Not Much Going On At City Garden Today

ImageTemperature right around 32 degrees. Steady snow falling that felt, really, like rain. And a cold, cold wind whipping around between the city buildings. Not a great day for City Garden, and for much of the time that I walked through today, I was the only soul in sight. A perfect day for black and white.

Inspired By Mitt

Sure, there are other reasons I wanted to try life without caffeine for a while. Lent was one, sleep issues another. But there was also something about watching this guy perform in the presidential derby last year that was pretty inspirational. He went toe-to-toe with the president of the United States and, in this first debate, scored a clear knockdown. And even though he has multiple hundreds of millions of dollars stashed away, he was able to convince other people to give him multiple hundreds of millions more so he could run for president.

And he never touches caffeine of any kind.

Now, I’m not going to vouch for the veracity of anything he said. Just between you and me, I didn’t even vote for the guy. But there’s no denying that he’s accomplished a lot, and all of it with a kind of energy that I never knew could come from anything but a few pots of coffee.

So, by ditching the java myself, I hope to find, within myself, a bit of whatever Mitt’s having.

*****

Related posts on Shoulblog:

So Long, Caffeine

Day 3

The Lent Trap

The Lent Trap

Quick, how long does Lent last?

If you’re like most people, you’ll say 40 days. It commemorates Jesus’ self-imposed 40-day exile in the desert, when he foresook all food, etc., etc.

Unfortunately, you’d be wrong. Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on the day before Easter, is actually 46 days, if you include both of those days.

From Wikipedia:

Lent is traditionally described as lasting for forty days, in commemoration of the forty days which, according to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus spent fasting in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry, where he endured temptation by the Devil. However, different Christian denominations calculate the forty days of Lent differently. In most Western traditions the Sundays are not counted as part of Lent; thus the period from Ash Wednesday until Easter consists of 40 days when the Sundays are excluded. However in the Roman Catholic Church Lent is now taken to end on Holy Thursday rather than Easter Eve, and hence lasts 38 days excluding Sundays, or 44 days in total.

If that’s not confusing enough, the full Wikipedia entry, which talks about Sundays being in, not of Lent, is here.

Excluding Sundays? C’mon! Did Jesus come back into town and have a meal on Sunday, and then go back out to the desert? I don’t think so.

This is bad news for those of us who stored up 40 days’ worth of willpower. Having just suffered through six days of sacrifice, we find that as of today, we STILL have 40 days to go. It’s like running a marathon, and finding out, five miles into the race, that they’ve lengthened the event to 31 miles, so you still have your 26 to run.

Sigh. I guess it’s just another one of those “mysteries of faith.”

Reading List, February 2013—My Last (And Next) Five Books

I’m back on track with reading now, hopefully. As you’ll see, Christmas threw a big, and welcome, wrench into my reading list.

My last five books, in order of completion:

2115402141: A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. It’s my Christmas tradition. This year I put it off until the last moment, and didn’t start reading it until I went to bed on Christmas Eve. But that didn’t diminish this classic one bit.

I’m not sure what I can say about this story that hasn’t been said many times before, except that I did wonder about one thing. After Marley’s Ghost had visited Scrooge and warned him of three more spirits, the first to come 1 a.m. the next day, Scrooge woke up at 12 and it was dark outside.

Twelve! It was past two when he went to bed. The clock was wrong. An icicle must have got into the works. Twelve!

He touched the spring of his repeater, to correct this most preposterous clock. It’s rapid little pulse beat twelve: and stopped.

“Why, it isn’t possible,” said Scrooge, “that I can have slept through a whole day and far into another night…

What is this “repeater” thing he has? Sounds pretty cool, whatever it is. I wish I lived in the high-tech days of the early 19th century.

FARTHER AWAYBy: Jonathan Franzen.2: Farther Away, by Jonathan Franzen. This is a collection of essays, speeches and criticism from Franzen over the last few years. Oddly, the pieces are presented in reverse chronological order, but it works, in part because the first one in the book, and therefore the most recent, his 2011 commencement address at Kenyon College, serves as an introduction for the rest. I mentioned one of the essays here.

Franzen has written several nonfiction books along with his novels. I tend to look forward to the fiction more than the nonfiction, for some reason, but I really enjoyed reading this one. If nothing else, he offered up a lot of suggestions for future reading.

