Oh, but things ain’t just the same

4 07 2018

Yeah, I’m an inconstant bum, but still. . .

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Do you hope to find new ways of doing better than your worst

10 06 2018

I could just as easily led this off with any number of “Hello. . . ” lyrics, for any of you left reading this.

It’s been awhile, yeah. Sorry about that.

Truly, I am. It’s taken me years to get more than a few followers, and while I doubt you’ve been pacing for the past month or two wondering When is Terri gonna get off her ass and write, still, I haven’t kept my (written) word to you.

It’s the same thing, really, that I’ve written about before. I’m out of sorts, drifting, and, lately, sad. I think of something to write and then I don’t and then I think Oh, I should write and then I don’t and then it’s easier not to write because I haven’t written and the longer I haven’t written the more the not-writing weighs and the long I’m silent I wonder is it better to be silent than mediocre?

I am not the only one to get sucked into this whirlpool of anxiety, I know; the sucking sucks, nonetheless.

My life isn’t terrible. I’m teaching this summer, doing some freelance work with someone I’ve worked with previously and who I like. I finally bought a new mattress (loooooooooong overdue) and new bedframe (because) and I’m working out and eating fine and, y’know, I’m mostly fine, in most of the important ways.

But I am drifting, and sad, and I need to do something about both, sooner rather than later. There is no emergency, and while I can look at Kate Spade (who was only a few years older than me) and Anthony Bourdain (whose most famous book I’ve read and whose shows I’ve watched) with a weary sympathy, where they ended up is on the other side of where I am, now.  I’m sad, not self-destructive.

And I’m not sure what to do about it. Therapy, sure, yes, I’ve done some initial checking-around, and I should follow through, but, okay, yes, I should, no buts.

But: I’ve never done therapy when it wasn’t propelled by an emergency. Therapy was a backstop to self-destruction, something I deliberately put in the way of my own conflictedly-willed erasure. I used it both the prepare for and to prevent my end.

That’s not how I would use it, now, and maybe that’s what bumfuzzling me. What is it like to try for something more, rather than something less?





If I knew you were coming I’d have baked a cake

2 04 2018

Why didn’t anyone tell me about The Great British Baking Show?

Okay, yes, there all kinds of social media stories and tweets and whatnot about the show, but still.

I was scrolling through Netflix last weekend, once again failing to get into Jessica Jones, and thought, huh, this Brit bake bit, why not.

Why not, indeed. I slurped down that first season Fri-Sat, then on Sunday watched the entirety of season two. This past weekend, did the same with seasons three and four. (I was going to save that last available season until next weekend, but then thought, Who am I kidding, and binged away.)

I don’t know why I liked it so much. I have watched my share of cooking shows (tho’ I’m not much for cooking) and enjoy baking (tho’ rarely do), and even a few competitive cooking shows, but nothing about all of the media around the show made me particularly want to watch it.

The set-up (for the eight of you who haven’t watch it) is simple: 12 (in one season, 13) amateur bakers start in episode one; after 3 different bakes judged by two judges (and watched over by the mildly-comic-relief hosts), one person is declared star baker and one sent home. Episode 2, same as the first, on down to the last episode, in which the final three bakers compete for the title.

That’s it. Regular folk from across the UK watching their custards curdle and caramels crystallize and peering into their ovens for their goods to rise and bake in the too-little time left.

All the while trying to meet judge Mary Berry’s standard of “sheer perfection”.

It’s charming.

The bakers are both competitive and cooperative, aware of their own positions but also helping each other and teasing each other and sharing a kind of esprit de corps in the face of the judges oft bewildering instructions.

And withering criticism: Berry and fellow judge Paul Hollywood are unsparing, clear in what they like and don’t like.

That first season, I admit, I cringed at the criticism. I found it hard to watch the bakers as they presented wilted towers and underbaked breads to the judges, watched the color flow into or out of their faces as Berry and Hollywood noted precisely what was wrong with the bake.

