Thursday, December 23, 2010

chemical affliction

"We can never speculate as to what may happen with a drug once it goes into widespread use..."

quick quiz: are those the words of a responsible federal agency, or a two-bit drug dealer?

hint: it's a trick question.

the answer, of course, is "both."

that's your food and drug administration at work, ladies and gentlemen. how 'bout a big hand for the nice people selling us out so transnational pharma can keep raking in their billions?

yay, FDA!

but wait! the same description also fits the nice people at pfizer, the narco-traffickers responsible for "chantix," a drug that can cure your nicotine addiction by helping you kill yourself.

isn't that great? they get your money, and as a gift with purchase, you get a decorative toe tag.

random rhetorical question: if it's not the FDA's job to speculate what might happen when a drug hits the market, whose job is it? do they expect the nice people running big pharma do that? really?

fun trivia: almost half of people with depression are smokers. chantix is a psychotropic drug, the side effects of which can have a profound, often disastrous effect on depressed people.

fun fact: the people at pfizer never tested chantix on people with depression. nor was it tested on patients with histories of panic disorder, psychosis or bipolar disorder.

fun corollary: people suffering from those conditions are disproportionately more likely to attempt suicide than, say, billionaires with fresh tax cuts in their wallets. go figure.

would it surprise you to learn that the people a FDA and pfizer insist they did nothing wrong in bringing this drug to market? sorry, silly question. no one involved will ever admit "mistakes were made," or anything remotely resembling responsibility. the merest hint of same would cost them $ megamillions, maybe more, in legal complications.

instead, after hundreds of suicide attempts (over 100 successful), and more than 5,000 reports of "severe psychiatric symptoms," associated with chantix, pfizer and the FDA are kicking around the idea of maybe studying the drug a little more.

just to be, you know, safe.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

spinal fortitude

late last year i was diagnosed with cervical stenosis, a degenerative condition that signals decline and decrepitude.

if you believe in such things.

fortunately i'm great at denial, so a year later, after a bit of surgical legerdemain, i'm back to playing basketball and preparing for the ski season.

the osteoarthritis implicated in this diagnosis is commonly lifestyle related. if you're active and your workouts tend toward the debilitating, your spine can reap an eventual whirlwind of symptoms. but really, that's kind of a badge of honor, isn't it?

i mean, the alternative of couch-bound lassitude and cardiovascular disease is not much of an alternative at all, n'est-ce pas?

bla bla bla.

this retrospective is prelude to a recent email from a friend who says he's been dealing with symptoms nearly identical to those i experienced last year.

turns out he, too, has spinal stenosis, and he's been referred to a neurosurgeon.

as you might imagine, he's a little upset.

a review of the literature regarding stenosis is disconcerting. absent timely and effective treatment, it can cause all kinds of life-changing trouble. if you like using your arms and legs, that is.

surgery can make a significant difference. it can resolve symptoms, restore strength, and in time, return you to whatever passes for normal in your world. depending on your feel for karma and irony, it might make you better than you were, appreciation-wise.

howard...i feel you, man. i understand how seriously this might be messing with your head. and while your ski season might be over, next season will be here momentarily. and you'll be ready for it.

l'chaim, my friend.

Monday, December 13, 2010

tight christmas

mrs. spaceneedl loves her some christmas specials.

from it's a wonderful life to charlie brown to white christmas to the grinch, this time of year she's all about parking in front of the tv and shushing everyone so she can hear the lines we all know by heart.

which is fine by me. we have too few traditions tying us together at our house. it's comforting to have a handful that we can point to and say, "this is what we do, for no other reason than this is what we do." it might not make sense to sit and watch reruns we've seen dozens of times, but then again, what really makes sense any more?

maybe, one day, the little needls will have their own families and their own traditions, and maybe they'll gather to watch fred claus or elf or bad santa or, you know, whatever passes for holiday programming 20 years from now. it would be nice, though, if they shushed their kids so they could hear one or two of the old school shows, because they're a reminder of a simpler time in their lives. a time when holiday movies weren't full of snark and cynicism and sentiments that make you furrow your brow and think, "wtf?"

watching white christmas this year, it occurred to me that, despite its status as an all-time holiday classic, there's no way this movie gets made today. even if you could resurrect bing and danny and rosemary and vera-ellen.

unless you were making "zombie white christmas," i suppose.

made today, white christmas would have to feature robert downey, jr. as the cia chessmaster whose people love him because of the hilariously varied ways he kills hapless terrorists. will smith and kanye west would reprise the bob wallace and phil davis roles...of course you'd have to change those names. i mean, can you imagine will smith playing "bob wallace" and kanye west playing "phil davis"? and the two of them singing "count your blessings instead of sheep"?

on second thought, that'd be kinda funny.

as undercover operatives posing as r&b artists in new york, the two of them find themselves assigned to the badlands of south dakota, battling caribbean pirates on a quest for lost incan treasure. while in sioux falls they stumble across a promising sister act performing old school christmas songs at a holiday inn express. the haynes sisters, portrayed by taylor swift and katy perry, are desperate to get out of the dakota lounge circuit and land a recording contract, so they concoct a variety of hijinx to impress wallace and davis.

meanwhile, downey has cleverly allowed himself to be captured by the pirates, who have taken control of an icbm silo. downey promises to help them aim the missile at the moon, which legend says will reveal the location of the treasure. instead, he disables the warhead and reprograms the missile to topple the main towers broadcasting fox news.

simultaneously, romantic sparks are flying between west and swift, causing smith and perry to furrow their brows and think, "wtf?"

the four get caught up in a snowmobile chase between, over and through the countless ice fishing houses on lewis and clark lake. hilarity ensues as pirates, drunken ice fishermen, and walleyes fly across the screen at high speed.

i don't want to spoil the finale for you, but it's a big fight scene/dance number involving the five heroes, a bunch of confused fishermen, and a plethora of pirates and wenches played in cameos by an army of international celebrities.

at some point the entire cast gathers to sing a rap version of a certain holiday classic, renamed "tight christmas." afterward everyone grudgingly hugs and goes their separate ways.

a series of sequels is a given.

can you feel it? i got chills. it'll be huge.

mrs. spaceneedl just rolled her eyes at me. it doesn't feel like a classic to her.

she'll change her mind when the screenplay contract is signed and the first check hits our bank account.

that'll be tight.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

filling station

through timeless words
and priceless pictures
we'll fly like birds
not of this earth
and tides they turn
and hearts disfigure
but that's no concern
when we're wounded together
and we tore our dresses and
stained our shirts
but it's nice today
oh, the wait was so worth it..

~ jason mraz

from the front end, ten days can stretch beyond the horizon, full of plans and promise.

but the fact is, ten days is only 240 hours, and they pass in the blink of an eye.

especially if you fill them up with life.

for example, you could roll out of bed at dawn every one of those days, because that's when you wake up and find you're ready to get your day rolling. however improbable you might've found that prospect on the front end.

and because it's already warm, you might throw on shorts and a t-shirt and walk a couple miles along the beach as the sun comes up, watching the sky change from purple to pink to orange.

you could pass a couple dozen people, who invariably smile a little smile and say a quiet good morning, because they too are experiencing something simple and clean and timeless and therefore profound.

your new routine, which in no way resembles your old routine, might include coffee that smells like coconut, and a bowlful of something healthy that includes actual coconut.

later, your day might find you out on the electric-blue water, hovering over an ancient volcanic crater or a fossilized coral reef covered with contemporary coral. you splash overboard with a tiny cylinder of portable atmosphere, putting a world of distance between you and your regularly scheduled programming. from the boat to the bottom is a matter of a few dozen feet, but the quiet that settles over you feels like a warm embrace of miles.

