Climb in the back with your head in the clouds

30 09 2013

As an underemployed political scientist with too many opinions to count, I really should have something to say about the whole shitty impending government shutdown (possibly/likely to be followed by a truly catastrophic debt default) and meth-heads on the floor of the Congress who are so wasted on the the fumes of an ressentiment-contaminated ideology that they think the first is a good idea and the second no big deal—BUT. . . I can’t.

I just fucking can-not.

Jesus H. Christ.





Though the dawn may be coming soon

29 09 2013

Second-sleep dreams are nightmares.

It is entirely possible, of course, that my main sleep dreams are nightmares as well, but when I’ve been woken from an unbroken sleep, it’s usually out of dreams or nothing at all.

Sometimes there are nightmares, but these are “classic” nightmares, vivid and sharp-edges and with a storyline all their own. They can be terrifying, so much so the nightmares themselves wake me up, but they are clearly of the sleep-world, not that of the world awake.

Second-sleep dreams, though, they’re something else. Fuzzy and shot through with bits from real life, they are all anxiety, shifting and off-kilter. I don’t know if it’s because, in that second sleep, I don’t go fully under, such that the gears of the REM sleep slip and freeze up and tear, pinning me into a narrative which is neither fully here nor there.

These dreams tend to be of two types: One, I’m moving, and haven’t packed or haven’t ordered the truck, and possibly in the midst of this I think, Why am I moving? I don’t want to leave. The plot of the second type varies considerably (yesterday morning, I was in a high school classroom, and then at a party in the home of a bad ex-boss, and then it was as if I lived there and needed to pack to leave and, oh, yes, at some point I was naked, although a kind man—rabbi? priest?—tactfully turned away as I slid on a shirt), but at some point in the dream I am unable to see clearly and/or to walk without falling over. I keep rubbing my eyes, but everything is blurry or sliced into mis-aligned ribbons, a discombobulation magnified by a dizziness which sends me sideways. (Other, less-common recurring types: at the airport without a ticket/passport/luggage/time; having to take an exam after not attending class the entire semester; om stage and not knowing how to play my instrument/my lines/what play I’m in.)

Unpleasant, all around.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I tend to see dreams as a kind of venting off of whatever is going on in my life, perhaps mingled with bits from movies or t.v. (e.g., zombie nightmares); these second-sleep dreams, coming after a near-complete night’s sleep, seem to pull even more from immediate events. I had had a conversation about that bad boss, for example, on Friday, so her commandeering a portion of that dread-narrative is unsurprising.

Still, there are certain, ah, recurring themes in these second-sleep dreams. One concerns how well I fit into my life: Am I settled here? Can I make my life here, or will at some point will I have to go? Is there anyplace for me? The second is a kind of panic of loss of sight, of sense: I know I can see; why can’t I see? If I could just. . . get clear. And of the minor type dreams: timing and forgetting and performance. Anxieties, all.

I doubt I am unique in either the peculiarity of second-sleep dreams  or these anxieties, though I’d guess that the moving and blurred eyes bits are culled from my life: I have moved a lot, and I have problems with my eyes. A pianist or surgeon’s hands may go numb, a mechanic might forget how this moves with that, a father’s son might disappear, the ad exec’s computer crashes before the presentation—all what we rely upon and worry over refracted through a broken unconsciousness.





All things weird and wonderful, 34

26 09 2013

Tamarin monkeys whisper to avoid being overhead by shifty humans.

Photo : Flickr/Tambako

Cheeky monkeys!

~~~

h/t Megan Seling, The Stranger





Gimme a pigfoot

25 09 2013

I’m so out of it: A woman has apparently been chronicling her sandwich-making trek to an engagement ring.

And now she’s “outed” herself.

(Why the air quotes? Why the fucking sandwiches?)

I don’t care what she does, so much so that I stopped reading the NYPost story  in which she reveals herself as. . . (snore).

However, I was sufficiently taken with this set-up to imagine the following plot twist: She gets to 299 and then (ba ba ba BUM) stops.

Just stops.

And he’ll be all “what, you won’t make me a sandwich? I’m hungry! You’re going to let one sandwich get in the way our engagement?”

And she’ll be all “Are YOU going to let one sandwich get in the way of our engagement?”

A standoff! The thrills! A book deal in the making!

I still wouldn’t read to the end of the story, though.





Praise to thee our Alma Mater

23 09 2013

Senator Ted Cruz, self-refuting meritocrat:

The elite academic circles that Cruz was now traveling in began to rub off. As a law student at Harvard, he refused to study with anyone who hadn’t been an undergrad at Harvard, Princeton, or Yale. Says Damon Watson, one of Cruz’s law-school roommates: “He said he didn’t want anybody from ‘minor Ivies’ like Penn or Brown.”

Unless, of course, no one outside of Harvard, Princeton, or Yale has ever accomplished anything, ever. Then it makes perfect sense.

