This past week has been intense. Since my last post, Mayor Quan pulled the police cordon away from Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza and the Occupiers took it back over. Now she is saying that the Occupiers are “damaging the city.” This is just part of the manic flip-flopping that has been going on in City Hall. She is the best-worst friend of the Occupiers. After instructing the police to bust up the encampment downtown on October 24/25, she turned around and on the day of the General Strike, November 2, she sent out messages to her constituents (including me) that she “support[s] the goals of those protesting on behalf of the 99% today” the day of the announced general strike. WTF?
All politics aside, this has been very exciting, but also very frustrating for me because I was not able to participate. Well, “not able” isn’t the best use of the English Language because I was physically able but the time I need to put in to educating tomorrow’s protestors was zapping all of my political drive.
I realized this and it was pissing me off. I had no drive to be a teacher anymore and certainly did not want to deal with the day-to-day grind of not only schooling, but the peculiar institution of East Bay Independent School schooling: the helicopter parents, the politics around grading, the precocious self-indulgence of tweens, the thinly veiled air of entitlement and self-importance. I was verbally stating to colleagues that I no longer wanted to be a teacher and I meant it. The sound of helicopters (not the parents, the tried-and-true whirlybirds) were not only keeping me from the rest that I so desperately needed but they were a constant reminder that I was not participating in something that I have literally waited most of my life to participate in.
Then the General Strike.
On November 2, I was saying that I wasn’t going to go downtown to the protests. Mostly, I couldn’t take off work and I would be “too tired.” I was going to “support” them from home (like some sort of fucking arm chair quarterback). I would speak my praise and support into the air and hope the ether would carry it to those braver than me. But, my wife had other plans. She knows me better than I do myself. She told me in no uncertain terms would we not not go down to the protest.
It was late in the day of protest. There were few speakers and many revelers reveling in the revelry. The first thing we heard when we biked up to the protest were drums and the first thing we saw was a fuck-all big banner.
In the center of the, otherwise, busiest intersection in Oakland was a huge drum circle. With each beat and step toward the smiling, satisfied crowd my smile became bigger and bigger.
Finally, we were able to walk around the encampment. Of course there was the fair share of what you would expect but there was beauty that made my heart sing.
It was really amazing and inspiring to be walking with so many people that just want something better. People were supportive, helpful and empowered, something that you don’t usually see. Of everything that I saw downtown on November 2, two of the most moving were these:
I always find Day of the Dead altars moving but the thing that made fireworks go off in my head was the Alameda Firefighters making ****FREE**** food for the Occupiers and Teamsters walking around and answering questions and being ad hoc “security”. Fucking awesome.
I couldn’t help feeling the warmth, the fellowship, the commonality of it all. This is how its supposed to be. Working together. No fear. No bullying. No barriers. Just people being good people. I will never forget this.
Earlier on in the night, Occupy Oakland shut down the Port of Oakland. At first this may not seem like much. But when you consider that nearly everything that comes to the United States from Asia (China, Japan, Vietnam, India, etc.) on a container ship (which is a majority of everything you want and own) either goes to Long Beach, CA or Oakland, you realize just how BIG it is! The International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union that operates the docks stated on Tuesday, November 1, that they supported the Occupy Oakland movement but could not legally participate in the strike. They did give the movement a hail Mary pass: they could not and would not cross a picket line. With this knowledge, the general strikers (by some accounts: 5,000 plus) made that picket line and the docks shut down because the workers could not get to work.
When we got home I found out that there were zero arrests and very little property damage. I guess the police were too busy protecting their police station, as the picture I snapped as we were riding by them in full riot gear indicates.
That night, I slept so well. With a renewed motivation of social justice and educating tomorrow’s protestors, I laid my head down on my pillow, content with a renewed sense of humanity and well-being, and thought “yes, there is a power in a union.”
The last two nights have been sleepless. Not only because of the Police helicopters circling while the ground forces corralled, tear-gassed, abused, and arrested protestors and marchers of Occupy Oakland, but also because my liberal guilt has been keeping me up. I stand for everything that these people do and its been killing me that I have not gone to Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza and shared in the experience with the protestors. Mainly, and regretfully, I have not because I have to work.
