Friday, November 27, 2009

A Fair Hope for Hoboken (Reposted)

On Tuesday, December 1, I'll leave my old home in Fairhope and return to my new one in Hoboken. This is coincidental, as it was on December 1, 2007, that I moved (more or less permanently) from Fairhope to Hoboken the first time. Much of my adjustment in the two years has been in dealing with the differences and the situations that were much the same in my life in both places.

I posted the following in May of 2008:

My last post inspired a friend to write comparing Hoboken and its preoccupation with Sinatra to Fairhope, my last domain, and its preoccupation with the school that was at the center of the town’s attraction in generations past.

Probably the only similarity is me.

I spent a lot of energy in Fairhope working to preserve its heritage – both at the Organic School and in the history of the little utopian colony itself. Now that I’m in strange surroundings I’m most comfortable around the town’s historical neighborhoods and learning of its favorite sons and its old institutions, some removed and some restored.

This correspondent sees it as basking in the glory of others, even though the others are long gone. Maybe so. I suspect it’s just a different type of brain at work -- mine, mine being surrounded with memories and sometimes all but drowning in them. My home town, Fairhope, is facing its future by destroying its past and building new monuments. Hoboken, on the other hand, has retained much of its past while being open to the new where there is a buck to be made. There’s a difference, and to me the difference is in Hoboken’s favor.

We all have to live in the present and work toward the future. I’m told there is a lot of turnover in the population of Hoboken, and there is rampant political controversy in its conversion from an immigrant community to a bedroom for Manhattan. I could get involved in some of that after having visited the Open House at the Neumann Leathers Warehouse, now a rabbit warren of artists’ studios down by the river. Neumann Leathers is slated to be taken over for development, and there are many, including me, who hope that won’t happen to this unique haven for real artists. A fair hope for Hoboken, but probably there is no stopping the project.

However, Hoboken is no more obsessed with Frank Sinatra than Fairhope is with the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education. On the other hand, these are both pet projects of mine, and I enjoy sharing their good points with the world. Glorying in the past? I don’t see it that way. Certainly both locations are moving forward at a dizzying clip. It’s me who’s determined to keep the past alive.

“Maybe it's time for each of these locations to make their own glory; after all, ghosts don't last forever,” writes my friend. I counter with this – they are making their own glory on their own, and I am making mine in my own modest way. It just happens that one of my pleasures in life is poring over old pictures, talking to people about the way things were, and reflecting on what is good about the past and the present. The future will take care of itself.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Finding Myself in Fairhope

I've been here for over a week, thinking of Hoboken a lot, but dealing with issues that relate more to my past than to my present and/or future. I found myself too emotionally tangled up to write about anything, but this morning the dam burst and I put down my feelings and thoughts on my other blog. You might be interested in learning why I've been silent here for over a week: Click here to read of my travels.

I'll be back in Hoboken late Tuesday night. In the meantime, have a wonderful Thanksgiving and be thinking good thoughts about Christmas and the new year.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Mini-Book-Tour in Warmer Climes

I'll leave Hoboken Tuesday (November 17) for the launch of my book The Fair Hope of Heaven in paperback. Enterprising readers may have already ordered it from in that format, but I held back its general release to the Fairhope reading public until now. It was first published in hard cover in January, and I went to Fairhope at that time to get it into the local indie bookstore. It will retail for a mere $16.95 in paperback, as against $26.95 for the hard cover.

I've written a lot about the book on this blog, and on my other blog "Finding Fair Hope," and on my website. It seems much of my life is devoted--when not finding myself in Hoboken--to finding Fairhope, a little burg in transition from a utopian single tax colony to a burgeoning tourist and retirement city on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay in Alabama.

Even though the book has the words "fair" and "hope" in the title, I never thought of it as a book about the town of Fairhope until market forces--read that to mean publishers--informed me that it was. I thought it was about the way history and events transform people and places, reflecting on this through my memories of a unique childhood in the kind of nonconformist environment that Fairhope, Alabama, offered in the middle of the 20th Century. I included character sketches of people I knew, thinking for all the world that I had created a new Lake Wobegon Days, and, although knowing it would appeal to others who shared the memories, I felt that my book was universal in scope. Part of me would still like to believe that--but the reaction from publishers was that it was charming but limited to readers in Fairhope. I hope sales of the soft cover may still prove me right.

