Where I Am (part 1)

If you haven’t seen Singing In The Rain, I’m not sure what to think. There are plenty of famous films, classics even, that I haven’t made it through, and never will. Gone With The Wind being the most famous. It’s probably OK.

But Singing In The Rain is such a joyful film, and no cities get burned to the ground. Depending on how you feel about the Broadway dance/Cyd Charisse section, you might consider it the best Hollywood musical, or at least from the heyday of such (we may be in another heyday). I can recommend it.

It takes place during the transition period from silent film to sound, and whether it’s exaggerating (obviously) or not, we get the idea. How to record sound in an early technological era was a challenge, given that prominent microphones would tend to ruin the effect, and there’s a cute scene in the film of hiding mics in flower arrangements, etc.

It’s easier now, although always a challenge, depending on the situation. Having made a feature film now myself, I have a better idea, and being fascinated by sound and its effect for…forever…I paid close attention. Most of our sound was recorded with boom mics, although it’s certainly possible for each actor to wear their own sound equipment. It just adds a layer or three of complication.

And that’s not considering the Foley stuff, the footsteps and rustling clothes and other natural noises that are part of real life, often not picked up adequately by a boom mic several feet above the action and often further. There’s a lot of studio work, the most basic being the syncing of the actors’ voices with the actors’ mouths (it gets disturbing otherwise), along with rerecording dialogue that was muffled by wind or other environmental monkey wrenches.

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Dubbing dialogue

 

I love this. It’s a cinematic jigsaw puzzle, much as editing is (and why we have sound editors).

A few weeks ago, I gave a book reading sort of thing, reading actually very little and mostly telling the story I wrote, along with spiraling down various rabbit holes of my own strange brain, and I wanted it on video. It was first of perhaps more of these, and I wanted to watch myself shake off the rust of public performance. And maybe pick some clips to use for publicity.

Using two cameras, one static long shot and one manned by a 16-year-old, closer and to the side of where I was speaking, I spent a few hours editing the shots back and forth, not for dramatic effect but just to maintain visual interest.

But those cameras were at a distance, and recording my voice mostly through the speakers (I was wearing a cordless headset. Like Garth Brooks and Madonna. We are colleagues).

I wanted better sound, and I found it. A simple and inexpensive lavalier mic that worked with my iPhone and a recording app, it produced a soundtrack that I was immensely pleased with. Then, I simply deleted the audio track from the video and replaced it with my superior sound track, lined it up (hours doing this) so I didn’t quite look like a ventriloquist, and finally got a very nice effect. You can hear me, you can see me, it looks synced and natural. It was a nice project to work on, one I enjoyed, although this was all high-definition video and so took some time rendering (i.e., processing) once the editing was finished. I think the final version, approximately 75 minutes, took 12 hours to render. I went to bed during this.

So now I have fairly solid video quality and excellent sound, and an mp4 video that carries a bit weight of nearly 4.5 gigabytes, uncompressed, easily the size of a DVD movie, or maybe two.

And I had some requests, even with my persisting posting of clips. People who missed the reading but wondered if there’d been a recording, and indeed there was. An easy solution, then: I’d just burn the file onto a DVD and toss them on a table somewhere; blank DVDs are cheap. Put a dollar or two in a basket for a good cause and we’ll call it even. Five or maybe 10 disks should do the trick.

While I’m at it, I might as well print out labels, nice DVD labels to cover the disk and maybe the jewel case. If you’re going to do something…

Anyway. There was a problem, I discovered. The simple DVD-burning software that Windows nicely provided in my laptop will not recognize the H.264 codec (sorry). It needed less quality, bringing the DVD down to sub-DVD quality. We’re not talking professional here in any way, shape, or waveform.

None of this feels particularly important, but it seemed a project that needed to be completed, so I researched software and, in fact, found a trial version of inexpensive DVD-burning software that did the trick. It had a prominent watermark displayed, since it was a trial version, but I saw enough to know that’s what I wanted.

