Writing and moving

I still struggle with the tension between time spent moving and time spent writing, even as I come to recognize that the tension may not even exist. So I love this post by Katy Bowman, on being A Writer Who Moves, A Mover Who Writes.

Culturally, we still hold the belief that the relationship between time and productivity is direct. As if writing consists solely of the output of words, your typing speed being the indicator of how long it would take to write a thousand-word word article (ten minutes) or a novel (one week). But of course, time spent coming up with ideas and themes, and organizing and reorganizing these threads in our minds, is also “writing.” The trouble is, we’ve come to see sitting at a desk as an integral part of the writing process. We imagine the mulling, the idea-forming, the organizing, the process—the creativity—can occur only when the butt–chair circuit is closed. I (and researchers) have found the opposite to be true: movement can be a conduit for creativity.

Today I will live this truth: I will move and I will write.

Book review: Breaking the Jump by Julie Angel

breaking-the-jump-coverI’m not sure exactly when I discovered parkour. Its first mention here in my blog is in May 2014 when I talk about starting to practice precisions and shoulder rolls.

By then, Julie Angel had already finished a PhD and created a large body of photos and videos on parkour.

I came across her work fairly early, and immediately appreciated its strength, so I was delighted to learn that she was writing a book. I bought a copy as soon as it came out, and spent last week reading it.

I’d read some about the early history of parkour, so I knew about David Belle as an individual and the Yamakasi as a group, but this was largely my first exposure to the other early practitioners as individuals—and a bunch of interesting individuals they are.

Early in the book Angel takes a stab at tweezing out the many threads that went into making parkour something that appeared in this place at this time: The urban planning that produced the built infrastructure in Lisses and that also drew in the immigrant population that lived there. The life- and family- histories of the handful of young men who became the Yamakasi. The kinds of men they were. Angel never really pins down exactly why these young men produced parkour when no one else had done so, but it’s a credible effort at answering a question that’s probably unanswerable.

Because on the one hand, many other groups of young men could have created parkour. Most of the key traits of these young men—a certain facility with movement; a willingness to train very, very hard; a tendency to push one another to ever greater efforts (and to let themselves be pushed)—are not that rare. Although many young men are clumsy or lazy, you need only look among the national-level competitors in any boys or junior individual sport, or even at any good high school sports team, to find both movement skill and the capacity for hard training.

More important than those things—which are, as I say, fairly common among young men—was an ethos that leaned against that willingness to push and be pushed. It’s an ethos exemplified in some of their sayings—things like “Start together, finish together,” and “Be strong to be useful.” Everyone was pushed outside their comfort zone, but no one was pushed to attempt anything that he didn’t know he could succeed at. It is surely the reason that early parkour practitioners had such an incredibly low rate of training injuries whether from accidents or from overtraining. (Would that runners were as durable.)

New to me—and a perfect example of that ethos—is the picture Julie Angel gradually paints of Williams Belle. Younger than the others, he was someone I hadn’t even been aware of until I read the book. Williams is portrayed as having all the movement skill and all the willingness to train very, very hard as any of the other pioneers, but lacking the ego of David Belle, and possessing teaching methods that seem uniquely gentle.

She has Stéphane Vigroux saying this about Williams:

On the surface it was the same training school, but somehow the energy and feel when observing Williams was different. . . . From the first jump . . . Williams had known that the discipline should be about helping and sharing with others.

It makes Williams sound like someone I’d like to get to know.

Angel includes a good look at the prehistory of parkour—Georges Hébert and others—and a look at contemporaries who created things that overlap—people like Erwan Le Corre—but it’s not really about them. Most of the book is about the early practitioners. But only most of the book. A little bit—maybe ten or fifteen percent—is kind of a memoir of Julie Angel’s own experiences beginning with parkour. Her stories of her struggles to break her own jumps, learn to balance on a rail, or simply to attend her first class are very effective at illuminating the journey of the founders.

Maybe she used every such story she had—at least, that’s the only good reason I can think of for including so few, because frankly, those bits are some of the best bits in the book. If she wrote a longer memoir of her own journey learning parkour, I’d buy it.

If you’re interested in the history of parkour, and especially if you’re interested in understanding what it meant to those early folks—what it meant to work together, to train very hard, to confront their fears and overcome them together—this is an outstanding book

Breaking the Jump: The secret story of parkour’s high-flying rebellion by Julie Angel.

