Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Nouvelle Année Heureuse

I've been working on a huge, impossible music essay and had hoped to post it by year's end, but it has become the play in endless rehearsal from Synecdoche, New York. So I'm Philip Seymour Hoffman, or the character who plays his character in the play within the play or something. The whole thing has folded in on itself, is my point.

In lieu of my musical superstring theory or whatever it's turning into, I offer you four minutes of sheer delight to end or begin your year:

Once upon a time... from Capucha on Vimeo.

Perhaps the hippo is "allergic to magic," but let's not be. If ever a moment of magical childhood could remind us of our hopes for the future, despite the mess we're in at present, this is surely one. In French. With subtitles.

Thanks (and love) to Emily & Ned.

Welcome, 2009.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Top Ten Missing Singers on Rolling Stone List

Not that they didn't get some of them right. Yes, Aretha. Yes, Ray Charles. Yes, Dylan, Springsteen, Janis, Marvin, John, Paul, Bono, and Elvis (although, I’m sorry, Elvis is nowhere near the 3rd-greatest singer of all time). Rolling Stone magazine's “100 Greatest Singers” is a good rough draft of a list. But some editor should have gone to all the panelists who listed certain singers and said, "You must be high." And then pointed out who got left off the list.

How did some of these lesser lights end up on it? Seriously, Karen Carpenter? She might make Lawrence Welk’s top 100. George Jones? Sure, if you’re drunk and not quite finished throwing up. Lou Reed? Great songwriter, a visionary, really, but the man is nearly tone-deaf. Gregg Allman? Don Henley? Stevie fucking Nicks? Come on. Stevie Wonder, yes (and in the top ten, as he should be). But Stevie Nicks, with her one-octave range and all the expressiveness of a cocaine-dusted formica countertop?No. She shouldn’t even make a list of the top thousand singers.

More to the point, what system of judging compiles a list like this and fails to include the following musicians, one breath from any of whom could blow Stevie Nicks’s gauzy little scarves in a whirlwind around her neck and strangle her? Which I’d buy tickets to see.

1. Sting. Ignoring the most instantly identifiable, surest-pitched male voice in pop music for the past 30 years is ridiculous, and reveals how petty jealousy and faddishness affect the judging. When you consider that the judges include such musical luminaries as Courtney Love, Simon Le Bon, and Alice Cooper, it’s easier to understand. But it’s still ridiculous.

2. Diana Ross. There's a connection between these first two. People have complicated, self-involved ideas about divas, projecting their own self-loathing onto them. People like Sting and the egomaniacal Diana Ross have a lot of enemies. But I keep coming back to my original sense of injustice. Diana Ross, or Stevie Nicks? Uh-huh.

3. D’Angelo. Has there been a record since Voodoo (2000) that was any better sung, from top to bottom, back to front? I’m not sure there was one before, either. D'Angelo is a musical genius, worth a half-dozen of the singers on the top 100 list.

4. Peter Gabriel. The best art-rock singer ever. That's damning with faint praise, but you can't put David Bowie on the list and ignore this guy, with his astonishing range and risk-taking. Nobody does that flippy falsetto flourish at the end of a phrase like Peter Gabriel. As Laurie Anderson once said, “I really like the way he yodels.”

5. Shawn Colvin. I don’t know, this just seems like a terrible oversight. Is it that she’s too pretty? Then focus on her man hands, as she wrings amazing licks from her guitar to accompany that bell of a voice. Feel the shiver? She’s manhandling you.

6. Deb Talan. The Weepies are relatively new, but their songs have been used in commercials and they’ve been showing up on TV shows and movie soundtracks. Maybe they're somehow overexposed and unknown at the same time. But this is a list of singers, and no one sings with more clarity or honesty than Deb Talan. And nobody sings harmony like she does, either. Her range, fluidity, and emotional intensity make Stevie Nicks sound like Stevie Nicks by comparison.

7. James Mercer. I think The Shins have been around long enough for everyone to know what an amazing singer this guy is, especially considering that their songs feature some of the most complex melodies since The Beatles. Maybe it’s just that no one knows what the hell he’s singing about. But if that’s the case, how come Thom Yorke made the list? Again, I go back. James Mercer, or . . . Don Henley? OK then.

8. Eva Cassidy. Unlike Karen Carpenter, who'd be playing Six Flags if she were still alive, Eva Cassidy doesn't get sentimental votes for dying young. She deserves to be on the list because her voice kills you.

9. Patty Griffin. If she’d never sung anything but “Mad Mission” and “Poor Man’s House,” she’d still be in my top 100.

10. Louis Armstrong. If you’re going to consider people like George Jones, then musicians with even bigger influence on rock and pop singers should be fair game. In addition to a couple of crossover hits, Satchmo makes the list because he basically invented a whole genre of music, and his voice is one of the great sources of joy and delight in the world.

I could make a whole new list out of pitch-perfect, distinctive singers like Joan Baez, Alison Krauss, K.D. Lang, and Bobby McFerrin (maybe a little too perfect?) and rootsy ones like Keb Mo, Taj Mahal, Cassandra Wilson, Robert Belfour, John Prine, and Ray LaMontagne. The truth is, I like Mark Knopfler more than most singers I could name, despite the fact that he mumbles his way through every song in pretty much the same way. And one night at a coffeehouse open mike, I heard a chubby teenage girl sing a song about her screwed-up life that was one of the most thrilling musical moments of mine. What it is we want from a singer? Emotional truth, right? Joy, heartbreak, frustration, rage, resignation, tranquility, wonder. A sense of true humanity. Transcendence.

I'm tempted to blow the whole Anglo/American thing apart and start with great singers from around the world: Sheila Chandra, Youssou N'Dour, Egberto Gismonti, Maire Brennan, Joseph Shabalala, the late, great Miriam Makeba, the late, greater Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and Nicolas Reyes of the Gipsy Kings, who might just be my favorite singer of all time.

But for English-language, find-it-at-the-record-store, popular music, this top ten list should replace the obvious mistakes on the Rolling Stone 100.

I have spoken. Dispatch this post to the offending judges at once. And please add your own entries to the list.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Top (Spulge) Nine Names
for Malia & Sasha Obama's New Puppy

President-elect Obama (I keep saying it, can’t quite believe it yet) gave a beautiful speech on election night, outlining challenges we'll have to meet and giving us a big Yes We Can coda. The only firm promise I recall from the speech, though, was to his daughters, whom he addressed directly, saying he loved them and that they had “earned the puppy that will be coming with us to the White House.”

Update: Malia apparently has a dog allergy. So the Obamas are looking for a non-shedder, like a labradoodle.

