Cultural Echoes

Among statements that are almost always good advice, “never read the comments on a YouTube video” is right up there. Unless, of course, you are seeking confirmation as to some theory concerning the sickness our society is rife with, in which case, you certainly will find ample evidence there.

Today, though, I want to look at one particular thing, and that is the almost universal connection between nostalgia and music. Many people believe with unwavering conviction that the best music ever written was written when they were young. They also believe every piece of music written today is horrible by comparison.

I read it about the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s, and the comments are virtually verbatim except for the change of decade. Singers (or bands) now have no talent, back then, people had talent and could touch the heart, etc., etc.

Now, when I myself was young — my teens and twenties were the 70’s and 80’s — I was aware of this tendency among adults, particularly as I started playing the piano in public for money at a fairly young age. I concluded then that “first music” was like “first love” in its tendency to seem better than perhaps it really was, because of (1) the emotional nature of the age; and (2) lack of anything to compare it to. I would probably now add (3) the tribal nature of young people, given how school tends to add a social element to life that many people never get anywhere else. Music is one of the main elements of inclusion (or exclusion) within the tribe.

Because I had to learn a lot of old music for my work, I concluded that there had always been good (and bad) music written, and most likely, always would be. I’m about as anti-tribal as they come without being a misanthrope, nevertheless, I realized and experienced the power of music for social (and sexual) connectivity.

I also learned that every bad thing about human intolerance also gets acted out through people’s musical preferences. This is another example of how almost every good and great thing in life, in the wrong hands or used the wrong way, can be a bad or even horrible thing.

So I am not prepared to decry all music written since {fill in the blank}. I realize that people will continue to talk about how much better music was in the old days, whichever particular “old days” they happen to favor.

I also realize, as I’ve said elsewhere, that the YouTube comment section is, frequently, the modern equivalent of the public bathroom graffiti of my youth. The impulse to post anonymously offensive messages is not a new one.

It’s still kind of depressing, though.

Fat Saturday

My computer hasn’t exactly died, but it’s kind of had a stroke. Writing on a tablet is doable, but not great, because I have big, clumsy fingers. Today, so far:

At the Gym at 5 AM.
At work by 7:30 AM, stopping once per hour to post a poem.
Watched one Facebook live video, and chatted with another friend on Messenger.
Ate way too much all day.
Left work about an hour ago, now sitting in a parking lot writing, because there’s shade.

There’s a couple on a date just walked by, and they both look like models. I’m envious. I look more like a model of Jabba the Hutt. Or maybe his cousin, Pizza the Hutt.

I had toffee eclairs with lunch, a food too decadent to be mentioned in decent company. It’s possible that things like that have contributed to my weight gain. Or maybe it’s a punishment for past wrongdoings.

Another young couple headed into the restaurant in front of me. That young man looks very nervous.

Maybe he’s going to propose.

Maybe she’s going to reject him.

Maybe he’ll wistfully look over at the model couple I saw earlier and wish he looked like that.

Maybe she’ll look over at the model couple I saw earlier and wish he looked like that, too.

Or she might say yes. She looked pretty happy…

This is why I should never people watch.

Chewbacca Bread

My wife likes to randomly call things by the wrong names to get me to laugh. It frequently works.

For example, last night, we went to an Italian restaurant. After the waitress had brought ciabatta, my wife moved the plate towards me, asking “Chewbacca bread?” in a cheerful voice, causing me to practically choke on the drink I was sipping.

In everyday life, I am irritated by people using the wrong terms for things, which means, in corporate life, a stream of constant irritation. For example, people frequently conflate the terms “flesh out” (make more substantive or add details to) and “flush out” (draw something out that’s hiding so you can shoot it). I’ve heard things described as “jury-rigged” (the ethnically insensitive term “Jerry” being long out use) and an irrelevant point described as “moat”. 

There is also, of course, the world of corporate consultant-speak, a place that delights in torturing the language. I believe the practice of randomly using nouns as verbs came from there, through terms like “leverage” (which is a thing, not an act). I’ve heard the term “socialize” used a lot the last few years to mean “let more people know” as opposed to “turn over to government control”, the latter being the term’s actual meeting.

And yes, I know language is living and not static and new usages emerge. It’s misusages that aggravate me.

Unless my wife does it, in which case, it’s hysterical.

Hobbies

I needed a new hobby, so I’ve started collecting calories. 

It’s going really well; I’m way ahead of schedule. The way I see it, success comes when you have achievable objectives. 

This banana split, for instance, represents a tremendous opportunity: not only can I meet my calorie goals, I can internalize them. If you don’t actually become your hobby at some point, how dedicated were you, really?

I’ve had some interesting hobbies over the years. I have collected

  • Dust. Those were the “dating years”.
  • Witty comments it was too late to make. Pretty much high school.
  • Second-hand opinions. That hobby is very popular still.

