The time-honored tradition of the April Fool's gag was on the wane for a while, far as I could tell. Now, it looks like the web has revived it with a vengeance. Google gets into the act every year, this time with some bit about an intelligent software agent that went out of control. I didn't really follow it except to check out its home page, which was pimped out 1999-style with dozens of bad animated GIFs and streaming WAVs.
A good one went around the office in the morning about a huge merger. Had more than one person running around saying "Did you see this?!" Classic. Infoworld had one about FEMA seizing control of Twitter for exclusive use during emergencies ("We don't want twits messing with our tweets," say a government official.) Nice and timely. One of my perennial favorites is a site outlining the many hidden dangers of Dihydrogen monoxoide (think about it).
The web seems to have pushed the nature of April Fools gags from "gotcha" practical jokes to "gotcha" fake news stories, items written in a style and from an outlet that one might take seriously at first, but the more you read, the more ridiculous it gets until it dawns on you to check the date of the item. It's an interesting kind of practical joke in that the perpetrator never sees the duped in action. You, as the reader, are the victim of the gag, true -- but since you're also the one that figures out it's a joke, you get to be in on it as well, and subsequently get to virally prank others by passing it on. It's a more intellectual approach to the practical joke that I welcome... though I'm not giving up my whoopee cushion and popping snake peanut can just yet. Some things never go out of style.
Sully's Flight App
April 2, 2009
Heres' something I just tripped across I thought was an April Fools' joke, but isn't: a game that recreates "Chesley Sullenberger's January 15th USAirways landing in the Hudson River saving all the passengers and crew from what could have been a very deadly accident." Utilizing the software behind a popular iPhone flight simulator called X-Plane, you have to pilot a birdstrike-crippled Airbus A320 from LaGuardia Runway 4 to a safe water-landing on the Hudson River.
Some people may think this exploitive or of questionable taste. Personally, I have no problem with the taste aspect. With all the video games out there where you storm the beaches of Normandy or hunt house-to-house in Iraq for terrorists -- let alone ones where you shoot and drive over people en masse -- a flight simulator where the object is to not kill people in emulation of a truly heroic effort doesn't strike me as offensive in the least.
However, I do find it incredibly exploitive. Is Captain "Sully" making a dime off this? Did he approve the use of his nickname? No? Oops. Sorry guys. Lawsuit time!
I occasionally have variations on the classic actor's nightmare: being up on stage with no idea about my lines. It's kind of interesting because I've never done any acting nor do I have any anxiety about speaking in public, personally or professionally, formally or informally. Yet that classic paranoia of people watching you as you founder persists deep in everyone's psyche, I suppose.
I had a version last night that was a little different and, perhaps, a little closer to my real-life anxieties. I had written a play, which I was both starring in and directing, yet I had no idea what it said. I had my own script, scrawled all over with my own notes, but I couldn't understand any of it, and the play was set to open in a few hours. I was speaking to the actors, all of whom seemed to know their lines and have complete confidence in me. It was morning, yet people had already started gathering in anticipation of the brilliant bit of theater I was to debut shortly. I realized I had to knuckle down and learn my part by the afternoon.
This embodies a cascade of worries I have frequently. People expect great things from me, but time is running out and I have no idea how I'll manage to deliver. I feel stuck in a trap of my own making, my over-reaching coming back to bite me as zero-hour approaches. Feels like it happens all the time. I usually manage to pull it off... but lately, I've missed a few deadlines. It's forced me to re-evaluate the belief that I will always come through in the clutch, something I've come to rely on about myself. I guess I'm terrified that someday I won't... someday I'll promise something brilliant and completely fail to deliver. And, even if others let it slide, my ego will have taken a hit it can't recover from. That's the kind of thing that keeps me awake at night. That, and acid reflux.
April 4, 2009
After taking a few weeks to read the Brian Jacques young-adult novel Redwall to my son, I hunted out an animated version I'd heard of on YouTube. And, lo and behold, YouTube (or rather the legion of creative copyright infringers behind YouTube), came through again. The YouTube user MatthiasofRedwall has posted all three seasons of the animated version in perfectly parsed 10-minute chunks. Gotta send him a thank-you note.
So, we've been watching an episode or two a night after dinner -- me, my 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter (she wouldn't sit through the book, but likes the cartoon). I'm glad I got to read it with my son first, the whole book-v-movie debate still alive in my mind. We should finish soon with the 13 episodes of season 1--which corresponds to the first book. I'm going to hold off on the other seasons till I decide if we'll attack any other books.
