Upping My Bicycle Commuting Game – Part Six – Cycling Goals For the New Year

You should ride for meditation for 1 hour per day – if you’re too busy, then ride for 2 hours

—- Old Zen Saying

My 1987 Cannondale road bike at Trammell Crow Park.

 

I have read that one thing that I can do to help achieve my goals is to share them. This isn’t easy – important goals are, by nature, personal and can be embarrasing. Plus, there’s the problem that nobody else really gives a damn and they (you) will be terribly bored. But by sharing them, against my better judgement, I hope to:

  1. Gain Clarity – I have come to the conclusion that I write primarily not to communicate my ideas but to discover and develop them.
  2. Accountability – Other people, even mysterious eyes on the internet, adds motivation.
  3. Feedback – Someone (you) might have some ideas or suggestions.

A primary goal I had this year is related to fitness – and I’m sure you won’t be surprised to read that it is a cycling mileage goal. The basic goal is ten miles a day. That works out to, what? Three thousand six hundred and sixty (leap year, remember?) miles for the year. That sounds like a long way. I used to have a spreadsheet to track my mileage, but now I use Mapmyride.com.

I do cheat in two ways. I know that sometimes the weather is simply too awful to ride. If I ride my spin bike at home I count one hour as ten miles. That seems fair – ten miles per hour is pretty much how fast I usually ride (though I average a lot less – in the big evil city I spend as much as a third of my time waiting on traffic) plus on the spin bike I never coast. The other cheat is a little more controversial (in my own mind). When I take the bus to work, I have to transfer, usually at the Spring Valley DART station. It’s about 1.3 miles from my office – which I can walk in thirty minutes (if I walk fast). If I do that – walk instead of taking the second bus route – I give myself five miles biking credit. It feels about right, the mile plus walk is about as tiring as five miles on the bike – it takes thirty minutes, so I’m sticking with an hour or so of exercise a day.

Is that fair? It seems OK to me and gives me another option and a little flexibility.

So… Accountability… how did I do in January.

My total in January was 314.02 miles – so I beat my goal by four miles. Good enough.

The breakdown:
31 Bike Rides – 199.02 miles
9 Spin Rides – 90 miles (eight episodes of The Witcher and one hour of watching music videos)
5 Walks – 25 miles

Looking at my Calendar – I had 7 days that I did nothing. That would be another goal – reduce those days.

January Map My Ride, Calendar – Click to Enlarge

One other interesting fact. I thought about a goal of, for the year, riding my bike more miles than driving my car (excluding long trips). I didn’t decide on that goal because it seemed impossible, especially in Dallas.

Well, as I think about January – I drove a car three times, twice to Love Field (once for work, once to pick Candy up) and once to Home Depot (to buy something too big for my bicycle). That’s a total of what? Maybe fifty miles? Everywhere else I went I either cycled, took DART (one other goal of mine for this year was to utilize the bus system – which I have been doing), or rode with someone else driving. I never drove myself to work (not always by choice). So I rode my bike two hundred miles and drove fifty. I didn’t think that was possible, and it probably won’t be for the rest of the year… but there it is.

My bike commute – the bike riding itself – is getting really easy. I told someone that, unless the weather is horrible, usually my bike ride to/from work is the best part of my day. They said, “How many people can say that their commute is the best part of their day.” I nodded, although I thought to myself that a big part of that is how unpleasant the rest of my day is. Unfortunately, changing clothes and such at work is the worst part of my day. My employer blathers on a lot about work/life balance – but it is all bullshit. They make it as difficult as they can to commute without a car.

Also, I have to be careful – when you don’t drive very much and live in a car-obsessed city like Dallas – on a tiny bicycle dodging giant killer hunks of steel that spew toxic fumes in your face even if they miss you or standing by the road waiting for a bus as the traffic roars by inches away –  you begin to hate cars. You begin to hate the people that drive them, especially people that drive fast/aggressively, yak on their phones, and honk their horns. It’s a good opportunity to practice mindfulness and forgiveness.

So, sorry to bore you with my stupid little story – one month down, eleven to go.

Better finish this off and go for a bike ride – get my ten miles in. Don’t want to start February off behind.

Upping My Bicycle Commuting Game – Part 3, A Christmas Present

“I had to ride slow because I was taking my guerrilla route, the one I follow when I assume that everyone in a car is out to get me. My nighttime attitude is, anyone can run you down and get away with it. Why give some drunk the chance to plaster me against a car? That’s why I don’t even own a bike light, or one of those godawful reflective suits. Because if you’ve put yourself in a position where someone has to see you in order for you to be safe–to see you, and to give a fuck–you’ve already blown it… We had a nice ride through the darkness. On those bikes we were weak and vulnerable, but invisible, elusive, aware of everything within a two-block radius.”
Neal Stephenson, Zodiac

 

Santa doesn’t seem to bring me things any more – maybe I haven’t been a good boy – so I tell people what I want for Christmas. And what I want is gift cards.

