Monday, December 31, 2012

"Nuke" LaLoosh and Me: The Myth of the Creative Process

Crash and Nuke
I love baseball. I also love baseball movies -- the greatest of all time being, of course, Field of Dreams. But one of my other favorites is the comedy Bull Durham. In he film, there is a young pitcher, "Nuke" LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), who is talented but...unfocused. (Okay -- he's an idiot.) Kevin Costner's "Crash" Davis and Susan Sarandon's Annie Savoy have the task of grooming Nuke for the majors. Crash takes the baseball experience approach, but Annie goes a more philosophical route.

When Nuke loses his control on the mound, Annie has him wear women's underwear ("Rose goes in the front, big guy.") and she tells him to breathe through his eyelids. In essence, what she gets him to do is to stop thinking about pitching and just "let it happen." This works for Nuke.

Kurt, the bassist in my band, used to look back at me when he made a mistake on stage and he would point to his head, implying that mistake came when he started thinking.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Excellent Movie for Those Who Really Know Tolkien

I saw Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey last night.  (We saw it in "IMAX" -- I'm not sure what people think that adds to the movie-watching experience, but...there it is.) I thought the movie was wonderful.

I know. I'm supposed to be disappointed that it wasn't exactly like the book. That's how we lit. nerds and those "fan-boys" are supposed to, as my brother-in-law recently pointed out in conversation, assert our ownership of the material. It is also very (nauseatingly) fashionable to be hard on "prequels" or follow-ups to beloved movies. George Lucas knows this all too well.

Well, I was not disappointed that the movie was different than the book. Jackson and his team did what they needed to do. Remember, please, that this is a statement made by a guy who credits Tolkien and his work with changing his life. Tolkien's works set me on a path I walk until this day.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Chaos of Generosity

I was watching my kids open presents yesterday. We're not rich, by any stretch, but, holy schneikie -- kids get a lot of presents these days. I mean, a ridiculous amount; so many that they forget what they actually opened.

On Christmas Eve, we snuggled into the couch as a family to watch some of the classic Christmas shows: The Grinch, Rudolf and Frosty.

At the end of Rudolf, the elves were dropping presents with umbrella parachutes (which, by the way, goes a long way to adding plausibility to the Santa conundrum; it would add speed...).

Anyway, the implication was that one present went to each kid. I wonder if this was ever the case. I imagine, in the misty Christmases of the past, it might have been.

It would have been an interesting thing. Instead of the chaos of generosity, children would have awakened to find that one thing they wanted. So much changes as a result of that. For one thing, the way we do it now has to be a contributor to the lack of focus we always complain about in our kids.

What to we expect to happen? We bury them in toys; we feed them a regular diet of rapid-edit films; we let them watch those movies in the van on the way to the grocery store; we let them watch the movies instead of reading the books; we yell at them for sitting around and doing nothing; we enroll them is seventeen after-school programs.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Claus. Santa Claus.

The dude in the red suit. We saw him no less than seven-thousand times today. He was in the mall, on a big velvet chair, taking late orders from kids, until we got into line. Then, he needed a break. Half hour. (He's magic and he can make reindeer pull him [and enough toys for every child on the globe] through the cold stratosphere and deposit treats under billions of trees in, like, sixteen seconds, but he can't conjure up a sandwich for himself. His is not omnipotence -- it's potency with certain parameters.)

Always time for a quick Coke.
Still, he gets around.

He was on street corners, ringing bells, as we drove on a Christmastime trek. He walked through the restaurant in which we ate dinner and he patted my boys on the back, ho-ho-hoing all the time, completely un-fatigued and seemingly unconcerned about a particularly pressing deadline. He's all over TV, too. Local news asked him how things were going. "Ho-ho-ho. Fine. Just fine."

He's in every mall across the civilized world at the same time, every day from Thanksgiving to Christmas. (I don't know if he takes breaks at the same time in each mall, though.)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Scripted Sincerity

Welcome to The Borg Collective.

On the radio, this morning, I heard a guy explain, with no sense of outrage (or even mild, wistful amusement) that hospitals, in order to get higher customer satisfaction ratings, are "scripting" doctors and nurses. For instance, they are telling a nurse who is transferring a patient to say things like: "Oh, you are going to the third floor. You'll have so-and-so as a nurse. She's wonderful."

Isn't that heart-breakingly hilarious? They are scripting the personal touch.

One must, after all, impress the queen bee of the hive, right? Or, in this case, the "team" that heads the "team," which is composed of more "teams."

Now, people are being told what to say in a workplace that is supposed to be driven under the energy of compassion and a desire to help others to heal. In a hospital, for God's sake. This is fine with the general population, because it is good for the work community. And what is good for the community is all that is important, right?

And what do you say, as a nurse or doctor? Do you say, "No, I won't do this," and risk losing your job in a struggling economy? No. Of course you don't. It doesn't seem like such a great evil, when you look at it that way. But, splice all of these little evils end-to-end, and you have the road to Orwell's worst nightmare.

I didn't start writing this blog with an agenda in mind, but you will notice that I keep coming back to this theme of the not-so-slow death of the individual in an increasingly hive-minded society. It just keeps slapping me in the face.

Well, call me old-fashioned, but when I get hit, I tend to hit back.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Thieves of Glory

I suppose I have accepted the fact that it has become okay to brag, in modern society. I don’t like it, but it seems the guidelines of humbleness have disappeared. Athletes, actors and the common person in the street seem to have no compunction about saying, “I’m the best…” or “I’m great at…”  It’s probably a result of years of self-esteem programming in schools and on TV. I don’t like it, but I can’t change it.

I wonder, though, if we could try to stop this arrogance from extending into stealing the credit that is due to others. 

Father Mychal Judge: hero
-- victim 0001
I started thinking about this after the World Trade Center attacks. A few months after the dust literally settled, I started seeing bumper stickers that read things like: “Support Your Local Heroes of Station 4.” All of a sudden, one was a hero simply for being a firefighter.

Now, hold on…wait, wait… Before you get mad and start typing angry responses about the lack of respect I have for firefighters, let me say this: To become a firefighter is a noble choice born out of the desire to help others and out of the willingness to put one’s self in danger for others. I respect the career immensely.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Friday, December 14, 2012

An Open Invitation to Rush

Alex, Geddy, Neil
I've mentioned, before, how important the progressive rock band, Rush, was to my development as a musician and as a writer. Neil Peart, the drummer and lyricist, was one of my biggest influences as a thinker and as a drummer. Geddy Lee, the bass player, singer and keyboardist and Alex Lifeson (maybe one of the most underrated guitarists of all time) also had a big influence on me. But, now, as a forty-four-year old, I am realizing how lucky I was to have had these guys as role models. Why? Because they were (and are) true individuals who have always been honest about their music and who never felt a need to play a part (whether that be "rock star" or "eccentric artist") that the world pressured them to play.

