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.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

One Ring, One of a Kind

I started reading The Lord of the Rings to my eight-year-old son last night. We finished the Narnia books a few weeks ago, so, I figured it was time to introduce my boy to the book that changed me forever -- the book that made me want to live among words for the rest of my life.

I've said this before, I think: at some point as a scholar of English literature, I figured out what makes a great novelist great; I figured out why Tolkien is no Steinbeck and why C. S. Lewis is no Thomas Pynchon. But, fortunately, I have never completely snobbed over.

"The Horn of Boromir," Matt Stewart
I still love Tolkien, for all his "weaknesses" as a novelist. In my opinion, he can string together as many adjectives as he wants; he can use "perilous" a dozen times per page. There is something in his work that is just right, as far as I'm concerned. His imagination is the unashamed creative abandon of a child who is living the fantasy every step of the way. His world existed, as he wrote, every bit as much as the pile of papers waiting to be graded at his elbow.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Zen and Front Lawn Catches

My son loves to have catches. I love of have catches. Still, I find myself not wanting to have catches with him a lot of the time, even though I usually do acquiesce when he asks. The reason is as simple as the difference between two minds in two different stages of development.

If you wanted to, I would stand in my front yard or in my back yard and toss a baseball back and forth for hours on end. Nothing beats an orange evening sky, a cool/hot summer breeze, the sound of lawnmowers in the neighborhood distances and the warm crack of a baseball metronomically hitting glove leather. Nothing is more zen-like than the casual rhythm and the automatic reaction of catching the ball -- in front of the body; down at the side; scooped with a staccato da-blap from one hop on the ground.

Throwing and catching a baseball is one of my favorite meditations. But not with my son.

See, he is still gearing up to slay the dragons of the world. I'd rather sit on their backs and fly above the landscape.

He still wants to be the star on the stage. I'd rather watch, smiling, as someone else takes the accolades I helped him to achieve.

He still wants to land crippled airplanes; wander mysterious lands through forests lit up with the glowing eyes of night-creatures, and win the love of a beautiful princess. I'm comfortable in my little castle, with my queen and my two little knights-at-arms, sitting and soaking up the sweet sounds of laughter and the soft blips of a video game in the next room as I read.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Olympus or Mars?

This deserves a little more than the Facebook post I gave it a few days ago. I have heard so many people complaining (not just now, but over the years) about the expense of space programs -- about how we should use that money for problems on Earth. Recently, lots of people were bent out of shape about the landing on Mars -- of the new rover, Curiosity.

What cracks me up is that I never heard one complaint about the expense of the Olympics: 14 Billion dollars; as compared to the 2.5 billion it cost to build an exploration vehicle to send to Mars.

In lots of places on the web, you can find lists of things, from kitchenware to aviation safety, that have benefited from the technology that NASA has developed for space travel -- I won't spend time looking stuff up. But there is a lot, believe me. (I'm sure the computer I'm working on wouldn't be quite what it is if scientists hadn't had to develop computer technology for space...)

Apollo 11 crew at work.
As you might expect, it's the human nature piece here that interests me. It made an impression that the Olympics were going on when Curiosity landed and the complaints started flowing, but none of them about the exorbitant amount spent on the Olympics. We tend to miss the obvious stuff, don't we?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Burning Fuel (for Dreamers in a Dreamless World)

Ever spend a long, tossing-and-turning night before the morning that would determine the direction of your immediate future? -- after having thought for hours, alone, in the dark, through what decision you should make? -- after having spent the day looking at your children and your wife and at yourself in the mirror and wondering how much your personal dreams really mean in comparison to their simplest needs? -- after having awakened that morning, sure that it was time to make the change that would allow you to pursue the things you desire with more energy? -- after having gone to sleep the previous night with a churning heart full of undying teenaged longings?

Did you ever come to the conclusion that the huge change you felt you needed to make in order to remain happy was just a red herring being used to cover up for the fact that you are not enough of a man to gain ground on your dreams, in spite of it?

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Root of Civilization (A Parable)

Kwai Chang Caine ("Grasshopper") and
Master Po, from Kung Fu
Two boys, ten years old, clad in crisp white and bound about the waist with red belts, bowed and stepped on to the floor of their karate school's floor.

They joined their fellow students to stretch muscles and warm up with kicks and punches at the air.

When their instructor arrived, he lead them in calisthenics, then settled them down into kneeling position -- backs straight, eyes closed (most of them), and the boys meditated to the music of orient that gently wafted into the room from hidden speakers.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Fat Man and Little Boy

On August 6 and August 9, 1945, at Truman's order, the United States dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively.

As many as two-hundred and forty-six thousand people died as a result: soldiers, civilians, men, women, children and little babies.

It's one thing to grow up knowing this happened -- that it effectively ended the World War II; to bubble in the right answers about it on the history tests...but to really think about it...

How can I offer any comment?

