Friday, March 27, 2009

Shrinking for the Global Good

While I've been missing from this space I've been thinking. Yeah, really. About lots of things. About how we are all connected. About shrinking the footprint those of us in the developed world make. About my own (continuing??? I hope) downsizing. We've been downsizing a lot of things, really. Commitments. Spending. But mostly stuff and space consumed and car trips.

Today's illustration is a collage of (mostly) decade-old scribbles from a notebook. Originals recycled. Yeah, I have no delusions of about the value of my own messy notebooks. I do however try to capture actual journal entries in a computer file and I enjoy scanning some of the hand-written and drawn stuff for my amusement. Several cubic feet of this stuff remains to be dealt with in the downsizing of the 2000's, but every little bit helps, I figure.

We have moved out of 3000 square feet on 2/3 of an acre into 1200 sq. feet in a high rise footprint. We still have a house that serves as a home for my dad (and housing for a few visitors) and we help FFP's parents remain in their cottage. So, yeah, decadent amounts of space. But less. We consider stuff acquisitions now in terms of having space to store things. I'm also thinking about how much I might use something. We are trying to buy local (from the grocery store downstairs, from local restaurants) and support local arts groups and charities serving our community. I go days without starting my (old but fuel-efficient and with maintained pollution control) vehicle. I am planning trips, but when I go somewhere I want to stay a little longer and make the jetting less wasteful.

When I read my papers about tent cities in the U.S. and conditions world-wide I feel a little helpless in the face of it, but I really think that what we do right here makes a tiny difference. I know that our lives are wildly extravagant to many people in my own city and country and unbelievable to millions around the world. I don't want to give up my computer and my AV stuff and my meals and fine wine and my glorious lifestyle. But I'm trying to make changes, not sacrifices, that both simplify my world and make a small difference in the rest of the world and the future. Is it 'enough?' For me, it is. I'm going to try to escape the next couple of decades (after which the world belongs to someone else) in relative comfort with time to think and space enough. Free time and free thinking...they are pollution-free and can be constructive!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Use Your Head

Lots of hats and heads in this photo from Let's Dish on South Lamar. (Including a shadow me head with spiky hair, a sort of signature in these photos as you know.)

Lots of thoughts lately all jumbled and unblogged. Some unbloggable, crossing lines I don't cross. (Spell check doesn't like unblogged or unbloggable for the record.)

SXSW is over and a visit from two aunts (one with husband) and two cousins (one with wife) to my Dad is absorbed and recorded. I have once again realized that there is not a winning strategy to a game called 'Spinner' played with double nine dominoes with a wild 'spinner' thrown in and certain family rules. And that these family gatherings will always be familiar in certain fundamental ways.

I'm enjoying my morning, thinking about the movies and music and SXSW and reading some things in The New York Times. Using my head to think about issues and the arts. Interesting essay about a C.P. Snow essay in yesterday's Book Review and a review of a play we might see when we go to New York. I can entertain myself thoroughly by watching movies, reading and then writing and thinking about them. (I also took a quiz on Facebook about 'what writer are you' and it came out Jack Kerouac. That's food for thought. Or impetus for a road trip.)

I didn't get to watch as many movies at the end of SXSW (or as we call it here 'South By') as I would have liked because of the relative invasion. I had to make a trip to the airport on Friday which I dreaded but which turned out to work very smoothly.

On Thursday, we saw "Soul Power" which is made from footage of a 1974 three-day soul music festival in Zaire when Ali and Foreman had the 'rumble in the jungle'. Amazing footage of the musicians and music and some great Ali monologues, too. Made me want to see "When We Were Kings." I thought I was going to have to take my aunt and uncle to dinner, but they went out with Dad and so I got to go with FFP to see "The Way We Get By" which is a doc about troop greeters in Bangor, Maine. Sort of ironic since the aunt and uncle I was ignoring are not that different than the movie people: they are both ex-military and live in Maine. Excellent doc. One of the people profiled was the director's mother. This wasn't clear until the Q&A which, I think, is a good thing. Does that mean that the personal is fine as long as you can take a step back? Maybe the personal is the only thing that works, in some ways. I was giddy to get to see this extra movie when I thought I'd be engaged with the relatives. I'm glad it was a worthwhile effort. I shudder to think what the movies cost me on a per movie basis since we bought badges and pretty late at that, not getting much of a discount. After that movie we went to Taste and had delicious fried chicken and champagne.

Before I had to go to the airport we got time to see "Breaking Upwards." We get wrapped up in docs and the fest is a great time to see them, but it's fun to find an indie narrative that you really like and this was one. The stars were co-writers with another writer, the male lead directed and the stars played people with their own first names. In other words, the film was very personal. It felt 'real' with funny lines and situations tossed away for free like in real life. Sometimes you thought you'd probably missed two or three things because it was going along like life in messy, sometimes irrational directions like life itself. It was very satisfying I think and ended ambiguously without trying in romantic comedy fashion to tie up loose ends. The parents of the leads were beautifully drawn as well as some minor characters.

I had to do further excavation in my car before I went to the airport to find room for relatives' luggage. Uncovered a stack of unread Harper's and The New Yorker magazines I still couldn't recycle. Never will there be enough time for the life of the mind I'd like to pursue. But I did take one inside the airport to wait and had a satisfying few minutes reading. I was early because I was afraid of traffic and finding a short term parking place around the 4:30 arrival of the plane, but it was actually early and so it was good that I didn't cut it close and leave the relatives in the lurch. The rest of the evening consisted for finding a suitable restaurant for dinner for eight, eating homemade pie and playing the aforementioned game about which one can hardly muster a shred of strategic thinking.

