Fast Times

I’ve been interested in generational theory for a while now, although not in a fancy-pants way. In a functional way.

You can look up generational theory, by the way, in case you still doubt my self-effacement up there. It’s a real thing. You’ll see the names Strauss and Howe.

And while it’s all very fascinating, particularly the Strauss-Howe stuff, it feels a little like astrology, which might actually teach you something about the cosmos if you really work at it. The rest, of course, is just pretend.

As is generational theory; that is, the idea that we belong to a particular club in which we all, more or less, have shared experiences that have shaped our lives. The obvious arbitrary nature of this makes the whole thing fascinating speculation, but just speculation.

But I think about it a lot, and for practical reasons: I wonder about references. I wonder who knows what, who remembers what, and who isn’t interested. I read a story today in which a young person (a Millennial; generationalists take note) was interviewed about voting for a third-party candidate and asked if he/she worried about a “Ralph Nader” effect on the election.

To which our young person responded, appropriately, “Who’s Ralph Nader?”

That’s what I worry about, or at least question, whenever I get in the mood to reflect backwards. I think of it as The Howard Cosell Question. Cosell, the famous sports broadcaster whose distinctive voice, personality, ego, and opinions were much discussed in his heyday, which was primarily the 1970s. I wrote a op/ed piece for the Seattle Times 15 years ago in which I mentioned him, and my daughter’s English teacher made copies for her class and had them discuss it. That was pretty cool, but he needed to explain who Cosell was and that’s when this all started.

I’m sort of rescued from a sad fate, throwing out dozens of dated references, by demographics: The people who might be clueless about Ralph Nader aren’t the ones, mostly, reading newspapers.

It’s interesting as it is to read the theories, particularly the Strauss-Howe book The Fourth Turning, which attempts to diagram the cyclical nature of western civilization in general, and the United States specifically. It’s fun to read. As I said, like a horoscope. You can find some science there, and well-thought-out ideas, and it’s reasonable but still a little contrived. It’s observable but can’t be demonstrated, because it’s too vague to demonstrate. The Millennial Generation, according to them, might be the next greatest generation. Good for them, good for us, but what does that even mean?

And I think I see the flaw. Strauss-Howe tend to mark our 14 generations since colonial days in roughly 20-year increments, corresponding to the four stages of life: Begin adulthood around 20, mid-life around 40, old age around 60. Begin is the operative word.

I have a new way. I made it up all by myself.

Since we already tend to generalize decades (the 1960s, the 1940s, the 1980s, etc.), I say we skip the clever names and just focus on high school.

High school. It’s hard to argue that these are formative years for most of us, since we enter as newbie 14-year-olds and leave as legal adults, ready to vote or serve. What happens in the world is viewed through our teenage prisms, sometimes politics and other current events but mostly (I think) culture. This is where the references are hatched, unknown a decade before and fading quickly by the next.

So here’s my new plan: Anyone who spent at least a year and a half in high school during a particular decade belongs to that generation (or cohort, maybe, is the better word). This is also arbitrary, but at least it’s a more manageable group. If you started your junior year in high school in the fall of 1989, graduating in 1991, you’re a 90s. If you graduate in 1990, you’re an 80s. If you graduate in 1971, you’re a 70s, but a 60s if you’re the class of 1970. See?

It becomes much more manageable, in my opinion. I graduated in 1976, making me a full-blooded 70s, shared with people three years younger and five years older. Or, another way, my cohort ranges from 55 to 63. Next year it’ll be 56 to 64.

This seems much more effective than the 20-year collections, which really make little sense. In some models (they tend to vary a little in start and stop dates), both Bill Clinton (age 70) and Stephen Colbert (age 52) belong to the same generation. This is crazy. It makes more sense to me to say that Bill Clinton is a 1960s and Colbert is a 1970s (he spent 1-1/2 years there, part of 1978 and all of 1979). The year Clinton graduated from high school, the top films were Mary Poppins and My Fair Lady, although Beckett and Hard Day’s Night were in the mix.

When Colbert got his diploma, he had Gandhi, Sophie’s Choice, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, and Tootsie, along with Diner, Blade Runner, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. So, a difference.

And that’s just film. There’s music, books, trends, fads, fashion, and interesting haircuts.

I think this is brilliant. But it’s kind of early.

