Do Shit

January 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Do shit. My New Years’ resolution. Also the reason I’m writing this blog, after sitting in my chair for the past half hour thinking there must be a better topic on which to write, Elton John in the background telling me its going to be a long, long time – yes, Elton John is playing on my iTunes,, he comes on after Eddie Vedder. And yes, he was almost right. I could have sat here mulling it over until I gave up and went to bed. But mulling is so 2010. This year, it’s all about doing shit. Any shit. Even if it’s shit.  So here you go blogosphere, one more forgettable blog post for you to churn about like a lottery ball in one of those big drums made for churning lottery balls. But instead of a smiling woman turning your crank, you’ve got bits…and bites.

After all, perfection is the enemy of good. So it stands to reason that good is the enemy of mediocre and mediocre is the enemy of shit. In terms of the effort to produce something, 90% of it is needed to even produce shit. To overcome, apathy, indifference, self-doubt, criticism, perfectionism and Jersey Shore – that’s the real achievement. Speaking of Jersey Shore, it takes just as much drive, time and effort to produce that shit as anything decent.  So if on top of overcoming the slurry of dissuasion, you actually manage to produce something that contributes positively to your life or anyone elses’, something that manages to crawl into any category above shit, then wow, aren’t you the peacock with the brightest feathers. And if you manage to do it without anyone paying you to do it, well then, I think it’s time you take those feathers down the catwalk and show them off a bit.

So there we go. I’ve written it. And yes, it may be shit, but it’s out there. And it wasn’t before. Who knows, it may inspire something more. Like that guy who started with a paperclip and traded his way up bit by bit until he had a house; paperclip for a pen, pen for a t-shirt, and so on. Granted, the house was in Saskatchewan, but still.  Maybe someone will see this blog and create something better out of it it – like toilet paper. And maybe the guy who then wipes his ass with it will have an idea as he does so, a mediocre idea, like mustard and ketchup in the same bottle, but someone will take that and turn it into a good idea, like mustchup. And on we go…

Funny, it brings me  back to the first day of this blog. When I was fed up trying 18,000 different title names to find every one of them already taken. I found myself writing ‘Externalize’ in the field, not really knowing why, not particularly liking the name, just writing. And here I am, the start of 2011, doing the exact same thing – externalizing, just for something to do.



The Specialized Lunch Ride

November 10, 2010 3 comments

The clock ticks over to 12:00. Not a minute to waste, no one waits for you here. In one hand I grab a bundle of clothes, my shoes, and a helmet as light as the brown leaves falling outside.  In the other, I lead my bike, rolling it through the halls, listening to the wheel buzz like a chorus of crickets as the hub clicks away.

I follow the procession to the downstairs change room where a different buzz takes over. Chatter fills the room in anticipation of the hour to come. Cleats tap  the floor, clothes are shoved hurriedly into cubby holes, spandex begins to hide no-nonsense tan lines . Donned in sleek shades and aerodynamic helmets, I barely recognize some of my Specialized co-workers. Others I wouldn’t recognize any other way.

Outside the change room, the chain-link fencing that segments the cavernous warehouse rattles as we pull our bikes from rowed hooks. Floor pumps are passed around and tires frantically readied. Like any office, we gather around the water cooler, waiting impatiently to fill our bottles: enough so we don’t go thirsty. But not too much; water is heavy.

I roll out the loading door, into the blinding midday sun. The wind at my face is calm, for now, and surprisingly warm for early November. Around the corner, the group is amassing.  I take a moment to quickly stretch my back and legs; I’ve learned that the warm-up will be brief.

With a rhythmic snap of cleats in pedals, we’re off. The first wheels move from the parking lot, inciting the others to follow. Forty bikes creep through the quiet neighborhoods of Morgan Hill. The chatter continues and a paired formation naturally takes shape. Bikes roll two abreast for the first few blocks, until we leave the houses behind. A left turn and we’re in the country side. With the change of scenery comes a sudden change in pace. The group tightens and I find myself inches from the wheel in front of me.  The now single file line steadily builds speed.

It’s early yet, and the group works together to take on the country winds. We move as a swarm, rotating duty at the front. I’m oversized for a cyclist and as I take my turn as lead, I  hear an audible appreciation from those tucked in behind me. But I don’t last long. It’s hard work up there; the long flat stretch is a constant fight against the wind, and the speed, nearing 30mph, is the high end of my limit. I pull out, and let others take over.

We approach the first turn, a domino of hand signals followed by bikes swooping around the bend one by one. I have to fight to stay with the group on the turn; I’m out of my saddle for the first time today, but certainly not the last. Lose the group and it will be a long lonely day, without the crucial benefit of drafting.

The first break comes early today, not ten minutes in. Off the front of the pack, an ambitious maverick puts space between himself and the group. There’s a sudden indecisiveness among the mass. How real is the threat? Only experience can answer the question and this time we let him go. Alone, he is not likely to survive. Sure enough, it isn’t 500 yards before we’ve reigned him back in, his legs burning for his hubris.

