Nothing Can Fix Me

Nothing can fix me. It’s too late. I’m too old. Do you ever feel like that?

As you get older, things become clearer. The good part of aging is that you gain wisdom about things. It used to bother me when my parents would give me advice on something and their basis for the advice was that they were older and they knew the way things were. It seemed a pretty flimsy basis to me. As I have grown older and interact with younger people I see that there are things you understand just from having been around longer. Sometimes things are so clear to me that I can’t understand why the person I’m talking to can’t see it. Someday they will.

The bad thing that becomes clearer as you get older is that who you are starts to solidify. This is not a problem with the good qualities that you have but it is a source of frustration with regards to the things about yourself that you’ve always wanted to change. When you are younger, you always think that there will be time to change. Nothing is forever. I will only do this job for a little while until I pay off my school loans. I will live in this little apartment now until I have enough money to move into a bigger one in a nicer neighborhood.

The biggest surprise to me as I get older is how little personalities change. When I was growing up, I just assumed that my father had reached the level of adult maturity in which you take on the responsibilities of adulthood because you want to, not because you have to. Maybe I was naive, but I assumed that adults no longer wanted the things that they may have wanted when they were younger. I assumed that raising a family was not a burden but was a joy. My father didn’t care about what he had had to sacrifice because what had replaced it was more desirable.

In my twenties, I kept waiting for this maturity to arrive. I kept waiting to not care about the joys of my youth; video games, science fiction and fantasy and watching sports. Two decades later and I still love those things. I still love my freedom. I have been married for over a decade but in many ways I’m still the same person I was back then. Sure I’ve gained knowledge and wisdom but at my base, I’m almost the same.

This sameness is a burden when I make the same mistakes over and over. The things I fight about with my wife are rarely new things. Instead they are variations on the things that have been problems for years. I’ve often reached the point of giving up and just accepting that I can’t be any other way. I think people reach that point a lot from a physical standpoint. You try for years to get back into shape and you are not successful so you decide that you are at your new normal size. You accept what you are. This can also happen to us from a mental standpoint.

Still, I retain hope that I can change. I have been successful over the last couple of years in changing myself physically, shedding some weight and getting down to what I vaguely remember was my college weight. Now I am also working on changing mentally. My goal in this is not some hazy past ideal but progress towards to a hazy ideal that we all carry around inside, how we would like to be if we only could. Maybe we can. I need to believe that I can change and that things don’t have to be one way just because that’s how they’ve always been. We’ll see.

Just So I Understand

I just want to make sure I have this straight. The unfunded liabilities in the pension funds in various states, including Wisconsin, increased over the past few years due to an economic crisis brought about by greedy speculators on Wall Street, which caused the stock market to collapse, lowering the value of those funds due to their investments in corporate stocks. In order to remedy this, states are exploring options, including being allowed to declare bankruptcy, in order to reduce these obligations.

Is It Just Me or Is It Hot In Here?

Among the unpleasant things being done by the majority in the House, the systematic effort to portray climate change as a debate or even a hoax has to be the most disturbing. It makes me wonder: In what world is rhetoric more powerful than science?

Full disclose: I am not a climate change expert. Unlike the climate cranks, I don’t pretend to be an expert. My evidence for climate change, and our contribution to it, is based on the near unanimous consensus of the scientific community. When I go to the dentist and she says that I have a cavity, I believe her. Why? Because she’s an expert and identifying cavities is part of her expertise. No doubt if the Tea Partisans didn’t believe in cavities then the majority in the House would be making noise about a global conspiracy among dentists.

I know that conspiracies are fun to think about. I’ve devoted hours to reading about the Kennedy assassination. (I believe in the Lone Gunman Theory.) I’ve enjoyed movies featuring shadowy cabals that secretly control everything. The problem is that there is precious little evidence of massive conspiracies, at least of those powerful enough to have a significant impact on our lives. Still, we love our conspiracy theories and the Republicans are more than happy to serve one up on climate change.

The question becomes who stands to benefit most from talking about climate change? On one side you have scientists who are hamstrung by having to use evidence to support their findings. The climate cranks would like us to believe that all these scientists are taking part in perpetuating a massive hoax on a gullible world. But for what end? Money and power are the usual reasons that people try and cook up a conspiracy. These scientists have no political power and surely it would be more lucrative to side with the people with the deepest pockets in this conversation. (Hint: The giant corporations who generate the most pollution.) Still, the scientists put their faith in the scientific theory.

Now power and money would seem to be exactly what the climate cranks are getting out of this. The elections in November granted power to a bunch of new climate cranks, many who benefited from campaign donations from other parties who also benefit from denying our role in climate change. Which seems more likely? Are a bunch of scientists making this all up in order to gain, I’m not sure what? Or are a bunch of people who directly benefit from being allowed to continue to pollute, funneling money into the pockets of people who have the power to make the laws of the United States?

To be fair, some climate scientists may be guilty of hyping the immediacy of the dangers of global warming. (Of course, they may not be.) To invalidate the science on this basis is as silly as invalidating a diagnosis from a doctor who gave you six months to live when you actually survive nine months. That the planet is warming is the consensus of the scientific community. If some scientists think the danger is more immediate than others it only means that, unlike the politicians who can be certain about things without evidence, the scientists understand theories are only really proven when something happens.

Is This Part of the Performance?

Last weekend we went to MoMA PS1 to see “Laurel Nakadate: Only the Lonely”. Ms. Nakadate is a performance artist who works in photographs, videos and feature-length films.

I’m never sure when I see the work of a performance artist where the performance ends and the viewing of the work begins. At “Only the Lonely” I couldn’t shake that I was part of an ongoing performance, like I would show up in some future Nakadate performance. The presence of Ms. Nakadate only added to the feeling.

