My life, filled with people I love to spend time with and things I love to do, is very, very busy. My schedule is bursting with things I want to do, so much so that at times I feel anxiety about getting it all done. I have many goals concerning my art, my work, my learning to fly a plane, my band, my speaking French and more. I didn’t realize until today that all these goals are only of interest to me. I know that seems obvious, but there you have it. It somehow never dawned on me that nobody really cares if I achieve any of these things but me.

I spent this last week sick with some undiagnosed incapacitating illness. I had a week that was full of these I “had to” do, and none of it got done. Each day I had to cancel plans, lessons, or meetings hoping that maybe tomorrow would be better. But tomorrow would come, I’d still be terribly sick, and I’d do the whole cancellation round again.

I know that I often think, when returning from vacation, how overbusy my life seems and how I should tone it down. I’m sure I’ve written here about it before. I think this was the first time though, that it really hit me on a gut level: this overbusy shit is bogus.

Maybe all these goals are a bit absurd. What does it matter if I get a gallery show this year, or next year, or the year after that? What does the time really mean in terms of achieving the goal? I keep settings up these deadlines, but they are all artificially contrived. They are all invented by me, and it really doesn’t matter if or when they happen. Having all these deadlines just makes me anxious, plus I’m always evaluating (perhaps judging) my progress, which is another energy drain. Look, things are going to get done or they won’t. As I saw from my week of being sick, nobody cares if my stuff happens or it doesn’t. Nobody. They just care if I’m happy.

Also, maybe I just can’t keep in touch with everyone I want to be in touch with. W. said recently that he was trying to “free himself from friends”, a phrase I could only hear him say. He has a point, though, as absurd as it sounds. Sticking close to the good and important friends and maybe letting some others slip away isn’t the worst idea. In my case, it may be an idea whose time has come.

Here’s my post-illness resolution. No more fake, self-created deadlines. I’m just going to enjoy what I’m doing and try letting some things slip through the cracks, let some things take their course, and others take their time. I bet, just like this last week, it’s not going to matter at all other than I might be a whole helluva lot calmer.

I’m in Québéc for the Winter Carnival. The temperature is hovering around 0 degrees fahrenheit, sometimes a bit above and sometimes a bit below. Everyone knows I hate winter. Mostly everyone knows I refer to snow as “sky vomit”. Just what am I doing here?

I’ve talked about my friend I. before (here and here). Since we first got back in touch five years ago or so she has been bugging me to join her here for a fun-filled trip. I protested, and protested and protested. But I. was so persevering and convincing I finally said, “What the hell? I’ll go.”

I did like the idea of spending a vacation with her, having an adventure with her after all these years. Two friends of her would be joining us, and even that — a vacation with complete strangers — I accepted.

When I told people I knew I was doing this, they were dumbfounded, or confused, or mocking. Some people accepted my premise that I would approach it like an anthropology study.

And now I’m here. I have to tell you, some parts of this is really hellish, and then some parts are great.

The hellish part isn’t actually the frigid cold. It’s that I didn’t realize that when I signed up for this trip, that I was signing up for a tour bus filled with a gaggle of retired people and a relentlessly talking tour leader. On the the eight — count ‘em, eight — hours up here, I had to play bingo, watch a movie about Québéc which showed all the things we were about to see in person, watch an incredibly trite Hollywood film, and other delights. Here in Québéc we were shuttled around in a huge herd on this bus, this huge, huge bus and oh! It’s just awful.

Today my pals decided to break off from the herd and that’s when things started to improve… for a bit. It turned out that they wanted to break off to go shopping. LOTS OF SHOPPING. I said, hey, why don’t I just meet up with you ’cause you know what? I HATE SHOPPING. They said okay, let’s meet up in an hour and a half and then we’ll go tubing. I really want to go tubing.

I walked down to the frozen river for a while and thought about my messy life while watching giant chunks of ice flow by. Then I went to an independent bookstore and drooled over the all the books in French. I was so happy to be free! Free! Of the herd and on my own to walk down the slushy sidewalk and get a little lost. It was so great to not no exactly where I was and I briefly fantasized about disappearing forever.

Then I met up with them. You know what? They had decided they didn’t want to go tubing after all because they wanted to do MORE SHOPPING.

I kept standing outside the shops, waiting, waiting, waiting and finally said to I. if you guys want to keep doing this, just tell me and I’ll go meet up with you somewhere else. Somehow this snapped her out of the stupor and she said no, let’s go for a walk instead.

I’m writing this in the hotel which has a little private office for anyone can use. I’m in here all alone. It’s wonderful.

