Thursday, October 30, 2008

Best. Obit. Ever.

Here's an unusual death notice from the Austin American-Statesman in Texas for an artist who died in her 60s, Hester Holbrook Abrams.

....Hester was a natural, graceful athlete with a passion for fly fishing, scuba diving, paddle tennis, tennis, and golf. She was a self taught guitar player, and the harmony when she sang was pure beauty. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be given to the charity of your choice. P.S. She would appreciate it if you would vote for Obama.

And the lambs shall lie down with the lions

Indiana, October 2008

Friday, October 24, 2008

Nothing Says Ready-To-Lead-On-Day-One Like A Shiny Red Leather Jacket

According to the World Health Organization, suicide rates worldwide have increased by 60 percent in the last 45 years, with depression as the leading cause. In the United States, the numbers have jumped sharply — almost a full percentage point in six years — and is driven largely by, according to the report – holy cow! -- middle-aged white women.
No one involved in the study has ventured a theory about the cause or causes of the trend. Is it women who are on the younger side of middle-age and are crunched and overwhelmed between kids and work and maybe aging parents? Is it women whose kids are gone and who don’t have enough to do anymore? Is it women who never had kids? Or never married? Are any of those things relevant to the numbers?
The findings of this WHO study were both disturbing and reassuring to me. Disturbing, because it’s shocking to hear that so many women are taking their lives. But in a perverse way, it was also reassuring because maybe it meant I wasn’t alone. Maybe I wasn’t the only woman of my age, 56, who was having a great deal of difficulty figuring out what to do with a life that was stretching out in front of her for probably another 30 years and which looked terribly empty.
Once you’re past menopause, there’s an upside and a downside. On the upside, you’re happy about not having the monthly annoyance, or worrying about birth control, or coping with surging/waning hormones. But the downside is that -- if you married and had kids -- now you’re right up against the fact that a whole phase of your life that had consumed so much of your time and effort and heart – bearing and raising children – is done. Finished. That’s it. And it’s a long time between now and the possibility of grandchildren.
Last week my husband was away with a bunch of his buddies. Every year they go to a beach house in Rehobeth where they, for reasons that are unclear to me, enjoy just setting up their laptops and writing during the day (they’re all writers) and going out to dinner at night. That’s it. (Well, there might be some drinking involved too.) Sometimes they fish. I’ve never heard that they actually catch fish and judging from the pictures I’ve seen of them when they’re up to it, it’s not surprising. But that’s all they do. Write and eat and drink a bit and fish in a lame-ass way.
Usually when he’s gone, I have the week planned out with all kinds of projects – one year I painted the walk-in closet in our bedroom (which isn’t much work at all because it’s no bigger than a regular closet, really), another year it was painting one of the bedrooms. I wear sweatpants and a ratty T-shirt every night, leave the dishes in the sink and the bed unmade, and enjoy watching all the shows on MSNBC from six o’clock on without the husband periodically walking in and asking how I can stand to watch the same people screaming at each other over and over again about the same damn things.
But this year it was different. I wasn’t happy my husband was gone. I wasn’t relishing the time to myself. But on the other hand, I wasn’t missing him either. It was like – meh.
I rented a couple of movies. I watched Rachel Maddow at 9 o’clock and then again at 11 o’clock just in case I missed anything. I moved the living room carpet a couple of inches because where it had been annoyed me. I cleaned the bird’s cage.
But I just couldn’t get motivated to do anything more than that, even though there were lots of things that needed to be done around the house that I could have turned into projects.
So, as I was lying in bed last night, thinking about the week, I realized that there was this big chunk of my life gone that I really missed a lot. And it was my kids. Not who they are now, although I really love who they are now and actually enjoy talking to them and doing stuff with them still. But I missed who they were way back when they were so small they had to climb on top of my feet to reach me. Or when they’d get all worked up over something that only a two-year old would care about. Or when they’d run towards me when I picked them up at pre-K. I just missed those toddler years.
I started crying. And you know how when you cry when you're lying down, the tears trickle down the side of your face and pool in your ears? It was like that.
I missed being the center of their lives. And I missed knowing exactly what it was I was supposed to be doing with my life, which was raising two boys so that they knew right from wrong and were capable of kindness and generosity and knew that it was enough to have a roof over your head and food on the dinner plate because if you had that, you were lucky.
If you’ve ever been a mother you will understand it when I say that you will never ever again be so completely and unconditionally loved and needed. And no matter how much you love your husband, or your friends, or your family members, or the people you work with, there is no-one you will ever love that completely and naturally and unconditionally either. It’s a once in a lifetime experience. What else is ever going to be that compelling? Or absorbing or engaging?
So, it’s not surprising to me that other women my age might have a great deal of trouble figuring out what to do with themselves once their kids have left home. What else is going to compare with raising them? Isn’t your life work done? What’s left but marking time?
Maybe I’ve trivializing the numbers from this report and they have nothing to do with whiny, middle-class moms like me missing their kids. Maybe it’s women to whom truly horrible and devastating things have happened, like losing a job, or being left for someone else, or not being able to live with a painful, chronic disease, or just being overwhelmed by having to work so hard just to stay in place.
But I know, for me, it’s just wondering, at 56, what I’m supposed to do with myself now.

