Saturday, May 14, 2016

Reading About Writing

I'm reading Douglas Kennedy's The Moment, some of which is set in Berlin in 1984. The protagonist is a writer, gone to Berlin to observe and take in - to find a story. He lodges in the apartment of a painter, and - watching him one night - notes that, "Every so often there is a here-and-now in the realm of creative work .... A strange switch is thrown in your brain. You are not pondering or cogitating or thinking about what happens next. You are simply doing. The work has taken you over.... That's it. The moment. The most unbridled form of romance imaginable. Pure mad love." [italics his]

I remember that experience during the writing of numerous essays and humorous writings, an experience reminiscent for me of what I have heard sculptors say, that the work of art was already there in the stone, and they were freeing it by their pounding, chiseling and cutting. (I drove past an abandoned gas station-truck-garage-restaurant complex in the desert, killed by the Great Recession of 2008; and I saw that the work of art was there, turned around and went back to photograph it - and it was there, just waiting for me to find the lines of sight, and I did. I knew as soon as I saw it - at 65 miles per hour - that the piece was there, waiting to be seen. Finding the lines to capture this tragedy was simple, just a matter of being open enough to see the loss and emptiness. Attention had to be paid.)

The moment is what matters.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Being There, Glad to Have Been There

I was part of an unusual and nice occurrence today. I had just left our home and turned the corner to walk to a medical appointment a couple of miles away when a car pulled to the curb next to me and a voice asked me a question. A man and a woman were in the front seats of a medium-sized car, with people in the back seat. I walked towards the car, and the man driving asked if I knew where Children's Hospital was. The man and woman appeared to be Latin American - Guatemalan was my guess - and I noticed that the woman did not speak. I said I knew where that hospital was and began to give directions. At the same time, the right side rear window began rolling down, and I saw a young girl there, looking with curiosity and what seemed to be enthusiasm. Through the front passenger window I saw a second young child in the back seat. Although the man spoke English my efforts to give directions seemed to be failing. So, I said I would show them if he would like for me to ride along. He did, so I got into the back seat. He followed the turn by turn directions I gave, and drove to the hospital, perhaps half a mile. When we arrived, I started to get out of the car, but he insisted on driving me back to my home. I resisted but soon saw that he wanted to do this in order not to have inconvenienced me more than the few minutes since we had met. So, he drove me home, and we all - I would say warmly - wished one another well. The adults were grateful; I was gratified to have been helpful to these nice people. The two daughters seemed enthralled by the adventure of it! Both had been smiling for minutes and waved good-bye.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Hallmark Days

It is the beginning of the period of #ExceptionalAmerica days - Mother's Day [gag], Memorial Day ['Merica is the Greatest Country in the History of the World, By God], Father's Day [Allow Me to Make Fun of You'all with a Paper Necktie; Have a Beer], Independence Day [We Are Not Only *Still* the Greatest Country in the World, By God, but for Now and All-Time, By God, We Are the Empire that God Loves], and then Labor Day [When We Pretend to Admire the Crum-Bum, Dirty Working Man on Whose Backs the Elite Stand, Sneering]. If anything identifies us, it is our love for these phony days of idealization and idolatry.

Each year - I am about to be 68 - I try - sometimes hard, sometimes harder, sometimes my very hardest - not to look down on our (my) culture or express my birthright of pain from the 1950's Eisenhower era of seeing no evil, hearing no evil and (especially) saying no evil about the middle class, conservative, upwardly-striving, suburban, status-conscious, longing-to-be-elitists among whom I endured a childhood of abuse and condescension in a culture of self-congratulatory self-righteousness and keeping up with the Joneses. This year, I won't even try. I no longer give too much of a damn about the feelings of those people, nor do I give too much of a damn about not toeing any lines or being inappropriate - in order not to be un-Amurrican or un-Christian or immodest in my rage.

I *HATE* these holidays. I especially hate Mother's Day with all its jewelry advertising, flower bedecking and mother-placing-on-pedestals AS THOUGH something about giving birth anoints mothers to be caring, present, sensitive and protective guardians of tiny-then-small people. Nothing so anoints mothers, and not all of them have any/all of those qualities. The damage and wreckage is bad enough; the damage and wreckage from having mother and father who had none of those qualities is worse. The requirement to celebrate mothers on Mother's Day - in church, in ads, in AA and Al-Anon meetings, at ballgames - is mind-bendingly horrible, akin to the horribleness of ever-present Christmas carols during "the holidays" for those damaged by Christian religious people/fanatics.

