Friday, January 23, 2015

First Words; Altered Silence

Every morning, I walk out into my cold, dark neighborhood at 5:30 AM. I think I have found the perfect way to start my day; the perfect step -- both literally and figuratively -- into the world for someone who is an introvert but whose career relies on being around large numbers of people.

The most prominent sound is my footsteps on the wet roads. Only a few cars are awake and purring in driveways, but that sound is peaceful. The dogs (even mine) are sleeping. The usual, faint ocean-sound of distant traffic is absent. The grass frost twinkles in the available light and I avoid stepping on it for fear of the noise it will make, even though the boy in me wants to stomp right over everyone's lawns. (In today's world, though, I'd probably go out the next morning to find police patrolling for the owner of the size-twelve-shoes that defiled the sanctity of so many suburban lawns.)

I walk head-down, hood-up, hands jammed into the pockets of my heavy coat. My thoughts unwind gently, the way accordion-crunched drinking straw wrappers uncurl after a drop of water: slowly and meanderingly. I see bedroom lights wink on in the periphery, here and there. The only other signs of life within houses is the occasional blue glow of televisions and that glow makes me glad my senses haven't yet been assaulted by the electronic storm that the day will become once I step into the doors of my school.

Sometimes, I'll pass another walker and he will either cross to avoid me (which I respect and understand) or we will grunt a careful "good morning" low enough to avoid sending ripples into the silence we are both enjoying.

But most days, I am alone. Gloriously alone.

It's the difference between being hit with a bucket of cold water and taking a good breath before the plunge. It's a stretch before the game.

But today, the silence was destroyed. As I was taking the turn for home, a porch light blared on and drew my eye. A boy, no older than seven, opened the door stepped out and yelled the first words I was to hear for the day, back into his house: "I hate you. You...idiot!" He slammed the door shut and, holding no school bag and wearing no jacket, despite the 29-degree morning, climbed into his parents' idling minivan and pulled the door shut so hard I thought the glass would shatter.

For the rest of the way home, the silence seemed louder.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Parental Temptation: Forcing Joy

"No man really knows about other human beings. The best he can do is suppose that they are like himself." -- Steinbeck, from The Winter of our Discontent. 

A parental mistake?

When I was in fifth grade, I read Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea for the first (of many) times. I loved every word of it; hung on each of the old man's thoughts. Something in me immediately attached itself to the beauty of the work and to the quest of the old man to simply keep being who he was, despite his age; to his wise and humble inner pride; a pride that required (and would get) no external validation. I wouldn't have put it quite that way as a boy, but I understood on an instinctual level.

My sons have to read a book per month in school and do a quiz and a few projects on each book. I recommended it to my seventh-grader, who is both a reader and a thinker. I thought it would be right up his alley.

He didn't really like it. In fact, over the course of a month, he didn't manage to finish the ninety pages.

Part of my reasoning in recommending the book was that, even if he didn't like it as much as I had, he could easily polish off ninety pages. He has read 300 page books in that time allotment.

Apparently, he disliked it so much that he couldn't keep reading. He made an attempt to finish it the night before it was due, but, alas, fell short.

Am I disappointed? Yes. Not "in him" so much, but that a book that meant so much to me simply didn't mean much to my son. Which is okay. He's allowed not to like what I liked. And here is the parental crossroads between wanting my son to be happy and wanting him to be what I want him to be.

We've seen it: kids pressured to run the family business; kids who are harshly encouraged to follow in military or medical footsteps... I don't expect my son to be an English major or a drummer. It looks like, from all evidence, he is fascinated by languages and history. He could wind up a philologist. Who knows? I've never been one to try to pick a career for my children. All I really really want is for them to find happiness, whatever path they choose. (I also think it is a big mistake to place too much emphasis on jobs as sources of happiness.)

But what we dads (and moms) have to do, I think, once we have decided not to try to blueprint our kids' futures, is to separate ourselves from attempts to force or to guilt our children into enjoying the same joys we once had. It's right to want joy for our kids, but we need to realize they are different people from us. It cracks my heart, a little, that I gambled and lost, here -- that he didn't love the book the way I thought he would. But, he might some day find himself sad because his son wasn't moved by, I dunno...the film The Patriot, which he loves.

