good morning and welcome to the waffle house

I woke up around 0530 this morning. I don’t sleep as much as I used to, though I generally sleep better. I have fewer nightmares, which is good. Fewer and less intense. And I seem to be better at remembering good dreams. This morning I remember dreaming about ordering breakfast at a Waffle House.

I’m sitting here in the kitchen in the heart of the American Midwest, drinking my cold brew coffee, craving hash browns, covered and chunked. Unless you’ve spent some time in a Waffle House–which is to say, unless you’ve lived in the American South–that won’t mean much to you. It’s probably been twenty years since I’ve set foot in a Waffle House, but I know in my bones I can walk into any Waffle House in any town and ask for hash browns covered and chunked, and they’ll know exactly what I want. It’s not code, exactly; it’s culture. I could make my own hash browns, of course. I could add some diced up ham and cover it all with melted cheese. But it wouldn’t be the same.

It’s 44F this morning. Unreasonably and unseasonably chilly, so I’ve been forced to put on socks and sweat pants–which I sorta kinda resent (I mean, c’mon, we’re three weeks into May, for fuck’s sake) and sorta kinda enjoy (it’s not so much the warm feet, although I like that; it’s that brief delicious pleasure of sliding my feet into warm socks). It feels like a late October morning in the South. The cat clearly thinks the chilly weather is bullshit, so is seeking extra attention this morning. I’m okay with that. Cats are warm.

The cool weather and the Waffle House dream have me feeling particularly nostalgic and Southern today. I enjoy the quiet too much to put on music, but in my head I’ve been hearing Mahalia Jackson, Mattie Moss Clark, and Tennessee Ernie Ford singing gospel music. I’m not even remotely Christian, but that was the Sunday morning music I grew up with. Snatches of Just a Closer Walk with Thee will drift through my head for a while this morning. As the sun comes up and the coffee disappears and the cat retreats to some quiet spot where she can curl up and sleep undisturbed, that music will gradually fade away again.

There. I’ve rinsed out my coffee mug. I’ve done today’s Wordle. I’ve read all the news I want to read (it’s still to early to read the news and pay attention; I’ll come back to it later, when I’m more willing to deal with reality). The sun has come up enough that I can turn off the kitchen lights. I’d say it’s time to start getting on with the day, but that sounds like I have some sort of plan or agenda to be accomplished. I don’t. I’ll read a bit, maybe go for a bike ride, give some thought to what to prepare for supper, do a few household chores. Since I woke up early, at some point I may take a nap.

There’s a verse of the gospel song Just a Closer Walk with Thee that rarely gets included in the more popular covers. It goes:

Through this world of toil and snares,
If I falter, Lord, who cares?

I know the lyric is meant to suggest the Lord cares, but since I don’t believe in any lord, I like to interpret the lyric as more tolerant and forgiving. It’s not a license to fuck up, but it acknowledges the universality of fucking up. Everybody fucks up. And everybody is welcome at the Waffle House. Doesn’t matter what you’ve done, if you ask for your hash browns chunked and covered, that’s what you’ll get.

failed russian flatworm strategy

Even flatworms have demonstrated the ability to learn from experience. Flatworms, like mammals, have a centralized brain; they can be trained to remember a behavior and perform it on cue. They can also be trained to avoid behaviors.

The same apparently isn’t true of Russian Army field commanders.

Your basic flatworm–not clever, but capable of learning from experience.

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the Russian invasion of Ukraine is the staggering incompetence of their field commanders, who repeatedly fail to take even the most basic precautions to protect their troops. I mean, anybody who has spent any amount of time in military harness just assumes their commanders are fucking idiots who are casually trying to get them killed. The difference is that in the Russian Army, that appears to be true.

Behavioral psychologists back in the 1950s trained flatworms to avoid electric shocks. The Russian Army has failed to learn that lesson. In the weeks since they invaded Ukraine, the Russians have repeatedly left troops and vehicles in vulnerable, stationary positions. And the Ukrainian military has repeatedly shelled the shit out of them.

