Tuesday, August 31, 2010

1984 Apple's Macintosh Commercial


Let’s see. I was a twelfth-year classroom teacher back in 1984 when on one afternoon in April, with freshman students in my junior high English class, I read out loud to them in my best dramatic voice, while they followed in their own, just-passed-out paperbacks:

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.

The hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats. At one end of it a colored poster, too large for indoor display, had been tacked to the wall. It depicted simply an enormous face, more than a meter wide: the face of a man of about forty-five, with a heavy black mustache and ruggedly handsome features.... It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran.

Though it was a little after 2 in the afternoon, I had, after months of planning, successfully melded a classic novel’s time signature into the real space and time of a group of American teenagers. Perhaps it was my coolest day as a teacher. I mean, here we were, experiencing the opening lines of George Orwell’s classic 1984 -- in 1984. It was so cool. The next couple of weeks reading and discussing the text were pretty cool, too.

I call your attention to this because of a couple of tangential connections I’ve come across lately.

First, a national hamburger franchise has come up with a series of commercials selling a sandwich that claims buying it is such a smart thing to do that you owe yourself doing something completely stupid. So a guy hauls his sandwich up on a ladder in a lightning storm with a golf club to recalibrate the satellite dish. Or another guy, sitting inside an old tire just above a rocky precipice, takes a bite and tells us how smart he is before a buddy rolls him into the chasm.

Maybe these ads bother me so much because they remind me of the way of politics these days: Say whatever you want loud and long enough, and it will become Truth. Say a provision in a health care proposal calls for death panels to kill off grandma. It isn’t true, but never you mind. Say it loud and often enough and polls and Congressional votes swing. Do something really dumb and we’ll all agree it’s really smart. Irritates me.

Second, following Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally in Washington, I found a contemporary reference to 1984 in the news just this morning. Chauncey DeVega, a blogger over at AlterNet, sees Beck as twisting interpretations of history to make different points than were ever intended. He writes, “I’ve come to the conclusion that what he is doing is just nakedly Orwellian: destroy the truth in order to advance his idealogical agenda.” A group of pretty much all white folk holding a civil rights rally calling for a return to a more traditional America. WAR IS PEACE. FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.

I think we all can agree that 1984 was a horror story. Tragic romance. Erosion of privacy. No absolute truth. Selling out a lover at the threat of having your face eaten by rats. The gnawing question if we have become more like Winston and Julia than any of us feel comfortable to admit. Such was pretty good discussion-stuff for a high school literature class. As it is today.

Odd, I always felt the older civilization got, the smarter we’d become. We would learn from our ancestors’ errors and not only change, but make amends. The contradictions of doublespeak could certainly not flourish under today’s enlightened sunshine laws.

And yet, liberals are considered mentally ill by some conservatives while empathetic care for the sick is considered socialistic, fascist, even demonic. I mean, they want to kill grandpa! The whole thing depresses me.

Oh, one more thing. Apple Computer assured us that our year 1984 would not be like the story 1984. Why? Well, because the Macintosh computer would set us free. To be released the day after Super Bowl XVIII (the Raiders beat the Redskins, BTW) the Mac would let our computer work closer with our brains to create new and exciting stuff. Boy, have they ever. And now iTunes accounts keep track of every piece of music we buy on line from Apple. Geez. So much for avoiding Big Brother.

Still, I wish I could have used that first iconic Mac commercial in class. Now that would have been sweet.

Today’s elder idea: Ah, that great first Mac commercial. Classic stuff. How iconoclastic.

On January 24, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like 1984.

This blog is written, designed, and uploaded from a Mac. Surprise.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Emily wars

Emily Dickinson a lightning rod?

Some people sure seem to think so. Hard to believe in some ways, for a quiet 19th century woman who wanted nothing more than to take care of her invalid mother, cultivate beauty in the persons of flowers in her garden, and retreat to her room to write the stuff of her heart in sometimes odd but powerful verse.

Emily wrote intensely on topics important in her life. In everybody’s lives. And though she’s been dead for over 120 years, she is still so amazingly current. A couple new books again this year analyze some aspect of Dickinsonian lore that want to get us closer to the poet. The latest one, Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds, was released just a month or so ago by a South African ED scholar. One review says the book ‘overturns the established assumptions about the poet’s life.‘ We all want to know more about her it seems.

