Tag Archives: anecdote

Notes on bad posture (symbol much)

I have a bad stance. I stand, walk and sleep with my feet pointed out. It’s always bothered me, but only mentally. I suspect it’s why I’ve never been much of a runner. It never hurt, however, nor derailed my skiing and skating. I thus never got serious about stretching the tight butt muscles that cause this splaying.
Now in my advancing years, I walk night hallways to soothe my infant son. My knees click. They click less if I point my toes straight. I can force that to happen, but for it to be natural I have a lot of stretching ahead of me, both in discrete sessions and in changing my postures of habit (goodbye cross-legged sitting).
The other day my dad came to visit. As I sat, he corrected me sharply, as only a parent-surgeon can. “Why sit sideways like that? You’ll hyperextend your knee.” He started naming ligaments. I just tuned out and shifted in my seat.
Later, as I forced myself along another oddly straight night walk, I considered the moment. I do often sit so one leg lies sideways across the chair, with my other leg over it. Had I ever thought about it, I might have called it my reaction to a world too short for me, like my leaning back on the rear legs of chairs. Now I see another adaptation to my bad stance — muscles so out of balance that it is more natural to sit like the Tarot’s Hanged Man.
This is a little story but for me an instructive one. Things that seem unrelated or rooted in different causes turn out to be the same buried problem, layered over and accomodated like a tree growing around a fencepost, creating all kinds of distortions. My last few years have involved re-seeing much of my life in this way, an unpleasant and humbling process but one for the long-term good. If nothing else, my knees should make it a bit longer. Perhaps I along with them.
Also, perhaps, another instruction: that the world is full of good advice and it comes out when one needs it, but it takes a modest attitude to hear it all.

Hire the quirky!

David Brooks’s recent plea to our nation’s employers struck me deeply, resonating with both my personal history and my professional experience.
Not that I want you to skip the column, but in case you’re pressed, Brooks asks our nation’s employers to seek new hires who are more passionate than perfect, who are singular and irregular not conventionally well-rounded — not only for the health of their own companies, as counter-intuitive as that may seem, but for the health of our nation.
I despair at his reception. The disincentives are too powerful. No one who vets resumes is encouraged to seek the quirky; and if the quirky fail, few will question how the institution might have helped them succeed — blame is faster and easier. And, let’s admit, many jobs have nothing in them that appeals to restless creative intellects, save payment and the promise of something “down the road” — and are usually managed by people who themselves found that promise to be a mirage.
But still, it might happen. I share a professional anecdote, adding my small breath of wind to Brooks’s great sails.
In 1999, AOL’s Hong Kong office could not manage to find a graphic designer, and it was affecting our production schedule. When we finally confronted the HR people, face to face (a lesson in itself, about the limits of email), they explained there was a policy that everyone hired as the head of a department had to have several years’ experience.  Continue reading

Escaping Real Life (cosmic Shawshank edition)

Fifteen years ago, a couple of pipes of marijuana and the first Hubble Deep Field printed in Scientific American inspired me to write a little fable, of civilizations trying to communicate between galaxies by making stars go supernova in patterns. Never mind the consequences for whatever happened to be orbiting those stars, never mind that the initiating civilization might die out before anyone else saw or answered the message. To communicate with faith was the point, and, as I wrote, “Maybe, someday, there will even be something to say.”
I never did anything with the story — though reciting it over a lunch date, also with weed and cheap wine too, did score me a nooner in a suburban playground with this wild brunette from Legal. Anyway. I digress. I was trying to complain.
The past few months have been a time that mired me In, as nerds used to say, Real Life. Note that word “mired” – if you were my therapist you’d ask for more about that. It’s been a taxing few months, with a lot of hassles and family issues too. Still, most people whose houses get into Wall Street Journal don’t feel “mired.” Bad form even to say it, really, a level of rude kill-jollity much like wearing a Morlock mask to an Eloi holiday party.
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Tinkerers and the Tea Party

Recently on Slashdot I read a thread about how 3-D printing — the technology of making an object layer by layer, as opposed to carving it out of a block of matter or forming it in a mold — is limited by the difficulty-of-use of 3-D design software. As threads on Slashdot do, it quickly became a forum for all kinds of venting and debate. One especially nerdy (and I mean that as a compliment) rebuttal explained a system for recreating sheet-metal parts in software, as a way of showing how “easy” it is to digitize a flat object like a gasket.
I suppose if I described exactly how to build my garage shelving out of 2x4s and plywood it would be even longer, but most people will read that post and be glad they have a hardware store to run to when their garden hose is dripping.
Tinkerers persist in society despite the vast system of production and shipping that we humans have created. This is of course usually seen as a blessing — where would we find innovation if not for such people — but the people doing this seeing are often faux-wistful columnists who would not at all be happy if they had to design their gaskets, or even their paper clips, from scratch. Continue reading

Nobody knows anything (Boston Marathon bombing)

