Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Dropping the Chains of Equality

I was on the treadmill today watching an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (for some reason, I am on a mission to watch them all, in order) and Captain Picard referred to his "superiors." I had a thought at that moment that liberated me from the chains of equality.

Of course, Americans have the idea ingrained in them that "all men are created equal." This fuels a kind of independent spirit (no pun intended) and a sense that we are just as good as anyone around us. Those who think they are "better" than us can sod off. On an existence level, this is true... No one is simply born with more worth than anyone else.

As a teenager and as a young adult, I was fiercely against regarding anyone as a "superior." I have always been a bit snippy about that idea. I would never have joined the military, because I have a problem with playing the role of a subordinate. After all, I, as a private, I am every bit as good as the drill instructor, am I not? Am I not as good a person as him? Am I not as valid of a human being? Why should I call him sir?

At the same time, I have always been respectful of those who have achieved higher levels than I have. This would seem incongruous, no? I use, and have always used, the word "sir" when addressing elder gents. (I use "ma'am" more reservedly, if only because I have known women who think this is an accusation of oldness...)

Monday, December 29, 2014

Heresy in the Church of Science

I have, many times, criticized the American transition into science as a new religion. But, to be clear, it is not science I have a problem with; it's the worship of science I have a problem with. In fact, I (note the quite intentional lack of a rude expletive) love science. I have been fascinated with it since I was a boy.

As neurologist David Eagleman so aptly pointed out, science is just a pier that stretches out into a vast ocean of things we do not know; therefore, science cannot be looked to for the definitive answers to everything. And it certainly cannot be seen as a defining parameter for all that is possible in the universe. Things exist, in incalculable numbers, outside of what science can prove. To say one doesn't believe in anything that is unproven is to admit to idiocy, if you ask me.

The worst outcome of this worship of science is the decreased wonder at the depth of the human mind and body.

Just a few days ago, this occurred to me as the reason why I turn so angrily away from studies that tell us that there is an answer as to the source of human creativity; or that show us, in a CT scan how the mind of an athlete works; or that explain the physiology behind criminal behavior; or that reduce love and passion to chemical equations.

We humans are so much more than that. A trend in brainwaves might be a pier into the ocean of what goes on in our minds, but it will ever be a boat ride to Truth.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Social Will

short one, since it is Christmas Eve.

Society bends individuals to its will. It always has and it will do so in the future. No matter how much the will of society changes, it is the will of society that dictates the way we are "supposed to" act.

Therefore, what was "right" fifty years ago may not continue to be "right" today. Still, social will, no matter how much it reforms itself, is not a proponent of freedom. It is an organically occurring form of control that seeks to tell the individual how to think.

Social agendas that claim to promote freedom for certain individuals are, in and of themselves, an attempt to take freedom of thought away from others.

The only solution to this is to think one's own thoughts and to be independent of groupthink.

I leave you with this irrelevant but nifty cartoon. (Hat tip: C. C.):




Monday, December 22, 2014

Getting a Grip on Tradition

I hope people don't run screaming when I write about the drums. In most cases, I am not writing about the drums, but about something I learned about life through the drums...  Granted my last piece on the aesthetics of drums is a bit more drummy than most, but stick with me with this one. It's about the concept of tradition more than it is about drums.

There are those among us who are so tied to tradition that we refuse to admit change into our lives or into the lives of society as a whole. This is bad. But, then, there are those who call any traditional view "old fashioned" or outright stupid. This, also, is bad. The thing is, tradition that makes sense should remain and tradition that does not make sense should be considered for upheaval.

A great metaphor for this is the way drummers hold their sticks. There are, out there, die-hard proponents of the "traditional grip" in drumming. It looks like this:



Note the sort of sideways grip in the left hand. This is the way many drummers were taught for years and years. According to Neil Peart, in an article he wrote many years ago for Modern Drummer, this grip originated with the side-hanging snare drum for marching -- the one we picture in the Revolutionary War photos:

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Drum Aesthetic

I have referenced my ridiculous attraction to the appearance of drum sets before, but...I remember...

My father had a recording studio in our house for awhile. I was but a lad at the time; maybe in middle school. After a session, a great area drummer named Carl Mattola, who was a cool guy and a good friend of my dad's, left his drums behind in anticipation of an upcoming session. The thing was, he hadn't left any sticks, so I couldn't play them.
Gavin Harrison's set on a King Crimson tour: potential energy.

I had never played the drums before and now I had to just look at them. But, I could see something in that little Pearl four-piece set. At the time I wouldn't have been able to articulate it, but there was tremendous beauty in that silent sculpture that is a drum kit. It was the aesthetic of  potential -- potential energy; potential for human movement; potential for explosive or shimmering sound...

Here, a cymbal hung in perfect reach; there a pedal for one foot; there a pedal for the other foot. The drum set was a mechanism for a kind of Tai Chi movement of four limbs at different times and in different ways; there was the potential of bringing the disparate instruments of a hi-hat cymbal (that could hit or played with the feet) a crash cymbal, a "ride cymbal," a snare drum, a kick drum and a mounted tom-tom and a floor tom all into focused rhythmic pattern that could only come out of a musical oneness with Tao or Zen or "The Groove" whatever you wanted to call it.

I'd sit with my feet on the pedals and imagine playing. I'd envision it. But... no sticks.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"Remember me...but...forget my fate."

Yesterday, I was driving drowsily home. I turned off of the main road, onto a sort of sub-main road; a busy little side street that runs past some schools and businesses.

The speed limit is 25. No one does that, but no one "flies," either. Between obstructing cars parked on the side, I saw something topple and I tapped my brakes. My brain tried to make sense of it. It had all of the characteristics of a falling tree -- a small one, but rigid and straight, all of the way down. As I got closer, I saw an old man, half in the roadway, his cane pinned under him. He was motionless.

I stopped the car and put on the hazard lights. I crouched next to him.

"Are you okay, sir?"

"I think I hit my head." He was bleeding from the forehead. "I guess I can't even walk anymore."

This was familiar territory for me. My dad went through this kind of thing, both the physical falling and the visible shame of a dwindling list of strength-affirming things he could do on his own. I had picked him up many times, both physically and mentally. (Sometimes I failed to "pick him up" on the mental end.) Not all experiences are good, but, sometimes good comes out of them: I knew what to do.

I helped this old man to sit up and rest for a minute, then I put my hands under his arms and used my legs to help him stand. (It is astounding how heavy a little old man can be.)

Before long, I had him holding onto a street sign for support. I got a rag out of my glove box and gave it to him to hold up to his bleeding head. "Do you have a car?" he asked. "Can you take me home?"

Monday, December 15, 2014

Music: The Lyrical Steroid

How does the listening public hear certain song lyrics and not demand recompense for the time lost in listening to them?

Yesterday, Bryan Adams's old song, "Heaven," came on the radio. It came out when I was in high school. I think it was our prom song in '86. That lyric is a pile of cliches. That's all it is.
"Now, nothin' can take you away from me.
We've been down that road before
But that's over now.
You keep me comin' back for more."
It must have taken him about eight minutes to write. (But what more can you expect from a guy who would go on to write a song called "18 'Till I die"?)

"How can anyone allow this happen?" asks the lyricist in me. "How can you people listen to this?" asked the teenaged, progressive rock/classical-loving high school kid I was...

