Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Fire Next Time...

No, not a fire. But this sunrise in the chilled water steam looks more like a fire than the last post, even, huh?

I don't have anything coherent to say today. (My friend Jette said on Facebook that she was 'impressed by her own incoherence.' I thought she said 'imprisoned' which I get. Impressed am I, too, by mine.) I think I'll just dash off a bunch of random stuff. Follow along if you wish. Otherwise, see you later. (I have posted another couple of amusing, well to me, Journal of Unintended Consequences posts if you are looking for alleged coherence.)

So, random things. Not random things about me necessarily which a lot of people are doing twenty-five of lately (but not me, so far I'm resisting or maybe editing my batch in my head). But anyway random stuff.

That chilled water from that plant? Expensive to use it turns out. We thought it would be an efficient cooling option. But it costs $14 a month to have access to the chilled water to cool and it is decidedly expensive to actually divert some across your fan. Ah, well. Maybe it's better for the environment? Don't know. For the last month or more, we haven't turned on either heat or A.C. but we have to pay $14 bucks in case we do. A person can do Netflix for that. Oh, well. Still haven't had to use the heater in this place which is electric so you know that wouldn't be efficient. The bad news is that the place is being heated by computers and TVs and computer peripherals. So yeah. Wasted electricity.

My 98-year-old father-in-law just called me to remind me he gets an extra deduction for being blind. I figured out they didn't owe any income taxes, but he also figured that out. With a magnifying glass no doubt.

Reading list: I finished Bénabou's book as I think I mentioned. I started another small, light book suitable for carrying around when I go somewhere with just FFP and we take books to read while we eat, wait for a performance to start, etc. It is Milan Kundera's Slowness. What do I like about Milan? That he is not afraid to write fiction and he doesn't impose unnecessary rules on himself, it doesn't seem, and just plunges in and if characters or scenes get in the way, to hell with characters and scenes. Which makes me wonder several things. Should I buy (and maybe even read) his book on writing novels. Would it help me with my problematic novel project or would it just become another book I haven't read. Which, if I can be allowed to digress, leads me to another little side project which is how to use technology to present the novel being accidentally and haphazardly written here as a whole. This caused me to do some brief, futile searches of some techie sites. I'm always assaulted with just the information I do not want to read. And I'm reminded that, even for the little HTML I know I constantly forget actual syntax.

But back to reading. I'm falling behind on my newspapers. That's because I've spent too much time working crosswords, trying to get further into the week in The New York Times and working the unsatisfying but still tempting ones in the Austin American-Statesman. This reduces the input I have for The Journal of Unintended Consequences. And I have an outstanding (and in my mind's eye coherent) essay for this space on newspapers to complete as well. One reason I'm behind on the paper's is that I haven't been riding the recumbent bike as much and the couple of times I've done it I have been reading Ulysses. I'm determined to get through to page 933 of the edition I'm working on before I book my trip to New York for Bloomsday this year. I purchased this edition in Dublin in 2004. It was the hundredth anniversary of Bloom's Day but I was there after the fact, in September not June. Anyway, I'm on page 758. Bloom and Stephen are in the livery stand having something like coffee. This will be my first complete trip through any edition. Joyce was not afraid to write a novel either. Stream of consciousness and unconsciousness and all that.

Other books (and magazines) lie neglected, partly finished. A book of conversations with Woody Allen. Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I recently purchased two books from Amazon. Covers are stiff and uncracked. I was well into E.J. Kahn, Jr.'s Year of Change when somehow I put it aside. Really good book. E.J. Kahn in 1994 died after a car accident. (I sometimes wonder when reading a decades-old book what happened to the person who wrote it in the interim. So I looked up his NY Times obit a few weeks ago.) Reading Kahn's book made me wonder if I owned The New Yorker and Me. Which was Kahn's first book about his relationship with that venerable rag. Did I mention that I own The Complete New Yorker and that, recently, I printed out the Salinger story "Hapworth 16, 1924" from the June 19, 1965 edition and read it. FFP was going to read it, too, but I don't think he has. We read an article about Salinger in the NY Times on the occasion of his ninetieth birthday which mentioned the story. Salinger is not dead, but he's a recluse.

So, not doing as much reading as I'd like. We are quicker to recycle papers and magazines these days, but they are still building up too much. And I secreted a large pile in a storage thing by my my chair and I really need to clean those out so I can store other things in there. (These are from, I'm afraid, last summer when we were in the deep throes of moving.)

I've been watching some of the Australian Open. I am especially interested in the Federer/Nadal match that will occur tonight. I may watch it live. Or not. I'm much more interested in that than the Stupid Bowl. Who is playing again?

Did I mention that I hurt my back playing tennis? That I just keep playing anyway. I need to do a good 'core' exercise program when it heals. Assuming it will. I always assume such things. If it's broke, it will heal. With our bodies this isn't always a correct assumption but it's a helpful one.

It's a nice day for a walk. I think I'll take one. We are going to see Austin Lyric Opera's "Rigoletto" tonight. We will walk to the Long Center, too, I think. Did I mention how glorious the weather has been. It has. Although everyone, myself included, seems to have had a cycle of cedar fever.

FFP is listening to opera and making himself vegetarian barbecue for lunch. I think I'll have some. (OK, did that. Had a Chimay with it. So sue me.)

So, yeah, random stuff. Not going much of anywhere. Sort of like my life. Next time, though. The fire.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Lazy and Not Proud of It

Or am I? Proud of being lazy, that is?

I turned over the keys to the sprawling manse almost six months ago. (Well to me it was sprawling wasn't that big and the property was only 2/3 acre or so and by the standards of today's robber barons and Ponzi scheme toppers it was nothing.) We struggled through getting things furnished and organized here and now we just have ongoing cleaning and such. (It's amazing how often that needs attending, but still.)

I'm into the tax season, but after I mail three more things today I will only have the personal 1040 and a State Franchise Tax form. (The latter isn't due until May which is a good thing because the state hasn't released the forms!) Oh, and I have to see to the parents' 1040's as well. Anyway, taxes and paperwork aren't weighing on me too much and I am caught up on budgets and bills and balancing checkbooks. I need to clean out files still, of course (things were moved in haste), but they are stuffed in drawers anyway. I need to invest some money, but every day that the market see-saws and the pundits pronounce pathetically I see my fence-sitting as a virtue. Or at least not much of a vice.

I have my 'duties' of course. Monday and Tuesday I had a couple of hours of Dad duty. Just some appointments and errands. Nothing too serious. Last Wednesday I had a few hours of Dad duty, too, and it made me miss a meeting at the club. (Fortunately I got someone else to chair that committee so now I'm a slouch about attending.) This week I have a meeting at the club and a board meeting next week. We are helping host a charity party weekend after next. I really need to clean today. (Did I mention that?) I 'have' to play tennis at times and exercise. What's an old lady to do? There are concerts and operas to attend, too.

But I really am in a position to be kind of lazy. There was a threat of nasty weather this morning. I didn't care. I didn't have to get out. Fact is we wanted to go out for a drink and snack last night and because of the cold and bitter wind we just ducked a few yards from the front door of the building to Mulberry, a small wine bar with some tasty food located on the ground floor of the building.

Yeah, I'm a lazy girl. I mean if you are in sweats and have bed head at 9:30 in the morning and haven't accomplished anything but blogging, well there you go.

I've also become a sort of amateur weather maven in my current lazy state. I have a remote sensor on the balcony getting a temp outside and I have thermometers inside (one a couple of feet from the window, one in the bathroom and, of course, the thermostat). I can also judge the outside temperature from the amount of steam off the chilled water plant. The direction the steam takes (see above) and the half dozen or so visible flags plus the wind sock at the old water treatment plant give me some idea of wind speed, direction and variability. The six story parking garage across the street allows me to see if rain is really falling as it puddles and pings on the flat surface.

I've been watching mindless TV including tennis (which, like golf I think, is only interesting to aficionados). Night before last, I made a test batch of the mango margaritas I plan to serve at the charity event I'm helping host (mentioned above). I drank some to 'test' it and I reblended and drank some more last night. Yeah, sometimes I drink too much I guess. Because it seems I had some wine in there the last two nights as well.

This lazy, purposeless existence makes me a little nervous. And, of course, I know just how to get back to doing something 'worthwhile.' I know I have a list of things to do that I consider worthwhile. But here I sit, enjoying the pondering of what to do next. I'm enjoying my second (is it my third?) cup of coffee. I'm enjoying the sun streaming in after yesterday's gloom. I'm thinking of working out and doing some chores. Not doing, just thinking. I'm even considering doing something radical like writing the next paragraph of my non-novel. Or plowing past page 700 and onward toward the end in my reading of Joyce's Ulysses. It's fun to sit here and think about being productive. FFP is working on writing a column. He turns out a (published) 800 or 900 words a week, minimum. I should take note.