The themes of Ms. Nakadate’s work seem to be voyeurism and loneliness. In one work, Ms. Nakadate, behind a camera, walks into the bedrooms of three women and suggests that they strip to the their underwear. Even though Ms. Nakadate’s voice can be clearly heard, the suggestions combined with the repeated reassurances that the girls are pretty builds up to an uncomfortable feeling that you are watching something that you shouldn’t.

Most of the walls in the exhibition are covered with photos of Ms. Nakadate crying, part of a series in which Ms. Nakadate took pictures of herself crying everyday for a year. While the photos made me wonder how someone could cry that much, my wife made a good point: “There’s always something to cry about.” Indeed, there is.

Not everything in the exhibition is as affecting as the videos of the three women or the crying photos. In “Love Hotel”, Ms. Nakadate is filmed in various Japanese hotels, which are used for discrete assignations, simulating the sexual acts she would be performing if only her lover were there. The soundtrack of the film is “Angel of the Morning” and as great as that song is it is not enough to make the video work. Then again, the audience not really knowing what the point often seems to be part of performance art.

On the whole, I recommend “Laurel Nakadate: Only the Lonely.” Her videos of dancing with middle-aged men to “Oops, I Did it Again” and of celebrating “her birthday” with three middle-aged men are interesting and worth seeing. Plus, MoMA PS1 is suggested donation so you can pay what you want.

The Words Had All Been Spoken

The thing that every writer strives for is to depict something in such a way that the reader feels exactly what the writer meant for the reader to feel. If the writer is lucky then there is something universal in what he or she has written and the reader not only feels or understands what was written but recognizes that same thing in his or her own life.

One of the things that is important to me when listening to music is the feeling that I understand what the singer is singing about. One of the reasons that I became a Springsteen fan in the mid-Eighties was that I could identify with his songs. It seems strange now that I, as a fifteen year old, could find common ground with a person twenty years my senior, but it spoke to me. As you can see from the blog’s title, it still speaks to me. As I fifteen year old I understood wanting to change my clothes, my hair, my face. As an eighteen year old I understood the feeling of being two different people, of one part of me doing things that I don’t understand. The connections have continued over the years and it’s what draws me back again and again.

Now, I admit that’s its possible that Springsteen doesn’t really have any insight. Maybe I changed and now view my life through the ideas in Springsteen’s music. That could be valid. I do believe that language can determine how we think about things. For example, does desire really behave like fire, or do we just think it does because the two words rhyme? Flames of desire, consumed by desire, my heart is on fire. If you really think about the feeling of desire, is it a burning feeling? (A burning thing?) Or is it a cool ache that won’t go away? I’m not sure.

At any rate, it may not make a difference if we change or if some things really are universal. Even when we talk about universal we really don’t mean universal, we really mean something that a critical mass of people identify with. Even if that critical mass seems large, it is still a minority of us who connect to it.

At any rate, the reason this is on my mind today is because of “Late for the Sky”. Sometimes songs pop into your head and you’re not sure why. In this case, the most recent episode of “Men of a Certain Age” pushed Jackson Browne to the forefront of my mind. That episode featured “These Days” and it made me realize that I hadn’t listened to Browne in some time. I listened to his greatest hits and again was struck by “Late for the Sky”.

I’m not great at deciphering what songs are about but “Late for the Sky” pretty clearly appears to be about the end of a relationship. Browne couldn’t have been more than twenty-six when he wrote that song but everything in it is really on point. “You never knew what I loved in you/I don’t know what you loved in me/Maybe the picture of somebody you were hoping I might be.” It’s hard to believe that at twenty-six, Browne could have seen so clearly what it is that can drive people apart. If you’ve ever been in a relationship that crumbled then you will recognize plenty in Browne’s masterpiece.

The connection I have with “Late for the Sky” and with countless other songs is part of the explanation of why I feel the need to write this blog. Maybe there will be something in here that someone will read and it’ll explain something in their life that they couldn’t quite understand or articulate. I think its a worthy goal, maybe the most worthy goal of any person who practices art.

I Believe Even If I Don’t Understand, Sort of

There’s no shortage of wisdom in “Bull Durham”, not just about baseball but also about song lyrics and the way to wear a garter. Crash Davis also talked about one of the cornerstones of sports, superstitions. At one point, Mr. Davis informs Annie Savoy that if a baseball player believes that he’s playing well because of something he’s not doing then that is why he is playing well. Everyone knows not to mess with a streak.

When I was growing up I used to love to hear stories of the superstitions of various players. I’m sure I had my own when I played sports growing up although I can’t think of any of them now. But that doesn’t mean that I’ve given up superstition when it comes to sports. I’m am always on the lookout for the next lucky hat or lucky shirt or lucky place to stand to watch John Terry miss his penalty kick. (Up against the pantry doors.) I am vigilant about the jinx and the reverse jinx. Rationally I know that nothing I do will have any effect on the outcome of a sporting event that I am watching but I won’t tempt fate. An unscientific poll of my sports-watching friends indicates that they feel the same. (Sample poll question: What did you do differently to cause United to lose in Rome? Jerk.)

So why does sports lend itself to these odd behaviors? I don’t have the same beliefs in other parts of my life. I enjoy schadenfreude, but I won’t bet against my team. I’m not sure how much I believe in God, but I am pretty sure that if he exists then he knows when I lose faith in my team, way down deep inside, and I think it may disappoint him. I won’t go so far as to pray for an desired outcome but I won’t discount divine intervention. (For example, I am convinced that God thinks John Terry is knob.)

So why do we believe these things? Athletes can be excused. After all, they are undereducated, overpraised boy-men who are clueless off the field of play. In order to impose order on chaos, they need their rituals. But I don’t need them. I know there’s no power in the universe that can affect the outcomes of sporting events. Still…