Tuesday, October 03, 2017

The Petty Season

My heart sank when I saw Tom Petty and RIP was trending on Twitter. But my infant son was crying, so off I went. Even later, quietly talking with my wife over the little guy's snoozing head, about how much the man's music has meant to me, I hadn't really taken it in. But seeing confirmation a few minutes ago has done it: a proper gut punch; it's still a ball there as I write.

I wasn't OG Heartbreakers or anything. As far as music goes, if it wasn't on the blandest radio stations, I didn't hear it. That's my childhood writ large, when it comes to entertainment: my brother and I would get to rent a VCR on our birthday, but other than that, it was the dozen or so channels of terrestrial TV and the radio. Then, when I was 15, we got cable! Muchmusic blew my mind! And one of the many tunes that grabbed me was I Won't Back Down by Tom Petty.

And I think it was probably after Into The Great Wide Open, one birthday, my favourite uncle bought me three cassettes: Damn The Torpedoes..., Pack Up The Plantation Live!, and Southern Accents. I've gotta be honest: I wasn't thrilled. The sound was different. But I kept playin' them, out of politeness more than curiosity, to begin with. And while Free Fallin' was still king of my Walkman, Damn The Torpedoes..., in particular, started creepin' up the play count. And then I bought the whole back catalogue.

Free Fallin' and Wildflowers got the most plays over the years, I'd say. I sunk a lot of time into Playback too. But it was more than that. Tom Petty got me into Bob Dylan (I know, I know), Jeff Lynne... The Travellin' Wilburys' first album is still one of my favourites, period. I didn't keep up with catalogue, to be honest, but it was all on my wish list. Even at Petty's cheesiest, I found joy.

And there was more to come. I just keep thinking 66 is way too soon. It feels like I've been thinking that for ages: we lost my wife's dad to cancer this year. He was 66, and so excited to be a grandfather. You can't help but think about how short our time is. My 20s seem like yesterday. I know I'll be 60 in the blink of an eye. I read a quote last night about how it can help new parents to think of their life in terms of seasons. Without a doubt, the soundtrack to the season of my youth would be full of Tom Petty.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

On history and reverence

I had planned to write a post questioning the wisdom of removing the statue of General Robert E. Lee from Charlottesville, Virginia. While I thought I understood the motives behind it, the whole enterprise struck me as wrong-headed; the energy could be better spent, was to be my sentiment. (Plus, I'd loved the Dukes of Hazzard as a kid!)

I've had a change of heart.

But a few hours' research has shown this latest effort by Charlottesville's City Council to be but one part of a groundswell across the American South, over many years, against all symbols of the Confederacy. I'd remembered that there was a lot of controversy around the Confederate flag about two years ago, but it was the many retailers' bans that stuck with me; and that, as erring on the safe side, for sales. What I didn't take in, at all, was the public sentiment against the flag, particularly amongst black, and more educated white, Americans in the South.1 And now reading about locals avoiding, not only the vicinity of these monuments, but also parks bearing the prominent names2... It strikes a chord.

The Mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, was quoted referencing the decision to remove their statue of Lee:3
It's not good to continue to revere... [to] put the Confederacy on a pedestal... [And if critics of the removal don't believe that,] the people of New Orleans believe it and we don't want these statues in places of reverence, they need to be in places of remembrance.

Even if I had the hubris to rail against the wishes of the people who must live in the shadows of these monuments, that distinction -- history versus reverence -- has undone the last of my conviction. It isn't about sanitizing [America's] history,4 as Condoleeza Rice has been quoted, speaking against the removals and renamings in general: it's about acknowledgement and reconciliation, which Lee himself was a proponent of in the wake of the Civil War. In 1866, he was called to testify before the Joint Congressional Committee on Reconstruction:5

... [E]very one with whom I associate expresses kind feelings towards the freedmen. They wish to see them get on in the world, and particularly to take up some occupation for a living, and to turn their hands to some work.

It sounds to me like these communities need this.

1. Poll: Majority sees Confederate flag as Southern pride symbol, not racist, CNN, 02/07/2015.
2. People Show Support for, Opposition to Lee Statue in Charlottesville, NBC 29 WVIR, 22/03/2016.
3. New Orleans removes its final Confederate-era statue, The Guardian, 20/05/2017.
4. Condoleezza Rice on Removing Civil War Monuments: 'Sanitizing History to Make You Feel Better Is a Bad Thing', Independent Journal Review, 05/2017.
5. The Making of Robert E. Lee, Michael Fellman, 2000.

