Fitness, Food, Feet, and Frustration

Gaah. Back on track with fitness and eating habits. And off track. And on again. And off, and on… D’oh.

I’ve decided (again) to finally lose some extra pounds. I was at 179. My goal is to get to 159 by early November (a pound a week). I’ll be testing for nidan (second degree black belt) in late February if all goes according to plan, and it would be great to spend those last 4 months of intensive training in better shape, and with 20 fewer pounds to haul around. I’ve been logging everything for a week now and have dropped a few pounds already. I should do a “before” body composition DEXA scan, so I can see how much progress I’ve made later.

At the same time, my right foot has been bothering me. Hurting under the ball of the foot if I walk barefoot on a hard floor (the mat at the dojo is fine, thank goodness). It’s been going on at a low level for at least a year, but now my toes are going numb if I stand still for more than a couple of minutes, and I’m feeling buzzing/twitching in the surrounding muscles and skin. I do have peripheral neuropathy, but this isn’t that. I think I’ve got some nerve pinching going on.

Because of the PN I hate wearing closed shoes. They are so painful that I didn’t even make it out of the parking lot when we went to our big local fair last week before I turned around and went back to the car to switch to my flip-flops. Way better from the PN perspective – ahhh – but walking in them for 8 hours was probably not the best thing for the structural issue. So that’s been annoying. I’ve been limping, holding tension, and compensating, and that makes everything else hurt, too. I’m seeing my chiropractor today (anyway) and will ask his advice, and am searching for a good sports podiatrist.

Empire and Aces Kettlebell Strength Tee Shirt

Meanwhile, I signed up for a one-day StrongFirst Kettlebell Course! It’s on July 15, so I need to get a little bit warmed up for it by then. It’s appropriate for “beginners” but I think their idea of a beginner is someone at a pretty high level of fitness. I’m really looking forward to it. This is the only course in the area all year. The only other one on the west coast is in Santa Maria in December. I would like to go on to do their SFG I Kettlebell Certification course in March 2018, too, so the July one-day thing is a must-do.

The only uh-oh there is that I realized I train barefoot on a mat at home, but in the class I’ll have to wear shoes on a hard floor. Shit. So over the next few days I’ll be trying out my collection of unused walking/running shoes to see which might be tolerable.

And yesterday I was having a really discouraged day, ’cause my foot hurt, even sitting with it up much of the day, and icing it. But I went to class (which usually helps everything), counting on having a pleasant evening, training with friends, and getting 2 hours of exercise (which already entered in MyNetDiary). Managed to drop a partner’s knee smack on the outside edge of my right foot. &#$@. No real damage done, just bruising, but painful enough that I sat out both classes icing it. So no exercise for the day. Then I went home even more discouraged and ate too much. *headdesk*

Today is another day. The side of my foot feels better – only tender if I touch it. I will survive a day of wearing shoes in two weeks. (Funny how I’m more concerned about that than about 8 hours of playing with kettlebells.) I will eat better today (even though tonight is date night). Get off track seven times? Get back on track eight, dammit.


Photo: This is of one of my favorite tee shirts, by my Aikido-and-fitness friend Victoria Pitt of Empire & Aces. Victoria is a Personal Coach and Trainer/Manager of combat sport athletes in the Chicago area.

All That Time! Planning the Path to Nidan.

Ahh, free time! I’ve known for days that I’d have a few hours on my own this evening. Michael was to be off at a pub playing traditional Irish music with his friends and wouldn’t be back until late. A whole, spacious evening to myself. Imagine what I could get done!

Here’s what’s been going on in my mind: That will be the perfect, uninterrupted block of time to catch up on work. And I can finally plant the basil, oregano, and sage that are waiting in their pots out front. I should refinish my new jo (wooden staff) so I can start using it at the dojo. I’ll pick up groceries after open mat, get my laundry going, and make a big salad. When it cools off maybe I’ll take a walk-jog around the neighborhood. And I have to deposit a check, pay a few bills, and get the dishwasher going. I could write for a while, practice guitar, or watch some Aikido videos.

If that sounds like enough to keep me busy for a week, you’re right. The me who writes to-do lists and manages my calendar is an ambitious optimist. Task triage is an everyday occurrence. And even with modest plans there are all kinds of little things that interfere. Shopping took longer than I imagined. It’s too hot for a walk, and it’s staying that way. Michael’s plans changed, too. He’ll be home hours earlier than usual.

In the end I’ve managed to buy groceries and make my salad. It looks like I may have a enough time to finish this post – if I hurry – and feed the cats. I’ll have to catch up on work during the week. Laundry can wait until morning.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

There is something about having a discrete amount of free time in my sites that lends itself to overcommitting. Or over-planning, I suppose. I imagine that left to my own devices for an entire day I will be able to finally clean out the garage, go for a hike, train with my friends, shop for groceries, make myself a healthy dinner, and get to bed at a reasonable hour. A whole week on my own? Maybe I could go for invigorating walks every morning, then spend a solid chunk of time writing before focusing for hours on client work. I could complete all those unfinished projects, declutter my life, write in my training journal, get in touch with old friends, and develop better life habits I’ll carry with me for years.

In the same way that one can spend gift or bonus money several times over, I find it all too easy to dream up multiple conflicting uses for a single block of time.

I forget to allow for the mundane details of life — hours spent updating software, the time it takes to shower, dress, unload the dishwasher, make coffee, and eat breakfast, the unplanned hour of effort required for cleaning up the from an ant invasion in the kitchen or unclogging the drain in the bathroom sink. Add an important long talk with a friend or an urgent trip to the store for cat food, and before I know it, my day or week is coming to a close. I may have only gotten a few of the things on my list done. If I’m lucky. Add to the mix one minor disaster – a computer issue, unexpected household maintenance chore, or a tight muscle or mild head cold, and things fall apart even more quickly.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This isn’t a new pattern. In the late 1990s Michael and I went to Ireland for a vacation. Two whole weeks with nothing to get in our way! We figured we would drive for a few hours each morning, arriving in the next small town with plenty of time to settle into our B&B, enjoy the afternoon, and see the local sites. I would find a hack stable and go horseback riding, then we would have dinner together before Michael joined in playing music at the local pub.

That was the plan, anyway. The reality was that travel between each town was slow. We were late getting out after breakfast. The roads were small and winding, and there were things to see along the way. For the first couple of days we skidded into town after the shops had closed, just in time for a quick bite before hitting a pub for some tunes.

We quickly realized we were attempting too much. We cut out every other stop to allow a full day in each town. Even at that, our trip was rushed and hectic. During my probably once-in-a-lifetime visit to the best horseback riding country in the world, I only managed to arrange two hour-long hacks. On top of it all, we both got brutally ill with some kind of respiratory ailment the last few days, coughing so badly we feared we must have kept the whole house awake. So much for fitting everything into just two weeks.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Now, 20 years later, here I am looking forward to my nidan exam – the test for second-degree black belt. It was originally scheduled for early December 2017, which seemed like time enough to prepare. I’ve known for a couple of months that I would be testing around the end of the year. I have been giving myself time to pause, looking inward, considering what I want to demonstrate, and what I want to get from this period of intensive training.

Then circumstances changed. The date was pushed out to late February 2018 – coincident with a big seminar. Almost three additional months to train. All that time! Eight months from this weekend. Eight long, glorious, spacious months, filled with potential. All the time in the world.

Just think of it! I’ll be able to really polish my empty-hand techniques. Kaeshi-waza (reversals) will feel natural and smooth.  I’ll spend weeks refining my weapons work, even the partner practices. I’ll demonstrate responses to some attacks we don’t do as often, just to spice things up. And meditation – of course I’ll be doing that regularly. I’ll even get the sleeves of my gi hemmed, and well before my test, too, not at the last minute.

Uh-oh. Where I have seen this before?

Maybe this is the real challenge. Maybe that’s a breakthrough this phase of my training holds for me. To envision a reasonable amount of work. Of course I’ll train diligently. Of course I’ll aspired to do my absolute best. But maybe I can devise a plan that allows for the intrusions of reality, one that supports me in calmly accomplishing exactly what I set out to do. That would be a real achievement.

Event announcement: “Aikido at the Leading Edge” FREE tele-summit

There is a significant international 10-day event in the Aikido world, happening from Friday, May 12th, and happening daily through Sunday, May 21st: “Aikido at the Leading Edge.” It’s open to anyone – Aikido practitioners, or folks just curious about the art and its applications in the world. I’m part of the street team helping to spread the word*, and I hope you’ll participate in some (or all!) of the sessions. I’m pulling together a bunch in info here, so it’s all in one place.

“Aikido at the Leading Edge” is an online video conference event with two to five  (mostly four) 90-minute sessions each day. It features over 40 teachers in keynotes, interviews, panel discussions, and workshops. You can see the complete schedule about halfway down the event page. Don’t worry if you’ve missed some of it – once you sign up you can go back and watch those sessions at any time during the 10-day event, so it’s not too late!

You can pick and choose.

If there are just a couple of subjects of interest, that’s fine. It’s FREE, for heaven’s sake! And if you can’t make the session times you can still watch them afterward, also FREE, during the 10 days of the event. Nothing like this – of this scope – has never happened before, and who knows if it ever will again. There will be Q&A opportunities with the speakers, and breakouts where you’ll discuss and explore in small groups of people from around the world. It’s a natural and fun way to meet with others around the globe.

The 40+ teachers – a who’s who of Aikido:

The tele-summit is being led by Miles Kessler Sensei, a leader in the Aikido community who many of us at Aikido of San Diego have trained with in various seminars, including our Evolutionary Aikido retreats at Joshua Tree. The 40+ teachers are an international who’s who of Aikido from a variety of lineages and perspectives. The line-up includes my own teacher, Dave Goldberg Sensei, plus a few teachers in other arts. There are authors, people who bring Aikido principles into business, education, and other areas, some who specialize in embodiment, psychiatrists and psychologists, video and documentary producers, etc. Richard Strozzi-Heckler, Wendy Palmer, Christian Tissier, Robert Frager, Mark Walsh, John Stevens (yes, the one who translated “The Art of Peace,” that little book everyone has), Kayla Feder, Richard Moon, Roy Dean, Teja Bell… You can see the complete list of presenters at the event page, and click each of their photos to see their own websites and bios. (I just discovered that cool feature a moment ago!)

