It’s All Beginning To Feel Like Pretending

On Monday, I could tell that more of my students are really starting to feel the strain. As time’s gone by, a higher percentage of them aren’t turning their cameras on during our Zoom sessions; most are muting themselves, too. I can understand that to a good extent, but not being able to see their faces/reactions sure makes it tougher to judge how well–or not–I’m communicating.

I think my hair may be longer than it’s been since 1985.

Classes run through next Wednesday, but in all but one of my courses, I can live with saying I’ve covered sufficient material. (My students aren’t the only ones ready to be done.) I’ve still got another round of exams to give, plus finals. It’s going to be a test writing-filled next ten days.

One fun thing that’s come out of this experience is that several of my Illinois bridge-playing friends have gotten together the last few Tuesday evenings on BridgeBase, a top online bridge site. We also Zoom so that we can engage in a bit of trash-talking. For a couple of hours, we get to act like we’re around a kitchen table in someone’s apartment in Urbana, instead of spread out across Virginia, Kentucky, Oregon, and California. In many respects, we haven’t changed much at all.

It was a lovely day here. Martha and I have been going on lengthy walks the last several days, and today it felt like we saw an uptick in outdoor activity going on, not all of it performed six feet apart. I suspect lots of folks will only be getting more restless as time passes.

Right before going to bed Monday night, this song from Summerteeth (what an album) popped into my head. I was pretty bummed about my students’ seeming exhaustion; maybe the title seemed to describe their current state of mind.

Not The People That We Dream

This evening, this very moment, I’d planned to be in Alexandria, VA, on a quick weekend getaway to visit my good friend Greg and his family. I’d made arrangements to give exams this morning so that I could hop a nonstop flight into Dulles from Lexington. The attraction? A concert, of course–10,000 Maniacs. Almost thirty years after Greg had first tried to get me to go with him. This time last month, I thought it was going to actually happen. Even if it was Mary Ramsey and not Natalie Merchant on vocals, it would have been grand. Alas.

Here’s the song that would have kicked off the show (at least according to setlist.fm). Feels somehow appropriate to play it tonight.

Stay safe, everyone.

I Can’t Close My Eyes

The week about to end has been Spring Break at my institution, but heading into it, I was wondering what things would look like on the other side. Events surrounding the spread of COVID-19 around the world seemed to begin quickening last week and have only sped up since. It became apparent by Monday evening that it was unlikely classes would be resuming as normal upon completion of the break, and late Wednesday afternoon, the news broke: three additional days of break, to be followed by remote instruction, at least through April 3. I’ve been thinking since about how I’m going to make this transition–it’s going to be unlike anything I’ve attempted before. The college has identified some potentially useful tools for us and is providing a modicum of training in their use. It’s now time to get after it, I suppose.

Other than a few errands on Monday around where I grew up and several trips to the grocery, I’ve tried to keep myself remote throughout the week. I’m teaching a class in mathematical modeling this semester, and the book we use contains a unit on disease modeling; in particular, there’s a section on a model for the 2003 SARS outbreak. Just a few weeks ago, the class and I implemented it using one of our software tools, and we saw the impact of quarantining: it did indeed “flatten the curve,” allowing the outbreak to last longer but at a lower intensity throughout. I think perhaps I should have, but I didn’t realize then we were heading toward this pandemic.

One thing I’ve come to realize this week is that, at least where I live, social distancing doesn’t necessarily mean staying cooped up in the house all day. With the impending arrival of spring, it’s getting to be nice enough now for lengthy walks around the neighborhood, with or without the dog. Martha and I were out Wednesday afternoon with Buddy when a song I haven’t heard in maybe a quarter-century popped into my head.

It’s from the Questionnaires, a band out of Nashville that had two LPs stiff before breaking up. “Window to the World” was the title song from the debut, released in 1989. I imagine the CD got placed in my hands by Greg, on one of our raids on the cutout bins. It’s possible you’re (more) familiar with the version that Shawn Colvin recorded for her 1994 album Cover Girl.

