Monday, November 13, 2017

Half Birthday Checkup

November 13th is my half birthday -- six months since my actual birthday, the halfway point of this particular year of life -- so I decided it is a good time to check in with my goals and the things I was thinking about last May that I wanted to accomplish during this year.

I'm super into both New Year's Day resolutions AND new birthday year resolutions. I love the symbolic calendar-induced fresh start and I love making plans and lists and figuring out all the things I want to do. Careful readers of this blog/people who know me well understand that I tend to enjoy and excel at planning FAR more than executing, which is admittedly problematic...and which is part of what necessitates this half-year, half birthday check-in. 

I am well aware that there are many of you out there who scoff at New Year's resolutions and the like, with retorts such as "It's just a day on the calendar. You can set goals any day of the year. You can make changes any time."  Well, that's exactly right. So, do you? When you show me your awesome list of "March 8th resolutions" or "random Friday in September resolutions" and all you've done to achieve them, then you can feel accomplished. In the meantime, why make fun of my new calendar year and new birthday year dates? 

Anyway, today we are going to check in by opening up the journal and seeing what sorts of things I wrote last May 12th, 13th, and 14th, i.e., the day before, day of, and day after my birthday. Scary stuff, opening past journals, especially when they contain stream-of-consciousness morning pages, as these do. But, let's see what we find!

On May 12th I said that I wanted to:
- Heal our dying houseplant.  NOPE. FAIL. I re-potted it and everything and it just ended up dying and I felt sad because Brian and I got it a long time ago together and it has moved with us a bunch and now it's dead. 
-Go to five High Points this summer.  NOPE. FAIL. Totally took about sixty-five other road trips though (I'm exaggerating, but not by much) that are the main reason this goal got pushed aside. 
-Do 5Ks in June, July or August, and September, and then a November Turkey Trot. PARTLY ACCOMPLISHED, PARTLY FAILED. Could still do a Turkey Trot 5K and am eyeing the Santa Hustle.
-Go see more live music and shows. HEY! I FOUND ONE! ACCOMPLISHED! That's all I'did all summer, it felt like. And has somewhat continued through the fall. 

Then, on my actual birthday, the 13th, I was apparently way more into musing about the past than looking ahead, with paragraphs about the last birthday I went out to dinner with both of my parents, a digression into if/when/how my journey out of being a churchgoer would have been different if I had gone to Amherst, Oberlin, or Yale, as I wanted to do, and then this gem: "So many regrets. But how can we know what to regret?"  So that was my birthday head space, yikes! 

As for what I thought about doing in the year to come, I wanted to:
-"Read and read and read"  NOPE. I have not been reading much this year AT ALL and it sucks and that's how we all know something is wrong.
-Succeed at my Habitat fundraising. YES! ACCOMPLISHMENT!  Except then I didn't get to go on the October build and will be doing a Habitat trip next spring-ish instead, but I did raise the money for Habitat. Yay, Habitat. 
-Stay on track paying off credit cards. UM. NO. Unless paying health insurance premiums on one's credit cards counts as sound financial strategy? No? Huh. Shame, that. 

I did enjoy my birthday this year, though. We had a private yoga practice in the park, led by one of my favorite Chicago yoga teachers, with me and a couple friends, and then a group joined for dinner at our beloved neighborhood bar and grill spot for a birthday book swap. Maybe that cheered me up a bit for the next day's journaling? Let's see what I had to say on the 14th....

Regarding birthday yoga: "I am so grateful to the ladies who came and I feel so much gratitude to the universe, the sunshine, and the beautiful expanse of blue sky that was over my head - incredible."  Wow! That's a better mood. A little hippie-dippy, even. And, any goals, there, older and wiser Linda? 

-Be a better friend and do better at maintaining friendships.
-Plan a summer barbecue.
-Hang out with people enjoying life and just being
-"Every day I want to read read read" cropped up again.
-And then this articulate sentence with my plan for the year: "Write read yoga guitar baseball music." Which may make you think, "Wasn't she doing that anyway? Aren't those things always what she's doing?" Well, yes. Which tells me that over my introspective birthday weekend I didn't think I was living enough of my life. 

Looking at this last list, I'd give myself a solid two and a half accomplished. Actually probably three, but that's one plus one plus half plus half, not one plus one plus one...  (My real friends got that allusion to Clue, right??!?!)  

It would seem that in the next six months of this particular year of my life, in order to meet all my goals, I need to read (read read read read), pay off credit cards, visit more state high points, finish my "Five More 5Ks" plan, and be a better friend. Well. Let me get right to it. 

But I can't resurrect the dead houseplant. I'm sorry. Bringing things back from the dead is decidedly not in my job description. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

"...And the wisdom to know the difference..."

