Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Free Poetry for Shakespeare

The Cleveland Public Library asked me to come do Poetry 4 Free in the Eastman Reading Garden on a couple of dates this summer as part of their celebration of the Folger Shakespeare Library First Folio exhibit.

I had fun – it’s been a couple of years since I was downtown writing poetry on the fly for folks, but I pretty much took right back to it. I wrote 11 Shakespeare-inspired poems in 2 hours. Folks could either give me a favorite passage, or pick from a few that I had selected.

Por ejemplo:

Some folks had no idea who Shakespeare was, and others related horrified anecdotes from college. A few people just grabbed a quote and took off without letting me write a poem for them. Everybody seemed like they were having a good time.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

When the Cavs Won It All

What will I remember about today,
in this city
that takes every punch,
unflinching, on our chins;
that rises up from every blow,
standing tall, cut-mouthed
against the world?

I'll remember
that this day is like
every other day
this city working doubles
while you slept on it
this city skipping vacation
to get the job done
this city, laconic, intractable
where we bow to no king
no, not even our own
this city of redemption
where we always welcome our sons home

Today, today
is for 
                YOU 
to remember:

this city can always say it left it all on the floor
this city where every stand is a last stand
this city where we pull for each other, exchange 
blood-stained grins
and sing loudest for the unsung.

You had forgotten
what we've always known
Cleveland is the city
filled with champions
and tomorrow, 
we get back to work.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Father’s Day

So hey, it’s nearly Father’s Day again. A day that is fraught for me – I know what stirs up the anxiety and it’s mainly ignorance at how well I’m doing my job.

I’ve certainly written about it enough:

Being a dad is my favorite thing and being a single dad is a pretty tough job. I don’t know how much easier it would be with a partner, so I don’t know how hard it is to be a dad in a nuclear/whole family format. The times I’ve had a partner that got to spend quality time with my child, That third dimension added a noticeable and healthy level of complexity to our lives. So I often feel that that my father/son dynamic is two-dimensional in comparison. We miss out on a lot together because I have to work, and maintain a clean home, provide healthy meals, and structure and adult instruction he doesn’t get elsewhere. I have a bit of guilt over this – I feel like the added level – that partner, that nuclear family, is something I should be able to provide to him.

Being a single dad is tough in weird ways. I’m not as self-conscious as I was a few years ago about being a single dad out with his kid. I don’t care – but I do notice the other single dads, and help out when I can by taking photos. I know those internal moments of chagrin when you take a picture of your kid doing something memorable with no way to show that yes, you were there, you were the one to make it happen. There also isn’t an emoji for single parents.

I also worry about him when he’s with his mom. We have diametrically opposed views on 99% of what is in his best interest. The only way to mitigate is to litigate and I don’t make that kind of cash. I do my best to teach my son the skills he is not learning elsewhere, and I must also keep rein on myself so that I don’t try to overcompensate to solve for his other life.

I’m 20+ years out from having had any meaningful, non-farcical interaction with my dad. I only have a sense of him from a 14 year old boy’s perspective – I’ve learned to be a man by trial and error, and learned to be a father by being not-my-father. Yet I’m smart enough to realize that “not-my-father” is a 14 year old’s shallow understanding of fatherhood. The only ways that I know I’m acting like my father are the only ways I knew my father acted when I was 14. I know I was a disappointment to him. I do not know if he was proud of me. I do not know if he had wisdom to impart to a grown son. I do not know the ways I am a reflection of him. I’ve asked family members to tell me how he was – or what they see of him in me, and haven’t gotten the best answers.

My mom tried and failed to answer that question, no fault there – how does one answer it? But sweetly and cleverly approached it this year by sending me a photo album of pictures of me and my dad – the most recent one over 25 years old. The album is more than half empty. I can’t look at the photos without crying – and they are familiar tears – they are the ones I get whenever I’m terrified that I’m not being a best parent – when I lose my conception of what it means to be a best parent – when I don’t know what to do to help my son grow into someone brave, independent, empathetic, loving, and capable. The pictures show love, but what happened to it? Where did it go? Being a father is high fucking stakes, and I’ve always hated second-rate, and not knowing when the rules change.

I want to know these things about my father because I have no father figure to seek advice from. I have three wonderful uncles who each provide their own excellent examples of how to be a good father, but I don’t feel close enough, or safe enough, or like they understand me like a father would in order to ask for advice. I’ve been perfecting bravado since I gave up on my father at 14. I don’t know how an adult son approaches a father. I’ve had no practice being the son in a healthy relationship, or having a healthy father. I feel bad that my son and I have to figure this out together. I don’t know, is it like that for every father?

