Wednesday, June 3, 2009

a vote for anonymous

Last night Laurie, Gina and I went to Tony's graduation from Chico High's WEST program. For those of you unfamiliar with the WEST program, we find ourselves in similar boats. I failed to procure an explanation of the program. As far as I can tell the program is a smaller group of students who spend the bulk of their high school career in WEST classes so they are mainly the same group in their classes for 4 years. They create strong bonds and interact with students they wouldn't normally give the time of day to. They learn largely through projects. On occasion they do things like climbing Mt. Lassen or creating a silkscreen shop to make t-shirts to benefit clean Ecuadorian water supplies or raising one million pennies for a cause that the teacher forget to tell us.
I liked the idea of WEST as I understood it. We are all very proud of Tony.

There was a portion at the end of the ceremony where they allowed the students to get up and say whatever they wanted to say to the group or about the group. The teacher encouraged them (which I appreciated) to make sure they aren't going to wake up tomorrow "shoulding all over themselves" as in "I should have said..." I thought that was one of the more valuable life lessons of the evening which I hope was not lost on anyone in the room regardless of age.
I was amazed by how easy it was to read the kids when they got up to speak. Their mannerisms, their vocal patterns. You could tell right away what they were like, what they fear, desire, seek, miss. You could also tell, barring the few inevitable and seemingly random crushing experiences that change lives (tragic accidents, fires, winning the lottery, ect.), exactly the kind of person each of them would be in 10 or 20 years. It was heartbreaking and encouraging at the same time. In the old, rickety public school room with so much pent up anxiety and knowledge of importance of the event while not knowing what that importance might be in those students and, to some extent, in all of the adults. Everyone's life ahead of them like a canyon full of clouds. The students are the only ones who aren't used to that yet.
So it was a weird mix for me of pride for Tony, nostalgia for my own graduation 13 years ago, and comparing what was being presented with reality. I wonder if the teachers really ought to build up expectations that the students are a great hope, destined to be giants in their generation, heroic and unstoppable. I wonder if the teachers might do well to encourage, but to let the kids know that if they find themselves repairing shoes or laying bricks for a living, those are very important things as well and that they can be fabulous in whatever corner of life God ordains for them (yeah, I know. Public school. As a free agent, I can use whatever terms I want.)

It struck me deeply that several of the students kept yelling out when someone would choke up words to the effect of "It's not over" or "this isn't the end." That broke my heart. They really have no idea. None of us do I guess. As I spent the last 48 hours cleaning office and as I've friended many dozen old high school and college friends in divers and sundry online social media I am struck with how very over it is. If I were giving a commencement address, I would probably at one point tell them "Keep what's important. Wisdom is learning what is important. Wisdom is learning that most of it isn't. And that's a good thing."

I think that my wife Laurie, and even maybe my step-children Tony and Gina, would never think of me as a man in a rut. I do follow some similar patterns in my daily life, especially as I am in-between employment (get up at normal hours with coffee, job search mingled with incessant twitters, in the evening popcorn and a movie most nights.) When I was working, I loved it, I loved the dailiness of it, the patterns with slight variations like a Philip Glass piece, there were some great rewards to that job not just in a monetary sense, but also in a zen sense. I honestly could have seen myself doing that job for many more years especially the delivery routes and especially my beloved and much mourned Downieville route. Everyone around me knows that while I am fully ready to move on to the next job, I do miss that job and wish that I had not been included in the lay off. But so it goes.

I also keep it flowing, keep things joyful, keep it mutating, try new things. We go exploring the area in our free time. I make new foods. One night we'll watch an opera DVD, the next a zombie movie. Currently I am thinking about where to get starch to make paper mache sculptures. But this is not to shock the brain awake in the mind numbing monotony of daily life. It is a joie de vivre born from the abundance of our hearts. We find vitality in the constant, just as much as in the spontaneous. Such is the balanced life. But we don't expect to be famous. We seek where we can do good in this world and eschew recognition. We wish to be fabulous. We do not seek money or fame.

There is a very popular book out which I have not read (and don't expect to) called Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I've heard the author interviewed on NPR and the book seems to always be in the "to shelve" rack when I go to the library, which means it is checked out often. It is a best seller.

The book seems to be about a young lady who is pregnant and married, decides she doesn't want to be either anymore, divorces (and I'm guessing disposes of the child in one manner or another) and goes to Italy to glut, India to co-opt their religious practices and exploit them for her book (oops. I promised myself I wouldn't do a book review for a book that I have not read. Well, judge me for judging if you must) and then to Bali to engage in sexual intercourse... I guess the author wasn't told that that is also done elsewhere. One need not save up for a ticket to Bali for that.
I won't talk about how narcissistic and entitled all of this strikes me. Okay, okay, you're right. I've talked very clearly about how this strikes me ever since I've brought it up and I have condemned it. I've done nothing but talk about how narcissistic and entitled the book strikes me pretty much since mentioning the title. You got me. You may also notice that I have not gone back to edit out my opinions before further discussing it.
Thrift, my friend. I really don't need to go on to map out any further how alienating your loved ones and destroying a life you've built doesn't make you complete. It just makes you a self-absorbed twit in another country. Being spontaneous doesn't make you great and doesn't mean you are sucking the marrow out of life. Sometimes people you see trying to suck the marrow out of life are just leeches.

I don't believe ruts are indicated by a person's consistency.
I should start saying that at job interviews. That's a good line.
Again, I am coming out in support of contentment. Not that one ought not aspire or do wonderful things. But I really feel that one ought to be capable of sleeping soundly after making an amazing work of art, a masterpiece, without signing one's name on it. That is all.

Maybe I'll write a commencement address to no one in the next few days.

Stay tuned for that.


  1. Guess I won't be reading Gilbert's book. LOL. Sometimes I think parents (some parents) work so hard at raising their child's self-esteem that the kid ends up believing all of life after graduation will be grand. Every job will lead to instant vice-president of the board. Every paycheck will be of such a size as to announce to the world that this kid is fantabulous. Parents work so hard to prevent disappointment and hard knocks in a child's life so as to avoid crushing their soul. Later when a tidal wive hits, they have no ability to swim. Now that I'm done with that rant-like response, hang in there on the job hunting. You're in my prays.

  2. Ouch, sorry Paul, gonna have to judge you for judging a book you haven't read yet (and mentioned that you don't plan on reading.) For pete's sake, I forced myself to read all four horrid Twilight books just so I could make fun of them should read Eat Pray Love.

    First of all, Liz Gilbert is not pregnant, ever. She decides that she is not ready to be a mother yet, even though there is pressure to be one. So she never gets rid of a child. Her divorce is painful but honest, and she never badmouths her ex or tries to simplify things between them.

    Secondly, she was practicing Hinduism long before she went to an Ashram in India to study it, then makes sure once she gets there to never mention which Ashram, who her guru is, or the real names of any of her fellow worshippers so that she's NOT exploiting them. And in Italy the chapter is less about food and more about her learning to take care of herself again and feed herself, as well as her learning Italian and devoting her life to pursuing pleasure so that she can emerge from a crushing depression that was making her suicidal.

    Finally, in Bali she learns to love herself, the new friends she makes, the medicine man she's working for, and yes, falls in love with a Brazilian man along the way.

    Nowhere in the book does she alienate her loved ones or destroy her life (or anyone else's).

    I think it's worth a read, if only so that if you don't like it you will at least know what it's about (and not have further fallacies that she abandons or aborts a baby, etc.)