Ultimate extremes

And by ultimate, I mean frisbee. But watch what you call frisbee, that's a disc you got there. A throw is a toss. And we're snobby about it, dammit.

Disclaimer: Not we, or not me, anyhow. I am not an ultimate player. I am just game, and a good friend, so last summer when I was told my cardiovascular endurance and shining face were needed, particularly in girl form, I went for it. Got thrown straight into games, ran all over the field (dead giveaway of newbie status), didn't sub out often (they weren't kidding about needing women), laughed a lot.

When it works, ultimate really is a great experience. This summer the first game I could make was this past Thursday. Captains called the game at 5:30 when it was pouring, so the rest of us stragglers played pickup. We took cover in the police horse trailer parked on the sidewalk for five minutes at one point, and I had to play barefoot because my shoes were soaked and sneakers are no good anyway, but the rain cleared around 7:30 and from then on it was as lovely as DC can be in July. We played unevenly matched in numbers most of the night, so shit got chaotic on defense, but usually pretty evenly matched in skill. After almost two hours somebody said, ok, play to 3, win by 2. I think we actually got to 6, and then we did it all over again, evens most of the way. They were great people. One of my favorite things is when everyone on the field applauds a well-executed play. My second favorite thing is insta-trust with a teammate you just met. And it was the very last game I will ever play with a dear friend headed off to Ann Arbor. He made the winning throw. Er, toss. I'm learning.
Learning was what I set out to do at the WAFC clinic tonight after work, on the strength of that beautiful scrimmage. Couldn't have been more different. Implicit teaching by example and egalitarian play was replaced with spoken (or shouted) directions and clearly demarcated lines between experienced and beginner. Again, I arrived later than others (who are these people who can walk half an hour to the south side of the Mall and be there by 5:15?); there were beads of moisture on brows and shoulders of most already by the time I got there.

First drill (that's right I said drill. not all ultimate players are hippies, apparently) was read the huck. A huck is a long toss, the Hail Mary of ultimate. Drill masters were Charlie (fortyish, kindly twinkling blue eyes and manner to match, helluvan arm) and Damon (clearly my age, less prone to instructing, not as consistent but still pretty durn good). Charlie really wanted me to learn how to find the ones with left-tilting lips, floating back up the slope toward him. I have never had great spatial relations, particularly depth perception, and missed it many times. One time with a defender on me I even had a collision. When I got it Charlie went down on one knee with a yell. Damon, intentionally or no, liked to keep me on my toes, throwing it nearly to Ohio Drive once, while the next was a slider up on his portion of the slope. Ever the newbie, I still ran all over the place. Charlie made up for Damon's quiet, shouting after me, "Good legs, but take the shortcut!" Moral: there is no shortcut if you have no idea where it's going.

Next up, box drill, an ultimate classic. You set up on two cones in a line, toss once, then cut on a forty-five degree angle to that line, catch the disc tossed to you by the person at the other cone. Cycle back, repeat. I was called to be the demonstrating catcher with a "hey pretty lady in the pink." [Aside: a girl's hotness level in the ultimate context is three times what it normally is, in keeping with the male-female ratio]. I immediately disliked this drill master with his stupid big yellow wraparound sunglasses and imperious instruction, but I caught the damn disc. Stood unsure as Andy - everyone I've ever known named Andy was cheesy - told us "great" or "terrible" on each toss, cut, catch, or drop. You didn't earn the right to dish out that tough love, buddy, we all have jobs, most of us had rough days, we just want constructive criticism. I caught all of them, three or four times, but had three poor tosses (maybe I was focusing too much on the hate), with him snapping his fingers after me once, and got sent back to throwing school with a too grandiose flourish.

Anything to be out of that drill, even shame. And Tim I liked. Wore the bandana uniform and was very matter-of-fact in his help. Each time it spun with vigor in a level plane straight to his hands I got a "perfect," if it wobbled or went up and to the right, either silence or a tip. I was grateful. Andy's sidling in to "help" didn't faze me.

