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.