Thursday, February 17, 2011

Collectively we stand

Not much going on here this week, just good old democracy in action.

Whatever the outcome of the governor's harsh and sneakily swift attempt to bust up Wisconsin's unions, this week has been a living, breathing history lesson.  I'm "the man" now so it's been off to work for me every morning.  But as the sun came up Wednesday and I headed out, I whispered in their sleepy ears that watching bad TV all day would be a poor tribute to their teachers and to freedom.  But they were on it long before I said anything, via Facebook and Twitter.  Students at both high schools had amassed virtually on Tuesday night to plan their march to the Capitol.  They arranged rides, assembled at appointed locations, made clever signs and marched peacefully with teachers, friends and strangers to the Capitol to participate in a sit-in, chanting "Kill the Bill!"   Gyros and ice cream and a bit of State Street shopping also turned out to be part of the plan as the unusually warm weather this week has created a festival atmosphere.  Lost mittens and frozen fingers have not been a part of the peaceful demonstrations.

War paint still visible
After two days of protests, their feet are tired and their minds are truly engaged in the world outside the walls of their high school.  They've been watching the news from Cairo.  Even with the distractions of Bieber fever and impending spring training, the power to the people part of democracy has penetrated the teen consciousness.  And Governor Walker doesn't seem like a very democratic guy to them or me this week.

At minimum, they come away knowing the name of Wisconsin's governor and about their right to freely assemble and that's definitely more than I knew about the government when I was their age.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

we were just kids

My bedside table reading is Patty Smith's biography, Just Kids, about her life with Robert Mapplethorpe.  Almost frighteningly exposed in the world, she and Mapplethorpe stumbled through late teenage life together in NYC in the early seventies without food, money or places to sleep, but with an abiding dependence on one another in the feral vulnerability and intimacy of stray kittens.  The book is surprisingly detailed given the many years that have passed, maybe because it describes a time in life when we all are still made of clay--malleable, changeable, able to fold all sorts of things in to ourselves--and the experiences of that time remain vivid because they are actually part of us.  And as artists, Smith's and Mapplethorpe's influences on one another were profound and tangible.  I reflect deeply on this as I now face walking in this world without my childhood friend, Karen, who passed away unexpectedly last week.

Travel (never together, as it turned out) was so much a part of our lives and reminscences, so I imagined myself this past week standing alone on a train platform holding a suitcase full of comically poor decisions and thousands of random memories, inside jokes and stories over countless days and years spent together.  What am I supposed to do with this suitcase now?  It's too heavy to carry by myself.  I'm surprised how vulnerable I feel.  There was obviously more dependence for me than I realized and I think she was in touch with that fact more than I was. She was an authority about me.  She knew me long before my internal Captain Picard issued the order for shields up.   She was the friend that sat with me the night before my wedding and asked the bold best-friend question, "...are you sure?" (I was), she was the friend who didn't pooh-pooh my insecurities and without judgment or drama told me to get over myself lots of times, she was the friend who held my parents accountable for their crap because she was there, too.  In summary, she was one of those friends who probably cared more about me than I care to care about myself.

I was the jester over our life together and I loved the sport of undoing her against her will.   I would pepper her like a pitching machine on its highest setting, throwing jokey balls relentlessly until she succumbed to my comedic strong arm.  She would tell me to stop and try to get us back on track with whatever we were doing, or discussing, but I was relentless because it was simply fun to make her dissolve into laughter.  We spent thousands of hours alone together for good or bad of the universe.  We ate our weights in raw cookie dough and tore up the Franklin Institute more than any two kids in Philadelphia.  As young adults we crossed paths lots and as middle-agers settled a thousand miles away from each other, we fell into the regular calls and occasional visits of adulthood.  There was certainly no danger of losing touch and it was comforting just knowing she was out there. And if there is tangible proof of her artistry in my life, it is the tapestry of friends she crafted thirty years ago, one that I still carry with me today.

What is so powerful about childhood friendship?  I have no other explanation than it has got to be love. Clearly Facebook appreciates that power and has built an empire upon it.  Is it imprinting when the brain and the heart are uncluttered? Or is it the access to a powerful filter, which gets gummed up as we age, that bypasses all the insecurity and duty and "shoulds" and bullshit that constitute too many relationships in adulthood and instead sifts and sorts for the very essence of real connection with another person?  Kids zero in efficiently, looking past failings and imperfections and even logic if it feels right.  I think some childhood friendships, romances even, are matches-made-in-heaven that get broken by mere physical distance or a perception that diverging paths means having to say goodbye.  Karen and I obviously chose to reject the conventional drifting our separate ways, but we've reached a fork in the road abruptly and I wasn't prepared.  I miss her terribly.  I'll be standing here awhile trying to figure out which way to go without her.  

Tuesday, February 1, 2011



Well, it's a blizzard.  Might as well blog it out.  So far I'm the only one still scheduled to leave the house tomorrow.  Madison schools and unbelievably the University are already closed.

different agreements are brokered at otto's...usually involving cosmos

So I've been doing a little emotional growth lately, what the hell, it's winter.  A group of roughly ten of us have met weekly for a month working together through the principles outlined in an almost too obvious self-help book called The Four Agreements.  I was dubious at first.  Really, I paid ten bucks and ventured out into the frigid night to discuss "doing my best"?  But the book has taken on a load of meaning for me both personally and professionally under the unassuming guidance of a man who felt the the four agreements held so many answers for him he wanted to share it and learn from others.  At first glance it seems simple enough to follow the four agreements: be impeccable with your word, don't take things personally, don't make assumptions and do your best.   The concepts are simple, but after a lot of thought and discussion in our group it feels to me that putting them into consistent practice takes time and thoughtful endeavor.

night falls on our neighborhood as the wind picks up tonight

I've been working on not taking things personally for a few years now.  My failing estrogen has made it a pretty dangerous slide into a carefree attitude about what others think of me, so I would say middle age has nudged this agreement into practice pretty seamlessly.  Being impeccable with my word, however, that's going to take some work.  I still do a lot of talking before thinking and as Sipowicz would reflect, I still get myself jammed up on occasion.  This agreement unfortunately bears monitoring along with that of not making assumptions...I do so enjoy judging others borne out of assumptions about motives and general characters flaws.  It will take real spiritual digging on my part to put this agreement into action.

my locust tree stands firmly at the ready
Finally, to do my best but not more than my best.  That means not feeling guilty for pushing back my chair for a long chin-wag with my office mate, reading People instead of my book before bed and swinging through McDonalds drive-thru to pick up dinner for the fam every once in awhile.  That's my best and it's better than good.