On CDs

By all accounts, physical music media is on its way out. The MP3 is the new king, and – arguably – has been since the late ‘90s.

These days, the only way you can actually hold your music is with an iPod. Otherwise, it lives in binary 1s and 0s on a hard drive or flash drive somewhere. It’s hard to get romantic about the idea.

I grew up in the cassette age – a barbaric period for music, requiring rewinds and thin, black tape that got caught in tape players. It was an awful medium for music (and for movies in VHS tapes), and we were all rescued when the CD, invented years before its heyday, came on the scene. It seems extraordinarily obvious now, but the idea that you could start listening to an album at any point, at any time, and at great sound quality, was mind-blowing.

To those Baby Boomers, the LP was the epitome of audio quality and music appreciation. That artwork, those liner notes, the way you could sit with an album and soak it all in. That was the stuff.

But to my generation, the CD was our LP. Tremendous sound quality, music booklets you could flip through, and a degrade-proof medium that was more portable than the classic record. Sure, CDs skip and scratch – but so did records. And with no needle to replace, the laser-read CD was the new record for the digital age.

This was the era that I came into in high school, right at the time I was developing a greater appreciation for good music.

Over time, the digital music era began, stemming from CDs ripped to computers. But eventually, the need for CDs disappeared. If you could download your songs, why do you need to buy a shiny plastic disc?

And the idea took off. Like a rocket. Thing is, there was nothing artistic, besides the music, to enjoy. It was just songs. To learn anything about the band, you had to visit their web site or Myspace page. There was nothing physical to hold in your hands.

Now Apple is trying to bring back the album idea, transforming it into it’s new iTunes LP format. The iTunes LP idea, like movie extras stuffed into a DVD, is compelling because it lets you go even deeper than LPs and CDs let you go before. Sure, there’s liner notes and credits and lyrics, but there’s also band interviews and music videos and the whole shebang.

As nice as it is, it’s just not the same.

I remember, especially in my high school years, taking a new CD, popping it into my stereo, and sitting down with the booklet and pouring through the lyrics as the music played. It was a way to connect with what I was hearing. I looked at the photos, and tried to parse through the thank-yous, and get a sense of the album’s direction by following along in the lyrics. It helped me memorize my favorite band members’ names and the song titles. For that hour, it was me and the band.

In fact, I would get upset if a band scrimped on their CD booklet. No lyrics? No multi-page nuggets of band trivia? When that happened, I felt cheated.

Now things are different. When I download an album from iTunes, I don’t get that connection that I did before. Now, music is something that plays in the background, while I’m working or cleaning or cooking. There’s nothing to hold on to, except my iPod, so I don’t hold on to anything. Not the song titles, not the band members’ names, not the little mysteries that unfolded when I would sit and listen and digest.

It’s totally different now.

It could be that I just don’t have the time to sit and marinate in my music like I used to. Part of that is true, I’m sure, but there’s something else.

I’ve always been a print guy. Paper and me go way back, and my career features skills that I developed in the print world. Only recently have I begun to learn more about web design and graphics. It’s a different way of thinking, for sure.

To hold a piece of paper with so much information on it, while listening to good music, is a feeling that electronic music formats can’t reproduce – not with iTunes LP, not with an iPod Touch, and certainly not on the web. The physical thing. That’s what I cherish.

I’m a hold-out. I still have every CD I’ve purchased since high school, after that very special Christmas when I got a Playstation and a CD boom box. They’re all still in their CD trays, stacked alphabetically, and some even have tickets when I’d go see the band in concert. Each CD is a slice of my history, and by opening up the CD tray I get whisked away to some time in my life. Maybe it’s when I first bought the CD, or when I first “got” the music. Whatever. Each one has a place in my home.

It’s heartbreaking when my CDs get scratched.

Sure, MP3s don’t scratch. You don’t lose them (unless your hard drive crashes), and they can’t get stolen from you. They’re robust and universally accepted, and it’s not hard to figure out why they’re so popular.

