Friday, October 30, 2009

What's In a Name?

My brother, Youngblood, and his wife are expecting their second child. As a rule, they don't know the gender of the baby. And they won't until Mrs. Youngblood pushes that sweet, screaming, poop-making machine out into this world. They've got some ideas for how they'll refer to this forthcoming bundle of joy. One of the candidates for a male baby is the name "Brendan." Of which, I'm not a fan.

Believe it or not, I've got a couple of quasi-reasonable objections:

1) It's too easy to confuse "Brendan" with "Brandon" and I suspect a person named the former would spend a good deal of his life in correction mode.
2) When the other kids start picking on him, he'll invariably be called "Brenda." (That's certainly what I'd do if I were 9 years old and I wanted to tease a kid named "Brendan.")
3) I can picture a little boy named "Brendan," but I can't imagine a grown man called "Brendan." It just feels like a short-term solution. It doesn't really...mature...very well.

I'm probably responding rather weirdly when it comes to this particular name. And, now that I've shared my objection with Youngblood (and the rest of the free and not-so-free worlds), my objection can pretty much be discarded.

Except, perhaps, for that last reason.

I don't--thankfully for the rest of the planet--have any kids. I don't have near-term plans to have any either. Which is to say that I'm grossly unqualified when it comes to debating parenting philosophies. At least from a first-person standpoint. I am--allegedly--a modestly intelligent person. And I have had, like, three whole conversations with parents and/or their offspring about parenthood. So I'll step into my arrogant pants for a moment and tell other people how they should live their lives. (Just this once.)

Arguably the biggest mistake any parent makes is limiting the concept of their "child" to the first life stage their son or daughter travels through. A baby will be a baby for a while. And then they won't be. They'll be a third-grader for an even shorter amount of time. And they'll be a teenager for far longer than is comfortable for any sane person. And then, most importantly, they will be an adult. At some point. It's an inevitability that all of us should be so lucky to endure.

In my experience, there's a wistful fetish--that is perhaps only a couple of generations old--within Western culture for a certain notion of what childhood is supposed to be about. Someone or something is always trying to protect children or preserve the integrity of the experience of being a child. And someone or something is always celebrating childhood as if it were a bubble of pure, unadulterated joy. Like there's a cultural decision to make bliss the most blissful when ignorance is the expected, accepted norm.

Which, of course, is not really the case. At every stage of development that I've observed, children/kids/juniorpoopersofpants have a lot going on mentally and emotionally. They may enjoy more moments (and/or moments that last longer) where the psychological obligations of behaving in a civilized manner do not appear to exist but, to their credit, the youngin's are not braindead or heartdeaf. They see things. They think and they feel. And they're slowly accumulating the stories on which their identities and personal belief systems will be built. They are, very plainly, adults-in-training.

That sounds kinda like a hairy, steaming pile of suck, don't it? could be. But it doesn't have to be. Childhood and adulthood are not simple, monolithically categorizable experiences. There are rites of passage that link many people together as if they're all taking the exact same steps along the exact same journey. But we don't take the same steps. And we certainly don't all step in anything that resembles the same order.

Some of us graduate from pre-school, lose all our baby teeth before we finish learning to multiply, discard the idea of the other gender as having cooties at some point around junior high, obtain a driver's license as soon as legally possible, do our first kegstand before college, do a lot more kegstands in college, survive those first three really crappy jobs, choose a spouse, push out some pantspoopers of our own, finally move into that corner office, cry when our own kids begin to remind us how far we are on our own journeys and then...well...some other stuff.

Before that other stuff happens, those bittersweet reminders are probably what trigger the fetish for childhood. The view via the rear mirror is always much happier (or, if you prefer, more painful) than the time that has passed really was. Memory, despite the complex series of chemical interactions that make it possible, is the great simplifying tool. It transforms childhood into this thing that is innocent and pure and wonderful. It dulls the awkward, irrational truth which is neither entirely bad nor entirely good.

Childhood, like adulthood, is just another thing you do that you can enjoy if you want to. You shouldn't be told what it will be or how you're supposed to experience it. The only expectations a person who is experiencing childhood--or adulthood for that matter--should have are that there will be lights and tools and people to help you learn how to use those tools as you stumble and glide along your path. You don't need anything to be dulled or amplified for your benefit. You just need the freedom to fumble...or to start the wild rumpus.

