"Beauty confronts us with the requirement that we place ourselves among...the redeemers, the leaders in the protection of life. Once you have seen the bush on fire, you are not going to get out of the assignment unless you close your eyes to the beauty.... [You] either have to close your eyes or go back to Egypt and set the people free." - Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, "Rising to the Challenge of Our Times"

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Aversion Happens

While at Legal Services I got involved in an ongoing project to train other attorneys/advocates in "race-based" advocacy. If you are moved right now to gasp and exclaim that nothing should ever be "race-based" because we're seeking, or even that we already live in, a "colorblind" society where everyone has the same opportunities to succeed based on their personal merits alone, I'll ask you to as a favor to me to just accept, for the duration of your reading this post, that colorblindness is a pernicious lie with scientific research to prove it (if you believe that stuff they do at Harvard has credibility - you don't have to, but maybe just for this blog, accept that assertion too).

Of course there are all kinds of implicit, or unconscious biases, that are connected to other traits than race...gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, hairstyle, weight, height, disability, religion...and having any assortment of unconscious biases doesn't necessarily make one a bigot, because if it did, no non-bigots would exist. I would be willing to bet one million dollars on the fact that His Holiness the Dalai Lama has, with some frequency in his life, noticed the arising in his heart of aversion to a particular person or group of people, and furthermore, that at some time(s) in his life, he has failed, at least for awhile, to notice the arising of aversions. Go ask him, have him sign an affidavit, and send me a copy of it with your cashier's check.

I'm thinking of this right now because of the experience I just had in a sandwich shop. Well after the lunch rush, not that busy, there's a woman in an overcoat standing ahead of me either not yet decided on her order, or already being helped, because there is a young man behind the counter gesturing that he is ready to help someone, and she's not moving. I have a feeling of aversion to the young man. The boy. I don't like his scraggly mustache and slightly sunken cheeks. He doesn't look very smart. He looks like somebody who might look a little menacing if he were not wearing the shop uniform. I don't think about any of this at the time, I just feel it and go right on up to the counter and order as if everything is fine, because it is. I'm supposedly very polite and kindhearted, but I secretly react this way to people all the time. Another worker, a young woman, is assembling or prepping something or other. I feel less averse to her, she looks smarter and not menacing at all, though she's little scrawny and pretty in a very dull, conventional way that her coworker probably likes but I don't. So there's more aversion, though milder, and not then given any thought.

I've told the guy what I want, and he lopes off to get it, when suddenly the woman who had been standing in front of me pipes up. "Wasn't I next??" she demands. The guy is all flustered - "Oh - I'm sorry - I thought you'd already been helped - I thought she (the girl) was helping you." "No," she says. I gesture for her to please go ahead of me and for the crew to help her first. I notice she is engrossed with her Blackberry. AVERSION. This time, I notice that I'm having the aversion right away and set about to let go of it, while I wait for the girl to finish whatever she is doing since there are currently no other visible customers. I lean toward the other customer and say "I'm sorry, ma'am, I didn't realize you hadn't been helped yet." She says "It's okay" without looking up from the Blackberry.

I repeat my order to the girl. I feel less averse to her then because she has a sweet smile, but she needs to speak up because I can barely hear her ask me "wuhdyoulikechipsoradrink?" Other customer is still at the counter, very focused on her Blackberry, thumbs a-flutter. Girl goes away and assembles my order. Yet a third worker is in charge of the register (confirming my feeling that the guy cannot be trusted to use it, and the girl is perhaps inadequately trained to do so - now is there some bias there, or what?). Other customer has already paid and gotten her food but she's still standing at the counter. I wonder what she's 'talking' about - it seems very, very serious. I think of many times that I have been or continue to be zoned out and in my own world in a public place, but I would never let my Blackberry come between me and my lunch.

