Dance Lessons: One Month In

I’ve been taking dance lessons for a month now. Twice a week.

It’s harder than it looks.

You have to pay attention to the way your body stands and moves. Body parts you’re not used to paying any attention to at all. Like your arms and legs.

Once you learn to walk, you forget about how to move your legs. How to stand up. How to stand on one leg.

Then, when you start dance at age 46, you all of a sudden have to pay attention to them again.

Then, you have to do the same thing with your arms. You can’t just let them hang any which way. But getting them to move the way they’re supposed to doesn’t come easy. It takes concentration.

Then, you have to do the same with your back, your shoulders, your feet, your hips, your abdominals, your ass. Pay attention to where they all are. Which muscles tense, which relax.

Once you become aware of muscles you weren’t aware you had, the hardest part is paying attention to all of them at once. I can usually pay attention to two of them, sort of. Three is really pushing it. Four… Well, let’s just say, I have a long way to go.

I used to think I was fairly coordinated. I was wrong.

Maybe it’s because I can’t yet really pay attention to more than one thing at a time that I find combinations involving moving my leg one way and my opposite arm the other way impossible. Left foot out, right hand up at the same time. Not going to happen. Not for a while.

Over the years, I’ve been to a few dance recitals. Kids from churches.

I’d never really been impressed with those recitals. To my uninitiated eyes, it all looked like a lot of running and jumping around. It hadn’t occurred to me that what they were attempting was really hard.

Granted, they weren’t the New York City Ballet. We saw the NYC Ballet in Saratoga last summer. They did stuff that looked hard. As in, “you gotta be crazy to try that shit,” hard. And they did it well.

The kids at dance recitals were doing hard stuff, too. Even the basic stuff — hold your hand out like this, not like that, keep your toes pointed, bend your knees this way, turn your chin to the shoulder, other hand up like so — is hard enough.

Some things you just don’t know until you make a real attempt yourself.

Kudos to those kids at the dance recitals. You have my belated appreciation.

Sleep

A while ago, I said I’d given up coffee for hot cocoa.

I’ve had an occasional cup to be sociable when cocoa wasn’t available. Rotary meetings, after church, that kind of thing. Other than that, I’ve kept with it.

After the initial changing of habit and the day or two of grumpy caffeine withdrawal, I’ve felt better. It’s been going on six weeks now. The only time I miss it is when it’s brewing and I come in from outdoors and smell it. It smells so good.

A couple days ago I came in while it was brewing. I thought maybe I was wrong about cocoa tasting better. I poured myself a little, took a sip. Nope. It doesn’t taste better. Just bitter nothing-at-all taste.

I don’t understand how something can smell so good but taste so bad. If only there were a drink that smelled like coffee and tasted like cocoa.

The other part of changing the coffee habit to a cocoa habit is the effect on sleep. In general, I sleep much better.

Not having coffee (and I’ve never been a heavy soda drinker either) means not having the artificial awakeness of the caffeine. I’m finding that my body is reverting to more natural rhythms. I get tired when the sun goes down, and it’s harder to get up before the sun comes up. Once it’s light, I’m perfectly awake.

I’m convinced that this is healthier. But in the Adirondacks in winter, the sun doesn’t come up until after 8, and sunset is around 4:30. Silas has to meet the school bus at 7am, and Rotary meetings don’t start until 7pm.

I understand that when days are so short people have to do things in the dark. It’s just that I’m now keenly aware that spending so many active hours in the dark is a social construct made possible by the invention of the lightbulb. Our natural state in winter is closer to hibernation.

(To last night’s Rotary speaker, if I was yawning, it wasn’t you. It was just way past my bedtime.)

The flip side is this summer, I expect I’ll be up at 4:30 when the sun comes up and able to stay up till 10 every night, no problem.

Just another reason to move to Puerto Rico, where the sun always rises and sets at around 6.

Post in the Present Tense

The sun shines bright and it’s still 4 below.

The dog is curled up sleeping next to my chair.

I’m waiting for the water heater to recover from the morning rush. I need a shower and shave.

A car rushes by outside. Then another.

As you read this, you start thinking about what life would be like always and forever in the present tense.

Now you know a little more about how your dog, your cat, your goldfish, your hamster see the world.

How I’m Using WordPress Tags

When I restarted Sunday Epidemic last December, I decided I wasn’t going to mess around with post categories.

I’ve done other blogs with categories. I’ve experimented a lot over 10 years. They can be useful. But not always. I always end up with too many categories.