it's like swimming in the world's biggest tropical fish tank, pulsing with color. until you see the enormous sea turtles paddling around you, which could never fit in a tank. the honu are either mildly curious or completely indifferent to your presence in their world. they drift away in all directions, leaving much more of an impression on you than you made on them.

another day might find you clinging for life to the side of a volcanic ridge, high above a tropical valley floor. your position is made more precarious by the early morning fog and mist swirling around you. each step is an opportunity for a foot to slip. every reach up is a chance to lose your grip.

photos never do justice to the steepness of this climb, or the consequences of an uncontrolled descent. you don't really get it until you're 10 or fifteen minutes up. that's when it hits you that if you fall, you die.

you keep going up, because the thought of not finishing is unacceptable. in fact, the goal is to get to the top quicker than the last time. for no particular reason.

when you get there, you catch your breath but you don't really celebrate. because you know that the trip down is actually more difficult, and now it's raining. en route, how many times does your foot slip off its designated step? four? six? how does that shot of adrenaline feel, every time?

after what seems like hours, you reach the bottom safely. and you're already thinking about repeating this foolishness on your next visit. which means you're an occasional adrenaline junkie, and therefore not very smart.

ten days seems like a long time, except on day nine. that's when you realize how pitifully short it is. and in a time-warped moment of clarity you can see ahead to a day you might be at this place again, after the children have grown and gone. you think back to this trip, when they were here, running around acting like children...and you wonder where the time went.

you feel that moment with perfect lucidity, and find it dusty and sepia toned. it's not adrenaline you experience then, but something else moving and powerful.

ten days is only 240 hours. and they pass in the blink of an eye, whether you fill them up or not.

better to fill them up with something. if you're lucky, it could be something timeless and priceless.

and so worth it.

Sent from my iPad

Saturday, November 20, 2010

none-too-friendly skies

we're flying tomorrow.

which means we'll have to go through security at seatac airport.

i really hope nobody tries to grope us.

* * * * *

i haven't packed yet. but really, how long can it take to throw some shorts, t-shirts and a swimsuit into a carry-on bag?

besides which, this day-before was full up with last-minute busy work. from the coffee shop to the hardware store to the barber shop to the dive shop to the fred meyer to the post office back to the hardware store to the grocery store and finally, home.

where there was still plenty more to do.

* * * * *

whoops, forgot the bakery and the book store. and the eyeglass repair place.

* * * * *

the forecast was right: it's turned cold in seattle. and windy. this is not a happy combination. wind chill factor is not something i want to deal with. current temperature, 37. feels like: 32. dew point: 23. which means it could get damn cold tonight. forecast for the next three days: snow flurries developing. highs in the 30s. lows in the 20s.

seems like a good time to be leaving town.

* * * * *

movie tonight on comcast channel 650: "how do i look?"
movie on channel 651, same time: "coyote ugly"

* * * * *

crystal mountain and mount baker ski areas are already open. skiing this season is going to be amazing. and, unlike last year, i get to participate. working-from-home snow days also looking promising.

* * * * *

so, i've downloaded "50 first dates" from itunes. why would i do such a thing, you might ask? because it was shot on oahu, that's why. many of the places we'll be going to featured prominently in the movie. sealife park, where adam sandler's character worked. chinaman's hat, near where forgetful lucy lived. kaneohe, waimea, waimanalo...oh, i also thought the movie was pretty funny. i plan to watch it on the flight over. assuming we get past the gropers.

* * * * *

also shot on oahu: "from here to eternity," "tora, tora, tora," and "pearl harbor."

"jurassic park."

the opening shots of "gilligan's island."

"hawaii 5-0."


if you like that sort of thing.

* * * * *

10-day forecast for honolulu:

high: 82
low: 71

repeat, 10 times.


we're flying tomorrow.

why am i still awake and typing?

Sent from my iPad

Monday, November 15, 2010

four orders of good to go

"if you never did, you should. these things are fun, and fun is good."

~ dr. seuss

we're t-minus one week to oahu.

the prospect is so good, it's hard to keep in the here and now.

we're constantly recalculating the minimum required to stay functional any given moment, so as not to interfere with our pre-trip prep and general euphoria.

which is to say, we're making plans. oh my, yes.

plan a: scuba diving. the boy is on the brink of scuba certification, and so four dives off southeastern oahu are scheduled and paid for.

these dives will differ dramatically from his experience in puget sound, where the water is 50F year-round. he'll be able to see, for one thing. there's not a lot of light around here these days, so visibility is about six feet. in the bright midday sun off oahu, we expect to be able to see most of the way to san francisco. which will be good...we'll be able to see the dorsal fins circling us.

there will be surfing. the rest of the family took lessons in maui a couple years ago, and they're ready to give it another go. shoot, i may even try it myself. you haven't really lived, after all, until you've been hit in the head with a surfboard or nibbled experimentally by a shark.

speaking of nature's perfect predator, there will be an excursion in a shark cage. last time, sailing out of haleiwa, the boy and i spent 25 minutes within touching distance of a swarm of galapagos sharks. they looked impressively predatory, but word on the boat was that they're bottom feeders. which means they may bite you in the ass.

other sharks sometimes seen on these trips include tigers, gray reef sharks, and pelagic hammerheads. all are described as "aggressive to humans." but we'll be, you know, in a cage. what could possibly go wrong?

10 more very good things to get giddy over in oahu (in inverse order from top to mid-list, then in reverse...)

1. ten days of highs in the mid 80s, lows in the mid 70s.

2. running five miles, barefoot, on kailua beach.

3. a├žai extravaganza bowls from lanikai juice.

4. grilled shrimp with rice from the lunch truck across the street from keneke's family bbq in waimanalo.

5. hiking up to the lanikai pillboxes.

6. climbing the ha'iku steps.

7. paddle surfing to the mokoluas.

8. jumping off "da big rock" at waimea bay beach park.

9. thanksgiving at the beach.

10. endlessly, pointlessly contemplating how we can stay and live the island life.

and...(this list goes to eleven)

11. duke's on sunday.

these things will be fun, and fun is good, while it lasts. to that end, we'll invoke the corollary that if a little fun is good, more is better.

music playing happy songs
everybody's getting along
dancing in the sunshine
sipping on that rose wine
good times will set you free
oh, this is the place to be
on the beach at waikiki
that's where you'll find me
here on the south side
beach boys paradise
duke's on sunday
duke's on sunday
duke's on sunday

~ henry kapono

* * * * *

update: this just in from the national weather service, for western washington...




the fun just does not stop.

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Sunday, November 07, 2010

early to rise

"Gotta get to bed so I can get up at 2 to re-set my clocks. I really don't understand why we can't have these time changes at a more convenient hour."

~ david hutchinson

and so, darkness descends on the northwest.

here, the end of daylight savings time is the beginning of months of getting up and driving to work in the dark, returning home in the dark, and ingesting fistfuls of vitamin D in between.

it's a time of people taking on the healthy pallor of zombies, along with a corresponding level of brain activity. seasonal affective disorder wraps us up in its clammy embrace, broken only by forced exposure to UV light or fistfuls of pharmacology.

it hardly seems worth it, but at least on the day we fall back we get an extra hour to spend however we like. there's no consensus on the best way to seize the carp and fully exploit that time, but the options are characteristic of the soon-to-be-deranged...

