Early “photo of summer” candidate

I writ­ten many times before that I like to find fam­i­ly pho­tos that encap­su­late a feel­ing — a time and place, a moment in our col­lec­tive lives. A few weeks ago I caught this shot, which I think will be one of my favorite pho­tos of this summer.

Tech­ni­cal note: this was only pos­si­ble with a water resis­tant phone, as I would not have dared wade out into a pool with pre­vi­ous phones. The 3D bokeh effect is cour­tesy of the iPhone 7 Plus “Por­trait” mode. It’s not per­fect: zoom in and there’s some dis­tor­tion around his left arm, both at the top where it fuzzes around the mid back­ground of the slide and on bot­tom where there are arti­facts in the con­trast with the far back­ground of the fence line. But I’m still pleased and amazed at how well the 3D imag­ing works.

Normcore and the new-old Quaker plain

In the last few weeks, the fashion segment of the Internet has gone all a-buzz over new term "Normcore." Normal, everyday, clothing is apparently showing up in downtown Manhattan—gasp! Like many trendy terms, it's not really so new: back in the nineties and early oughts, Gap ruled the retail world with posters showing celebrities and artists wearing t-shirts and jeans available at the local mall store. "Normcore" is just the leading edge of the utterly-predicable 20-year fashion industry pendulum swing.

It also perhaps signals a cultural shift away from snobbery and into embracing roots. One of the most popular posts on the New York Times's website last year celebrated regional accents (apparently Philadelphians are allowed to talk like Philadelphians again).

An analogue to this fashion trend has been occuring among Friends for a little while now. The "New Plain" discussion have revolved around reclaiming an attitude, not a uniform.

If you read the old Quaker guide books (called "Books of Discipline" then, now more often called "Faith and Practice"), you'll see that unlike other plain-dressing American groups like the Amish, Quakers didn't intend their clothes to be a uniform showing group conformity. Instead, plainness is framed in terms of interior motivations. Avoiding fashion trends helped Friends remember that they were all equal before God. It also spoke to our continuing testimony of integrity, in that Friends were to dress the same way in different contexts and so vouchsafe for a single identity.

When I began feeling the tug of a leading toward plainness it was for what I began calling "Sears Plain," indicating that I wore clothes that I could find in any box store or mall. I developed a low-maintenance approach to fashion that freed up my time from shopping and the morning dressing ritual. Modern plainness can lesson the temptation to show off in in clothes and it can reduce the overall wardrobe size and thus reduce our impact on the environment and with exploited labor. But all this is nothing new and it never really disappeared. If you looked around a room of modern Quakers you'll often see a trend of sartorial boringness; I was simply naming this and putting it in the context of our tradition.

image

Over time I found that these motivations were more prevalent in the wider culture, especially in the minimalist techie scene. Steve Jobs famously sported a uniform of black turtleneck, jeans, and New Balance sneakers (explained in 2011). In a 2012 profile, Barack Obama talked about limiting his clothes to two colors of suits so that he could free up his decision-making energies on more important issues (I wrote about his fashion in "Plain like Barack").

Non-celebrities also seem interested in working out their relationship with fashion. My articles on modern plainness have always been a big draw on my blog. While my fellow Quakers are sometimes mildly embarrassed by our historic peculiarities, outsiders often eat this stuff up. They're looking for what the techies would call "life hacks" that can help them prioritize life essentials. If we can communicate our values in a real way that isn't propped by appeals to the authority of tradition, then we can reach these seekers.

So now that "Normcore" is appearing in places like Huffington Post , the New York Times and fashion magazines, will Friends be able to talk more about it? Do we still have a collective witness in regards to the materialism and ego-centricity of fashion marketing?

Nostalgia comes early

One of the most famous scenes in the AMC show Mad Men comes near the end of sea­son one. Kodak has asked the adver­tis­ing firm to cre­ate a cam­paign around a new slide pro­jec­tor that has a cir­cu­lar tray. Don Drap­er presents the Carousel and gives a nostalgia-steeped pre­sen­ta­tion that use his per­son­al pho­tographs to move both the Kodak execs and the view­ers at home, who know that these semi-focused pic­tures will soon be all that left of his dis­in­te­grat­ing family.