So many want a little piece of the Emily legacy for their own. She’s big in women’s studies, American literature, world poetry, gardening, conflict management (sort of), nature study, and good old American history. In my own case, I’m a member of a writers’ group we call Emily’s Boys. (See www.emilysboys.com.) We had plenty of ideas for naming ourselves, but everything seemed to come back to Emily Dickinson. We talk about her often. I’ve referred to her in my own poetry as Mother.

She is an enigma that reaches out to us from a century past offering handwritten letters and poems that we know she never thought the public would see. But yet we have.

We’ve looked at her life through a magnifying glass that would, I am sure, have embarrassed the stockings off the girl. She was a very private person whose attention to detail in her various writings make her work a rich source of psychological and philosophical analysis. And she’s great to quote.

So it is with some puzzlement that I report a couple of guys I know who flat out hate the woman. Well, hate the poet, anyway.

The first guy is a Montana poet I met in Silver Gate, the little town at the northeast entrance to Yellowstone. He is a summer resident there, and wanted to hear nothing positive about Ms. Dickinson. For him, his poetry would meet its ultimate salvation if released in a mountain stream where his words could run free over the rocks. Emily was in another universe as far as he was concerned.

The other guy is a high school upperclassman friend of mine who I’ve admired through the years. He turned me on to Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon when we both were kids running forklifts at a local retail warehouse. He got into teaching too, and dedicated his career to inner city kids when he could have landed a different clientele in the suburbs. When he took off on Emily, he criticized her for pulling out of life and living in an ivory tower. Not the kind of source of energy he ever preferred.

For me, Emily continues as a kindred soul who I very much would have liked to have taken out for an ice cream. I would have liked to sit and hear her read her work and ask her a few questions about the craft. I would have loved to look at her ink-stained hands and into her deep, dark eyes to see what wonders made up the woman. I hear she was a red head. Heavens. And, yes, I’ve had a crush on her for years.

Emily Dickinson continues to be an inspiration and force in my life. She knew how to focus. She knew how to write. I owe her, as Mother, my own honest and authentic attempts to record true, good, and beautiful slices of life as seen from behind these, my very own, eyes.

Today’s elder idea: In the name of the Bee,

and of the Blossom,

and of the Breeze. Amen.

Emily Dickinson

Image credit: No idea. Downloaded 2002.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Fire lessons

Back in 2004 Cindy and I were given a painful learning opportunity when, much to our surprise, our house caught on fire.

If you’re like me, you figure house fires happen to other people. Our house was wired by pros, we were always careful with candles, and all the smoke detectors were (supposed to be) working. We were good citizens.

Still, on an early morning following a night of heavy rainstorms in Dayton -- when I was in New Orleans with my mother to see Cindy’s sister’s art exhibit -- odd things happened in the electrical system of our house and the power box went up in flames. Nobody knows exactly what happened, but be advised that it was a hot time in the old town that night. Well, morning, anyway.

What made the fire even more painful was the fact that we had just months prior finished a complete gut and remodel of our kitchen. Oh, was it gorgeous! And, no, the wiring in the new kitchen didn’t have anything to do with the fire. Our guy had done a good, safe job. I could try to explain what technicians think happened, but such isn’t really important now.

One of the first things I learned, I’d have to say, is another lesson on patience. Imagine having your spouse call you at 5 am while you’re away on a nice trip with your octogenarian mother, telling you your house is on fire. Everybody was okay, she stressed. She and the cats were in a safe place.

But the building you have come to know as home was burning as she spoke. And not just any part of the house, but the lower level, the area you personally live in most of the time. On that floor is your office, your music, your computer, and your favorite chair facing the tv that brings you your Reds games and golf on Sunday afternoons. And there wasn’t a darned thing I could do about it -- with a 12 hour drive ahead of Mom and me. Patience.

