Thursday, April 26, 2007

10 Things Thursday…

OK. We’re off by a month and a couple of days, but I just didn’t have the chance to post this on Tuesday.

I am planning a cycling trip from Wayfarer House in Western Massachusetts to Lock Haven, PA in July. I'm adding it to my list of goals for the year as a reward for finishing grad school. By then, if the universe is kind and I can get my thesis written, I’ll have earned my M.Ed from the university there. I’ve been engaged in this online M.Ed program there and I’ve loved it, but I find it a little disconcerting that I’ve never actually set foot on the campus of the school. I decided it would be a great reward for 3 years of hard mental labor to bike there. The trip is somewhere around 400 miles, and I’ll do it with my road bike and a backpack for the first few days. Then, if I’ve survived that long, Wifeness and the girls will meet me on the road in the van and they’ll spot me the rest of the way. I’ll ride, they’ll go explore the area, meet me for lunch or something and we’ll all meet up at a B&B for the evening. Once I've made it, we'll take our time going home by touring through Pennsylvania.

It’s been a wicked damn long while since I’ve done a trip like this, so I’ve been training since Christmas to be fit enough to make this happen. I’m doing pretty well, though I have a ways to go before I feel I’m truly ready.

I got a nice 40 mile ride in this past weekend, and managed another 20 mile hilly ride on Tuesday. The weather has been phenomenal the last few days (even yesterday's rain didn't keep my softball crew from playing), and being outdoors on my bike has been a wonderful treat! This week, then, I give you 10 reasons why I love distance cycling so much!

1. The experience of riding is interactive. You can smell and hear things around you that you simply can’t from a car, and you are much more in touch with your environment. You feel the minute changes in the weather, altitude and road conditions as you go, but you see them faster than you would if you walked.

2. Riding is interpersonal. You can actually say hello to someone and stop and chat. When you stop to rest or get food or simply look around, someone always wants to know where you’re coming from and where you’re going. It’s a great way to meet wonderful people and, very often, these same people will help you along your journey by offering travel advice about what roads are easiest, and sometimes even feeding and boarding you when you desperately need it. I have great stories of this from past rides, and it is one of the things that makes me keep wanting to do this kind of thing.

3. Actually going somewhere far on your own effort is empowering. I rode to Vermont the other day! I took myself there with my legs (and the help of some very trusty equipment), and I brought myself back home again. How cool is that?

4. There is something very peaceful about the zen of pedaling a long, straight stretch of road. You feel your legs pumping, and the sound of the spinning chain is just audible over the rhythm of your breath. The wind passes over you smoothly, like a fan, and it carries with it the aromas of countryside and fresh outdoors. The sun feels warm on your face and arms. The next thing you know, you’re miles down the road and you’ve reached a perfect state of oneness with the bike and the road. Ommmm….

5. You know that, if you can climb that hill (and you can!), you can do anything!

6. You know that, while climbing that hill, you will test yourself physically, but that the toughest battle is in your head. If you win that, you will see the top from the saddle of your bike.

7. You know that, once you’ve beaten the hill, the reward is getting to go down the other side like a bat out of hell. There is nothing—nothing—like hitting 50mph on a road bike! WHEEEEEEEE!!!

8. The investment in equipment is not always cheap initially, but is longlasting, and easy to upgrade over time. My road bike cost me less than $1,000 new (it was last year’s model, knocked down from $1,200). That was Christalmighty, was it really? 15 years ago, and I have ridden it well over 3,000 miles in that time. It has survived two accidents—including a major frame-bending collision with a lime green Porsche—but still rides as smoothly now as it did when I rode it home from the bike shop that first day. I recently replaced my pedals and shoes (cost: $250), but my prior pair lasted me nearly the entire 15 years I’ve had the bike. Ditto my mileage and cadence computer (cost: $35), and my aero bars (cost: $75). I’ve probably purchased a total of another $500 worth of clothing and equipment since I bought this bike. All together, I figure the cost to do this thing I love comes to around $180 per year to date. That’s ±$10/month; ±$2.50/wk; ±33¢/day. My coffee habit costs me as much!

9. Riding is great exercise, and the kind you can adjust to your ability, mood and time constraints at the time. Do you feel like a real workout? Take on the toughest hill you can find or push yourself to go just that little bit faster. Feel like relaxing and taking in the countryside? Sit up, look around, pedal slowly. You’ll still feel it at the end, and it will feel good!

10. I can ride, even when I can’t run or play soccer, or even be outside at all. I have a trainer that I can attach my road bike to that allows me to pedal indoors. During the winter, my bike lives up in my office in the attic. During the warmer weather, when it’s downstairs, I can still hook the trainer up to it in the living room (if the house is empty) or out in the front hall. I can even throw a movie into my laptop and set it up in front of me, to keep me entertained while I crunch miles. I can also listen to Red Sox games on the radio or watch regular television. I love that, even when it’s crappy weather out, I can still get to work out a little without having to join the gym. I recently cycled 20 trainer miles (which are harder that road miles because it gives more resistance) while previewing a movie for my Spanish class. It's like multitasking!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

An interview

This came to my attention first through Contrary, then through Chili. I thought it was a neat variation on the meme theme, so I asked Chili if she'd do me. Here’s what she sent…

Chili: It's actually kind of hard to think up good, provocative interview questions. Feel free to change/alter/toss any of these in favor for something that has a more fun answer...

