Happy Second Birthday to Phantom Noise in Ordinary Time!

Two years ago yesterday I penned the first essay here. I remember it was Bastille Day, and I wrote in my post, titled Day 1, about what had happened in Cannes – the terrible attack of a truck plowing into crowds of celebrants. I didn’t know until later that a friend of mine was there, pregnant with her first baby. Thankfully, she and her family were not at that locale. And, today the French won the World Cup. I am not sure how that connects but somehow I believe it does.

I reread that post this morning and the one from last year marking the first year. What is different, I wonder? I sense in myself a more somber feeling. I think the last 18 months have been wearying, downright crazy more often than not.

I still hold to the sentiments I wrote on the first year anniversary. I have loved every minute of writing this blog and hope that I, and it, will continue to grow. So many essays in my drafts folder, never enough time. It’s been a joy, and once again I am deeply grateful to those who come and read it.

I started the blog as a way to connect with my family – who are gone. There’s no “remember when…” family member around, so this is my way of sharing memories with them. I would like to imagine that my writing, traveling through the ether, is a delivery system for my message. Most of all, I began this endeavor because of my father who was the last to pass away. He always encouraged and supported me, and believed in me when I did not. He showed me how to be strong and courageous, loyal and true. I can only hope that I might come close to the example he set. So, in the overall, this…all this…is a love letter to my father.

Thank you Dad – I don’t know what you would make of this world gone mad, but I know it wouldn’t shake your core value system one bit. You would carry on. Not just carry on, but live in love, live inside your heart.

My hope is that we are kind, gentle and understanding with each other – even when it appears to be impossibly difficult. Perhaps it is the only, or best, stratagem while we wait for the world to come to its senses. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clare Irwin

A Last Chance Power Drive

Every Sunday a number of older men congregate by the local coffee franchise with their custom vintage cars. They sit in their beach chairs and talk about…cars. They relish in the passers-bys’ compliments. Magnificent machines.

Back in LA I remember a similar crowd would assemble at the Bob’s Big Boy in the Valley, and of course these were the zenith of car collections. It all started there didn’t it – the custom car culture that Tom Wolfe wrote about so wonderfully in his book The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. 

The men assembled this morning were a good-natured bunch, sitting in the hot sun, basking in their handiwork. I asked to take some pictures, and they were happy to oblige. One of them said, “But not of us! Some of us may be wanted men!”

As I left and headed towards the water to enjoy beach activities, I was thinking about these men and their cars. I imagine they are of the age that would have made them eligible for the Vietnam War. I wondered where the next generation of vintage car enthusiasts will come from, or if they are a dying breed.

Times change. The car, the open road, Detroit: the realities and dreams that those words conjured defined America – its industry, fantasy, music, and spirit. America was “the car.” No longer. GM, Ford, Chrysler were either dismantled or bought by foreign car companies. Today, the association is indistinct.

When I was a kid my father went through a phase of collecting British cars: Aston Martin, Alvis, Jaguar, Bentley. They were exquisitely made – the day of the hand-made car has definitely departed – but they were temperamental to say the least. Unreliable would be a better word. We used to joke that our place was where British motors went to die. No one but my father drove them, that is if they started,and they were stick shift, which we all learned on but abandoned for the convenience of automatic. What a shame! Eventually those beautiful dreams were donated to charity.

Collectible cars may be moribund, but romanticism remains. The lure of the open road still beckons with all its promise and possibilities. I hope that never fades away.

 

So drive on. The road is waiting. You’re gonna get to that place
where you really wanna go.

Say hi to Bob for me…and be free.

Clare Irwin

 

 

Independence Day

Every July 4th, The New York Times would print the Declaration of Independence on the back page of the first section. I don’t know if they still do, but I found it comforting to see it there and would read it once again. I hope that on occasion everyone takes a look at it and remembers that July 4th isn’t only fireworks, cookouts, family reunions, sales, etc. Do enjoy – and realize that this piece of paper gave us many of those pleasures.