Well, I know how. And between you and me, I, too, have fallen prey to bad lyric songs: they're relatable, which is the stuff of a cliche, in the end. But the main reason this happens is that music kicks the proverbial butt of all other art forms. People can see lyrics as "good enough" because music is to lyrics what steroids are to a 40+ home run hitter; it can raise the most inane drivel into the realm of the sublime.
"Hmm... 'Poopsie, you are everything I need..'
No. 'Baby you're all that I need.' That's it!"

It's not that Bryan Adams is a master composer, by any stretch. It's that music is that powerful. Even a simplistic chord and song structure like the one in "Heaven" is impressive to the non-musician's ear. Float that mediocre music and brainless lyric out there to a hormonal sixteen-year-old who is convinced that the girl he met in chemistry class is worth dying for because she is a good kisser, and you are guaranteed success.

I can just see my classmates delving into each other's eyes on the dance floor...boys singing into the girls' faces ("Baby you're all that I need..." ) and the girls tearing up as if they had just been presented with a wax-sealed Shakespearean sonnet.

Friday, December 12, 2014

My Wife Is Not My Dream Girl

My wife is not my "dream girl."
Karen in a hat.


The girl I used to dream about was...different than my wife. She was very visibly artsy. She had an English accent that was probably more of an American actress's approximation of one than it was real. She looked cute in hats and wore floral summer dresses year 'round. She read the Romantics every night before bed. She was as obsessed with creativity as I am. She was a character that I had "written;" she wasn't a person.

I even met this girl. In fact, I broke up with my wife (who I was dating, at the time) to go out with this girl. My wife had (clearly, with complete accuracy), stepped back and taken a "you'll be back" attitude. She was right. It took about three dinners with my dream girl for me to realize I was...bored. We had plenty in common; she was attractive and intelligent; she was sweet. We got along great. But...after a few great conversations, we had sort of run out of stuff to say.

My wife-to-be, no doubt having sensed the perfect time for the coup de grâce, showed up at a crowded gig looking stunning (to say the least) and that prompted my stream of consciousness into a realization that I had, indeed, made the wrong move. The rest is history -- including my "dream girl."

Karen and I are very happily married and have been for nearly seventeen years, now. I know it is unfashionable for creative types like myself to be happy at all, let alone happily married. (I almost feel I have to be apologetic for not being an alcoholic or an insomniac.) But just as I realized that I don't have to fit the artistic cliches, I eventually realized we are all making a mistake when we set out in search of a "dream" partner. We're bound to paint a two-dimensional picture and where's the satisfaction in hugging a cardboard cut-out?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Missing Dignity

I miss dignity.

I recently saw an "article" about things couples do when they have been together for a long time. One of them was "you let him pee in the shower when you are showering together." There is such a long list of ways that this shows a lack of dignity that I can't give it the time required...

If this (at best) unhygenic practice is common, first of all: welcome to the Express Bus Ride to De-evolution. Second of all...why would anyone write about this? -- why would in Internet-reading world admit to the truth of this, if it were the case? Lack of dignity is the only thing I can think of.

A lost look of dignity? 
The other day, I saw a clip -- I guess it was from a game show -- in which a woman admitted that she has an agreement with her mistrusted man. When he goes out without her, she writes her name on [How shall I put this on a dignified blog?] him. If he comes home with the ink smudged, she knows he has cheated.

It's strange enough to do this, but, to go on TV and admit it? Total lack of dignity. Even if Sharpie Girl made it up to get on TV, it still shows a lack of dignity: she is willing to make a fool of herself for fifteen minutes of fame.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Christmas Truce of 1914: Every Silver Cloud Has a Fecal Lining

It's a famous story, now. Here is it charmingly depicted in a commercial:
The commercial is a pretty good depiction of what happened.

On one website, it was called a heartening proof that the soldiers' essential humanity remained. They saw the event as uplifting. But every silver cloud has a fecal lining.

From an article in the November, 2014 issue of National Geographic:

"No one there wanted to continue the war," [author, Stanley] Weintraub said. But the top brass did, and threatened to punish troops for shirking duty. As the new year began, both sides "went on with the grim business at hand."

Absurd, is it not? This is how the many are herded, lead and eventually slaughtered at the whim of the few.

So, let's all cheer war like it is a football game. That will get us far. Some day they are going to give a war and...we'll just keep doing what we are told.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Window

Hugh Syme's cover art for Rush's Power Windows
Last summer, when we were on vacation, my son, through a series of events, got into a very bad mood one day. This sent him into a series of negative thoughts until things turned into a conversation about how horrible the world is. He referenced various things in the news; a whole chain of valid observations about how nasty the world and and how nasty people can be.

It so happened that, much to our surprise, construction had begun on the lot across from our rental house. Our kind rental owners had called and explained that they had not known construction was going to begin that week and they had offered us a refund for the second week if we wished to move to another rental property. We stayed and it was fine.

I went up to my son's room, which had a small window that looked out, across the street, onto the construction. When he was at the height of his anger about the world and nothing I said could cheer him up, I said:

Monday, December 1, 2014

Hypercommunity

During a discussion with my wife, the other day, I realized that I have been sort of misrepresenting my opinion on a very prominent issue -- prominent, at least, on this blog. What I mean is: the issue of "community." I tend to be harsh toward the idea, which is, to the general populace, not unlike being harsh toward puppies.

I am sure that most readers have been "getting" what I have been trying to say, but, it occurred to me, during that aforementioned conversation, that what I should be railing against is "hyper-community."

My problem is easy to explain: the individual has been swallowed up by a world that over-emphasizes "community" and that is obsessed with the idea of being "connected." But this is not "community;" it is "hyper-community." From now on, I will call it that.

Community is, at least for me, when there is a big storm and one's neighbors come over (as mine once did) to help one clear a huge fallen tree. Community is barn-raisings and sing-alongs. Community is bringing in your neighbor's mail when he is on vacation. Community is returning a lost dog to the address his collar. Community is long summer talks over fences. Community is watching our for your neighbors and working together with them when circumstances call.

What it is should not be is the abandonment of family and the dismissal of private life. It seems, however, that this is what it has become, with the ripples moving outward...

Friday, November 28, 2014

Post Gig: Thankgiving Eve

The drums, in rock star mode.
Well, aspirations true photo-journalism have been foiled by circumstance. Sure, I have a few photos from the band's job last Wednesday, but, in my head, I pictured getting down among the crowd and capturing the silly drunkeness of "Thanksgiving Eve" in North America. Sadly, that big crowd resulted, mostly, in my being pinned to the stage between sets. And, when it came down to the real visual feast of the post-gig, the logistics of breaking down the equipment and getting it through the hammered hoards meant that the cell phone stayed in my pocket. Nevertheless, there is still a tale to tell.

I left the house at around 7:00. We were to start playing by 8. We got up on stage and the place was just filling up -- on the half of the bar opposite the band. I don't know about the rest of the guys, but I felt a little like we were in quarantine.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Pre Gig: Thanksgiving Eve

We blog writers walk a line (though some that I have read don't seem the least big conscious of crossing it) that divides the blogging world into hemispheres. On one side is the realm of autobiographical sharing  in a way that offers readers exceptional insight into life, in general (as do the bloggers zmkc and Steerforth). The other side is the incessant prattling of those who think everyone cares what they had for lunch.

I try to be careful. My posts are not always autobiographical, because, if I wish my life were more interesting (which I do), then why would others want to always hear about its most superficial details?