A comment about removable media: It feels weird to me. Long ago I moved to streaming everything, and wandering through a video store (with exception of some Blu-ray bins that occasionally draw my attention in electronics and other stores) feels like a century ago. I watch people line up at those red box machines and it reminds me of Cold War-era Soviet queues, people waiting for a chance to choose, a vending machine for an art form. I wonder about these people, if they just can’t make the move from tangible carriers of digital code to the convenient world of translation on the fly (i.e., streaming).

So removable media, CDs, DVDs, even Blu-rays (which I rarely watch, but own because. Because I need to) feel archaic, or at best hobbies, like ham radios. They feel fragile and easily damaged, when there are so many other ways to access those 1s and 0s.

I had a solution, then. Just purchase the registered version of this inexpensive software, eliminate the watermark, burn me some DVDs and set them on a table, waiting for pick-up. Easy, not a problem.

Except for one nagging one.

(TO BE CONTINUED)

The Drought

What is a solid move when half of the income-producing humans in a particular household finds his monthly take cut suddenly way back? Why, calling a plumber sounds good. Maybe call two.

There were three plumbers here Friday, in fact, although two of them seemed to come over at the end of a day just to yak with the one who was doing the actual work. I didn’t have to pay the other two, although I made scintillating conversation.

For the past five or six years, my water line (running water from the meter to the house) has been crumbling. Considering that it’s been 28 years or so since that line was installed (I assume), it might not sound so unusual. This was a particularly shoddy kind of pipe, too, recalled and class-lawsuited and all. So maybe there’s a ray of sunshine here. It lasted a while.

But my fourth line leak in the past few years once again pointed out the inevitable, that this line, running 200 feet from the street to my house, needs to be replaced. I can call a plumber and spend $300-400 to repair a leak, but that’s usually preceded by a higher water bill (sometimes my only clue), so this adds up.

And this time, considering that my monthly bill for water and sewer should be around $80, billed every two months, and considering that I got my latest invoice for two months that was somewhere north of $500, I needed to make a call. At least one.

I made two; one to fix the leak, and one to bid on replacing the line in a trenchless fashion, the latest thing. That was actually reasonable, much lower than expected, so I imagine that’s next. Still, plumbing bills are not for sissies.

And trust me: There is a need for plumbers. Even if I were to have some basic skills in the area, installing 200 feet of water line under a neighbor’s driveway, yard, and fence (the vast majority of the distance) is not for the handyman, or this handyman, who is not handy anyway.

An old house isn’t for sissies, either. Built in 1960, extensively remodeled in 1988, poorly maintained since then (hey, truth),we’re fortunate to live in an area where housing prices have reached 2007 levels and appear to be rising, with fewer homes on the market and bidding wars relatively common. As much dipping into the equity well as we’ve had to do in recent years, keeping ourselves out of bankruptcy court (the MRIs alone…well. I could go on), our house still has a paper value nearly $100,000 higher than the mortgage we now hold. Or somebody holds.

It’s just on paper, though. No one has actually seen the hole in the bedroom wall.

New flooring, new deck, repainting, some electrical work, a new garage door, and quite possibly a new roof…we could certainly get this house in saleable shape with, say, $50,000.

But grabbing $50,000 out of thin air (which is how it would have to be done) is probably not going to happen, so we’re stuck. Add in the tax advantages and the low interest rate, making renting possibly more expensive than staying here, and maybe we should just fix the hole and pay the plumber.

There are many issues at play. Several outlets do not appear to serve as conduits for electricity. An electrician could figure this out, although we’ve long had a suspicion that the contractor who remodeled (and moved it onto this lot) this home, or his subcontractors, wired the house with one hand, the other holding a bottle of Jack Daniels. My breaker box has been relabeled and reexamined and occasionally randomly played with just in case something magically turns on.

