Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Another Diary Entry

Judging from people's social media feeds, a lot of Educated Parents (one of my favorite contemporary demographics) are having a tough go of it in the early stages of the great online learning experiment. Granted, their expectations with regard to results are probably higher than mine are, but having six children at home, five of whom are supposed to be doing online school in various degrees, which is more than I have the energy to oversee in every detail, I will tell you what my approach is with each.

1. 17 year old, 12th grade. I count on him to do his own work, besides which, he has already been accepted to college, and I doubt they are going to rescind his admission over whatever assignments he has to do during this coronavirus time. I am more worried at this point about him finishing his Eagle Scout project, which he has until May to complete. He is still going out to the woods to work on it a few days a week, and I think he is coming up to the end, but the suspension of the meetings and everything has come at an inconvenient time.

2. 16 yr old, 10th grade. I'm trusting him to do his own work too. He did approach me with an Algebra II question the other day, which I was a little apprehensive of being able to answer, but fortunately it was about the graphing of functions, which I can do.

3. 13 yr old, 7th grade. He goes to school online regularly anyway, so I am used to having to oversee him, though he does not maintain quite the pace or workload I would like him to carry. I do most of his math with him. The other classes I mostly let him try to do on his own, and only intervene when he gets a 50 or 60 on an assignment and has to do it over. In my humbled state I take some mild pride in being able to work English compositions that he has gotten a 40 on up to a 90 or even sometimes a 100, despite the rather clunky directions on the grading rubric ("in the conclusion paragraph, I clearly included a reflection that reveals what the protagonist learned or how the protagonist changed"). My kid may not have any instinctive idea of the shape an essay is supposed to take, but by gosh, I do!

4. 10 yr old, 5th grade. The elementary school teachers have taken a two week hiatus to try to figure how they are going to this distance learning, though a few general admonitions have been sent home (read 20 minutes a day! Review the spelling lists! Math worksheets!) This kid is actually pretty conscientious about keeping up. He did come to me for help on one of the math exercises.

5. 8 yr old, 3rd grade. The school is still working on the plan. I am having her read me a chapter of Charlotte's Web (which I had never read before) every day. I would have her read more, as I enjoy this, but I am actually rather busy during the day. There is a lot of housework (laundry, dishes) to do with everyone being home, I have to make something in the pot for dinner, and I am still going to work every afternoon, though for how long remains to be seen. I am also still trying to get out and take a thirty minute walk every day, which I am supposed to be doing as part of my heart rehab. When I get home from work I midnight I read a little of my current book (Bleak House, which I thought might be long enough to outlast the quarantine, but now I'm not so sure), and watch about a half hour of whatever movie I happen to be on. I can sleep in the morning until 9 or so now, as opposed to having to get up at seven when regular school is in session.

6. 5 yr old, pre-school. I'm supposed to be teaching her how to read, but it isn't going too well so far. She has a pretty good on the letters and a few very short words, but working all the way through to a second consonant remains a bit of a challenge. She is also probably watching too much TV. I am sending them out into the yard a little bit, though it isn't quite warm enough to play outside calmly for an extended period. Everybody needs more attention. I'm probably taking it too much for granted that no one is going to get sick.

I doubtless am writing all of these posts out of some amount of anxiety and dread (and also boredom, and disbelief, and other more excusable reactions), though I do not feel as depressed (yet) as I have at times in the past. Whatever difficulties are looming, it is not quite clear to me at least what form they are exactly going to take, and it certainly appears that they are going to be broadly shared. Maybe they will be very terrible indeed, of course. Sometimes in these kinds of crises it becomes clear to people what their role is and what exactly they are supposed to do (right now a lot of people seem to be auditioning for a role as Leader in the Crisis in various ways who are not quite however suited for it), though this is not characteristically how thinks go with me. The main thing I am worried about at the moment, for whatever reason, is that my oldest son isn't going to make it to college in the fall, and maybe won't end up being able to go. It is entirely possible that circumstances will force him to have to do something else which ultimately would do him just as much good, somehow, but as I am not able to envision what that might be I cannot be easy about it.

