Saturday, December 31, 2016

Back To Work

Like a lot of folks, I am in a rush to finish up the calendar year 2016. There have definitely been some smiles along the way, but the thing that will stick with me about this one will be the way it felt so unfair.
I know this puts me squarely in that demographic of liberal whiners, and I understand that if I want real change I have to go out there and make it. I get just how easy it's been for the past eight years to be a snowflake. Some of us forgot how to argue for the existence of climate change. Some of us believed that there was a path toward understanding between races and cultures. It was a bumpy path, but there was no need to build a wall.
Now, all of a sudden it feels as though the wall sprang up overnight. If I am totally honest, I recognize that each brick had to be carried there and each scoop of mortar was being applied while I slept. I slept in that dreamy state of hope and change that seemed to be sweeping across our nation. All I really needed to do was check out the comment section at the bottom of just about any news story. They have been out there all this time, with an anger and fear quotient that tipped over this past year and spilled into the fabric of our lives.
The shock that we felt as we watched the electoral votes pile up for the former game show host and what he represents. I can cry and moan about the popular vote and how rigged the contest seems now, but when it all went down, I was still asleep.
Fast asleep. Dreaming of how wonderful it would be to live in a country where anyone could grow up and be president, even if they weren't a rich, white male. As it turns out, I should have been more careful about what I was wishing for, since the notion that "anyone" can become president turns out to be true. Qualifications and temperament don't seem to have a lot to do with it. A bit of a Monkey's Paw, there. I assumed everyone else felt the way I do.
Never make an assumption, my wife will remind me, since that makes an ass out of you and umption. Having those uncomfortable conversations becomes more vital than ever. Questioning policy and procedure is our job in a democracy. Waiting for our freedoms to be restored may take more patience than I have, and it may make it impossible to bring about the change that we had hoped for back in 2008. As it tuns out, that wasn't the end of a journey. It was only a beginning. 2016 was a fork in the road, and we turned right. A course correction for some, for others it felt like heading straight for the wall.
That wall somebody else is going to pay for? Don't you believe it. If they build it, help me tear it down. 2016 is over. Time to get back to work.

Friday, December 30, 2016

To Wit

My wife and I were out walking the other day, discussing the year, ruminating on what had happened to us: married folks, parents, citizens of the United States, citizens of the world. So much of what happened to the two of us here in our little corner of the planet was satisfying and unique. As my spouse declared in our annual Christmas letter, so many things that had never happened before happened to us. This is not to say that 2016 went exactly the way we would have written it up if we had control over it.
Because we don't.
It is, as the late Bill Hicks used to remind us, just a ride.
And, as the gentlemen of Firesign Theatre add, "I think we're all Bozos on this bus." We are all climbing aboard that bus headed to the future. A bunch of clowns. This is the ride we all took with no real sense about what we would do once we got there. We would make it up as we went along.
I hadn't planned on watching the Chicago Cubs play a seventh and deciding game in the World Series. I hadn't planned on getting a phone call from my son telling me that his friend's truck had rolled with the two of them inside. The fact that I got the phone call was the good news. I hadn't planned on getting a kidney stone one more time, but it gave me the impetus to figure out that all that Coca-Cola was bringing the pain.
I did plan on taking my family to Yosemite. I did plan on returning to that same elementary school for yet another round of elementary school teaching. I did plan on visiting our son in his new home away from home. I did plan on building a fence with my son when he came back to visit for the summer.
I didn't plan on missing the chance to elect our country's first woman president. I didn't plan on turning over the reins of the country to a man who issues his mandates through his Twitter account. I didn't plan on each new day bringing a new, confounding pronouncement from the Tower. I didn't plan on the disappointment.
That may have been short-sighted on my part. Each year packs in plenty of disappointment. Plenty of joy comes along with it. Picking out the bright spots amid the dreck is part of the reckoning.
To wit: 2016.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Droids

