Lunar New Year: Hedging One’s Bets

lunar new year

The Lunar New Year, Year of the Goat/Sheep/Ram, is at hand. In honor of the occasion my acupuncturist — this traditionalist writer is an absolute convert to acupuncture – offered a special gift, in the form of instructions about how to start the year in the most auspicious way.

A good start is halfway to success, according to an old Chinese proverb quoted atop the instruction sheet.

“Both the timing and direction of your initial exit from wherever you are on February 19th, 2015 are of utmost importance,” reads the instruction sheet. We are admonished to make our initial exit between 5 AM and 7 AM, or between 11 AM and 1 PM. “To welcome good luck, walk in the South West direction. To invite divine help and wealth-spirit, walk in the West direction. Please do not have initial exit facing the South direction…”

Well, here’s the problem. The only exit from the building in which I live faces south. Walking in a southwest, direction, furthermore, will take me straight into the Post Street traffic, not a good way to start any year. I’m unlikely to get moving early enough to be headed out by 7 AM, and if I wait until 11 there will be meetings missed.

None of this is to disrespect the Lunar New Year.

Depending on which part of the Lunar-calendar-observant world you live in, festivals, rites and customs (such as the above) abound. My current favorite, passed along by a State Department friend newly arrived in Hanoi, is this one: “Vietnamese tradition,” she writes, “holds that, a week before the Lunar New Year, each person should release a live carp into the lake. The Kitchen God then rides the carp to Heaven, and reports to the King of Heaven about whether the people in that person’s family have been ‘naughty or nice.’ The King of Heaven either rewards or punishes the family, based on the Kitchen God’s yearly report.” The tradition strikes my diplomat-wife friend as “A little bit eastern, a little bit Christmas-y and a little bit smelly.” But definitely good for anyone fishing for carp – and unworried about pulling in one with a Kitchen God riding on its back.

Like the eastern mysteries of exit times and feng shui, western religions have plenty of their own.

Soon after studying the instructions about starting the Year of the Goat, I went to a Sunday morning Presbyterian church service about the transfiguration of Jesus. (Transfiguration comes right before Lent, if you’re following these lines of thought.) For serious-but-still-questioning Christians such as this writer, the transfiguration ranks right up there with the resurrection and the ascension. Disputed and discussed from every corner of Christendom (certainly including poor, avowedly neutral Wikipedia), these are central to the faith – and you want to believe, because the faith has such good, basic stuff about how to live in the world – but still. Most Christian beliefs require little more than loving justice, mercy and one’s fellow creatures and working to advance them all. But around holidays we do get pretty zany about Santa and the Easter Bunny; so stockings are hung and eggs are hidden — just in case.

Which brings the story back to personal behavior up to and on February 19. This sideline observer will pass on the carp thing, but my New Year’s Day plan is to exit the building sideways, facing west.

 

Your Life In Review

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,800 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

The good people of WordPress opened their Year-End Review with those words – below this worldscape with bursting fireworks – and what blogger could resist? They went on to report that my busiest day was February 24, that one of the most-viewed was a piece on Eleanor Roosevelt from 2013 (Mrs. Roosevelt has nothing if not staying power) and most viewers were from the U.S. “with Brazil and Canada not far behind.” Come on, Brazil? The country of my birth comes through.

The cold, hard truth is that there are plenty of blogs that are viewed 5,800 times a day, of course, but you’ve gotta love the subway train analogy.

The sheer amount of data collected on our life’s work, and our lives, can still give one pause. WordPress is entitled. Without the nifty platform, easy-to-use format, multiple tools and automatic archive this writer would be virtually wordless. (Or restricted to Huffington Post, which attracted way more than 5,800 viewers to essentially these same words, but there’s a lot to be said for freedom of the WordPress.)

But what about Facebook’s now ubiquitous Year-In-Review? Who could resist at least scrolling through her life of the past year (and I hereby admit to posting the thing.) What boggled my mind was the uncanny way Facebook picked almost the exact photos I would have chosen. How did they know? Spooky.

Books have been written – and at least one film made – about The Examined Life, although I seriously doubt the Facebook algorithm-coders have read them. It has to do with trying to make sense of things, figuring out what’s important, sorting the good from the bad. Elevating the good from its place within the ordinary. Occasionally – though the idea was always for one to do it oneself – these Year In Review things may help with such a task.

But any way you look at it, our lives are undoubtedly being examined.

Farewell, 2014, and Happy New Year each and every one.

 

Saying Goodbye, and Hello to 2015

sunrise

My friend M has died, just shy of the old year’s end and significantly decreasing the joy of the new. But her dying was full of life lessons about saying goodbye, being grateful and trying to ring in a better planet for the days ahead. And thus she leaves a gracious greeting for 2015.

