19 October 2011

Green Ink.

Dude came to BYU last week and told us Pablo Neruda used to always write in green ink.  Why?  I don't know.  I buy these 4-color pens all the time and the one color that never runs out before I get tired of them is green.  It's hard to confront the reality that in at least one respect, I'll never be like Pablo Neruda.  I'll recover.

I'm trying to learn Portuguese.  I guess it's impossible to prove that it's the most beautiful possible assembly of mortal syllables.  But I have faith that such is the case.  It's beautiful even if you don't know what it means, or whether it means anything.  Like whalesong.  But like whalesong, if you want to be able to produce it, so you gotta know the rules behind it.  So I'm learning Portuguese in the hopes that I can someday hear Portuguese coming out of my own astonished and delighted mouth.

18 July 2011

Olfactory redux.

In winter in this city, the weird and multifarious smells from outside my body sink into my clothes faster than I can sweat my own smell into them.

14 July 2011

Eleanor Rigby.

Have you heard Aretha's cover of Eleanor Rigby?  Hear it.  This is what was playing in my head as I ran around this morning.

I ran!  I got up before the sun and pounded the city's dark streets sans headphones.  I talked to a friend yesterday who's been living in Seattle and doing that, and I think that's what finally helped me get up the gumption to wake up.  That, and what my old mission president told me about how Russell M. Nelson, after having become the world's greatest heart surgeon at age 22 or something like that, taught himself Spanish, Portuguese, and the piano just by waking up early.  "Turn off the TV," he also said.

I don't want to cry over spilt milk, but I should have been doing this sooner.  It's awesome.  One of the main things I've done in this town has been to just walk around and explore, and when you're running you cover a lot more ground.  Of course it's not the same before dawn as during the day, or at night -- there's something particular to be gotten out of aimless wandering at each time of day, I think.  But I discovered a couple museums I might have taken a long time to find otherwise.  And anyway, I feel great; I've always loved the seeming paradox that running in the morning makes me less tired throughout the day.  I mean we're talking 20 minutes, half-hour tops.  I brought along these running shoes and I'm paying slightly exorbitant rent to live in a safe part of town; I might as well get my money's worth.  Also, look, I'm up this early.  Yesterday I got out of bed at about this time.  Today I have a run, a shower, and blog post under my belt.  Ha!  Nothing to dissipate stagnation like a brisk morning jog.  It wasn't even cold out.

10 July 2011

Idea #236

This enormous, incomprehensible, inexplicable, frustrating, overpowering, living, throbbing, bleeding city, I'm seeing it as a metaphor for God's love.

05 July 2011

Haunted Library.

There are 26 public libraries scattered around the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, I learned.  I learned that because the one I visited happened to be the central one that coordinates all the others: Biblioteca Ricardo Güiraldes.  I googled "Biblioteca Buenos Aires" and it was one of the first ones that came up (along with a really cool, kind of useful site that allows you to explore the library in 360 degrees.  I think those things are a little creepy because the perspective is always a little off, so it's like seeing the photorealistic world through a cubist lens.  Maybe Picasso saw the whole world like this.) that was close to my house.  

IT'S COOL.  It's in this old building, from the 30's or 40's, according to Jorge.  Jorge was one of the guys in a little office off of the black-and-white tiled entry hall where I was mostly ignored when I walked in.  I asked What's the Deal With This Library, and was ushered into that little office where Jorge, Lito, Ana, and a businesslike guy who's name I didn't get were shooting the breeze.  I asked them if I could get some kind of library card or something, and since I don't have an Argentine ID document and since I'm only renting, the answer was no.  So I asked if I could just sit and read, and they said Sure, but it's 6:15 and you have to leave by 6:50 at the latest.  (I swear the website said they were open until 8:00)  Do you know the word "mezquino"? That's a great word in Spanish for something we have a great word for in English: stingy.  Libraries are supposed to be refuges against the stinginess of the world.  But don't worry, it turns out this one was, even though they didn't give me a library card.

I went up the marble staircase with the wood balustrade to the 1st floor, which houses the reading room.  I don't know how to describe it; it felt like a room in Hogwarts.  It's just this very old stately building squashed into the confines of a modern reality, it's really wonderful, and its proportions are so weird and charming.  It goes up four stories.  There are colorful glass windows.

On the 1st floor reading room is the kids' section.  The kids' section is a room about 20 feet by 10, with shelves that go up way higher than my reach, much less a kid's.  This library isn't really designed as one of those that you browse around.  You come and ask for a book, and they bring it to you, and you sit in the reading room and read it.  The National Library, which I also went to, is on the same system.  The library loses a lot of its romance that way.  But I suppose real estate is expensive.

