Sep 30, 2009

On Clarity of Thought, Spilled Stolichnaya, and Moments of Divine Insight

Today has been a strange, strange day, a day that started with me going off to work with mismatched socks. After arriving at work I noticed that I had walked around campus for at least 10 minutes with my fly open, and then I remembered that I left my lights on in my car, so I had to walk back and kill the headlights.

This did not start as a day in which clarity of thought reigned supreme or even held pretense to the Throne of Thought.

I muddled my way through a lecture, not as sharp as I could be, but being saved because I knew the material well (this was a lecture discussing important 18th and 19th century figures like Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and Herbert Spencer). I could give this lecture in my sleep, and I also benefited from some late night reading before I fell asleep last evening.

It was after class talking with a student that a semblance of clarity hit me, and the insight was this: the calamities of life happen so we are later able to help other people with their struggles. The specifics of the student's problems do not matter in this post (and I am privacy bound as well to protect confidential conversations), but I shared with this student an anecdote about my drinking career.

I stopped drinking over seven years ago. I may or may not be an alcoholic, depending on how this loaded term is defined, but let's just say for conversation's sake that at the beginning of the new millennium I was driving down a one-way highway to Alky-ville with an open bottle of Stolichnaya in my lap and a case in the trunk.

With no headlights on and the accelerator glued to the floorboard, to extend the metaphor.

Anyways, I recounted to this student a moment of clarity that occurred toward the end of my two-year bender. I was working in a restaurant that served booze, and I conned my way into a bartender pouring me a frosty tall glass of vodka, probably 8 ounces of hooch and four ice cubes (it was a big glass, remember). As I turned to hide ill-gotten gains, I slipped and fell on a wet spot on the floor. As I was falling, my first reaction was to save the Stoli.


In trying first to protect the booze and only secondly to break my fall, I would up with dozens of shards of glass in my hands and blood everywhere. A lengthier version of this pathetic booze story can be accessed from an earlier post, but suffice to say that this moment of clarity stands out in my head as a beacon, the sort of Life Changing Event that makes for sappy television dramas.

However, I am convinced that such moments are more than mere chance, and I believe that we experience pain and suffering for a reason, though the reason may not make itself evident for many years. Like the Zen Buddhists you might decide to call this phenomenon satori, or you might refer to this as a wakeup call from God, but there are moments in life where everything comes together and ...makes sense.

The student with whom I was conversing made the connections about the reasons why we have suffering and pain, and while this student might be too close to the events to have the needed wisdom, it was evident to me at least that I was destined to cross paths with this student.

On this day, and at this particular crisis.

And after these moments of clarity (both present and recalled), my day returned to its absurdity. I suppose that God needed me to be wise and sharp only for a 15-minute stretch, and He returned me to my present state of befuddlement in which my cell phone and land line seem to be in competition in providing me with time-sucking phone conversations.

The Quote Shelf

Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

We busted out of class
Had to get away from those fools
We learned more from a three-minute record
Than we ever learned in school.

-- Bruce Springsteen, "No Surrender"

Sep 28, 2009

When Cold Winds Roar and Leaves Dance

The official start to fall occurred last week, but it was the sudden appearance of the first chilly weather of the season that reiterated the point for me this morning. Thunderstorms rolled through overnight, and the neatly manicured lawn I achieved yesterday afternoon in sunny 73-degree weather was replaced by a disheveled collection of brown leaves and loose branches after last night's strong winds.

Almost overnight this area turned from summer to fall.

With the physical change in seasons will undoubtedly come a marked change in my perspective, and the first evidence of this was my lack of desire to pursue what regular site visitor Microdot recently called my "guerrilla gardening." I had intended to harvest some wild phlox, New England asters, and wild lilies from a vacant commercial lot in West Toledo (actually, it is more like an urban jungle, as it has been empty for a decade), but the cold winds and occasional smattering of rain caused me to reconsider. I thought a few hours of reading indoors with closed windows made more sense in the chilly early fall weather.

