I have a favorite bowl. It’s the perfect size for cheap ramen. It’s red that breaks to clear showing the white clay in the heavy throw rings under the shiny glass. And I made it. Not that my having made it is anything special. I’ve been making pottery for over 25 years. I’ve assisted the potters that taught me and eventually taught classes on my own. I don’t know why this bowl is special to me, other than it looks nice, but I have a lot of pottery that looks nice, few really speak to me. I guess that’s a lot of the attraction in functional art pieces, and all art itself, once you boil it down.
One time in a studio gallery I picked up a humble little bowl. It spoke to me even as it was obviously the work of someone near the start of their ceramic creation journey. It had a beautiful curve and a glaze that looked immensely deep. I still regret not buying it, but I have so much pottery cluttering my house that I talked myself out of it. I should have given away something to make room for it, or just waited for a piece to break and put it into rotation. The problem is it’s the poor pieces that never get broken.
I had another bowl that was special to me. It had started as a simple demo from Diane Shaw, who was teaching the Advanced Wheelthrowing class that I was taking. Diane makes beautiful bowls. It was the decoration demo that I’d seen a few times before and she described a technique of artfully caressing a handful of thick slip onto the surface of a trimmed, but still damp piece. It was a technique I enjoyed doing. She mentioned it was something took a lot of practice. I said I liked the technique and she asked if I wanted to give it a shot for the demo so I did. I have mixed success with loosening up enough to make that kind of thing really work, but it turned out fairly well. A couple months later she gave me that small bowl filled with her homemade toffee for Christmas. That bowl got broken in the sink.
I used the demo bowl frequently. I liked holding it, and I liked having it sitting where I could see it. It was just one of those things that made me happy to have around. Occasionally I’d reach for it in the cupboard and think, “No, lets keep it safe there in the cupboard a little longer.”
We have cats.
But one of the days it did get used and dropped into the sink. It wasn’t the cats fault. I remember that bowl fondly, and I probably remember it fondly because it got used, and that reinforced the memory of it’s origins, and that’s what was most special to me. I found myself thinking the other day that I’d have some ramen in my favorite red bowl. Then I had the thought, “Today’s the day that it gets broken”, and so I left it in the cupboard. That evening Kayla was making dinner and I heard a big crash in the sink. I heard Kayla say, “I broke the red bowl.” I might have wailed a little. I said, “Earlier I had a thought that it would get broken today.”
It turned out that it was a different red bowl that got broken. It was nice, but I had no feelings for it. Very useful, though, and the glaze was nice. Then I looked across all the possibilities. Maybe if my ramen bowl had been in the sink they both would be broken. Maybe neither would. I kind of get that way sometimes with the ‘what if’s?’ But that’s why the ordinary functional work doesn’t cycle through the kitchen as rapidly. The plain (and I can admit it, sometimes homely) pieces just don’t inspire them to be used. And if it had been my little bowl it would have been fine, because it gets used, and I’ll always remember it. Just having something doesn’t seem to be as valuable as having loved something.
I remember the day John was talking to me on the stairs of the Stoker Studio where I was repeatedly taking the advanced wheel throwing pottery class at the Stoker School in Bountiful, a satellite campus for University of Utah. It was the day John made me an offer that would impact me more than I ever could have hoped.
I had been trying to take a pottery class for a couple years, but not able to get in to a class on campus. I had not realized that the on-campus pottery classes were for art majors only. I did not want to drive to Bountiful for a class, but that was where the non art majors took pottery. I caved in and signed up for the spring quarter in 1995, if my squishy memory can be trusted. I was one of the struggling students, but by the third assignment I kind of started to get it. We had an assignment to make 4 tea bowls as close to perfect hemispheres as we could. John had impressed that we ought to make extras because we could expect to lose a couple in trimming. I made twelve. Looking at them John said, “These 4 are dogs”. I really grew to value his bluntness in critiques. He followed up with, “These 4 are good for practicing trimming… and these must be the last ones you threw. You can see the improvement. Pretty good.”
