The pervasive carelessness of “you don’t matter”

Superheroes say they defend everyone, but the clear message from the current crop of superhero movies is “you don’t matter”. The carelessness anyone but the central characters are dealt with is extreme. Anyone can and does die, and no one mourns them. The entertainment as a viewer is getting to feel above it all, as if we are one of the main characters, privileged to leap from one often-insensible crash-bang to another, and then walk away. This is also true with much of what passes for crime drama on TV. What is particularly insidious is it is also the message coming from our government representatives and media outlets. The poor, the powerless, “undesirables” (read: the old, infirm, unfortunate, ugly, intellectually challenged, etc.) and the less-than (women, gay, people of color, etc.) are all disposable, especially as any individual racks up membership in these categories- and then can be dispatched by those in power with self justifying sadistic pleasure.

The wave this point of view is experiencing is not limited to the U.S., just as nothing is bound by nationality in border, funds, or belief anymore. It has become a global phenomenon.

Very effectively, all people have become so afraid for themselves and those (whom or what) they love that it takes very little to make an individual feel threatened, afraid, at risk. A camera watches you everywhere, from the sky, a lamppost, a local grocery building, or your own computer. Our infrastructure is crumbling, and those entrusted with the general welfare are as afraid as the rest: police, fire, political, and medical workers are clearly taught that they must care for themselves, and that their time and lives are worth little, so gaining financially from dubious acts is par for the course and their due. The ethos is sold to us: to feel superior, and believe you can outsmart and “out play” everyone else is your privilege. As a recent popular sci-fi show put it, “That man there had an ax. Now I have it.”

If you do not go with the flow, you can be destroyed financially, medically, or in any way possible with very little effort. Anonymous is not you, and does not work for your concerns. The Klan, Black Panthers, Occupy, and various groups all have something in common- they are watched, and essentially powerless. If they attack anyone but the wealthy elites (and that is a very small group), then it is just an advantage. Divide and conquer has been around a long time for a reason: it works. And in most cases, there is very little needed but lies and whispers to start a divide. It grows of it’s own accord, and in the present social media age, becomes “fact” very quickly.

Getting any traction to collaborate, or care for long term goals of community (without a monetary reward or religious shibboleth which just causes a superficial pretending to care with a well indoctrinated language) seems difficult. Getting anyone to care about international issues is almost impossible- it’s “over there” somewhere and any resources ought to be focused on taking care of me, and my local issues.

High stakes testing in both schools and at work seek openly to sort. An array of statistics and correlative data justifies giving what dwindling resources exist to those who are intellectually deemed “worthy”. The rest will just have to work it out for themselves. The consequences of this sorting pits people against each other as they scrabble for a vision of security and safety (“helicopter” parents are all too aware), attained by the right educational institutions, programs, and jobs. This keeps people very busy, scared, ignorant, and too tired to think about the big picture. It also creates mid-level sadists who get pleasure from creating new ways to manipulate others, even as they know they will only get small, but consecutive cuts of the profits. It is ugly, and it is pervasive.

Scientists have learned well what possibilities of beauty and accomplishment exist. They accept tracks in academic institutions and industry, which grow ever smaller and more constrained. As higher education is slowly starved by legislatures, they are made the hands of private industry. Data, studies, or opinions that differ from the agenda of funding sources are disappeared or not funded at all. A hamster wheel of looking for funds to support research while at the same time being careful not to prove or discover anything that might threaten one’s position makes our best and brightest myopic and afraid.

Our military has been well shaped to the rhetoric of religion, and absolute authority. Young people without options have been told it is a route to access healthcare, education, and security. Sadly the opposite is the case, as private organizations such as the ever-morphing Blackwater/Xe/Academy become privy to military concerns, but without oversight making them the perfect real army, and sponges for federal dollars in the name of “efficiency”.

This is not news to anyone around the world. Each region has it’s own version of this picture, with varying degrees of violence and unrest. Our own government has made “civil unrest” a top priority, providing military tech to local governments, and funding studies about how to identify and control such unrest. What is not clear is if the real causes of social unrest will be addressed, or just the consequences so that the benefit of a few remains.

