Free Poetry for Shakespeare

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

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.

When the Cavs Won It All

Sunday, 19 June 2016

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 
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. 

Father’s Day

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

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

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.

I’m an Old Brooklyn Social Media Ambassador

Thursday, 28 April 2016

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.

When Your Son Invents A Panopticon

Friday, 22 April 2016

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.

Yelling at Clouds

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

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.