Tuesday, December 01, 2015


"So what brought you out here?"

I have been interested for a while in listening to myself attempt to answer some of the biggest questions that are posed to me on a daily basis. This particular question's answer is quite heavy and personal yet slips into small-talk with total nonchalance. A typical stab at it goes like this:

"I wasn't sure how to make a big change in my life/career direction unless I relocated to a new place. It's like the overgrowth was so thick that trimming things back to reform it wasn't enough; the whole thing needed to be replanted. I could have stayed and been happy my whole life in Lincoln--I'm quite sure of that. I guess I just wanted to try something else. Who knows why."

Given the casual nature of the conversation, I suppose my cerebral, labyrinthine response is probably a bit more than is expected, but meh--you asked a very pensive person! Also, imagine a bunch of "uhhs" and "hmms" in there. Also, imagine the above making much less sense when constructed in 10-15 seconds instead of the 4-5 minutes it took me to compose the paragraph.

What I'm thinking about today is the fact that the above comes out differently every time I say it (for example, last night I said "ah, wanderlust" and left it, but that's not really true, or is at least only a slice of the truth). I arrange a new group of words every time, and I think ultimately I'm trying to say the answer for myself or else I probably wouldn't try so hard to find the perfect expression of it.

I wish I had audio of these conversations over the last year plus because my suspicion is that the narrative has changed over time. The changes may be subtle or overt, but I know the way I frame it has to have been altered by my experience since moving here. I know my perception of myself as a professional and former academic had a big influence on my earlier explanations, but I can't quite know exactly how it has evolved since then, though it is likely that I'm leaning on that former professional identity significantly less to explain myself these days.

Narratives are hard to pin down for me. I'd have a hard time putting my life's narrative in simple terms because there would be too many parentheticals and asides diverting from the main thread for it to be very linear. I've loved realist authors and novels for many years (Dostoevsky, Clarín, and Galdós spring to mind) because of the incredible detail they inject into every page. Not just the characters and each of their tiny emotions! I will describe for you the lamp as well, dear reader! And I suppose that proclivity leads me to look with the eyes of realism on my life course and want to identify each and every bit of meaning along the way.

I can't give a clear or perfectly framed answer to the question, but the good news is the words are still being lived and written. Maybe next year? Who knows.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Climbing to Paradise
Nearly one month has passed since RAMROD (Ride Around Mt. Rainier in One Day), so this writeup has been smoldering for a good time.

Training consisted of mostly casual rides of up to 70 miles. I've long encouraged other riders attempting great distances that if they can ride half of it comfortably they can ride the full distance. "All you need is more food, water, and time," I say. It's a helpful little distillation, but I had major doubts throughout the summer when putting it to the test. I remember sitting down for a beer with Josh Rice in Lincoln about 10 days before the ride when he said something very true after I elaborated on my training plans for when I flew back home the next day: "It's too late at this point. You'll either have it or you won't." I shuddered a little. He was right!

Here are my field notes from the ride:

1) Mile 1: Enumclaw High School has views of Rainier from afar. It's startling to think you'll circumnavigate it from that vantage point.

2) Mile ~33: I spoke with a construction worker who was holding a two-sided STOP/SLOW sign on a section of highway. He was grizzled, bearded, and wearing sunglasses; we were stopped for about 3 minutes there. I started asking him about his job, and eventually he explained with bewilderment that they get no respect. He said he stands there for 8 hours with no bathroom breaks and no relief for lunch. I was dumbfounded. I always wave at these people or ding my bell but don't seem to get much response back from most. Maybe I understand why now. After hearing that I stuck out my hand and said, "Here's the respect you deserve." He shook my hand, laughed, and flipped the sign to SLOW.

3) Mile 58: Two food stops behind us and rolling hills through chilly, foggy valleys and sunny vistas. This is the park entrance and the start of the climb to Paradise. A couple miles before I popped some Ibuprofen to push back at pains surfacing in my seat and right foot. More pills at 3 hour intervals probably saved my day.

4) Mile 73: Atop Paradise the mountain is staring you in the face. The road points down as far as one can see from here.

