One thing that I used to really like….

…about my job at the library was spending my lunch breaks reading in the break room. I’d come in early, about 7:30am, and take my lunch early, about 11am, before anyone else, and I’d have the staff lounge to myself usually, and I could get in about 40 minutes of reading after wolfing down my lunch but anymore I just don’t enjoy it that much. Recently, it’s been too cold in there. Once the library got the AC working right it got so cold in the basement of the library that’s it’s difficult to stand. Of course, it is nice to read outside, as long as it is not too hot or raining or both, as it was yesterday.

But the other thing is that I just feel kind of glum being down there in that staff lounge by myself. It’s kind of dim and depressing now for some reason. I can’t really explain it. Perhaps I’m just in the process of separating myself from the place. I don’t know.

For a time I wasn’t even reading much on my lunch breaks. I’d read for maybe 10 minute and then I’d just sleep. But I think that had something to do with my meds, which I’ve since gotten off of.  The anti-depressants were good at first, they really evened my out, but after while they just seemed to make me sleepy; I had a hell of a time getting out of bed this past winter. It was rough. Another side-effect: hand tremors. I could not keep my hands from shaking. I hated it. Now that I’m off the meds I’ve got a lot more energy. I still get anxious some times but it hasn’t been bad at all. I just have to get moving and doing when that happens. And what’s wrong with that?

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Too much [clap clap] time on my hands

The irony of my situation is that when I was married I was always scrounging for time to read and write, and now that I’m single and living on my  own I have plenty of extra time but can’t seem to fill it all up, although I am writing again and doing more reading than I have in a decade. A lot of short stories, especially.

When I was in grad school I could spend whole weekends in front of the computer, tapping out fiction. I’m talking literally 8-10 hours at a stretch. I might not have been writing every second of the stretch, but I was concentrated on my writing, thinking about it. Of course, that was when I lived alone. Once I got roommates it was different story. I figured other writers would understand the need for work and solitude but that was not always the case. Certain roommates I had were huge time sucks. Huge!

I guess that I’m just readjusting to living on my own again. I used to like it in a lot of ways. Sure, it could be lonely, but it allowed me to set my own pace, and I didn’t have to schedule around other people’s agendas. I can remember going whole weekends without speaking a word out loud. Now I talk to myself, like my mother. Whenever my daughter catches me talking to myself, she points out that I get that from Nana. She’s right.

To to some degree it’s probably a matter of stamina an energy. I had tons of enthusiasm for my writing when I was a 20-something grad student. But now, I’m a 40-something divorced, single-dad, and I’m just fucking tired. My enthusiasm has waned shall we say. But what are you going to do, right….

No music….

….please!

One of the real bummers of my current circumstances, i.e. getting divorced, is that I can no longer enjoy music. In fact, I can barely stand it.

I’ve always lived with the notion that music can be a comfort and cathartic, especially when you’re down, but for me right now it is just painful. It is the emotional equivalent of chewing on tinfoil.

Of course, I’ve never been a music connoisseur, but I’ve always  liked music, like anyone else. So to suddenly have it be a source of discomfort rather than pleasure is disheartening to say the least.

This is especially a problem for me at work, because I have a job where I sit at my computer all day and listening to music is one of the ways that helps you pass the time. But as stated above I can’t do that. Instead, I listen to TV shows online. I’m not so sure that listening to TV shows provides comfort as much as it is simply a distraction, which isn’t bad except there isn’t real joy in it, you know.

I do get some semblance of joy from reading still, thank God! Don’ t  know what I would do if I couldn’t read. I read all the time, somteimes several books simultaneously. But I can’t read while I’m working.

Writing helps but in a different way. It isn’t so much about joy or distraction as it is about making order of chaos. It is helpful to write, to shape the ides, to reconsider and rewrite.

Why am I not doing this for a live, you might ask?

Good fucking question. Why not indeed?

Up North

Just got back from Up North where, like so many other Michiganders (as well as people from other states, such as Illinois, Indiana, New York, Kentucky, and even from other countries such as Canada), my family and I spent the Labor Day Weekend. A mass exodus from the lower part of the state to the upper part of the state is an annual tradition come Labor Day (also Memorial Day and 4th of July) here in Michigan. If the state of Michigan were a giant scale you could literally feel it tipping northward as people piled into their vehicles, loaded down with camping equipment, food, bicycles, water sporting goods, etc, and head up I-75 (mainly) for Up North. If you remain behind, which we often do, you can literally feel that there are less people around.

