Friday, January 31, 2003

Rule number one of my life is to do my best to keep my neuroses from affecting other people. I know I'm looking at the world through Mike-colored glasses, and I try to make allowances. And suddenly I'm having to spend a significant amount of my time cleaning up after and stepping around people who are stumbling through life, blinded by their own neuroses, either not seeing or not caring about the people they hurt in the process.

The bright side is that I'm getting cured of my aversion to confrontation.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

I don't exactly think of myself as a martial artist, even though I've been practicing Kenpo for a year and a half now. Mostly that's because I don't really talk about martial arts that much with my non-practicing friends, and among my practicing friends I'm the one with the least experience and passion for it. Don't get me wrong; I love the way Kenpo has redefined my relationship with my own body, the vocabularly of motion, and the emotional tools that it's given me. But my best friend is a fifth degree black belt who teaches for a living, owns his own studio, and has been studying martial arts of one kind or another for about half his life. That kind of blows the curve. And as much as I do love having kenpo as a part of my life, I don't think it'll ever be much more than a hobby to me. The passion just isn't there.

But I picked up a copy of The Bourne Identity last week, and finally found time to watch it Sunday night. I found myself watching the fights, in particular, with a critical eye, looking for bad cuts, continuity errors, and "Yeah, right!" moments. There just weren't any. Well, okay, until the stairwell thing at the end. There was a little bit of "yeah, right", but not nearly what you get with most flicks. Once the movie was over, I went into scene selections and watched the fights in slow motion. Then I turned on the director's commentary and watched the fights again. When I looked at the clock and realized that I'd just spent two hours watching nothing but fight scenes, I started to feel like a pretty serious martial arts geek.

I started thinking, again, about why I study Kenpo. I look around our studio and I can almost see little signs over some of the students' heads. "Picked on in school", "Craves discipline", "Lost a fight", and most commonly, "Doesn't want to be afraid anymore." That's a particularly interesting one, because sometimes karate helps, and the fear goes away, and sometimes the fear is rooted deep down in their psyche, and just learning to handle yourself can't really help. There are a few folks who come in wanting to get in shape, but if that's their only goal, they usually don't stay too long. And then there are the long-haul students who don't have little signs over their heads, or if they do, it just says, "Loves martial arts."

I've gotta admit, though I'm not as passionate as some of them, that's part of it for me. Yeah, I do yoga, and I climb, when the weather's good and I've got somebody to go with. I've thought about Tai Chi, cuz, well, I'm a hippie at heart, and Tai Chi seems a little more peaceful, more tranquil. A better place to meet cute hippie chicks. But there's something missing: Brutality.

I was reviewing a technique last week, and my instructor pointed out something about it I'd never really seen before, that if you stepped just right, you were actually hitting your opponent with your knees at the same time you were hitting them with your elbows and hands. By the final kick, you'd pretty much hit 'em with every part of the body you can hit with except the head. And I loved it. I love knowing how to break somebody's arm if they grab me in a bar or shatter their nose if they attack me from behind. I never want to have to use it, and I can't imagine ever wanting to, but I love having that knowledge.

It's a bizarre contradiction, and I embrace it enthusiastically. Yes, there is a part of me that craves violence, relishes conflict, and revels in what Theron calls "the art of the advantage" (I'm aware he's probably quoting). Martial arts turns it all into play, which I also relish.

There's another side to it. As I've mentioned elsewhere, I used to fight a lot. When I used to fight, the seed of the fight was always fear, whether it was fear of getting hurt or fear of losing face. The water that nourished that seed was anger. Now, anger is a fact of life. It's a normal human emotion, and the natural result of living life in the world. I tried living life without anger, and the only way I could do it was by not letting myself care about the people and events around me, or if I did invest myself in something, then I had to bury my anger down deep, let it boil itself off inside of me, never let it out, or else, I feared, I would hurt someone.

But if there's no seed of fear, then I can let anger pass through me without it blossoming into rage. By turning combat into play, it removes the fear. If someone throws a punch, I step out of the way. I may throw down, I may not, but I know to get out of the way. I don't have to cut loose the animal inside, because the human knows how to deal with being attacked. It's the same with a verbal attack. If someone verbally attacks me, I just step to the side and let the words go by. Now, occasionally, somebody lands a blow. I've got my blind spots and sensitive areas. But they're areas where fear is still rooted. In the words of one of my teachers, "That's why it's a path, not a place."