But man. To pop a CD I haven’t heard in years into my car stereo – to feel the CD player tug at the disc and whir as it spins it alive – that’s music appreciation. To pick a CD out of one of the stacks, to see the faded artwork on the cover, and to have a concert ticket spill out on the floor…

…it’s like real sex versus phone sex. Sure, you can get plenty of benefits out of masturbating with some poor schmuck on the other end. But nothing beats the in-your-face physical act.

And that’s why I’ll continue to go to the record store, or visit Amazon.com, and purchase real, live, physical manifestations of my music. I can rip them to iTunes, after all, getting the benefit of both the physical (and backup) copy and the electronic copy that lives its life in electrons. The CD makes both options possible, and I own both a physical and electronic copy at the end of the day.

Music has a special tie to memory. I like to hold both in my hands for as long as possible.


Will Work for Macs

MacBook Pro - glowing keyboard

For the third time in my life now, I’ve been directly involved in the purchase of a new Macintosh computer.

The first was my first, an iBook G4 that still serves as my home base computer. The other was helping Katie buy an iMac.

But this one, a 15" MacBook Pro, is strictly professional. It’s the result of our credit union’s umbrella organization, the Jackson Co-Op, taking a chance on my design skills and hiring me as a contract freelancer.

The deal goes something like this: my design skills will be available to non-profits as a Jackson Co-Op service. I’ll make whatever they need, like newsletters, web sites, and – our specialty – giant paper banners. I’ll work on my own, away from work, and the entire thing will be run from the new Mac.

Sure, the extra money will help. And I’ll get a chance to stretch my marketing muscles beyond the credit union. But the new Mac is really what sealed the deal.

And man, it’s a beauty. Fifteen inches of enclosed aluminum, a complete Adobe Create Suite 4 package, the world’s most advanced and gorgeous operating system, and something to do with all that free time I have.

Right?

I’ll be the sole employee of the Jackson Co-Op unless my workload becomes too great for me to handle. If we get super busy, they’ll hire someone to work with me.

My freelance work, in the past, has come in fits and spurts. I won’t get any jobs (which I get strictly from word of mouth and referrals) for a long time, and then a bunch of people will be looking to get projects done. Just last week I had two going at the same time – one big, and one fairly simple.

The solo freelance work I’ve done has been more to keep my skills sharp and to help out local non-profits with their marketing. All too often, I’ve come across a brochure or flyer and though, “Jeez, they need some help.” Some organizations are smart enough to realize this themselves, so they give me a ring.

And that’s not to say I’m some super local talent. There are tons of way more talented designers in Jackson. You just get what you pay for. I purposefully charge a bare-bones rate just to help the non-profits out. I asked for double from for-profit companies because, hey, they can afford it.

Now, I’ll still be doing freelance work, but under the guise of another not-for-profit organization. It’ll no longer be Dave Lawrence, for hire. It’ll be the Jackson Co-Op, and this fella Dave Lawrence, for hire.

But golly. A new MacBook Pro serving as the base of operations? In this case, it can hardly be called “work.”

I’m a bit nervous about the workload. I know I’ll have to give up a few things, (Newton Poetry may have a few fewer articles each week, for instance) but the deal works out on a bunch of different fronts. I’ll be stashing away extra money, helping out local groups, and…oh yes…the Mac thing.

Here I had planned on grabbing a new iMac after the latest operating system, OS X 10.6, comes out. I’ll probably still do that, but now I’ll have an easier time paying for it, and I’ll familiarize myself with OS X 10.5 Leopard (I’ve been running OS X 10.4 Tiger on all my Macs).

So things should get interesting. In the meantime, I’ll be working on infrastructure projects, like the co-op’s web site and mailing lists and so on, while reaching out to local organizations and offering my/our services.

All I need is a “Now Open” sign for my window.


On ‘Into the Wild’

Americans can be placed in two diametrically-opposed camps: those whoe view Henry David Thoreau’s experiment next to Walden Pond as a great idea, worthy of copying, and everyone else.