Fascinating, the way presidential pooches become public relations tools. It’s like we all have psychic ownership, a vested interest in the pet’s development and well-being. And the dog is unavoidably symbolic.When Bush’s terrier, Barney, bit that Reuters reporter this week, it not only resonated with Bush's relationship to the press but suggested an irritable, undisciplined administration, or perhaps simply a beleaguered one. Vicious? Rabid? The last eight years will have to be put down.

Even if we can’t clearly say what it’s a symbol of, the presence and personality of a pet offer an alternative image of a leader.
Perhaps the most famous: FDR and Fala. Then there was Nixon’s mawkish Checkers speech, which apparently worked with a sentimental sector of the American public. Oh, and Gerald Ford had a big dog that lounged around the Oval Office. Can't remember the name. I think he called it some non-dog thing like Patriot or something. And Clinton had Buddy. Didn't Buddy write a book during the first term? And didn't he hate the Clintons' cat?
I wonder what the Obamas will name their pet? You can submit ideas on Obama’s new transition site, along with your vision for America. (Nice site, really. Check it out.) Or just post 'em in a comment here. A few starter doggy names…

9. Fala
Pros: Rooseveltian, cementing the parallels between Obama's situation and FDR's. Traditional yet exotic-sounding. Gender-neutral. Can be extended into a Christmas carol refrain.
Cons: Derivative. And slightly elitist-sounding, like you’ve just taken a cigarette holder out of your mouth to say it.

8. Not-Barney
Pros: It’s anti-Bush. Suggests that reporters might not get their hands bitten.
Cons: Kind of stupid. Faintly echoes “Smith-Barney,” which could be a downer, reminding us of the financial crisis.

7. Madelyn
Pros: Pays homage to Obama’s maternal grandmother. Easily shortened to “Maddy.”
Cons: Only works for a female puppy. And the name might not make a sharp enough sound to effectively command obedience. Might turn into Mad Dog.

6. Aunt Fidget Wonkham-Strong
Pros: Literary, from a charming, old Roald Dahl story, “How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen.” Whimsical. Easily shortened to “Fidget” or “Wonky.”
Cons: A little fussy. Again, limited to the bitches. And right-wingers would pounce on “Fidget” or “Wonky.”

5. Captain Najork
Pros: Literary (see previous entry). Military. And an abbreviation from either side (“Cap’n!” or “Jork!”) gives a nice, sharp sound to elicit a dog’s response.
Cons: Strictly male. Also, what is wrong with me?

4. Marty
Pros: Cute. Can be male or female, although it does lean to the former. For a male dog, it's a great name, suggesting MLK without getting aggressively masculine or radical about it. You don’t want Malcolm or Eldridge or even Bill. Marty might also suggest Martin Sheen, the best president we never had.
Cons: No good for a big dog. You’re pretty much stuck with a terrier or a teacup or a weiner here.

3. King
Pros: Classic. A bigger, nobler, more obvious reference to MLK, but also a real, live, good ol’ dog name.
Cons: Only good for a big male dog. And the more you think about it, the less good it seems. This is not the time for a King. If you want to reclaim democracy, name your dog “Thomas Jefferson” or "Lincoln" or “Studs Terkel” or “Joe the Poodle.” Scratch that last one.

2. Hope
Pros: It’s got audacity.
Cons: If the dog dies in office, what a PR nightmare.

And the number 1 name for the Obama puppy is…yours. Post ideas here, and if you come up with a really good one, tell it to the man.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Chain Reaction

I stole this idea from John Moltz, one of my favorite Twitteristas. On his blog, he posted this photo of Obama's maternal grandparents and an excerpt from a piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic, which I'll reprise below:

Ta-Nehisi Coates says:

...I was looking at this picture of Obama’s grandparents and thinking how much he looks like his grandfather. And suddenly, for whatever reason, I was struck by the fact that they had made the decision to love their daughter, no matter what, and love their grandson, no matter what. I’d bet money that they never even thought of themselves as courageous, that they didn’t give much thought to the broader struggles in the the world at the time. They were just doing what right, honorable people do.

We often give a pass to racists by noting that they were “of their times.” Fair enough, and I know Hawaii was a different beast, but still, today, let us speak of people who were ahead of their times, who were outside of their times. … Here’s to doing the right thing.

John Moltz titled his reprinting of this, Here's To Doing The Right Thing. I gave mine the title I did because I had an idea that if it got reprinted enough...I don't know. That it would sink in. That it would seep through the unconscious prejudices that so many of us have and overflow into We Shall Overcome or something. That we'd remember some part of ourselves that's connected to everyone else. And we'd love that part more than whatever it is in us that insists we're separate or better or somehow more human than others.

Steal this post and reprint it. Share it. Keep adding to it. We may not be ahead of our times, but we can at least make good on the promise of those who were. Yes, we can.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

R.I.P., Paul Newman

A year or so ago, I posted here about writing fan letters, and I made a list of people whose work or lives have inspired me enough that I feel an obligation to express my admiration and gratitude to them. I don't remember how close to the top of my list he was, but I actually wrote Paul Newman a fan letter last month, and finally put it in the mail a couple of weeks ago. Somebody had shown me a recent picture of him looking frail and I thought, better get this done before it's too late.

Paul Newman died yesterday. I have no idea whether or not he got my letter. In my narcissistic writer mind, I imagine he did, and the letter killed him. With kindness. If he did read it, I hope he felt, wow, I really have touched people's lives in some way he'd never quite felt it before. The letter mostly emphasized how his life has enriched mine, from movie moments I'll never forget, to witnessing his political activism, to the inspiration of the Hole In The Wall Gang camps for kids, to the good food, good works, and good packaging copy generated by Newman's Own. And I told him that he made me feel better about getting older, which is no mean feat.

I sent the letter to the Newman's Own address, and included a piece I'd written for an "encouragement project" at Hallmark. As fan letters go, it was pretty damn good, I must say. I really hope somebody got it to him.

And I hope anyone who reads this will take the time to tell someone who has inspired you what that inspiration means. These people aren't always going to be around.

I never told David Foster Wallace how his work blew my mind, and then it was suddenly too late. You can't anticipate an early exit like that, and I'm not saying a fan letter can prevent it. But it's worth doing. It feels satisfying to have gotten this one out before Paul Newman died, even if he never saw it. At least I didn't leave it on the table.

I hereby hoist a Fig Newman in honor of a great actor, humanitarian, and all-around cool cat. Man, them's good eatin'.

