Tag Archives: Life

The blur months

Perhaps, in some limited ways, a blog can say as much through the absence of posting as it can through actual posts.

It does seem fair to say that the absence of activity around here is in some sense a record of my life, lately, or at least of the disruption of my life’s former routine.

Seven months ago, I wrote

After weeks of dithering, our city council has confirmed the November general election as the date for our referendum on their vote to close our community hospital. So, just under 35 weeks to go. 😐 Then I can (maybe) have my life back!

We’re now down to just more than four weeks. And whatever I imagined was the case in March, in the past five or six weeks this campaign has really “just about maxed-out my personal energies,” in ways which challenge me to find a personal precedent.

I hardly know where to begin.

On a personal level, life has become so different. It has now been a bit more than a year since the last period of real, extended quiet like those which I experienced with some regularity during the past decade. Last September, e.g., with a seasonal slowdown in freelancing work, I had peace, quiet and even boredom.

Since then, no. Even when work has slowed down, this year, tranquility has remained a memory only. Always some new thing going on. Meetings… meetings… documents to write, documents to design… strategy to consider… e-mails… phone calls… reading, analysis and posting.

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Basketball, Winning & Contentment

I have been thinking lately about the complexity of happiness, and how it so often differs from getting what we want. I feel like 2016 Cyclone men’s basketball is a wonderful illustration.

This past March, when Cyclone MBB ended its tournament run in the Sweet 16, I felt afterward like this was about as happy an ending for me as any possible. Basically because it felt like the team achieved all that was within reach.

Iowa State moved through the first two rounds—improving immediately upon a first-round upset loss last year—then exited after a game against an obviously superior opponent. I don’t remember the details, but the result was not a humiliation, nor was it close enough that I was left anguished that “they were so close, they had it, why couldn’t they finish?”

There was really no heartbreak element. Our guys reached a respectable plateau—the Sweet 16, surpassing more than 75% of all the other tournament teams—and the next step was just beyond them this year. Okay.

Of course, if offered it, I would have chosen more.

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Hancher vs Hilton & life beyond politics?

Lately it feels like my life has been subsumed by overtly political concerns and activity. I look down the front page of this blog, and posting has been a bit more sparse than usual, but more significantly almost everything in recent weeks has been tagged “politics.”

It’s a presidential election year, and I’m reading too much about that. I don’t know if things were different decades ago, or if it’s more my personal feelings changing, but US presidential contests seem like they have become not only all-consuming but invariably near-apocalyptic. Good news, we seem more and more to have real choices; bad news, the nature of those choices combined with the growing power of the office make it difficult for me to say “oh it’s just politics” and turn back to “real life.”

I would probably be getting more actively involved already, if not for having already just about maxed-out my personal energies for Lakewood Hospital. After weeks of dithering, our city council has confirmed the November general election as the date for our referendum on their vote to close our community hospital. So, just under 35 weeks to go. 😐 Then I can (maybe) have my life back! Certainly I could use more in my life than slow, tiring and usually dispiriting campaign hack work. As I’m not sure what else that is at this point, though, I’m doing a little stock-taking.

First, I have completed the manuscript for a third book, and at some point in the next year will present to the reading public Hancher vs. Hilton: Iowa’s Rival University Presidents.

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First 15 Lives of Harry August

It has been another interesting year, and broader notes about that are coming.

Among the many interesting experiences in 2015, though, I feel like recalling one remarkable book in particular: The First 15 Lives of Harry August, by Claire North aka Catherine Webb.

This was excellent on multiple levels. First, I found it a simple compelling page-turner. It’s also very cinematic; I can picture vividly the lead-in scene as the first few seconds of a movie trailer. “I almost missed you, Dr. August. I need to send a message back to the past…”

Beyond this, the conceit is one of those things that comes close to being something new under the sun. North basically asks “what if a small number of people all experienced something like Groundhog Day, except for their entire lives rather than 24 hours?” The consequences are challenging; you basically have to imagine a series of timelines in sequence, which mostly follow the same course except that certain individuals always begin their lives remembering all that they experienced in each previous timeline. It pretty much works, though. The resultant world and its more detailed, human consequences are fascinating.

What impresses me most of all, though, is how these have stayed with me now for many weeks since I finished the book. Themes and ideas have kept coming back to me, and I have gradually concluded that—by explicit intent or not—The First 15 Lives of Harry August is an insightful metaphor for life itself.

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Thankful Thursday, 2015

I have been thinking, lately, that for all my frequent moments of despair, the past five years have been a decent run, for me.

On this formal Thanksgiving without any of the usual activities (having held those early this year), it feels like a worthwhile time to attempt some sort of exploration of this idea.