Casual_Vacancy3. The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling. Perhaps you’ve heard of J.K. Rowling. She’s written a few books that have received  moderate attention in some circles. But those were all kids’ books. The Casual Vacancy is definitely not a kid’s book. Although, interestingly, the adolescents in this book are the most well-developed characters. The adults, for the most part, are fairly cartoonish, and only the kids are really fleshed out.

This is a book about politics. And I don’t mean electoral politics, although an election is a central part of the story; I mean the politics of rich and poor, the haves and have-nots. It’s also a very English book, much more so than I remember from the Harry Potter series, although it’s been a few years since I read those books. Between all the British idioms and the large number of characters, it took me a hundred pages to really get rolling in this book—but that’s OK, because it’s more than 500 pages long.

This was one of four books I received for Christmas. The holiday really shook up my reading plans for January … in a very good way.

PreacherKing4. The Preacher King: Martin Luther King Jr. And The Word That Moved America, by Richard Lischer. This was a fascinating book. Not a biography per se, but an examination of the evolution of King’s preaching and speaking style, beginning with his tutelage under his father, who was also a pastor in Atlanta. It chronicles King Jr’s education in rhetoric and theology, and the many pastors and professors, in addition to his father, who influenced him. And it details how his message changed from one of identification in the 1950s and early 1960s to one of more confrontation in his last few years. Throughout, though, he always insisted on a strategy of nonviolence for the movement.

This book was some pretty serious stuff. So while I read it, I was simultaneously reading the next book on this list. In terms of balance, it actually worked out quite well, and I finished both of them on the same day.

Dogfight5. Dogfight, by Calvin Trillin. The blurb on the cover calls this book “laugh out loud.” I normally hate that adjective, because it’s almost never true. For this book, though, it fit. It’s a look at the entire 2012 election campaign (stretching back to 2011, of course), but all told in verse.

Some—OK, a lot—of the rhymes are pretty strained. But that’s part of the charm of the book. There were probably dozens of lines in this book that provoked audible guffaws from me, so the cover blurb was accurate. Just one example:

And Bachman, still the faithfuls’ faithful fighter,
Emerged as Palin lite—or even liter.

*****

Now, time for my best (but inevitably wrong) guess at the next five books I’ll be reading:

1. The Maytrees, by Annie Dillard. Found this on the bargain list in the Kindle store a couple of days ago. Among other things, it’s set in Provincetown, Mass., and I have a great longing for a taste of Provincetown right now.

2. One Heart, by Elie Wiesel. Recommended by my friend Anne the last time I did one of these lists. Hey folks, if you recommend books to me, I pay attention!

3. We Can All Do Better by Bill Bradley. Another Christmas gift, and, after pretty much taking a break from serious politics (Dogfight doesn’t count) I’m ready to get back at it.

4. Are You Happy Now, by Richard Babcock. Another novel purchased from the Kindle bargain book bin.

5. Stan Musial: An American Life, by George Vecsey. This has been on my list for a long time, and I really wanted to read it before Musial passed away. Obviously, I didn’t. Maybe this time.

*****

Previous ‘Five Books’ Lists on Shoulblog:

Reading List, December 2012

Reading List, May 2012

Reading List, January 2012

Reading List, October 2011

Day 3

There's just not a lot of life in life without caffeine.
There’s just not a lot of life in life without caffeine.

I’ve pretty much made it through Day 3 without caffeine, and I feel like I may have turned a corner.

Day 1 was just as bad as I expected: listlessness, inability to concentrate, and a gnawing headache that persisted all day. I was actually planning to post an update here, but I just didn’t have the energy or motivation. The only thing that got me through Wednesday was knowing that Thursday would almost certainly be better.

But it wasn’t. Day 2 brought hardier headaches, which failed to recede in the face of an onslaught of ibuprofen and naproxen.

Today, though, the headache was almost all gone. I was still tired, but it seemed a little more manageable; focus was difficult, but I have found that if I really work hard at concentrating, I can make myself stay on task. But it’s hard and it requires a lot of concentration, which makes me tired—which I could take care of by drinking a cup of…oh, wait…

As for sleeping, I guess I would say I did sleep better the last two nights. I still woke up several times during each night—last night, we could probably blame the chocolate-dipped strawberries consumed not long before bedtime—but at least I was better able to get back to sleep than I was a week ago. So that’s potentially one chalk mark on the plus side.

But on the minus side, I have to say that being caffeine-free is challenging … and it’s just not very much fun. I’m feeling wiped out all the time, and life seems to be more of a chore. I used to love drinking my one energy drink per day, right after lunch, because I always knew it would elevate my mood. I miss that feeling of joy, even knowing it was chemically induced.