So this week, I'm picking a writer. What do I really want to say to...Philip Roth? Robert Bly? Billy Collins? Or Annie Proulx? It had better be good.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Mann About Internet

I've mentioned Merlin Mann here before. I first bumped into him on Twitter, where everyone seems to follow his feed. He's written some of the funniest stuff imaginable in 140 characters or fewer, ever. He also maintains a creative productivity blog (43 Folders) that claims a vast readership, a much-laughed-at weekly podcast (You Look Nice Today: A Journal of Emotional Hygiene) with two other humorists, a video interview series (The Merlin Show) also on iTunes--AND a hilarious site called 5ives, which is simply lists of five things--some literary, some techie, and some just pop-topical, viz.:

Five ways Angelina Jolie can quickly acquire more children
1. gestate auxiliary sets of twins in climate-controlled Fendi bags
2. make Brad build a big-ass gingerbread house
3. explore viability of controversial “dorsal carriage” (a/k/a “butt fetus”)
4. surreptitiously cruise Gymboree with mallet and a sack
5. lay excess eggs in what’s left of Sean Young

A goofball. But a serious one. His basic premise about doing business on the web is, if people would just try harder to express a passionate point of view about what they're interested in, other people would get interested in it, too. 25,000+ Twitter followers and millions of hits annually on 43 Folders pretty well confirm that idea.

Merlin's personal blog is called Kung Fu Grippe. He posts a lot of video, promotes other sites and stuff he finds, reveals a little of his family life (married, doting on an infant daughter), and ruminates. He recently took a Twitter break, saying people could find him blogging instead. The last time I did, I found an amazing post, entitled "Better" -- a call to a higher quality of content creation. It's partly a renunciation of Twitter, suggesting that he'd become addicted to it and too distracted by it to create work he could be proud of. I miss the laughs, but I really respect the POV, which he's amplified over at 43 Folders as well. A big following of amused daily readers isn't enough. You have to feel that your creative life is truly creative and truly alive.

Update: Merlin's back on Twitter, but only tweeting one or two times a day. Still funny, still inimitable, and still getting archived in more people's Favorites than just about anybody.

There's a cluster of Merlin Mann links in my sidebar. It's hard to keep up with him, but trying has its rewards.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


And speaking of matrimony, if this were my darling wife instead of a less lovely stranger, this minute of video would be even more beautiful, even more mysterious, even more of a sideways inky liquid dream.

irregular flow from 4khz on Vimeo.

Why isn't there more of this kind of thing? Wouldn't thirty of these be better than, I don't know, Two and a Half Men and Eighteen Ads?

It makes me wonder why my video camera is sitting on a shelf in the dining room. Why am I not making something beautiful with it right now? Why am I typing?

Where did this come from? An artist named 4khz, audio track by someone named Colleen, who calls it "Summer Water." Who are these people? Who am I? A guy who writes, but who seems to be reducing himself to a guy who types.

James Wright from his hammock: "I have wasted my life."

See what beauty does? It fucks you up.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Hitting the Heights

Look at ‘em. Emily and Ned, in the canyon of rocks and marriage. I just don’t think brides come any more beautiful or grooms more groovy, or for that matter, weddings more wow. Or alliterative.

But first. We had a big party at the home of Ned's parents (Steve & Judi) the night before.
That's my darling, my momling, and one of my niecelings.
Many toasts were offered, including sublime humor and heartwarming sentiment from the Grinnell College crowd and an incoherent, point-A-to-point-12 ramble from yours truly. Wish I’d thought that one out a little…

We stayed at a nice b&b (Los Altos, in Grand Junction) on a mesa with views of the western half of Colorado in every direction. Weather in the 90s, desert-dry, enormous blue skies. The b&b room was great, the food OK, the company lively. My sis and the rest of the Boston ladies were there, as were my big bro, sis-in-law, and son Babe. And my folks scurried about, busy as could be, delighting in a rare confluence of family. It had been several years since this many of us had gathered in one spot.

Wedding day, I had to shlep beer and wine to the reception hall, which task required the help of Steve and his Chevy Suburban. So I come over and happen to catch Emily just back from getting her bridal hair done, standing among vases of flowers for the reception, going over a list of last-minute to-do’s. One look at her and my whole head exploded in tears. Steve said, “Well, this is going to take a while,” and left the two of us crying and hugging there. I was a mess.
Ah, Emily. I was struck throughout the weekend by her amazing calm, a steady grace and in-the-moment-ness unlike any bride I've ever seen. She is a wonder.

The ceremony was at the Colorado National Monument, elevation 7200 feet, give or take. What with my crying jags and shlepping, we were running late to get up there, yet the bro/sis caravan arrived before almost anyone else. Longest day of the year. All the time in the world.

Emily and Ned had decided to do the ceremony under the small ampitheater roof that’s up there, rather than right out on the monument cliff-edge.
Good call, for the shade. A blazingly hot day. Somehow, a hundred or so people managed to fit in under there, though only about 75 folding chairs did.
#1 son played conch shell and didgeridoo for the processional, so the rocks themselves were humming the whole ceremony into us from under our feet and all around the cliffs. He made that didge himself, by the way. Harvested the agave stalk, hollowed it and honed it--and man, can he play it.
#2 son was billed as “Ring Guy” and kept the rings in a little bag in his vest pocket. I encouraged him to say something like “Circles mean forever,” but come the moment, he just stepped up, handed off the rings, and sat back down, solemn as a sawed-off pope.

My parents ran the show, using the sun and summer solstice for a kind of metaphorical gravitational pull. We dads did our readings. Steve wanted 1st Corinthians, so I had to come up with something to balance that out. I decided on a personal story about Ned & Emily and tied it to a quote from Rumi. Pretty much everyone had teared up by the end of it, so I think I was like a warm-up act for the vows, which had the assembly gushing like hydrants.

For a final touch, the moms did blessings at the center of a big group grope, with each person touching at least one other person, so everybody was connected to the couple. Definitely an electric buzz, with a lot of people still sniffling and wiping their eyes.

Bouquet by my darling Penny Lorraine. The florist was a little prickly, but they did a great job keeping the hydrangeas and sweetpeas from giving up the ghost in that desert climate, and they put the thing together almost exactly as Penny had designed it.
Reception was mostly outdoors in the cool shade. The paintings there were a project of the party the night before--everyone contributed a color, a symbol, a vignette, or at least a blotch to the diptych. Dancing, cake, and a champagne toast inside the hall. Glorious.
#1 son gave a magnificent bride-specific toast, and Ned’s sister rejoined with one for the groom. A contingent of friends showed up in sailor hats, pursuant to several previous night toasts about how Ned used to surprise people by showing up in a sailor suit at odd moments. Somehow, Oliver wound up wearing one of the sailor hats--as unlikely a get-up as I can imagine for him.

