Face the Music

It’s unclear where the expression “Face the Music” originated. One source dates it to 1850, supposing it came from musical theaters where the orchestra was seated between audience and stage. Performers turning to listeners would “face the music”. Another theory begins an American Civil War ceremony to expel an officer from military service to the accompaniment of drums. Whatever its origins, the expression has come to mean being confronted with the unpleasant consequences of one’s actions.*

There are many non-musical situations that lead us to “face the music.” Binge watching TV series instead of preparing for exams, habitual overeating, neglecting means of VD protection or birth control, under-insuring, skipping scheduled maintenance, etc.; it only takes a little thought to make a long list. The music we face usually comes from someone in authority over us: a spouse, employer, doctor, officer of the law or judge. And the music may not be at all pleasant. Sometimes the music comes from someone who doesn’t outrank us: a peer, a child, a member of the audience, or a repair-person.

Florence Foster Jenkins performed at Carnegie Hall in October, 1944. She strode out on stage in front of an audience of friends and admirers to offer a program of classical song. But she couldn’t sing. In fact, she is considered to have been one of the worst singers of all time. Her wealth and connections had enabled her to give concerts at many rented around New York City. As terrible as she was, she became popular. Eventually she rented Carnegie Hall, hired an orchestra, and mounted a concert. Did she know how “bad” she was?  Apparently not. She enjoyed performing. Whether or not they enjoyed the music, her audiences enjoyed the events. Facing the music, from both sides of the orchestra pit, seems to have been welcomed.

If and when your time to “face the music” comes, may you do so with the same equanimity as Mrs. Jenkins and her hearers. May you come through, and move on to good things.

*https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Face%20the%20music

David Alexander resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.

Play It As It Lays

I don’t play golf, but I do read newspaper comic pages and the drawings in The New Yorker. Cartoonists often resort to “golf motifs” even when the character is a viking, like Hagar the Horrible, or a soldier, like General Halftrack in Beetle Bailey. Charlie Brown doesn’t golf, but Dagwood does. Many golf metaphors get applied to life totally apart from any connection to the game. Retirement is sometimes called “the back nine” of life. A difficult task can be described as a “dogleg”or a “sand trap”, and a difficult time as “playing in the rough.”  

The place where a ball stops rolling after being driven from the tee is “where it lays”. If the golfer doesn’t like that location, there are certain ways to legally move it to a better “lay”, but they involve penalties on the score. If one is not willing to accept the penalty, one must “play it as it lays.” It’s not hard to imagine how, or why, this expression has migrated from the well-manicured golf course to the rough and tumble of life.

Golf progresses from a numbered tee to a pin with the same number. Life isn’t anywhere near so well ordered. Any golf analogy breaks down when we consider how in life we are engaged in several different endeavors at the same time. We might be doing the laundry, cooking a meal and carrying on a phone conversation simultaneously. We don’t stop driving the car when we turn on the radio to listen to the news. Jogging and exercising in the gym are often accompanied by listening to podcasts on headphones. Though our tasks are intertwined, each likely has its own sequence, it’s own “places where the ball stops”, its own “lays.”

“Coping” is not just a finishing or protective course or cap to an exterior masonry wall. It is an attitude and a skill that can enable a person to face life and “play it as it lays.”  Some who have desired to work in exotic foreign places have discovered no aptitude for foreign languages. Some who have wanted to live in particular locations all their lives have been met by economic changes that remove job opportunities there. War may turns people into refugees around the world. Sexual assaults forestall people from ever again venturing into a school, church, parking structure or fraternity party. Injuries end careers of athletes, sometimes before those careers begin.

Back to the golf analogy, we “tee up” and “drive” regularly. The ball stops someplace. Then it’s our choice, to “improve the lay” or to “play it as it lays.”   Being willing to ask for and receive help requires a bit of humility (which can be seen as a penalty). Playing it as it lays just out of stubbornness or unwillingness to ask for help is its own penalty. But, playing it as it lays does mean continuing to play, continuing on the course, heading toward the goal. Perhaps more important than whether or not we accept where the ball has come to rest, or get help to figure out how to keep moving, is that we don’t give up on ourselves, or each other.

David Alexander resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.

You Know It’s True

Epistemology is “a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge.” It’s about how we come to and what it means to “know”. There are eight ways of knowing: Language, Sense perception, Emotion, Reason, Imagination, Faith, Intuition, and Memory.*   

Philosophers have argued about the very nature of knowledge for thousands of years. Most of us care little about what it means to know. We “know what we know, and trust that it’s true.” Information sources often control what we believe we “know”. After the US elections in November of 2016  I became painfully aware that the word “silo” doesn’t only mean a crop storage structure or the home of a nuclear missile. I sadly came to understand how I had chosen to live in one.