I’ve long placed myself in the former category. The idea of spending two years alone in the woods, with a self-built shelter and a bean garden, sounds pretty darned gnarley. Thoreau allowed himself walks into town for shopping and visits with friends, and that would be fine, too. But the romantic ideal behind Walden is enough conjure visions of daily journal entries, long walks in the isolated woods, and lots and lots of book reading.

For that other group of Americans, Thoreau’s experiment sounds like a trip into madness. Living alone in the woods? Finding yourself in solitude with just your thoughts? Cue the spine shivers and dry heaving. For some, an idea like that is not in the cards – now or ever.

I’ve always done well alone. As a child, I could entertain myself for hours. And now, as an adult, I’ve taken several long excursions all by my lonesome, and no suffering ensued.

“I don’t think I could do that all by myself,” people tell me. So it is.

But even the idea of Chris McCandless – the 24-year-old vagabond who starved to death in the Alaskan wilderness and subject of Jon Krakauer’s magnificent Into the Wild – heading out alone and unprepared seems like madness to me.

McCandless, if you’re not familiar with the story, was a well-to-do college graduate who gave away all his money and hit the road. He preferred an uncertain life in the American wilderness to a comfortable, normal middle class existence.

I can respect that. I admire someone who takes the ideals of Thoreau and Tolstoy (or Jesus, for that matter) and other ecstetics and lives them out loud. Living close to the bone is, arguably, the only way to live. For some, giving up all their possessions and lending their life to chance makes our mortal existence more worthy. I dig it.

What I don’t dig is a life led foolishly. If you’re going to take a chance, then you’d better be able to accept the consequences. In McCandless’s case, he paid the ultimate price for his ascetic lifestyle. It didn’t have to be that way.

Krakauer paints McCandless’s tale as a mixture of preperation and cares-to-the-wind gambling, mostly stemming from the kid’s stubborn moralism. McCandless came to idolize Thoreau, Tolstoy, and the stories of Jack London so much that common sense seemed an afterthought. Like taking a canoe down the Colorado River, hoping to reach Baja California and the Pacific Ocean – even though there was no direct route. Or sleeping in his car in a salt flat, only to have a flash flood was everything he owned away.

Breathing the neon of life is a fine way to live, but man – there are always consequences. If I take a cross-country driving trip, sure, I take my chances on exact details. But you can bet I’ve got the general outline planned out, and that I’ve done my research. Life can be exciting and well-thought-out. They’re not mutually exclusive.

All I know is, heading into the Alaskan wilderness with nothing but a 10-pound bag of rice and a rifle is far from proper foresight. It’s suicide. What’s sad is that McCandless probably knew his chance of survival was nil, but the experience? Well, that was everything.

I feel the same pull that McCandless felt, if only to a lesser degree. Tramping off to climb a mountain or hike through the woods in solitude restores some reptilian center in my brain to full health. Thing is, I want to take more trips and experience more adventures sometime in the future. To do that, I need to keep living. I have neither the constitution nor the wherewithal to survive like some Neolithic hunter-gatherer, and I have the humility to recognize that.

It’s a shame that a bright, resourceful, strong-minded young man could’ve had plenty of more adventures if only he hadn’t been so foolish. Hubris is a helluva thing in the face of an uncaring, unsympathetic Nature. Odds are, you’re going to lose.

But all that is obvious. Any idiot can see how foolish McCandless was. What struck me was that McCandless was such a rigid moralist that it cost him his life. In the face of overwhelming odds, the kid had no sense of pragmatism. Even Thoreau, alone in the woods, built a woodshed for the winter. His character was not lessened by his prep work. But like most absolutists, McCandless picked and chose Thoreau’s lessons to fit his worldview. People often pick Bible passages to prop up their evil. McCandless took only those maxims that justified his rash existence.

So he died. Maybe, in his final agonizing moments, he felt justified. The suffering was the living, and starvation brought him closer to the live wires that light the world.

For me, though, I’ll take my adventure with a bit of planning. The sights I’ve seen and the places I’ve been have brought me closer to some Ultimate Experience. A glimpse over the top was all I needed.

To guys like McCandless, they’re not happy unless they’re dangling from the edge, rope frayed from rubbing against their own moral scaffolding.

