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The Reason for the Season

The Reason for the Season

I loathe the culture war centered around “putting the ‘Christ’ back into ‘Christmas'”. However, I want my children to know the reason behind every season. Despite them rolling their eyes, I always discuss with my kids the significance of cultural events and holidays.

It’s worth the eye rolls for my kids to understand why of cultural markers and holidays.

This applies most especially to holidays as “abstract” as Veteran’s Day. Yesterday, my older kid jumped with joy as she celebrated having THREE DAYS OF MORNING TELEVISION this weekend. Uncharacteristically, I held my tongue so as not to deflate her joy. I’ll save the posturing about Veteran’s Day for the actual day.

I’ve always been (morbidly) fascinated by WWI, which came to an end 101 years ago, today, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. This was the first war in which men were able to massacre acres of men without catching sight of each other. The wide-scale use of machine guns, tanks, airplanes and trench warfare that wasted a generation rooted in agreements and misunderstandings between insecure, rich white men trying to keep their place in the upper-class mastering the universe.

Talk about toxic masculinity.

WWI was the end of an era (for the Western, Caucasian paradigm) in which impersonal savagery replaced, well…personal savagery.

In contrast to WWII which created the greatest generation of stoic, productive veterans, the survivors of WWI fostered a culture of tremendous self-reflection. Poets, artists and writers emerged from the trench horror facing a world without meaning. Battlefield savagery created direct artistic movements of nihilism, abstraction and darkness; because after all they had expereinced, how could artistic expression ever again just be “beauty and expression for escapist enjoyment” anymore? WWI created modernism, and everything changed.

Today, Veteran’s Day is known as Remembrance Day in Canada and Armistice Day in Europe. Poppies are worn on the lapel as a symbol of remembrance (“lest we forget”) to commemorate the vast fields of poppies that sprung up across the mass graves in Belgium and France. The poppies were the inspiration for John McCrae’s poem, “Fields of Flanders.”

Last year, in France, French President Emmanuel Macron declared at the ceremony marking the end of WWI, “Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. In saying ‘Our interests first, whatever happens to the others,’ you erase the most precious thing a nation can have, that which makes it live, that which causes it to be great and that which is most important: Its moral values.”

I couldn’t agree more – patriotism is the opposite of nationalism. And nationalism led to WWI.

Because nationalism (setting national gain over international citizenship) is what caused WWI. And nationalism could easily cause another unimaginable world conflagration. This is what most scares me about Trump and what most scares me about my kids’ generation not having a grasp of history. I pray neither of my children ever has to endure a generational war (although let’s not forget that American forces are waging battles around the world, today).

In order to raise “good” kids, I’m constantly preoccupied with their sense of gratitude and appreciation. So, yeah: I’ll always lecture them on history and teach the significance of world citizenship. They’ll be good kids if they grasp “world citizenship” and that patriotism means NOT allowing insecure, rich men to repeat history and take us down the path of selfish nationalism, again.

We’re all in this together…the entire world.

I don’t exactly know how to talk with my kids about such disturbing issues as massive loss of life in the name of freedom (and on behalf of European royals and leaders). But I’ll lecture my kids and will embrace the eye rolls in the interest of world citizenship and patriotism. I’ll recite “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae, even though it’ll mean nothing to my kids.

For now.

And I’ll keep doing so…to protect them and their future.

Art Changes Everyday Life. But Why Bother?

Art Changes Everyday Life. But Why Bother?

A conversation I had with myself while waiting in January sub-freezing temperatures for two hours to spend about five minutes in an art exhibit so I could feel cultural and be able to Insta-brag. I had some real epiphanies about parenting and art…mainly: Art changes everyday life.

And even when it’s fleeting and temporary, that’s OK.

Thus: my misery in collective, cultural experience:

9:40? not bad. I’m probably about the 100th in line. But did any of these surrounding tourists drop off kids at school, this morning?

Surely that chalked sign on the sidewalk can’t be accurate: “90 minute wait from this point.” Yeah, right. It can’t seriously take that long to see this artist. Wait, what is this exhibit, again?

I dunno. I just saw it on Instagram and read about it in the Times, a few months ago. So…I’m here because the Times and some people on IG told you to come?

More or less.

So we are posers. Just wanting to see things cuz other people are doing it?

I guess. Isn’t everybody?

Especially in New York.

Seriously – except for the 1% of artistic elite (and who are those people, anyway?) aren’t we all just seeing stuff cuz other people tell us to?

Do you think we’ll get in and think it’s stupid?

I mean, duh. It’s some woman’s paintings of polkadots.

Seriously – like, our six year-old could almost do the exact same thing.

Right.

How much time has passed?

Three and a half minutes.

Jesus H. I’m freezing. Thank goodness for this coffee to warm my hands.

For now.

Seriously.

<20 seconds of silence passes in the freezing cold>

Two hours in the bitter cold just to say we did it? Is this worth it? This is when New York sucks. There’s just too much demand.

I know. The crowds screw it up for everyone.

But we still play the game. You just do these things to say “I was there”?

Uh-huh.

The Gates?

Right.

That play you had to see in three parts and some people saw it all in one day.

