Past Picture Perfect

Me, photo suitably dated Dec. 63. See my blog about How to Assemble a 3000 piece puzzle. Photo courtesy of kajmeister.

I have some picture-taking advice for my younger self. Have we invented that time machine yet, so I can go back and tell me? And, while I’m at it, tell my parents and my wife?

Maybe while I’m waiting for the Singularity to work on that, I can just tell you the basics that rank highest on the list. Write stuff down. Reduce to what’s important. Focus on people, not things.

This is top of mind because I just finished part two of the massive picture project–the one we all have–organizing and digitizing our photos. I think that’s on everyone’s “When I’m Retired” list which could also be “When I’m Furloughed… When I’m Stuck Inside for Days on End…” It doesn’t make the project more fun that you might have some time to work on it, though. But you should get started because those pictures are fading as I write. Plus global warming.

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Trash Dance

Photo of plastic lid to collect compost
How shall I collect compost? Let me count the ways… photo by kajmeister.

The biggest excitement in my life for the past week has been hearing the Bulky Trash people pick up my pile of Things. Last Monday, at 7:02 am, after the morning compost truck had banged its way along our suburban street, I heard the sound of backing up. I was, in fact, waiting for it; had, in fact, already gone out to examine the pile we had sneaked out there after dark on Sunday night to see if it was still humbly awaiting pick-up. (It was.)

Oh beautiful Bulky Trash truck, I was never so glad to see you! I heard the discussions outside in between sounds of metal scraping on concrete; I heard dragging; I heard crunching. Then, the Doppler effect of that engine driving away, and I dared to peek. All gone! All gone! I spent the rest of the day humming to myself and doing a little ceremony and dance, Bulky Trash! Bulky Trash! Everybody do the Bulk-y TRASH! Do you think me simple for getting so excited about trash? Definitely. To paraphrase Jango Fett, I am a simple person just trying to make my way through the universe.

Our Education Regarding Trash

We have come a long way just in my lifetime dealing with the Things we acquire and then jettison. Sesame Street many moons ago had a video with a little song, What about garbage? Where’s it go?Where’s it go-o-o-o? as they showed smiling men putting the trash in the trucks, and the trucks putting it on the barges, and off the barges sailed into the sunset….. Well… not exactly, right?

We learned when we got older and put away childish things that the trash got dumped in the ocean. Or landfills which filled up, begatting new landfills and more and more, until we realized we were going to run out of land for landfills. Voila! Earth Day and the 1970s and recycling, first a few hippies dragging trash bags full of beer cans, then a whole industry, and finally a regulatory imperative. Fast cut to 2020 where we have tri-partite trash, multi-colored cans, and 79% of our county trash avoids landfills.

But it’s not so easy, is it? Even though the Bay Area has some of the highest recycling rates in the country, even San Francisco has had to extend its Zero Waste goal another ten years, stuck at 89% because of leather, rubber, flame retardants. Or, as I found out, because nobody wants a 20-year-old metal bunk bed. We already separate out all the organics, cans, bottles, foil, paper, cardboard, egg crates, hard-molded plastic, yet there’s still cellophane. There are still Cheetos bags. (Don’t judge.)

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The Devil You Know Is Not Better

Removing Boalt name from building
UnBoalting. Photo by Roxanne Makasjian at berkeley.edu.

I read with some slight dismay that Berkeley’s Law School has decided to remove Boalt from its name. I went to Berkeley, although not to law school, but as an alumnus of the university, I feel snobbishly attached to anything related to it. These are the hallowed dusty buildings of my youth. The massive 750-person freshman Economics lectures in Wheeler auditorium; a classmate had narcolepsy so my roommate and I would share notes with her in case she missed some key point about downward-sloping demand curves. The steep climb up the hill to get to classes from Dwinelle to LeConte. The opaque glass in the English department offices that rattled when you tapped timidly on it to meet a professor for officer hours. I have fond and vivid memories of the place. Anything that changes those images seems sacrilege.

This is why we hold onto things, long past the time for better judgment.

Wheeler Auditorium Berkeley
My roommate and I would take notes for a friend whose narcolepsy made Econ 101 lectures problematic. Wheeler Auditorium, photo by Allen Zeng for the Daily Californian.

