Sunday, May 03, 2015

In progress

Graham appears to have lost the key to the Prius, and he swears it's somewhere in the mud room.  So I have been going through the mud room looking for it.

I don't know when the whole mud room concept bubbled up into consciousness and became a thing that we all must have, but it did happen, and we have one.*  It is, to pull back one of the greatest hit words of era of literary theory, very much a liminal space -- that is, a threshold -- designed for taking things off, and putting them down, before continuing on.  Conceptually, it's first and foremost about getting things off while heading into the house.

In our case, it has evolved or devolved, depending on how you view it, into the place where things slow down before heading out of the house.  For example, paper and plastic bags headed either to the thrift store or to the grocery store to be recycled. And other stuff, similarly headed out for its next, new life.

It is very easy for me to get judgmental about this kind of thing.  In my mind, I am very much the get things done, drive things through to completion kind of guy.  One of the things that sometimes drives me crazy about other people (and I won't name names here) is their tendency to let things sit and not finish them up.

Excavating the mud room looking for the Prius key is kind of driving home the point that I am deluding myself.  Things I have found that are on my plate include:

  1. A bag of tennis balls that came with the hamper I bought at least 7 years ago so I could work on my tennis serve.  I never have.  The balls suck.  I should throw them away.
  2. An old headset that went with some cell phone. It sucks.  I did just throw it away.
  3. A biker-type bag for Tata Consulting Services that I picked up at some conference.  It is ugly, and I have never used it. Should go to thrift store.
  4. A bookmark from a used book store in Durham which was new within the last year or two.  I stuck it in a book.
  5. A bike bottle holder, which I undoubtedly bought to put on some bike.  I put it in the cubbard above the washing machine
The list goes on and on.  Similarly, there is a pile of old New Yorkers dating back well into 2014, perhaps 2013, that have been sitting on top of my dresser waiting for me to go through them to see if there's anything worth reading.  I sorted about half of them last night, then it was time for me to help with dinner.

In any case, the point here is that I too am always behind in everything, that there are always too many little projects, that I need to really let go and focus on the most important stuff.  Right now that includes eating lunch with Graham, and then getting outside to enjoy the beautiful spring day.

Soon, it will be hot.




*I am shocked that the mud room did not make it onto the list of "Stuff White People Like." It belongs there, I think.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

A wee vacuum

Graham is out at Sam's birthday party.  Soon they will be headed off to see the Ultron movie, having enjoyed their pizza.

Which is odd for me.  Normally Graham and I would be getting ready to settle into the couch to watch an episode of an animated superhero series ourselves.  Right now, we're watching Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H, a pretty stupid show featuring, as you might guess, a lot of smashing by Hulk and his crew of other Hulks (Red Hulk, She-Hulk, SCAAR, and Blue Hulk).  It's a nice time of evening.  I'm able to look out across the lake as Graham snuggles into me and the gamma-irradiated crew does battle with a host of evildoers.

At least it gives me a few minutes to blog.  Not that, strictly speaking, I am all that short on time to do so, it's more like energy and impetus.  All too much of my days these days are spent doing things which would once have seemed almost a bit far-fetched:  cold-calling, warm-calling, following up, lunch, coffee.  I haven't been listening to music or NPR in the car, I've been listening to sales training and other "inspirational" CDs, which I have been told is what salespeople do.  And I, right now, am developing sales discipline.

Fact is, there is much wisdom in what I am consuming these days, as I know I've mentioned before. It is just quite distant from what I once considered wisdom, so that it's difficult to say what's so wise about it.  Except for the fact that it counsels belief in oneself, courage, and persistence.  And rest.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Taylor Swift and show tunes

Just drove Natalie and some friends home from an ultimate frisbee game.  We plugged Natalie's phone into the car stereo, and then drove along singing along with show tunes, Taylor Swift and god knows what else.  Light years away from work.  Need more of this.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Park Life

I have long been critical of the office park as a gestalt, thinking it soulless.  Just now I had to rest a little before going to a networking event in a little while, so I went for a walk.  There is a path that wends between a couple of parking lots, and beside it a leafy bower (just watch as my diction gets all bucolic on ya).  I ambled along there as the sun was going down, when I came to a little spot where there were some weathered picnic tables in the shade.  I could have kept walking and turned left and been back on Emperor Boulevard as rush hour traffic headed out, but I thought, no, I'll have a little rest on that picnic table.

