Tuesday, February 20, 2024

What a glorious time to be free

 Scientists named July 1957 until December 1958 the International Geophysical Year, a worldwide symposium of some of the earth's greatest thinkers to discuss their universally positive predictions for the future.  They discussed things like flying cars, cures for all diseases, world peace, stellar and interstellar space travel, colonization of Mars, and emerging artificial intelligence.

I wasn't born a deconstructionist, but I became one, partially due to my education, partially due to my naturally sanguine nature, partially by what I saw on the news, but also, in very large part due to the art that bled through my senses into my inner mind.  

From the mid-fifties until the mid-seventies, there was a period of unbridled optimism in science and science fiction.  The post-war optimism made us believe we could do anything, and the scientific leaps forward born of the war tended to prove it.  The war gave us radar, computers, jet engines, rockets, and dependable helicopters; science fiction gave us ideas like Robby The Robot, the Wheel in Space, and sentient computers.  

As the 70s drew to a close, it was becoming clear that this bright vision of the future might have been a pipe dream.  There were no flying cars, no free energy, no permanent space stations, and no bases on the moon.  Science fiction started to turn toward ideas of a dystopian future.

In 1982, Donald Fagan of the album-oriented Steely Dan released a solo album titled "The Nightfly."  One of the songs on this album was IGY, International Geophysical Year, where he deconstructs mid-century optimism.

Standing tough under stars and stripes
We can tell
This dream's in sight
You've got to admit it
At this point in time that it's clear
The future looks bright
On that train all graphite and glitter
Undersea by rail
Ninety minutes from New York to Paris
Well by seventy-six we'll be A-OK

What a beautiful world this will be
What a glorious time to be free

Get your ticket to that wheel in space
While there's time
The fix is in
You'll be a witness to that game of chance in the sky
You know we've got to win
Here at home we'll play in the city
Powered by the sun
Perfect weather for a streamlined world
There'll be spandex jackets one for everyone

What a beautiful world this will be
What a glorious time to be free

On that train all graphite and glitter
Undersea by rail
Ninety minutes from New York to Paris
(more leisure for artists everywhere)
A just machine to make big decisions
Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision
We'll be clean when their work is done
We'll be eternally free yes and eternally young

What a beautiful world this will be
What a glorious time to be free

Monday, February 19, 2024

The White Stag

In high school, my very favorite person was named Paige.  She had joined our tight-knit little class pretty late along the way but fit in really quickly.  We took biology from a man named Dan, and we sat at one of the lab tables in the back.  Paige would hold my hand and press her knee against mine under the table.   

Another girl was calling me every night at home and talking to me about how her family was coming apart, so I never pursued Paige, who would have been a fantastic girlfriend, but the other girl might have felt betrayed at a time when the world was turning against her, so Paige and I reminded just friends, no matter how much time we spent together or how much time I studied the way her eyes moved or tried to copy the shape of her lips in the margins of my notebook.

One day, Paige said, "Look at that!" and she pointed to a person in one of the classes under ours.  They were a little shorter than Paige, unnaturally thin, dressed in baggy khaki pants, a short-sleeve collar shirt with buttons, and a wide, striped tie, not our school tie, which we didn't have to wear to class anymore, but a regular men's tie, but not a new one.  It was almost as if they'd gotten the tie from Goodwill or snuck it out of their grandfather's closet.  Their hair was cut shorter than mine and parted to the side with some sort of pomade to help keep its shape and an Alfalfa cowlick sticking up in the back.

"That's a woman, but she wants to be a man!" Paige said with a girlish laugh.  "Isn't that funny?" She said.  There wasn't a thread of hate or fear in her voice.  She was delighted to be so near something as unique as a girl who wanted to be a boy, and she wanted me to share in that delight, almost as if we'd seen a shooting star or a white stag together.  

"Go introduce yourself." She said, nudging me almost hard enough to push me off the bench in the quad building at school.  I'm not big on introducing myself, even now.  I especially wasn't then.  With my stutter, an attempt to not only introduce myself to a new person but a new kind of person would have probably meant that no words came out at all, or if they did they wouldn't make much sense.

I'd heard of a tennis player who went somewhere in Europe to get a "sex-change" operation, but that was a few years before and quite a way away from St. Andrews Episcopal Day School.  The idea that such a person was at my school seemed impossible, but thanks to Paige, it also now seemed magical and something I could learn from.

Paige wanted me to introduce myself to this person so that she could talk to them as well, and then they wouldn't be as lonely as they appeared.  I wish I'd done it.  It's bothered me quite a bit through the years that I didn't.  There were a lot of times when Paige knew the right thing to do, and I didn't.

Once I knew who this person was, I watched them intently in their odyssey through school life.  Some of my teammates said very cruel things about them, but even though these boys had a reputation as bullies, they never bullied this person, my white stag; he was too alien, even for them.

People who struggle with verbalization learn to read emotions from people's faces.  What I learned from watching the White Stag was that they were never very happy, lived in constant fear of being judged, and were in a constant state of readiness to defend their existence.  From what I could tell, they had no friends and no one to talk to.  They ate lunch alone, which is the ultimate sign of isolation in high school.  

I'd read so many stories about creatures who were the only ones of their kind and how unhappy they were.  Often, they were described as monsters, even the ones with no destructive powers like Quasimodo, who was named a monster by the world, even though he was purer of heart than anyone else in the book.  Although we had some classmates who acted like monsters, the only people in the entire school who were treated like monsters were the White Stag and a girl named Laurie, who had pronounced autism.  

