multiple generations in a co-op house

Soundtrack in my head: Celestial Tribes “Gold”

face, woman, old, multiple generations

geralt (CC0), Pixabay

Having multiple generations in a co-op house or co-op house system can be interesting.

The other day three of us from three different co-op houses were sitting my living room the other day talking informally about co-op related business.  I commented that I feel like a co-op grandpa because I was one of the few people still in the Madison Community Co-op system who had attended a landmark 2003 meeting where we decided to purchase a house on Madison’s south side. The woman across from me, an undergraduate, suggested that I was a co-op big brother, not a grandpa.

Following up on the theme of “grandpa-ness,” I related a story of how we celebrated a housemate’s 20th birthday at the end of last August. I calculated that right at about the point she was taking her first breaths as a newborn to the chorus of “It’s a girl!” I was in an Urbana, Illinois bar in my first week as a freshman away at college testing the enforcement of the underage drinking laws.

The undergraduate woman said, “Ooh, that’s a neat game! Try me! What were you doing the February after your 18th birthday?” which I presumed was when she was born. I replied that there wasn’t too much of interest to talk about, just class at the University of Illinois and living in the Bromley Hall dormitory near all the fraternities. But I added that March was more interesting because that’s when anti-apartheid activists erected a mock shantytown on the university Quad in protest of U of I’s investments in apartheid South Africa. I related how the “shantytowns” became a magnet and hang out place for all sorts of campus activists, bohemians, punks and other freaky folks.  She thought that was really cool.

Sometimes the difference in age becomes evident, though.  I remember a couple of years ago, I was limping around with a cane due to a sprained foot.  A young woman about 20 years my junior said, “I think that’s a very bling-bling cane.”  Confused, I said “Bling-bling, as in Chicago gangster ‘bling-bling you’re dead?'”  She laughed and said no, bling-bling meant “stylin’.”  I related the story to one of my housemates who was also an 80’s baby and he laughed so hard I though he was going to lose his composure.


brittingham park, part 2

austria, landscape, scenic

12019 (CC0), Pixabay

Soundtrack in my head:  Cocteau Twins, “Lazy Calm”

I walked through Brittingham Park again yesterday because Monona Bay is great for exercise walking.  It wasn’t 64 degrees like last weekend–more like 34.

Last Thursday, people were bemoaning the supposed return of winter, and the city of Madison battened down the hatches for a blizzard that ultimately dropped, oh, all of about two or three inches.

But as I walked into the park, I could clearly hear more birds singing than I had the week before.  And when I got to the edge of the bay, there was definitely more open water than last week.  No waterskiers yet–but no ice fishermen either.  The ice was definitely too thin for humans to walk upon.  But I did spot a couple of small to medium sized animals sitting on the edge of the ice washing themselves.  I couldn’t tell from a distance what they were.  They definitely like the water, and I want to say that maybe they’re some kind of otter, because I know I’ve seen something like that swimming in the lake before.  Except it looked a bit too fat to be an otter.  Anyone able to give this ignorant city kid some info on this?

The experience got me thinking that maybe the presence of snow on the ground is a superficial measure of what season we are in.   Our temperatures may go up and down, but change in the lakes here is much slower and much more enduring.  And while I’ve seen isolated flocks of birds all throughout winter, I can’t imagine I would have heard such a loud chorus of them unless they were planning on sticking around awhile.

I walked through the park again just a few minutes ago.  With Monona Bay being mostly open water now, I can see for the first time this year the reflections of streetlights and other types of lights on the lake.  The water elongates the reflection of the lights, creating beautiful and colorful patterns dancing on the water.  I looked out to John Nolen Drive across the bay, and saw more golden lights dropping down onto the water’s surface from the stiletto streetlights that line the road as it crosses the bay.  It was about 10 p.m., and there were few cars on the road there, and it was still too cold for most people to enjoy going outside.  The patches of snow that were still left on the ground still seemed to have a hushing effect on sounds in the park, and so I got to enjoy this rather unique not quite winter/not quite spring scene.

ice fishermen vs. water skiers

Soundtrack in my head: The Feelies, “Slipping (Into Something)”

ice fishing, winter, family day

wksbyks (CC0), Pixabay, ice fishermen

jet ski, water sport, water

madzArt (CC0), Pixabay

It hit 64 degrees today in Madison. It was almost warm enough for me to go without any jacket whatsoever. I was walking through Brittingham Park along Monona Bay, and noticed that half the bay was open water, with the other half, particularly near the John Nolen Drive bridge, still covered with ice.