A few balmy days will still visit us, at least during October, but the time is upon us to think of cold nights, brown leaves, and warm cider.

Sep 26, 2009

Wii Slackery

We purchased a Nintendo Wii unit for Christmas last year, and one of the reasons my wife was so gung-ho about the game system is that owners can use Wii to exercise. We have burned more than a few calories playing virtual tennis, bowling, baseball, and golf, although I would be overstating the powers of Wii to suggest that this is better than traditional exercise.

Anyways, I found it interesting to watch my oldest son engaging in what I have decided to call "Wii Slackery." He played many of the same games, but chose to "exercise" in thse games while still ensconced in a living room chair. Admittedly, in the image on your left he is playing a game that does not require physical activity, but I chuckled when I saw him bowling while lounging in the chair.

And don't get me started about the time I saw my daughter engaged in Wii arobics while laying on the couch.

TFL Roofing - High Quality Toledo-Area Roofer

On your left is a picture I took this morning of the new roof on my house, which was created by Toledo-area contractor TFL Roofing. I am posting about the roof as a Web testimonial from a satisfied customer who wants to extend his gratitude for quality work that exceeded my expectations.

The company is owned by Tom Lorkowski, and unlike some contractors Tom is intimately involved in all phases of the planning and installation. While he did not personally pound every roofing nail or spread every square inch of flashing, he was on-site to supervise his crew's excellent work, and he followed up quickly on a minor issue that we noticed after the house roof was completed.

I was so pleased with the work TFL Roofing performed that I immediately retained the company to replace the roof on my garage. Truth be told, my decision was in part motivated by the fact that my neurotic, order-obsessed self found a green house roof and a gray garage roof to be incompatible, but Tom's quality workmanship certainly hastened my decision to replace both roofs.

What I especially liked about Tom and his crew was how diligent they were in cleanup. Not only did the roofers pick up every scrap of old shingle that fell, but they also went around with a magnetic roller to make sure there were no stray nails laying around.

If you are thinking of getting a new roof and you are somewhere near the vicinity of Northwest Ohio, I unconditionally give my highest recommendations to TFL Roofing. Some low-budget firms may beat Tom by a couple of dollars on price quotes, but no one can outdo his company in quality. You can reach Tom at 419-536-2310 for a free estimate.

Sep 24, 2009

Department of Poor Time Management, or What the Fark Was I Thinking?

I gave students in one of my distance learning classes a Web-based assignment, which was to locate and analyze a short propaganda film from the World War II era. I suggested a few sites to them, like this collection at the site Museum of the Moving Image, which allowed students to choose a video that appealed to their specific research interests.

So far, so good: the assignment had the highest participation of any in the semester's first five weeks, and there were quite a few lively discussions as students debated the merits and/or problems with particular pieces of wartime propaganda.

What I neglected to take into consideration was the amount of my own time needed to review some 25-odd video clips. In good conscience I could not simply read the analyses without watching the related films, and I ended up spending about three hours watching the videos so that I would be knowledgeable about the essays.

The papers themselves, of course, ate up another three hours of my time, meaning that I spent the better part of 10 hours in grading a single weekly assignment for a single class. Thus, I am torn: the assignment seemed to resonate with these students in a way that previous assignments did not, and it created some heated debate, but at the same time it is impossible for me to devote so much time to a single assignment every week.

Unless, of course, I want to work 75 hours a week during semesters and increasing the likelihood that I will be seeking out masculine versions of wrinkle creams at age 55, which I do not. I love teaching, but there are limits to the amount of time I want to spend on a job with relatively low wages, no matter how much it provides professional and intellectual satisfaction.

Sep 22, 2009

On Whitewater Rafting and Near Death Experiences

Pictured on your left is a scene that will forever be etched into my memory, no matter if I later succumb to Alzheimer's disease or a severe blow to the head. In the image I am rafting with a group of folks on the Upper Gauley River as we approach Pillow Rock. Most of the folks are having a terrific time, but I am not.