The van pulled up in front of The Four Seasons. The bellman recognized Jilly when she popped out. She was instantly sorting the luggage in the rear, getting a roller board and another bag out for Rachel, leaving Cliff's small bags. Cliff wondered where they had come from since she hadn't been carrying them. Hegot out and said, "Let's get a coffee and snack." Jilly said something to the bellman and Jack got out, too. In the lobby, Rachel turned toward check-in like she'd been there before.

Cliff noticed a couple of Four Seasons security types (suits, wires in ears) but then saw another guy who looked sort of the same but somehow out of place. He glanced at a phone in his hand, glanced up and looked at Cliff for a few seconds.

"Mr. Pogonip?" the suit asked, knowing the answer, clearly. He retrieved a badge from his pocket. "FBI. Could you please come with me for a moment?"

"Now why would they wait for me here?" Cliff wondered. He looked around and a distressed-looking Jilly met his gaze.

"No problem," he said. And then he gave Jilly a little wave that said don't get involved, just wait for me.

What is the deal, here? I'm really not writing a thriller. I just want to get old Cliff through this unfortunate event so he can move on and examine his inner life. Why didn't I kill his friends in an air crash or train derailment? Of course, his parents died in a plane crash. (You didn't know that? Yeah, I hadn't mentioned it. Will I mention it in the actual book? Maybe I will, maybe I won't.)

But enough messing about. It's 10 o'clock now. I can't waste my life blogging. I'm going to go waste some time in the gym.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Not What I Imagined

I had things in mind when I retired. Ideas about how my life would go along and ideas about what would happen in the rest of the world, too. These visions don't usually add up to reality, though, do they?

I saw myself getting everything in my (old) house organized and working to a fault. I saw myself fit and active and achieving things, doing things for others. I thought my financial life would be organized and I'd have learned lots of new things. Of course, there were those books that I was going to write and entertaining and informative WEB sites that I was going to design.

I don't know when the vision shifted to downtown living. When I retired in 2002, downsizing was on my mind but the idea of living in 1200 square feet or so was not really something I'd considered.

I wanted to travel. FFP was still working full time running his agency and wasn't ready to do much traveling. However, not too many weeks after I retired I was off to Colorado with my dad and then off to Berlin. Dad was doing better then. He could travel, drive even. My in-laws had quit driving but could still walk around the neighborhood and take cabs to go places. Intellectually I knew that they would become more feeble and have more needs. (Although their current needs are surprisingly low for their ages.) I imagined that I'd keep traveling a lot. That I'd go back to South Africa and other places. Oh, I did get back to South Africa, had a trip to Dublin, a driving trip or two with FFP, trips to New York, two trips to France with FFP. It sounds like a lot but it's been seven years and we didn't go anywhere in the last twelve months except for a short trip to New York, a night in San Antonio and a couple of nights at Lake Austin Spa. I feel like a stay-at-home. I know I'm making too much of keeping up with the old folks. If they do as well as they are right now, it would be easy enough to get a little help and, um, abandon them for a bit. I am planning to plan a trip to New York. Oh and maybe back to Europe. Of course, the expenses of moving and the economic downturn have put a little damper on spending.

I guess after 9/11 and a closer reading of the newspapers about world affairs, I didn't hold out much hope for the mess in the world. I haven't been disappointed but I have been a little surprised by the scope of the agony. (And amazed that we are still as lucky as we are.)

I guess things are always different than in your mind's eye. I wonder if the Democrats swarming the White House are finding it like they expected it to be. I'll bet, to some degree, not.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


I have been on facebook more than I'd like to admit lately. Why, after all, do we need to be that in touch with friends? When we went to see "The Wrestler" and we were leaving we saw a friend who was first in line for the next show, smart phone in hand. "I knew you were here!" she said. And, indeed, I'd said I was off to see the movie a few hours before. This is what the kids have been doing for a while, starting with their voice calls "Where are you? Oh, I see you..." and ending up texting a continuous stream to one another and now, with Twitter and facebook, to everyone they know. I'm not sure I'm happy with it. I don't use the phone that much and I tend to pull back eventually from chat streams to write entire paragraphs for you to read (or ignore) at your leisure. I'm tantalized by the immediacy of things and by all these smart phones in the hands of my smart friends. But I resist as well. (I have a stupid phone. It does text messages but don't send me one. I don't know how to read it.) This is typical of my contradictory nature.

People (including FFP) have been writing notes on facebook with "Twenty-five random things about me." They are fascinating, but I haven't done one myself in spite of being "tagged." I don't take to tags or tagging others. If I inspire someone to write or comment, fine. Otherwise I'm on my own spouting nonsense, usually here. (Or, you know, one blog or the other.) These lists, though, are conduits of contradiction as people find themselves writing that they are one way but act another or desire some other path.

The above photo is a house in Old West Austin. Dramatically modern and different from its neighbors it would be patina-less but for the winter-stripped tree in the yard. I love patina, actually, but I find the house and its modern, sterile aesthetic appealing, too. We adopted a very modern look for our condo decoration albeit softened with art and books and some whimsical toys and collectibles. We left the concrete pillars and ceilings with their patina of seams, nail marks, wood grain from the forms. We used wood which has its endless swirls of grain but we have some sleek glass and chrome, too.

My personality is full of contradictions. I like to go places and see people but I'm shy and have spent a lot of effort over the years trying to get comfortable in social situations especially with strangers. Yeah, I'm the person who will invite fifty people to a party and then be exhausted, not by the effort to entertain them but by the effort to interact with them. (Of course, we won't be throwing parties for fifty in our new digs. Maybe twenty tops.)

I'm constantly yo-yoing between getting out among folks and retreating to my recluse mode.

I like to talk and I like to be listened to, but social situations still feel like work.

My love of patina extends to art where I'm a fan of abstract or the slightly fantastical realism (but nothing too fantastical, mythical or comic-like). I love collage and found object sculpture and assemblage and well, whatever you choose to call it. Mixed media. I love clean modern lines, glass and chrome. But take some paper ephemera, arrange it artistically and it grabs me. Rusty junk? Priceless.

I'm a bundle of contradiction. We all are, I guess. Collage appeals because we see ourselves in the complexity.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

It Dawned On Me

That's this morning's sunrise, captured by himself, FFP.

Lots of random things occur to me (and happen to me) that don't get recorded because, in spite of having three blogs, they don't fit into a coherent (yeah, right) whole to slip in anywhere. Well, today, I'm just going to catch up with a few random threads.

I actually finished a book. Marcel Bénabou's "Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books." If anyone else finds it amusing that I managed to finish that (short) non-book (according to its author) while several other books lurk (half-finished, half-started, bought recently but not cracked open) then go on, laugh. And I'm not doing a good job of keeping up with newspapers either.

One book I bought is Diana Athill's "Somewhere Towards the End." It's about growing old, approaching death. I hope I finish it before I die. I keep thinking the title should be "Somewhere Toward the End." Yeah, I can't stop trying to edit myself or others.

That's really a problem, the constant editing. I sometimes even spend a bunch of time writing and re-writing an e-mail. Today FFP wrote a draft of an e-mail, sent it to me for editing then sent it. Sometimes editing gets in the way of writing.

Last night we went to a very hip opening of a very hip show at Arthouse at Jones Center. This British artist Matt Stokes created a film about punk rock and collected a bunch of Austin punk rock ephemera to display with it. I realized that, while I am not (and probably never will be) a punk rock fan that I loved the exhibit and the people at the opening. The film was a very santized way to experience the art of punk and art made from punk. Cool. I talked to a venture capitial biggie who is a friend of mine and told him I read his blog. He said he read mine, too. (Yikes.)

After the opening we went to Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. I had a glass of Pinot Noir and the very excellent carpaccio.

Today I played tennis. The cold swirling wind lessened my enjoyment and I made too many mistakes but I enjoyed it. We got out in the wind again to go to Whole Foods and buy limes, mango sorbet (some mango margaritas are in the offing), yogurt, bananas, vegetarian barbecue, hot tofu dip, green onions and a tomato. A few groceries and not so much we couldn't easily carry it home. It was cold and windy, though, and we decided that even though we had said we'd go to a cocktail party at Long Center that the sniffles would win out...we are staying in the rest of the day. And...I'm going to get some things done even if it's just read the newspapers or even a book!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Dawn of a New Day---Retirement

No, it's not me retiring. Long time readers may be surprised to wake up and realize that I have been retired over six years.

No, George W. Bush, the 43rd President of the U.S., has retired after serving the maximum term for a president. And, since I have now spent ten percent of my life retired, I thought I'd give him some advice. Oh, sure, you are saying, "He could ask his daddy." In fact, this morning I asked my daddy what advice he'd give George and he said that he'd never been that good at managing other people.

So, it's up to me, I guess.

