Josh Brolin, a Volvo Commerical & Walt Whitman

Okay, by now everyone knows what I am referring to – the Volvo commercial that is on all the time. My first exposure, which was a month or so ago, was while I was at my laptop and my back was to the TV, so I only heard the voice over. I immediately recognized the voice of Josh Brolin (what does that say of my intellectual life!), and the lyrical words sounded familiar. I thought initially that it was Jack Kerouac, but I knew that couldn’t be right – they were too good, too exultant. I’m not putting Kerouac down, I read On the Road and some of his other works, but Kerouac is sort of niche and before my time. The allure of heading west in a car with Dean Moriarty is a little passé.

My second guess was Walt Whitman. I checked online and also pulled out my copy of Leaves of Grass, and indeed it is he. “Song of the Open Road” is the poem. The words are captivating and memorable. I find it interesting that Whitman, who preceded Kerouac by almost 100 years, holds up — more than holds up — he has a gravitational pull. What also delights me is that my millennials – my 15-17 year olds — who watch television and movies and shows in entirely different nontraditional ways know this commercial, love it and love the words and want to know more about Whitman. Isn’t it marvelous that he is being discovered by a new generation? I think it is. I also like the fact that a car commercial is the delivery system for a poet’s discovery. Why not?

To be sure, Whitman has never been lost, he’s been popular and in print consistently – but what I hope is this new embrace is an indication of the temper of the time, or a rejection of it. I mean the free verse, the appreciation of self, the inclusivity, the reaching for transcendence is attractive to millennials — it dovetails with their sensibility. For the non-millennials he is a balm for the over-concentration on what is harsh and angry — fearful. Whitman completely turns us around, away from “ugly”, away from the status quo, and tells us to look over there — to what is beautiful, eternal, luminous.

Clare Irwin

NB, As I write this I remember that Whitman also makes a significant appearance in the extraordinary TV series, Breaking Bad. It is Whitman’s “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” that draws in Walter White, and it also leads to his and his family’s unraveling.

Straight to the Heart of Fun

Pink Floyd The Wall

Pink Floyd The Wall

Teaching your teenager just about anything can result in family discord. I remember my mother trying to teach me how to drive, and after one “session” she threw up her hands and signed me up for driving school. Sometimes you just can’t “teach” your own kids. There’s history there, right? So an acquaintance of mine asked me if I would help her son with his summer reading and writing assignments. She asked because I was familiar with the material and, well, because he’s not my kid. Let’s call him James. James is about 14 and he goes to a well-respected Jesuit prep school. He’s a nice looking young man, and he will definitely be very handsome soon. Right now he’s all arms and legs and lanky-ness — he doesn’t look completely hatched. But he is adorable and funny. Every time I’ve seen him he’s wearing a Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon T-shirt. Is Pink Floyd enjoying a new audience? For poetic symmetry it would be more fitting if he was wearing a Pink Floyd The Wall T-shirt. The song “Another Brick in the Wall” comes to mind.

Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon Album Cover

Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon Album Cover

James also has just the right amount of teenage rage for me to find him delightful. Here’s the list of what he has to read over the summer and answer questions on: Maya Angelou’s “Graduation,” Chief Seattle’s “Reply to the U.S. Government” speech, Have A Little Faith by Mitch Albom, Mary Mebane’s “Back of the Bus,” and Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha.

Herman Hesse Siddhartha

Herman Hesse, Siddhartha

Just a little light summer reading! So here’s James’s summer buzz kill AND straight to the heart of fun number one.  He’s okay with meeting me because I think he secretly hopes that I’ll do most of the work or at least get it done and over. We meet at the library — neutral territory — which was agreed upon for less distractions and possible power struggles. We’re nearly done with the bulk of the work, and I’ve gotten to know James. He likes something to kick against — for instance: authority. In our case authority comes in the guise of the librarians and the library’s rather dictatorial set of rules. Okay they have rules and that’s fine and we are observing them. It’s the distrust that I and James find highly annoying. One particular librarian doesn’t believe that I’m just helping him with homework. She seems suspicious of why I am spending time with him. What is my relation to this young man, and what are we working on, and can I see what you printed out!?? Really? How about our blood type, do you need that too? What gets James is that we’re regarded with suspicion. Also, the library is totally empty. I mean EMPTY. It’s summer and we’ve hardly had a rainy day. The only other room that is being used for “quiet study” is occupied by about six not quiet old ladies who are playing cards — for money (?)(!)