Lots of luck out there.


The Best There Ever Will Be

“You can be a good person and do everything right and it doesn’t guarantee you anything.” – Owen Hart

I can place the era that I started watching wrestling again, when I was 13, and it was mostly because of two events: the return of the Undertaker at SummerSlam 1994, and the fact that Bret Hart was the reigning WWE (then, the WWF) champion.

It’s astonishly easy to admit: Bret “Hitman” Hart is a hero of mine.

I can blame Andrew for my renewed interest in the Bret Hart’s career. His video collection is stock-piled with classic WWE pay-per-view events (including all the SummerSlams and Wrestlemanias). We spent a good portion of my time in L.A. – at least at night – watching classic matches from the ‘90s.

I watched wrestling religiously back then, after taking time some time off in my pre-teen years. From 1994-1998, I watched almost every pay-per-view event with my buddies Josh and PJ, and caught many of the weekly TV shows in college. My interest traces as far back as the rivalry between Hulk Hogan and Randy “Macho Man” Savage in the mid ’80s. At least that’s as far back as I can remember.

No matter who came and went, Bret Hart was always my favorite.

Mostly, I think it was his work ethic and overall “averageness” that made me a fan. His Hitman character was simple: technical, proficient wrestler who took on all comers. Bret wasn’t big, he wasn’t flashy, and he didn’t have quite the charisma guys like Hogan or, later, The Rock, had.

But man, he knew his stuff. I just finished his autobiography, and the biggest thing that sticks out is that he was a consumate professional who worked hard and gave everyone an opportunity to shine. His success came as it should have: through dedication and sticking it out. It wasn’t his size or his ego that got him to the top. It was his skill and professionalism. His co-workers respected him for that.

“There was always something different about my fans,” Hart writes in his autobiography. “They really believed in me as a person.”

And that’s true. The Bret Hart in the ring was the same guy as the Bret Hart in the locker room.

Bret Hart was one of the few wrestlers to use his own name. He didn’t appeal to the crowd during his matches. He was a loner, a history buff, and true to the friends who didn’t betray him.

That kind of thing appeals to me. I always respected how Bret Hart’s character, as World Champion, gave everyone a title-shot opportunity – even guys like Doink the Clown. He was an egalitarian.

And good lord, what an excruciating finishing move. The Sharpshooter, a modified Scorpion Death Lock, was intricate and beautiful to watch.

The Undertaker, always my second favorite, had the mood and the atmosphere and the spooky persona down. He was talented, yes, but it was his theatrics that made me a fan. Bret Hart appealed to the average guy in me. When you don’t have a lot of charisma or athletic gifts, you try to out-work everyone. I understood that.

Bret Hart’s hard work paid off in a lot of ways. He’s, by far, the most decorated wrestler of all time: two tag teams championships, two intercontinental championships, seven world titles, two King of the Ring tournaments, various other championships, and so many fan and industry awards (including induction into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006) it’s impossible to list them all. Again, it’s something I see in myself. Overachievers get my respect.

What’s tragic, however, is what has happened to Bret Hart since November 1997 – the infamous “Montreal Screwjob” that served as his inglorious ousting from the WWE. Since then, it’s been one misshap after another: a so-so career in rival WCW, the death of his fantastically-talented brother Owen in a freak accident, the drug abuse of his fellow comrades, a concussion, a divorce, and – in 2002 – a debilitating stroke after a bicycle fall.

In other words, my childhood hero is human, just like the rest of us, and that’s helped me to respect him even more.

His autobiography lays the imperfections out there: infidelity, a bit of drug and steroid abuse, a chaotic family life. Still, when seen against the tableau of what was going on in the rest of the wrestling world, Bret Hart’s life was pretty tame. That’s why it’s such a shame to read about what’s happened to him since the glory days.

My fear, like his, is that his legacy will somehow be erased – that people younger than me won’t remember what a great performer Bret Hart was.

I suppose that’s why, after I returned from Los Angeles, I immediately hit Amazon and bought his book. For my own mind, I wanted to hear Bret Hart’s story. Maybe it’s my dread that my best days are behind me now, or some strange need for nostalgia, when I watched a purer form of wrestling entertainment than what’s on TV now.

