My Hamster Wheel on Two Wheels

This A/B living is interesting in what it does to my psyche. being home in SLC and B being back in StG. It’s the transitions that give my noodle pause, the in-between, the commute where time and miles are now measured in thoughts instead of per-hour.

Thoughts like hoping the lawn hasn’t overgrown beyond the mower’s approach, or I told her I’d be safe so stick to the right lane and watch your speed limit, or how my rear-end now picks up every little nuance in ride and vibration, my hyper-aware ass constantly running its flat-tire algorithm in comparing suspension travel and rebound between the front and rear wheels. 

Thoughts like getting beyond my wave-bias with Harley riders or my disdain for Richfield or how silly superstition is. And relentless.

Thoughts like why can’t I just relax when it’s time to go? Something I’ve inherited from my dad. Doesn’t matter when it’s time to go, when the day of departure wanes every damn tick to the second hand is time to go. And as I get increasingly antsy with every moment, does she take that as my wanting to leave? Because I don’t want to. Ever.

I don’t know if my brain is exhausted at the end of the day’s ride from the constant sensory-scan required of motorcycle riding or the hamster wheel that is my psyche. On the Blackbird I’d only think about one thing, staying alive. On the dual sport, its casual ambling down the road lets my mind do its thing. I think there’s a pill for that.

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gentlemen’s club

There’s a term that should be removed from the current vernacular on sexual harassment, sexual misconduct and sexual abuse. It’s a word pushed into some kind of placebo to assuage these issues, but as long as we keep using it we will not make any progress on the underlying gender issue of equality. That term is gentleman.

It’s origins come from identifying a male who was born of a good family from one who was born of royalty. It was later attributed with honor, chivalry, and courtesy. I’m not arguing that these traits are far gone; I am surrounded by a few honorable, chivalrous, and kind men, most of which are relations within good families.

Enter Hefner. There are others, I’m know, but Playboy was the mainstream impetus for gentlemen’s shift in meaning. Along with the sexual revolution, it’s my opinion that Playboy created a culture of womanizing, and not just in its centerfolds – it introduced the notion that a man could be both simultaneously lascivious and chivalrous.

And we embraced that. It was a sin license, a get-out-of-jail-free card that empowered narcissism now at pandemic levels. Go to any gentleman’s club for evidence. I’m just guessing here, having never proven that hypothesis. But, I have the same evidence in online forums for off-roading, in the locker room at the rec center, in my department where I teach, and in the White House. Yes, Bill Clinton was an abuser, but he was admired under the new definition of gentleman more than he was condemned. Nothing has changed for 45.

The greatest barrier to gender equality is not that the feminine has less consideration in contributing to society. As long as women are considered possessions, equality will remain elusive.

The woman to whom I am married is a mouthful compared to my wife. Poetry, prose and motion pictures have long infiltrated all genders with the notion that when one is betrothed (or simply bedded) there’s been a shift of title. You belong to me. My heart belongs to you. Not unless I’ve checked the organ donor box and you’re its transplant recipient. We do this with well-behaved kids as well; possessions of progeny. But, I’m getting away from my point.

Aside from matrimonial possession, there’s another more pervasive and perverse ownership that has to do with territory, not the real estate kind, the flesh kind, the kind that’s ransomed in the quid pro quo. It’s in the power differential (double entendre intended) where possession inundates space and bodies. Narcissists don’t see women as whole beings, they see them as parts, parts that belong to them in exchange for whatever favors that have been offered, like just the “gentleman’s” presence. While porn is responsible for reducing women (and men) to not even the sum of their parts, we are saturated with less objectionable and more ubiquitous images laced through social media in click bait that continue to disconnect women from equality.

It’s a machine that capitalizes on titillating for a click while entrenching lascivious attitudes as a-okay while depreciating women. Recognizing this manipulation is a step in the right direction of restoring chivalry and consideration.

It is not being a gentleman, at least not in its current definition. Ironically, there isn’t a label we can all get behind in terms of defining a man who has the ability to honor equality.