1. sleep in (the desperate act of the desperately sleep-deprived)
2. run around the grocery store muttering "the end is near," while loading the cart with wine
3. plunge into puget sound's 50-degree waters, imagining they're warm, and you're warm, and that hypothermia builds character
4. go to your favorite restaurant and wander through the bar saying "donner, party of 20..."
5. have mind-bending, toe-curling sex with julianne moore (assuming you actually know julianne moore and she finds you sufficiently intriguing)
6. avoid taking your car to the local car wash for the sixth straight month, because every time you wash you car, it rains (also, when you don't)
7. obsess over politics, even though the recent election ensures nothing worthwhile will happen for the next two years
8. obsess over sports and television, even though nothing worthwhile ever happens in either case
9. go outside at lunch for a glimpse of that dim star low on the southern horizon
10. go shopping, buy things you don't really need, because it makes you feel better, however briefly
11. stay home, save your money, because it makes you feel better, however briefly
12. drink the wine you bought at the grocery store; go buy more
13. buy food, while you're there
14. hug your children
15. yell at your children, tell them to shut the hell up so you can hear yourself think
16. realize what you're thinking isn't particularly interesting or important
17. pick up a book, begin reading; get the feeling you're reading the same few pages over and over
18. find a way to work the word "ennui" into as many conversations as possible
19. exercise, compulsively, because if you don't you feel fat, which is depressing
20. stare blankly into space while daydreaming about sunlight, pondering the prospect it might never return

some of these things might take more than an hour, but not to worry. there's a long, bleak winter extending endlessly before you. you have plenty of time to savor them at your leisure.

that, or you can sail to lahaina.

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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

post-game 2010

"violence is the last refuge of the incompetent."

~isaac asimov

it's funny, really, how different liberals are from conservatives.

conservatives in the u.s. have their fingers on the trigger. literally. if they don't get their way via the ballot, they're prepared to use other means to achieve their ends. do you need examples, or have you been keeping up with current events?

despite the right wing's professed love of the constitution, it's a love of convenience. "free speech" only applies when it applies to them. in all other cases, the practitioner may be silenced by physical assault, police intervention, or hostage-taking. or all of the above.

constitutional protections regarding church and state? only christian churches need apply. all others are subject to bombing, verbal and otherwise, at any time. jesus must be so proud.

at social gatherings, conservatives demonstrate the failures of public education in myriad ways. spelling, grammar, historical comparisons...all wrong. if you're going to refer to the president as hitler, he cannot, at the same time, be kenyan. nazis, it turns out, were not fond of black people. (note: "kenyan" is not the same as "keynesian.")

also, if obama is muslim, it's not possible that he is also married to michelle. i mean, have you seen how she dresses? that said, she could even make a burka look good.

liberals, meanwhile, have a slightly different vibe. at their gatherings, no one gets beaten, kidnapped, or otherwise violated. worst case, a conservative interloper might be subjected to some tough rhetorical questions.

these comparisons may be important as conservatives even more conservative than the last batch take control of the u.s. house, as well as several state governments. the last bunch, you may recall, helped wreck the world economy, drive the u.s. into two intractable wars, and endorse torture as official u.s. policy.

and yet somehow millions of americans today saw fit to return them to positions of power.

go figure.

perhaps the takeaway is that you get the government you deserve...but not necessarily the government you need.

and that today would be a really good day to restock the wine racks.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

good day, sunshine

everywhere you go
you always take the weather with you
everywhere you go
you always take the weather
everywhere you go
you always take the weather with you
take the weather
take the weather with you

~jimmy buffett

there's no such thing as "sunny san diego."

it doesn't exist. i know this because i was just there for four days, and the sun showed up not once the entire time.

the overcast was low and dark and oppressive. a light mist fell, off and on, morning, noon and night. trees drooped low and dripped on passers-by.

san diego is, in fact, seattle with palm trees. wet palm trees.

sunny? pfft. don't believe it. don't believe the brochures and the reviews and the tv spots featuring blue skies and blue water and scantily clad, sunshiny people. the reality is all gray, all the time.


on day three in san diego i hauled myself out of bed at o'dark-thirty to do the "run for the warriors," a 5K fundraiser for wounded vets of the iraq and afghanistan wars.

pre-race activities began predawn, made darker still by the falling mist and the fact that there is no sun in san diego. none of which mattered to the participants~~i'm convinced everyone there would've run in a hurricane at midnight if asked.

i haven't run in a timed event in years. it's just not something i care to do, any time of day, let alone at such an uncivilized hour. the last time may have been the bay-to-breakers event in san francisco, circa 1989. that's a 12K course up and down some notorious hills, traversed by tens of thousands of people who are either there to run or to dress in attire appropriate for their most outrageous fetish and fantasy. it's the perfect race for those of us who don't really like running, since the wild array of costumed and festooned and unpantalooned people totally distracts you from the fact that you're running.

a buddy and i, running in this fashion (but not that fashion), finished in just over an hour. getting stuck behind some roller skating nuns and a posse of cowgirls wearing chaps (and little else) added several minutes to our time, if you can imagine such a thing. go ahead, imagine it, i'll wait.

anyhoo, moving right along...

given my physical state this time last year, i'm quite pleased to be running at all. not because i enjoy it, mind you, but because i can.

managing my goals and expectations accordingly, i figured i'd go out at a nice, old-guy post-op pace. nothing too ambitious, just a happy-to-be-here half-hour to cover the 3.1 miles.

i didn't stick to the plan.

when the horn sounded, and the people in front of me started to pull away, i got competitive. not "i want to win this thing" competitive, of course. i mean, i'm not totally delusional. no, it was just a "hey, why are all these people passing me?" kind of competitive.

so, despite my pre-race plan, such as it was, i kicked it up a notch. the rate of people passing me decreased, and i actually caught and passed some people in front of me. that felt good.

i finished in 26 minutes flat. that felt good, too.


the flight back to seattle took off into the clouds, and eventually broke through to sunshine. many of the passengers cringed away from the windows like vampires.

a couple hours later we landed, in darkness.

it was still sunnier than san diego.

Sent from my iPad

something fishy

well the sun's not so hot in the sky today
and you know i can see summertime slipping on away
slipping on...
a few more geese are gone, a few more leaves turning red
but the grass is as soft as a feather in a feather bed
oh, darling
so i'll be king and you'll be queen
our kingdom's gonna be this little patch of green
won't you lie down with me right now
in this september grass
won't you lie down
september grass...

~james taylor

the cohos are running.

from the pacific through the straits of juan de fuca through puget sound through metro seattle to little north creek~~not two minutes' walk from my office.

at lunchtime, people gather at every bridge to marvel at the fish slowly moving past. gaggles of them form, meander awhile, dissipate, then form up again a while later, a ways further down.

the shocking reds and greens of the cohos' final days are washed out and dull by the time they arrive at this tributary. the fish are battered and spent, and seem barely able to hold their own against the current. it isn't that long ago, a matter of a few weeks, that they possessed the strength to carry them through a long, unforgiving course of obstacles. to arrive here, a place that may have been their destination, or may be a long way from where they intended to go.

the reds and greens in the water are pale reflections of the bright, changing leaves overhead. but the leaves themselves are on a similar arc, and it won't be long before they too fade and fall.

this little drama plays itself out in similar fashion in countless ways and places every year. it's part of nature's genius that we still find it so compelling, no matter how many times we've seen it. and because it's so timeless, so cyclical, it really shouldn't make me sad...but it does.

their time is so short.

time is so short.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

moving to center

at the core of every idea, emotion and sentient being is truth.

if you can get to it.

most often, it seems, the truth at the core hides or is trapped inside a maze of shifting walls and and funhouse mirrors.

the funny thing is, we build the labrynth ourselves. to prop up and defend the version of reality we desperately need, so we can continue to be the people we present to the world. the people we say we are.

that narrative, of course, is maybe one part real to every four parts fabrication, depending on how complicated we've made ourselves. how many masks we wear beneath the hats we put on in the course of a given day.

say, just for fun, that today, to get through the day, you need to be a boss and a colleague and an underling and a spouse and a parent and a friend. and, come to think of it, you're gonna need to be an administrator, too. and an accountant. and a public speaker. and a referee. and a counselor. and a creative problem-solver. a grammarian and a spell checker and a critic.

