Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

To The Moon

Posted on July 16th, 2019 in Personal | No Comments »

As I type this, today is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 liftoff. The first moon landing holds a special place in my heart, as I grew up only a few miles from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. My uncle worked at the Cape, and many of my classmates had family who also worked there. Indeed, the main reason many of us were even there in the first place was due to the space program.

It was an exciting time, being a young boy in the heart of such an amazing location – warm, sunny Florida with astronauts and launches on a regular basis. I had many models of the Saturn V and the lunar module. I knew the details of the flight, the steps required from launch to splashdown. And now we were on the edge of the big one – the real landing.

I never had any doubts; with the total faith of childhood, I knew everything was going to be fine and soon the landing would be a reality. It was another hot, bright day; we were in the house, watching Walter Cronkite prepare us for liftoff. As with previous launches, the plan was to watch until the rocket cleared the tower, then rush outside and wait for it to come up over the trees. And that’s exactly what happened. I remember quite clearly, standing on the driveway beside my house, watching the white-hot point of light moving steadily upwards into the sky. After a minute or two, the contrail would change, the light would flicker; first-stage separation and second-stage ignition.

I stood there, a little boy watching a moment in history, and I remember saying to myself, “I must not forget this.”

The weight of a half-century has nibbled away at that memory, but the core of it remains. I was there. I saw the launch with my own eyes. When it finally faded away from view, one would take a moment to look at the exhaust plume rising up from over the horizon, slowing being pulled apart by the winds, then rush back inside to let Cronkite guide us through the rest of the launch, now invisible to the naked eye (but not quite the long-range camera view).

A few days later, the go-ahead was given and down Armstrong and Aldrin went, to a rendezvous with history. When Eagle touched down on the Sea of Tranquility, we were there, along with most of the rest of the world. I was impatient, and didn’t quite understand the delay. We’re down, open the hatch and let’s get going! But it took several hours to go through the checklist, get suited up, and all the other requirements we couldn’t see.

Finally, the external camera was deployed, and we could switch from the CBS simulation (a man in a suit crawling out of a mockup LM) to a live transmission from the moon. The fuzzy black and white image that is now so well known began to take shape. Neil made his way down the ladder, spoke to Houston, then announced he was going to step off the LM now.

And thus, we all passed into a new age. I got to stay up late that night and watch all of it. I don’t remember going to bed, but I must have been very tired. I do remember thinking how sorry I felt for everyone who would be born afterwards, how they missed this epic moment.

Many years later on another Apollo anniversary, the three astronauts came back to Florida and were in a motorcade. My aunt and I went to the mall and stood alongside the road watching as they drove past, each one being driven in their own convertible, smiling and waving yet again at the assembled throng. It was the first time I had ever seen any of them in the flesh, and as Armstrong rolled by, I yelled “Neil” so loudly that he turned and looked in my direction, still smiling and waving. But directly at me.

A few years after that, I was on my way home from work one afternoon when I heard on the radio that Buzz was in town, signing copies of his science-fiction novel. The bookstore was only one or two blocks from where I screamed at Armstrong several years before. I immediately drove to the bookstore and purchased a copy just to get a signature. Who would turn down a chance to meet Columbus or Magellan?

I waited in line and when my turn came, Mr. Aldrin asked my name. He signed and I extended my hand, which he graciously shook. Then he returned the book to me and that was it. I still have it. Between my name and his own, he wrote “Ad Astra” – To the stars.

Now of course, it is a half-century later since that one small step. Half the people who were in the room with me that night are gone, including my aunt. Walter Cronkite and Neil Armstrong are gone as well. My own wife and child were born into a world in which man has always been to the moon. I am part of the last generation to have experienced a time before that ever happened. It’s like looking in old encyclopedias at artist’s depictions of the planets, whereas now we’ve photographed them all (even Pluto!).

When I watch the old footage, the tears well up; I’m not only watching a defining moment for the Human species, I’m watching my own past. I can see a little boy who could look up at the moon before it ever had a footprint upon it. Time rolls on in its relentless way, but it can’t change the fact that I was there the night it all changed forever.

Goodbye, Old Friend

Posted on April 12th, 2018 in Personal, Politics | No Comments »

For quite some time I have watched with dismay as the United States has sunk under the morass of the GOP/Trump administration. I’ve held off on commenting, partly because no matter how low the bar has sunk, we still don’t seem to have reached bottom. Where that will leave us, I shudder to think. I’ve also been following the unfolding story with a mixture of shock and alarm. I hope I can look back on these times and feel that sense of relief one has when narrowly missing disaster. Even so, it will take a long, long time for the nation to recover. It is worse than Watergate; at least then you could count on Congress to do the right thing. Now they are just as complicit as the president in destroying the idea of being governed by laws.

