Friday, July 29, 2011

Smoke Gets in Your Brain

I have no idea why this occurred to me, but . . .

Some years ago I was playing in a now-defunct bar called "Olde Grads." The band was positioned on a stage behind the bar. Looking past the backs of the bartenders, you saw shapes in a haze moving, dancing, drinking. The smoke was so thick in the place that the stage lights created solid curtains of color when they flashed.

One night, I was feeling particularly (and literally) sick of the smoke. As the drummer, I was farthest back, up against the wall. I saw a switch. Wondering what it would do, I flipped it. Immediately, the smoke cleared from the bar. It was an exhaust fan. The bartender (a guy who, I am sure, had left a few horse-heads in the beds of transgressors) whipped around with a crazed look on his face. As he searched for the cause of the clear air, he smoothed back his gray hair, chewed furiously on his soggy cigar and uttered the most unspeakable profanities. "Who the ____ turned on that  _____ fan?"

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

More Hats, More Rabbits

The front cover . . .
Dear Readers,

Will you indulge me for a bit? I've been torn as to how to do this. I have mentioned before that I have been working on a CD of original songs, also called Hats & Rabbits. (Actually, this site was named after the CD which was already in progress when I started blogging.) The album took me almost three years to make. The CD is in the mastering stage and will be available next month, online -- or from me, personally, if you prefer. Instructions to come . . .

I find myself in this place of wanting you to know about it but not wanting to turn my blog into a sales pitch forum. But the fact is, I made this CD not in hopes of becoming rich or famous (fat chance), but of sharing my ideas and emotions with those around me. My first thought was of sharing with friends -- of showing them that I am who they have, in their kindness, believed that I am: a capable musician and composer. But, ever since starting this blog, my goals have broadened a little. I have gathered a consistent, insightful audience of readers and on-line friends from around the world. So, I want you all to know about this so that I can share my thoughts and ideas on the CD with you, as well.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Splashes of Ignorance

That's me near the back, red vest, black sleeves.
The blue in the foam is a fallen brother.
Lars sits, composed and calm, on the back.
Ever fall out of a boat? I have. On a whitewater rafting trip I had no business being on, in a river so wild people really didn't have any business being on it, I fell a out few times. There are many stories from that trip, but not nearly enough room for all of them in one post. I learned a lot on the Upper Gauley river that weekend, about my friends and myself, but the most important thing I learned is how to get back in a boat when you fall out.

If you fall into the water, you tend to grab the edge of the boat, instinctually. Most people then try lift themselves out with their arms, kicking their feet as if trying to swim upward. If you do this, you will never get back into the boat, probably not even with help.

We were taught the proper technique by our guide, the gloriously surfer-dudish, blonde-locked Lars. What you do is, you make yourself as horizontal as possible. Instead of trying to swim/climb into the boat, upward, you flatten yourself in the water and pull forward, using the water to glide up and over the boat's edge.

Friday, July 22, 2011

No Small Talk

I just had my first haircut. That is, my first haircut in a barber shop. (They wouldn't give me a damned lollipop, though.) See, my mom, a hairdresser, by necessities of old (i.e. she is a musician just like the rest of my family), always cuts my hair, but she just had to have surgery to correct the damage of those necessities.

So, I walked in to the barber shop and had no idea what I wanted. (Cut it like my mommy does?) The long and short of it is, I finally worked it out and the haircut is pretty good and they even slapped hot towels on my face afterward. (I'm not sure why -- there was no shave forthcoming, but it felt pretty good. Scared the hell out of me, though.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Gardener and His Wife (A Parable)

The old man bent, sadly, over the two vegetable plants. One was dead and the other had grown fat, strong and tall. He rubbed his chin with a thumb and forefinger.

"I don't understand," he said to his wife, who stood behind him. "I raised them just the same. I fed them the same food. I kept them in the same sunny garden patch. I pulled away their dead leaves and talked to them each day."

Birds chirped and a wind moved the green trees.

"Are they the same?" said the old woman.

"No," said the old man. "They are two slightly different vegetables."

"Then, perhaps," she said, "what was nurturing to one was cruelty the another."

Monday, July 18, 2011

Resisting the Twisters of God

Some years ago, I bought Sting's album The Soul Cages. Lyrically, I think it is his best work -- in fact, I would group the lyrics on that album in with some of the finest works of English literature. No I'm not kidding. Only time will tell, I suppose.

Be that as it may, on one song, "All This Time," Sting utters the line:
"Men go crazy in congregations; they only get better one by one."
This, I worked out years later, is derived from Charles Mackay's statement:
"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one."
Sting is putting a slant on it, of course, at the expense of organized religion, but the principle is the same: We need to work things out for ourselves, in the end. But how many of us do?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Where Do You Live?

Morgan Llywelyn is the author of a series of historical/fantasy novels about Celtic heritage and the Irish. Good reads, all. I remember, in one (it might have been Bard or Druids) that a druid-in-training was taken to the house of the chief druid. The druid-in-training was very disappointed by the house. It was simple and sparsely furnished. Drab. This, the boy thought, was no place for someone of the chief druid's importance to live.

