Sunday, April 26, 2009

Take a Step Back

We've spoken here before, I feel sure, about how I like shop window reflections because of the layers and the distance of portrait subject from the portrait. If we haven't, we should have.

I'm all about distance these last few days, feeling like I need to step back from certain situations and some people. Feeling like I need to let some situations play out without my input. Some things I'm just tired of thinking about. I also have been considering taking my bits and pieces of novel out of blog posts and putting them in a document on my computer and working on that. I feel like the book needs to be written. I don't feel like it needs to published (even as squibs on a blog). Just written and that's that and don't think about that again. But we all know that even the effort to cut and paste the fragments into a document will probably elude me.

Much ink and pixels have been spilled arguing about twitter, facebook, blogs, newspapers, books, magazines and their relevance/quality/future. Uh-huh. I say that you can blog brilliantly or inanely, tweet nonsense or a profound 140 characters, build a facebook world of friends who alert you to the best of life and information or one that panders to the lowest drivel. You can write and publish bad books, natter on and still get published by legitimate newspapers or magazines or...contribute something true to the bone. Oh, there are less barriers and fewer copy editors in cyberspace. Nevertheless profundity, truth, emotion, timelessness of words can be achieved anywhere. Even the back of an envelope.

Which reminds me, speaking of stepping back and the back of an envelope, I need to make a 'To Do' list I think. Maybe.

My list might look like this:
  • pay xxxx (a certain credit card)
  • record deposit
  • call yyyy (a friend who should be called)
  • RSVP in the negative to a wedding
  • record receipts
  • watch movies and write reviews
  • capture phone numbers from old phone in preparation for...
  • buy a Smart Phone
  • clean out physical inbox
  • clean our e-mail inbox
  • reservations for NY trip
  • etc.
Is this (the above) writing? Hmmm....should I add a 'to do' list of writing I need to do?

Yep, the above is the blog equivalent of tweeting about what you eat or that you are about to take a shower. Ho. Hum. I think I'll take a step back and think about what I really should do.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Pogonip Lives!

Not really. He's a fictional character in a novel I'm not writing.

But, this morning, I can't leave him hanging in the lobby of the Austin Four Seasons, looking across the table with the elaborate flower display at a distressed Jilly while an agent of the U.S. Government flashes a badge at him. I have to get that over with. It's not a thriller damn it.

But should it be FBI? Or Homeland Security? Oh. Well.

Inside the small business office downstairs from the lobby, Pogonip sat in chair. The agent who had brought him down and several other suits were crowded into the room.

"We'll be brief, sir. We know you knew the victims from Austin of this attack. We wonder if you know what they were doing in Berlin at this site."

Cliff wondered how best to put it. He paused and then said as confidently as he could. "Yes and no."

"What's that supposed to mean?" said another officer impatiently. The first guy held up his hand. He said, "Go on."

"Well, we were playing a travel game I set up for the guys. I gave them a hint that was supposed to take them to Paris, but I understand why they went off to Berlin. But as far as being at the Memorial...I guess they were just being tourists."

"Do you know why Carter Evans' wife was not with them?"

"I spoke with her. She was shopping. They went to look for clues and she didn't go."

"You said they were being tourists!" This was the aggressive guy again.

"Well," Clint continued, "My guess is that they went to the Reichstag and didn't find a clue and this memorial is nearby. I don't think they'd seen it. So...." He trailed off and the aggressive agent fidgeted.

Sputtering, the aggressive guy said, "They hadn't been there before?"

Clint looked at him. "Not that I know of. I think they were last in Berlin in 2002. I was with them. It wasn't built or not completed."

"You know a lot about it!" the menacing guy said, leaning toward him.

"Not really." He stopped. He thought to himself that he'd read about it when it was dedicated, thought of making a trip to Berlin. Why hadn't he done it?

The calmer suit said, "So you think it was the first time they were there? You think they were just accidentally there?"


"Well," the calmer guy continued, "Do you think they might have taken pictures there or even uploaded pictures before the explosions?"

