My Typical Day (five year update)

Five years ago I wrote an account of my typical day. A lot has changed since then, so I thought I’d revisit the topic. Here’s what my typical day looks like now.

We wake up to the sound of music, a long slow fade-in that starts at 5:45 AM. Sometimes I set my phone alarm even earlier so I can jog, but if not I tend to lie in bed zoning in and out of consciousness for about half an hour, listening to the morning mix. If I recall any dreams I write them down, though I don’t seem to remember many dreams these days. Meanwhile Xy has gotten up and gone downstairs. She’s usually still drinking her morning coffee and watching The Daily Show or The Colbert Report on her laptop by the time I get down there. I’d rather not see (or hear) any video in the morning, but you gotta pick your battles, people.

I’m responsible for breakfast — and lunch. I slice some bread for sandwiches, and cook up a mess of scrambled eggs with baby kale or spinach. Once Xy gets her hair in rollers, she runs back upstairs to get the girl. The three of us eat breakfast together, listening to music and talking about whatever’s in the newspaper and our plans for the day.

Eventually we’re all dressed and ready. Xy almost always departs first; the girl and I get on the bike shortly thereafter, unless it’s raining, in which case she gets a ride with a neighboring schoolmate.

As we ride through the streets of Mid-City, at some point, the girl almost always asks me the same question: “So, what do you want to play?” We might pretend to be almost anything, usually fantastical imaginary creatures of some sort.

We always greet “our” tree as we pass it along Bayou St. John. As we pass the post office, the girl often pretends to retrieve a letter, which invariably proves to be from the principal of her school, inviting her to attend a fantastical imaginary academy of some sort. It might be a school for animals of every variety, for example. Lately there’s been a big emphasis on potion classes.

Once we get to school I brush out her hair, which has gotten tangled on the ride, and install her headband. We say farewell to each other with a hug and a kiss. If the weather permits, there’s a big all-school morning meeting outside. If my schedule permits, I stick around for this. I listen to the students sing their weekly song together, as well as other announcements and awards. When they get ready to pledge the flag I take that as my cue to depart.

As I ride along the bayou toward campus, often something will catch my eye. I’ll take a photo and share it to various social networks.

Morning Bag

I make a point to stop by “our” tree as I pass it again. This is where the girl got her name back in 2008, the tree we blessed last November. I’ve been stopping here for a morning reflection for years now, as permitted by my varying routine. Sometimes I’ll do a formal meditation, but often I’ll just commune with the tree, noting its presence, noting any changes, maybe giving it a squeeze. Yes, I’m one of those “tree huggers” you’ve heard about. If there’s trash around, I pick it up.

At last I make it to campus. When I walk in the door, Olivia always asks me, “How are you?” It sounds ridiculous, but I have to remind myself that this is something humans call “small talk” and that I am not required to do a deep soul-searching analysis in response.

I have a couple floor pillows in my office which I use for a brief meditation. I’ve got iTunes rigged to play the stream from home after ten minutes.

If I’m drinking coffee, I have a cup. Generally I drink coffee only during the cold half of the year. I never make coffee these days; Olivia handles that. If I’m not drinking coffee, I’ll make myself a cup of tea.

This year I’m spending a few minutes each morning recalling and reviewing what I’ve done on this particular day in the past. I find it to be an interesting exercise.

I spend a fair amount of time sitting in front of a computer, staring at this giant monitor. Often I’ll don headphones and listen to the stream from home. Yes, it’s the same stream that started my day, but it’s hardly the same music. The program is constantly shifting. By the time I’ve left the house it’s strictly ambient. Around 10 AM it switches over to an eclectic mix. Around noon some longer pieces come on, followed by a series of programs which might be called “Anything but Pop/Rock!”, “World Folk Tribe,” and “Pop Exploration.” I’ve got this all automated now, through a combination of iTunes smart playlists, wifi, Koingo Alarm Clock Pro, and some gnarly AppleScript.

OK, but what about work itself? I’m still working the same job, in the same office, as I was five years ago, or ten years ago for that matter. I’ve been at this almost 15 years now, but a lot has changed. Over the last five years I’ve come to embrace the idea of faculty development in the broadest possible sense, rather than the more narrow approach which marked my first ten years on the job. I still do a lot of technology-related stuff, but these days I also pay a lot of attention to ideas like contemplative pedagogy and integrative learning. I generally advocate for a holistic or integral approach to faculty development.

My time is mostly spent in reading, writing, meeting, talking, listening, researching, learning, and preparing for workshops or presentations. I’m not doing nearly as much production work these days as I used to once upon a time. I’d like to get back to that. Some parts of my job are a little tedious, but the drudgery tends to open up the most interesting parts of my work. For example, lately I’ve been wrapping up the final report on a recent grant and working on an application for a new grant. These documents aren’t exactly gripping, but the grants have enabled faculty here to explore contemplative practices in relation to teaching and learning. Thus they’ve enabled me to focus on the same.

