Wednesday, June 30, 2010

David Foster Wallace on Life and Work

"Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vividand important person in existence. We rarely talk about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness, because it's so socially repulsive, but it's pretty much the same for all of us, deep down....

...'Learning how to think' really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult, life, you will be totally hosed...

...And I submit that this is what the real, no-bull-value of your liberal-arts education is supposed to be about: How to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life, dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and your natural default-setting being uniquely, completely, imperially alone, day in and day out...

...But if you've really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the starts-- compassion , love, the sub-surface unity of all things. Not that that mystical stuff's necessarily true: The only think that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship...

...It is about simple awareness-- awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: 'This is water, this is water....'

...It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive, day in and day out."

Excerpts from a commencement speech delivered in 2005.
Printed in the Wall Street Journal Sept 2008, after the author's apparent suicide.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Wondering: the future of work?

I think we’re entering a time when people are going to work less and live more, or maybe that’s me being hopeful after ten years in the work force, post-doctorate, realizing work brings little to no meaning or happiness to my life. Perhaps I’m projecting my thoughts onto others. If by choice I could not work, I wouldn’t.

In the past, work ethic, long hours, establishing careers, and creating a path toward retirement were valued. People who wanted to work less, they were whispering conspiracy theories, crazy thoughts. I was one of them.

I work to live the other half of life. Work impinges on my creativity, my freedom. Yet at the same time, work is what allows me the freedom to travel and create by providing financial security. But what is financial security in the age of financial volatility, housing crashes, and fraud? It seems like working for safety and stability is an oxymoron.

What is the American dream of chasing house and partner and cars and prestige? It is a presentation of Ego, our grand selves. When acquired, what feeling does it bring? What purpose?

After I’d achieved most of the American dream, I felt emptiness. I felt I’d chased a soulless god, a hopeless demon. It was a relief to step off the escalator of life, going nowhere, and start in my own odd direction of hopes and dreams and questionable decisions. For four years now, I have been on a fringe career path, and I’ve never been happier. I hope that the future of work will allow everyone their own path, and that we’ll not be controlled by expectations, acquisitions and fear.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Lonely single people

A few weeks ago, I had a patient who was fifty-six and about to retire. She wouldn’t stop talking to me, even after I had my next patient seated in my chair. Later, we were talking about her, and Amber said, “She was probably just a lonely, single, older woman who’s stuck working with eighteen year olds all day.” I’d thought, “She probably has a husband who doesn’t pay any attention to her.” But I didn’t say it aloud. It took me a couple weeks to remember to look up her demographics. She was married.

I wonder how many people have this thought of “poor, lonely, single people.” I’ve been a subject of this pity many times over in the past, as if being single and solitary equates with depression and sadness. And happiness is exclusive to those who are paired off.

I’ve long been of the party who doesn’t care if I have a mate or not- my life does not depend on it. It’s nice when someone comes along who makes your life better, but most times I find relationships to cause more anxiety and questions of self-worth than the other way around. But, I am not degrading relationships. When I’ve been in a good one, it’s having someone to conquer the world with, and that is a true joy, and a freedom. I’ve also been in relationships where I was much more lonely than being alone. If that were the choice, I would certainly choose singlehood.

It’s not that I don’t think of being with someone. I do. And I wonder if I am going to be by myself forever. It’s possible. I’ll think of future plans, all things I’ve dreamed up, and then wonder what would happen if I met someone. But then I just go on planning and figure if something happens, it does, and if not, oh well. I’m going to enjoy life.

Friday, June 25, 2010

"Out Stealing Horses" by Per Petterson

A novel which was published in the States by a small nonprofit publishing house in St. Paul, MN, "Out Stealing Horses", is one of the best books I've read in a long time. Its author is out of Norway. The book is quiet and understanded, like his home country. But storyline is strong and deep, and has a way of running through your thoughts over and over, weeks after you've finished the book. Which explains how I was able to read it two times in one weekend and enjoy the details which I had missed the first time through. It's rare that I would read a novel twice.