Clint had not thought of this. But, of course, they might have. They had iPhones and cameras and they were constantly making updates to track their progress or lack there of on the silly quest. It all seemed quite frivolous now and he hated talking about it.

"Can't you get the records? Did you find cameras or phones or the memory cards?" Pogonip wanted to flip around to the computer in the room and start looking on the WEB. But he didn't even look toward the machine, put there for hotel guests he imagined.

They didn't seem inclined to answer. Clint took a small leather notebook from his pocket. He fetched out a card, flipped it over and wrote a URL and two twitter names on it.

"If anything got posted, this should help you find it. I haven't looked. I didn't even think of looking. Didn't Sally and Stuart give you this?" He was referring to the wife of Carter and the girlfriend of David. He got no answer.

The agent who seemed about to boil over twitched. And then said, "Did your friends have anti-Semitic leanings? Had they talked about, even casually, possible attacks?" He was almost shouting.

Clint and all the other suits stared at him.

"No. And no." Clint said. He didn't know if he should say that David was, in fact, Jewish. That his great-grandfather had perished in the Holocaust. He wished he had offered it as an explanation for the visit. "Just tourists?" he thought. "Crap." Too late now. Now it was an apology. And, of course, it wasn't like a quest for that was in David's mind. He would have had no idea where the adventure would take him and as far as Clint knew he hadn't focused on his family's history a lot.

"We might be in touch. Where are you staying? Here?" concluded the calm agent.

"No," Clint said as the other agent looked angry. "You have my phone number, I think."

"Where will you be staying?" the calmer one asked, less gently.

"The address is the Austin one on that card." Clint said. The agent flipped it, stared at the London, New York and Austin addresses.

Oddly, this concluded his business with the FBI, Homeland Security and all officials about the incident. He would never hear from any of them again and was not in fact sure who was represented in that room. Only the FBI guy in the lobby had shown a badge. Given what he found on the WEB, maybe it was not so odd that this ended the brush with authorities.

Clint walked out and started toward the stairs but the maitre-d stopped him. "Your friends are in the cafe," he said.

What are You Driving At?

Perhaps it's a lack of goals that has inserted a certain randomness into my life, my writing, my selection of activities.

I struggle out of bed in the morning, get a cup of coffee and discharge my daily duties. Seven days a week I always (well almost): (1) phone my dad; (2) select, edit and title a photograph taken in and around Austin, write a paragraph or so about it, maybe add some links and post it on Austin, Texas Daily Photo.

There are things I also get around to on a regular basis at some point. I almost always make the bed although sometimes FFP does it or helps. Sometimes I strip it, put the extra set of sheets on it and wash the sheets. I'll dust, do laundry, take out the garbage, do other cleaning tasks as needed. I download digital pictures from our two point and shoot cameras for the ATxDP blog and this one and whatever uses FFP's work requires. Sometimes I write a blog entry here because, more than anything, I can't decide what else to do while I'm sipping coffee and planning the day or a quiet afternoon or evening makes me feel like typing if not writing. On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday I drive to the club and play tennis unless the weather is inclement. It feels delicious when something is canceled like a regular tennis game. I don't know why. It feels briefly exhilarating when there is a day on the calendar that is blank. I love to get out, do things. But I love to see the calendar day inviting me to do something creative or have time to clean and sort without a rush. Almost every weekday finds me sorting through checkbooks, bills, financial stuff online and on paper and making sure that checks are written, QuickBooks and spreadsheets updated. We don't have much business stuff any longer and our financial life is not all that complicated. Still, it takes time. It feels good when it's caught up. FFP usually handles taking deposits to banks and brokers, making calls to them. I don't like making calls. To anyone, ever, really.

We socialize. We get invitations to stuff. Usually benefits and performances. We get tickets, schedule things, get it on the calendar. Occasionally we (usually FFP) are involved in organizing the event.

