Freedom means a lot of things to a lot of people. One thing I’m grateful for is that we live in a time and place where we’re as free as we are. We’re free to take that freedom for granted. We’re free to poke it with a stick and see what it is, what it’s made of, how it works, how to use it. We’re free to think and believe how we will.
We’re free to agree and disagree every step of the way, and boy howdy do we. Continue reading →
Should I remain loyal to the men and women in the three branches of that government who have shown more loyalty to self and self-service than to the electorate?
Trump meets Comey at an Oval Office reception (Image Credit: Andrew Harrer / POOL / EPA)
The ousted director of the FBI sat in front of a Senate committee and told the panelists the president of the United States had demanded the director’s loyalty.
Meanwhile, Joseph Kennedy III, a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, spoke about loyalty for two minutes on the floor of the House of Representatives. Kennedy pondered President Donald’s loyalty to the nation’s citizenry, asking whether the president “put his own personal and political interests above the interests of the American people.”
“Americans,” Kennedy said, “should never have to doubt the loyalty of our commander-in-chief.”
Given that loyalty has again entered the national conversation, I’d like to remind S&R readers of one man’s perspective about assigning — and retracting — loyalty. Here’s the post from February 2014: “A contrarian’s disheartened view of loyalty.”
One November day in Tokyo my wife and I were walking through the normally quiet and deserted midday streets of Golden Gai in Shinjuku. Suddenly I heard voices singing loudly to a very mainstream-sounding J-pop song. I followed the raucous sounds to a little dive which, unlike the other dives around it, had its front door wide open. Inside a bartender and three customers were joyously boozing it up and singing like contestants trying out for a television talent show.
And so, after calling my wife over to have a look we unexpectedly found ourselves sitting in a teeny Golden Gai bar ordering drinks at 12:30 in the afternoon.
Even the music that has comforted me, inspired me, brought sanity to a broken world time after time, kept me company, kicked my ass into gear, healed other wounds … even that is of little help now.
May 15, 2002, the day after graduating from college, the Dave Matthews Band cover of “In My Life” made me cry so hard I had to pull over on the side of the highway because I couldn’t see the rainy road through the sobs.
May 18, 2017, driving into work on an overcast Thursday morning, the tears came again, probably the second wave of the 90 minutes I’d been awake. One of the guiding voices of my life was gone, unexpectedly and without any kind of reason that made sense, and there was nothing to do but go to work and try to stay distracted for nine hours.
In the intervening 15 years, there were cross-country moves, more than a dozen jobs, two seriously broken hearts, the deaths of my beloved mentor and grandparents, the births of my seven (soon to be eight) nieces and nephews. Through it all, the music was there to keep me tethered.
St. Paul and Sir Paul were trying to tell me pretty much the same thing as I said goodbye to someone I loved very much and will miss for the rest of my life.
“And in the end the love you take Is equal to the love you make…” – Paul McCartney
And in the end… (image courtesy Wikimedia)
My favorite uncle died a few days ago.
Rational, objective description sometimes is inadequate to explain people. Any such description of my Uncle Carl would use terms such as hard-working, plain-spoken, no-nonsense, tough-minded, straight-ahead.
Such a guy would not seem to be one who would inspire an outpouring of love and affection from large numbers of people. But Uncle Carl did. His visitation was packed and went on well past its scheduled two hour period. His funeral, a rite held in the Friends (Quaker) church he attended (his decision to join the Friends late in his life probably also seems anomalous given the above description) was a love fest of expressions of love and affection for a hard-working, plain-speaking, no-nonsense guy. Continue reading →
Third in my ongoing S&R Tokyo Series. Here’s part one and part two.
In Asakusa at Kamiya Bar (神谷バー) you never know who you might meet. My wife and I were drinking there one night in November, 2015 with an Australian friend and her Japanese husband. The tables in Kamiya Bar are packed closely together, so we couldn’t help notice that the people at the next table were having a hell of a good time.
I took a chance and asked if I could photograph them. They happily agreed.
