Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Charlie Brown's Long Road To Insanity

In all the excitement of running around looking after my youngins, I forgot that this week is the anniversary of the first Peanuts strip. Please enjoy. I also include a classic sociopathic Lucy for your pleasure. Or hers, at least.

Hearing this, Charlie Brown begins plotting his vengeance.

"No seriously, sister. You need treatment."

Monday, October 3, 2011

Mega-Narrative Versus Crocosaurus

"I have references! Rawr!"
I love a lot of things about my kids. But one of the most amazing things about them is their ability to take elements that are supposed to be scripted (like movies and toys and such) and take them wildly off script. It is endlessly entertaining. Almost every day I need to stop whatever I am doing just to listen to the craziest story ever told. These stories frequently involve the same cast of characters. Crocosaurus, Crack-Bear, and Commander Taviri are a part of the core group. Other bit players come in and out, including Rainbow Baby and Bluke. The kids take turns being "in charge" of certain characters, and each kid can have a very different take on the backstory. It gets confusing.

I realize this takes a little explaining. (Especially Crack-Bear. I totally take the blame for that.) So let me do a little Dramatis Personae for you.

Crocosaurus is a crocodile toy, given to us years ago by a good friend. He is frequently involved with fighting bad guys and protecting others. He also watches babies. He's kind of a reptilian nanny beast. He's meaner when Arkaedi is in charge of him.

Crack-Bear is the bad guy. He was named after an unfortunate slip of the tongue by Papa. The bear had just shown up out of nowhere when we were living in a sketchy neighborhood, and I had no idea where he had wandered in from... so I told the kids that they could have the crack bear if I washed it. Viri of course named him Crack-Bear immediately, and my careless talk had created a nemesis for every other toy. Viri frequently tries to reform him, and make him good. According to Arkaedi, however, he should be sent away. That girl has no compassion.

Commander Taviri is the space faring warrior alter-ego of Taviri. He has a magic watch, a super ship, and many hundreds of powers and gadgets. He's basically a Silver Age Superman, he can do anything until the narrative requires a challenge.

In addition to these core stories, there are hundreds of little variants. Many of these are cars and trucks who need cared for or helped. Rainbow Baby is a stock car who frequently runs into trouble and needs to be saved. Bluke is another car in peril. (A "blue car," hence Bluke. Arkaedi was proud of that one.) The cars names are a source of contention for the kids. Arkaedi is a fan of pun based names, or colorful ones. So there is a Cocoa, a Mac...

I wish I could convey the endless variety that these games take. It's astounding. It's like a scene from Toy Story if Andy were simultaneously channeling every science fiction image, fairy story, and PBS cartoon ever made. It's wonderful.

I still feel a little bad about Crack-Bear. He's an okay guy, he just has a problem. If Commander Taviri spent less time fighting Evil and more time building planetary treatment facilities...

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Occupy Away!

Old Jaded Jack
The whole occupation of Wall Street thing is making me sad. It reminds me of my age, my anger levels, and my own inability to have any faith anymore that people can turn things around.

Not that I believe that they can't, either. That would almost be easier. Nihilism would be a welcome escape, and escape is one option that I never choose. It's just that I no longer have the passionate belief that people will create a better society that I once had. I'm not sure where exactly that belief went; but I'd like it back.

Jack Kerouac became a bitter old man rather quickly after becoming famous. He avoided or rejected many of his old friends, and took to drinking and spouting conservative rhetoric instead of traveling and writing. Everything that fueled his earlier creative impulses seemed lost. He chose the escapist route. Or perhaps he just fell into it. Alcohol chose it for him.

I'm not that person. I'm not jaded. I'm still essentially a positive person. But my positivity has become focused. Instead of the broad, sweeping romanticism of my youth it's a scalpel of positive energy. I'm positive about my daily interactions. I'm enthusiastic about individuals in a way that the jaded Jacks of the world don't seem to be.

To cite an example: As I was walking through the store today, my mind was on a series of frustrations. I was angry and sad. And a woman cut me off, pulling her cart in front of me and stopping in confusion. She was an old woman, and I smiled at her. As much as the world in general was bothering me, I had nothing but affection for the face of this old woman standing in front of me. In a broad sense, I was upset at humanity. But this specific woman, how could I be mad at her? She was just an old lady trying to get her Sunday shopping done.

