I’m going to take a long break from the blog. I enjoy it, and it serves as a great creative outlet. But I have an idea for a side-business that I want to get off the ground, and it’s going to take some creative energy and effort to get it established. So, until the business project is up and running, I’m going to stop blogging.
Thanks to those of you who check in and read the blog. Hopefully I won’t be gone too long.
There’s a number of loops from my house that I like to bike depending on what time of day it is, what day of the week it is, and what time of year it is. Yesterday, I did a loop that goes up the Interurban Bike Trail to Theinsville and then runs back through River Hills. Along the route, I crossed the Milwaukee River 4 times. There’s one stretch, along River Road, where I ran parallel to the river for a good long while.
I parked my bike on the road’s shoulder beside the river and just watched it go by. I thought about how it’s in a state of transition. It gets cold and freezes; then it gets warmer, and it thaws before it gets cold and freezes again. Sunday was warm, so I watched large chunks of ice float down river and build up where the river narrows.
I don’t think I’m in a state of transition, but I’m not sure, because it felt as if the river was trying to tell me something. Maybe I’m always in a state of transition, whether I want to acknowledge it or not.
Last night, I commuted home on my mountain bike, riding along the Milwaukee River. I stopped at the river’s edge to listen to it, all the while wondering why I was the only person on the path, why everyone else in Milwaukee was commuting in cars and buses to get wherever they need to go.
My office is located on the third floor of the Grohmann Museum, home of the Man at Work art collection. There’s a group of women who create imitations of the paintings in the collection as a way of improving their own craft (what better way to learn from the style of a master than to imitate it).
Jo is outside the door of my office, making a painting of The Happy Gardener, a painting by Hermann Kern, a Hungarian artist who lived from 1839-1912. I like Jo’s painting better than the original because the gardener in her painting looks happier. When I asked her why this is, she told me that the gardener reminds her of her grandfather, and that makes her happy.
I first read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance when I was a freshman in college. It left a mark on me, especially one specific passage that focuses on peace of mind. I didn’t have much peace of mind when I was a freshman; I just started the process of self-awareness, of figuring out who I was outside of my home community. The problem was that I didn’t know who I was outside of my community, and that prevented me from having peace of mind. So when I read this quote, it resonated:
“Peace of mind isn’t at all superficial, really,” I expound. “It’s the whole thing. That which produces it is good maintenance; that which disturbs it is poor maintenance. What we call workability of the machine is just an objectification of this peace of mind. The ultimate test’s always your own serenity. If you don’t have this when you start and maintain it while you’re working you’re likely to build your personal problems right into the machine itself.”
It took a decade for me to figure out who I was, and in that process, find peace of mind. I had to keep working on “the machine” of the self, something we all have to continually do since retaining peace of mind is an act of ongoing metaphysical maintenance.
To remind myself of this process, I laminated the quotation and put it in my wallet. When I stopped carrying a wallet, I taped the laminated quote to my laptop–so I would see it frequently and thus focus on my level of serenity, since serenity is the ongoing test of one’s peace of mind.
I love privacy, which is why I live in a house in a quiet neighborhood–which is why it’s a bit weird that the window in the upstairs master-bedroom looks directly into a bedroom in the house next door. If you’re not careful, you can see a bit more than you might care to. We draw the window shade, as do the neighbors, to ensure a semblance of separation.
Except in the morning. Sue and I always spend the first 45 minutes of the day having coffee in bed. From the right angle, this time of year, you can watch the sunrise through the trees in the distance. It’s a good way to start a winter day, watching the sun come up and hit the window, watching the frost melt on the window panes.
It’s why we raise the shade in the morning–to watch the sun present itself to yet another wonderful day. Sure, the neighbors may see me having coffee with my wife in bed in the morning, but that’s a chance I just have to take.
We’re cleaning out the downstairs this weekend–throwing out the stuff on the storage shelves that hasn’t been touched in years, moving the indoor exercise bikes to a more prominent location, ironing the pile of shirts that haven’t been ironed since last summer… it will be a formidable task.
The task I’m not looking forward to is taking down the art. 4 years ago, Kait used the basement as her bedroom, before she went off to college. When she lived down there, she hung her artwork on the walls. We left it up when she moved because it’s pretty cool work.
She’s since developed her talent as she’s taken art courses in college. Maybe the art in the basement reminds me of who Kait was before she left for college, when she was still my baby girl.
I love commuting on my bike. I don’t have to worry about road-rage, people texting and driving, pollution, the cost of petrol, traffic… and those are just a few of the things I avoid by riding a bike. The list of what is gained is exponential: exercise, exposure to sunlight (a big benefit in winter), a more direct and physical connection to the environment, access to like-minded people… it goes on and on.
I do own 2 cars: a Mini Cooper and a Mini Countryman. I like the idea of being a 1 car family, a goal that is within reach now that Sue and I share an empty nest. And if Sue didn’t have to commute 110 miles a day when she has to go into the office, we’d probably talk about the possibility of being a zero car family.
I thought about this yesterday when teaching my Current Affairs class. A group of students gave a presentation on self-driving cars and how that technology may change our culture within the decade. I was surprised how many students like the idea of self-driving cars but would not want to personally use one. When I asked why, they pretty much shared the same opinion: driving a car is fun.
I get that argument. Sure, the Mini Cooper gets 41 mph on the highway and has a 5 star crash safety rating, but the real reason why we own one is that it’s so freakishly fun to drive.
I’m currently at the car dealership, waiting for the Countryman to get an oil change and air filter. It’s expensive, over a hundred bucks for this scheduled service. Between service intervals, car payments, the cost of petrol (these cars require 89 octane)… it adds up. I’d be afraid to confront the amount of money we put into these two vehicles.
Someday, I hope that we’ll be that family on the block that doesn’t own a car. It’s conceivable: there are other transportation options (like bicycles). But until that day arrives, I’ll keep driving Minis.
When I lived in Seattle, February was always the longest month of the year. I’d commute to work in the dark, work in a windowless office, and commute home in the dark. It felt as if the month lasted 45 days. If you were fortunate enough to get outside in the middle of the day, you probably wouldn’t find sunlight, since it’s terminally gray in Seattle.
Life in Milwaukee, in February, is a contrast to those dreary winter days in Seattle. I don’t have to wake up early and commute to work in the dark, because I don’t have to fight traffic for 3 hours out of the day. I leave the house when it’s light out, and I ride my bike to work instead of driving a car (and cycling is good for the soul regardless of what month or season it is).
I thought about this yesterday when I was at the grocery buying food. I thought I’d get Sue some flowers. It’s somewhat odd, buying flowers in February. The colors burst with energy, like sunlight; it reminds you that the days are getting longer, and the snow will eventually melt, and spring will inevitably happen.