I read something years ago about Zen Buddhism, and the strangeness of it being so popular among the warrior class in Japan. The author might have even used the word "hypocritical", but he was wrong. Paradoxical, yes, but the ways of war and peace are not as exclusionary as we normally think of them.

Jung could probably explain it better, talk about embracing the shadow and all that. I just think of one of the students at the Kenpo studio. He'd only been taking classes for a month or so and didn't know much, but he was at a frat party when some asshole threw a punch at him. Like he'd been taught, he stepped back and brought in a hard, fast inward block, which caught the punch-thrower right on the radial nerve. "Ow!" he yelled, and walked away, cradling his right arm. Instead of two guys maybe going to the hospital, or at the very least one guy, the innocent, going home with a black eye, the aggressor walked off with a sore arm, and at most a bruise.
Googlism thinks I'm a real estate agent in Lake Ozark, which is actually kind of cool, because it's the first thing that comes up, and it's in Missouri, so if one of my exes decides to hire somebody to kill me, they'll probably whack this guy first.

Of course, now, if I read in the paper that a real estate agent in Lake Ozark was found dead, I'm liable to get just a little bit paranoid.
Me: I don't know why she has so much trouble remembering stuff about me, I mean, she's known me for years, and I repeat myself constantly!

Her: That's true, you do.

Me: I mean, just as an example, she keeps forgetting that I have a master's degree. How can she forget that? I mean, I only manage to work it into every damn conversation I have!

<pause>

Me: Like this one, for example.

Her: I was gonna say: "Ding!"

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Languagehat points us to a great quote, and the search for its source:

"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary."
     — James D. Nicoll
This is cool.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

In Memoriam - Eric Goeglein, 1953-2003
I got in a lot of fights when I was a kid. At the time, I always thought somebody else started it, but the truth was I’d take any slight, any insult, and turn it into a matter of honor, a reason for violence, an excuse to unleash my anger at the world. I don’t know what I was angry about, exactly. What does a ten-year-old have to be angry about?

At least once a week, it seemed, I found myself in the principal’s office having been pulled, crying, off some kid who was probably crying even more than I was. (I couldn’t tell you, though. I can’t remember anything from those fights except the tears and the color red.) Mr. Goeglein would sit calmly, handing me kleenex and waiting patiently for me to stop snuffling long enough to explain myself. He always asked why, and he always listened as I struggled to find a reason.

It never occurred to me to wonder why these fights were never talked about at home. It wasn’t until I was in college that I found out that my parents never knew about them. Not one.

I don’t know why he never told my folks about our little meetings, but I’ve come up with a number of possible explanations over the years. I like to think he saw our talks as being just between us, man to man, as it were, that he saw the anger and the wild punches being thrown, but he also saw my tears and my frustration at losing control of my temper, at hurting people when I really wanted not to. I like to think he saw the anger and the empathy wrestling with one another, and that he trusted me to make the right decision, in the long run.

I don’t think I really did the math until eighth grade or so, the last year he was my principal. I know I still lost my temper a few times in high school (mostly at home), though I never threw another punch. At least not at a person. By my parents were still active in the church and the school, and I know I came up in conversation from time to time, so I think he knew that empathy won out in the end. I hope he knew.

I can’t say what would have happened if Mr. Goeglein had involved my parents in my problems at school. I would have spent more time grounded, I suppose, and probably spent some time talking to a very calm man in a tweed jacket, with a bust of Freud on his shelf. Maybe that would have been better. Maybe not. I can’t describe the road not taken. But I can tell you that the struggles of my adult life have been lightened somewhat by the knowledge that a good man looked in the eyes of my child self and saw something in there that gave him hope, even confidence, that the good would win out.

Eric Goeglein died on Saturday, January 25, 2003, when an infection took his body by surprise in the midst of his fight against cancer. I don’t know what he thought of his life, but if he touched only a few children each year the way he touched me, then he did more to improve the world than most of us will have a chance at, and that’s the best yardstick I’ve found with which to judge a man’s life.