Yesterday, though, I was talking to a co-worker. I mentioned to her that my band had to play tonight (Wednesday, Nov 26) and she mentioned how interesting it would be to tag along and see what goes into being in a working band -- the implication being, I think, a not-famous band; a band in the trenches of "gigging."

So, why not? Maybe some others will find it interesting. At the very least, this is an aspect of my life that is "out of the ordinary" and this might be cool for my sons to read when I am, as my father-in-law says, "toes-up."

Me drums. 
Today, since the club is close to my home, I'll finish work at my school after a half-day schedule and I'll head to a bar -- a pretty large room -- to set up my drum kit. This will happen at about 1:00, PM. In the U.S., the night before Thanksgiving is the biggest bar night of the year; people have off of work the next day; students are home from college. Setting up any time after dinner is really not an option, especially for the drummer, because the place will be too full or revelers for me to walk through with the gear.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Me vs. the Thirteen-Year-Old Drummer

Here is an embodiment of how it is frustrating, sometimes, to be a musician. A friend posted this on Facebook: What is frustrating, in music, is that most people don't have any real understanding of it and they judge it anyway. Or course, everyone is allowed to have an opinion, but it is always slightly annoying to see something like the video above. (For the record, my friend is a musician and I am sure he was just trying to get a rise out of me.)

To be clear: she is an exceedingly talented young woman and what she is playing is impressive for someone her age. But, to any drummer worth his salt, what she is playing is actually fairly easy; however, it sounded impressive enough for a video-poster to, even jokingly, say that the girl is "a better drummer than you will ever be."

What she is playing is based on a drum rudiment, the paradiddle. She has just moved it around the drum kit...which, again, is impressive for someone her age. To a pro-level drummer, it should be simple.

Things like this make me wary of offering opinions in other people's areas of expertise. Still, when it comes to art, it does seem that everyone is pretty darn sure of himself...

Let's face it: it was just the title that got me going. Not -- though this would be the easy way to try to humiliate me -- because I feel challenged by the drumming of a thirteen-year-old (I have no sense of competition when it comes to drumming) but because it is conceivable that there are those who don't really understand drumming who might really think this girl is a master of her instrument.

That's the part that could be bad. For her.

Friday, November 21, 2014

No One Cares About My Beard

One of the best parts about "growing up" -- at least to me -- is the ever-deepening understanding of how truly unimportant I am to everyone around me. I'm not saying that we are not all important in our little ways. Each of us has an effect, either grand or minimal, on those around us. But, for some, it is hard to latch on to the concept that we are not the center of everyone else's lives.

Now, that's a beard.
For instance, at the moment, I have a beard. It is not much of a beard, if you ask me, but it is a beard. There is no mistaking it for a beard, grant you, but it is not Gandalf -level robust. The fact is, be that as it may, that I never would have had a beard if it were not for a charity "Movember" event at my school for the benefit of one of our students.

Let me be clear: I bristle at things like this. The ice bucket challenge? It made me angry and I refused to participate. I like my charitable acts to be anonymous. (Also, to me there is nothing more annoying than a campaign to pressure people into good deeds... I could write a whole post, but I won't... Besides, Mike Rowe did the job already.) But this group-inspired fundraiser, I did. Why? Because this was for one of our kids. One of my kids in the school in which I work.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Rebellion in Socks

My boys are both in middle school. They are both in a few activities. Both of them are in the chess club. Both of them are in the band. One of them is in choir. They have also done things like "Lego Club" and they both earned quite a few belt-levels in karate. They come home from these activities and they "knock out" their homework. Then, we all eat dinner together.

Yes, you heard right. All four of us at the table, talking and eating.

After dinner, the boys will play their allotted video game time. My wife and I might read or watch something on Netflix. I might go up to my studio and work on some music or practice my guitar. On some nights, we will all watch a movie together in the living room.

Near the boys' bedtime, my younger son and I almost always go upstairs to read a chapter of The Lord of the Rings together. By then, it is time for them to go to bed.

Once the boys are in bed, I usually go up to bed and read until it's sleepy time for me. Karen, who may have been finishing up studying for a class comes up soon after.

Monday, November 17, 2014

My Stupid, Beautifully Ugly Genius of a Daughter

I hate the words "liberating" and "empowering." They drive me crazy for some reason. Probably just overuse. But it occurred to me today how "liberating" it can be to have a dog for a four-legged daughter.

I was sitting on the couch with her this morning (my fur-daughter, Krimpet) and (I'm going to come clean with  you here -- I do this a lot) I was talking to her and petting her. And I, I mean, I talk -- like, full paragraphs.

We have a lot of one-sided conversations, Krimpet and I. She seems to try hard to understand.

Actually, a better way to put it is that she looks as if she is trying, with everything she has, to convince me that it is perfectly okay that I keep talking even if she doesn't have any idea what I am saying. In fact, she encourages it with all intense sincerity: "Really, Dad -- I'm interested, even if it makes no sense. Just keep throwing words at me... I love every minute of it, especially when you scratch my ears like that. You are the most important person who ever lived. Every vocal noise you make is like another beat of my heart..."

In short, she's good for the old ego.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Everything May Be Forgivable, But Everything Is Not Excusable

I keep coming back to the tectonic shifts in societal thinking because it keeps creeping under my skin. Here comes another post where my deep love for my fellow humans is bound to be interpreted as a judgemental rant by those who think we should be nice to even the most insidious and immoral among us. So be it.

Here is an article by a mom who was in a supermarket with her child. The little guy, the author's son, has Down syndrome. A cashier sees the boy in the stroller and "[spits], in a poison whisper," these inexcusable words:


“I bet you wish you had known before he came out. You know they have a test for that now…”

The test she is referring to, of course, is amniocentesis and/or a triple screen blood test, which were offered to my wife and me with our two sons and which we turned down because we would never have aborted because of a chance of Down syndrome. (The results of the blood test, by the way, are not even 100% reliable, so there is a chance of aborting a "normal" child, too.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

No Free Passes for Jerks

Everyone gets angry; everyone gets overwhelmed; everyone faces occasionally unfair challenge levels; everyone gets ill. These are intermittent states of just about any human life. 

But, have you noticed that, while we all face the issues listed above, some people seem to see those conditions as a license to treat others poorly? 

For some reason, I have never really functioned that way. I'm not saying that I have never been snippy on a bad day, only that I don't make it a habit, the way I see others do. If I do snap, I am well aware and I am usually apologetic for it. And, no matter how bad things are going, I can still manage to say hello and give even the slightest smile of greeting to people whose fault it is not that I am in a funk. 

I'm not sure what else to say about this, other than it seems to be egocentrism of the worst kind. If someone is angry with me for something I have done, okay. But what makes people think they can mouth off to someone else because of unrelated problems? 

I even hear people defend those who do this: "Well, she's very busy and overwhelmed, right now..." I don't think I will accept that. The quotation was not "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you, unless, of course, there is a fly in your yogurt that day."

There are people enduring chemotherapy who have a smile for everyone they see. A backlog of unread emails and a coffee stain on a favorite tie doesn't give anyone the right to throw a stapler at the innocent guy in the next cubicle. 


Monday, November 10, 2014

On Marines and Peanut Butter and Jelly

I heard something really refreshing this morning, from a former Marine.

He called in to a local radio program to answer a question they were asking about the use of certain phrases and gestures by civilians: Is it okay to salute a soldier? -- is it okay for a civilian to say semper fi? That kind of thing. They were worried about being disrespectful to members of the military.

