28 September 2017

Things I Used to Be Able to Do

  • Sleep through the night. Or if I awoke to fall soon back to sleep. AT present it is 4:15am and I have recently pushed myself out of bed rather than move about restlessly and frustratingly within it. I know I was dreaming somewhat enjoyably, but trying to interpret where the images came from did not bring me rest. Why exactly were those individuals tonight present in my dream in exactly that situation reminiscent of something?
  • Run 40 miles a week even in the bitter morning cold of Mid-West Wisconsin. And not even bundled as was Charlie Brown after the first heavy snow and having slipped and fallen on the ice couldn’t get up and had to be pushed home by Snoopy. Said Charlie lying flat: “This is the most humiliating day of my life.”
  • Tie my shoes by simply kneeling down to the floor. These days I look about for a chair or bench on which to sit and then carefully lean over so as not to tip forward on to my head or to top heavily fall forward. These days and at this hour I think of lines in Jackson Browne’s song:  “These days I'll sit on cornerstones/And count the time in quarter tones to ten my friend/Don't confront me with my failures/I had not forgotten them.”
  • Forget my failures. Of course, this draws me back to above #1. Perhaps these failures might explain the inability to sleep through the night.
  • Be oblivious of mortality. Now, at my back I always hear . . . and I have become the elder resident of the last row at shul. My companions have since gone.
  • Understand everything. Oh, I always had my doubts and not an insignificant number of them, but I think I possessed a confidence that I might soon find answers (note the tentativeness—I am propping myself up and consciously dissimulating!). Now, I am certain there are no answers but only questions, and I move forward with them. Robert Earl Keen says, “The Road goes on forever, and the party never ends.”
  • Stay late at any party. Now, I am often the first to leave. I can’t sleep through the night (#1 above), but crawling into my bed at 10:00 PM surpasses any pleasure of crawling home at 3:00 AM to it.
  • Read the newspapers. I learned to read the news from The New York Times. It is my paper of choice wherever I am located. I did not read cover to cover, but I read enough to be intelligently informed enough to have an opinion. Along the way I subscribed to In These Times, The Guardian, and The Nation. I could pronounce correctly Namibia, Now, the sight of Trump and his ignorant, self-absorbed despots despoils the front pages. I can’t bear to see his Mussolini-like visage or to read one single word of his bombast. I turn to the Science (only some of which I understand), the Food (most of which I will not eat), and the Arts section, and that will have to suffice.
  • Watch television. I no longer own one. There is too much on them and most that is on is not worth watching. Sometimes, however, I find myself in a motel/hotel, and at night too much alone I turn on the TV set and click through the channels looking not only for what is on but for what else is on! Nothing but reruns of Law & Order and Seinfeld.
  • Eat ice cream by the Ben & Jerry’s pint! Ah, I do miss this indulgence, but since I no longer do #2 above, and even though I am not without some aerobic exercise (spin cycle and yoga), alas, every scoop threatens my girth and belt size. Though of late I have seemingly lost a few pounds, most of that lost weight seems to have found its way back onto my neck and my shirt collars no longer fit! 
Enough! There are more, but I’m going to leave my stepping stones behind because something calls yet for me, and I’m going to light a match and start anew, and hope I don’t mistakenly burn down the house!

