; I've seen a lot of shows by other bands that have been together for that long, and most of the time their performances are very predictable and uninspired. Not the Hip. On stage, they acted like it was their first tour. They were present, even when playing songs that they've probably played thousands of times. A reflection of the energy they had on stage - this was the first concert I've been to in a long, long time in which the entire audience was on its feet throughout the entire show.

    I know it sounds weird, but I felt somehow validated by their performance, even more than I feel validated by their recorded music. There's an emotional rawness and honesty to Downie's writing and performances. No artifice or disconnect. I tried to explain it to my therapist, and she said, "He's doing what you're doing." Probably the nicest thing she could have said to me. Yes. Exactly. Gord Downie is doing what I am trying to do; he's not hiding the things that might be uncomfortable to sing about or write about or talk about in public; he's airing it all. That sort of honesty can't be faked.

    Tuesday, August 11, 2009

    the great dark wonder

    I spent last week in Maine with T, my siblings, their significant others, and a few of our friends. I'm going to gloss over most of the rest of the trip and zero in on one event that was really special and meaningful to me: visiting the grave of an old friend, E, in a cemetery in Bath. She was someone my siblings and I started hanging out with around the time that I went off to college; when I returned for summer break after my freshmen year, there she was, all smiles and sarcasm. And Troubles as well, though these were mostly under control when we met her. E's Troubles reappeared over the next few years, though, and we drifted apart. Eventually, Troubles got the better of her, and she died. Maybe I'm supposed to say that poetically. She shuffled off this mortal coil. She slipped the surly bonds of earth. No. She fucking died. And there was nothing poetic about it.

    Walking away from her casket after the wake was the worst I ever felt in my life, and that is not something that I say lightly. I remember reading her obituary and wondering if I'd ever make it up to Maine to pay my respects properly at her grave. I'm glad that I did, though of course I forgot to bring a rock to leave on it.

    Funny story: while we were walking around the cemetery searching for the grave, my sister (I kid you not) fell in a hole up to her knee. She lost her shoe, and her husband had to reach his entire arm into the hole to retrieve it. We couldn't stop laughing. E would have LOVED that; she would have made us roll-play it over and over again until we were too sick from laughing to do it any more. In fact, the whole episode was such a classic E moment that it almost makes me believe she set it up for us from the afterlife; and that, too, is not something I say lightly.

    Monday, July 13, 2009

    hibernation

    I need to put this blog to rest for a while. I've been writing here instead of writing in my journal, and that's creating problems for me. I don't know when I'll be back.

    Monday, June 29, 2009

    Enlighten Up - a review

    I wouldn't have thought that it would be possible to make a funny, touching documentary about yoga that really got into the heart of what yoga is. Well, apparently it is possible, for it has been done. For those of us who take this practice seriously, but have some curiosity (and perhaps some reservations) about some of those who take it even more seriously, this was a fine, fine film. There were very funny scenes (kundalini = kundalooney!), and there were quite moving scenes as well (eg, when Nick and Kate are in India, and he starts crying when he talks about his mom). The film really confirmed my suspicion that Indian masters are teaching a very different discipline than many of their well known American counterparts (the long and the short of it: it doesn't matter what you're doing; what matters is how you're doing it - this is yoga).

    I also found it quite interesting that as Nick (the subject of the documentary) began delving further into yoga, Kate (his friend and documentarian) began getting frustrated with him for not being able to articulate his experience and evolving belief in the terms that she was expecting. At least, this was my take on it. It struck me that perhaps she was looking for a greater understanding for herself about yoga and trying to acquire it vicariously through Nick, the neophyte, though she didn't seem entirely aware of it. But perhaps I'm just projecting.

    BKS Iyengar made the poignant observation that you can't start thinking about philosophy until you're in a good state of health. That is what links this physical practice of sticky mats and tank tops to the deeper practices of dharna, dhyana, and samadhi. First prepare the body; then proceed from there. This question comes up so often (what does twisting yourself into a pretzel have to do with the headier philosophies of yoga?), and I'm glad to finally have an easily digestible answer from none other than Sri Iyengar.

    So yogis and yoginis - go see this film! You will love it.

    Saturday, June 27, 2009

    honoured

    I spent last weekend in Massachusetts at the wedding of two dear, dear friends. It was a beautifully idiosyncratic ceremony (the ring bearer was their dog), and a great reception followed. If I ever get married, I too want to have a contra dance (or perhaps a Scottish country dance) afterwards.

    Since the wedding, I've been thinking a lot about love. It's never really what you expect when it hits you, is it? And sometimes you don't see it until it's gone. E and K are very lucky to have recognized it in each other. And I am lucky too - for T, for my family, and also for E and K. Friends like these make the world a better place, and they don't appear every day.

    Anyway, the title of this post - I was honoured (I can think of no other word to describe the feeling) that E and K asked me to read a poem as part of their ceremony. (I realized afterwards that I was, in fact, the only man with a speaking role in the ceremony.)

    The Summer Day - Mary Oliver

    Who made the world?
    Who made the swan, and the black bear?
    Who made the grasshopper?
    This grasshopper, I mean-
    the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
    the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
    who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
    who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
    Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
    Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

    I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
    I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
    into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
    how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
    which is what I have been doing all day.
    Tell me, what else should I have done?
    Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
    Tell me, what is it you plan to do
    with your one wild and precious life?

    Thursday, June 25, 2009

    little things

  • Swim update: Swim season at Minnewaska started this past weekend, though I didn't have a chance to get up to the lake until today. I did my mile - half freestyle, quarter side, quarter breast. I love the feeling of shaky exhaustion that I experience at the end of a swim. Oh, also: there are newts and tadpoles in the lake!

  • Robin update: The chicks have left the nest! They were doing little test flights on Saturday, and when I came back from Massachusetts on Sunday, they (and mama bird) were gone. So, two weeks from eggs to flight capable. Pretty amazing, especially when you consider that some humans take 30 or more years to leave the nest.

  • Foodie porn: Summer CSA distributions have begun, so I'm once again up to my ears in greens, peas, cabbage, beets, spring onions, broccoli, &c. I guess I'm not going to have to worry about getting enough roughage for a while. I wonder if any of this would make good ice cream... maybe the basil? Do I dare? Most everybody likes mint ice cream, so it wouldn't be so much of a stretch; basil is in the same family. H'mmm... something to ponder.
  • Friday, June 19, 2009

    fermentation

    Okay, here's an experiment. You can try it at home kids, but make sure you ask your parent's permission.

