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

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.

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