Anyway. Doesn’t really make much of a difference, but it helps me out. I meet someone in their mid-50s to early 60s, I figure we’ve lived through mostly the same experiences. For example, by the time the 1970s rolled around, even the earliest of our bunch had far less chance of being drafted than their slightly older brothers. Me, I never even had to sign up for the Selective Service. I was grandfathered in (only men born between March 29, 1957 and January 1, 1960, were exempt when Carter reinstated registration in response to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. History which probably falls into the Nader category for Millennials).

Again, this is astrology. Your results may differ. And not everyone, particularly writers with a historical bent and artists seeking inspiration from the past, fits neatly into the cultural milieu of their high school years. Some of my favorite films were made decades before I was born, and I tend to prefer music from the 1960s when it comes to pop. But this is the nature of artificial constructs: They work well in certain situations, not so much in others.

My take-away is to buck conventional wisdom and dismiss the idea that we have short memories. We just have specific memories, frozen in the cerebral cortices of teenagers. If anything influences the people we become (and I have my doubts in these general terms), it’s those.

And then we gather new ones, and process, and try to integrate with our formative years, and some of us do better than others, but I still suspect most of us are solidly grounded in our eras. And I’m not sure it matters all that much. Don’t know Ralph Nader? It’s OK. But if you decide to branch out, discover what happened before you were around, and what’s happening now that may be slightly off your radar, well. You could go all the way. And that’s a quote.

Continue Reading

Looking Back

I noted to John on Monday that it was the last day of summer. My rules.

It’s hard to argue with me, I think. We skimmed into the mid-70s, clear and sunny, and I waved goodbye. Thank you, summer of 2016. You were pretty good.

Three years ago, I was in Austin, waiting for a baby. This whole grandparent thing has given me a couple of extraordinary experiences (outside of the actual fact of, you know, a grandchild). I got to spend a couple of weeks with the expectant couple, watching and remembering. And then a couple of weeks later I returned, this time to play surrogate partner to my daughter when Cameron had to go out of town. It wasn’t the same as having Dad around, but at least I shared in the sleep deprivation and the baby soothing, a real-life throwback to being a father for the first time. I suspect not a lot of men get a chance to do this, new moms probably wanting another woman who has actually had a baby before in these situations. But I was there, I saw and I did, and I’m forever grateful.

Also grateful that I’m heading to Austin in about three weeks. Nothing but gratitude here, for this, for our nice summer, for the crispiness in the air now, for the past and most definitely for the future.

12191147_10154073944435995_7252032129547007003_o
Lake Austin, September 2013
Continue Reading

Todos mis pecados recordados

I just read an interesting article by a couple of theoretical physicists, although it just seemed interesting to be honest. It’s not like I have much of a clue here.

The idea, I’m guessing, deals with an old notion, at least in the world of physics: Time is pretty much irrelevant. Time might not even actually exist; it certainly doesn’t seem to make any difference in terms of quantum physics.

What it most reminded me of was Slaughterhouse-5 and Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim, who became unstuck in time. He sort of hopped between events, past and future; “present” also becomes irrelevant and sort of ridiculous from the novel’s point of view. And maybe from science’s point of view, at least according to this article. The only reason we can’t remember the future (agh, already out of my league) is that our memory doesn’t work that way. It has something to do with entropy and Newton’s second law of thermodynamics. I think.

No matter. I’m curious but I’ll never understand. I mostly was reading to try to infer something constructive about memory. I think about memory a lot.

I’ve spent the past 10 days – and I have no idea why I started – doing exercises with Duolingo to try to bring my Spanish skills back up to…somewhere. I left high school fairly fluent; I got tripped up with the subjunctive tense and my vocabulary needed a big boost, but I could make conversation.

So where does that go? Nearly a thousand hours of classroom work alone, and I look around this room and can spot a dozen items I can’t name in Spanish, and I’ve got a handful of verbs only. Still, every day I spend 20-30 minutes drilling myself, slowly de-cobwebbing. Los niños comen manzanas roja. That should get me into a good restaurant.

What’s odd is that I seem to have no problem conjugating simple verbs, even if I’m relearning the verbs. That part seems to have stuck, along with a fair amount of other grammar details. I have trouble with the word for “socks” but I can say I have them with no problem.

So, no idea. At my age, it seems daunting if not sort of quixotic to try mastering another language, or even getting some comfort with it, and even if it’s one I used to speak fairly well. And yet, so far it seems to be working. Let’s see where I’m at in a couple of months. Let’s see if I last that long.