Last week, the Russians decided to take the town of Lysychansk, which meant they had to cross the Siverskyi Donets River. Crossing a river in a combat zone is a big deal. It’s a complex tactical situation for a couple of reasons. First and most obvious, the troops and vehicles crossing the river are terribly exposed. There’s no cover or concealment on a bridge. Second, you have a LOT of vehicles and troops concentrated in the same place, waiting to take their turn crossing the bridge. So they’re exposed, vulnerable and stationary. An army has to prepare to cross a river.

The Ukrainians knew the Russian Army needed to cross the Siverskyi Donets River. They sent a guy named Max–an engineer and an EOD (explosive ordinance disposal) officer–to scope out the situation. He took a recon unit along the river, found the best place to ford it, and left some recon troops in place to keep watch. They prepared to defend the river.

And hey, the Russians showed up as expected. The Ukrainians let them build a pontoon bridge. They let a few troops and combat vehicles to cross over. Then they shelled the shit out of the bridge and the troops and vehicles waiting to cross over. When the artillery subsided, the Ukrainian Air Force showed up and did some close quarters bombing. The Ukrainian recon units hunted down and killed the troops that had already crossed the river and had no way back.

A flatworm wouldn’t have made this mistake.

We don’t have any solid numbers, but it appears the Russians lost over 50 armored combat vehicles and anywhere from 1500 to 2000 troops–and that includes specialized combat engineering troops, which are really hard to replace. That’s effectively a couple of battalion tactical groups eliminated. It’s a staggering loss for the Russian Army at a time when they’re already getting their ass kicked.

This was clever work by the Ukrainians, but it was made possible by the incompetence of the Russians. They failed to do any reliable reconnaissance before the operation. They failed to have reliable real-time drone recon information. They failed to establish and provide any artillery protection for their troops. They failed to provide close air support. They failed in every possible way.

A flatworm can learn from experience.

As a supporter of Ukrainian independence, I’m glad to see Russia get bloodied. But as a military veteran, I hate seeing any troops get killed because of the rigid stupidity of their leaders. The Russian Army has demonstrated it can’t win a traditional, linear ground war, not even against a smaller nation.

The Russian Army is dumber than a flatworm.

UPDATE: It appears the Russian Army attempted to cross the Siverskyi Donets River three times. They failed in their first attempt as reported, so they made a second attempt AT THE SAME LOCATION. I’m not making that up. And hey bingo, they got the same result. Lots of destroyed vehicles, lots of dead troops. So, being the Russian Army, they decided to try cross the river a third time AT THE SAME LOCATION AGAIN. With the same result.

EDITORIAL FLATWORM NOTE: Okay, this has nothing to do with Russia or Ukraine, but there’s an exceedingly cool thing about flatworms and memory. Like a lot of other types of worms, flatworms can regenerate themselves. If you whack off a flatworm’s tail (and really, you shouldn’t, because what’s a flatworm ever done to you?), in a couple of weeks it’ll grow into an entirely new flatworm, complete with a shiny new centralized brain.

But that’s not the cool thing. The cool thing is that if the original flatworm had been taught to run (well, not run–it’s a flatworm, after all) a maze, the newly regenerated flatworm would remember how to run the maze too. Which suggests memory isn’t limited to the centralized brain. Memory MAY be somehow stored in other cells. How cool is that?

ukraine, let my memory of you be like a blade in my soul

Sometimes fiction and reality collide in unexpected and horrifying ways. A couple of days ago, the war in Ukraine crashed into a fantasy novel written in 1990.

Years ago I had a friend who kept encouraging me to read fantasy fiction. I’d read Tolkien, of course, but I was generally uninterested in the genre. She gave me a novel by a writer with the unlikely name of Guy Gavriel Kay. If a friend gives you something to read, the laws of friendship require you to at least try to read it. So I dutifully read the prologue (I’m also generally suspicious of prologues), then put the novel on a shelf with other novels I’d probably never finish.

