You Are What You Consume

Warning.  We’re getting philosophical up here.  Skip this is you just come for the photos.  Scroll slowly for the prose, if so desired.

My favorite television show is Mad Men.  On that show, the protagonist Don Draper gets a cigarette account and has to deal with the blow back of the then pioneering research being done into cigarettes that yes, they are harmful.

Of course these days it seems obvious to us that smoke hitting your lungs would cause some kind of microcellular changes, which is turn would cause cancer, which in turn would cause death, eventually.  Packs of cigarettes are labelled but hey, that doesn’t always deter people.

Why am I talking about this?  Well, recently I taught a group of 12 and 13 year old kids and it was like visited another planet entirely.  That is a group of people who do not consume music or media the way I did at their age.  They consume “curated” streams of digital media.

I’m fascinated by teenagers, partly because I hated being one so much.  Here you are smart enough and capable enough to assume adult responsibilities but you are still at home with your parents.  I remember wondering why my parents wouldn’t let me do certain things when I knew full well that I would be fine if I did them.

These days though, the teenagers live on a different planet.  While I was teaching the teenagers, I picked up one of their phones.  There was an entire message stream with just emojis.  Smiley face, pickle, thumbs up.  Yeah, well, eggplant, sad face, poop to you.  It was like teenage hieroglyphics that an oldster like myself isn’t meant to be able to understand, I guess.

Using teenager language or the creation of a insider slang is nothing new.  But these kids are faced with a thing that no other generation of teenagers have ever faced.  On a daily basis, they consume large quantities of digital images.  And this is what worries me a bit about them.  These kids live on their phones.  It is their life line.  I actually witnessed a kid whose phone died and he immediately fell asleep.  His energy source was dead.  Why even keep your eyes open?

Living on the phone means consuming huge amounts of digital images.  We all consume huge amounts of digital images now and the phone has an addictive quality to it.  That flashing notification?  Who liked my photo?  I need to know immediately.  Ten new notifications — OMG, that is really something.

As adults, we scroll through news feeds of endlessly perfect Caribbean vacations, family photos, cooking videos and general digital noise.  We might feel a twinge of jealousy if we see a friend who is on some kind of glamorous looking vacation while we’re trudging home in the rain after we had a huge fight with our boss.  But we’re reasonable about it.  That friend with the vacation?  Well, you find out later on that it wasn’t exactly what it appeared to be online.

What’s worrying is the fact that young people consume these images without much context or thought about what they are consuming or where it came from.  Worse still, their addiction to notifications is magnified.  A flashing notification is juicy hit of dopamine to an adult brain.  The teenage brain is no match to that more potent form of dopamine.

Which brings us back to the beginning.  Cigarettes, the original legal addictive eventually got warning labels and societally shunned.  Will that happen to social media?  Will phones start coming with warning labels that say “that person who just posted that photo of the latte art just lost their job.”  Do the purveyors of digital images have any kind of social responsibility to the general public about their product actually does to people?  Will this become part of the larger national conversation on the shaping of future generations?  I don’t know.  But for right now, people have to start asking questions or we’ll end up like Don Draper in the middle of last season of Mad Men.  And we already have a jingle that we drink our Cokes with.

Pictures.  These were taken when I went to Revere Beach a few days after I had a fight with my boss.  I didn’t get caught in the rain:

I Go To The Berkshires

I was going to write this entry about how Massachusetts continues to amaze me, even after I’ve lived here forever.  Before I got around to actually writing the entry, another idea popped into my head and I decided to go with it.

I decided to make this entry about one of my obsessions — Real Housewives shows.  I already wrote on here about watching the New Jersey Housewives and my unending love for the Beverly Hills housewives, but I have never written about my hometown favorite — the New York City housewives.

Oh man, when that showed premiered, I knew I was going to be obsessed with it.  I grew up in New York, so their ways and their lifestyles were very familiar to me.  Everyone in New York aspires to be part of that high society.  People aspire to be on the edge of high society in New York.  I mean people aspire to be on the edge of the edge of high society over there.

So I started watching the Real Housewives in 2008.  The first season was kind of quiet but from the second season on, it was wall to wall drama.  I can’t even list all of the drama that has gone on during the whole time.  Scary Island, Turtle Time, This is Morocco and not the Plaza hotel.  I read all the recaps.  I actually call her “Countess Luann Crackerjacks.”  Thank you Brian Moylan.

Of course I do actually like and admire a lot of the women.  Carol Radzwill is a real survivor and her book on her husband’s death was beautifully written.  Heather Thomson is a real businesswoman and makes an excellent product.  And hey, I’d even have Sonja Morgan as a kind of crazy friend.

