Trapped under something heavy

There’s a scene in a movie I love a lot, Rob Reiner’s 1989 film When Harry Met Sally, where Harry (Billy Crystal) leaves a voice mail for Sally (Meg Ryan) that goes like this:

If you’re there, please pick up the phone, I really want to talk to you. (silence)

The fact that you’re not answering leads me to believe you’re either: A.) Not at home; B.) Home, but don’t want to talk to me; or C.) Home, desperately want to talk to me, but trapped under something heavy.

By way of explaining why I’ve not been able to post anything here at Fish & Bicycles since last Thursday, I could paraphrase Harry’s Option C. I’ve just had another 4-day weekend, and as I wrote a week ago, coming back to work after time off can make one question the whole concept of vacations.

Of course, the truth is that the weekend was great and I did not have internet access, in a good way, the whole time. Lots of reading (a new genre for me, crime novels by Norwegian writer Karin Fossum), beach walks, bicycle rides, and afternoon tea.

Now, if someone would just pry this anvil off of me, I’ll soon get back to my daily virtual scribblings.

Plinky: Advice to my 16-year old self

(Plinky.com sends me an email everyday with a question meant to inspire a blog post. Occasionally I take the bait.)

Ok, I know, it’s terribly cliché, so Dead Poets Society and all that, but I LOVED that movie, and I really can’t think of anything that I needed to hear more than Carpe Diem when I was 16.

Regrets can be toxic, and here’s what Langston Hughes had to say about deferred dreams:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

And while I’ve been mostly free of festering, runny sores, and I certainly haven’t exploded, two things came to mind that I wish I had, at age 16, approached with a seize the day spirit.

Music
Besides my family and friends, making music is the most important thing in my life, and yet most of the time all I do is make music, informally, recreationally, with my family and friends. I’ve been obsessed with music since I was just about my son’s age (12), and yet I didn’t start learning guitar seriously until I graduated college. I missed the opportunity to immerse myself in music while I was young and single and free, when I could have at least had a chance to realize my dream of being in a band.

The dream is not dead and I’m still working on being in a band and performing, but it would have been a HELL of a lot easier when I was younger, and I’d be a MUCH better musician by now as well.

Travel
When I was a senior in high school I already had serious dreams about traveling and I knew other people who did as well. Backpacking through Europe, for instance, was at the top of the list…and I still haven’t done it.

Some of the other people I knew who wanted to travel made it look easy. They worked hard to save up the money and then they took off and did it, starting a pattern they’d repeat again and again for years, making their way around the globe. For six months or so, it was all work and little play, two, sometimes three jobs. But that would be followed by six months of journeying to wondrous places.

I was too conditioned by my parents’ financial insecurities to follow my friends’ examples. It was too risky, you see, to take off and travel with no job to return to.

I’ve since been able to manage one significant solo trip — Israel & Egypt in 1996 — as well as some great trips with the family — Mexico, Hawaii, Jamaica, Costa Rica — and there are many years and many trips to come. Yet, there won’t be the twentysomething backpack trip to Europe. More likely, it will be a fifty or sixtysomething trip, which isn’t really the same.

Wilco Soul Revisited

Back in January, I wrote about my love of the band Wilco, the influence soul music has had on Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, and the exciting news that Tweedy was producing an album for legendary soul/gospel singer Mavis Staples.

Well, the album, You Are Not Alone, will be released September 14th, and Pitchfork has posted the track listing and a video of Mavis and Tweedy doing a cover of Credence Clearwater Revial’s Wrote a Song for Everyone. The album includes songs from a variety of sources — traditional gospel, Randy Newman, and Allen Toussaint, to name a few — as well as three Tweedy originals.

For now, here’s the Staples/Tweedy duet. Mavis’ performance is mesmerizing and moving and totally captures the pure joy of two people making music together. Bands are great fun, no doubt about it, but all you really need is one guitar and two voices for a transcendental musical experience.

Click on the photo to play the video:

The double-edged sword of vacation

It’s a tired old tale, but it’s true. Vacation is wonderful, essential, but the frantic work leading up to vacation, the effort to get everything in order so that, hopefully, things won’t fall apart while you’re gone, and then the catch-up game when you get back, threatens to overshadow the vacation itself.

