Friday, December 30, 2011

Lee's Succinct Truth

Sometimes, I'll write a long post and, the day after, I'll see or hear something that pretty much sums it up in a fraction of the words. I suppose my last post can be found in a quotation from General Robert E. Lee:
"It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it."
Indeed. Let's face it: war is cool in a lot of ways. The shame of it is that those ways tend to get negated completely by a photo of the bloated corpse of a dead young man.

(Addendum: The quoting of Lee here is not meant to glorify, in any way, the principles of the slave-owning South -- I was merely interested in Lee's thinking as a brilliant military man, which he was. A friend was offended that I would even quote him, but I would quote anyone with particular credentials, if it made my point. Doing so is not intended as a justification of that person's morals.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Maze of Heroics

Last night, my family and I watched Peter, Susan and Edmund stand by Prince Caspian's side as the massive, evil Telmarine army advanced, great catapults lobbing massive stones to crack the walls of Aslan's How -- the Narnians' last refuge. The young heroes held their ground as the army advanced, slowly, thrumpingly, rhythmically, hidden behind helms wrought into fierce, iron expressions.

In the blue glow of the screen, I watched my children's faces more than the film. The boys' innocent eyes were wide, fixed on the action. They leaned forward to watch the battle unfold and, as Peter lead the charge forward, they bounced a little in their seats. Each time a heroic act was committed, they would let out a "Yes!" or a gleeful laugh.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Bloody Murder in Mario World

So, here we are in the Christmas aftermath -- that small stretch of time during which the kids are allowed to digitize themselves with no limits: play video games until their eyes implode; watch new movies over and over -- that period of sloth and messiness that thrives especially in the homes of teachers and educators like myself who have a break over the next week. One can never quite keep the housecleaning until the tree comes down, what with pine needles and toys everywhere. Yet, we try . . .

My kids got their latest electronic devices (iPod Touches). We're holding out on phones, even though, as my older son's principal informed us: "95% of fourth graders have cell phones" in his school. This number shocks me, but, so it goes.

Sure, they look innocent enough . . .
So now they have devices that can access the Internet -- You Tube, etc. They're good boys, my sons. They stay, most of the time, with the parameters we set for them. But it occurs to me, especially now, how nearly impossible it will be to protect them from things they shouldn't see so early in their lives.

For instance, a few months ago, they wanted to search You Tube for videos of Mario Brothers. They found some and started watching. I was in the room. I walked up behind them, checking, every few minutes. If I heard a voice that didn't sound like Mario or Luigi, I would get up and check. After a few minutes, they turned it off.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Pay the Piper

My affection for the students I teach (high school students) has been demonstrated lots of times here on H&R. I have defended them from cliched attacks on more than one occasion; I have called teenagers the "truest form of human beings." But liking them doesn't mean I won't be critical of them from time to time. In fact, it is out of affection that I am critical of them. I think, at least "live," in class or in the halls, they might even appreciate that.

Mozart, working for a living. Salieri scheming.
It's all a myth, but Mozart sure
could have used the money.
So, in light of this, I recently had an interaction with a student who might even read this blog -- not sure. I do like this student and I do respect his intelligence. But, in a brief conversation, he revealed something that has been shown to me many times before, but that didn't really take hold in my addled brain. An approximation of our conversation:

"Hey, Mr. Mat. I heard your CD over at _____'s house. I loved it. Awesome stuff. 'The Magician' was my favorite track."

"Thanks, ______. I appreciate it."

"No problem. I would get a copy of it, but I just don't pay for music."

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Open Letter to Young People Considering the Miltary

[Readers: This is a grizzly piece, in spots. You might not want to read if you have a loved-one in a combat zone. It is inspired by a few days of my mulling over the loss of so many Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan.]

Dear Young Person:

If you are thinking of joining the military, you should consider a few things.

First, be careful of the sepia-toned TV ads with close-ups of craggy-faced dads in pickup trucks talking to their sons after football practice about joining the army. Yes, it's cute that dad and son are giggling about convincing mom that he should join. Sure, it shows a bond between a son and dad that might be precious if tenuous, but the decision to join up is not something to giggle about. Ever.

Second, be careful of confusing your life with a movie. Movies just end, no matter how grizzly a picture they might seem to paint of war. Sometimes lives are dragged out long after the plot ceases to be interesting and long after the main character forgets all of his lines (because he lost part of his brain to an IED). Sometimes, he survives the war but lives a long, miserable life trying to forget about it. Sometimes he walks onto the set in heroic, shiny-buttoned glory and he rolls off in a wheelchair with a bag connected to it for collecting his feces and urine because he can no longer control his own bowels, let alone an enemy attacker.

Third: Yes, you can get money for college, but you can also get dead. Or insane. If you don't go off to fight, cool. If you do? You might wind up blowing someone's face apart and watching him die a squirming, screaming, horrific death in the hot sand right at your feet. That might make it difficult for you to concentrate in Composition 101 after your discharge. It is hard to focus on topic sentences in between memory-flashes of spattered pieces of bone and muscle clincing to a clay wall.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Dear Albrecht: VII

Albrecht Soothspitz, b. 1327
I know everyone has been wondering where Albrecht has been. Millions, across the world (or, at least Nick, Shane and Zach from New Jersey) have been pining for another installment. Well, here it is, my friends. He has taken especially long to get through this batch of letters. He' s been up all hours of the night in his hermitage in the woods behind my house. I asked him why the light is always on an he muttered something about ending the financial crisis by converting iron into gold. Anyhoo, enjoy.

Dear Albrecht:

My wife is on the computer all day, every day. On the weekends, she gets up and gets on Facebook and stays there all day. When the work week comes, she comes home and gets on the computer after dinner and uses it until way after I am in bed. If I wake up when she comes to bed, she picks up her iPhone and gets on Twitter with it, as if to ward me off, in case I get frisky. What should I do?


Friday, December 16, 2011

Plato's Cave: Cartoonized

That famous parable that everyone should revisit from time to time. Something to ponder on a Friday. Really cool.

[Hat tips: Frank Wilson and Maverick Philosopher]

What do you make of the idea of the escaped man going back? -- or having been obligated to do so? That's the most intriguing part, to me . . .

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Lights flash to keep cars out of the roadwork zone. Police cruisers are parked on either side. Great, growling machines with shining hydraulic tubes and flashing lights slam and scratch and bully rock and sand into piles as tall as houses, metal teeth raking against the condemned asphalt.

One of Hine's famous Empire State photos
The air is a chaos of sounds thrown from machines capable of feats mankind once only dreamed of. The traffic is disturbed and re-routed. People curse; impatient officers wave them on. The machines press around them all. Other machines stop and start, alive with the impatience of their driver-brains.