I still have my same lunch — a carrot, a sandwich, an apple — the main difference being that now my sandwiches are on homemade bread. Also, for the better part of the past year I ramped up to two lunches daily in an effort to gain weight. That effort was successful, and I’m back to one lunch.

After work I might hit the gym. That’s another change. Five years ago I didn’t have a membership.

Xy usually picks the girl up on her way home from school. If it’s a nice day the girl might take a bike ride around the block, or maybe just a walk. Xy will usually have a beer or two, but I’m off the booze these days as a rule. We might visit with some neighbors. One of us will prepare dinner. These days we are generally trying to embrace a pescatarian diet. Sometimes “Uncle” James will join us. We say grace to Mother Earth together, and as we eat we talk about our day.

After dinner the girl will have a bath. I’m generally the one who tucks her in with a bedtime story. Somewhere in there I’ll usually squeeze in a bath myself. Xy and I might watch a DVD from Netflix. Xy often has homework, but she is not quite so busy these days as she used to be.

During this calendar year I’m making an effort to write in my journal every night without fail. Ninety-one days so far and counting.

And to sleep.

What’s missing from this account is the affective dimension. I should add that my days are full of beauty and meaning. For this, I am grateful.


Today I celebrate a quarter-century of atheism.

A quarter century? Why yes. Here is an entry from my journal 25 years ago today:


October 28th, 1984 10:58 PM Sunday

God. I used to believe in God. But do I now? I don’t think so. I can’t see any reason to. And if I must accept the existance [sic] of God simply by blind faith, why the Christian God? I don’t know. Religion has become very confusing. I’ve been strongly conditioned to believe in God. I can use this to explain away any feeling that there is “supposed to be” a God. But it also makes it harder to reject Christianity.

Goodnite — BPE

At the time I wrote the journal entry, I was a mere whelp of 17 years. I still remember when it dawned on me that I was Christian by mere accident of birth. This revelation and its consequences were deeply painful for me, and remained so for years. (My greatest regret, in retrospect, is that I did not share my thoughts with my parents. I thought it would cause Mom unnecessary grief. Yet, how arrogant of me to think this way — to suppose that my own mother who gave me birth couldn’t handle a frank discussion of spiritual matters.) Since then I’ve progressed through a number of stages in my thinking. What began as a simple exercise in logic soon undermined everything I believed; I spent years reconstructing myself on a different foundation.

So today I call myself an atheist (no, not an agnostic) but of course that’s only one of many labels I might put on myself, and it’s only describes what I don’t believe. That’s what I’m celebrating today — my apostaversary, if you’ll pardon the neologism. It’s the anniversary of my apostasy, my falling away from the faith in which I was raised. In some ways I feel that my life-journey beagn with that negation. It was difficult but necessary, and nothing about it felt like a choice at the time.

I know many people have negative associations with the very term, “atheist.” And, it must be confessed, some atheists behave in a way that feeds that negative image, angrily denouncing the deeply held beliefs of others, eager to deny any value to the variety of religious experience. At the same time I recognize that some religious teaching is coercive and corrosive and harmful and frankly immoral. Just as I don’t want to be lumped in with all atheists, so I try to avoid lumping all religious experience together. Over the years I’ve learned better. There are religious philosophies that are not theistic. There are conceptions of God that I can respect. Most of all, I believe in the value of the sacred. It makes perfect sense to me that certain places, certain times, even certain people should be held apart and considered special, revered, reverenced. I wouldn’t want a world without that.

My experience of atheism has encompassed a broad range of emotions. Pain, sorrow, fear, anger, defiance, confusion, ambivalence, acceptance, compassion, humility, wonder, ecstasy. I’m sure I could write an essay on each of these moods, but in keeping with recent practice I thought I might let the music do the talking. Here are not one but two mixes so you can choose your poison.

First, how about some stereotypical snarling angry defiance? NSFW!

And if that doesn’t tickle your fancy, here’s a mix that I hope might catch some people off guard, songs that are, for the most part, gentle, mellow, laid-back. I think these songs capture the sense of melancholy and humor and even the romantic side of the atheist heart.

Believe me when I say I’ve felt every bit of emotion expressed in every one of these songs over the years.

April 5, 2009

The day started off badly enough. I wasn’t feeling so hot — one too many gin and tonics the night before. But I roused myself up to go to the Great Green Bike Ride, part of the New Orleans Earth Day Festival. I was there to represent FOLC, as the Lafitte Corridor was the first stop on the ride. but it turns out I needn’t have bothered, as Daniel was there, and not being hungover he spoke to the group.

Daniel Speaks

I didn’t do much more of the ride, peeling off from the group in Treme and heading back home.

Little did I know that I was carrying a hitchhiker, a buckmoth caterpillar. In all my years here I’ve seen a jillion of these nasty critters, but I have never felt their dreaded sting. That was about to change, alas. But I was blissfully ignorant of what lay in store for me. I came home and soon was carrying my daughter on my hip. The caterpillar was riding on my hip as well, and it stung Persephone’s ankles, but she didn’t complain. Then we sat down and started playing on the floor. I felt a stinging sensation on my elbow, and that’s when I saw the bristly little worm.