In this day and age – Amazon gift cards are best.That way I get what I want and I get the fun of figuring out what I’m going to order. Also, a lot of times what I want is too expensive for someone to buy me (such as a new camera), I can save up cards over Christmases and Birthdays until I have what I need.

For this Christmas, I cashed in a gift card and bought a new cycling jacket.

Cycling Jacket

There were myriads to choose from, in all price points, but after a lot of looking I decided on an ARSUXEO Winter Warm UP Thermal Softshell Cycling Jacket. In that crazy internet way things happen now – the next day it was sitting on my porch.

I have grand ambitions on bike commuting in 2020. I need to lose weight, up my fitness, and we’re short a car – so it’s on the bike to work I go. The ride is getting easy enough that the actual bike riding part in the best part of my day (the getting ready and changing clothes at work is the worst). Dealing with weather is tough – and even here in Texas, there are cold, windy days in the winter time. I’ve had a few days of riding around the ‘hood, and a couple of commutes in already.

The jacket works great. The key to getting in miles when the weather is whipsawing around is to layer effectively. I can go three or four layers under this thing, and peel some off if the sun comes out and the day warms. The jacket has some areas that let in the breeze – I can feel it when it is really cold, but necessary to evaporate out the sweat.

The best part is the visibility. That geeky green-yellow color is a lifesaver at dusk and dawn in Dallas rush-hour traffic.

So it’s time to charge my lights for tomorrow, make sure my tires are good, and get some sleep. Dawn comes early.

Upping My Bicycle Commuting Game – Part 2, Cockpit Storage

“To be in hell is to drift; to be in heaven is to steer.”
George Bernard Shaw

As I worked on commuting the 5 miles to work on a regular basis – I realized I needed storage attached to my handlebars to keep some stuff that I could reach without getting off my bike.

First, and most important, I needed a place to keep my badge. I work on the big Texas Instruments campus at Hwy75 and 635 (though I don’t actually work for Texas Instruments) on a little peninsula of Dallas sticking up into Richardson, Texas. I need a badge as I ride past the security gate to get onto the campus. I can’t really ride the whole way with the thing banging around on my neck (for safety and comfort) so I would stop a block short of the gate, dig around in my pack or panniers and put my badge on. Although the quick rest was good (help my heart slow down and a little less sweat) I didn’t like wasting all that time looking for my badge mixed in with all the rest of the stuff. I realized I needed something small on my handlebars to keep my badge.

Also, after trying a lot of lights, I prefer some knockoff lights with a USB on the end that I run from portable cell phone battery packs. They are cheap and I can carry extras as backup. But I needed something on my bars to carry the battery. I had been running the wires all the way to the bag on the back of my bike and it kept getting caught on stuff. Finally, I wanted a place to keep my phone and wallet that I could keep my eyes on. Peace of mind, you know.

My cockpit is crowded with lights, bell, plus interrupter brake levers and a standard handlebar bag would take up too much space. So I started looking around and asking other cycling commuters that I know what they use. They all recommended a feed bag style of stem bag.

Feed Bag Cycling Pouch

These looked useful and I was leaning this way. However – I didn’t like the shape – they seem designed for a water bottle and I already have three cages on my bike. What I wanted to store was flat in shape. Also, these seemed a bit pricey (I know, you get what you pay for… I am horribly cheap) – so I held off and kept looking.

After looking around I came cross these things – Toughbuilt Fastener Bag – Heavy Duty Mesh Window, Hanging Grommets

Toughbuilt Fastener Bags

These were inexpensive – 3 for around twelve bucks. I knew they’d be strong and well made. People (carpenters, plumbers, electricians, etc.) that use these things don’t fuck around with stuff that breaks. Plus they were flat in shape, you could see into them, and had a stout metal grommet. So I bought some.

When they arrived I mounted one on the stem of my bike with a carabiner clip and an old bracket from a bike reflector that I had laying around. It worked great.

Toughbuilt Fastener Pouch on the stem of my commuting bike. It holds a battery pack, my badge, and usually my wallet and phone.

I know that my love for cheap gadgets and using things not for their original purpose is often self-defeating – but this is perfect – just big enough and it moves sideways through the wind without much resistance. I can keep an eye on my badge, phone, and wallet while I ride and get my badge out when I need it. In hot weather I keep a small paper towel in there too to wipe sweat or clean my glasses while waiting at a stop light. I’ve learned that with bike commuting – when you have to get out that door every morning – it isn’t only about what you carry – it’s about how you organize it.

These little indestructible pouches are a big help with the small things.

Upping My Bicycle Commuting Game – Part 1, Overview

Looking back over old journal entries I realized it has been over seven years since I first rode my bike to work:

I Need a Victory

Not long after that I wrote a detailed description of my ride home from work (at that time I was only commuting one way):

My Commute Home from Work

Over that vast span of time I have been up and down on the bike commuting… mostly down. However, lately, to aid in recovery from my sickness this summer and because of various things we now have three people at home with only two cars, I have been bike commuting more and more. Things have changed a lot since 2012 – I am riding a different bike now (a vintage Cannondale 1987 touring bike) and have recently done some serious route tweaking….