But at the very edge, two men in yellow work helmets, jeans and luminescent vests stand at the edge of the project, where the dismantled road meets the active road. There, with gloved hands, they handle small, work-battered shovels with surgical precision, carefully scraping dirt and rubble away from what will soon be the seam between the roads. One after another, small shovels full are deposited into a wheelbarrow that has two wooden handles whose ends are worn smooth from contact with human hands; at its front, greyed by dust, a tiny wheel that is the ancestor of all this mechanical might waits humbly to make the impossible possible.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Yuletide Twilight Zone

As some of my regular readers might know, I have sort of a love/hate relationship with tradition. Sometimes I think it is the greatest thing in the world and sometimes I think it is a nothing but a source of worthless discomfort and pretense.

But, be that as it may, my dad taught me stuff. He usually taught me stuff by just doing what he did -- he wasn't big on sit-down "lessons," but he certainly set a clear example. One of the things I always saw him do was to "tip" people who did things like bringing heavy boxes out to the car. It was automatic -- he'd hand the guy a few dollars and the guy would say "Thank you sir," and life would just hum along.

I like that. It seems like a nice little traditional formula, to me.

(Wavy dream sequence lines take us from past to present . . .)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Flipping Switches

When did we all get to be so nice? -- so unbelievably nice?

I'm teaching a composition class right now; it is a cross-disciplinary class that I team teach with a history teacher. We explore global issues and then use the good-old Aristotelian modes to discuss and write about them. We have a great bunch of kids -- about sixty of them. They are all high school seniors, of varied academic levels, from advanced to standard college prep.

For their last paper, we explored the issue of genocide and assigned a paper in which they were to question what would cause an individual to decide to participate in such atrocities. After we showed them the extremely moving film Hotel Rwanda, the history teacher introduced them to an experiment performed by Stanley Milgram. In short, Milgram wanted to explore the factors that would have affected Nazis who participated in the atrocities of the Holocaust.

What Milgram did was to create an experiment that was not what it seemed on the surface. He advertised for people to participate -- he would pay them four dollars. The volunteers were directed to a panel with switches. The switches were marked with voltages. What the volunteers were supposed to do was to ask a person, in another room, questions. The other person was to be shocked if he didn't give the proper response, in increasing levels of electricity.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Finchian Logic

Once in awhile, I will read something, somewhere, and I will realize that, on this particular day, I am not likely to write anything nearly as good -- and that, consequently, I should just shut the heck up and let another writer's words be heard.

Please read this brilliant piece by my good friend and When Falls the Coliseum colleague, Scott Warnock. A fantastic narrative meditation on fatherhood and the choices a man must sometimes make:

 "A Story: What Would Atticus Finch Do?"

Monday, December 5, 2011

Slow-Cooked Fast Food

You know what frightens me a little about us? -- people, I mean. We are really eager to accept things the way they are, even if they are way worse than the way they were pretty derned recently.

Oh, sure, we'll moan about "how it used to be," but, for the sake of ease, something in our heads makes us want to accept stuff, "as is." Things go more smoothly that way, I guess.

Or maybe we do this because we feel like we simply can't stand up effectively against things like plummeting standards. One of the most popular American phrases right now (annoying as I might find it [imagine the whole of the American populace not adjusting its phraseology just to please me]) is: "It is what it is." Usually, this is a resignation: It ain't changing.

Friday, December 2, 2011

And the Winner Is . . .

A friend and former student of mine just posed a question on Facebook: Who is the best songwriter of the last twenty years?

I've been thinking about this for three days and it's difficult to say -- not because I haven't liked any songs in the last twenty years, but because I'm not sure that I can think of a lot of actual songwriters who have written over that period, outside of the established ones (like Elton John, who is doing some of his best work ever, even though there is not a lot of buzz about it).

What it comes down to, for me, is that there are three kinds of people who put together songs.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Mead Mystery

Speaking of history . . .

Back when the Internet was something really new to us, my wife, Karen, and I discovered eBay. This meant, also, that we discovered the giddy joy of bidding on items we absolutely did not need. We won a few things, too, among them a leather-wrapped telescope (which, later, met its demise as a pirate prop for two little boys); a signed copy of Peter S. Beagle's The Folk of the Air; a first edition of Ray Bradbury's only mystery novel (which, though I love Bradbury's work, I couldn't finish reading); a few baubles to decorate the tops of shelves; a reproduction of a Roman sword (which looked swell in the picture but, in person, is just silly); a real, live copy of Harper's Weekly from the post Civil War era and (drum roll, please) my favorite find, ever: a 1764 copy of The London Magazine.

The oldest thing I own:
The London Magazine from May of 1764

But the story of this aquisition is a complex one, after all. I was prompted to bid on it not only because I love historical objects, but because the table of contents boasts a recipe for mead. And, as a lover of the idea of shaking hands with the past, I could think of no better way of doing so than by drinking a drink cherished by my predecessors.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Christmas Time Capsule

I imagine it might seem odd for me to say, since I have often proclaimed my distaste for marking occasions, that I happen to be a lover of history -- world history, American history and even personal/family history. I'm fascinated by the real benchmarks of time: a newspaper from 1938; a picture of my parents as teenagers; my hand to the wall of the tower of London; an old film that captures life on a regular day in 1906 . . .

But sometimes -- maybe most of the time -- the little things can be most profound. For instance, every year at this time, I get to shake hands with myself from the year before.

Always, around the end of November, I open up our outdoor Christmas decorations. And when I do, I get to do a kind of personal archaeology: I get to deduce what mood I was in when I packed up; where my head was at that freezing, rather gloomy time. (Were things tossed into the boxes and bags, or was everything neatly wrapped up and placed into careful categories?) What I get to see is how much "Chris 2010" was thinking about "Chris 2011."

Friday, November 25, 2011

Confessions of an American Turkey Eater

As I lie, nearly senseless, in a tryptophan dream . . .

 . . . it occurs to me that a stomach full of turkey and dressing and cranberry sauce and pie piece after pie piece after pie piece is a metaphor for the culmination of a life . . . and, a veil lifts from my sleepy vision:

See: the great, shadowy form of the Towering Turkey of Truth looming over the bed of the last sleep of my future. See it laugh a booming laugh and flap its feather-naked wings and say:

" . . . yet time and again you glutted on my flesh and you fell in and out of the drowsy, sickened oblivion of a thousand times before, until now . . . until NOW!"

And I am crushed by a sinuous, sharp-toed  turkey foot . . . to learn . . . perhaps . . . that the undiscovered country is, in fact, a vegetable patch in a high-piled cloud.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Shakespeare the Scribe

Parents and teachers and doctors . . . please consider this. A quotation from a blog referred to me by my brother-in-law, illustrator, Matt Stewart. Some words about Leonardo DaVinci's mind and its inner workings as suggested by his personal notebooks :
The notebooks bring to light Leonardo's insatiable curiosity, as well as an immense lack of focus. Some experts, such as Jonah Lehrer, think that this lack of focus may actually have contributed to DaVinci's creativity. In his upcoming book Imagine, How Creativity WorksJonah states: "We live in an age that worships attention. When we need to work, we force ourselves to concentrate. This approach can also inhibit the imagination. Sometimes, it helps to consider irrelevant information, to eavesdrop on all the stray associations unfolding in the far reaches of the brain."
Einstein once said that "everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Bouquet of Sardines

H Armstrong Roberts:
"Men Shaking Hands"
I once had a guy look at me with a cheese-eating grin and a superior attitude, and say: "Life is simple, really." I didn't punch him. I really should have, but I refrained, especially since he was my boss at the time. (See? Complicated.)

