Friday, June 26, 2009

Boogie Boarding While the World Turns

The news from Iran continues to boil over with the shifting upheaval that always breaks out where least expected. And we watch from our vaulted perches and hope and pray for a decent outcome. However, that is not what consumes me at the moment. I wanted to write about my day at the beach yesterday with my two daughters and Susan, and how nice it was to catch the cold waves and walk along the sand looking for shells. The day started off foggy. We could see the outline of a cargo ship off in the distance moving ever so slowly northward, so slowly we thought it might be some looming landmass. Then it cleared and we all got sunburnt by the afternoon. The best thing was the large piece of kelp like a flag Grace picked up in the surf. We brought it home in a bucket, a memento of the day, something to hang onto. It was so much like a banner except grey green and slippery and it spiraled like a whorl, like surf. At night, eating dinner, Eve felt like she was moving and I told her that's what happens when you spend a day at the beach, you feel like you're still riding the waves. It was so fun. We didn't even realize Michael Jackson had died. Rest in peace, MJ.
My advice to fathers: Teach your daughters to boogie board.
"There is nothing in the world worth caring about." Dolly Madison.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Fatherhood and Apple Pie

People who proclaim we are in the midst of some pivotal moment in history live in an eternal present, heedlessly and recklessly discounting the many previous pivotal moments that have come and gone throughout time. Then there are the mystics who will tell you our every action has infinite repercussions; the beating of a butterfly's wing will set off ripples that will echo throughout eternity. Let's say for argument's sake that reality works somewhere in the middle range between these two extremes: there are some moments that are more important than others, but by and large they are impossible to identify without the benefit of hindsight. However, this Father's Day I am going out on a limb and proclaiming that something Big is Happening Out There. I'm not exactly sure of what it is, but I think we can agree that the spectacle of Obama proclaiming the importance of mentoring and fatherhood from the lawn of the White House is an image that redefines how we see ourselves as a nation. I've always wondered if America is a fatherland in the way of Germany and say Iran, or a motherland in the way of Russia, and say Ireland. We are really neither and that has advantages and disadvantages, but one of the disadvantages is that the disadvantaged have no place to go when the going gets tough except by dint of their own or others exceptionality. That is the crisis of fatherlessness in the black community in a nutshell, that we are both motherless and fatherless in an explicitly cultural way and rely on purely legalistic loyalties (to the Constitution) or popular affiliations (to the Red Sox or the Black Hawks) to hold us together through those moments that are less pivotal, in other words most of the time. That we needed a day of national attentiveness to the perils of an epidemic of fatherlessness speaks to the lack of community, the lack of solidarity throughout the land.
The mullahs in Iran must be gagging in their beards at this extremely unflattering irony, that this half black President of a deracinated people in a Godless outpost of Hell should be pedalling fatherhood while their fatherhood is being rudely called into question by the compliant children of Persia.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Digital Conversion Blues

I've got to confess, we are having trouble with the digital conversion. We, my family, are not tuning in to the stuff on offer. Ironically we were among the first to acquire the digital converter, clipping the government coupons back in the fall and cashing them in at Best Buy one rainy weekend. And we had great hopes for a miraculous and free immediate conversion to the fast lane, or at least my son and I did, visions of the Cartoon Network and Disney and for me the History Channel and ESPN. My wife is the television czar and I know she's right; we're better off without it, more family time, better engagement with each other and our imaginations, more motivation to read, but still we hoped. The thing is, it's not happening. We live in an old farmhouse with an old school antennae on the roof that has been whacked what with retiling the roof and several recent massive storms. The message on the screen says we need a new HDTV antennae and cable. All we're getting is ABC and NPR from Concord, not even the Boston NPR station which is a good one. So not even the fuzzy signal we were getting from the CBS and NBC affiliates, which means flicking through the crime shows and basketball games on slow winter nights is gone unless we do something. How likely is it that we will do something? I ask myself rhetorically. Again we face a crossroads where our determination to forge our own independent sense of identity, I'm talking my wife and I, runs smack into the children's - namely my oldest son Michael's - need for melding with the mainstream American sense of culture, which has everything to do with soaking up as much media as possible. I've got to say, he does all right for himself with his Ipod, downloading from the computer. He can tell me things I didn't know about what type of switchblades were used in the Godfather movies, essential stuff to know at any age. He is light years ahead of where I was at his age, growing up overseas in a veritable wasteland of media and consequently in the absence of any ability to claim an American identity. It may seem superficial, but it is the currency of brotherhood in our times, references to Bonanza and the Gong Show for those of a certain age, Star Trek and Monty Python for others.
My wife and I, living all over the place for the first decade of our married lives, seeing a movie was a big deal. For awhile in St. Johnsbury we frequented the art movie house there, the Star Theater, and saw some stuff we thought was poignant and alive. And then the night she went into labor we were watching Manon of the Springs, which I'd seen in New York in the eighties. But we missed the entire run of Seinfeld, for instance, and there is no way we can get that back. We are the people who are not good at making small talk summertimes at the lake when the grownups are barbecuing and drinking beer around the picnic tables and trying to find the sense of connection with each other they haven't felt since college and the kids are running around and diving in the water or making sand castles and pretending. It's a pretty painful confession, but it is a fact. We are not connected. We need a better antennae. Or maybe not. Maybe we're just fine without it.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Green with envy