The picture below is of a column I read in this week's editorial pages that I find absolutely incredible. Incredible, as in, not to be believed. Because I cannot in fact believe that someone wrote it and seriously thinks he has written a reasoned argument, which he decidedly has not done. Now, people can and obviously do disagree about whether to pray, ever. That's not what we're here to discuss. I'm here to remind you that the editorial page is a place for all sorts of topical opinions, but the point of writing and getting an opinion piece published is to offer some support for your opinion, some justification for it, some arguments in favor of it. Here Mark Davis has failed mightily.

I took a photo instead of linking to avoid giving him more hits.
First of all, he doesn't even really get the premise right, as he fails to address a major part of the "Thoughts and prayers!" problem. His argument here, which he fails to support, is that those who respond to a gun tragedy with calls for "Thoughts and prayers!" are not "doing nothing."  But his premise is that those of us mocking the predictable unleashing of calls for "Thoughts and prayers!" are mocking the idea of thinking and praying in response to a tragedy.  He criticizes our "open scorn for those expressions of faithful support" but seems to miss his own point -- that it's those empty "expressions" of faithful support that are being scorned - a Twitterverse full of those expressions, Facebook comment threads full of those expressions, a chorus of "Look, I'm praying too! Count me in! Prayers!" that rings so shockingly hollow and counter to anything I was ever taught about how to be a Christian that I can't believe anyone can take themselves seriously in church the next Sunday. "Look at me! I'm praying! Count me in!" It's a little pathetic. Mocking the "Prayers!"-as-a-comment cliche is hardly the same thing as mocking a sincere person's prayer, and not addressing this distinction is a major failure in the premise of Mark Davis' piece here. 

But. There's also the whole failure to support his argument. He claims that the Thinkers and pray-ers! are not "doing nothing" in response to gun violence. So, what are they doing? Well, according to him -- check out that second-to-last paragraph -- they are addressing the issue "through the lens of a fallen, sin-stained world, calling on God to redeem it, and each of us." 

Oh. I see. Your response to very real bullets in a very real harmful situation killing very real people in very real numbers with very real frequency is to cite an imagined being (easy there, believers -- I didn't say "not real," I said "imagined," as in "conceived of") that you can't see or sense with any of your other earthly senses but can only believe in with faith, and that's "doing" something? What? What are you doing? All you've done is state your beliefs (the world is "fallen" and it is "sin-stained") and pass the buck ("calling on God to redeem it"). 

And this guy and his evangelical ilk made fun of Hope and Change as a slogan? Guess their house of worship is a glass one. (By the way, I made fun of "Change!" as a rallying cry in 2008 too. Because it's stupid. Not because I would have edited it to be "God, change us!") 

The other problematic non-support of his argument is a real doozy. He spends most of this editorial lambasting people who want to respond to a gun tragedy by addressing guns (in other words, logical people) and calling us things like the "gun control chorus" and the "preachers of the Gospel of Gun Control."  Oh, the religious imagery! I kind of like the idea of this bizarre-o Church of Gun Restrictions that he invokes. If that existed, I'd pop in for a service, maybe even get a regular pew. Non-violence is one of my things. What can I say, it's just that loving, compassionate, milk-of-human-kindness in me. I hear Jesus and Buddha and some other guys were into it also. 

But anyway, as our fine opinion writer here insults what he calls our "derisive intolerance" (um..?) he actually writes "But equally absurd is the belief that there is something magical Congress can do that will prevent the next Las Vegas or the next Sutherland Springs."  Yes, that's a sentence he wrote, followed a few paragraphs later by his assertion that he, on the other hand, is doing something by offering "Thoughts and prayers!" and, get ready for the money quote, "That has more power to prevent further tragedies than does any new wave of laws." 

You know why you can't reason with someone like this? Because you can't reason with someone like this. Reasoning, as in the process of forming arguments using logic, as in using the power of thinking in orderly, rational ways -- this guy is not signing on for any of that. Nope. Rather, he is going to go out there on record as chiding people who think "there is something MAGICAL Congress can do..." when according to him, duh, obviously, sheesh, the answer is to let God do something. 

I'm sorry -- which one is actually here on Earth with the power to regulate interstate commerce? Which one can pass laws (actual ones, on the books -- we don't need #1 fan Annie to tell us about a higher justice right now)? Which one regulates? Which one is SITTING THERE GETTING PAID TO PROMOTE THE COMMON WELFARE AND PROTECT THE CITIZENS OF ITS NATION?  

And which one is, you know, supernatural? As in, not perceived by our natural senses? Otherworldly? Dare I say it - magical? 

My astonishment that this editorial exists, was written, and was published is matched only by my dismay that I really shouldn't be that astonished at all. 

In the 1993 film Shadowlands, C.S. Lewis, portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, offers a great response to his liberal academic colleagues who question his reliance on prayer. How will prayer accomplish anything, they ask, being the snooty disbelievers that they are -- how can you change God?  C.S. Lewis replies, "Oh, it doesn't change Him. It changes me." 

