30 November 2010

my eyes are opened, and in this life i shall have joy.

an unexpected moment on an unexpected trip in my unexpected life

This morning I read sad news from an acquaintance. She wrote of a great life change with the kind of grace and dignity you might expect from her, but at such a time in her life it still caught me off guard. I carried her in my heart all day. Her news brought back lots of heartaching memories and induced the kind of empathy that kept tears near the surface at every moment.

One of the things I loved about Mormonism was the predictability. There was a plan for everything- the Plan of Salvation when you die, food storage when you go broke, a million committee meetings with a million agendas, a plan for your life with marriage and kids and how to respond to temptation. Amidst the dislocations of my teenage and college years I found those plans so comforting.

And then I lived.

I left the garden. The path I am wasn't the first path I would have chosen. There are days when I do not feel up to the challenge, that the struggles seem too immense. So much agency, so much new, so much I never thought I would have to face. But then I have these moments that I encounter something so totally unexpected, something so indescribably beautiful that only the right here, right now could have revealed. The eyes of my eyes were opened. I am surprised, but my joy is full. It took a lot of pain. It took a lot of reconfiguring-- of my priorities, my goals, my family. But it was so worth it. What I have does not look a thing like what I would have planned. 

It is better.

Peace be with you.

28 November 2010

what is the matter with pennsylvania?

Nothing like a little indulgent historical writing for you. I love that in 1935 you could publish an incredulous essay on your state's mediocre national political contributions. Russ uses the phrase "What is the matter with Pennsylvania?" so many times that it merits a bumper sticker.

"Pennsylvania has become used to pulling the chestnuts out of the fire for others, by throwing its huge electoral vote for the Presidential candidate from some other state. Like a good-natured muzhik, it does all the work and gets none of the credit. One second-rate President, one Vice-President who is often not even mentioned in our history books, two or three well-known Congressmen, not one Chief Justice, a fair showing in several cabinet positions and a good record in one or two others, a string of political bosses whose only reputation comes from machine politics and corruption, an imperviousness to reform, and until recently, a total lack of pride (perhaps justified) in the state's contributions to history? In fine, a century and a half of utter futility. What price glory!"

William A. Russ Jr, "What is the matter with Pennsylvania?" Pennsylvania History  2, No. 1 (January, 1935), pp. 17-35. Accessed on JStor today.

For more on Pennsylvania political culture, check out this episode of This American Life from October 2008.

14 November 2010

the top ten things i've learned this year.

My sister-in-law has lots of good ideas, and blogging is one of them. In honor of her recent foray into the world of internet freewrites, I am copying her idea to meditate on the top ten things I've learned this year, though after writing them out it seems like, for a most part, a list of stuff I'm still learning.

10. How to change a flat. I resisted bicycle maintenance for a long time.

9. I eat a million times better when I avoid grocery stores. After a summer of farmer's markets and a fall of shopping at Reading Terminal, I feel so much better. Quality produce makes such a huge difference.

8. Blush. Voila, cheekbones! Voila, I don't look so tired and pasty and hungover! It's a makeup miracle.

7. The neighborhood I live in has significant implications for the life I lead. I am glad that I live close to friends, lovely bars, and good public transportation. Although it means a slightly longer commute (which is good for staying fit and having a little longer to decompress), my quality of life has improved greatly. Put succinctly: god, what a good time I'm having in South Philly!

6. I need beautiful language. The book of e.e. cummings always on my desk at work and the prose of Updike always next to my bed have eased my mind.

5. Something about men and agency and what I want from my life and having a voice. I can't say exactly what I've learned about those things, but the tension between them is finally coming into view and has brought with it some needed clarity as I consider what I want and expect from relationships, who I want to be in those relationships, and who I want to be with in relationships.

4. I don't think America is really being governed in a way that is constitutional. My readings for graduate school have made me aware of this, but haven't presented any clear solutions- but I'm pretty sure a solution would involve an immense collective rethinking of federalism, a reduction of the powers of the court and policing systems at all levels, and an intensive expansion of the number of positions in legislative bodies... or something. 

3. There is a small way to reconcile my work with how far from home it takes me. It's called doing research on where I'm from. I can't wait for that brilliant idea to pay off next summer.

2. The present is all we have. We can value and learn from the past, and we can anticipate our futures, but now- now is it

1. Reciprocity. As my nieces get older, I'm finding that they love me as much as I love them. I don't know why this shocked me, to suddenly feel aware of who I am in their lives. Their generosity of spirit is disarming. It's not just that they fill my life with a big love- it's that they teach me to expect nothing less than a big love. 

04 November 2010

the demise of my basil basket.

On Halloween, I made my way to Target for the makings of a holiday fete. I tossed my Basil basket on the ODT and off I went.  When I arrived at the cherished big box retailer, I was bummed to find that one of the welds on the arms had weakened.

Fortunately, I was able to make it home with my precariously balanced 5lb bag of sugar, multiple 2 liters, and gobs of candy and hair product. This is just the kind of thing that would happen when I'm carrying a load like this, I thought.

But the reality is, I have been hauling loads like this several times a week for the past year as I've done my grocery shopping and commuting. The year before that it was daily loads of books.  The demands I have made on this basket have not been insignificant.  I mean, the day before it broke I hauled a pumpkin in it, and the day before that I filled it to overflowing with objects from a thrifting excursion. While I think I may be able, in the short term, to jimmy it back together with some super glue and industrial tape or something, but I'm taking the demise of my basket as a cue that I need to reevaluate my cargo hauling strategies.

I've been thinking about that for a while. I tend to hoard library books at home because the thought of one bulky trip to campus with them all is so unappealing.  Recently I bought and subsequently got in a fight with a plastic drawer unit that I attempted to anchor to my rear rack (it came apart- I had no idea those were so modular!).  There are limits to what I can haul even with the basket- macaroni and cheeses work better than enormous packages or Ikea hauls

So, what to do? In a fantasy universe (one where I have a garage and more extra cash), I'd maybe opt for an Xtracycle setup like Big Brother's. But realistically, I see two good options. One is to get another basket or pannier. I really like the concept of Public's rear bike basket, as I prefer rear loads, but I've been spoiled by the mesh on the Basil Bern.  There are of course a number of options around the web if I wanted to go in that direction.

The other option, and the one that I think might be most practical in the car-free long run, would be to get a trailer. I've been loving on trailers since I saw Jeff's bicycle ice cream trailer last summer.  Kent's review of the Burley Travoy only heightened the appeal-- I love that the Travoy is Dahon compatible (like my defunct basket!) and that it folds up for storage.  It is quite expensive though. Yet coming across the Bike Trailer Blog today further enhanced my trailer awareness.  Philly's Craigslist trailer postings unfortunately tend towards the suburbs- outside my car-free access area- but certainly there must be a cost effective way to move in the trailer direction.

For now, I'm limited to my rack and my unfortunate little pannier (its hooks aren't quite big enough for the ODT's meaty rack).

What are your thoughts on upping the cargo capacity of my bikes?


a jolly start to fall riding, I'd say.

02 November 2010

an election day blessing.

"Government requires make believe. Make believe that the king is divine, make believe that he can do no wrong or make believe that the voice of the people is the voice of God. Make believe that the people have a voice or make believe that the representatives of the people are the people. Make believe that governors are the servants of the people. Make believe that all men are equal or make believe that they are not.

The political world of make-believe mingles with the real world in strange ways, for the make-believe world may often mold the real one. In order to be viable, in order to serve its purpose, whatever the purpose may be, a fiction must bear some resemblance to fact. If it strays too far from fact, the willing suspension of disbelief collapses. And conversely it may collapse if facts stray too far from the fiction."

-Edmund Morgan, Inventing the People, quoted in Larry Kramer's The People Themselves, 34

May your highest ideals be joined by your deepest pragmatism on this Election Day. May you see through all the fictions to find the facts. Please vote- your voice needs to be heard to make this whole democracy thing work!