I recall the lines of Thomas Jefferson in a letter he wrote to Dr. Benjamin Rush, September 23, 1800, “For I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” These words are carved inside the Rotunda of the Jefferson Memorial.

Another quote comes to mind, its provenance less than certain, attributed to Benjamin Franklin in 1787 at the close of the Constitutional Convention: “A lady asked Dr. Franklin, ‘Well Doctor what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?’ Franklin replied, ‘A republic…if you can keep it.'”

The fragility of the concept of democracy wasn’t lost of Franklin, or the other founding fathers who drafted the Constitution, The Federalist Papers, et al. I think it’s a healthy reminder not to take for granted what we have, to respect it, to nurture it.

This past weeks’ articles in The New Yorker on free speech on college campuses and the polarity of the current political situation are unsettling. Let’s take a moment to count to ten, to think before we speak, to try, at least, to listen to other’s views even if we don’t agree with them – instead of tearing into one another. I can’t speak for anyone else to make such suggestions, but I shall do this myself and reflect on the state of our past as a country and where we may be headed in the future. I am concerned for us. I would like to think that we, individually and as a country, if indeed we are the greatest nation in the world (I do not subscribe to this level of hyperbole which inevitably creates a hierarchy that leaves others lacking), then we need to set an admirable, self-respecting and respectful example.

 

 

 

 

 

Clare Irwin

 

“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

You are Sixteen Going on Seventeen – Baby, It’s Time to Think

I haven’t posted for a month, and I am disappointed with myself. May was incredibly busy: work was overwhelming, and I was invited and attended a variety of graduations and commencements –  both high school and college.

I spent some delightful time with 16 and 17-year-olds, and heard their perspectives. These teenagers are pretty grounded. Practical are they, and fairly realistic. Yes, there is the occasional delusional one. They are facing major rites of passage: getting into college, leaving home for the first time, and trying to afford college. We had numerous conversations about all this, and I am appalled at what it costs to go to college in this country. And, there’s no guarantee that you come out knowing any more than when you entered.

Three of the kids were in the midst of taking their SATs, and they showed me the “new” SAT “book.” A revelation. There are no grammar or vocabulary sections as in the past, just endless, grindingly dull reading passages that are more an endurance test than any measure of…whatever this is supposed to measure. I read a few and there were questions that I wondered, and am still wondering, what in the name of God does this measure? I couldn’t find any scholarly or intellectual connection. I’m reaching the conclusion that it’s preparation – education be damned – to turn unsuspecting young people into industry fodder. Drones. If you can get through the test, probably take it numerous times, and if you don’t crack – you go to college and then get a job working for The Man where you spend the next many years paying off loans.

I also noticed a fair amount of propaganda in some of the SAT passages. I read one on fracking that implied that it’s a good thing, that there isn’t evidence yet to connect it to earthquakes in areas where they were never earthquakes, or with tap water that comes out in flames or dark brown. It’s all great! Another was on big pharma and GMOs and how much good they do. Jesus! These sweet kids receive these messages, and how are they to know there may be another point of view? Aside that this is all crap –  it isn’t even well-written mind control. There is one nod to literature: the first passage. That’s it! From what I can tell it is usually 19th Century: Dickens, Stevenson, Trollope, Shelley…none of whom these kids know.

I found all this unutterably discouraging and felt sincerely sorry for our future leaders. Plus they live in the suburbs which I am beginning to think is not as wonderful as one would think. It’s too sheltered and sanitized. How does one acquire any life skills? I am so grateful to my parents and our upbringing: we saw the world, we lived in it, and the thirst and love for knowledge was for knowledge’s sake. I see more and more how rare our experience was and how fortunate.