Whatever. It’s been great to relive the days of my boyhood hero. After all, when you grow up with few male role models around, you look up to what’s available at the time. Bret Hart, a hero in his home country of Canada, was one of them.

Of course wrestling is staged and the outcomes are pre-determined. Telling that to a wrestling fan is like telling your parents Santa Claus doesn’t exist. It doesn’t take away the fun, and it doesn’t take away the real people behind all the hooplah and exhibition. They get hurt and they have problems and they deal with real life just like the rest of us do.

To me, Bret Hart was more real than most.

Here’s to you, Hitman.


Changing Life’s Guitar Strings

I haven’t changed my guitar strings in years. My electric guitar has been sitting in its case for at least two years, while my acoustic still hasn’t forgiven me for my neglect – even though I’ve picked it up more often these past few weeks.

Old strings, though, they break a little easier. They’re cruddy and grimy and – if you haven’t played in a while – are a bit out of tune. New strings not only look shiny and new, but they feel like it, too.

But old strings feel better. You remember the time you strung this new set into your guitar. You remember all the songs you’ve played on them, in front of people or alone, and the ghosts of those songs play in the ether somewhere. Most of the time, your strings will only get changed out of necessity. Either they break or they become unplayable – whatever. Still, you wouldn’t change them if you didn’t have to.

I think about change a lot these days. I think about how our world is changing in ways we don’t even recognize, and we won’t recognize how everything has changed until years later. Time equals a critical eye. Only later will we realize the sand is shifting beneath us.

A Time article has me thinking about how work is changing, and my visit out to see Andrew (and our conversations in LA) just solidified the whole thing. Freelancers are becoming the norm. A “stable job” is a rare, shy beast these days. I see it at work now. Pensions are a thing of the past, benefits are being cut or eliminated, and only recently have our 401(k)s begun to recover. Things are weird out there.

It’s humbling (which, I argue, is a good thing).

Like some hippo in the Niger River, I’ve adapted to be wary of these kinds of changes. But lately that’s changed. I’m more willing to go with the groove, and less likely to stay in the water where it’s cool and safe. It’s probably out of necessity. I read about things like burnout and I think, “Man, that could be me.”

One thing that hasn’t changed is my love of trophies and certificates. I know I’m a vain person, and I deal with it in ways that I hope aren’t cloying to others, but man – give me an piece of etched glass and I glow. Very Gen Y, right? But it’s always been that way. I collected awards in college like Jay Leno collects cars.

In that respect, this year has been terrific. Three national credit union awards, two state-wide credit union awards, and now my “30 and Under” designation – it’s enough to make anyone’s grandma annoy total strangers for longer and longer periods of time (take mine, please).

But even all that’s not enough to keep me happy. Nope. For once, the prospect of change is the stuff excitement is made of. For the first time in my life, I’m embracing the idea of “different.”

I’m working on changing life’s guitar strings. The current ones are brittle and ready to break. Yes, they’re comfortable, and yes, they still sound okay. But I can’t wait around until they snap.

It’s time to be proactive. I need a brighter sound.


Now For Something Completely Different

Next week, I face the first week-long vacation of my adult life where I have no plans.

I’ve never taken time off from work and done nothing.

By “nothing” I mean no cross-country trip, of course. My first dose of vacation time took to me my first solo trip, a long weekend in Chicago, and from then on it’s been 1,000 miles or more. It’s the only way I know how to operate.

But it’s not like I have “nothing” to do. I’ve got an entire list of projects, errands, and favors I can attend to. In fact, I plan to use some of my time off to plan my next giant interstate (or inter-province) trip.

Through May, I’m using the last of my remaining vacation time. There’s an entire week off next week, and then there’s a five-day weekend for Memorial Day later this month. For that, I’ve had a few ideas. I’ve wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail, so I thought about heading down to the Tennessee/North Carolina border and roughing it. Yosemite National Park is also on my to-see list. Part of my big end-of-July trip involves me actually having money, however, and each of those trips seemed costly. What’s a budget-minded person to do?

