Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Fat Man on a Ladder

If I weighed five-hundred pounds, that wouldn’t preclude me from giving decent weight-loss advice. If I knew everything about balancing intakes of good foods; if I knew the ideal caloric intake per day; if I recognized the need for exercise, I would still be the giver of good advice for passing this stuff along. My fatness would not affect the actual quality of my advice in the least.
Alas, knowing and doing are distinctly different things; yet, how many people have said that they have a hard time taking the advice of their overweight doctor who smokes Camels? Illogical, but understandable.
Yes, knowing and doing are two different things.
So what if there were a guy who faithfully writes a blog that posits fairly consistent ideas -- things like independence of thought; things like realizing the need to separate the self from community; things like simplifying a life full of extraneous things and appreciating the truly meaningful moments around us -- and what if that guy were to suddenly find himself in a position to have a good grab at the things he always writes about…but he doesn’t do it.
Why doesn't he do it? Perhaps the reasons look like pride and fear; like choosing comfort over opportunity. Maybe it’s a sense of fatherly responsibility -- maybe obligation to someone he loves more than the things he loves.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Great Competitor: A Parable

The Great Competitor is born. He's a dim-eyed baby with a lackluster cry and no taste for the breast.

He becomes a boy, a little weakened by store-bought formula. Because he feels weak, he fights hard to look strong. He tells other boys how strong he is. He pushes better boys in hallways and he plays playground kickball as if his life is threatened by second place. (Because it is.)

He becomes a teen, which is when he wraps his weaknesses around him like a protective coat. He tortures his teachers, who are in it only for him. (He will brag about this into adulthood, because he won't have come far enough to be ashamed.) He goes on weekend quests for disorientation and disoriented sex -- girls he can use to add sex muscles to his beer muscles; to his soul's muscles. He fights, too. He hurts to feel better; he forces himself into others with his body, because he can't get into their hearts. He wins. He always wins.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Sherlock: How Did I Miss This?

Disney's Basil of Baker Street
First: yes, I know -- I am really late on this; two seasons behind, in fact. Anyway, I heard about this BBC series a few weeks ago and then I found out it was available on Netflix. I finally watched it last night.

To say I was excited is an understatement. I was giddy. I was silly with joy. (I think I told my wife that my happiness compared to that of our wedding day. I certainly would never have said it surpassed it.) I'm a huge fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. In my not-so-humble opinion, the series, Sherlock, is wonderful.

The dynamic, as I have always seen it between Holmes and Watson in the original stories, is perfectly captured by both Martin Freeman (Watson) and Benedict Cumberbatch (Holmes). And Holmes doesn't have that off-putting, unwholesome weirdness that Jeremy Brett gave him. (I know -- people loved him, but all I could think was that I would definitely keep the Baker Street Irregulars from spending time alone in 221B with Brett's Holmes.) I always thought that if one crossed Basil Rathbone with Disney's Basil of Baker Street, one would have the perfect Holmes. That's Cumberbatch.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Questions for a Drugged Society

What happens when what is right can no longer be done because it has been rendered impractical?

What if, for instance, it were wrong to think that a government should be the source for the validation of the love and commitment between any two people? (It is wrong to think that, isn't it?) But what if that validation were the only way to assure certain benefits and rights?

That's what I would call being trapped by an overcomplicated machine; that's what I would call being smashed between the wheels of bureaucracy.

And what do we do when we are unjustly trapped? What have humans always done in these circumstances? The answer is bloody and profound.

The real question is: When will it happen? (Or, are we too drugged with the opiate of "the way it is" to ever see it happen?)

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Moments After Motion: Rabbit on a Leash

The other day, I got off of the treadmill and it felt like the floor under my feet was moving. You know the feeling? Or, did you ever sit at the back of a train and watch the track moving away from you toward the vanishing point? When the train stops, it appears that the track is still  moving slowly into the distance.

In both of these cases, the temporary state of being (in this case, motion) becomes sort of absorbed by our minds and bodies. Somewhere inside, the little dudes who run the machine in our brains say, "Okay -- we're moving. This is the way it is going to be. Time to internalize and react the current situation. Flip all necessary switches." Then, when it changes (the train stops, for instance) the little guys who just sat down to rest sigh and get back up again, "Reset switches, fellows!" But it takes a little time, so, the ground feels like its moving or the tracks look like they are moving away. Just until the switches get flipped again.

Lao Tzu
Lately, I have been on the literal treadmill, as mentioned above. I have also been on the figurative treadmill: busy at work; busy at home (both sons in the thick of activities with karate and baseball); busy with music (the band had been playing a lot); busy with a million other responsibilities... But the big thing has been that I found myself putting in days that ran from 6 AM to 8:30 PM, or beyond, before I could sit and breathe.

