In the sky a broken flag, children wave and raise their arms

13 11 2016

Not quite on my feet, but getting there; to steal from myself:

So let me, uncharacteristically, respond to anger with affection, even love:

This is my city; this is New York City.

It is big and  it is tough, but it isn’t mean, and it shouldn’t be small.

Let us be large, let us be mixed-up and loud and jostling and gesturing and Jewish and Muslim and Christian and Hindu and Sikh and Voudou and pagan and heretic and agnostic and atheist and conservative and liberal and radical and apathetic and hustling and napping and dancing and falling down and flirting and singing and praying and chanting and arguing and mourning and laughing and embracing and letting go and everything everything everything that we have always been and always became and always will be.

Let us be all of that and everything more.

 





The sailor who can read the sky

1 09 2016

How nice to not dread teaching.

I’ve mentioned this course before: Politics & Culture. I’m on the 4th version of it, and think I’ll be able to stick with this for quite awhile.

The first (women and human rights) and third (half mash-up, half Banerjee & Duflo’s Poor Economics) were slogs: they never quite came together. The third, built around Nussbaum’s Women and Human Development, was fine, but I got bored with it after awhile.

This version, which I introduced last fall, focuses on the Weimar Republic, and it all came together pretty well. As I did before, I’m using Richard Evans’s The Coming of the Third Reich, a coupla’ chapters of Bernard Crick’s In Defence of Politics, and Carl Schmitt’s The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy (I’ve already warned the students about this one), as well as various online primary-source documents; for this semester, I’ve shifted a few things around, added some docs and discarded others, but otherwise kept it together.

And, oh yes, as I think I’ve mentioned 10 or 20 times, I totally dig the subject.

Happily, the more I read about it—I’m a little abashed, actually, at how little I knew going into it last year—the more I want to read about it. Which is good, not just for my own curiosity, but because I like to smother a subject.

It’s not enough to know just what’s on the syllabus, but all those bits and lines which both feed into and lead away from those topics. Or, to put it another way, if I want to cover a 4×4 square, I have to paint 6×6 or 8×8. Last year, it was more like 5×5 or even 4 1/2×4 1/2; this year, I think I’ll be closer to 6×6.

The over-painting metaphor no longer works for my bioethics course, which I’ve been teaching for years. Now, it’s about adding dimensions, tipping things over, and, most importantly, being willing to rip apart the fabric in front of the students. I’m now so comfortable with my knowledge of the subject that I’m willing to shred that knowledge, to say, What else is there?

Boredom while teaching a long-taught subject is always a risk—as I noted, I got bored teaching version 2 of Politics & Culture—but teaching long allows one really bring out the sheen on a topic. The problem with v. 2 was that while I cared some, I didn’t care enough about the central topic to want to spend time with it even when I wasn’t teaching it.

That’s not a problem with Weimar, or with biotech. I want to know, for myself, and it’s this greediness which in turn makes me excited to share.





It’s like catching snow on my tongue

30 08 2016

Gene Wilder died.

I liked him, liked his movies, and understand why more avid fans are distressed at the thought that all he’s ever done is all he’ll ever do.

I also understand why some like to imagine him reunited in the afterlife with his third wife, Gilda Radner.

David Bowie died, Prince died—Man, imagine those two in the Big Sky Studio?

It’s a nice thought, that those matched or who should have been matched in the world will find each other after they’ve left it. And it comforts, in that Julian-of-Norwich sort of way: All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

We shall be released, and reconciled.

A lovely thought. . .

. . . that I don’t quite believe. I don’t disbelieve it, either, exactly, but I doubt that there is any great reunion beyond the grave. We take our delights while we can, bear our sorrows as we must, and the only mercy granted is what we give to each other.

I’m not very good with holding on to delights or letting go of sorrows or harms; I may get past without quite forgiving, and mercy, well, I’m still working on Vonnegut’s admonition God dammit, you’ve got to be kind—I am so rarely kind.

So it seems too easy to think that I can be kind, later, that as a ghost I’ll get yet more chances to be human, that I can put off the something more for. . . later, after.