Here’s the beauty of Facebook: I planned a long weekend in Los Angeles with Andrew thanks to a few wall postings. How’s that for planning? All it will cost me is the plane ticket and money for food. And perhaps a Dodgers game.

All that’s in the future. Next week, though, I plan on tying up any loose ends in my life. That includes thinking seriously and deeply about what I want to do with the next five years. Where do I want to work? Where do I want to live? What else do I want to do?

My mom’s death left me introspective. It’s not that I didn’t see it coming, but I realized that I’ve been stuck in a rut. Mom dying woke me out of it. So from here on out, I’m not going to be so nervous about trying on new things, tasting new experiences, and quit living life day to day as I have been.

We get comfortable. You’ve probably felt it yourself.

Then we wake up 20 years down the road and have a lot of unchecked items off our big To-Do List. I don’t want that to happen.

So that’s what I’ll do next week: work on the next big project. I’ll have plenty of free time to think, do, and plan.


On Resting, And Living, In Peace

Mom and me

My mother passed away last Wednesday. She left us peacefully, in her sleep.

Her death stands in stark contrast to the freewheeling life she led. Us kids, my oldest sister and me, were merely along for the ride.

Many that know me know that I cut off any relationship with my mom in high school. It wasn’t due to any lack of love, but I had my own self-preservation to think about. A decent life could not co-exist with my mom.

I’ve reacted to the news the way anyone would react to the death of a long-lost aunt or distant cousin. There’s that tickle in the brain when you lose someone you love but have no real relationship with: it hurts a little, but only a little.

I just finished reading The Grapes of Wrath, and in the book the character of Ma Joad becomes the head of the family after instability rocks the ground underneath the Joad men. Through her steady hand and strong will, Ma Joad becomes the solid foundation of the Joad “fambly” – despite the move cross-country to a state full of unknowns.

My own life has lacked one continuous “Ma Joad” figure. When I was young, my Grandma Bonnie (my mother’s mother) was there for me. As I grew up, my Grandma Maxine (my dad’s mother) and my Grandpa Bill (my mother’s grandfather) helped me along until I moved in with my dad right before high school. I needed the help because my own mother was the anti-Ma Joad: a constant source of chaos, instability, and high drama.

But all that is gone, now.

My sister gave me an old photo album Monday night, when her, my grandma, and me paid respects to my mom in our own, traditional way. Inside were pictures from when my parents were still together and I was a newborn. These pictures, combined with many others I have from my childhood, reveal the chimera that was my mother. Sweet, fun-loving, easy to laugh – this is what I remember and saw in those pictures. In fact, it’s obvious that she cared about me as a baby. Then there was the ugly side.

Which is why looking through the pictures points out my mom’s tragedy. A person so vibrant and so happy eventually ruined her own life with drugs and alcohol. Things could have been so much different.

As it was, I never had that sense of “fambly” or stability that I read about in Grapes. I attended 10 different elementary schools, three in the 5th grade, and four different junior highs. We lived in more houses and apartments that I can remember. We were homeless for a while. Life was a whirlwind, and that kind of living has a tremendous effect on kids.

So there are other things, besides pictures, that my mother left us. For myself, I’ve learned over the years that I have a neurotic attachment to stability. I have my schedule, and my routine, and I hate it when things don’t go “according to plan.” I show up early, and I fucking hate moving. The direct result of my mother’s chaotic life was an aversion to chaos; I swung toward order and ritual, and I swung hard.

My sister – my poor, poor sister – is another story entirely. She bore the full brunt of my mother’s behavior, and she deals with the consequences ever day. And because she never left my mother behind, my sister is having the most trouble dealing with my mom’s death.

But even she said, at dinner the other night, “I kind of feel relieved.”

This is the legacy of my mom. Being with her was like living in Florida, knowing there’s a high possibility that a strong hurricane would come and blow your shit out to sea.

