I feel my kinship with all other primates most keenly when peeling a grapefruit apart for eating.
Life is slippery. Even before the dying, the disease, the breakup, the catastrophic loss, there is the forgetting. The constant, unstoppable erosion of moments, hours, entire days washed out to sea. The shoreline is fragile. Even while standing in the shallows, looking up with occasional awe, thinking we must always remember this exactly as it is, entire months and years are pulled away from us and lost in dark tides.
Even as we tell ourselves we must bear witness, we cannot keep the sand at shore. The mind is not made to remember. The mind is made to forget.
Thus, the notebook. The notes we scribble ourselves. The journals. The commonplace book. The photographs. The social media posts. The stories and poems and jokes we share. The blog post. This blog.
The friends we find and those we keep. Communities. The document that is our lives. Reminding ourselves we were here. In this place. At this moment. Together.
Here’s a thing I’ve been wondering. We get ourselves so freaked out wondering where our self goes for the long stretch of history after we have died. Why don’t we get ourselves equally freaked out wondering where our self was for the long stretch of history before we were born?
Eyes and Ears (videos/podcasts)
“It’s Been 50 Years Since Apollo 12 Landed On The Moon” by Geoff Brumfiel. NPR Morning Edition. (Listen time: 3 minutes)
The heroics and success of the Apollo 12 moon mission were overshadowed by the Vietnam War and other geopolitical events. Apollo 12 sounds like the most “Guardians of the Galaxy” space mission ever.
Songs That Found Me
- “Monster” by Dodie — Delicate and brutal with a wicked hook
- “I’m on my Way (with Francesco Turrisi)” by Rhiannen Giddons and Francesco Turrisi — Rhythmic, hypnotic and honest. Ten seconds in I feel like writing.
- “Summon the Fire” by The Comet is Coming — Everything I loved about Moon Hootch the first time I heard “Number 9”
Eyes and Ears (videos/podcasts)
Songs That Found Me
Today is my birthday. I’m 44. I don’t feel 44. I don’t feel any particular age at all. I suppose I’ve reached the part of life they call Middle Age. Half the people I know think I’m still pretty young but the other half think I’m pretty old so Middle Age probably describes the situation pretty well.
I had a good day. I took the day off. I played Words with Friends while drinking my morning coffee. I wrote and read. I went for a run. I spent time just hanging out with my wife. We picked the kiddo up from school and got ice cream. We ran a few errands. I practiced piano. I walked the dog. We had dinner with my mom and dad and grandmother.
At 44, I don’t need a lot to make me happy. I don’t need gifts or parties or crazy midlife adventures. Each passing year, just being here still is a source of joy. I think that might be the secret of aging well.
I do enjoy the messages. Birthday greetings arrive by Facebook, text and email all through the day. I am grateful. I have a good life that I enjoy. Thanks for being part of this good life with me.
We lost our friend Tinker today. We can’t choose the time but, with practice, we can prepare to be present and generous when they need it most.
The roots of our culture are oral — storytelling, Homeric epics, parables, sermons, the Socratic way of teaching.
The roots of our culture are also visual — cave paintings, canvas paintings, sculpture, architecture, pottery, television, movies.
Of course, the roots of our culture are also textual — poems, novels, essays, articles.
There is a strong urge to pull these modes apart and make them each separate means of expression. I say no. Give me the mash-up. Give me the Blank on Blank Animated Interviews project.
Blank on Blank is a terrific podcast series in which professional journalists are encouraged to donate tapes from their unpublished archives so that listeners can benefit from the deep cuts of journalistic history, the stories behind the stories that no one ever got to hear. The podcast is eclectic and deeply fascinating, featuring interviews with people like Bono, Muhammed Ali, Christina Ricci, Alan Ginsberg and Dave Brubeck. The subjects discussed are similarly varied.
The problem with the podcast is that the audio quality is not always good. This is probably due to limits in the source tape. Since I listen to podcasts exclusively in the car, the audio quality is a big concern. I can’t hear muddy tones over the roar of my care tires.
That’s one reason why I was so grateful to discover the Blank on Blank video project, in which the source tapes are illustrated with an animated video. The video makes these interviews feel more alive and entertaining. I am a big fan.
As a librarian, one of the things I do is curate content and tell people where they should go to read, listen and learn. I am telling you to visit the Blank on Blank project. There are only a few videos posted so far, but this is a great idea and they deserve a great audience.
Here’s Jim Morrison explaining why fat is beautiful and Dave Brubeck on fighting communism with jazz. Enjoy.
Lately, I have been given opportunities to try on some new responsibilities at work. It has been fun. Today I was able to serve on the panel that selects the college’s President’s Award winner. This award is the highest honor given to a student at our school. Candidates are nominated by faculty and staff and then vetted for academic performance, community service and extracurricular involvement.