  • Take a handful of flour, a little bit of salt, and some water. Swirl it around in a bowl, get out your soup spoon, and dig in. Soggy, nasty, mess, right?

  • Now, take some hops, barley, and water, and try the same. Result: grain flavoured water. Mmmm! Tasty!

  • Finally - start with milk, add some salt, and shake it up. What do you get? A salt milkshake. Slightly to moderately disgusting; definitely not inspired haute cuisine.

  • But what happens if you give each of these mixtures a bit of quiet time on their own under the right circumstances (temperature, pressure, micro organisms)? Instead of getting some nasty concoctions that remind you of what the kid who sat next to you in grade seven lunch dared you to eat, you get bread, beer, and cheese, three of the finest foods ever devised. The ingredients are important, but they are not responsible for the alchemy. The magic comes from quality time spent in a dark, still place.

    Thursday, June 18, 2009

    Saturday, June 13, 2009

    Carl Sagan's Contact (book) - a review

    I've been on a big Carl Sagan kick lately. It started when I realized that all 13 episodes of Cosmos were available on Hulu. Somewhere between laughing at Dr. Sagan's haircut and secretly wondering if I too could get away with wearing a red turtleneck with a corduroy jacket, the beauty and amazement of what he was saying washed over me. He did an incredible job of exploring the complexity and the beauty of science without dumbing it down. Amazingly, even 30 years later, very, very little of Cosmos feels dated.

    As a chaser to my refreshing revisitation of Cosmos, I decided that it was finally time for me to read Contact. It had been on my reading list since the movie came out (10+ years ago). My brother and sister both read it and loved it. And wow! It was amazing, and much more complex than the movie. Curiously, I think the thing I liked most about the book was the startling amount of social commentary that Dr. Sagan packed into it. Our inherent fear of the unknown struggling against our desire to explore; the inertia of entrenched social and political systems; the irony that those of us who yearn for and dream about a much bigger picture sometimes make such a mess of the more intimate details of our lives; the incredible stupidity of some aspects of capitalism; and of course, the relationship between science and religion (and the intersection between the two - the numinous). And unlike any of the characters in the many, many iterations of Star Trek (the comparison is unfortunate but inevitable whenever discussing science fiction), the characters in Contact are complex and nuanced - believable, not like cardboard cutouts or action figures.

    The scientific questions Dr. Sagan raised are nothing to sneeze at either. If there are other civilizations in the universe, how could we find and contact them? Vastly different organisms must use vastly different systems of communication on perhaps vastly different time scales. But the common ground for all of us is the language of physics, which is based on discoverable, testable, provable universal absolutes; so that's the place to look for (or send) a message.

    "For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love." This sentence alone is reason enough to read the book. Where else in the annals of science fiction (excepting the excellent film Serenity, of course) can you find a work that speaks so eloquently about love? Or an author who even bothers to try? And without love, what's the point? When you divorce love, emotion, caring from your subject, no matter what it is, it loses all relevance.

    Friday, June 12, 2009

    Robin update

    Man, the kids grow up fast these days:
    There are three chicks in the nest, though I know they're not all immediately apparent in this photo. Up until today, I thought there were only two.

    Thursday, June 11, 2009

    Hudson Quadricentennial Armada

    As part of the quadricentennial celebrations, a motley flotilla of historic recreations - the Clearwater, the Onrust, and the Half Moon - arrived at the Rondout in Kingston last night, accompanied by booming cannons, blaring ship's horns, and posturing local politicians. Unfortunately, I only got a decent shot of the Half Moon.

    Part of me wanted to jump up on the stage, grab the microphone, and propose to the assembled crowd that we board the boats, sail north, and storm Albany, demanding that our idiot elected representatives either do their jobs or resign.

    Sunday, June 7, 2009

    birds

    There's a robin's nest in the bush right outside my front door; I noticed her there a few weeks ago, then I looked further and discovered that she had eggs. Really, really bad planning on the robin's part; for a while, every time I left home or came back, she'd fly off. I started being a bit quieter with the door, and she stopped freaking out quite so much every time she saw me. So, we're getting to know each other. She let me take her picture today:

    I've been peeking into the nest every now and then (when she's away) to see how the eggs are doing; well, as of this morning, no more eggs. They've hatched, and now there are fuzzy little proto birds wiggling around in the nest. I'm excited to watch their progression to adulthood.

    It occurred to me a few days ago (when I first thought about writing this post) that if my personal ratio of curiosity to ethics were slightly different, I could be describing the taste of a robin egg omelette right now.

    I spent two and a half hours this afternoon in a didgeridoo workshop. What fun! I wanted to ask the instructor what role the didgeridoo plays in the songlines of aboriginal Australians, but I didn't want to bore everyone else or sound like a know it all. Probably, I should have just asked and let the chips fall where they may.

    One of the things the instructor said towards the end of the class was that the didgeridoo is sometimes used to emulate the sounds of the natural world; so we tried a few Australian bird calls. Now I find myself wondering how well the didgeridoo would handle local bird calls. Mourning dove, loon, osprey; these are the calls I know and love. The anachronism of trying to replicate them on an ancient Australian instrument really appeals to me.

    Odd that I decided to write a whole post about bird related topics. Growing up, there was a starling nest outside my bedroom window, and I loved hearing them (the mother and the little ones) every morning. Later, though, bird song took on a more sinister meaning in my mind - I remember sleepless nights, wrought with anxiety, culminating in the raucous cacophony of song birds just before dawn heralding the arrival of another dreadful day. Bad memories, these. Bad days in Beltsville. For a long, long, long time afterwards, I absolutely detested the sound of song birds. This has lessened a bit in the past few years, thankfully, but I still don't rejoice in bird songs as others (like T) do. At best, it's a neutral stimulus. I'm aware of it, but it does little for me. I'm just glad it doesn't make me horribly anxious anymore. I talked to my therapist about this last week; she agreed that tiny, otherwise innocuous things can become absolutely horrible when we associate them with unrelated circumstances; and it can take a lifetime to get over the connection. So I'm thankful to have come as far as I have. Guess I'll never be much of a birder, though.

    Oh - something else the didgeridoo instructor said - the mind is like a garden; if you don't keep weeding it, it gets out of control almost immediately. I think that's why I like writing so much; it feels like weeding my mind.

