30 April 2010

Bicycle Built for Two...

... if the two are Mary Poppins and Bert.

27 April 2010

Ends and Beginnings (Commencement)

My institution's Commencement has been in the news lately, and it's gotten me thinking about my own commencements, or graduations as they're more commonly known among the graduates.

One word signifies an end, the completion of whatever one set out to do in the educational institution--or whatever one accomplished in spite of or in addition to goals set on arrival.

Entering college, I was going to be a doctor, or maybe a lawyer, or failing either of those, a philosophy professor. Three semesters of calculus and four years later, I applied to one graduate philosophy program, zero medical institutions, and one program for English teachers in China. Bingo: I got the position as an English teacher, and one thing led to another, and 20-odd years later, here I am professing English.

Entering grad school, I was going to be an ESL teacher, or maybe teach high school English. One half of one course in medieval literature later, with the late great Robert Raymo, and I was hooked. Nearly 20 years later, I'm professing medieval English literature.

And at that Commencement, I cried. Leaving high school, I was jubilant, profoundly relieved to be able to get out of rural New Hampshire. Leaving college, I was jubilant again. Leaving grad school, where I finally felt at home, I sat in Carnegie Hall and wept, and wept, and wept, as various speakers gave various kinds of good advice, of which I recall very little.

And then we walked across the stage to receive our degrees, and Professor Raymo placed the doctoral hood over my shoulders, and my father met me at the other end of the stage with possibly the biggest hug he ever gave me, and it was all over.

But also: a beginning. And this year I'll get to watch another batch of graduates commencing, going into a world that's uncertain, yet still beginning lives as people hopefully transformed by their years of education.

25 April 2010

Uncivil Law

Jan Brewer, governor of Arizona, has just signed into law a bill requiring residents to carry documentation proving they are in the country legally. If police find that there is "reasonable suspicion" that a person is an illegal immigrant, they can detain that person and demand proof of legal residency.

President Obama opposes the law, as do many people in Arizona and the rest of the US, who fear the law will be used to harass citizens and other legal residents. Brewer claims it won't be used in that way.

But how on earth does she imagine police are going to decide whether someone is worth stopping and asking for documents? What would provoke "reasonable suspicion"? Looking Hispanic? Speaking Spanish? Speaking English with a Spanish accent? Somehow, it's hard to imagine the police stopping an English-speaking Caucasian and demanding documents.

I'm tempted to go to Nogales and stand around speaking German, just to see what happens. Maybe I'll have my German birth certificate, but not my US passport, in my pocket.

24 April 2010

Consuming Earth Day

How many feet can that thing get to a gallon?

Earth Day is feeling sort of inconsequential. It seems to have morphed, this year, into both Earth Hour and Earth Month.

I guess people feel good about turning off lights for an hour, participating in a big movement, doing something green. My problem with it is that it's so minimal in its impact. If "Earth Hour" were about figuring out one way to use less energy on an on-going basis for the rest of one's life, and each year's Earth Hour involved another commitment, it would seem more meaningful.

And Earth Month seems to be a big advertising bonanza, used by marketers for all kinds of greenwashed opportunities for the populace to engage in yet more buying bonanzas.

What we need is a complete re-thinking of the ways in which we interact with stuff. A one child per family policy for the entire world, until populations reach roughly 1900 levels. A thorough-going commitment on the part of individuals, businesses, non-profit organizations, governments, and pan-governmental organizations -- yes, ALL of them -- to limit further production and consumption.

For the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day, I'm feeling discouraged.

20 April 2010

More Geese?

There are two geese nesting and incubating what I assume to be at least one egg on Route 36 in West Long Branch, between a hotel parking lot and a car dealership.

On the one hand, I want to cheer on the triumph of nature in the midst of all of this evidence of human over-consumption. I want to celebrate the arrival of spring and the birth of new life.

On the other hand... more geese? more goose droppings?