In fact, I remember one interview with Geddy Lee, back in the Moving Pictures days, I think. Geddy was asked if he wanted to meet his heroes. He said no -- not any more. He had met one of his heroes, once, and he had been horribly disappointed.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Martha Stewart Burps

It's so hard to be honest in personal writing. It may just be impossible.

After I write posts like my last one -- any time I write about fatherhood or about my daily life -- I look back and I ask myself: "Is that you? Really?"

Don't get me wrong: The stories I tell are true. But, when presenting them, I am required to create characters. They are characters who actually exist, but I have limited time and space in which to flesh them out. If I mention one of my sons, I am sketching a person about whom my knowledge and impressions run deep; as deep as they go. Same thing goes if I mention my wife. How do I give you a picture of the person to whom my soul has been bound for a few decades within the confines of  a 500 word post?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Hypocritical Me

We had our annual Christmas party last night. It's for a small group of close friends and their kids. Each year, we put our dog into the upstairs bedroom. She's okay with humans; it is just that some of the attendees are not "dog people," so Krimpet is banished to the master bedroom. She whines a little, but, in the end, she gets to lie on our bed all night. She's cool with it.

During the party, I went to check on the kids -- just to make sure no one was in need of CPR or anything -- and I noticed my older son was missing. The stairs were directly to my left and I heard sobbing from upstairs. I went up to find him sitting in his bed, crying. When I asked what the problem was, he said he was sad for Krimpet. "She's lonely," he said. "She should be allowed out with the people."

I explained why she had to stay in the room and I suggested he go down and play with the other kids instead of wasting his night worrying about the dog. He insisted we were being mean to the dog and I got a little snippy: "She's perfectly happy. She's probably asleep," I told him. He would hear none of it. "She's lonely," he insisted. "How can she be lonely if she is sleeping?" I asked him. "You can decide if you want to ruin the rest of your night by staying up here, but I'm going back down for the party." I went downstairs in a huff.

He was being ridiculous, right?

Friday, December 7, 2012

One-Click Learning?


I had a pretty complex post started for today, then, something happened.

In my creative writing class, I wrote up some notes, on the white board, of a "character sketch" I want my kids to do for next meeting. I went through the particulars, explaining each piece of info I wanted them to come up with in their sketches and giving examples of a character I'd created.

The last thing I said was: "Make sure you have this in your notes -- there is no handout and I won't be posting it on my website."

As I was packing up and as the kids were shuffling out, a student casually walked up to the board and held up her cell phone to click a picture of my notes. "See you Mr Mat!" she said, smiling, stuffing the phone into her bag.

Teaching, today, really is a fascinating profession.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

My Worthless Dog

announced, a few nights ago, to my wife -- quite emphatically and (possibly) dramatically -- that our dog is, in every practical sense, a completely useless member of our household. She fits not one of the typically advantageous dog-profiles.

She leaves crumbs -- sometimes even whole potato chips -- on the kitchen floor. I have never known a dog to do this. I grew up with a with a lovely mutt (may Foffy rest in peace) who never would have allowed such a thing. Popcorn snacks, while watching TV, were no inconvenience to my mother and father, even with a shag rug in our family room. No dropped piece of white, corny goodness lay upon or among the yarnish flagella of the rug for long. Foffy was on the job. The nose knew, and it conquered. Not my present dog -- not Krimpet. She seems to have no interest in dropped cheese doodles. Either that, or she is so monumentally stupid, that she can't make distinctions between a fallen Lego and a forgotten chunk of pretzel and, thus, gave up on taxing her tennis ball sized brain with such grueling decision-making processes.

Krimpet: Portrait of Worthlessness
How is she as a watch dog, you ask? A tremendous failure. She barks like a rabid devil-wolf when the neighbor (who pets and plays with her on a regular basis) puts out his trash. But if a large man in a ninja suit, carrying a blood-dripping ax in one hand and someone's severed arm in the other, were to stand at the window, breathing through his teeth, she'd likely glance over her shoulder, walk around in a few lazy circles, and cuddle up for a nap with one of my old shoes.

In a thunder storm, does she climb in bed with my boys for her own solace and for theirs? No -- even when encouraged, she will not do this. Instead, she puts her front half up on my bed and shivers powerfully, causing me to dream of seedy motels with blinking red signs. Either that, or she goes off into my studio room and hides behind the workstation, tunneling into an old comforter I use for a "bass trap" -- transforming it instantly into a "cretin trap."

Monday, December 3, 2012

Thinking in Harmony -- a Different Kind of ADD?

I once mentioned, in a discussion with my wife and some friends, that the environment in my head is pretty crowded -- like a bunch of conversations going on all at once. This is true, except when I am listening to or composing music -- or even when I am playing. Otherwise, the old attic is full of people and they are chattering away.

When I said this about the "conversations," my wife said that this is a prime symptom of ADD. I disagreed with her diagnosis and began questioning how I could have achieved what modest academic, professional and artistic successes I have if I am an un-diagnosed sufferer of that learning disability (which, as you know, prevents focus in thinking -- or, at least, clouds focus).

Yesterday, I was taking a class on learning disabilities and we were discussing the various types of cognitive malfunctions and, as always, I found myself "hearing" several conversations at once: 1) one about my own childrens' learning styles by comparison; 2) one about students in my own school and how our program for "special education" works; 3) one about the content I was supposed to retain by the end of the class about documentation for learning disabilities; 4) one about the line between not discriminating against those with disabilities and overburdening schools 5) one about this blog post -- the workings of my own possibly learning-disabled mind; 6) one about my strategies for accomplishing my tasks for the rest of the day; 7) one about an idea for a composition that I have; 8) one about...well, you get the point.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Egocentric Sharing: Facebook and "Me"

My friend Ted's profile pic.
Facebook is kind of a paradox, if you think about it. It is a "sharing" site -- one that exists to promote "community" among online friends. That's why it should seem strange that it promotes a certain amount of ego-centrism. I'm not exempt from this; I don't think any Facebook user is. Some, however, are over the top.

This "sharing community," as I am sure I have mentioned, makes some of us automatically pretend to be movie stars. I won't get into it, but we've all seen the poses on the profile pics. It's embarrassing. (There is a rebellion against this with people who refuse to post pictures of themselves -- I do get that, but it also makes it harder for people to identify you as the same James Smith they knew in the seventh grade...)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


In one of my classes, today, we got into a discussion about the word "nerd," after having read an essay by Grant Penrod called "Anti-Intellectualism: Why We Hate Smart Kids." In the piece, the writer claims that we, as a culture, don't respect the average intellectual and that we glorify ignorance.

We did a little quick linguistic research via smart phone and discovered that the word "nerd"  first appeared in print in Dr. Seuss's If I Ran the Zoo, in 1950. There are many arguments as to the word's origins before that, though, and various college campuses and neighborhoods claim it as their own creation (there is even one theory that it came from spelling "drunk" backward, to signify someone who studies on Saturday nights instead of going to parties: "knurd."