Most of the people who tell me I’m a good father have had crummy fathers. I don’t know if that means anything, or if I’m just being an ass.

Father’s Day is fraught because my son has no one to teach him to honor his father. A father can’t do it – that’s narcissistic. He’s missed the preparations for several Father’s Days – all I want is a handmade card and a candy bar – but I don’t blame him. Someone else should be teaching him to take care of that business. He’s only 8. There is zero fault for him in this – but it shows me that there are some things I can’t teach him, and that he won’t learn at all unless there is someone else to teach him. When my mom was up here a couple of week ago I asked her to get him to work on a card while I ran errands. That’s the kind of stuff a single dad has to do.

He says he’s going to be a single father, and adopt a daughter and a son. They are going to live on an exoplanet and I can come visit on a rocket whenever I want. I know what all of that means, and I know the meaning of none of it.

The point that comes from all of this, if there is one, appears to be a chronic, low-grade fever feeling that I am not giving my son the best life that he deserves. I doubt, I grope for tools I never saw used, and don’t know the name of. I work the skills I do have, but don’t have enough time to give him everything I want him to have. A healthy meal and emotional support solve a lot, but not everything. I have him half of the time and that is just not enough for me to give him all he needs. I’m efficient, but he’s a boy, not a process.

So there is it. I feel my best isn’t good enough – and I hate second-rate. What do I tell myself?

Who cares? It doesn’t matter. I don’t do this for glory, renown, or my own satisfaction. I love my son. I do it for him.

So fresh and so clean clean.

A photo posted by Adam Harvey (@adamincle) on

Friday, 13 May 2016

Satiety

About a year ago I wrote about giving up, and proceeded to live a relatively monastic life for a the rest of 2015. My kith and kin were concerned that I was depressed. I don’t think I was, but I do think I might have been a bit bleak in my framing. As I sat on my porch tonight, I listened to Ali Farka Touré’s wandering guitar, drank some scotch, and pet my dog.

The only thing I missed was my son. Having him every day would be a dream come true, but 50% is the best I can hope for. I get a lot of satisfaction from striving to do well as a father and at my job. The rest of the things that I’d like but don’t have are no big deal – and that’s what gave me a thought that happiness isn’t having everything you want – it’s appreciating what you have in comparison to what you don’t. It’s a roundabout way of reaching a cliché, but it’s something I needed to relearn.

I don’t think it’s possible to be happy unless you’re missing at least one big thing from your life. There’s no shape to what you have if you have everything – and trying to have everything usually means that you cut corners.

Happiness is paying attention to the shape of what you have, not the emptiness around it.

Satiety is having enough, not having it all.

Food tastes better when you know you’ll be hungry tomorrow.

I still miss my son.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

I’m an Old Brooklyn Social Media Ambassador

I met with some neighbors at the Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation tonight to learn about their #whatsyouroldbrooklyn social media campaign. I signed up to be one of their local social media ambassadors, was selected, and have now been oriented.

Having spent 4 years (mostly thankless) promoting Tremont out of goodwill via Tremonter (I have no idea what the hell it is now, or who owns the domain), I’m glad to be out of the driver’s seat and happy to help out doing – quite frankly – exactly what I’d be doing anyway. I also have more powerful tools in my pocket than were available from 2004-2008.

I’ve only lived in Old Brooklyn since August 2015, but I like it here. It’s too big to become $450k condos surrounding a street of $40-per-plate restaurants like Tremont – and if there are factions fighting over what “Old Brooklyn” means or should be, I am completely oblivious to them. People keep their yards tidy, shop local, and chat with each other. I don’t feel like this neighborhood is trying to be a destination. I feel, rather, as if it wants to be the place you come home to.

What I value in a neighborhood has changed, especially now that I’m a dad. There’s a lot of authenticity in this part of Cleveland, and a lot of history, and I look forward to helping people discover it. For the next 6 months, I’ll be doing so via Twitter (& Periscope), Instagram, Google+, and to a lesser extent, Facebook and Snapchat (sciurus). There might even be a little Poetry 4 Free action as well. And, of course, posting here on my weblog.

Feeling kind of nostalgic. Should be good.

Friday, 22 April 2016

When Your Son Invents A Panopticon

My son asked me to teach him how to code today. Why? Because he wants to hack his MacBook into a robot that will automatically keep a public tally of every person’s good and bad actions. It will plug into a big box that has a list of all the actions a person might do so we can see if a person is good or not.

I generalized the ethics of the requirements he gave me, and I think I talked him out of it.