My point is, that even the seemingly simple is complicated. Handshakes, for instance.

As long as I live, I will never understand how a man makes it through life with a flabby handshake.

The other night, I was playing a job with my band and I saw a fellow I hadn't seen in a long time. I reached out to shake his hand. [Long Pause. Me, looking skywayrd to find a way to describe the indescribable.] It was like squeezing a cluster of warm sardines. This, as many of us know, is one of the most unpleasant social interactions possible.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Good Times, Bad Times

For a long time, I have had a distaste for the marking of occasions: weddings, graduations, anniversaries, etc. I've mentioned this here on H&R a few times. I feel a little weird about it, from time to time, to be honest with you. Most people love these occasions.

Then, just when I start to feel a little mystified by my own logical salmon swim, something always hits me, and I realize there's a derned good reason for my weirdness; that my weirdness, on this particular issue might just be a form of transcendence.

Today, for instance, a friend on Facebook summed up her life of late. She mentioned how happy she is. So . . . cool. I'm glad. There is no problem with that statement, in and of itself.

Frequently, though, friends will go the other way on Facebook. They say things like. "Goodbye, 2010. You were horrible." Or they might put up "Worst day ever." Things like that.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Penn State Scandal (Part 2): Sandusky's Surreal Comments

Okay -- so, I'm digging into current events like never before . . . but, if this particular one doesn't speak to the shriveling heart of the humanity, I don't know what does.

Everyone just relax, okay? Jerry Sandusky was just horsing around with those kids! He told Bob Costas (all quotes from this source):

"I have horsed around with kids. I -- I have showered after workouts. I have hugged them and I have touched their leg. Without intent of sexual contact," Sandusky said.
So we can all breathe a little easier. Thank God -- I mean, what is this world coming to when a grown man can't just jump into the showers with a ten-year old boy who barely knows him? What's wrong with you people? Doesn't anyone trust anyone else anymore? Sandusky is innocent, by nature. What's wrong with showering with boys? Man, you people are sick. Next thing you know, you'll be telling me that you think Michael Jackson wasn't perfectly justified sleeping with little kids in his bed.

Monday, November 14, 2011

"Man, what are you doin' here?"

You know the parable about the talents -- the one Jesus tells in the New Testament? A master gives one servant ten talents; another five and a third, one; each according to his perceived worth. The first cat wheels and deals and doubles the ten; the second doubles the five and, the third, worried about dropping it down a sewer grate or something, buries the one coin he was given. They each come back to the master and he is pleased with the first two, especially because he is now in the black about twenty-five talents, but he calls the third "wicked" tosses him out of the house into the dark where he can do some gnashing of the old choppers and think the whole deal over whilst he shivereth.

I am, of course, paraphrasing.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Penn State Scandal: Something No One Seems to Notice

Is Hell really other people? I'm starting to deeply believe it.

I'm so incredibly sick of all of the hive-mentality in society. I'm so tired of systems and groups and infrastructures and committees and teams. I'm so tired of everyone confusing morality with laws and only separating the two when it becomes convenient and good for publicity and face-saving.

As just about everyone in the USA knows (and, probably, people all over the world know this, too, by now), the long-time coach of Penn State football has been fired. Joe Paterno is a man who is beloved of anyone who ever attended Penn State (myself included, in the interest of full disclosure). But Paterno was not just a coach. He is an academic who never allowed his players to "slide" on grades and studies. He is also largely responsible for the growth of Penn State from a small college to a big, world-renowned university. In every respect, he was an educator and a gentleman.

What he is in trouble for is that an incident of child molestation was reported to him: A grad-student/coaching assistant named Mike McQueary told Paterno that the he witnessed the defensive coordinator of the team sexually abusing a ten-year-old boy in the showers. Paterno reported this to the school's athletic director and to the university's vice-president, as he was supposed to.

So, the big accusation is that Paterno -- although he fulfilled his legal obligation -- didn't fulfil his moral obligation and follow up on it later. This is why he was fired.

You might think I'm about to defend Paterno. No so. Even Paterno admits "in hindsight" that he should have done more. I agree. But what blows my mind is that no one is focusing any blame on that grad student, Mike McQueary, who witnessed the violation of a ten-year-old. One account of his reaction:

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Losing Touch

We're losing something. We're losing reality in its most concrete sense.

Scott Warnock, a friend and colleague of mine at When Falls the Coliseum recently wrote an article about the ways in which technology drives us crazy, "byte by byte." Much of what he referenced came down to things going wonky beyond our control: computers pooping out for no reason or bills that mysteriously gain charges because of automated glitches.That sort of thing. But as I read his article, I got to thinking about the physical side of what he addressed in terms of remote interactions.

I've written before about books versus e-readers. I've made it clear that, although I am a techno-savvy person -- someone who loves what technology can do for us -- I draw the line at books. I will never own a Kindle or anything like it. There are many reasons for this, but one of the most important one is that I like to hold books in my hands. I like to turn pages.

"Room in New York," by Edward Hopper
Touch and texture are fading farther away from daily interaction and the change in the delivery of literature is a good example of this.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Fork of Yesterday

There's a fork in the footpath of every lazy Sunday, isn't there?

Either it can resolve itself in the sweet, sunny crispness of a smiling day where everything was carefree; where everything was a glorious absence of responsibility; where everything was nothing but parasols and cups of fruity tea; or . . .

. . . it can dwindle into a bone-achey, chafe-skinned feeling discomfort that comes only from lying around on couches, somewhere on the verge of a turn into a sickness that waits to pounce, three days away. It can end with the feeling of a thousand tasks that should have been done out under the chilly sky -- a feeling of halfness; that half of everything touched for the day still hangs over the edge of a deep nothing . . .

That said, sleep can either come with a smiling sigh, one flat hand on the door to yesterday, holding for a tremulous moment, or it can come after the door is slammed and locked and it can feel like a getaway toward anything but that grey, cold fog of a Sunday again . . .

That said, good night, indeed.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Slow to Trust

I probably don't trust you completely.

Don't be offended. The fact is, whether I know you well or whether we haven't met, I'm really stingy with trust.

No, this isn't a whiny lament about the cruelties of the cold, hard world -- about how I have been let down (though I have). It's just a fact: trust is something I don't dole out lightly. Trust, next to love, is the highest praise you can give another person.

Strangely, the few I do trust, completely (there are degrees of trust, of course), might not be the closest ones to me. For instance, there is someone I know -- someone I worked with for only a few years -- whom I trust implicitly. We rarely speak anymore, but she has my complete trust. She always will.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Sword or the Microscope?

Here, in America, we seem to have great respect for "whistle-blowers." That can be good, of course. If someone steps up to point out corruption or unfair practices, it can be quite the heroic act. Whistle-blowers sometimes put themselves at risk of losing their jobs or even more, in some cases.