I chose to up and move to my dad’s when I was 14, in search of a stable household and a parent who didn’t abuse themself or those around them, but I’m sure in some ways my mom never left me. She was always outside the boarded-up windows I built for myself, howling away and wrecking havok.

It’s sad that we all feel relieved now that she’s dead, because we should be feeling something else. Not sadness, not peace, but that we lost something important to our lives.

That’s not how it happened, and so I haven’t felt much at all in the week since she’s been gone. I did such a good job of keeping her out of my life for the past few years that I didn’t really lose anything when she passed. She was gone to begin with, in my eyes.

Now she’s finally at peace. And so am I.


Hit the Road, Jack

My life is renewed when tires meet the road.

It’s always been that way, for as far back as I can remember. When I feel pressed down, or stressed, or worried, I hit the road and I’m made whole. Maybe it’s the self-induced isolation, or maybe it’s giving myself time to think and unwind and enjoy the scenery. I don’t know enough to explain it, but I know that it works.

So it was this weekend, when I left town to see my good college friends Andrea and Keith. On the way to see Andrea in Harrisburg, PA, I took a small section of the old Lincoln Highway – what is now US-30. I’ve been to Pennsylvania twice, and driven through it twice, and have never seen much of the state because it was always dark when I drove through. It’s a beautiful Commonwealth, full of hills and trees and old American farms, and traveling down an old highway reminded me of the Route 66 trip, if only briefly.

My visit to Keith’s was an exploration in the truly unknown. Nobody thinks of Columbus, OH when they think of big American cities, but I do now. It’s a fine town, complete with a fully-operational Apple Store and a (ahem) major American university. Keith made an excellent host and tour guide, and gave me a whole-day’s respite from the road. I like driving, but I also like not moving for a while.

Monday, my birthday, had me hitting the road once again, knowing that when I got back home things would go back to normal. Sure, it’s nice to return home from a long trip, but I dread the part of me that feels like I never left in the first place. The road’s romance is short-lived, it seems, and I only get the benefit in the doing. And maybe the remembering, days and weeks and years later.

I drive to escape, mostly. To get out of town, to Go Somewhere, and leave the everyday behind. I surely can’t drink and eat like I do when I’m on vacation. And I can’t suspend life’s rules like I do when I’m on the road. All I can do is take a little piece of the road home with me. See this big, beautiful country we live in. Perhaps take some pictures, too.


Something To Digest

A true test of any fitness level is the paczki, a Polish doughnut usually eaten in America on Fat Tuesday. They’re a big hit around Michigan, Toledo, and areas of high Polish-population density. And they’re delicious.

My test came after I devoured my paczki on Tuesday. Because I’m diabetic, I have to be careful about eating carbohydrates. My body doesn’t produce insulin on its own, so if I eat more than my insulin injection can handle, my bloodsugar spikes drastically. Tuesday, post-paczki, this didn’t happen.

To top it off, I also had a sizable breakfast at Rotary: eggs, bacon, and a few pancakes with strawberry jam, plus the usual orange juice and coffee combo.

By all accounts, my insulin shot should have only covered my egg-and-pancake meal. After the paczki hit my stomach, my body would have searched for any leftover insulin to cover the pastry bomb. Finding none, it should have spiked my bloodsugar, turning my plasma into a system-wide poison.

Again, this didn’t happen. When I check my bloodsugar levels before lunch, my machine read “108.” Normal bloodsugar for diabetics is anywhere from 80-120. Mine was perfect.

I can explain this in two ways. First, on my own, I’ve started to adjust my insulin medication to fit the meals I eat. If I eat less carbs for breakfast, I take less insulin after breakfast. If I eat a lunch full of carbs, I take a bit of extra insulin. My bloodsugar level also gets factored in: high bloodsugar equals a bit of extra insulin to take care of it. There’s some math involved, but it’s not too complicated.

Except now, through trial and error, I’ve figured out how much insulin I need when I eat, say, a salad-and-fruit dinner. My bloodsugar has dipped a few times when I took too much insulin after such a meal, but I’ve learned from those experiences. Now my adjustments are much more accurate, and my bloodsugar remains stable.

