What do the books we get rid of say about us?

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On their way to the eyes of other readers

I’ve been getting rid of a lot of stuff lately and I don’t have all that much stuff to start with. Someone once described me as having a small footprint and that pretty much felt right to me. No, I’ve not yet read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo but it’s on my short list. I’m serious. I know that some folks keep books forever. Many have huge bookshelves holding the paper-bound words and thoughts that have influenced them over the years. Being very much a 20th Century Man I get the appeal of being able to grab a book, turn to a page, and illustrate a point to oneself or others.

Still, that’s a facility that has largely lost its appeal to me.

So, just a few thoughts on these now dearly departed books. The Correspondence of Shelby Foote & Walker Percy is a fine book for any writer to read. The two writers corresponded for decades about their triumphs, their marriages, their problems with writing and their shortages of money. Talk about bringing the challenges of being a writer home where it belongs; between friends. I’ve known many writers but the few who were my friends seem seldom cross paths with me anymore. Writers, always solitary, seem prone to getting more isolationist as they get older.

George Patton always intrigued me. I loved that he was loathed by Andy Rooney (whom I also loathed) and revered by my uncle Mike who liked to say, “I rolled with Patton in WWII.” More than anything I reveled in his myriad personal contradictions. George C. Scott’s movie portrayal of the man led people to believe he had booming and gruff voice when the opposite was true. Patton was both urbane and obscene. As brutal as he could be to soldiers under his command he also got far fewer of them killed than did more humble and measured generals like Omar Bradley. I always found the imperial nature of MacArthur and his efforts to upstage Truman, as well as his proclivity to occupy grand places such as the Malacañang Palace, far more damning than anything Patton ever did. Best of all, Patton was a real SoCal boy just like me. The sprawling rancho where he grew up has long since been swallowed whole by the urban sprawl of what is now San Gabriel, less than an hour east of here.

Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers is the only military book I have ever read that was nowhere near as good as what is effectively a movie that was based on it. I’m sure Ambrose was a good guy and a solid historian but Band of Brothers is marginally written and uninspired compared to the HBO series. I’ll be blunt. Don’t waste your time with it.

Love in a Dry Sea is a novel by Shelby Foote who would later write the saga of the Civil War that Ken Burns used as the foundation of the epic PBS documentary. I loved Sheby Foote and his erudite and seemingly effortless command of the language. Comparing Sheby Foote to historian Ed Bearss is like comparing Jack Nicklaus to Jack Fleck. The odd thing is that as magnificent a writer as Foote was when it came to non-fiction he was blandly average as a writer of fiction. It’s odd and somewhat sad since Foote always aspired to be a novelist.

It nearly pains me to watch Plato hit the road but as often as I find myself thinking about or speaking about the dialectic or quoting some obscure line from the Phaedo I haven’t picked the book up in years. Plato’s good and stuck in my head so the need to have him sitting on my bookshelf has lessened. The book on Aquinas was easy to set adrift.

George Santayana’s Scepticism and Animal Faith is the single most difficult to read book I have ever come across. Most folks hit the wall harder with Kant but Santayana had me pinned. I’d catch myself reading the same half-page again and again hoping my brain might gain some intellectual traction. Way back when, I might have gotten some of it but I tried reading a few pages the other day and I nearly got lightheaded.

The editing books are mere works of reference and paper references (about the use of words and language, anyway) have been rendered superfluous by the presence of Google beneath our fingertips. Yes, I do still have the last dictionary I ever bought. It’s an Oxford Concise and I reach for it a couple times a week. But, those books on style and usage have long outstayed their usefulness to me. I won’t miss them.

Geez, that Jon Krakauer’s a good writer. I loved Into Thin Air but I keep getting derailed from finishing Under the Banner of Heaven. Talk about a gift for prose. Talk about energy. Talk about clarity of narrative. Krakauer is reputed to be rather petulant kind of guy, trending toward self-righteousness, but he is an amazing writer. I’d love to have a beer with him.

From time to time I’ve enjoyed reading a little of Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa if only to remind myself that even great writers can come across as merely average and totally mortal. Though some of the stories are amusing, this was an easy one to get rid of.

I know what you’re asking yourself; how the hell does guy get rid of his Idiots Guide to the Pilates Method, a retrospective on Speed Racer, the Diaries of Kafka and a book about swearing? It’s a head scratcher for sure but they’re outta here.

You know, the more I think about I’m pretty sure there’s still room on my bookshelf for the Speed Racer book.

It’s nice and thin!

 

 

 

 

What do the books we get rid of say about us?

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I took this on a 13 acre vacant lot my friend just bought in Placerville, CA. It’s an interesting bit of hilly property adorned with scrub oaks and manzanita.

Early in the year it was filled with chest-high weeds. But, those weeds have since died off leaving a soft layer of leaves and new grass.

