Archive for June, 2011

I forget what I need to remember

June 30, 2011

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” That was Faulkner in 1951. In the past.

But I’ve been pondering it in the present because it came up in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” which I can’t stop thinking about. And then it came up again yesterday when I looked into the short final version of Will Durant’s Story of Civilization, “Heroes of History“:

There is a veritable City of God, in which the creative spirits of the past, by the miracles of memory and tradition, still live and work, carve and build and sing. Plato is there, playing philosophy with Socrates; Shakespeare is there… Keats is still listening to his nightingale, and Shelley… Nietzsche is there, raving and revealing; Christ is there… the Incredible Legacy of the race, the golden strain in the web of history.

Is this the past as escapist fantasy? Or as nourishing legacy? Whatever it is, it’s fun to watch on the big screen. The big screen of imagination. But what do you do when the screen dims? Billy Collins wrote a funny and frightening poem about that, if I could just remember what it was called. Oh yeah: Forgetfulness.

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of…

First feed the muse, like old Erasmus

June 29, 2011

“When I get a little money I buy books. If any is left I buy food and clothes.” The Dutch humanist Erasmus is supposed to have said that, back in the 16th century. I don’t know, it just sounds a little too colloquially modern. But it is consistent with the general attitude towards money in his Praise of Folly. There it’s derided as “dirt and rubbish.” Who wouldn’t want to trade the filthy lucre for fresh perceptions, insights, and instigating amusements if they could?

So when Older Daughter asked for a ride to go and cash in her big babysitting check, then to the crafts store to purchase a sketch-book and pencils, and then to the bookstore to find her comic heroes Tina Fey and Neil Patrick Harris, I had to comply. And then I had to empathize when she realized there wasn’t enough left for a new baseball glove. She’s got her priorities straight, feeding her creative muse ahead of pure recreation. But there’s more kid-sitting on the schedule today, so that glove may be just around the corner.

Midnight in Paris: “brilliant”

June 27, 2011

Finally saw “Midnight in Paris” yesterday. Loved it, especially its skewering of the insufferable pedantic pseudo-intellectual professor. Shades of Annie Hall’s Marshall McLuhan. “Boy, if life were only like this.”

Also loved the moment early in the film when Gil tells Inez that

it is perfectly fine for your father & I to disagree. That’s what a democracy is. Your father defends the right wing of the Republican party and I happen to think you have to be like a… demented lunatic [to think that way]… Doesn’t mean we don’t respect each other’s views.

The serious message, beneath layers of literary nostalgia and visually-delightful ’20s Parisian charm, is that the Golden Age exists only in our imagination. If we imagine richly enough we bring it to life in the present, which is where everything nourishing has to live. We must endeavor to infuse our own time with vivacity and interest. Sentimental longing to live in the past denies and cheats the present. As John Dewey pointed out: “we always live at the time we live, and not at some other time.”

But sooner or later, count on it: someone will get misty-eyed and revisionist about our time, just as many youngsters now seem to be for the 1970s. Believe me, as one who was there: that time was not Golden.

On the other hand, some great Woody Allen movies were made then. If I’m not mistaken.

“I thought that driving around all day picking kids up and dropping them off, then waiting for them,would be more fulfilling.”

June 25, 2011

It became one of those days yesterday, just after I settled in for the next disappointing match-up between my Vanderbilt Commodores and Florida in the College World Series. Older Daughter came up one question short on her driver’s exam and doesn’t seem eager to take it again anytime soon, so it fell to me again to run the girls to “Green Lantern” at the multiplex. (Did you know “his superpower  is fearlessness”? That doesn’t always save the day.)

Fortunately The Crow’s Nest (formerly The Box Seat)  is nearby, so I was able to catch the exciting middle innings before the Commies fell to the Gators again.

Then, it was time to run Younger Daughter home and Older Daughter to her hair appointment, and wait some more. It was a fine late summer’s day by now, so I did my familiar walkabout at Vandy. One more destination on this day, when the waiting ended. We made it to Greer just in time to see the Sounds score the only three runs they’d need to top the team from Omaha. Very pleasant night out, after all. Fulfilling.