Many of the sessions cover topics of interest to anyone – not just Aikido practitioners – about work, community, relationship, etc., plus some interesting philosophical explorations. I think the workshop on “Stress and Peacemaking” with Paul Linden Sensei could be valuable to anyone.  There will be keynotes, panel discussions, interviews, and workshops. I hope people of all persuasions – not just martial arts people – will join in.

Here’s the list of sessions as of Thursday:

Each session is about 90-minutes long, including the speakers, breakout sessions, and Q&A. I’ve intentionally left off the times, as things may change. Please refer to the event website for the up-to-date schedule.

DAY ONE: Friday, May 12th

Opening Keynote Address – Miles Kessler | “Aikido’s Emerging Paradigm”
Workshop w/ Patrick Cassidy & Miles Kessler | “Evolutionary Aikido”

DAY 2: Saturday, May 13th

Interview – Robert Frager Sensei | “The Ego’s Journey Towards Wholeness Through Aikido”
Interview – John Stevens Sensei | “O Sensei’s Vision For Aikido”

DAY 3: Sunday, May 14th

Panel Discussion: “Spitting Out The Bones – On A Post-Japanese Aikido Culture” | w/ Teja “Fudomyo” Bell, Richard Moon, Patrick Cassidy, & Miles Kessler
Panel Discussion: “The Uke/Nage Relationship: Why We Need Each Other To Evolve” – Dr. Dirk Muller, Judith Elza, Sonja Sauer, Miles Kessler
Interview – Linda Holiday Sensei | “Journey To The Heart Of Aikido”
Workshop: Paul Linden – “Stress and Peacemaking” << If you don’t want to do everything, at least do this one!

DAY 4: Monday, May 15th

Workshop w/ Dominique Cassidy – “Aikido & Meditation”
Interview – Kimberly Richardson Sensei
Panel Discussion: “Aikido And Peace Making” | w/ Aiki Extensions teachers Paul Linden, Question Cooke, Robert Kent, and Bill Leicht
Panel Discussion: “Old School vs. New School: Learning Methods In Aikido” | Josh Gold, Charles Colten, Dr. Fred Phillips, Paul Linden

DAY 5: Tuesday, May 16th

Panel Discussion: “Aikido As A Healing Art” – Susan Chandler, Dr. Dirk Muller, Dr. Dominique Cassidy, Moderated by Paul Linden
Panel Discussion – “The Soul’s Journey In Aikido” | w/ Rev. Koichi Barrish, Patrick Cassidy, Miles Kessler
Panel Discussion – “Why We Need A Dharma Of Aikido” | w/ Teja “Fudomyo” Bell, Eran “Junryu” Vardi, Paula “Rei Kiku” Femenias, & Miles Kessler

DAY 6: Wednesday, May 17th

Workshop w/ Mark Walsh | “Aikido As A Tool For Personal Growth”
Panel Discussion – “Aikido As A Life Path” | Kayla Feder, Mouliko Halen, & Miranda Saarentaus, Vince Salvatore
Interview – Wendy Palmer Sensei | “Self-Reflection Through Aikido”
Panel Discussion – “Aikido And Non-Duality” | Dan Messisco, Bjorn Saw, Patrick Cassidy, Dave Goldberg
Panel Discussion – “Is Aikido A Martial Art?” | Lenny Sly, Roy Dean, Vince Salvatore, Corky Quakenbush

DAY 7: Thursday, May 18th

Interview w/ Christian Tissier Sensei | “An Aikido Life”
Interview – David Shaner Sensei | “The Unlikely Story”
Aiki-Discussion – Blaine Feyen & Miles Kessler | “Is the Uchi Deshi System Still Relevant In Today’s World?”

DAY 8: Friday, May 19th

Workshop w/ Anita Paalvast | “Organizational Change Through Aikido Principles”
Interview – Jan Nevelius Sensei | “Finding Your Own Aikido”
Panel Discussion – “Aikido and Media” | w/ Josh Gold, Roy Dean, Rokas Leonavičius, Bogdan Heretoiu
Interview – Joe Thambu Sensei | “Aikido Past, Present, And Future”

DAY 9: Saturday, May 20th

World Cafe – Miles Kessler & Anita Paalvast | “What Is The Future Of Aikido”
Sensei Round Table | Teachers TBA

DAY 10: Sunday, May 20th

Keynote Address – Richard Strozzi Heckler Sensei | “Aikido in the 21st Century: Self, Society, and Nature”
Tele-Summit Close – Your Turn & Community Sharing | w/ Miles Kessler

How to participate:

The event uses the Zoom teleconference system, which is available (FREE) for Mac, PC, iOS, and Android. It’s easy and works very smoothly. Kessler Sensei and his team have led many international workshops and seminars, and have it down to an art. If you don’t want to be on camera that’s OK. Either shut your camera off or aim it at a bouquet of flowers or something. :-)

You can sign up for “Aikido at the Leading Edge here, FREE. It only requires your first name and email address

I will be participating in as many sessions as I can. Hope I’ll see you there!


*Full disclosure: The links in the article are affiliate links. I may receive some benefit for my helping to get the word out. But that’s not why I’m sharing about this. A similar, but much more modest, effort was a big part of my decision to start practicing Aikido, and continues to influence my understanding of the art today. If you dislike affiliate programs, please use this direct link to Aikido at the Leading Edge, and I won’t get credit. I’d rather you just participate, no matter how you get there.

Before I started training, when I was exploring whether I actually wanted to do Aikido or not, I listened to a podcast by Jeff Davidson where he interviewed Robert Nadeau, David Shaner, Ellis Amdur, George Ledyard, Kevin Blok, Jon Cameron, and I think a couple of others, A pretty wide range of perspectives. I learned of Systema from Ledyard Sensei, and considered going with that instead. I listened to each of the episodes at least a dozen times. They collectively helped me better understand the range of Aikido in the world, and in fact that there is a broader Aikido world. What Nadeau said, especially, really connected with me. When I went to check out dojos the first one I visited, Aikido of San Diego, had a flyer, a seminar with Nadeau coming up, and I stopped looking right then. I’d found my dojo home, and my teacher, and my whole life changed for the better.

So I’m really looking forward to this. There were only 9 episodes of that podcast years ago, and they aren’t available any more. I feel like this project will be like 25-30 new episodes, but more in-depth, on video, and with active participation. I’m gonna be like a kid in a candy store!

8 Years In, and Still Loving Every Minute

Wow. Here we are again. Another year. Time seems to fly. I must be having fun.

I have been training consistently, as always. On the mat 6 days a week, most weeks, and participating in as many seminars as I can manage.

Teaching has been coming up more and more. I enjoy it, and always learn a lot. Teaching will keep you humble about your skills and knowledge, for sure! I am in the rotation for Saturday morning’s class. Sometimes I lead an evening class if a regular instructor can’t be there, too. Saturday is 90 minutes, so we can develop a theme or progression more fully. I start out with long, slow warm-ups. I don’t know about you, but my body is not ready to move first thing in the morning. We usually do some weapons work, too. Saturdays are especially interesting because the mix of students usually includes yudansha who are senior to me, some of whom come from different lineages, a mix of ages from children to seniors, and often a new student or two. A class that keeps them all engaged is challenging! Now I have a little girl regularly asking me to help her with her 31 jo kata. How cool is that?

Last month a dojo mate organized a trip across the border to train with friends there, and the Sensei asked me to teach next time we visit. I’m looking forward to that. Such a nice group of students! During my road trip to the “O Sensei Revisited” retreat two weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit another dojo (more on that later), where they handed the class off to me for the last 30 minutes. Acck! Note to self: Always have a few lesson plans in the back of your head. You never know when you’ll be asked to lead a class!

Teaching the children’s classes when Sensei is away now feels natural and comfortable. I even had one class recently where the kids were so into the training that they forgot to ask if we could play a game. Kids were smiling and laughing, and parents were taking videos. I rate the success of my kids classes starting out with “no injuries and no tears” as a baseline. Smiling, laughing, forgetting to ask to play a game, and parents taking videos is my highest success score so far.

It’s interesting feeling like a beginner with two left feet, always questioning what I know and refining my understanding, and at the same time standing in front of a class and owning what I say and show. There’s something yin-yang about that, I suppose. A couple of years ago I could claim newly-minted shodan status, and excuse myself for blundering a bit. Now I’m more comfortable leading, while at the same time being more curious than ever about discovering new details and depth in the art.

I (obviously) haven’t been writing as much as I’d like, or doing much fitness coaching either. In a stroke of random luck I fell into the perfect paying gig. It’s good work for a great organization, but it does keep me busy. Doing some thinking on prioritizing things to make room for writing and coaching again, as those things are really important to me, and are my longer-term career. But income is important, too. Alas.

Sensei is offering mindfulness training at the dojo, and I’ve been taking advantage of that. It’s a new exploration, and I’m just seeing where it leads. I have also been making time for some strength and mobility training, at least. That’s fun, and makes everything else go better, too.

Sensei let me know that I should expect to test for nidan (second-degree black belt) later this year. Right now I’m “living in the question” about that. Thinking about what that means, what I want to demonstrate, and how I hope to grow in the process of preparing – both in my technique as as a person. Meanwhile, we have a group of high-level exams coming up next month, so training has been getting more intense. Ukemi is a big area of development for me, and there will be plenty of opportunities to work on that!

