Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Lion in August

I woke, this morning, to the news of Senator Edward M. Kennedy's death, and in my own, small way, take this time to celebrate what he meant to this country and to the ideals of equality to which he dedicated his life.

And I urge everyone to do the same--his is a story of incremental success and unwavering forward motion, sometimes by inches. His is the kind of voice that even in death will continue to drown out the nihilist extremists who seek to sabotage universal health care for Americans, something that we must enact. We must.
The Liberal Lion. I love that characterization. Lions, it should be said, are cool. Lions glide among the gazelles, their mantle of leadership obvious and silent. They are both impassive and terrible, swift and serene. And, not for nothing, but the women do the hunting, which is always sexy. Behind every good king of beasts is a hardworking woman. I will not, perhaps, be lionized by my liberal female readers for that last line, but I cannot help myself.

And what is the Conservative counterpart? The Conservative Cougar? The Conservative Crustacean? The Conservative Critter? George Bush? Ron Paul? Senator Kennedy counted Orrin Hatch as a friend across the aisle--perhaps it's him.

Senator Kennedy was the Anti-Bush (George, Jr.), although cut from very similar cloth. Both from New England families of privilege and power; both Ivy-League students of questionable motivation; both with cush assignments in the military; both heavy drinkers; George, Jr. took a series of executive posts and found God, while Ted came of age in the Senate and found humility, taking a deferential stance from the first day. The winds of tragedy buffeted him from that moment forward--the assassinations of both older brothers (their eldest brother had already been killed in action during a WWII bombing raid); a near-fatal plane crash that confined him to hospital immobilization for six months; the indefensible beavior on the alcohol-soaked island of Chappaquiddick; cancer for his 12-year-old son, who survived but at the cost of one of his legs, below the knee; the premature deaths of three Kennedy nephews, part of the clan of 13 children of JFK and RFK to whom Teddy became surrogate father. It's a lot to sail against, those winds, but the lesson that Teddy learned was, again, the value of imcremental progress. Support for the Civil Rights Act; opposition to the Vietnam War and nearly every military engagement since; the Americans with Disabilities Act; Voting Rights; partnering with President Bush on No Child Left Behind; authorship of a purported 2500 pieces of legislation, of which some 300 were signed into the law of This Great Land. You should check it out.

George, Jr. and Edward were once both indifferent playboys with unwanted power and responsibilities thrust upon their at-times narrow shoulders. Edward built a career of achievement and coalitions--perhaps always atoning for that awful night at the bridge in the summer of 1969--that reasonable people in this country celebrate today. In the Senate, he retained a back-row seat, refusing to move forward in the chamber, as is the custom, preferring to assail his colleagues's backs with the booming voice of righteousness. In his last weeks and days, it was reported that the Senator could be seen sailing against the wind still, in the waters around the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis.

George, Jr..... still has time to turn his face into the wind and to atone for his mistakes and who they affected. What will he do with that time? What will any of us do?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The ides of Blogust (or A Fear of Facebook)

And we're back..... back into the fold, back in the saddle, back where we belong, back in black, after three glorious weeks as a returning staff member at Camp Ballibay for the fine and performing arts, and, let's face it, finely performed arts.

About this word, Fine. What on earth does it actually mean? Many words, I find, lose their meanings when repeated several times under one's breath. Fine, fine, fine. Arts that are fine. Immediately, I start reassigning possible interpretations, like Find Art--a directive from a suspicious governing body, perhaps; or Art Fine, a duty paid by the audacious.

No, this was kidz. A lot of kidz. Rockin' kidz, dancing kidz, drawing kidz, actin' and singin' kidz. This was a return to the summer camp of my youth, where I spent all the summers of the 80s plus 1990, for good measure. This is where I grew up.

This was Ballibay's 45th year--many things the same from my era, many things changed. New buildings, new programs, and best of all, new food. Lovingly sculpted muffins; camper curated pizza; 30-minute old organic radishes, lettuce, tomatoes from the new camp garden; local dairy offerings; real-deal maple syrup; artisinal beets; and once-a-week-reliable burger night, but not the mass-produced hockey pucks of yore. Rather, these are grass-fed, happy cows who attained, on average, a third-grade reading level before they self-determined to a humane slaughter. I do not in any way mean to degrade. It was good beef.

And no electronic distraction--cell phone posession on campus is verboten, and happily for me, my Verizon coverage has failed to penetrate the magic bubble of the Ballibay mountain. Add to this analog logorithm an e-mail check only every three days, and for 21 days and nights, swear off Facebook.

And here's where the fear comes in. Hi--My name is Andrew, and I was addicted to Facebook. My day job as a light-board programmer put my laptop within arm's reach, enabling relentless social networking and a captive audience of whomever was signed on at the time. I lived for the red square of notification and the circled numerals of a robust inbox. I measured the comments on my Notes as a personal ego inflator. I was an online Narcissist. 'Tis true.

And now? Well I am taking bets with myself on what's awaiting my return--are weeks' old notifications really all that important? Have I lost more than a half-dozen chances to save the planet with a virtual tomato plant? How many of my "friends" have excised me from their ranks? Perhaps a few requests will be there, too, given all the new friends I've made at camp.

But the lesson is thus: I didn't really miss it--I watched the other, younger staff obsessively check-in with their FB accounts every chance they got, and I just walked on by. For these three weeks, what concerned me was the immediate: directing a play, teaching a few writing workshops, getting the kidz' postal packages to the dining hall every day at 12:15...decrying the iPod at every available turn.
Look -- it's great as the 21st-Century Walkman. But it's not great as a human aggregator. What I mean is that information at our fingertips gives the illusion of mastery, and when it comes right down to it, if we can no longer acknowledge the ineffable in everyday life, and pretend that it's only a matter of time before Steve Jobs comes up with an "Ap" that somehow makes it easier, then the battle is already lost. Sure--your iPhone can now tell you how to decode the Paris Metro, but what is the loss in that gain? Here's the parallel lost opportunity: talk to a fellow human being to find out the same information; learn a whole bunch of interesting things you weren't bargaining for, because your head wasn't buried in some i-Screen; get invited to leur cousine's bistro for an apres-hours cafe au lait. Learn the oral tradition from a dying breed. iProducts may be great for self-insulation, but they're eroding the crap out of our shared planetary culture.

Eh bien. Myself, I'll try limiting the FB Narcissism to just once or twice a week. I have plans to make, anyway, like what I might direct next at Ballibay, and how it'll be lit. Or unwritten poetry to contemplate: the full moon rising over a misty horse pond; the dew-laden spiderwebs on Ballibay's Outdoor Platform; the fungilike artwork that springs from the campus--five-part harmony totems, painted and hoary, each one a paean to the three Jannones and their multi-generational vision of how to wind-up one's artisitic pogostick and do God's work in the mountains of Northeast Pennsylvania.