At any rate, we’re stuck here for the time being, and I currently have a minimum of work, although there are possibilities looming. That alone keeps our chances of getting this place saleable pretty remote. I even asked the plumbers if they also did arson, which they denied. Although there was talk of subcontractors.

But I like to abide by the law, so my best hope is that we all leave the house, including the cat and maybe a few keepsakes, a scenario I can’t quite picture (he’s an indoors cat), and while we’re gone a small but powerful asteroid strikes my house, destroying it completely but leaving the rose bushes and the rest of the neighborhood.

In the meantime, I put my guitar over the hole in the wall. Works for me.

hole

Unbinding

Feeling under the weather yesterday, and with not much to do, a little writing deadline but nothing new, I decided to take a day of rest after a busy week and watch the beginning of the end, meaning Mad Men.

I started watching it when I was in my TV marathon phase, back in 2007. I bought a refurbished TiVo and began recording everything, and anything that was new and vaguely interesting got a shot. Mad Men stuck.

As it should. To anyone paying attention at all, it’s landmark television, quality and unique, which is not to say that I’ve not been tempted to dump it at times. Still, I like the set decoration, the objects and art that stir up vague memories of my childhood. They’ve progressed 10 years since the summer of 2007, when it premiered, a nice trick, meaning that I was in the sixth grade as they now work their advertising magic in 1970 and have sex with everybody else. I figure I’ll stick it out for a few more episodes, which is all we got.

I also finished up Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the Tina Fey-produced Netflix sitcom starring Ellie Kemper, who was a surprise addition to The Office (American version) in the last years. On that show, she played a naïve young woman who also might have been a little dumb (the naiveté makes it hard). On Unbreakable, she’s naïve (duh, stuck in a bunker for 15 years) but not dumb, and in fact resilient and tough. And in 22-minute segments, it was easy to scoot through the season in little bits. I approve, tentatively, so far. Lots of Fey-ish humor.

As for House of Cards, I watched the first episode of season #3 and decided that maybe I’ve had enough of Frank and Claire. Never watched Orange Is The New Black (and please don’t say that I have to watch it, or anything else. You might be missing the point here).

This is how I watch TV now, nothing new to this blog. My cable TV is long gone, years now, and only occasionally will I subscribe to a show on Amazon. My annual television budget comes in around $50, I figure, not counting the $100 a year I spend on my Netflix subscription (I don’t count Amazon Prime, which has lots of watchable stuff, since I mostly use it for the free shipping). It sounds a little nickel-and-diming, but no cable, even basic, adds up to…what? A little less than $1000 a year? Lots of nickels and dimes there.

Yeah, sports are a drag (sports are supporting cable, trust me). I can’t watch baseball unless I subscribe to MLB TV and pay for a proxy service to get around their home team black-outs (you can’t even watch your own team when they’re on the road), and I found I wasn’t watching enough to justify it. I might change my mind, especially if the Mariners have the season some are predicting, but radio still works and baseball is another good reason to read newspapers, so.

Movies? Pick your poison. Netflix, Amazon rentals, YouTube, Vimeo, HBOGo…there’s always something to watch. Interstellar is currently calling me, and I wonder when I’ll have the time, since no plane trips are in the immediate future.

This seems to be the future. Broadcast news is worthless and the cable variety is actually sort of dangerous, in my opinion, so I find that stuff in other places (radio news I still admire, if only for the brevity). Hulu covers most network shows I might be interested in, but I’m not all that interested. I can catch Jimmy Fallon clips whenever I want, wherever, and The Daily Show and anything else that I might want a few minutes of. I seem to be set.

And I suspect you will be, too. I understand that some of your enjoyment comes from waiting each week for the next installment of DWTS or whatever, and so I get that you’ll hang on, but eventually this is where we’ll be: Menus and choices, all we really want in a bloated system that gives us plenty of material to ignore, brought particularly to light when that duck guy started saying controversial things and a lot of us were scratching our heads. What is this show, exactly, and why are we caring what this odd man says?