Well, enough reminiscing, I have 2,715 calories to collect.

Raisin Bread

In real life, I’m a moody and rather homely guy who is best known for being quick-witted. Not kind, not smart, not even well-spoken — no, being sharp-tongued is what is most commonly mentioned as my leading personality characteristic by those who are around me the most.

I’m not a mean person at heart — well, not anymore, I’m not — but I do find it hard to pass up a good line when they occur to me. Which is to say, pretty often.

People who read my poetry might conclude I’m a very emotionally connected person in reality. I most decidedly am not. I am fairly tuned in to other people’s feelings, it’s true; however, it’s an oddly timid thing, under most circumstances. I’m very unlikely to initiate conversation with strangers, for instance.

Real emotional connections are amazing — the first time I had one, I never, EVER wanted to go back to having meaningless conversations again. The real thing was so great, so perfect… why go back?

It was kind of like when I first had raisin bread toast, and I couldn’t figure out why we ever bought any other kind of bread. Yet, here it is, years later, and I’ve had shockingly little raisin bread.

Maybe I’ll go have some now.

Watermelon in Summer

I love my wife, just as much as I did on the day of our wedding, nearly seventeen years ago. Our anniversary is later this month.

I am not the world's greatest husband, to put it mildly. I do have my uses, however: for example, I carried in the monstrously large watermelon she bought at a local market yesterday. It looked like it had been grown by Hagrid.

Last weekend, she took some watermelon over to our oldest daughter's house and the two of them sat out by the pool and ate it. That daughter is expecting a little girl in about 7 weeks.

I'm beyond excited. We all are.

I've been thinking my life is too complicated, and I'm working through strategies to simplify it. There's a lot to it, but one aspect of it all is a different approach to my writing, one involving better discipline.

Integrity is about simplicity, in some ways, and that's what I want to cultivate.

When I got the watermelon out of the back of the car and into the house, I asked, "where do you want this?"

"Anywhere is fine," she said distractedly.

I stifled my immediate impulse to put it back in our bedroom.

Because I love my wife, just as much as I did on the day of our wedding, nearly seventeen years ago.

Dust-Up

My ex-wife and I considered arguing something of an art form. We prided ourselves on our ability to fight about absolutely anything, no matter how trivial.

We didn’t wait until we got married to start, either. We quarreled on our first date, bickered through our courtship, and squabbled through a year-long engagement. In a strange way, the least contentious part of the relationship was the divorce. Neither of us could be characterized as in any way “conflict averse” — at least at that point in each of our lives.

But times change, as do people. I have to argue (persuade, really) as part of my job, now. I do it, because it’s part of that career, but it has been years and years and years since I relished arguing with anyone. Spending my spare minutes away from work contending over minutiae is no longer my idea of a good time.

Nevertheless, these days, the Beautiful One and I end up doing a kind of weird reverse arguing that goes something like this:

“There’s one cupcake left,” she says, pointing a catering plate left from the baby shower. “You have it.”

“No, you’ve been running after the kids all day, you take it.”

“It’s yours, you’ve been working crazy hours, and I know we eat dinner later than you’d really like.”

“They had pizza brought in for an afternoon meeting today, and I had, like, five slices. I really shouldn’t even have dinner…”

“I already had a cupcake, and I really need to lose a few pounds; you’ve been to the gym every day…”

… and so on.

My wife and I literally argue about who can concede first before an argument starts.


Every Thursday night for the last seventeen years, the Beautiful One and I have a date night. It involves (ideally) dinner together, maybe a movie, lots of conversation to catch up on each other’s weeks, and as little distraction as possible. That means keeping conversations with other people to a minimum.

Our now-adult children know we have this date night, of course; however, the concept of what a “night” is seems to escape them; they feel like, if my wife and I went to dinner at 7:00 PM, for instance, we should be done with each other by 10:00 PM, whereupon she in particular should be free to have long conversations with them about whatever is on their minds.

Oddly enough, it is the married among my children to whom it never occurs that their might be things that occupy us that time of the evening. Or maybe that’s not so odd. I know there are things that most kids don’t like to imagine their parents doing, no matter how old those ‘kids’ might be.


Nothing in life turns out to be ‘ideal’, of course: whatever we plan, or imagine will happen, life just does what it does. We want to think we’re in control, but ultimately, the things we can control are few, nearby, and limited. Good times come, often in spite of us rather than because of us, and bad times come, no matter what we do to try and stop them.

My ex and I argued for sport because we were young, bored, and mismatched. My wife and I try hard not to argue; but, sometimes, reality happens, and the arguments that ensue are no laughing matter. Because ultimately, relationships are held together with very slight bonds, and we can fray and break them casually. When and if we do, there are arguments that must be had.

Oh, and by the way — that cupcake is still sitting there.