EDIT (28/08/2017): CBC published an analysis by Aaron Wherry a few days ago entitled, ANALYSIS: Should John A. Macdonald's name be removed from schools? It is at least a question worth asking: Confronting the good and the bad of Canada's first prime minister.

Initially, I'd planned to draw parallels to the situation in Canada in this post; these sentiments were similarly uninformed, unsurprisingly. I'd actually thought, while reading about what was happening to everything bearing Lee's name and image, that, by that rationale, Sir John A.'s got to go then, for what his government did to Riel alone, never mind those awful schools. It was a sarcastic thought.

In this too, I've had a change of heart.

Quoted by Wherry, Isadore Day, Regional Chief of Ontario, actually hit a note similar to Landrieu's when he questioned the wisdom of [e]levating people to that stature. And National Chief Perry Bellegarde, quoted in an article linked in the piece, really drives the point home, for me:

How would you feel if you were a young First Nations person going to that school, knowing full well that Sir John A. Macdonald was one of the architects behind the residential school system? ... You wouldn't want to feel good about attending that school, would you? Because I wouldn't.

Be sure to teach what both the government of the day, and its official opposition, advocated regarding the Indigenous population. But leave it off the outside of the building where it's done.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Feeling good

I'm starting to feel good again. For long stretches.

I haven't felt the need to take any Amitriptyline in a long time. (I was prescribed a low dose for anxiety back in April, and I honestly don't know what I would've done without it.) I have been a bit anxious at times recently, but knowing it's there has been enough to see me through.

My mom's visiting. Nothing phases her. (She'd probably laugh to read that.) That wasn't always the case, believe me. I don't know when that started to change, but I actually found it upsetting, initially. I would find myself goading her, trying to get a reaction. Psychotherapy helped me reframe that. Now I just ask more and more pointed questions. She'll probably tell me to piss off at some point, but, in the meantime, it's, well, very liberating, frankly.

I've been lucky enough to get a large chunk of psychotherapy sessions through the NHS. If I'm honest, I was more than a bit skeptical at the outset. But I gave it my best shot. Where I'd sunk to... Well, there'd be no getting out on my own, I knew that. And I think it was in the third session that I had what I'd legitimately call a break-through. Since then -- and that was probably almost two months ago now -- I've been able to think about my anxiety, my rage, my hurt, in a different way. And I know I'm fortunate, to have this opportunity, to be sharing my life with a woman whose vows have been sorely tested too soon.

Talking with both my parents has also really helped. I still find this so surprising. This can't be the first time their counsel has done so, but I'll be damned if I can remember anything like this, sitting here now. I'm lucky they're both still alive to give it.

I walked up to the Painswick Beacon today with a new meetup. The views were breathtaking. And having my boy warm against my chest made it so much more special, daydreaming of him running off ahead, like the other kids were. Two six-year-old girls caught my attention: they were thick as thieves; yet they'd only met an hour before. I had to ask one of the mums twice; I could hardly fathom it. I'm looking forward to that too.

I want to help people again. Not like I used to -- I doubt I'll ever be able to throw so much of me into that again -- but I do want to do it. I'm getting excited about Tandemonium again, where, six months ago I was a hair's breadth from adding it to the half dozen resignations of that awful, awful weekend.

That seems like a long time ago now.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

To my shame, Brexit and the Idiot Platform

I spent a coach journey home in Radiotopia, listening to Benjamen Walker's Theory of Everything and Love+Radio; specifically, The Future, Platform of the Real, and The Silver Dollar. In Platform of the Real, John Herrman refers to sites like Facebook as platforms, and, as the episode closes, says they're now the venue for culture - it's a nuanced point, detailing the changing relationship between creators, the media industry and audiences, but it was that simple statement that struck me, and, as the title of this post states, shamed me.

For the past two mornings, I'd been wallowing, laying in bed, scrolling through Facebook on my phone, sinking lower and lower. Where normally there'd be a stream of banality and babies, the algorithm was now full-on Brexit. But, disturbingly -- though, unsurprisingly -- it was populated by the more reserved of my 'friends', being anything but; the anguish, regrets, and pledges for the future were hard to read, reflecting much of what I'd been dealing with since Friday morning.

We were staying with friends in London this weekend, in close quarters, and the scenario of us all on phones, "Did you read this?" "Yes, did you see that?" between rooms, all on the platform, just exacerbated these feelings, from my point of view.

Then I cracked. Lamenting to those around me wasn't enough.

I too shouted at the void.