Daniela, the kids' section librarian, who is here on tuesdays and thursdays in the evening, was awesome.  Germán's daughter Agustina is going to turn 12 while I'm here, so I want to get her a book.  I have zero confidence in my ability to pick out clothes for any girl of any age, and I thought about getting a toy, but what kind of toy do you get a 12-year-old?  So it's got to be a book.  I asked Daniela for some recommendations, and she told me about some authors she likes, including Graciela Montes, some books of whose I found on the shelf and they are really charming.  So I also asked Daniela for some recommendations on fun things to do in the city and she told me about all these plays her friends are in.  Stay tuned.

I asked her if I could play the piano in the reading room, and she said yes.  No one ever lets you play a piano anywhere, much less in a library.  See how copada Daniela is?  See how great this library is?  It gets better.  As I was playing, Jorge came up the stairs with kind of a confidential giggle.  It was a very disarming way of telling me to stop playing the piano.  I've got to tell you about Jorge, he's probably about 50, and he has this very common, almost archetypal look of Argentine man-boy, like he's doing his best to be a responsible adult but it's clear he keeps his mischievous side in good shape.  He's got a goatee and mustache and great hair, graying but pretty long, I mean down to maybe his jaw or something, and he pulls it off the way only latin guys can.  I mean he's wearing a sweater and a jacket and everything; he's a sharp guy; but he still has a lot of fun.  When I told him I was from Utah, he and Lito (who had also come up the stairs) started talking about old westerns and Bonanza and and Dakota del Norte and Dakota del Sur.  I about died when they said Wyoming.  As I was leaving I mentioned how beautiful the building is and Jorge said, "Yeah, it's gorgeous, but . . . do you believe in ghosts?"  He proceeded to tell me about how one time a security guard quit because he heard weird noises walking around and night.  And Jorge didn't believe it, because he's an atheist and does't believe in nothing, but sometimes he has to stay after everyone else has gone, up in his office on the top floor.  And one time out on the balcony that looks out over the inner courtyard he heard footsteps . . . . walking past the door . . . and he went out onto the balcony to listen, and suddenly from three floor below he heard a loud WHAM, from the floor of the reading room.  "Hey Ghost, I think you dropped something!" he yelled out into the courtyard.  "I always throw out some joke, you know, to keep me from getting scared.  People say it's just the wood creaking, and that's fine but wood doesn't creak . . .  tak, tak, tak . . . like footsteps."

It was incredible.  Jorge and Lito said come back soon, we'll sit out here on the patio and tomar mate.  I said, I can't wait.  It's pretty close to my house too.  Well, 18 blocks.  But they're 18 very pretty blocks and I walked them tonight.  I'll be back, especially if they get the wifi fixed.

03 July 2011

I smell.

When you live in a big city, there are just a lot of weird smells to deal with; there's no getting around it.  I suspect this is why city-dwellers have more trouble dealing with stress.

They're not all bad smells.  The subway line A today had the exact same smell as the last time I smelt a deep early-morning fog, managing to somehow evoke a burnt smell and a cold smell and a humid smell all at the same time.  It is a cousin of the smell of when they put a humidifier in your room.  THAT was what I smelled every time the doors opened all along South America's oldest subway line today.  And I don't remember it from before, and it wasn't happening on the other lines, and it wasn't foggy.  But the smell is incredible.

The dogs of Eduardo Guzmán, on the other hand, smell exactly as disgusting as always.  He has at least 5 or 6, and probably more, some of which are tied to the wall in the living room and the rest of which (at least, of the visible ones) live in the patio outside and in the bathroom on the other side of it.  Eduardo, who's 54 years old but seems much younger and is one of those people whose corpulence seems to signal not sloth but strength, grabs the two most excitable of the patio dogs by the scruff of the neck (collars? please.) while I cross over to the bathroom, shoo the dogs out, and hold my nose while I pee because those dogs smell awful.  Most smells of decay I would define as gradual; their stink is more broad than acute.  But these dogs have an urgency to their rottenness, as if this pungency, like something yellow and living and malignant, were an assault developed over the evolutionary eons to startle primordial man into washing his dog.

Yeah, there are a lot of smells, and you can almost tell how far out you are in the city by what smells surround you.  All kinds of transport smells, all the different vehicles' kinds of smoke and fuel.  All kinds of food smells, predominated by pizza and empanadas.  That weird moldy must in the staircase of my hostel that I remembered from some of the apartments I lived in as a missionary.  Unknown (and best left unguessed) smells.  Dust.  And of course the smells of every kind of people -- you're familiar with the pastime of people-watching, but stuffing yourself into a full train forces upon you the singular experience of people-smelling, which can be almost as fascinating, if less pleasant (I make no pretense at being a wonderful subject for this activity.  I did laundry for the first time yesterday.  I've been busy, okay?  I bought some mints.)  How do my synapses deal with all this unexpected information arriving from sense receptors that aren't used to this volume of activity?  I tell you, the human brain is a marvel, and so is the human city.  Let's not forget the nose either.

