October 29, 2008

Getting into the mood...

I've mentioned before that Halloween's a holiday I look forward to immensely, so the time has come to get into the proper frame of mind. To that end, I'm:

* Currently re-reading The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson

* Sitting down tonight with a big glass of apple cider and a bowl of popcorn to watch The Cell

* Spending Halloween evening in Shepherdstown for dinner, shadowing trick'or'treaters, then wandering through at least one of the four historic cemeteries in town.

* Heading up to Philly on Saturday to experience Terror Behind the Walls at Eastern State Penitentiary with my buddy, Leo. According to the Travel Channel, this is one of the premier Halloween events in the county and I am quite psyched.

So, what are you doing for All Hallow's Eve?

October 25, 2008

Another day at the museum: The BMA, 10/25/08

Rainy day today, so I hit the Baltimore Museum of Art again. Since "a picture's worth a thousand words", I'll throw up a bunch before I toss out much in the way of my own words... (Be forewarned, this is a long'un)

The Visitation

Four-panel folding screen depicting the effects of the phases of the moon by Dario Cecchi, 1948

One of the coolest watches I've ever seen: Skull-form watch, ca1637-1658, French, steel

Head of Medusa door knocker, Emile-Antoine Bourdelle, ca1861-1929

Assorted landscapes, in oil (Jacob Van Ruisdael, Dutch, ca1628-1682)...

...and lithotint (James Durfield Harding, English, ca1854)...

...and crayon lithograph (Richard Parkes Bonington, English, ca1824)

One of the current special exhibits features the artist Franz West. The description of his work was, for me, more compelling than most of the actual pieces. As I wandered through the exhibit, I found myself repeating "what the fuck...?" over and over.

But then I got to the focal point of the exhibit, a work entitled "das Ich und das Es" (The Ego and The Id), which was designed and built specifically for the room within the BMA in which it was displayed. Note: Photography is not allowed in BMA special exhibits, so I nicked this shot from the museum's page about West.

This piece definitely intrigued me. The scale just isn't evident in this small image. And it's actually thought-provoking. From the description: "...the Latin term "ego" [das Ich]... means "the I". The task of the ego is to find a balance between primitive drives and reality. The term "Id" (inner desire) is a Latinized derivation of das Es, and translates into English as "It". The id is dominated by the pleasure principle." But which is which? Is ego's balance reflected in the uniform, soothing pink loops and id's chaotic drives in the riot of multiple colors? Or is it the reverse, ego finding its balance in a melding of colors, and id focused on throbbing pink pleasure? West apparently hasn't specified.

Moving on to the moderns: Man Pointing (Alberto Giocometti, bronze, 1947)...

...and There is No Finished World (Andre Masson, 1942)

The Three Rings, Henry Moore, red soraya marble, ca1966 (Both times I've seen this piece, I've wanted to put my hands all over it)

Modern, abstract art has always been a mystery to me, something that my visits to the BMA are helping me learn to appreciate. This piece is a prime example. To my uncomprehending eye, it's just a bunch of black smudges on a bright green background. Apparently, there's much more to it:

Metaphysical, huh? Who'da guessed?

And finally, The Baptism of Christ, by Louis Comfort Tiffany, ca1890-1899

After the museum closed, I headed over to the Papermoon Diner to fill my grumbling belly. The place is a riot, in more ways than one. It was hard to concentrate on the book I was reading, with so much stuff to look at around me. But the Eggs Benedict with ham and avocado were freaking fantastic.

Stopped for gas on the way through the city. As I got out of the car, a guy approached and asked if he could pump my gas. I'm probably a sucker, but after only minimal hesitation I said ok. He launched into a story about having just arrived from eight years out in Cumberland. Interesting coincidence, as I'd just vacationed out that way. His time there was apparently no vacation, as he'd just been released from prison and was only given a bus ticket as far as Baltimore. He was trying to raise enough cash to get some dinner (real food, not the prison "suey" he'd been living on) and a bus ticket to Glen Burnie and his grandmother's house. After the tank was filled, I gave him $5 and drove off wondering if I'd been swindled. Meh. There are worse things than being ripped off for $5. And if the guy was genuine, I wish I'd given him more.

