With that wonderment which is the birth-act of philosophy, I suddenly start to query the familiar.
(Konrad Lorenz, 1952)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Irony we don’t need; Freedom we don’t want

Note: if you are not an animal person you may not understand; also, please know that Keely and I don’t have children so Neenah was truly our daughter. She made a couple into The Family.

The world is replete with cruel ironies, and yesterday when Neenah passed away, my wife and I experienced a hammer-to-the-head blow of irony. We had brought Neenah in for a routine check-up. She had experienced a little diarrhea over the past month and her hips were stiff; she was an old lady at sixteen but healthy. The vet had finished his initial exam and said she was in good shape. When he took her back to get a blood and stool sample–nothing odd there and something she had experienced before–Keely and I talked of plans we could make in light of Neenah’s health. We had returned to the States partially to give her a “retirement” somewhere safe and easy; not that she didn’t have it relatively safe and easy everywhere we took her, but psychologically we thought it best to ease back on travel in her golden years.

We realized she was just trucking along and our attention to her health over the years had kept her in great shape. So, we started talking of bringing her abroad again or even being able to handle living in a cabin in a remote section of Ecuador.

Healthy and in a safe place with a good vet doing a routine blood draw, she got scared, then had a seizure that we think led to a stroke. She never came back. We were right there hoping she would come out of the catatonic state she had fallen into–her eyes were open and widely dilated and her gums and tongue so pale we knew there was a circulation issue. Her heart was fine but her respirations shallow and erratic (she was intubated to help). She never came back. We called to her, stroked her, pinched her but she never came back. After forty-five minutes we realized that even if somehow she came out of that horrible state she would no longer be the same Neenah, her brain affected by a stroke and/or a serious lack of oxygen. We made the decision then to euthanize her.

We expected some illness to take her some time, and for the two of us to have to make a long, hard decision. That would’ve been a painful situation but one that we controlled. We couldn’t control this lightning quick descent.

An hour earlier we were planning our day with a casualness that now seems awful: after the vets we’ll drop Neenah off then go do errands, then maybe the beach. We couldn’t see a day without Neenah. We never have had a time without her.

Classic Irony heard us speaking of Neenah’s health and our plans of new freedoms and decided such hubris would not stand. Point taken Irony but fuck you anyway.

We don’t want the freedom we now have. Hey we can now take that six-month job cataloging a bird species in some remote area, way off the grid and requiring backcountry living and self-reliance. Fuck that too. I’d take this cushy suburban apartment and a mediocre day-to-day life over anything else, as long as we could have the ability to hear her wake us up every morning and greet us every afternoon.

We don't want this new freedom we have.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Our Love Neenah

R.I.P. Neenah Marie Bargnesi-Cronin (1994-2010). The prettiest, most mellow, most well-traveled cat anyone has ever seen. Our daughter. Keely and I got Neenah when we started dating in the summer of 1994 and she was with us since then. Wherever we went in the world, whatever we were doing it was the three of us--The Family. She died unexpectedly this morning sending Keely and I into major shock and grief. The apartment will be too big without her. We loved her.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


In the last three days I’ve hiked, canoed, climbed, square-danced, done parkour, poked around in mountain creeks, skim boarded on the shore, “porpoised” in the ocean (more later on this), and just walked about having fun.

These are things I’ve done before (except the square dancing—insanely fun!), most of them done usually with intensity and with a serious bent. But more and more I’ve come around to the idea of playing as the most intense, yet non-serious, activity one can do.

Yeah, I know this is nothing new.

First, I was away on the SC-NC border, up in the mountains at 3100 feet, for a school fieldtrip. Try dealing with 105 thirteen year-olds and you will know what it takes to “Work Out.” Yet, for me, I seemed to build energy the more we did. Away from the classroom and the normal boundaries, I felt more alive.

Now, I got a little beat up on the trip but in a good way. Outdoor stuff is my forté so I felt at home, but having been out of it for a while my muscles were weak. The lesson? It doesn’t matter how much time in the gym you spend, real life activity works you differently. I’ve been living in the Lowcountry and we were up in the mountains so I was huffing and puffing a little.

One thing that really tweaked my fitness was playing around with kids who were starting to get into parkour (check it out). I had been doing stuff like that way back before it was ever had a name. So some kids were jumping off stuff, leaping, bouncing, etc. The mountain air must have charged me up enough to want to show the kids how to do it. I showed them that I could out jump, climb, swing, and bounce all of them. I don’t say this out of arrogance, because by doing that I established credentials that I could use to gain their trust and enthusiasm to try new things and appreciate the outdoors or at least appreciate the spirit of physical daring (parkour is not about the outdoors/the wild but I tried to turn it that way).