And then we scrimmaged. I tried not to take it too hard when the soon-to-be high school gym teachers directed their line-up coaching right at me, telling myself it was because I was the last beginner still there. I even made a couple of points, in both roles. As Charlie high-fived me for one of the last ones, he said, "ok, new play, I'm gonna huck it under 14th St bridge, you take off running after it, run around the Tidal Basin, haul off and huck it to me before you're off the road, and if I don't catch it we're sunk." Perceptive, that one. Good-natured ribbing of my dogged determination to get it right is always appreciated. I walked all the way home with a smile on my face, work completely erased from my mind.

whoa, that's a lot of frisbee talk. if you made it to here, you're awesome and should leave a comment to show everyone. c'mon, i dare you.


My landlord's crazy, but it's cool.

One day I came home to a giant gaping mudhole where my front steps should have been. Nice that the cracks got fixed, although if I'd had some warning, I could have done without dragging my bike through my newly-planted flowers. But he tolerates me planting flowers.

Whenever the garbage disposal breaks, it's fixed the next day. Even though the phone call to tell him takes no less than half an hour. I'm serious. A debate on DC government, an update on his boyfriend issues, and a work order all in one.

On New Year's Day 2004 at 2am he let me in because the champagne fountain ate my keys. Like a Venus fly-trap. I swear.

I moved into a pale creamy yellow house. Now I live in the orange-brown-blue-purple clown house. It's growing on me.

Last August I got put through a week and a half of hell, each day with a changed verdict on whether we would draw up a new lease, stay on month-to-month, or be forced to leave. I tried to focus on my gratitude I didn't have to move bed, desk, bookcase, grill, ginormous sofa oh my goodness so much stuff before the end of the month.

Last week he left a notice (typed! with his phone number! but on a messily torn half-sheet) saying he wanted to discuss a new lease. Not having any spare hours just lying around, I hadn't called yet. This afternoon he stopped by. We heard about hot real estate prospects and his big sells, local developers' shady deals, the Neighborhood Commission gossip, our basement neighbor's gossip, advice on how to handle catcalls and "rat palaces" (abandoned houses) and oh yeah rent's going to have to go up.

But then, when I'd stood for him to go, he said, "You know, it's really worked out, deciding to get the place re-assessed so you could stay, I'm so glad it did. I trust you to take care of the house, and I think it suits you." Oh my endearingly eccentric diva. I think we just had a moment.


ATTENTION: We interrupt this program to bring you a public service request.

The best sports bra ever has been discontinued. Original reports from my favorite local running store have been confirmed by the maker's website. Despite its unassuming looks, this article is one of the essential, nay, the only essential, piece of running equipment. The model in question got me through a long and grueling race last fall, and I had every intention of relying on it in the future. I purchased the very last one in stock at aforementioned running store and am currently scouring assorted auction sites. Should you happen upon one, buy it immediately. I will repay you twice over in cash, gold dubloons, and x's-n-o's.

patagonia capilene body women's sports top
RN: 51884 style: 21370SP cut: 21163

And now we return you to our previously scheduled program.

[UPDATE: Monday 2:47pm, Kevin from Patagonia's customer service replied to my frantic plea for help with a telephone number. I just ordered two, and they were half-price! My consumer surplus is out the wazoo].

Now back to our previously scheduled program.


Remembrance of things past

Whoa, I just had the most jarring experience. After my yoga class, I am always hungry, because I go on an empty stomach as suggested by the studio and it's lunchtime when it's over. Today my kitchen offered rice and beans or oatmeal, so I opted for Tryst instead. Took a corner seat at the front table, the one covered in flash cards and textbooks on weekdays. To my left was a couple, across the corner was an attractive man completely absorbed in his newspaper. Did my thing - read book, ate salad, drank water. Exchanged a few words with the couple and the people across the table from me, but not the guy on the end. After forty-five minutes or so, he asked me to watch his seat, I said sure. Then I thought, hmm, he's so familiar, do I know him? When he returned we laughed over how I had protected his spot against a newcomer and his paper against the guy bussing tables. Then he seemed really familiar.

