Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Real Shakeup

Last night I railed at my television set.  This morning I cried. Now I'm trying to gather myself and look at what's next.  Laura reminds me that there are checks and balances, and she will go to her office today and try to calm her clients, who have been worried and anxious for months over the campaign, the debates, and a possible Trump presidency, now a shocking and grim reality. My friend Deb reminds me that we can't control this and we can only look forward. My friend Cindy assures me that we do not live in a dictatorship. My son calms my fears of losing a good part of my 401K in a market crash. My thoughts fly all over the place, as I wonder how the voices of Independents will ever be heard without millions of dollars to back them. How can they rise up within this system?

I know a shakeup was needed in our government. Maybe the democrats shot themselves in the foot by nominating Hillary,  I don't know.  Bernie Sanders would have been a much better choice. I could have trusted Bernie.

There are a lot of fears about a Trump presidency.  Noam has expressed his, many of which I share. Will Trump eliminate environmental regulations - what about fossil fuels? Will he eliminate Obama's health care plan and leave many millions without insurance?  What about the supreme court appointments - will his choices set the country back countless years? What will happen to immigrants, legal and illegal? What about Trump's relationship with Russia, and foreign policy in general? Can we trust this man with nuclear arms?  The questions are endless.

My older brother, Ron, one of the very few Trump supporters I am close with, called me this morning, knowing how horrified I have been by the prospect of a Trump presidency. He suggests that Trump was posturing during the campaign. Tears ran down my face as he proclaimed, "I told you he would get in!  People are sick and tired of the status quo!"  

I found some voice through my tears and said,"Yes, but this is not the man to change it. Ron, you love nature - do you know that Republicans for the most part don't believe there is a climate issue?"

This past summer, for the first time in 62 years, my brother stopped talking to me for more than a month when I told him he needed to stop watching Fox News. This morning he said something I do agree with.  "Family is most important, Bev.  You have to work together with the people in your life. We will help each other get through this. You watch, it won't be as bad as you think."

"Is that really the best we can hope for?" I ask. "That it won't be as bad as we think? This is a man who cheated in business, and stiffed employees." 

He says, "You're worrying too much about Trump. Look at his kids.  They're good, solid people.  You will see Trump's softer side, and he will do his best. We needed this change, and we will hold him responsible to bring about the right changes."

"Or what?" I ask him. "How will we stop Trump if he is the monster many of us fear he is, judging by the bigotry, bullying, and disrespect he shows women, employees, and human beings in general? What about his multiple bankruptcies, his failure to pay taxes?"

As much as I want to find comfort in my big brother's words, I don't have a lot of faith.

I hope I'm wrong, for the sake of the kids in my life, like Annika and Declan, Lily, Wes, Violet, and soon-to-be-born Owen.  And for the rest of us.

The most awesome Van Jones sums it up for me, below. Click the link and scroll down a bit to see the video.

New addition - Prof Chomsky predicted this 6 years ago.  Good article:

Monday, October 31, 2016

Fighting Crime!

Since it's Halloween, I thought I would post one of my favorite photos - this one is of my two favorite crime fighters.  Roxy, on the left, is dressed as Wonder Woman.

That's Noam on the right, dressed as himself.  They both signed the photo in the upper left-hand corner.  Thanks to Katharine W. for the idea, and the photo.  And thanks to Noam for being a good sport.

Happy Halloween, and stay tuned for my next about a week.

