July 10 2016
Last time I wrote something on an airplane, the “I hope you have a good day” post, you discovered it and, to my surprise, appreciated it. I deliberately didn’t advertise that one because I wasn’t sure how you’d take it. Christine had a very sharp observation that it was less intensely patriotic/pro-military than you or Luigi might expect, but perhaps more so than my immediate peers/friends/allies would want or predict.
I go back to that piece for two reasons: I’m on an airplane again, which brings with it a clearing out and perspective and chunk of time during which I can’t access the internet, and we’ve extended the invitation to Luigi to join our writing project (which I expect will mean I am outnumbered on most everything). A recent conversation I had with him sent me back to the time of his service, to his letters, to my heated conversations with you. He said something to the effect of “I have never been more frustrated with politics than I have been during the past 8 years,” as we talked about the upcoming election, and how Obamacare has affected him and affected Denny’s small business, etc.
This conversation was bewildering to me for a few reasons. I hadn’t heard a first-person story of the negative impact of Obamacare save for, years ago, a restaurant owner I’d worked for complaining because he couldn’t afford to cover his employees. His account was easy for me to laugh off; he is absolutely not a struggling person, in the least, and also an absolute tyrant, but I am certain that his employees were struggling and I am fine, even happy in a smug way, with his profit margin shrinking for the greater good. Luigi is in a different situation, though, and I was surprised at his claims that basically he has no insurance, that his premiums are exponentially greater and his coverage is exponentially worse. Surprised because it’s not what I thought would happen, or what I thought was happening, on some level. But more surprised because i just didn’t believe him, and I realized how strong my faith was in my own political beliefs. That can’t be right, is what I kept thinking, and frankly it’s what I still think. I do believe that his situation has changed but there has to be more to the story than “Obama bad.” More on that soon, or later after some research, or something. It’s not enough to believe on faith that it’s good or that it’s terrible. We can find out, and we should.
First, though: the most frustrated he’s ever been politically is the past 8 years? As opposed to the previous 8? I cannot comprehend this in the least. I have been thinking about it for days and it’s deeply, deeply unsettling, haunting. I’m sure there are reasons in addition to the ACA; I remember once he said “Iraq is basically lost” and I had a similar reaction, total internal disarray and disorganization, and I expect that these two ideas taken together are of real importance to the critiques of Obama coming from the right. And I can do the exercise of empathizing with the experience of, say, a marine who has seen combat and now spends more for insurance and how that could lead to such-and-such a view, but truthfully it baffles me that anyone could look at Bush II as anything but a complete disaster by every conceivable measure. And the legacy of those ideas is still alive and well and perhaps even more virulent and rabid one one hand and absorbed as widely accepted so as to become invisible on the other. Think back to that time, what it was for you in your daily life and ask why it had to be that way, what imperative made it so. How can you even put these two 8-year blocks on either sides of the same scale? In what universe? This is similar to the Clinton/Trump observation we’ve been talking about. There’s a throwing up of one’s hands happening, an antipolitics that suggests it doesn’t matter, that “they’re all crooks,” that you can’t stand to listen to either of them. But you’ll have to live with one of them.
There is so much more for us to talk about after this past week of carnage and staggering lack of empathy in its wake. To pick up on something you said in your last post: I don’t think I am trying to take the world’s burdens on, on my own. But I believe that we must, absolutely must, be on the side of easing those burdens inasmuch as we are able. This project is a small way to do that, I think. To contribute to understanding and positive change and an exchange of ideas between groups of people that do not communicate at all outside of internet comments. There has to be a way to understand each other better and to drag our assumptions out into the light and see if they hold up. I’m not talking about “common ground.” Possible there is none. But at least we can try to get at some kind of ground, some kind of baseline premise or ethos that has led all of us down such radically different paths, and see it clearly.
We could create something out of this, a living document with generous points of entry for anyone, whatever side they’re on. Maybe it can be a book. That this means something at all could be a delusion of grandeur, or a symptom of that neurotic impulse you identify as taking responsibility for what ails the world. At my most ungenerous I think it’s a kind of pseudoactivity meant to justify my life of privilege. Regardless, I feel that this is important work to do, even if it’s just between us. I hope, though, that it ripples out and becomes part of a seismic shift in the ways we talk to each other, if we talk to each other at all.
You can make something out of anything,
March 27, 2016
Since I have some time before we go down to the Bronx I thought I would start this response to your last entry.