That's how I feel about the protests. I'm irritated by their futility, in the grand scheme. But you, individual protester- when I see your photo, I smile. I like you. I can't extrapolate that feeling to the broad movement, or our future as a species. But I can hope you turn out okay. I hope I don't become too jaded for that.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Book of the Month Club: Two Popular Books and A Crazy Poet

I have more time on my hands lately than I've had in years. Especially if I let that pile of laundry just sit there. Staring at me. Accusingly. This has resulted in some good and bad things. One of the good things is my reading list is actually getting read. Which is awesome. So I've decided to post the occasional update about it, in the form of this book of the month club style review. My reading list has always been supremely nerdy. Which is no great surprise. It leans towards science fiction, fantasy, and poetry. Although I'm not averse to reading something else that crosses my admittedly narrow field of vision, it is almost always one of these books on my desk. So, the three nerdy books of the month, in no particular order.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins was a great gym read. It's fast paced and exciting, and I read most of it while on the treadmill at the gym. Which is weird- dystopian young adult science fiction isn't an obvious choice for a book reading while running. But it makes sense, in a way. The book is about a scary future in which different towns have been subjugated by a central Capital city, and are forced to send two tributes to compete in the titular games. The games are essentially a gladiatorial where everyone fights, and the last person to survive wins. Not an original premise, but a well-executed one. It was a fun read. Apparently they are making a film, which is a shame. The protagonist will be turned into a generically hot girl. The character in the book is refreshing, realistic, and three dimensional. She seems like a real girl, given the situation in which she finds herself. I'm starting the second book in the trilogy soon.

Speaking of second books in a series, I'm also reading The Magician King, the second in a series by Lev Grossman. It is easy to describe this as a Harry Potter for adults, which is fair enough, though it doesn't do the book justice. It's really more of a book about how these escapist fantasies like Narnia and Harry Potter are a response to the psychological trauma of our society. And despite some excessive drama, the books are fantastic. The story centers around graduates of a magical school (featured in the first book) who are living in a Narnia-esque kingdom. The main character is a typical "smart outcast" stereotype, but the author writes with an amazing self awareness. It's a meta concept that could have easily become silly, but he makes it work. In a way I'm shocked at how popular this series is, but it's nice to see.

And of course, any of my reading lists would not be complete without the obligatory poetry rant. I've actually been catching up on quite a bit of poetry this month, including some Susan Howe, Robert Duncan, Charles Reznikoff, and others. But sitting on my desk is a collection of poetry that is simultaneously amazing and responsible for horrors in poetry: The Poetical Works of John Keats. It's no secret that most poetry is terrible. There a few reasons for this. One of which is the idea that poetry is simply prose narratives told slightly askew. One is that love of words is all a poet needs. But a major problem has been the inability of current generations to bring the energy and passion for language that people like Keats took for granted and translate it into a modern verse. Some try and succeed, of course. But most fail, because they can't effectively use the tool of language. When Keats writes with the particular rhyme and meter of his age, he was using the poetic vernacular of Romantics, the words of his society. He was experimenting, but within a framework that made the poems work. Poets today are either experimenting for the sake of experimenting, or using prose as though it is poetry. Keats was doing neither, though no one bothers to read him to remember that.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Space Mutiny: Demanding the Huge Basement Gets Furnished Or Else!

Thankfully I have something to watch when I eventually get tired of guarding children from monsters. As well as names for monsters!

The Horrible Awful Sleep Conundrum

I dread the evening routine at our house. Typically it involves brushing teeth and story time, and then lying in bed arguing with Taviri for hours. He is scared to be alone at night, so we usually stay with him until he falls asleep. This has been an easy enough thing in the past- there were days when he was asleep in ten or fifteen minutes, and we get up and go on with our day. Lately, however, it's been a problem. He does not want to sleep. He is scared of the closet, of the imaginary monsters. Tonight he told Jaime that he "feels like something is there, and I'm just barely getting away!" Of course he has to freak me out thoroughly in the process of keeping me up. The weird thing is that I'm not sure what to do. He isn't arguing to stay up, or get something. Even if I were inclined to just "give in" and do what he wants, there isn't anything to do! I can tell him his room is safe, but he stopped trusting anything he couldn't verify with experiment at age 3. And honestly in a world where Michelle Bachmann is considered a viable political candidate it feels disingenuous to tell him there are no monsters. This is a way in which having a sensible, matter of fact daughter cheers me up. Arkaedi is just as creative as he is-- her games are full of voices and characters and strange events. But she just deals with everything. There are, as she describes them, "monsters with no eyes" in her room. Cause for concern, sure. But nothing to miss a nap over. She is going to get to bed and cuddle her lemur, or pink Godzilla, and go to sleep. The monster will just have to accept that. Taviri is all histrionics. Arkaedi is business. I never thought that one thing I would really wish for would be for the kids to go to bed on time. I've become my mother. Except... I kind of believe him when he talks about the monsters. But like Arkaedi, I want a good eight hours of sleep before I have to deal with them.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Princesses with Frogs, Ponies with Wings

I've recently finished dozens of books. The one advantage of being underemployed is plenty of time. And libraries are one of my favorite uses of free time. Arkaedi knows the poetry section better than most three year olds, I would imagine.

