Category Archives: Culture

A Journal of the Plague Year: #7

It’s Monday, the first official day of Spring Break after a preliminary week-long break on account of the plague that is COVID-19. Last night I dreamt that our Governor, Kate Brown, downloaded the news about the coronavirus directly into my brain, announcing finally that she was ordering a “shelter-in-place” for all Oregonians. Her download came to me in chunks, the parsing and ordering of which I tossed and turned over all night long. I don’t know how I felt during all of this–annoyed mostly. Why me, Governor Brown? I’m already sheltering-in-place, pretty much. I haven’t driven a car for a week. So maybe, psychologically, I thought that perhaps Kate might consider me a kind of model citizen, you know, as she keeps tabs on all of us, Santa Claus-like. It must have just been on my mind–the latest news is that she’s seriously considering and that maybe the announcement will come today. Perhaps, by the time I finish this entry, or this paragraph, it will be the law of the land. Meanwhile, stupid Oregonians at the top of Spring Break are driving to the coast in droves, freaking out the locals, putting everyone who lives there in danger, acting in complete arrogance and irresponsibility. The Mayor of Warrenton has told everyone they’ve got 24 hours to get out. Good for the Mayor of Warrenton.

Turns out: we’ve just been told to shelter-in-place by the Governor.

I still don’t have any whiskey.

I didn’t write anything yesterday, I chose instead to give myself a little break while at the same time getting serious about some household chores. It was the last, it appears, of the beautiful days for a while, so it seemed like the best day to give the travel-trailer a wash. I used a socket wrench to tighten a thing. We walked and played with the dogs. I rode my bike for a bit. I read some fiction and drank some beer. René made chili, and we watched the documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The last thing I did last night before tucking myself in: I walked outside into the yard and listened to the quiet. I live on 3/4 of an acre, surrounded by these old, gigantic oak trees, but my street tends to be a busy one, and we’re not 700 feet from a four lane highway, so there’s usually always, even in our bucolic setting, the buzz of traffic. Last night, no buzz. It was eery. And glorious.

I’ve got a few more things on the To-Do list for the day, not the least of which is finding a great poem. I’m leaning Romantic. I’m gravitating toward Wordsworth, but Keats might be more challenging and fun. Given that we’ve got nothing but time, there’d be nothing amiss with two Romantics in a row, don’t you think? No guarantees.

A Note on the Video: Oh my god, I don’t know what I was thinking. I hope the effort was worth it. It took me maybe twelve tries to get this one right. If I didn’t have the interpretation correct, I’d mess up a word, or the phone rang, or it started to rain, or it started to rain really hard, or finally, to hail!  I am outside in my travel trailer, the clean one, and it is hardly designed for acoustics. Anyway, I think I finally got it here, with a few minor errors–one singular word becomes plural and a “these” becomes a “those.” Dear John Keats, forgive me. “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”

 

 

 

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A Journal of the Plague Year: #3

Number of cases of coronavirus in Oregon: 75. Number of Oregon deaths from the virus: 3. Number of student contact days lost thus far: 3. Number of student contact days expected to be lost, as of this moment: 27. Number of educational hours potentially lost: approximately 175. Number of plans in place (or announced) for remote schooling: 0.  Number of prom nights canceled: 1. Number of IB exams students will be ill-prepared to take or might miss altogether: 11. Number of graduation ceremonies postponed or cancelled: unknown.

Unknown.

It is strange to know so little. It is strange to be in the middle of or in the beginning stages of a pandemic but not know a single soul who is sick from it. It is strange to think about any number of people you know who might have it or might get it. It is strange to be living in a constant nagging fear regarding your own health, your wife’s, your child’s. It is strange to have this great gift of time opening up before us. It is strange to think that the very best way to help might be in doing absolutely nothing–or at least–in going absolutely nowhere. I haven’t driven a car in four days. On our walk with the dogs this morning there were lots of people out walking or biking the recreational trail in our neighborhood, everyone keeping their distance from strangers, of course, but greeting people nevertheless as they passed, everyone polite, cheerful, kind, as if it were any Saturday spring morning happening on a Wednesday. I saw a student of mine and we said hello gleefully but did not stop to talk. I’ve spent a lot of time with my dogs. I read them poetry in the back yard.  I am thinking about embarking on a few ambitious creative projects. I am reading fiction.