Well, in that sense, maybe this Mark Davis guy and his fellow Dallas media voices, NRA loyalists, and Trump-lovin' evangelicals could definitely use a few more prayers -- and I hope they can change.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Does anybody every really know what day it is?

Longtime readers will recall how absurd I find Chicago's inability to celebrate anything on the appropriate date. When we moved here initially, in 2010, I was mystified and then just annoyed because this city never met a holiday it couldn't commemorate two weeks before or after the date on which the holiday falls.  Well, they're at it again. I'm looking for some 5K races to do in upcoming weeks and I'm sure glad to see there's a Monster Dash on Oct 21 and a Turkey Trot on Nov 4. Why, Chicago, why??

Calendars, y'all. They work. 

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Terry Talks the Talk and Walks All the Walks

We need to talk about Terry Tempest Williams now. After you read my blog, run, don't walk, to your local bookstore and buy one of her books. Yes, you could "just go on Amazon" (shudder - does it have to be Amazon? Bookstores do have web sites, you know) but I'd like to think you might not
want to make this purchase from Amazon, if you think enough about all that Terry Tempest Williams is. So let's talk about her. Settle in. Get comfortable. But also? Get uncomfortable.

Get uncomfortable, yes. Why do I say that? Because it will be to your benefit to get uncomfortable once in a while.

And it could possibly be to Earth's benefit as well. That's one of the points TTW made Wednesday night in her author appearance at Women and Children First bookstore, where she discussed  The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America's National Parks and the current state of the country, humanity, and the planet. She was talking about her recent semester as a visiting professor at Dartmouth and the toughest class she ever taught, she said, because of the way the people in the classroom challenged her. She described a classroom in which she was accused, sometimes rightfully, of not understanding young activists as much as she should or of needing to learn more about what it means to be queer, which she did, and in which people sometimes said things like, "All this talk of sexual assault is irrelevant to my life" or "My brown body does not matter in any of these books you have assigned." But, she said, instead of rupturing, they kept at it, and she learned from them, and they learned from each other. She said that she told them on the first day "This is not a safe space" and if they were looking for that they were in the wrong place. It was a supportive space - but not a safe space, because writing is not a safe space. (<--her words)

Also, our world is not a safe space right now. (<--my words)

But writing, among other courageous acts of resistance, may help us.

It would be hard for me to overstate the value of Terry Tempest Williams' words. Others agree with me. See, e.g., this bit of a book review from The New York Times. (right)

At the bookstore appearance, TTW talked about the land in Utah, her homeland, which she described as a formerly rich desert that has been mined so much it now looks like an exposed nervous system.

During the Q&A period, a young audience person from Florida asked how to cope when, in the young person's lifetime, the Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Park disappear underwater. "Don't look away," Terry said.

I think that's what we all do so damn much of, looking away. Because:
-It's uncomfortable.
-It's hard.
-I can't do anything about it.
-I just can't deal.

Click click click click click click ...

A frenzy of looking away. Our looking away takes many forms, and we can talk about some more of those in a minute.

Like many people, I first came to Terry Tempest Williams' writing with Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place. It, and she, were big in the circles I ran in when I was 18, and I looked forward to reading it when it was assigned in my Women in Literature class taught by the inimitable Cecilia Konchar Farr during her last semester in Utah (that's another story for another time). I was in the small group that did our semester project on Refuge, and that project became a pilgrimage to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, a class presentation done in the style of a church program (you'll understand why when you read the book), and then a protest demonstration. Cecilia dubbed us the "Refuge Radicals." You can see how all this is maybe a formative part of me, or perhaps an early recognition of all that I am.

But it's not about me--Refuge has spoken to so many people, with its tale of family, cancer, Earth, birds, cycles, destruction, and how we can go on. Terry Tempest Williams talked in this bookstore appearance about her Chinese translator of Refuge. TTW just recently got back from China. ("Beijing air," she said when she interrupted her reading for a small bout of coughing. "Also Salt Lake City air," she added.) The Chinese woman had commented that Terry's work was becoming more political and needed more beauty. Terry countered that that translator's work could maybe use more politics and less emphasis on beauty. They laughed. They are friends. They are each doing what they can, courageously.

We can be both compassionate and harsh. AT THE SAME TIME. I thrilled to hear TTW say that. I know that, and I know what it is to be put in a box, to be told if I'm one I'm not the other. Now, she clearly has a demeanor that would never be mistaken for mine; I'm sure you'll find her gentler, but don't you go thinking that she is not fierce. She fights, and with her life's work as a writer and naturalist she has fought and fought and fought for this land we are trampling, we the human race.

What are we racing toward?

Whatever it is, I don't think you need to worry about people's feelings getting hurt when I say things to them about the destruction on the path. To know me is to know that of all the possible motives for words and actions, wanton malice isn't mine. Maybe when someone says something "intense" we can benefit from hearing them instead of wishing they would speak the way we would have them speak.

