Notes From Italy: An Introduction

ItalyAs mentioned in my last post, my wife, son and I recently returned from a 2-week trip in Italy, a trip that defibrillated and resuscitated my inner blogger.

The first product of this resurrection will be a recurring series of posts titled Notes From Italy.

A few notes about the Notes:

  • When I tried journaling on my very first day in the country, in a café in Florence, it wasn’t pretty. The experience of traveling there, of actually being there, certainly opened up the creative floodgates, but the flood was so overwhelming that I struggled to determine where to start or what specifically to write about.
  • This partially stemmed from the fact that I’d dreamed of going to Italy since I was a kid, eating at my local pizzeria, then as a teenager learning about Italian art and music, and beyond. My brain couldn’t really comprehend that, at last, I was finally there.
  • So, I took a few days off and didn’t write anything, while little bits and pieces started floating around in my head, observations and reactions to things I was experiencing.
  • Not wanting to lose these thoughts and reflections, I decided to take a different approach and started a simple list, some items no longer than a phrase or a sentence, others a short paragraph, just enough to capture the main ideas. This was incredibly liberating, and it eventually yielded over 30 items.
  • My approach to Notes From Italy will be similar: posts in this recurring series will only be as long or short as they need to be in order to preserve and convey the essence of my observations, some edited to flesh them out a bit, others left exactly as I jotted them down by hand.
  • Read in sequence, as they appear, or later by browsing through the archived series, I believe Notes From Italy will paint an accurate picture of our great big adventure, from the highest highs to the occasional low.
  • Yeah, there’s something powerful about a list!

I’ll leave you with this teaser/spoiler, jumping to where we spent the last three days of our trip: the Amalfi Coast:

Positano: a pleasant day-trip from our base in quiet, nearby Praiano. Yes, it IS that beautiful!

Ci vediamo presto!

Um…Hello? Is This Thing On?

Retro microphoneOver the 7 years I’ve been writing Fish & Bicycles, the two longest breaks I’ve taken from the blog have been sizeable, especially when you consider that normally I post at least once a week.

First, there was a planned hiatus from June 2013 thru November 2014, and today I emerge from an unplanned break of some months, not having posted anything since April 21, 2016.

Reasons for the breaks have been many, but mostly it’s a combination of a decline in inspiration to write, married with various life events that demand time and attention.

Fitting, then, having just returned from two weeks in Italy with my wife and 18-year old son, that this particular life event provided the inspiration I needed in order to make my way back to Fish & Bicycles!

I mean, how can you NOT be inspired by this?

Florence, the Arno River, Ponte Vecchio

I journaled a fair amount during the trip, and starting soon I’ll be posting a series of blog entries titled Notes From Italy.

So, cook up some pasta, pour yourself a glass of chianti, and enjoy!


Out Of Office Update

outJust a quick update on my Out of Office post from last Thursday.

I’ve kinda had second thoughts about taking a complete break from blogging, and have decided, instead, to keep one foot in the online publishing world using Twitter.

I’ve had a Fish & Bicycles Twitter account since I first started the blog, but I rarely post anything exclusively to Twitter, and instead have it set up so that every time I post to the blog a tweet is automagically posted with a link to the blog post.

My plan now is to use only Twitter for a while and post my tweets to the blog.

I have no idea whether or not this idea will work out, but it feels better than having Fish & Bicycles go completely silent indefinitely.

Out Of Office: My Muse Is Otherwise Occupied Edition

outIt’s been a longstanding tradition of mine, here at Fish & Bicycles, to announce when I will be unable to post for a while.

This series of Out of Office posts has spanned the last five years, they usually marked occasions when I was traveling, but sometimes I just knew I’d be too busy to blog during the winter holidays or other life events.

THIS, is not one of those occasions.