Categories are heavy-duty divisions. They tend to divide a blog into distinct parts. They’re handy if you’re using the platform as a CMS, or have a few major areas of focus each with a lot of content.

Too many categories, though, and a site begins to feel fractured, like little bits and pieces-parts. The whole gets lost.

With this blog, it was about writing something every day. I had no idea what I’d write about. I still don’t know from day to day what will come up. There’s no use trying to put posts like that in categories. Every post is just a post. Take it or leave it.

Yesterday, when I posted the second Reading List post, it occurred to me that if anyone ever looked at one, they might want a handy way to see what’s on the others. (Reading List #3 is already started with 5 titles on it.)

I thought about starting a special category for that. But it seemed like overkill. My Reading List posts are a series, but they’re not a separate part of the blog.

The solution was tags. WordPress offers tags as a kind of index. Some people use tags to index every key word in every post. Thousands of tags. I’d never had much use for tags before now. On other blogs, I’ve done the tags-index thing. Here on Sunday Epidemic, I hadn’t bothered with them.

But tags are the right solution for keeping these lists (and any future series) together. I only need one tag so far: “Reading Lists.” Reserving tags for posts in series or other tightly related topics keeps their numbers manageable.

(Since I’m developing the blog’s theme in house as I go along, that meant coding the part of the theme that deals with tags. Any prepackaged theme should have some tag formatting included.)

Now that it’s set up, I can use tags for any posts that are parts of a series. Those posts get a link at the bottom, “See all …” that takes readers to a list of posts in that series.

Easy peasy.

Reading List #2

Here are 10 books I’ve read, with a few comments. They’re not necessarily books that you should read, though some of them might be. One of them, definitely not.

  1. Choose Yourself by James Altucher. This is the best “self help” book you’ll ever read. Mostly because it doesn’t read at all like a self-help book. And besides that, James is laugh-out-loud funny.
  2. Gilgamesh, trans by Herbert Mason. The story from ancient Babylon about a god who becomes human and a human who becomes a god — and then dies. The ancient near east’s version of Noah’s flood, the ancient epic poem takes on the meaning of grief in the face of mortality and loss. Hard not to see echoes of modernity in this one.
  3. Tao Te Ching, trans by Jonathan Star. Less is more. This translation is simply the best one out there.
  4. A Week In Winter by Maeve Binchy. A novel weaving together the stories of a woman who opens a bed and breakfast house in West Ireland and the people who gather there for its opening week. Not exactly a “can’t put it down” read, but a thought provoking one with a fell-good ending.
  5. David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. Easily one of the best books I’ve read in the last year. Gladwell is a fantastic story-teller. His arguments about advantageous disadvantages, strength drawn from adversity and the limitations of power draw from connecting the anecdotal to the scientific via the unexpected.
  6. Bright-Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich. An eye opening look at the havoc the “positive thinking” movement has visited upon everything from breast cancer treatment, to the economy, to religion, to the integrity of scientific research.
  7. Silas Marner by George Eliot. The classic that used to be assigned reading for High School English. If you haven’t read it, or read it back then only because you were required to (as I did) and don’t remember anything about it other than, “There was this guy named Silas Marner,” it makes better reading after you’ve lived a little. Great story.
  8. God Has a Dream by Desmond Tutu. An amazing reflection about holding onto hope when things seem impossibly bad, by one of the leaders who brought down Apartheid.
  9. The Measure of a Man by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Two sermons from 1955, and parting words from April 3, 1968. Reading the whole thing takes about a half hour and you’ll know why he was able to do what he did.
  10. Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading by Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky. You could get almost as much out of this book reading the table of contents as you can get from reading the whole thing. It should be 1/4 its size. Lots of generalized anecdotes and name-dropping.

3 Easy Ways to Stand Out

Today is haircut day.

I drive an hour and a half back to Glens Falls to get my hair cut. Every six weeks, whether I need it or not.

Gina cuts my hair.

When we moved from Glens Falls three years ago, I tried a few haircut places around here. There are plenty to choose from. There are so many salons around here you can’t throw a rock without hitting one.

The first place I tried, the woman standing in the doorway smoking a cigarette and no other customers in sight said, “I can’t do it now, and nobody else is here today.” I think that place must be a front for the mafia.

Across the street there was another place. One of the women in there cut my hair that day. When I tried to make an appointment with her six weeks later, she was gone.