18 April 2010

Being Zeke's Mom

If you'd told me before The Offspring was born that I'd get called "Zeke's Mom," I think I would probably have been put off, even offended. I'd have thought that getting identified via my reproductive capacity was an insult.

Nope. As it turns out, when the little friends call me that, I find it completely charming.

And when the staff at the the emergency room call me "Mum," that doesn't bother me either -- I know it's just that they're trying to do their jobs, and stopping to find out the names of the mothers of all the children that come through in the course of a busy night doesn't come in under "efficiency."

Being a parent is harder than anything I've ever done, consuming in a very literal kind of way. And also the most wonderful, the most wondrous, the most awe-some.

Being "Zeke's Mom" turns out to feel like an honorific -- a title I'm proud to wear.

15 April 2010

Random Acts of Art

On Stanton Street, Lower East Side, this morning.

10 April 2010

Spring on Governor's Island

Cobblestones, bricks, old concrete, lone daffodil.

09 April 2010

Remembering Philip

I got to go to Governor's Island today to location-scout for The Mate's next film (I'm not allowed to tell more). Mike, the Parks Service guy who gave us the tour, was incredibly knowledgeable about the military history of the island, which has housed fortifications of one sort or another since right after the Revolutionary War.

It got me to remembering my cousin Philip, who loved military history and loved to take anyone who would listen to one island fort or another in the waters off the Maine coast in his little outboard-motor boat. Philip was a few years older than I was, and I loved being able to tag along on outings I wouldn't have been able to do on my own.

The Maine forts Philip took me to were either unfinished or abandoned or both (even before 9/11 you couldn't just walk right up to an active military installation), and there was one occasion where a board laid across a two-story-high opening gave way, and Philip had a bad fall.

The coast guard had to take him off that island, and we got a long ride across Casco Bay, all the way to Maine Medical Center in Portland, and afterward he was convinced I had saved his life. But later on cancer took him, far too soon.

Today, listening to Mike talk about Fort Jay and Castle Williams, on Governor's Island, and pointing across the water to Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island and Castle Clinton on Manhattan and Fort Wood on Liberty Island, and rattling off information about those and other harbor structures, it was like old days.

Philip, I miss you.

06 April 2010

Some of the Addresses

This seems to be the Week of Lists.

243 Washington Street
3940 Sansom Street
6 Charles Babbage Road
1 Maple Street
158 First Avenue
Termerweg 48

Match the streets to the cities and towns, anyone?

Driving While Distracted

Another study. This one finds that, in fact, two percent of people CAN perform effectively in a driving simulator at the same time as they memorize things and do math problems. (How exactly that simulates a phone conversation is a little opaque to me, but whatever.)

The new word for people who can do this? "Supertaskers." The rest of us, apparently, only fool ourselves that we're actually multitasking.

The first person to comment on the article summarized the problem fairly neatly: "This won't help. You'll have 98% of drivers claiming they belong to the 2% group."

I don't claim I belong to the two percent, but I will say that if I'm fatigued or sleepy, I'm kept more alert by chatting on the phone than by listening to music or opening the windows and slapping myself on the face. And it's a lot more comfortable than the latter.

While I'm not by any means suggesting that everyone should go out and text while driving, I do have to admit that studies of cell-phone use while driving get me thinking about all the other distracting things I've done behind the wheel.

A partial list (Mate, Mom, Dad: please don't read this):
  • peel and eat a banana (I've gotten in trouble and hit the windshield with that one)
  • study Greek from tape/CD (gets me driving too fast if I'm not careful)
  • attempt to read the tiny print on the cover of a CD, or on the CD itself
  • contemplate the beast with two backs
  • eat sushi, applying wasabi to each piece and dipping in soy sauce
  • disentangle the earphone wires and plug them into the phone
  • calculate mileage, after buying gas
So I have to say I don't think the technologies of today are the first things to have enabled driving while distracted, though they've probably brought it to new heights.