Back together, the first hill approaches, and with it, the first real test. My legs feel strong. Out of the saddle again, I rock the bike from side to side and recruit every muscle I have. Stronger riders shoot past, and the fear of abandonment provides me an extra push. As we crest the hill, I’m hanging on to the rear of the front pack. Our numbers have halved.

The speed doesn’t relent, and thankfully neither does the fear. Panicked moments are all that keep me hanging on – the occasional widening of pavement between me and the wheel ahead that prompts a few powerful strokes out of saddle. It’s a dangerous energy-sucking routine, but on these short rides, I may just get away with it.  May.

But today is Friday, and Friday is not for the foolish. It’s World Championship Day, and the coveted jersey awaits the winner. Seriously.  The lead group has dwindled to just a handful, but sticks together. For now. It won’t end together.  We’re nearing the final bend, then it’s one last hill to the finish. As much as I want to believe that today is my day, I know I’m taxed. The pace for the past hour has left my legs rubbery, barely able to maintain rotation enough to hang on.  The strongest riders have another gear altogether, and as we shoot out of the turn, they take off. It’s still a long way to the top of that hill and I watch them battle each other as they pull away ahead of me. The first riders to go we’re too impatient and they’re easily overcome before the summit.  With every ounce of energy remaining, I pull myself up the hill in tow.

Absolutely spent, we roll slowly back to the office, shower quickly, grab a burrito and return to our desks. To our computers, phones, and meetings. To our day jobs.

Cramping legs and heavy eyes remind me it’s Friday afternoon.

First Baseball, then the World

November 2, 2010 Leave a comment

Be sure, this was more than just baseball.

This was Spiderman staring into the face of Venom, Mario taking on Wario, Newman vs. Feldman.

The 2010 World Series took the very extremes of the American psyche and slammed them together for five epic games of bizarro-world mortal combat. Well, mortal pastime at least.

Texas and San Francisco. Two more different places in this country I cannot imagine.  The slogans say it all – “Don’t Mess with Texas” (we like things just the way they are), and “Only in San Francisco”, (give us something new).

On the field, untamed and flashy hair so perfectly reflected the  attitudes of Wilson and Lincecum’s supporters.

It seemed like every supporter in San Francisco had a greater purpose; there were ball fans sure, but there were factions pouring into the streets for whom baseball was just the medium; they wore passionate political agendas on their black and orange sleeves.

Dotted around the city, and splattered in the Castro, men proudly walked hand and hand, their wedding rings clinking. They wore  matching Giants ball caps and t-shirts that read ‘Queers vs. Steers’. It was a defiant gesture, a celebration of the failure of Prop 8, which proposed a ban on gay marriage, and was turned down in California this summer despite over $1 million in ‘yes’ support from concerned Texans, five times the ‘no’ support from that state.

In other parts of town, environmentalists watched intently, as if the outcome of each game was some premonition of the outcome of Prop 23, to be voted upon today in California. The Prop would suspend California’s enlightened “Global Warming Solutions Act” (which requires a reduction in greenhouse gases) until unemployment dropped below 5.5% for four consecutive quarters. That’s happened a grand total of three times since 1980. More than $3.1 million has been poured into the ‘Yes’ vote by a host of ambitious Texas oil companies.

And then Texas fought back. San Franciscans were laid open to a searing reminder of the power of the Lone Star State when the Bush father and son team rolled back into their lives at the start of game 4. Involving such a controversial figure as George W. spoke volumes of the partisan nature of this series.

And now, with Prop 23 on the table in California today, it looks like this unlikely finals match up could have huge implications for the future of the state, the country and the world. I for one am hoping that the thrill of tonight’s Texas-bashing will carry over to the polls.

And you thought this was just baseball.




Of Fish and Life

October 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Another one from my daily stumblings.  I deleted the ‘moral of the story’ stuff at the end, I have complete faith in your ability to figure that out for yourself.


A boat docked in a tiny Mexican village. An American tourist complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.

“Not very long,” answered the Mexican.

“But then, why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?” asked the American.

The Mexican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.

The American asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs. I have a full life.”

The American interrupted, “I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat.”

“And after that?” asked the Mexican.

“With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge new enterprise.”

“How long would that take?” asked the Mexican.

“Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years,” replied the American.

“And after that?”

“Afterwards? Well my friend, that’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the American, laughing. “When your business gets really big, you can start buying and selling stocks and make millions!”

“Millions? Really? And after that?” asked the Mexican.

“After that you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends.”

My Daily Stumblings

October 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Don’t Miss This One

October 14, 2010 Leave a comment

I check my email 1746 times a day, or thereabouts. My inbox is by far the cleanest of all my personal spaces. No message is left concealed for longer than an hour.  Not that I necessarily do anything about it, but rest assured I’ve read it.

I’m an addict. I check my email even when I’ve just checked it and know there isn’t anything new.  I check my email when I had intended to do something else, then promptly forget what that something else was. I check it when I bored. I check it when I’m busy. I check it when I’m in a house. I check it when I click my mouse. I check my email here and there. I check my email anywhere.

I don’t have a smart phone for this precise reason – having mobile access to my email would consume my life. I can see myself, head buried in my phone, making sure I’m not missing that all important email,  as I walk by beautiful women, $100 bills, panda bears, and Elvis Presley. Life would be reduced to Inbox (1).

