html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: April 2007

Monday, April 30, 2007

My 'No Backtracking' rule for life applies here too.

It is weird that getting a couple big links should be an event for a weekend, since it isn’t like anything happens*. But of course I followed it all and read what people said. When you write a personal blog, one of the risks is that when some people read, instead of evaluating the topic I introduce, they evaluate me. People tell stories to explain things, and since they don’t know me they fill in the blanks and motivations with their experiences and biases. It is odd, to read people condemning you based on their attributions. It is also amazingly hard not to defend yourself. The strong temptation is to read closely, discover the discrepancies between their assumptions and what you know of yourself, respond to them and add a little zing. I still want to.

But I’m not. First, it would require that I spend more time in their headspace and perception of me. There are a million better things I could think about. They would respond, so I would get a second dose of whatever they think and I’d be very surprised if we found middle ground quickly. And then, I think the root of a lot of that worldview is the same need for agency to explain outcomes, which is really a need to blame the person to whom bad things happen, so that the world is a fair place. But we had that conversation and I can’t inflict a repeat of that on the patient readers who were here the first time. Finally, I don’t have to accommodate or explain anything, because I don’t need anything out of this blog that I don’t already have. (Well, I need you guys to introduce me to your hot single friends.) I have a crew that keeps up and jokes with me, so I know that is possible without any adjustment on my part. In the end, I decided that you can either be funny or worry about what humorless people think. That's not a hard choice for me.

*Which isn’t to say that nothing happened in my weekend. I played catch all three days; in fact I played in my first tournament of the year on Saturday. Man, I need a burst of speed. I was open deep a lot, which I can only attribute to the fact that this early in the season, those other women aren’t conditioned either. My super awesome teammate sent it for me every time, but most of those times I just could not close on the disc. How do you sprint the length of the field, get there and speed up for the catch? Is it just brute force being in shape? Wind sprints and plyos, yeah yeah. But getting faster at the end of your run, how do you make yourself do that? (I’d love suggestions for specific drills, if you know them.)

Also, my sister and I went to see that burnt out freeway in Oakland. Pretty incredible destruction.

Friday, April 27, 2007

A couple big links.

Two hours in and the next Wall of Shame is looking promising.

You regulars know when I'm joking, right?

And then, I'm a hypocrite.

People on this other blog are all "Well, yeah, but does she seem DESPERATE?". And I don't think so. I mean, let's walk through it.

I meet a guy, and walking up to him, I give him a good once over. Just the basics, frame size, health, vigor. I happen to notice things like glasses or a limp, just little genetic pointers like that. But who can tell what the other person notices? Then I check out his car. Two doors? Four doors? Four doors is easier for car seats. But I don't say anything, so how would he even know what I'm thinking? He probably thinks I just like cars.

Then we hang out, wherever we are. And I have manners, so if a BABY in a stroller goes by, I just excuse myself politely before I go over to look at the BABY. It isn't like I just run away. And I can maintain eye contact with a guy if there's a BABY in the room. Or regain eye contact. Whatever. And we, like, talk. We talk about all sorts of things. Like his job, and whether it has good paternity leave. Does he like his job? Would he leave it for one with more flextime? OK. Whatever. I can work with that. Or we talk about family. Family is very important, and did I mention my beautiful nephews? They're perfect, just so cute and perfect. Maybe I tell a funny little story about a fit my nephew threw, but how he was so adorable anyway. That's a part of life, so why shouldn't we talk about it? I would never ask a guy's age or experiences with children before dinner; I really think we should eat first and get to know each other a little. We talk about our friends, who we spend time with. So it just, you know, comes up that all my friends are married and have young children. What? I shouldn't talk about my friends? It is only the truth. If we both like to work out, we can talk about how very important it is to stay fit and healthy and flexible and active (so your pregnancy is easier, but I don't SAY that), so you have lots of energy for whatever might happen in the next year that requires a lot of energy. It's not like I mention the vitamins.

And then the date is over, so I just pull out my datebook. It is good to check on a guy's plans, like for our next date, or to see if he has anything big happening for the rest of the year. Long trips or something. And then the kids kiss, and it isn't like I put his hand on my stomach or anything. So I think it is totally chill and that you guys should stop worrying about how my dates go when you are far away through the internets and can't even tell what I am really like. Yeah.
I always wanted kids, but for a long time it was just that I liked kids and thought that families laughed an awful lot and it seemed like a pleasant thing to do after you had had a lot of fun in your twenties. Until my mid-twenties, kids were an abstract good idea that I could have been talked out of by a better idea. Around twenty-seven or twenty-eight, babies became more interesting. They were just more… interesting. It became mesmerizing to watch one in a room full of people and to wonder was it was doing; nothing else in the room was really quite as vivid as the baby. By twenty-nine it started to hurt. And by hurt I mean some in the way where you are denied something you really, really want. But I mean mostly in the way that it physically hurts me. It feels like hunger, if you never ever get enough food. My breasts ache if I hear a baby; my throat closes; my womb clenches and my arms hurt. It has been like this for years. It has eased recently, and I don’t know if that is because the babyhunger is passing or because I’ve pushed it away for so long.

This came from inside. This is not the result of society forcing conventional ideas of motherhood on me. I’m a fairly maternal person, so I’m willing to believe I’m more extreme than lots of women. But this is not something I would choose to take on if I had a choice in the matter. It is also why I completely believe women who tell me they don’t want children. If they feel aversion in any proportion to the degree I feel attraction, they do not want kids. If they even feel none of what I feel, I’d believe they don’t want kids.

So here I am, 30, going along and KaBAMM! My body, which is in charge of me, tells me that I need children, and the relationship that I thought would last the rest of my life has ended. And for the next few years, it got steadily worse. I want something I can’t seem to get, at least not in the way that seems easiest and most secure and happiest, with two enthusiastic parents. And I am scared that I will not be able to make this right, that I cannot work hard enough, meet enough men to find one who wants to do this with me, be appealing and funny enough, be lucky enough to do this in time. I am doing whatever I can think of to solve this problem; whoring my life on the internet, meeting strangers, moving to a new town. And I AM increasingly desperate, because I DO believe there’s a deadline for this. I just passed my thirty-fifth birthday, which might mean all sorts of things to all of you, but to me it was the “mandatory amniocenteses” birthday.

I am PISSED I have a deadline on this. I never even chose to have this monkey on my back. But worse than the fact that I want kids like I want breath is the fact that I have to arrange that NOW. If I didn’t have a deadline for kids, I could wait until a guy came along naturally. I could live my amazingly good life and chat with you people and sing with Ali and play catch in the park until a boy with smiley eyes walked up to me. My life is GOOD, and I could do this indefinitely if I had all the time in the world to have kids.

But I don’t. So I have to up-end my life because there are only a few more years of possibility and they go fast. For the increased likelihood of a beloved and children, I am giving up my house, my friends, my life, my porch, my town, my trees, my town. I don’t want to do that. I will, because I am facing this square on. But this is not what I would like, if I had the choice. If I had the choice, I would like a lot of things. I would like to stay here. I would like to meet men without the question of dating hanging over us. I would like to look at my friends’ beautiful babies with pure enthusiasm and without the blaze of jealousy. I would like to have my whole weekends without scheduling in meeting some perfectly nice stranger. I would like to meet a guy and spend three or four years married to him doing fantastically fun things before I get pregnant. I would like to know my relationship is secure before we put it through the stress of an infant. I would like to have the option to date men who don’t want kids or don’t want kids soon. I would like it if I didn’t have to wonder when I call it all off and decide to have kids by myself. I would like to stop feeling the babyhunger and fear.

So, yeah. I would like it to be different. But it isn’t. I am thirty-five and even though I never chose this, I want to have kids with a man I love. I am trying, in all the ways I can think of. I am going to a lot of effort and exposing myself to a lot of hurt, and I am doing it because I fucking have to. (Do not tell me that I would get over it if I don’t have kids, or I could adopt. If I loved a man first and those were our options, I would deal with that then. That is not what I WANT, though.)

So, it is particularly cruel for you to tell me that this desperation, which is more painful for me than for anyone else, is simultaneously the reason I can’t have what I am desperate for. I didn’t WANT this bind to start with and I refuse to feel like I am doing something wrong. It is not wrong to want children, even to be a woman and want them very, very much. So if some men think my urgency for kids is unappealing, FUCK THEM. In the first place, it is not something I can control, neither the wanting nor the fact that maternal age matters, and you can not shame people for what they can’t control. In the second place, they are fooling themselves about having an indefinite period of healthy sperm and energy for young kids and young women willing to be with them. In the third place, I am obviously looking for men with roughly similar urgency for kids. And finally, any man in my age range who does not have the empathy or the familiarity from their female friends to understand my situation is not a man I want to date.

