Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sorry

On Sunday I watched Captain Johnson stand in front of a group of people and say, I'm sorry. For me, there are no two more powerful words. In my personal life it has been the thing that brings me closer to someone. When someone can just own a thing that has happened between us. Just hold it. I let go of things really fast when that happens. In a civil crisis it's so powerful. I could feel the collective shoulders relax. 
Leadership in Missouri has been horrifyingly bad. Saying all the wrong things in all the worst ways. The governor actually said if there was going to be justice there must first be peace. Really? So justice is only there when things are calm and people are well behaved? 
April linked an interesting article: In Defense of the Ferguson Riots. I was thinking about it last night as I watched live coverage of the night and the sudden shift from peaceful to violent. I thought about it this morning as I listened to people talk about provocateurs and thugs. 
As things were unfolding last night journalists kept talking about not being able to see why things got heated. Some of that might be vantage point but I imagine some of it was that not much happened. Images of tanks, tear gas, snipers, just way too much positioned against people in t-shirts and shorts made it seem likely that there was over reaction on both sides. 
Actually, I hate that idea of both sides. I hate it when it's used in conversations about these events. There are things that are clear. An unarmed, young, black man was shot multiple times by a police officer. No matter what happened it seems to me that multiple guns shots are an over reaction. And every night since then it has seemed to me that the same over reaction has played out. There may be two sides here but they are not equal. 
And one side is supposed to be in service to the other. They are there to protect and serve. They are there to protect not just people but ideals. Ideals like justice. Ideals like freedom of the press. Ideals like the right to assemble. Ideals like the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. They may also be there to protect private property and commerce but it feels like they lean toward that and ignore the others. 
In an area like Ferguson commerce is probably made up of small businesses. Mom and Pop shops. It's hard to talk about them in strict Marxist terms. It's hard because they are so small and usually owed by hard working people. I worked for small businesses most of my life. It's also often true that the people are often better off than the community in which they run their shops. Maybe not much better off but usually some what. They work hard and they enjoy benefits. OK. 
It has always been frustrating when civil unrest tears down community resources. But the focus on business concerns rather than focusing on the systems of repression and alienation and the murder of a young man irritates me. It's just not the point. 
As much as I admire Captain Johnson his presence is a way to pacify an enraged community. He hugs people. He talks in soothing tones. And he defends the use of tear gas. 
Last night Chris Hayes had rocks thrown at him and his reaction was to say that "people are mad." People are mad. That observation was almost as powerful as the apology. It was an observation of something that is true. Of course it's true. A young man is dead. The streets are filled with tanks and tear gas. There may be bad actors but there is also rage. Rage at a system that should be raged against by all of us. 
Trayvon's mother wrote a beautiful piece in Time in which she says, if they refuse to hear us we will make them feel us. And that is the truest truth. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Pacing The Cage

I was reading an interview last night in which Jack Turner says: The more digital your life is, the more you have conformed. It’s safe to stay home and watch reruns of Star Trek and fiddle with Facebook and track digital gossip, but it’s also shallow and lifeless.
Well.
Hmmm.
No.
I'm more likely to watch reruns of Doc Martin than Star Trek. I'm not interested in gossip. I do have Facebook on the screen most of the day although I'm not always looking at it. A few details are different but he's talking about me.
Up until then I was enjoying the read. He's an interesting man who has lived in an interesting manner. But there's chauvinism in so much of what he says. Some of us can't live in a place where we need snow shoes to get home. And even when I was able to walk I wouldn't have been engaged by the life style he holds dear. I like nature. I value nature. And I've always wanted there to be a coffee shop and a book store fairly close by.
I need to get out more. I know that. I'm lonely and I need to find a way to connect with more people. It was true in SF and it's more true now. Every Saturday morning I try to push myself to drive my scooter over to the Farmer's Market and I fail. I fail because I'm afraid when I'm driving my scooter. I fail because the only thing worse than being alone is being with people and feeling alone. In the time it takes me to eat breakfast I talk myself out of going.
Having said all that I resist the idea that a life organized around screens is shallow and lifeless. It can be but it doesn't have to be. When I first started blogging I was thrilled to find so many interesting people. People doing great art. People having great conversations. People writing and posting about their daily lives. I would get lost clicking through other people's blog rolls. I've met a few of the people I found on blogs and it has usually felt like meeting an old friend.
It was hard this week not to be glued to media. I spent a lot of time mumbling to myself. When I saw the picture from Howard my first reaction was to take a picture with my hands up and use it on my profile. I try not to do things like that. I didn't take a hoodie shot during the Trevon days. I haven't poured ice water on my head. I don't wear pink. I don't disapprove of any of those things. I don't really think most people who do them feel like they've done anything substantive. It feels good to do something when it feels like there's noting you can do. Of course there is a need for action but I find criticism of  these things jaundiced and unnecessary. My choice to not do it was because I felt such urgency and it didn't feel real enough. There were solidarity event all over the place and I felt like all I could do was drag my walker down to the patio for my building and hold a Hands Up Don't Shoot poster. Maybe I should have. Maybe I would have met some people and had some interesting conversations.
I wonder if the people who had used social media to launch revolutions feel like what they're doing is shallow and lifeless.
Do I sound like I'm arguing from both sides of a fence? I am. I often do.
I'm just annoyed.
I'm frustrated.
I feel way too many things.
I know having a news talk show on a screen next to me while I scroll through the Internet in front of me and checking my phone and ... oh. OK. I need to get out more. But it's not about conformity. It doesn't feel lifeless. Or Shallow.
And.
I have been pacing the cage.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Ferguson