and a diplomat. and an advocate. a strategist and a tactician, simultaneously. andandand...

we'll say that's what's required today (even though there's probably more), and we'll stipulate for the record, your honor, that it's a fair representation of a typical day in the life.

say, just for laughs (because it really is funny), that this (or a variation of it) is the person you've constructed over the years. so obviously this is who you are required to be today (a different person likely will be required tomorrow, so be ready).

is it not expected that you will be good at being all of these things? is that not what you expect of yourself and what others expect of you? that all these moving pieces and interlocking components will transition one into the other and back again without a glitch? that this finely woven fabric will stretch seamlessly across the day and into the evening and right up to the point where you fall asleep and dream the weird-but-all-too-lifelike dreams?

of course it is.

random rhetorical question: how likely is it that we can actually be good at all these things, all the time, all at the same time? that the expectation and the reality are in synch and humming along on all cylinders as often as we tell ourselves they are?

we are all of us complicated people in a convoluted world. and each day adds another layer to the coats of paint we slap on to keep the whole edifice looking like new (or a reasonable facsimile thereof). meanwhile, the quiet truths of what we believe, what we feel, and who we are at our core tend to get drowned out by the roar of our own machinations, and those of everyone else we deal with.

so we madly cobble together the maze du jour and the requisite sort-of-truths as best we can, always accompanied by a vague unease that we can't put our finger on but which might be the gap between what we typically do and what we know, at our core, is what we should be doing. if you follow the winding thread.

which leads to an inevitable logical corrolary: don't believe everything you think. i mean, obviously. it's just good common sense, and it keeps you humble.

look at this...a huge pile of words about complication and convolution, all leading to what?

i don't know. i forgot my memory foam pillow, so i'm less sanguine than usual about drawing hasty conclusions...

oh! it's this. simplify.

amputate the clutter. pull the plug on the noise. keep the walls from shifting long enough to locate the core, then run frantically to get there.

make it unnecessary to be all of those people, all at once, but if you must, don't insist that you be good at all of them, because you can't. and even if you could, what's the point?

more importantly, are you being good at the right things? the things you know, at your core, are the ones that matter? one day you will have a moment of clarity, that moment when you shed the many layers and say, wow, did i ever screw that up. if only i had focused more on thisandthisandthis, and less on THAT. everything could've been different.

that moment will come. wouldn't it be nice if it were sooner than later?

of course it would. and for those of you who already know this and are staying close to your quiet center and can actually hear yourselves think...i'm envious.

envy, of course, is another shifting wall clattering around my personal maze.

but i see you there, sitting in your zone of serenity, and i want to be there too, metaphorically and metaphysically speaking. which is to say, to be more like myself. i'm in here, somewhere. i'm pretty sure.

so, i'm looking.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

may the patron saint of the blessed cell phone smile upon you

it's a minor miracle.

and it's here on the table next to me. care to guess what it is?

hint: it's not a piece of toast with the image of jesus seared into it. it's not a cornflake in the shape of the virgin mary.

it's certainly not a former colleague of smokey robinson.

no, it's a check for $124 from the state of washington. a refund for the ticket i got for talking on my cell phone while driving.

the beauty part is, i was absolutely guilty. i was talking, i was driving. talking, driving. talkingdriving. one hand was free, but the other one held the phone firmly to my ear. the conversation was really important, though. a matter of life and death.

no, not really. the conversation was completely extraneous.

did i mention that i was guilty? yeah, totally.

despite these facts, which are not in dispute, the state has decided to give me back my money. because of some glitch in the technicalities of the fine print of the nuances of the legalities of the law.

which is to say, the state screwed up.

how often does this kind of thing happen? seriously, how many times in your life have you gotten your money back for something like this? i mean, never, right? it just does. not. happen.

and yet...there it is. an official check signed by the treasurer of the state of washington, jesus buddha muhammad.

i can get used to the idea of the occasional minor miracle. especially when the proof is on the table, close enough to touch.

but the pilgrims milling about our yard have to go.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

postcards from teabagger hell...

the lunatics are inside the perimeter.

from utah to delaware to louisiana to new york...and points elsewhere in between...the crazy is eye-popping and jaw-dropping and head-scratching and tooth-drilling. without novocaine.

in what regard, you might ask, if you had a morbid curiousity about the most hilarious humanity has to offer...

how about the mad percolations of the teabagger machine? hard-right candidates who once would've been considered the most lunatic of the fringe have won gop primaries across the country. their victories are driven by a raucus combination of faux-christian values, faux-conservative fiscal hypocrisy, faux-sympathy for the unemployed, and a deep, damp love for the bank accounts of the hyper-wealthy.

oh, and racism. (did you know: the president is black.)

you want to test their belief in all-american ideals like free speech, freedom of religion and property rights? propose building the muslim equivalent of a ymca in new york, and watch their heads explode.

you want to see how much they really believe in fiscal responsibility and deficit reduction? suggest letting tax cuts expire for the richest of the billionaires, and watch them hyperventilate.

you want to know how they express their christian values and love of their neighbors? listen to the reverend mike huckabee throw the sick and injured under the nearest haybailer.

these are the kind of people who demand all the perks of being an american~roads, police, firefighters, teachers, schools, and the right to worship the military branch of their choice~but they don't want to pay for any of it. somewhere along the way they believed their political doppelgangers who told them they could have it all at no cost whatsoever. taxes? nonsense! it's not the government's money, it's ours! tax cuts pay for themselves, and deficits don't matter.*

(*actual claims and contradictions courtesy of right-wing fabulists!)

note: taxes actually are the government's money~it's in the constitution. and no, tax cuts don't pay for themselves. and deficits appear not to matter only when run up by borrow-and-spend republicans.

the analysis of the rise of the teabagger right says, "they're angry." and they want to take back the country. and they want to restore honor. it doesn't say where this anger was during the bush administration, when "their money" was being wasted by the trillion in unnecessary and unsuccessful wars. when their government was sullying u.s. honor by killing tens of thousands, committing torture, and ravaging the constitution. when tax cuts were the answer to every question, heralding the transition from a healthy economy into the great recession.

didja notice? not a peep out of them during those fun times.

and now they want to put back in power the people who were responsible for all those hijinks, or better still, folks who are even further out on the crazy meter. just imagine the hilarity!

fun fact: christie o'donnell (R-celibacy) once "dabbled into witchcraft," but she didn't join a coven. sure she didn't. and bill clinton didn't inhale. o'donnell's pious supporters are likely to be horrified by this sacrilege~but they will forgive her this and any other heresy rather than vote for a democrat. self-respecting wiccans, meanwhile, are likely to be, uh, disconcerted by the thought of o'donnell in their midst.

america may be a great mixing pot...or it may be the world's largest and most inefficient insane asylum. if we're honest with each other we agree, at least, that what's going on these days is the kind of derangement only the lunified could love.

turns out the inmates are not just in our midst.

they are us.

Friday, September 10, 2010

breakfast club

fred macmurray was so very wrong.

somewhere in tv-land, in a charming episode of "my three sons," uncle charlie is serving breakfast...and fred is hungry.

fred: where are my eggs, charlie?

uncle charlie: here, you can have what ernie didn't eat. that's all that's left.

fred: i see. well, as long as we keep the germs in the family...

in the second half of this two-part episode, e. coli spreads throughout the douglas household and runs rampant across bryant park. eventually uncle charlie is brought up on charges. hilarity ensues in the courtroom, as the jury succumbs to the pandemic.

