Friday, May 27, 2011

Maybe Tycho Brahe is all we can hope for

I know I know who Tycho Brahe is....

Who is Tycho Brahe?

We were sitting at lunch and the small tug sitting at the dock had his name lettered on her bow. I knew the name, had come across it in college. Astronomer, explorer, something like that.

In our iPhone/Google age, Brahe is searched and found on the spot. Astronomer it is. He was the man. Observed a supernova, made precise calculations about the heavens before the invention of the telescope.

Brahe changed the game. He showed that the stars and heavens were changing, in flux, not perfect and immutable as folks were thinking prior. He laid the framework that changed the universe, or at least how we think about it.

But ultimately he didn't have it quite right. The Earth was still the center. Looking back, he had some fundamental flaws in the truths he was putting out there. But from where he stood and what he had to work with, he was right. And even now we know he was closer than anyone that came before him, and a gateway to help our cosmology get where it is.

The thing about it, is that we are likely in the same boat (not the tug at the DC waterfront, just talking figuratively here). History tells us time and again that what we know at any given time is generally shown to be HUGELY flawed with another century or so worth of technology, data and hindsight.

You could have gone to school and taken a science test where the right answers were the the Earth was flat and/or the center of the universe. Newton was king of physics until Einstein knocked him on his arse.

If you look with a broad historical perspective, you've got to conclude that we are equally fucking wrong about some of the basic building blocks of reality that we take for gospel. Which ones? Who knows? But we're using what we've got to plot the best map, paint the best picture we can. It's not our fault we can't see around the corner.

Maybe Tycho Brahe is all we can hope for. See and say it the best we can, without being able to get our heads around the whole picture. It's gotta be enough. And, hell, if we aren't ultimately right, it's at least good enough to get a small boat named after you 400 years later.

* Photo by Will White

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

May 24

We took the back seat out of a mini-van and replaced it with a big living room sofa and six of us piled in to go to Annapolis. That was 16+ years ago. I talked with Robin in McCarveys for a while that night. And I haven't stopped thinking about her since.

Some people, when you meet them, you just have a feeling are going to change your life. The more we talked and saw each other that winter and spring (1995), the more it became clear to me that she was that kind of person. We moved in together at the end of the summer.

I barely remember getting engaged three years later, on her birthday, May 24. I remember everything about it--sitting on our deck next to Crockett Brothers Marina in Oxford--but it is blurry, the sequence, the words, what was said. Largely because we had talked about it, getting married, and knew we were going to.

I've talked about it here before, our wedding, our life together, the milestones and years we share. But thinking about Robin this morning, on her birthday, what strikes me are the variables, the almosts. I almost went to the Army, when we first met. We almost moved to Pittsburgh for graduate school. Later we almost moved to Pittsburgh again, for a job. The life decisions, the changes, like having kids and buying a house.

How my memory of her, looking at her now, includes that night flirting in Annapolis, includes moving into four different apartment/townhouse/houses, my college graduation, holding her hand(s) during the births of our girls.

How having a drink on our back deck in the evening can conjure up our drive to Colorado, or Maine, or Asheville, N.C.; a sunset happy hour on the Choptank 16 years ago or last year; time with friends in Cooperstown, N.Y., more than a decade ago or camping on the Pocomoke River, just a couple months ago.

How watching our daughters run on the soccer field, or learn to ride their bikes, or get an A on a test, or playing catch, can make me love Robin, all over, without her even having to be there (though I prefer when she is). 

It hits me that the person who is the most constant in my life is also the person who makes life most interesting. How being together, spending/sharing time with someone also makes me more myself.

It fascinates me that how, getting engaged thirteen years ago today, that I look forward as much to this weekend, to tonight, as I did to time together back then.

It's funny what memory holds on to, how Robin can tell you what people were wearing at any given event or night out seemingly since we met, whereas mine works in odd details and sequences and between the two of us we can generally recreate/rekindle what went down.

Love is an odd bird, how it can lead you by various parts of your body, brain, soul to someone; how you can cross paths after not even knowing of the other's existence for 22+ years and then everything changes and the next 16+ years kick the shit out of the ones that preceded them.

