In the early years of our marriage, I had the idea that we should buy a large table for the kitchen, so we could invite groups of our friends for dinner parties. We’d get six or eight folks, eat, and have great and friendly conversation. It was a vision of community that may have grown from the utopian dreams of hippiedom I had as a teenager.
The reality was, and is, that I’m riddled with anxiety and paranoia, such that I rarely even have six or eight people who I’d invite into my home. I know many more people than that, fine people, but my hermit-like existence no longer has room for those idealistic visions.
There was one time in my life when I participated in a communal enterprise. I took part in a journal called Bad Subjects, “Political Education for Everyday Life”. I wrote my first piece for them in 1992, and soon after joined the production team, on which I worked until approximately 2001. In that year, I wrote “Feel Like Going Home: Notes on Self-Marginalization”. Although it’s 16 years old, some of still resonates for me.
Eight years haven't done as much for me as I'd hoped. Bad Subjects was kind enough to take me in. There was room then, and in fact there has always been room, in Bad Subjects for marginal folks. All we had to do was commit to the attempt, and we were accepted into the community. The beautiful utopian vision of Bad Community has made a difference in the lives of all who have participated in it, myself included. But I've been fooling others and myself; I've been posing, I haven't been a true believer. I thought it would happen, but so far I've fallen short. At times, I've misrepresented myself, but for the most part, I think it has been clear where I come from. The anti-utopian in a group of utopians, the non-believer in the midst of faith, the loner in the middle of the community. It's a sign of the magnificence of the Bad Community that there has always been a place for miscreants like me, and always will be. But Lord, I feel like going home.
I’m reminded of this because of a recent series of posts on Facebook, which began with a fellow Bad Subject from Australia saying that her memory of those times was jogged when she saw Ana Marie Cox on TV. (Cox had spent a year with Bad Subjects in the mid-90s.) While the journal had its start in Berkeley, once it went online its community became international, and an email list lasted for some time that featured lively debate amongst like-minded folks. Our Australian friend got the attention of others, and a new Facebook group was quickly formed so we could talk amongst ourselves once more. It is good to see that old communal spirit rise again.
But, I still feel like going home. As Pee-wee says,
Which leads me to Sense8. It’s hard to explain the series. Heck, I’ve just spent several paragraphs talking about everything except Sense8, and when I wrote about Season One, I spent the first half talking about Pink and Linda Perry, as if I can only come close to the show’s essence if I work in the shadows. In Sense8, eight people from across the globe share a connection that is odd enough to place the series in the sci-fi genre. They are “sensates”, linked to the others in their cluster emotionally and mentally. One way the connection works, that goes unexplained, is that they seem to be able to be there for each other in a physical sense. So if one sensate is about to be overpowered by a few bad guys, the sensate that knows martial arts will take over and kick some ass, without ever actually leaving her jail cell.
In a recent review of Season Two, Tim Goodman wrote, “For Netflix's ambitious drama Sense8, the path to entry – and the ability to truly appreciate what comes after – is deceptively simple. You have to give in to it. You have to go with it. ... Sense8 is probably better described as a series you experience more than understand”. It shares some of this with the recent Legion, another show where the pleasures did not come from “figuring it out” but by letting it wash over you.
What entrances me about Sense8 grows out of that unexplained connection among the cluster. I spent my earlier years wishing for community. I spent some time later dipping my toes in the river of community, but not making it to the other side. And now, I’m old and a hermit.
But when I see the characters in Sense8 merging, I experience the most beautiful community of them all, one that results from the blending of the eight into one. It is as if my long-ago dreams are manifested on my television screen.
And they do the impossible, taking the cliché song choice and making it new again:
Back in 1970-71, my brother and I lived in a little apartment in Capitola, California. We didn’t have a phone, and of course, this was long before the days of cell phones. So no one could call us, and if we wanted to make a call, we walked down the street to a motel that had a pay phone in its parking lot.
Now, Robin and I have several phones. There’s her phone, and my phone. She has a couple of work phones. We have two phones we don’t use (one we have never used).
Thursday, my phone quit charging. Friday, I took it to the shop and was told the charging mechanics inside were broken, and that I’d need a replacement, which was covered by the insurance our son always convinces us to get. Friday night, I did a web chat, after which I was told a new phone (not exact, but equivalent) would be on its way that day, with an ETA of Monday.
Within half an hour, I got an email telling me my replacement phone was on backorder, and there would be a 3-7 day delay before they sent my phone.
So, no phone. I have a tablet, and I have that leftover from the dinosaur era, a big-ass desktop computer (on which I am typing this post). But no phone. No text messages while I am out and about. No camera for quick pix. No Google Maps telling me where to go, step by step.
I am bereft.
This blog turns 15 years old today.
I was 48 years old when I started.
The first music post (second post overall), from that first day on January 6, 2002, had a picture of Robin I called “The Cowgirl and the Cactus”, and a link to the Bruce Springsteen song, “Used Cars”. There was no apparent connection between Robin and the song.
