Thursday, August 17, 2017

Working vacation

It is of course a contradiction in terms.  I come up here to the Northeast in August with a few goals. First and foremost, to see family. All of Mary's people are here, and after 23 years or so they are my people too. The kids are used to seeing uncles, aunt, cousin, grandma, the sound, a play in the city. It is part of the rhythm of our life.

But, I already took a couple of weeks vacation in July. My practice is still not entirely at cruising altitude. Thankfully I don't have pressing and immediate client issues, except for figuring out how best to service my non-standard clients. But there is tons to do.

And I wake up first most mornings, and the air is cool, and I'm looking out over the water in a pretty chill locale, and days are shortened by the need to do family things in the evening... And we're having pizza tonight, so I should really exercise.

This is all layered on top of the general conflict within me of trying to figure out how best to allocate my time, feeling like I need to make good use of myself. And it is all within the context of operating within an extremely rarefied cohort in an atmosphere of extreme white privilege. So there is guilt.

Trump is 15 miles away to the south. This weekend there will be an attempt at a "March on Google" in New York. It will be interesting to see who turns out. Should I go?

Probably not. My instinct is that direct engagement with, or acknowledgement of, the extreme right is right now playing into Bannon's hands, giving Breitbart et al fodder to rile people up. This weekend, it is better to ignore them.

Or keep reading JD Vance,'s  Hillbilly Lament which I started last night. Pretty easy reading.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Finding coffee

I have written of the extent to which we, as a family, are held hostage by the tradition of afternoon coffee. It is really a little pathetic, but it's true.

Last summer we were in Normandy and, it being France, you would think that each village has a perfect little sidewalk cafe where one could get a cafe au lait and a flaky pain au chocolat while seated in the shade. But that is complete bullshit, it turns out.

Tourist bullshit. There were days when we found ourselves driving around for like 45 minutes to find something vaguely resembling this ideal. In many small villages, there is maybe a pizza place and a smelly Bar/Tabac, which would have worked for me, but not the kids. Sometimes there's not even that.

There is also no Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, etc. Just as many small American towns may just have a Pizza Hut or perhaps just Hunt Brothers pizza available at a convenience store (actually not horrible pizza, better than Papa John's or Domino's, and a pretty good business).

In so many ways, we constantly forget how good we have it.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Leaving it on the court

Played tennis last night, doubles, didn't play well. Last week I had played singles and had played well.

I know I know, why should you care? The point is, dear reader, that tennis has always been and continues to be an object lesson for the Grouse in self-control. I feel crappy when I play poorly, and it becomes hard to distinguish between performance and self-esteem, it gets hard to remember that having played poorly doesn't reflect badly on me as a person. In fact, upon reflection, I can see that letting it get to me reflects slightly badly on me as an adult, whereas the actual playing does not, except to the extent that it is impacted by my poor self management.

The key thing is getting some exercise, meeting and hanging with some folx, and so on. I get that as soon as I get home and nestle into the couch for some family viewing. (Right now "Stranger Things" on NetFlix, a production of some Durham boys and a woman I went to college with, oddly enough)

In the end, all I can really say is praise allah that I don't play golf. That would be a mess. Especially for you readers.



Tuesday, August 08, 2017

More on Ferrante

There is a temptation to call the Neapolitan novels a Bildungsroman, a narrative of personal formation and growth, and to an extent it is true. But in some sense it is the tale of the de-formation of personhood, the excessive and lifelong interdependency of two persons, namely Lenu (our narrator) and Lina, her best friend, rival, and other half.

The question that naturally arises is: how much is this norm, how much exception?  I.e. are we all like that, or is this a little extreme. As so many questions, I think the answer is probably: both. That is, the Lenu/Lina relationship is over the top, but in so being it digs into the heart of many human relationships, that many of us skate on the edge of excessive "enmeshment" (a term a counsellor friend I was talking with yesterday suggested) as we go through life, ever charting our own courses and being pulled back into the orbits of our key partners in life, our parents, spouses, friends, children, etc.

This is before we even begin to discuss Lenu and Lina as "types" representative of historical courses, Lenu, like a leftist/literary Forrest Gump, travels out and everywhere, becomes through her spouse and kids a global citizen, Lina never goes anywhere, but delves deep into the historical roots and bowels of Naples, all the while becoming ever more complex, deeper and richer. Or not.

It is a big burgeoning troth of food for thought. Them belly full but me hungry.

Monday, August 07, 2017

The Neapolitan Novels

I'm not sure when I started them, not all that long ago, it's kind of a blur, but I pushed through to the end of volume 4 of Elena Ferrante's quartet yesterday.

It is a remarkable series of books. To fully encapsulate it, I have to resort to Tolstoy's perhaps apocryphal rejoinder when someone asked him what Anna Karenina was about. He started to recite the book from the beginning. And Tolstoy is, in the end, the best analogy to Ferrante, though her project is closer to War and Peace than it is to Anna Karenina in the sheer breadth of its scope and ambition. It is closer to Faulkner, though, in the intensity of its focus on place, in this case Naples.

Perhaps the most astonishing thing is that, although it is told from the first person, Ferrante resists the temptation to have what Forster calls "flat" characters. Instead, the characters are all more or less "round," complex, with multidimensional motivations for their paths in life. While there's no doubt that some are more fully-fleshed than others, there's at least an attempt at some depth wherever possible, which is not chopped liver, as far as novel-writing goes.

And for this reason, having finished it, I am ever so slightly tempted to go back and read it again. Not that that's gonna happen, it's kindred to the urge to have another baby long after you've really sworn it off and can see the finish line of emptynesterdom.

But I will read more Ferrante in time, to be sure.

For now, Deep Space 9 beckons.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

The vanishing of labor, continued

Building on this theme from a few weeks back.

The whole idea that all jobs can be automated away and that therefore there will be no work in the future is predicated on the idea that the only work worth doing is the jobs that are being done. So, if groceries can be rung up, or assets allocated, or loans underwritten by bots, then everybody should be sitting around.

Meanwhile, climate change continues apace, there is food insecurity in Africa and food deserts in lower income neighborhoods, obesity is on the rise everywhere, everybody feels like they need a gun because everybody else has one, especially those bad people over there. There is horrific inequality all over the place, health care cannot be equitably provided, etc. etc. Globally, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, and Palestine, amongst others, present seemingly insoluble challenges.

I am reminded of Giuliani's sneering branding of Obama as a "community organizer." It seems to me that community organizing is the thing we need most, only we need it at a much higher level than Obama was doing it in Chicago. In 2008, he seemed like he might have raised his game to do it at a global level, but that proved to be too great of a challenge even for him. The Nobel Committee fell flat on its face fawning before him, even as McConnell and the Tea Party threw up a wall of white resentment. Boehner may have represented a bridge not taken.

This is not Obama's fault. It is our fault, and our problem, and our path out.

It is not that work is vanishing, but that there is so so very much work to be done, and the very best work. We just need to figure out how to do it. Melinda Gates is doing a pretty good job showing white Americans an ideal of how it might be done. She is the new Princess Diana.

Time to swim.