But as bad as all this is (he typed, hoping that the upcoming November midterms will offer up some relief), it’s not what I wanted to talk about. It’s how this bigger story of a county that is falling from within is played out in microcosm as a story between two people. One is myself, and the other is friend of mine of over forty years acquaintance. I was not much of a political person when I was young, which is not uncommon. It’s only in later years that I began to take a stronger interest. I’ve always been a keen newshound, however. I mentioned Watergate at the beginning; I grew up reading about it as it happened. I didn’t understand much about it at the time, but since then I’ve come to know more about what it was and what it meant. I find myself at this point in my life as someone who casts a critical eye over proceedings as a Liberal as well as an atheist. Certainly some people’s idea of their worst nightmare.

The other person in this story (let’s call her ‘Cheryl’ to avoid having to say ‘my friend’ every time I refer to her. Not her real name, obviously.), is as I said, someone I’ve known for many decades. As is common for long-term friendships, we’ve had times when we were very tight and times when years would pass with little real communication. But the shared links and bonds were always there. If I had to describe Cheryl to someone, I would say, ‘Trippy Hippy Chick’; we were first brought together because of our common love of music (specifically, music of the 60’s). She was conservative in her manners, but always seemed to embody the ideas of peace and love that partially defined that era in the mid-20th Century. She didn’t drink or smoke or do drugs, but she was still ‘groovy’, if outwardly square, to use the lingo of those times.

After many years and adventures together off and on, Cheryl eventually married, moved a thousand miles away into the hills of Appalachia, and settled into a job, having a child and living a middle-class life. We wrote, but only managed to get together once in person after that. I met her child, then we settled into a pattern of Xmas cards and the occasional letter or email. Like many friends, she was there, but tucked into a box in my mind. She divorced, remarried, her first husband passed away early, she was estranged from her child for a time, and such is life. Her child is now grown and married to a seemingly good person. Cheryl’s second husband (‘Barry’) is no longer able to work for medical reasons, and seems an angry, bitter man who thinks Christmas is too commercial (but he’s not religious). So much so that he won’t allow Cheryl to have a Xmas tree or any decorations during the holiday season. Her excuse for all this is that ‘he hates clutter’. Draw your own conclusions.

Cheryl uses a computer at her job, and therefore has said to me more than once that she doesn’t like to use one at home. Which means emails have always been rare (I assume they have a toilet at work too, but that doesn’t stop her from using one at home, I would hope). So at the beginning of this year, I decided to sit down and write her a letter, print it out and mail it to her. Cheryl and I have a long history of writing letters back and forth that predate the Internet; it’s not a difficult thing to do, but it’s not something I do much of any more. Anyway, it’s easy enough to embed photos and images as well, making it more than just a wall of dry text. I ended up with seven pages of Word-generated content and mailed it off to her up in the hills where she lives.

Some months later, much to my surprise and delight, I received four pages, filled front and back with her loopy handwriting that I know so well. It was chock-a-bloc with comments and observations about the things I had said, discussion about shared interests in music and television, and updates on what she’s been doing recently. Just the kind of thing you’d expect in a letter from an old friend. So far so good.

But there were also difficult parts. The last two pages she even prefaced by saying I wasn’t going to like what she had to say. And boy, was she right. The upshot is that my trippy hippy chick friend has turned into a diehard Republican conservative. She thinks that Trump is doing a great job (although she’s not happy about his tweets). The recently-passed GOP tax ‘cut’ has put more money into people’s pockets, Trump’s policies have been an economic boom for her area and ‘Obamacare’ has caused Medicaid to send premiums skyrocketing. It pains me to even write this nonsense. Long ago, Cheryl got a degree in journalism which she never put to good use. But I would assume that even back then, they taught ‘ethics’ as part of what a professional journalist must know. So it was a literal shock to read that she thinks the media are ‘hush-hushing’ all the good Trump is doing – because they don’t like him! If you can’t see what’s wrong with that, you might as well stop reading now.