I finally get my food, and my cup for the soda, and have paid for it, and who is now standing in front of the soda machine with her sandwich bag sitting patiently in front of the diet cola, but...yes. I walk over slowly so as not to cause alarm. I pretend to be interested in a freezer case full of ice cream (well, I didn't pretend, exactly). Then I decide I will just have to invade Text Lady's personal space to get my drink. I stand at one side of the fountain and reach out to fill my cup from a spigot at the other end, where she's standing. Unfortunately, she's standing right in front of the lids and straws. I walk around her and reach in, this time close enough to her person that she notices and says "Oh, pardon me" and steps aside. Still texting. While I'm getting my lid I am this close to saying, "That must be a really serious conversation you're having!" In my head I actually don't feel snarky about it - I would have meant it 90% sincerely, but she would probably only hear the 10% judgment/annoyance disguised as a joke - so I didn't say anything, and left her still typing away. I hope she was eventually able to eat. I hope she rode a bus to the sandwich place. But let she who is without sin cast the first stone.

It may have, in fact, been a really, really serious conversation. I visited a civil harassment restraining order court once and I learned a lot about the kinds of very serious conversations people have by text message, which the other person then saves on his/her phone and brings the phone to court to show the judge (who had to figure out how to use about four different models of phones that day) as evidence that Textor poses an imminent threat to the health and safety of Textee. But sandwich shop customer's conversation seemed way too long for that sort of abrupt content, and her affect was kind of blank. Just very focused.

I left out of this narrative mention of the races of the people involved. There were racial factors that I don't think played into my feelings of aversion at all, but definitely played into my ability to be conscious of the feelings when they arose. Does this conversation make you uncomfortable? If it did, when? Does my talking about my biases make you feel like it's safer to acknowledge yours, because you have them and we both know it, or are you thinking who the hell am I to say that, because you have absolute equanimity, you don't make unconscious judgments based on race, gender, scraggly mustaches, timid voices, and oblivious behavior? Are there some human traits/behaviors to which you feel justified in your aversion, to the extent you realize it's happening? Of course there are - endless legal and literal battles have been waged in the effort to justify aversions.

In "Wild Geese," a poem that has come to have the significance of scripture, or a prayer, or mantra for many people, including myself, Mary Oliver writes "Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine./ Meanwhile the world goes on." Since this post is almost done so it doesn't seem like too much more to ask, since you've made it this far, I'll ask one more favor: consider that there is link between our unexamined - not to mention our actively indulged/justified/exercised - aversions, and our despair. [Yes, of course I know there's a link between our greedy-grabby-clinginess and our suffering/despair, but sheesh, let's not go there now, okay?] "Whoever you are, no matter how lonely" -- typing the entire Declaration of Independence with your thumbs, word-by-word, from memory, while trying to order a sandwich; doing your best to hold down a job in a sandwich shop; distancing yourself from people by judging them based on their mustaches (how do I know, maybe his mustache is an immutable characteristic due to some kind of condition he suffers from) - whoever you are, "the world offers itself to your imagination." If you don't like what you see, imagine seeing it differently.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Time, shmime

It's been awhile since the last report here. November was a month of huge unrealistic goals, which as my massage therapist suggested, are a way to accomplish SOMETHING. Sort of like bargaining with yourself and asking for a lot more than you'll realistically ever get, except that instead of recognizing that, I just said sure okay why not! So have I been sitting an hour a day? Not even close. Did I write 50,000 words of a novel? Nope. Have I trained for a marathon? Yes, actually, pretty consistently, and the day of reckoning is here - allons enfants de la patrie, la jour de gloire est arrivée. I could go on anxiously and criticize my training as having been on the low-mileage end - but I've felt faster and stronger than ever so it's possible that I've done it right - and at any rate, it is what it is and tomorrow's time will tell.

Tomorrow's time will only tell if someone's calling out splits, though - because I decided at the beginning of November that I would run this marathon without a watch. I had a chance conversation with someone back in early October who told me that her best marathon time ever (and her best times were a lot faster than I'm ever likely to run) was when she ran without a watch.