During the conversation, they asked this Marine how he preferred to be thanked for his service. He got a little antsy and said it didn't matter and he added that no matter how it is done, it is "kind of awkward" being thanked.

When they (breathlessly) asked why, he said that he had simply joined because it was what he wanted to do; it was a job he wanted. He said, "Thanking me for being a Marine is like thanking someone for liking peanut butter and jelly."

At this point, the radio hosts started to panic. It was a bit embarrassing to listen to and it was unintentionally comical. What followed wasn't just an attempt to get this guy not to be so humble; it was as if a kid in a Catholic school religion class had said, "Meh -- I'm sorry Father, but I just don't think God is that big of a deal." It was almost as if they wanted to delete what this guy said. He had ruined everything! They almost got abrupt with him.

He stood his ground, quietly and with dignity.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Can Viral Proposals Lead to Marital Sniffles?

I keep seeing these articles and posts about the "most amazing" boyfriends in the world and how elaborately they proposed to their girlfriends. Some guys jump out of planes; some guys propose on the Monstervision at baseball games; some guys hire entire flashmobs; some guys write "Will you marry me?" in fifty foot block letters on Hawaiian beaches and fly their girlfriends over them in dirigibles; some guys get Justin Bieber to ask from the stage...the list goes on.

I get it. Dudes have been doing variations on this for ages, except, now, it all seems so uncomfortably public. "Viral proposal" is, in and of itself, a disturbing (and possibly prophetic) phrase, is it not?

A historical mess, was Braveheart -- but, this...
Look -- people need to make their own choices and we all need to do, in personal matters, what feels right to us, but, to me, certain things are better kept private; even some things that don't fall into the category of obvious. For me, a proposal is something that ought to be private. The world seeps too much into our daily affairs; maybe we should keep it out of certain places.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Tides of Morality

Over the last few years (while I wasn't paying attention, apparently) certain things that were once considered almost absolutely wrong are now considered admirable. Among these things are bragging, suicide, self-made and self-distributed pornography and incest.

I have heard each one of these behaviors, in print and elsewhere, defended at least once in the past year and, in those defenses, the behaviors above were not just defended, they were praised.

How I feel about these things is irrelevant. The important thing is that these changes serve to convince the active observer of societal trends that when it comes to morality, it really is now just a question of the tides in thought; concrete touchstones of what is "right" no longer exist; it is all a question of what the majority speaks up for. And when one has as many people (as much water) as we do, the movement of the ideas (the currents) is that much more apt to sweep people's thoughts along.

In the past, people were willing to accept absolutes. If God or if the king or if the law said it was wrong, it was wrong. Sure, some didn't think that way, but most did. Authority was something they were used to. Obeying was something they were compelled, either by force or by convention, to do. If, say, the Church told people not to marry their own siblings, they mostly fell in line. Those who did not fall in line were considered "sick."

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Gentlepeople

If I, as a man, write about how I believe a woman should behave, whether in terms of morality or comportment, I will invariably be labeled as a chauvinist by some. (I will have been guilty, in their eyes, of chauvinistic views and actions of which I am totally unaware, having grown up as a male in a male dominated society.)  It has already been made quite clear to me by numerous responses to any writing that touches upon women and their state in our world, that I have no business writing about such things and that, as a man, no matter how intelligent I may (or may not) be, I simply cannot speak with any validity on any matter relating to women. In short, empathy just ain't enough. I just don't get it, the critics say.

Yet...I speak. I don't have a daughter, but I like to think in terms of fatherhood: What would I want for her? How would I want her to act? What I find is that I would want her to act the same way I want my sons to act: like a gentleperson. I'd want her to be dignified, self-assured, polite/assertive, strong (both physically and mentally), confident and kind. In fact, there is not one thing I would approach, conceptually, differently in raising a daughter than in raising my sons, in essence. (I say "in essence" because, let's face it, each child of whatever sex requires a slightly different parental approach.)

That said, there is this video going around... As with most of these, I will not repost is because I don't believe in contributing to the easy viral success of anything I disagree with. The video consists of little girls speaking about feminism and cursing, letting the F-word fly in Scorsese-like barrages.

Monday, October 27, 2014

"Truth is, after all, a moving target..."

All of my adult life, and through a good portion of my younger years, I have been tormented by statements and maxims about "doing the right thing." Sometimes, in simple times and circumstances, "the right thing" is clear to all; most often, it is not. At any rate, I often have wished I could be as sure about everything as everyone around me seems to be.

Maybe because of my instinct and (I hope) ability to look deeply into everything I see, I could never help but say, "Yeah, but...how can one be sure of what the right thing is?" I always knew that often "the right thing" was more connected to group consensus than to morality or reason. (In some ways, morality is nothing but a group consensus, when you think about it.) Stand among an enthusiastic group for awhile, and what they agree upon will seem the "right thing." But what if you had stood, first, among their enemies? You might have been just as likely to side with that group -- not because of any flaw in yourself, but because people who truly believe they are right think so as a result of their available perspective and of the information they have at their disposal. The "wrong" side may be in possession of different information that, if known, might put a whole new spin on things. Sometimes, though, bigger pictures preclude the sharing of such information, for better or ill. Or, sometimes, things simply get misintrerpreted. But the worst of all possible scenarios is the presence of people who are more interested in "winning" than in finding the truth.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Humor as a Parenting Tool

One of the biggest struggles of being a parent, at least for me, is that of convincing my kids that all of the hundreds of "inevitabilities" they are taught about are not really inevitable.

I have written, before, about my older son having come home and having said that he learned in school that day that when he becomes a teenager, his hormones are going to make him rebellious. His exact words were, "Did you know that when I become a teenager, I am going to start being mean to you?" It goes to show how careful we have to be about teaching. I, of course, corrected this by asserting that being mean is a choice; he can control how he acts toward me, no matter how powerful nature's pull may be. He was much relieved.

A few months ago, late in the summer, I was talking to another adult and my son (the same one as above) was with me. I mentioned that my son was going into the seventh grade. This person (an educator) immediately countered with: "Uh-oh..." and went on to explain how ("just you wait") seventh graders are so hard to handle and how he was going to change. A while room full of adults agreed, laughing the laughs of the battle-hardened parents. So, in front of him, I said, "Nah. Joe's a good kid. Everything will be just fine."

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

On Letting Go of the Little Ones

I'm not much for nostalgia, but, today, I happened to look at a printed-out photo montage that my wife, Karen, made. It is a collection of pictures from the beach, of my two boys. They were much smaller and much more innocent than their present ten and twelve-year-old counterparts. The cheeks were fuller, the bare feet were chubbier and the eyes were ever so slightly wider.

In one picture, the two of them are standing in bright bathing trunks and oversized T-shirts, looking down and waiting for the cold water to hit their toes. They are fascinated by the bubbles and the illusions in the tide. They are looking at the ocean as a curiosity; as a rare and new thing.

In another picture, my older son -- though much younger, then -- is crouching and intently looking for treasures in the sand; in still another, the two of them are smiling with unbridled joy, sitting side-by-side on an amusement park race car ride. These are smiles that are empty of self-consciousness; empty of the need to appear any certain way other than simply happy. Their smiles are boys' smiles, unashamed and unaffected. Pure happiness -- the kind of pure happiness a grown up can never remember except through his children.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Warmth

People waste a lot of time philosophising about religion. They debate minutiae and they kill each other over dogma. Some from the outside generalize the religious as uneducated morons and some on the inside label those outside as heathen rabble. It has been going on for centuries. But I can sum up what is good about Catholicism by something that happened at my Catholic school's open house on Sunday.