In the most golden of the various ages of TV, with quality overwhelming us, this is the only solution I see this side of being a TV critic or bedbound. Pick and choose, accept that you’re going to miss something good, and find out what gives you pleasure and entertainment, your call.

And that call will mean, I suspect, either cutting your cable (don’t actually cut it) or waiting for the big boys to get desperate and sell us shows a la carte.

In the meantime, we can clean the kitchen, listen to podcasts or ball games or music, take walks, work for a living, and stop staring at screens so much.

Which I intend to do right now. Signing off. That kitchen won’t clean itself.

Unbreakable-Kimmy-Schmidt

What We Talk About When We Talk About Easter

We have no tradition of Easter bunnies or baskets in this house, although from time to time there’s been a chocolate bunny or two hanging around, and the occasional egg hunt.

This isn’t a battle against secular oddities, since there are plenty of those around (Santa Claus, the Electoral College, etc.) that we participate in, or have. We just really are too busy.

I missed Palm Sunday, since my wife was preaching and felt compelled to leave for church at the crack of dawn (well, 7:30am, but it’s 30 miles away), but since I was at church twice the Sunday before (in the morning for the service and in the evening for the book reading) I’m probably OK.

This week, though, Holy Week, the most important part of the church calendar, is crazy. Maundy Thursday marks the Last Supper, with feet washing and communion. Good Friday is quiet and somber, although not mournful (Sunday’s coming). On Saturday, it’s Easter Vigil, a celebration of our ancient stories, communion again, and a common table set with so much sugar I felt guilty about my poor grandson, stuck in a diabetic world of counting carbs and no M&Ms.

And then Easter Sunday, for which I wore a tie, an occasion so remarkable that I ended up with a go-to response to all the comments (“You know…once a year…”). I just think Easter deserves a tie. Sometimes.

And that’s just me. All I did was bake stuff and show up, read a couple of passages from Genesis, deliver a short homily on the almost-sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham (a hard story, difficult to understand and surrounded by exegeses and midrashim from over the centuries, trying to figure the whole thing out. I never did).

The staff and volunteers who arranged the week are the ones I feel sorry for. Again, it was a busy week.

And as surrounded by sugar as I was on Saturday and Sunday, I resisted to the best of my ability, which is to say minimal resistance that mostly involved walking in the other direction and waiting for somebody else to eat it. It worked a little.

But it was still a joy to be there, with people I care about, passing the peace and sharing news and thoughts.

And, as it turns out, germs. Or at least that’s my theory for why my nasal passages feel as though someone irrigated them with a combination of Tabasco sauce and pain.

But the weather played nicely, all sun and clear skies, the Northwest currently undergoing a Renaissance of warm Pacific water and high ridges, a throw-back to another state, maybe.

And my admiration for hard work – regardless of for what purpose – remains intact. The effort involved was remarkable, and now everyone relaxes for a few days, and I shall sneeze and remember, sneeze and remember. It is right to give our thanks and praise. Our respiratory systems are secondary.

But seriously. Tabasco sauce and pain. Don’t blame the tie.

The table

Shocked to Find Gambling Going On

I’ve been trying to piece together the calendar from four years ago, Holy Week serving as a stand-in for trauma. It was on March 27, 2011, then, the night before Palm Sunday, that my wife had a heart attack.

We didn’t know it at the time. We should have but we didn’t, a lesson we’ve learned, won’t forget, and might pass on: Know the signs and symptoms, and ignore the odds against it, based on whatever. My wife had no risk factors for heart disease except for family history, but genetics sometimes trumps everything.

This is just time gazing, wandering through the past in search of alignment. Was it a Saturday or a Sunday? When was the stent placed? When did the suspicious mammograms get repeated? When did things get shaky, that spring and summer?

Someone else might remember more clearly, tie the events to dates and days. That someone is usually me, but not now, or anymore, or something. Piecing it together, as I say. A lot has happened.

