Monday, December 31, 2007

Unclude the Negative Stuff

The lead story on page 1 of today’s Chronicle begins with this:

If Michael Bernard Loggins has a good day - if he turns up a "Rugrats" video at the Community Thrift Store, for example - he would say he's feeling "terrifical."

A bad day, like showing up at Jack's Record Cellar to shop for 45s only to find he'd made a "blank-trip," because the shop was closed, would be "irritational."

The daily "lifestuff" of 46-year-old Loggins, and the special language he uses to describe it, pour out of his black Sharpie pen at Creativity Explored in San Francisco, an arts center for adults with developmental disabilities.

Now he's collected his language into a dictionary, "Imaginationally."

I’m not a big fan of cute feature stories. But sometimes I see something that is so wonderful I can’t resist reading it. This one caught my eye.

It’s not just the creativity and accuracy of Loggins’ definitions that impresses me. It highlights one more time how quickly we dismiss those who are different, those who we say are ‘less than.’ We dismiss them and conclude they are not worthy of our attention.

I like the name of the arts center – Creativity Explored. I’m offended by how the center is described: For adults with developmental disabilities. Yeah, I guess Michael Loggins isn’t as skillful in certain areas of life as we ‘normal’ people. But given the quality of his thinking, I wouldn’t be too fast to label him disabled.

Whatever . . . You get the point. Here are some examples from Michael’s writing:

Troublemakerhood: A neighborhood where troublemakers hang out.

Unclude: Keeping things that you don't appreciate out of your life.

You-ness: What makes you special and unique in your work and makes you talented.

Clownshipment: Like a good relationship with other clowns.

Hectical: Very busy at work for 48 hours.

And some of what he says he fears:

Fear of rolling down hill backward.

Fear of bats.

Fear of fog horn.

Fear of being left in the house alone afraid there would be an earthquake in a few more seconds.

Fear of cars when they skid like if you think they're going to crash is scary.

Fear of dropping your soda as it hit the ground and fiz on you.

Fear of hospitals and needles.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Bogeyman Will Get You

A bogeyman is a real or imaginary figure used by adults as a threat to coerce children into good behavior.

Everywhere we look we’re confronted by bogeymen. The problem is we’re not children who need to be scared.

For example:

Lou Dobbs tells us that we’ve got illegal immigrant bogeymen on every street corner who are responsible for all evil in the world.

Keith Olbermann tells us that the real bogeyman is George Bush, who is responsible for all evil in the world.

Paul Krugman tells us that corporate bogeymen are responsible for all evil in the world.

Bill O’Reilly tells us that anti-religion secularists are bogeymen trying to kill Christmas and are responsible for all evil in the world.

The Internet is an uncontrolled global bogeyman responsible for all evil in the world.

Abortion is the real bogeyman. No, gambling is the real bogeyman. No, free trade is the real bogeyman. No, it’s global warming, Muslims, Americans, steroids, politicians, etc., etc., ad nauseum.

And the real real one? Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is the honest-to-God realest bogeyman. Al Qaeda killed Benazir Bhutto. Al Qaeda makes us take our shoes off in airports. Al Qaeda wants to blow us up and poison our drinking water and destroy Christianity, all at 10 tomorrow morning. It’s even possible Al Qaeda is responsible for that tiger getting out of the San Francisco Zoo.

Al Qaeda is the bogeyman responsible for all the evil in the world.

I know a sure way to save civilization. Ban all bogeymen. Ban ‘em and banish’em and do very bad things to the Bogeyman Pimps who are trying to scare us with these things.

Now that’s what I call a New Year’s Resolution worth making.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Tree is Done

At Xmas time Sandra turns into an artist. Her masterpiece is her Xmas tree. She is a Rembrandt when she decorates her tree. So each season we are treated to a thing of beauty. This year is no exception.

The process begins in late November when her favorite tree lot run by a local volunteer charity group, the Guardians, opens for business. She is always their first customer on the morning of their first day. She is looking for the perfect tree and does not want anyone getting to it before she does.

A week or two later it is delivered. Since it is always tall, at least 10’ tall, and wide, it is a challenge getting it up two flights through our narrow stairway. She has removed many pictures and wall hangings and sculptures that could be damaged. I have removed myself to behind closed doors. It would make me crazy to watch the three or four guys it takes to haul it up. I would be sure they are going to damage something en route to our living room at the rear of the house.

When the job is done Sandra tells me it is safe to come out. No disaster has befallen our abode. A wonderful pine aroma greets me. And for the first time I see this year’s living blank canvas, already majestic, waiting to be adorned with lights and ornaments.

Sandra’s brother Randy shows up the next day to put on lights. It is the only part of the decorating process that she’ll allow anyone else to do. Two days and about 2,000 lights later (that’s right, 2,000, not a misprint) Randy leaves and Sandra gets to work on her creation. By the time she’s finished, about two weeks later, she’ll have carefully, thoughtfully, lovingly placed nearly 1,000 (that’s right, 1,000, not a misprint) ornaments on her tree.

She has been collecting these ornaments for about six decades, and each one is more extraordinary than the next. On the branches are ornaments with common themes, ornaments that tell stories, ornaments designed by the cream of the ornament designing crop from around the world, whimsical ornaments, elegant ornaments, people, animals, fantasy characters, and many more. No matter how many times I’ve seen these delicate pieces of glass, each year it seems like I’ve never seen them before.