So I lay down in the shade there, and there was a nice breeze, and around me, I could hear the gentle swooshing in the distance -- on the far side of the trees and the many 2-4 story glass, steel, and brick edifices which surrounded me on all sides -- of rush hour traffic.  The air was mild and it was, in all honesty, quite nice.

In principal, yes, I would rather be headed home to see my kids, but since I need to stick around out here in Park to go hear Josh give some Republicans hell on a panel on public universities, in the hopes of both enlightening myself and meeting some well-heeled prospects, it could have been a hell of a lot worse.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Presence, reflection, and blogging

Graham and I were playing with a little helicopter blade toy (don't know what to call it today) when I had the horribly sinful thought that sometimes I get bored playing with him and that I resent that I am called upon to be his constant playmate (as opposed to Mary doing more). Then it occurred to me that I just needed to focus on being present and in the moment because he is getting older and before too long he will be off to college.

But as I realized that I needed to write about that thought, a further thought came to me:  that this constant need to blog, to reflect, to write, bespeaks a consciousness of an absence of fullness in the present, in simply being.  Whereas I in fact strive to be present, to be grateful for where I am at any given moment.  Which is why things like soccer and laughter are such joys to me, they offer such fullness, they keep me in the present.

And if, as many have postulated, the act of reflection or abstraction is what ultimately distinguishes humans from animals, it is also the thing that keeps us in our heads, divorced all too often from unmediated experience, or being in the present, which I think is pretty much in tune with Czikszentmihalyi's concept of Flow (I gotta read that book), which we all seek.  So the thing that makes us what we are and which has facilitated the marvelous division of labor which has in turn allowed us to develop so much wealth and longevity and control so many of the hazards and perils that buffet us continually, this same thing cuts us off from and problematizes our ultimate goal.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Living local

So I met yesterday with the guy who arrested me for my second DWI, 24 years ago.  Great guy.  28 years on our home town police force, has grown through a number of roles on the force, and has done a lot of interesting other things and has been well-integrated in the community.  Wise fellow, great aura.

In the course of our conversation, it comes out that he has only been west of the Mississippi once, to go to a conference in Utah.  Which raises the question of the value of travel.  It is accepted almost axiomatically amongst the chattering class in which I find myself that traveling the world broadens the mind, enriches the soul, yatta yatta yatta.  But is it necessary?

I like to galavant around a bit myself, and I think that seeing more stuff gives you perspective on where you live and where you come from.  But it is not a necessary precondition of wisdom or happiness.  It is more, I think, of a conversational bauble.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Quick meeting

I met with this Russian realtor woman in North Raleigh yesterday at the end of the day at some swank cafe in a ridiculously faux shopping center.  She was late, and she was also 6'2" or so.  She hails from Rostov-on-Don, like my dissertation advisor.

At first she was perfectly pleasant, but pretty soon she was visibly laughing almost laughing at me. We talked about getting back to Russia, which she does, but I haven't done, which isn't all that surprising.  I allowed that I couldn't figure out how to arrange it, and she said "Americans are always making excuses like that."  Me: "But when I travel, I want to take my family, and it could easily cost $12k to take the four of us over there for any length of time."  Her: "Russians always travel on points, I pay my mortgages with credit cards."  Me: "I don't have a mortgage."  Her:  "You only have one house?"

Apparently, she owns multiple rental properties, pays her mortgages with her credit card, having found a mortgage company that would let her do that, and flies on the points.  And I was an idiot for doing anything other than that.

After discussing what I was doing trying to network my way into the Russian community in the Triangle, she gets her car keys out of her Louis Vuitton bag:  "Russians don't like paper.  We like gold, silver, houses.  I don't think we're a good market for you."  Pretty soon she was taking off.