A bigger lesson for me, though, developed over the week following the fire. We had plans to travel to Maine to put in some volunteer hours at the Audubon Camp on Hog Island right about then. What to do? Well, we couldn’t do much with the house. Insurance adjusters had a week or two of work to do, and contractors needed time to put bids together. We were living at a Residence Inn and could do nothing to help. So we figured we had nothing to lose by going to Maine to do some good. So we did.

One night there was a reception on the island for some local folks Maine Audubon was hoping to entice for the capital campaign. One of the guys that came was a stonemason. Don’t know that I’ve ever met one of those before. I was interested.

Turns out this guy has like twelve kids. And his house burned down. Not localized damage to a couple rooms like us, but burned down. Since the family had lived in the house for generations, they didn’t carry insurance. Sounds like so many families who lost all in the Lower Ninth Ward during Katrina. But I digress.

All the guy and his wife could do was farm kids out to neighbors and relatives for the duration. They decided to rebuild their home themselves and in the process, many volunteer hours were spent when neighbors helped neighbors put lives back together. It did, for them, take a whole village.

When folks asked the stonemason and his wife what they could do, they were given something concrete to contribute. In our case when friends asked what they could do, we just shrugged our shoulders. The insurance company was running the show on our house repair and taking care of everything, bless ‘em. They assigned us an adjuster who counseled us into how to proceed. We just went along for the ride.

But the folks in Maine who saw a family burned out of their homestead were able to act differently: they rolled up their sleeves and actually did something. Maybe it was boarding a kid. Maybe mucking out fire damage. Maybe sorting through belongings to see what could be saved. Maybe mudding up new drywall or just bringing a casserole for the host of helpers. The point is, these folks deepened relationship by coming forward to help a neighbor family in need.

I know the many friends who offered us help really meant it. If we could have told them what we needed, they would have done it. But in our modern society where families are protected from damage by homeowner insurance, a company takes over, not the village.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate Erie Insurance making us whole. True, they dropped us 12 months later, but they did their job in putting our place back together.

Still, a chance was missed for neighbors to come together to aid other neighbors. Community barn-raising was tried and true in the old days. Folks got to help and build deeper relationships in the process. Aiding ones in need. Looks like a lost art in our time and in our neck of the woods. And that’s too bad.

Today’s elder idea:

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those that favor fire.

from Robert Frost’s ‘Fire and ice”

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Putting up

When I was a kid, summers were punctuated with the occasional excursion to a local farm where all available family members were pressed into service picking the vegetable or fruit du jour. Maybe it was green beans. Maybe tomatoes. Maybe peaches. My own personal favorite was apples, since with those a guy got to climb a tree and not get in trouble. Sure, we kids were warned to be careful not to drop the pretty ones, but it was a sanctioned tree climbing event and, well, it didn’t get much better than that on a summer morning.

Once Mom and Dad had us pick green beans at Stoner’s Farm on Little York Road, up north from where we lived in Dayton’s Belmont neighborhood. It was a tough pick that day because the beans were planted among corn stalks. We survived with a pretty good pick, but I remember later that day when we had those beans for dinner. Oh, my! They were terrible! I didn’t know what ‘string beans’ meant then, but I sure do now. To this day when I shop for beans I avoid anything with the word ‘string’ in it. Maybe we didn’t prepare them right, but when we kids put a fork-full in our mouths and began to chew, we were met with nasty strings that we couldn’t swallow. I remember well how brother Mike was indignant about his portion and was forced to sit at the table until he finished. It seemed like an hour before he was released for after dinner play. By that time he had our mother laughing, though, after he created a little sarcastic ditty about Schaefer’s cords. From his perspective, these beans went well beyond strings.

I can remember busy summer days in the kitchen when Mom would be scurrying around blanching produce, sterilizing jars, and peeling, peeling, and peeling some more. Then it was newly bottled hot food into a hot water bath on the stove for a round of Pasteurization. The finished jars would be set out on the kitchen table then, covered with a towel. Throughout the rest of the day Mom waited to hear the pop of the lids setting, confirming that the canned food was ready for storage in the basement.

Heavens, but I loved Mom’s applesauce! We were one of the few lucky bunch of kids at school who lived close enough to come home for lunch. Trust me, at the end of most of my lunches a bowl of Mom’s applesauce awaited me. More often than not it was accompanied by a stack of graham crackers. I mean, when you have graham crackers, who needs a spoon? By the time grahamy bears made it to our table, I had mine doing swan dives off my milk glass into the sauce. Mom got more than one chuckle out of that, too.