Right. I missed that. Coast of Utopia?

Something like that.

Hamilton.

At the Public.

Right. Pre-Broadway. I’ll always brag about that.

That photographic exhibition on the old White Star Lines pier ten years ago?

Right. With the over-sized sepia photography of elephants and kids underwater.

Oh, yeah. That was…random. But it felt cool to have seen it.

And brag that you were there.

Right.

But now? We’re standing in line for 2 hours…

Please don’t let it be that long. Surely that’s an exaggeration.

And we will be in the gallery room for a couple minutes, at the most.

Wait, what?

Yeah, they don’t let you linger more than 30 seconds in the three rooms. There’s just too much demand.

Ohmigod, this is bullshit.

Thank god the kids aren’t here.

Seriously. And then in those 30 seconds, we’re just gonna have our phones out Insta-bragging about the experience. Shouldn’t we put phones away and be in the moment?

Are you fucking kidding? Then there’s no proof we were there. If it doesn’t happen on Instagram….

I know. But this is art and it’s fleeting. Maybe we should go all 19th-century?

Hell, no.

I kinda think you shouldn’t photograph churches or sunsets. Photos never do it justice.

Um, 1986 called. It wants its photographic pretension back. Are you kidding me? This is why we’re here! Pretension! Shouldn’t we be too good for Instagram?

I suppose. This kinda thing drives me crazy, though. Reminds me of my mom. She drug me around to museums and always took 6 hours to read every panel about harbor seal genus or random Dutch painters who weren’t even in the same epoch as Von Gogh. It was awful. I hated museums.

But you remember going, right?

I guess.

And were you the most worldly 4th grader having schlepped through the Air and Space Museum for six hours?

Um, maybe? Was it worth it? Wouldn’t I still have been smart’ish without suffering through four hours in an art museum that no 10-year-old could care about?

Who could say?

What if I had my kids, here? They’d just whine and say they wanna go and I’d just be herding cats and telling them, “don’t touch that. Don’t touch that. Stop running. Don’t touch anything. Calm the fuck down.”

Right.

So what would be the point?

(Hint: Art changes everyday life. Is that enough?)

They’d remember it like you remember suffering through the Air and Space Museum.

Is that why we do this? We bring on the sadist and the masochistic cultural suffering to brag we were there and hope our kids will have a faint memory of having done it…just so we all get social ladder points for saying, “I was there.”

Maybe.

Couldn’t we just see it in a book? Instead of waiting for 2 hours in 27 degree weather? How long’s it been? An hour?

Fourteen minutes.

I can’t feel my feet and my coffee’s gone.

Luckily it’s not snowing.

Yet.

So then we will get inside and just video the entire thing and our pictures of ourselves will be in mirrors with our own reflections. How’s that an artistic experience?

I’m not sure.

Shouldn’t it be a pure artistic experience? Something zen-like?

Like through the eyes of kids?

Right. Un-besmirched by technology.

Sure. It’s the 21st century. But, I dunno. You’ll have recorded it.

Will I ever watch the video again? Sure as shit no one else wants to watch it.

What’s a “pure” artistic experience, anyway? Who can quantify that?

Does it matter?

I suppose just being silent with the art.

Sure. Silence is golden. But we’re limited to 30 seconds in this exhibit. It’s not like you can commune with any of this polk-a-dot nonsense.

Right.

How do you ever achieve zen –like appreciation of anything? A sunset, a church, a piece of art?

I dunno. Just…try to enjoy it.

Huh.

…..

Has it been an hour, yet?

Twenty three minutes.

Ohmigod. I’m really questioning this.

It’ll be great. Just…enjoy the moment.

That’s it?

I mean, shit. It’s just polk-a-dots. Are you supposed to get greater meaning out of life from polk-a-dots?

And tiny, repetitive eyeballs painted by a funky 90 year-old woman.

Right. That. Is that really art?

Well, it’s silly. And whimsical. And that’s fun, isn’t it? In the age of…

Right. Trump.

See? Don’t we need more colorful eyeballs and polkadots to take us out of our every day?

I guess that could be enough.

Sometimes it just needs to be. Smile at the polkadots, even with your phone in your hand. Enjoy it.

Yeah, I suppose even Van Gogh would say that.

Eh, probably not. He’d have already become pretentious and over-analytical.

But for the rest of us…just…enjoy it.

I’ll try. Makes sense.

……

How long, now?

Thirty-one minutes.

Why am I sweating so badly in my pits? Always in the cold, if I just stand here, my pits are over-active. Are they confused?

I can’t answer that for you.

….

So this’ll be worth it?

Sure it will. You’ll remember the suffering, you’ll remember the polkadots, and you’ll remember how you smiled through it.

Art changes everyday life

That should be enough.

It has to be.

And we can brag “we were there.”

Exactly.

And that’s the point of art?

Sometimes. Why not? A memorable blip on our generally boring existence?

Fair point.

…….

How much time, now?

Forty-one minutes.

