Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Dying Garden

11:33 a.m.

There is beauty in death and decay. A vibrant life. Youth. Productive. And now it's at a different stage of its life. It's not just because I just turned 60. I've been thinking about this my entire life. And now, I've reached a stage of my life that when I hear of someone dying, rather than wondering what they died of, the first thing I want to know is, how old were they? An actress that just died this week was 71, and I immediately did the math: 11 years more. When she was my age, she only had 11 years more. That's not very much at all. It's a pffft of a life.

We value youth; so much in this city of Boston, it's like one enormous kindergarten. And in our society, it's all about youth and beauty. If you're not young (and pretty), you're a nobody. A young man who we met this past time in Paris had lived in Miami for awhile, and he suddenly became serious and said, in Miami, it was all about how much money you had and how pretty you were. So, he returned to Paris.

And we compare ourselves to celebrities and people who think and act like they're celebrities. We are as individual as raindrops (notice I didn't use the cliche, snowflakes?) in a rainstorm.

The beauty of a garden in the throes of autumn. Spent. Still trying to push out fruit, but the energy just isn't there anymore. But it still doesn't stop it from trying. This garden didn't produce as much as last year's. So what? This summer was hotter, and it rained less than last year. This year's garden was this year's, and you can't compare it to last year's. Any more than you can compare people.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Mainstream Media and Me

Sue and I do our best to stay out of the mainstream. We both learned long ago we don't fit in to normal society. We think a little differently, act a little differently, live our lives a little differently. We don't try to be this way, we just are. Sometimes we view our lives, vis-à-vis society, as having a free, front-row seat at the circus.

We haven't owned a television for maybe ten years now. I don't think Sue had a television when we met; she was backpacking around the world and didn't have room in her pack for a television; I got rid of my television long before it became hip to jettison it. When we moved in together we decided that, for us, most of the programming was pure drek. It wasn't worth the exorbitant amount of money Comcast was asking, and we'd rather put all of that money toward travel. So much of popular culture--movies, celebrities, TV shows--we just don't know who or what they are. Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, the Patriots football team--mean absolutely nothing to us. And we're ok with this.

We're not Luddites, mind you. We get all of our info through the laptop and Sue's in her car a lot and listens to NPR. She comes home from work and mentions something she heard on the radio, and we Google it. We peruse the New York Times, the Globe, the Guardian, RT, Al Jazeera, and we have a subscription to Neflix, although we don't watch any of the popular television series. Frankly, even though I don't want to spend my time watching a television show, I have to say hardly any of the content interests me. I think I watched one episode of Madmen and was bored to tears. A friend of mine once spent about twenty minutes telling me about The Wire. I have to admit the concept intrigued me, but not enough that I even checked out some clips on YouTube. I don't want to spend my time on earth watching television. I'd rather be the one creating.

And more importantly, I sense that all of popular culture, and here I'm lumping in the mainstream media, is extraordinarily and even dangerously manipulative. It wants us all to be like it, so we'll spend money on the all of the trappings to be like it.

Still, we are interested in the world, and it can be so hard to keep up. As I said, we peruse sites, but we're not immersed in them, and so we often do feel behind in current events. Things in the world are moving fast. China and its affect on the world's economy. The migrant issue in Europe, that's connected to the Middle East and ISIS. Crazy as it sounds, we would watch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to pick up on what stories in the news to follow. (Don't even get me started about how Comedy Central became a legitimate news source, and what that says about society.) Now both of them are off the air, we're both working hard at our jobs which makes it hard to work at keeping up with the world, which all coincided with us deciding to dip our toes back into the pond. Interestingly, we turned back to the MSM. I guess it's just because it's an easy move, like reaching for a bowl of cereal when you're too tired to cook.

We've been getting the New York Times Sunday paper for a couple of weeks now that gives us unlimited access to its web site, and not just the ten free stories per month that we were doing. We subscribe to the Boston Globe online edition. And we're getting The Atlantic, which used to be my favorite monthly magazine, way back when. I'll also pick up The New Yorker occasionally. So that's a pretty fair sampling of the liberal press right there.

