A Poem About Reading on a Porch (by Someone Else)

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Poem on my mind... "Midsummer, Georgia Avenue" by Mary Jo Salter, as read on today's The Writer's Almanac. It taps directly into my love of reading and my growing desire for a front porch. (And I'll gladly take the one described in the poem.)

Midsummer, Georgia Avenue

Happiness: a high, wide porch, white columns
crowned by the crepe-paper party hats
of hibiscus; a rocking chair; iced tea; a book;
an afternoon in late July to read it,
or read the middle of it, having leisure
to mark that place and enter it tomorrow
just as you left it (knock-knock of woodpecker
keeping yesterday's time, cicada's buzz,
the turning of another page, and somewhere
a question raised and dropped, the pendulum-
swing of a wind chime). Back and forth, the rocker
and the reading eye, and isn't half

your jittery, odd joy the looking out
now and again across the road to where,
under the lush allées of long-lived trees
conferring shade and breeze on those who feel
none of it, a hundred stories stand confined,
each to their single page of stone? Not far,
the distance between you and them: a breath,
a heartbeat dropped, a word in your two-faced
book that invites you to its party only
to sadden you when it's over. And so you stay
on your teetering perch, you move and go nowhere,
gazing past the heat-struck street that's split

down the middle--not to put too fine
a point on it--by a double yellow line.

The One About A Month Without Television

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(or, David Versus the Television)

On the last day of June, when I pledged to write 750 words every day in July and "give up television for a month" if I didn't, I was confident of success. Time would quickly prove I was too confident.

I had stayed on the 750words.com Horse of Awesomeness for four months and hadn't seen a reason why I wouldn't remain in the saddle for months to come.

My 750 Words Awesome Badge

What the Horse of Awesomeness looks like.

That's why the tumble I took on July 5th came as such a shock.

Tweet about failing the challenge.

What shock looks like on Twitter.

On the morning of July 6th, I sat in silent disbelief. When I finally came to terms with what had happened, I wrote that day's 750 words and decided my Month Without Television would begin immediately. It had been a punishment I had devised and accepted. There seemed no sense in postponing it.

The first few days were a breeze. With my eyes unglued from the television screen, I became aware of the abundance of time I had in the evening to do Other Things, like read books, write, daydream (or eveningdream), clean the house, and pull weeds.

By the weekend, though, the novelty of so much free time had worn off. I would spend hours doing Other Things and have hours to spare. I started looking for a loophole in my punishment.

What exactly did I mean by "give up television for a month"?

The phrases "give up" and "for a month" seemed ironclad. The weakest word in the sentence was "television". My mind pulled the spoon it had palmed from the cafeteria and hidden in its cell mattress and began digging at the word.

Tweet about what television means.

What mental digging looks like on Twitter.

Did "television" mean the physical object? Did it mean the programming? Or did it mean both?

If it meant the physical object, watching television shows on the web would be allowable. If it meant the programming, using the TV set to play the Wii and watch DVDs would be permissible. If it meant both, there would be no wiggle room.

After serious deliberation, and taking into account this was a first-time offense, I gave myself wiggle room and adopted the programming definition of the word. I did so with the understanding that if I lapsed again, the wiggling would end.

So far, I've tried to use my newly defined "freedom" sparingly. I've limited my Wii intake to an hour-a-day of LEGO Indiana Jones or LEGO Harry Potter and my DVD intake to documentaries, like the one about Theodore Roosevelt my 8:36pm project caught me watching the other day.

8:36pm Watching a documentary about Theodore Roosevelt.

This photo of a disappointed TR prompted me to write this post and explain my actions.

I must admit my time hasn't been completely TV-free. Since M is still allowed to watch television, I still catch glimpses of the "news" on KRON 4 and random shows on HGTV. I may have also snuck in a few episodes of Wong Fu Productions' "Funemployed", but it's a web-series, which I'm rationalizing is not TV programming. If a television show were a cigarette, a web-series would be a nicotine patch.