Wait...this was supposed to have something to do with a name, wasn't it?

I guess I don't know exactly what IS in a name but I do know that no parent is simply naming a baby or a child. They are, Godwilling, naming a person who will grow up. Consequently, the job of a parent isn't to raise a "child", but to train an adult. Which is probably a far scarier endeavour. Maybe that's why the persistent longing for "childhood"...persists. It looks like it is more fun perhaps because it was. Or so it seemed. And maybe that's why so many baby names are...cute.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Revolution Will Not Be...Monetized?

The Revolution, according to Michael Moore, has come. It may not be time to pick up the gun. But it is time to pursue a better -ism than the -ism that ails us at present. So, we're told via his latest film.

Whether or not you've seen Capitalism: A Love Story, here (for the purposes of this half-witted rant) is the executive summary of the film:

In the latter decades of the 20th Century--at the height of American prosperity--some combination of the US banking industry, the wealthiest 1% of US citizens and the US government all cahooted to abandon the US manufacturing core in favor of a speculation-based economy that was measured primarily in terms of theoretical paper wealth. In doing so, these cahooters manipulated the dreams of the average American to maintain their control of the country. The resulting evils the cahooters perpetrated have ushered many Americans right out of their own homes and their own jobs into...well...that's just it...the poor, dumb bastards who comprise America's working classes have been left with their thumbs to sit on and the dwindling hairs on their heads to give them shelter.

That's the movie. In a nutshell. And it gives us--the choir to whom Mr. Moore so lovingly sings--this plan of attack:

"We're mad as hell...we kinda know what we're mad about...we really wanna do something about it...but we don't know exactly what that will be...yet."

Oh, wait, Democracy. That was the answer one of America's greatest storytellers proposed to the problem of Capitalism gone wild. That and a Second Bill of Rights (as outlined in some very cool film of FDR) aimed at guaranteeing certain rights for wage-earners. While noble, that answer (rather, that plan) is incomplete. Democracy is certainly a tactic and the Bill of Rights 2.0 is certainly a clear goal. But how will we deploy the vote and what will we do once we have achieved that particular goal?

In the film, Moore challenges us to embrace democracy and to engage the most fundamentally American tools of civic participation in order to resuscitate our great nation. He also reminded us what happened when we tried that last winter in the midst of the debate over whether to begin issuing bailouts to American industries. kinda didn't work. We got overruled. And the industries--particularly Wall Street--enjoyed a cash injection from the dirty syringes we weren't done using ourselves.

It's easy to hate on Wall Street. But you know who has money parked on Wall Street? I do. So does my father. And his sister. And her neighbor. And that guy's kid's teacher. We're all, to some degree, invested in the greatest ponzi scheme the world has ever known. And while many of us suffer from the genius applied by some of our brightest engineering minds who have abandoned engineering in favor of finance, some of us are forever thankful that those same minds have made us money that we would not have "earned" otherwise.

Speculation is a great seductress and she knows we all dream of wiping our funky asses with Benji Franklin's big face. Sadly, though, speculation ain't what she used to be. Back in 1849, you could discover oil or gold or some other very tangible commodity whose value may flutuate but would never be called into question. A century and a half later, you can launch Twitter or get in on the ground floor of some other intangible, yet very cool thing that hardly anyone knows how to monetize but that everyone is sure is worth billions. Well, they're pretty sure. After all, the guy who founded Friendster is still rich, right?

There's a moment in C:ALS (brilliant pun of an acronym, BTW) where a woman associated with these striking Chicago workers talks optimistically about what the power of the people could yield. She ponders their collective potential as owners and asks, almost wistfully, "But where would we get the money?"

And that's the question that Moore really leaves us with. Rather, that's one of 'em. Sure, Democracy may be the answer. Tactically. But what do we really want to accomplish? Do we simply want good jobs? I thought the American Dream had to do with owning your piece of the pie. To do that, you need to bake the pie or buy the pie. Either way, you're gonna need some kind of investment in order to deliver a slice to your plate. The solution for the dilemma of capitalism--an economic system which is less about immorality than it is about inevitability--isn't so easy as voting the bums out of office and writing new laws to ensure that there will always be a clock for the clockpunchers of our country to...well...punch.