A couple of years back when I was very depressed something that cheered me up in the dark winter evenings was that out the window of my office I could see, in the distance, the twinkling lights and ski trails of a mountain in the distance where, that particular year, one of my children would go on Friday nights with a group from his school. Since that time I have always taken note of it in remembrance of that difficult winter. Of course, for the past two weeks, it has gone dark, which is obviously not a great tragedy in comparison with all that is going on, but it is something palpably melancholy that has made an impression on me. I find myself looking in the direction of the mountain quite a lot now and wondering when it will be lit again, and even if I will be around to see it...That is enough for today.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Stepping back from crisis-posting--I'm going to try to not do much of that unless I have something I really need to write down--I managed to see this over the weekend. I think I had seen it, or at least part of it, once before, some years ago, certainly before I was twenty-five, when I had seen far fewer classic movies to compare notes against, and of course I had forgotten much of it. If nothing terrible is happening to me either imminently or in the immediate moment, I do not have too much difficulty when reading or watching a movie in forgetting about worldly concerns. And for now, at least, I am still able to do this.

One of the things that struck me, and in fact has often struck me in recent years, is that these movies from the 1930s have gotten to be quite far from us in time now. They did not feel thus in the 80s and 90s, not only since many of the stars and other figures of the era were still alive (Jean Arthur and Frank Capra lived until 1991, for example, and Jimmy Stewart until 1997), but also many contemporary movies and TV sitcoms in that era still retained something of the, for lack of a better word, optimistic goofiness of classic-era Hollywood in their DNA. The personality of these kinds of entertainments since around 2000 seems to me to have finally shed this for the most part and operate from a more sober and realistic worldview, which makes films of this type especially feel more remote to me (from the present age; not from my own sensibility) than they used to.

Many serious commentators consider this to be the best Frank Capra film over the (today) much better-known It's a Wonderful Life, though others prefer Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and still others It Happened One Night, though I have not seen this last. I am not able to concur in this. Mr. Deeds I came to with much anticipation and found disappointing. This one was an improvement on that effort and contains much that is memorable and different and well done though the resolution ultimately is a little too far-fetched for me to find satisfying. The exaggerated hokiness does not bother me, since it is the source of the tension in the story, and Jimmy Stewart is of course very good in carrying it off. I found myself wondering in some of the scenes where he is challenged or mocked by the more hardened operators how he was going to respond creditably, and in several places he pulls it off, though not always. I don't think this is one of Claude Rains's great roles, though he is as always a great actor--having him play a compromised but somewhat conflicted person in authority does not play to his strengths. He is arrogant and devilish, but not in what I would consider a Claude Rains way. He isn't humorous in this, nor is he particularly sympathetic. Jean Arthur is starting to grow on me a little, though she has not traditionally been a particular favorite of mine. She is very well-liked by what I would loosely call the Gen-X classic film blogger community, and she does, in her roles at least, seem like someone who would not be completely out of place if she were transported to our time. She's not a simp, she is capable, her inner emotional life seems like it might be interesting without being the central motivator of everything she does. I like her small figure--she is listed as having been 5 foot 3 and 110 pounds, which is in accordance with my taste--and I like a lot of the dresses she wears in this as well. Probably my favorite role I've seen her in so far here (Mr Deeds, The Plainsman, Shane).

This is the dress I really liked.

The sets in this movie are top notch. It is very pleasurable to look at. I love giant 1930s era offices with high ceilings and heavy desks and bookcases, and this movie is full of them. I like the montages showing the sights and monuments of Washington as well, as there seem to be few cinematic depictions of that city, which I have spent a decent amount of time in, before the 90s at all.