But enough niceties.  This show can be wall to wall drama at times and that was never more in evidence when in the sixth season, the women go to the Berkshires in Massachusetts.  At first Ramona Singer of the Gowanus Singers (thanks again Brian Moylan) refuses to go and says that the Berkshires are for people who can’t afford the Hamptons.  Then she orders an air conditioner (??????) for Heather’s house.  Then she has some kind of PTSD fit.  Then she charters a private jet out of there.  Insane.

I never really understand these shows.  I mean I understand.  Yeah, they cast them for drama but why do they put all of these women together and try to make them be friends?  Friendships form, friendships end.  I have plenty of good friends and I can’t remember the last time I cried over getting a gift bag from one of them.  Anyway, these shows make these women interact with each other in these artificial situations that lead of chaos and conflict.

Anyway, I thought of Ramona and the rest of that traveling circus when I visited the Berkshires recently.  I have to say Ramona Singer you are so wrong.  What an unbelievably beautiful place that is.  So much history.  So many wonderful things.

Take a look Ramona Singer, because I know you read this blog:

berkshires massachusetts car washberkshires massachusetts farmberkshires massachusetts houseberkshires massachusetts lenox American flagberkshires massachusetts lenox art showberkshires massachusetts lenox blue houseberkshires massachusetts lenox house brownberkshires massachusetts lenox scare crowberkshires massachusetts lenox statueberkshires massachusetts lenox street peopleadirondacks massachusetts houseadirondacks massachusetts lee 1adirondacks massachusetts lee 2adirondacks massachusetts lee 3adirondacks massachusetts lenox buildingadirondacks massachusetts lenox the mount 1adirondacks massachusetts lenox the mount 2adirondacks massachusetts lenox the mount 3adirondacks massachusetts lenox the mount 4adirondacks massachusetts lenox the mount 5adirondacks massachusetts lenox the mount 6adirondacks massachusetts lenox the mount 7adirondacks massachusetts lenox the mount 8adirondacks massachusetts lenox ventfort hall 2adirondacks massachusetts lenox ventfort hall 3adirondacks massachusetts lenox ventfort hall 4adirondacks massachusetts lenox ventfort hall 5adirondacks massachusetts lenox ventfort hall 6adirondacks massachusetts lenox ventfort hall 7adirondacks massachusetts lenox ventfort hall 8adirondacks massachusetts lenox ventfort hall 9adirondacks massachusetts lenox ventfort hall 10adirondacks massachusetts lenox ventfort hall 11adirondacks massachusetts lenox ventfort hall 12adirondacks massachusetts lenox ventfort hall 14adirondacks massachusetts ventfort hall 1

Eggelstoning It Up

I only, shamelessly, admit that I steal ideas and entire photographs from other photographers.  All photographers do it and so do I.

I usually pick though people from the regular canon of photography.  Ansel Adams, Stieglitz, Steichen, maybe a Brassai here and there.  Maybe Weegee if I’m feeling particularly mischievous.

On a recent sojourn through the hamlet of Winthrop, I found new inspiration, I mean person to steal from.  William Eggelston is a photographer who I have recently become familiar with and who I have grown to like.  He photographed kind of this tacky, interesting, colorful version of the American South.  I kind of thought for a long time that I got away from my artistic roots.  I guess I’m finding them again, but as usual, in a different way than I had seen them previously.

Anyway, so here are so photos that are directly influenced by William Eggelston.  Well, I mean I stole his ideas:

boston winthrop brideboston winthrop cabinetboston winthrop deer island beach viewboston winthrop house 3boston winthrop house backyard virgin maryboston winthrop house blue shuttersboston winthrop house brick stepsboston winthrop house car coveredboston winthrop house fenceboston winthrop house flowersboston winthrop house woman in dressboston winthrop houseboston winthrop man fishingboston winthrop ocean view

Pre-winter, Winter, Post-winter, Road Reconstruction

One day when I first moved to Boston, I was listening to Car Talk on NPR.  I hadn’t lived in Boston for very long but I already loved what I heard from the Magliozzi brothers on their show.  I could not believe that I spent hours listening to a show where two goof balls told stories about cars.  I am not a car person and I don’t really know much about how they are run, nor do I care.

One joke stuck with me in particular, about Boston’s four seasons, that makes up the title of this entry.