Most people seem to agree that it was popularized by the sit-com Happy Days, as uttered repeatedly by "The Fonz."

Monday, November 26, 2012

E-books Are Not Evil and Neither Am I

Did you ever notice how people tend to connect a statement of opinion with an insult?

In accordance with many recommendations by pediatrics experts (something about impeded brain development), my wife and I didn't let our kids watch TV for their first two years on Earth. A lot of people we knew openly said that they would get work done this way: set the kids up with a video and go to work into the kitchen, or, wherever.

Recently, my wife brought up that when she would mention our choice to other parents, they would get defensive; they'd act as if she was implying that they were bad parents. I guess, in that case, we kind of were implying that -- or, at least, implying that they were making a bad choice by letting their kids watch TV. In fact, I suppose it was more than an implication. So, I sort of understand their reaction, even though I think they should have simply accepted the fact that it was a mere difference of opinion and moved on. But when it comes to their kids, people are touchy, indeed.

But what I do not understand, at all, is why, when heart-close things like kids are not involved, people take offense to other simple statements of opinion.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Internalized Einstein: Grown-ups, Kids and Time

One of the big mysteries of maturity is why or how the perception of the passage of time changes -- why time seems to go so much faster as we get older. Conjectures include biochemical brain changes and increased actual activity, often as a result of responsibility -- a greater amount of time spent working for others and not playing for ourselves. But I think it might be that we, somehow, lose the  connection that kids seem to have to Tao. Kids are so much better at just being that adults are.

"Aragorn's Quest"
Yesterday, my eight-year-old was playing a video game called Aragorn's Quest. I played it first, a year or so ago. I enjoyed it very much and I completed the entire game. He played it after me, and he finished it as well. 

Yesterday, he was playing it. "That was a pretty darned good game, wasn't it?" I said, watching.

"Yeah," he replied. "How come you don't play it anymore, Dad -- if you liked it so much?"

"I don't know." I replied. "I don't much like playing games after I have finished them -- it's not fun to me."

"Oh," he said, sounding a little perplexed by this answer.

When it comes down to it, I'm a little perplexed by it, too.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How Not To Be an Ass

One doesn't become an ass. One either intrinsically is or is not an ass. Sometimes, circumstances can exacerbate one's assness, but, in order to ever become an ass, first-class, one needs to have had the propensity. In other words, you either are or are not an ass. But beware the propensity -- be aware of it before, say, you come into a lot of money.

There are those out there who will say "rich" people are asses. I say that those who act like asses always were asses, but that becoming rich simply "spread compost on the weeds to make them ranker."

For instance, there are people who drive high-end automobiles. These people, by logical extrapolation, must have a goodly amount of money. (Or, they are car thieves, but that is another post.) To drive an Bugatti does not automatically make one an ass. How one adorns that Bugatti, however, might make all the difference...

I would have taken a picture, yesternight, as I drove to rehearsal with my band, but it was dark and traffic was not conducive to photographic driving. I found myself waiting behind an Audi. The driver of this particular high-end machine had taken time to purchase a license plate frame that read: "Life is a Chardonnay." I did not make this up. This happened.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Kites, Cardigans and Good Ol' F.U.

My great uncle sported a "high-and-tight" haircut and a buttoned-up collar. He was a product of Fork Union Military Academy -- which he always referred to as "good ol' F.U." I think he went to F.U. because he had been more of a behavior issue than because he had been the "military type" as a young man; he had a quick wit and a hearty smile; he was a bit impish. Family legend has it that he was stronger than the average ox, having once lifted a car off of a little girl's leg in the 1950's -- back when squat-lifting a car by its bumper was a pure-metal job three-times more miraculous than it would be today.

As kids, my sister and I would spend Friday nights at the house he shared with my grandmother in South Philadelphia; Mom worked late and Dad, for many years, had a steady gig at the legendary nightclub, Palumbo's, in town. These visits consisted of a meatball-sandwich dinner (on the greatest Italian bread in the history of the world), before my dad left for work, and, then, of all the TV we wanted and all of the M&Ms and ice cream we could cram into our maws. My sister and I would draw (and draw and draw...) and play invented games and watch ridiculous nineteen-eighties shows like the unintentionally surreal Dukes of Hazzard.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Fall of the Lecture Zombies

Teaching can really be such an art. Imagine if every teacher we ever had put true creativity into their lessons -- imagine how hungry for learning we would all have been as kids.

I'm taking class right now with a fine education professor. He's a diminutive chap who dresses up in a suit and tie for each session and who moves around the room with constant energy. Though his approach is sometimes old-fashioned, one can see how he must have inspired the fifth-graders he used to teach.

From The Wall: Pink Floyd
Tonight, he opened class by asking us a question regarding Socratic method -- something from our notes the previous class. That's my thing, you know, so my hand went straight up with out a glance at my notebook. He pointed at me: "Not you," he said.

I was taken aback. Was this a compliment? Was he tired of my answering questions? Did he just not like the cut of my jib? Was there something caught between my teeth?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Texas "Secession": The Most Inappropriate Protest in American History?

Secession, eh?

I get it. It is a statement, right? Great. People in Texas don't like President Obama. It will never become reality, for really real. I get it.

No joke.
But, you know, a while ago, I made a joke on someone's Facebook thread about Lincoln's assassination. I thought it was harmless -- a remark about him faring badly on a night at the theater. Well, my friend's friend (someone I did not know) flipped out about my not showing respect for the man who is arguably our greatest-ever president. The thing is, I have always had tremendous respect for Lincoln.

At first, my reaction was: This guy is over the top. He's crazy. How could he flip out like this? Lincoln has been dead for so long... I even "rode" him a little for being ridiculous, for a few lines.

Monday, November 12, 2012

On Building Wings

"Stand at the top of the cliff and jump off and build your wings on the way down." Ray Bradbury
I love Ray Bradbury, not just as a writer, but for the guy that he was. To me, he was one of the few people in the world that I deem worthy of the phrase "personal hero." I have made that clear here on this very blog. Also, I love the quotation I have typed above. I really do love it. But it bothers me -- aches a little on the fringe of my mind, the way the sense of a mostly-forgotten, unfulfilled obligation does.

Ray, as you can see if you care to watch the video I have embedded below, was a big proponent of  doing one's own thing -- of choosing one's own direction and sticking to it, no matter what anyone says; of, as you can see, jumping off of the cliff and worrying about the consequences and strategies later. This is very Romantic and very poetic and very Bradbury, but I have to wonder: would he have been giving this advice if the world had not embraced him over the span of his long and illustrious career?

You only really hear the big successes saying things like this, don't you? For the rest of us, it is more complicated than that, really. How many others jumped and then started cobbling their wings together and didn't get the job done before they exploded into a red star-burst on the rocks below.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Conquest of Ignorance (A Parable)

The majestic ship, Understanding, left the port of Then. Her flags flew high and bright, snapping crisp, aloft. Her prow pointed true and straight and the Infinite Captains steered her in whatever directions they fancied, on a quest for facts and knowledge.

