Monday, September 21, 2009

Grandpa At The PawPaw

Photo taken Saturday of a "Carlson totem pole," possibly so titled by my son whose older daughter Nina sits upon his shoulders as he holds his newborn Sophia

Kindness is more important than wisdom, and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom.

---Theodore Rubin

At last I do not know how to draw!

---Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Between our two lives
there is also the life of the
cherry blossom.


I had written an empty-nest letter upon the occasion of my daughter's 18th birthday, celebrated with a boyfriend from OU but not us, in faraway Swannanoa, North Carolina. A much loved and slightly older friend here in town said it seemed intended to invoke a few tears but hopefully not sobs. Ilona herself concurred and sent us a laughing snapshot of herself with boyfriend. Dana's uncle saw us Saturday and joked with me about the "tear-stained letter." Richard Thompson's song played in my head the rest of the afternoon.

Friday evening brought us 3 or 4 calls from Ilona, and got the tone of the weekend rolling. The cake she had ordered from us actually was a Christmas plum pudding, complete with the necessary container of brandy. What rules did we break smuggling THAT into the school? Anyway, she knew she was supposed to get the stuff onto the cake somehow and light it---but how? So Dana was instructing her over the phone, cautioning that if it went wrong the whole place might blow up. The entire dorm had assembled to observe. She sent a teeny photo of the experiment and it looks as if they decided to take the thing outside. There are no charred remains or ashes in the picture, and she said there were oooohs and ahhhhs---which of course is what you want.

The rest of the weekend our son was to the rescue. With a subtlety with which is endowed and properly renowned, he got us to show up at the 11th Annual PawPaw Festival at Lake Snowden, just outside Athens. Everybody has heard about the "pawpaw patch," but few ever saw or tasted one. Since they grow around here, an enterprising fellow decided we needed a festival---and maybe eventually somebody could make some money with this fruit. If you look it up in the dictionary, you'll be sent to "papaw," where you'll find it next to papaya---and that's sorta what it is.

One of the features of the day is a cook-off, where people from everywhere try to figure out ways to use the thing. Everything from bottles of drunkenness to main courses to lots of desserts were offered to 3 food critics from Columbus and New York, and the chief chef from Ohio University. The leftovers were distributed to the audience. Jeroch had invented a pawpaw fudge concoction, using a bitter dark chocolate and cocoanut. It took all afternoon for the judges to get through the myriad of entries. The chef said afterwards it had been first. Jeroch took the loss graciously, with only a tinge of disappointment visible only to the trained eye.

The festival was packed with people this time, lots of terrific music---including a dance band whose version of Choo Choo Baby I liked a lot, and featuring my friend, former Interim Dean of the OU College of Music Professor Allyn Reilly blowing sax---every kind of food from a rack of ribs to Philippine noodles, medieval jousting, and tables and tables of folks presenting the latest in sustainable living. Our friends from Dovetail Solar And Wind were particularly impressive, with their booth's lovely fountain and the soundstage all powered by sunshine. Parked next to our car was a Civic sporting a North Carolina plate and identification that its owner was Warren Wilson alumni, which is where Ilona is going to school. What's the chance of THAT happening?

Sunday Jeroch didn't let up for a minute, making sure we had no time for moping around. We had sung John Tavener's The Lamb at church, which is satisfying to a choir even to make it through...and especially wonderful if it comes off, moving a congregation to pure and wondrous silence. Rain at last, so Jeroch's plan to crank up our new chainsaw didn't pan out...but in slickers down he and his mom went to the garden to harvest the chard, collard, and kale for a massive cook, package and freeze project. Those greens go in our soups all winter.

I had cleaned off the desk, prepared the weekly bills for paying and had turned into Scrooge when the computer decided to freeze along with the chopped leaves. While I sat cursing technology, I cleaned out a shelf of stuff on the table here...and there was a copy of Poetry from July-August 2006 that I thought I had recycled. Inside is a poem by John Updike that I considered classic---especially for men, and women too I guess, who are over 50. Updike was an absolutely clinical observer of American humanity, a trait he credited to a Pennsylvania Lutheran upbringing. When it came to his own mortality at the end, including the lung cancer that took him, he viewed his failing parts with the same wry wit---or as one reviewer termed it, "with the reaction of a man learning his car needs a new tire." As you'll see this poem is not depressing: poignant maybe, but still funny~~~


Talk about intimacy! I'd almost rather not.
The day before, a tussle with nausea
(DRINK ME: a liter of sickly-sweet liquid)
and diarrhea, so as to present oneself
pristine as a bride to the groom with his tools,
his probe and tiny TV camera
and honeyed words. He has a tan,
just back from a deserved vacation
from his accustomed nether regions.