But I'm afraid of one thing: that some young people seem to be equating the finding of fault with being intellectual, courageous and perceptive. In other words, intellectuality (which, in recent years, has continued to dress itself from the wardrobe of cynicism) is now seen by many young folks as a sword instead of as a microscope -- as a weapon to hone for attack instead of an instrument for seeking truth.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Out of the Windswept Chaos

This weekend, the forces of nature dumped a big, wet, sloppy grey Nor'easter on the East Coast of the United States. It was the wrong weather at the wrong time of the year. I like that in a weather phenomenon.

George Augustus Williams: "A Snow Storm"
On Saturday morning, we awoke to a rainy grey that kept us snoozing with the covers up over our shoulders longer than usual. As the day continued, ice began falling, too, ticking on the windows when the wind gusted, and it started to whiten the colder surfaces: the hoods of cars and the tops of mailboxes. Little deposits of what looked like rock candy began to collect in the cups of dead leaves scattered across lawns.

It was a chilly, bone-deep gloom that kept people under quilts and in house coats for much of the day -- or in bed, altogether, well into the afternoon.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Hot Dog Man

The other day, I was rushing around for an end-of -the-day meeting at my school. The students were loudly and gleefully slamming lockers and scrambling toward the exits in buffalo-like heards and I stepped out of the side door with them. On the landing, a bunch of students had gathered into a crowd and were laughing and grabbing at pieces of paper handed to them from below. I looked to see what was up.

There stood a fellow dressed as a hot dog. He had a bun wrapped around him and a squiggly ribbon of mustard running up his belly. His face fitted into a little round hole and he wore thick black glasses. He was passing out brochures for a restaurant. The dialogue ran as follows:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Weight of Darkness

If time is a line, let's lift off of it and sail up above it, back past years and decades, over fields scarred with muddy trenches and flashing insanely with artillery fire; over revolutionary battlefields, where men fire in formal lines, and above great, concrete-grey cities that rose out of small brown towns nestled next to rivers -- rivers that have watched and watched and watched, bringing life and then taking away the refuse of the hundreds and then the thousands and then the millions as years worked slowly around them all.

Then, let's alight, somewhere far away from the city, at the edge of a great forest, on a night in high summer, in a time when there were no machines but those bound with rope and cobbled together out of wood and propelled only by tired beasts -- a time when a few carried steel and many laboured at the plow to pay tithes to those few . . .

by Arthur Rackham
Paint me, then, a man sitting in his small hovel, children sleeping, wife sleeping since sunset. See that man peering through a crack in the boards, fearful, as he watches golden lights among the trees, flitting around, blinking brightly and then fading and then blinking again. He knows who they are: the stealers of dreams -- fairies who fly into the mouths of sleeping innocents, to take out their souls and to fly them around the gaping night in order to gather dreams.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Delusional Peace

The wind is cool and alive with (RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR) the rustle of the leaves and I look skyward from a cushioned (RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR) reclining chair on my deck. It couldn't be a (RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR) more beautiful day and I (RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR) think of my sons -- how lucky they are to live in a pretty town with honey-golden (RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR) sun in the fall. Like Coleridge, I revel in their chance to grow up in a (RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR) place with woods and a stream by which (RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR) they can run, far away fro the constant sounds of (RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR) traffic and far away from the (RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR) screech of the railway line I'd (RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR) watch from my window as a boy.

My dog lies at my feet and my honeyed green tea steams up (RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR) into the cool air. A good book waits, so I pick it up and crawl into its (RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR) pages to escape, enjoying the quiet and the tea and the (RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR) warmth of fur under my fingers.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Isivivable Are Among Women

When I was a boy, I saw Al Pacino in  . . . And Justice for All. Inspired by the film, I decided to be a lawyer when I grew up.

I was good with words, so everyone encouraged that. My mom, who always seemed to be convinced that one had to be handsome to be a lawyer (and seeing through the complimentary glasses that are standard-mom-issue), was sure that I was a double-threat.

What I saw in that film was a guy who was willing to sacrifice a career for what was right -- a guy who saw the flaws in the legal system and decided to stand up against them ("You're out of order! You're out of order! The whole trial is out of order!"), whatever the cost. The drama of this appealed to me, too -- as did the dramatic element of arguing a case in front of an audience.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Compulsion of Community

What I am about to say is going to be like trashing bunny rabbits. It's going to look like I have cleaned up dog vomit with Old Glory or tromped on the crucifix, to some. What I am about to voice my annoyance about is something that is part of our conditioning from birth -- a part that is so deeply embedded that I think many of us believe it is strictly human nature (though that is part of it, I'm sure) and, so, that going against it as a sacred necessity is nothing short of treason against existence. But I have to say it. Let the chips fall.

I'm sick of "community."

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Science of God

"Under Pier": Karen Matarazzo
I mentioned, a little while ago, that I have been reading C.S Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia to my youger son. As usual, Lewis's work has gotten me thinking about faith (as he meant it to).

I'm a firm believer that those who will, ultimately, find faith in a higher power do so by their own map -- not by getting force-fed someone else's beliefs. So fear not: I'm not going to try to get you to believe what I believe; but, as always, I am going to try to get you thinking so that you will draw (or continue drawing) your own map. Whether that map ultimately leads you to faith or the lack thereof is up to you.

In the interest of disclosure, I do believe in God. This belief is quite unfashionable in intellectual circles, nowadays, so I have taken my share of flack about it from grad school, on. Most intellectuals think it is illogical to believe in God. (Some readers might have just dismissed my credibility as a thinker, based on the statement above. Consider that reaction as you read on.) I have written before about the common smugness of both the non-believers and people of faith. But to dismiss the belief in God -- or anything else that defies the things we "know" to be "real" -- as illogical is, in itself, a foolish and short-sighted stance to take.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Evidence of Life

I stood, a few nights ago, in a line for the viewing of a deceased friend with whom I had worked for quite a few years -- a good teacher and a great guy who would lighten the mood in any room; even a faculty lounge on a bad day.

As we waited, I was struck -- as I have always been at funerals and viewings -- with the somber/giddy mix of demeanors. (As a teenager, when my grandmother had died -- my first real loss -- I was angered by the jolly laughter, just feet from her coffin; as I got older, I came to understand that the heart is too deep for us to worry about what's strictly appropriate on occasions of death. Sometimes it laughs harder and more loudly when it needs to cry.)

As we moved through the line, through a small labyrinth of halls in the funeral home; past rooms glowing with low light and rooms containing gothic-looking desks and a spooky-looking organ; over flowery carpets that clashed insanely with flowery wallpaper; past descending stairwells that I swore were burping up the faint scent of formaldehyde, I peered around corners, wondering when we'd get to viewing room and wondering how the family would be.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Big Ideas in Tiny Rooms

Yesterday, I had occasion to go to a radio station (a large, reputable and pretty popular one) where I recorded a voice-over for a commercial for my school. When I got there, I was shown around by a nice fellow (who assumed, incorrectly, that I wanted to spend time learning about their station as opposed to getting the job done and beginning the thirty-minute trek through construction-impeded traffic back to my school).