Piece of advice number one: ignore the critics. Yeah, you pretended for eight years to ignore them or maybe you actually did ignore them. But maybe it stung a bit. Sometimes. I got a pleasant send-off from my last job although I'm sure there were people happy to see me go. (In fact, I later realized the event organizer was probably one of these!) But, dude, living well is the best revenge! You get a salary, a staff. You'd already saved for retirement, huh? You can do whatever you want, within limits. Wake up each day and dig the freedom. Who cares if the people back at the workplace are altering your code (er, executive orders in your case)?

Piece of advice number two: don't fall into being your father's keeper. Yeah, your dad is eight years younger than my dad and he's still got your mom, the Secret Service, various other help. Still, make no mistake, it can be time-consuming to hover over them when they have problems. Try to get Jeb or the twins to do it. You still have your Mom, too. (People will say "You are so lucky to still have them." It's true, but it can interfere with your travel, fitness and time to follow some of the advice below.)

Piece of advice number three: wake up and smell the coffee. In fact, make the coffee. I think somewhere you said you'd enjoy making Laura a cup. Do that. Take yours outside and watch a beautiful sunrise, knowing that you don't have to do a thing you don't want to today.

More retirement advice? Yeah number four: just pretend to write the book. Books are hard, blogging is easy. Take it from me. Since you can get a lot of money for a book, do one. But get someone else to write it. Get Jenna to write it. She did her own book, yes? Let her ghost yours or co-write it. Get yourself a blog. Moderate the comments. You can delete the negative stuff and the spam selling drugs and weight loss. You can say whatever you want, edit it later and pretend you didn't and scoff at your critics. In fact, get a Facebook page. Not one someone else concocted but one of your own. Just collect your real friends here.

Am I done? No. We have number five: learn something new. I don't think you are as stupid as people would have us believe. Nevertheless, retirement is a time to learn new things. Since I retired I've practiced identifying the countries of Africa (harder than you might think: click here), learned a few new words. Left to your own devices with no earth-shaking work (literally in your case) you can research things like history and literature. You can read Ulysses. (Or maybe you can't. I haven't made it to page 700 yet.)

Is there more? You bet. I haven't wasted the last six plus years. (Well, that's disputable but still there's more advice.) Number six: do something at a weird time. Take Laura to a movie in the afternoon. Go to SXSW. Stay out as late as you want and sleep in some morning.

I know you love to exercise, Mr. ex-President, but number seven: change your routine. You have time to add water aerobics or Pilates. You can take up a new sport or one you haven't pursued in a while. Come down to Austin and play tennis with Rick Perry and Andy Roddick. (Well, actually I don't know if Rick plays tennis, but he looks like a player, doesn't he?)

And, number eight on the list is: downsize! I know you and Laura bought a really big house in Preston Hollow (nice timing on that) and you have the ranch. Seriously, though, it's very freeing to dump some of that junk. Do you really need all that space? After all, if it's something sentimental stick it in the library. I wish I'd had a museum to store my stuff in!

Number nine? Travel. Don't just talk about it. Do it. Go to Paris and eat stars. Make the Secret Service follow you and Laura on a driving trip around the U.S. and Canada. You might want to stay out of Mexico, though, especially border towns. Kinda dangerous just now.

And, number ten on the list of retirement wisdom? Spend more time on your finances. Your money was tucked away in a blind trust, but now you can track your own investments tanking and rising. You can struggle to figure out where to get a decent, safe interest rate return. You can worry about your taxes. The muni bond market is weird right now, by the way. But since you're a Texan you don't have to worry about state income tax. Wait until you see your property tax bill, though. But Dallas is better than Austin where we bear the burden of much un-taxed state property. You will be really glad you have a defined benefit pension, I promise. Even though you may think you bought that mansion at a low point you may find that you see comparables in your neighborhood decline in value. But honestly just get out and get into a condo and lower expenses. We have some nice 1200 square foot or so units here at our place.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

You Are Included

There is much talk about how everyone is included in this new era in Washington. The picture is a mural on the side of Cheapo Discs. Like much of today's music, I don't get it except for guitar, banjo, maybe some black player?

People are criticizing Barack's speech but I thought it was fine. He included everyone (well, maybe not GLBT, but a gay bishop prayed somewhere). He gave a shout out to non-believers. (Maybe he will fight faith-based groups getting government funds?) He said, in so many words, "get off your butts at home and don't shoot at us."

I haven't heard one commentator mention non-believers. Interesting.

Remember the Republicans 'big tent?' Was that Bush the First?

Anyway, I like the picture. I am hopeful for the new government. Because you have to hope.

I haven't been too verbose lately. I do have an idea for a Journal of Unintended Consequences piece. In fact, everything seems to be an JUC piece these days although a novel keeps trying to sneak in here.

Also, I strained my back a little stabbing for someone's passing shot at tennis yesterday and cedar fever still has me sniffing a little. We have spent lots of time at home in the condo lately. In a way, I think we are finally settling in here and it's now a comfortable nest where we play with our toys. Today I have to get out and take care of a few things for Dad. I had a couple of meetings at the club today, but one is optional and one sort of optional so I'm skipping them, I think.

I expect things to be back to 'normal', um, never because I don't think I have a normal. One thing, though, I'm glad I'm not president.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

As Others See Us

When I walked with a friend last week he shot this picture of me shooting a picture. I usually show you me as I see myself, a reflection or shadow. Boy I'm fat. Fortunately I don't see myself as fat. (Well, in the bathroom mirror after a shower, but other than that, no.) What do people see when they see you? (Or, um, me?) Very complex topic.

Austin's skyline is sure changing. You alter views when you build up a high, dense city.

I don't know how other people see me, really. I don't worry about it too much. I just try to be myself, to pay attention to other to gain their perspective and go forward. But I do have a me I see and imagine that I suspect is nothing like what anyone sees.

I think this imagined persona one has is often far from what others see. But this new president seems to be one of those people who knows what people see and who is in control of that. He even seems to really be that person.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Designer Me

I never really got the concept of designer jeans. Oh, I guess I understood that you could add some stitching, a certain fit (although Levis offers fits galore), some rhinetones, some creative fading and even some wear you wouldn't have to put on them yourself. I guess I'd rather design my life myself. I wear Men's 34x30 Levis in 550 or 560 fits. The former only fit when I weigh less than 165. They come in a white-washed blue, regular washed blue and black over dye. The latter are best for travel, showing little grime and topped with a nice collared shirt and blazer, able to sneak where their more denim-looking breathen will not.

This is a shop window reflection from the very high-end Julian Gold store on West Sixth. I've never been inside except when it was a very cool travel store called TravelFest in which we invested. (We lost our money. We weren't bailed out. But I digress.)

We are all designing our lives. We decide whether to go to the gym or walk the lake. (Or, you know, just sit here blogging.) We decide whether to put up with congestion or take an OTC drug. We decide, in fact, when to see doctors for tests and treatments. We decide what to wear, first by buying stuff and then by selecting. We decide on our haircut (maybe our hair color). Glasses? What style? Or...contacts. We pick a car, a place to live. We study for a certain career, take a job or not. We pick our hobbies. Tennis? Who will we play with? How competitive will we be? Will we take lessons? Bridge? Casual or serious duplicate for points? We decide what to eat and when. Coffee or no? (This morning our coffee machine, the expensive Jura E8 was acting up. I knew we had this problem before and couldn't remember how to fix it. We called the 800 concierge number and we were up and running in a minute.) Yeah, we decide what appliances to own. Coffee at home or out. (We could go downstairs in the morning now and get coffee at the shop in the building or one just across the street. I was about to do that when we got our machine working.)

We decide when we go out and when we stay home. We decide when to travel. (Maybe our employer decides, but still we make lots of decisions along the way.) Lots of people chose to be in Washington, standing in the cold watching that concert on the Lincoln Memorial. OMG, who was NOT there? Me. I was home watching it after the fact off the DVR. "Who is that?" Rewind. "Oh, Pete Seeger's grandson."

When we are at our computers, we decide what mail to answer. We decide what blogs to read, what news to watch. Today I decided to download some backup and sync software because I read about it in The New York Times because I decided to read the NYT last night instead of reading a book. We have the Times because we decided to subscribe years ago and are powerless to stop. It's an addiction.

What will I choose today and what differences will it make as I bump against all the other choosers (or is that deciders as GWB said?) and their choices?