There are even people who have expressed doubts about why the victims would wait 30 years to come forward. Such conjecture does what is often done with victims of abuse or rape – cast doubt on their accounts of what they endured. At a time when the focus on campus rape has, rightfully, increased, and people in power believe they can treat women as less than human, I’ve been having flashbacks and issues arising from being raped almost forty years ago. Continue reading →
The New York Times estimates there will be 1.3 trillion photos taken this year. Granted, the signal:noise ratio is low. A vast majority of these images will be captured with mobile phones of varying quality. Most will be selfies and casual users curating the moments of their lives, and if you want to insert the word “banal” in that description somewhere I won’t argue. I learned not long after buying my first camera that there’s a big difference between doing photography and merely taking pictures.
All that said, 1.3 trillion – that’s a huge number, and it must be acknowledged that digital technology has exerted a democratizing force on creativity. New tools have provided those who can’t afford an expensive DSLR with a means to capture, process and interpret their worlds in remarkably inventive ways.
If you can afford a nice digital camera, as well as increasingly accessible top-end digital editing tools (I use Lightroom, Photoshop and several of the functions in the Nik suite), the options are, for all practical purposes, infinite. Continue reading →
UPDATE: As explained in the update to part 1, Mr. C is Thomas Tilman Cridlebaugh, a longtime teacher and coach at Wallburg and Ledford Jr. High Schools in Davidson County, NC.
Yesterday I reflected on the conflict I’m facing in light of the revelation that one of the most important influences in my life, a junior high teacher and coach, had been convicted of sexually abusing several minor students. In closing, I wondered how close I came to being one of those victims.
I was a naïve, deeply religious boy. Prosecutors said Mr. C’s dirty jokes and “locker room talk” were “grooming” behavior designed to figure out who might be amenable to his advances. Continue reading →
Many of us, if we were lucky, had people in our lives when we were young who shaped us, molded us – important, vitally influential characters without whom we would be less than we are. Teachers, coaches, perhaps church leaders, family friends or relatives – we learn values from these figures that we never unlearn, and we can feel their presence, if we concentrate, decades later, in both our most pivotal and banal moments.
Can you name the five most influential people in the history of your life? I can, sort of. There’s about a ten-way tie for fifth, but the first four are my grandparents, my former teacher and now S&R colleague Jim Booth, and a junior high coach and teacher I’ll call Mr. C. This post is about him, and it’s one I have dreaded writing because I really have no idea what to do with my feelings.
Try this: stop, close your eyes, and focus on your other senses instead. You might discover a world beyond your eyes that you haven’t payed enough attention to.
Image credit: Disney/Lucasfilm
“Your eyes can deceive you – don’t trust them” – Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars
We experience the world so much through our eyes. Poets and philosophers have talked about our eyes being windows into our souls, about a picture – perceived via our vision – being worth a thousand words. Those of us who are able to see normally (or with minimal correction to our vision) too often pity the blind and nearly blind for being unable to experience the beauty of a sunset or appreciate the artistry of a painting.
But Obi-Wan’s wisdom is known to anyone who has studied how easily our brains can be tricked by visual illusions. Our eyes can be deceived. As amazing a product of evolution eyesight is, it isn’t perfect by any means. And while it’s possible to have a profound experience looking at a photograph or inspecting a microbe through a microscope, we have other senses. And it’s possible to have profound experiences that are driven by our other senses as well.
Over the years, I’ve had profound experiences that had little or nothing to do with my vision. Not always good experiences, but there’s nothing in the definition of “profound” that requires the experience to be a good or pleasant one. Continue reading →
What is a good parent? What is a good grandparent? These terms don’t mean what they used to.
I heard a comment a few weeks ago about someone who wanted to be thought of as a “good ancestor.” It has stuck with me, and I have been wrestling with what, if anything, is meant by the phrase. It’s a serious attempt to capture something that up to a decade or two ago would never have been in question. Up until recently, ancestors generally were good in the same way. They tried to make a career and livelihood for themselves that could be passed on to their children, or to equip their children with the tools necessary to survive and, hopefully, to prosper. My grandparents took this responsibility seriously—this is why some of them emigrated to America from Germany. And this sense of responsibility preceded them by generations, and was passed on to their children, who tried to, and sometimes even succeeded in, passing it on to my generation. Leaving the world a better place was a given.
