high weir

January 31, 2009

Fatherhood and nightmares

Filed under: Uncategorized — jstreed1476 @ 7:01 pm

I recently finished Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. It’s the story of a father and his son as they wander a post-apocalyptic America. The boy in the book is a little older than my son Clayton–ten or eleven, maybe.

Some kind of catastrophe has burned away almost everybody and everything. The people and places that remain are for the most part dangerous. Shelter is hard to come by; food harder still.

The father keeps reassuring the boy that they are a pair of the “good guys.” The bad guys are murderers, slave drivers, and cannibals. 

The father and the boy are always tired, always cold, always hungry. They talk about carrying the fire in them, but they don’t go into details.

They are not named. Their story is not divided into chapters.

Many passages come to me at odd moments. I remembered this one last night when I was awakened by Jackson. His covers had slipped off, and he was cold.

In the late afternoon it began to rain. They left the road and took a dirt drive through a field and spent the night in a shed. The shed had a concrete floor and at the far end stood some empty steel drums. He blocked the doors with the drums and built a fire in the floor and he made beds out of some flattened cardboard boxes. The rain drummed all night on the steel roof overhead. When he woke the fire had burned down and it was very cold. The boy was sitting up wrapped in his blanket.

What is it?

Nothing. I had a bad dream.

What did you dream about?


Are you okay?


He put his arms around him and held him. It’s okay, he said.

I was crying. But you didnt wake up.

I’m sorry. I was just so tired.

I meant in the dream.


January 30, 2009

Sumus quod sumus

Filed under: Uncategorized — jstreed1476 @ 10:06 pm

I’m not alone in my envy of the classical education enjoyed by the Oxbridge set a hundred years ago.

CS Lewis’s tutorials under The Great Knock are surely an impossible standard, even if they were a bit idealized. Still, the notion of an early and thorough immersion in classical languages and literature does appeal.

Then again, there’s this description by Orwell:

He would tap away at one’s skull with his silver pencil, which, in my memory, seems to have been about the size of a banana, and which certainly was heavy enough to raise a bump: or he would pull the short hairs round one’s ears, or, occasionally, reach out under the table and kick one’s shin. On some days nothing seemed to go right, and then it would be ‘ All right, then, I know what you want. You’ve been asking for it the whole morning. Come along, you useless little slacker. Come into the study.’ And then whack, whack, whack, and back one would come, red-wealed and smarting — in later years Sambo had abandoned his riding-crop in favour of a thin rattan cane which hurt very much more — to settle down to work again. This did not happen very often, but I do remember, more than once, being led out of the room in the middle of a Latin sentence, receiving a beating and then going straight ahead with the same sentence, just like that.

This is my favorite part:

It is a mistake to think such methods do not work. They work very well for their special purpose. Indeed, I doubt whether classical education ever has been or can be successfully carried on without corporal punishment. The boys themselves believed in its efficacy. There was a boy named Beacham, with no brains to speak of, but evidently in acute need of a scholarship. Sambo was flogging him towards the goal as one might do with a foundered horse. He went up for a scholarship at Uppingham, came back with a consciousness of having done badly, and a day or two later received a severe beating for idleness. ‘I wish I’d had that caning before I went up for the exam,’ he said sadly — a remark which I felt to be contemptible, but which I perfectly well understood.

This may bear the same relation to reality as Lewis’s passages on lessons with Kirkpatrick.

Honestly, I think that if I had lived in that era and been born to an education somewhere between these extremes, I would have turned out more or less as I am now, i.e. able to recognize a great many things that I might have learned.

January 13, 2009

A+ Ad

Filed under: Uncategorized — jstreed1476 @ 7:03 pm


Saw this tacked to the door of a Police Science instructor’s office.

January 9, 2009

Failure *is* an option

Filed under: Uncategorized — jstreed1476 @ 8:52 pm
This one looked pretty. But it tasted *wrong.* I forgot to add the salt.

This one looked pretty. But it tasted *wrong.* I forgot to add the salt.

Merlin Mann at 43folders has a great post about “courageous sucking,” which is the flipside of fear of failure:

Nobody likes feeling like a noob, especially when you’re getting constant pressure on all sides to never stick out in an unflattering way. And, in this godforsaken just-add-Wikipedia era of make-believe insight and instant expertise, it’s natural to start believing you must never suck at anything or admit to knowing less than everything — even when you’re just starting out. Clarinets should never squawk, sketch lines should never be visible, and dictionaries are just big, dumb books of words for cheaters and fancy people. Right?

I think finding your own comfort with the process (whatever that process ends up being) might just be the whole game here — being willing to put in your time, learn the craft, and never lose the courageousness to be caught in the middle of making something you care about, even when it might be shit and you might look like an idiot fumbling to make it. What’s the worst thing that could happen?

Emphasis mine.

He’s talking about taking up photography. I can relate by way of my recent passion for bread making.

I started making bread earlier this year for a lot of reasons, but mainly because I love eating good bread and watching others eat it, too. Making bread is an ancient craft, and people have been doing it successfully under all kinds of unhelpful conditions far longer than history can record. Honestly, making a passable loaf isn’t very difficult.

But it’s tempting to experiment, so a hobby that starts with a basic sandwich loaf or trendy no-knead artisan bread soon expands to all the variations of water, flour, yeast, salt, and everything that can be added to dough. That’s when failures start to pile up.

(Oddly–maybe typically–a plain old baguette, which is among the simplest breads in terms of ingredients, is one of the hardest to master.)

A bad or just insipid loaf is hardly a disaster, but it’s no fun to watch it languish on the counter because nobody likes it. And since bread is made to share, it sometimes feels like a failure to deliver something larger. Also, because it’s such a basic skill, doing it badly seems double-bad.

But in truth, even average homemade bread is about 10 times better than anything the typical supermarket offers.

Funny: Merlin’s wife rolls her eyes when he can’t dash out of the house on a five-minute errand without slinging a camera around his neck. I know I’m driving the people around me nuts with my incessant baking, and it takes a real effort of will to resist working bread into casual conversation. It’s an almost irresistible resource for someone who likes to speak figuratively.

Anyway, doing something badly, or at just boringly, is part of the path to mastery. So is hanging out at breadmaking communities like The Fresh Loaf, and checking out library books, and watching Alton Brown do his thing. Getting through the repetitious stretch and dumping a few doorstop loaves will, I trust, be worth it.

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