Tag Archives: too much time on my hands

Hamlard

poutine

Poutine or not poutine?
That is the question.
Whether ‘tis Canada-er in the dish
To suffer the pangs and harrows
of unpototatoed beer
Or to take curds against a sea of gravy
And then potatoes, eat them. To eat, to weep—
No more; and by a weep to say we cry
The tears and thousand natural joys
That fat is heir to. ‘Tis a consommé-tion
Devoutly to be wished. To cry, to weep—
To weep, perchance to seam—aye, there’s the pub,
For in that weep of joy, what seams may burst
When we have shoveled down this aortal clog,
Must give us pause. There’s the diet
That makes insanity of so large meal:
For who would bear the chips and dips of blah,
The suppressor’s tong, the dietitians veggie sticks
The pangs of uneaten food, the line’s delay,
The impotence of whiskey, and the turns
That drunken merit of the caloric takes,
When she herself might her poutine make
With a raw potato? Who would these smoothies bear
To nom and snarf under a brew’ry light
But that the dread of something after food,
The undigested grease, from whose toilet
No diner returns, puzzles the gut,
And makes us rather bear the salad we have
Than to stuff our faces with crap we know not of.
Thus conscience does make dieters of us all
And thus the native hue of gravy-ation
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of curd,
And enterprises of great fry and flavor
With this regard their nomness turns a fry,
And lose the name of dinner.

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That Time of Year

Last night I pulled out all of my Christmas movies…and then I watched Dead Man Walking. It wasn’t intended as a comment on the holiday season, but feel free to interpret it that way.

It’s 71 and cloudy here in sunshiny Florida. I’ve already eaten all of my Thanksgiving leftovers—turkey, gravy, stuffing, sweet potato casserole, roasted Brussels sprouts, cranberry “salad” (the Southern use of the word, i.e. jello and whipped cream) and cranberry sauce. I expected all that to last longer than 24 hours.

Yesterday I spent a blissful few hours on the beach, barefoot in a hoodie and shorts, reading a prison memoir.

Today I watch variations on a theme: people hitting each other. Which is a good complement to trying to do a Jackson Pollock puzzle.

Tomorrow is NPR and football, PJs all day. My favorite.

Feels like the roller coaster is cresting the hill.

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A Prayer for the Unprincipled

bridge

What am I aiming for here?

What’s a good balance between ambition and contentment? Self-service and social outreach?

Is balance best? Or full-throated zeal?

Is it better to be a doctor or a hippie? Do I need more academic achievements? Professional accolades? Should I have seen more sunrises? Should I have spent more time communing with nature? In classrooms? Pressing superiors for money? Fighting for more opportunities? Glad-handing? Networking? Meditating? Helping people? Helping myself?

Should I focus on getting better at writing? Hockey? Soccer? Should I be healthier? Should I read more books? Should I try to be the best at the things with which I’m already so familiar? Or should I table my established talents and focus on doing new things with all the inefficiency of the inexperienced? Is it good to do what you’re good at? Or cowardly?

Is it a source of pride to be at the same company for a long time, or does that signal a lack of exploration? Is this commitment or stagnation? Do I need to achieve more or enjoy more? Should I enjoy achieving? Should I try to achieve enjoyment?

Do I need to find ways to be content with stillness? Or is it admirable drive that pushes me in quiet moments?

Are discomfort, fear and misery things to be pushed through? Or steered around? Is it healthy self-awareness to allow myself a breather? Give myself a break? Let myself off the hook? Or am I only allowing my flaws to flourish?

How much self-flagellation before I’m permitted to move on from today’s mistakes? Yesterday’s?

If we achieve nothing, how many points do we get for trying? Do the points matter?

Should I ignore the critics, the naysayers, the haters? Or should I at least consider their points for validity and guidance?

If I long for people, have I failed at independence? If I’m self-sufficient, am I denying company? If I’m supposed to be self-guided, do I ignore other people’s praise? Their desires? Their love?