Saturday I devoted pretty much the entire day to family. Picked up a couple of things for my dad at the grocery, got his shirts from the laundry and visited with the assembled family and a friend who dropped by. Got through lunch (take-out barbecue brisket and sausage and sides from Rudy's...I had to pick up but not was a cheap weekend that way), more games, leftovers, several pots of coffee, discussion of family matters and excused myself at nine or so as everyone was winding down. I also excused myself from the next day's activities and departures. There was a time when I wouldn't have done that. That time is passed and I have become more selfish. So be it. Thus I was able to watch the SXSW fireworks from my balcony, make a brief appearance at a party in the building and go to hear a set of music at 1AM on Sunday morning (Partice Pike at Momo's). (Yeah, we never do that, but we did it Sunday and then slept and goofed off the morning.) We ended up catching a set of music from the Jeff Lofton quarter at Belmont in the afternoon and then attended possibly the best anniversary party ever.

Speaking of selfish: I have used my pea brain to decide that I will do my duty but also be a bit selfish. I have been accused of "selfish bordering on narcissistic" in the comments of another blogger. I was misunderstood, I would claim, but that made me realize that commenting in other people's corners is unwise if the topic is serious to anyone. (And lots of things are serious to people.) I decided to save myself from the unsettling arguments by not commenting in such space nor even reading the comments of others or any further messages directed at me there. It is much better to write in your own space and moderate your own comments. I know I'm a selfish person...but I don't need that taken out of context! You must be accurate in your assessment of why I'm an ass or it makes me mad.

So, yeah, I'm enjoying my morning, thinking and reading and doing as I please and going over in mind the things that I want to think about. It's great to have activities. But it's also great to have a day when you can exercise, do chores and think when you feel like it. We are back to a more normal schedule now and that's a good thing.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Drifting to the Other Shore of SXSW

It's a crazy time for me and the town. I'm coming out of the weird protracted illness that demanded OTC drugs and carrying Kleenex and cough drops about just in case. I've sat in a bunch of darkened movie theaters and seen other worlds. The town is alive with people doing whatever it is that engages them. (Me as we pass a rooftop venue with some 'sounds' pounding out: "You would have to pay me to listen to that!" Himself: "You read my mind.") Last night there was a venue in the Ballet Austin's Armstrong/Connelly studio and people were lined up when we went by at what we thought was a late hour. FFP got up in the wee hours and saw people rocking out there.

As we walked to our movie (in the Convention Center) and to Taste to have fried chicken and half price champagne after, there were hoards of people walking and queuing and sounds of all kinds floating around.

We are going to a movie this morning and then I have to go to the airport in the afternoon and get some relatives and be a dutiful daughter for part of the weekend. I'm not looking forward to the airport but maybe it won't be too bad. It's a terrible time traffic-wise anyway but so be it. The good news? They are not flying when they leave but getting rides with other relatives. And my aunt and uncle and Dad did give me a pass for entertaining them last night so what, after all, am I complaining about? I'm not really. I'm glad they are visiting Dad since he doesn't like to travel far in the car anymore to visit them. One aunt and uncle will be off to Maine for the summer soon so it is a chance to see them again...otherwise we'll be waiting for November or going to see them in Maine. (Now, there's an idea with merit.)

I have this feeling that now that I'm mostly recovered from mystery illness and SXSW is winding down and the relatives will be gone that things will settle down. But then I look at the calendar and see that it is pretty darn packed. Easter brings a reprieve and the last part of April looms with some 'free time' when, I'm sure, I will get everything finished, organized, clean, straight, created and well, you know. Or else I'll enjoy leisurely walks and some Centex drives.

Why always looking ahead, though? Enjoy today for Heaven's sake.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Downsizing and Collecting Memories

Me, reflected two ways, in the shop window of Let's Dish with a very cool punch bowl and cups. Once I would have coveted it for its decorative appearance in a collection of such things. No more. I read an article about some folks trying to pass a law to keep museums from selling art to pay the bills. Made me say 'hmmm.' Seems like a museum has a charter, yada, yada and a board with oversight. A law? Hmmm.

Anyway, it always makes me think about downsizing when I see something interesting that I might once have owned but now have to be circumspect about. Makes me think how now we collect words as pixels (instead of in notebooks) and digital pictures of things instead of prints. Or, even, the things themselves.

It's surprising how fuzzy the line is between the concrete and the virtual. Especially with art...words and pictures. In our building lobby there is some real art and some TV screens showing slides of art from galleries. I enjoy both.

Of course, some things are real and corporeal. This cup of coffee in my hand. Plunged into SXSW movies and (last night) a bit of music, one wonders about the levels of experience. The live music vs. the iPod. The movie house versus the real experience versus the movie on TV. Subtitles versus understanding the languange.

Yes, since last we spoke I have fought off illness to see all of three movies in two days. Oh, we also went to the Austin Music Awards and sat through it until the end when Roky Erickson jammed with a band called Black Angels. It was pretty entertaining, really, although the Austin Music Hall is the worst venue imaginable. Uncomfortable, bad accoustics. Oh. Well. I'm pretty sure if the city didn't own it they would shut it down.

But the movies. Of the three we saw on Tuesday and Wednesday, I'd say that the best by a long shot was "Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo." About the Oklahoma prison rodeo with a focus on the women allowed to compete in recent years, it was really about incareration and prison life and the very real people inside. They came to life as characters. We also saw "Sissyboy," a show with promise about a troupe of guys performing very radical skits in drag. It failed me as I didn't get a sense of the characters beyond their participation in the group and the basic 'growing up gay and different' thing. The piece didn't have a dramatic arc and the lives didn't seem to either. Yesterday we saw one movie. "For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism." It was complete and it is good that they captured some people while they were still alive to speak about movie criticism. I wasn't mesmerized, though. But I felt more educated about the subject.

Today we plan to see one movie. Well, I plan to see one movie. It is a fascinating topic. In 1974 when Ali and Foreman had the 'rumble in the jungle' in Zaire, there was also a three-day soul music festival. This documentary is made from many hours of footage from that event. FFP may see more movies, but I have to deal with relatives visiting my dad so it isn't too hard on him. I could have caught another one this morning but, instead, I'm doing a few chores. Changing the bed, doing laundry. I managed to clean one bathroom yesterday. It seemed like a big chore because I wasn't feeling that well. I need to clean out my car, too, so I can fetch some relatives from the airport tomorrow. I sent FFP off with a grocery bag stuffed with things for the thrift store. It feels like downsizing all over again perhaps because I stashed things in my car that I couldn't decide about last summer during the death throes of getting out of the house.

