Friday, August 31, 2007

Michael Reardon

Sometimes, I am struck by the munificence of humanity, moved to tears by unremitting or undeserved compassion, struck by those who are larger than life, who give of themselves with an expansiveness of the soul, whole-hearted enthusiasm that comes from a place I admire but rarely emulate.

Sometimes, I am struck by the end of a life that shouldn’t have ended. A news story about a 77-year-old cyclist killed while riding his bike on a city street. A young soldier with PTSD who commits suicide. A man and a mountain, repeated so many times, with the mountain the victor.

Michael Reardon was both larger than life, and a life that shouldn’t have ended. I was introduced to him through controversy, a round of letters questioning the veracity of his accomplishments, published several years ago in a climbing magazine. Struck and influenced by the vehemence of the letter content, I, too, thought he must be the poser that was alluded to over and over again. For a brief while, I had the armchair enthusiasts lip curl of cynicism whenever I saw his name in print. For a brief while only, thankfully, because the force of his personality, bursting from the written page, was enough to make me dubiously doubt the naysayers, and then to do a complete turn around in admirance of this cocky, beautiful, elemental, rebellious life-force.

Michael Reardon was a climber who performed his craft no holds barred, passionate and heart felt. And, from what I’ve read, he lived his life the same way. I haven’t climbed much recently, due to an almost absurd concentration on the sport of triathlon (Christmas ‘06 futzing up slabby granite in Texas hill country. Prior to that, summer ’05, watching my climbing buddy and forever partner, cartwheel flip off of greasy volcanic rock in a muddy, humid tropical jungle, feeling the pop of a piece pulled, yarding in rope faster than my brain could keep up, and the thankful catch), but I keep up with the sport in a loose, armchair fashion. Michael was somebody who could make my heart beat a little faster, not in the way that I used to feel when I devoured teen idol magazines in the early 70’s, but his enthusiasm for life just seemed to jump off the page and right into my being. He reminded me of Kenny Souza, who raced 1980’s biathlons with the same rock star mien and the same lion’s mane of hair.

If I am any indication, Michael gave to the common man.
His life wasn’t defined by what I or anyone else thought of it. He lived uncensored and unfettered. There are other people like him, who have touched my life merely by living their life to the fullest, but they don’t happen everyday. That individualist can drive you a little nuts, but it may just be that person who gives you something that you’ll never forget. A munificent force of character. A munificent force of life.

Michael Reardon was a free soloist climber, a professional, one of the few in the world. He would climb up rock walls without a rope, without protection, without any way to stop a fall, if a fall should happen. He solo’d crazy hard, and lived just as crazy hard. He believed in himself one hundred percent.

Michael Reardon was born in 1974. He was educated in philosophy, political science, and law. He worked in Hollywood and was passionate about filmmaking (Casper, Richie Rich, Cabin Fever are ones that have name recognition).

Michael Reardon was married to his best friend, and was a devoted husband and father.

On July 13th, 2007, he was hit by a rogue wave and swept out to sea while on the coast in Ireland. He is missing and presumed dead.

Friday, August 24, 2007


Marisa was beautiful. A Mexicana. Pale skin, dark hair. Creamy, bright red lipstick. Perfect, white teeth. A full laugh, where all you could see was the reddest lipstick and whitest teeth you had ever seen.

Marisa lived in a house on Fulton Street, just across the street from Golden Gate Park. To get there, you would take the #28 bus, get off on 14th, cross the street, and walk three blocks east. The bus would stop running at 1:00 a.m. One night when we were at the bus stop, a gang of Asian men came up, knocked Jimmy to the ground, and kicked him in the head. It happened so quick. They moved up to him, stepping in between us girls as if we weren’t even there, and the littlest, runtiest one started yelling in his face. For a moment, we were a tableau, then the yelling and the kicking, and we froze while Jimmy let out an unearthly scream curled into a ball like a baby, and then they were gone. They left so quick, that if you blinked, you might have missed it.

There were always men around that house on Fulton street: young, light skinned Mexican men, with names like Hectar and Cesar, with trim beards and shaggy not-too-long hair. Seven alien young Mexicans lived there. Two women. The other woman was the girlfriend of one of the men. She and her boyfriend lived in the front room, with the three paneled Victorian style windows. They had a waterbed and a couple of chairs. The rest of the men doubled up, dorm style, twin beds in every room, a dresser, and not much else. Sometimes they would play songs like Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side. None of the men worked a regular job, but they got by.