Some interesting page-to-screen tidbits:
Cluny, the despotic commander of a rat army, is voiced with an American accent; all the other principals are British. Fascinating in that it was a cliche in Hollywood action movies for a while that the villain was always British.
The Sparrows speak a shrill, butchered English as their native language ("Sparra"), vaguely Eastern European in cadence (or so it seemed to me). The cartoon voices it pretty much the way I did when I read it to my son.
The Guerrilla Union of Shrews of Mossflower (GUOSIM) speak undoubtedly with Russian accents, just as I voiced them. Since they call each other "comrade" it's pretty well-established in the text.
I pronounced the above acronym as "GOO-oh-sim" whereas the cartoon says it "GOW-sim." My son commented, "They say it wrong."
* - Once again, I must say that while I do not condone the copyright violation, I marvel how useful it is to have access to this.
Finished Cartoon Redwall
April 5, 2009
We finished watching all the cartoon episodes of Redwall that correspond to the first book. The kids seemed to enjoy it quite a bit, especially my daughter, who had not heard the story before. She was very scared of Asmodeus Poisonteeth, the snake, and cheered when the hero mouse dispatched him St. George-style.
I sat with them the whole time and watched as well, and I enjoyed it for the most part. I was struck, though, by the fact that it was decidedly a kid's cartoon. That may seem odd, but consider how much animated entertainment exists that is either targeted at adults or designed to appeal to them in addition to kids. I watch a lot of this kind of stuff -- with my kids and without -- and I've really come to appreciate animation as a uniquely powerful storytelling medium, not just light entertainment primarily aimed at childern. But, that is, of course, what it has mostly always been and remains.
The animation of this Redwall adaptation was pretty basic and the dialogue simplified a good bit from the text. And, while faithful to the book in the mortality of major characters, the cartoon Redwall definitely sanitized the (still quite mild) literary violence and toned-down the sadness of some losses. All around, while very competently done to be sure, just not as sophisticated as I would have liked.
I'm not complaining. I just have to remind myself that some cartoons are still actually meant for kids and not as sophisticated as I would like. They're simply not intended for me. Heck, they can't all be Avatar or Justice League.
Edge of Cougardom
April 6, 2009
For some inexplicable reason, I woke up with the Stevie Nicks song "Edge of Seventeen" in my head. Can't think of where I heard it recently, but there it was... so strong I had to get it from iTunes and listen on my walk to the train.
I have to confess that I never actually listened to the lyrics before. I guess I always assumed it was about teenage rebellion or the approach of maturity or something like that. It's not. It's about a woman who has a relationship with a teenage boy. Yep. That's right. Stevie Nicks was a cougar. Surprise anyone?
Some of the dead giveaway lyrics I never managed to hear in 20-odd years:
He was no more... than a baby then
Well he... seemed broken hearted...
Something within him
But the moment... that I first laid...
Eyes... on... him... all alone...
On the edge of... seventeen
Well I went today... maybe I will go again...
And so... with the slow... graceful flow...
I went forth... with an age old...
Desire... to please
On the edge of... seventeen
Well I hear you in the morning...
And I hear you...
Sometimes to be near you...
Is to be unable... to hear you...
I'm a few years older than you...
Nope. Not much ambiguity there. She even gives it away scot free at the end, I suppose to make up for all that "white winged dove...ooo... baby...ooo" misdirection throughout the song. In my defense, it's pretty hard to understand what the hell Stevie Nicks is singing most of the time. (It's hard enough ... to even read ... with all ... the ... ellipses....)
Daughter and the Alligator Pit Dream
April 7, 2009
Here's a panic dream that really knocked me for a loop. I was in some kind of small zoo. Turtles and lizards and rabbits in stacked pens... something very low-level, a bit run-down and depressing. There was a low, cement-walled enclosure with two small alligators, lying still in a puddle of brown, mucky water. Some people were tossing small twigs and leaves into the water, in hope that one of the gators might move or snap at them.
Suddenly, I noticed my 5-year-old daughter leaning her whole upper body over the wall, sprinkling leaves into the puddle. Just a foot or so below her lay one of the alligators. I screamed her name and started to run to her.
I woke instantly, my hand reaching out, my heart thundering in my chest. I had to lie still and deep breathe for ten minutes before I got my pulse back down to normal.