There’s some great irony because currently I live alone and complain a lot about how I don’t like it, how I hate sleeping alone and waking up alone. Yet. Let me say that all this togetherness, especially while doing things I don’t want to do, is far, far worse.

And the good parts? Maple taffy made on snow. My god is that something crazy. Hearing French everywhere. I do have a weakness for that language. Even better is that I get to speak it a little bit. Another fun moment is when I went on the ice slide. Shit was hella fast.

But of course, the best part is being with I. There’s just something about her that makes me smile. I guess it’s the same thing that could make me take this trip, something so unbelievable not me, and still have some good laughs. There’s something about my friends, each one, that always seems extraordinary to me. I. is no exception.

I remember thinking as I sat in the bathtub a couple nights ago of when I used to sit in the bathtub in a tiny, dark apartment I had in North Beach just before I moved to the Filbert Steps. I only lived there for six months but it seems that a lot happened there. I remember my life was kind of messy and unformed at that time. I had just moved back from my sentence in Minnesota, was reconnecting with friends, and having weird sexual liaisons. Although I thought I was being kind of stupid about some things, and even reckless, I didn’t judge myself the way I am judging myself now.

I saw myself as evolving, and that was a key difference. I seem to have an expectation that because of my age, I should have certain aspects of my emotional and psychological life solidified. This concept persists even though I still allow myself to be a beginner at many things, almost incessantly, almost pathologically. It’s an interesting dichotomy that I allow myself so much leeway in learning new skills in the external world, but not in learning new skills in my internal world.

I guess that’s partly due to this current change being so painful, and somehow painful changes devolve into self-blame and criticism.

Clearly the part of me that loves exploring the world, learning new things and seeing life as an adventure is the same part that takes emotional risks. It’s just that emotional risks can have a bigger fallout and that can lead to self-recrimination.

It doesn’t have to. I’m trying to see this as an evolution or at least a metamorphosis. It might not feel so great when a caterpillar becomes chrysalis soup. There may a be a fragment of thought of “Oh great, what the hell was a thinking. Now I’m a goddamn liquid.”

Yep, now I’m a goddamn liquid.

My birthday is coming up in a few weeks, which is always a good time for me to examine my life.

I realized that this birthday is placing me, age-wise, strangely close to being considered a senior.

I don’t feel anything like a senior. I don’t feel like an old person at all. My Dad, who is 88 — he’s old.

There’s still so much I don’t know, and if I was really an old person, I would think I would know these things. Such as…

I still have no idea what love is. Even after my many years of living and many experiences, I don’t know. I know some kinds of love really well, like loving a pet or a best friend. Clear, uncomplicated love with almost zero dissonance — I’m really good at that. Every other kind of love I stumble about in a clumsy way, feeling all sorts of inexplicable intense things that I have no idea how to handle.

I don’t know what it means to be alive. I know that my time to be alive is short, and have no way to gauge if I’m spending that time well or if it really matters in such a vast universe. I want to feel like I’m getting it right, but even if I get it right, I won’t know definitely until it’s over, and then I won’t be around to evaluate.

I can’t resolve the dissonance between my own insignificance and that vastness of my mind. My subconscious seems infinite, like an entire universe inside my head *and* I am just one of seven billion people, on one of innumerable planets in a vast galaxy. Clearly the mind of one person can’t be as big as well, everything, so why does it feel that way?

The day has arrived. I lost my red comb.

It was a cheap comb, made of plastic, and had nothing significant about it other than I had owned it for 37 years. I have so few items from my childhood, basically: a few drawings, even less writings, the only postcard I ever received from my grandmother, a few photos, a toy dog, a doll that belonged to my Mom, a pin my grandmother gave me, a nightstand, a spoon, and a can opener. You can see from this little list that each item takes on great significance. The items are worth nothing. They are would literally be garbage if I didn’t attach some sentimental value to them. Some of them, like the comb, have no value even to me other than they’ve managed to travel through time with me to numerous places.

In the vast expanse of time, that comb wouldn’t have been in my possession much longer — maybe 50 years if I live to be very, very old. (my Dad was just telling me about a neighbor Of his who lived to be 103 and was playing tennis until he was 99). I guess its nice that its final resting place is in The Florida Keys where I was vacationing. There it will stay, probably for a million years, completely non-biodegradable. Perhaps a future civilization will find it and wonder at the significance of an object so brightly colored and so durable. Perhaps that comb will be the only proof that I ever existed, my only legacy.