Then there’s this. In 2009, on Father’s Day I flew to Boston to be a father. My daughter was about to drive cross-country to Santa Fe to sing for the summer, along with, oh, a wedding and all that. She wanted a companion. I was drafted.

I’d been to Boston just the year before, but she now lived in a new apartment, this time in Cambridge. For the couple of days I was there before we hit the road, I’d wander sometimes, always in love with Boston, a gleaming 21st-century city built up, around, and in between 17- and 18-century time capsules. There’s a Subway! There’s where Ben Franklin lived! Hold on…that’s Paul Revere’s grave. Right here, next to the ATM.

But Cambridge was another story. Or another part of the same story. This is not really a story.

There was Harvard, of course. But I’d been on that campus before. MIT was just down the street, sort of. Really, I felt as though I got temporarily smarter every time I took a breath, but temporarily. It wore off.

At some point, though, I went by the Brattle Theater.

I think.

OK. I went to the Verizon store a block away. I’m just making a guess. I probably passed it, though.

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The Brattle Theater has      been around since 1953,    an art house theater          from the beginning, now  a dying breed but  apparently still kicking. It  shows interesting films, or films somebody hopes are of interest, and it has an interesting history itself: It invented Casablanca.

Seriously.

Casablanca

In April 1957, four months after Humphrey Bogart died, 15 months before I was born, and 15 years after its release, the Brattle began the tradition of showing Casablanca annually (now every Valentine’s Day, and there are Bogie films throughout finals week), helping to keep its particular magic alive and prominent in the minds of movie watchers. So there’s that.

And this Friday, Good Friday, April 3, it hosts the world premiere of Winning Dad, which I am in.

unnamedThere are no similarities between Casablanca and Winning Dad (that I can think of, and I tried). It’s still a big deal to me.

Three years ago I was approached by Arthur Allen to be in his movie. Two years ago we filmed it, in the summer of 2013.

We reshot a couple of small scenes, moments really, for various reasons. I spent some hours a year ago in a sound studio doing ADR (automated dialogue replacement; dubbing over certain lines to improve sound quality). We shot a tiny bit more, here and there. More ADR, including some guerilla-style, handheld-recorder stuff. Including a couple of minutes of conversation that we did, under a blanket in a car parked in not one but two public library parking lots, on two separate occasions on the same day (for technical reasons we had to repeat).

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Three years, or nearly. Casablanca premiered three months after the end of filming, so they obviously weren’t serious.

For us? Very little money. Bare-bones filmmaking, no big names in the cast, no big names to be seen anywhere, but there was passion and determination and laughter and fun, and now a film.

As I’ve said before, if it hadn’t been any good you would have seen it by now, or could have. It got attention, though, and some good and thoughtful critiques by people who should know, particularly last summer in Paris, leading to various paths that, eventually, got us to the Brattle Theater.

Point of fact: I am in this movie a lot, and I’ve still not seen it. Part of it, chunks of it, unconnected moments when I found myself facing a scene I did months before and not caring for the face. Or the 20 extra pounds I added – in the name of verisimilitude, or possible laziness – to make this a semi-stocky guy who still manages to hike when he’s not being a barely-charming dick.

I love my cast members, my film family, all extremely talented and with a career bullet. And young, of course, except for Ellen McLain, who is closer to my age and has a scene you won’t forget.

I reject the idea that this is a genre film, an LGBT story that fits into a small but vibrant (and growing) segment of film possibilities. To me, it’s a family drama. Some gay relationships. The stuff, in fact, of many families. I probably am in the minority, which is not to say I’m wrong (I may reevaluate when I see the final version, which is still a month away).

And to honest, the odds are that, like my book this will get a flutter of attention and then fade away, staying firmly in place as the first film of Arthur Allen, with more to come. I have an interest but still detached, letting it slide by my consciousness most of the time, until more dialogue or scenes driving the truck or walking in the woods get my attention.

