Legacy vs. Lineage

Chalk it up to aging, having a parent die, climate change, the general shaking up of assumptions that is the latter-twennyteens, but I’ve been wrestling with my creative goals in blogging.

Jason Kottke, who started before me (and that’s saying something), had a very helpful post recently, ‘The Legacy of Philip Glass‘. Glass said about the future of his works, “I won’t be around for all that,” he said. “It doesn’t matter.”

Now as someone trained in history and librarianship, that’s not a sentiment I swallow easily. As someone who has had seen the writing legacy of beloved people—pour one out for Leslie, for Brad—vanish or fade from the Web, that’s something that instills worry not a sense of release.

But Jason also quoted and linked to Austin Kleon expanding that piece with thoughts about lineage vs. legacy:

“I like this idea of thinking about lineage vs. legacy, because it means you can sort of reframe any worrying about immortality and how you’re going to project yourself into the future, and think more about what you’re taking from the past and what you’re adding to it that creates a more interesting and helpful present.”

That’s got me looking hard at what I’ve been doing with my ‘retroblogging’. I described it as writing an autobiography in slow motion. And, to pull a phrase from Kleon, it was centered in projecting myself into the future.

But the future doesn’t need more of me.

That’s why I decided decades ago not to have children; I do not require permanence of myself or of some sort of avatars of me.

When I look at my major works—my book and game store in the mid-1990s, the book Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff, the book The Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Cocktails to Keep You Level, and what I’m doing with the Kabalor project—the value wasn’t in my first ideas, it’s in the synthesis of ideas I achieved after studying, listening and learning from others.

That’s a reminder to turn the inputs into outputs. Instead of merely talking or documenting, amplify and reflect.


As I write this afternoon, I’m looking at old pictures and thinking what they can inspire. A wiggly handed baby with her mouth open and a bit of a combover being gazed upon with love by a woman with a small bouffant suitable to a 60’s soul backup singer. The same baby dancing horizontally—foot kicking, arms waving—with tongue sticking out of her mouth in concentration. Excited baby amidst toys, bracketed by grandmother and great-grandmother. Wiggling baby/toddler again, hands waving and mouth open, in lap of laughing mother, hair now smaller but in a cute ’60s dress that still evokes stylish femininity. Back to baby on the rose-printed blanket on the floor amidst toys including foil pie pans, thumb in mouth and hand gripping the blanket edge. Rolling and stretching hands to be picked up. Unable to sit up, but able to raise on hands to gaze into a doll’s face or at the camera. Puzzled by the toy grandpa beckons with, unsure if it’s worth releasing the toy in hand to reach for. A note about immunizations—Diptheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Polio—which places this baby at a point in time. Baby in a little tabletop seat, like a carseat but before they came into use, gaze away from mother, thumb in mouth, other wrist held gently to keep that hand from interfering with the loaded spoon; a mealtime standoff. In mother’s lap, gripping the spoon as she coaxes me to cooperate and eat; she is beautiful, like an escapee from a Renaissance painting, and I am intently focused on taking control of my fate, even if it only involves this bite. And with intent, I become not “a baby” but “me”. In father’s lap in an armchair beside a board-and-cinder-block bookcase, gazed at by him and by mother sitting beside chair, her hair in transition from fancy updo’s to the long natural look I remember from childhood; they are so young, so young. And, the baby, me, is safe and happy.

Filter, absorb, create, refine. I mark the posts with the pictures private; nothing to offer others. The next time through, my thoughts above will become further distilled, and maybe then or the distillation after that, if ever, there might be something to carry on beyond my time.

My first autumn

In the picture, Grandma Susie is feeding me with a spoon. It’s a well-framed picture, her own left shoulder at the left edge of the picture, my face in the top half of the center line, framed by her arm holding the spoon, and behind me on the table a bowel of fruit. I’m looking over the spoon toward the camera. Grandma’s smile is visible around the side of her face. A lovely domestic scene.

What draws my eye, though, is not the tender moment, but trying to figure out what print that is on her shirt. Are those early typewriters with interspersed flowers? Or some sort of cash register?

That’s not to say I don’t love the sweet way Grandma is feeding baby me, but I don’t feel a gravitational pull toward toward the domestic bliss. Non-parenting was a good choice for me.

