Bus Metaphors

Friday, November 14, 2014

I’m spending a lot of time on the bus these days. And this has been making me think about some of my favorite bus metaphors.

My favorite of course is the Ken Kesey quote from Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test: You’re either on the bus or off the bus.

My second favorite is the great bus metaphor that the late Kenyan scientist and environmental activist Wangari Maathai outlined in a speech I heard her give in 2009. She talked about how to know when the approach you’re taking isn’t right — what happens when you are not on the right bus.

I think in response to a conversation I had with a friend about that bus metaphor (though I don’t remember the details right now), my friend sent me a link to a piece by photographer Arno Rafael Minkkinen that describes his Helsinki Bus Station Theory.

I re-read the Minkkinen piece the other day and was struck by the phrase, “We find out what we will do by knowing what we will not do.”

Life is a process of elimination.

If you are lucky, you get to something you want to do before having to go through too many things that you will not do.

If you’re not lucky, you get stuck doing something for a very long time that you really don’t want to do at all. And maybe you eventually get to something you do want to do, and maybe you just watch a lot of tv.

We find out what we will do by knowing what we will not do.

Charles Lindbergh on Sleep

Monday, September 29, 2014

“My mind clicks on and off, as though attached to an electric switch with which some outside force is tampering. I try letting one eyelid close at a time when I prop the other open with my will. But the effort’s too much. Sleep is winning. My whole body argues dully that nothing, nothing life can attain is quite so desirable as sleep.”
–Charles Lindbergh in his book Pulitzer-prize winning book The Spirit of St. Louis about the first successful transatlanic flight

The Things to Do

Sunday, September 14, 2014

“The Things to do are: the things that need doing, that you see need to be done, and that no one else seems to see need to be done. Then you will conceive your own way of doing that which needs to be done — that no one else has told you to do or how to do it. This will bring out the real you that often gets buried inside a character that has acquired a superficial array of behaviors induced or imposed by others on the individual.”
—R. Buckminster Fuller, designer/inventor/philosopher (1895–1983)

Quote sourced from Wikiquote. (Wish I had a more authoritative source, but time is short these days. The internet is the best I can do.)

Beyond the Occupational Identity

Friday, July 4, 2014

I have nothing to report from my actual life at the moment, decided to look through the archives to see if there was anything partially written but not yet posted that could be finished and put up.

And look, here is something.

I was working on this in the fall as I thought through issues surrounding early retirement and financial independence, about working and not working, and what that all means and where it leads people. Obviously this is something that the early retirement bloggers focus on a lot, and nicoleandmaggie wrote post about how economists define retirement that I thought was interesting. (They also have a good post about the concept of financial independence. UPDATE: And another one about identity and jobs.)

So one of the things I decided to do while thinking about all of this was to re-read part of a book I bought a long time ago, called How to Do Things Right by L. Rust Hills that is a compilation of short works and essays written by the long-time fiction editor at Esquire magazine, who had an interesting and varied career over many decades.

The section I wanted to re-read is called “How to Retire at 41, Or, Life Among the Pursuits.” It was originally published in 1973 as a book called How to Retire at 41: Dropping Out of the Rat Race without Going Down the Drain.

As is often the case when I read an actual book, written before the advent of the internet (or at least before the internet as we know it), by an actual writer, I am struck by how much better it is than so much of what I usually read. Which almost always makes me think I should stop spending so much time on the internet and start reading more actual books.


So I was going to write a nice post about this whole thing, with a point and everything, and hopefully someday I will actually manage to do that, but in the meantime I decided I should just to give you an excerpt from the book. Because it provides some good background and if I ever do get around to writing more, I can just reference this.

The general point, which I’ve been thinking about for a long time, is that one of the challenges of being “financially independent” or “retiring” (sometimes those terms are used interchangeably, sometimes not) is that much of our society is built around work. People typically define themselves by occupation; one of the most common introductory questions in America is “What do you do?” (Which doesn’t mean that it’s not a weird question, it totally is, but nonetheless it is very common.)