To anyone inclined to recommend therapy, please try to understand that I have endured the work of therapy for decades ... and am happier and healthier than ever before. To anyone inclined to recommend medication, you are reading the words of a veteran of legal, psychoactive meds. Some things don't go away; fortunately, some damage can be ameliorated ... and fortunately in my case has been. To anyone inclined to recommend "taking it easy," please understand that this is a (now) fairly rare expression of intensity that I decided to express on this day of days.

To anyone inclined to urge me to celebrate how much less terrorized and haunted I am now than ever before, I say, "You are correct, but PTSD does not go away; and I have not forgotten."

To anyone inclined to remind me that I have also had advantages that many people had not, you are correct - and I have not forgotten. Life has improved, and my life is better than it was and better than it might have been. I do not minimize that.

In my opinion, we are still a culture of seeing, hearing and speaking as little evil as possible, preferring almost always to seek the closest-as-possible-to-Hallmark views of us as possible. I say to hell with that.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

One American Story

In 1940 a family moved out of their neighborhood in north St. Louis because the only boy of the family - age 11 - came home with a black schoolmate after school one day. The family moved into an all-white neighborhood, and on the day they moved into their new house the 16 year old daughter (oldest child of five) of the family looked out her bedroom window at the 14 year old boy cutting the grass in his yard and (supposedly, according to her version, repeated in the "good times" of the '50's & '60's) said to herself, "That is the boy I'm going to marry." Whether she said it does not matter to how she saw her own - their - story. She had picked him out as her partner and pathway to her goals.

Four years later, while he was in flight training in the U.S. Army Air Corps, she married him. She was sure he was the one who would rise through the ranks of the business world once the war ended and he had gone to college. It was the way most women of that time who were inclined to upward mobility plotted their way to success and prominence ... and money. Although there were independent professional and business women, they were severely limited in their access to the ladder of success that was a part of the United States mythology.

The war ended while the boy was still in flight training - he never left California's Army airfields - and the couple returned to St. Louis where he enrolled at Washington University and she prepared for the birth of their first child, a girl. For three years, the woman tended him, their first child, their small GI-Bill-purchased house and their second child, a boy. For three years, he worked full-time as a mechanic in a gas station and went to school in mechanical engineering with a load 33% greater than full-time. Eight months after the second child was born, he graduated; and their striving up the ladder of success (Registered TM) began. They moved from St. Louis - the first move of a great many, all dedicated to rising up the ladder of success - to Alexandria, Louisiana, where they lived for one year. Over the next 16 years the family would live in 8 states.

The woman and man did not consider the impact of all these moves - uprooting, loss of friends, chronically being the new kids at school, differing school systems' orders of learning - on their children, the girl and the boy. The parents often said that all these moves were for the benefit of the family: the father's advancement would benefit them all. When the boy was 8 and the girl was 10 they rebelled when told they were moving again; this warning was added by the mother: "Don't ever tell your dad that you don't want to move. It would hurt him, and he couldn't take it."

All family decisions were based on the father's advancement, gender roles and the family's money supply. Thus, the boy's raggedy lower teeth were not fixed with braces because orthodontia was expensive, and lower teeth did not show on boys. When he gave a used baseball to a friend who had just gotten his first baseball glove - but had no ball - the mother hit him and screamed that he should never again waste the family's assets. "Assets" - yes, that is what she said. He was 8 years old. The daughter - a good and enthusiastic athlete - never got a baseball glove because "girls don't need those." Eventually, the daughter went to summer school and took correspondence courses so that she could graduate from high school one year early and get the hell out of Dodge - out of this family that was all about the advancement in money and prestige of the parents.