We write a little for publication. FFP mostly although occasionally I edit or even create a few paragraphs.

I don't focus. I think up writing projects, research projects. I think about doing something with my digital photos.

I think about connecting socially with people I haven't seen lately, encouraging others to go to events we find worthy. Sometimes I do it.

I check my e-mail, online news, twitter and facebook. Maybe I comment on my 'status' or comment on the status of others. I read other people's online journals, follow other people's links.

But where is my ardent focus? Is there a book or creative project that I need to be doing because it could only come from my mind? Should I be using my alleged talents to come up with an idea to make the world a better or more interesting place?

Or. Should I just clean the kitchen, enter a stack of receipts into my budget spreadsheets, tidy up a bit and call a friend about getting together since another friend with be in town? And thus is the dilettante mind exposed for what it is: something that ducks and darts and really never gets to the point of contact that makes something happen. Interest piqued is interest waning. Perhaps only a job or school ever focused me to real accomplishment. And, perhaps, not even then.

[Shop window reflection picture of mannequin in Hello, Kitty hat with me in Niagara Falls hat and camera at a Japanese souvenir and bubble tea shop near UT campus.]

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I'm easily entertained...

...but also easily bored.

In the presence of words (almost any book, magazine or newspaper will do but spare me the Sports section with no news of tennis and Romance novels) I am almost always be entertained. I may be distracted by something else and lose track of the reading, but I won't be bored. I read the program at concerts and events before they begin (assuming I haven't taken a magazine). I read ads. Pictures are nice, too.

Give me a keyboard and the right mood and I can type until the cows come home. My dad used to whistle for them to do that on the old 60-odd acre home place at about dusk. But I could type on until midnight. I may not say a thing but I will produce a stream of letters formed into English words but the sentences may make sense, alone or together. I will even invent initialisms like HQWF (How Quickly We Forget). Even though I hate them. Laugh out loud! Not going to abbreviate it.

I can people watch endlessly, browse the WEB and, even, read old online and handwritten journals by yours truly for hours on end.

Unless I get distracted.

I am easily bored in some ways. Playing tennis the other day with someone who never runs after an errant ball and who strolls into position to receive, back turned, holding up her hand and saying 'wait a minute' strains me. So I start observing things and entertaining myself. Noticing how the uniforms (all red outfits, all white visors) on some players down the way look, wondering what weeds have opportunistically poked through the cracks in the awful court we are using, considering the resemblance of the Lacrosse player practicing on the half court behind us to a send-up painting of a kid with a backwards cap on the cover of The New Yorker a few years back on the anniversary issue. (Supposed to be a Gen X version of Eustace Tilly he was.) And so it goes until I get a chance to touch ball to strings. Or to serve. I like serving because I get to hit more balls. Two aces Tuesday. I don't hit hard but I move it around. I've been writing a poem in my head about math, tennis and boredom. I work on it sometimes while I'm bored at tennis.

Fractal branches cast fractal shadows against the order of the lines.
Perpendicular lines and partial lines carving the court into rectangles.
Spaces of in and out and fault and ace. Rules about touching and missing.
Why twenty-seven feet? Or twenty-one? A three-foot net at the middle.
I see a pattern and yet not. Only one prime in sight. But I digress, interrupted
By caroms in three space, arcs predictable except for spin and striking
Nails in the tape to hold the lines to the clay surface. How far apart?
How distracted and yet focused the math makes the tennis and the ennui.
No, that isn't the poem. It's just random lines I constructed just now to illustrate.

I have been writing a short story in my head (although it might be a novel or a novella or a part of a novel) for a long while about a guy hitting tennis balls on the very court where I played Tuesday so I thought about that when things were going. too. slowly. I like how some online writers invented the technique of adding extra periods to slow you down as you read. The story has a bicycle rider and an SUV and so when I see a bike go by and then an SUV I visualize what the protagonist (a guy from Odessa, Texas, I'm not sure why) sees through the fence and wind screen.