Having a job provides a great deal of structure to your life; if you don’t have a job, you need to figure all kinds of things out on your own. And you need to have enough of a conception of yourself that you can give a reasonable answer when you meet new people and they ask you what you do.

About half way through “How to Retire at 41,” the author begins discussing the concept of the “occupational identity” — how you identify yourself with what you do for a living — and considers how one can move beyond that. And I think what he says is worth thinking about.

So here it is:

Beyond the Occupational Identity

Remember that statement of Montaigne’s that we began with, way back when:

If you plan to withdraw into yourself, first prepare yourself a welcome.

We now see it isn’t just a Comprehensive Day Plan you need, or a country place or an old time-consuming boat or an engrossing hobby or whatever (although these help, God knows); what’s needed is some conception of yourself — of, that is, your self — now that you won’t be working. You don’t really realize, until you quit work, just how much of your conception of your self comes from your work — not just from what you do, but how you do it.

Your basic occupational identity — what you did, or “were” — permitted a lot of amplification by the way you did what you were. When you were working, you weren’t (not in your own mind, anyway) just ” an accountant” or “in fabrics” or “one of the salesmen” or “an insurance man” or whatever. You were also the way you did the work: you were the kindly boss, or the efficient second-in-command, or the talented idea-man or the only one in the office who got along with the secretaries, or some such. Whatever you were, you had some sense of yourself doing it, some recognition of the role you’d chosen to play or the role you’d been forced into.

Let’s take fishing, which can be either a work-for-pay occupation or a leisure-retirement pursuit. Say you were a fisherman when you worked, that’s what you did, that’s who you were, a fisherman. Okay, now there’s also the style you used when you were a fisherman. A fisherman-by-trade can be, for instance, kindly like Manuel or whatever his name was (Spencer Tracy) in Captains Courageous; or he can be surly like Ahab in Moby-Dick. There are presumably an infinite number of ways to be a professional fisherman on this kindly-surly scale, and kindly-surly is only one of many polarizations of personality traits, as you know — although, admittedly, perhaps the most important one.

But now, suppose that when you quit work you took up fishing as a retirement pursuit. One assumes here that you weren’t a fisherman-by-trade before, but something else; because you’d never retire from being a fisherman at age forty-one and then take up fishing as a retirement pursuit unless it was just to make fun of me. Say, though, you were (used to be) an insurance salesman, and now at forty-one you can quit work and live off your commissions from the premiums we pay on the policies you sold us years and years ago. You decide to take up fishing as a retirement pursuit. Now the way you fish in retirement is the key thing. You can do it in a kind of elegant, heroic, upper-classy, sportsman-type way — big-game fishing like Hemingway, or elegant dry-fly angling with delicate lightweight rods — that sort of way. Or you can take it up in a kind of messy, kindly, puttery, lower-classish way — in an old rowboat or fishing off the bridge with the neighborhood kids.

You see what I’m saying? I’m saying that once the specific, defining, perhaps confining, at any rate identifying occupation is removed from your life by your retirement from work, then you style or manner, your “you-ness,” becomes the all-important thing, because there isn’t anything much else. The way you do things, the way in fact you do nothing (now that there’s nothing to do) that’s now the only self you have. If when you retire you do some fishing to fill your time, you can sit out there in your rowboat all day long with the pole in your hands, and they’re still not going to say of you, “Oh, he’s a fisherman,” because you aren’t a fisherman. You used to be an insurance man. Now you’re nothing. You’re nothing except the way you do nothing. Everyone thinks of you as nothing — unless you do your nothing in a way that identifies you to people; unless, for instance, you do your fishing (or whatever) in a puttery, kindly sort of way, say, in which case they’ll say, “Oh, he’s (you, that is, are) a kindly soul, just as sweet and gentle as can be.” Or maybe they’ll describe you, identify you, “Oh, he really stirs things up, a kind of troublemaker, but fun to be around.” Personality’s a part of it, of course, but it’s more a matter of individuality, a kind of amplification of personality by consistency of style and manner.

