I’m back in Tucson this month for work. It’s my busiest time of the year. My program hosts some 19 different courses throughout the month of January on topics related to Indigenous governance. This makes for long days, and working on weekends. Lots of mitigating faculty and student concerns, and making sure that things go smoothly.
My evenings, are spent resting from the long day. I grab dinner, and then get ready for the next day. It’s a fairly monastic existence that gets broken up by saying goodnight to my Son, and watching whatever happens to be on TV. Last night it was the Cowboys game, and Dallas won so no complaints.
It actually reminds me very much of the time that I lived here before the pandemic.
As a former city-dweller, I found that I was constantly surrounded by people, but had almost no interaction with them. A part of that’s my nature. Introversion has always come pretty easily to me. But I also think it’s partly the nature of cities. Without the right support of family and friends, cities can be an isolating experience.
Life is obviously very different now. I am a remote employee and live in Indiana. I see my son regularly and am seldom lonely. I still have a lot of awesome friends here in Tucson. But now, I am with my son and this brings me a lot of joy.
I guess there are always trade offs. Sometimes the trade offs are for the good.
One of my favorite things to do during the holidays is to discover new Christmas music. Each year, I build a massive Christmas playlist that I begin listening to on approximately Nov. 1st at roughly 12am, give or take. This year’s playlist topped out at 519 songs with a total play time of 28 hours and 5 minutes.
Despite the library of Christmas music that I have accumulated over the years, I try to add new music each time Christmas rolls around. This year, I happened upon a song that I had never heard before, which is a very odd thing for yours truly.
Happily, my mind got a bit ahead of my fingers and I mistakenly typed an iteration of Mariah Carey’s perennial hit, “All I Want for Christmas is You.” Rather than typing the song title as it is, I searched instead for “You’re All I Want for Christmas.” Syntax aside (I do believe the latter reads better), I came across Bing Crosby’s 1949 release by the same name.
It’s hubris in the highest form, but I fancy myself to be a bit of a Bing Crosby connoisseur. There aren’t many songs of his that I haven’t heard, whether they be full of Yuletide cheer, or his pop releases dating back to 1939. I would even say that for any music lover, there’s really an obligation to listen to the greatest singer of all-time. And true to form, I thought that I had heard all of Bing’s music, at least his Christmas pieces, but apparently I was mistaken.
Bing’s music has always harkened back to better era by my estimation. There’s something about the style, and sound of music from the 40s, 50s, and early 60s, that just indicates a classier era to me. But a review of 1949 from the Washington Post casts some doubt upon this assumption as it pertains to life more broadly:
During Christmas of 1949, our flights of fancy didn’t run much beyond riding the streetcar, taking a school trip to the local dairy or visiting a government building. Oh, yes, and avoiding the scourge of the day–tuberculosis.[Link]
As complicated as life is today, at least visiting government buildings isn’t the thrill it once was. We’ve also got tuberculosis more or less contained, which is probably more than we can say for COVID. We’ve also made tremendous progress on a number of other fronts that would have been unthinkable back in 1949.
And that’s all fine.
But “You’re All I want for Christmas”is fundamentally a love song with a simple story: one lover, missing another at Christmas. It reminds the listener that Christmas is not about the stuff we give or get. Rather, it is the relationships in our lives that bring magic to the Christmas season. That Bing Crosby conveys this message with more meaning, and more emotion than any song Mariah Carey has ever written, only underscores that the best of Christmas traditions stand the test of time.
I do hope you enjoy the song above. And here’s wishing you and yours a very, merry Christmas.
I’ve been on a trip the past couple of weeks visiting friends in Virginia. We opted to take a roadtrip to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee to catch a dinner theater performance, and visit Dollywood. It was a fun slice of Americana, complete with over the top Christmas lights and outlet mall shopping. I did manage to snag a pretty cool pocket knife – so no complaints.
But what was the most meaningful part of the trip to me, aside from the time spent with my friends, was a day drive we took to visit The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
I wasn’t unfamiliar with the Great Smoky Mountains. My Grandfather’s people, the Cherokees, called the area home from time immemorial through the Indian Removal Act and the Trail of Tears in 1830. Even after, some bands of Cherokees remained, taking to the Appalachian hills and making a life among the thousands of acres forests, creeks, and valleys in the southeastern United States. Having visited, it was very easy to understand why some chose to remain. The place is nothing if not peaceful. A refuge lost to time.