The movie contains a commentary by Frank Capra, Jr which is so-so. He does have a lot of old Hollywood/studio lore which is probably of interest to some people, but it doesn't tend to be the kind of tidbits that grab me. He is not the most engaging talker, and what he is talking about frequently is not related to what happens to be going on in the film at the time. I would prefer either a more academic commentary on the film or a personality spinning entertaining yards with the occasional insight, but there is not really either here.

Friday, March 20, 2020

I Had to Write Something Today Out of Nervous Habit

Even though there is not much else going on, it is not my intention to write an ongoing coronavirus diary here. I had a baseball essay in the works, though I don't feel much like getting on that tonight. I am going to assume at this point that my 10 (soon to be 11) year old son's baseball season will be canceled. This is another bummer because (1) he loves playing baseball right now more than he's probably going to love anything else in all his life, and who knows if that will be the case a year from now, and (2) he's actually a good player, certainly one of the top 5 players in his league, and that is only because he is at the moment still too small to hit with power to deep in the outfield compared to some of the 12 year olds. In terms of skills he might be #1. I was annoyed enough that the year when we finally got a pitcher in the family (with the fourth son) the league instituted a pitch count limit (75, which gets you through about 3 innings and change in this league), and now it looks like we're going to lose a season altogether. Even though they have not given up all hope yet, it of course  increasingly looks like my son's high school graduation and all the accompanying senior year events will be canceled as well, and yesterday there was a story in the New York Times today saying that there may need to be three or four of these type of societal lockdowns due to recurring outbreaks, which means that even if he manages to start college, it sounds there is a likelihood that they won't be able to get through the whole year either, the idea of which had never, I suspect crossed almost anyone's mind until now. I can only hope that all of this will result in some good in the long term (meaning like ten years), that this crisis will finally prompt some reforms and measures both political and economic that are long overdue and that would benefit younger people and the debtor class. I am not optimistic that there will not be some kind of violent upheaval in the interim, with a much larger number of deaths than are predicted even the worst case virus scenarios. I have no reason for saying this other than that I am not encouraged by the way the current turn of events has been handled thus far. I am sure if this goes on and my mindset does not change it will become clearer to me why this is so than it is now. I am still working my way through to the stage of being resigned to the current grimness.

I don't even have any movies to review because now that everyone is home all the time and they don't have to get up early, the TV is occupied well past midnight every night so I can't watch anything on my list, as, as no one of age to take an interest in them wants to watch them with me anymore.

I do have to find something else to write about though, until I get used to this.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

A Glum Day

(I started this post last Friday and couldn't finish it then but I am going to keep working on it until it is finished)

After holding up in what I thought were pretty good spirits most of the week I woke up today (Friday) to this depressing rainstorm and realized that all of the events of the week had finally left me deflated, mainly of course because all of the things to dread about it have not actually happened yet. In New Hampshire we are still going to school, for now (as of Monday, the high school is closed, but my younger children's Montessori school is still open, for the time being), and work, and most businesses are still open, and my oldest son is still going out tomorrow to work on his Eagle Scout project, which he has about 2 months left to finish. Bigger events certainly are being canceled, but for now we are not under lockdown yet. I just got a new phone, because I had dropped my old one on the ground and broken it, and even though I still wish smartphones had never been invented I do need to have some kind of telephone, so I decided to try to cheer myself up by taking the first pictures on it as we were going to school.

I work in a hospital, and while everything there was carrying on pretty much as usual up until last Friday, which assuaged much of the anxiety I was picking up on in the outside world, things were starting to amp up when I came back today, though we still do not have any cases of the Covid-19 that I am aware of. due to my recent heart attack I am there quite a bit at other times for rehab and follow up appointments. I went to my cardiac rehab class this morning as usual, though I suspect this will be canceled before the next one, which is a shame, as I only had one session left to attend and I was looking forward, for some reason, perhaps because I have not graduated from anything since leaving college, to get my little diploma of completion. I will be pleased if I can continue working through this, not only so that I can keep getting paid, but I have been there for over 20 years I am used to it, it is part of my routine, and I do not like the idea of my routine being taken away, especially if it is to be substituted by my being confined to the house for an extended period of time (or serious illness/death)

