Thursday, October 17, 2013

Radio on

I'll bet a lot of people who know me well think of me as an early adopter. I enjoy new technology, I like to try new ways of doing things, and figuring out how to integrate new processes into my life and work. I tend to be enthusiastic about innovation.

So it's got to be a little confusing to those people that some of the commonplace technologies of the last five or ten years are things that I've only recently, maybe even reluctantly, adopted. I've told many people the story of how I finally started carrying a cell phone only three or four years ago, fully a decade after most people in my shoes had become tethered to them. Some people wear their refusal to give in to cell phones or some other type of networking or availability technology as a badge of pride. Me, I'm embarrassed at how long it took me to join in. I inconvenienced everyone else for years because of my belief that I was different, that there was no need for me to be like them.

Similarly, I heard my friends talking about listening to podcasts for years and years. They'd talk about the ones they enjoyed, the ones they learned from, the ones that they follow week after week. And although I understood the concept, and I've had an iPod since they were invented, I never thought they were for me. When did people listen to these things? I didn't have a commute. When I exercised, I needed energetic music, not people talking. If I tried to listen to something other than music while working, I lose the thread of it, and suddenly I remember to listen and I have no idea what they're talking about. When else could I put on headphones and listen to some program? It would take time that I would rather use for doing other things, for writing or reading or watching something, none of which I can do while listening to a podcast.

The moment that changed was last year, when I decided I need to stop running. I had injured myself a couple of times, and the effort of pushing past that pain to keep on doing something I really didn't enjoy that much, just didn't seem worth it. I couldn't seem to break through the plateau and lose any more weight, or get any noticeable increase in endurance or speed. At the same time, I had known for years that I needed to find a way to integrate strength training into my life, but because just getting through the cardio was so time-consuming and took so much willpower, I couldn't stomach adding a whole other regimen on top of it.

What I decided to do was replace running with walking, and to do my walking in a practical fashion. Instead of walking around a track or around town, for exercise only, I would walk to places I needed to go anyway. Then my workout time could be devoted to weight training.

So I started walking Cady Gray to school, a thirty-minute round trip. On the way there we talk together, but on my way back, I'm alone. Then frequently I pick up my satchel and head on to my office, another fifteen minutes. When I go to the gym, I don't need uptempo music in the weight room. You lift for a minute or two, and then you rest. There's a lot of downtime.

And that's when I started listening to podcasts. And because they're stories, I didn't want to just turn them off when I'm done with the walk or the workout. I turn on the speaker to my phone, or hook them up to the stereo in the car, and keep listening while I run errands, or walk from one side of campus to the other. Podcast listening went from no part of my life, to seeping into more and more parts of my life from the gym and the sidewalk where they started.

There's nothing more annoying that the person who just got into something trying to tell you all about that thing. I'm just scratching the surface of the world of podcasts. What I really like about them, though, is that essentially they're radio on your time rather than broadcast time. I've always loved radio. (Maybe that's another post.) When DVRs came around for TV, I wondered whether such a thing would ever be possible for radio, and I felt a little pang to think that nobody would spend time building anything like that for what was considered a moribund medium. But now I understand. The energy to make radio timeshiftable and portable went in a different direction than the DVR, one that's not as closely tied to the continuous, clockbound nature of broadcast radio. People are making more radio than ever. I'm glad I figured out how to fit it into my life.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

One voice

Yesterday was our seventeenth wedding anniversary. I got Noel a new phone. He got me (in addition to some book that hasn't appeared yet, but hey, I'm not going to be the first to bring it up) a day alone with my daughter while he went along with Archer to the All-Region Choir tryouts.

I sang in choirs throughout my childhood. But I never competed for a spot in any of these mass choirs. My elementary school didn't have a choir or an orchestra, and my secondary school didn't participate in whatever organization oversees these things. So this whole world of honor choirs and orchestras and bands and cheer squads and who knows what all is completely new to me.

I do know the choir world well, though. I know the music and the rehearsals and the participants. And I was hopeful, when we chose Archer's electives for this seventh grade year, that he would get into it. He is fascinated by the technical side of music -- notation, theory, structure -- and he has perfect pitch. I didn't know if he'd like the process of learning, rehearsing, and performing. But his teacher (who also leads the music programs at our church) says that he's a classroom leader, grasping the music quickly and helping others to get it and stay on track.

Noel followed the school bus up to Clarksville on Saturday, and stayed with Archer while waiting for his group to be called and to make their way in stages back to the audition rooms. It was hard for us to imagine what Archer would do with the long, long of waiting. I'm still nervous about sending him off into unstructured situations, where there's no one around who can keep an eye on him. He almost certainly would handled it fine. Without some firsthand experience of the setup, though, there was no way for us to know that.