"Smile." "Be sweet." Nah. Let's get uncomfortable. As TTW reminded us, we need to have the courage. Writing. Listening. Saying "That's bullshit."  Saying "Thank you, I understand you now. I've heard you."  ALL of these are necessary if we're going to have any hope whatsoever of saving our planet from human-wrought death and destruction. (Humanity itself, it has to be said, may not be worth saving.)

I know, I know, you think humanity is special, unique, privileged, chosen, blessed.  If you had heard Terry Tempest Williams talk about the bison she recently saw in Yellowstone, I think you might have shed tears along with me. I don't feel entitled to retell her story -- I hope you can hear it from her someday -- but I will tell you that in it, bison were grieving the loss of one of their own, and TTW reminded us that we are not the only species living, breathing, and grieving here with loved ones. My own deepest wish in this world is that you, each of you, each of us, will join in opening the cages and letting each being live the wild life it was meant to live. You might not be ready to listen to the trees and hear their message, as TTW did; you might not be ready to know how much the land matters, more than you are prepared to admit (she can help you, though). But I expect you to try to do better. And to not look away.

It's uncomfortable. It's hard. I can't do anything about it. I just can't deal.

It's uncomfortable to think about how much animals suffer because we, unlike the wolf Terry Tempest Williams observed in Yellowstone, don't go in for a quick kill with our jaws at the throat. We have a slow, laborious, monstrous industrialized meat process, from factory farm to slaughterhouse line where they are herded and trapped on conveyor belts, watching their fellows be killed in front of them, held tight with no escape possible, because we don't care how many billions of people there are -- we demand large animal livestock meat for all of them. It is one of the most environmentally irresponsible things we do in addition to being cruel. Do you think about this when you plan your meat menus? Or is it too "hard" to eat meat just once a week?  "Don't look away," Terry Tempest Williams said.

It's hard to live without:
-hot water
So we live a life of fossil fuel consumption. But we can think about it.  How else are you going to get better? Don't look away.

People tell me they love rabbits. Their child loves rabbits. And so what do they do? Get a "pet" rabbit, and lock it in a cage. Alone. A rabbit, for merciful god's sake, alone with no other companion of its species, locked in a cage.  How DARE anyone cage an animal as a pet? Where does such almighty hubris come from?

I expect better of you. I expect you to not look away when your friend/neighbor/associate puts a sentient being in a cage, or declaws a cat to "save" their precious furniture. It's furniture. An object you purchased, and you think it's better than a life. A living body. I expect so much better of humans, and I am so disappointed.

You can't do anything about it? Well, you can not look away when sentient beings suffer so that you can have:
-a Coach bag

You just can't deal. But you sure can upgrade your smartphone! The planned obsolescence of technology rapes the earth. That's a fact. Don't look away from it.

Milk. Ye.Gods. Milk, seriously, is one of the most grotesque things humanity does. No other species suckles at the breast of a different animal unless it's a unique, life-threatening emergency. Humans, though? We've got an entire industry, a multi-million dollar industry, with one of THE most powerful lobbies known to man (and they are, largely, men with that power), that has you 100% convinced you need milk for nutrition (you don't), that if you've "got milk" you're all set (for being overweight and higher cancer risk, maybe), that milk does a body good (whose body? not yours, not the raped mother cow nor the calf taken away from her who was entitled to the milk her body produced, not the imprisoned body kept captive and not moving while it is milked, day in and day out, like a machine, by a machine, for years, just for your cereal and your latte in which you could replace the dairy product with soy milk, almond milk, oat milk, hemp milk, rice milk, cashew milk...)   DON'T look away! Don't! Look at this. Look at your part in it. Look at what it says about our (lack of) respect for the animals and the land.

Terry Tempest Williams didn't say anything about milk in the bookstore. I'm just demonstrating that we are participating in the destruction of our planet, on both micro and macro scales, daily, because of our sheer disregard for the lives all around us - of trees, grassland, cows, wolves, national name it.

With tears in her eyes, she answered the question about how to cope with the loss of our planet's land by saying, "I don't know. But don't look away."

This is my testimony. I'm not telling you to never consume an animal product. I know that life is suffering. I KNOW this is true. And I've read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. Have you? I understand what it means to be a species on this planet. I don't think humanity quite does. The other species seem to understand that they aren't the only goddamned species. (And if god had any sense, he would damn us, I believe, humans being the rotten lot we are.) (I mean like if he existed and stuff.)

I am telling you you should read TTW's book about our national parks and think about what it means that we have an occupying U.S. administration actively dismantling any protections our public lands have.

You will now be able to go hunt grizzly bears. That's apparently how we "make America great again." It's an absolute horror show.

TTW praised Aldo Leopold and the Leopold family, who have tracked the changes for years and demonstrated that the climate is changing and altering the landscape. Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac (so Midwestern!) is another book I read as an English major, as I was entering the world of Terry Tempest Williams, Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, and all the Western naturalists who made me understand how much I loved my Arizona, Southwest, and West homelands, who made me see how much the "empty" lands and open spaces can teach us. All these writers have been warning us about the ways we're changing the climate, the landscape, the planet. For years. Listen. Let's not look away.