My 30 year old touring bike in The Cedars, Dallas, Texas

As a matter of fact, my two main bikes from 2012 – a Yokota Mountain Bike, and a vintage 1986 Raleigh Technium – have both been broken in the meantime and replaced.

My Technium on Winfrey Point, White Rock Lake. Dallas, Texas. Look carefully and you can see a guy on a unicycle.

Adios Technium

The ponds at Huffhines Park along my bike commute route. This is my old, long gone, Yokota mountain bike converted into a commuter.

Craigslist Commuter

My goal for 2020 is 3,000 miles – my commute is five miles each way – so if I commute every day for 300 workdays I’ll hit my goal. I won’t be able to commute by bike every day (weather, laziness, I often need to drive to other sites for work) so I will have to ride extra on the weekend and in the evening, plus I will count an hour on the spin bike as ten miles.

Like I mentioned, I have been doing some serious route tweaking – mostly for safety purposes. I’ll write later about what I’ve learned about bike safety riding daily in big city traffic – some of it is counter-intuitive. I was a bit peeved that, after working on my route, it turned out to be something like 4.95 miles each way… and that is less than my 10 miles per day goal. So I tweaked it a little more to add a couple tenths of a mile. I know that’s nuts – but a goal is a goal.

Here’s my current route home from the Texas Instruments campus to East Richardson – I’m pretty happy with it.

My bicycle commuting route home from work – 5 miles from the Texas Instruments campus at 75 & 635 to East Richardson

 

I’ll have to duplicate my 2012 entry and document my route. I can’t take photos on my commute – it’s dark now both ways – so maybe I’ll ride the route this weekend and take some pictures, then write it up.

Summers are tough, it is so hot here and I don’t have a shower available at work. I arrive drenched in sweat and have to towel off and change clothes in a handicap stall – not a lot of fun. The key is to get up really early, before dawn, and take my time.

Now, though, is another kind of problem. I hate being cold. But I’ve been working on my cold-weather gear, my layers. This morning it was right around freezing, which is pretty cold for Texas. I was nervous last night, I have ridden in the cold before, but never commuted in these temperatures. When I went out of the garage the ground was rimed with frost and clouds of vapor pulsed out of my mouth. I glanced at my car as I clipped in my pedals and noticed the glass was covered with ice.

At least when you bike commute in the cold, you don’t have to scrape your windshield.

As it turned out, I did fine. I was wearing multiple layers of various kinds of clothing and once I was moving and working I warmed up and was comfortable. Changing into my work clothes (and back again for the ride home) was a pain, but it is what it is.

This time of year I’m riding home in the pitch dark (on my trip in the sun is just beginning to peak over the horizon). Today was bad because there was some kind of wreck at Beltline and Greenville and traffic was spilling out onto all the neighborhood roads – the drivers were in a bad mood – angry and fast. That makes for much unpleasantness when you are on a tiny unprotected and vulnerable bicycle.

But I made it home, checked the forecast (cold again) and set out my gear for tomorrow morning. Another day, another ten miles.

Choose Which Poison

“You’re going to pay a price for every bloody thing you do and everything you don’t do. You don’t get to choose to not pay a price. You get to choose which poison you’re going to take. That’s it.”
Jordan B. Peterson

Bolivar Peninsula, Texas

I am working on a list of “Bill’s Rules” – hopefully coming up with a list of useful, yet pithy, statements that I, more or less, came up with on my own. I’m up to four, but have serious doubts about the fourth – probably goin’ to give that one up.

At any rate, Numero Uno:

The key to creativity and innovation is to embrace failure

This seems obvious at first – of course if you are to be creative and innovative you have to be willing to fail. What I’m saying goes beyond that – you have to embrace failure. You have to crave failure. You have to have failure as your primary goal.

To illustrate, I’ll give an example from that white-hot furnace meant to burn away all and any trace of creativity and innovation (and joy, and human-ess, and anything else worthwhile) – the world of the modern giant corporation. It is a world of metrics, and goals, and people scurrying like ants to meet those metrics… and the world be dammed. Not meeting goal, having that dreaded red box on the monthly PowerPoint metric presentation – projected on that screen in that sterile conference room – , is the worse thing in the world and a source of executive shame.

And they don’t understand why other companies (usually very small) always come up with the new ideas.

Here’s my idea – everyone should have on their annual review goal list – “I will initiate at least six major projects in the coming year that will fail… preferably fail in a spectacular and embarrassing manner.”

That would spur some creativity and innovation. And what happens if your projects all succeed in wild and unpredictable ways? Well, you weren’t innovative and creative enough – if you manage to hold on to your job you better try harder next year.

The Emptiness Below Us

“Anyone whose goal is ‘something higher’ must expect someday to suffer vertigo. What is vertigo? Fear of falling? No, Vertigo is something other than fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.”
― Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Crystal Beach, Bolivar Peninsula, Texas

Now, here is is, the first day of a spanking new year. And I have these goals for 2018 – I’ve worked hard on these… and the main three are:

  • Read 100 books
  • Write 50 Short Stories
  • Ride 3000 miles on my bike.

