This I Believe, or Why I Box

What I believe don’t mean shit. That is to say there is “what I believe” and “what is so”. They aren’t the same, and don’t even have to have a relationship.

[A few years ago, at High Holiday services, a member of our congregation read a piece from the prompt “This I Believe”. It was apparently based on an NPR program in which famous people read essays from that prompt. I decided to go home and write something, pretending that they might ask me to speak some day. This is the result…]

So let’s talk about something else.  What does have to have a relationship is you and anyone else. Two people have to be in relationship and we can talk about that.  We’ll get to that in a minute.

If we are looking at belief and reality, we might want to meditate. What does it mean to meditate (or “pray” in another vernacular)? Usually, when we meditate, we sit quietly and try to quiet the mind. Maybe we hold a question, or maybe we try to empty the mind. What really happens? We have some thoughts. Maybe we notice we’re having some thoughts and we try to suppress that because we’re supposed to be meditating.  Maybe we notice that isn’t working out so well. Maybe we notice that we’re having thoughts and think about that. Now we’re thinking about thinking. Where does that get us?  Maybe we think that’s not such a good idea and we try to stop it. Now we’re back to suppressing our thoughts, which didn’t work out so well the first time. 

So now we decide to really get down to business and we get quiet and something else happens. Then we notice that something else is happening and we think, “Yay! I’m meditating!” Then we notice that celebrating that we are meditating is not meditating and we start again.

This process may go on for a long time. Eventually we may get beyond it for a while. Or maybe we just fool ourselves for a while. Ever notice that the easiest person to fool is yourself?  Other people often have your number – the things that you think you’re hiding from others are not only visible, but so is the fact that you are trying to hide. Damn!

So that brings us to relationship. It is my experience that the only time I grow is when I am vulnerable, and I spend most of my time and energy trying to hide from that fact. I try to hide my vulnerability and I try to look competent in the world. Sometimes I do a pretty good job of it, if I do say so myself. But I’m still hiding.

There is one time that I can’t hide and that’s when I am boxing. Boxing is the ultimate feedback system. It’s a hard place to hide. I hear people talk about “the now”, as though that is a thing and not just what is.  We only have one place and time and that is here and now. 

Have you ever looked at fear? When you are afraid you are not here and now. Notice that fear requires a concept of the future.  You are never afraid of what is here and now, you are afraid of what might happen in the future – that future may be pretty soon, but it is not now. Fear also requires a sense of incompetence or incapacity – I’m afraid that something is going to happen and I won’t have the capacity to deal with it. If I am concerned with now, or I feel capable, I won’t feel fear. Try that.

Now, to get back to boxing. When I am boxing, I am trying to hit someone, but especially trying not to let that person hit me. The only way to not get hit is to be in relationship with that partner. I have to be with him or her.  If I am in relationship with that partner, I can see, feel, and know what s/he is doing. Then s/he won’t hit me. If I get hit, what do I do? First, I notice that I was not with my partner in that moment. I missed something. Then, maybe I beat myself up about that, which means I’m not with my partner and I get hit again. Maybe I then try to analyze what I did wrong to get hit, and I get hit again. It is only when I let that go and return to being present with my partner that s/he stops hitting me because I start getting out of the way.  

There is no way to fool myself in boxing. When I “meditate”, I can fool myself into thinking I’m meditating, when I’m really just thinking and getting caught up in my thoughts. When I’m boxing, if I’m caught up in my thoughts, someone hits me. Most of us learn faster that way. Or we go back to fear. 

At the same time that my partner is providing that service to me, I am providing that service to him/her. If s/he is somewhere else, I feel invited to hit him/her. I know that sounds stupid, but stay with me for a moment. If I hit that person, it serves them better than if I say, “Let’s stop and talk about this for a minute”.  That conversation takes us back into abstraction. 

Years ago, I was working with my trainer on a two person choreographed set of movements. There were 92 movements in this “dance”. First one person moved in an attacking way, then the other neutralized that attack and counter-attacked. We continued that way for several minutes. One day I forgot the reality of the attack and was just hanging out with the choreography – he does this, then I do this. The next thing I knew, I was sliding down a wall about 10 feet away and catching the vase of flowers I had dislodged from its niche, before it hit the floor.  While I ran to get a rag to mop up the water I spilled, I had a moment to reflect. My teacher had just taught me something that was much more real than if he had stopped and said, “Did you notice that you were a step ahead of me just there? That you were starting your counterattack without having neutralized my attack? That you were not in relationship with me, but instead only with the choreography?”