I’d needed two art credits for the BS degree for which I was aiming, and I figured I could take the advanced class for the second one. Driving to Bountiful wasn’t all that bad. At the end of the Advanced class the following autumn quarter I was actually thinking I could actually make things. I made presents for some friends for Christmas. That was the thing to do for most students. I thought that I could probably do one more class. I didn’t know if I’d ever have the chance to make pottery again and I had a couple ideas of things I’d like to have that I made myself. Pottery can last a long time.
I think I took the advanced class two times (again, squishy brain). My dad stopped me one morning and asked how long I was going to keep doing the pottery thing. I kind of boggled and answered that I thought I’d do it for the rest of my life. I did not realize he was asking how many more times he was going to have to pay for a class for which I wasn’t getting further credit until weeks later. This brings me back to the staircase that spring day. I’d realized that I probably couldn’t ask my dad to pay for further classes and John caught me on the stairs and asked if I would be back the next quarter. I told him I didn’t think I could afford it. He said something along the lines of, “If you want to get good, you’ll do it faster if you teach it.” He offered me free studio time in exchange with helping teach the beginning class. Most of the beginning pottery classes had one or two advanced students that had the same deal to help out with the new students. I said I doubted that I knew enough to really help, but John said I knew enough, and what makes you learn faster when teaching is you have to actually think of an answer to the questions of a beginner that you never really answer for yourself. And sometimes it helped to have multiple people with different viewpoints to get the idea across. I really wanted to continue on, so I agreed.
Somehow I managed to spend the best 20 years of my life in that studio. That isn’t an exaggeration. I was there helping with one or two classes a semester until they had to close the 100+ year old building in 2017 due to structural issues with earthquake safety. There were a couple years where I went and helped with classes and didn’t really make much of anything. They were pretty dark years. Honestly some of the only bright spots for those years were the times I was at the studio. I’m sure it kept me alive, and I was lucky enough to have told that to both John and his wife, Diane before John passed away near the start of December 2021.
I owe a lot to both of the Shaw’s. They became family. I haven’t had a death hit me like it did with John. I’d heard he was slowing down, but I always thought there would be another time when I could sit and talk with him. John would have a coffee break midway through the four hour classes at the studio and we’d go out to the kiln shed and he’d have a cup of hot water and smoke his pipe for awhile. We’d talk about whatever and it was just… calm. I don’t have a lot of calm in my life. There was one day near the end of a spring semester a year or two before the school closed where we’d loaded a kiln and just started it candling and were talking. A procession of students, beginner and advanced, came out to ask a question or two and went back to finish their last pieces for the semester. That day each student would ask the question and John would look at me and ask what I thought. I’d give an opinion, or tip, and John would nod and say, “That sounds about right”. He added his own comment some of the time and I really started to realize then now much I had learned in the most relaxed and informal environment that really suited the way I learned.
When I start thinking about John the first thing I think about are his jokes and his unique sense of humor. He had a little instamatic camera that was broken that hung on a coat hook in the kiln shed. Every time there was a raku firing he’d get all the students participating into a group so he could get a picture. He’d stand over a big tub of water and just as everyone was smiling to get a picture he’d drop the camera in the bucket and act all surprised. The first time I saw that I jumped forward to try to save the camera. After that I’d stand where I could take a picture of the students reactions. We went to the NCECA (The National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts) Conference in Las Vegas in 1997 as a group of advanced students with John and Diane. When returning through the McCarrin airport in Las Vegas John suddenly stopped at the foot of the escalator just after I got on just behind Diane. I looked back and John was frozen in place watching in amazement as the magic stairs carried us to the next floor. I laughed and Diane shook her head and said, “I don’t even ask anymore”. People queued up behind John didn’t know quite what to do with this man who had, evidently, never seen an escalator before. John kind of hopped on and grabbed the handrail tightly.
He told a lot of standard jokes in class. “If the throat of your bottle is to narrow for your finger, you can stick your pin tool down your throat and throw up.” When cleaning up your glazed pieces you need to wash the extra glaze off the base of your pot. “We will do a lot here for you, but we won’t wipe your bottoms.” You probably couldn’t tell that joke anymore. But the best ones were ones that didn’t have any real explanation, and I think he did just for his own enjoyment. He taught that when you dunk your piece in the glaze and you’re holding the pot so the glaze drips back in the bucket, it helps if you bounce at the knees while it’s dripping. I’ve taught people to bounce at the knees while glazing in every class I’ve taught since. I do give credit to John for the tip.