The next blog post in that month shows just how quickly people forget the scourges that once assaulted us. An immunization record I found says I got my first vaccine against Polio on that day.

Last in this month is a happy baby (me) at about 3 months old under a very nice baby blanket. Vague resemblance to me, but if the picture was unlabeled, I wouldn’t know it was. Still, a happy baby indeed.

Let’s go on to the next month. Visiting the other grandparents (my father’s), I’m much bigger, but still pretty floppy as humans go. I’m shown in a clever garment my mother made, basically what amounts to a sleeping bag with sleeves and hood. And, as my mother noted on Flickr when we were discussing the picture, “a zipper down the front for changes”. I could wiggle without kicking off what was keeping me warm. Pretty great for a pre-crawling person. I am still not to my present eye identifiably me.

A photo of my father looking at me as he props me up in his lap. I gaze up at him open mouthed, apparently fascinated. His expression in profile though is calm and neutral. Maybe all faces are subjects of intense interest to four month old babies. He sits on a bench, a photo on the wall behind him of his mother holding him as a baby. Above his head the photo of a past beloved dog and other family pictures are visible in the distance on the knotted pine wall.

When I think about the 21 year old men I’ve known throughout my life, I know that it would be extremely exceptional for one to be ready to make this life choice. I’m delighted to exist, don’t get me wrong! But I do wonder what the lives of those two very different people who came together to—surprise!—make me might have been if I hadn’t come along. My sympathy for those young folks is on the side of being able to have an ordinary college romance, learn from it and move on. Now I know my mother at least gained a great deal from the path of parenthood and I’m sure she wouldn’t have turned back the clock and caused me not to exist. My father felt enormous responsibility toward me, I believe, and genuinely liked me as a fellow human. But he wasn’t cut out for marriage and parenthood so young—few are!—and if he could somehow have known that I could be me and exist as a person while he side-stepped into a different time path, I think he might have. I do not think it would have made as much difference as he might have hoped, but perhaps the opportunity to engage more with his restlessness while young would have helped his journey in later years.

Then a photo of me in a dress made for my maternal grandfather’s christening in 1915. Right arm in motion, tongue sticking out a bit, probably kicking under the long white dress. A perfectly good baby. And many copies of this picture were passed around in the family. I came upon three and my uncle gave me a scan of the copy he had.

Another photo, perhaps from the same day, in a different little white dress, this one more gauzy, with silky ribbons, echoed in the cuffs of my socks. Very fancy outfits for photo day. I continue to wiggle happily. I look a bit Japanese in this photo. One of my eyes still retains more epicanthal fold than the other.

The next photo—three copies of it—has me in my little zipper-front sleeping bag outfit looking positively triumphant about being held up in a sitting position (by Grandma, I think, judging by the watch).

Naked (but mostly concealed by my mother’s arm) baby me looks at the camera as I’m lifted onto a towel after a bath in a big kitchen sink. There’s a toaster behind me.

A slightly eerie picture of me, possibly after bath with wet hair, laying on a plaid cloth, stuffed animal just slipping out the left side of the picture as I make claws with my hands.

The next picture looks more to me like a baby picture of my childhood friend Rick than of me. Grandma Susie holds me on her lap smiling. She’s wearing a flannel nightgown or housedress with lace around the flat collar. She is smiling and looking down to see my reaction as the photographer gets my attention. I’m a chubby-cheeked, somewhat sleepy looking baby here.

Still I don’t really see myself in these four-month-old baby faces. Well, maybe a little glimmer in the one where I’m being lifted. Something about the shape of the eye. Dinah just beginning to come through.

Women and babies and time

Continuing my meditations on the oldest (retroblogged) posts on my blog, I visit the month after I was born.

A picture of my mother, 21 but looking 16, with a wiggling, dark-haired infant in her lap. Holding it (me) nervously as if it might give a sudden lurch like a fish and flip out of her lap. Summertime and we’re both warm. I can see bits of her hair sticking to her cheek, damp despite short sleeves and a skirt that stops above the knee.

