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Tuesday, September 30, 2003

A Trend In the Making?

My oldest son, Aaron, has returned from a most intriguing weekend. He was a guest at a “camping wedding.” Seems that the wedding party and guests spent the weekend camped out at the Point Reyes National Seashore. The bride and groom got hitched in the great outdoors with the Pacific as a backdrop. Then the assemblage partied it up, picnic style.

Man, this is a wedding I could get behind. Does it signal a trend away from the insanity of fancy 20K-and-up weddings that seem almost de rigueur these days? Are we going back to the grand old days of hippiedom where outdoor weddings on the cheap were the rage, and what mattered was not the splendor of the gowns or the reception venue, but the vibes?

I know that this is an area where I’m hopelessly out of date, but I just can’t fathom these break-the-bank weddings that so many brides feel entitled to these days. If you can afford it, by all means do it. But for many, it requires going into serious hock. Just imagine, it’s the equivalent of buying a new car, but instead of getting a decade of good transportation, you get a day of fun, a video, and a photo album.

As one friend cleverly put it, it’s like buying a new car, driving it around for a day, and then pushing it off a cliff. But does the bank forgive the loan? Yeah, right.

Well, with all the job cuts going on---at least in these parts—maybe do-it-yourself outdoor weddings are on the rebound. At least we’ll have one thing to appreciate Bush for.

For a taste of what it used to be like, may I refer you to an account of my very own 1973 wedding? A lot of readers seemed to enjoy it when I first posted it, so I’ll link it for those who may have missed it.

Bay Area Bipolarity

In the Bay Area, we are blessed with two superb baseball teams, the A’s and Giants. The playoffs begin today and we urge our teams onward toward a repeat of the 1989 A’s-Giants World Series (minus the earthquake, please).

Meanwhile, on the football side of the coin, we thought we were going to be similarly blessed. Sadly, the Raiders, and especially the 49ers, have been complete busts so far. At least the Raiders have creeping Age as an excuse. The 49ers have none.

After more than twenty years of brilliance, minus a couple of seasons of rebuilding, it ‘s hard for we 49er admirers to accept that we have a merely average team. I guess the time has come for us to absorb a bit of training in humility.

In the meantime, Go A’s!! Go Giants!!

Saturday, September 27, 2003

Annual Report

At my age, the rite of the annual physical exam moves from the realm of the optional to the essential. The arrival of the appointed day looms ever larger in the consciousness as the years accumulate. Blood-pressure readings, cholesterol counts, creatin, prostate PSA, TSH, glucose, and a whole host of other markers become foci for either bragging or anxiety.

The bragging rights were delivered to me yesterday, I’m happy to say.

“Tell your wife we won’t be scraping you off the floor any time soon,” says the Doc.

But the news wasn’t all happy. I asked about the nagging neck pain that’s been bedeviling me every day for the past month or so.

“If you’re planning on sticking around for a while, say hello to the wonderful world of degeneration,” intones the Doc. “They’ve yet to make the skeleton that will escape Father Time. There are two options, and only two: pain killers and keeping the muscles strong.”

I’ve been doing a pretty good job of keeping up with my aerobics, but I’m forced to admit that my dumbbells have been taking up closet space for a long time. The message is clear. Time to dust’em off. Ugh!

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Don’t When There Isn’t

A good friend who reads my blog regularly—and wonders where the hell I’ve gone-- asks, “is there such a thing as blog fog?”

Yes, Barbara, you bet your sweet bippy there is, and I’m in the thick of it. The longer I remain engaged in this endeavor, the more unwilling I become to post about politics, culture, or general gossip—just for the sake of putting up a post. Yet this is what you need to do to keep your blog active and in the radar.

It’s a dilemma. If my blog gets too far below the radar, my motivation for blogging suffers. Nonetheless, I find myself subscribing to the same attitude—discipline, actually-- that Elaine expresses in her comment to my previous post: “I try to remind myself to blog when there's something I want to write about and don't when I don't.”

Unfortunately, for me, the “don’ts” are getting lengthier and more numerous. Elaine expresses amazement at how people with jobs and lives manage to squeeze in the blog time. Well, Elaine, most of them are a lot younger than you and I are.

Twenty-five years ago we could work a demanding job, be a mom or pop to our growing kids, maintain an active social life and handle an avocation or two. Back then, I could have dropped one of the avocations and plugged in blogging instead, had it existed.

No more. When my workload picks up, as it is now, there’s little mental or emotional juice left over for blogging. In this creative vacuum, I can think of nothing to write about except my political anger or the last movie I saw. Does anyone really care to read about how pissed off I am, or what my opinion was of the latest flick?