Sure enough, the ice fishermen were still out there on the ice. Wisconsin wouldn’t be quite the same without its rugged, resourceful ice fishermen. If there is so much as a single ice cube floating in the water, you’ll see an ice fisherman out there. Not only that, but ice fishermen are clever enough that they will probably figure a way to lug their big old ice fishing houses out onto that ice cube as well.  I just hope I don’t ever read anything in the paper about a collision between an ice fisherman and a water skier.

I’m glad that Madison is a big enough town so that it can be a comfortable home to both vegans and ice fishermen.

times like these, time and time again…

Soundtrack in my head: Foo Fighters “Times Like These”

singers, musicians, foo fighters

tobbo (CC0), Pixabay

I just recently bought a Foo Fighters CD that had the track “Times Like These”. Actually, it’s what they call a DVD/EP which they released three years ago. And the song has helped me through some very difficult times.

Initially, I had mixed feelings about the Foo Fighters. As a teenager in the 80’s, I joined others in rebelling against what I considered to be tired and rather negative hard rock that had characterized much of the 70’s. Recently I saw a documentary called “Made In Sheffield” which chronicles the late 70’s and early 80’s the development of synthesizer bands like the Human League, Heaven 17 and Cabaret Voltaire, among others. It was clear that they were out to subvert the old rock order. There is one scene in the documentary where someone makes a statement by taking an electric guitar and hurling it off an elevated walkway.

Of course the guitar never disappeared, but for most of the 80’s it was different than it had been before. Whether it was new and unique guitar sounds from U2, New Order, or Prince, the jangly-folky pop of R.E.M. and it imitators, or the richly textured, otherworldly sound of the Cocteau Twins (my all-time favorite), the guitar was something more than just an instrument to crank up to eleven.

So when I first heard Nirvana, I thought “Yuck! It’s warmed-over Black Sabbath!” I felt frustrated as the record industry and the music press seemed locked in a goose-step towards grunge, a two-dimensional world in which music “sucked” if it didn’t “rawk.” I felt that Seattle grunge represented the death of Alternative Rock, with the band members of Nirvana as its pallbearers. However, I did develop a grudging (grunging?) respect for the late Kurt Cobain, born just three months before me. I have a copy of their “Unplugged in New York” CD, which I consider to be a classic. It features acoustic (and therefore non-abrasive) versions of their songs as well as some folk and blues standards by other artists, including an old Leadbelly song.

Since Dave Grohl was the drummer for Nirvana, I didn’t know what to make of his next band, the Foo Fighters. But they’ve grown on me over the years. I was pleasantly surprised by the Foo Fighters’ song “Learning to Fly.” And then while driving into Chicago one day in 2003, I heard the acoustic version of “Times Like These,” which gave me chills down my spine. That year was probably the most difficult year of my life, dealing with unemployment, aggressive creditors, and a struggle to survive on temp jobs. As I struggled to establish a new life in Madison, the following lyrics really hit home for me:

“It’s times like these you learn to live again

it’s times like these you give and give again

it’s times like these you learn to love again

it’s times like these, time and time again”

I had a really difficult time finding the acoustic version of the song, though. I do also like the rock version, but the acoustic version is, well, sublime. The only place I could find it was on a DVD, but I did not own a DVD player until recently.

The DVD features the song “Low” with what I’d consider to be a quite ugly video. It features the shaky camera angles common to “The Blair Witch Project” with Grohl and guest actor Jack Black looking like the evil characters from “Deliverance.” In the video they rent a motel room, drink heavily, and dress in women’s clothing. Not a pretty sight.

But there are also two rock versions of “Times Like These” in addition to the acoustic version. One video seems to have an anti-materialistic theme. It starts with a little girl tossing a handheld video game off a bridge, followed by two young people throwing their TV’s over the edge, and before you know it, the bridge is full of people throwing things down, climaxing in two cars creating spectacular explosions when they crash into the ground below, and yes, even a house goes overboard. The UK version showcases them performing over a background of the digital psychedelic images, bright and symmetrical, looking like something out of the 60’s, except amped up and speeded up to a higher level.

