Fish & Bicycles Goes On Virtual Hiatus

hiatushi·a·tus
noun — A gap or interruption in space, time, or continuity; a break


You know, I’ve been working at a university for 12 years, and so, when I hear the term hiatus, I think of privileged faculty or higher up administrators who are eligible to enjoy the occasional long break from employment, six months to a year, knowing that their job will be waiting for them when they return.

Me, on the other hand, while I have excellent healthcare benefits and a retirement plan, as well as paid sick leave and vacation, the demands of my job and the low level of my position on campus do not allow me the opportunity for hiatus. Anything longer than a 2-week vacation is very difficult to get approval for.

Therefore, I hereby announce that Fish & Bicycles is going on a virtual hiatus, for how long I do not know.

This has been a very difficult decision to make. I’ve loved blogging. I’ve been doing it since June 2004, first at my now-defunct first blog, and here at Fish & Bicycles since October 2009.

But, a number of things have added up to a gradual decline in enthusiasm and enjoyment. My life offline has become too busy, cluttered with a wide range of things both voluntary and involuntary.

Meanwhile:

  • I have a 15-year old son who will not be living at home all that much longer;
  • I have a lovely wife whom I ALWAYS wish I had more time with;
  • And, at 48 years of age, I’m finding my physical, mental, and spiritual health to be demanding more attention from me.

Additionally, I find myself, more times than not, feeling obligated to post something here at Fish & Bicycles, just to keep it alive, rather than as the product of an inspiration to create for creativity’s sake. I know that maintaining a regular practice of anything requires persistence in the face of challenges, and I’ve managed to do just that for nine years of blogging. But, I just need to take a break for a while, to attend to other things in my life.

I LOVE that definition of hiatus that I included at the start of this post — A gap or interruption in space, time, or continuity. It sounds so Sci-Fi, and given that I’m taking a virtual hiatus, I feel like a time traveler!

Hopefully, on my “travels” I will find my muse again and I’ll return to Fish & Bicycles with renewed vigor and determination.

In the meantime, I’d like to thank all of my regular readers and the many folks who have chosen to Follow Fish & Bicycles. I’ve been honored by the time people have taken to check out what I’ve been doing here.

Cheers!

My Teen, My Tug o’ War: A Poem

tug-o-war1

my teen, my tug o’war
the rope stretched taut between us
we pull
me wanting him closer
he wanting to get away…
…and yet, no letting go

for 15 years years I’ve been telling
the same old joke
about how my son had a lot of nerve
growing up
how, if I could, I would freeze his growth
at any given time
for as long as I needed him to be
that age
that size
that capable
Until I had had my fill
Until I was ready to move on

but I’ve never had that power
over time and space
and now…
…he’s been weightlifting
he’s ripped
he could kick my ass in a fight

and so here I am
reduced to being grateful that he hasn’t yet
let go of the rope

we tug

New Blog Hits Close To Home

realitysandwichesToday I have the pleasure of offering up an enthusiastic shout-out for a new addition to the blogosphere…but not just any old new blog.

RealitySandwiches is my wife’s latest creative outlet. After supporting my blogging for many years, it’s her turn, and Laurel will be sharing a sampling of her many facets, from crafty DIY projects, original poetry and photos, to her best thinking on parenting and psychology. (Laurel has been psychotherapist for nearly 20 years and really knows her stuff.)

It’s been a lot of fun helping Laurel learn to use WordPress, but mostly I’ve loved watching her dig in with a fierce joy of creating.

So, check out RealitySandwiches when you have a chance, and you can always find a link to her in the Bellingham Blogs links list in my sidebar.

Wanted: Lawn Mowing Sheep

sheep

Photoshopped image via A/N Blog

Ok, so, THIS is brilliant!

Via The New York Times:

The archivists requested a donkey, but what they got from the mayor’s office were four wary black sheep, which, as of Wednesday morning, were chewing away at a lumpy field of grass beside the municipal archives building as the City of Paris’s newest, shaggiest lawn mowers.

