Savoir-faire

I would never try to usurp or upstage my sister’s quest to be the French-speaking sibling in my family of origin. I’m happy to concede that status to her.

One interesting fallout from her interest in Francophone culture is that I’ve started noticing (paying attention?) to how often French words, or derivatives of the language, pepper our own. Take for instance my recent obsession with the band Pavement, detailed three weeks ago here at the JBE, and their song, Embassy Row. I mean, is there a more clever mid-90s slacker songwriter than Stephen Malkmus? Literate, witty, and if you pay attention, you pick up interesting tidbits, including a French word, or two.

The debonair Stephen Malkmus.

The debonaire Stephen Malkmus.

The song begins with a slow intro and then, these three lines:

Where is the savoir? Where is the savoir? (savior?)
He’s not here right now
Where is the savoir? Where is the savoir-faire?

I forgive readers if you’re a bit rusty regarding your high school French—we’re in similar boats—because so am I. Okay? Now on to today’s French lesson.

Savoir-faire connotes the “ability to say or do the appropriate or graceful thing in social situations.” Someone with savoir-faire in spades might even be considered “debonaire,” or possibly, urbane.

In ruminating about that word and its meaning, I remember the effort and energy I put into exhibiting a combination of savoir-faire, cut with a homespun folksiness that once played well in places like Maine. From what I’ve been observing these days, it appears that whether it’s boorish politicians, or the overly-important Twitterati dispensing their tweet “vomit,” savoir-faire is now out of favor. In fact, being crude, crass, even moronic is what it takes to curry cache in these Google-infected days.

Oh, and one other caveat about my previous thoughts on the matter—be sure that what you espouse is “bien pensant” (right thinking), and you’ll never fall out of favor with those that feel it’s their place to police the speech and thoughts of others.

Le dictionnaire

Le dictionnaire

Season to Season

One of these days, it’s going to start feeling like the season called spring that began last Friday. Not only hasn’t it been very warm over the past few days, the winds of March have made it feel like we’re still in the grip of winter’s icy claws. Of course, this stretch of March has some checkered history.

Actually, Saturday wasn’t too bad. Compared to Sunday’s wind-tunnel-of-a-day, the upper 30s made my run in the morning quite pleasant. Miss Mary actually coaxed me out for a 5-miler. Knock on wood, my leg and hip issues from last year at this time seem to be in my rearview mirror.

I’m sure it won’t be long before I can put away my heavy field coat, ax, and not spend part of each day chopping and lugging firewood to fill the wood box. I’ll be able put my fire-building skills away, too—save for an occasional fire in the ole’ fire pit this summer.

May flowers

April showers will give way to May flowers.

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Trip Planning

Back in the day, before Google siphoned all the fun out of planning that special vacation journey, travelers had to rely on non-Internet tools to route their vacations. Some of these old-school accouterments were things like maps, gazetteers, and a handy-dandy atlas.

Now, all you have to do is ask Google (or Siri), “what’s the way to San Jose?” and before you can say “Swiss cheese for brains,” you’ll be routed on your way.

Growing up, I remember the year our family took a vacation trip to Burlington, Vermont. I think I was 13, or maybe even 14-years-old. My sister was two years younger. I still fondly remember that first trip to Burlington, a vibrant college town, nestled alongside Lake Champlain.

Of course, traveling with the ‘rents sometimes meant that Dad, Herman, or Winter Carnival King of ’51, required quadrants so he’d know his bearings along the way. If he didn’t get them from Saint Helen of Immaculata, he might get a bit cranky, and of course, it might become hell on wheels between the two of them. I think I get some of my driving impatience from my dad when I’m logging time behind the wheel on a trip, and I get lost somewhere between points A and B. Maybe it’s just a male thing. Can I even publicly state that men and women are different? I sure hope so.

Hitting the open road!

Hitting the open road!

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Progressive Revelation

To value truth in a world that demonstrates at every turn that lies and false narratives are preferred, leaves seekers with a steady diet of dissonance.

Last week, I visited the Sabbathday Lake Shaker community in New Gloucester, a mere 20 miles from my home. This was the first time I’d ever ventured on the grounds. My experience (and subsequent return visit) was much different than I expected.

Like many things in this world, when you make time to push past surface information and often, a false understanding, you are sometimes rewarded. Rather than relying on only the internet and Google for my “Shaker 101” brief, I’ve been reading materials acquired at my local library, as well as information provided by the accommodating staff.

Shakers believe in something called “progressive revelation.” In reading about this concept—the idea that there is a constantly spinning center at the very core of their faith—allowing them to reshape their beliefs when necessary, I was struck by how similar this is to my own current way of seeing the world and the ongoing education and I’d even say—deprogramming—that I’m engaged in, as I attempt to break free from the lies and disinformation stream offered up by traditional sources.

The Truth is Out There!

Is the truth out there?