I write about canning and freezing today because I don’t think many people put up any more. Buying what the family needs in a bag or can is easier at Kroger or Meijer or WhichEver Mart that happens to be closest to the house. Life seems too busy to allot time to put food up for family consumption outside the growing season. Modern households, it would seem, can’t waste time on such mundane endeavors with jobs, soccer games, and other responsibilities that take up most hours in the day.

And with that, I contend, modern families have lost a point of grace I suspect we’ll never recover. Besides being another lost cultural art form, canning and freezing focused family energy on a common cause that drew all together in a simple but beautiful ritual of sustenance. Sure, Mom did most of the sweating in the kitchen, but all knew the food she lovingly prepared was going to make it to our place on the table, and therein was tasty anticipation and a security that, even with our large family, food would be on the table. That’s comforting for a kid to know.

Undoubtedly canning is a product of an agrarian culture that most families had to know two or three generations ago. My folks weren’t farmers, but my dad spent time on family farms in Mercer county when he was a kid. Mom learned her technique from her urbanized mother three-quarters of a century ago. I know my sisters learned plenty kitchen stuff from Mom, though I know nobody these days puts up what Mom put up back then.

The image that accompanies this blog is a batch of my very own stewed home-grown tomatoes cooked up in my very own kitchen just yesterday. Today they will be ladled into quart bags and carefully placed into the freezer for winter consumption.

It is funny though. As much as Cindy and I love our stewed tomatoes, I hate to pull ‘em out of the freezer. The other day I came across a bag labeled ‘2008‘ and figured its time had come. Oh, man. With a can of tomato paste, a pound of lean hamburger, and half a bag of boiled up bow tie pasta, they were transformed into an amazing casserole that Cindy contends still had the taste of sunshine.

And that’s something my kids and grandkids will never find at WalMart.

Today’s elder idea: Canning is something I was expected to learn. It kept the cost of feeding my family down, too, and was an efficient use of the garden. No waste.

Gertrude Schaefer, my mom

12 August 2010

Monday, August 2, 2010

Not on my watch

Musings from late summer on the back porch...

I wonder if a sparrow knows surprise.

I wonder if there is a moment of dread when eagle talons tear into blue wing teal in flight.

Is there pain? Is there a shock system that shuts down

blood flow and organ function, marshaling all available resources to rent flesh, already activating agents to rebuild tissue, eternally optimistic -- until word comes down to quit?

I know crows think. American problem solvers.

I know jays mourn. Pattiann observed,

They screamed with their whole bodies from the branches

of the pine...over the fluff of feathers scattered and drifting

occasionally, easily as dandelion -- all that the cat had left.

I know a mother robin who abandoned her nested young to save herself, I assume for another day of egg laying, this time -- does she hope? -- all will go better for the little ones that must be fed.

I wonder if carolina wrens appreciate the gift of caterpillars beaked to death on brick, then carried, broken, whole, to the nest.

I wonder how neotropical hummingbirds plot their trek to Costa Rica and back, sustained by only sinew, flower fluids, and stamina, to return to this place to fight their others for sweet water.

I wonder if turkey vultures know some sense of exhilaration soaring, unfolded in the universe, high on summer thermals, one of the select few who practice the real birds’ eye view.

I wonder if parent nuthatches and grandparent cooper’s hawks know their boys and girls as successful adults, busily going about their own nest and family building.

And I wonder if robins and cardinals, chickadees and titmice, know the pride of community, standing together loudly warning all neighbors of the barred owl’s ominous intrusion, perching in evening oak within striking distance of many flyers.

I wonder if even one among them intuits a modicum of an awareness of

Not on my watch.

Tom Schaefer

under canopy

22 July 2010

Excerpt from the poem “The Next Story,” by Pattiann Rogers.

From Firekeeper: New and Selected Poems. Milkweed. 1994.

Image of great horned owl: Tim Daniel, Ohio Department of Natural Resources

Used without permission. I hope you don't mind, Tim!