Understanding trekked the dark sea, foam exploding, impossibly white in the sun, around her great, timber breast; sails full-bellied but always hungry for more speed and for greater distance, driving onward, arrow-focused on her destination. 

After much time had passed, she reached the shore of Now. A captain stood up and proudly announced to all who could hear: We have arrived!

There were cheers everywhere. There was pride as thick as peanut butter gooping up in the throats of everyone alive. 

Understanding was quickly tied to the dock and made into a museum, with a restaurant and a gift shop and restrooms with baby-changing stations.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Two Lazy Passions

Did you ever have a problem (or tendency) and wonder whether it is a significant weirdness on your part or if it is, in the end, quite common?

I never read much as a little kid. In fact, I barely read at all. My parents once requested a conference with my third grade teacher because of this. I mean, I could read -- even scored well on comprehension and interpretation tests -- but I just wouldn't. The teacher said, quite prophetically, "I think this boy is going to be a reader -- don't push him -- you might kill his enthusiasm. He'll read when he is ready." Well, a hundreds of books and a bachelor's and master's in literature later, I'd have to say she got it right.

I do remember two "pre-reader" experiences with books inspire my opening question, here. Once, when I was sick in bed, my mom bought me a book called The Black Stallion. (Kid meets horse; kid becomes a jockey; horse wins all kinds of races; kid and horse solve mystery -- that kind of thing.) I read the whole thing in a few days. I loved it, beginning to end. When I was well, I bought the second book: The Black Stallion and Satan. (Satan was a horse, not the Lord of Eternal Darkness.)

I put off reading that book for months. I wanted to read it. I was well-aware that I loved to read. But -- it just seemed like so much work to read a book... Eventually, I read it and I enjoyed the heck out of it.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Strange Case of the Mexican Reds

The other day I was eating lunch and watching one of the original Star Trek episodes: "The Man Trap." In a rather incidental scene, Lt. Uhura, the communications officer, tells Captain Kirk that she has a message from Captain Dominguez, from another starship. She informs Kirk that Dominguez is complaining that he awaits the delivery of some urgent supplies that Enterprise is carrying.

Kirk responds, smiling wryly: "Tell José he'll get his chili-peppers when we get there. Tell him they are prime Mexican Reds -- I picked them myself."

Once again, I found myself high-stepping through the bog of political correctness. My uh-oh alarm went off. I found myself thinking: "Boy, they would never get away with that line today." Then, I thought, why the heck not?

Left to right: apple pie, plomeek soup, okrashka,
"soul food," a good steak, sushi and bannocks.

Everyone knows the original Star Trek series had an agenda, especially when it came to depicting a future with racial equality. The show even boasts the first interracial kiss ever on television.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Why We're Doomed (Unless We Learn to Find our Inner Teenager)

Some have accused me of being pessimistic when it comes to evaluating humankind's potential to fix its historically persistent problems. They're right. I am.

This morning, I heard a news report from one of Mitt Romney's speaking engagements. A (Republican) woman being interviewed criticized Governor Chris Christie (a Republican) of New Jersey of being "too effusive" in his praise of President Obama's help with the storm crisis in New Jersey. She feared it would go against Mitt Romney's chances of being elected.

Am I going insane, or is this as absurd as it sounds?

Hold on, my fine Democrat readers. Before you clap me on the back for exposing Republican stupidity (a stupidity that does apply to a lot of Republicans, for sure, just as it applies to people in general) let's consider this little meme posted by a friend of mine on Facebook -- from a site that proclaims itself to be "Sick of the Slant" -- because there is no slant in the chosen pictures, of course (you can click to enlarge the picture):

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hurricane-force Lessons

Yesterday, before twilight, I went out onto the back deck (which I'd completely cleared) and stood watching the trees in the woods behind my house bending almost sideways in the wind gusts. I have heard writers talk about what it means to truly experience the awesome force of nature and how it feels to be riveted to a spot despite (or maybe because of) the danger. Well, there it was.

The wind had a volcano-deep rumble I had never experienced and I could actually smell sea-salt in the air -- presumably spun up and trapped in the vortex of the massive storm as it had gathered force over the Atlantic, ever since Cuba -- even though my house is some sixty miles from the coast.

Camuccini: "Fallen Tree Trunk"
I turned from the woods to the massive split-trunked oak on the garage side of my house. I stood perched to jump back into the house as the wind gusted again. But the old man stood more firm than any of his cousins in the woods. There wasn't the slightest flex in his trunks and his upper branches only waved as if they were enjoying gentle spring winds. This is a tree we were warned to have removed. "It will come down," a tree guy told us. "Just a matter of when."

But time passes and you don't bank on hurricanes.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

Cot: "The Storm"
It will be a quick one today. As I write, 8:30 am, Monday, October 29, 2012, the state of New Jersey is about to be directly hit with "the second biggest hurricane in recorded history." Our house right in its projected path, though not on the coast, where the most devastating damage is already being done. They say the shoreline will be permanently altered by this one. When a storm is being called worse than Grace -- The Perfect Storm -- it's nothing to sneeze at.

So, we're in a historic moment, here. There are some who are really aware of that and who are intrigued, as I am, and there are others who don't care. There are those who are petrified. There are those who are not the least bit fazed. There are those who are courageously defiant in the face of danger.

Just so, as with most remarkable things, this storm sets up a microcosmic portrait of humankind: the fools, the paranoid ones; the heroes; the simply and rationally prepared -- they are all exposed by their reactions to Hurricane Sandy.

Friday, October 26, 2012

John Tanner and William Tanner (A Parable)

On a still-dark Sunday morning in the Middle Ages, John Tanner awoke to the shriek of the rooster. He rose in darkness, just as he had gone to sleep in darkness. It was cold; his breath floated in a cloud as he leaned to stoke the fire. One of his children (the only one who had survived three of these winters in this same one-room hovel) coughed a wet cough. He'd been coughing like this for nearly a month, and John and his wife were beginning to be concerned. The boy was sleeping away days, now.

Konrad Witz: St. Chritopher
John had become used to the stench of his work, but that same stench meant that his house was far away from the others in the village. Most days were isolation and work and close contact with the urine that was used in his trade. Most days, he woke in the dark, worked through the light, and went to bed. His life was work and darkness. Except on Sunday...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


It was a long, hot, dusty day of dusty deeds. We drove the long highway in silence. She had her hand on my knee, but it lay there flat as some flat fish that would never be not flat, no matter how hard it tried. Flounder flat, if you must know.

I glanced over at her and smiled, if you can call pressing your bottom teeth against your top lip a smile. She did it back. She always did it back. Her two middle bottom teeth cower behind each other like little kids being introduced to scary grown-ups. In a pretty kind of way.

