strictures and structures

if only we stopped trying to be happy, we could have a pretty good time

Month: July, 2014

on biking

It’s lonely on the 1. I wish I could say it’s beautiful, and I was counting on its beauty to cheer me up, but the clouds hanging over the sea are like so much blue dryer lint, and the sea itself has the dull gleam of crumpled foil in a trash can. The wind is blowing me back, a strong wind the likes of which I have not seen for five years. I remember Mike Munk telling me five years ago that he’d rather ride up a hill than fight the wind any day, because you can at least see what you’re riding against. I have to agree.

I’m tired, and I have no one to talk to but myself, so this is how I pass the time. I invent as many ways as I can to describe the pain of pedaling seventy miles.

  • The air feels like broken glass in my lungs.
  • The air feels like dry hay in my lungs.
  • My bones are turning into milk.
  • My bones are turning into chalk.
  • My lower back hurts so much that it feels like a crab is trying to pinch it free from my spine.
  • I am so hungry that it feels like I’ve swallowed a bobcat.
  • I am so hungry it feels like two stones scraping against each other.
  • I am so hungry I can feel my stomach digesting itself.
  • My eyes are drying out like peeled grapes.
  • I feel like tissue paper disintegrating in water.

I’ve done this to myself before. Not as often as the people I regard as being truly hardcore cyclists, but often enough. This is absurd because I don’t like cycling. My two favorite hobbies in all the world are reading really stupid books, and social dance. If a demon showed up and forced me to give up a hobby or he’d kill a litter of kittens, I would give up cycling first, no question. I’d even keep perfume collecting over cycling, and I haven’t bought a new scent in years.

So why am I here?

For the aftermath. For the victory. For the knowledge that when put to the test, I do not fail.

This is a fundamentally childish impulse, but childish in the best sense of the word–in the sense that the young have a need to learn, and explore, and grow, to discover themselves and the world, that someone more settled might not have. [1] The older and more experienced you are, the weaker your drive is to discover things–because you know them already.

So this is why I am here.

Because, ultimately, I want to find my limits. And I haven’t yet.


the virtues of overachieving

I don’t like people. I never have, and I never will, but even so, I’m forced to admit that I’ve met a remarkable number who are interesting, even amazing. It’s almost disgusting how you can take a bag of awards, accomplishments, skills, and hobbies, pick out a few at random, and bam! You’ve just made another Stanford student. Blue-haired product designer who welds things and does ballet? Bam, she exists, I have met her. A Googler who writes trophy-winning AIs in his spare time? Bam, he exists too. I know a lot of partnered dancers who excel at dance and some other esoteric field, mostly because that’s my hobby, dance, but I’ve met a harpist who does wushu. There are plenty of other combos out there.

I was hanging out with two of those annoyingly accomplished Stanford students a few years ago, and since they were old enough to be thinking about leaving the warm cocoon of Stanford’s campus, talk turned to the job market. They were mechanical engineers, not programmers, so their job security was somewhat uncertain. I said, tentatively, “Well, what about not doing engineering?” Andy they replied in nigh unison, “I couldn’t bear the thought of wasting my education.”

This story, mundane as it is, haunts me. Why? I’ll be the first to admit that Stanford is too expensive for the kind of useless, traditional liberal arts education that I value so highly. If you buy it, you have to use it.

What bothers me, I think, and I don’t believe my friends meant to imply this at all, of course, but what bothers me is that it seemed like another outbreak of a strong sentiment that it’s not enough to just be a good person. To live well, to do no harm, to help others–lauded, but hardly prioritized, and never given the same status as “achieving one’s potential,” whatever that means.

Though I must admit, I am lazy. I am a Type B, all the way. Meeting ambitious, accomplished people tires me out. The pressure to achieve, to be interesting, to be unique, suffocates me sometimes. It all seems so draining, and it is so, so very unnecessary. We don’t live in a kind or just world, and living up to one’s potential as a decent citizen of the world will do a lot more good than being a champion fencer who built a bipedal robot for his PhD thesis.

William Carlos Williams update #3

This is just to say

I have eaten
the pluots
that were

screw it

are my

I will