xo Bev

Thursday, October 20, 2016


On a recent evening, Roxy and I headed toward the elevator to travel down to the basement parking garage so I could go home and shake off my day.  I have to admit that when I’m in a cranky mood, my pet peeves erupt, and this was one of those days. Even knowing that sugar is not my friend, I had eaten, in all, three leftover cookies in the department’s front lounge throughout the day. I approached the elevator thinking about the many times people join me there, wearing ear buds and scrolling madly on their phones, completely tuned out to fellow travelers in this tiny space.  To be fair, they may also be overworked employees, or overwhelmed students looking forward to a break, a walk outside, some time away from MIT, from people.
Nonetheless, I like to engage them – I prefer not to think I’m provoking - by striking up a conversation.  I get some perverse satisfaction from the look on their faces as they force a smile, or more of a grimace (this lady has the nerve to interrupt my quiet time), and with all but an audible sigh unplug their ears to the sound of my voice saying something like, “What’s going to happen to all of us when we can’t communicate without technology?” Sometimes their eyes fly to the wall panel to see how close they are to their exit floor, but sometimes – and this gives me a little hope for the future of humanity – they smile and say, “I don’t know,” or even, “That’s a good question.”
Roxy often ambles over and sniffs the ankles of fellow passengers, I assume to check out whether they have a dog or cat at home. They usually stoop down to pet her, and getting a closer look, many ask how old she is.  I try not to hear that as, “How the heck old is that dog, anyway?” She was born with the large sad eyes of an old man – the kind of eyes that, in my mind, beg, “Please buy a sectional sofa from me.  I haven’t made one sale all week!” And her grayish muzzle has stood out against her curly brown hair since she was two. Roxy’s warmth toward people helps me in my crusade toward creating more personal interactions between strangers.
I was prepared for more of the same, but was pleasantly surprised when the door opened, revealing an empty elevator. I got in singing, trying to purge the sugar high from my body. My pleasure turned quickly to irritation, though, when the elevator stopped only one floor below.
A tall and handsome youngish man got in. Just in case he had heard me through the door, I laughingly confessed to him, “I was singing a song before the door opened.”  He smiled down at Roxy, who was sniffing his shoes. Without giving it much thought, I asked him, “What kind of world do you think it would be if we could keep singing on an elevator even after a stranger got in?”  
He nodded, and said “Right.” Was he just humoring me, I wondered? 
So I said to him, “Ok, so…sing something for me.” Sugar has been known to blur my social filter.
The man cleared his throat. “Oh, my, well…” And then he sang with a surprisingly sturdy baritone voice, “…uhm: Do-na, no-bis, pa-a-cem pacem” and I joined him in adequate mezzo-soprano harmony, “Do naaa, no-bis, paaa-cem. Do – na – no-o-bis pacem. Do naaa, no-o-bis, pa-a-a-a-cem.” The elevator landed on the first floor and dinged in perfect counterpoint as we sang the last note. 
The stranger glanced my way and stepped out. I called out to the man of few words with a  pleasing voice, “Well, I feel better!” and he nodded and waved.
The elevator opened to the basement, and Roxy and I got out. I thought about the many special weekends Laura and I have spent with one particular group of friends, Jan, Shelley, and Susan, singing more than a few rounds of Dona Nobis Pacem while hiking through the woods, building a fire, or making breakfast together, and I felt grateful for old friends, and grateful for willing strangers singing about peace in an elevator at the end of a long day.
The double set of stairs leading down to the parking garage made a dent in my sugar high, but I rode the wave of another high as I sang all the way to my car.
I chose the link below despite its spooky nature.  After all, this is the month of Halloween.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Grace Under Fire