02 July 2011


I'm living in a place where the river of myth empties into the sea of reality, diluting and replenishing it.  I know, I know, I'm reading Gabriel García Márquez and you can tell, but it's an apt place and time for me to be reading him.  I will tell you more about it later.  I need to go to bed so I can have some more dreams that will become indistinguishable from my waking hours.

I will tell you that last night I dreamt I was Guybrush Threepwood in a huge mansion being attacked by zombies.

29 June 2011

Foux du fa fa.

The last time I went to another country was about a year ago, when I went to Europe with Annie and Nate.  That trip was 3 weeks long, which felt like just the right amount of time.  But I've been here in Argentina for a week already and I feel like I haven't done hardly anything.  If I applied the amount of time I've been in Argentina to my Europe trip, I would already have come and gone from London, and made it halfway across southern Germany.  So please bear with me while I pause, take inventory, and try to figure out what happened to the first week (of only ten) of my life in Argentina.

Une.  The Europe trip was considerably better planned.  This spring I've been neck-deep in math and unable to spend much time planning what my trip would look like.  That was a conscious decision I made, and I'm okay with it.  I was going to come here and figure out how to live.  It's just been a tiny bit more taxing and taken a bit longer than I expected.

Deux.  As a result of (une), the Europe trip had more limited expectations.  I knew I'd be there for a short time, so I made decisions beforehand, whereas this trip carries on its shoulders five years' worth of hopes and ambitions, accumulated since at least the first day I set foot in Argentina.  Of course I'm not going to be able to do everything I want to before I have to go home.  I'll convince myself that's fine.

Trois.  I actually have done a lot.  I've had to find a place to live (I have! More on that later), I've had to buy a cellphone, buy fingernail clippers (I can't go on any trip without losing something, and I got started quick this time.  The pouch with fingernail clippers also had the tylenol and, gulp, my retainers.  So I hope Continental responds to my lost item notice.) and shampoo, call BYU's financial aid office, learn how to type Spanish accents on my keyboard, and more.  I'm talking about the boring accoutrements of survival.  And in spite of them, I've still managed to go to church in one of my old wards, meet up with a number of old friends, including my mission president, make some new friends, go to a concert, go to the library, eat things, and just do a lot of old-fashioned walking around the city.  As you well know, these are all things I crave and value dearly, but none really qualify as "productive." I'm learning to reconcile the discontinuity in my ambitions between the drive toward productivity and the drive toward a-productivity (as opposed to unproductivity).  Between the economist in me and the, ahem, poet.  Sure, we'll call him that.
  • Trois (a): What do I even mean by "productive"?  Carrying out an experiment, writing about it, and publishing it, sure.  Maybe learning French.  Maybe reading Gabriel García Marquez.  Signing up for and studying for the GRE, that would be real productive.  But these are not the only important things, nor are they the only things I'm here for.  The trick is that a lot of the things I am here for are difficult to quantify, which is gorgeous, and I like being okay with things that are difficult to quantify; but if one of you is going to sit down and build a tower, aren't you going to count first to make sure you have enough to finish it with?  I feel like God keeps sending me hints about how Planning is Important, so I'm trying to figure out how to Plan for important things that I'm more used to trusting to the realm of Serendipity.  Did you know those were all proper nouns?  Or proper verbs?  Yep, that's a thing.  All right, tangent over.
Quatre.  I really spent a lot of time going around to see different apartments, trying to find one that was Just Right.  Which was multitasking, since I also got to see a lot of the city, which was and is a high priority, and think, which is also a high priority.  Look at me be productive.  (Just Right is a proper adjective.)

24 June 2011

Don't let me down.

So I come out of the mall – yes, I went to the mall in Argentina, but there was a good reason and I’ll tell you about it later—and there, stopped at a light, is a bus #152, just the bus I need.  So I knock on the door, but the guy just shakes his finger at me; turns out the stop is half a block behind.  Bad luck, right?  No.  Good luck.  Because the next bus that comes is the one I get on.  As I put my peso veinticinco into the slot, strains of music waft across the bus to my unsuspecting ears.  Actually, music might be too strong a term: a guy, probably somewhere in his thirties, is wearing a fedora, strumming a guitar, and belting out the words to While My Guitar Gently Weeps, unabashed as you please, just as if he were practicing in his own room.  Actually it’s probably more like the kind of singing most of us would be doing only if we were riding a motorcycle or mowing the lawn or doing the dishes with the disposal running the whole time.  I have to say, the words he has down pat.  I find myself singing along in my head and trying to remember the next line, and even where I fail, Juan Lennon here has them all.  But the chords come from another planet, and I don’t think it’s a planet where they play guitar.  They have nothing, nothing to do with the melody he’s yowling.  However, that doesn’t stop him from laboring over them, pausing every few bars to search for the next set of frets while he holds out whatever word he’s on.  It’s so bad I consider just asking him, “Hey man, can I give it a shot?”  out of courtesy to the rest of the people on the bus.  See, I’m sitting there thinking, “I can handle this because I’m adjustable, and he’s funny, but these crusty porteños must be pissed as all hell.  They must hate this guy.”  Finally the dude finishes his long, torturous rendition of Gently Weeps and puts his guitar back in its case, and I breath a sigh of relief that no one seems to have been hurt.  Then a lady stands up to get off the bus – 40, 50 years old – and Dude yells to her, “Hey, Divina, jou rheady to rhan?  Jou rheady to fly?”  She ignores him and moves to the door at the back of the bus, and I start to wonder if the guy might be more of a bother not singing than singing.