I’ve been of the opinion for years that the problem lies in the dichotomization of our vacation and non-vacation lives. For people who don’t like their jobs, work has become something to be endured between weekends and vacations, rather than something you just do as a normal part of your life. Work, then, becomes something you do in order to earn vacation time, but many Americans are lucky to get 2 weeks of vacation out of 52 weeks in the year.

That’s awfully lopsided.

Even for people who love their jobs, the compartmentalization of vacation and work time still creates this situation where the effort planning for and then cleaning up after a vacation can dilute the very restorative effects that a vacation is supposed to offer.

Then again, I might just suck at time management and this whole theory of mine could be nothing more than a massive rationalization.

My goal today: To protect the following memories from my four-day vacation weekend.

  • Setting out from beautiful Horseshoe Bay on a B.C. Ferry, past Bowen, Gambier and Keats islands, and landing on the Sunshine Coast
  • Arriving at Roberts Creek, a village with a restaurant, cafe, general store, library, and not much else
  • Exploring the coast by car, bicycle and kayak
  • Returning to the mainland for a day in Vancouver, cycling around Stanley Park, swimming, tea, and unexpectedly enjoying a performance by SpandyAndy
  • Time with the family

Video Fridays: Next time, Bolivia

While it was tempting to riff off of yesterday’s post and offer up Monty Python’s Spam sketch for this week’s Video Fridays installment, I’d rather go back to the day before that and post the classic scene from Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid that I referenced there.

I haven’t watched the film in years and seeing this clip makes me want to run out to the video store to rent it. I’ve seen it numerous times and I never tire of it. The chemistry between Paul Newman and Robert Redford raised the bar ridiculously high for the buddy picture genre, and this scene captures it perfectly.

The look Redford gives to Newman, that curt nod of the head, after he states that he doesn’t know how to swim, is priceless.

And so, without further ado:

Spam of the Day

About once a week I browse through my junk mail folder, just to be sure something important hasn’t been incorrectly designated as spam, and I have to say it’s what I’d imagine dumpster diving at a McDonald’s is like.

And yet, every once in a while, the subject line will stand out and make me chuckle.

Today’s was just such a case:

Your huge apparatus will grow

So, yeah, it’s funny, but it’s also a little sad.

After all, it doesn’t seem like a very good business plan to try and sell this product to men who already have a huge apparatus.

Plinky: Describe a “Hah! I told you so” moment

(Plinky.com sends me an email everyday with a question meant to inspire a blog post. Occasionally I take the bait.)

Kid, the next time I say, ‘Let’s go someplace like Bolivia,’ let’s GO someplace like Bolivia!
Butch Cassidy

While Plinky actually asked for a description of a “Hah! I told you so” moment that happened recently, my first thought was of an incident that I blogged about back in July 2005. My wife, son and I went on a road trip down the Washington and Oregon coasts, and the following describes the inauspicious beginning to the journey.


You know that great feeling when an argument you were making turns out to be correct? It must have its roots in early childhood, because even though you know you shouldn’t gloat, it just feels so damned good to say “I told you so!”

An exception would be when you are arguing that something shouldn’t be done a certain way because it would result in something bad happening. In that case, saying “I told you so!” does not make the bad thing, that you correctly argued would happen, magically go away. In fact, grumbling “I told you so!”, either to yourself or out loud, simply makes the situation worse, because now you are mad about the bad thing and about the other person not having listened to you.

So I say to my wife, “My friend who lives in Bremerton recommended that we drive down Whidbey, take the ferry to Port Townsend, and then drive Highway 101 all the way to Long Beach.” I add details about all the traffic we’ll hit in Seattle, Tacoma, and Olympia, pointing out that while I-5 may look more like the direct route, especially if you consider the speed limit is 70mph much of the way, with all the traffic we won’t be driving 70 very often, and even with the possibility of a wait at the ferry terminal and a maximum speed of maybe 65mph on 101, we’d still make better time that way.

I was, however, overruled, and just a few hours into the trip, in the intense summer heat of midday, we got caught in horrendous traffic that did not let up until we were on, that’s right, Highway 101. No viable alternate routes, no chance of my wife not accompanying us on the rest of the trip.

Needless to say, “I told you so” was no solace at all, and even if it was we all know what happened to Butch and Sundance in Bolivia.

