Friday, September 3, 2010

Throwing down the gauntlet (or an oversized glass of iced tea)

My brother, Eric just posted that he and his girlfriend Elizabeth are starting a bold experiment:  To blog once a day for a full year.  Considering how much time I spend in front of the computer I should be able to complete this task, although I think my perfectionism and indecision may interfere.  It sometimes takes me hours to compose a casual, three-sentence email.  In fact, I was almost immediately derailed in the signup process, trying to settle on a name for this blog for fear of not being able to come up with an amusing title that isn't too self-conscious or funny enough, I took a mocking tone that manages to say nothing, but still creates the impression that I am smart and that you, the imaginary audience, should care at all about what I have to say.

...But I suppose that might illustrate one of the key challenges of being a professional artist.  I survive because people care about what I have to say, but if I appear to care about THAT too much, than I become socially irrelevant...does that sound too angsty or like I'm trying too hard to be clever?  One could easily analyze and edit oneself out of existence and still manage to say nothing. Some random thoughts today:

1.  I discovered a few months ago that I like premium cable more than I am comfortable with.

2. I regularly end sentences with prepositions and I wonder about what that says about me as a person, and as a writer.  Do my English teacher friends mutter to themselves in between puffs on their oversized pipes while playing with the fabric of their hunting jackets?

3. My wrist inexplicably smells like an armpit right now.

It's been an interesting year.  Christina and I got engaged in February and we are going to be married in November.  Being with her has been a wonderful experience and one that has resulted in an incredible amount of growth for me.  I've really been blessed by her presence and with the expansion of our family to include our Maltese Poodle Siddhartha, and our wonderful kitty Thelonious.  We never call our pets by their given names. Sid is most often referred to as "Boy" (spoken in the voice of the Tall Man from Phantasm) or "Mommy's Pea".  Thelonious is referred to as "Chat" or "Mommy's Little Owl", due to his having ridiculous owl ears.  They are wonderfully silly.

Seeing the two of them interact I'm consistently reminded that their social network is one that we will never truly understand.  Just as Sid doesn't understand why I complain when I reach over to hook his leash to his collar and he rolls on his back, I don't always understand, for instance, why Thelonious insists on smelling the wood under the back door all day.  I'm sure there is sound reasoning for smelling the floor all day.  I tried it once.  It didn't do it for me.  A couple of hours in I relented. 

Anyway, I'm thoroughly enjoying a relaxing day after an exceptionally busy few weeks.  I might be the most relaxed person on Long Island (aside from Christina who is passed out on the couch in front of  Judge Judy on the tv), since we are all bracing for the impact of Hurricane Earl.  Every time I hear the word Earl, I think that it's someone with some mutated Southern accent trying to say "Oil".  Perhaps I've just been conditioned by the events of the last few months to associate disaster with the word "oil".  It has made for some funny sentences in my head. 

Having lived on the North Shore of Long Island for nearly all of my life I'm getting adjusted to the sequence of events that generally accompanies the news of a big storm.  It's like the 4 stages of revolution.  First comes the 5-day forecast, which treats the storm like an encroaching army hell-bent on destroying everyone's way of life and eating your kittens.  Stage 2: Every news program dedicates approximately 50% of its programming to useless prediction, restating about 2 sentences worth of real information over a combined 85 hours of air time. Stage 3: Everyone shops like mad, stocking up on bottled water, duct tape, canned goods, board games, candles and butt-plugs.  Always be prepared? 

As I'm writing this I just heard the phrase barreling out of the idiot box "All eyes on Earl!!!!!"  Cue the tension music and a Satanic priest sacrificing a ferret...Followed by a meteorologist reporting that the hurricane has weakened substantially.  Talk about the image being more powerful than the content.  Don't worry about the storm, but just keep perilous destruction nestled in the back of your psyche...and buy more water.

I am just awed by the degree to which we are sold fear.  I wouldn't be surprised if Doppler Radar was funded by Stop and Shop, or 3M, Poland Spring (as I write this some jackelope on television just implored us all to stockpile bottled water in anticipation of the storm, like all business will cease to be and I will never drink again) or Chocolate Starfruit, the manufactures of the imaginary butt-plugs I picture terrified soccer moms purchasing at the checkout counter at the supermarket.  Finally, Stage 4: Life returns to normal.

Wow, a news anchor just scolded me for underestimating a storm,  saying essentially that I've shamed the entire lineage of anyone ever injured in a hurricane.  Just as a disclaimer, hurricanes suck.  People are injured in them.  I don't believe that buying stuff is going to make a difference.  It's just another round of us wrestling with randomness and comforting ourselves against the constant threat of death and injury.  We don't know how we will be affected by a storm, so why not move some product in the process?

None of us are immune to this process.  I've just accepted that every event in the human experience can be used to sell something.  War is consistently a giant cash cow for a certain part of the population.  Natural disaster moves product.  Personal tragedy funds the pharmaceutical companies.  If you don't buy that overpriced greeting card to convey your most personal and sincere feelings than you are not only a giant asshole, you are a useless consumer.

Yesterday, anticipating the unusually high surf, Christina and I drove to Robert Moses beach on the South Shore of Long Island after I finished mixing and charting some tunes for a friend.  I had a few hours before I had to teach my last lesson of the day...So we drove 20 minutes to the beach, and looked out at the vast expanse of the ocean.  We took pictures.  Christina took her sandals off and let the tips of the crashing waves reach out and touch her feet.  We breathed deeply, not sure if the air smelled delicious, or like someone nearby broke wind.  I lamented that it was September 2nd, I live on an island, and this is the first time I set foot on a beach all year.  After the park police drove 30 MPH up the beach where little children played in the sand 3 or 4 feet from their tires, blaring their whistles protecting Christina from the threat of a rogue wave that may suck her out into the ocean, we left. We got back into the car and overlooked the bay from the bridge that brings us back to the mainland...vigorously passed on the road by soccer moms in SUV tanks while I'm doing 60 MPH on a bridge in a construction zone.  We were protected from nature, but who protects us from ourselves?


  1. (There's nothing wrong with putting prepositions on the ends of sentences. There is something wrong with being able to write so well out of nowhere like that, joining Beth and Mom as people who impress me with the effortlessness of their skill). Maybe news reporters are pressured to come up with "stories" --- and good stories involve threat and conflict --- because of the format of advertiser-sponsored 5:00 and 10:00 pm news slots. There isn't much time for thoughtful inquiry. Imagine if you read the New Yorker for urgent news. Your description of what it was like standing on the beach is all I need to know about this storm, other than that the people I love are safe. Be safe!

  2. Thanks Eric! Yes, I think news reporters struggle with fighting the attention span of their viewers, and conflict draws our attention...but I've noticed a counter effect...the most effective commercials these days use silence as their attention-grabbing device and it works. With so many items vying for our ears, silence has become the golden ticket.