27 November 2009

Stop the World, I Need to Get Off!

When Thanksgiving ends, Christmas begins. No sooner do I finish my once-a year carnivore experience, no sooner do I fall into a tryptophan slumber, no sooner do I awaken to a sunny Friday (even if it is a bit cloud-covered), then the Christmas lights begin to appear, not merely spotting, but illuminating the various landscapes. Everywhere in all of the air, songs of Christmas waft (though not the new Bob Dylan rendition of songs of the season!) from speakers placed atop streetlights. Salvation Army Santa Clauses materialize on the corners, ringing their bells begging passers-by to fill their red buckets that hang like soup-pots over a fire. We almost rush through Thanksgiving to get to the Christmas rush, and Christmas itself becomes an afterthought, an excuse for the furor it inspires. Thanksgiving ceases to be a meaningful event, however artificial and ideological it is, and is transformed into the gateway to Christmas; Thanksgiving is the first course to the Winter Feast. New Years has become a dessert, and many, myself included, prefer to arise from the table before this final course is presented.

I remember in New York, the day following Thanksgiving, awakening to the aromatic redolence of trees on so many corners that filled the usual exhaust-imbued air with the pungent sweetness of pines, and the lights the sellers (from Vermont and New Hampshire, I hoped) threw up to illuminate their spots turned New York City streets into a perpetual daylight. Chestnuts roasting (though not on an open fire) appeared on streetcorners. Even for we Jews, there was a sensory experience to enjoy, even if we did not buy a tree or wreath, and steered clear of shopping malls on Black Friday.

But here, in the Midwest (Minnesota and Wisconsin), where the city streets do not have the same type and volume of traffic that I recall in New York City (where the avenues seem continually overrun with pedestrians and travelers and tourists) the trees tend to rest in odd, back-lot places, and are not so visible. I suppose one has to know where to look; I am not privy to that information. I buy our Chanukah lights at the local indoor Judaica.

And all of the commercials on the TV advertise holiday shopping. It is as if there is nothing to do between now and Christmas but buy gifts, and as if the whole world is created to ensure the accomplishment of this purpose. There were lines at 4:00am this morning to begin the holiday spending spree.

To my mind, it is one, long, downhill dizzying plunge from Thanksgiving to Christmas; we get up from our tables Thanksgiving eve, and we hold our breaths as we roar through to the ride’s end. It is as if we find ourselves inexplicably and involuntarily on this vast roller coaster, and at Thanksgiving we round the top of the ascent and start down in a stomach-turning descent.

It takes us to Valentine’s Day to recover.

This is a rant, and should be taken as one. Though there may be not a little truth in it.

23 November 2009

Random PreThanksgiving Activities

I have printed out the past five years of my blog, Ariseandgonow.blogspot.com, thinking to turn it into a symphony. And so I have been reading it chronologically by the year but not linearly by the post. I’m looking for themes, and I suspect that they would appear holistically, anyway, regardless of exact date and order. Though there is, perhaps, a cumulative quality to the blog—I suppose as long as I live I have the opportunity to make it grow and see it change— it is not the foundation of my autobiography but the occasional mapping of some thoughts. It is the notebook I keep, though not as regular as it could be, but as serious as it must be.

It is an interesting enterprise re-reading the work; there are places in it that please me greatly; there are places in it that I should have proof-read more carefully; and there are some postings, I suppose, that I should not have uploaded at all. Though I am, in fact, embarrassed of none. And I do think that out of this will come the symphony—though right now, I can’t imagine what it will look like, and certainly not what its sound will be.

If anyone out there has an idea of the themes for the symphony, I'd welcome a kind word for the work.

I heard a performance of the first movement of Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor. I’ve loved that music for quite some time. And always thought that it is founded on Jewish musical registers despite Mendelssohn’s early conversion to Christianity and even his apparent devoutness. The music was performed by a young girl of fourteen or fifteen years old. And more than the pleasure of the music was to share in the passion of the violinist whose love of the instrument, the music and performance filled the room with joy.

18 November 2009

Cross words

In front of me on the airplane in the seat to my left is a man sitting with the crossword puzzle in front of him. Staring at the page before him, he’s got his pen resting poised between thumb and index finger. He stares down intently, but makes nary a mark on the page. Suddenly, he shuffles through the magazine until he comes to the answer pages, and he looks for the solution to his particular query, searches for the word he requires to fill in the empty spaces. Finding for the elusive word, he turns back to the empty puzzle, enters the word into the boxes, and reassumes his original position staring at the page, pen in hand, studying the puzzle. After another minute or so, he looks again at the answer page, fills in the boxes, and resumes the puzzle. Thus he fills in the entire square without ever once knowing a single word independent of the solution page.

