Hammonton 2017 Fourth of July

We didn’t see much of the Ham­mon­ton Fourth of July parade this year because once again the kids were in the bike parade por­tion (all except Fran­cis, who had a bad melt­down in the morn­ing and stayed home with mom).

The bike parade was again spon­sored by Toy Mar­ket, the inde­pen­dent toy store in town (sup­pli­er of much of our household’s San­ta deliv­ery). They had a table full of red, white, and blue bunting that we could apply to the bikes. We all had a lot of fun.

Notes for next year: a tan­dem exten­sion on a adult bike looked like fun and then 7-yo Gre­go­ry will be a good age for this (we should dig ours out from the back of the garage). Also: the parade has a dog con­tin­gent so maybe a much-calmer Fran­cis will be able to be part of that next year (we’re due to pick up the ser­vice dog in 12 days!, eeek!!!)

Remembering it’s an honor just to be read

Strange moment this morn­ing when I checked my blog stats and real­ized that I get a fair amount of traf­fic for a movie review I wrote last year. I was check­ing the stats to see if any of the Quaker-related search terms might give clues for future con­tent on Friends Jour­nal or Quak­er­S­peak and for that pur­pose the review’s pop­u­lar­i­ty with Google (and read­ers) isn’t that use­ful.

But this blog is just my life spun out. I don’t aim for key­words and I don’t want to dom­i­nate a thought-sphere. If I see a movie and jot down some impres­sions that attract a small audi­ence, then my blog post is a suc­cess. A dozen or so ran­dom peo­ple a month Google in to spend a cou­ple of min­utes read­ing my thoughts on a fifty-year-old movie. That’s cool. That’s enough. In all the talk of tar­get­ing and SEO we some­times for­get that it’s an hon­or to sim­ply be read.

The oth­er night stayed up late to cud­dled with my wife and watch good-natured but flawed Rom-Com. I read some reviews on IMDB and pon­dered the clich­es in the show­er the next morn­ing. Boil­ing these impres­sions down into 500 words on a train com­mute would be easy enough. I should do it more.

Camp Acagisca

A two-night scouts camp­ing trip with two of my kids to the coun­ty facil­i­ties at Camp Acagis­ca nears Mays Land­ing turned into a one night with one kid affair (my 11yo got way too mouthy when it came time to decide who was going to share a tent with dad and went home imme­di­ate­ly; the 9yo end­ed up in a melt­down mid morn­ing on the sec­ond day.)

 

Rain camp­ing

A video post­ed by Mar­tin Kel­ley (@martin_kelley) on

 

And while I assumed the name was some sort of Lenape con­struc­tion, it’s appar­ent­ly an amal­gam of Atlantic City Area Girl Scout Camp.

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.

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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?

Plain like Barack

As befits a Quak­er wit­ness, when I felt the nudge to plain­ness ten years ago, I didn’t quite know where it would take me. I trust­ed the spir­i­tu­al nudges enough to assume there were lessons to learn. I had wit­nessed a God-centering in oth­ers who shared my spir­i­tu­al con­di­tions and I knew from read­ing that plain­ness was a typ­i­cal first step of “infant min­is­ters.” But all I had been giv­en was the invi­ta­tion to walk a par­tic­u­lar path.

After the ini­tial excite­ments, I set­tled into a rou­tine and dis­cov­ered I had lost the “what to wear?!” angst of get­ting dressed in the morn­ings. Gone too was the “who am I?” dra­ma that accom­pa­nied cat­a­log brows­ing. As clothes wore out and were retired, I reduced my clos­et down to a small set of choic­es, all vari­a­tions on one anoth­er. Now when I get dressed I don’t wor­ry about who I will see that day, who I should impress, whether one pair of shoes goes with a cer­tain sweater, etc.

Appar­ent­ly, I share this prac­tice with the forty-fourth pres­i­dent. In “Obama’s Way,” a wide-ranging pro­file in Van­i­ty Fair, Michael Lewis shares the President’s atti­tude about clothes:

[He] was will­ing to talk about the mun­dane details of pres­i­den­tial exis­tence… You also need to remove from your life the day-to-day prob­lems that absorb most peo­ple for mean­ing­ful parts of their day. “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he said. “I’m try­ing to pare down deci­sions. I don’t want to make deci­sions about what I’m eat­ing or wear­ing. Because I have too many oth­er deci­sions to make.” He men­tioned research that shows the sim­ple act of mak­ing deci­sions degrades one’s abil­i­ty to make fur­ther deci­sions. It’s why shop­ping is so exhaust­ing. “You need to focus your decision-making ener­gy. You need to rou­tinize your­self. You can’t be going through the day dis­tract­ed by triv­ia.”

A few dis­tract­ing caveats: we can assume Obama’s grey and blue suits are bespoke and cost upwards of a thou­sand dol­lars apiece. He prob­a­bly has a clos­et full of them. He has staff that cleans them, stores them, and lays them out for him in the morn­ing. You won’t find Barack wan­der­ing the aisles of the Capi­tol Hill Macy’s or the Lan­g­ley Hill Men’s Ware­house. Michelle’s nev­er run­ning things to the dry clean­ers, and Sasha and Malia aren’t pair­ing socks from the laun­dry bin after com­ing home from school. A Pres­i­dent Romney’s clos­et would also fea­ture gray and blue (though his under­wear draw­er would be more uncon­ven­tion­al). When pro­to­col calls for the commander-in-chief to devi­ate from suits – to don a tux per­haps – one appears. Pres­i­den­tial plain­ness is far from sim­ple.

The Quak­er move­ment start­ed as an invi­ta­tion to com­mon sense. Every­one could join. Ear­ly Friends were min­i­mal­ists on fire, fear­less in aban­don­ing any­thing that got in the way of spir­i­tu­al truth. In a few short years they method­i­cal­ly worked their way to the same con­clu­sions as a twenty-first cen­tu­ry U.S. pres­i­dent: human decision-making resources are finite; our atten­tion is at a pre­mi­um. If we have a job to do (run a coun­try, wit­ness God’s King­dom), then we should clear our­selves of unnec­es­sary dis­trac­tions to focus on the essen­tials. Those core expe­ri­en­tial truths have last­ing val­ue. As Jef­fer­son might say, they are self-evident, even if they still seem rad­i­cal­ly pecu­liar to the wider world.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly the kind of plain­ness that Barack and I are talk­ing about is a kind of mind-hack, its pow­er large­ly strate­gic. I’d love to see a pres­i­dent take up the chal­lenge of some hard­core Quak­er val­ues. How about the tes­ti­mo­ny against war? Eliza Gur­ney got pret­ty far in cor­re­spon­dence with Obama’s hero, hon­est Abe, but even he punt­ed respon­si­bil­i­ty to divine will. The wit­ness con­tin­ues.