30 December 2005

What I thought I had forgotten . . .

What I thought I had forgotten is the ebullient, veritably uncontainable excitement a child feels in anticipation of an event. Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, and my younger daughter, eleven years old, has organized with several of her friends an all day celebratory affair and a sleepover party at which they will see Carrie Underwood on the television at 11:00 p.m. or thereabouts. There will be popcorn and ice cream and streamers and more ice cream, and at some point, either before or after the ball falls at Times Square, the excitement and sugar and time will exhaust them, and they will each pass out in their jammies on our living room floor. I will, myself, have retired hours earlier!

My daughter’s excitement is palpable. She bubbles with it; it leaks out all of her pores and streams out of her ears and eyes. She says, “I am so excited about the party. I can’t wait until tomorrow,” and I believe her.

I guess I haven’t forgotten the ebullient, veritably uncontainable excitement. I’ve just stopped feeling it very much.

When did I feel it recently? Now that moment I can’t remember. Perhaps these kinds of emotional events are reserved for the young who can tolerate the whirlwind in which they exist awaiting its advent; perhaps the events which inspire such emotion are more readily found among these younger (and yes, privileged) children; perhaps we older, stodgy folk are too reserved to even acknowledge such anticipation. Perhaps we have become too cynical and sad. Or too discrete to mention. More’s the pity, I think. It is a great loss.

It is the sixth night of Hanukah tonight. My dear friend Gayle wondered what Hanukkah is like without children—hers being all grown and mostly out of the house. I told her I didn’t know, but in my children’s absence I hoped there would remain some joy in this troubled holiday—born, I think, a bit out of neuroses and a bit out of great pride, and celebrated with a great degree of hope.

Right now, I would borrow some of Anna Rose’s illimitable excitement. I anticipate again the event which will inspire such frenetic anticipation. It would be nice to get to Terrapin Station.

22 December 2005

Will I See You Tonight, On the Downtown Train?

I’ve not been a New Yorker for almost sixteen years now, but the wonderful city sits fondly in my consciousness. I think I finally grew up there, albeit I was in my thirties. And so I have been reading the reports in The New York Times of the Transit Strike with considerable interest. I think I lived in the City during the last transit strike twenty-five years ago. I worked then on Long Island and took public transportation daily to my position with the Great Neck Public Schools, and I remember having to join Bruce Thompson’s car pool during the strike’s duration. I returned to public transportation when the trains began again to run, and though the cost had increased, the ease of travel was well worth it. The car pool had never been free anyway, and some in the car liked too much to converse at early hours.

I remember also the PATCO strike, and standing on Fifth Avenue watching the Labor Day Parade and the striking air traffic controllers, all recently fired by Ronald Reagan, march proudly with their picket signs. I was a Marxist then, and was incensed at the callous and vicious attack on workers by government officials who never worked a day-job in their lives.

And I will not address the courts imposing on the Union a million dollar daily fine for calling a strike, and I will not address the threatened personal fines to the Union’s leadership for calling the strike, and I will not address the Transit Authority’s last minute demand that new workers pay 6% of their pensions, resulting in a 4% loss in their annual salary. I think these are all unconscionable acts. I want to address Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s harsh criticism of the Union for doing its job and supporting its members. Because multi-millionaire Michael Bloomberg doesn’t worry about health care and job security and pension funds. Michael Bloomberg is fabulously wealthy and need care little from where his next meal or warm jacket will come. Michael Bloomberg will ease his way into retirement very, very secure and comfortable. And so, until every worker feels a security in their financial future not identical, but similar to that held by Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I would suggest that Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg refrain from making judgment on the Union which worries about its members pension funds, and cease criticizing the workers whose futures Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg would put in jeopardy.

19 December 2005

The Longest Night and Shortest Day

Daisy Fay Buchanan complains that she always waits for the longest day of the year and then misses it. It is an emblematic theme of the book, The Great Gatsby. I mean, everyone in that book is waiting for the longest day of the year and then missing it. The longest day of the year—that twenty four hour period which contains the most daylight; in the mythology the day with the most opportunity to make hay while the sun shines. Every character in the novel seems to miss it! It is the tragedy of The Great Gatsby, if The Great Gatsby might be said to have a tragedy at all.