The prologue was beautifully written, although the prose was more elegant than the fiction I was accustomed to reading. The characters were engaging and the situation they were facing was powerful. It was largely a nighttime conversation between two men–a prince leading an army facing certain destruction in the morning and a sculptor/friend who was a volunteer in that army. They both acknowledged they were probably going to die in a few hours and wondered if the war was a cause worth dying. This is part of their conversation.

“Oh, our pride. Our terrible pride. Will they remember that most about us, do you think, after we are gone?”
“Perhaps. But they will remember. The one thing we know with certainty is that they will remember us…. We will leave a name.”

Very powerful, emotional, dramatic stuff, right there. My problem was the heroic speech. I’ve done my time in military harness. So did both of my brothers. So did my father and most of my uncles. I’ve been around military men all my life. That’s not how they talk, especially when it comes to really important stuff, like killing and dying. Combined with my basic dislike of the genre, it was enough for me to stop reading.

Now, you may be saying, “But Greg, old sock, it’s fiction…and fantasy fiction at that. Give the writer some slack.” And you’d be right (also, stop calling me ‘old sock’). I’d made a mistake by putting that novel on the shelf. A few years later, another friend–also a fan of fantasy fiction–handed me another novel, also by Guy Gavriel Kay (it’s not a name you’re likely to forget). Again, the laws of friendship required me to try it. The Lions of Al-Rassan. It was amazing and has become one of my favorite novels. I was so taken by it that I went back to the shelves and pulled out the novel I’d abandoned before.

Tigana. That’s the title. It’s also the name of the independent province in which the two men in the prologue lived. The story takes place after the battle referred to in the prologue. Here’s a thing Kay does extraordinarily well–he doesn’t just inform the reader, “Yeah, these guys? They live in Tigana.” Instead he quietly, slowly, subtly adds layers of history, art, tradition, music, cuisine–layers of a unique, believable culture–so that Tigana isn’t just a place on a map. It becomes an indelible aspect of a character’s identity.

This is critically important to the story, because the battle referred to in the prologue destroys all that. The invading sorcerer/king was so enraged by the Tiganan resistance against his army and so grief-stricken by the death of his son (killed in the war) that he wasn’t content with merely conquering and ruling Tigana. He had his army kill women and children, he burned their fields and razed their villages, he flattened their cities. Not content with the physical destruction of Tigana, he eradicated their culture–tore down their statues, destroyed their art. He re-named the capitol city after his dead son. He renamed the province Lower Corte (Corte being the province’s traditional enemy; he wanted to insure the survivors understood they were lesser than their enemies). He killed almost an entire generation of people, and then (because this is the sort of thing sorcerer/kings do) he cast a magic spell that stripped the true name Tigana from the memory of every person NOT born in the province. Nobody else could even hear the name if it was spoken. This meant the few remaining Tiganans couldn’t even discuss with others what had happened to their land and culture. It was as if the kingdom of Tigana had never existed.

This is essentially what Putin and Russia planned for Ukraine.

A few days ago the Russian state-owned news agency RIA Novosti published an article called What Should Russia Do With Ukraine? (You can read a translation of the article here.) It’s grounded on the premise that most of the population of Ukraine are Banderite Nazis or Nazi sympathizers. Banderite refers to Stephan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist, Nazi collaborator, and anti-Communist leader who was assassinated by Soviet agents in 1959. The article suggests that Ukrainians have so internalized Nazism that they’re not even aware they’re Nazis. It’s part of their culture, their identity.

That’s complete bullshit, of course, but for Russia/Putin it’s necessary bullshit to justify the plan for Ukraine. When the author of this article says ‘Nazi’ he means ‘Ukrainian’. The article says Nazis must be killed.

Those Nazis who took up arms must be destroyed on the battlefield, as many of them as possible. No significant distinction should be made between the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the so-called “nationalist battalions,”

This also applies to ordinary citizens who support the government of Ukraine. Whatever happens to them during the ‘military special operation by the Russian Federation’ is a just punishment for that support.

They supported the Nazi authorities and pandered to them. A just punishment for this part of the population can only be possible through bearing the inevitable hardships of a just war against the Nazi system…. The Banderite elites must be eliminated; their re-education is impossible.

