I watched the address and response last night and am not going to comment on the content, even though those of you who know me know I have definite opinions about what was said. What struck me more than anything else was the rest of the message.
President Trump went first and his speech was very short. I applaud this; it’s my opinion that many speeches are entirely unnecessary and those that aren’t are generally much too long. On the other hand, I have seen other videos of him speaking and have never seen him so inanimate. There is a give and take of energy when a public speech is going well; last night he did not have that source of energy. Just the camera, and it’s impossible to read and respond to an empty room. His speech was said to be from the Oval Office, but could almost have been any desk in any room.
The two ranking Democrats from Congress went next, and again spoke for a very short time. I remember thinking that it must be difficult for a career politician to keep it that short. Their setting was, to say the least, unusual. An empty hallway with a wall of flags behind them possibly was meant to remind viewers of the government shutdown, but also served to emphasize how uncomfortable they both looked squeezed in behind a lectern designed for one.
I am at a loss as to why three people, one a man very comfortable in the limelight and the other two career politicians, would present themselves in such an uninspiring manner. If their goal was to change anyone’s thinking, I can’t imagine that they were successful. More likely, I suppose, they were restating the positions already established by both sides.
Marshall McLuhan said once that the medium is the message. There have been times when the medium of television was used to great effect, when the strengths of the medium itself were part of what got the point across. When TV brought the Vietnam War into the living rooms of the American people, for example, they understood it in a way they could not have before. There are many other examples, times when television was used to enhance the message, to help drive it home. Last night was not one of those times.
Like many of my contemporaries, I had a collection of things (drawings, sports photos, awards, short essays, and so on) from when my two children were growing up and still at home. In my case, one wall of my study was covered in family memorabilia.
We now have grandchildren, and the oldest (3) is starting to produce some pretty stunning works of art. The others will be sure to follow soon, and their pieces obviously deserve to be displayed. I decided it was time to retire the first generation’s creations.
When the wall was bare and what had hung there was safely stored away in a hermetically sealed container, I looked around the study. When I got to my desk, I said to myself the four most dangerous words connected to any project. While I’m at it, I thought, I should probably clean out that desk.
Two hours later, the paper recycling box in my study is overflowing, the trash can is half full, and I’ve got three of those “I’ll decide about this thing later” piles scattered around. There’s a shelf next to the desk that should really be the next thing to tackle, but so far I’m resisting. After all, I am retired, and as a friend of mine recently said, a retired person should only do one or two things a day. Certainly no more than that.
My daughter and her family, including our newest grandchild, are in for the Christmas holidays, and I had the opportunity to introduce Avi to the hammered dulcimer. He seemed to like O’Carolan tunes, at least the ones I could play with one hand. Avi was adrift in that borderland between awake and asleep:
A child’s ability to completely relax into the present is a marvelous thing, and one of the many things we lose as we get older. We do meditation, yoga, tai chi, self-talk, and any number of other things to regain what we all had once. Grandchildren remind me of so many things that are important, and now and then, just for a moment, I’m better off because of that awareness.
Thanks to everyone who stopped by Ijams on Sunday and said hi, and an extra thanks to those of you who picked up some of my books. That was my last show of the year, and my supply is down a little, but if any of you need a book or two for a holiday gift (or as a gift to yourself) you can contact me here (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll try to help you out. Don’t hesitate too long; time and inventory are both limited.
Thanks again, and I hope everyone’s season began with a Happy Thanksgiving and continues on into the New Year.
Random thoughts on the week just ending:
Spending a couple of days with an intelligent, strong-willed three year old is at once disquieting, educational, and lots of fun. Add a one year old to the mix, plus the fact that they were away from their parents for two full nights for the first time ever, and it was quite an experience. Just typing about it exhausts me all over again, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat if I have enough time in between to rest up.
I was looking around for something to read at my daughter’s place a few days ago and picked up her study guide for the upcoming board exams in urology. I randomly opened the book to a section titled Indifferent Gonads, which I’m sharing in case anybody out there is looking for a name for their new band.
Four parties in seven days, two of which we hosted. So far outside my comfort zone that I’m having a little trouble finding my way back to it.
Indian food’s well deserved reputation for spiciness: the first Atlanta party started off with lamb chops on the grill, hot and spicy and almost gone before they got to the table; I had stationed myself next to the grill, so everything worked out okay. The second Atlanta party featured a cracker of some kind that was pretty innocuous until it got to the back of the throat, a butternut squash/tomato soup with quite a kick, and a tandoori turkey, delicious and complex and hot enough to surprise. Both meals were wonderful, as was the chance to meet quite a few new people. Still working on name pronunciation, but it’s getting a little easier every time.
Watching my children grow into their roles as parents is immensely gratifying. It’s always a learn as you go process, and they’re getting a lot of stuff right.
At this point in our lives our house is a little too big most of the time, and barely large enough a few times a year. It’s a fine, balanced way to spend our days, and, as I mentioned to Suzanne a while back, for me this is the good life. A very good life indeed.
This coming weekend our children, their children and most of my wife’s family will gather at our home, and I’ve been thinking about what background music to play before, during, and after the meal.
Some artists I can eliminate from the beginning. Tom Waits is out, as are the Last Poets and anything by Captain Beefheart. I have some William Shatner, and the Golden Throats compilation CD (featuring Jack Webb doing “Try a Little Tenderness”), but I’m thinking they’re probably not going to be on the list either.
I’m always up for a little Grateful Dead, so that’s a possibility. A classic mix, maybe, with the Dead, Van Morrison, Paul Simon. Johnny Cash — now there’s a thought. Hard to go wrong with the Man in Black.