You clarified something for me when you said you didn’t want to take the town by storm when you moved to New York, you wanted to participate. In essence you said the same thing I said but in a different way. I said this is the sphere I live in and have a direct impact on in referencing that I didn’t feel that I was responsible for the calamities facing us. In wanting to participate as you said then you are having a direct impact in the sphere you live in as I see it.
When I said you are not responsible for the world’s ills because of birth I think I was expressing an overall belief that I have concerning some people who take on the world’s burdens as their own, as if they were responsible. In the last few times we saw each other I sometimes sensed sadness in you, very fleeting but nonetheless there. I would catch a glimpse of you and it seemed you were deep in worrisome thought. Could be I was wrong in my impression. Then I read your post and it seemed the impression was right. As a parent I wanted to ease your burden so I wrote what I did. That doesn’t mean I didn’t believe what I wrote.
In regards to the Clintons I will try to explain my feelings. For many people of my generation we believed the presidency is an exalted position of great responsibility. We believed the president could do no wrong. We grew up with DDE and JFK and idolized them. When Bill Clinton came around it seemed like Camelot again. This fantasy was revealed for what it was to us and we were doubly disappointed, first by the president and his actions, then by ourselves for being so gullible. I was angry for being so naïve and started to take a more realistic view of what was happening and this affected my thinking.
In an earlier post I said we were the products of a changing world as we move through our lives. The years of you formulating your outlook on the world and your place in it were far different than mine. The world in the middle 60’s when I was a teen was totally different than the early 90’s when you were a teen. What I considered to be the political middle then is certainly not so now. This brings me to your closing words, “convince me otherwise”. I do not want my sons to be able to be convinced by their father to change their views. I want them to make up their own minds based on their own beliefs. We might agree on some things but we will also disagree. I believe in ten to twenty years our beliefs might change as the world changes, maybe not. No one knows.
Bye for now.
I’m just going to start writing here, hoping that I get where I need to go. This is something of a life philosophy, actually!
You’ve said a lot, and I wanted to respond to the things that made the biggest impression on me, and also wanted to offer a few new thoughts that might sum up, to a degree, why I think those things made an impact in the first place.
You talked about how my writing seemed pessimistic to you, or that it seems like I am taking on too much of a burden, claiming responsibility for the whole human race or something. I actually see it quite the other way around; I think doing this at all, reaching out and trying to go somewhere together, is a profoundly optimistic, hopeful practice. Maybe I overinflate the potential, imagining hearts and minds being won through a lowly blog on an artist’s website. More likely, though, it’s a sign of something bigger happening, some kind of broader reconciliation or search for truth that we are part of. I am happy to be a small part of it. It’s like when I moved to New York, headed downtown with Uncle Vinnie and realized that I didn’t want to own the town, so to speak, become some new sensation. I just wanted to participate.
However, in offering that response something gets left out: the place where you were coming from, the caring, the sense that you are still able to be a parent after 37, almost 38, years. I was deeply moved by that, and wanted to say thank you. I was also really moved by the nice things you said about the boys, the relocation, that Max and Miles add years to your life. It was, again, a moment of real caring and depth of feeling that rang out.
Out of that depth of feeling, which I feel like really defines you as a person, comes my puzzling over a few things. Of course I am pleased that you seem to see the Trump phenomenon for what it is. In that place. where you talked about being unable to listen to him speak, you also talk about Hillary Clinton and how you feel the same way. Your feelings on the Clintons have been clear to me for a long time, in fact I think those feelings were the things that, in my view, really cemented and intensified many of your beliefs and political affiliations. At least that’s what my memory says; I could definitely be missing something. Regardless, “I can’t stand Trump but I sure can’t listen to Hillary, either” as a sentiment bears a little bit of scrutiny. I think it brings out a pervasive view that you articulate other places as well: I might think such-and-such a thing, but someone equally intelligent or whatever might think the dead opposite, therefore we have to accommodate both views.
For me this idea is somewhat helpful in some cases, but for the most part, given the polarization of our politics (our meaning our whole country’s/world’s), it is a big lie. There are not equally good ideas on either side of the fence on any given issue, in my view. (Especially when you move the fence.) Because some ideas are actually better than others: those that relieve more suffering, that foster more community, that allow people the freedom to become their best selves. Somehow this has become contestable. I’ll blame Fox and you can blame MSNBC, and we’ll get nowhere. Still, though, for me it’s definitely this “fair and balanced” idea that Fox was so good at pushing at around the time the world turned upside down. We’ll just give equal time to these other, equally good ideas, the logic goes, and offer an antidote to the “liberal media bias.” So you call something fair because it shows the polar opposite of some idea. But what if the idea is actually a good one, one that bears out upon scrutinizing it in terms of human good? In terms of compassion?