So I went home. It wasn't all bad that we wrapped up quickly.  It was, after all, my birthday.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Wedding weekend

My cousin Neva's girl Brooke got married near Greensboro yesterday.  It was a lovely event, and it was great to see lots of peeps from my mom's side of the family.  For dinner, there was breakfast food, which is apparently a tradition in their family.  The bride was beautiful, the groom charming.  What was not to like?

I did find myself curious about many of the wedding attendees, kids in their mid to late twenties maybe thirties, comfortable in suit, tie, and party dress.  So many of the songs played were wedding and party classics, and had dances or singalonging well-known to the revellers.  When "Sweet Caroline" was played and the song "good times never felt so good", the throngs on the dance floor called out "so good, so good, so good."  I had never heard that one.  It was all very tribal.  As one who never quite joined the tribe, I couldn't help but look at these young guys in suits and ties, singing along, doing the little dances with aplomb, and wondering what it was like to be them, focused on learning the steps, climbing their ladders, taking comfort in belonging.

Mom took an entirely different approach. When their were step dances going on that everybody knew, she got right out their and tried to learn the steps.  This just a week and change after her 77th birthday.  It made me rather proud of her.

Natalie too joined in the dancing, with me and mom and later mom's sister Faith and her daughters and granddaughters. That was pretty awesome.  Graham maintained a wallflower atttude.

There were also a couple of black kids, 6-year olds, who were the flower girl and ringbearer, who were out on the floor the whole time, and a couple of UNC-G students (I'm guessing), who were doing funky dances with them and forming a ring, holding hands with somebody getting in the middle having a Soul Train-style spotlight on them.  That was rather cool, seeing these un-self-conscious guys holding hands like that.

In many ways, the whole thing encapsulated many of the simultaneously hopeful and mystifying characteristics of the South today:  at once old school and new.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Not so, novel

Last weekend I was delighted to find a copy of Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy at the Bookshop on Franklin St, still perhaps my favorite commercial establishment of all time.  I remember reading that book 20-odd years ago, probably not too long after it came out in 1993, and being completely enraptured.  I still think it is one of the better novels of the last couple of decades, and recommend it heartily.

But I'm having a hard time getting going.  It is a big book, on a big canvas: 1400-odd pages about India and a bunch of families and politics and lord knows what else.  It's been so long, I forget.

I was about to expound at length on my resistance to fiction, and then I thought:  have I blogged about this before?  And of course I have.  Here.

I'm having a lot of trouble with it now.  Oh well.

Gotta go push family into motion. We need to leave for my cousin Neva's daughter Brooke's wedding in Greensboro soon.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Anniversary

Attentive readers will note that I have been posting perhaps more than average about my father and fatherhood of late.  Only yesterday, I was reading one of the little Al-Anon daily readers and the reading concerned how the writer had always thought of his alcoholic dad primarily as a monster but then only later in life realized how messed up his dad's own life had been, how challenging a hand he had been dealt.

Which took me back to sitting next to my dad's deathbed, holding his hand in his last hours of life, particularly as I was waiting for Leslie to get there from Boston, while dad's sister Frances was telling me stories about how crazy their own childhoods had been due to their own fucked up parents.Stories I had never heard before.  Somehow my dad had never thought to tell me this stuff. or, more likely, had been unable to.

And then I realized that it was the 2nd anniversary of my dad's death. It was an emotional moment.*

Which raises the question, what do I tell my kids about our own childhoods?  My memories of it are, at best, episodic and inchoate. I often rely on other people telling me stories of things I have repressed and/or just forgotten.  Certainly, even if I were to recover all of it, I wouldn't tell them everything.  Mostly it's helpful to recover memory to get in touch with the roots of my own patterns of feeling.

Maybe my dad was right, to a certain extent, to shelter us from the nasty backstory of his own upbringing, though it limited my ability to connect with him.  Life is complex.