Marisa would get ready to go to work. She wore chunky, baby blue high heeled strappy platform sandals, and a white wisp of a baby doll summer dress--just barely long enough to cover what she needed. Marisa sparkled. She was jaunty. She had long, lean bare legs, which just went up forever, disappearing under that wispy top, right at that point when there was nothing left to disappear.

Marisa was 22. I remember her laugh. She had this long-limbed, loose way about her. She would get herself ready for work, sashay down the long flight of wooden steps, the air shimmering wherever she had been. When she left, suddenly the house was just full of dark, shuffling shapes, quart sized beer bottles, and ashtrays overflowing with yellowed cigarette butts. Marisa would go to work every night. She didn’t use birth control. I never knew anyone that could shine so bright.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

One of my favorite stories:


The Associated Press

TOKYO-A Japanese man thought he would try something new--snorkeling--for his 70th birthday and ended up in a 19-hour swim for his life after being swept out to sea by a strong tide, a maritime official said Tuesday.

Hideo Murasugi set off on his first snorkeling expedition at noon Sunday at a reef on the southern Japan island of Ishigaki, about 1000 miles south of Tokyo.

His family reported him missing when he didn't return that evening and authorities sent out a search party, according to Ishigaki Maritime Safety Department spokesman Kazuo Toji.

Murasugi swam ashore unassisted Monday morning after spending the night dog-paddling and floating in the water while he waited for the tide to turn. Nineteen hours after entering the water, he made it to shore, Toji said.

Murasugi told officials he had been swept out to sea but realized he was not far from shore when night fell and he was still able to see lights.

"I'm very sorry to have troubled you," Toji quoted Murasugi as saying. "Having snorkeled for my first time, I've experienced enough marine leisure for a lifetime."

I like this story for it's under-stated expression.

About 15 years ago, I went night diving off Mokuleia, on the north shore of Oahu. I went with a couple of people I didn't know too well (OK--yes, there's a lesson in that one...), and at a location I was unfamiliar with. We surface swam out from shore, dropped down, and were immediately picked up by a rip current. It was sudden and shocking, too quick to react. All I can remember is being tumbled end over end, in a tangle of my own limbs, and my partner tumbling next to me. I remember seeing the bottom rushing by--like when you're little and hanging your head outside of a car window or over the back of a truck bed, and seeing the asphalt rush by, up close and hypnotic. At some point, we were spit out into a calmness, and my partner signaled to surface, which we both did.

I remember the inky blackness and the motion of the dark sea. We had no frame of reference. We were out in the ocean, in the middle of the Pacific. We weren't in a bay, and the island curved away from us as the shore rounded a point of land away and to the right of us. We had chosen to dive in a sparsely populated area--an empty YMCA camp, a few vacation rental cabins, the remainder a small airfield, one homestead cabin on the mountain/mauka side of the road, and then nothing but an impassable dirt trek which lead around Kaena point (the location that Lost is filmed in, by the way).

I remember the gently buffeting movement of the water and the realization that we didn't know where we were. Gradually, we reoriented ourselves, and our eyes adjusted. As we floated for what seemed forever, but was probably only moments, as time stretched and seemed to stand still, we discerned a distant whiteness, and beyond that, a few distant scattered lights. Given a direction, we suddenly had a purpose. As there was no way I was going down into that water again, we surface swam--which in diving consists of streamlining the upper body with arms at your sides and kicking--and kept our eyes on the dim whiteness and lights. I remember being thankful for the large, stiff fins I had on--far too large and stiff for a small, irregular diver like myself. I was thankful for my strong legs and large quadriceps. I was thankful for my calm mind. I was thankful for the lights.

In time, I realized that the dim whiteness was the foam of waves breaking onto the offshore reef. As I fatigued, all I wanted to do was reach those waves and surf my way in to shore. I didn't think about the reef, or how large the waves might be--I just focused on a consistent, smooth, rhythmic kick and on conserving my energy. We were lucky, and actually made our way in through a channel in the waves, across a calm lagoon inside the reef, and dragged ourselves up onto the sandy beach.

The ocean lends a calmness and a cradle, even as it can gently take your life. I have no idea how I would react to 19 hours in the water solo. Those distant lights must have been very comforting to Mr. Murasugi, as they were for me. After 19 hours in the water, I, too, might decide that was enough "marine leisure" for a lifetime.