I already run without headphones, but no watch?? Everybody lines up at the start with their fingers poised on the buttons of their fancy watches, some of which now talk to distant satellites and listen to your heartbeat and tell you how many calories you're burning and how fast you're going and where you're going and where you've been and how long it will take to get there. I thought that would all be good stuff to know. But there were/are a couple impediments to my investment in a Dick Tracy mini two-way wrist running coach: 1) I have teeny little wrists, and even most of the newer and smaller versions of the GPS watches won't cinch into a small enough circle to fit. I would need a wrist shim like you use for installing accessories on bicycle handlebars. If I'm going to spend $200-something on a wristwatch it better fit me. 2) Speaking of the $200-something, that's a lot of cash to spend on the delusion that having a watch will make me a better runner if the biggest challenge I face is getting out the door in the morning. If it came with a little shock collar that would go off if I weren't out the door by 6:30 a.m., maybe it would be worth it. 

I had a reasonably priced Nike+ sportsband with a foot sensor last year, but it was hard to keep it properly calibrated, and it fed me lies about how far and fast I'd been going in my training and then dumped me hard when last year's marathon arrived.  When the 'watch' part fell out of the wristband one day and got lost, I didn't replace it.

So I started thinking about the naked wrist idea. I first tried it out in a half marathon on Oct. 31. I ran as fast as I felt like I could. I listened to my legs, and my lungs, and thought about my feet turning over and my form and stride and foot strike on the ground. I had almost no idea what time it was during the hour and forty-five minutes it took me to finish, until I looked at the finish clock and was thrilled to see how well I'd done without having had much opportunity along the way to think about whether I was doing well according to any data from a wrist computer.  Anyway, inevitably I'd hear other runners discussing split times and pace and how well their watches were telling them they were doing, so I had hints that I was moving along just fine even though there are times when it feels like the Holy Grail scene where John Cleese's Lancelot is on the far side of a field on a galloping horse and never ever gets closer to Swamp Castle until suddenly he's THERE. A-ha! Have at you!

(Come to think of it, that's pretty much what distance running feels like all the time.)

I don't wear headphones when I run (though sometimes I think it would be nice to have more control over what songs are playing in my head). This isn't due to any state of enlightenment I've achieved. I just have a very self-entertaining head. But time and pace, as reported by a watch, is something that runners (including me) tend to obsess about. I've noticed that obsessive thoughts have a weight and an energy demand - not to mention the physical exertion of looking at ones wrist probably a hundred times during a marathon - and the effort of sometimes pushing various buttons - so I'm experimenting with doing nothing but running while I run. When I find myself getting anxious about how much farther, how much farther, I try to let go of the distance and I imagine I'm running in one place, not going anywhere, just feeling how running feels, sometimes it's feeling good and sometimes not, but it's just my body doing work and all my brain needs to do is help it work as efficiently as it can, not get in the way.

Funny thing, the brain - right now it's putting butterflies in my stomach, it's dreaming of a PR, maybe even a Boston qualifying time, yet tomorrow I know for a fact it will turn on me and start wringing its little neuron hands and telling me this is too hard, ohmygosh, how can we go on, what if it all falls apart, what if we did all that work and still don't break 4 hours, we're not really bioengineered for efficient running, our feet do that funny sideways flip-thing and we look knock-kneed and dorky just like we did in junior high except now we're approaching middle-age and have compromised cartilage...why do we keep trying to do things that we're not really all that good at? To any or all of that monologue, I will just have to say "So what? Can the legs keep going? Yes. Pain level is not debilitating? No? Okay then. Pick it up and run." One-two one-two one-two one-two one-two.

In the 20-mile "Paul Reese Memorial Clarksburg Country Run" (I've since learned that the great Paul Reese was a 'buttonhole relative' once removed and I'll claim him any way I can) I did three weeks ago -- my last long training run -- somewhere nel mezzo del cammin de nostra vita I decided to try counting my steps for a mile. Can't vouch for accuracy -- I used my fingers to tick off what set of tens I was on -- but I counted about 1500 steps. If that's in the ballpark, it would put the whole marathon at just under 40,000 steps. Hmm, now I'm not sure why I wanted to know that. I think the point was supposed to be that even a big number is a finite number. Whatever I'm doing, there isn't any way to skip steps, they all have to be taken.