There’s definitely reason to believe that the preceding five years of my life, roughly 2005-2010, were an era to make a lot look good in comparison. I was fired. My father died, in most of the ways you don’t want someone to exit: early, of multiple debilitating diseases, in a non-luxury nursing home, and agonizingly slowly. Let’s see, the occasional, diagnosis-proof failings of my horrible Pontiac finally reached the point of a realistic danger to my safety, and then I got to discover the joy of used-car shopping without any help for the first time, while under a lot of pressure and still effectively locked out of full-time employment because being fired does that to you. The work I found consisted of temporary contract jobs which, while they had their good points, involved long, nerve-wracking commutes and on two occasions a micromanaging sociopath boss even more deranged than all those who’d preceded him. I also made a failed, first attempt at earning a living from my own clients, wrecked by a combination of overconfidence and an ill-timed global economic crash.

All of this, meanwhile and to very modest surprise in retrospect, eventually produced two years or so of serious, relentless physical tension that screwed up my body to the point of an extended period of plain agony. Having to quit any regular running near the beginning of this period, due to innately substandard joint design, hadn’t helped at all. Nor did much of the medical advice I got, some of which eventually triggered a whole additional gastrointestinal condition on top of things.

Yeah. Politically, 2005-2010 was rather more encouraging, but personally that didn’t help so much because my own life was kind of crap during that period. (The Thankful is coming.)

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That far shore

I have very possibly lived half my life, now.

I don’t know why birthday #37 has prompted so much reflection on the finite, but it has. In addition to realizing that “young adult” status is now firmly over, it has dawned on me recently that this is probably as close to the midpoint of my life as it’s ever going to be possible to determine, in advance.

Obviously one can’t know with precision, so there’s little point getting into arguments, but the suggestion that I have something like four decades remaining to me does not seem wildly unrealistic either way.

In some ways it’s a relief, too, honestly. When I suggest that the prospect of living through 10 more presidential campaign seasons is horrifying enough that I don’t even want to imagine another 15 or 20, any humor in the remark is incidental rather than fundamental. I’m tired, of many things.

The idea of significantly extended lifespans is usually more a dread than a dream, nowadays… which is why it seems just as well that I won’t see them.

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Requiem for young adulthood

As I approach age 37, it feels like an era in life is closing.

Both “young” and “old” are relative, at least for a big middle portion of life; I got used to being solidly in the overlap some time ago. The college seniors I interview at AIGA’s portfolio review, in recent years, have mostly been born since I started high school.

In Seth’s magnificent George Sprott: 1894-1975, much of the story consists of other figures from the titles character’s life summoning up memories of him. One revisits his adolescence, when an elderly Sprott occasionally dispensed observations about life. One in particular has stuck with me:

…one day, I looked around and there were all these “new” young people everywhere, and I wasn’t one of them. Once that happens, it all speeds up… One day you’re 30 years old, and the next, you look up and there’s an old man in the mirror.

I’ve sensed the truth of this for some time. But turning 37 feels a bit different. For several years I have been aware of the “new” young people and my exclusion from them. I suppose for a while it feels like they exist alongside rather than in place of one’s own youth. Now, however, I’m at the point where I’m not really part of any “young people” except by the broadest of relative definitions.

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Popcorn

A few months ago I made popcorn all by myself, and I’m still proud of what I accomplished.

Yes, I’m nearly 36 years old. And yes, I have made popcorn before. But I think that up until this year I really have, indeed, always had “help” of some kind or other.

Through my entire adult life I’m pretty certain that I’ve never made popcorn that didn’t come from a prepackaged envelope heated in a microwave. I think microwave popcorn probably goes back pretty far into my childhood, too. I vaguely remember the microwave oven first arriving in our home, and I know that we employed a couple of other gadgets before just giving into the convenience of Act II et al. We had an air-popper for a while, I’m sure. We also had a low-tech popcorn popper for a number of years; it was something like this except the crank was on top. This simple device got quite a bit of use, though I can’t recall how many times I put it to work by myself. As noted, despite its elegance it eventually went into a cabinet and stayed there as microwave popcorn took over.

Still, I think the memory was nonetheless useful, all these years later. While certainly a gadget, and a “unitasker” at that, making popcorn with ye old popcorn popper didn’t really involve anything that couldn’t be approximated using ordinary household objects. You put popcorn kernels into a covered pan and place over heat, keeping the kernels moving around a bit; a crank-and-blade system can accomplish the latter but you could just move the pan around. I knew that this basic formula worked, not only theoretically but in practice. I had seen it happen once upon a time.

That, I think, helped give me the courage to try it myself without any kind of specialty tools whatsoever.

Which I did a few months ago. I’m not sure precisely what inspired me. I haven’t gone through any kind of DIY revolution. I suppose that maybe in recent years one could see a bit of a gradual and very modest trend… In any event, I was out of popcorn and for whatever reason thought “why don’t I just buy some popcorn? How hard can this be? Dammit, I am going to find out!”

So I did. Perhaps amusingly I ended up buying Jiffy Time, but it’s just popcorn kernels in a plastic bag with their logo. When I finally got around to trying this wacky experiment, it couldn’t have been much more basic. Read More →