Fast-forward to 1968. The couple live in a fine English Tudor-style house in an old, exclusive near-suburb of St. Louis, and the man - only 42 years old - is the #3 executive of a large corporation. Because of a crisis in one of the company's major assets - in Australia - and because of his excellence of his work, he and other company leaders decided he was the one to go fix the situation. The asset was major, the crisis was major and the success of the man in fixing it - over a period of 16 months - was major. His salary was increased 50% as part of the agreement for him to go. For 1968 and 1969 he received a bonus of 1/3 of his expanded annual salary. He returned to St. Louis a hero.

He also returned to St. Louis an alcoholic. 18 months later, he was passed over for the presidency of the company when the president suddenly died; the presidency of that company had been the couple's goal for 20 years. 18 months after being passed over he was fired for alcoholism. His ladder had dry rot, and he and his wife suddenly had no position, no prominence, total disgrace (she took on his disgrace; her prominence once based on his position) and no income. Dramatically let down by her partner of 28 years, the wife was undone, resentful, embarrassed, enraged. They sold the big house and moved to the country to try to make a living raising cattle, something of which neither had any knowledge or experience. They toiled and fumbled for five years. She tried to control his drinking. He hid the extent of it - bottles hidden in culverts on the ranch & under the hood of his truck. (She continued to drive the Cadillac of their past life.) She cooperated in denying his drinking - each time he fell over, unconscious, she declared that he had had a stroke. (He "had" 63 of them, she told the son.)

During one of those years, he got a great job in Los Angeles and lost it the first day for drinking. Her rage grew. His rage grew. Their frustration and pain grew. On weekend visits, each would separately take the son for a ride and seek his opinion, "What should I do?" The son responded to each, "Get a divorce." But they didn't. On one visit the son warned the woman of the dangers of the shotgun in the house of this frightening, drunken, bitter man - "He will kill you or himself." She dismissed the warning. After five years on the ranch he killed himself with the shotgun. Both of his adult children, always terrified of him & resentful of their parents living their lives for money and prestige, were relieved. Each had long believed that he would kill them one day - but now he wouldn't.

The woman had been in the hospital when he killed himself, badly injured by a cow; and it was a year before she was able to move from the ranch. With the proceeds of life insurance and partial, then complete, sale of the ranch, she could live indefinitely in her beloved Hawai'i. Within two months she met another man with visions of wealth in his mind. He also had alimony and child support payments in arrears, no assets and a delight in hard drinking. This man had something that the first man had not - an eye for the get-rich-quick scheme, and a player's attitude towards the world, not the driven, workaholic attitude of the first man. He was 12 years younger than the woman, and he had the salesman's gift of seeming to make dreams about-to-come-true. Four months after they met they married. She merged her dream of wealth and prestige with his dream of wealth from investments (some of which were ruses) and schemes.

They lived high in fancy rented condos on the water on the Big Island, and used her money and their joint dreams & shared delusions for some years, till the money ran out. Then, they borrowed from banks willing to accept "stated assets" on a loan application as actual assets, the couple staying ahead of the game by hook and crook. (Except that time when the woman called her daughter and said, "If I don't have $_______ deposited in my account by bank opening on Monday morning I'll go to prison." She was in her mid-60's. The daughter wired 2/3 of her inheritance from her recently deceased grandfather.)

As with the first marriage, this marriage lasted 34.5 years, at which point the husband died. And the final accounting of the woman's lifelong quest for wealth and prominence - which she had talked about and planned for in the early years, flaunted when she had much of both, then plotted and dreamed again - and deluded herself - for many years? Their multi-mortgaged house had no equity, the husband's children had been paying the utility bills for months, and the couple's credit cards had a balance in excess of $60,000.00. She has no assets, her dreams extinguished, everything lost, one (now old) child completely alienated, the other not alienated but not in a position to assist much.

How many families in the heady days after World War II had goals, beliefs and values based on unbridled ambition and the belief that wealth and prominence would follow for those who were white, Republican and Protestant, who worked hard and played by the rules they thought applied? I don't know. This is one family.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Bernie-Shirt Reactions

I wore one of my Bernie shirts today and walked to a doctor's appointment & then the library. On the way a couple of guys gave a thumbs up. In the medical building a white 20-something woman with a toddler in the elevator said something that seemed positive but that I could not decipher; so I said, "And we all need to get together to elect whoever wins the Democratic nomination." She noticeably physically reacted and said, "Not Hillary, no matter what they do to me!"