Okay, so not everyone gets to have that. Well, I would pick one of these kids who demonstrates a little gumption, and hand them a pile of money (how I would have the money is not a detail in this fantasy), say nearly a quarter of a million dollars, which is what I imagine the average cost would be for four years including travel, room and board, etc. I would put the pile of money into his/her hands and say, “Here, go travel the world, have meetings with remarkable people, have adventures, shed your middle class morality, spend time in Paris, Hong Kong, a brothel in Tangiers, kayak down a Tibetan gorge. Live!”

And then come back and question authority. Now that is an education.

“You are sixteen going on seventeen
Baby, you’re on the brink…”

Clare Irwin

 

 

 

 

Lyrics from The Sound of Music, by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein.

 

Thank You For The Days

These past two months have been busy and I haven’t had much down time. Work is a full court press, and I grab snatches of “me” time with middling success. I am also feeling a bit of melancholia. People who I care about deeply are seriously ill, some have passed, and others are nearing their end of time here on earth. The nature of things is not always easy to accept.

These circumstances led to my thinking a great deal about my family who are gone. My father most of all, but also my maternal grandmother, and my great grandmother. As I walk along the water and have time to empty my mind of the mundane, memories of them come – unbeckoned yet not unwelcome. I haven’t been able to shake this feeling and I am not sure I want to.

While I was driving the other day, I was stopped at a school crosswalk, and as I was waiting I turned on the local high school radio station. The song, “Darling Be Home Soon” came on, sung by Tedeschi Trucks. I had first heard the song right after my dad died and I burst into tears. I think it particularly affected me because the song was sung by a woman. In my detective work to find the song I discovered it was written by John Sebastian, and was also covered by Joe Cocker. It captured how I felt, the ache, and also the thankfulness for such love

Shortly after I first heard “Darling Be Home Soon,” I heard “Days” which did me in as well. As I was trying to discover the song writer, I saw a few people wrote that it was a song that was played at their fathers’ funerals. I learned it was written by Ray Davies of the Kinks. “Days” elicits the similar cathartic feeling, it’s a little darker –  the end point is acknowledged straightaway.

In the last week I have heard both these songs again on the radio. Curious chance of odds that I caught both randomly. I’d like to think that in the continuum where time and space collapse that the beauteous spirit who I am missing is letting me know, “I’m here Clare, and it’s okay.”

Clare Irwin

I have included below the words to both these beautiful songs which are intricately layered:

 

Come
And talk of all the things we did today
Here
And laugh about our funny little ways
While we have a few minutes to breathe
Then I know that it’s time you must leave
But, darling, be home soon
I couldn’t bear to wait an extra minute if you dawdled
My darling, be home soon
It’s not just these few hours, but I’ve been waiting since I toddled
For the great relief of having you to talk to
And now
A quarter of my life is almost past
I think I’ve come to see myself at last
And I see that the time spent confused
Was the time that I spent without you
And I feel myself in bloom
So, darling, be home soon
I couldn’t bear to wait an extra minute if you dawdled
My darling, be home soon
It’s not just these few hours, but I’ve been waiting since I toddled
For the great relief of having you to talk to
So, darling
My darling, be home soon
I couldn’t bear to wait an extra minute if you dawdled
My darling, be home soon
It’s not just these few hours, but I’ve been waiting since I toddled
For the great relief of having you to talk to
Go
And beat your crazy head against the sky
Try
And see beyond the houses and your eyes
It’s okay to shoot the moon
Darling be home soon
I couldn’t bear to wait an extra minute if you dawdled
My darling, be home soon
It’s not just these few hours, but I’ve been waiting since I toddled
For the great relief of having you to talk to
John Sebastian
 