    Might also be why I dislike gardening so much.

    Wednesday, June 3, 2009

    Dar Williams' End of the Summer - a review

    I was going to write a long winded intro about nada yoga and the importance of music and creation myths and blah blah blah, but I've decided to skip it and cut right to the chase. Life is short (and I am tired).

    It feels weird writing a review of an album that's over ten years old, but it's still one of my favourites - one I reach for when I need a boost or some sense that someone else understands. My understanding is that she wrote most of these songs to work her way out of a bout of depression, and unlike my own experiences with trying to write my way out of a hole, Dar's work is actually quite beautiful.

  • "Are You Out There" - I know this song is about WBAI, but it makes me think of WFMU. Does that make me a radio snob? "You always play the madmen poets, vinyl visions, grungy bands; you never know who's still awake; you never know who understands." Feeling like every song on corporate radio, every show on TV, every story in the paper is designed to make you feel like less than you are; the sheer terror on the part of the previous generation that its offspring will do a much better job of living up to its ideals; the amazing solace in late night radio - this song hits on a lot of themes that are near and dear to me.

  • "Party Generation" - My favourite part of this song is Nerissa and Katrina Nields singing backup. I had such a crush on Katrina the first time I saw The Nields play (with Moxy Früvous opening!), but then she went and got married before I could figure out a way to sweep her off her feet and for neither the first nor the last time I learned something about disappointment. Anyway, "Party Generation" - not my favourite song on the album, but I do love those Nields harmonies.

  • "If I Wrote You" - It took me a long time to hear the open spaces that Dar describes when she talks about this song, but it finally clicked, and it was worth the wait. It's not the sort of thing that one is accustomed to listening for; the sprawling open landscape in the background, the sounds that are not there. "We drew our arms around the bastard sons; we never would drink to the chosen ones. Well, you know the way I went was not the way I'd planned, but I thought the world needed love and steady hand; so I'm steady now."

  • "What Do You Hear In These Sounds" - A song about therapy. Brilliant, in places familiar, in places obscure, ultimately gorgeous.

  • "The End Of The Summer" - When I was growing up, my parents owned a cottage in Ontario, and my mother, sister, brother, and I would spend all summer there. I lived the rest of the year in anticipation of July and August. The place represented escape, freedom, release - "dream, comfort, memory to spare," as Neil Young put it. Inevitably, though, there came a point at the end of every summer when it was time to pack up and return to the more mundane scholastic concerns of loose leaf binders, yellow school buses, and perceived social hierarchies. This song encapsulates that feeling exactly.

  • "Teenagers, Kick Our Butts" - I wonder if Dar will roll her eyes and wonder what she was thinking when she wrote this song ten years from now when her son is a hell raising teenager?

  • "My Friends" - I have a sticker on my refrigerator that says "My friends kick ass" - I bought it in a tie-dye shop in Eugene, Oregon, with my friend D. This song expresses much the same sentiment in rather more subdued tones; sort of the Buddhist version of the bumper sticker. "I like the whole truth, but there are nights I only need forgiveness."

  • "Bought and Sold" - "I look up to the people who are less bought than I; you can show them what you're selling, and they'll only ask you why."

  • "Road Buddy" - Also on the soundtrack to the film Smoke Signals. I like the image of kids sipping juice boxes and smiling at each other at rest stops; that's a really nice detail to include. Descriptive. Evocative. Painterly, even.

  • "It's A War In There" - I don't even know where to begin. Irreducible complexity. This song is perfect; anything I could write would detract from it.

  • "Better Things" - My friend L was so dismayed when I told her that this is actually a Kinks song (though I like the Dar version better). I should try to learn to keep my mouth shut. I'm thankful that Dar ended this album on such an up-note; there are enough more sullen tracks on this album that she could easily have ended with. I think it says something about her outlook that she chose otherwise.
  • Sunday, May 31, 2009

    short reviews

  • The Reader (film) - shockingly good. Kate Winslet was characteristically brilliant. Do not watch this film if you are not fond of struggling with problems of moral ambiguity and complexity.

  • Twilight (book) - so after seeing the film, I decided to read the book, but there were about a zillion people ahead of me on the wait list at the library and I'm too cheap to buy it so I gave up. Now the wait list has evaporated (I guess vampires aren't cool anymore), it's my turn to read it. I'm really liking it. The writing is sometimes cringe worthy, but the story is fun. Looks like I have my early summer reading list all worked out.

  • The Fabulous Stains (film, starring youngsters Diane Lane and Laura Dern) - what a weird little movie. Almost no attempt was made to construct anything resembling a narrative thread, but I kind of liked it anyway. In some respects it was a dirtier, grittier, not at all kid friendly version of Josie and the Pussycats.


  • So according to my blogger page, this is my 100th post. I find it hard to believe I've written that many times over the past two years. If I'd done a better job of using tags for my posts, I'd put up a pie chart or something showing what portion of my posts were navel gazing, what portion dealt with yoga, what portion contained the phrase "gingerbread outhouse," &c.

    Thursday, May 28, 2009

    pet peeves addenda

    Okay, one more linguistic pet peeve:

  • "Yeah, no." Why has this become such a popular way to begin a response to a yes/no question? These words express two totally different ideas; ideas which are mutually exclusive and exhaustive! Two words into your response, you've already contradicted yourself. Start over. Take a deep breath. (The worst part of it is that I've caught myself answering questions this way too.)


  • Oy... my inner crotchety old man has resurfaced, apparently. Maybe I should pour him some whiskey and hope he doesn't drool all over the upholstery when he falls asleep on the couch.

    Monday, May 25, 2009

    reunion, revelation

    I ran into and old friend of Byron's on Friday. The last I knew, N was living in Ireland, and I didn't expect to see him again, so it was a pleasant shock to find him at the Bakery. He's in town for the summer. When I asked him what he's been doing, he said biking and hiking, so I gave him my number so that we could get together.

    Later on Friday, I discovered that one of my friends grew up right down the road from me (albeit a few years earlier). We had all of the same elementary school teachers and graduated from the same high school. Very, very weird!

    I am glad to have finally made the real world acquaintance of one of my fellow bloggers, Pam, this past weekend, and I am happy to report that she is as interesting and funny in real life as her blog has led me to believe. She was in New Paltz to climb, so we met at Bacchus and I bought her the beer that I promised her almost a year ago. We both wore WFMU tee shirts (totally unplanned) and we talked and laughed about last week's episode of Seven Second Delay. It was a really, really nice way to spend the evening.

