Monday, January 27, 2014

yo-yo #99: anti-yo fluchs



if you could reach deep into your brain, among all of the thousands of words you've collected during your life as a verbal, literate (i'm assuming here) human being, which one word would you most WISH described your playing.

you don't have to answer that. it's the same for almost everybody. and due to its universal application to both awesome yo-yoers and awesome yo-yo's, it is probably in the top 10 most frequently-bandied words used on any given yo-yo forum. the word, of course, is smooth.

some people want to play fast like mickey. some people want to play slow and stylish like jon rob. but everybody wants to be smooth. and everybody wants a smooth yo-yo, which is made complicated by the fact that almost nobody agrees on what that really means. i've said before that i want my playing to reflect the universe in which it happens. well, matter (and maybe existence, itself) is pretty much composed of vibration. even an inert yo-yo sitting on a table is crackling with vitality; the atoms, electrons, quarks, muons and gluons which compose it chasing each other around in a frenetic, chaotic, and somehow symmetric dance. the tiny world inside a yo-yo may really be just as random, weird and UN-smooth as our own macroscopic lives, but it's all relative i guess (yuk yuk).

just a few years ago, the community saw even expensive luxury metals released which would earn that ultimate death-knell moniker in forum reviews: wobble. this yo-yo, the anti-yo fluchs, was cursed with such a label (at least by some), which went on to haunt its creators, sonny patrick and kiya babzani for years. the fluchs was released on christmas, 2004, right around the time i fell back in love with yo-yoing for my 4th (and present) obsessive wave. by the time i was aware of it though, it was sold out, and i didn't actually get to play one for almost a year, when i traded tricks in a durham parking lot with a local player with the user name "creek". even he said the fluchs wobbled, a sentiment echoed throughout the dave's skill toys review page and at extremespin.com. regardless, i was still a month away from receiving my bare bones and g&e2, and this was by far the coolest yo-yo i'd ever played.

on the anti-yo website, there was a brilliant anecdote describing a western cowboy's conversation with a barkeep about the fluchs's "charles & ray eames influence" and it's unique slip-matte finish. anti-yo was about the coolest yo-yo company that ever was, and the fluchs has maintained a well-deserved cult following, due equally to its story, its aesthetic, and its play.

i got this particular all-pink one a few years later from nick correa, the modder known as feralparrot, who incidentally invented the "schmoove" mod which was applied to doc pop's version of another anti-yo in yes, absolutely's "the end". (if that sentence makes sense to you, congrats - you're a yo-yoer.) i have it set up with some old red baz pads and a clean half-spec bearing. as you can see, the fluchs featured a super-thick dif-style axle with the bearing coasting right over it. anti-yo applied some white plumbers' tape (basically, sticky caulk) to dampen vibrations since the threaded taps are just a hair too thick for the axle. i've played a few shaky fluchs, but most of them were just great, and this one plays downright awesome. it's quite smooth indeed, but what does that even mean, right?

obviously, most players discern the smoothness of a yo-yo by the amount of disruption they feel. since around 2008 though, when yo-yo bearings and (more importantly) bearing seat design became nearly standardized, we've seen a precipitous drop-off in the number of un-smooth yo-yo's out there. it's almost to the point where new metal yo-yo's hardly need a review; they all mostly play the same. of course there are little variables which still matter (profile, wall, gap, weight distribution), but the quality of play and consistency is in a whole new ballpark compared with when this was released a decade ago.

these days, it's expected for your yo-yo to be the smoothest thing out there, and if you nail it against the cobbled sidewalk, eliciting some untunable vibration... it might be time to shelve that sucker in the case-row reserved as your "yo-yo cemetery".


i kid. as evidenced by the fact that this is the 99th yo-yo i've mused over, i've played a lot of shaky, wobbly throws. i've come to the conclusion that, unless you are completely inept or incapable of focusing on anything BUT your yo-yo's vibration... it really doesn't matter that much. most PEOPLE are a lot more shaky than the toys they complain about. if you're a good pianist, for example, you can still play a crummy old upright piano. certainly, you won't sound as "good" as you do on your beloved steinway, but what does that mean? maybe it's out of tune... so play it like thelonious monk, seeking out the notes BETWEEN the keys. maybe the bass doesn't carry at all... so play songs which allow you to HAMMER with the left hand. someone who understands how to play, and just as importantly WHAT to play, can direct their tools toward the use for which they are most suited.

we've all got our preferences, but if you require a "dead-smooth" yo-yo to make your play seem alive... you're doing it wrong.

what will always matter more than how a yo-yo plays is how YOU play it. your yo-yo can stagger and shake like it's undergoing electro-shock therapy, but a good player can make it LOOK as smooth as nickel-plated butter. and playing smooth is easy. you don't even have to agree on what it means. just WATCH the players who you think are smooth and do what they do. talk to them and dig into their understanding, which inevitably informs their playing.

i always get hyped up after watching sid seed (rodrigo pires), one of the most impossibly smooth throwers alive. he just seems like he was organically grown in some free-range alien farm to be the ultimate yo-yoer. one time i asked him about one of my tricks, and his response was "in a trick like that, don't stop the yo-yo when you want to change its direction". that, to me, sums up sid's playing perfectly. he makes it seem like the yo-yo just WANTS to go where its going. just on its way, holding its little bindle (that folky satchel-on-a-stick thing), a rolling stone blowing in the wind of sid's fancy. similarly, doc pop's "alpha style" was pretty much the beta version for what would become modern "smooth 1a". and the philosophical underpinning of that style was simply to minimize stops and starts; to keep the yo-yo moving.

after you've tried desperately to emulate the players you find smooth, what should you do? clearly, you should watch the players you would not call smooth and re-evaluate your diagnosis.