* * * * *

i don't really think i have e. coli. but it's definitely something. something disturbing and debilitating and demoralizing. ebola, maybe.

this is what happens when the children go back to school and return with all the latest bacteria. they share. and we are the beneficiaries. or the incubators. as the case may be.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

seeing the light

pack up all your dishes
make note of all good wishes
say goodby to the landlord for me
sons of bitches always bore me
throw out those LA papers
and the moldy box of vanilla wafers
adios to all this concrete
gonna get me some dirt road back street...

~ jerry jeff walker

the missus and i have had an epiphany.

so we're moving.

we're not sure where, or when, but we're moving.

this is not a "move to a bigger house in magnolia" kind of move. this is the kind of move where we leave the neighborhood entirely, on our way out of the country.

catalonia, maybe. or the southeast of france.

we're not sure of the destination yet, pending scouting expeditions starting the first half of 2011.

back to the epiphany, which upon further review isn't particularly epiphanous. it's that corporate america would like to bleed us dry and kick us to the curb at its earliest convenience, and take its healthcare along with it.

meanwhile republicans, who by all accounts are poised to take back control of congress, would like to give huge tax cuts to the wealthiest americans and spending cuts to everyone else. most credible economists agree this is exactly the wrong thing to do, economic policy-wise, and will deepen the current recession brought about by republican economic policies.

this, according to nobel-prize winning economist paul krugman, has a real chance of setting up a japan-style lost decade of long-term unemployment, cash hoarding and deflation. which means we'll be lucky to stay employed during the next ten years, while the value of our assets declines.

the missus and i aren't up for riding out a lost decade. and really, what's the point? if the best we can hope for is to keep working for the privilege of being allowed to keep working, suddenly the whole "american dream" contrivance doesn't seem so dreamy.

it's not rational to keep participating in a game in which the winners (the very wealthy) are predetermined and everybody else gets to stay poor.

so, we're leaving.

we're not sure when. we're not sure where. we just know it won't be anyplace that worships corporate gods or the elected representatives who serve them.

somewhere civil rights are respected and healthcare is a human right.

someplace civilized.  

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

brownie bites...

michael brown sees dead people.

and he thinks, "i can make a pile of money off of those corpses."

the bodies in question would be those of the people of new orleans who died of an acute case of ineptitude inflicted by brown and the bush administration.

those facts are not in dispute, so we'll not relitigate them here. more currently, however, brown is attempting to rewrite history, returning to new orleans to broadcast his radio show and to pimp his upcoming book.

“This is a part of my life. This was a very significant part of my life. Everybody in the world knows it was a part of my life. So I’m going to show up.”

no matter how many died, no matter how many lives were wrecked, it's still all about brownie, who's showing up five years after he watched an american city drown.

as the head of a major government agency designed to help in times of emergency, it seems a shame that he didn't show up in a meaningful way when it might've made a difference. but brown takes no responsibility for any of it, including the part where he was completely unqualified to hold that position in the first place.

by brown's own description, his book will attempt to deflect blame for a delayed and pitifully inadequate FEMA response; to deny mismanaging the resources that were available; to bury the formaldehyde-laced trailers sent to house the thousands of homeless. and typically, to blame government for the corruption of an administration that raised haplessness to an art form...
"Whatever your persuasion is, we have to recognize is that this federal government of the United States is so large and cumbersome that we really can’t and should not expect it to be this kind of well-oiled, well-running machine. It’s not."

of course it's not. especially when it's peopled with grotesque incompetents who live to prove how useless government can be. note to those who like democracy: never vote for people who brag about how much they hate our government.

sidebar: remember this one? "no one could've predicted the failure of the levees"? yeah, that was a lie, too.

even with the benefit of five years' reflection, brownie insists the real problem in katrina's aftermath was not a failed response, but rather, bad PR.

Brown said one of his regrets is not being more straightforward with the public. "Even though we told the facts, we didn't tell it in the right context," Brown said. "We should have said, 'This is what we are doing, but its taking longer ... than we expected it to."

funny how everything takes longer when you have no idea what you're doing.

but that no longer matters. five years is forever ago in a country that can't remember what happened last week, let alone during the last administration. and hey, history notwithstanding, life's all good in brownie world...

"I'm on the number-one station in Denver, I have one book that's in print now, a second book that I'm starting to work on already, I still speak around the world, I have clients around the country, I have a company here in Denver, I have two grandkids. What's the problem?"

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

feed me, seymore

the little needls are away at camp.

so the routine of "turn off the tv, shut down the DS, wash your hands and get in here for dinner" is temporarily suspended.

in its place is a new routine, a completely random assortment of "what are you hungry for, i don't know what do we have, we have leftovers, i had that for lunch, we need to eat this before it goes bad, and is there more wine?"

each night the missus and i scurry around cobbling together a meal generally characterizable as healthy, tasty, but mostly hasty.

tonight's menu, such as it is, includes leftover fresh pasta, leftover soup, leftover salad, and a better-than-good italian zinfandel. when the wine is good, the food gets better. this is not a coincidence.

we worry the children, by comparison, are losing weight. the list of foods they consider edible is about four items long. if the camp dinner wagon is serving up something not on the list, it's a safe bet the little needls ain't eating it.

another possibility we suspect, but cannot confirm, is that their dietary habits change away from home. that when they get hungry enough they temporarily expand their menu by an item or three. surely these children would not be that intellectually inconsistent.

but, it's camp. what doesn't kill them makes them complain louder.

programming update: the leftover salad on tonight's menu has been replaced by stir-fried brussels sprouts. the leftover pasta has been replaced by fresh bread with cheese, olives and roasted tomatoes. we now rerturn you to your regularly scheduled torpor.

the children are away four more nights. in that time we plan to make this new routine permanent.

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

tough on the outside

my wife is a tough chick.

the toughening started early, as the youngest of five children~four of them girls. her parents were hoping to add one more boy to the mix, see, and her mother, so disappointed by the announcement ~ "it's another girl!" ~ allegedly was despondent.

i'm not saying the child was subesquently neglected, but if she didn't finish the bottle quick enough, her mom gave the rest to the dog. her hand-me-downs came from a pack of javelinas. and on cold swim team mornings, she was the child voted most likely to test the water temperature.

somewhere along the way her mother told her, "you'll never be pretty, so you better be smart." nice, huh?

unfortunately, my wife believed it. and even though she grew up to be quite lovely, she's always seen herself as the ugly duckling. she also turned out to be a biomedical engineer, so at least her mom was half-right.

mrs. spaceneedl grew up in the arizona desert at a time when sun exposure was maximized and sunscreen was unheard of. years of cumulative skin damage eventually manifested itself as a series of basal cell carcinomas. on her arm, her back, her shoulder, and her face (three times).

off to the dermatologist she'd go, for assorted cryosurgeries, excisions and grafts, endured matter-of-factly.

sidebar: we've been together a long time-~26 years, if you can imagine~further proof of her courage. the years have been good, mostly, with enough bad to make us appreciate the difference. the missus has stoically dealt with adult-onset asthma. a thrice-broken tailbone. four miscarriages. the loss of her mom to cancer. three primary cancers for her dad.

there's more, but you get the idea.

last week she went in to have another basal cell growth removed from her nose. it was supposed to be a relatively quick procedure...excision, a couple sutures, a few uncomfortable days. no big deal.

turns out, it was more complicated.

the growth was larger than expected, so the doctor had to remove more tissue from a place where there isn't much excess to begin with. this meant that the fix was more involved, as well. there were a couple graft options, one of which was invasive and barbaric-sounding. the other was no picnic, either, but seemed slightly less horrific.

she came out of the hospital with a large white wrap on her nose, swollen cheeks, and eyes just starting to blacken. so much for the minor procedure.

this morning it was time to change the bandages.

