Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Tenth Doctor

The other day a friend of mine responded to my comment that I missed David Tennant as the tenth Doctor Who, saying that there was something very meta about that because I could be a doppelganger of David Tennant. However, after thinking about it some more I'm wondering if David Tennant might be my doppelganger. So much so that I've started searching my belongings for a pocketwatch engraved with Gallifrean symbols. Consider-- both Cycholibrarian and the tenth Doctor:

  • Are tall and skinny.
  • Have a tendency to run their hands wildly through their hair while thinking, and don't seem to care about the resulting mess.
  • Prefer to wear Chuck Taylor All-Stars (even with a suit).
  • Have a tendency to talk very quickly about things no one else understands.
  • Have been known to bellow "Allons-y!" and other non-English phrases for reasons only clear to themselves.
  • Have very expressive faces, especially when  grimacing about Very Important Things.
  • Move so fast that others frequently have trouble keeping up.
  • Surround themselves with beautiful and intelligent women, even if they can't have a relationship with them.
And if that wasn't enough, when in High School one of Cycholibrarian's nicknames was "Nick of Time"!

So please keep your eyes open for that pocketwatch... but whatever you do, don't open it!




Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sonnet

There is a magic in the rising moon,
Across the sea the siren voices call,
The mountains pull the wand'rer from his room,
And forests make no lord so fit a hall.
Beneath clear skies we huddle round the flame,
Laughing until our hands and souls are warm.
New faces fast become our ancient names
Known to us all before the world was born.
This is my blessing and my greatest fear:
To see it all and never stop for rest.
I think and new frontiers 'fore me appear,
And pathways spread beyond each undimmed crest,
Until I feel my heart will burst its bonds
With all the possibilities and songs.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Six Degrees

This morning I had another of those "small world" moments that seem to come so frequently in our hyper-connected world. I'm involved in a public art project for Columbus's bicentennial next year to create original pieces for the carillon bells at my church, and one of the composers who I've shown around the tower friend requested me. Even though I had never met her before this project, I come to find out that she's already friends with two other friends of mine. This is the point where most people just laugh and make a joke about how Columbus is really a pretty small town. But I've thought about this before and I'm not sure that it's so much that Columbus is a small town, but that we are all connected a lot more than we think.

Think about how many times this has happened to you: you're at a party, maybe not even in your hometown, and you fall into conversation with a stranger. That person happens to know someone where you're from or where you work or from your hometown, and son-of-a-gun you know someone who went to school with that person or who works with them or who dated them 5 years ago! Heh, small world, right?

But what if you're not at a party? What about that person walking down the street towards you? If you started a conversation with them, how far from you would they be? Or what about that other driver who you yelled at for cutting you off this morning? Or what about that guy sleeping on the stoop next to the bus stop?

Not so much fun anymore, eh?

I think that the truth we never think about when we laugh about the fact that we "happen" to know someone who knows someone is that really it applies to anybody. And not even people in our own hometown or even our own country. I'm willing to bet that every person reading this right now knows at least one person who either currently lives or used to live abroad. As soon as you find that connection you're into a whole other network. So my parish priest who grew up in Liberia probably links me to the Nobel peace prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and through her to all the people suffering in Africa who she and her compatriots have tried to help. Mankind's suffering and triumphs are not as far removed from us as we might think.

Some may say that this is just the result of our hyper-connected world. Except that it isn't. In the Homeric epics every time a character comes to a new place they recite a litany of connections that tie them to the people in that place. Texts ranging from the Bible to the Norse sagas are filled with genealogies that are designed to give the reader context and connection to the characters in those stories. This is a fundamental human drive: to find the connection, to learn how we are all connected to each other and what that can lead to.

Ironically, I think that the connections we are discovering through technology are are actually allowing us to return to our natural desire to find what links us together. I can only hope that as more people discover this and more connections are forged it leads to more understanding among all people, and a greater care for our common humanity.