A former fundamentalist, I often trusted words written on paper (particularly “Bible paper”) and denigrated imagination and faith as ways of knowing. As a person of faith, generally liking divine “revelation,” I’m still rather skeptical about “divine protection of transmission.” As a translator, I’m REALLY skeptical about translations, especially my own!

A child of the enlightenment, I over-rely on reason, downplaying emotion and intuition. Growing older, I trust my memory and sense perceptions less.The joke about Charles Manson in prison asking “Am I crazy or is it hot in here?” seems very cogent.

I love language. Grammar and etymology (the study of word origins) thrill me. Years ago a friend’s habitual reference to “spider webs” as “cobwebs” forced to look up the term. When I learned that “cobbe” is Dutch for “spider,” I joyfully assimilated the word into my working vocabulary.

But clever use of language can divert us from knowing. Robert Moses, the power broker who controlled much of New York City and State during the mid-20th century, was known as “The best bill drafter in Albany.” He read old laws and used their provisions to craft new ones that would obfuscate his true intent. He once inserted an obscure provision of a 19th century agricultural statute into a law about roads he wanted to build in the 20th. It allowed him to legally take (for the state) large tracts of land on Long Island for non-agricultural purposes. People didn’t know what hit them.

Lately what matters more to me than any of the 8 “ways of knowing” is the experience of kindness. I can’t know if it’s true kindness or not, but I know what I’ve experienced. Maybe kindness is enough.

* https://www.lanternaeducation.com/ib-blog/theory-of-knowledge-ib-guide-part-4/

David Alexander resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.

Radio Nowhere

Is there anybody alive out there?

A lot of us choose to send annual holiday greetings, for Kwaanza, Hannukah, Christmas or the New Year. There are also welcome friends and relatives who send birthday and anniversary cards. Such people are precious. That includes those who send year-end letters detailing their travels and the accomplishments of children and grandchildren.  But if, as SENDERS we keep track of how many we receive in return for (or in advance of) what we send, we may begin to wonder if there were anybody alive out there. And if as RECEIVERS of cards, letters and e-mails we keep track of the things to which we respond, we might question if we’ve given the impression of already having shuffled off of this mortal coil. I’m more likely to respond to a greeting that comes with a stamp on it than to an e-mail. I’m less likely to respond to an annual catch-up letter, whether it has come electronically or by post, than to a card. Often I don’t respond at all.  Am I alive IN HERE?

Sending something out, casting it “broadly” (“broadcasting” it) is like that. There may be many in a classroom but few listeners. We count the heads at a lecture or at church but have no idea if anyone has paid attention.  One of the most fruitless jobs in the world must be giving the pre-flight safety briefing on an airliner. Frequent flyers ignore it doing other things, fearful flyers don’t believe it because the reality of imminent death has seized their souls, and others merely wait it out while fantasizing about sex.  “Radio Nowhere” asks, from the center aisle, if there’s anybody alive out there.

Most of us inhabit the “out there.” Whether it is as listeners to radio, patrons of libraries, attenders of lectures, or passengers of trains & planes. By lending a modicum of attention to the broadcasters who are “in there”, we testify to our being alive.

 

David Alexander resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.

Long Walk Home

Robert Frost’s 1914 poem, “The Death of the Hired Man” is built around the story of a farmer and his wife discussing an unreliable employee who has come to them at the nadir of his life. The farmer wants nothing to do with the man, whom he felt had betrayed him at a time of need. The farmer’s wife admits all of that, but finds meaning in the man’s coming to them because he has nowhere else to go. Though there are relatives not far away, it is with the farmer and his wife that he has found “home”. As the wife describes it,

Home is the place where, when you have to go there,

They have to take you in.’

There’s much in life that takes us far from home. A lot of it is good and pleasant stuff: wider opportunities; better climates; military, government or church service; wanderlust. Some things are maybe neither good nor pleasant: exile, banishment, disaster, war, poverty, oppression and the like. A woman I once knew arrived in California in the early 1940s, not because of the wider opportunities and better climate, but because she was sent there as a pregnant single teenager to shield her and her family from the opprobrium of her rural home community as the child inside her grew. She stayed in California, visiting “home” only occasionally, until her death more than 70 years later. You can imagine that the first time back involved a metaphorical long walk home.

Long walks home are often part of “going back”. For some people “home” no longer exists. Cultural and social change may have removed the “home” from the place. Sometimes entire countries disappear. Nobody, for instance, can go back to Yugoslavia or the Soviet Union any more. For others, the “long walk home” may be mean going forward. “Home” has never existed for them in the places, families or communities of their origin, but is only to be found in the discovery of a true identity. For some, “coming home” may involve “coming out.” It may call for a name change, a gender change, or both!