Terry Tempest Williams and I come from some of the same places, both geographical and religious. We have both grappled and questioned, each in our own ways. One thing our upbringing taught us, though, is the power of bearing testimony. It's remarkable, really, that a religion most people see as "cult-like" (it's not, and we'll have that discussion another day, too) actually hands over the bulk of the church meeting, once a month, to whoever wants to come up to the open microphone. Well, this Earth we're on needs a giant testimony meeting right now. Don't tell people to be quiet and "avoid politics." Don't look away. Don't tell people they're "not being nice." Don't worry about offending someone when you call them out on their behavior. Don't think of it as inappropriate to remind someone that by their lifestyle they're encouraging sweatshops, imprisonment, torture, hideous slaughter, trafficking, death, endangered species, and the flooding of our planet (Noah's ark, anyone?) I can't think of anything MORE appropriate than issuing the warning, loud and clear, from every bully pulpit - social media, face-to-face, or whatever else you can get your hands and vocal chords on.

This is my testimony, and I say it in the name of all that is good and holy in this universe: we've got to think about the land. We've got to think about Earth. We've got to think about the other species on it. Humanity might be doomed, or you might have a slight, tiny, glimmer of a chance. It would help you if you start listening to and understanding the likes of Terry Tempest Williams.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

This was the folk-music-icons weekend that was

Back in the day, by which I of course mean the late 1980s, I accumulated a few pen-pals. Yes, pen-pals -- remember those glorious days, of sitting down with pen and paper, writing a letter, and sending it off to your new "friend" who lived in another state or another country? I loved that hobby. Only one of my pen-pals lasted for years and years of correspondence -- she and I had quite a bit in common and a lot to say to each other, and even ended up both living in New York City at the same time years down the road and getting to meet and be friends in real life, which was in itself amazing. However, this particular story isn't about that pen-pal, but rather about a fleeting pen-pal with whom I briefly wrote letters and then lost contact forever but who, nonetheless, had an impact on my life through the act of sending me a particular cassette tape.

This particular fleeting pen-pal was named Nancy (I think? that's how long ago and fleeting this was) and was, again I think, from Oswego, NY.  I do hope I'm remembering that correctly and not mixing her up with someone else. Anyway, the fleeting pen-pal in question and I decided we would exchange tapes, and we sent each other lists of the albums that we owned and then let each other know which of the other person's we wanted and copied them onto blank cassettes and sent them to each other. (I know, hello, copyright laws, anyone?) We were young adolescents still with a manageable amount of albums, and I can't tell you what the hell else she sent me or what I sent her, but I very specifically remember one dark brown Memorex cassette she sent to me that had on one side a copied Cowboy Junkies album and on the other side Indigo Girls.

I even remember exactly where I was when I was looking at her letter with her list of albums and thinking, "Cowboy Junkies. Indigo Girls." I didn't really know what their music was going to be like -- anyone whose hit songs I knew and loved I had probably already acquired via Columbia House Record & Tape Club or from Sam Goody at Metrocenter mall, so browsing her list was a chance to try something new I wouldn't have otherwise stumbled upon. And this was the mother lode.

I played the hell out of that 90-minute, no-longer-blank cassette. I played it at home, in my parents' cars, and anywhere else I could get it in a tape deck. I loved those albums fiercely, and -- good future copyright law student that I was -- I eventually bought both of those albums properly, thus giving the artists and record companies their profits and more importantly getting my hands on the liner notes. And needless to say, that simple act of being intrigued by my pen-pal's album list -- I can still vividly see it in my mind's eye, can perfectly visualize her handwriting -- launched me on my lifelong Indigo Girls love and fandom.

What if I had never exchanged those handful of letters and cassettes with this random girl across the country? Would I have come to know Indigo Girls and Strange Fire, and then later, Nomads*Indians*Saints and Rites of Passage and all the rest? When? Would I have been too late? I once read a piece in Psychology Today that said studies indicate that the music you listen to during that adolescent time, like toward age 14 or so, resonates more deeply with you than anything you ever listen to in the future, no matter how much you like what you come across in the future. And among the cassettes I spent those early teen years playing over and over were Indigo Girls, Bob Dylan, R.E.M., Simon and Garfunkel,  Cowboy Junkies -- folkies who still speak volumes to me today.

