In Traffic

Upon further consideration
(over the last five minutes)
I think I have decided
that my favorite type of
weather
is not sunshine in the summer
is not the cacophony of spring showers
is not the crisp autumn air
not even all of that weather combined
compares (in my mind) to

cruising down a busy street
after a snow storm has blown through
leaving everything covered in white
but it's been long enough that
the streets are (relatively) clear and
drivers are still cautious
(not having gotten used to the wet roads)
and the medians are largely untouched,
blankets of white upon white

and the light ahead turns to amber,
then red,
and the sea of brake lights
as traffic slows to a crawl, to a stop
and I can see the people waiting for
the bus on the opposite corner
hugging themselves in the cold air
as I stretch out in the manufactured
heat of my truck cab

and I notice a single snowflake as it
dances past my side window
and I watch its descent to the black pavement
mission fulfilled
and then the traffic starts to move
again
and the halo around the green light
mirrors the halos of the street lights
which have just snapped on
as if on command by some nameless,
faceless street light authority
and it's a flurry of individual snowflakes now
wafting through the wake of traffic
falling from the sky, at first tentatively
then with seasoned purpose, seeking
the ground

and I smile, thinking
this is my favorite type of weather.

Undercarriage

It will come as no surprise
          (if you know me at all)
     that I should not be allowed to
give names to things

(although I must admit that with
          three kids and a few
     dogs and cats under my belt
I am not all THAT bad at it)

and that was driven home this morning
          as I struggled to explain that I needed a
     splash shield for my daughter's car
(I Googled it later to see what it was called)

and while my friend (who is a 
          car guy and laughed and laughed)
     knew what I meant, he still rolled
his eyes at "car undercarriage plastic thingy"

Am I really that bad at it?

Aglet? Shoelace thingy
Ferrule? Metal pencil band thingy
Tittle? 'i' and 'j' lowercase dot thingy
Peen? The thingy on the other side of a hammer
Snood? Turkey neck thingy

I am not a lost cause though
         for I do know a few words
     for things that you may not
realize have been named

Petrichor? The smell of rain
Tines? The prongs of a fork
Barm? The foam on your beer
Lemniscate? The symbol for infinity
Defenestrate? To throw out of the window

but would I ever in a million years
          have been able to come up
     with such mental-image-inducing words?
Probably not.

Which reminds me, the word for something
          that produces a mental image is
     anamnesis, but don't ask me how to say it,
that's a battle for another day.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

I text you, you text back
      sometimes, but not always
    at least not immediately
  but at least
        I hear back from you
usually

You call and we talk
      brief spurts of conversation but
    neither of us are brilliant conversationalists
  but at least
        we do our best
generally

We meet in that awkward way that future
      lovers do who are not yet lovers
    trying to quickly decide if this is it
but at least
        we're cautiously optimistic
occasionally 

I try my best to make you laugh or
    impress you with magic or
  the breadth and depth of my love of math
but at least
        you don't run screaming from the bar
this time

You try your best to make it comfortable but
    not too comfortable, you don't
  want to give the wrong impression
but at least
      you're laughing and drinking
for now

Can I see you again? one of us asks and it's
    usually me, but not always
  we feign disinterest to avoid discomfort
but at least
      we'll always have Paris, or at least this bar
until next time

Endgame

I came upon a group of children playing
     in their yard in the snow as
          the dogs and I were
walking

three of them building two snowmen - perhaps
     a snowman and snowwoman?
          and two others kids standing twenty feet
apart

they had apparently been engaged in an
     epic snowball battle, but now the
          tall girl was on her phone
texting

and the small boy was making snowballs
     in his too-big gloves and gently
          lofting them towards the tall girl's
feet

until he turned and saw the three of us 
     approaching from across the street and
          his expression was a familiar one 
can I pet them?

so we crossed and stood on the snow-packed
     sidewalk while the small boy approached
          and I kneeled down as he reached first for Zeus,
then Mac

and I nodded toward the tall girl and asked, sister?
     and he nodded in turn while still
          petting the dogs and I asked a
follow-up

have you seen the Avengers movies? and he smiled and
     said yes and we made eye contact and I
          told him, she is Thanos, so what do you need to do,
Thor?