One book in particular, called Cinderella Ate My Daughter, is a light, poppy, conversational book about a woman (Peggy Orenstein) who has a little girl. This little girl is enamored of princesses. Specifically, the trademarked Disney Princess line. This book is my first exposure to this culture. Somehow, perhaps due to her age or our peer group, Arkaedi has no interest in princesses. Having lived in either Seattle or Ithaca, I am surrounded by parents who closely monitor what their children watch and read. There is an across the board tendency to avoid commercial toys and games. I don't think anything of that stuff, really. To me it's a relic of the past. I even call her "Princess" sometimes, but she doesn't usually respond. She prefers Arkaedi. Or, as she says, "Unkaedi." I hope that she is just pronouncing it incorrectly, but perhaps it's a code word, and she is actually a changeling. Maybe the real Arkaedi is in fairyland.

Today I had my first taste of what could be in store for me. We were at a friend's party, for a little girl Arkaedi's age. The theme was unicorns. "Ponies!" Arkaedi immediately exclaimed. This was awesome. She even got a goody bag that included her own unicorn toy. We got into a discussion about unicorns, pegasus, ponies... but she didn't care. They were all ponies. "You call them that! I say they are ponies with wings! Ponies with horns!" She will have no dictionary nazism. Things are what she says they are! I actually came out of the conversation a little excited about unicorns, no matter what we were calling them. Which is strangely embarrassing.

I loved the unicorn party, because it was not exclusively corporate. They weren't a trademarked type of unicorn (Sorry, pony with horns). They were just fun magical toys, and the kids were enamored. The imaginative play was there, the ubiquitous scripting that invades most children's activities was avoided. It was great.

The one thing that really sticks with me from the Peggy Orenstein book, however, is the association of looks with a girl's value. Beyond the corporate shilling, which I think I can mitigate to some extent, there is the larger problem of "Princess" being code for thin, white, and perfect. This is a lot harder. For one, my normal nickname for Arkaedi is Pretty Sue. Sure, I tell her she is smart, and strong, etc. Which research does indicate is very important to avoiding some of the traps of self esteem being tied to looks. But I still call her Pretty. Many times a day. As if enforcing the concept of pretty as central to her being. Or, more accurately, focusing everyone on her looks.

And the other side of the problem for Arkaedi: She IS pretty. She is really gorgeous. Everyone says that about their kids, of course. But Arkaedi is prettier than a lot of kids. Her big blue eyes, her amazing hair... these are going to get her attention. At three, she doesn't know that. She doesn't seem to even know what pretty is, in truth. She says I'm pretty, which is a sure sign that the concept is not sinking in. Whatever I am, it is most certainly not pretty. I have never occupied the same general area as pretty. Scruffily handsome, maybe, on my best day. But Arkaedi has learned that pretty means smart, beautiful, awesome... whatever she feels like. Pretty is Pony with Horns, not Unicorn.

I wonder how I can hold on to that idea. Or if I should abandon calling her Pretty. Switch to some other nickname. I can certainly come up with a great nickname, if I need to improvise. Something that tells her how powerful, amazing, courageous, charming, and wonderful she is. Something that tells her that when I'm sad or confused or feel like a failure all I need to do is look at her to feel like life is perfect. Something that tells her that I need her to be her, with all her heart, every day of her life.

I'm sure I'll come up with something good. Then she'll change it if she wants. That's Unkaedi.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Comics in the Age of Interwebz

Daredevil, I had no idea your origin story was so R rated!

I've always loved comics. As I got older, and the typical teenage interests of girls and guitars superseded my love of comics, I lost track of the medium. I'm just the kind of person that marketing gimmicks like series reboots are made for-- and as such, I am in the process of getting a few of the #1s that DC is releasing this month. I don't know how sensible of a move it is. I mean how many people are like me, and enjoy gateways into old series via reboots? I'm guessing not a lot. I suppose DC is guessing differently. I hope they do well. I'll enjoy the new issues. Especially since I have the perfect comic viewing platform, my iPad.

In most ways I was always a Luddite. It was a peculiar dogma, and it meant a lot to me for a short period of my life. I never would have thought of comics on anything other than newsprint. I even preferred the older newsprint, four color comics over the glossier versions that came out in my teens. In hindsight, I think that was as much about a nostalgia for years gone by as it was a real aesthetic appreciation. As I've written here recently, I have an amazingly unhealthy anachronistic streak. Comics were a part of that.

I'll read the DC reboot on my iPad. I already read older comics, the newspaper strips, and a few webcomics on my iPad. I guess my Luddite side has lost out. Or been buried... it'll resurface during my much anticipated (by me) crotchety old man phase. (Scheduled to begin at age 45. I'm getting in early.)