So why did I think of it this week? It’s foolish to speculate about how connections are made in my brain, but it is true that lots of folks’ windows to the world are changing radically right now, and we’re quite likely to see heroes rise (and fall, I fear) in the months to come.

Whenever One Door Closes

The first photo of me with my mother, ca. March 1964.

Which drew my attention first: Glen Campbell or Anne Murray? “Country Boy” or “Shadows in the Moonlight?”

I’m standing in the hallway around the corner, twenty feet from her room, taking a short break—maybe I’m on the phone with my wife or my sister. There’s another doorway right in front of me. On the other side of the threshold, a radio belonging to a wheelchair-bound woman with dementia is playing country songs that were popular back when she could hold on to her memories. She must be quite hard of hearing as well, since the aides are keeping the music turned up LOUD for her about ten hours every day.

Mom’s been at Dover Manor for a few days, and she’s still thoroughly angry with me. Before long, she’ll move three doors down the hall, on the other side of the blaring radio, to a corner room in the front of the building, one of the only singles in the whole place. Its previous resident has just passed on.

I head back to her current room. Her roommate’s TV is tuned into the Hallmark Channel—it’s the second week of December, time for one feel-good Christmas movie after another—but Mom isn’t the slightest bit interested. 

Continue reading “Whenever One Door Closes”

I Only Like Dreaming All The Day Long

On Wednesday evening, while Martha and I were walking the dog, my high school friend Bill texted me a pleasant surprise:

That would be 19-year-old yours truly, hanging out in 220 Clay Hall, sometime in his freshman spring semester, 1983 (that’s probably about as big as I ever let my hair grow out, by the way). Bill and Tony, another HS classmate, drove down to visit me a couple of times that year, and clearly Bill brought a camera with him once. The photo, charming as it is, was re-discovered this week by Bill’s mom. I’d long forgotten how full the walls around my bed were that year. The two laminated posters to my left had been HS graduation gifts from yet another classmate (if you squint, perhaps you can tell the lower one is a Ziggy poster; she was a big fan). Was I busy with calculus HW, or my research paper on Sikhism? I don’t know, but note the clear evidence that I used a dictionary at least once while in college!

Then yesterday on the way to work, I heard a song on SiriusXM’s 1st Wave that also took me back to that room, right around this time of year. Men at Work’s “Be Good Johnny” was never released as a third single from Business As Usual here in the U.S, but TM Stereo Rock, the vendor supplying WLAP-FM’s automated playlist, added it for a few weeks anyway. I assume that the label decided against putting it out after recognizing that Cargo was almost ready to go? Granted, “Overkill” is easily Men at Work’s best single, but in the alternative world that resides in my head, “Be Good Johnny” peaked at #24 on the Hot 100 just as “Overkill” made its debut in mid-April…

Half a Lifetime Ago

There are fourteen variations on a Gregorian calendar–January 1 occurs on each day of the week in two forms (one without a Leap Day, one with). It almost always takes twenty-eight years to run through a “calendar cycle;” that is, with exceptions around most turns-of-centuries, any given date will land on each day of the week four times in any twenty-eight year span, with some version of a 5-6-11-6 pattern of years between occurrences, repeating from cycle to cycle.

Today I’m starting my third trip though a calendar cycle. I was born the Thursday after the Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show; it’s pleasing enough to be able to say that “I Want To Hold Your Hand” was #1 when I made my debut. The Top 40 from two days later has lots of names and bands recognizable even now to people roughly my age, if not quite as many memorable songs.

Twenty-eight years later, I was in my last semester in grad school, trying to find a job. The #1 song then was a cultural touchstone of sorts, I suppose: “I’m Too Sexy,” by Right Said Fred. The chart has some other notable tracks–“Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Mysterious Ways,” “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss”– but there’s also plenty there I wasn’t giving the slightest attention (I might be looking at you, Color Me Badd). That Thursday night, Greg and I went to a concert in the 1300+-seat Foellinger Auditorium, sitting on the south edge of the main quad at the University of Illinois. I was much more familiar with the opening act, but it was a great show from start to finish. Here are two songs we heard that night, one from each of the two acts on the bill.