Life is fascinating after the first couple of cups of coffee, huh?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

What I should be doing

No, I shouldn't be out walking catching my reflection in the mirrored windows of the deco building at 8th and Nueces. Or maybe I should be. But I'm not. I'm inside and I'm just sort of reveling in the fact that I can stay home and do whatever I want. Yesterday, I canceled my tennis game and stayed inside the condo all day except for a trip to our parking level to help FFP in with some groceries. I'd reached the point in fighting my allergies (?) (cedar fever?) where I was feeling OK (Headache: no; Drippy nose: a bit; Sore throat: no;) but I was also feeling a little bleary from the decongestants. I don't take the non-drowsy kind because I did those once and they made me, um, too excitable. I prefer bleary and sleepy, thanks. But after some Advil and decons in the morning, I didn't take any thing else the rest of the day. I slept fine last night without the overnight cold medicine that took me through the night before.

We slept until almost nine o'clock yesterday. I'm blaming the medicine in my case. I think FFP got up and then just came back to bed to join me in Z's. We might have slept longer yesterday but FFP's mother called. They had decided their smoke alarm might not be working.

"Tot [my father-in-law's nickname] poked it with a broom stick and it didn't beep."

"I think I have some 9 volt batteries."

"I think you fixed it for us before."
So, we got up. We never sleep that late. The overnight drug got me some sleep at least. (This morning I was up much earlier.)

I did a few bits of financial stuff yesterday including getting three more bits of paperwork for the business ready to go to three different IRS addresses. [LB: That Geithner guy has me seething! If you are that big a fish, you have a CPA. If your CPA doesn't do better than that, you and he both should be locked up! The message is: you only have to follow the rules if you are a little punk like me. Ed Note: Save it for the Journal of Unintended Consequences.]

So I should be doing a lot of things, but, instead I'm blogging and reading the newspaper and surfing the WEB. So sue me.

I've thought a bit about the novel in the last couple of days. I had to tweak an earlier paragraph a tiny bit, but no biggie.

So here goes:

Cliff thought about playing a little tennis and how nice that would be. He played some in London or Paris or New York, but never in the winter. He pulled himself up short from thinking about maybe hitting some with young Charlie. "This shouldn't be a vacation," he thought. Rachel was looking down at a phone now so he pulled his out. He still hadn't responded to her comment about Austin's urban status. He looked at his e-mail, incoming texts, missed call numbers. He'd listened to a lot of voice mails from strangers and he didn't see any missed call numbers that inspired him to listen to any more. Some of this stuff, he'd eventually have to take care of, he guessed. He could avoid the journalists and the geeks but he figured he'd eventually have to talk to some of these law enforcement types. "When I get settled in and get some privacy," he thought, "I'll try to figure out how to talk to as few as possible and get them what they need from me." Which was, of course, going to be nothing of value. Even though he was responsible for the guys going to Berlin, he had been as surprised as anyone that they'd gone there until he re-examined his clues. An unfortunate ambiguity. And he certainly had no idea who had decided to do a multiple suicide attack on the memorial and take tourists out. And why they were there mystified him. Although he could see it. They'd reached a deadend and hadn't found the clue and so they were just being tourists while they thought about it.
It's at this point that I throw up my hands. The two friends need names, ages, back stories, girlfriends, wifes. Children? How did the Jilly character get a kid anyway? As a matter of fact how did she come to be named Jilly Kraft and how can I make sure that I remember everyone's name and backstory? Do I need to make a separate document for bios? And should I post it in my blog? You see the dilemma. I don't know how anyone writes a novel.

But I digress.

So, yeah, I stayed in yesterday and I have to say that I mostly wasted time. I ate some leftovers from the Clay Pit (where we went Friday night after seeing an IMAX movie "Space Station" and hearing Richard Garriott talk about his experiences going to space). I ate a grapefruit. I read newspapers, worked crosswords. I watched a movie, rented from Netflix, "Man on Wire." It was about the French entertainer and wire walker who walked between the WTC towers. The name of the movie came from the complaint written on the police report. That is a good movie. It's good to have weird dreams you share with weird friends. Pogonip sees that. He sees the humor of using the world as a giant game board, not for world domination, but just to eventually meet your friends for food and drink. I watched bits of old movies, too. "Paint Your Wagon." Caught the best parts of that one, I think.

Right now I'm sitting here feeling good that I'm not too congested and my nose isn't dripping too much. It's been twenty-four hours since I took something. I could go exericise a little. I could do something useful on my budget and finances. Being retired, you have to watch such things more closely. Being retired, you have the time.

Well, maybe another cup of coffee. And a bit more blogging.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Shadow Me

I'd been noticing a scratchy throat and fighting it off with hope and Echinacea. (The latter may not boost the immune system but I believe it does so maybe it has a placebo effect.) FFP was feeling poorly for a few days, too. We chalk it up to allergies as we don't seem to have fever, but who knows? I feel like a shadow me, not quite in touch with my world when I have to take decongestants so that I don't have to have a Kleenex permananently attached to my nose. I can't take the "non-drowsy" formula because they make me crazy. Right now I'm trying to time my decon effects to see if I can go out to a movie tonight and not sniffle or cough. I haven't developed a cough yet but that may come. For some reason I was sweeping up in cyberspace and realized I had a similar attack last year at about the same time.

I hope it is really just allergies and I'm not (and wasn't yesterday before I felt as bad) infectious. Because I went over to Dad's yesterday and I'm always afraid of giving the old folks something. Of course, they all (including FFP actually) had 'flu shots and I did not. Still no aches, no fever. Probably allergies.

One always tries to rush these things, to change the shadow before the angle of the sun moves. But it always just takes a certain amount of time. Just like the healing on my strained knee and stubbed toe and the cycle of all my chronic little tics and ups and downs. The earth turns and sometimes you feel a lot better before you stop feeling at all. I am barely dripping at all right now, two hours in on another dose of decongestant. Maybe I'll get a cup of tea. I already have a round of sympathy from FFP. I take these same pills when I fly to stabliize my ears so they will pop. So it reminds me of flying to take them. Yeah, if I'd been on that plane from LaGuardia to North Carolina, I would have probably fallen asleep while it was on the tarmac and the whole thing would have been like a dream to me. I was on one flight one time where we landed in an emergency 'brace' mode. Everything was fine...the computer that showed the status of something was messed up. But some people still got hysterical and were still hysterical the next day when we were rebooked to fly again after staying an unexpected night in London. (We were flying from Zurich to Chicago.) I am amazed that those people in the Hudson managed to be as calm as they had to be to save themselves.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bits and Pieces

Tuesday I read a review of Diana Athill's new book about growing old. Old age is much on my mind and, in my random reading, it happened that I was reading another book by Diana Athill. (This book, Stet, I bought in London at some point and it discusses her experience in the publishing industry. At some point it came to rest in FFP's car and, when I happen to be in his car, I read a few pages.)

I've been thinking about death and old age a lot lately. (Yeah, I know. I think about those a lot. See labels on right.)

But, anyway, life and death reminds me of a random collage, kind of like the wall above. We deal with this, decide that, go back and forth and there is all this random stuff and then whammy...this one certain end.

My dad has been going through a period of adjustment since his car wreck. He has been getting rides places and getting errands run by folks, including me. It's obviously disconcerting for him not to have a car, but with his vision problems driving at night is impossible and he already didn't like driving to certain places because of parking issues or traffic. He has had some interesting reactions to it all. He has threatened to call a taxi a few times, but has, in fact, not done so. He has called friends to bum rides. He declared that he was going to "go a month without a car." (Tomorrow that month is up.) He has declared different amounts he estimated that it cost him to own a car, how much to insure it per day, etc. And, in a possibly unrelated train of thought, he told me the other day that he was "going to live to 112." I could see myself, 80-odd years old, trying to see after him. He revised this downward a decade a few days later, only to reassert 112 yesterday. He manuevered his own giant recycling container back up the steep yard to his garage to "see if he could do it." I don't know what's going on with him except that giving up owning a car (or at least considering it) is a big step and he's adjusting to it, thinking through possibilities.

The review for the Diana Athill book quotes her on the car subject:

“Your car begins to represent life. You hobble towards it, you ease your unwieldy body laboriously into the driver’s seat — and lo! you are back to normal. Off you whiz just like everyone else, restored to freedom.”

But we never know when death will come. A few minutes ago I heard a plane had landed in the Hudson River but it now seems that everyone may have survived. They live. But to die another day.

Because death never gives up. To quote the book review above, quoting a Julian Barnes' book:

In his recent meditation on death, “Nothing to Be Frightened Of,” Julian Barnes wrote, “Artists are unreliable; whereas death never lets you down.” He added, “You would buy shares in death, if they were available.”
Yeah, death. A sure thing. It's life that's puzzling.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Pros and Cons, A Study in Yellow

Yellow is such a sunny color. Used judiciously, with some larger splashes of red, against a more muted butterscotch, white, gray and wood tones, it can add some decorating spark. One of the things I like about our new place, is that there is a sort of coherent decorator's touch throughout, not just in certain rooms like in our old house. [The picture above is a reflection in the window of the West Sixth Street store, ArtWorks, which I used because of the yellow and the glassware. Yes, glassware is part of our decorating scheme, in spite of the need for dusting!]