Saturday, September 24, 2011

Homecoming

When I studied Greek, and in particular the Odyssey, one concept that always stuck out to me was νόστος, a Greek word meaning the return to one's home, usually after a long time away. As with most translations, this doesn't do the word justice. So much more is tied up in that word than just coming home: the longing for one's home, the comforts of home, the end of a long journey. For me it was always best summed up by book 13 of the Odyssey. After 20 years away from Ithaka, Odysseus is left on the shore of his homeland, and hidden by a mist brought by Athena to hide him from his enemies. At first Odysseus doesn't recognize the island, and when Athena, disguised a shepherd, tells him where he is, he doesn't believe her. Finally Athena reveals herself and lifts the mists, showing Odysseus the familiar landmarks of his home, and Odysseus falls to the ground and kisses the earth.

This is, to my mind, a perfect description of what it's like to come home after a long time away or a long ordeal. As I arrived in New Hampshire yesterday, I felt much like Odysseus. Somehow, the massive changes that I've been through put me in a reflective mood. As I made my way through the mists left by the recent rain, I tried to put myself back as I was 20 years ago, remembering how to get to the places I used to go, remembering driving to visit friends and visit school, seeing all those landmarks that are familiar but at the same time unfamiliar.

I'm also going to be attending my 20th high school reunion, and I went to visit the school and some of my former teachers today for the first time since my brother graduated in 1994. Again, so many things were familiar but at the same time unfamiliar. I watched as the school librarian, my former adviser, taught a group of freshmen the basics of evaluating sources, while another former teacher called out some rowdy students with the familiarly gruff but good-natured "Guys, it's really simple. Be quiet, or die." He turned to me afterwards and said with a grin, "See? Nothing changes." But then lamented that since the school had gone to all white boards he no longer had chalk to throw at the unruly kids.

The school has grown. My old haunts were all still there, but new buildings and additions made them all seem smaller and unfamiliar. However back behind the school I was still able to find the old path to the grove of hemlocks in a ravine that another adviser of mine had nicknamed "Socrates." Someone had added a rope line to mark the pathway, but I'm pretty sure that some of the logs preventing erosion along the bank are the same ones my friends and I cut and put in place more than 20 years ago.

So I have come home after my travels. It may have only been a year since I've been here, but it's been 17 years since I've been here in the Fall, it's been 20 years since I've seen many of my friends from high school, and it's the first time since moving away that I've been here on my own. So much has changed in this past year that I feel like a different person. This time it is my νόστος. I've awoken on my shore, and Athena has lifted the mist, and I will be restored.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering

Ten years ago we all received an unimaginable shock. Everyone responded to this differently, but for me there have always been two main outlets when I'm dealing with something that extreme: music and writing. After September 11, 2001 I tried to put what I was thinking and feeling into words, really just for myself. I've carried the result around in a portfolio ever since, and it seems fitting to share on the tenth anniversary.


New Phoenix

I saw them once before—
Atlasian pillars thrusting up against the dome
In the futility of concrete,
Pretending that the day begins
And ends because we said so.

So this is what we’ve wrought,
O Beautiful for Pilgrim’s Dreams—
The roar of our invention still echoes down the canyons.
Thine Alabaster Cities Gleam a little less
Now stained by human tears.

Who were we to tempt the sin of Babel?
The peoples of a thousand tongues
Thrown all together in one place
As though the color green were Word enough
To reunite the sons of Abram.

And now we think that all can be restored
 If we root out the devil in his hole.
One man could not bring all this pain,
And hurts of millions cannot be assuaged
By further torturing of one tormented soul.

Perhaps there is a larger frame:
Blanched faces dig for crimson under azure skies.
Why chase demons when the phoenix
Has risen from the ashes before us?
We have already won.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Car Free

One of the more interesting side-effects of the divorce is that I am now car free. The reactions I get when I tell people this are, frankly, kind of amusing. Almost always there’s some look of horror, an expression of sympathy, questions of how I can possibly survive without a car, etc., etc.

The way I ended up here is really very simple: we only had one car, she needed it, I didn’t. I was already riding my bike pretty much everywhere I needed to go. I have one bike with a crate and a trailer, so transporting groceries and so forth wouldn’t be much of a challenge; and in the worst case scenario, my new apartment is an easy walk from stores, restaurants, and a bus line. So really, it’s not that big a deal.

In fact, one of the most interesting things about being car free is how surprisingly easy it’s turning out to be. “But Nick,” you say, “sure it’s easy for you. You’re cycho!” Okay, I grant you that I already ride my bike a lot, but contrary to what some people tell me, you won’t “die” if you tried to do it yourself.

Take last weekend for example. That was the first time I did a big shopping trip by bike. There’s one store about 8 miles away that has a lot of things I need at really good prices. There’s also a Target en route, so I’d be able to knock out two stops on the same trip. I hooked up the trailer and set out at an easy pace around 9:00 in the morning.

One of the first things I realized that I’d have to stop doing if the bicycle was going to be my only means of transportation was treating every trip like a race. I was in no hurry: I had nowhere to be, it was a pleasant morning, and I had planned a route that took me through the residential streets of Upper Arlington. So I just pedaled along and enjoyed the scenery.

As I got further away from the 1950’s sections of Upper Arlington, I began to notice how the options for getting around became fewer and fewer until eventually I was in developments with no sidewalks, huge garages and parking lots, and wide boulevards that drivers treated like highways despite the 30 mph speed limits. Eventually these gave way to roads that hadn’t been improved since they were in a rural area, and now had to deal with huge amounts of traffic with no berm and no turning lanes. When I finally came to the major 4-lane road I had been dreading, I was pleased to see that there was at least a sidewalk. So for a change I broke the law and rode along the sidewalk. There were no pedestrians, and frankly it was in this one case safer than trying to mix it up with cars going 50 mph in both lanes.

Putting that aside for a moment, one of the most common reasons I hear from people why they don’t want to ride their bikes for transportation is a fear of cars. The trick to riding in traffic is simply confidence. You are allowed on the road, and no one except for psychopaths really want to cause you harm. So if the lane is too narrow for a car to pass safely, do what the law says and take over the whole lane. Ride right down the middle where everyone can see you and have to wait to pass you. If you do this, you will be very safe. The only trick is developing that confidence.

So I went through my shopping stops, loaded up the trailer with 28 lbs of cat litter, a 12-pack of coke, and 3 large grocery bags (with room to spare!) and headed towards home. I was grateful that it was (somewhat) downhill from there, but again, riding at an easy pace it really wasn’t a challenge. I made it home after a just about two hour trip, and since I hadn’t pushed myself I really wasn’t that tired. In fact, later that day I would run some more errands and finish having ridden about 35 miles.





Don’t get me wrong, a car is definitely easier. I have to put a lot of thought and planning into making my trips by bike. It’s not a simple thing to hop in the car and run back to the house if I forget something. I have to allow more time after I arrive to cool down and in some cases change clothes. And I have to pay more attention to the weather, so I can either wear the appropriate gear or (as was the case this morning) time my rides to avoid weather. But I can’t help thinking that’s a good thing: being more mindful our bodies’ needs, aware of our connection to nature, and taking more time with our daily tasks.

The bottom line is that living life without a car is a viable option. But the reactions I’ve gotten as I’ve told people that I no longer have a car underscore how much we as a society cannot imagine life without the car. A good thought experiment to demonstrate this is to ask someone how far it is to, say, Cleveland. Nine times out of ten the answer will be “about two and half hours.” The answer given is the time it takes to drive there, not the actual distance of 150 miles.

I think we’ve also begun to lose track of what distances actually mean. Take my big shopping trip again. I rode 8 miles one way, and it took me about 45 minutes at an easy pace. How long would it have taken me to drive that? Well, from past experience, about half that time. That’s right, half. So we’re making car payments of $200 a month, paying $70 a month on insurance, and spending $40 dollars to fill up the tank so we can cut the trip time in half?

I fully realize that this would not work for everyone. None of this changes that our society has become car-dependent, and as a result many people can only afford to live far away from their work. But with careful choices about where we live, and thought and planning about how we structure our lives, it is possible.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Moving on

Hi there.

It’s been a while, I know. When I look at the last post date I have another one of those 20/20 hindsight moments and think, well of course I stopped writing then, that’s probably around the time things started to really go downhill. Not that they were great before that…

By the time you all read this I’ll be divorced. In the grand scheme of things it’s probably not that big a deal. One of the things that’s struck me as I’ve gone through this and let people know is the number of friends who have already been through this but I had no idea. So that’s a positive to know that things do work out on the other side. But right now, from in the thick of things, it really sucks.

As divorces go, this one is pretty straightforward. There are no children, thank goodness. No property to speak of. Massive debts, but those are easily split depending on whose name they’re in. I’ve found a nice place, moved out, and am starting to develop new rhythms to my life. So what am I complaining about? Yeah, it sucks, but it could be so much worse…

Well, I think for starters it’s because this was not my choice. Jessica has always had difficulties, and those have been exacerbated recently by what we now know to be the onset of Huntington’s disease. But I was prepared to stick by her, to take care of her through to the end. Even though for years now she’s been saying that she wanted to leave, and complained about how the only reason she hasn’t is because she has no job and no money of her own.

So I stuck it out. She left last summer for two weeks, with no intention of coming back. Her mother talked her into returning, and she said we would work it out. Maybe I should have tried harder to find a way to get counseling sooner. Maybe I could have done more…

Or maybe the boat had already sailed.

In November she finally said that she had it, that she wanted a divorce, and this time she was sticking to it. I cried, I argued, I shouted, I tried to persuade… in retrospect I really shouldn’t have. I already knew she was cheating. I already knew she had been messing with guys online and even driving places to see other guys. I probably should have left after the first time I discovered this. But I felt I owed her. I had sworn to take care of her. So I stuck it out. After November she stopped trying to hide it. Guys would come by to pick her up and all I could say was “I don’t want to see any of them because I think I might punch them in the face.”

I thought I could still help her. I thought I could get us both to a place where she would still be okay even though we were apart. But as I started the process, found a lawyer, and eventually tried to find a place for myself I discovered that was impossible. Not only was it hard enough to take care of myself through all this, if we were going to be apart she would have to take responsibility for herself eventually. Even if I did everything for her right up to the moment of the divorce, what about afterwards? I was doing her no service by trying to fix everything, to make everything right. But damn it’s hard. I felt that I was betraying myself by not helping someone in need, but whenever I helped her I felt like I was betraying myself by giving in to someone who had treated me so badly.

So here we are. I have no idea what she’ll do. I have no idea how she’ll take care of herself. And that scares the crap out of me. But I have to let go. I have to move forward and take care of myself and trust that one way or another she’ll do the same.

Now that I’m on my own things are starting to get better. I’m starting to let myself relax. I’m starting to let myself do things I want to do and not feel guilty about it. I’m starting to feel like I’m allowed to be myself and be happy. But there’s still a long way to go.

Through all of this there is no way I could have made it without the help of so many friends. Perhaps the greatest bright spot in all of this is to know how many people care about me and want to see me well and happy. So many kindnesses stick out and hold me up through all of this. The friend who said early on that she had always wished I had a partner like she had with her husband, and that she didn’t think I ever had that. The friend who told me I deserved so much better and then chastised me when I said I had a hard time admitting that to myself. The countless friends who have gone to dinners and lunches, coffee and visits, and listened to the whole sorry story with compassion and love. Friends who have found ways to keep me busy, get me out, and reassure me that the best is yet to come. All of you help me to remain an optimist, and remember that this too shall pass.

It may be corny, but I think there’s a reason we always turn to music to get us through hard times. One song in particular has been my anthem through all of this, and has suddenly appeared at the times I needed a boost the most.

So make your siren’s call
And sing all you want,
I will not hear what you have to say

‘Cause I need freedom now
And I need to know how
To live my life as it’s meant to be.