    On Sunday morning, I taught two yoga classes at Jai Ma. I got very positive feedback after each, and perhaps more importantly, I felt good about the classes, both while teaching and afterward. I think I may be getting the hang of this. Students keep asking me if there are any classes that I teach on a regular basis (rather than subbing). That seems like a good sign. I'm still losing sleep the night before I teach, but not as much as I used to. I'm freaking out less beforehand too (generally).

    Finally, yesterday after yoga, T and I drove to Long Island to visit with her grandmother. Unfortunately, she isn't doing very well. After a hospital stay, she is now home again receiving hospice care. The first time I met her (about six months ago), I remember thinking about what a sharp and fascinating person she was to talk to. I still see that in her, but she is struggling now, both physically and mentally. And if it's hard for me to see, I know it must be a million times worse for T.

    It's not an easy thing to think or write about, but part of me really hopes that when my own time comes, it will be sudden and offer me little opportunity for reflection. I do not want to have the experience of knowing. Even as I write this, though, I know that I am curious. There are already so many realms of knowledge from which I am permanently barred. (What is it like to be a woman? What is it like to live all of your life in a third world country? What was it like to live in the 1800s?) It feels like I'm cheating myself by saying that there is yet another realm of experience from which I would voluntarily bar myself if I could.

    Friday, May 22, 2009

    bad ideas as a creative exercise

    I went to the Bakery during my lunch break to order a cake for my grandmother's birthday tomorrow (I would have made one from scratch, but I completely forgot about her birthday until yesterday, and I just don't have time). When the girl behind the counter asked me if I wanted anything written on the cake, I really really REALLY wanted to say, "Yes, could you please write 'CONGRATULATIONS! YOUR TEST RESULTS ARE NEGATIVE!' or 'SORRY THE CONDOM BROKE' or 'DON'T WORRY, IT'S JUST A COLD SORE'."

    I often spend my idle time thinking up the worst possible things I could say or do in various situations. I find that I do this much, much more when I'm nervous. I think maybe sometimes I'm just starved for a creative outlet. When my sister asked me what sort of ice cream I was going to make with my new ice cream maker, I told her my first plan was tuna raisin surprise. She actually believed me.

    So what other wildly inappropriate things could I have asked the girl at the bakery to write on the cake? And are there any worse flavours of ice cream than tuna raisin surprise?

    (Afterword: I made a batch of pumpkin ice cream last night. I'm out of cinnamon, so I used allspice instead, and some maple syrup. Amazingly good.)

    Monday, May 18, 2009

    Wintergirls - a review


    I read this over the weekend after seeing a review of it in The New York Times. I loved it; it was very well written, engrossing, and dove very deeply into its subject matter, anorexia. The picture it painted was raw, horrifying, utterly convincing, and familiar. It reminded me of people I've known and some of my own experiences. The author, Laurie Halse Anderson, did not pull any punches, and I thought she did a great job of writing a riveting book with a complex and believable protagonist without in any way romanticizing the disorder.

    Having said that, I don't know if I would unconditionally recommend this book to someone who is currently dealing with an eating disorder. There's some question about whether books about anorexia will trigger or egg on susceptible people. My thought: it's dicey. Some anorexics might read this novel as a dire warning. Others might find in Wintergirls' fictional protagonist a competitor and use her example to drive themselves further into disordered eating. Ultimately, it depends on the reader. We all see the world as a reflection of ourselves.

    Wednesday, May 13, 2009

    tanked

    So... pranayam class didn't go so well. I think I wasn't in the right state of mind to teach; I'd been focusing all day on writing code, and my head was still spinning with data and algorithms. So in the class, I just taught mechanics. Didn't go into benefits of specific pranayams or benefits of breath work in general. I skipped my whole planned spiel about "the first thing you did in this world was inhale, and one of the last things you're going to do is exhale, so if you want an advanced yoga practice you need to work on pranayam."

    A few things I know I could improve on in the future: Teaching five different pranayams in an hour is too much. Four is plenty. Also, I need quiet time to myself before I teach, to get into the right state of mind. There's not much benefit in taking class from a teacher whose head is still reeling from his other job. Also, I need to require pre-registration and pre-payment in the future.

    "If Yoga isn't pushing you outside your comfort zone, it ain't really Yoga." I came across this line late last night on someone else's blog, when I was feeling lousy about giving a mediocre class, and I immediately felt better.

    Monday, May 11, 2009

    Grace, Too

    Well, this afternoon after work I hit one of my goals for this year (or got as close as I could, anyway). I biked from the village up to the Mohonk Mountain House. The goal, originally, was to bike up to sky top, but I couldn't find any bikeable trails from the mountain house to the tower. Even getting as far as I did required me to ride on trails I probably shouldn't have been riding on (but they were poorly marked for bicycle use, so I'm not sure). It was about 1100 feet of elevation gain over... I don't know. Maybe eight miles each way? Most of it carriage trails or hiking trails. My thighs are not as sore as I thought they'd be, surprisingly. I'm glad my knees didn't give out. In reference to my earlier post today, I didn't wear a tablecloth skirt or knee high socks. Sorry to disappoint. Maybe next time. No pink clips either. Good thing I didn't know they made pink clips when I bought my new bike, I never would have gone clipless.

    This afternoon's ride opens up other possibilities to me - if I can bike that far into Mohonk and connect with the carriage trail network (it only took me an hour to get to the mountain house), basically the entire Shawangunk ridge is available to me. I could bike out to Minnewaska, swim my laps, then bike home. Wow. Just... wow. I wonder if I will.

    Every now and then, I remember what a lump I used to be; how in my teens and early twenties I never got any exercise or did anything aerobic. Times change, I guess.

    I'm not really sure why, but this is the song that was playing in my head while I was riding. And I did, in fact, exhibit some grace; I didn't fall over on this ride!

    Pic of the day...

    ...which is definitely NOT going to be a regular feature of this blog.



    The tablecloth skirt and the knee socks with bike shoes first caught my eye, but it's the pink clips on the bike that completely win me over. Really? They make those? Awesome!

    (Photographer: Leah Nash, from a recent article on Portland, OR in the New York Times.)