Meanwhile, politics.

Never mind. I’m meditating every morning with Sam Harris on the Waking Up app. He gave me a free year’s subscription just for asking. That was kind of him, I think. The poem I chose to read today, first to the dogs in the back yard, then on my front porch into the stupid smart phone video recorder, is a favorite William Stafford poem, a poem that for years now we have been reading to our juniors on the very first day of class, and that I have read to seniors on the very last day of class. It’s all about the moment, friends, and serves us well as a meditation for this time, an appropriate mantra in our uncertainty. Take the best of care, everyone. “You Reading This, Be Ready.”

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A Journal of the Plague Year: #2

Good news and bad news.

Here’s the good news, in no particular order: the dogs got a walk two days in a row. I rode my bike two days in a row. I fixed the kitchen sink all by myself. It’s another beautiful day, weather-wise. Feels almost like BBQ season. The government is thinking about sending everyone money. The Boomtown Rats released a new album on Friday. Every single one of these sentences seem about the same length. While two members of my household are mostly recovered from late winter colds, no one in the family has a fever. We are all more or less healthy, and yet (this may count as bad news), when I told my chiropractor’s office that I was recovering from a cold, they postponed my visit for a week–no massage for me today.

And here’s the bad news, in order of severity, from this vantage point: The death toll from COVID-19 in our neighboring state, Washington, is up to 50, half of the total nation-wide. The number of confirmed cases in Oregon rises to 66, almost double from the stats I saw yesterday. One fatality. The governor extends the statewide school closure to April 28. That’s my job. That’s what I do. Restaurants are closed except for take-out. Bars are closed. Musicians can’t gig. The Flaming Lips did not perform in Portland with the Oregon Symphony. Having nothing but time on one’s hands, sometimes it is difficult to choose a thing to do. I spent maybe a half an hour today trying to decide between riding a bike and reading a book. I find it super difficult to stop touching my face. I’ve noticed of late that I often make inexplicable typographical errors. I have not yet heard the new Boomtown Rats album. It’s St. Patty’s day and there are only two beers in the fridge. I am out of whiskey.

So I decided to ride first, read later. Bike then book. I picked up Emily Dickinson: “There is no Frigate like a Book.” And that inspired the following video and the initial dive into Joan Frank’s Where You’re All Going. I’m hoping this lovely book by this beautiful friend will provide some answers.

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A Journal of the Plague Year: #1

We learned Thursday night, March 12, 2020, that spring break would be extended significantly. School is cancelled, the buildings are shuttered, by order of our state governor, for an extra week and some change. School business will not resume until April 1. Friday was our last day in session before this mandatory break. We were told to take everything home that we thought we’d need. We were told there was no expectation that we would even attempt to work with our students remotely. Think of these days like you would snow days, they told us, only considerably less fun. And it appeared no one was having fun on Friday. There was nothing like that excited expectation before a holiday break, from students or staff. Many students stayed home. I had 8 kids in my second period class. And, despite students’ relatively good spirits and a tendency toward a healthy dose of gallows humor, I felt most of the day on the verge of tears.

Four million people live in the state of Oregon. There have been 36 reported and confirmed cases of the Coronavirus to date and one death in our state. I understand that this is not a comfort, that the numbers will rise. But the weekend felt almost normal. My son and I made a foray out into the world for some retail therapy. He had gift cards burning a hole in his pocket and it had been awhile since the two of us had had any kind of father-son outing. So we went to The Mystery Gallery, we had lunch at Cha Cha Cha, we walked across the street to Things from Another World, and we drove downtown to Powell’s City of Books. It was getting late in the afternoon, and I remember asking him if maybe it wouldn’t be better to save the drive to Powell’s for another day in our extended break. He insisted we do it that day, so we did, and it wasn’t more than a few hours later, that evening, I think, or maybe Sunday morning when Powell’s announced that they would be closing all of their stores.