The world is a strange place. If you read the news to stay in touch with what’s going on, it’s a blizzard of cognitive dissonance. There’s an impeachment trial where the primary discussion today is whether they should bother looking at evidence or witnesses. An outbreak from a virus in China that’s rerouting air traffic. Death of a famous sports personality; Britain leaving the E.U. The news often feels like the world is sliding sideways. Someone told me the other day that they found it overwhelming, depressing.

On the other hand, much as I want to stay a citizen of the world, I remind myself (and ourselves, gentle reader) that not all these things affect me personally. I didn’t know the sports personality personally. I don’t live in Britain. I didn’t travel to China and don’t hang out with people who do. If the impeachment trial went the way I’d prefer, would the resulting people in power quickly enact legislation that would really help me? Or would things continue in their slow, inexorable, one step forward, two steps back, two steps forward, one step back way? Must I feel so overwhelmed by change?

There’s a saying:

Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

Hold on to what you have, even if it’s awful, because among all these scary things out there, something might be worse. It’s an insidious thought, especially because the things that are the worst, which frighten you most, are designed to make you keep them. You may even become nostalgic about keeping them. Instead of gathering facts that might help you make more informed choices.

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Our Lives in Jeopardy

In 1968, if you were off from school in Detroit on a weekday, you might start the day at 8:30 am with Rita Bell’s Prize Money Movie where she would dial for dollars during commercial breaks from black-and-white-movies. It just had to get you to 10:30. Time for Jeopardy.

James, Ken, and Brad battle to be the best on “Jeopardy” 2020. Photo at NYPost.

Last night, Jeopardy completed its “Greatest of All Time Tournament” in riveting fashion as nearly 20 million viewers watched a trio of America’s fastest trivia buffs duke it out for a million dollars. It’s strange to think that you’d spend much of your life watching a particular show, seeing the drama of life play out in questions and answers, risky wagers and eye-popping pull-out-of-your-fundament responses. The players have aged; the hosts have aged; I’ve aged. This is no longer television. This is mythology.

The Game Before Alex

It may seem like a tangent to go back to the first rendition of Jeopardy, which ran on NBC from 1964 to 1975, then again from 1978-79. But, in a way, Jeopardy saved the quiz show, bringing respect back to fact-based questions following the scandal of the 1950s, where contestants were fed correct answers in order to boost TV ratings. In the early 1960s, game shows had switched to focusing away from trivia, where contestants guessed dollar amounts (Price is Right), played simple games (Concentration), or performed silly physical challenges (Beat the Clock.) Jeopardy was the first where contestants had to demonstrate knowledge more than luck and where the answers were more interesting than the banter between barely known celebrities.

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On Reflection

Mirror art which says "Are You Really Here"
Mirror artwork by Jeppe Hein, photo at curator.com

One fun gift I received for Christmas was a book for making short daily bullet point lists, such as “Things to Do on my Next Day Off,” “People I Miss,” or “Advice for my Future Self.” Like a blog post prompt, it lets you do a little self-reflection and riff on the stream of consciousness that ensues. There’s space for three years’ worth of thoughts, so it will be fun to look back on what you were thinking–not to mention that you don’t have stick to three years. Yet, after a few days entering highlights and fun memories from 2019, I was taken aback by the suggested entry for December 30:

Some Things to Say in the Mirror Today:
a.
b.
c.

Ugh! To be honest, this is a detestable thought–looking in a mirror! That seems like a recipe for self-criticism of disastrous portions. I immediately resisted the thought with every fiber of my being. I have never liked looking in mirrors, considering it a necessary requirement of life, rather than an enjoyable pastime. Rather like laundering one’s undergarments, looking in a mirror is a needful chore, not one to get excited or thoughtful about. Does anyone like looking in mirrors?

Bronze Egyptian hand mirror
Mirror from the Egyptian Middle Kingdom, @1700 BC. Metmuseum.org.

Ancient Mirrors, Ancient Self-Absorption

Apparently, the Mespotomians did, or at least they had mirrors, made from polished obsidian and bronze dating roughly back to 4-6000 BC. Found in Turkey, Egypt, and even Central and South America from millennia ago, mirrors seem nearly as old an invention as the boat. Greek urns and Roman busts depict looking in mirrors, so that preparing one’s self to go out into the world seems nearly as ancient as writing or collecting taxes.

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