And it's extraordinary now, when you've been away from the MSM for so long, to see that no doubt, the NYT, The Atlantic, The New Yorker all have an agenda (they probably call it an editorial slant) no different than Fox News has its agenda. Everyone in the world wants to tell you what to think and how to act, don't they? And they think they are so right about things. Not a lot of room for a differing opinion, is there? Yeah, Donald Trump is a clown, and a racist and a mysogynist, but he's right about taxing hedge fund managers and bringing business back within US shores to protect our economy. Or at least that's what I think, but according to the liberal press, I can't think like that. I also think that if you think like I do, and believe that the president has very limited power and that the country and especially foreign policy is run by the military, that the presidential election ceases to have the importance that the mainstream media gives it, and therefore mainstream America believes it has, and suddenly, Trump becomes something the press could never see: That he is a very entertaining diversion, that he is bringing to the forefront a lot of nasty things about American society that we need to face and are afraid to admit about ourselves, and that he would make a very good character in a play, which might tell us more about our electoral process than a year's subscription to the MSM. Let's put it this way: He makes for very good dramaturgical/anthropological/political research about the United States. Instead of simply reporting on the election, including I might add, reporting that once again a women is running for president of the United States, the MSM is upset because Trump is screwing up their scripted programming. Seriously, they would rather have Mike Huckabee and Scott Walker put us through a snoozefest than report on Trump?

I'm afraid if I keep reading a steady diet of this, I might actually lose my independence and ability to think independently.

Except for maybe the front section of the NYT that is actually reporting on news, the rest of the paper really is strongly opinionated, telling me how I'm supposed to feel and think about the likes of Stephen Colbert and the importance of him taking over a TV show from David Letterman. People's television shows are like a heroin addict's needle, aren't they? Or how a story about the AFC East is written in the same voice that the political writers take when talking about ISIS, that it is imperative for the the football teams in the AFC East to defeat the New England Patriots, as if the Patriots were forcing their opponents to play in burkas Just drumming up interest to keep that billion-dollar sports industry going, is all that seems that story is about. I read three pages about chambray shirts--a fancy name for blue collar shirts, according to the Times--and all that it means about people who wear them, when actually blue-collar people would never wear something called a chambray shirt. They would probably mistake it for cheese.

And finally, I don't know who Alton Brown is. As I said, celebs mean nothing to me. Mr. Brown could be sitting next to me on the subway tomorrow morning (doubtful) and I wouldn't know it. I would just hope, as always, that he would keep his elbows to himself. But I was reading the interview with him, where I'm supposed to pick up on what all new and trendy in the foodie world, and I found myself looking at his picture thinking, "Now, that's a nice suit. Oh, he's wearing a button-down white shirt with it--nice. Love the glasses. How does he keep his beard so neat? Probably a special electric razor. I could pull off this look--except for the shoes, of course." And that's what I'm talking about. Before I knew it I was sucked in. If I hadn't snapped out of it, I would have gone to Macy's and dropped a few hundred on a shiny suit and a beard trimmer.

There are always strings attached in society, and the strings are usually attached to your wallet.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunday 3:45 p.m.

A lazy Sunday afternoon. The last weekend in August. Not really the end of the summer, but...close. So close.

Spaghetti sauce made from the last tomatoes of the garden, are simmering on the stove, seasoned with (lots of) basil, oregano, and two kinds of parsley from the garden.

And tomorrow is another work day, so a sunny couch and the Sunday New York Times is the definition of luxurious. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

