Thursday, May 23, 2024

Sunrise


            Of course, as soon as we decided to move to Ann Arbor, we deepened our appreciation of what we have here in our Bark House on Torch Lake. Every morning starts with appreciation – not simply that we are alive, but that the day greets us with beauty. Below is a collection of Kim’s early morning photos, all looking east over the lake. She has hundreds. This is our world.




















        Yes, we have our bad days, too, but it helps if we focus on the kind of appreciation that Kim's photography brings us. 


Thursday, May 16, 2024

At Last


            We have found our next place to live, after about a year of fairly intense looking. It’s a co-op in Ann Arbor called Hildene Manor. More on that place later . . ..

 

            Our goal was and is to find a place for when we get old. The amount of work required to maintain our home, woods and garden is significant, and we have some health issues that are not likely to improve. So we have been looking for a condo


            Our process included a daily second cup of coffee looking at listings in the Traverse City area, Gainesville, Atlanta, as well as Howell, Milford, and a number of towns in Southeast Michigan. We were discouraged by the rather generic look of most condos, suggesting cheap construction paired with high prices. We did make offers on five places, and four times we forwarded substantial earnest money to seal the deal, only to have it fall apart. The most painful was when we realized some problems after signing off on the contractor’s inspection contingency, a mistake that cost us our earnest money when the owner would not refund it – or even half of it. In response, I put a curse on the property, which is working because it’s still on the market.

 

            Hildene Manor is a co-op, which means that we will be 1/8th owner of the building and property. It was constructed as an apartment building in 1925. Most of the current residents, I believe, are active or retired professors from the University of Michigan, so we will drag the academic level down. I will learn more about the place from a resident who is researching the place, and I would like to work with her to write a piece about it for The Ann Arbor Observer for its 100th anniversary. Here’s a photo:

 

            

 

            Why do we want to live there? Here’s a letter we submitted with our offer:

 

Hildene Manor Cooperative

            

            We are both from Ann Arbor, and we miss it!

 

            I had a 30+ year career teaching English at Ann Arbor Huron, where I would ride my bike to work from my home on Brockman Blvd. When I retired we moved around as snowbirds for about 15 years, chasing kids and grandkids between Saline and Gainesville, Florida, and now we are living in a cottage on Torch Lake. We love it on Torch, but we miss our many Ann Arbor friends and the distinctive Ann Arbor vibe. I’m a writer, and I published a number of articles in The Ann Arbor Observer, mainly about the Ann Arbor Art Fair, where Kim helped select the featured artists.

 

            For the last nine months we would spend an hour or more every morning, looking online for a place to live in the city we love. We wanted a place with character, which usually meant an older home with quality carpentry and design. Our Saline house was a charming 1927 craftsman bungalow, a place I wrote about for American Bungalow magazine. We love the craftsman details in Hildene Manor, we love how well taken care of it is by people who care, and we love what we have heard about your sense of community. Every other house we have looked at, online or in person, made us think what we would have to renovate, but here we love it just the way it is.

 

            We plan to keep our summer cottage for a couple of years, to see how it goes as we are getting older, and then move to Ann Arbor full time. We feel like we belong at Hildene Manor Cooperative.

 

            We are thinking that when we sell our Bark House we will ask prospective buyers what they like about it, and what their plans are. We have been discussing when we might want to sell our home and move to Ann Arbor full time. We have not reached a conclusion, but this morning’s beautiful sunrise over Torch Lake makes it hard to leave.

 

            One of the interesting features of buying into a co-op is that we have to be approved – not simply that we can come up with the money, but approved as members of the small co-op community. We were asked to submit two support letters – like what I used to write for my students applying to colleges. We are also to be interviewed, a process that we are doing with a Zoom Meeting because we live 5 or 6 hours away. Wouldn’t it be nice to be selective about your neighbors?

 

            Closing is tentatively set for mid-July, provided, of course, that we are judged to be acceptable.