My very good friend asked me what episode Rogue One would be in the saga of a galaxy far, far away. I considered this for a time and then replied, "Three point seven five." This still leaves space for an additional account of the events that took place between the time that the Rebels received the plans for the Death Star and the moment at which Princess Leia's ship was boarded by Darth Vader. Is there a story in there somewhere? If there is, would it be worth telling it?
I believe we have Tom Stoppard to thank for this current wave of reboots and stand-alone bits of stories that have, for the most part, already been told. He took a pair of little-seen characters from Hamlet and turned them loose on their own journey, even though they were fated to meet their demise at the hands of bloodthirsty pirates. Wait. Pirates? There were pirates in Hamlet? I would have paid more attention if I had known that all that moping around that dank castle would lead to some action eventually.
Which brings me back around to Star Wars, and the eternal problem of the "prequels." The story of trade embargoes and a young Anakin Skywalker was probably worth the energy of one film, not three. It also destroyed the careers of Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christensen. I can imagine that once upon a time those guys looked at the careers of Harrison Ford and even Mark Hamill, dreaming of the days they would spend sitting at Sci-Fi convention tables smiling and scribbling their names for an adoring public. That didn't happen. Their fates were more aligned with those of the independent contractors who were working on the second Death Star. That's a story.
Which brings me to the next point on this merry adventure, where my mother-in-law was dutifully catching up on her film history by watching the original King Kong. At one point, she may have dozed off, and when she awoke, there was Kong, chained to that big scaffold on a New York stage. She remembered seeing all that fuss on Skull Island, with Carl Denham and his crew of adventurers taking down the Eighth Wonder Of The World with gas bombs, but couldn't remember how they got from there to Broadway.
The story of how that group of men and one very traumatized woman managed to lash together a raft big enough to float them and that big ape back to their ship is a curious one to me. Did they engage the help of any of the native population of Skull Island? Were those natives happy to be rid of the terror behind the wall, or were there some who felt that they were being robbed of their heritage? And just who was in charge of keeping that twenty-foot tall gorilla asleep while everyone else was scurrying about looking for logs and vines of the proper length and tensile strength? Did anyone decide to stick around the island and enjoy the hospitality of the locals?
So many questions, so few answers. After that, I'd like to see how the custodial crew at the Empire State Building handled the aftermath.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Death Takes A Holiday

"We all die in threes." That's a line from the Green Day song, "Somewhere Now." It is a sentiment that has been clanging around in the back of my mind for the past week or so, reminding me at once not to take spirits departing this plane so personally as well as helping me rationalize the idea that there is no real scheme to this whole dying thing. Memories of all those science fiction stories with dystopian futures where evil overlords or faceless bureaucrats decide everyone's termination date haunt me. Most of them were begun as well-intentioned attempts at population control. Where will we put all those people? What's more, where will we put all their stuff?
A cynical sort of person such as myself might sigh with relief as each new name is added to that list. Keeping track of Zsa Zsa Gabor was becoming more and more challenging as news of her continued existence was the only news that was available after she had stopped slapping cops and marrying faux royalty, it was hard to keep track of the old girl. She survived Nazis in Hungary. She lived through a checkered Hollywood career and nine marriages. She would have turned one hundred years old in 2017. And depending on how you were scoring at home, she got lumped in with Alan Thicke and Franca Sozzani. Or maybe John Glenn. Thing is, there are always more.
There is that lovely story about the American and German troops coming out of their trenches on Christmas Eve to share a little respite from killing one another. But that's more the exception than the rule. Ninety-two Russians went to heaven instead of flying to Syria this past Christmas Eve. Twelve shoppers in a Berlin market did not get to celebrate the holidays on earth this year. They all died in threes. They all died. And the hits keep coming: Wham - George Michael. Princess Leia will only be appearing digitally in future installments. Alas.
2016 has been brutal for all kinds of reasons, and it would be ridiculous to assume that 2017 will be radically different. There is no rest for the wicked. I'm looking at you, Death.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Her Place