But, as the kids say when things look a little tattered but everyone is still standing, "it's all good." SXSW has taken over downtown but our place is a quiet enclave. You wouldn't know anything was going on from up here. I have relatives visiting and the attendant hassle of entertaining them, but, as Dad says "they will be gone soon enough and you will forget about it." My head hurts a little, but some decon has cleared up some morning dizziness and some Ibuprofin will probably make everything great.

So...I went to my car and as I looked at a stack of New Yorkers therein I remembered the very articles I was hoping to read sometime before I tossed them. But I did get rid of a few things. Very few. My attachment to to things is ephemeral now. The trunk is full of tapes and CDs that I'm listening to one last time before tossing them (in other words, putting in the thrift store bag). There was also a suitcase of spare clothes (now in storage). A ton of old tennis balls. Haven't dealt with that yet. My tennis bag, a spare tennis racket and a 'pick up' container of old balls to take to a court and practice serving. I think I'll ditch the latter and assume I'll never use it again or, if I'm tempted, I'll borrow one at the club. My car was definitely the refuge of last resort to save things from being downsized. Or was it Dad's house? I brought a box of books and articles and maps for and about New York from there the other day. Definitely need to get rid of some of it. Sigh.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


When last we spoke, dear reader, one day of SXSW was gone and we had seen exactly one movie after getting our badges and some advanced tickets. Of course, we had gone to the Texas Film Hall of Fame party and the pre-party before that. (See Connie Britton above left with Dana Wheeler-Nicholson helping with the live auction at the gala. They are stars in "Friday Night Lights," a TV show we love.)

Well, the weekend went well. We managed four films and a panel on Saturday and Sunday. Some peoples' schedules are much more brutal but with my persistent allergy/cold (I thought I was getting over it and then it morphed and bit again) and FFP needing to do some writing we couldn't do the death march. We met up with some Cinematic people including our friend Jette who were rushing about madly and our friend Christopher Holland of B-Side Entertainment said he had to wait until a lot of people left before he could see some films. A college sophomore from Baylor declared in the line Sunday night that it would be her sixth film. She should have the stamina for the nursing career she is going to pursue.

Saturday we got a few things handled and then went to the Convention Center theater and queued up for "45365." A man who turned out to be the three brother filmmakers' father handed us a matchbook with the times for the showings and the title stamped on it. The title (pronouneced four-five-three-six-five) is the zip code for Syndey, Ohio where the filmmakers grew up. The kids wanted to write about their home town which they had left behind for film work and college and finally decided to make a doc and make the town speak for itself through film of the place and some inhabitants. At first I thought maybe they needed to edit some stuff but gradually I realized the film was pitch perfect. They stayed out of the way and let the town and some residents speak. By the end we had figured out relationships, we wondered about backgrounds and what would happen next for people. We knew what events people looked forward to and how the seasons unfolded there. We found ourselves in a line for another movie later talking to other people who'd seen it about the various characters in it like they were from our own hometown or, at least, characters in a well-formed narrative.

We walked back to the condo for a quick snack and refresh and headed out to the movie "Objectified." It was made by Gary Hustwit, who made the movie "Helvetica" we so enjoyed last year. The movie is a documentary about the 'stuff' around us and how it is designed and the life cycle of all the things in our world. Very enjoyable. We headed to Taste after that to have a meal. Just didn't have another movie in us. The meal and wine were pleasant.

Sunday we sat around in our sweats for a while, doing some writing and taking in the Sunday paper and such. FFP made us a big breakfast of migas and toast which sustained us until we ate a meal in front of a movie at Alamo South Lamar.

We headed to the Convention Center and went to Christopher Holland's book book signing for "Film Festival Secrets." We wanted to see a panel on design with the director of "Objectified" and some designers and a New York Times magazine writer, Rob Walker, who writes a column about, well, stuff. There was a bit of time to wait so we got a cup of coffee and went into the day stage cafe where the Interactive conference interview of Nate Silver by Stephen Baker was being broadcast. Heh, we wouldn't have been admitted to an Interactive panel with a film badge. It was pretty interesting. Silver is the numbers guy behind and Stephen Baker wrote "The Numerati." After this we went to the panel on design. It was packed. Like the movie "Objectified" it was a joint Interactive/Film event. There were lots of people with funny dye jobs and vintage clothes. Must be more of that in the online world than in film.

We decided when the panel ended to try the new (for this year's fest) shuttle and waited a few minutes to catch a bus at 4th and Red River. We were tremendously early for "Bomber" but it was worth the wait. It was a witty family drama about a mom, dad and son who go off on a quest to let the dad resolve the wounds of a mistake made when he was a teenaged kid in WWII. Around this hook we see a delightful bit of Europe and watch a family try to unravel the damages life brings and get down to basic caring.

When the movie (and our meal) was over we were wondering "could we actually see another?" We decided to try. We waited for the shuttle bus which came after a while and delivered us to 7th Street near Congress. We decided not to try going back to the house and had a cup of coffee and a snack at the Hidelout. Lines were long for the movie, "Women in Trouble," at the Paramount. There were many VIPs and celebrities but we got in, no problem, and got our favorite seats (left section orchestra, row T, two on the aisle). We were excited that Connie Britton was in the movie and another "Friday Night Lights" actress, Andriane Palacki. The movie was raunchy, irreverant, unlikely and laugh-out-loud funny. It was "Pulp Fiction" all is connected style without the violence. Well, there was a tiny bit of violence, nothing to speak of.

We were more than done when the movie was over, but people were queued outside for another. We got home just after midnight.

