College

We all grow up with expectations. My parents made it clear that I was to go to Harvard or Yale on a full scholarship, as they had no money to give me and, even if they had it, they wouldn’t give it to me, as I was on my own once I turned 18.

I took that literally and moved out during my senior year of high school. I still had no plan other than to go to college, but I wasn’t going to be the doctor they wanted me to be, and I wasn’t going to Harvard or Yale. I applied to exactly one school. I got accepted and the plan was set in motion.

Over that summer I discovered a whole world that I hadn’t known existed. Suddenly I had a life; a life I didn’t want to leave behind. My car was in no shape to drive 2000 miles to school, so I pulled the engine and replaced the clutch so it could make the trip. Unfortunately, I didn’t do that until it was too late to drive out there before school started.

I booked a flight to LA, arriving without some of the bare necessities like sheets and blankets. I stole an airline pillow (back in the day when airlines provided pillows) and used towels for sheets until I could go shopping.

While I wasn’t stupid, being a student had not been my favorite pastime. It didn’t take long to realize that paying large sums of money to do something I didn’t enjoy was not a viable life plan.

It rained in late October. I went up to the roof of my building and looked out at the ocean. Two things struck me: 1) I could see the ocean, which I hadn’t seen from there for the previous two months, and 2) my eyes didn’t burn. I hadn’t realized my eyes had been burning for two months until they weren’t. That was the day I knew I was leaving Los Angeles as soon as the semester ended. The semester wasn’t a total loss – I gained two lifelong friends and knew what I wanted to do with the next part of my life.

I arrived back here and went back to work at the organization I left behind. I became Executive Director and stayed in that position until I shut down the organization and moved on. I started another organization with other folks and stayed there for the next ten years. It’s still alive and well nearly 40 years after I left it. My parents wondered when I would do it “for real”, which to them meant I had to be the sole proprietor of a business if I wasn’t going to be a college graduate and a doctor. Another ten years went by and I went to college when I finally had a reason to be there – a reason that was not “because you’re supposed to” or “because your parents want you to”. Did a college degree suddenly make me smart at 45? Nope. College is not for everyone and it is not the arbiter of intelligence. But you knew that, right?

In case you hadn’t noticed, his “deep thinking” is wrong, but he says it quickly and convincingly, which is usually good enough “back where I come from”.

Talking people down from bad trips was not something you learn in college classes (though I note that you can now get a professional certificate for guided psychedelic therapy for research – and soon to be therapeutic – purposes). Running a co-operative business required communication skills that were beyond what was needed in most schooling (and would an MBA have helped?). Being a plumber required a sort of three dimensional thinking that was different than that needed in school (and is taught via apprenticeship programs and on-the-job training). Working in the developing world required solving problems with the tools you had, not always the tools you wanted. Working in health care (okay, that was after college) required knowing how to use big words but also to know what those words meant so you could use small words when they were more appropriate (which is most of the time). Common sense and critical thinking are the major life skills needed in most endeavors. Are those taught, or learned? And what’s the difference? Discuss among yourselves.

So go to college if you want to and have a reason to. Do something else if it interests you more. Know that whatever you do, the odds of it sustaining you for the rest of your life are slim. Have a fallback position, or know how to think on your feet and change when the time comes.

Some of us are crocus and bloom early but not for long. Some are late bloomers like chrysanthemums. Some bloom repeatedly throughout the season, like some roses and lilies. Maybe your blooms aren’t showy. Like many trees, they come and go and many folks don’t really notice. Or do others just see you as a weed?

Bob Odenkirk (“Saul Goodman”) wrote the character of Matt Foley for Chris Farley while both were at Second City. I’m twice as old as Matt Foley, so I must know twice as much, right?
David Crosby 8/14/41-1/18/23

The birthplace of American feminism

Today is one of the days that makes this tour special to me. We are riding 95 miles through beautiful countryside – through forests, along lakeshore, past vineyards. We will end in Seneca Falls, NY, home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and claimed to be the model for Bedford Falls in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

When the route was reviewed last night, the grumbling and plotting began. Via US 20, it is less than 65 miles from Geneseo to Seneca Falls. If your aim is to get to the east coast as quickly as possible, that is the way to go. Then again, if your aim is to get to the east coast as quickly as possible, this is probably the wrong ride for you.