*Interestingly, Facebook took it upon itself to remind me that it was the second anniversary this morning, by reposting the picture I had posted of him the day after he passed.  Thanks, Zuckerberg.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Jule Carr

I've been reading Meena Webb's biography of Jule Carr, a rich industrialist dude from Chapel Hill who was instrumental in the development of Durham and the tobacco industry therein (and who knew that Durham was a nothing crossroads until the 1870s) and then later bought the mill in Carrboro and had the town named after him.  My dad was really into Jule Carr, and he in fact gave me this book.

It's pretty good, but it veers too deeply into the sheer enumeration of detail and wealth at times. Yeah, the guy was rich, and hard-working, and he built some amazing houses and whatnot.  But it gets old.  One gets the feeling that the author just has a ton of pride that our part of the world had its own little robber baron, though of course he got his ass handed to him by Buck Duke.  What's even more interesting is how captivated my dad was by the guy, given my dad's demonstrated disdain for wealth in general.

Admittedly, many of my dad's markings in the book are about Horace Williams, the great scholar from UNC who played a key role in early days of Trinity College, which then became Duke.  Dad named his cat Horace Williams.

But the book is dragging a little bit.  I may have to go back to Caro and LBJ for a little while.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Father figures

Some months ago, my Al Anon/AA sponsor fired me and, he said, all of his sponsees, needing to focus on himself.  Which is cool, I get that.

And yet, some months later, he seems unwilling to actually engage me in any real way.  After today's meeting, in which I had identified particularly with what he shared, I went up to him to tell him that, and he basically looked past me and moved on to speak to someone else.  Which is pretty odd.

But the main thing I have to admit to myself is that, 2 years to the week after my dad's death, I am still excessively dependent on substitute father figures.  I have had a bunch in my life:  my high school soccer coach and my wife'd dad stand out in particular.  In the absence of a good one, I easily substitute whoever is my boss at a given moment.  For example, my current boss, who shares many character traits with my dad, some positive, some negative.  I certainly lay myself open to being too dependent on his approval.  In the absence of it, I feel fear.  Of course, with a boss, you do kind of need their approval.  The key thing is not to over-cathect it.

At some level, my basic situation is ridiculous.  Everybody's father dies at some point in time.  Mine, in particular, was less than ideally available when he was alive, but so are a lot of dads.  So we have to learn to live without them.  On the other hand, it's pretty normal.  As we age, we learn that there are really no grown ups, there are just those to play the role better.

And today, one day after her 77th birthday, I should well and truly give thanks for having an awesome mom. She has her quirks, and she herself grew from a problematic relationship with her own parents, but she is always there for me.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

On teaching chess to Graham

I wrote about this a month ago, but it happened again yesterday.  There we were playing, in the waning light of an early spring afternoon, and I discovered that I had accidentally put my queen in a place where she was actually trapped by Graham's pawns.  All he had to do was move one pawn and there was nothing I could do, I'd have to trade my queen for a bishop.  Not a good trade.

And I felt actual shame and fear:  oh my God, I thought, my queen, how could I do this.  So I resorted to subterfuge, I moved some things around on other places of the board and distracted Graham so he didn't realize the opportunity that he had.  And I got out of it.

Again, in retrospect, I could have shown him how much power and opportunity he had, but the drive to win was too strong.

I shared about this in an AA meeting this morning, and several people identified, including a grandmother who had recently been playing chess with her granddaughter and had a similar thing go on, she was overcome by the lust for battle and dominance.  The very nice male-to-female trans-person who sits in the corner came over to me and said that she plays and coaches some chess and that actually I should not let Graham win, that he would know and it is demeaning to him.  I was glad to have that vote of confidence.

But the shocking thing is, of course, the actual fear I felt at putting my queen in a stupid situation. It is not, in essence, dissimilar to the hypertrophied level of commitment that drove me to foil a goal-scoring opportunity in a soccer game last September -- and thereby sprain my hand pretty badly.  I'm still not 100% healed.

The question is:  why do I care?  and should I?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

On science, Yale, and linear pragmatism in higher ed

Having yesterday complained about somebody waxing macro and pretentious, I'm gonna turn around and do it myself.  So shoot me. It's my blog.

