Friday, April 30, 2010

Why I Work

Some of our friends here don't work because their partner has a job which brings in enough money for the house. Other friends are working in low-paying jobs which they love, but that means they also need "state subsidies"--government benefits--to help pay all the bills.

Back in the States, some of our friends are out of work, and don't want to be, but they don't want to take that Walmart job yet. I can understand that. So they start eating into their savings, if they're lucky enough to have any.

But, speaking as one who's currently lucky enough to have a job, I know that at times I have worked all day, for little or no money, to create something or solve a problem which ultimately seems sorta minor. Sometimes I look back at my day and wonder, 'Is that all I got done?'

That's why I'm wondering 'why?' this morning. Why do we do it? Obviously, most of us big people have to work to pay the bills. But besides that?

I think my parents taught me that one should try to find something one likes to do, then try to get someone to pay you to do that. That is still what I believe, what I tell young people who ask me, 'What should I do?' This idea is underneath my only answer to the work question. We work because we want to. We like it.

I work because I get a kick out of doing something well. When I'm teaching or taking pictures or writing, and it's going well, it's like I'm pushing beyond myself, like a kind of transcendence. I forget time, my body, most everything and I'm just...doing my thing.

Sometimes I go farther. The other night I had to get out of the house. I didn't want to go to the movies, or to the Prater to play pinball. I got out onto the street, started taking pictures, felt the spring air on my skin, and two hours later, I was standing at a train station, staring up at the moon. I had been making photographs, and loving it, but now I just gawped at that moon like a little kid. I felt the pure pleasure of just looking at something sort of mysterious. I was beyond beyond myself. Just being. I wasn't taking pictures and I wasn't working. I was just acutely aware of the beauty of a moment. I was just alive.

It only lasted for a minute. But it was really something.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

date night

One of the central ironies of our marriage is that I'm a fellow who'll go see just about any Hollywood piece of junk at the multiplex as long as I can order a giant tub of popcorn, too, but my wife prefers serious films. Like documentaries about photosynthesis. Real edge of your seat type stuff.

We don't really go to the movies together lot. But we're on a bit of a run now--on three of our very infrequent movie date nights, we've gone to see films about Ethiopia, Somalia or adoption. These have not been feel-good movies. At the first, about a boy who gets adopted from Ethiopia by an Israeli family, we pretty much both cried through the whole fucking flick.

Last night wasn't too different. We saw a film about a doctor trying to survive the end of the Mengistu Communist regime in Ethiopia in the early nineties. I've read a little bit about these years there, and it sounds like they were a horrible time for a country that had already suffered too much under Haile Selassie. So it was interesting to see a film depicting the time. But the movie was badly acted and edited and conceived like something low budget from the sixties. Which is pretty much what I said when Anette asked me what I thought of it afterwards.

She took a more forgiving position, and said she was glad to see a movie about historical events that aren't known to many people outside of East Africa.

I got feisty about it. There were declarations about aesthetics versus content, supporting African cinema and the difficulties of overcoming racism in one's work and personal life. I drank two small beers and made many proclamations. By the time we got home, I was ready to start fighting about the treatment of women in Iran.

I get the Devil in me sometimes. Don't know why.

But maybe I ought to do some thinking about that one of these days. Before our next date.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Honey and Vinegar

Something has changed again in V. She's more self-possessed, more sure of herself. I'd like to think she's more confident, and that she likes herself more, but that's a bit presumptuous. Because all I see is something in her smile.

Her smile is more understanding now. She smiles like she is aware of more of the dynamics and complications in the room around her. She smiles now like someone who is starting to be able to see things on two different levels. Her smile is sometimes that of someone who is able to step outside of the action-and of herself-and reconsider the situation.

Of course, I could just be nuts. But....let's just say she still has other tools in her toolkit.

Yesterday, just after returning from the States and still jet-lagged, Anette took both our girls to the playground. They met up with all of their friends. While they were all congregating around the Korbschaukel (basket swing), some older boys started bothering them, telling them, 'Go away, we want to play here.' Adinah and her other friends just looked down and didn't say anything back to the boys. But V. walked right up to the interlopers, planted both feet and screamed at the top of her lungs, 'NO, You go away!!"

The boys went away.

Pretty cool, huh?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Some Questions I Can't Answer Tonight

1) "Papa, why does a volcano break twice?"

2) "Papa, when comes Mommy?"

3) "Papa, why are some people so dumb?"

4) "Why do you have to go to work, Poppy?"

5) "Why can't I have mashed potatoes after I've brushed my teeth?"

6) "Will we go to live in America, Papa?"

7) "What film do you like better, Papa--'Paparazzi' by Lady Gaga, or 'Beat It' by Michael Jackson?"

8) "What was the worst thing that ever happened to you, Papa?"