You see, while the group celebrated the successful navigation of this challenging Class V rapids, I was too busy being sucked out of the raft by a big-ass wave to enjoy the moment. If you look closely, you can see my left leg protruding from the water, looking like a skinny punctuation mark attached to a gurgled underwater scream.

Most of the rest of me is under water and bouncing off boulders larger than most four-door automobiles. In case the previous image does not illustrate my nearly drowned plight, here is a cropped version of the moment:

The next five minutes of my life were spent in a tragic-comic watery maelstrom that likely resembled a frog in a Cuisinart. I managed at one point to grab hold of crevice in a small canyon, but it became clear to me after catching my breath that my only hope of survival was to let go and finish my painful journey downstream and get fished out by the other members of my raft.

Eventually I found myself washed up in the proximity of the raft, and my colleagues pulled me from the water; amazingly, aside from scratches, contusions, and inhaled water, I was relatively sound. All of my energy had been spent, I no longer wanted to be anywhere near the river, and I seriously considered walking the remaining seven miles back to the base camp and the bus. To make matters worse, one of the people on the boat thought it would be funny to cause the raft to tip in a small rapids further downstream, and visions of bludgeoning said fool with my oar danced in my head.

Some years have passed since the day I thought I was going to die, and I have yet to return to the Gauley River. We used to go every fall for the annual running of the river, but I will be content if I never again set foot in a raft on the Gauley.

I have nothing to prove, and the shore looks much more inviting these days.

"Tokio Jokio" - Looney Tunes WWII Propaganda Cartoon

In my World War II class I assigned students to find a short wartime film and analyze it. I was familiar with most of the choices the students found, but until this point I had not seen "Tokio Jokio", which is a Looney Tunes cartoon that mocks the Japanese and the Germans:

Yes, there is a considerable amount of racism here, though the stereotypes are typical for the time period. What I found even more interesting is the level of violence in the cartoon, and how standards have changed as to the use of cartoons for blatant government propaganda.

This is not to say, of course, that our government no longer engages in propaganda, but just that it takes less obvious forms. No Bill O'Reilly or Lou Dobbs jokes, please.

Sep 20, 2009

Gotta Get Me Some Symphyotrichum Novae-Angliae

Pictured on your left is an image of the New England aster, known to scientists as Symphyotrichum novae-angliae. I have been seeing these on the roadsides the last week or two, and my sharp-eyed wife correctly identified them as a member of the aster family until I could research the flowers on these here Intarwebs.

The New England aster is native to much of North America east of the Rocky Mountains, and it is quite a hardy perennial. My only goal is to procure some of these flowers from a roadside or a ditch, and then to see how well they can tolerate the paw traffic and restroom proclivities of my dogs. The mums I planted did not fare so well this year, and I am always a sucker for wildflowers that propagate and spread in semi-shady areas.

I would have pulled over and dug myself up some New England asters, but we were attending a wedding in Michigan, and I figured the plants would not appreciate sitting in the car for six hours. That, and I had on a suit - I think it is bad form to arrive at a wedding covered in soil and burrs.

Sep 17, 2009

Horticultural Anarchy, or How I Purloined Free Specimens of Helianthus occidentalis

Pictured are some wildflowers I pass on my trips down Interstate 75 to my office at Bowling Green State University. Over the past few weeks there has been a Siren-like call emanating from the simple beauty of these flowers, and yesterday I packed a hand trowel and some plastic grocery bags to procure some samples of these flowers for my wildflower gardens.

It is true: I am no respecter of the state's rights to monopolize ownership of wildflowers along the roadside. Besides, it is probably a minor miracle that these flowers survived the onslaughts of the maintenance employees and their high-powered riding lawn mowers, which run roughshod over all botanical forms in their mechanical paths.

Of course, that was a halfhearted justification of my surreptitious theft of state property, but I digress.

The flowers in question appear to be Helianthus occidentalis, better known as the Western sunflower. They are native to the United States, and they bloom from July to September in this region. Just as I began digging, I saw a Lake Township police SUV roar past. I cast a wary eye toward the vehicle, but the officer seemed to have more important duties than to investigate what I was doing digging in the dirt 20 yards away from the freeway while my car was parked in the grass off the shoulder.