two good examples are john bot and drew tetz, admittedly two more of my favorite players (and dudes). in my opinion, neither of them are particularly smooth in the way most people use the term (at least most of the time). both of them CAN play very smoothly and have certain tricks that highlight that, but they also bounce around a lot. they'll make quick, angular, erratic movements or snatch the yo-yo out of the air. some of their tricks can have a downright sketchy (even spazzy) feel to them, but there's more than one way to be smooth. one thing that always kills me about those two players is how fluidly they move between ideas. look at john's picture trick story-sequences or drew's movements from stall to stall in "crisis". and i'm not talking about the physical movements, but the mental ones. to do those tricks, your brain has to ooze dynamically from mount to mount and hold to hold in a way that is the quintessence of smooth. any interruption and you will overturn that dumptruck, miss that kickflip or drop one of the 8 string segments you're using to build starfox, and the whole idea will collapse. we assume that being smooth means looking smooth, but it means BEING smooth, and those guys are smooth as hell.

you can be smooth outside and smooth inside. you can be smooth in the way you throw a sleeper. in the way you iterate through mechanical repeaters. in the way you catch the yo-yo. you can be smooth in the way you build a trick... or a routine... or an event... or a relationship... or a lifetime.

to me, being smooth is about continuing on with intention, and APPEARING to be smooth is about communicating that feeling to an audience. our tricks are composed of ideas, and presenting those ideas (to others or just ourselves) so that they flow seamlessly and make sense is the basis for aesthetic yo-yoing in general. sometimes maybe those ideas are meant to be janky and abrupt. other times they will be light and fluid. smoothness is about CARING that the trick will go well and investing in it, but not so much that your mind gets attached and entangled, sacrificing the next integral motion. it's about practicing such that your physical being has learned and forgotten the specifics on where and when to act, and your mental being is always willing to embrace change.

when you get down to it, smoothness is mostly just yo-yoing in the way you want to yo-yo; which is seated in being comfortable with the good and the bad of who you are, what you are throwing, and why you are playing.









Sunday, January 26, 2014

yo-yo #98 - alex's personalized el ranchero

"emancipate yourself from mental slavery
none but ourselves can free our own minds" - bob marley

"folks don't even own themselves
payin' mental rent to corporate presidents" - public enemy


 


it's 7:53 on a sunday. i have lived my life in such a way that at 7:53 on a sunday, i am awake, full of coffee and eggo waffles and typing on a computer. the chief culprits in this situation (my kids) are in the next room, zoning out to any one of the half-dozen identical disney channel shows capable of transforming otherwise vibrant 5-15 year-olds into paralyzed drooling zombies.

it has me thinking about where we direct our attentions in this bizarre modern life we lead.

you wake up one day and you are 36, and you remember like it was yesterday, shuffling downstairs at 7:53 to watch the tail end of "Gummi Bears" before "Muppet Babies" came on at 8:00 (i'll grant you that would have been on a saturday). and then, presumably, you wake up a 65 year-old and wonder why you ever sat around blogging at 36. and then, i guess you wake up at 84, and you're dead, so you don't wake up at all. our lives are composed of the fruits and waste of our choices, but they are also seasoned with the motivations for those choices - by the strange ways in which we justify our behavior.

we assume that our behavior belongs to us, but in general, i find that to be the rare exception.

a couple of years ago, i wrote myself this little rule:
"15. don't yo-yo with the goal of being admired. don't worry over whether you're 'somebody in the yo-yo community'. be 'somebody in real life' and then be the same person in the yo-yo community."

it sounds so simple, but it's a pretty tall order. i've often said that yo-yoing is significant as an inward exploration, but that it's also a kind of dance; a performance. how can you dance without considering how people react to you?

the danger is in beginning to change the way you behave so that others will accept you. that's pretty broad and maybe silly, since changing our behavior so as to be accepted is a deeply-ingrained, evolved human trait going back to our first attempts at society. and though our rules have changed somewhat, society (whether we try to define ourselves BY it or AGAINST it) still bosses us around, sending us to one side of our mental/spiritual cage or the other. maybe by recognizing that we're in a cage, we are freed a bit. the matrix has you, neo.


these days, i think we've taken it a bit further, and "the middle way" seems to have shrunk down to a treacherous ridge overlooking precipitous drops on either side. do i connect or disconnect? do i identify or ignore? do i affiliate or reject? even within the strange microcosm that is yo-yoing, we coagulate into factions which go to every imaginable length to draw borders between themselves. who can resist this tendency when in the last few decades, humanity has armed itself with impossibly powerful weapons against feeling excluded or alone. enter: facebook, instagram, the disney channel, starbucks... clyw?

i catch my daughter taking selfies sometimes (read: constantly). i completely understand that this is just something that kids do now. 20 years ago, no kid would want to waste multiple exposures of their precious and limited kodak film on their own visage when they could just look in a dang mirror. when a photo is as inexpensive as a few kilobytes, however, take a hundred. take a THOUSAND. put em online and see how many "likes" you can score. i ask her who she's trying to impress, and she's adamant that it's "no one in particular", and i've seen enough of instagram to realize she is not alone in this strange fixation.


i want to laugh derisively at this strange self-obsession, but then i stop and think of #trickcircle. over the past few months, how many hundreds of yo-yo videos have we put out there? i know, personally, i've done a couple per week, lately. and yet how many of my peers' contributions do i actually WATCH? only a few, determined by what i know of the person or if i've heard it's something "special". how many tricks have i seen that have made me say "ok i need to try that NOW"? maybe a half-dozen. i think for the most part, we are obsessively/compulsively sharing, even though as few people pay attention to our tricks as they do to my daughter's selfies. and sure, sharing a trick is a bit different than sharing our face, but is it really? our tricks reflect our ideas and in our community, our ideas reflect our identities... and, by dark proxy, determine our worth.

the other day, said daughter was dying a purple streak in her hair, and i documented the moment with an iphone snapshot. almost immediately, my 5 year-old son commented "you HAVE to post that on instagram"... 5 years old. it was a wake-up kind of moment. is my kid really being taught that the only value in a moment is its "sharability"? is he already parsing the frames of his own existence to subconsciously search for marketable moments? it was as though we had momentarily stumbled upon a rich vein in a mine, and his first impulse was to sell the gold rather than just appreciate its glow. it kinda shook me, not just because my 5 year-old had that impulse, but because before he said it, i was thinking the same exact thing. we sell our moments and we sell our tricks. we get paid in likes, and it makes us feel significant.

it makes me want to throw my phone away in revulsion, but that's a knee-jerk reaction, and i know that there must be a way to find balance on that narrow ledge. when we look at the parts of our life that are sharable or salable, we are effectively ceasing to live in these moments and instead paying with them as a kind of existential currency. but to whom?