The wake for John was really something. There were so many people there that had years of shared memories of the Stoker Studio and John’s influence. People that learned along side me and were just part of this big art family that I find so invaluable. Some of us sat at the big table as the wake wound down, saying our goodbyes. I spent some time looking around at their home and remembering the end of semester parties they had for us, and seeing again, maybe for the last time, their home studio that always seemed to be the ideal, for me, of how a studio should feel. I recognized some of their pieces that I’d seen often there, and some of Diane’s current work that was on a rack just inside the entrance. As I was leaving I was hit with how sometimes the universe just aligns and you meet the people that will be with you for the rest of your life, even after they pass from this one.
It’s nice to be here! Allow me to introduce myself. My name, as you might know, is Erik. I know a version of most of you, but I like to just make a few introductions after I skip into a new timeline. I know, I know, you might have heard this before, if this timeline is like any of the other ones. I seem to get around. And unlike some of me, I like to be upfront about being a semi-stranger to this track. These things happen and I’ve found it really doesn’t really pay to lurk around the corners unobtrusively. It seems like the Erik before me was a fairly decent (if somewhat moody) guy, and I guess I’m very similar. You might not even notice. (I’m just glad he [like me]) saved his passwords in his browser. It makes things so much easier in the transition.
I hadn’t really noticed when this happened, although last night while working late a key part of my work computer’s system had gone missing within a day or so without any real possible way of it happening. But I just figured “Computers, you know?” And I do, so I didn’t pay it any mind. That is until I took a shower this morning and noticed something really odd. As I was reaching for my towel I looked down and noticed that one (or both) of the cats had stolen the plastic caps off the bolts holding down the toilet. I mentioned it to Debbie so she could be on the lookout for them, but she tells me that I never put them on. I specifically remember doing it and put the two events together.
So here I am. I hope the placeholder me that was here before was kinder than some incarnations of me that I’ve run across. Or at least after, if you get my meaning. I try to be kind and I like to draw out a laugh here and there, and I hope I can be of some assistance where needed. Just let me know, I hope we’ll have some fun times.
Back in September I had my first lucid dream that lasted more than just a few seconds. This morning I had my second. I had fallen asleep thinking about a video I’d seen on twitter of what has become a common theme: someone raging at someone else. This particular one had a maskless redneck sucker-punching a young protester in a mask that was holding a sign. At some point in the dream I was in a crowded theater (no virus overtones) and I noticed that Cjaye, a former coworker, was sitting in the row behind me a little ways away. She waved at me and said it was funny running into me so soon after last time. I hadn’t seen her this century. I was pretty happy to see her though.
The movie started and it was a rehashing of the video I’d seen. I recognized it and that I had been thinking about it. I thought, “This must be a dream”, and with what has been the training I’ve been doing I looked at my hands. This time my right hand’s ring and index fingers were significantly smaller than the others, which were normal sized. I was happy that I didn’t have to stay in the theater, and I got up and walked towards the emergency exit near the screen and went out. I exited into what I thought looked like a big old 1950’s style apartment building. I headed to the exit and thought, “I want to go to the beach”. As I exited I was in a big city like New York, but I thought, “The beach is just around the corner”. The light slowly shifted from ambient directionless light to bright California sun coming from behind the next block of buildings, so I turned that way.
I got past the buildings into a rocky area with a lot of people that gave way to very granular sand with a pinkish hue. The beach was packed and there were two UPS trucks on the packed sand at the tideline, one the normal delivery truck, and one a bigger box-truck that had the Ryder logo and yellow coloring 3/4 of the way to the back, but the last 1/4 had the UPS logo. It seemed to be a demolition derby situation and the delivery truck was stuck pointed into the surf while the box truck did a big Tokyo-drift slide smacking its back end into the front of the delivery truck.
