Friday, April 29, 2011

Spam and religion

First my disclaimers:
1.  I consider myself a reasonably devout, greatly flawed, Christian.
2.   I attend church regularly. 
3.  I have close friends, relatives, and chosen family of various faith communities: Christians, Jews, Buddhists - and atheists.  I also know and enjoy the company of people who are Hindus and Muslims.  I respect the beliefs of all these people.
4.  I have friends, family, and chosen family who are various shades of color, and from Asian, African, European, and Central American backgrounds.  
5.   I also have friends, family, and chosen family who are considerably younger and considerably older than I am.
Having said that, let me get to the point:
I am truly tired of getting paranoid, forwarded emails that tout religion.  

For some reason many of them start out with “The United States is a Christian Nation” or they demand that God and prayer be put back in public schools. 
Let’s start with a short history lesson:  Many of the people who came to the Americas to start a new life were indeed Christians.  (Indeed, my Moser ancestors immigrated from Europe around 1750 so they could have religious freedom; they were Dunkards [not drunkards!].) But a lot of immigrants were convicts, who may or may not have practiced Christianity, and most of the slaves - who contributed immensely to the building of this nation - were Muslims or practiced what we consider today to be primitive religions.
This country was founded on ancient principles that date back to the Greeks.  These were not religious principles. Indeed, the First Amendment to the Constitution (the same Constitution that many of the folks who forward the religious spam give lip service to) says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion ” and then goes on to give us free speech and and a free press.
President George Washington in his 1790 letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, wrote:
May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.
Way back at the founding of this country our first president  expressed the idea that each person could have his/ her own belief and, it’s worth reiterating: “there shall be none to make him afraid."
History lesson over.  When, in a former life, I was a teacher, the idea of having prayers in my classroom (that weren’t uttered silently by panicked students taking tests) was a nightmare.  Who would write a prayer that didn’t offend the non-Christians in the class?  Which non-Christian would write one that wouldn’t offend the Christians?  How would we include or dis-include those who did not believe?  By the time a prayer that didn’t offend anyone was written, it would be so weasel-y as to offend everyone.
Let me address the other side of the coin, also.  Just as I am inclined not to proselytize in favor of Christianity, I do not wish to be proselytized in favor of any other denomination or religion except the one I have chosen.
And I want to hear neither barbs or witticisms about my religious choices.  I choose to believe.  If people do not, that’s their choice.  I may not understand it, but I continue to love them.
That doesn’t mean I can’t make jokes about my choices.  Self-deprecation is a time-honored method of humor.  (Why does it take two hands for an Episcopalian to water the lawn?  One to hold the hose and the other to hold the martini glass.)  I can tell jokes on myself, but don't tell them about my religion.  And I won’t ridicule your beliefs.
We all believe and act in different ways.  I try to appreciate and honor yours.  But and it’s a big one - do not try to persuade me to accept your belief - or lack of - as my own.
As always, I welcome your comments below.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Life-Long Learning

When I turned 65 I got some old age perks.

In my previous post I explained how I want to be treated as an old person, and that includes discounts or free stuff if it's available.  My enthusiasm for free stuff and discounts has to do with being cheap more than being old, let me make that clear.  Just don't condescend or patronize me.

One of the old age perks is that I'm not paying close to $16k annually for health insurance.  Between Medicare and our secondary insurance, that number is just under half.  Another perk is that I get free rides on the Metra and CTA, the trains into the city and the busses and El/ Subway in Chicago.  That perk is going away, and I understand why, but it was very convenient while it lasted.

The best perk so far is free tuition at the local junior college.

I'm taking Drawing I.  I have been painting watercolors and oils for years, but the only formal art class I ever had was when I was a sophomore in high school around 1960.  It was very hands-on and I learned not to color in the lines, but other than that I didn't learn very much back then.