Then, one night, baseball practice was canceled. There was no karate. Band rehearsal was called off. I came home from school at around four o'clock and had nowhere to go and nothing pressing to do.

And what happened? Mr. Solitude; Mr. Self-reflection; Mr. Creative (who never has enough time for his arts) found himself pacing around the house for a few minutes, feeling stir-crazy. Me. After all my yapping about the joys of solitude and the quest for the time enough to enjoy it, I found myself feeling like a rabbit on a leash.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Holding the Melon Together

Days off from work are good for reflection and reflection is good for putting scares into you.

I took the kids to school and then went to a lab so a relentless, sadomasochistic harpy with needles and tubes could suction half the blood out of my body. Got that done and went over to take care of my sister's cats, one of whom thinks I am Satan incarnate (the first animal I have ever known that didn't like me) and the other of whom, whom thinks (hehe) nothing of me.  In short, if the second cat is Wolfgang Puck, I am a microwaved hot dog (without mustard) in a grade school cafeteria.

In the waiting room at "The Lab of Horrors," I listened (had no choice) to the mediocre philosophizing of The Today Show hosts. (There is nothing worse than a gaggle of mediocre thinkers who think they are making illuminating points. Total idiots are, at least, entertaining. Mediocre thinkers with jobs on TV are dangerous, because they lead the other mediocre zombies in brain-seeking lines of cultural destruction.) "Host one" made a statement about Mark Zuckerberg and his tendency to wear hoodies. "Host two" was "offended" by that statement and tried to make it a "white/black" thing by connecting host one's tangential statement to the death of Trayvon Martin. "Why is it that when a black kid wears a hoodie....but when Mark Zuckerberg wears a hoodie..."

Holy crap. Sometimes my head feels like a sliced melon and I have to hold the two halves from slipping apart. Just: holy crap. I've little doubt the kid's death was racially motivated, but doesn't anyone know the definition of non-sequiter anymore? There's a fine line between uncovering a hidden connection and stuffing a humpback whale into sandwich bag. JEEEEZOOO!!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

My Son, the Drunken Cowboy Bandit

We walked into a darkish gymnasium last night to see the displays created by my fourth-grade son's "Lego Club." Small groups had created really cute images from various countries, out of Legos. The displays were surrounded by foods that reflected each culture. (Though, I'm not sure why chicken nuggets were chosen to represent Egypt. Still, they were tasty.)

I'm also not sure why there was a DJ playing tunes. But, okay...

We did our rounds and saw some really cute creations. My son's group made an Irish castle, complete with a little Lego couple smooching in the back. (Don't they call it "snogging" in Ireland...or is that worse than smooching? I seem to remember Joyce referring to "snogging" in Portrait...)

Anyhoo, my little guys thought it was pretty cool: free treats; lots of kids running around; music playing. My younger son (second grade) started, at one point, to "dance." It was more of a jolly spasm: his arms would start to flop and then he would bounce. Once he really got into it, he started pointing his fingers at the ceiling like a cowboy bandit alternately shooting six guns at the moon during a campfire drunk.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Thinking of Trees

Neil Peart
I've already admitted I come from "that Rush/Genesis place." As a young literary and musical fellow who was learning to play drums, I worshiped both the playing and the lyrical creations of the great Neil Peart.
This morning I was enjoying the soft springtime quiet of my backyard. As I reclined, I looked up at the trees overhead out into the woods behind my house. This song lyric came back into my mind. The reason is obvious. There were...lots know...trees. But I guess my mind has been chewing on the idea of a mediocrity borne of good intentions, especially in both education and in modern parenthood. I even spoofed the idea here, in my new column for When Falls the Coliseum, last week.
Whatever the reason, I always loved this lyric by Peart -- so succinct; so objectively-toned, despite its incisive point. The political point may be debatable, but the outcome of the quest to make everyone equal is all too familiar, especially these days. It's just such a great little fable...

Friday, May 11, 2012

Wondering How I'll Die

Well, I suppose it's time to think about what kind of an old man I want to be. I'm forty-four. I'm not an old man, by any stretch, but, I'm sort of closer to old than young, when you think about it.

Nothing about that freaks me out, by the way. When I was a teenager, I used to think about being a dad some day. I used to think about what I was going to be when I grew up, like every other kid does. There was nothing weird about that -- so why would it be weird to think about being old -- or about dying, for that matter?

I'll die. I have no doubt. But I have come to two conclusions: 1) If I die, I don't want it to be my fault and (2), up to that great gettin' up day, I plan to remain a man.

