I lost my book of koans.
Is that not it’s own koan?
I lost my book of koans.
Is that not it’s own koan?
Ten days ago I spent an hour and a half on the phone with the support people at [huge travel website].
The agent gets high marks for being friendly, polite, trying to do right.
It wasn’t his fault that the airline listed a flight but wouldn’t confirm it.
In the end he passed me off to his supervisor, who told me I’d have to call back in a week to see if anything had changed.
The supervisor gets low marks. I should not have to call back in a week. He should call me with a solution at the soonest possible date. That’s what I’m using [huge travel website] for. Convenience. If I wanted to spend hours on the phone with someone, and putting more items on my to-do list, I’d book directly with the airline.
Yesterday I called back. Again, I was on the phone for an hour and a half. Again the agent gets high marks for being friendly, polite, trying to do the right thing.
It wasn’t her fault that the airline was still listing flights it wouldn’t confirm were actually going to fly.
In the end she passed me off to her supervisor.
Supervisor number two suggested that we try a different airline, which was fine with me. As it turns out, another airline has more convenient flights for $400 less than what we’d paid originally.
I can’t complain about getting a $400 refund. I just wish the first time I called they’d have said, “We’ll fix this,” handed the whole issue to supervisor number 2 and called me back an hour later with the solution.
That would have made [huge travel website] a real stand-out.
Eight kindergarteners are collecting insects in the school garden. They’ve been instructed not to collect bees and wasps. Bees and wasps get very angry. They’ve also been instructed not to collect moths and butterflies. Butterflies have fragile wings.
One girl finds a grasshopper. It hops away as she bends down with her collection cup. “Uh-oh, it hopped away,” I say.
“That’s ok,” she says. She’s using her best impression of her mother’s reassuring voice. “I know how to get it.” She circles around the tree to sift through the mulch on the other side.
We find a red beetle on a milkweed plant. It’s one of the ones we talked about before we came outside. It’s red and its folded wings form an X on its back.
“That one’s poison,” one of the boys says. He’s right. We had talked about how the red color was a warning to birds not to eat it. It would have been perfectly fine to collect. But it’s poison, and they all move on. Except for the girl who’s still sifting through the mulch for the grasshopper.
We reach the end of the garden. They find a worm under a rubarb leaf. Here, finally, is a living something that can’t outrun, outhop or outfly them. Another of the girls pulls it out of the earth. Her face beams with pride as she holds it up.
“Is a worm an insect?” I ask her.
“Yes!” she says.
And of course it is. When you’re four and you’re in the garden collecting insects, whatever you manage to get in your collection jar is by definition an insect.
I turned 46 yesterday. Here’s a puzzle, courtesy of the Math Forum at Drexel.
Bill, Simon, and John are brothers. Bill is as many years younger than one brother as he is older than the other. Simon is 7 years younger than twice the age of John. John is 5 years older than half the age of one of his brothers. How old is each brother?
Your mission, should you choose to accept it:
“Pick up the nearest book and flip to page 29. Use this word as your springboard… write the post in the form of a letter.”
This message will self-destruct in 10 seconds…
The nearest book, sitting on the left corner of my desk this evening is Listening to Your Life, by Frederick Buechner. Here’s page 29:
We found out yesterday that this February will probably be the last time we’ll be spending a week in New York City with teenagers studying at the United Nations during their winter break. Funding for the program is running out next May.
We’ve been going for the last five years. It’s been good. We’ve visited the penguins at the Central Park Zoo every year. We’ve made the obligatory pilgrimage to Toys-R-Us in Time Square as faithfully as any Muslim observes the Hajj. We’ve explored the American Museum of Natural History and the Hayden Planetarium. We’ve always eaten dinner at Darbar on East 46th and never been disappointed. In all, it’s been a good run.
After 2015 we’ll have to find something else to do with that week in February when schools in the northeast are closed. Perhaps we’ll go to Puerto Rico to get a real break from the February’s deep cold and anemic daylight.
I got the urge to simplify again this week.
It’s an urge that seldom lasts long enough for me to completely carry through.
It tends to strike when the piles of papers lying around on every horizontal surface get deep enough that they start falling on the floor. The cats walk across things and away they go.
My first impulse is to pick up the whole stack and toss it into the recycling bin. But I can’t. There is probably the one bit of paper I’ll need later in the whole pile. So I have to go through each one.
By the time I get to the end of the second pile I’ve had enough.
The urge dies.
The papers regenerate. Proliferate.
I think the Star Trek episode about the tribles was a metaphor for papers.
The stairway going up to the dance studio smelled like someone had been smoking. That unmistakable stale trace of nicotine hanging in the air. Much to my relief the smell dissipated when we got to the top of the stair and walked into the large bright classroom.
We did our usual exercises. It’s a new session, so most of the exercises involved stretching at the bar. We moved on to some basic movements and combinations. By the time we progressed to the floor exercises, we were an hour into the hour and a half lesson. We did the first floor exercises, some simple jumping, Échappés.
That’s when Darren decided he’d had enough. He walked to the corner of the studio where his jacket hung on the back of a chair, put it on and then sat to change his shoes.
“Are you leaving us?” our instructor asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “I’ve got to go to work early, and if I keep this up I’m not going to have anything left in my legs.”
He was sweating and winded. His face had a pained, pallid look to it.
“Ok,” our instructor said. “Are you ok?”
“Yeah,” he said again. “I’ll be fine.”
He left the studio and thumped back down the stairs.
The rest of us finished the class. A few more floor exercises and then some waltz steps. Twenty minutes later we emerged from the community center. I felt well-stretched, endorphins still pumping enough that my fingers and toes tingled that “you’ve had a good workout” tingle.
Across the street Darren was still waiting for his ride for work. He was sitting at a picnic table in the park, smoking a cigarette.