I bring this up because some remarkable things happened this weekend. Tonight, Sunday, I attended a concert at the Chicago Theatre: Four Voices - Joan Baez, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Indigo Girls. When this tour was announced a few months back my breath caught and I thought, this! This is something I cannot BELIEVE I am going to be able to witness! Now, of course I knew that they were all friends, and I know about Mary Chapin singing backing vocals on Amy and Emily's album and Amy and Emily singing backing vocals on Mary Chapin's around 1991, and I remember when the Girls performed with Joan Baez in the early mid-1990s for a benefit and she thanked them for letting her be an Indigo Girl for the evening and called them young whippersnappers, and I own the CD (yes, I eventually moved from cassettes to CDs) from the benefit where Indigo Girls and Mary Chapin and a bunch of other artists all performed with Joan Baez and planted roots for this blossoming friendship so I've heard them harmonizing in pieces and knew of their crossing paths but THIS - a tour called Four Voice, with lots of dates, coming to my town, playing cities near me - it was amazing news.

And it was an amazing concert, needless to say. There are so many highlights, and perhaps I'll tell about more of them in another post, but here let me just assure you that among the evening's joys was the final song of their main set, a cover of a particularly good, particularly relevant, Nobel prize-winning even! song that with their Four Voices became THE best performance of a song that I have witnessed being performed live, ever.

But there was also another little thing that happened at the beginning of this weekend. On Friday night, it just so happens, I saw Cowboy Junkies in concert at the Old Town School of Folk Music. For whatever reason, I had never got a chance to see them in concert before this weekend. Unlike Indigo Girls and Mary Chapin Carpenter, whom I've seen multiple times (Indigo Girls, dozens), I somehow had missed out on the Cowboy Junkies until just this past Friday. There was Margo Timmins, in all her fifty-something glory, and that voice! That achingly lovely voice, with all those heartbreaking, swirling Cowboy Junkies songs. That was the opening of my weekend, and then it ended with this other collection of voices, including the legendary Joan Baez, up there showing us what incredible things words and music can do.

And I thought, how odd, how odd indeed that my weekend was bookended by incredible, life- and music-affirming concerts featuring the two bands that were on either side of that blank cassette sent to me by pen-pal Nancy from Oswego, NY nearly thirty years ago.

And I thought, how beautiful, how beautiful indeed that we are gifted with time on this planet where we can make and share our art, where we can hoist our visions onto the world stage and where we can tuck recorded sounds gently into an envelope with a bit of extra postage and let them be carried across the miles to someone who needs to hear them, or where we can now just upload them with a few quick finger taps on a keyboard.

In spite of all of the hard things, and the misery that Margo openly jokes about (wondering aloud to her audience why anyone would come to a Cowboy Junkies concert expecting to hear happy songs), and some of the political happenings that Joan, Mary Chapin, Amy, and Emily talked about and sang about and alluded to, and just despite the ever-ongoing struggle -- in spite of these things, my god but isn't there some beauty to be found out there, to be brought into our lives thanks to the random simple chances we come across?

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

To end or not to end the Facebreak

I didn't really mean to give up Facebook for Lent. I don't even celebrate Lent. Wait, observe Lent. Participate in Lent? See, that's how much I don' whatever it is that I don't do with regards to Lent; I don't even know what verb to use. I grew up going to church, but it was a church that didn't really shove the whole pick-something-to-give-up-for-40-days thing down our throats. And now I've goodbyed to all that church stuff, so Lent is one of those things I watch other people do, like when my friends give up drinking for that whole time but still play on our pub quiz trivia team, which is rather stalwart of them, don't you think?

But what happened this year was, I had an incident that made me suddenly and forcefully decide I needed to reconsider my relationship to Facebook, specifically, the extent to which I rely on it to function as it says it does, to live up to its own standards, to not mess up. Of course Facebook messes up - nothing/nobody is perfect and all that, but we count on it not to. That's dangerous. It certainly worked out to be dangerous for me. (Details? Yeeeahhh...maybe I can get into the details later. I'm working on a project about that.)

And so, reminding myself of that time in law school when I grounded myself from going into Manhattan for one month because I was not proud of the alcohol choices I had made there, a few weeks ago I suddenly and forcefully just decided I should reconsider my reliance on Facebook being reliable by not relying on it, that is to say, not logging on, until I had accomplished a specific professional goal. And it just so happened that this whole incident went down on the night of Mardi Gras, with Ash Wednesday upon us. That didn't really dawn on me until a couple of days later, though, when I suddenly was like, Oh hey! I could give up Facebook for Lent! To which I responded to myself, What? A 40-day Facebreak? To which my first self responded, That reply shows me (us?) how much you need a 40-day Facebreak. (Let the record reflect that, see, I didn't even know that Lent actually lasts longer than 40 days, which is very confusing, and further evidence of how much I really don't do the Lent thing. Except when I apparently do.)

And so here we are, honing in on Easter, and as everyone hunts for eggs and bites bunnies to see if they're solid or hollow and remembers that after three days the Lord Is Risen, I'll be all mission-accomplished and I can actually check Facebook and see just what the hell has happened there for the last month and a half.