I know there is a lot at work here. Kids of this generation have had their attention spans ripped away by movies with camera shots that switch every .75 seconds and video games full of explosions and hyper speed action. We can't complain; we did it to them. I'm proud that he does read (and write, too!). Both my boys hang in just fine with the old movies with the more leisurely plots. so I really can't complain and I shouldn't be too worried by the damage done to the modern mind by the modern machines.

And I do hope he will be able to go back to Hemingway's book some day and say, "Oh, that's what my dad was talking about. I get it now..." But it may never happen and that would be okay; it's okay because he is a boy with intense interests in ideas and in things in general. Apathy is not in his future and apathy is the fastest way to sadness, if you ask me. He sees the world with the wonder of the never-bored.

Alas, Santiago will, for the time being, remain out at sea in the mind of a boy who just didn't climb on board with him.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Gene Krupa vs. Martin Luther King Junior

I did a lot of complaining (on Facebook) last week about everyone ignoring the 2,000 people slaughtered in Africa and talking about the 17 people who died in Paris or even about Chipper Jones's selfie. It does kind of blow my mind.

Yet, today (as I write this) I became aware of Gene Krupa's (the great big-band and jazz drummer's) birthday and read a few articles on him. It was only hours later that I realized that it is Martin Luther King Jr's actual birthday. After all, the day off isn't until Monday...

We are really doomed to look at the world through our own lenses. If I am being honest and self-examining, I have to admit that when faced with the question of who is more important to me -- Dr. King or Gene Krupa -- the answer is Gene Krupa. But, if asked who is more important to the world, the answer is, hands-down, Dr. King.

Gene Krupa changed the face of drumming. His playing on Benny Goodman's "Sing, Sing, Sing" was one of the first things that got me excited about drums. Drums and music are, next to my family, the most important thing in my life. Therefore, in direct reference to my own life, Krupa was more important; he had more of an impact on my life than King did.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

This Is (Probably Not) about You

He was tough. He was clever. He fought for what was right, because all that is necessary for evil to flourish is for good people like him sit by and do nothing about it. (It never occurred to him that he might be wrong about something; urgency dictated that he needed to act.)

The thing that made him most proud was that he was good with words. His speaking and writing had layers. He could craft speeches and memos to sound as if he were being munificent and selfless, even while he was drawing attention to his own exceptional performances in professional and social circles.

He rarely ate lunch and he never ate at company parties, which made his co-workers wonder why he was so plump. This was another one of his clever moves. He was a player of chess who spoke of avoiding french fries while others indulged and then he stopped on the way home for various confections. Some speculated he had glandular issues. This was preferable.

He knew every motivational and aphoristic cliche ever written. So had his father. He would never go behind his father's sayings, because the wisdom was indisputable.  Timeless. Traditional.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Some Thoughts on Modern Satire

I have been thinking about satire -- the whole concept. Two things have, of course, kept me sort of mentally glued to the subject: The Interview and the Charlie Hebdot situations

Before I even get started, let me reiterate (I mentioned this in the last post): I do not, in any way, support what happened in the Charlie Hebdot offices, nor do I think it was "their fault," and I am a staunch supporter of free speech who wouldn't attempt to stop anyone from expressing his or her views or perspectives. But, since it is on my mind, I do have some an opinions about the concept of satire in modern practice. In short, I think "satirists" have lost focus.

For most, satire is defined as literature (or any art) that uses humor in order to expose (or even ridicule) stupidity or corrupt behavior in its area of attack.  So far, so good.

But, to what end? 

We have all had the lesson about the venerable origins of satire: One wanted to avoid getting in the sites of the tribe's satirist who would ruin your life over Woolly Mammoth steaks around the fire. Satire is a necessary limb on the body of mankind. 

It seems to me, though, that satire has always had a very pointed design: to effect change. To show us our flaws in a way that is just removed enough to give us a dignified chance to switch paths. Pure ridicule or pure incitement of anger is kind of a worthless enterprise for a satirist.