The Importance of Feeling Special

I’ve been listening to a podcast lately about a kind of guru who calls herself a “spiritual catalyst.”  Her name is Teal Swan.

Here’s what’s interesting to me–Teal Swan grew up in a hippie family in Utah, non-Mormon, and so feeling different.  She had some problems as a young person that led to at least one suicide attempt, and so her parents (wealthy hippies) took her to a Chinese spiritual healer, who took her in as a person with a rare gift–the ability, with some training, to, well, have a look here.

But I really have nothing to say about Teal Swan other than that she was treated, from a comparatively early age as special.

That’s not an uncommon experience.  It happened to me.  I grew up in a nominally Jewish household, but joined the Lutheran church when I was 17 or so, and was baptized at 18.  I was treated as special.  Because I was Jewish, I was treated as a kind of fulfillment of prophecy (find an Evangelical  to explain the Book of Revelation to you if you don’t know what I mean).

I joined the youth choir and was told that I had “perfect pitch.”  I still don’t know if that’s true, but it made me feel special.  Once I made it to college, I felt it was required of me to study Hebrew, and to explain the Old Testament to people.

I surfed that wave of special for years.

My next dose came when, casting about for a college major, I decided to try sociology.  The sociology department at my school had an honors program, and once they looked at my transcript I was proclaimed one of the best and brightest.  Special.  I had the attention of faculty, I was given a paying job as a TA.  Cool.

And then I was accepted into ten of the eleven graduate schools to which I applied.  I was stoked.  I was stroked.

In other words, I had become a special junkie.

That was really quite hard to deal with when I dropped out of grad school.  I got a little bit of the sauce from time to time in other careers, but never another sustained hit.

Withdrawal is a bitch.

Maybe Bruce Springsteen put it best.  He often does.

(Hard to believe that in all these years, I’d never seen that video until today.)

Look, we all want to be special.  We all want to feel special.  We all want to be recognized.  And there is a reality in the sense that each of us is unique, and special for that reason alone.

And to the extent that we establish relationships with other people, we can be special to them–I think that’s what Dash fails to understand in the video above.

But special in the sense of “superior” is problematic.  We are all humans, and it would be a good idea if we behaved that way.

Teal Swan may or may not be a special junky.  But I was.

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The Joy of an Upside-Down Bicycle

A bicycle-related post!!!


A couple of decades ago, I fancied myself a cyclist.  A serious person, for whom bikes were all and all, etc.

So I bought a workstand.  Workstands are wonderful bits of kit that let you clamp a bike (ideally by the seatpost) and turn it to any and all orientations you might need to work on it–whether it’s the gearing, shifters, whatever.

A year or so ago, I noticed that a critical part of my workstand–a bolt that was threaded in different directions at each end–was bent.  The result was that I could no longer effectively lock a bike into the workstand.  I don’t know when it happened–it could have been a decade ago when I moved to Connecticut, for all I know.  I had not used the workstand  very much since then.  Maybe the stand (the based folded up) had fallen from storage at some point.  Who knows?  But without that bolt, it was toast.

I contacted the manufacturer to see if a replacement part was available, but none was.

So this past spring, when my community did its bulk trash pickup, I set the workstand at the curb, and it vanished.

This past Saturday, I was pumping my tires to ride sweep on a 20-mile fundraising ride when I remembered that the front fender was a little loose, and had been rattling.  I immediately thought of clamping my bike into the workstand but–of course–no workstand.  What to do?

I looked around and found a couple of rugs, set them on the floor, then flipped the bike over, the way I used to do when I was a kid and hadn’t heard of Brooks saddles.

I disconnected the dynohub, popped out the front wheel, and fixed the fender handily in a matter of seconds.  The rugs kept the saddle (and handlebars/brake lever tops) from getting damaged, and it was much easier to remount the front wheel this way than it would have been if the bike was in a workstand.

Done and done.

I guess I was a serious rider in those days.  But I wonder what else I could have spent the $100 or so from the workstand on…

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I can’t get no Satisfication (It’s in the Bag)

As I have observed before, I like things just so.  And I am addicted to briefcases, messenger bags, and the like.  And as I’ve (almost certainly) observed beforel, I’m going to quit buying them.


Well, at least I’m going to try.

All of this is introduction to say that I think the bag I bought almost five years ago is still the best.

I don’t know if it’s the best because it’s simple (it doesn’t have “organizer” pockets–I lamented the absence of these back when I first bought it, but now I’m glad it doesn’t have them), because it’s small (it barely holds a 12.5″ laptop, plus folders), because it’s quiet (no clips or toggles to attach the strap, and no Velcro anywhere), or just because I’ve had it so long. Maybe it’s the color (medium brown).

