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Annual comment:

Wednesday, September 1, 2004  permanent URL for this entry

Good afternoon (or almost Good Evening; it's six twenty pea em, and I'm sitting here on the floor of the bedroom typing; in ten minutes or so I'll be driving into town to pick up the pizza) and welcome to the

Fifth Anniversary Issue

of this here modest weblog. Glad you could make it.

It's actually Tuesday (I've tentatively dated the entry tomorrow, and I'll probably keep it that way, for the Septemberness of it), and like last year we're in Southwest Harbor rather than somewhere near Boothbay.

This year the house is half a block further from town, and on the other side of the road, and on enough of a rise that there's a picturesque view of the Harbor proper and the islands beyond from the big picture windows in the livingroom and the little terrace outside. This house is open and airy and full of light, less cramped than last year's but just as full of the sound of the road.

In town, the place where the barbershop was last year is an antique store. The lady in Rue Cottage Books next door tells me that the barber retired, but that he'll still cut your hair if you go to his house for it. Which is nice.

The lady in Rue Cottage Books herself turns out to be Nicols Fox, and to be a rather prolific writer and occasional essayist for the Washington Post (I think it was). I'll have to look her up when I get back to a usable network connection.

We talked about writing, and National Novel Writing Month ("Where is this contest?", she asked; "It's a Net thing", I said; "Oh, I don't do Net things" she said) and about a couple of recent essays of hers on the dangers of efficiency and of perfection. "Ah, right," I said after she'd outlined her thesis, "suboptimization." She hadn't heard the word, and seemed to like it when I said more or less what it meant.

I wonder about Not Doing Net Things, even if you are a sort of neo-Luddite. I mean, she's got this word "suboptimization" that people in other communities of practice use for a concept that's interesting to her, and she could have used the Net (the Web, Google) to chase up a few leading references to it, maybe found related interesting concepts or people to talk to. Why would one want Not to do that kind of thing?

Maybe I'll get a chance to talk to her again this week.

The little daughter and M and I have (and acquired in roughly that order) an annoying low-level infection (sore throat, stuffy nose, clogged head), which doesn't do wonders for the energy. (The pizza turned out quite fine; the Quietside interpretation of Hawai'ian turns out to involve green peppers and onions.) But today we (all eight) went and had lunch at Jordan Pond House (very elegant, and involving popovers) and then drove up to the top of Cadillac Mountain and walked around on the summit and were amazed by the views (last night's rainclouds and their relatives artistically placed among the islands and mountains, wind and fog and long vistas).

Tomorrow's supposed to be sunnier, and we might go climb Champlain Mountain, or hang out at Sand Beach.

I (we) still miss The Real House, the one by the bay with its own floating dock and no road-sounds day or night. But this one's not bad; "Harbor Daze" is a silly name, and the graven images of lighthouses on every interior surface (including the toilet seats) are a bit much, but the big windows and high ceiling and light wood and harbor view and the breeze are all nice, and the Head of the Harbor Restaurant (good seafood) and the Little Notch Bread Company (bread and pies) are both real close.

We had fresh blueberry pie for dessert again; those dark tart little Maine blueberries that don't seem to have been globalized to anywhere else.

So what with the sore throats and missing the other house and the rain and all (the weather has been cheerful and lovely only briefly since we got here) I'd been feeling somewhat underpleased again. But again, like I guess in particular three years back, sometime after I sat down here and began writing it all up, I started to feel pleased again, pampered by the world, centered in the right place.

Heaven is, it appears, listening to myself talk. *8)

BOOKS: can't argue with tradition. Let's see what's lying around.

I finished Singularity Sky just before we left, but I brought it along to think about and to write up. It was good; by the time you read this there may be some thoughts about it posted over on Book Notes. Similarly I brought along Doctorow's Eastern Standard Tribe, and finished it (a quick read), and fully intend to post some thoughts about it over there. And I just the other hour finished Dark Light, and may well write down things about it also.

A trio of shiny more or less hard SF novels, in a subgenre that really needs a name (just "early XXIst Century hard SF"?). Singularity Sky and Dark Light both have transcendences in them, but both skirt around their edges, and show us mostly the doings of the plain old humans. Eastern Standard Tribe is all about plain old humans, with the transcendence, if any, still aways in the future.

We have, in the house here, three laptops (an iBook, a PowerBook, and a ThinkPad), at least two wireless access points (one of them an Airport Express; I think I want one for my birthday), a couple of iPods, three or four Gameboy Advance SPs, four cellphones, and a couple of digital cameras. At the moment two of the kids are engrossed in little virtual worlds, the little boy is playing Slapjack with the other dad, and the fourth kid is watching. The moms are reading books, I'm typing on the Thinkpad, and the iBook is streaming music to the stereo through the Airport Express. It's all very civilized, but transcendence doesn't seem an immediate danger.