But I don’t have long to think about it, because right around the time we cross Avenida 9 de Julio, he gets out the old guitar again and starts playing Don’t Let Me Down.   That is, he starts singing Don’t Let Me Down – I still have no idea what he’s playing.  “Nobahhdy everr lawvmi laik she daaws . . . Uushi daaws . . . Yeshi daaws.”  It’s getting pretty good.  Then he gets to the chorus and yells out “All together now!” and I think, “Oh geez,” – but in the refrain I swear I hear other voices, improbably, mixing in with Che’s baritone honk.   I turn around and see two girls on the back of the bus, grinning like to break their faces off.  So on the next chorus I join in too, and pretty soon, I kid you not, the whole bus is smiling and singing along.  When the dude looks at me with pure grateful joy and sings “And from de fihrst tain that she rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreally dawn me,” rolling that rr for about 3 seconds, I think to myself, Yeah, this is what I came here for.

10 points for the not-so-crusty porteños.  10 points for the boys from Liverpool.  And a hundred points for that dude in a fedora, singing like his life depended upon it on the 152.

23 June 2011

Soul Parking.

Here are some good t-shirts I saw today:

"Please recycle my brother"
"Madonna breaks all the guys.  Please help her!"

Also: I have this theory that almost everyone I meet here has a counterpart from my Northern Hemisphere life.  With most people I can't quite place it, but I'll have this sensation like, You remind me of . . . someone.  As soon as I figure some of these out I'll tell you and you'll have a great idea of what these people are like.  I'm mainly talking about the people I work with, but the other day I saw Davey Morisson's doppelganger step off the subway.  That was pretty cool.  And it makes sense, I mean, if you've got to make 7 billion people in the world, you throw in some duplicates, scatter them to different parts of the globe, and no one's the wiser.

I don't actually think that.  In fact I believe so emphatically in everyone's uniqueness that I felt compelled to put this corny and unnecessary disclaimer. Yay snowflakes.

I'm pretty close to getting a house to rent.  Once I get a house then I feel like I'll be able to settle down my mind and have some more interesting ideas.  The title of this post comes from an actual parking garage I saw in Palermo, but it's kind of a nice serendipitous description for what I'm looking for right now.  Trying to figure out what's the ideal mix of things I value in a house: proximity to my work, price, security, charm (house), charm (neighborhood), proximity to the library, personality of the people who live there, nationality of the people who live there, height, presence of an ice cream shop on the block, smell, presence of a bidet, proximity to the subway, size of kitchen.  Those are pretty much the things I care about, some more than others.  Trying to decide between two houses right now, each of which beats the other in about half of those categories.  They're both great though.  What do you value most in a home away from home?

Speaking of snowflakes, I think there are lead ones hanging from every one of my eyelashes.  Good night.

22 June 2011

It's a rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle.

One of the best things about the Argentine football league is that no one's place is secure.  Today Club Atlético River Plate played against some club from Córdoba called Belgrano to avoid descent from the top league into the second echelon: "la B".  This would be like, I don't know, one of the very most venerable teams in the NBA, like the Celtics, having to fight from being sent down into the D-league.  AWESOME.  The best part is:  River CHOKED.  Of course, it's a two-game series, and this game was played in Córdoba, and the next is played in River's home stadium in Buenos Aires.  But Córdoba beat them 2-0, meaning River will have to win very soundly to end up winning the series and staying in the top division.  In more than a hundred years of history, they've never been relegated to anything besides the top division.  HA!  River's mascot is the hen, and toward the end of the game some Cordobes fans were stringing up rubber chickens by the neck.  Oh, and right after half time started, some River fans tore a hole in the chain link fence separating the fans from the field and ran up to their own players to push them and tell them to "ponerle huevo," that is, to really give it more, um, gumption.  So the game was delayed 20 minutes while they brought in the police in full riot gear, I kid you not, to stand in front of the holes in the chain link fence.  THIS IS SOCCER.

The best part, actually, was that I was watching it with people I love.  Alejandro is this big lovable Viking who loves Incubus and his wife Sabrina just seems to have it all together, and she speaks great English and puts up with Alejandro's video games, but not too much.  They live in Ciudad Evita, a suburb an hour from the downtown that actually feels like a town, and actually has houses that are shaped more or less like the ones I'm used to.  I mean a lot of them even have yards.  There is this very strong sense of community there.  It was Sabrina's birthday, so a bunch of friends came over, some of who I knew and some not, but they were all super nice and talked to me nonetheless.  We drank pop and ate salty crunchy things of all shapes and sizes and watched the game and I just felt great.  They are just good people and it feels awesome to be loved by good people.