After high school, I didn't see the White Stag for many years until one day, I went to my wife's church, and as we were sitting on a bench talking, the White Stag came out of a car and walked into the sanctuary.  "That's a woman who wants to be a man," she whispered in my ear while holding my hand.  It haunted me how, twenty years later, these words came up again and again from my favorite and most trusted person.   In all those years, our White Stag still walked alone, without a smile, with a look on their face letting you know they were ready to defend their existence.

Transgender high school students have become a political hot topic.  I have absolutely no education on the subject.  I'm not a doctor or a psychologist.  I'm also not a parent to a transgender child.  With that in mind, I don't really have an opinion on the best way to handle this situation, except I feel pretty strongly that it should be up to the doctors, psychologists, and families involved, not politicians.  If it were your child, that's what you would want.

What I do know is what I felt very strongly every time I encountered The White Stag.  No one should be forced to live in isolation like a monster.  Everyone deserves friends; everyone deserves a seat at the lunch table and someone to talk to.  Nothing led me to believe the White Stag chose to be the way they were.  Even though they didn't choose it, they still had to live with it, and it's up to people of faith to make that life as full and as loved as they can make it.  

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Who Was Jim Livesay

Millsaps has been giving out the Jim Livesay Award for over twenty-five years now.  It occurred to me that there probably are a lot of recipients who never knew Jim.  This is an article about him from the May 22, 1980 Clarion Ledger. 

 Leader of new South growth group is ardent believer in democracy

No one can accuse Jim Livesay of not practicing what he preaches. Following his philosophy, that "democracy either stands or falls on the participation of citizens in their community and governmental affairs," has led him into more community service positions than most of us knew existed. He has fathered, nurtured or presided over about 20 organizations in the Jackson area and is currently organizing an advocacy group for residents of the southwest part of the city to be known as Citizens Southwest. Born in Virginia, Livesay came to Jackson as a youngster in 1949.

He was raised in southwest Jackson near Barr Elementary School and blames the closeness of the school for his present chronic tardiness. "I could just fall over the fence when the bell rang," he says. His tardiness can be excused, however, when one realizes the amount of time he spends working for the community. In the past, he has served as president of the Junior Chamber of Commerce, Fondren Civitan Club, Millsaps College Alumni Association, Southwestern Industrial Editors Association, Jackson Council for Parent-Teacher Associations, Jacksonians for Public Education and two area school PTA groups. He also served on the board of directors for Haven Hall, a school for the handicapped; the Family Blood Assurance Program and the Capitol Street United Methodist Church.

In addition, he was vice commissioner of a Little League baseball program, vice president of the Jackson Parents League and served on the advisory board of the Hinds County Youth Court. But the advocacy groups are what interest him most. They provide a means for carrying out his philosophy of involvement which he says stems from his appreciation of and pride in Jackson. "We must accept the burdens and responibilities of citizenship if we are to enjoy the privilages of citizenship," he said. He sees the formation of Citizens Southwest as a means for dealing with those burdens in his attempt to insure attractive and orderly development of Southwest Jackson.

But he is not confining his efforts to that area. "I want to see the entire city develop as it should, in that same attractive, orderly manner. But we're concerned first and foremost with that area of the city in which we live," he said referring to South Jackson. Livesay and his wife, the former Mary Lee Busby of Meridian, have two sons, Jeff, a Colorado college instructor, and Gene, who is attending law school at night while working for a Jackson law firm. They have lived at 1038 Garden Park Drive for the past 19 years.

He presently serves as director of the office for institutional advancement at Millsaps College. "Millsaps has played an important part in my life," he said. He earned his undergraduate degree there and was chosen alumnus of the year in 1950. Although he admits he does not have much free time, he says he likes to spend it in walking in the woods. democracy  "I'm not much of a hunter or fisher-where the creek goes or what's over the next hill." He also enjoys researching his family history, having being chosen naional president of the Livesay Historical Society. But his community work is what he takes pride in, and he sees his job as just beginning. "We're going to continue to see tremendous growth in Jackson as a result of its sunbelt location," he said.

"With that growth is going to come blessings and problems. Uncontrolled growth can create less than desirable situations such as slums. Human inertia and apathy will cause these problems to grow unless someone gets them moving in the right direction." And Jim Livesay will continue to be one of those forces which prods man," he said. "I just like to see people into action. Jim Livesay will continue to be one of those forces that prods men into action.  

VooDoo Horticulture

I used to spend time with this lady from New Orleans, whom everyone called VooDoo.  I should have taken that as a warning, but I didn't.  Besides her brown eyes and her magical elven voice, my main purpose for keeping her around was that she was a professional horticulturalist and could identify any plant or tree I pointed to.  I tested her skills quite often.  She might have just been making up names for plants, but I believe she was pretty earnest and most likely very accurate.

She eventually discovered my ulterior motive (or she got a better offer) and invited me to no longer spend afternoons and evenings with her.  That left me with no way to identify plants and trees afield, but it left me with a desire to know what they were.  

For many years, I gave up on my quest and wistfully lamented losing my infinite font of knowledge about plants.  Then, the latest generation of smartphones came out, and a friend told me about an application called "Picture This" that could identify any plant and give you care guidelines for it.  For about six dollars, I could once again know the name of any plant I looked at without having to worry about the capricious nature of brown-eyed girls from New Orleans or anyone who even their dearest friends called VooDoo.


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