One of the ways I clear my mind is by reading biographies and autobiographies. I follow up my readings by watching movies, YouTube videos, and articles about the individual, supplementing further with documentaries, concerts, and PBS specials. Over the years I learned in depth about Janis Joplin, Katharine Hepburn, Judy Collins, James Taylor, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Steve Martin, Bob Dylan, Diane Keaton, Jerry Seinfeld, Carol Burnett, and countless other musicians, comedians, and actors.
Jane Fonda was a notorious protester of the Vietnam War, and her political style angered Vietnam veterans, who had ben through hell and didn't want to hear from anti-war activists that their fighting in Vietnam was senseless. During a tour of North Vietnam, Jane was photographed sitting on an NVA (North Vietnamese Army) anti-aircraft gun, which she said wasn't intentional.  Fonda, referred to from then on as “Hanoi Jane,” expressed regret for having that picture taken, and for the pain that her action caused many American veterans, but it was hard for her to shake the negative impact that her politics had on her public image. I suppose that’s one reason people write biographies – to be understood, when they believe they have been misunderstood.
My family was personally touched by that war. My mother's younger brother Mike returned home with PTSD in his mid twenties, followed by a stroke at the age of 30, and for the remainder of his life, Mike walked with a cane and spoke only one word at a time. In an appeal process I undertook a few years after Mike was denied Agent Orange benefits, I proved that he had indeed been exposed to Agent Orange, which led to his receiving additional governmental compensation. His politics were very different from mine, but he lived his life as a gentle man and a proud veteran, passing away at the young age of 71.
I finished Fonda’s autobiography, My Life So Far, on a Sunday in 2006, and had it fresh in my mind when Noam arrived at work the next Tuesday.  I wanted to know what he felt about her.  Part of me guessed he would say the media had beefed up this and other stories about Fonda to distract from the real issue - the war.
I followed Noam into his office and waited for him to put down his briefcases. “Noam,” I said, trying to search for the right words, finally just getting my thought out, “I read Jane Fonda’s autobiography, and I was wondering about her unpopularity, which I thought might be based on false assumptions. Wasn’t she well-intended, if not misguided?”
I was tickled, but not surprised when Noam turned toward the doorway where I was standing, and said, “I’ll tell you about my experience with Jane Fonda.”   
There have been literally hundreds of times when I wanted to point a magical pause button at Noam and stop time for long enough to pull out a microphone, grab a bag of very lightly salted (high blood pressure) popcorn, prop my feet up on a chair, press the button, and give him the go ahead wave.
But having neither a pause button nor popcorn, I perked up my ears and prayed to the Gods of Good Memory that I would be worthy of what I was about to receive.  I wanted to take in and remember every word.
He told me that during the Vietnam War Jane invited him to a rally she was organizing in New York City.  Although Noam was heavily involved in Vietnam War protests, he initially refused, since he planned to be out of town until the night before, but Fonda talked him into flying into New York on his way home.  
He said that she was impatient with the paparazzi at the airport.  I imagined she was already burned out by the bad press she had received, and by strong criticism from the public.
Later, I asked him to fill in the blanks from his story – and this time I took notes.
He said it was a fundraiser for the antiwar movement.  She insisted that he fly out first-class. “I flew back on my own, economy -- I was more spry in those days.” It was held in some extremely elegant ballroom, filled with people he was told were very famous.  “I actually recognized one face: an actor in some children's show that we watched with the kids, maybe ‘I Dream of Jeannie,’ or something like that.  Comical to see the face there in the crowd.”  There was a panel, and each of them talked for about ten minutes while the audience waited for the main show.  Then the real affair started, he said. “People standing up and announcing: ‘I'm Phil Ochs’ [or whomever], huge applause.  And so on.  And yes, I couldn't stand it so left in the middle without telling anyone.  I suppose they thought I was going to the men's room.”
Noam never was one for what he perceives as self-promotion. In the end, he never really answered my question about Jane, and I decided to put it all on hold for a while.  Plus, my obsession with Jane was ebbing, and I was moving onto another biography.
But the question started nagging at me again when I finished watching two seasons of a show called Grace and Frankie, starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, about two women in their mid seventies whose law partner husbands fell in love with one another and summarily dumped them.  Now Frankie and Grace are forced to live together in their joint summer home, bringing into the open some real issues faced by aging women. I’d loved Jane Fonda since On Golden Pond, and before that, I loved her when her workout video helped whip me into shape.  I can still see my friend Linda and me in her basement workout room, sweating as Jane commanded: “Make it burn!”  I’ve been a fan of Lily Tomlin’s since she introduced Edith Ann on Laugh-In.
So I asked him again, because I wanted to know - wasn’t Jane Fonda a well-intended person who had just gotten some bad press in a particularly sensitive political climate? And finally, I got my answer.
“She was hated for being an activist, but we all were,” he said. “She resisted the Vietnam War, and nobody was liked for that. We were all hated at the beginning.”
He talked a little more about Jane and her husband Tom (Hayden) going off on a few political tangents, ending with, “She did a lot of good things.”
His answer seemed somehow obvious in retrospect. Of course they were all hated early on for opposing the war, because to think that way was deemed unpatriotic, particularly then. I may have figured this out for myself a long time ago, but the big picture escaped me when I was too busy trying to keep track of the small details of my job.  I suppose it is possible that Noam had tried to explain something like this to me years before, but I heard it differently this time because I’d learned more about the world of activism in the ten years since I first questioned him, much like Fonda’s character, Grace, who as of the last episode of the second season of Grace and Frankie is planning to change some things for aging women in, let’s just say, a more personal way.
If you're interested in Jane Fonda's version of what happened wrt the Vietnam War, read this:

The Truth About My Trip to Hanoi

Friday, July 29, 2016

Accidental Adoption

I was walking Roxy along the cobblestone sidewalk in Kendall Square during a much-needed late lunch break when the inevitable happened.  I adopted a child. My friend Ann, a long-ago graduate of MIT’s Linguistics Department, had been on my mind, and the all-American curly-haired blond teen who approached me reminded me of her son, Galen.  Despite Roxy’s insistent pulling at the other end of the leash (she was just feet from an overflowing trash container), I made eye contact with the young man.  He began his well-practiced spiel, quickly acknowledging that I was obviously a person who cares about the thousands of children who die of starvation each day, shrugging his shoulders every once in a while for emphasis, as if to say, “No brainer, right?”