I'm learning a lot now, however.  My drawing (rendering; there's one of those new vocabulary words) is improving and the required self-portraits even look like me.  Doing them taught me that I have heavy jowls (I look like my Grandpa Bill) and lots of wrinkles in addition to those dark spots old people get on their skin.  I don't like looking at myself in a mirror for hours while I draw the self-portraits, but I soldiered through.  I'm going to suggest the professor create an alternative assignment for the old people who take the class.

I have picked up all kinds of vocabulary - and half of any new discipline is vocabulary.  I know the difference between saturated and broken colors, I know what contour line is, and I can stipple, hatch and crosshatch with the most mediocre of them - I wish it were with the best, but that may come over time.  If I live long enough.

One of the glorious things is that it's re-connecting me with the "youth of today."  Things have changed.  Big Time.

All but one of other students in my class are young enough to be my grandchildren or, if I had been both precocious and promiscuous, my great-grandchildren.  Some are still in high school, some are regular junior college students, and one is Ann, my wife, who's my age.

As in any class, the students have a wide variety of interests and abilities.  They are all genuinely pleasant, however.

What I notice most is their obsession with being electronically connected.  This takes different forms, but a lot of it includes texting.  Almost constantly.  I am not a fan of texting, but I got a phone that allows me to text without substituting words on my screen.  I text a few people, but mostly my grandsons away at college,on occasion, and I enjoy their responses.

The kids in the class text -  a lot.  They also listen to their own music on ipods, MP3 players, and those tiny, portable play stations.  One student always has ear buds in.  The professor asks him to remove them, but the student doesn't hear him because his music is too loud.  That guy misses assignments and has to ask a lot of questions, which leads me to conclude that when people multi-taski, most of what they do is pretty half-assed.

Despite their fixation with their gadgets, they are nice people and ready to help if I need anything.  I am really enjoying getting to know them.  And the professor is far more patient than I would have been - than I am or want to be.

What is most important, however, is how much I am learning.  One of the assignments is to choose a late 20th Century or 21st Century artist, research him/her, and let him/her mentor us.  We are creating power point presentations (PPP's) on them and presenting them to the class.  It has to be five to seven minutes long, and I've been working on mine.

I used to do kick ass slide presentations when I taught in a previous life, but I'm learning power point, the electronic version of slides.

I chose the living artist Lucian Freud as my mentor.  He is Sigmund's grandson, is even older than I am, still paints, and sells his paintings for about a gazillion dollars.  I fell in love with his work when I saw this painting Sunny Morning - Eight Legs at the Art Institute of Chicago last year when the new Modern Wing opened.  I could stare at it for hours and keep finding new stuff.

I'm going to include the image (I almost wrote slide, how antediluvian of me) of Sunny Morning - Eight Legs in my PPP and talk about all the art-y stuff in it with my new vocabulary.  This painting is about four feet wide and eight feet tall.

This very small portrait of Queen Elizabeth, on the other hand, is only about six inches wide and nine inches tall.  Despite its small size, Freud worked on it for over a year an a half.  You may note she's clothed, but she is just as vulnerable and exposed at the model lying on the bed in the upper image.

After I retired, my grandson David noted that I had been in school - either teaching, taking classes, or both - for all but four years of my life.  That number is now seven, but if I have my way, it's not going to change.

As always, please leave your comments below.  I love to hear from you.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Don't Patronize or Condescend To Me because I'm Old

Old people in our society are purported to be revered, but I’m finding we are not.  I don’t want to turn this into a rant because I’m not Andy Rooney, don’t have the eyebrows, and don’t want that kind of a reputation.
But I am going to offer some suggestions about how to deal with us seniors.
First treat us as you would anyone else.  We have the same parts you have, they’re just more experienced.
Treating us the same as you would anyone else means that you don’t tiptoe around us or walk on eggs.  We like a good joke, and some of us enjoy a good dirty joke.  Our vocabularies are about the same as yours (except for mine because I was an English teacher and mine is bigger, hah hah hah), and many of us use more crude words because we aren’t around children much to influence them badly.  My favorite bad word these days is the same as it has always been, and it’s really versatile:  I can use it as an expletive/ interjection, a noun, a verb, an adjective, and an adverb.  It doesn’t work as a p fucking ronoun or a preposition however.
We are old.  We know we are old (just like fat people know they are fat and people of color know they are people of color) and you can’t soften it with patronizing, condescending word games.  