Mayor Bertrand Delanoë has made the environment a priority since his election in 2001, with popular bike- and car-sharing programs, an expanded network of designated lanes for bicycles and buses, and an enormous project to pedestrianize the banks along much of the Seine.

The sheep, which are to mow (and, not inconsequentially, fertilize) an airy half-acre patch in the 19th Arrondissement are intended in the same spirit. City Hall refers to the project as “eco-grazing,” and it notes that the four ewes will prevent the use of noisy, gas-guzzling mowers and cut down on the use of herbicides.

Kudos to Mayor Delanoë! (Be sure to read the whole article. It’s very entertaining.)

I’ve been fighting for years my wife’s suggestion that we get some chickens and goats, but I never thought about the possibility of the goats, or sheep, doing the lawn mowing for me.

This changes EVERYTHING!

Quadrophenia & “The Universal Adolescent Problem”

QuadropheniaWhen I was a sophomore at Rutgers University, I read an article in the school newspaper that mentioned an album that was very near and dear to my heart, The Who‘s 1973 masterpiece Quadrophenia.

And, because I was a serious music geek, obsessed with Rock & Roll on a scholarly level, and because I was majoring in English literature, writing papers on a nearly constant basis, I sat down at my typewriter and pounded out a letter-to-the-editor in response to the piece I’d read. Only, instead of the few column inches typical for this sort of thing, page after page after page spilled out, with at least a dozen quotes, transcribed from memory.

It was classic me at the time. I put considerably more effort, my heart and soul really, into that letter than I did into the paper on Shakespeare or something that I should have been working on. It also took me a fraction of the time.

Well, much to my surprise, the letter was published in its entirety, as a full-on article, which was a terrific thrill and an enormous boost to my confidence as a writer. (So, I guess it was probably a good thing, after all, that I was procrastinating that Shakespeare paper.)

One of the reasons why that piece on Quadrophenia was so easy to write was because that album spoke to me and touched me so deeply. Though it was written all the way across the Atlantic, about people and events in a totally different culture, set right around the time I was born, its writer, Pete Townshend, had communicated the essence of what it’s like to grow up, how difficult and confusing and painful it can be, and, as it turns out, though 20 years and many cultural changes had come and gone since the fictional events depicted in Quadrophenia had taken place, so much of the coming-of-age experience had stayed the same, filled with all of the pressures to leave the innocence of childhood behind, to fit in, to get a job and keep it, and to find, if you’re lucky, sometimes against seemingly insurmountable odds, love.

In the video below, a documentary about the making of the album, The Who’s manager, Bill Curbishley, referred to this theme that Townshend had so accurately portrayed as “the universal adolescent problem”.

Anyway, as a father of a 15-year old son, I can see my boy wrestling with this universal problem just like I did, I can see him struggling mightily at times, and in some ways it’s more painful than when I went through it. Parents like me want so badly to protect our children from this kind of thing, and when we see it happening, regardless of our hopes and efforts, we not only feel the pain that our kids are feeling, we feel anger at the world for bringing it upon them, and sometimes anger at ourselves for having failed to protect them from it.

So, you might wonder, if this universal adolescent experience is so painful, why would we want to listen to an album on such a painful subject?

Thing is, one of the things that can happen at this time of our lives is tremendous isolation, born from a sense that we’re the only ones going through it. We look around, everyone’s putting on their brave faces, posing their asses off, no one’s talking about their feelings and about how difficult it is to keep up this pretense.

When you hear Quadrophenia, then, it breaks through that isolation, letting you know that you aren’t alone, that you aren’t the only one to have experienced the difficulties you are experiencing, and there’s great relief and comfort in that. Add to this the intense, powerful, pulsing rock music of The Who, and the album becomes a vehicle for this catharsis, this release valve for all the pressure that’s been building up.

I very nearly owe my life to Quadrophenia, and so having stumbled across this documentary on the album was a real treat for me, stirring up considerable memories.

