The End of Broken Arm Summer

sea change
Photo by john curley, licensed under Creative Commons

“There will be a time, not so far from now, that you will look back on this phase of your life and instead of condemning it or beating up on it… Instead of blaming or guilting, you will feel appreciation for it, because you will understand that a renewed desire for life was born out of this time period that will bring you to physical heights that you could not have achieved without the contrast that gave birth to this desire.” — Abraham-Hicks

It’s been a hell of a summer. I know that summer didn’t really start til June 20, and that it won’t really end til September 22. For me, though, the change in the season happened on Memorial Day, when spring’s boundless potential started to shift in directions I didn’t and still don’t quite understand. I’m feeling like – or at least hoping – that Labor Day will bring calm to the waters I’ve been treading for the last three months.

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2/3 Book Challenge: In Praise of Slowness

Dear Dharma and Julia,

In this first installation of the A2BCDE (A2 Book Club, Digital Edition), let’s talk about In Praise of Slowness: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed, which we’ve each independently read, but about which we have had no preliminary discussion.

The author takes on the following Slow topics:
The Age of Rage and Do Everything Faster situate the Slow movement in opposition to our increasingly mechanized, routinized, and optimized lives. He points the finger at Ford and Taylor for pushing us in the direction of ‘time sickness’, and quotes Milan Kundera: “Our period is obsessed with the desire to forget, and it is to fulfill that desire that it gives over to the demon of speed; it picks up the pace to show us that it no longer wishes to be remembered, that it is tired of itself, sick of itself; that it wants to blow out that tiny trembling flame of memory.”

Slow Is Beautiful then introduces the Slow movement and its proponents: individuals, groups, and societies that are exploring different ways of living, finding precedents in the Romantics, the Transcendentalists, and the Arts & Crafts movement, among other, more contemporary examples. I think it was around this point – 50 pages in – when the capitalization of Slow started to wear on me.

Food: Turning the Tables on Speed: A lot of knowing nods while reading this chapter. We all lived in Ann Arbor, the Portlandia of the Midwest. We knew about or were involved with SELMA. We went to the farmers’ market. We had or dreamt of having gardens. We prayed at the great altar of good food. We know and value this stuff, but I’m willing to bet you rolled your eyes at least once.

Cities: Blending Old and New: In lieu of discussing this chapter on new approaches to urban planning that favor pedestrians, mixed use spaces, and the ever popular ‘third place’, I present a Talking Heads interlude:

Mind/Body: Mens Sana In Corpore Sano: meditation, yoga, SuperSlow weight lifting, and other physical activities that join mind and body in deliberate, slow motion. I read this chapter while completely zoned out after 90 minutes of aggressive exfoliation and massage at King Spa. My mind and body were totally disconnected, and I couldn’t have been happier, though had I put this book down at this point, I might have, in fact, been happier in the long run.

Medicine: Doctors and Patients: anyone who has spent any time utilizing the American health system could have written at least half of this chapter. Every week for the last two months, I have spent three hours at the orthopedist’s office. Of those 180 minutes, 5 each were spent with the x-ray technician, the nurse practitioner who took my vitals, and the doctor who told me that everything was basically the same as the previous week. Slightly more time was spent with the person who applied and removed my cast(s). And this doesn’t reflect the amount of time spent on the phone with the incompetent practice of my primary care doctor, as each visit to the approved specialist requires a separate referral. When you’re working with a system built on billable hours, usual and customary charges, and enormous malpractice premiums, it’s hard to see any other way out. Also homeopathy and alternative medicine are cool.

Sex: A Lover with a Slow Hand: did you know that Sting is into Tantric sex? And that you can have better sex if you actually communicate with your partner and try to understand his/her body and desires? And I quote, “It was a revelation. I really had no idea that there was another approach to sex that was about giving time to each other, about bringing your head and your heart completely into the sexual relationship.” Whaaaaat.

Work:The Benefits of Working Less Hard: After decrying the recommendations of Taylor etc, the author then advocates working smarter, not harder, and more efficient rather than longer hours. Hmm. I’m also reading Timothy Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Workweek, which makes the same, albeit considerably more self-satisfied, argument.

Leisure: The Importance of Being at Rest: we work too hard, and we play even harder. I’m guilty of the latter, if not always the former. Slow activities like knitting and gardening and reading books can help. I was fascinated by the part about how contemporary performers play classical music too quickly, but it quickly devolved from there into high-art Slow Music concepts. Moving on.

Children:Raising an Unhurried Child: None of us currently have children, and I don’t know if any of us are planning to procreate, so our responses to this chapter will likely be more smug than those of actual parents – however, I agree that like adults, kids today are too damned busy. However, childhood is a relatively ahistorical phenomenon, so while we may have fond memories of endless summer days riding bikes with our friends instead of studying languages and being ferried to volunteer gigs to build our college application profiles, it really isn’t that long ago that we would’ve all been working in the factory or on the family farm. So what’s the happy medium?