Lucy won't be with us when we come back from Winter Break. It won't be the same playground without her. Not that anything awful or bad has happened to her. She's moving on to another school where she will complete her first grade year and whatever happens after that. As is the case with so much of our population, we don't always finish with the kids we started. In the business we call this transiency. I hadn't picked Lucy to be one of those kids who wandered away, but as I said, this is the way of our world.
I hadn't picked Lucy to be one of those school-switchers for one main reason: Her older brother Evan had been with us from Kindergarten through Fifth Grade and when his little sister appeared in his last year we assumed we would probably be spending six years with her as well. They came to school with their grandmother, on a series of buses and even though they had this challenge, they both managed to show up periodically on our Perfect Attendance list. That honor was at times mitigated by the number of times Evan was sent home for incidents ranging from vandalism to fighting. Some days Evan was less ready than his grandmother was to have him be at school. He became a project for all of us, working with him to find a way to stretch his patience while we stretched our own. There were several moments last June when we felt that the village it had taken to get Evan to the promotional exercises would not be enough. Watching him cross the stage at the end made it all worthwhile.
Meanwhile, Lucy was scrambling around the school in her own flurry of petty grievances and conflicts. While she was not nearly as aggressive as her older brother, she was more of an instigator. At age five, she already had her posse, and she was not above sending one of her minions into a scrape just to see what would come of it. Part of every recess for yard supervisors, morning and lunch, was locating and tracking that little knot of girls. Fluttering back and forth from the play structure to the bathroom, every kid in their path was a potential target.
Lucy would periodically rush up to me, complaining that boys were chasing her, which was accurate from the standpoint of those boys were trying to catch up to her after being pinched, punched, poked or humiliated in some fashion by her crew. Her grandmother was generally good about listening to the list of offenses accrued by her little ray of light, but the impact of whatever discipline happened at home faded with the dawn of a new day.
There are plenty of other children on our playground who require special attention, and it might be a while before I notice a specific hole in my daily routine. When it does occur to me, I will miss her. A little. And then I will raise my eyes to scan the playground for the one who will take her place.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Thinking Outside The Box

Forty-seven years of nonproliferation can be undone in one tweet: "The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes." That twit came from President Elect Trump. Apparently for the former game show host making America Great Again means returning to a time when another Republican was in office: Richard Nixon. The Treaty on Nuclear Nonproliferation was written in 1968 and ratified in 1970. To wit, "the NPT non-nuclear-weapon states agree never to acquire nuclear weapons and the NPT nuclear-weapon states in exchange agree to share the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology and to pursue nuclear disarmament aimed at the ultimate elimination of their nuclear arsenals."
Maybe America  wasn't so great in 1970. What we call our nuclear stockpile was hovering around twenty-six thousand warheads. By 1975, that number had increased by a thousand. For fans of Mutually Assured Destruction, that was a golden year for the United States. It took the former Soviet Union another five years to catch up to, and then another five to surpass us. 
In 1990, something happened. Something many might find to be happy news. The United States' nuclear arsenal had decreased by more than half. The Russkies had only eliminated two thousand nuclear weapons. Thousands of these bombs would kill millions, turning vast regions of the planet's surface into wasteland. Fast forward to 2014, with the Cold War officially over and then some, the U.S. and Russia have about seven thousand nuclear weapons apiece. How terrifying is that? 
It would seem that this is not terrifying enough for our incipient president. “Let it be an arms race, because we will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all,” Trump said last Friday morning on Morning Joe. And just who wins an arms race? We were on our way to winning the race to disarmament, though it seems like that may be on hold for the foreseeable future. The President Elect's newly appointed counsel, Kellyanne Conway, tried to soften the blow: “In the world in which we live, which is not perfect, in fact, it’s very dangerous and very uncertain, I hope we can all agree, military might has been one of the ways to deter people from doing bad things." Thanks, now I feel better.
What about the other side? Vladimir Putin says, “If anyone is unleashing an arms race, it’s not us. We will never spend resources on an arms race that we can’t afford.” Comforted now? Sleep tight, America. We'll be great again soon.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