There was an interesting article in the most recent Yale Alumni Magazine about science coming to Yale, starting from 1802 forward.  It's hard to fathom, but before that there was literally no science.  Zero.  Then Ben Silliman went out and collected some curios, self-educated about chemistry, and became a one-man science faculty.  OK.

It's astonishing to see the progress of universities generally over the last couple of centuries.  I'm reading Meena Webb's Julian Carr, right now, about Carr, who grew up in Chapel Hill, later was one of the drivers of the growth of tobacco in Durham (and of Durham in general), and, presumably, will have something to do with the founding of Carrboro before all is said and done.  Apparently UNC had student bodies of something like 40, 50, 70 throughout the 19th century, and was almost done for when the Reconstruction government basically defunded it after the Civil War (admittedly, nobody had any money), and the faculty worked for free.

Things are better now for sure.  And, as the article on science at Yale continued, it moved towards the present, when President Rick Levin made efforts to raise the profile of the sciences at the university, in response to a perceived lack.  Which brings us back to recent uproars in New Haven about the university's underinvestment in science and computer science specifically, which Yale has in recent days addressed by funding an expansion of the CS department.

Whew!  That's a lot of prefatory rambling.  Here's my main point: society overall and universities in general have gone overwhelmingly over towards focusing on the practical in education, at the expense of pure enquiry into values, upon which the humanities and social sciences have historically focused, and in which they have excelled.  And yes, to create economic value you have to be able to do pragmatic stuff, we know that.

And yet the fundamental questions we struggle with most are not how to do things, but what to do, and how to get people to do them.  Overwhelmingly the world struggles from a lack of alignment on core values and leadership to create that alignment.  The world needs universities and other institutions of mind and spirit that focus on the big questions and developing people who can bring others together around approaches if not answers to those questions.  Hence the huge interest in TED talks.  We're like lost puppies.  And the genuine excitement when a skinny kid with a funny name struts across the stage, or a new pope changes the focus of the Catholic church.  Yale, and UNC too, should stay strong around their core missions and not kowtow to narrow-minded pragmatists.  But that's much more easily said than done.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The free-range public intellectual

I checked Megan McCardle's The Upside of Down: Why Failing Well is the Key to Success out of the library some many weeks ago.  I have liked her work on Bloomberg pretty well, and I liked the looks of the book from the intro.

I'm now about 80 page into it. As many of you faithful readers (I love you all!) know, this is often an inflection point for me with books, and I may just need to return this one to the library soon.  My core issue with the book is this: I was connecting with McCardle well when she reflected on her own challenges and how she overcame them.  But then she veered off into abstracting about the nature of human experience using a wide range of materials drawn from anthropology, business anecdotes, behavioral economics, and I can't remember what else.

It seems to me that the influence of Malcolm Gladwell as well as a general trend towards interdisciplinarity in academia hasn't been all that felicitious for the reader, necessarily.  The temptation for a writer to draw together disparate strands of discourse into one big narrative is huge, it makes us feel big and mighty.  Lord knows I fall victim to it.  At least the bite-sized snippets I serve up here on the blog steer clear, to some extent, from the temptation towards aggrandizement.

But all too often it's easier to connect to people writing about things that are nearer to home.  The dictum for years has been to "write what you know," and it's deucedly hard to have true command of a lot of stuff, and harder yet to bring it all together coherently.

Yes, that is the goal in the end, to make sense of it all.  To communicate that sense is terribly hard.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Repetition and identity

So I was about to blog about the most recent Inspector Wexford novel I read, when I thought, "I wonder how many times I've blogged about Ruth Rendell?"  I did a quick search of the blog and discovered that the answer is:  many.  Dating back to 2009.  Though I have been reading her since before that.  As attentive readers may have noted, I highly recommend Rendell's novels, especially those about Wexford and his sidekick Mike Burden.  I have probably now read 3,000-4,000 pages about these two and a bunch of murders in and around their fictional town of Kingsmarkham.

Then I looked at my post from two days ago "Squirrelling biomass," and I thought:  "that phrase sounds familiar."  So, after a quick search, I found another post with exactly the same title here, from just over a year ago.