Sunday, January 26, 2003

I got a phone call while I was in the middle of watching the Bourne Identity, so I decided to take a little blogging-break. This time around, the car chase (maybe one of the all-time great car chases) seemed a bit familiar, but I couldn't figure out why, other than because I've seen the movie before. Then I realized what it reminded me of: morning rush hour in Boston.

I was telling my mom the other night about the scary-ass driving I saw in Boston and she said, "Oh yeah, did your cab driver go up on the sidewalk, too?"
Division of Labor
Rule #23: It's not my job to decide for other people what kind of emotional risks they'll take with me. It is, however, my job to be honest enough with them and with myself that they can make an informed decision.

Friday, January 24, 2003

Liz Smith quotes Jane Fonda: "We've got to love our ex-husbands. I love my ex, Ted Turner, who gives a lot of money to charity. Ted has long been working against worldwide clitorectomies; Ted is a man who puts his money where his mouth is!"

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

There is an uncertain virtue to unabashed luxury. Last night I stayed at a Drury Inn in St. Louis; tonight I'm at the Seaport Hotel in Boston. Last night I had a McChicken from the drive-through, tonight I had fillet of sole with baby spinach and a New England crab and brioche bread salad.

Maybe the virtue is in the contrasts. Or maybe I'm just a hedonist. And, yeah, since I'm traveling on business, I'm not actually paying for any of it (well, maybe the McChicken). But I'm at a point in my life that I could actually afford to do this every once in a great while, and I think I might have to start. I'm thinking a shoestring trip to Europe, backpacking and youth hostels all the way, just so that I can afford that one last night in a 4 star hotel in Rome.

Monday, January 20, 2003

I got an email this morning from a friend and regular reader of the blog. He didn't offer any advice, apart from a little "be careful, don't do anything stupid" which he knew I didn't need to hear, but he kind of needed to say. The funny thing is, there's nothing actually happening. It's mostly just thoughts bouncing around my head, words on a screen, electrical impulses over a phone line.

This morning I lay in bed, wide awake, watching my breathing, trying, for 9 minutes at a time (snooze alarm, ya know?), to let my thoughts happen on their own but not get caught up in them. It was amazing the attention traps my mind kept coming up with, like a little kid tipping over the edge into crazy tired, spinning around hopping on one foot with a finger on his nose saying "Watch me, Daddy, watch me!" or a puppy that wants to play. It was a small-scale version of what the last week of my life has been: My mind running around in circles while I step back and wait for the dust to settle.

In other news, I'm off to Boston tomorrow, so don't expect any new posts for a couple of days. I'd ask people for recommendations of people to see or places to go, but I'm only going to be in town for 25 hours (counting time waiting at the airport), so I'm not making any plans, apart from planning my presentation.

Sunday, January 19, 2003

I'm scared. And I'm scared to tell you what I'm scared of because it there are people out there in the real world I ought to talk to about it first. But how can I talk about it when I don't even know what I think yet. (Vague enough for ya?)

It all started with Rumi. Specifically, with a Rumi calendar that had the audacity to say, all December, "Gamble everything for love, if you are a human being."

Or maybe it started last Saturday morning, with a dream about Carrie, and the emotional contrast of dream and waking, the difference between love and friendship.

Or Saturday night, when I finally came to bed after talking late with friends and trying to write my way through my thoughts, and she snuggled up to my warmth in the dark, was silent for a little while, then gently whispered, "I wish I could make her love you again. I wish I could make you happy." And it occurred to me that I could take that as one wish or two, and either way it made me sad.

Or maybe it started nine years, 348 days ago, when I kissed Carrie for the first time and thought that no one's lips had ever tasted sweeter to me than hers.

I'm still very much in love with Carrie. Carrie knows it; Christie knows it; everyone who reads this blog knows it. That was never an issue when Christie and I were just casual, but we're sort of starting to take each other seriously now. We've both known all along that if Carrie was willing to try again that I'd be gone in a heartbeat, but that was okay because we kept each other at arm's length and our hearts in reserve. That's not the way it is anymore. We've gotten used to one another; we've gotten attached to one another.