Who knows? I may be a volunteer on the exploration of brain plasticity and our ability to learn new things, even if we’re aging canines. I may not remember the future, but that doesn’t mean I can’t get ready for it. I hope it has tacos.

duolingo_logo_with_owl-svg

Continue Reading

The Aging Of The Oval

Most people who know me well have long since figured out that I have a relentless fascination with politics, but only of the big picture variety. This sometimes means things such as referenda but usually it’s all about the presidents. I should be more concerned about local issues, since that’s where I’m most affected, but what can I say? I like history, and presidential politics is always about history.

Especially when no incumbent is running. When things seem OK or even when they don’t, the incumbent walks in with an advantage and it’s his or hers to lose. In an open race, all sorts of odd things can happen, and it’s automatically historic: Only 43 people have served as president. It’s a big deal.

There have been 56 elections since Washington’s first term (no incumbent was possible, so I dropped that one), and at least from an eyeball count on a list of elections 24 of them have been open contests, with no incumbent. Close to half, which seems to make sense; if every president had served two terms, then every other presidential election would be open. But we know this isn’t true; over a third of our presidents didn’t run for a second term or were defeated (only James Polk, at least off the top of my head, decided not to seek reelection, and in fact had pledged not to do so). LBJ withdrew from the 1968 race when he didn’t like the signs he was seeing, but there’s no doubt he would have sought a second term had things been less chaotic.

But here’s what’s interesting about this, to me: Of those 24 open elections, 15 occurred in the 19th century. In the 20th, we had five through Kennedy (1908, 1920, 1928, 1952, and 1960). We had #21 in 1968, then we waited another 20 years for #22 (1988, Bush vs. Dukakis). After that, we started our current string of two-term presidents, only broken by George H.W. Bush in 1992, so 2000 and 2008 fill out our card.

It’s been fairly rare in my lifetime, then, that I’ve seen an open election (5 times out of 14, and for the first one I wasn’t concentrating on politics, being in diapers at the time, and for a good reason), and I was 10 years old in 1968, aware but not all that much. So really I’ve only seen three of these, and now a fourth. It should be exciting.

And it’s not. And I think I know why.

From at least last spring, it seemed clear that Trump would be the GOP nominee, while Clinton and Sanders were still tussling. That meant we would either get the oldest president ever elected (Trump), the oldest president ever elected, and by a lot (Sanders, who would best Reagan by five years), or the second-oldest president (Reagan leads at two weeks shy of 70, and WH Harrison at 68 years and three weeks is currently second. Clinton would move into that position at 69 and three months).

They were all too old, in my opinion, although this was less my concern over their health than just political hygiene. The beauty of our republic and its tradition of peaceful transfer of power is that four years is a long time in politics, and eight years is an eternity. It’s hard to keep a viable political career going once you enter your 60s, and so it’s hard to get traction if you’re a rookie trying to make it to The Show.

In 1960, we transitioned from a member of The Lost Generation (born from the early 1880s until 1900), Eisenhower, to a bone fide GI Generation member (also known as The Greatest Generation). Six presidents from this group were elected until 1992, when we transitioned to the huge Baby Boomer demographic with Bill Clinton, followed by George Bush, followed by Barack Obama (who is on the cusp between Boomers and Gen Xers, and is a member of what’s been called Generation Jones, those who were born in the late 1950s and early 1960s); Obama was a definite but slight generational transition, and eight years later…

…we go backwards, back to the early boomers, or even earlier (Sanders would be The Silent Generation group, born from the mid to late ‘20s until the early 1940s. McCain would have been the same).

It just feels wrong. But we have the candidates we have. Rubio, Cruz, Christie, even Jeb would have been a more consistent choice for the GOP, and I dunno about the Dems. It’s hard to drum up ambitious politicians when your party has held the White House for the past 8 years. And 69 might be the new 54.

So that explains my less-than-enthusiastic interest in this election. I watched one debate before last night’s, a late one between Sanders and Clinton, and that was pretty uninteresting. But I’m old, too.

That is, I know all the players and have for a long time. I became aware of Bernie Sanders in the mid-1980s, and paid a lot of attention to him once he reached Congress; he always was worth a listen. Trump has been Trump forever. Clinton has been in the public eye since at least 1991, although she wasn’t unknown in political circles, if mostly for her legal work on children’s issues as the First Lady of Arkansas.