I started down the beach, weaving in-and-out between the revelers, and saw another stuck UPS truck with a frail grandmotherly-type woman sitting in a hole in the sand by the back tire. She was scooping out sand from her hole and sprinkling it on some sort of screen while her Whippet dog was standing on its hind legs helping sift the sand. It made me laugh and I kept going trying to find a spot to stand in the surf away from the action.
I slipped and fell down on the sand in a small clearing of people where there were several big Monitor lizards and a very large poisonous snake that was an orange and creamy blotched monster. The snake came after me and I was trying to scramble away on my back by pushing my feet and elbows in the sand, but I wasn’t making progress in typical dream style. The snake got near my legs and I gently tried to push it in a new direction with my knee when I remembered I was dreaming. I waved my hand over the snake in a magician-style movement and the sand underneath it sank and the snake disappeared into it with only its head poking out of the hole. It flicked its tongue at me and stayed in the hole. The Monitor lizards took an interest in me but found themselves sitting in holes with leashes on them held by the people nearby as I passed. I was really happy that I’d been able to just stop the monster chasing theme in such a fun way.
I kept on going down the beach and ran into one of my Middle School math teachers, Mr. Alba. It was strange seeing him. I liked him as a teacher, but he didn’t have a huge impact on me. In fact, the only thing I can really recall from his classes was when he was naturalized as a citizen he came to school in a blond wig because he was an American now. He recognized me and I exchanged pleasantries with him and kept going down the beach.
I came to a little shop that was selling books and saw one that I recognized as a Dr. Seuss book, but its spiral bound cover was was laminated and grimy. The title was like 20 words long each in a different color. I tried to read them, and I knew they were funny, but in usual dream fashion I couldn’t make the letters spell out anything. I really wanted to remember what the title was so I could put it in this blog post, that I knew I was going to write, but the harder I tried to focus on the words the more frustrated I got. I think that’s what finally woke me up.
I was much happier with this lucid dream than the last one. Things seemed to work better as I tried less to control what was going on, but just change the things I didn’t like. It would be great to be able to regularly handle issues in my dreams that I don’t like, but I wonder if whatever anxiety causes conflicts needs actual resolution in dream fashion, and not removal by magic. But I don’t feel that the frustration of being chased by monsters, trapped in crowds, or whatever, is really resolved by my dreams. And who really wants to have chronic nightmares? I very seldom have good dreams. My wife wakes up laughing often, at least as often as I wake up almost screaming. I think I’d prefer her experiences.
I hadn’t intended to do a sequential series of dreams, but in this turbulent time I’ve been pretty loaded up with them, at least when I can sleep. Last night a cat woke me up about her usual time after four in the morning. I let her out and when I went back to sleep I was having a strange dream where a friend from high school had been sent to look for me by my wife. He rode a bicycle up pulling a trailer with a fish tank full of water on it. I had had it with the world and was leaving town and my friend knew he had to kind of talk me down. We stopped on the corner of the busy street heading back to my house where I saw the smaller aquarium from my desk tipped over in the gutter with a top corner broken off. There were fish everywhere and I started picking them up and brushing the leaves and dirt off them and putting them in my friends trailer aquarium. I started noticing these weren’t my fish, and they were salt water fish, but realized fresh water was better than no water and put them in the tank, too.
We got back to my house and got the fish inside and as I started dealing with the rescued fish I recognized the dream for what it was. I think I’ve written before about the pet store my brother and I owned and how I have reoccurring dreams about going back to find the neglected tanks of fish that were abandoned for decades. In reality we moved all the fish from our store home to my parents house, nothing was lost, yet I dream often about fish suffering in too little water with no food for years.
When I began to suspect that I was in a dream I actually did what I had tried to do for years to recognize that I was dreaming, I looked at my hands. I’d heard that your brain has a hard time realistically representing common things, but you usually don’t try to perceive detail in a dream. My right hand was backwards on my wrist with my palm facing away from me, and my middle, ring, and little finger were one piece with lines where they should be separate, like a toy. As I tried to spread my fingers I had to use my left hand to pull on my little finger. They separated with some effort, but it was like pulling on gum and they stretched and parted from each other then snapped back together.