Yesterday (Monday) we were all about trying to have a reasonable pace. I was trying to get over whatever weird illness plagues me and FFP was up against some deadlines. We finally settled on seeing a shorts program at 1:30 at Alamo South and walking up there for our alleged exercise. Shorts Reel 1 seemed disorganized and theme-less. I know themes are hard to achieve in these things but this one had everything from a wordless narrative short of amazing physical comedy ("Sunday Mornings") to a documentary about cleaning up the 'chicken bones and newspaper' type hoarder's house ("Isis Avenue"). Those two were pretty worthy as was an over the top improv about therapy called "Countertransference." But all in all the reel left me hungry for coherence. But I was otherwise quiet sated with a three cheese grilled sandwich and fries and a Coke.

We walked home. (The walk home from Alamo is easier because it is mostly downhill.) We got a few things done and headed out for "The Two Bobs." It was a big deal movie for the fest, shot around town and with Tim McCanlies, writer and director. We'd gotten an advance ticket which allows first dibs in the badge line. We were surprised to see a good sixty or eighty people with 'cast and crew' tickets. All was utter chaos at the Paramount but we got in and got our usual seats. The movie was slapstick and predictable but great fun nonetheless with fabulous set decoration and many local folks involved. The game animation was great fun, a bloody sendup of the genre. I have to say I liked it. I was looking for friend Jeff Lofton who was an extra but missed his moments on the screen. (I think I was distracted by Turk Pipkin in drag in that scene.) We were going to meet the Loftons for drinks and dinner, but after all was chaos. We didn't have a mobile number so FFP went back to the place to find it. I waited around trying to spot them. There were such crowds for the next movie plus Leslie posing in front of the Paramount that I finally decided we'd missed them and started home myself. Then FFP called and he'd gotten them on the phone and they were in front of the Paramount. We converged at Taste, heard the end of Trevor LaBonte and Liz Morphis doing their set and ate dinner and drank, all six of us. Taste was deserted. If you SXSWers are looking for a place to dine, venture all the way to Cesar Chavez, it's not far, and grab some fab food and wine. They even have Yelp specials for SXSW.

And then bed. I developed a cough at the beginning of the meal which I contained with cough drops and decon and water (and OK some wine). It's heck being sick during so much activity. Today is St. Pat's day. Last night was chaos downtown already and music isn't starting until the end of the week. We are going to try to see two movies today. And perhaps get some errands done. If I feel like it, maybe house cleaning. (I don't have to be very sick to eschew that.)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Know Thyself

It's good to know oneself, I think. SXSW film always makes me realize a few things about moi. And I'm going to tell you some of those things this morning. FFP sits behind me writing for hire (although admittedly for a pittance). I sit here writing about my favorite subject (me) for free. (At least I'm not paying for the privilege of writing other than the cost of the computer and all.)

I would rather not be in crowds or lines. We went to the trouble of trying to get an advance ticket for this movie we wanted to see last night. We bought badges, but they are giving out limited numbers of advanced tickets that they said would allow you to be seated in front of other badge holders. However, when we got to the theater (later than we normally would have) the guy was uninformed and made us go to the back of the line. After some people were seated they reversed themselves and let us in ahead of a few people who hadn't waited around to get advanced tickets. This irritated me, but once I had an OK seat I just drank a Guinness and enjoyed the movie about conspiracy theorists. I don't like lines and crowds. It's hard to go anywhere at the film fest where there aren't a lot of other people. So that is kind of a downer about festivals.

The movie we saw last night was a doc about conspiracy theorists who believe everything in the world is controlled by a handful of people. I don't agree with the folks who are featured in it, but I don't necessarily think the government always tells us everything. But that isn't the point of watching a documentary like "New World Order." The point is to look in the eyes of people obsessed with something. The point is to see what is going on with other people without having to be where they are. It is nice to be presented with another viewpoint while having a goat cheese plate and a Guinness at the Alamo Ritz. So I don't like lines and crowds but I do like seeing obscure docs instead of the latest blockbuster film.

And, yeah, we only saw one movie. I had another 'penciled in.' But we knew, in our heart of hearts, that we probably wouldn't make that one. I've been battling some little cold or allergy. I'd even napped in the afternoon before we went and I was taking medicine. It was cold and rainy out in line land. (See above.) So we came home and watched TV and read the papers. Today we have three movies on the calendar. One we definitely want to see and we got an advance ticket for it. How many do I think we'll see. Maybe, two. We were just sitting here discussing how we might skip another have drinks with friends.

Drinks, yeah. There are lots of parties where free food and drink is available to badge holders. But we know in advance that we don't really want to jostle in crowds for special drinks or certain beers offered by sponsors or fight over cheese cubes or other apps. We just as soon go to a favorite bar and pay for our sins. So the idea of a party that is exclusive to gazillion badge holders? Not so much. So I sort out the party invites and then plan one-by-one to miss them.

It's time to get showered up and face my fun day. It's a bit dreary and cold. I have this cold or allergy that has robbed me of my voice and some of my sensibility (or maybe that is the drugs). But I have fun things to do, really. See obscure movies. Look at life through others' eyes. And see what's happening on the streets of Austin as SXSW takes it by storm. (Music doesn't start until next Wednesday.)

I know these things about myself. Just must remember them. I'll only make it to half the movies I think I will because of the crowds and lines, mostly. I'll see an array of obscure docs and such (which won't reduce the crowding, there are other weirdos here). I'll skip parties, but we will be tempted to go out to bars and restaurants (probably while skipping a movie).

La ti da. So goes retirement. I could have to work and have to take vacation to continue the fest on Monday. I guess when you don't work, you have to find something to play hooky from even if it is supposedly fun stuff.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Celebrity Watch

I am not that into celebrities. No really. My Austin Daily Photo pictures from the last two days might make it seem so. But no. Unknowns are as interesting to me as celebrities. In fact, I often embarrass myself by not knowing who celebrities are, why their faces look familiar. Assuming I even recognize them as, you know, someone that should be recognized.

These photographers were shooting people last night as they came down the red carpet at the Texas Film Hall of Fame gala. I doubt they wasted film or pixels on us. (Although one friend in the press line did shoot us, I think.)