My novel didn't make it to 50,000 words in November, but we're still moving along with pen to paper, and all my interior monologue about writing is remarkably similar to that of running. In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott calls this monologue (in the writing context) "Radio Station KFKD." People who run with headphones or who employ other distractions are merely trying to drown it out. If I were to turn the headphones up loud enough to drown it out effectively, I would have permanent hearing damage, so it seems to work better if I can practice listening around it - whether to the voices of the Muse or the call of the wild - the wolf loping easily over miles and miles of wilderness, the polar bear swimming to -- arrrggghhh! can't think of that either. On the other hand, I do know for certain where I'll find my ice floe tomorrow - at 8th and Capitol - and I'll have ample time to see what time it is when I'm sprinting up the finish chute. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

10,000 +/- BEAUTIFUL mistakes

I'd initially started this post, getting so far as the title, after a conversation about not over-editing. The concept was to just type a post for all the world to read without deleting, revising, deleting, revising...on a sentence level. The typos I catch as I write I can't let go of. Other issues, maybe, okay. It is really hard to do this, in a private forum let alone this public one. But so far I've gotten through however many sentences this is without redoing any of them.

I need to sit a lot more. Or else change the title of the blog again, to something that doesn't imply a quantitative goal. A Zen truism(?) is that life is comprised of "ten thousand beautiful mistakes." I can't make that the title of my blog because the editors are saying probably ten thousand other blogs are already out there with that title. And I can't grind this post to a halt while I research that assertion. Another part of aforementioned conversation was a suggestion that writing could be, or what if it were, possibly at all, in a different universe, like running. I don't go back to re-run the same block over again if I didn't like how I just ran it. I just keep running, and go on to the next block, for better or worse. What if writing were like that.

I actually almost did have to re-run some blocks in San Francisco yesterday (was it only yesterday?) due to becoming slightly lost from my carefully mapped-out path that was intended to be a 14-mile loop of the outer Sunset, Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, and back on the Great Highway. My favorite quadrant(s) of the City or "the City" as they say around here. The foggy, tree-lined, oceanic side of town. Not always tree-lined but I can't go back and fix that sentence. Alas. Quite sandy and wind-swept in places. And rain-soaked, but not until this morning. My run Saturday morning was merely misty.  As I was saying. All was well until I got to the Presidio where for a former military place you'd think they would mark their trails a lot better. And then leaving the Presidio I found a lovely dirt path alongside Lincoln, down which I veritably bounded and might have glided if I were a flying squirrel. ('Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat.' 'Again?') Sorry. Not editing overmuch doesn't have to mean stream of consciousness. But maybe for now it does. Anyway, to summarize, I had a tour of Baker Beach, some batteries (the kind that involve cannons), a golf course or two, and the VA Hospital. Some parts of San Francisco I'd never really seen. I asked somebody for a little help about the time I reached the VA to point me in the direction of the Great Highway/Point Lobos after which I needed only to run south as fast as I could go.

The other part of the problem was that I was supposed to have been somewhere already about the time that I got the directions for where to go before I could get to the place I was supposed to be. I'm always - no, I'm very often - late because my ability to estimate how long it takes to do a thing usually leaves all the editing process out. By that I mean all the blocks that have to be re-run, the wrong turns at Albuquerque, as Bugs Bunny used to say before he ended up somewhere in mythical Arabia or a bullring in Spain. In truth, I don't know what the reason is. The reasons. But I am sorry for the frustration this causes other people. The 'contrition verse' for which I will break the 'rule' of this post by stopping to look up to make sure I've got it right goes like this. More or less.
All my ancient twisted karma, from beginningless greed hate and delusion, born of body, speech and mind, I now confess openly and freely.
 Greed, hate and delusion sound awful. Especially if they're beginningless. Twisted karma doesn't sound so good either. Especially with that possessive pronoun.