So, yeah, it's time to outline the pros and cons of living in our new condo as opposed to our old house. I'll not try to imagine living somewhere entirely different. That's too unrealistic. That's beyond my imagination skills, probably. Remember how much trouble I have with fiction after all!

Actually, rather than be negative and talk about pros and cons, I think I'll talk about pros and pros. First the pros of living here. Then some things we might miss from the old place.

So, yeah, here are the things that are nice about our current abode:

  • We have achieved a complete 'look' throughout by bringing only certain furniture, buying new stuff, building in custom cabinets, etc.
  • We have only 1200 square feet or so. This is good on many levels. It forces immediate consideration of where to put stuff and whether to keep it. It means there is less floor to clean, fewer things to clean in general. By trimming down the books and 'artifacts' (art, toys, old martini shakers, etc) to stuff we really love, we have created a look we enjoy and we can find some of our favorite books. Sometimes anyway. The small space made us trim our computer gear and make it wireless and it's pretty sleek. We ditched old TVs and got flat screens. Groovy.
  • We were forced to get DirecTV. This turned out not to be a positive, though, in one way, because we got to see "Friday Night Lights" on their exclusive channel ahead of the network.
  • Taking out the garbage is easy. No taking a big container to the street in the rain, no worrying that it will be too full, no worries about slide days. Just take the garbage out every time you fill a 13 gallon sack. Walk a dozen steps down the hall. Open the chute and drop. Things too big for the chute require an outing to the loading dock, but there you go. You don't have to get out in the rain. If, you know, it ever rains again.
  • No yard to water here, though. People always asked us if we didn't love the yard. But when we were out there we saw ponds that needed cleaning, areas that needed weeding, trees that needed trimming, grass burning up during drought and water rationing, paths that needed remulching, etc. We don't maintain the plants on the pool deck. We see flora and fauna galore on the hike and bike and any maintenance is in our tax bill to the city.
  • It's warm inside! We have not run the heater this winter except to test it. The window insulation must be pretty good and we are surrounded by other units. It's in the thirties this morning and the temperature a foot from the windows is 72 degrees. We did have to run the AC a fair amount during the hot times.
  • You can walk! We can walk to Whole Foods, to a little grocery, to the dry cleaners (although they also pick up and deliver), to my new dentist, to Long Center, to the Paramount, to the University (that's a bit far afield but we've done it a few times), to the hike and bike (without crossing a street!), to Alamo Ritz and Alamo South Lamar. We have two, soon to be three, restaurants in the building. We will soon have a grocery in the building. We can walk to a half dozen or more coffee shops and none of them are Starbucks. We can walk to Starbucks if we are so inclined. We can walk to uncountable restaurants and bars. We can walk to gift shops, furniture stores, clothing stores. We set up an account with a nearby bank and our broker has an office we can walk to as well. We can walk to some interesting neighborhoods, to do weird shopping on South Congress (although it is becoming a little posh and weird is being pushed to South First and South Lamar but we can walk there, too).
  • Since things are more dense, we have a lot of friends that we can meet on our feet. We have friends in the building, friends in the AMLI, the Monarch, Austin City Lofts, Nokonah.
  • We are next door to Ballet Austin. When they have events in the Austin Ventures Studio Theater, we are right there.
  • We are next door to the Austin Music Hall. Ditto on events there.
  • We are next door to La Zona Rosa. Ditto on events there.
  • We can walk to the Capitol. The lege is in session. Maybe we should go listen in.
  • We can walk to City Hall. If we want to attend a meeting, no problem. Walk a couple of blocks, go through the metal detector.
  • We can walk to the Courthouse. We vote there, whether early or on election day.
  • Mail is delivered to a box so you can just go down and pick it up and not have to worry about it sitting on the porch. Packages are delivered to the concierge.
  • Newspapers are delivered inside to your door. No soggy papers. No trip out into rain or cold to get them.
  • The concierge is there 24/7. Sometimes they can help with issues.
  • People can't knock on your door without getting into the building. Our friends in the building can get to our floor (it's an amenity floor), but they are mostly kind enough to call. So unexpected knocks have been minimal here. No solicitors.
  • Exercise! All that walking plus to lift weights or ride the recumbent bike or walk the treadmill, I just walk a few dozen steps to the exercise room. I could go down the stairs and swim in summer although I didn't do that. I still drive to the club for tennis and occasionally work out there, but this is very convenient. I could take pilates or yoga at Ballet Austin if I were a class-taking sort. When I'm in the gym, I can take a break and go get a towel, go to the bathroom, switch out reading material, etc. in the condo and then go back. The gym was three plus miles away from the manse.
  • Internet Access. The Internet Access in the building has been pretty reliable. I set up my own wireless router and it's easy to log in anywhere. At the manse, I had pretty good service, but I had to maintain some routers and wires and multiple wireless routers.
  • It's only steps to anything. That's back to the 1200 square feet, but if you want a cup of coffee and you're at the computer, it's a dozen steps. Bathroom, right there. Back and forth from TV to laundry to office to kitchen, a few steps. I set up a DVR and DVD player and flat screen in the bedroom but we rarely watch there. The living room is steps away.
  • I don't lose FFP as much. He can still wander off in the building or all of downtown, but if he's in the condo I can find him. Sometimes in the old manse I would literally go see if his car was in the garage before I knew if he was home. Even if he was home, he might have wandered outside. People who called laughed when I couldn't find him! I like bouncing things off of him in the office where we work back-to-back. I used to call or send him e-mail! OK, sometimes we still send e-mails. Shut up.
  • If you have an event downtown at rush hour, you don't have to participate in rush hour!
  • You can be in the midst of big deal downtown nights (Halloween, New Year's Eve, game night) but aloof, up in your tenth-story condo observing the madness without being part of it.
  • If we go out of town (we haven't been able to do this much), we can just go and not worry too much about somebody watching the place. The concierge can hold the papers. Or we can get someone in the building to pick up mail and papers (if we don't stop them). Much easier to go out of town.
I could go on and on. As I often do. But let's just list some things I miss from the old house.

  • Being able to crank up some music or WEB site with noise or something on TV in my office without disturbing FFP. The funny thing is, I didn't watch TV or listen to music in my office that often. Now I seem to itch to do it because it would disturb someone else! I listen to music or watch TV sometimes when he is gone.
  • Being able to store stuff until you felt like dealing with it. I had closets, a storage room, vast linear feet of shelves in book cases, a commodious garage, scads of kitchen cabinets, a huge pantry, built-in drawers, shelves, media cabinets, two deco bars with storage, etc. The downside of this was the constant need to do a major cleanup that culminated in the great downsizing of 2007/2008. But back in the day I could freely start collections. I could buy things I found interesting and I'd be able to stow them away somewhere.
  • Having the car readily at hand and protected from the elements. We had a large two car garage that held the cars, the garbage cans and lots of junk. The cars were protected from rain, dust, hail, cats, birds, floating pollen. Here we have a covered garage but there are open sections and we park near those. Also, if you leave something in the car, you have to go to the elevator, go down, walk forty or fifty feet. Makes bringing stuff up a challenge sometimes and really makes you regret leaving something in the car by accident. At the house, the cars were right there just outside the house proper.
  • Having friends be able to come by and just pull into the drive and they are right there. No parking downtown, no elevators. There is a down side to this, though. See above.
  • Having the parental units close(r). FFP's parents were a walkable distance away and Dad was ten or so minutes closer. This isn't a big deal, but I wish they were closer.
  • I could walk, from the old house, to Fonda San Miguel, Billy's on Burnet, Pacha, Upper Crust, Jorge's, a library (OK, I could walk to the main library from here and I don't do that either). I miss some of the old neighborhood. And walking around it. I suppose I could do what I used to in other neighborhoods and drive there and then walk! Must go to Fonda soon. I miss that proximity a lot.
  • We could entertain a bunch of people. We had lots of fabulous parties there. Of course, there is no reason we can't entertain in the condo club room or our private clubs. And we have fun entertaining small groups in the condo.
I did love my house. But I don't really miss it. I have to work to come up with the reasons it was better. There are always pros and cons, decisions and compromises. I love living here. (Right now FFP is playing something loud on his computer. But it's for work he is doing.)

Well, it's time for me to wrap up my morning writing and go exercise. Then, maybe, a walk. But, I'm thinking of, ahem, writing another paragraph or two of the novel. Or, you know, completely rewriting the first four (1, 2, 3, 4) parts! I pledge, however, not to change any facts in the fiction. I might add details or clarify the language or change clumsy stuff or fix typos or tense problems or mistakes, but you don't have to reread it. Cliff Pogonip's path is set. We are just following him along and filling in the back story. I won't go back into that plane and put him in the First Class cabin.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Travel and Writing

What am I? Six years old? It seems I need a picture and then I can write about it like a kid in first grade. (Or in my case that would have been third or fourth when I finally learned to read, let alone write.)

