Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Stormy Monday

While the stock market self-destroyed we watched; some of us waited. We're still waiting. Some folks panicked. They moved their money around, lest they have nothing to move if the bleeding didn't stop soon enough. What shall we do with our money? Do we have any money left to do something with? When will this stop? Who is to blame? All good questions, but the wrong ones.
There is really only one question, as I see it. How much of what I care about is related to money? That is, what do I care about, and how will my life and ability to live it according to what matters most to me be affected by all the financial crises and maneuvering going on around me?
I'm not at all surprised at the Congress' inability to act. Anyone remotely familiar with our national legislative branch knows it's been broken for years. Some of the corporations that are major players in this fiasco have a few legislators in their pockets. When the stock market losses hit -777 yesterday, it looked like the huge slot machine it is. What an appropriate metaphor for those who see.
Maybe, just maybe, in the middle of all the anxiety and anger will come the realization that it's "a fool's errand" to be about the money, nothing but the money. My hat is off to George Santayana*...yes, they are condemned and they will repeat it.

*Perhaps best known as an aphorist, and for the oft-misquoted remark, "Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it," from Reason in Common Sense, the first volume of his The Life of Reason.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Digital Art

After I accidentally took a dip in Gold Lake (Western Cascades) I knew my digital camera was toast. At least I had the presence of mind to pull out the memory chip. Both the chip and the camera basked in the high lakes sun with me for the next six hours, but by the next morning there was major condensation in the camera.
I did what I could to clean up the camera and was thrilled when my local photo store nerd told me the pictures on the chip could be saved. "There are 25 images on the memory, but corrosion will set in; the camera is history," he said. I took the camera home, set it aside, bought a new one, and turned the page. A month passed. Somehow, I couldn't leave the old Sony Cyber Shot alone. It looked so good, so pristine from the outside, so...so... dry. One afternoon last week I placed some new batteries inside and was astonished to see it jump back to life. Of course the flash didn't work, but after pushing the shutter sternly four or five times, it snapped a picture. In the days that followed, the shutter loosened up and I took a dozen pictures. Some come out perfectly, some seem rather faded or too light, some appear out of focus, and some have an impressionist painting look that changes dramatically every time I click ENHANCE on the IPhoto button.
So now I have a "Regular" camera and an "Artsy" one. Here are a few of my newly crafted offerings from this reincarnated paintbrush of a camera.

1. Barack pays a visit to our house
2. My feet
3. A Portland Rose

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Ridin' Shotgun

     I was always a bit embarrassed by his name. Who names a horse Shotgun? Her son must have; sounds like something a kid who joins the Navy at 19 might do. It was his horse and she wanted to keep him just in case her son came back home. The sister had tried to make a Hunter/Jumper out of the black quarterhorse; he was big enough, but must have sensed that horses called Shotgun don't take to dressage and English saddles.
So I agreed to take him on. Pay for a share of his care and board; get him wormed, brushed and exercise while I tried to hold on to my teaching job, find the love of my life, and become a man.
One of my early goals was to keep horses in my life and Shotgun gave me the opportunity I craved. He didn't take too well to my mare's hackamore. (a bridle without a bit) When I gave him his head and let him run a little he soon ran out of the bridle. Fortunately the land he called home, with its weekend warriors, wannabe trainers and lovestruck pre-teens, had plenty of hills. If that didn't slow him down, I could always run up on other riders; even Shotgun knew he couldn't run over the top so he'd just play bumper cars for a minute and then realize he needed to stop.
It took a month or two, but we became good friends. He put up with my strange hours. I'f I'd had a bad day and needed a break from adolescent drama or inept administrators, I could always take a 20 min. drive and brush, comb, saddle, and ride.
If I met a new friend, I could always walk the walk. "No really, I've got a horse, want to ride him?" Shotgun had an eye for the women too.
A couple of years down the road I needed to move on. I was hopeful of a family that included my own children instead of one 1200 lb mud-stained, apple and carrot munching, runaway kid named Shotgun.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Messy Glory