So fuck that whole idea that I should hide wanting kids so that I don’t turn off men. Wanting kids or not wanting kids is a real part of the mix for people my age and they should be able to deal with it openly. Fuck anyone who disparages that desperation; it is real and it is an artifact of having human biology and it isn’t a reflection on the woman who feels it and it already hurts her. Fuck uncompassionate people who treat it like it is something to hide. And fuck any man who rejects me for that desperate corner of me. Because you know what would make it go away? A reasonable chance that something could pan out would be enough to ease the desperation; good odds and good faith with a good man would quiet the part of me that shakes from fear that I will not have my babies.

NEW FRIENDS: You will be kind when you comment here. You will not offer interpretations that insult types of women, or types of men, or undifferentiated groups, or me. Do not reduce dating, which is a complex, emotional subject that lots of people have to handle with hard-learned skills and never enough information, to to faux-evolutionary gamesmanship. Be KIND here. There are plenty of other places for you to leave unkind comments.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The news, Megan-style.

This article, on the ground sinking on the west side of the Central Valley as the aquifer underneath is depleted, blew my mind. I had seen the picture of subsidence on the east side before, but we build the freakin’ Friant Division to switch farmers to surface water and recharge groundwater on the east side. For some reason I hadn’t realized it was also a problem on the west side. That is amazing shit, that you can feel the undulations from the ground sinking under you as you drive the 5. Thirty feet, motherfuckers.

Also! I’ve been to Three Rock!. It was for a field trip. I don’t remember what we were stopped in Three Rock for, but I wandered into a diner and a whole bunch of guys with big guts turned to look at me. One of them asked, wonderingly, what I was doing there. I said I was on a field trip to learn irrigation systems. There was a long pause and some guy, I didn’t see who, said loud and clear, “Lady, you could do so much better than irrigation.”

Also also! My friends and I spontaneously switched from calling Three Rock to Tres Piedras, although I don’t think anyone else does. That isn’t uncommon for us, although we don’t actually speak Spanish. I dunno. We just do.


You know what else blew my mind? This article, on using two paired satellites to detect changes in gravity as they pass over the earth’s surface, which they can use to MEASURE CHANGES IN GROUNDWATER! I would never have thought of that in my life, but it is SUPER neato.


I got this link from Defective Yeti, who seems to be poaching my domain of water-related links, which I don’t exactly appreciate because I don’t infringe on his domain of pithy, funny posts. Worse, he gets there first. Anyway, the video is dramatic, but the thing I don’t get is: where the hell is that storm drain that the runoff is under thirty feet of head? Seriously. Is there a big hill just off the screen? Is that freeway in a bowl? Where is the overflow for that stormdrain system (besides the freeway) and is it blocked right now? How has this not happened before?


After a bunch of litigation, there is now an agreement between environmentalists, growers and their water authority to restore the San Joaquin River. The Congressional Budget Office released a study saying that’ll cost $500M. Growers are worried that they’ll pay for that in increased costs of irrigation water, but every time I see that number, I think that someone owes me half a billion dollars worth of river. That was an incredible gift we gave them over fifty years.


Finally, I liked this article a lot. It is about the Metropolitan Water District’s (= Los Angeles’) plan to address Delta levees failing during a calamitous earthquake. Delta levees protect Delta islands, which are hundreds of acres big and about twenty feet under sea level. On the other side, levees protect the freshwater channels that the big pumps draw water through. If the levees fail, fresh and seawater fills the islands, drawing seawater into those channels and eventually into the pumps sending water south. UCD geologist J*ff M**nt predicts that there is a two in three chance that those levees will fail calamitously in the next 50 years.

So everyone is all fired up about how to solve this; the leading proposal is the Peripheral Canal. But in the meantime, the primary emphasis I’ve heard is to maintain those Delta levees and hope for the best. Which I why I loved that article. In that article, MWD is saying, “Nope. That doesn’t pencil out for us. It is cheaper for us to re-build the system after it fails than maintain it the way it is now.”

Now, there may be a million things wrong with that approach; for starters, my boss thinks their estimates on both maintenance and re-building are drastically low. But I love that it is a bald declaration against the way we do business in the Delta and against the conventional notions that preventative maintenance is best. Nope, says LA. Disaster for the Delta is still cheaper for us. In that article, growers who farm Delta islands say that is “unacceptable”, but they’ve long been free-riding off the fact that LA needs it the way it is now to get water south. Without that shelter, Delta growers don’t have the money or clout to pay for the levees that keep their islands from becoming twenty foot deep brackish lakes. Again, I don’t know enough to know whether MWD’s approach is a good one. But I like that it is unconventional.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

This is why you should call to say "no".

About this time last year I was bemoaning the fact that I never date, never meet men. That is no longer the case. In the last year, I’ve met lots of men; I liked a couple a lot, some not at all, and many in the middle. Flukey things intervened, but I’m moderately confident that if I keep meeting men at this rate, at some point I’ll find one whose ex-girlfriends are all married. I have attained (I think) dating skillz. I can smile and thank him graciously for paying for my meal, even though I still don’t understand why the boy pays and a free meal is about the least thing I want out of a date. But I can let it pass now. I have learned that every date should be intrinsically interesting entirely apart from the boy, so that even if you go home wondering how a person can conduct an entire conversation in clichés, you can still be glad you got to see the botanical garden. I do not get coffee anymore; coffee is fine if the company is interesting, but life is too short for a non-activity with stilted conversation. I have never gotten the impression that my weight, which is not thin and not fat and not really the noticeable thing about me, is influencing men’s decisions about me (which confirms my generally high opinion of men, which is the same as my generally high opinion of people). I have learned that if the conversation turns meta and you discuss the personal ad or service itself, you have nothing to say to each other; give up on that date. I have also learned, to my detriment, to never, never hope that you’ll hear from a boy again.

I wanted to write this up while I wasn’t referring to any one boy, or sad that someone didn’t call. Right now, I am in good shape; there will be no consoling in the comments. I used to be baffled, but now I am not even baffled. Now I have a decision rule: Nothing, no matter how direct or favorable, can happen during a date that will mean that he will not vanish. Every date is stand-alone; if you hear from him again, that is a happy coincidence.

Here is a partial list of things that do not mean you will ever hear from him again:

Him saying ‘I had a great time and I will definitely call you.”
Him saying that he wants to get the check this time, but he’ll let you get it next time, and discussing which restaurant that would be at.
Him crossing the room to kiss you, holding your hand the whole party, and saying as you leave with your friends that he’ll come by your house in an hour.
Making and confirming plans for three days later.
Him wooing you for a month by email, taking you out for dinner and kissing you until 3:30 in the morning.
Him initiating all contact, asking you out, telling you that you’re amazing and beautiful and he can’t believe he has a chance with such an incredible girl.

All of those boys vanished with no word, and those are just the conspicuous examples. At this point, there is no amount of courting or enthusiasm that would make me hope for a follow up phone call; the most ardent behavior I can imagine would still be like one of those boys who acted smitten and vanished. I don’t mind anymore, because I don’t hope anymore. Incredible date, fun enthusiasm, googly eyes, declarations of interest? Great. I’m glad for a fun date, but I won’t think he’ll call. He might; some of them do. But that will be completely independent of my wishing on a phone call. Thunderstorms might happen too.

Staying cheerful by refusing to hope works. I don’t get hurt when men don’t make a phone call I never expect; I’m willing to go on dates with new people if the date itself is interesting; I never clear my schedule for the promise of a date and so far I haven’t had a conflict. So it works. But it has two costs and those make me sad.

The first cost is a rising bewilderment. I know, know for sure that I can not count on a follow-up. I know this. But knowing this conflicts with other things I think I know, like the meaning of the English words “I will call you tomorrow.” or “Yes. Let’s play catch on Thursday.” There are subtler things I think I know, like what it means when a boy holds your face to kiss you, rests his forehead on yours and smiles into your eyes. Or what it means when you guys were perfectly mirrored all evening and cracked each other up and then stopped talking to gaze for long periods. You think that if you are a socialized person who attends to other people you can interpret things like this. But those are not actually things that mean that you will ever see the guy again. So you were wrong, and the no-hoping rule would have served you better. You do not know what humans mean by things they say or do. That is confusing.

The second cost is more vague, but I still think I detect it. You can decide not to hope for more with any boy, despite all evidence. You just decide, and when hope rises you reject it. You remind yourself and distract yourself and work out extra hard so your body is too tired to tell you again that you need touch so much your skin hurts and oh please god where are my babies. If you can’t handle wanting that, you can ignore the want. But I don’t think you can pick and choose which want you clamp down on. I haven’t felt ambitious in years, and I don’t think that is coincidence. I’d be hard pressed to tell you a detailed vision of something I want, besides to stay in my pleasant life here, because I can’t let my wants off the leash enough to inform my imagination. I think I’m paying an energetic cost in holding down the want, and a lack of drive from not wanting anything. I don’t think it is overwhelming my personality, but I think it is there. The alternative would be feeling all that disappointment, so I’ll keep doing it my way. But I wish I didn’t have to.