If you’re a professional pundit or critic, a scholar or serious student and practitioner of something, then your opinion is worth a read. If you’re not, then the blogging that matters is that which expresses—not your opinion—but your experience of living in the space that is uniquely yours. When you can adequately convey that experience to another, then it’s worth a post and a read. But it’s not something you can conjure up every day.

So I’m going to invoke Elaine’s discipline for myself—blog when there’s something to write about, and don’t when there isn’t.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Crunch Time?

Shelley, in her provocative comment to my previous post, sparks a thought about why writers--or others struggling with the demands of other endeavors—may be moving toward crunch time—why blogging seems to impose such a fierce competition for our energies—and why there may be so much difficulty with keeping a balance.

Perhaps it’s the phenomenon of the intoxication of audience feedback. And perhaps my attempt to make a parallel between blogging and a writer's correspondence and journal-keeping is off the mark because of this factor.

While I wasn’t a literary writer, I was a business writer and I kept a journal for nearly twenty years before I began blogging. Like the literary writer's journal, it was strictly a conversation with myself--no wider audience involved. It wasn't an attempt to speak to anyone--just an exercise in trying to make some sense to myself out of my experience of the daily vicissitudes of life—and to keep my observational skills and writing chops honed.

Some editor might get hold of these later on, if one happened to be a literary talent, and whip them into some sort of coherent work--which would then be distributed to a wider audience. But that's a far cry from what's involved in blogging. It's not what you were feeding on as you scribbled in your journal.

Blogging is like a hit of crack--providing instant gratification from audience feedback. Never mind the hangover of projects deferred.

Shelley implies that the hangovers may be catching up with us—leaving some hard choices to be made. Do we venture out from the crack-dens of popularity and audience feedback and pursue the projects that, originally, may have been more important to us—projects to which we said we were committed?

Can we develop imperviousness to the intoxication and go in both directions at once without deleterious effect to either? Is a reckoning looming as Shelley seems to suggest?

On the other hand, why not look at it from a more joyful angle—one provided by Elaine. One of the greatest gifts of being—as I am-- in Elaine’s age group is that our childhoods coincided with the Golden Age of Radio. To quote Elaine:

“Part of who I am today is because of radio – of those times when, eyes closed and mind open, I would spend hours creating other realities inside my own head, guided by distant voices and imaginal yearnings. . .

In my life, it all began with the magic of radio.

And it continues with the magic of blogging.”

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Two Horses Postscript

Thanks to Richard and Maria for their interesting comments to my preceding post. They’re both practitioners of blogging and the poetic arts; both damned good at it; and both dealing with the struggle of balancing the two endeavors. Further thanks to Richard for the pointer back to the post where he discussed this issue. An excellent post, as most of his usually are. (And, sorry, Maria. Richard’s right about the song. It’s by Stephen Stills).

In reading their comments, I found myself transported back to my student days and all those Lit classes (I minored in English)—and I recalled that so many of the writers we studied kept journals and engaged in prolific letter writing. Clearly, they would have been bloggers had the medium existed.

My old college buddy, the poet Clayton Eshleman, a real workhorse who has 37 of his books listed on Amazon, once told me that his correspondence and journals are a critical seedbed for much of his work. I suspect that he, too, would have been a blogger, and that it would have been an important adjunct to his work That he isn’t one now is probably due to the unfortunate tendency of most of my age peers to be set in their ways.

I don’t know if these observations are helpful or not, but there they are for what they’re worth.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Riding Two Horses

Maria raises the dilemma of the blogger who tries to engage in both blogging and literary output. Is one done at the expense of the other? If one holds to the view that blogging is conversation and not literature, as I have, then it becomes an important and potentially troubling question for the blogger who wants to engage in both worlds.

Maria gave me a scare when she lamented that her poetry has been mostly on hold since she started blogging. Was this a prelude to an announcement of retirement from the blogosphere? It would be a blow to lose her so soon after she started.

Fortunately, Beth, of The Cassandra Pages, who shares Maria’s desire to produce both blogging and other forms of writing, succeeds in reassuring Maria that blogging is a legitimate genre in its own right.

Maria responds, “having raised the question, I already knew the answer: I am not about to give up blogging....” Whew!!

This exchange between Beth and Maria, plus some outstanding blog posts of a personal nature that I’ve encountered lately, are forcing me to rethink my position about blogging as a literary genre.

However, I am definitely not one to assess this question. My opinion on the matter, even if I had a coherent one, wouldn’t much matter anyway. Arguing intellectual propositions is not my strong suit, and it’s not why I blog. But I do wonder whether a new genre is coming into being before our very eyes. And I care that gifted bloggers like Maria experience a sense of artistic legitimacy in putting forth their marvelous efforts in this sphere.

To that end, I’m considering engaging in a bit of metablogging of some of the best of personal blogging that I encounter—writing that pulls me in with as much force as a piece of “literature.”