There was a good crowd of people milling about in the halls; prospective students and families were walking on tours with teachers who were showing them the premises and explaining about the programs; some of our most energetic students were chipping in, some of them adeptly leading tours of their own.

Many of the families were in their Sunday best; others were sharp in stylish sportswear or crisp jeans and sweaters, whistle-clean hundred-dollar sneakers on their feet.

Through the happy clamour, I saw an oldish woman standing at the sign-in table. Her coat was dirty and her gloves were worn through to the stuffing. Her sneakers were dust grey and her hair was a dusty, sparse red. She was bent over, filling in a registration card. Anne, our advancement director, asked her, "Do you have a prospective student with you?"

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ye Olde Ego

It's amazing how ye olde ego can sneak up on you.

I have, of late, had a bit of a drummer's resurgence. I have been a drummer since the age of fifteen. I have been in a working band since the age of twenty-ish. I have always enjoyed going out to play drums. But, somewhere between the ages of, say, thirty-ish and forty-ish, I started to put my songwriting and composition first and I started seeing drums as a small part of the big puzzle.

The new drums, on a gig. 
Then, I, for whatever reason -- I think it had a lot to do with having been inspired by the drumming of Gavin Harrison, recently -- I got psyched up for the skins again. I upgraded my beloved but tired old drumkit and bought new cymbals and, then, I started...dare I say it? I started practicing again, because, now, that tired old kit is in my little studio, permanently set up. (I have gone years without an actual acoustic kit set up in my house, warming up on practice pads and electronic kits, but it just ain't the same...)

But here's the weird thing: I have been practicing poorly. I just realized it the other day. You know what I have been doing? I've been playing stuff that is easy for me. Any novice musician knows that is no way to grow. I know it full well. Still...

...the other day, I tried something: playing patterns over a steady 3/4 (waltz) rhythm. (Inspired by Max Roach's "The Drum Also Waltzes", but with a slightly more complicated foot pattern.) Anyway, whatever level your musical knowledge is, let it suffice to say that doing this is more difficult than it sounds and, most importantly for this piece, much more difficult than I thought it would be.

I tried it a few times and just quit. Just stopped and moved onto something simpler. Today, driving in the car, it occurred to me why that was. I wasn't conscious of it, but I was saving face.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Morals, Law and the Yuck Factor

Is it yucky or is it not yucky for consenting adult siblings to have an incestuous relationship?

(Please answer aloud.)

Is it immoral or moral for consenting adult siblings to have an incestuous relationship?

(Please answer aloud.)

Should if be a crime or not for consenting adults siblings to have an incestuous relationship?

(Please answer aloud.)

The venerable Peter Singer wrestled with this question recently because Germany is in the process of trying to figure out the last question.

I have question one pinned down: Yes. It is yucky. And I do think it should be yucky to all sane people. If you disagree with me, that is fine. It's what I think and feel.

Question two is tougher. It brings in lots of questions, including sanity and insanity and how these mental states relate to moral choices... I could give that a whole article, but that is not what I am up to here.

Question three, is difficult, too. Unless, of course, I answer from my gut. If I answer from my gut, I will be compelled to try to stop such yucky behavior. Should a harmless spider die because I think it is disgusting? Is homosexuality as much of a crime-able offense as incest just because I am heterosexual and am strongly averse to the idea of being with a man the same as I am averse to the idea of sex with a sibling?

Friday, October 10, 2014

When a Rabbit is a Cat: A Requiem for Pure Reason

On many occasions, I have been staggered by the foresight of the Founding Fathers of the U.S. From Franklin's predictions in the court of King George III; to the Declaration's almost magical connection to the eyes, minds and hearts of the future; to the structuring of the Constitution, it is as if there is nothing that, in some way, shape or form, they didn't foresee.

One thing I realize, most vividly at this point, is that setting up a republic was the way to go. I'm no political science expert, but my understanding is that there is a distinct difference between a full-on democracy and a representative one. We often refer to ourselves as "a democracy" but we are really a variant on a direct democracy. In our republic, we vote for people to represent us and, while we can voice our opinions whenever we want, we have indicated our trust in them to make the final decisions.

This used to annoy me. If 80% of the people polled believed a decision should go one way, I thought it was absurd for representatives to decide in the other direction. But I don't, anymore.

Maybe is was the vestiges of elitism still ringing in the heads of those very literally revolutionary men, but something told them that it was a bad idea to go to a full-on democracy. (It could also be that it was, in terms of practicality, impossible to gather public opinion in such a large country with nothing even remotely like phones or the Internet -- if so, a happy accident of fate.) However it happened, it all worked out to the people voting for others who would represent them in national and state issues.

Jimmy Kimmel likes to go out and ask people on the street questions about history and politics. The results are usually horrifying. The other day, I watched about ten people struggle to come up with the answer to: "Who is Joe Biden?" This was in New York City. He was visiting there that day.

In terms of purely democratically based ethics, these people should be allowed to vote, but do we really want them to have a say in final decisions?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

This Just In From Jennifer Lawrence: Young Women Need to Make Porn for their Boyfriends

Jennifer Lawrence, you may have seen, finally (God -- how long was it going to take!? I could barely sleep!) opened up about her nude photos having been exposed and placed online some time ago. She explained their existence this way, to Vanity Fair:
"I was in a loving, healthy, great relationship for four years. It was long distance, and either your boyfriend is going to look at porn or he’s going to look at you."
Thankfully, my returning readers are kind enough not to complain when I use this blog as therapy. I have often written about the creeping feeling of alienation from the world as I get older; I have written about my own elders and their experiences with feeling as if they are strangers in a strange land... In short, paradigms change without us noticing too much and before we know it, the foundational things we thought we knew are flipped completely over.

I'm not talking about media-present things like big reversals in societal thinking... I'm talking about the stealthy shifts, like the one illustrated above.

Only a world that has changed significantly from the one I grew up in could produce a young woman who would make that statement.

Maybe naughty...but, in a mysterious way. 
You can judge her as you like for having taken nude pictures of herself, if you want, but I won't. And I am not going to defend whoever took those photos and made them public. It was wrong to do so. (Of course, the elephant in the pixels here is that if she hadn't taken them... She didn't, as some lunkheads might say, "get what she deserved," but, in this era, one who wants to keep things private ought not to digitize them.) But, in her statement is an indication that there is no shame in any of it. (A good friend of mine, Kevin, has been quoted here before for his wonderful phrase, "I miss shame.")

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

How I Went From "Patient" to "Client"

When I was a small boy, my parents would take me, for my doctor’s appointments, to Dr. Bernardin. His practice was in a converted house and there was a sign outside that said, “Dr. Bernardin, Pediatrics.” I think he lived upstairs. He would examine me and then we would sit in his office and he and my mom would talk. She called him “Doctor” and he called her “Mrs. Matarazzo.” He knew us.  He’d mess up my hair and we would leave. I’d always have a lollipop in hand.