I'm roughly halfway through my Month Without Television. Despite the "struggle" I've had, I intend to accept the August Challenge and risk another month without it as "punishment". This time, though, I know exactly what I'm risking.

On a slightly related note, I'm two weeks into a Theodore Roosevelt binge, consuming everything I can about the man -- books, documentaries, and websites. The more I learn (or re-learn) about TR, the more I admire him.

Links:

Scenes From a Baseball Game

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(or, David Versus the Foul Ball)

Tim Lincecum

The Crowd

Troy Tulowitzki

These photos were taken the last day of May, when the Colorado Rockies played the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park.

Tim Lincecum, San Francisco's pitching ace, struggled that day, unable to snap a string of bad outings. He gave up four runs in 5-2/3 innings. It was still amazing to watch him pitch, but it would have been more amazing if he had pitched well.

Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado's undefeated starter, threw a complete game shutout, allowing only four hits (three of them to Pablo Sandoval). His performance was awe-inspiring and it helped the Rockies win, 4 - 0.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, Travis Ishikawa, the Giants first baseman, came in to pinch hit for the relief pitcher. On the third pitch, the left-handed batter hooked a foul ball along the first base line.

It arced slowly, seeming to pause at its peak. Our section rose as one, eyes on the ball that hung in the sky like the moon.

As I stared at it, my thoughts travelled back to my college physics lectures and the numerous baseball trajectory examples the professor covered -- all of them limited to two dimensions.

I was pondering if the third dimension was taught in the advanced course when the ball unfroze and plunged straight towards me, along the critical z-axis.

I suddenly regretted dismissing M's suggestion to bring a glove. "It's too late. I already locked the front door," I said as we walked to the car. It's funny how bulletproof reasoning like that makes a poor substitute for good old-fashioned leather.

I also regretted silently cheering when the people in front of us left during the top of the inning. It would have been nice to have a buffering hand or head.

The ball came directly at my sternum, an awful spot to field a ball, especially bare-handed. The best I could do was awkwardly reach out my cupped hands and brace for the impact and sting.

And how the ball stung as it struck my left hand, on the fleshy part below the thumb (what palm reader's call the Mount of Venus). It deflected off my hand and the hands of the guy in the row behind me, who knocked me in the head with his grab.

The ball landed between M's feet. A large black guy, two seats to our right, dove across his tiny Asian girlfriend and M to get it. He raised the ball above his head in victory and grinned.

"Wow! What strength and ability it must take to shove two women aside and lunge for a baseball," M said. The guy kept grinning and pretended to be deaf and dumb, though I doubt he had to fake the latter.

While it's tempting to rant about the lack of civility at sporting events, it would only obscure the moral of the story, which is this: Always bring a glove to a baseball game. Always. Otherwise, your only souvenirs will be a story of what could have been and a bruised palm.

Links:

  • MLB's game page: Box scores, videos, photos, and a summary from the game.
  • The Physics of Baseball: Links to articles and videos on the subject.
  • Rion.nu: The photoblog whose style I was trying to imitate. My story ruined it. I will have to imitate harder next time.

My Cubicle Shelf

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My Cubicle Shelf

(or, Squirrel, acorn. Acorn, squirrel.)

Every cubicle at the office has a small shelf. For months, mine had been cluttered with old textbooks I never used and awards I never looked at. It also had an array of knickknacks collecting copious amounts of dust.

Today, I decided to remove everything and leave a single item. After serious deliberations (lasting nearly thirty seconds), I chose the squirrel.

For an hour, everything seemed fine, but I then happened to glance up from my monitor and notice how lonesome the squirrel looked. I tried to ignore him, but without luck. Finally, I relented and placed the acorn back on the shelf. It's hard to tell in the photo, but he's much more content.