I've since ordered two more of his books from the library, and look forward to the next little treasures of literature from Norway.

NY Times review of "Out Stealing Horses":

Graywolf Press:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cycling am Bodensee Day 2

Day two of cycling, Sunday, I awoke at 05:37 and was on the road by 06:24. (Can you tell I'm in the army?) Which was good, because later in the day it was down-pouring. I got in four hours of bicycling in total dryness. I’d headed East, toward Fredrichshafen and Meersburg, then taking the car ferry across to Konstanz. I cycled over to Mainau, which is an island of flowers, but I heard on the way that all the flowers were covered up, so turned around and skipped it. It’s sort of a giant tourist trap anyway and I was irritated that I couldn’t bring my bike along.


Returning to Konstanz, I came upon a Flohmarkt. (Didn’t buy anything, how would I haul it back!?) Meandered through town and caught a three hour boat back (19€) to Lindau, during which it started POURING and I arrived at the campground drenched. I hid out in my tent and managed to read the book I’d just finished for a second time. I was fearful that I would awaken in a flood, but I stayed dry through the night.


Books read: 1, twice, Per Petterson, Out Stealing Horses, highly recommended

Total Biked: 128km/ 77 miles, about 30 the first day and 47 the second.


Der Bodensee is easily biked without maps, if you’re not afraid to read signs and ask directions occasionally. Ships can be caught in many locations back to where you want to go. While I was riding, I saw ample open rooms and pensions, especially in the smaller towns. There are also campsites galore, which are more full of RVs, so tent camping is quite easy.


(P.S. I AM NOT INSANE, but I AM HAVING MAJOR PUBLISHING ISSUES. Blogger upgraded a couple things and I want to kill it!)



PS Down below picture info: (it would not let me put this in the right place). The top town is Konstanz and the bottom is Lindau, with the Germans sitting under the trees and the pretty buildings and strollers.



In the tent

At a cafe in Lindau (not sure why this is here but the cafe is at the bottom, can't move this. Uuggghhh!!)

These two are called "Scared in the tent" because I was afraid I was going to wake up in a puddle. I didn't.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bodensee Day 1 photos

After work last Friday, I hopped a train with bicycle, tent and backpack in tow, and headed southeast toward the Bodensee, also known as Lake Constance. The Bodensee borders Deutschland, Österreich and die Schweitz. It's quite a large lake with a mostly paved Radweg (bike path), or if you prefer, you could stay on the paved roads.

I undertook this as an American would (or so I was told by some Germans who I met along the way) by planning little but the train and the camping site.

The train from Vilseck (an hour from Nürnberg) took about 4.25 hours, with one change only. I was able to use the Bayern/Bavaria ticket (20€ each way) for the whole ride, paying an extra 4.5€ each way to take my bike.

The ride from Lindau train station to the tent site (Camping on der Bodensee) is about 4-5km, on paved side streets, found easily by asking locals. I rolled in on my orange bike and started pitching my tent, just about 10pm. A single girl arriving at that hour alone commands attention, so I didn't even have to pitch my tent myself. A couple friendly German motorbikers jumped at the chance to offer a hand and a glass of wine. But I went to bed. I was pooped!

After 10 hours of sleep, I set off for Bregenz, Austria, west and south of Lindau. After meandering through their Saturday street market, I pedaled onward toward Rorschach. The only reason I wanted to go there was because it was the namesake of the Ink Blot test. Along
the way, I saw another of Hunderwasser's works of architechture. He's a famous Austrian architect, but I find his works horrid and visually as appealing as circus made of insane people. But. I took a photo. Tell me what you think.

Saturday was full-on rain most of the day, but it was warm, so no complaints. I met a couple of bicyclists from Germany who were biking to Italy. One didn't have a rainproof coat, and the other was wearing sneakers. And they were giving me crap for going to the Bodensee
without a plan! I have photos of them under the bridge where we took cover during a downpour.