When I was a little older, I would walk to the doctor’s.  Dr. Binder was also in a house and he definitely lived in it. The house was in our neighborhood. In fact, my best friend lived next door to him and the doctor didn’t mind when we played basketball in his driveway on the weekends. If one of us twisted an ankle, he’d come out to check on us. ( I am pretty sure he didn’t sit inside wringing his hands, fearing a lawsuit. )

When I became a young man, I went to Dr. Milligan. His practice was in a house that was fully converted. He did not live there.  The sign outside his office read, “Dr. William Milligan, MD.” Dr. Milligan was a small, serious, bearded man who would eventually discover, by feeling my neck, that I had thyroid cancer. I went through the necessary treatments and he always remembered my medical issues without looking at my records. Then, he retired in order to explore alternative medicine, but before he did, he told me in a last appointment, shaking my hand. (I think he may be somewhere in South America.) He wrote his patients a warm letter, thanking them for years of support and wishing them well.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Band of Brothers: Some Thoughts About Warriors and War

In my adult years, I gravitated away from TV. As a kid, I watched tons of it, but other things took precedent later in life, I guess. But, ever since we got rid of cable TV, my wife and I have been delving back, on streaming channels, into the critically acclaimed stuff. We started with Lost, which we really enjoyed, despite the many objections people had to the later seasons. We watched and liked Deadwood and Rome. Deadwood got old for me at the end -- I found the over-the-top foul language started to make me feel numb after awhile. Still, it was good writing. I liked Rome better; I thought the characters and their portrayals were excellent. Most recently, we completed Band of Brothers.

My favorite interaction with art is when it stirs my emotions. While watching Band of Brothers, I was brought to tears at least once, every episode. 

Richard Winters
Having been based on Stephen Ambrose's book, the miniseries was sort of a different animal than the other shows we watched. Sure, Rome was based on history, but it was ancient history. That feels different, from the start. But Band of Brothers is about a war that family members of mine were in. My great uncle, Vince, may well have actually been saved by the central characters, members of "Easy Company" who, in a heroic effort pitting twelve men against fifty German soldiers, took out the guns at Brecourt Manor, overlooking the beach on D-Day. It's close. My great uncle, Bobby, was not as lucky in Europe. 

Most affecting, though, for me, were the interviews with the men, several of whom were still alive in 2001 when the show was made. Humble (and I do not throw this word around lightly) heroes, each and every one of them.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Mediocre Stars

For years, people have been complaining that there is too much unwarranted positive affirmation in our society: kids getting trophies just for playing, etc. Of course, this all started with the idea that it is good to give little kids a self-esteem boost...like, the kite can't take flight unless we run with it a little, but then it takes off on its own into the sky. That kind of thing.

If it all works properly, everyone is a "star" for a little and the talented ones sort themselves out from the others as time goes on. I thought it was great that my kids, playing T-ball baseball got little participation trophies. They, like all of the kids, spent the season picking their noses and sitting down in the grass in the middle of an inning and when they were active, they ran from home to third or converged on ground balls in bunches of nine or ten, collided and fell, belly laughing to the ground. The trophies were to say: "See!? You participated and you got something good. Trying gets a reward..." A good thing, I think...as long as it doesn't go on too long.

If it goes on too long (and it does), mediocre people feel entitled to things just because they worked hard. Here, the theories break down. We all know hard work, in and of itself, despite the tears of American Idol audition rejects,  is not rewarded in the real world; results are.

Maybe this is all fun to rant about in terms of principles and in terms of how things used to be "in the old days," but, there is a real danger in all of it, too. It's bad to elevate the mediocre, because as soon as one puts a mediocre person in the stratosphere, that mediocre person is unequipped to deal with it. Only exceptional people can handle exceptional societal elevation.

Monday, September 29, 2014

"Things We Lost in the Fire"

Last night, I had a discussion with my son (he's in the seventh grade) during a longish car ride home. As a member of his chorus group at school, he wants to ask the director to perform a song by Bastille called "Things We Lost in the Fire." My son loves the band and the song is a better-than-average pop song. The only problem, pointed out by my son, is that it contains these lines:
You said, "We were born with nothing
And we sure as hell have nothing now."
My son's concern is the mild curse. He wonders if his teacher will allow them to do the song.

I pointed out that they could do it by substituting "heck," thinking, even as I said it, how artistically stupid that would sound. My son immediately said, "If we do that, we might as well  just not do the song. That sounds stupid."

(Good boy. Actually, melodically, it would work better with "as hell" simply dropped, but that's neither here nor there.)

This all lead to a discussion of appropriateness as related to audience. My son, though he thought enough to worry about the curse in the song, tested the waters a little by pointing out that Bastille does the song in concert and they play the song on the radio. This lead to further discussion, mostly regarding small children and grandparents at school functions. I think he got the point: in different contexts, the mild can be seriously amplified.

I told him the story of when I used to teach Shakespeare's Othello (the Branagh version, with Fishburn in the lead). In this version, there is a brief scene of nudity, in which Desdemona drops her nightgown on the wedding night. It is brief, so, while showing the film in class (to juniors), I would casually walk by the TV and, with impeccable timing, hold up a manila folder to block out Desdemona's charms for the three second during which they made an appearence. The class, of course, would laugh and jeer and one kid said, "Mr. Mat -- it's not like we never saw stuff like that before." My response was, "Not with me, you haven't."

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Chances of Me

If a little Italian guy in 1328, by the last name of Matarazzo (and, no doubt, looking exactly like Mario from the Nintendo games), had bent over to pick up a dropped spoon and, as a result, had missed seeing a beautiful girl walk by, things might not have unfolded from gallant introduction, to marriage, to ancestral line...and I might never have existed. And you would never have read this.

But, because, instead of having dropped the spoon, he fumbled a little and recovered and, sipping his soup, leveled his gaze at a dark-haired beauty to whom he simply had to speak, I am here to annoy you with posts like this.

Maybe God made him catch the spoon. Maybe Fate made him catch it. Maybe it is just pure, un-biased chance.

Either way, it inspires a feeling of awe, does it not?


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Socks, Coffee Cups and Puppy Dogs

When I was a teenager, my mother used to get mad that I didn't clean up after myself. When she was very mad, she used to say, "I'm not your maid. You think I am your maid."

I would protest, back then, that I did not think she was my maid. I maintain that protest today: I never thought that. Nor did I mean any disrespect when I left my socks on the floor. I was just scatter- brained and immature. (Thank God I have completely emerged from those shortfalls! What?)

Should I have picked my socks up? Yes.

Is leaving one's socks on the floor a disrespectful action by virtue of a lack of consideration for one's mother? Yes. But does that lack of thought toward one's mother mean a complete absence of respect? No.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Modern Angry Mob

A man is recorded on a security tape, forcing himself on a little girl in a hallway. The girl is on the ground; the man is leaning over her, holding her neck, his lips pressed to hers. He is stopped by a bystander who is seen rushing into the video and slamming into the attacker, who runs off. The hero finds that the girl is dead. Police are called. Investigations are begun.

The man is found and is identified by comparison with the tape. He is arrested and then released on bail pending a trial date. He is fired from his job. The media goes wild. Local news runs the tape. Facebook and Twitter buzz with calls for justice, especially from angry, empathetic parents who have seen the poor girl's mother and father weeping in their misery on camera.

He deserves everything he gets! He is a sick, twisted pervert. We all hope he goes to jail forever or that he is castrated. The bastard should fry. Eventually, he is punished severely.

Well, I made up this scenario, so I can tell you the truth because it is my story.

Friday, September 19, 2014

All Hail the iPhone 6!