The food was lovely (no pix yet). The caterer had used several of Emily’s and Ned’s favorite recipes, including Penny’s justly famed black bean/mango salsa. I’d do a 2-to-1 white-to-red ratio on the wine instead of a 3-to-1, but all the white sure looked good in the big tubs, along with six fat magnums (magna?) of champagne on ice.
The wedding quilt, a pet project of Emily’s mom (she got a a lot of people, including us, to contribute sections), features scraps from Emily’s and Ned’s old childhood clothes.
Oh, the friends. The reception (and the following night’s campfire) culminated in all the guitars coming out, voices raised, a gigantic singalong, mostly old stuff that all us baby boomers know and that twenty-somethings apparently still dig. (Wedding singalong tip: Bill Withers’s “Lean On Me” is hard to beat.) That's Em with Vivek, who with another friend kept the dinner and singalong going from start to finish ("we move people; that's what we do"). I led “When I’m 64” on the piano, with a didge solo by Oliver, laughing our way through at the half-assedness of it. At Jonah’s request, Ned did his famous ukulele number, “Princess Papuli got plenty papaya/She likes to give it away…” And Emily melted everybody down with a tribute to the happy couple’s next destination, “California Stars,” a Wilco/Billy Bragg tune. Everybody was still belting ‘em out when we left to get Jonah and his cousins to bed. Man, I love those Grinellians. Such smart, big-hearted, funny, soulful people. All that tuition was more than worth it, baby.
They rode off through a crowd of cheering, sparkler-waving loved ones.

Now it’s westward ho to northern Cal for the kidses. But oh, what a wedding we didses.

From the Colorado National Monument, you can see the beginning of a whole new world.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Stiff Belt of Daddydom

A week before my daughter's wedding, 20 things I should be doing besides this. But I just read the best blog post ever, by a guy I don't even know, who does what he calls "one of those Daddy blogs." Well, it is and it isn't. It's called "The Wind In Your Vagina," taken from something his four-year-old said, and I won't spoil the anecdote for you. It's on his home page, the link to which is now in my sidebar, right below The Bloggess (an insane Mommy blog).

The post I mentioned is entitled "Rubber," and I won't spoil that for you either. Superb. It made me wish I'd given this mishmash blodge-podge of meandering riff-raff some kind of focus. This guy has a definite niche, a distinctive voice and point of view, and a respectable, admiring audience. I found him on Twitter, where he posts under his blogonym, Black Hockey Jesus.

Wunderkind #3 is playing with a friend, darling spousette running errands. I'm trying to figure out what's left on my non-existent checklist. Got luggage rack, installed it (exacting to the fraction of an inch), all set to move son #1 out to Boulder en route to wedding. Wrote piece to read at wedding--is it everything it should be? No. Words fail. It's a whole new level of bittersweetness for me. Still waiting for return calls from florist and caterer. Script rewrite going OK, if you don't count having to send pages via fax. Blogging unnecessarily about all this? Check.

Word Problem
Today I calculated beer & wine for the wedding party, guest list now closer to 100 than 150. My formula is arbitrary, but sensible: Figure half beer drinkers, half wine drinkers (no liquor--too complicated). It's hot in the high desert on the longest day of the year, so figure a 3-to-1 ratio of white to red on the wine. Half lite, half something good on the beer. So, how much to order? The overriding imperative is, You Can't Run Out. Figure two drinks per person per hour. We have the hall for four hours. That's 800 drinks. So 400 beers, 100 bottles of wine @4 glasses per. WTF? 400 beers and 100 bottles of wine for 100 people sounds like backstage with the Stones. Can I get some blow with that? So cut it by 25%. 300 beers and 75 bottles of wine, 50 white, 25 red. Wait, that's a 2-to-1. Plus, case lots, so multiples of 12...72 bottles? 54 white, 18 red. A better ratio, but...

Is this insane? Yes. But if you cut by half, it doesn't sound like enough. So, 300 beers = 12 and 1/2 cases. Say 13. Say five cases of lite, five cases of good ale, and maybe three cases of generic lager. 54 bottles of white wine = 18 chard, 12 sauv blanc, 12 pinot g, 6 blended, and 6 viogner. For the 18 reds, I think I'll ditch the cabernet. Who drinks cab on a hot day in the desert? But you kind of have to offer merlot, don't you? Maybe 6 merlot, 6 shiraz, 6 pinot? Maybe drop one and double the pinot--it's lighter & still in fashion. Maybe there's too much variety here.

Shit! What about champagne? Aw, jeez. Maybe scrap the blends, reduce the chardonnay, add a case of bubbly? How many little toast pours can you get out of a case? I knew I forgot something....

And I still gotta buy a belt to match my shoes.

I never wear belts. They seem like quaint holdovers from a more decorous era of loose-fitting trousers and corporal punishment. But you don't go beltless to your daughter's wedding.

I've been to most of the decent clothiers in Kansas City, and only came close to buying a belt at one store. They all look ugly and clunky to me. Can you even dye a belt to match this brown? No? Jolly old town.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Exit the Draggin'

Sick twice in the past six weeks, the same gross cold on either side of a hay fever month. This second bout of hacking, wheezing, and post-nasal gradoo sneaked in while I was distracted by itchy, watery eyes and non-stop nose-blowing. Man, it's a drag.

So. What am I doing to cause this, besides working too much and not exercising? Cuz that's nothing new. I contemplated my outlook of late. Despite springtime and many family joys and Twitter and what I think is a fairly sanguine predisposition, it's been pretty lousy. I've been down on myself, on work, on the world at large, life in general. And I realized, I've come to view Positive Thinking kinds of programming as vacuous happy talk. Why? I don't know. I used to be much more of a "create your own reality" kind of thinker. Where'd that go? I don't think I can blame the Bush administration for this.

So I do a search on positive thinking, just to get reacquanted. And I find the Positivity Blog. Sound horrible? Maybe. But lo and behold, the most recent post is about a major hero of my teen years, Bruce Lee. Turns out, on top of his legendary martial arts skills, Bruce also kicked ass as a positive thinker and productivity guru. (Go ahead, be like me and say, "Yeah, look how efficient he was at dying young.") But lo! The blogger quotes several key principles of Bruce Lee's personal and professional philosophy, and then expands on them. The second principle in particular caught my eye:

“If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.”

Adding more thoughts and thinking things over for the 111th time may create a sense of security. It’s also a good way to procrastinate and to avoid taking that leap you know you should take. And the more you think, the harder it gets to act. Perhaps because you want to keep that comforting sense of security and avoid the risk of wrecking that feeling.

Thinking has its place. It can help you plan a somewhat realistic route to your goal and help you avoid future pitfalls. Overthinking is however just a habit that will help you waste a lot of time.

I've been doing exactly this. I've been putting off several things that have to get done for the June wedding trip, and continually thinking, "I need to call so & so, and then I need to do blah-blah, but before I can do that, I've gotta find out X, Y, & Z--oh, and I need a luggage rack for the car..." and ALWAYS, to conclude this litany, the refrain: "I don't have time to do all this shit."