And I realized I had hooked up with him last summer. Didn't remember until that point because the night of the hook-up I was only wearing one contact lens. (Long story, suffice it to say my vanity got the better of me). But his voice, I remembered his voice. Calm, self-assured, that kind of voice that you can hear even if spoken low in a crowded room. And what recollection I could piece together of his features seemed to match this person in Tryst, totally confounding my sense of what's done and gone versus here and now. And he was kind of giving me funny looks, which I intrepeted as annoyance because I was chatting with the other people at the table. Or had intruded on the corner he had previously had all to himself. Funny looks or no, he didn't address me by name, and by the time I'd realized who he was I thought it would be odd to say, hey, are you ___? But now I'm wishing I had. I kinda liked him. Damn. Damn damn damn.

What we call reality is a certain relationship between sensations and memories which surround us at the same time...From this point of view regarding the true way of art, was not nature herself a beginning of art, she who had often allowed me to know the beauty of something only a long time afterwards and only through something else--midday at Combray through the remembered sound of its bells and the tastes of its flowers.
-Marcel Proust,
The Walk by Swann's Place


Love songs and ethical codes

I used to wonder why there were so many love songs. More specifically, I wondered why ninety percent of the pop songs ever written were love songs, while ninety percent of rock criticism was written about the other ten percent...

We need so many love songs because the imperative rituals of flirtation, courtship, and mate selection that are required to guarantee the perpetuation of the species and the maintenance of social order - that are hardwired in mammals and socially proscribed in traditional cultures - are up for grabs in mercantile democracies. These things need to be done, but we don't know how to do them, and, being free citizens, we won't be told how to do them. Out of necessity, we create the institution of love songs...Because it's hard to find someone you love, who loves you - but you can begin, at least by finding someone who loves your love song.

--Dave Hickey, Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy
(thanks, D!)

It's a tricky thing, modern courtship. That word, like chivalry, comes from an era when rules were written in stone, understood, and respected. But let's remember what those rules were: courtly love was actually the admiration from afar, likely never to be consummated, by a suitor in a lady's court. He wore her colors out of loyalty, made gallant gestures, gave voice to a desire for her in troubadour poetry, but only to regret the futility of that desire.

Somewhere in these historical roots lies the thing against which some feminists bristle.* The lack of agency is implicit throughout. A male knight chooses the lady to whom he will be faithful, controls the expression of that love, and offers protection of her physically and spiritually. But hey, what about her desires? What about her preference in choosing the one she loves? And, not to get crude on this noble subject, but what about some lovin'?

No one is claiming that anything close to this set-up exists today. We live in a different world, and in it courtship and chivalry have both been reinterpreted. The question is what shape that reinterpretation will take. For me, the easiest way to correct a lack of agency is to grant it. Make women equal participants in the courtship dance, and then the code of ethics applies to them, too. Inside a relationship equal participation does not have to mean identical behavior, but there's nothing that says you can't apply the courteousness of chivalry to non-prospects in an egalitarian manner.

I hold doors for anyone behind me, male or female. I believe check picking-up should alternate, asker pays first, taking a chance on no second date. I've stopped on the side of the road to offer the use of my phone and my help in changing a flat. I give up my seat to anyone wearing uncomfortable shoes. Because it's nice.

By the same token, I will never refuse a door held for me, a check picked up after he turns down my offer to help, an umbrella extended, or a truly kind person with any genuine intention to help. Because refusing wouldn't be nice, either.

But in the post-modern world, not everyone learns the same rules. A new member at the Cleveland Park Men's Club, a website dedicated to instructing in and extending the practice of chivalry, has posted a response to the confused reception of their version of these ideals. His admirable defense of his friends and their ethical code prompted what you are reading here. The question raised is a good one: what are we to do when confronted with someone at odds with our code?