Practiced with a local parkour group

I’ve been following the local University of Illinois parkour club via its facebook page since last year, but what with being busy moving and such last summer, had never gotten out to train with them until today.

I had a great time! We practiced our quadrupedal movement via a game called QM Tag, we practiced our precisions, and they taught me one vault and showed me several others.

They’re a great group—focused on their training but eager to teach me stuff, careful not to push me (or one another) to do things we’re not ready for.

I bowed out early, after a bit over an hour, but except for having skinned my knuckles in the QM Tag, I believe I escaped uninjured. I’ll definitely be back—and I’ll definitely be stepping up my own practice in the meantime. I want to do more.

Sore foot

I’ve had a slightly sore foot for a while now.

It hasn’t been a big deal. It doesn’t hurt when I run. It doesn’t hurt when I walk (except sometimes when I walk really fast). It doesn’t hurt when I stand, or when I’m just sitting.

Mostly it hurts when I use my foot as a brace to turn or twist, such as when I brace the side of my foot against the mattress to turn over in bed. Sometimes it hurts when I’m standing on my other foot, and touch just the toe of the sore one down to catch my balance.

It sometimes hurts for the first few minutes right after I get up in the morning, kind of like plantar fasciitis, but a different part of my foot: the medial edge, just posterior to the ball of the foot.

Even then, it doesn’t hurt much.

However, it has been persistently hurting occasionally, just a little, for a long time now. Months.

I had been doing basic, conservative care. I was wearing supportive shoes, avoiding things that hurt it as best I could, and figuring it would eventually get better. But it hasn’t.

So, a couple days ago, I decided to step it up a notch: I decided to treat it with a placebo. (The effectiveness of placebos is well-established. They’re effective even when people know that the treatment is a placebo.)

My initial plan had been to add in some sort of cream or ointment. I thought of something like Aspercreme, but it doesn’t hurt enough to justify the use of even a mild analgesic, so I thought I’d get something like Bengay or IcyHot: just some sort of counter-irritant that would make it clear that I was “doing something” to treat my foot. Then I saw Walter Jon Williams’s recent post on Tiger Balm, and knew that I’d found the right stuff.

Jackie discovered Tiger Balm several decades ago, during her travels in Asia, and it has long been a staple item in our medicine cabinet, but we’d let ourselves run out in the run-up to our several moves, so we didn’t have any. Fortunately, the closest store to our townhouse is a CVS, and they had two varieties of Tiger Balm in stock. They seemed almost identical (a one-percentage point difference in menthol), but the one they were marketing as their “ultra strength” “sports rub” was $1 cheaper, so we got that one.

I’ve been using it for two days now, and I’m imaging that my foot is feeling better.

Perhaps because I’m finally doing something about my foot, I also remembered something else. For years now I’ve been wearing a pair of slip-on Birkinstocks as slippers. I started wearing them when I first got plantar fasciitis, and found that it was crucial to never go barefoot on our hardwood floors. Along with other supportive footwear, they solved the problem.

Usually I only wore them indoors, but very occasionally I’d wear them outdoors for very short trips—if I was only going as far as the mailbox, for instance. One or two summers ago, I tried to wear them for a walk around the block, and found that they really hurt the joint at the base of my big toe. I couldn’t make it even as far as around the block—I had to turn back and hobble home.

They never hurt my foot when I just wore them around the house, which I continued to do.

But now that I was thinking about it, it occurred to me that maybe they were hurting my foot, just not enough to notice unless I did something out of the ordinary.

Since the plantar fasciitis hasn’t bothered me since I started doing taiji, I decided to retire the slip-on Birkinstocks.

I’m also adding some calf-stretching, as well as some calf and shin strengthening activities.

I suspect some combination of those activities will do the trick. But just in case, I’m also rubbing some Tiger Balm two or three times a day into the side of that foot, from ball back almost to the heel.

I’ll keep you posted.

Oh, and by the way—the main reason I haven’t been posting much here is that I’ve been posting most of my exercise-related stuff on my Esperanto language blog, mostly as a way to improve my grasp of the exercise-related vocabulary (which is surprisingly poorly developed in Esperanto). I have a sense that most of my friends and relations have heard about all they want to about my exercise and fitness. And what better way to make sure almost nobody is bothered by my yammering on about it than to do so in a language almost nobody speaks?

