Got glasses?

Today J and I went to the eye doctor for a routine checkup and new glasses. Although I’m able to read with my old glasses, the doctor decided it was time for me to get either reading glasses or progressive lenses: apparently I’ve been straining to read, and print did indeed look much crisper and clearer when he put an extra set of lenses in front of my eyes.

Umbrellas

Since I tend to multitask when I read, I opted for progressive lenses rather than reading glasses: I’d prefer to use one set of glasses rather than two, and progressives will allow me to read while watching TV or alternate between looking down at my laptop and up at students in the back row of my classes.

May flowers

Moving from regular to progressive lenses is yet another reminder that my body is doing what comes naturally, which is grow older. When J, who is two years older than me, got progressive lenses a few years ago, he predicted I’d follow suit. I remember the acclimation period he’d gone through when his new glasses arrived and he walked around for a week or two tilting his head up and down, trying to find the exact angle where close, medium-range, and distant objects were clear. I know, in other words, what I’m getting into.

Psychedelic dinnerware

I’ve worn glasses since I was a child, so I have little vanity when it comes to eyewear: I grew up, after all, hearing the saying “Men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.” Now that I’m firmly entrenched in middle age, I’ve grown accustomed to being invisible: I can’t remember the last time a man of any age made anything remotely resembling a pass, and I can’t say I miss it. Reading is one of my favorite pastimes, so I don’t mind wearing whatever kind of glasses it takes to make it easier.

The photos illustrating today’s post are at least ten years old. I took the top photo in June, 2008, and I shot the other images through a kaleidoscopic lens in the ICA giftshop in May, 2007.

View from our seats

Last week, J and I went to the Boston Opera House to see Hamilton. It’s been just over a year since we went to the Opera House to see Fun Home, and I had high expectation of both shows, albeit in different ways, and both performances exceeded my expectations.

Overhead

With Fun Home, I had high expectations because I’d read (and loved) Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir of the same name, so I was curious to see whether the musical could match the power of the book. (It did.) Whereas J watched Fun Home with no previous knowledge of the story, I couldn’t help but compare the musical with the book. I loved the musical version of Fun Home because it did such a good job translating Bechdel’s complicated relationship with her father into an entirely new medium: the same powerful story told in a slightly different way.

In the room where it happens.

With Hamilton, I went into the Opera House with an almost entirely empty mind. I didn’t read reviews of the show, and apart from knowing a handful of lines from “My Shot” and the title of the song “The Room Where It Happens,” I didn’t know much about the musical itself, other than everyone I know who has seen it has raved about it.

As it turns out, I learned a lot from the musical, and the first thing I learned was how little I knew about Alexander Hamilton himself. Yes, I remembered from high school history class that Alexander Hamilton was the first secretary of the treasury, and I knew he was shot in a duel with Aaron Burr, but that was the extent of my historical knowledge. The musical did a very good job of sketching the contours of Hamilton’s life, the Revolution he fought in, the political debates he partook in, and his complicated personal life.

Boston Opera House

The genius of Hamilton, of course, is that nobody ever thought to use hip-hop as a genre to tell the story of an American Founding Father. After the first few minutes, however, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s unique coupling of musical style and subject matter seemed entirely natural and even inevitable: how could it be that it took a couple hundred years for this particular story to be told in this particular way?

I wasn’t surprised that Hamilton taught historical lessons, and I wasn’t surprised that the hip-hop numbers and choreography were amazing: I trusted, after all, the opinions of the many people who had raved about the performance. What surprised me, though, was how emotionally moving the story was. Although I knew Hamilton dies in the end, I wasn’t aware of the other tragedies he and his wife faced, so I wasn’t expecting a hip-hop musical about an American Founding Father to make me cry.

Boston Opera House

In retrospect, I didn’t learn (or at least remember) much from my high school history classes because those classes never captured the emotional import of past events. It’s one thing to memorize dates and names; it’s another to understand the personalities behind historic events. Not only does Hamilton capture the political battles that happened when the Republic was born, the musical captures the personality, moods, and motivations of the people waging those fights. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s masterpiece not only invited me into the room where it happened, it took me into the minds and hearts of the people there.

November carpet

When I walk in the woods, I spend a lot of time looking down. Maybe it’s because I’m short, maybe it’s because I spend the spring and summer months looking for wildflowers, or maybe it’s because I let my ears alert me to birds overhead. But in November, looking down makes sense, as many of the brilliant leaves up above have already fallen, leaving a thick, crunchy carpet underfoot.

Above

But even these days when the dog stops to paw and sniff, rooting through leaves for whatever treasures she smells underneath, I remind myself to look up, where the remaining leaves shimmer against a sunlit sky. Soon enough, all there will be above will be the veiny lines of bare branches. In November, I remind myself to remember the gleam of golden maple leaves before they fade away.

Honey locust

Maple leaf

Golden shadows

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s midterm elections, I’ve been thinking of a line from Henry David Thoreau’s 1854 essay, “Slavery in Massachusetts”:

Golden age

The fate of the country does not depend on how you vote at the polls- the worst man is as strong as the best at that game; it does not depend on what kind of paper you drop into the ballot-box once a year, but on what kind of man you drop from your chamber into the street every morning.

In even the best times, voting is necessary, but it’s not sufficient. Now that a record-breaking number of people have cast ballots in an election that many saw as a referendum on Donald Trump’s politics of fear, pundits are trying to parse the results: is this a win for Republicans, Democrats, or the country at large? Many on the left had hoped for a complete repudiation of Trumpism, as if a single election could eradicate racism, xenophobia, and nationalism. But as Thoreau observed more than a century ago, simply voting isn’t enough.

Pine and maple

The social dynamics that propelled Donald Trump into office have not changed: fear, anger, and perceived victimhood are still powerful motivations for a particular segment of the voting public. Not even the biggest blue wave could sweep away America’s ongoing legacy of white supremacy, patriarchy, and economic injustice. Karma is long, and any given election cycle is short.

Democracy depends on voters, to be sure…but a just society depends just as heavily on engaged and active citizens. Showing up at the polls is a good start, but it is just that: a start. In the present the aftermath of this year’s midterms, we each are faced with a question: what next? Given the deep divisions, lingering resentments, and daunting injustices our country still faces, what can each of us do–both individually and within our communities–to work for a better world?

The morning after

The first thing J did the morning after the midterm election was take down our yard sign for Joe Kennedy, who easily won re-election. We’ll put it out again in another two years.