No bashing men.

I know that last post made the men I've dated look bad. But I don't think they did anything that wasn't human and understandable. Those examples I gave? One guy fell ill enough to be hospitalized. The guy at the party left to come over, stopped by a friend's house and met the girl he married. They're inseparable. He and I weren't ever gonna be inseparable and if I'd met someone who was, I'd have blown off the party-guy too. People get unsure and reluctant and put off calls they don't know how to make. I've done that and regret some of the times I've let things drop. People mean well but are only human. So I don't condemn any one case, 'cause I've acted the same, but after the aggregated experience, I can't let myself expect a call.

I thought of another cost. At the end of the date, when guys say they'll call, I give a cheery shrug, smile and "Sure!". I bet it sounds insincere. It isn't that I don't want them to, it is just that I don't believe. They will or they won't, but it has nothing to do with the words they just spoke. I don't even think it has anything to do with their intent in the moment. I can't muster a genuine response to words I've learned mean nothing. They don't even reliably mean the guy won't call. They just mean nothing.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Genuinely asking.

Anonymous said...
You SERIOUSLY do not sing that song out loud do you?? Aren't you super intelligent or something?
6:58 PM

Are you the friend who came over from Dizzy's blog and had the same objection before, that a smart person shouldn't be encouraging Dizzy to be goofing around with her friends in an occasionally sexualized way? I ask because I didn't understand the reasoning before and I am hoping you'll explain it to me here. You'll get a respectful listen from me and everyone here.

To answer you: yes. I sing that song all the time, along with Eminem and Nate Dogg’s Shake That, the lyrics of which I dislike more, and also Digital Underground’s Freaks of the Industry, which is way better because the sex sounds more fun and it has multiple choice questions! I sometimes feel bad singing along to words I don’t approve of, but I get over it if the song is catchy. (I have zero tolerance for misogynistic lyrics AND bad beats. Zero.) I particularly like the refrain I quoted, because he starts singing in the middle of his rap and he just sounds so happy. His singers all join in, and it cracks me up to think of them studying their cues and discussing “Come in on ‘looooove pussy’?”. So yes. I sing that song out loud; Ali and I cruise past adorable little bungalows singing that in unison; when I get home from work, I like to make an entrance by slamming the front door open and belting out “Now my dick’s on hard, you know what I’m thinking…”. You know. Like everyone does.

All that said, I was surprised how aversive it was to have those lyrics on the front of my blog today. I couldn’t have been surprised there were there. I typed those lyrics in, checked them for accuracy and hesitated a while before hitting publish. I didn’t post them by accident or anything. But I didn’t like seeing them. I visited my blog less often and clicked through to the comments faster. The song isn’t wholly vile; his lover wants to be there and gets off first. But he doesn’t really linger over his admiration for her personality. In fact, he doesn’t mention her personality. Those lyrics aren’t the worst in the song and they were unpleasant when not sung in a cheery voice. I regretted putting them up.

So yeah. There are good reasons to reject that song, primarily that it demeans the very women he’s fucking. But anyone with decency can see that. It takes no special smartness to figure out that one. So I don’t get what bugs you about ME singing that song. Why is that more surprising to you?

You know me, I like to swing...

Chris said students from the co-ops held a dance party on campus, where they all brought their own music and headphones and danced in a group to music only each could hear. I would totally go to that; that sounds SO FUN. Ali and I sometimes bring our iPods running, and we simultaneously sing out loud to each other whatever we hear.

I virtually always listen to music and dance around while riding my bike. I get different reactions to that. Most people will meet my eyes and then drop theirs. I don’t understand that one. Dropping your eyes is a submission gesture; dancing on my part does not require submission on their part. Some people look away, embarrassed for me. I don’t understand that either. I know I am being conspicuous in public and I am not embarrassed. I don’t sing along, because I can’t know how I sound, but I suspect it isn’t good. I know how I look dancing, though, because I can see my shadow. I’m fine with it, so why should anyone else be embarrassed for me? Sometimes, once every few weeks, I’ll be riding and dancing and someone will meet my eyes and give me a HUGE smile. One recent guy found my beat and bobbed his head with me ‘til I passed. Those people understand. Why not?

Maybe you have seen me and Ali, riding ‘round town, singing together. Or noticed us at a party, arms around each other, singing softly. The song changes, but for about a month it has been Easy E, Gimme That Nut. So if you see us riding, two pretty girls, heads thrown back, arms wide, singing and giggling, that would be:
In some pussy is the place to be
Always fucking, it’s the life for me
Spread them legs, open far and wide
Fuck that shit, just let me put my dick inside.

Monday, April 23, 2007

I take it all back. Being judgmental is great.

I was reading Mark Kleiman’s entry on getting a threatening email in response to his political blogging. I was reading along approvingly, as I do for most of his posts; I share his worldview and very often respect his thought. So I was interested to see how he was handling the aggressive letter.

I had two sort of side thoughts as I was going along. “Oh, how nice it must be,” I thought “to get menacing letters that go straight to the death threat without first describing your sexual torment.” “Oh and look! The letter writer tangentially addressed the content of your posts without commenting on your looks! Male bloggers get such better death threats.”

And then I was so glad that Professor Kleiman referred to the letter writer by honorific and last name. I am a huge believer in treating names respectfully. My Dad scolded me very sharply one time as a kid. “Never make fun of anyone’s name,” he said. “First, it is disrespectful. Second, you can not come up with a joke about someone’s name in thirty seconds that the person has not heard in a lifetime of having that name.” I believe that mocking someone’s name is mocking their very self. I also believe that it is shoddy thought. It causes disproportionate hurt and anger for a cheap and unfunny joke; that’s a terrible bargain. Mocking names is one of my earliest clues of a discussion I don’t want to be part of; it shows a willingness to be uncivil combined with shallow thought and I have better places to be.

So I was pleased with Professor Kleiman’s response to the letter; I liked that he published it and called out the author for bad behavior. So far, so good. And then we got to his reply after an exchange with the letter writer.
Since, according to the Holy Bible, the Inerrant Word of God, "A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger" (Prov. 15:1), I kept my reply gentle:

VERY Christian? And you consider fellow human beings -- each one, according to Genesis, the Image of God -- "animals" fit to be tortured? No, Ms. Currier, I very much doubt that you are VERY Christian yet. Keep trying.

Here's a suggestion: take a deep breath, read the Sermon on the Mount, and stop writing threatening emails to strangers.

P.s. "Infer" is not properly a synonym for "imply."

I wouldn’t critique this, except that Professor Kleiman says that he was trying to write a gentle reply. I do not think that reply is gentle. I think Professor Kleiman used his considerable smarts to zero in on and attack the letter writer’s core identity, and I think Professor Kleiman fell victim to his anger, which made him condescending and mean.

I am only projecting, of course. I’m guessing that Professor Kleiman responded the way I would, so if you read condemnation into this, please also apply it to all of us who mean to be reasonable people discussing contentious things and dealing with difficult people on the internet. And, of course, I could be off base on any of these guesses; they’re based on what I would do.

Professor Kleiman is bright, well-trained and verbal, and had two paragraph-long samples of unpleasant text aimed at him. He did what you do after a lifetime of extracting meaning from texts, and found the information he wanted. The writer capitalized a Christian self, more than a political identity, and when Kleiman wrote back, it was ad hominem. He didn’t state that he disagreed with the characterization of Muslims or the letter writer’s predictions for the future of our country, which was the bulk of what both letters were about. Nope, he found the four sentences that described the letter writer:

… I LOVE my safety, and my freedom. …
… I lean MORE AND MORE right …
… and am VERY Christian …
… I will not tolerate being minimized by you and your associates. …

And Professor Kleiman, perhaps entirely subconsciously, prioritized then attacked the point that was most important to the letter writer. He bluntly contradicted the writer’s identity as Christian and implied that the writer should keep trying to achieve a better Christian identity, one that Kleiman understands but the writer doesn’t.

That wasn’t gentle, but I think the overall tone of his response is worse. I think Professor Kleiman wrote from anger. I think it was anger from two things. First, Professor Kleiman was scared, slightly or briefly or a lot, by the convergence of the nasty emails and the phone call. You can dismiss it rationally, and he does. But no matter what you tell yourself about the fear, the residue of fear is anger. From what I’ve read at his site, I’d believe that Professor Kleiman is much angrier over what he views as a misappropriation of Christian beliefs. Professor Kleiman participates in a Tanakh study group, so I have every reason to believe he has a good deal of reverence for holy books. In addition to personal anger, I’d guess he feels protective of them and gets real mad when people use them as a source for vicious ideologies.