I had a long walk through Old West Austin with a friend yesterday. We didn't really get to the part I call Clarksville. I've explored this neighborhood many times. (We used to drive here and then walk when we lived further away.) I always find out something new or find something that has changed, however. This picture was actually taken of a shop on West Sixth. I didn't take it on yesterday's walk. I think it was Friday's walk. Walking with a friend you find he has landmarks, too.

I have always been fascinated by maps and globes and, of course, travel. My walking buddy yesterday is a writer. A playwright to be specific. (He has completed plays and had some produced. He tried his hand at a novel, but it didn't work to his satisfaction.) We were talking about writing and he ask if I was working on the novel. I made many excuses (some aloud and some silent). I may have mentioned that I needed to do some traveling to get certain parts of the thing just right, detail-wise. Later, when I was talking about how we enjoy being sidewalk superintendents for all the construction downtown, he suggested that I just write about that and not have to go anywhere. But what would the fun of that be? It did kind of nudge me, though, about the book. I asserted that maybe the entire book was set in Austin and that the other stuff was just background. But important to me all the same. It made me think that maybe if I ever got the protagonist out of the airport (have to decide what season it is first) that I would send him into my very condo tower.

The phone rang once and was answered.

"Where are you?"

"On the concourse."

"Come out the middle exit and we are right here."

He recognized Jilly's voice. He had no idea who else was waiting.

When he walked past the stairs and escalator and out of the secure area there was Jilly and his busy seatmate from the plane.

"Oh," said the woman.

"Did you guys meet on the plane?" Jilly asked impatiently.

"Well," he began...

"We were seatmates." the woman continued. "But he didn't look like the pictures I had of him and I thought he'd be in First Class."

"And I, for my part, was not looking for anyone at all. I'm Cliff. Cliff Pogonip."

"Of course, she knows, this is Rachel Cline. Your New York representative!" Jilly said, laughing now.

"In my defense, I never saw your picture I don't think."

"Why weren't you in First Class? I booked that myself." Rachel said, returning to duty it seemed.

"When I got to the airport there was a problem. This guy had gotten injured on an overseas flight. Something about a runaway service cart. They wanted to get him home to Austin and needed a First Class seat. Guy was in front of me in line at the airport in a wheelchair with an airport representative. The person behind the desk was trying to boot someone who'd upgraded and was having trouble with the system and it was a real mess. I started talking to the guy and he explained that his foot was gashed and they gotten him stitches but it was swelling. I said to them, look, just downgrade me to his seat, he had a seat, and let's go. I'll be fine. They gave me a wad of upgrades."

"We paid for that ticket! Most of those folks in First Class used upgrades," said Rachel, momentarily outraged. "But that was nice of you, I saw that guy and he looked miserable and you have to feel for the airlines after they injured him, in a way."

"We have to get going," said Jilly who had answered her phone while Pogonip talked to Rachel. "Jack is coming around with the car. No luggage, right?"

Rachel and Pogonip nodded.

They emerged into the perfect cool, sunny sixty degree weather. It was January in Austin and on any given day it could be like this. Pogonip left his overcoat draped over his left arm. As they waited on the curb for Jack and the car, Pogonip noticed someone else from the plane waiting. A young man whose clothes looked German to him...the soft lines of the shoes, the material and cut of the pants and the jacket with lots of pockets and buckles and snaps were his clues.

They climbed into the mini van after throwing their hand luggage in the back. He knew how he'd get along with so little luggage...he had everything he needed here... but he had no idea about Rachel. Maybe she wasn't staying long. Rachel and Cliff got in back, Jilly in front.

"Where to?" said Jack. Jack worked for Jilly most of the time although sometimes for other clients of hers, older people who needed rides to appointments and such as well as her management skills.

"Four Seasons or the condo?" asked Jilly glancing around at Cliff.

Pogonip thought the Four Seasons would be nice. He might could be alone with his thoughts there a bit better. But he knew that everything he needed that he hadn't brought along would be easier to come by at the condo. Actually there were two separate condos although he didn't know what the arrangements for Rachel would be or even why she had come to Austin.

"The condo for me," he said diplomatically, giving, he thought, Rachel her choice.

"Rachel is going to stay at Four Seasons," Jilly said. "She's going to set up there and we are putting up some of the relatives there. You might want to stay there, too, but the condo might give you more peace and privacy really."

"Definitely. The condo. Drop Rachel off first, though, no hurry for me." He looked down at the carpet, feeling suddenly overwhelmingly sad and helpless. There was green dirt and a bit of yellow fuzz on the carpet.

Trying to shake off tears he said, "Been playing tennis?"

"What?" said Jilly. "Oh. Well, I've been taking Charlie to the club for lessons since you bought me the membership." She seemed nonplussed at how he might know this.

Cliff had bought the membership in her name because he could use it all he ever needed to as a non-resident guest. She seemed abashed that she'd used the club with Charlie, her son. Charlie was ten,or maybe it was nine, and he and Jilly were quite a team. Jilly had announced she was pregnant a decade ago and that was that. Nothing was ever said about a father. He'd never been involved with Jilly and he even thought maybe she'd used a sperm donor. He was with Celeste then. Celeste probably knew all the details but he'd never asked her. He liked the kid although his visits were not that frequent and he seemed to have grown a foot each time and exponentially more wise. Thinking of Charlie Kraft comforted him somehow and he shook off the sadness and moved back to resignation.

The van took the fork toward downtown and Pogonip looked up to marvel at the changes in the skyline.

"I've never been to Austin. I didn't think it would look so a city." Rachel said, staring ahead and clutching her bag with the phones and probably other tools of organization on her knees.
Yeah...a few more paragraphs and we got the protagonist on the damn road to downtown. My walking buddy yesterday said, and I paraphrase here, that he didn't think he could ever finish his novel because of the impossibility of handling all the details. His novel was about (largely set in?) Viet Nam, too, so he'd have trouble going back and checking out the details. Even Viet Nam today wouldn't do of course.

Now I have to fly somewhere or pretend to fly somewhere and go out and drive from the airport to downtown. Damnable details. The last time I flew, I took the fork toward North Austin when going home from the airport. Anyway, there you go. My friend and I talked about how our fictions (his plays, my unwritten novels and short stories) are playing out in our heads even when not captured. We talked about taking people we knew and taking them forward in time. Or backward. Of course, I think the latter is what we always do...taking people we know and inventing or filling in the back story. How could we write about a character if we had no prototype? How about science fiction? Did you read Michael Cunningham's "Specimen Days"? Yeah, I could really get into the alien life forms in the third part of that one. I mean their emotions even. I listened to it on compact disks, I think.

Yeah, so I've written a little more of the novel. None of my readers (hi all five of you) have clamored to read more. I've introduced five people in the flesh and several by reference. I'm edited the three pieces that proceed this fragment (one, two and three) multiple times. I have made all these decisions about details and I'm lost in them. I told my friend yesterday that plays might seem easier but they consisted of the hardest part almost exclusively, dialog. He didn't disagree, really. But maybe I'm wrong!

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Beginning of 'Philanthropy'

That is your faithful journaler and FFP shaking hands with Dr. William Cunningham, the former president of The University of Texas. It is 1985. You are spared the 1985 glasses by our profiles. Twenty-four years ago. Wow. We were presenting a small endowed scholarship to UT for a female athlete studying advertising or communications. They have been good stewards of our money. We added a few small amounts but they have distributed scholarship money and, even after this year's economic woes, they have a large corpus of three times that initial investment or so. (I'm not sure exactly because I couldn't find the statement they recently sent. I did find a sales tax form I have to send in with a deadline in a week, though, so that's good. Even though I collected no sales tax, I have to file it. Writing service charges aren't taxable and that's all we book these days, no printing or other taxable stuff. But I digress.)

That was our first bit of significant philanthropy. I've used quotes around it in the title because, really, our contributions hardly qualify. My joke is: "I always dreamed of being a philanthropist but I never had enough money." I wanted to go on fancy cruises, fly on private jets, eat in all the three star restaurants, too. Same problem.

But, seriously, that was the beginning of significant giving, such as it is, for us. FFP had dreamed of being able to give a scholarship at his alma mater. We'd become interested in the Women's Athletics and were impressed with the drive and the scholarship of a lot of the young women. We were young and we had never had a lot of money and we were very impressed with ourselves. We would later meet real philanthropists. People with millions to throw around. We never reached those heights, but I still enjoy the giving we can do, such as it is. And I wish that the UT people could have been convinced to handle some of my own money the last couple of decades!

