The thing about Chekhov is that the insight or turn of phrase always catches one off guard. I was reading A Boring Story and it paces along nicely – not so much in classic prose style… but excellent pacing. The details of place names or character references aren’t so important to the story, but it’s the succinct capturing of human nature. It’s timeless. It’s easy to map the traits of his characters to people you’ve met.
The Hunstman is another good one. Checkhov frames out the characters and sketches just enough of their relationship to let the reader complete the story. Maybe that’s a quality of good fiction – it’s not so much of a complete, high fidelity account of every detail, but just enough to let the reader close the loop. It’s the blank space, what isn’t written that captures the reader’s imagination.
I’ve been reading Checkhov’s short stories in between pop science business books and nonfiction. It’s been nice to return to a well written short story.
Alec gave him the nickname when we were hiking out of Chicago Basin in the Needles range, Colorado. His real name is Wonka. He and Granite Chief aka Chiefy, hiked with us from Purgatory Ski Resort just outside of Durango back into the range. We were headed back up to climb Mount Eolus and Sunlight Peak, one 14’er we climbed a couple of years earlier, one we hadn’t.
To understand how Wonka earned the nickname, it’s important to learn his personality. We adopted Wonka from Watermelon Mountain Ranch in Albuquerque. First he was a res dog. In New Mexico there are a lot of Native American reservations and on those reservations, there are dogs neither spayed nor neutered. The litters are large. Many of them are killed on the highways, some make it out to the shelters. Wonka was lucky. He was adopted by a family living in an apartment, where he then proceeded to bite one of the children and went back out for adoption. Then he joined our pack.
He’s deaf. It’s common in Australian Cattle Dogs. He has a gunsight notch at the tip of his right ear that Chief gave to him when they were competing for daddy lap time. His tail was cropped as a puppy, too short. He’s sensitive where his tail is cropped and would prefer not to have anyone pet or scratch that area. Wonka will always choose a hard floor to a dog bed, he eats every meal as if it will be his last, he takes pleasure in the simple things.
Living with a deaf dog, you grow to understand their needs – staying in visual proximity, waving them over – making sure they know you’re nearby by stomping the floor to send a vibration they can feel. As a deaf herding dog, Wonka has adapted the ways he keeps track of us. He’ll lay across all entries/exits in order to ensure we have to move through him to leave a room. He’ll then get up and reposition himself to achieve the best vantage point.
Wonka is my wing man. We spend a lot of time together, in the evenings. I read with one hand and scratch his head with the other. He’s always got eyes on me. And I’ve always got his back.
Low-4. Hiking out through the blowdowns and across scree slopes Wonka had one speed. On that trip he didn’t stop, 19 miles we powered on. Toward the end of the hike I relieved he and Chief of the packs holding their dog food and treats they were carrying. At my heels Wonka will follow me anywhere.
Some of my favorites from Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations (Gregory Hays translation).
At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work—as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for—the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?” —But it’s nicer here.… So you were born to feel “nice”? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?
Not to feel exasperated, or defeated, or despondent because your days aren’t packed with wise and moral actions. But to get back up when you fail, to celebrate behaving like a human—however imperfectly—and fully embrace the pursuit that you’ve embarked
To watch the courses of the stars as if you revolved with them. To keep constantly in mind how the elements alter into one another. Thoughts like this wash off the mud of life below.
Everything that happens is either endurable or not. If it’s endurable, then endure it. Stop complaining. If it’s unendurable … then stop complaining. Your destruction will mean its end as well. Just remember: you can endure anything your mind can make endurable, by treating it as in your interest to do so. In your interest, or in your nature.
The Pythagoreans tell us to look at the stars at daybreak. To remind ourselves how they complete the tasks assigned them—always the same tasks, the same way. And their order, purity, nakedness. Stars wear no concealment.
It’s quite possible to be a good man without anyone realizing it. Remember that.
I’ve been burning through my book list trying to bring it home toward the end of the year. I’ll post the big(er) list in early 2019. So far at the top of my list for fiction is Kakfa On The Shore by Murakami. His writing speaks to me in a deep way.
Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.
I “raced” my first ski mountaineering race today at Ski Bowl as the first race in a 3 part series organized by The Mountain Shop. My main takeaway… it was really short. Less than 3 miles. I rested my legs over the weekend to be fresh, but running Council Crest (~7 miles) is more of a workout than I got today. I was hoping to feel the burn, but it was kinda mellow. I’m a little baffled and thinking through what happened.
I didn’t go out hammering … but started around mid-pack, there was some room to pass on the first skin up, an open Blue run, less room to pass once we hit the skin track up. I fudged a couple of the first kick turns, then got my rhythm back and had some really nicely executed, solid kick turns. The turn just before the track steepened and turned and opened into a boot pack was tricky. The boot pack was my favorite part of the course b/c I could just hammer. I used a Dynafit pack with a ski loop and shoulder hook – it was really nice to pop the skis off, drop them in the loop, hook them and hammer up. It’s funny – the boot pack was made by a Yeti. Maybe 18 inches between steps? Like stepping up to a small chair. [the best boot pack I’ve been in was on St. Helens a couple years ago – baby steps all the way up. ]
My skin to ski and ski to skin transitions suuuuucked. I’m using Volkl skis with the “skin pin ” so there’s a little pin that goes into the ski tip and then twists to lock the skin on – tail hook is standard. I didn’t try beforehand or during to pull off the skins while still locked into the bindings – I’ll try later this season, but I’m not sure if it’s possible. I kept skins in the velcro pocket of my pack (reachable while the pack is in) but I still unclipped the waist belt to store or retrieve the skins. Not super efficient there – but I was okay making newb racing mistakes today. The ski run down (2 laps) was not too steep, but completely skied out with moguls everywhere – I picked my way down and didn’t ski hard. The people I passed on the skin up absolutely smoked me on the descent. I just didn’t race the mogul run. The final descent was a blue run and skied it faster.
faster transitions (try to tear the hides with the skis on)
have a system for transitions and practice it
get out front earlier and make time on the skin/boot pack
ski more 😉
I was most worried about layering and regulating temperature, but my setup was ace. I was a little cold on the first downhill when I didn’t add any layer, but I was right back into the ski to skin transition and warmed up again. On the last (longer) descent to the finish, I put on a puffy and was perfect for the ski down.
Didn’t eat or drink anything (it was short), but carried a bottle. Overall a super-fun first race. A gentle introduction.
It’s easy to slow down toward the end of the year. In 2018 I’ll try to be more deliberate in front loading the first half of the year. Here is the list of books I read. I’d like to try and hit 52 books per year.
When Breathe Becomes Air – Kalanathi
Purity – Jonathan Franzen
The Art of Grace, On Moving Well Through Life – Sarah Kaufman
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life – William Finnegan
The Tower – Kelly Cordes
Competing Against Luck – Clayton Christiansen
Nothing is True and Everything is Possible
Hooked – Nir Eyal
The World Beyond Your Head – Matthew B. Crawford
The Glass Cage (Nicholas Carr)
Machine Learning for Designers – PDF
Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
Thinking in Systems: A Primer, Donella Meadows
How to Makes Sense of any Mess – Abby Covert
Presence – Amy Cuddy
Hillbilly Elegy: A memoir of a family and culture in crisis
Quiet: The Power of Introverts, Susan Cain
Service Design: From Insight to Implementation
Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters
The Second Machine Age (McAffe/Brynjolfsson)
The Last Samurai – Helen DeWitt
Ready Player One
Blue Ocean Strategy
What Got You Here Won’t Get You There – Goldsmith
Sprint – Knapp (Google Ventures)
Super Intelligence, Nick Bostrum
Best fiction book of 2017 (from this list) – Barbarian Days … or The Last Samurai. Both were great. I can’t decide.
Worst book of 2017 (from this list) – Competing Against Luck (fucking terrible)…but I powered through it.
Best nonfiction/work book of 2017 (from this list) – Thinking in Systems. I was surprised at how much I was able to glean from this little tome.