Saturday, August 30, 2014

This Night Can Hold Me and My Bike

Night flowers reaching across the path

Some summer nights the couch can't hold me. The four walls close in and begin to feel constraining. The urge for a kind of escape cannot be evaded, and nor do I want to evade it: I give in, get on the bike, and go for a ride.

Summer is still with us in Phoenix. 109°F in the daytime, with more of the same for the longish weekend. Ten daytime commute rides per week lessen my desire for another on the weekend. It was still 95°F after 8pm when I started this ride, but what a difference the sundown makes. Calling the night air cool would be a stretch, but cooling, refreshing, particularly when flying along the canal path on a bicycle. My summer retreat, my refuge from the heat, a place for my mind to roam to the sound of water flowing, and gravel beneath my tires.

OHSO conviviality by night

Rebarish canal adornment, a sign for exit spoken in Gabionese

The oft-glimpsed (on this blog) rusty fish of death and light

The house can't hold me, but this night can on my bicycle. Within loose but totally enveloping arms, of silence and breeze, with fading hints of the desert summer's last broiling shimmers around me. I crouch low and slip between them. This night can hold me, until the next one comes along.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Career in Online Poetry Law, or, Insights into Bicycle Culture

Bean pods in the shade in the bike bike lane

Cicadas singing their summer songs stirred me momentarily from my blog slumber as monsoon thunder and wind sweeps across the desert.

Crunch of mesquite pods, buzz of cicada, rising monsoon humidity, back in the embrace of summer again

Life is often inexplicable in its vastness and random-seeming events. Getting older in some ways provides a focused view of this pattern: by turns joyful, sad, strange, and with a feeling of inevitability. The joys of your children growing up mixed with the pains of older friends passing on. So many questions, but with answers far between, and of particularly unsatisfying rarity are answers which stand up to reason and logic, backed by evidence and data, where one might stand in the bright light of an Arizona summer day and be confident in saying, "Ah, yes, now I understand, and my understanding is evidently true, backed up by facts, and demonstrable to others possessed of the faculties of reason and logic upon presentation of these facts." Things are not so black and white very often, though.

A pointer, a signifier, signage unneeded yet helpful: the dog bark is over there to the right

In younger days, when this getting-older process was a distant possibility, when the future appeared wide open and I could choose to do anything (although perhaps that is always true, on reflection), law school seemed like a good options except that I thought a career in law inevitably implied something morally compromised or hazardous. I thought that lawyers in their work primarily have to think up imaginative and effective ways to defend clients on par with a nuclear weapons manufacturer sued for releasing radioactive waste into an Arctic wildlife refuge causing a thousand polar bears to die slow painful deaths from radiation sickness and leukemia, on evidence provided by a Nat Geo film crew. Although law school sounded like something I could do, even something that an older friend and summer job coworker tried to convince me I should do, this narrow understanding of the job steered me away.

Dying century plant, symbol of mortality and aging in the desert

Now, however, long past the sensible time for attending law school, I've learned that the range of actual work that lawyers might do, the variety of specialization available on that career path, if you will, is enormous, with something for just about every interest, skill, and type of moral fiber. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), for example, is fascinating to me: lawyers working with conflicting parties to resolve disputes in ways other than litigation. Engineering law, patent law, Internet law, these all seem fascinating and challenging possibilities to me now. If I had known about them back when, I might have gone to law school. Well, not the Internet law part, since that was before Internet. But that's the way it was, and the way the future has unfolded, and I'm confident will continue to unfold: careers that are possible for my children when they reach that age will be in areas that don't even exist right now.

If I had been able to see the future back then, for example, and had run into the right advisor, I'm confident I would now be in Online Poetry Law, working with Internet poets on copyright and publication issues, fighting for the rights of the digital bards out there who need a voice and a friend in court.

Tree uprooted in recent storm beside the bike lane

This became so clear to me on this hot summer afternoon ride: our quest to understand questions truly important to us still exceeds vastly the answers we possess. About this aging process, about our career paths and choices, about where the missing 80% of light is in the universe, about the validity or lack thereof of ideas like "you are where you should be," "you are doing what you should be doing," "the answer is in the actions," and the error of using individual examples to invalidate or to deny the truth of the whole.

