Friday, March 27, 2020

The Times They are A'Changing...but not EZily.

My eldest son posted a link on our family Slack channel this morning for a YouTube video of old-school dancers reset to very modern music. That video reminded me of one I had seen earlier, available, as of this date, on YouTube as Old Movie Stars Dance to Uptown Funk ( Both videos are very well crafted, but I must admit I like the Old Movie Stars video better, and I watched it through its nearly five-minute play-time several times.

I have a few take-away thoughts after watching the video. Primarily, I was surprised to note the sensuality of the dress and the movements, some clearly erotic in intent and presentation, of the dances and the choreography of these moving images--most from the first half of the 20th Century. These would have been the images that I would have been introduced to as acceptable, and even lauded, 'entertainment' and 'dancing' as I grew up, along with my cohort of boomers born between 1946 and 1964.

The '50s are called a conservative, family-oriented time. And they were. But much less prudish than most may think. Then, we came of age with Elvis-the-pelvis, the Beatles, Chubby Checker and the Twist, Lenny Bruce, and into the tumultuous world-shaking year of 1968 and the "sexual revolution" of the '70s and '80s.

Nineteen Sixty-Eight was especially shaking. The History Channel, on its Website, says, "The year 1968 remains one of the most tumultuous single years in history, marked by historic achievements, shocking assassinations, a much-hated war and a spirit of rebellion that swept through countries all over the world."

Some say we lost our innocence in the fall of 1963. If so, 1968 was the year that our youth vocally demanded something in return for that loss.

In that year alone we watched and listened as Czechoslovakia overthrew the Stalinists only to be reinvaded and occupied by the Soviets. North Korea captured a U.S. Ship, the Pueblo, and its crew. The North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive against the South and our supporting forces while T.V. brought the horrors of that war into our living rooms on the evening news. February 18th, 1968, my mother's birthday, the U.S. announced the deadliest week of combat during the Vietnam War: 2,547 wounded, 543 dead in one week. On March 16th, Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) announced that he would run against President Lyndon B. Johnson for the Democratic nomination for president -- that same day U.S. troops murdered over 500 Vietnamese civilians in the My Lai massacre. In March, Johnson announced that he would not run for re-election. On June 5th, RFK was assassinated. Of course, his brother, President John F. Kennedy, had been assassinated in 1963. Martin Luther King had been assassinated in April, putting a horrible exclamation point after nearly two decades of work and some progress in Civil Rights in the U.S. Throughout the spring and summer of 1968, students around the world demonstrated demanding civil rights and government reform. Perhaps nothing sums up that summer better than the events at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Turning, again, to the History Channel's Website, we find the following description: "In August, thousands of students, antiwar activists and other demonstrators—including groups like the Yippies, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Black Panthers—poured into Chicago, where they were met with a violent police response called out by [Democratic] Mayor Richard Daley. As TV cameras captured the bloody clashes between police and demonstrators, the chaotic convention ended in Humphrey’s nomination as the head of an embattled Democratic Party." The year was especially traumatic in Mexico, host of the Summer Olympics, itself a site of dramatic televised political protests. In October of that year, Mexican police opened fire on a group of demonstrating students and other civilians in Mexico City. The actual death toll of the Tlatelolco massacre is unknown but is widely estimated to be around 400. Indeed the Mexican government's "dirty war" on its own citizens may have cost thousands of lives in 1968 alone. In November Richard Nixon beat Hubert Humphrey in the presidential election by a sizeable margin in the electoral college but a razor-thin popular vote win. On Christmas Eve, Apollo 8, with Jim Lovell in charge, orbited the moon. Glenda and I had married on August 16th, 1968. On November 22, 1968, the fifth anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination, my father died of a stroke and my mother entered her 20-year widowhood. One year--1968.

From 1968 and on into the sexual revolution of the '70s and '80s. These years saw an increased acceptance of sex outside of traditional heterosexual, monogamous relationships and the wide-spread use of oral birth control. The normalization of contraception and the pill, public nudity, pornography, premarital sex, homosexuality, masturbation, alternative forms of sexuality, and the legalization of abortion all followed. Society changed--marriage rates declined and divorce rates climbed. Cities and campuses nationwide saw large demonstrations against traditional rules involving nudity and public sex. Some of these were called "Love-ins" and focussed on meditation, love, music, sex, and psychedelic drugs. The Kent State shootings and Woodstock happened. Feminism became an open topic, and women burned their bras. It was in the summer of 1969 that I first saw a young-adult woman walking nonchalantly down a public street bare-breasted. did we get from there to here?

Here being now when progressives are showing themselves to be essentially prudes while still supporting a libertine lifestyle--but that lifestyle must be hidden or covered. Members of the younger generation are uncomfortable with nudity and shocked to find that Americans used to regularly and without drama see and be seen naked in gymnasium dressing rooms and showers. They are frankly unbelieving when told that swimming in the nude (generally in gender-segregated fashion) was the norm in the U.S. until the end of the '50s. They avert their eyes quickly as in shame when shown a picture of a large tiled shower with plumbing for six or more. Many seem to feel incomplete without shaming others (as the un-woke) while assuring that they arrogantly signal their virtue to all around. Many of their earlier heroes and stars have been found wanting, with feet of clay--as proven, for example, with those who (rightfully) fell to the #MeToo movement.

We of a certain age find all of this confusing and incomprehensible. Blogger Nathanael Blake says, "Our cultural elites are embracing libertine prudishness in an attempt to rebuild a culture. But they lack a culture to build around. They are trying to establish a sense of sacrilege without anything being sacred. They want us to seek the good of others while denying any doctrine of the common good or idea of human flourishing beyond self-indulgence. The result is an ideology that is a mashup of occultist Aleister Crowley (“Do as thou wilt”) and Emily Post." Anything goes, as long as it's hidden. We, your elders, don't see the culture being rebuilt in a constructive manner.