Meanwhile, we entertain and work ourselves to death, because we feel safe for the moment living this way or think we have no options. Our focus becomes smaller and smaller, and many of us turn from the din of media, live day to day. Some build bunkers; some build networks they think will help them. It is a patchwork of desperation because all of us want not to be the “innocent bystander” inserted via CG that gets blown to bits and is not seen again. That nameless individual no medical worker will materialize for, one whose plans and projects will fade, who will have their life insurance subverted on a technicality, whose grave will go unmarked.

Thoughts for the kids II

Don’t be afraid to be eclectic in your tastes. Sample widely, consider the structure of the things, of the gestalt as well as the parts. Then decide if you like it- in food, music, art, and opinions of all sorts. Know how to listen, then how to express yourself with grace, authenticity, and directness.
Try not to put things into your head that will only make that space darker. Feasting on violence, horror, (in films, books, etc. even if “just” fiction) or the often overwhelmingly bad world news, is an indulgence that decays your heart and mind. Know what to not watch or read- what will only add to a sense of powerlessness, distress, or imaginary possibilities of destruction. Think about what will truly make you bigger in spirit as a human being, and more capable of empathy and what is just destructive mental trash. It’s not always obvious either.
Know the difference between being bold, taking a calculated risk, and being risky or reckless.
Dance with abandon regularly, and sing open throated.
Don’t ignore personal hygiene. Brush those teeth well, floss, and gently scrub all your nooks and crannies every day with a mild soap and water. Keep your hair and beards trimmed, even if to appear shaggy- make it a plan, not an accident. Know your body so if you get a truly odd mole, or something hurts, you know where, for how long, and can describe it to a good doctor. Never settle for a mediocre general physician, and make sure they have all your information.
Clean your messes.  Know how to use tools, often and correctly.  Drills as well as spell check.  Know the difference between tools and toys.
Be careful what you consume. While you may have access to many different ingestibles, many of them are not worth consuming. Read labels. Drink lots of water. Stay physically active in body and mind.
Moderation is usually a good idea in all things. An old adage that is still useful.
Learn to do a couple of things that make you feel flow. That focused intensity of purpose, and the subsequent satisfaction it can bring.
Always appreciate the people who are crafts persons about what they do- the cooks, the wait staff, the post people, the plumbers, electricians, teachers, mentors, accountants, etc. Your life will suffer from the bad ones, and be considerably better for the really good ones. Even if you don’t always notice. Learn how to tell the difference, and appreciate explicitly.
Don’t be afraid to give people compliments. But know when personal boundaries are appropriate.
Make a few good friends, and know when a friendship is no longer tenable. Be direct about it too. Know how to trust and love, and have fair self protective strategies as well.
It is never out of style to be generous of spirit, or to look out for those weaker or more in need than you. You choose your character every day from the small to the large in thought and actions. Save civil disobedience for really important moments. You should not be breaking the law but for an accident, or intent. Intentional reasons should be really, really good and be prepared for what consequences may exist. Authority should be earned (not conferred, or handed over by privilege) and not all rules are good. Question, and calculate your actions.
Cut yourself some slack- everyone makes mistakes. Perfection is impossible and sometimes the best surprises come from our mistakes. As Bill Watterson said, “Art is knowing what mistakes to keep and what to throw away.” Don’t let mistakes not worth keeping in your head rot there.
You will get hurt. It will make me miserable to not know how to help you sometimes. Learning how to bounce back, how to think about what happened without ignoring it, is a big part of living. Be good to yourself, and don’t forget that you matter.

Why does now matter?

I wrote this for my kids. I thought it was worth sharing:

Why does now matter?
Because whether or not there is any sort of afterlife is unknowable and not relevant.
Because now is tangible and real, and whether or not we cause ourselves or others pain is something we can reasonably consider and act upon.
Because what happens after now interacts with lots of variables, some of which we have no control over. A little considerate planning over the ones we do have control over makes a big difference to what comes next, but so does knowing how to react when what comes next is a complete surprise.
Because while we have laws, enforcers of laws, communal beliefs about morals, and religions that espouse to regulate and enlighten about them, all of that is constantly in theoretical and practice based flux, and usually socially corrupt at some level. Knowing yourself and choosing to live life as a thinker, learner, and choosing to be kind and open minded is the hardest road to walk. It makes what you do in the moment matter, or just reactive (without being able to trust that you have character to rely upon when needing to react).
Because you will forget. We all forget. The textures, the colors, the tastes, smells, feelings, impressions, sensations, it fades very quickly. What remains are fragments, and we are lucky when those fragments are happy- because so many of them that get lodged into long term memory are negative, for protective reasons our brains do it, but it tends to blot out or take up the space so to speak of a lot of the random happy.
Because it is all we have. I look at the sky and I know life is short. Very very short. There is so much left for me as an individual, and part of a collective species, to know. Or to even begin to grasp. And I know I will never know even a small part of it. It is terrifying and awe-inspiring. And belittling. To know enough to know how short, small, and unconnected to the big picture this time is.
Because despite all that, we have humor. We have the ability to laugh, and to recognize our own absurdity and that of others. It saves us from disappearing into the vastness of time, as much as being truly known by others does. It makes the moment matter because it can be light, as much as it can be dark.
Because it is now, and can be imagined without strict boundaries of measured clock-time, but as having elastic boundaries of what now means.
Because now offers the constant new opportunity to love, be loved, and to care. Even in the smallest way.
It’s all we really have to be certain about, I think.

RIP

Roger Ebert died today. He was a journalist, a midwesterner, a U of I alum, and a gracious human being when I met him. I didn’t always agree with his reviews, but I am so very grateful that he lived, and for all his work. He joins Studs, Nels, Mike, and other big souls of Chicago I have read, listened to, met and deeply appreciated over the years. You’ll be sorely missed R.E.

Assateague Island

Going some place I have never been is a pleasure.   Looking at maps, searching for information about an area, it’s all more than planning; it is part of the discovery process.  The drive or flight is compared to whatever I have learned before the trip including matching and developing a sense of distances, encountering unexpected obstacles, and putting the topography into my mental map.  I adore travelling.  I do not regret any of the travels I took in my life, but do regret not having done more.

We have been searching for a trip we could make as a family every year.  A place within a certain one-day drivable radius from our home that would not cost us a fortune.   A place we could take the pop-up camper, and enjoy a week or two.

We have been to the Outer Banks, but for us it is only livable during the off-season, between November and March.  Yet, we liked the beach (not so much for the sun exposure, but for the ocean in all the natural awe it offers).  I had never been to the barrier islands of Assateague (in Maryland and Virginia) and Chincoteague, and it looked like an interesting area to explore.  We got incredibly lucky, and a five-day camp site opened up at the Maryland State Park in Assateague (check the internet site every morning and you might get lucky with a cancellation too; otherwise they are booked up to a year in advance for summer slots.  Oh, and try to make Sunday through Friday reservations, as traffic into the area is bumper to bumper on Fri-Sat, and bumper to bumper OUT on Sunday; the opposite directions are very open!).

Our site was paved, and backed up into a sand dune.  It was also about 150 ft. from the main dune that separates the rustic campgrounds from the beach.  The sound of the waves and wind were constant, and wonderful to hear at night.  The bathhouse (each small loop of sites has one) was clean, if somewhat worn from years of use, and has hot and cold running water for the showers and sinks.  Our particular campsite loop held mostly pop-up campers (and families at that), and thankfully NONE of the noisy, obstructive, gigantic RV’s so common to campgrounds.  The absence of the behemoths may have been due to the fact that most of the smaller loops do not have water and electric hook-ups, which was fine for all of us with propane stoves and water tanks in our popups.  The pop-up and tent crowd also know to bring large round water coolers, and food coolers, and cook out on the fire rings when one can.  It is worth it to have quiet, and low profile neighbors!

The barrier islands are wonderful, even the famed ponies (I am not a horse person, never was.  They are animals no more fascinating to me than the rabbits, unless they start adapting to eat seaweed like the sheep on North Ronaldsay island, Scotland) only annoyed our camp site once.  For people, especially women of a certain type, who have romantic ideas about the wild horses it is heaven.  I leave them to their cameras and fantasies, as there are many other things worth paying attention to on the island.