 

  

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Unfair

 

            When I think of someone saying, “That’s not fair,” I first think of a teen-ager complaining about some rule or restriction being imposed by a parent. (This scene may be out of date, as a contemporary teen might just tell their parents to go screw themselves – or worse.) But when a person says, “That’s not fair,” what do they really mean?

 

            At its core, the words might be driven by a feeling: “I don’t like it.” But the appeal to fairness takes it to a higher level, something like divine justice, where right and wrong are clear. It’s not quite the same as our earthly justice, where an action or decision is weighed against a written law or set of rules.

 

            No, it’s comforting to think there is some sort of universal internal fairness compass, something everyone shares. (Ignore the news, please.) We all can feel when something is just not fair. We just know it, in our hearts. I remember when I was teaching Humanities and we were discussing Plato’s Absolutes. We considered Absolute Beauty, against which we measure all our specific worldly attempts. And we considered Absolute Justice, and we felt it is possible to evaluate laws and practices against Justice. (I called it “real Justice “– my students disagreed.) The difficulty, we concluded (agreeing with Plato), is to set aside partiality and self-interest. We don’t judge the beauty of another person on the basis of whether or not they are attractive to us, and we don’t judge the justice or fairness of a law or decision on the basis of whether it benefits us. Hard to do that, I know.

 

            Interesting (to me, anyway) that when I looked up the origins of the word “fair,” I learned that it’s “akin to Old High German fagar,” which means beautiful. I like the convergence of Fairness and Beauty – though I know, of course, that the word “fair” has many other meanings, e.g., the term “fair maiden” probably is not usually a reference to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Can you think of a beautiful law? A beautiful decision made in this world? I think we can get close – though perhaps not in our current political environment.

 

            We think that the outcome of a game is “fair” if the winning team played by the rules. Sounds simple, but what if the rules are not fair? For examples, only think of the racial history of this country, where many of the “rules” were made by people pursuing their own self-interest rather than anything resembling fairness.

 

            What’s the opposite of “fair,” other than, you know, “unfair”? Is it “foul,” or does that just apply in baseball? I think it would be interesting to have the Supreme Court rule that a law or action is “foul” – though I’m not comfortable with how the current court might apply the term. Do courts look to “fairness” in making judgments? Do they ever use the term in rendering their opinion? Do they simply say, “That’s not fair”? If so, are they dealing with a gut-level feeling that a law or action was selfish rather than beautifully impartial? Or doesn’t fairness enter into their thinking?

 

            I yield the floor to the attorneys.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Even More Movies


            Again, Kim and I spend a lot of time streaming movies – at least, we did this winter. So many choices! So easy to reject some of them after five minutes! I put together a list of our recent favorites and tried to identify something they have in common. Again, I see we are drawn to character – especially, to interesting relationships between characters.

 

Falling for Figaro (Amazon) Millie, an American fund manager, realizes one day that her life-long dream is to become an opera singer. Quitting her lucrative job and moving away from her boyfriend, she travels to the Scottish Highlands where she eventually becomes an opera singer following intense vocal training from a former opera diva and fierce competition from other opera singers including Max, another student. I don’t particularly care for opera (except Carmen), but I love the characters here, and I love the Scottish Highlands.

 

Magic Mike’s Last Dance (Amazon) “Magic” Mike heads to London for what he hopes will be one last hurrah. Once he discovers what she truly has in mind, will he be able to pull it off? What he does pull off is his clothing. I was surprised how much I enjoyed erotic male dancing – a surprise I decided not to explore. Good fun! And I guess you can call these interactions “relationships.”

 

Jules (Amazon) Milton (Ben Kingsley) finds his quiet life upended when a UFO and its extra-terrestrial passenger crash land in his backyard. Things become even more complicated when two neighbors discover his secret and the government closes in. In case any of you can identify with an old guy’s being ignored, you will relate to this movie. Ben Kingsley is wonderful, as usual.

 

Blueback (Netflix) Inspired by her activist mother and her own special bond with a sea creature, a woman strives to protect her local Australian marine habitat from poachers. Nice look at a mother-daughter relationship, as well as the woman’s relationship with a blue grouper.

