New phone, just as my old camera was dying

Just putting those two items in the same line sends me spinning, as if it’s natural they should ever be synonymous.

Let me proclaim I’m a true conservative, unlike those pretenders using that label. Not that I’m ever confined to tradition.

Take gift-giving in our household, for example, it doesn’t always happen on the intended date, whether Christmas or birthday. And I should point out (again), that it’s often a conspiratorial effort.

One example I’ll give is my new cell phone, which they’d been threatening to impose on me for several years now. They’d given me the previous one maybe a dozen years earlier, replacing the flip phone I had accepted only in case of a midnight emergency somewhere in the wilds of New Hampshire on my commute home from the newsroom.

So much for the history. Perhaps you remember I happen to be somewhat of a neo-Luddite, in no rush to learn yet one more new technology. I’m more interested in spending those hours doing something at hand other than retraining on a new device, like an endless loop of abuse.

Our move to the island was heightening the rationale that I really needed to upgrade. T-Mobile’s coverage here is spotty, and often nil off in the neighboring wilds, and whenever my text messages were arriving through Canada, which was often, they’d get turned into zip files that took forever to download. Photos were even worse.

Blogging, by the way, had prompted my photo shooting hobby years ago leading to the purchase of cheap Kodak point-and-shoot, which they eventually pressed me beyond by having me unwrap the Olympus that has provided many of the visuals here at the Barn. Over the past few years, my wife and elder daughter have been insisting I could do better with a good cell phone, and their many fine photos had me reluctantly agreeing. It’s just that I have a workable system going, ya know, and already have thousands of shots that need further sorting. Can’t I finish that first? Besides, shouldn’t photos be taken by cameras?

Well, no.

Last Christmas, everybody piled on the upgrade-Jnana bandwagon.

I didn’t know I needed the little LED ring to illuminate my face during Zoom meetings. OK, I finally “got” the idea that the lamp was supposed to clamp onto my laptop and glow on me, but I found that bright light in my was face annoying and visually taxing. But that lamp is rather nifty attached to the little bookshelf over my desk, and other Zoom participants have expressed their preference for the warm light setting rather than the clinically cold one. So maybe I’ve needed it.

Nor did I know I needed a short camera tripod, but there was the “lobster” in one of the next boxes I unwrapped. OK, cool, it would work for my Olympus, but what about the next two – the remote selfie button and the macro-micro lenses, both definitely cell-phone attachments?

That’s when they broke the news to me that time was up, the new phone was definitely included, or would be, as soon as they could haul me up to Calais to sign up, something that finally happened in late April.

As you might imagine, I was in no rush, but my Olympus was starting to act wonky. The zoom lens (yeah, zoom as in getting a closer look rather than pressing mute or chat) was getting stuck and failing to deploy, meaning my real, albeit digital, camera wasn’t working. Change would be inevitable, even if I am no longer pressing for a return to film, which I could never afford, anyway.

Off to the UScellular store we went, and I was instructed not to look at any of the prices. I’m still shocked by what we were paying for the family plan we were on, now that it’s been revealed to me.

OK, the new phone, a Galaxy S22 Ultra (does that impress you?), is a vast improvement over the S4 or earlier model it was replacing. The latter had no trade-in value, except maybe to a collector of obsolete technologies. The sales associate was rather kind in calling it a classic and keeping her laughter lighter than a sneering snicker.

Only after we were in the car and on the way home did my wife tell me my new phone retails for a thousand bucks. That’s enough to frighten me from touching it. Oops, a figure oil smear! And kids wear these in the pocket behind their butts? I’m never going there, I’m toting mine securely in the pocket of my messenger bag, next to my nitro pills. Keep your hands off.

Flash ahead, Slim and I are getting acquainted, gingerly, and I’m starting to play with the camera half, too. Hate to admit it, but I’m impressed.

Now, what am I supposed to do with my old phone and my old camera? I can’t just junk them, can I?

When one seemingly random thought leads to a mental snowstorm

Do you ever have something float into your mind, seemingly at random, only to have a cluster of related bits fly up all around, too?

I recently had that regarding the Los Angeles Master Chorale, of all things.

I had long assumed that it had grown out of a marvelous ensemble, the Roger Wagner Chorale, which I heard twice in my early concertgoing exposure. The touring group consisted of 24 excellent professional voices blended into velvety perfection by a choral conductor who, at the time, was considered one of the two best in America.

Robert Shaw was the other and went on to eclipse Wagner. That’s another story.

In the day, both directors assembled programs ranging from Renaissance to Broadway and Hollywood – Shaw had even been groomed to be successor to Fred Waring at the Pennsylvanians before being veered off into hard-core classical by Arturo Toscanini and George Szell.