On a slight tangent, while I love the Polaroid effect of the ShakeItPhoto app, I fear I may be shaking my phone a little too vigorously. I nearly sent it flying across the office when I attempted to develop this shot.

If I were a proper blogger, I would leave you with a profound quote about squirrels, acorns, and contentment, but as we all know, I'm not a proper blogger. So, I'll leave the last word to the squirrel, who wants everyone to know he is not blind and can find an acorn, not just sometimes, but every time.

Warwick Avenue

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Song on my mind... "Warwick Avenue" by Duffy.

I know she has been around and popular for a few years now, but I only "discovered" her on Sunday, quite by chance, on Last.fm. I was already familiar with "Mercy", but I instantly fell in love with the melody and tempo of "Warwick Avenue".

I ended up getting her album and have been listening to it non-stop all week. Okay, that isn't true. I've taken brief Duffy breaks with a few Bach interludes, but the week has been predominantly hers. She has accompanied me on the bus and in the car during my commute. She has kept distractions at bay at work. She even joined me for part of Monday's hike through Mount Madonna County Park.

Besides the two songs I already mentioned, I'm also digging "Rockferry", which reminds me of Petula Clark, and "Distant Dreamer", which reminds me of Roy Orbison. Yes, this may be 2010, but my ears are partial to the 1960s.

Old Habit, New Twist

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Some days, it's good to give an old habit a new twist.

Every workday, for the last nine months, the first thing I do upon entering my cubicle is write the date on my giant whiteboard. There's no real reason to do it. I have a calendar on the wall (with the correct month showing). It's just a morning ritual of mine.

Each day has its own color. Monday is red. Tuesday is orange. (I would stop here, but the rest of the days would be jealous if I didn't mention them, so...) Wednesday is purple. Thursday is blue. Friday is green. The colors may or may not be based on the Homeland Security threat-level system.

Anyway, today, I grabbed the orange marker, pulled off the cap, and was just about to write the date as I always do, when I was overcome with the overwhelming need to do something differently. Not different, just differently. I wanted to spice up the routine, give the ritual a good shake.

So I tried writing the date upside-down.

It took twice as long (twelve seconds instead of the usual six) and four characters gave me pause (can you guess which ones?), but there was something satisfying about the pauses and the result. What was even more pleasing was how it caused at least two coworkers to do double takes as they walked by.

Now I'm thinking the upside-down dates may become my new ritual, at least until I feel it's time to shake things up and right side round again.

High

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Song on my mind... "She's Got You High" by Mumm-Ra. It's the third song from (500) Days of Summer that has burrowed its way deep into my brain.

After several listens, it occurred to me that I'm a sucker for songs with "high" in the title.

With that in mind, on this twentieth day of the fourth month of the year, here are my Top 5 favorite "high" songs (links are to YouTube videos)...

  1. "High Enough" by Damned Yankees
  2. "High and Dry" by Radiohead
  3. "She's Got You High" by Mumm-Ra
  4. "She's So High" by Tal Bachman
  5. "Jimmy Gets High" by Daniel Powter

A Poem About Hands (By Somebody Else)

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This morning, to make my drive to work bearable, I listened to a marathon session of The Writer's Almanac. Of the seven poems I heard read by Garrison Keillor, in his usual soothing way, "Hands" by Jack Ridl caught my ear. It's one of those rare poems I love more with each reading. I post it here so I won't lose it.

Hands

My grandfather grew up holding rags,
pounding his fist into the pocket
of a ball glove, gripping a plumb line
for his father who built what anyone
needed. At sixteen, wanting to work on
his own, he lied about his age
and for forty-nine years carried his lunch
to the assembly line where he stood
tightening bolts on air brake after
air brake along the monotonous belt.
I once asked him how he did that all
those years. He looked at me, said,
"I don't understand. It was only
eight hours a day," then closed
his fists. Every night after dinner
and a pilsner, he worked some more.
In the summer, he'd turn the clay,
grow tomatoes, turnips, peas,
and potatoes behind borders
of bluebells and English daisies,
and marigolds to keep away the rabbits.
When the weather turned to frost,
he went to the basement where,
until the seeds came in March,
he made perfect picture frames, each
glistening with layers of sweet shellac.
His hands were never bored. Even
in his last years, arthritis locking every
knuckle, he sat in the kitchen carving
wooden houses you could set on a shelf,
one after another, each one different.

