Monday, January 23, 2006

An Open Letter to Pastry-Eating Michiganders

It is that time of year, where the hits to this humble blog come not from disappointed Penn State fans, but from people anticipating Mardi Gras. So here is my open letter to them, and to all of you out there in furyland:

Dear all who reach this page through a google search on "paczki" and "calories":

Give it up.

The holiday is called Fat Tuesday for good reason. I am here to testify that last Mardi Gras I likely gained 15 pounds from paczki-consumption alone--and that was with a pretty big swim thrown in.

This member of the Norwestern U. Polish-American Student Association either didn't eat any of the delectable goodies she is holding, or she has very different genes from mine.

You, though, reader, if you are reaching this page through such a search, know that your midrif may or may not be able to withstand the donut fest that is February 28. But that does not mean that you should try to fit the glorious paczek (and the reason no one knows the singular form of this word is that no one eats just one) into your Weight Watchers regimen.

Sure, count your calories until then, or better yet: give up paczki for lent. But on the big day, give into your urges big time. That is what it is all about.

And by the way, recent relative silence has been because of late I have not been sure how to express my feelings about the turns life has been taking. Now I know.

Friday, January 20, 2006

So get up, don't fight it, you've got to feel it.

My very second memory of Wilson Pickett is not ever being able to remember that name of a lame pop trio, and calling them Wilson Pickett instead. Overpraise, I see now, although at the time it was just entertaining confusion.

For a long time in my rather uninformed youth, I seem to have believed that the best music was the smoothest, most fussed-up music. You know, rarified synth, perfect around the edges. I heard on the radio this morning, though, that when Wilson Pickett would record his songs, it was one take, that's it. What they played is what you get.

And that is still part of the pleasure of those songs--the voice a little rough around the edges, but with those great big horns, and the whole thing just about to slide off the edges. That roughness makes it real. You can understand why he was soul singer everybody gravitated to in The Commitments.

The long and the short of it is that Wilson Pickett makes you wish that you too were a midnight mover, an all night groover, a midnight teaser, and a real soul pleaser, and he gave us the tunes that let us all believe, here and there, that maybe we were.

RIP, Wilson.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Meet Report

I learned something important at the 2006 Tiger Invitational: treat it like a game.

My first event was the 200 BR, one of my real targets, so of course even though my training volume was down through November and December, thanks to holidays and conference travel, I wanted to get a best time there. And this was a BIG meet, with sometimes as many as 16 heats per event.

Warm-ups were delayed, because the morning session was even bigger, so I waited waited when I got there. Then we warmed up, which I am getting used to, even though it is about 45 minutes of getting crashed into and trying not to crash into other people, and getting lapped by teenagers.

Then more waiting, because the 200 BR was not the first event.

So by the time it came up, and I had warmed up again, I had pretty much psyched myself out.

The starter looked at my tense face and said, “It’s a game.” It so did not feel like a game to me right then: pretty much all the focus of the day and the week and denial about the week to come and the stress therein was poured into anticipating this race.

The swim was OK, but off my best time by about 1.6 seconds—which seemed huge in my head, but my starter friend pointed out after that one should not get so upset about a time gap from here………to here. An excellent point, I thought, and decided that I needed to work on my turns, which I knew were slow, and to train more—but all this would have to happen after I could start breathing again and after my chest stopped hurting, assuming it ever would.

But let me just say I kicked the ass of the 100 FR, because I was ready for it, dammit, and after all, free is not my event. But I cut about a second—the first time in a while.

One thing I realized on Saturday evening was that all the music I had in my little device was 100% psych-up music—very intense. So on Sunday morning before the meet I reloaded it, aiming for downtempo 80% music.

On Sunday was the 200 IM. Regular readers may remember that I completely did myself in the last time I swam this event, and so my goal this time was to swim it smart and stop being afraid of it, for pete’s sake. Success! Got my time under 2:50 again, which also felt good, even though it was not a best time.

And during the 50 FR I swam fly, since there is no 50 FL in kids’ swimming, and I wanted to see how close I could get to a national cut. About 2 seconds off, it turns out, but that was with a lousy turn, so I am hopeful I can cut a little time from that at the next meet.

And then the 100 BR, where I also did not cut time, but where I did keep my time very close (a few tenths off) to my best. Not a bad race, but more confirmation that I need to work on turns.

Which is exactly what I did this morning in the pool. There is hope for them, after all.

And the better music helped: it kept me upbeat, but it is simply not possible to be 100% psyched for 5 hours at a stretch, which I had tried to do on Saturday. It is a game, after all.

Off for a couple days for a marathon event. It is also game, I remind myself.

200 BR: 2:54.58
100FR: 1:06.15
200 IM: 2:49.28
50 FL: :32.48
100 BR: 1:19.81

Friday, January 13, 2006

Not to say which book of poems.

Treat yourself to a reading of Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days. For a subtitle it has to have "A Novel," lest readers confuse it with Walt Whiman's prose work of the same name (minus the sub, of course).