As Professor Hugo Schwyzer points out, good manners are meant to put others at ease, even if it's not what you ordinarily would do. Not always easy to pick up on these signals, but I think we should all be sensitive to them and gracious when we fail. I don't deny that the concepts of masculinity and femininity, the lack of an overarching set of values, and shifting social, economic, and political circumstances are problematic for all of us. But I do believe that thoughtfulness, dignity, and respect for others based on our common humanity, not our gender, will never be in the wrong. I also think that when you find someone who not only loves your love song but writes it with you, the bond you share will help you negotiate these issues. So if anyone knows someone who digs "She's a Jar"...

*I'm not even going to touch the classism of a chivalric code once used to distinguish aristocratic knights from their working class inferiors.


You know what they say about great minds...

So the guys over at Crazy Talk! also recently blogged about Nick Drake. This is a really good music blog in general, many of whose writers are connected to the college I went to. The post I pointed you to in particular shows how Drake's influence has been on the rise on the past ten years. First from a personal perspective:

But as with all artists' artists, Nick Drake is generally not discovered till much later, after you have sifted through the Bob Dylan, flew past the Neil Young, and graduated from Nina Simone. I remember when I discovered him, just post college, in the haze one gets lost in transitioning from having an established goal, to now trying to make something with it.
And then in the discussion of an annual Nick Drake tribute show sponsored by Playing in Fog. I wish he had known such things would come to be.

Two more songs up on the gmail account now.


Shared magic

So I have stolen my friend Ben's idea and set up a gmail.com account to share some tunes with you. User name: collectsongs, password: musick. Enjoy.


Made to love magic

So on my visit to Austin, I saw a documentary about 70s folk singer Nick Drake, A Skin Too Few. For those of you who love Nick Drake's music, I highly recommend this film (netflix). For those of you who don't know Nick Drake, hey, this blog's for you.

the Nick Drake files: comprehensive site, try the A-Z section
Fan site: interesting quotation section

Any of the above links (even the netflix) will tell you that Nick Drake was an extraordinarily talented musician whose career was cut short by an overdose of anti-depressant medication at 26. Biographies focus on this romantically tragic event - looking for meaning in it, shadows of it in his life leading up to it, hints in his music that it would end this way. The authorities concluded the overdose was intentional; friends and relatives have argued differently, including his sister in the documentary. She's always wanted to think that he threw back the pills with an I'll live through it or I won't, what the hell, let's try. Perhaps we all just wish that his gamble had turned out differently.

It is true that he was troubled. Although interaction with people face-to-face was intimidating for him, he wanted to make a connection through his music. The dismissive reception of it during his lifetime was a crushing blow. In the documentary, his agent tells of his attempts to tour behind the first album. At the time, the music industry was less formal, there was no "concert protocol," you just got up on stool in a bar and started some banter or played loudly enough for people to take notice. But if nothing else, Drake's music is quiet. You have to want to listen to it, it won't beg you. Audiences continued drinking, talking, laughing over him, paid him no mind. He canceled the last three weeks of touring and never tried again.

And what of the music? The first thing you will notice is his voice. Breathy in the vein of Sam Beam and Stuart Murdoch, but where they are solid and innocent, respectively, Drake's voice is translucent as a veil and world-weary. Hovering above the accompaniment, separate from it, lonely. Sends chills up your spine. This spine-tingling, this is the thing: I'm such a sucker for these male singer-songwriters, I listen to loads of them. Most are soothing to me, especially Iron&Wine. Even Jeff Tweedy, with all his imperfections. But Nick Drake agitates me somehow. Leaves me with brow furrowed, breath caught high in my chest, searching for something to make it better.

The first thing you should notice is his guitar playing. Technically excellent right-hand fingerpicking with complicated harmonies. The centerpiece of all the songs, metronomic, flawless. This is what his followers are trying to imitate.

He released three albums during his lifetime: Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter, Pink Moon. [He was living with his sister when the first one was recorded and announced its completion by dropping it on the bed and giving a "there you are" over his shoulder]. Posthumous compilations: Way to Blue (greatest hits), Time of No Reply (outtakes and "final session," including the track for which this post was titled), the Complete Home Recordings (BBC synopses of albums).