Since this is only the beginning, I didn’t want to get behind right at the start. So I cheated on the reading a hundred books – and jumped the gun by starting two weeks early. I’m up to six so far… which is good. I’ve already written one short story – so I’m OK there.

But I am stuck in a beach house with no bicycle and freezing cold… incredible wind… what we used to call a blue norther. I had planned on a little flexibility on my goal – knowing that I get sick over the winter and need other means to keep up with my goal.

At home, I have two exercise bikes – so I decided that riding one of those is worth ten miles for each hour riding. That way I can keep up if I’m forced inside.

At the beach house I thought about it and decided that, in a pinch, I can walk to make up the goal. Only in emergency situations, like now – the first day. After some thought and internet research, I decided on a three mile walk, at a brisk pace, would equal ten miles of riding. I walk at about three miles per hour, so that’s about an hour – which corresponds with riding or stationary. Also, that’s in addition to whatever I walk on a normal basis – the usual strutting around doesn’t count.

So at the end of the day, I layered on as much as I could (the temperature was below freezing and the wind was… really strong. I walked out to the beach and watched the kids fire off the last of their fireworks, then headed out down the beach. There is a little creek that emerges from the dunes and blocks off the rest of the beach from where we were and I knew that to that creek and back would get me to the three miles I needed.

I started out into the wind, pulling my hood closed so I was looking out a tiny circle at the water on the right and the dunes on the left. The moon was full, so there was plenty of light. It was very cold. But I started walking.

And it put me into the thought of all the other times over my life that I had walked on the beach, especially at night. From Panama to Nicaragua, to South Padre Island over spring break (That was a long drive from Lawrence, Kansas) to this very beach over the years with my kids growing larger and larger.

There is a rhythm of walking on the beach, in the wet sand between the surf and the loose part (in Texas it is generally allowed to drive on the beach, so, especially at night, you want to stay close to the surf), as the time and the miles go by all those old memories become telescoped in to the present day, the experience of being and moving along a border between two worlds.

It was a lot easier to walk back with the wind behind me. So now I have the equivalent of ten miles of bike riding on the first day of January. Still on track – so good, so far.

Sixty Six Short Novels

“So many books, so little time.”
― Frank Zappa

Kindle

Call Me Ishmael

Oblique Strategy: Distorting time

I am working on my goals for next year. One thing that I wanted to do is to up my reading game. I was thinking about a goal of reading a hundred books in 2018.

That seemed a little silly. Though an avid reader, I am not as fast as I used to be – brain and eyes are letting me down more and more. I don’t have very much free time and even less excess energy. But that century mark of tomes read was such a siren call.

Then I thought, “They don’t have to be long books.” I could salt my reading list with shorter works (less than 200 pages) and then my goal might be doable. To experiment, I walked through the shelves of the Richardson library looking for thinner editions and found there were plenty to be hunted down.

It was a quick leap from that to heading out onto the web. I typed in “list of best short novels” into Google and opened up the first half-dozen hits or so. An hour of copying and pasting later, I had 66 books in a list. I included the title, the author, and a little blurb from whatever website I scoured the information from. There were a lot of duplicates in the various websites, of course (I think I’ve caught all of those) and I threw out half the books because I had already read them.

One cool thing is that I kept thinking, “Oh, that’s not really a book I would read,” and then I’d catch myself – these are short so there is little lost in starting a book that I might not relate to… this is a great place to experiment, to branch out, to try something new. Of course, there is a satisfaction at finishing a great weighty hunk of a book – maybe I’ll make 2019 the year of reading a few really big books.

The more I think about this, the more excited I get. I think I’ll start early – 2018 is only a couple weeks away. I think I’ll head down to the library with this list in hand and see what I can find. Wish me luck. If you have any recommendations or ideas – I’d be glad to hear them. A hundred books in a year – sounds like a plan.

Here’s the list, so far:

1 Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
“Dept. of Speculation, a series of short dispatches from the front line of a marriage, is by turns hilarious and heartbreaking, and often both in the same sentence.”

2 We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
“A gripping tale of murder most foul on the estate of the Blackwood family, Shirley Jackson’s final novel is the kind of book you’ll want everyone to read just so you can talk about it.”

3 The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
“A book about cultural identity as much as politics, The Reluctant Fundamentalist follows a Princeton-educated Pakistani as his life in America collapses post 9/11”

4 Heartburn by Nora Ephron
“In Nora Ephron s hilarious novel, based on the breakdown of her second marriage, group therapy and infidelity share the page with recipes for pot roast.”

5 Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
“Achebe’s classic novel follows Okonkwo, a man who finds himself at odds with society and history amid the changing cultural landscape in Nigeria. 209 pages.”

6 Shopgirl by Steve Martin
“An exploration of loneliness, softened by Martin’s witty observations and dry humour, Shopgirl follows the titular character as she navigates life in Los Angeles.”

7 The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie
“Classic Christie, classic Marple. When the body of a young woman is discovered in the library at Gossington Hall, the hunt is on to find out whodunnit.”