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brain damage

There are little black smudges throughout my house, not everywhere, just on the door frames of the bathroom and the back outside door, the handle of the fridge, the microwave door and the lever of the kitchen faucet. These appear anytime I’m working on a machine. Lately that’s been two – a motorcycle and an SUV.

The smudges clean up pretty quickly leaving no trace of my movements nor my grunginess; nothing left behind to attest to whatever mechanical victory or defeat happened, save for two vehicles that are back on the road or still on the pad awaiting yet another part from Amazon.

Every time I find myself under the hood or on my butt beside my bike I wonder why I do this, not the smudges, but yet another attempt at correcting what miles and time have done to my ability to go. The first answer is easy, pragmatic. I can’t afford a mechanic. The second answer isn’t because I enjoy it.

It dawned on me last night while watching the film, Seven Pounds with my daughter on New Year’s Eve. We watched this to redeem ourselves from seeing Collateral Beauty earlier that eve. The latter was contrived and patronizing using a storyline involving the death of a child and throwing in some plot twists to turn into something it had no business being, a blockbuster (spoiler ahead) that neatly puts everything back into place after that unnatural disruption. I wanted to stand during the credits and flip the screen the bird, but I wasn’t near the projection window. I think I know what I’m doing tonight.  

I was hoping for another Seven Pounds (2008), also a Will Smith film that deals with an excruciating disruption, a film that dares justify suicide while it relentlessly hammers your tear ducts. But it wasn’t. And I know I bring my own bags to this and see it differently. It’s my brain damage.

Collateral Beauty does have a moment when Smith’s character declares that nothing can assuage his grief of losing his little girl. He’s cut to the core, brain damaged beyond the salve of religion, prayers, warm thoughts and divine interventions that have worked their magic on others. There you go. That’s what it’s like.

Smith’s character in Seven Pounds (spoiler ahead) fixes a machine, a printing press. He’s a closet mechanical engineer and works his magic on an obsolete device, bringing it back to life and utility. And there it was, streaming on the little screen of my MacBook Air in front of my daughter and me. I work on machines with the hope that they’ll outlive me, much like my dreams for the young woman beside me.

Maybe it’s a legacy-thing, better done on vehicles not made in Italy. It’s wonky, I know, evidence of my brain damage, but there’s a little comfort in getting something back on the road that has more miles left in it than I. Maybe I’ll leave the smudges behind as well.


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worse than cancer

I’m going to try to write my way through this and for some reason you’ve decided to be along for the ride. You can stop anytime.

A friend posted on Wednesday morning that this is worse than cancer, this being the outcome of the cluster-candidacy we endured for a year and a half. And being in remission, this person would know. That heartbreaking declaration was the truest post I read that day.

Other posts were more like, get over it, it’s time to unite, let’s move on, and there were all kinds of incredibly sympathetic reposts for those suffering an intact glass ceiling and the potential revocation of marriage equality and environmental consideration, and those crushing disclosures on Pantsuit Nation with amazing empathy, and then the collections of live tweets of the moments where racists, rapists and bullies had expressed their newly emboldened intents, no longer needing the shadows since the commander-in-chief-elect has given them a pass. Mixed emotions never had such incredible contrast.

Hillary conceded Wednesday morning with a tone that surprised people. Imagine what you’d sound like if you weren’t constantly defending yourself. And later President Obama stood in the Rose Garden with Joe and talked about a peaceful transition, all the time Vice-President Biden being the canvas of the President’s misgivings.

But the thing that made me throw up the most in the back of my mouth through all this was what I read to my Social Media class Wednesday afternoon, Hamilton’s Federalist essay, No. 68. And it wasn’t because we’ve most certainly elected a candidate with “talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity.” It was because of the betrayal of Hamilton’s optimism in his nascent country.

“It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue,” he states later. Let me unpack that.

He’s pretty careful in suggesting that the United States of America would (probably) progress the character of the one who fills the Executive Office. (Now, if you’re thinking, “Well, Hillary blah, blah, blah…” you’re not getting the point and at the risk of being incapable of Hamilton’s optimism, I’ll say that you’re not capable of getting it.)

“Seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent (sic) for ability and virtue,” is the stinger for me. What he’s saying is that were he a betting man he’d put his money on the leadership of the United States getting better with each term both in competency and in character. The hypocritical and wholesale rejection of the 44th President, Barack Hussein Obama, perpetuated by the vitriol and malice of the angry white men arrested that probability and burned a path for a liar to undermine the very indicator of this nation’s integrity, it’s highest office.

Alexander Hamilton, it turns out that your declaration was too strong to say after all, and this breach of truth, and soon liberty, is indeed worse than cancer.

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kicked out of Pride

Yesterday at St. George Pride I was asked by a colleague why I was attending and while I was mentally scrambling for some sound reason, I realized I didn’t need one. Instead, I had an impetus and an epiphany sparked by the event’s hashtag, #lovelouder.

Years go I was asked by a filmmaking friend to do second-unit photography on a documentary he was producing. I asked Mindy if she’d do audio for the shoot and before we knew it we were on our way to Southern California to cover the story of two gay men, former members of the Mormon faith, attending Pride in Hollywood. It doesn’t get any gayer than this.

My sound-mixing companion was raised on the conservative foothills of Bountiful, Utah, and though I was raised in the Bay Area, my white/straight privilege managed to keep me insulated from most things LGBTQ+ save for the peppering of remarkable friends in high school whose sexual orientation was of no consequence. At least not to me.

At a modest motel in West Hollywood we met the subjects of the documentary, Steve and Tom. Just typing their names gives me pause as I write, one of deep and intense gratitude and fondness. I met Steve first. Mindy and I rode two-up on a motorcycle from St. George and were getting cleaned up – I had just stepped out of the shower, Mindy just stepping in – when there was a knock at our door. Once I got my undersized, modest-motel bath towel in place, I opened the door to the gayest man I know.

Steve gushed over me. I tried to keep my cool with immediate embarrassment and unexpected flattery forcing an emotional response for which I could have never prepared. For an overweight, hairy bear of a man, I, for a fleeting moment, felt sexy, and it’s not that my companion doesn’t do that for me, I was feeling sexy because of the attention I was getting from another man. And I wasn’t offended by that.

Now, this isn’t where I come out. I’m straight, but that doesn’t mean that I’m immune to the flirtations from my own gender, at least not from Steve. No one is immune from Steve.

Tom stopped by not long after, meeting the three of us for the first time, if I remember. And within moments, my wife and I fell in love with these two guys. I could write more about Tom, but it would all sound like hyperbole and you’d think me a liar. Suffice it to say that if this planet broke water and pushed her own babe into consciousness, it would be him.

We followed these two around Hollywood’s Pride Festival the next day, I with my video camera tethered by a cable to Mindy with her audio field mixer, eavesdropping on Tom and Steve as they wandered through the rainbows, tutus, flesh and fairy dust that is this celebration. They were wired with microphones and wireless transmitters sending their commentary to Mindy’s mixer through her headphones and on to my camera. This would be her first introduction to gay culture, with nothing, nothing spared in Tom and Steve’s commentary.  

The spectacle was amazing and not for what the spectacle of Pride is, it was amazing in its confluence of love from every and any direction. While Mindy and I were taking a break from shooting, a woman approached and complimented us saying we were the cutest straight couple she’s seen. Not long after, another woman, wearing lanyards and official badges, approached and politely asked us to leave. We lacked lanyards and badges ourselves, shooting guerilla style, and that was cause enough for us to be kicked out of Pride. Who gets kicked out of Pride?

We wrapped shooting for the day, stashed our gear in Mo’s rental car (our fearless producer) and went back in, this time with nothing other than our new-found enthusiasm giving us reason to be there, and we got swept away in dancing and singing and dining with most extraordinary people, each new person we’d meet taking our collective breath away.

