The Casual Blog

Tag: handstand

My handstand near disaster, re-reading Shteyngart, and seeing Captain Phillips

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That’s the crane for the new Citrix office in the Raleigh warehouse district as viewed from our balcony on Saturday morning. Below is the new apartment building going up facing us from Boylan Avenue. It’s good to see construction all around. Things are happening!
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As was probably evident last week when I mentioned doing my first handstand, I was fairly proud to finally get it. From the first time I saw another boy in my neighborhood do one, a small part of me secretly yearned for this skill. Why? I’m not entirely sure. It’s different, and it’s good to be a little different. I like to turn things upside down and see how they look. I also like to dial in to another aspect of bodily control and strength. There’s also something bracing about facing down a bit of fear.

So I looked forward to mastering the handstand skill against a wall, and perhaps eventually unassisted. After my initial success, I did a few more over the weekend. On Monday morning I went up for a workout in the small gym on the top floor of our building. No one else was around. After a half hour on the elliptical machine, still breathing hard, I attempted another handstand. Something went wrong. My right shoulder gave way, and unable to lean quickly, I fell straight down. I tucked my chin and hit hard on my neck and shoulder.

It hurt a lot. I lay in a heap, and wondered if this was what a broken neck felt like. After a bit, I tried to wiggle my toes and fingers, and noted with relief that they seemed to be working. I rolled over and tested my neck, which throbbed, but could still move. I felt stunned, but more or less OK. I was sore for the rest of the week, and a bit shaken. I decided to give the healing process a few days before forging ahead with handstand work.

Super Sad, Funny Shteyngart

This week I finished re-reading Super Sad True Love Story: A Novel, by Gary Shteyngart. A couple of years ago I left my original copy in a hotel room with just 60 pages left, and found that I kept thinking about the world it created. After the mild disappointment of reading The Circle, I decided to download the ebook version of Super Sad, and realized this time around that it’s not only an entertaining read, but a feat of Nabakovian brilliance.

It’s hard to categorize. It’s set a bit in the future, like science fiction, but I wouldn’t call it science fiction, because the world and its technology are not very different from ours. It’s sort of a comedy, and at times hilarious, but also keenly observant, dark, and shocking. With an ease that conceals virtuosity, Shteyngart exposes a underside to our fun technology, and shows it transforming society in a way that not only seems believable, but prophetic. Keep in mind that it was published in 2010, before Occupy Wall Street and before the U.S. first threatened to default on its debt.

A quick note on the subject matter: Lennie is a 39-year-old nebbishy, smart guy who works for an outfit selling life extension services to super High Net Worth individuals. He falls in love with Eunice, a 25-year-old Korean-American who seems to spend most of her time surfing on GlobalTeens shopping sites on her apparat and obsessing over luxury brands like Juicy Pussy handbags and Onionskin jeans. They live in New York City, where there is extreme income inequality, with unemployed veterans of the war with Venezuela and other Low Net Worth individuals camped out in the parks opposing the one-party surveillance state, which is financially teetering and close to being taken over by China.

There are technologies that signal your credit score on surrounding Media Poles and also show your sexual desirability rank in any grouping (“RateMe Plus” technology). Along with new apps there’s new youth slang, which is marginally cruder than our youth slang. Recent college graduates are mostly unemployed and trying to get a job either in Media (a very long shot) or Retail (just a long shot).

Lennie is a bibliophile in world where books and reading are socially toxic. Cool people have mostly stopped reading, and paper books are considered bad-smelling. Colleges teach skimming in place of reading. At one point there’s a blackout, and Lennie and Eunice read some from Milan Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being (as it happens, a favorite of mine, as it clearly is of Shteyngart’s). Eunice can’t at all follow the complex ideas, and even Lennie finds his ability to understand a literary text has grown dim.

A large part of the pleasure is not just the ideas or the plot, but the texture and quirky beauty of the language. Shteyngart is a writer’s writer. I’ll just add that the title will discourage some people who would enjoy the book, but it really is, in part, a love story, in the sense of dealing with human feelings, and with how those feelings are transformed by technology and social context. Obviously I loved it.

In a postscript that would have pleased Shteyngart, when I finished the Kindle version of the book on my iPad, my Twitter account appeared with a tweet that said, “I just finished reading Super Sad True Love Story.” I did not write those words, nor did I want to send such a tweet. And I didn’t. But I could imagine just pushing send, since the message was completely accurate, and something I wouldn’t mind sharing (though not on my professionally-oriented Twitter account). It gave me a slight chill. Is this the first bomb to fall in a new phase of post-literacy, where your machines not only correct your spelling and grammar but actually do your thinking and writing?