With a few key strokes, I probably just secured myself around a thousand page views today. I mentioned...IT. The iPhone 6.

iPhones are cool. I have one. Over the few years that I have had one, I have drifted away from interest in it. First, the games started to disappear. (Needed more room for music.) Then, Facebook and Twitter were removed. (Needed still more room for music, plus, I determined that my life is not nearly exciting enough for minute-by-minute updates to the world; also, I wanted to regain the valuable moments of boredom in which I once wallowed while waiting to pick up kids and going in dental waiting rooms.)

Now, my phone is, to me, a music player on which I get occasionally interrupted by a text or phone call. I admit that, for awhile, I was a bit seduced by the niftyness of the iPhone. And, yes, I have kept "Words With Friends." But, other than that...the romance is dead.

Whether the iPhone is cool or lame is irrelevant, I suppose. But one question remains: Why would anyone wait in line for one? For hours...or days? News reports this morning estimated a line two miles long at one store. I don't think so.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Children With Armies

From Peter Brook's 1963
film adaptation of Lord of the Flies
Once, when I was teaching Lord of the Flies (a novel, if you are not familiar, about a group of young boys stranded on a desert island and left, completely without adult supervision, to build whatever society they could) I decided to try an activity, before the very first discussion.

I don't seat my students alphabetically; I let them choose their seats and then I make them stay put for subsequent classes for the sake of learning their names. This was a sophomore class and we had been in session for a few months, so they were completely familiar with the established seating, with the room and with me.

I told them all to get up and to stand at the back of the room; then, I instructed them to sit in alphabetical order.

I sat behind my desk and the questions started to roll in...

"So...Mr. Mat...uh...alphabetical across or up-and-down?"

[I shrugged and looked out the window, dramatically.]

Friday, September 12, 2014

Parenting Through Humiliation

Over the past few years, I have noticed a trend of parents applauding other parents who have humiliated their own children, on video, in order to get their kids to change behavior. Supportive observers seem to regard this as "taking control." I regard it as an ego-centric attempt to cover up the fact that those parents failed to be in control in the first place.

There's the video of the cowboy-hatted philosopher who repeatedly shoots his daughter's laptop with a 9mm handgun after he reads a letter to the world about how bad of a kid she is. I think that one started it all. (I won't link to such psychological child abuse.) There's the dad who moved his daughter's room into the driveway because she doesn't clean up. Since then, I have seen numerous videos meant to humiliate kids into behaving better. They tend to "go viral." And people tend to support it.

Many praise these parents for "being tough" with their kids. I find that disturbing beyond description. Sickening.

I find "being tough" with one's kids to be essential. I think my own children would attest to the fact that dad is no pushover when it comes to action and consequence...which is probably why I don't wind up desperate enough to go to social media for my parental mojo. I actually work, incrementally and consistently, on instructing my kids in proper behavior and by imposing consequence when they don't do what I ask. Sadly, sometimes they are not pleased with me when this happens, but...they get over it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Road Not Taken: A Lesson's Lesson

I just finished a lesson on Frost's "The Road Not Taken." I began with a clip from the movie Dead Poet's Society in which Robin Williams's character gives an erroneously one-sided reference to the poem; the one that sees the speaker's choice as one that resulted in something positive. The poem is ambiguous and to see it otherwise is to turn it into an impotent motivational poster.

Why? Because Frost wasn't stupid enough to think being different is a guarantee to happiness. We all know, from life experience, that being different can result in immense success or in doom. It all depends how the cookie crumbles.

It's like Bradbury (and I love the man deeply) saying "jump off of the cliff and build your wings on the way down." Yeah, that's great, Ray -- it's good advice because it worked for you. What about the guy who doesn't finish the wings in time because he didn't have you talent or luck?

Yeah. SPLAT!

My dad was a lifelong musician who supported a family as a player and arranger and never achieved fame. His advice was less poetic.

The problem is, reasonable advice is not as sexy as spinning around trailing ribbons and singing "follow your heart." The hard part is that when one is really, truly different, one will have reached a place in which it is not externally apparent. One has to let go of ego in order to reap the benefits of true originality. Once you brag about your difference or try to advertise it, you are just like everyone else.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and I thought it over and took the one that made sense to my heart and my mind and that didn't lead to a flaming death or a slow descent into madness and starvation...

...and that had made all the difference.


Monday, September 8, 2014

A Time Warp; A Concept Stretch

Case 1: A man is cautioning another man about the next step he is thinking of taking in a battle. The advisee tells the advisor to "stop being a woman."

Case 2: A mother sees her daughter before a date. The daughter's skirt is "too short." The mother tells the daughter to change, because "it is better to present a little mystery."

Case 3: Three teenaged boys are standing on a corner in the city, cursing and making racy comments about girls. A woman is seen approaching and when she gets to the corner, the boys take off their hats and say "Good evening." When she is gone, they go back to being crude. 

Case 4: A twenty-something is working at a burger joint. He is fast and he is courteous, hoping that the boss will see his hard work and give him a raise one day. He wants to do his best, because some day he wants to have his own accounting firm and he believes hard work is the answer to realizing dreams.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The First Day of School

Every one of these kids walking in these doors today is someone’s son or daughter; each one of them is a person, with un-testable strengths. If teachers and administrators around the world insist on remembering that, everything will change for the better. But, as long as these kids are regarded as outcomes, we will continue marching on the path toward mediocrity and anonymity. 

That's really all there is to it. 

Italian kids crossing a rope bridge to their school;
Modena Italy, 1959. Source: History in Pictures. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Until the Last Summer...

I am a big advocate of the idea that we can reason through our emotions. This is not meant to be a dismissal of the idea that some emotions creep up under the security systems of logic. Sometimes we just feel things; sometimes those things have no discernible origin. We wake up in a bad mood. We just go from feeling just okay to feeling melancholy.

Still, I would argue that these things don't happen for "no reason;" they simply happen for reasons that are not apparent to us, consciously. If we thought hard, we might be able to trace the reasons. But, sometimes, we are simply unable or unequipped to do so. Sometimes we seem to feel things for "no reason."

What's left is to reason our way through whatever we feel.

Here I sit, the week before starting another school year (I am a teacher and an academics vice principal) and I have "that feeling" -- the same one I have had the few days before school since I was a kid. It's the emotional equivalent of indigestion; there is a lingering melancholic ball at the pit of my soul. It's not quite sadness; it is more like a haunting of memory that just won't take full shape; more like the presence of groundless guilt -- a smudge on the window looking out to a bright day. Maybe it is a mood best illustrated by this Monet painting:

Monet: "Wheatstack (Sun in the Mist)"
I spend all summer in school, making schedules and planning for the upcoming year. I am there, already -- but that little kid feeling comes back anyway, unbidden and illogically real, like a curtain of gauze.

So what does logic tell me to do? Just get up and do it. It's not a big hurdle; it's not a serious problem. But is might be a tiny example of those emotions we feel but can't pinpoint. So, I teach my sons, when they express the feeling: "I don't want to go back to school, Dad. I don't want summer to end."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

How Terrorism Ended (A Parable)

The year is 2093. Grandmother is sitting with her two grandchildren, the girl, aged nine and the boy, who is twelve. The twelve-year old is sitting with his Edu-device, reading about the turn of the 21st century. His brow is furrowed. Grandmother leans over to see what the boy is reading.

"Ah," says Grandmother, picking up the device. "Ah, yes -- ISIS; the Taliban. We learned about that in history class, as well. Horrible thing, was terrorism. I saw none of it, but my father watched it end. Odd that they are teaching you about terrorism in school again. I thought they had stopped that."