Finding a place, a condition, a vocation, an environment, a community, even a family, that is home, usually involves a long walk in one direction or another. Pray for strength.

 

David Alexander resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.

Had to Get Away from those Fools

I recently retired from professional life, participation in which put me into a retirement plan with others in that line of work. Twenty years ago I met another member of the same plan. He was on the cusp of retirement and wanted out of the plan. He felt that it was managed by “a bunch of fools.” My own recent departure from working life has meant no longer having to attend thrice-yearly legislative sessions of a regional association. I gladly relinquished active membership because sometimes it felt to me like being part of a congress of clowns.

It’s spring. We’ve entered the season of school graduations. Some people happily attend events celebrating their elevation from elementary to middle school, middle to high school, high school to college or work, and college to professions, jobs or further study in graduate school. Some look ahead to opportunities and challenges with zest and joyful anticipation, others with fear. Some look back on what they leave feeling nostalgia and sadness, others heave a sigh of relief that they have “busted out of class” and gotten “away from those fools.”

Leaving the U.S. Army at age 20 in 1972, my initial feelings were that I had gotten away from those fools. Two years later I joined the reserves. A few more years of minimal participation in military structures; meeting a different sort of soldier than I had known while on active service, meant that when I left the reserves it was with regret that life had taken me overseas. It also revealed to me that “the bunch of fools” from whom I most needed to get away, whether at school, Army, jobs or profession, is most often internal to myself.

One cannot “learn more from a three-minute record than we ever learned in school”. One cannot learn more from a weekend seminar than from three years of graduate school. There’s no quick fix through which one learns one’s own foolishness. We ourselves are among the fools from whom others need to get away. It’s also possible that those fools among whom we live, move and have our being are exactly the people from whom we need to learn as we develop from fool to sage.

David Alexander resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.

After-cat

Our cat, Shadow, was born on the streets of Kaohsiung, Taiwan sometime late in 2003. He became ours when a young woman friend from church rescued and brought him to us early in 2004. We’d been “in the market for” a house pet and had decided on a cat. He took to life in our 6th floor apartment readily. He didn’t scratch the furniture or anything and ate the “cheap food”.

We had him neutered when he was of the appropriate age. He seemed to consider our son, Grant, to be his litter-mate. We were away for 10 months in 2007 & 2008, during which he spent most of his time with another friend, Julie, and her 2 cats. He came live with us on the campus of Tainan Theological College in 2008. Taking a keen interest in the world outdoors, he began to be treated to a morning walk on a long lead. He didn’t climb trees, but he DID mark his territory with copious liquid attention. Sometimes he got into conflict with stray cats in the area. Once he slipped his lead, got into a serious fight and was badly injured. The overnight he spent at the vet’s included being shaved, getting stitches and wearing a “cone” until he healed. His outdoor life ended, and he eventually became a real “house cat.”

We left him twice more. In 2012 he stayed with our daughter, Kate, and her husband, Gene in Taipei while she did doctoral research and writing in Taipei. He became Gene’s companion, spending a lot of time with the heating pad. In 2016, we were away for 7 months. A couple graduate students from Chang Jung Christian University house-sat and companioned him.

In the Spring of 2018 he began to vomit regularly. The vet in Tainan examined him and did blood work, but nothing was out of the ordinary. He passed all required health checks and was given an exit visa to accompany us to the USA at the end of July. He adapted quite well to living in our temporary home, loving the sunny front porch, but the vomiting increased. A local vet found nothing and prescribed medications, but he steadily lost weight.

On December 6th we took him to a regional veterinary hospital for an ultra-sound, which found a tumor. It was a death sentence. We changed his medication and considered him to be on hospice status. We began looking for signs that his time was over. Good days and bad days came and went.. On the evening of the 18th he vomited blood. We left notice with the vet, who came to our house at about noon on the 19th. A lot of sympathy, a couple of injections, and our pet was gone.

Cleaning up meant more than removing the cat box, scratching post and other things from their accustomed spots. Cleaning up includes memories, feelings, and empty spaces which he leaves in the house. Cleaning up involves creating a “shadow corner” in our house to represent the space he will always occupy in our hearts. 19 December 2018

David Alexander resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan

Misled through the You Tube

The old house that we bought as a retirement home — our first self-owned home ever– has a broad front porch that is divided into two fully glassed-in rooms. One of them is hooked to the HVAC system, but we didn’t heat or use it in the winter because it has big single-pane glass windows that would leak all heat in there to the city around us, benefiting nobody.  