Since the time in high school when I read about lucid dreaming in Omni magazine I’ve tried to be able to control my dreams. But on the few instances I have actually realized I was dreaming the dream immediately shatters and I wake up. In this dream, after I realized it for what it was, I looked around and nobody was in the house with me anymore, but the dream didn’t end. I’d always wanted to fly in my dreams, but on any flying dream I have I don’t get too much sky, just bump along the road or up a mountainside. I decided I wanted to try flying and began swimming up towards the ceiling. As I got close I could kind of see through the ceiling and I broke through and the roof of my house splashed away from me like water and I climbed up into the sky… for about a minute. Then I found myself bouncing along the street unable to climb higher.
I went back to swimming through the air instead of flying and the dream changed. I don’t remember much of what happened after that, but I do remember that every little while I checked my hands and realized I was dreaming again and I’d try to fly without any real success. I suppose the next time I do it I ought to give up trying to fly and see if I can teleport instead. Or maybe I’ll try to create something and see if I can come up with something cool to do in my waking life, something that goes in a different direction than I habitually make.
Actually, maybe I should just settle for making something at all.
I had a couple of interesting dreams last night. In the first I was hanging out with my brother and some of his friends. We were going to some costume party and I had on this 70’s-ish one piece jumper that had frilly bellbottoms and sleeve cuffs with a kind of hotel-carpet print that was loud and flowery. It also had a matching hat that was almost like a pointy-wizards hat, but truncated at the top with a little rim. The hat’s brim matched my frilly cuffs. Everyone thought my costume was pretty crazy. Jordy, my brothers friend, had a batman costume, but it didn’t look like Batman, you had to think about it, and when you did you thought it was pretty clever. My jumpsuit had a lot of pockets with zippers and I kept finding new pockets full of stuff. My left breast pocket had a handful of quarters and nickels. I was glad to find that the costume had a zipper fly as I was searching, because I was wondering how I was going to go to the bathroom without skinning out of the whole mess.
I got up to the counter to buy my ticket to get in and said, “One, please,” fishing for a handfull of quarters in my change pocket.
The ticket lady said, “What?”
She said that the tickets only came in pairs, and cost $10 because it was a date thing. I said, “Oh, my wife doesn’t allow that, I’ll just pay full price and go in alone.” They thought that was crazy and were putting up a fuss when I woke up. In the bleary waking-up I was disappointed that nobody would get to see my wacky oufit.
In the second, I was back in the pottery studio just before it was closing. Everyone was working furiously trying to finish the work for the semester as people were taking down the stuido equipment. I couldn’t find my locker to get my stuff, and I kept going up and down different stairs looking for where my locker should be. I came down a set of stairs into the glaze area and saw my apron with my name on a piece of masking tape on it and started to put it on. It turned into a pair of overalls that had a tag that read Erin, not Erik and Erin took it away from me because it was hers.
I turned and saw a overly-large teapot of mine on a shelf that would have held maybe a gallon-and-a-half of tea. It was a very tall teapot and had a big dome lid. The lid was glazed on and I knew it wouldn’t come off. I took ahold of the lid with the palm of my hand wrapped around it and twisted really hard and I heard a glassy snap! and it came free in my hand, but it had broken away a chunk of the top. I didn’t really like the piece, anyway. Just then John Shaw, the instructor and a good friend of mine came over to see how things were going. I was so happy to see him. He looked at the teapot and asked, “What have you got there?” I handed it to him and he said, “Well, this is interesting.” and we stepped inside the broken edge of the pot. We walked down and around the side of it, or maybe a kind of spiral ramp inside the wall. John was pointing out the stoneware representations of draped curtains and textured carvings. He was saying, “Oh, that’s really nice! Why did you put it inside the pot?” I didn’t know, but I remembered being kind of proud how the textures had turned out. He told me I should save them for another piece. I picked up some stone draperies bigger than me and walked on. We got a little farther and saw many tiger and lion sculptures on textured stones that were life sized. I told him I hadn’t carved those, but had hired it out to a friend because I didn’t know how to make animals. John said it was a good idea.