Off now to meet a writing friend for a late lunch, then to the dojo for Sensei’s monthly-ish Exam Technique Workshop, and dinner with dojo friends who are visiting from out of town. Tomorrow is class in the morning (I’m not teaching that one), more training with dojo friends, and then assisting in two children’s classes run by a dojo-mate for kids from his church and other local churches. Sunday is working with a friend/fitness client, and then two hours of open mat.  And that’s pretty much how things go. Loving every minute.

 

Getting Quiet Enough to Hear Whispers

Sensei is offering a mindfulness class (guided meditation and mindfulness exercises, some stretching, …) at the dojo, beginning today. Years ago we used to sit for 15 minutes before class a couple of times a week. I found that practice to be very valuable. I’d never gotten quiet enough, for long enough, to hear what I had to say – what my body and spirit needed. I learned a lot, and made a lot of changes. Since then I’ve “meant to get around to” meditating regularly. That hasn’t happened, and I miss it. It helps me to have a time and place to be. Well, now I have one. Tuesdays and Thursdays, at the dojo, at noon. I’ll be there.

“When you have a dream – and the dream isn’t something that you dream, and then it happens – the dream is something you never knew was going to come into your life.

Dreams always come from behind you, not right between your eyes. It sneaks up on you.

But when you have a dream it doesn’t often come at you screaming in your face, ‘This is who you are, and what you must be for the rest of your life.’ Sometimes, a dream almost whispers.

And I’ve always said to my kids, ‘the hardest thing to listen to – your instincts, your human personal intuition – always whispers. It never shouts. You have to, ever day of your lives, be ready to hear what whispers in your ear. It very rarely shouts.”

~ Steven Spielberg

This is the dream Aikido is for me. “This is who you are, and what you must be for the rest of your life.” I didn’t plan this. It snuck up on me… Whispered. I’m glad I was able to hear it.

If you want to join me on Tuesdays and Thursdays, here’s where you can find all the details:
Mindfulness Training at Aikido of San Diego, with Dave Goldberg Sensei

The source for the above quote:
“Steven Spielberg Listens To The Whispers Of His Intuition” (YouTube)

 

After the Shipwreck – A Plan for Moving Forward

I’m not optimistic about the future of our country, or the world, under a Trump administration. I think rights and freedoms we take for granted, including free speech, a free press, and security in our homes and persons, will be degraded under the guise of “law and order.” I think the culture will trend toward hostility, violence, and exclusion. Scientific inquiry, education, and critical thinking will be further disparaged. I think the values of evangelical Christians will be imposed on all of us. I don’t think the promised economic revival will come to pass. I think the environment will be irreparably damaged. I think it will take generations to recover from a Trump presidency, if we ever do.

But here we are. It is as it is. I am not without hope, or without determination. We have to work with the new circumstances we find ourselves in.

In a shipwreck it’s useless to cry, protest, complain, and blame. Obviously the ship was off course. Maybe the navigation equipment was faulty, someone sabotaged the steering, or the captain was drunk. Maybe we should have all been on deck watching out for land. Whatever. Here we are. It’s also not helpful to just sit on the beach, enjoying the warm sun, saying somehow everything will be OK. The thing to do is to explore the island, find fresh water, build shelter, figure out what’s edible, learn how to hunt and fish, and find a way to get along. Maybe even build a new ship out of the scattered wreckage.

It’s time to pick ourselves up, dust off the sand, and get work. There’s no help coming. We have to stick together.

Let’s get to know our fellow Americans

We can’t be “Stronger Together” until we can be together.

I am fortunate to have seen a lot of the United States. I grew up taking family vacations to State and National Parks, visiting friends and family in other states, and seeing how other people live. As a kid I played pool in bar along the Columbia river, caught fireflies in the yard of my kinfolk in East Tennessee, and visited many of the places my family came from, including Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

I went to a Southern Baptist Sunday school, attended Catholic mass with neighborhood friends, and used to visit a local Hari Krishna temple regularly for dinner. I have celebrated friends’ bar and bat mitzvahs at Jewish temples, and attended a family funeral at a black church. One hot summer day, after playing in the river that ran across the back of a relative’s yard in small-town Tennessee, my sister and I got berated by an ornery old guy in a pickup who stopped to inform us we would burn in hell for walking around in swimsuits. Culture shock indeed, for two kids who grew up in a Southern California beach town in the 1960s.

I’ve toured groves with California avocado growers, chased cattle on horseback in rural Nevada, and walked all night with a friend down a train track in upstate New York. I’ve worked on open-space cleanup projects with hunting groups, helped build and maintain riding and hiking trails, and worked in a hot little Internet marketing agency downtown. I’ve been involved in amateur radio, general aviation, equestrian groups, traditional music, and martial arts. I’ve led fitness classes for low-income Iraqi immigrant seniors, and I assist in the children’s program at the dojo. Each of these places and groups has its own culture. Even with my privileged exposure to so many kinds of people, there are more to meet and connect with.

Writer Patrick Thornton discussed the importance of getting out of our “bubbles,” our geographical and cultural comfort zones, in his brilliant essay “I’m a Coastal Elite From the Midwest: The Real Bubble is Rural America.”

“We, as a culture, have to stop infantilizing and deifying rural and white working-class Americans. Their experience is not more of a real American experience than anyone else’s, but when we say that it is, we give people a pass from seeing and understanding more of their country. More Americans need to see more of the United States. They need to shake hands with a Muslim, or talk soccer with a middle aged lesbian, or attend a lecture by a female business executive.”

I have relatives back east who will not visit us in California because of the earthquakes. I used to work with a young man who grew up in the city of San Diego but had never visited the mountains or desert here in our own county. When people talk about the value of travel, and learning about other cultures, they almost always mean international travel. But we have places to see and people to get to know here at home, too. If you can’t get there in person, make friends online, watch documentaries on YouTube, meet people from different cultures in your local area, and read. Failing to get to know your own country is a kind of willful ignorance.

Let’s make it a priority to get to know each other better.

We are the new system of checks and balances

The executive, legislative, and judicial branches of our government are meant to keep each other in check. Now they will all be working together. That’s a frightening prospect.

A free press used to be the fourth part of that system of the checks and balances that made our country work. It gave us a way to keep an eye on what our government was up to. It was the immune system that helped us discover and fight disease. But our immune systems has failed due to years of lying, fear-mongering, politically- and commercially-motivated “news” sources promoting drama over information. Trust has been undermined, such that even reliable sources aren’t believed by many. The commercial media is completely broken. Useless.

But we are not helpless. We can observe directly, and we can communicate directly. We can share, discuss, and organize. We are the new immune system. We have to use this power effectively. Here are some thoughts on how we can do that:

  • Stop pretending we can count on the media. They completely failed us. We knew it was happening, we just didn’t want to see it. Now we can’t pretend to be naive anymore. Assume not only that the other guy’s favorite network is spreading lies, but that yours is too.
  • Read, view, refer to, cite, and share source materials. Read proposed bills. Read transcripts to see what was actually said. Watch live broadcasts from regular people (Periscope, Facebook Live, etc.) so you can see what’s happening instead of filtered highlights. Click through to what’s actually being discussed in third-party articles. Don’t trust others’ interpretations – see and hear for yourself.
  • Exercise radical intellectual integrity. Stop spreading crap you know isn’t true. Focus on what’s important, not slips of the tongue, statements taken out of context, snarky memes. Spreading these things is counterproductive.
  • Call out falsehoods, exaggerations, and omissions you see in articles and reports, even when they serve your own interests. Spreading baseless fear riles people up without accomplishing anything. Sharing out-of-context quotes leads to mistrust. Don’t selectively cherry pick just the information that reinforces your beliefs.
  • Support good journalism when you do find it. I hadn’t considered this until my friend Maryjo shared it: “If you’re worried about the freedom of the press: Pay for journalism.” She went on to suggest supporting the best sources you can find, saying “Can’t afford it, can’t afford not to.”

Five critical things we can all do

We need to build community, pick our battles, and fight effectively.

  1. Stay well. Take care of your mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. Be active. Go outside. Breathe. Move. Eat well. Rest. Without this, nothing else can be accomplished.
  2. Get connected. Meet your neighbors. Stay in touch with friends and family. Keep lines of communication open. Get to know people from different cultures, races, ethnicities, classes, religions, ages, genders, interests, and values.  Hillary Clinton said we are Stronger Together, and that is no less true now.
  3. Find common ground. Talk to people. Ask what’s important to them, and then listen. There are things we all want. Let’s work together for our shared best interests. This helps build the relationships that allow us to address the issues where we disagree, too.
  4. Be informed. Read books. Listen to podcasts. Watch documentaries. Keep in mind the points above. Get out of your comfort zone. Think critically.
  5. Speak up. Alert others when you see trouble ahead. Propose solutions. Direct people to information. Let your representatives in government at all levels know what’s important to you, and what you want them to do about it. Encourage others to do the same.
  6. Work for good. Find a way to make a difference. Write. Create. Build. Volunteer. Donate. Teach. Pick one or two causes you believe in and actually do stuff to help.

Specific things I plan to do

I can’t fix everything. None of us can. I can’t even keep an eye on everything. Paying scattered attention to many issues – knowing just enough to complain ineffectively to the folks around me – isn’t productive. I’m choosing just a few focused actions I can take, and issues to stay on top of.

Help people stay healthy and sound.

Right now the work I’m doing for good is my own career as a fitness coach, personal trainer, and writer. I can help people keep their bodies and minds in good working order by staying active, building strength, and avoiding injury. I don’t like negative marketing messages, but this one is true: “If you think staying healthy is expensive, try getting sick.”

Some of the responsibilities of leadership in this area is to share solid information and encourage people to get started. Another, which is crucial to our collective future, is to advocate for increased opportunities for physical activity in schools and workplaces.

Whether or not we find ourselves having to work well into old age, without access to decent healthcare, taking good care of ourselves starting now is a smart, safe bet. Even with universal healthcare, a weakened, injured, and sick population is expensive for all of us. This is something I can help with directly.