Man, what a jolt. I don't think I've ever had a moment of terror quite like that in real life... and I sure don't want to.
O Farewell to Guns
April 8, 2009
I've become aware of a surprising amount of web chatter, from both established and free-floating sources, obsessing over Michelle Obama's arms. Witness:
In a number of pieces, I notice the use of the word "guns" to refer to her arms. What the hell's with that? Isn't that something Hulk Hogan made up in the 80's? Guns. Pythons. Wings. Meathooks. A whole string of goofy, pro wrestling-inspired terms -- that once seemed to have died a quiet death -- are suddenly sprouting up again to describe the First Lady's upper appendages.
No wonder the Brit tabloid press freaked out when Mrs. O touched the Queen Mum. They were worried she might slip on the Camel Clutch Sleeper Hold, or perhaps the Elevated Double Chickenwing.
The Boy's Letter to Barack
April 9, 2009
Tonight, while waiting in his room before bed, my 8-year-old son wrote a letter to Barack Obama. Here it is:
Just preserving it for posterity.
* "K.I.T." = "Keep In Touch"
The Life of Blasphemy
April 10, 2009
Every year, on or near Good Friday, I watch Monty Python's Life of Brian. Most people I've told that to think it's just iconoclastic perversity that drives me to view a film widely labelled as titanically blasphemous on the holiest day of the Christian year -- and to a degree, they may be right. But, believe it or not, I actually find MB'sLIB a profoundly thoughtful -- I might even say inspiring -- look at the nature of faith and religion.
Consider the Sermon on the Mount scene (you can see it as the trailer for the movie proffered on iTunes). Jesus is depicted in perfect, Westernized idealization: a tall, fair-skinned, dark-haired man standing before a rapt crowd, reciting the KJV Beatitudes with a strong, authoritative voice. In that few seconds of screen time, you get an image of Jesus any Biblical scholar or Bible Belter would welcome. But as the camera recedes back through the crowd, and it becomes harder and harder to hear that lone speaker, and you get squabbling groundlings who view him as nothing more than the afternoon's unsatisfying entertainment.
Even more pointed are some half-baked revolutionaries deriding the sermon. ("What Jesus clearly fails to understand is that it's the meek that are the problem.") On the one hand, there's Jesus, a clear and commanding figure, but distorted by distance. On the other, a throng of self-absorbed spectators, unable to hear and unwilling to listen. That's a mirror-to-nature most Sunday morning pew-squatters could do with a glance in from time to time.
Of course, it degenerates instantly to Python-esque silly surreality, which is fine by me. The satire shines out more pure when surrounded by slapstick.
Picked up from YouTube; the iTunes trailer is better quality and shows Jesus more clearly in the beginning.
Severed Shark Heads Dream
April 11, 2009
Here's a weird anxiety dream I had last night: I'm on some kind of barge or big raft with (I think) hundreds of caged squirrels. Lab animals, maybe. The barge starts bumping and sliding away from shore, as if being dragged from below. This makes me nervous enough to go near the stern, where I can leap off at a moment's notice. I levitate (I have the ability in the dream) to see what's happening and can see the outline of a huge shark towing the barge out into a murky, shallow swamp.
I follow the barge and shark, floating safely above it, when the swamp seems to become an empty, sunken basement of a ruined or unfinished house. On the floor are several bloody, severed shark heads, looking as if they'd been bitten off by a larger shark. I fly in closer to get a better look, hovering near the ceiling of the basement. Suddenly, one of the shark heads starts moving, flopping along the ground and pushing itself with stubby, severed pectoral fins. It takes bites out of the other shark heads, then flops out an open doorway, back into the swamp. I'm still hovering safely out of its range, but I back away as it approaches, thinking that if it can still move at all like that, it might actually be able to jump. It passes under me and swims away.
Weird and disturbing images. The place was vaguely familiar, but not precisely anywhere I knew. I've had nightmares involving sharks and murky water many times, yet nothing where I was so in control as to fly safely above them. Just an odd, interesting one all around.
Easter Finding Tradition Lost
April 12, 2009
Growing up, we had a family Easter tradition that I really enjoyed but have not started up with my own family. As kids, we each got a basket with jelly beans and a chocolate bunny and things of that ilk. However, at the bottom of the basket was a hand-written note from the Easter Bunny. It was always composed in rhyme and directed each of us to a hiding place somewhere in the house where one special gift -- a toy or book or article of clothing -- was hidden. It was a nice hybrid between the old school Easter egg hunt concept with the higher-ticket avarice of Christmas.