If your aim is for beautiful scenery and exploring the topography, the planned route is perfect. If you measure your day in BFUs (big fun units) this is a good one. (Ed. note: The section above was written before the ride.)

Response from one rider to this discussion: “We’re not really scenery kind of people.”

Rain off and on all night, including at time to pack up. Great way to start the day. I stayed in the tent reading a short story and waited for the rain to stop. It did so long enough to avoid getting any wetter. It rained off and on through the morning. We had a record number of flat tires – at least a dozen, including three for one rider. I had two – one front and one rear. Since I carry only one spare tube I had to patch one on the road. My CO2 inflator failed, so luckily someone was present with a pump to get enough air until the sag wagon came by with a floor pump. The best flat tire I have ever seen follows.

Drill bit through a tire and carbon fiber rim

As Seneca Falls claims to be the model for the fictional Bedford Falls from “It’s a Wonderful Life”, I had to visit the It’s a Wonderful Life bridge.

More importantly, this is the birthplace of the Women’s Movement and the entire town is a National Park to commemorate that. The following photos contain the “Declaration of Sentiments”, the founding document from that first meeting in 1848. You can click on photos to enlarge. I think it is worth a read. It also served as a great counterpoint to the proliferation of Trump and guns yard signs today. (If you’re a student of history, 1848 was a pretty significant year for social movements in Europe as well.)

The ride, after two flats in the first 25 miles, was great. The drizzle stopped and we rode along the shores of the Finger Lakes and through mixed hardwood forests. The ride was punctuated by numerous short, steep climbs of the sort I love. There was one steep descent with numerous warnings to truckers and a warning from our router. It would have been great fun on dry pavement but required extreme caution today. A rider who contemplated the shortcut thanked me mid-ride for steering him this way.

Tomorrow’s ride includes several bonus miles. Instead of going to Oswego, we are headed to Mexico and will be shuttled back to Oswego for dinner. Breakfast the next morning is still a surprise. We’ll be staying at another Jellystone Park campground.

“Hey papa! We’re walking in a winter wonderland!”

Overheard from a toddler in a stroller talking to his dad.

Photo by Phil Brinkman, Wisconsin State Journal

I skied across the lake to Olbrich Park, home of this seasonal labyrinth, made from donated Christmas trees by artist Lillian Sizemore. That’s where I met the toddler and the dad.

Center of labyrinth

The installation included a “tree museum”, made infamous by Joni Mitchell in the song “Big Yellow Taxi”.
“You take all the trees
Put ’em in a tree museum.
Ya charge the people
A dollar and a half just to see ’em.”

There was no charge for this tree museum, but it included a selection of trees commonly used as Christmas trees in these parts, each with a card explaining where the tree is native, how long it can live, and how tall it will grow. They included Scotch and White Pine; Canaan, Frasier, Balsam, and Douglas Fir; Norway, Colorado Blue, and Red Spruce; and Arborvitae.

Meanwhile, as I got off my bike after work, I heard a commotion in the hydrangeas. It wasn’t Mary Hatch from “It’s a Wonderful Life”. It was a Peregrine falcon with a mouse in its talons, tearing through the dried canes and trying to get airborne again. It was maybe ten feet from me. It did not share the snack.

Mary Hatch in the hydrangeas from “It’s a Wonderful Life”

Lake Geneva Winterfest

The winterfest in Lake Geneva (no, Martha, not that Lake Geneva) is over, but that just means the crowd was smaller to look at the snow sculptures. The snow here has been too cold and fluffy for sculpting, so I have no contributions of my own except the photos. The gallery images sometimes get cropped by your browser, so click to open in fullscreen.

“Babies” – Two babies fighting over a pacifier
“Look at Dat Der Buck, Eh” – Yah, we really talk like dat here, or at least up nort we do.
“Roaring Peace” – little girl and lion
“Time” – detail of face
“When Grief Takes Wing, Love Remains” – lily
“There be Dragons Here”

There were also ice sculptures. On the shady side of the street they were still in pretty good shape.

$2/hour to park, or drive out on the lake and park with the fishers for free.

I’ve got nothing to say, but it’s OK

My friends at The Dihedral put up another thought-provoking post this week. The jumping-off point was the TV show “House”. They used it to talk about making excuses and not having enough time to do what you want. “If you want to do something, you do it”, they quote House as saying.