It is the illusion of progress he seeks and not the work necessary to achieve that progress. There is something amusing about his effort that has the appearance of sincerity, but lacks all evidence of it. As long as he knows that the answers can be had, he needn’t try too hard at all and yet still satisfy himself that he has completed the entire puzzle. Staring intently at the puzzle he looks busy, but he isn’t so at all. What goes through his mind as he stares continuously but hopelessly at the puzzle, appearing earnest in his effort but wholly ineffectual? It is an amusing process to observe, actually. So typical of the times: a lot of appearance and little substance.

07 November 2009

Reflections 1

I have said often enough to not a few listeners that I can see the boy in each man here, but I realize now that I can also see the man who evolved from the boy. Of course, there are changes, but we are palimpsests and, depending on the light, our layers are more and less visible. I appreciate the complexity that this means for character. As for myself, sometimes in my responses I move through time and stand as a teen-ager with my peers and experience now how I felt then, though now at least I can give the emotion some precision and meaning, whereas then I experienced a great deal in confusion and muteness. And I sometimes wonder to what extent others feel this way as well at these meetings. I think this refers to the concept I have always referred to as ‘leaking,’ the wilIingness to allow our neuroses to be on display rather than to expend the energy holding them in. Of course, if I was less neurotic I would myself be more apt to display my neuroses rather than use my energy to hold them in. Alas, I am not yet so free.

I have wondered during these meetings to what extent my own palimpsestic nature can be read, and the book reading last evening (following a wonderful dinner where my wine glass was too, too large) allowed me to define to others my current layer by acknowledging the earlier writings and erasures and rewritings which underlies it. I was visible and available for reading. As I read the book, I was the book read. I think that my depths were perceived and not yet fully sounded. There is certainly more day to dawn.

Perhaps these annual meetings serve some definatory purpose for us all. We act as a GPS system (thank you Alan for the availability of the simile) for each other: we send our signals out and we are located, and a voice outside us sometimes helps us locate where we are—if only we can understand the accent and we take no offense at the impersonal nature of the voice. Last evening, I sent out my voice, and I was located, and in that location, I found the others. I am interested, of course, with how differently we each read our development and understand our own subjectivities, but the only way to ensure an intricate reading is to have written a complex text and to live a full and readable life. There had been moments when I did not have a sense that I could be seen as anything but the boy who lived a bit on the margins for what were perceived (by whom, I wonder?) as serious inadequacies and failures to arrive. It was own reading then, even though then the texts were more complex than I could have imagined, and today, now that I understand this palimpsestic process better, I can read myself and others with greater insight. It improves my satisfaction at our meetings.

Each of the boys as men finally entered the world they had early designated to be the measure of public and private success, and each achieved as men a measure of success in those worlds. Perhaps one thing we learn at these meetings is how to read our achievements with greater degrees of skill and sympathy so that we might continue to acknowledge the lives that are lived and brought to our gatherings. As these meetings continue, I hope that we continue to learn how to acknowledge presence, to recognize our entrances and departures, to focus our attention to the conversation of the other, and to recognize their presence. I hope we remain curious, and to ask many questions and be seriously engaged in the responses.
The wine may not have been the bottle recommended, but it was a superb vintage nonetheless.

03 November 2009

Sedona 1

Leaving tomorrow to see the boys again. I didn’t make the meeting last year: I was finishing the book that was soon due, and though matters press still, I wouldn’t miss the meeting for the world now. Indeed, I think now it is the world.

It is a nice flight out—I’ve never been to Arizona actually, though it has figured in my consciousness since Barry Goldwater ran for president against LBJ.

And the attachment to the boys . . . It is certainly in part an attachment to the past, but what about that past that joins us I am not sure. It is not that I want to reminisce about those days, though I am certain that will occur. I certainly do not have any desire to relive the past, even if I knew how to do so. But perhaps I am anxious to share and to live with them the man I have become, and for each of them to do the same with me. Then, it might be, we together will make of the past the present. We share more than the high school years; we share a greater and grander history. We served as witness to the last half of the twentieth century, and that is a connection not easily dismissed. There is something about our consciousness that was formed by the events; miles and worlds distant though we live, nonetheless we live our daily lives from common experiences and common formative visions. Now, we bring our adulthoods to each other to learn what has happened to us. We sit down to tell our stories to each other because no one else was there at the story’s start in quite the way we were for each other there.

I’ll miss Steve this year. I have not a few stories that involve him.