Which brings me to the next big claim, and one that seems more provocative, and extreme, and maybe more potentially alienating to you than most that we’ve been making. From where many of us sit, the logic of Fair and Balanced allows really bad ideas to fester, to be justified by those in power, to be stoked and intensified among people who might actually vote. So I can’t take someone like Ben Carson seriously, or anyone else that actually wants to lead the GOP, for that matter, that believes in its tactics and core values. To me it’s pretty straightforward: the playbook seems to be to get on the dead-wrong side of social/environmental/economic issues, to fire people up to vote against their own interests, to make rich people richer and powerful institutions more powerful. Guns, climate change, the whole enchilada. It’s the same play in all cases, and I have trouble seeing it any other way. Which is why I am here. Convince me otherwise?
Thanks in advance,
(In the middle of writing this segment this came to me. I wanted to let you know that today when mom and I went shopping for fish after chatting with you online, I realized that in this past week I looked to you as an inspiration….the way you changed your food regimen and how that led to your marked improvement in overall health. That is an example to follow. I will think of this the next time I want to splurge on food I should avoid.)
I thought the second part of this writing would be the last of this segment, but then there were still some issues that need mentioning; Trump and guns.
In my opinion Trump is a bombastic, buffoonish egomaniac. I can’t bear to listen to any of his speeches for more than five seconds, but then again I can’t bear to listen to Hillary either. Nor have I listened to anyone else’s campaign speeches in either camp. There is entirely too much noise. I’ve listened to Ben Carson before he decided to run for office and I thought he would make a good president but he’d never get enough support to make him a viable candidate. Putting aside your personal feeling about Trump, I would like you to consider two things.
First is the democratic process itself. It is full of shortcomings; cronyism, greed, lust for power, elitism, hypocrisy, etc., etc. The process has changed since our inception as a nation but it works. Far from perfect, but it works. If you have the backing, bankroll, can talk through both sides of your mouth, don’t care about stretching the truth or downright lie when needed, then it works perfectly.
Secondly, nothing happens in a vacuum. If there is a candidate for the presidency at this time that seems not suited for the job for many reasons and despite that gets high numbers in the polls, some thought should be given as to why this is happening.
The issue of guns is more problematic for me. There are many deep felt reasons as to why you are pro or anti, so many shades to either side. I would like you to know where I stand on this and why since we have differing views.
A firearm does one thing only. It propels a bullet at tremendous force. It is inanimate; it does not act of its own volition. Because of the devastation it can do, there has to be great care in its handling, a profound awareness of its inherent destructive capabilities. There has to be the deepest sense of responsibility possible when handling a firearm. There has been more attention on guns and not enough scrutiny on the person handling the weapon. There should be more resources used to study and treat mental illness, more safeguards to make sure the wrong people do not get access, ever.
There are so many articles written on this subject that we can go for pages and pages. A myriad of studies can be cited to support either side. The bottom line for me on this issue is defense. If someone breaks into my home at 2 in the morning I know that person is not there to sell Girl Scout cookies. That person is there to do me and my family harm. I cannot rely on the police to come to our defense in time. I cannot hope that that person will only rob us and leave. I will use deadly force to protect my family.
Much has been written about confiscation of personally owned firearms. When there comes a time that a government can absolutely affirm that no criminals will have access to firearms and that a person’s life and home is sacrosanct, then I have no problem giving up my firearms.
This belief might seem very brutal to you and it is. It as what is needed in the reality we have, in my opinion. Does that lessen the regard you have for me? I hope not.
What do you listen to after a Mozart Symphony? Why, Antonio Carlos Jobim of course. No noise, just serenity, especially if Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto are on the album. I wanted to continue my thoughts from yesterday while I have some time before some tasks beckon me.
You said that you know in your bones that we have screwed up the ecosystem, temperature, and the world. This statement is truly a big burden to live with. Rather than addressing this directly I would like to share my thoughts on how I formulated my belief or faith on this subject.
As you used faith to mean what we know without knowing it would it make sense to say part of this faith comes about after a gradual processing of thoughts, experiences, learning and living? This is the well of experiences and thought you draw from when some of your beliefs come from faith.
When I was in my early twenties (or late teens?) there was something of a panic going on about the then upcoming weather phenomenon that was going to mean doom for the human race within 10 years. It was a global ice age. To me the most frightening fact was that according to scientists the oceans would freeze. Most harmful was this freezing of the oceans would mean our whole food chain would be affected. Quickly after this was all anyone spoke about, Hollywood got involved. I remember Ted Danson and Ed Asner were frequently interviewed on news shows. What astounded them was that with this freezing you could walk from Alaska to Russia and the whales would die. Why they were called upon as experts I don’t recall.