A number of people on the internet has been reminiscing their favorite plague literature and relating it to the present moment. Camus's The Plague is a popular choice, and while it is a fine book and is about modern man's diseased soul, a topic dear to many commentators, the book I have been thinking of the most in this vein is Manzoni's Betrothed, which I just read last summer. It of course takes place in Lombardy (about 400 years ago) which makes for an obvious comparison, but it is also about characters who are, like actual people, either laid low in the midst of actively living or, for those that survive, have to go forward into the future, whereas my memory of the Camus is that any idea of the future is rather blank and that the characters were not leading especially passionate or meaningful lives in the present. There was also a long plague sequence in Forever Amber that was not as profound in meaning but was described in considerable detail.

This picture is of the playground at my children's Montessori school. This is our twelfth year having children there, since our oldest was in first grade. I am hoping this is not the last year, that we will find a way to keep sending the younger children there, as our oldest boy is a senior in high school now and I hope will be going to college. Before this crisis came on, he had gotten into St John's, where his mother and I went. While traditionally it hasn't been especially hard to get accepted there, something I read claimed that the acceptance rate last year was down to 54%, and combined with the possibility that are still people around campus who might remember my undistinguished academic career there, I had some mild doubts about his chances. He doesn't seem especially excited about going, but he doesn't seem especially excited about anything else either, and he certainly doesn't have any more attractive options. Having observed for thirty years the phenomenon in our society of letting boys and young men drift through their teens and twenties--having been to some extent one of those boys--I am not a fan of it, and I do think he would benefit from going to a place like St John's, so unless he comes up with some plan that is equivalent in its potential benefits, I am going to make him try it. (He has not shown himself to be one of these young men who prefers to do things with his hands or other work of a physical nature who is being forced to go to college--he could get something out of academics)   

This crisis has really brought out the people who love to scold and tell everybody else what to do, which I hate, because I am not this kind of person. I am sure there are people out there who can grudgingly appreciate the necessity of the rather extreme measures that are being taken and are also self-reflective, and can have empathy for the various disappointments that this shutdown has laid on some people, but the scolds aren't having any of it. We all must shut up and agree them on everything one hundred percent. For one thing, there was a lot of bashing of young people who went out to bars and so forth over the weekend or when their college classes were cancelled. For my part I am amazed at how easily this cohort has on the whole fallen into line. When I was in college I thought the three months of summer vacation were interminable. If it had been announced, in any of the years I was there, that the school year was shutting down in March, and I was going to have to go away from my friends, my booze, my girlfriend, or, if I didn't have a girlfriend, the chance to get one in the frenzy at the end of the year ("The Spring Offensive") and be forced to go home and be trapped in my mother's house for three months (or more), devastating does not really describe how that would have affected me. I don't think I ever would have recovered. I had nightmares well into my thirties that I lived with my mother in which I wake up thrashing about and trying to scream with great violence. And anyone who remembers how the young baby boomers, who are now in the forefront of commanding everyone to stay inside, carried on in the 1970s cannot possibly imagine that if this crisis had broken out in 1975 or thereabouts and the elders and middle aged women were ordering everyone into a prolonged lockdown with limited opportunities for partying and sex with people one's own age that the bulk of that cohort would have quickly and soberly complied for the overall good of society. My second son qualified for the New England swimming championships, which of course are canceled. He is disappointed, though as he was not going to be among the contenders for medals, qualifying was probably his main accomplishment, but for many of the teenagers, and their parents, who have spent thousands of dollars and endless hours over the ten years going to practices and meets all over this area building up to this (and don't have five other children), it was really crushing. I know we are in a global health crisis, and everything else is unimportant, but I think it is all right to be sad about something like this, and even to express it. Everything does not, and should not, have to be joylessly correct all the time.

