Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Speak for Yourself

Has anyone else noticed an escalation in the use of "the second person" in common speech? It's starting to get ridiculous.

Usually, I hear it in interviews and I find it really annoying when people tell me what I would do in a given situation. For example, imagine an interview with a person who has escaped the attack of a mad gunman. Instead of :
"When it happened, I couldn't fight back. I was way too scared -- I hid."
...we often get:
"When the time comes, you just react by hiding. You don't think to fight back. All you can think about is getting away."
I don't? How the hell do you know? What a pathetic attempt head-off accusations this is. It's not that the speaker was too frightened to fight back; it is just he experienced what every human would under the same circumstances.

I understand "fight or flight" and the workings of the reptilian brain, but people do sometimes act heroically in these situations. And, by the way, it is perfectly okay if you were too scared to face down an armed maniac. Admit it, without shame, but do not insinuate what I would have done in your place. Neither one of us knows until the situation occurs.

Monday, February 27, 2012

I'll Just Read the List, Thanks

The Oscars are on tonight, you know. I love movies, but I can't watch the ego brigade. I'll just check the interweb tomorrow and see who won what. But I do have a few random movie thoughts for the occasion:

Thank God John Williams is up for two films for "best score," because he is the only real score writer left, since Jerry Goldsmith (god of all film composers) died, may he rest in peace. Howard Shore is okay. Michael Giacchino is the only score-writer who gives me any glimmer of hope for movie music's future. But the days of Goldsmith, Steiner, Hermann and their ilk are over. If I have to hear one more tom-tom-heavy, three-chord, French horn melodied film score, I might gnash my own teeth to dust. I have spoken.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Terry Pratchett's Cohen the Barbarian and You

Every day of my life is kind of a pursuit of a wish: the wish that my students will grab some of the wisdom that the great minds of literature have set down for them. The juicy apples just dangle there above them, but I can't do the picking and hand them out. It only works if the kids climb the ladder themselves. I can hold the ladder so it doesn't fall, but ... well, you get the tired metaphor.

In high school, I saw myself in Hamlet. I looked at him and I saw a guy who thinks too much,  but, more importantly, I saw that the definition of thinking too much includes thinking one's way straight through the time when one should have acted. That revelation made a big difference in my life. Many have survived various act fives as a result.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Moon Stone Philosophy

I have two "moon stones" on my desk. We got them in Disneyworld this summer -- they were for sale in "Future World" -- or whatever they call it. For a few dollars, you could stuff a bag with as many of them as you were able. My son got about twenty of them.

They are smooth, ebony-black and flat and they're surprisingly powerful magnets. (They are just magnets, by the way, not objects from the moon, in case you are having "one of those days" and you believed that Disney is selling lunar chunks, now. [Though, I suppose in light of Disney's -- as Gulliver often said -- bigness, it is not beyond the realm of possibility].)

That night, in our hotel room, I was watching my son play with them and I grabbed a few. I found myself instantly comforted by them. First, because they had that smooth rock effect. Did you ever carry a smooth river rock when you were kid? -- to rub with a thumb as you walked? That sort of thing.

But the real comfort is the feeling of a very real and invisible force in the palm of my hand.

In what other realm than magnetics can we, the earthbound, feel an invisible force that is undeniable?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Forgetting to Breathe

Yesterday night, around seven o'clock, I stopped breathing.

Don't worry -- it happens to me quite a bit. It's not a "condition" of any kind and my life is never in danger -- I just stop breathing once in awhile. It only takes a handful of seconds before my reptilian brain kicks in to interrupt the other brain departments and inform them that there is an issue that needs to be addressed. It's at that point that I take a deep breath, like a man emerging from a spear-fishing attempt. Once I'm properly oxygenated, I stop for a second to laugh at my silly self.

As I said, this happened last night. It always has to do with music.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Less Than No Prejudice

“I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.”
― Martin Luther King Jr., "I Have A Dream"

This quotation from Dr. King's famous speech popped into my head the other day as I was watching my younger son in Karate class. He was doing a partner exercise -- a little white boy was holding hands with a little black girl. They were both smiling and laughing as they tried to meet the challenge their instructor had set for them; something about a "crescent kick."

But there they were: Dr. King's dream in motion. It occurred to me as I watched them that my son actually has less than no prejudice in his head.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Being a Real Man

I need to figure out what it means to be a man so I can teach my boys. I'm neither stupid nor conceited enough to think that their success as men will exclusively be a result of what I teach them; each of my sons is his own individual. But, if I don't have the definition straight in my own head, how can I teach them anything?

I know it isn't fashionable these days, but I respect toughness. I also respect courage, intelligence and honesty. (I know -- these things are corny, too. Alas, in some ways, I have just been scraped off of the cob.)

There are a lot of guys out there with forceful attitudes and loud voices who couldn't stand up for their families if a fight became necessary. There are a lot of thugs out there who pick fights to compensate for their own little-bitty...hearts. There are a lot of guys out there who think making money makes them men and there are plenty of others who make very little and act as if those who make a lot of coin are categorically "soft." I'm reminded of an exchange in Spielberg's Jaws:
Quint:You got city hands, Mr. Hooper. You've been countin' money all your life.

Hooper: Hey, I don't need this. I don't need this working-class-hero crap.
And under no circumstances does being a man depend on the volume of one's sexual conquests. (You'd think this era was as passe' as butterfly collars and velour, but over my years as a musician, I have seen it is not so for some of my fellow males.)

