Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Digging for Happiness

"Be thankful."

It's good advice. I guess it implies indebtedness to some benevolent universal presence, but I hear complete atheists saying that they are thankful, too. It's still valid for them. "Glad" is a good substitute word: "I'm glad I have such a great life."

Sometimes, we use the idea of being thankful as an argument that we have no right to ever complain. It's like the old mom thing, when a kid won't eat his Lima beans: "You should be thankful you have Lima beans. There are starving children who would love to have Lima beans."

Of course, this doesn't work. First of all, it just doesn't work, psychologically. Second, I don't even think starving kids would eat Lima beans.

Van Gogh
In life, we try to use the mom argument: How can I complain when I have a bad day at work? There are people with no jobs... That kind of thing. Usually, we all know, it doesn't work.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Tricorns, Flaming Tractor Trailers and Voyages in Muddy Puddles

We just returned from trip to Colonial Williamsburg, in Virginia. For those of you outside of the US, the place consists of a "triangle" of historically significant sites, including Williamsburg itself, which was an instrumental city during the American Revolution; Yorktown, which is the location of the battlefield on which Cornwallis surrendered to Washington (or, rather, sent an underling to surrender to Washington, in order to make a point of honor) and Jamestown, the location of the first permanent British settlement and stomping grounds of John Smith and Pocahontas. (She never married him, by the way; she married John Rolfe.)

An evening at the Raleigh Tavern
Anyway, as I was there -- and not writing -- my mind was full of I-should-blog-about-thats. And now you shall pay the price.

It took us five hours to get there, headed south on many southerly roads, but, having left at three am to avoid the ridiculous (nay, offensively busy traffic) in the Washington, DC area, we arrived in Williamsburg by nine am. We were tired, but excited to be there.

Since we could not check-in to our hotel until four in the afternoon, we had a good deal of time to walk around Williamsburg, among the costumed re-creators and the visitors. The foot traffic was light and the town really is a lovely time machine (except that, since the last time I visited, some fifteen years ago, they black-topped the main road, Duke of Gloucester Street. It was a shame to see and it was a shame not to hear gravel anymore under people's feet. And it is ugly and jarring, as you can see in the picture.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Truth Isn't Always Original

One of the biggest clashes of all time is the one between parents and non-parents. Non-parents hate that parents hound them about the wonders of parenthood and that those same parents "push" non-parents to have kids in order to find fulfillment in their lives. Parents get offended by non-parents who laud their freedom in not having children and they laugh at the non-parents when they complain about being "busy." It is a never-ending war.

More kids at work.
Sometimes, I feel conscious of this when I write about parenthood. I almost feel like it is offensive to non-parents to say when things are good in Dadland. Being a parent is not the life for everyone, and I can see why people choose not to be parents, especially when things are going roughly -- and, believe me, they do, sometimes. In fact, I think that more people should choose not to be parents. There's nothing worse than having kids because one feels one has to. It makes for bad results.

In short, I respect those who choose not to be parents.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Complaints of a Nobody

I am currently reading a masterpiece: Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose. The other night, while reading, I was compelled to post this to Facebook:
"From her temperate veranda she now saw only void where the valley used to be--a gray, smoky void into which she peered, hunting distance and relief from the mirage of mountains that quivered around her with visible heat. The wind that breathed past her and moved the banal bright geraniums in their pots brought a phantasmal sound of bells, and expired again, tired as a sigh." -- Wallace Stegner, from Angle of Repose. (And people read Twilight.)
So, okay. Maybe it is a little stuffy of me to say that. But it is frustrating to see people like, say, Dan Brown (and the Twilight writer, whose name I can't think of and refuse to look up) making a fortune with the writing skills of a sixth grader. 

I know that, in the end, it is not the prose that your average reader is interested in, but, are they even aware of prose like Stegner's? If they were, would they still be able to tolerate Dan Brown, or Twilight?

Monday, July 22, 2013

American Ninja Education: Education Lessons from American Ninja Warrior

The American educational system ought to take a lesson from American Ninja Warrior.