I remained unmolested by the security forces of state and local governments, and I continued down the road with a half-dozen samples of the flowers to transplant in my backyard. I tell myself that this plant procurement is legal under commons rights dating back to the protections of the commons delineated in the Magna Carta, but I suspect that I would have avoided such high-falutin' arguments had Officer Smiley stopped to say howdy.

Feel free to condemn my brazen theft - or to offer creative ruses that I might use in future roadside botanical acquisition capers in which the police sniff around - in the Comments section.

On Fast Walking, Getting into a Zone, and Zen Moments


I have been spending a lot of time pounding the proverbial pavement near my home since early June in my efforts to lose the weight that has contributed to some fairly serious health problems I acquired. In this process I have lost about 25 pounds in a little over three months, but what really interests me is the greater physical endurance I have noticed in the last few weeks.

When I started walking I was choosing iPod songs around the 110 beats per minute (BPM) range, and I gradually started finding songs in the 125 BPM range to assist me in maintaining a 4-5 MPH pace that will burn some serious calories. Yet I typically walked for about 30-40 minutes at a stretch, and I found that 12-15 minutes was about the most I could maintain the fastest pace before needing to slow down to 110 BPM.

Today I decided to push myself further, and I decided to see if I could maintain the fast pace for a full hour. I think that I hit one of those workout "zones" today, and I got into a groove where it felt like I could keep that fast-walking (I hate the term "power walking" - it sounds so trendy) pace going all day.

Walk, walk, walk, walk. No pressing worries, no upcoming appointments, just walk, walk, walk, walk.

I found myself approaching something akin to what Zen Buddhists call kensho, or that state of mind where one can transcend material concerns and Of course, there were too many distractions (the iPod songs plus other walkers, dogs, and bicyclists) for me to have achieved some sort of true enlightenment, yet all the same the first 45 minutes passed with surprising speed.

Returning home I experienced a greater sense of peace, which materialist-focused cynics might attribute to a simple flood of endorphins in my brain from exercise. Maybe this was simply a fast-walking high, and maybe it was something spiritual, but you cannot dismiss moments of profound bliss as imaginary.

And unlike artificially induced highs from booze or drugs, there is a certain satisfaction associated with the hard work needed to achieve a "natural" high like this. It takes sweat and patience to overcome the urge to quit exercising, as it is simply much easier to put forth a modestly active effort and accept the deceptive notion that our bodies have physical limits.

Yes, we cannot become marathon runners in a weekend, but at the same time our bodies can be pushed much farther than our conscious mind thinks. Forcing ourselves to travel beyond our first and second thoughts of quitting can lead to surprising results. I commented to my better-fit and healthier wife the other night that I used to think she was quite the fast walker, and when we went for a walk the other day I noticed that I was now capable of exceeding her pace by an unexpected amount.

All in just three months.

So now I am off to attempt my first one-mile run in over a decade. I think I will be pleasantly surprised by my ability to accomplish this modest feat, a level of activity I thought beyond my current abilities just a few weeks ago.

Sep 16, 2009

Department of Epidemiological Irony - Swine Flu School Planning Workshop

I received an intriguing email this morning in one of my university email accounts. The subject of the email was an announcement of a Swine Flu School Planning Workshop in Chicago for people associated with higher education. Here is the beginning of the email:

You are invited to participate in the Swine Flu School Planning Workshop, November 19-20, 2009 in Chicago, IL.

Please join more than 500 high school and university administrators, teachers, police chiefs, first responders, safety professionals, and community leaders who have already reserved a seat at this unprecedented 2-day national event.
So let me make sure I understand this: there will be a meeting of hundreds of people from all over the country. They will likely use commercial aviation in their efforts to travel to Chicago, and they will share hotel and restaurant facilities with each other.

People from all over the country. Flying. Meeting. Shaking hands. At the beginning of flu season in the Northern Hemisphere.