A magnificent picture of my great-grandmother, seated in her pearls and a sedate blue-and-gray check short-sleeve dress, holding me in her two hands my feet on her legs and my head raised so she can gaze intently at me. I am so new; pale, plump, and pink. I contrast with her skinny, aged arms, spotted by time and sun, but strong enough for this burden. Her gray hair and the outline of the bones of her skull under her skin place her at the other end of life’s timeline from tiny Dinah. (And now I am far closer to her end than to where this little baby began.) What a thing for the first generation to look the fourth in the face! And how many babes had this woman held in her journey from the end of the 19th century through the tumult over the first six and a half decades of the 20th? Did she want children? Not much option not to have them until not long before this picture. And so she became a wife and a mother and a grandmother and a great-grandmother. A great accomplishment. What other things might she have done if she’d been blessed with the options I have?

On the way to the restaurant where I’m having a late lunch with my laptop, I passed babes in arms and strollers. What options will they have that I didn’t?

I return to the picture. Behind her black folding chair, a cinderblock and board bookcase—Ikea has removed most of those from today’s visual landscape—holding books, many of which are likely still to be on the shelves of my mother’s library. At the end of the top shelf a fancy candlestick—perhaps a wedding gift?—which I recall sitting with its mate on the big wooden sideboard in our kitchen.

To her left, behind my head in the picture, a graceful old piece of furniture with a curved front. Drawers below like a dresser, with a writing desk above. I remember this being beside my mother’s side of my parents’ bed, painted a green reminiscent of weathered copper. And I can’t now picture it anywhere else; I wonder what happened to it? I think all of us must have outgrown it and it didn’t move when they retired. They sold the huge, rambling house I grew up in “as is” and so many things stayed there. Released from our lives.

There is in the picture something big and black atop the back of the desk. My 21st century eye reads it as a wireless speaker, but of course it’s many decades too early for such a thing. A dark black box of paper or wood, with a latch on the front. Perhaps for holding letters and bills and stamps. I was born in the time of paper.

White and pale pink leap out from the picture: her shiny handbag, the outline of a book inside pressing against the soft side; my little baby dress (probably closed at the bottom to keep my feet contained); her pearls; the paper of the newer books on the shelf.

My little right hand is captured in a gesture, middle fingers together, pinky and index held out from the others. Cryptic, but emphatic.

And isn’t that just the nature of infants? Cryptic, but emphatic.

One last picture from this month: my mother and I entranced with each other. She is seated in a narrow armchair, hair in an updo that’s well on the way to a bouffant, wearing the long-sleeve plaid dress again. I am in her lap, resting on her legs, her feet tucked to the side together, ladylike. I look up at her eyes and mouth wide, hands raised, excited to exist and perceive. She is probably talking to me, saying my name, perhaps the name I wear now, perhaps the one that will soon be abandoned as not quite fitting this little bundle. She appears more confident about holding me; mothers learn fast.

I smile in appreciation at that love pouring down on me from her face, and now I close the old photo album, marking those posts private.

Oh, it IS a baby!

The oldest month of posts showing on my site as I start this post are from when I was born. First image: a tiny, round-faced human, sort of identifiable as me but I bet I’d have trouble picking it out of a line-up of similar babies. Strange to know what you looked like the day you were born.

Pictures of my young mother in hospital holding me. Her hair in a sort of bonnet to keep it out of her way, gazing down at the bundle in her arms. There is a giant bouquet of roses on the table beside her.

From the next day, my mother—and oh how her face in this picture is like the one I saw in the mirror at that age—seated in a chair and wearing a very big loose robe, gazing up at her mother, dressed for summer in a flowered, sleeveless shirt, a handbag on her arm. My grandmother is saying something; perhaps advice to a new parent.

A washed out picture of a baby in a diaper in a hospital bassinet, labeled with the name I was given at birth, but which was quickly displaced by “Dinah” (to which I legally changed my name at age 18).

I was assigned the sex “Female” at birth—it’s worked out fine, but seems over hasty to me from the perspective of 2019—and I was 6 pounds 10 ounces. This document has my little footprints. I am a hominid, all right. I theorize that they did the left foot first and I did not approve, so the right foot is all pressed down and the toes are curled.

Sometime late that month I was at home in a little white crib, in a room with blue light. I was a reasonably cute baby. I shared this picture on Flickr and my mother told a story of how they put together the crib wrong and the bottom fell out and I rolled out. No harm done except to cause some new mother panic.

