“C’est la vie”, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell…”

June has been a month “on the road” and a break in my normal routine. Many ceremonies and rituals to attend and the pleasure of meeting new people – a refreshing time. I learned and laughed. I promised myself that I would write four posts this month, so I’m down to the wire, which is my wont.

As I was driving back to home base in the glorious summer weather, I had time to reflect. The window was down, the breeze was fine, and I was driving a scenic route listening to Patsy Cline (another of my father’s Pandora selections), barefoot on the pedals – heaven.

I think the best part of my “adventures” was seeing a friend who I have known since I was nine years old. I see her once a year and it’s always magical. We spent hours sitting on her porch overlooking the water; we’d talk, sometimes she would cross stitch, and the best part of old friends – comfortable silences. I hold dear this friendship and our bond is like sisterhood. 

I take comfort in the old-fashioned rituals of summer: the outdoors, the mountains, the woods, the beach, river rafting, BBQ, picnics, ice cream, spying fireflies, tending a garden. When my parents were still around there would be homemade ice cream. These simple pleasures are essential, particularly now that life is so hectic. Stop and smell the roses, people! I realize this is a completely banal observation, yet the old saw is wise and not heeded nearly enough.

It is my intention to live in an endless summer, and I shall endeavor to realize my ambition. I don’t know what I want to “be” when I grow up, and frankly I hope when I am 80 (if I am fortunate enough to live that long), and still have all my buttons as my great-grandmother would say, that I still won’t know what I want to be. If life is too defined or planned, that usually doesn’t work anyway, and if it does – wouldn’t it close us off from infinite and wonderful possibilities?

June has left me in a mellow, contented, well-being state of mind. No drugs necessary! As we enter July, I wish for all a fun-filled, amazing, adventurous, transformative, and inspiring summer with precious memories for the years to come.

In love and peace,

 

Clare Irwin

Plastics!

As I wrap up my graduation tour I’ve had time to ponder the current state of affairs for those who are about to enter the job field. While I was listening to one commencement speech – which I was called upon to “script doctor” – my mind wandered away to my undergraduate commencement speech and speaker. It wasn’t that long ago, at least not by my reckoning, yet it seems that even in the last five to seven years “life” has changed drastically.

The speech I was not listening to, because I knew what was coming, was somewhat cliché and self-congratulatory. I did my best to eliminate the “reach-for-the-stars- follow-your-dreams-you-can-do-anything!” triteness, with marginal success. At the same time, it would not have worked if I turned my hand to it more, which would have resulted in the speech sounding like Evelyn Waugh and T.S. Eliot ghostwrote it.

Back to my graduation speaker. In my case the speaker was an alum of distinction. She came from a prominent American family of long pedigree, but she did not rest on those laurels. She has written seminal and acclaimed books on politics and history and has ventured into dangerous war zones to do so. Her words to us were powerful – they were only slightly congratulatory. This was a college that actually required hard work. All the more reason, in this woman’s estimation, that the privilege we had just been afforded required a greater responsibly. It was a rousing exhortation to all gathered that we had social, moral and ethical obligations to try in our way, large or small, to contribute in a worthwhile manner to the betterment of humanity and the earth. It was and is a tall order – a life-long duty and I applaud it.

Back to the present day where every “accomplishment,” however inconsequential, is celebrated. To be sure, there were many grads who did extraordinary work and overcame truly horrendous obstacles. Most are “dreamers” which is the only new word in the American lexicon that I like – amid all the ugly horrid ones. I’d like to think we are all dreamers. The word makes me think of the John Lennon song “Imagine.”

Of this current group of grads, as well as the teens I spoke to, their preeminent concern is getting a job after graduation. Teens are worried and they haven’t gotten there yet.  One reason, surely, is that college is so costly – even an organ donation won’t cover it – that the expectation must needs that employment immediately follow. This, sadly, turns college – in my view – into a technical school. Going to college to become educated, to have a “gentleman’s [or woman’s] education” is a luxury that is beyond most. When I talk about it people look at me like I’ve lost my mind.

Those grads who I know were fortunate to land jobs straightaway – all in STEM fields. Commendable to be sure, and I have no doubt they will do great things. But where, oh where, are our new crop of artists, poets, writers, dancers, musicians, sculptors, et al.? Will they be forced to forgo their creative bent and work for a Fortune 500 company that guarantees you some financial stability but kills your soul? Okay, that might be a bit much, but I’m campaigning for the “B-word” – Balance!!!

I had a professor, at this same college, who posited that the greatest ages were those where the sciences and the humanities were equal – e.g., the Renaissance, the 19th century. I suspect the 21st century will not be included on this list. The scale is tipped to science.

So, to recall a line from the enduring film The Graduate, plastics was the future. Fast forward 51(!) years, and we have this: 

Now the wave of the future is: Science, Technology, Engineering Math – STEM: the siren’s call to lucre, upward mobility, keeping up with the Jone’s, mortgages, 401Ks, debt. The American way.

Welcome to the machine.

 

 

 

 

Clare Irwin

Having The Vapors

The May 14th issue of The New Yorker featured an article on vaping, specifically Juuling, offering an insight into the vape culture that has emerged and skyrocketed. During my high school/college graduation and talking to teens tour, I learned that this phenomenon is uniquely theirs. They have claimed it. I know two people who vape who are in their mid-20’s, but the core group is high school and college –  middle school as well.