Not a link to my year in pictures

Google gave me a link to my year in pictures. And they have a lot of my pictures, because they have all the pictures I took with my phone. (But not the pictures I took with my camera, which is what I use if I’m planning to take pictures.)

However, the video that Google produced is hilarious, because way over half the pictures I took with my phone were taken to document the condition of the various apartments we moved into.

Whatever Google’s algorithm for selecting pictures is, it’s is pretty good—many of the pictures they selected are the better ones. So half the pictures Google shows me are pretty good pictures of Jackie and Barbara and Rosie and fall color and interesting things we did.

But about half are pictures of damaged carpets, damaged tiles, damaged plaster, damaged trim, damaged closet doors, etc. Here’s one:

IMG_20140802_105258908
Preexisting carpet damage in our winter palace

But, now that I think about it, maybe that’s fair. Maybe that’s a pretty good representation of my year.

I’m so glad we’re done moving.

Why we moved

After our old apartment complex changed hands, our neighbors spent the whole summer worrying aloud that the new management company would raise the rent.

We declined to join in. I expected the rent to go up, but we had been getting such a good deal for so long, I figured that the rent could go up by 20%, maybe even 30%, and still be competitive.

Then we saw the proposed lease from the complex’s new owner, and went straight from “wait and see” to “let’s find a new place to live.”

You see, the new lease (I almost put the word in scare quotes) was an internet-style agreement. You’ve seen them—you’ve probably clicked through to agree to hundreds of them by now. They’re the ones with these two characteristics:

  1. There’s a long list of “terms and conditions” that they can change at any time.
  2. They doesn’t promise that the service they’re providing actually works.

For a broad range of internet stuff—especially stuff that’s free, like an email address or a web tool—a contract of that sort is perfectly reasonable. If someone is kindly letting you use some service for free, it’s fine if they decline to stand behind it, and understandable if they ask you to agree that the service is offered as-is and shouldn’t be relied upon for anything important.

For real-world stuff—especially real-world stuff you’re paying for—signing such an agreement is a terrible idea. Any adult with experience in the real world would know better.

Sadly, young folks don’t have much real-world experience. Worse, the current generation of young folks—having clicked through hundreds or thousands of such contracts—see them as normal.

I bring this up now because the new management company’s so-called lease was my first instance of such a contract for a real world thing.

An Internet-Style Apartment Lease

They raised the rent of course; this was not a surprise—and would even have been okay. But the proposed lease was an internet-style agreement. That was a deal breaker for us.

They Can Change the Terms and Conditions

A lot of internet-style contracts allow the other party to change the terms and conditions at any time, just by updating a document on some website.

This is fine for certain kinds of things, such as an internet service. Specifically, it’s acceptable for any service where you engage in individual transactions. Maybe it’s a video service where you pay $x to stream a video one time. Maybe it’s a service that will print your photo on a t-shirt or a coffee mug for $y. If they change their terms in some way that makes the service no longer attractive, you can just quit ordering.

It’s even true of a service with a subscription format, as long as you can cancel the service at any time. An example might be a service where you get to listen to unlimited music for $z a month. If they change the terms so that it costs too much, or they put limits on the music (or they lose access to the music you most want to listen to), you can just cancel.

Where it becomes completely unacceptable is when it’s a longer-term contract you can’t just cancel, such as a lease.

The contract the management company wanted us to sign said that they could change any of the terms at any time. If we didn’t like it, we’d have 30 days to move out.

That’s not a lease at all! The whole essence of a lease is that I know that I have an apartment I can live in for a year, and I know what I’d have to pay.

This is more like month-to-month renting, where I have to be ready to move out at any time. Except that it’s worse than month-to-month renting, because I’m committed for the full duration of the lease.

In fact, it’s even worse than that—the plain terms of the contract would allow the apartment company to change the duration of the lease as well: They could have come back the day after we signed and said, “We’ve tripled the rent. Oh, and we’ve also changed it from a 1-year lease to a 99-year lease: You have to pay for the rest of your life.”

I doubt if a court would tolerate such a thing, but I’m not going to sign a lease with unacceptable terms and hope that the court will take my side.