Nah. This is too obvious to merit further epidemiological commentary on my part, but I am sure I will enjoy the suggestions you offer for a punchline to this dubious seminar.

Sep 14, 2009

Great Songs for Fast Walking (120-125 BPM)

In a previous post I listed quite a few tunes that work well for walking, focusing on songs with 110-120 beats per minute (BPM). Since that time my walking speed has gradually progressed, and I find that songs closer to 110 beats per minute do not give me the workout I need to burn calories and work up a cardio-worthy sweat.

Hey - if a couch potato like me can become a stereotypical power-walker, anyone can. I estimate that - since I began walking on June 6 of this year - I have hoofed over 350 miles on Toledo streets and in local parks. I think my iPod has been the real reason that I have kept at the walking, as time passes more quickly and walking to a beat is quite natural.

Thus, I have prepared a new list of songs in the 120-125 BPM range that I found especially motivating as I walk. Obviously taste varies from person to person, and my own list is kind of heavy on 1980s alternative rock. Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments section for songs in this 120-125 BPM range that are good walking songs.

"Uniforms," Pete Townshend (121 BPM)
"North Country Girl," Pete Townshend (120 BPM)
"Not Alone Any More," The Traveling Wilburys (120 BPM)
"Last Night," The Traveling Wilburys (124 BPM)
"Money," Pink Floyd (125 BPM)
"Time," Pink Floyd (122 BPM)
"Run Like Hell," Pink Floyd (122 BPM)
"Hey You," Pink Floyd (121 BPM)
"Mother and Child Reunion," Paul Simon (120 BPM)
"Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War," Paul Simon (122 BPM)
"Slip Slidin' Away," Paul Simon (122 BPM)
"Train in the Distance," Paul Simon (122 BPM)
"You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet," Bachman Turner Overdrive (122 BPM)
"Where The Streets Have No Name," U2 (125 BPM)
"Sister Havana," Urge Overkill (126 BPM)
"Death at One's Elbow," The Smiths (124 BPM)
"Merry Go Round," The Replacements (121 BPM)
"Nobody," The Replacements (122 BPM)

On Dusty Documents and the Selective Service System

I came across an old document yesterday while cleaning, at least "old" in terms of my own life. Pictured is an acknowledgement letter I received in 1982 from the Selective Service System that verified that I, indeed, filled out the necessary paperwork to register for the draft after I turned 18.

Of course the draft had been abolished a few years before I reached the age of majority, and it turns out that my services were never needed by the U.S. military (not to mention that my lousy eyes would have probably caused any draft board officials to fall on the floor laughing at the thought of someone with 20/600 uncorrected vision holding a rifle). Still, I remember being a bit apprehensive about officially joining a pool of people for a potential draft, even if one did not exist at the time.

So I hold onto this ancient document, even though it would have to be one hell of a war if they started drafting half-blind forty-somethings for service. I am not sure what role I might serve, or if my philosophical tendency toward pacifism could be subverted for the a given conflict. I certainly would have no problem defending my neighborhood from an invasion of wild-eyed, murderous, and starving North Koreans soldiers should they decide that Toledo could better be conquered by land instead of a Nodong-B missile carrying a nuclear payload.

(Inner Beavis: "Huh huh, he said 'no-dong.'")

Then there is the issue of whether an increasingly automated and digital military will ever need millions of foot soldiers and deck hands again. Remote controlled drone aircraft and unmanned armored vehicles are no longer the province of science fiction, and I suspect that wars of the 21st century will look much different than those of prior centuries.

Yet I will hold onto this piece of paper anyways. It survived nearly three decades of moves, housecleanings, and attacks from the lamb motor on my vacuum cleaner, so I figure the document has some hidden value based on its sheer longevity. If nothing else, the future grandkids can peruse it when I am a senescent geezer drinking day-old coffee on the front porch in my rocking chair.