So there’s nothing new under the sun, or the stage lights. I was an Obama supporter in 2008 (I went through some infatuations before I decided), so I was a little antagonistic about Clinton from the start. I thought her campaign pandered too much, and I also thought she’d draw so much hostile fire from the Republicans that Obama was a better chance (I was so wrong, and I’ve said many times to my wife, a Hillary backer from the beginning, that if their roles had been reversed – if Clinton had won in 2008 and Obama had become, say, vice-president and lined up to run in 2016 — it’s possible things would have been better. I didn’t anticipate the wave of craziness that swept certain parts of the country at the election of an African-American as President. Knew it was there, just didn’t see the insanity coming.).

And now, with the nomination of the least-qualified candidate for president in my lifetime, I don’t see the insanity stopping soon. If Trump gets elected, I have no idea but I don’t see exactly rosy relations between citizens. If it’s Hillary, then more of the ugliness anyway. No stopping this train, not in the immediate future.

As for the debate? What everyone else said. SMH.

capture

Continue Reading

This Day In History

I’ve been using Windows Edge as a browser lately, finding it quicker and less of a CPU drain, but actually I’ve been not exactly using a browser. Mostly.

And none of this is important, just changing up the way I do things here, trying to manage my time better.

But Edge has some bugs, and one of them seems to be losing web pages. That is, I load a page, then it freezes on me. Not a lot. Every once in a while. Never happened with another browser, so I’m sticking with buggy.

This only matters because for one of those buggy reasons, I can’t search the archives of this here blog. If I want to do that – and this is also not a regular thing – I have to use Internet Explorer, which amazingly still exists in a standalone form (I deleted Firefox and Chrome). So I did that, just to check.

And I was off. For some reason, I woke up today and noticed the date, and a bell rung. It just turned out to be a tardy bell. The day I was thinking of was Sept. 24, not the 27th. But close enough for my purposes.

I read the post from the 24th. A little laughable now. I had some goofy ideas.

What I did, though, wasn’t all that goofy in the long run. I had just passed my one-year anniversary of kicking the booze habit. I’d signed up for some community college classes. I felt hopeful, and optimistic, and more than a little curious. If I could go an entire year without a drink, what else could I do?

So I tossed out what junk food I had around the house, and decided to pay attention to what I ate. Maybe start exercising (shudder). I had a plan, anyway. I was pretty fat, although I’d managed to lose about 15 pounds over the past couple of months, down from the low 270s. I was estimating that a normal weight for me, a guy my size and age and temperament and hair color, was anything under 190 pounds. I would take 220 pounds and be ecstatic about it, but under 190 was sort of a goal. A dream goal.

That day was pretty important to me, then. It didn’t have that much to do with the weight loss, although that was fun. Aside from my adventures last winter with loss of appetite and the resulting weird lab results and lowish weight, there are few foods that I ate back in those heavier days I don’t still eat occasionally. Haven’t had a chimichanga in a while. It’s hard to think of others.

By October of 2007, I’d headed outdoors to get my exercise, getting bored with my treadmill, and that was pretty much the ballgame. I needed to do that somehow, get out of the house and into the sun and the rain and the snow and everything in between, just move, walk around the neighborhood. By December, I sometimes was clocking 3-4 hours a day of just walking, round and round.

I don’t need to tell you about this.

Or about the fact that somehow, mysteriously given my former lack of discipline or anything resembling will power, I lost the weight. Not all of it, of course, because then I’d weigh zero and that would be weird. Just the extra weight. It went up and down a little, but mostly stayed normal. I’m trying to hang around 170 these days. That feels good. Better than 160, which I would have dreamed about nine years ago but never quite imagined, even though it happened. Too thin, really. Didn’t look right on an older dude. At least this older dude.

But whatever. I was pretty happy where I was, actually; not happy about the pounds, but happy in general. Content. Peaceful. Fat, but peaceful.

Honestly, I wish I’d discovered a trick I could share. I just think it was a phenomenon of the moment, having passed that first year of sobriety and feeling ambitious. Today? I’m pretty sure I couldn’t do it. Not the way I did, every day for four months, focusing hard on my little project. It was a little exhausting, and I’m not any younger.

The only thing I did consistently, besides walk, was pay attention. I tracked my calories relentlessly, plugging them into a spreadsheet, trying to figure out how much I needed to maintain my weight and then trying to eat a little less. Plus the walking. But mostly just the paying attention part.