Understandably, Professor Kleiman is angry as he responds to his letter writer. His response is remarkably condescending for six short lines; the rest of his post is worse. That pissy “Keep trying”, “Here’s a suggestion” and correcting the writer’s grammar? That wasn’t written from openminded engagement with the writer. He wasn’t trying to guide the reader to a better Biblical interpretation or to improved grammar. He wouldn’t answer me that way if I’d emailed him with a genuine but poorly written question. Kleiman wanted to reassert his superiority in both fields, to make the writer know he was less than Kleiman. He wanted the writer to feel that, to punish the writer for making Kleiman scared and hurt. I get that impulse; I know how it feels and I’ve done it. I don’t think it is the best of us, though. And if our long-term goal is re-engagement with our nutcase fellow citizens, it isn’t helpful. They already feel that acutely; they feel it all the time. It was one of the four things the writer said about him or herself, that he or she can’t stand “being minimized by you and your associates.” That hurt and anger is always there for that letter writer, and Professor Kleiman gave him another small dose.

It is so hard not to answer like that. I use Professor Kleiman because I think he is an example of a fine person and thinker who fell into this trap. If he did it, we are all at risk of doing the same. For a few weeks, I’ve been trying to think of a way to avoid it. Here’s the best I’ve come up with so far. I don’t think we can judge our own writings when we’re angry; I think that is for the enlightened, not people like us. So I don’t trust a decision rule based on thinking. But I’ve noticed there is a feeling you get when you fire off an angry post or email. The feeling is a rush, with complete focus, combined with a flushed face and faster breath. Pulse is accelerated and the words just flow. They sound incredibly, inarguably right. If you feel this feeling, you should stop. You have stopped being considered and respectful. If you are going back to make the zing even a little sharper, really show that person how fine your words are? If you are getting a real flourish and even more of a thrill when you hit send? You must especially stop, because you are being an asshole. This is hard self-awareness; in the angry moment, the feeling of rightness is all-consuming. Stopping feels like a splash of cold water. But it prevents escalation, and that horrible feeling later that you were partially at fault. Much as it sucks, this is the only way I can think of to self-police; Professor Kleiman's uncharacteristic post shows us we all need to self-police.

More on being non-judgmental.

I’ve been trying recently to reconcile being non-judgmental with my increasing conviction that we should condemn and exclude assholes. And with the recognition that some things just aren’t OK. My thoughts on that aren’t finished yet.

One possibility is that there are types of people who deserve no tolerance. I am done with ex-pats. I am done with best friends who fuck my ex. I have had two bad run-ins with television news reporters, so they are skating on thin ice. One more bad encounter with a television news reporter and I am done with them too. (I should tell you about those. One time was sad and one time was ludicrous.) I’ve got nothing for the TSA. I am also done with people who menace women on the internets and assholes in general, although that isn’t a very finely tuned application.

The alternative concept is that there are realms for being non-judgmental. Passing judgments on voluntary behavior that violates gender or sex norms is a waste of thought. Anything that only hurts the agent gets a sympathetic listen from me. I’ll go a good long way with any experimentation from someone who generally has her act together. That’s as far as I’ve thought through.

I am also convinced that this exact form of non-judgmental tolerance is the key to adult mother-daughter friendships. Whenever someone says “my Mom is my best friend; I talk to her every day and tell her everything”, I quiz her on this. So far I’ve gotten perfect correspondence. I fully believe that mother-daughter relationships are so fraught that any hint of criticism gets amplified out of proportion. Moms have to be non-judgmental at all times for daughters to choose to confide in them. I don’t think that is fair to Moms (except the Moms for whom it comes naturally), but I think it is true.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Coming through.

I did some stuff that was outside my usual boundaries this weekend and if I wanted to tell you about it, I’d have said what it was. But it was new for me and it generated a lot of thought, which meant I needed my friends to think with me and offer their perceptions. I knew immediately which friends I could talk to.

The friends I could talk to about this are the friends I can tell anything to and be completely sure of their reaction. These are my friends who pass no judgment, who approach all my thoughts and doings with loving acceptance. Those are the people I turn to, and therefore the people who know me best. They offer me judgment-less listening and know that I’ll return it.

I had to learn this no-judgment approach. For a long time, I thought there were right and wrong ways to do things, and that you could evaluate people’s actions against an external standard. I’ve abandoned that in a lot of realms. That just isn’t an approach that gets me what I want, which is deep and open relationships with people. When I realized how much I love receiving unconditional acceptance, I changed my base assumptions so that I can give it out. For my friends, who are sweet-natured and accomplished and generally of my worldview, I start with the assumption that anything they do is the right thing, considering their priorities and options. They have brought their lives this far to my general approval; they wouldn’t have come to a wrong decision. Faced with what looks like a bad choice, I immediately look for a cause that would make it the perfectly reasonable thing to do. It is a loving and constant conviction that your people get the benefit of doubt.

It is formulaic even. You turn to your girl friend, or Chris, if you’re lucky enough to know him, and you say “I tried heroin this weekend! I think I LIKE it.” Your girl friend blinks in surprise a couple times and says something noncommittal and reassuring while she processes it: “Oh honey. You were so brave to try something new.” Pause. Then, while she is patting your arm and breathing short breaths, she thinks hard. What, given everything she knows about you and within the constraints of well-meant behavior, could explain this? That may be a very small intersection or even a null set, so she works harder. She may ask for more information to make it make sense. She remembers the time when she was tempted by something similar and explores that out loud, saying to you what you need to hear. We are alike; we feel similar things; I understand; there were reasons; people do that and you did it; you did your best; I would have done that in your place; I would have wanted to do that in your place; good people can act that way; you were brave to tell me, my sweet good friend; I still love who you are; I always love who you are.

That is, frankly, it. That is pretty much all I am willing to tolerate from my closest friends. A hint of less or disapproval means that person does not get my confidences next time. Friends who don’t offer that may get access to lots of me, but not my scared or confused or ashamed parts, so not my most interesting parts. There is a time, later, after the loving acceptance, when you can reintroduce critical thought, starting again from the baseline that your friends are good people who do their best. “Hon, did you like how that turned out? Were you kind to yourself when you did that? Have you had different ideas since?”

Sometimes any sort of reason fails. What your friend did was beyond the pale, more hurtful than you can put together a generous story for. Then you get two choices. You can simply be loyal, on faith. You love your friend, including all she does. Or you can stop being friends. This is actually a good test for me. If finding empathy and loving acceptance for someone is a consistent struggle, that means I shouldn’t be a close friend to that person.

I suspect some of you will have a very hard time with this concept. But there IS right and wrong and people DO dumb shit for bad reasons and I have to live by the TRUTH, you protest. To which I say, some external version of truth is not what I want when I’m struggling. I want a haven and a gentle listener and the sure knowledge that my friends will apply their tremendous focus to finding the softest path open to me. I will go to the people who offer me that. You can have your judgment or you can have my confidences and trust and gratitude and deepest friendship.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

For you? If you were here right now? Purple and blue sweet peas.

Hard work is done, and I don’t mind telling you I’m writing you from my porch, gin and tonic half finished. It is spring here, although colder than it should be, and there are flowers everywhere I look. LB, I took your advice, and my California poppies are a solid wash of orange. The lemon geranium, which hosts the ladybugs, is going off, so the bees are here too. I never understood why the ladybugs lay their eggs on the geranium, so their little alligator babies are all over the plants when the roses twenty feet away are covered in aphids. I can solve that, though, and have spent more time gently transferring ladybug larva to my rose plants than reasonable people would. My quince is long past, but the tea trees are scarlet. Tea trees in the Bay Area flower more densely than the ones here, so that’s one thing in favor of Oakland. But here, people come out on their porches and stoops, where they can actually see the tea trees. They don’t do that in Oakland, that I’ve seen, and I don’t understand why. The houses are the same, so it isn’t that they have small, lame porches or a less inviting architecture. But here you naturally take your plates to the porch first thing, or drink on the steps ogling passersby. We reject the interior! Why, Bay Area people, do you huddle inside? Is it the extra ten degrees?

We’ve been bringing flowers inside, me and Ali. We must have eight or nine vases in the house. Roses in one room, honeysuckle in the bathroom and both bedrooms. She bought red daisies, and got another two bouquets for her birthday. It is her birthday today, and she is the best roommate I’ve ever had. I picked two gardenias from across the street (please don’t tell!) and a couple blue cornflowers and put them in her room to perfume her sleep. We probably won’t really run to SF, but if we make it to MurderBurger in Davis, we’ll call the whole thing a success and order milkshakes with our burgers and fries.