I haven't done this with my kids yet. Just the basket of stuff, maybe a trinket or two in there, but no notes with clues. I should do that. I actually did something like that for my wife, years before the kids, where I hid balloons decorated like eggs up and down the hallways in a Greenwich Village apartment building. Each balloon had something inside -- some candy, a piece of jewelry, etc.-- and she had to pop each one to gather the goodies. It was a blast... though the neighbors gave us dirty looks for the balloon-popping racket on a Sunday morning.
I should do something like that next year. Yeah. I think I will.
April 13, 2009
So yesterday, as I'm assembling dinner for the kids, they take up the notion to hide some plastic eggs around the house. My son decides to hide one on the dining room chandelier. You guessed it. Crash.
I come running in to see what the hell happened and he's standing there, looking shocked. The whole fixture just dropped three feet smack onto the table. I yelled at him and he cried hysterically. When I looked at the connector and the plaster and realized everything was completely intact, I calmed down. Not so much because it would be easy to fix (I'm calling somebody... experience has taught me to avoid screwing up things like that), but because I realized it wasn't his fault. It was obvious the main nut holding the assembly in place had just become loose and jiggled off. It was just waiting to fall at the slightest bump. He probably barely touched it.
After calming down myself, I tried to calm my son down. You could tell he felt truly awful and went and got his piggy bank to help pay for the damage. Real, full-blown, wrong-place/wrong-time accidents like that I can deal with. It's when my kids do something stupid they've been told not to a hundred times... that's when I really lose it.
Hail to the Queen
April 14, 2009
I just caught an episode of The Colbert Report with Queen Noor of Jordan talking up Global Zero, a new international initiative working to eliminate the world's nuclear weapons stockpiles.
I usually don't fixate on celebrities 1) whom I would never have the chance to meet and 2) who wouldn't take the slightest notice of my existence if I did... but, damn... the woman just struck me as sexy as all hell. She's a world-class beauty by any standard, and this black leather suit she had on just screamed business-class dominatrix (which has never quite been my kink per se, but, hey, I'm open-minded). She's older -- actually pushing 60, though you'd never guess that -- plus impressively intelligent, articulate, and sharp-witted, trading subtle barbs with Colbert without yielding an inch of composure.
Stunning beauty, brains, age, and leather. Seriously... yowza.
Queen Noor of Jordan on The Colbert Report
: No operating system found \
April 15, 2009
Why -- for fuck's sake, why -- do we still buy Windows-based machines, let alone base our entire global information infrastructure on them?
Two More 80's Songs Stuck in my Head
April 16, 2009
Continuing a recent trend, I just got two more pop songs from the 80's stuck in my head for no apparent reason. I haven't heard either of them, to my knowledge, in the background anywhere, or had anyone refer to them. Nothing. They just started playing in my head with no apparent trigger. So, of course, I downloaded them from iTunes. (Note to self: is Steve Jobs beaming things directly to my brain? Certainly seems so, sometimes.)
"(Don't Bother with the) Local Girls" - Graham Parker
Big hit from Parker's 1979 classic album Squeezing Out Sparks. A great, just-on-the-edge-of-punk rock ditty with some real gems of wit: "So isolated that she thinks that the army / Is the place where a man oughta be...". Brilliant.
"I Predict" - Sparks
Sparks, basically two brothers and rotating musicians, is an L.A.-based cult band that's been cranking out a melange of tongue-in-cheek pop experimentation for nearly four decades. They're probably as famous for the keyboard-playing brother with the Hitler moustache who acts stiff onstage (the singing brother is antithetically hyperkinetic) as any of their songs. "I Predict" may by their biggest hit. I vividly recall seeing them perform on Saturday Night Live in the early 80's.
Interesting coincidence: Parker's famous album is named "Squeezing Out Sparks" -- like the band name. Any intended slam there? Not likely... but makes me wonder what the album name was supposed to refer to. As teenagers, we just used at a euphemism for farting (not that we needed one).
Ice Skating China Billiards Dream
April 17, 2009
Another odd/interesting dream: There was a coastline or shore resort on a grey winter day, and I was walking up steps on some large balcony or tiered promenade at the edge of the beach. It was icy and I began to skate just on my shoes. Someone passed by in some kind of electric cart or wheelchair and I grabbed on and let it pull me, "bumper hopping" along the ice. It went into a long corridor, lit by bare bulbs hanging from wires every now and then, and began picking up speed. I let go and now was in a body suit with long skates, like an Olympic speed skater.