No falling apart fam­i­ly for me, but I find myself already feel­ing nos­tal­gic for a fam­i­ly vaca­tion to Dis­ney World that doesn’t start for anoth­er six days. I’ve recent­ly been look­ing through our Flickr archive of past trips (four for me) and real­ize that they are our Carousel. The start with my fiancée tak­ing a cyn­i­cal me on my first trip. Lat­er vis­its bring kids to the pho­to­graph­ic line­up: newly-found legs to run, the joys of messy ice cream, the scare of not-very-scary rides and the big eyes of parades all run through the sets.

In less than a week we’ll start a new set. There will be two new chil­dren in this one. “The babies” are both walk­ing and tod­dling and are at their peak of baby pho­to­genic cute­ness. The old­er two are real kids now and the eldest is start­ing to show ear­ly glimpses of teenage-hood: eye-rolling, exha­la­tion of air (“uh!”) to show dis­ap­proval of incon­ve­nient parental instructions.

Icon­ic fam­i­ly pic­tures will hap­pen. Since our last vis­it five years ago, my wife’s lost her father to can­cer and my mother’s been slip­ping into the for­get­ful­ness of Alzheimer’s. As the wheel of life turns it some­how becomes more pos­si­ble to see our­selves as part of the turn­ing Carousel. Some decades from now I can imag­ine myself going through these pic­tures sur­round­ed by indulging chil­dren and antsy grand­chil­dren, exclaim­ing “look how young every­one looks!”

Theo and Francis, Dec 2008
Theo (then 5) and Fran­cis (3) zonked out after a long day in 2008. Hard to believe they were ever this cuddly.

 

Update post-trip:

There are 104 pic­tures from this trip in our pub­lic Flickr set, with one of our four kids hold­ing hands as they walk to the pool a stand­out icon­ic shot of their child­hood together:
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Georges And Trayvons

Over on Mobtown­blues, Kevin Grif­fin Moreno cops to being George Zim­mer­man. Thank­ful­ly, he’s not: when feel­ing threat­ened in a recent sit­u­a­tion with racial over­tones, he chose to walk away, but it is worth ask­ing how dif­fer­ent we are from the char­ac­ters of this tragedy.

I nev­er had much expec­ta­tion that the tri­al of Trayvon Martin’s killer would find him guilty. A good team of lawyers can con­jure up rea­son­able doubt over most any­thing. As as Alafair Burke writes on Huff­in­g­ton, much of what Zim­mer­man did was pro­tect­ed by Florida’s insanely-crazy “stand your ground” laws. 

But even with­out that, high-profile court cas­es get so politi­cized so quick­ly that they rarely pro­vide any kind of cathar­sis, let alone jus­tice, when stacked against hun­dreds of years of racial injus­tices. And just as Zimmerman’s judge­ment was col­ored by his racial his­to­ry and bias­es, so too are ours: our opin­ions about what hap­pened that evening in San­ford, Flori­da, are much more a reac­tion to where we fall in the con­tin­u­ums of priv­i­leges than we might care to admit. 

Martin and Zimmerman, swapped races, via Whileseated.org

Priv­i­lege is unearned oppor­tu­ni­ties con­ferred by how close­ly we fit a par­tic­u­lar stereo­type. When I was in my ear­ly 20s, I was once pulled over by a police­man when I was dri­ving aim­less­ly through a sleepy town at 3 am (no good sto­ry I’m afraid: I was sim­ply bored, with insom­nia). He vis­i­bly eased up when he saw I was white, and he got almost avun­cu­lar a minute lat­er when he saw the Irish name on my dri­vers license. I know that almost-forgettable instant could have played out quite dif­fer­ent­ly if I had been black, with a Mus­lim name, per­haps, and a chip on my shoul­der because this was the fifth time that month I had got­ten detained for no good reason. 