I think right now, just one sip of coffee would have the same effect.

I know this is the Day Three Me talking, so my feelings will probably evolve as I get further into this. Today was definitely a better day than yesterday. Perhaps I’ll find the need for caffeine  to recede just as my need for pain relievers did today.

Ultimately, though, I think I can predict the results of this experiment. I suspect I’ll go back to being a regular coffee drinker, although maybe I’ll moderate my consumption. I’m just not seeing a whole lot of upside to the no-caffeine life, and I’m seeing lots of downsides. Maybe that will change as I get further into it, and for that reason I’ll carry on.

So Long, Caffeine

IMG_0887As someone who has never been particularly religious (in the traditional sense of the word), nor Catholic (in any sense), I’ve never felt the obligation to “give something up for Lent.”

Well, I’ve decided that this Lent, I’m going to attempt that sacrifice. Not really for religious reasons, but for personal reasons … which I guess, if we’re discussing senses of words, could be the same thing.

I’ve had a love affair with caffeine for almost four decades now. Mostly, it’s been fueled by the need to do something — I need to stay awake to study for an exam, I need to wake up so I can get to work, I need some fuel to write something, etc. And it’s become close to an addiction, because, as we all know, a caffeinated morning is so much happier than a non-caffeinated morning.

But over the years, I’ve also seen that caffeine can have a dark side. increasingly, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to suspect that caffeine, even confined to early in the day, can have effects that last much longer than I’d always assumed. And yes, the notion of “addiction” has always been a troubling one. I know it’s no heroin; and yet, on days when I’ve tried going just a few hours without a cup of coffee, I’ve felt the inevitable headache coming along—a sure symptom of withdrawal—accompanied by the usual uncaffeinated irritability and grogginess … all of which can be quickly cured by a shot of coffee.

So this year, spurred by too many nights of interrupted sleep (It’s now 2:15 a.m. as I write the first draft of this post, for example), I’m going to try ditching the caffeine. It’s more of an experiment than anything else, but it also coincides nicely with the beginning of Lent and the traditional notion of spiritual sacrifice.

I’m not promising anything to myself  or anybody. I may not even make it through one day. There are some significant challenges ahead: an important interview this afternoon at 1 p.m. (WORST possible time!); a deadline Thursday tomorrow; a huge special issue looming next week. But I’m going to give it a shot.

I’m arming myself with herbal teas and ibuprofen. I expect I’ll be drinking a lot of water, and eating a lot of fresh fruit. I will allow myself to drink decaffeinated coffee, even though I know that it often still has traces of caffeine in it. Ditto for hot chocolate. But to regular, strong, black coffee, I’m saying so long.

It’s probably not forever. Maybe when they roll that rock back on Easter weekend I’ll become a coffee drinker again, if I haven’t succumbed to my addiction before then. Or maybe I’ll decide I like the no-caffeine life, and never touch the stuff again. Possibly I’ll decide on some moderate compromise, like a limit of one cup a day.

But the goal now is to make it through today, and then through this week, and then through the month, and then through Lent (fun fact: I had always assumed—without ever bothering to count for myself—that Lent was 40 days, to coincide with Jesus’ 40 days in the dessert. I was wrong; do the math yourself). Whether I’ll learn anything, or whether this sacrifice will make me a better person, I can’t say now. But I ask for your understanding, your sympathy, your prayers (if you got ’em), if I seem a little slow and cranky for the next few weeks. I’m workin’ on it, Lord.

Trade In These Wings On Some Wheels

I was driving to work this morning, listening to The Loft, my new favorite SiriusXM station. The DJ listed the songs he’d just played, including some before I tuned in. One was Thunder Road by Cowboy Junkies. Holy magic in the night! I didn’t know that existed!

I got to work and immediately looked it up on Spotify, and it was just as great as I’d imagined. Thunder Road is one of my all-time Top Five songs, and even though I don’t own any Cowboy Junkies music (why the heck is that, anyway?), I’ve always loved their sound. I really like their interpretation of this song. Singer Margo Timmins even shrugs past the one line in that song that’s always been problematical for me (“You ain’t a beauty, but hey you’re all right”) with a certain savoir faire, and it’s perfect.

Here’s a link to the song on Spotify, if you’re interested:

Cowboy Junkies – Thunder Road