Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Usefulness of Wasting Time

"I loaf and invite my soul.
I lean and loaf at my ease, observing a spear of summer grass."
-- Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

I'm fifty-one years old. At this age, if one has half of a brain, one finally realizes one has lived more life than what remains. It can be a chilling epiphany. But, one moves on with the "third act," as it were, because...what's the alternative?

At this point, with a new aim of creating a second/retirement career as a film and TV composer, I find myself approaching composition and "taking care of business" with a kind of intensity I have never really been known for. (Last year, I wrote sixty-five pieces of music. That's probably as much as I have written since I wrote my first piece when I was ten years old. You can clearly see the inverse proportions...) 

Some guys my age buy souped-up Ford Mustangs and crank up Journey's Greatest Hits, some double-down on their compositional efforts. 

No, I know it's not quite the same, but it is born of the same realization: time is running out. 

It's typical for people my age to look back and be mad about "all the time I wasted." I've felt that way, at times, but, in the end, I have decided I am not angry at Young Chris for "wasting time" because maybe what I was doing was actually useful -- even necessary. Maybe it was kind of an incubation period of the spirit; of the mind; of my creativity. Maybe "the child is the father of the man," after all, and all of that "time-wasting" happened in order to prepare me for the period of creativity and energy I am in now. Children learn from play; maybe young adults learn from loafing. 

I'm not, in any way, advocating peeing away one's time and there are many things I feel are a grand waste. One example is standing in a club with music that is so loud you can't talk to your friends for hours on end. I found that a waste of time when I was twenty, for the record, along with many other things. (And lawn-care. Lawn care is a waste of time, if you ask me.) 

My version of wasting time was sitting in bars with groups of friends, for hours on end, talking about interesting ideas; it was loafing and inviting my soul, Whitman-style, in a hammock in my yard, day after day in the summers; it was watching cartoons; it was watching movies; it was walking and holding hands and talking marathon sessions on the rotary phone with with girlfriends; it was staying up late and then sleeping until two o'clock in the afternoon; I was missing parties in order to read, sometimes three books at once -- especially during grad school.  

It is so easy to look back at all this and lament what I could have gotten done had I just applied myself more. Well, I would have produced more writing and more music; that's for sure. But how good would the work have been? Can a guy who has not "wasted" time with his friends and lovers and with his own thoughts write or compose anything truly moving to others?

Maybe it was all preparation for the real work; work that was, some day, to be based on a matured and experience-based life -- what I'm doing now? Well, you can decide that. But I do think sitting and talking and thinking and loving and dreaming are never a waste of time, so long as they come to action someday. 

These days, though I still like it, I'm not as enamored of sleep as I once was. These days, I compose every day, instead of putting it off for a thousand other things. These days, I schedule my TV watching and only do an hour a day; maybe a movie on the weekends. It's just that it is time to start burning the reserves of action I have in the old tank thanks to my lazy, loafing, fat-backing twenty-year-old self. 

And, you know what I still do? I still "waste" Sunday afternoons sitting on the couch and drinking coffee with my wife and talking. We've been known to sit from ten until three, chewing the proverbial fat. And it's never a waste. (Tons of our conversations have wound up here, in fact.) 

Maybe we humans just know what we need and we instinctually do it. But if we messed up, we messed up. Wiser men than I have pointed out that regret is the true waste of time. So why waste time regretting wasted time when that time wasted is not only not a waste but, just maybe, a necessary part of growing in to someone better? [Yeah, I'd read that again, too. That's some ugly writing, right there.]

Now, go forth and loaf! (And I will go forth and write music, submit music, think of a post for next week, work more on my upcoming literature podcast and on the podcast I have planned for Hats and Rabbits [you heard it here first] and work on the outline for an idea I had for a book [all while raising two boys, training two pups and preparing for a new year of teaching...) 

Or..maybe I'll just loaf today...

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Morlocks and Eloi

Morlocks from the 1960 film.
Maybe it's all an anti-elitism movement. I dislike snobs, too. I go into towns in my area, sometimes, in which it feels like the population sees itself as better than everyone else. It stinks to be in a restaurant and feel like you just are not posh enough to be there. But we can't create a society of mechanical oafs whose closest thing to a dream is to break rocks for a good living. 

I'm a guy (and I have made this point lots of times on this blog) who has respect for the blue-collar workers who can do stuff I can't. To me, higher education does not make you better; it's just a different path. But I do think everyone, from bricklayer to barrister, ought to be cultured. Being cultured should not be a dividing line, it should be a common thread. 

Because of all this, I'm getting sick of high school-bashing. It feels very much the same as my recent "Dirty Jobs?" post. I'm getting tired of posts that say something along the lines of "stop teaching algebra  and start teaching personal finance." Or, one I saw recently, that said:

ME: How do I do my taxes?
PUBLIC SCHOOL: Shut the ____ up and square dance. 

Haha. Funny.  Here we go again. Of course, in the grand scheme, how important is square dancing? I mean, it's pretty irrelevant, and I'm not sure how many schools still really do it. My son had a PE class in dance, last year, and they did more current dances.