The confusion is hardly accidental, as Walt himself makes an appearance in the first of the book's three sections. There is a woman who answers to that name in the second section, too, but we're to understand the dubbing to be figurative, giving more of a sense of her role to those who named her. And then in section three appears a guy who could almost be the good gray poet, but you're never sure.

The book's three sections all contain the same characters--sort of. There is always a woman named Catherine or some variant, and there is always a Simon and a Lucas or Luke, although the relationships among the characters, not to mention their charcter, change dramatically. The three sections are all set (or at least begin) in New York City, though the first takes place in the late nineteenth century, the second roughly in the present day, and the third sometime in the future (150 years in the future, if you believe the dust jacket). And they embody wildly different genres--sci-fi, noir, ghost stories.

But those differences are mostly there to set off the similarities. The three are ruminations on the city itself, a city that of course also featured prominently in the works of Whitman, quotations from whose poems play starring roles in all three sections. They are examinations of the relationship between people and machinery, although that relationship changes as much as the characters sharing names, and the city they all inhabit. They all explore what it means to want to run away from the strange world where you find yourself, and what it would take to do that. They all question the intense lyricism of Whitman's poetry, as if trying to understand what it would mean to see the world that way. Any of the three stories could, of course, stand on its own, but they are richer together, so a reader can wonder about the blue and white bowl that makes its way through all three, or the woman Gaya who seems to maintain a junk shop bridging hundreds of years and thousands of miles.

It is easy to read this as the Walt Whitman novel written by the guy who made it big with a Virginia Woolf novel, but to dismiss this book that quickly would be a mistake. It is so much better than that, requiring and rewarding attention and investment.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Bjorn to Rock.

For some of us, the real world comes back tomorrow--and what a sad thing that is indeed.

Should you find yourself in that boat, or in a similar boat, or in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife, you really should treat yourself to a look at and listen to Jason Forrest's video, "War Photographer." May take a little while to download, but while you're waiting you could think about all the things you might do with your life if you did not have to earn a living.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Render his sorry butt anywhere you like.

Have a look at Salman Rushdie's take, in the Sidney Morning Herald, on the U.S. government's policy of "rendition" (via MoorishGirl).

For those of you too lazy to click on the link above, here is a highlight:

The US authorities have been taking a characteristically robust line on this issue. On her recent European trip, the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, more or less told European governments to back off the issue - which they duly, and tamely, did, claiming to have been satisfied by her assurances.

At the end of December, the German Government ordered the closing of an Islamic centre near Munich after finding documents encouraging suicide attacks in Iraq. This is a club which, we are told, Khaled al-Masri often visited before being extraordinarily rendered to Afghanistan. "Aha!" we are encouraged to think. "Obvious bad guy. Render his sorry butt anywhere you like."

What is wrong with this kind of thinking is that, as Isabel Hilton of The Guardian wrote last July, "The delusion that officeholders know better than the law is an occupational hazard of the powerful and one to which those of an imperial cast of mind are especially prone … When disappearance became state practice across Latin America in the '70s it aroused revulsion in democratic countries, where it is a fundamental tenet of legitimate government that no state actor may detain - or kill - another human being without having to answer to the law."

In other words, the question isn't whether or not a given individual is "good" or "bad." The question is whether or not we are - whether or not our governments have dragged us into immorality by discarding due process of law, which is generally accorded to be second only to individual rights as the most important pillar of a free society.

If you're feeling silly ...

... and have a spare 30 seconds or so, try the fun "Here's Your Sign" game.



A veritable bevvy of seasons.

Longtime readers of this blog might remember my going on about Vivaldi, and suggesting that listeners would do well to stop listening to the Four Seasons, and start listening to his one-hundreds of other pieces.

Well, in comments "mike, uk" called my bluff, pointing out that there is nothing limiting about those Seasons. It turns out mike has quite the collection of recordings, and now he has posted an impressive website cataloguing them and celebrating the Red Priest and his most famous compositions.

Buon appetito!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Good afternoon, and here is my free advice for you: Just because you are feeling a little down on yourself because your training has been down all month and you know that in just 5 short months your big meet is coming up, does NOT mean that you should join the children you train with in a quick two laps of lunges around the pool. Or at least not if you want to have anything to stand up with later in the evening or walk with the next day. I am serious: I am stuck to my desk chair and wishing I had already invested in the catheterization.

This does not mean that the lunges had much effect on the children, of course, who (with the exception of the kid trying to come back from mono) looked all too merry as we crossed paths at the midpoint. And then they merrily did their crunches, supermans (I still don't understand why those lower-back horrors are not called supermen, but whatever), push-ups, squats, and so forth. Ho ho ho. They were not even sweating, and believe me when I say I cannot claim the same.

So resolutions be damned, don't go all haywire with your 2006 enthusiasm. Keep it moderate, friends. We are not as agile as we once were, nor do we recover as quickly.

All to say, Happy New Year to you, from me and my sore ass.