Am I simply an observer during this process? Not exactly. Each year we choose a book that I’ll read to her as she’s working. Maybe even two books. This year we made a particularly inspired choice, “Wine By the Glass,” by Dottie Gaiter and John Brecher, wine writers for the Wall Street Journal. We totally related to how they live their wine life. It was a wonderful book. I was so inspired I sent the following email to the authors:

Dear Dottie and John,

Like you we love traditions and special events. For example, we open a bottle of '74 Heitz Martha's each February 9, the date we met, also in 1974. (We bought nearly 3 cases around 1980 and have 3 left. Getting a little tired, but still special.)

Sandra has a collection of Xmas tree ornaments not to be believed. She is the Rembrandt of the decorating process, and no one else is allowed to help. However, some years ago we began a tradition that gives me a chance to participate - I read to her while she's decorating. After the tree arrives we agree on what book I'll read to her.

This year it was "Wine By the Glass." We are passionate wine lovers. We drink what we call an 'everyday' bottle each night Mon-Thur and take a bottle from our cellar for Fri-Sat-Sun. We've been reading your column for years, but did not have your book until recently. It was a perfect choice.

A few minutes ago Sandra was putting the final touches on the tree and (perfect timing) I finished the final words of your Epilogue. We loved what you wrote and how you wrote it. We resonated with so many of your experiences and how you approach this shared passion of ours.

So thank you for giving us so much pleasure. It was a great way to begin the Holiday Season. Tonight we'll open a 2004 Hartford Hailey's Block Pinot (part of our regular shipment from Hartford) and in addition to toasting each other will make a point of remembering and acknowledging you both.

Warm regards,

Dan Miller & Sandra Marsh

This morning I received a response:

Dear Dan & Sandra,

Thanks so much for your kind note--an early holiday present, to be sure. How we wish we would have bought three cases of the Heitz! If you are going to participate in OTBN this year, be sure to let us know your plans. Happy holidays!


Dottie and John

OTBN (Open That Bottle Now) is a tradition they started, encouraging people to not wait, but to open that special bottle of wine they’ve been holding for a special occasion now.

I’ve written enough. I’m going into the other room to spend some time with our Xmas tree.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


I’d heard the word but didn’t really know what it meant – zeitgeist. So I looked it up:

The spirit of the time; the taste and outlook characteristic of a period or generation.

OK, now I begin to understand. My nephew Marcus sent me an email with a link to the movie “Zeitgeist.” I’d never heard of the movie but decided to check it out. For the next two hours it streamed down to me as I sat in front of this LCD, not quite mesmerized, but interested enough to keep watching.

Marcus is a Millennial (a term which I hadn’t heard until recently), also called Generation Y. Millennials are people born between 1980 and 1995, so they are roughly 12 to 27 years old. It figures that I was unfamiliar with Millennials, because while I hadn’t heard of them by that name I knew I didn’t understand them.

I’m old enough to be the grandfather, or even great grandfather, of a Millennial. And I’m rarely in the presence of one. So even though I stay up to date on what’s happening in the world, it figures that I’d be out of touch with how Millennials think, what they like and dislike, how they see life, etc.

I’ve been conscious of this disconnect for some time. When I see them in action, usually on TV, or read about them, I am certain that they are an unfamiliar alien phenomenon. They speak a different language. At a young age they possess skills I can’t conceive of emulating. Someone who can be text messaging while they’re talking on their cell phone while they’re doing homework while they’re listening to music on their iPod is a super being who makes standard multi-tasking seem old fashioned and quaint.

OK, back to “Zeitgeist.” It’s a film with three parts, each part highlighting a different conspiracy. I loved Part One, which shows how the myth of Christ’s birth, life and death repeats a story that was told many times in many places over thousands of years. I assume there will be quibbles about the accuracy of the facts presented, but I don’t care. I loved that they took on the hypocrisy and lies perpetrated by Catholicism and other Christian sects.

Part Two is about how a massive conspiracy was behind 9/11 and other terrorist acts. I’d heard a lot of this before and while I have questions about how the World Trade Center buildings could come down as they did, I don’t buy the basic conspiracy theory.

Part Three is the story of how international bankers are responsible for World Wars I and II, the Depression, the Vietnam War, and more. All for the purpose of making money. I have a problem with this conspiracy as well. I can’t believe so many people could be aware of so much evil over an extended period of time and manage to keep it hidden.

My point here is not about the details of the film and whether I agree or disagree. It is that apparently this is zeitgeist, truth, for today’s young people who will soon control the future. I know I’m extrapolating the views of perhaps a few into a generational conclusion. But if a significant number of Millennials feel this way it is much more serious than the oft repeated lament of old people that the younger generation is headed in the wrong direction.

These 20-somethings, an age traditionally filled with idealism, possibility and hope, are telling us in the starkest possible terms that no leader, group or country is to be trusted, that we have been sold out, that our liberties have been taken away or soon will be, and that it has always been this way.

Conspiracy theories aside, I think there is a lot of truth in the conclusions they have reached. There is too much evidence to deny it. Even though I can’t fully put myself in their shoes (remember, I don’t understand these people) I get the point. One thing seems clear – if they turn their alienation into a movement to reverse the negative momentum, what has been lost can be regained, and a new and better day is possible. If their alienation feeds on itself, the downward spiral will be accelerated and what we love and treasure will be gone.

As the Chinese proverb says:

If we don’t change our direction,
We are likely to end up where we are headed.