White Light

Up here
at the top of the world
I get letters
from kids, mostly
I read about
their wants and needs
some are cautious
some are careful
They don't want
to put more hope in me
than they would in
anyone else
But this is my job
so I read each one
and I check my list
The line between
naughty and nice
can be very thin
I try and grade
on a curve
if there's a chance
No one should
have to go
No one should
be without
If I can
I will make
it happen
No matter how many
letters I read
I wish there
were more asking
for that last one

Saturday, December 24, 2016

As It Were Unto Us A Dream

It's the end of the year, so it's time to start making lists: regrets, accomplishments, aspirations, groceries. Summing up is a messy business, and in this very messy year it is impressive that Merriam-Webster was able to pick just one word to be 2016's Word of the Year. Drum roll, please. 
I'll wait.
Okay. The Word of the Year for 2016 is surreal. How did Mister Merriam and his partner Webster determine this two syllable adjective to be worthy of representing what happened to us all over the past three hundred sixty-some days? According to them, it was picked because of the “high volume of lookups” and a “significant year-over-year increase in lookups” on their web site. The posted definition? "Marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream." Does that sound like 2016 to you? I get the intense irrational part, but the dream thing is hanging me up a bit. I tend to associate dreams with good things, like when your dreams come true it's a good thing. For many of us, the past eight years were about that. Hope and change and yes we can. But somewhere back there we slipped into a deeper sleep and things began to shift. Maybe we should have taken our cues from Prince and David Bowie and woken up when they went away. The angles are getting sharper, and the clocks are melting. What we thought we knew for certain turned out to be only a part of what was happening. There was an element of dark mystery that drove trucks into crowds and brought fear to the forefront once again. 
A presidential candidate with no prior experience with governance calls his rivals names like a playground bully and proceeds to climb to the top of his party. He surrounds himself with all manner of curious advisers and associates, many of whom share very different views about what it might take to make America great again. Wasn't America great just a few months ago? 
The person with the most votes in the presidential election did not win.
The Cubs won the World Series.
To sum up: 2016 - surreal.
Look it up. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Voices From The Past

A few mornings ago, I got encouragement from a strange place: Lance Armstrong. The seven time winner of the Tour de France. Cancer survivor. One-time paramour of Sheryl Crow. Blood doper. Stripped of those consecutive titles disgrace. Disembodied voice from my iPod. I aw being congratulated for the time and distance that I ran. It was part of a program. By whatever clever bit of manipulation, I was now being told by this former hero what a good job I had done. Hoorah.
Prior to this, I had received words of praise from Tiger Woods. Professional golfer. Admitted to Stanford. Winner of major tournaments across the globe. Admitted philanderer. Looking for his former glory. Introducing himself by his nickname, he let me know what a great job I had  been doing with my training. Both of these guys were terrific athletes, icons of their sports, and I was the recipient of their praise. Pretty heady stuff, except that they could have been talking to anyone. Anyone who opted to have their iPod keep track of their daily, weekly or monthly workouts could look forward to the same brush with  greatness each time they rang the particular bell set in place by Apple engineers some time ago.
Long enough ago that these were heroes. Now they aren't. Long ago, they and their exploits were owned by Nike. Apple and Nike were selling health and happiness as a package that came with the soundtrack called iTunes. I give them all kinds of credit for figuring out that I exercise more willingly when I listen to my favorite songs. Back in the olden days when I used to lug my old Sony Walkman cassette player around as I ran for miles and miles, I used up hundreds of double A batteries while the shock from my footfalls kept myTunes twisty and garbled. Digital music was my salvation. It would not have occurred to me to download the voices of my favorite sports legends to exhort me on. It took corporate synergy to make that happen. A decade ago, Apple and Nike did the best that they could. At the time.
Now when I run  four miles and I come in for a landing, pressing the stop button, I am told the time, distance and average pace, and those voices from the past let me know what a good job I'm doing. Nobody asked if I'd rather have Peyton Manning. That's probably extra.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Future Has Arrived