Lamesauce, I know.
So, with the buzzing sound of helicopters in my ears, I rose from my attempted slumber to see what the hell was going on. With little work I was able to find the empowering and the enraging. I was not content to just go to sleep so I decided to write Oakland’s mayor, Jean Quan, and let her know how I felt. Below is what I submitted through her website.
In reference to recent events of the clashes with Occupy Oakland, I am outraged at the closed-fist, draconian actions of your office and the police department in which you directly preside over. Any and all injuries, insults, or indignity experienced or inflicted are caused by and incited from your, and your administration’s rash and unmerited reaction to a peaceful demonstration.
Protestors in Frank Ogawa and Snow Parks were respectfully and amicably exercising their First Amendment Rights to “peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”. These grievances are of the utmost importance to these protestors, the good people of Oakland, your administration, and the country as a whole. Surely someone who at one time stood in protests for Filipino farmworkers in the 1969 “Third World Strike” would understand the importance of the undertakings of these few brave protestors. Certainly a mayor that lauded her experiences in the aforementioned strike (to win favor in the mayoral race that gave you your current position) would have understood the necessity of allowing kindred spirits to carry out their peaceful actions.
Shame. Shame on you, Mayor Quan. Have you forgotten what it was like? Have you forgotten the pauperized people that you once stood by? It is these abused peoples that the Occupy Oakland protestors stand for. Also, whether you realize it or not, they stand for you. Sleep peacefully tonight, Mayor Quan, for there are literally hundreds of your constituents that are not, so that you can.
I know, it isn’t brilliant or incendiary, but it is how I feel. This was actually the first time that I have written to a politician. Weird. I can hardly believe it myself that I haven’t written to a representative in office before. It’s strangely empowering! Like I’m actually part of the process.
I highly recommend that you write the mayor as well. Not only is she the mayor, she is the direct supervisor of the police force and therefore directly responsible for their actions. You can write to Mayor Jean Quan here. Also on that page you can get the emails of the City Administrators (Quan’s lackeys) and the contact information of the City Council. Even if you do not live in Oakland, please contact the Mayor’s Office and have your say.
Lastly, here’s some links for you:
So, with the sounds of helicopters fading into the distance (to refuel?), I try to go catch the illusive sleep. Good night, Oakland. Stay safe. Stay strong.
I know, I haven’t been on here as often as my mind needs to expel the frustrations and foibles of everyday life into the ether. Educating tomorrow’s leaders takes a bit on the spirit and leaves very little for artistic pursuits. Same song, different stanza.
Last night I was able to go see the almighty Shellac at the New Parish in Downtown Oaktown. I was completely prepared to write up an entire review and bio of the band and the experience but I feel I can put it simply with this:
- Your favorite band sucks.
- Go see Shellac live in concert.
- Go home.
- Burn your entire music collection.
I’ve been thinking a lot about friends recently. This is no surprise because there has been a great, wonderful amount of friend-time. Each time I got together with friends this summer, old and new, I was continually thinking about friendship in and of itself and how people become friends, stay friends, what the binding factors are, and how do friends “breakup”?
Frankie and Johnny were lovers
Oh lordy, how they could love
Just as true as the stars above
He was her man, but he done her wrong
In my 36 years I have known many people as friends, a few of which I still consider as such. There were times that I felt like I was awash with friends. It was almost as if I could just turn around and there would be someone I liked to spend time with. Whether is was to do a specific activity (baseball, climb trees, shoot hoops, eat ice cream, play G. I. Joes, etc.) or just be in each others’ company. I remember that I would call up friends to see if they just wanted to come over. No goal, no purpose, no real reason, just to be around each other and be content. I guess this is somewhat a casualty of puberty or maybe the repurposed, sped-up society in which we live now.
When I get together with friends now it is to do something. Even if it is to “hang out” it usually includes a meal, a game on TV, or copious amounts of adult-type beverages. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy each of these things (some might say to excess) but I miss being able to exist next to a compatriot without feeling a need to fill the spaces with conversation, distraction, debate, or even reason. It’s so much easier to meet people when you’re younger. The proof is in the amount of online personal ads that are full of adults looking for a friend, a lover, or both. It’s just so overwhelming sometimes when I realize that I am constantly surrounded by people everyday and the hardest thing for me to do is strike up a conversation.
