Toronto journal 4: King Lear and the Subterranean Underground

We are going to Hyde Park to see King Lear,” Brandon said. Turns out he said High Park. Which is where we sat, perched high on a hill overlooking the outdoor stage at High Park in north Toronto. My expectations were low but I did carry high expectations in a picnic bag, a sub sandwich giving a measure of hope for enjoyment during the evening performance.

Shakespeare is sometimes difficult to follow. Lots of humor missed but I noticed veterans of Shakespeare in the audience chuckling so it must be funny and I’m just slow to the meaning translating Queen’s English into a slow Okie drawl. The production was performed with members of York University’s Drama and Arts School. York is the University where my son is working on his Masters Thesis on Radar Differential Measurement or something meteorologically spatial.

Anyway, it’s the shape of stuff in the atmosphere before it hits us on the head. He has developed a certain expertise in radar and was recruited to York University by the noted Atmospheric Scientist, Dr. Peter Taylor.

We also met Brandon’s buddies in the program, ZQ, Tim, Kai, and Isaac. My evaluation of Brandon’s friends: they are easy-going and smarter than I am. We are eating at a sports bar and there are several televisions tuned to street motorcycle racing, the kind where the rider turns corners with the bike leaning over sideways and Isaac (17 years old) is asking how the bike makes the turn at such high-speed. Tim, the one the guys jokingly call the savant, is studying atmospheric pollutants and has just returned from the northern Canadian woods where he is downloading data from the atmosphere. Tim pulls out a plain paper notebook and begins to sketch a model of movement at speed describing centrifugal force with mathematics, a simple graph and pencil and paper.

I don’t understand the sketch and I want to snap a picture but don’t want to appear to be a hayseed and make a big deal out of what they take as a mundane mathematical explanation for a visual and visceral sport like motorcycle racing. I wonder if this happens everyday in their world.

We’ve enjoyed the food in Toronto. One can eat at any country in the world when in Toronto. Bahn Mi from Vietnam, Pork Shoulder sandwiches from Cuba, and of course the traditional Canadian meal of Poutine, fries, gravy, cheese curds, yummy.

We’ve had a wonderful trip! We drove through Michigan after crossing the Canadian border at Sarnia, about 30 miles north of Detroit. We listened to the Audiobook version of Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann while driving home. It literally wore me out, but it was fascinating. A lot of King Lear in Osage County back in the 1920’s, when the Osage Indians were the richest people per capita in the world and J.Paul Getty and Sinclair and Frank Phillips gathered under the Million Dollar Elm to bid on the Osage Indians’ subterranean kingdom.

The Osage built mansions and drove Cadillacs and succumbed to the foolishness of riches just like most of us do, and then one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The story is an indictment of the prejudice toward American Indians that allowed the murderers to operate with impunity. Utterly compelling, but also emotionally draining. The bad guys could just have easily been actors in a Shakespearean tragedy like King Lear…

rascals, eaters of broken meats; base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knaves; lily-livered, glass-gazing, super-serviceable finical rogues.

Bill Shakespeare could really talk some trash.

A few evenings back, we sat with Brandon and Liz watching some old home movies that I had sent off to Legacy Box. They converted our home movies in 8mm and VHS format films into digital which we accessed through wi-fi. We stumbled upon this: Brandon struggling to breathe his first breath. One of the nurses was a good friend, Maresha Scarsdale, and I handed her the video camera. He is purple. Brandon thinks he looks like a purple lizard. Oxygen hasn’t coursed through his body and made him pink yet. I’ve never watched this. I was there, yes, and I held him and marveled then. I’m tearing up again watching and remembering…Brandon is struggling to breath, gurgling cries, his airways still not clear…Ello Stephney, another nurse friend of ours is working on him, clearing out his mouth and nose, and he magically begins to glow pink…he isn’t a lizard, he is human.

“When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools.” ― William Shakespeare, King Lear

We all cry before the blood fills our veins and oxygen brightens our countenance and we nestle in the warmth of human contact, and we determine that the fools and knaves and killers of the flower moon may share the stage, but they won’t rule the story.