pretty much all of our choices in this world represent a kind of payment these days. 300 years ago,  you paid a tithe to the church, and today you pay it to starbucks. the latte's are probably tastier, i'll grant you, and there's much less chanting in latin (grande, venti, trenta...). we pay with our time and we pay with our money, and what we get out of the exchange is our own sense of identity. we buy a pair of retro vans so we can be "that guy who wears retro vans - maybe he cares about skateboarding's roots". we buy the nice selvedge jeans to be "the guy who cares about denim craftsmanship". we buy the sweet new Puffin 2 yo-yo to be "the guy with the super-exclusive bip-bop colorway yo-yo" (and to be cool like palli, let's face it). in reality, no one cares about these discrete choices as much as we do. WE become the world perceiving ourselves. we are paying ourselves to like ourselves through a revolving door of middle-men.

we identify and associate, and as noted, that tendency is as old as humanity itself. the only difference is that the tribes have turned into brands, and the brands have become glossier and more consolidated. the question it raises, to me, is "who am i underneath all of my choices; my collection of affiliations?"

i gave this yo-yo to alex last year. it's an "el ranchero", one of the last models SPYY put out before steve gave up the ghost. originally, it was a cool dark-bronze proto, devoid of any markings. since steve had once made a couple of special pink ronins for my daughter, i asked if i could send this one back to him to be lasered specially for my son. it's pretty funny, because i was super amped on giving it to him, but when he opened it, he was like "oh cool. a yo-yo with my name... next." he's not really jaded, but in our house, yo-yo's are everywhere, and so they aren't really special to him. someday later on, maybe he'll realize "oh man... this was a SPECIAL yo-yo" or maybe he won't. i kind of want to protect the part of him that is oblivious to what distinguishes an everyday toy from the icons of art and craft over which we "serious" players get our collective panties in a bunch. i want to protect the part of him that doesn't care what brand of t-shirt or jacket he wears, how his hair looks, or how he is perceived by a world which he will come to believe cares more deeply about him than could ever be realistic.

incidentally, my kids are still watching the disney channel (i'm a fast typist). during this time, the disney channel owns them. they are letting it happen and i am letting it happen, too. the best i can do is try to teach them that they are going to be owned sometimes (or at the very least, rented), and that everyone has to deal with that as they can. within that, hopefully i can make it clear to them that their choices have consequences; that often the most trivial, unnoticed, and reflexive are the ones that have the greatest impact in determining who they will become... that the cage isn't so terrible a thing if you're aware of yourself within it.








Saturday, January 18, 2014

yo-yo #97: silver minute



happy new year! woohoo! it's hard to believe that 365 days ago i was still just shaking the rust off after spending my year with the 'eh'. actually i'm still kind of doing that. fortunately, the rust kind of suits me.

i haven't done much with the blog since then, i know. i've definitely picked up some cool yo-yo's and have imbued others with interesting experiences, so i should have no excuse moving forward. sometimes it's tough to look at a blank page though.

so among the interesting things that happened to me in 2013 were the disintegration of spyy, and my subsequent invitation to join the werrd alliance. i gotta say, after steve emailed the team to say 'i really can't keep doing this', i did not at all see myself joining another yo-yo team. when stu asked, however, it really felt like a good fit. i've been keen on their yo-yo's since trying the first tfl's in 07, and stu is always trying to nudge werrd toward being more of a lifestyle brand than just a yo-yo company.

i can get into that, because yo-yoing is kind of a lifestyle thing. what we've built is as much a way of life as it is a distraction. yo-yoing can speak volumes to the meaning behind being alone. it is fundamentally an introspective and self-sustaining endeavor, and it always will be. if chess is considered "the battlefield of the mind", then yo-yoing is like yoga. even if we play in a fairly sedentary way, our brains are twisting and stretching through the minefields of string geometry we devise. and yet, yo-yo is also a performance, inextricably tied to the aesthetic of dance. just try to play "introspectively" at a theme park or shopping mall. if you're any good at all, you'll draw an accidental crowd which will wonder why you don't have your hat out.

as crazy as it feels to say it, yo-yoing is something that can give your life meaning. when in line at the dmv or slogging through paperwork, i'll catch myself doing familiar tricks in my head, and the upbeat, carefree feeling endemic to the act gives me a lift. it's a rad enough deal that when i get dressed, i pick shirts that will contrast with my yo-yo and string. and it's something that many of us value enough to travel for, sometimes for days (or weeks). it's a part of our lives in which we all seek to improve in some way, and which we hope in turn, will somehow improve US.

on that topic, i was perusing the newest issue of surfing magazine the other day, and i came upon a pretty cool little article which i felt was relevant to this new year's offering. i've often drawn comparisons between yo-yoing and surfing (also skating, martial arts, music, madagascar hissing cockroaches, and pretty much whatever else), and this set of surfing resolutions resonated with me. here they are reimagined as yo-yoing resolutions (don't worry - there aren't 66 of them and none of them has to do with giving up bearings). i figure it's still january - not too late. anyway, here are some resolutions i'm feeling out.