So that's the marrow of my story for today: my brain's message of hope from my future self to my present self was true.  People are good, life is abundant, God is merciful, and you sometimes don't even have to wait more half a day to be reminded of it.  I slept great, got up and bought some shampoo, and found the little bag of chargers and things which I'd thought I had lost.  I think that means I have lost my bag of tylenol and nail clippers.  Which is fine.  Oh, here's a deceptively non-peripheral part of the story: I started my internship today.  It's scrappy, and I think that's great about it.  I had a good long chat with Celeste about what I'm going to be doing and all the questions I have, and I'll dedicate a subsequent post to that.  Everyone welcomed me with open arms -- or at least, they seemed to be about as welcoming as one could expect, given that EVERY SINGLE OTHER VOLUNTEER in that NGO is FRENCH.  Yeah!  Make of that what you will.  The paid (barely) employees are non-French.  But all the volunteers are French and hearing someone speak Spanish with a French accent is actually really hilarious; I recommend it.

21 June 2011

100 años de soledad.

I'm positing that the human brain has almost unlimited potential to absorb and assimilate changes in environment, but that it requires sleep in order to do it.  I'll test that hypothesis as soon as I write this.

Yeah, I'm here.  I'm here!  But it was a weird day!  But it was a good day.  I want to assiduously avoid making this into an itinerary-based traveblogue, but I might include a lot of boring details today just because I feel like I need to desahogar.  What a great word from Spanish: undrown myself.  I've just gotta unload, vent: undrown myself.  

Here's my first point of advice: don't ever travel alone when you can travel with someone you love, or even like.  That option wasn't really available, so I'm trying the lone wolf thing.  I thought I would love it.  And I don't, or at least not yet.  I recognize that the main component of any place's meaning is the people in it, but if I were better at creating connections with strangers, this would be a lot more fun.  I should just learn to do that, huh?

Okay, let me step back and mold these scatterlings and orphanages into some semblance of narrative.  Brief semblance of narrative.  I slept a bunch on the plane, spent most of the day getting into my hostel and buying maps and a phone, then looking up more permanent housing situations on the internet.  I know I've told you a million times how much I love big cities, and I do, but man they can alienate you if you're not careful.  I know I mentioned this above, but I feel like my brain has just been overloaded with more input than it can take without one night of sleep to process everything and put it somewhere.  I have a hard enough time molding my life into a directional narrative in Provo, Utah, the most familiar town in the entire world.  And suddenly I've pulled a switch on my brain, altering every environmental variable possible.  Of course it's going to freak out.  It felt a little bit like the first day of my mission, with less magnitude: culture shock lite.  I wasn't expecting that.  But really, I never really had the chance to get used to the particular iteration of Argentine culture I'm immersed in now, since my mission was all in the less densely populated, more neighborhoodsy suburbs.  So today, the crowds and the buildings and the solo lunch of empanadas at a Chinese-run buffet restaurant and the administrative tasks of Just Living, I kind of saw them through lenses the color of existential ennui.  I felt, a few times, like all these people were incomprehensible to me, and they cared about different things than I do, and what if anything do I really care about anyway, and real connection with these people or anyone was just a pie in the sky.  And the rational part of my brain is able to recognize that this feeling always passes and is replaced once again with exultant, glorious joy at God's creation.  But today felt weird.

There more things to tell you about, but I'm literally falling asleep at the keyboard and I literally promised to try and make this brief.  I'll wrap up with 3 tender mercies, connexions from my old life to the current one which which put a dab of hope onto my angsty existential oatmeal.

  • Church.  My search for an apartment took longer than expected, but at the end of the day on my way to the last apartment appointment, I was surprised to find myself walking past a Mormon chapel with a guy about to go in.  So I yelled him down and told him how great it was to just see a mormon; turns out he's the institute director, and I thought to myself, Institute!  That'll be great!  (this is the only time I've ever thought that).  Kind guy.
  • University.  The Belgrano institute is in the neighborhood of Universidad de Belgrano, so I ducked in and spent about a half hour just reveling in the warmth of those books.  I bought a replica of a first-edition 100 años de soledad and saw a lot of South American books I recognized or had heard about.  So that felt great. College bookstores are always going to feel comforting.
  • People.  Specifically, the lady showing me this flat.  It's her own flat, and the rooms are a little pitiful.  But she, Angelica, is great.  72 years old, which she never gets tired of reminding me.  She just welcomed me in and sat me down and started talking to me.  I heard about her time living in La Jolla, California, and about what made her decide to be a teacher.  She had a lot to say, but you could tell when this lady was in her prime she was a really irresistible fireball.  She was a real sweetheart to me, even walking me to the train station on my way back to the hostel.  I wish I could tell you more about her, you would like her.
I've read that in scary or stressful times our brain lays down more densely packed memories and that's why time seems to pass more slowly.  Well let me tell you my brain was just packing them in  today.  It felt like about three days.