The turn of the Century: 9-11; wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; 2008; the Arab Spring followed by severe government oppression; Clinton, Trump, and Coronavirus. I've said it before, and I must say it again: This is NOT the Twenty-First Century I expected to live in.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

EZ Thoughts in the Time of Contagion.

Death should have taken me sooner.

I find myself solidly within the cohort that is supposedly most at risk of death from a COVID-19 infection.

I am taking reasonable measures--suitable social distancing, hand washing, monitoring my body for symptoms--but I am NOT living in fear of the virus.

It may kill me. I won't say I don't care, but I will say I am not afraid of death. He and I have danced several rounds, already, over seventy years of life. I know he will take me in the end, but I feel that it will, at worst, be a draw. I am several hands ahead in the game of life and I'm not folding, yet.

I have faced death directly and obliquely.

Directly through dealing with cancer (twice) and heart problems (two kinds). Medical science has told me that neither of these ailments or threats is known to be related to my diet or habits. Still, my diet and habits have been mostly for my pleasure and comfort--not for the good of my long-term health. And, OH! How I have enjoyed the pleasures and comforts of life. My body has always been better to me that I've been to it.

Obliquely by being a motorcycle and auto enthusiast. I have ridden far and driven fast. When I first started these activities, we didn't even use helmets or seat belts as a defense against death himself. I have traveled broadly by air, sea, and land. I have eaten street food in Latin America and Asia. I have saunaed naked with strangers. At least twice, my training and experience have enabled me to extend the lives of others. I have stood on the plain and looked up into the eternities. I have stood near the cliff and looked into the infinite. I have been in foreign lands during times of war. I often complete travel with the phrase, "There. Cheated death again."

He will take me. But I am still here.

And I've been here. I've not built nations nor huge edifices. Unlike Cromwell, I have not drained any swamps. It is unlikely anyone will ever build a monument to me. Yet I will remain. The laughter and tears of friends and family will echo forever. The lessons I have watched my children learn live on in what my grandchildren are now learning. I have looked into the wondering eyes of a great-grandchild. Times may get hard. Times may get worse, but the wonder will remain.

For this life I have lived, I thank God or the Universe or whatever truly is the Great Power -- I believe there must be one. I think of him as the Great Scientist, a God who would not be complete without the Goddess next to him. I have been blessed by having my Goddess next to me for these many decades.  I thank death, himself, for being so weak.

So when he takes me, he will do so over my laughter. To win, he should have taken me before I was three years old!

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Memoir writing is not EZ - 001 of 127

At our last writers' group meeting, one of our number handed out a device as an aid in writing memoirs. (Memoirs have been our focus for the past couple months.) The handout consists of a list of 127 questions and is titled, "127 Writing Prompts to Finish Before You Write About Yourself." In looking at the 127 questions two things stand out to me: (1) By writing answers to these questions you ARE writing about yourself, and (2) It's a long, long road from number one to number 127. I've decided to challenge myself to complete the entire list and I'm going to publish them here. I'll first quote the question and follow that up with my written response. So here goes: Number 001 of 127 naval-gazing posts:

1. What is your best physical feature? Why do you like it? Describe it.

To determine which physical feature is my best I would like a bit more detailed definition of best. Best for what purpose? Everyday living? Accomplishing unusual tasks? Attracting a love interest? Further, this question may have been easier to write about many years ago before all of the physical features in question began to deteriorate due to advancing age.

Were I to stand in front of a full-length mirror in my pink and untanned birthday suit I wouldn’t see much that I would like. My body shows the ravages of life: scars from youthful adventures; excess fat from an easy and plentiful life; a couple of reminders of medical procedures. My feet are OK—not badly calloused or distorted from tight shoes. My legs are strong and always have been. I walk a lot and these legs have to carry a heavy load contributing to their strength. On the subject of legs, I’ve been blessed with very little trouble with knees or ankles. Going back to the mirror, though, those legs just look too chunky – too short and heavy to call my best feature. Upper body strength is something I’ve never had. My biceps are not well-defined, my chest is flabby, so let’s not write any more about that portion of my anatomy. Face? No—I’ve often been told I have a great face for radio. My teeth are straight and have been relatively trouble-free, but who wants to write about their teeth? My eyes are blue, and I like that, but my vision is too weak to call the eyes my best feature. Wearing glasses improves my appearance because they hide part of my face! Because I’m writing this for an undefined audience that will likely include mixed company let’s not even consider any more personal bodily real estate.
Having ruled out most everything, where does all of this leave us? What’s left?
Well, let me tell you…

That’s it! I can tell you. The voice! My favorite physical feature is my voice. A speaking voice, not a singing voice. I have always wished I could sing, and everyone who has ever heard me try to sing wishes much the same. But speaking! Oh, I do like my voice and I have received kudos for the sound of that voice and my use of it. It’s not an incredibly deep, bassy voice nor is it overly shrill and high-pitched. When I pay attention I can modulate the sound with good effect, though the range falls far short of the three octaves that were showcased so well by Roy Orbison in his work. In my career, I have, by request, served as the voice for public service announcements, promotional videos, entire instructional courses, and the introduction of Top-40 music hits on the radio (does anyone remember radio?) I’ve also been asked to sit down and shut up at Karaoke events. There is a great difference between speaking and singing!

So, there you have it. My favorite physical feature cannot even be seen in front of that full-length mirror. That’s probably a blessing to all.