The survivors of the ‘war against the Nazi system’ will be re-educated and forced to engage in the manual labor of rebuilding the territory.

The further denazification of this bulk of the population will take the form of re-education through ideological repressions (suppression) of Nazi paradigms and a harsh censorship not only in the political sphere but also in the spheres of culture and education…. making the names of accomplices of the Nazi regime public, involving them in forced labor to restore the destroyed infrastructure as punishment for Nazi activities

The article acknowledges that wiping out Ukrainian culture would be a generation-long process.

The period of denazification can take no less than one generation that has to be born, brought up and mature under the conditions of denazification.

Obviously, this includes eliminating the very name of Ukraine.

[T]he name “Ukraine” cannot be kept as a title of any fully denazified state entity on the territory liberated from the Nazi regime…. Denazification will inevitably include de-ukrainization…. history has proved it impossible for Ukraine to exist as a nation-state, and any attempts to “build” such a nation-state naturally lead to Nazism. Ukrainism is an artificial anti-Russian construct that has no civilizational substance of its own.

In the novel, a group of rebel Tiganan conspirators disguise themselves as traveling musicians and merchants and plot to assassinate the sorcerer/king and restore the ability of the people to remember the province of Tigana. One of the characters repeats a sort of prayer: Tigana, let my memory of you be like a blade in my soul. The memory of lost beauty is painful, but pain keeps the memory of that beauty alive.

In the novel, the erasure of Tigana is done through brute force reinforced by magic. Putin doesn’t have any real magic; all he has is brutality and the weak magic of propaganda, like this article. It’s difficult to say how effective the propaganda is with the Russian populace. There are reports that around 70% of Russian people support Putin’s war. Those reports may also be propaganda. Or they may accurately reflect the opinions of people whose only source of information is purposely biased. (Yes, I’m looking at FOX News.)

In the novel, only those born in what was once Tigana can hear the name spoken. Only they can keep the idea of Tigana alive. In real life, all of us can speak about Ukraine, can retain the memory of Ukraine’s once-beautiful cities, can honor the ordinary people of Ukraine who’ve resisted Russia, can weep for those who’ve been tortured and killed, can celebrate the Ukrainian identity and keep it alive.

Ukraine, let my memory of you be like a blade in my soul.

attrition

Every morning this week I’ve sat here at the keyboard and started to write a post about the situation in Ukraine. Every single morning I’ve put a couple hundred words in a row, and every morning I’ve deleted them all.

I mean, what is there to say? Well, obviously there’s a LOT to say–the military situation, the refugee situation, the NATO situation, the war crimes situation, and on and on and on. But the internet is awash in experts opining and analyzing all that. What is there for ME to say? Is there anything I can contribute that’s meaningful?

Not much. I can express opinions, but my opinions about Ukraine aren’t very much different from most folks. And as for those folks whose opinions support Russia and Putin–what is there to say to or about them? Not much, other than ‘Russian warship, go fuck yourself’.

The problem (for me) is that it’s hard to write about anything else at the moment. Everything else seems trivial. Art? Clarence Thomas in the hospital? Republican hypocrisy? Pickleball? The January 6th prosecutions? The arrival of Spring and getting back on the bike? Voter suppression? The latest research on crows? Today’s hearing on the nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court? There are lots of things that occupy my mind and my time besides Ukraine. It’s just that none of them seem as important. None of them ARE as important.

What makes this all the more awful is that the war in Ukraine has become something of a stalemate. It’s turning into a war of attrition–the ugliest, cruelest, and most brutal form of war. A war of attrition isn’t about territorial control; it’s about imposing as much suffering as possible in every way possible in order to force the enemy to give up. It’s about wearing away at the very foundations of a sustainable life–food and shelter. It’s about reducing towns and cities to uninhabitable rubble.

