Monday, April 23, 2012

Cycling, anyone?

This weekend I had seven college athletes staying at my house for the South Central Collegiate Cycling Conference Cutlery Carbonite Combinatoric Road Championships*. 2012. One of Biscuit's nephews is a cyclist at Tornado Alley University, and our invitation for him to stay led inexorably to us hosting the entire team. It was exhausting, and a fair amount of fun.

Every time I am around a group like this, I re-realize that there are countless families and individuals whose lives revolve around these kinds of activities. It's how they spend every weekend, and when there are not events, there is training. And all the time there is obsessing over wheels and frames, cranks and chain rings, and the myriad other items that separate the haves from the always wanted to haves. There is jargon, and jockeying for position, and specialized friends that see each other all the time, but wouldn't recognize each other away from the events.

Our family got pretty heavily involved in the local softball league when my sister was growing up. We weren't part of the league royalty, but my father's company sponsored a team for a few years, and he coached for quite a few years, so we were "established." Over the years I had stints coaching and working concessions. I even worked as a groundskeeper for a few months. I still reacquaint with people occasionally who I met at the field, and it always takes forever for either of us to remember how and where we came to know each other in the first place.

This weekend also reminded me of a few things I had forgotten about kids -- not being responsible for any young people full time -- and a few traits I did remember were heartily reinforced.

Start of the Men's C Criterium. I don't know what any of those things mean. I mean, 
I know what men are, so I guess it's just the other two that are somewhat confusing.

They eat a lot, though I was surprised that they seem not to eat constantly (like I did). And this group were quite polite. They never asked for anything, and pretended they didn't want it until I actually produced the food, but once a bag of chips or a loaf of bread was opened, it was gone.

More than two kids together can't make a decision to save their lives. They will stand around in the driveway for an hour trying to decide who is riding in which car. The only thing they know for sure is that they aren't listening to the one or two people who think they know what's best for the group.

I would like to say they never sleep, but it's more that they never go to bed. And then they never want to wake up. Since bike racing tends to start early, and far away, this can be stressful, especially on the serious kids who like to be at things on time. (Apparently 2/7 of the population, according to one informal study.)

It was quite the whirlwind weekend. They arrived Friday afternoon about happy hour, ran three events in three far-flung locations in thirty-six hours, and were gone before noon on Sunday. It definitely seemed like they were here longer. I took three naps, and made enough breakfast to feed Biscuit and I for a month. I think we had three strips of bacon left at the end. But it was good to see the nephew, who is all grown up and will probably be married before we know it. And it was good to be reminded that most college kids are more or less like we were. Except maybe for their politics, and their inexplicable lack of loathing for their parents. I guess nobody's perfect.

* Some of the 'C' words may have been added. But I remember there were a lot.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

What, me worry?

Image from here

This month marks four years since I officially started my latest career change to higher education. A couple of weeks ago, I was catching up with the colleague, friend and mentor who provided my first half-time appointment, immediately after our last jointly supervised Ph.D. student successfully defended his dissertation. I was expressing my gratitude to her for not laughing directly in my face back then, when I told her my goals and expectations for this new career. There is no need to go into detail now, but it's safe to say that I may have been a little optimistic in my early assessments.

She remarked that it was quite courageous what I did, leaving a successful career to start over in an entry level job I really knew nothing about.* Two thoughts immediately jumped to mind, one of which I expressed. I admitted that I had always had the tendency to pursue dreams, from leaving school to chase a job as a roadie, to spending a month exploring the country on Amtrak, to giving up an earlier sales career to return to college in my thirties. One night, when Biscuit and I were catching up with an old friend I had not seen since high school, she and her husband noted, "You are some of those people who do things, aren't you?"

The second thing that occurred to me was that I had not really been courageous, because I wasn't really afraid. Don't get me wrong, I'm afraid of plenty of things. Heights, spiders, people who think the best response to fear is firearms, the list goes on. But taking a risk to experience something new is just not something that has ever frightened me much. And a big part of the reason is ignorance, blended with denial.

Everything is harder than we think it's going to be, and every attempt at something new is almost guaranteed to fail, at least at first. If we focus on those aspects, it's easy to shy away. But struggling reminds me I am alive, and we all know failure makes us stronger. Cliché I know, but at least for me, these are some of the things that make life enjoyable. So I'm lucky that I seem to be incapable of remembering from one time to the next how difficult it is going to be, and how insecure I will feel. One of the reasons I became a roadie was to confront my fear of heights, and I had more than one occasion to regret the decision.