It's comfortable, but it's not love, and I know that if Carrie said yes I'd go without hesitation, because being with her is real to me. It's work and it's play. It's comfort and joy, pleasure and pain; it's all the flavors and colors of life bumped up a notch higher than I ever thought the scale could go (these go to eleven). It's love, and even if I knew with absolute certainty that it would only last a week and I'd end up with my heart in pieces again, I'd still go to her just to have another seven days of memories together.

While it's true that I would gladly dash my ship against her rocks, it's also true that she's always been smooth water to me, a stormproof harbor. Even when our marriage was ending, she acted with integrity, kindness and compassion. She couldn't have stayed with me while staying true to herself, so she left, but she did everything that kindness permitted to help me through it. The only thing she could have done but didn't would be if she'd been kind enough to do something truly horrible so I could hate her. But I can forgive that.

Friday, January 17, 2003

I have to admit I was disappointed with the Eldred decision. Sure, I am what you might euphemistically call an open-source writer, but I do hope to someday make a living at it. I very much look forward to the idea of owning intellectual property. But I also have no problem with it going into the public domain after an appropriate length of time. If you create a good story, then the characters you've created no longer belong entirely to you, they've moved into the collective imagination of the culture. You may have made the toys, but it's time to let somebody else play with them. If I want to parody Mickey Mouse, I should be able to do so without getting sued by a corporation just because that corporation happens to own the rights to something someone else created. Yeah, what about my kids? I'll help 'em out as much as I can while I'm alive, and after I'm dead I'll give them whatever money I have left. But if they want royalties, they should go create some art of their own. Besides, if I write something that has enough of an impact that people are still fighting over the rights for it 50 to 70 years after I'm dead, I'd be tickled pink. My ego is much more important to me than my pocketbook, and that would be a hell of an ego boost.

Then I read these words on Neil Gaiman's blog: "It doesn't bother me personally whether my own work goes into the public domain 50 years or 70 after I die, but a world in which stuff went into the public domain in the USA 20 years before the rest of the world (which has a 70 year expiration) would have been deeply problematic for authors and their estates." Eminently practical, and I can't entirely disagree. I'm still a big fan of public domain stuff, and I still think Disney's evil, but I see his point, and I no longer think the sky is falling.
Sometimes what you really need is a little vampire slapstick.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Still tired, and definitely going home, but I thought I'd send you here, a bit belatedly. Anil Dash is almost always worth reading, but in a time when liberals are Chicken Littling across the landscape, it's nice to read someone pointing out the obvious truth behind the fact that Bush et al. are winning elections, but only by lying through their teeth about their own records and agendas: The Culture Wars are over, and we won.
Work lately has been like trying to add a new wing to a house while renovating the kitchen, and then suddenly a very tiny little fire breaks out in the bedroom. It's not a big fire, but you've gotta run back there and stomp on the little bastard before it spreads. So you go back to working on the plumbing, but then there's another one, this time in the living room. It's only about 20 feet away, but you still have to put down the wrench, and now there's a steady drip going while you're off putting out the fire, and then somebody comes along to tell you that the lumberyard forgot to deliver the wood for the new staircase, but the way it comes out is "Mike, you forgot to call the lumberyard and remind them to do what they said they would..."

You get the idea. Nothing horrible, nothing tragic, no crises to speak of, just a whole bunch of minor annoyances that build until somebody comes into my cubicle to ask a question and gets a blank stare in reply.

All of this is exacerbated by the fact that I was up until 2 last night thinking thoughts that, if I had any sense at all, I wouldn't be thinking.

Oddly enough, I'm not stressed about it. All I can do is work as hard as I can, then take a break when I can't work any more. Besides, it's almost time to go home, and I'm thinking tonight's a night for caipiroska and Buffy, Season Three.

Friday, January 10, 2003

My friend Patrick sent me an email taking issue with my calling Columbia, Missouri (population 80,000) a small town. Patrick lives in Washington, Iowa, where the towns are really small: "[T]he entire south side of the main street in 'downtown' Ainsworth (a town very near to where we live) is taken up by the grain elevator. It, however, is considered a fair sized town in these parts as it has two bars. (There used to be only one, but when Rudy and his wife got divorced, she opened a competing bar.)"