But here’s the truly awful thing: I suspect–I fear–the American public will begin to treat the war of attrition in the same way they’ve treated the global pandemic. They’ll get bored with it. It’ll be normalized, in the same way they’ve come to accept a thousand deaths a week from Covid as normal. In the same way they’ve come to accept extreme weather disasters as normal. Instead of being tortured from a death by a thousand cuts, those cuts will be seen as routine. (By the way, if you google ‘death by a thousand cuts’ most of the results will refer to a song by Taylor Swift rather than lingchi, the ancient Chinese method of torture and execution–how’s that for normalization?)

NOTHING ABOUT THE WAR IN UKRAINE IS NORMAL.

So, what are we to do? What am I to do? Carry on as usual with this blog? I guess the only answer is to try to find some sort of balance. Write about the stuff that interests me, even if some of that stuff is trivial. But also keep talking about the suffering of the people of Ukraine, and about the deliberate cruelty of Putin, and about the policies of nations that support–or fail to support–Ukraine.

That’s what I’ve decided to do. But it feels a little like attrition.

just to explain why i took a photo

Last week while out noodling around I came across a tank. When I say ‘tank’ I mean a decommissioned military tank. An M60 battle tank, to be exact. It’s fairly common when the military starts scrapping old tanks, they offer them to small towns to use as memorials, or to ‘decorate’ public parks or town squares or wherever the hell a small town would like to park one. The US military stopped deploying M60s in 1997.

But this isn’t about the tank, really. It’s about how I photographed it. Which was like this:

A friend asked me a couple of questions about the photo. First, what the hell is this a photograph of? Second, if it’s a photograph of a tank, why didn’t I include the whole tank? Those are valid questions. But they’re difficult to answer.

They’re difficult to answer for several reasons. The primary reason is that I’ve been shooting photos for so long that I rarely actually think about composition. I just kind of know what I want in the frame. Another reason it’s difficult to explain is because shooting a photo seems like it’s just a matter of releasing the shutter (or, with a cell phone, poking the whatsit that initiates the photo). But that moment is the result of a fairly complex process.

I wasn’t paying much attention to the process when I shot this, but I’ll try to recreate my thinking. Obviously, it began by getting out of the car to look at the tank because…well, there was a tank and I wanted to look at it. As I walked around it, I was attracted to that cascade of squarish shapes made by the building–so many different-sized squares of different textures. Then there was that white circle that sort of balanced the round rear tread wheel of the tank. And then there were those sweet vertical lines of the chimney and the light pole. And then I was drawn to that tiny splash of red, and that diagonal slant of the roof of the shed, and even the spade leaning against the light pole. All of those things appealed to me, both individually and as a collective.

I’d be lying if I said I noted all that stuff in that order, but when you’re lining up a shot it’s like your brain is ticking off boxes in a list. That works, that works, that doesn’t–so move a bit, that works. And then there’s some point when your synapses seem to agree that you’ve got all–or most–of the stuff you want in the frame, and you take the photo.

I’d probably have taken that photo even if the tank wasn’t there, because the light and the geometry appealed to me. But it was the tank that drew me to that spot and to me, that wee bit of tank is important to the composition. So, to me, it’s still a photo of the tank. The rest of the tank is implied.

Wait…I think I can explain this better. That same day, I took a photo of an old, rusted out Ford panel truck. Three photos, in fact, but only one photo mattered. Here’s the first photo.

There’s nothing wrong with this as a photo. Again, I composed it intuitively, without a lot of thought. It’s got good lines. The curve of that tree is nice; it sorta kinda follows the shape of the truck. There’s a decent balance to the composition. It’s a perfectly adequate photo, a decent documentation of an old, rusted out Ford panel truck. Nothing wrong with it, but not terribly interesting.

So I got closer. Changed the perspective.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with this photo. Again, the composition was casual but deliberate. However, you’ve probably seen ten thousand photos almost exactly like this. A rusty wreck of a vehicle–an artifact of an outdated civilization cast aside in a living environment that will continue to grow while the artifact slowly degrades into nothingness. The best thing about this photo is that it places the panel truck in a larger landscape, which emphasizes how out of place it is. But basically, there’s nothing new to see in this photo.