The next morning we had breakfast on Sunset and wandered Hollywood for locations to shoot interviews and went to Neptune’s Net for lunch. Steve cat-called young men walking along the Strip and reveled in his freedom like a freed lifer let loose in the heaven of which he’d been dreaming. We rolled on the interviews and listened to crushing accounts of growing up in contexts that force you to deny who you are at the expense of your value and identity. We found unfettered courage in their stories and an empathy and love that would later serve us and our family in ways that we had long suspected, but had done little about until that warm afternoon in the Hollywood hills.

My companion and I thought we knew how to love, how to love each other, how to love our kids. We left Tom and Steve and Hollywood Pride with an understanding that love with any built-in condition, be it intrinsic or extrinsic, is more fear with a few fuzzies thrown on top. Remove the judgement and love purifies.

That’s why I was there at the park yesterday. It’s why we were at the parade in Salt Lake City two weeks previous, one week away from that tragic new meridian in time of Before Orlando/After Orlando.

We must love louder.


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you be hatin’ the wrong way

A student dropped by my office yesterday to tell me about what happened to him a few days ago. He was walking along the street that borders the north of our campus, and he was walking while black. An older SUV with a Confederate flag waving from behind approached him, and the passenger leaned out his window and yelled, “GO HOME MUSLIM!” Without missing a beat, the student replied, “I’M BLACK! YOU BE HATIN’ THE WRONG WAY!”


I’ve been reading the diatribe-infused comment sections on all the press about DSU’s identity change. I can’t help myself. It’s like a multi-car pile up where everyone thinks someone else is to blame and I just can’t turn away. It’s embarrassing, especially when I read, “I’m an ulum (sic) of Dixie…” or “They should just accept our meaning…” or “They’re gonna take away the temple next.”


Attitudes like these are empirical evidence of the failure of higher learning in Southern Utah. If this institution had condoned in any way that its own symbols and icons of the confederacy did not speak to the larger, universal meaning to the same outside of Utah’s Dixie, it failed. If Dixie College did not teach within its Liberal Arts curricula concepts on tolerance, the Civil Rights movement, equality and diversity, just to name a few, it has failed. The evidence is in the vitriol that laces the threads and forums every time this issue comes up.


By definition, I’m a Rebel. My ancestor, John R. Young, whose name appears on the Encampment Mall monument, was among the original settlers. I’m an alumnus of Dixie College. I’ve been teaching here since 1996. But, given the lack of racial civility both here and abroad, I am not proud of the Dixie name.


I am proud, though, of that student. While his response is indicative of his inherent wit, I’d like to tag him as an indication of what institutional success might look like.
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as if the inevitable was not

The second time my valentine fell out of its natural cadence I was in a cardiac care unit, which is exactly where you want to be when your heart fails. If it weren’t for the erratic beeping and alarms from the telemetry, it would have been more of a peaceful threshold experience, one that would beckon me back throughout the rest of my life, that long and sustained tone of my heart’s inactivity notwithstanding.

It’s not unusual to hear of the paradox of calm during what most feel is horrible in the throes of dying, but it’s rare. I’m certain fear is that volume control, the potentiometer that amplifies the noise of regret in the agonal phase and compounds the pain of loss or even its potential. And that, for many, obscures the idea that dying is the cusp of the most remarkable experience one could ever have alive.

I’ve come to understand this better this week in the company of two people, one who is dying, and one who has died. No seances involved on the latter, they were revived after an excruciating traumatic accident. The former discovered not too long ago that the number of their remaining days was dramatically lower than anyone could comfortably fathom. Just the thought of that has probably made you uncomfortable. We don’t want to talk about it, that eight-hundred pound grim reaper, and we go on as if the inevitable was not. Ever.

Spring is busting out in buds and weeds and grass and pollen on the other side of my window, undeterred, like every other season, inevitable in its momentum into another cycle. There is comfort in this, in its predictability and yet it’s amusing to hear surprise in voices that declare how great the weather has been or how beautiful the blossoms are. We want so badly, in some cases so desperately, for living to be the same, so much to have invented plans that range from salvation to cryogenics, though still, after all the time and all the decay, it all remains a mystery.