 

Hello I Must Be Going (Amazon) An affair with a 19-year old actor helps reinvigorate life for thirty-something Amy after she moves home to her parents’ house following her divorce.

 

My Sailor, My Love (Amazon) Howard is a widowed sailor living alone on the coast of Ireland. His daughter, Grace, hires Annie, a lovely older woman to help around the house. Initially resistant to this support, Howard is soon charmed by Annie’s gentle care, and the two fall in love. This new romance illuminates the hurt within Howard’s relationship with Grace, tearing at Howard and Annie’s seaside love story. Great Irish scenery. And accents.

 

Broken (Amazon) Drama series about a well-respected Catholic priest presiding over a large parish on the outskirts of a major city in northern England. This was a fascinating look at what a devoted clergyman does outside of the weekly services. The series also showed this non-Catholic the power of ritual and tradition. No, I’m not ready to convert.

 

Mending the Line (Amazon) A Marine wounded in Afghanistan undergoes a recovery process through learning to fly-fish from an older war veteran. This is a very moving examination of a guy-bond, but I was bothered by the fact that none of the catch-and-release fish had a hook to deal with.

 

Hemingway and Geldhorn (Amazon) The powerful story of the war-torn romance between literary giant Ernest Hemingway and trailblazing war correspondent Martha Gelhorn. Powerful stuff, especially showing the destructively macho Hemingway. Along the way, I learned a lot about the Spanish Civil War.

 

Alice and Jack (Amazon) – “It’s exhausting, isn’t it? Being in love?” This extraordinary British series follows a complex 15-year relationship between two very intelligent people, told with great dialogue and subtlety. The plot does not look like much, but the story is gripping.

 

Secrets of Elephants (National Geographic through Hulu) This wonderful series reveals the intelligence, communication skills, family relationships and cultural richness of elephants – four different species (who knew?) in four different geographical settings. They seem to be making better use of their intelligence than we are. National Geographic has a similar series about whales. Outstanding!

 

So B. It (Amazon) The title of this movie is the name of the main character. Really. She’s a young girl living with her seriously autistic mother and a caretaker who suffers from severe agoraphobia. The girl, also known as Sophia, has a gift of being lucky, which she takes advantage of in casinos, but the main story is her trip to a mental institution in upstate New York to discover her and her mother’s origins. The incredible acting makes the story credible.

 

            So: relationships. Let me conclude with the line from Alice and Jack: “It’s exhausting, isn’t it? Being in love?” Yes, relationships can be exhausting, but watching somebody else’s can be enjoyable, and even instructive – and a good distraction from war and politics.

  

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Jokes


            I’m fond of jokes, and I’m especially fond of the way many jokes begin – especially what are known as “dad jokes,” which I have written about before. These jokes set a premise, and it doesn’t matter how absurd or ridiculous it is – the more so, the better.

 

            Here’s an example: “A moth goes into a podiatrist office.” So, what are you going to do with that? What I enjoy is simply making the jump, accepting the premise. It’s like a big door has been opened wide, and I am stepping through into a very different universe. Good for me! I’ve heard that the same kind of acceptance is a good way to have conversations with people with dementia – just go with what they are saying rather than trying to correct them by saying, “No, that’s not what really happened.” (In the same vein, I read an article about “Eight Things You Should Never Say to your Partner,” and one of them is, “I never said that.” Agreed.) So, go joyfully with the opening of the joke as the opening of a door.

 

            Here are some samples:

 

·      Four nuns were standing in line at the gates of heaven.

 

·      Two poets die on the exact same day at the exact same time.

 

·       A rich art dealer is obsessed with paintings of Lenin, and he has made his life goal to buy every single genuine piece of art that has the figure of Lenin no matter who the artist is or what the cost.

 

·      A head without a body floats into a bar.

 

·      There was a truck driver who had a monkey that was always with its owner.

 

·       Redneck in Arkansas calls 911 and says, “Help, I think my wife is dead.”

 

·      Three bulls heard the rancher was bringing another bull onto the ranch.

 

·      Jesus is in the temple in heaven and he notices that the roof has a small leak in it.