I once gave a gardenia to an old Japanese man. I worked in flower stores through high school and college. You may think I’m just a poser, with my "honeysuckle" and "cornflowers", but I was a professional, you know. I have useful skills, like arranging bouquets either by lying the stems horizontally, folding the tissue over them and tying the ribbon OR holding the stems vertically and rotating them to make a perfectly circular posy (secure with rubberband, cover band with ribbon). I can make bows, you know. Anyway, the owner of the flower stand in front of Cody’s used to keep a stock of broken stems to give to pretty girls. So I was working there and a wistful old man came by a couple times and lingered. I thought it was crap that only pretty girls got flowers, so I asked him if he wanted a flower and he asked for a gardenia. Which I gave him.

He came back the next day with a tin of stale cookies for me and tears in his eyes. He said the day before had been his anniversary and he always gave his deceased wife a gardenia and he put this one on her picture and it smelled good all night. I was so lucky. There isn’t always more symbolism, but that time I was so lucky.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Should be back at the end of the week.

Work is requiring that I work. I miss you, of course, but since I am having a rather torrid time of it with Excel, and discovering anew how strong and smart and handsome and dreamy he is, missing you has been bearable. When I think of it.

Monday, April 16, 2007

A kind distance.

You don't have to, you know. You can choose not to look. They are people in a horrible situation, and you are sorry it happened. But you do not know them. You can't unmake the situation. You can't make it better by feeling bad about it. If you were going to do something useful, like offer comfort that will reach someone involved or promote policies and involvement that would unknit the rage before it reaches a killing point, then it might be worth learning what happened in detail.

If this is, in fact, a story that is relevant to you, it will come find you. You will get a call with bad news, and then there is every reason for you to find out what and why. But it is very likely that this is not a story that is relevant to you. It is likely that you are following this story for an emotional charge, to watch other people feel things very strongly and feel an echo of that yourself. Why? Why feed off other people's tragedy? Do you have nothing more vivid of your own?

There is some national communal grief to share, that a violent and senseless thing happened. We are sorry, so sorry that it happened, that we didn't know it was going to happen so that we could stop it with all of our wishes. But all you need to know to feel that grief is the headline. The headline itself tells us it was horrible. The rest is for the people who were involved to suffer, and us to wish them solace. You don't need details to wish them peace in this time.

If you are following closely, learning the names and details and watching every moment, I ask you whether you intend to use that for more than emotional voyeurism. Because of this, will you work closely with young men whose lives drive them into rages they cannot ease? You will be a Big Brother now, with this as your motivation? You will sit on a safety committee at the local university, where they spend long evenings planning evacuation routes and doing cost-benefit analyses of retrofitting windows for escape? You will lobby your city council person to include a larger budget for psychiatric help in high schools?

There is hard and honest work that could be done in response to this. Maybe reading about this killing is what you need to get involved. If you will do nothing useful with your fascination and awful thrill, avert your eyes from their grief. Offer them privacy in this agonizing time. Look to see if there is a genuine way to help them; I suspect if there were a role for you, you would already know it. Think on what harm is likely to effect you and yours, and use this reminder that terrible things happen to prevent that harm. At the same time, do not dwell on this, which is so dramatic that it will up-end perspectives on risk and violence and cause us to make emotional and extreme decisions about what to do. Hug your children tightly.

If, in a week from now, you will not still be feeling this with any intensity, do not join in the national wallow now. Look away from the screen; read the headline and the first three paragraphs tomorrow. It is very likely that today, this had nothing to do with you. Since it didn't, you can be thankful you were spared. You can contemplate how awful it must have been. You can take action to prevent another one. You can be sad that yet another terrible thing has happened in our world. You do not need to revel in the details and the faces to do those things.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Call ME, teacher! Call ME!! I'm ever so smart!

I got it. I figured it out. I was over at Slate, reading the blog round-up on Don Imus’ firing. The questions people are asking are: why now? Why did this slur get people so fired up, when he’s made nasty cracks about pleasant people before? Why is there no uproar when mainstream rappers call black women the same thing? Why isn’t anyone in there, defending the Duke lacrosse players? Why this? Are we a new nation, sensitive and intolerant of racist abuse? Is this a new era? Why did “nappy-headed ho’s” cause this now? And I got it.

You would hope that it was because such a manifest slander would outrage us, but 1. he’s done it before without getting fired and 2. we let rappers say such things. It isn’t that it was both false and used powerful racist words. You can get distracted by race and class and power in this one. That wasn’t what set everyone on fire. It was because it was directed at sports underdogs. That’s it. He said horrible, hurtful things about sports underdogs.

If there is anything everyone in this country is, it is a sports underdog. We could all take the title next season, if we just got up at four and ran those stadiums. It is the most American thing there is. That's why we watch the movie about the underdogs three times a year. It is us! And that’s why it is so easy to feel the hurt in his words. They did the push-ups and took the I out of team and took it to the basket. We would do that! Any day now! And to get there and be called “nappy-headed ho’s”!?! We aren’t nappy-headed ho’s. WAIT! They aren’t either and THAT’S NOT NICE! The push-ups!

That piece of Americana was just too strong for him. It is surely wrong to slander talented young women, but wrong wasn’t enough to take him down. It was the wrongness plus the target. You can’t talk that way about the sports underdog, no matter who you are.

It would never have worked.

Hee. Riding in this morning, a guy stepped off the curb in front of me, blocking my lane. I moved to go around him, and he turned to pace, blocking me again. He must have blocked me three times, for four or five seconds. He was on the phone, never saw me at any point.

When I finally passed him, I looked closer... yeah! It was him! A guy I dated twice a few years back, the handsome one who didn't do anything wrong but was constantly slightly annoying. I knew it! He wasn't trying to be annoying! It is just his nature, part of his being! Props to him for staying true to himself.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Bad timing.

When you live in Sacramento, trees become important. The trees are huge and gorgeous here. When I lived in LA, I thought I couldn't live without mountains in the distance. How would you ever know where you were without a constant reference? How would you feel safe and cradled if mountains weren't standing protectively in the distance at all times? When I moved away I missed them for years.

Now I live in Sacramento and the trees are my heart's anchor. They arch over the streets and make Midtown more beautiful than anything else could. They make the light all green and streaming and the sidewalks buckle. They hide my sunsets from me. You can't see the horizon in Sacramento, because it is really hard to get to anywhere higher than the trees. I used to watch sunsets religiously before I moved here. I miss them too, but I wouldn't trade our tunnels of trees.

Our trees were all planted at the same time and they are senescing at the same time. The canopy here is overmature and dangerous. It will come down in my lifetime. There is no tragedy here. I understand that. The end of that generation of trees was foreseen and planned for. The City and the Sacramento Tree Foundation and SMUD are planting replacements. Thoughtful people gave us this gift of trees more than a century ago and thoughtful people are working to extend it. They'll be more staggered this time. This is the inevitable and natural end of a cycle. Nothing has gone wrong. But I am sad, sad, sad every time I see a removal plaque on a giant elm. I wish they weren't coming down while I am old enough to know what we're losing.

My work here is done.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


I love experts. Really. I love experts. I love experts on anything. It is impossible to have a boring conversation with an expert who is still thinking about her field. As long as the expert still cares and pays attention to his field, I want to talk to him. Experts are sometimes reluctant to talk about their field, ‘cause they’re afraid they’re boring you or because it can be a lot of work to talk to laypeople. But when they’ll let me, I will sit and interrogate someone for two or three hours. I really want to know what it is like to think like them. The best questions are general: ‘and then what?’, ‘how does that work?’, ‘does that part suck?’, ‘is that part like the conventional wisdom?’. The other thing I love about true enthusiasts is that the more dedicated and knowledgeable they are, the more prosaic they get. They don’t mystify or glorify or obscure things. “Well, yeah,” they say. “That part is a pain in the ass. But is it worth it when it makes this other part possible.” When they get to the core of their expertise, the part they can’t explain, they aren’t coy about that either. “I just know, because I’ve done it thousands of times.” “My way isn’t the perfect way, but it is the way I like it best, and I’ve tried lots of things.”

One of the best things about this huge world is that there is so much for people to be expert in. I am jealous of them. I want their eyes. It was amazing to go out on Sherry’s boat and know that she was monitoring dozens or hundreds of tells about sailing, only consciously thinking about some of them, and only saying six or seven of them out loud. I can’t believe what people know. I know I am also like that in a couple fields, but I am freshly jealous every time I find a new way that people know something that well. I am also ridiculously disappointed every time I run into someone who disparages that ability in her or himself or won’t tell me. I swear I want to hear it.