With your occupational identity gone, you have to find another existence for yourself. Remember Thoreau leaning on the fence post, lying on the ice, and so on? Well, now imagine he’s fishing. When he fishes, he fishes as Thoreau, not as a fisherman. He’s not a fisherman, and he knows it. Like him, you have to be able to have the fishing (or whatever the specific nondefining, nonoccupational routine or pursuit you’re up to) removed or replaced, and still be left with enough particularity of how it is done (not what is done) to provide a sufficient sense of self for yourself and others.

Beyond the occupational identity, that’s all there is.

Universal Pilaf, Legume Version

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Back when I was doing a series of pantry-cooking posts, I wrote about my favorite recipe that I turn to when (a) I’m hungry (b) I need to fix something at home, going out is not an option and the food fairy is not coming, and (c) I feel like I have nothing in the house to make a meal out of.

It is the Universal Pilaf recipe from Amy Dacyczyn’s The Tightwad Gazette.

Typically I end up at this recipe when I’m thinking about how hungry I am and I start going down my mental list of what I can make and multiple items have to be abandoned due to a lack of key ingredient.

Omelettes? … no eggs. Tacos? … no beans no chicken. Quesadillas? … no cheese. Scrambled eggs and cheese grits? I JUST SAID NO EGGS NO CHEESE. Are you even listening to me?!?


Sometimes the part of my brain that can keep track of what is in the pantry/refrigerator/freezer gets cranky with the part of my brain that just wants to eat. And once I get to that point, it’s time to head for the pilaf options.

Usually I have either cooked chicken or ground beef in the freezer, so I think of this as a recipe for chicken or ground beef. But the last time I went through this mental exercise, I had neither. But I did have a can of chickpeas in the pantry, one that I had bought to make a large batch of hummus with but ended up making a smaller batch and reserving the second can for future use.

Okay then. The future is now.

We have grain (rice), vegetable (spinach and/or peas, carrots), aromatic (garlic), and protein (chickpeas). We always have chicken stock, because I buy whole chickens and poach them and freeze the chicken stock, and I can’t imagine ever not having some kind of fat (butter, olive oil, coconut oil, bacon grease) somewhere.

We can make pilaf.

As I was pulling the vegetables out of the freezer, I ran across a small container of chicken fat, and that seemed like a good option for the fat.

So I put the frozen chicken stock and frozen spinach on the stove to thaw, peeled and sliced carrots, and heated a tablespoon or so of the frozen chicken fat.

When the fat was hot, I added minced garlic, then added a cup of rice and coated the grains with fat, then put in the rinsed and drained chickpeas, then the two cups of chicken stock. Covered and returned to a boil, then added the carrots and spinach along with a little bit of salt and fresh ground pepper. Covered, turned down the heat, and let it simmer. When most of the liquid had been absorbed, added about two teaspoons of Penzey’s Hot Curry Powder. Kept on the heat until the liquid had all been absorbed, then turned off the burner and let it sit for a few minutes, then moved off the burner entirely and let it sit for a few more minutes.

While it was finishing up and steaming, I chopped some dried coconut flakes and some cashews (roasted, unsalted), and put into a dry skillet and toasted them lightly.

Put the pilaf on a plate, sprinkled on the coconut and cashews, mixed it all together.


Makes two large servings, four small ones, or one large-ish and two small-ish ones. (Usually when I make this recipe, I eat it once for dinner and twice for lunch, so I think of it as three servings.)

Not bad for a dang I am hungry and I have nothing in the fridge night.

The Forty Dollar Burrito Revisited

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Okay I know all of you have been anxiously awaiting this recipe for the past FOUR YEARS. Well here it is, the wait is over.

A long, long, time ago, I wrote about making a burrito recipe that my dad had sent me from the New York Times. Because it was the first time I had made it, I decided to follow the recipe pretty much exactly (though I did cut it down a bit, it called for four pounds of steak, there was really no possible way for me to make that work) and I spent more than forty-five dollars getting groceries for that one recipe. This is not a viable recipe for me given my meager food budget of $90-$120 per month.

However they were really quite delicious and I said I’d work on a revised edition, to see if I could come up with something that wouldn’t require me to take out a payday loan to make it happen.