They headed off following the Danube, and I went onward toward Rorschach, where I caught a ferry home for 15€ and settled in for another nights' sleep.

Bregenz, Austria: market in town center

Note the age of this bridge. (It just looks damn old.)

Germans who were biking to Italy, helped me with my lack-of-map situation.

The Danube

Souped up campers in Austria

Hundertwasser building. Shoot me now... I would hate this in my town. I don't know why he's famous- I think he's just crazy.

I talked to this man quite a lot- he had children all over and in 1975, he made a huge cycling trip around Europe. (Unless I misunderstood his German.)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Cycling am Bodensee

Last weekend, I loaded up the Mini (yep, the bike fit in back!) and headed to the train station. Rode to Lindau on der Bodensee (Lake Constanz) where I spent three days cycling and camping. Rain accompanied, but it was not bad, not bad at all.

More to come tomorrow...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

34 years of lessons

0- Memory's a little mushy on this year, but my mom says that talkingis preferable to screaming, which is what I did for the first eight months of my life. Luckily they did not send me back. I'm sure it crossed their minds.
1- When your cousin Jenny comes to visit, she might decide to hog your rocking chair. It's best to keep silently mad and pretend it's ok.
2- You can make your parents quit smoking if you say "no" enough.
3- When you're three in the hospital, they treat you like a baby, even if you know you are most definitely an adult.
4- When your mom says, "Don't ring the neighbor's doorbell," she also means, "Don't knock." And don't try to reason this with her, or get into a screaming match, you are going to lose.
5- Same shit, different day sucks, even in kindergarten, which was a year of hellish boredom.
6- A baby sister is pretty amazing when you're old enough to actually help
7- Life is not Little House on the Prairie.
8- Funerals and teacher's conferences are reasons for long weekends.
9- You didn't miss out on not having birthday parties the first eight years, and you only bother one more time with one of these ghoulish events.
10- When your little sister Molly wanders off at the shopping mall while you are in charge, you may have to get a ride home in a police car.
11- There are lots of other Saras in the world.
12- Everyone's mean in grade 7, even you.
13- Friends go away at the drop of a hat, especially if you have the wrong last name.
14- The oboe sounds like a dying duck when you are just learning it.
15- You'll always be a nerd.
16- Working a real job (even at $4.35/hr) is six million times better than babysitting.
17- High school was hell which you'd never want to relive.
18- College life is even better than you ever imagined it would be.
19- You can make new friends who are actually like you.
20- It's so sad to watch your beloved Grand Forks go under water.
21- You can move yourself across the country two times in one year. Just get behind the wheel and go!
22- Being one of the youngest in your class has definite perks- everyone expects you to act like a hooligan, and so you do.
23- Skiing in North Dakota does not correlate with skiing on a real mountain.
24- Finishing your doctorate is underwhelming.
25- Your first year of your first job is the hardest year of your education.
26- Living with someone is nice. Routine is nice.
27- A bad break up tears you apart for longer than you ever dreamed.
28- When the obgyn tells you that you need to have children before you are thirty, it's fine to ignore her.
29- You can travel the world alone, and you'll be just fine.
30- You can sell a house on your own. (With your sister Carrie's help.)
31- It's fine to quit a job and move to the other side of the world. Even if some people think you are crazy.
32- Earning $0 and traveling for a year is beyond any other experience money can buy or the money you lost by not working.
33- Communicating successfully in a foreign language while living in that country is exhilarating.
34- What is to come?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Flag Day 2010, age 34

Today I start the magic year, the age my dad was when he died.

Up until now, I’ve been seeing this age nearing in the future, as a goal post and a reminder of the quickness of life, the instability, the wonder. What will it be like when I’ve lived longer than my dad? What will I feel like? What if this were my last year? And this was all I got to experience? Is it enough? What did he feel like? 

