Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Annual Political Post

They tell me that Tuesday is election day. Get out and vote, because it's your patriotic duty.

I don't think I will. There's no one I want to vote for except Travis Irvine. In the interest of full disclosure, Travis Irvine's dad is my good friend Mike, and I've hung out with Mike since before Travis was born. Travis is primarily known as a stand-up comedian and independent filmmaker, but don't let that dissuade you. He's funny, and his films are good. Perhaps most tellingly, he's not a politician. Now he's running as the Libertarian candidate in Ohio's 12th Congressional District, opposing Democrat Paula Brooks and Republican Pat Tiberi.

I want Travis to win for a couple reasons. First, I actually like his ideas. Second, it's about time Ohio had a congressperson who, in his late 20s, is trying to make it on his own but still lives occasionally with mom and dad. There's no politician more emblematic of the desperate times in which we live. Paula and Pat point fingers at each other, and try to convince you, the impressionable voter, that the other is at fault. Travis merely says that we're all screwed, and that it might be time to start all over again. Guess who's right?

Monday, October 25, 2010


Sometime during the Clinton/Bush administrations, American life changed. We're still living in the fallout of those changes, and I don't know if anyone has yet written the definitive historical analysis of what happened, but I certainly know the day-to-day ramifications. I have far less money than I used to have. It is almost impossible to find a job. And the things that used to matter in terms of stability and planning for the future don't seem to matter at all.

Here's the way it used to work: Go to school. Stay in school a long time. Pile up some degrees because historically the more degrees you pile up, the more money you will earn in your career. Then go to work. Make a couple strategic career changes along the way to bolster your earning potential. Sock some savings away every paycheck, and watch with wonder, year after year, as the cumulative effects of time and compound interest work their magic. Retire at 60, or, if, hard pressed, at 65, and enjoy your golden years in a gated community on a golf course.

I belong to the last generation that bought into this bullshit. The kids know better. It actually worked out, more or less, for the one or two generations ahead of me, and I suspect us Boomers just assumed that this was the way it would always work. But the great unspoken outcome of this recession is not just that the profligate and over-extended have lost their shirts, but that the fiscally conservative -- those who have played the game by the rules -- have as well. What has happened is that we have now lost most of that savings that had been piling up paycheck by paycheck, decade after decade. When the stock market tanks, the more you have, the more you have to lose. This is an incontrovertible law of the universe, like Banks Cannot Go Out Of Business and Anybody Can Write, So What The Hell Is A Professional Communicator?

I and my piled-up degrees and my 28 years of corporate experience interviewed for a job last week. The hiring manager told me that he had received more than 500 resumes for the position. It is almost miraculous that I was granted a face-to-face interview. But here's the kicker. If, by some equally improbable miracle I am actually offered the job, I will be able to work for 6 months. That assumes that the corporate budget doesn't get tweaked in the meantime. Then I get to start the process all over again, 1 vs. 500. And I hate the very terms of the engagement. These people are not my enemies. I know some of them. They are my friends. They are as qualified to work as I am, and just as deserving.

The American Dream? Psssst, here's a secret: it's a Nightmare. It doesn't work anymore because nobody works.

So I was thinking about all of that in relation to yesterday's sermon which, among other things, concerned an old, rich dude named Abraham. Abraham had entered into the golden years, a time when he should have been lounging, single malt Scotch in hand, on the golf course in Dubai, or wherever the hell Ur was. Instead, his life was uprooted. His retirement planning was shot to smithereens by the call of God, and he ended up a wandering nomad, believing in some vague, impossible promise that it was all going to work out in the end.