Yeah, I'm easily bored and yet, sometimes, when I flip from running my iMac as an Apple to the window running XP under VMware and it has gone into a screen saver mode and is showing my own picture collection to me I just sit there, watching pictures I've already seen over and over for a few minutes. But in front of the TV with the satellite hookup and a DVR with captured episodes of this and that I can be so completely bored and unable to be engaged that I have to get up and get something to read.

I watch a lot of TV and movies at home. And sometimes they are pretty exciting and encompassing. But I get bored if I JUST watch them. And not just because of commercials which we usually skip anyway. I almost always read as well. Newspapers usually. So I'll be reading about Somalian pirates, Taliban areas of Pakistan, Obama's dog, Broadway revivals of "Hair" and "West Side Story", whatever, and sort of watching with one eye and listening. Makes sub-titled movies (which I love especially if they are French although German is sort of amusing, too) hard to follow. I also like to work puzzles while watching TV. I will learn a new word in a crossword (e.g.: marten; toque meaning a woman's hat instead of a chef's tall one) and not be able to contain myself until I look the word up in a real or online dictionary.

There is infinite entertainment in this apartment and yet I get stir-crazy to leave it now and then. Then when I'm out I get eager to come back and settle down with my computer, newspapers, books.

I stay engaged with movies, in a dark theater, although I like to have some food and I hate the food except for the Alamo where drinking beer and eating fried things and actually watching the movie keeps me there. Unless my mind wanders.

This restlessness, dare I say bordering on attention-deficit, makes me anxious. So, I guess I go from being entertained by many things to boredom to anxiety, all in the space of minutes.

When I was in school or at work in meetings with presentations by others, I had to write something to stay focused. It might be about what was being presented. It might be a 'to do' list or a grocery list or a doodle. It might be an idea only peripherally about the content the lecturer was presenting. One such segue produced an idea which is one of the few ideas that both received a patent for some of us at the company and actually made a bit of money in the marketplace.

I see people who are really focused on something. Maybe it is a very BIG thing like running a company or non-profit or a tiny thing like a very focused hobby or sport. Nothing gets my attention like that. I'm used to starting on things and never following up. Blogging and posting pictures online is something I've been pretty faithful doing (if that's the proper word) but, let's be honest, the form is constantly changing. And it isn't a thing you finish. It's the equivalent of notebooks full of non sequitur musings created during lectures and other entertainments that did not fully engage my dilettante mind.

Lately I've been watching people who focus closely on something, shutting out distraction. They are creating businesses, fighting for causes, writing books and plays. That will never be me, I guess. And my accomplishments will always be brief breakthroughs: an idea, a sentence, a paragraph, the short essay, the clever bon mot. The other day on twitter I said:

viswoman found blogging reduced her writing to a few paragraphs. Twitter to 140 characters. New service: Heartbeat. Nine letters or less.
I thought I was so clever. Heartbeat. In some techie worlds it is a notice that some process or service is there, working, alive if you will. And the word has nine letters. And yet when I tried to label this post, selecting from labels used on some of the prior 638 posts, I ended up with more than two hundred characters which, apparently, is the blogger limit.

Friday, April 10, 2009


Maybe I'm doing a series of essays about single words, huh?

I couldn't decide on the title. Should it be ennui:

–noun a feeling of utter weariness and discontent resulting from satiety or lack of interest; boredom.
Or malaise:
1. a condition of general bodily weakness or discomfort, often marking the onset of a disease.
2. a vague or unfocused feeling of mental uneasiness, lethargy, or discomfort.
Ennui seemed more like it.

I get up on a day like today, with few duties, and I just don't feel the excitement one ought to feel. Perhaps it was the continuing pressure I felt in my head. That's now been cured, I think, by 400 mg Ibuprofen.

I worked out a little. But it wasn't as exhilarating as usual. I read the papers. I dusted the closet and put sweaters away for the summer with little moth packets. I dusted here, and tidied there. Nothing seemed to give much back. We watched an episode of "Office" off the DVR, we ate slices of pizza FFP got at the Royal Blue downstairs.