The park takes its name from the natural fog that results from the park’s trees and vegetation. The fog hovers over the mountains, making them look bathed in smoke from afar and even from within the park itself.
Far from it though.
The air was fresh and crisp with a hint of November chill. It smelled of pine and growth, and of the soil that has eroded from the craggy terrain for millennia.
In all, it was a place mostly undisturbed by mankind spare the roads and few visitors taking in its wonder on a cold day. The quiet streams and rivulets ran throughout the park, paying no heed to the passing cars. The rustle of branches in the wind gave greeting as we drove, accented by the occasional warble of mischievous bird overhead.
The mountains themselves are said to be the oldest in the world. I suspect the Cherokees would agree with this sentiment. The fog and the air give the mountains a certain natural stateliness that is coupled with mystery and grace. They seem to look out over the vast Tennessee landscape toward the resort towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge with a kind of bemused wonderment at the bustle of the world going on around them. And yet, within the park reserve, life goes on as it always has. Nature’s cycle continues apace. The streams continue to bubble over the rocks that have been there since the foundations of time were set.
I think if I had my druthers and could shuck off the fetters of responsibility that anchor me to my lived reality, I would transport myself back to 1830. I would build myself a little cabin along side one of the babbling brooks and make my home from the land.
Of course, armed with no knowledge of how to do this, I probably wouldn’t last very long. As Will Ferrell said in a recent movie, January was the leading cause of death in the 1800s. But there’s something about the ancientness of the place that conjures the romantic latent even in my calloused soul. I am mindful, though, of my own, human tendency to romanticize the past. It’s easy to think that prior eras and generations were really the golden age in which to live. I suspect that sometime in many years hence, future generations will look back at this current era and yearn for it in the way that I do the pre-1830s Smoky Mountains.
So, rather than wish for a bygone era, I resolved to be grateful for the existence of such a place, and thought about how fortunate I was to set foot on the lands of my ancestors. I hope that in 2123 the waters will still meander through the park, and that the fog of the mountains will still entice visitors with mystery.
It’s a drop past 11pm here on the East Coast, and just a few minutes away from my Fortieth birthday. I usually don’t let big, decade birthdays consume too many of my thoughts – age is just a number, as the kids say.
But it’s hard not to think back on this night ten years ago and reminisce. I had just driven back to my hometown, Walters, Oklahoma. I had finished up my law school and doctoral years in Tucson. With no job and an uncertain future, I left the Old Pueblo and headed for home with my nearly one-month old newborn son, and then wife in tow.
It had been a predictably long drive. God knows the drive between Tucson and Walters is long. But we made it safely. The photo below, marked the first time that there would be four generations of Fodder men all in the same place. It was also the first time that my Grandfather would get to meet his Great-Grandson.
Now my son is ten. My Grandpa has passed on. And life seems far more complicated today than it did back then. But it’s hard not to be thankful. My baby nephew is now playing football. My Dad is well. I’d say we fared okay, all things considered. I hope that we will be so fortunate in the next ten years.
It seems like a lifetime ago, and yet it seems like yesterday. I remember how tired we were after the drive. How great it felt to be home. How excited and nervous I was at the thought of being a parent. It was all so new.
But it strikes me that each milestone year is like that. Ten years from now, I don’t know what I will be doing on this night. I don’t know who will will be by my side when the next picture is taken. For all I know, it could be my Dad holding his latest Grandson. Stranger things have happened.
What I do know is that I don’t want to take a single moment of this next decade for granted. To paraphrase Thoreau, “I want to live deeply and suck out all the marrow of life.”
If I had had this perspective ten years ago, I would have cherished each moment when that photo was taken. I would have basked in the company of family, and relished the excitement of welcoming a new life into the world. I would have been satisfied with a weary body, tired after closing an old chapter and excited to open a new one.
But the past is done.
Like the tree above, we all inexorably shed our old leaves no matter how vibrant they are in order to reset, rest, and to welcome the new.
In five minutes or so, it will be time to turn the page on my 30s and see what comes next.
I saw a gaggle of crows outside my office window this morning. They foraged in the grass, looking for food, I assume. Either that or looking for whatever crows look for on sunny fall days. With expert practice, they flipped the leaves with their long beaks and nuzzled their way into the grass underneath the leaves.
After a time they became bored, strutting about the lawn before taking flight in the direction of the sun.