I don't claim or even pretend to know jack squat about life or love, other than to be living them day by day and trying to enjoy and appreciate and recognize them as such.

I think I've recognized Robin since that night in Annapolis, when we first really talked. What I recognize in her is both constant and changing, the same and different, caught up in cliche for not having the right words and a place where words can't walk directly up to.

What I've seen her be to and for me is a perfect complement, that soul that picks up where mine leaves off and that makes mine better and more than it was before I knew her.

Happy birthday, Robin, on what has become one of my favorite days of the year. I always dig finding out how we'll celebrate it, how we'll celebrate you.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Plato didn't have a coke habit

Why a modern world if such poisons are invented! -Rimbaud

I blame Descartes. The case against him goes back to Bob Anderson's modern philosophy class at Washington College. Dr. Anderson laid into Descartes' mechanistic worldview, wherein you can do things like land on the moon or blow up nuclear bombs. Anderson didn't subscribe to this way of looking at the world.

Yeah, but those things have been done, landing on the moon and blowing up bombs. They are real, subscribe or not. Anderson was/is a Plato guy. As in spend 30+ years writing a book about Plato, all philosophy as footnotes to Plato, kind of guy.

Me: So Plato wouldn't have believed in the moon or bomb -isms?

Anderson: No, he wouldn't.

M: But those things happened, how could he not subscribe?

A: Plato could have had a cocaine habit, too, but he didn't, that we know of.

And that's when the light went on. Worldview is about choice, like making the choice to do cocaine. Which isn't a bad analogy for the modern/mechanistic worldview. For Descartes, worldview was separated from an overarching purpose. We just plod around in a mechanistic universe, so if something works, build it, so be it. If it doesn't, fu$% it, try again. Science and results are their own justification.

Never mind whether something is a good idea or what path it may ultimately take us down. And where does thinking like that lead you? Take a look around.

Philosophy classes and discussions have, for me, always opened doors to the world. Even back in my N.C. State days, I can remember walking to philosophy class (when I went to classes) and kicking existential tires in my head, then those same tires would end up on the professor's desk, being examined and wrestled with. It was uncanny.

At Washington College, Drs. Anderson and Brien shined the searchlight in all kinds of dark corners, which motivated me to get my own flashlight of inquiry, something like an earned (vs. "cash-bought," per Palahniuk) merit badge for refusing to just be a surface skimmer.

What brings me here this morning has been the idea of "progress," the thought that modern technology and science and society are driving us/the world to a better or more advanced place than where we were. That we're so wrapped up in what we can do that we don't think for a moment, whether or not we should do something in the first place. Then, when the consequences hand us the check at the end of the meal, we're saying ddddaaammmnnn! and stuck doing dishes.

Bob Anderson compared looking at the world through mechanistic glasses to having a cocaine habit. Yeah, I remember Len Bias. I think I'll pass on that, thanks. I think I'll keep looking.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Honeysuckle suckers

Ava doesn't miss a chicken house. She can spot and call them out mid-McDonald's french fry. I'm not sure that this is a marketable skill for a six-year-old, but I dig it. It gets back to the idea of the Eastern Shore/rural living as part of the dream.

This past weekend was a case study for the rural/neighborhood dream. Cooking out on one side of the street where the girls gathered foliage as study specimens, barefoot in yards and gardens, followed by a weekend of digging holes, making mudpies and cakes and sucking the honeysuckle growing along the back fence.

"Dad, you've gotta try this honeysuckle! Let me show you how..."

We were honeysuckle suckers 30 years ago. We also knew our chicken houses--there were at least two sets of working chicken houses visible along Oxford Road. We learned quickly to hold your breath driving by them when the wind was blowing the funk towards the road.

Those houses and their funk have long since been replaced by something more suitable for Oxford Road, but that hasn't dulled Ava's keen coop-spotting skills. She pegs and describes them along Chapel Road as we head to the Hutchison's in Cordova for our nephew Samuel's third birthday party.

Samuel's whole celebration, the vibe, the people, the spring breeze drives home another key point to our girls: chicken houses aren't nearly as cool as horses.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ego Drums

I've got a set. I keep them in the corner, preferably gathering dust. But sometimes I've gotta bust 'em out. Ego drums.