I’ve also thought about going strictly instrumental; you know, just something tasteful to fill in behind the conversations. Miles Davis, MIchael Hedges, Bill Evans, lots of different ways to go there.
I could use this gathering to showcase women artists, given all that’s happened in politics and society in general. So, Holly Cole, Joni Mitchell, Lorraine Ellison, Bonnie Raitt, Dolly Parton, k. d. lang, Jennifer Warnes.
What I’ll probably end up doing, though, is wait until a half hour before people start getting here and grab what seems good at the moment. That’s how it usually goes.
Joni Mitchell turns 75 today.
For my morning hot tea and vinyl, I picked “For the Roses” and “Blue.” There is so much to appreciate here: songwriting, composition, phrasing, who steps in to help out (Stephen Stills, James Taylor, Graham Nash), and that voice. Oh my goodness.
I’m on my second copy of “For the Roses” and the cover of “Blue” is looking pretty bad. Recorded over 45 years ago (1972 and 1971, respectively), they are among a handful of albums I own that have, as they say, stood the test of time. If you haven’t heard them in a while or never heard them before, I encourage you to give them a spin. She’s a poet and a musician and about as authentic as it gets.
Happy birthday, Ms. Mitchell.
The Boone Series is back!
Available in ebook format on several sites, including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Scribd and Google Play for those of you enrolled in a subscription service. Check my book page on this site for the links.
The print version should be available by December first in bookstores, or sooner if you run into me at one of the arts/craft fairs I’m participating in this season. Or drop me a line if you’re in a hurry.
Thanks to everyone for your patience, and I hope you enjoy the new look!
Pretty much all I know about some of the people I’m connected to on social media is which sites they visit to get the angry pages they share with their friends (and that’s only if I look at the top of the post).
I don’t even know whether they believe strongly in what they’re passing along, or if something happened to sour their mood and a computer with a wi-fi connection was handy at that moment.
I know that people are more complex than their views on a single subject, and that even their views on that subject are more nuanced and layered than is apparent from what they might sign their names to and send out into the cyberverse. Nuance, however, is not well suited to the pace of social media, and so we lose access to an essential part of those around us, and we get an incomplete, “fake,” inaccurate picture of each other. This, as we all know, is a source of all kinds of nasty stuff, especially when we use that as a basis for our interactions out in the physical world. Somebody said once that the trouble with stereotypes was not that they weren’t true, but that they were incomplete. I think there’s some truth in that.
A small number of my social media connections create most of their own posts and for that I am grateful. Even if what they are sharing is angry or tragic or embarrassing or self-deprecating, it’s a window into what is really happening to them as they move through the day. Plus, some of what they create or pass along is funny as hell. I believe there is a basic difference between sharing hate and anger and sharing laughter. Laughter is healing. It’s the best medicine, or so I’ve been told.
And sometimes what they put out there is a kind of love letter to the rest of the world. Those are pretty neat, too.
Okay, rant over. I’m even leaving the oxymoronic title just as it is.
A few weeks ago I decided that even though I liked my car, there were several things it didn’t have that I wanted. With my wife’s help I made a list and took it with me to visit several car lots. Almost without exception, when the sales reps looked at my list they said, “Oh, that’s a Subaru.” So that’s what I bought. Not new, but new to me, and so far the choice feels right.
Deciding what is important and letting that guide me to a choice is how I do things when I’ve got it together enough to remember that it’s the best way to go. I can’t say I’m all that consistent yet, but it’s something to aim for.
Of course, whatever method I employ, once I make a decision I immediately start paying more attention to things that support my decision and less to things that indicate I might have made a mistake. There is a downside to this, a real danger. The danger can be referred to as incestuous amplification (a term attributed to the military during the Vietnam War), which is a way of saying that if you only listen to people with whom you already agree, your views tend to become more rigid and more extreme.
Needless to say, this kind of self-perpetuating polarization is rampant this election cycle and has a distinctly unhealthy feel about it.
After all, elections are about choosing sides, and we all choose sides. Over and over again, all through our lives. It’s part of being human — to look for a tribe, a group to belong to, people who let me know I’m not alone.
It’s also human, once I’ve picked a tribe, to become more aware of the things that separate my tribe from yours, the reasons my tribe is better, stronger, more in the right. I’m not sure there’s any way around this. Just as there is no light without darkness, no good without evil, if we’re going to measure something we also need something to measure it against.
There are a couple of ways to do this measuring; one is to say how my tribe is better. The other is to say how your tribe is less than mine in some way. If from my point of view the way yours is less than mine is accurate and important, that’s one thing. If the difference is trivial or inaccurate, that’s something else entirely.
Civil discourse is a good and necessary thing. My tribe has stuff that yours doesn’t and, if I’m being honest, the reverse is also true, and real progress can come from honest discussion and disagreement. Unfortunately, there is a part of me that is capable of the uncivil, the crude, the use of ad hominem attacks to make my point. Looking around, I don’t think I’m alone in this. The secret is, I think, not to deny that part of me but rather to refuse to be guided by it.
After all, that’s really the lazy way out, isn’t it? If I spend my time and energy on attack, then I don’t have to examine my position to see if it makes social, scientific, moral, or spiritual sense. Contradictions won’t bother me if I don’t let myself know they are there.
In the service today our minister kept returning to the theme of how hard it is to stay human. It’s unfortunate that it is difficult, because our shared humanity is what binds us together and allows us to tackle the big issues without getting bogged down in personal attacks or bogus arguments. There are times, and I think this may be one of them, when getting bogged down can have devastating consequences.