Who's whining now? The economy continues in free fall and people are scared. Those that played by the rules, of course, get hit the hardest. While pundits and professors debate, analyze, pontificate, and admonish, I have a simple explanation. GREED. Enough said.
I keep wondering when some of the folks I know who lose sleep over their dwindling IRAs, or second guess their home's value, or wonder why all the money they've squirreled away over a lifetime won't bring them any contentment; when... will they, or perhaps... will they ever... realize that there are far better things to do with their time.
I don't wish financial misfortune on anyone. It's just that many of these self-righteous capitalists are in denial about the gambling they do in their lives. It's a spinning wheel, a roll of the dice; it's a dealt hand, a wager on a first time starter. It certainly is.
I'm fascinated that in this election year, many folks are more concerned with Sarah Palin's hairstyle than her ability to solve problems. It's particularly amusing for all these business as usual politicians are spouting how radical their idea of change is, how they bring a fresh approach. The negative campaign ads for the senate race here in Oregon are laughable. Here's what I mean. I turned on the evening news tonight, mostly to see the damage caused by Ike to Houston and the Galveston area. Oh yeah, and I was wondering how many financial institutions went belly up in the last few hours. Anyway, the race between incumbent senator Gordon Smith and his opponent Democrat Jeff Merkley is so bad that each commercial break is filled with no less than 3 or 4 separate ads attacking one another. Over and over these ads play like public torture. What are they thinking? That we don't know that in a two hour period we have been attacked with the same ads 20 plus times. That figure is correct. (see my notes on today's paper IIII/ IIII/ IIII/ IIII/)
One of the observations F. Scott Fitzgerald made in his novel The Great Gatsby is that Americans can't resist the temptation of the green light. Just as Gatsby was seduced by the possibility of the dream, so too is our culture. But the glory is often messy. We here in the USA do messy glory well. Green means go and so it is that anything goes. Be aware of who is always left to pick up the pieces.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I Heart Potatoes

I love potatoes. Sometimes potatoes make it even easier to love. In this case, an Eastern Oregon farmer I patronize at the Portland Saturday Farmer's market, offered this LOVE ly potato for sale.
Aside from it's wonderful color and flavor my new friend brought equally wonderful smiles from two of my most cherished friends. Anni and Naomi know how to share the love.
Sometimes it's that simple.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Juke Jux

I knew an old Greek San Francisco cab driver from the race track. He was so sure of his ability to pick winners that he actually believed certain horses were "supposed to win." He would approach me from time to time, slowly reach his arm forward and place it around my neck in a fatherly way, and in his wonderful accent say, "Let me tell you shom-ting my friend..."
It's a useful phrase that I save for special occasions. This is one of them. So let me tell you something my friend, In this post convention, pre election phase, when Sarah Palin continues to wow the ignorant, and Obama is slipping faster in the polls faster than a Jamaican sprinter, all is not lost. It's time to play switch the music. This is a little game you can play while driving from here to there in the privacy of your own vehicle. If you take public transit, simply take along any MP3 player, or whatever your earphones happen to be connected to these days. Here's what I do.
First play some music you absolutely adore. You know, the album with the cut on it you could listen to over and over. Or else that new recording you just got, or something you own that you love but just haven't had time to hear it enough. Then as you go about your business, locate either a person or carload of folks whose musical tastes and overall values do not mirror your own. Then crank up the volume and imagine that person, or that carload is groovin' to your sound. The possibilities of juxtaposition are endless. I particularly enjoy having those boom box wagons with the sound systems that shake your fillings loose enjoy a little bluegrass. It's especially nice when all windows are up and all you hear is your soundtrack on their body movement.
I try to switch it up in many different ways. I use blues and jazz, pop music and classical, oldies and very new stuff. For best results, use what you love the most. Lest you think I'm just a control freak, intolerant of other people's taste in music, I would remind you of that famous line attribute to Duke Ellington, or his father, or on occasion somebody else: There are only two kinds of music, good and bad.
Trouble is, there is some seriously bad shit out there. Now and then, when the sound and the movement align just right, when your mood and your weather cooperate, when you forget the old cup just might be half full, this will give you a little taste of paradise. If not, I guarantee a gold medal smile.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Alive and Well