05 April 2010

Constance and the Prom

I keep hoping it's going to turn out to be unsubstantiated rumor, but it seems to be the truth that Constance McMillen didn't really get to take her girlfriend to the prom, after all.

The Advocate reports that Constance and her girlfriend showed up at the announced location to discover some faculty chaperones ... and five other students, among them two with learning disabilities.

Constance's reaction, as reported by The Advocate:
"They had the time of their lives," McMillen says. "That's the one good thing that came out of this, [these kids] didn't have to worry about people making fun of them [at their prom]."
She has a lot more compassion than all the parents and school officials who apparently tricked her into attending this event while all the other kids in her school were at a "secret prom" elsewhere.

The parents? Teaching intolerance. The saddest thing? They're not doing it out of ignorance, but completely deliberately. And the kids, 17 and 18 years old? Some of them will eventually realize how small-minded it all was, and will live with the shame for the rest of their lives.

The parents, on the other hand, should be very ashamed of themselves, and any school officials involved should be fired.

Update: Here, supposedly, is the other prom. Tux on a woman, no go; blue jeans, apparently fine.

Where I've Lived

Where I've lived

Butzbach, Germany
Providence, Rhode Island
Dover, New Hampshire
Plymouth, New Hampshire
Brig, Switzerland
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (four different places)
Pottstown, Pennsylvania
Shanghai, China
Chelsea, New York
East Village, New York (three different apartments)
West Long Branch, New Jersey
Red Bank, New Jersey
Back to the East Village
Washington Heights, New York
Cambridge, England
Back to Washington Heights
Lower East Side, New York

That's 22 different places, if I've counted right. We're moving again in a few weeks, assuming all goes well, and I'm hoping that's it for a long, long time.

How about you? Where have you lived?

04 April 2010

Pride and Punishment?

David Brooks wrote in a much-emailed column last week about the alleged trade, for Sandra Bullock, between fame and fidelity.

It's been bothering me all week. If a man won an Oscar and then his wife cheated on him, I can't imagine any commentator suggesting that he could have either the award or a good woman. Brooks didn't actually write that it was winning the Academy Award that led to Bullock's husband cheating on her, but the suggestion lingered all around it.

In certain medieval narratives, a man has to choice between a wife who is hideous, but will be faithful to him, or one who is beautiful, but will run around on him.

Here, though, the choice is more mundane. If a woman stays within her prescribed sphere, whatever that may be, her man will stay by her side. But if she flies too high, let her beware.

02 April 2010

The New Me

The "itis" has changed me in ways that are gradually emerging. I'm more interested in people and less paralytically shy, so I've been talking to people, hanging out, opening up windows to make friends at a rate that, for me, is kinda astonishing.

Another change, one that I saw even before The Cure, is a re-commitment to writing, not only scholarly writing but writing right here on this blog.

An old friend suggested since I was sick for five months, it will take five months to recover strength and energy. First I found that frustrating, but then freeing, because it gives me more patience day to day: I don't feel as though I ought to have recovered already, but I realize it will be a long process.

And it will be interesting to see what else emerges in the coming months as my psyche re-adjusts to life and health.

01 April 2010

April is Austerity Month

We went on what we call "austerity measures" back at the beginning of the year. If we can't eat it, or don't desperately need it to wear, we don't buy it. Dinners out? Few to none. Gas for the car, shampoo for the hair, tickets for the train -- yes, there are a few other items that are game.

We're too disorganized to budget, so this helps keep spending under control, and it's also helps in an ecological way because it forces us to figure out how to work with what we have, at which point we often realize we really don't need that thing we thought we needed, whatever that might be.

But then The Mate really needed new sneakers, and there were end-of-season sales, and the purchase of books (from Better World Books) for The Offspring's prizes for good behavior started expanding into purchases of books for The Mom. And so it goes with slippage.

So as of today, we're recommitting ourselves. Probably until after The Move, which might possibly happen in May, but June is more likely.