I think the disappearance of my anti-technology tendencies is related to my general distaste for ideological positions as I grow. I have no more patience for abstracts ruling my life. At 15, I was excited by the TRUTH that I could KNOW... At 25 I felt obligated to pursue the ideas that had meaning to me. At 35... I am happy to make an effort to be a decent person, to follow my hear, as cliched as it sounds. I'm less concerned with abstractions as truth, and more interested in just living my life. Perhaps crotchety old man me will be back to living my life out of a pamphlet. More likely I'll find everything highly ridiculous and amusing, like a Vonnegut caricature.

It would be supremely silly and awesome if I grow up to live my life as an abstraction in an effort to avoid being an abstraction. I would appreciate that. Probably even find it wryly amusing.

Regardless, the new comics will be fun. Hopefully they will include less training montages of people in tiny underpants. I'll be fine if they do. I'd hate to be dogmatic about it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Rearranging The Life Of Pretty And Boy

It would be nice to know exactly what is best for my kids. I imagine that would save a lot of time and energy. Certainly it would save a ton of worry. Before I had kids, I didn't really worry. Sure, I had concerns, there were certain things that bothered me, etc. Having kids, though... that's a whole new area of worry.

I spend several hours each day working on job application stuff. Refining resumes, sending out documents, all of that silly nonsense that comes with finding a job. Prior to the kids, I didn't really do that. I just stumbled into this job or that, moved from place to place. I was always busy. I've had a job or been a full time student (or both) since I was in kindergarten. But it didn't matter. Now it does.

We're thinking of where to live next year. One plan involves living apart, so I can teach and J can work. It may be necessary, for the money. It wouldn't be awful, and we've done it before. But is it the best thing for the kids? I don't really know. I can't separate how much I want them with me all of the time with how much they need me with them. If I have a job two hours away, does that make their life worse? A little worse?

I wish I knew.

It's silly, like I have a privileged version of the classic pioneer problem. Instead of heading across the country in a wagon and braving disease and death, I'll be a few hours away with a car. And technology that means I can call them on my computer every night and see them. (I imagine if Lewis and Clark had Skype it would have taken at least some of the drama out of the excursion.)

But still.

I suppose I'll see how it all shakes out. For now it means a lot of extra hugs for Pretty and Boy. And plenty of "Stop kissing me, you're spiky!" Which is true.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Joining The SCA: Sanity Challenged Anachronists

"Is this how time normally passes? Really slow, and in order?" The Doctor
Reading the recently released Autobiography of Mark Twain, itself a kind of anachronism, I am struck by how anachronistic Twain himself seems. Granted, in the context of an autobiography time is necessarily warped according to perception, narrative, etc. But he seems to pine for an earlier time constantly as he writes about the political and social problems of his own time. It's a fascinating read for many reasons, but one of the most intriguing aspects for me is the sense that even in his time, the earlier decades were, to him, a bucolic paradise that we were moving away from without cause. He decries the evils of the era, certainly; his disdain for slavery is present from the start. But he also feels, apparently, as though the evils of his time are increasing, moving away from that better time towards an industrial/mechanistic Abaddon. It's a sentiment that would not be out of place today, centuries ago... or perhaps in the future. There is often a sense that we are living in end times, and the world is getting worse. A kind of nostalgia, or fear of the modern. I can imagine a few places where the sentiment is less, or there is a kind of enthusiasm for modern society (the Renaissance, the turn of the 20th century, the 50s seemed to have some writers who were extremely positive about their respective eras.)

I am definitely guilty of idealizing the past. I often wonder what it would be like to move to one of these different eras, living the life of one of my ancestors. It's silly: the reality would be more dangerous and slower than I can imagine. (I'm a person who gets bored in a town with fewer than two hundred thousand people. Village life is not for me.)

There are undoubtably aspects that were better. The big business excess and deception that Twain decried in 1870 has continued, and gotten worse, in the 21st century. Wage slavery (which was called wage slavery, even then) has become the norm. He doesn't mention crime as much as poverty, perhaps because he was insulated from crime by his social position, perhaps because he simply didn't see it as being the concern that poverty was. In many ways, however, he is talking about the same society we live in today. The problems are the same, the joys the same. He looks backwards to his youth as a better time, but not a substantially different one.

Which I suppose is probably true of myself as well. As much as I'd love to journey to the 19th century and walk around, take in the reality of the world at that time... I'd still be me. I'd still be eating, drinking, thinking. I'd like to think my life would be more intense, exciting, real; I'd like to think the problems would be somehow more manageable. But I don't really believe that they would be.

Still, seeing the photograph of Twain in 1906, sitting on a porch, smoking a cigar makes me want to be there. Irrationally, stupidly, I pine for that past. Maybe it is a simple as an escape from the insanity of my era into the insanity of a different era. Maybe it's a chance to look at the world that existed before the problems of my time came into focus. My generation's mistakes were yet to be made. My parents' generations were yet to make their lapses in judgment.

Most likely it's a chance to wear cool suits and carry my pocket watch without looking as dorky as I do now.