~~~

h/t Dan Amira, New York





You’re dragging this misery on

23 09 2013

Slate‘s layout has long been terrible, as in:

  • crowded in appearance
  • a constantly metastasizing number of specialty sections
  • an “older” button which actually required more than one hit to get to the not-on-the-front-page entries (a problem exacerbated by a lousy search function
  • non-obvious archive retrieval system (although, to be honest, I could be misremembering this)

So, finally, they’ve changed it. Yay!

Do I like it? Nay!

One the one hand, you should disregard my dislike, because I dislike any changes made to a design to which I’ve become accustomed. (You thought I was joking about my temperamental conservatism? I was not.) Disqus has changed its style a number of times and each time I’ve hated it.

And then I’ve gotten used to it. I expect to get used to the Slate re-design.

(Then again, I still dislike the re-design of the Atlantic blogs, and that’s been awhile. Still, my own history suggests I’ll come to terms with, and perhaps even like, the New! Improved! Slate layout.)

ON THE OTHER HAND, however, Slate has still not fixed the incredibly fucking annoyingly awful “read more” function which, unlike similar functions at The Daily Dish and The Slog, takes the reader away from the main or index page and to the single post, which in turn requires one go back to that index page before one can go on to the next story.

I know, I know: this is not a problem on the order of an asteroid strike or the extinction of the coffee bean, but given how incredibly fucking annoyingly awful the single-post “read more” function is, and how the solution—an unfolding “read more” function—is a thing which exists in the world, why couldn’t Slate have done the one goddamned thing that I and every other reader of their site would have instantly and unreservedly hailed?

Or is the retention of that incredibly fucking annoyingly awful single-post “read more” function simply a kind of #Slatepitch, wherein they choose to do the one thing that everyone agrees is terrible?





Hazy shade of winter

22 09 2013

I have—surprise!—some sympathy for declinist narratives.

It’s easy, it’s fun, and it adds a nice gloomy depth to one’s otherwise-apparently shallow existence.

Still, sometimes the dread is a real question, as in, Are we humans nearing the end of a long moment of open society and democratic governance? Will our polities at some point transform into mere corporations of some sort of consumerist, militarist, or theocratic bent?

Two linked—or maybe one double-sided—dynamic(s) seem to be emerging: i) no work, and thus no use for, those who are unable to fit themselves into an increasingly technologically complex economy; ii) increasing control over the lives of those who are employed.

Tyler Cowen has been hitting on the first theme at his blog, Marginal Revolution, and in his new book, Average is Over. From what I can tell of his numerous references to the book, our present economic situation is dissolving into one in which most people, precisely because they are “most people” (i.e., average), will be squeezed out of economic life and will have to make do with a marginal social existence.

And the second? Consider Penn State’s desire to reduce its health care costs. It’s instituting a new wellness plan aimed at creating healthier, which is to say, cheaper, employees; a part of that plan, since shelved, required those employee to fill out a mandated survey in which they were probed about their plans to become pregnant, whether they’ve suffered depression, or been divorced.

Capitalism has always required the worker to conform to the workplace—the creation of the manu-factory is one of the markers of capitalism—but out of this required conformity emerged a counter-trend of uninterest in what the worker did away from work. (Owners didn’t want the responsibility, and labor wanted the liberty.) At higher levels of corporate life managers might have to sign contracts with morals clauses, and non-unionized workers might know that to criticize their company could be firing offense, but, for the most part, if you did your job you’d be left alone away from the job.

I hasten to add here that I think this remains the dynamic, at least in the US, and there’s no clear sign that our society will inevitably devolve into one of en masse control of the low-employment outcasts and individualized control of the fully employed.  I don’t know what will happen, and given the complexity of human life, I am leery of making any kind of long-term predictions about us.

But the hazy signs of decline? They’re all around us, just waiting to be plucked for a Sunday afternoon musing on how the story ends.

 





What’s your name, little girl?

21 09 2013

I’ve written some boneheaded things in my time.

For example, I wrote an editorial for The Daily Cardinal which began “Enough fucking around”, and proceeded to excoriate the Reagan administration for not doing enough to free the hostages in Iran.

And then that whole Iran-Contra thing broke. Yeah.

The narrative I wrote for/about my high school senior class, the one in which I told a tale involving every member of that class? There’s some nasty shit in there; in particular, a smirk about one guy who was sometimes picked on (and maybe a coupla’ of his friends, I don’t remember exactly) being the head of a gay motor-scooter club, or something similarly witless. It was a shitty thing to do: in the mid-1980s, to joke about someone being gay was really no joke at all, and I knew it, and did it anyway.

I’ve tried to avoid meanness since then, and although I do still have some problems with the kind of righteousness which got me in trouble with the hostages, I generally try to write what I’d stand behind, and stand behind what I’d write.