More recently global warming was the doomsday vehicle. Scientists had the data; the United Nations formulated the Kyoto Agreement to stop this catastrophic event because mankind had very little time left. Hollywood got involved. We couldn’t have Polar Bears dying. Experts testified before Congress. To me what was telling was no one was talking about the biggest source of heat, the sun. Also telling was one of the provisions of the Kyoto Agreement was that two nations were being granted emerging nation status and would not have to abide by the pollution and clean air laws for a number of years . These two countries were among the top four polluters; China and Brazil. The world was in immediate danger but yet these two countries could continue as usual. This was puzzling to me.
Sometime later there were articles about the national weather service placing weather reading stations in places that did not produce a true reading of temperature. Some of these sites were near airport tarmacs and on top of flat-roofed buildings close to air conditioning units and heat generators. This list goes on but I just wanted you to know some of the things that I’ve observed that lead me to question what I hear and read. For me this is particularly true when money is involved and some greedy persons take advantage of people’s fears; companies start up, books are written, interviews are given, web sites emerge, movies are produced, and politicians use the issue to win elections. The cycle continues. Theme and variations. Noise and more noise.
I do feel there have been weather changes and shifting, but as I see it weather changes all the time. I haven’t come to the conclusion that the world will end. I will also be the first to admit that I could be totally wrong.
In any case I do not have a profound guilt that I am responsible for all this. The best I can do is lead a good life and do the best I can as an individual, a father, husband, and family member. This is the sphere I live in and have a direct impact on.
As I stated before it saddened me that you seem to take on a burden more than one person can. Look at what you’ve done in your 37 years. Look at the love that you have instilled in people for you, your many accomplishments, and the students whose lives you’ve touched and continue to have an impact on, the time you spend with your sons. The list can continue but then it would sound too much like a father bragging about one of his sons. Look to the good as well. I know you’re destined for something extraordinary.
Faith. What we know without knowing it.
I’m glad we have a restarting point. The last post was more than 1&1/2 years ago? Not to sound clichéd but, damn, where did the time go? As busy as you get, we can always make some time to keep this project going. I say you because I have much more time than you (since I am RETIRED). You juggle a job, actively compose, and create inroads in your writing. You and Christine are raising two boys who are absolute joys and add years to our lives. All at the same time packing up and moving to Minnesota. Don’t feel remiss if the entries are not as frequent as you might want. Let’s not add another responsibility on ourselves but rather just take the opportunity whenever it comes. Let’s take quality over quantity. (“What do you want, speed or accuracy?”)
You wrote in an earlier entry that you were on a news fast for months. I’ve been going through the same. I haven’t been watching or listening to news for many months. I am aware of what’s going on to a point but I have to admit I’ve gotten tired of all the noise. It’s always the same theme and variations. I now have found three local classical music radio stations that have good reception and they are what I listen to while driving. Two of them have no ads and do not broadcast news on the hour, half hour, on the eights or elevens or what have you. One of the stations has live streaming. No noise, just serenity. Mom says I’ve rediscovered my first love, classical music. In actuality I feel about classical music as I always have, but now I can listen to a Beethoven sonata without unknowingly going 20 miles over the speed limit at the allegro movement.
You said that faith to you is what we know without really knowing it. I believe it’s a gut feeling about something that you know or believe is true. You also said that we seek ways to confirm the ideas we have put our faith in. I agree with all of that but I would like to add one thing that has been important to me. Someone once said that in any group there will be someone that is as bright as or brighter than you equally well educated who has views that are 180 degrees opposite yours. Whatever I know to be true for me that comes from faith or opinion there is the possibility I might be wrong to some degree or totally wrong for that matter.
You stated some issues that set you on fire and we can certainly address those things. What I would like to share with you first is the overall feeling I get from your post. It saddens me to a degree in the sense that you are taking on more than one person can. When you say your sense of human greed, recklessness and shortsightedness there doesn’t seem to be any room for the good. Agreed there are greedy, reckless and shortsighted people. These are traits that are in many of us. That has always been and always will be. The burden of humanness does not rest on you alone. You are not responsible for the worlds’ ills because of birth.
I think for now I am going to listen to Mozart’s Symphony in G Minor. No noise, just serenity.
