Danse Russe In Light Of Snoopy

“To live is to dance, to dance is to live.” ~ Snoopy (Charles Schulz)

I came across this quote in a book last night, and was immediately reminded of William Carlos Williams’ Danse Russe, a poem we spent time with in Professor Al Filreis’s class Modern And Contemporary American Poetry.

If Snoopy embodies exuberance, and to dance is to live, then there’s a message that Williams’s poem exudes:

Everyone else is asleep. I am up in the morning dancing (‘living’, per Snoopy), and living despite my exile in suburbia. And also despite not being in Paris, like the rest of you lucky bastards who don’t have to work, oh my dear contemporaries who will read this poem.


In that light, the poem is much less desperate. Much more triumphant.

In a lot of art, greater and lesser? So much depends upon the light you look at it in.

What’s Really Bad For You

Chocolate is good for you. Wine is bad. Coffee consumption helps you live longer. Salt kills. No wait, red wine is great for you. Coffee bad. And salt? Well hell, didn’t we all come from the ocean?

It’s a strange time where too much information is available, lots of it is inconclusive, a lot of it is contradictory, and anything called a study can be referenced as truth. Only the way I think about it, all studies are done by someone. And someones have agendas. “Lies, damn lies, and statistics.”

At some point we’ll likely be able to construct a semi-proxy for a human being, either in the digital realm or a brainless fleshy analogue, and study the shit out of it, until we get to the bottom of what’s good and what’s bad.

In the meantime, here’s what I’ve observed in my mom, my dad, grandparents, aunts and uncles and my elders in general. This is not a study. It’s entirely anecdotal, entirely IMHO:

Subtle physical misalignments and malfunctions can compound into huge problems that become much more significant to future health than how much coffee or red wine you drink.

You develop a weakness in your toes on your left foot.
You start walking flat footed.
The flat footedness causes your knee to tighten.
The tightening of the knee causes patellar tendonitis.
The tendonitis causes you to favor the knee, unbalancing your gait, leading to hip weakness.
Your lower back compensates for your weak hip. Now you have back problems.
Your mobility decreases.
Less mobility = less exercise = steadily decreasing health.

I see these kinds of things in family and loved ones. I’ve experienced some of them myself.

The problem is, at each step of the process, the problem is so minor that a doctor or health practitioner isn’t going to say “the way you walk is going to kill you ten years before your time.”

Or if they did, most of us would think “Well, what’s wrong with the way I walk? It’s just walking.”

We think about health in terms of a perfect base. The base is our ‘normal’ state. Ill health is a deviation from the perfect norm, and something a doctor should be able to ‘fix’.

I would suggest that this thinking is not only inefficient. It’s also a great way to get to a bad place in life. Much faster than an extra cup of coffee, sprinkle of salt or glass of wine.

Our Portland Heritage Tree

In the front yard of our quadplex, Juglans Nigra, le Noyer Noir, the Black Walnut. #58 on the list of Portland heritage trees.

342. Winter Sunrise

In winter its skeletal branches makes fascinating shadows and frame our downtown view.

In April the buds explode, little barely-noticeable flowers and baby leaves.

115. The Walnut Leaves

In early May it explodes into leaf, shading our living room and deck in the afternoons. By June the nuts have formed, embryonic still and perfect for making Nocino liquer. In September and October the nuts fall, sending the squirrels into a mad gathering rush.

236. Nuts

The green fruit rots to a deep brown, and this is the time to rub it off and hang the nuts up for curing. In November the leaves yellow and fall, and in December the nuts are ready to be cracked, the meats roasted and made into walnut tarts. By Christmas the tree is bare, winter having arrived again.

Lawrence’s Sun

Portland in winter reminds me how much I miss being bathed in the Southern California winter sun. How the sun is such a force, such a presence, such a character in our lives.

64. Sun Day

I made a list the other day, my experience with PDX in the winter months, and I forgot something, or making the list reminded me of something:

DH Lawrence’s Sun. A story about a woman prescribed to go away, “into the sun”, and she goes to Sicily and has what turns into a sordid affair. With the sun. Sun as cure. Sun as character. Sun as lover!

Today the forecast is to hit 60 for the first time since October. Yes I’m weak. No I couldn’t make it in Alaska, or any parts north of the 49th parallel. Yes I’m solar powered, as much as any transplanted California boy can be.

Sitting in my favorite morning writing spot this morning. Tapping away. Seeing the sun come in through the full length windows when just a few weeks ago it was dark at this time. Hearing the conversations around me. Not listening – hearing. A buzz and a buzzle and a burble. Like, as Henry Miller imagined it in Tropic of Cancer – “I have a bottle between my legs and I’m shoving the corkscrew” – this beautiful awakening that comes upon Portland when our friend, our cure, our lover makes his appearance.


Roving The USA

It was 1999. The financial firm I had interned with in the Bay Area had a sales force spread out across the nation. All working home offices. Some with severe IT issues. I was doing 4 day weeks at San Diego St, with nothing good to do on weekends but teach myself to code. Sending me on the road was the classic win-win.

So on Friday I’d fly to Miami. I’d fly to Phoenix. I’d fly to San Antonio.

Kid fly in, kid make IT problems go away, kid fly home in time for his 8AM class Monday morning.

This was a big step away from solving problems in the office. In the office I could always fall back on the expertise around me. In the office, most problems – at least the ones a lowly intern was tasked on – could be put off until tomorrow. On the road it was just me. On the road problems had to be solved by the time it was time to fly.