Even now, my right shoulder is a little tweaked because of particular move I kept trying to perfect, in which I leapt up a flagstone chimney wall and then rotated outward on my right hand, spinning back towards a further section of the wall with my left hand to land again. I never perfected it but damn it was great.

I came home from the trip on Friday night super tired (trying sleeping in the same cabin as fifteen 13 year boys who keep making fart noises!) and thought I was done for the weekend; however, this morning my wife and I went to the beach, like we always do, and there was no way I could avoid skim-boarding since the conditions were perfect. Like begets like. Once started, I felt the same energy I did in the mountains. Tweaked muscles and schwagged-out brain were banished once I started to skim and spin across the inch thin water. I was better today than I’ve ever been.

I’ve been slowly discovering the stuff I used to do all the time twenty-plus years ago. Somewhere between then and now certain aspects were lost or minimalized. Glad to be back.

Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint and the Blog Mark’s Daily Apple talks of play as a part of his plan for a healthy and happy life. And Erwan Le Corre of MovNat has a whole movement related to working out in nature, something many of us have been doing for awhile, or used to do back in the day, but didn’t have the foresight or confidence to put out there as a full movement.

Do I have any issues with these guys? Nope. Sisson is right on but could link the play more directly to the other aspects of his plan and Le Corre just needs to lighten up a little on the intensity, just like me (hey Erwan, Boulder’s more fun when you play and party!).

I want to extend the idea of play (for myself really since I know this is already going on). For example, when the Primal Blueprint talks of sprinting every seven to ten days, it is something I can’t disagree with, but I wonder if we couldn’t get those sprints in some other way. I thought of this idea this morning when I was skim-boarding with some intensity for about a half-hour. I realized that I had been sprinting for quite a while, every time I bolted after the board to jump on it. Was it a full fifty-yard sprint? Of course not. The difference? It was a shorter sprint but was then combined with balance and core strength. Most important was that it was fun and on the shore and not isolated like so many exercises are—it wasn’t just exercise, it was life, and it wasn’t just life but great living!

The idea is that one plays first and worries about fitness results second.

All of us need to play first.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Rekindling myself and giving thanks

I started this blog to examine myself and catch fire again--rekindle energy. Well the blog hasn't helped but I think life itself has rekindled in fits and starts; that is, some weeks are better than others and some endeavors are sticking fast.

So I want to review some memory laden, chronological nonsense to put my life in a little bit of perspective:

Twenty years ago last weekend I graduated college. Ten years ago this summer, Keely and I moved overseas for the first time to Sao Paulo, Brasil. Wow!

From 1990 to 2000 I managed to do the following (in semi-chronological order):
Travelled and worked around the States and then the World (too much stuff to list).
Ended up in Boulder, CO, where I would meet Keely, keep traveling (especially to New Guinea, Cuba, and around the West), got a Masters, and then fell into Education as a profession.
Made astounding new friendships and partied my ass off in Boulder.
Taught in Oakland, CA and really got tested as an educator. Plus the Bay Area is a great place to experience. Got to hang with my brother Matt and his family too!

From 2000 to 2010:
Moved to Brasil, first Sao Paulo and then Rio. Five years there! Our second home and one I would move back to at the drop of a hat (there is too much about Brasil to write about now).
Made important and lifelong friends there.
Really started writing: had a few things published and wrote two novels (third one underway and is the charm)
Rediscovered my love of the wild and my talent at outdoors stuff.
Lived in Florida where Keely's talent took off.
Trained as Wilderness EMT at one of the best programs in the world.
Lived in Europe! Hey, being able to fly to Paris for the weekend or take a train up to Prague ain't bad. And visits to the motherland of Italy didn't hurt either.
Lived in Tanzania. Now this time was rough for Keely and I but the things we experienced, the new tight friends we made, and the connection to the wildlife was outstanding.

And here I am in a beautiful part of the States, the Lowcountry of South Carolina. Not a permanent home but a cool place to be for a while. The forests and swamps + beach + Charleston = a great interlude. Plus Keely has moved to yet another level of her very rare and yet important career. I honestly think there are very few in the world with her level of expertise and competence. The great raptors of the world thank her!

So, I give thanks and praise.