It's Monday And I'm Late For Work...And I Don't Care

I’m late—way late—and I’m walking toward the T station and my train is pulling into the station and I think, “To heck with it. You’re going to be very late.” And I let it go. It’s the same feeling I get when I’m traveling by plane, and the second I feel the wheels leave the runway and if I’ve left the iron on, well, it’s out of my hands.  
After getting carted off to the hospital a couple of times with chest pains when I was an up-and-coming go-getter, I decided a while back I wasn’t ever going to risk a heart attack running for a train. I’ll get to work eventually, and, since I’m on an hourly contract, I won’t get paid like salaried employees dawdling this morning. My employer can dock me, though God forbid I should work a minute over my allotted 35 hours. Then this university with the winning football program would have to start handing out benefits to contractors.  This is the hiring agreement. When you give your all and you’re still not looked upon as deserving benefits, you start to view the workplace and the world in general with a jaundiced eye, with a lot less regard for a career and more watchful for well-paying contracts. 
Some mornings it just takes longer to get started, especially Mondays when the weekend teases you with the idea that you might be gaining just a little control of your life. I currently have a contract where I have to go, as it’s called, on-site. That means I actually have to go to an office and sit at a desk and in order to do that I have to be on a strict schedule. I know most people might say, so what? Isn’t that kind of the definition of a job? But when you’re a freelancer, when you’ve been working for yourself for most of the 21st century, when your name is associated with two successful theaters that you started in Boston, and yes, while I enjoy just about everything about the contract, the idea of preparing for the office is a bit old school. And at this point, I do have to make myself clear: I do enjoy this contract. It’s my fourth time in five years working at this site. It is a good gig. It pays relatively well, and it’s a polite, professional work environment, nothing close to the infamous Amazon workplace that just came out in the news this past week, with intelligent co-workers who respect one another’s talents and enjoy one another. 
No, it’s not the job, but the preparation, that gets to me. In order to get on-site, I have to get up at 6:15 and spend the next hour and fifteen minutes making myself presentable for being “on-site”— showering and shaving and putting on clothes that are inappropriate for summer weather before heading out the door for an hour-and-a-half commute courtesy of Boston’s limping public transportation system.  An hour-and-a-half commute one way translates into three hours per day times five days equaling 15 hours, or two full extra workdays that I’m not getting paid for. So what? a lot of people might say. This is what people do to make money; stop your complaining, at least you have a job. But when you’re working for yourself, you’re more wired to think like the person running the show and in this case, billable hours—wasted time, isn’t something the typical commuter thinks about. To them, it seems to me, the commute is just one more thing to endure, like a moody manager.

Lots of people like being on-site. The office is so much a part of them that they will whole-heartily admit they like coming to work. They like the office, its familiarity and structure. They like the clothes and the culture and the social aspect. They don’t see being on-site as a loss of their freedom; some I think see it exactly opposite. The last time I worked at this particular site, there was an executive there who decreed that all of the men should wear ties. This was a new arrangement since the last time I had worked there, and I actually had to go out and buy some ties. I bought two, both black and skinny, the least mainstream ties I could find. And even then I felt like I was dressed like an ice cream scooper at the local Dairy Queen. That executive is now gone, and I heard the no-tie rule took about a month to be instituted, but my biggest fear this time was that I would still be asked to cut my shoulder length hair. I still pull it back in a ponytail and wear a little less jewelry than I normally do, just to try to fit in. 
Many people do get self-satisfaction from the office—using their talents to do something they’re good at and sometimes it’s just fun to be good at something, they’re also furthering a cause or an organization that they can get behind. There are people who work for the same organization for thirty or forty years. Thirty or forty years! That’s how long you might get sent to prison for a really heinous crime. 
Different strokes. Organizations need people who are more structured, and also, thankfully for me, people who are less so. This contract will be up in four months, and when it’s over I’ll find something else. Hopefully something I don’t have to dress and shave to do. Some people like structure. Some of us don’t.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

#TBT 7.9.15

“John!!!  I got new shoes!”

“John, my Mom got a new car and we’re taking Alex to the doctor in it!”

“Hey John, my Mom gave us Fruit Loops for a snack!”  This is Laura, my  neighbor.  Laura tells me everything that’s happening in her life, usually at the top of her lungs and running towards me at full tilt.  She’ll skitter to a stop, still talking, ignoring the limits of personal space any other civilized person might acknowledge.  This is not to say she’s uncivilized; she’s five, and exuberant.

“Jjjjjooohn.  Wewewewe got Ffffruit Loops.”  says Alex, Laura’s little brother, stuttering in that curious way some three-year-olds have when they’re just learning to talk, and, also corroborating that Fruit Loops rumor.  These two little people comprise my fan club.

Emerson said one of the marks of success was winning the affection of children.  This is because children only include in their world the things that give them pleasure.  It’s certainly an ego boost to get ranked right up there with Fruit Loops.

For whatever reason, all of my life I’ve gotten along with small children and animals better than any of the larger examples of the population.  Even my closest adult friends can be characterized as play babies:  They would much rather garden, watch movies, and play musical instruments than have a productive day in the office.  It’s pretty clear I’m an over-aged kid who refuses to give up stuffed animals and the sandbox.

Still, I realize that some might think it questionable, or even suspicious that a grown man counts among his friends a five and a three-year-old.  We’ve grown paranoid in this last decade, and it’s a shame.  Sure there are kooks and nuts in the world.  There also are many men who enjoy children -- their enthusiasm, curiosity, viewpoint, even their tiny voices.   This is no cause for suspicion, but nonetheless, we are all suspicious.