Other tidbits included some Democrat bashing: Since they’ve had control longer over the country since we were kids, why haven’t they done more to fight poverty? If you count Eisenhower, who was president when Cheryl and I were born, then up to the end of Obama’s term, Republican presidents have actually held sway longer than Democratic ones. And in comparison to what Lyndon Johnson did with his plans for a ‘Great Society’, what did Ronald Reagan do for the poor? Trickle-down economics? She seems unaware that the tax cuts she thinks so highly of are going to expire in 2025, unless you’re wealthy or a corporation; then there will be a nasty tax increase to compensate for the lack of revenue that the rich will no longer have to pay. Cheryl’s not exactly rolling in dough, with a disabled husband and a job where she’s not able to advance any further. But she’s happy to pay the taxes for billionaires and businesses? Nor does she seem to understand that the rise in Medicaid prices is because Trump tried and failed to repeal the ACA, so he and Congress started slashing anything they could instead (such as the individual mandate), and many insurers dropped out of the market because of the instability of the system.

While all of this is simple stupidity, worse was to come. She then described the plight of a group of Ethiopian refugees who were settled in her area (an area not known for ethnic diversity, I should mention). She complained about them receiving ‘unfair’ housing benefits ahead of ‘native’ residents (which is apparently a Democratic plan – hook immigrants on benefits and they’ll vote Blue ever after), then went on a diatribe about them:

“Now we have people here who want to turn this country into “Anything-But-America”, hate everything America stands for, & are working tirelessly to push agendas that divide us instead of uniting us.”

While I don’t doubt some immigrants do feel this way (as do many native citizens, unfortunately), it’s a bit of a stretch to characterize all of them as being guilty of this. She compares this to her own great-grandparents, who were (Jewish) refugees. They ‘honored’ their roots and worked towards the American dream, she says. I’m sure they were not looked upon with suspicion, or tended to associate with people of a similar background at first, just as these Ethiopians no doubt do now. I wondered if she would have felt the same way had these people been from Scotland or Norway. It’s difficult to feel that her distrust is based largely on their skin colour.

It sickens me to think that someone I’ve known so well for so long has been drinking deeply of the Fox Propaganda Kool-aid. I had mentioned to Cheryl that I was an online subscriber to both the New York Times and the Washington Post; her response was that if I:

“…indulge only in progressive publications & websites without researching the other sides, you’re just going to remain locked into your off-the-charts ideology… which sadly it sounds like you are entrenched.”

She didn’t mention how she gets her news, but I doubt it includes many “progressive publications & websites” to give her a balanced picture. But this would obviously tie into her belief that the media in general are not reporting the actual facts, since so many of them “don’t like” the president. If I’m reading them, then I must not be getting an accurate view of things. I suppose since so many media outlets are reporting the same general stories it must mean it’s a conspiracy of some sort; luckily she’s getting news directly from an outlet that provides a more direct, unvarnished point of view – that the president is actually doing a great job.

Since receiving this letter from Cheryl, I’ve had to spend a great deal of time mulling over what she’s saying to me. I’m obviously stunned to discover that she really does think like this. I’m sad, angry, confused and feel somehow let down. We are both children of the Sixties and I don’t understand how you get from Love is all you need to Make America Great Again. I find now that when I peruse my “progressive publications” and there are comments along the lines of “How can people continue to support this?”, I feel a wound being reopened, again and again. I know someone like this. How can this happen?

Eventually, I started to compose a reply to Cheryl. I spoke first about my family, what we were doing, how we were. I touched upon music and TV shows we both enjoy. I talked about her child. But after all that, I had to veer into deeper waters. I spoke about Barry and how he seems to have turned into a recluse, taking his anger out on her. I went through many of the ideas she espoused to me, and explained how I felt about them; correcting factual errors in her perceived viewpoints when required. I took exception to her comments that the media at large are so biased that they would be failing to do their jobs properly, and that if anyone is ‘entrenched’ in a bizarre ideology, it’s certainly not me. I moved towards the only conclusion I could. I told Cheryl that I regretted writing to her and opening this huge can of worms in the first place. But now that what’s done is done, I’m saddened by her ignorance and her racism. I feel I don’t know who she is any more. If she felt that she did not see fit to reply any further, that would be fine with me. And then I printed the letter out and mailed it.

What will happen next, I have no idea. Will she write back or simply fade away? I’m of an age now where I know I need to prepare myself for the end of long-standing relationships on account of death. I hope when my distant friends pass away, I’m notified somehow, just as I hope my remaining friends are told when I’m gone. But to lose contact with someone I’ve known for nearly a half-century over political views is yet another casualty of the current administration. I have watched this monster attack the Constitution and the rule of law (aided by a corrupt and pathetic Congress). It has made me angry and worried for the future. But this abomination has now had a personal impact. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that Cheryl and I would have reached the end of the road over someone like Donald Trump.