Diarrhea of the Pen

Yeah, I haven't been successful with this blog but that's okay--it is a work in progress and will evolve. I've been talking to my friend Jeremy and I'm hoping he will jump on this blog and add some things that are related to rekindling life and energy and all that. Anyway, why so reticent to blog? Anyone who really knows me knows that I have plenty to say about everything and anything, so that ain't it.

I think it comes down to the fact that I'm not enamored by the form and the idea that one should blog a lot about whatever. Also I feel guilty about writing some puff piece just to say I've written it. Over and over, blog experts say you should write about what you know. Yes but write well about what you know well. I don't want to add another mediocre piece to the blog pile. I find this especially true with travel/adventure/outdoors stuff. I keep hearing I should write about that yet most of that stuff I see on the blogs is the same old shit rehashed and embellished. I won't do it!

Let me be honest too--I think there is the typical Cronin arrogance at work. On one of the adventure travel sites, someone will write their top ten things to do in Cuba after having been there for whole two weeks. I read that and then say, "Shit, I went there multiple times, lived in a regular Havana neighborhood, and experienced quite a bit that is off the radar." Yet even in that arrogance that I know more, I still think I don't know enough to really do it justice--it all comes off so contrived.

And there it is, a lot of blogs and daily blogging comes off as contrived. So I struggle with it. I know I need to do, expose myself, etc. but damn it is hard work trying not to write contrived bullshit.

So this has been just one big diarrhea of the pen.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Five to Teach

Haven't blogged in a while because I had nothing to say and I didn't want to babble. I'm a bad blogger. I currently teach 7th grade Language Arts, so I'm not teaching the advanced stuff I'm used to. So, I started thinking about five literary works I like to teach (and read). So here they are, in no particular order of importance:

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien: never met a teen that didn't like this collection of interwoven short stories about Vietnam and its aftermath. Not only powerful and vivid and realistic, but a great resource to really show the author's craft. Need to really show why syntax is an important device that can carry theme? Use this. Need to discuss metafiction? Use this. I could go on.

One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey. There is a reason this is taught so often--its theme of rebellion and sacrifice resonates with most. Like O'Brien's collection, the novel is well-suited to showing young readers and writers the author's craft. I love the movie and always show it after the kids have read the book, and they all say the book is far, far better.

The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot: The poster child for complexity and for intimidating even the highest level students. Many don't like it even after they have fully digested it but damn it they respect it. It's like running a marathon or climbing a mountain. Sometimes it doesn't have to be fun to be fun. And you know what? Everyone should know the Fisher King motif!

Poems by Emily Dickinson: See first sentence about Eliot; however, many students come around to loving her style and her complete control of language while expressing the sublime. I like pairing Eliot and Dickinson to demonstrate opposing ways of writing, and then I watch the students' heads spin.

The Sailor who Fell from Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima. A work in translation, and the translation is so good, so well-crafted, that I can't imagine how good the original Japanese novel is. This work is very disturbing, puts the kids on edge, and yet has them determined to really delve into the symbolism, diction, and narrative technique.

So, there you go.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ambivalence and Blog Tautology

Since I started this blog, I've read lots of advice/how-to columns on blogging. Lots of good advice, but I've failed to follow some (or most?) of it. First, the idea of blogging everyday is great but I can't pull it off. I actually become guilty when I'm about to write some crap just to write something. A few weeks ago I almost took the bait and submitted a piece of writing about expat life to a blog that was looking for writers. Why didn't I? Well I started reading that blog and the related blogs that all feed off of one another. What did I discover? The writing was mediocre, and worse there were far too many articles that were "slapdash" (thanks, Izzard, for the term). By that I mean the writer just wanted to publish something and post it on his/her site, and then have it linked to another site that linked back to the original site (blog tautology). Many of these blogs are lists/top tens and they say nothing. A recent one I read discussed the top ten new eco-adventures for 2010 (or something like that). This area I can speak with expertise: the adventures weren't new, the descriptions were prosaic, and the accompanying pictures were stock photos. But hey, the blogger fulfilled the "publish no matter what" ethos.

The publish no matter what and publish quickly ethos results in sloppy writing, which of course reflects sloppy thinking. More, it reflects a self-satisfaction on the part of the writer that can be dangerous: "Hey, I'm writing and my blog is followed so therefore I am legitimate and my writing has weight." I question this about myself and others.

And where does that leave me? I've started doing this to kick start my writing, my self-examination, and to dabble in new media. However, does this sort of writing and the time it takes up really serve me well? I don't know. So for now I am ambivalent on blogging as a form and where it will take me, and whether I want to take me anywhere.