Maybe it's that I haven't gotten off the tenth floor of this building all day or maybe it is just part of the process of kicking the allergens out of my body, but the world just isn't as exciting as I'd like it to be. Usually things kick up my interest. I feel like learning and doing. Not today. I feel ho-hum.

Maybe having some guests come down and visit our place and taking them out in our 'hood for dinner and entertainment will do the trick. I really have no reason for ennui (or malaise for that matter). Maybe the key is satiety. I have so much of what I could possibly want that the spark is gone. Only, usually, I pull out of this and things start to charge me up again. In fact, just looking up a couple of words has improved my mood immensely.

Monday, April 06, 2009


Nah, it's not my car. The friend walking with me said it was an older Rolls. It was at a repair shop on South Congress.

It did seem like a photo worthy of the title of this piece, however.

I've never owned a Rolls. I've never ridden in one either. I don't have anything against someone who does, however. I'm a capitalist. I like having money to get things I want. But I know that I am lucky to live in a place where I could amass a little money (starting at zero? less than zero?) and enjoy things I like in my dotage. Oh, I have a beat-up Civic I bought eight years ago because my other beat-up Civic got totaled. And I only have 1200 square feet to shelter me. But it is a cool place, downtown where things ain't the cheapest and I spend profligately (by Honda Civic standards) on eating out, travel (well not so much last year) and my favorite charities.

Apparently there are people who will hold my lifestyle against me. (An article we wrote in the Austin Chronicle about walking to bars and restaurants and museums elicited a detractor who compared us to French royalty during the French revolution. Off with their heads!) And, certainly, there are people who will hold a Rolls or a yacht or a big estate and 'compound' or lavish trips against those (many) folks richer than I. Not me, though.

I know that if you start deciding what people 'deserve' to own, you are no longer a capitalist. Of course, it doesn't mean that we shouldn't have sensible regulations, prosecute fraud, have reasonable taxes (not punitive ones).

What I find unforgivable is hubris. Not just pride but:

hubrisnoun excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance.
I think it is fine to be a little proud, to stand up for yourself, your accomplishments. But in excess it is the thing I despise most.

Hubris can be exhibited by anyone, too, not just the rich. You see rich people, though, who believe their circumstance is the direct result of superiority, of brains, wits, risk-taking with no element of luck. You see it in the poor, too, who adopt a victim's mantle with an excess of pride, as set apart and enamored of their lack of luck and their circumstance as any rich man who worked for (or defrauded for or stumbled blindly into) his riches.

I love my life. No Rolls although I suppose I could have had one if I'd wanted little else! I have food, shelter, health, a computer, a retirement income. I have most of what I could possibly ever want. Maybe more than I can successfully consume (especially if you count newspapers to read, books to read, movies to watch, walks to take, blogs to read, etc.).

But I hope I always remember that while I tried to get to this place and have the things I want and be safe and happy some luck helped, too. I try to be thankful for potable water, shelter, medical care for me and those I love. I try to be thankful I live where women, if discriminated against sometimes in some ways, are basically considered human and free. I know that my luck in having these things has little to do with me and much to do with where I was born. I also don't believe a god blessed me with these things but if you do, that works, too.

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. Proverbs 16:18
I have trouble forgiving pride and think gods do, too.

I also think there is a great amount of hubris people adopt in their attempts to identify and right wrongs. Some people are convinced that only they see the true path to what is right. That the world is only flawed because they have not come up with the right procedural path to an ideal world. I think the world is flawed and we only make it better when we admit how unimportant one person is although our acts are magnified if others adopt them.

Perhaps I would have been more successful (hard for me to imagine, though) if I had been more proud, more sure of my own ideas. But the doubt of my anti-hubris kept me grounded, I think, and perhaps kept me from making a few frightful mistakes.

And, maybe, just maybe, I'm too proud of not being proud! Still I hate hubris. But I love the word.