 

To Boldly Go

Posted on September 7th, 2016 in Personal, Politics, Religion | No Comments »

 “We work to better ourselves, and the rest of Humanity”
– Jean-Luc Picard, “First Contact”

As I write these words, we are two months and one day from history being made with the 2016 Presidential election. Two candidates who have polarized America in such a way as to lay open deep wounds, which may never heal in my lifetime. Eight years ago, I supported Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama; now I’m not so sure. Clinton’s position seems to paint her as a moderate Republican rather than a progressive Democrat. Charges of corruption and the influence of deep-pocket Wall Street donors paint a less flattering portrait of her than I saw back in 2008. Her opponent is a puffed-up tycoon who appeals to the populist vote by saying whatever he thinks will work at any given moment. The fact that he’s running neck and neck in this election speaks volumes to the depths in which both parties have lost touch with voters, and how decades of under-funding education, promotion of belief over science and the rise of jingoistic blind patriotism has finally come home to roost, with a vengeance.

 Throughout the United States, I see the fall of empire, the dissolution of a dream. The great experiment of a new nation is beginning to fail. A government exposed as corrupt and totalitarian,  run by career politicians who will say anything to maintain their grip on power in order to keep being fed by wealthy special-interest groups. A populace who pay lip service to the ideas but year by year lose interest in the vigilance required to maintain their liberties, distracted by glitter and sheen and vacuous indulgences. Dumbed down by a faulty education system that is continually challenged by lack of funding and under constant attack from those who wish to impose their ‘faith’ over facts. Graduates who care barely read or write, were told Moses was a historical figure, cannot make change and never taught the basics of reproduction, or how to protect themselves from the consequences of their natural urges.

We live in an Orwellian world of double-speak, where ignorance is wisdom, giving up our freedoms makes us free and to question is to be wrong. Edward Snowden languishes in Moscow instead of being hailed as someone who told us what our government is doing in our name. A football player who refuses to stand for the national anthem is treated as if he somehow offended the military who fight and die in futile wars far away for no good reason. We are not allowed to ask why we sacrifice our troops; just “honor” them. Every day, people are killed on the streets of this once-great nation and no effort is made to overrule the gun industry and limit the weapons that take so many lives and destroy so many families. Not even the slaughter of schoolchildren in their own classrooms can stop it; money can cover anything, even the blood of the innocent. An idea as logical as banning assault weapons and universal background checks is treated as an attack upon the Constitution and the second amendment; but Congress votes to increase secret surveillance of innocent Americans, violating the fourth amendment, and it’s seen as good and proper.

America was once the leader of the free world; that claim is dubious now, to say the least. Other nations have better standards of living; free health care, better education; a happier, safer populace, not dominated by the obsessive need to feed the military whatever it wants, or the need to kowtow to obsolete, nonsensical religious claptrap. Other nations don’t have a crumbling infrastructure, with bridges built nearly a century ago and failing to cope with the increased demands of more and more cars. Other nations recognize the role we play in warming the planet, making every Summer ‘the hottest on record’, year after year after year.

We expect ‘regimes’ to keep innocent people locked away, with no trial; tortured and sometimes killed. To use their armies to attack and murder women, children and babies in their own homes. To spy on their own citizens and deal harshly with anyone who opposes the official party line. With every drop of blood, the United States of America becomes that which we supposedly hate; that which we supposedly stand in contrast to; that which we thought we would never be. We are now.

Next week will mark the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I have spoken before about how we were a different people then. So much has happened to us since that clear, blue morning. We were shocked to find that some could hate us so much that they would do such a terrible thing. It was terrorism of the worst kind, brought home from distant shores half a world away and deposited on our own doorstep. Now we look around at the hate, the shrug of the shoulders to the constant wash of violence, the nonsense and lies spouted off by our leaders and wanna-be leaders, and it’s difficult to deny that we have become a cruel, deluded people, with perhaps our best days behind us. The journey from innocence to cynicism in breathtaking speed.

I still believe that one day, we will rise up and become the people we think we are capable of being. The statement by the captain in Star Trek could ring true as a motto for us all. It is true for some people now, around the world. But there is a long, long way to go in order for it to apply to the majority, never mind the whole of Humanity. I wish I could see it, but I know I won’t. More importantly, I wish I could see it start to happen. I hold onto the hope that it already has.

Christmas Is Killing Me

Posted on December 21st, 2011 in Personal | No Comments »

Every year I consider writing about Christmas, but put it off until it’s too late. This year I seem to be rolling along a little farther down the path. Let’s see how far I can get.

