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Forgetfulness

Forget-me-not
Forget-me-not

The name of the author is the first to go

followed obediently by the title, the plot,

the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel

which suddenly becomes one you have never read,

never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor

decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,

to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye

and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,

and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,

the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,

it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,

not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river

whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,

well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those

who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night

to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.

No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted

out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

 — Billy Collins

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Kevin Kelly on What You Don’t Have To Do

Kevin Kelly.

“As you educate yourself about your own talent and ambitions, you graduate from doing a task right to doing the right task. It takes some experience to realize that a lot of work is better left undone. It might be busywork that is performed out of habit, or it might be work that is heading in the wrong direction. Working smart means making sure you are spending your time on jobs that are effective and that actually need to be done.” (via Smarterware).

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Gender-Reveal Parties and Cultural Despair

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 08:  Actor Thom Allison w...

“I’m typically a year or two behind any cultural trend, so you probably already know about gender-reveal parties. I first heard of them over the weekend: a couple, strangers to me, had invited friends and relatives over to bite into cupcakes at the same instant and share the moment when the blue or pink custard inside would inform them all of the sex of the baby. (The sonogram result had gone from lab to baker without being seen by anyone else, including the parents-to-be.) Other couples choose different methods of revelation: grip the knife together and cut into a cake with blue or pink filling. Open a sealed box that releases pink or blue helium balloons. Then put the scene on the Web so that everyone not invited can participate vicariously.

These events are becoming more and more popular. The first video of a gender-reveal party was posted on YouTube in 2008, but in just the last six months almost two thousand have been uploaded. You can watch one from last month. (Spoiler alert: it’s a girl.)

Maybe it was the context—I happened to hear about the gender-reveal party in a rundown inner-city café full of ex-felons who were having a very hard time finding jobs—but my initial take was incredulity trending negative. These parties seem to marry the oversharing of Facebook and Instagram with the contrived ceremonies that modern people in search of meaning impose on normal life events: food journaling, birthday parties for grownups, workout diaries, birth-experience planning. (One birth-planning center offers a “baby gender selection kit” involving three safe and natural steps that turn sex itself into a gender-reveal party.)

In the case of gender-reveal parties, couples take a private moment made possible by science and oblige others to join in, with the result—as in so many invented rituals of our day—that the focus turns from where it ought to be (in this case, the baby) to the self. At a bris or christening, the emotional emphasis falls on the arrival of a new life in the embrace of family and community. At a gender-reveal party, the camera is on the expectant father tearing up at the sight of pink cake.

That’s the nature of manufactured customs and instant traditions. They emerge from an atomized society in order to fill a perceived void where real ceremonies used to be, and they end by reflecting that society’s narcissism. Is it too much to say that gender-reveal parties are a mild symptom of cultural despair?” (via The New Yorker)

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R.I.P. Chris Ethridge

Flying Burrito Brother Dies at 65: “Chris Ethridge, a founding member of the country-rock band “The Flying Burrito Brothers,”died here on Monday. He was 65.He learned he had pancreatic cancer in September, his family said.Mr. Ethridge, a bassist and a songwriter, spent eight years on the road with Willie Nelson. He played alongside Gram Parsons in the Flying Burrito Brothers and the International Submarine Band and co-wrote several of Mr. Parsons’ solo tunes.In later years, Mr. Ethridge played with Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Ry Cooder and other stars, both as a session musician and touring player.” (NYTimes.com obituary)

Ethridge was smack dab at the center of the musical scene I enjoyed so much back in those years. Along with Levon Helm’s passing, the music is much diminished this week.