I was born in Ferguson, Missouri. When I was three months old my mom left my dad and moved in with her parents in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I have no memories of Ferguson. No identification with it. It's typing on my birth certificate.
The news from Ferguson is painful. It's not just Ferguson, of course. It's New York and California and Chicago and Florida.
I want to believe that I have some kind of innate character. I want to believe that even if I had grown up in Ferguson that I would have the same revulsion and anger I feel now when I hear the news of another young black man murdered by the people who have sworn to protect and serve. But there's no way to know. My father was racist. What if I had been Daddy's girl?
I didn't meet my father until I was eleven or twelve. I spent less than a year with him.  A month here. A week there. Even at 61 I can feel my throat tighten with hurt and longing. Not always. But often. When I see fathers with babies I am sort of mystified. What does that feel like?
Therapy? Been there. Done that. And I have this part of my narrative in a compartment. But it is part of how I experience the world. There's a gap in the programming. An absence.
My dad was extremely charming. He was the youngest child, the only boy. His father died when he was young. He had the same gap in programming. And he was raised by a mother and two sisters who thought he was the sun and the moon. He believed women  were there for him. If I had been raised by him would my desire to please him have shaped me into a different person? How different? In what ways?
Racism, in my world, was absence. There were no people of color in my neighborhood, in my church, in my school. I remember feeling very curious about them. I remember feeling like they were interesting because of their difference. I remember feeling like I just wasn't in on something. Something very cool. And that is a kind of racism. It may seem benign. It may seem like a function of the culture and the times. If I'd grown up in Ferguson I would have a different experience. But would I be different?
It's in the nature of privilege to assume that you know the truth. But there really is no way to know. What ever sadness I have about my father's absence in my life is matched by a sense that I was much better off with out him.
There is nothing about Ferguson that  feels like home. But, in fact, it is where I am from.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Wide and Kind.

Just as I reached the sidewalk the other day a young boy and his mother passed by. He smiled directly at me. He smiled a sweet wide open smile. It struck me because I've been thinking about that Louie riff  specifically the moment when, after having been boldly confronted with his inability to see her as a possible romantic relationship, he takes the woman's hand and then looks around to make sure no one sees them. The moment contains such a small sweet thing, the reach for a hand and such dull but real thing, the look around.
Once I read George Clooney talking about the paparazzi and what a drag it could be. He said something about being next to a fat girl at the airport and  they get a picture and say it's his girl friend and it's just such a drag. I thought about his aunt Rosemary, who I think he probably loved. She was very fat. I wondered if he wanted her to have love and kindness and respect. Probably. I guess if it's your older auntie you don't imagine them as a full person. But what if a man was ashamed to be seen with her? How would George feel about that?
In the Louie rant (let's remember he wrote it) she talks about being a flirt. She talks about how the really good looking guys flirt right back but the guys who aren't secure in themselves don't want to seem interested. I feel that way sometimes. I can be a crazy flirt. It feels easier to flirt with younger, handsome men. Men who are my age won't meet my eye but younger men can be very playful.
These are generalizations. Of course.
And after the rant and the reach for the hand the woman is never seen again. She was just there so Louie could confess. Everybody talked about it for a day or two. And?
When I swim there is an older (which is to say my age) couple who walk the pool for a half an hour. The first time I met them I didn't like her because she seemed kind of naggy. But as I've been around them more I've become quite fond of them both. She is a bit naggy. But they are also sweet and playful and flirty with each other. They take pleasure in just looking at one another.
It isn't always about flirting or romance. I've been meeting a lot of new people. When I first got here I was wide open. I loved everyone I met. I met a lot of nice people. And I saw that look. The look of dismissal. Like I could not possibly be interesting. I wrote about this not long ago.
Young people are often shy or reserved. A smile from a young boy ... really.... a young man, something that should have no real big meaning, something that should be matter of fact, was quite lovely.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Did You Like Me?