It’s a lovely thought, that our chances never end, but better, if harder, to hold close the wisdom of Maxine Kumin: Our ground time here will be brief.





Is there anybody out there?

17 08 2016

Hello! Long time, no see!

I’ve been away for a bit, and not for anything urgent or tragic or earth-shattering or delightful or infuriating or, really, anything other than ordinary life.

I was unemployed in June, which causes my rib cage to tighten and thoughts to shrink, but both taught and worked my second job in July and into this month; next week, fall classes begin.

So, yeah, ordinary life.

Which hasn’t been working for me.

I mean, unemployment obviously didn’t work (no puns, please), and not just because not having money is no good: I don’t do well with nothingness. But even with something, even with teaching (and regular paychecks), my life was—is—just. . . floating by.

I don’t mind a good float, but this wasn’t that. No, this was a haze, out of phase, a time-loop of the year before (and the year before that).

There might be a bit of depression.

So I’m trying something new, a something old which I’d tried half-heartedly before. Can’t say my whole heart is in it now, but, goddammit, there’s really no reason not to do this, it’s so simple.

I’m a night person, have been for as long as I’ve been aware that one could be a night person. I wrote college papers at night, then grad papers, then my dissertation, then my first novel, then my second. I want to write; I write at night.

But I haven’t been keeping a night schedule, and I haven’t been writing, and for all my scribbling in various notebooks, I haven’t been thinking through anything.

That’s not just about the lack of night, of course. I am undisciplined without a deadline, without a commitment to someone or something else; lacking that outside pressure, it’s too easy to shrug away the day.

But at night, late night, everything seems clearer, and what I couldn’t be arsed with during the day emerges, unbidden, from the dark.

Sounds weird, I guess: why should the time of day matter? I don’t know, but it does.

And that’s been the problem. Most people aren’t on a night schedule, so even when my work schedule has allowed me the night, I’ve been mimicking the ordinary schedule One Ought To Keep.

Which is ridiculous, because no one, not one damned person, has been tossing any Oughts at me about when and how I work. No one cares if I’m up until 2 or in bed until 10. It doesn’t matter if I’m regular or not to anyone but me.

And, goddammit, I’m more than halfway through my life so you’d think I’d have learned by now that when I get to make choices then I get to make the choices that actually suit me.

So, I’m staying up late and getting up late, and seeing if that will help me sync back up with my own life again.





Listen to the music: And when I’m dead

19 10 2015

Listen to the music is dead; long live Listen to the music.

Okay, so I had this idea to listen to all of my alt-blues-jazz-pop-punk (i.e., whatever wasn’t classical) cds from A to Z. I hadn’t really been listening to enough music, and thought this project would get me back to garden.

It worked, for a bit. And then it didn’t. And then it kinda did, and then it really didn’t.

If I wasn’t in the mood to listen to the next cd in rotation, I didn’t listen to anything at all. I’d occasionally pop in a rogue disc, but mostly, my player went unplayed.

For awhile I thought I’d lost my music mojo: All that had moved me no longer did. I mean, that was kinda the point of starting the project, to reconnect to something which had for all of my life mattered to me.

But it wasn’t true. Music did still move me. I’d occasionally listen to my Mp3 player on the train and BAM, I was right back in it. Or I’d hear a stray song and maybe bounce around, maybe mouth the words, maybe sit as still as still can be.

In other words, I have no earthly idea why I stopped listening to the music in the first place, and whatever my previous sense of Needing-to-see-this-through, well, sometimes persistence is its own obstacle.

I am trying to listen to more of my own music. It’s a connection for me—tho’ to what, I couldn’t tell you—and helps to quiet my distractions.

