Tuesday, January 10, 2023

A Different Christmas Present

Christmas was different this year.  Our home is finally an empty nest, our younger daughter having graduated from college and moved West to the same town where her sister lives. Last year we traveled there, a long drive with bad weather on the drive home.  Why not meet somewhere a bit further south?  We chose Moab, Utah.  We booked a single room that sleeps six---the first place I've seen with queen-sized bunk beds---and met our daughters and their men there.  We had a great time hiking, exploring, and soaking in the outdoor hot tub.  

But that is not what this is about.  Instead, it's about the present I received.

But first, a bit of family history.

Back in 1992, I was a bachelor teaching geology at the University of New Orleans.  My mom still lived in Walnut Cove, NC, in the house I grew up in, and I planned to visit her for the holidays. Mom was always generous with presents, but I knew of nothing in particular that I needed.  So I sent mom a list of 10 questions and asked her to answer them as my present.  I started with "What was life like when you were a little girl?"

My mom, Ina Easley.

Mom bought a journal, answered the questions, and included some photos like the one above.

My daughters have seen the journal and heard me talk about it, a prized possession.  And Anderson Copper's podcast about grief that he started when cleaning out his mom's apartment after she died stimulated me to revisit and digitize it.  It's available here.

 This year, they decided to do something similar.

Ananda and Tess bought a journal and wrote early and good memories of their time with me while growing up.  Then they gave me a list of questions to answer, which I'm currently working on.


Thursday, December 8, 2022

Jaeger

 Meet Jaeger, the seven-week-old border-collie puppy we're adopting.


If you read the previous post, you know that my longtime pal, Harold, passed away recently. I had good intentions of waiting until after Christmas to adopt another dog.   But I made a bad mistake---I looked online at dogs available for adoption.  The first couple of stabs at adoption ended in disappointment, but one last look yielded a new posting---border collie puppies.  I've owned both a pureblood border collie and a border-collie mix previously.  Wonderful dogs, though if you don't exercise them, they will eat your house.  I'm willing to work with Jaeger.

Having a dog and walking it each morning has been part of my routine for years, and it has definitely helped my physical and mental health.  Those dogs have lived with me, been part of my family, and helped raise my daughters.  But I didn't always see dogs that way.

I grew up in the country at a time when dogs were not house pets. All through the surrounding South, you could see dogs hooked on chains, tied to trees and posts in the yard. Somehow Dixie, our bitch, still decided to have pups. We kept two from the litter, Beauregard and Ulysses, the latter named by a friend who didn’t know better.  I remember letting the dogs off their chains to run free, roaming the hollers and streams. I also remember coming home and Dad saying Ulysses had been run over. 

Beauregard was a coon dog—black, brown, bits of white. He was powerful, with a deep voice that carried for miles. He was bred for chasing a raccoon in the dark for miles, treeing it, then baying for someone to come shoot it.

What I don’t like to remember is the years after I left home—Mom and Beauregard alone in the country, Beauregard always hooked to his chain, day after day, seldom making a sound.

I can't undo my treatment of Beauregard.  I can only plead youth and ignorance. But I've learned to do better, and making a dog a part of my life has radically enriched it.  Life is so much better with a dog around.


Thursday, December 1, 2022

Harold

This morning at 8:30 a.m. my dog of more than a decade died.  I was on the phone at the time with my older daughter, Ananda, now living in Idaho, who grew up with Harold.  She said that she never understood how people could grieve so much over the death of a pet until now.

Harold shortly before his death.

Knowing how to grieve was not something I've modeled well as a parent. From my own mother, I learned that the way to deal with death was to stay busy, take care of practical things, bring food, or clean.  So when my own mother died, I took care of the burial details, cleaned out the house, and wrote the thank-you notes... but didn't really share any sorrow with my daughters or wife.

I've finally begun to recognize that grieving is necessary before moving on.

Recently, I've been listening to Anderson Cooper's podcast on grief plus reading The Wild Edge of Sorrow, recommended to me by a good friend who is a psychotherapist.  These have been useful follow-ups to two books on transition by William Bridges.  

We've all heard the stories of the woman who finally leaves her alcoholic husband only to follow with another alcoholic husband.  It doesn't seem to make sense.

But it does.

Bridges says, "We resist transition not because we can't accept the change, but because we can't accept letting go of that piece of ourselves that we have to give up when and because the situation has changed."

That explains that wherever the many places in the world I've been, there I was.  All the baggage of my emotional life got dragged with me.  I was changing location but not changing myself.

But today was a bit different.  My daughter and I cried together for our lost friend.

James Kavanaugh said, "Our sadness is as much a part of our lives as is our laughter.  To share our sadness with one we love is perhaps as great a joy as we can know–unless it be to share our laughter."



Tuesday, October 25, 2022

The Kickstand and Hot Asphalt

Divot in Asphalt
The divot in the asphalt in front of my home.

I parked my motorcycle on the street on a hot day last summer. I'd read about the issue of asphalt getting soft with the heat but hadn't given it much thought until I came out a short while later and saw how far the kickstand had sunk in.   I'm lucky the motorcycle didn't fall over.

 

Friday, October 21, 2022

Why I Chose the Honda Africa Twin ADV ES DCT

In front of my house when I returned from my trip West.

For Christmas, 2021, we headed to Pocatello, Idaho, where my older daughter, Ananda, is living.   After the 20-hour drive, my hip was so locked up that I could hardly walk. Ananda is a mental-health counselor but also is a certified athletic trainer, so she took me to a nearby gym to improve both my mood and my hip.  For years, I hadn't stood in shorts in front of a full-length mirror, but she had me watch my form as we lifted weights.  What I saw instead was that my left leg was substantially less muscular than my right.

