Monthly Archives: February 2009

six impossible things before breakfast

2/25/09

There’s some joke, although I can’t remember it, about a guy who is painting the cornices of his porch moulding while the house is burning down – I suppose another variant is our old saw about “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic”. Anyway, that’s the way I’m feeling right now about solving any of the myriad problems and excavating the mounds of expectations awaiting me: my sinuses are so infected that my doctor finally pulled out what he called The Howitzer. STEROIDS AND CIPRO!

Steroids apparently shrink the whole mess up long enough for the antibiotics to work, and if Cipro doesn’t do it, I think the next step is actual bleach. It’s also comforting to know I’ll be protected from any random anthrax attacks, because really, you just never know.

Here’s the other HIGH-LARIOUS thing: when you take Cipro and Augmentin (the other antibiotic) together, you run the risk of your joints popping out of their sockets. Apparently I’m not even suppose to walk fast for the next week, or else my fucking legs will fall off. Curious and curiouser, said Alice! I shall open out like the largest telescope that ever was! Good-bye feet!

But the whole contretemps does offer some pretty intense focus; I can’t bemoan the effluvium and errata that usually gunks up my works. My job for the next week or so is to take giant horse pills and get better. No mental hopscotch about my precious psychology. Nothing sharpens the mind like singular purpose.

don’t climb my hair, quoth rapunzel

2-24-09

My brother Sean just wrote an interesting blog about his 2-year-old Barnaby, specifically after a hot radiator scared Barno and Sean tried to comfort him. This led Sean to ruminate on how we were either helped or failed by our own parents in that respect – an eternal tightrope act, the effort it takes to balance your desire to shelter your child from all harm, and the (occasionally unconscious) wish for him/her to get over it and grow some skin.

I think Sean and I will always fall pretty heavily on the protectionist side, partly because we felt our own childhood was shaped by benevolent wolves, and – not to speak for my brother – but I feel like my having children is such a blessing of unbelievable luck that I’m hardly ever willing to create a School of Hard Knocks for Hard Knock’s Sake.

Life is hard enough when you get older; there are plenty of ways our kids will be pushed to the limits of their sanity through their social worlds, their jobs, money, alcohol, drugs, war, or the vicissitudes of an unknown future – so I find the nickel-and-dime “stop whining” parent mentality to be vaguely creepy. In Tessa’s movie Five Wives, her 89-year-old father Blakey is on a couch with one of his granddaughters, then about ten months old. She kinda falls off part of the couch, and her mother rushes to get her, but Blakey gruffly stops her, saying, “Oh leave her. She’s tough as a boot.”

Ever since, Tessa and I always use the phrase “She’s tough as a boot” for pretty much any situation where a helpless creature is expected to show incredible strength and fortitude for no reason. But alas, again, I digress.

Case at hand, Lucy just started her first sport: a tennis class with a gaggle of other 3-year-olds. Actually, calling it “tennis” is a stretch – more like a lot of munchkins swinging racquets in space and occasionally hitting one of 17.5 million balls. My brother Steve gave me the highlight: one time a little girl smacked a tennis ball that hit the teacher’s cap and then bounced into the tennis ball basket. Hilarity – and I mean hilarity – ensued.

So Lucy was swinging her tennis racquet with the insouciance of someone getting to swing something for the first time, and hit one of the boys in her class. He collapsed in 3-year-old agony, and then the teacher – a haggard, no-shit older German woman – descended on Lucy and shamed her immediately. So Lucy, who is not a big crier, collapsed onto the court as well, bathed in misery and sobbing uncontrollably with disgrace.

Tessa ran and picked Lucy up, saying, “it’s okay, honey, you didn’t mean to do anything wrong.” And of course Herr Tënnis Tëacher said “She DID do something wrong, she hit that boy with a tennis racquet.” At this point, I think to myself – fair enough, if we’re in a criminal court with adults, but this is a fucking tennis court with toddlers.

My immediate impulse? Swoop up the family, get the fucking fuck OUT of there, go to Baskin Robbins, get an ice cream cake, go home, and walk on our carpet with muddy shoes. Instead, Tessa just asked Lucy if she still wanted to play tennis. Eyes cast downward, she nodded. And went back to her place in line, racquet in hand. Minutes later, the teacher – showing a little more depth than credited – asked her if she wanted to come to the front. And Lucy did, hitting three balls in a row over the net.