Ever see it? It is a contest that originated as a show in Japan. Basically, the ultimate goal it to complete the world's most difficult obstacle course. Here is a run from the qualifying round. Most people don't finish the course, at all:

As I said, this is only the qualifying round. The key point here is that the athletes who try this course have never seen some of the obstacles they are going to face -- the developers of the contest surprise them with new obstacles ever year.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Old Glory

This morning, it was 95% by 8:30. As I was driving into work down one of the ugliest roads in New Jersey (and that's saying something) I passed a young woman who looked impossibly old.

She was lumbering along slowly and she wore a heavy jacket, probably layered underneath with every bit of clothing she owned. Homeless. She carried plastic bags that bulged with belongings and the sweat crawled down her ebony face. Her mouth hung open and she stopped to catch breath, looking up at the sun, offended.

In her hand that faced the roadside, she clutched a small American flag, tightly. Despite the many things she carried, she gave the flag her whole hand.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Kids, Race and Cheerios: The 6:59 Second Descent Into Mediocrity

By now everyone has heard about the Cheerios commercial with the interracial couple. It got a lot of flack from racist twits. Cheerios had to disable commenting for the video, on YouTube, because the comments were violent and over-the-top, but the company held fast with the commercial and it still runs on TV, at least in America.

I don't think anything needs to be said about the commercial itself. It's all been said. What I would like to address, though, is a video that was done to illustrate the lack of prejudice in children. A great idea.

(I'm in that place where people will want to latch on to what I think of a commercial depicting an interracial family. That's not what I'm writing about here, but, just to be clear, I'm fine with it. They look like a nice family, and that's all that matters to me.)

What I do latch onto, as a communicator and as a writer/writing teacher, is the content and construction of the video I am about to post; the one mentioned above.

It was a great idea, but it should have ended at 1:59, exactly.

Monday, July 15, 2013

A Ridiculous Level of Patience?

I wish I could apply the same level of balance to my life as I can to my music. I spent the past week prepping some tracks for recording. The first task is to get the drum tracks down by using a sketch track to follow; after that, I can go back and add the other instruments one at a time: bass, piano, keys, guitar, etc. Well, what I did, originally, didn't work; not well enough. No need to get into why -- it all needs to be redone.

And I'm okay with that. Perfectly content. Not the slightest bit of anger.

I've erased those numerous hours of work, already -- one push of the button. I'm okay with it because I can see it for what it is: a learning experience. What I did wasn't going to fit the bill. What I did was going to give me a substandard result.

The time was not wasted; it was used to figure out, for sure, what would not work. That's valuable. Back, as they say, to the old drawing board.

Maybe it is a result of a lifetime of watching this indefatigable old chap bounce back (often literally) time after time (this really is a must-watch):

Friday, July 12, 2013

"Multidimensional" vs."Unfocused"

I guess that, for years, in one form or another, I have been trying to figure out if it is a good thing or a bad thing that I wind up wanting to do all of the things that I see and admire. I've never been good at sitting back and admiring.

Does anyone else have this problem/blessing? Is it an ego thing?

The great one. 
The result of it is, I think, that I was never one of those people that we are supposed to admire in -- at least the -- "American" ideal.

I remember an old soccer coach telling us as a team about a former player's dedication -- how this player used to clear a circle in the snow in the yard in the off season (kids had those back then) and practice juggling the ball six hours a day, seven days a week. "That's dedication," the coach said.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Not a Fop: Defending Polonius

This morning, for some reason, the famous speech from Polonius to his son, Laertes, from Hamlet, was on repeat in my skull. I thought to write about my notion that people misinterpret it. Here's the whole thing, in case it has been awhile for you. Laertes is about to return to college and Polonius, his seemingly foppish father, gives him this parting advice. (By the way, I say "seemingly foppish" because it is hard to have spent a career as the closest advisor to a powerful monarch and to have been a fool). To his son, he says:

Monday, July 8, 2013


I have said before, on here, and also when I was writing the column "Artistic Unknowns" for When Falls the Coliseum, that I don't believe in THE creative process. People speak of it as if there is one way to do things. Not only do I know that different artists and writers have different procedures, but I also know that I don't have a set procedure for myself. And I love that.