  1. loosen up: you know the guy who yells "f--k!" if he gets a snag? the guy who doesn't talk to anyone at contests and gives his fellow competitors the stinkeye? the guy who, even after making his way out of the craziest, smoothest combo has a frown on his face like he just got kicked in the balls? don't be that guy. (side resolution: stop assuming that all yo-yoers ARE GUYS.)
  2. dial in your equipment: if after a month, you're still getting used to that new yo-yo's profile, cut your losses and sell it. if you've got a dinged up beater that you never play, sand that sucker down and give it to the kid down the street. this year, you're going to shed that dead weight, not in the name of fashion or fads, but because you really don't need more than a few great throws that fit your style perfectly. you need what you need to play like yourself. the rest weighs you down.
  3. throw at least 4 times a week: if you don't have kids, make it 5. true story: the last calendar day on which i did NOT throw was may 21, 2005. i find i just don't have a good reason not to. too busy? for a few flowy combos or a couple shoot-the-moons? c'mon. remember you're a better version of yourself after you've thrown, and it should take no more convincing than that to get that slipknot on your finger. make time.
  4. go big: like conde, right? nobody ever made real progress without testing their assumptions; without pushing the limits of what they thought was possible. you can do more with this little retro-winding double-knobbed toy than anyone has EVER done. on some level, you have to believe that. doubt is essential because it keeps your mind questioning, but it's also an anchor you should perpetually try to shake off. try tricks that people would assume are a waste of time and energy; tricks that defy something you assume is beyond what the world (or your skill) will allow. visualize what you'd like to do with a yo-yo... and then do it.
  5. break away from the crowd: this can be taken literally as well as figuratively. some of my favorite memories are of swimming alone at the rosen (r.i.p.) early in the morning while most throwers are passed out (or at the tail end of a bender). the circus taught us that crowds attract crowds, and it's awesome to yo-yo with your buddies, some of whom you might not get to see but a few times a year. but you've got to get that space, too, lest you fall into the trap of tying your own play onto somebody else. stylistically, you need room to breathe. take some time away from the internet, away from videos and #trickcircle and see where you go.
  6. throw everywhere: this one i made up. in the surfing article, #6 was "surf a wave that should not be surfed", but that doesn't apply easily to yo-yoing. although it kind of does. any surfer with even a shred of sanity will tell you they're afraid to surf big pipeline, but what are yoyoer's afraid of? non-yoyoers. i'm always surprised to hear how many players hate to throw in public, mostly because they don't like the idea of interacting with people who might give them a hard time. yo-yoing, however, is an outward expression as it is an inward exploration. if you can't walk that middle path, you're missing out. also, this is meant to suggest playing where there are NO people - throw on the tops of mountains, on tiny islands, in empty hallways, and on forest trails. for me, yo-yoing is a way of processing a moment; a momentary fist-bump with reality. don't hesitate to do it anywhere.

this is one of the first yo-yo's i got from werrd. it's a silver minute which in the course of my everyday play has been banged off of essentially all of the non-actinide elemenmts (not boron, but whatever). it bears some scars, but still plays totally true. i tossed one of the ctx bearings in there, and it's become my go-to modern yo-yo. when it's not on my finger, it's dangling the descender strap i got from bryan figtree. it's my every-day weapon against my own laziness, creative ennui, and tentative assumptions.

happy new year, everybody! i hope however you choose to do it, that playing yo-yoing enriches your life as immeasurably as it has mine.





Saturday, September 14, 2013

yo-yo #96: mini-motu


many of the most generous people i've had the pleasure to meet have been yo-yo players. it's pretty remarkable and, i think, one of the aspects of this hobby which has kept me hanging on for all these years. the tricks are rad and the toys are (often) shiny, but the people are the best. my friend (and now, teammate - whoa!) jacob jensen gave me this yo-yo as a gift.

the longer i play yo-yo, the more frequently i find i am assailed by fits of nostalgia. some days, i want more than anything to throw the purple fireball i used as a camp counselor trying desperately to relate to my boom-era charges. on others, i just have to channel the west coast sector_y revolution and nail yellow airplanes or pure 143 on my royal blue renegade. a few weeks ago though, i was aching for the inimitable feeling of my first "intentionally unresponsive" yo-yo, the yoyojam mini-motu.

by early 2005, i was really still beginning. i had played plenty of yo-yo, but i had never been "good", and the only unresponsive yo-yoing i was doing was the result of my stickers wearing out or bearings breaking in. i knew how to bind ok (actually i had first learned that on my thp raider years before), and i understood that playing a yo-yo that didn't snag offered some significant knuckle-saving benefits. however, i had yet to cave and buy one of the yo-yo's (mainly consisting of yoyojams, buzz-ons, and the prohibitively unattainable dif-e-yo's/oxys/hspins) which were clearly designed with low response in mind.

i'm not sure newer players understand the degree to which the yo-yo landscape has changed from year to year. guys like johnnie were changing everything through unresponsive play in the early 2000's, but it took time (years) for yo-yo's to start coming unresponsive out of the box. the wild success of the boutique market between 2005-2007 (bare bones, radian, peak, pyro...) really accelerated this phenomenon, but as of 2005, it was still tough to find a yo-yo for which you would need a bind right off the bat. and by the spring of that year, i was hot for one.

i drove up to rhode island to visit family and (i think) attend a wedding. as i made the 12+ hour drive, however, i developed a clandestine, yo-yo-based plan. one of the few brick & mortar stores of which i was aware was located just an hour from my maternal grandparents. surely, i could sneak away for a bit to check it out! andre boulay, yoyojam team captain and the wizard behind mastermagic.net (the precursor to yoyoexpert.com) was based nearby, and the local toy/science store, A2Z, was rumored to have most of the company's models in stock.

my uncle insisted on making the drive out with me. i think he found it perplexing that i, a 20-something dad, would be willing to drive an hour to visit some shop because they sold... nice yo-yo's. the store turned out to be like so many small independent toy shops - totally jammed with product. a nice older dude, whom i later learned was the store's owner, jack finn (a yo-yo icon in his own right) was psyched to hear that i was looking to talk shop. [returning to yo-yoers' generosity,] i was amazed by how much of his own time he was willing to give up, going over the minute details differentiating each model.

he was more than willing to let me try everything. i probably spent an hour (yet again, totally perplexing my uncle) sampling every yoyojam available, including the record-setting, fixed-axle DJ, which appealed to my purist sensibilities but would have been a terrible choice. although jack produced and let me try what i think was a sweet prototype of the spinfaktor hg, the 3 i ended up deciding between were andre's dark magic, johnnie's hitman, and the diminutive mini-motu.

all of these had [fundamentally] similar guts, and all required my sketchy binding skills. this was the era when yyj's still had beefy o-rings and needed thick cardboard or metal shims to reach true dead-unresponsiveness, but those huge size-C bearings would break in within a few hours, putting you in the weird snag-zone common to tight gap/dry bearing setups. most serious players would either shave the o-rings with a razor. the high art of filling grooves with flowable silicone was only beginning to take root (thanks in part to doc pop's great "how to mod a bolt" instructions).