It’s weird to post a long-mulled-over essay about potential violence in America only to find one’s social page filled up with actual violence. I already put a stake in this ground but I’m not crediting myself with any foresight. Nobody knows anything, except for the investigators. It’s tempting to guess, but stupid.
After the Oklahoma City bombing, the initial guessing on US news was that it was the work of Islamic extremists. Only three years earlier, followers of the “Blind Sheik” Omar Abdel Rahman had tried to destroy the World Trade Center with car bombs.
The night of the bombing I was with a friend, switching news channels along with most of America. At one point when she left the room, I added Univision to my rotation. I admit I was unsure of my Spanish when a University of California professor suggested it might be the work of Americans disaffected with their government.
It was days before I heard the same on Anglo media. Nobody knows anything.
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My need to invent (shout out to Bottled Worder)

I had a very hard week last week in my family life — mid-40s fertility has highs and also lows, and let us leave it at that — and I was not taking it well. I tried to write about it but I couldn’t. Not from any objection to over-sharing with the relative strangers who follow me (I read Ellison in my youth, and then Genet; I can over-share in my sleep) nor from any special reverence for the sacred bummer of all things involved with making new life.
I am simply foundering on the effort to be self-centered.
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I met the President for fifteen seconds

So, obviously, it’s a photo-op at a fundraiser.
Two hundred people line up in a U, along the walls of a largish beige hotel conference room. Our bags and purses taken away. No bar. Still there’s a buzz. A third of the room is hidden by navy blue sheets on movable barriers, like privacy curtains from old hospital wards. Behind them, the President of the United States. The President. How often does one meet the President? And he’s waiting to meet us!
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Buying a Philip K Dick book (almost totally true)

Friday night after my son went to sleep, I walked up to Dupont Circle, to buy a Philip K Dick book as a birthday present for my friend V___. I gave her a copy of my novel too. It’s a rash and adolescent thing, to include one’s own writing along with Philip K Dick’s, but I did. Got punished in advance.
It was a warm summer night and I was dressed sloppily, shorts and mocs and a black T-shirt with a Triumph car logo over a Union Jack.
As I crossed P Street, a brown-haired white man blocked my path, clipboard in hand. This happens weekly. Greenpeace, Planned Parenthood, US PIRG, Human Rights Campaign, all panhandling for virtue. But, I stopped.
“Excuse me,” the man asked, “but do you know where I can find an optometrist that is open twenty-four-seven?”
I looked him over. Isthmi of sweat on his black polo shirt. Gray jersey sweatpants in this heat. No non-profit badge. Crazy? Tourist?
“No,” I said. “We’re too liberal for a Wal-Mart around here. There’s an excellent hospital just a few blocks –”
“Yes, but I need an — I need, you know –”
“An eye doctor?”
“Yes!” he said, entirely too relieved that I understood him. Then the design on my T-shirt completely absorbed his attention. “Excuse me, but are you British?”
“No-oo. If you need a hospital, go down to 23nd Street and left five blocks –”
“But would they have any way of treating synethesia?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Drugs, maybe? I need to go –”
“Oh but thank you!” he said. “I really feel you helped me out. Is there some way I can recompense you? I don’t have –”
“It’s fine,” I said. “Just pay it forward.”
“Oh! Well. You know, I wish I could but I don’t have a sixth sense or anything?”
Ha. The Sixth Sense and Pay It Forward both starred actor Haley Joel Osment. ‘Method in it’ maybe, but I take the baby monitor after ten PM, and no one wants to be some sweaty loon’s Polonius. I walked away.
He shouted after me. “Don’t you think there should be seven senses, at least? Like, one of humor?”
One day non-profits will attack street performers for pissing off the bleeding hearts with schtick. Andy Kaufman was lucky to go first.
The bookstore was big and bright. I had hoped to buy my friend V___ a copy of Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, about an alien con man using a virtual-reality hallucinogenic chewing gum to become a messianic cancer. (Read it before you buy your wife a genetic upgrade.) Alas the only version in stock was one of four novels, in a staid black shrinkwrapped hardbound Library of America edition.
Doubly problematic. As a gift, one novel is thoughtful, four is peremptory. As a giver — OK, bear with me. I collected Philip K Dick books in my high-school days, long before he became respectable. I searched out all his yellowed paperbacks in any used bookstore I could find across America and Europe, less to own the complete set than to read his every fevered word. I am very glad he is being preserved for everyone on acid-free paper now, but for me, a Philip K Dick book without a luridly-colored cover misses an essential part of the experience, like an espresso in a sippy cup.
Of the others, the best choices were VALIS and The Man in the High Castle. I read pages of each. Both are gnostic texts, separated by two decades, showing Dick’s progress from a writer obsessed with the hidden to an ecstatic to whom truth was revealed. In The Man in the High Castle the Axis won World War Two, but one writer uses the I Ching to discover his world is a false one. VALIS is a thinly-veiled fiction of the visions Dick endured in the 1970s, which (after diagnosing his son’s inguinal hernia, which doctors missed) revealed a veil of false time had been drawn over humankind since the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 72 AD/CE, keeping us from the return of the Messiah.
I went with VALIS, mainly because it’s a more desperate novel, and also because it had a Roberto Bolaño blurb which would speak better to V___.
On my way out I saw the guy with the clipboard, heading to the children’s section, talking to a bookstore staffer. He spoke with a British accent now.
Some books just leak crazy, irrespective of space and time. An essential part of the experience. I walked home wishing what I’ve wished since childhood, that I could write half as well as Philip K Dick did without suffering quite so much. I worry that I can’t. I worry that I already have and missed it.