Well, Frankie went down to the corner
To get a bucket of beer
She said to the fat bartender
“Has my lovin’ Johnny been here?
He was my man, I think he’s doing me wrong”
I’m so jaded and fearful of rejection that it is paralyzing to think that I would try to make a connection with someone that I have seemingly little in common. Children are so different. They just go up and say “Hi! My name is ______. Want to play?” If I tried this I’m sure that the person would take it as some sort of come-on and punch/slap/mace me.
This is why I was so surprised a few years ago when, lets call him “Stanley”, came up to me at work (we worked together) and asked simply if I wanted to get a beer or something. Of course, I took this as a come-on but I figured what the hell (I had recently been broken-up with, I spent my nights sitting in front of Seinfeld reruns, and going to bed by 9:00) let’s give it a shot. We met for a drink, talked, and made fast friends.
Stanley and I, for a while, spent a large amount of time together, when we could. Soon I was brought into his circle of close friends and I started to date his girlfriend’s best friend, let’s call her “Rose”. We were all thick as thieves, but then I started to hang with other people as well and ultimately met my lovely wife.
“Well, I don’t want to cause you no trouble
And I don’t want to tell you no lies
But I seen your man about an hour ago
With that high-browed Nellie Bly
He was your man, I think he’s doing you wrong”
When I started dating my soon-to-be wife I ended the relationship with Rose and Stanley’s girlfriend started to distance them from me. Makes sense, but I thought Stanley and I could stay friends through work and could still hang out as time allowed. Little did I know how difficult that was going to be.
This was mostly because I fell ass-over-teakettle for my wife. From the moment we first met, I wanted to spend ALL of my time with her. Not only did this complicate my friendship with Stanley but I had finally convinced my brother to move out to the Bay Area with me. Trying to cultivate a relationship with my soon-to-be wife and another with my brother seemed to leave little time or patience for other things, even easy friendships. Stanley and I met up less and less and I started to make excuses when we planned to do something. I wasn’t a very good friend.
Then Frankie went home in a hurry
She didn’t go there for fun
Frankie went home to get a-hold
Of Johnny’s shooting gun
He was her man, but he done her wrong
After a while I came out of my love-haze to realize that I was fucking over my friends, specifically Stanley. I tried to reconnect and find ways to do stuff together. While this was happening I proposed to M’lady and we started to plan for a wedding. For those of you that have not had to go through this, you begin to weigh friendships and, as tactless as it is, decide whether you would like them at your wedding. There were those that we ultimately felt we couldn’t, or shouldn’t, invite but I had really hoped Stanley would attend the wedding and the preceding bachelor party.
Frankie peeked over the transom
And there to her surprise
She saw her lovin-man Johnny
With that high-browed Nellie Bly
He was her man, and he was doing her wrong
The bachelor party was fun but nowhere near what one would expect as normal. A few bars, three close friends, and some new friends (my wife’s friends’ husbands). Overall a short night, without Stanley in attendance. After asking, actually begging, him to attend, he said he couldn’t, citing schoolwork or something along those lines. I accepted it and tried not to think about it but this was when I started to feel that I had fucked up the friendship.
Then Frankie pulled back her kimono
And she pulled out a small .44
Root-e-toot-toot three times she shot
Right through that hardwood door
He was her man, but he done her wrong
At our wedding I was super excited to have my friends share in our wedding with us. Friends and family both from near and far had attended but there were more that did not come. Most of whom the distance was too far or expensive to travel. In all of the joy and celebration I realized that Stanley and my friendship was officially over this day. It wasn’t so much the fact that he said that he had to take a test in the morning and couldn’t come, it was in comparison to one of M’lady’s friends. Her friend said that she could not be at the ceremony but would try to come to the reception. We hoped she would make it but did not expect her because she was out of town on business. Ultimately, this friend flew to the Bay Area from Seattle that day, went home, changed into wedding attire, drove to the reception and stayed at the house with us. M’lady and I were blown away by this sentiment of friendship. In contrast, Stanley couldn’t drive 40 minutes for a 30 minute service, four hours after the test ended.
