Tuesday, September 27, 2022

On Apartments Going Up

 This weekend due to a birthday brunch, we had to drive "downtown".

I do not drive "downtown" much - in fact, I do not drive down there at all if I can help it.  We are comfortably ensconced in the nearby suburbs and really, my world has shrunk to a radius of about 5 miles (except for Iai class, which is farther out).  I do not enjoy the traffic, I do not enjoy the masses of people, I do not enjoy urban sprawl or urban renewal (which are often the same in my mind).

That said, my trips down there are so infrequent that it is at least interesting to see the changes.

What I noticed is how many apartments are being thrown up.

Houses (actual houses) do still get built this close in (although most of that development happens far beyond these environs), but they are running out of room to put them on.  A ten acre plot seems to now hold fifteen to twenty houses, all smashed together in the now ubiquitous California "Zero Clearance" style (so named because in California, the spacing between new houses in the 2000s came to be a little less than one person wide on each side of the fence). 

As a result of the land diminishing, it simply is more valuable to build apartments.

These are not the ten or twenty units I knew growing up.  These are hundreds of units spread out over large acres, three to five stories up in the sky (or more, if you are downtown).  Banks of empty sockets that will become windows and possibly decks stare back as you drive by.

I shudder when I see them.

Let us assume a three hundred unit apartment complex, with three people average per apartment.  That is 900 people crammed into a space less than some small towns that have less populations.

The units, of course, are totally dependent on local utilities for electricity, gas, and water.  No "pull out a generator" or "borrow your neighbor's" when the power goes out in Winter (or worse here, in Summer where there is nothing but the face of the Sun).  Minimal ability if any exists to do something like provide some element of food for one's self in any way.  

Then multiply all of this.  By tens easily, but one could probably find 50 such projects going on right now. 

We lived in apartments the first seven to eight years of our marriage.  We moved after that into a house, and have been in a house ever since. Beyond just the fact that I have some level of space from my neighbors, there are any number of things I can do even on my limited piece of property, should I choose to.  But for those that will inhabit these towering hives, there is little if anything they can do.

It all works well of course - utilities, groceries, water - until something bad happens.  Something that takes down the power that heats and cools and powers the cooking and refrigeration units and drives the city pumps that move the water.  Then, things get a bit more dicey.

This is what truly terrifies me as I see these edifices going up.

Compact urban planning, like many things, depends on a number of factors to make it effective.  And it is not just space and willingness of people to live that way.  It depends on reliable food, fuel, and water to always be available, to always be delivered, and to only fail in the most limited of circumstances.  It relies on an economic system and supply chain that always functions and always prioritizes making sure supplies are delivered to the city.

Many probably drive by and marvel at the newness and sheen of the building.  I drive by and wonder "What happens when something goes wrong?"

Monday, September 26, 2022


It is beginning to feel like Autumn.

The temperatures, although still almost still "Face of The Sun" hot, are starting to drop down into a reasonably cool zone (high 50's - low 60's) at night, which makes for a pleasant morning walk, even if it does not really make the day any less heated.  The sunlight is beginning to acquire that slant which it only seems to hit in Autumn (Oddly enough, there is not a similar slant of light when we transition from Winter to Spring.  I have no idea why that is).

Commercially, of course, everything has already lurched to "Orange Gourd Spiced Everything".  This amuses me as it always does; growing up, there was no "taste of Autumn" and pumpkins were something we had as pie only.  Now, everything gets the "Orange Gourd Spice" moniker: for some things that works and many things that do not (as a whole, pumpkin spiced beer does not, although there is a delightful pumpkin beer that is often available at this time of year and is enjoyable - in small doses).  More importantly, of course, Mallow Pumpkins from Brach's now fill the seasonal candy section of store shelves.   A bag will eventually make it way to Taigh na Thoirdhealbheach Beucail where the amount of pumpkins will be rationed (two a day) and a second bag hidden somewhere else for consumption while the decoy bag is left out as a distraction.

I am feeling a bit Autumn-ish myself as well.

I have a sense - and I can give you no really meaningful reason for it - that things are winding down, somehow.  That crossroads or decision point I keep hinting at and gesturing to seems to now be encompassing me, even though I cannot fully understand what they are asking me to decide or which road to take.   Like Autumn, they are not "telling" me anything, but the leaves of my soul seem to start changing color anyway.