The Quote Shelf

Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

I have unwittingly helped to invent and refine a type of music that makes its principal components deaf. -- Pete Townshend

Sep 12, 2009

Bouzouki Player at Dusk

Left: Making the bouzouki sing

I spent a few hours at the annual Greek-American Festival at downtown Toledo's Holy Trinity Church. One of the musical acts this evening featured a band with a pair of bouzouki players, and I found their stage performance and musical skills to be surprisingly strong.

It turns out that the group headlining this evening was The Levendes, a Detroit-based group with a long history of blending traditional Greek music with contemporary styles. The band also played a few rock tunes featuring dueling lead bouzouki players Pete Alexander and Johnny Pappas. Their cover of "Paint it Black" by the Rolling Stones suggested to me that this was a rather inventive festival band, while the blistering bouzouki leads on the Dire Straits song "Sultans of Swing" was mesmerizing.

Be sure to check out The Levendes if you see that the band is playing at a Greek festival or a Greek wedding within a few hundred miles of Detroit. The group makes traditional Greek music that is accessible to the uninitiated, and they know how to rock as hard as any beer-soaked bar band.

Sep 11, 2009

Elusive Picture of a White Squirrel

Picture of a White Squirrel Robert Shaw had his Great White Shark, Buck Owens had his Great White Horse, Ted Nugent had his Great White Buffalo, but I have finally captured (at least in digitized form) Toledo's Great White Squirrel. I am not sure if this is a true albino, if it simply a color variant, or if it is a Sign From Above, but my three-month wait to get a picture of said critter has ended in a fruitful manner.

Of course, white squirrels are not necessarily rare, but I have had a difficult time getting the white squirrel in our neighborhood to cooperate for a photo session. This evening, though, that fickle vixen Fortuna smiled upon me, and I had the necessary requirements at the same time: a) a white squirrel; and b) camera in hand.

Unfortunately, our white squirrel likes to hide until dusk, and so the image is less than ideal. Nonetheless, I have my elusive picture of a white squirrel, and now I will hype this minor photographic miracle to its fullest, sending hundreds of daily visitors my way and reaping the riches of traffic-based ad revenue.


Here Come the Roofers

Pictured on your left are the men working on my roof as I write this post. While the pounding and scraping might make for a less productive day in terms of dissertation, there is a secret glee I harbor for their work sounds: it woke up my late night oriented children.

Yes, there is a certain element of payback here, as my children and their friends made a lot of noise last night, slamming the microwave door, banging pots and pans, and keeping the volume of the television set at an annoying level.

Sleep well, my darlings: IF YOU CAN.


Sep 10, 2009

The Quote Shelf

Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us. -- Charles Bukowski

Sep 8, 2009

Department of Muddled Thinkery

(Toledo, OH) Pictured on your left is the intersection of Alexis Road and Hagman on the north side of Toledo. The cloudy skies and my wife's higher rate of speed combined to produce a less-than-ideal image, but I think you can make out the "NO PED XING" sign.

You should also be able to discern the white pedestrian walkway lines that delineate the space through which pedestrians should travel. It stands to reason, then, that if the city does not want pedestrians crossing at this intersection, why would they bother to paint pedestrian crossing lines?

There may be some hidden logic here, but it escapes me. The white pavement paint in the area appears to be fairly recent in its application, and the sign does not appear to be especially new, either. At some point one would think that either the sign-hangers and/or road-painters would have scratched their heads and wondered about the absurdity of the situation.

Feel free to offer interpretations of the incongruities in the Comments section.

Sep 7, 2009

Twenty-Six Words

Left: Useful but annoying word count tool

I spent an hour-and-a-half on my dissertation this morning, and I felt pretty good about myself for cranking out a page-and-a-half of new text on a day in which I am still dragging from a virus I picked up last week. After all, I could have moped around sipping tea and grumbling about my ill fortune in the department of pathogen acquisition, but I found enough wherewithal to do my work.

And then I saw the word count in the lower left-hand corner: 50,974.

Despite my efforts, I was only 26 words away from another milestone, albeit an insignificant one. I found it difficult to save and close the document knowing that I only needed a a little over two dozen words to cross another barrier. Much like a long-distance runner who has already met the particular goal but still has some energy, I found myself pushing on.