i ended up selecting the mini-motu because it was the most understated, not only in terms of size, but also its graphics and the color that was available (white). even the rims had a slightly more authentic, almost gun-metal sheen which contrasted with the shiny aluminum of the other models. upon getting my new yo-yo back to my grandmas, i was immediately vexed by a sudden and apparently total loss of response. the motu had gone narcoleptic in the blink of an eye. though i was prepared for this eventuality (expecting it over, say, a week or two), i had not banked on it going so abruptly from light tug-response to absolute rock-on-stringness.

above all other tricks, i was, at this time, desperate to have a yo-yo with which to emulate andre's thumb grinds. so, i tried to remove the caps that very night. i tried suction cups, duct tape, and even a cockamamie forum suggestion involving putting the yo-yo in the freezer in the effort to get the rims to compress. nothing worked, and in the end i had to extract them surgically (i think with my aunt's steak knife), ruining the first of many yoyojam caps in the process.

it's a funny thing to begin a journey. you hang onto details of the minutia which would just blend into the background noise further down the road. one of my seminal sessions is captured in the photo to the right. at the lake, the evening after buying it, the unrecognized potential of a huge gap and low response was made real to me, and i dove into the difficult truth that there are no creative barriers which are not self-imposed. i remember doing kwyjibo, along with gabe's trick "triangulation" and linking a few of my own tentative moves together. though not "mighty", it was an important session for me, and i've played yo-yo every day since. it's funny to recall that, given that some people think of me as someone who eschews modern yo-yo's, it was really that little motu which sucked me into my most recent (and least escapable) iteration of yo-yo obsession.

though it became a go-to in my growing quiver, that particular mini-motu died a protracted and (for me) agonizing death. i'm not sure how it initially developed, but the yo-yo caught that special flavor of black plague evidently reserved for yoyojams: nipple cracks. maybe it was precipitated by my ridiculous freezer antics on our first evening together. regardless, this condition is about as close to pancreatic cancer as a yo-yo can contract: once you find a crack in a yoyojam's hub... you know the end is coming.

not unlike the varied responses which develop from watching a terminally-ill loved one, yo-yoers respond to this condition in diverse ways. some try to conceal the initial crack and pawn the yo-yo off on some unexpectant forum member. some break out the superglue and hope for the best, watching the cracks irrepressibly metastasize over anything between a few weeks and a few years. some prematurely euthanize the yo-yo, breaking it apart to harvest the rims for the now nearly-defunct practice of modding. and some sail on along de Nile.

my white motu developed its initial cracks around 2007, and i threw it almost daily until it became a wobbly mess about a year later. at some point, i dismantled it and included the rims in some sort of trade. since that time, i really missed throwing this model, and when jacob produced this translucent blue specimen at worlds this year, i was ecstatic.

throwing it the other day, i noticed something which would have once been alarming: a small crack - about 2mm in length, right where the plastic meets the metal rim (click to enlarge). this yo-yo, too, is on borrowed time, but i don't say that with despair as i might have years ago. there may be many days and many throws before this gift becomes unplayable, or perhaps just a few. there may be sessions i will remember down the road, like that night on the lake, or just a few nice, anonymous throws. you cannot measure the joy held within a single throw, any more than takeshi can measure the serenity found in the sunrises he diligently observes, or ben mcphee can measure the glee arising from seeing a huge shorebreak wave swallow him. we all have only so many sunrises, so many waves, so many throws, but that which is immeasurable is, in a way, infinite. we're all cracking, sure; some of us gradually and some immediately. but that shouldn't mean that we can't enjoy what spin we have. we're cracking, but we're also smiling.

cracking, but always, always beginning.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

yo-yo #95 james's pocket rocket


when i think back to the last post i made on this blog, i remember feeling very upbeat, very positive. for one, i was a teacher basking in the glory of winter break. i was also in the waning hours of a very, very long stretch with just one fixed axle yo-yo. it was new year's eve, which represents the epitome of hopefulness. and, just a week previously, we had told our two kids that we would be having another little baby.

we told them on december 23, having placed little baby-bottles and rattles and stuff into a blank stocking hanging from the mantle. we let them find it, let them take it down and draw their own conclusions. it was adorable. i got the whole thing on tape. i cannot watch it.

in mid-february, it became clear that the baby was a boy and that he had a genetic condition called trisomy 18. just like with down's syndrome, this meant his cells had an extra copy of a chromosome. however, the prognosis of this particular condition is met with... more predictably grave outcomes. really it meant that our baby was highly unlikely to live very long, if he survived to be born at all.

the night we found out what was really going on, we realized we had to name him, and decided on james logan haponik at the dinner table. we liked the middle name 'logan', and its connections to a mutant with special healing powers seemed somehow appropriate (if a bit ironic). it truly broke my heart to hear that stacy would have loved to name him for her father, michael, (as our first son, edward alexander is named for mine), but that she couldn't 'take' the name from either of her brothers, who may have kids themselves someday. i met stacy in high school, and she is my one and only love. but i'm absolutely certain that i could find no person of better quality or character had i searched a hundred years. if you get married, make sure you're able to say that to yourself honestly. you'll find it's worth it when the shit hits the fan or when the chromosomes are too numerous.

we aren't religious people at all, but terminating the pregnancy never really seemed like a viable (or moral) option to either of us. i think it's different for every parent and every pregnancy, but we were definitely going to see this one through to whatever end. it was interesting to find that some acquaintances were surprised that we would carry a baby like this to term, despite our lack of commitment to an organized religion. there were definitely days when it would have felt easier, but something would have broken irreparably within us.

one of the toughest components to all of this was considering how aggressively to try to "intervene" medically after james was born. i learned that you can keep a person of any age alive for a very, very long time, even if their body has no ability or apparent intention of keeping its life up independently. the prospect of watching an infant suffer continuously while hooked up to various life-sustaining machinery seemed selfish to us both, as though our own feelings self-worth, joy, and our reluctance to let go were more important than the life experience of a baby who has no idea why he suffers. i do not for a second claim that it is universally the right choice for anyone/everyone, but to me a brief life in the arms of loved ones seemed preferable to a prolonged one lying on a table, connected to tubes with no prospect of getting better. if and when i get really sick and am not going to able able to survive off of life support, i want to spend my last my last days/hours embraced by my loved ones. why would i choose something else for my child? there have been moments of doubt, but i think we made the best choice we could have.

