Thursday, May 31, 2012

1000 Days

You know what's really funny about this milestone?

There was a time I couldn't imagine being sober for just 28 days.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Looking Within

...which is one big reason I suspect the Christ told us to not judge one another.

The funny thing about judgmental people is that they are some of the most stressed out folks I have known in my life. The laid-back, take-things-as-they-come kind of folks tend to not attach many value judgments to people or things.

I think judging others--and we all do it; it seems to be human nature; but I mean folks who do it all the time--I think judging others shows overattachment to an idea or a value or a goal that the person is having trouble meeting themselves.

Think about it. The people who tend to gripe the most about gossipers, say, are usually the biggest gossips you know.

The people who go on and on about how bad liars are and how so-and-so is such a damn liar are usually the biggest tellers of untruths.

The people who are the most suspicious and unforgiving of infidelity are usually among the ranks of those who have or will also cheat.

You know that saying: "We hate most in others those things we most dislike in ourselves." Or that old saw about when you point your finger, three fingers are pointing right back at you?

The older I get (and I'll be fifty very soon), the more I realize there is genuine wisdom in a lot of this stuff I was told as a kid.  When I gave up drinking, I had to teach myself how to forgive myself. I had to teach myself to stop judging myself by a bunch of yardsticks that weren't even necessarily mine. When I did that, the need to judge other people fell by the wayside.  All those people I'd spent so many years thinking I was angry with, well, I wasn't really angry with them at all. I was angry at myself.

Peace, contentment, happiness, serenity... these are all states of mind that can only be found within.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Happy 75th Birthday, Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge is 75 years old today. Chelle and I had been planning on heading down to Crissy Field today to participate in the celebrations, until we heard that tens of thousands of people are expected. Ix-nay on that idea. We'll go to the Giants game tomorrow instead.

I have a love-hate relationship with this bridge. It's a gorgeous landmark, no doubt about it. When it was first constructed, it was the longest suspension bridge and after 9-11, the National Guard was posted there for it seems a year or more in expectation of an attack on what is an iconic American landmark.

But the bridge is also a suicide magnet. On average there is a successful suicide off the bridge every other week. A few years ago, one of my students stopped attending class--not really an atypical thing at all; sometimes students just give up, life encroaches, their schedule changes at work or there are problems at home, and they forget to drop the class. It wasn't until a month or so after he vanished that I learned he'd jumped off the bridge.  His body was never recovered.

The Bridge District debated the pros and cons of a suicide barrier for years. Finally it was decided to construct a flexible steel net that would hang about twenty feet beneath the bridge (barely discernible from a distance). If someone jumped, they'd land in the net, which would roll up around them and hold them there, cocoon-like, until a "snooper truck" arrived and workers fished the person out of the net. But funding for its construction has yet to be raised.

There have been approximately 1,500 suicides off the bridge since its construction. It's a 275-foot drop to the water, so most people don't actually die by drowning. They die from the internal injuries suffered upon impact. It takes about four seconds for them to fall--you can't help but wonder how many have time to regret their impulse before they hit the water.

So: there's the reason I have a love-hate relationship with this bridge.

Tonight there will be a fireworks show on the bridge, and we will celebrate its beauty and American ingenuity.  And I will also feel a small measure of sadness.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

On Books

How beautifully said this is. And how some of the world's greatest writers have marveled over just this: that the written word or art is, perhaps, the only tangible way to achieve immortality, to leave your "Kilroy was here" for all to see, if only they will find you.

Another thing about books that never ceases to amaze me is how the best ones hold layers and layers of meaning--you can reread certain books across decades of your life and see things you didn't see before; you grow into certain books. Also remarkable is how little human beings have changed over time. We laugh at the same bawdy jokes; we grieve over deaths (will humans ever find peace with the idea of death?); we fall in love; we struggle with jealousy, our darker impulses such as selfishness and greed; and over and over, we learn how many of us are absolutely at our most noble, our best, when we face a crisis or suffer. Or, how some of us fall prey to our basest natures.

Books are snapshots of the human condition. They teach us empathy by taking us on a tour into the recesses of the human heart.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Brené Brown: The Power of Vulnerability

This is a brilliant 20-min talk that I recommend to everybody. My favorite take-away quotation: "Vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love."

Ledward Kaapana Plays Slack-Key Guitar

I think half the joy in watching this is watching him have so much fun.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

To Herald Today's Eclipse ...

I give you Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire."

We'll be able to see it here on the West Coast of the United States, but you can watch it on live streaming video here. The next one like it won't be 'til 2023, so be sure to take a peek.