"Hungry," she said.

"Me, too. And thirsty."

The inspiration for this masterpiece.
But there was nothing but desert and cacti, spread out over the never-ending (and, furthermore, infinite) beige landscape like a scattered army of running-backs celebrating touchdowns with green, prickly, upraised arms. Multi-cacti. She was counting them, moving her pretty lips silently: "Four-hundred-one; four-hundred-two..."

Sinatra was buzzing low on the radio -- so low that he was only dropping hints about what Johnny Mercer was trying to lay down, like some musical mouse whispering secrets through a tin can phone to an almost-deaf guy on the other end (who wasn't really listening, anyway, because he hates Sinatra).

The wheels rolled. The flat fish on my leg crumpled into a fist.

"Hungry," she said. "I need food."

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Social Prison

The other day I was at an educational conference and one of the speakers -- a very peppy, short-haired woman with, if I'm being fair, a lot of talent as a teacher -- uttered the phrase: "None of us is as smart as all of us."

Those of you who read my stuff from time to time probably know what is coming next: God, I hate phrases like that. And, besides, it just isn't true. (This is a generally profanity-free blog, or I would make reference to the excrement of a particular horned animal with a strange attraction to red capes and the rib-cages of Hispanic fellows in tight pants.)

I can't stand acrobatic phrases like the one the speaker used. It is supposed to be a "we get more done when we work together" phrase, but it twists and flips itself to be so. And, truth is, it winds up really being yet another of our steps toward a world in which the individual is continually smothered or assimilated, whether it be philosophically or politically.

Some of us are smarter than all of us. There are people who can accomplish feats of creativity and problem-solving in the solitude of their rooms or studies or labs that no committee or board or think-tank ever could.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A New and Unique Book

I'd like to shut up for the day about my own ideas and use this post to mention a book that has just been published by a blogosphere friend of mine: Mr. Jeff Sypeck. Jeff is a medievalist and he is the keeper of the blog Quid plura? which is dedicated to identifying and commenting on medievalism in America and in American letters. He is also the author of an excellent book on Charlemagne.

Jeff has just published a book of poetry -- of poems inspired by his photographs of the gargoyles on  Washington's National Cathedral. The poems are whimsical and often profound and Jeff makes use of many formal poetic forms, including medieval forms, like alliterative verse. Whether you care about poetic formalism or not, I think you will find Jeff's book a delight. His gargoyles speak in the voices of characters who are distinct in a way that I would imagine only gargoyle characters can be.

What's also cool is that Jeff is donating 75% of his proceeds to the cathedral, to contribute to the repair of the damages incurred during the earthquake in 2011. A worthy cause -- the support of one of America's architectural wonders.

Jeff's new book is much recommended for those who are interested in fantasy literature, medieval literature or in finding a kind of unique traditionalism in poetry. In short, it is derned good stuff and you would be helping a good cause by ordering a copy.

Follow the link to Jeff's site for all ordering options.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

True Suffering

I could be lonely. I could be sick. I could have a child and have no means to care for it and no paper on which to write a letter to the Sisters of Mercy for his doorstep basket. I could be starving, or under fire. I could be losing my wife to man with big muscles and golden hair and more income. I could be disabled. I could have just accidentally swallowed some poison that looked exactly like lemonade. I could be the thrall of some alien tyrant on a frozen planet in another solar system where thralls are worked mercilessly for twenty years and then tortured to death for thirty. I could be really, really ugly. (Like, bulldog ugly.) I could be friendless (perhaps as a result of my extreme ugliness). I could be dying. I could be wanted for a crime I did not commit. I could be inexplicably depressed. I could be a brilliant singer who was born without a voice.

But I am not.

I'll tell you one thing, though: if this idiot behind the drive-through window doesn't hurry up with my coffee, I'm going to lose control. One thing I cannot take is slow service. It drives me nuts.

Degas: Melancholy

Monday, October 15, 2012

On Leaving Home

It occurred to me, the other day, that some see "home" as a cocoon; a retreat; a place to hide from the world's ugliness for a precious few hours each day. (Okay, guilty as charged.) Others seem to see home as a base of operations; a place to get showered and changed before heading back out; a place for parties; a place that keeps the rain off of one's head. I wonder which is the healthier view.

I'm thinking much in the same way the I did in a recent post: there is a certain uneasiness in having succeeded in taking good advice. You work and work to get yourself conditioned to take that advice, then you either become a weirdo for being one of the few who accomplished the desired outcome, or, you start to wonder if the good advice is really that good after all. 

For instance, we are always told to treasure the moment -- to put less emphasis on the past and the future and think of now; to drink it in and savor the experience. I'm the king of this. This, I've gotten down.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Dear Albrecht VIII

Albrecht Soothspitz, b. 1347

He has returned! That master sayer-of-sooth; that sculptor of philosophical fantasticness; the man with the inside scoop on all things social, internal and think-aboutable: Albrecht. I know it has been awhile, but you wouldn't believe how hard it is to convince Homeland Security that the guy living in the woods behind your house is really a philosopher from the fourteenth century. They wanted to "send him back." Needless to say, that is a pretty tall order. So after much negotiating, phone-calling and the painting of a few sweaty governmental palms, old Albrecht now is an official American citizen. This, of course, has sent him on a binge of American gluttony. I have never seen a human being devour so many hot dogs in my life. And now he's into  football, so we had to get him a satellite dish for his hovel. Dude never leaves the woods now, and getting him to answer your letters has been tough...but, here is the next installment for which the world has waited...

Dear Albrecht:

My friend Alice has the biggest butt I have ever seen. She's like an upside-down mushroom with legs. I almost expect her hips to go "ding-dong" when she walks. I swear the tides get stronger when she is at the beach. Just plain massive. A pair of white pants on her, some popcorn and a projector, and we could open up a drive-in movie theater. I can't even have her out in the garden for tea because the prolonged butt-clipse she causes withers my daylilies. In short, she could rent herself out to movie companies as a cushion for stuntmen who have to jump out of buildings.

The problem is that she has been wearing these really tight short-shorts in public and people look at her funny. I'm not sure if I should tell her or not. What do you think?


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Singing to the Goldfish

Courbet: "The Desperate Man." Decidedly not normal. 
The other day, as I walked in to a particular room in a particular house, I heard a particular (and beloved) person referring to me and saying, "...a normal person would be able to, etc, etc." This person quickly added, having, I suppose, become aware of my sudden presence, that "he's a scholar." (Hence, not normal, but studiously so.)

This thing that I could not do was a rather important home maintenance project.

I think the person added the "scholar" bit because he or she felt that he or she had insulted me. In truth, saying I am not a normal person is, as far as I am concerned, a compliment of the highest order. I treasure that status.

The problem in all of this, though, is in an age-old misconception: that "normal" is reflected in the people with whom we are generally surrounded. It so happens that this person is routinely surrounded by many mechanically capable chaps who not only do home maintenance but who even do such things professionally. But one's proximate world is not necessarily a clear reflection of normalcy.