the next few months were surreal, and without question the hardest of my life. it wasn't all horrible, mind you. there was still happiness. but it was as though the melody of my family's laughter and joy was played over a pedal-harmony of pain and confusion. stacy and i had become accustomed to walking through the baby section at target shooting secretive glances at each other. now we pretty much felt like giving the entire section the finger. stacy couldn't even really shop for the baby, because she didn't think she'd be able to take returning nursery items which would prove unnecessary.

caitlyn reads us very well, and there would be no way for us to have hidden our confusion, anger, sadness, exhaustion, or any of the feelings which arose out of this experience. she understood what was going on, though i doubt she understood 'why'. none of us did. alex is 5, and he was made aware that the baby was very sick, and that he might or might not get to meet him after all. there is nothing like reading the disappointment on your 5 year-old son's face when you tell him that he probably won't actually get to bike or play catch with his baby brother.

on june 21, we checked into the hospital. since stacy is a doctor, everyone was very much aware of the situation. they were very kind and gave us all the privacy possible. actually, they had us in the most far-removed room in the maternity ward. however, the shower ended up leaking into the hall, necessitating a room switch just a few hours before delivery. the kids stayed the night at my in-laws' a few miles away. everyone was ready to mobilize at a moment's notice. this is often the case with imminent baby arrivals, but even more so when the situation is medically tenuous. my mom and dad came in the night before (evidently i had miscommunicated the induction date - nice job, me), so they went to see the new superman movie. the next morning, they came back in to see us, and were halfway through describing just how awful they found the film when stacy [very] suddenly felt that james's arrival was imminent.

the next few minutes were a blur. james was born, and immediately he looked very, very sick. he had a faint heartbeat, but no color and wasn't breathing. we thought we had seconds, and our desperation was extreme. miraculously, the nurses were able to convince him to breathe. he never really 'cried', but made soft whimpering sounds which i know i will echo in my mind forever. they immediately gave him to stacy, and i swear within a minute of doing so, he had gone from ash-gray to bright pink. i let myself hope for a little time.

after a few minutes of cuddling and laughing, we got in touch with the family, and they started arriving in the room. i remember feeling happy and proud as i invited my parents into the room, and was momentarily confused by their apparent trepidation as they entered. babies with this condition tend to have about every problem imaginable, and virtually none of them can be rectified within the first days of life, much less hours. knowing that we were not aggressively trying to keep james alive (meaning not hooking him up to a ventilator), most of the doctors and nurses were superfluous at this point, and all but a particularly saintly nurse named Laura left to give us our space. we needed it, as the room quickly became crowded with my family and stacy's. the kids arrived, and alex and caitie were able to meet their little brother.

alex was very hesitant. among his less obvious issues, james was born with a cleft palate, so he looked a little different than your typical baby. he was also TINY at 3 lb, 12 oz. alex had to be convinced to touch his baby brother at first, but after he got used to it, he loved sitting on the bed with stacy and having James hold his finger. the moment caitie entered the room, her eyes met stacy's, and both of them started crying. both of their tears seemed to communicate that which could not be expressed rationally; stacy's conveyed how sorry she was that this all happened while caitie's tried impossibly to say "it's ok." she held her baby brother and sat with stacy and was generally stronger than any 10 year-old should ever have to be.

we were visited by a professional photographer whom we had arranged through a charity called "now i lay me down to sleep". they organize a network of photographers who come to hospitals and homes to take "remembrance portraits" of terminally ill kids. they give all of the digital copies to the parents; no fees and no watermarks. it is pretty much the most admirable charity i can imagine, so if you're tired of sending money to amnesty or greenpeace, y'know...

over the next 5 hours, james gradually deteriorated. his breathing became punctuated by occasional (and alarming) apneic spells, and we knew that we were losing him. stacy and caitie cradled james, and i held my son's tiny hand as he stopped breathing altogether. i was amazed by how long it took. true to his namesake, james logan's heart continued to pump dutifully, even though deprived of oxygen. later i learned that this has to do with babies' hemoglobin-rich blood, but the idea of  wolverine powers felt better at the time.

from february on, we knew that james would die. we were getting ready for it, but i will not say that we were prepared. for one, we had no idea how the kids would react or the best way to help them grieve. from the beginning, we have tried to be as open with them as we feel they are able to handle, and i think they are finding their way through their feelings appropriately. so far, i think that alex has handled it all with more clarity and grace than any of us. yesterday as we filled out his kindergarten forms, there was a getting-to-know-you questionnaire which asked him "do you have any brothers or sisters?" without hesitation, he answered "i have a sister who is 10, and a brother who is in heaven," adding "i was going to say 'a brother who is dead', but saying he is in heaven sounds nicer."

i resigned from my teaching job. i would have taken time off if james had been born healthy. knowing that he would not be, it seemed that my attentions would still be best directed toward home. two days after he died, and immediately after returning from meeting with the funeral home director, i received a call offering me another open position at the school. it was polite, and not intended to come off as "so now that it's clear you'll be free next year..." but it was hard to hear.

i never got to give james this yo-yo. i had it in my pocket throughout the entirety of his life. i knew he would be miniscule, even for an infant. i have given alex and caitlyn many yo-yo's, and will hopefully have time to give them many more (whether they want them or not). with james though, i didn't have time to give him very much at all. and though i intended this for him, at the time it really didn't seem all that important. honestly, small though it is, it would have been way too big for him anyway (i don't own a mighty flea). among the gifts we did give james were a small stuffed lamb, which caitie now keeps on her bed, a plush dog-blanket named spot which alex keeps watch over, and a few cute outfits he got to try on which stacy has in a box. me, i'm keeping this yo-yo safe for him. it reminds me that we would have had a lot of fun together if things had been a little different. it also reminds me that though i didn't have time to give him this little present, i did have time to hold him, to hear him, to see him meet his family, and to say goodbye. i did have time, and i am so inexpressibly grateful.