I hereby dedicate this post to my son, who has inherited my vinyl record collection, including Quadrophenia, and I hope that it provides as much comfort and inspiration to him as it did for me.

Portland Postscript: The Disgrace of Homelessness

Click to enlargeI had intended my post this morning, a photo I took while crossing the Burnside Bridge on foot, to be the last post related to my recent trip to Portland, Oregon.

But then, my blogging friend Naomi Baltuck (whose awesome blog, Writing Between The Lines, is very much worth checking out!), left the following comment on that post:

This is a gorgeous photo! I love the color and composition! Very artful.

I know. Sweet, and a wonderful compliment, right?

Truth is, I can’t, with a clear conscience, accept the compliment, because…the photo is a fraud.

You see, there’s nothing gorgeous, colorful, or artful about the fact that, just out of frame, several buildings down, there was a line of people two blocks long at the Portland Rescue Mission.

We’d been warned by a Portlander, at a streetcar stop on the south side of the Willamette River, that our plan to walk over the Burnside Bridge wasn’t the greatest, that there were several buses we could take across, that the neighborhood just on the other side of the bridge was, he said, “…unpleasant. Not unsafe. You won’t get mugged or anything. It’s just unpleasant.”

I had a feeling I knew what he was referring to. My wife and 15-year old son had seen numerous homeless people on our walking excursions throughout the city. But, nothing had prepared me for the sight of so many people lined up at the mission on a cold night, nearly a stone’s throw away from one of Portland’s proudest achievements, the Pearl District, a section of downtown that had once been a crumbling mess of urban industrial decay, transformed in the late 1990s into an upscale neighborhood of pricey restaurants, shops, and condominium complexes.

So, the Portlander we spoke to was right, it was unpleasant, but not for the reasons I’m almost certain he was hinting at.

There was nothing unpleasant about the people who were lined up at the mission.

No, the unpleasantness, for me, was that they served as a stark reminder that we continue to allow, in our country, 1% of the population to hoard unthinkable amounts of wealth, living in decadent luxury, while the middle class is shrinking, and poverty is on the rise.

It’s a national disgrace.

Here’s a photo taken outside of the Portland Rescue Mission…

portland-rescue-mission

…in the late 1940s, during the post-WWII economic boom.

So much has changed since then, but sadly, some things have stayed the same.

Movie Scene Doppelgänger: The Futility of Trying to Recreate a Magic Moment

VDayMoviesGroundhogDay_gallery_primarySo, rewind a few weeks, to February 2nd, Groundhog Day to be precise, and, as corny as it sounds, my family and I watched, as we do every year, the 1993 Bill Murray comedy Groundhog Day.

We’ve watched the movie many times, each time I tend to notice something I hadn’t noticed before, or a particular scene strikes me as funnier than it had before, or something like that, and this time was no different. It took me a couple of weeks to fully piece this year’s revelation together, and here it is:

    The snowball fight scene is the cinematic doppelgänger of the lobster scene from Woody Allen‘s 1977 film Annie Hall. (see the lobster scene below)

The photo shown above is from a scene where Bill Murray’s and Andie MacDowell’s characters are having a magical moment. Murray’s Phil has been harnessing his experience of reliving the same day over and over again in order to learn as much as he can about MacDowell’s Rita, a strategy which, at first seems to be working. Phil deftly manages to shift Rita’s impression of him as a cynical, arrogant, and selfish jerk to a sensitive guy with deep interest in her as a person, as well as someone who seems to share her values. They build a snowman together, and, after a spontaneous snowball fight with some kids, they kinda inadvertently fall close to each other in the snow, their eyes lock, and they kiss. It’s sweet and playful.

But, Phil overreaches. Managing to persuade Rita to come see his room at the B&B, his selfishness returns, he becomes extremely pushy with sexual advances, culminating in a slap to the face and Rita’s swift, angry departure.