“Well roll me over on my left side
Roll me over so slow,
Roll me over on my
left hand side, Frankie,
Them bullets hurt me so,
I was your man, but I done you wrong”
As it says in the song above, “the bullets hurt me so.” But what hurts the most, as Johnny most likely realized, is that I brought this on myself. I’m the one that took for granted that the friendship would go on and put little effort into it. Sure Stanley hurt me but I hurt myself most of all. When did it become so hard to keep friends, how did it all become so complicated?
I’d like to think that I’m much better at keeping friends, but I am sure that some would say different. One of my best friends (since third grade!) Shawn has moved out to the Bay Area (actually, he moved ten feet from where I am sitting. He’s living in our dining room for now). We have seen some real ups and downs in our friendship, but we can always pick up where we left off. There are very few times that I feel that I need to fill the spaces with something quick-witted or funny. We can just enjoy being around each other. We can stare at the wall and be content in it.
A full year ago, I started this blog. Below is the beginning:
Here it is, May Day. A moving holiday that I have only recently began to think about. Growing up, I had always been under the impression, as most Americans are, that May Day is a holiday that was celebrated by somebody, somewhere, but not here or by us. Only in adulthood did I realize that it is really the true celebration of those that make their living with their hands and back.
With little effort, one can find a multitude of information about both the traditional (nee: pagan) roots of May Day, the Haymarket Strike, the struggle for the eight hour work day, and the International Workers’ Day. For example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/May_Day. Clearly, this day is is much more than children dancing around a pole with streamers in their hands.
I have been thinking a lot about labor recently. Mostly, its been centered around gaining employment for myself. I haven’t been writing much. You’ve probably noticed. Since my last post I have been toiling away as a second grade teacher. I’ve found myself saying and doing things that I never thought I would. When was the last time you’ve asked someone you aren’t related to if they have to go to the bathroom?
Needless to say, my creative juices have gone into teaching. There isn’t much left at the end of the day for writing.
In a very fitting way, the final sentence says it all with its abrupt ending. My year has been this way: just when my heart begins to sing, I hastily have to stop and turn my attention to something else that is hanging on my conscious imminently. To bring things forward, I no longer teach second grade (thank goodness) and have moved much closer to my training: teaching seventh grade social studies and language arts. While I love the things I’m teaching about, I have a hard time expressing what I want and why the students should care. The eternal conundrum of an educator.
From my last blog (two! years ago?!), I tried to express the nearly herculean effort of finding a course of meaning in this world fraught with get-rich-schemes and self-destructive rabbit holes. My life since then has been full of ups and downs. I got married to the woman of my dreams and got (at one point seemed to be) my dream job.While married life has been great and eternally fulfilling, I wish I could say the same for the job.
There are so many things that I grapple with daily. More than I can put down here . . . actually, more than I am sure you would want to read. So, this is what is the most imperative:
First of all, how I got my current job. Let me explain: sometime in last April/May the director at my last school met with me about plans for this year. Knowing that I was nearly willing to kill to work for the school, she said that the school was not able to offer me a full-time teaching position, but there was always the substitute roster. In overwhelming exasperation, I asked her what I was doing wrong. I had been searching for a teaching position for nearly eight years and the only thing my resume was lacking was experience. With a knowing smile and dismissive tone, she said that she didn’t know and postulated that I didn’t fill the cookie-cutter expectations the schools of the East Bay had. Well, that’s that, I said and resigned myself to my presumptive position in life: working class and unmarketable.
Then, two days later I was informed, by the director, to contact someone I’ve never heard of about a job at a school that I didn’t know existed. Long story short, I got the job (which I have now), she went to bat for me, and I am eternally grateful. While it’s happening you don’t stop to think “this is fucking nepotism! They didn’t find me because of my skills, my talents, my aptitude, or even my flair. They found me because my name was passed along.” I know, I’ve heard it from everyone out here, that’s how things work; that’s the way to get your foot in the door. When there’s literally thousands of applicants, the person doing the hiring needs some help because there just isn’t time!
Well, I hate it and I struggle with it.