No, I’ll go with the questions you asked. It would seem somehow impertinent to change them, even for the sake of comic relief.

Chili: What's the DUMBEST thing you've ever KNOWINGLY done? What were the consequences?

Oh, wow! Well, I suppose the first thing that’s popped into my mind qualifies as the winner. There’s a little bit of background, though, so bear with me. First, it’s important to understand that this was done with full intention, after carefully considering all sides of the issue, and is an excellent example of making the wrong choice precisely because you actually stopped to do that.

Not long after I moved to Las Vegas, Cirque du Soleil came to town. They opened up their first show outside of Canada at the Mirage, and it was a bit of a risk for them. At that time, they were a bit of an unknown, so there were no guarantees their kind of entertainment would take off in Sin City. They decided to post a huge number of positions through the casino to help get the show off the ground, one of which was a “liaison and interpreter” to the acts in the show.

I came across an opening with them during a random sweep of ads in the major casinos, looking for something stable and sedentary because I was doing a lot of cycle training at the time and I wanted to continue to be able to do that. The job required a French speaker (additional languages a bonus), would go with the performers to the various public appearances they were required to attend and provide simultaneous translation, and would also see to whatever needs they had during their off duty time. It paid pretty well to start and I had just the right qualifications for this position. I applied, and they offered me the job.

This job offered amazing possibilities for interaction with an intensely creative and driven group of people, work an innovative, growing organization that now has shows all over the world. Cirque du Soleil recruits performers from all over, and the chance to speak (really speak) not just French, but Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, but any others I might be inclined to learn additionally would have really challenged my gift for languages in a way I haven’t been able to do since college. It was just the right job, so you can imagine what happened, right?

I turned it down.

I still kick myself in the ass for that decision.

Chili: If you had to give up one of your senses, which would it be and why?

Hmmm… Well, I can certainly say that I would keep my sight. I may be all manner of colorblind, nearsighted and afflicted with Graves Disease, but I rely a lot on my sight and to be without it would be a difficult transition for me. I also rely on my hearing quite a bit, too, so that has to stay. I think it would be dangerous for me to lose my sense of touch (hell, I do myself enough harm even having it), so I’ll keep that out of concern for safety. That leaves taste and smell.

I think I’d keep smell and lose taste. I really like food. I like cooking it, presenting it, eating it, savoring it; but, thinking about it, so many of the lasting memories I have of food do not sit in my taste memory as such. They come from the smells. I can close my eyes and instantly call to mind the smells of any number of wonderful things: Coffee, fresh baked bread (from a patisserie in Paris, which also has its own particular redolence), and garlic in olive oil are just the first aromas from a kitchen that make my mouth water. But smells go so far beyond the kitchen. There’s the earthy scent of a warm spring evening (we had one of those just yesterday and it was exquisite). There’s a special type of perfume that I can detect in a crowd which will instantly call up the memory of someone I remember who wore it. There’s even the smell manure from a nearby farm that I think of fondly because it reminds me of the experience of growing up on a farm.

Take my taste buds, then. Maybe then I wouldn’t care if I ate cereal with milk that was just that little bit past fresh. As long as it wasn’t curdled. Then we’re into the whole texture thing.

Chili: If you could go back in history to be a witness to any one event,
which would it be and why?

Oooo! A good question, that. I’ll say that it’s one probably better asked of my wife, the history person in the house, but let me think a minute.

I guess there are several contenders, but here are two:

I’d like to see an instance when Jesus performed a miracle, but not so I could debunk it. I like that there is such a thing as mystery, and I’m comfortable with not knowing exactly how it was done. The thing I’d want to see was how the event unfolded, from the crowd assembling, to the fishes and loaves coming out of nowhere, to the afterglow, to the disciples telling everyone the show was over and to go the hell home (after passing the hat for tips). It would just be an enlightening sort of event to see in person.

I’d like to see the meeting of the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. I’ve had the opportunity in my life to interact with indigenous people in Brazil (I spent a week with a tribe in the middle of the rainforest—STRICTLY illegal for foreigners without permits!), and I have a sense for what it must have felt like to meet people with whom you could not communicate in any real way. How unnerving must it have been for both sides to see each other for the first time! The Wampanoag probably had in their oral history some encounters with European settlers (the Vikings, after all, landed several hundred years before the pilgrims did), but can you imagine what it was like to see them for real, looking all ratty and destitute, and clearly having no idea what the hell they were doing? From a sociogical perspective, that would have been interesting!