Maybe I’ll get more writing done; maybe I won’t get anything more done than I would, otherwise. Regardless, I’ll  bounce around, maybe mouth the words, maybe sit as still as still can be.

~~~

Some of what I’ve listened to recently: Hem, Jayhawks, Rickie Lee Jones, Katell Keineg.

I’ll never get married, but if I get married, I’ll dance to this at my wedding:

And this one, well, I like the undertone of menace:





Everybody knows the deal is rotten, 19

16 08 2015

When I was younger—much younger—I thought I’d get the kind of job I could really throw myself into, an all-encompassing career that would provide me with all of the pleasure and meaning I could want from life.

Touching, isn’t it, how little I knew.

Now, it could be said—has been said, by the likes of me—that my current inability truly to commit to my work (paid and unpaid) takes things in rather too far the opposite direction, but I do think that my unwillingness to commit to a Stakhanovite* work-ethic is generally more healthy than not.

Consider Amazon:

Every aspect of the Amazon system amplifies the others to motivate and discipline the company’s marketers, engineers and finance specialists: the leadership principles; rigorous, continuing feedback on performance; and the competition among peers who fear missing a potential problem or improvement and race to answer an email before anyone else.

Some veterans interviewed said they were protected from pressures by nurturing bosses or worked in relatively slow divisions. But many others said the culture stoked their willingness to erode work-life boundaries, castigate themselves for shortcomings (being “vocally self-critical” is included in the description of the leadership principles) and try to impress a company that can often feel like an insatiable taskmaster. Even many Amazonians who have worked on Wall Street and at start-ups say the workloads at the new South Lake Union campus can be extreme: marathon conference calls on Easter Sunday and Thanksgiving, criticism from bosses for spotty Internet access on vacation, and hours spent working at home most nights or weekends.

It must be admitted, of course, that Amazon would never hire, much less interview, me: I lack tech skills and corporate experience, so I am most definitely not the Amabot they’re looking for.

Some employees do relish the competitive atmosphere at Amazon, thinking that it makes them better, sharper, more able employees; that this kind of bionic work ethos won’t do much for the person they are outside of being an employee is, of course, irrelevant.

(As an aside: I used to that going to grad school was like sticking your head in a pencil sharpener: you do come out a lot sharper, but you also lose a lot in those shavings.)

And as loathsome as I find Amazon’s “purposeful Darwinism” practices—their treatment of employees who do exhibit human frailties is appalling—they seem to me more different in degree than in kind to many other workplaces. Google and Apple and Facebook might provide all kinds of goodies for their employees, but these aren’t these goodies simply the happy-clappy way to get those workers to spend more time at work?

Now, as an employee I’d rather work for someone who wants happy rather than frazzled workers, but really, I want to work at a place that knows its place in my life: important, but not everything.

I may not have much in my life (this is one of those above-mentioned issues), but I do at least have the possibility of having something more.

And that ain’t nothing.

~~~

*h/t to Chatham Harrison for this reference. My first thought on reading of the need for self-criticism was that that sounded Cultural Revolution-ist, but hey, given the contradictions of a company ethos that demands both that workers be self-critical and that they not admit of any doubts or lack of knowledge, why couldn’t it embody both Stalinism and Maoism?

And no, for the record, I don’t think Jeff Bezos is the bald offspring of Uncle Joe and Mao; I mean, there’s no record of him being a genocidal maniac, is there?





Keep on keepin’ on

18 06 2014

I am a terrible, terrible guitar player. It’s why I keep playing.

Makes sense, right? Why do something well when you can suck?

I’d rather not suck. I’d rather that everything I do, I do well.

I’d also like to do more, and to do more is most often to do what I don’t know how to do.

Which means I’ll be terrible when I first do it.

Now, I keep playing because I’d like to get better, because I think I can at some point do it well. I didn’t re-up with the Gotham Rock Choir because I wasn’t convinced that more practice would make me a sufficiently better singer. It’s one thing to be terrible on the way to getting better, but quite another to be terrible on the way to mediocrity.

Rather takes away one’s motivation to practice.

I doubt I’ll ever be great on the guitar—that fucking F chord—but with practice I am improving, enough so that I can gull myself into practicing even more.

So, at some point, I’ll be merely terrible, then mediocre, and then all right. I don’t know that I’ll ever get beyond all right, but, for now, it’s enough to know that I can at least get that far, and that it’s just possible that I could, someday, be good.

Time to try something else to be terrible at, then. I’ve long wanted to learn French. . . .