Outside the library, a black woman 35-40 smiled and said something positive about the shirt as we were walking towards one another. I smiled and said, "I'm hopeful." She said, "I am, too; and I just can't go for Hillary, anymore. There was a time, but not now. But, you know, we need for this sniping and attacking to stop. We're starting to look like the Republicans." I agreed with that.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Manliness in 'Merica

Last night a retired pro football player for the New Orleans Saints went to dinner with his wife and two friends. Will Smith was 34. They ate dinner at a restaurant where I have eaten, on Magazine Street in New Orleans. Then they got into their vehicles and drove away, Smith & his wife in their Mercedes SUV, their friends in the friends' Chevy.

A few minutes later, in the neighborhood known as the Lower Garden District, Smith's vehicle was rear-ended by a Hummer. The force of the collision propelled Smith's Mercedes forward into the rear of the Chevy. Smith got out of his vehicle, and the driver of the Hummer got out of his. Each man said some words. Then, the driver of the Hummer - a former high school football star - pulled a pistol and shot Smith several times. He fell and died. The driver of the Hummer also shot Smith's wife, twice in her legs. Hummer-man has been arrested and charged with 2nd degree murder. His life is mostly over, and Smith's certainly is.

I recall that one of the first things police chiefs did when policing in cities took over from old-fashioned county sheriffs was to remove guns from within city limits ... in order to prevent arguments and fistfights from becoming killings. That is not America, anymore.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Whence Hillary?

Recently, there has been a lot written about the difficulties of - and prejudice against - women candidates for office; as well, there has been some writing about the prospect of Bill Clinton becoming (what is absurdly titled) "First Gentleman" (as though Bill could ever be thought of as a gentleman). I have a variety of feelings about both of these issues (one revealed already in my comment about Bill ... or, as I prefer to call him, "Biiiiiiiiill").

I loathe the concept of "First Lady" as I loathe the concept of "First Gentleman." I do not loathe the concept of "First Child(ren)" but a repelled by it. We are not a monarchy, and we pretend not to have an aristocracy. In fact, I am old enough to remember when we did not treat the Presidential spouse as an icon of fashion, grace, goodness or anything else. Mamie Eisenhower seemed a nice person and good human being, but no one looked at her (to my knowledge) and thought, "She ought to have, or deserves to have, a say in any public issue of the day," or "She is the one whose taste or belief does, or should, affect how others in the Republic believe or view anything."

That changed with Jack & Jackie Onassis ... excuse me, Jack & Jackie Kennedy.

We - our polity - elected Jack President (or didn't, depending upon how you view the 1960 ballot boxes dredged up from Lake Michigan during the 21st Century) by a tiny margin because he was prettier than the awful Dick Nixon. Upon his enthronement - because "we" wanted or needed to feel special, and have royalty again - "we" denoted her, also, as special, and declared that - they being two very pretty ones - this was the new age of King Arthur & the Seven Dwa... no, the new age of Camelot. As such, a queen was important and had a status of her own; and she also had the ability, right or duty to define various aspects of goodness & style. Jackie Kennedy may well have had lots of substance and merit, but her clout in terms of taste, style and beauty was based on her being queen/First Lady.

Lady Bird Johnson cared a great deal about highway beautification, as she no doubt had had before her husband became Prez, but her ability to affect how the nation saw the issue expanded greatly as a result of her becoming First Lady.

I do not recall Mamie Eisenhower promoting anything or seeing herself as rightly having special insight into what the public should do or believe or value. (See also, Bess Truman.)

Pat Nixon may or may not have believed in anything but Dick, and may or may not have promoted anything; but we were trying to end the war, so I don't remember.

Roslyn Carter was, I thought, wonderful in her role, in that she was a support to her spouse-Prez, did not appear to believe she was special simply because he was President, and added to the aura of humility of the White House (something long lost since 1981).

Nancy Reagan may or may not have thought of herself as a star but (IMHO) thought that Ronnie was God, so she promoted her role. Many have recently written that she was graceful, and I say, "Who cares?" But then, I do not grasp the significance of the role of "First" anything.

Laura Bush seemed to me to be generally humble, although some in the White House or Republican Party PR offices thought they needed to promote her.