Thank you for the days
Those endless days, those sacred days you gave me
I’m thinking of the days
I won’t forget a single day, believe me
I bless the light
I bless the light that lights on you believe me
And though you’re gone
You’re with me every single day, believe me
Days I’ll remember all my life
Days when you can’t see wrong from right
You took my life
But then I knew that very soon you’d leave me
But it’s all right
Now I’m not frightened of this world, believe me
I wish today could be tomorrow
The night is dark
It just brings sorrow, let it wait
Thank you for the days
Those endless days, those sacred days you gave me
I’m thinking of the days
I won’t forget a single day, believe me
Days I’ll remember all my life
Days when you can’t see wrong from right
You took my life
But then I knew that very soon you’d leave me
But it’s all right
Now I’m not frightened of this world, believe me
Days
Thank you for the days
Those endless days, those sacred days you gave me
I’m thinking of the days
I won’t forget a single day, believe me
I bless the light
I bless the light that shines on you believe me
And though you’re gone
You’re with me every single day, believe me
Days
Raymond Douglas Davies

Earth Day

This is a quick one. Sunday was Earth Day – I forgot until I went online. I awoke to a beautiful day, sunshine and birdsong pouring in. I had a window of time, before other obligations, to get out, walk, hike, be in nature – to be outdoors after a long winter. Spring emerges slowly in our little slice of heaven. But, as it bursts forth it is a lovely site. Mirabile Dictu as Virgil wrote. When I start to see things bloom I recall the line from A Matter of Life and Death, “Ahh! We are starved for Technicolor up there!” Or in this case down here. Enjoy a few snaps from Sunday from the charming seaside coastal town I have written about often, here at Phantom Noise In Ordinary Time.

Coming soon more on the goings on in this beautiful yet curious village…

Enjoy & may every day be Earth Day.

Clare Irwin

 

Is There Anybody Out There?

I caught a few minutes of Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony on Capitol Hill. I found curious that this titan of commerce is somewhat unimpressive to me. Maybe it’s his boyish face and voice, and the veiled petulant stance he took with his questioners. I never used Facebook. I tried for about two minutes – it was too busy and noisy. Not to say that Twitter isn’t a frenetic sphere, but I was able to “get” it.

What amuses me, and worries me, is the data collected on everyone who uses Facebook, and how that information is used. Certainly, it is of great concern, but I am vexed because I found myself tangled in a competitive streak. I wondered: with all this watching, why aren’t they (who are they?) looking at my blog?! According to my analytics, I’m lucky to have a dozen people a day visiting. I know I should return to the “I-don’t-care-that’s-not-why-I-am-writing-it” attitude with which I began. That would be the wiser course of action.

I was helping a 20-year-old with a college transfer essay which prompted her to write about her academic and career goals. She was stumped – blocked. So typically, I related it to my experience and said, “Well, when I was 20 my goal was world domination.” I was half-joking and she laughed. Then she looked at me and said, “I can see that.” She just met me! I decided to take it as a compliment, but her comment made me think: what the hell kind of vibe do I give off? To consider that people see you differently than you see yourself was a valuable reality check. Duh!

As I have mentioned, I attended a rigorous rarefied prep school*, which I, for the most part, loved. An acquaintance once said to me that the only thing my school was good for was “breeding competitive little bitches.” He was just jealous that he’d never look as cute in the uniform.

I ran into this young lady the next day and thanked her for the insight. She was great and said, “You could definitely beat those old white guys’ asses.” How’s that for a morale boost?

Data collection, big brother, old white guys, whatever…come on people! Read this competitive little bitch’s blog! 

 

 

 

 

 

Clare Irwin

 

*See January 2018 post: “Be True To Your School.”

Swami Mommy…or Spit It Out!

The holiday has nearly passed for two major world religions, and I tried, I really did try, to do my best in keeping my Lenten/Easter intention. I failed miserably. In fact, opposite to what I think is my fairly steady nature, I’ve been swinging from mindfulness and positivism to being a misery. All this occurs in my brain – which is a dangerous place at the best of times. I first named this post Swami Mommy because I was thinking of a childhood friend’s mother on whom I bestowed this moniker. She talks a good talk, but the walk…not there. My friend and I laugh about this because her mother is so unaware of the polarity in her personality. She’s skillful at preaching the glories of the universe – it’s a bit of  mishmash of Christianity, New Age, and now the Kabbalah. Simultaneously, she’s more than happy to let you know how inadequately short of the mark your own spirituality falls.