I don't know where exactly I'm going with this. It was an experiment. Does it make you uncomfortable? It's definitely making me uncomfortable. I just remembered that I wrote down another quote, though, on a scrap of paper, when I was not managing to maintain a high level of active social interaction in a group of very nice, thoughtful and witty people and so sat outside of the 'circle' and picked up a book, which was Thich Nat Hahn (further evidence that these people are very kind and thoughtful) and read these words:

"When you understand, you cannot help but love. You cannot get angry."
 I've been stuck for about five minutes just reading that sentence and not knowing what else to say, or putting together all the things I do know into various formulations without trying to write them out so as not to break the rule about not revising this post. It's late, and the weekend with its times of engaging and times of separation or rather of engaging with other people and engaging with only myself; of knowing where the road was and not knowing; of exceeding expectations in delightful ways and of failing to meet them in unpleasant ways; is done. Tomorrow the clock starts over and a whole world of beautiful, beautiful butterfly-like mistakes will fly to their migratory tree in...I don't really know how to finish that metaphor. You get the picture. However difficult the understanding may be, however slow in coming, however late for the party, however off the pre-plotted course, however unexpectedly lovely and surprising, I see it is all I want. I want to understand completely and thereby love helplessly. That's all. Whether and whatever anybody else understands is their own deal. It's okay, actually, if this didn't make sense in places, because it doesn't have to. I'd like to tell you it won't always be this way, but I can't. Or, maybe I can - it will only be this way this time. I could re-run the block but my feet still wouldn't hit all the same places, and the sun will have shifted in the sky, and it will have begun to rain somewhere, and the overheard conversations will have different words, and I'll look up from my computer to see that the dog has moved from napping on the floor to napping on my bed with her head ON MY PILLOW. Oh will you ever be done with this, I imagine her saying, because dogs are an excuse to talk to yourself and/or to insert third opinions into conversations with other people but that is really a topic for some other time.

Monday, October 11, 2010

too tired to think of a title

In lieu of striving for enlightenment I think I'll just work on staying awake for 30 minutes at a time. Not that easy. Through years of schooling, sitting in meetings, and now sitting zazen, I like to imagine that I've somehow developed the ability to play off my hypnagogic twitching as merely turning in my seat, adjusting my posture, nothing wrong here, you've got my full attentio... AAH!

If the title "Buddha" or "Bodhi" means "Awakened One," does it mean permanently awakened, or intermittently awakened? How do you say "Frequently Startled Awake One" in Sanskrit? Maybe the more often I doze off, the more awakenings I will accumulate, ergo the more Buddha-like I'll be. Even as we speak. I dozed off right in the middle of that sentence. Can you feel the enlightenment just zzzzz. Huh?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ripley Roshi

(Shown here in one variation of her "reclining Buddha" pose.)

I've generally preferred sitting at hours when Ripley is asleep in her house, but Day 2 of the sitting experiment occurred on a "furlough Friday" and I had an early morning class at the gym, so I ended up sitting plumb in the middle of the day. Ripley is an avid power-napper throughout the day, but when the sun is up she's likely at any moment to spring wide awake ready to protect the herds from invading Normans, or the Hound of the Baskervilles, or Luftwaffe, or the UPS guy.

Frankly my head was a mess most of last week. Buzzing like a hive of worker bees about to go on strike. Making up imaginary versions of real people and rehearsing endless arguments with them, and arguing about arguments. This happens to me, to some degree, about once a month. This last lunar revolution, though...holy hormones batman (so THAT'S why sitting on Monday was fun, and sitting on Thursday, not so much.) 

As I tried to sit on Friday, the head dialogues sometimes degenerated into random word generation, and from there into a sort of word mush - like the noise of a lot of people talking mostly unintelligibly in another room.

It's easy to get quite put out with oneself, and ones noisy, messy, annoying head, under these circumstances. And Ripley seemed to think it was noisy too, because every thirty seconds she had to stand at attention and bark, at the door, at me, at the cat, a butterfly flapping its wings in Ecuador...whatever. I thought, ah Ripley, I wish she'd stop barking, but it's what she does. I'd say 'Tssst!' to her and she would stop for a minute, and I would go back to obsessing about how annoying the inside of my head was. Then she grabbed one of her toys, came over to where I was sitting , and started pushing it at me - right in the gut, since I was sitting on the floor. Nudge. Look for reaction. Nudge. Look for reaction. Nudge. This struck me as quite funny all of a sudden. I took the toy from her and scratched her head and rubbed her velvety ears. She stretched herself out against my knees and laid down. Reclining Buddha (at least the smile, if not quite the same arrangement of limbs).