5) Mile 86: The descent is unforgettable and worth the entire day's suffering. Imagine sitting on a 35mph office chair for half an hour as it wraps its way around stunning summit views, lakes, hairpins, and rocky ledges. 15 miles up to Paradise took 2 hours; 13 down, 30 minutes.

6) Mile 93: I wasn't aware Cayuse Pass had started. I was crawling along at 6-7 mph for about 45 minutes before I realized I had reached the water stop halfway up the pass. That was a great feeling, because I was almost out of water. Pain in my right foot was now very intense, so I took a couple more pills. I noticed the pain had developed from constantly reaching down on my right side to pull out my water bottles. The repeated movement of angling my right knee out was forcing most of the resulting pedaling pressure to fall on my smaller toe bones of that foot.

7) Mile 100: The bummer about reaching the top of Cayuse Pass and knowing it's all very literally downhill from there is Cayuse Pass is also where the headwinds start. So even though you have essentially 50 miles left of 2% grade downhill, you're never able to hold a steady 18-19 mph like you would expect. Instead, you have to slog through the wind at 14-15.

8) Mile 126: I waived at some people in lawn chairs on the side of the road thinking it was fun that they were out there watching people ride. About 5 miles later as I reached for water bottle #2 I realized that the final water stop and that I would ride the final 20 miles into the wind and in the hottest part of the day without reserves. Very shortly thereafter I got a left hammy cramp and had to get off the bike to stretch. I had about 8 ounces of water left, so I dumped 4 Nuun tabs into it to create some delicious electrolyte sludge. I got back on the bike but didn't make it another 100' before another cramp wave struck. I drank my sludge then, I stretched, and I hoped for the best.

9) Mile 144: The best happened. A policeman directing traffic offered me about 4 more ounces of water and encouragement that I was there at the final turn off the highway into town. I made it to the home stretch of curvy downhill roads back to Enumclaw and the high school.

10) Mile 150: I bunny-hopped across the line and almost took out one of the volunteers needing to retrieve my electronic tracker. Ha. I heard the announcer saying something about having had too much sugar. He wasn't far off--all those caffeinated Nuun tabs! Then it was time for a shower and sharing of war stories with my fellow REI riders.

When morning came the next day I had a fun moment looking out the window in my kitchen at the mountain. It looks totally different now. I know it. I know around it. I know behind it. I know on it. It appears less imperious to me now and somehow less huge. It's not that it was brought to my level; I ascended to it. This is a key point, I think.

Having attempted and finished rides approaching RAMROD before (150 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing), I had a decent idea what to expect. Gravel Worlds in Lincoln, NE is 150 miles and about 5,000 feet of (mostly rolling) climbs. Knowing this, my training was probably still insufficient. I kept thinking to myself, "Those extra 5,000 feet will be tough, but it's road not gravel!" I wasn't all wrong as it turns out. I certainly had some dark spots on Cayuse Pass, the third and biggest climb of the day beginning at mile 93. I definitely missed the final water stop had those cramps as a result. But overall, I think I felt more beat up by Gravel Worlds. I'm fully willing to believe that the fact that I knew I could do it was enough to make RAMROD feel like less of an achievement than Gravel Worlds, a race I had serious doubts about finishing in 2014.

Here is the route. Notice the profile below, too. Green is speed; brown is elevation change.

Phone died 6 miles from the end

Monday, February 16, 2015

Holy Candor

My thoughts on Grace Chapel and why it is holy, candid, and special:

First, there are elements that make it feel instantly homey. There is coffee, there are donuts, there are pews--snuggle in!--and there are children scampering about. Second, there are spoken reminders that the adventurer, the new face, and the wanderer all belong, and soon they discover that they have never been new at all. We know them and they know us; we are them as they are us. Third, there is humility from the pulpit, balm for the church-sick. This iconic place of brow-arching disapproval is instead a display case for the humanness we all know and share. Finally, there is an understanding that our fears, joys, and poverties are not separate stories but one, and that in their telling is the rest of burdens released and born together.


And now a point by point explanation:

1. The Geneva House, where coffee and donuts are provided, serves as a buffer zone where less than comfortable newcomers or attendees can acclimate to the environment. To me, this is a foretaste of the later, more deliberate meal we share together. They are elemental to setting the mood because they provide immediate familiarity, and not least importantly because they travel with us to the sanctuary. Yes, there are greeters saying "Good morning!" but first there is the unspoken "Good morning!" of drink and food--the first family meal. If you are new and anxious, at least you can cling to a coffee mug.