My sponsored child, courtesy of ChildFund International, inspired by Maya Angelou (it said so on the card) would be a young female named Rajani. Rajani lives in India. She has dark, almost black, eyes and hair, a choppy boy’s haircut bearing a strange resemblance to my childhood pixie cut, and the barest hint of a smile. Purple ruffles were superimposed below her neck in the photo, presumably to underscore that she is indeed female.  I looked over at Roxy’s pleading stare, a Cocker Spaniel trait, and thought about how Laura and I have a deal that we will never spend money over the phone, by mail, etc.,(although we never specifically discussed on the street) from a solicitor without checking in with one another.  This is not a trust issue – it is an issue of two women with big hearts and long fingers reaching down deep into their well-worn wallets.  

Finally convinced this was legitimate, I gave my bankcard information to the young man and walked away with Rajani’s paperwork, reminding myself that I didn’t have to adopt her completely.  Even if I didn’t continue paying thirty-three dollars per month, the money I had just donated would go toward something she needed. Laura would surely forgive thirty-three dollars for a young girl in need.

I crossed the street toward the MIT Coop, eyeing a shady spot on the grassy mound in the center of the Wednesday Farmer’s Market, and felt again some strong resistance from Roxy. I turned to see her short stub wagging as she sniffed a small white Shih Tzu with dirty paws and a face in need of a warm, wet cleaning. She has not always been good with smaller dogs, but has mellowed in her old age. “His name is Prince,” the girl holding the Shih Tzu’s leash said, speaking and moving with slow deliberation. The dog’s tousled hair was standing up in the center of his head, and he resembled the young woman, who had a thick cluster of braids standing straight up in the center of her head, flaring outward like perfectly cooked asparagus at the edges of the wide band that held it all. I commented that her hair matched her dog’s, and she seemed pleased at the concept, as if she had never before considered the resemblance. Roxy has gently curling hair on her ears that resembles Laura’s hair on a good day, though her brownish-gold hair coloring and brown eyes are like mine. Yes, there is often a resemblance between pets and their owners.

Roxy and I found a cool spot under the trees, and I put the ChildFund booklet under me to protect my white pants on the grass. It’s been a long time since I played in the grass, but I assumed it still stains white clothing. I took a deep breath to settle myself as Roxy sniffed the grass where someone had no doubt once upon a time dropped food. Then I heard a familiar voice and turned around to see the Shih Tzu and the young woman.  She wore dark jeans and made the bold decision to sit directly on the grass.

“I know your dog’s name, but what’s yours?” I finally asked, figuring she must want to talk, since she was staring at Roxy and me.  “Kanji” she said, and I’m sure I’m spelling it wrong, but that’s what it sounded like phonetically. “I’m Nigerian and African-American,” she said. 

I remembered my goal when I was in my mid-thirties to plan a trip somewhere out of my comfort zone, somewhere breathtaking. After spending many nights with a large globe in my lap, I finally admitted my outrageous dream – to go to Africa on an animal safari.  I ended up planning a two-week trip a few years later to Tanzania with my friend Cindy, who had spent time in western Africa with the Peace Corps.  I told some of the story to Kanji. “It took a lot of my savings, but it was a highlight of my life,” I said, realizing it had been almost twenty-five years since I took that trip. 

“I would like to go to Nigeria one day.  My brother wants us to go and visit there,” she said. She had striking features, and a gentle, soft way about her. 

“Why not practice saying, ‘I will go to Nigeria one day,’” I suggested.

A smile gradually stretched across her face as she looked to the side and pondered the concept. “I will go to Nigeria one day,” she said, looking back at me with bright eyes.

“Are you a student in the area?” I asked.