Yesterday was a day I’d been awaiting for about 15 years. The wait was caused by nothing other than my inability to perceive that what I wanted was completely doable. To whit, I flew a plane.

Flight lessons, and airplanes in general, are very expensive. Fifteen years ago I won a flight in a small plane at a silent auction for a school in Sonoma. I was enthralled and immediately started thinking about flight lessons. Soon afterward, I switched to part-time work so had very little money. The spare money I did have went to another type of flying I was enamored with — flying trapeze, an activity I was mightily addicted to for eight years. There’s a lot of parallels between the two which I won’t go into right now.

Once I had money again, another goal appeared: my life-long desire to own a home. Saving up for a downpayment when you are an artsy type who doesn’t like to work is no easy feat, but I did it. But it didn’t leave anything over for flight lessons.

Perhaps I was also distracted for a bit by my fantasy of being an astronaut.

This year I realized how much time has gone by and if I had started way back when, well, I would’ve been a pilot a long time ago. I vowed this year I would fly.

Here in the eleventh hour, or twelfth month, I’ve finally done it. When you don’t have an pilots as pals, it’s hard to know how to get started. I had a fortuitous meeting with a cousin who is a very experienced pilot at a family event this year. I don’t think I ever even had a conversation with him but when I asked him about being a pilot, boy, did he want to talk. Not only that, but afterward he emailed me very useful information.

There was a little ass-dragging on my part and then some failed attempts to contact a disorganized flight club but finally, finally I was scheduled for a demo or introductory flight.

It was so bizarre to actually fly a plane that I barely believe it was real. It was strangely normal and completely dreamlike at the same time. My instructor’s line, “Aim straight ahead for that cloud” keeps pinging around inside my skull.

I remember looking down at my neighborhood, at all the beautiful, freshly green East Bay Regional Parks, at the snow-capped Sierras shining in the sun out of reach of the storm clouds.

Most impressive was the incoming storm, just hours away, filling the sky with an amazing array of clouds.

And then we were on the ground, just like that.

I don’t know how long it’ll take until I’m a pilot, but who cares? I’m finally on my way.

hawk and crow restinghawk and crow restingThanks to Valerie Sylveste who sent me these photos. We finally have some proof of this phenomenon. She says:

I did a google search because I have been witnessing this phenomena in Linden MI for the last month or so. I throw scraps out daily for a family of crows so the same group visits regularly.

There is a small hawk that often joins them in the flying and swooping. Then they hang out in the tree together. I sometimes see them down the road hanging out on the ground together.

I have included the two pics I managed to get.

Maybe you can identify the hawk?

This looks to me like an immature Cooper’s Hawk. It would make sense that it is a juvenile, and that the crow is a juvenile too – it seems it would be more likely that they would play together. If anyone has a better ID, please let us know.

Evidence suggests that humans are not the only animals that can think about thinking

Scientific American September 2014


When you do not know the answer to a question, say, a crossword puzzle hint, you realize your shortcomings and devise a strategy for finding the missing information. The ability to identify the state of your knowledge—thinking about thinking—is known as metacognition. It is hard to tell whether other animals are also capable of metacognition because we cannot ask them; studies of primates and birds have not yet been able to rule out simpler explanations for this complex process.

Scientists know, however, that some animals, such as western scrub jays, can plan for the future. Western scrub jays, corvids native to western North America, are a favorite of cognitive scientists because they are not “stuck in time”—that is, they are able to remember past events and are known to cache their food in anticipation of hunger, according to psychologist Arii Watanabe of the University of Cambridge. But the question remained: Are they aware that they are planning?

Watanabe devised a way to test them. He let five birds watch two researchers hide food, in this case a wax worm. The first researcher could hide the food in any of four cups lined up in front of him. The second had three covered cups, so he could place the food only in the open one. The trick was that the researchers hid their food at the same time, forcing the birds to choose which one to watch.

If the jays were capable of metacognition, Watanabe surmised, the birds should realize that they could easily find the second researcher’s food. The wax worm had to be in the singular open cup. They should instead prefer keeping their eyes on the setup with four open cups because witnessing where that food went would prove more useful in the future. And that is exactly what happened: the jays spent more time watching the first researcher. The results appeared in the July issue of the journal Animal Cognition.

Friederike Hillemann, who studies corvids at the University of Göttingen in Germany, thinks the experiment is an elegant way to determine whether animals are capable of reasoning about their own knowledge states. Although this experiment did not directly test consciousness, the findings are exciting because they provide further evidence that humans are not the only species with the ability to think about their thought processes. Or, as Watanabe put it, “some birds study for a test like humans do.”

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