The long walk

The cycle of your life is reflected in walking. When we begin life, walking is impossible. Almost a year passes and we’re ready to give it a go. My sister has a young son at this age now, and though he’s built to fall, she agonizes every time he totters and collapses. But she need not worry. Our learning to walk accelerates quickly, we become proficient so fast, it’s a little mindboggling.

My sister, who has a catch phrase for just about everything, loves calling her son a “small human.” Walking really brings that home. When you see your little child taking those first, springy, unbalanced steps, and then they transfer into a lengthened, confident stride, it really does humanize us. Maybe that’s why biologists love to call us the upright ape.

You might remember the riddle of the sphinx – what starts on four legs at the beginning of life, switches to two, and ends life with three? It is the human, crawling as a baby, walking upright through most of life, before stooping over a cane in old age.

We typically enjoy years of comfortable walking, barring injury or other misfortune. But somewhere along the line, it becomes less easy. I play basketball in the mornings at the local YMCA with guys that are older and younger than I am (and I’ve only got one direction to go in that regard). Those of us on the decline joke about how we used to talk about our feats on the court after a game, and now we just compare injuries. One of the players, a good friend, has been having increased back and hip pain. He plugs along – to get a good sweat, he says – but mostly for the comradery. He and I walk to the train station after we’ve showered, and his stride is rolling thing, painful to watch. You can see the years weighing on him.

I write all this for two reasons. First is my youngest daughter, who was born with many problems, including low muscle tone. We wondered whether she would do more than lie in bed all day, let alone walk. The good news is, she does, and though it can leave you breathless (her balance can sometimes be questionable), she makes her way in the world. She gets therapy at a center, and there are many children there who don’t have the privilege of walking. The riddle of the Sphinx could not apply to them; they depend on wheels and parents. Yes, walking is a very humanizing experience, but it doesn’t have to be the only one. I would have been ok if my youngest hadn’t walked, but I’m glad she does. She sees the world independently.

The second reason is because I recently walked my father’s coffin to a gravesite. The riddle of the sphinx has a lesson to teach about the seasons of life, and my father had reached the final one. At the end, my dad had gone past three legs, and was now immobile, trapped. His independence had filtered away like sand slipping through fingers, impossible to cling to, and he was bound to a bed, his blue eyes the only window to the man he was and they were confused, pleading, wistful, contented, resigned, blazing in sudden anger, seeking comfort, asking questions. Why? Why me? Why this way?

The way you walk is as distinct as a fingerprint. I remember my dad’s now. I remember him walking around the land in Arizona he loved. I remember him walking with me and my brother along the high cliffs in California, stretching out his arms to point out sea lions breaking the surface far below. I remember the first time I noticed how thin his legs had become, and that the hair had disappeared. He had a direct gait, leaning forward a little, feet pointed straight forward, no pigeon-toeing or duck-walking for this podiatrist. I remember walking with him after the first surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. We walked around the residential streets of the Colorado town where he lived. He tried to explain to me his hope to be cured and his post-surgery hallucinations. He would make some declaration, telling me God had spoken to him, grip my arm, and say, “So, I don’t know” in a hopeful, expectant way, hitting me with his blue eyes, waiting for me build him up. “Maybe, Dad. I don’t know either.” And we would walk on.


Pluses and minuses

I’ve written before about how I’ve become more choosy in my old age when it comes to writing. If something doesn’t grab my attention early, I will quit it. Books I have quit because they don’t grab me include:

  • Wait, that would be mean I need to list them.
  • Mid-post I’m rethinking that strategy.
  • I’d rather be a Positive Paul than a Negative Ned

So, instead of dwelling on the books where I said “I’ve got to quit you,” here are some books that kept my attention recently: Continue reading “Pluses and minuses”


I don’t have a Facebook account. Or rather, I do, because you can never truly cancel one of those things completely out of existence. There’s a Faceborg Chad Olson that still exists somewhere in cyberspace, and maybe the account will achieve consciousness in 2075 and live an alternate life for me. There are many universes, after all. “I dream I am a butterfly, dreaming I am a man, lying under a tree.” That’s my loose translation of the I Ching. Thanks, Chinese Lit! Continue reading “Unplugged”


I’ve come to Phoenix to see my dad in the hospital. A tumor in his head was threatening to kill him, and they removed it two days ago. They also put radioactive beads covered in gel in his head to (hopefully) stop the tumor from re-growing in the same spot.

Since I’ve been here, he has been talking about how he has “heavy metal” in his noggin. Meanwhile, the chorus of the Imagine Dragons “Radioactive” song keeps popping up in my mind. Continue reading “Micturate”

Hell House

Who doesn’t like a good haunted house story? Well, I suppose some don’t (who are you people?) but given the enduring popularity of the genre, there must a be a sizeable chunk of readers out there who like reading about things that go bump in the night. In my experience it is more difficult to sustain a haunted house story for a whole novel, especially when you compare that to how effective short stories can be. How well does Richard Matheson do in Hell House? Read further if you’re ok with spoilers (though the book was published in 1971, so it’s not exactly hot off the presses.)

Continue reading “Hell House”

Biography on Madison and the Future of America

My current car book (popping in the CDs, very old school) is a biography of James Madison. It’s good, and I’ll maybe do a review of it later, but I want to talk about a comment I heard this morning that the biographer makes as he is describing how Madison and Jefferson first conceived of the Republican (now Democrat) party.