“No, I’m not a student.  In fact, I’m unemployed.”

“What kind of job are you looking for?”

“I don’t know, but I made a first step and talked with someone who can help place me.  I’m waiting to hear,” she said.  And after a pause, “I actually love writing. I want to be a writer.”

“I can help you with that if you’re interested,” I said, and I gave her my card. “It helps to read the writings of others. I suggest that you read something of mine, or anything someone else has written, and tell me how the story makes you think about something in your own life, and we can start a correspondence.  I tutored many people your age when I was working on my graduate degree.”  I didn’t tell her that I quit before finishing my master’s in psych counseling when the focus shifted to kids. I would have wanted to take them all home. Not just the kids, but all of the troubled people who would confide in me. I would be too sensitive for that work.

We chatted a little more, and then it was time for Roxy and me to get back to MIT.  “Thank you” she said, taking my hand and shaking it firmly, smiling again.

They say things happen in threes.  I felt today that I had three adoptees – Rajani, Ganji, and our beautiful Roxy, whom we met thirteen years ago at just over a year old. We had gone to the vet to have our two cats checked out, with no plan to adopt a dog.  But then we saw her immense brown eyes peering back at us through a matt of dirty brown hair, waiting to be seen by two big-hearted women. 

I was sure that Laura would forgive my accidental adoption, and maybe we would even do it for an entire year. No brainer, right?  

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Rage, Bad Religion, and LSD

My son Jay tried to keep Laura and me high on the “knowledge of cool music” scale. Since the night the floor manager sneaked my friend and me into the last half of a Beastie Boys concert when Jay was fourteen, music has been one of the ways we’ve bonded. Jay updated us often on the best and newest musicians, fearing I would otherwise be stuck forever in the 60’s, with Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Dylan, James Taylor, and Carole King.  There are worse things, if you ask me.

So when he handed us an envelope one Christmas morning, we had an idea that it might contain two tickets to see a band. For the two previous Christmases, he had given us tickets to attend a standing room only performance of - I have to admit – a fabulous young band called Lake Street Dive. Laura and I call them LSD for short.  We opened the envelope, and voila.  LSD. Again.  “Listen, go in and stand right in front of the sound guy.  The sound is best in that spot, and you can lean against the railing.  Plant yourself there, and don’t move,” he said with his usual in-the-know enthusiasm.  The following March we headed for the show, navigating Boston traffic and parking where he instructed us, and walking to the House of Blues where we queued up in a long line with twenty-, thirty-, and a few forty-somethings. When we reached the venue, I was asked by a middle-aged security guard to open my purse.  I unzipped the center pocket, exposing a small metal pill case. 

“I assume you have some hard core pills in there,” he joked. 

“Yes, they’re for my blood pressure. Would you like to buy a couple?” I asked. He chuckled (or was it a gasp?) and waved me through. Had he asked me for an ID, I would have opened my shirt collar to expose my neck. The things I find I can get away with – or just think about getting away with - beyond my 60th birthday.

I'll back up here and take a slight, but related tangent.

I don’t remember the exact moment when I realized that being Noam Chomsky’s gatekeeper could at times feel magical. Recognition of my “people will offer me free things” superpower was concurrent with my sudden awareness of the political savvy of a good number of well-known punk and hard rock musicians who were contacting our office.  Well-known to me through Jay. Just a couple years into my job, I remember being impressed by a letter from Noam to Jello Biafra when it landed on my desk, thanking him for a packet of tapes he had sent to our office. 

Noam wrote: Many thanks for the tapes...though to be honest, I have to say that finding a moment to listen to tapes is a luxury I rarely have. 

In other words, there's not always room for Jello. I noted to Noam as an aside that Jello Biafra was founding member of a political punk band called “The Dead Kennedys.”  He looked at me blankly.  Never mind.

Once I recognized my superpower, I learned to keep my ears and mind open.  Jay moved to Colorado after college, in May of 1996, and soon after, I intercepted an email from Greg Graffin, co-founder, lead singer and songwriter for the band Bad Religion. In a subsequent phone conversation, I learned it was Greg’s dream to meet Noam, and after a few minutes of investigative correspondence (meaning I stayed on the phone with Greg as long as possible to impress Jay with details), I mentioned the fact that my son was a big fan and lived in the Denver area. Greg said he would be sure to send him two tickets to the band’s upcoming concert at the Paramount Theater, and back stage passes. I pinched myself. I also learned from Greg that Bad Religion had recorded a political commentary of Noam's as a single in 1991. 