Practice Aikido.

Aikido offers an inclusive community of people dedicated to a better world. It’s a physical and philosophical practice that helps us to be more balanced and and peaceful. When people say “be the change you want to see in the world” the dojo is a good place to do that. I’ve been practicing Aikido since 2009, and will continue training, and invite others to explore the idea as well.

You may turn to music, dance, religion, being out in nature… Whatever works for you, I invite you to find it and participate in it.

Support access to broadband Internet.

For any of this to work we need unfettered access to the Internet. We have to be able to speak out, gather, share, and support each other. We must defend our access to the Internet, and expand it to include the urban poor, rural communities, and everyone else.

It’s hard to imagine for those of us with instant access to Damned Near Everything right in our pockets, but many people in the United States don’t have decent Internet access – or any access at all. Many of my rural friends around the country have slow, unreliable, expensive, and limited Internet. They have to wait until they get to work download anything that requires serious bandwidth. They get cut off if they go over their monthly limit. That’s not cool.

There will be pushback from the same privileged whiners who complain about “government cell phones” (Lifeline service for low-income people). They’ve got theirs, so why should they help anyone else get ahead? We’re just going to have to fight educate them. It does not help anyone to have millions of Americans excluded from the online world.

Universal broadband Internet access is a natural extension of the vision behind Carnegie libraries. Free access to information is critical for our democracy, and helps level the playing field for all citizens. Among other things, the Internet offers…

  • Access to educational resources, from science blogs for kids, to eBooks from public libraries, to universities offering online degree programs.
  • An infrastructure that enables people to start businesses, sell products directly to consumers, or work remotely when no jobs are available locally.
  • A way to communicate and connect directly with people across the country and around the world.
  • A venue for all of us to seek out and share information.
  • The means for the elderly, disabled, and geographically isolated to stay connected with family, friends, and the world.
  • Access to government resources, information, records, and representatives.

Donald Trump was elected, but that doesn’t mean the country as a whole rejected what Hillary Clinton was proposing. Indeed, more than half of voters favored her. In California she received 2.6 million more votes than Trump. There are many, many people who support her proposals, and we should go right on working for them.

One of the most important was Hillary Clinton’s Initiative on Technology & Innovation

“Hillary believes that high-speed internet connectivity is not a luxury; it is a necessity for economic success and social mobility in a 21st century economy.”

Close the Digital Divide: Hillary will finish the job of connecting America’s households to the internet, committing that by 2020, 100 percent of households in America will have the option of affordable broadband that delivers speeds sufficient to meet families’ needs. She will deliver on this goal with continue investments in the Connect America Fund, Rural Utilities Service program, and Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), and by directing federal agencies to consider the full range of technologies as potential recipients—i.e., fiber, fixed wireless, and satellite—while focusing on areas that lack any fixed broadband networks currently. Hillary also backs the FCC’s decision to extend Lifeline support to broadband, and she will work to connect this policy with community-based programs that help citizens with enrollment, offer digital literacy training and expand access to low-cost devices.”

This is the cause I’m taking up. I invite you to choose something you’re passionate about, and focus your energies on that. I will do my best to understand these issues, follow developments, educate others, share information, and keep pressure on people who can make it happen.

Speaking of which…

Stay in touch with people in government who represent me.

Many times I’ve thought “I should write to someone about this!” Occasionally I’ve done exactly that. Most of the time, though, I mean to get around to it later, when I have a minute and can find who to write to. But then I never get back to it. To support myself in more effective communication with my representatives, I am going to create a document I can easily access from anywhere (in my case, that means putting it in Evernote), and keep in it the contact information for each of them right at hand. I invite you to do the same.

My list will include:

  • Our local Planning Group members and County Supervisor
  • State Assembly members and Governor
  • Members of Congress and Senators
  • Representatives involved in expanding Internet access
  • The President.

In the past when I have contacted representatives I’ve sometimes head that I was one of just a handful of people they heard from. I know my input has added to their understanding, and even shifted their thinking in a few instance. I’ve been on advisory committees and even served as an elected member of our Planning Group for several years. What we have to say can make a difference, but we have to say it.

Remember:

  1. Stay well.
  2. Get connected.
  3. Find common ground.
  4. Be informed.
  5. Speak up.
  6. Work for good.

Let’s get to work.

Staying Present

Yesterday, Election Day, I led the first evening class at the dojo, after we’d all voted, but before the polls closed. We had no idea what the results would be. We could only wait. It was a small group, and some were obviously anxious about the direction the country might take. I considered simply holding an hour-long meditation session, but the schedule says Aikido, so …

I started up my playlist of positive, good-energy music, and we got busy training. We started with slow, flowing, gentle warm-ups, settling into the sensation of the ground supporting us, moving freely and breathing deeply. We work on some techniques from a couple of grabs, then a fun game that helps teach awareness of balance. We continued on to do slow, easy multiple-attacker freestyles, all the while staying with the music, and reminding ourselves to be centered and relaxed.

Some stayed for the second class, others went home to watch the election returns. Eventually we all learned how it went.

One of the principles of Aikido is to perceive what’s actually happening and actively work *with* it, not close our eyes and hunker down in denial. With that in mind, instead of wishing it weren’t so, or hiding out in the pillow fort of #NotMyPresident, it’s time to actively engage and look for openings to move things in a good direction.

Taking care of our bodies and spirits with friends, music, and movement can be part of that. Staying present and focused are good strategies in any work.

Feel the ground.

Feel your breath.

 

I am heading to the dojo, as always, this afternoon. Visitors are always welcome. If anyone is looking for a community dedicated to a physical and philosophical practice of peace – a practice that extends into daily life – come join us: Aikido of San Diego. If you’re not in the area, find a dojo near you.

How Do We Move Forward Together?

Please continue reading below, where I’ve posted additional thoughts, and links to articles and other resources.

Here is my original post:


By this time next week we will know who we have elected to be the next President of the United States.

For now, it feels like we’ve fired off our best-engineered rockets to deflect an asteroid headed toward Earth. There is nothing more we can now do but hold our collective breath and wait, hoping our efforts were enough. We won’t know until the icy dirtball either slams into us, or slips by too close for comfort, flying back into the darkness from whence it came. Either way, we will be left shattered by what the experience has revealed about many of our fellow citizens.

At this point in the political process everyone has made up their mind, and the outcome will be what it will be.

However things end up, we have important work ahead, and healing to be done. These things will take decades, and we need to get started.

It’s easy to dislike and dismiss many of the people who have supported Trump. They come across as mean, uninformed, paranoid, fearful, selfish, hateful, angry, and bitter. If their candidate loses it will confirm their belief that everyone is conspiring against them, that they cannot win. Even worse if their candidate prevails. They will soon be sorely disappointed to learn that their big-talking superhero cannot save them after all. He cannot build the promised wall to protect them, cannot expel from the country the 11 million people they blame for many of their troubles, and cannot bring back their well-paying manufacturing jobs. Their lives will not be improved. Their hopelessness and anger will only be amplified. As many have pointed out, Trump is not the problem. Trump’s popularity is only a symptom of the problem.

What to do? How do we begin to move forward? Education? Social programs? New industries? Those are how-do-we-get-there strategies. First we have to consider where we are going. We have to work on developing a shared vision for the future of the country.

In Aikido we try to connect with our attacker – finding our common humanity – even someone who is trying to do us physical harm. We try to see things from their perspective and, as best we can, resolve conflict to everyone’s mutual benefit.

An attacker is someone who has lost control. Someone who is in pain and lashing out.

The people who have been supporting Trump are hurting. They feel out of control. They have done their best, worked hard, and followed the rules that worked for previous generations. Many simply don’t have the resources or ability to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. They’ve been taught to devalue education, science, civility, and compassion as liberal, or worse, feminine. The economy and culture have changed fasted than they could adapt. They have been left behind, and are resentful and afraid.

They are refugees in their own country, banding together in an attempt to return to a more familiar time and way of living. But like those whose cities have been destroyed by war, there is nowhere to return to. The only option is to go forward. How do we help them assimilate and become successful, peaceful, and happy in the future that’s actually before us all?


p.s. Here are some additional thoughts.

[3 Nov. 2016] I first shared a link to this along with this short intro text: “Looking to the future (after next week), and considering how to best help refugees assimilate and become productive members of society.” My post only got one comment, from a friend who apparently didn’t read it, and thought I was talking about immigrants. He said: “The definitive word being assimilate.” Fair enough. That’s still a legit idea in this context – they have to be willing to assimilate.

The next morning I shared the link again, this time saying something a little different:

“I don’t like to resort to clickbait headlines, but I might need to rewrite this one, because I don’t think anyone actually read the article yesterday. How about:

“The Surprising Refugee Crisis You Might Not Have Thought About — Millions are here already! Poorly educated, unskilled, with no future, and no place to go home to. How can we help them assimilate into our modern, tolerant culture?”

But seriously, it a good analogy. Is it too late for the current generation? Do we give up and focus on the kids? Are they willing to change, or stubbornly demanding that the culture change to suit their beliefs and way of life?”

That elicited more discussion, and some good ideas, including expanding educational opportunities, and ensuring everyone has access to broadband Internet, without which education and employment are practically unattainable.

[4 Nov. 2016] A friend shared an article with me that, while not actually written directly in response to what I said in my post above, could have been. Assuming it is correct, many of my (and the media’s) assumptions about Trump voters were dead wrong. Read it:

Taking Trump voters’ concerns seriously means listening to what they’re actually saying

The author, Dylan Matthews, reveals that our collective story about Trump supporters being the poor, ignorant sods left behind as the world and economy changed around them, is fiction.

“Trump’s supporters are not the wretched of the earth”
“The press has gotten extremely comfortable with describing a Trump electorate that simply doesn’t exist. [Writer, Michelle] Cottle describes [Trump’s] supporters as “white voters living on the edges of the economy.” This is, in nearly every particular, wrong.”