Thanks for showing us around Toronto Brandon and Liz. You really put on a great show!

 

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On Community

On a recent vacation, I was driving in Denver and saw out of the corner of my eye the passenger window coming down at a busy intersection. My friend Bob rolls down the window and has a bill crumpled in his hand. He yells out at a gritty, ragged homeless man who is seated but now trying to get on his feet, “How ya doin’? Don’t get up…here, I’ll throw it too you.” And he tosses a crumpled bill at the man’s feet. Bob rolls up the window and I said, “What did you throw?” Bob replies, “A $100 bill.” I told Bob, “You went to heaven and hell in one sentence.”

Bob meets homeless folks on vacation while I take a more vocational tack. My laptop is nearby, the cell phone rings continuously, and texts chime like streaming points in a Bally pinball game. Even within the slower cadence of vacation, the fourth commandment of the Decalogue is being trampled beneath the virtuous feet of vocation.

According to David Brooks writing for the New York Times in an article titled, The Great Affluence Fallacy, “Antisthenes, a Greek cynic philosopher, is cited as one of the first to equate effort with goodness and virtue. He coined the original workaholic paradigm. Antisthenes,

  • Had no feeling for celebration.
  • Was a-musical.
  • Felt no responsiveness to Eros (he said he “would like to kill Aphrodite”)

Mr. Brooks goes on to say, “Leisure does not mean what it once meant. The word leisure came from a Greek word translated into Latin as the word we now use for school. We have lost the meaning of leisure in our rush to perfect our work.”

What’s replaced our traditional idea of leisure is vocation. Our vacations are mild repetitions of our vocations.

Flying back from Denver to Tulsa I glanced over and noticed that Karen was reading a historical book of Summit county Colorado which includes Breckenridge, Silverthorne, and Frisco. Karen is practicing the way of classical leisure, slowing down long enough to learn about the places that we visit.

My daughter and her husband live in the Lohi section of Denver. They are house sitting for a young lady who is spending several months in India training in yoga. They maintain the row style shotgun duplex with a backyard a bit larger than a ping-pong table, in return for lodging and they are also surrogate parents to a couple of rescue dogs, Sunny, a small wispy female, and Trout, a spunky young male. Twice a day, the dogs are walked, and when the leash is in hand and the door knob turns, they growl and turn on each other in a flurry of fur as they engage in a little WWF dog fighting.

Lohi (lower highlands) is an eclectic neighborhood with top shelf restaurants like Root Down, Spuntino, Linger, and the Gallop Cafe. Around the corner is the American Cultures Kombucha Taproom where we enjoyed a sampler of teas with names like Happy Leaf and Rowdy Mermaid. There is a sense here of what John Denver sang about nearly 50 years ago, the Rocky Mountain high of friends sitting around a campfire looking at the Perseid meteor showers on a moonless, cloudless night.

There are churches next to funky bistros and many used bookstores in this lovely old neighborhood with a history going back to the Arapahoe, Shoshones, and Utes, living along the banks of the Platte River hundreds of years ago. Living in the Highlands today is like living atop an archaeological tel, the geography is littered with events and names and people and places.

After the Arapahoe and Shoshone and Utes, the Italians and German and Latinos came. The old churches, Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Saint Patrick’s, are beautiful and have absolutely no parking. You park on the street, as best you can. I became adept at parallel parking a Chevy Suburban in this neighborhood which should qualify me for a CDL. There are layers upon layers of history here, new layers added each generation. Now, this neighborhood is experiencing gentrification and is a mixture of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life  and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road with a splash of Sixties tie dye and Nineties grunge.