I've become highly sensitized to the techniques of rhetoric, marketing, eristic, and the stratagems used to win arguments by those for whom winning is mostly everything, and I find the methods highly unsatisfying. A quick read of Schopenhauer Art of Controversy will lay bare the more egregious and common methods. Nasty and common eristic does not sate me. I want to know. I want to be convinced by facts and data of answers which bleed truth.

Scottsdale Bike Stop, hidden in the corner of the Green Belt and Thomas Road, a good spot for bike culture

I think to myself, how can anyone be convinced by these debate techniques any more? Why are they still effective at convincing people of fallacious proofs of important concepts? Why do human continue to accept that the basically empty idea that one or some bad apples spoil the whole basket? "Oh there's a rotten/sour apple so all apples are bad," is ludicrous, but that pattern is reused over and over, every day. Scott Simon from NPR did it recently, blatantly. It's not valid. Over and over. 

Bicycle locking points (I think) at the Scottsdale Bike Stop (parts missing? metal thieves?)

I'm taking a step back and eating an apple, since many of them are certainly sweet, and delicious, regardless of single examples. The characteristics or actions of one individual do not invalidate a grand idea or beautiful belief. I think I learned that on this ride. And a possible corollary, or at least an associated neural firing, that bike culture is not really a specific version of this or that combination of peculiarities and perturbations arising from this sport or that city or this type of riding vs. that type, but rather one essential identifying trait, which is alone and in itself all we need: propelling a two-wheeled vehicle across the land under human power alone.

I want to know. I still yet have some things to attend to this summer which will preclude a normal blogging schedule. Some pleasant, some not so pleasant, some familiar and typical, some unfamiliar and strange. Some which I don't yet actually know. It's the state of not-knowing, but needing, I think, which compels us to fall back on argument, on tried and true debate methods used either on ourselves in our interior monologs or on different-others in the desperate attempt to cross the divide from here (not knowing) to there (knowing). But getting older has taught me this: if someone asks where that 80% of the light in the universe that's missing has gone, I feel bold and comfortable to reply: I don't know. I want to know, but I do not.

At this point, it's my preference for a scientist, or for that matter a poet-client of mine in an online legal matter, to show me glimpses of what might be the answer, shaded with uncertainty and doubt, but with hints of rightness, of correctness, via data or a metaphor, of pointing in what might the the right direction, instead of some bold and confident authority blaring in tedious forms of debate, of rhetoric, of marketing and eristic, The Answer.

My answers may be in my actions. On a bike ride, listening to the cicadas singing their summer songs, sounds a bit like truth to me, at times, on some hot afternoons in the shade of the mesquite trees, crunching my tires through the dry pods. I'm hoping for a more frequent blogging schedule sometime soon. Perhaps before the cicadas end their songs. We'll see. Ride on.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

There's This Fence Beside the Path

There's this fence beside the path that the flowers try to press through

Due to some events in my personal life, I'm going to be off blogging and social networks for a while. Thank you for reading. Peace.

The flowers try to press through and some make it, for a while anyway

Love and cherish your loved ones

Leaving the blog in good hands

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Search for Some Hidden City

Strider removal operation at Scottsdale Waterfront

There is no solace on earth for us--for such as we--
Who search for a hidden city that we shall never see.
Only the road and the dawn, the sun, the wind, and the rain,
And the watch-fire under stars, and sleep, and the road again.
--from The Seekers by John Masefield (thanks to Ironwood Bike Bags Blog for this quote!)

Water Striders, on land momentarily, headed to another destination

I've come to think of the continuity of my bicycle commute as a year-long distance ride of approximately 3,000 miles. Although the daily route is nearly the same each time, with changes I make to accommodate both construction zones and curiousity, the change of seasons, of weather, of human movements and schedules like schools, vacations, seasonal visitors, and ongoing construction and destruction both man-made and natural are triggers for my continuing quest to look below the surface of the cities in which I live in order to discover what truth, what beauty, lurks beneath.

The bicycle pace, the bicycle openness, the bicycle simplicity, enable this quest, as I've written about previously. 

Twelve foot long fiberglass bugs parked on the Soleri Bridge, in blazing morning sunshine

It's the hidden city of the the title and quote that I'm seeking, the one you don't see or only catch glimpses of from inside a fast-moving air-conditioned vehicle. Sure, I also feel the heat of summer, the dust of haboobs, the blast of wind, and get much closer to the uglier semi-hidden faces of the cities I ride through, too. The poor, the homeless, the overlooked, like the woman just off to the side of this tableau who I encountered with her bags and hacking cough as I rode around exploring this process as she was rousting herself after sleeping rough. It seemed as if no one else saw her. I see those sides, too.