It's reportedly unusual for first-timers to make the grade in these auditions. When I asked Archer to rate his performance, he reported that he would give it a 98%. For the last couple of weeks, he's been telling us about the pieces they chose, what key they're in, how many vocal parts, their suggested tempo in beats per minute, the song structure. He seems positive about the whole experience. I wouldn't be at all disappointed if choir became one of his things, like it was always one of mine.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Shuffling in the dark

For the past three years, I've run a short race on our campus called "Trick Or Trot." As you might gather, it's Halloween themed; costumes are encouraged but thankfully, not required.

This year I signed up even though I haven't run hardly a step in over a year. I stopped running because (a) I really hate running (although I love having run), and (b) I felt like I was destroying what was left of my knees and ankles every time I pounded around the track. In place of my slow, painful jog, I joined many people many age in walking. I racked up as many miles, or more, by walking my daughter to school and walking myself to work, as I used to accumulate at the gym. I took up weightlifting, too, and experienced that gratifying surge of strength, so quantifiable by the heavier and heavier plates you can pile onto the bar.

So why sign up for Trick Or Trot? The most simple reason is that I don't want to break the streak. Not signing up feels like capitulating to age. And I don't have to run; a lot of people walk the short two-mile circuit around campus after dark, peppered with glowstick-waving volunteers and cheerleaders.

But I'd like to run. Here's where I'm at with running: I'd like to think I could crank out a slow, steady mile or two even though I haven't done it in a year. Even though the thought of actually training to run is unbearable. I'd like to see how much I'm fooling myself with that notion.

So I'll line up at the back with the walkers, and I'll jog as far as I can go, and then the moment will come that I consider walking. It might be after a hundred yards, or after half a mile. Maybe I'll astound myself and be able to press on farther. But at some point I'll find out just how thin a soap bubble my abandoned veneer of "runner" really is. How long can I pretend, and what will I think of myself when I can't pretend any longer? Oh, I'll finish, walking, jogging, or crawling. I'll start my 49th year with a new t-shirt and a feeling of accomplishment. The question is whether that accomplishment will be a pleasant surprise, or a salvage job.

Update: I ran about 1.1 miles before walking, and only walked two stretches. A very pleasant surprise!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A new season

Tomorrow I turn 48 years old. You know, as long as there's a four in that tens column, I still feel young. And in two years when that changes, I'll probably feel young anyway.

I haven't written much in the last year. A post a quarter, maybe two. It's because I've been busy, of course; in my down moments I haven't felt like doing much other than knitting, sitting, watching TV, hugging my daughter. But it's also because this past year has been All About Me, and even though this is my blog, I've never been comfortable treating it as a therapist's couch. I haven't wanted to show up every few days and repeat the same stuff about my mid-life crisis.

But you know what? I think that's finally over. I made the decision to leave administration, and despite some lingering backward glances at the extra money, I'm happy about that every day. I couldn't be prouder of Noel and the awesome work he's doing at his brand new publication. I'm bringing to a close a period in my life where I practiced weekly television criticism, and reclaiming those evenings as time to do something other than work. And I've gotten an immense, humbling outpouring of praise for that work as the series I cover come to a close -- a thousand times more readers than I ever could have imagined, and hundreds of people saying nice things about what the work has meant to them. My promotion application for full professor is making its way up the chain of command. I've even gotten a couple of recent invitations to speak at conferences, related both to my theological work and my criticism. My research excites me, my book is underway, and there's a stack of other projects I hope to get to someday. It feels very much like I've made it to where I wanted to be when I started out.

Maybe it's the end of weekly writing about television that has prompted me to come back here. I've learned a lot about writing from blogging every day for years; I put much of it to use writing on short deadlines two and three times a week. I wouldn't like to see those muscles atrophy. (I'll need them for all the books I have to write.)

And while I've been away, my kids have been growing. I love to write about my kids. They are endlessly fascinating. People tell me they like to read about my kids -- well, about Archer particularly. He's done amazing things while I've been writing elsewhere. I don't want to miss the chance to get the stories down, and to share them. (I'm inspired here by, Matthew Baldwin's lovely project about how his classically-autistic boy interacts with the world.)

So let's see if we can meet here more often, shall we? Teaching, writing, television, kids, theology, movies, sports, and the occasional self-indulgent state-of-the-Donna report. Hope it turns out well for all of us.