I am officially ready to start recording my second CD. This one will be an instrumental CD -- a collection of songs on which (among other goals) I can have a little fun on the drums; flex the chops a little. The tunes carry a concoction of influences from everyone from Rush to Ravel. Seriously eclectic.  The working title is Pigasus, taken from a character John Steinbeck used to draw on letters to Pat Covici: the pig, trying to fly, that was meant to be a humorous self-deprecation on Steinbeck's part: "earthbound but aspiring.... A lumbering soul but trying to fly...(with)...not enough wingspread but plenty of intention." In short: me.

As it stands, the songs are in the form of MIDI (computer) mock-ups. The arrangements were done on the computer, including the drum parts. What I need to figure out now is how to humanize things. I have no idea, yet, as to how I am going to do this. I do know it will involve guest musicians, recording of the real drums and, likely, a replaying of all of the other parts.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Perils of a Keyword Culture

I had a thing in mind to write about today, but something happened.

In my post from Wednesday, I wrote, in part, about my distaste for e-readers, like the Nook and Kindles. As is my usual practice, I "tweeted" that article for my Twitter and my Facebook H&R followers on my blog's "off" day. Of course, Tweets are public, unless you set them not to be so. I hash-tagged my "tweet" (good God, it feels ridiculous using this terminology) with "#kindle"; therefore, it was seen by "Kindle Review" --  a Twitter account that, it seems, promotes and reviews Kindle products.

Well, the Kindle Review "favorited" my post.

Did they read it? Or, did they just see #kindle as a hash tag and "favorite" it automatically? I think we both know the answer to that.

If they had read my piece, they would have known that if more people like me were in the world, their site would have no raison d'etre. Nope. It is all about sharing, these days -- all about networking with the community. [insert robot movements here]

And, maybe, here lies is the key to a paradox I have been feeling ever since I started chirping my anti-community sentiments. I speak, all of the time, about individualism and against the compulsive need people seem to feel for "community" and "sharing" everything, yet I write a blog. Let's face it: every writer of a blog is trying to gather a "community" about him. But this little Twitter incident helped my to unravel the paradox.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

"You Can't Sniff a Kindle"

Sorry I'm late. I'm recovering from a depressing night at the bookstore.

We went to Barnes and Noble. While I prefer the dusty old shops of New York and Philly to the crispy-clean rows and coffee corners of the mega stores, it was still always nice to know I could get what I needed when I needed it with a short car trip. Now, not so much...

We needed books for my sons' summer reading projects and I needed a new escape.

Time was, my wife and sons and I would accrue a pile of books and spend way too much money every time we went to the bookstore. Now, not so much...

Karen couldn't find a book she was looking for, even though it was listed as "in stock." They had none of the  Lloyd Alexander books (!?) that I really wanted my older son to consider reading (somewhere along the line I lost or gave away my first volume of the Prydain series...)

Monday, July 1, 2013

Rain, rain, don't go away...

The other day, while I was at work, a summer storm rolled in -- the kind of rain that creates an instant lake wherever there is open space; the kind of rain that pounds like millions of tinfoil feet on roads and roofs. The sky went nearly black.

The kids are done school for the year. I spend my days in the old building where I have an office made of real plaster walls. There is a peace in school with the kids gone. Sure, things are better with them around, because I get to teach, but the pressure level seriously decreases when the halls are silent.

Monet -- "Morning in the Rain on the Seine."
I spend my days with no tie on. (I despise wearing a tie. "Despise" is not a strong enough word, unless accompanied by an expletive, the likes of which I try to avoid on this blog.) And, tieless, I work on scheduling issues some of the time. The rest of the time, I prepare and study for the classes of the coming year. This year, it is advanced English and "College Composition."

I have a separate table I use for my teaching work (I feel like the purity and the creativity of my teaching will be somehow "infected" if I set the associated materials on my administrative desk) and I was sitting there absorbed in a poem by Stephen Dunn when the deluge started. I went to the window to watch, Dunn still playing in my head like underscore.