It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, and I apologize for it. I really believe in this project; I think it would be good for us and might even be good for others, on so many levels. It’s so tempting to disengage, though, or say nothing about the things that really get under our skin or confuse us. But I want to work on doing small things that might actually help us understand each other, and by “us” I mean everyone.
There are so many things that set me on fire: guns, Tr*mp (who needs no more publicity, not even a mention on an obscure blog), calls for leveling some more people in some more countries, some of the reactions to the campus climate interventions in recent days. I could go on and on.
Rather than pick an issue, though, I wanted to explain a little of my reticence to do so. It has to do with the concept of Faith. Not religious faith necessarily, though that could be something to talk about, as I expect we are coming from very different places in that respect. I mean faith in the sense of what we know without knowing it, and the way we seek things out that confirm the ideas in which we have placed our faith. To pick an example: I am not, as you know, a climate scientist but I KNOW in my bones, without really knowing it, that we have screwed up the ecosystem/temperature/world. Sure, I learned about it in school and read a few articles and etc, but on some level I am going on faith, putting my trust in people who know more than I do, because it fits into my view of the world, my sense of human culpability/greed/recklessness/shortsightedness. (I picked this one because it is as undebatable for me as anything I can imagine; I just KNOW this is true, but I have not done anything in the way of responsibly confirming it. This is not to say that I have any doubt about it. Which makes it an even better example. You know?)
There are other bedrock ideals that feel good to confirm, so I seek out things that confirm them. Everyone probably does, and, because someone can make money off of this impulse, someone does. We get to curate our news, pick a media outlet/talk show host that tells us what, on some level, we know without knowing. So we can shop for information like a scarf. Except I think we both have a suspicion that there is something true out there that is not subject to our aesthetic judgments, that goes on being true regardless of the ideas in which we have placed our faith. That some ideals are better than others, because they bring about less pain and suffering if we uphold them. Maybe we could get to some of those, or at least be aware that, as we debate some kind of issue, the thing driving us is the desire to confirm a conviction that got there in a complicated way, that shapes us in ways we don’t fully understand.
The Truth Is Out There?
You wrote something beautiful, a long time ago, intended for this space. I never put it up but I'm doing it now, and I hope that we can get moving on this again. So many things have happened that have made me turn away from even wanting to engage. But it feels important now, for so many reasons, to wake this space up. Also, the blue I like seems to be gone. And your red is messed up, too. You lose some you lose some, as Luigi would say.
I’ve been thinking about this entry for the reconciliation project which is not at all the direction we’ve been going but rather a reflection on one aspect of my life that I want to share with you. You don’t have to respond or post it. If you think it is too personal for the project we can certainly keep it in family.
One evening about a month ago your mother and I were watching an old 1943 movie entitled Heaven Can Wait starring Gene Tierney and Don Ameche. Ameche plays the part of a rich playboy who has to answer for his wrong doing when he dies and goes before the devil to determine if he goes to hell or not. It is a very well made cleverly amusing movie about love and redemption.
There was a part in the movie that was a catharsis for me, a feeling hard to put into words of the deep love and understanding between not only the two characters but also between your mother and me. In recalling his life Ameche speaks about the evening of their 25th wedding anniversary. In a very luxurious house full of people Ameche looks for his wife who is not in the room at the time. He finds her in the library resting in a chair. They recollect their first evening when they met in that very room. He remembers standing in a corner, she remembers him sitting. He remembers her looking frightened, she tells him after 25 years she wasn’t frightened at all. She then gets a phone call and coyly dismisses her husband’s question about who was calling. When he admits he is jealous she tells him it was the doctor. She had been getting dizzy spells. It ends up this was their last anniversary together; she passes away a few months later. At this point I looked to your mother, and she was fast asleep.
After chuckling to myself I realized how fortunate that we found each other. What a deep love and understanding we have that has evolved over 37 years. And at this point I wanted with all my being the same thing for you and your brother, to experience the same deep love and understanding after being married 37 years and beyond. To know that would make me a very happy and fulfilled person indeed.
Hope this isn’t too maudlin but every once in a while we have to stop and realize how lucky we are.
At this point I'm not working through anything......I'm an observer...very interesting things going on, some expected, some bizarre. Always underlining the human condition. Sometimes I think we should have all been fish, or trees, or kale for that matter...Maybe trees. Fish and kale get eaten. Talk to you later and looking forward to your visit.
Dad! I've been on a news fast for months. I imagine there must be something to wrestle about, right? What do you think? I think this was pretty great when we had it going. It's hard to find a new point of entry, though....any thoughts? Working through anything?