    Sunday, May 10, 2009

    Qualified pleasures



    After wanting one for years, I finally bought an ice cream maker last weekend, off of Craig's list. So, so, so not a good idea! I mean, I'm lactose intolerant. What was I thinking? I made a quart of vanilla on Monday, a quart of mocha on Tuesday, and a quart of coconut vanilla this morning (no, I'm not eating it all by myself; I've been sharing the wealth). It's sooo good, but oy, the repercussions.

    A few other things that have made me smile lately: the kids in my condo complex racing down the driveway on their razor scooters (or whatever they're called); one kid standing at the bottom of the hill as a lookout to make sure the others don't become road kill. It reminds me of the sort of thing my brother and my neighbour and I used to do way back when, except we probably would have been lighting something on fire, too. Also, the woman at the ice cream shop (which for reasons made clear by the above paragraph I haven't been frequenting of late) still (since last year) has her Manic Panic pink hair; I think it's the same shade that I dyed my own hair about two years ago. ("Pretty Flamingo" - it glows under ultraviolet light! Stop laughing!) Also, the other yoga teachers I've been taking class with lately have been talking a lot about breath work and prana; this gives me hope that my fellow yogis are ready and eager for the pranayam class I'll be teaching on Wednesday. I'm still nervous about it, but I finished my planning yesterday, so I'm as prepared as I can hope to be.

    Monday, May 4, 2009

    Regatta

    Every spring, New Paltz hosts a peculiar regatta on the Wallkill River. First there's the kayak race (usually, the only competitors here are injection molded boats, though the one time I competed, I raced the skin-and-frame kayak I'd built myself - came in second, which also happened to be last). The kayak race is followed by the canoe race, which in turn is followed by the main event: the home made boat race. Anyone with a creative idea and some drive to bring it to fruition can compete. This year, we had Vikings versus Shop Rite versus pirates versus Tiki bar versus Doctor Seuss versus ninjas versus a big rubber ducky versus the New Paltz Greens versus... I'm sure there are others I'm forgetting. So many classic battles - ninjas versus pirates. Vikings versus Greens. Shop Rite versus... everyone. As usual, the ninjas came in first by a mile. Almost as predictably, Shop Rite came in dead last, after many difficulties getting to the starting line and some apparent confusion regarding which way to paddle.






    Wednesday, April 29, 2009

    Renewal

    This is, I think, my favourite time of year; the short period when the buds on the trees are just beginning to unfurl into leaves, and everywhere I look I see shades of light green infusing the landscape.  This picture (taken last night on the mud flats) hardly does justice.  (Aside:  just to the left of this shot, there were two kids having sex in a field!  I wondered if they knew about the fertility rites that took place at this time of year long ago in northern Europe.  This being New Paltz, probably they did.  I should have thanked them for ensuring good crops in the coming year.)

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009

    Incense and Peppermint Chamomile

    Last Monday, I taught two moderate classes at Jai Ma. And on Friday, I taught a demo Level I class across the river in Lagrange. The incense was so thick in the Lagrange studio, I smelled like I'd fallen into a vat of nag champa after Friday's class. Apart from that, I really liked the studio. It's in a strip mall! What a perfect place for a yoga studio!

    The more I teach, the more comfortable I feel doing it; but I'm still having difficulty sleeping the night before.

    I'm going to be teaching a class on pranayam, yogic breathing, on 13 May. Partly I'm doing this because I never seem to have as much time as I'd like during normal classes to teach and practice pranayam. Partly I'm doing this because I want more experience teaching, and I'm not getting it by subbing alone, and I don't feel ready to commit to a regular weekly class. At least not a regular weekly asana class. So... we'll see how this goes. Maybe if there's interest, I'll start teaching a pranayam class on a regular basis. Stranger things have happened.

    I spent Saturday morning spreading manure on my third of the garden plot that I'm sharing with T and B. Does it say something about my feelings about my day job that I chose to spend my off time shovelling horse shit? My original plan was just to plant cheese pumpkins (which are way, way, way superior to sugar pumpkins for pie making), but I think I might plant pole beans as well. It'd be nice to have enough to freeze and enjoy throughout next winter, rather than just getting the meagre allotment of beans from my CSA share. I remembered on Saturday that I have a bag of chamomile seeds from a few years back, so I'll probably scatter those around too.

    Thursday, April 23, 2009

    Pet peeves

    Three linguistic pet peeves:

  • Using quotation marks to provide emphasis. Why do people do this? Quotes are for verbatim transcriptions of speech or writing, or to uniquely identify a specific phrase or word (as demonstrated in the following item). If you feel you must show emphasis in your writing, use underlining, boldface, or italics. Or, if you aspire to even higher echelons of writing quality, find a way to show emphasis through word choice and arrangement.

  • Prefixing the last item in a list with the word "even." This should only be done if there is some sort of poignancy or amazement value that you wish to underscore in the last list item. If the last list item doesn't stand out any more than any of the other list items do, don't prefix it with "even."

  • Passive voice. There are some work related tasks which require me to write passively. I hate it. It goes against everything I've ever been taught about writing.


  • I don't know why this bee is in my bonnet today. I know that my own writing isn't perfect. For example, I tend to start sentences with conjunctions (in my defence, though, I see this done in the New York Times almost every day). And I sometimes end sentences with prepositions (as my sister pointed out to me yesterday).

    Wednesday, April 15, 2009

    funny story

    So, at the museum of nature in Ottawa, we were looking at the arctic exhibit - a display of a polar bear and her cub, and a seal poking its head through the ice. Most everyone else at the museum was speaking French. I kept wondering why I was hearing all these little kids around me swearing, and then I remembered that the French word for seal is "phoque."

    Monday, April 13, 2009

    Emotional landscapes

    I'm back from my weekend trip to Ottawa. Had a pretty good time - walked around Parliament Hill, through the Byward Market, went to the nature museum, finally saw Passchendaele. Ate way too many jelly beans. And I discovered that Canadians take Good Friday way, way, way seriously; NOTHING was open on Friday. I mean, Wal-Mart was closed. Wal-Mart! Yes, that Wal-Mart!

    On the drive north, T and I talked about emotional landscapes; how the mental maps that we make of a place do not necessarily correspond to the dry, two dimensional images that we find on Google Earth; memories and perceptions colour the map and warp distances and sizes. This evolved into a discussion of the slippery slope of assigning our own perceptions to places as if they reflected inherent values. We were driving through an area of northern New York with very little in the way of industry or economic opportunity of any sort. The first few times I drove through it (many years ago), I thought about how depressed the area was and how depressing it must be to live there. Eventually, though, I began asking myself how I knew that. I was jumping to an unwarranted conclusion; I simply don't know the experience of the people who live there. I've never met them. I've never asked.