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Crumbling Down

It’s tempting to look at the world, at least the world as it gets filtered through our digital imagery, and feel like the globe we’re sitting atop is spinning out of control. I’m sure part of this is by design—people in the midst of fear—rational or irrational—are much easier to corral and control.

At the same time, there is a corresponding tendency on the part of 21st century humans to believe (irrationally, I would add) that technology, that amorphous term that gets tossed around willy-nilly at every turn, will bail us out of every single one of our problem patches. I’m a contrarian when it comes to this technological salvation app.

America’s infrastructure and the upkeep required to maintain it is trending in the wrong direction—to borrow a term from a popular series that curried favor with the Tee Vee watchers out there—it’s “breaking bad” and has been for decades. When the American Society of Civil Engineers released their report card on the condition of the nation’s infrastructure, the overall grade was a D+. This was relative to our roads, bridges, dams, waste water facilities, airports, and includes the electrical grid. Continue reading

Being Present

I’ve been cycling through a variety of topics that are personal to me. I’ve touched on journalism, technology (several times) and its effect on our lives, weather and our rugged winter of 2014-15, and even, Harry Potter/Richard Nixon. Oh, and last Friday, I worked in one of my infrequent blasts about music, at least the indie rock variety that has been a touchstone of my life over much of the past 3 decades.

While this topical list might seem somewhat random, I think there are threads that gather together its seeming disjointed-ness. One of them is being present—as in the here and now. To me, this means trying to live, as much as possible, in the moment. This is harder than it seems, at least it has been for me. Continue reading

Rattled by the Rush

I try not to get too nostalgic for the past. Lately, though, I’ve been thinking of a time—back before Google, and their quest to turn our brains into a hunk of Swiss cheese. Was it a better time? I don’t know. There were certainly positives. Oh, I know—thou shalt not speak evil of any technology! And believe it or not, there was life and a social scene before Facebook—arguably a richer one.

A reminder of that time came the other morning, listening to WMBR’s “Boomerang” program, sliding back into some 90s post-punk that I know and love. Erik Morrison is a DJ who once a week (on Tuesday mornings) spends an hour time-traveling back to the days before MP3 players,iTunes, and nearly everyone who is under the age of 25, walking around with earbuds jammed in their ears, oblivious to the world around them. Track lists mattered and artists cared about things like the sequence of 10 or more songs, crafted to fit alongside each other on an album. Granted, we’d transitioned from tapes to CDs, but indie rock still meant independent of corporate control. Obviously, that’s long gone and we’re not in Kansas (or Columbia, Missouri) anymore. Continue reading

Longer Days and a Longer View

The days are getting longer. Some snow actually melted, and a patch of grass showed up over the weekend. Hooray!

The grass is back!

The grass is back!

My week’s off to a patchwork start. Some cool stuff in the works that will end up appearing under my byline in a week or two. Something else that I’ve been pushing for years (yes, years!!) will making an appearance later in 2015, too.

What I’m learning about most of the stuff in my life is that taking a longer view is required. That’s hard because it’s not in my nature and hasn’t always been my experience to wait on things.

And let me close with a bit of a non sequitur. Continue reading

A Winter Kind of Crazy

The winter of 2014-15 has been a host of things: late-arriving, cold, snowy, and while it’s only been four weeks since the snow began piling up—the length of it feels like 70 years—or that’s the sense for most.

When faced with difficulty, Americans, at least those of us bred for softness and an effete, technology-centric way of life, take to social media to bitch and complain about the cold, the snow, and people pushing snow back out into the road (on certain Facebook pages about knowing you’re from Lisbon). I’m taking a decidedly different tack with today’s blog post.

If I’m being brutally honest, I must admit that I have had my moments since the end of January. It really does seem like we’ve all been put in Mr. Peabody’s WABAC Machine and transported back to the Ice Storm of ’98, or perhaps, the winters of my childhood, when the snow was deep, and men still knew how to shovel. And not to get all patriarchal on you, the women in my world weren’t expected to, but that’s a post for another, more sociological kind of day.

All in all, the constant shoveling (I actually know how to throw the snow, having learned the skill from the “Winter Carnival King of 1951” most likely during that fateful winter of ’69, and the one following in 1970), gathering of wood, splitting it, and keeping a fire cranking has actually gotten me outdoors, away from the technology trap, and out into the brisk, cold, wintry fresh air. I think it’s actually helped improve my outlook, too, especially compared to last January and February. That’s when the walls felt like they were slowly closing in, ready to crush me. The real world will do that to you, as opposed to the virtual one (aka, the fake one).

Have headlamp, will travel.

Have headlamp, will travel.

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Hands-free Driving

Self-driving cars built by Google is a topic that whenever it comes up, elicits interest and nods of approval. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be chauffeured around in the back of Google’s big black car, so you can play with your phone and update Facebook, right?

Well, according to Nicholas Carr and a post last week on his blog, Rough Type, we’re still several weeks away from cars that drive themselves. I know that’s incredulous for you “app addicts,” especially those that think Google already owns our world.

Look, Ma; no hands!

Look, Ma; no hands!

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