That demographic exists, to be sure, and they do need help (see links below to Clinton’s factsheets on poverty and rural America), but they are not Trump’s supporters.

“There is absolutely no evidence that Trump’s supporters, either in the primary or the general election, are disproportionately poor or working class. Exit polling from the primaries found that Trump voters made about as much as Ted Cruz voters, and significantly more than supporters of either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. Trump voters, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver found, had a median household income of $72,000, a fair bit higher than the $62,000 median household income for non-Hispanic whites in America.”

He goes on to provide detailed information correcting the poor-left-behind-factory-worker narrative. (Read it, please.) However, after going down the road of not pandering to Trump’s demographic for a while, the author still comes back around to this:

“One thing this analysis decidedly does not imply is “Hey, Trump supporters are just racists, let’s give up on them.” Trump’s nomination is a threat to America that must be addressed and never allowed to happen again. Giving up is not an option. We have to figure out some way to respond.”

He goes on to say:

“What’s needed is an honest reckoning with what it means that a large segment of the US population, large enough to capture one of the two major political parties, is motivated primarily by white nationalism and an anxiety over the fast-changing demographics of the country. Maybe the GOP will find a way to control and contain this part of its base. Maybe the racist faction of the party will dissipate over time, especially as Obama’s presidency recedes into memory. Maybe it took Trump’s celebrity to mobilize them at all, and future attempts will fail.

But Donald Trump’s supporters’ concerns are heavily about race. Taking them seriously means, first and foremost, acknowledging that, and dealing with it honestly.”

So, we’re essentially back where we started, just with a clearer picture of the underlying problem. These people are feeling threatened, left out, and afraid. (And like many people who are fearful, they come across as angry, stupid bullies.) They want to go back to what’s familiar. Their efforts to do that present a danger to all of us. How do we get them on board, to our mutual benefit? Or are they so determined to retreat into their comfort zone that it’s just not a possibility?

I don’t know. That’s the big question. Are they actually opposed to living in a society where people are treated equally and everyone succeeds together, or do they just think it’s not possible? I am back to thinking in terms of refugees. Is it not possible to assimilate these people into a culture that works better for everyone?

In Aikido we try to resolve conflict through non-violent collaboration whenever possible. Practicing off-the-mat Aikido – applying the principles we practice in the dojo to situations in life outside – means adopting a new paradigm: conflict does not have to be a zero-sum game, where you have to lose for me to win. As in many of humanity’s popular religions, we practice loving the attacker, realizing that we are not separate, trying to see the world through their eyes. We try to understand what’s at the heart of the conflict. But this does not mean passively tolerating harmful behavior. It does not mean turning and running away, cheerfully accepting blows, or closing our eyes and pretending that the attack isn’t happening. It can mean setting clear boundaries, speaking directly, and taking decisive action. In our practice on the mat this means literally turning to see things from our partner’s point of view, and joining with the direction of their attack. It’s only from that vantage point that we can begin to redirect their energy for a better outcome.


Relevant articles & resources

Some shed light on the problem. Others suggest solutions.

The white flight of Derek Black

The story of how one young man, Derek Black, who was raised to be a leader in the world of white supremacists. His mind and heart were changed by his friends at college, who took the courageous step of including him instead of turning their backs.

“A few people in the audience started to clap, and then a few more began to whistle, and before long the whole group was applauding. “Our moment,” Derek said, because at least in this room there was consensus. They believed white nationalism was about to drive a political revolution. They believed, at least for the moment, that Derek would help lead it.

“Years from now, we will look back on this,” he said. “The great intellectual move to save white people started today.”

“Ostracizing Derek won’t accomplish anything,” one student wrote.

“We have a chance to be real activists and actually affect one of the leaders of white supremacy in America. This is not an exaggeration. It would be a victory for civil rights.”

“Who’s clever enough to think of something we can do to change this guy’s mind?”

One of Derek’s acquaintances from that first semester decided he might have an idea.”

What I learned after 100,000 miles on the road talking to Trump supporters
Donald Trump’s message resonates in the most forgotten corners of the US, because viewed from these places, America no longer seems a great country
THEGUARDIAN.COM|BY CHRIS ARNADE

The above link is to the Facebook post about the article. The comments there illustrate the us/them divide that keeps us stuck in this mess. Some are angry, others sympathetic. Many are thought-provoking.

Trump: Tribune Of Poor White People

“… No one seems to understand why conventional blunders do nothing to Trump. But in a lot of ways, what elites see as blunders people back home see as someone who–finally–conducts themselves in a relatable way. He shoots from the hip; he’s not constantly afraid of offending someone; he’ll get angry about politics; he’ll call someone a liar or a fraud. This is how a lot of people in the white working class actually talk about politics, and even many elites recognize how refreshing and entertaining it can be! So it’s not really a blunder as much as it is a rich, privileged Wharton grad connecting to people back home through style and tone. Viewed like this, all the talk about “political correctness” isn’t about any specific substantive point, as much as it is a way of expanding the scope of acceptable behavior. People don’t want to believe they have to speak like Obama or Clinton to participate meaningfully in politics, because most of us don’t speak like Obama or Clinton.”

Book: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance

“[Hillbilly Elegy] couldn’t have been better timed…a harrowing portrait of much that has gone wrong in America over the past two generations…an honest look at the dysfunction that afflicts too many working-class Americans.” (National Review)

Hillary Clinton’s Plan for a Vibrant Rural America (factsheet)

Hillary Clinton’s “Breaking Every Barrier Agenda”: Revitalizing the Economy in Communities Left Behind (factsheet)

Modern Farmer – Where Hillary Clinton And Donald Trump Land On Food And Farming Issues

Local and Regional Food Systems
Trump: Trump’s platform does not specifically mention food, agriculture, or rural communities, and to our knowledge he has never directly addressed the subject of local and regional food systems.

But he recently released a list of agriculture advisors that paints a vivid picture of the sort of policies to expect under a President Trump. The 65 names on the list are a who’s who of industrial agriculture advocates, including senators, governors, state ag commissioners, and agribusiness executives. It’s safe to say that the Trump ag team supports feedlots over farmers markets.

Clinton: Unlike Trump, Clinton’s platform includes a detailed “plan for a vibrant rural America”, which includes “build[ing] a strong local and regional food system by doubling funding for the Farmers Market Promotion Program and the Local Food Promotion Program to expand food hubs, farmers markets…and to encourage direct sales to local schools, hospitals, retailers and wholesalers.”

Current USDA secretary Tom Vilsack is Clinton’s top agriculture advisor, signaling the likely continuation of his agency’s nascent local food initiatives, such as the Know Your Food, Know Your Farmer program. That doesn’t mean Clinton and Vilsack aren’t also staunch allies of so-called Big Ag—they make no claims to the contrary. During primary season, Clinton has been viciously attacked by liberal voters for her ties to Monsanto.”

Why poor white Americans are dying of despair, by Ryan Cooper
Poor white Americans are dying of despair. And racism is to blame.

Let’s Talk About Millennial Poverty
We followed the path we were told to follow. So how did we end up more poor than our parents?

“What if people with resources — people who went to college at a time when they could pay for college without mountains of debt, or people whose parents were fortunate enough to be able to save for them, on their behalf—stopped chiding those without for their perceived poor decisions and instead decided to actually address the problem, which is that this is an economic climate wherein it is damn near impossible to get out of poverty?”

 

Cedar Fire – San Diego County, 2003

In the quiet hours before dawn 13 years ago I got a call from my friend Sandra. She lives in the community just up the hill from us. She could see flames to the north. The weather was hot and dry – common here in the fall, and perfect for wildfires. As horse people living at the edges of open space we were especially wary. My equestrian friends know to keep our eyes open, fuel tanks full, trailer hooked up, and rig parked facing the way out. In a fire there might not even be time to turn around.

The fire came right to the edge of our neighborhood, and we had to evacuate. Twice. The first time it was with embers raining down on us. Emergency services were overwhelmed. There was no warning, no orders to evacuate. We figured it out when we saw the fire top the hill behind us. We never even heard sirens. There was no help on the way. I think this is one of the things that was so unsettling for everyone who went through that experience. We like to think we have systems in place that will keep us safe. Nope. Not in conditions like this. We are on our own, and we have to look out for each other.

This was back before smart phones with cameras. Nobody was posting “I’m safe” updates on Facebook. There was no live online map. We had TV (utterly useless because of stupid reporting – which is still the case today), AM news radio (the only really helpful thing) with their news ‘copter and listeners calling in updates, phones (sometimes), and each other.

Ultimately the Cedar Fire burned over 280,000 acres, destroyed over 2,500 homes and other buildings, and killed 14 people. [CDF Cedar Fire summary.] AND there were two other major fires in the county at the same time. If you want to learn more about the fires, see maps, etc. check out this CDF report:  The 2003 San Diego County Fire Siege – Fire Safety Review. According to that report, “… the Cedar fire was estimated to have consumed 5,000 acres per hour within a 40-hour period.”

During the rest of fall and winter that year every time it rained the air smelled like water thrown on a campfire. When the weather was dry and the wind blew there would be a gray haze of stale ash in the air. People and horses suffered respiratory issues. Flooding from water running off the bare soil was a problem.

It was scary and exhausting. We didn’t lose anything, but still … When the light is right this time of year, or the wind blows a certain way, I still get jumpy. Mention the fire to anyone who went through it and you’ll get stories. And they’ll get a knot in their gut. The memories are fresh and raw.

One fall evening the following year I was out in the horse pen with Eeyore, our little donkey. He was a sensitive soul described by his vet as “highly emotional.” He was trotting back and forth, glancing anxiously up the hill into our neighbor’s yard. I looked, expecting to spot a dog or coyote, but couldn’t see anything. Everything about Eeyore was saying “Look! Danger! We need to get out of here!” I finally understood what he was trying to get me to notice. Smoke! The neighbors were having a fire in their fireplace, and the smoke was hugging the ground and wafting between their trees. Poor Eeyore was sure it was happening all over again. I assured him things were OK, and that he was safe, but I knew where he was coming from.