Not-so-old Rocky.
There's nothing two-dimensional about my last statement. I don't mean I want to be able to beat up everyone in my class. What I mean is, I want to age with courage and grace. I want to maintain my dignity. To do this, I might well have to learn to keep my head up while people help me with things I can no longer do for myself. That will be hard, but I plan to do it if necessary. (I'd love to die of a heart attack while wrestling a grizzly bear at ninety, but the odds are against it.)

But the idea is to limit things that I will no longer be able to do. I don't plan to "go gentle into that good night."

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I Couldn' t Have Said It Better

Every once in awhile, I do this: Someone has said something perfectly and I think you should read it instead of what I planned to say today.

Stephen Pentz keeps a wonderful blog called "First Known When Lost." He is dedicated to starting discussions about great (and often lesser-known) poems. Mr. Pentz always includes his own comments on the poems and those comments are always insightful. On many occasions, they are nothing short of profound.

Certainly, pay close attention to the poem he has selected, but I was most taken with Stephen's succinct and powerful statement about the trends of social analysis for the sake of social change  -- what he calls "that social engineering busybodyness...that seems dismissive of both Nature and Human Nature." Poets, lovers of poetry (and annoying types like yours truly) intrinsically know that any social change has to happen within the individual human heart, not as a result of lab coat studies or of eggheaded "think tanks."

Give me one poet for a thousand sociologists; one graduate school poetry discussion for a million social "task forces;" one earnest young person with hands clasped tightly in prayer, in a midnight bedroom, for a billion droning congregations...

Here 's Stephen Pentz's post: How To Live, Part Seventeen: "Balances"

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Faith of Our Children

As we get older, we get more sophisticated. We learn things and we unlearn things. We become disenchanted with certain other things. We lay down beliefs of certain kinds and leave them behind, especially the ones we had as children. But I wonder if that means we should take those beliefs away from our kids simply because we have outgrown them.
Clear, unambiguous and un-sarcastic statement: I believe in God.  I’ve said it before. In that respect, I have not changed since childhood. My concept of who God might be has evolved, certainly, into something much more complex than it was for me as a kid, but this is not a theological blog, so I won’t get into it. Let it suffice to say that my views have evolved into something much more logical than they once were.
There are many people, however, who lose their belief in God, even if they are people who once did believe, without questioning. For them, it would be hypocritical – perhaps even disturbing – to teach their children to believe. I get that.
But what about those who were brought up to believe who still kind of believe but…not for sure – the ones who have evolved into questioning things on a deep level – the ones who have come to question the things they were told as kids? What should they do with their kids?

Friday, May 4, 2012

"That's, Like, Almost Not Cool..."

I think the troubled trajectory of the future of humankind can be summed up by this video (Hat tip: Scott Stein) Sorry about the ad -- also part of that troubled trajectory:

(Here's the link to it -- doesn't look like CNN wants this to work on mobile devices.)

Behold, the mighty jungle beast.

Behold, the little, vulnerable zebra baby, blissfully ignorant to its endangerment.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Lingering, Languid Lick

It had been a long day for my eight-year-old son and for me, as well. School all day, then a hard forty-five minutes at the karate dojo for him. We came home to a quiet house -- my wife and other son were off at baseball practice -- and we had a nice, quiet dinner. The boy had one of his faves: cold pasta and meatballs. (I know, I know....) I had that classic combination of a phony vegetable chicken patty on wheat bread and a bowl of reheated pork-fried rice. Nothing but the finest, when daddy provides dinner...

After dinner we partook of a square of leftover birthday cake each. I made my self a nice cup of Earl Grey.

We cuddled up together on the couch for a little TV and, the gods smiling upon us, we found that Raiders of the Lost Ark was being shown on the SciFi Channel. Ahhh! We high-fived and pulled up the blanket.

The upside of Raiders being shown on SciFi: HD quality (I still have the original three dilapidated video tapes I bought years ago). The downside: commercials.

Yvonne DeCarlo; from the
good ol' days when vampiresses
left a little to the imagination.
Yes, commercials. That's when it happened.

You think, as a dad: Commercials. So what? Product ads. Ads for new shows on the channel. Maybe a public service message of some kind with some lame celebrity telling us that we need to save music in schools because music helps kids to be good at math. (Its only really useful purpose, you know.)

But what you don't expect is that, eager to market their shows to a particular (and particularly libido-driven) demographic, the station execs would completely ignore the fact that children might -- through some weird alignment of the cosmic energy channels; some fluke of fate -- be watching Indiana Jones at five o'clock on a Monday night. What you don't expect is to see a horrifying ad for a new vampire series.

But, you figure, "Meh...he didn't react to it, so I guess he wasn't scared. No harm done." Then, the rapid-fire, attention-span corroding edits slow down so that the viewer can focus on a shot -- a slow, languid shot (in glorious HD) of a young, lovely vampire vixen lovingly running her tongue up the cheek of another lovely vampire vixen.