"i dreamed there were just three little Xs on my nose," she said, "and i thought, 'wow, that's not so bad after all.'"

standing at the mirror, i told her, "this is not the time to assess how it looks. two months from now you can make an assessment. this morning is as bad as it's going to be. from here on it gets nothing but better."

she paused, then peeled back the gauze. her nose was criss-crossed with stiches and red, raw-looking tissue. it looked intensely painful, and you could see her calculating how ugly it'd make her by her mom's standard.

after a few quiet moments, she cried.

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

plan B

plan A never goes according to plan.

most often, plan A goes sideways the millisecond after you put the finishing touches to it. good thing you've got a back-up plan, huh? 

nuh-uh. same thing applies to plan B and plan C and so on through the alphabet.

because no plan can account for the many variables you can think of, and all those you'd never conjure up in your most intricate anxiety dream. 

so while planning is very conscientious and comforting and human, it's mostly an exercise in delusion. the next time you think you're in control of the situation, no matter how innocuous the situation may seem, take a step back and allow yourself the languid terror of imagining how many ways you might be wrong. 

it won't make you feel better, but it'll bring you into the moment like a rake handle between the eyes.

and what could be more fun that that?

let's say, by way of example, that you have a deep, oppressive fear of flying. despite your fear and your careful avoidance of airplanes, some improbable set of variables aligns to absolutely require air travel. so you suck it up and get on the plane. settling into your seat, every sound you hear~from the loading of bags to the closing of the cargo door to the hissing of the ventilation system~confirms what you already know: the plane is seriously malfunctioning and inevitably going down.

take-offs and landings, you know, are the most dangerous. so as you roll down the runway, gaining terrifying speed, you hold your breath and wait for the end...which doesn't come! yet.

in flight, you're quite certain that every bump is the one with your name on it, the one that will put the plane into an unrercoverable dive. next thing you know, however, the captain is asking the flight attendants to prepare for landing. already? is it possible? still, you're not ready to be grateful, as the landing will shirley be disastrous.

but no, the landing is flawless, and as you taxi toward the gate, you're ecstatic. everything went according to (somebody's) plan. you take a deep breath and smile. almost simultaneously, you hear shouting. there's a disturbance behind you. people are fighting!

is it 9/11 all over again? the world goes dim, and you faint... only to learn later that the hijacking was just a flight attendant having a hissy fit and exiting the plane. down the escape slide with a couple beers in hand.

not part of the plan. and now you're traumatized in a whole new way.  

moving on, let's say you're sitting in the waiting area of a local hospital. it's quite luxurious, really, compared with, say, the rest of the world. you got your comfy chairs, your cable tv, your multiplicity of outlets powering everyone's wifi-enabled devices. hungry? there's a nice internet cafe. bon apetit.

there are so many creature comforts and distractions, it's almost possible to completely compartmentalize where you are and what might be happening just beyond the big gray door over there on the right side of the room. almost. because someone you care about is having surgery right through that door. 

and if you accidently allow yourself a stray moment of high alert~entirely appropriate given the surroundings~you remember that anything can happen the next time that door opens and someone in scrubs walks through.

it's a slow-motion moment in which you can hear yourself breathe and feel the blood moving through your veins and you experience the same feeling your ancestors did when they realized the wolf pack had caught their scent and was turning in their direction.

not part of the plan.

this is not to say that every plan goes upside down whenever the wind blows, ushering in an epoch of suffering and darkness (the bush administration notwithstanding). most plans play out just he way they're constructed, blithely unperturbed by the infinite variables whizzing past. any one of which could send the planet spiraling into the sun, but somehow doesn't. 

no, this is simply to say that as responsible as we all are, planning and forecasting and predicting with such adorable certainty...there's really no such thing. and the sooner we realize that plans A through Z have gone hilariously awry, all through history, the sooner we get to beer o'clock. metaphysically, that is.

speaking of which...


it's good to have a plan.

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Monday, August 09, 2010

this side of history

you almost have to laugh.

at a time when teabaggers and racists and hatemongers of other varying stripes are campaigning viciously against anything and everything not lily white, it turns out we're all africans.

that's right, billy're one of them coloreds.

in this context one could stipulate the "color" might be that of the sitting u.s. president, or of immigrants from anywhere but western europe, or of those marching under a rainbow banner.

but for the moment we'll stick to the science at hand, which suggests that all of humanity is descended from a population of homo sapiens, perilously close to ice age extinction, on the extreme southern tip of africa.

is it not a laugh riot? is it not a screaming outrage? is it not at least a deep (dark) shade of ironic?

take, for a moment, the long view of that premise. that all seven billion of us currently overwhelming this fragile little planet can trace our lineage back to a small band of humans hanging on by their gnawed-to-the-bone fingernails at the far end of some long-melted glacier. 

in africa. 

that means you, bobbie jill, are royalty. in that you're related to queen latifah.

how do you like you now?

despite this collective brush with greatness, some are still having trouble processing.

you there, waving the "obama, monkey see monkey spend" poster...if the harvard-educated president is a monkey, what does that make you? wait, don't answer. it's a trick question! it makes a monkey out of you, too! only more so!

and you there, stoically holding the "god hates fags" sign. setting aside the presumption that you know what god thinks, if he does hate fags, guess what? he hates you, too! whoops! boy, are you gonna look silly sharing a sauna in the gay section of hell, huh?

and hey, does this sound at all familiar? 

"We need the National Guard to clean out all our cities and round them up...They have no problem slitting your throat and taking your money or selling drugs to your kids or raping your daughters, and they are evil people."  (Chris Simcox, co-founder of the Minuteman Project and president of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps.)

hey, chris! you sound exactly like a historical figure from the last century who also thought it'd be a great idea to "round them up and clean out our cities"! any chance you're related? wait, don't answer. it's a trick question! you actually are related! ain't science grand? 

americans (like every other nationality) are a confused, conflicted people. we don't know who we are or where we come from, let alone where we're heading. but one thing we do know is that we hate the people who are trying to destroy us...and they're everywhere. most of them are muslims. and blacks. and browns. and gays. and democrats. and socialists. and teachers. and firefighters. and cops. you know, real subversives. and they all want to build a religious community center near your house.

that, as we all know, can't be allowed under any circumstances. the ground surrounding our homes is hallowed, and the building of a religious structure anywhere within a 100-mile radius is a grave insult.'s a ymca. ha ha.   

random question from a true american: "is guatemala close to greece? they both begin with G..." no, seriously.

elena kagan. nancy pelosi. harry reid. judge vaughn walker. barack hussein obama. the list goes on and on...they're not like us, you know.

well, except for the fact that they are us. literally.    

it's an african thing, bubba. turns out you would understand after all.


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Saturday, July 31, 2010

very little ado about nothing

the ipad and don't get along.

it's one of the few things an ipad won't do elegantly, conveniently, and better than anything originating in redmond, wa.

like many things in this life, however, there are workarounds. in this case, it's the ability to put up a blog post straight from email. i compose said email, send it to a specific address, and viola. instapost.

* * * * *

the excruciating, months-long implosion of the seattle mariners continues with nauseating predictability. it goes like this: the starting pitching is stellar, giving up two or three runs. the offense doesn't score at all. mariners lose.

in the alternative, the starting pitching gives up bunches of runs, but the offense accidently puts up bunches plus one. the bullpen then blows the lead in gut-wrenching walk-off fashion. mariners lose.

another, less frequent, aberration: in a riveting pitchers duel, the game goes into extra innings. seattle puts hundreds of runners in scoring position in every frame, but can't push anybody across. eventually, inevitably, mariners lose.

today, seattle ace felix hernandez gave up three runs in the first inning, then dug in and allowed nothing through the next six innings. the offense responded with familiar futility, picking up their teammate by runs. mariners lose.

somewhere in the middle of a 6-23 july, a player went berserk in the dugout and showed up the manager on national tv. the front office responded by saying...nothing. the player wasn't even reprimanded, let alone suspended. the manager, we assume, isn't long for his job.

i know: it's only excruciating if you let it be. still...damn.

