Monday, March 31, 2014

Vocabularious Circumstances

Last week, I was leaving school and I saw our chaplain as I was walking to my car. I gave him the usual: "Have a good weekend, Father."

Just as I said that, I wondered what would happen if word frequency counters were attached to people. We all must, by varying professions and life circumstances, use certain words with more frequency than others do.

"Father," for instance. Most people have fathers, but even out of those people, a great number rarely use the word "father." They might use "dad" or "pop" or whatever else. But, as a guy who works in a Catholic school, (and who went all of his life to public school and, therefore, still feels a need for formality when talking to priests -- a need that seems, ironically, much less urgent in those I know who went to Catholic school) I must use the world "father" with exceedingly more frequency than most people.

Or what about the word "note"? As a musician, I am sure I use the word more than most, but I wonder what the percentage of difference is... We all have passed "notes" and we all write "notes" to coworkers about things and we all have used the word "note" in reference to music, but I wonder to what degree my use of the word exceeds that of others after years of playing, composing, taking lessons, giving lessons, etc...

Well, I'll just sit back and wait for the direct-to-brain computers to come out. Once we all have ports in our heads, I'm sure we will be able to track this kind of thing with relative ease. Which would be totally worth it.

What word do you think you use more than anyone on the planet?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"Be thine own palace, or the world's thy jail"

The slide into mass-thought is inevitable. There is no hope of avoiding it. This is not a strong statement that I am making in order to set up some optimistic reversal at the end of this post. There is no hope of avoiding it.

When I write against the twisted, zombified version of "community" that people talk about today, it is not in the wish that "things will change." They won't. The general person has resigned him or herself to the idea that "community" is everything; that he has no need of privacy or anonymity; that she needs to actually own nothing -- just pay for it and keep it "on the cloud." People are cool with YouTubing things from their bedrooms, dirty socks on the floor and pictures of the grandparents on the nightstand notwithstanding. Why should the world not see my bedroom? Why should I clean my bedroom for the stupid world? 

The other day, in an in-class debate, a student used this argument: "If you have nothing to hide, why do you care what the government sees of your phone records?" Clank. [That was the sound of my jaw hitting the floor.]

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Spur to the Horse of Thought

The human head, if flipped over and equipped with a handle and maybe a spout of some kind would hold --what? -- less than a gallon of water? Yet, we all know it can hold infinity, really -- with no modifications at all.

With that in mind, I give you this tidbit upon which to meditate; a dish towel out of which to squeeze an ocean, if you will:

There are many ways to live a life.

Now, walk the miles within a postage stamp.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Lucifer, Fallen?

So, this Fred Phelps character died last Wednesday night. If he was indeed evil, he certainly seems to have accomplished what he wanted to. People's reactions to his death prove it.

The guy did nothing to promote affection from any rationally-thinking person and he helped to solidify the ever-strengthening stereotype of the judgemental, irrational Christian. However, fittingly, Phelps died on the Catholic Feast of St. Joseph -- a day on which the Church readings include the story of Joseph's example: when he decided not to publicly judge Mary for her pregnancy by (as far as he knew at that point) some other guy. I'm not one to go overboard with "signs" and stuff, but, you have to love the poetic coolness of this...

But -- the reactions? He has brought out of people the same angry, vicious judgement that he promoted himself. I won't even repeat some of the things I have heard on Facebook or Twitter. Does he deserve to be hated? Maybe -- but, he sure sowed some seeds here and I would hate to see them grow...

I'm not going to preach, but when righteous anger (of any kind and from any side) takes the form of hate-speech, the Devil wins -- whether you see the Devil as the dark side of human nature or as Lucifer, fallen.

I'm glad that one horrible, violent, angry source of negativity has left our world, but I'm not going to start on a "burn in Hell" rant. That's would be me, losing. That would be me joining the Church of Judgement.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

My Massive Musical Success (Part 2)

People need each other, for basic reasons. Root reasons. Primal reasons.

Most basically, we need each other for survival. This, no doubt, originated with ancient humans standing back-to-back and fighting off beasts with nine-inch teeth. Then, talents were discovered and someone took the role of hunter; another, the cook; another, the healer, and so on... We still operate that way.

Less basically, while the hunters were out looking for wild Whateverbeast, they got to talking (or grunting) and then one slipped on a paleo-peel of some kind and they cracked up about it, and "the friendship" was born. And that night, as the tribe sat around the fire, gnawing the last of the goodness off of the Whateverbeast bones, a man connected eyes with a woman and he offered her the last of his marrow and romance was born...

Everything spiralled off of these things, right? Necessity became safety; safety became comfort; comfort became "society."

This part of it, I get. (At least, I think so -- you tell me what you think.)

Monday, March 17, 2014

My Massive Musical Success

On Saturday night, the band I am in was just about set-up and ready to play in a bar/restaurant in a relatively affluent New Jersey town. It was a good night. We might have been able to fit three more people into the place if we were lucky -- six, if they had been leprechauns. Lots of people were out to get in an early celebration of St. Paddy's day.

The band at work. 
But a good-sized crowd is not enough. They have to be "into it." And they were. There was a lot of energy. In some ways, we played well. In some ways we did not. Each of us made his mistakes, here and there. I made some doozies. (As a drummer, every mistake I make is a doozy. A guitar player drops a chord or two and it fades into the background. When I make a mistake, the entire crowd turns around to stare at the stupid oaf behind the drum kit.) But we had fun.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Businessman (In Canterbury Couplets)

Well, seems I had nothing written for today. So, since I spent the morning writing a model poem for an assignment I gave my AP English class (to write a description of a "pilgrim" in the style of Chaucer's prologue to the Canterbury Tales ) I figured, what the heck. I had fun with it, even though I am not the most adept writer of couplets in iambic pentameter, by any stretch. A fairly Chaucerian, sarcastic, backhanded-praise attack on my least favorite kind of modern man. (Not businessmen, in general, I should point out, but men like this one.)  I hope it makes you grin, if nothing else:

The Businessman (In Canterbury Couplets)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

In Memoriam of "In Memoriam"

I have had this thought for a long time and I have hesitated to say it for fear of seeming insensitive. But, what the hay?