You may have shared my once favorable opinion of the man, George Will. Like many conservative opinionators, he cultivates an air of objectivity and moderation. He's the guy who ostensibly would calmly explain to a bunch of feuding third graders that might does not lead to right, but only to further blows. Over the years, he has stood by and defended our role in Iraq, the widening gap between the rich and the poor in our country and around the world, the deteriorating state of the environment, torture, treason of the American dream, etc., and made it seem that in the end, the ideology of individual freedoms above social responsibilities deemed it so. And I don't watch the talk shows so I can't say with any fine grained detail how his world view may have been evolving most recently in the face of the collapse of all his most cherished verities. But the recent op-ed piece George wrote made it seem obvious to me that if I could get a close up view I would see some seriously pinwheeling eyes a la Disney cartoon evil bad guy.  In it, George is cheered by the fact that hard economic times may drive people to reject what he terms"greenness", the culture wars ally of "gayness", or "diversity". Seriously, he reminds me of the New Yorker cartoon of the two old people on the front porch as the rising flood waters wash away their yard, town, world, etc. In the cartoon one geezer turns to the other and says with great schadenfreude something like, "At least the tree-huggers across the street are going down." I will share my email response to George and encourage you to also contact him,, and help him "reengage with reality."

You lost me here, buddy. Your celebration of the bursting of the "green bubble" shows what a bubble head you've become. Thank God that the powers that be no longer are channeled into your version of reality or your right wing brand of fear mongering. Yes, it is true that much of what passes for green consumerism is mainly a reaction to guilt and the confusion produced by misinformation and ignorance of the issues. But there is no doubt that the crisis we face with global warming, climate change and the meltdown of our speculative, shell game of an economy has sparked a sea change in American spending habits and in our political culture --which has left you and your ilk hankering after the good old days when environmentalists could be dismissed as tree huggers in the public eye.

Reengagement with reality is indeed what is happening, as our country once again takes up its rightful place at the forefront of responsible nations seeking the path to a sustainable future, joined, I might add, in its efforts at establishing a new cap and trade system for carbon emissions by a list of large corporations that must make you swoon. But George, instead of joining with the forces of good and admitting you were wrong all these years, you are prematurely and backwardly braying, brandishing the widely discredited shibboleth of economic growth versus "greenness", whatever that vague term could mean (synonymous with redness perchance; you old red-baiter?).  Instead you will find that most people with any sense of objective reality will be celebrating the rationality which would lead us to a saner, scaled down version of the American dream. And yes, it is true that we are going through hard economic times, George. But to try to tie that in some vague way to the current greening of our culture (as seen most visibly in the Obama administration's recent policy proposals for higher fuel mileage in our cars and trucks) is to fight a rear guard action with lies. Give it up. I used to respect you as the voice of moderation. Now I see you are as crooked and unrepentant as Limbaugh.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sunday Early Summer in the Life of the Weakened Warrior

Sunday, a day of rest and contemplation, a pause for reflection and refreshment. Not around this place. Not for the last month. The garden is in after many hours of digging beds, manuring, seeding, putting up pea fences and bean teepees, tomato trellises for the seedlings on the window sills. Then the two nights of late frost and Susan and I in the fields after putting the kids to bed scything off the grass and carrying arm-fulls of rich green sappy grass stalks, summer riches, up to the potato beds to cover up the frost tender plants. And then of course lacrosse and track seasons coming to an end and nothing could take the place of cheering your son on in the last lap of his 1600 meter race at the Connecticut Valley League Middle School championships in Lebanon yesterday. And watching his face strain with concentration as he sprinted down the runway and leaped 12.5 feet in the long jump. Never mind what you could have been doing with that day. The girls and I steal time together when we can. This morning it took me two hours to get the flooded mower started while Susan took a turn at a lacrosse game, and in between that and taking calls from prospective tenants on the rental cottage, Grace, Eve and I played Billalufa tag, which is where the monster Billalufa played by me tries to tag you. Billalufa always runs out of gas too soon. It will plague his memory to the girl's old age, I fear.
The garlic is two feet high now and we're eating salads from the greens, but then the sheep need shearing and hoof trimming and deworming and one of them, Snow White, the best mother of the bunch and one of the original six bought from the farm in Gilmanton Iron Works, is limping and we need to figure out if it's hoof rot or something incurred while shearing, some mysterious sheep lameness. They say things run in waves, and there does seem to be a pattern to the entropy that quickens with the longer sunlight hours. One of the kittens, Prancer, got hit by a car one evening a week ago and dragged herself to the front door with a broken leg. The vet, a kind guy building a house in the Mink Hills, and now I know how, manipulated the shattered femur bones back together for $500. Money well spent if you could see the excitement in the girl's eyes as we carried the cat carrier back to the car after Prancer's two days away from home. And he is sitting on my lap as I write this and slipping away between my legs with his useless leg, poor thing. 
Somebody asked me what all keeps you so busy and it's difficult to enumerate the many chores that go into keeping the farm running. The deeper underlying question, implicit it seems to me sometimes in the ignorance, is: Why do you do it? The cost benefit analysis would have to include the health of the larger organism, the farm, the family, the land, maybe even some planetary mojo of which we remain ignorant but necessarily bound up with. Man does not live by bread alone but by the Word of God, here taken to mean those values which go beyond the purely economic and neoliberal. Oh yes, and I've got work tomorrow again.