A Journal of My Mid-Life Crisis
21 September 1997 - Blind Dogs and Dinner at Payless
I should say first off that the title refers to Saturday so it will take some reading before you find out what it means (except for a privileged few).
I spent Monday at the office, mostly catching up on email, filing expense reports, and writing highlights. I started working on my inputs to my performance review but I'm having a very hard time - I am not entirely flippant when I tell people that what i do for a living is go to meetings and send people email about what happened at the meetings. In between all the time spend shoveling off my desk (both physical and virtual) I did a little web surfing, mostly looking at a few on-line journals. It's brave of people to put their lives on-line like that, truly on the line. Assuming, of course, people are really being as open as they claim they are. I am hesitant to write anything more than the superficial about other people here - it's one thing to write about "I did this and that with so and so" but I'm not very comfortable with telling the whole world how I feel about people.
It's the same issue with telling personal stories, of course. Mom hates it that I'll tell some of these stories without changing names, even if they're things I can't imagine would actually hurt someone. I have sometimes made minor changes in names but it's not like that would really stop someone from being recognized - anyone I grew up with would know who my piano teacher was, for example, so why shouldn't I just call him by his own name? When I've discussed this with other storytellers, there seems to be a general consensus that the ethical thing is not to tell a story about someone that you wouldn't tell if that person was there, and I think that's a reasonable rule. I don't care if they're unlikely to hear it or about it - you never know who's there. Oddly, I'm much more casual about inventing details, even entire scenes that never happened. But then I claim my stories are based on true events. It's the emotional truth I'm interested in more than the literal truth.
In case anyone is wondering, this is a different medium for me than storytelling is and one where I'm not comfortable with the same level of invention. I think the difference has to do with the time factor - this is immediate, not the aftermath of years of reflection. I can find meaning in the incidents of my life by stringing them together themactically even without invention, but sometimes I feel I need to fill in gaps of memory for an audience. Here I am dealing with the more immediate and my reflection is of a less deliberate character. Not that I am necessarily trying to send out some great message with my stories, but I understand a need to make things mesh to satisfy an audience. At any rate, I am selective in what I say here, but any deception is entirely of omission, leaving things unsaid, rather than filling in fiction to make things neater.
I flew back to Colorado on Tuesday morning for three days of meetings, during the first two of which I was supposed to be at two meetings at the same time. Of course, they were at opposite ends of the facility, which meant I got my exercise in running back and forth. I wish I could decide once and for all which is the best route for driving between the Denver airport and Boulder. I've mostly been using 104th lately, but I really dislike it for a truly stupid and embarassing reason. Right around Tower Road and 104th there are a couple of huge fields of sunflowers, presumably truly agricultural sunflowers grown for seed and oil. And I find them so totally repulsive I have to focus my mental energy on the other side of the road or straight down the road but I still get this intensely creepy feeling driving past them. The worst part of neurotic reactions to things - whether it's phobias or repulsions or whatever - is how silly I feel about the reaction. I've tried to convince myself that driving all the way down to I-70 really saves time, but I also don't want to feel defeated by something so stupid.
I had a fairly mediocre dinner at The Walnut Cafe on Tuesday night so I think I'll stick to going there for breakfast only. Wednesday night was much better - I went downtown, browsed in a couple of the bookstores (Rue Morgue is in the process of rearranging things so it was less interesting to browse in than usual but I bought a couple of things at Boulder Books), and ate at Redfish. The vegetable stew was nicely hot, probably too hot for a lot of people but I am just masochistic about spicy food. And the Italian crepes for dessert were amazing - filled with mascarpone, drizzled with chocolate and garnished with strawberries.
Back in my office on Friday, but I didn't get to spend any time in the office between various meetings and a luncheon to go to. So I didn't make any further progress on my performance review.
Early Saturday morning I flew up to Oakland. Okay, not all that early - the flight was at 10 a.m. - but I still felt sleep deprived. You know you've been traveling too much when your bed at home feels less cozily familiar than the beds at the Courtyard! Saori, Bob and Elliot met me at the airport and we headed off to San Francisco to leave Elliot with his grandmother overnight. Then over the Golden Gate Bridge and up to Sebastapol for the 3rd Annual Sebastapol Celtic Festival. We had no idea exactly where the festival was but we figured it wasn't such a big town that we could avoid finding it and sure enough there were signs as soon as we got close. We bought our tickets and found that we had plenty of time before the Old Blind Dogs, a band I was unfamiliar with but Saori and Bob said were a must see. We watched a bit of the highland games, trying to figure out what the martial significance is of the caber toss. The origins of all this stuff is supposed to be actual battle skills, but it isn't obvious how the ability to toss a telephone pole end over end enables one to do something other than what being about to singlehandedly use a battering ram would. This led to a nice free-spirited discussion about other mysteries, such as what goods Marco Polo brought with him to trade to China. We all know about the silk route, how Europeans brought back silk and spices and all, but we never think much about what they gave in exchange. It turns out to be pretty mundane things - metal, wood, stone. An interesting subject, at any rate.
