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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
‘Tis the season, right? What is it a season for? This week’s Share Your World has made me consider what happens in December–
Lines at the mall, lines for parking spaces, lines at the post office, grocery, freeway exit… it’s a wonder that there aren’t more instances of Holiday Rage. People are more tolerant than usual, except for line cutters… grrrr… bring back public stocks for line cutters! To me, lines at Christmas most often mean people want to get things for other people, which means lines are rooted in good intentions. That can’t be bad. Except for line cutters, who need to go back to kindergarten.
Christmas Cards in the Mail
Do you enjoy receiving Christmas cards through snail mail?
Love getting cards. And letters. It’s going out of style. I especially enjoy getting the photos of people’s kids who are growing up so fast. I like holiday letters, too, because even writing more than one paragraph or 500 words is going out of style. I send long rambling letters, and if you got one and you didn’t like it, sorry. Usually, people say positive things which compels me to write the following year. The long letters are what got me started writing these blog posts. If you don’t do it, there’s no black mark against you, but if you do, ten brownie points. I got a card today from a volunteer agency, which was nice, especially because it was personally signed. Yay cards!
Requests for Money in the Mail
It used to be catalogs filled the mailbox this time of year, but I think charitable solicitations are starting to outnumber them. Unfortunately, this is a case where No Good Deed Goes Unpunished. Give generously! But when you have to give your address, which you do for tax purposes, then you’ve sealed the fate of your mail carrier and your recycling bin during December. Guilt is powerful, too. Tossing them out always reminds me of the characters in “A Christmas Carol”…”At this time of the season, we think of those less fortunate….” and Scrooge says, “Are there no prisons? are there no workhouses?” or something like that…. *shudder*. Hmmm. Maybe it’s time to cough up a little more money to the local food bank…
Author’s Note: this is a repost of an essay from 2018 because I think the original post may have gremlins, and I’m laying a diabolical trap for them.
Have patience. Pace yourself. Take deep cleansing breaths. Change your perspective, often. This is either about practicing yoga or putting together a large jigsaw puzzle.
3000 pieces is a gobsmacking lot of pieces. The level of difficulty is turned up to an eleven. It’s like completing six separate 500 piece puzzles with their pieces all mixed together. There is a lot of guesswork involved.