So I got closer and changed the perspective again.

This is the photo that mattered. I took a bit more care with the composition. I knew I wanted the rust, I knew I wanted the suggestion of a large landscape through the windows, and I knew I wanted the lines of the shattered window and those bubbles formed by the thin layer of ice.

The actual old, rusted out Ford panel truck wasn’t really important; it’s the idea of the old, rusted out Ford panel truck that mattered. It’s a photo of an abandoned vehicle in the same way the first photo is a photo of a tank. The old, rusted out Ford panel truck is implied; you only need to see enough of it to hint at its existence.

The photo of the tank and the final photo of the panel truck are both photos of things that don’t belong there. Was I actually thinking of that when I took those photos? Nope. But after you’ve shot enough photos, a sort of algorithm develops in your brain. It’s like you know at the cellular level that everything in the frame matters, so you become very deliberate about what you keep in and what you keep out.

What you choose to include and exclude is grounded on why you’re shooting the photo. And that’s the thing. You may not be consciously aware that you’re shooting a photo of things that don’t belong where they are, but there’s some chunk of your brain that’s is actively registering that fact. If the tank or the panel truck were what mattered, you’d just photograph the tank and the panel truck. But you keep looking and moving and shifting around until your brain is at least semi-satisfied. Then you take the photo.

Okay, I’ve made the mistake of re-reading this (which I generally try to avoid in these blog posts). It sounds to me like I’m talking bullshit here (which is why I generally avoid re-reading these blog posts). But I’m still convinced that this is how I shoot photos. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve approached something that I wanted to photograph–that I felt was very photographable–and then walked away without taking a single shot because I couldn’t get what I wanted in the frame. There was something in the frame I didn’t want, or something I wanted but couldn’t include. My mind knew it, even if I wasn’t immediately aware of it.

The photographer Marc Riboud once said, “I photograph the way a musician hums.” That makes sense to me. Musicians, even when they’re just idly humming, know without thinking which notes work and which notes don’t. The wrong note ruins the composition.

And there it is.

let the journey unfold

I recently learned that Iohan Gueorguiev is dead. He died months ago–August of 2021. I had no idea.

You know how it is. There are things you wish you’d done. There are things you wish you could do. But there are also things you wish you’d wanted to do, even though you know you wouldn’t actually do them even if you had the opportunity.

I wish I would have wanted to do what Iohan did. I know, if given the chance to do what he did, I’d have turned it down. What he did was just too hard. I mean, it was absolutely wonderful and amazing and quixotic. I admire him for what he did and how he did it. But even though I’d have enjoyed doing some small parts of what Iohan did, I don’t have it in me to really want to do it.

What did Iohan Gueorguiev do?

He rode a bicycle. He rode it a lot. He rode it very far. Incredibly far, in fact. Insanely far.

Iohan was born in Bulgaria in 1988. When he was 15 years old, his parents sent him to live with an uncle in Mississauga, Ontario. At some point he bought a bicycle–a touring bike–and went for a ride. To Vancouver. About 2700 miles.

That started his weird fascination and love for long-distance bike-camping. In 2014, he decided to ride his bike from the Arctic Sea in Alaska to the town of Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost town in Argentina, generally called the ‘end of the world’. He thought it might take him a year. He was wrong. Wildly wrong.

It was, to be frank, an absurd and ridiculous idea. The distance from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Ushuaia is about 9500 miles as the crow flies. On a bicycle, it’s…well, who knows how far it would be? Farther than any rational person would consider riding.

Iohan’s touring bike–with its narrow road tires–was entirely inadequate for the project. Eventually he was able to acquire a fat tire bike that was significantly more suited for the trip, and over time he obtained a better camera (and a GoPro and some sort of drone), but his gear was always a secondary–or tertiary–consideration. The adventure was what mattered–the things he saw, the people he met. He maintained a blog describing the trek (which is how I learned about him) and he produced a number of YouTube videos.

