Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Men in Bras

Lemon and Curtis: "Some Like it Hot."
During a long breakfast conversation at the seashore, we got into what people are wearing on the beach.

Though I'm not much of a beach guy, I'm a big ocean guy. Love to be in the water or on the water, but sitting on the beach, not so much. This week, I did some beach-sitting and I was pretty surprised by some of the beach fashions in the "family town" we occupied.

So, maybe the conversation started with my discovery that, some time since the last visit I  made to a beach (maybe ten years ago? -- actually sitting on the beach, that is...) it became okay for girls from twelve to fifty to pretty much not cover their posteriors. I've never been prudish, but I do kind of wish the starting age for this kind of thing were, say, twenty... Nevertheless, the beach is more cheeky than it once was... (Thank you. I'm here all week. Don't forget to tip your bartenders...)

Then my son said something that immediately presented itself as the basis for my next (this) post:

"It's 2019. A dude could walk onto the beach wearing a bikini bra and no one would even notice or care."

Interesting, isn't it? This is what he's been sold, and it is a lie. The lie he's been force-fed for many years, in school and online and on TV, is that everyone -- or at least mostly all -- are okay with gender-role negation. But it just isn't true.

Most ladies are "straight." Most straight ladies would rather see their men in pants than in dresses. Most men are "straight." Most straight men would rather see their women in dresses than in mechanics' coveralls.

I think the statements above are pretty indisputable. And nothing in there is evaluative, when it come to gender roles. It just happens that it is so. Most people are (to varying degrees) are in favor of traditional gender indicators at least. But I think it is safe to say that very few people on the beach, if any, would see a guy in a bikini bra and either not "even notice" or "care."

When I see those young girls in thong bikini bottoms, I immediately judge their parents. I admit it. I wonder how they could allow their daughter to go to the beach, at such a young age, in such objectifying attire. But here's the thing: I evaluate the parents, but I would never say anything to them. She's their daughter, not mine. I can think what I think, but I can't always say what I want.

And that is similar to what is going on when our fictitious fellow traipses onto the beach with a bikini bra on. People think various things, like (and remember, these are voices given to different kinds of  hypothetical people, not me):

"What the ____ is wrong with that guy?"
"Good for him!"
"What a (slur)."
"Did I see what I think I just saw?"
"Well that makes no practical sense..."
"He's just doing that for attention."
"I hope his dad is not alive to see that."
"I think it is adorable."
"I hope my son doesn't see this..."
"That is a mental condition, right there."
Even thoughts as dark as: "I'll kick his ___."

Etc., etc., etc....

See, just about no one would see that and "not notice" or "not care. One way or the other, everyone who saw him would notice and they would care/be upset or -- least of all, I think -- be supportive (pardon the pun).

If I don't tell the parents how wrong I think it is that their daughter is wearing a thong bikini, it's because it is not my right to say it. So why would the people on the beach appear to my son in the light of modern Internet myths? Why would they seem not to care or notice?

Because they are afraid to say what they think. Or, at the very least, they don't want the hassle that saying what they think will create.  It's the only reason. It's now fashionable and easy to speak out in support of "difference," but it is an invitation to be loudly attacked and eventually shunned if you go the other way.

Take that as you like, but the fact remains that the fear that we have generated as a world society is the reason why everyone seems to not care about the turning away from tradition. It's a kind of false data report: "Look, that guy is wearing a bra and no one even cares! What a great world."

Um, no. That simply is not what is happening. I wish it were just about propriety, like my parent-judgment, but it is not. We are afraid of the consequence of the consequences of speaking up, so we act contented, like Stepford wives...

Of course, some of the thoughts I represented ought not to be said or even thought. But some are not harmful, and not just the ones in support of our bra-donning friend.

Just as Donald Trump is creating an illusion that the whole US is racist and hard-line conservative, so are media and social media creating the illusion that no one cares about tradition. We haven't lost our individual opinions; we just fear expressing the ones that don't fit onto the log-flume of the loudest voices.