Today was one more day in my love affair with Baltimore, a city that is terribly unappreciated. Following my tendency to associate music with places, I've come to identify Baltimore with the same elements I love about Maynard James Keenan and Tool, specifially their masterpiece album Aenima. Like that album, Baltimore contains some things that are beautiful, some things that are humorous and quirky, and some that are seamy, edgy and dirty. And all of those elements are shoved tight up against each other, often within the same song or neighborhood. It makes for a whole that is incredibly stimulating, if you take the time to really listen and look.


Something has to change.
Undeniable dilemma.
Boredom's not a burden
Anyone should bear.

Constant over stimulation numbs me
and I wouldn't have
It any other way.

It's not enough.
I need more.
Nothing seems to satisfy.
I don't want it.
I just need it.
To feel, to breathe, to know I'm alive.

Finger deep within the borderline.
Show me that you love me and that we belong together.
Relax, turn around and take my hand.

I can help you change
Tired moments into pleasure.
Say the word and we'll be
Well upon our way.

Blend and balance
Pain and comfort
Deep within you
Till you will not have me any other way.

It's not enough.
I need more.
Nothing seems to satisfy.
I don't want it.
I just need it.
To feel, to breathe, to know I'm alive.

Knuckle deep inside the borderline.
This may hurt a little but it's something you'll get used to.
Relax. Slip away.

Something kinda sad about
the way that things have come to be.
Desensitized to everything.
What became of subtlety?

How can it mean anything to me
If I really don't feel anything at all?

I'll keep digging till
I feel something.

Elbow deep inside the borderline.
Show me that you love me and that we belong together.
Shoulder deep within the borderline.
Relax. Turn around and take my hand.

October 19, 2008

Woke up on the wrong side of the bed today...

As I was typing out the details of this year's annual pilgrimage and the dukkha that accompanied it, I kept trying to think of an appropriate theme song. I have no idea why this one didn't occur to me. Leave it to Incubus to sum up exactly what I was feeling, and with a sense of humor no less.


On my way home,
police car pulled me over.

After they left, I puttered out of gas.
'Triple-A' came, but my card was expired.
I had to walk home, but of course, it rained half the time.
I tried to get some shut-eye, but I was abducted.
They put cold things in my butt.
They sampled a bit of my D.N.A.
They left me on top of my sheets.
I dreamt I went potty, then woke up drenched in me.

Yeterday sucked hardest ever...
I woke up on the wrong side of the bed today
A little bit less than nothing would go my way

Woke up to toss my soiled sheets.
The hallway was dark and I stubbed my big toe.
It was then that I sensed the irony, burning me...
I heard a voice say
"Come sail aboard S.S. Nepenthe!"

I suppose I'm to blame...
I woke up on the wrong side of the bed today
A little bit less than nothing would go my way

Thank goodness for bathtubs and suds...

I suppose I'm to blame for getting pulled over.
I guess I'm the culprit for running out of gas.

Let's assume I'm the guy who didn't pay 'Triple-A'.
In actuality, I let the Zetas probe me.
Yesterday was all my fault,
I let negativity get the better of me.
Thank goodness for bathtubs and suds.
They temporarily set free this quandary.

I woke up on the wrong side of the bed today
A little bit less than nothing would go my way

October 16, 2008

The annual pilgrimage, 2008

Got back last night from this year's trip out to Cumberland, MD, which is something I look forward to all year long. The fact that I have such high expectations for the trip created issues this year and gave me a whole lotta thinking to do. Lessons in dukkha and attachment are, of course, never easy.

I wrote last year about the indulgent way that I always begin the pilgrimage-- a massage at The Bath House in Berkeley Springs, WV, and the scrumptious (cheesy word but, damn, it's appropriate in this case) snow crab legs at the Texas Grillhouse in LaVale, MD. Added a slight twist this year in having a hot stone massage for the first time. I honestly don't know how I've lived this long without the sublime feeling of hot river stones slipped between my toes. First time I've ever blissed out enough to fall asleep during a massage.

So far, so good. Things started out just as wonderfully relaxing as usual. Monday began well, also. It was chilly overnight, and morning revealed a thick mist rising along the Potomac River and Tom's Creek between town and the surrounding mountains.