I had posted late Thursday, blandly, reliving the horror of that other recent election night, sick with it afresh, and, in retrospect, assured that tomorrow would see the sun rise on the status quo. Now, I attempted to redact that with fresh sentiments, in one of those posts of a few lines that takes an hour to write, such is glut of things to say, that no words can keep up with the inner diatribe.

And then I got called out. From another circle, outside the EU, importantly. Nothing awful; just a question: what's the matter with you?

I felt embarrassed. What was the matter with me? I needed to get a grip. I'd listened to BBC Radio 4's More or Less five-part program on the referendum on the coach trip to London. I knew it wouldn't be the end of the world. And yet I was one of those people. And others -- many others! -- had seen. And, worse still, as I tried to justify myself -- both the initial statement, and subsequent shout -- the enormity of my ignorance began to sink in. The frequency with which I consume traditional news sources has been dropping for years, but I looked upon the current state of my knowledge with fresh, ashamed eyes.

Loathe though I was to admit it, the platform was my culture. I was one of them. To be summed up by one hardly-insightful statement on a podcast. And, even more disturbing, many of the people I respect were doing the very same thing, from a more informed position, undoubtedly, but there just the same.

As I listened to the rest of Platform of the Real, this sense of dread, about the future of media in particular, started to take hold. It seemed to be a problem slipping beyond the control of any of the traditional checks and balances. Then my mind drifted back to The Future, and, referring to the mid 2000s, what they called the Rise of the Idiot. I could see post after post in a gallery someone had shared that morning: absolute vitriol, and in the real world as well, with people sharing their coming face-to-face with hate, just days after what many now clearly see as a mandate to hate.

And how can we safely oppose them? Daryl Davis, interviewed for The Silver Dollar, recounted unquestionably-great successes by, one on one, giving people a platform to be heard, and replying in measured tones, over time. But that was a long time ago, and this Rise of the Idiot seems a problem on an entirely different scale. What to do, in the face of this mob? I too want to stand beside my friends in a pledge to do more, but feel woefully ill-informed and awash in the hate.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Potential versus fame, or Be all that you can be versus Be more of a somebody

I just finished listening to Episode #9 of Millennial, entitled "Becoming More of a Somebody" and it's brought up a lot of conflicting emotions. Right at the top of them is that this is the sort of thinking that comes from growing up believing that you can do anything, which seems so much more prevalent today than it was in the 80s. (Which is the broadest of generalisations, I realise. I feel like stereotypes were so strong back then, with real power.) I found myself thinking that Lee, one of the three awarded the much-sought-after Kroc Fellowship, got it because he'd done something else; that NPR didn't want another enthusiastic, but -- in terms of varied walks of life and work -- inexperienced voice on the radio. Lee'd taught. Maybe something in his pitch or his approach was new to them, and they liked it.

The idea that everyone is a somebody is something I live now, every day. Working for a SEN charity, it's a given. What follows from that is helping people reach their potential - another phrase I don't think I really understood before seeing how people can be beaten down, through actions and words, obviously, but also through simple assumptions, to the point where they don't even know what they're really capable of, let alone believing they can achieve it. So you're helping them recognise and reach for that, and, ultimately, hoping they'll find a place in a community, and some happiness.

But it can also be a crippling idea.

For years I didn't have any strong feelings about what I wanted to do. I chose Computer Science as a field in my last year of high school, and accepted the first position I was offered upon graduating. I was earning good money in a stable job before I really had time to worry about it; something that the Millennial podcast has helped me appreciate, in retrospect. But that lack of strong feeling persisted, and then the "Be Somebody!" platform of the Internet arrived. Things like Geocities were almost exclusively soapboxes. And that's the danger I'm referring to. For me -- and Megan Tan obviously, given the title of that episode -- being somebody meant being somebody with something to say, and recognised as such; someone to stand out from the crowd; that there are somebodies and then there are SOMEBODIES, which, while obviously a contradiction, I found insidious.

It's the wanting to have something to say, wanting that creative spark, that put me in such a quandary for so many years. I was taking vocational tests, worrying about the colour of my parachute, searching for my passion, for my 'thing'. (Unfortunately, I didn't actually try anything, like joining clubs or volunteering my time.) I think a big part of why much of that has quieted in recent years is that I've finally come to realise that life isn't just about creating. It's also about doing; about, well, living. (Call it living by example if you want, although that makes me feel a bit uncomfortable, like I'm in church again.) For example, just by being there for someone, every day, or even once a week, gets that message across, that they're somebody, in a way that I could never express through essay, poem, short film, etc. And it gets played back to you, of course: I know I'm somebody because I see it in the faces of the people I help, the people I love. I don't know why it took me so long to understand that. Likely, it's that I wasn't doing enough, to get that positive reinforcement.