They Make No Promises

The other thing that’s common in internet-style contracts is that the party offering the service doesn’t promise anything.

That’s perfectly reasonable for a free service. If a company offers to let me use their cool thing for free, I’m fine with clicking through an agreement that says that they don’t promise that the thing even works and don’t promise to fix it if it breaks.

You know where it’s really not reasonable? In an apartment lease.

The whole point of an apartment lease is that you give them some money every month in exchange for a habitable place to live. They promise to keep it habitable if stuff breaks (you promise to pay for anything you break), and when the term is up, you return the apartment in the same condition you got it, except for normal wear and tear.

The contract the new management company wanted me to sign specifically said that they didn’t promise the apartment would be habitable. They also specifically didn’t promise that it would have any appliances, nor that they’d fix them if they broke.

They would have been within the terms of the lease to show up one day and take down the doors and windows, pull out the fridge and stove, shut off the heat and water, and drain the pipes. (It would probably have been illegal, but it wouldn’t have violated the lease.)

I saw this coming some time ago, and have written about it before. (Specifically, in a post called Reject Variable Terms and Conditions that I wrote for Wise Bread back in 2009.) I didn’t expect that I’d start seeing them in apartment leases this soon, though.

No sane person would sign such a contract—unless they’d been trained by click-through internet contacts that such terms were normal.

An internet-style contract is fine for an internet service. It’s even fine for a real-world service that’s not critical to your life or your business, as long as you can cancel it at any time.

It is not fine for anything you depend on. And it’s never fine for a contract that they can change but that you can’t cancel.

We looked around for a new place to live, and found one easily—one with a real lease.

Other Issues

Most of the above is an edited version of an article I originally wrote for Wise Bread, but that the editors didn’t want. For the Wise Bread article, I was focusing on internet-style agreements and why they’re bad for real-world stuff. The rest of this post is just a short description of the other reasons we decided to move. There were two of them.

First, they were going to start charging separately for utilities that had been included in the rent. This is something that I’d be fine with in theory—we probably use less heat and water than average. Except that heat and water were not metered per apartment. Without actual per-apartment numbers, the plan was for the complex to charge us made-up numbers. (They had hired company to make up the numbers for them, supposedly by allocating the complex’s actual costs to apartments by size. But there was no transparency, so I stand by my characterization of the charges as being made-up numbers.)

Second, they were also going to start charging extra every month because we have a cat. (We had already paid an extra pet deposit to cover any damage the cat caused, including a non-refundable part to pay for a more extensive cleaning.)

All told—higher rent, made-up utilities cost, cat rent—the increase would have been several hundred dollars—something like a 50% increase to our monthly housing cost.

We might even have paid that, to avoid the hassles of a move. But we weren’t going to sign an internet-style not-really-a-lease agreement.

Finally done with the moving

Moving is one of those things where you’re never really done, but I’m going to draw a line here and declare this move officially done, because: We found a tenant for our winter palace! We didn’t pay the rent for December. Utilities have been switched over to the new tenant’s name, and we’re expecting final bills for the gas and power, and the water. (Bonus: the landlady said that we’d left the place very clean, so we’re getting our damage deposit back.)

We’re not doing with the moving in, of course (although we continue to make progress—we spent some time today hanging pictures).

I don’t have much more to say about it than that, but since I posted about so many of the steps from Country Fair to summer place to winter palace to Winfield Village, I thought I ought to bring the saga to a tidy close.

We are still planning a little open-house event for local friends. We’ll keep you posted.

Moving one last time!

All our moves this summer—from Country Fair to our summer place to our winter palace—were in support of a plan to move to a townhouse in Winfield Village. That plan was looking a little shaky along about mid-summer, when we were still far from the top of the waiting list for a townhouse and needed to find a place to live when our sublet ran out, but our plan has come to fruition! We are now members of the Winfield Village coop, and yesterday we picked up the keys to our townhouse.

We’ve spent the last two days scoping out the new place—measuring doors and windows, updating our furniture plan with the new information, etc.

The movers come Monday to move all our stuff out of our winter palace and into what we’re tentatively calling our country estate.

More updates as things progress. There’s a lot of cool stuff out that way, some of which I was completely unaware of. (For example, there’s a gorgeous reconstructed prairie just a few minutes walk from our front door.)