Is it some odd sense of needing to prepare, like the squirrels in my yard seeking to hide acorns for later in the season?  Yes, partially.  In that way, perhaps, Autumn is driving me to turn inward to look after those things that need to be attended to.

At the same time, it is not just as simply as "I need more Orange Gourd Spice supplies".

Preparedness for any emergency can take many forms, not simply the need to store more physical things.  It is also the mental and philosophical preparation of the mind and sometimes the body; the fastening of memory and thoughts and learning into the mind to be referred to in the dark of Winter. It is this sort of thing that weighs on my mind equally as heavily; perhaps even more so than just the collection of things.

It is one thing to prepare in Autumn for a mild Winter that one overprepares for.  It is a different thing entirely to not prepare in Autumn for the Long Winter no-one expected to come.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Clothed With Our Nature

"That God should have clothed himself with our nature is a fact that should not seem strange or extravagant to minds that do not form too paltry an idea of reality.  Who, looking at the universe, would be so feeble-minded as not to believe that God is all in all; that he clothes himself with the universe, and at the same time contains it and dwells in it?  What exists depends on Him who exists, and nothing can exist except in the bosom of Him who is.

If then all is in him, and he is in all, why blush for the faith that teaches us that one day God was born in the human condition, God who still today exists in humanity?

Indeed, if the presence of God in us does not take the same form now as it did then, we can at least agree in recognizing that he is in us today no less than he was then.  Today, he is involved with us as much as he maintains creation in existence.  Then, he mingled himself with our being to deify it by contact with him, after he snatched it from death...For his resurrection became for mortals the promise of their return to immortal life."

Gregory of Nyssa (330-395 A.D.), Catechetical Orations 25, quoted in The Roots of Christian Mysticism, Oliver Clement

Saturday, September 24, 2022

A Simple Luxury

 Although on the whole I try to be economical and thrifty (often fancy words for "cheap"), there are a few luxuries I purchase for myself that literally make no logical sense.  Books are one of these, of course - not that books are illogical of course, only the rather sheer quantity I own and continue to procure.

Another is shaving cream.

Many many years ago - good heavens, looking back I see it was 11! - I wrote a post on A Good Shave.  I had converted over to using soap in a bowl and a bristle brush years before that, mostly originally out of an obstinate need to be different and vaguely British (while everyone uses the same cream, for some reason I associate it with 19th Century Britain).  And then at some point, I took a risk (most likely based on some article I read) and bought shaving cream.

I purchase my shaving cream from Truefitt and Hill, a British company specializing in Men's grooming (So, the British motif is still working for me).  It is certainly not the least expensive such thing on the market, but it has become one of my personal justifiable luxuries.  

On one hand of course, it makes no sense.  I could get the same thing much more cheaply in vast quantities at my local grocery store for what a single bowl costs (although to be fair, a bowl lasts a long time).   And yet, there is something about opening up the lid, working the brush in a little, and then putting the full-bodied thick soap onto your face, letting it sit there for a bit, and then shaving. It makes it more of a production, something to look forward to, rather than just something I have to get out of they way.

The original scent I purchase was Trafalgar, which was delightful.  My current scent above is 1805, which I think I like a trifle better. Also - because I got a gift card for Father's Day - I purchased a smaller tube of the West Indian Limes shaving soap.  This in particular has an amazing scent.

It can be said - and righteously so - that in an age of increasing expenses and instability, the concept of spending a rather foolish amount of money on something that can be procured more cheaply is silly at best and foolish at worst.  

If practiced for every item we buy, I agree.  If practiced in small ways, I do not.

We can always purchase things that are effectively the cheapest and the lowest common denominator, and if practiced over time, we will save money.  What we will not save and sometimes sacrifice is the enjoyment of very simple pleasures.  Something like whipping up a shave in the morning that is from a bowl and brush instead of a can is indeed a very simple pleasure for a practice millions do anyway; the difference is that something simple like shaving cream turns a daily task into something of a pleasure.

Arguably this sort of thing does nothing for my shave.  It does, however, do a great deal my larger life.  And if it is somehow improving that, it not just a justified expense - it is a bargain.

Friday, September 23, 2022

On Commitment

During the last of of Iai practice, I was confronted with the fact that although I know forms, I do not know them well enough.  