We were tempted only once to drive up to Ocean City to the north, by curiosity more than anything else.  We drove the main drag and noted that it reminded us exactly of Virginia Beach (with the requisite homeless population, drug addicts, prostitutes, con-artists, and tacky signage, over-built landscapes, and noise levels assaulting the senses).  We quickly turned around, and drove back the parallel road and over the bridge, laughing “Run away!  Run away!” as we drove highway 50.  But before getting out, we were lured into a large restaurant (Pirate Petes/Hoopers Crab House/Sneaky Petes was printed on the cups and we were never sure which one we were in) that hung into the bay.  Husband said, when the overly tanned waitress with blue eye shadow started huckstering about the small plastic cups for $5 (refills, if one did not buy the cups, ran about $3) we ought to have gotten up and left.  The requisite steamed crabs covered in old bay, with steamed corn on the cob for two ran $60 (the kids fish and chips, crab cake sandwich and fries fed them for about $12 each), when down on 611 we could get them for a dollar each at a crab shack.  We choked on crab shell bits AND the price, considered ourselves thoroughly made chumps, and tossed Ocean City in the Never Again bin with Las Vegas, Dallas, Virginia Beach, and various points in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Florida.  It was exactly as we had feared and expected, adding to the weird Stephen King sense when seeing the looming landscape in the hazy, far distance from our beach.  It could be one of his deserted, post-apocalyptic urban centers, which only adds to our sense of not wanting to visit again. 

Luckily, the Assateague State Park is as far away culturally as can be from Ocean City.  The park rangers are wonderful, and the small visitors center that serves both the National and State parks was very interactive.  The kids earned their Junior Ranger badges from the center, and had a lot of fun doing it.  The National Park is adjacent to the State Park, but completely different.  The bathhouses have only cold water, and pit toilets pervade.  Many day travelers use the National Park, and it was crowded with people and dogs.  We were grateful that there were no dogs at the State Park when we were there, and pets seem to be discouraged.  The National Park is also popular with the “deep” campers, the backpack and tent crowd who hike into sites where no autos can go.  Maybe twenty years ago we would have done that (pre-kids perhaps), but the pop-up serves us well for now.

Flying kites, collecting shells, swimming in the Atlantic, having picnics, taking walks, riding bikes (the paved trail is great), and so forth are all wonderful things when one has small children.  The nature center was next to our loop, and had activities all day for campers, and at night some movies were shown with a marshmallow roast.  The camp store is adequate, and the ranger station always had a supply of ice and firewood for sale.

The small village of Berlin is about fifteen minutes from the park, and offers a wonderful place to do laundry, get groceries, and grab a meal.  It is a town that has taken good care of the historic homes, streets, and beautiful city parks.  The Wednesday and Friday farmers market offers fresh clams, oysters, crabs, and various seafood, vegetables, and fabulous peaches to take back and make meals off of at a campsite.  The Baked Dessert bakery and café (http://bakeddessertcafe.com/bakedatthebeach/home.html) had the most amazing, fresh, hot crusty bread that we went back several times to purchase said loaves and some local sausages and cheese too (do not ask me about the cupcake bread pudding, peach tarts, or other desserts.  Just don’t do it.  I will cry).  The proprietresses are equally warm; as were all the villagers we met at the various shops, galleries, stands, restaurants, and parks.  It makes Assateague even better having Berlin to escape to from time to time.  Oh, and while we could not be there for the bathtub races, it seemed like something we ought to try to get to next year! 

Not much can be said of our foray to the southernmost part of the peninsula barrier islands, or Chincoteague.  Wallops Island NASA center, on the way to Chincoteague, has a good little museum but the underfunding of NASA is woefully evident and made us depressed. The National Seashore has a wonderful old lighthouse, remarkable for being open to the public (most along the east coast are closed to visitors).  The beach is crowded, and the swamp leading to it of interest biologically, but for little else.  The town of Chincoteague was all tourist trap, and the camp grounds abysmal combinations of homeless shelters (the sheer number of permanent residents in RV’s is overwhelming.  I think stats on this population, which are often older persons, needs to be examined in the wake of the economic collapse of the oughts) and country-pop loving, smoking, and drinking vacationers.  We moved campgrounds twice (I particularly warn anyone against Toms Cove campground for their horrifying bathrooms, policies, tiny sites, more than half “permanent residents”, and other issues), and were told by one woman we spoke with that the campgrounds attracted, as she delicately put it, “a certain type of person”.  Point taken, Madame.