“I want to see the world. Follow a map to its edges and keep going. Forgo the plans. Trust my instincts. Let curiosity be my guide. I want to change hemispheres. Sleep with unfamiliar stars. And let the journey unfold before me.”

That’s mostly what he did–let the journey unfold. Iohan rarely took the easy route. He rode anywhere he could, anywhere he wanted: ice highways, lumber roads, hiking paths, wilderness trails. Hell, sometimes he didn’t take a route at all–he just set off in the general direction. On at least one occasion he broke down his bike to cross a lake using a collapsible kayak. He refused to let common sense dictate the trip.

He encountered every obstacle you could predict: bad weather, wildlife, gear failures, terrible terrain, mechanical issues. And yet he always seemed to find something positive about his situation. Cycling in a blizzard? He didn’t have to worry about his food supply spoiling. Traveling up a hazardous mountain trail so steep he has to carry his bike and all his supplies? The air is cool, he says, and fresh and invigorating.

“Ruta de Los Seis Miles is a 1,310km, month-long, high altitude desert traverse across the Central Andean Dry Puna in Chile and Argentina. This route promises the most physically and mentally demanding high altitude touring in the Andes. Thankfully, it’s balanced with dream-like mountain scenery with salt fields, lava flows, flamingo-filled lakes, and some of the highest volcanos in the world, far away from the civilization.”

Everywhere he went, Iohan met good people. They’d offer him a safe place to sleep, a warm meal, maybe a bit of money, stories. He seemed to take as much joy from the people he met as he did from the sights he saw. He was certainly comfortable being alone–and there were times on the trip when he was terribly alone–but he clearly delighted in meeting new people in unusual circumstances.

“My motivation: the kindness of strangers and the beauty of the wild.”

Without a private fortune (which Iohan didn’t have) or some sort of corporate sponsorship (which he occasionally received), he was forced to interrupt his journey periodically and return to Canada and earn enough money to continue. Then he’d resume the adventure where he’d left off.

The trip he originally thought might take a year stretched out to more than six. Then Covid arrived; the pandemic disrupted everything. Iohan returned to Canada. He still took what he’d describe as ‘short trips’ in Canada. But the trips weren’t very rewarding; the pandemic made it impossible for him to meet new people. Depression set in; he developed insomnia, made worse by sleep apnea.

Last August, Iohan killed himself.

He still had about 1500 miles to go to reach Ushuaia.

Earlier I said I wish I would have wanted to do what Iohan did. I try to do what he did on a much much much more modest scale. I ride my bike. I talk to strangers. But if it’s too cold or too hot or too windy or too wet, I stay home. Still, there’s a part of me that wishes I had the sort of irrational will that could inspire me to actually undertake an adventure like his.

Iohan Gueorguiev went as far as he could. So much farther than common sense would carry you. He experienced so much more than the rest of us. It would be wrong to think he fell 1500 miles short of his destination. The distance Iohan Gueorguiev traveled can’t be measure in miles. He kept going until he couldn’t. Then he stopped.

EDITORIAL NOTE: You can still access Iohan Gueorguiev’s blog and his videos at BikeWanderer. It’s nice to watch the videos and think maybe he’s still on his way.

more like jesus

A couple of days ago, passing by a church, I saw a sign (I wish I’d stopped and photographed it) that said something like: Try to be more like Jesus. My first thought was “Dude, it’s January; I’m NOT wearing sandals.” Which, I admit, is somewhat disrespectful.

For some reason that be-more-like-Jesus concept stuck in my mind. I can see some benefits from it.

  • Spend time talking to strangers
  • Tell stories
  • Spend time chilling with sinners
  • Drink wine (in moderation, of course)
  • Ride donkeys
  • Remind folks to be kind and gentle.
  • Hang out in boats
  • Piss off hypocrites
  • Bake bread and share it

I seem to recall a lot of paintings showing Jesus playing with kids, and I don’t think that would work out so well these days. Besides, kids are noisy. So I think we could safely skip all that. Also, I’m not sure where Jesus stood on napping; I suspect he was a fan, but that might just be wishful thinking.