Do I idolize the adventurer? The entrepreneur? The good neighbor? The fearless change-agent? The patient mother? The comedian? The drug-addled genius? Do I idolize the person who idolizes no one?

Should I dance with abandon or practice admirable self-restraint? Should I live for this moment or construct a future?

Do we revere the widely admired? Or the rebellious? Should reverence even be a factor? Does it matter who’s reverent and who’s being rebelled against?

Is adhering to your principles better than realizing you’re wrong?

What should I do right now? Tomorrow? Next week?

Should I embrace my nature or triumph over it?

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The Year in Books

“It is a lovely oddity of human nature that a person is more inclined to interrupt two people in conversation than one person alone with a book.”–Rules of Civility

I didn’t want to do another retrospective of the Year of the Blah (which I’m celebrating/eulogizing/hoping to incinerate with a trip to San Diego in a couple days). So instead I give you a rundown of the books I’ve read since establishing the Banana Bunker by the Beach Fortress of Solitude out here. (Subject to editing if I realize I’ve forgotten anything.)

In estimated chronological order of reading:

El Sicario: A real life former enforcer for a Mexican drug cartel tells the story of his career, complete with details from the writer about how careful the guy was in setting up meetings and disguising his identity now that he’s out of the game.

These sicko subculture obsessions of mine, I’m learning, aren’t best served in book form. A good longform binge is great; I enjoy the books, too, but chapter after chapter, day after day, they don’t deliver the same kind of binge-worthy satisfaction. It reminds me of one random family dinner when I was…who knows…10? And I declared that I could eat 20 servings of Ma’s spaghetti carbonara. I barely got through three, my sisters gleefully challenging me to keep my promise. It wasn’t that it stopped tasting good; I just got full.

The Art of Fielding: A sheltered and wimpy but graceful devotee of a legendary shortstop earns a spot on the baseball team for a small liberal arts college in Wisconsin.

When three fellow editors and our publisher simultaneously enthused about this book, it became one of the rare occasions when I went into a novel with faith and high expectations. (Yes, usually I dread that I’m getting into something horrible.) Beautiful, poetic descriptions of athletic things; personal drama that doesn’t involve saving the world or triumphing over aliens or any other try-too-hard melodramatic bullshit.

This is Where I Leave You: A middle-age guy catches his wife cheating and then goes home to sit shiva for his father, reexamining family relationships in the process.

Loaner from Ma. Aside from a far-too-graphic (-for-no-good-reason) early scene, I enjoyed it, for the most part. It’s not particularly profound, but it’s funny and heartfelt in parts. Still, it’s not much of a base to build off of, and it falls apart a bit in the last quarter. (This is, I’m finding, a common issue.)

Tenth of December: Short stories.

Quite simply, the most impressively varied collection of depressing stories in the history of words.

Damn Few: Memoir of a Navy Seal.

Fantastic look into the Navy Seal subculture. The author is very smart and well read and well spoken, so it’s a fun, balanced, charismatic description of crazy-extreme physical tasks, not to mention the ethical issues involved in war and the military.

Water for Elephants: An old man in a nursing home recounts his days as a young man working for a traveling circus.

A great example of why I begin reading novels with such resigned caution. I went into this, for some strange reason, expecting something thoughtful and literary, and it really didn’t deliver—especially not in its mass-napalming of a denouement. (Also, did I miss the explanation of the narrator’s fit about the geezer claiming he carried water for elephants? It’s such a total hissy, not to mention it’s the name of the damn book, that I thought, “Ooh, there’s going to be a story behind this!” And then, it becomes one of a dozen or so would-be teasers that never amount to anything.)

Wherever I Wind Up: Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey’s memoir involving his Southern upbringing and journeyman career.

Meh. It’s fine. I can’t believe I spent the entire book expecting it to climax with a no-hitter. (Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.)