And then there was Hillary Rodham a/k/a Hillary Clinton a/k/a Hillary Rodham Clinton. According to Biiiiill, when we voted for him we got a 2-for-1 (whether we liked it - or her - or not). I suppose one could say that we knew in advance that she and he believed a/this First Lady was going to assert that there could/should/would be a different role in the new age. Bill & Hillary never won a a majority, but they did win election twice.

And then an amazing thing happened.

Apparently because she had been a Partly-President, many people thought that she should be in some high office herself, and maybe that made sense. So, she returned to the state of her birth, childhood and adolescence - Illinois - uh-h, no she did not. She returned to the state where she and her husband had become famous and successful - Arkansas - uh-h-h, no she did not. She went to one of the rare states that allows someone who has not lived there for a period of time to run for the U.S. Senate. By great and happy coincidence, it also happened to contain a huge, vibrant and notable city where people who are very powerful also live. What luck!

And she was elected by virtue of her occupying the status of spouse to a U.S. President. (True, she had also had significant public policy experience while in the White House - you remember the creation of national health insurance for all, that was passed in 1994.) And she had vast public sympathy experience in the White House years as a result of being married to the First Sexist-Pig scoundrel, Biiiiiill. It could be said that the most significant basis upon which she was elected to the U.S. Senate was the sympathy that she had garnered for sticking with him.

After one term in the Senate, Ms. Clinton decided that she ought to be President, was qualified to be President, and was experienced enough to be President. Acknowledging that a good case could be made for her in 2006-08, could a good case for her have been made if she had not been married to someone who had been President? Is it conceivable that she could have been elected to the Senate from a state where she had never lived but for the happy coincidence of having been married to a scoundrel who was a scoundrel whilst being President? Could she have been elected to the Senate had she returned to Arkansas, where she notably had made a career for herself NOT in politics or high office, but in corporate law ... and in personal finance (and not cookie baking)?

So now, again, we consider whether we might elect someone to the highest office in order, partly, that we might show girls and young women that they, too, can reasonably and rationally aspire to be Prez, because someone female has been elected ... who just happened to have been married to someone who had been Prez before her. What would that tell girls and young women about how they ought to prime their political careers by first choosing wisely and well a man who WILL become President first?

And if this is not a sufficient reason to elect Hillary Rodham Clinton to the office of the Presidency, then ought we look at her history of accomplishments. We have already considered her health policy. Then there is her Iraq War vote, and there is her Libya bombing attitude and her "support" of her Wall Street former constituents. Don't forget her courage in "dodging sniper fire" or in support of the Keystone XL pipeline, and her declaration that TPP was the gold-standard of trade agreements.

Whence Hillary?

Sunday, March 13, 2016

First Opportunity to Vote For Bernie Sanders

Saturday was primary election day in Louisiana, and it was the first time I have felt very enthused about a Presidential candidate in a long time - possibly since voting for George McGovern in 1972. (I had been 6 months too young to vote for Gene McCarthy in '68; had to be 21 then.)

Bernie lost here in Lu'Zana but won in Kansas, Nebraska (!) & Maine. Today are primaries or caucuses in Mississippi, Michigan, Hawai'i & Idaho. A week from now are some more. It is nice to feel enthused about a candidate, but I am appalled at the general level of campaign rhetoric, particularly in the Republican Party.

And then,

Today the Virginia Senate nominated the appalling former Virginia Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli, to the Virginia Supreme Court.

What a country.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Making Chili

Today I made my second vat of chili of this mild New Orleans winter ... or maybe it was the third. I like to make chili and have done it for many years. Today's batch-making reminded me of one of the few truly great ideas in my "storied" life. (I like my stories, and I stand by every one of them.)

During the holiday season of 1993 or 1994, my then-wife-and-mother-of-our-daughters Linda and I talked about having a Christmas party, and while so discussing, inspiration struck. At least. that's how it seemed to me. (As I recall, Linda, mother-of-our-daughters-and-bringer-home-of-the-bacon, wondered if I'd had a brain lapse or worse. Maybe being home with the kids had rendered my mind ... that's all, just rendered it, like fat.) I said, "Instead of having a (boring, staid, follow-the-leader) Christmas party, let's have "A Chili & Eggnog Party"! And despite some(one's) misgivings, we did. (I will add that this occurred at the end of the Great Period of our marriage, shortly before (or before I recognized) the beginning of the Gradual and Fateful Decline. A year or two later, this inspiration would have been thrown onto the ash heap of Fading-Marriage Suggestions!)