Chili: What is your superpower, and how do you use it for good?

Neat that you asked this, because my students are doing a unit on superheroes and powers in the next couple of weeks!

I have, since my early youth, known I’ve had great reflexes and an almost uncanny ability to instinctively react to things before they happen. I am very good at seeing patterns and relationships, and I think this comes in part from being able to recognize what I see know in what I have seen before. I suppose this would translate to an ability to see just a little bit into the future to see context and consequence—a kind of augury, if you will, that can tell whether a particular action will bring good or bad results in the immediate future. I’m not thinking about being able to predict far into the future, per se (I’m not sure I’d want that pressure), but to see a little ahead would seem a reasonable superpower, based on who I am.

I think the best use of this power for good is an advisory capacity. I don’t mean that I would necessarily prevent people from experiencing natural consequences for their actions, but rather to prevent innocent suffering where possible and to encourage everyone to stop and consider the question of “What happens next?”

I should note here that it might have been nice to have this superpower when I was offered the job at Cirque du Soleil. I might still have turned down the job, but at least then I’d be able to say it was for some reason other than BECAUSE I WAS STUPID!! ACK!!

Chili: When you're an old man, what are the young 'uns going to roll their
eyes at you for saying all the time?

Oh, Christ Jesus, there are so many things! I know that people already roll their eyes when I say, “So, I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. Which do you want to hear first?” I’m betting it’ll be that.


OK. Now it’s your turn! Here’s how it works:

Leave me a comment saying, “Interview me” or something like that, and either include your email (if I don’t already have it) or send it to: wayfarerbrian AT comcast DOT net.

I’ll email you five hopefully provocative, entertaining questions. There’ll be different questions from the ones I’ve answered here (that’s the beauty of this!)

You update your own blog with the answers to the questions I sent, and include an explanation of how this worked with an offer to interview someone else in the same post.

When other people comment on your blog asking to be interviewed, you get to ask them five questions, and the process evolves.

I leave it to you, then!

PS: Thanks, Chili! That was fun!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Where, oh where, has Wayfarer gone…

It’s been exactly a month since this blog has been updated, and for that I’m profoundly sorry. I hope you haven’t all just said, “F*&# it” and moved on. I’ll get around to everyone in time to let you know on your own blogs that I have not died or moved on to MySpace (I just can’t bring myself to set up shop there), but for the time being just know that things are well.

April has turned out to kick my ass! Teaching issues began the month. This is the time of year when students begin to come to the realization that they might not earn credit for courses, and when parents start to demand conferences and considerations from teachers in an effort to save their children from their own consequences. Please understand that I don’t begrudge parents this right. I think it’s important for children to know that parents will come to their aid even when they’ve made bad choices, but it is really irritating when they put blame on teachers for their children’s negligence.

My administrator is very good about defending the performance of her teachers, but I never take that for granted. I have learned to keep good records, so that I can adequately demonstrate exactly how a student is doing (or not) in my course. It is nevertheless a time consuming endeavor to go back and uncover all the notes, documentation, samples and communication on a student’s performance because the parents hope that, if they say I haven’t done my job right, perhaps the school will cut their kid some slack. I had to do this twice this month, and I am tired from it.

Right on the heels of this came midterm reports, which I should put into context. Eight times a year, my school produces narrative reports for students. Four of these are only for students who are in danger of not earning credit (we call them warnings); the other four are midterm and end-of-semester reports. Those of you who do letter grades with codes should appreciate just how little time it takes to do the task of reporting grades. It takes much longer to do narratives. I actually cheat a little because I have an Excel spreadsheet hooked to my grades that generates a basic narrative based on how students are doing, and this cuts the time *I* spend on reporting down by more than half. Even so, warnings routinely take me 4 to 5 hours and the major reporting takes more than 10 hours to do. Add to that the task of catching up your grading, so you have the most up-to-date information available, and you’ve added several more hours of time to the process. It’s emotionally draining.

Now we’re in the middle of Exhibition season, and my students are writing their 5-page papers. I’ve been getting drafts in from them and, as always, they require a SIGNIFICANT amount of revision. My 9th graders write for absolute crap! I have 65 of these to review in the next two weeks, marking revisions as I go so they can resubmit by mid May. I’m grateful that my TA, Dana, is around to help me with this, but again, it’s more tedium and time away from things I would rather be doing, like blogging.

Finally, there’s my thesis. I’m a little more than halfway through the writing of it (Wifeness is reviewing the first part now), and I’ve made good progress on the second part of it this week while I’ve been on vacation. I’ll need to dedicate more time over the next month to get it out the door, but I’ve managed to work through the research obstacles now, and so it’s just down to actually putting it all down on paper.

So, does that explain where I’ve been? Again, I’m sorry for not keeping up with blogging, but somewhere along the line something had to give. Still, it’s not very nice to just disappear like that, so I’ll commit to leaving word when I’ll be going on hiatus again, if I have to.