There is a series of pictures of me being presented to my great-grandmother a week or two later. My mother is wearing a dark plaid dress, my father a light blue plaid shirt, rather rumpled. Neither looks well-rested. My mother’s father’s mother is wearing pearls and a neat little white short sleeve dress with a round white collar with a black bow on the front. The dress has a pattern of vertical stripes of patterns of something small, perhaps flowers. Narrow strip of white, double wide strip of pattern, and so on. I am wearing a swaddling cloth sort of arrangement and demonstrating my ability to stick out my tongue—blep—while clinging to someone’s fingers with my tiny right hand.

One of the pictures shows my terribly young father bemused as I apparently refuse to let go of his finger and my mother gazing adoringly at him as he gazes at me. For an unplanned adventure, they did pretty well with me.

Oh my goodness. I wonder if the little saucepan in this next picture of my mother’s mother holding me in the kitchen is the one I just put into the Goodwill box yesterday for Discardia. I think not, but it certainly could be. I am staring over her shoulder right into the camera, though I don’t know enough about babies to know if I’d even be able to focus on anything farther away than a face right over me at 10 days old.

None of these pictures fill me with a desire to have children or any regret that I chose not to. I’m very grateful for the life, to be sure, but I have ducked any sense of responsibility to carry on the genetic pattern.

And that’s probably a good thing. Humankind can do with a good deal less multiplying. Most of our challenges will be easier to solve with fewer of us. What an interesting world that will be. Makes me want to stick around another century, if I’m not in too much pain.

Thinking of the far future, I am smiling as I close the door and mark these posts private to cast the past into quiet darkness. Like putting the lid on a box, setting it in the back of a drawer, and closing the drawer, then walking off whistling.

A wedding once

In the oldest post I created in my retroblogging on this site, the photo shows half a century ago a young (so young) wedding couple marching up the aisle of a church after their ceremony.

Both are barely out of their teens, about halfway through their 20th years. She is a classic, picture-perfect bride. The gauzy veil of childhood flipped back after that first kiss as a wife. Her delicate neck and collarbones in this setting not the gangly body of a teen kid, but a young woman’s beauty. The yards of white fabric of her gown requiring her to hold the skirt up with one hand, as the other, wedding ring on her finger, loops through my grinning father’s arm. The raised hem reveals the little white shoes. My father is dressed in a dark suit—the photo is black and white, so whether it is black or very dark is uncertain—with a small, precise bow tie and a light fluffy boutonniere. Formalwear worn with style. (And I think of this in contrast to the uniform of his later life, baseball hats, t-shirts, wood-stain-speckled jeans.) His smile glows. His hands are graceful. The picture-perfect groom.

It is a moment capturing having Done It Right.

I am in this picture, though you cannot see me. And that’s another part of doing it right; the ticking clock of my mother’s pregnancy. December wedding, July baby. The nick of time.

Around them are the beautiful lines of the church I knew from all my visits to my mother’s parents. That sweetly elegant little central valley Methodist church with its soaring arches. The heavy wooden pews, built to withstand a century of use. The thick padded carpets on the aisles. The choir loft above the entry so that the voices could emerge high above and behind you as you faced the altar.

I remember the shuffling of feet, the coughing, before and between the parts of the Sunday service. My child feet not reaching the floor. My wise and whimsical grandfather perhaps sliding me a couple 3″x5″ cards from his breast pocket and a little pencil from beside the offering envelopes in the pew-back holders. The music. The words of ritual. The simple, sweeping togetherness of the Doxology.

I do not recall ever believing in God, even as a child. But I dearly love many who do, and the lessons they shared with me both formally in church services and casually in daily life have been essential to my moral foundation. Do as you would be done by. Care for those who need. Work for peace. Recognize our shared humanity even in faces most different from your own. Do not hoard your blessings, but multiply them by letting them flow forth from you.

That sweet little church remains dear in my memories. Though I confess, part of its dearness is the exhilarating freedom I had in exploring it on non-service days as my grandparents performed various supportive tasks. Playing in the Sunday School rooms without any other person around. Finding all the doors between its various rooms upstairs and down in its U-shape, of which the church-proper was only one arm. Playing behind the closed curtain or out in the open, conditions depending, of the raised stage at the end of the big Community Hall. Running the Hall’s length to its big kitchen to check on whatever my grandparents and other volunteers were doing there. It was a thoroughly grand place to be an adventurous little kid.