If I hang around with only guys who wear Richard Nixon masks and who sing show tunes to their goldfish on Sunday afternoons, I might easily see that as normal. The weirdo would be the guy who sits and watches football on the couch with a frosty barley treat and a bowl of chips.

Truth is, I'm willing to bet that most of the men in the world would not have undertaken this project (moderate in difficulty, though it may have been) that this person feels any "normal" people would do. And, in a way, it sort of diminishes the talent and/or skill of the guys who can do this stuff, to sum it all up as "normal." I respect those who can do these things.

I wonder if they respect my ability to plausibly explicate Ezra Pound?

Ah, well. Where'd I put that Nixon mask? Here, fishy, fishy...

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Shock of Transcendence

The Taoist weirdo.
What they never tell you, these philosophers and spouters of wisdom, is that, if you reach the desirable states that they recommend, you will have officially become a weirdo. You may even question whether your mind is working as it should. Transcendence, for instance, is quite alarming -- not when you manage it once, but when you finally make it part of your life on a daily basis.

Right now I am going through very difficult times outside of my home. I'll leave it sans detail, but it has been heart-breakingly rough over certain intervals.

That said, I'm not suffering much for it. I do wish things were better in this outside-of-the-home situation, but I find myself happy, otherwise. Sure, I would still love to fix what it broken, but I am not, in any way, feeling dragged down by it, in terms of my life. I'd rather these difficult things weren't so, but I do believe I have learned to take the advice of the wise to heart: to keep things in perspective and to give credence to those things that are truly important.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Pleasing Processes

From time to time, as many of you know, I come back to "happiness" as an issue. What philosophical chap who's worth his weight in cheese doesn't? So, along those lines, it occurred to me that ends are never good. We humans hate ends of things, death especially. This is why we are thinking all wrong when we seek the attainment of a goal -- any goal -- and equate the "arrival" as a potential state of happiness.

I'm not just handing you a superficial bit about the evils of consumerism. It's more than that.

I think for most sane human beings, this formula is true: HAPPINESS = PLEASING PROCESSES.

It's just another version of "the journey, not the destination" thing, I guess.

Lewis and Clark:, in action. Musta been cool. 
All I know is that, for me, my happiest times come down to three things: family, exploration (intellectual or actual) and art. These are all works in progress, aren't they? Just having babies with my wife didn't make life wonderful -- the process of watching them grow and helping them find their way in the world does. As far as exploration is concerned, find answers is satisfying, but it doesn't bring the lasting happiness that the search did. And, with art, the process is the thing. I was happy to have finished my first full length CD, but that happiness has worn away; now I wish I were still working on it, because nothing compares to the contentment I feel sitting at my piano at midnight in my little studio. (So, I begin working on another...)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

After a Day of Screams

Tonight, I don't want to unravel anything.
I don't want to delve into my soul --
Don't want to talk of wonders,
Or critique humanity,
Or fight,
To win -- something.

Tonight, my thirst won't be slaked in streams of ideas.
There is no need to move an audience,
Affect their lives --
Fill their minds,
Or hearts,
With hope -- for tomorrow.

Tonight I crave only peace,
My children in my lap,
Ravel's Miroirs in my ears,
His sonic textures: sanity --
The only real sanity I know.

Forgive me for trading you --
Tonight --
For peace.
After a day of screams,
I need just to breathe and to hear my breath...

Monet: Sunset at the Cliff in Etretat

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Cultural Compliment Conundrum

I can't believe I have to suffer under the weight of "political correctness." I don't subscribe to the idea that there are "proper" ways to say things, in regard to race, culture, sex, etc. I do, however, believe, as I have said many times, in self-policing; in thoughtfulness and manners. And I try to do my best. I know, however, that things are going askew when I want to say something that I see as a compliment, and I feel self-conscious about how to say it -- fearing someone will not see it as "politically correct."

This happened today. I was driving home from food shopping and I drove past an old Indian man, in a neighborhood with a thriving immigrant Indian population, and he was walking a walk I had seen there many times: He was in traditional Indian dress, hands behind his back, steps measured and slow. I wanted to say something about this, so I posted this to Facebook:
Elderly Indian men seem to walk with such an easy, un-arrogant type of dignity.
"So what?" you say. "There is nothing offensive in that. What were you worried about, Chris?" Well, that was the third draft of my statement. It's not like the first or second draft called for ethnic cleansing, or's just that I feared it might sound too much like an over-generalization. I didn't want to sound like I was painting a caricature of an old Indian man. I wanted to draw a portrait of a certain kind of dignity that I feel is particular to older Indian men.

Am I paranoid? If so, it might be for good reason. I remember, once, at a the end of a Christmas party, we were talking about the old TV specials when we were kids, and a friend reminded us of one, in particular, in which all of the kids who went to Santa were dressed in the traditional costumes of their countries. "How politically incorrect that would be now," my friend concluded.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Ballad of the Eagerly Terrified Poets

I'm teaching a creative writing class this year for the first time in several years. I have a great bunch of kids -- nice, eager and engaged. Still, I've been reminded of several things about teenagers and creative writing, but in a more vivid way than before.

Little children create without hesitation, but once we hammer them with a heapin' helpin' of schoolin' -- into their teenaged years -- they become terrified of it. I'd even go so far as to say they are embarrassed by it. Most of them anyway.

This is what I meant awhile ago when I referenced an American over-emphasis on science and math. As I said before, these subjects are important, on many practical (and necessary) levels, but they tend to bully away the humanities; science and math tend to become the rock stars and the humanities and arts are just the road crew: the show couldn't go on without them, but they never get the groupies or the spotlight.

My teenaged students are terrified of "doing it wrong" when I ask them to write a poem, even when I let them do their own thing; maybe especially so. If I give them a free-verse poem with no constraints and guidelines, they will write one and ask if it is "okay." All I can do is to respond by saying, "Of course it's okay." I make it a point of saying that before I look at the poem.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Critique

We all know life is weird. We all tend to figure that out on our own, after a while. There are only so many weirdnesses that can occur before we realize that it's not just a random series of events, but an indication that  somewhere up in the offices of heaven, there must be an Administrator of Weirdness, who sits at a computer and checks to see if each of us has gotten his daily dose of weirdness. If not, maybe his hits us with a crazy dream at night, just to make up for it. But there will be weirdness -- make no mistake.

The other night, when my band had finished playing, I was in the process of breaking down my drum kit (a process that always makes me wonder why I didn't choose the piccolo) and I heard a conversation off to my right. Two youngish guys were sitting there, ignoring the bartender's yelps about it being time to leave, and one guy was saying, "... classic rock, some modern rock and dance stuff. Yeah, they were actually pretty good."

Buddy Rich, who grew up to
be more not-crap than just about
every drummer, ever. . 
He was obviously talking about our band. And it just made me laugh a little about the absurdity of human endeavor.