But the world has changed. All of this took place in a world that seemed to have no limits—natural capital, if it was thought about at all, was thought to be inexhaustible. But we know now that this is not true. Not only is natural capital, the foundation of the global economic system, exhaustible, some parts of it (such as water) are being depleted at a more rapid rate than anyone could have anticipated. Continue reading →
On my way to work this past Monday, I drove past an older man doing t‘ai-chi exercise by the side of a particularly busy street in South San Francisco. I broke several traffic laws turning my car around so that I could pull up to the curb in front of him to take a photograph. Luckily, I got to him just in time to capture this exuberant expression.
I’ve looked for the old man each subsequent morning since this encounter, but haven’t seen him…
(Hillside Boulevard near Lincoln Street, South San Francisco, California 2017. See my other work here and here.)
It’s spring in Ashland, Oregon. Winter in the west has been long, cold, and snowy. Most people are over it.
Walking through town yesterday, I stopped to enjoy the magnolia blossoms that are about to explode. They have escaped their protective bracts, but are uncertain about fully opening to the tepid sun. A massive camellia tree stands next to the magnolia. Camellia flowers are a color never seen anywhere else, red and pink and raspberry, but none of these.
As I stood admiring the tree, a man walked up next to me and commented on the flowers. I responded, “They’re beautiful.” He impulsively reached over, snapped one off, and handed it to me. Continue reading →
Simon died two weeks ago today and I am still waking up at at 3:30 in the morning.
That was when we took our first walk of the day. We used to start the day at 5:45 when I got up for work, but when Daylight Saving Time ended in 2015, Simon never quite adjusted. Gradually he woke me up earlier and earlier until he settled on 3:30, give or take a half hour. By that time he was over 12 and he had been with me for 11 years.
Simon spent the last year in extra innings. Last spring he developed fluid on his abdomen and the vets found a mass on his liver. The specialist recommended surgery–but we decided against it. The procedure was drastic and the outcome not certain since they could not know ahead of time how advanced the tumor was. I was crushed by the thought of losing him, but could not put him through the pain with so little guarantee that he would be better off for it. The specialist had drained much of the fluid and Simon was more of his old self. Continue reading →
Holiday’s goal is to reveal herself without giving herself away.
“I can’t stand to sing the same song the same way two nights in succession, let alone two years or ten years. If you can, it ain’t music, it’s close order drill or exercise or yodeling or something, not music.” – Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday in full flight (image courtesy Wikimedia)
Lady Sings the Blues is, I suppose, one of the first autobiographies by a popular music star. This, the first book from the 2017 reading list, is an “as told to.” One of the things the ghost writer (to resurrect an old term), William Dufty, a reporter for the New York Post and a personal friend of Holiday, does beautifully is avoid much revision of Holiday’s words. As best as I have been able to discover, Dufty did a series of extended interviews with Holiday without the benefit of tape recording. That Lady Sings the Blues reads like a transcribed conversation with Lady Day is a tribute to Dufty’s careful rendering of Holiday’s words in her voice.
Dufty’s success in allowing Holiday to speak for herself is both charming and haunting, both illuminating and (unintentionally, perhaps) misleading. What one realizes as one reads this autobiography is that Holiday’s goal is to reveal herself without giving herself away. Let me put that more accurately: what Billie Holiday tries to do in Lady Sings theBlues is not give her selfaway even as she reveals herself. Continue reading →
My very own Daisy moment, courtesy of Donald Trump’s first 12 days in office
From Lydon Johnson’s “Daisy” ad (image credit: Smithsonian Magazine)
Donald Trump was sworn in on January 20, 2017. Today is February 1. In that period, I’ve fallen asleep twice wondering if I’d wake up to a bright flash followed by a shock wave that turned my home to burning splinters around me and my sleeping family.
I’ve started wondering if this is what it was like for my parents, learning as children to “duck and cover” under their desks in the event of a nuclear attack. Whether this level of daily stress was normal during the Cuban Missile Crisis and other low points of the Cold War. They’re still alive – maybe I should ask them. Perhaps their perspective could help allay some of my fears. Then again, do I really want to know that they think “it’s worse now than it was then,” if in fact that’s what they think? Continue reading →