David Brooks writes about the challenges facing young adults like my daughter and son-in-law. He says, “A few years ago, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis came out with a song called “Can’t Hold Us,” which contained the couplet: “We came here to live life like nobody was watching/I got my city right behind me, if I fall, they got me.” In the first line they want complete autonomy; in the second, complete community. But, of course, you can’t really have both in pure form. This is transformational, but not new. I am unique and yet like everyone else. I am free and yet I still belong. Young folks today are heading, it seems, in the direction of community and neighborhood hospitality, rather than national identity or the borderless digital world.”

Mr. Brooks quotes Sebastian Junger’s book, “Tribe”, which raises the possibility that our culture is built on a fundamental error about what makes people happy and fulfilled. Junger writes about the American Indian and about how they were more communal. “They would have practiced extremely close and involved child care. And they would have done almost everything in the company of others. They would have almost never been alone.” Mr. Brooks goes on to say, “Our institutions can offer only service — not care — for care is the freely given commitment from the heart of one to another…Maybe we’re on the cusp of some great cracking. Instead of just paying lip service to community while living for autonomy, perhaps people are actually about to change and immerse themselves in local communities.”

 

Learning at the Speed of Hair

My son is getting an $8,000 haircut in two weeks. He’s been at the University of Hamburg studying and traveling since January and for the past two years his hair has grown along with his learning, a marker of time, evidence that the shafts of hair are passing through the follicle reservoirs at the speed of, well…hair. During the anagen phase of hair growth the root of the hair is dividing rapidly, adding to the hair shaft. During this phase the hair grows about 1 cm every 28 days. Using hair math, Brandon’s hair is 24 cm long or in the United States, 9.45 inches. Here we have two years of hair grown at the speed of one centimeter per month.
Brandon Surfer Ocean City
If hair could talk, what would it say? Brandon’s hair has seen two years of life, Meteorological School at the University of Oklahoma and the University of Hamburg, his locks have traversed snowy slopes on skis in the shadow of the Matterhorn, flown in jets at 37,000 feet, rode the rails through the northern Deutschland hinterlands and strolled the gingerbread streets of Amsterdam.
brandon hair
A recent 4G commercial touted the virtues of speed. A wise but patient man in a business suit asks children whether faster or slower is better. The kids agree faster is better…cars, spaceships, grandma with a cheetah strapped to her back…but nothing compares to the speed of data traveling along this 4G network. It may not be the speed of light, but it’s faster than the speed of dark, which is still being measured by NASA scientists…and the Department of Motor Vehicles Licensing Staff.

Once in my youth, our childhood eyes were drawn to the sky, this wonderful sky painted Air Force blue brushed with ribbons of jet contrail, a three-dimensional palate we filled with Superman, rocket ships and Astroboy. Kids in my neighborhood listened to the supersonic boom of jets and the honking of geese flying south. Both birds flew but at different speeds.

Is faster better?

In the atmosphere of my childhood we sensed inspiration enabled by a world that was bigger, bigger in the sense that we were further apart, informationally disconnected, slower, less urgent, less immediate, living within broad swatches of slow and considered, we watched paint dry and clocks stand still, we lived our childhood at the speed of hair, and while slower isn’t necessarily better, sometimes slower enables learning to grow in places that speed glosses over omitting the beautiful nuances and graceful crevices of roadways life.

Albert Einstein once imagined himself riding a beam of light. I imagine riding the shaft of life traveling at the speed of hair, remembering something I once read about how to travel, not just touristy travel, but life travel. “Learning is inversely proportional to the speed you travel.”

Next week we’ll travel to Germany to see our son, because we love him and miss him and because for Mother’s Day, he posted a message on Facebook that his gift to his mother would be a pair of hair clippers and fifteen minutes of stillness in which the locks will be shorn and fall to the floor, two years of life, two years of living at the speed of hair. But we are not spending $8,000 just to travel to Germany and cut Brandon’s hair. We’re going to travel about Europe, a place I’ve never experienced with my feet. We’ll take a jet across the pond, ride the rails across the continent, roll along pastoral highways on buses, but we’ll also walk, taking it all in, enjoying, soaking up life with our toes wiggling and our heels touching old European cobblestones and if we really go slow, we just might learn a thing or two.