    One of my yoga teachers talks about the Sanskrit concept of shri; life-affirming. A daisy sprouting through a crack in the pavement. Butterflies on a battlefield. We tend to find happiness, beauty, joy in the least likely places.

    Sunday, April 5, 2009

    Rolling the hard six

    So... after a few months of renewed communication via email, I met with my father yesterday morning for a bike ride. We rode the rail trail out to the bridge in Rosendale; spent about two hours together. It was the first time since 2002 that I'd spent any time with him. I asked him about his job and about his siblings, and he told me a little about his health as well (his prostate cancer responded very well to treatment, and he's free of cardiovascular disease - a concern, because it runs in his family). The only question he asked me during our time together, on the other hand, was how my company keeps track of me while I'm telecommuting; i. e., how they know I'm actually working. It really felt like a continuation of the last conversation we had in 2002; him talking about himself and his beliefs and interests, and me listening. For a while yesterday evening, I considered the possibility that perhaps he was just trying to avoid any sensitive topics (and maybe this was true); but he really didn't ask me anything at all. It wasn't surprising, but it was disappointing.

    I gave him my sister's email address, as she asked me to, and he seemed happy for (and surprised by) that. Perhaps she will be willing to come with me if I meet with him again.

    I don't know if I'm being too harsh on him or missing something or jumping to unwarranted conclusions. It wouldn't be the first time I misread a situation. But I don't think I'm wrong here to let my memories of the past colour my experience of the present. He doesn't seem much different from who I remember, and, well, I guess that's what I have to accept if I want to continue having contact with him.

    Thursday, April 2, 2009

    New Paltz moment

    At the counter of the Muddy Cup this afternoon, patiently waiting for my chamomile. Struck by a sudden odour, I look behind me. Dreadlock guy. In chain mail. With a dog. Dog is not wearing chain mail. I sit down with my tea; he asks for a big cup of water. Margaret must be in a good mood, she gives it to him without any guff. I figure it's for his dog. Minute or two later, I'm gazing out the window. He's outside, looking at his reflection in the glass, moving a piece of plastic rhythmically over his face. I look closer. It's a disposable razor. He got the water so he could shave himself.

    Still not sure what to make of this.

    Thursday, March 26, 2009

    BSG - thoughts on the final episode

    I wasn't fond of Baltar's soliloquy about god; it's not that I disagreed, per se, I just didn't think it was necessary to make it all explicit. Anyone who's watched the show should have already been able to see what the show's creators were trying to say, that god is inherently unknowable and it is ridiculous to get into a dick swinging match about whether your beliefs or someone else's beliefs are uniquely correct. So I thought it was overkill to come right out and say it. On the other hand, someone pointed out to me that this scene could be viewed as Baltar's redemption for his original sin. I'm still mulling that over. I thought his redemption came later in the show, on earth, when he told Caprica 6 that he knew a little about farming (from his father) and then started crying. But maybe that's just because I have my own kettle full of father issues.

    I have mixed feelings about the fleet's decision to abandon all of their advanced technology and start from scratch on the new earth they found. On one hand, the series has been building towards that decision and arguing for it from the start; there was always a theme about the dangers of technology, that it is folly to think that our clever devices will save us. I have a great deal of sympathy with that point of view. On the other hand, could such a tremendous decision really be made without any sort of discussion and argument? Did no one object? The way that decision was made and played out just didn't seem realistic to me. Maybe a more interesting question, though, is whether I agreed with the decision. To which I say, well... sort of. There is definitely a strong anti-technological bent to my thinking. But if push came to shove, I really doubt I would be willing to walk away from all the tech and gadgetry. Most of it, yes. 99%, probably. But not all. Creative use of tools is part of what makes us human. So in that sense, I found the show's conclusion unrealistic and unfulfilling.

    This is sort of a dull blog entry... sorry. I thought I'd have more to say.

    Thursday, March 19, 2009

    Battlestar Galactica - penultimate episode

    So, Adama has changed his mind, and he and his crew of volunteers (both human and cylon) are going to jump into the lion's den to try to save little kidnapped Hera after all. I like this. What an essentially human thing to do - risk the lives of many for the good of one. Courageous, irrational, hopeless, sacrificial. I know there's a bigger explanation given in the context of the show, but what I keep coming back to is many for one. This really highlights the difference between man and machine, which obviously has been a theme throughout the show. We can make decisions for emotional reasons rather than rational ones. We do this all the time. Actually, I have a theory that emotion is the driving force behind essentially all of our decisions; rationality and logic are thin veneers that we apply after the fact to keep ourselves from feeling vulnerable or foolish. The world becomes much softer and more plastic when one starts to look at it this way.

    I am both looking forward to and dreading the final episode tomorrow night. There has been a lot of food for thought in this programme.

    Wednesday, March 11, 2009

    A Student of Weather - a review

    I finished reading A Student of Weather by Elizabeth Hay last night. I didn't enjoy it quite as much as I enjoyed her other novel, Late Nights on Air, but it was still quite good. Exceptional, in fact, for a first novel. It pleased me to no end that not only did a large portion of the book take place in Ottawa, it took place in a part of Ottawa that I know well - the square of the city bordered by Bank Street, Bronson Ave, the canal, and the Rideau River. This familiar landscape wasn't my chief source of pleasure in the book, but it was definitely a bonus.

    The author's writing is strong and her story is compelling. Perhaps most importantly, the protagonist is a sympathetic character. Even at the points (there were several) when I groaned and said to myself, "She's not really going to do that, is she?" I could still understand and relate to her decisions. Love doesn't just make us crazy sometimes; sometimes it makes us wilfully ignorant or just plain stupid. We all know this, but it's hard to write such a flawed, human character without making her pathetic or one dimensional. Elizabeth Hay pulled it off well. Actually, now that I think about it, she did much the same with the protagonist in Late Nights on Air. H'mmm. I wouldn't have recognized that if I hadn't sat down to write this review. Oh, also - she's good at writing both male and female characters convincingly, which is an exceedingly rare talent and one I admire above almost any other fiction writing skill.