Later at dinner, I asked Lucy if she had fun today. “Yes,” she said, “soccer is very fun.”

“Um, don’t you mean tennis?”

“Yes. Actually, I’m a very good tennis player.”

“Did you like your lessons?”

“Yes, but actually I already knew how to play tennis.”

And then she told me about the friends she made, and how she was looking forward to next week. No mention of the boy, no mention of the teacher. And if I had called the shots, I would have probably whisked her out of there before any of that redemption – or even forgetting – could have taken place.

I pride myself on being a protector, I have many safety plans in place in case of a national emergency, and when there’s a strange noise outside at night, I’m out there with an aluminum baseball bat within 2.8 seconds. But for those of us slightly-damaged knights in shining armor who grew up feeling vulnerable, the message is clear: sometimes your damsel doesn’t want to be rescued.

Lucy with her Uncle Steve yesterday

n-n-no tomorrow

2/23/09

Whoo-hoo! Yesterday’s blog was the least-popular ever! (well, maybe tied with that time I had to give myself a suppository while driving – but I digress.) It led to excellent comments by all, but I think many of you were missing the larger point – which is my fault. Sometimes I sacrifice clarity on the altar of bombast.

Let me put it in list form:

1. There is no doubt the current economic crisis is horrifically bad, but it is not fucking ARMAGEDDON.

2. If it is ARMAGEDDON, then there’s very little any of us can do about it except store cans of Brunswick Stew and be nice to our neighbors.

3. If we agree that it is not the end of America, then we must further surmise that things will get better in time – more likely over the next 3 years, rather than 15.

4. If so, then your 401K and other savings will rebound, and if you have a good broker who purchased some stock at the bottom of the market, then you might even be better off.

5. If you’re about to retire, I apologize. The timing sucks for you. Fiscally, the next 18 months are probably going to be especially painful, and we just have to get through it as best we can. Charlotte, you’re going to be fine. Detroit? Columbia, SC? I’m not so sure about you.

6. The current media obsession with dark, dark times IS NOT HELPING, and in fact, does nothing more than alarm an ill-educated populace into making terrible decisions while they’re scared shitless. And when this happens, somewhere, somehow, The Man is smiling.

7. If this makes me seem out of touch, then I’m willing to risk looking foppish and moronic, because it beats the shit out of running down the street screaming, wearing a bra over my shirt. I will NOT be rendered non-functional by living through American history again.

8. I forgot what eight was for, but

9. Dook sucks. God, how I hate those motherscratchers. Did anyone see this?

a dozen eggs: $46,713.88

2/22/09

You know a phenomenon isn’t so bad when the Usual Punditry won’t shut the fuck up about it – and so it is with the current Economic Freefall Meltdown Dollarpacolypse. I’m here to tell you this: the mainstream media hasn’t been right about anything in over a decade, and they aren’t right about this. Yes, I’ve read the facts and figures, I’ve seen all the graphs, I know people personally who are suffering with job loss and I’m not immune to the feeling that there is some fundamental change afoot.

However, I’m DONE with the shrieking, the furious wheel-spinning, the skyward beseeching, the rending of garments, the spittle, the End Times porn, and the phrases “uncharted territory” and “worst ever”. There’s something fishy about all this self-flagellation and masochistic simmering in misery, even if I can’t put my finger on it. Tessa remarked that it was reminding her of Y2K, and while I agree, I can’t help but think a select group of people are leveraging our doom for their benefit, the same way it was done after 9/11.

Let’s talk brass tacks here: there are several levels of “you’re fucked” and they all have solutions. At most, it means harboring an extra layer of worry on top of the jobs we still have. At piss-poor least, it means having a good stack of canned goods, some Sterno, and fresh drinking water – which is a good idea regardless of the economy, especially if you live on the San Andreas Fault.

Everything in between is doable with a strong family and good neighbors, but anything outside those parameters? Sorry, but none of us can handle it. If you hark the cassandras, we should be growing our own barley and salt-curing our own gazelle meat. I mean, I’m sorry, but kindly fuck off. That kind of talk merely makes the majority want to play more Wii.