A close friend of mine told of his high school choir director’s annual summer trek to study under Wagner, returning with a sharpened sense of diction – something I never really considered until becoming a choir member myself – along with some mysterious but nifty tricks to obtain it. (Wish I knew more now.) And then Wagner faded from sight, not without leaving some highly regarded musical tracks on well-known movies.

In southern California, the Master Chorale had somehow taken on a life of its own and was best known in the wider concert world for its work with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I rather assumed it had morphed into the orchestra’s in-house choir, like the Tanglewood Festival Chorus with the Boston Symphony, but somehow had roots with Wagner. From time to time I’d hear broadcasts concerts.

More recently, in trying to practice for Quoddy Voices on Zoom, I found myself exploring some incredible warmups and performances on YouTube. I chanced across several of a Palestrina motet I’d performed with Revelsingers in Boston, and it was fun to get out my score and sing along. One tape, though, turned out to be 21 minutes of grueling rehearsal with a rather overbearing, name-dropping guest conductor who never let them get beyond the fourth measure, mostly because of diction issues regarding the Latin. Who did he think he was, I objected. The piece itself barely runs three minutes.

Paul Salamunovich?

Turns out he was the Master Chorale’s recently retired leader, and before that Wagner’s right-hand man. And that sent me piecing all of these random thoughts together in a kind of corrective surgery – or is it more like one of those clear-glass globes you turn over in your hand to launch a snowstorm?

By the way, I had the pleasure of watching Shaw live four times in Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Bloomington. Maybe I’ll get around to posting that experience someday.

There are times it’s taking me all day to write three sentences

That’s not the way it used to be, not when I was younger and could dash things off in the flush of inspiration, but it is what I’ve encountered revising my last two books.

It’s not even Wes McNair’s advice to write 400 good words every day. Not unless one of those sentences is an over-the-top wonder of 250 to 300 words.

The turtle pace here seems to arise when I’m trying to weave some new material into an existing draft, making it connect on two sides seamlessly. It’s not just the craft of fine writing, actually, but also the thinking more deeply about the unseen significance of the subject at hand.  What, exactly, is beneath the surface before us?

Of course, as a writer, this pace also has me wondering if I’ve simply used up all the easy stuff and left the bigger challenges for my senior years.

Any suggestions?

Goodness me, spritely?

In theory, at least, for a writer, nearly anything – or everything – is potential fodder. In my case, that leads to a new blog post, poem, or scene in a novel, but for others maybe a movie or streamed series of episodes or podcast.

Nicholson Baker demonstrated this quite charmingly in his alleged novel Book of Matches, striking on a practice of lighting a fire every morning in the dark depths of a northern New England winter. Novel? It’s simply a very lovely piece of masterful writing and insight, period. Any conflict is subtle.

But I am drawing the line at trying to do anything with a chart of daily blood pressure readings, before and after doubling the dosage of a prescription.

And that’s after bypassing those colonoscopy photos, with or without commentary of a travel guide sort.

Those of my age might understand or sympathize, but younger readers would no doubt be put off unless they possess a truly twisted mind. I can’t imagine the backlash. Besides, it just ain’t sexy.

In all fairness, I hate to admit I’m finding it harder and harder to comprehend a lot of the humor, video content, and even dialogue from their end of the spectrum. That part’s just scary, perhaps reflecting the realities they face. Should we start with global warming and its consequences?

Perhaps a typo I nearly released a moment ago suggests its own new genre. Fuction. Or fruction. With or without a k.

We don’t need to resort to physical gestures, do we?

My dream routine? Pre-Internet?

For decades, I dreamed of getting free from the demands of the newsroom – meaning any paying 9-to-5 job – so I could concentrate on what poet Gary Snyder aptly dubbed the Real Work.

That goal entailed something resembling financial independence, which was hardly likely on a journalism income.

As for 9-to-5? It never fit the places I was employed, sometimes straight salary for 60- to 70-hour weeks, and even when I’d left management and joined the union, it was typically nights and holidays or a double-shift on Saturdays.

I had hoped for a breakout via a bestseller book, and some of my non-fiction projects might have turned the trick, though I found it difficult to respond rapidly when I was tied down by other time-consuming obligations.

The closest I did come in those years was a year’s sabbatical I gave myself between jobs back in the mid-‘80s, when I submerged myself in drafting what later emerged as my novels, after much revision and the openings finally provided by ebook publication.

One thing I learned from that experiment was that I couldn’t continue at that pace – I required more balance in my life. My bank account wasn’t the only thing that was depleted.

One of my annual exercises after that involved setting goals for the year ahead, usually by season. The categories included things like Home, Relationships, Creative Projects, and Quaker Practice – I’m starting to see a forerunner of the Red Barn, eerily – but also had me thinking about how my daily life might look if I ever “made it” as an independent writer.