The mesmerizing art of Yayoi Kusama - the endless repetition of mirrors and balls and polkadots.
Okay – it was mesmerizing. And now – looking back on these pix, I’m glad I took them. Because art changes everyday life.
I'm a bit perplexed, but also fascinated.
It’s silly. It’s whimsical. It’s wonderful.
Kusama's tiny room of endless reflection and color.
I mean – yeah. This is cray-cray. And I love it.
The E.C.Knox "Windsor" posing...unknowingly.
*Shameless product placement. @E.C.Knox (insert winking emoji, here). The staff was NOT happy about this.

Culturing My Kiddos with Museums and Experiences

Culturing My Kiddos with Museums and Experiences

My mother was an inordinately thorough tourist and, I admit, when it comes to culturing my kiddos, this apple didn’t fall far from its tree.

But with my mom, it could be 6pm and we’d have been in a museum for the previous five hours and my mom would still be reading Every. Single. Panel in Every. Single. Exhibit.

After which, Mom would’ve remembered our AAA guide book’s recommendation and suggested, “Oh, that house where some obscure author slept one time in 1957 is just 16 more blocks away.” So we’d keep going.

She’d drag my whiny ass everywhere. And I do remember complaining; like…the entire time.

I swore I’d never be the same.

I feel empowered by walking out of a museum within 90 minutes because, let’s face it…nobody has that kind of attention span. Or hip-flexor strength. Or stamina in their shoulders to hold a backpack of fruit snacks and water bottles while staring at dinosaurs/paintings/historical re-enactments for four hours. (Even when that backpack is the best/coolest diaper bag for dads.)

But folks…I did it, today. Culturing my kiddos became my #1 mission…to their extreme annoyance and boredom.

I’m in London with my partner (after two months solo in NYC). But he’s still working all the time as his two Broadway shows are prepping for opening nights on the West End. So it’s still just me and the kids.

Except, again: we’re in London. Totally foreign city to me. No clue how to navigate with kids. Ugh. Pray for me with a charming accent.

So today we went to the British Museum. We saw mummies. Lots of mummies. Mummified adults the size of my 5yo, mummified cats, a mummified alligator, a mummified eel (wtf?) The kids were horrified/fascinated/traumatized. But mostly bored.

My kids gaping at mummies, then quickly bored. Culturing my kiddos is worse that pulling teeth.
My kids gaping at mummies…one second before they’re over it and bored.

Seriously – we saw one mummy and my 3yo says, “I’m bored. Let’s go home.” Admittedly, he might’ve been overwhelmed by the 3,000 students mobbing the room of 3,000 year-old mummies. But really, I think he was like, “Nothing to TOUCH in this museum? This place blows.”

But we were in the GD British Museum. We weren’t gonna leave without seeing some more priceless stolen treasures. (I kept saying “And the British stole that, and the British stole this, and that…” Curiously, neither of them asked “why?” or “but stealing is bad, Daddy.” They just begged to leave and didn’t demonstrate a modicum of moral rectitude.)

So I dragged them to see the Samurai armor since we’d recently read “Night of the Ninjas” of the Magic Tree House series.

(BTW: zzzzz.)

We continued. “Hey look, kids – a 3-story tall statue of Buddha!”

“Daddy? Can we go to the cake pop store? (Read: Starbucks)”

“Shut up and look at this amazing stolen Roman thingy.”

“Daddy, my stomach feels angry that we are here. Can we go?”

“Are you gonna throw up? Look at that sarcophagus.”

“No. I mean, yes, I’ll throw up. If we stay here.”

“Can it, kid. Look at these stolen friezes from ancient Greece.”

And then: The Rosetta Stone. I mean – the translator that opened humankind to a trove of another rich civilization. Kids, this is one of the most important archaeological finds in all human history!

I mean…the ROSETTA STONE. This is bare minimum for culturing my kiddos!

My kids rolling their eyes in front of the Rosetta Stone as I'm trying desperately at culturing my kiddos.
My kids rolling their eyes in front of the Rosetta Stone.

Okay, okay. So they’re only 5 and 3. I should cut ’em a break. But we’re in the BRITISH MUSEUM for stolen’s sake!

“Look guys! Sphinxes and obelisks and some old stolen temple, oh my!”

“Daddy? Can we buy a present?”

“No. Look at this medieval…metal thingy.” (I’m boring myself, by this point.)

“I hate it, here, Daddy. There’s nothing to do but look at stuff.”

“Right, but you’re growing smarter by the second. I just know it. You’ll pass that test to get into the G&T program and I’ll never have to worry about you being dumb. I’ll just worry about you being a drug dealer at Ivy league schools. And that’s preferable to you being stupid.”

“Daddy, don’t say stupid.”

And then, it happened. We stumbled into a room of pilloried splendor that even my kids couldn’t avert their eyes. They were transfixed, they were enlightened, they were stimulated. My nagging and dragging had been worth it. They were changed beings from near-toddlers to almost-tweens. Such magic a little T&A can do…even for little American, uncultured troglodytes.

For ten titillating and hilarious minutes, butts, boobs and penises made us all giggle and thrilled my kids. They were finally engaged and curious.

But after those ten minutes (make it six), and they were back to…”Daddy, this is boring. I wanna go.”

And we did. We’d been there an hour. Pretty good compromise, if I do say so, myself.