Annular eclipses are dubbed "rings of fire" because, well, that's what they look like:

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Preakness Picks

The thing to know about today's Preakness is that yesterday speed did not hold over the track at all; I just watched the second race and once again speed did not hold. This does not bode well for the front-running Bodemeister unless he sets such blistering fractions nobody is able to run him down. It is a shorter distance than the Kentucky Derby. However, the horses that have been winning have started to move a little early (at the final turn) and I would expect to see three horses start to challenge the lead horse at that point: I'll Have Another, Went the Day Well, and Creative Cause.

There's a longshot horse in the race that interests me: the three, Pretension. His speed figures are considerably lower than the four above, but he has the advantage of having won his last race over this racetrack. Of course, the fractions in that race were slow as molasses. I wouldn't look for him to win, but I'll use him on the bottom of exotics.

Daddy Nose Best has a shot as well; his Derby performance was a bit of a fluke since he had a rotten trip. But Creative Cause did better than he with pretty much the same sorts of excuses, which gives 'Cause the edge in my book. If Joel can get Creative Cause free of traffic in this much smaller field, he should give us a better showing than in the Derby, which puts him on the board.

So: 7,9,5,6 in any order and add 3 on the bottom if you're doing a superfecta or Super Hi 5.

I'll post a Pick 4 ticket later as soon as I get my hands on a Racing Form.

Update: here is my Pick 4 ticket:

Race #9    05/19/2012
$0.5 Pick-4
# 1,5,9
WT # 2,5,7,8
WT # 3,9,11
WT # 5,7,9

Friday, May 18, 2012

God's Hand

I've seen this being passed around on Facebook these past couple of days and found it interesting. You know, I don't know that I would call these signs of spiritual awakening as much as they are, to me, signs of emotional maturity and letting go of fear.

Not that it matters what you term it. The process, for me, has seemed to work something like this: (1) give up the need to control, much of which is directly related to fears I have to begin with anyway, most of which are ungrounded and not likely to happen in any case. (2) Once I stopped trying to control things, there was no need to get bogged down in overanalyzing people and situations. Fact is, I don't need to understand everything, and I will never get the complete picture anyway since I can't live in someone else's head or heart. (3) Once all of that falls by the wayside, I am much more apt to find joy in the smallest things. And once I started feeling joy, I began feeling grateful, and when I am grateful, I perceive God's grace and have started seeing God's hand in the most surprising of places.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Creative Process

"All stories begin with a moral ambiguity."

That is the "keeper" I took away from a video I watched last night, a short 25-minute presentation Amy Tan gave at a TED conference.  (It's online at Netflix streaming right here. Scroll down the page; it's number 12.)

Her talk was titled "Where does creativity hide?" and, of course, Tan delivered it with her usual charm and self-deprecating humor. She speculates a bit about why certain people seem more creative than others (a gene? Psychosis?) but spends most of her time talking about how she gets started and then how things miraculously, without intention, seem to fall into place as she struggles with problems that arise in the process of writing a story. She wonders if the miracles aren't really serendipity but more the result of being focused on a particular thing more so than usual and so she sees connections that, without the focus, she would not have otherwise noticed. She mentions these coincidences of the creative process several times--which Jung would probably call synchronicity, the recesses of the mind calling forth from the Universe what it needs, though she doesn't label it like this. In any case, it's anxiety producing when the connections aren't coming. There is no worse feeling than feeling the push to go somewhere but to be stuck, unsure of where to go. You may forge ahead anyway, then wind up trashing fifty pages when the connection does reveal itself to you.

It's most telling that Tan doesn't offer the usual baloney about receiving an inspiration in a flash and it's like a switch gets turned on in the head and the writer channels a book all at once. That is the impression a lot of people have. Likewise, it's not all grunt work of intention and deliberation, the 99% perspiration, 1% inspiration that others claim: Tan doesn't sit down and write out pages and pages of pre-planning and outlining, either. I have found that too much pre-planning and outlining kills a creative work in any case. If you figure out what's supposed to happen ahead of time, if you know how the conflict is going to work itself out, you lose interest in your own work because there's nothing to explore. You've already solved the moral ambiguity in your own head.

So, creative writing isn't expository writing: you have no idea where the story is going to go. The story and the characters work all out that out as you write (and that's where the synchronicity or serendipity works itself in). But it's not divinely inspired, either: most stories begin with the idea of a character or characters who interest you, and then you imagine them in a situation--and to truly get interested in their situation, there has to be some kind of moral problem that you, as the writer, feel ambiguous about. Your characters are lost in this sea of what-to-do, what-to-do. You don't know the solution yourself. You write to find out.