I say this now because the shortest day of the year is upon us, and I am wondering if this event isn’t actually something we would all rather miss. On this day, we will awake in the dark, go to work in the dark, retire to sleep in the dark, and awaken again in the dark. When I run tomorrow morning with Gary in sub-zero weather, we must wear head gear to light our way, so to speak. Though in our conversation, Gary and I do question the wisdom of us pilgrims who feel obliged to venture out on this longest night of the year when so many good mammals are hibernating happily and sleeping soundly. “Why are we out here?” Gary and I wonder. And why every year at this time?! I wonder why, indeed, we even refer to it as day—why not just say that for this time period, at least, we exist literally in the dark. Even thankfully so!

Of course, the holidays of the season insist on bringing lighted candles and forest green into the household as if to create the daylight-outdoors, indoors. I don’t think very many of us get really fooled. I think many of us wait for the longest day of the year on this shortest day.

14 December 2005

What's The Point?

What’s the Point?

I’ve been thinking about this question for a while. It is a question so prevalent in the schools, where I have spent most of my adult life, though the question has different manifestations over the course of the days. “Is this going to be on the test?” “What does this book mean?” “Why are we learning this?” “Why are you teaching this?” “Do you have specific objectives.” “Am I ever going to need this?” Just today I was given a directive that requires that every course proposal we present for professional development “include detailed descriptions of each topic including theories & major points discussed in the module.” Detailed descriptions including theories and major points? My goodness, people write whole books on various theories, and they (who are ‘they’ exactly?) require now that each course proposal include ‘detailed descriptions’ of every theory and every major point to be discussed in the course. ‘They’ must be kidding! If a new theory or major point arises during the semester or year or decade, well, what then? I keep thinking of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Butch turns around and checks on the posse following him and Sundance. “Who are those guys?” he asks. “They’re good!” Soon, ‘they’ will kill Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

What is the point of this question ‘what is the point?’ I think it may be an attempt to control and delimit experience. “What is the point?” is an instrumentalist question, and it means that unless the answer to the question is sufficiently clear and the point clearly evident from the outset, then the whole activity is meaningless. I think the question has something to do with economy: the question announces the unwillingness to devote any energies to an activity whose aim is not explicitly clear from the outset so that the participant knows exactly when the activity might be declared ‘finished.’ There must be no extraneous, unplanned for events or ideas. Second, I think the question demands that each road taken be a straight, clearly defined and eminently public one so that no one can or need deviate a step off the defined direction. Nothing need be gained but what is explicitly, publicly, pre-established as a legitimate end, and nothing need be ventured but what is carefully circumscribed. Certainly, the question renders contingency non-existent, if not impossible. Yet, I think, it is contingency that makes creativity possible.

We’re reading a text in my class, and students are struggling to discover ‘what’s the point?’ They want to easily find some connection between the manifest content and their lives, and they don’t want to interrogate some latent content. What is not manifest has no existence. They want the book to teach a direct lesson. Without the lesson, ‘what’s the point?’

I think I am weary of lessons and points.

07 December 2005

Not so random thoughts on a very cold evening!

It gets cold very quickly here in Wisconsin. Suddenly, it would seem, the degrees plummet to zero and below, and snow covers the ground. Only yesterday, I wore my shorts while running, today I wear fleece lined shorts under my running tights and Gore-tex. I wear three shirts and a wind-proof and cold-resistant jacket. I wrap myself in a neck warmer and a lined, ragg-wool cap. Two pair of gloves are insufficient, and my nose freezes unrelievedly. It’s ok, really! I’ve learned that such is what life is like here in Wisconsin in winter, and so, unless the wind-chill factor dips below -35 degrees, I head out into the element with only my dearest friend, Gary, and my iPod for company.

It’s quite beautiful in the frigid morning. The black sky is punctuated with pinpointed moments of stars—jewels of the universe they are, indeed. The crispness of the air makes all vision seem unmediated; it is as if there were nothing between me and the stars. As they shine it seems only them and me in the world, and on the road they silently accompany me.

But what I really wanted to say concerns my youngest daughter. Having spent much of my adult life in therapy, it’s impossible to understand life outside of the therapeutic experience. And so I examine her life from the couch. And she has this dear, dear friend with whom she appears inseparable. The two arise in their respective homes, and their first thoughts are of the other: the phone rings at 6:30 a.m. Or she dials across town. I can’t imagine what they talk about, but they never fail at conversation. As soon as my daughter steps off the bus, the phone rings; I’d swear they haven’t been apart seventeen minutes! And just before lights out, once more, a good night greeting—until, of course, 6:30 a.m. the next morning.

And I think how wonderful that my child has been inspired by and inspires such love and devotion. If we come into being in our relationship with the Other, then my daughter and her friend are completely alive. And in some wonderful way, in love.

I am happily envious.