Now the festival begins. People will flock to the big deal premieres not just to see the film but to look for celebs and maybe ask them a question at Q&A. That is sometimes interesting, but not essential to my experience. I just want to see a few weird docs and meet people who are yet to be famous. Only I can't talk to anyone because I have almost totally lost my voice. So it goes. I'll be quietly watching movies for the next week or so. If you see me, nod hello. I'll nod back.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

You can't disappear even for a moment...

That's what it's come to really. If you blog and you miss a day (or a week or whatever) people wonder. On facebook? Your friends follow. Tweeting? They follow more. Have e-mail? Your friends, too? Why aren't you keeping up? Smart phones let you follow and be followed everywhere. You never have to out of touch with buddies or family.

I still don't have a smart phone. (I am starting to pass my phone around at parties and meetings to show what a relic it is.) But I have opened a Twitter account. (Not to Tweet but just to follow one person. No it's nothing like that. Just a blogger I like.) I am kind of a facebook addict and I try to make my silly life interesting in short, frequent sentences. I blog, of course. And I have been thinking about this blog entry for a few days. (It was better in my head, really it was.)

Anyway, I was thinking about how, now that we are so connected in so many ways, that it is a radical act not to communicate or to build communication walls with a particular person. Wasn't always so.

Around Labor Day 1972 I left for a tramp around Europe. I had an open-ended return ticket (to New York anyway) and a three month Eurailpass, a bit of money and a vision of adventure. It wasn't exactly what I imagined but it was pretty glorious. I came home around the first week of December. Letters went home, taking many days if not weeks. Letters came to Post Restantes or American Express Offices and finally to the home of friends of friends. Long lapses of communication. I phoned home maybe once or twice. Expensive proposition of going into an office, waiting in line, getting a booth and having the call placed. With no Internet and a limited knowledge of the languages around me, I craved words in English. Precious English language novels and magazines were passes around and after I made friends with someone who worked on an army base we got some magazines that way.

I was out of touch with people back home. They had to follow along with those much-delayed letters and postcards. The lag did us some good, I think. Put a bit of reflection on all relationships. Dulled the edges of things. I still have some of the postcards I sent home. And letters on thin paper designed for Air Mail with every bit of the space carefully filled. It allowed me to grow in a new place and way.

Makes me wonder if our very connectedness today doesn't tie us to our current selves. Not that much personal growth or change will come about at my age. Although...what do you think of my radically short haircut? And what do you think about the fact that everyone on the Internet can see it this way? No going away now to lose a few pounds, change your hairstyle or get a tan and surprise everyone next time they see you. You have to upload mobile pictures all along the way.

It's not really true, though. Actually we can't mentally keep up with any more things than we can physcially really. When millions are out there, you can still just keep up with so many. But maybe you can do it at home, while being a recluse and communicating only one way and keeping your haircut to yourself.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Few Random Reflections

Shop window reflection courtesy of AuthentiCity on Congress Avenue.

But I was thinking more of reflections of the verbal, essay-like sort.

  • Does a stock market rally that is HUGE percentage-wise really mean anything in this environment?
  • Is it true that joblessness has caused a new surge of volunteerism because people have to have something to do and they have less money to give?
  • I heard a thrift store (run by Junior League) on Burnet Road was closing due to competition from new clothes sold by Costco, Walmart, etc. Can this be a real trend?
  • A friend who sorts collected donations for a charity's annual sale says donations are down. Are people not buying new clothes either and just wearing the stuff they used to give away?
  • Above two remind me that there is a sack of stuff in my car that needs to be dropped at the thrift store. I patronize Top Drawer. I hope they don't go out of business. I hope they keep making enough money to stay open because they give vouchers to clients of AIDS orgs in town to shop for free. Free clothing and housewares seems good.
  • I gave lots of stuff including toys and collectibles and housewares of some value to the above in the great downsizing. We gave away a lot of books, too.
  • FFP has been looking for a book called Guns, Germs and Steel for two days. It never got cataloged but he says he once owned it. Maybe we gave it away.
  • We were trying to sort and get rid of magazines a couple of days ago. I can't give away the Harper's Magazine or The New Yorker without first flipping through them. Too often this results in many minutes reading an article.
  • We are going to the SXSW film festival. We claim to be film buffs but really we aren't. We like obscure docs. We have no idea about, for example, Watchmen and will be happy to never see it. Movies about young peoples' angst leave me cold.
  • And yet we watch 24.
  • We watched L Word. They spent the entire season teasing about killing off a character I hate. So, yeah, they did it. Ho. Hum. Not sorry to see them go.
  • Have you seen United States of Tara? Inexplicably, I like it. That Diablo Cody really surprised me. She made me like a like some young folks and their angst and someone with an identity disorder.
  • Speaking of young people (or maybe ALL people) have you noticed how people go out in groups in these sort of uniforms. Saw two guys in the Texas Chili Parlor, both in cargo shorts, tennis shoes with no visible socks, safari shirts (the ones with the vents and such), untucked, ball caps. Of course, FFP and I go out in slacks/blazer. You know what else? Young ladies go out in fancy party dresses with decolletage and lots of leg showing and high heels and are accompanied by guys in jeans, untucked shirts and flip flops. And all those tattoos and piercings you see. Although, I've got to say I meet more and more of the adorned young that are really great creative people. Diablo Cody. I'm just saying.
  • Do you ever notice that when you don't have too much to do, you don't get much done? Lately I've had lots of free time really. Did I get stuff cleaned and organized? Not so much. Did I do any serious writing? You know the answer to that. No, instead when some appointment comes up I'm a little colicky even if it's a fun thing. I was thinking I'd have tomorrow free, but I was talking to Dad and he reminded me that I have to take him for a blood test and a haircut. I'm such a slug. Oh. Well.
  • I'm upset at my coffee machine. It said it wanted to be cleaned I went through the cycle but it forgot we were doing it and went back to wanting to be cleaned again. This has happened before but somehow I got out of it. The only thing in the place I love more than that machine is FFP. But it can be frustrating loving stuff when it does you wrong.
  • Which reminds me. I'm using this software I found called syncplicity as a third level of backup. (I have a local script backing up to a drive on the network and a paid-for Internet connected backup.) It is free. When it failed briefly this morning, it upset me. Ditto free scheduling software for the film festival. It's free. But if it's not perfect I can still get upset. facebook doesn't work to suit me? Same thing. People providing stuff for free are still held to the highest standards. I used to work for businesses that sold software. We had bugs all the time. We always acted sorry, though.
Yeah, random stuff. I'm going to do something useful now. Um.. Yeah.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Comfort and Politics

A friend who blogs on many weighty subjects said recently:
"I realize my best moments of magnanimousness are easier because Steven and I are safe - economically, physically and spiritually."
He also quoted Warren Buffet who said recently:
"The people that behaved well are no doubt going to find themselves taking care of the people who didn't behave well"
This morning I was reading Harper's (March 2009) and Lewis H. Lapham quoted C.V. Wedgwood in his column.