Life, always alternately “precarious and stable”

June 24, 2011

Can’t believe Older Daughter and I went this deep into summer without getting out to the pool for a swim. Practically had the place to ourselves yesterday. She commented that it had been so long since she’d been in the water that she’d sort of forgotten what to do. Just enjoy, I replied. Embrace the first cold shock, the swelling sensation of being enveloped by a different medium, the displacing gradual feeling of being at home away from terra firma, the pleasantly-cooling evaporative exchange when you step back onto concrete, the returning swelter,  the delightful renewal of all those sensations when you repeat the process a few minutes later. So we did. And we indulged the kind of meandering, impromptu conversation that it takes the slower  pace of June to invite. What would you say, she asked at one point, if I started to dress all in black and behaved darkly? Not an everyday query, and it might have rung alarm bells in another context. Lolling at the pool it actually made some sense. I’d just say it was a phase you were going through. I think that was the right answer.

Home, then, and word came the old-fashioned way– by phone– from an old friend who called to say that he would  indeed enjoy a night out at the old ballpark. Something we always used to in summer but hadn’t in far too long. Another context in which conversation ranges delightfully and spontaneously free, but we had lots of specific ordinary living to catch up on this time. The innings whizzed by, and so did scary foul balls: we were seated just behind the visitors’ dugout. (Sounds lost to the Omaha StormChasers, btw.) Talk of family and mutual friends, and then the shocking revelation that since our last meeting my friend had suffered major health scares including a procedure not unlike that of Congresswoman Giffords. A benign-sounding bicycle accident was implicated, and he spent months in its aftermath dealing with bizarre symptoms that eventually led to an MRI and immediate surgery.

He’s fine now, and I look forward to many more nights out at the ballpark with my friend. But what a sobering reminder, even on $2 beer night, of what John Dewey called the uneasy alliance of “precarious and stable” elements in our lives. All our lives, all the time.

That’s what I’ll be thinking about later this morning, on my bike.

Pursue what delights and sustains you

June 22, 2011

Can you think of two more disparate humans than George Carlin and E.B. White? Probably not, but both are personal heroes of mine and both are on my mind this morning.

The late profane-but-sweet comedic genius and pretend-misanthrope Carlin’s daughter Kelly posted a tweet last night soliciting favorite quotes to honor her father. He’s been gone three years now, astonishingly.

Also last night, I finished Michael Sims’ Story of Charlotte’s Web. White was a gentle and inoffensive man, exquisitely precise with words, filled with boundless empathy for nature and all its creatures. I worked alongside Sims many years ago, and knew him to be cut of the same cloth.

What’s the connecting thread here? Maybe it comes down to what Sims calls White’s understanding of “the necessity for pursuing whatever fire delights and sustains you.” Carlin’s humor took sustaining delight in the quirky inconsistencies and absurdities of people, and of their words. Being deeply human himself, none was foreign to him.

My favorite Carlin quotes:

Religion has convinced people that there’s an invisible man…living in the sky, who watches everything you do every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a list of ten specific things he doesn’t want you to do. And if you do any of these things, he will send you to a special place, of burning and fire and smoke and torture and anguish for you to live forever, and suffer and burn and scream until the end of time. But he loves you. He loves you and he needs money.

And of course:

Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game. Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle.

Baseball is played on a diamond, in a park.The baseball park! Football is played on a gridiron, in a stadium, sometimes called Soldier Field or War Memorial Stadium.

Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life. Football begins in the fall, when everything’s dying.

In football you wear a helmet. In baseball you wear a cap.

Football is concerned with downs – what down is it? Baseball is concerned with ups – who’s up?

In football you receive a penalty. In baseball you make an error.

In football the specialist comes in to kick. In baseball the specialist comes in to relieve somebody.

Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, piling on, personal fouls, late hitting and unnecessary roughness. Baseball has the sacrifice.

Football is played in any kind of weather: rain, snow, sleet, hail, fog… In baseball, if it rains, we don’t go out to play.

Baseball has the seventh inning stretch. Football has the two minute warning.

Baseball has no time limit: we don’t know when it’s gonna end – might have extra innings. Football is rigidly timed, and it will end even if we’ve got to go to sudden death.

In baseball, during the game, in the stands, there’s kind of a picnic feeling; emotions may run high or low, but there’s not too much unpleasantness. In football, during the game in the stands, you can be sure that at least twenty-seven times you’re capable of taking the life of a fellow human being.

And finally, the objectives of the two games are completely different: In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line. In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! – I hope I’ll be safe at home!