And I did actually figure all of this out a couple of years ago, and even wrote it up, but never managed to post it. So I’m sorry it’s taken so long, but I made these the other day and they are just darn good, and not too expensive, especially when you get everything at the Hispanic grocery. Even the meat (I used flap steak) was affordable, at around five dollars per pound.

Because they are so good, and because burritos happen to be one of the things that I could eat every day for the rest of my life,  it actually seems worth the trouble and expense for me to make these occasionally and have the exact same thing every day for a week, until, with sadness in my heart that it is all gone, I scrape the last re-heated leftover drop of sauce out of the pan and lick it off my finger.

The Twenty Dollar Forty Dollar Burrito

3-4 servings

1 to 1-1/2 lbs skirt steak, hanger steak, or beef flap meat
1/4 cup mild taco sauce or tomato marinade (see recipe below)
garlic powder or fresh garlic

approx 1 Tbsp oil for pan
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup diced onion
1 yellow pepper, diced
1 chipotle chili pepper in adobo sauce, chopped

1 to 2 Tbsp adobo sauce
1/2 cup prepared salsa
4 to 6 oz. beer
1/4 cup water

1/4 to 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 to 1 tsp ground chili peppers
salt and pepper to taste

Tomato Marinade
the original recipe calls for mild Old El Paso Taco Sauce — if you have that or can easily get it, feel free to use it (it’s not very expensive). If not, here’s a homemade substitute

1/2 tsp vegetable oil
1/4 tsp minced garlic
2 T onion
1 can tomato sauce
1/2 tsp vinegar
1/4 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp chili powder

Heat oil in small saucepan over medium heat. Saute garlic and onion in oil. Add tomato sauce. Stir in vinegar, sugar, chili powder. Simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375F. Rub garlic over both sides of steak, then coat with taco sauce or tomato marinade. Cook for 10 minutes, turn over, and cook for another 10 minutes. (This is like a fast-track marination process; it tenderizes the steak.)

While the steak is roasting, heat oil in large skillet. Saute garlic and onion until onion is translucent, then add the pepper and cook until softened.

When the steak is done roasting, remove from the oven and slice across the grain into strips of about an inch wide.

Add the sliced steak to the skillet, along with the chopped adobo pepper. Stir to combine. Season with cumin, ground chili, salt and pepper.

Add the adobo sauce, salsa, beer, and water to the skillet. The sauce will be quite thin. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low and cook at a lively simmer, uncovered, until the sauce has cooked down, about 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding cumin, chili powder, salt, pepper, as needed.

Serve in warm flour tortillas with any or all of the following accompaniments:

grated cheese, sour cream, salsa, rice, beans, chopped cilantro.


For some of my recipe testing I bought beer, but in one of them I remembered that I had some leftover beer that I had saved to cook with and I used that and it worked fine. So if you don’t always have beer around, I recommend sacrificing a few ounces of a beer that you or someone else is drinking to save for later use in the recipe. I did make it once without beer, and I thought it was not as good. A friend suggested using malt vinegar in place of the beer but I never got around to trying any versions with that.

You can buy a can of chilies in adobo sauce, use what you need for the recipe then freeze the rest. You’ll be able to make it a bunch more times before having to buy another can.

The original recipe includes a jalapeño with the onion and yellow pepper, but the first time I made it, I included the jalapeño and it was extremely hot. The next time, I took the seeds out and it was still very hot. The last time, I decided to leave the jalapeño out entirely and it was still plenty hot. If you like things very spicy, or if you are using very mild salsa, then you might want to add the jalapeño, but I’ve found it to be fine without it.

That’s it.


Everywoman is Not Everyman

Friday, March 21, 2014

Sometimes everything I see or hear or read gives me an idea for a blog post. And sometimes there is nary a blog thought in my head, I forget that I even have a blog at all.

Guess which place I’m in right now.

So while I am here, thought less, I will just give you this.

spell check changing everywoman to everyman

Ignore always

WordPress spell check is sexist.

Maybe I’ll have more ideas soon, but for now, that’s what I got.

Hope all is well with everyone in blogreaderland.


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