This morning I read that the midterm elections are tightening with all signs pointing toward buoyed Republican prospects next Tuesday. Perhaps sensing the inevitable, President Biden and the Democrats are bemoaning the news, warning Americans that potential Republican gains are simply “dark forces that thirst for power.” Meanwhile, most Americans are simply fed up with both parties, and seem to think that no matter who wins they will do a piss-poor job of governing the country.
How I envy those crows.
The crows didn’t seem to care much about who wins next week’s midterms. I suspect that they would gladly poop on whatever political party is in power, and fly off cawing to one another about the reactions from the humans on the ground far below them.
They’re also wonderfully content. They feel no need to annex another crow’s territory, or threaten their existence with nuclear weapons.
And they take sustenance from the world around them. The crows have no use for money unless it’s a paper bill that might make good lining for a nest. Grocery prices, gas prices, mortgages, credit card bills – all of the things that our more ‘sophisticated’ species takes for granted as part of every day life – have no relevance to my black-feathered friends.
I believe the crows on to something…
2/22/22. Or 22/02/2022.
The inter webs have called it “Twosday” because the auspicious number falls on a Tuesday. Thousands of people have flocked to Vegas to get married. And Russia stands poised to invade the Ukraine.
I don’t know that this day has any special significance for me. But it seemed neat to make the day here.
And who knows? Maybe 400 years from now, when we have the next 2/22/22 falling on a Twosday (2/22/2422) – maybe this site will still exist in some form. If it does, I hope that my ancestors will look back and smile at me for being so sentimental.
And they would be right. I’m nothing, if not a sucker for hope.
The backyard is my project for the day. There are four or five large trees in total, but they provide a fine canopy over the whole area. Every morning, I am greeted by squirrels zipping across the yard, scurrying up the trees. They mischievously chase each other from limb to limb and across the power lines, nuts in tow.
A couple of brave chipmunks have even chanced to come upon the deck to grab some of the Biscoffs that I had set out for them. Meanwhile, the birds of the air flit back and forth among the canopy branches and the woodpeckers tap in vain against the synthetic siding of the house. My chipmunk friends look on in bemusement. I can also rely on a family of cardinals and a family of blue jays to make their appearances. This is, perhaps, the only time that red and blue can get along, pecking amongst the grass for provisions.
At the center of it all, a giant silver maple stands sentry in the middle of the yard – a massive tree that has seen more life than I ever will, and has probably done more good than I ever will too. His branches reach 50 feet into the sky with ease, providing a playground to the chipmunks, and the squirrels, and the birds.
How interesting that a living, but non-sentient being like a tree can serve so many of its denizens simply by existing. And yet we humans go to such great lengths in pursuit of whatever vanities that strike our fancy only to find that they are less fulfilling than if we had simply carried out our purpose and passively existed like the Sentry.
Today I will cut the grass, carefully avoiding the roots and briars about the yard. And the Sentry will stand guard over my efforts. One day, I will be no more, and will leave him to look over the folly of someone else.
I’m not sure that anyone still reads this anymore. The old blog has suffered from its share of neglect over time, despite major upgrades over the past two years. Truth be told, I actually thought of shutting the whole thing down after a couple of incidents. Suffice it to say, my online writings have caused issues for some over the years – but that’s another story for another time.
Yet, here I am, in an age where free speech seems to be no longer en vogue, pecking away at a keyboard, sharing my unsolicited thoughts with the internet and perhaps even the metaverse before too long. Given society’s penchant for shutting down opposing points of view, it strikes me as more critical than ever that we brave few and soldier on, and share whatever strikes our fancy – no matter whom we may offend.
What caught my attention of late is the subject of worry.
For many years, worry consumed me. I think everyone worries to some extent, but my worry became paralyzing. I think this was especially common during the pandemic given some polls out gauging youth depression rates, and some of the latest estimates that we are actually closer to the beginning of the pandemic, even now, than the end.
Ancient Wisdom for Modern Problems
There’s no panacea to the problem of worry. It’s simply a reality of the human condition. In dealing with my own struggles, however, I’ve often found and drawn comfort from my faith, which has its roots in the wisdom of the ancients. The challenge, in this case, is to apply ancient wisdom to modern problems. Fortunately for me, Jesus has a lot to say about worry.
Matthew 6.25 came across my radar of late via TikTok. A fact that I think would make Jesus smile. Thirst trap, indeed. At any rate, it certainly found its way on to my desk at an appropriate time when I am very anxious (viz., worried) about a good many things in my life. Given my situation, the imperative quoted above struck me as an especially important thing to reflect on.