Monday, April 12, 2010

Weird World

I signed into Facebook for the first time three years ago, mostly because I was writing an article about social networking sites. Thinking back about it, my piece was a complete misread of how Facebook would really impact my generation. Most of my first Friends were students of mine--half my age--at the university where I as teaching. So I didn't network with them much. (I do sometimes think before I click.)

Now, like a lot of people, I find that Facebook is trying to eat my life. I have nearly three hundred Friends, many of whom I actually know, and I look at my goddamn page, like, eight times a day. And I have a job.

One thing that Facebook and My Space have given us is the freedom to enjoy a new variation of Drunken Dialling. Instead of getting blotto and calling up ex-girlfriends, now we can all locate, text and then Skype with people we haven't spoken to in thirty years! With whom we probably have nothing left in common!!

One such figure who has emerged out of my dubious, blood-soaked past is my old high school friend, Noel. Back in the day, Noel was a young man of many interests--these included pinball, photography, Drama club girls, and the collected works of Rush. So we were a good match, Noel and I. When I learned how to use a 35 mm camera, Noel was one of my first subjects. he posed playing his electric guitar, sans electricity, in my back yard. In the first series, he wore a kimono, then he took off his shirt, and put on a Navy Admiral's hat, just like Jimmy Page would have done. That was Noel, and I as in thrall enough to photograph the whole thing sans embarrassment.

Thirty years later, just after he found and Friended me, Noel started leaving comments on this blog, and he tried to instant message me a couple of times. But I wasn't ready to get into the way-back machine.

I did read some of his Status Updates, and did look at his flickR page and some of his beautiful night photography of abandoned gas stations and factories.

A couple of weeks ago, after the House passed the health care bill, Noel posted several links to articles about it, including a now infamous piece by the conservative writer David Frum. It was an interesting piece, and Noel's Facebook comments on it were interesting too: smart, measured, funny. Then another acquaintance of his, guy who would probably call himself a "fiscal conservative," jumped into the thread and ranted for many paragraphs about how health care reform was going to turn us all into Stalin-hugging Martians, etc. etc. And Noel just went off on the guy--told him 'Your ideas suck, you're not my friend, and I barely remember you from Lanier Senior High School.'

It was a pretty raw Facebook moment.

So the other night when I got home from work, somehow I felt like reaching out to my old friend. A few minutes later, there we were, face-to-face again after thirty years. Same nose, same face, older of course, but I sensed that with a little prodding, he might be ready to make a Monty Python joke. Or at least laugh if I made one. And he was wearing a t-shirt that read, 'The Man The Myth The Legend.'

He was sitting in a study or a home office with shelving behind him, but other than that, I don't know where he was. Guess that's the nature of the Skype cold call.

And what do you say to a metalhead you haven't seen since high school?

Actually we didn't talk about Zeppelin or Uriah Heep at all. We tried to catch up. Having read Euro Like Me, and also looked at my flickR page, Noel knew a little bit of my story. He said something like, 'So you've had an interesting life...?' But from everything he told me, his life has been pretty lively too. Suffice to say, he's had triumphs and tragedies, and he's survived with an ability to reflect upon both.

It was really great to see him again. He's the same guy I always liked, way back when.

I feel like a wide-eyed farmboy saying this but, by golly, the world is an amazing place these days. Amazing and weird. It’s bizarre to try to telescope your life to someone else, to summarize thirty years--the adventures and the tears—into a short, um, video-graphic(?) conversation. But we did it, sort of.

Maybe Facebook and Skype and this sort of virtual contact really just confirms that one never really loses friends. They’re always with you—in your mind or on your screen.

Now I want to do it with someone else. Is that wrong?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

What I Learned on my Easter Holiday

1) Paying attention to a kid is a good way to get to know them, but it also distracts the Devil in him. Or her.

2) My wife really does have the patience of a saint.

3) Adinah is a world class Memory player, and is quite capable of humiliating players who are even three (!) years older than her. (Now I don't feel so stupid.)

4) If you want to coax a kid up (or down) a mountain, tell her a story. (Even if that means dressing up the Big Bad Wolf in a leather jacket.)

5) V. doesn’t start by assembling the outer edge of the puzzle; she puts it together by color cluster.

6) Even though she’s not a rock chick, and she complains about whiney white boys with guitars, Anette knows and derives pleasure from “Death Of A Clown” by the Kinks. For now, this is all the proof I need that I am a lucky fellow.

7) If V. is screaming a lot, calling me a stupid cow or otherwise ausgeflipping out, she needs food or sleep or both. Immediately.

8) Left to her own devices, Adinah would be perfectly content with a breakfast of a roll with butter, cake, buttered toast, and Melba toast.

9) I quite enjoy eating Osso Bucco or vegetables in a perfect red pepper sauce but sooner or later I’m gonna need to eat some french fries or I’ll get a little difficult.

10) We may be the loudest and sloppiest family in the hotel restaurant, but that doesn’t mean we’re bad people.