The Brattle got my attention, though. It’s historic, it’s in Harvard Square, and most reminds me of our soon-to-be-mourned Harvard Exit on Capitol Hill in Seattle, where I’ve spent many hours in uncomfortable seats seeing very good films. I would love to be in Boston, but Holy Week is busy and trips are expensive.

And I’ll see it soon enough, knowing that we worked hard, we had fun, I made all sorts of new friends, and the future is predictable but still uncertain. At any rate, maybe the Brattle will feature Winning Dad on Valentine’s Day, a co-feature maybe with Casablanca, a film that stayed away from overt gay relationships (Ugarte? Cpt. Renault? Laszlo himself? What about Sasha? Totally gay), and then there was the Code that dictated the ending (the Code refused to show a married woman leaving her husband, leading to the nobility, unknown to Rick, of sending Ilsa on her way with hubby, dubious letters of transit in hand, taking off in the plane to Lisbon [filmed at the Van Nuys Airport]), while Rick and Louis solidify their relationship. Which is also kind of gay.

I’d argue, otherwise, that’s it’s just a story about love, and change, catharsis, social pressure, and a big ol’ mountaintop where stuff happens. You should see it.

And we’ll always have Paris. Here’s looking at you.

Casablanca_123Pyxurz

Conundrums

This Sunday night at 6pm in Renton, I do my first (being optimistic) reading from “Learning to Walk” as a benefit for REACH (Renton Ecumenical Association of Churches), an organization (and group of people) I much admire. Also, I’m free in the evenings.

This has been sort of a puzzle, as if I’m reading from a recipe book; no particular section or chapter works particularly well on its own, at least without a set-up, and there’s a lot there anyway. It’s kept me busy, murdering perfectly fine jokes because they lead me down a trail that ends up with a two-hour presentation. I would have to also sing and play the banjo to pull that off, and my banjo skills are minimal.

This is not the only puzzle around here this week, including that I just realized I left chicken in the slow cooker for about 18 hours (it’s still moist and looks fine, but you gotta wonder), and my wife left her iPad on the plane to Austin and so far we don’t know where it is (airlines flying to Austin are a little busy this week, with SXSW taking off).

There are other mysteries of minor sorts, including missing bowls, which John and I solved by buying more ($2 apiece!) and various other missing things, all of which can be attributed to a house that bases most of its organization – using the word loosely, and really inappropriately – on the female part of our trio. She probably knows where the ladle is, etc.

Although she can’t explain why I have now two recycle bins. I’m assuming I brought in the cans one dark night from the street, but even that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Was I on autopilot? What kept me from stealing all the recycle bins on the street?

I’ve kept the extra outside the garage, hoping one of my neighbors might recognize it, but they all look alike, really. Not a lot of individual cans out there. No help from residue on the bottom, either (empty 12-packs of Diet Rite would be me; beer cans somebody else, but these were clean). I need Columbo, or Sherlock, or one of the CSI people.

Other than the above, though, we’ve managed our XX gap as we always do, knowing she’s having Grandma fun and we’re doing a bunch ‘o’ slow cooking, along with marathon conversations and many servings of bananas, which are good sources of potassium and just fun to eat anyway.

But the focus is on Sunday, my primary responsibility not to bore anyone and to practice signing my name so it doesn’t resemble my third-grade penmanship and more my fifth-grade variety.

And then we’re back to finding more local venues for book stuff, and an article coming out regarding the book, and a radio interview, and none of this means much, although exciting. Having lived through the long process of creating an independent film that people seemed to like but still won’t make much noise, I have no fantasies of noise makers.

But it exists, as do I, and John, and I imagine my wife’s iPad, somewhere, along with some questionable chicken-like substance, and I would say OK to all that. And bananas.

A video I made yesterday. No puppets were harmed.

 

Menz to Boyz

John and I drove his mom to the airport yesterday morning, her now-routine spring break/winter break/summer break jaunts to Austin, Texas, where she gets her temporary, not-enough time with his Bixness, our grandson, who fortunately seems to enjoy company.