The Doctor is in.
What I was most impressed with was how unimpressive the place was. I had expected something more, I don't know, sparkly, I suppose. I mean, this was a big radio station. "The Spirit of Radio" and all that . . .

As we walked through the building to the studio I was to record in, my guide pointed out various locally famous personalities in sundry teensy rooms. And do you know what the rooms were? They were offices with sound equipment in them.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Boy in the Banana Suit

Allow me to introduce myself: Chris Matarazzo, writer, drummer, philosopher, father, thinker, mender of fences (really, I fixed my fence once) and archaeologist of the human spirit. I am a master of English (because it says so on a piece of paper) and a vice-principal in charge of academics (because it says so on my office door).

Winslow Homer: "Snap the Whip"
I pay bills, play classical guitar and I have conversations with educational donors and deans of stuff for various important reasons. I read books -- lots of books. I have scads of them on shelves around my living room and when people ask me why I don't just borrow them from the library to leave room on the walls, I shake my head sadly, painfully aware of the decline of humankind.

I am grown, important chap who carries a briefcase and is forced to wear ties and uncomfortable, yet shiny, shoes.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Four Kinds of Faith

The first kind: I believe in Santa because my parents do (or did). I hang the stockings, dutifully.

The second kind: I do not believe in Santa, but I really want presents, so I will pretend, in hopes that I will believe again, some day. I push away doubt, because doubt is the enemy of faith.

The third kind: If there is no Santa, then how come there are presents? Of course there is a Santa. I know it for sure every time I see a Christmas tree.

The fourth kind: I have heard the distant sleigh bells; I have felt the warm joy; I have seen the shadow of the sleigh on the snow on a moon-brightened night; I've heard his laughter in the winter wind. He's up there. He's got to be.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Worries of the Instant Hero

I was lucky to become an instant hero, nine years ago; and then, again, seven years ago. I became a hero the moment my boys were born.

You see, I was the best thing going, from the second they opened their eyes -- the strongest, smartest, funniest guy they had ever seen. Presto!

Then, after the first week or so, I became The Mysterious Adventurer who would step out into the dark of the morning -- into the mists of a world they had never seen -- and, then, who'd reappear at dinner time, smile and toss the lads into the air and snuggle with them and read them stories before putting them to bed. I'd sing a lullaby I'd written, just for them. I was the break in the daily routine; I was the goodnight kiss; I was the one who could help them defy gravity, effortlessly.

During my work day absence, their mom would deal with the crying fits and the day's majority of diapers and the naps and the mealtime struggles. She'd do all the hard stuff, then Daddy would whoosh through the door and prance about like a victorious knight come home to lead a merry parade of three around the living room.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Moments of Light for the Blind?

The day my wife, Karen, and I were married, everyone asked: "Do you feel different?" No, I didn't. She and I were married the day we fell in love, I always felt. My love for her, before and after the wedding day, until this day -- and, I'm sure, beyond it -- feels more profound than it did when we were all duded up and sweating under too much cloth in front of too many people who we wouldn't have invited if we had really had a choice. (By the way -- I'm not talking about the spiritual union; I'm talking about the trappings of the celebration and ceremony. The spiritual side has an importance beyond mere ceremony.)

My high school graduation? Didn't care in the least.

College gradation? Didn't go. Grad school? Got the diploma in the mail.

I was told by many wise people that I would regret not having attended these graduations. So far . . . um . . . nope.

Everyone, including me, always talks about living in the now. Maybe I do it too well -- that is, if having no real feeling of connection to ceremony is a fault. But it means little to me, especially ceremony that marks transitions. I simply tend not to care.

I can't make these occasions, with their canned speeches and their nearly scripted reactions and their homogenizing atmospheres, feel special.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Aristotle Jones: Personal Archaeology for Teens

Every year, around this time, I assign a paper to my high school seniors. It is called "The Learning Experience." In the paper, the kids write about a change in their perspective on something in their lives. It can be anything. One student might write about the day he discovered he liked onions. Another might write about the day he realized his mom was a good mom, even though she was strict. Another might choose to write about a calling to the priesthood, for all I know.

It is an assignment that satisfies the need to expose the students, from a writing standpoint, to some important Aristotelian modes of rhetoric, namely: process analysis, narration and description. But, more importantly, it forces these young people to learn something about themselves -- another branch of old Aristotle's areas of interest.

It always surprises me how lost they look when I ask them to do this. It scares me, a little, year-to year. But, when it is all over, my conclusion is always the same: a) most people regard themselves as a bag of sand that just walks around doing stuff and b) with only the slightest prompt, these same people can learn dig in the sand and find important artifacts -- learn to do enough personal archaeology to step onto the path that leads away from "the unexamined life" that Aristotle, himself, warned against: "The unexamined life is not worth living."

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Way-Forward Machine

By combining a lot of clock-springs, some cogs and some torn-up poems with a quirky melange of sprockets, love letters, campfire scents, tunes played on bells and crumpled appointment notes and by mounting these things on a metallic scaffold dotted with some shiny buttons and containing a screen that constantly prints and deletes an impressive series of deucedly latinate words, I have created a machine for entering the future. The problem is that this it is a subjective and preferential machine.

See, it only takes the young on journeys and, then, only to their dream careers. What it does is it drops teenagers smack into the middle of their projected desires. It allows them to experience said desire for one month. Thus, they can spend that month as a rock star; as a research scientist; as a novelist, as a doctor; as a priest; as a dancer; as a professional skate-boarder; as a housewife; as a wealthy writer of sonnets; as a tribal chief; a reporter or a linguist . . . anything they can conjure -- any career they wish.

For one month, they can see what it is going to be like.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Fire Bundles

When are we grown-ups ever going to learn? We fret and fret over the things we put before our kids -- what we're doing right and what we're doing wrong -- and we toss and turn, worrying if we're crushing their creativity and initiative; whether the modern world is stealing their hearts away . . .

Of course, when I say "we" I mean "me" -- and maybe you, too?

But this morning, a misty Sunday with the absent sun returning for the first time in days to light up the droplets into diamonds on the grass, the smell of autumn earth as pleasant to me as the scent of a cake in the oven, I heard my smallest boy explaining something to his mother.

He was playing a "Toy Story" game on his fancy-schmancy portable gaming unit, and he was saying, "Mom -- I'm pretending this is "Silly Sheepies" (a show my sons put on with their stuffed animals during their weekend "sleep-overs" together in one of their beds) and they are trying to put Sheepie in the sheep-pound but Sean is trying to rescue them and  . . ."

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sure Enough to Kill Troy Davis

So, Troy Davis is dead.
Strapped to a gurney in Georgia's death chamber, Troy Davis lifted his head and declared one last time that he did not kill police officer Mark MacPhail. Just a few feet away behind a glass window, MacPhail's son and brother watched in silence.
And, despite his claim that he is innocent of a crime for which there is no physical evidence (according to a report I heard on the radio this morning), it seems the witnesses were enough to make it stick. The victim's mother says:
[Davis has] been telling himself [he's innocent] for 22 years. You know how it is, he can talk himself into anything (same source as above).
As anyone who reads my stuff with any regularity knows, I'm not a current events guy, except when current events raise larger philosophical questions about life. I can't stay away from this one.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Contentment vs. Happiness

There's a difference between happiness and contentment, isn't there? If the difference is what I think it is, then contentment might just be the answer to a satisfying life.