M was a believer in good causes, and she put her substantial time and energies to work for them all. We became friends over our mutual love of writing but we bonded over our mutual commitment to end-of-life choice. Once you concede that you won’t live forever, a reality most prefer to ignore, it is possible to live both gently and joyfully even in tough times. Both of us spent long years encouraging anyone who would listen to confront mortality, make choices, and make personal decisions known to all. It’s called living fully, even into dying.

So M, after conceding her own days on the planet were dwindling, sat down over a cup of soup I’d brought her not long ago and we went about the business of saying goodbye. I told her why I thought she was such a wonder, and she told me all the things I’d be happy to have said for my own eulogy. OK, we had an extravagant mutual admiration society. But the life lesson is that telling others about their own gifts and good qualities (however hard it might occasionally be to uncover them) is something anyone can do, any time; the planet would be immeasurably better if more of us did it more often.

M was supportive of my activism for reproductive justice, having done more than a little of that herself in years past, but once she expressed reservations about how much time I was investing in that cause. “It’s time for young people, young women, to take that on,” she said. Well, yes. Another 2015 greeting for that demographic: reproductive rights are disappearing at an alarming rate. Unless more of us of whatever gender or age pitch in, women – particularly women without money or power – will soon be back in the pre-Roe dark ages, with no control over their own bodies. Which could make for a very unhappy new year for uncounted thousands of women.

The daughter of a rabbi, M was aggressively non-religious. We didn’t waste a lot of time on the subject, though she applauded the idea of my Presbyterian church working to break cycles of poverty. But once, after some sort of “What Would Jesus Do?”-type remark I made she said, “Oh, you and Anne Lamott.” I am personally fine with being lumped in with my funny, gifted friend Lamott, but this was not meant as a compliment. It did lead to a brief, lively discussion about faith and practice. And wouldn’t 2015 be a happy new year if fewer wars were fought in the name of Allah (or Whomever) and more focus were put on the peace, justice and love for fellow creatures that is the basic message of every religion around.

Rest in peace Maya Angelou, Robin Williams, James Brady, Pete Seeger – and all those other good souls we lost in 2014. Most especially, M.

And Happy New Year to us all.

On being grateful – for rain & waterfronts

bridge in rain

(This essay also appears on Huffington Post)

“It’s not happiness that makes you grateful,” goes one of my favorite recent quotes (thanks, Joann Lee;) “it’s being grateful that makes you happy.”

Here’s to gratitude.

For one thing, it has been raining in San Francisco. That strange wet stuff that falls occasionally from the sky – but we haven’t seen in a very long time. A planned Commonwealth Club Waterfront Walk tour, which I had earlier volunteered to help host, was advertised “Rain or Shine;” and as it happened there was both. The rain dampened all streets but no spirits, and the beauty of the waterfront literally shone.

There is something mystic about a waterfront on a dark day: an ethereal quiet hanging just below the clouds, the call of a gull who could be from another world, the scent of newness.

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The waterfront in sunshine is brilliant and exciting; in rain it invites your imagination – and appreciation.

As with waterfronts everywhere, San Francisco’s is steeped in history: sailors and conquerors, longshoremen and adventurers. There is public art, and private beauty. Waterfront Walk guide extraordinaire Rick Evans covers a remarkable range of them in two hours:

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The rise and – literal – fall of Rincon Hill, once one of San Francisco’s famous seven, which overlooked the Bay until the city unwisely bulldozed a street through it in the 19th century and the sandy hill collapsed upon itself. (Earthquake and fire finished the job.) Today Rincon Hill is rising again, as gleaming steel towers. The buildings that survived earthquake and fire are other centerpieces of the walk, plus the monumental artwork on the waterfront that was a trade-off for Gap tycoon Don Fisher’s corporate headquarters building when it went up – insurance of unobstructed, breathtaking views.

Some of the beauty of many waterfronts, physical and informational, is manmade, as is true of this piece of San Francisco Bay. But every waterfront has its story, and its soul.

Rain or shine. A cause for exquisite gratitude.

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Pushing the Vacation Mode Button

Decision making 101IMG_1580

Ever had a vacation plan come unhinged? You get to the hotel and the reservation was made for last week? The great aunt brings two cousins who don’t get along? Intestinal flu joins the party on the second day?

This writer’s recent vacation, a visit with friends and family in Georgia and North Carolina, was not like that; but it had elements of challenge. Primarily because I am too compulsively news-addicted and task-oriented for a quick transition into vacation mode. Everyone should have a vacation mode button. A switch that goes from On!: World hunger. Gaza v Israel v Syria v Egypt. Reproductive justice. – to – Off!: Vacation.

And right above the vacation-mode button, a plan-and-preparation dial.