I have a feeling Grandma is not fixing him breakfast every morning, as I did on my last trip. But she’s probably spending more time on the floor, playing and reading. I did that too, but I have the same feelings about Bix that I did about his mother; hurry up and learn to talk, so we can have conversations. There’s a whole section on string theory we need to cover before kindergarten starts.

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From SeaTac, we headed over to Bellevue for a church retreat at a spectacular center, on Lake Washington with beautiful grounds, although John felt under the weather and we eventually left early, having a casual and mostly separate remainder of the day.

And of course we’re used to this, not just the trips but the companionship. We spend a tremendous amount of time together, proximity alone, and all that’s changed is that we have the car to ourselves. We could take road trips or, considering that the rain has decided to show up (last seen in January, I think), making trips to the grocery store a little drier.

As exhausting as it can be to listen to one of his monologues on the intricacies of Skyrim, and as dull as I can be pretty much all of the time, we coexist peacefully and have fun. Cooking is always an adventure, and we can be snide about his mom’s tendency to leave straws and Q-Tips lying around without hurting her feelings.

There is no backsliding, either. She’s gone so much that we pretty much run the place anyway, which explains a lot, and after 25 years our shorthand is pretty amazing. The other night we pretty much covered the entire Star Trek canon in about four sentences, mostly broken ones. It makes it easy to keep the subject matter flowing.

But mostly? We’re just used to each other. We greet each other in the morning, wander around during the day, with our various jobs, circling each other just to check in constantly, and at night we head off to dreamland with acknowledgments that tomorrow will be another day, quite possibly better.

And then there’s this.

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This is why I have no interest in gambling, by the way. I know where my luck lies, and I’ll leave it at that.

Up For Good

I woke up very early this morning, as has happened lately, and I didn’t want to make any noise, so I skipped the grinder and made some instant coffee. YES I’M OK.

I have a very functional relationship with caffeine, not at all a routine. Most mornings I’ll have a cup, but sometimes not, or not until the afternoon. And sometimes I’ll have two, on rare (big writing day) mornings three.

But it just does what it does. I don’t even care for the taste all that much, even with the Splenda I dump in. It opens my eyes, perks me up, gives me the energy to take the trash downstairs to the can in the garage, which my son insists, gently, but often, that I do.

My son. Who makes his own meals and cleans up his own messes, not to mention taking meticulous care of his cat, constantly cleaning his litter box. And that may be it; he may scoop but not care to carry. He’s a funny guy.

But I don’t mind, not after my coffee, and I’m thinking this sleep issue has more to do with exercise than anything else. After a very erratic autumn, with trips and disruptions, with this book finished and out in the world I thought it was time to buckle down. One long hike down to the beach and back resulted in doing the same thing three days in a row, and I decided on a goal.

Fifty miles of walking. This week. Next week we’ll see.

And goals I don’t take so seriously, not so much. There is either do or don’t do, as Yoda sort of said, and goals just point me in a good direction. I don’t sweat missing them. I do sweat.

It seems dumb and redundant and maybe a little obnoxious to spend much time writing about walking, all things considered, but I appreciate that it still works. The body bounces back, and even that steep climb from sea level up 1000 feet and then sliding down to 600, all 7-plus miles in total, provokes cute little endorphins that don’t mellow me out as much as reassure me, tell me I’m OK, that I’m still capable of the feats of mortal men, even if I huff and puff a little.

Learning to walk is like learning to breathe, and of course some people actually practice that, too. How we became these slug creatures who park our butts in front of glittering screens and not scream with evolutionary rage is a mystery. But I do it as much as anyone.

It’s just that I figured something out once, when I had a lot to figure out, and it has a lot to do with movement. Even walking in circles means you’re going forward, and that’s my direction of choice.

Final

Ink Staining, Still

My blood pressure at my recent physical exam was 122/78. My pulse was 90, but I tend to get a little anxious at times, especially in the morning. The longer I live with my son, in fact, the more I wonder about anxiety and what role it plays in so many things. We live in anxious times.

