Tom Hoffarth / Farther Off the Wall
The second Friday in January has somehow been designated as “National Quitters Day.”
That’s today. Quit reading at this point and apparently you’re all good. Read on, and you’ve resolved to do some good.
“Quitters Day,” we’re told, marks the moment when all those stooges who proclaimed a list of New Year’s Resolutions at the start of the calendar year are likely to give up. About 80 percent, studies say, tap out less than two weeks in.
Sketchy research leads us to believe that it was the Babyloians who ions ago babied themselves into using the vernal equinox as an excuse to lean into their two-faced Roman god, Janus. He could hopefully show them a methodology to look back on what happened for historical reference and then gaze at the future to lay the foundation for a new beginning.
Face it, this can all be a self-imposed sanctimonious shitshow.
Above: On January 1, 1943, folk music legend Woody Guthrie jotted in his journal a list of 33 “New Years Rulin’s.” The expectation to “write a song a day” may have been as easy for him to accomplish as his goal to “change socks” and “love everybody.”
If there’s modern science behind the resolution strategy, we can reference Rolling Stone explaining how it’s about having an organizer with weekly planning pages mapped out as check points for weeks and month ahead. Personal health is an important foundation to achieving anything, too. And then start with just drinking more water. A CNN story suggests making it fun instead of punitive, and don’t hammer yourself too much if you get tripped up once and awhile.
Then drink more water. Because that’s a good thing.
One can also focus on “resolutions of the soul” since, again, our human shell isn’t always cooperative. That means find places of quiet, tune out all the news chatter, and enhance your social network. This also folds into a New York Times’ recent presentation of a “7 Day Happiness Challenge,” which we admit has been somewhat productive to this point.
Peace, love, mercy, balance. When a decision arises — sleep or make coffee, read or run a marathon — we can size it up against those tentposts and have some context as to how this could enhance, or detract, from the journey of perfection.
The bottom line here is it seems like bad karma to up and quit anything on a Friday the 13th. We’ll pivot and take this a new launching point. Our focus on four simple things for the newish-’23, considering it an odd-numbered year that follows up a couple of years that left many us feeling uneven, simplifies the target.
See if there’s anything here worth fighting for as we stay hydrated:
2023 Resolution No. 1: Challenge the Circle of Strife
Above: We launched ourselves into the Los Alamitos Traffic Circle a couple days ago. In the rain. The choice of music on the radio in the background is pure coincidence. Hope there is no copyright issues with that.
In a roundabout way, we face daily challenges and take a win when we can get it. Driving through a roundabout conjures a whole other circular argument of what success, failure and just entering a hamster wheel means.
Corollas to the left of me, Jaguars to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle.
These traffic devices are increasingly popular based on the belief that, when two more major highways meet, eliminate all the traffic signals and give everyone the right away. What could possibly go wrong?
It makes sense if you’ve been sitting at a red light for three minutes and there’s no other cross traffic. Just you. There. Alone. Not wanting to risk a ticket or hit a right-of-way squirrel.
In a passive-aggressive way, these counterintuitive contraptions have been secretively wedged into our local neighborhood street grid. They’re cute. Like a mini-Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Like this one here near Miramar Park in Redondo Beach/Torrance.
The intent is noble. Results may vary. Side effects include nausea, anxiety and a will to just keep turning left until dizziness subsides. They put one of them near a friend’s house in Redondo Beach, and eventually took it out. The neighbors found it to be too random for their routine of simply stopping and looking both ways at the intersection for the last 40 years.
In some circles, these things are called traffic circles, because their breadth and depth is less intimidating. They can act as the training wheels before one gets up the nerve to circumnavigate an officially sanctioned roundabout. That’s a real experience in nerve damage.
We often encounter the Keep It Weird Windward Circle that exists in Venice, leading into the main entrance signage, gateway to the equally insane boardwalk. That seems appropriate as paying homage to traffic circles in Europe. Main Street, Windward Avenue and Grand Avenue all feed into, and out of it with five challenging crosswalks marked for those inclined to traverse it without a car.
But locally, the grandmother of them all in Southern California is known as the Los Alamitos Circle, a hub on the Google Map in Long Beach where Pacific Coast Highway meets Lakewood Boulevard meets the Los Coyotes Diagonal, with Ximeno Avenue getting in the way.
On paper, it may look like a fine geometric design for a Spirograph. In real life, it has the feel as if it was schemed by a group of evil engineers who took Dante’s “Inferno” to heart with concentric circles of torment.
At 470 feet in diameter, handling some 6,000 vehicles funneling in and out of it per hours, the suggested rate of 30 miles per hour is what one must know going in.
Go slower, or faster, and you become the problem. It’s like your heart – this is a circulation issue. If you stop, you’re dead.
It’s a heart attack waiting to happen, basically.
The U.S. Department of Transportation put out a 26-page report verifying its usefulness. It all comes down to math. There are 32 conflict points when accidents can occur in a normal signaled intersection. In a roundabout, there are eight. That’s a 75 percent reduction.