I shot these flowers four times from every angle I could see. Finally, right before we left the light started to soften and I caught something I enjoy.

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Ocotillo: Featured in Flickr Explore

Big news; Flickr’s inscrutable algorithm has just chosen both of these images for Flickr Explore. It’s an exciting day for ocotillo everywhere!

Our upcoming & much-anticipated trip to Zion, Bryce and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has gotten shoved back to spring of 2018.

No worries, though, we’re on our annual New Year retreat to Palm Springs and its environs. I’ve always like the ocotillo. I tried to grow one many years ago and it was surprisingly difficult to establish. In fact, I ended up killing the little guy.

The fact is that even a healthy ocotillo can look kinda dead for a good part of the year. Then, suddenly, they burst into bloom. You judge. Who is the star of these photos, the ocotillos or the rocks in the background?

The countdown is on; there are fewer than six hours of 2017 left.

Happy 2018

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Ocotillo: Featured in Flickr Explore

Buck Brannaman & the lesson of solvitur en modo, firmitur en rey.

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My sister and I have something in common when it comes to two of our closest friends. My sister’s college roomate, now a wife and mother of three and my best friend, a husband and father if two. both suffer from significant depression.

Each has issues with their spouse and children. But, I’ve identified a significant difference between the two and the difference was manifest in the one of two sentences that each of them chose to sum up their condition.

My sister’s friend says, “I just don’t want to feel like this any more.”

My buddy says. “I know there’s no help for me. This is just how it is.”

A while back, I felt motivated to share a DVD I own called Buck. It’s the now-famous story of horseman Buck Brannaman. I saw it on TV years ago and I never forgot it. It’s one of a handful of DVDs I’ve ever actually bought and I take it out from time to time just to watch a few scenes.

Now, the funny thing is that I have very little interest in riding horses. I’ve probably been riding ten times and on seven of those rides my steed was made of plastic. Still, I am fascinated with the way Brannaman conveys information. Earlier this year I went to see one of his clinics at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. It was fascinating. Now, Brannaman is not always a little ray of sunshine. But, what attracts me to his method is that it’s heavy on sensitivity and what I call, self-discovery. By that I mean that he’s not merely encouraging sensitivity toward the horse. Rather, he’s saying that sensitivity toward the horse is mandatory and that developing a sensitivity toward the horse you’re riding leads to sensitivity towards oneself and other people.

As I’m prone to do with nearly everything, I apply this to golf. Golf is nearly always taught as a prescribed method of creating a specific series of movements. Of course the golf swing is comprised of motions, so this make sense on one level. But, if you scratch the surface with the best golf instructors they will often admit that what they’re really trying to teach is a feeling that can be hard for some players to feel. I’ve even spoke to one teacher who told me he sometimes tries to trick his students into buying into a motion he thinks will create a feeling that will somehow unlock a better swing. Talk about tricky, but learning isn’t always easy and straightforward.

I’m sure you’re wondering how this applies to the first couple paragraphs. I have to admit that at the time I loaned my friend the DVD I wasn’t sure either. I just had a feeling. Now that he’s watched it I think I have handle on what I wanted him to get out of it. Some of the lessons resides in a line Brannaman refers to in the film:

Solvitur en modo, firmitur en rey.

This is Latin for gentle in what you do, firm in how you do it. Like I said, Brannaman should have been a golf teacher. I think my friend has lived most of his life believing that something done out of the gentleness of love must always be done in that same gentle way. Over the decades, this gentility-first ethos has spawned inaction and passivity where verve and action were needed. That first quote of his, I know there’s no help for me. This is just how it is rings like the very bell of negativity derived from passivity.

I think this is a heck of a difficult thing for my friend to become aware of at this point in his life. He’s gotten so good at applying this mentality to himself even though he would never prescribe it to his children. He has created a bizarre and damning corruption of the old line, Do as I say and not as I do. He has failed to see the real lesson he’s passing on to to children through his actions and his words.

My sister’s friend went out and got help because she didn’t want to keep feeling as bad as she did. She was prescribed with antidepressants and got better. Of course, science has found that people get better from depression for a number of reasons. For the fortunate, the brain’s chemistry normalizes over time all by itself. For some, antidepressants assist in the recovery of this balance. Sometimes the brain recovers from the causes of the depression, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, only with time and perspective.

But, before people get better they have to want to get better. Do we really need to talk about the connection between attitude and health?

I watched Brannaman work with a person as his clinic who told him, “Buck, I think all this leg work (in getting the horse to turn) has numbed my horse up.” Brannaman looked at the back end of her horse and said, “Well, a fly just landed on your horse’s flank and he flicked it away with his tail. If your horse can feel a fly, he can feel your knee. The question is, can you become sensitive to how your horse feels what he feels?”