"Few men are so disinterested as to prefer to live in discomfort under a government which they hold to be right, rather than in comfort under one which they hold to be wrong."

Lapham was assailing Obama's cabinet choices, but I'll leave that argument aside. I want to talk about comfort. And politics.

A lot of people talk about wanting change. And now that the stock market has tanked and mortgages are threatened with forclosure (if they can be found at all) people would like to change that. But folks who have achieved some comfort don't want to give it up. Sure Buffet and Gates can talk about not minding paying more taxes. I get that. They already had billions (with a 'b') dollars of excess money to give away. Clearly the lifestyle they find comfortable is far below the income they have. The tax code makes a bigger difference to me. Sure I give away money. Obama wants to change the way that donations are taxed. Probably the big boys don't care. I do. It's either taxes or donations for me on that percentage. I'd rather get the tax break because I'm not crazy about the government spending money, buy hey. I don't look forward to the government deciding on a confiscatory tax rate down in my realm because, of course, I foolishly planned my retirement on a more reasonable one. Of course, some of the returns are disappearing...making the tax rates irrelevant. Also, to make things more predictable, we invested in tax-free bonds. I suppose the goverment could decide to tax this income. I don't think they will given the disarray of all credit markets including that for municipal bonds. I imagine that such an action would bankrupt thousands of cities and utilities and schools. But you never know.

Are my views selfish? Of course. But how many of us are willing to make ourselves uncomfortable in some outpouring of fairness? Certainly not me. I understand that my good sense in the past will be punished to some degree as my tax dollars provide 2% mortgages to people who did not plan well. (Or behave well as Warren would have it.) I just wish that those of us who did behave well could get 2% on our money markets!

There is a reason that fiscal liberals are largely found among the very, very comfortable and the penniless. Those of us in betwen must plan more carefully to stay comfortable. The very comfortable person already has a large discretionary level of income they can do without. (Of course, some people can never get enough money for themselves. Like you, Bernie.) The penniless have nothing to lose in a tax increase and everything to gain in increased food stamps, mortgage resets, etc. I budget for my charity and for my taxes. Like everything in my budget, when something gives one place, it gives another. The last thing I give up willingly is my comfort. Regardless of how unfair some might think it is for me to be comfortable. The sad thing is that the deficit can't be handled by the billionaires, it will ultimately fall further down to me and to other retirees and folks who just were trying to be comfortable. People worry about bankrupting the next generation. I worry about bankrupting mine and the greatest generation in their retirement.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Generally Speaking

Generalizations are dangerous. Everyone is sitting at a different juncture, looking out at certain things and interacting with the people and things near them while watching a film reel of things just out of reach. Of course, with TV and the Internet and old school newspapers and such that passing parade of 'other lives' is congested with scenes from here and yon, with images imagined and brought to life with pictures or videos.

I snapped a photo in one of the penthouses in the 360 at a benefit party. I decided that going out on the various balconies would get better pictures. But this one shows the Palmer Events Center through the window, from above. You could live up there and that would become one of the exterior views in your life, as common as breathing to you. Just as our views from our windows and balcony have become a little expected if not ordinary to us.

We are all doing things that wouldn't seem that weird to others but things which are not what they are experiencing. We grab onto things where we can relate. People talk about their illnesses and their cures (two people at dinner last night had done acupuncture). Folks chat about TV shows, sports events, movies that they watched separately but can now discuss and analyze. We are interested in people talking about places we haven't been, things we haven't done but, in our heart of hearts, we want to have been there and have that first-hand experience.

When we generalize about people, though, we need to remember that while their age, race, sex, sexual preference, diet, habits, wealth and where they live shapes them, it shapes each into a completely unique individual.

Does this all sound like I have nothing to say? Yeah, that's pretty much it. I've thought of writing a piece about how I hate Internet and Text abbreviations (and yet made one up myself the other day). I've thought about writing something about the walkability of my new home. But, no, this is the drivel you get. Sorry.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Not What I Expected

I expected to feel rushed and blurry about now. We went out last night and ate an old school steakhouse meal. I had promised my dad I'd pick him up after his games day at church for a late lunch. Next week (well and the weekend, too) is packed with events in the evening. But I got up without complaint around seven, having slept through the night without getting up for some Advil and/or stomach relief. (I find Aloe Vera gel caps a mild way to relief the sin of overeating and drinking and then lying down.)

Yeah, in fact, I'm not feeling rushed or anything. I called my dad, confirmed our plans. I've posted an entry to Austin Daily Photo. (I just stepped out on the balcony and took a picture of Auditorium Shores where the Star of Texas Fair and Rodeo cowboy breakfast is taking place.) I admit I'm often inordinately proud (a phrase I love) of keeping up with ADP. (I'm not into numbers or anything but my dashboard says I'm made 666 posts. The devil is in ADP today!)

I've had a couple of leisurely cups of coffee. I edited a story for FFP. I made his recalcitrant wireless USB mouse work again. Himself went across the street for Pilates at Ballet Austin. It's quiet and calm. I can hear myself think. (Did you ever wonder about that phrase? "I can't hear myself think?" Mom would say. What does that sound like?)

