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Exercise #20: Paper That Changed Your Life

Mental Note #7639471

Larry M. was my roommate for the semester we spent at the University of Dallas Rome Campus. He was one of the gang that traveled to London together before the start of the semester for a week and then took the train to Rome by way of Paris. He was my companion on several weekend trips out of Rome, too, including Florence, Munich, Salzberg, and the ill-fated attempt to get to Malta for Easter, which was aborted in Siracusa, Siciliy, when we found that the boats were all booked up, and then turned semi-tragic when we were robbed at gunpoint in a pizzeria in Messina on the night before Easter.

Larry used to carry a tiny notebook everywhere he went, into which he would write notes about photos he’d taken, places to visit and sights to see, addresses, hours of operation, Italian phrases, and so on. …more

Exercise #17: Things That Matter

Back to the Garden

Grass. I have a real problem with grass. For starters, it’s not much to look at. Sure, it’s green. But it’s a monotonous, uninteresting green. And then we have a few weeks of drought, and it’s not even all that green. And what does it do? It’s not a food source. It doesn’t provide much in the way of food for insects or animals, either, since we don’t let it get tall enough to flower or produce seeds. In fact, you can make a good argument that it’s actually bad for insects and animals, since it supplants natural vegetation that would be more likely to produce something they can use for food or building material. A grassy lawn is a monoculture, a genetically vulnerable and unnatural creation incapable of …more

Exercise #11: Favorite Thing to Do in Your Favorite City

I’ve decided to return to the online workshop on which I was working when Hurricane Ike arrived last September. Had some trouble with the first prompt, though. My first attempt turned into unpublishable erotica. Here’s my second attempt:

Fragment #2

I want all of my life to be like these moments:

  • The day that Continental canceled our flight out of Rome, so we spent the day exploring Ostia. We surprised ourselves with how much fun we could cram into one unexpected extra day of vacation.
  • The day you led me through rush-hour traffic to Griffith Park, then showed me where the trail began. I was energized by your kindness.
  • The day the cold front blew through the city, and then you took me to your soccer practice. It was too cold for me to spend two hours waiting on a bench, so I wandered the unfamiliar neighborhood until I found a coffee shop open. Then I came back and climbed up and down the pedestrian staircase to to the road high on the hill above the soccer field to keep warm. While I walked the stairs, I had a heart-to-heart talk directed at a silent God. I told him that I thought he was irrelevant, and that I’d listened to his people and their bad ideas for long enough.

50/50 Fall 2008, Exercise #8: Letter of Persuasion

Letter to a young homosexual

Dear much younger self,

This is a warning from your future self. Ignore it at your peril.

I’m afraid you probably will ignore it, because you aren’t looking for advice. You’re looking for absolute answers, and you have some very limited ideas about where to look for them. You will not find any of the answers that I can give you in the places you’re comfortable looking.

There is so much I could tell you, but what I wish for …more

50/50 Fall 2008, Exercise #6: “We never ask for the things we need the most…”

Five False Starts

“We never ask for the things we need the most.” I don’t know if I agree with that statement, so what am I going to do with it? If we’re in touch with who we are, we do ask for the things we need the most. But I guess a lot of people go through life without asking. Who is this “we”?

“We never ask for the things we need the most,” she said to me.

“What do you mean by that?” I said.

“I mean, we say we want independence, but what we want is financial security. We say we want justice, but we’d …more

Whitewash and Boredom

Sheldon Avenue in Baltimore was where my maternal grandparents lived, the home where my mother grew up, the place my brother and sisters and I dreaded visiting. Or at least I dreaded visiting. It was an orderly street of row houses and sycamore trees, with long concrete staircases at the lower end, shorter staircases at the top end where the street intersected with Belair Road. Belair Road was the limit they’d placed on our wanderings; we were not to cross the six busy lanes of asphalt under any circumstances.

Their house was the fourth from the bottom of the row—fourth on the right as you climbed the street in the front, fourth from the left as you climbed …more

When Critical Thinking is its Own Reward

Before I’d even finished yesterday’s blog entry, I did some googling on “happiest man Buddhist monk.” I’ll admit it: I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going too far out on a limb. I wanted to temper my language in case it turned out that there was compelling scientific evidence that scientists had identified the most joyful person alive. In other words, I wanted to cover my skeptical ass.

I wasn’t surprised to find out that the idea of “the happiest man in the world” hadn’t originated with Patty Gras. As near as I’ve been able to determine so far, that phrase originated in an article by Anthony Barnes in the January 21, 2007, issue of The Independent. The article talks about Matthieu Ricard, a French academic who left his job …more

Boot Camp Day 8: What to Do, What to Do?

I love to-do lists. It’s great to gather the details of your life into concise bullet points, to organize the universe of tasks by priority or category or color-coding. It’s great to check things off a list.

I have a lot of problems with to-do lists.

I don’t like being told what to do—even by me. I never know how to deal with recurring tasks. Do I really need to remind myself to make my bed? Once upon a time, I did. If I take it off the list, will a day come when I forget to do it? On the other hand, it’s an easy job to check off early in the day to get …more