I remember one time in Phoenix Arid-zona. Running through Sky Harbor airport. Bag dangling from my shoulder. Getting to the gate just as they were closing the doors, attendants shaking their heads at the last one to board the last flight from PHX to SAN. Because it had taken me all day and into the evening to massage a printer driver into working just right with Windows NT.

It was neat seeing the country. It was neat playing such an important role. I was the guy who flew in on the weekend and made everything all right. Kinda like the Harvey Keitel charecter in Pulp Fiction… minus all the gore.

Also, I was the guy who kept my boss from getting woken up at 4AM by an agitated rep in Floria who couldn’t get his Palm Pilot to sync his latest and greatest notes with our database.

This was an awesome opportunity for me, and one I relished at the time. Work. A chance to see the country. A chance to help people. A chance to be independent. And not least, an excuse that got me off of campus for the weekends, keeping me from ending up on the business end of too many beer bongs.

Eventually in 2000, I was chosen to spend two weeks working a similar opp at our new office in London, England.

Portland In Winter: The List


Wake up when it’s dark. Come home when it’s dark. What that does to your mind.

On the shortest, dullest, dreariest days, you leave your lights on all day.

“We drink coffee all morning and all afternoon. Then around Three, we switch to beer to cut the massive coffee buzz, hopefully in time to get a few Zs.”

Coffee: Astounding. What they do to it in this town. Kids with bright ideas on how to roast lighter. Elicit flavors. Savor.

There’s more people in Portland OR who know how to make a proper macchiato than there is in all the other cities I’ve been to, combined.

Fish: Steelhead. Tuna. Sardines. I say it all the time: “We need to get our mood minerals, we need to get our Vitamin D.”

Citrus: Picking up a Meyer lemon at the produce stand. The waxiness on your fingers. Its perfume. San Diego, in a fruit.


Walking in the rain.

Hats. Scraves. Sweaters. Raincoats. Gear.

Rain for eight, nine, ten days in a row. Rain and rain and rain. Seldom a good downpour. An endless drizzle.

Walking in the rain and not caring. Not just not caring but happy under your great coat and hood. Let it rain.

Towards the inner self. Wanna lay under covers all day with a book. Spending hours in Powells looking for books to crawl in bed with.

“Insular.” is her word for it. The prevailing attitude. There isn’t a tourist in town. It’s us locals. Versus ourselves.

Naked trees = Views. Sitting at my kitchen table looking at downtown two miles away, thinking how the Black Walnut will be full of leaves in a few months. How I won’t even be able to see across the street.

Then one day it’s sunny. A clear day, courtesy of an arctic visitation. Arctic air mass, complete with ice winds that bite.

Arc. Tick.

Mt. Hood (Wy’East) on a clear day. An ice triangle. Perfect, like a cartoon. Our Disneyland Matterhorn volcano.

Anyone you talk to: “Oh it’s so nice to see the sun.”

“It’s like a vampire apocalypse out there. All these pasty-ass people out walking around, shielding their eyes from this strange brightness in the sky.”

(One exceptionally clear winter morning, I went up on the roof at Indigo and could see not only St. Helens and Tahoma but Glacier Peak some 200 miles away)

Then there’s the fog days. Which might just be the worst.

Valley fog / ‘tule’ fog / radiation fog. Are all words for it. It’s low laying. Oppressive. Breaks your heart in two when you can see tinges of blue, the fog layer so thin like lace, but it just won’t burn off.

A fog day in Portland and you feel like you might be forgotten if the goodship humanity should happen to move to another planet, another level, another place.

“Insular.” is her word for it. The prevailing attitude.

Portland isn’t the kind of town you move to if you want to change the world. Winters will kill you if you insist on fighting them. Winter in San Diego or the Bay area, you see the sun. You can sit and dream of a better world. Winter here is different. It’s Northern European. Me and My Team.

Alaska Airlines non-stop to San Diego, five times a day, every day. Wanna go.

Snowbirds. That’s what they call people who live in the north nine months out of the year and hide in Arizona or California or Mexico in Winter. It sounds better and better every year.

One day you notice, some bushes and trees have blossoms. Blossoms! It’s late January. At last.

February 5th is halfway between solstice and equinox. The acceleration of light per day is accelerating at the maximum rate. That’s called the ‘jerk’ in mathematical terms.

Our front porch faces south and the siding catches the sun and by three o’clock if, somehow, it’s been sunny for a few hours? Then with a coat and a scarf you can sit for a few glorious moments with your head against the siding and pretend that it’s almost spring soon. Until you get too cold and have to go in.

Winter ends with: Blue jays, crocuses, a 60 degree day, pink trees, rapes and rapinis at the farmers markets, longer days, shorter nights, birdsong out the window first thing, a Spring full of rain that lasts until July.

Tags: ,

categories portland

Coursera Courses Spring 2013

Coursera courses I’m taking this semester:

Building an Information Risk Management Toolkit
Barbara Endicott-Popovsky
University of Washington

Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Private Businesses, Part I
Edward D. Hess
University Of Virginia, Darden School Of Business

The Modern and the Postmodern
Michael S. Roth
Wesleyan University

Social Network Analysis
Lada Adamic
University of Michigan

English Composition I: Achieving Expertise
Denise Comer
Duke University