Begowned, recumbent on one's side,
one views through uprolled eyes the screen whereon
one's big intestine snakes sedately by,
its segments marked by tidy annular
construction-seams as in a prefab tunnel
slapped up by the mayor's son-in-law.
A sudden wash of sparkling liquid shines
in the inserted light, and hairpin turns
loom far ahead and soon are vaulted past
impalpably; we float, we fall, we veer
in these soft, pliant passages spelunked
by everything one eats.

Then all goes dark,
as God intended it whenever He
sealed shut in Adam's abdomen
life's slimy, twisting, smelly miracle.
The bridegroom's voice, below the edge of sight
like buried treasure, announces,
"Perfect. Not a ployp. See you in
five years." Five years? The funhouse may have folded.

---from the Updike collection "Endpoint." Ah yes.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

At Eighteen

Old Age And Youth, 1878
Sir John Gilbert

Count no day lost in which you waited your turn, took only your share, and sought advantage over no one.

---Robert Brault

The best things in life are nearest: breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties in your hand, the path of right just before you. Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life's plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life.

---Robert Lewis Stevenson

Yes, spring has come---
this morning, a nameless hill
is shrouded in mist.


Dear Ilona,

By coincidence lately, I've been reading and hearing that once a young adult leaves home, the communication with Dad suddenly changes. The transition didn't happen in my own exodus, so I'm a bit inexperienced as it seems to occur now. My telephone conversations with my father tended more toward the Garrison Keillor Scandinavian model in which Mom hands the phone to Dad, who mutters, " you're OK? Well, here's your mother again."

With son and daughter, once you both were out there, magically the old man is revealed a sage, loved and respected. This isn't new exactly. My father quoted Mark Twain to me often: “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished by how much he'd learned in seven years.” Well, Twain may never have said it, but there's a mysterious truth to it. Today I see there is much more I have to learn, and my children have taken on the responsibility to teach me. Now I have to be paying the attention I should have all along. I have to learn to say "I love you" more often...and I acknowledge that and am trying.

Fifteen years ago we had you registered in public school. We had discussed it because we knew you would be entering while still 4, and this probably would make you the youngest kid in the class the rest of your education. The alternative was to wait a year...and then you always would be the oldest. We took the first option because we figured you could handle it. What we hadn't considered is now you are turning 18 away from home already. It turns out this is hard on us.

Eighteen is coming of age, although 21 continues to be the big one. At 18, boys had to register for the draft. I don't know if there's anything like that you have to do now. In New York, I could walk into a bar and get served. I didn't do it much but I came to appreciate the experience, because I never was tempted to act up on weekends the way kids from states with older age limits did. We New Yorkers didn't need to break the law. We were too cool. You can vote now. That's new. I had to wait til 21 to do that. In between, a generation came along that said, "If I have to go off to your expensive wars and get killed, I should be able to vote on the people who want to send me." Students became vocal and involved as my generation, at 18, never was.

You're a young woman today...and no longer the girl who liked to rearrange the furniture and desktops without asking. When we can't find something today, we have to take responsibility for it...and I'm sure our abilities to remember aren't going to improve. The silence in the house sometimes is deafening...and of course we have to swallow hard when, by habit, we still wonder what time you're coming home. The reminder that you aren't brings tears.

I guess it's human nature not to really appreciate someone until they're gone. Maybe that's a common emotion that is uniting us now. We're sending a birthday cake by courier. We won't be singing and watching you always blow out every candle. Maybe we'll sing here anyway...and pretend. Maybe Mom and I will hold hands, sing the song, and have ourselves a hug and kiss in your honor. That sounds like a good plan...until we're together again.


Monday, September 14, 2009

The Race Question

At what she calls the Million Mob March in Washington on Saturday, Daezy (I presume) poses in front of a FoxNews truck before posting the picture and many more of the event at her blog, US Liberty Journal .

How many things do you say just to make an impression on others? What are you really achieving when you try to make an impression? If you didn't do things for merit or advancement, or if you didn't act with motives at all, what would life be like? At work? In bed? Alone in a room. Even alone in a room you can be consumed with wanting other people to see you in a good light.

---John Tarrant

How shall I grasp it? Do not grasp it. That which remains when there is no grasping is the Self.