The mainstream news outlets have one guiding principle: money. Right, no duh, but you have to keep it in mind even when they think they’re being sincere. In the last decade, what has sold more papers, and kept more eyes glued to the television?

– the dot-com bubble bursting

– Y2K

– 9/11

– The Iraq War

– white girls who go missing

– the 2008 Presidential election

In each case, we were given misinformation, groundless conjecture, and a horrific warping of the American dialogue in order to keep the crisis going on as long as possible. Think of the lies about the war. Think of how they propped up Hillary Clinton to tear down Obama for months, LONG after the Democratic nomination had already been decided. The sickest thing is they probably don’t even know they’re doing it.

I promise you, somebody is gaining power, fortune or influence with this financial disaster, and will deliberately keep us in a state of terror. I hear the conservative retort forming before they even say it: “yes, and that somebody is BIG GOVERNMENT™!!!” Well, maybe you’re partially right.

Does this mean Obama’s stimulus package is a mistake? No, because in this pursuit, emotions, unfortunately, are reality – and we’ve gone too far done the rabbit hole to find our way back. Some illnesses call for homeopathic herbs, others for laser surgery.

But for today, I simply ask: amidst the constant barrage of gloom, always consider the source.

breaker one-nine

2/19/09

While the insides of my sinuses keep bleeding, I’m honored to have the husband of my college friend Kim – the honorable Dr. Jack Russell Weinstein – write today’s blog. He’s up in North Dakota, where winter will last another three months. He’s got an awesome radio show, and he’ll tell you all about it:

***

Someone once remarked to me that her biggest disappointment with being an academic is not having enough time to read. As laments go, it is far from the worst. It’s nothing compared to “my village’s water supply is irrevocably contaminated,” “the military junta won’t let me practice my religion,” or “my youngest daughter was born with AIDS,” but it is still a shock to the system. Add to that the reality of being an ex-pat New Yorker in North Dakota, and I sometimes feel as if I may never have a genuinely cosmopolitan experience again.

I’m the son of a jazz-musician father (turned mathematical logician then education professor) and an artist mother (turned high school teacher), but the major currency of the profession I have chosen is “obscure journal articles that are read by a handful of people who themselves write obscure journal articles”. I’m a philosophy professor in mid-career, a New Yorker in Middle America, and a father/husband in mid-life. Where do I go from here?

My answer has come in the form of public radio and a new show called Why: Philosophical Discussions about Everyday Life. It’s the flagship vehicle for the new Institute for Philosophy in Public Life, the mission of which is to cultivate a conversation between academic philosophers and general audiences. I believe that those obscure journal articles can be translated into realspeak and I believe that they are relevant to us all.

And as seduced as I am by Ian’s “American Coastopia” idea, I know that the intellectual blood flows through North Dakota and everywhere else. What we need in my part of the world is permission to inquire publicly and a place to meet where we can share our questions and answers. (Ironically, it turned out that the university is not that place.)

So on the second Sunday of every month, at 5 p.m. central time, on the radio in North Dakota and on the internet everywhere else (www.whyradioshow.org), I invite people to share philosophy with me, other professional philosophers, and as many people who will call in, or e-mail, or listen.

I wanted to write for xtcian because it’s a community with goals I share. My wife Kim (a college friend of Ian and an ex-pat Tarheel,) turned me on to it and in the comments, I see others, like me, trying to find ways into an adult intellectual life, remembering the days when we stayed up all night talking about stuff without worrying about work the next day or kids waking up in the middle of the night, or the headache from lack of sleep that comes from being older.

I’m wondering what you all do to reinsert inquiry into your lives? What do you do daily (or weekly) to have an intellectual core? I’d love some help and some guidance to see where I can go and where I can take the radio show. Our first guest will be Clay Jenkinson, (Thomas Jefferson himself), and we’ll be talking about the place of philosophy and humanities in the world.

It will be a better conversation if you all participate, if I can read your comments in advance to prepare myself, and if we can start a discussion that will last longer than this one post. And, if you hang around until June, you’ll get to ask a United States senator what the purpose of government is and what he means by freedom. When was the last chance any of us got to do that?