He didn’t say any of that. Sending me 10 feet across the room and into a wall said all of that and more, and much more eloquently. I remember that moment 30 years later. Would I have remembered the conversation? Would the intellectual analysis have served me the way the discomfort of hitting the wall did? I don’t think so. So I don’t care what you believe. Heck, I don’t even care what I believe. I do care about your experience and the truth to be found there. I care about my experience and how I can grow through that.  Belief and a few bucks will buy you a cup of coffee. The truth in your experience may do much more. 

What to read while you recuperate

On December 4, 1969, Chicago police murdered Fred Hampton while he slept. They also murdered Mark Clark, possibly “collateral damage”, and shot Verlina Brewer, Doc Satchel, Blair Anderson, and Brenda Harris. Since Fred didn’t die in the initial hail of gunfire, but due to two shots in the head at close range, the term “execution” is entirely appropriate.

At the time of his assassination at the age of 21, a documentary about Mr Hampton was being filmed. He was an up-and-coming leader in Chicago, having been a community activist in high school and rising to the chair of the Chicago Black Panther Party. That film became “The Murder of Fred Hampton” (full film at the link) and was released in 1971. In 2010 a longer retelling of the story was published by one of the attorneys who represented the survivors of the massacre and the families of those killed. I spent the past few days reading “The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther”, by Jeffrey Haas.

The police termed it a “shootout”. The evidence showed it was a hit; a planned takeout as part of COINTELPRO, designed to “prevent the rise of a ‘messiah’ who could unify, and electrify, the militant black nationalist movement” (from an FBI memo). More than 90 rounds were fired into the apartment. One was fired out, by a dying Mark Clark.

In his short life, Hampton said, “You can jail a revolutionary, but you can’t jail a revolution. You might run a liberator like Eldridge Cleaver out of the country, but you can’t run liberation out of the country. You can murder a freedom fighter like Bobby Hutton, but you can’t murder freedom fighting….Nothing is more important than stopping fascism, because fascism can stop us all.”

I saw the film when it first came out. While more recently looking for it as something I wanted to show my children, I came across the book; and reading that book is how I spent the past two days. I recommend it highly, as well as the film. With the current off-the-wall right-wing conspiracy theories, younger readers may not recall that it was not so long ago that there was a real-life conspiracy to eliminate the movement for self-determination by African Americans, by any means necessary. Most white people heard more about the Black Panthers arming themselves for self-defense than about their free breakfast programs for school children. Many white people may still think that the stories of police and FBI abuse were exaggerated. This book documents the truth exhaustively, including the coverup that lasted more than ten years.

At the beginning of my recovery, I read Roy Meals’ “100 Orthopaedic Conditions Every Doctor Should Understand”. Also see his blog “About Bone” (no need to be a doctor for the blog). “Murder on the Red Cliff Rez” by Mardi Oakley Medawar, a Cherokee writer living on the Red Cliff reservation, is an entirely fictional murder mystery, and was my next book. Mixed in there was the new book by Jane McAlevey, “A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy“. Jane and I worked together in Nicaragua in 1987. She went on to work as an organizer for the union of which I was a member. She also worked at the Highlander School and earned a doctorate along the way.

Constructing a Water Pipeline in Matiguas, Nicaragua, 1987
Jane (right) in Nicaragua; photo from her website. If I’m not mistaken, Patrick Liteky is second from right. Patrick and his brother Charlie, an Army Chaplain, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, and former priest, were active in protests against the School of the Americas, the training ground for Central American death squads at Ft Benning, GA. Patrick was also a veteran and trained at Ft Benning. Charlie later renounced his Medal of Honor.

A central premise of Jane’s book can be summed up by these graphs:

In this first graph, you can see that there is an inverse correlation between union membership and the share of income going to the top 10%. In other words, when union membership goes down, the rich get richer.
Another way to look at this is that, as union membership declines, middle class incomes decline in parallel.

Jane is more optimistic about the chances for unions to make a comeback than I am right now. That might have something to do with Wisconsin Act 10, which eliminated collective bargaining at my place of employment. By state law, a union is now illegal.