As a child, whenever I would see some reworking of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, I would always wonder about the spirit of Christmas Future. The other two ghosts who come to visit Scrooge are obvious enough. The ghost of Christmas Past is shown as an angelic figure (male or female), and Christmas Present looks a lot like Bacchus, the God of Wine.

But the ghost of Christmas Future (or Christmas Yet To Come) is a black-robed grim reaper-like figure. Why should this be so? True, he does show Scrooge a possible vision of the future that foresees his own death, but are there other reasons? I think so.

Leaving aside the blatantly obvious faces of Xmas (birth of Christ, Saturnalia, the economic boost, etc.), Christmas is about death. Set only days after the beginning of Winter and the longest night of the year, the holidays are a solemn reminder of the transience of Man. Many of us can remember particular Christmas events, even when most of the rest of the year fades into a blur. It’s a time to stop and mark time, especially as one gets older. With more than a half-century of Christmas Days under my belt, I can easily recall specific ones – particular gifts, funny memories, sad times, etc.

While children revel in the materialistic aspects of the day, older adults look back and recall family members who are no longer around. When I was growing up, it seemed my family would last forever. But of course, eventually the child becomes the adult and leaves to start a new family. The older members pass on, and the cycle continues anew. I’ve lost more than one member of my family in December as well, which makes the absence at this festive time of year particularly difficult at times. I continue to mourn their loss, and a portion of my childhood is gone with them forever.

One of the most memorable aspect of Christmas to me has always been the music. The happy-go-lucky fun of Jingle Bells, the quasi-Medieval feel of We Three Kings of Orient Are, or the Victorian blunderbuss of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, I love ’em all. But it wasn’t until I heard a version of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas by a New York City Gay Men’s Choir, that I really understood it:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light
From now on,
our troubles will be out of sight

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Make the Yule-tide gay,
From now on,
our troubles will be miles away.

Here we are as in olden days,
Happy golden days of yore.
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more.

Some day soon
We all will be together,
If the Fates allow
Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow
(Hang a shining star upon the highest bough).
And have yourself A merry little Christmas now.

I realized that the choir were singing about friends lost to AIDS. It’s a sad little song about loss and loneliness. The shining stars are the people you love who are gone, and they are terribly missed. It never fails to make me cry now, because it’s a stark reminder of those I’ve lost.

And that’s why the ghost of Christmas Yet To Come is a figure of death. I still love the holidays, the music, the decorating, the presents. It’s one small moment every year when the ideas of peace and family and goodwill are at least given lip service, which is more than they see any other day. A day to share with family and loved ones, to grow those fond memories for the next generation. While the religious value of Xmas fades away, it’s still an important day, and must always be so.

But as individuals, as we age, it’s also a day to stop and take a look back. To hang that shining star on the highest bough. To remember.

Have yourself a Merry little Christmas now.

The Non-Anonymous Future

Posted on August 18th, 2010 in Personal | No Comments »

First of all, let me say right off the bat that I’ve been wrong before. When I was first informed about the nature of email, and blogging, I thought they were ridiculous concepts. I wasn’t remotely interested. I enjoyed sitting down to write long letters. I’ve since discovered that my letters were long because they were ponderous and boring. I didn’t understand why anyone would bother writing what amounted to a diary on the Internet. Surely a personal journal is by its very nature a private matter, to be found after death and published to great posthumous fame. Or tossed out in the trash. Heck, the first time I saw a web page for a new car, I couldn’t believe it.

And yet, and yet. Here I am, compulsive emailer, sometimes blogger and owner of many websites, some a lot smaller in concept than a new car. So my track record is not good on predicting future trends. I admit that. But (and you knew there would be one, didn’t you?), I am currently drawing the line at the current craze lumped under the messy heading “social networking”. For anyone reading this (heh) who’s even more of a Luddite than I am, it’s the frantic desire to connect to everyone you know and deliver the minutiae of your life, literally moment by moment. Socal Networking takes many forms, starting with mobile phones.

I remember the first time I saw someone with a portable phone in a restaurant; a fellow in a group with a somewhat bulky bag slung under his shoulder, and a handset that looked like a walkie-talkie out of WWII, except in black instead of camouflage. And of course it rang as they were sitting at dinner, and he got to show everyone around what a trend-setter he was. It seems laughable now, when everybody walks around like zombies, talking to themselves about where they are in the mall (“I’m walking by the bookstore now, and nearly up to the shoe store. Now I’ve passed the shoe store and can see the vitamin shop off to my right…”).  Those who are not actually speaking are instead texting out into the void.