We cut our visit to Chincoteague to twelve hours total, and headed down the peninsula to the undulating bridge/tunnel engineering wonder that gets people from the tip of the DelMarVa (Delaware/Maryland/Virginia) across the bay to Norfolk, VA.

Our last minute addition of Busch Gardens, Williamsburg to make up for the shortened trip was literally a wash- thunderstorms kept shutting down the park and after four hours and only three rides, BG refunded our money.  We drove home between flash floods and thunderstorms, wishing we had stayed a few extra days in Assateague.

Still, as a foray into the unknown it was a good trip, and gave us a place to escape to in the future.  Now I’ll have to start plotting a back roads course for the next visit.  Maybe I’ll finally find out how Assawoman got it’s name, too. 

It’s NOT simple

 

Worst offense against human consciousness: bad oversimplification. Great art simplifies small and/or large ideas elegantly; crystallizes with beauty of form and content. Communication in all forms can strive for elegance, and often-necessary simplification. Otherwise anyone- even experts in any field- are just babbling schizophrenics to those who attempt to listen. It leaves the listeners only the construction of their own minds (with respect to post-structuralists, communication does/can happen), and encourages ignorance.

Advertising has elevated the business of lying to sell a product or service to an egregious degree, such that we watch ads now during events such as the super bowl for the ads themselves, not to find out about a product.  High entertainment indeed.   It is communication without content, only form.  Marketers do not want people to know content such as what is in a product, or the hidden costs of a service, because that might dissuade a potential sucker- er, customer.  Obfuscation, the intentional bad oversimplification, the appearance of truth within a lie- is what is expected now days to sell anything.  It is the opposite of enlightenment, of learning, of being informed.

This reality of accepting, even expecting bad oversimplification has transmogrified with the cult of celebrity, of instant tech celebrity, and of superficial, fleeting appearances over any other form of being.  While what I am considering is not new, the critiques began long ago I admit- it is the lack of outrage and even boredom with cynicism that does seem to be new.  Some have said they observe a sticking the head in the sand, hands over ears and eyes approach to the overwhelming presence of what I am calling the wash of bad oversimplification (bad in moral, as well as aesthetic meanings), but I find it much more a perverse boredom that does not want to be aware, and while some may ignore the cracks in the veneers of culture, allowing oneself- yes, choosing- to chase the next over stimulating lie in order to feel engaged, it is a drug of such power few ever dreamed of.  Many of those peddling bad oversimplification in all arenas of human activity tend to ignore it.  Mediocrity?  No real communication or exchange?  Grades as a reflection of how well one can cheat, and jobs having no meritocracy but for your age, looks and temporary utility?  The very idea of elegant simplification- of terse, beautiful and informative communication seems not only an unfair expectation, but something for which we have fewer and fewer models and hence any cultural memory for it is evaporating. 

Art that sells because it is obtuse, and the maker has disappeared up his or her own arse hole usually with a mind numbing string of unrelated words or written inanity (substituting verbosity for content) compounds a general expectation that the experts know more than anyone else ever will, and what is not understandable is therefore good and important.  Or as the evangelical christians have marketed so well: in the face of feeling overwhelmed accept your own stupidity and the authority of others- you’ll just never know, and to inquire is blasphemous.  Oh, and you must enjoy the bad oversimplifications given to you.  Ironically, this message can be masked in the sale of simplicity!  Think of the yoga-vegan stereotype of goodness and simplicity, that encourages a degree of happiness and tranquility by ignoring as much as one can, and simply purchasing the right product, eating a particular food, and “not over thinking”.  Bad oversimplifications all.  

It may seem paradoxical yet consistent that only after considering the complexity of an idea, act, or object one might arrive at good simplicity and elegant understanding.  I can’t recall the exact quote, but Twain is noted for saying when asked to give a speech, that it took him about an hour to write a three page speech, half a day for a two page, a day for a page, and a week for a paragraph.  Good simplicity is an art to be appreciated in all forms; a scientific abstract, a research design, an essay, a novel, a film, architecture, design, a policy, a curriculum, an assessment or evaluation design, and any other activity one can imagine, especially speeches.  Or as Bob Stake has put it: simplicity is often a marker of quality (certainly of clarity); and even on the best day, quality is damned difficult to define.