I kind of freaked out. I flushed the caterpillar down the toilet and used tape to remove any bristles still in my flesh, then used a bag of frozen peas to take the swelling down. I wasn’t tending to Persephone’s sting because I wasn’t yet aware that she’d been stung. Instead, I put a leftover cup of coffee in the microwave.

Persephone was toddling down the hall toward the kitchen. I turned from the microwave to see if the gate at the top of the stairs was shut — it wasn’t — and Persephone had just stepped over the edge — she was falling down the steps — I screamed and ran down after her but she kept tumbling — all the way down to the bottom!

It’s a terrible thing to see your baby fall down a flight of stairs. I hope I never see anything like that again. I’m afraid this image will fill my nightmares for years to come.

The truly bizarre thing is this: She wasn’t hurt. Not even bruised. I guess fifteen small little falls don’t necessarily add up to much. Oh, she was shook up and howled for a while, and of course I was scared to death she’d broken her neck or her arm or got a concussion. But upon close examination, we realized she was fine. That’s how we discovered the caterpillar stings on her ankles, which we treated with tape, ice, and a poultice of baking soda and water. The sting was worse than the fall.

So that was one hell of a morning. The rest of the day was blissfully uneventful: a trip to the grocery, painting the deck, a stroll to the bayou to check out the Earth Day Festival.

I’m so relieved she wasn’t hurt, and so horrified by the thought of what might have been.

My Typical Day

Usually in journals we concentrate on what distinguishes one day from the others. But sometimes it’s good to contemplate what our days have in common. As Terry Whitefeather once said, “My typical day is never typical,” but nevertheless some general patterns emerge. Forthwith, a “typical” weekday.

We wake up to the sound of music. For years now I’ve had iTunes programmed to wake up at a set time, usually 6:00 AM, and start cranking out the jams. The music is pumped to various locations throughout the house via wifi. Xy rises first since she has to be at school so early, while I lie in bed with the girl. (We’re all sleeping together these days, and least in the latter half of the night.) I usually rise by the time Xy’s out the door. Sometimes the girl wakes early, sometimes she sleeps in and I have to wake her. Eventually she gets up and gets a diaper change. I strap her to my chest and walk her to daycare. It’s a very short walk, but a highlight of the day. After dropping her off, I walk back home and take care of any unfinished business. For example, if I didn’t have a chance to eat breakfast before bundling the girl off, I feed myself at this time, usually a bowl of granola mixed with All-Bran Extra Fiber in soy milk.

Then it’s off to work. I have been riding my bike to work on a daily basis for about nine years now. Lots of people regard this as some sort of virtuous exercise in self-discipline, but in truth it’s so much more pleasurable than driving a car. It takes me about ten minutes to get from home to campus. I lock my bike up and head into my building, greeting whoever’s behind the reference desk, taking the elevator to the fifth floor. I say hi to Olivia who’s usually there before me. I unlock my office and power up my computer. If it’s early I check my e-mail; if it’s late I run down the back stairwell and grab a cup of coffee with my klatsch. I usually sit around with those guys for the length of time it takes to drink a cup. A lot of BS gets shoveled around, and the occasional pearl of wisdom, not to mention a good amount of gossip and scuttlebutt. Then I make my way back up to my office, where I generally brew myself a pot of coffee, and then I really get down to work.

A lot of people don’t understand what it is that I do. For years I would tell people I’m a multimedia artist, which is true, and that would lead to all kinds of interesting conversations. More recently I’ve experimented with telling people I work in faculty development, which is also true, but I’ve found this tends to nip the conversation in the bud. Technology is sexy and exciting, but faculty development sounds academic and dry. From a sheer physical standpoint, much of my work day is spent hunched over a computer, or meeting with people, or reading from books and journals, and occasionally addressing groups of people, but this of course misses the point. It’s mainly intellectual work. I would say that I am trying to keep abreast of certain trends in a rapidly shifting culture, and share what I learn with others. I do this primarily by playing around. Play is a necessary part of development, and constant development is what we’re after here. So that’s why I love my job.

I try to bring my lunch as often as possible. My standard lunch is a carrot, a sandwich, and an apple. I don’t usually take a break for lunch. I continue working (playing) right on through.

The afternoon is more of the same, except I never drink coffee after noon. I might have a cup of tea though. I generally feel less creative in the afternoons, so I try to tackle more mundane tasks at that time.

I ride the bike back home. There’s usually a chore to do like emptying the dishwasher. Our purported template is that Xy picks Persephone up in the afternoons, but because she’s a teacher she’s constantly having to stay late, and so this often falls on me in practice. I don’t mind.

Sometimes I make dinner, sometimes Xy does. Often we’ll have a beer to tide us over to dinner time. Often we’ll watch the Warren Easton High School Marching Band come down our street, but that’s a seasonal thing. The girl seems to enjoy it.