    An excerpt from the ending that I'm particularly fond of:

    She has worked her way into the heaven of her childhood. Ontario, and all it means. This is where it took so long to "make the land" - three generations to clear two hundred acres of trees and stumps and stones. This is where weary listeners fell for those mythical tales about the Canadian west - how you could plough a furrow a mile long without even striking a stone, how the feet of oxen were stained red by all the wild strawberries, how the light, dry, spicy air restored the feeblest person to health. This is the place they returned to, some of them, after drought and dust did them in.

    That is the Ontario I know and love. It was the heaven of my childhood, too. Sometimes, in my depths of vulnerability and doubt, it still is.

    Monday, March 9, 2009

    WFMU

    I finally pledged today, despite not being able to listen at home anymore (except online, which just doesn't appeal to me). Yay! Now I get to enjoy the unique fruits of smugness that come from donating to a listener sponsored radio station. Plus, I get a T shirt.

    Thursday, February 26, 2009

    Happiness addenda

    A few more things:

    Wednesday, February 25, 2009

    Happiness

    The lousy mood I've often been in this winter has (shockingly) not been ameliorated by any of my navel gazing, hand wringing, woe is me posts, so I'm going to try something different, and list some things I'm happy about.


    • Trees. In general, and also one very specifically.

    • Radio drama. Afghanada (great), Canadia 2056 (okay), Monsoon House (meh)... even when it's bad, it's still pretty good.

    • The hours between 8 and 10 pm, which usually find me lying on my couch, listening to the radio, falling asleep. Delicious.

    • There are people who read this blog who I don't even know, and who have never commented. I don't know who they are, but Google Analytics tells me they are out there, and that's something that makes me oddly happy.

    • The good people of New Paltz. I just took a walk to the library on my lunch break, and had four very different and interesting conversations with four very different and interesting people. This happens to me almost every time I step out my door. We have a great per capita of different and interesting people here.

    • I have read some great books in the past year. Wall to Wall. Late Nights on Air. I Capture The Castle.

    • Hiking, swimming, biking season will soon be here. Not to mention my CSA share.

    • My old landlady still calls me and asks me what I'm cooking.

    • My best friend in Ottawa knows I miss watching the Rick Mercer Report, and she thinks about me whenever she watches it. She even researched how to bypass the CBC's geoblocking for me.

    Thursday, February 19, 2009

    Watchmen - a review

    A review of the graphic novel, that is, which I finished reading this morning.

    I should start by saying that I'm generally not a fan of the comic book / graphic novel genre, though Maus and Persepolis were both very, very good, and lived up to the hype surrounding them. But both of those titles used what is an essentially frivolous medium to look at deadly serious real world issues, and I think that's why they worked. Watchmen, on the other hand - well, vigilante crime fighters in skin tight suits of primary colours isn't exactly a big stretch for a comic.

    Having said that, Watchmen wasn't half bad, and it did raise some interesting issues. The first, of course, is the question that is explicitly asked by the story: Who watches the ones who watch over us? This question has been asked to death, though, so I'm not going to devote any more ink to it. Or pixels, rather. I'll move on to some of the other questions that occurred to me: Do we, individually or as a species, need to have an enemy in order to define ourselves or establish our sense of identity? Deprived of such an Other, do we necessarily create one for ourselves? And, um... what if we didn't? How would that go?

    I think the answer to the first two questions is probably yes. Perhaps a nuanced yes, but one way or another, for almost all of us, yes. The third and fourth questions? H'mmm. It just occurs to me now that those are the questions I'm asking by resuming correspondence with my father. Interesting.

    frustration

    I am REALLY looking forward to that day in the far distant future when I feel comfortable teaching a yoga class. I am sick of getting so nervous that I stumble over my words, can't remember the tune of the chant that I begin class with, silently berate myself all the way through class for not knowing what I'm doing.

    It has been a long time since I've done something this... different. And challenging for me. Unfortunately, at this point I'm only getting tapped to sub about once a month, so I'm not getting enough experience to become more comfortable with it.

    I wrote a few months ago about feeding the mind either garbage or gourmet. I've been feeding myself a lot of garbage lately, and I think it's more apparent when I'm teaching because, as I observed when I first started teaching, this part of my practice keeps me honest. I can't hide when I'm up there. I can't go on autopilot, because I'm just not good enough at this yet. I have to be there.

    Tuesday, February 3, 2009

    Oh dear, oh dear.



    How can something so wrong be so... no, actually, this is just entirely wrong.

    And by the way, there's more.

    Sunday, February 1, 2009

    use your illusion

    There is a good number of dichotomies that are discussed in yoga philosophy - effort and surrender, which I wrote about quite a bit last year; matter and spirit (prakrti and purusa); self and Self. One of my teachers talks a lot about concealment and revelation. She's been talking about it for years, actually, but I never really heard what she was saying (maybe because a lot of her discussion has had to do with our innate divinity, which is not an idea that resonates with me). Well, I've been giving more thought to this duality over the past few days. I can't count the number of times I've been absolutely certain that something (usually wretched) was going to happen; I'd read the tea leaves, and all the signs pointed to calamity. Yet almost invariably, at the moment when concealment is replaced by revelation, my worst fears don't come to pass. There's always some crucial element of moderation that I fail to see or which I dismiss. "The worst things in my life never happened." I think Mark Twain said that.

    What do we do when we can't see what's coming next? When the horse blinders are on and we're hurtling down the track, hell bent on an uncertain fate? It's no secret that I aim for the bottom and assume the worst. Hell, even when I can see that everything's going to be alright, half the time I still assume that I must be missing something, and everything will go south in the end.

    As effort and surrender deal with action, concealment and revelation are attributes of perception. It's a subtler schism, easier to overlook, and harder to talk about. I'm curious about the role that faith plays here. Part of me chafes at the use of that word, with its suggestion of showy displays of religiosity. But devoid of those unpleasant connotations, faith is simply a belief that is not supported by evidence. It does not have to mean a belief that flies in the face of evidence. What we believe when we have no reason to believe one thing over another says a lot about who we are. So what do my beliefs say about me? And what would it mean to believe something else - something less apocalyptic? Why is that such a struggle for me?

