Friday, February 27, 2009

Lesson #29: If you haven't found something strange during the day, it hasn't been much of a day. (John Wheeler)

Driving to work this morning I saw a parade of six Geek Squad Bugs heading toward some unknown destination.

This doesn't seem like a very big deal, except that it got me to thinking philosophically as I sat at a light on my normal route to my 9-to-5 job, something that honestly rarely ever happens anymore. I take this route every day: It winds through the little bit of pretty that exists in the city in which I live; I like this route better than any other, because I can watch the seasons turn in the colors of the leaves of the trees that line the street and in the blooming of the flowers in people's yards. I usually think about what my nine work hours will bring me, what tasks need to be done, what fires I will need to put out that day. I think about my home life and my children and who needs what medical appointment or chauffeuring service or shopping trip. I think about school and what assignments are due, what applications are still waiting to be filled out, what professor requires massaging.

But these aren't thoughts, they're task lists guiding the everyday grind that is my life. I mentally prepare my task list for the day and week ahead on my way to a workaday job that, unfortunately, has become burdensome and, well, normal.

So, when I saw that line of black and white Geek Squad cars, unlike any string of vehicles I have seen in a while, sitting at the intersection ahead of me, I smiled. And it got me to thinking.


I started thinking about patterns. We, humans, create patterns for ourselves. It's a sort of comfort mechanism, in that we recognize patterns and naturally gravitate toward them. I think this is why so many people are content to dedicate their lives and souls to 9-to-5 jobs. Those jobs allow us to wake up at the same time every morning, complete our morning preparation ritual (our patterned morning behavior), drive to work along the same route every day (or on one of two or three patterned routes we have established), work tasks all day that are the same tasks we've completed many times before in the same way, drive home along our same route, and complete our evening "wind-down" rituals, whatever those may be. Without variation, or with very minor variation, this is the way very many of us in America live. By a set and reliable pattern.

The thing is, we don't notice this pattern when we're caught up in it. It's just what we do. We wake up, go to work, come home, and that's that. But that's the nature of patterns.

Once we are familiar with a pattern, it's hard to notice it, or more importantly, the individual bits and pieces that make up the pattern, until and unless something breaks the pattern. Think about it. Imagine a herd of zebras in the savanna. How can you tell one zebra from another? If you stare at them long enough, they all blend into one striped, black and white pattern. Until you introduce an anomaly into the mix. Throw a solid golden lioness into the middle of that black and white herd, and suddenly the pattern becomes a flurry of individual zebras fleeing for their lives.

So, it was good for me to see the parade of Geek Squad cars. Though it might seem anticlimactic after all this philosophizing, that small anomaly on my way to work reminded me to take a look at the pattern of my life. It inspired me to consider whether I still find the pattern of my life beautiful or interesting.

Those answers I'll leave for another blog. But let's just say, I liked the change.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Lesson #28: Stop to take a whif, even if it's not your favorite flower

Merced is an often overlooked and underrated small city in the middle of the Central Valley, sometimes called "the other California." We're known for high crime rates, excessive gang violence, and some of the most overpriced housing and the highest unemployment rates in the country.

But there are things to love about this town. It's an hour's drive from arguably the most beautiful high country in the world. It has a colorful history dating back to the gold rush. The courthouse is one of the oldest historical buildings in the state. Majestic King palms line the streets of a quaint downtown where I hope to open a boutique this year. And the newest research university in the world opened its doors here a couple of years ago, which has flooded the area with much-needed intellectual stimulation and economic hope.

And today, Merced hosted the starting ceremony of the fourth leg of the AMGEN Tour of California, featuring Lance Armstrong. The racers circled our downtown twice this morning before heading down Bear Creek Drive (I live a couple blocks off this road), and up Highway 140, through my old hometown of Mariposa in the foothills, and on through the mountains and back down into the valley to end a little east of Fresno in a town called Clovis.

Normally, bicycle racing doesn't interest me. I ride a bike myself, and I know who Lance Armstrong is (who doesn't?), but other than that, I don't really follow the sport. Still, I was compelled to watch the race this morning since the street in front of my office is completely blocked off to traffic due to this race. So, at about a quarter to 11, I followed the crowd a couple blocks down the street to where the festivities were.