Later in the day I asked Noam if he remembered the band, and he said, “I do, and I think we have copies of that record around here somewhere.”  This was one of the first times I was surprised at what Noam took in.  I would never have guessed that the records would have even cross his radar.

I got him settled into his next interview and went off to the nearby locked space that we referred to as “Noam’s library” -- a huge, treasure-trove of a room in the old Building 20, filled with a collection of Noam’s favorite books -- many of them now valuable collectors items -- his bibliography, periodicals, reprints, and drafts of political and linguistics book chapters, which spilled from shelves or peeked out from cardboard boxes on the floor.  Walls of file cabinets were filled with correspondence, Noam’s articles and interviews, and other people’s articles. I went through a few boxes on the floor, returning briefly once or twice that week, but finding nothing. At the beginning of the second week I reached into one dusty box and all but danced a jig when I found a half dozen copies of the 7” vinyl record titled, “New World Order: War #1.” Find it here  When Noam signed two of them for me his next day in, he asked, “What are these?” His focus had obviously shifted since our conversation about the single, and I recognized the glazed-over look that followed anything longer than a brief explanation, so I kept it short, and moved on.

Guitarist Tom Morello, former Rage Against the Machine band member, came into focus for me in 1996 as well, when he emailed me to ask if Noam would agree to an interview to be aired as a National Radio Broadcast.  This would be the first time Tom interviewed anyone on National radio, and he was anxious, excited, and doubtful, but I nudged Noam to say yes. Tom was thrilled, and I was once again a proud Mama - not only because this impressed Jay, but also because Tom called me 'Mom' for a while later. Tom was later prominent on Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday celebration cd, sent to me by one of Seeger's assistants as thanks for arranging a phone conversation between Pete and Noam.  I loved Seeger, but Jay had no interest in his music, putting him in the same category as Baez and Mitchell.

A few years later, in 2000, I wrote to another Rage Against the Machine member, Zack de la Rocha, the band's former front man and songwriter, “Professor Chomsky has agreed to an interview with you… and I hope you don’t mind, but I would like to ask you a favor. My son has been following Rage for a long time, and he would love to meet you when you’re here.” Knowing myself, it’s possible that I jokingly suggested he could interview Noam only if he agreed to talk with Jay.
It thrilled me when Zack agreed. One more notch on my “Cool mother” belt, on the shoulders of Noam Chomsky. Mea Culpa, but ask any mother how far she would go to add a notch to that belt, and you will find forgiveness.

Graphic designer Brad K. approached me in 2003 to ask me to convince Noam to have his likeness printed on the underside of a promotional skateboard deck for the band Pearl Jam called “American Heroes.” I told Noam that his oldest grandson would be impressed, adding that Jay thought Pearl Jam was an intelligent political band. Noam had recently written an article for Pearl Jam’s “The Manual For Free Living” newsletter, though he probably had no idea at the time who or what Pearl Jam was. Months after I told Brad that Noam agreed, he sent me a publicity package including the finished decks for Jay, me, and Noam’s grandson.  I was a repeat offender.

For more than twenty years Jay and I had the conversation about how to get Noam to proactively reach out to younger people.  I realize now that he always has “gotten” how important that was, especially as I stand back and count the number of bands he connected with, even before my enthusiasm helped sway his decisions in the mid 90’s, and for years after that, or so I like to think.

Back to the present.

For almost four hours, from the time the doors opened until LSD was winding down, Laura and I stood in front of the sound guy as my son advised, leaving our post only once each to use the bathroom. It was a truly great show, but the railing was too flimsy to lean against, and we felt the burn walking back to the car after standing for so long in one spot. The next year I dropped some hints about surprising us with tickets to an old-fart performance, like Joan Baez or James Taylor. Actually, I really didn’t care who they were, as long as the venue had seats.  Unless I developed another superpower – the ability to turn the clock back a few decades.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Two fun links

Here are two recent links that I found interesting.

Noam talks about his 8th grade teacher, and how she affected his way of looking at life and learning. Interview with Bob Greenberg, March, 2016.