In ’93, the Los Alamitos Circle was modified, modernized and reclassified from traffic circle to roundabout by Caltrans. That means, in 2023, it will mark 30 years since the official conversion.
How can we properly mark the occasion and conquer this beautifully beastly design? What is the best way to honor this thing without literally running circles around it?
We’ve been inspired by recent news.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that a 21-year-old fellow named Tate Dobson, feeling restless one day, ran clockwise around a 460-foot-in-circumfrence roundabout in downtown Healdsburg, which funnels in Highway 101 as part of its arteries. His Strava app showed he logged 415 laps, converting to 36 miles.
We landed on a story from 2015 that claimed a 64-year-old software developer in Indiana “set a world record” by driving around a roundabout in a 1987 VW Cabriolet. He went for more than three hours, 34 minutes, covering more than 65 miles. Something called RecordSetter.com decided this was a worthy achievement. In 2019, the same guy got two more of his pals to join in and used the same car to drive the roundabout over a 24-hour period. The World Record Academy acknowledged this.
Doing this in a car while wasting valuable gas seems extremely counterproductive. But the bottom line is there seems to be a record waiting to be set at the this site. Walking, biking or skateboarding seem more appropriate. Or finding a way to the grass area in the nucleus and firing up a BBQ is more like it. Until local authorities try to shut it down.
Circle the date on a calendar and we’ll figure out what’s best to try something useful. Suggestions?
OK: One more loop on the Los Alamitos Circle, with a different sound track, just to show we’re still trying to stay out of trouble:
2023 Resolution No. 2: Find Comfort in Country Music
You picked a fine time to leave me, Garth.
For the last 50 years, we’ve managed to resist the existence of country music, and we’ve thanked our lucky stars for that. That us, until we were worn down with an appreciation of what was playing on Sirius XM Channel 55, which had been known as the Garth Brooks Channel.
But it is no more. We now realize were we just being strung along to sell tickets to his concerts since 2016.
We became hooked by his eclectic selection of songs and recording artists that played into his own tunes. There was a mesh of history and borrowing and sampling we found entertaining and educational.
Now that it’s gone, what can replace it and continue this teachable moment? Dwight Yoakum’s Bakersfield Beat Channel SXM Channel 349 works. Fiddle de de.
Bakersfield is not just a three-hour drive north of us, but it’s kinda newsworthy. Aside from the U.S. congressmen representing the 20th district of California – that’s the Southern Central Valley that includes parts of Bakersfield – finally begging his way in as Speaker of the House (there’s got to be an approrpriate country song for that), two of his constituents were in the news when they accidentally set themselves on fire trying to burn down an immigration center in Bakersfield. Surveillance cameras caught it all. Damn technology.
Bakersfield is the place we think of when when mentally filing through the catalogue of the Rolling Stones. “Far Away Eyes” off the “Some Girls” album begins:
“I was driving home early Sunday morning through Bakersfield
Listening to gospel music on the colored radio station
And the preacher said, you know you always have the Lord by your side
And I was so pleased to be informed of this that I ran
Twenty red lights in his honor
Thank you Jesus, thank you Lord”
Imagine listening to that on the radio while in a roundabout with no red lights to run.
Channeling Dwight Yocum, you’ll get the marketing phrase: “From the dust bowl to the Hollywood Bowl.” Merle Haggard, Roy Orbison, Glen Campbell and Ricky Nelson, sure. But the Bakersfield Beat is also the Everly Brothers trying to sing Little Richard’s “Lucille,” to Linda Ronstandt powering through Tom Petty’s “The Waiting.” Eddie Cochran doing “Sittin’ In the Balcony,” followed by the Flying Burrito Brothers’ “Image of Me.” It’s a string of songs that can start with Neil Young’s “Cowgirl In The Sand,” Fuzzy Owen doing “Arkie’s Got Her Shoes On,” the Monkey’s “I’m A Believer,” the Byrds doing “Time Between,” Buddy Holly’s “That’ll be the Day,” to Dave Alvin and the Blasters screaming out “I’m Shakin’.” And then Yocum coming on to connect the dots and even trying to pull off his own version of “Act Naturally” (almost better than Ringo Starr) or “Suspicious Minds” (not even close to Elvis). They are all songs you can imagine Bruce Springsteen singing in concert because they struck a chord with him.
All things considered, it wouldn’t be a surprise to hear something by Tiny Tim or the Butthole Surfers connected somehow on this channel.
Maybe it was a recent trip to Nashville, and heading into the Country Music Hall of Fame building if only to escape the taxing July humidity, when our appreciation took another step forward. A couple nights walking past honky tonks showed an authentic appreciation of all sorts of music genres merging together to hear one big glorious party.
I’m a believer. Can I get another glass of water to go with that PBR and hot chicken sandwich?
2023 Resolution No. 3: Reel in “Moby-Dick”
No more dickin’ around. Just lifting all 600-plus pager with its 136 chapters for weight training isn’t enough.