Some people wail on their ego drums all day long. Those people aren't much fun to be around. Or work with. Or sit next to.

From time to time, though, it feels good to play the ego drums. Reset the self-confidence. Rock a little self-pep talk, complete with skill display and pyrotechnics.

When I dust them off and sit down behind them, I like to fire up the double bass ego drums and have them spin around me Neil Peart-style.

If you catch me playing them, so be it. I'm cool with that. But before I walk out the front door, I push them back into the corner and cover them up.

Ego drums are best thumped behind closed doors.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What's running inside you

For better or worse, I've always been more concerned with the care and maintenance of my body, mind, soul, curiosity, family, sense of fun and adventure than the care and maintenance of my car, lawn or checkbook.

My truck generally gets washed when it rains, lawn and garden get the basic cutting and upkeep necessary for respectability and my free time is not spent scheming how to make our bank account fatter. The list of project to-dos around the house is a bit stagnant. It is accomplished in spurts.

It's not that I don't want to care more about some of these things--God knows it would make life easier at times, given that a fair amount of definitions of success are wrapped fairly tightly around some aspect of those facets of adult life that I tend to neglect.

But those things aren't what gets me out of bed in the morning.

You can out-distance that which is running after you, but not what is running inside you. -Rwandan proverb

It's something like that. What's running inside you. It's not a do-what-makes-you-happy directive, it's a do-what-makes-you-alive imperative.

We all work enough at jobs that to neglect those things that affirm our existence in favor of anything else feels like not just time misspent, but time wasted. Time that there is no guarantee you will get back, hoping for some retirement that may or may not ever arrive.

This isn't to shirk responsibility, rather to describe a pecking order of sorts. What's important. To me. To you. But that's not really it either.

It's more like there is a spark, or a low burning fire in your gut that is your soul. And what you do with your time and energy can douse that fire, can kindle it, can stoke it. And that fire is your Life and what you do with it.

I choose to be stoked.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Rumble Fish Memories

I don't know when childhood memories turn black and white. Or if all memory loses its color or just most of it.

Some color remains though, like the movie "Rumble Fish," where the fish are the only color--vibrant, moving, mesmerizing against the drab.

A red, plastic fire helmet is one of my Rumble Fish technicolor memories.

The Dobsons were building a house next door to us and digging the foundation left a sizable dirt pile next to the shoreline. It was perfectly located for throwing rocks or clumps of dirt into the river--from atop the pile you could wing dirt grenades into the drink and wait for the brackish recall.

"Emergency!" (I remember it being called "Emergency One") was my show when I was little. I didn't miss it. I had the rescue truck and John and Roy action figures that drove it and the bright red plastic fire helmet that showed I was down.

I was rocking my helmet and throwing dirt bombs into the water when the pile slid under my feet, avalanche style, and tumbled me down into the river. I didn't know how to swim.

My Rumble Fish memory is being underwater and looking up to the surface and seeing my red, plastic "Emergency One" helmet floating above me. It danced in slow motion, out of reach. I don't remember if I even tried to grab it or just watched it.

Next to the bobbing red helmet, feet crashed through the surface as my mom had seen me tumble and run down to the shoreline, jumping in and pulling me and my helmet out onto dry land.

A thankful son? Nope. I actually yelled at her for not calling the fire department, thus robbing me of a chance to ride in the ambulance. I really dug that show.

When I pull the childhood memories to the forefront to examine them, there is still some color left. They haven't all washed to black and white, though maybe they are getting less sharp. The floating "Emergency One" helmet, dancing above me on the surface of the water--that shiny red--that's not one likely to fade. I can see it, swimming, like the rumble fish.

Friday, May 6, 2011

"Make Some Noise If You're Livin'"

What if you've already done your best work? If you came out of the gate at a sprinter's pace and changed the game 20 years ago? What if, as a band, your first three albums were almost a holy trinity to a generation who measures your, and other albums against them? Would you just stop making music?

You can carry this same argument through writing, visual arts, sports, business, whatever... In the case of the Beastie Boys, I'm glad they are still putting music out.

I didn't want to dig "Licensed to Ill" when it came out. I was a punk-soul-hardcore-skater. No room for rap, much less rap the entire school was into. But they sampled Zeppelin and it was playing everywhere and hard not to get into. It became a soundtrack.