Beth—in responding to Maria-- has perfectly articulated the experience that will guide me: “When I read your prose, it feels like I'm experiencing an intimate literary form. The care you take with it is absolutely evident, as is your talent.”

So stay tuned. This is a proposition in progress.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Two Good Things

Two good things just in from Dervala: a moving personal remembrance of 9/11 (she was in lower Manhattan at the time); and an outstanding comment to my earlier post, “Bratology.” Unfortunately, a lot of people might miss it because it arrived some ten days after my post appeared. To prevent that, I’m reprinting Dervala's comment here:

“I've been traveling a lot this year, as you know, and I was struck by kids in the developing world. They don't cry! They don't whine! Ever!

In part, it's because they have a great sense of their contribution to the family. Even tiny ones collect firewood, and slightly bigger ones take care of the babies or the chickens. They seem to regard tasks as being fun, especially as they're usually done in big gaggles of kids of mixed ages.

Very small ones go everywhere with their parents (usually, but not always the mothers)--tied to the back in a sarong, which must be very comforting. All that rocking and good-smelling skin contact.

I never saw any dedicated-quality-time situations: storybooks and what have you (and I would miss the storybooks myself). But they are sure of their contribution, surrounded by plenty of other kids and mixed adults, and they have a lot of freedom that our western kids miss.

I find myself wondering if a western parent can create that kind of environment unilaterally. I'm not hopeful, but I feel that lacking money would help."

Thanks for your wonderful perspective, Dervala!

Egg On Face

Apologies to Shelley who, it turns out, did NOT express displeasure about my comment to her post.

This is what happens when I grope around the blogosphere after 9pm. I should have been sipping some warm milk and reading a book in preparation for bedtime.

In my semi-comatose state, I didn't even bother to read from whom the comment came that expressed the displeasure.

In my defense, I feel obliged to point out that the actual commenter, bmo, wrote his comment as if my preceding comment was addressed to him rather than to the blog’s author, Shelley. This led to my knee-jerk reaction that the commenter must have been Shelley. C’mon, it was Shelley’s blog to which I was responding, not bmo. This was her blog we were in, not his.

Yes, I fucked up, but why does bmo think my comment is about him rather than Shelley? If I had been addressing his comment, I would have said so.

If memory serves, Shelley gave a rap on the knuckles a while back to yours truly and other commenters for engaging in cross-conversation in HER blog. I learned my lesson. At least that’s one error I didn’t commit this time.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Fetal Balance Sheet

Denise is doing her homework on the legal rights of the fetus. Does fetal exposure to appellate hearings cross the line? It’s a potential Catch-22 for a legal-eagle expectant mom.

On the other hand, Baby Howell’s breezy hours of flotation atop the divinely with-it Aeron may constitute adequate compensation for the courtroom abuse.

Incurable Pessimism

Shelley seems a bit miffed that I reacted so literally to what she had to say about the Dean campaign and political sentiment in the Heartland.

My glass-is-half-empty tendencies get the best of me at times. Probably my way of dealing with anxiety. Just ask my kids. They can tell you stories about the times I've turned the TV off at halftime when my team was behind, stalked out of the room proclaiming the fucked-ness of the team’s chances, only to give the kids the delicious opportunity of informing me later that our team made a miraculous comeback in the fourth quarter.

I would be only too happy to be a similar object of ridicule should the Dems somehow pull off a victory in ’04.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Delusions Remembered

Jill and I are mostly forward-looking people. We don’t spend much time dwelling on the past. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t indulge in a little reminiscing from time to time. We were doing a bit of that the other day, and it was sparked by the subject of Kathy Boudin’s recent granting of parole.

This is a subject of more than passing interest to both of us. A person close to us was a friend of Kathy’s, traveled in the same underground circles, and did a bit of jail time him/herself. (I’m respecting this person’s anonymity because s/he now lives a conventional suburban family life as a working professional in a community not large enough to be very understanding about this kind of a past).

This person has said that the question that s/he lives with every day is, “How could something that felt so right have been so wrong? How could I have been so blind?” A statement from Ms. Boudin touches on this same question of self-delusion.

My activities and Jill’s during this period of national upheaval, while energetic and vociferous, did not extend past marching and sign carrying. Fortunately, we didn’t venture into the dark realm of bomb-brewing, robberies, vandalism or other dangerous, illegal actions.

However, when the dust settled from the Vietnam era, we became very caught up in the next revolution that followed—i.e., the struggle for the inner transformation of personal consciousness--the much-ridiculed, but very-influential-at-the-time, New Age.

It was this period about which Jill and I were reminiscing. We applied our own version of the question now asked by our formerly ultra-radical friend, “How could so much of what we thought was so right have been so stupid?”