I suppose it should come as no surprise that I repeat myself.  I am, after all, me, and my brain has not changed dramatically in how it works, nor how it thinks about things. If anything, this points up the need for me to push outside of my comfort zone and do other things.

But hell, I'm doing that every day, these days. Sales, by god, selling financial advisory services.  It's new for me.  I'm used to thinking about markets and money and finance etc. etc., and have been getting better at it all the time, but convincing people to entrust their life savings to me and our firm, that shit is new.  So I guess it is natural that, come bedtime and weekends, I tend towards continuity, reading the same things, doing the same things, thinking similar thoughts, being myself.

Certainly my commute is not feeding me flavor like it used to in the Northeast.

One thing I'll tell you is this:  often, at bedtime, I find myself fantasizing about biscuits from the Biscuit Kitchen. I know I am on record as not finding them as good as the food press makes them out to be. They are not that much better than Time Out or even Biscuit Kitchen, but they are damned convenient in that drive-through format.  So I lay my head on the pillow and fantasize about a sausage, egg and cheese.  And then, in the morning, I eat the same cereal that I eat every day, and then carry on.

Bored bots, what they mean for Google

(I wrote about this a month ago, it's still going on.  Here's a new thought)

For some now, an absolute majority of the traffic to my blog has been Google bots going over old posts.  I wonder if this has something to do with the thinning of the internet as so much interaction has migrated to social media and people and businesses stop maintaining traditional sites with their own domains.  So that the bots have less to do, and keep traipsing over the same old internet, perhaps looking for new connections.  Good luck with that.  I think it also has implications for Google's core search business and legacy business model. Not that Google doesn't find ever more ways to be everywhere. But making money off of ever new offerings may get more challenging.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

squirrelling biomass

After all the recent storms, many trees are down around here, and as I run I often look at fine-looking piles of wood and think, "if only you could be mine."  Today my mom had me over to her house to help her and David and his son Ethan take care of a big holly tree that had come down. I got there a little late, though about when I said I would, and saw that the big tree had already made its way out to the street.  So there were these good-sized logs just sitting there. A little longish, perhaps, but then I have a big fireplace, now don't I?

So I loaded those puppies into the conveniently present Prius and carried them back around town to the crib.  But there in the wood stack were big sections of the Poplar that the people from the electrical company took down in November of 2013 because branches were encroaching on the electrical lines (here's what I wrote about it then).  I burned a bunch of that bad boy this winter, but there are huge sections of it that had just not wanted to split, even when I tried 4-6 weeks ago before we got our big snows.  But I didn't want to pile new wood on top of them if there was hope for them yet.  So I got out the old axe to give them one more chance.

And they split.  I guess 16 months is kind of a magic number for curing wood, or something about the change of the seasons loosened them up.

Meanwhile, I have been converting the seeming "yard waste" of branches taken down by the storm into what I like to think of as "yard bounty," by breaking em down into short sections and piling them up as kindling up under the deck getting ready for next year.  Soon, I will need to take all the ashes out of the fireplace.  I was going to put them in the compost, as I have on occasion in the past, but the internet just told me not to.  Sigh.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Racism and UNC football

I was talking to a guy last week whose son had played football for UNC.  He told me about the incredible level of racial tension on the team, of how black and white players do not sit together for meals and how the black players flat out hate the white players.

Presumably, the coaching staff does little to manage this situation.  I don't know about you, but this strikes me as less than ideal.  Time was, the American core culture sports -- basketball and football for the most part, to a lesser extent baseball, at least in the south -- acted as a great melting pot, the test nucleus for integration.  They weren't universally successful in terms of providing a path to integration and economic progress for everyone, but at the very least lifetime relationships were forged between black and white players.*

The week before, I had been to a talk by Duke football coach David Cutcliffe.  Not caring much about football, I had never heard of the guy.  But he talked a good talk about focusing on the character of his players when recruiting, on looking specifically for kids who didn't just do well in school, but who had shown character in getting their butts to class on time. I must say I was impressed.