8 The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
An examination of life and the narratives we construct for ourselves that won the 2011 Man Booker Prize.

9 Sula by Toni Morrison
“Sula follows the contrasting lives of two girls growing up in a poor, black Ohio neighbourhood, and the different paths they choose.”

10 The Dig by Cynan Jones
“A sparse, dark, brutal novella about a Welsh farmer struggling to make a living from his sheep, and an unnamed man digging up badgers to bait.”

11 How to Get Into the Twin Palms by Karolina Waclawiak
“An absurd, delightful novel about a Polish immigrant in Los Angeles who schemes to reinvent herself in order to gain access to the Twin Palms nightclub.”

12 Amsterdam by Ian McEwan
Two friends plot the downfall of a politician in this Booker-winning novella

13 Rape: A Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates
“The aftermath of a gang rape on a young mother is explored in a searing indictment of rape culture and the lack of justice, care, and understanding for victims.”

14 The Quiet American by Graham Greene
A seasoned English journalist in Vietnam watches as a young American turns good intentions into bad policy and bloodshed in this powerful anti-war allegory.

15 The Passion by Jeanette Winterson
“A fantastical, lyrical love story set during the Napoleonic Wars”

16 Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson
“A novel in verse, Autobiography of Red gives voice to a minor character in Greek mythology, updating his story to the present day. There are those who love it and those who haven’t read it. Be the former”

17 The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker
A stream-of-consciousness journey into the mind of a man on his lunch break

18 At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom by Amy Hempel
“A collection of 16 utterly compelling, gorgeously crafted short stories.”

19 Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
“A horror novel following the 12th expedition into the uncharted Area X. Any guesses what happened to the previous 11 expeditions Nope, weirder than that.”

20 The Neon Bible by John Kennedy Toole
“Written when Toole was just 16, but not published until after his death. Well worth a read for fans of his A Confederacy of Dunces.”

21 Speedboat by Renata Adler
“An experimental novel that defies literary convention and category, this mix of fiction, critique, memoir, confession, and essay demands to be experienced.”

22 If You’re Not Yet Like Me by Edan Lepucki
“A darkly comic novella in which the narrator tells her unborn daughter the story of how she came to be. A romantic comedy with the emphasis on comedy, not romance.”

23 Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Ethan Frome struggles to tend to his farm and his wife then her beautiful cousin comes to stay.

24 Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis
“In a reverse narrative, the protagonist moves backwards from death towards the story’s beginning and his role in one of the most horrific events in recent history.”

25 Lucinella by Lore Segal
“A witty and searing indictment of the ’70s New York literary scene, in which a poet observes her peers at a writer’s colony upstate.”

26 Night by Elie Wiesel
A harrowing account of the author’s time in Nazi concentration camps.

27 Ablutions by Patrick deWitt
“An alcoholic bartender in Los Angeles observes the lonely, broken, and grotesque characters who populate his bar, among whom he may be the most broken.”

28 Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
The compelling story of two outsiders striving to find their place in an unforgiving world

29 Cheri by Colette
“L‚a de Lonval is an aging courtesan, a once famous beauty facing the end of her sexual career. She is also facing the end of her most intense love affair, with Fred Peloux known as Ch‚ri a playboy half her age. ”

30 The King by Donald Barthelme
“In The King, a retelling of Le Morte D’Arthur, Donald Barthelme moves the chivalrous Knights of the Round Table to the cruelty of the Second World War.”

31 Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
“This short novel is a dream: the kind you dip into, just for a drowsy second”

32 Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
“The final novel from the acclaimed American author, about an elderly man and woman who come together to tackle their loneliness. A low-key, melancholy yet beautifully tender read about making the most of life.”

33 The Vegetarian By Han Kang and translated by Deborah Smith.
“Set in South Korea, this is the story of Yeong-hye and her decision to become a vegetarian and the shocking reaction that this rebellion triggers in her family. A deserving winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2016.”

34 Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
“Bold and experimental, Virginia Woolf’s story of one day in the lives of Clarissa Dalloway, a fashionable, wealthy and accomplished hostess, and Septimus Warren Smith, a shellshocked survivor of the Great War, is a landmark in twentieth-century fiction. ”

35 Grief Is The Thing With Feathers by Max Porter
“Winner of the 2016 International Dylan Thomas Prize and one of the most highly acclaimed novels of recent times, Max Porter s debut novel is an astonishing, and surprisingly humorous, study of a man and his two sons dealing with the loss of their mother.”

36 A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler
“Andreas is a simple man of few words, yet he lives an extraordinary life. At under 160 pages, Robert Seethaler’s novel is a tender book about finding dignity and beauty in solitude.”

37 The Body Artist by Don DeLillo
“An elliptical meditation on the mysteries of love, life and time, this is a sad yet beautiful novel from America s true masters of fiction, Don DeLillo. ”

38 Bonjour Tristesse by Fran‡oise Sagan
“Bonjour Tristesse scandalised 1950s France with its portrayal of teenager terrible C‚cile, a heroine who rejects conventional notions of love, marriage and responsibility to choose her own sexual freedom.”