I should know better. My dad grew up in La Cygne, Kansas. How small is La Cygne? Well, I was once sitting in the restaurant (yeah, that's right. The restaurant.) with my niece and nephew when this old boy who was walking past stopped, backed up, and gave me a hard look. I had never seen this man before in my entire life, but he looked me up and down, then said, "Now, which one of the Terry boys is your dad?"

As a result of Patrick's letter, the following policy will be in force here at Yet Another Damn Blog: The word "city" will be used to refer to any municipality of 500,000 or more souls. Smaller municipalities will be referred to as "town" with only those towns with a population less than 20,000 being considered "small towns".

Now, when it comes to "city" there will have to be some rules as well. For instance, I'm sure citizens of New York will resent being lumped in with Springfield, MO, but thems the breaks. I will note for the record, however, that Springfield is a small city, whereas New York is so big that it has effectively usurped the name of the state in which it's located. Geographical peculiarities dictate that "The City" may refer to either St. Louis or Kansas City due to the author's placement more or less equidistant between them. Kansas City is, however, the more likely referent, as the author has family there, and it's a much more fun place to visit. "The Big City" will usually refer to Chicago, but as the author rarely visits Chicago, it is not expected that this will come up very often.

Thursday, January 09, 2003

She had a link to him, and included a story he wrote that put a big dumb grin on my face, so I clicked, looking for more grins, but as I read down the page there was poetry, and I read until I couldn't read any more, but when I stopped, everything else stopped too, and the inside of my mind felt exactly like the other night, sitting on the front porch well after midnight, watching the snow gently obliterating the world. At first it sounded silent, but beneath the silence was a hiss, and in the hiss, if you listened carefully, you could hear each snowflake settling into place.

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

Frisk Me, Please! - Michelle Cottle has no problem with new security procedures, and I can't say I've found much to complain about, either. I've taken three round-trip trips since September 11th, which translates to 6 times through security. I've gone through security in Columbia, St. Louis, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Detroit, so I feel like I've seen a pretty good sampling of how security is handled in airports ranging from small towns like mine to airports like Dallas that are, in all likelihood, bigger than the town I lived in while I was in college. And you know what? It ain't that bad.

I've gotten pulled out of line just about everytime I go through security because I've got change in my pockets, or a metal belt buckle, grommets in my boots, sunspots, or whatever. They make me undo my belt and take off my shoes. I have to stand on a silly little mat with footprints on it and stick my arms out. And I take it. I do as I'm told. Why? Is it because I'm a typical modern man, cowed out of all individuality or spirit by the bleak, Kafkaesque maze that is my life? No. Is it because I'm terrified of violence and would gladly give up my freedom for a sense of security, even if it's false? Nope. Actually, there are a couple of reasons:
  1. It's no big deal. The inconvenience of security checks are no greater than those involved in Christmas shopping or attending a major concert, and in exchange I get to travel hundreds of miles in just a few hours, usually while I sleep or read. Until somebody invents teleportation or self-navigating flying cars, it's the best alternative for anything more than a few hundred miles.
  2. The security guard is not a faceless drone or a cog in The System. He (or she) is somebody with an important but shitty job. He's gotta check me out, and I've gotta get checked out. That's the way it's got to be, but I do have one choice: I can make it easy, or I can make it hard. Me, I'm going to choose to make it easy. If you want to make it hard, that's fine with me, but why bitch about it afterwards?
  3. Travel is frustrating. Getting pissed off and irritable would be the easy thing to do. It's more interesting to me if I take it all as a lesson in applied spirituality.
  4. It's faster.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

There are two kinds of posts to this blog: the ones where I have something I want to tell the world (usually a link 'n think post), and the ones where I have something I'm afraid to admit to anyone (navel gazing). Dunno which kind this'll turn out to be. Maybe I should just let you guess. My emotional life these days has something of a schizoid nature. For instance, yesterday I had a headache and just generally felt like shit, a few minor things went wrong at work, and I was actually in a good mood. Don't know why or how, but I was. So I woke up this morning feeling buzzed to be pain-free, but once I got to work I was surprised to find that, while I was having a good day, I was impatient and irritable as hell.