We were just exiting the teapot when I woke up just 3 minutes before my alarm was supposed to have gone off, but I could feel the dream still right there and thought I could have just gone back to it for a couple minutes. I really miss my time with John and Diane and how they always had time to critique work, or just shoot the breeze.
It’s been a fairly melancholy day and I can’t really stop thinking about those dreams. You can tell because I’m actually writing something, which I’ve been pretty hard pressed to do, lately.
I did the mandatory creative things as a child: finger painting, the Kindergarten low-fire clay coil-pot for mothers day, coloring. I never thought I had any aptitude for art, even after took an aptitude test in middle school that said I should be an artist. In fact, the day I got the highly anticipated aptitude results was the day I began losing faith in the system*. I had been looking forward to finding out what direction I should take and I was devastated upon reading ‘Artist’. I don’t know what in my innocuous answers led them towards artist, but I suspect an underlying current of weirdness in my answers. Looking back, I suppose I might have scored in the upper decile for weirdness. Maybe that was the key visible in the aptitude test: the kid is weird, maybe his only function will be to annoy the establishment.
The beginnings lie with my dad having a drawer in his dresser I used to peek into when nobody was noticing. It had nicely organized envelopes of foreign money, mostly coins that just fascinated me. I especially loved the New Zealand kiwi’s on the dull grey and bronze metal bits, and the word Lire on the Italian money. There were also old broken watches and other discarded, but not cast off, bits of life’s accumulations. I have drawers and boxes (and boxes) of that, too. Most likely everybody does.
At some point I began to get some instruction from my dad on fixing things, which began with taking things apart. I remember him opening up the TV with stern instruction to never touch the capacitors. He’d pull out tubes and we’d head to Sears where we could plug the tubes into a big testing machine and discover what was broken and get a replacement. I began my own experiments with disassembly, usually not involving repair in any form, although there was the one success with a stuffed animal music box, but that’s another rambling story.
I think when I was about 10 I asked my dad for one of the watches that was mechanical in nature from the drawer. I figured out (or was shown) how to take off the back and get at the itty-bitty screws and took the watch apart into the smallest pieces and laid them out on the table. I found all the individual pieces interesting, but the chassis was the crown jewel. I hadn’t ever seen anything like it. There were so many facets, holes, and mount points that I couldn’t imagine holding such a design in my head to make it come out as a functioning timepiece.
I started wearing watches when I was in middle school, because that was part of becoming an adult. Keeping track of time was important. I had a very hard time accepting that, and it’s still something that rankles me to this day. When I was about 14 or 15 I’d gone through several cheap swatches. I still played like a kid and they weren’t particularly shock resistant. I had one that I particularly liked that had a big rotatable diver-type bezel that had orange and black sections. I’m a particularly fidgety person and I’d twist the dial all through classes. When that watch broke I was heartbroken. I don’t think it ever occurred to me that I could replace something with an identical item until I started wearing only white Converse Skid Grips a few years later.
I couldn’t quite toss that watch, and I hated that my whole life had become slave to knowing when something needed to happen, so I had a moment of quiet rebellion. I carefully disassembled the watch to its smallest pieces, set aside the chassis and face, then dumped all the loose gears, screws, and hands into the body and closed it back up. I casually wore it around for weeks trying to not draw any real attention to anything unusual about my timepiece, although when anyone asked me what time it was I’d shrug and say I didn’t know. When someone pointed out I could look at my watch I’d then hold out my arm and rattle the pieces at them. I believe this cemented my reputation as a weird kid and I’m fortunate enough to have eventually found some other weird kids so I didn’t have to spend the rest of my life writing manifestos.
I had not considered it art at the time, and it’s only been in the last few years when I started looking for the germ that set me on my path that I realized it was that expression of frustration with the loss of childhood’s idyllic freedom. Unconsciously I’d created a crude piece of art. I’m still surprised that my 7th grade aptitude test** recommended I become an artist or a forest ranger. I suppose it’s a little late to look into forestry jobs.
* The most anxiety producing question in my whole childhood was “What are you going to be when you grow up?”
** Somehow I still have the test results in my files.
Back when I worked at the University I always looked forward to the yearly SuperComputing conference. And even after I got laid off I kept following it on Facebook and news feeds to see what was going on. Today it just seemed so beyond the scope of what I have time for, or ever will again, that I finally unfollowed.