Contentment is less flamboyant than happiness. Happiness is a firework-pop of color and wonder. Happiness is a plunge on a sled. Happiness is a flood of endorphins that gets recognized for its intensity of pleasure. But contentment is a hot cup of coffee, slowly enjoyed; it's floating down a gentle stream on a raft, on one's back, watching overhead branches brush past the clouds. Contentment is a state of being, while happiness is more of an event. Happiness, as a more intense thing, can't really be sustained, but contentment can be.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Angry Sunday

I thought of playing this off and conjuring up a happy memory and writing about a sweet evening in a past summer when all of the notes in my head and in the winds outside my room were in perfect resonance. I almost was ready to do it, then I sat down and tried to get online and couldn't and now, it would be too much of a boldfaced lie to play it happy for my reading audience.

I write about things I see in life, and, usually, there is a wry smile and a tinge of humor in my work. Mostly, I keep it pretty calm. But crap happens, too, doesn't it? There's no denying that.

Tonight, it was truly an exercise in control when I tried to get on and got a message that, for some reason, my blog "wasn't available." I'm not, by any means, prone to rage, but I had to win quite a victory over my reptilian brain to keep from smashing my laptop. I'm not exaggerating. I did give it quite a shove, but my arms were faintly tethered to the part of me that knows I can't afford to smash laptops. Barely.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Dear Albrecht VI

Albrecht Soothspitz (b. 1347)

Three cheers and a canon-blast! Albrecht is back with another exciting batch of wisdom-encrusted confections that are destined to delight and fortify the lost minds of this lost world. Albrecht has spent the past few months earning a PhD in Economics from Wharton Business school. I kid you not. He's that smart. Enjoy, O seekers of wisdom.


Dear Albrecht:

When you lived in the Middle Ages, how the heck did you entertain yourself? My cable has been out for two days because of the recent storms and I am about to impale myself on a steak-knife. If I didn't have my iPhone, I would be dead by now. I mean, what did you do -- look at trees and stuff? It must have sucked.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Jarvis and the Cage (A Parable)

There once was a little black-and-white rabbit. He was quite a rabbit, but a rabbit nonetheless, and this meant that he was jerky and twitchy and had a fuzzy coat that left floating, white puffs in the air behind him when he darted off in one direction or another.

One day, he was bought by a young couple who decided to treat him like a companion and not as a caged curiosity. They taught him to relieve himself in his cage and not in the living room. The young man made a carpeted ramp so that Jarvis could get in and out of his cage easily. The cage was roomy and multi-leveled, so that Jarvis could have a few places in which to lie down and a vista to sit upon and from which he could observe the outside world (the living room).

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Silver Flow of Forever

I write this blog because I feel compelled to create and communicate. Creativity has always been a drive in me. I can't stop doing it any more that I could stop drinking or eating. Something lives in the wiring of  my brain that makes this so.

Still, tonight I don't fell much like writing Monday's post. Maybe it was the humid, overcast, Romantic-looking day. Maybe it was snuggling cozily under the blankets and reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to my youngest son that did it. It could be the hour I spent practicing "Recuerdos del Alahambra" on my guitar. Or maybe it was preparing for tomorrow's lesson on The Epic of Gilgamesh in one class and on Robert Bloch's "That Hell-bound Train" in another. I suppose it also could have been the few hours I spent reading the delightfully atmospheric, top-notch writing of George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones . . . Hell, it might have even been cutting the grass that did it.

Maybe sometimes the creative soul spends a day at the spa -- bathing in warm waters of relaxation -- and then feels it doesn't need to do anything grand, at least for awhile. Maybe, sometimes, training hard for the marathon we someday plan to run can give way to an unhurried walk in the woods -- a walk during which we feel no guilt for stopping, sitting on a rock and watching a stream's silver forever caress the smooth stones.

Goodnight, friends, whenever and wherever your nighttime comes . . .

Friday, September 9, 2011

My Profound Ignorance

From time to time here at H&R, I have touched on something that fascinates me: that invisible bubble composed of circumstances, ideologies, experiences, prejudices, ignorance, suppositions and logical/semi-logical conclusions that surrounds us all and isolates our own lives into a fundamentally different experience from everyone else's. None of us ever has the same human experience, though we can see certain things in common. To me, that's astounding. No one operates with the exact internal program that I do -- or that you do. That, quite easily, can result in my being an ass in someone else's eyes and a genius in my own, or even the other way around.

Today, I gained an understanding that turned my guts to stone. Maybe, for a second, my own invisible bubble brushed up against people who suffer in a way I could never imagine.

The set up is this: A few weeks ago, my family and I went off to Florida. During our time away, hurricane Irene swept up the east coast of the U.S. By the time it reached New Jersey, it had become a tropical storm, but it was enough to cause flooding and power-outages. Our house lost power and the refrigerator died. We lost some food. Now it is fixed.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pretty Popular for a Dead Guy

I was watching Paul McCartney in concert on TV the other day. He was playing to a festival crowd -- maybe eighty-thousand strong. As he got the end of "Hey Jude," the crowd, many of whom had been years away from being born when "Hey Jude" was written, joined in, singing the "Na-naaa-na-nanana-naaaah," part and it occurred to me that success is a bizarre thing.

Imagine being Paul. Imagine being a guy whose name is recognized by virtually everyone in the civilized world who is over the age of fifteen. Imagine that out of those people, most, if not all, can name a song you wrote and a good number can probably sing one on the spot.

How do you process that as an artist? If a crowd that size ever sang one of my songs, I'd crash to my knees and weep at the profundity. But Paul just kept playing. Why? Because he is used to being probably the best-known songwriter alive. I'm not saying he doesn't appreciate it at all; it's just . . . for the love of baloney . . . how do you get used to that?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Little Shadowboxers

My mother always was very much against guns. As a kid, I never had a toy gun, outside of the occasional water pistol. Mind you, I really wanted to have toy guns and I would greedily claim any available weapon at friends' houses before playing "war" or any other violence-based games. At home, though, I was, as they say on the mean streets, without a "piece."

At my wife's house, in her childhood, things were a little different. Toy guns were allowed, as were BB guns in the later years. Legend has it that there was a rifle incident in the back yard of their suburban home that left a tree somewhat worse for wear. Karen grew up with two brothers, both of whom own hunting guns and bows to this day. For the record, neither of them has ever killed a man. (Nor has my wife, to the best of my knowledge.) Both of them are throrougly nice guys and one of them is one hell of a dancer. (Just thought I'd mention that, in light of the wedding I attended last night.)

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Map and the Treasure

Sometimes I write a post and I get more of a reaction from an aside than I do from the main idea -- which is cool with me.