I’ve been reading ebogjohnson and grammarpolice, and marveling at what they do in their posts. Look what Kriston did here (nsfw?). Those are two very dramatic pictures. And while I was still looking at them, thinking things like WHOA! SEX! WHOA! BUGS!, he did useful things. He checked if it was a hoax and settled on a context for the pictures. Given that context, he analyzed elements I didn’t even see. He looked for an underlying concept and gave the reasons it is applicable. He supported that with specific examples from the pictures. He made an assertion about what that concept means to us and to other people, backed up again by examples. He conveyed his opinion and was funny. He did all that in about a page.

That accomplishment is why his post reminded me of nothing so much as Gary’s. When Gary wanted to explain why one comedian’s use of blackface was shallow and public reaction to that comedian unusually hurtful, he did nearly exactly the same thing. First, a qualification for authenticity and establishment of context. A look at a range of ways to evaluate the topic. He drew on his professional knowledge to give me an example of other uses of blackface, so that I could evaluate both. He drew conclusions about what different uses of blackface would mean. He said strong things clearly and led me straight through the transitions.

I am so impressed with that ability. That’s what you get when people do serious work in their fields. And here’s the thing. I wouldn’t have an interest in either field if they weren’t thinking so hard and so well about it. In art, the extent of my opinions is that I like a piece or I don’t, and shamefully, that is mostly about how it would look in my house. I am a distant spectator in analysis of black and white race relations; I’d be petrified if I got dragged into that game. But if they’re going to think and write that well about it, I’m going to read it. I’d read it no matter what the topic was.

They are perfect, you know.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Still? We are still doing this?

In 1995 I went to Nationals to fight. I lost my first fight and was done the first day. Struggling back tears, I was walking back to the stands when a coach I'd met before caught sight of me. He called me over and asked where I was from. Trying not to cry, I told him my university and my master's name. "Well," he said sympathetically. "You must be why they say California girls are so pretty."

I couldn't believe him. I'd just lost a huge match, after twelve years in the gym. I'd flown across the country, and now had nothing to do for two more days. I'd starved myself for two months to make weight. It was nearly certainly the end of my career. And he told me I was pretty? I was pretty without doing any of that crap. He couldn't even say I had nice turnover on my roundhouse kicks? Real good timing on my spin kicks? Nice big drop on that axe kick? There was not one thing to say about any of the kicks I'd spent my childhood learning? Those tens of thousands of repetitions got me a "pretty"? I didn't even make me pretty. My parents made me pretty.

His intentions were nothing but good. I bowed respectfully when he let me go.

Now, Don Imus is clearly an abhorrent jackass and ever will be. I would like him to be completely shunned. His comments were particularly despicable for being nasty racist, sexist slurs, directed at amazing athletes at a time when they're already down. But, for the record, I would like to say the obvious one more time. When a woman succeeds or fails at an impressive achievement, the important thing IS NOT HER APPEARANCE.

In the five-one-oh?

Ennis just sent me this, about a guy who dreamt a phone number, called it and started chatting up the woman who became his wife. My inclination was that this was much more likely.

But it did remind me that my third and fourth boyfriend's phone numbers were in order:

3rd: 46X - 9346
4th: 54X - 9354
Nxt: 62X - 9362

(The X's are in order, too. Please don't be crazy people.)

Anyway, my former friend and I called the Next number one time. Nothing for 916 - some old lady. But a guy answered for 530. I got really nervous and I hung up on him. That is all. The end.

Giving it away.

I eavesdrop a fair amount and I consciously watch body language. (I have to watch it very consciously, because by nature I mostly notice tone and not what I see.) But, I have a checklist now and I've gotten better. Since I've been watching people's body language, I've started joining in. Mother scolding children in the store gets a head shake and a finger point from me. A couple fighting needs me to help count on my fingers. (Unobtrusively. I am not entirely tactless.) Anyway, one of my very favorite themes is 'pretentious explanation', of which years of grad school have given me a wide repertoire. So I really liked this post, via Ezra. But as a connoisseur, I can say with confidence that this is one of the finest glasses-shakes I've seen in a long time. So much commitment. Mr. Blair is a true professional.

Also, this cracked me up at the BagNewsNotes this morning. Look at the kid on Cheney Rove's left. Look at him again in this shot. He is sitting next to the Vice President policy director of the United States of America. What do you think it would take to get him to notice anything but that pretty girl sitting across from him?

Monday, April 09, 2007

I'll let you guess which ones those were.

Margie just sent me this. It's a pretty awesome series of pictures of a flight over the American southwest, except for the couple shots that make me want to weep.

Update: She and I just chatted about it.

1. We love that last shot, of the guys. They look exactly like they should.

2. Oooo. Ouch. That shot of Lake Powell, behind Glen Canyon. That is one nasty bathtub ring. It was the first thing I saw. Incidently, should you ever need to pose as one of the water project cognescenti (to impress the fellas at your local bar or to pass yourself off as a technical aid worker when you are really an international spy), that is your number one tip. When you have brought your prospective hook-up out to the canal banks, and he is looking up at you with wide eyes and you know a little dirty talk will close the deal, you hook your fingers into your belt loops and squint at the canal sides. Check out the water stains on the sides of the canal. Is it dark for more than five-six inches above water level? Then use your deep voice of technical expertise and say "Having a little trouble with water level control, I see." If the water level is real close to the top of the stained cement, you just say "Got some nice tight control on that canal. Long-crested weirs?"* He will totally swoon and you can pull him in for a kiss. He'll be your plaything after that.

Anyway, Lake Powell is way down and people are talking about needing more water. A real temptation when you need more water is to build more storage. But the thing laypeople don't necessarily realize about new storage in the west is that there may never be water to put behind it. Lake Powell itself may never be full again, as new demands (like that picture of Vegas sprawl) tax the Colorado River.

Waterstored = (Waterin - Water out)*time

This is not magic. But what many don't realize when they call for new dams is that the amount of water they have to let out (for downstream uses, like irrigation, municipal and in-stream habitat) is, most of the time, all the water in the river.

Waterin = Water out
Waterstored = 0

There isn't much unspoken-for water in our systems now; any river that can be dammed is busy. What you could get from new storage is capture of the occasional flood flows, where so much water comes down that everyone's needs are met and more. That "more" could be tucked away. Last year and the year before, if there had been available storage in California, there would have been lots of water to put behind it. This year, there was none. Most years, there will be no new wet water, because all the flows that are available in an average year are currently put to use. (And if you think that in-stream water use has been shafted for the past half-century, which is not a far-fetched thing to think, those rivers are oversubscribed.)

So when your governor says that we need to consider new storage because of global warming, one important consideration is "store what?" With uncertain new hydrology, new storage capacity may take a very long time to fill. You're counting on rare flood flows to fill that. On the other hand, as global warming models predict warmer storm events with more extreme precipitation, it might be good to have mostly empty dams to catch big events.

My civil engineering professor said that canals move water through space; dams move water through time**. Most of the water behind dams now is legacy water, stored up from a time when it was OK to turn off the downstream river while you were filling your dam. You might also not realize that a very large portion of it is unreachable. The "dead pool" is the water below the bottom of the gates that release the water. Unless you pump it out (expensive), that water can't be moved. When you talk about usable water in a reservoir, you're talking about the portion at the top that can be emptied, released for irrigation in the summer and drawn down to make way for potential flood flows in the fall.

That right there is the classic conflict for dam managers. Irrigators want them to hoard up as much water as possible, in case next year is dry. Flood managers want them to empty down to the dead pool, so they have the ability to catch a flood. For most dams in California, in the 1930's through 60's, the _rmy Crps of _ngnrs calculated a water height that operators must be at on the first day of flood season; they've hit that water height for decades. It is only in the past, say, fifteen years that people have proposed basing the amount of water behind a dam (and thus its capacity to catch floods) on weather predictions for the winter. That is pretty crazy talk, this "keep your reservoir high if it looks like a dry winter and empty it if you're looking at an El Niño year"; fine-tuning management at every level, from dam to district to field, has been slow. You would think we'd already be there, but incremental steps like that is where a lot of our new water is going to come from. I'm not flat-out opposed to any new dams. But considering how cheap water has been and how little incentive we've had to optimize its use, I firmly believe that water wrung from our existing system will be cheaper than new storage for another generation or two.

*Should you need more, because the guy whom you know to be a KGB informant is still looking at you all suspicious, look at the distance from the top of the water stain to the top of the canal. If there is almost no distance from the top of the water stain to the top of the canal, you can say "I see you run this thing full. Where d'you put your operational spill?" If there is lots of room (half a foot or so) from the top of the water stain to the top of the cement, you can say "Lots of freeboard in this baby. You must sleep some peaceful nights." Do not forget to hook your fingers through your beltloops.