    Saturday, January 31, 2009

    East meets West

    Three things:

    • After teaching class on Tuesday, I had the Buddhist chant "Gate, gate, paragate" stuck in my head (which is weird, because I didn't play it or chant it during class). "Gone, gone, gone beyond." Later in the week, I was listening to the Wizard of Oz soundtrack, and I had the out of the blue revelation that when Dorothy sings "Somewhere over the rainbow," she's expressing much the same sentiment. Or is she? She wants escape; absolute anathema from the point of view of the middle-way; but what she ultimately discovers is that if she can't find what she wants right where she is, she's not going to find it anywhere. The value of her fantastic travels is that they allow her to experience and value home differently (something I reflected on in Guatemala last summer). H'mmm. Buddhist perspectives on American show tunes. If I still had any inclination towards the upper echelons of academia, I think this would be a gold mine thesis title.


    • Another realization from this past week: The weird otherworldly vocals in the beginning of Battlestar Galactica? Sanskrit. It's a Sanskrit chant. I recognized one of the words, then I remembered which chant I knew it from, then I recognized the rest of the chant, and then... well, then my head pretty much exploded. I couldn't believe it. I still can't believe it. It's the Gayatri mantra. In English: "The dawn, the day, and the dusk, those three most excellent daughters of the Sun, the radiant forms coming from the Gods, I meditate upon you and reach out to you. That is my offering." I am ridiculously, overwhelmingly, embarrassingly pleased with myself for recognizing this.


    • I participated in an "Eye of the Tiger" Anusara yoga practice last night; two and a half hours of asana. We started with twenty six sun salutations. It was WONDERFUL. I haven't worked that hard in a long, long time. My only disappointment was that the teacher didn't play the Survivor song at any point in the practice.


    Friday, January 30, 2009

    There is no mat.

    I started writing a post about cookbooks yesterday, but two paragraphs in I decided that it was stupid and I'd probably already made all of the interesting points anyway. Short version: we'd have a lot more quality time for ourselves if we'd get rid of all of our labour saving devices and "helpful" gadgets. But, well, I think everyone more or less knows that already, so I won't go into further detail.

    In the intermediate/advanced yoga class I taught on Tuesday night, I incorporated a great deal of pranayam (breathing) instruction. Actually, pretty much all of my planning for the class focused on pranayam. I know there's a school of thought that says advanced yoga practice involves well choreographed vinyasa and complex poses, and there's definitely something to be said for that, but I don't think that that's how I want to teach at this point. There's another school of thought that says that in advanced practice, the more basic practices (like asana) are used as a launching pad for subtler work. The physical practice is used to prepare the body for breath work. Breath work is used to prepare the mind for meditation. And meditation is used to calm the fluctuations of the mind, which is the whole point of the practice. In the most advanced yoga practice, of course, as I've written elsewhere, the mat disappears. But most of us aren't ready for that. We need to keep getting on our mats as a reminder, if nothing else.

    Tuesday, January 27, 2009

    Tuesday, January 20, 2009

    Release

    I was thinking today about nature and civilization, and how arbitrary the line between them can be. Everything ultimately was produced by natural forces, right? So is it just the act of laying human hands on something that makes it an artifact of civilization? This was touched on briefly in His Dark Materials. Perhaps a more significant distinction is our expectation of things, depending on whether we call them natural or man-made. We expect natural things (trees, forests, mountains, cockroaches) to change. They gradually come into existence, then just as gradually die away. Generally, both of these processes are happening at the same time, so like the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, it's hard to say whether something is coming or going. Adding to the complexity, things in the natural world are in a constant state of becoming something else. A mountain is constantly being eroded by wind and water, and what was once mountain is now silt; and what was once silt is now river bed or flood plain soil. Animals are constantly playing host to myriad bacteria and fungi, which, far from parasitic, are necessary parts of the larger animal's existence. Where do I end, and the flora in my gut begin? It's hard to say. In nature, everything is constantly in flux, and nothing is well defined.

    On the other hand, we seem to expect man-made things to exhibit a bit more consistency. Once something is made, we expect it to last. But that's nonsense, isn't it? It's a basic tenet of Buddhism (and the second law of thermodynamics) that everything falls apart. Doesn't matter if I made it, you made it, Flying Spaghetti Monster made it, or it came into existence on its own. It will, eventually, return to its most basic components. All work we do sometimes seems like a struggle against acceptance of this basic, undeniable fact.

    I've forgotten where I was going with this... oh yes. In his speech this afternoon, President Obama talked about how it's time for us to take responsibility and fix what's broken. I know he's right, but I'm embarrassed to admit that part of me would rather look for excuses. "It's all going to fall apart anyway, so why bother?" Well... here's why. It's not about the end result. It's not even remotely about the end result. It's about the work itself. Honest work undertaken with whole hearted intention and awareness (tapas and svadhyaya for all you yogis out there) creates its own reward (isvarapranidhana), regardless of what the material consequences may be. Of course whatever we build is going to fall apart in the end. If it didn't, it would rob us of the opportunity to rebuild it yet again.

    Speaking of fixing what's broken, I finally initiated email correspondence with my father in November. At first, I just wanted to thank him for letting me (and my sister and brother) know about his health issues, and wish him a speedy recovery. But we've kept emailing back and forth. We haven't touched on any of the big issues that divided us for years. We've really only talked about movies, actually. But, well, I had to start the rebuilding process somewhere.

    Tuesday, January 13, 2009

    Ski lift

    Warning: this post is yet another in my series of mopey, maudlin, self-pitying diatribes.

    A few months ago, my brother was shooting a wedding at the summit of Hunter Mountain (with his camera, I mean). I talked to him beforehand, and he told me that he was so scared about riding the ski lift to the top that he almost wanted to just jump off. As a preemptive strike against falling off. I've kind of felt the same way lately; not about any specific thing in my life, but generally. Things are going well - very well, actually - but all I can think about is the omnipresent possibility of calamity, and it's making me crazy.  I think maybe I always get this way at this time of year; maybe I need more sunlight or exercise or something.

    I've been seeking solace through the usual sources:  yoga, friends, books, music.  I finally completed the playlist that I started working on years ago, and I've been listening to it non-stop.  Cathartic.  I remember asking my therapist once years ago if it's okay to cry when you don't know why you're crying.  She said it was.  So, I guess I've got that going for me.

    I went for a massage about a week ago - my first ever.  I felt calmer afterwards than I remember ever feeling before.  Probably should make that a more regular event in my life.

    Anyway, new episodes of BSG start on Friday, so I have that to look forward to (even if I kind of think they should have ended it with the last episode that aired last spring).