Too much intention kills the creative process. I remember a professor in graduate school recalling that William Faulkner had written several of his finest books--Absalom, Absalom!, As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury, and some of the best short stories--when one critic landed on what he thought Faulkner was all about in his creation of Yoknapatawhpha County. Faulkner happened to read the critic and thought, "Oh, is THAT what I'm doing?" But it ruined him thereafter. He became conscious of his intentions (or took them on) and the quality of his work dropped off. (Either that, or his alcoholism was catching up with him and fuzzying up that sharp mind of his.)

So there's a paradox about creativity. You begin with a question, and in answering the question, you stumble across more questions, and eventually your story finds its way to an ending. The questions, ironically, may never even be satisfactorily answered. But a "moral" to the story is not the point. You are simply exploring the human condition and, hopefully, your readers will feel compassion for your characters. As a writer, you certainly do. You can come to love even the most despicable people because you at least understand them and their choices. But that's your stuff. Once the story is out of your hands, it's up to the reader to decide whether they are moved by your characters' handling of life's moral ambiguities. They may not be.

But if you've succeeded--and whether or not the reading public likes it--you've put out into the world a nugget of truth--via the world of fiction.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

For Your Mother

This isn’t about my mother. Nope, this is all about YOUR mother.
You know, the one who calls you once a week to talk about nothing. The one who sometimes disapproves of the way you don’t discipline your own children enough, or who tsks whenever you and your spouse argue. The one who reminds you that yes, you can do better, that if you’re mad at your boss it takes two to tango, that if you’d just be content with off brands and clipped more coupons, you’d have more in the bank and less debt on your credit card.
The mom who commiserated with you when you started going gray and who explained to you what menopause felt like. The one who chides you if you skip church on Easter. The one who tells you, every time you show up a few minutes late, that you’ll probably be late for your own funeral.
She flew in the first time you gave birth and stayed three weeks, showing you to put baby socks on her grandchild’s hands so he wouldn’t scratch his face and then embroidering the tackiest little blue sampler for the wall in the baby’s room. Who, a year later on his first birthday, competed with your mother-in-law over who would buy him the best present and topped her by a mile by getting your toddler a puppy. That damned old dog is on his last leg nowadays but is still digging holes in the backyard looking for imaginary moles.
Your mother cried at your wedding, then hounded you for weeks about writing out all those thank you notes. Now she has a new laptop and just added you on Facebook. Even though you’ve got three years’ worth of photos uploaded, she embarrassed you by going through them all and clicking “like” under every last one. Well, except for the one someone tagged you in, doing a shot of tequila at your office mate’s party.  I guess she didn’t like that one.
I’m talking about your mother--every glorious, loving, maddening, pain-in-your ass check and balance you could ever want in your life.
You’re lucky she’s still around.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

I Do, Too

Thank you, President Obama, for refusing to treat gay Americans as second-class citizens.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Yadda Blah, Yadda Blah

Just poking my head in the door here to reassure everybody that I'm not dead.

No, it's merely the week before the last week of the semester, so I'm up to my eyeballs in the penultimate paper-grading frenzy. Then the REAL crunch will begin when students turn in their final essays and write their exams.

Meanwhile, I finally got around to having some dental work done that's been begging to be done for some time now--namely, to dig out an ancient filling that was sloppily done in the late 1980s to begin with and has been driving me crazy over the years because it tends to trap food. So yesterday my dentist dug out the old filling (which was basically holding the tooth together), filed the remainder of the tooth down, and stuck a temporary cap on it. (The porcelain crown goes on in two weeks.) In the meantime, no gum chewing, no caramels, no sticky-anything, and frankly, my jaw hurts today. In fact, my right eyeball hurts, along with my right temple. If I open my mouth wide, my right ear hurts.

I suppose you won't be surprised to learn the tooth was on the right.

In other news, I hear Bodemeister is training well at Pimlico and the plan is to outrun I'll Have Another this time in the Preakness. It's quite possible--he'll probably go off as the favorite.

Oh, another piece of news: I have been picked by my college to be one of five faculty members on a panel discussion in the fall in which we will be discussing our writing process. I really have no idea how we were picked--we just volunteered to do it and listed our publications and mentioned what we would be likely to talk about, and for all I know, the five of us were the only ones who offered.  Still, it'll be the last presentation of our President's Lecture Series (I guess the funding has run out; there has been no mention of a stipend), and the College wanted to acknowledge the writers on its own faculty. So, in a way it's an honor. I'm glad I have all summer to give some thought to how to articulate what is largely an instinctual process for me. I want to give practical advice to budding writers in the audience, not fluffy ideas about muses, inspiration, and channeling.