Sunday, January 11, 2009


I took this picture in a portrait mode, trimmed it and just didn't hit 'rotate 90 degrees clockwise.' [Ed. Note: Have you ever noticed that FFP always orients the camera so that photos have to be rotated counter-clockwise? LB: Yes, Yin and Yang and all that. If a photo is taken portrait-style on one of our cameras, there is a marker about who took it. Assuming, you know, we didn't hand the camera to someone else.]

It's disorienting not to rotate a photo before presenting it, isn't it?

I have a 'day off' today. Which means there is nothing on the calendar. FFP has a cold or allergies so he might not feel like a walk or a movie which sound like good ideas to me. I can go to the gym, read the papers, drink coffee (wait, already been doing the last two). There are a few chores I probably should do. (FFP already started doing some laundry. He also removed the recycling from the condo yesterday and did some dishes.)

Not having anything scheduled is delicious and yet disorienting. Too many choices!

I guess that's why working is sometimes the best thing for the attention-deficit wracked mind. When I worked, I would often have a confusing set of goals and ideas rattling around in my head. Things I needed to do for work and for my own life would seem like a wave about the swamp me. I often felt, when my rear end hit my chair and I logged on to work mail and incident reports for my products, an incredible easing of my mind. There was my 'to do' list: answer these mails, work on these problems and questions and then pull up the real 'to do' list and work on designs and code and reviews I'd noted there. There were meetings scheduled to get through or embrace (in the case of the rare ones that moved things forward). People came in and asked for assistance or pointed out some flaw in my thinking. It was structured and it was a relief.

I can achieve this same scattered peace in retirement by forcing myself to go through a routine of some chore. Clean the bathroom. Go through the various accounts and verify balances and update my bookkeeping and spreadsheet system. But nothing really comes close to the feeling of having a job and getting the butt in the chair to start a day. Especially a Monday when I took Sunday off. Because Sundays, especially Sunday nights, were sometimes agonizing. Even if I worked on work or other things I needed to do but especially if I relaxed and read the Sunday papers and watched TV, I felt like a jockey on a horse at a race in one of those narrow cages waiting for the gate to open and the race to be on.

All my time now is in Sunday night mode, waiting for the starting gun. I have appointments, sure, but nothing like putting in a work day. And like those waning hours of the weekend I find myself bouncing from activity to activity. Like today, which happens to be Sunday.

I got up a little before eight. I think I would have slept longer, but I wanted to call my dad and see if he'd located a ride to church. Because while I wouldn't go with him I would have gone to take him if he wanted. I was getting the best sleep of the night right then. But I felt OK after getting up. FFP had fired up the coffee machine, gotten the papers in (they are right in the hallway here, that's so cool) and was telling me about an article in the Statesman about arts organizations I should read. I made my call to Dad. (He found someone who lives near by to give him a ride and says this morning that he plans to live to be 102 which is an adjustment from the 112 he asserted the other morning). I pushed a picture to Austin, Texas Daily Photo. I edited a picture for this blog and started thinking about what to write. I read the article FFP suggested and on a trip to the kitchen for more coffee I thought of eating a banana. There were two apples in the fruit bowl. I decided to make tuna salad and started boiling eggs, chopped the apples opened some tuna, found mayo and relish. The eggs are in the final (sit for fifteen minutes after water boils) phase of my egg boiling technique. The rest is mixed and in the frig, ready for the eggs to be chopped and added and the result refrigerated again to chill.

Well, I wandered off to finish the tuna salad. I rued the fact that I didn't have an onion so I could pep it up with a little finely chopped onion. I did eat a banana (my breakfast). It's chilling in the frig for later snacking. I looked at some newspaper articles, poked around the puzzle page in The New York Times Magazine. (The 'standard' crossword looks hard today.) I read something about the CIA.

And so it goes. Left to my own devices, I'm a little erratic and random and, at best, productive but slightly disoriented.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

What Were Those Reasons Again?

Pictures was one thing, huh? Well, um, I'm not all that thrilled with this one except that I like the way my hair was spiked up. I'm reflected in a shop window on West Fifth. The shop sells and repairs lamps.

I was walking down West Fifth yesterday (even though it is pedestrian unfriendly) partly to see what was going on and get some exercise, partly to take some pictures for Austin Daily Photo. I had some 'free' time. I spent some on finances and taxes yesterday and did a tiny bit of proofreading and computer fixes for FFP, but mostly I did whatever I felt like. I had a long walk. I say 'long' but it was only a couple of miles. Maybe 2.5 after I detoured to the post office and through Whole Foods. I walked all the way to El Arroyo on Fifth and back on Sixth. and stopped for a late lunch/snack and read while I ate.

I heard some great conversations while sitting there, eating and drinking my water. There was a table with three blonds. They were celebrating a birthday and there were pretty gift sacks involved. These conversational fragments seemed like they were out of a movie:

“I don’t wear anything when I run. I take everything off. I can’t believe you run in your wedding ring.”

“Skinny girl margaritas…tequila on ice with lime juice.”

“What happens when you eat ice cream?”

“Sick to your stomach? Yeah, I’m curious because that is starting to happen to me.”

I enjoy going out and watching and listening to people. I checked out a lot of construction and wandered through two shops. (I had a vague mission to find one perfect little accessory for the condo, but really I was just enjoying goofing off.)

I have some things on my mind today but I mostly want them off my mind. I don't want to even think about them, much less blog about them. One of my friends and I talk about letting things go. I'm trying to embrace my happiness with the way my life is going and not concentrate on things I could (and did you might say) rant about. I played tennis today and I enjoyed it, wind and chill notwithstanding. I am going to have a few drinks and some good food tonight.

Oh...the other thing is...I'm thinking it may be time to get a Smart Phone. Or at least a Smart(er) phone. Any opinions? Maybe I could buy Obama's Blackberry after they cleansed it?

Friday, January 09, 2009

Top Ten Reasons to Blog

Yeah, everyone is always re-examining blogging and whether they personally should do it. (Often these same people are writing comments in their favorite blogs saying 'Please, please, don't stop.')

In countdown fashion, let's do it. Top Ten Reasons to Blog:

  • The number ten reason is....Because everyone sees things differently and my viewpoint is important. (See above photo from the clock they burned during First Night at Auditorium Shores. Pizza on Earth. A more realistic goal. One person's added footnote.) I thought maybe this should be the number one reason, but, really it's so egotistical. I mean, speaking for my blog, I just write what's in my head most of the time and don't research Middle East politics or something. In fact, your faithful chronicler has yet to get it firmly in her head how close Egypt really is to it all. Geography-wise. I can't remember all the new countries from the Soviet bust up, much less research and interpret the Gazprom crisis between Ukraine and Russia. Anyway, so my viewpoint might be worth something, but not the top of the list of advisers you should listen to on World Affairs or philosophy or domestic politics or the revamp of the SEC so that Madoff represents the end of an era of fraud.
  • The number nine reason is...Even if your viewpoint isn't an earth-shaking opinion, it is a little bit of human life. Add up all the blogs from all the people and it's a history of ordinary life and all that jazz. But really are one woman's friends, meals, movies, rants, reading list yada yada really a significant part of what's going on? Particularly when, statistically, she is 'out of step' with the mainstream?
  • The number eight reason is...Otherwise how would I keep up with my own life? I note that one of the blogs I read mentioned this recently:
    "I don't really want to stop blogging. It's been part of my life for over six and a half years now, and besides all the stuff I've recorded that I'd never remember otherwise..."
    This reason isn't higher (lower) on the list because, really, why not have a private journal and stick all the pictures and words there and don't pull any punches and really have it all. You could still use handy search and keyword stuff. You could make it a blog but entirely private. But, no, we do this writing entirely in full view of whomever. Who, after all, are we fooling? We don't just expect to keep track of stuff, we expect to be read. (Hi, faithful five readers!)
  • The number seven reason is...It gives me an excuse to type like someone is making me (paying me?) to do it each and every day (or so). Hence I'm sitting here with a fresh cup of coffee at nine in the morning with bed head, wearing sweats and writing here because it's a 'duty' after all. So I'm not writing a book, reading the paper and getting material for more reasonably important views on something, exercising, managing my money, cleaning house or saving the world (for peace or pizza). But it's OK. Gotta blog first, then all that will come.
  • The number six reason is...Bulleted lists are fun. No, that isn't it...let me think. Yes, that's it...I have a 'rule' that each entry has to have a picture. Usually an original one and not just something stolen from the WEB. Between that and Austin Daily Photo, I have to take pictures and I like the result. There is a collection of my pictures made automatically by Blogger and also I can just sit and watch the slide show screen saver on my machine. Yeah, I love words but I love pictures, too.
  • Number five. hmmm (can I really think of ten reasons for my biggest time waster???). OK, links. Since a blog is hyper-text you can link to sites that have real information or other blogs with more articulate and clever writers. You can link to yourself, too, in endless loops and circles. You can link to random silliness. Your readers (and you, later) follow a little trip through cyberspace with you as tour guide. It's not just writing, it's hyper-writing. Some people forget that this form is different in that way.
  • Number four? It keeps me somewhat connected to modern technology. Oh, sure, I use a blogging tool that the legion of monkeys typing Shakespeare could probably navigate but once in a while as I blog or sail through others' blogs (an inevitable result of blogging is reading other blogs) I eventually want to do something that makes me look at HTML or puzzle something out that is at least vaguely technical and this makes me feel less like the techno-saurus that I am.
  • Number three? Otherwise I'd be doing Facebook. Nothing against social networking sites but they are so 'in and out,' so one sentence/one picture, tag you're it' that really it's not writing is it? The best Facebook folks link to their blogs. (The journalists do this, I've noticed. Well, one journalist anyway.) I mean I just went over to Facebook so I could write about it and found some cool links and such and I made a status update that I was blogging. Which wasn't as interesting as the person who found a double yolk in an egg or the one drinking a smoothie and coffee at the same time after a run but still one doesn't bump into a coherent essay unless one follows someone's link. Facebook, though, has become exceedingly popular with my set lately. But, I digress which brings me to number two....
  • Number two reason for blogging? It supports my favorite modus operandi: digression. If you are writing a book or a real essay or article, there is a call for a certain, dare we call it dramatic?, structure. A beginning, a middle, and end. With a blog, it is more like we are creating index cards or pages in our scrapbook with random pictures, drawings, words, quotes, diary notes. It's OK to say "Today I got up late because I had a hangover" then ramble on about hangovers without really concluding anything. You have more to say than you do with a sentence on Facebook: "Linda got up late because she has a hangover." But the expectation is somewhat less than an essay on hangovers. You can 'finish' with less polish. And you can go from hangovers to what booze you like and digress into the ridiculous prices of some wine and talk about wine bottle shapes and then just wrap it up and call it a blog entry. I have rules, but they are lax for blog entries. (Sometimes I even leave out the picture but I really hate doing that. I really like it if they picture relates somehow to the text but I even let that go pretty easily.) [Ed. Note: Do you have a hangover today? LB: Not at all. Nothing to drink last night and two glasses of wine the night before. One Pinot Noir, one late Harvest Malbec. If you must know everything.]
  • Number one reason for blogging? Have we really already done nine? I thought I'd run out of reasons. Anyway, the number one reason for blogging (especially as opposed to published work but also in contrast to commenting on other blogs and sending messages on other sites) is that you can edit it to your heart's content. I usually publish an entry and then reread it for typos and confusion. So I might publish it and change it one minute later. Yes, I know someone can get the stuff before I edit it, but I ignore that. I even come back days, months, years later and edit and delete. I'm never through editing, I've found, so this makes me feel very satisfied if a little dishonest. I've even been known to hunt down online journal entries from back in the day when I didn't use a blogging tool and edit them. When you see something in print with a typo, does it make you crazy? Especially if it's your own work? Well, that's me. Even other people's typos make me crazy. So writing with pixels that can be turned on or off at a whim? Priceless.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

So How's That Going?

I didn't make resolutions other than to make some lists of things I 'never get around to doing' on Stickies. (Virtual ones in the Stickies app on Mac.) I told myself I'd occasionally spend 10 minutes, a half hour or an hour doing the things. That hasn't gone too far. Above is a picture I took of someone's resolutions that were offered up to burn when this went up in smoke on New Year's Eve.

If you made real resolutions instead of my slacker idea of promising to just spend time on things, then I bet some of yours were similar to Ruthie's. I do like one of hers very much, though: "Create daily." I don't feel very creative today, however. It is hot outside and I got sweaty on the tennis court earlier. I didn't enjoy the activity too much, really, because it was a play day with drills and made-up games and playing with various partners and a lot of people were better than I was. But, like I said, I got sweaty because it's hot and I've had to drink twenty or thirty ounces of water since I got home because one calf was cramping as I drove through my parking garage to park. Maybe if I took a shower I would feel creative. Ever since I got home from tennis (until, you know, a few minutes ago when I started blogging) I've been doing things I have to do, things to keep up with money and taxes and our schedule and dealing with e-mail. No points for doing things you know you will have to do. (Although Ruthie resolves to 'be current with chores and financial matters' I just don't see the point. Unless you've gotten hopelessly behind before and gotten in trouble. But I don't really do that.)

So did you make resolutions? And, a week in, how are you feeling about them?

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


There are lots of state-wide associations in Austin. These organizations lobby the legislature on behalf of their members and put out newsletters and maybe vet members with some sort of credential. This one looks interesting in today's charged environment. Do you think the members of this group got a lot of business during the Enron debacle? Has everyone forgotten Enron in the wake of Madoff and bailouts? I haven't because I had one loan bond that the *&^%$ broker who sold it to me has to keep on the books at zero value because occasionally the powers that be send a few dollars or a few shares of stock in some company. I then have to explain these little poops of money to my CPA as return of principal on that bond. Assaulted by fraud and terrorized by bookkeeping. It was a tiny part of our portfolio and I'd have been glad to show the loss and move on but NO...couldn't even do that. A couple of failed munis have been similarly troubling. We diversify, though, so we try to just ignore this stuff. Piles of paperwork about restitution arrives. We recycle it. Can you imagine what paperwork the Madoff investors will receive and, if they want a chance at any of their money back, how much they will have to fill out? Ugh.

But I digress. I diversify and so these matters are not extreme to me. Not yet anyway. They are just little additional glitches to add to keeping up with different accounts, stocks, funds, bonds. But is interesting to think of the perspective of fraud investigators coming along, after the fact, looking at things knowing that the financial statements may be a crime scene.

I really wanted to return to the topic I touched on earlier, during Holidailies. Sadly, Holidailies is over now. Oh, it's a good thing really as most beginnings and endings are in a way. And that topic was perspective which I talked about in the entry entitled "Do You See What I See."

Did you look at Holidailies while I was participating? Did you actually arrive from Holidailies? I know some people read from there due to comments and some "Best of" designations. (Thanks, anonymous readers panel.) But beginning on a portal like that is like going to a giant outdoor concert with hundreds of stages with different bands playing around the clock only you can go back and forth in time. You can still never quite see it all and you will never experience it quite like any other visitor there.

The page is static now when you open it because folks are not allowed to post new entries because the fun ended 2009-01-06 23:59:59. Miraculously someone managed to post at the last minute. The happy result for us is that this entry is on top of the Holidailies page. And it is an amazing entry about projects and focus. That entry really hits home for me. I've written many times about the struggle for focus. But a never made an art project to represent it and then blogged about it. Yo! (An example here. Or search for 'focus' in my blog. Searching for a word in someone's blog is an interesting random walk.)

The penultimate (I just love that word, don't you?) entry recorded went with the writing prompt of epiphany (Epiphany) and has this great quote: "Anyway, you can imagine how the kings might feel about their holiday nowadays, latecomers to the party, bearing wine and snacks, not knowing that coffee has already been served, or worse, that the hostess is already hungover."

You see what I'm doing, right? I'm conducting you on a random walk through Holidailies. How long will you be able to follow along without succumbing to the temptation to just follow a link yourself?

Often when I went to the Holidailies page I'd use it to find Chip and Jette's entries to see if they'd updated because when they write they are very cool. I'd just search the page for 'Chip' or 'Jette' to find a link into their blogs (even, though, yeah I have them bookmarked and Chip's on syndication). Today this strategy runs me first to an entry where the excerpt mentions Chip and Jette. A delightful entry it is, too, with a 'Best of' designation which made me look at it and made me learn a new word, triolet, and marvel at someone's long-standing Holidailies production of one (a triolet is a certain form of poem in case you didn't follow that link). The next button in my search does lead to a new Chip entry, however, and I had to stop and read it. (He used the word penultimate. Sweet.) I had to comment, too. I'm back now.

So I searched for Jette and found a new entry. She posted a picture of this, only close up. And, oh...there is my building in the picture! After veering off to Jette, I for some reason I decided to go to the entry recorded just below hers. A rant about returning Christmas stuff. I'm not a returner. (The world is divided into those who return things and those who simply give them away. Or regift them.) But I, um, digress.

So you get the idea. We all take off on a tangent through life, seeing what we see, missing what others see, learning new words at 60 and not knowing some words ever until we die. Do you ever read an obituary of someone you knew slightly and find out about ton of things they did and knew and places they went and think "Hmmm...what a different life from mine they had." And also be amazed that what you knew of the person was a very different view.

Well, that's my random walk of the day. I'm going to exercise and do chores of the domestic variety as well as some financial chores. I may keep up blogging here after the Holidailies rhythm or I may drift into other pursuits. I have several ideas for the long-neglectd Journal of Unintended Consequences, for example.