Over on the arm of the sofa in front of me are "The Barn at the End of the World; the Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd" (which I'm very much enjoying; more when I finish it) and "Exploring the Crack in the Cosmic Egg" (a book from the 70s about resisting consensus reality; picked up at Rue Cottage for a couple of bucks, and just barely browsed at so far). These books make me think of inner work, of the centering and exploration of the self. What would it feel like, I wonder, to have an actual regular practice of meditation, of zazen or tai-chi or something?

On top of the stereo next to me are two books of the little daughter's: "Margaux with an X" (teenage angst and character development and stuff; she said it was good and recommended that we read it; we did), and Potok's "The Chosen" (which she's unfortunately been assigned to read over the summer for school, and is therefore biased against).

On the other side of the room, on the floor by the iBook (currently streaming Joni Mitchell's "Carey" through the wireless and out the stereo) is John Dickson Carr's "Below Suspicion". An entertaining Gideon Fell story about murder and poison and Satanism, with a couple of rather dated references to the evil effects of "marihuana", and a peculiar plot point that I haven't been able to work out, that seems to depend on a key for one lock being able to open another lock simply because both locks were made by the same company (but surely Carr isn't just hoping we won't notice that?).

In the bedroom here (getting up and walking by the Slapjack game and the noisy dishwasher and into the bedroom) are more piles of books and things. At the foot of the bed is a copy of Reflections on Skolem's Paradox, a dissertation in mathematical logic that I understand about every other sentence of, but that's interesting to struggle through, and that contains sentences like:

To see this, suppose that M is an arbitrary model of set theory and that Gandalf and Katie are two ordinary housecats...

which make me nostalgic again for when I did Philosophy as my Main Thing (well, not counting flirting and lying on concrete railings gazing wonderingly up at the sky; but then that's (duh) Philosophy also).

Beyond the dissertation are Eric Hoffer's "The True Believer" (a study of memes from before they were called that, also picked up cheap in Rue Cottage and as yet unread, unless I have it at home and read it years ago and have forgotten), and some other unfinished (or unstarted) books: Elizabeth Peters "Lion in the Valley" (an Amelia Peabody Mystery, and really I have no idea where that came from), John Dickson Carr "The Dead Man's Knock" (for when I'm in the mood for Carr again), Mary Yukari Waters "The Laws of Evening" (some wonderful short stories about, say, post-war Japan that I've been savoring slowly for weeks), Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" (Dover Thrift Edition), and a First Edition of Donald Barthelme's "Sadness" that I splurged on a Rue Cottage also.

And then in the International Center for Tic Tac Toe (anyone remember that?) totebag behind them is Jack Vance's "Planet of Adventure" (started long ago and rather stalled in), "Twisty Little Passages: an Approach to Interactive Fiction" (similarly), and numerous copies of our local paper and of the New York Times Book Review (all becoming a bit cool and soft in the humidity rolling in the window).

Other details: We drove from home to Boston(ish) on Friday afternoon (I took off from work early to see the little daughter's ballet class show off what they'd done in the week-long summer session, and then to take off northward). We didn't stop at Travellers' Food and Books on the way up this year; the timing didn't work out. (So I have fewer excuses than usual for the number of books.)

On Saturday we got a reasonably early start, and drove and drove and drove until we got here. It was cloudy, and the little daughter had a sore throat. We had stove-seared steak and pesto pasta for dinner (and red wine; I'm drinking lots of red wine this trip, thanks to the other family's superior knowlege of such things). I walked up into town just to do it, and established that it's seven minutes away at a reasonably brisk walk (with no kids in tow).

On Sunday (cloudy again) we slept in, went across the street to Head of the Harbor for lunch (my first lobster of the week; I do love the taste, but the "boiling fellow creatures alive in order to eat their bodies" aspect is bugging me a little just now), and then strolled into town to Rue Cottage for books and next door for ice cream and the market for some other stuff (I think; or am I getting the days mixed up?). That night M had a sore throat too (we picked up some Nyquil capsules in town).

Yesterday (Monday) the other adults and the smallest kid took the free bus into Bar Harbor to shop, and I stayed with the other three kids, reading books and eventually taking them (the kids) into town for lunch. Nice and relaxing; I was chasing, or being chased by, restlessness, an inability to quite settle into myself. By bedtime my throat was scratchy also.

I woke up this (Tuesday) morning with a definite infection, and memories of tangled dreams. We got a late start (just sitting around the house is all too easy; not that there's anything deeply wrong with it), but eventually made reservations at Jordan Pond House, drove over there, had a nice elegant popovery lunch, walked by the pond a bit, and then drove up to the summit of Cadillac (tallest peak on the Eastern shore; first place in the U.S. to catch the morning light at various seasons of the year).