02 June 2011


Remember how I like running in the hills?  I know this is all I ever write about anymore.  Just let me enjoy it while it lasts.

The grass, thanks to the rain, is tall and healthy-looking right now.  And when I stand on a rock or some promontory, all I see is the wind shaking the green grass in these uniform waves that catch the nascent sunlight as they undulate across the field, looking for all the world like some tranquil bay in a grass ocean I never knew existed.

The grass is so tall that it hides the paths traversing it.  The deer (I assume they're deer) are uncanny at finding the flattest and stablest ways of moving across the hill, and over the course of months or weeks their light but steady plod beats worn trails.  These trails are the best to run on.  But they're usually not more than about 6 inches wide, and unless I happen across one or see it from just the right angle, I'm oblivious to its existence.  Luckily there are a lot of them and they meet up with one another.  This is one of the metaphors I'm holding onto right now.

24 May 2011


I’ve been meaning to write about how the degree of control I feel over my life is directly correlated with how regularly I floss.  Maybe I still will.  But for now it may seem a little less pathetic, and equally accurate, to substitute the word “run” for “floss.”  I’m kind of a black sheep in a family with a pretty strong running culture; I have trouble getting into it.  Even though its positive effect on me is immediately palpable.  I mean I presume, and fervently hope, it’s reaming out my arteries of all the saturated fat and cholesterol I put into them.  And it’s definitely doing the same thing with my brain. (What’s the cerebral equivalent of cholesterol? TV? Melancholy?)  As can be attested by the disproportionate number of my blog posts that mention me running, it clears my mind and gets me in a healthy, meditative, writey mood.  It is wasabi to the nasal cavity of my life.

Clarification: I’m talking fifteen, maybe twenty minutes.  I don’t even want to tell you how many miles that means.  The intrinsic reward of running for its own sake is a level of sanctification I haven’t attained, so I look for other little things to motivate me.  And it’s been easy lately because every day I wake up to this ridiculous lush dewy marvel of a rainy world.  The air is wet.  When is the last time you felt like this in Utah? 

Folks, the world is transformed.  It’s been, what, two or three weeks of really consistently rainy weather, and a lot of people are sick of the rain.  I’m not.  These wise, mischeivous, persistent clouds are a direct and forceful challenge to the notion, foisted on us by advertisers and publicists, that the ideal life is one in which the sun is always shining on everyone’s blond hair and shiny cars.  Which I abhor.  (Also it sticks in my craw that this life gets marketed as California, which ignores that the most beautiful part of California is its rocky central coast on a windy, overcast day.)

This morning I took off through the hills.  As I think I have mentioned before, I love the hills and I happen to live right next to them, so I ran down the street to where I could just wander and explore the hills.  It wasn’t raining, but the grass was holding so much water that my shoes were soaked within seconds; I might as well have been wading a stream.  I keep on expecting the weather to dry up, the rains to get bored and seek more receptive climes.  But they keep on, insistent and imperturbable as God’s grace.  This rainy spring will end, and pass into myth, and be forgotten.  But it’ll happen again, and the world is breathtaking.  It breathtakes.

14 May 2011


I love the hills, and I am drawn to them like a salmon to wherever it is they're all going in such a hurry.  I have this consistent urge -- I think it's inborn -- to climb on them.  The hills, not the salmon.  I don't think what I have is the same as the mountaineer's itch: I'm not that attracted to mountains.  I mean I love them; I stand in awe of them as godlike matriarchal creatures of unthinkable wisdom and beauty.  But that very air of incomprehensible ampleness, of perfection by sheer volume, gives them a certain distance.  Especially the tops of them, which seem very far away, and tricky, and rocky.  Maybe my relative reluctance to mountaineer is a product of my short attention span, I'm willing to concede that likelihood.  And I've bagged a few peaks in my day; not many, but I like a long hike to the top of a reasonably tall mountain once in a while.  I wouldn't call it an insatiable drive of mine.  Duncan's dad is a mountain climber.  I'm not, at least not yet.

Nor am I much of a rock climber.  Wussy forearms.

For me it's hills; on them I clamber.  They're just so accessible, or at least they seem to be.  They usually take longer to scale than I expect, which I think is a part of their charm.  Maybe the biggest hill I've climbed is Big Baldy, that mass jutting out to the southwest of Timpanogos near Lindon, looking like the knee the mountain would would rest its banjo on if it played one.  That hike took 4 hours or more, longer than Squaw Peak.  But I still classify it as a hill because it gets so dwarfed by the massive lady behind it.  Illusion or no, there was a long time when anytime I'd look up at it, I'd think, "It's just right there.  I could just walk up it."  Which I eventually did last summer with some friends and it was a very rewarding experience.  I recommend it.  Near the top you get to this big green meadow where we played a kind of rock baseball Nate made up.  