 

Note: Tackling this concept requires a display of my own bumbling over-simplification, I admit- I never said I was efficient at simplifying, just frustrated at being able to identify the problem.  And yes yes- “bad over simplification” is redundant in a sense- but there can be oversimplification that is simply a structural mistake, and does not fall into the moral and aesthetic category of “bad”.  Not  therefore good, but benign perhaps.

As a friend recently said, watching Fight Club is a good way into thinking about the problem, and with humor.


of an age

When we speak of our children, we sometimes say, “They are of an age. . .” indicating that a level has been achieved in which they can be trusted to do something themselves, or when we expect booger and poo jokes to be in full bloom.  I have been thinking about the former this week.

It seems I have griped for so many years about feeling put upon, and when I said it immediately felt guilty, for the constant attention from my children.  The neediness, the must-keep-an-eye on, the do they need food-liquid-medicine-exercise and moment to moment care required for small children.  Now as if by magic, I have had several months of both my children in full time elementary school.  I had such grand ambitions at first.  All the lists of things I would get done, and try to do.  Much of that evaporated for one reason or another.  My fault entirely.

But there was also the unexpected loneliness.  There was no one to dance or giggle with when I played They Might Be Giants, no one to eat lunch with.  It was strange. 

This past week has been Christmas vacation.  One child has been sick (inevitable) and the other off working with Daddy.  I do not know what I expected, but it has been a let down.  This morning, for the first time in about eight years, I took a magazine into the bathroom for a sit.  I could hear the boys outside watching PBS kids and playing on the floor, being good brothers.  I knew I could trust them to answer the phone if needed, not kill each other, or destroy body level objects.  I got through much of the thin magazine.  I was both surprised and pleased, because I realize the experience would have been dramatically different if I had not had the accompanying sound on the other side of the door.  I miss the boys, and having them around is a pleasure- even if the occasional glass of juice still gets upended, toys litter the floor, and a whine for something to eat will arise.

Being a parent is a constant revelation no one ever is instructed on how to appreciate, and the experiences are so personal I am not sure adages and tips ever fully apply.  I did not want anything for Christmas that required cash, and told Husband as much.  I wanted him to help me figure out the video camera and download mechanisms, I wanted the kitchen ceiling finished, I wanted everyone healthy.  What has surprised me is the gift of time and everyday happiness I have.  The world can swirl in chaos outside, but for now, I am grateful for just this: my family and our simple stability.   They boys may be of many ages at many times, and I don’t want to miss any of it.   I think it will be all I ever really want.

Merry Christmas.

Heroes and leadership

Is it embarrassing to have an epiphany at such an age (all I’ll admit to is being somewhere under 50)?  I have groused for years about the lack of a youth movement in this country, and the tech-centered protests that pass for youth movements in the rest of the world.  But I have also been grousing about what passes for leadership.  When one is young, it is good to have heroes.  People who set the bar, provide examples.  As we age, we revisit these heroes, see their weaknesses, and hopefully mature enough to forgive them their faults and let them be human again.  Maybe we even learn to forgive ourselves our weaknesses, and with good humor realize what we are both capable of in extraordinary times, but more importantly how we operate in practice (not theory) on a daily basis.  Hopefully it humanizes us, makes us more tolerant, and less prone to the black and white simplicity of youth; which is appropriate for that time, it mobilizes energy and focus much more easily than a deep appreciation of the absurd and complex, which usually involves depression when one begins that journey- once out the other side though, it seasons us into adults.  We choose our battles more carefully, and have an overt need to balance personal responsibilities and our public selves.  But are we any less needful of heroes?

I know I have been mourning the loss of Studs Terkel again.  It seems to be a cyclic event for me.  I have humanized him in my mind a long time ago, and I am grateful for his constant self deprecation lest anyone make a hero of him.  Maybe it is the very definition of “hero” that has changed.  The media loves to toss about that word, to sell fathers day cards, to memorialize anyone who ever wore a uniform, you know the patter.  But I do not appreciate such flip use of the word.  Studs is still a hero to me BECAUSE he is human, because the definition is less a monolithic sculpture to perfection than a survivor of life with great soul, panache, energy, social contribution, and goodness.  Not perfection, but a consistent example of humanity I choose to admire, warts and all.