And that’s the part I still do. It’s easier now; my phone is a handy scratch pad for numbers, and of course there are apps, etc. It’s reflexive now. No matter how much I indulge, the calories get counted. And while I’ve gone through many intervals in which I stayed away from the scale and just tracked what I ate, it turns out that doesn’t work for me. Calorie counting is always going to be an approximation. I need to step on the scale every day, or almost every day. So I do that, too.

Mostly it was discovering what was possible, and that I was more interested in that than what was likely.

Look: Losing weight didn’t solve any problems. It did change my life, though. Not because I weighed less; that mostly involves what clothes I can and can’t wear. Doing it changed my life. Starting it changed my life. Sticking with it, with anything, changed my life.

And that’s why the date stuck in my head, even being three days off. It’s been nine years. I’m a different person, for different reasons but this one in particular. Once, nine years (and three days) ago, I decided to try. Funny what happens.

sizes

Continue Reading

Conundrums

cropped-vlcsnap-00001-2

I got a note from my editor after shipping off my latest column. She’d spotted some missing words, which sounds like it should be a superpower, although it was pretty obvious. And I had an obvious answer: Lots of copying and pasting of sentences into various paragraphs. Things sometimes get misplaced.

I complained later to my wife that I felt I was constructing a word salad, no opinion, no meaning, no nothing. And that maybe I’d run my course.

As it turned out, I had a nice email on the day the paper was printed from a reader who was affected, and I’ve heard other positive things. I have no idea. Reading it again, it’s not as bad as I feared, but still I wonder.

Fifteen years ago, I could write whatever I wanted to, and I did. I’d cover local issues, national debates, serious discussions about the state of my disordered brain: Everything and anything.

And then the column spread to other communities, so local stuff was out, at least specific to a particular city or neighborhood. And it struck me, helped along by feedback, that a lot of readers weren’t all that interested in my view on presidential races or national issues, so I mostly stuck with the original concept of the column: My world, seen through my window, filtered through my own near-sighted prism.

You can only do this so long, I think. As I approach my 15th anniversary, I’ve been curating all of those columns, considering gathering a good deal of them into one book, although I’m still unclear about how. A serious of five or six columns, for example, covering my thoughts on being the father of a young woman, from the time she was 16 until 31 and a mother herself, make a nice time-compressed story, but how many times can I walk to that well?

On the other hand, these things get published, read, and forgotten. It’s like writing new material, and I’m just basically collating. It might work.

I also don’t know what to do about audio books. Lots of people like them, and I’d love to do them, but I finally figured out that I’ll need to rent studio space just to get decent audio, and I don’t have the funds. Maybe a Kickstarter? I could do it for maybe $5000-7000, with most contributors getting their money back in terms of free audio books and other things. The world has options; the options are sometimes dicey.

And then there’s the small novel, a light mystery set in my region and involving a decades-old crime, that I started five years ago, just a chapter or two to see if I could actually write fiction. The whole thing is outlined now, and I see no reason not to give it a shot, but there are lots of novels.

This is my conundrum, then. I can be a comfort columnist, hanging in there until the newsprint dries up in a few years, or I can go on for weeks about how Donald Trump is the antichrist. It’s not a great choice. None of it is going to solve my existential question, which is how I dumped certain dreams in my 20s for reasons that seem logical but may have just been fear, and the opportunities that rose up got missed, or screwed up, somehow. I can’t seem to make any money doing this, and at some point I gravitated toward this odd way of earning a living. I can’t do it.

But back to 2016. It’s not like I’m not aware. I reject the lesser of two evils argument, every year, because (1) most of my presidential votes have been multiple-choice ones, just preferring one candidate over the other. I’ve been excited about elections, mostly when I was younger, and only a couple of times have I been truly enthused about a candidate. The rest of the time, just look at what I see and hear, run my personal opinions through a wringer of solid journalism and the occasional outlier, and cast a vote. Hope for the best.

And then there’s (2) the fact that I rarely see a human being, much less a president or candidate, who seems evil. Sometimes presidents do evil things: Our last two have killed many people on their orders, some of whom were serious enemies and this is a war, and a lot of civilians who were in the wrong place. There’s an argument to call that evil, in a purely moral sense, although I guess I land on a more nuanced viewpoint, which is that I don’t have enough information.

I don’t believe Donald Trump is evil. I actually don’t know what he believes, if anything other than in his own accomplishments. It’s distasteful, maybe, but that doesn’t make him a racist or a white supremacist or just an overall bigot.