As did many people, during Covid I sat too much, often with poor posture and legs crossed.  Stiff when I would stand, I no doubt favored my one leg when I exerted myself, such as walking up steps.  I began to feel that my left leg was shorter than my right.  And it was definitely weaker.  Continuing to favor it simply amplified the imbalance.

When I returned from Pocatello, I finally went to see my doctor.  After examining me and sending me for x-rays, his first comment was, "We could do hip surgery."  Not what I wanted to hear.  So I started physical therapy and joined the Y.  Unfortunately, after a couple of PT sessions, the therapist really had nothing new to suggest that I wasn't already doing at the Y, so I stopped going.  A while later, I decided to give a chiropractor a try.  The practice has evolved considerably since its early pseudoscience origins, and like in many fields, a lot depends on the individual professional.  I was lucky to find a chiropractor who listened, took my concerns seriously, and really helped reduce the pain.  He gave me exercises and stretches to do and, more importantly, he gave me hope that if I put in the time and effort, I could overcome my problem.

One of the key motivations at the time was that my sabbatical application was already approved most of the way through the process, and a key part was my motorcycle trip out west.  But I could hardly throw my leg over the seat, hold up the motorcycle I had at the time, nor ride long without severe hand cramps.  How could I possibly ride 5000 miles, climb off and on the motorcycle, climb in and out of my one-person tent, and go hiking?  

I got to work.  Slow, sustained stretching helped the most.  Learning to release the tension on my psoas muscle was life-changing.  And building muscle in the left leg then began.  

But I was still anxious about a long trip on the motorcycle.  That's when I decided to get the Africa Twin.  It made the trip possible:
  • Heated hand-grips and cruise-control combined to eliminate most of the cramping in my hands.
  • The DCT eliminated the clutch and the need to shift with my left foot (on my weak side.)  I'd had a Honda with DCT previously, and I loved it.
But the Africa Twin is an adventure bike---tall and relatively heavy compared to my previous motorcycles.  I dropped it twice before I headed out west, snapping off the front-brake lever and damaging the grip guard.  I was getting pretty anxious---had I bought too much bike for me to manage?

So I got to work.  I began regularly going to a parking lot to do slow-speed turns and figure-8s. Stopping and starting.  Like those of many riders, my falls had all occurred at slow speeds---stops or starts.  I watched videos, read online, and talked to other riders.  

The key to the DCT is this:  It will slip the clutch for you if you apply a bit of throttle at the same time as applying rear brake. You can creep along, barely moving---and not falling.

I grew more hopeful.  I did an overnight camping trip into Wisconsin---successfully---a chance to try out camping gear on the motorcycle.  Finally, I felt ready to go.

I headed West.  And dropped the bike twice!  Both times were a few feet from where I'd parked it to camp, starting up on uneven gravel, both times more embarrassing than hurtful, though I once again snapped the brake lever.  In hindsight, I was hesitant, not confident of my skills on gravel, and I paid for it.  So  I watched some more videos and kept practicing.  I rode dozens of miles on gravel. I chanted "Power to the rear wheel" to myself as I started off.  And I got better.

To my students, this may all seem irrelevant, but it's not.  1) Part of getting better is having hope that if you apply yourself, you can indeed get better.  2) There are tools that can help.  Find them and use them. 3) Practice builds confidence.  4) You'll probably fail/fall sometimes, get a blow to your confidence, and wonder if you can succeed.  5)  Get help, and keep practicing.  6) Finally, in the long run, you are the one who defines what success looks like.  I made the trip.  I had to stop every hour or so and stretch my hips and hands, but then I climbed back on and rode some more.  And it was beautiful.

 

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Overcoming Writer's Block

 


Nothing is more clear than that every plot, worth the name, must be elaborated to its dénouement [ending] before anything be attempted with the pen. It is only with the dénouement constantly in view that we can give a plot its indispensable air of consequence, or causation, by making the incidents, and especially the tone at all points, tend to the development of the intention.

Edgar Allen Poe

Or, more simply, begin with the end in mind.  

Great advice---if you know the ending!  I don't.  That's why I'm stuck right now.  I am at a point in my life where soon my identity as a teacher must change.  I headed West in large part escaping the unhappiness that comes from feeling like I'm drifting, just going through the motions.  Lest I sound ungrateful, I want to make clear that there have been some tremendous bright spots, especially bright given that they occurred during the time of Covid.  But even those often related to my identity as teacher.  And with my retirement in a couple of years, that's what's changing.  So how can I write with an ending in mind?  

For me, writing has more often been an act of discovery (or therapy.)  Throw up in the morning; clean up in the afternoon.  Be happy if there are a few solid chunks of prose or ideas that you can use later.  (Okay, I admit to pushing that metaphor too far.)  

So I'll keep writing each day.  Part of getting through a transition is being with the discomfort and not rushing nor avoiding it.  We all know the stories of someone married to an alcoholic who finally gets free of the marriage only to jump into another relationship with an alcoholic.  But more of us are personally experienced with avoidance---endless scrolling on our phones, one more beer or cup of coffee, even resorting to cleaning the house and washing dishes.  We may discover a few new dustballs under the bed but that won't get us closer to the dénouement.

Okay.  Back to writing.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

2022 Motorcycle Trip West

 On August 6th, my elder daughter, Ananda, married, and a week later I headed west, traveling 5177 miles in 6.5 weeks, camping much of the time, carrying 1 pair of long pants, 1 pair of shorts, a swimsuit, and multiple layers, given that temperatures varied from 104 degrees when I arrived at the Badlands to near freezing near the Canadian border outside Glacier National Park.  Photos from the trip are [here.]

Yellowstone Lake, in the background, is where I later stopped for lunch.