To add some background, the quote actually follows from the previous section where Jesus warns against efforts to serve both God and money. The point of the verses is that such a duality of service is simply not possible. Of course, that never keeps us from trying.
The question that follows logically, assuming we choose to serve God rather than money is what then? How do we live? How do we buy clothes, pay bills, buy food, save for retirement, etc. What will my kids do when I’m gone? For that matter, how long do I have left? Nothing sparks the existential dread we harbor inside quite like a pandemic where death seems to be all around. How can we live, let alone choose to serve God, without cash? The questions are unspoken at this point in the section but immediately after, Jesus gives us the lesson above. And it’s a simple lesson, elegant even: “Don’t worry about it.”
Elegant though it may be, the lesson can seem a bit quaint, and at stark odds with modernity. We worry about many things that would be inconceivable to the folks in Jesus’s day. We live lives that are much more complex and complicated than they were in the first century C.E., at least in our own estimation.
Nevertheless, it’s called ancient wisdom for a reason. The lesson is timeless. Or rather, it exists outside of time. A beacon from beyond, challenging our preconceptions of what it means to truly live.
The fact is, worry is an insidious demon. Not in the horns and fire sense, but in its subtle ability to take over our lives and destroy them, dream by dream. By contrast, the message from Jesus is intended to be one of liberation. Freedom. The antidote to worry is to not play its game.
Worry operates by placing tremendous stress upon our souls, mind, and our bodies. The stress that results is ultimately derived from fictions that we choose to believe are facts. We may grieve or regret something that has happened. We worry about what may come. Worry coerces us into believing that our worst fears are inevitabilities and this simply isn’t so.
In the end, we are only responsible for the present. That’s all we can control. This point underlies all of the wisdom and beauty that follows in the remainder of the chapter. I hope to unpack some of this in the posts that follow.
For now, the take home point is a counterintuitive one. Despite our view of life’s complexity, despite every emotion and temptation that besets us when life seems to be going awry – even so, it is still better to be a peace with our lot, rather than worry about what may come.
Jesus seems to be telling us, don’t worry because all is well.
When I left Tucson six months and one week ago (5/25/20), it never occurred to me that I would remain in Oklahoma past August. And yet, one half-year later, here I am.
In that time, I’ve lived out of a suitcase for the bulk of it. I’ve transitioned my work from a laptop to an iPad. I’ve done the entirety of my job at a small wooden desk in my childhood bedroom. I feel a bit transient but none the worse for wear. This weekend, I’ll return to Tucson to pack up my belongings and make the move to what once was home.
There’s certainly no complaint on my part. Tucson rents were going up. So were the COVID-19 cases. With no end in sight to the pandemic, my apartment effectively became an expensive storage unit. My employer granted a provisional approval to work remotely, at least for the duration of the pandemic. Moving seems prudent. I leave for Arizona on Saturday to begin packing with the move to Oklahoma to follow.
No Place Like Home?
Aside from the move itself, I can’t say that I really know what the next chapter will hold – except that for the next several months it will surely be lived here. Despite my penchant for planning, I’m not even sure that having a plan matters very much anymore. If I’ve learned anything from this year, it’s that plans can be upended as quickly as they can be made. It’s fair to say that 2020 brought with it unexpected change for nearly everyone. We adapt when we can. We muddle along when we can’t. We humans are nothing if not resilient.
Perhaps I’m getting sentimental in my old age, but I can’t help thinking about how odd it is to move during the holidays. Normally, Christmas is the time to stay grounded, to enjoy time with family, and even to reminisce about Christmases long past – those halcyon memories that get etched in the mind and seem more vibrant somehow than the memories we are in the midst of making.
When considering the past, it’s always tempting to believe that it was brighter than it actually was. I think part of this temptation stems from the fact that there are realities about the present that we wish were different. For my part, with the move looming, I’m forced to reconsider what home is. When I think of past Christmases, I tend to think about the family home place. My Grandpa in his recliner. An ancient music box blaring Christmas carols while the tree lights blink in merry colors of the season.
But this is almost literally looking at home through rose-colored lenses. Yule-colored lenses might be more appropriate. The fact is, the memory above is long gone, and it does no one any good to live in the past. The present reality is that, until this extended stay, I haven’t lived in Oklahoma in roughly twenty years. True, I’ve gotten reacquainted with the people in our small town, and there’s no question that I have enjoyed being with my family. But I do wonder if I can fairly say that this is still my home.