The day's plan was to drive over to Garrett County and ride a trail that runs between Herrington Manor and Swallow Falls state parks. I headed out fairly early to explore a new road before breakfast, and ended up driving all the way to Keyser, WV. I was hungry by the time I got there and began the hunt for any place besides McD's or Burger King at which to chow down. Passed a sign for The Candlewyck Inn that included the words "fine dining" and pulled in to check it out. Turns out they don't serve breakfast on weekdays, but that didn't stop the owner from offering to cook something for me. I ended up with a wonderful veggie omelet and home fries, and a pleasant conversation about the perils of small-town restaurant ownership. He also tipped me off to a shortcut from Keyser to my intended destination and within less than an hour I was passing through Oakland, MD, on my way to Herrington Manor to get my ass kicked.

I have no mountain biking skills to speak of, and I ride a rigid cyclocross bike. But a few very fun rides through the kiddy roller coaster that is the main trail at Rosaryville State Park made me confident enough to tackle this trail that is rated as "beginner". A guy working in the park office also confirmed that there was "one short rocky section", but that the rest was pretty easy. That "one short rocky section" that he pointed out on the map apparently grew significantly before I hit the trail. It was rocky from the freaking get-go, and I'm talking rocks ranging in size from dinner rolls to full loaves of bread. I bucked and bounced for two miles before deciding I was risking busting either my fork or my head, then turned around and hike-a-biked it through the worst sections on the way back. But I wasn't ready to give up just yet, so I loaded the bike back on top of the car and headed to the other end of the trail at Swallow Falls to see if perhaps that was the easy part.

It started out being fairly lovely, much smoother, swooping through hardwood forest and then descending quickly into hemlock groves. But then, rocks. And not only rocks. Big, freaking, tangled hemlock roots. This ride was nothing if not a lesson in why bicycle suspension was invented. If I'd had a bike properly designed for this type of trail, with full-on double suspension, I could have had a major blast. As it is, I think my cervical and thoracic vertebrae have fused into one great big hunk of bone, the thoravical. My chiropractor's got his work cut out for him at our next appointment.

The trail heads up through those tree roots on the left

The best section of all (again, the trail's on the left)

After another roughly two miles of torture I gave it up for good, again walking the bike through the most stone-choked sections. It was frustrating to quit with so few miles under my wheels, but I have to admit I'm fairly proud that I handled the bike so well on the portions I did ride. I was able to remain relaxed enough to let the wheels bounce over the rocks without bucking me off, and I picked up some decent speed on the smooth sections. Certainly a worthwhile experience, despite the discomfort.

And then things took a turn. This year's pilgrimage is notable in that it's the first time in eleven years that I chose to spend part of it with people I know. The ladies with whom I ride had planned a five day thru-ride of the C&O Canal. When the idea first came up months ago, it sounded like it could be lots of fun. For a variety of reasons, though, I decided against it. But I planned my trip for the same week with the intention of joining them for one of the most interesting sections of the towpath, the Paw Paw Tunnel. As a result, this particular pilgrimage ended up less time- and care-free than usual. Having to plan and schedule and interact with others added a hectic element and made the time spent with them turn into the focus of the trip, when it should have been just one enjoyable portion of the whole. Leading up to this day, I questioned a few times why I'd made this decision. I was sure that it would be fun and would further develop my friendships with these women, but it's counter to the purpose of the pilgrimage.

The plan had been for a pleasant mid-day ride with my buddies, 25 miles or so at an easy pace that would serve as a recovery from the beating the day before, with the fun of Paw Paw Tunnel as the centerpiece, and ending up having a lovely dinner by myself in Cumberland.

It turned into me riding alone down to (during which time I snapped the pics above) and through the tunnel, meeting my friends on the way back, then exerting myself pretty damned close to my physical limit, driving 60 miles that I hadn't planned on, and not getting back to the hotel and a shower until after 9:00pm. Dinner was with the gang at Bill's Place in Little Orleans, but consisted of a surprisingly good $3 bowl of lima bean soup.