I mean, I suspect he’s some of the above, but it’s the crowd he plays to. That stuff, that’s where evil starts to work. Big crowd, angered by their lot in life, wishing for a strong man who promises their jobs will return and those scary black folks will be stopped and frisked and so on. It’s ugly.

I don’t really know what Hillary Clinton might do as president, but it’s not a hard vote. I’m not all that enthused, but I don’t worry. It’s an easy vote, and in an easy state: Overwhelmed by our big cities on the west, Washington will go blue, even if a large part of it is essentially red.

So not much to say about that. Maybe one day, before the election, just to get it off my chest, but really, haven’t we read enough? Those of us who pay attention, maybe a little too compulsively, have pretty much what we need. The rest is up to our flawed candidates, and more importantly to the down-ticket races and the local decisions. It’s closer and more personal.

And it’s still possible that I’ll hang up my shingle, give up the weekly sentence structure that doesn’t say all that much, and mostly about me. There is probably enough about me.

The novel looks better every day. I may keep you posted.

Continue Reading

Alexa The Great

My son bought me an Amazon Echo last Christmas, which still seems to me the most perfect gift: It’s something I can’t imagine buying for myself, and if I had it would have been a disappointment. I use very little of its many tricks and functions, mostly just idly asking “Alexa, what’s the temperature?” or “Alexa, play some James Taylor.” That stuff it does, and it’s fun and kind of cute and kind of creepy. It’s an audio-capture device that’s always on, waiting for me to say the magic word, which means I’ve voluntarily installed a listening device in my home that’s connected to my own network and, of course, the internet. And I’m a guy who has a piece of electrical tape over his laptop camera, just in case.

On the other hand, there’s only so much paranoia I’m willing to encourage. And I do like me some James Taylor.

I’ll also note that it’s a very nice speaker, similar to my wife’s Bose, and it’s got Bluetooth capability, so I can always shoot a podcast or song from my phone over to the big boy. Really nice speaker.

As compared to my computer speakers, which were worthless and bulky, and which I finally moved over to the television, since I can’t hear a damn thing anyway. And I don’t need to listen to anything on my computer. Until I do. And then the tinny built-in speaker suffices.

But no. I get these ideas, you know. After my upgrade a couple of weeks ago and all the hands-on time it took for me to get this old machine back up to speed, I started thinking about that Echo. A $6 Bluetooth USB dongle was all it took, and so now I also have a very nice PC speaker. Which I rarely use.

I know what’s going on here. I’m trying to feng shui myself back into a better place. Summer is lingering here but it’s obvious that this year isn’t going to be any different: Temperatures will go down, sunlight will decrease, clouds will roll in, wind will pick up – I’m talking about November, in case I wasn’t clear, and November is not my favorite time of year here in the lovely Pacific Northwest, not by a long shot.

I’ll be honest, and I usually am: The future is looking a little vague. Content is king these days, but quality seems to be somewhere down the chain of command, and I’m not producing quality at any rate. I can’t write without relying on hackneyed phrases and structure I’ve called on for 15 years. There’s something I can do about this, something I’ve done before, but I can’t remember now what it is.

But hey. I’ve got an Amazon Echo and James. Something’s bound to work out.

1457103557183

Continue Reading

Everything’s Fine

The conceit, which doesn’t show up so much anymore, given the current nature of blogging, is that readers are constantly rechecking and refreshing blog pages, waiting desperately for news, and then the blogger – after months, maybe years – starts off with, “Sorry I haven’t posted for a while…”

So we used to snicker at this, back in the day. You stop blogging, we stop paying attention. At least those who don’t use some sort of RSS feeder, ancient technology that still works pretty much as it always did. If you blog once every 18 months, when you do I’ll see it. Assuming I follow. And I do follow a few. Liz. Phil. Melodee. A few others, people I’ve read for years and have pretty much dropped out, but occasionally post. I’ve got your back.

So I’ll try to avoid assuming that anxious readers are waiting. Still, I wanted to say a few things, since analytics tell me I get anywhere from 30 to several hundred hits a day. I don’t know what that’s about, but whatevs.

Look: I’m doing fine. My year of not eating that ended last March, scaring the crap out of me and worrying my doctor and some friends, has resolved the way I imagined. I figured it would be hard to gain weight, and if lucky I would push that number from the mid-150s to around 170, if lucky, by September.