I have nothing to say to anyone that’s so important. I don’t have a mobile, which sends people who try to get me to change my mobile service into paroxysms. I suspect they don’t believe me. After going on about how they can save me money, and how concerned they are that I’m spending so much, their concern evaporates when  I suggest that they pay for me to have a mobile, so I can save a lot more.

The next step in the social networking universe was sites to share information, such as Digg. I still don’t understand how this works. If I like a website for whatever reason, I click a button. Somehow this informs other people, who I assume are just clueless, and a site can be more or less put into a bottle and cast adrift on a great social network ocean. Who actually goes to these sites, other than spammers? Hmm, I wonder if there are any good movie review websites? I’ll surf over to Digg and find out. Why not go to a search engine and type “movie reviews”? The system just seems cumbersome and over-complex.

After that, the world went nuts for Twitter. You can tweet, or type a 150-character message which other people can be informed about. People can subscribe to your tweets, so every time you announce that you’ve gone to the bathroom, or espied a bodacious babe, someone on the other side of the world can keep abreast of it. How dull is your life that you have to get up-to-the-minute bulletins about someone else like this? The most common tweet would seem to be: I am tweeting. The content may be different, but the message is the same. And I don’t care. I do have a Twitter account, but mainly to reserve the name. I’ve never sent a tweet, nor am I subscribed to receive any.

Finally, the nadir of social networking is now Facebook. When the Internet first became popular, there were great concerns about being tracked by legions of faceless Big Brothers. The privacy of the populace must be protected at all costs! The privacy was of course, mainly to look at online porn, which is no doubt why lawmakers were so eager to embrace privacy restrictions. But now you have Facebook, where people rush in a great mania to proclaim their private information in excruciating detail. Can websites of banking and medical details that are open to anyone be far behind? Why would anybody want a Facebook account? The irony is that in giving up their anonymity, people may be just another commodity, where any individual is shielded from glare by the overwheming crush of sheer numbers.

This idea of course, is utter nonsense. Computers can effortlessly weed any single person out of the chaos of the multitude. Governments have computers, and so do criminals. And with laptops full of personal information being lost almost daily on some street somewhere, we are probably already in an age where nobody can hide. Centuries ago, the idea of privacy was unheard of. Even the rich and noble lived surrounded by entourages. The poor simply huddled together for warmth like they always do.  The Internet is a true revolution in our lifetimes. I use it daily, and have come to depend on it for many things. But not social networking. In the great march of progress for our species after a million years, the concept of ‘privacy’ may be one day seen as just a passing conceit, put paid by the Internet.

But I still won’t get a Facebook page.

Always Groovy

Posted on April 23rd, 2009 in Personal | 2 Comments »

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a child of the 60’s. It was my decade, and it shaped the person I became many years later. I was too young to recall where I was the day Kennedy was shot, but I do remember the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. I grew up very close to the Space Center in Florida, so of course I remember the moon landing. I remember the launch, watching it go up into a beautiful sunny sky, and thinking to myself “I must remember this”.

The 1960’s, from my perspective, started with the death of JFK, leading quickly to Beatlemania. They ended on election night in 1972, with the defeat of George McGovern, and any chance the youth of America felt they had in putting their convictions to the test. Nixon continued to reign, and everybody hunkered down and put themselves first for awhile.

While I was only a child for the entire decade (having instead to spend my teenage years in the 70’s, living with Disco), watching footage from that era leaves me feeling very nostalgic. I accepted the world around me like any youngster, be it Beverly Hills, Hanoi, Biloxi or Beruit. The long hair, the clothing, most of all the music, filling me, leaving its imprint upon my soul. I had a Nehru jacket at seven (with black-frame glasses and about a quarter-inch of hair closely-cropped around my skull). Woodstock passed me by, but the film now is oddly familiar in a way that Lollapalooza never could have been.

By the 80’s of course, the world had moved on to corporate greed and the ‘me generation’. By today’s standards even that was a gentle, naive time. I’ve seen the sixties dream torn to shreds, first by Watergate, then cocaine, punk, crack, Reagan, Bush, 9/11 and Iraq. People who missed it all roll their eyes when talk turns to old hippies, probably much like we lampooned ‘rebels’ in the 50′, or those wacky young men in the Roaring Twenties, with their Dagwood Bumstead hair and raccoon coats, swallowing goldfish or piling into phone booths. Kids today are so much more hip (or so they like to think).