Rules of Civility: A year in the life of a young woman making friends and finding her way in 1930s Manhattan.

I did not have high expectations for this, and I was more than pleasantly surprised. Should give Ma due credit for recommending this one, too—halfway through, I was fervently recommending it to other people. It’s smart and reserved in its writing, while at the same time witty and biting. Alas, while it’s not a complete shark-jumper, the ending doesn’t amount to much. (This isn’t the worst example of a disappointing ending, but seriously with people thinking their novels need to climax with insane character twists and fist-fights and spontaneous lesbianism.)

A favorite quote: “As a quick aside, let me observe that in moments of high emotion, if the next thing you’re going to say makes you feel better, then it’s probably the wrong thing to say. This is one of the finer maxims that I’ve discovered in life. And you can have it, since it’s been of no use to me.”

The Shipping News: A sad-sack New York widower rediscovers his magical, mythical family roots in a small town in Newfoundland.

Well, first of all, it’s like the eighth time I’ve read it, and it’s not much of a stretch to call it my favorite book. It’s beautiful, word-to-word and sentence-to-sentence, and then the story itself is…not quite magical realism, but lovely and stylized. One of those stories that takes place “now” but is also elevated and otherworldly. Almost a parable.

The Academy: Game On: Monica Seles’ first foray into the world of YA fiction, about a girl’s first semester or so at an academy for elite athletes.

I had to read it for work. (Seles trained at the local IMG Academy as a child.) It’s harmless, for the most part, but also bound to kill brain cells.

Gone Girl: Alternating narrators—a husband being investigated for the potential murder of his missing wife, and the wife’s diary entries from throughout their relationship. (There’s a wrinkle in that structure halfway through, but I won’t spoil it.)

It’s not going to enhance your worldview or anything—it’s plot-driven, but the plot is solid and detailed. Most notably, the descriptions of (most of) the characters’ emotional responses and motivations are interesting and insightful. I’ve called it “a really, really well-written Lifetime movie.”

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A Better Long Day than Usual

The backside of the sunset.

The backside of the sunset.

Sunday morning. I dreamt I was taking Thing 2 to some Main Street bar/restaurant, that I knew (or thought I knew) was nifty, but it wasn’t really living up—I had trouble finding it; it didn’t seem the same; the bartender/owner wasn’t very helpful. We somehow wound up, unfed, in a Wal-Mart parking lot.

That being said, it was a decent night’s sleep.

I would’ve lingered in bed, but when I got the wherewithal to look at the clock: 10:05. Motivation enough to haul myself up and turn on the radio for Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. (This week’s guest? Comedienne Tig Notaro, whom I’d conveniently read about just 12 hours earlier, catching up on TIME back issues.)

After that, Radio Lab—an especially unsettling hour of stories about parasites. Animals eating other animals alive. Intestinal worms.

I like to while away my weekend-morning radio time mixing puzzles and Wii golf, but since yesterday’s “productivity” involved finishing my latest puzzle—an elongated rectangle of Harley-Davidson memorabilia—I kept my arms and eyes busy for most of today’s two hour-long radio shows playing Wii golf and Wii Frisbee and Wii three-point contest.

Then killed time till 2 watching baseball and putting away laundry. Then off to the rink, a 45-minute drive of radio baseball—game-tying HR from Longoria. Go Rays. Go radio.

Not a great hockey game, but at least against a team not prone to confrontation and ugliness. I recently heard a snippet—a preview for some other show?—from some kind of cognitive scientist about his detest for the word “consciousness.” He felt it mislabeled something; it was a misleading catch-all. He cited the mind of a pianist performing—that the fingers moved without thought, and to think of their movement—to be aware, to be conscious—would screw it all up.

And someone else (oh, I’m excellent at citing my sources) recently mentioned physical activity among a list of meditative actions. I guess I’d known that, but I sort’ve thought maybe “sports-induced meditation” wasn’t considered legit among those who performed meditation as an activity in and of itself.