When "Paul's Boutique" came out, a friend and I bought it the day it was released on cassette tape and it became probably the most played album during high school and I would venture a guess that it may be among the most played albums I own today. It was truly a game changer. I catch new samples and allusions when I listen to it now. And when you have a name like Michael Valliant vs. Michael Diamond, your name gets inserted into "Shake Your Rump," almost instantly.

Funny how with an album I dig as much as "Paul's Boutique," that "Check Your Head," their third album may actually be my favorite. The return to their own instruments, the insertion of the funk, the 70s vibe; it is a desert island album for sure. I was listening to the college radio station at N.C. State when I heard "Pass the Mic," not knowing they had an album out. A trip to Schoolkids Records fixed that, then a group of us went to the Raleigh Civic Center that spring and saw The Henry Rollins Band open for the Beasties. Simply stellar.

Therein, the problem. "Paul's Boutique" and "Check Your Head" were unlike almost anything that came before them. And unlike anything the band had put out. Revolutionary is a term thrown around like sprinkles on ice cream, but damn near apt in the case of each album, when given the context of what came before it.

Likely not a day goes by that (friends or) I don't quote one of the first three albums or that I don't hear a line, a hook, a beat in my head from them. That's pretty pervasive. So how do you live up to that, creatively? You can't tear everything down completely every time you create and start brand new.

So you don't. They are not churning new work out at a Grisham-like pace. There is blank space, breathing room between efforts. My sense is that Mike, Adam and Adam go into the studio, when moved, and have a blast and riff and groove with what moves them. And then send it out into the world. Seems to me that that's what artists do. Or should do.

There are albums that have followed "Check Your Head" that I don't listen to much (Hello Nasty, To the Five Boroughs). But I'm glad they are out there. I'm glad the Beasties are still creating. And so I downloaded "Hot Sauce Committee Part Two." And played it for the commute to D.C., and the drive home. I'll put it on the iPod for a run. And I'm digging it.

It does my soul good to know that a band that helped shape my sense of music, my sense of culture, my sense of fun; a band that has given voice and lyrics and a shared soundtrack to a group of us growing up and still carving our niche, creatively, in business, family, life--is still dropping science like Galileo dropped an orange.

For me, it's a head nod to what they've kicked into the mix. To borrow a line, which I frequently do, "it's called gratitude...and that's right."

And at the very least, "it's a trip. It's got a funky beat, and I can BUG OUT to it."

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Damn metaphorical ants

The ants were fat this morning. Or maybe they were just blurry since I was making coffee and uncaffeinated.

Or maybe ants are a metaphor for those things that crawl in through the cracks of your foundation and manifest themselves in your kitchen. Which would be fine if they weren't on the counter.

Can a metaphor double as a real thing? I fu$%ing hate the ants, metaphoric and real.

My metaphoric ants are the projects that sneak up--the front porch, the garage, the garden--while I'm doing the stuff I dig--adventures with the girls, get-togethers and outings with peeps, time on the water, morning runs and trail runs, reading and writing.

On the one hand, life is short and you better be doing the stuff you dig. No other way to say it. On the other hand, no one likes (metaphoric) ants on the counter. It may be time to invest in some metaphorical Raid.

Monday, May 2, 2011

I run because

I run because it changes me. Those times when I want to stop and sit down, but my mind and body go on auto-pilot and push on and find what's on the other side of quit.

I run because life throws so much shit at you that you have no control over, whereas I choose to run, I choose that test, that challenge and what it asks of me and how I respond.

I run because when I am hopping tree roots and slipping down singletrack, single-file between people I've never met, all at the same cadence, breathing in the trail and each others' collective energy, I know there is something more and larger than me.

I run because I see places and meet people and learn and experience things that I could not any other way.

I run because sometimes I wonder if I can and there is only one way to find out.

I run because it connects my feet to the earth and the air and water. It is elemental and so am I, and together we remember.

I run because of the experience of traveling to a race with a group of friends and the finish line re-living, re-telling; a post-race meal or beer together; and traveling home together, changed a little.

I run because there are times, sometimes, where there is only motion and breath and the world and I are...