Maybe the final straw was discovering that the 2019 conference is in Denver and I’ve just never been able to get excited about Denver. The biggest highlight of the event, for me, was the roaming of a new city. Maybe that doesn’t say much for my commitment to computing excellence. I did, actually, learn quite a bit from the scheduled conference plenary activities, but the exploring seemed to really open up my mind and kickstart my creativity. We barely got checked into the hotel before taking to the streets wandering up and down looking for a meal somewhere that wasn’t standard fare. Then whenever time permitted we’d aimlessly wander streets we’d never been down until we’d seen as much of the city as we could take in. We calculated that in the eight days we were in New Orleans we might have walked nearly 100 miles. I saw a lot of cities that way: Austin, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Baltimore, Portland, New Orleans, but not Phoenix. Phoenix was awful. When two cab drivers refused to take me to my hotel because it was after dark, I decided that the couple times I walked the mile back from the convention center, in the dark (cowardly cabbies), was enough.
I imagine that I’ll still check in on the top 500 supercomputer list every year or so to see who’s currently winning the race, but there’s something that seems so sad about the choice to close that door completely. I had thought that my career would at least keep me in that orbit and that some day I’d be one of the old geezers like I’d see at the conferences.
I also got to wondering how many other doors are still cracked open. I closed my Rock Climbing door several years ago when I realized I’d never do that again and gave away my rack. I’d thought my Magic The Gathering door was open, but when my friend’s son told me everything was completely different now I heard hinges squeal as it nearly slammed. I think it might be jammed on an old elf deck, though. The hand-me-down upgrade to my golf clubs sits in the basement. A couple weeks ago I accepted I’d never golf again, no matter how much I’d like to. I’m similarly mocked by the fancy new clicker bindings and boots for my snowboard that sit shiny in their 1990’s boxes.
Closing doors is a part of life, only you start to reach a certain age and the doors start getting closed for you, and the frequency accelerates alarmingly. And here I reach the second crux that, I believe, everyone needs to pass. Closing the doors, and especially, having them closed for you, feels like part of you dying, and seems to leave voids unfilled behind the doors. Voids where you’d been putting memories, but never again. Maybe this seems like giving up, or failure, but it really isn’t. It’s just an ending. Things end. Like finishing a good book. The book ends, and you can think about the story, and you can walk again it’s now-familiar pathways when you need that story’s reminders, but the story has ended.
If that was all there was to it, though, it would be tragic. But there are always new doors to open. And, believe me, I can open doors faster than time can close them. (I wish I could get this idea of learning to paint in water colors out of my head.) This is the Crux Part II, bracing open the closing doors wastes a lot of time and energy that could be better spent diving through unopened ones. This is not easy. There is a lot of pain in closing the doors. It’s like a friendship that shouldn’t have drifted apart, but did. Especially painful if there wasn’t any reason for it to have done so. Maybe we need to be continually opening new doors so that the wonder of exploration offsets, somewhat, the pain of closing the finished ones.
This is a story for which I really have no point, only it is something that happens to me quite frequently. I don’t have answers, or really any idea that this will broaden anyone’s horizon. But today it struck me quite hard.
I get a lot of deja vu moments, and frequently I can trace them back to dreams I’ve had in the recent past. This morning I was standing in my cubicle at work. I was cutting a strand of Poly Pull Line that the remodeling crew had used to run some temporary network cable through the ceiling. Line that I had scavenged out of a (clean) garbage can after they had finished cleaning up a week or so ago. It was good line, and my hoarder nature thought that it could be useful sometime in the future. I was correct.
Our office is in the process of remodeling all of the employee work spaces and we had to relocate everyone to some reclaimed space that had been part of the office library. There was space for all but four of us to be packed together like college roommates into a small grid of shabby 6’x6′ rented temporary cubicles. A few of the luxurious (?) cubicles that had previously housed most of the staff were moved into a corner of the basement, to be occupied by the remaining employees. The IT department, consisting of the CTO and yours truly, were relegated to the basement where my Rainbow of Texts says we belong.