It is now Tuesday. I am feeling more optimistic, probably because nothing terrible happened today, and I took the steps of passing through the to me big psychological barriers of holding my little children out of their school, which has still not closed, and banning everyone from attending what few appointments and meetings that had still not been canceled, which was difficult for me to do. Everybody else in my family is now homebound, though as we live in a fairly sparsely populated area we are allowed to go outside and walk around (I think). I am still going to work, as a result of which I have been quarantined in the empty bedroom in the attic for the duration of the crisis. I even feel pretty healthy. I've lost 20 pounds since my heart attack in December and am down to about 205, which is the lightest I have been since 1997 or 98. I don't except this sanguine state will last, however.

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Periodic Movie Post

I have not watched many movies in recent months, but as my list seems to be coming back around more to the sorts of things I like, perhaps I will get back into something of a routine.

The Birds (1963)

The well-known Hitchcock movie that I had never seen before. It is above all great-looking and in places nostalgia-invoking, and these are the parts of it that I liked best. The actual characters and dialogue are rather starchier and blander than I currently have a taste for. I find I have very little to say about this, though at the time I enjoyed watching it, mostly just because it is from the classic period. I am going to try to remember things about it that made an impression on me.

1. The quaintness of the town of Bodega Bay and apparent unspoiled beauty of the California coast in the area in general. It is still like that? One could imagine it being so expensive that it has been able to preserve something of its character. There were, at least until recently (I haven't been exploring in remote corners much over the past few years) still some lost-in-time places like this in Maine and even to some extent on the north shore of Massachusetts.

2. The furnishings in the house in Bodega Bay where the main family lived, because it reminds me of my grandparents' basement.

3. Tippi Hedren's car and clothes.

4. The schoolhouse against the background of the deep blue sky.

I am bored of this exercise.

Black Beauty (1994)

A pretty faithful adaptation of the (once?) classic book, and probably even a little instructive, if, like me, one hasn't spent much time in life thinking about or looking at horses, but its most salient characteristic is that having been made as it was at the tail end of the pre-internet era it comes across as DOA as far as making any kind of impact, an instant antique. I don't think my children, or any modern children, could watch this. There is nothing about it that grabs the attention, that is necessary. Perhaps if you have read the book, which I had recently, and have a curiosity to see a cinematic depiction, you might have enough interest to get through it, as I did, but even there the movie does not differ greatly from what a normal reader will have pictured in his imagination. So I don't have a lot to say about this either.

The Ghost and Mrs Muir (1947)

Gene Tierney is starting to become for me like that girl you went to school with who was so good-looking that you weren't even going to bother spending any time thinking about her (because it would have been pointless), but then she turns out to be in a bunch of your classes so that, inexplicably given the ordinary laws of the universe, you actually end up getting to spend a significant amount of ordinary, relaxed time in her proximity, which has a salutary effect, on you at least. I say this because Gene Tierney has now turned up in a number of movies that have come up on here in recent years, all of which have been rather good, though not, as far as I could tell, especially spectacular or famous. For the record these others were Leave Her to Heaven and Laura. A Bell for Adano, which looks to be in a similar vein of quality as these others, has also come up on the list, though I have not been able to find a way to see that one yet. All of these movies are from the years 1944-1947, which besides being the brief but memorable peak of Gene Tierney's career, you know is well within the range my top five, probably top three favorite cinematic periods of all time. Given the fairly random nature of my system I could easily have missed them all, as I doubtless have to this point managed to miss out on the essential oeuvre of some director or star whom it is very likely I would find to my taste. But as I have noted in the past where I have had little runs heavy on particular stars (Toshiro Mifune, Burt Lancaster, Cary Grant) in this little stretch of years it happens to have been Gene Tierney of all people that I have gotten to know a little more than I would have otherwise imagined I would.