No matter how much I find nicer or fancier bags, I keep going back to this one.  I’ll try the others for a month or so, then it’s back to the Europa.  I like this bag.

And I think it’s taught me a lesson, or at least it will serve as an excuse for a lesson:

Don’t be afraid of change, but don’t seek it out unnecessarily.

Actually, it was my bike that taught me part of this lesson.  Back in 2012 I was riding my favorite bike when I got hit by a car and it died and I didn’t.  The frame was a 1986 (iirc) Trek 560.  I was so in love with that bike that I wanted to reproduce it, new frames like that being difficult to find.  But having a custom frame built proved to be costly, so I ended up with something quite different (details on that are elsewhere, starting here and here).

And you know what?  It’s been fine.  Change isn’t the end of the world.

But at the same time–back to the bag–change isn’t something to be sought out for its own sake.  Familiarity is also fine.  If the reason I still like this bag is because I like this bag, then there’s no reason to try to replace it in order to improve on it.

Decades ago I had a class in formal organizations at the University of Minnesota where I learned the term satisfice.  I think my relationships–to this bag and this bike–mean that I’ve finally learned to satisfice.

At least I hope so.



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A Plethora of Stuff

Child L has been seriously into photography lately, which means, of course, that she’s seriously into cameras.  I can relate.

When I was in college, my parents gave me a Rollei 35 with a lovely lens.  Not a sophisticated camera, it was a tiny, estimate-distance-focus camera.


The summer after I graduated from college, it was stolen from my apartment, along with my trusty typewriter (RIP) that I’d had since high school graduation, and some cassette tapes I had recorded.  The thieves couldn’t untangle the wires that hooked my stereo together, and entirely missed the three very nice guitars in the closet.

So it goes.

Anyway, when the insurance came through I knew that I would be getting an SLR, and that it would be made by Nikon.

This was 1981, and Nikon made at that time–

  1. The Nikon EM, an entry-level (i.e., relatively inexpensive, built with lots of plastic) but very nice automatic exposure SLR;
  2. The Nikon FM, a solidly-built-with metal, all-manual SLR;
  3. The Nikon FE, a similarly solid auto-exposure SLR;
  4. The Nikon F3, which had just come out–a professional camera for journalists.

Nikon made and sold all of these cameras for a few more years, and no others.  I bought an FM and a 50mm f/1.8 lens (which, by the way, with the assistance of 400-speed film pushed to 1600, took the B&W photo currently in this site’s header).

Nikon makes excellent cameras and lenses, no question about it.  And so Child L aspires to own one.  But which one?

Today, Nikon makes the following (mostly digital) SLR cameras:

  1. D3400 — 24mp entry DX consumer
  2. D5600 — 24mp DX mid-level consumerD7500 — 20mp
  3. DX prosumer
  4. D500 — 20mp DX proD610 — 24mp entry FX consumer
  5. D750 — 24mp FX consumer/prosumer
  6. Df — 16mp prosumer retro
  7. D850 — 45mp FX (landscape/studio)
  8. D5 — 20mp FX pro

So–twice as many (and don’t you just love the term “prosumer”?).  They also sell the “previous generation” of each of these cameras, according to my sources, so we could say that Nikon currently sells 16 SLR cameras.

This proliferation of models is not limited to cameras.  Go take a look at the site for Fender guitars, for example, and look at Telecasters.  Back in the day (long, long ago) there were maybe four models of Telecaster guitar, perhaps fewer.  Now there are over a dozen, and each comes in multiple finishes to add into that.

My Mont Blanc fountain pen was one of three or four different models, differentiated by size, when T bought it for me in late 1985.  Go take a look now.  Go on.

I honestly don’t know why this kind of differentiation is taking place.  It may be the case that consumers are now demanding increasingly specific products, or that manufacturing a wide range of products is now more doable, or that products become obsolete more quickly because they are electronically-based (though I would argue that the ability to upgrade internal software should make them more, rather than less, durable.

In any event, we are a long way from being able to have our cars in any color we want, “so long as it is black.”

As for me, I decided a few years back that I would like to have a camera with some greater capabilities than the ones built into my phone, but not much more complicated (or larger) than my lost Rollei 35.  So last year I bought a Fujifilm X10:


There was, by the way, no choice of color…


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Growth is Something That Happens When You’re Not Noticing

More than six years ago, when this blog was a matter of fits and starts–even more than it is now–I wrote about my beloved “Star Trek” guitar picks.