Sensitivity, or what I prefer to call awareness, is what we should all be looking for. It doesn’t matter if we’re learning a new golf shot or we want to learn how to tell a horse to stop or go or we want to know how to relate more effectively to ourself or other folks. We must be aware in a way that gives us the best chance to learn what we need.

My dear friend has lost this awareness. He can’t bring himself to flick that fly off of his leg and so it’s going to keep tormenting him until he does. My sister’s friend felt the same way but she acted on her awareness that help was close by. I remember hearing Dick Cavett say that in the depths of depression the cure could have been as close as the other side of the kitchen table but he just couldn’t bring himself to reach for it.

I spend a couple hours each week talking to my friend and thinking about his plight. I try to monitor how he’s feeling without asking about it relentlessly. I try to point out options when it comes to his work and his life and his family. I encourage him to try new courses of action, new ways of doing things and different ways of thinking about his ife. He speaks frequently of his experience of what he terms existential dread and crisis.

He’s not joking…

So, I wonder about the internal force that pushed my sister’s friend to reach out for help and the internal deficit that makes my friend unable to do the same? Is optimism a prerequisite for a willingness to ask for help or even the belief that help exists? If it is, I’m quite sure I don’t know of a way to motivate optimism in anyone, even someone I know as well as my old friend. You can lead an horse to water or a friend toward help but in the end it’s up to the horse and the friend to care enough to help themselves. Ever the optimist I’m confidant my old friend will have a quenching drink from the fountain of help this year.

 

 

 

Buck Brannaman & the lesson of solvitur en modo, firmitur en rey.

Review of Extraordinary Golf: The Art of the Possible by Fred Shoemaker

I’m finally getting over an annoying episode of Adhesive Capsulitis (also called Frozen Shoulder). It has hung on since early March which makes me feel lucky because it is commonly known to as long as nine to sixteen months in guys my age.

So, I’ve only played a total of 54 holes of golf since March. For 36 of those holes it felt just like a #1 Phillips head screwdriver was getting jabbed into the front of my shoulder. Now, I’m thankfully pain free and so far have recovered about 70% of my range of motion.

I kept working on my game (in my head, anyway) while I was effectively banned from the course. One interesting book I read was Extraordinary Golf: The Art of the Possible by Fred Shoemaker. Here’s an overview from the Extraordinary Golf website:

Most golfers approach the tee with a complex mental package: worries and judgments about their swing, the other person’s swing, the course, the weather, looking good, looking bad. They think about what’s wrong instead of what’s possible.

Drawing on his experience teaching both amateurs and professionals for more than three decades, in his clinics around the country, in his Golf in the Kingdom seminars at the Esalen Institute, and at his own golf schools in California, Shoemaker gives players a new perspective.  He combines a host of practical, proven exercises with a whole new way of thinking.  He shows how golf can be coached, learned, and practiced, with results not only in people’s scores but in their sheer pleasure in the game.

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I agree about the complex mental package. In fact, I’d say Shoemaker is putting things mildly in his description of what the average handicap player carries around in his cranium. As Bobby Jones said, “Most golfer’s believe they’re thinking but what they’re actually doing is worrying.” Shoemaker writes about the benefit of awareness and his own efforts to first maintain concentration on the ball for the entirety of his swing and then to develop an awareness of where the club head is throughout his swing. I found both exercises compelling though at the time I was still unable to swing at the ball.

At my worst, I could barely create an arc big enough to hit a long putt but as I slowly recovered I got into the goal of trying to maintain concentration on the ball throughout a chip and then an easy pitch shot. One benefits of the exercise is to free the brain from bullshit swing thoughts and anxieties. Not surprisingly, I’ve found it very difficult to maintain that level of concentration on a driver or 3-wood swing but I can now keep my brain on the ball from putter through hybrid fairly consistently.

The book also espouses the idea of (safely) throwing golf clubs as a bit of evidence that average players have what would be an effective golf swing that’s being inhibited by those counterproductive efforts to fix their swing. The more natural physical actions that will send a club flying toward a target would be well applied to golf swing, I agree. But the photos in the book are a bit off. All but one of the photographs show players who have stood up to their full height while tossing the club. I accept the idea that tapping into one’s natural ability to get the body to throw the club has a solid application in golf but there is, in fact, a ball down there just waiting to be hit and you can’t hit it while standing tall.

For a while, even while I was still reading the book, my brain wrongly substituted the idea of look at the ball for concentrate on the ball. Looking is one thing and concentrating is another. True concentration brings along the possibility of pushing out swing thoughts through the simplicity of concentrating on the ball. As I like to say, simple is seldom easy. Merely looking at the ball keeps the brain free to consider a bunch of thoughts and worries, none of which make the player more likely to hit the ball well.