39 Wilful Disregard by Lena Andersson
“Highly praised by the likes of Lena Dunham and Alice Sebold, this is a compelling read about a poet leaving behind her sensible boyfriend for a renowned artist, a decision which causes her rational world to begin to unravel.”

40 All This Has Nothing To Do With Me by Monica Sabolo
“MS interviews the mysterious XX for a job and hires him because she fancies him. As their relationship develops, and then collapses, MS lays bare her feelings in emails, text messages, photographs that show the tragedy and the comedy of her obsession. ”

41 The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide
This charming novel about a cat that brings joy into a couple’s life was a surprise bestseller around the world.

42 The Salmon Who Dared to Leap Higher by Ahn Do-hyun
“Wise, tender and inspiring, this is the story of a salmon whose silver scales mark him out as different – who dares to leap beyond his fate. It’s a story about growing up, and about aching and ardent love.”

43 The End We Start From by Megan Hunter
“In the midst of a mysterious environmental crisis, as London is submerged below flood waters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, the family are forced to leave their home in search of safety. As they move from place to place, shelter to shelter, their journey traces both fear and wonder as Z’s small fists grasp at the things he sees, as he grows and stretches, thriving and content against all the odds. ”

44 By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolano
“There s a passage in Bolano s own great tome, 2666, attacking people who prefer the perfect exercises of the great masters to the great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unknown. Admittedly, By Night in Chile is not quite on par with 2666, but it manages to be both a perfect exercise and a blazing path into the unknown.”

45 Child of God by Cormac McCarthy
“Perhaps McCarthy s second greatest novel, after the incomparable Blood Meridian, Child of God is an Appalachian nightmare written in gorgeously lush prose.” 

46 In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan
“Brautigan at his best and weirdest. This surreal novel is set in a commune named iDEATH where different colored watermelons provide building materials. A lot of modern indie fiction seems indebted to Brautigan s unique combination of whimsy and sadness, but few if any match his power.”

47 The Third Policeman by Flann O Brien
“One of the greatest novels of the 20th century, this underrated book is a wild roller coaster of dark comedy, surreal images, and just plain brilliant writing.”

48 Jakob von Gunten by Robert Walser
“Walser seems to be experience a well-deserved revival in recent years. If you haven t read his joyous yet bizarre writings, Jakob von Gunten is the place to start.”

49 Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
“Dreamy and completely beautiful, Robinson s slim 1981 novel is frequently cited as one of the greatest American novels of the last 50 years. I agree.”

50 The Loser by Thomas Bernhard
“If you are like me, there s nothing you love as much as a witty grump. Bernhard s novels take the form of acerbic rants, and The Loser is among the best of them.”

51 Giovanni s Room by James Baldwin
James Baldwin s second and perhaps best novel is a beautiful and moving story about a homosexual American man in Paris.

52 The Passion According to G.H. by Clarice Lispector
“Most people seem to read Lispector s also very short novel The Hour of the Star and call it a day. However, her other novels are even stronger. The Passion is an energetic yet philosophical short novel that everyone should read.”

53 The Lime Twig by John Hawkes
“A dark nightmare in the form of a crime novel, Hawkes explores terror through innovative prose. I only just read The Lime Twig this week and already feel happy recommending it.”

54 Ray by Barry Hannah
“One of the greatest Southern American writers which is saying something given that the region has given us O Connor, Faulkner, Hurston, and more Barry Hannah s prose is acrobatic and addictive. Ray, his shortest novel, is a great starting place if you have never read him.”

55 Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin
“This is a weird hallucination of a book reading it feels like an experience, like something that happens to you, as infectious and mysterious and unstoppable and possibly magical as the disease that powers its plot. There is absolutely no way to put it down without breaking the spell, so make sure you re comfy.”

56 Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck
“A lovely, slim novel that tells the stories of the various inhabitants of a house on a wooded bit of land near a lake outside Berlin, before, during and after WWII but like Woolf s To the Lighthouse, it is not really about the inhabitants, but rather very pointedly about time, and the pull of place.”

57 A Separation by Katie Kitamura
“This one s a cheat, because it doesn t actually come out until February, but mark your calendar for sleeplessness, because if you re anything like me, you ll read it straight through without stopping. The plot is, essentially, this: a woman follows her estranged (and unresponsive) husband to Greece, where she proceeds to look for him (and discover the mysteries he s left in his wake). Kitamura s spare language somehow seems barely able to control the emotion it signifies. In some ways, this is a meditation on the stories we paint onto other people, and how little we can really know them which, honestly, keeps me up at night as much or more than any missing person.”

58 A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes
“A surprisingly terrifying short novel about children kidnapped by pirates, elevated from its silliness by surprising moments of violence and introspection, as well as repeated flourishes of literary brilliance. Also, it s funny. Take for instance, this passage: Being nearly four years old, she was certainly a child: and children are human (if one allows the term human a wide sense): but she had not altogether ceased to be a baby: and babies are of course not human they are animals, and have a very ancient and ramified culture, as cats have, and fishes, and even snakes: the same in kind as these, but much more complicated and vivid, since babies are, after all, one of the most developed species of the lower vertebrates. ”

59 Desperate Characters by Paula Fox
“At this beginning of this novel, Sophie Bentwood is bitten by a cat that may or may not have rabies. The ensuing domestic drama wonderful and terrible in its own right is then overlaid with this crazed, manic specter of disease that had me turning pages like a madwoman.”