I just found a 3x5 to-do list in the pocket of a pair of jeans I haven't worn in at least two weeks. There's only one thing on that list that I can cross off. I've done one thing I need to do, out of about twelve.

Maybe I'm sick because all I do is think. The sheer tonnage of stuff I've put off doing has crushed my immune system.

This changes today. I'm finding out X, Y, Z, calling so & so, doing blah-blah, and ordering the goddamn luggage rack. I have time to do it. I just don't have time to keep thinking about it and telling myself I don't have time to do it.

And I thought the only lesson Bruce had to teach me was the one about the finger pointing at the moon. "Concentrate on the finger, and you miss all that heavenly glory."

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Weepies, Indeed

They don't call themselves The Weepies for nothin'. This song killed me. Literally. I'm lying in my office with an X for a right eye and evaporating tears for a left. With my soft underbelly exposed, I got stabbed to deeper death by several silvery feminine needles.

While I was dead, I had visions of the feminine principle, the flower that splits the rock, the water that wears away the rock, the wind that shears the rock, the rising and falling of tides, wind on the water, Mother Nature, breath of life....

When I caught my breath and came back to life, I vowed to stop being so goddamn obdurate and unbalanced and hardheaded, to take yoga again, to play the piano more, to love everybody more, to be more joyful and alive. Then I hit replay, and the openness of the song and the simplicity of the video killed me all over again.

Dedicated to my late great Nana, my big-hearted mom, my faithful sis, my lovely miracle of a wife, and my soon-to-be-married darling daughter. To all you Howard women who've tried to make me a better man. Someday, I swear, there'll be fruit on that tree.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

VII: Not To Sum Up

Left town before I could complete the seven-part cycle. Marooned in a small Kansas burg for three days with alleged hotel room wireless that taunted me, daunted me, then ditched me altogether. Before I left I'd been considering a few Rumi quotes to wrap all this up in a nice Sufi turban. But I happened to look up at my wall, where the following poem has been pinned since last year, when I hit 51. And it occurs to me that maybe the best credo is one that doesn't strain for a big summation, but that speaks clearly about How Life Feels Right Now, viz:

On Being Fifty-Something
after Po Chü-i

From thirty to forty, you are distracted
by the five lusts, which I don’t need to go into.
From seventy to eighty, you’re prone
to a hundred diseases or more.

Who can remember their names,
or the ones of friends who’ve gone
and died on you? But, from fifty to sixty,
you’re free of all that.

Grief doesn’t know where you live yet,
only gravity, the body starting to sag
under the weight of memories that,
like extra pounds around the middle,

you can’t seem to lose. At the theater, you doze,
your eyelids curtains that refuse to stay raised.
Suddenly, you’re the director of a play
about to begin. Time: no time like the present.

Place: a room you think you recognize.
On the desk, a typewriter squats like a toad,
waiting for a tasty word to devour.
The wall’s the wrong color, too cheerful,

but its painted muslin quivers:
from backstage someone tries the door,
which refuses to give. How young you were
when such bright shabbiness was yours,

how like a desert full of dream.

-Debora Greger

I don't quite buy all this--grief has my info in its dark little rolodex, and I've never fallen asleep at the theater. But the feeling of it seems right. I just had a vivid image of the old desk my dad made me when I got an apartment off-campus, my second year of college. The house on Normal Street, the well-lit room with two windows, the desk with detachable legs, my big ol' Royal manual typewriter, on which I wrote the first real poems of my life.

I wrote one about the old ladies who sat on the porch swing across the street. They were always out there, not swinging, just hanging, in floral dresses kind of like the peeling wallpaper in my room. If youth and old age were on either side of the street, maybe fifty-something was driving up and down it. The old ladies had been dropped off into their dotage, and sooner or later a car would pull up outside my house, waiting to pick me up. I'd be busy, but I'd hear it honking out there.

I climb in. We drive. Every time I look at the driver's face, it changes. Sometimes I'm driving. Occasionally, I have an idea where we're going. Even when I don't, we're going.

Looking over all seven, I think, OK. This I more or less believe.

PS: Scott, consider yourself tagged. You're it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

What William Stafford Says Is Credo 6

William Stafford came to Hallmark some years ago, one of the high points of my career. I used to have dozens of his poems photocopied to wallpaper over the crummy paneling in the tiny upstairs study of the first house I owned.

He was a Quaker, a conscientious objector in World War II, and got up every morning at 4:00 to write poems. Thousands of poems, many of them as good as this, one of my all-time favorite poems for 30 years now:

Ask Me

Some time when the river is ice, ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Credo 5: Trust, Faith, Simplicity, Somethin'

I had occasion to think about faith, rehashing the story of Passover this weekend. I'm generally faith-resistant, and wonder sometimes what it really means to "believe" anything. I'd have had a hard time with Moses, I think. After the long exchanges about faith and skepticism my sis and I had re the Rev. Wright dust-up, I decided to try on a little faith to see how it feels. Faith in what? I don't know. That all will be well, I guess. It feels preposterous, is how it feels. But if I hadn't been at least trying to fake it, I wonder if I'd have been as receptive to this poem by Thomas R. Smith. I'd never heard of him. But I can hear this:


It's like so many other things in life
to which you must say no or yes.
So you take your car to the mechanic.
Sometimes the best thing to do is trust.

The package left with the disreputable-looking
clerk, the check gulped by the night deposit,
the envelope passed by dozens of strangers—
all show up at their intended destinations.

The theft that could have happened doesn't.
Wind finally gets where it was going
through the snowy trees, and the river, even
when frozen, arrives at the right place.

And sometimes you sense how faithfully your life
is delivered, even though you can't read the address.

Up against that, of course, we have the mechanic who does a crap job on your car and inflates the bill, the disreputable-looking clerk who's earned every bit of that bad rep and will make it worse by the time he's done with you, the bank error and ensuing bounced check, the mail that gets lost, the theft that might not have happened but did, with an assault thrown in as a bonus, the wind that not only gets where it was going, but wreaks havoc on the coast, leaving many dead and dispossessed, and the river that no longer arrives because of the Three Gorges Dam, or because global warming has reduced it to a trickle, or because Las Vegas diverted all the water. And all the many ways your life can feel like a square package in a round P.O. box.

Maybe trust is just the small, tenuous act that suggests a larger, more abiding faith. I don't know what I trust either, except maybe the possibility of expressing something about these ideas that's more compelling than the ideas themselves.

That bit about the river being frozen and still arriving is a nod to one of my favorite poems of all time. I was saving it for last, but now I think it'll have to be next.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Credo, III & IV

Sorry, Jen, missed yesterday. So, a two-parter today. First, a haiku, then a poem about that haiku. What about these two poems is All About Me? Well, the first suggests the union of opposites (my core aesthetic principle) and how an awareness of that union extends consciousness beyond immediate experience, out into the world, into the life of other things, forward and backward in time.