Mr. Murasugi truly does illustrate the adage that life is 10% of what happens to you and 90% of how you react to it.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Vignette: A Term of Endearment

(Advise to the Reader: The Japanese included is phonetic. I was unable to verify the accuracy of the phrase. "Dezi" is a pseudonym and a composite of several individuals)

I didn’t really know what to think when Dezi started to tell me to "drop dead."
A week or so later, he was telling me to:
"Drop dead."
"Drop dead. Right now."

"Shinjimae imas!!"

Dezi is 80 years old.
He spent 30 months in Japan during WWII, living in Tokyo, chasing girls. His favorite was Consuelo, a young Japanese woman, whose father had lived in Mexico. Dezi is recovering from an illness. He has pulmonary disease. He stumps along with an unsteady gait, feet apart for balance, carrying an oxygen tank in one hand. He has a wide, blue-eyed gaze, as if he’s not quite sure how he got here.

Dezi worries me.
He is round, but he used to be rounder. Dezi is solidly built—but he fatigues easily. His heart has had to work hard for a long time. At night, he has trouble breathing, and he doesn’t get enough oxygen. He is supposed to wear a breathing machine, but he says it "blows too hard." Even after the machine was adjusted, he says he just can’t do it. This means that every night, his heart—the muscle that powers his body—doesn’t get enough oxygen.

Dezi retains CO2.
Our normal breathing patterns allow us to take in oxygen, and blow out excess CO2. Dezi’s breathing patterns are not normal. The extra CO2 makes him groggy and, sometimes, he appears slightly bewildered. Some days he tells me that he doesn’t feel too good, but usually, he blusters through, speaking in an outburst of short emphatic sentences. As we get to know each other, he speaks more and more Japanese. He takes pride as the language returns, speaks rings around my limited vocabulary. "Hai," I agree, and bow my head. Recently, I notice, he speaks more Japanese then English. "Don’t you know that?" He says to me, happy to have beat me again, at his very own game.

"Shinjimae" is his favorite word. He used to tell me to drop dead every time we spent time together. Now, he actively seeks me out, even on those days when he is with someone else. "Shinjimae" he calls over the clamor of people and voices, his wide eyes gaze straining to see me, speaking around the people I am speaking to.

What does it mean when someone tells you to drop dead every time they see you? I used to be taken aback by his sudden, emphatic delivery, caught by surprise by the strength of his voice and the repeated content of his favorite phrase. Once was a joke. Multiple times made me wonder. Now, as Dezi’s vocabulary increases, and he walks with a stronger step, I point and smile, and reply "Ichiban." I don’t know how often, or how much longer, he will get to hear it.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Happy birthday

First day of a new blog.

How easy it is to dream--and how abruptly chastened the dream when hit with the reality of a blank page.

Suddenly, those high thoughts of cerebral exploration, and celestial musings, grand "ah ha's" and prose to serve the heavens, grind to a halt.
I truly am my father's daughter.
The difference is he didn't learn about the chastening of the blank page until he was 50. He held that chastening close inside, turning a blind eye, unwilling to lose his dreams, and spent his days whirling with ideas, in that heady space of a writer who is unable to commit to the page.

The reality is that I write mostly in my mind, in the half twilight between sleep and wakefulness, novels and documentaries, exposes, New Yorker investigative articles, my autobiography complete with annotated footnotes, sidebars, and poetry.

Kirk Douglas, in his sixth book, wrote: "Everyone should write his or her own autobiography. It doesn't have to be published; in writing it, you will get to know yourself. We are so busy living that we don't stop to take inventory. It's important to take inventory of your life to know what you've done that is good, and what you've down that is bad The way to grow in life is to know where you are and where you want to go. Writing an autobiography can make you a better person."

Therefore, I am here. Musing on self improvement. And staying up far past my bed time. Thank you, Mr. Douglas. Really. Your words goosed those incomplete inspirative imaginings, and have birthed them onto a page.

So, now--What to do with a blog?

Musings and blog exploration by the numbers:

  1. Questing for creativity, perfection, beauty, and balance, in a workaholic, triathlon obsessed world (or maybe, that's a triathlon, work obsessed world...)

  2. Staving off age and infirmity

  3. Wondering how in the world did I get here from "there"

  4. Books! Books! And more books!

  5. Am I really OK? And, what can I do about it.

  6. Shouting accomplishments from the rooftops?

  7. Riotous everything

  8. How to avoid negativity

  9. Health

And, finally

10. Maybe now I'll keep a journal.

Mostly I think I need to take inventory to prevent the forgetting.

There are over half a million minutes of sight, sound, sniff, and feel, a year.
How many minutes will I never know again?