Friday, January 31, 2014

The Embarrassment of Having Stuff

Once a peasant, always a peasant.

It's amazing how one can be sculpted by life into a certain mindset. We were nothing close to destitute while I was growing up, but, let's face it, my dad was a trumpet player/arranger/composer and my mom is a singer and worked as a hairdresser while I was growing up. We weren't exactly swimming in money. We ate. We got college paid for. We had a nice house. But, we never had lots of stuff. Family vacations were rare. That kind of thing.

But, we rarely had "extras."

Which is why I had this absurd feeling last night. Keep in mind: we are anything but rich, but, we're fortunate to be okay and maybe a little more financially flexible than my parents were.

I was fiddling around in my little music studio, arranging things. (Not literally "fiddling" and not musically arranging; like, just moving stuff around.) It is a studio that is funded, mostly, with the money I make as a musician. Once in a while, I cheat and throw in fifty bucks or even a hundred from the teaching income or from our collective money, but most of it, as a result of my silly personal code of not "stealing" money from the family for my own needs, is music equipment with music money.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Whatever Can Go Right, Will

If "whatever can go wrong, will," then I think it is also true that whatever goes right will be under-appreciated. I also think that "whatever can go wrong, will" implies that more stuff goes wrong than goes right. Right?

Does more stuff really go wrong than right? -- or, does it just seem that way because our demands on "rightness" are a little unreasonable? All of this stuff is connected, I think. We want many things -- maybe too many things -- out of life and when we don't get them, we feel conspired against by the fairies or by God or by the machinations of Fate.

Sadly, for some -- and at some times, for all of us -- it is true it rains problems and people find themselves existentially adrift. We can't deny that. But, all things being normal, most of us lead lives on pretty solid, dry ground.

In the woods, on a "snow day"
with my Wiffleball Warriors
"Appreciate what you have" is another popular mantra, whether from a religious or a from secular spiritual perspective. It is good advice, really, and it implies the need to thank some higher power for all that is good. But I would bet that the "whatever can go wrong will” perspective comes from the failure to do that on a small scale; not to the lofty level of saying “dear God, thank you for keeping my baby healthy” but from breezing past the many small, fortunate occurrences in our lives. In short, whatever can go right, will, but it will be under-noticed and soon forgotten about. The bad air sticks in our lungs like cigarette tar, but the bad things are breathed in and exhaled to dissipate and to mingle with those iconic molecules of Caesar’s last breath up in the ether.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Reality in a Holographic World

Love. Touch. Sight. Sound. Scent. Taste. Pain. All of these are filtered through both the conscious and unconscious mind and they all manifest themselves in an individual's own interpretation, for him or herself. That interpretation is that person's reality. That reality is not something whose validity can be argued against, because it is what has taken root in the individual's mind through the routes of taste, touch, sounds, sight and scent.

I'm not talking about the ideas surrounding the feelings, I am talking about the feelings themselves. My love is mine and yours is yours and they are different, though they are both true. My pain might not be pain to you, but, to me, it is what it is. That is real.

For that reason, I think reality only exists inside of us or between us, when we experience each other through the senses above.

The rest? Unreality. What Holden Caufield would call "phony." What drove his creator into a shack and into a jumpsuit. All of the things we label as "real life" from money to government are nothing but constructs. They are not real, in the cosmic sense, though the impact of their phoniness can be felt in many real ways. This is what drives those who can sense true reality insane; or, at least, to the fringes.

The old fellows were right: transcendence is the only path to reality. We need to live for ourselves without hurting others and to seek reality and be conscious of our impact on the reality of others. Reality exists in our thoughts and it extends no farther than our nose, ears, tongue, eyes and fingertips.