I want to know that there was an intentional process. I want to know that I, above and beyond a doubt that I’m the right one not the one right now. It isn’t my merit that got me this job. They didn’t see my Nimean Lion pelt. They didn’t ask me to do a demo lesson. They barely asked for my resume.
I convinced myself to be happy. This is what I wanted, right? I have my own classroom. I am actually making a difference in kids lives. Doesn’t that outweigh how I got here? Also, does it matter that I am sacrificing my public school and communal preference for an independent school? The Oakland Public School System is a fractured and troublesome institution that I do not need to worry about because I am part of a system that works. Right? I can control my curriculum. I don’t have to worry about being pink-slipped. I can finally start to cultivate a love for history in students. I can tell the stories of the indentured, the migrant, the put-upon, the downtrodden and abused. This is a good thing, right?
Then Wisconsin happened.
I had a quiet and very personal crisis of conscious. How can I stand here and lament what happened to unions in Wisconsin and continue to work in a school system that has no union or even collective-bargaining options? I feel like a traitor. How can I stand in front of a classroom and express the genius and importance of Emma Goldman, Karl Marx, Woody Guthrie, etc. and be in what is essentially a non-union shop? Am I making the impact on society that I want?
On this May Day, I feel corrupted. The pelt on my back has started to feel like a scarlet letter. I know that the fact that my school even exists puts pressure on the State and, by proxy, on Public Education as a whole. But what can I do? This is the hardest thing for me to consider. I know the rhetoric: one person can change the world; stand by your beliefs; education is the way to a better life; blah, blah, blah.
The fact is that I’m not sure if I want to stay with teaching. When will I feel satisfied? How many 100 hour weeks can I endure? Isn’t there something more? Something that I can point to and say “I did that. That was me.” This seems to be the thing my soul calls for. The long line of tool belts of my lineage has not really prepared me for all of this. Should I even be celebrating this holiday? Is it for me?
In an attempt to exorcise my soul, I have signed up for the IWW. Yep, I’m a wobblie. This has given me so much happiness, I smile just writing the words. I know that this won’t make a huge change in me, but its a start. However long I stay with this school, I’ll continue to tell kids about labor movements, about Sacco and Vanzetti, and show them The Salt of the Earth. I’ll educate them on the non-Hobbesian view of the state of nature, and tell them that we got to stand up for each other. What else do we have?
What is a man’s worth? How do you gauge his weight, not in pounds but in impact? How do you quantify him, by actions or by bank account? Are deeds of daring more manly or are standing by your values? Is there a celestial tallying system that gives opportunities and hindrances upon global decisions? Are there universal truths about what is and is not acceptable for a man and how they are viewed?
Not easy questions to answer, I know. These are just a taste of the things that have been taking up my time and energy. Its been a long time since I have posted, I know dear reader. There has been a lot going on in these last nine (really?! holy christ…) months. I have started a number of posts but they just did not come. Blocked up by a seemingly constant state of motion of new and unfamiliar circumstances. Here’s the greatest hits…
I started dating again, at one point dating two women at the same time. I ended it with the first and became exclusive with the second, let’s call her M’lady. We met online (I know, I WAS the guy haranguing the downfall of humanity because of the anonymity of weblife. My life is one big contradiction, I get it.). I went to the Great Commonwealth over the holidays and brought back my little brother. We moved in together and I spent most of my time over at M’lady’s apartment. I taught a class on San Francisco films and blogging critiques to 8th graders. I moved into a new, bigger apartment with my brother and a friend. I stayed there less than 10 days between March and May. I told my job that I no longer wanted to continue employment in my then current role and that I was resolved to find a classroom position. I applied, wrote, interviewed, hoped, pleaded, resumé-ed, hurried, and was rejected ever since. I decided to move out of Berkeley and into another apartment with M’lady, in Oakland. I tried finding someone to take over my part of the rent so that my brother and my friend did not have to move out and move on. Alas, there’s the business of best laid plans…
More recently, I spent the summer chasing my youth around the rocky coast, giant redwoods, and majestic mountain tops. I went back to the Commonweal, only this time with M’lady. We participated in the only true sport of my homeland, toured the beloved sites, and she was introduced to everyone important, and a few not so much.