Yeah, that is definitely it.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Gamera Versus the Doctor

A lot has been written about how the pop culture of certain places and times reflect the psychological and philosophical make up of those places or times. I never thought too deeply about it, to be honest, since my consumption of pop culture is odd or random enough that I don't feel too deeply tied into the zeitgeist. But one thing has been banging up against my sensibilities for a few months, and I can't help but bring it up.

(Honestly if I were a better person I'd spend the time talking about how you can't search anything online without finding racist photoshops of Obama. I searched various disparate things today, including turtles, Doctor Who, Totoro, etc. They almost all had racist Obama stuff in the first few dozen hits. Seriously, people? This is what you are doing with your time? Please, please for the love of God just be a small group of racist jerks flooding the web with these images. The thought that many thousands of people are doing this is physically painful. But I digress.)


It's the U.K./Japan pop culture that fascinates me. Ostensibly very different places, the U.K. and Japan share some similarities. They are both island nations. But border larger, historically significant cultures. Both were devastated during WWII. But one odd, interesting thing they share that interests me: They both produce pop culture that other countries are really nuts about.

I wonder what it is, exactly. The pop culture itself could hardly be more different. I defy anyone to find a more significant connection between Gamera and Dr. Who than the photo above. (And please, if you find it, make a shirt of it. And send it to me. L, black, short sleeve. Thanks.)

Even the response to the similarities is different. In the wake of the destruction of war, Japan reflected on death with Daikaiju and horror. Great Britain made silly comedies and a very logical positivist science fiction show. A show that originally was intended to serve as educational material for kids. Both being small island countries, Japan made fiction in which it dictated terms to the U.N., while the President of the United States shows up to take over when things get serious in Doctor Who.

Why do these two cultures' film and television fascinate us so much? It doesn't happen with China. Or France. Or Australia. (We briefly considered Australia. Thankfully Paul Hogan threw himself on his sword and saved us all decades of frustration. Good on ya, mate. Good on ya.)

It almost makes me want to spend some time in the U.K. I've lived in Japan for years. Maybe I should go to the other island nation that makes most of the television and films that I watch. It'd give me a chance to find out what the deal is with these island nations making cool shows. And pitch my idea for a crossover series, where space marine Rowan Atkinson hunts down escapees from Monster Island with the help of his time machine. I'd call it Dr. Black Adder, Monster Killer.

Man I still can't write titles.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Look You Upon My Haircut and Despair

I really enjoy old educational videos. It's a particular problem of mine. I should probably seek some form of professional help. But there is something about outdated pedagogy, horrible acting, and strange and upsetting haircuts that just make me happy. Like I said: it is certainly worthy of years of powerful therapeutic intervention.

I first discovered these educational films as a child in rural West Virginia. We were subjected to a ton of these. We generally watched them on old reel-to-reel machines that, while perfectly quaint additions to some steampunk themed party today, were simply cheap pieces of junk back then. (To be clear: they are cheap pieces of junk now too. Just cool cheap junk.)

I rediscovered them later in life when Mystery Science Theater 3000 started airing them before the shorter, more Roger Corman-y films they showed. I instantly recognized them- creepy, dull, but somehow very real. Like a horror villain. I couldn't get enough. Recently, Rifftrax began airing similar shorts, with a broader (and arguably even creepier) selection of films. Some of these newer ones seemed aimed at urban schools, which delighted me to no end. In part because it made me realize that the super white and suburban short films we saw as a kid were meant for us! Someone had thought through the process long enough to decide, "Oh these bland and terrible films are being sent to West By God Virginia. Make sure to make them PURE WHITE and even duller than usual. Those kids can't handle the truth."

With all the madness for technology in education and Web 2.0 nonsense in schools today, this kind of mass produced madness is probably lost forever. I kind of hope not, personally. I hope that I can bring it back into my classroom, if only for a day. I want kids to study it as a history lesson. My generation may have not been through war, kids. But we saw shag haircuts floating over horrible special effects. We were told about our bodies by afro-sporting white guys in jumpsuits. We learned that drugs were free and available at every school bus stop. Unfortunately, we also learned that those same drugs could make the shag haired freaks in jumpsuits go away...

And that, kids, is why we grew up to be the generation that created reality tv. Don't do drugs.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Great Ecolocalizer Article

Commander Taviri And The School Search

I'm in the middle of an intense, challenging, and somewhat frustrating job search. I've reached the point where I am no longer concerned about where, really. I just want to teach. It's funny, really. Teaching is a job that many think is torture; I have any number of friends who are shocked that I love working with small children. Yet I have spent more than a year struggling to be allowed to do that job. Viri tells me that I'm a good teacher. It's very sweet of him, and I love the positive attitude he has inherited from his Papa. It's better than a criticism of me, surely. Although it'd be hilarious if he was constantly judging me. Not nice, but highly amusing.