When his complete albums have saddened me too much, I listen to those home demos. Although they are lacking both the polish and the sweeping orchestral arrangements of the studio recordings, they seem more content. Some even have a bluesy swagger. I don't know whether Dylan influenced him or they were both listening to somebody earlier.

Gotta run now, look for a post later in the day with some songs for you to listen to.


Tiny funny, big haha

On a country road somewhere in Missouri, a particular branch of UMB Bank calls itself Tightwad.

I'm still chuckling.

Oh, my job is so boring.


Happy Independence Day!

My mother always listens to the soundtrack to 1776, the musical, on the fourth of July. She told us today that each time she is surprised that they sign it. It is rather improbable, isn't it? With sun blaring and tempers flaring in the middle of summer in Philadelphia that all of those diverse viewpoints could be gathered under one overarching vision. And I'm sure she's grateful they did - makes for a satisfying dramatic ending and a gloriously free real life. In fact, it allows her to turn around and rip our president a new one.

Speaking of our illustrious leader, I couldn't help but notice he also had a unique spin on the significance of events in the year of our independence. His speech relating revolutionary soldiers to our military presence in Iraq was the lead story on NPR every half hour for three hours on my drive home. It emphasized how he hammered away at the same themes and likewise left off the same specifics as in last week's speech at Fort Bragg. Now, I do not want to use this space for political grandstanding, really. But I got angrier each time I heard the sound bite, and I have to vent.

I did not support the war in Iraq for three reasons. The first was that I never believed Iraq had any weapons of mass destruction, even while their possible existence was being reported. At this point this sounds like told-you-so snarkiness, but really, I looked like a fool for a good long while saying that the UN sanctions list, the incompetence of the Ba'athist regime, and my gut instincts all combined to say WMD just couldn't be. The second is my anti-imperialist streak. No one asked us to be there and the world didn't get behind us when we said we were gonna go anyway. I am still an idealist, and I still uphold the principle of national sovereignty. Failing that, I uphold the practicality that we can't just invade every dictatorship out there, and this one's no worse than the rest.

The third reason is what haunts me. We had no idea what we were getting into. I noticed the complete absence of discourse on what comes next, our expectations for the aftermath of a toppled regime. How to piece together a fragmented society, how to fashion a democracy without a middle class, forget that, without any economic infrastructure or income-generating activities at all, how to let outsider troops keep the peace without getting in the way. I was thrilled and agitated by the heated debate provoked by these questions inside my ivory tower. But outside, caught in a cycle of helplessness and guilt, I furrowed my brow and turned away.

This I see as the major shortcoming of the political system set into motion in 1776. Guarding against long-lived tyrannies, America can turn over its whole governing structure within six years and is very accountable to its public. We have lots of flexibility but no stamina - voters wants decisive action but have very little patience for long-term activities. And anyone remotely tuned in could have told you a presence in Iraq was for the long haul. Democracy is not a two-year project. Leaving now risks spiraling into a chaotic morass. Balance a puny underequipped undertrained understaffed army against an insurgency fueled by the fury of a thousand burning suns: who do you pick?

So, Mr. President, I know why you did what you did and I disagreed. Now I have to agree with you and I know why, too. But the rest of the country does not. You gotta state your case a little better. You might be used to getting by on your folksy charm (read: smug tight-lippedness and fear of fucking up a big word). But you can't just give us your daddy-knows-best spiel, ram it down our throats a couple more times, and expect us to quieten down and believe you. Please, the mothers of soldiers in Iraq need something better. They don't need five-year plans or budget specifics. They just need to know that what their sons are doing is good and right and worthwhile. Tell them that they are protecting another mother's sons, and the mother, too. Tell them that staying will build a stronger Iraqi society, a better friendship, and a more stable world. Admit that you were lying about the existence of WMD and your motivations for going in, but make good on your word to build a democracy. Today's a good day to start.