There’s a lot to be said for the Slow movement. I feel like this summer has been a constant, unrelenting reminder to slow down, to be intentional, to make connections, to live simply. But the people who need that advice probably aren’t going to indulge in 300-or-so self-satisfied pages of case studies of couples who have slowed down – and those who don’t probably don’t also need another reason to pat themselves on the collective back.

What did you think?

This is the ninth of at least 15 books that I plan to read in the next year for my friend Mark’s 2/3 Challenge.

2/3 Book Challenge: The Other Boleyn Girl

So I spent most of the summer in a cast, but just before that happened, I spent the day at the beach. Karen and I packed snacks and drinks and books and met up at Montrose Beach on one of the hottest damned days of the summer – 106 at 6pm, so I don’t want to think about how hot it was earlier in the day. We spent the afternoon alternating between soaking up sun on our beach towels with our books, sipping cheap-ass margaritas that were cold once upon a time – and running as fast as we could across the crowded, scorching beach to wade out into the lake as far as the teenaged lifeguards in rowboats would allow.

Kathy Osterman Beach
Photo by M.V. Jantzen, licensed under Creative Commons

I’m a new beach-goer. Last summer was the first time I really understood what you do at the beach – which is to say,nothing. You do nothing at the beach. A whole lot of nothing. If you’re anything like me, you’re not used to doing nothing – but that’s the subject of another, long overdue post.

Last summer, for the first time in my life, I got a sunburn on my butt from lying on the beach at Devil’s Lake. We laid there long enough that I read a thick issue of Vanity Fair cover-to-cover. I wore my vintage-esque strapless suit, occasionally ventured into the very clear water, and generally idled away a lovely afternoon. When we got to Madison the next day and I used a real shower, I was shocked to discover the red lines on my butt – and took them as an indication of how relaxed we’d gotten by the midpoint of our week-long vacation.

The beach and the associated burns were signature elements of my early summer – M and I getting burned at the Dunes, then again on an overcast day on a Chicago beach in May. Biking to Foster Beach to meet Carrie and Stef, the former avoiding sunburn despite her porcelain skin and aversion to sunscreen, while I burned stripes on my back because, oops, I forgot that I would be in the sun for an hour before getting to the beach and applying sunscreen. M and I falling asleep by the ocean in Imperial Beach and waking up with possibly the most absurd sunburns ever.

Beach

The sunburns went along with a fair amount of beach reading: Let the Great World Spin in Indiana, the bleakness providing a strange contrast to the exceptional beauty of the sand and the lake. Hemingway’s letters by the ocean, reading about him falling in and out of love with Agnes von Kurkowsky. Finishing Hack for my book club on the beach at 12th Street in the middle of a day of biking all over the city – brunch with Mike in University Village, east to the lake, north to dodge a storm, further north to Foster, south to Lincoln Park for iced tea and Lush, east to the beach after the storm broke, northwest to Wicker Park for drinks and gelato with Julie, then finally home, 36 miles later.

Summer Storm

I was reading The Other Boleyn Girl at Montrose the day I broke my arm, and finished it over the next few days full of hours spent in the emergency room (4) and assorted waiting rooms (2×3). I have to say – I’m pretty sure it is the perfect book to read in those circumstances. It’s trashy enough – a young married girl seduces a king! who is then seduced by her sister! who convinces him to leave his faithful wife and take on Rome in order to get her in bed! and then maybe seduces her brother because she can’t manage to give the king a male heir! – to pick up and put down between dips in the lake or shots in the arm or x-rays. It’s enthralling enough – lush descriptions of food and dancing and sex and the countryside, at least reasonably accurate English history – to keep the reader distracted from the fact that her arm is in traction and her summer plans have been derailed. And it’s thick enough, at 672 pages, to last through those interminable appointments, waiting for bad news but hoping for good.

In short: an excellent beach read. Maybe not an excellent read, but an excellent beach read, and just what the doctor ordered for my broken arm summer.

This is the eighth of at least 15 books that I plan to read in the next year for my friend Mark’s 2/3 Challenge.

“Because if memory exists outside of the flesh it wont be memory”

When I tell the story, I’m not sure where to start. There are convenient points that shaped the plot, but none of them are clearly the beginning.

A little over a year ago, we took a vacation road trip north to the Upper Peninsula, south and west to Devil’s Lake, then home by way of Madison and Chicago. We stood outside our rental on State Street and said, “why do we live in Ann Arbor?”. The day we left for this trip, I saw a digital preservation job posted at DePaul. We started to talk about moving to Chicago, hoping to make it happen in a year or so.