Of course, Up North in Michigan means different things to different people. For us it means Brutus, Michigan, a literal crossroad on the map, on 31, half-way between Petosky and Mackinac City. My in-laws have a cottage up there, although I use that terms loosely, since their cottage pretty much dwarfs our house. It has two big bedrooms with their owns baths, soon to be three when they finish the downstairs, plus a room for kids with two bunk beads and another full bath down the hall. It has a big wood deck and digital cable.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking it. It’s nice. But it doesn’t really jive with my childhood up north experience, which meant my grandparents’ cottage, which was about the size of a big garage, with a couple of very small rooms with bunk beads and one bathroom that was so small it was difficult to move around. Showers were limited to five minutes — there was an egg timer in the shower. Also there was a sign above the toilet that read: IF IT’S YELLOW LET IT MELLOW, IT IT’S BROWN FLUSH IT DOWN. There was a small black and white TV that got only two stations, both of which were fuzzy, despite the big antenna towering above the tree tops. Didn’t matter. We didn’t waste time watching TV. From the moment we got there until we collapsed from exhaustion we were going, running, heading to the water, playing in the creek nearby, mucking about with the local kids. I remember there was a small store and gas station with a bait shop and this old phone booth in what was called town.

Anyhoo…now, being in Brutus, means knocking around Petosky, which has a lot of money and big summer houses, or in Mackinaw City, even Mackinac Island, if you want to drop the ferry fee. There is also Burt Lake. And this year we rafted down the river nearby, the name of which escapes me at the moment. This year it also meant watching Return of the Jedi broadcast against the wall of a building in the park downtown.

For us, Up North, also means sleeping late, read a lot, going for walks, sitting around a fire late at night.

Oh yeah, Addy went tubing for the first time. At first, she didn’t want to. But her aunt offered to go with her. Once Addy got a taste she was hooked and ended up going alone. She loved it.

Normally, Colleen is the one that goes for walks. I usually lazy around as much a possible. But this time I decided to get up off my butt, since I seem to keep tipping the scale in the unhealthy direction more and more these days. There is this trail that was once a railroad bed with track but the parks services have pulled up the tracks and the trail is there for walking and biking, perhaps cross-country skiing and snowmobiling in the winter. I covered a few miles and it was pretty cool. I’m hoping to bring my bike up next time to ride the trail, see where it’ll take me. My understanding is that there is a trail that runs from Gaylord up to Mackinaw City, and I’m wondering if this is the same one.

Like I said Up North means different things to different people. It isn’t strictly a geographical location. It is a sense of place. A way the air smells, and the way the wind blows. For me in particular it is pine trees and the way they smell in the cool air, but even more than that it is blanket of fallen pine needles on the ground beneath the trees. That reminds me of my earliest trek up north, with my dad and brother, on a camping/fishing trip, way up in the UP. It left a real impression since my family didn’t often go up north. We usually headed south to see relatives in West Virginia. Also, it is an image from that Hemingway short story, Big Two-Hearted River, the main character, Nick, beds down for the night on blanket of brown pine needles.

Up North isn’t just a place on the map, it is a place inside you. It is memory itself.

Anyhoo…before I get to weird about it. On the drive back I wanted to mark the approximate place where I sensed that we were no longer Up North. And near as I can figure, driving on South I-75, it ends around that spot where the green sign above the expressway displays I-75 and 23 South, announcing Saginaw, and 23 North veers off toward Standish. It is not at Saginaw proper, since at that point Saginaw is still some 20- 30 miles away, but at that particular place on the expressway. After that the land flattens out, feels too open to be Up North. I think the Pine tress were all but gone too.

Warning Millenials, Warning! You are under attack!

To arms! To arms!

Or in this case: To the books! To the books! As well as newspapers and sustantive magazines etc.

The attack comes from Emory University prof, Mark Bauerlein in the form of a book titled The Dumbest Generation: or, don’t trust anyone under 30. A rant against what he sees as the apparent ignorance of the Millenial generation.