The Ghost and Mrs Muir seems, upon modest researches, to be a little more widely known and regarded than I would have thought, many people, both internet critics and professionals, listing it among their all time favorite movies. I wouldn't rate it quite that highly, though I liked it well enough, and it belongs to a class of film to which I am decidedly partial, the unbusy, rather somber, calmly romantic picture of the mid to late 1940s. It does feature a lot of big names who have appeared in my reports on numerous occasions, Joseph Mankiewicz the director, Rex Harrison, Natalie Wood (as a child), even George Sanders, who is a popular figure among cinephiles, though I cannot say I have ever really loved him in anything to date. And while I have warmed up to Gene Tierney a little bit, as noted above, she is still not what I would consider a great actress who excites much in the way of emotion or pathos. I don't find the idea of ghosts, except when they are used for comic or absurd effect, to be very interesting, and overall I thought the plot was a little thin. These are my reasons for not finding it great. On the whole I liked it, and it is very strong in its particular 1940s movie escapist type qualities, and many others like it much more than this.

Monday, February 10, 2020

It's Time For My Quadrennial Primary Post

As a resident of the first primary state, in an era when many people believe that not only the quality of their lives, but in some instances their very continuance, are directly affected by the outcome of Presidential elections, I feel some obligation to explain my present mindset and make an account of what I am likely to do next Tuesday tomorrow. But I am going to warm up for this by recalling an election year from a long time ago, when I did not feel any obligation to account for myself, or even to vote at all.

In the fall of 1992 I was a junior in college and it was in this season when I was, I suppose you could say wooing, but at least beginning to talk to my eventual wife. I do remember this election as a background to the romance but apart from a few people whom I at least tended to regard as a little fanatical the emotional intensity and absolute horror of the opposing side was not in evidence to anything like the same degree that it is now. As almost all of my family and most everyone else I knew were Democrats I associated that faction and its supporters with being generally good and the Republicans and their followers as otherwise, and as I was 22 years old and other than the one term of Jimmy Carter, who was regarded as something of an aberration from the great history of the Party in the 20th century, there had not been a Democratic President the entirety of  my life, I imagined that if one were ever to be elected again that it would be a tremendous boon to the quality of life of the non-business-driven people like me whom the Republicans, in their avarice and indifference to the quality of public life, were not allowing to thrive as they should have been. But on the whole the level of antagonism was not that pronounced. A couple of members of the faculty at school held a debate on the question of allowing gays in the military--one of whom actually took the side opposing it!--and while there was one forerunner of today's progressives who made a show of storming out of the hall in disgust at this, my sense was that most of the audience regarded this as drama queen behavior and not helpful in promoting his favored position. Clinton won that year, of course, over the first George Bush, in what now we see was a very significant and transitional election, to an extent that I did not perceive at the time. When I think that my grandparents and their World War II generation era cohorts were still alive and not actually "that old" (my three living ancestors were 68, 69, and 71 that year), and how quickly after that they seemed to grow incapacitated and die, you realize what a demographic shift is coming in the decade ahead now as all of the Baby Boomers just entering their 70s begin departing the scene en masse. I don't know what I was doing on election night (probably drinking), but whatever it was I was not paying much attention to the results. I was with some of my friends and I remember we walked by or perhaps stopped briefly in a room where some people were gathered watching the coverage on television and the supporters of Clinton on the TV were solemnly holding hands and singing "The times they are a-changin'". When we moved on from this scene one of my friends quipped that if the times were changing, why are we still singing the same songs we sang thirty years ago? Of course the times did change very much, but nothing much like the way I imagine the people singing that night thought they were going to change.