It's easy to muster lovingkindness for my barking dog, she's so cute and furry. Maybe I could have a little more compassion for my barking head. Ripley Roshi also gave me a koan to work with - "how much IS that doggie in the window, arf arf?"

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Well the first days are the hardest days, don't you worry any more...."

I love the song "Uncle John's Band," especially after years of singing it in harmony with my sisters and friends. But the opening admonitions are a puzzle. The next line seems intended as an explanation of the first: "...'cause when life looks like easy street there is danger at your door."

So the message here is that the way things appear, and the way they are, are most probably not the same; i.e., don't worry about apparent difficulty, and don't assume that easy street, though perhaps well-lit, is in a safe neighborhood.

One other question before laying the Dead to rest - so the first days are the hardest days, but does it work the other way? Are the hardest days the first days? First days of something we weren't aware of having begun?

Okay. The whole reason I got on the "first day" subject and went off into a song lyric tangent, as is my wont, is that last Monday I wrote my name on a sign-up sheet saying that I was going to "sit" (meaning practice zazen) for 100 hours in 100 days. And (this) morning and the evening (will be) the first day, and it was hard. If I had shown up as I did last Monday at the local Sangha after months of not showing up, and had a "sitting" experience then like the one this morning, I would have thought "okay, I've completely forgotten how to sit and should warm up gradually before I do anything crazy and pull a brain muscle." But no. It was all serene and lovely and I had such nice realizations about the relationship between breathing and metta. So when the group discussed a plan to commit to sit 100 hours in 100 days, I was all, like, sure dude, why not?

Actually, I was not "all like" that. The 100-hour commitment seemed like one of those things that part of you knows will be so helpful and good for you to do, but that, given a chance, your mind will talk you out of, because it is a threat to your mind's sense of immense self-importance and authority. So I listened to other people talk about how they felt about the idea of sitting so much and tried not to think about how I felt or didn't feel about it. For one thing, trying to do anything worthwhile on a consistent basis because I feel like it has never worked out very well. But sitting happened to 'feel' very worthwhile and good that night, so I drove the car off the lot, and this morning, Day 1, which coincidentally is three days after I metaphorically bought this vehicle, it started making all these funny noises.

So I'll be sitting with that. The first days are the hardest days. Don't worry. It's not what it looks like.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Summertime...and the livin' is easy if you're a dog

I spent the past weekend in Chico for the last big home improvement push before my condo went on the market - a push that succeeded despite my starting out with nary a grasp of how much work would actually be involved, thanks to the huge generous efforts of friends and family and hired help. Thanks Heather, thanks Mom and Dad, thanks Amanda for the early start on the painting, thanks Oscar and Angel for showing up for a good day's work. But I have to also thank these dogs for making sure that Heather and I got out in the morning to enjoy the park. Here are Mica and Ripley swimming and splashing in Little Chico Creek.

Water dogs from Emily Fisher on Vimeo.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Hello? Still there?

It's been awhile. I have so many good things to report, so many thank you notes to write, so many NorCal AIDS Challenge registration sites to prepare for 2011 - well, only one, actually, but still. Rather than back up and try to cover everything I think I ought just to start with the lately in hopes of sometime winding my way back to the early.

So here's to lately. Getting my Chico condo ready to put on the market. Wish I'd taken a truly 'BEFORE' before photo, before the dark brown cabinets were painted in contemporary "Delta Sandbar" and the ailing split-pea soup-green countertops were pried up (and the chipped porcelain sink unhooked). I didn't think that far ahead though...in fact I'd changed my mind about three times in one day about what to do with the countertops. Did I dare try taking them apart? Using a power saw? Messing with plumbing? And what to do about the top of the backsplash (where there used to be a custom-shaped sort of narrow laminate bar top in the same baby poop color as the rest of the countertops)?

I've made so many trips to Lowe's in the last few weeks that I know my way around the store better than some of the employees. Good to have a Memorial Day weekend is a great time to buy stuff too, and Black and Decker jigsaws were on sale, so I was all set. I remembered the adage "Measure twice, cut once" but it sounds a lot easier than it was. Jigsaws are for cutting curvy lines. Maybe next Memorial Day I'll go back for a circular saw. Still, I don't think I made glaring mistakes that would still be visible when it was all done. I was encouraged by how it sure enough looked like a countertop and a sink when I fit the pieces together.