What was curious was my doctor telling me new standards for blood pressure were now in effect, a little higher (130/90 is considered normal, I believe she said; and it used to be higher than that). Maybe anxiety is the new normal. Me, I’m good.

But things are changing. I still mourn a little “The Daily Dish,” Andrew Sullivan’s prolific blog that posted 50-60 items a day, with back-and-forths, opinions and counters, a perfect site to find out information (on a subscription basis for the past couple of years; I was one of the first subscribers) and make up your own mind. A long, well though-out essay on a current event would be followed by intelligent, coherent dissents until, even if a consensus wasn’t reached, information was. It was a great site, and he gave it up, suddenly and decisively, not for numbers or dollars but because even with a great staff, he was burned out.

I worry about us all being burned out, at least those of us who don’t like being spoon fed click bait and selective news reading. We’re a polarized country for many reasons, mostly because it’s easy. You want to hear just the things you believe? Boy, is there a cable channel for you. Several.

And, oddly enough, given all the predictions, I wonder if we won’t be saved by newspapers. We still run the risk of paid articles, essentially advertising that hides as journalism, but there are old journalism traditions and there are still old journalists, not to mention the new ones creeping out of school every year, hoping there might be work.

Long-form journalism still exists, too, if maybe a dying breed. It costs money for months of reporting, travel, research, and at the end we have 5000 or 10,000 words on a fascinating subject that really has little to do with the price of milk, although in theory it might. But who has the time?

I listened to an interview the other day with a chef who talked about looking back a quarter-century or so, and how amazed we’d be by the money we would be shelling out for Internet access, cable TV, and cell phones, but more importantly the time we’d spend online. We were so busy; how could we squeeze in another (on average) 4-1/2 hours a day online? But we do.

Still, in whatever form they exist, I suspect the paper versions of newspapers will stick around longer than we thought, just as small bookstores seem to be still going, if not thriving. Old habits and all, and we are an aging country. I suspect few under the age of 35, maybe 30, have much memory in terms of reading the things, but that leaves a lot of us who will continue to turn the pages for a few more decades, if possible.

I could teach a seminar, I think, on good Internet practices. They’d involve avoiding any headline that included an exclamation mark. They’d avoid Buzzfeed and Upworthy and any number of link baiters, not to mention to ad whore that goes by the name of The Huffington Post. I’d suggest that people use Facebook to update their friends and family on vacations and growing families, leaving political opinions out of the mix, but good luck with that. Some people see windmills everywhere, and seem either convinced or unconcerned that their commentary persuades no one. We are an unpersuadable people, most of us.

There’s not much I can do about it, except write my little columns about little things, hoping that big things are hiding in the clauses.

I sometimes think I have a wisp of an answer, and then it floats away. Links with context would be one thing. New stories with follow-ups that involve more detail and a variety of opinion. Dismissal of the business model of paid advertising and more subscription-based sources; pick one, pick two, and stick with it.

And drop your cable TV.

Pipe dreams, I tell ya. So I’ll stick with what I can, hoping to stay in touch, and finding a few places for interesting stuff (Jason Kottke, a long-time blogger and designer, gives us six or seven fascinating items every day at kottke.org, and Dave Pell produces a newsletter, delivered to his handy app [or online] most weekdays, in which he covers a lot of bases, more than four, and is worth checking out [nextdraft.com, or look for the app]).

Otherwise, we’re left with the sandwich board people, linking to articles they agree with and the rest of us don’t, or have seen, or know about already.

And newspapers. I’m proud to play my small part, my entertainment section, my stories of life in a slightly slower lane, and hope for the best. And keep turning the pages.

My latest column, covering contagions of all sorts, plus a little weather gloating, is right here, ready to be read. No page turning necessary.

The Hat

A short video/reading from “Learning to Walk.”  I’ll try to remember to add the other videos and sound stuff; I forget some of you don’t follow me on social media.


 

Final