But, how horrible would it be to live in a world in which we only teach our kids the practical? I'm all for home economics and personal finance for a quarter or for a semester, but this replacement of literature or algebra, in meme-logic, is an asinine thing to suggest. Just as with the job thing ("college is stupid and the trades are good") the black-and-white zombies have the loudest voices.

My uncle, a lifelong educator, once shook his head and asked, with great sorrow in his voice, when colleges became trade schools. Whenever it happened, he's right: they did. They started out as places meant to, mostly, teach people how to find God; they evolved into places of "higher earning" in which the ivory-tower-dwellers tried hard to turn base metals into gold and then they became places people attended in order to strengthen their understanding of the world. Now they are a place to go so you can "make good money."

Let's not call for our high schools nix anything that one you can't use in everyday life. Maybe if we concentrate on higher-level thinking skills -- things at the top of Bloom's "Learning Pyramid" -- people will be able to actually figure out how to write a check on their own. Don't you think? It seems to me that the skills that these people want taught are things any intelligent human ought to be able to figure out for himself.

A good reader who has read Shakespeare can certainly read a recipe; therefore he can cook. A good mathematician can certainly figure out how to balance a checkbook on her own. It isn't that hard if your brain is in good shape. If you teach a person how a fishing rod works, in physics, he not only will be able to fish, he will be able to make his own rod and eat the rest of his life.

We need contradict the loud and proud dumb-downers. Let's not become Wells's Morlocks and Eloi. Let's produce a society of plumbers who read Shakespeare and professors who can install garbage disposals. (I did it once.)

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

"You had a great childhood if..."

Seriously? had a great childhood." That's pretty much it.

See, it doesn't come down to whether you owned a pair of Nike sneakers with the "red swoosh" or whether you swam in a lake or had a bike with a banana seat. A good childhood is bigger than that, right?

I know this is obvious, but it doesn't stop people (especially my age -- early fifties) from posting memes about irrelevant conditions and crediting them with the sum-total of our experiences as children. Yeah, I, too, traded baseball cards with my friends, and it is a fond memory, but it wasn't a fulfillment of the Coleridgean ideal, like a child running through the Somerset countryside.

And parents. If I see one more meme about how "great" a dad is because he does something entertaining, I am going to bite my computer. Just as my unenthusiastic licking of colored and tasteless ice crystals labeled as "Sno-Cones" didn't mean my youth was a stateof euphoria, a dad taking cute pictures and letting his daughter paint his toenails doesn't make him a "great dad."

I know what you are thinking: "Duh, Chris. It's just a way to point out the cuteness or the nostalgia. No one really believes these outward shows are indications of quality."

Maybe not. But, as with all things we are repeatedly presented with, these posts tend to nudge us farther and farther into superficiality in our casual thinking.

Staying out and riding my bike "until the streetlights came on" is a fond memory. My independence as a kid, being out and playing pick-up baseball and basketball games with my friends in the summer is something I wish kids today would do more of. But, they are only components of what I remember as a pretty darned good childhood.

What's the harm? Well, it reduces thinking into a real reliance of conditions and possessions. It places importance on material things: toys, clothes, styles. It's just more hum under the music of life. Even our nostalgia is becoming superficial. We're training our kids to someday post a picture of an XBox controller that says, "If you had one of these things in your hands fifteen hours a day, you had a great childhood." We should be nostalgic for that night we talked until the sun came up, not that we had a shore house in which to do it.

It wasn't the house that made that night great. It's not the toenail polish that makes the dad great. It's not the sneakers that make the childhood great. Dig?

Sure, the cute dad is adorable. But we need to stop calling him a "great dad" because he and his daughter are squishy and lovable. Last I checked, people didn't become parents for credit; to be recognized. They did it out of love and dedication to the formation of a healthy child.

To go back, once again, to Hamlet, we need less "seeming" and more "being" and these memes are not helping. (Let's face it, the whole Internet culture is about seeming, isn't it? Maybe it is an un-winable war I'm waging here. I just saw a meme about how "sexy" a good dad is. Yuck.)

We get anaesthetized. Great dads and great childhoods don't come down to appearance. They are about soul.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Our Uncomfortable Young Women

The First Feminist(?)
I have noticed a very meaningful paradox in the young women of America. Many of them (if not most) seem to feel compelled to embrace "sexiness" but they also seem completely uncomfortable doing so. This, I think, is one of the many negative results of the media-driven world.

Young women are taught (by example, in music and the media) that overt sexuality equals power; a kind of Wife of Bath-ish feministic statement. They are almost, I would argue, sent the message that it is their duty to be sexy; to wear certain revealing styles. I'm told by my young female students, in class discussion, that every young girl has, at some point, received at text from a boy that says "send nudes." The shocking thing here is not that boys want to see naked girls but that those boys seem to think they have a right to see these pictures; or, maybe worse, that getting pictures like that is a matter of course in their relationships with girls. The other thing I am told is that may girls comply because "they feel like they have to."