I am not sixty-five years young; I’m sixty-five years old.  Please don't address me as young man: that’s way too condescending.  I am Bill.  I am occasionally sir, or Mr. Moser.  I hate the term Mr. Bill because of what SNL did to it years ago.  If you feel you must have a title in front of Bill for your children, you may add Uncle or Grandpa.  Or come up with something and ask me about it.
Just because we are old does not mean that we want it pointed out or particularly want special treatment.
My wife and I do not go to bed at 8 p.m. or dark - which ever comes first.  We do not eat at 4 p.m. to get the old folks’ special.  
We do, however, ask for AARP/ senior discounts.  But before we got old we asked for the AAA discount, the teacher discount (which I still get at Apple), the student discount (I’ve been  in some form of school for 53 of my 65 years, and I’m taking a class at the local junior college currently), the nice guy discount, the couple pairs of socks with a pair of shoes, or whatever we could get.  In my case it’s a function of being cheap, not of being old, and cheap is a completely different dysfunction.
We wear age-appropriate clothes, which for me means comfortable without being stuffy.  I wear jeans, shorts (well, maybe not age-appropriate), tee-shirts (but generally without much writing, and certainly without the word fuck or even FCUK on them), and sandals when I can get by with it.  I don’t own a suit, and don’t particularly want to.  I own ties (some from the 1940’s that I got from my late father) and I wear ties about three times every two years on average.  My attitudes about clothes haven’t changed much since I graduated from college.  I don’t wear my pants below my butt because I (I AM conceding here to old age) don’t want to trip.  I’m scared of breaking something, and they just aren’t comfortable.

My wife doesn’t wear miniskirts any more.  It’s not that she doesn’t have good legs (believe me, she does); it’s that she doesn’t want to have to always worry that she looks like some of those people in the viral email photos of The People of Walmart.  She doesn’t look like those people and never will, but she’s still a little concerned.  She is somewhat more conservative than I am, dresses more nicely, and cleans up a great deal better.
We don’t want to be given the check at a restaurant because we are the oldest.  Nor do we want to NOT be given it because we are the oldest.  We generally pay our share.  Occasionally more, occasionally less - it evens out over the long run.
Our cell phones are merely basic.  That has to do with cheap and what we like to spend our shekels on - NOT age.  We don’t go very many places and we don’t work, so we don’t need to have internet, email, puzzles, GPS, bells, whistles, and pizza take away on our phones.  Our cell phones, which we use whenever we want, will text if necessary and  receive texts and voice mail in addition to their main use - calling people, or the cops, or the AAA if we have car trouble.  
We got the phones a couple years ago and bought 1,000 minutes.  At the end of the first year we had to buy another hundred minutes to make the old minutes roll over.  The end of the second year is coming up, and we’ll buy another hundred minutes.  My wife will have around 700 minutes.  I text occasionally, so I have fewer, around 500.  Our phones will cost us about - amortized - $2.50 a month this year.  They do everything we need.  We still have a land line through our cable company with free long distance. I throw my money away on art supplies, not cell phones.
I don’t like organ recitals from acquaintances.  If you aren’t part of my family (extended and chosen), I generally don’t want to hear about your ills, your prescriptions, your surgeries, your aches and pains.  And I don’t want to tell you about mine.  If you’re part of the intimate circle, I love you too much not to listen - and worry.
If I do something stupid or that offends you, call me on it.  My true friends always do.  I find that I have more filters rather than fewer as I age.  I bite my tongue more and don’t say as many of those clever hurtful things that pop into my head. This is the reverse of conventional wisdom where old people say whatever they want.  I always have, and got by with it because people accepted me that way.
In short, my age should not temper your dealings with me.  I’m still in here.  Don't treat me so softly you create a self-fulfilling prophesy and give me dementia.
As always, feel free to comment below.