I put in my two cents as a comment, then realized I had more like two bits to say, so took it over here. Since we’re using pop culture as a jumping off point, I’m going with Frank Capra’s 1946 film, “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

In that film (I hope I’m not giving away any 73 year old spoilers), the protagonist, George Bailey, has big dreams. He repeatedly puts those dreams aside to fulfill his obligations. When he calls the antagonist, Mr Potter, “a warped, frustrated old man”, Potter asks what he is other than a “warped, frustrated young one.” On the verge of suicide, George gets to see what the world would have been if he’d never been born and has an epiphany.

I am going to assert that we are already getting what we want. Exactly what we want. But we lie to ourselves about it.

Let’s take a small example. I want to watch TV. I have to take out the garbage. I skip my TV show, take out the garbage, and feel resentful. Let’s reframe that. I want to take out the garbage. Why? Maybe I have a partner/roommate/parent who told/asked me to, or it’s my agreed-upon job. Maybe I have thought ahead and realize I don’t want to live in a pig sty. Maybe I realize that garbage attracts vermin, I don’t want vermin, and vermin are harder to get ride of than garbage. Maybe I like feeling resentful.

Whoa! What was that? Maybe assigning blame is more satisfying than taking responsibility. Maybe, if I can blame someone else for missing my TV show, and blame someone else for a lot of other small things, I can escape responsibility for my generalized unhappiness. Maybe it’s all someone else’s fault!

What if all the things I’m doing because I have to are actually things I’m doing because I want to? What if I’ve done a bunch of mental calculations (mostly unconscious) and they have led me to the choices I’ve made? Maybe none of this is true about you but it is about someone you know…;) What if I want to take out the garbage and want to feel resentful about it and want to blame someone else for my feelings?

Does that look like George Bailey? Did he skip his trip to Europe and put his father’s estate in order because he really wanted to? Did he skip college and run the Building and Loan because he wanted to? Did he skip his honeymoon and bail out that family business because he wanted to? Did he consider the alternatives and decide that was the best one under the circumstances?

What would it look like to want what I have instead of what I don’t have? Have you ever noticed that, when there is something you really want, you feel some sort of real aliveness during the pursuit? Maybe you just absently want it, maybe you actively seek it, or save up for it. Maybe you get it and it makes you happy for a while and then you go back to your humdrum existence. What was that about? How long do you hang out with that feeling before you find something else to pursue?

I touched on this once before. I’m even going to bring back the same cartoon for another round. In the first panel, Mr Natural starts to do the dishes. He’s resentful. He doesn’t “want” to do them, he “has to“. By the third panel he is just doing the dishes. In the fifth panel he is invested in doing the dishes. In the sixth panel he wants to do the dishes.  In the final panel, he is pleased with having done the dishes. Question: Does he go on to want whatever he’s doing next, or does he continue to want the feeling he had while doing the dishes, try to recapture that feeling, and fail to do so? Just because you’ve learned something once doesn’t mean you have learned it for all time. My teacher Peter Ralston calls that “the lava syndrome”. The very breakthrough you have made hardens over and becomes something you have to break through in order to learn anything new again.

I haven’t talked about bikes for this whole post – not even about the weather. How many times can I talk about riding in freezing rain, sleet, snow, subzero (F) temperatures…? But I’ll leave you with one last image. I’ve talked before of hoarfrost – the stuff that forms when it is foggy and cold. Instead of mere water droplets, ice crystals form in the air; or fog forms and the water droplets freeze as soon as they land. From a distance, hoarfrost is white. The ice crystals reflect all light. Just like snowflakes, up close the crystals are clear. As Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” We had another morning of hoarfrost this week. Visibility suddenly dropped and I wondered if my glasses had fogged up. I looked to my right and saw fog in the lights of a parking lot. I realized the world was foggy, not just me. I rode out of the fog bank and my glasses continued to ice over. Imagine sticking a glass in the freezer and getting it nice and cold. Take it out and spritz it with water and stick it back in the freezer. When you take it out, there are tiny droplets of ice, giving the glass a pebbled texture. That’s what my glasses were like. I stopped, removed a mitten, and scraped the ice off the lenses, then continued on my way. The picture is hoarfrost, up close and personal.