As an adult, a hero comes with difficulty.  I can’t say my parents are heroes anymore, as I did as a child.  It is not that I don’t love them- in fact, I love them more now for knowing them as an adult.  It is something else- the lack of intimacy?  The distance needed to have a hero or heroine?  I am still not sure.  It is in some part because I am not dead, or as Bill Maher recently said about turning 50, you have a lot left you can still do.  Some of the choices they made I do not wish to make, and I want to live long, healthy and as vibrantly as possible.  So I look for people who did, and see how they weathered life, what choices they made, practices they engaged in, and re-evaluate what they achieved and what I want to achieve.  I do not think leaders evolve out of a vacuum, and certainly not a vacuum that encourages a lack of self reflection.  Those people are not leaders, they are props- set up to some useful end by others and easily  manipulated.  We have an abundance of those people in roles leaders should have right now, in public and private arenas.  Leadership is hard- because if one is not to be the willfully ignorant prop of others, then one must make choices about one self, actions, and information.  One must be compassionate (active) not simply empathetic and sympathetic (passive).  One must choose good advisors, and develop complex perspective on issues of responsibility.  School board member or senator, local gadfly writer or Washington Post journalist, the leadership qualities needed are still the same, and only vary by degree.

This begs the question:  are all heroes leaders?  I don’t think so.  The heroes we choose as adults are usually not the ones set up by the media, although an uneasy venn diagram may exist between the two. We might also say our heroes and heroines are leaders in a particular way, that I’ll buy.  But an adult hero is so personal, so chosen, that perhaps they do not need to also be recognized as a leader.  But I think it is useful if they are- it helps us gain courage and example for the kinds of leadership we expect of ourselves, or certainly should expect for ourselves.  Remember, that leadership expectation is a matter of degree not kind.

I still admire Studs, and his wife.  They lived long and well, and in the process made contributions both small and large to our collective social lives.  I will never be as accomplished, but may I stay true to my path.  That is my wish, and why- I suppose – I still need my heroes.  So this fifth-grade essay is complete-  maybe we all need to write on the topic once a decade, as a self check on who we know ourselves to be and who we want to be in the future.  If you do not know of Studs, here is a great link to watch him at about 95 years of age (and several more interviews with and by him are avail. free on the net):

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-april-4-2006/studs-terkel

“For Studs, there was not a voice that should not be heard, a story that could not be told,” (Gary T. Johnson), “He believed that everyone had the right to be heard and had something important to say. He was there to listen, to chronicle, and to make sure their stories are remembered.”

And to laugh; always with perspective, good humor, and the deepest of good will.  If you have not read his collection of interviews in “Hope Dies Last”, do.  RIP Studs.

Got a jones. . .

A jones.  A craving.  A desire.  Do you ever get a jones for anything- say a particular food?  It seems vain and selfish thinking out it, when so many people in the world have so little.  It is so easy to have a craving and be able to satisfy it in this country.   Most of the time I am not sure if I can satisfy a jones.  For coffee?  Sure. There are lots of places to get a really good coffee.  For something sweet?  Not so much.  I am always disappointed, never being able to find anything “good” at a local shop or bakery.  For something salty?  If I get a small bag of chips, after the first three chips I regret it.  They do not taste right, and are very flat in flavor.  No, I get a jones for something from time to time then as I consider what I can get to assuage it, the feeling passes.  It’s usually not worth the substitution to just have something similar to what would really be good.

Ah, but I have found a local joint that has an item that I DO get a direct jones for and can be satisfied (apologies to B.B. King).  Remember wavy French fries?  Crispy on the outside, potato still flavorful on the inside?  The perfect vehicle for an assortment of condiments, the waves/ridges hold on to what ever is being conveyed.  They do them exquisitely at my local joint, and carry a wide variety of things to ingest them with.  It is my secret pleasure to get away in the middle of the afternoon and sit outside, had an order of the fries and a pint of beer.  Usually only for half an hour, and I don’t get to do it very often; but when I do it is a very good break from the ordinary. 