And that's it for now. I'm off to our Writing Center to tutor students for a while, then off to class, and by then I hope the ibuprofen has kicked in.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Congrats to I'll Have Another!

What an incredible race today! To my surprise, Mike Smith took Bodemeister right to the front and tried to wire the race, setting some of the fastest splits I've ever seen. But, as you might expect, the horse tired in the lane--yet he still managed to hang on for second.

Congratulations to I'll Have Another, to trainer Doug O'Neill, to jockey Mario Gutierrez, and to famous pony horse Lava Man. I'll Have Another won the Santa Anita Derby, and the local story is that the "another" is not another drink but another cookie. It's always nice to see a California horse go on to win the Kentucky Derby, and I'm so happy for Mario (who actually used to ride at Golden Gate Fields for a time, when he first came down from Canada). I confess I tossed a show bet on I'll Have Another just before the race because he looked good on the track (did you see Hansen? He looked totally washed out) but I was too chicken to go for the win bet--honestly I didn't think he could win from way out in the 19-hole. But props for that ride. Mario got his horse over to the left but outside the traffic, saving ground while guaranteeing himself a clean trip. It was beautifully done.

Not sure what happened to Union Rags--my guess he got boxed in. I'll have to watch the replay later.

The finish was I'll Have Another, Bodemeister, Dullahan, and Went the Day Well.

Kentucky Derby 138 Picks to be Updated

Just a quick note: the tracks at Churchill Downs are off today (so far). They've harrowed the main track but it's still wet and speed did not hold in the first race. The first turf race has also been taken off the turf. Obviously this would change my picks posted last night--but my feeling is the main track should be pretty dry by Derby time. I will probably recap with soft/yielding turf in mind. So stay tuned for any adjustments.

UPDATE: Well, the turf course has been rated good despite the first turf race being taken off. So far I'm inclined to not change anything.

SECOND UPDATE: I am updating my picks for the turf races (6, 8, 10th races). I'm leaving the dirt races the same. Speed is holding. The rail does seem dead. I'm updating my original picks post, below.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Kentucky Derby 138 Picks

Well, close counts only in horseshoes, and although my 'capping for Oaks Day wasn't bad (picked 4 winners of 6), I'm kicking myself for second-guessing myself on the Oaks. (See post below for why I talked myself out of betting the filly that won!) So, this time I'll try to not overthink it. Here goes:

Race 6: Bridgetown, Chamberlain Bridge, toss Great Mills who needs the turf firm, add Great Attack instead. Potential upsetter in Spinning Move, who loves it wet.

Race 7: Smiling Tiger (runs best off the layoff), Amazombie, Shackleford

Race 8: Marketing Mix, Daisy Devine, Tapitsfly (Aruna scratched)

Race 9: Sassy Image, Groupie Doll, Musical Romance (I've always liked Switch but that's one long layoff)

Race 10: Turallure, Doubles Partner, Data Link

Race 11 THE KENTUCKY DERBY: good field this year. Honestly, I want to see Bodemeister win. But who knows if he'll rate happily behind Hansen and Trinniberg? Fingers crossed that he does, and when they tire, he bolts. My second choice is Union Rags. I also like Creative Cause (and pray that his feet are okay). Daddy Nose Best, Went the Day Well, and the undefeated Gemologist are my other choices.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Picks for Kentucky Oaks 138

Here's who I like for tomorrow. Eating more chalk than I like but then again that can make for some singles.

Race 6: Plum Pretty
Race 7: Contested (add Good Deed)
Race 8: Stephanie's Kitten (add potential upsetter Welcome Dance)
Race 9: Mucho Macho Man, Successful Dan, Nate's Mineshaft
Race 10: Silver Max, Gung Ho, Blueskiesnrainbows, and Flashy Dresser
Race 11 THE OAKS: Sigh--I want to like Believe You Can, but there's too much speed in this race. So you have to go with On Fire Baby, Summer Applause, Broadway's Alibi, and chalky-assed Grace Hall. (I think I may have a constitutional aversion to betting Dutrow, though.) Tastier odds on a Baffert filly who might just blow past them all at the bitter end: Jemima's Pearl.

On my Oaks-Derby Double Ticket, I'm doing On Fire Baby, Summer Applause, and Jemima's Pearl with Bodemeister, Union Rags, and Went the Day Well. If you have deeper pockets, toss in Take Charge Indy and Daddy Nose Best.

UPDATE: I did do an Oaks--Woodford--Derby Pick 3 (.50 bet for $22.50) as follows:
Race #1    05/04/2012
*Oaks/Woodford/Dby P3
$0.5 Pick-3
# 1,2,8
WT # 2,6,7
WT # 3,4,6,10,13