I grew up in the big brick house on ridge road.
Canton, OH. 1980. I am 12 years old.
The house has four stories. When we moved in it was a two-story house, just upstairs and downstairs. By the time I’m 12 my parents have turned the attic into a huge bedroom suite where my two brothers and I shared a large sleep-and-play area, a bathroom and a storage room. (The storage room was where I would later be held for 15 seconds at gunpoint by Marilyn Manson, but that’s another story for another post.) They’d also turned the basement into a rec room, laundry and half bath.
My sister, Emily, and my parents had rooms on the second (originally, upstairs) floor. The second floor also had a guest room where for a while my Aunt Emily roomed with us.
When Auntie Em moved it started an ongoing discussion of how we would distinguish the Emilys. There was one camp that thought that Auntie Em should be B.Em, Big Emily, and sister Emily should be L.Em, Little Emily. Auntie Em proposed the opposite. L.Em, she contended, should stand for Large Emily and B.Em should stand for Baby Emily. The discussion continues at family gatherings to this day. We’ll see if it changes now that sister Emily has a baby of her own.
The main floor, or downstairs, was where all the action happened. Downstairs had four rooms. The kitchen with its attached breakfast nook tended to be the center of family life in the first part of the day. After school most of the family’s activity moved to the living room, except at dinnertime. Dinnertime was always in the dining room. Everyone was required to be present. There was also a TV room off the end of the living room. The TV room was also called the cold room because it didn’t have any heat in winter. We were only allowed one hour of TV a day.
My parents still live in the big brick house on Ridge Road. My father once said the only way he would ever leave there is in a box. I’m pretty sure he still feels that way.
Lots of changes have come and gone since 1980. The neighborhood used to be full of kids, and now is full of senior citizens. The city has declared it part of a “safety corredor” meaning, I think, that it’s a high-crime area. I suppose it’s been that way ever since Marilyn Manson broke in, come to think of it. There’s a neighborhood association now. They have block captains and that sort of thing. They’ve put American flags up on all the streetlights.
That’s where I lived when I was 12. I was awkward, geeky, Dungeons & Dragons playing seventh grader with an attitude, mother, father, two brothers, a sister, a live-in spinster-librarian aunt and a cat.
Those were the days.
Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855) made a good case for most people not really believing what they say they believe. He told a parable about a church of ducks. Paraphrased, the story goes something like this:
One morning the ducks all gathered at the duck church. The sermon was about how God had given them wings to fly. Because of this great gift, ducks could soar to great heights and travel great distances. From those heights, the ducks could see the vastness and beauty of the earth God had made for the ducks to live in.
Quacks of “Amen!” and “Hallelujah!” reverberated around the duck sanctuary.
Then the ducks all waddled home again.
In that sense, sometimes “losing faith” is growing into an ability to be honest about the extent of disbelief that’s been present all along. It’s not really losing faith so much as finding something better.
I remember trying to walk on water one summer afternoon at the Burshire swimming pool. I’d been to a couple days of vacation Bible school earlier that summer, and they’d told the story of Jesus walking on the water, and calling Peter to walk on the water with him.
(For those unfamiliar with the story, the disciples are in a boat on a stormy sea, and Jesus comes to them walking across the water. When the disciples don’t believe it really is Jesus, he calls Peter to come out on the water with him. At first Peter does walk on the water, but then begins to sink when he realizes the impossibility of what he’s doing.)
I wanted to test it out. If Jesus could do it, and if Peter could do it, I ought to be able to do it. The Bible school teacher had said anybody could if they really believed enough. I was skeptical. But here was a fine opportunity for the experiment. I closed my eyes, ratcheted up as much “I believe, I believe, I believe” as I could muster, and stepped off the side of the pool deck.
Down I went. That was the nail in the coffin of naïve belief for me.
The gospel story about Jesus and Peter walking on the water isn’t really about walking on water. Not in the way the fundamentalists at vacation Bible school described it.
The gospel story is about what happens when you leave the safety of the boat (a symbol of the established patterns of faith — the church) to walk on your own out on the sea (a symbol of chaos and danger). The question the story asks isn’t whether you can believe or do the impossible, but whether you can live in a universe without the artificial constructions of religiosity.
Ironic then, that most of the time you hear the story (as I heard it in vacation Bible school that summer) it’s told in order to reinforce the necessity of the artificial construction.
It’s a good prayer, not just for children but for anyone who has come to realize that the sea is much wider than the boat any of us is in. That realization, if it’s more than ducks quacking their amens, ought to invoke compassion for those who are at the mercy of forces beyond their understanding, let alone control.
Given the vast disparity between the size of our boat and the universe it’s obvious that the boat doesn’t stand a chance. No more chance than of me walking across the swimming pool. Losing faith in the boat is one of the best things I ever did.
I still go back to the boat once in a while. I have lots of friends on the boat. The difference is I no longer regard the boat as protection from the sea.
And if I don’t like the direction the boat is heading, I can always get out and walk across the universe.
I’m at WordCamp Providence today.
I’m learning all kinds of cool stuff. Geek stuff. Maybe I’ll write about it more on iCaspar sometime.
But at one session I learned about sleep science.
Why and how did I learn about sleep at a computer geek conference?
This guy, Clint Warren was talking about all the projects he’s involved with. It seemed like an awful lot of stuff.
I asked him if he ever turns projects down. He said he’s always pushing himself to do more, but that he functions better and can get more done by making sure that he eats right and gets enough sleep.
He sleeps using a sleep induction mat.
I’d never heard of such a thing. I looked it up.
One thing led to another. I’m going to order one of those things.
Short story. Go to WordCamp. Sleep better.
Maybe after I get my sleep induction mat and try it out for a while I’ll let you know how it goes.