This unexpected deviation from the usual course of pilgrimage events left me ping-ponging between concern and compassion on one hand, and resentment on the other. The bitterness I felt (am still somewhat feeling) over what happened is certainly not very Buddhist of me. But I wasn't able to obtain the peace of mind and quiet reflection that I so look forward to during this annual trip. The time I spend alone out there is time in which my mind can empty of all the responsibilities and issues and neuroses (my own, mostly) that I find to be part and parcel of every human relationship in my life. It allows the same freedom I experience when I escape to the woods, or onto the bike, or cruising country roads in the car, but for an extended period of time that creates a deeper rejuvenation and euphoria.

The fourth day out there, my last, didn't serve to improve the situation. The morning began not with curling mists rising in front of the mountains, but with totally grey, overcast skies. After breakfast at a favorite coffee shop up in Frostburg, I decided to just head home. Along the way, I was pulled over by a cop for doing 83 in a 65. Despite ending up with a warning instead of points and a fine, this was like insult (deserved, I know) added to injury.

I could have considered all of this some perverse "reward" for yesterday's good deed, but it wasn't. It was just weather patterns and not paying enough attention for radar traps. And yesterday's strained afternoon and evening were just a case of doing what needed to be done in response to an unexpected situation. The events and atmosphere that we find ourselves dealing with are not rewards or punishments. Nor are they good or bad luck. They are just what is. What creates the difficulty is how we classify and respond to them. My first response (after attempts to squelch my resentment) was to wonder how expectation fits into a Buddhist lifestyle. What the hell is the trick to looking forward to something with pleasant anticipation, without forming an attachment to the resultant expectations?

The conclusion I came to is that it's a matter of control. My desire for escape from schedules and responsibility, my craving for the freedom I feel during those escapes, isn't freedom at all. It's an attempt at control. Doing what I want to do when I want to do it, being impulsive or indulgent as I see fit, is just control in a different form. It feels like freedom, but isn't it really just enslavement to a need to feel that I'm calling the shots, instead of squeezing my life into the jigsaw puzzle of work, commuting, home ownership, family, and friendships? And it's my disinclination to give up that control that caused resentment to override the concern I felt for my friend. That's one of the hardest things about following the Buddhist path-- having to relinquish all sense of control and deal with things as they are, learning to want something yet being able to live with not getting it, developing the ability to gracefully flow with the alternatingly pleasant or painful stream of life. It's kind of like riding tricky singletrack. Ya gotta let go and relax enough to let the bike pick its own line through the rocks and enjoy the ride despite any bruises you end up with.

And that's enough of the philosophical mumbo-jumbo. Despite the lesson learned, I headed out today for one of those temporary escapes and cruised the back roads of West Va up to Shaharazade's. Lunch was great and the drive was great, but by far the brightest spot so far this week has been one brief moment this afternoon when I drove past the spot of the burned-down trailer (described here and, later, here). I had noticed on a similar drive several weeks ago that a new trailer had been installed on the lot. Today, as I was coming around the curve leading up to it, I noticed a basketball lying on the ground next to the basketball hoop that's been standing in the same spot along the road ever since I first saw the place. And, strolling across the yard, the same tow-headed kid I'd managed to avoid running down almost a year ago. The sun gleaming off his blond hair and the hand he raised in a wave gave me the biggest smile I've had on my face in many days. If I didn't know better, I'd almost consider it a reward.

October 12, 2008

Hallelujah, amen

Cribbed from the Large Fella, who apparently cribbed it from Jason4Pedros.

October 10, 2008

Recreation + Charitable Donations = Win

Stumbled across a link to the Plus3 Network in this week's edition of the RoadBikeRider net-letter. This. Is. Awesome. I've been trying not to feel ashamed of myself that I don't do more in the way of donations and have yet to figure out some kind of volunteer gig with which to get involved, but this is right up my alley. Granted, they won't make a ton of money off the measly miles I put in on the bike and in the woods, but every little bit counts. Right?

October 1, 2008

The new little monster

This is Ivan. He's four months old and is currently living in my bedroom while he and Olive go through the kitteh acclimation process. I haven't had a full night's sleep since he moved in because he attacks my feet through the blankets all. night. long, but he makes up for it by purring like a motorboat whenever I pet him. I think he's cute. Olive doesn't yet know what she thinks of him.

And, no, he doesn't have a funky upper lip. I caught him mid-nose lick.