Kwai Chang Caine, from the 70s show, Kung Fu:
The best example
of a man ever on presented on television.
He's the one TV character
I would gladly see my sons imitate.
And "gay" or "straight" does not enter into it, in terms of conduct in the world, by the way. (It may seem strange to some blockheads out there that I think gay men are neither excluded from the responsibilities of toughness, courage, intelligence and honesty nor precluded from being considered men simply because of their sexual orientation. No one gets a break from my exceedingly arrogant evaluations. Everyone has an equal chance to be a spineless loser, in my eyes...)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Where the Maps End

When the wind blows and when the raindrops turn into icy bullets, I need something to convince me that walking through it all is worth the effort. Sure -- it would be easy to shelter under shingled roofs or to disappear into a cave and to wait out the squalls. But there has to be something to keep me walking, out in the rains, shoulders rounded, collar up, glancing from under a wind-bent hat brim, and tromping toward the bravely flickering light.

Do you now what that light is, for me? Reality. Not everyone else's reality, though. I'm talking about actual reality, not the sedative constructs that are poured into our throats from the moment of our first newborn cry.

I rest well and deeply at night, after the wet and windy trek back to my door, because I know these things:

Friday, February 10, 2012

Child Wisdom from To Kill a Mockingbird

Jem and Scout, from the film starring
Gregory Peck
Somehow, I never read To Kill a Mockingbird until now. Go ahead. I'll wait until everyone is done lambasting me. [Looks at sky. Whistles. Bounces up and down on toes. Listens. Waits for a guy in Gdansk to get in his last barbed verbal missile.] But I'm glad.

Experiencing the book, now, as an adult, might be better than having read it, as many of our kids do in the U.S., in the eighth grade. I might have just chalked it up as a good read that I remembered fondly, had I read it then. Now, I am nothing short of in love with the book. As far as I'm concerned, it is just about a perfect novel.

That said, the book is sad, in lots of ways. But, most powerfully, it explores, through the eyes of children (eyes which, sadly, must be opened to such things), the general awfulness and superficiality of people. Of late, and as a consistent theme on Hats and Rabbits, the idea that society and groupthink are bad things has weighed heavily upon my disposition. I feel much as Jem must in this excerpt from the novel, after he and his little sister, Scout, witnessed the unfair trial of Tom Robinson, a black man in the white-dominated Southern town of Maycomb, in 1935. Scout starts:

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

You Must Comply: On Mandatory Birth-Control Funding for Religious Institutions

I'm not a political writer. But, today, I'm going to pretend I am, because I think it is the only way to get my jaw off of the ground.

In case you haven't heard -- and you may not have, because coverage for this seems to be quite limited (I mostly found reference to it on Catholic-associated websites), the United States Department of Health has made a new rule, which did appear in the Courier Post, a New Southern New Jersey paper:

At issue is the Jan. 20 announcement of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that the nation’s new health care law requires nearly all employers to provide insurance plans that offer free birth control to women. While the Obama administration had already stated that churches and houses of worship would be exempt from that provision, Sebelius said religious-affiliated institutions like hospitals, colleges and charities must comply.
Are they serious? -- "religious-affiliated institutions like hospitals, colleges and charities must comply"?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Fearing the Way

These things seem true to me, regarding sexuality:
1) It is one of the most profound things in human existence.

2) It is so profound that it frightens many of us.

3) That fear causes some of us to hide from sexuality's profundity.

4) That drive to hide from sexuality often makes us behave illogically.
These things seem true to me about traditional wisdom:
1) Self-control is held in high esteem. 
2) Self-control is often regarded by students and teachers alike as a constant need, rather than a thing that may be let-go, under the proper circumstances (which, in itself, is a kind of modified control).

3) Therefore, any abandonment of control is regarded as failure and, sometimes, immorality.
Because of the truths above, many a bride -- and perhaps many a groom -- over the course of time, have fellt guilt over their pleasures with their spouses, even if they followed the rules of her religion and "waited." Why? Because the act in which they engaged felt like a loss of self-control; like an abandonment of everything they were taught. They stood too close to the doorway to Tao -- that place where all of our morals, all of our logic, and all of our social graces evaporate into the vapours of all creation . . .

Friday, February 3, 2012

Blame Yourself: The Egyptian Soccer Riot

You might have heard that seventy-four people died in a brawl between rival soccer fans in Egypt.

People are sickening, sometimes, maybe not so much for their tendency to do violence for just about any conceivable reason, but for their immediate reactions of external blame. A man who was at the game says, in a Yahoo interview:
“Those in charge are responsible for this... And the military hasn’t provided a safe and secure environment. This is a national tragedy and those in charge bear the blame.”
Astounding. So it is not the fault of the losers who have so little control over their emotions that a mere sporting event can turn them into a mindless, homicidal mob. It is the government's fault. (The guy does accuse police of not having acted to stop the riot. That complaint, I get: they should have helped stop things before -- and even after -- got out of control. That's what police are for.)

Yeah, yeah. I know. Mubarak is gone after thirty years and everything is in a tizzy. But I'm talking about individual human responsibility. To me, that doesn't change. We each have a responsibility to be better than that. In fact, if one can't be better than these animals, one has serious problems.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Chain

Yesterday I was off, so I had the chance to drive my boys to school. On the way in, my ten year old mentioned a problem he was having. I won't plaster it on the Internet, because I respect the little guy's privacy as much as anyone else's, but we talked a little and he seemed okay -- he even changed the subject on his own.

When I got home, my wife informed me he had been talking about it to her, earlier. She told me he had been visibly upset. It was a bigger problem than I had thought. Had I blown the chance to help him on his way in?

I was on familiar ground -- in that place of knowing my boy has to fight some of his own battles, but wanting to save him from pain.

To use an American football metaphor, I don't feel the urge to carry the ball for him, like a lot of parents do; I just  want to be his blocker -- to knock away opponents so he can score touchdowns. But sometimes, even that is too much. He needs to build his own character. He needs to take some hits.

That's easy to say.