**The snowpack is the largest reservoir in the state. It stores water over winter, releasing it slowly in the spring. We'll be getting less snow, more rain in a generation or so. The snow line will rise, which is bad news. Low elevations stored more snow because they have more surface area.


I am worried that you guys might have missed this great footage of Anand, 'cause I put it way down the page. I know y'all are his groupies and you read and re-read all his posts for every last detail of his life. This is Anand catching ice cream in Austin:


I used to be worried that Ali and I weren't going to make it all the way to San Francisco. 'Fact, at our previous pace, it looked like we were going to have to walk to the store and make dinner at home. But we've gone running three times now. West Sac is OURS!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Some hardcore, to tide you through the weekend.

Sometimes when I tell you water things, it is based on gossip I’ve heard around here. This time though, I want to stress that everything I’m writing is from what I’ve read in the papers. I don’t know the people working on this; they’re high up. I usually avoid anything to do with the Delta because it is so damn hard and you can give twenty pointless years to it. This is absolutely my private opinion with no insider knowledge and it certainly doesn’t reflect anything official from any state agency that I may or may not work for. … One day, I’ll be fired for what I write here (not this-post here, this-blog here).


Superior Court Judge Roesch ruled last month that the California Department of Wtr Rsrcs was in violation of the California Endangered Species Act and the California Fsh and Gm Code for operating the Harvey Banks Pumping Plant without an Incidental Take permit from the Department of Fsh and Gm. Judge Roesch said that Wtr Rsrcs had sixty days to get an Incidental Take permit, or he would shut down the pumping plant until they got one. I’ll remind you that the Harvey Banks pumping plant is the primary source of water for about half the agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley and most of Los Angeles.

Couple thoughts. First, the power granted under the Endangered Species Act is awesome. Not awesome like way cool and gnarly, awesome like unbelievably vast and absolute. To save a species, a judge can stop any project; economic costs are explicitly not a factor in the judge’s decision. At any economic cost a judge can take nearly any action. Second, you don’t realize that because it never happens. Judges never do that, except Judge Roesch, who has monster-sized stones. Judge Roesch looked the state in the eye and said “Six or seven billion dollars worth of agriculture this year? Drinking water for the City of Los Angeles? The way you state agencies have done business for decades? Fuck you, state of California. I want a piece of paper that shows me you are protecting a small ugly fish. Sixty days, State of California.” (Um, that is my paraphrase. You will not find that in the decision.) I have HUGE respect for Judge Roesch.

That said, while his decision is as good as any of his choices, I don’t think it was actually good. Whenever I know a little about these complex environmental crises, I come to believe there are no straightforward remedies. In this case, I think the physical problem is very difficult, and the agencies have worked out a series of work-arounds that are a decent job by thoughtful, informed professionals, swayed by political influence, and far from compliance with the law. I can’t see a good way for a judge to bring them back in compliance with the CESA. For all the judge’s authority to stop the pumps until Wtr Rsrcs gets an Incidental Take permit, I can’t see it really happening. It is simply too big. If you are balancing water for the lower half of the state against a bureaucratic requirement, the requirement must lose. If you are balancing water for the lower half of the state against the rule of law, perhaps law wins, but more likely the law gets changed. Judge Roesch pulled out a massive hammer and got everyone’s attention, but that hammer is too big to swing.

So what can the agencies do? Develop an Incidental Take permit in sixty days? No, they’re huge documents. That isn’t a possible thing. And what could that permit say, anyway? It can’t say that that we can operate the way we do now, because that doesn’t accord with the California ESA. Change the pump operations, so that the State of California actually encounters significant sacrifice for a threatened species? I’d love to see it, but don’t predict that. Do legal and bureaucratic maneuvering to postpone the deadline and really, really promise to write an Incidental Take permit that will be incrementally better than we have now? Yeah. That*.

This was an expensive way to get that to happen. No doubt that court case and our response cost a lot. Rushing about addressing this in response to a court order will make the work more expensive than it would have been if nicely planned in advance. The physical results from this will be new documents and some tweaking to pump operations. It may make pumped water more expensive, but that isn’t certain. The side effects were a sharp reminder to the agencies that the water world isn’t entirely self-ruled and an outside judge can give us a rough shake. That’s not a bad thing. And finally, this ruling is one more strong piece of evidence that we cannot operate the Delta in a way that is consistent with the opposing goals of moving lots of water south and maintaining a functioning Delta. The sixty-day deadline has people freaked at the incredible costs of shutting Delta pumps, but that would be a predictable, reversible shut-down. We risk those costs all the time, but when Delta levees collapse, we’ll have no warning and it’ll take months or years to fix. This ruling should increase the pressure to evaluate a peripheral canal to see if it is a better option.

*Keep in mind that we don’t know what fish-ideal pump operations would be, even if we believed they were worth the cost in water to southern California and wanted to switch. We will be promising a document based on knowledge no one has.

Also, folks. Would you like me to go through and provide links for my assertions in this summary? I could, but I don’t know if you guys want to do a rigorous evaluation of this, of the sort that would mean going back to my original sources to see if I’ve read them right.

...before a fall.

Ali’s friend is visiting, so yesterday she rode my Clara, whom Sage totally fixed. Clara’s a single speed now, no unsightly gear levers or derailer. She’s geared a little high for me here in flat Sacramento, but I bet I like that a lot better in hilly Oakland. (My fixed gear is still waiting for me to get the frame painted.) Anyway, Ali said her friend hadn’t been on a bike for a long time, and Ali’d forgotten what it was like to be all wobbly on a bike.

I’m at a level of confidence on my bike I’ve never felt before. I’m nothing like the real bike people, like Sage who stands on his frame as he rides, or messengers who weave in and out of traffic, or anything like that. But I stop at intersections and hover motionless for three-four seconds before I have to put my foot down. I believe we have discussed turning corners with no hands before. I didn’t realize I was riding faster until a friend said something about slowing it down a bit. Last time Chris and I rode somewhere, he asked if I was showing off when I wasn’t.

The key is to have no choice about riding your bike. If I go away for the weekend in a car, when I come back, the comfort on my bike is gone for the first couple rides. I know that if I had a choice, I would choose a car for trips to the store. But when you get back on your bike, it is not the same as it was before the car ride. It comes back in a mile or two, but you don’t have that feeling where thought and motion are the same. And it took me two or three months of only bike riding to get there in the first place.

I know I’ll never convince anyone to give up a car. But if you are thinking of it on your own and trying to think how much you’ll like only having a bike, I’ll just say that you can’t know how great it feels in advance. No matter how much you like riding your bike, you would like it more if you weren’t switching between a bike and a car. You also can’t understand how even the rides you dread, the ones on a cold dark night, invariably lift your mood. They are always better than you expect. Giving up my car was a good decision.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Jesus that was close.

Sometimes, through sheer good luck, you manage not to embarrass yourself horribly. It wasn't 'cause I had better sense, 'cause my mind was busy with the reasons it would be OK. It was just a slight sense of caution and waiting and holding my tongue, and it saved me from a vastly embarrassing scene.

Even better, I found out after, with no one knowing what I wanted to do, why it would have been a terrible idea. I am so grateful. We'll all just pretend I never thought of it.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Lunchtime update.

After nine months on his brother’s couch, he realized he’s made the mistake of his life. He’s begging his wife to take him back. She is “making him squirm”, but probably will.

In the last round of comments, the split was between people who thought he was leaving an unhappy marriage and the intern was a symptom, and people who thought he’d thrown away a good marriage for a fantasy of him and the intern. I thought that either way, with the intern out of the picture, he was in for a stretch of being single. I thought he had no idea what that would be like when he chose to leave his wife.

The last time this guy had been single was when he was nineteen. I have a theory that your dating age stops when you get into long-term relationships. So this guy’s dating age was about college. He probably thought there were smart beautiful women everywhere, and you hung out with them in dorm rooms, in hopeful agony until you are suddenly shocked and delighted to be making out. He probably thought that when you weren’t yearning for exciting co-eds, you were hanging out with your buds, doing goofy things. He probably thought that was what he was missing by being with his wife. Last he was single, that was the alternative to her.

Men who are considering leaving your marriages in your thirties, that is not what being single is like now. You may like being single. It may be far better than a painfully broken marriage. But I have seen a number of you, paired since you were young, and I want to warn you that it could be very rough. I do not think you have the skills to be single.

Being single requires work, work you likely never had to do before. You may not have had to do this work because when you were last single, fun people were everywhere. You may not have had to do this work because you and your wife were sufficient unto yourselves, content in each other’s company. You may not have had to do this work because your wife did it; socializing often falls to the woman in a couple. But if you want a full and pleasant single life, work is coming your way and you do not know how to do it.