i'm sorry. i know this is a yo-yo blog. you didn't come here expecting to read this epic saga. and i know i spend most of my ramblings here saying stuff like "don't get attached to anything!" or "everything is transient and impermanent!" or "ding up your yo-yo's, weenie!" i think the thoughts i've tried to express in this blog have helped me to crystalize what i think and feel about the world, all of which has been tested over the past 6 months. i've found that some of my understanding has been broken, some of it has been reforged, and some of it has stood firm. this experience represents the predominant emotional landscape of my life this year. where before, i have primarily thrown a yo-yo to experience reality more clearly or directly, often this turmoil has left me wanting to throw in order to hide, ignore, and forget.

this yo-yo, however, i will only ever throw to remember.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!


i'm just inside of 3 hours left. the last 3 hours of a year spent throwing one yo-yo. it's really, REALLY not a big deal, and i have to say i'm ashamed of playing like it is on instagram and facebook and whatever.

at this point, i'm excited to make good on a deal i made myself. to hold up my own end of the bargain (which, of course, was the only end at all). it feels like one last xmas gift; one i saved for and which i get to open a few days late. in the movie 'rob roy', liam neeson calls honor 'the gift a man gives himself'. i don't know how much 'honor' can be attributed to any aspect of this endeavor, but it feels great going into these last few hours.

tonight, i'll kiss my kids goodnight, along with my wife (she's got to work in the morning). i'll probably put the big ball on tv. and i'll throw yo-yo. i'll try to "throw well" and just be grateful for these moments as they falter and expire with all the swiftness of a wood yo-yo dying into stillness... just like they do every night of every year, regardless of whether or not we pay attention.

i figure i've thrown the 'eh' at least 100,000 times this year. that's a lot of throws for one yo-yo. a lot of catches. a lot of missed tricks. a lot of snap-starts. a lot of spent string and frustration and relief and sanding axles and desperately eeking out sleepers and tuning out vibe... it used to look like this:



and now it looks like this:


i wouldn't trade anything in the world for those 100,000 throws. i wouldn't trade anything for this "not a big deal" experience, because it's the "not a big deal" things that you do (or don't do) that end up  defining who you are. they say 'you are what you eat', but really you are all that you do. you are your huge, grandiose successes and your most terrible failures, but mostly you're all of the tiny moments in between. you're 'washing the dishes' and 'making sure the kids wear their seatbelts' and 'sitting around looking at twitter'. you ARE those moments... and if you're reading this blog, then on some level, and in some way, you are what you throw... and how you throw... and WHY you throw.

in truth, as my time on 365yoyotricks.com wound down, i found myself a little disappointed. in the last few weeks, it occurred to me that so many of the ideas i wanted to explore this year, i never got around to building into tricks. in the beginning, a year seemed like SUCH a long time. it seemed like the path stretched forever and twisted so that i couldn't see more than a few yards in front of me. and then in the middle, it DRAGGED some days (especially on those july afternoons that saw my cotton string slip through my skin like razor-wire). i had some traction, and i had some purpose, but the monotony and routine still made it seem like "the end" was just some amorphous idea that couldn't take form. but on new year's eve... it occurs to me: THIS is what i was able to do with a year. THIS, and no more.

i hit some good tricks, i think. i busted some knuckles. i was a pretty good teacher and a pretty good dad and a pretty good husband. and a pretty good yo-yo player, in my way. i think on new year's eve, you always look at yourself and wonder if all your 'pretty good' could have been something more... and you wonder if you've got it in you to live up to that untapped potential tomorrow. i kept my promise... but do you ever really FULFILL it?

but at the end of the day (and at the end of the year), the overwhelming feeling i'm left with is one of gratitude. i'm SO fortunate to be able to give this kind of frivolous pursuit my attention and commitment. i have it SO GOOD to have been able to spend time thinking about what it means to play with a YO-YO... a TOY... and to be able to have shared this experience with my friends and find that some of them care about it, and even want to be part of it... it has been truly surreal.

a lot of people have asked me what i'll use for my first throw of 2013. it'll be that one at the top of the page there. my yo-yo. i owe it that much, at least.

i wish you the very best in 2013, and thank you sincerely for giving my little internal adventure even a moment of your attention.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

winding down...



So it’s the end. Pretty much.

I’ve got, what, a couple of weeks left? “Not with a bang, but a whimper”, as Eliot said. I truly can’t express enough gratitude to accommodate what this whole experience (and this whole year) have meant to me.
  • To Steve Buffel for enabling it from the start, and for repressing what would have been a very natural desire to say “hey jerk… remember all that stuff I’ve done for you? Just play my metal yo-yo’s, ok,”. Instead, he made me a truly legendary wooden yo-yo, and supported me full-on.
  • To Steve Brown, who thought it’d be alright to give me a weekly spot to share the tricks I felt like doing, even though the vast majority of yo-yoers don’t do fixed axle on the regular.
  • To Colin Leland, who has pushed the standard of what wooden yo-yo’s can do harder than anyone, and who agreed to help SPYY share the ‘eh’ on a level I never thought I’d get to see.
  • To Drew Tetz, with whom I’ve had a running video-text conversation throughout the year, and who is using fixed axle to dictate “the shape of tricks to come”. It seems like not a week goes by that one of us doesn’t text the other “Is this yours? Have you done this?”
  • To the other Light Sleeper Society guys who got on stage at Worlds and gave me their shoes, that was certainly the most amazing extrinsic honor I have received in yo-yoing (or COULD receive, more like).
  • To my kids at school and at club, who have been so hilariously patient with me as I’ve tried to teach them Kamikaze and White Buddha using fixed axle. After the first few weeks, they realized ‘yeah, he’s gonna keep this up,’ and resigned themselves to learning tricks with the yo-yo dead.
  • And, to all the people who sought out my stuff, who sent me messages of support, or who have given wood a more legitimate shot lately. It’s really gratifying and humbling to be part of this movement of renewed appreciation and trick progression.
I’m a little anxious about the prospect of just grabbing a random yo-yo and walking out the door with it. I’m not sure how easy it will be to go back to playing "just anything". I definitely miss playing 2-handed, but aside from that, I kind of doubt that playing with a bearing will be substantially more fun than what I’m doing now. I’m fairly confident that I’ll feel really bad about my “regular 1a” and its degree of deterioration, but we’ll see. I’m so excited about the directions fixed axle is going that I’m sure I’ll still spend a lot of time doing that (certainly more than just on “Fixed Friday”).