My romantic life's the same way. I'm still missing Carrie and, against my better nature perhaps, hoping it might work out. But I'm also opening up to Christie in ways I wouldn't have thought possible just a month or two ago, and am finally comfortable envisioning something resembling a future. Luckily, we both have our scars and are therefore taking things almost ridiculously slowly.

Friday, January 03, 2003

Recently, Language Hat blogged about an article about communications professor Joseph Turow in the NY Times on capitalizing 'Internet'. LH is normally pretty smart about linguistic issues, so I'm a bit confused as to why the phrase "proper noun" never appears in his entry. Instead, like Turow's rant, it's all about brand names, and how the Internet is more like air or water than Kleenex. Yes, I suppose that's true. But it's more like Istanbul (or even Springfield) than like air or water.

There is certainly a debate to be had here, but the debate is over Internet being a proper noun. For instance, this guy says it shouldn't be. His argument, in a nutshell, is "these two terms would be understood to be simply descriptive phrases that happen to identify unique things, were it not for the fact that they were popularized by techno-happy folks with little intimate knowledge of English capitalization style."

Of course, he's wrong, but at least he's in the right fight. Why is he wrong? Well, there are two levels here. First of all, the 'net was invented by techies, but brought to the world by wordfolk. The World Wide Web is an incredible engine for the presentation of text, which is why technically literate text people were the ones to fill the new medium with content which drew in more text people, slightly less technically oriented than their predecessors. Second of all, he bases his understanding of proper nouns on a one-line dictionary definition and he never gets into the issue of names.

Why, he asks, is "my mother" not a proper noun when he only has one mother? And why is "Fred" a proper noun when there are so many Freds? Why questions have a tendency to be bottomless, especially when they're about language, but I'll take this one on anyway: "My mother" refers to a role played (in my case) by a person named Dotty Terry. That role is mutable, in that while I have only one mother (Dotty Terry), other people have other mothers, and Dotty is other things to other people (a spouse, a grandmother, a friend, etc.). Only by using her name can I ensure that a magical reference string runs from my words to her, showing my compatriots in conversation who it is that I'm referring two. Thanks to the magic of naming, the same thing happens with Fred. Even though there are many Freds, and I'm only talking about one, the magic string knows which one I'm talking about and attaches only to him.

That's probably not the way it really works, but if I started to dig into how naming does work, in no time we'd be up to our necks in the philosophy of language, talking about speech acts and direct reference, throwing around fancy made up works like "dthat", and I have real trouble imagining anyone getting real excited about that sort of thing. And in the end, we'd still come around to the fact that naming is a kind of magic, which may be why, in English, we treat names as special words, and we capitalize them.

Most interesting to me, however, is Language Hat's comment, "I've always thought of the word as lowercase, and it irritates me every time I see that capital I." Personally, I have the opposite reaction. Capitalizing the word reminds me that I am referring not just to one of many intereconnected networks (internets), but to the One True Network. Capitalization helps me make what is an important distinction between phenomena, and that I'm naming something that existed well before companies like Microsoft or AOL came to the trough and may very well outlast them.

Thursday, January 02, 2003

Sometimes local politics in a small town goes beyond weird, but this is really just your standard content-free story on Republican's taking power in county offices. Still, you've gotta love any story that contains a sentence like this one:

"I know from experience that getting sworn in is certainly a rite of passage and a big moment. I think Keith understands that what happens after that is you roll up your sleeves and you do the job. And that’s what we’re going to see from him," said Crane, who enjoys oatmeal cookies.

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

Part of me feels like last night was just another night, even though there was some silliness with bubbly around about midnight. Just another night with good friends. And part of me feels like it's another year. The refinance on the house finally went through, which means the credit cards get paid off, and my mortgage payment goes down, so I can start building up savings. I feel like I've turned a corner in getting over Carrie, and that my relationship with her is in the process of changing from was-wife into whatever it's going to end up being, which makes this an interesting time to be me.

At the beginning of 2001, I thought I knew what was coming, and that was the year my wife left me. At the beginning of 2002, I had no fucking clue what was coming, but I figured things had to get better. Turns out I was right. Neither they nor any of the previous years can help me prepare for 2003. It's just life, coming down the mountain. It's a small consolation that the big changes almost never come on the big days (at least, not in my life so far), so I figure I've got a few weeks before I need to worry about any new life-changing experiences.