Allison, my oldest, had a wonderful kindergarten teacher in the person of Mr. Leonard.   He left a successful career in the defense industry in his mid-forties to become a teacher.  I’m ashamed to say that, during the summer prior to kindergarten, I thought it odd that a man would teach children that young.  A man teaching the upper grades seemed perfectly normal to me, but why, I wondered, would a man choose to teach small children?  I have never been more wrong.  Mr. Leonard, now retired, was a warm, caring teacher who, for the 20-odd years that he taught completely understood the five-year-old mind.  He was a perfect match for Allison, and we were so lucky to have him teach our child.

I recently spent a productive afternoon putting covers on the windows of the chicken coop with Laura and Alex taking turns handing me screws, holding my hammer, or fetching things from my toolbox.  They’re a perfect age for this sort of thing.  My Kathryn, going on five, kept passing on her turn to help.  My kids have had plenty of chances at “helping” to the point where they now think of helping as work.  But Laura and Alex helped with intense concentration, and later I thanked their mom for the use of her kids.  “Sure, any time,” was all the harried mother could muster, never having seen that side of her children before.

An adult’s relationship with a small child has special dynamics which I can’t begin to fully understand.  When I look at Alex fully in the face, he grins at the attention, then suddenly turns embarrassed and retreats a few steps.  What is it he sees that makes him blush?  What does he feel that overwhelms him?  I wish I knew.  I suspect it has something to do with him being so small, and me being, to him, so big.  As a big, clumsy, oafish adult, I can only sense something is there through Alex’s reaction, the way scientists detect the smallest or most distant parts of the universe by their reaction to something else.  I wish he could tell me.  By the time Alex grows up, he may have it forgotten.  I know whatever I knew, I forgot. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

#TBT 7.2.15

Kathryn spit at a kid on the school bus today. She thought he had spit at her first, so she let loose with a shot of her own. Here’s one right back at ya.

Kathryn is six and loves ponytails and headbands, dresses and shoes, and other pretty clothes. She is small for her age, but she has a big heart. She is generous with her hugs and kisses, wrapping her arms around your neck so tightly that you think your head is going to pop off. She tends to skip instead of walk, and hums and sings to herself when she’s alone. She is all girl.

Kathryn also enjoys a nightly game of chess before she goes to bed. She derives glee from beating her dad at the game, which rarely happens, but I can see the day coming when her victories will be more common. Every so often she unleashes a move that takes you completely by surprise. She’s at her best when playing Uno; she almost never loses. She really is all girl.

When she and her friend, Christina, are together you might think you have Thelma and Louise on your hands, especially when they’re on their bikes. Chloe, her quiet friend, comes out of her shell when she’s with Kathryn. Chloe’s mother says Kathryn brings out Chloe’s wild side. Kathryn, (and Christina and Chloe) are all girl.

It turned out that the kid on the bus really didn’t spit at Kathryn; she only thought he had. “Shoot first and ask questions later” seems to be her motto. She didn’t want to talk about the incident when she got home. She said J and I were making “too big of a deal out of it.” But I told her I wanted to talk about it and she started to cry. Then I told her I wasn’t angry, that I thought what she had done had been a good thing. That even though she’s a little girl, I still want her to stand up for herself. If she makes a mistake like today’s, well, it’s only because she’s still learning. We even had a little laugh. “What did he do when you spit at him?” I asked her. “He was really surprised,” she said, and I said, “I bet he was,” and we laughed.

Pretty doesn’t mean weak. Being all girl doesn’t mean vulnerable. When Kathryn first saw Anastasia, she yelled out during the climactic scene, “Finally, the girl saves the boy!” I can happily say I’ll take credit for that.

I’ve tried to drum into both my two little girls that Ariel in The Little Mermaid gets into trouble because she disobeys her father, then needs that idiot, weak-kneed prince who can’t see past his nose to bail her out of trouble. I insist that Belle in Beauty and the Beast is my favorite because she is smart, pretty, and saves the prince all in one fell swoop. And that Snow White should cram the poison apple up the witch’s big nose, and that a better title for the movie would be Snow White and the Seven Black Belts.

That Kathryn sees women as strong and as fighters will make this dad sleep better at nights. Too often in the corporate world I see women who are treated more like geishas than professionals. What’s worse, some women even accept this as their lot in life. God I pity their kids. What a terrible thing to pass along. It makes me just want to spit.
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