Though I actually am leaving tomorrow for Kaua’i, and will not be home until March 1st, the real catalyst for this post is the fact that my muse, who has been by my side as a writer for many years, with just one disappearing act from June 2013 to November 2014, has been completely and utterly occupied by a different creative pursuit of mine…


My muse isn’t very good at multitasking, and as my latest music project started to get serious, right around the beginning of this year, very little inspiration for writing has come my way.

The only place I’ve consistently found my muse lately has been here:


I’m super fortunate to be playing with a group of musicians of the highest caliber, in a studio like this, making the most complex music I’ve ever attempted to play.

One of the founding principles of this band was that we are all treating it as an opportunity to learn and grow as musicians; no small task when you consider that, except for our 20-something keyboard player, we’re all over the age of 50, hence lots of new tricks for old dogs.

But, considering that there is growing scientific evidence that making music can help stave off dementia, this is probably the very best thing that I can be doing for myself right now.

A friend of mine who shares with me a love for the music of the Grateful Dead, just tonight sent me a link to a YouTube clip featuring Jerry Garcia telling a story about a time when he had to play a concert after he had accidentally been dosed with LSD. Jerry explains that he got very paranoid before he had to go on stage, thinking there were mafia gangsters in the crowd who might want to kill him, especially if he went out there and couldn’t play because he was tripping on acid.

And so, in order to get through the situation, Jerry said to himself, “I’ll play for my life.” It worked, and it became a kind of mantra for other times in his life when he felt, musically, in a tight spot.

I relate to that, in numerous ways. Making music feels to me as if I AM playing for my life, not thinking that someone will kill me if I don’t play well, but because making music gives me life, sustains me, makes life worth living, makes life MUCH more fun.

SO … I’m not really sure when my muse will steer me back to writing, but Fish & Bicycles means much too much to me to give it up.

Most likely, after I have focused on music for a while, once the band has fully gelled, once we’ve been through the learning curve for the 30-40 songs we’re working on, maybe then some of my brain capacity will be freed up, and my muse will sense this available creative resource, and the inspiration to put words together in hopefully compelling ways will return.

Until then, thanks so much to any and all of my readers out there. If you’re subscribed, or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, etc., you’ll see me again when you see me.


Awareness vs. Self-Preservation: Revisited

burying-ones-head-in-the-sandThings typically get quiet around here, at Fish & Bicycles, around the December holidays, but if you read my last post, titled Awareness vs. Self-Preservation, it was likely pretty obvious that I was struggling with the weight of the world.

So, I took a break from blogging.

Thinking about it now, a few weeks later, I feel no small amount of embarrassment for having assumed that it was both humanly possible AND my responsibility to attempt to carry the weight of the world.

The several comments I got, from readers generous enough to take the time to offer suggestions, reminded me that like so many things in life, awareness vs. self-preservation is an artificial mental construct. There actually is no such choice to be made unless we irrationally convince ourselves otherwise. 

Rather, both things are desirable. Awareness is good and badly needed, AND humans need self-care, indeed self-preservation, in order to use that awareness, to notice the existing good in the world and the potential for manifesting more good.

As the new year approaches, I don’t currently have plans for any formal resolution-setting process, but I have set one goal, and that is to take better care of myself, that I might be better able to take care of others.

I’ve mentioned here numerous times over the years that I am a musician, and since, historically, one dependable way of taking care of myself is to make music, more specifically to make music with other musicians, one step I’ve already taken towards taking better care of myself is to fully commit to a new music project that I’m involved in.

I’ll share more details soon about this project, but for now I’ll say that it involves the most technically challenging music I’ve ever played, requiring me to work hard at learning new things, which at the age of 51 is no easy task, it involves building wonderful new, and warm, as it turns out, relationships with band members I’ve never played with before, and, having volunteered to build the band’s online presence, I’m getting to mix in other vehicles for creativity, like graphic art and writing.

So, I’ve definitely turned a corner, getting just enough distance between me and the gloom in the world so that I can carry on, do what I can, help when I can, be there for the people in my life here and now, and even experience the joys that remain entirely possible in life.