During the Korean War (in which our soldiers were equipped with battered and rusty rifles from the previous war), General MacArthur proposed dropping nuclear bombs on North Korea in order to end the spread of Communism and to achieve the objective of the campaign. He was removed from command by Truman.


I never have trouble sleeping, but when naked, bone-melting horror presents itself, the nights are very long.

"The world is beautiful, but has a disease called man." ~ Nietzche

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

No Job Too Small

While I am on record (in pieces I could link to but am too lazy) as someone who believes that the individual human heart changes from day-to-day and from decade-to-decade and that one of the biggest mistakes made by your average human is to think that there is a permanent state -- that one thing -- which will bring about constant happiness, I must say that I have narrowed down my own contentment to the necessity for one surprising ingredient: the accomplishment of a mundane task per day.

We arteests are supposed to be driven by wine and a passion that rockets like fiery brushstrokes -- red comets of molten jois de vivre -- slashed across the starry canvass of life. We (if the movies are right) would rather burn out than fade away; we choke to death upon our own vomit in Parisian bathtubs (with those little lion’s claw feet) with dog-eared copies of Rimbaud clinging wetly, melancholically, to our soapy breasts; we’re inspired by pain and loss; we stand at the bows of doomed cruise ships and declare ourselves kings of the world; we die young and live for sensations of the mind and of the body…

But I’ll be damned if I don’t feel pretty darned inspired after I empty the dish washer.

In the end, a day without writing a song or a post or a chapter is just about equally as bad as a day without vacuuming the rug. And I do find that the mundane tasks often lead to the more profound: an evening of puttering in the studio, wrapping cords and dusting, often turns itself into a tune. 

I shouldn't be surprised -- it is all quite Taoist, isn't it? I used to criticize my neighbors who seemed to take such pleasure in grooming their lawns. Now I get it. I mean, I'll never be that guy, but I get it -- as long as something profound follows up the weed-wacking.

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Plane Above the Hurting

I'm writing this at ten in the morning on Monday, which is rare for me. I'm usually done and posted by the day before. But I spent Saturday and Sunday in a state of drug-induced befuddlement.

I wish I had a good rock-star, hotel-wrecking, naked-people-everywhere story, but I don't. In my case, it comes down to a kidney stone.

I thought I had hurt my back on Saturday. I told my wife, the nurse, about this. She looked at my posture and read my random grunts and laughed a short laugh. "No, you have a kidney stone."

Sure enough...

Friday, August 3, 2012

Who's the Fat Guy Wearing My Hat?

I have no doubt that obese people know that they are obese. When one is obese, one finds it hard to breathe or to put on one’s own shoes. One doesn’t fit into roller-coaster seats – that sort of thing. But, sometimes, I look at chubby people and I wonder if they know they are chubby.

The reason I wonder this is because I know I have a pretty inaccurate concept of how I look, at times. Apparently, I have a lean mind. In my head, I look a particular way. But, sometimes, I will catch a glimpse of myself in a convenience store video monitor or I will see my reflection in a display case and I will wonder, for a moment, when the hell I put on those extra pounds. Who’s the fat guy wearing my hat?

I am in the socially fortunate but medically unfortunate position of being perceived favorably when I gain weight. People routinely ask me if I have been lifting weights when I put on a few. So, you can see how I sort of get lead into a leaner perception of myself than is, strictly speaking, accurate.

From "Wackiki Wabbit," Warner Bros, 1943
Even when I am at my thinnest, I’m always fighting a battle. I keep myself under control, but my “fightin’ weight” is about twenty pounds below where I am now. So, I empathize with those struggling with their blubberosity; I’ve been doing it for years.

But, the other day, I was in a store and I saw a chubby guy. He was decked-out stylishly. He carried himself with a swagger. His hair, not unlike some werewolves in London, was perfect. For some reason, I almost asked him if he knows he is chubby. I resisted, ever the consummate gentledude.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Something Different: Invocation

About a year ago, I released my CD, Hats and Rabbits, which I announced here, and the links to buy it have been up on the right, ever since.  Some of you have bought the CD or downloaded it, and I greatly appreciate it.

In the midst of my responsibilities and duties, progress is slow in the area of actually promoting my work. Finally, I have gotten around to putting my songs in a format through which I can share them. I thought I would do two things, today: 1) Share a song from the CD with you, along with a short explication and, 2) offer it for free, if you should like it, as a humble thank-you for always coming back to this dive bar of a blog.

You know, I’m caught in this…place. I hate show-biz and wannabe stars. (I even spend breaks on band gigs in my car or with a friend or my wife instead of schmoozing, like a proper rock star.) Music is just another way for me to express myself. Expressing myself is what drives me, daily. I know I’m not going to be a star and I am not looking for anyone to tell me what a musical wonder I am -- I just want to share this as another blog post, if a musical one. If you decide to get the CD, that’s great, but I can tell you there is no hope of it making me rich. My payment is that people listen. That’s enough.