I am going back to this memory in part because I am a total loss as to how to vote in this primary. I feel like I am only a Democrat at all anymore because I am obviously not a Republican, or don't feel that I would be able to become one at this point, but almost all of the people running on the Democratic side I don't really recognize as sharing a lot of my political values either. By process of elimination I can say I am definitely not going to go for Mayor Pete or Yang (too alienated from their worldview), no on Steyer (who is he? what exactly does he believe in that is of any interest to me? Sorry, I can't pretend I care enough about climate change for it to have any effect on my voting). I don't really want to vote for Bernie Sanders and heaven knows I am being warned on all sides, by intelligent and presumably well-informed quarters as well as hysterical ones, not to dare even thinking of doing so for myriad reasons, all of which lead to catastrophe. But I admit, he talks my language more than any of the other candidates do, and as I often do feel unsuccessful and excluded I am drawn to his expressions of anger towards the wealthy and powerful. At the same time I feel that I am supposed to try to resist this and be stronger but there is a real issue surrounding social acceptance, or more the lack of it, that is causing people on all sides to make these reckless, irresponsible votes. But I have to be stronger.

Warren is similar to Bernie Sanders, right, but more socially acceptable, perhaps because she has a more responsible and professional base? I was leaning towards her at the beginning. She has not been particularly inspiring on the campaign trail and the ranks of her supporters have turned out to be a crowd that is by and large almost as distasteful to me as the much-derided "Bernie Bros" (none of whom I have ever actually encountered in real life, however) are to a sizable segment of the Democratic electorate. She is still in play though. I can't see a way to vote for Biden in good conscience, and while I know where he comes from, both geographically and "culturally", more than any of the other candidates, he's never come off as either a great intellect or a great leader, and especially now. Bloomberg, never. Who is left? Klobuchar, I don't know anything about her. What has come out in the campaign to me (and I have not been following as closely as I could have) is that she is a centrist, she is smart, she'll know how to run the bureaucracy; I need something more specific. "Smart" means almost nothing in itself nowadays, especially where Democratic women are concerned, other than perhaps Gillenbrand, who was seen as flaky, they're all smart enough, there just isn't enough differentiation to make me feel that this person's particular smartness matters in some way that I can't get from any other smart person. I am tempted to vote for Klobuchar because a lot of sensible people seem to like her and it would be for me kind of an unorthodox, risky vote. But nothing she says or that I read about her makes any impression on me. I'd have no idea what I was voting for.

Oh Tulsi (Gabbard--she just goes by Tulsi on her signs though) is still on the ballot. All the respectable people seem to hate her, which makes her interesting, and I have watched some of the videos of her working out--she'd certainly be the fittest president we've ever had, given that Washington, Jackson, Eisenhower et al, were older men by the time they ascended to that office. But the media blackout of her has done its work, as I had forgotten about her until I just looked at the ballot, and obviously had not been considering voting for her.

So I guess for me it really is between Sanders and Warren, and maybe Klobuchar if I can find anything she has ever said or done or any position she has that has any appeal to me at all. But this is really not a great set of candidates to try to take down the most hated and dangerous President of all time (though I still think George Bush II may have been worse, and certainly I got more worked up over him than I do over Trump--I've kind of emotionally checked out at this point).


Friday, January 31, 2020

On Hiding My Book From My Teen-Aged Children

I'm on a lot of medicine to keep my blood pressure down and I think it might be making my brain even more sluggish than it usually is. In any case I haven't been able to come up with anything that I particularly want to write about. But then last weekend it came out that my older children were aware that I had once written a book, after a fashion; and though neither of them are great readers, the idea of this seemed to interest them, perhaps because they have never seen me engaging much with the world of serious adults, even within my immediate family, and probably are hazy as to what function I am supposed to serve within it. I had a copy of it printed and bound some years back, in two volumes as it was too long for the vanity press I employed to make a single volume of it. A few years after acquiring these copies I grew embarrassed by them and hid them away in a linen closet lest any adults who happened to come to the house should espy them on the shelves and make sport of them; however my wife found them one day while re-arranging the closet and returned them to the shelves, by which time I realized no one besides me who was likely to come to the house ever looked over bookshelves anymore anyway. So when my sons inquired whether the story that I had once written a book was true and asked if they could see it, I took these copies down and showed them to them, having no anticipation what they would make of it.