It was nice up there, although not the fogged-in cloud-inside that the little daughter was hoping for; the clouds had risen a few tens of feet by the time we got up there, so there were those vista instead. And (phht) I forgot to take the camera, and so will have to rely on my poor memory to preserve the various notable images of beloved children outlined against landscape and weather.

So am I doing retrospection here this year, assessment, self-examination, looking backward and thinking forward? Not particularly, or not yet, or not consciously. Nothing deep to say about how this last year feels different from any of the others; they all blur somewhat together. Or maybe that's the deep thing that I have to say: they all blur together.

"You want to contact the being that gives purpose to the world, just reach over and shake your own hand."

Well, there you go. *8) It's nice sitting here and typing, thinking. Or typing as a stand-in for thinking? Could be. It's soothing, listening to myself. I'm not worrying at this moment whether it's worthwhile in any particular value system. It's still early enough in the vacation that, for anything I might think of, I can also think "plenty of time for that later".

I'm off now, toward toothbrushing and child herding and more reading and so on (it's 'way past six thirty now). I presently intend (as they say) to write more tomorrow; you'll know in a moment whether or not I did, but I'll have to wait for tomorrow...

Whoosh! So we had a pretty restless night last night, with three headcolds and a mysteriously buzzing clock radio and one little child with a bad dream, but a good energetic day today (Wednesday) despite.

In the morning (explosively bright sun and warm air and cool wind) we two dads took all the kids up Champlain Mountain from the north; amazing views and not as high-traffic feeling as Cadillac and Dorr. We called the moms from the summit (turned out they were in Bar Harbor), and arranged for them to meet us with the other car at the north end of the Tarn at 12:45. We went down westwardly, toward and around the peak of Huguenot Head. The little daughter and her boy cousin got 'way ahead; while the other four of us were still struggling down the steep rocky scramble off of Champlain, we heard a shout and looked up, and there they were, waving to us from the slope of the Head, on the other side of the gully.

Around and down the Head the trail went along the edge of a nice terrifying drop, and then down to the road and the Tarn by way of a long series of hairpin switchbacks, well and carefully maintained (they must work on it constantly), to the car and the moms.

And then we all went back to the house to change, and then back to the east side of the island again to Sand Beach, where we built sandcastles and admired the sky and sea and occasional fluffy cloud, and some of us braved the water. The lifeguard said the water temperature was 52°F; brisk!

I remembered the camera today, so we have pictures of kids climbing mountains, kids going down mountains, kids posing in front of summit markers, kids playing in the sand, kids in the surf, and so on. Also a few random pictures of adults, scenery, and the cool patterns that the water makes in the sand on the beach.

And for dinner the other dad made noodles with sausage sauce and I made a pound cake, and we ate those things, and now I just need a shower to get rid of all this sweat and sunblock and salt and sun.

I took a book with me ("The Barn at the End of the World") to the mountain and the beach, but didn't look at it. "Of course," I thought to myself, looking at it in the bag, "reading a book would be silly with all this authentic first-hand experience here; why do I read books all the time, anyway?"

But why do I do anything all the time, anyway? I know it's not a new thought, but for some reason I was struck today, today and yesterday, by the arbitrariness, the essential arbitrariness, of what we do, and the standards that we use to decide what to do. A long time ago I wrote down pseudo-profoundly on some piece of paper "the is-ought connection is choice". Which is true, but ultimately not all that helpful; the beginning of the thought rather than the end.

How do I decide (do I tell) whether reading books, writing weblogs, being a suburban husband and father, is the right lifestyle, the right set of standards to adopt, the right framework to situate my actions in?

If I try to completely address that question tonight, though, this entry will get really long.

Off to the shower.

Let's be traditional for a second, it being the Fifth Anniversay and all:

Fifth Anniversary Poll:
What do you like best about this thing?

What do you like least?

Lovely sun again this morning (Thursday). And the air even cooler and fresher and silkier than yesterday. The other family's off riding bikes on the carriage roads, and thr four of us have ambitious plans to laze around doing nothing, to walk into town for lunch.

Here's the pound cake from last night, at least as accurately as I recall it (we were improvising). Thanks mostly to Scott Dynes for the recipe, myself for the execution.

Soften one cup of butter (two sticks) in the microwave. Using a small white electric mixer or equivalent, cream butter with two cups sugar. Add one teaspoon vanilla extract (or to taste) and about two-thirds cup sour cream; beat until light and fluffy. Add four eggs, beat more. Gradually beat in two cups unsifted flour and one and a half teaspoons baking soda (half a tablespoon). Spoon into a buttered (and optionally sugared, although I didn't do that last night) bundt pan. Cook in a preheated 350°F oven for fifty minutes, or until a long skinny wooden thing stuck into it comes out clean.

And that's my wisdom for today, and perhaps for this week. Chop wood, carry water, make pound cake.


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