Although, you know, speaking of amounts of days, I've always been kind of confused by that whole "after three days the stone was rolled away bit" because I mean, isn't the whole thing that he was crucified on Friday night? And on Sunday morning he'd already fled the tomb and risen? That's basically a day and a half. Ya know? But we call it three days.

Counting days is hard, I guess, when it's Lenten time.

But the real question is, what should I DO if/when I end my Facebreak and rejoin the party? Any suggestions? What should be my first move? Will I have a million notifications to deal with? Will all my algorithms be hopelessly altered? Will I find out I have missed some crucial message offering me a million dollars or my dream job or trip around the world? No, but seriously, have you ever taken a long Facebreak? What did you do at the end of it?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

In Which St. Patrick Checks His Calendar...
and His Watch

Well, here we are in Chicago and the news and community media are breathlessly encouraging everyone to enjoy the big excitement this weekend. What excitement, you ask? Well, isn't it obvious? As WGN-TV explains in their guide, "St. Patrick's Day weekend is upon us!"

Except, as you and I know, it most certainly is not.

That never stopped, Chicago, though! -- as I first reported in 2010, the year I discovered that Chicago can never seem to figure out what (holi-)day it is.

This morning, Saturday, March, 11, the famous dye-the-Chicago-River-green event took place at 9 a.m., followed by the St. Patrick's Day Parade at noon. Tomorrow, Sunday, March 12, will be the South Side St. Patrick's Day Parade. Also this weekend are the Leprechaun Leap 5K/8K Run and the Get Lucky Half Marathon/14K/7K. Chicagoland is blissfully concerned that St. Patrick's Day, that is, March 17th - SEVENTEENTH, people! - is still six days away.

Blissfully unconcerned that if anything were to be considered St. Patrick's Day "weekend" it might be, you know, the weekend that starts with Friday, March 17th - St. Patrick's Day.

Alas, no, that is not how we do in Chicago. And by "we" I mean - decidedly not me. This particular quirk of Chicago has driven me absolutely nuts since we moved here the first time in 2010. Be it Saint Patrick or the Bastille, Halloween or Christmas, Chicago will find a way to host a big party on a date that differs from the calendar date of the holiday. Why? Why, Chicago, why why why?

I refuse to participate in any of these off-date celebrations on principle. Is nothing sacred, Chicago? You think you know better than TIME?

What an appropriate weekend to be asking *that* particular question, too -- the weekend we all (but not my peeps back home in Arizona!) get to "spring forward" and turn our clocks to Daylight Saving Time (note: no 's' on Saving) and pretend that this somehow gives us "more daylight" and demonstrate that humans are stupid (because they can't ever seem to figure out which is standard time - that would be Central Standard Time - and which is altered - that would be Central Daylight Time) and humans are lazy (the daylight is there in the mornings if you would just get your lazy selves out of bed to enjoy it!!) and humans are impractical (you have now extended Daylight Saving to MORE of the year than Standard Time -- from March to November, now, we are on  Daylight Time. So then JUST CHANGE THE TIME ZONES PERMANENTLY YOU MAKE NO SENSE HUMANS JUST SET YOUR CLOCKS AHEAD ONE HOUR ONCE AND BE DONE FOREVER WHY WHY WHY).

Time and date, man. Who knew how complicated life could be?

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

"The (right) envelope, please!"

Well, if this 2017 Oscar ceremony, awarding statuettes to 2016 films, didn't just have the surprise of a lifetime in store for all of us! Who'da thunk it...that the beloved and theoretically a little stuffy and boring Price Waterhouse Coopers accountants would take their eye off the ball for a fraction of a second and lead us to this!

For anyone who's been living under a rock this week, or for someone reading this 110 years in the future when the debacle is long forgotten, here's what happened: Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway of Bonnie and Clyde (and other) fame took to the Academy Awards stage to hand out the anticipated final award of the evening, for Best Picture. La La Land, the big shiny glamorous (but still a little quirky) "rebirth of the Hollywood musical" or whatever, had tied All About Eve and Titanic for a record 14 nominations, but as the evening went on it had won some and lost some. Moonlight, the low-budget, gritty, independent coming-of-age tale that follows a poor, troubled, black boy in Miami through three life segments as he contends with bullies, hunger, a drug-addicted mother, and questioning his sexuality, and illuminates a touching relationship between him and a mentor father figure (for which role Mahershala Ali won Best Supporting Actor), had been seen all Awards Season as the counterpoint to La La Land - and had been declared by no small number of critics to be the year's best film, I might add. So there we were, and Warren Beatty stared at the card, examining it, turning it over -- but, notably, not audibly expressing his concern, just physically -- then handed it to Faye Dunaway, who read "La La Land!" as the winner, and the producers and cast came up to the stage and gave speeches but there was a weird commotion with a stagehand in a headset and others in the mix and in the end it turns out Bonnie and Clyde had the wrong card, and Moonlight was the winner of Best Picture. OMG, right? Sooooo....exeunt, La La Land, and hey! you guys! Moonlight  did it! Which is so nice and touching and triumph of the human spiritish, not to mention fun for all of us who didn't get on the Blah Blah Land hype train.