Grandfather, who is a Vidteacher, comes into the room and hands Grandmother a cup of coffee. "They did," he says. "But, the Curriculum Minister said it would be safe to put back in, now that all is well. Now that the Global Harmony has been in place for so long."

"Why did they take teaching about terrorism out of Vidschool?" asks the boy.

"Terrorism stopped," Grandmother said, "when the International Board of Journalists met one day in 2050 and came to an agreement. They decided to stop covering terrorism, altogether; no more stories on the Internet; no more video-coverage. Even independent video sites agreed to stop publishing amateur videos by or about terrorists. They went completely silent on the subject. Some say it was one of the most noble acts in history; the journalists gave up monetary reward in exchange for depriving terrorists of the very thing they desired: attention. Vidschools across the globe followed suit."

Monday, August 25, 2014

Ben-Hur: Why the MGM Lion Didn't Roar

This weekend, my family and I watched the classic film, Ben-Hur. My boys, who are supposed to be a part of the low-attention-span generation, sat through all (nearly) four hours of the movie and were never bored. I realized, watching this restored Blu-ray version of the film, what an outstanding cinematic achievement it is. It doesn't feel dated (with he exception of some of the acting) and it certainly qualifies for the old "they don't make 'em like they used to" moniker.

Besides the fact that it is an excellent film, what struck me at my first viewing of the movie since my twenties, is that it is an extremely respectful portrayal of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. On the DVD commentary, film historian T. Gene Hatcher mentions that Wyler, the director, used to joke that "It took a Jew to make the ultimate movie about Christ." I love that, but maybe the reality is that it took a Jew to make the ultimate movie about a Jew affected by the life of Christ and by the domination of Rome.

Be that as it may, the reverence of the film, for all faiths, struck me -- especially, I suppose, in light of the times in which we live. I find us in a constant state of irony: a world in which people are constantly trumpeting about "tolerance" but in which religion-driven hate and violence thrive.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Viral Morality vs. Changing our Children

Everything is external in our current culture. Everyone recognizes that, right?

If we want to combat racism, we set up think-tanks and we draft new policies. We demand investigations. We band together and have riots.

If we want to fight against drug use, we pass laws. We arrest people.

If we want kids to do better in school, we force them to meet homogenized standards on cookie-cutter tests.

Even the ALS challenge, thing...

Let me say this: it is working. People know, now, about the disease who never before did. The money raised has been astronomical, compared to years before. Practically, it is a wonderful thing. (For now; until the novelty dies off.)

It is interesting to me that things like this ice-bucket challenge are labeled "viral" because that is really what has happened. People have caught this "virus" that prompts them to donate -- or, at least, to pour water over their heads.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Chairs for Everyone

Boy, did I make a big mistake the other day. Someone posted an article that speculated about why fantasy literature has become so popular. I thought it was one of my Facebook friends who had posted it, because I was just moving too fast. I didn't even get a chance to read the article, but I commented (admitting this) about something I thought, thinking I was addressing my friend. I ended the post by saying I sometimes wish fantasy hadn't become so popular.

Which is better craft? This?
Turns out the person who posted it was a small press publisher and that my friend had only "liked" the post. The publisher responded to my little, nostalgic and half-serious final sentence by asking why I wanted to take food out of the mouths of writers. Popularity was good and it drives the business of publishing, etc., etc., etc. A bunch of other people chimed in, in his corner.

Despite my attempts to say I was just being nostalgic for the days when fantasy readers were "fringe" and when we had our little secret faves, I took some heat. It all sort of culminated in many of the commenters agreeing that "good" writing is in the eye of the beholder and that they (here comes the old standby from bitter former English majors:) didn't learn to appreciate good writing until they broke free of the chains of English departments.

I get it. English professors are sometimes snobs who seem to want to distill all plot out of literature. And I agree: Portrait of a Lady is a bore, but a brilliant bore that one should read and then feel free of. I once heard that Samuel Johnson [thanks to George, for the correction] said that "Paradise Lost is the greatest poem ever written in English, but no one ever wished it longer." I agree whole heartedly with that.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Hug

Last night, after a day we spent the together, just the two of us, my twelve-year-old son walked over to me and put his arms around my neck. He hugged me. It wasn't the usual half-goofy, see-if-I-can-break-Dad's-spine hug. It was a real hug, his head, sideways, weighing warmly on my shoulder.

He's an intense kid who literally walked on tip-toes for the first few years of his life; he's a strung bow, this boy.

Last night, his heart and head were quiet. His bony shoulders were loose.

As he hugged me, he said, "I love you." Not, "Love ya." No silliness nor any casual tone of saying goodbye or goodnight. He said it because he felt it.

He crossed a room to hug me and to tell me he loved me.

What did this all cost me? Lunch, a movie and five hours of my time. (And 90% of my soul's energy, passion and worry during all of my waking hours -- which all becomes nothing at moments like this.)

This is life. I want for nothing. Nothing.



Friday, August 15, 2014

Robin Williams 2: "Teach your children well..."

In my last post, I talked a little about what I see as general misconceptions about depression and suicide. Mostly, I pointed out the danger of seeing the act of suicide as a normal choice -- it is a "choice" whose scale is tipped by the heavy thumb of chemical imbalance. It is neither an act of cowardice, in standard terms, nor a laudable exit. Robin Williams, having had a chance to clear his head of whatever chemicals (natural or otherwise) might have been clouding it, might have awakened with a desire to live his life, again. (I am not alleging that he was drunk or high; I have not seen any evidence that he was, but given his past, it is a possibility. *THIS JUST IN: Williams was sober when he died.)

With all of that said, let's not just write off depression as a chemical imbalance against which there is no defense. The first defense is logic. Pure, sweet, sound reasoning.

It is my humble opinion (which is purely based on observation, and not on any kind of official qualifications or certifications in psychology or counseling) that if we teach our children to reason through their moods, they will steadily become more equipped to deal with those moods. We don't do nearly enough to help kids deal with the storms of emotions, both positive and negative, that they will deal with in their lifetimes.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Robin Williams: Neither Hero Nor Coward

I posted this on Facebook after I heard (and read) about Robin Williams's death:
"Now that Robin Williams is gone, might I request that people not post about how they don't understand why someone so beloved and so successful would 'do that kind of thing.' That's not the way depression works. When depression is severe, circumstances do not matter. That's why it is so horrible. Let's not imply that Williams was an idiot who didn't see how good he had it."
We need to get some things straight, though, I think -- beyond that.


Robin Williams did not "pass on." He killed himself. He hanged himself. This needs to be acknowledged. 

However, we also need to be careful about calling it a "choice" that he made. 

For years, in western culture, suicide has been called a "cowardly" act. Some still use the term. (Shepard Smith on Fox just got some flack for using the term in reference to Williams.) In Roman and Japanese cultures, in the past, suicide has been seen as an honorable way to end things. But, in modern times, suicide is neither cowardly nor laudable; it is a result of profound and all-consuming depression -- a depression from under which the sufferer cannot seem to crawl. 

I watched my dad suffer from depression. When he was at his worst, nothing helped, in terms of perspective. It was too late for logic. It was too late for, "Hey, look at your wonderful family and grand kids," etc. (Though, I have to say, and not much to my surprise, the one thing that gave him any pleasure seemed to be his dogs... God bless dogs, but even they were not enough to blow away the clouds.) My dad did not kill himself, but I witnessed the smothering blanket of depression and its effect on him.