I’d condensed my belongings, which filled my office to a size I’d hoped I could fit into an 8’x8′ cubicle. I did not, however, have a good space for my white board, a key productivity tool. I’d decided to hang it via the aforementioned line from the tops of two cupboard-ish cabinet doors. As I reached out to pick up my disposable box cutter a familiar, yet strange, feeling came over me. I saw in a dream from earlier this spring my hand reach out and take hold of the green tool and extend the blade half an inch. I severed the distinct blue and white striped collection of nylon strands which immediately frayed apart seeking freedom from long-coiled imprisonment. I looked up across an unfamiliar officescape with it’s low ceiling and loathed fluorescent lighting. And as I saw it in the dream it happened in tandem with my waking morning.
I remember waking at that point from the dream. Upon immediate reflection, I didn’t recognize the room, in fact, I’d never actually stood in that corner of that room before, as previously it was wall-to-wall with rows of large steel filing cabinets. And I thought it odd that I was dreaming of purposely cutting nylon cord in a place which I didn’t know, for a task I wasn’t aware, while looking over a cubicle wall. And as it unfolded in my waking life there was a twinge as if I was being extruded between two realities. And as soon as it came, it left.
I don’t believe there is any mystic or cosmic significance to this. It was a nearly pointless event in a pointless morning. You would think if there was some purpose to it there should have been some sort of significance. Proposing to my wife, the birth of a child, getting a seconds advance intuition to ready myself for battling Thanos. But it was just a nothing moment and gone.
I frequently note these instances with a simple, “Woah. Deja vu.” that pre-dates Keanu’s “Matrix” exclimation.* Long time friends have been privy to many postulations on these events, with musings on reality and whether or not I am the source of all.** I remember one occasion, Jack and I were trying to find our way out of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and we’d somehow gotten ourselves into some sort of ‘backstage’ section of the casino. It was a long square access corridor of some sort, sparsely lit with dim bulbs. I chopped a step and almost stumbled at the sudden squeeze of a memory of a particularly nasty nightmare. The next door would open to reveal a hoard of Doom entry level minions that would overwhelm us. But everything was so clear. Jack to my left. The ragged denim jacket which I was wearing with it’s newly minted smell of cigarette smoke, the brand of which I only seem to encounter in a casino. I muttered my “deja vu” and Jack asked if it was good or bad. I said, “Doom”, or something simplistic like that, yet we still opened the door into just another segment of empty corridor.
I’ve read that some scientists believe that the feeling of deja vu is just a concurrence of neurons firing and triggering a feeling of memory at the time we are experiencing something. Normally I’d buy that, but I remember my dreams. And, as the Queen of hearts said, “It’s a poor sort of memory that only runs backwards.”
Maybe I’ll go watch “The Arrival” again.
* Somebody owes me royalties.
** But that’s another story best left untold.
Sometime last year at a visit to my parents house my mom gave me the traditional Sheaf of Childhood Stuff to take home. And just as traditionally I just quickly flipped through it and dropped it in the recycling bin. My mom dug it out and said I really should take a look at it. I gave it more than just a cursory glance and found several early writing examples that I have no memory of ever creating.
So I give to you this day my story of mad doctor Professor Bang! Written, evidently, in September of 1576. (it is also apparent I hadn’t discovered commas before fourth grade, although exclamation marks seemed to be important)
Transcription for those who are hard of reading childhood printing (spelling has been corrected, but punctuation left as written):
It all began in the laboratory of the mad doctor Professor Bang. I stood back as the Professor pulled the switch and then it came from the dead! The mummy stood up it walked up to me! I heard him say that it would help him rob fort knots! I tore out he sent the mummy after me! I ran into the nearest police station. They shot him but he was already dead nothing happened. The professor called him back he stole the biggest diamond in the world! 2 weeks later I found out that he was going to take over the world with the biggest laser tank he wanted 500,000 in gold we got Steve Austen man he got the mummy and burnt him he broke the laser he gave back the diamond and locked up the professor
Somewhat derivative, and some copyright violation, but still earned a Great from the teacher.
I can’t imaging having to listen to eight-year-olds all day long.