After dinner, and a bath for the girl, Xy has her homework. This is a constant. It’s only a question of how much on any given night. We might watch some TV while she does her work, or more likely a DVD from Netflix, or perhaps we listen to music. The girl usually falls asleep between 7:30 and 8:30. These days we generally confine our video viewing until after she’s asleep, since she is now clearly able to watch the screen.

Then I might take a bath, have a nightcap, or a bowl of cereal, read a little bit, or a write a little bit.

And of course I have to compose the next morning’s playlist before I go to sleep.

March 25, 2009

This morning Xy unplugged one appliance in the kitchen to plug in the toaster. Unfortunately the cord from the first appliance landed in the second toaster slot. So now we have black melted plastic in the toaster and a damaged power cord. Both can be repaired, but it remains an object lesson in why you shouldn’t prepare breakfast without your glasses.

Persephone woke early and so did I. We said hello to our houseguests. Yes, houseguests! Erkki and Raili arrived Tuesday afternoon. There was a bit of a mix-up because Erkki left his mobile phone behind, but they found their way to our house in Mid-City eventually. We had a late lunch at Mandina’s, and then I gave them the Misery Tour. (My typical route: Lakeview, Lake Pontchartrain at Mardi Gras fountain, Gentilly and the London Avenue Outfall Canal, and then the Lower Ninth Ward. I’ve come to realize that the Misery Tour is not so miserable for me because I live in the flood zone and see the aftermath every day.) Later we ventured to the Quarter with Xy and Persephone and got some beignets at Café du Monde.

But that was last night. This morning I put on black clothes, bundled Persephone off to daycare, saw Erkki and Raili off to catch the streetcar, I rode to work, and from work I caught a ride with the two Elizabeths and Elliott out to Providence Park on Airline Drive. We were there for the funeral for Olivia’s husband Michael. It was probably the shortest such service I have ever attended — fifteen minutes, tops. I hugged Olivia and told her it was chaos at the office without her. She called me a liar but thanked me for the lie anyway. (I wish it was a lie!) She seems to be bearing up well.

In addition to family, there were a bunch of people from work there too. I guess that’s an extended family of sorts. I got a ride back with Jim, and we discussed various ways of being remembered and memorialized after death. A funeral makes you think about such things. I’ve always imagined I’d want some sort of bizarre ritual to mark my passing, but I came to realize that I’d rather have my survivors feel free to remember me in the way they see fit. Funerals are for the living.

After work, Erkki and Raili passed by the house one last time. They’d spent the day in the Quarter, seeing the essential things you must see if you’re only going to be in New Orleans a little over 24 hours. Before they left town, Erkki thanked me for the tours I’d given them, saying that I’d shared a little of the “spirit of New Orleans.” He said they saw the city with slightly different eyes because of the perspectives I’d shared. I thought that was nice.

Raili & Erkki

I really have missed Erkki and Raili. I suppose I think of them like a second set of parents. (Their daughter lived with us in Indiana for a year as an exchange student back in the early 80s. So, if she’s my sister, then they’re my parents. I only wish my real parents could get a chance to meet them.) It was really good to see them both, and I wish them a safe journey home.

March 19, 2009

Five minutes after I got to work this morning, Boss Lady gave me the bad news. Olivia’s husband died last night. He had bone cancer, the kind you don’t recover from. He went into the hospital in December and essentially never came out. I didn’t know Michael well, only met him a couple times. But Olivia feels like a member of the family, and so Michael is also family be extension. On top of it all I think Olivia has the flu or something right now. She’s been seriously ill for the last week. So this is a lot to deal with.

However, I couldn’t spend much time thinking about it this morning, because after a cup of coffee and checking my e-mail, I had to run off to the Ruby Slipper. I was meeting a group of students from the New School, a university in New York. They had come to spend their spring break in New Orleans, studying the recovery. I learned just before meeting them that they’d been caught in the middle of a gun battle yesterday. The news report on Fox 8 was pretty hair-raising; a witness said there were 50-60 rounds fired and compared it to a war zone. The students I met at the Ruby Slipper, though part of the same group, were not the ones caught in the gunfire. They also were quick to point out the news reports were overblown. It was not 50-60 rounds, more like five or six. Their teacher chalked the exaggeration up to biased reporting by Fox News. (I was skeptical of this casual analysis. I believe that Fox 8 is an independent affiliate and I haven’t noticed them sharing the bias for which Fox News is famous. Then again, come to think of it, Bob Breck is an outspoken skeptic of global warming… Hmmm. Maybe I need to rethink this.) They also said that’s why they refused to talk to the media about it, which I thought was interesting.

Over brunch, we talked about education and neighborhood organizing in post-Katrina New Orleans. Claudia Barker of New Orleans Outreach was there to guide the first discussion, and Jennifer Weishaupt of Mid-City Neighbrohhod Organization led the second. Karen Gadfly Gadbois and David Thaddeus Baker were also there on behalf of the Urban Conservancy and Stay Local. David and I follow each other on Twitter but had never met before in real life.