Actually, it wasn’t all crap. I’m not going to bother with a rundown of the list, but there were a few things we did that provided important, beneficial change in our lives, and whose impact is still a positive force after a quarter of a century. But, for the vast majority of our past activities in this realm, most of our former exuberance seems pretty silly in retrospect—even embarrassing.

The ability of the mind to dupe itself seems timeless and nearly limitless. It’s as true of societal mind as personal mind. The obvious examples in modern times are Nazism and Communism. In our own society the McCarthy period and the Vietnam period would top the list. And now, of course, we’re stuck with the fruits of yet another delusional episode—i.e., this whole sorry Iraq business.

These delusions, whether personal or societal, all tend to flow from the same source—a primal, existential fear about accepting the fact that Life has its own flow and you can’t do much to control it.

Yes, you can try; and yes, you can exert some influence here and there; and yes, you may consider it your moral duty to do so. But be prepared for unintended consequences. Kathy Boudin would no doubt concur—as will our children when confronted with the likely fiscal reckoning that may be coming due, thanks to our society’s latest delusional joy ride.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Adopt Me, Mike

It’s been a good while since Mike The Great Golby has graced my pages with a comment. I was delighted to find him breaking the hiatus last week—in his usual eloquent manner--with a comment to my “Bratology” post.

There’s been a lot of upheaval in the Golby household—about which Mike has been upfront and nearly heroic in describing—but as I commented back to him, I’d rather be a regular-joe kid in his brood than an over-privileged one in one of today’s narcissistic households.

B or C?

Ouch! One whole week since my last post. Well, I did have a serious computer meltdown to deal with, plus various other duties. Those are my convenient excuses. I’m not going to cop to laziness, mental sluggishness, or advancing dottiness, even if they're all true.

Mike Sanders has calculated that, if you’re a C-list blogger, Tuesday is the optimum day for blogging. So I’m right on track with his strategy.

Am I a C or a B-list? I would think that Mike would be a B, even though he calls himself a C. What defines the difference? Perhaps, at the very least, you have to post daily to be a B-list. It would be interesting to see if there’s any consensus on this. Unfortunately, I may have lost so many readers by now that I'll be unable to generate any opinion on the matter--and am thereby a C by default.

It’s probably entirely moot anyway. Even before my weeklong hiatus, hits have been way, way down. Is it a supreme act of chutzpah to even toy with the possibility of being a B-list? I realize that it matters zip in the scheme of things. In spite of that, I can't seem to help being curious about it, even at the risk of being accused of preoccupation with triviality.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003


Dorothea must have been sending vibes in the direction of the San Francisco Chronicle. The cover story of this Sunday’s magazine features a review of a new book by local shrink and family expert, Dr. Robert Shaw, on trends in modern parenting that, in his view, are leading to an epidemic of bratty children.

Shaw’s book is a scathing critique, and its long-winded title will give you a sense of its tone: "The Epidemic: The Rot of American Culture, Absentee and Permissive Parenting, and the Resultant Plague of Joyless, Selfish Children., "

Shaw’s book could possibly turn out to be a bit over the top. It remains to be seen. I’ m sure it will generate a loud chorus of dissent. Nonetheless, I know from personal experience that Shaw is striking an important chord.

This happens to be my wife Jill’s area of expertise. The demand for her services is noticeably increasing as more and more modern parents—especially in the highly educated, professional and academic areas in which she practices—seem to be losing control of their overly child-centric families. There is real desperation out there. You can almost taste it.

I remember my sense of disbelief when, around five years ago, Jill observed that she was beginning to get parents who deeply held to the principle that their child should never be allowed to cry or experience pain. Any evidence of upset must immediately be attended to, according to this theory.

Children need lots of comforting and TLC—that’s indisputable. But to be shielded from any experience of frustration? How can educated people be so stupid? What a horrible disservice to the developmental needs of a child. You can see the result with increasing frequency—i.e., bratty behavior that is allowed to continue, unchecked. Children as rulers of the family. Scenes such as Dorothea describes in the typical uncompromising fashion that’s an important part of her blog’s great appeal.

This state of affairs is good for Jill’s business but that hardly makes it welcome. Jill says that the primary culprits are exhausted parents, guilt-ridden because of too little family time; an increasingly materialistic and competitive culture; and a fear-driven emphasis on specific skills (which may or may not be useful twenty years from now) rather than—as she put it in a recent letter to professional colleagues—“what remains timeless . . . the character traits: honesty, empathy, compassion, flexibility, humor, perseverance, optimism . . . the same traits that have served people well for centuries.”

How will this trend get reversed? I’d like to blame it on Bush, of course, but it started before his disastrous reign and will continue after we throw the bastard out. Perhaps the only answer is: step by step, one family at a time, with the help of committed and intelligent professionals like my wonderful wife.