His attempt the “next day” to recreate the magic moment is painful to watch, so forced and fake and duplicitous, the antithesis of what Rita would want:

And, of course, it doesn’t work. It will never work. That’s why the original moment was magical. It was the coming together of two people whom at first didn’t seem at all well-suited for each other, yet in the surprise that they could actually get along and have fun, affection and even love, or at least the possibility of love, happened.

Now, rewind 16 years, and try to remember, if you can, a scene from Annie Hall, Woody Allen’s Alvy and Diane Keaton‘s Annie are on a little getaway to the seaside, when hilarity breaks out in the kitchen, as Alvy and Annie are trying to cook lobsters, but the lobsters have somehow scattered about the floor.

Once again, you have two VERY different people coming together, taking delight in the fact that, despite their differences, they are having a lot of fun.

But, as we know, sadly, Alvy and Annie grow apart. And, Alvy, like Phil from Groundhog Day, is under the mistaken impression that he can recreate that magical lobster moment with someone else.

Here are both scenes spliced together:

As one YouTube commenter wrote:

This is perhaps the best scene about what chemistry is. And how it can only be found and lived, not recreated, not replaced.

So, yeah, it’s chemistry, or magic, or something, and it has a shelf life.

As I said, it took me a while to fully formulate this post, to connect the dots across 16 years of film history, but it finally came together this past weekend, in Portland, Oregon, where, as I mentioned, I was on a mini-vacation with my wife and 15-year old son.

On Saturday, we, along with, it seemed, 95% of the population of Portland, visited OMSI (the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry). We went to OMSI not only because it’s supposed to be an amazing place, but also because our son had been there several years ago on a class trip, having stayed the night on the premises, and it was…

…magical!

We were careful to honor the memories of that magic, and asked him if he was sure that he wanted to go, he was now 15 after all, and perhaps, we wondered, he’d think it was for younger kids and not his thing at all anymore.

And yet, when asked, he enthusiastically said, “YES!!! OMSI’s AWESOME!!!”

Fast Forward, and we’re standing outside in the rain, waiting to get in, or we’re wandering around the museum checking out the exhibits, and he’s noticeably quiet, a quiet that, we’d soon find out, represented disappointment.

The magic could not be recreated, for whatever reasons, maybe the fact that he’d been with his classmates and friends last time, or the fact that they got to have a sleepover in a museum (how cool is that?!), and the fact that he’s now a little older and he’s there with his parents, etc.

Anyway, the lesson here is pretty obvious: Should you have magic moments, savor every frickin’ drop, breathe it all in and gather it up and store it away in your heart and mind, take some photos and video if you want, so that you can think of and feel those precious, unique memories, whenever you summon them.

Just, please avoid the disappointment and don’t try to manufacture them again.

Trust me. It.won’t.work.

Best of Fish & Bicycles: Transplanting Life

Originally Published: May 17, 2011


I read an incredibly moving New York Times story this morning that’s been haunting me, and it took me a little while to think it through and figure out why.

For those who don’t have time to read the Times article, by way of summary, in the photo above, the woman in the center and her children are placing their hands on the chest of a man whom they just met.

Why?

Because when the woman’s husband, the father of those children, died a year ago of a brain hemorrhage, his heart was transplanted into that man’s body. The man had been in a hospital suffering from severe heart failure.

Mirtala Garcia laid a hand on Sebastiao Lourenco’s chest, then pressed her ear there for a moment.

“That’s my heart,” she said. “It’s still beating for me.”

I know. Wow.

If that weren’t enough, Mr. Garcia was so young and otherwise healthy that donations from his body greatly improved and/or saved the lives of a total of eight people. Mr. Lourenco received his heart, his corneas went to one or more anonymous people, his pancreas to another anonymous person, the right lobe of his liver went to an adult woman with cancer, the left lobe to a toddler with congenital liver disease, two friends of the family received a kidney each, and one lung went to a man with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

Makes me think of the line from It’s A Wonderful Life — “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” The first sentence is right on, but in this case, Mr. Garcia actually filled an awful lot of holes after he wasn’t around anymore.