And here we are, and I did. So cross that off.

Exercise never picked up, but fall always inspires me and my endurance seems pretty much the same. I could head off today for an eight-mile hike up and down hills and feel fine.

The rest? Too much to write about at the moment. I’m drastically underemployed and at 58, I’m not sure what to do about that other than bagging groceries. Which is respectful and useful but, you know. Hard on the psyche.

At any rate, mood is fine, energy is pretty good, no ailments to speak of (fell a couple of feet off of a ladder and got sore for a couple of days, but all good now). My son is making huge strides into the adulthood that has been delayed for so long.

I just can’t write. I don’t know what that’s about. There are things to write, probably not anything that will solve my financial issues but dammit, just write. I’m not blocked as much as…OK, maybe blocked. I’ve just never been this way so terminology confuses me.

But I’ve learned two things, one of which I knew and the other of which I should have. In order to write, I need to write. And in order to want to write, I need to read.

I think we’ve got ourselves a plan.

Continue Reading

There Will Be Mud

(This week’s column)

I’m not particularly interested in this year’s general election, which is not to say that I’m uninterested. Just not particularly. That is, I pay a lot of attention to it. I just don’t feel compelled or even vaguely inspired to say anything about it, here or anywhere else.

Part of this has to do with the nature of this year’s presidential race. Part of it has to do with the democratic nature of opinion in our current culture, in which thoughtful and informed voices are drowned out by status updates from people we knew in high school. Going on Facebook these days is like getting stuck at a traffic light behind a car with an obnoxious bumper sticker. Sometimes the better part of valor is looking away.

One of those thoughtful and informed voices belongs to John Dickerson, the former White House correspondent for Time magazine and now political director for CBS News, who hosts “Face the Nation” and comes by it naturally. His mother was Nancy Dickerson, the first female correspondent for CBS (and the first woman in broadcast history to report from a convention floor).

Dickerson wrote a book about his mother, who passed away in 1997, called “On The Trail,” and a couple of years ago he began a podcast, “Whistlestop,” in which he passed along a passion for stories from presidential campaign history.

This is a passion I share, which is why I listened and why I bought his new book, “Whistlestop,” which expands his podcast and adds a few special moments. If you’re interested in politics and/or American history, and you’re looking for something to get that bad taste of the 2016 race out of your mouth, I highly recommend it.

“The only thing new in the world,” Harry Truman once said, “is the history you don’t know.” This is the mission statement for “Whistlestop,” which manages to entertain as well as educate. If you’re appalled with the tone of this year’s election, it might be a little cheery to read about the election of 1840. Or 1828. Or 1964. We’ve been here before, which is what Mr. Truman and Mr. Dickerson both understand.

If Dickerson’s interest in political history was inspired by his mother’s profession (I have no idea), my inspiration came from a slightly different source but still traceable. As soon as I could read, books became easy birthday and Christmas gifts, and some of those books were about history. I practically memorized young-reader biographies of our presidents, and television helped: One of my early favorites was “Daniel Boone,” which began the year I learned to read and took place around the time of the American Revolution. I was hooked.

And while I’m certainly not qualified to write a book about American history, that hasn’t stopped me from boring anyone who is unfortunate enough to be in the same room and too polite to jump out the nearest window.

Take the election of 1840, which Dickerson describes in wonderful, quirky detail in the chapter, “The Birth of Umbrage.” It was the first time a presidential candidate actively campaigned, for one thing; this was William Henry Harrison, who easily beat the incumbent, Martin Van Buren (it helped that the country was in its first major economic downturn, and that Van Buren was viewed much as Herbert Hoover would be almost a century later, indifferent and uncaring). But that was only the beginning.

Harrison was the oldest president elected up to that point (age 68 years and 23 days at inauguration), a record that would last another 140 years. He gave the longest inaugural address ever, at just under 2 hours. He was the first (there were two) Whig to be elected. He was the first president to die in office and served the shortest amount of time (30 days, 12 hours, 30 minutes). He was also the last President born a British subject (in 1773).

In 1820, James Monroe ran for a second term as president unopposed, the only time (after George Washington) that’s happened in our history. In 1872, President Grant’s opposition was a fellow Republican, newspaper editor Horace “Go West, young man” Greeley, who was not only nominated by a splinter party calling themselves Liberal Republicans but also by the Democrats. It was the first time a candidate had been nominated by two different parties.