Thought for the day

"In spite of illness, in spite even of the archenemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways." --Edith Wharton

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Lawn jockeys for Obama

Mansfield, Ohio

This is what it's all about

From Ben Smith's blog on Politico. This is a story sent in by a reader in Cincinnatti about his early voting experience.

Upon arriving at the Hamilton County Board of Elections in Cincinnati to vote early today I happened upon some friends of my mothers - 3 small, elderly Jewish women. They were quite upset as they were being refused admitance to the polling location due to their Obama T-Shirts, hats and buttons. Apparently you cannot wear Obama/McCain gear into polling locations here in Ohio.... They were practically on the verge of tears.
After a minute or two of this a huge man (6'5", 300 lbs easy) wearing a Dale Earnhardt jacket and Bengal's baseball cap left the voting line, came up to us and introduced himself as Mike. He told us he had overheard our conversation and asked if the ladies would like to borrow his jacket to put over their t-shirts so they could go in and vote. The ladies quickly agreed.
As long as I live I will never forget the image of these eighty plus year old Jewish ladies walking into the polling location wearing a huge Dale Earnhardt racing jacket that came over their hands and down to their knees! Mike, patiently waited for each woman to cast her vote, accepted their many thanks and then got back in line (I saved him a place while he was helping out the ladies).
When Mike got back in line I asked him if he was an Obama supporter. He said that he was not, but that he couldn't stand to see those ladies so upset. I thanked him for being a gentleman in a time of bitter partisanship and wished him well.
After I voted I walked out to the street to find my mother's friends surrounding our new friend Mike - they were laughing and having a great time. I joined them and soon learned that Mike had changed his mind in the polling booth and ended up voting for Obama. When I asked him why he changed his mind at the last minute, he explained that while he was waiting for his jacket he got into a conversation with one of the ladies who had explained how the Jewish community, and she, had worked side by side with the black community during the civil rights movements of the 60's, and that this vote was the culmination of those personal and community efforts so many years ago. That this election for her was more than just a vote...but a chance at history.
Mike looked at me and said, "Obama's going to win and I didn't want to tell my grandchildren some day that I had an opportunity to vote for the first black president, but I missed my chance at history and voted for the other guy."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fountainhead State Park, Virginia

Fountainhead State Park is on the Occoquan River. I kayaked there with a friend a couple of weeks ago. The leaves were just turning. The water is so calm and still, the foliage reflects like a shimmering mirror image. In the bottom photo, that's a lone leaf floating on the surface of the water.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Mokue΄ of Barack

There’s been a lot of talk in the past week about Barack Obama’s demeanor -- his steadiness under pressure-- as the American economy spun in and out of control. There was also speculation that the American public noticed it too, and that his steadiness and reserve were calming and reassuring as they began to get an idea – a positive idea – of what an Obama presidency could be like. His poll numbers rose in some states to double digit leads over John McCain.
But there was never any mention that as much as Barack’s reserve and discretion were unique to him as an individual, they were also utterly characteristic of the African concept of “coolness.”
Robert Farris Thompson, an art history professor at Yale University, has spend his academic career tracing the roots of African aesthetic traditions in the art and music of North and South American and Caribbean cultures. Flash of the Spirit, probably Thompson’s best known book, published in 1983, was the first to explore the African concept of coolness. (If you have any kind of interest in American culture, it is a must read. There is no way to understand American music -- blues, jazz, rock and roll -- without understanding that it is as much African as it is American. Maybe even more.)
The core concept of coolness, as a modern day elder of the Yoruban tribe described it to Thompson, is that “coolness is a part of character, to the degree that we live generously and discreetly, exhibiting grace under pressure.”
This idea is uniquely African, and is expressed in the languages of many African tribes. In Yoruba, the word is itutu, which Thompson characterizes as a kind of “mystic” coolness. In Luo, the tribe of Obama’s Kenyan father, the word is mokue΄, which means cool, quiet, and peaceful. Thompson has traced the concept’s origins to at least as far back as the fifteenth century in Africa.
The African concept of coolness is different from the Western concept of coolness, as in icy determination or “sang-froid,” (translated literally from the French as cold-blooded). The Western concept is a much simpler expression of a steely, perhaps even amoral, character. The African concept is highly moral, an all-embracing idea of detachment and calmness that is both emotional and intellectual. Someone who possesses itutu or mokue΄ is reassuring to the people around them because they are able to be nonchalant and in-control in situations where emotionalism or eagerness would be natural and expected. Think John McCain cancelling his campaign before the Senate vote on the bailout. That is not cool.
If you want to listen to what cool sounds like, listen to the perfect combination of desire and restraint in the tunes of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue.
And if you want to see what it looks like in art, here is a 12th century Yoruba bronze head from Ife, Nigeria. The composure of the face, the inner stillness and control it expresses – its sense of repose and assurance -- is quintessentially cool.

While I was poking around the Internets, I discovered that Thompson has a new book coming out at the end of the month. Aesthetic of the Cool: Afro-Atlantic Art and Music
It’ll be on my reading list. Put it on yours too.
Andrew Sullivan talks about this too, but without the African context.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The guys -- minus one -- in Richmond

Jesse, Larry, and Nick in Richmond, VA, last weekend. We were waiting for a table at Comfort, a restaurant on West Broad Street, before we went on the First Fridays Art Walk in Jackson-Ward.