For openers, a vacationer arriving on the east coast fresh from parched-dry California can face a tiny injustice: heavy rains, flash flooding and pea-soup fog throughout agonizing hours of driving continuous-corkscrew two-lane mountain roads. And for travel entertainment there is news of the day delivered by high-stress radio commentators with conspiracy theories, and constant replay of Luke Bryan offering this response to pain and loss:

“I’m gonna set right here. On the edge of this pier. Watch the sunset disappear. (Pause.) And drink a beer.” It does not help to learn, on arrival, that every other person on the planet knows Luke and his plaintive song; and perhaps, if one were not driving an unfamiliar rental car on an unfamiliar rain-slicked two-lane mountain road it wouldn’t seem designed to drive one to drink. (Speaking of which, you might enjoy this recent commentary on driving sober.)

The plan-and-preparation dial could avoid this. NPR exists in North Carolina. Weather reports – handy for leading one to pack boots and sweaters rather than white shorts and bathing suits – can also indicate that mountain driving is not advised for the faint hearted. (On mountain roads, turnouts are our friends. Monster trucks driving at high speeds regularly, mysteriously appear just behind the faint hearted driver; a preparation dial would plot the nearest turnout.)

But it is the vacation mode button that’s most urgently needed. Some of us, habitually immersed in jobs, tasks, world news, causes and self-perceived saving of the planet, do not slip easily into vacation mode. How, for example, can you be on a conference call about reproductive justice or cycles of poverty on Tuesday night, and blissfully oblivious to everything but the sand castle you’re building Wednesday morning? People do this all the time, but some of us simply do not get it. Everybody else is fluent in Vacation Speak while our brains are stuck on WordPress.

Ours not to reason why. Maybe it’s not all that super cool to be able to talk roadside antiques and croquet games and beach cabanas in a steady, sophisticated stream, but it seems so to the disoriented new vacationer. Surely – because this is definitely uncool – the new vacationer can shut up about military incursions in the Middle East and think of something appropriate to moonlit seashores. Or at the least, make the transition before it’s time to go back home.

Couldn’t someone invent a little half-moon Vacation Mode icon to tattoo on the forehead?

I’m just askin’.

Running for fun & medals: it's been (and still is) a long, good race

Sunset Runner
Image by joshjanssen via Flickr

We’ve come a long way since Chariots of Fire, as Denver runners, coaches and serious peak-performance guys Jon Sinclair and Kent Oglesby point out in a report for Coloradoan.com.
Their column was inspired, in part, by the FireKracker 5K which was part of the weekend festivities in Ft. Collins. As commonplace as it now is to see joggers and runners on the trails, in the parks and (sometimes noisily, I regret to say) on the urban sidewalks just below your bedroom window at 6 AM, it was not always thus.

Everyone stand up. All of you that began running after 1976 can sit down. Those that still are standing can smirk proudly at those sitting.

I’m (Jon) sure there aren’t many of you standing. For us “pre-boomers,” or pbers, the current state of running is amazing and we should all feel happy about it.

Pbers, remember when there wasn’t such a thing as a running store? We bought our running shoes at the sporting goods store, which usually was manned by some guy named Al or Bill and the selection consisted of two to three different shoes. The guy selling those shoes was (absolutely, definitely) not a runner and knew nothing about the sport but made some money off of the local high school kids who ran track.

Not only were the shoes different (and under $50), Sinclair and Oglesby point out, but the timers and timing devices were different, the attitudes (sneers from onlookers, not runners) were different and the races were few.

In the early 70s, the entire yearly road racing schedule for the Denver area could be easily printed on an 8.5-by-11 piece of paper. Really, all of it. In summer, there might be two or three races per month. That’s why to a pber, any race older than 30 years, should be treated with great respect. Pre-boomer races weren’t certified and most were measured with some guy’s old pickup … accurate to within 400m. Oh, and no meters or kilometers back then either; we used good old miles. Races in Denver might attract more than 100 runners, but a field like that was out of control big.

But about this “pre-boomer” business. This runner/writer was delighted to discover the designation. There is even a pber who blogs regularly on pbers. And all this time I thought we were just Children of the Depression, or, in a word, Geezers.

By whatever term, some of us who were running before 1976 had experiences that are a little hard to imagine today. Especially the distaff side of the aisle — we were few and far between for some time there.  Once, following a neighborhood 10k in Atlanta, I hung out watching the awards ceremonies. I was still in the high school PTA mode, feeling myself both fit and acceptably chic. “Oldest Male Finisher” was called to the front for his plaque, a balding, gray-haired gent on rather wobbly, spindly legs. We clapped loudly. Then they called out the “Oldest Female Finisher” plaque and — you guessed it — my name. Last year I paired it with my lady geezer award from the Rabun Ramble 5k, about the same time I decided a brisk walk beats running these days. The Rabun Ramble people (OK, my daughter Sandy started this nifty Lake Rabun, Georgia charity event) wised up after a few years of too many medals, too little time. My award is a generic medal on a blue ribbon proclaiming Best in Class. I’ll take it. Some things never change: runners are pushovers for prizes.

Sport of running has traveled a long distance since the ’70s | coloradoan.com | The Coloradoan.