Those are the facts. Now, on to the interpretations.

In the moment, everyone watching, whether us at home or them in the theater audience, was just like, Wait, what's happening here?! The end of the Oscars became a quest to lay blame: who had the right card? who had the wrong card? who said what? what did Warren Beatty see? what did the accountants do? who was Tweeting selfies instead of focusing on his work? who knew the winner and when did they know it?! But the next day, hooo-boy, the Oscars equivalent of Monday morning quarterbacking began, and how!

Suddenly, now, the whole thing was a metaphor for our perilous, racist world (and by the way: we absolutely do live in a perilous, racist world, and that is a fact. You lucky people reading this 110 years in the future know whether or not we solved anything, but here in 2017 we are all just confused and don't know why we can't get our shite together on this issue--at least those of us who aren't hideous/violent/racist/Trump-voting or some overlap of those things are confused, as to why said hideous/violent/racist/Trump-voting people don't want to just, you know, be better. But yeah, we have a legacy of racism after founding our country on genocide and slavery and we suck and we have not solved this problem yet.) Suddenly, multiple commentaries were published in which the big, moneyed, studio-backed, and white La La Land was swept off the stage (see: "all the world's a...") to be replaced by the independent, marginalized voices telling diverse stories such as Moonlight. 

OK, so that's just a teensy bit overwrought to me. But, you know, it's a conflict story that we had heard a wee bit of during the awards season anyway, so it wasn't invented as Faye crowed "La la la...!" It was a chance for writers to "I-told-you-so" with their thesis, but not out of nowhere. BUT. Then there was Cosmopolitan. I partially agree with what a Cosmo writer was trying to say: namely, that Moonlight was robbed of its moment. That is true and it sucks. I have said it before and I will say it a million more times, LET THE CEREMONY RUN LONG and in this particular case, everyone should have been like, hang on! don't head for the exits! don't start that orchestra swell! and given Moonlight the longest acceptance moment on stage ever. Yes. On the other hand, I think people will remember that they won Best Picture for quite a while, unlike, say, The Artist of 2011 which even now is hard to pull up in the old memory banks, a mere five years later. But anyway, so while I partially agree with Brittney Cooper for pointing that out in an online Cosmopolitan piece, and I like other writing of hers, I strongly disagree with this part of what she said:
Much like Jimmy Kimmel, however, Americans are socially conditioned to feel the most empathy for what white folks are losing rather than for what black folks are rightfully, finally winning. Certainly Kimmel was not being malicious when he said to the La La Land producers, “I think you should just keep it anyway.” He felt bad that anyone should have to lose in such a public way. But notice that what Kimmel didn’t say is, “Let’s get Moonlight up here right now and let them have their moment.” His empathy, like that of many others, went towards the people who looked most like him on stage.
No. This was a colossal screw-up and it grabbed everyone's attention, which is evident by how ALL the Oscar jabber for the next 24 hours led with the tale of the envelope screw-up. Nobody could imagine or prepare for exactly the right thing to say or do when the WRONG MOVIE's producers are standing there delivering acceptance speeches. Any movie, in any year, with writers/directors/actors of any race, would likely have elicited the exact same comment from any host. I really believe that. You're standing there, desperate to improvise in a totally unprecedented situation, and you come up with, "Ha ha ha, let's all have awards!"  It's not a great line, nor is it terrible. And it really isn't as replete with meaning as the bigger institutional workings of the Academy, and of power in society, are. In fact, I think that may be libelous, to accuse host Jimmy Kimmel of feeling more empathy for white La La Land than black Moonlight. And p.s., am I only the one who also saw a white producer accepting that Moonlight award, proving again that it's SO institutional, and so much about systemic power and privilege and wealth than individual people, like Kimmel, or viewers at home, wanting things to be that way?

Brittney Cooper has some great insights about the systemic problems and racial politics of awards shows and the entertainment industry. Definitely read her thoughts here about Adele's not-racist Grammy moment just a couple weeks ago. But I challenge her statement about my or anyone's empathy. My empathy was HUGELY with Moonlight. I was watching and thinking, "Oh my god! What's happening! What are they going to do! Moonlight, you guys!" I was totally drawn to them in that moment. It's not even about which movie I liked more (for the record, I wouldn't have voted for either of them, though I ranked Moonlight slightly higher than Blah Blah Land in my ranking of the Best Picture noms). It's about that totally wackadoodle moment.

I think it is incumbent on me and other white people to think about why and how that moment can come across that way to a black writer, and to truly ask ourselves why the hell we're still living in such a world.

But I also think it is important that we don't misinterpret a laughable-if-it-weren't-so-horrible what-the-hell moment as something it's not. How is that going to help us?

(And we do need help. Have we gotten any better, at all, ye readers of the year 2127?)