We came home from the trip resolved to make some significant changes in our diet. And so, around this time last year, I stopped cooking – not entirely, but it stopped being a creative and joyful part of my life, and instead was a source of anxiety and stress as we tried to fit our fitness and health goals into strict parameters, rather than embracing food as both fuel and pleasure. If I can point to a place where this story starts, it is this: when I stopped cooking.

Because when I look back on the last year, it is as if something broke loose in me and never quite settled back into place, as the doctors feared would happen with my arm if I didn’t have it immobilized for the full four weeks. I could lose flexibility and mobility, they said, and that is why we’re casting you above your elbow.

I trained for Detroit, spending perfect Saturday mornings on the country roads west of town, watching the corn grow and die, occasionally seeing deer in the fields or along the river. My grandpa died after a protracted decline, an astonishingly painful loss even though we’d been expecting it for some time. Shane was busy with mopeds, with travel for work,with a secret job hunt. My brother got married. My sister got pregnant again. And I drove to Champaign to teach, and spent a too-late night and a too-short morning talking to Carl about how I’d stopped connecting with the people in my life.

Last week, at the Music Box Theater, I saw Shut Up and Play the Hits, part concert film, part documentary about the end of LCD Soundsystem. I’ve talked about their music here before, about driving into Virginia five years ago having left the only place and life that felt like my own for an unknown future with someone I loved very much. In the movie, James Murphy talks about the end of the band, about being 41 and having had a life before the band and wanting a life after. These interviews are intercut with performances from the last epic show at Madison Square Gardens, with shots of the ecstatic crowd, and with small moments from the day immediately following the show, as Murphy walks his dog, shaves his stubble, makes coffee, has dinner with friends, and breaks down in tears when checking on the gear.

I left the movie and drove aimlessly around the north side, confirming and then canceling and then reconfirming tentative plans with friends as my own tears gave way to wrenching sobs.

When I tell this story, I don’t know how to tell the middle part – the time when everything seemed to be right, when we were moving forward, albeit into an interim period that we knew would be difficult because distance is difficult, transitions are difficult, winters are difficult, new lives are difficult. A job offer in Chicago happened. I started job hunting in earnest, while simultaneously opening up my heart and my life to my friends in Ann Arbor in ways I never felt I could before. We executed a multi-step move over the holidays, and rang in the new year in Chicago before I drove back to my new house in Ann Arbor. I drank far too much and slept far too little in California, and fell into the Tijuana Estuary on my birthday, then drove to Iowa by way of Chicago to bury my uncle on the most bitterly cold day of the year. We had weekend after weekend of stress and drama and painful conversations and fighting and tears.

In the movie, Murphy talks about his fear that they made the choice to end the band for what seemed to be legitimate reasons, but that those reasons could be lies told to hide a fear of failure.

And in between then and now, six months of running as often as I can manage, pouring the sadness and pain and confusion into the miles. Packing up and leaving Ann Arbor, then packing up the apartment in Logan Square and moving into my place in Pilsen. Navigating a new job and new friends and new city and a newly single life. Grieving for the loss of a love and a relationship that defined the last six years of my life. Finding joy in amazing weather, in total sweaty abandon on the dance floor, in the lake and the beach, in fast miles on my bike or slow miles floating on a river, and then being reminded of how much better these things are when shared. Losing hours to Nicolas Jaar while driving down the 405, missing my turn and ending up on the Silver Strand as the sun set over the ocean. Struggling with the physical limitations of half a summer locked in a cast. Feeling simultaneously at home and deeply unsettled, loving my life here but looking to the next thing, the next destination, the next career, the next story that I can tell.

A thousand words to this story, and I don’t know how it ends, except that my life is materially different than a year ago: bigger yet sadder, richer in some ways, and substantially lonelier in others. Knowing more but understanding less – or perhaps the inverse, understanding more but believing less. This is my becoming.

For Your Hump Day Reading Pleasure

I present a carefully curated list of the best Wikipedia wormholes my internet acquaintances have to offer. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you if your Wednesday morning productivity takes a significant hit.

Brane Theory
English Royal Family
Esperanto
Feral Children
Glenn Danzig
Grand Unified Theory
Heel (Professional Wrestling)
Irish Travelers
Iron Lung
John Munch
Limnic Eruption
Lists of Animals
List of Cognitive Biases
List of Constructed Languages
List of Ghost Ships
List of Hairstyles
List of Keytarists
Lists of Lists
List of People Who Have Disappeared
List of Sexually Active Popes
List of Shipwrecks
Particle Physics
Porcupine
Professional Wrestling Attacks
Progressive Rock
Rat King
Rogue Wave
Roy Sullivan
Semen
Serial Killers
Stockholm Syndrome
Ultimate Fate of the Universe
Unseen Character
White Bread