I, for one, made it clear to my son that his perception is wrong. They care; they are just bullied into not speaking out loud.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Seascape (with Phones)

The morning is violently crystalline. The sun, sharp -- jabbing like a million silver pins off of the waves, more dramatic for having followed a day of rain and fog. We sit on our vacation porch, watching the bikers, walkers and joggers scramble and squeeze past the narrow stretch of boardwalk in front of us as we take our morning coffee. They talk; they bark "on your left" as they pass each other. They sometimes glance over at us as we watch them go.

Most of them clutch cellphones, no matter what else they are doing. Some hold them for music; some some manage only one side of the handlebars and grasp the phone in the other hand; some fire off texts as they go; some talk as they go. So many with such a visible attachment to this small appliance that is more than an appliance.

It's not enough that they have it. They must feel it; be engaged with it. It might ring or buzz. They are ready, like goalkeepers tip-toed against a breakaway run...

But, wait, a man and his son walk by, talking...just talking...their conversation comes into focus for us, slowly... They are not holding phones! Finally...but, wait. "So," says the dad, "I downloaded the app, and it was pretty cool, but..."

I sigh and sip coffee.

Three young girls, pretty in their summer-bright clothes and shimmering under manes of  shampoo-commercial hair strut by, wonderfully arrogant in their youthful beauty, and they are laughing and energetically gesturing. Can it be? But, no. As they pass, each has her phone carefully set to be visible in each right back pocket, bright in its neon case and worn as a fashion accessory or like a kind of uniform accoutrement, not unlike an epaulet or a badge...

A young man, glistening with sweat as he runs, well-muscled, seemingly focused on his workout, but the landscape of his physical vigor is broken by a strap around his arm to which his phone is clipped. Measuring distance? Counting steps? Either way, it is a part of him as he strives. It is like a black blemish on his arm. It is a presence in the process, not the old timekeeper's stopwatch whose time is revealed only after complete inner focus on being fast and strong, but a presence that says: "You are being monitored; you are being recorded; you are being watched from the sky by a satellite eyeball. Your steps are being counted."

More joggers, these without earphones, and they rush by blaring music from the tinny speakers of the phone itself, half-listening to music that is half alive, chopped, as it is, in two by the handicapped range of the tiny speakers in their devices. Everyone is forced to listen, too.

Families walk together but not together, each member engaged outside of the warmth of where they are, now, by the seaside; they are tapping the screen with thumbs or they are sequestered into different mental rooms with ear bud-generated walls.

A lone woman, exceedingly thin, dressed in a carefully-coordinated exercise outfit, holds the phone to her ear and explains to a friend that she is "doing [her] walk" and I wonder if she is gaining the physical benefit and throwing away the mental benefit of her exercise. (She is not sweating; her pace is casual, so maybe the physical is being missed, as well, the banal conversation slowing her pace...)

I can't find anyone not visibly conscious of his or her phone. I know that to have one is a modern necessity, but the invisible tether is visible if one looks hard enough. And the presence of such a constant skein of connections clutters the seascape with artificiality the way garbage clutters a neglected stretch of beach.

Then, he passes, knobby knees pedaling and old bicycle with jangling metal fenders. He moves more slowly than some of the walkers. His legs are brittle and white and he wears belted shorts that used to be pants and a plaid-patterned shirt. On his head, a deflated white baseball cap. He must be eighty years old. I get a good look at his face as he goes by, eyes out and alive, his ancient skin crinkled at the corner with a slight smile. He nods at us as he passes and picks a path among the joggers and walkers, now and again glancing over at the waves. In his back pocket, a tightly-rolled newspaper, which must have been the object of his morning's quest upon his rusty Rocinante.

I don't know if he doesn't own a cellphone, but I do know that, if he does, it is sitting forgotten somewhere on a nightstand or on the kitchen counter next to the morning mail. And so, he passes, the free man; the only one who smells the salt air un-tinged with plastic and undiluted by the elsewhere-thinking of our brave new world.

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.