There are other pictures in this oldest blog post. My mother in classic pose, veil down, bouquet in hands, skirts fluffed and arranged to maximum circumference. Her face is like a merged photo of a child and an adult. Lipstick lips and a strong jaw smiling below a button nose and wide eyes.

The two of them together. Happy and excited, but with some anxiety in their faces. The fingertips of my father’s left hand tucking into the front of his jacket as though he might have just checked his fly. Just in case. I see little of my grandmother in my mother’s face in this picture, but my father wears much of his own father’s look. That shadow was a hard one for him to grow up in; he dreaded turning into his father, and I wonder if the fear of that hindered him finding his own path. Worry that bogged him down so much it became self-fulfilling in some ways.

A photo of them by the cake—unflattering of my father, looking a bit like a mannequin as the camera catches him awkwardly; my mother, gracious, beautiful, perhaps slightly terrified. There is a plate of what I think are three rows of cookies—red, white, green—representing not Mexico or Italy but Christmastime.

The last has them surveying the piles of wrapped presents after a costume change which puts my father in a brown suit and a narrow blue tie and my mother in a chic pink skirt and tall collared jacket.

Here my brain sings “in my copy of a copy of a copy of Dior”, thanks to my mother’s commendable habit of playing good musicals on LP around our house when I was a child.

So there they are, the newly married couple, dressed to the nines, the Community Hall dimly visible behind them, stage curtains open. Here it begins. A direct line from a point below the hem of that perfect little jacket top of my mother’s dress suit to a child singing and telling stories to herself on that stage in an empty room years later.

And perhaps a straight line too, from a musical a couple years later, to my mother deciding a bit over half a decade later there’s gotta be something better than this and getting up getting out and living it.

Close the door then on the scene, with love and appreciation, and change that post to private. Eyes to the present happiness, hearts full.

a couple pictures for the public domain

These are from the slides I inherited from my great-grandparents, Reed Walker Sr. and Adena Zippora Nordberg Walker, of Beverly Hills, CA.

Reed was the main photographer in their artistic pairing (Adena painted and did fine ceramics), so I'm guessing these are both shot by him. To my eye the Fox Hills Country Club sign looks later than his death in July 1940, but so often a color picture deceives me and reminds me how aesthetically blurry the late 1930s are with the early 1950s.

As the owner of these two images I have released them to the public domain and release all my rights to these two images (effective with my upload of them to Wikimedia in December 2017).

 

Photograph of Fox Hills Country Club sign from the slide collection of Reed and Adena Walker of Beverly Hills (my great-grandparents). At the time of the photo the changing text on the sign read: OPEN TO PUBLIC LUNCHEON DINNERS ENTERTAINMENT NITELY.

Fox_Hills_Country_Club_sign_in_mid-20th_century

 

Union 76 gas station and oil service with tall sign, on a southern California corner with bus stop and billboard adjoining.

76_gas_station_with_tower_sign_in_Southern_California_circa_1930s

 

no algorithm I’ve seen could come close to the subtlety of actual human interactions

That said, we don’t trust systems to understand what “best” means.

Just like Tay can’t tell what not to model its responses upon, no algorithm I’ve seen could come close to the subtlety of actual human interactions.

As an example, sometimes there are friends or family who are fairly passive with a social network, but whose activity—which a bot would interpret as uninteresting—is our way of keeping tuned into their level of depression. Sometimes we act on their messages but often just seeing them is enough (particularly when our primary social activity with them happens outside the feed).

Often there are inside jokes a bot wouldn’t get.

Algorithmic feeds which use activity level on a post/tweet/image are inherently biased against quieter relationships and smaller networks.

I follow high-signal folks like Anil Dash and very low activity folks who are important to me in the same stream. Algorithmic feeds don’t get the subtle differences and fail to put those folks on an even footing.

So, no, no matter how nice the folks are and how best damn product what they’re making is supposed to be, I will continue to reject algorithmic feeds and instead tune my follow activity to just what I can handle.

[my comment on a comment by Ev Williams on “Instagram and the Cult of the Attention Web: How the Free Internet is Eating Itself” by Jesse Weaver on Medium]

category: tweets

Me rejecting algorithmic feeds again: “That said, we don’t trust systems to understand what ‘best’ means.” https://t.co/DxKYrkS9io
@MetaGrrrl