Yeah, I'm just sitting here riffing on my life. Wondering what I should be doing. Maybe continuing the discouraging filing I started yesterday, going over to the gym to sweat a little. Life will catch up with me soon enough and it will be time to go pick up Dad and meet a friend of ours for a deli lunch.

I have lots of things on my 'to do' list, of course. All kinds of straightening and organizing things. I need to do some of that at Dad's house, too. But there seems to be time enough for everything. Don't rush it. I wasn't expecting to feel this way today.

If you had told me back in the summer or in September that I would be looking at a Dow below 7000 and calmly figuring out how to keep the old retirement going and wondering what was going to happen to all us retired folks as the world sputtered to some possible ignomious end, I would have expected it. But I really wouldn't have expected to be so adaptable about it. I guess I'm not surprised that we just keep embracing fun. Why not when the world is in such turmoil. Oh, I know people sometimes hesitate in this environment to spend and I have, too, but mostly on things, on stuff and only because after downsizing the impact of stuff gets my attention.

You get up in the morning and things are familiar but in another way not what you would have expected or predicted. I think that's what keeps us going, going around the corner to see what's next.

I was thinking last night that I might go dark (see picture above, taken at Blackmail on South Congress for illustration, but really I mean go quiet, go dark is a theater term, but I digress) with blogging and facebook and all of it. I just sound so stupid and whiny to myself. But here I am blogging away. It's a disease.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Virtual Line

As my three (or is it five?) loyal readers know, I'll say pretty much anything here in my blogs and publish pretty much any self-indulgent picture. Above, me reflected in Turquoise Door shop window, SoCo, with Oaxacan animals and a shadow of...what?

I figure it's a blog. You don't have to come. You can stay away entirely. I rarely (have I ever?) post a link pointing to my blog except on other blogs (and in my info on facebook). I'm not pimping the thing, trying to go viral, whatever. Think of me as off in a corner at the party, talking to myself unless you come over and draw me out.

That facebook thing and message boards present some unique virtual lines, though. Once someone is in your network you have to opt out of seeing what they are up to. And you have a choice really, to just lurk, or post status, notes, etc. there. Today one of the people in my network posted this status: " X shares unrequested advice, third hand: Make every update count." I'm guilty of posting inane things. Or boring ones. But you know what? I don't mind anyone's little status updates. "Going to bed." "Up too late." "Working on a contract." I like it. Some people just hit 'post' on status and it comes out as something like "Joe is." Like a heartbeat. Cool in a way. Showed up and pushed a button. Sort of like those lifelines for old people that go beyond the button and sense whether they are there or make them intentionally check in. I see people I like doing ordinary things. It's cool. The links I don't like so much? People are trying to pimp something and you don't always even know what and you follow the link and it's a video (did I mention I don't much like watching videos online?) or a political diatribe. I don't care about people who are playing games or giving virtual crap to one another. It's not real. Go out and have a real beer and put it in your status.

Yeah, everyone has some virtual line he won't cross in these sort of unreal worlds of social media (what does that phrase mean anyway?). On facebook one thing I don't like to do is ask people to be my friend if I am not sure they would have any idea who I was. Also, even if I know some one perfectly well and would be civil to them and confirm them as a friend, if they are someone that I would not invite to my home then I won't initiate the friend connection. If they initiate, though, then fine. Does that make sense? Sometimes people suggest I be friends with someone and I'm just not sure who they are, sadly.

It's la-la land out there, almost as surreal as the real world where we bump up against strangers, acquaintances and friends in odd ways. We all have our odd rules and boundaries there. So it's no surprise that the cyberworld has people with lots of differing opinions sliding around against each other. And it's no surprise to me, given my propensity to occasionally sit in a corner at parties, that I sometimes feel like leaving message boards, other people's comment threads and facebook behind to slide into the cul-de-sac of a blog. And one with moderated comments at that.

Things are just layered and nuanced out there. No one straightforward path. And, oh, that shadow. I think I know what made it.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Why the Change?

You know how you consciously try to change things (lose weight! exercise more! get up earlier and accomplish something in the morning!)? But how you don't change things but stick in the same ruts?

And then one morning you are suddenly up earlier than usual. Oh, it's only thirty or forty-five minutes earlier. It's a little darker, it feels like you have more time. Before you usually get up, you've done your daily blogging to the Austin Daily Photo site (about a tree-climbing dog, ha) and you've checked e-mail and facebook and not much is happening. People are asleep. FFP is still asleep. You make a cup of coffee, get the three newspapers inside (but only look at front pages). The place is quiet (except for the door creaking, must get some WD-40 on it; and except for the coffee machine grinding and groaning). I have the quiet aluminum Apple keyboard.

You are as surprised to be up as if you'd found a bunch of doll heads in your easy chair. (Well, maybe not that surprised. Picture taken Monday at Blackmail on SoCo.)

Yeah, that is how my morning unfolded. It's not even seven and I am on with my day. Maybe I'll get some exercise in before nine. I'll have lots of time to get a shower and go see about things at my dad's before taking him to a memorial service for a friend.

I like being up earlier. It's true I've gone to bed slightly earlier the last few days. Not much though. To what can I attribute this early start? I have a nagging fear that because I didn't drink last night I was more lively this morning. Not even a glass of wine or a beer. I spent the whole day in the condo, cleaning, doing computer chores, goofing off a bit. I didn't eat too much and developed a headache before taking an Advil and venturing the ten feet down the hall to the gym. I felt better after that but I didn't want to risk it. When FFP wanted some white wine with the grilled sandwiches he was making, I said open it but I was having any. He just skipped it, too. (He's still asleep so maybe drinking isn't at the core of it.) Hey, but I also didn't drink any coffee late. It just didn't sound good. I wanted a soda, maybe a Root Beer or Ginger Beer. But I would have had to go down to the store (down the elevator, walk a hundred feet) because we didn't have any on hand. We did have some snacks I dipped into. And I ate a chocolate bar someone had given us in a gift basket. I don't usually eat chocolate.

This weekend is the start of the dreaded Daylight Savings Time. You wouldn't think it would make a difference for a retired person but tennis games follow the government's whimsical clock because things people do after change times as well (meetings, Bridge games, lunches, etc.). Everyone adjusts, like it or not. But this morning I'm just up earlier than usual. For no reason.