You see, back in the late ’70s, I was just learning to play guitar, and I wanted nothing so much as to be able to sound like Cat Stevens.

The problem was that every pick I tried made my guitar sound harsh, not lightly brushed like his.

I finally hit a solution–I thought.  Some very, very, very thin Jim Dunlop picks. The problem was that, being young and ham-handed, I shredded them.  Literally.  I went through several each week.

Then, One Day There They Were.  The Star Trek picks (see the earlier link).  I fell in love, bought a handful, and never saw them for sale anywhere any more.

So, for the nearly 40 years that I’ve been playing this guitar, I’ve used those picks almost exclusively.


I was playing my guitar today, and I realized that it had been years since I’d held a pick.

In the past six years, my playing changed from something I did with a pick to something I did exclusively with my hands; the nails and the flesh.

To be sure, I used to play that way some of the time, particularly when I finger-picked; but now, that’s the way I play exclusively.  I strum with the nails, pluck with the meats and the calluses, and that’s it.

Even while I was thinking of, and missing, those fabulous picks?  I had outgrown them.

I still don’t sound like Cat Stevens–or even Yusuf Islam.

I sound like me.


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Locomotive Breath Part II

He sees his children jumping off
At stations, one by one

–Jethro Tull

In the unlikely event that you follow this blog, you’ve seen me writing quite a bit about death lately.

This afternoon, sick with a cold, I’m just flipping through random photos on the internet when I come across one that reminds me of my father’s mother–my Baba.

And that’s when it hits you.  Perhaps it’s not children jumping off at stations; perhaps it’s our ancestors.  Our parents, their parents, their parents, and so on.

And yet, the train isn’t quite the right metaphor.  It doesn’t capture things.

Perhaps, seeing myself today as the product of one family and the producer of others, I am like the second stage of a three-stage rocket.  The first stage has fallen away; at 59, 75% of my fuel has been burned;  and now the third stage is warming up.

That’s of course not quite right either, because this rocket has an infinite number of stages; still, I can’t help but miss those that have dropped away.  And I can only hope that I will be remembered, however briefly, when it’s my turn.


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Trying to Imagine What Death is Like

I’ve been thinking about death a lot of late.  Most recently, the publicity around David Cassidy’s death has provoked me to thought because—as much as I hate to admit it—The Partridge Family was a part of my youth.

So let me start there.

When I was a kid, death was clearly not what it is for me today.  People didn’t really die.  If I saw someone get killed on a TV show, often there was a cop-out (I remember, for some reason, Batman and Robin turning bad and being machine-gunned by terrified police officers, only to discover that they had not been killed—robots had taken their place).  Checkov dies on Star Trek (“Shadow of the Gun”) but is brought back to life.

G.I. Joe could be killed in battle with dirt bombs.  But he always could be set back up.

Death was an act.

When I was in my teens, I became a bit of a Jesus Freak and, understood in that context, death was a door.  That became a little harder to grasp when my ex-girlfriend’s father died suddenly of a heart attack.  But we accepted the fiction.

When two of my best friends from high school died while I was in college, that fiction became harder and harder to maintain.

I married, and adopted new decorations for that fiction, but death remained a door, even if I was beginning to doubt.

Now, during this period I had known people who died, I had dressed corpses, and of course I had seen death on television (both real and dramatic).

The trick was, I had never seen anyone die, in person.  We insulate people in the United States, and death usually takes place a long way from us.

Death remained, in theory, a door, even if the outlines of that door were starting to evaporate into smoke.

Then, last March, I was present when my father died.

I remember.  His breaths came ever more slowly over a period of hours.  He would stop breathing for 10, 20, 40 seconds at a time.  Then he would gasp, and breathing would resume.  Then one time, he didn’t.  His skin became cold, rapidly.

And that’s when the door evaporated entirely.

I no longer think of death as a game or an act.  I no longer think of death as a door.  I believe that when you die, you’re gone.

That’s all.

So what must it be like to die?  In some ways, I look forward to the experience—except that I will not be there.  So there will be no experience.

I was nearly killed in a bike crash a long time back.  I was knocked clean out, concussed, jaw broken, and I have 10-15 minutes missing.  The only reason I know that they are missing is that I woke up while I was being put into an ambulance.  But other than that, I was riding and then things stopped.

If I had not woken up in the ambulance, that stop would have been complete.  That’s what I expect death to be like; and since I will not wake up again, there will be no way to account for, to assess, to realize that there was a stop.

That’s what I expect death to be like.

In some ways, I hope I’m wrong.  But I’m pretty sure I’m right.

And I’m pretty sure that, deep down, we all know that.


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