I’m not good at tying a bow on things and saying “that experience is over”, but I suppose that’s the natural consequence of beginning a year-long commitment and seeing it through. In terms of what it’s given me… Aside from a very obvious and intimate (gross!) acquaintance with my yo-yo, I definitely feel I have a better sense for what will and won’t work before I throw down. I’ve got a much more intuitive sense for my own throw than I did a year ago. When you can only really do a trick if your throw is up to snuff, it becomes pretty evident when one is off-kilter. I never had a big hang-up about dings or vibe with any yo-yo, but the last few months have taught me that banging a yo-yo (even a wood one) off of all manner of creation and inducing a vibe that would rival a heavily caffeinated Charlie Sheen can still be perfectly manageable in terms of completing tricks. I have no beef with those that like their yo-yo’s clean and pretty, but it’s neat to have experimented with slamming one yo-yo again and again and still being totally in love with it. I've broken into new personal territory with respect to tuning a yo-yo into its best possible level of play, breaking in axles, and eeking out the dying embers of a throw’s energy.

I would absolutely recommend this experience to anyone. I mean, not having a one off wood yo-yo made for you or anything, but dedicating yourself to one throw for an extended period is a pretty cool exercise. It’s pretty crazy, the degree to which I’ve come to associate myself with the ‘eh’, and not at all because of the name. When one thing goes everywhere with you for a really long time, it kind of takes on the flavor of your experience (and vice versa, I guess).

I think regret is a choice, and generally not a very good one, but I do regret losing the first ‘eh’ with which I began the journey. The one I’ve played the past 8 months is just as wonderful, but I wish I weren’t the type of person to lose things (although it IS the first yo-yo I’ve ever lost – go figure). I kind of wish I didn’t get so much attention for the things I do. Obviously, I make videos so that people will watch them and enjoy them. I write blog posts so that people will read them and think about them. It’s neat to get praise, but I also do those things to challenge myself and dissect myself. It’s probably pretty distracting, both for myself and for others, to get credit for stuff that is supposed to be about ‘arriving at truth’ and I wonder if some of the meaning gets lost.

And so the toys go winding down (to quote Primus). My only resolution for 2013 is to try to be a good person and to make every throw count. I have never, ever, ever been more stoked to throw, which at the end of a journey like this, is a great thing to be able to say. I wish all of you a wonderful holiday season, and sincere thanks for reading about my frivolous toy-playing adventures.

... oh, and i apologize for the caps. i don't know what happened.

Friday, November 23, 2012

all strung up and ready to go.



in that last shot, you can see one cool anomaly. most of the "eh's" sport a new red oak leaf to indicate that they were made not in canada, but the u.s.a. steve ended up lasering ONE with the original maple leaf. we're developing a plan for what to do with that special one. ;)

11/12 of the way to forever...


i've been playing the 'eh' for just about 11 months.
actually it was right around a year ago that steve and i first hatched our plan to try this little experiment in self-discovery (or self-deprivation).

you may have heard that, contrary to our initial plans, we will be able to release a small number (less than 50) eh's into the wild via our community's greatest bastion of commerce, yoyoexpert.com. the yo-yo's which will be released are, i will grant you, quite a bit different from what i've been playing. of course they're still fixed axle, still 'dimple-response', still lovely, raw red oak, just begging for you to develop a patina. honestly, they're alike in pretty much all of the important ways. however, these eh's were crafted not in canada, but in oregon, by colin leland of tmbr toys.

colin is the 2011 fixed axle "champion of all the world", an awesome player, and a great friend. when i first fielded this idea to steve a year ago, his thought was "maybe we could get colin to make it for us". obviously, i'm glad steve took a stab at it and made me an unbelievable yo-yo, but when we agreed to try to fire off a small run, it was a natural to ring colin up and see what he was up for. tmbr is the pre-eminent maker of fine, progressive wood yo-yo's on the market today. anyone who even THINKS they might want to try wood should own a tmbr.

steve, colin, and i began an email exchange that has hovered around "everyday" for the past month. i got a proto in the mail from colin a few weeks ago, made right from steve's original specs. once again, i cheated on my commitment to play it (though since it's still an 'eh', i don't even feel bad about it). he knocked it out of the park, and after some ridiculously small adjustments to the profile, he cranked out a full run, sending them off to steve for laser-engraving (he needed to revamp his basement exhaust system to accommodate the ash and dust). i should receive the lot of them in a few days, and will set about the task of assembling them, tuning them, hand-twisting some type-10 cotton string for them, and packaging them.

with any luck, they should be available at yoyoexpert by the 1st week of december. my plan is to update this blog with the link as soon as it is live, along with the initial facebook thread i made asking if anyone was interested.

even after the flying v and the ronin, this is the most excited i've ever been about sharing a yo-yo with the larger community. this year will be inextricably linked in my mind with the 'eh'. it's been in my pocket every day. when i think about it, i've spent MUCH more time playing it than any other yo-yo. it's soaked up my sweat, and i've taken a few of its splinters. i struck out on this journey with the intention of transforming a certain yo-yo into an extension of my hand, and there's been no option but to succeed. time will do that. the yo-yo has developed a more obvious patina, it's left its mark on me as well.

a lot of people have asked me 'what's next', but i have no resolutions in the works. i, myself am vexed when i think about NOT carrying the 'eh' around all day. having a ronin or flying v in my pocket again (or that new ranchero calling my name - yum) just seems so foreign a concept, like cheating on a spouse or something. i've had to "practice" not being tempted to play other yo-yo's to the extent that the habit is ingrained. in the end, though, i think i'll manage. while it's great to develop a sense of "relationship" to the instrument you play... attachment is still attachment. and it ain't no good.

regardless of how much time we've shared, i feel that i SHOULD be able to give the 'eh' away to someone come january just like i'd give away any other yo-yo. it would be tough, and i feel like that's an emotional response that needs some exploration down the road.

for now though, i'm happy (and very excited) to be at this stage. i feel simultaneously very connected to the yo-yo i've been throwing and ready to apply what the past year has done for me to my other spinning toys.

here's a new video which deals with my perspective near the end of this adventure.