Here’s the thing. All the students we interviewed were excellent. Each comes from a different walk of life with different obstacles, experiences and academic accomplishments. All of their bona fides were uniformly impressive. Their resumes and GPAs stack nicely.
Here’s the other thing. None of that stuff matters. What impressed me most about each of the students I met was his or her passion. These students presented their authentic selves. They were comfortable, honest and sometimes delightfully weird.
Every one of these students is going to be a bright light. They seem to know something that other people don’t yet recognize. They understand the power of being themselves.
These students are passionate about their lives and their learning. They understand how the work they are doing and the sacrifices they are making relate to their future selves.
One student is passionate about mathematics. Another is passionate about caring for others. Another is passionate about snowboarding and family. Another about helping others laugh through adversity. These students are really interesting, really talented, really unique people. And I am only now getting to know them.
Some of them have been in my classes. I have helped some in the library or chatted for a few minutes in a hallway, but I had no idea who they really were and what compelled them.
I can’t help feeling cheated. I should have allowed myself to get to know these students much sooner. I should have made these connections on day one. It would have made me a better teacher and mentor. It would have made me a better steward of their time.
I also can’t help wondering who else is sitting in my library, studying quietly. What weird, authentic self is quietly waiting to be recognized.
I can’t help thinking that I should be meeting these students and my first question shouldn’t be “What are you working on?” or “How can I help?” My first question should be “What do you love to learn about?” or “What are you passionate about doing?”
People who work with students should ask these questions first. Probably anybody who works with people should ask these question first. The people around us are talented, energetic and unique. They are greatly gifted. The problem is they may not know it. They may not see it in themselves, but it is there and it is powerful when it is discovered.
The best thing we do for the people who come to us for learning is to authentic with them, listen and encourage them to be authentic too.
There is a place in your house so sinister, so terrifying, so mind-bendingly awful that dark fates befall anyone who goes there. Few are foolish enough to go there. Those foolish few are seldom seen again. Promise me that you wíll never go there. If you must go there, tells others where you are going, turn on all the lights and tie a rope to your ankles lest you be engulfed and disappear down the throat of madness.
I am speaking, of course, about that massive tangle of cables and wires behind your television. You have one. I have one. Every home in America has one — this writhing den of copper snakes, this mad tangle of serpents sheathed in white, yellow and blue vinyl.
It starts out innocently enough. You plug a TV into the wall. You attach a VHS player, then a DVD player. Next, a game console. Perhaps you have stereo components or surround sound. A BlueRay player and DVR. Your TV is connected to a cable for satellite. Your internet comes through here on a cable to your modem which is, in turn, tethered to your router, which is, ironically enough, the source of your wireless lifestyle.
How easily we forget the many miles of wire supporting our wireless lifestyles. I was reminded this weekend when replacing my modem. I got a new router for Christmas and then bought the modem with Amazon gift credit. The router installed easily in about 10 minutes the weekend prior. Last weekend, I installed the new modem.
Nightmare. I hooked up the modem, called the ISP with the new modem MAC address and then watched the lights on my modem steadily disappear. The next six hours were a progression of disconnecting modem, connecting router, reconnecting modem. Waiting for lights to turn amber, blink amber, then turn green, blink green then hopefully steady blue. It never worked. I tethered my laptop to the mess and gave the router my IP address, my router MAC address, my modem MAC address and an endless dance of other 8 digit codes. I called the router company twice. They spent 2 hours troubleshooting an insane sequence of plug, unplug, replug, unplug, plug. We never got it fixed. The router is somehow defective and won’t talk to the modem.
I spent six hours of my Sunday entangled by a frightening coil of wires that wanted my life and my sanity. I gave it both.
While working in this frightening mess, I recalled the conversation I had a few weeks earlier with the satellite TV installer. I asked if every house had such an obscene tangle of cords and cables. “I’ve seen much worse,” he told me. I think he was being nice.
Then, I asked the question I really wanted to ask. “Do you have such crazy pile of wire behind your TV? You probably have your wires organized nice and neat. Do you think I should spend the time organizing mine?”
He smiled. “It would take a mad scientist to unravel the wad of wires hiding in my house.”
For a moment, I felt better about myself. Then, I started thinking about the kind of mad scientist who might undertake such a thing. I got really, really scared.
Has anybody out there tamed the beast? Have you bothered organizing the wires behind your TV set? Better yet, anybody actually label those wires so you can easily tell which device they power?
Maybe I don’t want to know. The beast in my house is cleverly hidden where eyes do not go. Stay out of that corner. Do not go back there. Ever.
You have been warned.