By the way, did you know April is National Poetry Month? This poem is a strong contender for Poem in Your Pocket Day, if for no other reason than to say to someone passing by, "I have Jack Ridl's 'Hands' in my pocket." The look of disgust (and bewilderment) on that person's face would be worth it.

Morgan Hill's New Promenade

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On Sunday, M and I went for one of our regular walks around town. Lately, I've been tempted to call our walks "suburban hikes". Then I remember I'm not trying to sound like a complete volcanus1.

The routes we take vary. Some days, we stay within the limits of our neighborhood, squeezing out a couple miles of walking, passing familiar houses and familiar parks. Other days, we venture beyond the neighborhood's invisible walls, wandering north towards Walmart and Peet's, east towards the freeway, or west towards downtown and the library. On those days, we log roughly three miles (according to M's pedometer).

Sunday's stroll was a westerly one. On a whim, I suggested we visit the recently opened Third Street Promenade, a streetscape project intended to beautify a key corridor in Morgan Hill's downtown area. The city spent $1.7 million in grant money for wider sidewalks, decorative pavement, streetlights, bollards, benches, and landscaping.

Third Street Greenery

The improvements also include a new three-cent fountain2.

Third Street Fountain

While these features are quite nice, my favorite part of the promenade is the new 340-foot3 mural lining the empty lot on the southwest corner of Depot and Third Streets. The piece is called "Meet Me Downtown!" and was painted by Morgan Bricca, a Los Altos artist.

The mural shows scenes from Third Street's past and future. My favorite scenes share the city's vision for the promenade.

Morgan Hill Friday Night Music Series

Future Home of the Morgan Hill Farmers' Market

If the artist's renderings are to be believed, Third Street will be the future home of the city's farmers' market and summer music series. I'm guessing it will also play a major part in the various annual celebrations: Mushroom Mardi Gras, Fourth of July, and Christmas.

M and I will have to make a point of wandering downtown more often to see if the vision and reality align.

My only quibble with the promenade is that it's still open to vehicular traffic. If it were up to me, I would restrict street use to pedestrians and cyclists all day, every day, not just during special events. Then again, if it were up to me, I would designate the entire downtown area a car-free zone.

You can see a few more mural photos on Flickr.

1 I don't normally allow swear words on this journal, but I made an exception here under the condition the offending word would be disguised. Hence, the inappropriate use of Latin.

2 I have recently adopted a fountain-rating system based on the amount of money I would be willing to toss into a fountain if I were someone who made wishes and didn't believe it would be coin cruelty to throw one into a pool of lukewarm water without a flotation device.

3 I would claim I reached this figure by counting the number of steps I took and multiplying by the length of my stride, which I know by heart, but that would be, in some people's views, "lying". In the name of truth, here is a link to the article I used as reference.

The First 30 Days of 8:36pm

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The First 30 Days of 8:36pm

Thirty is an arbitrary number, I know, but it's also a nice, mild-mannered number who seemed in need of a little pick-me-up, and I was feeling a sorry for him, so here we are.

Some interesting statistics...

13 - # of photos taken at home.
7 - # of photos taken in a foreign country1.
6 - # of photos featuring televisions.
4 - # of photos taken in the Mac Cave.
4 - # of photos featuring food.
3 - # of photos taken outside.
2 - # of photos featuring the kitchen sink.

1 Admittedly, Canada is the least foreign country I have ever visited, but I imagine they'd take offense if I didn't recognize their sovereignty.