Brunch was delicious. I got the Eggs Blackstone, a variation on Eggs Benedict.

Noonish, I got my turn. I led the group on a meandering walk from the Ruby Slipper to the site formerly known as Lindy Boggs Medical Center (where they recoiled in horror at the deep water in the old emergency room) and on to the end of Bayou St. John to gaze up and down the Lafitte Corridor. Unfortunately they were not properly shod for traipsing up the corridor itself, which is still a little rough even though the sheriff had the underbrush cut back. Flip-flops and sandals are not good for such terrain. Even standing on the concrete bike path on Jeff Davis, one student got attacked by fire ants. I felt bad for her. We walked up Orleans Avenue and then Toulouse and finally cut over on Scott back to the corridor, emerging on Carrollton between Rouse’s and the Home Depot.

All the while, I was outlining the story of Friends of Lafitte Corridor and the greenway project. Hopefully they got something out of it. We ended at Massey’s for a photo-op.

I went back to the office and dealt with various random loose ends for the rest of the afternoon.

On the way home from work I noticed I was feeling a mild but undeniable surge of energy, a slightly manic edge to everything. As crazy as it seems I’ve noticed these surges seem to reliably coalesce around the solstices and equinoxes.

It struck me that I think of my blog as a journal but I don’t really write that way here, and I wondered if I shouldn’t give it a try.

The new neighbor girls across the street have been running around barefoot, and they both managed to cut their feet. Xy gave them first aid. They said their parents were asleep. I urged them to wear shoes.

For dinner we had artichokes and grilled ribs. Persephone is continuing to take more and more steps. I decided today that she has finally passed some indistinct threshold and we might as well say she’s walking.

Xy had a lot of work to do, so I bathed the girl and put her to bed. Once she was asleep I shaved my beard and head to mark the impending vernal equinox, which is tomorrow morning at 6:44 AM. I decided I’m bring the mohawk back. Not the fauxhawk, mind you. I’m talking about the real deal. Pictures tomorrow if I can manage it.

September 6, 2003

So once again I take pen in hand, motivated by the vague notion that my life is slipping away, unexamined, unrecorded. Does writing, or the contemplation that writing engenders, somehow slow the passage of time?

I am sitting on the deck in back of our house. It is a lazy Saturday afternoon. My back hurts for no apparent reason, and Xy is feeling perfectly miserable and is napping. Earlier I called the Tulane Family Health Center and made an appointment for her on Monday afternoon; I think she’s suffering from a combination of allergies, stress and exhaustion.

It’s a warm day, and getting warmer. I’m quite comfortable sitting in the shade, sipping iced tea, in my underwear and a tee-shirt. If I stay here as the sun moves across the sky, I’ll lose my shade in a few hours, and then I’ll be sweating, because the sun is hot. Nevertheless, I remarked this morning that it was relatively cool in the house, which is not air conditioned except for our bedroom and the TV room downstairs; it was the first such morning in months. Summer’s almost over.

I should add that by “relatively cool” I mean “not stiflingly hot.”

I must confess that the discomfort of the New Orleans climate was never truly manifest to me during the first three years we lived here. It’s only in the last year, as we have lived in a house without central heat, without central air, without adequate insulation and weatherproofing, that I have really felt just how hot and how cold it can be here.

But it is the dampness of the climate that makes it so uncomfortable, making the cold colder, the hot hotter. The humidity compresses the zone of comfortable temperatures down to a very narrow range, and it seems that there are only a couple months that are not aggravatingly hot or miserably cold.

Our quality of life would, no doubt, be greatly enhanced by the installation of central air, but it doesn’t look as if we will be able to afford that anytime soon.

Indeed, our finances worry me. For the past year, it seems that we have consistently spent more each month than we earned, steadily eroding what savings we had — which were not really savings at all, but just money left over from the homebuying transaction. Dad gave us a big lump sum as a gift, to help us buy the house, and it turned out that our down-payment wasn’t as large as we’d anticipated, so we had some extra. But that’s almost all gone now, and our account dipped below $1000 for the first time in August.

Funny. There was a time, not so long ago, when dipping below $100 would have been the cause for alarm, and $1,000 seemed like an astronomical figure.

As long as I’m complaining about the weather, money, and my health, I guess I might as well add that owning a house has turned out to be a big fucking pain in the ass! Whenever something breaks, I have to fix it myself, and given that our house is something like 85 to 100 years old, there’s always work to be done. The really stressful part is I have no idea how to do most of the work, and I have very little guidance. I feel ignorant, incompetent, and utterly ill-equipped for the tasks that home ownership entails.