Returning to the Promised Land, I found myself…at a loss. The resolved classroom never materialized. Hoping to empower my lobby to get an honest-to-goodness classroom in an honest-to-goodness school I started an (online) class (I know, TWO things that I had previously bemoaned. Contradiction. Got it. Can we move on?). So, now I am working at lease three days a week, subbing for classes that are neither my own nor I am trained to be in, working on a series of online classes for a certification that has no guarantee other than to put me more into debt, and using the rest of my time trying to not slide down the slippery slope of the working class mindset of regret, self hatred, and fear. Heavy, no?
Whew! When I put it all down like that its pretty amazing how much can happen in a short amount of time. There’s a lot there and, I guess, a bit to be proud of. But, there has been this overwhelming and constant feeling that I have been struggling to explain and quantify. It’s not surprising nor even new. I have been grappling with it most of my life and even more in adulthood.
When I was a boy, I often wondered how adults got so smart. How did they become the voices of reason and advice? At the time, I was of the persuasion that there was a higher power and He would bestow things on His believers, I had decided that it just happened when it was time to be an adult. And it would happen when you proved you were ready, by way of some mystical, unseen tally system based on faith, and being kind and humane. Sure, there were those older people who were foolish, obtuse, or even criminal, but I just thought they were childish more than anything and they had not “grown up”. Subsequently, through a series of events and unsatisfying conversations with my “religious leaders”, I lost my religion. Not in a REM way but in the adrift sort of way. I had to readdress the question. Without a higher power and the bestowal, how do you know when you are an adult? Through trying to find this answer I found only more questions, many of which introduced this blog. Of those, the most conspicuous was what is a man?
What is a Man? There’s a lot wrapped up in those three letters. I’m not even sure where to begin. Everyone seems to have an image of what a “Man” is in their head, but there are few that can offer a definition. What is usually offered, when pressed, usually amounts only to hobbies. Sports, beer, and barbeque essentially. These are common sentiments but they do not fit. I know plenty of women that love and willingly participate in those things, so there has to be something else. When I look back at the men I looked up to as a youth, there are some things that stand out in my mind as to what I thought was manly, and to some extent, still do. Things like: telling the truth, standing by your morals, working hard, being modest, doing the right thing, supporting your family, and being faithful to country, friends and most importantly family. There have been some adaptations but the core is still there. It’s these that I thought were universal. And with them there are certain expectations that society has for men. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to sound like some small minded male chauvinist here. There were just some chivalrous things that I always did that I thought were expected and welcome. A sign of higher breeding or thinking. Holding doors, pulling out chairs, killing spiders, carrying heavy things, etc. I performed these deeds not because I thought women couldn’t do those things for themselves or that I was using these things to impress panties off of them but because I felt that I was, socially speaking, expected to.
When I moved to the Left Coast, there were many things that were new and unfamiliar to me. I have been able to wrap my head around most of them but how men are viewed out here is something new to me. Very nearly, every preconceived notion I had has been shown invalid. A perfect example of this is the search for a job. With hard work and sincerity in interviews and conversations I had expected some snags, some interests, some…thing. But there was nothing. I didn’t expect these things because I felt that I deserved them but because I had proven my worth. But, I guess these people had felt I was not worthy and therefore worthless. Ugh. There is no greater fouling of a male psyche than to pronounce him worthless.
Recently, I watched a documentary about the Greek demigod, Hercules. Of course, they covered the stories of his strength but there was much more there. Despised by a vengeful step-mother, remorseful for the loss of his family, and so eager to clear his name and show his worth he took up not just one unfathomable and deadly job, or in the parlance: “labor”, but TWELVE! And with which he took trophies to show just how legitimate he was. He is very commonly portrayed with his first trophy on his head and shoulders, the pelt of the Nemean lion. Clearly, this was the very definition of manhood. Slay beasts, take on difficult tasks and insurmountable odds, clear your name.