The boy said, to the chief druid, "You live here?"

The druid replied, "No." The boy looked at him, puzzled. The chief druid pointed to his own head. "I live, here," he said.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Beelzebub's Bubbly Bane

I've been thinking about Hell. Not in a pill-bottle rattling in a shaky hand at the temple or a pre-suicidal, double-clutched steak knife sort of way, but in a conceptual way. It has always terrified me that Hell is supposed to be a place with no hope. Of anything. So, in other words, there is never anything to look forward to.

Sure. HE gets a snack.

So what you get is this: After the first thousand years, you know that there are ten-times a thousand years to come, with a million beyond that, multipilied infinity. And never, never, never, is there anything to look forward to. No tasty snacks. No rest. No TV. No snow. No anything. It seems to me that never having anything to look forward to would be the ultimate punishment. And . . . well, there it is. Hell.

In prison, you get visits, if you are lucky. Or you get to walk the yard. Or eat. Or you can look forward to the day you get out. So there's that. Even if you are "in for life," at least you can look forward to checkers with ol' Bubba in block A, once in a while. Or, at the very least, to dying.

So I guess the worst state to be in is one in which you have nothing to look forward to. We really need that. And I think we all have things to look forward to, but we don't always do ourselves the favor of looking forward at them when things are worst. The cool thing is that any of us can do this.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The People and the Pitcher

It is my humble opinion that every child should know Aesop's fables. For me, they left an indelible mark and they got the wheels turning that would, eventually, help me to find happiness (if not fortune) as a literary guy. Today, however, one of those fables, remembered as I watched a large crow circle the woods behind my house, helps me to finally explain how I feel about technology's place in daily lives.

In an earlier post, I talked about drawing the technological line -- the necessity of finding the place at which we decide to exclude technology from our days -- but I'm not sure I made it clear why I thought this necessary. Consider Aesop's fable of "The Crow and the Pitcher." Its moral has been delivered as "little by little does the trick" as well as "necessity is the mother of invention." In short, a thirsty crow's ingenuity saves his life. He drops pebbles into a pitcher to raise the water level so that he can drink. But it is not the moral I'm interested in -- it is the intriguing metaphoric possibility of the crow, the pitcher, the water and the pebbles.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Presenting . . .

The truth is, for today, I wasn't likely to write anything better than what I am about to share with you. I believe that writing should not be an egotistical exercise. You have to know when someone has said something as well as it can be said and, then, sometimes, it is wise to step aside and open the curtain for that someone.

Here is piece on a blog that I follow: "zmkc". "Z" is one of the best writers I have seen online; she writes about lots of things, from books to print/grammar issues to -- my favorite -- life, in general.

This is a piece about outer beauty and inner ugliness (and vice-versa) written with grace, incisive humor and the sort of keen observation and control I have come to expect from this fine writer. Enjoy "In the Bag," Then, pick up the flashlight and have a look inside for yourself.

(Any of my former writing students out there: study the passage of the girls at the table. That's how you do it.)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Bradley Smiles

TIP: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen! Tip Blinkton here with another exciting of episode of WHO HAS IT THE WORST? -- the show where you, at home, decide which of our panelists has it the worst of all. The prize? Understanding of the human condition.

Let's meet our first panelist. Johnny?

Well, Tip, Ellen is a 65-year-old housewife with three grown kids. She's from Idaho. She's a retired dental hygienist and her interests are soap operas and shows about soap operas. Ellen! [Audience joins in] WHAT'S-YOUR-PROBLEM?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Roller Coaster Arabesque

Yes, it's true. Even in an amusement park, atop the crest of a roller coaster pre-drop, I'm thinking metaphors. For instance: roller coasters, themselves, as examples of the way people seem to look at life, at least in terms of what is interesting to them.

I like roller coasters. Always have. But there have always been some that I had no interest in riding because, it seems to me, there is a fine line between being scared in a fun way and being scared in a losing control of one's bowels way.

For instance, on a family outing to a mega amusement park the other day, we rode a wooden roller coaster called El Toro. We also rode Kingda Ka. (The latter's very name annoys the crap out of me. I don't know why -- it just angers me to say it.) Kingda Ka is a metal spike up into the sky which shoots straight up, drops straight down, once, and reaches ridiculous speeds of somewhere around 130 miles per hour.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Battle of the Brim

Christy Mathewson: "The Christian Gentleman"
 What the heck are our nation's English teachers doing? We are in the middle of a major cultural shift, I think: nothing means anything anymore, especially to our young lads and lasses. (By this, I am talking about things having meaning outside the obvious, not about general apathy.)

I just had a Facebook discussion with some friends -- some old friends and some young people who are former students of mine. It was light-hearted and stemmed from a status I posted. I am a Philadelphia Phillies fan and we have a pitcher named Vance Worley who is a great young arm with a bright future in the game. But he leaves his hat brim flat, which, to me, looks stupid. I have also joked about his apparent attitude in the dugout. Here is the status: