Friday, August 08, 2008

Our Olympic Games - Hear that, Felix?

So we're fixin' to watch the Olympics tonight (over take-out Chinese food).

We just love watching the Olympics around here. One of our very favorite things about the Olympics is our own silly game that we invented back in 1992 when the Winter Olympics were in Lillehammer.

We thought Lillehammer was such a funny city name, that every time someone said it on TV, D. or I would say, "Beg your pardon?" It only took a few times of calling out the phrase before we turned it into a competition to see who could remember to say it first.

And then we have done it every single Olympics ever since! Only we change the phrase for each Olympics. For the most part, we try to keep it in the vein of "Beg you pardon?" So, for instance, Atlanta was "Huh?" And Kyoto, when I was pregnant with Monk was "Hear that, Baby?"

Oh, and Athens was "It's Greek to me." (Of course.)

And so this year, we're looping back to Kyoto's phrase, only modified a bit. (No worries!!!) Whenever they say Beijing, we'll call out: "Hear that, Felix?" [Felix is our cat.] Poor Felix! Because we get to shouting the phrase when it really gets going!

But, in addition to calling out the phrase for Beijing, whenever the announcers say any of the city's names, going back to 1992 when the game started, we also have to call out the old phrases. So, Athens' "It's Greek to me," will still be very much in play this year.

The Torino Olympics, two years ago, were Monk's first entry into our Olympic Games. And he so totally rocked it! D. and I didn't know what had hit us! So I think this year we're really hoping to at least have a respectable showing! We've all been in training for weeks now, during all the Olympics trials.

Hey, if you decide to try the game out youselves, let me know here. [Make up your own phrase that works for you.] We get such a hoot out of doing it ourselves, we'd love to know if it catches on with anyone else.

PS If anyone visits our house during the Olympics, we rope them into the game, too.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

What's the Point of Balancing on a 4-inch Beam?

This is the question my brother asked in a recent Twitter and Blog Entry. I started to leave a comment on his blog just now, responding to his entry, but decided my comment was getting too long. So I figured I'd post it here instead. I invite you to read his entry first: Board Balancer.

I don't really have a clear articulation about the relationship between art and sports, but I do think there is one. And I'm not sure that "producing" a "product" of some kind is necessarily the dividing line. There are too many arts where nothing remains after it is performed.

I'm aware, in particular, of the sand mandala in the Buddhist tradition in which an artist creates a most beautiful work of art with sand--and then destroys it.

The thing is, I really do relate to Cyen's rant--what's it all for, basically? But I feel really hesitant to go with it all the way. Maybe especially because he mentions an Olympic sport which is different in my opinion from professional sports (a bloated business for sure!).

But I see the Olympics and gymnastics in particular, say, as a celebration of what the human body is capable of doing. More than that, though, it's also a celebration of the human imagination caught up with the human body. A gymnast on the balance beam doesn't merely stand on a four-inch beam, but she also bends, and leaps, and flips, and gracefully traverses that beam in every way she can imagine.

Most people trudge through life never imagining anything can be different than it already is. But a gymnast takes the same human body and puts it in astounding positions on the thinnest slip of wood.

That makes me want to ask: what else is possible?

Back in the 80s, Joseph Campbell urged folks to follow their bliss. I imagine, for whatever reason, that a gymnast's bliss is balancing on a four-inch beam. It's not my bliss, but I celebrate that it is her's. I'm hopeful that if we were all given the chance to follow our bliss, then the world would be a more beautiful place.

It's a totally non-utilitarian view of things, I admit, dear Brother of mine. :)

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The United States Post Office is a Joy to Work With

(1) The hold on our mail delivery for vacation was supposed to end as of yesterday, but no mail was delivered. (Including an express package for D's work.)

(2) I call 1-800-ASK-USPS this morning to inquire. First time I call, I receive an automated message that the phone number is invalid. I double check the number I dialed and it is accurate.

(3) I call 1-800-ASK-USPS again and I am connected this time. After speaking various commands into the phone, I am connected to a human. (I think.) She tells me that if the mail wasn't delivered yesterday, it would not automatically come today. I can pick up my mail, with a photo ID at my local post office, or schedule a new delivery for this Saturday. We are waiting on bills that must be paid, so would like to pick up the mail today. We live in a fairly Big City, so I ask her which post office would be holding my mail. She types something into her computer, but does not come up with any answer. Instead she gives me the phone number for our Main Post Office.

(4) I call the Main City Post Office. The phone rings at least 40 times before someone answers. I explain the situation to the person who answers the phone. She asks for my zip code, then tells me my mail will be at Neighboring City Post Office. This seems very odd to me. (Would it seem odd to you?) So I clarify (politely): "Even though we're located in fairly Big City, our mail is delivered to Neighboring City?" She answers in the affirmative with as much impatience and exasperation as she can muster. She does not give me a phone number to connect with Neighboring City Post Office.