The mountains, rivers, grasses, trees, and forests are always emanating a subtle, precious light, day and night, always emanating a subtle, precious sound, demonstrating and expounding to all people the unsurpassed ultimate truth.


Since I "joined" the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1950s, I've been caught making racist remarks many times. Like everybody, I wasn't prejudiced of course. Hadn't I protested the plight of black jazz artists since I was a little boy? Or Negro jazz artists...or Afro-American jazz artists... Well anyway, whatever it is, hadn't I been against it? With my white friends, I picketed Woolworth's in Lewiston, Maine. But it wasn't until nearly 10 years later, after some backlash, that I got close enough to other races to get really taken apart. There were things I said and things I did that I had no idea offended other people. These behaviors were in my upbringing and needed to be rooted out. It was not easy. It was painful.

Yes, my dream too is to live in an America that is "post-racial." But I doubt that, after 40 or 50 years of working on it, my cleansing is finished yet. For others of all races, it may not take as long. For those who think about racial prejudice in this country at least, the work is obvious. But what of those who don't think about it? What about people who believe with all their hearts they aren't prejudiced...but have not gone through the real fire of being the only one of their own race in a group of another race? What then? The presidency of Barack Obama, whom I never have considered a "black man," is providing an opportunity I have tried to avoid. I've wanted us to be post-racial...but I'm afraid I've been on cloud 9.

Naomi Klein hasn't written anything for Harper's in a couple years. In 2007 she published an essay called "Disaster Capitalism" in there. The book that came out at the same time was a thunderbolt and best-seller. Last month another article by her turned up in Harper's, this time titled "Minority Death Match." I have a feeling another book is going to show up too. The article is about the United Nations Durban Review Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. Since the October issue now is on the stands, you can read Ms. Klein's thoughts on the subject online.

Over the weekend though, she updated a very edited version of the article in the UK Guardian. She takes on the Summer of '09 and zeroes in on the Obama presidency and all this opposition. As usual with Naomi, you get it full in the face~~~

"Americans began the summer still celebrating the dawn of a 'post-racial' era. They are ending it under no such illusion. The summer of 2009 was all about race, beginning with Republican claims that Sonia Sotomayor, Barack Obama's nominee to the US Supreme Court, was 'racist' against whites. Then, just as that scandal was dying down, up popped 'the Gates controversy', the furore over the president's response to the arrest of African American academic Henry Louis Gates Jr in his own home. Obama's remark that the police had acted 'stupidly' was evidence, according to massively popular Fox News host Glenn Beck, that the president 'has a deep-seated hatred for white people'.

"Obama's supposed racism gave a jolt of energy to the fringe movement that claims he has been carrying out a lifelong conspiracy to cover up his (fictional) African birth. Then Fox News gleefully discovered Van Jones, White House special adviser on green jobs. After weeks of being denounced as 'a black nationalist who is also an avowed communist', Jones resigned last Sunday.

"The undercurrent of all these attacks was that Obama, far from being the colour-blind moderate he posed as during the presidential campaign, is actually obsessed with race, in particular with redistributing white wealth into the hands of African Americans and undocumented Mexican workers. At town hall meetings across the US in August, these bizarre claims coalesced into something resembling an uprising to 'take our country back'. Henry D Rose, chair of Blacks For Social Justice, recently compared the overwhelmingly white, often armed, anti-Obama crowds to the campaign of 'massive resistance' launched in the late 50s – a last-ditch attempt by white southerners to block the racial integration of their schools and protect other Jim Crow laws. Today's 'new era of "massive resistance",' writes Rose, 'is also a white racial project.'

"There is at least one significant difference, however. In the late 50s and early 60s, angry white mobs were reacting to life-changing victories won by the civil rights movement. Today's mobs, on the other hand, are reacting to the symbolic victory of an African American winning the presidency. Yet they are rising up at a time when non-elite blacks and Latinos are losing significant ground, with their homes and jobs slipping away from them at a much higher rate than from whites. So far, Obama has been unwilling to adopt policies specifically geared towards closing this ever-widening divide. The result may well leave minorities with the worst of all worlds: the pain of a full-scale racist backlash without the benefits of policies that alleviate daily hardships. Meanwhile, with Obama constantly painted by the radical right as a cross between Malcolm X and Karl Marx, most progressives feel it is their job to defend him – not to point out that, when it comes to tackling the economic crisis ravaging minority communities, the president is not doing nearly enough."

Reflecting on this, I suggest, is best done alone, in a quiet room. Then go out in humility and try it.