A couple of weeks after the fire, when things calmed down and the flames were mostly out, I wrote about our experience. That was back before I had a blog. I posted it on my website, which I’ve since redone, removing the article. Here it is again, with a few [bits of new information] added:


The Cedar Fire, October 2003

Michael & Linda Eskin

(Written in early November, 2003.)

Now that things have calmed down a bit I can finally write up a summary of our fire adventure. I hope I got most of the facts right – between the chaos and the lack of sleep some parts are kinda fuzzy. Please forgive typos, etc. Things are still a mess here, so this was done in a hurry.

A photo of the El Cajon valley and surrounding mountains on Sunday evening – we did not take this photo, and do not know the source. If you have any information about it, please contact me, so that I can post proper attribution (or remove it, as the photographer sees fit):

El Cajon Valley, Crest on the Right - Cedar Fire 2003
El Cajon Valley, Sunday, October 26th, 2003
[We live near the right-hand edge of the photo, at the base of that burning hill. Just above us is the community of Crest, where my friend Sandra lives. It’s that bright spot that’s on fire. Her house was saved.]

Our Story

Sandra, a friend from Crest, woke us up with news of the fire on Sunday at 4:30 a.m. – she could see flames from her back window. We checked the news, and found it was quite a ways off. She got down here with her animal carrier and bolt cutters, while I fed, topped off water, and made sure our halters and lead ropes were on the gate. She and I took off in my truck and trailer to see what we could do.

Our Equids - Clementine, Sabrina, and Eeyore - Cedar Fire 2003
Wells Park in El Cajon, Monday Morning
[This was the morning after our first evacuation. These three were ours: Clementine, Sabrina, and Eeyore.]

We offered help to a few folks in Lakeside, but they were riding out ’cause their horses wouldn’t load. We saw them later – they got out OK. We also had to pass up a donkey in a field, whose owner had told the others there that it was mostly wild – they couldn’t even catch him. I heard later about a singed donkey, and I sure wish I’d at least given it a try – I’m pretty good with donkeys who “won’t load”. I don’t know if he’s the one who was injured, or not.

We heard Blossom Valley was on fire, and ended up taking two colts from there, as flames came down the hill across the road. Whoever handed them to us didn’t know them, just said they went together. They loaded pretty well, considering – the baby walked in, and the yearling took a little shoving and placing of feet, but it only took about 5 minutes. Since the Lakeside Rodeo Grounds were full (and very chaotic), we took them to my place, where we thought they’d be safe.

Brown's Castle (house) Before and After - Cedar Fire 2003

“Browns Castle,” [a locally-famous mansion] before and after the fire.

The smaller one unloaded in a huge leap, and landed right on Sandra, who now has a small, but very colorful hoofprint on her leg. Michael got it on video, of course. LOL I think it was the first time the colts had seen donkeys, ’cause they looked at ’em kinda funny, but didn’t get upset. In fact, the only thing that upset these guys, with all they’d been through, was after we finally got home, and I tried to fly-spray them. We were very lucky to have gotten colts (ungelded) who’d been worked with so well, and were so good-tempered. (The folks in the trailer ahead of us had gotten a very cantankerous pinto stud, with just a neck rope!)

An aside about what was happening County-wide … We’ve had no rain for 175+ days, on the heels of a long-term drought. We were in the midst of a Santa Ana, where dry (3-4% humidity) winds blow in from the desert. Prime fire weather. The general sense of the news reports was that there was no stopping this fire, and no help on the way, so you’re on your own. Don’t wait for announcements – no one is coming for you – just get out if you think you might be in danger. Entire neighborhoods were going up, with no fire equipment to be seen, and nothing ever mentioned in a news report. People were banding together to cut brush, put out spot fires, and save homes. When we got the colts home, and I called a few places to see where animals were being evacuated to, I was told they were so busy with the other areas that nothing was arranged in our area. Everything was stretched so thin there was just no way to deal with the magnitude of the situation.

We went up to Crest to check on Sandra’s horses, but things looked better up there than they did here, so we left them for the time being. At least she has a big pipe corral – ours is plastic fencing. Shortly after I got back down the hill, she called saying her area was being evacuated. I tried to get back up there, but just as the sheriffs were moving the barricades aside they got word it was coming up from Harbison Canyon, and made me turn back.

Two Colts from Blossom Valley - Cedar Fire 2003

Two Colts from Blossom Valley

On the way down the hill I picked up a horse, and the guy who’d been leading him. His friends were all riding down the side of La Cresta Road (long, steep road with no shoulders, and the only way out, at that point.) I kept his horse here until his friends arrived, just as it was getting dark. They rode / walked down to the high school, and warned us to get out, ’cause the fire was headed our way.

Meanwhile, Michael packed up his car with all of his instruments, and he got all the important paperwork together. We rounded up the cats, including a neighbor’s cat, and locked them in the house, just in case.

We fiddled for a while, discussing decision points and contingency plans, but when the fire crested the hill behind us we figured we’d better bail right now. I switched my computer off, grabbed the external drive where I back up my data. We shoved the four cats into two carriers – they don’t get along, but they’d have to figure it out. Michael loaded his car with instruments, paperwork, and, the cats. Flashlights, check… Cell phone… Horse feed and meds, cat food… We each threw a few days of clothes in our vehicles. We grabbed whatever food was handy. Water was already in my truck.

Michael with Eeyore & Clementine at the Boys' & Girls' Club - Cedar Fire 2003

Michael, After a Harrowing 36 Hours.
[This was in the fenced playground of the Boys’ & Girls’ Club in El Cajon]

Sabrina and Clementine went in the first trailer load – Eeyore declined our invitation to get in the trailer, so we left him for the second load. We headed to Wells Park, in the middle of urban El Cajon, because the smoke was so thick. Plus, it was getting dark, and we couldn’t figure out how to get into Granite Hills High School’s fields. Just as well, since it was packed with motor homes and horse trailers, and it looked like they might have to be evacuated next.

Michael called my parents, who live in Pacific Beach, and they came right out to help. So did our friend Mark. My mom and Michael watched Sabrina and Clementine (who were tied to trees, pawing and gnawing on bark), while my dad and I went back to get Eeyore and the colts.

Eeyore hadn’t wanted to go the first time, but now, with fire roaring down the hills behind us, a hot wind, and embers in the air, he rethought the situation. He’s usually hard to catch, and hates trailers, but this time he was waiting at the gate, and stuck his nose right in the halter. He and I ran to the trailer, and he got right in. His first time loading into the front stall (without Sabrina already in the trailer). He didn’t even flinch when I slammed the divider, and he waited quietly while we got the babies on-board. He was all but hollering “Drive, already!” Smart donkey. Difficult, but smart.

The bigger colt didn’t want to load. Can’t blame him … But it was getting downright scary, and my dad was starting to wonder if maybe we should just put him back in the pen and hope for the best. As a last resort, I got behind the colt (who was still calm, just not loading), and blasted him in the butt with water from the hose. (It was hot out, so it wasn’t like he was going to get chilled.) After about 20 seconds of indignation and dancing around, he jumped in the trailer, and we shut the doors.

Evacuated - At the Boys' & Girls' Club - Cedar Fire 2003

Safe Harbor at the Boys & Girls Club

At the park, after trying a few things, we ended up with everyone tied to they trailer (‘cept Clem – she got a lamppost), and waited it out. Considering that we had an impatient mare, two donkeys, and two ungelded colts we didn’t know, we had a pretty easy time of it. They did not paw or fuss (much). Sabrina thought the colts were the handsomest studs she’d ever laid eyes on [notice her gaze in the photo above], and spent the night flirting from her side of the trailer.

Mark helped with the critters at the park, and did a shopping run for water dishes for the cats, corn oil for Sabrina (especially important when she is stressed), and some food and water.

All 5 Equids in Boys' & Girls' Club Playground - Cedar Fire 2003

All five critters in the playground.

A neighbor of the park, Lorenzo, I think, a Nez Pierce Indian, with a soft spot for horses, came by to see if he could help, and ended up bringing us a big water jug so we could transport water (we only had about 20 gallons with us). People saw us camped out in the parking lot and brought us coffee, or offered to bring food (we’d packed enough apples and almonds for several days). An El Cajon police officer circled by to check on us a few times. A carful of teenagers who’d been evacuated from Alpine stopped by to be sure we were OK. Even the homeless people who live in the park were friendly and offered to help.

Once we got settled in, we let my mom and dad, and Mark, go home (around 1 a.m.). We slept (sorta…) in shifts, me, on the tailgate of my truck, and Michael in his car, making sure the critters didn’t get loose, or tangled in their lead ropes, passing out handfuls of hay, bringing buckets around… We each probably got an hour or two of rest.

In the morning our neighborhood looked safe. All the hills above us had burned already. So, thinking the animals would be safer at home than standing on pavement in a parking lot, we went back, making two trips. As we were leaving the park, two guys in rec center t-shirts came over and offered to let us use the fenced play area behind the Boys & Girls Club. Turns out we were going to need it.

Just after we returned home, and were hosing down the yard in case any embers remained, CDF (California Department of Forestry) came by and evacuated the neighborhood again. This time it was “if the wind shifts” that we’d be in trouble, so it wasn’t quite the same urgency as the first time. Nobody wanted to go, least of all Eeyore (who doesn’t care for adventures), and Michael, who by this time was feeling pretty awful with the flu. We were all exhausted. Nevertheless … Off we went again.

Shadow Mountain after the Cedar Fire in 2003

Shadow Mountain, and Crestridge Reserve
[As seen from our backyard.]