The word surreal doesn’t even cut it. It snowed Saturday morning, but today, Monday, the first official day of our district’s closure, it feels like spring has arrived. I went for a bike ride without a coat on. Outside, all seems right as rain, but today, the recommendation from the White House is that we shouldn’t gather in groups of more than ten individuals. Our governor is considering closing down restaurants and clubs, maybe since the last time I checked she’s gone ahead to announce that decision. It’s hard to keep up and it’s hard not to worry. I worry that I shouldn’t have gone out with my son on Saturday. I second guess the decision to allow a friend of his to visit. I’m not sure my wife should have left just now to go to the store. If her clientele for private music instruction drops off we could be in a financial pickle. And how long will this go on? Absolutely everything is up in the air. I comfort myself with a reminder that, no, not everything is up in the air. We have shelter and food, books to read, lots of music to listen to, instruments to play, and games. We love each other. And we have our health. Last night in the democratic debate Joe Biden announced he was healthy, and then he said, “Knock on wood” while giving himself a couple of knuckle raps to the forehead. I thought that was super funny. We have our sense of humor. And we have poetry. Welcome to A Journal of the Plague Year. I’m stealing that title from Daniel Defoe of Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders fame because I can and because it feels fitting. I don’t know if I will keep this up or not. Only time will tell. Things might get a bit tedious around here as the Chaos of the world intensifies. There’s a paradox for you. And here’s another one, apt for the situation, I think.

I will close with one of my favorites from Rumi: “The Guest House.”

 

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Life Envy: The FOMO

 

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I want to be living that life. By myself, late at night, sitting in the dark of the back yard with my phone, the dog, and a drink, I actually heard myself say this out loud: I want to be living that life. It’s crazy, I know, but looking sometimes at pictures of people on Facebook doing things you would like to do, having experiences you would like to have, you get this feeling, an inescapable feeling that you are missing out. We call it FOMO. I must admit that I have experienced the FOMO. I try as best as I can to massage my FOMO into something like happiness for the person in the post: I am so glad they get to have this experience. Then, I take it a little bit further by thinking that I am so glad they decided to share this moment with their friends, of which I consider myself one. Then, the conclusion of the exercise is to think or actually say out loud how grateful I am for the experiences I have had, the luck, and the privilege. I know, in these moments, I have had experiences that some of my friends have never had, and I know that I am super fortunate because of that. In 95% of my waking existence on the planet I would not trade my life for anyone else’s. But on this last occasion, when I caught myself expressing the FOMO out loud to no one in particular, to the trees, to the dog in the yard, to the martini I was sipping, to myself, I panicked for a moment. What is it about this that I desire? The person in question may be beautiful. It may be that they seem extremely happy or content. In all likelihood, they are in a place I have always wanted to go, seeing something I have always wanted to see, learning something I have always wanted to learn, successful at something at which I too would like to succeed, or doing something I know I would enjoy but find I have not yet had the opportunity to enjoy. It is ridiculous and ridiculously human, a tendency we have always had, to be envious of others, but now exacerbated by social media because we are not only hearing ABOUT the experiences of others, we are seeing them in photo, or seeing and hearing them in video, ALL THE TIME. And that pushes the buttons of desire and envy. But . . .