The artwork alone on the covers this book has had since its 1851 publishing by Harper Brothers is quite impressive enough.
The Atlantic’s Iland Masad posted a story headlined: “Six Classic Books That Live Up To Their Reputation.” They are lengthy novels, “but they lavishly reward the time and effort you put into them.”
One of them is Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick.” The review goes: “Like many young adults, Ishmael, the narrator of Melville’s grand adventure of the body and mind, is feeling restless and has little money in his purse. The only solution, as far as he’s concerned, is to go to sea and experience a life away from shore. The ship he chooses sets sail on Christmas, but he’s eager: ‘Spite of this frigid winter night in the boisterous Atlantic, spite of my wet feet and wetter jacket, there was yet, it then seemed to me, many a pleasant haven in store.’ Although Moby-Dick is eventful (seafaring is no picnic), it’s also an exploration of the mind of one man as he throws himself into the unknown. Ishmael’s captain, Ahab, is driven by a single desire: catching the whale that bit off part of his leg. Ishmael, in contrast, is curious and open-minded, eager to learn and experience all that he can.
It also points out that in recent years, Moby-Dick’s fandom has expanded, “perhaps because the book provides both an escape from the world and a deep immersion in it, whales and all.” So it has that going for it.
(That link above to what’s “expanded” was a regular post of book excerpts on Twitter. As that link indicates, it has now migrated over to Mastodon. We’ve dumped Twitter as well, but aren’t sure yet where else we may find cyber-camaraderie. Any suggestions?)
We committed to this whale blubbering only because of a training-wheels entry point with another book, “Why Read Moby-Dick?” by Nathaniel Philbrick (Viking, 2011, 144 pages). Philbrick admits he was named after Nathaniel Hawthorne, who became friends with Melville, and it’s one of the 28 chapters he includes as to why this book should be not just read, but enjoyed.
We’re up to page 63 at the moment, to Chapter 12. We’ve enjoyed the story about how Ishmael came to meet Queequeg, and can appreciate the line: “Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.”
Proactively drinking water also helps avoid any hangover, no matter what your disposition.
2023 Resolution No. 4: Go Awesome
We often cringe hearing misuse of the word “awesome.” It has always been our belief, as we were taught, that something “awesome” is to be in awe of a God-related circumstance. The sunrise. The sunset. The Grand Canyon. The birth of a child.
From “The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm: A Lexicon for Those of Us Who Are Better and Smarter Than the Rest of You” comes this definition:
The Bible uses the word “awesome” more than three dozen times, and almost all of them refer to God, and all but one of them is in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word means, among other things, to show reverence, to honor, to respect, to inspire reverence or godly fear or awe.
“God is clothed with awesome majesty.” (Job 37:22). “Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man.” (Ps 66:5)
In his new book that we are reading, “Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life,” UC Berkeley professor of psychology and meaningful life expert Dacher Keltner takes a deeper dive into why things that awe us are important on so many levels. From nature, to art, to even sports.
He connects with Steve Kerr, the current coach of the Golden State Warriors, who talks about “the visceral awe” he remembers being at a UCLA basketball game when he was a teenager in 1973: The No. 1 Bruins, amidst an 88-game win streak, held on to beat No. 2 Maryland by one point. With only four seconds left, the Bruins’ Dave Meyers stole the ball from Maryland’s John Lucas and UCLA’s streak was preserved.
“Steve recalls the visceral awe he felt at the game,” Keltner writes. “The pulsing sound of the brass band. The cheerleaders moving in unisoin leading throngs of fans in waves of cheers. The astonishing size and grace of the UCLA players. The students and fans signing the school song, chanting, clapping and roaring in harmony with the game. And amid this moving in unison, collective feeling and shared attention, Steve saw a golden wave of light that moved across the tubas, trumpets and trombones in the UCLA band.”
We’ve been to enough sporting events, live and in person, immersed in the pageantry, to forget to look for those things.
Awe is also supposed to improve your health. Awe wasn’t one of the six basic emotions — anger, surprise, disgust, enjoyment, fear and sadness — once identified back in 1972, Dr. Keltner said. But new research shows that awe “is its own thing,” he said.
That resonated while sitting quietly sitting in church this past Christmas morning. The sun coming out of the south stained-glass window cast a light pattern onto the wall next to the altar and the statue of Jesus Christ, with his arms extended, cast a shadow onto it, as if leading us by hand through the rainbow.
It would only last a couple of minutes because the sun would move, or a cloud would some by, and it was gone. I raised my phone and took the picture quickly so as to not interrupt anyone’s moment, and capture this one for me.
We’ve yet to see the Grand Canyon up close and personal and fear my time is running out to do so. Don’t want to call it a “bucket list” thing, because that intimates it’s something just to be checked off. We want to set aside the time and commitment, knowing we may have to just do this trip alone some weekend because no one else in my traffic circle seems to have the same urgency anymore to go there.
Until then, I’ll watch the 1991 movie “Grand Canyon” again and pretend.
And drink lots of water. Without quitting.