The longest day

June 21, 2011

It’s the longest day of the year, with daylight on tap from now (5:32 am) ’til 8:06 this evening. A person really ought to be able to get a lot done today, lean in to the sun and really shine. Make several stitches in time. Make hay.

Then again, it’s June. Season of the Swoon, when lassitude and lethargy try to overrun our best intentions. When time expands to mirror an inversely-shrunken span of energy and attention. I’ll bet Poore Richard spoke to that, I’ll have to bestir myself to industry and look it up. Or at least google it. From the hammock, perhaps. One great thing about being an early riser is the way you can waste lots of time and still rally to get something done before the day gets entirely away. But Thoreau is still my conscience. “How can you kill time without injuring eternity?” So, it’s back to Ben’s morning question. What good shall I do this day? That’s not supposed to be a merely rhetorical question. Is it?

Garrison Keillor presents several poets on the subject of solstice today. I like what Malcolm Lowry said:

it was spring, but now is midsummer day, the longest day of the year in fact, and the summer solstice and the highest tide. […] I am at work on another lugubriousness…

Me too. But if I work just a little harder I’m sure it can be turned into a joyful wisdom.

“Won’t get fooled again,” again

June 18, 2011

While Younger Daughter shoots hoops in Kentucky (they made her play three games yesterday), the rest of us took the opportunity to dine out on cuisine she would veto. Over our Chana Masala, Palak Paneer, and Masala Dosa the subject turned to music. What did Mom and Dad listen to, when they were Older Daughter’s age? (I’d just heard Robert Siegel raise the same question.)

Well, the Way-back Machine revealed some pretty impressive answers: the top pop music of ’72 continues to impress. Don Maclean’s American Pie, Bill Withers’ Lean on Me, Melanie’s Brand New Key, Neil Young’s Heart of Gold, the Staple Sisters’ I’ll Take You There…

And just one more Weiner joke is timely here: Chuck Berry’s My Ding-a-ling. Really. Everything old is new. But was that his last hit? What a silly sad note to go out on. Glad it’s not the murmur they sent to the stars to represent good ole’ rock & roll. Johnny B. Goode was better. “Send more Chuck Berry.”

But honestly, what was I listening to the most in ’72? What was in my 8-track? Beatles, mostly. But also this, which Older Daughter happens to have just discovered. It was on her iPod on the way home last night.

Remembering summer camp

June 17, 2011

A week of sleeping behind heavy hotel curtains has messed with my inner clock. Chicago was fabulous but it’s good to be back on my morning perch, which I confess required some mechanical assistance to find this morning. I might have slept in again, but for the obligation to run Younger Daughter to her Louisville-bound bus. It’s departing promptly at 7, hauling her and her teammates to basketball camp.

That’s got me straining to recall my own fading memories of sports camp. Baseball, of course. It was 1970, in Chandler, Oklahoma. Three weeks of eating, breathing, and sleeping a child’s game as though it were life itself. Former pros were running it. Am I confabulating when I seem to recollect collaborating with a fellow camper there one afternoon in pitching a no-hitter? Probably. But that’s the art of the memoir, especially when there’s no one but the memoirist to challenge the “facts.” Who says I’m not entitled to my own?

Anyway, I know one thing for sure: a very popular song on the radio that summer– might have been #1 on Kasey Casem’s Top 40 Countdown– was “Ride Captain Ride” by Blues Image. May not be worth remembering, but it’s a fact. The tune takes me right back to Oklahoma.  Isn’t time funny?

I’m in here somewhere, I think. I know it’s in me:

I was a happy camper in Oklahoma. Came home and made the all-star little league team.

Camp in North Carolina a few years earlier, that’s another story: poison ivy, poisonous worldview. Came home and lost my religion.

Living Earth app puts the planet in perspective

June 9, 2011

When Stewart Brand had his roof-top ’60s epiphany about the transformational, consciousness-raising possibilities implicit in a picture of the “whole earth,” he wasn’t thinking of a killer app for the iPhone.

Brand was recently credited with inventing the term “online” in 1972, btw.

We hold so much in our hands these days, and have created such an amazing stock of tools for leveraging our thoughts and dreams. Sadly, we seem more stupidly attentive to their most inane applications. Politicians who share pics of their private parts, and a public that can’t stop commenting on them, are not part of the transformation we need.