*As an aside, I should note that I've always felt a bit of guilt that, as a soccer player, I was, unbeknownst to myself, part of the leading edge of resegregation. I just knew I was too scrawny to play football and somehow never developed into much of a basketball player.  I tend to put my basketball underperformance down to late-blooming and poor fine motor skills, but who knows, maybe that's just excuse making.  Other skinny white kids did OK.  Like our boy Riguz.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

I made Natalie cry at the dinner table

This week one evening when Mary was out at a meeting of some sort, Graham, Natalie and I were having dinner.  Natalie and I were talking about her course selection next year, and she said she wanted to take Theater.  I asked if it was honors, and she said no, that Theater 1 and 2 didn't have honors options.  Then we got into the whole GPA discussion and how this would hurt her GPA and thus her class rank, all of that.  I wasn't being heavy-handed, was trying to keep an even keel.

But she was getting upset, tears started welling up, she was really stressed out. "Just tell me what to do," she said.

This whole college admissions psychosis is the hardest thing in the world.  Frank Bruni's piece in the Times today was very good.  It made me cry. We have tried not to guide her too much, to let her find her own way, because she makes such good decisions and is doing so well and is so smart and is generally pretty happy.

And the problem is, we don't know what is the best thing for her.  On the one hand, I went to fancy schools, and though college in particular was a difficult time in my life for a lot of reasons, I'm glad I went to the college of my choice and I really enjoyed the quality of education I was able to access there.  And it was hugely validating to my ego to have set the goal of getting in there and then doing it.

On the other hand, too much of my ego is tied up in educational prestige.  That all happened 25-30 years ago, and it has limited influence on my happiness today.  Except I do still like books and learning and I appreciate having intelligent friends who are good human beings that I made back during college and grad school.  But it also put me in a peer group of people who have gone out and ruled the world, and sometimes I fall victim to measuring myself against them and feeling like shit about myself.

I also made some wacky career decisions that have at times complicated my life later.  Part of me wants to counsel her to be practical in her career decisions so that she doesn't live her life like a temporal pretzel, as I sometimes feel I have.  But she's not even 15 yet.

There are lots of people I know who didn't go to fancy schools and who seem to have done just fine in life.  Who knows if they are confused on the inside. One must be careful not to judge one's insides against other people's outsides, as I am at times wont to do (for example, 2 paragraphs ago)

My dad, particularly in his later poet phase, and probably when we were younger and I was tuning him out, often espoused living the simple life and eschewing materialism.  When we moved back to NC, he told me that Chapel Hill was basically corrupted by the rat race and that Hillsborough was a better place.  Sometimes I wonder if he was right.  But it was impossible to listen to him because he was so overbearing and insufferable in so many ways, he listened so poorly.  Most likely, there's probably a "grass is greener" aspect to that argument.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

A portrait of Ellie

I was told by my first girlfriend Mary that I should really go to Chapel Hill Sports Club to meet people for business purposes, and that the path to that went through Michelle's dad Charlie.  So I called up Charlie, formerly head of the state high school athletics association, and he informed me that the Durham Sports Club was in fact better, and that it met at the Croasdale Country Club and I should come there.  So I did.

When I got there at 11:30, I discovered that the mode, if not the median, age of those attending, was about 75, and that therefore 11:30 was a little bit late to show up for a lunch buffet.  There was a spot at a table with some fellows of about that age and one a good deal younger, so I sat down with them. I introduced myself, and a couple of them said "you're not Mike Troy's son, are you?"  I allowed that I in fact was.

So most of the people at the table knew my dad, had gone to high school or junior high school with him, and remembered him fondly, if not in elaborate detail.  One of them was the same class at Durham High as my dad's brother Ballard, and asked after him, and I had to inform him that Ballard had passed away a year or so back....

Which made me think back to our visit with Ballard in the summer of 2013, when the fam and I stayed with him in College Park, Maryland, using that as a base for traipsing through our nation's capital.  Ballard had a portrait of his wife Ellie -- who had predeceased him some years back -- out on the piano, and when we came home late in the afternoon we found him enjoying a healthy glass of whiskey and sitting with her portrait.  It was part of his daily routine, this communing with her likeness.  I don't know whether he disclosed this habit with the lady friend he was courting.