So, on with my day. And I hope that's the only surprise in it.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Trees Are Always There

One minute you are floating free, tethered only by a little string. The next you are caught on one of life's waiting limbs. So it goes.

Yeah, trying to wring metaphor out of this kite festival picture. The only surprise was that there were so few kites in trees given all the ones aloft and the ones being launched.

I'm sitting here displacing from doing one or all of the following: exercise, cleaning the kitchen, doing some personal and business accounting, reviewing information for tomorrow's board meeting of my club, taking a walk. I'd rather blog and edit pictures. And drink coffee. Oh...and I also should be processing some updates to my Apple and to my VMware XP image on it. But then I couldn't sit here using the machine to blog and look at Facebook and watch the Dow plunge, could I?

My life is either absolutely and totally the best or a mess. I'm voting for the former, really, but sometimes I don't know.

I am really pleased by the relative simplicity of living downtown in a 1200 square foot apartment. I'm doing my own cleaning and not using a service. And while this is a pain on days when I actually do cleaning, it means that strangers aren't poking about at inconvenient times and I'm not having to supervise them. There isn't a lot of area to cover. When I vacuum I don't even have to plug and unplug the old Electrolux I borrow from upstairs too many times. (I do have to go get it and return it and that's a pain. I'd get my own vacuum but I haven't figured out where to store it.) I do have a storage cage which needs to be thoroughly cleaned out since during move-in we kind of tossed things in there. Ditto the spare closet. Anyway, basically living here is charmed. I haven't started my car since Saturday. (Tennis was cancelled today. If I could walk to my country club, I would indeed have a charmed life. But it's too far.)

My parental units (my dad, FFP's parents) seem to be rocking along, doing pretty darn well in their houses in spite of their age (average=93) and our responsibilities for them are more anticipatory than any real hardship at the moment. Oh, we complain when running errands and such but it could be so much more.

Having made the move last year, we are trying to plan some trips for this year. We have plane tickets for NYC booked. We are looking longingly at France. It is good to be able to consider doing trips even in the current economic climate. (Although watching the market, who knows how long that will last? Makes one glad some of the portfolio is in Muni bonds.)

I'm not writing, only blogging. But whose fault is that. There's time enough and more. Obviously I'm doing what I want with it and I'd rather mess with finances, blog, edit pictures for a picture blog, read newspapers, read books.

Speaking of books: did I mention that I finished Joyce's Ulysses.? Yes, I laid eyes on every word, understood or not. I pulled out a book of essays on it we purchased in Paris in 2004 (the centenary of Bloomsday) and started it. My bookmark is a boarding pass stub from that trip. Woo-hoo. Cheers me somehow. In New York in June we plan to go to a reading of Ulysses at Symphony Space.

I'm not exercising enough but I'm walking a lot so if I travel I'll be up to the sort of flânerie I'd expect to do on trips. I could be exercising now but I'm blogging.

Financially, things could be better. We could have saved more and given the results lately on stocks and bonds, we could have invested more wisely. (See above about muni bonds, though.) However, we seem to still be living within our means while still reserving profligate amounts for eating and drinking, charity and, to a lesser degree, travel. So, yeah, things could be much, much worse. We don't have jobs to lose unless you could FFP's 'job' doing writing assignments through our wholly-owned Sub S. We probably bought our condo at a bad time (can't imagine it's worth what we have in it) but we also sold our house and if it wasn't the highest price we could have gotten, it was certainly reasonable. I fear that when the entire economy is in collapse it can't help but affect us (and our parents), but one is helpless to change these things. It wasn't our behavior that brought about the bubble or its bursting. So. Whatever.

Life is good, right? Until you tangle with a tree limb.

Is anyone else bored with my whiny blogs? Oh. Well. Off to exercise. Or clean the kitchen. Or, you know, do something useful.

Monday, March 02, 2009

I Love a Monday

When I worked, I dreaded Mondays and yet, once my butt was in my chair at work, I felt that life was full of hope and possibility. Maybe I'd accomplish a lot during the week. Also, as I drove to work, I usually thought of just how I was going to take care of things on the home front. I'd organize things, I'd clean this, discard that, conquer the other.

Today was a clean calendar. No external obligations. A call to Dad revealed that he didn't need anything either. "I have bananas. I'm just like a monkey...I'm happy as long as I have bananas." I will take him to a memorial service for one of his Sunday School friends on Wednesday, but, until then, he doesn't need my assistance.

I had been plugging away at my taxes, gathering info for the CPA, organizing. It was time (even though I was shy a couple of K1 forms) to put it in her hands. Her office is on South Congress, the day was lovely. So I talked FFP into walking down there. Then we came back and had a drink and snack at Jo's on Second. (Note to self: don't get veggie barbecue again. Indigestion and it wasn't as good as the stuff White Mountain makes.)

Anyway...when we got home I decided that I wanted to sit in front of my computer and do finances and blog. That I wanted to work the crossword in the Times. (It's a gimme on Monday but usually still interesting. I love Monday because the crossword goes back to being easy.) But, I decided, before I did any of these things, I was going to clean. I did the main bathroom yesterday. So...I borrowed a vacuum and did major dusting and vacuuming in the main areas. Only when I finished that and felt all accomplished and returned the vacuum did I allow myself to sit at the computer. Then I made myself do some accounting for bond interest and called bonds and stuff. I noted the declining value of, well, everything. Only then did I allow myself to do the puzzle. (I did that damned KenKen, too. How dare they put another puzzle in the Times? It's better than Sudoku but not much.) And now I'm letting myself blog. About Mondays. I love Mondays because sometimes I get things done. The Sunday dread that builds up from goofing off too much is gone.

So, now, I'm going to shower and go out. FFP is off at a meeting. I may find someone else to go out with. But if not? Going out by myself. Hey bartender! It's Monday. I'm not blue. Set 'em up.

[Shop window reflection portrait at Blackmail today on South Congress.]