60 Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World by Donald Antrim
“For my money one of the best novels ever written, of any length. Something bad is happening in Pete Robinson s town something that has his neighbors building moats around their homes and all the members of the Rotary Club finding their inner animals (his wife is, apparently, the prehistoric coelacanth). Oh, and the mayor has been drawn and quartered. Even if you don t want to know what happens next, this novel will have you flipping pages just to get to each new delicious surrealist detail.”

61 Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates
“You d think that the structure of this novel, a sort of mythologized retelling of the Chappaquiddick incident, would strip it of any of its tension after all, it begins with the car going off the road. But as Oates goes over and over the event and everything that led up to it from different angles, from different moments, from different points of view the reader keeps hoping that that repeated phrase ( As the black water filled her lungs, and she died. ) will somehow be made untrue. And yet, we know it will not be. And yet, we keep reading, more horrified by the moment.”

62 The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares
“This novel is the diary of a fugitive, hiding on a strange island, who falls in love with one of the mysterious tourists that appear on his shores. A hallucinatory examination of the nature of reality, with a romantic twist, which won high praise from Jorge Luis Borges and Octavio Paz, among others.”

63 Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector
“I ve always thought of Lispector s first novel as a pulsing, beating thing not just near, but the wild heart itself. It’s not a plot-heavy book, but the internal life of the amoral, incendiary Joana and what she will do, and what she will think, and what she will say is endlessly fascinating.”

64 The Room by Jonas Karlsson
Funny, clever, surreal, and thought-provoking, this Kafkaesque masterpiece introduces the unforgettable Bjorn, an exceptionally meticulous office worker striving to live life on his own terms.

65 We the Animals by Justin Torres
“I was sold on this book a coming of age story told in luminous prose from the very first paragraph, which by itself might keep me up for a few extra hours, looking for some of that more:”” We wanted more. We knocked the butt ends of our forks against the table, tapped our spoons against our empty bowls; we were hungry. We wanted more volume, more riots. We turned up the knob on the TV until our ears ached with the shouts of angry men. We wanted more music on the radio; we wanted beats; we wanted rock. We wanted muscles on our skinny arms. We had bird bones, hollow and light, and we wanted more density, more weight. We were six snatching hands, six stomping feet; we were brothers, boys, three little kings locked in a feud for more. ”

66 Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls
“The story of a disaffected housewife with a cheating husband, who starts an affair with wait for it a 6-foot-7 amphibious monster man named Larry. So.”

I Need a Victory

This is the one year anniversary of me starting up my blog again. I’ve gone one year, posting every day. Actually, according to WordPress, I’ve published 369 posts. It was leap year… I know I published two in one day on one occasion… I wonder what the other extras are?

My first post was on the Monk Parakeets that live in a power yard near my house.

My goal was to go a year publishing every day and now I’ve done it. I think, going forward, I’m going to relax a little and be willing to skip a day if I don’t have anything. I want to go for quality, rather than quantity I want to write more and photograph less. I want to try different things, write out a few more ideas and push it more.

Any comments, opinions, or suggestions would be appreciated.

Pack Straps

My bike with an experimental bag I tried out. The panniers work a lot better.

I carry a notebook (at least one) around with me always, along with a quiver of fountain pens, ready to record any fleeting thoughts that creep into my thick skull, on the off chance one might prove useful someday. Things… things have been tough lately and last Friday I wrote down, “I need a victory.” Then I followed this observation with a short list of attainable goals I’ve been working toward. I perused the list, crossed a few off, then circled the item “Ride my Bike to/from work.”

First, I scribbled through the “to.” I have come across a possibly insurmountable obstacle to riding my bike to work – there is no place to take a shower. I’m working on that, but it will take time, politics, and a budget from somewhere. However, there is no reason I can’t ride home after work.

I have been working on a route to/from my work for a long time now, and have it figured out. The route is important because my goal does not include me being killed and ground beneath the wheels of unstoppable traffic. However, I have found a route made up of paved bicycle trails, wide sidewalks, empty residential streets, quiet alleys (I have to be careful there – cars can back out unexpectedly) and parking lots.

One weekend a while back I did some extra work and was rewarded with a gift card. Looking around, I found a surprisingly inexpensive set of panniers from Wal-Mart and bought the things. They are cheaply made, but well designed and they fit on the rack on my old crappy bombing-around-town bike. I can haul any work I need, plus stuff extra clothes in them.

On Saturday, I decided to test my route. Loading up the panniers with a dummy cargo, I rode from home all the way to my workplace, about 5.2 miles, along my chosen low-danger route. I looped around the parking lot and rode back home. No problema. So I knew I could make the distance.