Brooke was getting her hair cut in Lake Placid. She said, try the woman who does my hair. I did. A haircut with her took close to 2 hours. My picture is on the sidebar. You can see I don’t have that much hair. I don’t have a fancy, complicated haircut. I don’t have highlights or stripes (or whatever you call them) or coloring or a permanent. I think she must have been cutting one hair at a time.

Next time I went to a third place. They said, “Come on in. We’ll find someone to do it.” They did. She did fine. The next time I called, that woman wasn’t there any more either. They gave me a another haircutter. She gave me a mullet.

That’s when I decided to going back to Gina in Glens Falls every six weeks.

She’s been on the corner of Bay and Fulton Street for I don’t know how long. Reliable.

She can do a simple haircut in 15 minutes. Efficient.

She’s never given me a mullet. Competent. (She probably would if I asked her to, but I’ve never asked.)

Shoddy stuff and shoddy service are commonplace. Even in a crowded field like haircutting you can stand out by simply being reliable, efficient and competent.

You don’t have to be the “best haircutter on the planet.” Gina is not Vidal Sassoon, and doesn’t pretend to be. “People” still drive 85 miles, one way, for Gina to cut their hair.

Show Me the Money

All the personal finance advisers seem to say that you should have an “Emergency Fund.”

I have to confess. I just don’t get what that is.

What exactly is an “emergency”? My whole life is one emergency after another.

What am I going to make for dinner tonight? Do I have the ingredients?

Medical care is one example of an “emergency” financial people always give. We have several medical bills that come due every month. For me, it’s not an emergency, it’s a regular expense. I know a lot of people who have medical bills as a regular expense.

What if you need to fix the car? Yeah, that happens pretty regularly, too, with our cars. How is that an emergency? That’s life.

If I had an emergency fund, the “emergencies” it would have to handle would make it look almost exactly like my checking account. I put most of our family income into it each month, and each month I pay the bills that come due.

So, they say I need a savings account. I ask, why?

To make interest? At 0.01% that the banks will give you? Maybe a half percent on a long-term CD? I lose money against inflation.

Putting money in the bank is just as bad as putting cash under your mattress. Maybe worse. You lose even more money on gas or bus fare to get to the bank, so the mattress is actually a better option.

Instead of an “Emergency fund,” I think I’m going to start a “mattress fund.” I’ll put half the money that comes in under the mattress. Then, when I need it, it’ll be there.

I’m pretty sure the financial advisors would disagree, but I’ve got a hunch that the best personal monetary policy is to do away with banks as much as possible, and stick with cold, hard cash on the barrelhead.

But I’m no expert. What do you think?

“Jesus I Want You”

Someone found their way to the blog yesterday from a Google search for “jesus I want you.”

It made me wonder what they were really looking for.

  • Did they mean it as a kind of prayer? “Jesus, I want you” … to come into my heart.
  • Did they mean it as a song title for insipid praise music? (C chord) “Jesus, I want you.” (G chord) “Jesus I want you.” (C chord) “Jesus, I want you.”
  • Did they mean it as something said in the throws of a romantic interlude? “Jesus, I want you!” Let’s go to my apartment.
  • Jesus: "I Want You"Or were they looking for the picture I’d attached to a recent post? “Jesus: ‘I want You!’”

I don’t know how the Google algorithm works. No clue. Don’t care. But the search for “jesus i want you” outside of any context is really anyone’s guess. Even Google’s.

That’s why you get a few million results from Google no matter what you search for. And, if you put enough context into that Google (or Bing or Yahoo) search bar, even the vast reaches of the internet indexers often turns up nothing.

Google knows everything, but Google doesn’t know anything.

Information is easy. Context is harder. Meaning – even Google can’t provide that.

There are no shortcuts. To figure that out, you have to live.

Ashley Madison on Christian Mingle

I remember when meeting someone in a romantic way online was a novelty.

People would whisper, “They met online,”  at wedding receptions.

It’s commonplace now. My brother and sister both met their spouses online. I know lots of other people who have, too.

Now, the more common question is, “Which online service did you use?”

E-Harmony? Match.com? Those seem to be the standards. There are others. Some of them with a hint of scandal, some of them outright flaunting it. For a while now, I’ve been getting spam about Ashley Madison along with offers from Match.com and all the rest.

Now, I’ve started getting spam from Christian Mingle.

God, just the name of it! On the one hand the attribution of sanctity, on the other the juicy possibilities of mingling.