Many hours and a few more Lowe's trips later...tile all set...plumbing / disposal / dishwasher works...there's still one slow leak in the cold water connection under the sink, but I'm hopeful that it will respond to additional muttering, tinkering, and plumber's putty, before I have to give up and call a real plumber. A few finishing touches and my first major DIY home improvement project will be done, thanks to the painting help from my awesome housemate Amanda.  Next on the list: the bathroom. It was done in the same exciting 1970s color scheme so I can provide photo evidence of why these upgrades will hopefully result in increased marketability in 2010.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Hills were Alive...

...with the sound of cycling cleats awkwardly clopping and scraping their way up the baking asphalt. Baking enough for late April in Napa County, at least. This notoriously hard climb, Oakville "18%" Grade, had cooked our collective geese and decked our halls. I asked the two serious-looking, club-kit-clad women trudging ahead of me if I could "draft" and the one in front of me said 'sure, hop on my wheel.'  Ha ha ha. Cyclist humor. Even funnier was that this climb was "timed" to give us the sensation of what it's like to ride in the real "Tour of California," just like Lance and Levi except for the walking part.  The celebrity male pro, George Hincapie (who is famous for previously being on Lance's team and has a line of cycling clothing), having led off our ride from Davis, CA at 7:30 a.m., scooted up Oakville Grade probably a mere three hours or so before my attempt for the summit. I like to think that maybe he at least he had to stand in the saddle and grunt or swear a little bit.  It is supposed to be the toughest climb in the Napa Valley. 
As we reached the crest of the hill I saw the "Climb Finish" sign, and the sensors that you're supposed to ride over to register your climbing time and get your "King of the Mountains" points for being so fast. I quickly climbed back on my bike and surged forward across the sensors, shaving off a good 20 seconds from my hike, and letting out a joyful Whoop! A rider I'd seen periodically earlier in the ride sat with several others by the side of the road next to their bikes, trying to recover. She must have missed something because she muttered "wow...good job..." and sunk lower into what appeared to be a dark afternoon of the soul. Maybe she was congratulating me on my cheerful countenance. 

Once we were over Oakville, the next climb up Trinity Road was long and winding but completely in the shade. Shout out to the guy who was having a bit of trouble dragging his a** up the lovely shady road and tacked back and forth, back and forth, right into my considerably more direct path. Thanks for making me stop for a minute after you forced me to ride off into the shoulder - it was just the little rest I needed.
On the downhill side of Trinity Road I had to stop again (deliberately, of my own free will) to let my wheels cool off. I hate it when the brakes start to make that melting noise. I guess the idea is not to have to use them quite so much, but my already keen self-preservation instinct has been reinforced occasionally by the results of others' apparent lack of any. Still, descending is a skill to develop, just like knitting or Sudoku puzzles.

And suddenly, 113 miles and nine and a half hours after leaving Davis, I flew down the blissfully flat streets of Santa Rosa to the finish line.  I was almost too tired to eat my "free" burrito post-ride dinner. All that chewing.  My friend Lisa loaded my bike into her truck and was patient with my surly mumbling throughout the rest of the evening as she drove me back to Sacramento. Special thanks to Heather of the a.m. crew, too, for being patient with the anxious muttering and rocking and rummaging through bags. It's just better for everyone if I stay on my bike. The befores-and-afters are the really hard parts.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Next Voyage of the Kon-Tiki

Construction is nearing completion on this amazing feat of Scandinavian engineering, made possible through the generous assistance of my 'sponsors' and several hours of labor donated by my friend Lisa who put the frame together. Here you see I have completed one half of the support slats, a model otherwise known as the "Sultan Laxeby" (I prefer to call it the Kon-Tiki). Please note that each one of those pieces of wood, and each plastic connector, and each slider that adjusts the stiffness of certain sections (center of the photo) was disconnected from its neighbors when it arrived. Actually the plastic connectors are joined in sets of 3, so that helped.  While not quite ready for full launch, I was able to sleep on this half with my Therma-Rest air mattress last night and found it significantly more comfortable than the floor. A truly good night's sleep is visible from the deck.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Kind friends all gather 'round