So I'll get on the plane Tuesday and plan to visit old friends and see the new construction in the town where I spent much of my life. I'll investigate the possibility of taking control of the old family homestead. I'll have Thanksgiving with a couple I've known for at least 60 years, with their friends and relations. I'll see family and classmates and people I worked closely with before I moved to Hoboken in December 2007. I'm no longer distraught at how many of the old building and funky cottages have been destroyed and replaced. Like a newcomer, I'll be refreshed by balmy weather and sunsets on Mobile Bay.

From The Fair Hope of Heaven: "The coastline of Mobile Bay with sunset views is just one part of the equation. Its calming effect cannot be denied, and the transcendent, everlasting quality of that particular body of water and its constant gentle motion is a source of comfort and serenity to all who live anywhere near it."

I look forward to this trip. Indeed I do.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I Didn't Get the Memo

Don't look now, but language, always alive and evolving, has substituted new words for old for no reason. Most of these words and figures of speech have been around for years now, but bit by bit they've gone from being my own pet peeves to being the only way to say a thing. I don't know when, I don't know why--but I'm relearning how to speak colloquial American English.

It seems that we are all expected to use the word in quotes instead of the word it replaced:

When did a category become a “genre”?

When did a sidewalk become a “hardscape”?

When did a political stand become a political “stance”?

When did the populace become “folks”?

When did problems become “issues”?

When did lemon rind become “lemon zest”?

When did the woods become a “green belt”?

When did God become a “meme”?

When did “said” become “was like”?

When did reframing the question become "pushback"?

Maybe you can add a few others you've noted, particularly from television commentators. I don't want to be the only one pushing the envelope here (by the way, what envelope?).

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Future Is So Yesterday

All of a sudden the world changed, and it changed again. Events, inventions, personalities, and attitudes have made these changes look not only inevitable, but easy. I'm here to tell you, they weren't.

Above you see a picture of the first computer, a thing called Univac, as it appeared in 1957. It was known as an electronic brain, and great things were predicted for it. Corporations gradually embraced the new technology, but a life with personal computers was undreamed of. We were told in a book called Future Shock that someday we would love them--women could put their recipes on them, and we could record the cocktails our friends preferred for parties we were planning. Nobody really had any idea of how the invasion of technology was truly going to affect our lives.

The world of the future was assumed to be something like the cartoon world of an animated television show in 1962 called "The Jetsons," involving a family with a personal robot to do housecleaning and a vehicle that flew them from planet to planet. Telephones with screens were assumed to be just around the corner, and indeed the technology to produce them was available, but the public demand didn't exist and the idea was seen to be an invasion of privacy.

Nobody thought of cell phones, Google, faxes, scanners. When I walk around the city now--or anywhere in the world--almost everybody I pass seems to be talking to himself (with almost imperceptible earbuds and wires connecting him to somebody off in the distance), or talking into a little device smaller than a deck of cards. First came pagers, which we carried about in our pockets, and which went off at inopportune times and required a quick exit, "I gotta go!" as soon as we saw the message. Cell phones perform the same service, although you can exit without actually leaving the premises. You just say, "Sorry, I gotta take this," and sit there gabbing away about business deals or laundry lists, or whatever is more important than courtesy to the person you're talking with.

I've written posts here about people who've changed the world as we know it. My recent one saying that about Michael Jackson raised some hackles. I tried to say that he taught us to dance in a different way, and he made us want to dance. Earlier I admitted that Julia Child had taught us to view food, wine, and cooking in a different way. I have written that Barack Obama, with his steady hand and brilliant mind, has transformed the Presidency and rendered the pundits all but ineffective. He may have also changed the way the world views people of mixed races. I do not say that these people did anything more than change the world that we knew, woke it up to new experiences, and made it more interesting to deal with. To compare them with their predecessors is to miss the point. They weren't present when the world changed this time.

I'm something of a nostalgia nut and spend a lot of time writing about the way things used to be. I've written two books about the utopian village of Fairhope, Alabama, where I grew up and learned to appreciate the eccentric and the wise. There are things about the world of today that I may never accept, but I celebrate the changes that elevate our quality of life and challenge our personal ability to change. I don't expect many to see everything the way I do; I've learned that that is not possible no matter how brilliantly I think I've explained it. I just am glad that you've joined me on this journey of finding myself--whether or not you're in Hoboken.