When I wrote Wednesday about the dying days of summer, I mentioned not having liked school. I referenced the idea that maybe this was because I liked learning so much. The discussion took on more of a life on Facebook than it did here, in that regard. One of my former students was pretty amused to have heard me say that I thought school was not the best place for learning.

But when I think about it more, I realize that maybe I never liked "learning" after all. What I always liked was discovering. I never liked accumulating knowledge based on fact and record. What I always liked was uncovering things myself, which might be why I was not the best student in grade school or in high school.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Summer's Slow Goodbye

In my part of the world, summer settles softly to an end. There always comes a week that whispers the season's slow goodbye. The long stretch of woods behind my house becomes quieter. The grass under my bare feet starts to feel chilly at night. The air carries that scent that I can only call the smell of September.

My sons start to get sad that school is coming, their eyes a little wet at bed time, and I find myself telling them all of the positives -- that there are more summers to come; that Halloween is just around the corner and Thanksgiving and Christmas after that; that we can look forward to building snow forts and jumping into fallen leaves. (I've never been the type of dad to try to pretend that school is a blast. I hated it too, even though I loved to learn -- maybe because I love to learn.)

Monet's "Grainstacks at the End of Summer"
I believe in the wonder of all of these things I place before my sons, but I still feel heavy in the heart when summer ends.

Life used to be marked clearly into sections when I was a kid. When the last day of school came, it felt like I needed to break into a run and keep going until the ocean waves flared into white plumes around me. It felt like I stood at the ticket gate of a vast carnival filled with infinite rides. Now, summer comes, but it feels more like it flows around me, as if I were a stone in a stream, until the river finally goes dry.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Sweaty Buses and Fairy Dust

I just spent a week in Walt Disney World. I'm an admirer of classic Disney movies and even of the new Pixar movies. What I am not a fan of is the Florida sun, waiting in lines and putting in twelve-hour days of running from place to place, in that sun, when I am on my vacation. With this in mind, I left for Florida, last week, less than excited. I was doing it for my kids.

Warning: Don't expect a major turn-around. Don't expect me to end this with: "but then, I discovered, in the magic of Disney, my inner child." Still, there is something to be said about the place. (If I heard the world "magical" one more time, however, I was going to find the nearest Mickey, tear an ear off of his head and feed it to Captin Hook's crocodile.)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Darwin's Nightmare

The demands of opening another school year are upon me, so, for the first time, a repost. This is from a year ago, but a recent experience reminded me . . .

I used to be a little afraid of this, but now I'm terrified.  I'm not sure whether it is something in the water or if some sort of ray is being beamed through high-def screens at our children, but I am now convinced that our young Americans might be growing into adulthood without the benefit of a reptilian brain.  I have seen evidence of this over the years, but now I know it: the fight-or-flight mechanism in America's youth has been snuffed out in many and continues to quickly whither in others.

You have seen it too, but maybe it didn't register.  Picture it: you are standing in line at a fast food restaurant at lunchtime on a Saturday.  The store and the mall in which it resides are, as they say, hoppin'. The kid behind the counter says, "Hi. Can I take your order?" You order a Laughy-Meal, a "number four" with an orange soda, a healthy salad with an extra packet of dressing, a cheeseburger and two extra orders of fries, one without salt, and a bag of chocolaty-chip cookies.  The kid behind the register says, after you have painstakingly delivered each important detail in your best rhetorical voice, "Hi. Can I take your order?"

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bruce Versus Hal

Shark Night, 3D is coming out, you know. I saw in a preview commercial -- just one time. What I gathered is this: it is a movie about a night with lots and lots of sharks who come at you in 3D. Oh, and there are girls in bikinis -- who, I imagine, come at you in 3D as well, but that is neither here nor there.

It might wind up being a great movie (though I doubt it). 

God knows that making a shark movie must be a guaranteed ulcer for any self-respecting director, in the shadow of Jaws. I mean, I value my life quite a bit, but I am sure that if my second chance to score a film were on a project about a shark, I would certainly contemplate suicide.

As I say, the movie might wind up being good (though I doubt it). Why, you ask, do I doubt it?

Stephen and Bruce
Because it has 3D in the title, that's why. I'm not saying 3D is bad, but it can be a crutch for a lame screenplay. Let's face it : it's scary to have a white shark torpedo into your popcorn tub on date night. But that is so damned easy.

In 1975, Stephen Spielberg found himself on Martha's Vineyard with a techno-shark named Bruce that barely ever worked. This, if you don't know, is why the shark appeared so seldom in the final film. And this, as Spielberg has said, is the best thing that could have happened. He needed to rethink and to use his inner-Hitchcock to make the film scary. What is not seen in that film is the heart of its success as a thriller.

Monday, August 22, 2011

"Gear" vs. "Clothes"

Today, I looked down the street and was reminded of a pet-peeve of mine.

There is an old gentleman who lives a few houses down from ours. He happens to be Scottish, if I catch his accent and his last name's implications right. He's a nice fellow. Sort of austere. He moves slowly but surely, sometimes with a cane and sometimes without.

It was about ninety degrees Fahrenheit, today. What struck me was what he was wearing: a white, button shirt with suspenders, a classic flat cap and black socks with black, leather dress shoes. His shorts looked like they had once been dress pants, but cut-off and hemmed.

I like that.

To me there is something annoying about the fact that we have special clothes for everything today: bike-riding clothes; yoga clothes; gardening clothes; dancing clothes, etc. I know they have practical benefits, but I can't help feeling that this painstaking specialization means that we are so far from the basics of daily survival that it puts us into a bit of an existential limbo.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Celebrity Mask

As disinterested as I am in the lives of celebrities, the concept of celebrity itself had always fascinated me. It couldn't be farther from what I want for myself, but as a concept, it does intrigue me. And what I find interesting is the current fall of the celebrity that is in progress.

The Duke
The awe is disappearing. I saw a kid having a conversation with a major league pitcher during this year's All-Star game. He might have been talking to his cousin, Lou. The player was signing the ball and the kid was talking to him with little evident interest.

I couldn't help thinking back to old TV shows in which kids met celebrities: Bobby Brady calling the great quarterback Joe Namath "Mr. Namath" -- that kind of thing. It seems that is gone.

My dad has referred to his childhood -- to how the football players (American football) were (circa 1950) like knights -- their helmets covering them as they went to battle. He says the mystery was what made them awesome, to him. Now we watch them in the news and on commercials, cheating on their wives and sweating orange Gatorade, respectively.

Not good for the awe factor.

Another contributor to this is that we are all able to don our own celebrity masks, now. The technological gate has opened and exposed us all to the masses. We all get the airtime that was once reserved for the media elite.

When cell phones came out and they weighed sevent-five pounds, a guy talking on the phone in his car was an important dude -- no question. Well, we still are imprinted with that archetype. Did you ever see people strut and posture while they talk on their phones? They, too, are important and are able to display that importance to the world audience.

A kid sitting on the edge of his bed can play Dave Matthews covers for the world just by uploading a video. He might stink and maybe no one but his grandmom and his girlfried watch, but consider the celebrity mask donned. Or, he might get hits from around the world and come up with a big recording contract. You never know.