It was only a matter of time before this tweet came along in response to someone who had gone Ashley Madison on Christian Mingle:

“For those who divorce because of @christianmingle, we pray.
— Unvirtuous Abbey (@UnvirtuousAbbey) January 20, 2014”

(@UnvirtuousAbbey deleted that tweet the next day.)

Funny. Unless you’re caught in the middle of it.

In one of my early church assignments, one of the deacons was divorcing his 4th (or maybe it was his 5th, I don’t remember) wife so he could marry a woman he’d met at church. He asked me to preside at their wedding.

He was significantly older than she. She had grown up sheltered from the world in a Christian family and had never left home. She was going on 35 and he was her first boyfriend.

Nearly everybody at the church thought it was terrific. An engagement between two committed Christians! Except her family thought it was a lousy idea.

I refused to do the wedding and took all kinds of heat for it. They called the previous pastor, who agreed to do the wedding, but then backed out when he realized what he’d gotten into. They had the Justice of the Peace do it at the trailer park.

At the groom’s 6th wedding, he was three sheets to the wind and could barely stand up. I think there’s a statute about the validity of legal contracts when performed under the influence. The JP did it anyway.

I haven’t kept close track of them. As of a year ago they were still together. It would be about 15 years.

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe it just takes some people 6 tries to find the right person.

Maybe going Ashley Madison on Christian Mingle can work.

More often, though, it ends up in a cluster-cuss. Everything you’d imagine could go wrong with that kind of meet-up does. I’ve seen that, too.

More times than I care to remember.

Nut Job

Last Saturday I took Silas and two of his friends to see Nut Job.

Three 10-year olds in the back seat of the car. It’s a 45 minute ride from the middle of nowhere where we live to the city where there are movies.

Two out of the three brought electronic devices to pass the time. The third looks on, suggesting video game strategies, until he gets carsick and has to look out the window.

At the theater we get our tickets and get in line for the concession stand. They each have a $20 bill to spend. Two out of three order the triple play: a box of candy, medium popcorn, small root beer. The third, on orders from her mother and with a long face, omits the candy. The other two promise to share theirs. A triple-play comes to $16.

The friends have also each brought stuffed animals to watch the movie. Three items from the concession counter, plus a stuffed animal is twice the number of hands each has available. Holding animals or candy pinched between chin and chest, bags of popcorn teetering precariously in one hand, soda sloshing in the other, we make our way to the theater trailing bits of popcorn as if it were our feeble attempt, like Hansel, to find our way out again after the movie.

The only row left with four adjacent seats is the very front row. We settle in. I help them get their candy open and their sodas cradled into the armrest cup holders. 10-year olds with cups of root beer the size of their heads and bags of popcorn the size of their chests.

The movie begins. We crane our necks for nearly 2 hours. Sitting that close to the screen I notice that the focus isn’t quite right, or the frame rate isn’t quite fast enough. It flickers just a little too much. I get a slight headache. I notice that my neck is not as flexible as it used to be. The movie has its moments. The kids love it.

By the end of the movie, the kids have managed to eat half their popcorn and drink half their soda. They bring the rest home with them in the car. Half way home, one of them says, “Mr. Green, I have to use the bathroom.” Did I mention we live in the middle of nowhere? There’s no bathroom for another 15 miles. I’d let him out to pee on a tree, but it’s really cold, and he’s really shy, and there’s a girl in the car.

I try to get there faster, but we get behind someone who’s decided that 35 mph in a 55 is plenty fast. We’re in the mountains. The road curves a lot and there’s no place to pass for a while.

“God, please don’t let him lose it in the back seat.”

There’s finally a chance to pass. I take it. We make it, but now I have a reputation among my son’s friends, and probably their parents, that I’m a reckless driver.

We get home, safe and sound — and dry. The friend pees. They call their parents to come and pick them up.

Meanwhile, the sugar and carbs from the root beer and candy and popcorn, combined with sitting all afternoon in a theater and a car explode. Three 10-year olds are bouncing off the walls, whacking each other with stuffed animals and jumping from the sofa to the chair to the piano bench, then chasing each other around the front hall and back to the kitchen.

“Please take it down a notch or two,” I say.

I may as well be talking to the cats.

Finally, their parents come. I apologize for sending them home hyped up on jet fuel. They nod as if they understand. I think they think I’m a nut job.

Silas says I’m the best dad for taking him to the movies with his friends.

Which is good, because with the candy and the root beer and the popcorn and the jumping on furniture, I’m so disoriented I can’t really tell.