I can’t remember now what set off another interrogation from this one library lady – really we couldn’t be more benign — but it ignited James. Straight to the heart of fun number two.I think he was ready to go off because I did notice the withering look he gave his mother before she left him in my charge. So he started venting and it was pretty entertaining. When he started to run down, I stupidly said, “What’s she think I’m doing to you in here?” It was a rhetorical question, but then I had a thought and image in my mind of an answer to that question, and then IT happened. IT is the newest virus affecting the country: the loss of the filter between the brain and the mouth.

Phrenology Head

Phrenology Head

To my shock and chagrin I caught it at that moment. I said, “Maybe she thinks I’m going to put you in front of some black insurgency flag, we’ll turn the GoPro on and I’ll make you read aloud Mary Mebane’s “Back of the Bus” streaming live on the Internet. People will see it and wonder, what the hell is going on?!” I immediately apologized and acknowledged how inappropriate what I said was, but James got a visual too. This sent James into fits of giggles and laughter (OK maybe you had to be there), but it took a few minutes to get back on track. It was a nice moment, not necessarily a Kodak one, but it kind of sealed the deal between me and James. We’re on the same team. There’s us and the straight to the heart of fun joy killers.

Parking Sign

Parking Sign

Clare Irwin

On the Corner of Cranky and Crabby

CrankyOk, the heat is getting to everyone. Sunday mornings I attend church and I love the fact that it’s not air conditioned – it’s an old stone building which stays fairly cool. There’s lots of fans and it’s nice because the windows are open and you can see the trees and hear the birds. I know I’m in the minority about the a/c. Today is relentlessly hot with no breeze and everyone was a bit sticky after an hour of service. I hung around for refreshments, and had a pleasant conversation with an acquaintance about a recent business trip she made to Singapore.. There was also some Pokémon contest afterwards, but not many people hung around because it was too hot.  One guy said, in the context of the Pokémon event, “Soon we’ll all be living inside our phones!” That statement was received by the two women standing next to him with crabby grumbles.  I could feel the crankiness descending on my fellow parishioners, so I left. Crab

I took a walk around the water which was fairly deserted. Everyone had retreated to the indoors and the cool. I did encounter a father with a baby in a stroller and a little boy around 3 or 4 years old. Cute as a button and he was pushing his bike along beside him. He stopped and turned to me — big blue eyes and light brown curls and said, “Hello my name is Brooks.” I introduced myself and told him I was happy to make his acquaintance. His father was busy on his phone and gave this exchange no attention (maybe he was playing Pokémon?). I also saw some dogs at the dog park having a great time drinking from and playing with a garden hose.

Then I went to the supermarket where everyone seemed to be in a bad mood. Two kids were fighting over a phone — Pokémon again?. While I was there I got a call from one of my kids who unbeknownst to me is on a camping trip in Vermont. The tentative plan of not letting the entire summer go by without reading or maybe thinking about college or whatever seemed entirely forgotten. So now I’m hearing myself on the phone — and it sounds like she’s on stage at a concert — I’m competing with whatever is way more interesting than my now cranky dose of reality that I’m delivering! I have officially arrived at cranky and crabby too. We ended the call deciding to table this conversation till tomorrow in person. But as I drove home I had a hard time shaking the cranky and crabby feeling. So, you know what? I’m going to think about Brooks and his insouciance and the dogs having a grand old time with a plain garden hose and take a leaf out of their book.PokemonClare Irwin