Look at me, writing for more than a hundred readers per day. Go figure. Whether I stink or whether I am a genius, technology has granted me an audience that Steinbeck, writing in his Californian loft, in his teens, was never guaranteed.

The Dope
People post on Facebook: "At the beach with my sweeeetieeeees." Who cares? Why, the adoring throngs, that's who. The thousand-plus friends that some teenagers have might care -- instant audience. The mask is donned.

It is no longer a matter of interest how Grace Kelly spent her vacation. We can now watch Suzie Shlemeil from Shamong, New Jersey, prancing about in the waves. Then people post compliments: "Soooo preeeeteyyy;" "Dayum, girl . . ." She is adored.

Good or bad? I don't know. Something in me hates the red-carpet prance of Oscar night. But another part of me laments the fact that we went from John Wayne and Sinatra to The Situation and Eminem.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Deeper Fun

Once, I wrote a piece about wedding receptions and about the idea of being forced to have fun -- about how distasteful I find that. (And boy, was I sorry about the title, after the number of unsavory sites that linked to me. There must have been a lot of disappointed mouse-wielding perverts out there that week. They must have felt like they had been "Rick-Rolled".)  Anyway, I was thinking about this again, only with a sharper dissection knife.

The great Gene Krupa
I don't like to dance. I have nothing against dancing or against those who enjoy the activity -- I just don't find it fun. Now, here's the problem: People who enjoy dancing enjoy it so much that they want everyone around them to enjoy it. If you claim that you don't like to dance or that you do not want to dance, the people who like to dance (as sure about the universal joy that dancing brings as the missionaries were about the salvation they were bringing in to the South American jungles regardless of the heedless destruction of indigenous culture) try to pull you onto the floor. It is, to them, their duty to show you the fun you are missing.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hats and Rabbits CD Update (He Says with a Grin)

I promised I would let everyone know when my new CD, Hats & Rabbits became available. Well, it just did become available and I'm pretty excited about it, I will admit. (Though, as a testament to at least one reason why I'm not a more successful self-marketer, I was a little disappointed that I had to put off writing about my next blog idea . . . but stay tuned for it on Wednesday. )

Right now, it is available from "CD Baby" as a physical CD and as a downloadable album. (They're a reputable company with good roots in the music business, so no worries.) Just click the link at the right -- or here. To my surprise, the warehouse is down to four physical copies. More will be shipped to them soon, though. But the digital downloads are always available.

Friday, August 12, 2011

An Open Letter to Humanity

Dear Humanity,

I'm really trying -- really, really trying not to get overwhelmed and turn my back on you. I mean, like every other thinker, I have flirted with the whole cabin-in-the-woods thing. I know that probably wouldn't make me happy, though, because I'm torn: I like people, but I am disgusted by humanity.

Every time a person sits alone in a studio or with his or her books, lab equipment or a pen and creates a thing of beauty or of goodwill, my heart fills with admiration and love for the human animal and its endeavors. But every time that thing of beauty or of good will gets handed to the masses, the masses find a way to tear it apart or corrupt it.

In short, the atom bomb was not really Oppenheimer's fault, was it? Muhammad and Jesus are not to blame for war, the Inquisition, persecution, hate, or terrorism, are they?

And art -- such wonders get spun at the hands of solitary geniuses, then we turn those wonders into cliche by merely sharing them -- we water them down until they become almost laughable because we want everyone, whether they are at the level of the geniuses or not, to swim in the waters of greatness. "To be or not to be," is an apartment number joke now. The Mona Lisa is so common a sight that it has become impotent. Beethoven's Fifth Symphony has been turned into a cartoon by the cartoons.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wiffle Dad

Every day, without fail, my son -- nine years old -- asks me to play Wiffle Ball. (I'm not sure about the universality of this game, so I will mention, for my readers outside the U.S., that Wiffle Ball is baseball, more or less, with a plastic bats and balls that allow play in one's back yard without breaking windows, faces, etc.) So, every day, the lad asks me to play.

He has quite a skill for asking me to play at the most inopportune times. As soon as I get home from work, for instance -- I mean, the instant I come in the door. Or, right at the end of dinner -- simultaneously with my last bite, usually. (Two days ago, I ran around the bases moaning "Ugh. Too . . . much . . . pork . . . in . . . belly," which he thought was hilarious.) He asks me when I wake up on Saturdays. He knocks on the bathroom door and asks me. He asks me while am writing blogs. He throws open the door to my studio while I am practicing or recording or singing and asks. The only way he can ramp up the issue would be to wake up at three in the morning, shake me, and ask. It hasn't come to that. Yet.

Monday, August 8, 2011

It Ain't Natural

From Darwin's
The expression of the emotions in man and animals
We're kind of stuck, aren't we? We like to argue for the legitimacy of things by saying: "It's natural." Of course, by this, we imply that natural means it is okay -- good for us; advisable; even moral. Sometimes, the argument works; usually it doesn't. I think it would be good if we all remained aware of this.

Yet, we construct belief systems that are meant to elevate us above the rest of nature. Sex, for instance, is natural. It is natural to feel sexual feelings. How we act upon those feelings throws us into a tizzy, though. Usually, we put lines around it: You may be sexual under conditions A, B and C, but not under condition D. You may be sexual under condition A, as was aforementioned, but not if element Z is introduced into the situation.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Memory of Now

What do you think of you, now? What did you think of you back when you were a teenager? When you look back from now, what do you think of you when you were a teenager?

I have a serious lack of connection to my past.

That is to say, I have vivid memories of being me in, say, 1985, but not of what was happening around me so much on a day-to-day basis. I couldn't, for instance, tell you what classes I had in my junior year and who my science teacher was. I can, however, remember various teachers well and I can probably still do a pretty good impersonation of them.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Parental Love (A Riff)

I wonder how many incongruities and insecurities and soul-aches in life come out of the fact that none of us could possibly love our parents as much as they love us.

And I wonder how many lives have fallen short of their mark because that sort of love was never realized -- not on the superficial level that people use to say things like: "life before kids was worthless" (which it is not, whether before or completely without kids, by the way), but in a sense that the intensity and type of love that lives in the heart of a parent was never in the mix as an impetus for deeds and aspirations.

And I also wonder why we don't love our parents as intensely as they love us.

I'd hate to think it might be evolutionary, simply -- the idea that cute babies make us feel protective.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Bill, Disconnected

The man ventured forth into the night, leaving his beautiful wife behind in the glow of lamplight. It was cold and the streets were wet with melting snows.

He shivered and pulled up the collar of his coat and punched the button to unlock his minivan. He opened the door and stepped in and then drove off into the darkness on his mission: ice cream. "Mint pinky-berry swirl" for her, "chocolate chewy candy chunks" for him. The usual.

Halfway down the dark suburban road, lined with spooky houses that glowed blue from the windows as television screens flashed, he reflexively and then violently felt his coat's breast pocket. His heart rate quickened. It wasn't there. Where was it? It was always there . . . where had he put it?