 

·      A 6-year-old little girl comes to a pet shop and asks in a childish voice: “Good mowning sir, do you sell wittle wabbits?”

 

·      The little sapling in the forest, seeing its leaves were so different from all the other trees, turned to the nearby large oak tree to find out where he came from.

 

·      A truck driver would amuse himself by running over lawyers.

 

·      A new inmate in the prison noticed different patterns of tapping at night followed by fits of laughter. 

 

·      Mother Superior invited Captain Phillips to speak to the nuns about a day in the life of an ace fighter pilot.

 

·      A boy was in the bathroom of a restaurant when a Navy man walked in.

 

·       A newlywed couple had just arrived at their marital home after a blissful honeymoon when the husband said, “Wife, we must have a talk.”

 

·       A blonde is sat by the side of the road, her Porsche having broken down. 

 

·      A fellow prayed earnestly every day, “Oh, Lord, please let me win the lottery.”

 

·      A bounty hunter rides into a small wild-west town one day, and heads straight for the Sheriff’s office to see if there are any bad guys that need rounding up.

 

·       A Police Officer gets a call on his radio about a gorilla was on a Lady’s roof, so he heads to the location, and sure enough, there really was a gorilla on the roof. 

 

·       Three engineers are having a drink at the local watering hole after work and get into a debate about the nature of God.

 

·       A Jewish doctor kept the foreskins of all the baby boys he circumcised in a preserving jar.

 

I could go on, because my computer saves all of my old email because I may need them some day – case in point.

 

            In case you are wondering, here’s how the opening joke goes:

 

            A moth goes into a podiatrist office. The podiatrist is a little surprised, but he tells the moth to lie on the couch.

            “So, tell me what the problem is,” the podiatrist says.

            The moth replies: “I feel that life is passing me by. I wake up in the morning and there’s an old lady moth lying there where once they used to be a young one. My wings are tired all the time, my kids are giving me hell showing no respect. I feel like I’m trapped in a web suspended over the eternal flames of hell.”

            “My goodness,” says the podiatrist” You seem to be in a terrible mental state. You need a psychiatrist not a podiatrist. Why did you come to me?”

            The moth replies, “I had to. Your light was on.”

            Meanwhile, we can see each arriving day as the opening sentence of a joke – and you are in it. The trick is to make it to the punch line.

 

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Eclipse

 

            The total eclipse of the sun has been made into a very big deal, but I don’t get it. The eclipse appears to me to be a cosmic coincidence, and nothing more. I suppose it’s spectacular, in its way, and fairly rare – though darkness happens on a regular basis, at least, where I live. (In fact, I’m in the dark about a lot of things.) And it’s not as if we can take credit for it as an achievement, though I am impressed by the folks who predict it with such confidence. No, I’ve seen shots on the pool table that are more interesting, especially since they are human achievements. I know from personal experience during my undergraduate days that most shots are not easy. But for the eclipse, all we have to do is watch, and this is supposed to give us some measure of joy.

 

            Nevertheless, television and the internet are giving it a lot of attention, though I doubt there is much entertainment value other than stories about folks who are traveling long distances in order to be momentarily in the dark. And there’s all kinds of marketing associated with the eclipse, starting, I think, with Moon Pies.

 

            Let me interrupt myself with a joke. A guy is taking a door-to-door survey in Northern Ireland, and he asks one homeowner, “Are you a Protestant or a Catholic?”

 

            “Neither. I’m an atheist.”

 

            “Are you a Protestant atheist or a Catholic atheist?”

 

            Such are the divisions – in our country and in our world. Just look at the horrible wars. But the eclipse doesn’t care about these divisions. It has nothing to do with them. Is an eclipse something we can share – at least, this time, in America where this one will be visible? Somehow the eclipse gives us a Big Picture view of our Earth as we picture, in our minds, the sun, moon and Earth lining up, with the extraordinary coincidence of the sizes and distances of sun and moon being exactly what’s needed to make the eclipse total and perfect. Reminds me, in a way, of the early days of the space program, when we could see Earth from very far away, and we could feel that it’s a home we all share. Is it too much to ask to see our planet as a home we all share? Anything less than that seems like pure selfishness.