“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing–absolutely nothing–half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

I’m not a Christian, but you can’t deny that the guy had some good ideas. Too bad so few Christians follow them. Seriously, the worst thing about Christianity is Christians.

EDITORIAL NOTE: The quotation in the photo is from the Gospel of The Wind in the Willows.

goals

The first thing I saw on social media this morning was…no, wait, that’s not true. It wasn’t actually the first thing I saw, or even among the first 20-30 things I saw, but it was the first thing that caught me by surprise. The first thing that made me go “wait…what?” It was a question in a forum for readers. Two questions, really.

What are your reading goals and targets for the New Year? Do they include different genres?

That pretty much stopped me dead. People have reading goals and targets? What does that even mean? And what’s the difference between a reading goal and a reading target? What does genre have to do with it?

The responses to those questions helped clarify them, but some of them still left me confused. Here are a few sample responses. “I plan to read 100 books this year, with at least 5 hard scifi, 5 fantasy, 5 YA, and 5 historical fiction.” “I intend to read the entire Richard Bolitho British Navy novels by Alexander Kent.” “I’m going to reread the novels that were my favorites as a teen.” “This years book list challenge is set; I’ve already finished 2 books today that I started yesterday.” ” In 2021 I read 88 books; this year I want to get 100.”

I can understand folks wanting to read favorite childhood novels. That makes sense to me. I do that occasionally. Just a few weeks ago I re-read The Prisoner of Zenda. I can also understand wanting to read a certain series of books–or at least start to read them. But what if you discover you don’t enjoy them? Or what if you enjoy the first couple, but them find the rest repetitive? If you’ve publicly committed to reading the entire series, do you keep reading…or do you stop?

And yeah, I understand the value of reading a variety of genres, They all have something to offer. But I do NOT understand the intention to read X number of books in a given time frame. I don’t understand that at all. What’s the point? What’s the purpose? Why does the number of books you read matter? It makes no sense to me.

The cat naps; I read. Simple goal, simple plan.

I guess I’m just a disorganized, unstructured reader. I read a book, then when I’m done, I buy another book and read it. I DO have a Google Keep list of books called ‘Books I Might Want to Consider Reading‘ which, now I think of it, is a shamefully wishy-washy title for a list. It probably doesn’t really qualify as a list; it’s just notes on books folks have recommended or books I’ve heard about. Sometimes I’ll consult it before buying a new book, but I’m just as likely to rummage through the online bookstore and buy whatever strikes my fancy at that moment. I don’t have anything remotely like a plan for what I’m going to read next. It depends on…hell, I don’t even know what it depends on.

Every four or five years (or three years or six years) I decide to re-read one of Dorothy Dunnett’s historical novel series. Does that count as a plan? I’m still two novels away from finishing The Expanse series. Or maybe it’s three novels; I’m not sure how many novels are in the series. Eight? Nine? I’m sure I’ll buy and read those novels at some point–but I haven’t yet and I’m not sure when I will. Does that count as a plan? Maybe it’s a goal?

What is a plan, really? It’s just a roadmap pointing toward a goal. But if you don’t have a goal–and I don’t–then what use is a plan? Or maybe I DO have a goal. Just a very simple, easily attainable goal. To read another book when I’ve finished the one I’m reading now. My plan, then, would be to buy another book. Piece of cake.

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I wrote this yesterday morning, then got distracted. I had a point to make, but I’ve forgotten what it was. I’m pretty sure it was clever, though.

Yesterday afternoon, I was sitting in a comfortable chair reading, a blanket on my lap, and the cat on the blanket. When the sun came through the transom, the cat got off my lap and laid in the sun. Every so often I looked up from my tablet and saw that the sunny spot and the cat had moved. It occurred to me that my reading goals and plans were similar to the cat’s napping goals and plans. Her goal is to nap in a sunny spot. When that sunny spot moves, she moves with it. My goal is to finish one book and start another.

The cat is content with her goal and plan; I’m content with mine. But I rather doubt my plan and goal will impress the other members of that reader forum.