But I don’t care. The idealism of those days still burns inside of me, and I’m sure many others. Even if the leaders grew old and disillusioned, the kids who hung out with them, watching and wanting to be like them, still carry the torch they dropped so long ago. Some years ago I recall reading a magazine article about parents who were also Beatles fans, and how they were ‘living Beatle lives, and raising Beatle kids’. And that’s true, I’ve seen that with my own eyes. It makes me terribly proud for some reason, that in the face of all the postmodern doubt about the world, families are still telling their kids about a band that once, long ago, ruled the world.

In spite of all the terrible bad around us today, the small glimmer of hope that shone on the faces of kids with flowers in their hair is still here with us, even if most of the hair is gone. I believe in the sixies dream, and always will, until my last breath. I am a child of the 60’s; peace and love.

Teletubbies say Hello, Brave New World

Posted on March 16th, 2009 in Personal | 1 Comment »

Have you ever actually watched the Teletubbies? I have, many times, and even before I had a child. When I first saw the show, it was in a UK college dorm room around the late 90’s, not long after the show first premiered. It was like a train wreck, horrible, but I couldn’t stop watching it. It seemed mindless, a demented fantasy that somehow ended up being made, like Springtime for Hitler from The Producers. But I couldn’t take my eyes from it.

Some years later, I watched it again, after it had been shown in America, and denounced by Jerry Falwell of all people, for promoting homosexuality (because one of the Teletubbies, Tinky-Winky, carried a purse but had no definite sexual identity). I had a different take upon it by then. It struck me as an attempt to recapture the beautiful innocence of childhood, before the world took it away forever, as it does for nearly all of us. Most of the time I would actually cry by the end, as I felt it reach into my heart and call out to that long-ago-lost child whose memories I carry with me every day.

Then of course, the merchandising came, and I drifted away again, back to adult concerns.

One thing I’ve always thought about the Teletubbies, however, is that I firmly believe that in part the show is based on H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine. Teletubbies are the Eloi – the simple, dumber descendants of ourselves, far into the future. Wells’s time traveler goes forward and meets the Eloi, who are smaller, nonsexual beings who seem to have no real language, living a life of paradise without work or illness. Technology exists, but they cannot utilize it or create it. They are like children in a world created for them. But they cannot really learn, or grow or evolve. In short, Teletubbies.

Now of course, I have a child, and so I watch it yet again. She seems to like it very much, altho she prefers In the Night Garden, which is a sort of second-generation version (Teletubbies TNG, if you prefer). Maybe one day she’ll think back to it the same way I think back to Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent, or dear beloved Captain Kangaroo. Altho I didn’t notice back in the day how appallingly bad the production values were (thank you, YouTube). I guess she won’t have that problem in 30+ years, thanks to DVDs or whatever will replace them.

But I do wonder what her take will be – beloved childhood icons, dopy marketing figures, or a dark vision of the future of the human race?

Raising the Dead

Posted on March 7th, 2009 in Personal | No Comments »

It’s been nearly 10 months since my last post, which is probably not important since nobody reads this blog anyway. But I’ve been off doing a number of things, one of which has been genealogy. I’ve had quite the fun time turning myself into a busy researcher, hunting online for records, links and photographs of grave stones. Even as a child, I always had a fascination with the dead; it’s much more personal when it’s the dead you’re descended from.

It has been a totally fascinating journey into the past, a history of farmers, shoemakers, blacksmiths, housewives and more. I discovered my Great-Great-Great Grandmother, who died when the pipe she was smoking caught her clothes on fire. She was around 100 at the time. Or the Great-Great Grandfather who lost two daughters, ages 6 and 12, in the same month to scarlet fever. The photograph of a Great-Great-Great Grandfather taken when he was probably in his late 20’s. He looks amazingly like me. Or vice-versa. How strange to see my own face staring back at me from a century or more. I also discovered the Grandfather I never knew, who divorced my Grandmother fifteen years before I was born. He died in 1978 and it wasn’t until late last year I finally saw a photograph of him.

As a boy, I always wondered where I came from. What were my ancestors like? My family never really talked much about the distant past, so I had a lot of questions. I know so much more now to pass on to my own child, when she’s ready to ask the questions. When you pore over census records, chronicling the children lost, the long and successful marriages, the wives who died young, the men who lived through terrible wars, it’s hard not to see yourself as nothing more than the current link. Their blood all flows through my veins, so I’m the part of them that has survived. I feel responsible in a way, to carry those bloodlines forward, to try and remember the centuries of laughter and tears for those who can no longer do so. If they were up there somewhere watching me, those lines of Grandparents, I wonder what they would think of the world today.