On my second visit to Olbrich Gardens last week, I saw the Ancora String Quartet perform Randall Thompson’s String Quartet #2 in G Major. I discovered that quartet music works with riding on a trainer, too.

Back to work!

Finally back to work after six weeks of disability. I must say, working beats the heck out of sitting at home fighting to be able to use the benefits I spent 20 years earning. Not working took about 2 hours/day for the past six weeks. pat mAcdonald said “Lookin’ for work is worse than working”. [The link goes to a live version by TImbuk 3. I gotta say the demo EP version by Pat MacDonald and the Essentials is better, but I don’t have that in a digital format. (Note: The different formatting of his name is by Pat’s choice, or should I say pat’s choice – the old and new ways he writes it.)] At any rate, working beats looking for work or fighting for benefits.

The first day back at work felt, in some ways, like I never left. I don’t know that that’s a good or bad feeling, it just is. My legs felt the ride…a ride that is normally short enough to do in my sleep, though it’s way more fun to pay attention. I guess I’m a bit out of shape. Less than five months to get ready…

Magic Sam Maghett lived on the West Side of Chicago and died three days before Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were killed. I don’t know if they ever met.

Interview about 50 seconds, then you get to hear him play and sing.

I hate being a grownup!

Those who have followed my life since January, 2020 know that I’ve been dealing with some serious shit regarding my health, Worker’s Compensation, and Human Resources (a term that makes me feel like ore). For the rest of you, here’s a quick summation.

I was injured at work. My compensation claim was denied with the declaration of a Pre-existing Condition that I never knew I had, nor had any doctor I’ve seen in my life (and that’s a while). My HR department canceled my health insurance. When I fought back, they reinstated it with an “oops”. Then they canceled my dental insurance. Another “oops”.

The company that administers our FMLA plan told me (on Feb 5) that I had to be back at work by Feb 4 or risk termination. This, despite the fact that my continuing post-op restriction essentially defines my work. Try “no stress or strain to the abdominal or core muscles” while doing direct patient care in a hospital. To extend my leave requires a signed statement from the surgeon. Will he do it? Does he have time? Does he agree with the nurse who revised the restriction from “no lifting >20 pounds” to “no core stress or strain”? Stay tuned.

A big part of me wants to say “Fine. Fire me. It still hurts too much to go back to work.” The grownup part says that my Social Security benefit will be significantly higher if I stay there for 3 more years. That same grownup says that if I quit, give up my health insurance and go on Medicare, I won’t be able to provide insurance to my child until they turn 26, which was my plan; especially if they go to grad school in the fall and leave their job and that insurance. The grownup says: “You’ve stuck it out 20 years. You can live through 3 ½ more.”

See why I hate being a grownup?

Interval training with the Stray Cats

It has been exactly one month that I’ve been off work. To rebuild the endurance to get back to work, I stayed out of the house for half the day yesterday, running errands. It was exhausting. It is time for the next step – interval training.

The Stray Cats were my training partners for the day. With tempos ranging from ~60 bpm to over 100, and a couple of breaks for them to get a drink and between encores, they were a great inspiration and well-paced. I matched their tempo most of the time (hence the intervals). I managed to get my hands in the drops today for the first time – I haven’t been able to bend that far and have been on the bar tops exclusively until today. No fancy Smart Trainer for me; just the one I bought used about 30 years ago to rehab from a prior injury. (Yeah, I have to take it apart and fix it when it gets hot and falls apart – that may be why the original owner sold it – but that gets me another break.)

Health insurance rant

Ten years ago, I had a company paid health insurance plan. It was through an HMO. Everything was covered. Their job was to help me stay healthy. Then everything changed.

Health insurance costs began to rise precipitously. Wisconsin Act 10 banned union activity at my place of employment, so I lost my contract and my union’s protection. The Affordable Care Act set minimum standards, so employers raced to the bottom, choosing to meet the bare minimum.

The result? My health insurance now costs $231/month, I have a co-pay for each doctor visit, I pay 10% co-insurance for everything other than a routine doctor visit (lab tests, x-rays, surgery…). My maximum out of pocket expense is now $13,700/year (not counting premiums). My actual maximum is therefore $16,472, compared with zero dollars ten years ago – in practical terms, a massive pay cut.