And it isn't that I'm now free from doubt. After listening to an episode like that, I'm still going down rabbit-holes: "I've experienced so much," "I could bring so much to a radio show," "What should I create?" And then I laugh and hop on my blog.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Moments in Henley-on-Thames

Lost in heartache? Immerse yourself in art. It's cliché, but I was reminded of that advice last week while in Henley-on-Thames. I had a few days off, and spent much of it on that stretch of the Thames Path, and in the River & Rowing Museum.

As I recall, the advice suggests that such exposure will lead one to the inevitable conclusion that human suffering is ubiquitous, and, importantly, survivable. What came to mind, after exploring some of Hockney's works, and reading Murakami's focused memoir, was how a more general sense of connectedness and wonderment can also come from those sorts of moments.

David Hockney: from the beginning takes up but one room in the River & Rowing Museum, and, at first glance, didn't seem like much. Close to three hours later, I left, my head abuzz. From the collection highlighting his fascination with water to his narrating footage of his creating an etching and having it printed, I found the selections absorbing and compelling. My favourite was A Bigger Splash (1973) - all 105 minutes of it, and worth every one. I loved its pace and simplicity, and the way his works came alive in it - the live-action mirroring of The Room and Beverly Hills Housewife, for example, and growth of Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures). And to think that all this was created when my parents were in the prime of their youth. I can't explain why that thought kept circling my head. It was all so vibrant, crackling with an energy all the more apparent in the measured stillness; in a word, it felt modern.

And the day before, I'd spied a tantalising, stylised road to the horizon on the cover of a Vintage edition of Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running on a rack in the bigger Oxfam shop in Henley. Walking the Thames Path, listening to the wildfowl, and the terse instructions from a coach astride a bicycle - gosh, that's awkward... Cycling coach doesn't work... Nor does becycled coach, I'm sad to say - to his rowing student, as they both easily outpaced me in a matter of moments, I was reminded of Murakami's joy in running without music. As he comments, one can't help but feel privileged - in my case, as I looked out over patchwork sunlight on the distant marsh. And, simply put, it's inherently uplifting to read about someone harnessing that much energy - both physical and mental - particularly at the age Murakami is writing about (and at the age I'm reading it!).

In summary, I'd hoped that the opportunity for a few days away in a new place would be a short vacation of sorts, and, between the outstanding weather, beautiful surroundings and chance encounters with art, came away with so much more.

Friday, January 29, 2016

I think I've got the care bug...

What's happened to me? I'm honestly unsure. I got back from a 3-11pm shift last night completely charged up. And then today I wrote the organiser of a work trip in March - to take students to a Cardiff Devils' game! - about the possibility of helping out - despite the fact that it's a 4pm-midnight shift, and I'm already down for an 8am-3pm shift that day. Whether I'd regret it on the day is an open question, but that I'm even contemplating it... It's, well, mind-boggling.

I'm completely unused to thinking about work this way.

And it isn't just work. More generally, I find myself wishing I had more time to volunteer. There are so many great organisations and causes right here in Gloucestershire, like The Butterfly Garden, that I still haven't given time to. And I do still have some free time. But, the thing is, I know myself: I need time to recoup; otherwise, those folks I'm trying to help simply won't get my best. I'm hoping my stamina will increase as I get used to this lifestyle, but the fact is that I've spent decades sitting around at work, and then at home on my own pursuits; it's a work in progress.

Then there's other time that is free, to a point. But those evenings - and every second weekend - are, well, really important to me. I've made a lot of mistakes in my personal life, but if I had to pin down the biggest, it'd be failing to properly invest in my relationships. Back then, it wasn't about any causes I was supporting - it shames me to say that, up until a few years ago, I was living entirely selfishly - but that tension is the same; and I don't want to lose sight of what's most important to me, hands down.

Phew. That got a bit heavy. Sorry 'bout that.

Another concern is that my current roster of charities really represent squeaky wheels, of a sort. In a nutshell, they responded quickly and often to my early offers of help. They're all great, and so I'm now struggling with the idea that I should probably step back from a few - particularly some of the weekly commitments - so that I can devote time to other causes. It's particularly difficult because the motivation is mostly selfish: I want to try new things. I landed my current job that way, and a big part of me wonders what else is out there that I might like and be good at; it'll likely be related to social care, but, my goodness, what a breadth of roles that covers, even with my limited understanding.

In summary, I need to either a) prioritise where I really want to help, or b) get my mind and body fit, so I can spend those days off more effectively, or c) clone myself... Or d) all of the above.