A friend from college hipped me to this book and I was immediately interested in reading it mainly because the title irritated me so much. It smacks of certain kind of Boomer ire, turining an old 60s axiom around and pointing at a younger generation. (Although Mr. Bauerlein, who received his PhD degree in 1988 according to his profile on the Emory University web site, probably doesn’t qualify as a Baby Boomer, and is probably more likely an early GenXer.) And it reminded me of the barrage of similar criticism leveled at Generation X back in the early 90s when we were in the postion that the Millenials are now.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not really disputing the book’s basic premise. In fact, I agree with it. Young people should read more. But then I think most people should read more, not just those of the Millennial generation. Also, I suppose you can’t really argue with the stats the Mr. B puts forth in his book. One assumes he’s not making them up. But I would just point out that statistics can be manipulated. See this book and this book and this book and this book on the subject. I’m not saying the dude is lying, just that stats figures don’t always paint an accurate picture. It depends.

I guess what irks me is the focus on Millennials. It seems too easy. Who would not share the opinion that young people are ill-informed, disinterested, and lack a sufficient understanding of civics and current affairs? Even without the stats and reasoned arguments, most older people would agree. I do. Which begs the question: what it the point? Isn’t this just telling us something we already know or at least belive to be true? Well, I suppose that this publication makes a nice addition to the man’s CV, which is important for things like tenure and promotion and salary increase etc. Of course, that can’t be the only reason for publishing this important tome, now can it. Although it is more mainstream than his previous works, published by a bigger house than the others. One can’t help but wonder….

I’d venture to guess that this book was born, at least in part, out of frustation. The guy is an English prof. I’ve been there, having taught Fresham Comp for several years. Of course, this dude teaches at Emory, which I always thought was a fairly selective insitution and so would attract higher quality students.

I guess that I keep remembering when similar accusations were directed at Generation X a decade or more ago. Of course, for GenXers it was due to too much TV and video games (early on mostly coin-operated arcade games but also Atari and Intellivision and late the first version of Nintendo — dude, I loved Blades of Steel) where as now it is of course TV and video games but also the interent, cell phones, and texting. And I agree that these can be a distraction, but not just for young people.

Perhaps it is true that Millennials spend more time on Facebook and MySpace as well as on their cell phones and texting and surfing the net instead of reading or educating themselves about civics and currents, but I also recall that when I was in my teens and early twenties I was not very interested in such things either. I did, over time, become increasingly more interested in civics and current events and history, although I’d early on been a reader. And I see no reason why this shouldn’t be the case for some Millennials. Certainly not all. But the same can be said for those in all generations. I have had plenty of encounters with people of all ages who seemed, as far as I was concerned anway, less then adequately informed. It wasn’t just young people who could not tell you how long a Supreme Court Justice served (it is a lifetime appointment) or who the Sec. of State happened to be (currently Condi Rice, previously Colin Powell). And it still disappoints me that so many people do not read more just for pleasure. But I don’t see how bitching about is going to help matters.

Of course, I am not Prof. Mark Bauerlein of Emory University either, so…

I don’t know. Maybe I’m reading too much into it but there something kind arrogant and show offy about this book, as if he expects the reader to be, oh, so impressed by what he knows, becuase it is, oh, so vital for the future of our civilization. Take note all who stand before me! For the wisdom that I have to impart could save us, each and every one! Perhaps.

I mean, based just on the title, the dude is cleary trying to provocative. Either her chose the title himself, which makes him kind of confrontational, or he allowed his publisher to choose if for him, which makes him kind of pussy sell out. Either way he comes off as kind of a jerk. And who really pays attention to jerks?

Of course, I am reading the book, and will probably finish it. And I won’t deny that it interest me, and that I think the subject is an important one. But ultimately, this sort of thing was already prominent on my radar, especially in terms of raising my daughter. I can’t control what other people do. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t take opportunities to encourage others, especially young people, to read and develop and interest in the world that they live in. I suppose I’d be more impressed of the impressive Prof. Bauerlien at least attempted to do the same in his book. But perhaps he saves that for his classroom.

In the spirit of encouragment I would urge members of the Millenial generation to take some time to read, I mean if they’re not already. Some of them must read after all. But to those who don’t or don’t very often, please read. Read for pleasure. And read for information. Read for humor. And read for news and politics. Just read. If for no other reason than when books such as The Dumbest Generation come out you can dismiss it because that isn’t you. Take it from an aging GenXer (40 and counting). Once your generation gets tagged with a label it could be very hard to shake it off. Hell, I still occasionally have run-ins with idiots who insist that I am a Baby Boomer, because they still consider a GenXer to be some slacker in his 20s wearing his baseball cap backwards and riding a skateboard from where he lives in his parents basement to his buddy’s parents’ basement to hang out and play Nintendo and get high.