I'm excited about the possibilities in my first few years of teaching. I'm anxious to start shaping my classroom, developing my own professional persona. The real work of my life has been to find myself as a father, as a teacher, and as a person. In all of the professional, personal, and spiritual changes that I have been through in the past few decades the everyday elements of work and jobs has been secondary. To the extent that it has existed at all, really. I've never been a career person.

But now my career has met my personal goals. Being a father and husband means finding a way to settle down into a job. Growing as a person means following my goals as a teacher and a colleague. Furthering my scholarly goals means gathering data and learning how to be a better teacher. The different threads have intersected. It's strangely poetic.

It struck me a few weeks ago that if I had a million dollars I would still be looking for a job as a teacher. I know that's easy to say, but I really believe it's true. I'd still be looking for my own classroom. I'd be striving to teach the kids about "constellations, math, and whatever they don't know" as Taviri says. (He's got a pretty exact idea of curriculum.)

I'm continuing to search. I don't have a million dollars, of course. But it's nice to know that I'm happy with wear I'm heading, regardless.* I'm excited about the next stage in my life. I'm ready to have my own classroom. I'll even teach more than constellations and math. I hope Viri doesn't mind.

*I will still take a million dollars. You know, if you got it to spare.**
**Seriously, we're broke.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Playtime! You Will Play Or Be Deleted!

My hobbies may be having some detrimental effects on my children. The kids are currently in a round of "Doctor Who aided by Commander Taviri and Commander Arkaedi versus the Space Zombie Trolls," and the game shows no signs of ending anytime this millenia. It leads to some amazing scenes, scenes which make me wish the kids had Michael Bay's budget and a year to just film themselves. Granted the story would be a little random, with the trolls sometimes being killed by Magic Electricity Bolts and sometimes being turned to stone by the Wizard. The Wizard is a little vague, being Commander Taviri's... alter-ego? Friend? Brother? He's not always sure. (I'd ask, but he fell through a time portal and is a kid right now. A kid who has no answers.)

A high point of the epic film would be Arkaedi's voices. We always joked that with her cute little voice, it would be hilarious to have her say violent things. Her own action film where the last thing the villain sees is a pretty shock of red hair, and a cute face saying, "When you get to hell... tell 'em Pretty Pretty sent you." She has inherited her mother's penchant for mimicry, and it is awesome. Hearing Lizard Men speaking in lizard voices, interrupted by ten to twenty second twitches, is comedy gold. I imagine Commander Arkaedi as the light hearted sidekick in Taviri's gripping space/time/zombie adventure. But I guess the final edit could reveal her true heroism. She certainly has the "hair flying backwards" part of female heroism down pat.

The fun part about their games is how they have no worries about continuity. Commander Arkaedi runs around shouting "Exterminate!" like the Daleks, then the Enterprise beams in and stops her, only to have her turn into Pingu. Then, for a few hours, she's a penguin. There is no call back to her earlier Dalek existence, no story where she laments all of the deaths she caused before she moved to Claymation Antarctica...She's just Pingu now. She is selling fish. Take that, fanboys!

By far the greatest Arkaedi contribution to the game is her "Beaky" shadow puppets. She makes her hands into chicken beaks, and the shadows cast by her hands become "Beaky." Sometimes Beaky is joined by other shadow creatures, but they all say "Beak! Beak!" at every opportunity. Wait, now that I think about it... they are strangely similar to her Dalek character. Maybe there is reason to her game after all!

Wait... Maybe she's the villain! She's really is masquerading as a cute little girl!

I have to admit, she fooled me for these three years. When I get to hell, I'll warn them... Pretty Pretty is coming...

"Beak! Beak! Exterminate!"

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Album Title: Music Belies Meaning

I have such a strange relationship with music. I feel like it has taken such a large amount of my energy over the years... yet I periodically reject it in favor of other interests. Perhaps it's an aspect of my general flighty nature. I get excited, enthusiastic by political music, but I know that real meaning is not conveyed through what music gets played.

(That rhyme was unintentional. I promise.)

(If intentional I would have found a way to shoehorn "abeyance" and "conveyance" into the article. My word nerdiness knows no bounds, but my bad jokes, thankfully, do.)

Perhaps nothing better illustrates that than the band I posted above. Now, I love Propagandhi, despite the silliness and the preachiness and all the -nesses that make them, objectively, not a terribly good band. But they defined a clear period of my life, in between hating different musical types. On that very album is the song Anchorless, which I alternatively hated and loved.

(I'd go on to hate and love John's next band, The Weakerthans. Currently I love them again.)

(Wait, maybe... No I love them.)

I'm not sure what it is about this medium that makes me vacillate between extremes. I don't do it with my (more serious?) intellectual and spiritual pursuits. I don't suddenly "hate" Sufism or get all into Glenn Beck. Why does music cause such a flux in what I like? I dont even do it with things that really do deserve some of my creative scorn, like science fiction, fantasy, or poetry.