My son’s school uses an app called ClassDojo to micromanage student behavior. I get multiple updates daily on how my kid is doing. Each student gets points added for good behavioral choices and points removed for poor ones. At first I thought this was cool, but now I think it is terrible.

  1. It makes children think it is just fine for someone to monitor their every action.
  2. It makes children think it is just fine for their every action to be assigned a positive or negative value.
  3. It makes children think it is just fine for others to be able to see a list of the merits and demerits they’ve received.
  4. It encourages confirmation bias.
  5. It treats subjectivity as objective data.

I started to micromanage him and ask him about his demerits. I want him to succeed – so I want to help. To error-correct. I’d praise for merits too, but the time spent on praise was not equitable. No one needs to micromanage a second-grader. Elementary school children shouldn’t think that it’s okay for their every error or success to be recorded and distributed. They’re young, but they’re not too young to feel resentment to a system that seems arbitrary and unfair.

And then, decide to retaliate by inventing their own panopticon.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Yelling at Clouds

I’ve been “Old Man Yells at Cloud” a bit more than usual lately.

That was my reaction to seeing a photo of a $30 plate of ribs, coleslaw, pickles & bread at Michael Symon’s new restaurant, Mabel’s BBQ. It was the thin slice of white bread in particular that drove me to such heroic lengths. My beef is, I think, legitimate. Foods that have been traditionally valued for their simplicity, tradition, & nostalgia have been hijacked by haute cuisine and paraded around in garish costume.

I feel like the experience of a cultural, regional, or ethnic cuisine is enhanced by enjoyment of it in context. I’m an anthropologist; I want the cultural experience of getting amazing, nothing-fancy ribs from a guy cooking them in a converted steel drum at an abandoned gas station on East 131st Street. I want to buy poutine in sub-zero temps from a food truck in Kingston, ON that has been parking in the same spot and serving the same lunch to the same group of people for years. I want black-peppered grits, either plain or cooked in potlikker. I want to go into a restaurant in Little Arabia or Ukrainian Village or Asia Town where English is a second or third language and take my chances.

I’ve identified two things about this that drive me crazy, and a pretty solid reason why I’m being unfair, which I’ll get to in a minute.

  1. Branding/Marketing. The successful haute cuisine is so aggressively marketed and granularly branded that the experience becomes less about the food and more about the exclusivity of it. Everything is sold as if it is archetypal – postmodernist edibles.
  2. Safety. The successful restauranteur these days seems to be a white guy who appropriates a non-white cultural cuisine and adjudicates its presentation in such a way that the surroundings feel safe and comfortable to other white folks. That’s not an adventure to me.

When I say haute cuisine, I’m talking about a kitchen that mansplains food. “You plebeians, here’s how you should be making your poor-folk food.”

I took a course called Crucial Conversations a few weeks ago, and one of the things we learned is when to identify situations where you’re telling yourself a story because you lack enough information to really know what’s going on. So I tried to come up with an alternative story to why someone might do things to foods that I love that I find completely unconscionable. The easiest empathic path I was able to come up with is thinking of a restauranteur as an artist. The stuff they are doing to food is their art. I can at least understand that motive, even if I think there’s a metric butt-ton of privilege in the implementation. An artist would, can, and sometimes should ignore cultural context if they are remixing another art. This allows a food artist to ignore the fact that Wonder Bread is napkins and gravy-sop for poor Southern folks and create an artisanal hand-ground, preservative and HFCS-free white bread to go with the $30 lamb BBQ. The thing being valued is the exclusivity and remix, not the authenticity. Damien Hirst as chef.

I can at least understand that, even if I think it’s dumb.

Most folks I know don’t think of me as particularly conservative, but on the whole I tend to value the vernacular – craft over art, things that remain rather than things reinvented. Maybe I’m a misanthropologist.


Tangentially, I read an article today about co-sleeping and whether it’s good or bad. This is such a silly argument to me – like arguing whether circumcision is good or bad. (If it wasn’t meant to be there, it wouldn’t be). It wasn’t that long ago that women were completely knocked out when they went into labor and “medical professionals” took delivery on from there because that was considered better than natural childbirth. It wasn’t that long ago that formula was considered a better option than natural nursing. Currently, people in Western countries think it is better to leave a newborn infant alone, in a quiet room, for most of the day or night and to keep track of them via an electronic monitor than keep them close for comfort. Forget the fact that primates have been:

  1. having natural birth for millions of years
  2. nursing their offspring for millions of years
  3. not letting newborn offspring out of their sight for millions of years

By all means, keep the infant in a dark, quiet, separate room, completely cut off from warmth, comfort, and stabilizing influence of their parents. I’d cry too.

Yeah, definitely a misanthropologist.