Commonwealth avenue, near my house, is in the road reconstruction phase of the year.  I guess people outside of Massachusetts call this “summer.”  So they are tearing up the Boston University bridge to replace when I assume are 100 year old pieces of track.  Its caused no end of chaos around here and for my part, I’m over on Beacon street taking the wealthier, classier C line to work in the morning.  Am I wealthier and classier?  Probably not.  But the road reconstruction.  Well, it makes for good photos:

boston commonwealth avenue boston university bridge reconstruction 1boston commonwealth avenue boston university bridge reconstruction 2boston commonwealth avenue boston university bridge reconstruction 3boston commonwealth avenue boston university bridge reconstruction 4

Everybody Hurts

Every year for the past few years, my friends and I gather at Revere Beach to make this thing called a mandala.  Its a kind of a shape in the sand that is filled in with flowers.  The friends I see at this occasion are people I’ve known for years.  We exchange what’s going on with us and all of our hurts and our pains.  I don’t feel good hearing about other people’s pain, but its a bit reassuring that not everyone’s life is perfect and that my friends, as I am, are going through some painful, unresolvable heart breaking crap, as am I.

Everybody hurts, no matter what:

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Saturdays If You Like

Yeah, that’s a lame title, but I couldn’t think of a better one.

Well anyway, let me explain it.  When I was a kid, up until now, one of my favorite movies has been The Gods Must Be Crazy, about a Bushman forced out of the Kalahari to dispose of an evil Coke bottle that has been dropped into his village by an absent minded guy in an airplane.

The narrator of the film explains that 500 kilometers from the Kalahari, there is a big, bustling city where people work normal hours.  At 7am, they rise to go to work.  By 9am, they are working.  At 10am, they take a coffee break.  At 12:30, they take a lunch break and by 5pm, they are heading home.  Monday to Friday they do this, having Saturdays and Sundays off.

For the Bushman though, its always been Tuesday or Thursday or Saturday for that matter.  They don’t follow any kind of calendar and they don’t have to do things by any set hours during the day.  Their lives aren’t so segmented.

I might be in the minority, but somehow I’ve always liked the Bushman way.  When I had what I used to call a “normal” job, I’d be in by 9am, working until 5pm.  I always wondered how it was that I started at 9 and finished by 5pm.  Sometimes I still had work at 5pm, but at 5pm I was ordered to stop.  On Saturdays and Sundays, the conventional calendar said I didn’t need to come to work.

For about eight years, I’ve been a teacher and I have this sort of unconventional schedule.  I work from 9 to 12pm sometimes and have the afternoon off.  Sometimes I work until 11pm.  Sometimes I have Thursday afternoon off.  Something I work on Saturdays.  I go through periods of time when I work on Saturdays and now we’re in one of those periods.

Working on Saturdays really isn’t that bad.  You’re out of the house.  You don’t sleep in but that’s OK.  My work on Saturdays is usually easier than during the week.  Most of all, you get to be out when a lot of people are in their houses.

Call its Saturdays if you will.  But its pretty great I think:

brookline houses people walkingbrookline turkey walkingbrookline winchester street red couchcambridge girl on streetcambridge harvard book store people 1cambridge harvard book store people girl dogcambridge JP Licks Saturday peoplecambridge JP licks saturdaycambridge Leavitt & Peirce shop 2cambridge Leavitt & Peirce shop chess setcambridge Leavitt & Peirce shop old harvard picturescambridge Leavitt & Peirce shop porcellian catcambridge Leavitt & Peirce shop sellercambridge Leavitt & Peirce shop window displaycambridge people talking

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Emma Lazarus

No, I did not write this poem.  Its kind of famous, as it is on a plaque on the Statue of Liberty.  I never gave it much mind but lately I’ve thought more and more about what brings us all to this great United States of America.

This past week we celebrated July 4th, rapidly becoming one of my favorite holidays.  I’ve gone to the fireworks every year since 2010 and I can’t even believe how much I still enjoy going.  I thought it would get boring after a year but it never has.

As usual I go with a group of friends and most of my friends are from other places.  I always think its so funny that I moved to Boston, the cradle of liberty, the place where the United States began and I started to feel very American.  Then I also started to work with students from all over the world.  I become American to leave America.  I guess.

But then I thought of how funny it was what had all brought us together.  I went with three Spanish friends and a Brazilian friend.  Three of us live here in Boston and two were visiting.  I think its so funny always that I’m the only one in my extended group of friends who went to an American high school with the cliques, the cheerleaders, the football players, the divided lunch rooms and the proms.  The rest of my friends grew up in other countries.  I really only have three purely American friends.  The rest are either immigrants or the children of immigrants.

The poem, July 4th and the composition of my friends group made me think a lot about who gets to come to America, who stays here and why.  The current political climate seems to be really harsh on letter more people in.  Obviously I think that’s wrong.  It kinda goes against what this country is really all about.

Either way, walking through the crowds on July 4th made me happy thinking about what had brought us all to the United States.

Let’s enjoy some fireworks photos!!!!!
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