This time we left the cats in the house, thinking their chances were pretty good, and knowing how miserable they would be, two to a carrier, back at the park. Again I left with Clementine and Sabrina, with Michael following in his car. This time we headed straight for the Boys & Girls Club. One of the guys there understood horses, and put us up in their fenced playground, which had about 1′ of wood chips for footing. After the parking lot, this felt like a resort. My parents came back out to help with the animals, so we could take a nap!

On the second trip, this time Eeyore figured he’d be better off staying in his pen. He heard some strange voices out front (neighbors filling water buckets for us), and decided he’d rather brave the fire. We could *not* get him near the trailer, never mind going in. My dad and I came back for him, and after a few rope burns, and getting dumped on the ground once, we gave up for the time being, and resolved to come back later for him.

The older colt (18 months) in the playground.When Eeyore is left alone, he doesn’t hang out quietly. Instead, he runs the fenceline frantically, hee-hawing mournfully, in a panic. He probably would’ve been OK staying there, if he were a calmer sort, but I was afraid he’d colic from being upset (he certainly won’t drink when he’s like that). Besides, that kind of exertion in thick smoke is really bad for the lungs.

Eeyore Back Home, Charred Hills in the Background - Cedar Fire 2003

Eeyore in His Pen, with Charred Hillside
[The white spots are piles of ash where trees or larger shrubs used to be.]

We gave him a few hours to calm down, took a nap, and came back again. This time I asked my dad to wait out front, and be very quiet – just be there for safety’s sake. I took some carrots to Eeyore, caught him, and convinced him we were just going for a nice friendly little walk. One… step… at… a… time… 200′ through the backyard. We got just through the front gate, where the trailer was, and Eeyore saw through the plot. Just as he was turning to head back to his pen I took a wrap with his lead rope around a fence post by the front gate. Ha! Then I closed and locked the gate. What they say is true about closing the barn in the fire, after you’ve gotten the horses out, so they can’t run back in.

Once Eeyore was stuck in the front yard all it took were a couple of apples, some long ropes, and patience, and he was finally in the trailer. We got him back to the playground with his buddies, and could finally relax a little. Our friends Eric and Sarah came to help out (and brought food!).

Since the fire wasn’t an imminent threat, Michael was able to stop by the house to check on things, and take a shower. Some neighbors of the Boys & Girls club came by to see if we needed help. They offered to let us use their phones, bathrooms, water, power… We were pretty self-sufficient for camping out, but I did take up an offer of a shower in a nearby vacant apartment – the managers, a very nice young couple, left it open all night in case we needed to use it.

Although the playground was fenced and relatively horse-safe, we kept the critters each tied to their own fence post. One flirtatious mare, two donkeys, and two colts could’ve have way too much fun in there running loose. As it was, they were digging to China in the deep wood chips. I left their ropes longer, and tied lower, than I knew was safe, but I knew they would all want to lie down – they’d all been on their feet for 36 hours. One of the colts did get tangled, and fell, but I got him loose within minutes (he just laid there and waited for help).

Older of Two Colts - Cedar Fire 2003

The Older of the Two Colts

Aside from a few more minor interruptions, we slept, on the picnic tables, on saddle pads from about 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. Many thanks to Mom, who brought sleeping bags and pillows!

I’m sure the folks in the neighboring apartment buildings must’ve thought dinosaurs had moved in, when the donks started hollering for breakfast at oh-dark-hundred. It really echoed between the buildings, too! We got everybody fed (soaked pellets – we’d run out of hay the afternoon before), packed our things, and cleaned the place up as best we could. Michael went out and brought back some sort of fast food breakfast, including fried french toast sticks, which we wouldn’t have touched on a normal day, but gosh, was it good that morning. We were just leaving with the second load when the Club folks showed up for work. I want to send them a “Thank you for saving our asses” note, with a photo of Clem and Eeyore in their playyard, but probably ought to think of something more appropriate for the kids.

Michael has all his instruments back in order. I’ve got the truck and trailer washed, and the cat carriers brought in. We eventually got together with the owner of the colts – they’d been evacuated from Eucalyptus Hills once already before we took them out of Blossom Valley. At least they load good now! We took a heaping pickup-full of towels, blankets, pillows, tools, buckets, chairs, etc. to Crest, for the hundreds of burned-out folks there.

Tomorrow I’m hauling some friends’ horses to their temporary home – theirs was one that burned. So far we know of one friend who was lost – Ashleigh Roach, an Irish dancer. Michael played at her wake. Many friends lost their homes – at least 4 in Crest, 3 in Harbison Canyon, 1 on Mussey Grade Road, the Roaches, in Valley Center, one friend lost her ranch in Lakeside, and her ankle was broken when one of her draft horses stepped on her. I’m sure we’ll hear about more – many areas don’t have power or phone service yet. Many others lost outbuildings, fences, vehicles… Most of our State Park facilities are gone, including the Los Caballos and Los Vaqueros horse camps. [The impact of this fire on the equestrian community was huge. People were still recovering physically, financially, and emotionally for years. Some moved away. Many of us tried for over a decade to get access and trails and facilities restored for public use, with limited success.]

If you weren’t here, or don’t know the area, it’s hard to imagine the scale of this disaster. Everywhere you go, all the hills are burned – not just patches where there was “a fire”. Out back, the hills near us are black, and the hills in the distance, and the mountains beyond them. It was (is, actually, it’s still burning) the biggest fire in California history, and it moved unbelievably fast through nearly every community in East County.

A lost hunter started the Cedar Fire by lighting three signal fires in dry brush during a Santa Anna. He was rescued by helicopter, and was issued a citation.

Copyright © Linda Eskin, 2003, 2016

Update, 9 Nov. 2003 …

Helped a friend clean up her burned-out horse boarding facility. She has several steep banks, and lost all the iceplant and mulch that was helping to hold them in place. She is also having trouble getting any help. There are a lot of groups collecting money “for fire victims”, but several burned-out people I’ve spoken with are being refused help everywhere they turn. Should be interesting to see how these millions are accounted for when this all calms down.

Update, 12 Nov. 2003 …

This morning we got just over an inch of rain. That’s great for our yard, but a bit much for the fire damaged areas. There was a flash flood watch this morning. I hope people’s straw bales and sandbags are doing the trick. (The local news stations keep calling them “hay bales” <sigh>.)

For more info on the state of things here…

[At the time I posted links where people could find up-to-date information. Lists of links were a thing back then, because Google wasn’t. Most are broken now, so I’ve omitted them here, but kept the heading so you can see how things were then. ]

Channel 10 News – Slideshows with hundreds of photos:
(Anything that mentions El Cajon/Granite Hills was in our area.)

Our local paper:
http://www.signonsandiego.com/ [The old direct link to fire info no longer works]
Photo galleries:
[There were galleries of hundreds of photos from throughout the county.]

Information of some of the people who were killed:
[Broken links.]

About Ashleigh Roach, the Irish dancer who was killed:
[Link no longer works]

Local equestrian sites, reuniting horses and owners:
[Horse clubs did tons of work caring for displaced animals and getting people connected.]
http://www.pvra.com/
http://www.polobarn.com [It was this site that helped us find the owners of the two foals we rescued.]

The local TV stations were virtually useless. They covered the areas in the City of San Diego, rehashed info about what had already happened and showed dramatic footage, while whole communities burned with no mention on the news.

KOGO Radio (600 AM) did a *tremendous* job getting information out about which way the fire was headed, where people could go, etc. They relied on listeners to call in with updates.

The Boys’ & Girls’ Clubs of East County, El Cajon center, took us in on Monday. They provided a safe, fenced area for the animals, and a safe place for us to camp out for the night. Their kindness and hospitality was very much appreciated. If you are looking for a good cause to support, please consider giving to them – it’s clear they do a lot of good work on a shoestring budget: http://bgcec.org/ <<< [This is the current link.]

Pokémon Go? Yes, go out and play!

A new augmented-reality game, Pokémon Go, was released this month (July, 2016). You would think civilization was coming to an end, so pervasive has been negativity in the press and on social media. “Everything is terrible! The sky is falling! We’re all gonna die!” Throw in a heaping helping of “kids nowadays are ruining everything,” along with a good dose of “somebody has to put a stop to this madness,” and you’ve got the theme of most of the articles making the rounds the past few days. There’s tremendous cynicism and hostility toward the game, and toward the people who are playing it.

I’m here to tell you there’s a huge upside to Pokémon Go, and for the most part it’s being ignored. Good news doesn’t sell ad space or commercial time. It doesn’t get shared by indignant people as proof of their moral superiority over “those people” who are playing.

The News and Reality are Very Different

The popular news media exists to scare us, so we’ll buy stuff. Apparently they are doing a good job of it. A friend commenting on Facebook summed up perfectly how the news media’s message of fear and people’s lack of understanding about Pokémon Go is affecting public perception of the game:

“It’s a security issue everywhere…nothing good to come from this…there have been people hit by cars, robbed and graveyards desecrated, not to mention the police that are tied up with all the people in some places…business owners are losing money because of all of it…it needs to stop before it is hacked and people are led God knows where…” And in another comment, “This is going to be a big problem…disturbing businesses…one kid followed it and was lead to a dead body, others have played and were robbed…”

That sounds pretty frightening, right? But it’s not the whole picture. Not even close.

Millions of People are Playing

Yes, there have been reports of people being stupid and getting hurt, or being disrespectful of private property. That’s not good, and it’s not OK. They should be more careful, and more responsible. But they are a tiny fraction of the millions of people who are playing the game. Millions of people!!! According to this AdWeek article, “Pokémon GO Surpasses 7.5 Million Downloads in 5 Days.” That was on July 11th, so it’s easily many millions more by now. More from that article – remember, several days ago – this is truly insane:

“In terms of engagement, SimilarWeb said more than 60 percent of users who have downloaded Pokémon GO in the U.S. are playing the game daily. As of July 8, the game’s average usage time was 43 minutes, 23 seconds per day. According to SimilarWeb, this is higher than WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger.” [Emphasis mine.]