Captain Phillips

On Friday night we saw Captain Phillips, the new movie about Somali pirates taking a cargo ship with Tom Hanks. It was not what I expected, but much better. With remarkable directness and economy, it establishes the desperate and impoverished lives of the young men who become pirates, such that they can never be viewed as pure evil. Hanks has made a long career as a leading man who’s not particularly good-looking playing normal people confronted with outsize problems or puzzles (WWII, mental retardation, shipwreck, adolescence, etc.). Here, he does so again with seeming utter naturalness.

As the captain, Phillips seems a decent guy who doesn’t aspire to much more than doing a solid job transporting goods. But under attack, he turns out to have above-average grit and resourcefulness. Trying to manipulate the pirates, he seems like a bad liar, but good enough to fool these guys, who are not diabolically clever. But both the pirates and Phillips and his crew are by moments astonishingly courageous. This is an action movie with true feeling and heart, and also a lot of adrenaline.

Ecstasy and agony: a sweet homecoming, my first handstand, a good massage, a difficult dental appointment, and some beastly Brahms

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Happy birthday to Gabe! He’s 29 today, and his mumsy and popsy are proud as can be. He came out from Telluride to visit us for a few days, and it’s been good to catch up.

He’s working hard on his music, experimenting and doing some recording with his band mates. In high school, he got to be a strong drummer, but then lost interest. But he’s come back to making music! All those music lessons were not wasted! And he’s learned the secret of getting better at his instrument (and other things): practice, practice, practice.

Along with his music, Gabe has been experimenting with photography using his iPhone and Snapseed. He starts with something straightforward and does various color processes for a new look. It’s lively and interesting. He’s also following others on Instagram, including someone called yoga_girl. He showed me a couple of yoga_girl’s yoga feats, which included some extraordinary handstand variations.

I hadn’t mentioned that I’d made up my mind to learn how to do a handstand against a wall. I’d gotten a short lesson from Larisa, my wonderful functional fitness trainer, and also gotten Suzanne, my wonderful yoga teacher, to show me her approach after a recent class. And I’d given it several serious tries, which were close – but no cigar.

But after seeing Gabe and yoga_girl, the next morning I had my 5:30 a.m. session with Larissa, and amidst her other challenges, requested another handstand lesson. She suggested approaching it like a cartwheel. We worked on cartwheels for a bit, with some improvement, and then tried again. And I did it! Thanks, Larisa!

When I told Gabe of my milestone the next evening, he was of the view that I also owed some thanks to him and yoga_girl. True enough. He was inspired to try his own handstand. Without a wall. He was there by the third try. That’s my boy!
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The same day I did my first handstand, at lunchtime, I had my first massage with Kirsten Bachmann. After a massage hiatus, I’d decided to audition some new massage talent, and possibly get a regular routine for taking care of that part of my make up. I liked Kirsten. She started out with this surprisingly effective machine called the Thumper, which gives you a good Thumping. She did some great work on my right shoulder, which needed it. I look forward to our next session.
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But not all my experiences with new technology this week were as wonderful. I was two months late for my six-month tooth cleaning, and drew a new hygienist who used a device called the Cavitron. The tool vibrates at a high frequency, which, she said, “blasts the bacteria.” Maybe. But my it also caused my tooth nerves to vibrate at a frequency resembling a root canal. I like to think that I have a fairly high pain threshold, and tried hard to bear up, but finally had to say, no mas.

Also unpleasant was the piano soloist at the N.C. Symphony on Friday night. Beforehand we had tasty empanadas and margaritas at Calavera, and we enjoyed the first half of the program, which featured Sibelius’s moody and quirky Third Symphony.

But the second half of the concert, Brahms’s First Piano Concerto, featured a Finnish pianist named Olli Mustonen, who was almost comically bad. For the first few minutes, I thought perhaps I was simply not understanding his radical conception, or was just put off by his ridiculously broad gesticulating and other affectations.

But I ultimately concluded that he wasn’t listening to the orchestra, or even to himself. At times he shrugged off the conventions of normal musical phrasing and shaping, and what was left was just not musical. To me, it was painful. I should note, though, that many in the audience apparently found his waving, swaying, banging, and jumping around exciting, since a majority stood up and clapped at the end.