That's the thing though, or at least part of the thing: they're just right there.  They're so inviting, nonthreatening, accepting.  Overlooked, even, living in the shadow of these ponderous majesties.  Every time I drive up the canyon, at the point where the buildings finally get out of the way and I can look at Timpanogos from head to toe -- they have lately been green like Wales -- I want to get up onto those low rolling foothills and just gambol around like a big gazelle on the moon or something, bounding from one to the next.  Maybe I was Welsh in a former life.  Consonants consonant consonant consonant consonant.

The backyard of my Grandma's cabin in the south fork of Provo Canyon is a steep hillside, and I recently realized that I've never climbed it.  One weekend last month I was staying up there with Nate and Clark and Duncan, and on Saturday morning I got up early to climb.  I mean it's a steep hill, and thickly wooded, matted, I should say, with small trees, so it was hard to tell how near I was to the top.  I had to bushwhack since there was no path, and there were still big patches of deep snow.  It only took me about an hour to get to where I was headed, but it gave me a disproportionate sense of accomplishment.  And it is gorgeous to see South Fork from the top.  At the top of the ridge I found some deer antlers from a five-point buck.  I saw that what had seemed like the top of the hill wasn't really the top of the hill at all, but just a kind of level ridge that sloped up to the north.  This is one of the hazards and joys of hiking in the foothills: summits are relative, fleeting, and ever-receding.  The perspective from each one is different.  I decided to leave the next hill for another day and circled around to come down the dry gully southward (which, weeks later, gushed with spring runoff so that we had to scramble to deepen the streambed and throw up a laughably inadequate levee of cinderblocks to try and keep the ad hoc stream within its banks).  Incidentally at that very moment back at the cabin Clark and Duncan were trying to coax a live raven out of the wood-burning stove.  There are a lot of stories involving the cabin.

Last night I went out to my car to get something, but a warm midnight wind was blowing and instead I walked down the street to where a path between the houses leads up to a swath of bare hillside -- this is one of the many perks of living in the Tree Streets.  It's remarkable how much more you can see with just a five-minute walk upward.  I looked out at the whole valley, with the lake and the mountain luminescing in the moon's supernatural light.  Halfway up the hill was a big square rock, taller than me, looking for all the world like an altar.  I stood on it and glorified God.

10 May 2011

I read slow.

I do.  I’ve been trying to decide how urgent I should feel about remedying this.  For now I’m letting my decision be constrained by the fact that I hardly have any time to read at all, much less learn how to read fast.  Maybe the logic on that is backwards.  Maybe necessity is the mother of invention and I’ll start reading fast as soon as I want to read as bad as you wanted air that time when I plunged your head unexpectedly into the Mediterranean and held it there until you went blue, young grasshopper.

But there are perks to reading slow.  I’m thinking of this because I’m ruminating (a welcome byproduct of slow reading; some books, I feel, need to suffuse the pot roast in my mind over a long time.  To marinate my brain to tender, succulent perfection.  For the zombies.) on how long it’s taking me to read the book I’m in, which is fine because I’ll be a little sorry when I finish it.  I will read it again sometime, but there is magic in first discovery.  It’s a collection of essays - Leaping - by Brian Doyle.  Max got me into Brian Doyle, and Pat Madden got him into him, and I tried to get my friend’s mother into him but she was unimpressed; she said she’s already read these ideas before, at this point in her life she needs to read something new.  She mainly seems to like books about divorce and infidelity and homosexuality.  Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that.

And maybe when I’m her age I will also be bored by the wide-eyed, full-throated abundant roar of vitality that is Brian Doyle’s Catholic prose, but I sure hope not.  I hope will never get tired of hearing that basic and simple refrain God is good, day after day, raucous loud and ardent soft, through the voices of ten thousand of His flawed and gorgeous kids.  That flawless and gorgeous one, too.

19 April 2011


Here is a direct quote from my textbook:

Much mystery surrounds perfect numbers. Are there any odd perfect numbers? No one knows. Are there infinitely many even perfect numbers? No one knows that either.

Which reminds me: if you haven't seen Look Around You yet, see it. Amy is the one who told me about this. For a long time Todd was in her phone as CLASSIFIED Man A, etc. Maybe he still is. If that's not true love, I'm a pink leather piñata.