"They were actually pretty good."

So that's it. Some random guy in a bar has spoken his opinion: we were actually (this was a surprise, apparently -- maybe because when we took the stage we looked like we would be horrible) pretty good. Not great; not excellent; not really good -- just pretty good. One man's observation.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Gift of Observation

Sunday nights sometimes make for the most melancholy posts; or, maybe just the sappiest ones. But I was thinking, today, about how people over-complicate one aspect of the ridiculously complicated job of parenthood: what they want for their kids. Me, I just want my boys to be happy. That's a cool place to settle into.

I don't wish for riches or fame for them. I don't consider it my duty to raise kids who "make a difference" or who become models of charity and goodness. I hope they exemplify good things, but I rather they be happy, in, at least, a "do no harm" kind of way. They must eventually decide if they want to be world-changers; that's the only way it can be sincere.

If I start plugging things into their lives -- things that I think are elements of future happiness for them based on what makes me happy -- I can screw up terribly. If I am going to help guide them into happy lives, I need to watch them. The best I can do is to point out, to them, what seems to make them happy. Because, isn't part of so many people's problems the fact that they don't recognize what really makes them content? -- and then that they replace what would be the true elements of personal happiness with some pale substitute? Sometimes, an outside view can clear up the internal lenses.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Scattered Backward

The very lighthouse...
During a recent morning drive, I glanced over and caught just a quick glimpse of a set steps -- only two of them -- set into the edge of a green lawn, facing the road. They were concrete and they were older; deeply gray and weathered. There was a trace of a stone path leading up onto the lawn, but it was mostly covered over with grass. There had been a house there, once, long ago -- full of living people trying to make the best of their lives, but now it was just a well-kept lawn.

That kind of thing give me a physical feeling of loss, like a little hole in my chest.

Years ago, while in Dover, England, I remember placing my hand up against the outer wall of a Roman lighthouse, the Pharos. I imagined the hands of the builders and I saw images of legionnaires leaning again the outside, making crude jokes or dreaming of heading home over the channel's waters. 

That same feeling -- "loss" is the best I can do.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I'm Nice

That Biblical nice guy. 
Today, in my writing class, I asked the kids to write about the first memory they have of having felt proud. I asked  them to go as far back as they could -- to do a little personal archaeology -- and dig up a moment that still remains in their heads, no matter how trivial it might seem, and blow the dust off of it in order to figure out the nature of their own histories.

As usual, I wrote with the class, remembering a time in grade school -- a day on the playground. The children were being mean to a "new kid." He was a little chubby and he looked like he could have stood a bath, but I remember having felt sorry for him. I walked over, through his gathered tormentors, and said, in the wonderfully unpretentious style that only children can pull off, "Hi. I'm Chris. Do you want to be friends?"

He accepted my offer, and we were off to the monkey bars, walking through a crowd of kids whose chins were now resting on their sneaker laces.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Heart of Hope

Most people agree that it is always uplifting and jolly to have me as a Facebook friend. For instance, the other day, I posted this, in the wake of the recent American embassy attacks:

Let me get this straight: some ass in California releases an offensive video about Islam and those who are offended by it go on a killing spree against America. Explain to me, again, how it is that I'm not supposed to lose my faith in humanity?

My first friend to respond was Denise, who said, quite powerfully (and very sweetly): "Your children."

At first, this made me feel nice -- I got that warm belly feeling. I thought: Yeah. My kids are good people. They will do good things. Maybe there is hope. 

But then I thought about it more. They are good kids. But guess where their worst behavior happens? In groups.

They're not bullies. They're not evil. In fact, they are so exceptionally well-behaved, I often find myself wishing, just once, they would do something wrong in school -- just for the sake of establishing a little bit of a sense of power and a tiny pinch of healthy rebellion in their hearts.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Symbolic Stupidity

I’m an informal type of guy. Jeans and T-shirts are my favorite. I hate formal functions. Oddly, though, I find myself repeatedly arguing for formality in certain areas, especially manners. So here is the new one: education. We need more formality; more classicality; because, I will me honest with you, I can’t take any more ridiculous attempts at “statements” or “symbolism.”
A few years ago, I was watching a show on TV about a tattoo parlor. Tattoos are not my thing -- not unless they have real meaning. I respect the talent of good tattoo artists, but the only way I would permanently put a picture on my body is if it meant something big. Like, I understand getting a tattoo if all of the people you fought with in Afghanistan got the same one. I dig why people get portraits of departed loved ones. That works.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m also cool with someone getting a tattoo because they like the aesthetic -- no meaning; just making one’s self look the way one wants. That’s fine, too.
But, in this tattoo show, a bunch of people would come in and utter something like: “I want to get a tattoo of a tarantula, because I have been through a lot of change and the tarantula represents that.”

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Somber Decree

I write a column for When Falls the Coliseum every Tuesday -- the link is at the right. It is a satirical, often Dante-esque thing in which I utter "decrees" as self-proclaimed "Emperor of the World." Most of them are silly -- they start with a social problem that I decree against and then a punishment (the Dante-esque part) is given for violators of the decree. Yesterday, I spoke to 9/11 with an unusually solemn decree. I thought I would cross post it here for readers of H&R. -- Chris

I have been declared Emperor of the World. Let us not waste time explaining why or how; let’s all simply accept the fact that we are better off, as a result; hence, my next decree:

Monday, September 10, 2012

On Earning One's Eternal Rest

I've managed -- despite having read lots of books, and despite, in the course of my formal studies, having been submerged in a sea of sideways-smiling intellectuals who think me rather quaint -- to have held on to my faith in God.

That faith has evolved, for sure. My concept of God has become more and more complex as I have grown. I've long since left behind the simplistic perspective that many hold on to until their deaths. But, it is nice to go backward, if only for the sake of exploring an idea. So, let's look at it this way:

I hope, when I see God some day -- hopefully after a good many years (Father forgive me, because I do love this world) -- he will give me the thumbs-up, because I tend to wonder if I have made the right choices. 

I toss and turn about it. I really do. I live under a set of self-imposed standards that make things difficult as hell, at times.

Friday, September 7, 2012

So You Think You Can Be President

[This is an oldie, but I thought it was the appropriate time to bring it back. The more I think about it, the more it seems like a good idea -- Chris]

This is a proposal of the most grave and honest intent.

Here it is. We have two years to get ready for this. I propose that we replace our current system of electing the President of the United States. Instead of the campaign/election process, the President should be chosen based on the call-in votes of Americans during a reality competition television show called So You Think You Can Be President. I submit that we will get better, more reliable results than we get with the current system. Voters will know their candidates much more deeply and they will be more confident and informed in their ultimate voting decisions. But the show must be carefully planned to yield the most reliable results.

First, there will be no party affiliations. Let's get that done from the start, because that is an archaic idea and parties cause more troubles than they abate. Parties are a smokescreen for cowardice and laziness of thought.