Let's suppose that Moore's Revolution were to happen, though. Would US factory doors swing back open to welcome US workers back to the jobs that would now be a key part of their birthright? Not exactly. Most likely, it would take time to return those facilities to a sound operational state. Time, as so many cliches have alerted us, is money. So we're back to that question: "Where would we get the money?"

Well...Moore's Revolution could always mimic the cheapest form of birth control known to wo/man: Pull Out. If those 200 workers from Republic Windows had pulled all their money out of the stock market (and possibly their savings accounts, CDs, IRAs, etc), they may have had a pool of money big enough to buy the company themselves and run it as a co-op. Maybe it would have worked. Maybe it wouldn't. The workers certainly would have controlled their own destiny. Which, I gather, is all Michael Moore asks of his America.

As for what Moore asks of us to conduct this Revolution, the film fails to unveil a concrete plan. But it does appear that a more detailed sketch of how to make the porkiest capitalists cry whee, whee, whee all the way back to their opulent homes lives on Moore's web site. The site certainly offers a deeper understanding of both the means and the ends associated with Moore's Revolution. Which makes a person wonder: isn't C:ALS just one big commercial for 21st Century Progressivism? While that may not be such a bad thing, the film does come across as a scratchy note passed between the kettle and the pot.

Hopefully, that pot has some gold in it. Or some seed money. Or something. 'Cause a broke revolution ain't gonna solve anyone's problems.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Hustle Hard

I have pretty much no interest in what this young woman vlogs about, but I really, really, really dig her hustle:

If I owned a media company, I'd want to find some way to be in business with her. i don't know what that way would be. Maybe the folks who own Jet and Essence would have some ideas. From what I hear, they could use some help.

What's Really Wrong With US Health Care?

It's not something that can be answered on the Hill.

Instead, you have to go to someplace like Lewiston, Maine to wrap your arms around the cultural mores and systematic flaws that lead to questionable consumption of medical services...among other things.

In order to get to Lewiston, you need to travel via NPR. Have a look and listen at/to part one of this brilliant series.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

40 Rock

If you've never heard of a dude called Geoff Dyer, you should google him. And you should probably start reading him. I'm just about finished with a quasi-memoir called Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It.

In a portion of the book titled, "Hotel Oblivion," Dyer writes:

It was better being forty than twenty, when one was full of fire and ambition and hope. It was even better than being thirty, when those hopes that had once animated you became a goading source of torment.

"Once you turn forty," I said to Matt, "the whole world is water off a duck's back. Once you turn forty, you realize that life is there to be wasted."

Yeah, man. That sounds about right.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

We Gon Make It

Resolved: Anything that was said (or written) last night was all just the wine talking.

Therefore: Fuck the frail shit.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Ramble On

Almost three years to the day, I'm leaving the house I moved into when I started this silly little experiment. I'm not sure if it means I'm done with this experiment. I have been, largely, a vacant landlord. And this experiment has not at all been what it is supposed to be.

Initially, I thought it'd be a way to track my own re-adolescence. It kinda was. But mostly, it evolved into that rickety hoop in the backyard. The one I mess around on to keep the skills from fading completely. Since I have been so vacant, I suppose the skills have faded. The hoop has certainly rusted. And, perhaps, it is time to take it down.

Today, I am 33 years old. I still haven't completely finished that damn'd movie. Although, there are only two pieces of paper standing between me and its vanglorious release. I am still broke. Although not nearly as broke as I was three years ago. I all likelihood...single again. Although, there's still a chance that a Liberian Girl will keep me around for a few more weeks. (I should have shared more on THAT story. And I will. Maybe.) I am also still...very much...unsettled.

There is something I should be doing in life. But I'm not certain what that thing is yet. Or, perhaps, what those thing(s) are. I used to believe I could write my way out of any problem. Maybe I still can. And maybe I'm not facing a problem so much as it's just another milemarker on the road to...wherever.

If I were a more eloquent mu'fucka...I'd have more to say. Much more. But I'm not.

So here we are. And here I am. Back to wandering. Back to the pen.


As it were. As it will be.

What'd Jack Sparrow say? Drink up, me hearties.