I began skating, moving fast and leaning so far forward my chest almost touched the ice. I was in a race, I knew, that would encircle the world. I realized I was pretty far ahead of the pack, so I stopped to see where I was. I stepped off the ice into an old, wooden floored room. It was a billiards hall with families playing at pool tables all around. It was somewhere in China, I surmised, from the people and signs. Suddenly, a ball bounced on the floor and rolled past me. I picked it up. It was larger than a typical billiard ball and had Chinese writing on it. Someone walked up to me and I handed it to them, thinking how odd I must look -- an American in ice skates walking around a Chinese pool hall. He said "Thank you" in Chinese and I answered "Lei ho ma" ("How are you," one of only a few Chinese phrases I know... I think I meant to say "Mou man tai" which means "No problem").
He started to laugh and said "That's the worst American accent I've ever heard." I looked up and saw he was a young American businessman, tall, stocky and bald-headed, playing pool with his tie loosened and sleeves rolled up. Apparently, he'd been working here for a few years. I was ecstatic to find someone I could talk to and explained how I'd gotten sidetracked from the race. He told me how to get back to the ice course. I thanked him and began fishing around in my backpack for a business card so we could stay in touch.
That's all I remember. The strongest images from the dream are the bleak ocean view in the beginning, then the sense of speed while skating in the corridors, and finally the surprise of finding a friendly face in an alien country. I told my wife about it and she said: "Well, I'm glad you found a nice man in your dreams." She's obviously still peeved about the whole Queen Noor thing.
Children of Men
April 18, 2009
Watched the movie Children of Men tonight. Very good film, though often bleak and depressing. I knew a good bit about it -- including the meat of the plot -- ahead of time. I don't feel like that diminshed my enjoyment, though my wife, who knew nothing of the story, seemed quite shocked at some of the big twists. I often know too much about movies before I see them. Sometimes, I really prefer having no idea and seeing things unfold completely fresh.
Anyway, aside from generally recommending it as an excellent movie, there were two sequences (one comic, one not) that really stood out:
Pink Floyd reference - There's a scene shot at the Battersea Power Station, a defunct powerplant in London characterized by four white smokestacks crowning a vast brick body. It's best known to me from the Pink Floyd album cover Animals, with a giant pig balloon hovering amongst the towers. The movie tips its hat to that perfectly.
Extended single-take war scene - At a climactic moment, there's a battle between rebels and the British army in a decaying urban slum. One shot must go on for five minutes without a cut, following the reluctant hero as he threads through a raging war zone -- gunfire and sharpnel ricocheting all around him with visceral realism. I found myself almost holding my breath, waiting for a break that never came. I suspect nowadays they're able to cheat in some edits using CGI pretty well, but even if so, it was still one of the most astounding sequences I've ever seen on film.
Logic of Children of Men
April 19, 2009
Having just watched the movie Children of Men -- a generally outstanding film -- there's a fundamental assumption in its premise that doesn't make sense to me. I suppose this is taken wholesale from the book by P.D. James, rather than fabricated for the movie, but either way it's a core theme that seems misconceived. In case you don't know (not really a "spoiler" since it's smack on the cover of the DVD), the year is 2027 and humans are completely infertile. No new baby has been born for 18 years. No explanation is apparent for this and that mystery is, of course, one of the underlying questions of the whole story. We are simply dying out and no one knows why. The movie -- the book too, I imagine -- focuses on the ramifications rather than causes of that condition.
So far, so good. Except, that future world is depicted as well on its way to complete, apocalyptic collapse. Britain (we are told) is the only still-functioning government, and it hangs by a thread -- beset internally by guerilla uprisings and externally by floods of refugees who are interred in squalid concentration camps. As I watched this world without babies eating itself alive, I wondered "Why?" Why would a world that was slowly and sadly on the march to its own ending foment such chaos? In a practical sense, an immense burden on the world's resources are removed if there are no incoming generations to consume them. The per capita wealth of the planet would increase day by day. Psychologically, revolutions are all about changing the status quo for future generations. If there are no future generations, why would anyone become a revolutionary? Even mass panic and rioting -- a predictable initial reaction -- would likely die down in a few years, I think. I honestly can't imagine the world would utterly go to hell like that if it had only one human lifetime remaining.