But talking about haiku is like smelling a flower with Vix inhalers jammed in your nose. Let's just have it (and remember, it's a translation, so it doesn't follow the syllabic rules for haiku in English):

on the one-ton temple bell
a moon moth, folded into sleep
sits still

That's by our 18th-century pal, Buson. It's probably one of the most well-known haiku among American readers because of Billy Collins, our most widely-read contemporary poet. Collins is funny and makes accessible poems out of everyday subjects, imbuing them with a calm philosophical depth under slangy, sometimes showily metaphorical surfaces. He's a Buddhist. I love this next poem for the connections it makes between literature and life, and for the way it shows how immediate experience can transform your ideas or beliefs. It also shows how things get stuck in your head. Right now, I've got "Hideaway" by The Weepies stuck in mine. Maybe I can dislodge it by typing up this poem. And uploading a photo...


Today I pass the time reading
a favorite haiku,
saying the few words over and over.

It feels like eating
the same small, perfect grape
again and again.

I walk through the house reciting it
and leave its letters falling
through the air of every room.

I stand by the big silence of the piano and say it.
I say it in front of a painting of the sea.
I tap out its rhythm on an empty shelf.

I listen to myself saying it,
then I say it without listening,
then I hear it without saying it.

And when the dog looks up at me,
I kneel down on the floor
and whisper it into each of his long white ears.

It's the one about the one-ton
temple bell
with the moth sleeping on its surface,

and every time I say it, I feel the excruciating
pressure of the moth
on the surface of the iron bell.

When I say it at the window,
the bell is the world
and I am the moth resting there.

When I say it into the mirror,
I am the heavy bell
and the moth is life with its papery wings.

And later, when I say it to you in the dark,
you are the bell,
and I am the tongue of the bell, ringing you,

and the moth has flown
from its line
and moves like a hinge in the air above our bed.

The first time I read that, I thought, ah, Billy Collins isn't just an entertainer. I'd long suspected that, but now I knew it in my resonating bones.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Credo, Part Deux

Remember in Oliver Stone's ridiculous biopic of Jim Morrison, when Val Kilmer says, "Gimme some death!"--how you totally identified with him, if only in the hope that you wouldn't have to see the rest of the film? No? You didn't beg for some death? Well, Stephen Dunn is going to give it to you anyway, in this, the second in our series of Poems Reflecting On Some Facet Or Other Of My Life Philosophy. This is about the importance of having an acute sense of mortality.

Choosing To Think Of It

Today, ten thousand people will die
and their small replacements will bring joy
and this will make sense to someone
removed from any sense of loss.
I, too, will die a little and carry on,
doing some paperwork, driving myself
home, the sky is simply overcast,
nothing is any less than it was
yesterday or the day before. In short,
there's no reason or every reason
why I'm choosing to think of this now.
The short-lived holiness
true lovers know, making them unaccountable
except to spirit and themselves—suddenly
I want to be that insufferable and selfish,
that sharpened and tuned.
I'm going to think of what it means
to be an animal crossing a highway,
to be a human without a useful prayer
setting off on one of those journeys
we humans take. I don't expect anything
to change. I just want to be filled up
a little more with what exists,
tipped toward the laughter which understands
I'm nothing and all there is.
By evening the promised storm
will arrive. A few in small boats
will be taken by surprise.
There will be survivors, and even they will die.

-Stephen Dunn

PS: Don't blame me for the cheerless existential yearning here. Jen Kostecki made me do it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Credo in Seven Parts

My friend Jen Kostecki tagged me, saying I now have to post seven things. Any seven things, but I must post them and then (I guess) tag someone else.

I decided on short philosophical poems, Dear Readers. Taken as a whole, they shall express my Life Credo. I have no idea yet what the other six poems will be, but the great Ron Padgett will set it off:

Ladies and Gentlemen In Outer Space

Here is my philosophy:
Everything changes (the word "everything"
has just changed as the
word "change" has: it now
means "no change") so
quickly that it literally surpasses my belief,
charges right past it
like some of the giant
ideas in this area.
I had no beginning and I shall have
no end: the beam of light
stretches out before and behind
and I cook the vegetables
for a few minutes only,
the fewer the better. Butter
and serve. Here is my
philosophy: butter and serve.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Internally Erupting Description

Today, my friend Amazon sent me an e-mail, saying that because I've ordered or reviewed books by Jean Baudrillard (who?), I might like a book by Chris Turner (who?) called "Heartfelt: Internal Eruption" (huh?).

OK. So I click the link, where I am given a pop quiz:

"Do you believe in love? Have you ever had your heart broken? Have you ever struggled with letting go? Have you ever needed a second chance? Have you ever yearned to be together, yet were forced by the circumstances of life to be apart? Has your heart ever felt hopeless and out of breath? Have you ever just wanted more? Has your heart ever played music to the memories? Have you ever lost confidence somewhere along the way? Have you ever hurt the one you love? Have you ever wrestled with relationship commitment? Have you ever given your all in hopes of happiness . only to be left undervalued, saddened, and alone?"

Yes, this is all under the Book Description. And if you pass (fail?) the test, then:

"Let the voice of Heartfelt: Internal Eruption whisper into the ears of your soul. Let the authenticity of Heartfelt: Internal Eruption assist you in always facing the reality of the situation. Let the sincerity of Heartfelt: Internal Eruption move you into a state of confidence necessary to mature and eventually become better. Finally . believe in the miracles of God . life . restoration ... healing . Love . and you."

As John Hodgman (I'm now following him on Twitter) says, That Is All. (Whew.)

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Once You Go Twitter, You Never Go Bitter

Good thing I don't have more than three deadlines this week, because I finally got around to checking out Twitter. Ye Gods. It's the social networking thang o' my dreams.

Do you loathe the chaotic sprawl of MySpace and Facebook? Does e-mailing everybody seems cumbersome? Has your own blog grown stale (I can't even scrape crumbs off this thing by now)? Why, yes, you do, it does, and yecch. And yet you feel the need to keep your hand out there flailing in cyberspace, just to make sure a few people know you're still on the planet, and vice-versa. Well, have I got a tweet deal for you.

It's simple (once you orient yourself). Quick (140 character max per update, or tweet). Austere, yet whimsical. Insert other wine-tasting terms here. And Twitter is peopled by smartypantses galore.

I'm not even snorting it, man, I'm mainlining. Finding hilarious and newsy stuff to follow, getting a profile photo (which I've never bothered to do here), pulling long people-to-people threads. Sent out a big email, mostly to workmates, but also a few friends I just haven't been able to keep up with, saying, here's how we can keep up. About a dozen or so signed on, though some have struggled with that initial sense of being out there alone, tied to the mast while sirens sing in the distance.