Of course, there was plenty of praise for “good bakes”, too, but it was the criticism that got to me.

I’m terrible with criticism, more so now than I was when younger (when I was also not great with it). I have difficulty separating a critique of a performance or an essay from an evaluation of my very existence as a human being, which has meant, unsurprisingly, that I have difficulty putting forth anything which matters to me out in front of other people.

I have of course: am doing so now, with this blog. But it took awhile to get comfortable with this—early on I went to some effort to separate my give name from my chosen blog-name—and even now I oft say, Well, it’s not like any of this matters.

(Which is, of course, a dismissal of those of you who do read this. The joy of neuroses lies in the double move of magnifying the number of those who see one’s faults and diminishing those who see the good.)

Anyway, these firefighters and gardeners and stay-at-home moms and students are afraid—literally shaking afraid—and putting themselves out there in front of gods and country and having a go.

So there it is: not just charming, but inspiring.





Everybody wants a box of chocolates, 24

20 03 2018

Too much money makes people weird.

I am not at all opposed to weird—I got a whole series on “weird wonder”—but man, the weirdness that comes out of wealth often ranges from the pitiful(ly out of touch with the rest of the human world) to the just plain creepy.

I’m not quite sure where to put this:

The audacious real estate project – branded Powder Mountain – is becoming a mecca for altruistically minded members of the global elite. “The goal will always remain the same,” says Elliott Bisnow, Rosenthal’s business partner: “To be a beacon of inspiration and a light in the world.”

A mountain retreat for the psychographically correct billionaire as beacon. Huh.

The beautiful surroundings and unique blend of people, Rosenthal believes, will create the “exponential opportunities of the future”. “I have this whole rap with Gertrude Stein, Katharine Graham, De’ Medici, Bauhaus. There’s this rich history of groups coming together, where the whole is more than the sum of the parts, right?” he says. “I think that’s what’s happening here.”

Again: huh.

It’s not just rich folks on a mountain, though; it’s also rich folks thinking something like this is a good idea:

Further Future, a gathering in the Nevada desert attended by the ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt, which has been described as “Burning Man for the 1%”, promises a culture of “mindful optimism, wonder and exploration”. . . .

Oh, god. Burn it all.

Anyway, back to Powder Mountain (which, really, that’s the best name you could come up with? Powder fucking Mountain? Christ, I think there’s some 75′ snowhill in south-central Wisconsin called Powder Mountain): of course, it would be gauche actually to discuss MONEYMONEYMONEY at a place like this:

Rosenthal had told me I would be immersed in a community of “polymaths” and “savants”, but they would be a humble bunch. “If people are really like ‘oooh’, showing off, showing you pictures of their supercars or some shit at the dinner table? Probably not a cultural fit at Summit,” he says. . . . .

Like others, I had been quietly schooled in the unwritten social rules. Asking someone what they do is considered a faux pas (the socially acceptable alternative is “What is your passion?”). Business cards, I was warned, should not be exchanged in a brazen way.

So, okay to exchange those cards, just not “brazenly”.

Oh, and I don’t need to mention the talks take place in a yurt-ish structure, do I?

For years the team worked remotely in Amsterdam, Tel Aviv, New York, Miami and Barcelona. They would combine work with snowboarding in Montana and surfing in Nicaragua. But by late 2011, the friends were approaching 30 and starting to travel less. They were living and working out of a mansion in Malibu and, Rosenthal recalls, hosting “amazing dinners that became pretty culturally significant in LA at that time”.

I. . . what?

I [journalist Paul Lewis] steer the conversation to the subject of how utterly detached from the real world elites seem to have become. “Elitism, the way I would define it, is obtainable,” he replies. “All that stands between you and being elite is your own investment in yourself.”

I invest myself in sleep: I am a sleep-elite! And cheese! I am a cheese-elite!