I don’t want you to think I’m stuck in the past. I’m not. I live in the present moment quite well. But my dad dying suddenly when I was seven, it changed things up. I lost my innocence, but with that, gained early insight into what’s really important and what’s not in life. There’s a lot that doesn’t seem too important after that. 

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Praying with the Army

This Monday, I attended a change of command ceremony for the optometry division who's about to deploy. It was small, and rather unexciting,in a gymnasium-like room. None of that was surprising.

But during the ceremony there was a prayer, to God, to protect them, and a quote from the bible.

I felt uncomfortable.

I wondered how many people felt the same way, or if they've just gotten used to the Christianity in the army. It's not the first time I've experienced it.

One of the most alarming was during our Thanksgiving dinner for the clinic last fall, when our commander had us all old hands in a lengthy prayer to "Heavenly father."

What happened to separation of church and state?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Saturday in München

The Bayern ticket allows you to travel anywhere in Bayern for 22€ for a single person or 30€ for up to five people. München is a meanderable city with an easy feeling. In fact, I got off the train and wandered, not bothering to pull out my map and it was just fine.

I didn't get any buns, but I wanted to share with you-- the Germans love their bread, so there's always these little carts on the side of the road:
The first people who I saw at the Vilseck train station: (they were just getting home)

I pulled into my parking spot: (Frauen means ladies- those Germans are so considerate!)
 Nürnberg: (look at those hot lederhosen)
Viktualmarkt in München
 Beer gardens (duh)

Monday, June 7, 2010

FARTing. (And, no I haven't turned into a 9 year old boy.)

I've been tooling around photography websites, since I've finally decided I really NEED a new camera. Since the thieves in Barcelona have mine. Dirty bastards.

I'm probably going to gift myself with the Canon S90, which is supposed to be good for advanced amateurs who are too damn lazy to carry the large DSLR but want to have their own manual settings (like I do). It's not really lazy, it's just that the SLR can't be carried everywhere I go, whereas the compact can. Therefore, more pictures. I like them on the fly anyway- planning is overrated! (Could that be a life theme?)

I spooled through Ken Rockwell's website, which has loads of photography tips. For anyone who feels like they could use a little upgrade in their skills, I highly recommend it. One of his tips is FARTing. Look for yourself.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

She ran so fast to catch her train, she almost lost her skirt

It's true. I did. Run. Fast.

My skirt was about 90% of it's way to the floor (full underwear view) in the Nürnberg train station, between tracks 2 and 18, as I sped along. You see, the München train was 25 minutes late. What happened to German punctuality? I'm sad to report than the legend of train time accuracy here seems to have deteriorated. With a 15 minute connection, I wasn't going to make it. However, I did. Because the Germans were so nice as to hold the train for us. Otherwise I think I would've been sleeping in the Nürnberg train station, since that was the last train home of the night. I think I would have. I was not happy at that prospect.

I needed one of these to catch my train:
(I would like one anyway- so adorable!)

So after hopping on the train, adrenaline spiking, I saw two soldiers, and knew I was in the right place. I even made small talk with the German couple next to me. They were from Weiden and had been at a festival eating and drinking all day.

The day had started very early- I caught the 7:30 train to München, as a reward for all the goodness in my life on Friday. I thought last night perhaps I was out of luck, but after it all worked out in the end, I've decided that truly life is in a up-swing. I am happy about that.

Friday, June 4, 2010

1600 (UTC/GMT +2 hours) proves significant

First, who is this? I think his name is likely Pavel or Ignac. He's from Slovenia. Ptuj, to be exact. This is the last postcard I mailed Grandma before she died (though I was too late and she never received it). Carrie and I thought we found a man for Grandma. Doesn't he look sweet? If only she had seen the postcard, maybe she would have lived and met Ignac and it would have been happily ever after. But no.

Next, 1600. Hours that is. Why? Nearly the exact same time (within minutes at least), my house in North Dakota closed and I signed the Hooptie over to Derek. Who is from Iowa. Funny that Molly and Josh are moving there as I write. How circular and strange is life at times.