The basement door was propped open. The path to the attic was cleared. I moved our cars out and parked them on the street to make the driveway passable. This all happened as the sun was coming up. The sun was coming up and soon it would the way we made electricity in our house. After a couple decades of negotiations, discussion and false starts, we were at last ready for the installation of our solar panels. After a hundred twenty years of sitting on this spot, our house was going to get the makeover that we had only imagined when we first moved in back in 1997.
For so long, we had been told that the construction necessary to putting that kind of load on top of a structure made more than a century ago would be prohibitive, and we would be better off putting a new roof on the place before we ever considered going solar. At the same time, we were also convinced by contractors who came to look at our house that we had at least another ten to fifteen years of living below the mass of shingles and wood that had been layered on over the years. Besides, it was a steep pitch and a lot of little gables and dormers that made the whole project feel like too much work.
So we waited.
Finally, we got a call back from Solar City, with whom we had wandered down the path to the future once before. Once they had sent engineers out to look at what was in front of them, After all the work that had been done on the old girl, from the foundation to the back deck to the plywood floor we had begun in the attic, we had reached an end to our improvements. Until they called back. Apparently the sales folks had convinced the engineers that it would be worth taking another look at our house to see if there was any way to make things work.
Turns out, there was.
A partial re-roof and some advances in solar panel technology made the project possible at last. Two days before the shortest day of the year, a truck full of parts and another van filled with a specially trained installation crew appeared, and as the frost began to melt on the recently replaced shingles, work began. Soon, all that sunlight would be pouring into our house in converted current that will be used to power this blog and a hundred other electrical impulses.
Welcome to the future.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Merry Christmas (War Is Over)

Good news, true believers! The Constitution is finally on your collective side. The War Powers Act of 1973 was created to ensure that it would take the combined efforts of the Executive and Legislative branches of our government to commit our forces to conflicts across the globe. Now that these parts are now aligned in Right Thinking, we can finally win the War On Christmas!
 “When I started eighteen months ago, I told my first crowd in Wisconsin that we’re going to come back here someday and we are going to say ‘Merry Christmas’ again,”  President Elect and presumptive Cheeto Trump said on Tuesday. “Merry Christmas — so, Merry Christmas, everyone. Happy New Year, but Merry Christmas.” Whew. At last, victory on the home front. Even the current Muslim in Chief had to succumb. He ended his last news conference of his administration with the words, "Merry Christmas." Finally, the presumptive Christmas-celebrating majority in these United States will no longer have to experience those non-specific Happy Holidays. They can have so much holly and mistletoe that it will be coming out of their Santa hat covered ears. Without shame. Hallelujah! And I mean that in the most Christian way possible. 
Is this what makes America great? Again? Being able to say Merry Christmas? Again? Making room for all the other cultures and their celebrations via politically correct speech will no longer be necessary because the ruling class will now feel free to announce their pervasiveness by ignoring the rest of the world and their silly festivals and rituals. No more apologies. It's Christmas. Deal with it.
Now the rest of the culture wars will start to heat up. Making those baristas have to shout "Trump" and scribble "Merry Christmas" on all their cups at your nearest Starbucks? It's going to make that Gingerbread Latte so much more sweet. We can start celebrating the way baby Jesus made the days longer again and in his infinite baby Jesus powers brought forth the New Year. Which will no longer be called "New Year's." That will be Christmas too. All over again. Like Groundhog Day. Except it will be, you know...