(Mine was Mrs. Czarnowski, writing teacher jr year at Waltham High.  By the time I thought to send her a note, she had passed away.  Is there a teacher somewhere you should write to?)  I dedicate this one to Mrs. Czarnowski, and also to Charles W. Gimby (aka Dad29), who has received lots of letters and calls from old students through the years.

Chomsky on his most-remembered teacher.

And in case you didn't know it already (Thank you, Foy Vance...):

(I just have to say - I still like RAGE and Bad Religion - coming up soon in my next blog post.)

Chomsky is a Soft Revolution...!

I'll be returning with a new post in April!


Wednesday, February 24, 2016


I was startled to hear Noam’s voice over my right shoulder.

“Hey! Look at that!” he said, his eyes intent on my keyboard.

His tone and excitement alarmed me, and I pulled my fingers from the home row keys as if a hairy twenty-six-legged creature with probing antennae was crawling toward my wrist.

“What?” I yelled out, looking down at my hands. “My nail polish? I know, I never wear nail polish,” I said, curling my fingers inward like the shriveled toes of the wicked witch to hide the worn spots on my nails. I heard my mother’s voice telling me, “You know, it wouldn’t hurt you to spruce yourself up once in a while.” She and my father, both snazzy dressers, somehow bore four children, of whom only one had any interest in clothing. I have to admit that I feel better when I wear a new sweater, or spend extra time on my hair, and I always secretly thank her for her well-intended ‘encouragement.’ Having said that, the one and only time I wore a skirt and heels to the office, Noam, who dresses in jeans and sneakers every day, asked with concern, “Are you going on a job interview?”

When I looked up again I saw that Noam was shaking his head. “No, all of your keys are labeled!” he said, pointing his index finger at my keyboard.

“Uhmm, what… what are you saying?” I asked.

“The letters on my keys have all rubbed off!” he said, cocking his head and laughing. 

My mind’s eye lit up with images of Noam’s hunched body, hands hammering away on thesis drafts, letters to the editor, articles, statements of solidarity, petitions, professional correspondence, recommendation letters, arguments, lectures, and email, for decades, on countless keyboards. First manual and electric typewriters, then word processors and progressively streamlined and ergonomically correct wireless keyboards, all the way to the present-time smaller keys of his compact laptop. I imagined tiny white specs of metal, paint and plastic embedding themselves beneath his fingernails, or flying off and landing in his eyebrows and the waves of his graying hair until only hints of letters, like the small upper crescent of the O, and the right most tip of the T, remained. I saw him striking the S with spectacular speed while writing his earliest drafts of Syntactic Structures. I envisioned each subsequent keyboard wailing and heaving as the refractory R succumbed to his repetitive rage against the machine, leaving this last keyboard black and bleak.

But then again, some letters may have disappeared along with others, an entire word at a time: morphophonemics, language, terrorism, thought, mind, media…there are endless possibilities. Or they vanished in long sentences: yawning colorless green ideas tumbling half-awake to his office floor and clinging statically to his slippers, trailing behind him as he navigated his overflowing office. In still another scenario, I could imagine keyboard neighbors “o” and “i” holding hands and jumping ship together, wearing only a diphthong. Or is it possible that his most-quoted phrases, in a show of solidarity, leapt to the floor to guide his steps steadily between rising stacks of journals, photos, old and priceless carbon copies and annotated manuscripts?  Did they level his locomotion as he shuffled through that perpetually diminishing pathway between desk and printer until the floor’s polished sheen gave way to a narrow trail of bare, creaky wood?

Noam rolled a chair next to mine to review the week’s schedule, but I was too distracted by the word “censored” floating from behind his square eyeglass lenses up to his creased brow to notice the strange tone of his voice. Then he hiccupped a partly-formed paragraph that jettisoned under my desk, landing on Roxy’s back where she slept, snoring.  No harm done. I reached down and managed to pinch an entire sentence between my index finger and thumb. It struggled erratically, biting at my nails, and finally relaxed and stretched into its gravitational pull. I apologized to Noam for reading his mind, and recited aloud:

The general population doesn’t know what’s happening, and it doesn’t even know that it doesn’t know.

I inhaled deeply, shook myself free from my reverie and said, “I’ll get you a new keyboard tomorrow.”

Noam is losing his letters.  I am losing my mind. And the nail polish.