(5) I go back to to find phone number for Neighboring City Post Office. They list only 1-800-ASK-USPS.

(6) I call 1-800-ASK-USPS again. It rings twice then goes into a black hole of nothingness.

(7) I call 1-800-ASK-USPS again. I answer various voice commands, and realize there is one that will tell me which local post office is mine. I speak the magic words just to see if it matches what the woman just told me. It doesn't. I cajole the automated system to tell me the phone number of this post office.

(8) I check the website and notice that this latest post office is not even listed on their site. I decide to go back to Neighboring City suggestion. I notice that if you click on one more link ("more info") then rather than listing 1-800-ASK-USPS as the contact phone number, you are given the local post office phone number. WHY?!

(9) I call Neighboring City Post Office. The belligerence of this Customer Service Representative far outpaces the last human I spoke with. Without getting any address information from me, this person gives me a phone number for my Postal Supervisor and tells me to contact him to have my mail delivered. I tell her we would like to pick up the mail at this point, and can she tell if our mail is being held there. She spews, "This post office has nothing to do with delivering mail." I have no clue what that means. I pause a moment, trying to take in what seemed like a nonsense statement. "Hello?!" She says in a bitter tone. I say, in mock sweetness, "Thank you so much for your wonderful help." And hang up.

(10) I call the Postal Supervisor number. He puts me on hold. Several minutes later he comes back and says, "We don't have any mail here for you at all. I guess the Postal Carrier has it with him already." I clarify, "So the mail ought to be delivered to us today?" He answers, "I guess so."

Ah, the joys of a Bureaucratic Monopoly. I hate the United States Post Office.

Friday, June 13, 2008


After a month or so of daily countdowns, today we reached it: the last day of fourth grade for the Monk. How can this be so? And will we ever stop asking that?

Monk has had a great year this year. He seemed to fall into his groove with making new friends, taking things in stride, doing his homework without much complaint, growing more responsible. He had a couple projects in school that he really poured his heart into. Especially he worked hard on his Mission Project, in which he made the case that the California Mission system was largely responsible for the destruction of Native American cultures. He made a very sophisticated argument in his essay where he was able to recognize that although some of the intentions behind the Missions were good, in fact they had some very negative, unintentional consequences for Native Americans. For a fourth grader to be able to realize such complexity is pretty remarkable, in my (humble mom) opinion!

This was the year that Monk's parents saw way, way more closed bedroom doors than ever before. It used to be we couldn't get Monk to play in his room for anything: toys were always strewn around the living room floor when he was small! Now it seems we can't ever get him to come out of his room for more than an hour at a time. Of course, given that our apartment is roughly the size of a shoebox, we're never really far apart. :)

I have always seen the end of school years as opportunities to re-evaluate things. And I've been doing that these past couple weeks. Some of that I've been blogging about here and there--about looking for ways to live more faithfully in a broken world. But I'm also seeking ways, living as an academic, to be more embodied. Or, maybe put better, to pay attention to the fact that I am a body.

Having gotten sick at the end of May with a pretty serious (and painful) staph infection, I realized just how much the stress of these past few months had affected my immune system. And I saw that my ability to keep pushing on, no matter how stressful things are, while good for the short-term, is not a long-term, sustainable lifestyle.

This past week, inspired by PeripateticPolarBear, I decided that I wanted to start walking to work this summer. (I would have started earlier, but needed to recover my health first.) Although I haven't exercised for ages upon ages, I jumped right in this week and started walking the three miles to my office and back.

I made it a day and a half (9 miles in 24 hours) before I realized something pretty important. That is this: not exercising for twenty years is rooted in the same disrespect for one's body as jumping in and walking nine miles in 24 hours. I wanted to be able to do it all, every day, rather than understanding that I needed to gradually ramp up my expectations. It's a humbling thought, to be honest, that I can't just immediately begin walking 6 miles a day.

But realizing that I can't do it all, well, that seems to be the thing I must be working on these days.

I took a day off from walking on Wednesday, to let my aching muscles get their rest. And then yesterday, rather than walking to work, I went to the Bay and walked briskly for thirty minutes. And that felt great.

Gradual change feels so much more, what? tenuous? vulnerable? less likely to succeed? not dramatic enough? But I have an inkling that it is sustainable change in a way that drastic change is not.

Yes, this is what I want to try and pay attention to right now. Small things I can do, not trying to change everything all at once, looking for ways to live sustainably.

Oh, and as of 2:30 today, I am the Mom of a fifth grader.

Lord have mercy.

P.S. Oh! Speaking of changes! Much thanks to Mrs M for generously posting code for how to use a photo as a backdrop on blogger! And also thanks to my Brother, who edited the photo so that the sailboat could be seen in the left margin of the page, rather than in the center. He's so cool.

P.P.S. The picture here is the view I have when I take my half-hour walk. Yeah. Kinda nice.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

I Will Never Be Able to Do Enough...Even So... Part 2

Jesus started a global movement by paying attention to one person at a time.