The whole episode got me thinking about the link between fear and ignorance, or "innocence" as it's known when it's wearing white. People are afraid of what they don't know, but the opposite is also true. I never knew I would be afraid of spiders until I saw one. And the Lion likely never would have gone with Dorothy had he known there were flying monkeys ahead.

And if I had known I wouldn't have an ending for this post, I might never have started it.

*She says things like that all the time.  She's awesome that way.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Believing in Chemistry

A couple of lifetimes ago, when I was in my twenties, I got the chance to see my future ex-wife lose a first class argument with her younger brother. I mean, I had seen them argue many times before. The whole family loved conflict. My father-in-law once yelled at everyone in the house because the mail wasn't lying in its normal place. A day at the in-laws was like an episode of the Itchy and Scratchy show.

Most of the conflagrations were flareups. They got big quickly and died away in minutes. Only occasionally did a firestorm start. Things would get personal, buttons would be pushed, old wounds would be re-opened, and whatever originally started the argument would be quickly lost in the blaze. The bitter taste from those fights would last days, and on occasion much longer.

The ex loved to argue, of course. And she was world class. In the dozen years we were together, I don't think I ever heard her say, "You were right." If it looked like the logic of an argument was not going her way, she would turn to emotional cruelty, her home turf. She didn't necessarily have to win an argument, but she would be damned if she was going to lose.

My ex brother-in-law's life has largely been a string of tragedies wired together by bad decisions, driven by poor judgment and poorer impulse control. He was beaten up by the police at least once, presumably for responding to a traffic stop with something along the lines of, "What the fuck do you want?" But he knew he was fighting out of his weight class with his big sister, and he usually walked a bit carefully around her.

The ex on "the best day of her life," about two hours after our wedding. 
That's my best man in the background, wondering what I've gotten myself into.

So it was worth remembering the one time that he left her speechless.  I don't remember how the argument started, what it was about, or how long it lasted. I only remember it getting more intense than usual. Outside voices were being used, the ex was pacing (never a good sign), and her brother was cornered in a chair. In response to whatever he said, she got right in his face and said, "You can't argue with that. It's simple chemistry!"

With no hesitation, he shot back, "I don't believe in chemistry!"

She sputtered a bit, and tried to rally, but her momentum was completely broken. How do you argue with something like that? In her heart she knew the day was lost.

I never suspected at the time that my brother-in-law was the harbinger of a growing trend. Denying the validity of science seems to be quite fashionable these days. The overall history of our planet's geology and life forms, and the link between greenhouse gases and climate, are practically as certain as the fact that water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen.* And of course, the core of this science provably predates the political agendas that supposedly drive it.

But none of that matters, does it? It must be quite liberating, really. Once we no longer require the slightest evidence or logic to support our beliefs, then we can always be on the winning side. I just wish someone would start a gravity-deniers movement.

* Or that the day and night are essentially equal in length on the day of an equinox. One of our worst arguments went nuclear when I offered to get the flashlight and tennis balls to demonstrate this one.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Image from here

It started on Sunday, when I half-watched a story on television about the Wrigley company. After 36 hours or so, the only thing that pushed the Big Red® song out of my head was getting rick rolled by the other Chris. Since then, between quietly reviewing all of the things I'm never going to do, I've been wondering about these deep, annoying ruts we make in our brains.  Where do they come from? Why are they so persistent? How come I can't remember why I have an airline ticket from December, but I can instantly recall a song I haven't heard since I was in elementary school? That I don't even like. And while we're on the subject, why is it that I can barely tell  you what book I'm currently reading, much less what is happening in the story, but all of that context will magically come back to me within a few seconds of opening the cover (or firing up the Kindle) and beginning to read?

We love to believe that we are completely in control of our minds (or should be), but I suspect the reality is practically the opposite. The other evening, Biscuit and I were discussing the varying sizes of of takeout containers provided by one of our go-to restaurants, and the relative ease or difficulty with which these can be encased in more airtight containers for leftover storage.* She remarked (quite innocently, apparently), "Yours was pretty small this time, and slid in quite easily."

"That's what she said!" was out of my mouth before she finished speaking, and I probably would not have been able to resist saying it had we been at a Nobel prize award banquet.** Sadly, she was in the kitchen with the dishwasher running, and I had to repeat myself until the moment had passed.

I have theories about all this, of course, but I would rather hear what someone else thinks. Anyone? Anyone?  Beuller? See what I did there?

Oh, crap! The Big Red® thing is back.  ♪So, kiss a little longer...♫

* It's a constant party at our house.

** I suspect this is from that "lack of breeding" that the upper classes are always going on about. I think I had a fundamental misunderstanding about what this phrase meant when I was younger, and worked very hard toward a completely different goal.