Now, just to prove that I haven’t turned all the way into a cranky old man just yet, here are a few bright spots:

  • After twenty-plus years of taking Dilantin every day to keep the seizures away, I started tapering off early this year, reducing my dosage from four pills to three to two to one, and now it’s been — how long? — maybe six months since I’ve taken any. And no seizures. That’s a good thing, because Dilantin had some side effects, like enlarged gums and shrinkage of the cerebellum (yikes!).
  • A couple weeks ago, unable to sleep, I conducted a web search on my own name, and revisited my entry in the Internet Movie Database to discover I’d been given a story credit for a film called “Toss of the Coin,” directed by my old high school classmate, Pat Steele. I got in touch with him and he sent me a DVD of the film. It’s damn good, and based on a story I wrote in high school. The whole thing is kind of like waking up to find that a dream you’ve had has come true. Weird — but nice.
  • Xy’s teaching at Haban’s, just across the river but still a part of the New Orleans Public Schools; she actually seems to have a competent and supportive principal for a change.

It seems impossible, but it’s taken an hour to write these few pages. Writing in a journal is a pleasant way to pass the time, a pleasure which I’m afraid I’ve forgotten, since it has been so long since I’ve kept a journal.

There are some matters concerning my inner life which I’d like to write about, but I suppose I can work my way around to those more difficult issues in due time. Right now, it seems it might be worthwhile to reflect on what’s happened since last I wrote — and since I’m not sure when that was, it’s kind of an open-ended question. Nevertheless:

  • We bought a house, as I mentioned. As of October 1, 2002, we are homeowners in Mid-City, New Orleans.
  • We went to Hawaii this June. I went for a conference (Ed-Media 2003) so the University paid my way, and I took Xy along. Unfortunately we didn’t get out of Honolulu much.
  • ROX is back in production! We’ve cranked out three episodes in the past year, and I’m working on #90 (“Fat”) now. I’ve also put a lot of effort into a new website.
  • PJ, an old acquaintance from Bloomington, got a job at the University and has been working there as a web developer for just over a year now.
  • I visited Päivi and family in Finland in the summer of 2001, just before the terrorist attacks. I was there for the Ed-Media 2001 conference. Also stopped in London to visit Jaylene, and ran up to Edinburgh and took a three-day tour of the Scottish highlands.
  • Uh… I guess I should mention that I got this job at the University and moved down here to New Orleans in May of 1999

July 7, 2001

London — The overnight sleeper train was expensive but definitely worth it. Trains and planes are the way to go — fuck a bus, except for getting around a city.

It’s around 8:00 AM, foggy and damp. I’m in Regent’s Park, making my way to Leinster Square the slow way — by walking. Leinster Square is where I’m staying tonight, so I’m in no rush.

Navigating through London, especially on foot as opposed to public transit, is a fun puzzle in itself. London streets make the warped grid of New Orleans look almost sane by comparison. I bought a detailed street map — it’s a 300-page book.

Gotta start looking for a place to take a crap…

Ah… free, quasi-sanitary public restrooms. Xy would appreciate this. Not to mention the elaborate flower gardens.

July 6, 2001

Edinburgh — I’m sitting on a bench on a hill in a park looking across a small valley at the most incredible array of stone buildings. When I got off the bus here three days ago, the site of Edinburgh made up for the eight-hour overnight ride, which sucked big-time.

But I haven’t spent the last three days in Edinburgh. I’ve been barreling around the Highlands on a bus tour. Saw Loch Ness, the William Wallace Memorial, Glencoe, the site of the battle where Robert the Bruce defeated the English, the site of the battle where the Jacobite Rebellion was crushed, the castle filmed in Highlander, some neolithic ruins, and lots of astonishingly beautiful scenery. Stayed at two hostels; the one on Skye was pretty shabby but the one at Ft. Augustine rocked. We took a walk up to Loch Ness and met a member of the local fire brigade. They were practicing for a rowing contest to be held the next day; their handmade craft was labeled FART which stands for Fort Augustine Rowing Team.

I didn’t take a camera on this part of the journey — mailed it home from Helsinki — but I don’t think I could have captured the expansive grandeur of the Highlands.

I really wish Xy could have been along to see it. I was the only singleton on the bus, and though everyone was nice enough, I was a little lonely sometimes. But moreover, I think Xy would love Scotland, so maybe I can manage to drag her here someday.

It’s been cold and misty most of my time here. I bought a sweater in Portree which is keeping me warm and toasty now.

But Glencoe was so amazing — I expected Gandalf or someone to come walking down the mountainside.

Back to these buildings in Edinburgh: They’re dark, heavy, Gothic, oppressive even — especially with the thick fog.

Later: Ate at a French restaurant I found by chance. Had duck in a raspberry sauce the way it should be prepared — made me realize just how bad the duck at Court of Two Sisters really was.

July 3, 2001

Helsinki — I’ve been riding one of the public bikes around the city this morning. You put in a ten-mark coin as a deposit, which unlocks the bike. Then you ride around wherever you want, with your coin wedged in its slot in your handlebars. When you return it to any of the public bike racks, which are located all over, you insert the lock back into the handlebars and retrieve your deposit.