Perhaps this is just me thinking as a parent. Despite whatever petty personal ambitions I may have, the bottom line is my life is lived for my children. If they were gone, if there were no prospect of any more... anywhere... ever... to raise or protect, I sure wouldn't be in my garage making pipe bombs. I'd utterly separate from this world, release my care of it like a candle on a raft set afloat on a pond, and walk away. Certainly, some characters in the film are depicted that way, but mass chaos seems the greater force in its universe. Who's to say how such a thing would really go down, but personally, I'd find it hard to muster the passion to protest anything, let alone firebomb tanks in the street.
April 20, 2009
Over the weekend, my town had the Little League parade, with all the kids in uniform marching. My wife and I split duty and each walked along with one kid. I, naturally, got my son. As we were waiting, another father came up to me and asked if would keep an eye on his son -- also marching with my son's team -- as he had to go with another kid. No problem
This other kid turned out to be a quite a chatterbox. I tried to keep a three-way conversation going, but my son eventually got so irritated (the kid was a little annoying, but my son has an extremely short fuse about such things) that he (my son) walked up ahead and ignored us. This other kid just kept chattering to me. I tried subltly to ditch him but he gravitated wherever I went, never missing a beat. After 20 minutes or so, I pointedly told him to stay with his team for minute while I went and got my son, now way up ahead.
When I got up to my son, he pointedly ignored me, refusing to answer direct questions or even look at me. I asked him what was wrong, and he said nothing. I asked him if he was mad at me for talking to that other boy, and he stopped suddenly, right in the middle of the road and said, "If you like talking to him so much, why don't you go be his dad."
That's the first I've seen of my son being jealous or possessive of me. I spend a lot of time with my son. He's a prickly kid (as you might have guessed) and doesn't have the easiest time making friends with peers. I'm pretty anti-social myself so I understand where he's coming from. I try to be his buddy, to make sure he always has someone on his side, whenever I can. However, more and more, I realize I need to separate from him, force him by my absence to find a way to relate to others, rather than protecting him from the rejection his behavior so often brings. Like so much of parenting, it's a difficult, nuanced job that defies easy answers. I will love him always, but I can't be his best friend forever. At some point, he will have to solve the riddle of his own loneliness. That's obvious. How, exactly, I can help him do that is the tricky part.
"Higher Ground" Comes Around
April 21, 2009
Once again today I had a song in my head and bought it from iTunes: Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground." Unlike some of my other recent stuck-in-my-head/had-to-buy-it songs, I know exactly where this one came from. It's used as background music on the omnipresent commercials for the new movie The Soloist. Lord knows why, as the movie's about a schizophrenic cellist... but it is a catchy riff.
Two interesting things about the song:
The Red Hot Chili Peppers' version is more popular on iTunes.
At least according to the little grey popularity bars. It's also more expensive: $1.29 v. $.99. I've reached the age in life where the idea that a current remake is more popular than the original is deeply offensive to me. I suppose it has nothing to do with age, but rather which version I'm more familiar with -- the former being better known to me since I'm older. Still, in the annals of music innovation, Stevie Wonder and RHCP (who I think is an OK band) ain't in the same league (and I have no doubt they know that as well... redeems them a bit, in my imaginary eyes).
It's a spiritual song with reincarnation references.
Spiritual or religious references in a Stevie Wonder song are no surprise. For Pete's sake, he's bred of a Gospel music tradition and mentions God in a number of songs. It was the reincarnation bit -- which is another lyric I've never managed to hear in decades -- that struck me. Witness the chorus:
I'm so glad that he let me try it again
Cause my last time on earth I lived a whole world of sin
I'm so glad that I know more than I knew then
Gonna keep on tryin'
Till I reach my highest ground
I don't know what the intended capitalization should be (nor does Stevie... think about it), but I suspect "he" is really "He" -- and the "last time on earth" leaves no doubt. With the whole dashiki-and-cornrows fashion statement, it's apparent enough Stevie is into non-Western, New-Agey-type stuff, but I never picked up any overt lyrics of his that hinted at concepts outside mainstream Christianity. Very interesting. I'll have to listen to more of his stuff more carefully.
