Saturday, January 28, 2023

Northshore notes: Sunsets

Clasped Hands of Rob't and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, by Harriet Hosmer (Metropolitan Museum)

     "Connection." Caren sure nailed it today. As if reading my mind. Friday afternoon. I went straight from researching a story next to Midway Airport to a Wicker Park coffee shop, to meet an old friend I hadn't seen in years. In town, briefly. We both smiled at each other, and toed the corpse of our old friendship. But the thing never stirred. We didn't really have anything much to talk about, and then I stood up and went on my way. Maybe the problem, as Caren suggests below, is that we were never equals. That could be it. Anyway, this helped.

By Caren Jeskey    

     “so he said: you ain’t got no talent
      if you didn’t have a face
     you wouldn’t be nobody

     and she said: god created heaven and earth
    and all that’s Black within them

     so he said: you ain’t really no hot shit
     they tell me plenty sisters
     take care better business than you

     and she said: on the third day he made chitterlings
     and all good things to eat
     and said: that’s good

     so he said: if the white folks hadn’t been under
     yo skirt and been giving you the big play
     you’d a had to come on uptown like everybody else

     and she replied: then he took a big Black greasy rib
     from adam and said we will call this woeman and her
     name will be sapphire and she will divide into four parts

     that simone may sing a song

     and he said: you pretty full of yourself ain’t chu

     so she replied: show me someone not full of herself
     and i’ll show you a hungry person
                     "Poem For A Lady Whose Voice I Like," by Nikki Giovanni

     “There is only connection when there is equality,” observed my British pal Pat. Yesterday morning we engaged in an enjoyable video chat with a couple of other friends. Only one other person made it past the third hour.
     I finally cut myself off to write this so I can send it to Neil before too late. This way, he won’t have to pad to the computer in his socks at 3:45 a.m. — I think that’s the regular waking time for a newsman — to weed through my weekly (sometimes stream of consciousness) musings.
     The Zoom hang satisfied the ennui I didn’t know I was experiencing. I thought I was just tired. The perk-up led me to do a bit of research about the dangers of isolation, which “causes a cease in brain activity, as the stimulation of thought and action leads to the firing of more neurons in the brain. Without that, we are left with nothing but a state of stress.”
     Living in solitude means one must actually leave the house to have human contact, unless you want to make your neighbors uncomfortable and overly chat to them over the fence. (Now that I’ve finally landed on my feet back home in Chicago, I’ve started dating again. I decided I want the company of a man to do the dishes with after coffee, croissants and crosswords on Sundays, before we head out to kayak and fossil hunt).
     Virtual connection, a la Pat and company, is the next best thing to flesh and blood. He sat cozily in a low-backed armchair, long legs crossed in that elegant European way. A knit cap warded the cold off of his balding dome. There was give and take in the conversation, but Pat really has a voice worth listening to, both for its content as well as lyrical timbre.
     He addressed a recent piece I offered here on EGD recently. On Camus, Pat said “he observed an absurdity in the human condition, but also wrote from a depressed state of mind as German tanks rolled into France.” Camus also posited that the myth of Sisyphus reveals that acceptance of the mundane nature of living "allows the sorrow and melancholy of life to become bearable," and perhaps even enjoyable. Finding intrinsic value in work itself. You probably know that this king of Greek mythology's fate, a punishment for cheating death, was to push a boulder up a mountain repeatedly, only for it to roll back down and need to be pushed up again and again, each time.
     Then we laughed at Samuel Beckett’s more playful idea that one can decide the purpose of their life, and it can be absolutely anything. Waiting for Godot, perhaps.
     The sun eventually set over Pat’s left shoulder through sheer lace curtains. “Is that the sun setting? Or a streetlight?” I asked. “It is the sun.” He sat up straighter and chuckled gleefully. “A reflection on the window across the street,” a phenomena of physics adding a bit of joy to his dusk.
     Another Zoom friend mostly listened but then piped up to offer up a song suggestion, Sunshine on Laith. I found the Scottish Proclaimer's song on Apple Music and offered it to them via nifty little vibrating oscillator circuits embedded my bluetooth speaker. We all swayed along, eyes closed, and took it in. A Standing Bear protest poster hanging on another friend’s wall prompted Pat to request Buffy Sainte-Marie. We all sat back and contemplated her deep voice singing "Now That The Buffalo Is Gone."
     I envisioned Pat in his UK town down the road from Roman ruins, and again realized how young we are in the U.S. An adolescent mess these days, it seems. Pat conjured up the image of a wagon wheel to remind us that all roads lead to Rome. This picture created an instant sense of connection with the rest of the world. Someone then chimed in that the Earth is not, in fact, round, but an oblate spheroid.
     It’s comforting to know how little I know. Sometimes I can be just one of the gang, keeping each other company. Equals sharing ideas.