Part of the impetus was a fear of letting my life just kind of ooze away. I suppose it goes back to some of the sermons heard in my youth, the ones about time being God’s gift to us.

In response, how much could I rely on a tight daily routine, starting with an early morning rise for meditation and then hatha yoga before a light brunch and maybe an hour with the Boston Globe and the local paper followed by a big block for writing and supporting activities?

That thinking was countered by a recognition that I couldn’t fit everything I desired into straight days, so I also played with chunks of time staggered through the week – Topic A on Mondays and Wednesdays, for example, with Project K late on Wednesday.

And then, I still couldn’t fit everything in.

After I’d remarried, my wife caught one sight of one of my schemata and reacted with scorn. She saw so much daily reality I wasn’t including, such as cooking, cleaning, gardening, time for others, and even myself.

Now that retirement has finally provided the independence I sought, I’m having to admit I still haven’t achieved that ideal, intentional scheduling. Instead, so much has revolved around big projects like the novels and random to-do lists.

Still, it built upon the bones of daily Spanish lessons and half-mile swimming and a weekly commute to Boston for choir practice, in addition to Quaker worship and committee work.

But then Covid hit, followed by the move to Maine.

Quite simply, I still haven’t hit on the balanced pace. Maybe now, that the last book’s in place? Or maybe after I stop blogging intensely?

The biggest surprise for me in all of this is how much the Internet has changed the picture. I want the early quiet of those early hours for my writing and revising. What happened to the meditation? As for regular exercise? The nearest indoor pool is in Canada. Or for spreading out with a newspaper? I do most of my reading online, even books, no matter how much I love ink on paper. Even interacting with others occurs largely via email.

One thing I don’t feel is “retired,” but I will say in all of this I feel more engaged than ever.

Naturally, that won’t stop me from tinkering with a routine. I’m sure whatever I come up with will be far superior than what the nursing home would arrange.

How do you arrange your days and weeks? Any secrets to share?

 

A few life lessons

Pack light, run, get out of the way.
I learned that in Boy Scouts.

Much later, that you have to take care of yourself first
before all the complications in whatever role as a parent.

Much less the seed catalogue
midterms or finals.

Porcupine climbing a tree at Quoddy Head State Park. Seems to embody a few life lessons too.

Don Draper and the life I thought I’d be living

My first awareness of the Mad Men television series, about a decade ago now, came in my daughters’ outraged question – “Was there really that much sexual abuse in the workplace back then? They’re making that up, aren’t they?”

They were incredulous at the blatant sexism and racism of the time I grew up in, even after I confirmed it was there.

What they described was confirmed and more in my recent binge viewing of the series. Let’s just say I was quickly emotionally engaged in the show.

Growing up in the Midwest, I was repeatedly told I belonged in New York rather than in my hometown. Advertising was, in fact, one of the career paths I was considering, and like journalism and publishing in general, Manhattan was still the center of the universe.

Watching the presentations reminded me, to some extent, of the first offices I worked in, even in Ohio. And Don Draper, the advertising creative director at the core of the story (I started to say “heart” but he is rather heartless), reminded me of some of my livelier bosses as well as a kind of ideal of what I was aspiring to or perhaps was being groomed for, at least before the hippie influence kicked in.

Yes, there was cigarette smoking everywhere, and liquor – and functioning alcoholics. (Should I say “functioning alcoholics who smoked”? Or is that too redundant?)

There were also some incredible secretaries, who were far more than typists. The best held the office together, far more than the corner office they reported to.

Let’s just say that the workplace changed drastically in the years since, in part through the digital revolution.

~*~

The show also hit close to home through the father of my best friend in high school, who was a vice president in a boutique advertising agency, one titled with the initials of the three of the partners’ surnames. Not that he was anything like the ad men in the show. Through him, though, I learned of the intricacies of billing, production challenges, deadline crunches, marketing analysis, and purchasing print, broadcast, billboard, and direct mail access – things that were touched lightly on, if at all, in the plots but still a factor.

And during college and the first year after, I was exposed to families that could well have mingled with the Drapers – executives, attorneys, and politicians, plus their wives and children of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.

~*~

My daughters were swept up in the show’s fashion mindfulness of the ‘50s and early ‘60s but unhappy with the styles as the chronology moved on in the final seasons. We can argue there.

My biggest criticism is of the cheap shots taken at hippies, falling into stereotypes rather than the more carefully crafted type studies up to that point. In doing so, the writers and producers lost an opportunity to more sharply critique the cynical, superficial world Draper and his colleagues inhabited. The tone of these segments, quite simply, was out of line with the rest of the production.

Even so, I was devastated by the final episode.

Could that have actually been me? Thank God, I escaped.