and he continued to pet the dogs and then
     it dawned on him what I was saying and a 
          smile played at the edges of his
mouth

and he stood up and and met my fist with a 
     bump and said a little too gleefully 
          as he padded back toward his victim
go for the head

I’m trying to watch the game

I'm trying to watch the game but
     the little brachycephalic sleeping at
  my feet
is snoring

each first down punctuated by 
    an unintended snort
each reception marked with
    silence in the empty stadium
    noise in this empty den
each run up the middle accompanied with
    a sudden shift in her sleeping position

I'm trying to watch the game but
    can't help but smile at her
  contentment
at rest after a long, snowy day

resting at my feet
    not a care in the world
asleep at the edge of the carpet
    while her brother occasionally
  raises his head from his bed
          in the corner
          by the fire
  to see what he's missing

I completely missed that last score
    and the replay as well
  engrossed as I was with
      the sleeping habits of
the little brachycephalic and I
  really could care less.

While listening to movie soundtracks and washing dishes

It is impossible
     (literally impossible)
to adequately express the raw
     emotion 
that comes from listening to a well-
     executed soundtrack
with the swell of brass and
     the plaintive cry of strings and
          the abrupt interrogatory of the
               timpani to accentuate the point

Lines of Imperial troopers
Rolling fields as the replicants escape
Two steps, turn, fire at the closing circle
I don't want to go, Mr. Stark, I'm sorry

It is fragile
     (as fragile as an imagined thing can be)
to fully embrace the raw
     experience
that comes from watching a well-
     executed script
where the words that are spoken and
     the orchestral score that is played,
          the combination of the twain transcendent 
               beam directly into my soul

Dogfights in space
Rolling seas and a bottle of rum
Two starships passing in the night
I've got a bad feeling about this

It is wonderful
     (literally full of wonder)
what happens when silver screen and
     golden tones combine to
deliver me away from this window, this
     keyboard that rules my every
waking hour to transport me
     to the next great adventure
          to the next generation
               to infinity and beyond.

Window shopping on a cold December day

She certainly has a nice hat
Oh, this one - love her fashion sense!
Cute dogs - check
Hmm...too young
No...too old
Not pretty enough
Far too pretty

Runner, cyclist, gym rat
Likes boards games?
      (Clue or Monopoly? Huge difference)
Who calls themselves sapiosexual in 
      every day conversation?
   (It's probably not true, anyway)
Smoker? Pass
Not tall enough
Far too tall

Avid reader - but, of what?
      (true crime, poetry, fiction. biography)
Student of current events?
  I don't even know what that means, really
Buzzwords
Not smart enough
Far too smart

They show their faces but
      is that really their face?
And who would market
Themselves in such a manner
As to elicit such stinging criticism?

Me, for one.

Turned to Snow

There are to my left
          (your right)
    four windows, tall and slender
          shades drawn on the outer panes
          shades up on the inner panes

the front yard in full view
    leaves covering the lawn
          (I raked recently but
          the huge oak in front doesn't care)
    wet with overnight rain

and gazing past the barren branches
    of the bushes that line the
          front windows
    past the leaf-strewn yard
the street is slick with rain

    cars scurry past the house
on this relatively minor arterial
         residential street on which I live
and my neighbors across the street have
    hung lights across their downstairs
    eaves, and in their front yard bushes
and I have neglected to do the same

for I've found it difficult this season to
    capture any of the "holiday spirit" this
          time of year is so famous for
it has been such a long month, long season
    long
          year
and I don't have the mental strength
    to play this festive game

and although there will be no Sun on
          this Sunday
    morning has broken, and the sky has
          lightened considerable from
  where it was even twenty minutes ago
and as the temperature drops
          I think to myself

"I should go make more coffee" because I hear
          the kids stirring upstairs, and
    they've become coffee drinkers
like their father before them
    and so I rise from my laptop 
          preparing to make the thirty step
  trek to the kitchen to put on
      another pot and
          I think to myself
"Oh, the rain has turned to snow."