But now, things are different. There are not beasts to slay and hardly are there insurmountable odds. Your actions don’t prove your worth, you have to verbalize your worth, in minutia. What the people in the biz say is “sell yourself”. Yeah. Like I’m some fucking doll or foot lotion that I have to convince you that you NEED. Pointless to point out, I am no good at this. I have always thought that my work will speak for me. Or, if you can’t see my work, look at the pain and suffering I went through to get to this point. Look at my scars, see my trophies. Surely, that will be enough. Well, evidently it isn’t. Scars are not always easy to see. Trophies are not given, or taken, anymore. And, in an intellectual world, it is hard to point at something whole, something tangible, that you can say “I did that. That was me.” So, you have to rest on telling them about your exploits and in a world of liars and cheats its hard to find some believers.
I try to not be sour, become cynical (more than I already am). I write all this not say that I am better than anyone else, I just want to be validated. I am no better than anyone else, I don’t mean to besmirch anyone’s credit. All I am saying is that sometimes men don’t want to be seen as boys, the way women don’t want to be viewed as girls. I have worth, I have worked hard and I have reasons to prove. I stand with the Nemean pelt across my shoulders and I hope it can be seen.
It really is funny how your mind works. Seemingly unconnected things can have profound associations after they have bounced around in your gourd for a while. Sometimes inexplicable connections are made. Take for example the other day: I was drinking some delicious mint tea (Bigelow Mint Medley for those keeping score) and I suddenly started to think about the Edinboro History Club, of which I was a member during my undergrad years. Not so much a nostalgic pining of romanticized campus life and occurrences of outwardly audacious camaraderie, but a very specific time and event.
It must have been ’96 or ’97. Two fellow members and I teamed with a certain department member and conspired to make a histo-political statement in front of the Baron-Forness Library (pre-renovations) on campus. On the eve of Columbus Day we, sans faculty member, attempted to string up a banner stating something about genocide and Columbus being a war criminal or some shit, and plant a sea of Popsicle stick crosses to blanket the grassy knoll that was the front of the building. All for the eyes of the 6000+ undergrads to look at and contemplate the meaning of the holiday. For me, it was a bold act to create and inform. To question our existence and move forward with a renewed wonderment for life and “what it all means.”
All was for not, though. For the fuzz showed up and we all ran for the bushes. They had ripped up and torn down our handiwork and we were left holding our dicks in our hands, so to speak. So, instead of running the risk of being arrested for vandalism, we went our separate ways. Quickly.
I’ve been having thoughts like this for weeks now. It’s no real surprise, I’m homesick. My entire last post was about this longing. Things have only slightly changed. Recently, I was able to go back to the Great Commonwealth and see friends, family, the fiery leaves of autumn, and to shiver against the encroaching cold. I went to Erie, specifically.
For those of you that do not know, I had lived in Erie for six years and more or less hated every stinking minute of it. I had lost touch with nearly all my friends and family, I became damn near a chain smoker, worked too fucking much for too little, I drank like a fish, noshed on soul-sucking, waistband busting bar food, and swallowed nothing but insults and put downs from my then succubus, um…ahem, girlfriend. It was not what you might call my “finest days.”
So, my return to that city was not expected to be heraldic. I was there to officiate a wedding (my fifth!) for my friends and then turn around the day after and fly back to the Left Coast. I did not expect much. But during the time there I was able to reconnect with family and reminisce with those people that I had tried to enjoy the “Mistake-on-the-Lake” living. At one point, I walked into my former workplace (what can only be described as the cultural mecca of Erie) Barnes & Noble and I was accosted with handshakes, back-slaps, and hugs! Dear lord! I felt like a celebrity! I had expected to see exactly zero I knew and people that I had not even thought about since moving to Cali were coalescing out of the ether to say “Hi!” I was and am humbled. With the wonderful wedding, it turned out to be a great trip and had put the homesick hounds at bay for a time.
Back in the East Bay, the jet lag quickly dispersed to the return of the aforementioned hounds. I had gone back into my head. With all of the talk of the Alaskan Governor’s run for veep-hood and Ted Stevens’ conviction, I have taken to renting and watching seasons of Northern Exposure en masse. I had forgotten just how much I truly love this show! At first glance, admittedly, its your basic “fish-out-of-water” comedy set up but if you go deeper is it so much more. The philosophical, historical, social, and literate aspects of the show that are covered in a mere hour show is mind boggling!