It’s like meditation. You don’t beat yourself up when your mind wanders. Instead, you simply notice its wandering, you pay attention, and then you come back to the breath or the mantra and you continue. Maybe that’s why I said it out loud: I want to be living that life. I was paying attention. It was kind of an alarm set off by my internal brakes to the wheels of envy and desire. This is better than what I suspect a lot of people do: they see their friends and acquaintances living a great life and they begin to feel anxious and sad without being aware of the connection. And we have to remind ourselves, don’t we, that our facebook personalities are self-curated. Some people select only the happiest moments and ignore the trauma and sadness, others, in an effort to be authentic, balance the joy and the suffering, while still others use social media to essentially suffer in public. While the middle way seems most admirable, none of these strategies are inclusive of a life. They’re still just snapshots. Judging me from my facebook posts, it might seem like the only thing I ever do is play the drums and listen to music and that I am an extremely cheerful guy. Only partly true. There are things that make me fearful or anxious; there are issues that need attending in my own inner and outer work; I sometimes question, as William Stafford does, if “what I have done is my life.” It is pointless to haunt one’s self with What If questions. If one is haunted by a What If question, perhaps some action is necessary. But if one is suspicious, self-reflective enough to recognize the FOMO for what it is, sure, go ahead and say out loud, I want to be living that life. In the next moment, though, allow the gratitude to bubble up for this one–and then put your phone away, write a poem or read a book, or have a drink outside with your dog.

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On Social Networks, Redux: Is Real Dialogue Possible?

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This is a follow-up from an entry I made in 2012, before Trump’s presidency, before fake news, before Russian interference in our democracy, before doctored videos that made Nancy Pelosi seem like a drunk, from a time when, nevertheless, half way into Obama’s two-term presidency, a vicious kind of divide was taking place, exacerbated by and made manifest in all social media platforms. In that moment, I was writing about a facebook fight that ensued between myself (a public classroom teacher) and a “friend” of mine who posted that school shootings were somehow the direct result of Americans falling away from religion.

I thought I had learned my lesson. I have, since 2012, been in the habit, when facebook friends of mine post something that makes me angry, rather than engaging in the faceless debate, of simply ignoring or de-friending them. It’s easy enough. But yesterday, when a facebook friend (who is not a close friend but a former peer from high school) posted a meme with the image of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez accompanied by text seemingly attributed to her, text that she clearly has never uttered, text that, nonetheless, made her sound like an idiot, I felt compelled to respond. I responded. I said something to the effect that the meme was bullshit because AOC had never said the words the meme attributed to her: “Yes, we can land on the sun; we just have to go at night.” So, to unpack this a bit: the message, of course, inherent in the meme is not necessarily that AOC said this–but that if she were given the chance, she would have–because, you know, she is, after all, just a stupid waitress. This is unfair and inappropriate on so many levels, but that, I believe, is the gist of it. And there are lots of mouth breathers out there who would just mindlessly accept that the sentiment here is true. Additionally, and even more troublesome, there may be a number of slow-thinkers reading this meme who believe that AOC actually said these words, and thus, believe it provides proof of her lack of intelligence. This is the fake news–this is the propaganda so perniciously and easily spread throughout the web by an ideology that has no respect or regard for truth.

So I called out my high school friendly-acquaintance. He wrote back: it’s just a joke. I wrote back, how is this funny? He wrote back: get a sense of humor. I wrote back and thanked him for the sage advice. He wrote back: go ahead and unfriend me, then. Okay, but then, a couple of his buddies chime in. One says, to confirm the veracity of the meme, “AOC is a dumbass.” And then, some other guy, after calling me “bitchy,” says this: “Mike, I’m close. Come find me.” And I’m like, what the fuck does that mean?–but I didn’t post that. In fact, at that point, rather than unfriending or blocking the friend or any of his brilliant pals, I just decided to turn off notifications to the thread. I don’t know what that guy meant, but it seemed to me potentially threatening. It’s the grade school playground all over again. Someone disagrees with you? Threaten to beat them up. And here’s the thing that I would like these guys to understand, even though I have refused to further engage with any of them: I don’t care what your politics are. I DO care that your idea of political engagement is to post insulting and blatantly untrue memes about your opponents. I DO care that you take the time to articulate your criticisms of policy and politicians with substance, thoughtfulness, and above all, honesty. I went back to this thread today to see if anything else had happened there, and this is as substantive as it got: “Three words: green new deal. How stupid can you be?” Wow. I’m convinced, aren’t you? This guy has deemed stupid the green new deal–and me into the bargain. I am sufficiently put into my place. I can’t even begin to unpack the ridiculousness of this comment.