According to the set list from the show, “My Wife and My Dead Wife” came at the end of the first encore. What I recall is the wholly affecting performance Hitchcock gave singing it, absolutely the most striking moment of the evening. That video I’ve embedded is pretty fun; the young woman who made it plays all three of the song’s characters.

I wish I could say I was going to a concert tonight, but the primary local opportunity is Kiss playing Rupp Arena–I could stand maybe ten minutes of that. (We’re going to see the Chieftains on Saturday, instead.) And alas, I’ve become too old to care much about what’s on the Hot 100 these days.

Expect posting to be lighter than normal for the next two-plus weeks. There’s something I’ve been wanting to try to get down in writing for a while now, so most blogging-time in the near term will be going toward that project instead. I can’t tell right now if you’ll see all, some, or none of the resulting work here eventually.

Some Things In Life You Cannot Measure By Degrees

Final odds and ends from the re-examination of a year long ago…

Here’s what I thought I’d be doing with Destination 89 back in January:

I’ll be looking thirty years into the past, occasionally for stuff that happened in the world and to me then…but more often for music—I’m anticipating having a roughly weekly feature that highlights a cool tune from 89.

This is the 35th post with the Destination 89 tag. I’m not sure that quite constitutes ‘roughly weekly,’ but things evolved a little over time, as I occasionally went the listicle route by periodically examining Hot 100 and Modern Rock Tracks charts, as well as plugging a few Forgotten Albums. That’s okay; I got to re-visit a larger number of songs than I expected (though plenty were not ‘cool’).

I suppose I hit all the personal events I planned on writing up, though. Grad school life, both academic and social, was obviously the focal point. The year taken as a whole was almost exactly the middle of my time in Illinois, and it was transitional in many respects (though it was the only year in grad school I didn’t move). I started off not knowing for certain I would be able to advance on to PhD work and ended reading papers with the professor who agreed to be my advisor. Getting back into bridge wound up being a much bigger part of my life than I ever would have thought.

Progress in math was measurable but slow, too slow at times.  It would be several months into the new decade before I actually began tackling what turned out to be my dissertation work. Likewise, growth in bridge skills was often painfully incremental (and playing so much just might have impacted the pace of my graduate studies).

On the other hand, the unpredictable can happen, and quickly.  It might be a decently major health scare for a parent, or a whole new circle of close friends could form after getting invited to join a a group of grad students in physics and electrical engineering for a post-bridge trip to Steak ‘n Shake (though that didn’t happen until late January of 90).

My favorite song as the year ended—and for some months after—was without a doubt “No Myth,” from Michael Penn. I wasn’t alone, apparently—it made #13 on the Hot 100, #5 on Album Rock Tracks, and #4 on Modern Rock Tracks. Maybe it was its use of the Chamberlin that caught and held our attention? I picked up March sometime in very late 89/very early 90; it was probably the album I listened to most over the first half of the year. There’ll be a couple other songs from it in upcoming Modern Rock Tracks posts.

1989 was an hour shorter for me than other years, as it had begun in IL on Central Time but was ending back home in the Eastern Time portion of KY. I spent much of the last couple of days of the decade reading James Gleick’s Chaos. I imagine I rung in 90 with my parents, maybe my sister too, if she was home.  HS and/or college friends were perhaps too far scattered and busy with life by this time to conjure up a gathering.

On the whole, I’ve enjoyed mapping out and writing up the posts of Destination 89, but I won’t be doing anything thematically similar for 90 (or any other year) as we head into 2020.  To be honest, my muse has struggled a bit these last few months; I’ve cut back on the PastBlast posts recently and may well continue to do so. We’ll just have to see where she leads going forward. I definitely have a few projects in mind, but I’m going to try not to force anything.

Thanks to everyone reading this, and to anyone who stopped by, liked a post, and/or commented in 2019. I’m truly flattered that you find what I have to say interesting enough to visit. Happy New Year to us all.