I'm not ready for retirement, and I hate golf in any case. But there might be some lessons there. So here's what I'm currently thinking the call of God might entail for me. I think I'm being uprooted, and I think that might be okay. I think I'm being called to share my life more and more with other people. As in, you know, living with other people. Our kids are gone, and we now have a housemate, a single woman who moved in with Kate and me about a month ago. It's been great. And I'm thinking that trend is likely to continue, and, if possible, expand. I think it's highly likely that we'll move out of this 4-bedroom, 2.5-bath monstrosity that we no longer need, and that we'll move to a much smaller place that will, I'm sure, still have room for others. I have no idea what that's going to look like. But if this country is changing in the ways I think it is changing, then good old American independence is no longer an option, and it's debatable whether it's even desirable in the first place. I'm fairly sure that for better, or more probably for worse, we're in this together.

And it's okay. Really. Life is going to hell, and I am crazily optimistic about the future.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Contemporvent Growtivation

Regardless of the type of church you do or do not attend, this is pretty funny.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Letting Go and Traveling Light

Here's a wonderful article from jazz critic Terry Teachout (h/t to Christian Hamaker for pointing it out.) It reads in part:

I, too, once felt the mad desire to own every jazz record ever made, and to have them all shelved in chronological order at arm's length from my desk. Today I own just two racks, and whenever I acquire a new album, I get rid of an old one in order to make room for it. Not only has this imperative made me ruthlessly selective, but it has forced me to reconsider my priorities. Time was when I bought records in order to say that I had them. Now I keep them only because I love them.

No doubt the day is almost here when it will be possible for people like me to download the Complete Performances of Everybody to our computers...except that I'm no longer that kind of person. I love Art Tatum, but I don't want to own every record he ever made. I want to own the ones that matter to me, and let the others go. I want to be able to pull a CD or book from my shelves at random and know that it will please me, just as I hang on my walls only paintings and prints that move me deeply.

Why have I come to feel this way? Because I'm fifty-four. Life, I now know, is short, too short to waste, and the actuarial tables leave no possible doubt that most of mine has passed me by. As a professional critic, it's my job--my destiny, you might say--to spend a fair amount of time experiencing art that I don't like. Insofar as possible, though, I don't propose to waste any more of the days that remain to me consuming bad art than is absolutely necessary. Unless I'm being paid to do so, I won't even finish reading a book I don't like, or listening to a record that fails to engage me. I have better things to do, and not nearly enough time in which to do them.

Yeah, buddy. This has been the Summer/Autumn of the Great Purge at the Whitman house. There are several reasons for that. Our kids are more or less on their own now, and we're planning to downsize in the next year or so, and we have to begin the process of jettisoning the accumulated dross that we will no longer be able to store. And I'm unemployed, and frankly the sale of some of that accumulated dross has helped us pay our bills. But in the Age of Everything, there is much to be said for making hard choices. Time is passing, and it cannot be replenished. So I've given away or sold a bunch of books, most of which I haven't even looked at in decades. It's possible that I'll miss that medieval philosophy text book that I haven't cracked open since 1976. But I doubt it.

And I'm in the process of unloading about 4,500 CDs, some of which I've simply given to friends or family who are interested in the music. It's not totally altruistic. In my case, I've backed up the music I'm interested in keeping on a 2 TB hard drive, and then I've backed that up on another 2 TB hard drive. I ought to be good to go forever. But forever, as always, is an illusion. You can't back up a life. It's been good to have that at the forefront of my mind.

Monday, October 18, 2010


If all goes as planned, I'll be heading to Chicago for a couple days later this month to hang with Mavis Staples. The interview should later turn into a big feature article for Christianity Today Magazine. I'm like a little kid on Christmas morning.

Can I say, as a married man, that I am in love with Mavis Staples? Open up, this is a raid.

Friday, October 15, 2010

New Music From Aradhna

Superb new music and exquisite cinematography from Aradhna, who, yes, as the trailer states, blend east and west in lovely, heartbreaking ways.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ever Thought of Coming Back?

One-man band Kelley Stoltz wins the coveted Brian Wilson Clone Of The Day Award. This is such a great song, and it perfectly encapsulates my current theological views. Fuck the job search. I want the Rapture.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Ramble Tamble

I'm stuck in the house for a few days after surgery, wearing a bandage/dressing on the side of my face that looks vaguely like a French chef hat. But that won't stop me. Down the road I go.