2. As a partner to the candidness of traveling mugs of coffee, the service always begins with an acknowledgement of just how challenging it is to wander into a new church followed by a hearty voicing of support for such adventurers. This underscores one of the other essential mood pieces of Grace: the intentional airing of realities we know to be true of us. Church is tense if you're new. No reason to quietly hope new people don't feel the tension--instead, there is explicit permission to feel it and also to be encouraged in the midst of it that you are, in fact, brave just for being present.

3. I've yet to forget one of the first times I attended when I heard these words come out of the pastor's mouth in the opening prayer: "...forgive the sins of he who preaches, for they are many..." It may have been the first time I felt like the pastoral voice ever partook in the spirit of the Lord's Prayer with us ("...forgive us our debts..."). If we preach and believe that heaven and earth are being made one, it only follows that we should strive to make pulpit and pew level with each other. It took 25 years for me to feel like a pastor existed on my plane, a pulpit on my earth.

4. This final piece is the least tangible of the four elements I've tried to summarize, but it is the most essential for what I mean by "holy candor", which is the phrase I've arrived at to describe the general tenor of this place. A chapel is a humble, unassuming place, and inside this particular one there is a sense we are wholly sacred when we are able to be wholly human. The human story, which is to say your story and my story, has sanctity. Its strands are individual but undivorceable from one another since together they stretch, tie, and tether us to the ultimate reality. Without the blending of each individual life's colors, we paint a pale picture. Thankfully, as I wrote in the previous paragraph, those in positions of leadership are both shepherds and the first to put their strokes to canvas.


Addendum (four months later):

I arrived at "holy candor" because a question was posed to me about the essence of Grace Chapel. After reflecting for some time I feel it encapsulates the sense of the people and practices of this dear place. I realize much of it is quite rosy. Everything is not perfect, though, and Grace would be the first place to say that. Some of it is idealized as I look back on the last eight years, but all of it comes from what I felt there then and even more acutely now as I search for a spiritual home here in Seattle. There is holiness because there is Great Presence. There is candor because there is deliberate frankness regarding who we all have been, likely are now, and God willing can become some day. Together, there is this "holy candor" I have tried to articulate.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Not-Too-Late Favorite Albums of 2014

Against Me!, Transgender Dysphoria Blues

A devastatingly honest and challenging listen. Think Japandroids but with something to say. The only album in a long time I would dare call important. (Helpful history) Favorites: Transgender Dysphoria Blues, True Trans Soul Rebel

AJ Dávila, Terror Amor

A crass, bravado-driven Latin rock album served with a pinch of doo-wop soul. Favorites: Ya Sé, Es Verano Ya

 Caribou, Our Love

Dan Snaith does it again with this slow-burner of a dance/pop record. We’ve all seen time-lapse video of flowers opening for spring. Now we’ve heard it. Favorites: Can't Do Without You, Dive

D’Angelo and The Vanguard, Black Messiah

A timely return for D’Angelo and some of the most chewy-delicious vocals I've ever heard. Favorites: Till It's Done (Tutu), Another Life

Deerhoof, La Isla Bonita

I always thought that eventually I wouldn’t need new bands, that the bands I loved would keep making music and I would keep loving it. This has proven true for very few groups (Caribou is one, Spoon another). And here is yet another collection of wonderfully twisted guitar pop nuggets ranging from the ANIMAL SMASH variety to the more noodley odyssean type. Always sounding uniquely themselves. Favorites: Exit Only, Mirror Monster

Mac Demarco, Salad Days

Another cache of tuneful albeit crooked jams. “Let Her Go” could be his best song to date. Favorites: Let Her Go, Blue Boy

Spoon, They Want My Soul

The most consistent rock band on the planet. Favorites: Rent I Pay, Do You

St. Vincent, Digital Witness
While the live show alienated me a bit from the Annie Clark I loved, that was the point of the expressionless Clark’s newest dare all along: to shed too much light on our modern acts of performance. Favorites: Birth In Reverse, Prince Johnny