(Honestly if anything poetry would deserve the kind of waffling that I give to music. Why do I still like Gary Snyder? I just do. Why do I not heap some scorn on Ferlinghetti for his later work? I can't, that's why!)

Maybe it's a two-fold problem. Music is both more ubiquitous and more intimate than other ideas. I can step back from my politics and think, but music is always there. Songs get played over and over, and they get into my brain. Maybe the omnipresence of music is the problem.

I'm going to try and keep my perspective here. Jaime's current favorite is mewithoutyou, and I felt myself falling into a strange dislike of them. Then I realized I was being ridiculous, and I was just too used to them. They are a great band. Once again they are a soundtrack to a certain period of my life, but still hold meaning for me today.

In fact, check them out. They're awesome:

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Stages, Steps, Shifts...Something With an "S"

"AND study the classic books,
the straight history
all of it candid."
-E. Pound

Contrary to Pound's excellent advice, I've never been one for sustained scholarship. In fact, I've been quite critical of it, disappointed in some of the menial places it leads writing and thinking. I'm often wrong about that, and miss some great writing and thinking. I can't help but keep up the criticism, however: I think it's a general trend towards movement in my personality.

Wait, I can explain that vague comment.

I was always driven to move, to expand. I have always had a hard time staying in one place, one program... even one country. I see everything in my life as stages towards the next event. This is due to some good reasons (desire to explore, intellectual curiosity, passion for various subjects and geographies) and some bad ones (need for stimuli, tendency towards boredom, an at times critical nature). I didn't, to continue the literary metaphor that Pound used, always desire the candid and historical nature of what I was experiencing. I needed to move on, expand, see the next horizon.

Jaime and I are fond of the mental exercise where you imagine that you've won the lottery. Say you have millions of dollars. What would you do? There are several ways to play this, but Jaime and I focus on two aspects. One: Imagine you have millions, and want to use that millions to live. Two: Imagine that you have millions to live on, and you think of what you would do with your free time.

I like the second one, because it is a better exercise for planning what to do with your life. What would you spend your time doing? This works well for Jaime and I, since we're people who like to work. I guess if my goal was to lay around all day, the exercise would be a failure. But I really want to work, to do something. So, what would I do?

I would teach. I would write poetry. But most of all, I'd travel. I'd spend time going all over the world. I'd find a school in India that let me teach, a school in Japan, Brazil... I'd move. I'm not driven by money. I care nothing for money. But it'd be nice to have the freedom to move around.

So, this week I am working on applying for jobs, finding some places to teach. Maybe here, maybe somewhere else. I don't really care where. Because what I want to do is teach, write my poems, and move around. Staying in one place for years is torturous tome, for all of those good and bad reasons.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Labels, Meanings, and the Secret Pretension of Self

A friend of mine has been involved in an interesting exploration of what it means to identify with a certain group. As is often the case with ideas like this, it leads to some frustrating wheel spinning, but can also yield some insight into your own thought processes. In an effort to maximize the latter, I'm putting some of my ideas down to better explore how these labels can have meaning for me. For me it is important to understand, how does the group identity of a label apply to an individual? Is it a meaningful exercise at all? I'd argue yes... but I'll get to that in a moment.

Some labels are merely descriptive. I say merely, because they don't convey membership in a group per se, but just state a fact of a person's identity. To say I have green eyes, for instance, doesn't imply a real connection to others with green eyes. It just says, Hey, my eyes are green. It's descriptive. The same can be said for a lot of different aspects of a person. But why does it seem to become more meaningful when I connect it other aspects of my self? Why is being, say, a poet, connect me to a history and an ideology that being a green-eyed person does not? Or does it?

I sometimes try and compile labels about myself. Just for fun, in a sense, but also to explore the value of those labels for me as an individual. I can say even a cursory discussion of who I am would include the following labels: Vegetarian, Sufi/Muslim, Poet, Teacher, Father, Husband, Punk rock, Straight edge, Anarchist... the list goes on. I'd argue that these are the main ones, both in terms of how people view me and how I see myself in the world. But what do these say about my membership to other groups? Are they completely personal?

Some are problematic. Sufi/Muslim covers a broad swath of the world. Many of whom would dislike or even hate me, and many of whom would disagree with me as much as I disagreed with them. Punk rock has become vague and ill-defined. But they are still true, and unifying practices mean those labels are real to me. I can't meditate and pray in a masjid and not be Sufi, even if certain people wish me to cease. I can't listen to music and discuss my philosophy without being punk rock, even if I often wish to cease using the label.

Some are descriptive. Father. Straight edge. I have kids. I don't drink. Yet these still invoke a certain community, a connection between myself and people. Is that valid?