Our next place

So, we’ve not been making progress on the waiting list at Winfield Village. Actually it’s worse than that: We’ve been making backwards progress.

When we first got on the list, we were #5—but they said we were #2 to be called next, because several of the people ahead of us had already been called and had passed because they weren’t ready to move yet.

Then next time, we were #5.

We stayed at #5 for a while, but then a few weeks later, we were #7. How can that be? Well, two ways. First, several people who had been waiting for townhomes had decided to give up and move to the list for apartments instead, and they order people by the date their application became active, rather than the date they asked to be on a particular list. Second, people who already live at Winfield Village who decide to move within the complex skip to the top of the waiting list.

Last week we checked and learned that we were #10.

This was not as discouraging as you might think, because it actually simplifies our life. We had talked about various strategies for temporary housing to span a gap between when we needed to move out of our summer place and when our new place was going to be available. Clearly, those plans would not need to be actualized. Any possible move-in date was far enough off that there was no reason not to just go ahead and sign a one-year lease.

Of course, this necessitates yet another name—for our next place, after our old place and our summer place, but before our new place at Winfield Village.

My propose, which Jackie enthusiastically accepted, is that we call our next place for after our summer place our winter palace.

We’ve so much enjoyed living right downtown that we focused our search on this area. Jackie found a place about a ten-minute walk from here—two blocks further from West Side Park, but about five blocks closer to the library. I called right after lunch. We went to see the place at 2:30, read the lease standing out by the landlady’s van, signed it, and I wrote a check for the damage deposit.

Our winter palace will be ours starting August 1st.

After we signed the lease we walked to the library (I had a book on hold), then to the Blind Pig Brewery where Jackie bought us celebratory beers, which we drank in the beer garden:

jackie-winter-palace-celebratory-beer

Moved!

We have moved!

We’re not in our new place yet, just our summer place, where we’ve actually been spending our nights for a week now. Our days, though, have been spent at the old place, finishing up the packing. We filled the last box around mid-day yesterday.

Today the movers came and moved everything to our storage unit.

Jackie did great work on the move. She not only did much more than her share of actually packing things into boxes, she also ordered the boxes—and did an incredibly precise job of it. We filled almost 60 book boxes, a similar number of small and medium boxes, somewhat fewer large boxes, and a few specialized boxes (extra-large, electronic equipment, mirror, wardrobe). Jackie figured out how many of each kind to order, and when we were all done we had 3 extra book boxes (one or two of which we will use to pack up the tools that we kept on-hand in case we need any during the cleanup), 1 small and 1 medium box.

I also credit her hard work with saving us money on the move itself, which came in at about $150 below the estimate—mainly because with everything properly packed in advance, the movers were able to just load and unload, without having to fiddle around with stuff that wasn’t quite ready.

Here’s the living room early in the move—piles of boxes, all the shelves empty:

2014-06-16 09.13.30And here’s the living room late in the move:

2014-06-16 13.14.26And here’s the view from near our storage unit:

2014-06-16 10.25.54Tomorrow is my birthday; we’ll take the day off for some celebratory relaxation. The next day we need to go back to the old place and clean it, then schedule a walk-through with the management to make sure there’s no damage. It’s in very good shape, but I’m still mentally warming up to argue that “normal wear and tear” for a unit we’ve been living in for 14 years is more than might be expected after a 1-year rental. Hopefully it won’t be necessary.

After that, we’re pretty much on vacation for the rest of the summer! I’ll be able to focus on my writing. Jackie will be able to focus on her spinning. (Not her weaving, as the loom is packed. Also not the knitting—she’d intended to have some knitting yarn, but used so much as packing material to go around fragile items, she ended up going ahead and packing the knitting needles as well.)

There’s a bunch of cultural stuff in Champaign in the summer that we hope to do, including Friday Night Live every week, and the annual Blues, Brews, and BBQs, not to mention the Taste of Champaign. It’ll be really handy to be so close to downtown for all that.

We can spend June and July enjoying all that, before we have to start worrying about where we’ll live in the fall. Hopefully, Winfield Village will get us a move-in date in good time, but if they don’t, we have lots of options, from visiting relatives to just renting a regular apartment, to taking an extended camping trip. (We made sure to bring our camping gear to our summer place, rather than packing it up.)