* * * * *

the seafair torchlight parade made its way through downtown seattle tonight. the highlight of the evening was the seafair pirates, who glowered and waved swords and fired their cannon and said "arrrgh!" in a pirate-y way.

the crowd applauded loudly for the police, fire department, and military drill units that went by. oddly, they cheered the guys cleaning up after the horses just as loudly. no idea what to make of that. the mayor of seattle was neither cheered nor jeered as he rolled by in a red corvette. given his environmentalist credentials, he must've been conflicted about riding in a corvette. given that he's a politician, he must've felt odd about the total apathy he inspired.

* * * * *

it's late. mrs. spaceneedl is asleep on the couch. the dogs are snoozing in their various spots around the living room. the little needls are asleep, finally, after spending last night at a "lock-in" sleepover at boys and girls club...where they apparently slept not at all. not coincidently, they were surly all day today.

* * * * *

tomorrow: a walk to the village for coffee, followed by yoga, laundry, grocery shopping, and listening to new music (downloaded to the ipad) while cooking dinner.

lather, rinse, repeat as necessary.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

survivors guide to living

just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone
suzanne the plans they made put an end to you
i walked out this morning and i wrote down this song
i just can't remember who to send it to

oh, i've seen fire and i've seen rain
i've seen sunny days that i thought would never end
i've seen lonely times when i could not find a friend
but i always thought that i'd see you again

won't you look down upon me jesus
you've gotta help me make a stand
you've just got to see me through another day
my body's aching and my time is at hand
and i won't make it any other way

* * * * *
in "deep survival" laurence gonzales writes there are two kinds of people. survivors and victims.

survivors, he says, are rule breakers. they are independent in mind and spirit. in a tough situation, they do better than people who follow the rules and stick to the plan, no matter how badly the plan has gone awry.

"when a patient is told that he has six months to live, he has two choices: to accept the news and die, or to rebel and live. people who survive cancer in the face of such a diagnosis are notorious. the medical staff observes that they are 'bad patients,' unruly, troublesome. they don't follow directions. they question everything. they're annoying. they're survivors.

"the tao te ching says, 'the rigid person is a disciple of death...the soft, supple, and delicate are lovers of life.' "

boys, quite often, don't fit that last description. not on the outside, anyway.
the boy at our house is soft-hearted and emotionally susceptible, but he wants
the world to believe he's wizened and grizzled and hard-shelled.

we're willing to play along, sometimes. to that end, we recently sent him to a
week-long ymca b.o.l.d. (boys outdoor leadership development) camp in the north cascades.

the idea is to cultivate confidence through the development of wilderness survival skills, some of which might be applicable elsewhere in life. or to just hike around and do some fishing outside the city. whichever.

the boy came back complaining bitterly about a week of privation and forced marches and giant mosquitos and an epic failure, fish-catching-wise. and yet on his return, he was inexplicably exhuberant, as if he'd passed a great test of pre-adolescenthood.

there's no telling what of any long-term value he may have internalized, but maybe he picked up one insight that'll help turn him into a survivor.

maybe somewhere down the road he'll stop and think, "you know, when i went in the lake with my boots on, my feet got wet and stayed that way for two days. that experience taught me that it may not be a good idea to pee on this electric fence, or to pet this pit bull, or to get in this car with my drunk friend."

all we can do is put him in position to learn, and hope for the best.

* * * * *

my friend kary was a survivor. life handed her a raw deal several months ago, but instead of accepting the bad news, she stood and fought.

she endured chemo and bone marrow biopsies and seizures. she ignored an indifferent doctor who told her she had a week to live, and lived on. she kicked a dangerous lung infection so she could undergo a bone marrow transplant, which was cause for much hope.

but acute myelogenous leukemia is a bitch of a disease, and eventually it fought kary to a draw. life's rulebook tells us that in case of a tie, death wins. but kary never gave up, never let the specter change who she was. she showed us what it means to be a survivor instead of a victim.

since no one gets out alive, that's about the best example any of us can set.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

at sea

several years ago i fell in love with a painting.

(which is something i hardly ever do.)

it's a riot of blue in a spray of hues and textures. the color explodes off the canvas like a serene bay befrenzied by a hurricane. the eye is frantically led across the scene, top to bottom, corner to corner, but never finds a safe place to land. the patterns we all instinctively seek to help us make sense of our world are nowhere to be found. the chaos is as profound as the very human need to either organize it or escape it.

to that end, in the midst of the bedlam, my eye sees the suggestion of a sail. there's no encouragement that the ship it might be attached to will find its way to safety... just an inkling that such a thing might be possible.

the painting was created by a friend who was going through a difficult time, and to me it exudes the powerful emotions she might have been feeling. i was mesmerized the first time i saw it, so much so that i offered to buy it. (purchasing art -- something else i hardly ever do.) i think eventually i might've offered two or three times, but she wasn't ready to part with it.

flash forward several years to a couple weeks ago, when this note came from my friend...

"So, I have been thinking for the last week and a half that I need to ship the blue painting to you. It's been really strange -- a really strong feeling that I should give it to you. So, dammit, I am. :-)"

i will tell you i stared at those words for a long time, trying to paste together a narrative, a logical explanation for why they came when they did. sitting here tonight, i still can't do it. because the timing coincided with the waning days of another friend who was transitioning through the last stages of leukemia.

she died the day before the message arrived.

i have no idea what metaphysical forces swirl around us. i can't say, "i was feeling pain for a friend, and another friend on the other side of the country came along at exactly the right time to pick me up in a way that defies rational thought."

i don't know what any of this says about anything. but knowing how much i don't know...i'm willing to go with the flow.

and to be grateful for friends, across time, and in the face of the unknowable.

* * * * *

the painting arrived at our house yesterday. it's as beautiful and moving as i remembered it. thank you, maggie.

* * * * *

for kary and frederica

Friday, July 09, 2010

anadarko stormy night

so i'm sitting here looking out the window at a hummingbird.

it hovers, moves in for some breakfast, backs out, takes another look, goes back in. and so on.

and i'm thinking, "what an amazing and startling and beautiful adaptation. fast yet maneuverable. delicate and absurdly strong. nature does some nice work, doesn't she?"

and then i think, "wouldn't it be neat to dump a couple barrels of oil on that hummingbird? and all the flowers in our yard, while we're at it? after that, we could set the whole scene on fire."

that would be fun.

if you're BP. or halliburton. or the aptly named anadarko. they love that kind of spirit-obliterating overkill. why dump one barrel of oil on a hummingbird when you can dump two?

or two billion?

i'd be a little vexed, however, if hell's oil hounds wouldn't at least let us take a few photos of our newly and gloriously besludged homestead while it was still smoldering. i mean, if you're going to go to all the trouble of despoiling and defiling and de-lifing an ecosystem, no matter how large or small, why not take a little pride in your work?

inexplicably, that's what's happening on the gulf coast. anadarko (one of the hosts of the gala in the gulf) is scuttling away from its friends like a crab off a rotting sea turtle. they're refusing to help pay for damages, insisting BP is the reason for the goo-covered season.