Well, coming up with 26 words is a lot easier than forcing another mile out of a weary runner's body, but you understand the metaphor, right?

I spent a few minutes looking over a chapter, and I ended up adding a 39-word sentence to a paragraph that seemed to need further clarification. For the record, here is the passage I wrote that put me over the 51,000-word mark and allowed my neurotic mind to relax:
Mansa Musa may not have been the Christian priest-king known as Prester John believed by Europeans to exist somewhere in the Indies, but his wealthy kingdom surely provided an enticing lure to the mysterious regions below the Sahara Desert.
Yet ignoring the call to write would have been an exercise in fidgeting and self-criticism, since the sentence took me all of two minutes to develop. Yes, I may be borderline obsessive-compulsive, but I bought myself 24 hours of peace from my neuroses.

However, I made an error in my momentary glee, as I scrolled down to the end of the chapter and noticed that I only needed a short paragraph to turn the corner onto page 222. Now I will have to live with my decision to walk away from the dissertation knowing that I turned my back on the writing just when I could have pushed the page count one more digit, and after all: a page is much more valuable than word count, right? I mean, that's a real, tangible thing, unlike the the mere counting of words, which could be just about anywhere in the document and mean absolutely nothing when pulled apart from each other.

I think I need to get out more.

Sep 5, 2009

On Simpler Living and Transcending Worship of the Perfect Lawn

My recent lifestyle changes have translated into daily walking between three and eight miles, depending on my schedule, and I find the time useful for thinking. Among the subjects that I have been mulling over is that of voluntary simplicity, or the conscious embrace of simpler living.

Following the above link will direct you to an earlier essay I wrote on the subject, though my thoughts have been crystallizing on more practical ideas of late than the esoteric thinking in that piece. Such ideas formed the basis of a presentation I gave at a local Sierra Club meeting the other day, and I am refining them down to a shorter essay that I plan to post soon.

Anyways, one of the more useless and unsustainable behaviors that our consumerist culture promotes is that of the so-called "perfect lawn." By regularly pumping potent fertilizers, noxious weedkillers, and of course copious amounts of water onto the turf, we too can have the sort of lush green carpet depicted by the manufacturers of the aforementioned products.

Okay, so most of us have still have municipal water, but bear with me.

I am even setting aside the unnatural amounts of external supplements a lawn needs, and focusing simply on the amount of human labor that a large lawn requires to maintain this biologically unstable "perfect" state. How much simpler would life be in a yard full of easy-to-maintain perennials, shrubs, and trees!

Pictured on your left is a neighbor whose yard I admire during my daily walks. He spends little time on maintenance, and while his yard is a bit busier and denser than I would prefer, he has much more time to spend on other pursuits. I estimate that less than 10 percent of his average-sized city lot consists of traditional lawn, and he has flowers in bloom from March through November.

I think I will stop and talk with him some day about his plants, and it looks like he spends the majority of his enviously small landscaping time on transplanting cuttings since I never see shipping boxes or other evidence of purchased plants. The property contains a great deal of plant life that requires little watering and even less pruning.

That is, I'll speak with him if I can actually catch him working. Most of the time his yard takes care of itself.

New Profile Picture

I have used the same profile picture for well nigh five years now, and I thought it was time to update my website. Hence I present an image that my wife took today while we were out looking at furniture.

I may end up using the image for some of my academic profiles, though I definitely am in need of a shave. Perhaps the three-day beard look so prized by Hollywood actors has something to offer after all.

I passed up on the toothy, ear-to-ear grin shot my wife took while trying to get me to smile by cracking corny jokes about ping pong tables
and Pomeranians. It was endearing, in its own goofy way, but how will I ever be mistaken for a Serious and Renowned Internet Writer if I have such a friendly mug for the world to see? This image is a compromise between my Eastwood-like sneer of years past and the grinning images my wife prefers.

Sep 3, 2009

The Quote Shelf

Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness. -- Henry David Thoreau