I suppose I won’t really know the answer to this question until some time has passed. Predicting the future is a fools errand. And even while the mind is hardwired to predict the future, actually living in so aware a manner proves to be much more difficult. When 2020 began, I had wished a new decade would usher in positive changes and the hope for a better year than the personal hell that was 2019. For many, I think 2020 was probably worse than any single year in the past ten. The mind may try to predict what will happen in a given situation and respond accordingly, but it’s exactly the inability to predict (or plan) that causes anguish for so many. To state matters briefly, even the best plans can fall apart.
So, maybe a plan isn’t the way to go for this next chapter of life. For all I know, the pandemic could end this spring and I may be back in Tucson just in time for school to start in August. Planning also has a limiting factor: we tend to ignore other possibilities when we are focused on a particular course of action. I don’t think this is intentional. It’s just a reality that we can only entertain so many ideas and outcomes at once. The lesson I take from this season of life is that our ability to tangle with uncertainty is the key to finding contentment.
In truth, there never are any certainties. Never were. We just live with a set of assumptions and hope for the best.
I don’t write with much consistency these days. I thought that the pandemic and working from home would see an increase in posts and a whole series unfold on the different tech dilemmas that I find myself in.
But the truth is my heart just hasn’t been in it.
When I watch the news or read the headlines trying to drum up a creative spark that might lead to a post, I find that writing anything political or satirical would be mundane compared to reality.
Take the recent Trump v. Biden debate for example. The debate was an absolute brawl put on by two men who desperately want to be the President of the United States (or acting President in the case of Biden). Both sides came out swinging, and caught the usually nonplused moderator Chris Wallace completely off guard. One candidate called the other a clown. The other retorted back by calling him stupid, and our moderator was left in the unenviable role of a Presidential Debate Schoolmarm who had clearly lost her class.
If there’s one thing we’ve managed to do over the past year it’s figure out ways to clobber each other. I say this metaphorically with respect to politics, but given the riots-cum-peaceful protests, I have to say this literally as well. We are a Nation so divided that even our collective response to the pandemic has been politicized. Mask wears vs. the anti-mask wearers, to say nothing of the pending Supreme Court nomination, the looming election, the economic downturn that has beset so many, and those we’ve lost to this wretched virus.
It’s strange but at a time when thoughts are plentiful, I’ve found it plenty difficult to focus on the tasks at hand. Sharing anything remotely thoughtful with the blogosphere has been low on the priority list – somewhere on the level of responding to emails, unfortunately. (Is the blogosphere even a thing anymore?)
A personal failure of words strikes me as especially odd given that we are living in a truly historic time. And when one lives through history it would seem that there’s something significant to talk about. To wit, I think the last ‘certifiable’ pandemic was the Spanish Flu in the 1920s. However, it seems there’s some debate about this point as some quarters only call it a mere epidemic rather than a pandemic. Roaring twenties, indeed. Given that very few if any people are alive who survived the pandemic of the 1920s, it’s fair to say that we are living through a historic moment. And yet words have been few and far between.
I think the difficulty stems from the fact that living through a pandemic is rather boring.
Movie theaters are closed. Restaurants and bars have lost their appeal. Amusement parks are no longer amusing. Halloween has been canceled. Travel abroad is severely restricted. Travel at home is undesirable. And, to state an obvious (albeit unpopular) opinion, wearing a mask is tedious. Rather than breathe my own breath, like billions of people around the world, I’ve simply opted to stay home.
In truth, it hasn’t been all bad for me. Home in my case, is back in Oklahoma. At present, I’m writing from the comfy environs of my childhood room, sleeping on an extra-long twin bed with a small writing desk allocated for me to do my work. It’s a humbling thing to be nearly 40 (gasp) and living at home with my parents.
The saving grace of my situation is that it’s not for unfortunate circumstances that I am here. My apartment in Tucson is happily unoccupied with all of my belongings just as I left them in late May. I remain gainfully employed at the University of Arizona. And my health is as good as it ever has been – though I certainly need to lose a few COVID pounds at some point. My excuse is that the gyms are closed. That I would not have gone to one anyway is a moot point.
So, despite it all, those I care about are safe and healthy. I have a job. My needs are met. Many have it far worse. I’m a fortunate person though I don’t deserve it. I just hope this thing turns around for us all very soon.