14 September 2017

All the Help We Can Get

I spent this afternoon at the movies: in the movie theater and not in front of a TV or computer screen. I saw Logan Lucky a Steven Soderbergh film, and I was the only person in the theater. To a large extent Logan Lucky is a heist film in the Ocean’s Eleven Twelve and Thirteen family, but to my mind it contained a strong political text that was harshly critical of the direction of recent trends in American society. The theme song of the film seems to have been John Denver’s paean to West Virginia, “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” though the romanticization of the state in the song is belied by the reality of life in this rural, Southern state. There is very little of almost heaven in the lives of the Logans and their eventual co-conspirators. The film begins with the firing of Jimmy Logan from his job because his limp is considered a pre-existing condition and therefore an insurance liability. Clearly, the time of the film seems to predate the Affordable Care Act, though recent attempts to repeal the ACA threatens again the possibility of insurance for those with pre-existing medical conditions.  Jimmy Logan in desperate need of money plots to rob the Charlotte Raceway during the NASCAR Coca Cola 600 race along with his brother, Clyde, who lost a hand in the Iraq War, and an assortment of misfits, prison inmates, working class comrades and friends­, some of whom were women but certainly not lovers. In a series of wonderful twists, this ‘gang’ successful pull off the robbery, and Jimmy, who has masterminded a sub-text to the heist, distributes part of the haul to a variety of surprised, sometimes unaware accomplices. Robin Hood comes immediately to mind, but I think Woody Guthrie’s Pretty Boy Floyd seems more appropriately linked to Jimmy Logan’s largesse.
     NASCAR is a quintessentially American sporting professional group situated predominantly in the South and that seems to cater to a large extent to a working class, often rural population. These are the Trump base. But the film depicts a corruption that sits at the center of the organization and evidenced when the administration of the race track that has been robbed collects insurance money for the lost revenue and cheats the insurance company by overstating how much money was not recovered from the robbery. The administrator then of the Raceway stops the FBI investigation in order to protect this piece of fraud. At the film’s end, the FBI agent who had led the investigation quits the FBI and moves to the West Virginia town where pretense and greed are not basic values.
     I appreciate the political theme, muted though it might be. In this nightmare of the Trump presidency, every little bit of support of opposition offers hope that this too, might pass.

01 September 2017

Never a True Story . . . Always a True Story

Today was the first spin in September and the last spin of summer. Monday is Labor Day and the school year begins with classes on Wednesday. Instructor Jason declared this particular spin playlist a Riders Choice and I submitted my choices: Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life” and the Talking Heads “Wild, Wild Life.” The latter is part of the soundtrack for the movie True Stories, a film directed by
David Byrne and that features the music of the group.
     I saw the film when it was released in October, 1986.  I was 39 years old. I took my four-year-old nephew who was staying with me for reasons to complicated to explain here to see the film soon after. Well, in reality (an ironic term really) I am very confused about the exact dates and I know I am conflating and distorting time in this narration. I also can’t quite recall what motivated me to take him to this film as opposed to what must have been an at-the-time current Disney production, but my intention might have had something to do with the philosophical ironic stance the film assumed and which somehow, I had adopted for my life. But perhaps that is another true story. True Stories depicts true life stories that either call into question their truthfulness, or else suggest there is more to the story than can be told: as if there is more truth to be told. Irony means that there is not an objective reality behind my words, my words contain nothing, and certainly not my full meaning that I can’t know myself. Irony means that there is more meaning than my words intend. To take an ironic stance is to acknowledge this gap. Peggy Lee almost expresses the ironic stance when she asks, “Is that all there is?” But the ironist answers, “No. There is always more.” In this way irony offers hope and even transcendence: there is always more to come and therefore, hope for the future. Though irony also acknowledges that we must be less than complete and thus, subject to the ridiculous and the absurd. We often act ridiculous and absurd. And since we can never fully achieve any sense of control or knowledge, we are subject to a power beyond our control. We know very little; we make mistakes. We might learn from our mistakes today, but tomorrow we will without doubt make mistakes. I would like to speak the truth but the best I can do is speak truthfully.
     So, there I was with a four-year-old screening (again) this rather strange film. Roger Ebert writes, “There are more than 50 sets of twins in David Byrne's "True Stories," I learned by studying the press notes, and perhaps we should pause here for a moment to meditate upon that fact. A hundred twins are not going to make or break a movie, and the average audience is not going to notice more than a fraction of them . . . Consider the state of mind of the person who decided the film should have 50 sets of twins.” Consider the effect Byrne’s state of mind might have on a four-year-old! And I might have snuck in a toke or three before the film itself!
     But years later this no longer four-year-old declared that seeing that film that so bewildered him at the time, that at the time to him meant nothing, had come to figure significantly in his life! The ironist I am only could respond, “Go figure!”
     I say this because my musical choice for this morning’s spin of “Wild, Wild Life” reminded me how little idea we actually have of the effect of our actions, or as Isaiah Berlin writes that we cannot know the consequences of the consequences of our consequences. This before I go Wednesday into the classroom.