A hundred years from now, will someone carry on the history I’ve started, with my own name concisely summing up in a little box all that I’ve lived and experienced? Two dates neatly bookending a life; is that all at the end? At least I know that despite their certain flaws, on the whole they were a group of people I’m proud of, and when I’m a tidy footnote in the pages of history, I will be in good company. I hope those that follow me will be equally proud.

Is School Out Forever?

Posted on May 29th, 2008 in Personal | No Comments »

My high school class is celebrating a reunion this year, so I’ve been getting the nonsense in the mail from the “reunion committee”, which I picture as several ditzy girls from my class sitting around a folding table, sending reminders to all and sundry. The image has balloons and confetti too, for some reason.

Anyway, I filled out a bio for the ‘Memory book’, but as usual have no plans to attend. I’m too far away, even if I really wanted to go. But for the first time in a long while, it made me curious about how the rest of my classmates have been doing the past (blank) years. So I went to one of those ‘alumni’ sites where you can sign up and read or email ghosts from the past. I paid my $10.00 fee (and am still getting email reminders to join up and show my ‘alumni pride’), and went exploring. The problem is that these sites don’t have everybody. There’s always that strange guy, or that cute girl, or someone that you’d really like to know about (that is, make sure they’re not doing better than you!). But I read what they had, and it was very depressing.

Most of my class seems to be married with kids, living ordinary lives. And that was what bothered me – weren’t we going to be the ones who were going to change the world? Sure, every class says that, but we were special! What happened to all those hopes and dreams from graduation? Life, I suppose. It also bothered me that a lot of them have kids who are now older than they were the last time I saw them. This group of 17- and 18-year olds now have children in their twenties. Huh? It’s hard not to feel that as a group, we’ve been lapped, and are now out of the race.

I actually wrote to one girl (girl; a middle-aged woman with two kids, 18 & 13) I knew. We shared quite a few classrooms together, but never spoke much or became more than just vaguely aware of each other. Of course this girl (let’s call her ‘Beth’) was in a higher ‘caste’ than I was all throughout our school years together. She was also pretty smart, and I always considered her a real mental rival. She could spell ‘gymnasium’ in fifth grade, which was impressive at the time. So I sent Beth a friendly email, saying hi after all this time, I remember this and that, read your bio on the site, here’s what’s up with me. She wrote back the next day with a very bland ‘Oh I enjoy hearing from anyone from our class, I’m this that, yada yada’. This girl who was such a genius all through elementary school, middle school, high school… is a dental hygienist. Not that it’s not a good and important job, but somehow I expected more from her. I wrote her again with more memories, and a thought that while we were never in any sense of the word ‘friends’ in school, now that so much time has gone by, maybe we could email each other once in a while and say hi, here’s the latest, and so on.

My feeling on that is as time goes by, we all grow ever more distant from the people and events that shaped us. It would be nice to be in touch with someone who remembers the same teachers, the same faces, the same culture. I’m finding as I get older that to my great surprise, I miss that more and more over the years. Beth and I spent many years of our childhood together but separate in the same classrooms. It would be nice to put aside the childish feelings that kept us from being pals and enjoy the common experiences we had in those rooms so many years ago.

I guess to nobody’s great amazement, Beth never wrote back. Maybe she felt I was trying to hit on her, or set myself up for being the stalker she’s never wanted. Maybe I thought after all this time, we could move beyond playground resentments or superior feelings. Once more I was too naive for my own good. I haven’t written anyone else.

Last night I dreamt I was back at high school, on the last day, and we were getting our yearbooks. The books seemed full of pages about various people, with several of them getting a multi-page layout. Finally I found a page with a grid that filled almost all the space, showing what events or activities everyone was involved with. On the far right side of the page was a column of photographs of the students. It seemed to be more important to note what everyone was doing than what they looked like, or who they actually were. In the dream I felt all the loneliness and futility that high school was. The feeling that I missed something important. I woke up somewhat depressed, and was in a funk most of the morning.

Is it any wonder I don’t go to the reunions?

Maddy

Posted on May 28th, 2007 in Personal | No Comments »

What’s this world coming to if we can’t find a single lost little girl? Dammit Dammit Dammit Dammit. After nearly a month, where is she? No wonder we can’t fight the ‘war on terror’ or stop the drug trade. We may deserve whatever we get.