I blame irregular reinforcement. It’s the same mechanism that creates slot junkies and World of Warcraft fiends. Every now and again you get something good. It doesn’t matter much what that something good happens to be – money or nerd points may drive you, but the beauty of the email is that the reinforcement is totally unknown. It might be the president asking you to dinner for all you know; his tab. The potential upside of an email knows no bounds. Whatever it is, to me,  missing an opportunity like baba ghanoush  at the White House (Obama’s Arab right?) is an unacceptable risk.

At least 500 million people are the same way. Sure, you may claim simple sociability for the flurry of Facebook friending, but I think there’s something else at play.  There’s the fear of missing out. With Facebook, I can keep tabs on my friends;  I can reassure myself that my life is up to snuff; or, I can discover that it isn’t, and fret. Fret, fret, fret. Either way, I need to know. To live without comparison is a noble goal indeed, but far from the norm.

I think it may also be why we watch the news. Despite it being utterly depressing, and oddly repetitive, we watch or read the news every day. Every now and again, our loyalty is rewarded. Like today, the miners in Chile were rescued! It only took 69 days of pulling the one-armed bandit.

Why the fear of missing out? It could be competition. The drive, both innate and bred, to get that leg up on the person next to us. Or, it could be the exact opposite. Just trying to keep up with each other, to be part of the in-crowd.  I’m not really sure. Maybe my email holds the answer…

In Defense of Cake

September 19, 2010 1 comment

I just finished reading Michael Pollan’s book “In Defense of Food” which manages to be both obvious and mind-blowing at the same time. Pollan  warns against attaching ourselves to the minutia of nutritionism while looking for silver bullet solutions to our eating woes: fat is bad, no wait good; carb is good, no bad; whey protein; gluten; sugar etc. etc. Pollan shows, convincingly, that we lack a full understanding of how foods interact in the body, and that by chopping them into tiny parts, we are undermining the complexity of the system. His advice is to just eat food; real food; a practice that seemed to work for us up until the introduction of the industrialized Western diet. He shares some really great advice for simplified healthy eating: shop the outskirts of the grocery store; nothing with more than five ingredients; and my favorite,  if it celebrates a health benefit, you should avoid it.

But my fascination is the psychological baggage that seems to have shown up with the belly baggage of the Western diet.

Our diet is making us unhealthy, but more importantly, unhappy. So my question is, why do we do it?

I could go on a major rant about politics and the evils of the food business, but I’ll leave that for the Pollan’s of the world. For me, one of the most devastating factors behind the survival of this parasitic diet is much more simple: we’re already doing it.

We’re lazy. Inertia is a powerful force to overcome, especially with a practice that lends itself so easily to habits and traditions. We eat constantly, at least three times a day, and have for our entire lives, so it becomes a mindless, routine activity. We know what we like, we know where to get it, we know what it costs – we know our diets inside out. Change would require a lot of energy. And since we’ve been eating a lot of hamburgers, we don’t really have the energy for it right now.

When the modern Western diet was originally introduced, sometime in the 50s maybe, it seemed like a great option – delicious, easy, cheap and backed by a powerful marketing force. Slowly but surely, families got on board. I’m sure it didn’t quickly; the good ol’ home cooking of the early century was itself inertia that needed to be overcome. To their credit, the food powers worked hard to make it happen. Now here we are, discovering the faults of our ways and trying to undo all the dids. Without the marketing budget.

For many of us, better food options are not hard to adopt, especially for those of us in California. The alternatives are bountiful, cheap and delicious. I’ve been trying to work in some changes myself, and yet every time I arrive home from shopping, I wonder how I ended up with all the same stuff as usual. It’s the supermarket trance.

But we can overcome. We did it with smoking.

What does it take? Maybe a little bit of joy…

My favorite quote in the Pollan book was this:

“In one experiment, he showed the words “chocolate cake” to a group of Americans and recorded their word associations. “Guilt” was the top response. If that strikes you as unexceptional, consider the response of the French eaters to the same prompt: “Celebration.”

Not that I want to tell all Americans to be more like the French, but maybe there are ways to bring the joy back to our eating.

A friend of mine had an idea for a grocery store that I thought was terrific. Set everything up by recipe. So instead of going to six different aisles to get all the ingredients for spaghetti and meatballs, you go to the ‘spaghetti and meatballs’ section. Or the chicken souvlaki section; or maybe even the cheese souffle section if you’re feeling ambitious. The point is, this arrangement introduces people to new ingredients and new foods while overcoming uncertainty. It helps people break out of their molds, explore and discover.

For those of us with a bit less ambition, even a dinner party can help. Introducing guests to delicious healthy meals in a communal setting is a great way to make the behavior stick. My vegetarian friend has almost converted me thanks to a bunch of delicious meals, wine, music and company – all of it sans meat.

Sharing meals, exploring recipes, or just chocolate bliss. Even when everything else is the shits, food can be joyful. And there’s nothing like joy to stop inertia.

For me, happiness is a ripe cantaloupe. You?

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