The rest is holographic.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Guilty Until Proven Innocent or Portrait Painting in a Photoshop World

I had other ideas for a post today, but then I saw a post by a Facebook friend about some moronic candidate for office who openly claims that children are born autistic and that storms occur and kill innocent people because God is mad at us for our immoralities. Same old crap, different moron: a "Christian" who likes to think of God in pre-flood terms because it is dramatic and because she thinks doing so will absolve her of her own cruelly-twisted mind: "Oh, but it's God, not me." (People like her never do seem to bother with the little conundrum of how unbelievably [damnably?] arrogant it is to presume to speak for the deity in whom one believes...but that's another story.)

But what struck me is that when I followed the link, I saw a reference to her fellow Republican opponent for candidacy, that said this:
Her opponent in the Republican primary is no prize, either. David Earl Williams III, a politically moderate Navy veteran, has a history of alleged domestic violence. An ex-girlfriend  filed a domestic violence protection order against him, saying he stalked her online and tried to get her fired by impersonating her online. Williams is currently fighting the ruling. it a ruling or is it an allegation? Didn't it used to be that to be a writer, one would, at least, try to be precise with one's words? There is a big difference between an allegation and a ruling.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Richard Sherman's Freak-out: Frankenstein's NFL?

By now everyone's heard about the Richard Sherman freak-out after an NFL playoff game. Soon after it happened, it became a hot topic on Twitter and people started throwing around accusations of racism at anyone who criticized the guy; others criticized him mercilessly. Sherman tried to play the incident down by L-O-ELLING about it on Twitter.

The long and short of it is that the guy acted like an ass on national television. He flipped out so severely that it left Erin Andrews blinking with the ancient fear-response. 

The problem is, almost everyone is attacking the guy for what he did: he acted like an ass. On the flip, people are defending him: "Well, remember, he is a Stanford grad and he talked real nice afterward."

Why, in this increasingly tolerant society (one that, in my opinion, might sometimes tolerate too much bad behavior) do we want to sum up this guy by the way he acted after a playoff win? 

I repeat: he acted like an ass. He should be embarrassed. But does that make him a piece of garbage?  Of course not.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Karen and the King of Twenty-Five Square Feet

I want to be a supporter of the "mom-and-pop" business. I want to lament the corporate takeover of everything in America. Then, I go to a "mom-and-pop" establishment and find myself wishing for the corporate treatment. Maybe the shift in America is a direct result of people getting fed up with sub-par treatment and questionable results.

For years, we have taken our cars to the big places for service: the dealership (while they were under warranty); the big-company chain that a friend of our works for. That kind of thing. You go to places like that, and you have an appointment. You are greeted by a pleasant (or semi-pleasant) person in khakis and a golf shirt with the company name on it. You check-in; you hand in the keys and they direct you so a sitting area with coffee and soft chairs and magazines and a TV. You sit for an hour or two and read. Your keys are handed back; you pay; you leave.

Did Gomer ever exist? 
Some say you pay more at these places. Perhaps. But do I know how much it should cost? Do I want to spend my time searching for "the fair price" for an oil change? Do I want to do the oil change myself? No. So where's the real harm to the flow of my life?

Well, a few days ago, my wife's car had a flat tire. I put on the temporary spare and we set out to figure out where we should take it for repair. Someone recommended a small shop a few towns away. Apparently, a few people we know have used the guy. So we went in quest of Dave's station. It is a Gulf station franchise, so, though it has corporate ties, it is still an owner-operated joint.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Happy Bohemian

Did you ever feel embarrassed about being happy? No? Well, try being a happy bohemian. (Or a happy intellectual, for that matter.)

Once, years ago, while I was teaching, I was telling my class a story that had to do with my personal life -- something about my family I think; some funny incident. A student said, after the story (I can still see his face -- and I remember his name: Curt): "You're a pretty happy guy, aren't you?"

Reflexively, found myself wanting to correct him: Well, I wouldn't say "happy"... Heaven forbid people should think I am happy. There is not a whole lot of dramatic value in being a happy person, is there? And, as an artistic dude, I almost felt, at that moment, that I had shirked my movie/play/novel-established responsibility of being tortured and conflicted. 