So, a touching story for sure, but why was it haunting me?

Well, after some thought, as I mentioned, I realized that it had to do with the fact that I was adopted at birth, and I recognized that there are some similarities between adoption and organ donation.

Organ Donation: Amidst death and grief, a gift is given — a new lease on life for the organ recipients.

Adoption: Amidst the social trauma and emotional pain of an unplanned pregnancy, a gift is given — a chance for a baby to have a stable home with two parents who are ready to take on the responsibility of raising a child.

So, just like Mr. Garcia’s organs, I was transplanted.

I’ve never met my birth mother. Though I’ve contemplated a search many times, I’ve always balked because of all the uncertainty that I could ever find her, much less get a chance to meet her. (UPDATED June 2012: I have met her now!)

And yet, reading about how the organ recipients had a chance to meet the wife of the donor, to posthumously thank her husband and to thank her and her children, really stirred up my desire to find my birth mom.

She gave me life, after all. The least I can do is thank her.

Best of Fish & Bicycles: Lyric of the Day: Rise To Me

Originally Published: April 18, 2011


Well, for the third Lyric of the Day installment in a row, the theme that grabbed me is Love.

The source of today’s lyric, Rise To Me, from The Decemberists‘ most recent album, The King Is Dead, is just about the most beautiful song I’ve heard in a long, long time. From a musical perspective alone, the song has a lovely, simple chord progression and verse-chorus-verse-chorus-etc. composition; and the arrangement, rooted in acoustic guitar, piano, harmonica, Chris Funk‘s gorgeous, pining pedal steel guitar, and Gillian Welch‘s perfectly placed harmony vocals, provides a lush canvass for Colin Meloy‘s characteristically poetic lyrics.

So, let’s dig into those lyrics and see what’s going on here. I think you’ll agree that Rise To Me is a very powerful expression of love.

Big mountain, wide river
There’s an ancient pull
These tree trunks, these stream beds
Leave our bellies full

In this first verse, Meloy sets up an image of a maternal natural world that lovingly sustains us. And while the mountain is big and the river wide, the first chorus that follows speaks of challenges and threats.

They sing out:
I am gonna stand my ground
You rise to me and I’ll blow you down
I am gonna stand my ground
You rise to me and I’ll blow you down

The photo I’ve included above seemed to capture something of nature’s stubborn determination to stand fast in the face of challenges. While the tree may have been shaped by the wind and receding glaciers may have moved those boulders around tens of thousands of years ago, the boulders now seem unmovable, the tree still stands, green with life, and the green grass, too, seems to have decided that it will stick around as well.

With this image of steadfastness established, Meloy turns to the subject of his son Henry, who has high-functioning autism.

Hey Henry can you hear me?
Let me see those eyes
This distance between us
Can seem a mountain size

As a father of a son myself, this is the part of the song that first caught my attention. There may be nothing more painful, emotionally, than to witness your child suffer, and so it’s only natural that a parent, out of pure, primal love, might desire that their child learn from the example set by the unyielding force of nature in the first verse, so that he may be as prepared as possible for the many challenges that life will bring.

But boy:
You are gonna stand your ground
They rise to you, you blow them down
Let me see you stand your ground
If they rise to you, you blow them down

Finally, Meloy adresses his wife, wishing for her the same kind of strength and resiliency. And I can’t help speculating that there’s recognition here too that the strain of raising a child with autism can lead to strain in their marriage, and that on top of all the usual challenges most couples face, there’s hope that their relationship can stand firm.

My darling, my sweetheart
I am in your sway
To cold climes comes springtime
So let me hear you say

My love:
I am gonna stand my ground
They rise to me and I’ll blow them down
I am gonna stand my ground
They rise to me and I’ll blow them down

Reminds me, in a beautiful way, of a line from the famous sonnet:

[Love] looks on tempests and is never shaken

–William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116

Anyway, enough analysis. Here’s the band, sans Gillian Welch unfortunately, performing Rise To Me live.