Before, I would have to eat enough carbs to cover the insulin I took after my meal. I had a set level of insulin I would take after every meal, so if I didn’t eat enough my bloodsugar would crash. Now, I don’t have that problem. I can eat what I want, and adjust the insulin – not the other way around.

That’s number one. Number two is, with my gym membership, I’ve had to adjust my insulin around my meals. Since my metabolism is running pretty steadily these days, any insulin I took would have a bigger affect. When your body is more efficient at burning calories, you need less insulin to make up the difference. This is why healthy people don’t become Type 2 diabetics.

Which makes something really obvious: the body is a wonderful, remarkable machine. This plus this equals that. Excercise plus insulin equals flexibility.

And flexibility is something I haven’t had with my diet in a long, long time.

So when that paczki was finished digesting, I had enough insulin and enough metabolism to cover the beast. Instead of taking more insulin at lunch to cover lunch and the paczki, I only had to worry about lunch. And since I had chili and an apple for lunch, I had even less carbs in my system.

This, friends, is progress. It’s a system that has helped me prevent a lot of the high-and-low swings that are epidemic among Type 1 diabetics. Because my bloodsugar doesn’t crash after I take my insulin, I don’t eat as much – and because I don’t eat as much, I can take less insulin. In fact, if I could subsist on plain vegetables, I might not need to take insulin at all.

But let’s not get crazy, here. I love paczki and fruit and bread too much to let that go. So I’ll work with the system.

And, these days, the system is working great.


Standing At The Waterline

“Civilization ends at the waterline. Beyond that, we all enter the food chain, and not always right at the top.” – Hunter S. Thompson, 1986

As General Motors and Chrysler crumble and teeter like a top-heavy Jenga game, I can’t help but feel apathetic. These are the people who inspire the need for a new car. In fact, their whole business (or lack of) depends on Americans buying vehicles that lose their value the minute they leave the dealership lot.

How strange, I think. But maybe not. Our whole economic system, after all, depends on the new, the shiny, the weird. Maybe it plays to the Grand Ego of our country – the one that says we’re the best, so we need the best.

I’ll probably never buy a new car, so my economic decisions won’t ever help to save an ailing auto company. GM will survive or die without me. There’s comfort in that thought; I have no individual responsibility for saving a company that was once the symbol and thermometer of American progress. I’ve checked out of the system. No fault of mine.

Used vehicles are the lifeblood of my place of employment, and there’s dignity in that thought. When all the banks are dying or being bought up like on-sale antiques, credit unions stand apart thanks to their not-for-profit status, their democratic decision-making, and their responsbility to serve the underserved. I didn’t know a lot of this when I got the job, but as the years have gone on, I take pride in my industry’s philosophy – probably because it matches my own.

Used cars. Used Macs. Used CDs on eBay. Even used clothing, when it smells decent. Perhaps I should have been born in the Depression. Lord knows I’m still lucky enough to have a job in the current one.

Our generation may have a wake-up call coming. America’s ego has been made flesh in every generation since the Baby Boomers, and while our generation is politically active and commercially cynical, it still thinks a lot of itself.

Republicans, and a lot of Democrats, see nothing wrong with this. They’ve been selling the idea of America as a Place That Does No Wrong for a long, long time. It’s only lately that our giant national id has been laid low. Being humble is not an American trait that comes naturally, but lately we’ve had no choice.

I know this personally. 2008 was a stupid, stressful, bumble-headed year for me. It taught me a lot about my limits and faults, and I’ve thought a lot about them this winter. It’s been good for me.

Which is why I can only wish the same for all of us, as a country and a people. The world is too nasty and too chaotic to keep our national credit card on an over-the-limit status. We’re now at the waterline, as Dr. Thompson mentioned, and the sharks are circling nearby.

That adrenaline rush we feel in our gut is evolution at its most basic: fight or flight. Which way do we go? Do we strive for a more meaningful and fulfilling life? Or do we seek meaning in a life looking for a bailout?

We’ve been at the top of the food chain for a long time now. But the sharks have been around a lot longer, and they have no ego to keep in check.