Continue reading “Biography on Madison and the Future of America”

Riding the train, riding the bus

My new job means that I’m on the train for work and then I transfer to a bus for another 20 minute ride. I’m still getting comfortable with being a public transportation professional. I’ve noticed some things in my month plus of riding.

First, people generally don’t talk to each other on the train, unless they are already acquainted. I haven’t made any bus or train friends yet, but I do think some of the people on these modes of transport are only friends because they’ve ridden together so long. But for the most part, people put their headphones on, watch movies, listen to music, a few read books, and many scroll through facebook. This isn’t a place for deep conversation, it’s a place for decompression. Especially on the way home. I’ve been trying to use my time wisely when I’m on the train, make it productive (in fact, I’m typing this post on the homebound train), but it’s much more difficult in the evening. After a long day in the city working, you just want to do something mindless. I’ve heard that Facebook’s reach is on the wane, but if the people on the train are any indication, Zuckerberg’s company should be pretty safe in the near term.

I love the engineers and bus drivers. Most of them are black, and they’re no nonsense, funny, gruff, sassy, practical and some are jovial. I overheard one, a gentleman probably in his fifties, tell a gaggle of admiring female riders that it was his last week on the job. He was switching to something new so he could spend more time with his family. You could tell the women adored him. He had them laughing the whole time, even with his sad bit of news. “Tickets,” they shout, and you better have them ready. “Up top,” they shout and everyone is ready. Well, not everyone. A few days ago, someone said he’d already shown his pass to the conductor, who hadn’t seen it. “Don’t get rude if I honestly hadn’t seen your pass.” But it was a minor incident without any lingering animosity.

The bus rides can be more challenging. I’m not sure who designed the seats on the Chicago city buses, but they are a slight step up from lying down on a bed of nails. They are too narrow, uncushioned, and want you to conform to them rather than the other way around. Your body rebels against them after only a few minutes of use. People on the buses are even less social, but that’s probably because it’s harder to form relationships with a more random set of people.

One more note on the train conductors. I love that they wear uniforms and caps. Sure, they’re sometimes wrinkled, and some are ill-fitting, but it’s that little bit of effort that makes it work.

I know people get sick of the commute into the city, but I’m not there yet. I wouldn’t call myself Mr. Professional Commuter yet (for example, I don’t know what car to get on to exit the train in the perfect place), but I’m getting there.

Defining Success

Because I’m thinking about goals and objectives at work right now (both for myself and my employees), defining success has been on my mind of late. It strikes me that you can get pretty far in life and not have defined success for yourself at all. It would be interesting to find out what percentage of the human population never defines it, just has “success” in their minds as a nebulous quality of having “made it” or “getting there.” I think the percentage is likely high. And then, when “it” never really happens and “there” seems as far away as the peak of Mt. Everest, disappointment and envy settle in.

Is the most difficult thing in human life defining your goals and sticking to them? Does discipline separate those who are satisfied with their lives from those who aren’t? I’m not sure. I think there are plenty of content people who haven’t ever defined success for themselves but do end up feeling satisfied with how things turned out. This may even happen at a biological level. Because the human organism prioritizes itself over others (whether this is eating the choice cut of meat or knowing at a cellular level one’s way of thinking about things is superior to someone else’s) and because as you age, you mellow out. Biology and the human process of aging mean you’re “ok” as the twilight years come on. The passions that drive the young to goals fade away. You find yourself on a porch, rocking, hoping that your kids stop by to play Uno.

All that said, I wish I had defined success earlier for myself, and constantly struggle to stay focused on what success means for me now. I recently watched a few interviews of Jordan Peterson, and participated in a future planning course. It is arduous and easy to let the goals you set up slip. At least it is for me. But I’m glad I did it – I’ve accomplished more this year (with it being the end of February) than I would have if I hadn’t done the program. Over and over the message rings out – define your success. If you don’t, well, you may be content, but you may also never know what you could have done.

I’ll keep revisiting this idea, whether at work, with writing, or at home dealing with my kids. This post is as much for me as anyone reading it. Success- define and achieve, define and achieve. Rinse and repeat.

New job

There’s a certain energy when you start a new job, which I did today. It’s taking a leap, it’s shaking new hands, shaking some trees, and people wondering about you and you wondering about them. “This guy seems all right,” they might be thinking. Or, “This guy might not know squat and now he’s in charge of what? Madness!”

I’m supervising people that I want to put at ease. A new boss from outside is always a strange thing. I know, it’s happened to me. There’s an art to doing it right and I want to do it right.

I’m working for someone new, and I want him to like me, but I don’t want to come across as a bootlicker. Keep your balance and pride, young man! A little bootlicking can go a long, long way.

I’ve inherited from my dad a lack of ability (or maybe interest) in retaining people’s names. That’s not a great characteristic to have on your first day. People open with their names and by the third sentence in the conversation the name is gone like hot breath on a window. No vestage of the name remains. My wife, who taught college classes, made a point of learning all her students names on the first day of class. What a gift she has. We’re a good team. She knows the names, I ask her about the names after the person at a party we’re at has wandered off. “How many times have I met him?” I sometimes wonder obliquely, a little afraid of the answer. She might give me a sidelong glance on that question before she answers.

I was at my last job for ten years. A long time by today’s standards. There was a lot of comfort in the job. I enjoyed it, and did it well without taxing myself. But this feeling today, where all is new and fresh and scary and jumbled and frantic was good. I wouldn’t want this feeling every day, but today, it was welcomed.