When you are single, it is up to you to develop your social networks. You must tend the friends you already have, calling them to propose things to do, sending notes when they are in need (and being alert to that need in the first place), meeting them when you want to and also when they want to but maybe you don’t. You must help them in big and little ways and accept help. If you want them to keep calling, you must show up for things and be a good guest. It is up to you now to call to see if there is anything you can bring to dinner. Your wife probably did most of that before, but now you must learn.

Worse, you will need to make new friends. Longtime friends move, get busy, fall out of rotation. If you want your single life to be full of people, you must develop new friends now, so they’ll be close friends later. Yep. You must meet strangers. And talk to them. And suggest getting beers. You must be where people are and make conversation and see them again. Good luck with that, newly single man. It can be very pleasant, but it is work.

The other thing you will have to do to enjoy your single life is to anticipate and manage your own moods. It is possible you like solitude, lots of people do. But if you’ve been with someone your entire adult life, my guess is that you have no idea how to handle it. You will have to learn to enjoy solitude. You also have to anticipate when solitude will become miserable bored loneliness. Will it bum you out to have no one to watch fireworks with on Fourth of July? You must anticipate that in June and solve it in advance. Have people over, hint until you’re invited to something, go camping. You must address this, so you aren’t disgusted with yourself for drinking alone in front of the tv and falling asleep on your couch. Can you feel that you’re getting sad this afternoon and dreading an evening of nothing and porn in an ugly apartment? Can’t think of anyone to call? You must realize this and run a couple extra miles this evening. The endorphins will carry you through. There is no one else to solve it. You must manage yourself. You may well know how to manage the combination of you and your (ex?) wife, but you will have to learn to manage just you.

Men who may be leaving your wives, you will have to do this new work. It will be hard. I’m going to leave out dating, which is sometimes energizing and fascinating, and sometimes just makes for good stories, and is often drudgery and rejection. But developing friendships and managing yourself are the keys to the pleasant single life you envision. The alternative is numbing yourself in front of a screen with some additional depressant. You should take this new work into account when you make your decision about your marriage.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Big news.

Looks like the time has come. I’ve been thinking for months that I should move to Oakland. I want to spend more time with my sister and her boys. And I don’t think I’m going to be able to find anyone in Sacramento. I’ve tried. I’ve put up several rounds of CL ads and met many men. I’ve answered men’s ads on Salon/Nerve, to no response. I’ve passed notes to strangers. I’ve asked friends to set me up. I’m out in public and friendly and I can’t make it work. I have tried. The whole time I was trying, I kept telling myself that no matter how hard it was to approach someone, it was easier than packing my stuff and moving, which has the advantage of being true. But I can’t make it work here. I can’t find a vein of guys like me and I feel like a mismatch for the guys I see and I can’t keep trying a strategy that doesn’t work.

I’ve known for months and months that I should move and I kept pushing the thought away. I love it here. I love my house. I love that Sacramento is just waking up for the summer. People are coming out to their porches and I want to see which porches are going to be the lively ones this year. The guys diagonally across the street did yeoman’s labor for the fun last summer, staying up on their porch all night at least once every two weeks, but now there’s a For Rent sign in front of that house. Ali came home all excited the other day because the guys down the block had a stand-up bass on their front porch and if we didn’t already have plans to go to the park, we’d have changed into dresses and brought over a six-pack. I rode home last night, learning the words to the songs she put on my Shuffle and dancing around on my bike. The night was warm and when I got home, she’d turned on the pretty porch lights so you could see my potted trees; my house looks so bright and beautiful as you walk up to it. I love what I have here.

When Guy #4 was an option, for a few days I let myself think ahead. Until I did that, I had no idea how much I wanted a summer with a boy here. I wanted to drink margaritas on his porch and play cards as we watched people go by. I wanted to decide whether I should make something light or whether we should eat out. I wanted to be able to choose things in the moment, which park, which river beach, which bar, which friends. I wanted to bring him tomatoes on the way back from my garden. I wanted long hot nights, with the sheet kicked off and air from the fans crossing back across our skin. I barely knew him, but oh man, I surely learned what dreams I’ve kept clamped down. But even that potential was an exception. I can’t make it happen. I have tried.

So I’m moving to Oakland, very slowly at first, because in my heart I don’t want to. (This is ridiculous, by the way. I really like my sister’s neighborhood. I love when I’m around enough that the babies turn to me. I like our new apartment. I like the bakeries and plants. Chris and Dennis’n’Amber and likely Anand are there. Some of you are there! When I’m there, I like it.) I’ll start with weekends. I’ll be here during the week, because my job lets me work on Los Osos. I don’t have to decide anything about the house until July, when Ali leaves for Peace Corps and I could rent the whole place for about twice the mortgage. I figure by July, going back and forth will be miserable and I’ll be glad to commit to one place. By July, I should have a sense whether dating there will be any better than dating here. So I’m moving, mostly. I think it is right. I think I’ll be happy there. I think I have to, if a partner and kids are my priority. But oh man. I feel heartbroken.

I'm not jealous of Lester Lloyd.

The Lily Allen concert was SO FUN. She's charming, although a loose cannon. I predict some high highs and low lows for her. Her voice is stronger than I expected it to be. But whatever. The important part was her band.

They all dressed casually, in different colored polo shirts. Sexy drummer, bass player, keyboards guy, yeah yeah. But her horns section!! Three of them, straight from band camp. SO adorable. They played great, of course, but they also did the horns choreography, (right side, left side, up in the middle, then side step) which the funnier Megan and I promptly copied from our seats. We loved them. Those guys spent hours on the band bus, don't you doubt it. We would have kissed them on the long ride back from the band competition. I would have kissed them on Sunday, had they only called the number I wrote on the panties I threw to them.

Monday, April 02, 2007

She remembers it differently.

um, excuse me? when exactly did you mow the lawn TWICE a week? and since we're on the topic, let's think back to the day you (intentionally?) ran over the sprinkler head, not only creating a geyser in the yard, but breaking the lawn mower at the same time. then LEFT the scene to come inside and read a book! cleverly getting yourself banned from lawn mowing duties, which SOMEBODY ELSE had to take over for you (much in the way somebody might take over a plant stand) while said somebody was never absolved of pool cleaning duties because OTHER somebodies couldn't hook up the vacuum themselves. and let's also not forget that potato bugs could at any point be found at the bottom of the pool OR, and much worse, discovered bloated in a leaf trap which must be emptied before the pool can be finished.

besides which when you mow the lawn you can set up a line of grapefruits to mow over which smells really good. and when you're done you jump into the sparkly swimming pool, so i've got no sympathy for you.

Sunday, April 01, 2007


COMRADES! I rejoice to report to you a great and glorious victory for the workers! On this weekend a wrong was righted! On this day, the people have reclaimed what was always rightfully theirs!

Many years ago, a humble daughter of two loyal workers noticed in their backyard a wrought iron plant stand. The plant stand had suffered from rain and rust, but the hardworking girl sanded the plant stand, primed and painted it black, that it might unobtrusively do its job holding plants, because even the lowliest job in the revolution is something to be proud of when done steadfastly and without complaint.

The plant stand served the girl diligently through several college dorm rooms, because the worker’s daughter had decided to learn the ornate and foolish theories of the owner class that she might better refute them when it came time to overthrow the decadent and lazy ruling class. The plant stand was often the only decoration in her small, plain rooms, and although she would have given it gladly to be melted into bullets if those bullets would only bring the agrarian utopia a day closer, in a small worldly corner of her heart she secretly loved the way it held her plants.

Until! One day, the girl was visited by her sister, who (perhaps spoiled by a childhood where she never had to mow the lawn twice a week but instead only had to clean the pool every now and then and it isn’t exactly hot and sweaty work if you can jump in the pool to cool off instead of push a heavy mower for hours) had the greedy eyes of the decadent owners. Sighting the fruits of someone else’s labor, the idle sister naturally coveted it for herself, and took the plant stand back to her mansion where it was lost among all her gilded statuary.

Until today! Comrades! Today the plant stand is returned, as what rightfully belongs to the workers must always be! The will of the people cannot be denied forever! When the workers unite and stand up for themselves, pointing out the unavoidable truths that she painted it in the first place and the sister wasn’t even using it to hold plants right now, and it wasn’t safe for her perfect nephews to climb on it, ‘cause it could tip and hurt someone small and perfect, well then! Then the sister would repent her materialistic grasping ways! Then the sister could deny justice no longer. Then the acquisitive sister would return the plant stand to the industrious sister, and the workers and all the peoples everywhere and our comrades in the fields and factories would sing and dance from joy because BABY’S COME HOME!