What I see in daily life is a lot of young women wearing clothes that "show" more than I ever, as a young man growing up in the 80s, saw. What I also see is how uncomfortable most of these girls seem to be in those revealing clothes. They seem constantly to be adjusting and trying to cover up.

It kind of breaks my heart to see that; to be witness to the profound and moving struggle between innocence and experience playing itself out in mannerisms.

To be clear -- and I don't mean this to be funny or ironic in any way -- I have respect for a confident woman who is comfortable both in a with her own skin; who is not ashamed to be sexy. She has every right to "strut her stuff" as they say; I (and the rest of us fellows), of course, still have an obligation to be gentlemanly toward her. But there is a great strength in a woman who is comfortable with her body and who is not ashamed.

That's all great, but, what if one is not ready for that? -- or what if one simply is not that person? This is what makes me sad, because it comes down to the usual thing: people being crushed by the weight of a media-connected, group thinking world.

I wasn't blessed with a daughter, but, if I had been, I would have done my best to encourage her to find her own "look" -- to be herself, without shame whether sh had chooses to dress minimally or conservatively. But I also would have tried to teach her that "sexy" isn't just about showing skin. It all has to be her choice to make, how she dresses; but every girl needs the independent spirit and confidence to really make it her own choice.

One thing I do know is that it really shreds a little bit more off of my already thinning soul every time I see a young girl who is obviously uncomfortable with the way society has dressed her. I don't blame her. I feel bad for her. Sadly, her only option is to take up arms against the ocean waves. Hopefully she has family and friends willing to support her in the fight.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Dirty Jobs?

Welsh workmen. 
I really like Mike Rowe. I just about always agree with him. Most importantly, I respect his flawlessly logical perspectives on things. He's one hell of the thinker and he is not a tribe-joiner. He has played and still plays a huge role in promoting jobs that don't require college.

You'd think, as a teacher, that I would have a problem with this, but I never developed a bias against "the working class." And I know, full well, many of my students would be way more suited for job training than for college, after they leave my school.

Fact is: college is not for everyone, but we made it a matter of course. That's a problem. We've made it the natural next-step after high school. So, I agree with Mike Rowe: we should encourage kids to consider skilled and even unskilled jobs. These jobs are available and they are necessary and they are good, old fashioned, dignified work. There is no shame in not having a degree and there is plenty of money to be made without one.

If you are a long-term reader, though, you can probably guess what is coming next: It just seems that every good idea gets ruined by our society because, as a whole, it cannot see shades of gray; only black and white.

Instead of a nice, balanced outcome; instead of a world in which college people and non-college people live in the harmony of mutual respect and value, we have stepped into the trend of college-bashing. I'm already sick of seeing how much crane-operators make per hour and, consequently, how "dumb" it is to spend money on a college education when it will only result in student loans and high cost and not as much pay.

(If we are talking about stupidity when it comes to college, let's talk about the folly of choosing exhorbitantly expensive colleges just because little poopsie fell in love with the campus. A cozy, bricky dorm and a great coffee shop is not worth $50, 000 a year for the same full education you could get elsewhere for $10,000 -- or less, at least in the first few years.)

Here's the thing: Yeah, as a young man, the prospect of earning $35 an hour out of college would have been tempting to me. But if I had trained to become a crane operator, I would have subsequently launched myself from the crane arm after about six months of work. See, I have zero interest in being a crane operator, mechanic or truck driver or, etc... Does this mean these jobs and the people who do them are inferior? No. It just means they are not my thing.

See, I'd rather make less than a plumber and be an English teacher. And I couldn't have become an English teacher without a college education. See how that works? (I played my cards right and went to grad school for free, but even debt would have been worth it.)

God forbid we should promote one thing without denigrating the other. We seem unable, these days. (Work, good? Ugh. Then college, bad.)

Mike Rowe has a communications degree from Towson. Surely, that helped him get where he is; ironically, it helps him to promote the worthiness of non-college jobs. (And, to be clear, I think he has always been balanced in his views -- it's where the general public took the idea that is a problem; no blame falls on him, as far as I am concerned.)

In the much maligned Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Indy is talking to a young man named Mutt, who complains that his mom wants him to go to college but that he (the young man) wants to just work on motorcycles. Indy tells him to hold true to his path; if he loves motorcycles, that's what he should do ("...don't let anybody tell you different..."). Later, when Indy learns that young man is actually his son, with Marian, he chastises her: "Why the hell didn't make him go to school?" A funny moment, and a good indication of the problem with the old college bias.

My sons? One is a freshman in high school and the other will go into his senior year of high school next year. Neither one of them has shown any interest in the trades. They write; they act; they play instruments; they play video games; they love movies; they love animals. But they have never shown any remote interest in anything other than the intellectual or the artistic fields. Is college a "dumb" choice for them? No. It's the only choice for them -- unless they quickly develop a deep passion for carpentry over the next few months.

These pieces are always frustrating to write because I know the people who need to read them won't. Why would they waste their time reading something by a guy who was stupid enough to go to college when he could have made a fortune as an electrician?