This is a bit problematic in that I am, by far, the longest student in the dojo at 13 years.  I should have a high degree of familiarity with the entire curriculum and the various other portions of training exercises that we do. Sadly, I do not.

It is one thing to leave class tired and exhausted. It is another to leave class questioning your knowledge of the subject matter.

As I mulled the facts over as I drove home (and then again, when I drove home again), what came to my mind is that there was a certain level of commitment lacking in my training.  I knew "enough", but I was not going beyond that to a deeper level.  And as I reflected on that, I realized that it is far too true in many aspects of my life.

It is an odd thing, as commitment to action is something we talk a lot about in Iai - one of the first things I memorized when I started all those years ago is the phrase "What is the meaning of drawn the sword quickly?  When you have made a decision, act immediately and without hesitation".  In other words, commit to the action when you have decided.  And swordsmanship, if nothing else, is all about committing.

So why is it, that I have this reluctance to commit fully to the things I am doing?

Part of it seems to stem from my never ending struggle to make a decision.  In so many ways, I act now like I acted 30 years ago:  making a decision is hard because it rules out other options (and, by the way, you may make the wrong decision).  That was fine at that time, when there was still a long way to go and many options existed.  The way is not so long now, and if I am truly honest with myself, many of those options do not exist in the same form or fashion as they once did.

Committing to a decision - truly committing to a decision to study this or that or practice this or that - is by default a restrictive, dividing activity.  It is not saying that one will not do anything else, but it is admitting that due to the time and effort of the commitment, one may not be doing many other things.  Add on a series of commitments - true commitments - and if one is honest, the circle becomes very small indeed.

Reflecting on it, it is a great deal like marriage.  One has consciously put aside everyone else for one's spouse, and has promised to do so until one ceases to live.  It is not that there are not other relationships that  enrich and enlighten, but the main commitment and focus and energy is there.

And this, in the other areas of my life, I have been fooling myself one.

It has prompted a review of all the things I am "doing", to see exactly 1) What it actually is; 2) What an actual commitment to it would mean; and 3) How much time that entails.  Just an initial high level pass already means that if I truly want to commit, the list drops off rather precipitously.

There is nothing wrong with being a Jack of All Trades - I am one, and it as a handy thing to be - but I do not think that should be substituted as a commitment to a few activities or things.  Without that commitment, one never gets to the deeper levels of understanding and expertise that one needs to truly excel in a field or activity.  

On the bright side, I suppose, one will also go home feeling not as quite a poor long term student.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Dead Tree Walking

One of the most amazing of the trees we saw was almost as we ended the hike.

Closer up, it did look like a dead tree walking!


Wednesday, September 21, 2022

One Morning, Two Realities

 Every morning when I get up, there are two realities.

The inner reality is right around me.  Poppy the Brave almost taking a nap, waiting for the sign we will take her morning walk. walk.  A The Cat in his awkward pre-morning "I missed you and all from the night, but I am a little angry and will be until breakfast".  The Rabbits, patiently eating away at last night's hay until breakfast.  The Guinea pigs, not so patiently waiting for breakfast ("Hey!  You!  Over there behind the couch where we cannot see you!  What are the chances that you can break out food a little early?").  

My coffee is warm, the Bible and whatever book I am reading - in this case, The Ladder of Perfection by Walter Hilton (14th Century meditation from England) - on the table.  My journal is there as well, ready to record the morning's thoughts; most recently a sort of diatribe about how I am either not using my time effectively or am not focusing the way I should.

The outer reality is right beyond that, not even beyond the walls but as close as the soft unheard click of a power button, reminding me that the world is - at best - unsettled in any number of ways.  If I make the same click on my work computer, I can find the same thing - unsettled in any number of ways, questions and comments and concerns and "Where are we?" and "Why is this not done?" almost as prominent as the actual e-mails that contain information.

Of the two worlds, I know where I fit in better.  The books and animals are far more of interest to me than almost anything that occurs beyond these four walls and as I am finding, the victories of the outer world are as fleeting as the philosophers and poets of old suggested, even if we ignored them when we were younger (as the young ever do).

And so I sit, think about things, then work to push the soft silent clicks away for a little longer.   The quiet sounds of life, the books with their wisdom, the coffee with its steaming warmth, are far more of life than "real life" seems to be.