While I was thinking about this review I came across Dr. Mark Wilson, a researcher in experimental psychology and human movement science and a leading expert in visuomotor skill acquisition and performance under pressure, from the University of Exeter. He researches what he calls, “skill acquisition process via Quiet Eye (gaze).” The term quiet eye (QE) is a term first proposed by Professor Joan Vickers of Calgary University. Anyway, Dr. Wilson has done research on golfers and has found that, “Such intense focus on the ball blocks out negative interference from mental chatter and allows the brain to process the aiming information and direct the body in the proper motions to get the ball where you wish to go.” I like the sound of that and I’m sure Fred Shoemaker would as well.

Extraordinary Golf would be even better had Shoemaker made a a more overt connection between awareness and action. As one’s awareness increases so does one’s ability to move the club with confidence. I guess it might have taken Shoemaker somewhere he didn’t want to go but I’m more than happy to go there. Golf is a hand/eye coordination game. Do you honestly think those tour pros who are so good at bouncing balls on the face of a wedge aren’t showing a skill that helps them strike the ball as solidly as they do? Pros have consistent and powerful swings as well as superb hand/eye coordination. Handicap players lack at least one of those abilities and possibly both. The good news is that concentrating (visually) on the ball may actually enhance hand/eye coordination for a handicap player whose ball striking is variable not only because his concentration is everywhere but also because that high level of defocus makes the hand/coordination required for a solid strike even more unlikely.

The older I get, the less I want to think about the challenge of trying to affirmatively change the way I swing. My paths to physical improvement are dubious; I’m not getting any younger, stronger or more agile. I see Fred Shoemaker’s Extraordinary Golf as an encouragement to get me to change the way my mind works when it comes to moving the golf club. Years ago, I was smart enough to turn away from Youtube videos and most conventional golf instruction. Now, I’m very close to turning my back on the idea of fixing my swing by trying to swing better. I think if I had done this years ago I would have enjoyed the game even more than I already do. Thanks, Fred…well done!

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The 18th fairway at Griffith Park’s Harding Golf Course in October

 

Review of Extraordinary Golf: The Art of the Possible by Fred Shoemaker

Randolph Engineering Aviator

Like a few million other guys my age, I grew up with the legend of American Astronauts. But, even though I respected guys like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin it was the Mercury and pre-Mercury guys like Chuck Yeager and L. Gordon Cooper who really got me going.

Cooper was regarded as the best pure stick & rudder guy of the Mercury era and he held the record for lowest heart rate during take off of any of the Mercury or Gemini astronauts. Now, maybe that just meant that Cooper was dumb but it always seemed like seemed like tough & unflappable to me. More than anything, the guy just looked like an American pilot and I’m sure Cooper very much saw himself as a pilot first and an astronaut second.

Anyway, the man had style.

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And, the thing is, I needed new sunglasses. Like needed…like I lost one of my go-to shades. I looked around for a current version of the cheaters Cooper wore back in the day and I came up with Randolph Engineering.

What? Sunglasses that are made in the US?

I know; totally crazy. I’ve owned French sunglasses, Italian sunglasses, German sunglasses and doubtlessly many pairs made in China. But, unless I had (and surely later lost) an old pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarers from back in the early 80s I’m pretty sure I’ve never owned a pair of US-made shades until now. Who knows? Maybe Ray-Bans were already made off shore even back then.

Sure, I could have maybe scoped out a better deal online but I decided to go old school and cruised over to the local Randolph stockist right here in the West Val. The optometrist owns a pair of Randolphs himself and said that he brought the line in because he thought the idea of US-made sunglasses was cool, as do I.

There are a lot of options but I chose to ignore most of them and confined my choices to frames: flat black, matte chrome or bright chrome. The black, even though it’s my default color choice in everything except cars, kind of hid some of the contours of the frame. The bright chrome rocked out loud but since I do not I passed on those shiny beauties. The matte chrome shows the frames off nicely so I snatched them up.

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The Aviators fit me beautifully and they fairly scream quality as well as faultless fabrication and assembly. You can truly feel the pride of the people who made them and that’s worth a lot to me. I was a bit uncertain about the straight temples but my doubts evaporated once i slipped them on.

It got me wondering, why do they make curved temples when straight is so dang comfy?

Randolph makes the Aviator in three sizes and I found the middle size to be just right. My final justification for the buy was the fact that the Aviator can be used with prescription lenses. Someday, but not today, I’ll need prescription lenses to navigate the highways and byways of California and when I do I’ll be set with my Randolph Aviators.

The more I think about it, the better value the Randolphs are. When you factor in the US manufacture and the lifetime warranty they cross into the realm of how do they manage to sell them for the price? In fact, I may end up with another pair if I’m not careful.

If you find yourself short a pair of sunglasses, do yourself a favor and check out the Randolph Aviators. I am digging them and I’m a very hard man to please.

 

 

Randolph Engineering Aviator