"Yeah," I said, almost apologetically. "I guess I am..."

I think of Adam Duritz, the singer/lyric writer of Counting Crows. Somewhere on their album Recovering the Satellites, (which I love, by the way; I like most of that band's stuff) he utters the line "we're so ___ed up, you and me..."

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Rockin' With Cowboy Hats

I have never been much of a fan of country music, though I have loved the occasional country song. I have always tended not to be genre-obsessed. If music is good, it is good; if it moves me, it moves me. Still, the genre that has tended to strike out with me the most has been (next to rap and hip-hop) country.

At this point, the band I am in is playing a lot of country music, because we are a band that plays popular music and country is very popular just now. Of course -- there is not a whole lot of "country" in today's country music. It is basically rock with cowboy hats. To make up for this, I suppose, the songwriters seem to be reacting to their countryless music by writing what they see as hyper-country lyrics and by feebly begging people to believe their music is "country" by putting references to country life in every title... least in the most popular stuff. I guess there are artists out there doing the real thing and I just don't know about them. But the fact remains that the most popular stuff is embarrassingly superficial, even to a guy who doesn't have a dog in the proverbial race. I imagine fans of real country music (purists of the genre) are getting headaches, at this point, from grinding their teeth every time Luke Bryan comes out with a new tune. Just look as far as some of the titles of songs we play (which are the only modern country songs I know, really):

"Country Girl"
"She's Country"
"Hillbilly Shoes"
"Hillbilly Bone"

Then, there are those that may not have specifically "country" titles but that are all about being country, like "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy" (Okay -- that's devilishly clever, but it still references "giggin' frogs" in the song.) Or, "Boys 'Round Here," "here," being, you know, out in the country ("You don't do the Dougie?" "Naw, not in Kentucky."). Or "Cruise," in which a country Casanova, a poet of the highest order, tells his Juliet that a "brand new Chevy with a lift kit would look a helluva lot better with [her] up in it."
...and now. 

I guess, to a great extent, country music has often been about country life, even in the old days, but, it seems to me, from the classic tunes I know, it was more about real life and less about quick references to "ice-cold beer," catfish and pickup trucks with pretty women on them dancing under the KC lights ("country girl, shake it for me...").

I just looked over a list of the "Top 500" country songs and found (and remembered some) titles like:

"Three Chords and the Truth"
"Ships That Don't Come In"
"Your Cheatin' Heart"
"I Walk The Line"
"White Lightning"

These titles just seem a bit more dignified and a heck of a lot more ambitious, if only in a slightly commercial way.

I dunno. I think I would be mad if I were into real country music. As it stands, I am mildy amused and I enjoy putting impotent parameters on the band, like that I have a three-song limit for mention of catfish and will not play any more songs with said reference.

And I'm not complaining. Luke Bryan rocks. (But, is he supposed to?)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Orpheus, Day One

I thought of this, this weekend. I'm not sure why, but it came up in conversation. I had a memory of an excellent moment in parental approach. I'm not sure why all parents don't instinctually do this kind of thing.
Maybe it is a result of most people's constant need to prove they are better than everyone around them -- even their own children. Ah, ego.

When I was fifteen, I put together my first band with some friends. We, in our ambitious young attempts at profundity, named the band after the great musician of myth: "Orpheus."

Orpheus trying to save his lovely
wife from the underworld. (Corot)
We had virtually no command over our instruments, and beyond some piano and guitar lessons, no one really knew what he was doing. I had just started drum lessons, but most of my practicing involved wearing headphones and smashing along with the songs of Rush.

In fact, we were -- hilariously, in retrospect -- exclusively a Rush cover band.

Friday, January 10, 2014

A Reminder: It's Good To Be Tough

Have you seen this video about the damage we are doing to our young men in America by sending the wrong message -- by telling them to "be a man"? The anger this video raises in me comes from so many places, I don't know where to start. You can watch it here, but be careful in work and around the kids, because there is profanity.