Oh my god, I hadn’t read all the way through, and just stumbled on this (after Lewis had pressed him about hard work not always leading to wealth):

“What are you doing to create the utility for yourself? Are you introducing people so they can collaborate?” he says. Struggling Americans, he adds, might want to “host a dinner. Invite 10 strangers. See what happens.”

Rosenthal presses on with his thesis, telling me there are just not enough people in the world who will “excessively commit their lives to something. Journalism, cheese, automobiles, whatever. Rocket ships – perfect example. Everyone wants to work at SpaceX, no one wants to go to engineering school.” [emphasis added]

“Everyone wants to eat cheese but no one wants to milk the cow!” I am an aphorism-elite! Pay me monies to talk at your rich people!

There is, of course, more of this, because there’s always more of this. I mean, these people are so ridiculous that I almost feel a little bad pointing out how ridiculous they are.

When I hitch a ride in Chawla’s SUV, he tells me how he came to invest in Powder Mountain. He had just been on a disappointing trip to Verbier, a resort in the Swiss Alps where the food was “not that progressive”. Utah, he says, made for a refreshing change. “I bumped into 30 of my friends. I didn’t have to do anything. The food was amazing,” he says. “There was a moment when they served coconut water.” Coconut water was the very thing he’d been craving in Switzerland. At that moment, he thought to himself, “These guys just get me.” He adds: “I thought, you know what, I’d love to support this project.”

But then I remember they’re all billionaires with their snoots so far up their own asses they sneeze into their large intestines—

He tells me he’s “still evolving”. He’s been meditating, reading, learning about ecology and sustainable farming. If Bisnow is committed to altruism, why is the Summit Institute, the not-for-profit wing of his empire, so minuscule, with an annual budget that is a fraction of what it cost to build his house?

“We’ve just been so busy with so many things, we thought there’s no rush,” he replies. “Why not just slowly ramp it up?”

—and I think, Fuck ’em.





Weird wonder #43, update

14 03 2018

Alas, the last of the Oldman Cats has died.

I reprinted one of the the dialogues here, but you can find more old-cat wisdom scattered across his writings for Lawyers, Guns & Money, including this bit:

OLDMAN MUND: I SO FUCKING BUFF I DO CROSSFOOT

SEK: You mean CrossFit?

OLDMAN MUND: CROSSFOOT MAKE ME SO FUCKING BUFF

SEK: You don’t do CrossFit — but you’re annoying as people who do, so there’s that.

OLDMAN MUND: FUCK YEAH I DO CROSSFOOT I DO IT RIGHT NOW

SEK: That’s not CrossFit — that’s you crossing your feet.

OLDMAN MUND: FUCK YEAH I CROSSFOOT

SEK: Why do you even —

OLDMAN MUND: I SO FUCKING BUFF

SEK: No, you’re old and feeble, so you cross your feet when you walk and —

OLDMAN MUND: CROSSFOOT MOTHERFUCKER SO FUCKING BUFF

SEK: I’m gonna let you have this.

OLDMAN MUND: LIKE YOU HAVE CHOICE I WILL CROSSFUCK YOU UP

SEK: That’s not even a —

OLDMAN MUND: YOU SHUT UP NOW I GO BE FUCKING BUFF OVER HERE

SEK was Scott Eric Kaufman, and it is in the past tense that another, bigger, Alas lies: Scott died in the fall of 2016 from a chronic medical problem that turned acute.

I never met him, never interacted with him, but even now, writing this, I’m tearing up, because he was young, and smart, and funny, and kind, and he brought his whole human self to his writing. Check out the encomiums to him.

I don’t quite believe in an afterlife, but if there is one, it’d be nice to think Oldman cats Virgil and Sigmund are hassling SEK about mofungo and sideways hopping at all of the strange noises in the great beyond.





Take a minute to concentrate

12 03 2018

My students did not sign up for 28 days of cursing.

I’m teaching American government this semester, the first time in 5 1/2 years, and I pretty much don’t mention the current occupant of the White House.

I mean, I will mention “Trump” or “the president” if it’s relevant, but otherwise I am zipping ze lips.