BP says it is disappointed by the announcement and will evaluate its options about what to do next. "They have failed to live up to their obligations," BP spokesman Mark Salt said in a statement.
if you can see the incongruity of BP scolding anyone for failing to live up to obligations, perhaps you can appreciate the irony of sending Salt to bemoan BP's wounds.

but back to the hummingbird.

you know what'd be really fun? if the bird fought back. not in a global warming kind of way, which is gradual and imperceptible and totally unsatisfactory, justice-wise.

but in a "carrie" kind of way, in which nature, drenched and demeaned and debauched one time too many, just. plain. snaps.

in our little dramedy, we'd cut to wide shots of countless deepwater oil rigs all over the globe. without fanfare, all of them are sucked down in violent whirlpools, disappearing without a trace.

next, we'd cut to mid-shots of oil executives, sitting in obscenely plush board rooms, sipping black pearl brandy, laughing about "the little people." they spontaneously combust (the brandy, however, is spared).

at this point, we cut to a long shot of a massive sandstorm enveloping the athabasca oil sands. the project sign is broken off and comes to rest on top of a dune. the project itself is buried, impenetrably, forever.

the music builds as we see a horrifying, extreme close-up of dick cheney. his face gets increasingly red as he reads rolling online reports of the demise of his favorite hobby (after war profiteering and torture). his head explodes.

outside cheney's window a hummingbird appears, hovers briefly, then turns and flies away, toward a panoramic wide shot of the wyoming mountains at sunset.

dissolve to a medium close-up of the hummingbird, accompanied by the sound of a symphony of strings, flying high over the earth, surveying the beginnings of the healing.

fade to a clean, gauzy white.

the end.

* * * * *

yes, the fantasy would be fun. a lot more fun than the reality we're getting instead.

apropos nothing, this evening i saw an eagle flying low over our neighborhood.

* * * * *

h/t to pete wung for the atlantic link.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

knee jerk

a year ago i was young for my age.

now i'm old for my years.

my, how time flies when it's artificially accelerated.

it was a year ago, see, that i tore my ACL, which led to a couple surgeries, which led to a dramatic change in lifestyle.

weights and basketball and general knuckleheadedness have been replaced by walks and yoga and a bosu trainer. the knuckleheadedness remains constant.

the 9 to 5 desk has been replaced by a sit-stand work station, at which i never sit. I no longer own a pair of basketball shoes. and my clothes have been replaced by the wardrobe of someone significantly less corpulent than i.

the upside, however, is that my knee is now a more dependable predictor of rain than the weather channel.

I think the changes were long overdue, and will be to my benefit for the long haul.

but I miss the old normal.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

iown. ilike.

i've never been a gadget guy.

i've never felt the need to be the first on the block to own the latest widget.

that said, i'm prepared to be insufferably pleased with my new ipad.

it was a birthday/father's day/pick a holiday gift, and i'm typing on it right.this.second.

standing here on the end of technology's diving board, with billions of life-enhancing apps a short download away, i have just a whisper of remorse about this amazing toy: i wish the geniuses at apple had named it something else.

"ipad" sounds like a feminine hygiene product.

they could've gone with itablet or islate or irobot. something. anything. ipad? you can't tell me the focus groups were excited about that one.

but iquibble. the folks in cupertino got so much else right. the unpleasantness with adobe notwithstanding, of course. and the unfortunate lack of USB connectivity. and the strange absence of a web camera.

besides that, i mean.

first task at hand: getting off the work computer.

the thing's a piece of PC junk. compared to an apple product, it's awkward and inelegant and uninspiring. not to mention the fact it doesn't belong to me. that makes it a bad place for vacation photos, the music library and other nonwork stuff.

once that transmogrification is done, there's lots of exploring to do. i'm not big on user's manuals, but then again the ipad doesn't have one. not an old-media version, anyway. so i guess i'll just have to dive in and swim around awhile.

what will it do? is there an app for yoga and wine and travel and novel-writing and boat-buying? sure there is. i just have to go find it.

what won't it do? tsk, silly question. it'll do anything clever people can imagine. if developers were into such things, it'd probably cap the deepwater horizon well, clean up the gulf, and convert the world to a rainbows and faeries-based power supply.

it'd cure cancer, locate missing children and put the 'yes we can' back into barack obama.

it'd find god, ask her if she has any good app suggestions, and implement them with a couple subtle improvements.

it might even bring summer to the pacific northwest. nah, let's not get crazy here.

sidebar: it just occurred to me that the spaceneedl family is getting all appled up. between us, in the last year or so we have acquired a macbook pro, an iphone, an ipod touch, a nano, a shuffle and this ipad. it happened over time, so gradually that we didn't even notice.

but here we are. it's an apple world. and we're living in it. what happens now?

no, don't tell me.

like this new device, let it be a pleasant surprise.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

whatever. write.

"write drunk, edit sober."

--ernest hemingway

the thing about writing is, there's never a lack of subject matter.

sometimes there's too much.

at such times, the brain can fail to process the wealth of options. the keys can stop working. the words get stuck and scrambled.

this is one of those times.

i can trace this trend back about three weeks to the spaceneedl family gathering in the arizona desert. one, there was no wi-fi where we were staying. so two, i didn't bring my computer with me. and three, it was an emotionally charged series of days that i still haven't sorted out.

in no particular order there was a wedding, relatives who hadn't seen each other in years, a 50th anniversary celebration for my parents, and a vigil for my father-in-law's cat, which was on its last legs.

on the upside, we did get to fly there and back in first class. the wine, while not good, was free.

the following week, i was off to san francisco, for a string of days with colleagues and several thousand of my closest urology friends. and by "friends" i mean people i've never seen before and whom i don't expect to remember even if i see them again.

those kind of friends.

while there, as previously reported, one of our cats died.

despite that, or perhaps because of it, i was overserved some excellent wine during the evening events. a bunch of us climbed california street to the tonga room at the fairmont hotel. think tiki bar meets 80s cover band. i rode a cable car for the first time ever (despite having once lived in san francisco). and we wandered, wide-eyed, through the california academy of science. the exhibits were interesting, but nearly overshadowed by the open bar, the heavy hors d'oeuvres, the cirque du soleil performers, and the tim burtonesque characters from alice in wonderland.

turns out, those urologists really know how to party.

last week there was the camp experience. about it, i tweeted thusly:

chaperoning 6th graders at camp sealth. think 'lord of the flies' in heavy rain.

getting eight sixth grade boys to work up a camp skit? sure, no problem.

sixth grade camp, day two. oh, look,'s raining. again.

camp, day three. let's take a look out the weather window where it's...raining. for a change.
those observations don't entirely sum up camp. in between the tweets there was the dangerously failed archery debacle, the utterly unchallenging challenge course, soggy s'mores by the smoky campfire, and KP in the mess hall on spaghetti night. and lest we forget, ants in the beds.

there was no alcohol at camp, for a number of very good reasons. so while everyone got soaked, the adults dried out. isn't it ironic...

random rhetorical question: if the technology had existed, would hemingway have tweeted?

nevermind. stupid rhetorical question.

through these many days of joy and sorrow and celebration and melancholy and laughter and reflection and too much wine and not enough wine, i notice that i wrote nary a word about any of it.

it wasn't for lack of content, so it must've been something else.

i have no idea what.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

olivia, adieu

hold on, hold on to yourself
this is gonna hurt like hell

hold on, hold on to yourself
you know that only time will tell

--sarah mclachlan

olivia died this past weekend.

we don't even know why.

she was only eight years old or so, still young for a cat.

so we were prepared to go too far, spend too much, to get her healthy again. we've done it before, for the big dogs, and we were ready to do it again.

but we never got the chance.

she died overnight, at the emergency vet clinic, and we found out the next morning.

the children were sad that next day, but they seem to have gotten over it. the missus and i, however, unlearned long ago how to let go so easily.

it's not that there's a lack of life in the house. we have an abundance of the two-legged and four-legged variety.

it's that olivia was part of the fabric of that life. it's that she had a well-defined place amongst us, a vital space that is gone empty.

it's that we expected her to fill that space for many years to come.

and it's that i didn't even get the chance to say goodbye.