This photo was taken a few years back (a few more than I think I want to calculate, perhaps) of my friends Lisa (left) and Denise (right). I believe this is Zabriskie Point in Death Valley.  One of the things I've always loved about this photo, besides the friends in the foreground, the clouds in the background, and the chipmunk poised to attack Lisa, is that for whatever reason it seems that Denise wasn't looking at the camera. Smiling and posed for the picture, but just a little bit in a different reality. The camera didn't lie.

Denise was a therapist and, from what I know and observed about her, spent much of her life studying traditions and practices of spiritual healing. I once watched her interact with people in a workshop she directed - she had an obvious gift, and I mean that in the best sense of our shared religious heritage - a spiritual gift of healing.  Sometimes a wounded healer, but one who persevered in the difficult work of self-understanding right down to the wire.

I didn't get to see her often enough but oh boy, did we all have some fun adventures - canoeing down the Green River, music festivals, great meals, "camping" in comfort and style (generally holed up in a well-stocked trailer), biking, singing...I got the feeling that Denise wasn't halfway about anything. She had a pretty much full-tilt approach to life. I am deeply grateful she was my friend, and I'll miss her.  Next week I'll get to sing some songs she requested at her memorial celebration. Kate Wolf and k.d. lang.

I also learned during my last visit that Denise had for the last few(?) years been practicing Tibetan Buddhism. We talked about the refuge of our respective sanghas. So I'll send something from the Bardo Thötröl into the ether.  If she doesn't need it I'm sure she'll pass it on to somebody who does.

O daughter of noble family, listen without distraction.
Now when the bardo of dharmata dawns upon me,
I will abandon all thoughts of fear and terror,
I will recognize whatever appears as my projection 
and know it to be a vision of the bardo;
now that I have reached this crucial point,
I will not fear the peaceful and wrathful ones, my own projections.
May I know all the sounds as my own sound,
may I know all the lights as my own light,
may I know all the rays as my own ray.
May I spontaneously know the bardo as myself,
may I attain the realms of the three kayas.
[Homage to the Three Treasures]

Thursday, February 11, 2010

what's going on?

A lot. I moved, partially. I said goodbye to some wonderful coworkers & friends at LSNC, who sent me off with lots of warm wishes and cake, and started a new job with the State of California. And what a State it is. I learned that my visit to an ailing friend at Christmastime was the last time I would get to see her, at least in this go 'round, but I had the honor of taking her song requests first.

I have a dog at my feet and a cat nibbling his kibble, and tomorrow is Furlough Friday, and I have a long interesting to-do list that includes tax return preparation and a long-awaited fundraising appeal for this year's NorCal AIDS Challenge - which is going to be a record-breaking milestone event for lots of reasons, not least of which my PARENTS are coming! My dad is riding his BIKE for 300 MILES! He's 62 going on 40 though so it's okay. My mom is going to be my right-hand co-pilot in the crew truck I'll be driving. I'm thrilled they are coming and Team Fisher is going to kick butt, especially if you, dear reader, sponsor us. My parents are already way ahead on their fundraising though, so go ahead and just donate to my page, right here. :) It all supports Sacramento / North Valley HIV/AIDS services. In my last two years participating in this event my eyes have really been opened to crucial these community services are - lives are getting turned around for the better - hence my desire to drive a truck around the valley from 5 am to about 5 pm for three days in May (day four is a little shorter, thankfully).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

alleluia, alleluia, amen

I woke up hearing this on the radio while I was still in bed. The last segment of the woman sitting singing under a tree was my favorite. There is great comfort in singing to oneself, and comfort to others.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Kato has packed himself and he's ready to go.  I told him it was a little early though - and anyway I'd originally planned to put books in that box. He's still got at least a couple weeks before he has to endure 90 minutes or so in a car.  On Thursday I was offered, and accepted, a job down in Sacramento with the Department of Community Services and Development. Feels like it will be a really good step. Also a really big one. Stay tuned.