No mat­ter what I do to edu­cate myself, I will always be George Zim­mer­man to (many) strangers on the street, just as Trayvon Mar­tin will always be a sus­pi­cious house bur­gler for being a black stranger in a hoodie. 

The work that needs to be done – or con­tin­ued, for we need to remem­ber the many times peo­ple have done the right thing – couldn’t be answered by a crim­i­nal tri­al any­way. What’s need­ed is the edu­ca­tion of soci­ety at large. 

One step is all of the con­ver­sa­tions tak­ing place on Face­book and around water cool­ers this week. Let’s talk about the fears that sub­con­scious­ly dri­ve us. For Zimmerman’s gun was only one of the trig­gers that killed Mar­tin. It was fear that gave us Sanford’s gat­ed com­mu­ni­ty and its town watch, along with our nation’s per­mis­sive gun laws and dra­con­ian legal con­cepts like “stand­ing one’s ground.” It was that potent mix of sus­pi­cion that set in motion a sit­u­a­tion that left a sev­en­teen year old kid with a pock­et­ful of Skit­tles lying dead face down in the grass. 

Can we learn to under­stand the ways we live in fear? Can we get to know one anoth­er more deeply in that place that breaks down the gates in our hearts?

Trying out iOS 7

It’s prob­a­bly not a good idea to be use bleeding-edge betas. That’s espe­cial­ly true for a tool used dai­ly, like a cell­phone. But I’ll freely admit that Apple’s iOS 7, announced Mon­day, has been itch­ing at me. Cultof­Mac told read­ers straight-out not to install it. But com­menters there and else­where have been report­ing few prob­lems and appar­ent­ly it is pos­si­ble to go back to 6 if prob­lems arise.

So this evening I took the plunge. I used the method out­lined here and signed up at imzdl​.com. It all worked pret­ty well. And so far, so good. The bat­tery looks like it’s drain­ing a bit faster than before, but that’s to be expect­ed of a first beta and it’s not the half-battery that the Chick­en Lit­tles claim. A few apps have bombed on me, but only spo­rad­i­cal­ly. Skype didn’t open at first, but a quick look at their sup­port forums found you just need­ed to delete and rein­stall the app.

Is it worth it? I don’t know. The new icons are still a bit rough, as report­ed, but more than that, their flat­ness looks out of place next to the 3-D icons that most iPhone apps still use. The new quick-settings bar is cool and the par­al­lax effect for back­grounds is cool­er still (it shifts the back­ground as the accelerom­e­ter moves about, giv­ing it all a feel­ing a depth). We’re told that multi-tasking is more robust, but that’s not some­thing one notices imme­di­ate­ly (besides, Android’s had it for years). I’ll update as I explore more. Guess­es are that the sec­ond beta will come in about ten days — I’ll see if I can live with the first beta’s bat­tery hit until then.

Have Friends lost their cultural memory?

In Amer­i­ca today our sense of spir­i­tu­al fel­low­ship in Lib­er­al meet­ings, the feel­ing of belong­ing to the same tribe, is dimin­ish­ing. We no longer live in the same com­mu­ni­ties, and we come from diverse faith tra­di­tions. Our cul­tur­al val­ues are no longer entwined at the roots, as were those of our founders. As a body we share less genet­ic and cul­tur­al mem­o­ry of what it means to be Quak­ers. Dif­fer­ent view­points often pre­vent us from look­ing in the same direc­tion to find a point of con­ver­gence. We hold beliefs rang­ing from Bud­dhism to non-theism to Chris­tian­i­ty, or we may sim­ply be eth­i­cal human­ists. Just imag­ine a mix­ture of wild seeds cast into a sin­gle plot of land, pro­duc­ing a pro­fu­sion of col­or. A wide vari­ety of plants all bloom­ing togeth­er sym­bol­ize our present con­di­tion in the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends. Dis­cern­ing which is a wild­flower and which is a weed is not easy. We are liv­ing a great exper­i­ment of reli­gious diversity.

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