And I snapped a couple of pictures. The bikers whizzed by so quickly, there was no way to catch Armstrong on camera -- though, to be honest, I didn't care to pick him out of the crowd of racers anyway. On a bike, he's just another man racing a bunch of other men on bikes. As of this morning, he wasn't even winning the race. :) That didn't stop the crowd from cheering wildly when his name was announced on the loud speakers, though.

Participating in the event was more interesting than I thought it would be. Crowds have a vibe that you don't feel anywhere else. Excitement is palpable when there are thousands of people sharing it. When you get to feel that thrill and share something special with so many people, who cares what the event is anyway?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Lesson #27: Next stop, Life. Don't blink or you'll miss it.

My youngest son had his first wrestling tournament last night; it was his first competition of any sort ever, which is somewhat strange considering he has been training in martial arts for three years. Husband and Brother in Law attended, along with Baby Frog. Frog, who has recently learned to wave bye-bye and high five, gave Son one of his new high fives before the match. Son seemed pumped and ready to go.

There were a few team members who went before him, and by few, I mean about 20. So we sat through an hour of matches, wondering when Son's turn would come, watching his poor Huskies team get slammed and pinned again and again and again.

When it was Son's turn -- finally -- on the mat, we all stood up and moved to the side of the room to get a better view. I pulled out the camera phone and snapped a quick picture. I almost hate taking pictures anymore because in the time it takes to snap one, you've missed what was going on. And that's exactly what happened here. In the time it took me to flip open the phone, press the button, and flip the phone closed, Son had been taken down, rolled onto his back and pinned.

It didn't seem to matter to him, though. He jumped up and got in the ready stance, anxious for more. Sadly, the ref shook his head and shooed him off the mat.

So, he got pinned in the first round. But that's all right. It was his first competition, like I said, his first time competing, his first time getting worked up and locking fists with his team before the big fight. He was amped when he came off the mat. His eyes were burning with leashed spirit, spirit that never got a chance to go anywhere.

That's all right though. That spirit will have a chance to unleash next time.

Um, about the pic, I was going to re-focus and zoom for another one, but I didn't have time. That old saying about blinking and missing things? Take it from me. It's true.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Lesson #26: Birds of a feather flock together

I watched the Sex Pistols documentary, The Filth and the Fury, last night. As I sang along to almost every song -- except the indecipherable parts, of course, I've never figured those words out -- I remembered how I used to love being a punker chic.

I never dyed my hair, though I did cut it short. It was too curly for spikes so it just looked like a failed attempt to mimic Ronald McDonald's style. But I was a combat boot and short skirts kinda girl as a teen. And I did love thick, dark, messy eyeliner.

I was attracted to punk because of the anarchist message, the idea that you could be whoever you wanted, do whatever you wanted, despite the millions of messages we received each day through social pressures and mass media about what we should be like, what we should look like, what we should do in order to be "normal." Punk taught us that in reality there is no such thing as normal.

That is, until punk became normal.

At one point in the movie, Johnny Rotten sneers at the "rich kids" who started coming to his shows and says something like, "They started dressing alike, and we knew that was the end of punk." And sure enough, there were the clips of show-goers all gussied up in their spiked leather jackets and ripped jeans and safety pin collages.

I have made this same observation, though I attributed it to modern music. (I should have known Johnny Rotten thought of it first.) My kids listen to horrorcore, rap and punk, and when asked, will tell you it's because the music is anti-establishment, anti-normal, anti-group think. They say they like being "different" than the crowd. Then they will don their hatchetman necklaces and requisite Psychopathic Records clothing and Chucks so that other people on the street can be sure to recognize that they are a "Juggalo" too.

Some people fear that the Juggalos are a new gang. Well, they said that about punk, too, back in the '70s. The media called the Sex Pistols a new "cult." But those people who miscategorize kids who listen to unsavory music as cult members or gang members fail to understand. The kids are looking for a way to express their dissatisfaction with the adults in power. And since they feel powerless to make change on their own, the only way they can gain power is to do so through numbers. So they join a group, that in their minds, expresses and represents anti-power.

When you're young, you often fail to identify irony. And that's why my kids roll their eyes when I laugh at their silly clown get-ups and tell them to pull their pants up.

I wonder if they would laugh at me if I were to pick them up from school wearing combat boots and my face smeared with eyeliner with Johnny Rotten screaming, "Mommy! I'm not an animal!" or "I am an anti-Christ! I am an anarchist!" through my Chevy's speakers.