I'm exploring this. The labels don't bother me like they did when I was 20. They don't excite me like they did when I was 15. They just are. I'm more comfortable with the sense of an individual being part of a larger whole while functioning as a unique individual. I'm still not so quick to be the lone hold-out, rejecting any sense of individuality a la the Life of Brian guy ("SHH!"). But I'm not so concerned with the pretentious notion that I am somehow above "those people" who need a label to be somebody.

And perhaps holding those labels can help me. Holding the discussion certainly has.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Wait Can I Do That?

Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg.

-Haruki Murakami

There's often a debate that takes place between opposing viewpoints that goes something like this. One person supports an aspect of government policy. They argue for it. Another disagrees, and argues against it. Sometimes, the other person will be accused of hating America for opposing a government policy or two. Usually a conservative person accuses a liberal person of hating America. I'm not sure why this is; it seems like opposing health care reform could be hating America as easily as opposing a military action, but whatever. That's the way it goes. I don't especially care. Because I think I really do hate America.

Am I allowed to do that? I think I might be.

Of course I don't hate people. Or the land. I like the forests and the mountains. Right now there is a foot or so of snow on my lawn, and I am quite fond of the snow. American snow. But I hate the government. I really do. I want to like it. I want to like roads and water pipes and schools. I think they're great. But I have to hate them, because they are all jumbled up with laws and customs and habits that don't work for me. It's a shame. It seems like roads and water pipes and schools could really work together to make a natural space suited to human habitation. I guess it doesn't work out that way in practice.

There has been a lot of talk in the wake of the Tucson shooting about civil discourse. I don't think that's such a good idea. Discourse isn't going to make any of the pieces of this country work together. We probably should just disband. There's a way to divide up the infrastructure that still survives, right? Maybe our zoning committees could become unzoning committees, and we could have an orderly division into millions of separate households with no legal obligation to each other.

It means all those conservatives who said I hate America are right. Of course, they hate America too. We just focused on slightly different parts that we hate. Some of what we hate overlaps. That's nice, even if it's inconvenient for the dividing up part. Maybe the unzoning committees have a solution for that.

It makes the entire United States experiment a somewhat philosophical enterprise. We are a group of disparate individuals who tried to get together based on our uniqueness. Very meta. But not terribly sustainable. Oh well.

I wish we could get together and make a country. I'm not sure how that would look. I think a country might include education, health care, roads and hospitals. A nice transportation system. An energy grid that balances need and waste. That sounds fun. Too bad. We could have tried that. If we didn't hate America.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Poetry Makes You Crazy

Since 1997, I have been working on a poem. Some years I work on it for hours each day, week after week. Some years I do not touch it. It's a long, rambling, epic poem. It is my life, written down. In two important ways it is accurate.

One, it is rambling and incoherent yet contains flashes of insight and occasional nice phrasing. You have to wade through a lot of nonsense to find the gems, but they're there.

Two, it is tangential to reality while assuming it knows what is going on.

In both of these ways I resemble my two literary heroes. One is Ezra Pound, and the other is Kenneth Patchen. Now, the funny thing about this is that as people they couldn't be more opposite. Pound is a notorious figure, a right wing nut in many ways. He famously broadcast messages in support of fascist Italy during WWII, and even late in life showed flashes of anger and hatred. He repented the worst of his sins, but he remained an unpleasant man on a personal level. He was a horrible husband, an absent father. Patchen was the opposite. He was a conscientious objector during WWII, very leftist and anti-authoritarian. He was devoted to his wife, a dark and sad man but by all accounts a nice one.

What they had in common was intensity and talent. They both worked through difficult conditions, always writing and making amazing poetry. Most poetry, then and now, is worthless. Not just bad-- but a horrible affront to language. It's painful to even be near it. Good poetry is something transcendent. Good poetry is divine. I don't know if my poem is good. I think it has flashes of good. I hope they carry the poem into something wonderful. I'd hate to add to the volumes of mockery that exist as poetry now.

I'm nearing the end of this poem. (I say- though I've said it before. Maybe I'll never stop. But it feels more done than ever.)

It's long, though not impossibly so. I have 120 pages right now, and may even edit it down a little. I don't want it to be unwieldy, but at the same time I am skeptical of editing. Poetry just comes out. The me who wrote the first lines at 21 is certainly not the 34 year old me typing this today. But any editing freezes another moment. Why just make a poem for today? Certainly trimming needs to happen, and good phrases saved. But overall I think it just needs to stand. It is what it is.

Here is an excerpt. It captures the general feel of the poem, though the style tends to wander over the decades. Like me!

“I don’t like dictionaries,
they says
things like
don’t care.”

for instance.”


(Hi there)
in pen,
one red
doesn’t work
if it tries

to end in
freedom, i
hate that
I really do,
sure so I

I that, you see eno—
to do
loss, might be
there are
two doors,
and a

For ten hours,
hands pulled

no one gets the distinction
between everything and
nothing, no

matter how often you
teach it.