So the question, again, is this: is dialogue possible in this format? I am almost completely convinced that it is not. There’s a part of me that feels responsible for calling out bullshit when I see it, because that’s the ethical thing to do, and yet there is another part of me that does not have that kind of energy to invest, that believes that ultimately, any effort I make to ask people to explain their insane ideas will fall on deaf, dumb, and hostile ears.

It’s all kitty and puppy pictures from here on out.

 

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Notes Toward a Musical Autobiography: Volume XIV–31 Years of Here Comes Everybody

Oh my. It’s been almost an entire year since the last time I added an installment to this series. Maybe I will make a New Year’s Resolution not to wait another year before the next one!

I did not intend to write about my own music in this series, only tangentially as it related to something I was listening to, or, if something I was listening to was an influence on my own songwriting. Why the hesitation? Oh, I don’t know; I didn’t want to seem self-indulgent. I know, that makes terrible sense; I am blogging, after all, primarily using my own bad self as subject matter! What could be more self-indulgent?  And if this is an autobiographical sketch through the lens of the music I have listened to over the years, what could be more autobiographical? And here we are, the founding members of the rocking teen combo Here Comes Everybody, myself (Michael Jarmer) and my wife and musical partner in crime, René Ormae-Jarmer, in the midst of our 31st year of marriage and 31st year of playing music together in this band. It seems fitting now, both because of the momentousness of the occasion, but also because here I am, after 13 blog entries and thousands of words covering the musical compact disc collection alphabetically from A to Z, in the middle of the letter H. All right. Let’s do this.

Because of it’s longevity, Here Comes Everybody has become an integral part of my identity. The thought of doing a solo album is distasteful to me. The thought of being the principle singer and lyricist for somebody else’s band, while not out of the question, is likewise to me unfavorable.  I like to play the drums. I like drumming so much that in the last couple of years I have taken to the throne to drum for other peoples’ projects. But no one else has ever asked me to write lyrics for them, and I’ve only had very brief flirtations over this last 31 years singing in somebody else’s thing. Whether it’s because I’m being selfish and holding on to my talents for this one singular project, or because my talents are not conducive to any other thing, remains to be determined. Whatever it is, I feel HcE is a piece of me just as much as is my inclination to write, or my love of reading, or my dedication to teaching, or any other proclivity or tendency that one would lump under the category of Things That Make Michael Jarmer Michael Jarmer.

So what’s the approach here? Should I follow the rules and write about only one or at least one record–or should I, like I only have, I think, for Elbow thus far, write about every single record? And since this is about my neglected CD collection, should I limit myself to material released on that format, or should I also give air time to the “records” we made that were released only on cassette?!

I think, if it’s true that Here Comes Everybody has indeed become part of who I am, it seems that I owe them at least the same kind of attention I gave to Elbow, a band I only discovered in 2002, a full 16 years after the first recording my wife and I made together. So let’s do the whole damn CD catalogue. And I might mention, but not go deeply into, those cassette-only releases–just because they form an important part of the picture, even though it seems that there’s a pretty good reason those pieces never escaped their magnetic tape origins.

Everything Is Here: 1986-1992. For the 30th anniversary of the band, we went back to the very beginning, remastering and releasing on CD for the very first time our complete early recordings, 4 short albums over two compact discs.  Our debut e.p., “Holy Smokes,” is kind of what you might expect from 22 year old kids in an 8 track (!) professional studio for the very first time, recording their very first batch of original tunes: pure unbridled enthusiasm, blinding self-confidence, awkward amateur performances, and some really strange, albeit 80s appropriate choices–like a band with two drummers relying on a drum machine for all the set work! My voice is quite a few notches higher here than it is now, in fact, sometimes embarrassingly so. I sound like someone’s pinching me really hard. I think I remember the phrase “manic yelp” as being the way our earliest critics described my voice. Yep. Totally accurate. I was indeed manic, and I was indeed yelping. We started as a trio (vocals, keys, and bass)–a configuration we would return to in the late 90s–but clearly we understood that we could not carry the tunes completely without guitar, so we found a hired gun in a guy named Kieth Charley who came in and performed these screaming lead guitar solos on a few of these tunes. They are awesome, sometimes the best part of the tune, even though they are somewhat anachronistic.