Here is what I wrote on the occasion of the 14th birthday:
There is something old-fashioned about persisting in a format that has long been overtaken by other forms of online presentation.
And there is something odd about continuing to write for the smallest of audiences.
But think of this: my blog has never had advertising. I’ve never made any money from it, unless you count published writing that had its root here (i.e. I was “discovered” via my blog writing ... of course, much of my published writing has been unpaid/academic). This allows me to pretend my writing is “pure”.
Changes have occurred over time. I used to write about a broader area. I hesitate now to write about things where I know people who can do better jobs, so I rarely write about politics, and I write less about sports than I did in the past. The blog has become an arts site, where I write about TV, movies, and music ... and admittedly, when someone has asked me to write for publication, it’s those areas that come up.
I know there is some good writing buried in the past fourteen years, pieces where I happen to read them by accident and don’t always know they are mine until I’m finished, and I think, “I am good enough”. The published stuff, which doesn’t appear here, is of varying quality ... I think my piece on punk cinema for Nick Rombes was good, ditto for my Bugs Bunny Meets Picasso essay for Michael Berube. My Battlestar Galactica and King Kong essays might be the best of my Smart Pop work. Point is, the form is shorter, but I occasionally reach those heights on this blog. Maybe for 2016 I should find a way to foreground Past Classics.
What I hope to avoid as much as possible is the type of naked confessional I am far too capable of indulging in. It’s worth repeating every once in awhile the motto for this blog, Kael’s “I’m frequently asked why I don’t write my memoirs. I think I have.”
I am a curmudgeon when it comes to Xmas. But this year was different, because I spent it with a four-year-old.
Our grandson, Félix, has reached the age where he really understands what’s up with Xmas. He knows there are presents ... he knows there’s Santa ... he probably knows he is the center of attention. Watching his joy made Xmas more than bearable, it made it enjoyable.
He handed out the presents. He can’t really read yet, but he knows his own name, and “Mom” and “Dad”. So he could look at a wrapped present and tell if it was for him when he saw his name. He got thrown off a bit when he’d see the word “From”, because once he saw “F” he hopefully assumed the rest of the word was “élix” and he’d announce it was for him. So it wasn’t perfect, but he did pretty good. And he was dedicated ... even after he opened something for himself that he really liked, he’d put it down to grab another present for someone else.
I usually say he wants to be a DJ when he grows up, but that’s not really accurate. He thinks he is a DJ now. He loves playing DJ, plugging in various things (or “plugging” them in, since in many cases, they aren’t working so he won’t electrocute himself). One of the presents he got on Xmas Eve was DJ Lights ... disco lights, really ... it sends colored lights across the room and the ceiling, makes for a festive atmosphere. His dad helped him mount it on a wall, so we got to watch his lights most of the night. On Xmas morning, he found that Santa had brought a kid’s DJ board, with a pretend turntable for scratching, and a keyboard, and lots of sliders and preset drum beats. He loved it.
Like many middle-class Americans, Sara and Ray got an Amazon Echo for the holiday (Ray’s boss gave them to employees). Later, it turned out I’d gotten TWO, and then we went to my sister’s, and she had one, too (her’s was the big model ... the rest of us had Echo Dots). This meant all of us spent a lot of time asking Alexa questions, smart and stupid. Félix was once again the star. He took to the AI machine instantly. They called theirs “Echo” because he has a brother named Lex, and they worried saying “Lex” all the time might set Alexa off. Félix took a nap with Robin ... she said when he woke up, he quietly whispered, “Echo, play ...” (she didn’t catch what). He already expects the Echo to be ready and responsive to his every beck and call. He was so cute ... if he asked a question that didn’t get answered, he’d walk over to the Echo and talk into it directly, as if that would help.
And at one point, apropos of nothing we could figure, he said something like, “Echo, what can we do for homeless people so they won’t be homeless anymore?”
So, yes, this was a good Xmas.
Meanwhile, 2016 sucked, as everyone knows. Our family survived, at least. We haven’t seen Neal and Sonia yet this holiday, but hopefully we will very soon. Oh, and Spot made it through another year:
Considering I arrived on Thursday afternoon and we left on Sunday afternoon, I guess it was really three days spread out over four.
We hadn’t been since 2009. We didn’t do a tour ... you can actually take a Portlandia tour, for instance ... and outside of a trip to Tualatin, about a half-hour’s drive away, we spent the entire time in NE Portland. We weren’t there to take in the sights, we were there to visit an old friend. Still, even with a limited trip, you notice things, mostly about the ways Portland seems different than Berkeley.
First, they aren’t all that different. Much of what gets gently parodied on Portlandia holds just as true for Berkeley. Berkeley might be more pretentious about it, although I can’t really speak to what Portland is like on a daily basis.