Having the Facebook page has been interesting. I'm not sure people understand that they can "like" the page. I'm not sure why I should care. I think Facebook assumes pages are about promoting a business. I get messages about how a given post is performing. And numbers about how many people have been "reached". I really wonder how these numbers are gathered. If I look at the page or a post three times does it count as three? I'm trying not to think about it too much. When I used to write more regularly I spent a silly amount of time checking my stats. I'm not above caring about attention  but the purpose of the page is to nudge me into writing.
John McPhee wrote a piece that is (remarkably) available in full. I first read it right after I'd returned from three months visiting Mom and just before the idea of moving to the nest.  At that time I was determined to rewrite The Book. Moving took over and it never happened. McPhee writes about using letter writing as a way to cross "the electric fence from the actual world to the writing world." That wouldn't work for me. Even writing email sometime causes me to seize up.
He goes on to write about the pleasure of rewriting. I love rewriting. It's been a really long time since I wrote in any kind of sustained manner. But when I was writing for school my favorite thing was the rewriting. Once I showed David something I was working on and in about three minutes he'd marked it up in ways that taught me how to think about reorganization. Jo Ann did something similar when she told me to take out all the "ands" in something and see which ones I felt I needed to put back. I do over use the word and. I like it because it's the way I think. And. And. And. Or. But. But. But. But....she had a point. Those two moments taught me more about how to think about writing than all of the hours in MFA workshops put together.
He writes" Until it exists, writing has not really begun."
Yeah.
I've reread his piece a few times and reread it again as I began this recent push. He writes about something that is very true for me.

What I have left out is the interstitial time. You finish that first awful blurting, and then you put the thing aside. You get in your car and drive home. On the way, your mind is still knitting at the words. You think of a better way to say something, a good phrase to correct a certain problem.
When I wrote daily everything was a writing prompt. And if I was working on something it was in my thoughts like a constant buzz. Some of that has returned.
I have been checking Whiskey River most days. This bit is worth a full read but the line about writing because one is unemployable made me smile.
There have been times in my life when writing was a source of comfort. It was mostly journal writing and not writing I ever imagined anyone would read. Or if they did read it I'd be dead and they'd find my journals and then it wouldn't really matter if I'd said something stupid, or said it badly. At least not to me.
Very often, maybe always, when someone likes something I've written and leaves a comment, I reread what I've written. I'm trying to understand what it was that was appealing. I fret over something I could have said better. I wonder if I was clear. I can never separate from the imagined reader. It may or may not trouble the writing.
The page has 32 likes. Apparently I should aspire to reach 100. I can't see that happening. I can't say I wouldn't be happy if it were true. When I get a new like I feel very Sally Fields.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Mood Swing

When I heard that Facebook had been manipulating feeds in an attempt to mess with our moods I smiled. On any given day my feed is filled with pictures of cats and dogs. So many of my friends are passionate about animals. Not that pictures of cats and dogs can't be depressing. I have learned shocking things about what happens to animals on Facebook. More than once I've heard about a pet being dropped off at a shelter when they are too old or infirmed. Concentrically, the number of stories I read about pet rescues are heart warming. Sometimes there are ducks. Chickens. All manner of animals being adorable.
My feed is also full of platitudes. These actually often have an impact on my mood but not the one they're intended to have. Obviously a good attitude makes life easier but being able to feel all the possible emotions is a good thing. Platitudes often feel like scolding. We are being taught to focus on personal responsibility too often in stead of questioning institutions.
I read a really interesting rant on disability, which stimulated much thinking. I love when that happens.

"We are learning strength and endurance, not against our bodies and our diagnoses, but against a world that exceptionalizes and objectifies us. I really think that this lie that we’ve been sold about disability is the greatest injustice. It makes life, it makes life hard for us. And that quote, “The only disability in life is a bad attitude” the reason that that’s bullshit is because it’s just not true, because in the social model of disability. No amount of smiling at a flight of stairs has ever made it into a ramp. Never. You know, smiling at a television screen is not going to make closed captions appear for people who are deaf. No amount of standing in the middle of a bookshelf and radiating a positive attitude is going to turn all those books into braille. It’s just not going to happen.It’s just not going to happen."