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Ghosts Of Christmas Past

How many of these have we hosted? Ten? Twelve? Fifteen? The annual holiday party that has erupted in our living room for all these years happened once again on the last day of school for the calendar year, and these are some of the things that happened: Teachers gathered and started talking about students. Teachers talked about report cards that didn't get handed out because parents missed their assigned conference times. Teachers talked about how glad they were to have a couple of weeks to drift away from the day-to-day crush of expectations and joys and miseries of elementary education. Cocktails were served. There were children present. And dogs. Decorum was maintained, for the most part. Right up until the White Elephant Gift Exchange. There was a mix of practical packages of comfy blankets and ten-in-one game sets that were sprinkled lightly over the adult beverages that came in bottle sized bags and boxes. While drinking was not the primary reason for the gathering, the selection of potential presents under the tree presented a quiet subtext.
We were the survivors. We had made the trip, one more time, from late August to mid-December and we were still standing. We came together to send one another off into the holiday void with the grim understanding that it would start all over again in just a couple of weeks. We all carried with us the voice of not-so-quiet reason, the woman who runs our cafeteria, "You're gonna wake up in two weeks and it'll be like it never happened."
Which had the effect of making me think back on the last decade-plus of Holly Daze hosted at our house for wayward school employees and their families and pets. I tried to remember everyone who had made their way into my living room for the decompression that comes with Christmas Break. I tried to recall all the times we spent in front of the Karaoke screen, searching for something we could all agree was the perfect song for a group of teachers to sing at the top of their lungs when they were finally allowed to. There were those who preferred Salt 'n' Pepa to my suggestion of Styx's "Come Sail Away," but it was never taken completely seriously. There was a crew we had seven or eight years ago who would keep the ball rolling until well past our normal bedtimes. These days, there is still enough energy left in all of us to clean the kitchen before we turn in. We still have our newbies, the ones fresh out of teacher school who know how to keep up with the veterans, but they have kids who need to go home and get ready for the rest of their vacation. And we have a son who will now sit down and have a beer with our guests when he used to hide in the back room, only coming out to get a plate of food and then retreat to the relative safety of the TV and video games. He now prefers the company of adults, since he is a nascent one.
In another ten years we could have a greatest hits gathering on the occasion of my pending retirement. Get all those characters out of the past and bring them back in front of the Karaoke player one more time. Before we wake up and it's like it never happened.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Late Show

"I nerded just a little bit," This was my son's reaction to our first-nighter viewing of the latest Star Wars installment, Rogue One. He was referencing his experience of sitting in front of a movie screen full of images an ideas which he had grown up watching. He built the Lego models. He flew the ships across the living room. He battled his friends with various grades of light sabers, from cardboard tubes to the top of the line collector's model with built in sound effects. He watched the prequels on a loop while his parents were outside painting the house. He was one of those who rejoiced in the addition of a Star Wars theme to Disney's Space Mountain. He had a Clone Trooper's helmet before he was the age his father was when he got his Darth Vader mask. He read and can still readily discuss the technical manuals for all the hardware floating about a galaxy far, far away.
He was steeped in it. Hence, his nerding at the sight of a Clone Turbo Tank. And it wasn't just the machinery. There were bits of dialogue and references that made it feel just like going home. It felt to the three of us more comfortable than The Force Awakens. That was a great way to get reacquainted with the old crew, and be introduced to those who would be carrying the saga through. It was the event that thirty years of anticipation brings, and was a better way to bring things into a new generation than a story of trade embargoes. Episode VII was a space opera that had to deliver on so many expectations that it was often weighed down with its own myth.
Rogue One was built to fit inside the world where droids and Jawas and Sith Lords live. It is a war story that takes place in the stars. There are heroes and villains and sometimes it's hard to tell which is which. And there's a Death Star. Even though the events of the story are predestined by their existence within the canon, it still feels like a fresh adventure.
I sat next to my wife and son in the same configuration we occupied almost exactly a year ago when we went to that Thursday night show of VII, and I became aware that there was no number assigned to this episode. Somewhere between three and four. It was the necessary link between my Star Wars and my son's: Episode 3.5. For nerding purposes, this was definitely an upgrade.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Life Is What Happens