If you are unfamiliar, the show’s premise is a recently graduated doctor from New York City, is promised his medical school bills to be paid off fully by the State of Alaska if he puts in four years as the resident practitioner of the town of Cicely. Unwitting to just how secluded and un-NYC it was, he is quickly awakened to the “hell” that he has found himself in. Essentially, it turns into a supposed prison without bars for Dr. Joel Fleischman who clicks off the days like marks on his cell’s wall.
The amazing thing about Cicely, and any great television show for that matter, is that it is full of interesting and empowered individuals that you find yourself wanting to share a cup of tea or, as in this case, a beer at The Brick. If the show is compelling, you can, on some level, see yourself in it’s universe. Walking down the streets, sitting in the living room, riding in the trucks. I had not really realized it before these recent viewings, but a large portion of my subconscious is preoccupied with that town. If you were to wander through my dreams, we would all be wearing -50 degree coats and talking about the Mosquito Festival in Ruth Ann’s store.
Truth be told, the plot is formulaic. Shows have to have a formula to follow to keep it organized, but the trick is to have numerous subplots to move around in to keep the thing going forward. There is no shortage of these on Northern Exposure. Some of which aren’t even re-entertained until a season of two down the road! This is a show with memory. Wonderful. But, I must admit, what makes me want to continue to watch the show is the people. The town seems to be filled with self-actualized, cosmopolitans that we never get their full story but are completely comforted in the fact that they are there. A town full of misfits, square pegs, nonconformists, and eccentrics that all move in and out of each others’ path with enough consciousness and attention to be in everyone else’s business but not enough to care. It is really funny how they had set the role reversal. Dr. Fleischman, from NYC, is supposed to be the big cityite that has seen it all and can take it all but turns out to be stymied at every turn by the seemingly “simple” residents of Cicely.
Every character gives another luscious layer to the onion of Northern Exposure, but I seemed to have latched onto Chris Stevens. Chris was the poetry-spouting ex-con radio host on KBHR, the officiant of all proceedings of the religious nature, the embodiment of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. For some reason, the younger, impressionable me found something greatly compelling in this character. Every episode I watch now has revealed something of my self that parallels something of this character. For example, I am a minister of sorts. That is to say that I have ministered weddings. My first couple, Mark and Elaine, and I were watching Northern Exposure when we hatched the idea of me doing their wedding for them. The story on the show is that Chris filled out a form from the back of Rolling Stone to become a minister; I updated that idea and went on the internet and, well, filled out a form. Chris suffuses every conversation with reference to philosophy, street level or Nobel. Somehow his homilies at weddings are completely about death and the futility of “hitching your horse to one post” but somehow its perfect. Its a high water mark that I strive for in my officiating but fall short every time. I just hope my charges are happy with their day.
Throughout there is mystery and lore, partly (I believe) because a focal point of the show is the large indigenous population. The shows are filled with or follow legends and beliefs of the Alaskan natives. Storylines cover the mysterious, the magical, and the unknown where the climax is that sometimes you Just. Don’t. Know. Maybe the wind does make you act irrationally. Maybe your temper is shortened in the waiting for the ice to melt. Maybe, just maybe, you can switch consciousnesses with your half brother that you never knew you had.
The wonderment of life is covered and reexamined at every turn. Science has a place but, ya know, there are some things that just are. It is this mindset that pervades every aspect of Cicely-living, a self-realized comfort of becoming one with your own existence. The basics are covered. The heat is on. You’re fed. The chores are done. Now you can look in and try to find the truth, the poetry of life. C.M. Bowra wrote in the forward of Octavio Paz’s Mexican Poetry, “Poetry lives by tradition. It derives from the past not merely its consciousness of its own nature and function but much of its technique and outlook. In doing this it not only keeps alive great discoveries made in the world of spirit but makes new discoveries of a similar character for its age.”
I think that says it all. Poetry is alive and well in Cicely. That may be the ultimate problem Dr. Fleischman has: an analytical thinker can rarely look beyond explanation and just accept. If you just stop and listen to the wind, smell the ether, stare at the wonderment you can find great things that don’t need to be defined or quantified. Art, music, love, poetry they all try to touch it and sometimes you can get close. I try to find it every day. In the bold night-shrouded acts and standing at the edge of the mystery with two that are to about to marry. Watch the clip.