Candy agreed to drive me to work on Monday morning, with my bike in the back of the car. I set it in the rack (there are about a dozen other folks riding bikes – a pitifully small number) and carried the panniers to my desk. At the end of the day I changed clothes, clipped the panniers back on the bike, and headed out.

My bike needs some adjusting and lubrication, I need to work on the pannier mounting (my heels clip the bags every now and then), and I look like a complete ridiculous idiot… but otherwise I really enjoyed the ride. The bicycling itself is the easiest part – the difficult thing is the logistics of it – what to take, what to pack, getting this here, making sure that is there…. Everything is too complicated.

Once I was on the bike and moving, it felt like freedom.

My goal now is to ride home at least twice a week. On the days I can’t do that I might get up a little early and ride for forty five minutes around the neighborhood at dawn – that would be nice. I can go to the store too, those panniers will work well for groceries.

Sounds like a plan. Sounds like a little victory.

Musings on Some Short TED Talks

Try Something New for Thirty Days

Matt Cutts gave a short little talk titled “Try something new for 30 days.”

He gave a few examples:

  • Bike to Work
  • 10,000 steps a day
  • Take a Picture a Day
  • Write a Novel

 Bike to Work I’m working on it, that’s not something that can be done without proper preparation (at least not in Dallas, and not in the summertime)

10,000 Steps a Day – They gave out pedometers at work, I discovered I was walking about 12,000 steps a day during my workday alone.

Take a Picture a Day – Been there, done that.

Write a Novel (Nanowrimo) – Been there, done that.

How about a blog entry every day for a month… yeah, that sounds tough, not.

Then he gave a short list of examples of things to stop:

  • No TV
  • No sugar
  • No Twitter
  • No caffeine

I don’t find giving something up for 30 days to be so inspiring. If you want to give it up, give it up. If you only need to cut back, then cut back.

So, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. What can I do for thirty days that wouldn’t be too difficult, expensive, or time consuming, starting tomorrow. Let me think about it and go on to another TED lecture.

 Derek Sivers: Keep your goals to yourself

Interesting idea. I have always thought that telling everybody your goals gave you the advantage of using social shaming as a motivating force. Another thing to think about and come back to.

Don’t eat the marshmallow yet

The most important principle for success is the ability to delay gratification. No big surprise. Anyone that has spent a lot of time around teenagers knows how rare and important this is.

Of course, there is another factor that isn’t discussed. Even when I was a kid, I hated marshmallows. I would have hidden the thing to make them think I had eaten it so I didn’t have to deal with another one.

Life Lessons Through Tinkering

I spent an enormous amount of time as a child tinkering. My children never really did this at all. Does that make a difference? I don’t know.

My tinkering spaces (my office room and my half of the garage) are sorely neglected. They are cluttered and inefficient. I miss the tinkering. I have a handful of tinker projects half completed.

Can I put the lessons from all these talks together?

OK, here’s my plan. I’ll work some, every day, a few hours a day, for thirty days, on the half completed tinkering projects I have laying around.

What are they?

I’m not going to tell you. Keeping it a personal secret will help me get it done. I have two projects in mind, both rather small projects, I know I can get them done. The bigger projects, such as redoing my office room, I’ll put off for the next thirty days… or the thirty after that.

Thirty days or so from now I’ll write a couple blog entries on what my projects were. Come back and see.

What about the marshmallow? Well, in this case, delayed gratification isn’t really an issue, the doing is the gratification. Maybe I’ll reward myself in some small, extra way. I don’t know how – there is no extra money laying around…. I’ll have to think about it.

Any ideas would be appreciated.

What I learned this week, July 22, 2011

Hakuna Matata

Hakuna Matata

Goals are important, but they are only metrics. A goal is useful for making sure you are on the right track, but it doesn’t work very well for motivation. To get where you need to go, you need to concentrate on the journey. If all you look at is the final goal, you will be overwhelmed and will fail. Look at the next step. If you enjoy the journey and are able to make yourself take that next little baby step, always, no matter what, then you will be unstoppable.


If you put the water bladder in your hydration pack upside down, you will get thirsty very quickly.


A prime lens on an SLR produces a picture that is sharper than one from a zoom.


With today’s tools, the idea of waiting for approval from the minions of a multinational sounds as lazy and self-defeating as a band that won’t burn CDs until they get a major label record deal. Just as musicians have to know their way around a sound board, writers need facility with the layout and design software used to create books, the ins and outs of formatting for ebooks; they need design sense enough to guarantee that their book looks good inside and out.

We used to wait passively for the pearly gates to open and then gratefully pass our manuscripts through to hallowed ground. In music and in books, those days are gone forever. And good riddance.

—- With Traditional Publishing Dies the Passive Writer-Victim by Leonce Gaiter in the Huffington Post


The problem is that these are all goods and services, …, and goods and rights are not the same things. People tend to concur upon rights …, and they do not depend upon others to supply and pay for their rights. With goods, there is always a political argument: about the value of the good, who is to get it and who is to pay.

from A Fling with the Welfare State, by Noemie Emery


If you want to be on the cutting edge – you have to be prepared to bleed.