We had never had a party before; probably there had never been more than 6 other adults together in our house during the period of our marriage, but we started a list and it kept growing. We decided to invite close friends, members of Linda's family, a few near neighbors who we did not know well ... and then we decided to invite some more people who were not close friends or close neighbors but who we thought might enjoy the party: nice acquaintances and not-quite-close-but-nice neighbors.

We did not have a big house and did not know whether everyone invited would fit, if they all came. Also (and this was one of the heart-breaking aspects of our marriage over the last 12 of its 20 years), our house did not have "flow." I hate to admit, but (as a male) have to admit, that I do not relate to or value "flow" in a house; but for this night and while anticipating perhaps 50 people in our house, flow was an issue.

But, could it possibly be that 50 people - many of whom we barely knew - would all say "Yes" to our invitation? "Chili & Eggnog" was, after all, scheduled during the Christmas/Holiday Season?

We planned other edible items and drinks, guessing at how much we might need; but the core treats for the night were to be chili and eggnog, lots of chili and eggnog. I composed invitations, humorously & somewhat fictionally describing the genesis of this party idea, and we sent them out. Everybody responded.

Everybody responded in the affirmative.

We began a slowly growing panic as the date got closer and we bought supplies.

No one canceled. We continued to build our panic.

The night came, vats of chili and gallons of eggnog were prepared and arranged. Other drinks and treats were spread, and we crossed our fingers.

Everybody came. No one failed to appear. At first it was a little weird; there were lots of people there who did not know many of the other people. And, of course, there was NO FLOW!

But the weirdness did not last long; people drank and talked, ate and talked, found interest in new acquaintances and talked. The music we had chosen seemed to be the correct volume and type. Life was good; people were cheerful. Several people came up to me and thanked me for inviting them. Some said they had been surprised at the invitation and did not know why we had invited them, but they were glad we had. Several people remarked on what a fun time our party was.

No one left early. No one got drunk or otherwise obnoxious. No one spilled chili on the floor. No one got sick. People stayed till after midnight. We did not run out of food or drink, but almost all of the chili was eaten, eggnog was drunk. For the only time in my life I had had a part in creating a great party. We (I) had billed it on the invitation as "The First Annual Chili and Eggnog Party." There never was a second one. But for one shining moment, "Chili and Eggnog" was The Bomb.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Musings about USA/Amurrica/'Merica/Amerika

This has been some week. A family member is angry at me for failing to honor my father and my mother. The Mardi Gras period has ended here in South Lu'Zana. And in the public life of Our Republic there have been the death of Scalia and the carnival event of the Republicans' latest "debate." Quite a week, yessiree.

As I have read, powerful Senatorial Republicans have declared that they will not honor the President's Constitutionally-mandated appointment of a Supreme Court Justice - all while maintaining that they love, cherish and obey the Constitution. Their view that the current Prez cannot effectually appoint a Justice is disingenuously based on their stated belief that "the people" should have a say in who is appointed, notwithstanding that the people have chosen Barack Obama twice, by compelling margins, to be precisely the person who is not only authorized to make these appointments but required to do so by that same Constitution. In my opinion the real foundation for their view is that the President is black, secondarily that they are not quite sure he is Christian, or at least not a Christian as in the Conservative White Christianity that they purport - or pretend - to follow.

Does a significant proportion of likely Republican primary voters view the "debates" so far of that Party with alarm? Does a significant proportion of them find them satisfying and helpful to them in discerning who to vote for, who would be a good President and who would be a wise and judicious Commander-in-Chief? Alternately, is there a significant proportion who are appalled at the substance of these "debates" but who are nonetheless thrilled at the spectacle?

The ultimate convergent on one nominee and the changes of attitudes of those not chosen will be interesting to see. The effect on the populace and the preservation of the Republic, on the other hand, of the calamitous debates and the actions of the Senate might well be more than interesting.