The bikes themselves are kind of clumsy, with only one speed and spongy tubeless tires that can never go flat — all designed for very low maintenance. One size fits all, which means that my bike is too small for me, and the distinctive design and garish day-glo colors make you very conspicuous. But still it’s a pretty cool idea.

Later, on the bus to the airport: The couple behind me is having an incredible knock-down drag-out. She’s Thai; he’s a Finn. They’re speaking in heavily accented English. It’s the kind of fight where you say “How did I get stuck with such a stupid person like you?” and “Just leave me alone — I don’t need you anymore.”

June 30, 2001

In the Finnish countryside: I wasn’t sure what it would be like to see Päivi again after 15 years, but very quickly we were talking as if no time had passed at all. It seems odd that it could be so very natural, but so it was. We sat on the porch of her apartment outside Helsinki eating salmon and salad and drinking wine and talking about what had happened over all this time until late at night — although of course it never really got dark.

That was yesterday. Tonight, Saturday, I’m sitting in bed in a guest room of the very charming summer cottage which belongs to Päivi’s parents. It’s in the forest some hours outside Helsinki. Raili told me that this house was actually the first thing Päivi designed as an architect, though she’d asked her mother not to tell me. Neither Raili nor Erkki seem to have changed at all since I met them in 1985. Marja is also here — She seems to have changed very little, though she’s only just returned from UCLA and is suffering jet lag so it’s hard to know. But she looks very much the same.

June 27, 2001

Tampere: So much modern “International Style” architecture in America is so ugly. There is a lot of this sort of architecture in Tampere, and some of it is just as ugly, but somehow much of it is not. Why? What’s the difference?

As I write this I’m sitting at the foot of yet another church, Kalevan Kirkko. It’s very strange, very tall, very modern — hardly looks like a church at all.

Nobody locks their bikes here — and there are many, many bikes. The city is small and clean but very cosmopolitan. Almost everyone speaks English, but what’s amazing is how many people speak it so well. They must get lots of practice. And of course the Nordic system of social welfare, with universal healthcare, no poverty, and virtually no crime, all adds up to make this seem very close to paradise.

Except that the sun is too damn small in the sky. It’s really unnerving.

A Spaniard’s been rooming with me the last two nights at the hostel. I never quite caught his name. He used to be a student at the university here, but he doesn’t know Finnish. I thought that was strange. Apparently many courses are taught in English.

Last night we went out for beer to a nice pub where we sat outside just above the river and talked about public radio (and how NPR isn’t very “public” by European standards) and access TV, religion, race politics, anarchism, and many other things. After a couple of beers we relocated to a place called Café Europa, filled with antique sofas and armchairs around low tables with candles. I’ve never seen anything quite so cool. I had a Monty Python’s Holy Grail Ale, and we talked some more. When we got back to the hostel, it was past midnight, but the sky was still bright although the sun was below the horizon.

June 26, 2001

Tampere: Damn I’m tired — combination of jet lag, three nights of inadequate sleep, and the fatigue of travel, the stress of being in a foreign country. Also the memories evoked by being in Scandinavia again are mildly confusing, though mostly pleasant.

I’m sitting on a bench in a public square in Tampere, in front of the Greek Orthodox cathedral. Soaking in the 17:00 sun. It looks almost like high noon, but the sun is smaller than I’m used to seeing it. Won’t be dark for another six or seven hours.

It’s warm, almost hot. I’ve seen a couple women lying on blankets in bikinis, here at the square and at a nearby park. Last night it seemed as though the entire town was out by the river, enjoying the sunlight and the mild weather.

I hope I can sleep tonight. I’m going to try making a blindfold of my bandanna.