Striders below the pylons, in what Soleri called the comfort zone created by the architecture

But I disagree with the opening line of the quote above, that "there is no solace on earth for us--". I beg to differ with the former poet laureate of Great Britain on that point. Solace that you seek. Solace that you make for yourself. Solace that you discover along your bicycle commute to work, like laughing out loud with sheer amazement and joy the first time I saw the water striders in the canal, and again on this apparently final act of theirs at the Waterfront, arrayed along the path in whole and in their parts in the process of being removed.

Twelve foot green fiberglass bugs which light up at night floating in the canal. I've tracked the cycle of their green floating surreal accent to our hidden city in this blog over the last few months. I've seen them, paused to ponder them in different light and at night, even programmed their lights to flash in sequence and also at random.

Separately lit and iPad-controllable water strider antenna balls: those things actually existed in my city for a while this spring. So again I diverge from John Masefield: you can see such things in this earthly city, but only if you look for them.

The road and the dawn, the sun, the wind, and the rain, and here in this desert canal-watered valley, the wind, dust, and monsoon rains, these factors feed and sustain my continued search for the hidden side of our cities. I suppose if I am totally honest, part of me does continue to seek that City of God, De Civitate Dei, that appears to be the heart of Masefield's poem. But also seek, with all my heart and mind, that Hidden City of Man that does offer solace, and truth, and beauty, to those who seek it here/now, in this life, in this world.

I've recently been disheartened, disillusioned even (which is rather amazing at my age, and may actually be a good sign!) with the irrationality and cruelty of humans both singly and in groups, both in my personal experience as well as in the news. We have these immense powers of both reason and creativity, enormous potential for both logic and love, yet it seems that nearly constantly I am bombarded with news and examples of the senseless exhibition of the exact opposite of these noble characteristics.

If I'm too idealistic then I guess I should expect disillusionment, right? It may even be impossible or pointless for me to wish that everyone would remember and learn from (consider carefully if not believe in) what Augustine wrote in the fifth century, as we're increasingly becoming programmed to view and forget in ten minutes viral videos and tweets on platforms engineered purely to influence our buying decisions of the moment. But there is no solace there for me. Or rather, recognizing the ironic self-contradiction of that statement in a blog post (no ads here, though!), I should write, my solace continues to be in seeking for some hidden city in the real world.

Sometimes the best parts of that hidden city reveal themselves, and then pass away. Float downstream. Get washed away by rains and canal water. But the impressions of them remain, whether on year-old satellite photos that still show colorful triangles floating in this canal as of this post, or in minds which are supported and sustained by differences made by artists and thinkers who also desire for more than what we normally see. You have to keep looking. You have to be open to it while staying strong in the face of not-it. The search for some hidden city, the ride to it and through it, goes on.

The video that Jeff Zischke posted about his work "Water Striders" is like a map to finding that amazing, welcoming, artful quarter of some better hidden city. Watch the video. It reminds me of what I keep looking for out there, down here on earth.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Work-Buy-Obey v. Play-Make-Imagine

Work/Play, Buy/Make, Obey/Imagine

Television advertising inclusive of product placements is approaching the 75% of air time metric necessary to ensure continued unnecessary consumption. The potent combination of fear-news and insecurity-nurturing is a promising technique of amplifying anxiety-driven purchases, augmented by pervasive interruptive personal device interaction. With average total cost of ownership for private automobiles approaching 20% avg yrly income (operating costs at four times acquisition costs), discretionary purchases of alternative transport will seem out of reach due to the sunk costs fallacy. Citizen metadata monitoring and analysis is in place to ensure WBO compliance. Impending implantation of a free device* that tweets out dreams in real-time in exchange for agreeing to permit the implantation of subliminal subconscious messages of the WBO** family. The closer your thoughts adhere to the WBO norm and/or earn frequent shopper points on your value cards along with certification of working the required shifts with discipline on schedule, the more you will experience Direct Pleasure Stimulation (DPS***) by the WBO device, which sends indescribably pleasurable sensations coursing throughout you just for conformance to WBO code.