The acoustic version features Dave Grohl in a candle-lit studio by himself, and yes, I still get goose bumps listening to it. The rock version is fast and high-energy which helps make the message powerful, but with it slowed down and softer, every lyric is heard more clearly and the song becomes more meaningful.

Some of the 90’s bands that I thought to be nihilistic and negative have mellowed out or changed. Many have gotten involved in activist efforts—the Foo Figthers themselves played “Times Like These” just three blocks from my house at a massive John Kerry rally right before the 2004 presidential election.

So I guess that in some ways, music has gone full circle, as it often seems to do—time and time again.  And “Times Like These” is also helping me go full circle

the gift of living in the present

Soundtrack in my head: Moby “Everloving”

silhouette, heart, hand, living in the present

kalhh (CC0), Pixabay

A housemate once told me that I look like someone who has a past. Of course everyone has a past, present and a future. But it’s dawned on me recently that I have not been exactly living in the present.

Let me explain more clearly.

During the twelve years that I lived in Chicago as an adult, I had a career in fundraising. The last five years involved running and serving as the sole staff person of a tiny not-for-profit organization. I had a number of accomplishments during that span of time. That career ended for a number of reasons, chief among them being that I did not want to continue in fundraising, at least not in the capacity that I had been doing so up until that time.

When I landed in Madison (the complex reasons of how and why to be told later) , I was unemployed, scared, and overwhelmed. I survived on temp jobs for about a year before landing my current position doing clerical work for an insurance company. I hadn’t originally intended to stay for very long, and tried multiple times to find other positions within the company that I thought would better suit my skills—without success. My initial reaction was anger and frustration, which I think I carried with me to some extent into my work as well as job interviews.

I was reading a book that talked about the notion of “spiritual economics,” a concept that I’d heard about before, but which never really quite registered or resonated with me—until now.  My understanding of “spiritual economics” is that there are other forces that influence one’s own prosperity besides well-established economic theories. Spiritual economics is based on a belief that God ultimately arranges everything. This does not mean that we sit back passively and wait for God to hand us things on a platter, nor does it means that we abandon making smart financial and career decisions. What it does mean though, is that that there are waves and joints in life, that people probably will experience some degree of hardship along the way, and that God arranges these things in order to help us grow.

I need to doubly emphasize that this does not take responsibility off our shoulders, nor does it mean that we will automatically be granted prosperity just because “we’re good people.” It may very well be that for many of us, the training God gives us is intended for us to take control of our careers, make smart business decisions, and do whatever one needs to do in the physical world in order to succeed. But how one goes about doing it is important, too. If we get too caught up in competition, if we are so money-focused that we lose our sense of service to others, and if forget the reason why we are working in the first place, then it will probably catch up with us at some point. I think we are seeing that more and more in today’s world.

This morning this book on spiritual economics gave me a rather profound shift in my thinking. I had been carrying a lot of anger and self-judgment about my current situation, and in almost an instant, most of it disappeared. I got off the bus suddenly feeling a lot lighter about my situation than when I’d gotten on the bus. And literally that morning, as a result, I discovered that the way that many of my co-workers related to me suddenly seemed to change for the better as well, with interactions becoming more positive and amicable.

What caused the shift is realizing that I’m living the good life right now. While in the long run, I want something that makes more money and makes better use of my skills, there are some aspects to my job that are challenging and interesting. It gives me the space to pursue other interests. The health benefits and other benefits are among the best available. Sure, I would like to be able to save more for my future.  These are things I still need to plan for, and plan for now. But I’m living in a co-op community, fulfilling a dream that I had for at least ten years, and I’m now enjoying the opportunities I have to write and share my experiences online.

For most of my adult life, part of me has been resistant to letting others define for me what success is, while at the same time the other half of me has internalized those very definitions. It’s clear to me now that one’s paid job only partially defines who we are. In that spirit then, I can say that I am a writer, a community organizer, and an indexer of imaged documents, fully grateful for the personal growth that all three roles give me, and grateful for the level of material prosperity that the latter of three jobs gives me right now..