I saw the musician from a distance. Almost hidden behind scurrying people, and framed by Indians selling salmon, and local growers offering sunflowers, or tubs of blueberries and strawberries, I could vaguely hear some kind of guitar sound. Just one guy on the small stage with an even smaller crowd more interested in their breakfast burritos and scones than the performer.
By the time I reached the far side of the Saturday Farmer's Market, looking for the pear grower with his down syndrome daughter who carefully fills a bag for me, the music stopped. Rounding the far turn of the stall space and heading for the homestretch, I heard some fantastic slide guitar. Then it hit me and settled in my brain like fine wine: Robert Johnson. They must be playing a recording while the next band sets up. Following the familiar sound of "You better come on into my kitchen..." I found the source. James Clem.
He looked more like a banker with a National steel-bodied guitar. The shiny silver chrome of that blues machine sparkled in sharp contrast to this 60 something white guy bringing it all home. The boy sang and played the blues. I set my bag of fruit and vegetables down and stayed a while. This is so Portland, I thought.
Turns out James Clem and I have even more in common than a love of delta blues. He, like me, is originally from L.A. and cut his teeth, as I did, seeing the likes of Son House, Howlin' Wolf, Sleepy John Estes, and Bukka White at the Ash Grove. On his web site Is saw a picture of James from the 70s looking more like James Taylor with a full head of flowing auburn hair. I plan to catch him at one of the local pubs or again at the Farmer's Market because his schedule is available on line now. Imagine that, delta blues on demand, online, all the time.
I love that James Clem has come to Portland to live. I love how people like him show up all over this city all the time. But what I love most is that the music he plays continues. Very few young black musicians will touch this stuff. Wynton Marsalis was mentioning the other day how we have to teach each new generation the history of their music. Made me think I still have work to do in that vein. It's one of the things I miss about teaching the most. People like James Clem are keeping this music alive.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Old School

I paid a surprise visit to my old school this morning. Just dropped in right before lunchtime at El Cerrito High School, or at least the version that now exists before the brand new school that is being built gets occupied in December. I didn't know what to expect. This is the first year that there are no students enrolled there that have ever had a class with me. The new principal, a young African-American educator with the right frame of mind and the right energy level is a former student of mine. He gave me a welcoming hug, as did all the women in the main office who were there when I was there. Of course some of my old colleagues were there and I popped in their classrooms.
It was so wonderful to know that I could just observe it all with out having to take responsibility for anything. High schools are such fascinating laboratories for the study of adolescence. When I start my new job as university supervisor for beginning teachers next week, I'll have had recency. The level of noise, the resistance, the enthusiasm, the optimism, and the anxiety all came tumbling back to me. At one point, as I was leaving and the last stragglers were getting to their first afternoon classes, a couple cruised by me. The guy had his girlfriend in a headlock, and although she wasn't exactly protesting, I just couldn't walk away.
"Hey, that can't be too much fun," I shouted at him. No response. I then motioned with my arm mimicking the release of the headlock. My body language said knock it off. he did. They walked on; I walked on. Guess you can't take the teacher out of the school.
Next time I visit the new school will be ready to inhabit. It'll no doubt change some of the behavior of the student body. It'll give them something impressive to feel connected to and to rebuild their pride. The physical geography of the new campus will be up for grabs. It'll contain clean restrooms; it'll have no graffiti, no broken anything, no dysfunctional classrooms, no leaks, no fifty year residue of disgruntled humanity.
I left El Cerrito Gaucho land with the impression that if I ever wanted to come back and teach there all I'd have to do is say the word. I know it's not that simple, but it's gratifying in some small way. After all, the principal remembered my International Problems class. I felt the rarified air of respect.