Write me if you want: ippl@und.nodak.edu

***

neti pot smoker

2/18/09

Yesterday, I went to one of the best ENT doctors in the country, and when he looked inside my sinuses he gasped. Actually gasped. It was all he could do to not bring his friends in the room and say “hey y’all, look at THIS!” He did say it was one of the worst infections he’d seen in many moons, and I was to be put on giant antibiotic horse pills – one step below actually getting a rhinoceros shot of Cipro in the ass.

I’m not allowed to blow my nose, breathe heavily, take hot showers, drink hot liquids or exercise. As if that weren’t life-negating enough, I have to swab the inside of my nose with Polysporin on a Q-Tip, which makes me want to sneeze, blow my nose every three seconds, chop down sequoia trees with a fucking axe, and hurl myself into rock quarries.

It’s obvious now why I’ve been getting these goddamn migraines for three years, and why I’ve been so sick; my sinuses are basically acting as a USB input to download every virus coming through the ether. And because one sinus is always impacted, I have to sleep on my left side, which has destroyed my back. At least now there’s an answer to all these problems, but for today, I just have to say SOMEBODY ELSE WRITE THIS DAMN BLOG!

motts and mulberries

2/17/09

Okay, folks – time to help out our friend DFB&T in the comments section. He’s taking a trip to New York City in April, and… well, I’ll let him use his own words:

…we’re going to be there from a Wed thru Sun. We’re going to go to one B’way play, but want to fill our time with other cool stuff. I was going to go on Travel Channel (Anthony Bourdain) or on Food Network to look for some cool restaurants and activities that are not the typical Times Square tourist bullshit…

There was a time when I was Johnny-on-the-Spot with this sort of thing, but then I moved to Brooklyn and now we spend so much time in LA that I’ve forgotten what street runs between 8th and 10th Avenue.

Any newly-native New Yorkers or expert travelers have some intriguing not-your-usual ideas for restaurants and points of interest?

NYCDirigible.jpg

’cause weird lover wilde is on mine

2/16/09

Oh, I had some choice foul-mouthed invective to lay on you today, but while I was away for the weekend, Tessa called me to say Lucy had written her first poem.

“Her first WHAT?” I said. Then I prepared myself for rhymes, and for the subject to be completely nonsensical. Instead, Tessa forwarded me this:

El Bosque Roto

a broken forest

here’s the rain going back to the sky

it’s spring

there are blossoms on the trees

and milk

So, of course, I’m just lying on my bed with tears welling up in my eyes – which might have been caused by Ty Lawson’s last shot over Miami, but probably a combination of the two. Then my brother Kent put this up on his new blog:

a broken forest

here’s the rain going back to the sky

it’s spring

there are blossoms on the trees

and milk

I swear to god, my family does me in sometimes. Apparently the process is this: Lucy draws the picture with markers and narrates while Tessa transcribes, in her words “sort of like Yeats doing the ‘automatic writing’ with his wife.” Pauses become line breaks, and there you have it.

When I got home tonight, there was another poem waiting, another little accidental Rilkean rain gem from my 3 and 3/4-year-old. I try not to get overcome with preciousness, and the day will come when she’ll temporarily be more chained to the rigidity of structure and grade-school narrative – but for now, we get this:

that’s nothing

just the world warming up

the sky is coming blue

there’s no more rain

now I need the sun

the flowers can’t get tired.

fifteen five-oh-one

2/11/09

Oooooooooh. I just want to roll around in it, to baste in it, to squirm delightfully in its delicious sauce of vanquished, redemptive giddiness. I want to make a suit out of it, and wear it to the Church of Eat It!

They said the passion would abate, but it hasn’t. They said we would grow complacent, but 8-20 and visions of 2001 have made us eternally vigilant, and eternally thankful. Now, when I drink it, it tastes like carbonation and sugar and alcohol and root beer floats. Oh, to bottle it and bring it out on dark nights of depression!

Everyone gets a pass, sportsmanship rules supreme, and all is forgiven: except for one team. We need that one visceral loathing; it defines us, it is the wall that provides prospective. It is okay to make an exception to civility. I’m fine with batting .999, really.

In this time of the Self, in the era of Me, when we are always asked what we stand for, we’re offered a shorthand when our yang plays our yin: “To know me, look here; for this is what I’m not.”