They were impressed to see my name on an actual printed book, not being able to distinguish it from something published by an esteemed commercial house, and they were amused by the black square on the back of the dust jacket where the author photo was supposed to be, as I neglected to include one, thinking it unlikely to help boost interest in my work. They were very curious about the website link I provided next to the blank picture--which was to this very blog--and I assured them that the site referred to was long inactive. They also opened to some random pages, none of them fortunately among the most potentially embarrassing ones, but they still read examples of my overwrought narrative aloud with great mirth. My second son then expressed an interest in reading the whole thing "someday", though I don't think he will--even my wife was only able to get through a few pages of it--but as I remembered more of the kinds of things that were in it, I felt that I didn't want them, at that time, even taking the book down periodically and reading random pages. Perhaps I won't mind it once they have had some college or are adults, but I don't think they have the background yet to appreciate that many of the more unsettling or depressing aspects that they might come across in it or intended to some extent as jokes, or are referencing other literature. Much of the book concerns a young man who may or may not be like me who is a complete failure at everything--sex, education, work, physical prowess, personality development, who in the end due to his inability to be competitive economically and socially has to move away from his native Mid-Atlantic region to a less strenuous part of the country, though this latter at least is the story of a lot of people in my generation and even more so in the one following. There is supposed to be some ludicrous humor in the idea of a man who nominally has some advantages in life growing up to find himself so utterly inferior and dominated in almost every situation in which he finds himself, but I don't know that teen-agers who haven't read very much will get that. I definitely don't want them yet to read about the various sexual problems of my protagonist, hilarious as I imagined they must be to the generations of brilliant young lovers of literature I regarded as the audience for my writing.

In truth who did I think I was writing for (indeed who do I think I am writing for now?) Doubtless at the time I imagined it would be younger people who would find the travails and longings expressed in the book relatable and who would form a smart and interesting enough group to make it culturally significant. One of my main motivations for trying to write after all was that it seemed one of the few possible avenues open to me to try to win the respect and interest of attractive women (in which case it might be posited that in the annals of human endeavor few have failed more spectacularly in pursuit of a goal, when the time put into it, etc, is factored in). I expected that the Baby Boomer cultural elite, who in my general view never demonstrated great literary sensibility, would not find my writing to their liking and dismiss it, which would have the added effect of cutting off any budding competition for the public's attention I might have hoped to get in on at the knees, but I held out hope that the older generations, who at that time still had a good deal of influence and power, would recognize my book as a necessary work of its era and firmly in the great mainstream American tradition. I spent a ridiculous amount of time arguing with myself whether I should accept a university faculty position if one were offered to me or maintain my artistic respectability by remaining outside of the academy. I thought I would go to a lot more drinking parties and be friends with a lot more alcoholic geniuses than has proven to be the case.

I had an odd, I won't say experience but sensation today that I wanted to write down. As part of my recovery from my heart incident I am taking a rehab/exercise class with people who had similar episodes. I am the youngest person in the class by about 20 years. While at first I took most of these older people for run of the mill lifelong New Hampshirites, and indeed almost all of them have lived here for decades, it seems like about half of them are originally from New York City and grew up there in the 1940s and 50s. One person mentioned having grown up in Brooklyn a few blocks from Ebbetts Field. I was really struck by this. In my childhood Ebbetts Field, which was knocked down around 1960, belonged to a past as mythical and irretrievably lost to my mind as the times of Alexander the Great or Charlemagne. I had also read recently that there are only fifteen men left alive who ever played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, which further emphasized the great distance in time we are from that period. So the idea that I was sitting in a room with a person who once walked down the street to attend games there, and with a number of people who passed some of the vital years of their lives in that city known to me mainly from black and white movies and books and stories by dead and fading authors that seem so hopelessly old in the online environment even I largely inhabit now really hit me. I had imagined there could not be that many of such people left, yet apparently they are still all around me.