There is no certainty for the uncertainty avoiders.

In a few moments I’ll be back on my mountain bike riding a path upon which I really have no business. The trail exceeds my bike’s technical capacities, not to mention any wit’s worth of common sense, but there’s this crest beyond which is a descent that obliterates any reasonable consideration of one’s well being and every time I survive it I stand on my pedals and coast the trail beyond and feel the peace in between the beats of my heart, because, for me, that’s what it felt like to die.

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Shooting Zion

Despite all the celluloid and digital records I’ve made of Zion National Park since 1980, I’ve never had a moment where I could say that’s a keeper. I believe that is because all attempts to replicate fail on so many levels compared to Zion’s contextual impact on just being there. For me there’s little point in pulling out a print to look at Watchman, the Narrows, or Angels’ Landing when the real thing is a short drive away. But that doesn’t stop me from photographing it.

I’ve shot 5×7, 2×2, 6×4.5, 35mm and many digital formats, leaving my work wanting until I realized that photographing Zion was not a product of my camera, it was a product of my eye and how I see into contrast.

The depth of the canyon, up to three thousand feet (over 900 meters), and its north-south orientation make exposures within the canyon that include any kind of vista or sky difficult because of the exposure range. So I’ve caved in from my purist point of view of not using any altering filtration and picked up a set of ND and ND grad glass (G.ND), 2, 4, 8, and 16 of each.

I shoot a Fujifilm X-M1 mirrorless digital camera with a 16MP X-Trans CMOS APS-C sensor and EXR Processor II. I wish I could tell you what all that means. I know I like what I see. It also shoots video in 1080i. The glass I use includes its default short zoom, a Fujinon 16-50mm, two old Minolta MD lenses from my late father’s kit – a wonderful 53mm f/1.4, and a 135mm f/2. Both lenses mount with a Fotasy adapter. The focal lengths of these 35mm lenses is increased by about 1.5x due to the X-m1’s sensor size. The last addition to the kit is a Rokinon 14mm f/2 wide angle.

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob   24mm-f/22-1 second

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and The Throne were shot with the 14mm. An ND8 was stacked on the lens with a G.ND2 inverted and a G.ND4. The grad filters were combined to pull more highlight out of the middle of the compositions, allowing me to see into contrast, while increasing exposure time for the water movement. These frames were shot from mid morning to mid afternoon, with high clouds.

The Throne
The Throne   24mm-f22-1.5 seconds
I processed the images in iPhoto, decreasing the magenta induced by the NDs, punched the definition, and pushed the shadows to create a look reminiscent of old Kodachrome with a hint of high dynamic range. I’m shooting for a 1960’s era feel of National Park Service posters, a project I’ll continue in shooting from the floor of the park.


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from prerogatives to convictions

I hosted another Community Conversations television program the other night, the same night as the republican candidates debate with Tump in absentia. I wish I could say that was a permanent condition, but I digress. Our show was a town-hall type, where we introduce a topic and talk about it with folks from our local community where my role was more provocateur than moderator.

One of the audience members introduced the notion that certain troubles today stem from a shift from common sense to that of ideology, one of the many brilliant things I heard that night. Hoping to stir things up, I applied that notion to the Bill of Rights and asked our audience if the amendments have shifted from their common-sense origins to being more rooted in ideology. I no sooner had the question out of my mouth when an audience member insisted they were strictly common-sense ideals, cutting off any attempt on my part to elaborate.

My question was too vague and should have been clarified, so here I am.

It’s been incubating in my brain since, getting reduced to its semantics. Common sense is truly a remarkable compound implying its premise is one that is shared. It’s common sense to not yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater, to take care of your own house and yard, or to lock away a loaded handgun.

Ideology is different. Wikipedia defines it as “a set of conscious and unconscious ideas which make up one’s beliefs, goals, expectations, and motivations. An ideology is a comprehensive normative vision that is followed by people, governments, or other groups that is considered the correct way by the majority of the population, as argued in several philosophical tendencies.”