First, I am angry to think that there are fathers who still operate on such a cave-dwelling level that they try to teach their sons to disregard their own emotions. Maybe I am an idiot. I thought that was a thing of the past.

Maybe I am also angry for being an idiot and not knowing that this is not a thing of the past.

I am also angry because videos like this feel so much like an attempt to capitalize on or to gain fame for their creators by exacerbating a problem. If I, in fact, am not an idiot and this type of fathering is a thing of the past, these people are making a small portion of fathers look like the majority (media's lens in the sun). (Herein lies the problem in "raising awareness." Sometimes, it raises actuality.) But I can't be sure.

If a video like this is needed, it makes me angry that it is so. If fathers can't see that is it wrong to turn out a generation of hammers, what hope is there? It makes me feel pessimistic. I see no hope in a future in which we think we can solve all problems by "raising awareness," analyzing data and "starting conversations." People only get better one-by-one. That only happens by seeking truth, not evidence. Evidence wins arguments; truth fixes hearts.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Modest Proposal for Eliminating Bad Behavior in Football Fans: The NFFL

Let's face it: fans of both American and European football can be disgusting. I'm not sure what to do about soccer -- it seems the riots continue and there will always be select beatings of unfortunate visiting fans. But I think I have an answer for American football...and it came to me after I watched a video of an Eagles fan (they lost) spitting in the face of a Saints fan (they won) at the end of a recent playoff game.

We can all agree that this is bad form. Perhaps we can all agree it is disgusting, no? But, perhaps -- as I often point out to my writing students on the verge of their "problem solution" papers -- we can eliminate the problem by simply recognizing and removing its cause.

Look: we can't very well turn apes in to diplomats, and, let's face this as well, some guys are and always will be Cro-Magnon. So those, we rule out. I think, however, if we rethink the whole nature of football, we may be able to eliminate the bad behavior of those chaps for whom we can hold out at least some hope: the hotheads who fall apart after their teams lose but who really are, at heart, okay guys -- and I believe that includes most of the guys in the stands...

Monday, January 6, 2014

Why TV Makes Me Think About Dying

I'm not afraid to talk about death. In fact, I have never been afraid of death, itself -- at least not up to the point of having a family. Because of them, I now have a healthy dose of fear. I don't want to leave them without a dad and husband.

Still, I love being alive. And I love feeling, thinking and doing -- I love exploring the beauty in the world and I love experiencing the great creations and deeds of the exceptional people who live and who have lived. There is much to love about the world. And I really think there is more good than bad out there.

You know how I know TV is bad, though? When I am watching (as I was last night) and I think to myself: When it is time to die, I won't miss this place much. It will be kind of a relief. This is not to be confused with a wish for death; it is just an resignation that it will, in some ways, be a relief. That's nothing new. But it is a disproportionate reaction to a misrepresentation of reality.

Television, to me, is like the magnifying glass in the sun, held over the top of my head. It is not a true representation of the world, but a focusing of all that is bad in it.

Friday, January 3, 2014

This Ain't No Barn-Raising

It is fashionable for creative types like myself to be bitter and critical about suburban life and while I went through my teenaged/early-twenties phase of "I am going to get out of this place as soon as I can and wander the world and then live in, say, Paris," I eventually realized that creativity and intellectuality don't have to be urban or ex-patriotic. In fact, by thinking those things, one is just caving-in to the biggest enemy of creative thought: cliche.

In short, I like the suburbs. To flip a maxim, though, I tend to be in the suburbs but not of the suburbs. I have never felt an obligation to participate in local government or to take part in any over-the-fence conversation about the weather I could otherwise avoid. I like to sit in the bleachers and watch my boys play ball; they have me telling them what to do, enough -- they don't need me to hound them about the proper way to snatch up a grounder.

All that said, there are times when I find suburban life to be beautiful. I'm not going to qualify that. My middle-to-lower-middle-class neighborhood is a thing of beauty on a summer night or under a blanket of snow, like today.