Again, my students did not sign up for 28 days of cursing.

I know, it’s been over a year, and I haven’t gotten used to . . . our current situation. Part of me thinks this is good—this is not a normal presidency, and Congressional Republicans are dodging the fuck out of their institutional duties—and that becoming inured to how fucked we are is half a step from accepting it.

But another part of me is like Come ON already, get off your ass and MOVE. Things may be terrible, but there are chances, still, for something better.

Shit, you’ve heard all of this from me before; in fact, this is a big part of why I haven’t written much of late: I’d just be repeating myself.

Grrr, stuckness sucks.

Half a thought emerges, and I think, Oh, and then             it drifts away.

Drifting, huh, too much of it this past year, in every way. Time to gather the scatterings and chase after those drifts.





Leave it to memory me

21 02 2018

My Aunt Charlotte died today.

She was up and about in her assisted-living apartment, had a chat with her youngest daughter, was a bit winded so took a seat just before or while getting a nebulizer treatment, and when the nurse returned, she was gone.

Just like that, she was gone.

Not “just like that”, really. She’d been in and out of the hospital for the past 6 months, year, and she was in her eighties. Still, I thought I’d see her again.

I saw her at my niece’s wedding this past June, but didn’t get a pic of her; here’s one from 10 years ago, probably at that same niece’s graduation:

She was a funny lady, always crabbing about something but always with good humor. She could dish it out, take it, then dish out some more. Her kids, my three cousins, were terrible with her, which is to say, wonderful. They loved her and she loved them.

I worked for her when I was in high school. She ran a janitorial service, so a few nights a week during the summer I’d head down to her place and we’d (sometimes one of her kids, sometimes my brother) head to some business in Sheboygan—a bank, say, or a law office—and empty trash cans and wash windows and vacuum and clean the bathroom. It didn’t pay much, and she expected good work, but she didn’t didn’t exactly crack the whip with us. Once I went off to college, that was the end of my employment with her, but my brother spent a few years during and after high school cleaning.

Char always had something going on. She worked long after she probably needed to, but she like to get out, liked her independence. She lived in the house where she grew up, one of the oldest ones in Falls, and she was a common sight at the local coffee shops and diners. And she’d always show up to her grandkids’ games and plays and whatnot, griping about the cold or the hard benches—but never about the grandkids. They loved her and she loved them.

I always liked to see her when I was back in Falls. We’d sit down and she’d have a story and pretty soon we were laughing and teasing each other. When I was little I’d sometimes stay over at her house, and I have the vaguest memory of her dog, Schnappsie. Schnappsie was a dachshund, and I liked to sit on her couch with my back slightly out, so that Schnappsie could snuggle in behind me, his head off one hip with his tail off the other.

One more story: her house, as I mentioned, was old, with the requisite gloomy basement. But one year, at a party of some sort or another, the tornado siren went off, so we all crowded down into it with our plates of cake and sodas, folding chairs spread out next to the caved-in cistern. I don’t know if or where that tornado touched down, but we kept on going.

I feel bad for my cousins, losing their mom, but I feel even worse for my mom. Her oldest (half-) sister, Mickey (née Thelma), died years ago, but the age distance was so great that they didn’t have much of a relationship. Charlotte was next, and then Janet (who is ailing), and then my mom. My mom and Charlotte talked regularly; they were close, they loved each other.

Here’s a shot of all of them with their parents and some cousins:

That’s my Aunt Mickey, on the far left, with her son, Ted, my grandpa behind her. Charlotte’s next to Mickey, with my mom right in front of her and Janet next to my mom; that’s my grandma (who died before I was born) behind Janet, and the cousins, Kay and Violet, on the right.

That was almost 72 years ago.

My mom’s the youngest, as I’m the youngest not just of our immediate family, but of that generation of McCues. There are children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of these McCues, scattered across the country. I won’t be able to make it back to Wisconsin for the funeral, but many of us will.

Because she was Charlotte, and she was loved.