More current data reported on Heavy.com says: “As of Monday, July 11th, the game was seeing about 21 million daily active users, according to Survey Monkey.” [Emphasis mine.] And that number is even a few days old.

Holy crap!

Putting Things In Perspective

As usual, the breathless proclamations of doom in the news are overstated. Remember that the media makes its living by scaring the wits out of us and telling us everything horrible that’s going on in the world. Even better if there are gruesome photos or video, and people are “getting emotional.” They thrive on that stuff.

People have fallen off cliffs taking photos of natural wonders. People have been robbed while using public transportation. People have found dead bodies while jogging for their health. I can’t say for sure, but I’d bet some people have absent-mindedly walked into the street while engrossed in novels or newspaper articles. Do we freak out about photography, taking the subway, exercising outdoors, or reading? No, we do not. And we shouldn’t freak out over people playing Pokémon Go, either.

Over 21 million people are playing a game that requires getting out and moving. Two guys fell off a cliff because they were being careless or stupid, and it made the national news. There’s some perspective for you.

And hey, it’s a good thing that young woman found that drowned man.

“I probably would have never went down there if it weren’t for this game,” Shayla Wiggins admitted. “But in a way, I’m thankful. I feel like I helped find his body. He could have been there for days.”

How that situation could be an argument against playing is beyond me. I hope his family will find closure, knowing what happened to him.

A Closer Looks at Health Benefits

We are an all-too-sedentary society, and it’s costing us dearly in terms of lost lives, diminished potential, and public and private money spent on caring for the chronically sick and disabled. The US National Health Care Expenditure in 2014 was $3.0 trillion dollars. Much of that was to due to lifestyle diseases, described here in a Cleveland Clinic article [emphasis mine]:

“Poor lifestyle choices, such as smoking, overuse of alcohol, poor diet, lack of physical activity and inadequate relief of chronic stress are key contributors in the development and progression of preventable chronic diseases, including obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and several types of cancer. … Despite an understanding of what constitutes a healthy lifestyle, many patients lack the behavioral skills they need to apply everyday to sustain these good habits.”

study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2015, looking at 334,000 people over 12 years, found that being active was even more important that losing weight in terms of overall health benefits:

“The hazards of all-cause mortality were reduced by 16–30% in moderately inactive individuals compared with those categorized as inactive in different strata of BMI and WC. Avoiding all inactivity would theoretically reduce all-cause mortality by 7.35%,” and “… efforts to encourage even small increases in activity in inactive individuals may be beneficial to public health.”

A summary of the study on Forbes.com puts it very clearly [again, emphasis mine]:

“It turned out that lack of physical activity was linked to the greatest risk of death – and the greatest reduction in death risk was in the difference between the lowest two activity groups. In other words, just moving from “inactive” to “moderately inactive” showed the largest reduction in death risk, especially for normal weight people, but true for people of all body weights. And, the authors say, just taking a brisk 20-minute walk per day can move you from one category to the other, and reduce the risk of death anywhere from 16% to 30%.”

There are consequences to the habit of sitting on the couch at home. It is not a benign practice. It is not safe. Problems stemming from a lack of exercise include poor physical and mental health, lost productivity, misery, loneliness, and increased lifelong health costs. There’s plenty of information out there, but that’s not what’s getting publicized. According to the American Diabetes Association, “1.4 million Americans [United States] are diagnosed with diabetes every year.” According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year–that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.” [Emphasis theirs.]

Imagine changing those numbers, and many others like them, by even one percentage point. That would be 14,000 fewer people who become diabetic each year! 6,100 people who don’t die of heart disease each year! That would be amazing!

Pokémon Go has gotten over 20 million people (conservatively) off their butts. It has sent them walking around their neighborhoods, exploring parks, and discovering landmarks. Players are motivated and moving, and inviting their friends and families to join them in the fun, too!

As a personal trainer, fitness coach, writer, and advocate for people getting outdoors and participating in healthful activity with friends, I would consider myself successful to have positively influenced the exercise habits of a couple hundred people over the course of my career. This game has reached more than 100,000 times that many people in just a couple of weeks!

So the the mercenary news media and ignorant naysayers who are frightening people away from playing Pokémon Go are kind of pissing me off.

If a simple, free, fun game can get tens of millions of people into healthier habits, we should all be embracing it, and encouraging folks to play it! Pokémon Go is new. It’s just getting started. And it’s the first of its kind (or at least the first that’s widely known). Others will follow. There will be improvements in the games, some boundaries will be clarified in the physical world. It’s not perfect, but it is a very good thing. Go play!

See Pokémon Go for Yourself

I sure as heck don’t trust the news media to tell me what to think, and you shouldn’t either. First, they are clueless half the time, and second, their job is to sell commercial airtime by making us afraid, indignant, and enraged, and by letting us feel superior and “in the know.” Their job is not to inform. And just because something is trending on social media doesn’t mean it’s the most important thing to know about a subject.

I don’t like being ignorant of major social phenomena. Sure, I ignore most movies, don’t have any idea what’s on TV, and am clueless about this year’s hot bands. But Pokémon Go is a much bigger deal. This is a whole new thing. So I downloaded the app and tried it for myself. I encourage you to do the same.

Pokemon Go - Caution . . Pokemon Go - Clefairy

Try the game and find out. It’s really not the problem the media is making it out to be. I have never seen such a stark contrast between reality and what is being reported. And I have seen a lot of such a contrasts in my life.

Given the huge potential benefits of this game (and other augmented reality games that will certainly follow it), I think what the news media is doing is unconscionable. I’m really kind of furious about it.

Some Basics You Should Know

Here are some things you should know, that I’ve learned from playing it over the past two days.

  • It’s free. If you have an iOS or Android device just download it and check it out.
  • It’s easy. Ask a friend to show you the ropes, or Google how to play.
  • No one is led around blindly. The game will not lead you into traffic, off a cliff, or make you trespass, break laws, or desecrate graves. You do not chase or follow anything. You wander around and find the characters and objects. If there’s something you want in a place you can’t get to, let it go. You’ll have another chance later.
  • It’s fun. It really is a delightfully compelling experience, but not all-consuming. Nothing changes when you’re not playing – unlike those virtual pets that would die if you didn’t keep up with feeding them. You don’t have to keep checking it. Play when you’re playing, don’t play when you’re doing other things.
  • It’s collaborative more than it’s competitive. If there’s something to be found and collected, everyone can get it! It’s not a win/lose proposition. You play with your friends, not against them. (Hey! That’s a lot like Aikido!)

We Went, We Saw, We Were Amazed

Last night Michael and I went out to Balboa Park. It’s a huge urban park in San Diego, California. “The nation’s largest urban cultural park,” according to its website. You know, with museums, theaters, cafes, the San Diego Zoo, a botanical garden, street performers, artists, etc.

We arrived after 9pm. On a Wednesday. Got that? We were out late on Wednesday night. Prime sitting-in-front-of-the-TV-or-computer time for many people. Not such a busy time at the park, usually.

Pokemon Go - Balboa Park . . Pokemon Go - Balboa Park

It was a beautiful, clear, warm summer evening. Even from a distance I could see in the game that there was a lot going on throughout the whole area. (Michael was driving.) The first parking lot we tried was full. We got lucky and found a spot on the street. There were people everywhere.

Thousands of happy people were out having a great time together. Small groups of good-natured people, mostly younger, were laughing, talking, and helping each other out. Couples were playing together. People were walking their dogs. Parents pushed babies in strollers, or played together with their little kids.

I didn’t hear a raised voice or unkind word the whole time we were there. Instead we heard quiet conversations: “Over here!” “I got a Zubat!” “Ooh, look – a Ponyta!”

We walked up and down the Prado, and stopped to have a drink at the cafe near the art museum. That was new to us – we didn’t know the cafe was open in the evenings. We also saw that there is a Wednesday night jazz jam session there! We’ll have to come back again! We sat on a bench in the sculpture garden and watched people hunt for creatures and items in the game, and wondered how many others were experiencing the garden and cafe for the first time, too. One of the aims of the game (or so I’ve heard) is to introduce people to landmarks, points of interest, public art, parks, and other interesting features of their communities. I’d have to say it’s doing a good job of that.

IMG_5649

The streets have probably never been so safe. The buildings were lit blue, in honor of the murdered police officers. There was no security issue or problem last night that we saw. We saw no police – there was no need for crowd control. We saw one security guard in a pickup driving slowly down the main walkway (the Prado). Nobody was bothering anyone or anything. Nobody was being unruly, loud, disrespectful, or destructive.

IMG_5673

Neither of us have never seen anything like this in our lifetimes. (We are in our mid-50s.) It was just incredible. Michael kept saying it was surreal. He called his parents to tell them what was going on. We stayed, playing and people-watching, until after 11pm. The place was still buzzing, and more people were arriving. It was really amazing to see. I wonder what the weekend will be like?

After so many tragedies around the world, so much bitterness, so many contrary, oppositional people spouting nastiness daily, it was a relief and a joy to see all these good people getting out together and just playing. It was like coming up for air after being held underwater. It’s not that tragedies don’t matter, or that political debate isn’t important, but that’s not all there is. There’s also living our lives. Pursuing happiness. That’s a thing, too.

Go download the game, figure out the basics, grab a friend or two, and find a place to play – shopping area, nightlife zone, university, or park. I think you’ll have a great time!


Linda Eskin is a writer, Aikido student, NASM Certified Personal Trainer, and ACE Group Fitness Instructor serving clients in San Diego County, California. As a fitness professional her goal is to support her clients in achieving the levels of health and fitness that enable them to go out and do whatever they love to do – martial arts, dance, hiking, surfing, golf, … Maybe even playing Pokémon Go.

Linda is currently completing two books for students of Aikido, one for children and one for adult beginners. Linda trains with Dave Goldberg Sensei at Aikido of San Diego, in California, and holds the first black belt rank, sho-dan. Sho-dan literally means “beginning rank.”