By the time our second e.p. came around, we had had the realization that real drums were the way to go and that the guitar should be an integral part of the band, so “Brand New Species” found us in a 24 track studio and with a year of lots of gigging and more writing under our belt, sounding like a real band. Oddly, still a band with two drummers already, we found a different drummer (high school buddy Sean Moultrie)  to play the kit–mostly because Rene had her keyboard duties to perform and I wanted to jump around on stage like a maniac. It wouldn’t be until 1997 when finally I would decide to sit down and play some drums in my own band.

Autobiographical note concerning the roster: René and I were high school sweethearts. Our first bass player, Terry Gassaway, was a high school chum. Our first guitar player, Greg Kirkelie, was not only a high school chum, but a guitar player with whom we played in our very first band ever. Our first drummer, Sean, was a high school chum. Our second bass player, Allen Hunter, was a chum from our teen years with whom we played in our very first band ever. Stephen Westerhout and David Gilde are the only musicians on these early recordings that I did not know as a teen, but I met Steve in college and Dave a little later–we must have only been 27 or 28 when we met. It strikes me as important and kind of profound that I would be willing and happy to play music with any of these individuals again and still to this day continue to think of each of them as friends. Insert something wise here about musical soul mates and the long lasting friendship power of our earliest creative acquaintances. 

The Everything Is Here compendium closes out with our first kind-of-full-length album clocking in with 8 songs, “Wake,” and then another e.p. called “Life, Friends, is Boring,” after John Berryman’s “Dream Song 14.” While “Wake” was most powerfully influenced by the likes of Tears for Fears’ “Sowing the Seeds of Love,”  “Life, Friends” was our earliest foray into the heaviness that would become grunge. By 1992 we had all had our fill of Nirvana and Pearl Jam and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Cross all of that with our early new wave and prog rock influences and you’d have a pretty good idea about what we sounded like.

Out of these first four records came at least three tunes that would become emblematic of our quirky irreverence (is that a redundancy?) and, for better or worse, would become our most popular tunes early on: “I Am Not A Social Cracker,” “I’m Gonna Send You A Mail Bomb,” and most famously, now clocking in at over 3500 views on youtube, “Blue Refrigerator.” In 1987 we made a video for that tune, shelved it, showed it to no one, and then, on a whim, after digitizing our old tapes, decided to post it to youtube. The rest, as they say, is history.

During this whole era, from 86 to 92, we gigged like crazy. We gigged ourselves silly. We played everywhere for anyone. We opened up on many occasions for local heroes The Dan Reed Network. We exhausted the local scene. We were under the mistaken impression that the more we played the more likely we would be to “make it big.” What we probably should have done, but never quite had the courage to do, was tour. Finishing college, establishing careers, finding our way in a new marriage, the life of the road was just not in the cards and nobody was throwing money at us. We didn’t get famous, but we got pretty fucking good.

What’s most interesting to me, personally, about this collection is that it shows how fast and how wide our growth was in these first six years. I find it kind of impressive, enough so that 30 years after that first song was recorded, I felt the work deserved the attention and care of a remaster and a cd release.

I didn’t realize I’d get 1500 words out of that first CD. We may have to do this episodically, one record at a time. We may have to spend a lot of time on the letter H. I wasn’t finished with the other H-artist albums in the collection a year ago–I’ve still got Jerry Harrison, Robyn Hitchcock, Billy Holiday, and the Housemartins to explore!  Pre-new years New Year’s resolution: finish the Here Comes Everybody entries before the clock strikes 12 on December 31. Please don’t hold your breath.

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