Greeley had only briefly served as a congressman before running, but then Lincoln only had one two-year term in the House on his resume before he was elected president. Prior to 2016, the last time a major party nominated someone with no political experience at all was in 1944, when businessman Wendell Wilkie came out of left field to snag the GOP nod.

And if you think that 2016 is particularly nasty, take a look at the election of 1800, when two Founding Fathers, the incumbent John Adams and his former vice-president, Thomas Jefferson, slogged through the mud, spurred on by a press that had no illusions, and certainly presented none, of objectivity; Dickerson covers this in his chapter, “Keep Your Attack Dog Fed.” You should read it.

You should read the whole book, or at least if you’re looking for solace. This is who we are, and who we’ve always been, and still we’ve managed to peacefully transition for over two centuries, ugliness and all. As Mr. Truman might have said, everything old is new again. Just wipe your feet when you’re through.

johndickerson-whistlestop

Continue Reading

Starting Over, Staying The Same

I know people who probably sit down at a keyboard in front of a monitor so seldom that we might as well say never. Phones and tablets all the way down, baby. It’s a mobile world.

These people are all much younger than I am. And none of them spend much time writing, which is stressful and slams the door on most creative impulses when I try to do it on an iPad Mini, which is all I’ve got. Even with a Bluetooth keyboard.

So I get it. If I can travel without my laptop, I’ll gladly skip the extra bag, cram my clothes into a backpack that fits under the seat in front of me and go all millennial on the world, but I miss it. I miss the big screen, leaning back in my chair with a mouse on my lap and reading from a distance. This is a habit that’s been baked in for decades now, and I don’t mind.

This makes me electronically vulnerable, and everyone who knows me well gets it, because when I have computer problems then I make sure everyone shares the pain. I behave pretty much exactly as a chain smoker does when sitting on the tarmac for six hours before a crosscountry flight. I get a little snippy.

Five years ago my laptop died at a bad time, although I’d seen it coming. It sometimes took multiple efforts to get it booted up, which I thought I’d traced to the CMOS battery, which takes a pro to replace and even then. If you don’t know what you’re doing, it won’t end well.

At any rate, it was like the old joke about the hunter whose companion suffers a heart attack. He calls 911 and tells them his friend has collapsed and died. “First, make sure he’s dead,” the operator tells him, so there’s a pause on the line, he hears a gunshot, and then the hunter says, “OK, he’s dead.”

In other words, I did my own laptop repair and made sure it was dead. But after I bought a new one. No pressure. Won’t do it again.

I bought the cheapest acceptable PC I could find at Best Buy on a holiday weekend, losing money for every hour I spent getting back to business. Even with an intact hard drive on the old one, which saved me a lot of time moving files, and a healthy backup regimen to ensure that no surprises showed up, it took me 10 hours to get everything put together the way I needed it. I’d rather not.

And I’d definitely rather not do it again any time soon, so I’ve done my best to keep this little Lenovo humming. I swapped out the hard drive onboard for an SSD. I kept it clean, using every piece of software I could find that had good reviews from people I trust. When three years passed I figured I was living on borrowed time, so I got aggressive.

Here we are. A fan blows directly into the vent and is on all the time, keeping things cool, and my backup layers are maybe too redundant but it’ll do.

And I’m on my third operating system, moving up from Windows 7 through the 8 iterations and now smoothly into Win 10, none of which slowed me down and all of which seem to be an improvement in terms of speed and safety.

When the anniversary update for Windows 10 came out a few months ago, it automatically downloaded and installed, leaving me with a slightly different UI and no internet access. I rolled back the update and postponed it, finding out that this was a problem with my network adaptor and that I wasn’t alone.

I tried it again last week, hoping (I guess) that the issue was fixed. It wasn’t, and after over an hour of upgrading I was left disconnected, and for a while unable to even log into the computer to roll it back until John solved that problem but not the next one: Even after the rollback, and even after I loaded a disk image from three weeks ago, I had no internet. Hmm.

The solution turned out to be almost as easy as turning it off and back on again. I just deleted the adaptor and its driver, then rebooted. The PC automatically reinstalled the adaptor and voila.

I welcome Labor Day, then, and salute the Lenovo folks and me. Together we’ve kept a $300 computer machine from biting the dust, and there’s no snippiness from me. I’m still living on borrowed time. They just keep raising my limit, and I keep taking it.

2be554bd78241167d613fe4ef01addea

Continue Reading