The article was startling. More nicotine can be put into a pod than what is in one cigarette, in fact kids are putting the equivalent of one pack’s worth (20 cigarettes) of nicotine into a pod. That’s terrifying – it could stop the heart! They’re young and invincible, but most are still seeing a pediatrician – do they know whether they might have a heart condition – mild or otherwise? The flavors sound disgusting, and God knows what harm the chemicals that create, say, Creme Brulee or Cool Cucumber, will do long term. Also, the off brands are using formaldehyde and other additives that are in cigarettes. It’s expensive too, not exactly a cheaper alternative to smoking.

Juul of course is in the forefront. The other point of interest to my teens was how much money the inventors and company make. Tons. I have written that I do smoke, so I’m not judging here…well not too much. I entertained the idea of vaping as a method to quit smoking, but the article and my teens discouraged that idea.

All of this annoys me and gives me a feeling of evil glee. Smoking has had a bad rap for ages, and virtually the only place you can smoke is in the privacy of your home: like it’s some dirty little secret. But vaping you can do anywhere: in class, on a bus – vapers have the run of the place! Why aren’t they in Siberia shivering with the rest of the smokers I see huddled together in winter, or sweltering in the summer?

The glee comes in because now vaping is the new smoking. Also sitting is the new smoking, So is marijuana. All can kill you and possibly faster than smoking which takes about 30+ years. I know it’s all bad and terrible and we should just stop. But I am pleased that smoking moved down a couple of rungs.

Finally, from a cinematic POV, vaping doesn’t have the same allure. How would it have looked if Bogart had lit(?) Bacall’s pod? Or Paul Henreid firing up two pods before handing one to Bette Davis?

I am reminded of a line in Fight Club “The only people who smoke in movies now are foreigners and serial killers.” I’m not sure if I have it exact, but in that wonderful anarchic film everyone smokes.

“We’re consumers. We are by-products of a lifestyle obsession.”

Take the power back and let’s, including me, make smart choices?

 

Clare Irwin

 

American Horror Story: Catholic High School

I wrote in the previous post that I had spent time with teenagers on the cusp of their senior year and the world beyond. Three of these teens attend a private co-ed catholic

school. As they opened up, and saw they had a captivated audience in me, they let loose.

I don’t know much about private catholic schools, and the ones I have a brushing acquaintance with are posh and single sex. So, this is new to me. Also, the school is in suburbia – that strange land. The tuition is crazy expensive. The kids I spoke to, two girls and one boy, are smart, funny, adorable – terrific. But they are in a weird school.

I am proposing to FX that the next season of American Horror Story should be Catholic High School. Jessica Lange could return as a sadistic principal. The faculty at this school are lay teachers. There is a priest on staff who, along with his duty of hearing confessions, spends his time chiding the girls for wearing their uniforms too short in a shaming and long-winded way.

I also learned:

You can’t use the drinking fountains unless you want to get chlamydia, herpes or other social/viral/bacterial diseases.

When I was with these three teens, they were in the midst of writing a theology paper. Thomas Aquinas? St. Augustine? Nope. The paper was on abortion and how they feel about it. Talk about a rigged game! This is where I abandon hope for the future of education. Yeah, I know it’s a touchy subject. However, where better to learn to listen to opposing views in an intelligent and respectful manner and create thoughtful debate? In the venerable run down halls of this institution for a start. This trio hasn’t a full-formed opinion on abortion, but they do know the paper has to be against abortion. Which is fine. But, it’s also not. They are not thinking about the issue, only that they need to give “them” what “they” want – or face the consequences.

The Spanish language teacher is not from Spain – he was originally a history teacher. He spent one year in Spain during college and is a self-proclaimed Spaniard. From what I can tell he acts like a hysterical maniac. He singles out students he doesn’t like and gives out detentions generously. And, he lives with his mother. One of the girls had detention with him – alone in a classroom with this guy. She reached for a book to do homework and he shouted, “No! Eyes straight ahead!” For 90 minutes. Prayer or mediation are not sanctioned? Maybe one could silently pray that the police finally uncover the dead hookers he buried in his mother’s basement.

The young man is deeply engrossed in A.I. and is building a “better Alexa*” as he puts it. I asked him about colleges he is considering with his guidance counselor. I received a confusing answer – not because this young man is confused – he knows exactly what he wants. I’m guessing the explanation he was given was muddled. The guidance counselor thought he should get three letters of recommendation instead of the usual two. I asked why and he said, “I don’t really know, because he (the guidance counselor) began by saying, ‘Jesus would want you to.’ And that’s when I stopped listening.”

Two of the three are involved in school theater. The most recent production was the musical Guys and Dolls  – catholic school material? Gambling, burlesque, unmarried couples…There was an awards ceremony – county or catholic-wide – and the boy was nominated for three awards. One of the “leading ladies” (Lady Gaga?), who had been overlooked, was furious and said, “If you win an award, I’ll kill myself!” There’s much to parse here. First, she’s perfect for the acting profession with that level of hyperbole. And, where are the Catholic/Christian tenets of loving one another, turning the other cheek? And the suicide threat! Isn’t that a major mortal sin? The tenets are not in evidence but the seven deadly/cardinal and mortal sins are. Nice work!

I’m not worried about these three – they have great families and once they leave this asylum – they will be fine. I don’t doubt there will be a period of time where they may eschew Catholicism and attending church. Can one blame them? My greater concern is that they will be turned off from learning, which would be a shame.

Maybe there is Life on Mars after all……the best-selling show…

Clare Irwin

*Since we’ve thrown decorum out the window, I’ll mention that I tried to convince the young man to name his “Alexa” after a French prostitute. He wasn’t buying it.