Most important, though, is the weather. It was slightly colder than we are used to, but what really mattered was the rain. The Bay Area, at least our part of it, is semi-arid, and of course we’ve been in a drought for a long time now. Portland? Well, in fairness, it rarely poured while we were there. But a drizzle never left us, and in some ways, a constant drizzle is more depressing than a serious downpour.
Another, water connected, difference: there was no clamp on water pressure in our hotel ... the water came blasting out of the shower.
Since we weren’t home for our usual Saturday morning at the Homemade Café, we were glad to find Batter Griddle & Drinkery, which wasn’t nearly as precious as its menu suggested (the pancakes section included “mocha me go”, “don’t passover”, and “pecan do it”). Like many places we checked out, it felt roomy ... there is more land and fewer people in Portland than in San Francisco, although the population of Portland has almost doubled since we first visited.
I didn’t see Corin, Carrie, or Janet anywhere, not that I would have done anything besides mess my pants if I did see them walking around. Oh well, I’ll see them on New Year’s Eve.
Meanwhile, the pilot announced to us before our flight home that we were traveling to "Oaklandia".
Not many posts this week. Been on vacation. Here is a photo of me with Portland musician Dub Debrie, a friend of mine since the late 60s.
I know very few people who are voting for Trump. I know a lot of people who are voting for Clinton.
As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I did not vote for anyone for president. But the above two sentences explain what I’m feeling as I look towards the conclusion of this election.
If Trump were to win, the form of the celebration would likely be repulsive, representing the worst America has to offer, as does Donald Trump himself.
If Clinton wins, the celebration will focus primarily on one point: that we have finally elected a woman to be our leader. A point that is well worth celebrating, a point that has been too long in coming.
I want my friends to enjoy their celebration. That is the reason I’ve stayed mostly silent throughout this election. If my vote merely entailed making my friends happy, I would do so.
You could say I am a coward. I don’t want to bring down the wrath of Clinton supporters, so for the most part, I hold my tongue. But it’s not just fear ... I truly do want my friends to have that celebration, no matter my own personal opinions about what I think a Clinton presidency will mean on a concrete, rather than a symbolic, level.
Part of me questions the inherent misogyny of men, a category in which I include myself. I have tried for my entire adult life to press for equality between men and women, but I speak as a man who has experienced the unequal benefits of being male. At the very least, we should question our assumptions, and the roots of our assumptions, when they come from a position of privilege. Thus, I believe I deserve all the accusations of misogyny that are thrown at any man who can’t accept that Hillary Clinton will be a good president.
Except, as I wrote earlier, outside of not being Donald Trump, the only reason I could think of to vote for Clinton is that she is a woman. I very much want us to have a woman president at last.
I just wish it wasn’t this woman.
A friend posted the following on Facebook this morning:
I'm not sure yet if I'm going to vote at all. Even if I do, I could never vote for HRC, though I'd never try to persuade others not to. But if you do, don't tell yourself or others sweet stories about her inner goodness. She's a loyal and effective servant of capital and empire. If she wins, which seems likely though far from certain, she immediately becomes the enemy, even though people and forces even worse than she will attack her.
Or, as one hashtag has it, “#nohoneymoon”.
So when she wins, as I have always believed she will, and the inevitable, joyous celebrations erupt, I will be happy for all of my friends, especially women, who have longed for this day. And I’ll be quiet.
But once the celebrations are over, #nohoneymoon.
My wife doesn’t have a birthday. She has a Birthday Month. So I have to be on my toes all through October, not just on the 4th (which is what the rest of us would call her birthday).
Last night we settled in to watch TV. She wanted to start with Designated Survivor, the new, so-so- Kiefer Sutherland show. I was feeling a bit sad ... silly, really, but I wished we liked more of the same TV shows and movies. Designated Survivor may turn out to be a show we watch together, but it kind of gives “common ground” a bad name.
After that, we watched the season opener of Ash vs Evil Dead. This is more like it, I thought, I like this show a lot, which reveals my real definition of “shows we watch together”: something I like that she tolerates. Except she doesn’t tolerate Ash vs Evil Dead, she likes it, too. And she occasionally laughs, which if you know Robin, you know laughing at TV isn’t a regular occurrence. But it’s one of the reasons I love her so ... she’ll sit quietly as a comedy plays, then laugh at arguably the goriest show in TV history (gore isn’t inherently funny, but ridiculous, over-the-top gore is).
And if Season One was the Goriest Show of All Time, Season Two had an early scene that easily topped anything we’d seen before. And we laughed. I can’t find the scene on YouTube, which is probably just as well. The best I can do is this Season Two trailer, which was apparently too gory for Comic Con:
Later in the evening, we spent a few minutes chuckling over a couple of S. Clay Wilson drawings.
Now I ask you: what kind of moron would think he and his wife had few shared tastes, when she laughed at Evil Dead and S. Clay Wilson?
Yep, I’m a moron.
And my wife is the greatest.