Death Ride

Monitor Pass (snow should be gone for the ride), photo from California Alps Cycling

Registration is now open for the Death Ride on Saturday, July 11, 2020. Enjoy beautiful Alpine County, California, climb your choice of 1-5 mountain passes, and ride up to 129 miles (~200 km). For anyone planning to travel out there, a couple of handy options I recommend for sleeping – Turtle Rock Park for those of the camping persuasion, and Sorenson’s Resort for those of the sleeping indoors persuasion. Both are right on the route. Now that my reservations are in, I can tell the rest of you. This will be my return to the scene of the crime after 28 years. We’ll see if my legs and lungs still have it. Registration is also open for the Horribly Hilly Hundreds, the midwest’s answer to the Death Ride. HHH starts at Blue Mound State Park. Camping is available there or at nearby Brigham County Park. Both are great. I have no recommendation for sleeping indoors. HHH entry is by lottery, so get your application in by February 16. The ride is on Saturday, June 20. No, I’m not going to do both.

 A view from the top of Blue Mound.
View from Blue Mound, photo from WI DNR


If you live in a cold climate, remember your friendly neighborhood botanical garden. My first introduction to summer in the winter was the Mitchell Park Domes in Milwaukee. Today I visited Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, where there is a special orchid display this month. I kicked myself for forgetting my camera with macro lens, so you’ll have to settle for iPhone photos. Check it out:

Career Change

I’ve had some time to think while home recuperating. I was going to title this post “Back in the Saddle Again” to commemorate being able to ride a bike again after a month. I already used that title over a year ago, including a link to Gene Autry singing the song.

No, this calls for much more. I’ve had a great deal of difficulty working with Worker’s Compensation insurance and with my employer’s Human Resources department. They may be trying to make life difficult for me in hopes I will leave, or they may be incompetent. I’m not sure which is worse. Or, maybe:

Okay, benefit of the doubt is over. It is not merely a failure to communicate. The Worker’s Comp insurance company’s doctor has determined that my work injury has nothing to do with my work; that it is a congenital condition that took 66 years to show up and the fact that the symptoms appeared right after an encounter with 425# is totally irrelevant – not just not causal, but not even an exacerbation of my “pre-existing condition”. Then there’s the fact that HR canceled my family health insurance plan and gave me an individual plan. After I (and my boss and her boss) raised a stink, they reinstated the family plan and canceled my dental insurance.

At any rate, I was excited to read about our President’s new Space Force, and I signed up! If I can’t count on having Worker’s Compensation insurance and I can’t count on having health insurance, it’s time to change careers! I know I’ll get good healthcare in the military! Here is my new uniform patch:


I report for basic training April 1. I will be proud to represent my country in space.

Not Gene Autry.

Have you noticed how much the current Republican Party resembles the Death Eaters from the Harry Potter series? The very people Lord Voldemort Donald Trump insults (e.g. Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz) fall all over themselves and each other to praise him, even if they previously called him “a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot” [Graham], or said “Donald Trump’s consistently disgraceful behavior is beneath the office” [Cruz]. Everyone lives in such fear of him that no one is willing to say the emperor has no clothes. I tried rearranging the letters to “Donald John Trump”. I didn’t come up with “I am Lord Voldemort”, but that doesn’t prove anything. Let me know in the comments if you come up with anything interesting. If you see weird tattoos on their forearms, let me know.

Does anyone else out there wake up some mornings and wonder if this is really the world we are living in? Where “if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be a kind of quid pro quo which results in impeachment”? Where the argument can go from “it didn’t happen”, to “it might have happened”, to “it happened and that’s OK”, to “it happened and that’s a good thing.” In another bit of surrealism, Sen Lisa Murkowski announced, “I have come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate” as she announced that she was voting against allowing any witnesses or written evidence, thereby assuring that there will be no fair trial. As the Red Queen said, “sentence first, then verdict”. In this case it’s “acquittal first, then evidence.”

Tailwinds Across America

Thanks to richardtirith4919 for alerting me to the book “Tailwinds Across America” by RJ Kinderman. Kinderman and his then SO of 10 months embarked on a cross country bike trip in 1981. They followed a northern tier route similar to that of Cycle America, leaving Vancouver with $475 ($1400 in today’s dollars, per USDL BLS* calculator) and arriving in Maine broke. The book came out in honor of their 30th wedding anniversary, so clearly the trip strengthened their relationship. That much togetherness under those conditions could make or break a new relationship, so I honor their trip and their commitment. The book brought tears to my eyes more than once. You could think of it as this coast-to-coast blog after 30 years of reflection. Since Bob and Diane were self-contained, they had some very different experiences than ours in a supported tour, but it was a way for me to travel vicariously when I couldn’t even get on a trainer. I highly recommend it as a fun and quick read!