Or yodel. Man there's some funny out there. Two guys in particular have amused me no end. Joshua Allen spurns the quotidian "I'm just having coffee" tweet and creates goofy little scenes and character voices...

"Dawn. City Park. Five empty Manischewitz bottles. A loincloth made out of a yarmulke and dental floss. Today, I am a man. L'chaim, officers."

And Merlin Mann (host of "You Look Nice Today" on iTunes) documented the Olympic torch protests in the Bay Area this afternoon, viz:

"Hippies we spoke with say they want to fashion the torch into a 'sweet-ass lama bong,' for, quote, 'freedom and shit.' Back to you, Tom."

All this stuff fills your home page and heart with delight, once you find it and Follow.

Coolest of all (damn, I blew this as a segue from the previous post): my first follower/followee was Barack Obama. And you thought he was a mere leader.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Antidote

If stupidity, racism, and careless bloviation are the disease, here's the cure. Obama's amazing speech on race, religion, and, really, the meaning of America:

By now, everyone's probably either seen it or read it. But if you just let it run while you're working on your computin' machine, it's like a salve that soothes while you sleep. Or you can read the transcript.

That's what I call presidential. If this guy doesn't deserve to lead the country, I'm not sure I want to live here.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Stupid Rhetoric Comes In Every Color

So now the forces of white-wing intolerance are decrying the Afrocentric intolerance of Jeremiah Wright, the pastor at Barack Obama’s church. And the old guy (one of those crazy-charismatic preachers in the call-and-response improv tradition of the black church) has gotten the boot from Obama’s campaign.

It’s about time. It was almost a year ago that I read in the NYT about Obama’s connection to Wright. Why has it taken so long for this to blow up? From what I can gather, the messages that have created the uproar are these:

1. America is a terrorist, racist state.
2. Islamic terrorism against the U.S. is thereby justified (“chickens coming home to roost”) even if it’s wrong.
3. White American oppression of blacks and other minorities is the root of all evil.
4. Hillary is just another rich, white person and can’t understand the African-American experience any better than McCain can.
5. “Not God BLESS America--God DAMN America.”

That last one, of course, is the one that has right-wingers foaming at the mouth.

Obama was on all the cable news shows last night, doing damage control, and I also saw Wright himself on Sham Hannity & All-Bland Colmes. Here’s what I took away from those interviews:

1. Wright is a scholar (he deftly, articulately dismantled criticisms of liberation theology) and a pretty sharp guy, considering how stupid the stuff is that he’s been saying to wind people up over the last five years or so.
2. Obama repudiates these particular messages but not Wright himself. He says that would be like kicking an uncle out of your family because you disagree with him.
3. Obama says Wright is the guy who “brought me to Jesus, brought me to church,” and that he married the Obamas and baptized their daughters. He also says Wright was about to retire when Obama first caught wind of some of these statements. Apparently, this is why Obama hasn't left the congregation.
4. Obama claims that he’s never been present in the church when this kind of message has been delivered by Wright or anyone else, and that if he had, he’d have expressed his disagreement then and there. He says it’s a social justice ministry, and that all he’s heard coming from the pulpit is talk about “Jesus, faith, and helping the poor.”
5. This won’t end here.

If Obama gets the nomination, I bet there'll be 527 groups all over this issue, and at least one of them will land a Swift Boat punch. I really think this crap could be the undoing of the most amazing political moment since 1968. If not, if he survives this, it’s yet another stunning accomplishment by the calmest, fastest-learning man in politics.

Part of me thinks: See how stupid religion is? Look what happens when people stop doubting and get too sure of their own sense of what’s righteous and what’s not. And part of me thinks, isn't religion great, that it can so infatuate people with the noise of their own passionate truths, they don't even pay attention to how stupid they sound? And part of me thinks it could be worse. The preacher could’ve been Fred Phelps.

In his first book, Obama eloquently describes the moment when Wright won him over, with the “Audacity of Hope” sermon (which gave Obama the title for his second book), making a connection between the struggle of the poor with Biblical stories of faith, perseverance, and salvation. As profound and defining as that moment may have been for Obama, the truth is, I wish he’d remained a skeptic.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Wow, Vampire Weekend

My friend Stacey sent me a link to the catchiest, most kinetic music video in recent memory. Two-and-a-half minutes of irrepressible joy.

It reminds me of the early Police, back when they were making really great, thumpy, zippity music and having fun in front of a video camera. "De-Doo-Doo-Doo, De-Da-Da-Da," anyone?

What kills me is the idea that there are dozens of little bands out there, doing bang-up numbers like this, and there's just not enough time to listen or watch or even think about it.

Food of love (and finger-puppet fish), play on.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

So Cool, It's Frozen

Why is this so utterly freakin' cool?

I have theories:
1. Because of the scale of the mischief.
2. Because it's disruptive, but essentially harmless.
3. Because of the way it forces a shift in awareness--the wonder and curiosity it elicits.
4. Because of the tension between opposites: stasis amid movement, pointlessness amid purpose, precision amid chaos, art amid commerce, a moment of timelessness in a place that's all about schedules, the unexpected monkey wrench thrown into the quotidian works.
5. Because it has a beginning, a middle, and an end—Aristotelian beauty—and each has a different effect.

Maybe the point about pointlessness is the real thing here. Can something be beautiful just because it's pointless?

William Carlos Williams has a poem that answers: Yes. Here's the first half of "The Crowd At The Ball Game":

The crowd at the ball game
is moved uniformly

by a spirit of uselessness
which delights them—

all the exciting detail
of the chase

and the escape, the error
the flash of genius—

all to no end save beauty
the eternal—

So in detail they, the crowd,
are beautiful

(Nice poem, up to there, and then he kind of loses it, if you ask me.) The ball game is the freeze and the crowd is everybody in Grand Central who's not in on the joke—and the beauty of the crowd = the details of their response. Don't you just love the looks of bewilderment on their faces, the guy poking that frozen girl in the arm, the driver honking and radioing for help, and that great remark at the end by the guy who thought maybe he was the only one seeing it happen? Fabulous.

Up with pointless acts of mind-fuckery! Up with Improv Everywhere!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Bush Comes To Hallmark

Streets blocked, parking lots closed, sniffer dogs sniffin', a motorcade a quarter-mile long (including armored SWAT vehicles, an ambulance, and sinister SUVs with weird black cylinders on the roof), and curtains of tarps hung from outdoor walkways to prevent a long-distance sighting through a rifle scope. Not to give you whiplash after my last post about Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy, but thus arrives George Bush the younger, trailing clouds of much ado about not much.