Bellingham: The “gold standard” of sustainability

This is one of the many reasons why I love it here in Bellingham:

PBS chooses Bellingham to show sustainable economy
By JESSICA BADER – The Bellingham Herald

BELLINGHAM — Bellingham will be one of many cities nationwide featured in a PBS “Now” special called “Fixing the Future.”…

“Bellingham is kind of the gold standard for sustainable, local businesses. It seems like people here get what it’s about,” Brancaccio said. “And it’s not just price, it’s something else. (In Bellingham) you know where your food is coming from, rather than it being a mystery. (Food) doesn’t come from across the world, emitting carbon (in travel).”

The crew filmed in a variety of locations: Lummi Island Wild, which practices sustainable reefnet fishing; the Willows Inn, a bed and breakfast that serves local fish and produce; a treetop office with a green roof that hangs over Chuckanut Bay; the Vehicle Research Institute at Western Washington University; Whatcom Educational Credit Union, which has built three LEED-certified buildings; Wood Stone Corp., which manufactures ovens; Mallard Ice Cream, which uses local ingredients; and the Community Food Co-op.

“There are so many good stories in Bellingham and Whatcom County about local businesses reducing their environmental footprint and … supporting one another,” said Derek Long, executive director of the nonprofit business group Sustainable Connections. “(Bellingham) is faring better in this slow economy than other communities are, and I think all our investments over the years in supporting each other and local businesses is why.”

More and more these days I’m finding it harder and harder to be around people who spend a lot of time talking about all the crappy things going on in the world. Oh, I notice all those crappy things. It’s impossible not to.

And yet, along with rationing my exposure to news media, I take tremendous solace in the fact that I live where I do, in a community where a critical mass of people “get it”, get the importance of thinking and being and buying and eating local, get the importance of reducing our footprints, bicycling and walking, building green and conserving green.

Corporate greed and political corruption are major problems that demand vigilance and activism, but what’s happening here in Bellingham and elsewhere is another critical strategy. If federal, state, and local governments are failing us, a community can just decide to do things differently. There’s nothing against the law about supporting local agriculture, engaging in habitat restoration, or promoting sustainable transportation.

It’s a very Ghandian, be the change you wish to see in the world, idea and I’m grateful that it’s alive and well here in Bellingham.

Begging for an expiry date

So, I was sitting in the Viking Union, the student center here at Western Washington University, and on the table at which I was seated I saw this advertisement that you see here on the right.

As I studied this ad I knew instantly that it deserved a blog post, and, as it turned out it serves as a great example of one of the things I love so much about blogging.

Here’s how my process went:

  • Something bugged me about that phrase, “Burgerz R so 5 minuts ago.”
  • It wasn’t just the intentional cow-speak typos.
  • It had to do with the “so five minutes ago” thing.
  • Something didn’t seem right about it.
  • It seemed familiar, as clichés always do, but still there was something odd about it.
  • I Googled “so five minutes ago” and found this, from Urban Dictionary:
    • so five minutes ago: Totally and completely out of date, or style. Recently hip, or cutting edge, but no longer so. Oh my Gawd! Those acid-washed, wide-leg raver pants are SO five minutes ago!
  • But wait, how can something five minutes ago be totally and completely out of date or style?
  • The Urban Dictionary entry was dated October 2003.
  • I Googled again, this time searching for “so * years ago”, for certainly the phrase would have more punch, would be more of a put-down, if the subject was years behind the times rather than minutes.
  • Results included:
    • YouTube – Chicago Is So Two Years Ago: FALL OUT BOY
    • Equality is so 30 years ago : Maud Newton
    • jeannette is so two years ago.. | MySpace
    • Valero – because Enron is SO ten years ago.
    • Microsoft: Google Spreadsheets Is So 10 Years Ago
  • Now THAT seemed more like it, more familiar, more logical.
  • But then I looked back at the “so five minutes ago” search results and found this, from USA Today:

      Everything is so 5 minutes ago
      The cool continuum — that twisty trajectory that traces pop culture from cultish to trendy to mainstream to so-over-it’s-embarrassing to, finally, kitsch — is being compressed. What used to require years to migrate to the mall, MTV and, yes, USA Today now takes only a matter of months.

  • The USA Today article was dated June 2003, four months before the Urban Dictionary entry was posted

That’s the fun of blogging, right there! It starts with some unexpected observation that sparks an idea, and you follow it either as far as it will take you or as far as you care to go.

In this case, I like where I stopped. I like the layers of irony. I’m convinced that, regardless of whether you measure in minutes or days, months or years, the phrase “so (#) (minutes/years) ago” has really worn out its welcome.