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 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


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.