  1. Zoom certainly offers much in the way of virtual contact. We Zoom with our son once a week which is way better than than simply phoning.
    This is probably the only good thing that came out of COVID.
    It could only go so far as nothing beats personal contact. After not visiting our son for over a year we came up with a plan. We’d drive up, rent an Airbnb, and meet at a park in Logan Square. Our hugs could only last five seconds while we held our breath (We cheated a little).
    It was October. It was 42 degrees (Pretty cold for a Floridian). We didn’t care. We stayed two days. Worth every second.

    1. I think I've mentioned this before, either to Mr. S. or to Caren, but I hate virtual. I don't...and won' virtual. Not for nobody, not no-how.

      I'm an old-school facetime (small F) kind of guy, and I've always felt that if I can't see somebody or do something face-to-face, it probably isn't worth doing. And I don't. If virtual is the future, then give me the past.

      Even phones, at least for me, are far superior to texting. (I've never tweeted, probably because I'm so long-winded). I still like to send e-mails...for the same excessive verbosity (Can you tell?).

      Oh, I bought all the Zoom software during the plague, but I've never hooked it up, not even when the tele-shrink I was "seeing" (in traumatic 2020, natch) advised Zooming. It would be vastly preferable to phoning it in, a method of therapy that didn't work at all for me. I didn't think a Zoom shrink would be that much better. So I just quit, cold turkey.

      My kid sister (my only remaining close relative) once suggested that we could communicate via Skype (do people still use that?), the method she uses to "visit" with her daughter in California. I declined the offer, in favor of continuing our occasional old-style two-hour phone calls. Works for me. I don't need to see her face, after 70-plus years. Virtual-shmirtual.

  2. Would appreciate flushing out this concept of equals. Intellectually? Economically? Politically? It seems to me that social inequality, the distribution of resources and all that ensues, is the root cause of our societal woes. Must personal connections be burdened by that? I drove Uber for three years and thoroughly enjoyed interactions without regard to a consideration of "equals" status.

    1. I don't really buy the "equals" thesis. I drove a cab for 10 years and customers told me things they wouldn't have shared with a spouse, parent or friend; and I often reciprocated, coughing up intimacies and oddities I hadn't even dreamed of confiding with my closest confidant. Maybe we were equals for the moment, but I don't think equality, social, economic, intellectual or whatnot, was pertinent.


    2. Hi Baruch. I drove for Lyft for years! Equals meaning listening and connecting as equal humans.

    3. Amen to that, anonymous human being.

    4. Of course, it might be that my indulgent customers weren't really sharing ideas, but rather testing them out on a captive audience.


    5. Baruch, it was I! Former Lyfter and loved it...

    6. Tate, I think it's person to person sometimes. I am treated well by some of those I'd least expect to do so, and poorly by those who call me a friend.

    7. Caren, I hear your voice now as I reread your perfect definition of equals. I always enjoy your perspective and insight.

  3. So, Camus muses about Sisyphus' mental state as he watches the rock roll inevitably down the hill.

    But the great French philosophè doesn't bother to ask the question "What if Sisyphus' just said 'Fuck this!', and stayed up at the top of the mountain?

    Alone, lonely and deceased...but free from his never-ending burden.

    Sounds like his story is a sort of Rorschach test on how well one tolerates mundanity.

    As always, thought provoking, Caren.

  4. Congrats on taking the plunge. Are you back in Chicago proper?


    1. I think she's still in Wilmette, and that she meant "back home in the Chicago area." A lot of people say they're from Chicago (or Cleveland or Detroit or New York, or wherever) even when they live in a suburb, and not in the city proper. Makes it easier to explain where you're from and avoids a lot of uncomfortable connotations and stereotypes. Many a Skokian, for example, would automatically say they were from Chicago...for a variety of reasons. And I'm not going to elaborate on any of them.

    2. Thanks Joe! I am from Chicago proper; was born and raised in Rogers Park, lived in every Chicago area you can think of. Or most. Then moved to Texas for 7 years. Moved back to Chicago in May '21 because my family is here and I missed them post-COVID break. I lived on Elston & Milwaukee, which was under the final approach fix of an O'Hare flight path. Then I moved into a place on Ravenswood & Wilson (when I was born we lived on Ravenswoord for a short time). Three of my immediate neighbors got car jacked in December of '21, I had loud neighbors and the landlords were unable to help, so I found a tiny house to rent in Wilmette. I am now near high school friends (I went to North Shore Country Day since I'd be a music student there and my folks scrimped and save to send me there) and it's quiet and safe. Def not with "my people" though... Andersonville would be more my speed if I had been able to find a quiet, safe, affordable rental with parking, which is probably impossible. I might come back one day, but the quietude is quite enjoyable. Are you a Chicagoan?

    3. Neil; I have thoroughly culled my friend group since COVID started, and perhaps I've been culled as well. I can relate to trying to reinstate a friendship better left as memories already shared. I have also noticed that all of my relationships shift and change, grow, fade out, etc., and I'm not sure what the future holds. I've noticed a quote that states "you have not yet met all of the people who will love you," and I find this is true. Folks show back up in beautiful ways, too.


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