Back in the saddle; really

On January 31, I put on the bike shoes, set the resistance to its lowest level, shifted into my lowest gear, and got on my trainer. I planned a 10 minute easy spin. I checked the clock to see how close I was to being done – 3 minutes had passed. This wasn’t going to be easy. It did get better. When I set a stopwatch so I could count my cadence, the minutes went by more quickly and I did manage 10 minutes in my lowest gear at 90 RPM. On day 2 I managed to shift up, though still with low resistance, and ride twice, for a total of 25 minutes.

Karl Harter

This post was waiting for the official announcement of the 2020 Death Ride. I’m not waiting any longer. Registration was to open in December, then January. Now it’s February. Maybe this will cause them to spring into action so I can make my summer plans. [Ed note: The groundhog was declared officially to have seen his shadow this morning. I suspect he was basking in the sun, wearing shades due to the reflected brightness from the snow, and didn’t really notice the shadow. The temperature is headed for 50 degrees F (10 C). I’m heating my house with passive solar today – the door to the front porch is open. Shorts and t-shirt weather!]

Instead, the post is going up due to the death of Karl Harter. I met Karl about 45 years ago. He was cooking at the Main Course, a down-home restaurant with home-cooked meals at reasonable prices; the sort of food I would normally cook myself but I was either feeling lazy that day or I was on campus and hungry. I sold raw food (working at a grocery co-op) and Karl sold cooked food. That was our initial connection.

Karl was also a runner, weightlifter, yoga practitioner, and writer. He started and ran Movin’ Shoes, a shoe store and gathering place for runners. I went to the release party for his first novel, In the Skin, about a young weightlifter in Trenton, NJ. It was released as a mass market paperback, with a rather lurid cover illustration. Karl had just learned that he was expected to market the book himself if he wanted a contract for his next book. He was pretty clear that he was a writer and not a promotor. While the book never made the best sellers list, he continued to write and publish.

Years later he autographed that book for me when he was in the hospital for the first of many surgeries. A tumor had been removed from his head and a free tissue transfer performed to cover the defect. That means that muscle and skin from somewhere else is used to fill the space. Since the muscle will later atrophy, it is initially oversized. This gives a rather lumpy appearance for a while. When the surgeon came in and asked Karl how he was doing, Karl said, “Fine – but you didn’t tell me I was going to look like Mr. Potato Head!” (As you can see below, he no longer looked like Mr. Potato Head.)

Karl also wrote the true crime novel Winter of Frozen Dreams (subtitle: “The shocking true story of seduction, suspicion and murder in Madison”). A film adaptation followed. More on Karl can be found at The Ride website. This is the group for which I was going to ride last fall. The ride was canceled due to thunderstorms with a flash flood watch.

Karl Harter; Image from

One of Karl’s obituaries said, “He used words like macadam and ephemeral.” Maybe that’s another reason I liked him. In a 1999 essay about my life in community radio, I wrote, “part of the reason I enjoyed live radio was its ephemeral quality. What I did went out over the airwaves and was gone”. [Now, if you want real weirdness, the next excerpt is from an essay written by my brother for the same anthology. He had worked for a previous radio station in the same studio. We each read the other’s words only when the book was published. “It was the ultimate in ephemerae, leaving a trace only in the minds of those who did it or those who heard it .”] **

Feel free to join me in making a gift in Karl’s memory at: Normally I’m not a fan of the phrase “courageous battle with cancer” (to which my daughter will attest), but Karl lived with cancer for over 20 years, losing parts of his body over that span. In the past few years I occasionally ran into him at a favorite breakfast spot and he never lost the zest that I loved in him 45 years ago. For most of us, life is ephemeral and we die “leaving a trace only in the minds of those” we touched. Karl will also live on in the books and the store he left behind.

* USDL BLS = United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics

**WORT-Madison; 25 years of Community Radio Copyright January 2000 by Back Porch Radio Broadcasting, Inc.