 

Note: I wrote the above before Monday’s eclipse. Let’s see how it goes . . ..

 

            I am more or less converted. We watched a bit of the eclipse coverage on television, and I’m not sure how to take all the hype. But people seemed genuinely and deeply moved – not just because they were witness to something rare, though that was a factor, but because they were witness to something beautiful. Also important, I believe, is that people felt they were and are part of something larger than all the crap – politics, wars, shootings, hunger, racism, etc. – that divides and depresses us. People across the country were, apparently, sharing the joy. No wonder a solar eclipse often took on religious significance. It made the world a better place for a few hours. How can anyone want to decline something called “the totality path?” This is not to say that we won’t be hearing those who believe the eclipse was part of an ongoing conspiracy . . ..

 

            Kim and I celebrated the eclipse by watching it on television for about half an hour, and then going out to the back porch for a look. (We called our local market to see if we could get eclipse-rated dark glasses, but they were sold out.) We poured ourselves glasses of wine to celebrate, but we left them half-finished as we realized that we had to get the thick layer of leaves off of the flowers in woods and garden. The eclipse may have spurred an appreciation of a flash of natural beauty in our solar system, but it spurred us to do what we can to promote the natural beauty in our yard. That’s our “totality path.”

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Gravitas


            It might have been when I was taking Latin in high school that I came across the word “gravitas,” or it might have been from a history teacher in our Humanities course who was talking about Roman values. And the term may have stayed with me because the letter v, in Latin, is pronounced like our w, so I could feel superior to those who mispronounced it. Nevertheless, gravitas is an important concept.

 

            Gravitas means a kind of seriousness, with suggestions of weight (gravity), dignity and importance, along with restraint, dignity, moral rigor and commitment to the task. The Romans considered it to be an essential quality for a leader. In fact, a recent article referred to Biden’s “presidential gravitas,” though I suppose some might attempt to apply the term to Trump.

 

            And this week on “American Idol” one of the judges said that a singer-contestant should sing with more gravitas (mispronounced). It does me good to think about what this might mean. More soul? More sincere? Hearing a number of these young singers, most of them singing about heartache, I think I know gravitas when they deliver it.

 

            So, gravitas is a good thing – one of the ancient Roman virtues. But what if you don’t really have it and you want to attain it? Or, perhaps more simply, you want to appear to have it? I suppose the main thing you can do is stay calm and reasonable – as the Roman stoic philosophers advised. Don’t lose your temper, and don’t get distracted into frivolity. Get the job done, seriously. For some reason I think it helps to be a large person, probably tall (as I happen to be). I believe the Romans only applied the term to men, since leaders at the time happened to be men. What women today demonstrate gravitas? Suggestions welcome. And, come to think of it, what men?

 

            Perhaps the closest we have to the term gravitas is the slang term “heavy” – not in the sense of being overweight, or a tough guy, but as serious and intense (according to my Urban Dictionary). Good to be heavy, right?

 

            Of course, you may very well not want to achieve gravitas. After all, people with gravitas don’t sound like a lot of fun to be around – or so I’m told. An alternative, I think, is to be a “blithe spirit,” a term taken from Shelley’s “To a Skylark,” which begins:

 

Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!

Bird thou never wert,

That from Heaven, or near it,

Pourest thy full heart

In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

 

This was how to live according to Romantic poets: Feel the deep feeling and out comes the spontaneous song! Forget about duty or discipline, forget about reason, dignity, accomplishing noble tasks and all that Stoic gravitas crap. Of course, the problem here is that as a blithe spirit you may awaken in the middle of the night and post some embarrassing stuff on social media. But still, who can object when you are pouring out your heart? My guess is that it works better for birds than for real people, though some poets, artists and musicians may disagree.

 

            So, where does that leave us? Probably best to let other people, those “in charge” (whatever that means), be the ones with serious, disciplined, responsible character. Time for me to get serious about becoming more of a blithe spirit.