Mortality and the passage of time

Realizing I really did need to get some regular physical exercise last winter, I finally caved in and ventured into the senior center for fitness class twice a week. It took three friends to nudge me into it, and it’s embarrassing to have to admit what 50 years of neglect have done to my body. I’m a long way from my yoga glory. Well, I’m also the only male in the circle, not that it inhibits the lively, enlightening, and laughter-riddled banter that occurs while we’re plodding through the routine. Their hour-plus dialogue could fill a hit sit-com or bestseller novel, if only I could find a plot. Well, much of the running commentary there is also about ailments afflicting folks in the community, sometimes leading to offering rides to their specialists or food deliveries – what I’ll call “good gossip.” And, oh yes, I much prefer to refer to the place as the Old Firehouse, skirting around the stigma of “senior center.”

That has me recalling an aside years ago when our managing editor told of a phone call he’d received from a reader complaining about being referred to as elderly.

“How old are you,” my boss asked and was told 78. “I see,” was the best he could respond with.

After that, I always struck “elderly” from news copy, along with “little” from child or kid.

Getting older is a multistage passage, most notably with the skin and stiffening joints, but the physical changes are only part of the experience.

One part is an awareness of being on borrowed time. Even when I was editing obituaries, I noted how many of the deceased were younger than me, and that was a little more than ten years ago.

Moving around the country has lessened some of the impact of aging, since I haven’t had to watch us grow older together. My high school classmates, for instance, will always never be more than 18 in my mind. Ditto for others left behind, they’re all frozen in time, even the few who are still in correspondence.

So another part is hearing that more of these colleagues of my generation are passing – a situation akin to personally knowing more people who have had been diagnosed with Covid and the recognition that it’s not just multiplying “out there” somewhere – that is, knowing only the abstract – but close at hand.

I recently posted two memorial minutes of Friends I worked with clerking Dover Meeting and have been reflecting on others in my Quaker circles.

Now I get word of the passing of an esteemed reporter who was six years younger than me, and somehow it hits more than those from the workplace who died earlier. To my surprise, it has nothing to do with how close we were in our daily interactions. (He and I weren’t, apart from a comment or two in passing. I should note that he produced “clean copy,” requiring little editing, and that meant little interpersonal friction.)

In his case, I think the blow comes as a sense of an end of an era. He carried institutional weight in covering the New Hampshire’s political scene and soared nationally during the first-in-the-nation presidential primary. With the decline of newspapers in general, his replacement at the statewide Union Leader will never achieve such prominence or influence.

Brisket and a hunk of binge viewing

Somehow, this past winter I got struck by a sustained sense of cabin fever. Should that be “stuck”? To my thinking, that’s not necessarily a “bad” thing and was not unexpected, given my relatively isolated situation combined with the continuing Covid precautions and the usual northern New England long nights and winter snow, ice, sleet, and unassisted general deep cold. I do believe there’s value in periodically clearing some of the clutter from one’s life and regaining a sense of direction, and I have found a huge difference between solitude and loneliness, so here I was.

Mostly, I was feeling a bit directionless, having completed a big revision of the Dover history and wanting to move forward with its publication but not yet having clarity on exactly how that would go. I mean, as books go, this was one more niche item, not likely to hit the bonanza list, no matter how original the findings. Emotionally, then, I was feeling stuck, not my best mental state. It even leads to fidgetiness.

Breaking that up was a visit by family – or should I say invasion – that included time with movies and TV series on the 40-inch screen I usually leave dark. Me? I’d usually read and listen to the radio. I’ve tried to avoid television series, seeing them as addictive couch-potato time-sucks.

A year ago, though, they hooked me on the first season of Mad Men, which we had on DVD. Whew! I was free only after admitting there is some quality writing and performing available and losing a full weekend in full immersion.

This Christmas, they hooked me with Murders Only in the Building, which again fortunately had only one season.

But during a return visit a few weeks later, we shared a phone conversation with the daughter in California who had just made our son-in-law his favorite meal for his birthday, and that mention of brisket led to my memories of being introduced to the cut as a Jewish tradition by my almost parents-in-law, if only, and those stories now had us sitting down in front of streamed episodes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. The fam scooted off, leaving me to catch up on all of the available seasons, and I’m now miffed I have to wait for more on the way. I hate being left dangling. Worse yet, I was told Prime had the remaining Mad Men episodes – so I caught the final six seasons in a bit over a week, how many hours did I squander there? And the last two of Mozart in the Jungle plus all but one season of the Secret Diary of a Call Girl, which was quite sassy but not nearly as hot as touted. There may have been another series I’m overlooking.

Said family was highly amused by my engagement with works they deeply appreciate, but I am still appalled the hours I lost and by one more manifestation of my obsessive side.

For the record, I’m blaming the younger daughter and her brisket for this latest outbreak. Now, just when is the last time I’ve had a slice of one?

What do you suggest I stream next?