On Choosing Gloom


Now, Fish & Bicycles, from its inception, was intended as light fare.

In my very first post, in October 2009, I mentioned how my previous, now-defunct and unlinkable blog, was almost entirely political, which means it almost always featured heavy, often disturbing subjects, and feeling as I did and still do, that there are already plenty of political blogs out there, that the news media in general is dominated by bad news, I was determined to stay focused on things that I really like, including: current local events, snippets of daily life experiences, art, design, music, film, theater, the written word, technology, travel, sustainability, spirituality, fatherhood, etc.

And ever since, when I’m faced with a wave of gloom, like the wave mentioned above, I either struggle mightily to keep my commitment, to find something positive to post, or I find myself paralyzed, unable to post anything (this is my first in over a week), feeling it disingenuous and unauthentic to pretend that the gloom is not there.

And, at that thought, I’m reminded of something I read on the first topic I mentioned above, last week’s racial hate speech and threats incident at Western Washington University (WWU), an incident that has spawned a series of public forums and facilitated listening and discussion sessions.

Of the very first of these sessions, a town hall, the Bellingham Herald wrote:

In response to the question about the hopes for the university, panelist and graduate student Alex Ng advised that these conversations should make people feel uncomfortable.

“As we go forward as an entire community and as individuals, what we’re asking people to do is choose to be uncomfortable, which is kind of crazy, but it’s so important that we do that and we have to have the courage to do that together,” Ng said.

So, here I am, feeling gloomy but still writing, trying to make sense of the senseless, trying to be honest, even at the risk of being morose, choosing to be uncomfortable so that denial doesn’t inadvertently perpetuate that which I could choose to deny.


Property Of The State: Revisited

wwu2Almost exactly five years ago, I wrote a post titled Fish & Bicycles: Property Of The State, explaining that, because I work at a public university, with the impending start of fall term and the academic year, my ass is essentially owned by the State of Washington at this time, resulting in little-to-zero time or energy for blogging.

This will be my 8th year in my current position, my 15th year over all at the university, each year I make a concerted effort to improve my process and outcomes, however small the increment(s) may be, and this year I seem to be particularly inspired to make it a great kickoff, partly evident by the fact that I’m posting this disclaimer for the slowdown here at Fish & Bicycles a full 10 days earlier than I did 5 years ago.

Obviously, it would be hypocritical of me if I carried on any further in this post. I have a million things on my to-do list, after all.

So, instead of writing anything else today, I thought I’d stop here and simply copy and paste below the post from five years ago. As was the case then, I may be inspired and able to post a thing or two in the next few weeks, but I can’t guarantee anything.

Happy Weekend, everyone, and hope to “see” you soon!

I’m sorry to report that for the next week or so it’s likely to be awfully quiet around here.

You see, as I’ve mentioned before, I work for Western Washington University, in fact, my office is in the building you see highlighted in the photo here.

The first day of classes for Fall Quarter is September 22nd, but more important to me, 4,000+ students who will be living in on-campus housing move in this coming weekend, and I’m basically owned for the next week or so.

If this weren’t enough excitement, this past Sunday a main power switch on campus failed, sending 12,000 volts in an arc across a room, causing melting through plated steel, requiring replacement parts to be manufactured in Portland and hand delivered by the manufacturer. As a result, since Sunday there’s been a power outage in most of the buildings you see in the foreground of the photo, causing hundreds of WWU employees to have to find alternate workstations to do their…um…work.

I’m accustomed to being mobile, as my job has me regularly splitting my time between various buildings, using a laptop and a cell phone to get stuff done just about anywhere. For a lot of other folks that isn’t the case. And even though people are pulling together to help one another, as it happens so often in times of adversity, there is a palpable tension in the air, and the oft-repeated phrase “at least this didn’t happen next Monday” brings little solace.

So, who knows? I might be able to squeeze a little time in here and there to post something new to Fish & Bicycles, but I appreciate your patience and your checking back in later if that proves impossible.

Now, where did I put that flashlight?