Walking Out of Restaurant Dream
April 22, 2009
These really pointed dreams I've been having lately just keep coming. Here's one that just nailed my current mood:
I was walking through a field with a group of work colleagues, and there was a tent or pavilion set up to serve as a restaurant. Everyone came in and was seated, all places filling up quickly. There was one empty table left, a sort of odd, high-set square one. I asked if a place for me could be set there, and the waiter replied that it was against policy to use that table for customers. It seemed ridiculous to me. Giving me a place at that table, not currently being used, was the ideal solution to the overcrowding. In disgust, I simply turned and walked out.
The waiter started to protest, saying it was alright and they'd be able to set a place at that table after all -- but I wanted to make a point of my irritation, so I ignored him and kept walking. He followed, pleading for me to return, but I continued to walk away, not acknowledging him in any fashion. He muttered "asshole" under his breath.
On the way out of the restaurant, I told the maitre d' the waiter (I mentioned him by name) was doing an excellent job. I said it utterly without sarcasm, making sure the waiter didn't suffer any ill effects for my bad temper. I continued walking over a small hill along a gravel path, literally toward the sunset.
There's no place for me at the table. And, even if one is made, I walk away because it wasn't done on my original terms. Fascinating.
"I Walk Away" in my Head
April 23, 2009
With the almost daily recurrence of a song getting stuck in my head, today's seems very fitting: "I Walk Away" by Crowded House, from their first album circa 1986. It's unbelievable to me that album is so old... and that I am.
That song, that whole first Crowded House album actually, was the soundtrack to my "late youth crisis" -- a term I use for that confusion that hits young people around age 25. That time when you're not a kid or a student anymore, when it's been four years since the last major milestone in your life, so you're naturally waiting for the next one. And, of course, it doesn't come. It's the time so many seem to get the first real inkling that their lives are now completely in their own hands, that no outside forces are going to intervene any more. It's all up to you. It's one of life's most pronounced "Now what?" moments.
Mine hit me in my mid-20's, right on schedule. Now, in my mid-40's, that same "Now what?" sense has settled firmly upon me. Don't get me wrong, I've been in the think of middle-aged crisis disgruntlement for about a decade now, so no news here. Though the feeling seems to be changing shape a bit... refining in flavor like aged wine. My head rings with the echoes of crises past, calling up the same soundtrack and that same desire just to walk away from it all. I didn't then. I won't now. This much I know. Still, the song, the sensation, nags at me as persistent as ever.
At least the song-a-day-in-my-head mystery made more sense with this one. Perhaps that's some progress.
Missed Shakespeare Day
April 24, 2009
Yesterday, April 23, is popularly (no actual records confirm it) considered the birthday of Shakespeare. Not that I celebrate it specifically, but it totally slipped my mind. Doesn't feel right to not even have noted it mentally.
You can look up some of my past entries on this date, if you care to -- though, interestingly, there's only one about Shakespeare. Guess I don't mentally note the day as diligently as I thought.
In reading over some recent entries (which I try to avoid since the typos drive me insane), I notice I referred to Stevie Wonder's penchant for wearing dashikis and a cornrow hairstyle as indicative that he was into "non-Western, New-Agey-type stuff." Tongue-in-cheek as it was, that still struck as a somewhat prejudiced comment. Not racially, but religiously. "Non-Western" I stand by, if you take it in the context of the garment and hairstyle being frequently adopted by African-Americans in the 60's and 70's to declare a connection to ancestral culture.
But the "New-Agey" comment seems unfair. In my mind, "New Age" is kind of derogatory term for a pop culture movement very, very loosely basic on Buddhist and Hindu traditions. Reincarnation and chakras and yoga and karma and crystals and mantras and veganism... a whole grab-bag of superficially grasped spirituality lifted willy-nilly from ancient faith systems. Strikes me as a little silly sometimes.
I did not mean to automatically lump Stevie in that category -- or indeed anyone from one faith system who takes an interest some aspect of another (e.g., a Christian who believes in reincarnation). Perfectly legitimate, indeed, almost mandatory for a thinking person, to consider different beliefs throughout the course of their life. As a legendary artist, I give Stevie the benefit of the doubt that he's a seeker and not a poseur. The white, suburban teenager behind the counter at Cinnabon who suddenly shaves his head, starts wearing saffron robe and chanting. I'm OK with judging him with snicker or two.