Exactly. Sometimes it's not about you. Sometimes it's about us. Sometimes it's about how we decide to be as a community.
And then there is politics. Oh politics. I follow a lot of political people and political news so my feed is full of stuff much of which is just not useful. Almost every day I see a post from the left followed by a post from the right both of which are saying things in an inflammatory way. Much of which is slamming the other side. I lean left. Lean far enough that I am close to submerged. And even when I agree with things that are being said I recoil at some of the posts on Facebook. I feel out rage and there are times when it feels satisfying to read someone being extreme but I'm not interested in that as a daily ritual. I'm interested in understanding.
I find it hard to take a public political stand these days for that reason. Things feel complicated to me. Most of my friends lean left but I have a few friends who are far more to the right than I knew. If I could sit face to face with them I'd engage in debate but I see things in comment boxes that make me cringe. And I want to jump in. Then I'm in a conversation with my friend and their friends. And I feel manic. I feel like I can't type fast enough.  
My mood is impacted in the moment that I read some things. My mood is impacted by what's going on in the world. But that isn't about Facebook.
My ... um ...mood has always been slippery. I can fall down a tunnel of gloom for no obvious reason and slip into near bliss at the oddest times. I've worked on being flexible enough to ride these waves. Facebook can experiment on me. I doubt they can keep up.
Oh. And the food. My feed has pictures of food. How PoMo is that?

Monday, August 04, 2014

Retirement

I read an article in Harper's about people my age and older living in camper trailers and working in random jobs including Amazon warehouse work. The title and focus of the article is The End of Retirement. I also heard the writer on NPR and MSNBC. Her focus is important because it talks about how many people are working past what is thought of as retirement age. And working hard. Some of them had great jobs, made great money and lost everything in the crash. Some of them are people like me who worked hard but never really made enough to save.
Mom retired when she was 55. Her husband continued to work for a few more years and his money is the reason she lived as well as she did. Her frugality is another. And it is the reason I have a home and food in my refrigerator. The amount of money I have in savings and will get from Social Security wouldn't be enough to manage this. I am grateful and humbled and I also know that  I worked really hard in my life. Working really hard ought to add up to something. And I know that I would still be dragging myself to EA if they hadn't laid me off.
It's sad to say it that way because there are people who want to work at EA. Gamers are a culture and I was never really part of it. I still love my Sims. I am more of a gamer than most of the people I know but I was not gamer enough comparatively. The commute was brutal. The job was frustrating mostly because of the way things are there. I loved working on Sims2 but was so disappointed in Sims3.  And still I worked as hard as I could and I imagined I'd be there until I was in my seventies.
I've worked with older cooks and wait-people. Restaurant work is brutal. Physically, emotionally. And yet we all worked with as much humor and camaraderie as we could. I knew I couldn't do it much longer when I was in my forties. Hence college and the rest of that story.
Hard work. Education. It's supposed to add up. It shouldn't be so crazy hard to have a simple life.
The article talks about how relatively new retirement is and how it wasn't that long ago that people worked until they fell over. And there are more places in the world where people work well into old age than there are places where people retire. There are also people  who keep working because they love their work.The notorious RBG comes to mind. But the article is about the ideas we have and how they are not really true for so many people.
Harper's put a link to the article on their Facebook page and both there and on the NPR page it got a lot of push back. The article was talking about things from the perspective of how we imagine life in this country and what's real. The writer worries about what happens to people as they become too old to work. She worries about how they drive to Mexico to get dental work. But she also wrote about about the ways community built up among the people in their campers. And the ways in which living with less was freeing. Not enough for many of the people in the comment sections but it seemed to me she did.
I am a fan of tiny houses. I look at them all the time. I can't imagine not living here in the nest but I do often think about how I would design a house big enough for me and my books and still small. I imagine a piece of land big enough for a few of my friends and a garden and a greenhouse with a small lap pool. Swim and read and eat food from the garden. Yep. My paradise. I have most of that in the nest. I am that fortunate.
Younger people are choosing the tiny house lifestyle because it is affordable and it is stepping out side of the consumer lifestyle and enjoying living with much less. All of that is cool.
After I wrote about music yesterday and listened the new Chrissie Hynde six or seven more times (it's on right now) I wanted to own the disc. It reminded me of Veblen and the stacks of  sheet music on pianos in parlors where they were meant to display taste and culture. If I see a CD rack in your home I will look to see who you like. Same thing with books. Owning the disc is like claiming my cultural position. I imagine the fact that Facebook is letting everyone know who  I am listening to is the same thing.
There's an intersection of consumerism and working too hard to afford crap and loving things because they mean something and needing other people to know you like who you like and letting it all go. But letting it all go to be more Zen or less invested in being hip is different from working jobs that don't pay well and are hard on your body when you're older. In the article she talks about the trailer camps being decorated with bird houses and lawn ornaments. Some times stuff is just about making beauty.
Should we expect to be able to retire? Maybe not. Work is how we participate. I just come from an each according to his ability place. In Amazon warehouses someone my age is swallowing handfuls of Ibuprofen to get through the day of concrete floors and  repetitive motion. I was up to 20 pills a day when I left EA.