Wow. There’s a lot to digest here, not the least of which are the value terms used in the definition, like normative and correct. And while the word majority is used in describing its scope, it is not the same as common. And so what. It’s not like this is the Constitution, it’s just Wikipedia.

But the Constitution doesn’t speak to the idea of say, a majority defense. It establishes a cause for its purpose within its preamble, a common defense, the general welfare, to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” not simply to the normative and to the correct. It does that for all the People.

I’ll reframe the question. Have interpretations of the Bill of Rights shifted from what was once framed in common sense to ideologies? Is political correctness an ideology? Is public lands? How about gun control?

Liberal university students’ ideology squelch the academic process. Professors are afraid to push envelopes, speak honestly, frankly to issues that require a trip beyond comfort zones and coddling. Gone is the marketplace of ideas, critical thinking, common sense and in their place sensitivities to micro expressions, reputations, and the search for the next infraction. No one wants to speak up when the listening is expressly for a social media lynching.

Public lands become landfills for sectionals and big screen projector TVs too easy to dump on the outskirts of town, at least around here. Common sense would dictate an inherent stewardship of the land, but when the public fails on so many levels there is the default convenient expectation that the government will intervene regardless the common sense of reserved powers. And when their power flexes beyond the fences and agreements, public land becomes an entitlement.

And then there’s the Second Amendment. It’s my opinion that certain beliefs, goals, expectations and motivations in regards to the right to bear arms transcend even ideological prerogatives, right up there with theological convictions. And the same can be said about the fervor of those who oppose guns, period. Common sense, the very rhetoric used by the current executive office, is lost on the not-so-extreme divisions and no one is talking to each other.

I can’t help but think that this is where we’re going astray, getting away from the common sense impetus of the Constitution, instead shoring up our own ideologies in our own self-righteousness and zeal where hate is much easier to come by than public discourse during a TV show.

Posted in personal notes

years gone by

I just finished taking a walk with my son. We met for lunch and ended up walking around campus on this rainy Wednesday, looking at how our alma mater has changed.

As we walked up the Encampment Mall, I spoke of the rows of single-wide trailers that occupied that spot, not of the original settlers, but of the freshmen who dared call it student housing, part of it for single students, the other for marrieds.

We made our way to the new construction of student housing going in on the northeast side that will eventually replace Nisson Towers and Shenandoah and walked our way around counterclockwise past the science building where we talked about how I was the first student of our then new geology teacher way back when and Chris was his last.

At the Performing Arts Center I pointed out the classroom where I met Mindy, the love of my life, and then through the Eccles’ Fine Arts Center where we found an exhibit of a piece of the original stage floor hanging in a display case. There’s a clear plastic panel attached to it that has a list of all the plays performed there upon, including The Price in 1980, Da in 1983, and Our Town in 1985 in which I played roles, and All My Sons in 2000 where Chris played a big part. A few paces further down on the opposite wall are framed images performed in the Eccles’ new spaces including Family that I directed in 2004.

We stepped into the drizzle outside, south of the Eccles, to the Graff Performing Arts building. It was locked, but we could see through the windows of its annex where the door to my office used to be, a place where Chris hung out and edited video while I rehearsed a readers’ theater in FA 124 next door. He was six then. It was also in FA 124 where Chris gave a speech to my public speaking students on tectonic plates. He was five then.

We descended to the lower campus and walked by the fountain where I danced with his mother on our honeymoon night and then to the causeway between the Holland and the Gardner Center where he surprised me last May during Commencement, walking to get his diploma, the one that I would have the honor to hand to him.

It was there that we ran into a friend of mine. I had both Ward and his son Mitch as students during my tenure here. Mitch is the Marine I wrote about in Youngsters, and there we were, Chris and me talking with Ward about public service in the rain.

Tomorrow Chris is going to get back into his unit and drive to Kingman to continue his field training and I’ll be in my office prepping for my fifty-first semester with an added layer of nostalgia and a precarious appreciation for the years gone by.

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