But for all that I dive into conscious descriptions of things in writing—or maybe because of trying to put everything to words—I’ve long appreciated sports for giving me some lovely moments of Zen: relaxed, focused autopilot. It’s amazing to me, to relax and let things happen, to see what I can do without trying to do anything in particular.

My brain is sharp but diseased; left alone, my body has always done pretty well for itself.

Anyway, today’s game was but a fitful bit of Zen. Sometimes—the best times—a whole game can go by without the urge to grab the wheel. Today I had some nice moments on the ice, but nothing that lasted. Like one of those nights where you get a bit of sleep, here and there, but nothing you can maintain.

And then I drove home. This past season marks the first time since my first months playing hockey, nearly a decade ago, that I regularly arrive at the rink, skate, and then go home. Years and years of post-game social pursuits; it’s weird to drive home in the daylight.

Weirder still after a 3:15 p.m. game—generally the earliest available. I’m at Publix before 5 and home before 5:30. It’s July. It may as well be noon. I fix dinner; I rarely feel like taking the time to cook on a Sunday. I eat dinner (stroganoff). I watch two hour-long episodes of Slings and Arrows, the last two of the first season: Hamlet. The story of Geoffrey’s mental breakdown.

It was still bright as hell outside. I’m fed, but I stink.

I went to the beach.

I’ve played hockey and then gone swimming before. (Hell, I’ve played hockey, gone to the beach, and then played hockey again, same day, but god only knows where that stamina went.) Still, so much recreation today, it seemed special to have the memory of cold toes fresh in my brain as I kicked off my flip-flops and walked through the sand, threw down my shit, took off my shirt and dove into the waves in the same sports bra I’d worn (god, how many hours ago?) under a pile of pads, trying to stickhandle around guys twice my size. From looking at ice through a cage to lying back in water over my ears and staring at the bright blue sky.

So that’s one way to get the stink off.

Later, while I sat in my wee little sand chair and read Gone Girl (about a journalist who kills his wife), a couple came between me and the waves—about 15 feet away—and proceeded to take pictures of each other. I swear to god, the nearest humans were 50 yards in front of me, and none to be seen down the other way on the beach (which, by the way, is about ¾ of a mile long). Why the fuck these two parked their asses right in front of me to take pictures, and then turned around and walked back in the direction they’d come is like…I dunno, it was that scene in the movie where the universe fucks with the main character.

But it was a lovely sunset.

I walked home with a phrase stuck in my head: “You can explain yourself all you want, but you are who you are.”

Anyway, here I am. I had to take a shower almost immediately—oddly enough, I can sit in hockey stink all day, but beach sticky-salty skin is nigh onto intolerable for me.

Now I’ve written a blog, one that’s pushing short-feature length.

And it’s…9:30 p.m.

I haven’t even been up for 12 hours. Technically speaking, my bedtime is two hours away. And it’s not a bedtime I necessarily adhere to.

Time to start the next season of Slings and Arrows, I think—the Scottish play, this time. Not sure what that says about my Monday. Maybe Mackers just needed a trip to the beach.

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Endless Commentary on the Modern World

In this week’s search for a blog topic, so many issues surfaced—so many “serious” points I wanted to make, all of which would be painful and exhausting to write about, with the awful, ever-present cloud hanging over me, saying, “There’s no guarantee you’re going to communicate your thoughts effectively. And even if you do, nobody has to listen.

 

“And even if they do listen, there’s always, always more to say.”

 

There are countless (really, so many) nuances to be addressed the Zimmerman trial and the Rolling Stone cover. There are lingering issues of the language of locker rooms and outrage in general on the internet. And, in every waking moment, there are my own unsteady emotional torrents yanking things around in my head in ways that may or may not relate to everyone else’s reality—brain flotsam.