Symmetry

There is a strange, unsettling, engrossing symmetry
To us

Not a cold winter to warm spring to hot summer to
cool autumn to cold winter symmetry

Not a we grew up two blocks from each other but were
in different districts and didn't meet until we were
in college out-of-state symmetry

Not an opposites attract symmetry
Not a distance makes the heart grow fonder symmetry
Not an out of sight, out of mind symmetry

We do not dress alike
We do not root for the same teams
We do not like the same music
We do not read the same books
We do not order the same coffee at Starbucks

Ours is a symmetry of absence
Dissonance
Loneliness

You once asked me years ago
What it was
  I wanted, I needed
And my answer has remained
          unchanged
After all these years

The heart wants what it wants.

New Days

I would proffer my hand
  to you
But we really don't do that anymore
    (maybe someday)
And we talk about old friends and new

Did you hear what Billy said yesterday?
  Phil was pretty funny last night
    Frances really made me think this morning
      Mary Jo made me smile
        Katha and Galway were as irksome as always
Did you miss any of that? Did you see?

You blink and tell me of late
Your mind feels like
  blinds that haven't been dusted in months
  rugs that have pilled from overuse
  a layer of dust thicker than the table itself
Too many choices
None of them of interest
To an intellectual such as yourself

I feel much the same
A rabbit down the wrong hole
  in a warren not his own
Tired autumn leaves ready to
  give up and drop to the barren ground
Not enough choices
Too many interests
To a follower such as myself

I don't have time to miss the old days
I'm too busy wasting the new days

One Month Turns To Two

The space I inhabit
Colder than the rest of the house
(The windows leak, the fireplace is
not sealed)
More spacious than my last space
  But just as 
          confining and empty
The grey skies outside all eight windows
Mirror my heart

I shout into the void
But cannot be heard over
  the sounds of everyone else
Shouting
          into their own voids
  their own private
          hells-on-Earth
Everyone seems happy
  Everyone is lying
    This is fine

I mask my expression
Literal and figurative
I smile for a camera that
  No one sees
    Or can see
          or even wants to
I ask myself and everyone I see
    what the hell is wrong with you?
And their question of me
  mirrors my own of them

Long night into
  longer day into
    longer night into
A month of nameless days
  one month turns to two
    turns to three, turns to ten
And we are still nowhere
          or perhaps no-when
          or perhaps no-why
Hazy morning into wet afternoon

Alone.

Word Forward

Man, dating really sucks. At any age, but more so as you get older.

I’m not a really a go-to-a-bar-and-meet-someone kind of guy. I’m not terribly social. So, my only option, particularly in this time of quarantines and pandemics, is online dating. Which is the absolute worst.

Online dating is much like social media for single people. Between inaccurate (or totally fake) profile pictures and messages that never get returned, there is a decided cowardice and lack of respect in lying to and then ghosting someone. And from stories I’ve heard from female friends, it’s endemic to both sides of the aisle, as it were.

And when did “I love tacos!” become a way to demonstrate your date-ability?1 C’mon, now – aim higher. Everyone loves tacos. And hiking. And being on the water. And world peace.

The one thing that dating HAS done for me is to grow more comfortable talking about myself. In fact, dating off-and-on over the past nine months has helped me develop a bit of a spiel that I can jump into, at any point along the continuum, to keep an awkward first (or second) date moving along.

I’ve written about some of this before, in previous blog posts. Here, then, is the more detailed, expanded version – The Origin of 56-year-old Steve: The Special Edition:

I’ve spent the last four or five years jumping from one interest to the other. It started with music, and continued with a renewed interest in math, followed by dabbling in computer programming, and then delving deeper into philosophy…but wait, it goes back farther than that.

I was a decent enough student in high school. I could have been a straight-A student had I applied myself. However, that was not the case. I piddled around the entire four years. My final two years of high school were marked by my step-father dying, leaving my Mom as a single mother having to work to earn money to raise me, my four-year-younger sister, and my twelve-year-younger half-brother. Money as always tight, and she did the best she could.

But college was never really an option as I began my senior year. The focus was solely on me finishing high school so that I could get a job and start supporting myself. So a few weeks after graduation, I found myself delivering pizzas for Straw Hat Pizza for nine months, then it was off to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX, for USAF basic training.