Second, all candidates must be over the age of forty and they must carry a master's degree in an academic discipline. (This helps to insure their potential as learners and thinkers.) Career politicians are welcomed to apply, but so are, say, English teachers, laywers, doctors, business people and librarians, etc.

Stage one of the competition:

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Master Thespian (A Parable)

He'd prepared for this all of his life. He'd studied The Method. He'd read The Bard at bed time each night since the age of nine. He'd glowed in front of the footlights while still in diapers. He'd become a master of his craft.

Then, it happened...

He was given his dream role in the greatest play in the history of the world. It was to run for six months on Broadway -- longer, perhaps. The show was guided by the most successful director of all time. He would live his dream; there would be a movie offer; he would make a fortune.

But, after the first rehearsal, he realized this all meant nothing. His love interest -- the other lead -- was the worst actress he had ever met. Their kisses were like organizing the silverware. Their scenes of jealous passion were exciting as oatmeal.

She was the worst actress ever born. She was also the producer's daughter.

Performance after performance was like playing a one-man tennis match. Still, he served and served again, only to watch the ball hit the back wall and die after a few bounces, fuzzy and nauseous green in the shadows.

This would be hilarious if it were not a terrifying truth of so many lives.

Monday, September 3, 2012

College Kids Today!

Kids today. When I went to college, we were forced to spend 23 hours per day in a dirty cell
(they called it a "dorm room"), surrounded by the corpses of previous students who couldn't survive their freshman year. If we got anything below a ninety-percent on a test, we were made to lick the bottom of the professor's shoes clean. If we were lucky, he'd forget to step into his personal kitty litter pan full of poisonous dust, before-hand. We used to study twenty eight hours a day, standing up, with a seventy-five pound backpack full of every volume of the Oxford English Dictionary on our shoulders -- barefoot, and on broken glass (dipped in mercury).

If we ever tried to call our parents, the dorm room phones would shoot steel spikes into our ears. If we went to the campus doctor about it, he'd say, "Serves you right for being weak, cretin," and he would make us wash his car and then drive his son to soccer practice. On Mars.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Gareth the Builder (A Parable)

A young man with wide and deep eyes came out of the forest with only a pack on his back and a long stick as a walking staff. He looked with his wide, deep eyes, upon an expansive plain of grass that moved like green ocean waves. His name was Gareth.

Gareth dropped his pack and sat, looking at the open plain. He made a square with his fingers and looked through it at the plain. Whispering to himself, he took out a small book and began to write things in it. He drew furious pictures of towers and walls rising to the sky where they would, someday, scratch the bellies of the clouds.

For weeks, he thought and wrote and walked around the open plain, imagining and planning. Sometimes, he would lie for hours in the grass, watching the clouds that he dreamed one day to touch with his fingers, standing atop a great tower that he built.

Years passed. Gareth would leave for months and then return with many workers and with great machines criss-crossed by ropes and pulleys and levers. Great wagons pulled by teams of sweaty war horses would bring supplies.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Forever Pill

You know the old cliche -- the young person asks the old person how he has stayed so strong and vibrant and the old fossil says something like, "Clean  living!" or "I ate oatmeal with cinnamon and a splash of whisky, every morning, for ninety years..."?  It occurred to me, last night, that this is a very desirable fantasy: the notion that we might, possibly, be able to pin health success on one clear-cut thing. In reality, the fact that this is impossible is sometimes the reason why we give up on the things that we know are good for us. I know it's the reason I do.

You know? Like, if I exercise every day, science says it will make me stronger and it will even extend my life. If I exercise every day, I will feel better -- that is for sure. But, before long, I will forget how bad I felt before I started to feel better and the impact of the exercise will now begin to be lost on me. I feel the way I feel; exercise is part of my life. Why not skip a day here or there? Thus begins the downward spiral.

There's no certainty to it, even if this doesn't mean (and it doesn't) that we should ignore the findings of science. Marathon runners drop dead in the middle of races, once in awhile. Sedentary fat people sometimes live to a ripe old age.

One of my relatives once had a heart attack in his fifties. The doctors told him he was lucky he worked-out on a regular basis, or it could have been worse. Do they know this for sure?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Dinner with an Alien

I try to transcend when I exercise. I transcend with television shows. (I hate to exercise.) While I walk on the treadmill, I tap into Netflix and watch episodes of TV shows -- mostly ones that are not on anymore. Lately, it has been Star Trek: Enterprise. 

It's not a bad show, at all. So far, about eleven episodes into season one, it hasn't delivered any of those mind-blowing sci-fi moments that the original series or Star Trek: The Next Generation are famous for. Still, it is not the worthless drek that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was. (I saw a few episodes of that series. They should have called it "Politics in Space." Or "Poop in Space." Or "Deep Poop Nine." -- Do you realize you are reading the blog of a guy who still thinks "poop" is a hilarious word? I'm actually laughing out loud right now.) 

"Deep Poop Nine." That's funny.

She's even bad in the picture.
Anyway, Enterprise is a well-written show, all-in-all. Its only drawback, on a consistent basis, is the awful actress who plays T'Pol, the Vulcan science officer. Most high school actors could do a better job pulling off a Leonard Nimoy impersonation -- which is all she really does. It's pretty clear she got the gig because the producers were happy with the way she looks in a very (very) tight (and decidedly un-Vulcanish) uniform. (They should have called her T-Poop. SORRY. Sorry. I'll stop.)

The strongest part of the show is the portrayal of wonder in the crew of the Enterprise. Chronologically, this series is set before the original series -- this is the story of the first starship Enterprise -- before Kirk, Spock and the gang.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Good Guys and Evil Deeds

I was listening to a radio interview earlier today and the guy being interviewed had travelled with former President Bill Clinton. He said, just in the course of conversation, "Yeah -- Clinton is a good guy."

This got my gears turning with thoughts about human nature versus human behavior. After a few miles of contemplative driving (and then getting snapped out of it by a panicked thought that I was extremely low on gas and had forgotten to stop with no more stations for miles, even though I actually had stopped and filled-up somewhere in the midst [and in the mist] of my little conceptual journey) the question formed itself: Can a guy who does heinous things be a "good guy."

This is one of those occasions on which I am sure someone will swoop in and explain to me that Cerebellus Maximus, in the third century, asked this very question -- but, so it goes. I guy can't have read everything, you know. (Someone once mentioned a book that I hadn't read and I told her I hadn't read it. "Aren't you, like, a literature guy?" she responded, aghast. Apparently, we "literary guys" are supposed to have read everything ever written.)

Anyway, old Bill is famous for lots of things -- like having been a not-so-bad-at-all President. He blew a mean sax, too. Unfortunately, he was also in the habit of keeping company with a certain infamous White House intern who had a similar talent, if you take my meaning. In short, the guy cheated on his wife. Or, more accurately, I think: he cheated on his family. That's the way I see it, anyway.