When we arrived, the room was the place for stuff not-yet-unpacked or that we had shipped to America for others. Eventually it emptied out, revealing “the ugliest floor in the world”, linoleum thought to have been attractive in the 1970s. We went to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and searched through stacks of open boxes of  laminate flooring to find enough that matched. The weather was too cold, and we were too inexperienced, so the job got put aside. In the meantime I watched a You Tube video about it. A guy made it look pretty simple. I “scheduled” the work for when the weather turned.

It’s spring. Our son and his wife came for a couple days’ visit. He and I went to Harbor Freight and bought the proper power saw, blade and safety equipment for the job. Returning home, we set things up in “the other half” of the porch. We actually used screws to secure a sheet of wood to some sawhorses, and more screws to secure the saw to the wood. That was a change for me. Probably a positive lesson, too. Preparing the “ugly floor” room for laying new floor, we found lots of poorly done “homeowner” stuff from previous occupants of this place.  

Positive things we learned included how to “measure once, cut twice” and how the boards interlock with each other very neatly.  As I ponder the result, it occurs to me that what we did might eventually appear to future owners of this house as “the ugliest floor in the world.” We learned some “not-so-positive” things, too: 1) Installing laminate flooring is probably best done by experienced people. D-I-Y looks like “DIY”. 2) Even a simple project uses a lot of tools.  3) A power miter saw is best used outside, where the wind will carry away the sawdust. There was a LOT of cleanup where we hadn’t imagined we’d need to do it.

Maybe #1 and 2 of those last three lessons can be applied to other projects and life in general, too. As for #3, since I now own a power saw, the potential for mischief with wood may know no limits. I’ll have to be careful about learning from You Tube, though.

Talking About Boring Old Glory Days

Amtrak recently called to inform me that the last leg of planned a round trip to California will NOT be in business class. I’ll be refunded the difference between what I’ve already paid and the price of a coach seat for that trip, which is scheduled for August. That’s OK with me. The train from Chicago to Michigan has pretty wide coach seats anyway. My trip will be for participation in a 50th high school reunion. Sometime in the 1990s I read Robert Fulgum’s All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. One of his essays included the suggestion that one should attend at least one of our high school reunions. He made a good case. Living far from California during the 10th, 20th, 25th, 30th, and 40th reunions, I’ve attended none. This will probably be my last chance.

“Springsteen Therapy” (not recognized by the American Psychological Association) has helped me to negotiate the change of life that I’m in. The more CDs I borrow from the library and copy onto my computer and the more YouTube playlists I listen to, the more I appreciate the breadth of the man’s compositional skills. One song I’ve heard in both places has been “Glory Days”, which tells stories of people about 10 or 20 years out of high school running into each other and having nothing else to talk about than their “boring old glory days.”  As I prepare for the trip to California, I need to get ready for that possibility, partly because my high school days were fairly inglorious. I may find myself tonguetied.

There is an alternative. I regularly get together with a group of guys, many of whom are older than myself. I can’t say whether it’s because of the character of the group or why, but we manage to talk neither of “glory days” nor “aches and pains.” Maybe the reunion will include an “aches and pains” corner.

What will there be to talk about?  Maybe I should just slowly sip on my beer and listen,  saying “ooh and aah” as I listen to others’ stories about their own and their children’s accomplishments and look at pictures of grandkids. Probably that would be the best thing I could contribute to the gathering.  

As for “what are you doing now?”, I’d better figure something out.  “Blogger” probably won’t carry much of a cachet.

David Alexander resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan

We only Live to Serve

The local school board has a sudden vacancy for the remainder of a term, stretching until the end of 2020.  There have been ads in the paper asking for interested people to submit applications by April 12. On the 15th interviews will be conducted and an appointment will be made.  I walked over to the school district office today and turned in a letter of interest. I said to the receptionist that I’m hoping they have a bushel basket full of same. I only live to serve, but maybe I’m not so eager to do so.

Part of what the board wants to know is if the person whom they eventually appoint will be interested in running for a full 6-years term during the general election in 2020. I don’t know if they want someone interested in running, or someone NOT interested in running. I am NOT interested in elective office.

In 2001, thinking to “raise my profile in the community”, I volunteered to serve on the board of Kaohsiung American School. In 2002 I was appointed board chair. It was the unhappiest year of my life. So WHY would I volunteer for THIS thing? I’ve no interest this time in a heightened profile. In the end, I hope that the letter of interest I submitted is only one of a million they’ve received or that they find something else about me that is disqualifying.  Maybe I should’ve mentioned my pro-union sentiments.