The amusing part is she then turns on a dime – doesn’t miss a breath –  and says something so petty and cruel that most people, the rest of us of the great unwashed, wouldn’t think – much less say. My favorite is her revisionist histories where she is the heroine in all the outcomes. When she’s not talking about the universe functioning as a cosmic ATM machine for her, she’s relating a story about someone she knows – and the criteria never deviates: how they look and how much money they make is the measurement, and all you learn. I and my friend started referring to her as Swami Mommy and not in a kind way. She had said, in complete seriousness, “You know, I’m so evolved that I’m not coming back.” I started laughing but stopped when I realized that she wasn’t kidding. She is such a superior being that she need not return. Where do such beings go, I wonder?

While I’m mentally critiquing this individual I realize how ridiculous I am in my attempt to achieve serenity. I have to say things are pretty good, but as one strives to go further, there are trips and falls along the way. That is happening now. I’m listening to Thich Nhat Hanh while I’m in the car. He is an incredible and inspiring individual, and I am enjoying his meditations. But as I’m breathing in and breathing out when the gong gongs (?), I manage to insert some evil thought in between. Pissed at the driver in front of me, waiting in line while somebody pays by check – what the hell? I remember to breathe, but I haven’t been able to detach from my annoyance.

The culmination of my awful behavior happened this past Saturday. I was meeting someone for coffee and pulled into a parking spot. I was rummaging through the back of the car to find a magazine I wanted to give my friend, and I hear a horn honk behind me. I turn around and there is the front of a vehicle about six inches from my legs. The driver sticks his head out the window and asks me to stop what I’m doing and pull up so he can park better. He couldn’t wait and there were a bunch of available spots – he had to have that one. I sighed, got back in the car, and pulled up. I returned to my rummaging and he gets out of the car. I should be more clear: it‘s a van, a panel van, like the ones you see in movies about serial killers or child molesters, and old – like from Zodiac killer movies. The guy himself: creepy, dirty, bad skin, teeth going in all directions, weird voice, and he starts to say something to me. I’m thinking, this should be good because my guess is he’s a last word freak – even though I haven’t said anything. Sure enough he starts to say what sounds like an apology, but I’m not really listening to him. However, I do catch the last sentence: “It’s not my fault!” I loved that! He can’t sort himself out teeth-wise, you know, brushing them? Or comb his hair. These basic skills are beyond him, but he has learned the non-accountability lesson which is depressingly prevalent. That he gets!

He walks away to spread more sunshine and I’m fuming. I don’t know why; this usually wouldn’t send me over the edge, but I’m getting more and more peeved. I think I should kick his van, and then something truly alarming happened. I spit on the hood of the van! I was appalled at myself. I have never ever done this in my life, but before I gained control of myself – I had. My mother, if she wasn’t already dead – that would have killed her. Right there on the spot. My father, he would not have approved, but he would have laughed because he liked a little moxie. I was horrified because even though I know it was inexcusable, indefensible, childish – I felt better.

I spent the rest of the day flagellating myself. Finally that evening I had had enough of the self-recrimination and called a friend to tell on me. She laughed and thought the story was great (I can hear my mother’s voice, “Don’t encourage her!”). I felt lighter after my confession and my good friend said, “The car probably needed to be washed anyway!”

Now, I have another very dear friend, one who reads this blog regularly who is an amazing person. She’s someone I aspire to be like, and one of a handful of people whose opinion and regard for me I hold in high esteem. So I’m apologizing in advance, and promise as I go through this metamorphosis that I will return to my rosy gaze and write a post that won’t require contrition.

Clare Irwin