It's Bikes vs. Bike-nots over here

The bike-nots have driven off in clouds of potent exhaust headed to the big box store to stock up on corn chips, corn dip, corn-fed meat analogue, corn dogs, corn-sweetened soft drinks, corn alcohol, and corn. The bikes have gathered at a nondisclosed but well-known location to go for a late-springtime ride along the river. Picnic lunches, coffee, books, blankets, silverware, plates, wine, musical instruments, kites, poetry, painting supplies, assorted materials akin to various craft supplies including but not limited to crayons and random stryofoam packing materials, charcoal pencils and Blackwing pencils and deep black Sharpies, and small gifts for one another have been packed into backpacks, panniers, handlebar bags, and yes not a few plastic bags hanging from handlebars because the other bags were full.

Cycling attire of all manner shape and form is apparent, along with all manner of non-cycling attire including dresses, skirts, fedoras, wool, tweed, mucklucks, Wellingtons, and sandals. The destination is either the beach or the meadow in the trees or both. The loose approximate semi-agreed upon plan is to ride and ride until they should not ride any more, and then stop in either place where they will devote an uncertain period of time to play, poetry, and imagination. With sufficient attention paid to eating and drinking. Then, when it seems indeed right and salutary, they will break open the various craft supplies and encourage each other to make something new and heretofore unseen, there beneath the leaves in the meadow in the hills, or in the sand at the beach next to their bicycles,

*device free for first twelve months, then $9.95 per month, subject to 36 month contract, usage fees and taxes extra. targeted ads will be placed.
**Work Buy Obey, inspirational, advertorial, political
***DPS is self-adjusting and calibrating, so that as mind becomes accustomed / numb, the power and specific brain targets are increased hundreds or thousands of times, as needed to continue achieve the desired result of positive reinforcement for WBO-compliant thoughts, feelings, and impulses.


Monday, May 12, 2014

Could You Carry a Kitten?

Perhaps in here, with the zipper open just enough to let in some air?

What if: you are sitting at work one day, and for some very good reason, you find yourself in the position of deciding whether or not you can transport a kitten home on your bicycle. 

I was considering the possibility, yes, and did not end up with an actual kitten to carry home, but I gave the question considerable thought. Could I do it if I needed? What are the options? Empty out the One Big Bag that goes on the back rack, and put him in there? Would it be too dark, scary, hot, or airless in there? Would I have to cut holes in the bag? Would the kitten mess up the inside? Or grow frightened?

What about inside my shirt, against my skin? I'm just exploring options here. Easier to keep an eye on him, a Turkish Van, by the way. He seemed big enough to hack it, but not too big. Full claws, though, as it should be, but would he freak out and use them on me in an effort to get out? That's what I might do if I found myself in a parallel situation, riding inside the shirt of a giant cat, let's say, being jostled about while he took me somewhere, I know not where, for some reason, I know not why.

Or perhaps a quickly improvised cat carrier to bungie onto the rear rack: small holes for breathing, something soft to lay on, perhaps something familiar-smelling to comfort him. That might be the best option. I don't know for sure, though.

I thought that my ability to carry a kitten home on my bicycle spontaneously, or lack thereof, would say something important about the bicycle as a means of daily transport. Does it limit options? How severely? Does it cut off some spontaneous acts while enabling others? Could you carry a kitten?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

I Was Good With the Traffic Across the Lake

A steady stream of vehicles across the water

A steady stream of traffic flowed on the busy street across the lake. The rumble of tires on pavement blended with the sounds of engines revving and decelerating up to the light, but the sound was muted by the trees, the breeze, and the steady splashes and calls of the birds in the water, and in the trees behind me.

Over on my side

Over on my side, the cormorants and ducks splashed and dove in the shallows for food. Dragonflies flickered around my head. Nine out of ten people who passed on the path on my side were cyclists. Couples on cruisers, shoppers on el cheapos with plastic bags dangling from handlebars, hardcore kitted up mountain bikers, a road bike or two. My fixie sprawled like me on the grass just being in the sun.

Twine shellac bars in the sun, ready for a new coat, soon, anyway

At that distance, with the buffer of water, birds, and dragonflies, I was comfortable with the muted traffic across the lake. The planet turned and the vehicles over there flowed. On my side, I took out a scrap of paper, and scribbled something on an old membership card holder.

That's a very skilled rendering of a dragonfly up there