While we are at it, what I miss about being a grown up:

·         Thinking that there is no good BBQ to be had outside of KC or Memphis (depending upon where I was living at the time), needing a big lives blues fix and then tossing some clean clothes in the back of the truck (it had a camper shell) and going.  Eight to twelve hours?  No problem.  Stop and over night at a camp ground if needed.  Usually just do the time and be there.

·         Being naked.  Stepping out of the shower and just being naked.  All day if possible.  Hanging around the house, napping, reading, watching something on the tube.  Alone or with a current companion.

·         Hope.  Listening to loud reactionary music of any genre, thinking about possible recreations, and living in hope.  Casual, unafraid, unconstrained hope.

·          Dreaming.  Not knowing that the future is a closed road.  Dreaming of what one can be, wants to be, hopes to be.

·         Not knowing or caring what my creatine, HDL and LDL are.

·         Dancing as crazily, long and loud as I want.  Some local joint, live music, big skirt and tight white tee-shirt and not feeling silly.

·         Being pretty.  Youth really is wasted on the young.

·         It’s someone else’s job.  Being a leader, the one who knows and understands what is necessary, the one who is expected to pick up the slack- whether a pol, parent-teacher asso. member, neighborhood watch, etc.  Someone else’s job.  Not mine.  Who me?  No one needs me yet.

·         Open road, figuratively and literally.

This afternoon Husband is back into his teaching-administration-work cycle and the kids are both in school full time now.  I had breakfast this week with several other moms who had kids starting school, and facing empty daytime houses.  These moms are also very well educated women; looking forward to the change and a chance to be productive in ways they have not been for a while.  We have discussed redesigning minivans and SUV’s in ways that are supremely more functional (why don’t they do focus groups with moms?), such as a redesign on the rearview mirror, sliding doors on SUV’s, and lots of small things that would make autos so much more efficient and functional.  I said, as I have before, that the Gates foundation needs to fund a think tank of this most under utilized resource- the previously “stay at home mom”- and draw on a diverse set of education, experience, and pragmatic vision to write a variety of opinion papers and designs reflecting life in the U.S.  Instead of thinking of them as out of the loop, people need to think of them AS the loop.

Anyway.  I digress.

Amid the coming stretches of time with no people demanding my attention, I can focus and finish many projects.  I’ll also have time for the small get-away to satisfy the jones for those fries.  A jones for my husband.  Or just a jones for a long, uninterrupted nap.

Time

We measure time in segments, equal segments of varying types that represent an imagined progression of events.  But we experience time much differently.  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has made a public reputation from his book “Flow”, which covers both creativity and satisfaction/happiness, pleasure; how we experience time when we are fully engaged in an activity.  I have found his ideas useful, if often difficult to adequately research or measure. There have been more recent theorists of the experience of time, and they have ponderous insights.  Colloquially, people speak of how they experience time frequently.  I find myself reflecting quite a bit lately on how time seems to have changed for me.  It is as if it was in a holding pattern for a while, a slow stream rambling along.  The suddenly it accelerated, and wham!  I feel as if I suddenly entered a new stage of life.  It all started with my Grandmother passing this past winter.  Then like falling dominoes multiple events occurred in quick succession (See? A sensation of “quick”= a few months). This week feels like I woke up and am now symbolically much more gray haired.  We are caring for my father in ways we never had to before, and saw his much-loved sister in a state of fragility on a visit.  As I said to husband, we have moved into a new generational slot.  I felt it coming last fall when I got to spend time with a cousin’s adult child whom I like very much.  My youngest starts formal elementary school this fall, and that adds to the sensation.I have read that time does not really exist.  It is a construct we use to describe experience, but in physics it is not really a useful idea.  Change occurs in matter, but the meaning of that change is up for debate.  There are so many points of reference on this topic, just thinking about it leads my hands to stop typing, and my brain to wander.  Perhaps it is not a useful blog topic at all.  A clock metes out 60 second slots.  I need to get up and do things before the sun sets again, before my children’s bellies growl.  All sorts of ways to measure change, time.  It is the reacting to the measure that makes all the difference I suppose.  I can watch the change, passive, or I can act.  The change happens, and I participate.  That it sometimes feels utterly out of my control, and in sped up fashion; that I feel the need to react quickly, that is a perceptual problem.  I have no more time for this today.  Maybe more time tomorrow.