 

Everything seems to be a constant, unrelenting source of outrage fueling outrage fueling outrage. It is an outrage feedback loop. It makes me angry, then tired; sympathetic, then frustrated; inspired, then resigned.

 

And so.

 

I walked to the beach, in a steady drizzle.

 

And I made a sandcastle.

 

sandcastle

 

Happy Hump Day, everyone. Let’s coast a bit, shall we?

 

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Sick Day

For all that it sucks to suffer a perpetual throat tickle and spasm rattling my lungs, there’s a loveliness to a phlegmy day at home. If this were a Saturday, I’d feel a pang of obligation to accomplish chores or do something more profound to better my life. Or I’d feel like I wasn’t truly relaxing to full capacity, and I’d have to come up with some elaborate recreation.

If I were at work right now, I’d feel guilty for not working. (Or, worse still, I’d actually be working.)

But since I dragged my laptop back to bed at 8:13 a.m. to send an email to my bosses, I could lie there dozing and surfing (and coughing) for a guilt-free three extra hours, only to get out of bed because the article I was reading about palliative care mentioned cottage cheese and mayonnaise, and I realized I really wanted some 50s-tastic pear salad (canned pear half, cottage cheese, spoonful of mayo, and shredded cheddar, if you’re feeling fancy). And also, I had to pee.

Resettled semi-upright on the couch, I watched SportsCenter long enough to see the Red Wings highlight, which still involved way too much Tiger Woods, then turned to Lifetime for a sweet, sweet Will & Grace marathon. When I felt like standing up, I padded over to the dining table to work on my 1,000-piece puzzle of Broadway Playbill covers. The cat did calisthenics.

My sick day: puzzle, cat, infomercial.

My sick day: puzzle, cat, infomercial.

And I am developing new and profound awareness of myself. Like how I would kick the absolute snot out of that Dance Moms behemoth. And this scented deodorant may have been a bad idea.

At 12:45 p.m., I made my morning coffee. But I didn’t have real coffee, so I used instant powder. And I didn’t have sugar, so I used honey. And I didn’t have milk, so I used Breyer’s Reese’s Peanut Butter ice cream.

One might think I should go to the grocery store. Except no: This is a sick day.

Aw, hell. Will & Grace is over. Ooh, never fear: The Wire season four finale.

Perhaps the sick day’s weirdest freedom of all is the complete absence of a mandated schedule. I kept thinking I was waiting for something—for 5:30, as I normally would be—but there’s nothing to wait for. Godot is not coming, nor did I expect him. If the day was to have a milestone, I’d have to mark it myself. And I dunno. That sounded like a lot of work.

My biggest ambition thus far? Epic grilled cheese. Caramelized onions en route.

At 2:30 p.m., I strolled out to the curb to get the mail—barefoot and in my matching horsey PJs. And the mailbox was empty. Low point of the afternoon. I realized that, barring a surfeit of lung mucus, I’d have to go to work tomorrow. I realized I’d have to take a shower at some point. I felt like I should exercise. I thought about getting a jump on tomorrow’s tasks. I was a disappointment. I eyed the dirty dishes.

Ooh, No Reservations? Yes, please.

horsey

Horsey PJs. Giddy up, bitches.

4 p.m. found me mid-round of Wii golf, doubt creeping in about the day’s value. You guys, I really miss Will & Grace. I assured myself that shooting a -13 and then reading TIME on the porch was of exceptional benefit to my health. And for the life of me, I couldn’t think of anything better to do.

At 4:15 I realized I hadn’t seen the cat in four hours. And then I thought, “Y’know, when I compare my productivity with hers, I’m incredibly accomplished today. Frankly, I’m a little worn out.”

And then I bogeyed the 17th. Stupid cat.

5 p.m. Quittin’ time. No more murky sense of obligations neglected; suddenly sitting on the couch watching TV becomes appropriate again.

Whew. Rough day. Time to kick back and…keep watching TV. Tomorrow’s not gonna get any easier.

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