He was here to make a speech on the state of the economy to a select group of Hallmark employees. At this point, I think "make a speech on the state the economy" means "convince people that there's gold in them thar turds." I was not invited, but I saw a lot of the security detail at work outside my window.

While he was here, the president apparently made a card at Kaleidoscope, our creativity workshop for kids, asking a group of reporters, "Who deserves a valentine?" I guess love is just not gonna be unconditional with this guy.

At the Hallmark visitors center, he had a brief run-in with Maxine, our beloved curmatron, viz.:

I'm trying to imagine what words of wisdom she might have about the experience...

"When life give you lemons, blame Florida."

Monday, January 21, 2008

Dr. King

In June of 1968, my parents took us four kids on a trip to Washington, D.C. My dad had some work to do at the National Archives. We stayed with the family of Jim Everett, a CIA agent recently returned from Europe. There was a lot of political talk around the table that I didn't understand. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated two months earlier, and the primary season was pushing toward the conventions. My parents were Eugene McCarthy supporters. The Everetts (and all us kids) were in love with Bobby Kennedy.

I was a month from turning 12. My brain was almost entirely devoted to girls and sports. I found the two Everett girls (who were maybe five to seven years older--one was home from college, I think) fascinating, especially the younger one, dark and curvy, who spent some time one evening explaining (alas, not demonstrating) what it meant to get to second base, third base, etc. I was enthralled. The whole etc. was really beginning to capture my imagination.

So political ideas were peripheral to me. But I remember being amazed when we saw Resurrection City, the vast tent city that sprawled over the National Mall. Dr. King had helped to organize the Poor People's Campaign, and in the wake of his assassination, a huge march had been organized and had ended in D.C. And now here were poor people and activists from all over the country, living in tents. It was my first real exposure to the civil rights movement. Up until then, it was just stuff that happened on TV.

Our hosts' experience abroad had their whole family interested in political issues, or maybe they'd always been. My mom and the Everett women talked a little feminism here and there. I remember the eldest daughter playing folk songs with her dad one night--a little Pete Seeger, some S&G, Peter, Paul & Mary. My appreciation of this was on the "wow, cool guitars" level. I was still playing my Sears Silvertone and the all-but-untuneable $20 Marco Polo electric I'd found at a garage sale the previous summer. I knew about six chords, and was impressed by the Everett's virtuosity.

We were there about a week. We'd drop Dad at the Archives building and go off to the Smithsonian, the National Gallery, all that. And in the evenings, everyone was closely watching the primaries--instead of baseball. What were they, crazy?

I woke up one morning to the sound of women crying. I came upstairs and the daughters were red-eyed and the moms blowing their noses, watching TV.

Bobby was dead. My mom was really wailing. I was young and stupid enough to think, "But you didn't even want him to win. What are you so upset about?" The whole mood of the trip changed. You'd see people crying on street corners. There were vigils all over, and of course a huge one at Resurrection City.

I saw Jackie Kennedy and her kids on TV, but the images conflate with JFK's funeral somehow. The one thing that stuck was Ted Kennedy's eulogy, the sound of his voice quoting, "some men see things as they are and say 'why?' I see things that never were and say 'why not?'" The sorrow in it! The guy looked like he'd rather have had it happen to him.

I remember thinking, if my brother got shot, I don't think I'd be that upset. But to lose Bobby. To me, Bobby was the future. Young (it never occurred to me that he was actually older than my parents), smart, energetic, handsome--dashing, even. He was like a shiny trophy that the country might win if we were cool enough.

We weren't, of course. We'd already killed JFK and then Dr. King--the ultimate "I see things that never were and say 'why not?'" guy, probably the closest thing to an actual Christ figure ever to appear in U.S. politics. We were in an unjust war that was going disastrously, there were race riots all over the country, and King's legacy was on the lawn in D.C., holding thousands of candles for yet another light that had gone out. At least that's how it looked to me.

I date my interest in politics to that trip. My dad, every day, was going into the National Archives, where (as he'd shown us one morning) he passed a very real-looking copy of the Declaration of Independence in a glass case right up front. Walking around the stunningly designed city, all that classical white-marble architecture, riding that amazing subway system and having my mom point out our own Senator Symington getting off a train (I was just old enough/young enough to chase him down the platform yelling "Senator Symington!" and ask to shake his hand). And I'll never forget standing in the Lincoln Memorial, reading the Gettysburg Address and feeling those magnificent sentences send chills down my spine. I think all of that--the importance placed on the events there, the idea that politics mattered, that protest was woven into it, that it was a life-and-death struggle, really--that was the formative moment for my political awareness.

And that, my friends, is why I think it's a profound moment in American history when two of the leading presidential candidates are a woman and an African-American. To me, it's a fulfillment of the promise Lincoln spoke of and the hope that JFK and Bobby seemed to embody, and of course, the dream Dr. King asked us all to share. All four got shot. But somehow the promise and the hope and the dream didn't entirely disappear--despite relentless efforts to dismantle them. Without Dr. King, there'd be no Barack Obama in serious contention for the White House. Whatever your political views, the mere fact and magnitude of his candidacy is to be celebrated. Martin Luther King, Jr., you continue to rock.

Plus, we get a day off of work because of you, so we can sit around and write stuff.

Monday, January 14, 2008

New Year's Resolution Broken on January 12th

50 push-ups a day. The perfect resolution. Specific, not too demanding (there's a thousand-a-day-club online for obsessive compulsives), and I can do them at home or at the gym I never go to--hence the need for an exercise resolution--or at the office. Wherever there’s a horizontal surface, which means anywhere but mid-air.

Here's a guy who can do them in mid-air. I changed this post and threw in the video just so you could see what I'm aspiring to. Toward the end, you'll see the coolest push-up ever.

My point is, it wasn't all the time I spent levitating on Saturday that kept me from getting to the push-ups. What happened was, I woke up the next day, walked out to get the Sunday NYT, saw my buff gay neighbor getting something out of his car, and realized that I hadn’t done my 50. I actually like doing them. I just forgot.

My buff gay neighbor is older than I am. And although he's no Scott Wills (cuz who is?), he's proud enough of his arms to wear shirts with the sleeves torn off even when it's below freezing. I bet he watches himself in the mirror as he tears the sleeves off. Five shirts = ten reps. The guy is ripped, man.

So I’m back to doing push-ups again, but now having missed a day is bugging me. The whole thing seems pointless, somehow, even though the point was never merely to fulfill the resolution, but to get some exercise for the love of God you lazy bastard why can’t you get off your ass. I’ve failed, and I feel bad about it.

I need to sit for a long period of time and reflect on this. Maybe drink a little, eat something. Grab the laptop, get some writing done. Turn on the tube to distract myself from the shame. It’s going to take some time to get over it. The rest of the year, probably.