As for the festival entertainment, Sandi Silva was very impressive. She's a "percussive dancer" which is basically a Celtic variant of tap dance. Her athleticism was astonishing, particularly in the 90+ degree heat. Connie Dean was less impressive. Her voice is quite pleasant but her choice of material was not particularly original. We wandered around the grounds some in betwen sets, but there wasn't really anything I wanted to buy that I couldn't get here. Another thing that trip planning has done to me is make me less consumeristic. Mostly it's the thought of having more stuff to have to store that keeps me from buying things like books and CDs which are usually my weakness.
And then it was time for the Old Blind Dogs. More precisely, time to feel sorry for them, as their Scottish instruments were not doing very well in the Sonoma County heat. The bagpipes were falling apart, guitar strings kept breaking, nothing would stay in tune. They tried valiantly and it was obvious that they've got a lot of ability (in the mode of, say, The Tannahill Weavers) but the forces of nature conspired against them. I'm still interested in hearing more of them, under better circumstances.
One thing I was reminded about by seeing so many people dancing. Up in the Bay Area, people seem less self-concious than they do in Los Angeles. When I go to the dances at the pier in Santa Monica, I often see people who look like they want to dance, but they just stand there and I imagine they are afraid of not dancing well enough. At the festival, there were a lot of people dancing badly and I found it refreshing.
Things had gone late enough that we had only an hour or so before the doors were supposed to open for the evening concert. So there we are in Sonoma County, land of fine wines and gourmet food, searching for a quick place to get dinner. The heavily advertised brewpub demands a more leisurely visit, the place that looks to be a coffee shop from down the block turns out to be closed, everything we see looks way too slow. So, there in the gourmet lands of Sebastopol, we go and have dinner ... at Payless. Wildly exploring drugstore junk food aisles, we justify peanuts as a meat course, potato chips as a vegetable, ice cream as milk. And we ate this fine repast sitting on a bench outside the store, feeling quite derelict and remarking on how pathetic we were. The saddest part is that the directions we had to the school where the evening concert was to be held included taking a fork at a Safeway so we knew there had to at least be a supermarket nearby had we just been thinking clearly. After going the wrong way through town we turned around and drove back finding that the Safeway in question was maybe a block past Payless. All we could do was joke about it and resolve to eat a better breakfast.
After that, of course the evening concert started late! We were in the middle of a huge line and waited for roughly 45 minutes before they opened the doors. Which led to Bob's realization of what we really should have done for dinner - used the cell phone to order a pizza while waiting in line! The concert did turn out to be worth the wait. The first act was just a warmup and not very exciting, with the usual display of local talent. During the first intermission we speculated about step dancing (one of the features of the first act) and whether Michael Flatley's success was making it more popular for kids to take up step dancing (or parents to push kids into doing it). The second act was the one I was anticipating most eagerly - Andy M. Stewart and Gerry O'Beirne. I'd seen Andy perform several times before - twice as part of Silly Wizard and twice with Manus Lunny - and he was in his usual good form. One of the things that I particularly like about him as a performer is that he understands the use of storytelling in introducing songs. It isn't just "this is a song I like that comes from this place" but there's a whole complex tale of what the song is about. I don't mean to be slighting Gerry - he's a good musician - but Andy is in a class of his own. Oddly enough, he doesn't quite have a new album out yet. It's apparently due out in mid-October. I was surprised as usually tours mean new albums. I guess that's one less CD to have to store.
The final act was Alasdair Fraser and Skyedance. Sandi Silva joined them for part of the show and stole the show in many ways. I find that I listen to tunes differently than I listen to songs. It takes more attention for me to listen to tunes, which sounds odd as I think that processing words should take more attention. Maybe it's different parts of the brain at work. Or maybe it's just that the show went on till after midnight and I was exhausted. Fortunately, the Best Western Rohnert Park was easy enough to find and our reservations were all in order.
On Sunday we had a huge breakfast at an IHOP next to the hotel, which somewhat made up for dinner at Payless. Then we headed back to San Francisco, picked up Elliot and went on to the Oakland airport. Elliot was excited about getting to go to the airport twice in two days - I probably would have been just as excited when I was eight. Overall, it was a fun weekend.
Once I got home, I just had time to change clothes and head over to Marina del Rey and the Ritz Carlton for the INCOSE '97 celebration dinner. It was sort of weird seeing everyone again after a whole month of not seeing them. We worked together on the symposium for two years and, of course, the week of the conference we were really together constantly and then we don't see each other for all that time. I guess that's typical of situational friends - if I left Aerospace, I am not sure how many people from the company I would really stay in touch with. Maybe situational friendship is not really new but in past generations people were in so many situations together (living next to one another, working at the same things, going to the same schools and religious institutions, etc.) that it didn't seem so superficial.
Copyright 1997 Miriam H. Nadel
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