My heart goes out to all who have lost a loved one. I know the feeling, intimately and recently. It is horrible. And when we lose someone, we want to do something to make things feel better for ourselves and for everyone else associated with the loss. In my case, recently, that something was to write a post about my dad, which became his tribute at the funeral.

I think that people are losing an important concept.

Today, I was reminded again of this. I was driving to work past a VFW hall and there was this message on the sign: "In Memory of Lou Smith." Very often, too, I will see people with stickers on their rear windows: "In Memory of..."

Monday, March 10, 2014

Cable Free Living

Well, we finally ditched cable TV. I have told a few people this, and you wouldn't believe the shocked reactions I am getting. Real looks of horror/compassion/discomfort.

It really could be more dramatic. Even though I have voiced my displeasure with the TV as a source of amplified negativity, it really wasn't completely charged by that. That was part of it, but it was also a combination of cost versus use. None of us are big TV watchers. My wife watches a few shows and the boys like Spongebob and a few Nickelodeon shows, including, of all things, Full House which they show in rerun. I like to watch baseball and various things on the educational channels. But, all of these are available online and our TV has online capability, so... we are. No cable TV.

Yet, it is a little odd. I have, in the past, been a junk-TV watcher. When I have time to kill -- like when no one else is home and I am eating lunch -- I will sometimes sit down and watch worthless TV; silly video shows and Cops -- that sort of thing.

Twice, so far, I have found myself reaching for the remote and then realizing the lack of quick access. To watch something, I would have to make a real decision and then search for it and...who has that kind of time? -- or energy? So, I did something else; or, I sat in silence and listened to the kids playing in the distances of our neighborhood.

That simple. And after a few days, I stopped feeling the urge.

Friday, March 7, 2014

How To Avoid Creating Pop Monsters

The other day, I heard a mother complaining about the music her four-year-old listens to. "Oh, it's all about Justin Bieber, to her..." she said, brimming with weary-parent frustration. "She has to have the shirts and the posters and..." question is: How did this happen?

She's four.

You, too, can help your kids choose this...
I've posted about parental doubt, parental mistakes and the occasional parental success on here from time to time. (In fact, my last post was an admission of failure. So far.) But, I just have to wonder how a four-year-old "gets into" music that a parent didn't encourage in some way.

Where does a kid who is not yet even in school get the idea to listen to the hottest pop stuff going? TV? That has to be it, I suppose; short of intentional parental conditioning: Listen to your Bieber young lady! Sure. It has to be TV -- but, we can control that, too, right? It's not that much work to do.

My wife and I knew all about Nickelodeon and Noggin when the boys were little and we would put on select shows for them. We also filtered shows out, usually on the grounds of not so much content as "insanity-level:" noise and visual chaos.) In short, if it disturbed us to watch, we wouldn't put it on for them. There was never any conflict over this. The boys didn't know the difference.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Deprogramming the Boy

I'm not one to admit defeat easily, especially when it comes to being a father. But something happened yesterday that might just be a sign of the futility of fighting the shift in paradigms.

I was playing a video game, as I am sometimes wont to do, and my twelve-year-old son was watching. I was complaining that Xbox wanted me to "log in" to "Xbox Live" in order to play. We installed this because my son wants to play games online with his friends.

It's what they do, you know? I want to straddle the line between making my kids independent thinkers and making them complete outcasts, socially. So, he has some decent friends and they want to play Minecraft together, online. No biggie.

But, "Why," I asked out loud, "do I need to log on to play a game if I am not playing it online!"

"So, just log in," my son said, munching on a Nutella-dipped pretzel stick. "What's the big deal?"

"The 'big deal' is," I said, "that I don't want people to know that I am playing a video game right now. I don't want people in my business. And I don't want to get 'party' requests from your sixth grade friends while I play because they think I am you."

(Turns out, I think, that I could play offline. I guess. I don't know. But I was already 33% into the game before I...kind of...realized this. But that's not the point.)

Monday, March 3, 2014

Pink Was Somewhere Under the Rainbow

Somewhere along the line, we have lost our way with the evaluation of singers. We have come to the conclusion that having "a good voice" makes one "a good singer." Worse, we have decided that people with the ability to sing loudly have "good voices". (I blame a certain flock of singers in the eighties and nineties for this; they were both good and loud but the public in general can only really seem to remember the loud part.)

We all  need to face the fact that "a good voice" is in the ear of the beholder. I just still think that "loud" should not be the only criterion (which it often seems to be), but I am not going to try to argue that I know what a good-sounding voice is and that you don't. That would be stupid.

But, a "good singer" is a good musician. Having a good voice does not cover it. You can put a Stradivarius in the hands of a novice fiddle-player, but that won't make him a maestro. Substitute the "good voice" (often, people will refer to a singer having a "good instrument") for the Stradivarius, and you will see my point. Having a good instrument does not make one a musician.

That said, I had the misfortune of hearing Pink sing "(Somewhere) Over the Rainbow" on the Oscars last night. It was not horrible. It was worse than horrible; it was mediocre. But it sure was loud! She has a big voice (a good instrument) and she "belted it out". Problem is, that song shouldn't be belted-out. To me, Pink sounded like the proverbial bull in a china shop. But that is what we do, today -- we belt things out. It's one of our few forms of expression, it seems.