Boy's First Communion
April 26, 2009
My son had his first communion (Catholic) today. I was worried he might get bored and goof around, like he tends to in Church, but he behaved very well. He looked quite the young man in his new black suit, a full head taller than every other kid up there, and I was proud -- even momentarily nostalgic, thinking back on my own first communion some 35 years ago. Afterward, we had a party at the house with extended friends and relatives (something I was not in favor of, but ultimately, had no say in), and even that went very well. Good day all around.
Still, I have always been and remain somewhat ambivalent about the whole thing. Everyone needs some spiritual foundation to face the great unknowns of this world, and the religious tradition I am most versed in was the obvious choice. There are times I wince at it, though. Times when the formal doctrine (which I know quite well) just seems like a blunt tool of organizational control rather than guidance for the moral complexities of life. Transubstantiation does not address any real world problems -- though you could argue believing in it can lend one a unique sense of fortitude, which is a good thing (also a sense of rectitude, which may or may not be a good thing).
In any case, I have chosen to have my son and daughter proceed through this and, really, have had no significant second thoughts. When I see the tides of religious ignorance and fanaticism that routinely slosh around the globe, I conclude that having a stable, time-tested vessel to sail those waters in (regardless of the fact that said vessel harbored hordes of colonial conquers in its heyday) is, all things considered, a good thing. Not a perfect thing, mind you. To quote two of my idols (Stephen Colbert and Elvis Costello): there are much worse things to believe in.
Deathwatch for a Friend
April 27, 2009
A very good friend was on his deathbed. After some in-and-out of the hospital over the last few weeks, he came home for his final time. He's only four years older than me. I have known him for 20 years -- my wife, even longer.
We went by in the afternoon as he was getting Last Rites. He recognized us, but was too uncomfortable to talk much. We spent some time with him and his family, but had to get home to put this kids to bed. We went back later in the evening, and he was visibly worse. We just seemed to be in the way, with his wife and family around, so we went home.
About 4:00 in the morning, we got the call from his wife that he had died just before midnight. Relief is the first emotion anyone feels after seeing someone linger is such a state for any time -- and I am relieved. Beyond that, well, it will come to me.
Godspeed, my friend.
My Friend Died
April 28, 2009
After yesterday's death of a friend and contemporary, I am left with a strange mix of emotions. Grief -- that instinctive sadness that comes with finality -- is very familiar to me. I've lost both parents and a string of coworkers, but this is the first one that was a close friend and close to myself in age. It's different. I guess every one is. I hope every one is. I hope this never seems rote to me.
Mixed in with normal grief and loss is a very specific sadness over my inability to do anything, to give to him or his wife anything, that could have made it easier. Regret isn't quite the word, since there was nothing I did or failed to do in the process that was a matter of my choice. There was, plainly and simply, nothing to be done to ease the impact of this to him or any of his family. I saw him when I could, when he felt well enough for visitors... and that was it. There was nothing else, nothing else I could do to distract or cajole or comfort or console. I stood by his bed, hands folded, head bowed and he struggled to breathe as long as possible.
I wanted to say to him at that moment: You are not this failing body. Your essence is untouched by it. This is just a temporary hardship and you will soon be free to be yourself again. There's a Clash song: "I've got to lose this skin I'm imprisoned in." Something like that. Something like that sentiment kept running through my head as I hovered at his bedside. But there's no way to say anything like that at such a moment. No idea, no words, no matter how profound or profane, noble or comic, are right for such a moment.
So I did and said nothing. That was, of course, the right thing. Still, I can't help wishing I could have said or done something.
Reflection on Mortality
April 29, 2009
With the death of a good friend two days ago, I am left contemplating mortality. No big surprise there. Goes with the territory.
I won't bore anyone with philosophical musings about it, except for this one conclusion I keep coming to: All that matters in life is what you leave behind.
I'll let that stand as it is, for what it's worth.
Telling the Kids
April 30, 2009
My wife and I told the kids tonight that their Uncle Frank died.
Their reactions were interesting. They're both still young -- 8 and almost 6 -- and both have a recollection of my father's death last year... not to mention a cat and umpteen fish. Yes, they know of death as much as any kids their age should.
When told, they both just looked kind of stunned. They had known he was ill but, as my son said, "I thought he'd get better." The idea that sometimes people don't get better was new to them. Not new to me, but I still don't like it.
My son said, "It's good he didn't have any children because they'd be heartbroken now, just like I would be if you or mom died." Then, they both went on to talk a good bit about heaven. It's moments like that I don't feel so ambivalent about the value of Sunday school.