Things that went wrong on the way here: A storm kept us in a holding pattern some distance from Newark. Finally we landed — in Baltimore. After an hour or so they stuck 15 kids on our plane, a tour group bound for Rome. But then word came that Newark would not be holding the flight to Rome, so they unloaded the kids, and their baggage. When we got back in the air, we were put in a holding pattern again, and when we eventually did land at Newark, we couldn’t get to the gate. The people in front of me watched in frustration as their plane for Portugal was boarded, taxied down the runway, and took off without them. They chewed out the flight attendant, and I castigated them for whining too much. (They were in their mid-fifties at least; “I thought my generation was supposed to do all the whining.) When we got off the plane, Newark Airport was in chaos, as both arrivals and departures had been canceled or delayed for hours because of the weather. I’d missed my flight to London. I was directed to stand in one line, then another. There were lots of lines, all insanely long, and nobody seemed to know if they were in the right line. The Continental reps seems as confused as the travelers, and more harried. One passenger, a Frenchman, tipped me off about the toll-free number for Continental’s customer service. I walked to a payphone, no line at all, and in mere minutes had my flight re-booked for the next day. However, I still had to stand in a long line to arrange for overnight accommodations. It took a couple hours before the bus arrived to take us to the hotel, and then there wasn’t room for even half of us. So we waited for the next bus, which still couldn’t accommodate the multitude of displaced Continental passengers, but I got a seat this time. The Airport Hilton was already overflowing, but it was only a 45 minute ride to the East Brunswick Hilton — or so we thought. After half an hour, the bus driver pulled over onto the shoulder of the highway and made a phone call. “She’s lost,” said the man sitting next to me, a videographer turned high school teacher from Alameda, California. “I bet she went the wrong direction on the highway.” Sure enough, thirty minutes later we were driving past the Newark Airport again. 45 minutes after that, we were at the hotel, but the driver missed two separate turnoffs and ended up in an inclined cul-de-sac. She had to back the bus up, uphill, and then the damn thing would shift into reverse. We finally checked into the hotel at around 1:00 AM. Many of us got booked into occupied rooms and had to return to the front desk, more than once in some cases. I got to sleep around 2:00 or 2:30, then got up at 6:00 to catch the 7:00 shuttle back to the airport. Unfortunately that bus also seemed to be ominously late in arriving. But this is when things began to pick up. Three passengers decided to hire a taxicab; they were looking for a fourth to share the cost and chose me at random form the mass of people waiting in front of the hotel. The cab driver informed us that he would not accept Continental vouchers for payment because “they simply don’t pay.” But we didn’t have any such vouchers anyway. My fellow travelers were all going to London on my flight, as it turned out: Jane, a jet-setting new age hippie from Boulder; Josie, a Filipino living in Buckinghamshire; and Zoe, a British geologist living in Utah and running very late for a conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she was presenting a paper on earthquakes.

After that, the rest of the trip went very smoothly.

After soaking in the sun and reflecting for an hour or so, I don’t feel tired at all.

A Particular Day in My Life

Here’s an account of a single day, August 2nd, 1999. This was originally published in my friend Rachel’s zine Daybook.

I get up around 7:00 or 7:30. I shower and shave. For breakfast I eat a bowl of granola with rice milk. I grab a carrot and an apple, and leave the apartment around 8:00.

As I’m driving to work a sheriff’s car pulls up alongside me and uses his loudspeaker: “The maximum speed is 35 miles per hour — you better slow down.”

When I get to the office I make coffee, talk with the cleaning lady, check my e-mail. I spend some time futzing around with Macromedia’s Shockwave installer, which seems a little buggy.

I finish up some work from the day before and upload it. It’s a new version of a website called MathNerds.

The university’s Webmaster calls me up, and while he’s got me on the phone we manage to resolve a problem with our CGI access that has been plaguing us ever since I arrived here on June 1st. Short of the long: It’s good news. I’m able to complete a couple of tasks that have been on the back burner for two months.

Our secretary has been working on our newsletter for the past week. I help her save it in an older format so the folks at the Document Centre will be able to read it.

A professor of Spanish stops by my office. She’s in desperate need of a programmer to help her finish a CD-ROM project, and quickly. The CD is called Hispanics in New Orleans. I explain that it’s too much for me to do. She offers to hire me after hours. The money is too good to refuse, so I agree.

For lunch I eat my carrot and apple.

After lunch I put the newsletter on a floppy and take it to the Document Centre. It’s about five blocks away. The August heat is incredible. A few drops of rain hit me, and I swear at myself for not bringing an umbrella. When I get to the Document Centre, I realize I’ve forgotten the damn floppy, so I go back to the office feeling like a dumbass.

I’m so exhausted by the heat that I can’t bring myself to go back out again. I revise an on-line form on our website, then I start work on an HTML tutorial.

I feel like leaving early, so I do.

On the way home I revisit the Document Centre. (Yes, they really do spell their name in the British style. I don’t know why. They’re the spawn of some unholy corporate-academic alliance with Xerox Corporation.) This time I remember the floppy.

When I get home, around 3:30 or 4:00, Xy is just finishing her job application. She’s a teacher; she’s looking for work in the public schools.

I change into my swimming trunks and go up to the pool on the roof of our building. I drink a beer and lie in the sun and write this account of my day. Meanwhile Xy is making guacamole down in our apartment. I swim a few laps in the pool and start thinking about the best way to tackle the Hispanics project.

Later that evening we get together with our friends, Marlon and Delme. (I’m not sure if I’m spelling her name right.) They’re the only real friends we’ve made since moving to New Orleans. They’re from Honduras. Delme doesn’t speak much English, and I speak even less Spanish, but Xy and especially Marlon are fairly bilingual. Our conversation tends to revolve around language itself, as we teach each other in little bits and pieces. Xy wants to go see a Latin salsa band at the Red Room, but when we arrive, the club is closed. We end up at Tipitina’s instead, where there’s a fifty-cent special on beer. The Original New Birth Brass Band is playing. It’s a kind of funky Dixieland jazz I never heard back in Indiana.

When it’s later than it should be, and we’re drunker than we should be, I drive us all home. While Xy and I try to sleep, our two cats chase each other around the apartment all night long.