Each year around this time, I break out paper and pencil and do two or three cartoons with the intent of putting them on a card for my little family and one for my mother. In those hours, hunched over my desk, drawing like I did so much more back in my youth, I inevitably find myself wondering why I never found a way to turn this effort into a growing concern. In my teens, I imagined a studio where I would churn out greeting cards on demand, but not for just one or two customers. I envisioned a franchise that would eventually spin off into merchandising: bed sheets, T-shirts and breakfast cereal. My mother thought my designs were good enough to put on our Christmas card, why wouldn't I be successful in that great big world?
Well, as it turns out, there are a few dozen other folks with that very same idea. The difference between me and them would be a certain amount of motivation and willingness to promote themselves in ways that I never could. Or would. I can't say that my dreams died hard, because they were replaced with others. Some of them were more immediately realized than others. Some continue to elude me. Still, every year, that little spark comes back and I savor the glow of appreciation my mother lavishes on me and my ability to put marks on paper.
This past week, I got a big, loud connection that started to make all of this into sense. Or something like it. This time of year is also when packages begin to arrive at our door of various sizes and postmarks. Sometimes they require a phone call to confer with the sender as to the contents: gift or not? wrapped or unwrapped? secret or not? A large, flat parcel was waiting for me when I arrived home this week, from my older brother. I called for security clearance before slicing open the packing tape. I asked him if he wanted to be part of the experience, as long as I had him on the phone. He seemed interested in what I might think, so he stayed on the line.
What I found inside was a poster-sized pastel drawing of a carnival scene. I searched for a signature or a label that might tell me who was the artist. My older brother waited patiently for me to run through my incorrect assumptions. Who did this? "Your mother," came the answer.
My mother? My biggest fan? She was the creator of this object d' art? Fascinating. As my eyes rolled over the scene, filled with people engaging in all manner of carnival activities, I couldn't help wondering what the backstory was. In the lower right hand corner was a little girl who had just dropped her ice cream cone. Across the top there were half a dozen little stands, one of them labeled "Hot Dogs," all with someone leaning on the counter awaiting their next patron. Along the bottom was a young couple, taking in the sights, next to an elderly man pushing a blonde girl in a wheelchair. But my eye kept coming back to the lower left hand corner, where two young toughs were duking it out, one of whom had just been tagged hard enough for his cap to come flying off his head. All of these little vignettes played out around the centerpiece: The Octopus, an eight armed ride reaching out in all directions, tying all these little stories together.
My mother.
She drew this when she was in high school, and her mother kept it safely tucked away for all these years in a locked trunk, along with several other works that had not seen the light of day for almost two generations. I had witnessed my mother's skill with a coloring book, part of the reason I shied away from that art form. I had seen her sketches of the wildflowers that bloomed around our cabin, but I had only heard whispers about her artistic past. Hadn't she made sketches for the sections in her high school yearbook? Was she the frustrated scribbler that I was?
Once upon a time. Before she was my mom. Before she devoted her storage space to her sons' paintings and creative misadventures. Beneath all those boxes of folded and rolled paper from three different boys' public school careers were stacked on top of the bales and trunks filled with the work my grandmother saved from her little girl. My older brother was helping organize these relics when he discovered The Carnival. He had it framed and matted. He sent it to me. Now it hangs in my home, next to the paintings my younger brother has done and the paper mache masks my son created at his elementary school. Generations hang on my wall. Maybe someday we'll find a way to make all this creativity pay off, but for now it's enough. This was the art we made while we busy making other plans. And it's fine.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Baby, It's Cold Outside

President Elect Donald Trump says "nobody knows" if climate change is real. 
Here is a partial list of nobodies:
  • Ernest Afiesimama, Nigerian weatherman,[1] former senior associate of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (Physics of Weather and Climate Group) and head of numerical weather prediction at Nigerian Meteorological Agency. Presently, Programme Manager, Offices for Africa and Least Developed Countries, World Meteorological Organisation (WMO)
  • Myles Allen, head of the Climate Dynamics group at University of Oxford's Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics Department. Lead author, IPCC Third Assessment Report. Review editor, Fourth Assessment Report.
  • Richard Alley (1957-), Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Science, American, Earth's cryosphere and global climate change.[2]
  • Kevin Anderson, Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and is an adviser to the British Government on climate change.[3]
  • James Annan, British climatologist with Blue Skies Research, UK
  • Julie Arblaster, Australian climatologist at The Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research in CSIRO
  • David Archer, American professor of oceanography at University of Chicago
  • Svante Arrhenius (1859-1927), Swedish, greenhouse effect.[4]
  • Olga Zolina (1975- ), Russian climatologist
  • Eduardo Zorita (1961- ), Spanish paleoclimatologist, Senior Scientist at GKSS
  • Thanks, Wikipedia.