Two years into my military service, I was married to a fellow service member. We spent five years overseas together, then four more years in Denver, CO, before calling it quits. We split up shortly after I left the military (she had retired once we returned stateside), and I was on my own for a while.

Another whirlwind romance that ended in disaster brought me to Oklahoma, and this is where I’ve been for the past twenty-six-plus years.

Somewhere along the line, I began to regret not having concentrated more on my studies when I was in school. I went back to school, getting a business admin degree from the local community college. I dipped my foot in the pool of an actual B.A. program at OSU-Tulsa.

My kids are super smart – much smarter than I was at their age, and certainly much smarter than I am now. They began feeding me interesting YouTube videos. At first it was VSauce videos – Michael Stevens’ deadpan delivery of interesting science facts and thought experiments was extremely engaging. Then one of them started sending me Grant Sanderson videos, and we were off to the races.

I can still clearly recall one video where Sanderson was attempting to explain calculus in layman’s terms (relatively speaking), and I had a light bulb moment ten minutes into the video.

In this particular video, which was part one of a ten-part “Essence of Calculus” series2, less than ten minutes into the lesson, Sanderson clearly and concisely explained how, when solving for the area of a circle, you are actually solving for the area of a right triangle, and my mind, to say the least, was blown. I distinctly remember thinking to myself (and repeating to anyone who would listen), “If I’d had someone teach me this in high school, I’d be a rocket scientist by now!”

I immediately hit Kahn Academy and began relearning all of the algebra I’d forgotten over the years.

In the meantime, I’d become enamored with British mathematician Matt Parker and his YouTube channel, Stand Up Maths. He is also a frequent guest on another great channel, Numberphile. One of my favorite parts of Matt’s videos is, on occasion after working something out on butcher paper or a blackboard, will then reveal that he wrote a quick Python program to verify his results. That sealed it – I had to learn computer programming!

And so I did – I now know just enough JavaScript, HTML, CSS and (of course) Python to be extremely dangerous. My crowning achievement (so far) has been to write a Python script that will take a block of text and send it, word by work, to an unsuspecting cell phone user via SMS. Beauty!

. . . . .

My most recent obsession, philosophy, is another thing entirely. And yet, more of the same.

I’ve always been interested in philosophy – my first blog post dealt with stoicism, and that was almost two years ago. This time, I decided to approach it with the same academic rigor that I’ve explored math, science, and computer programming over the last few years. I started at the beginning with the father of pre-Socratic philosophy, Thales, and have been steadily moving forward through the different schools of thought over the last 2,500 years.

One of the things that fascinates me most about the study of philosophy is that the earlier philosophers had nothing else to go on but their five senses and their minds, and yet were able to develop such insightful, and often (overly) complicated explanations for everything.

While there existed schools of thought that invoked the four classical Greek elements (fire, water, earth, air) there was a school called the Atomists that supposed that everything was made up of smaller, unseen particles called atoms that actually made up everything we see – and they came to this conclusion 300 years B.C.E, nearly 2,000 years before the Janssen brothers in 1590 C.E.!

But more to the point, the early philosophers never gave up, and never stopped building upon the thoughts and ideas of their forebears, sometimes eloquently expanding on their ideas, sometimes developing totally new ideas and doctrines.

And that, more than anything, defines how I’ve overcome that lack of desire (and, to be honest, motivation) and am now attempting expand my horizons through the faux-academic study of things that interest me. I keep building upon what I’ve learned previously, always striving to expand my knowledge of the world around me. Or, in the words of philosopher Stephen West, to always “know more today than I did yesterday.”

The key (for me, anyway) is, word for word, to always keep moving forward.

. . . . .

Links

  1. Self-proclaimed “snarky dating poster” Sarah Kehoe tweeted something to this effect – @sarahkehoe. If you have a Twitter, follow her!
  2. “Essence of Calculus – Chapter 1” by Grant Sanderson (3blue1brown) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUvTyaaNkzM

. . . . .

If you haven’t had a chance to check out my first book, “What I’ve Learned: Random Thoughts on Various Subjects,” now it the perfect time! Bounce over to http://bit.ly/what_ive_learned and pick up a paperback copy, or download it to your Kindle!