Two recent pieces at Lawyers, Guns & Money, about the names people give their kids, however, have reminded me of a more recent transgression. A coupla’ years ago Ta-Nehisi Coates posted something along these same lines, and a bunch of us jumped in with names we each found ridiculous. I contributed a number of names of people I had known (or known of) whose names were puns—stuff along the lines of Erasmus B. Dragon or Mike Easter.

I regret that now, and pretty much anything else I said about names, mostly because these are real people in the world. They bore no responsibility for their punned names, but because they happened to have crossed paths with me, those names were now held up for ridicule. It was a shitty thing to do, and I should have known better.

So while other LGM writers and commenters were having fun with all of the names they dislike, I couldn’t join in. Oh, there are definitely names I don’t like, but unlike the discussion about the horrors of ketchup, I thought, man, there are people out there with those names, who may love those names, and who are unlikely to shave the distinction between their names being mocked and their persons being mocked.

This doesn’t mean the writers and commenters at LGM are monsters of the universe, any more than I was a monster in writing what I did. Still, it’s a shitty thing to do.





I get a fever that’s so hard to bear

18 09 2013

Do colds ever not suck? I do not think so.

But this one is really chapping my lips because it’s interfering with my attempts to instil new habits.

I’ve been in the (bad) habit of announcing changes ahead of my, ah, actually making those changes. I’m going to get out more! (No) Devote time to my new novel! (No) Wash the dishes every day! (No) Big or small, I say I’mma do things I’mma don’t do.

So I thought I’d try something else: Start with the doing rather than the saying. I wanted to bump up my running, so I added both timed-runs at the gym and mileage runs in the mornings before I teach.

I wanted to try, for the fourth time, to learn to play the guitar, so I unsheathed the guitar from its case, dug out the guitar stand, tuned that puppy up, and started, yet again, from the beginning of good ol’ Mel Bay. I want to see if I can take this far enough that I could, plausibly, tell people I play guitar; if I enjoyed it, I’d keep going, if not, I’d sell the guitar.

And the commitment with Gotham Rock Choir—that too.

Enough fuckin’ around, in other words. Until the fever fucked with those plans.

No running yesterday (which I probably could have managed, as the cold was still in its prelude stages), no GRC or guitar practice yesterday, no running today, although I did manage an abbreviated weight work-out at home. I doubt I’ll be running tomorrow morning, although I’m still on for (what will likely be)  a (very slow)  gym run on Friday.

So, okay, no tragedy, no reason to think I won’t be able to get back into that (still-shallow) groove I’ve been trying to create.

I just wanted to bitch for a bit. Colds suck, doncha know.

~~~

And Peggy Lee? Fab-u-lous. You really must listen.

Yes, you must.





All I ever needed was the music, and the mirror

16 09 2013

When I was a young ‘un I was all about performing.

Give me a stage and I’m on it, a light and I’m in it, and a chance to shine shine shine, and I’m takin’ it. A full-length mirror in my bedroom, a stereo, and a balled-up fist were my substitutes for the stage, the orchestra, and the microphone I wanted more than anything.

When I was pre-teen, it was all about Hollywood, but a bit of adolescence and I turned east, toward New York and the theatre (which was the genesis of my desire for New York).

Theatre in high school provided some of my best memories; it was also the peak of my performing days. I was at best competent, something which I had figured out even then, so while I very briefly flirted with the idea of going into theatre (in terms of considering whether or not to apply to Northwestern), once I decided on Madison, it was clear I’d major in political science, as a prelude to a career in journalism.

Funny thing about print journalism: it is a backstage activity. Yes, television is now clogged with scribe-pundits, but back in the olden days, journalism meant print (tv was something else entirely), and any fame would be confined to a front page byline on a national paper.

The jazz of journalism for me, though, was even less the bylines (tho’ that mattered: I still remember my first headline story, on a strike by the TAA, the grad student union) than getting the next day’s news the night before, and taking part in churning events into news.

We weren’t the story, but we wrote the story, and I decided I liked that more than anything.

Skip forward 25 (or so) years, and I still love that backstage churn. And while there is a performative aspect to teaching, outside of the classroom I am not only not interested, but dread taking center (or even side) stage.

Which is why I joined Gotham Rock Choir. Of course.

Yes, a big piece of this is kicking myself out of my rut, but the GRC provides something more: active discomfort with the activity.

Oh, Absurd, you’re saying, that makes so much sense: of course you should choose to do something which you won’t enjoy.

Well, that’s kind of the point. It’s one thing to get off my ass to do more of the things I’m used to doing, but quite another to push myself to see if I can get easy with something which makes me uneasy. And it requires a commitment, which just magnifies the unease. . . so, y’know, perfect.

If I really don’t like it after this cycle (which ends in December), I won’t re-up. But if the experience doesn’t kill me (which it won’t), maybe I’ll be willing to try something else, discomfort be damned.

If I want there to be something more, then I have to try something more.