I like the math department at BYU. Do you know why? They're always talking about how math is creative. Convincingly. They make some very dope posters. There was one for a lecture about The Math of Music that was just visually stunning. Also one announcing when the New York Times data visualization specialist was giving a lecture, which I found out about the day after it happened. They have a big campaign where they use Einstein's live-traced face over the words BE CREATIVE. BYU MATH. They designed these dope t-shirts for pi day; I bet you've seen them. Baby blue with the first few thousand digits of pi in the shape of the Americas. I signed up to volunteer at the pi day activities just to get one. Yeah, that's right: pi day activities. They were fun. It was a gorgeous spring day. I'm telling you, those math people are creative. And the humanities and advertising people they've got doing their PR are also top-notch. I'm not just being snarky; I'm serious about both of the things I just said.

A math guy, I read in the New York Times recently, modeled how human language spread from Africa to the rest of the globe based on how many different sounds languages have. I mean I'm glad we can know this stuff. And we can know it thanks to math. Or maths. What I'm driving at is that math IS creative. You have to be innovative to find ways to answer the questions that interest you in a world that sometimes seems already to have been gone over with several fine-toothed combs. I mean of course for all this nature is never spent; there lives the dearest freshness deep down things. As Hopkins put it. But math and linguistics? I mean guys, this is to extend the frontiers of mortal knowledge. This is human ingenuity at its most elegant.

Are you worried this blog is turning into some kind of serial love paean to Math? Relax; it could be worse. I will tell you that I took my final today and felt pretty fine about it. Remember what I said about math tests? They can be so satisfying.

10 April 2011

Stanley Steamer.

I’ve got to stop taking such long showers.

But I move slowly in the morning, and I got up at six. I had to go to bed at ten to do it. But I got up at six. I’m counting this as a victory.

Also, my best ideas come in the shower. Have you ever read The Soul of a New Machine? One of the main computer builders in that book felt the same way. So if I take long showers it’s partly to maximize my time in the hot cloud of inspiration vapor.

Ready for a hot cloud of inspiration vapor? Here’s why I love writing. Wait, you didn’t know that? Yeah, I love writing. But (surprise) I have trouble finding time to do it, and I suppose I haven’t decided if I love it more than anything else in the world--I mean if it's what I want to spend all my time on. I know all you real writers out there are shaking your heads and clucking, Well, if you don’t by now have this overpowering urge to write stronger than your urge to breathe, you’ll never be a writer-- and you’re right. You’re right! I know! But I like writing and I also like a heck of a lot of other things, and I told this to Charles Swift one time and he told me to just set aside an hour a day and write. That was probably two and a half years ago.

I don’t mean to put words in the mouths (fingertips?) of you real writers out there. I mean there are probably some of you who feel the above-described way, and as I have mentioned, I think you’re right. But there have to be some out there too who have a more inclusive and meandering ideal of what a writer can be, and I hope you’re right too. At the very least I know Kim Johnson regards writing as a craft that can be learned, and while I don’t equate the craft of writing with the art of writing, I think taking some distinct and measurable steps toward craftsmanship would be a good thing for me. I'm saying she gives me hope. So does Wallace Stevens. I'm not trying to sound pretensions. I'm sure I have pretensions but I'm not sure what they are.

My mother is a brilliant and gorgeous poet.

My sociology teacher wrote on my paper, 'Whatever you end up doing, you should figure out how to incorporate writing.' Which is also my intention. My economics teacher has never said anything so complimentary about my writing. But he told our class that good writing can be the difference between getting published in a good journal and an okay journal. And this is a guy who runs the regressions and lets his coauthors do the writing. Lars Lefgren. He seems to be not a bad writer himself though. Really sharp guy. He graduated magna cum laude.

I like words. Do I like numbers too? Yeah. I mean sometimes I get nervous around them but I think it's just the kind of nervous you get around a girl you're trying to impress even though you know she's way out of your league. That might be the relationship I have with math. That could explain my math anxiety. I have striven to overcome it because I want to be someone who takes the opportunity to learn new things and because they are tools I want to have to help solve the problems that interest me. And at times I have despaired of ever being able to obtain a single iota of confidence or credibility in the quantitative world. But it just takes work, and when I do work at it, I can at the very least keep up. So far. And maybe just maybe my words are my ace in the hole, the key to her heart, my goofy smile that's just charming and distinct enough to make Girl take notice even though there's no reason in the world she should, and something lovely and unexpected and lasting comes out of it. I'm still talking about my relationship with Math.

17 February 2011

I'm thrilled

with my life.  Wholly and absolutely charmed.  HA!

29 January 2011


The last thing I want to do is trivialize what’s going on in Egypt right now.  I’ve been glued to my computer screen reading about it even though I’ve never been to Egypt and I realize I’m a big dork.

But what I’m saying is that the police used tear gas, rubber bullets, and TRUNCHEONS-- what a terrific and appropriate word.  What word could possibly sum up the detached, heavy cruelty of this thing with no positive connotations like “truncheon”?  I mean the way it evokes a crunch, you know, like of breaking ribs, but with the euphemistically meaningless suffix “-eon”, which has the sinister effect of making the word rhyme with something as amiable and boring as a luncheon.  Man, what a good word.  Truncheon.