Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Baltimore, Burning

Wide shot of the Universe -- infinite distance, innumerable galaxies, inconceivable numbers of stars.

Slow zoom in -- a zoom that takes millions of years -- through a funnel of sparkling lights as the stars pass, drawn out to white lines; as swirls of light and color wobble past, 2001: A Space Odyssey style.

See a blue planet, swirled across with white wisps of cloud, imperceptibly spinning, half of it cupped in sunlight, half of it dark, floating and bending its own little private plot of space in the black infinity that surrounds it.

Zoom further in, and see green and brown continents surrounded by blue, spread across the planet's face -- continents that used to be shaped into one, now broken into massive puzzle pieces; now become the homes of those who named them and then who changed the names, again and again and who broke these continents up into imaginary, mountain or river-drawn lines and named them: states, districts, provinces...

Now watch the planet spin, around to the continent called North America and see the bottom part of this massive land, the part called The United States.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Embarrassment of Having

I'd have a serious problem if I were rich, I think. I'd be in a constant state of embarrassment.

The other day, I was driving behind a really expensive car and it had some kind of flamboyant license plate: "LOVINLIFE" or something like that. It got me thinking about having and having not and about how far I would go in exhibiting my wealth externally were I to suddenly jump up another few income brackets.

I have never been too interested in status symbols; never interested in impressing people with what car I drive or what clothes I wear. That is not to say, though, that I don't sometimes covet expensive things. I save for and spend money on musical equipment. My thinking is always about the joy these things will bring me in the doing, not in showing them off to others. Mostly, anyway.

A year or so ago, after a long time playing on the same, old, tired drum set (since about 1992) and making-do with some cracked cymbals, I decided it was time to upgrade and replace stuff. I bought a beautiful new kit and shiny new cymbals. Sure, I showed some it off to my friends on Facebook and, as I have said before, I am a great gawker at the aesthetics of drums, so I do take some pleasure it how they look. It may even seem contradictory to ths piece that I have posted pictures of my drums in order to illustrate that very point. But, there are differing circumstances...

One night my band was playing and we went on break between the first and second sets and I was standing off to the side enjoying a pint. I saw two younger guys -- in their twenties -- walk up to my drum set. They were pointing and nodding, wide-eyed and good naturedly covetous of the drums that sat gleaming under the stage lights.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Hunting and Respect for Life

Hunting. I don't understand the urge to do it, but I don't condemn the practice. I acknowledge that, in the past, it was an important way to gather food for survival and that it remains the case in some less "developed" cultures.

I also understand the desire to be in the wilderness; the thrill of the hunt. It might be exciting to track an animal or to anticipate a chance to shoot...

When it comes to the part where one kills a beast that one really needs not kill, it gets a little more complicated for me. There must be a primal payoff in killing an animal... If not, why not just hunt it and then take a picture? To accept this fulfillment of the need to kill is to acknowledge something very dark about humanity. Whether that is okay is up to every individual to decide. I would never kill an animal; better said, I probably could not, except at the most urgent need (starvation, for instance).

I don't judge hunters. I respect the ones I have known, over the years, for their ethics in following certain codes; or for using the densely populated animals they kill for food and even for the making useful things. What I don't respect is this:

Life is life. This giraffe did not need to die. It is a trophy kill. It's not, as far as I know, food. Maybe someone can tell me whether giraffe is tasty. But, in any event, this picture is not okay. To mock anything in death is horrible. This young woman deserves the response she got, mostly as a result of Ricky Gervais on Twitter.

Monday, April 20, 2015

"A Fool in the Rain"

I went for my morning walk, as I always do, at 5:30 this morning. In a post some time ago, I referenced my determination to do this, whatever the weather.

This morning, it was raining heavily. People think I am crazy for walking in a downpour. I know this because, as I passed a guy who was getting into his car, he said, "What are you, crazy?"

So, I'm crazy. But, in the wider scope, is walking in the rain really that crazy? I mean, there are people out there who jump out of planes and who swim with sharks off of the Great Barrier Reef. Getting wet is not exactly "extreme" behavior. is a slight defiance of reason, isn't it?

There's even the old expression meant to criticize a person for having no common sense: "He doesn't have the sense to come in out of the rain."

Maybe, though, we need small-and-often defiances of reason more than we need the occasional mad romp.

When Sting released his album of lute songs by John Dowland ("the Renaissance Paul McCartney," I once heard him called) he named it Songs from the Labyrinth. It seems that on one of Sting's estates, he has an old labyrinth. I mentioned it in a similar capacity, here. I also mentioned that Sting said that he sometimes walks the labyrinth by following the winding pathways and he sometimes crosses over them -- deliberately "breaking the rules." He mentioned how mentally freeing it feels to do so...

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Dark Poetry: Man Defends Home with a Sword

The more comfortable we get, the more we tend to think. We're a pretty comfortable society, with plenty of time to think. When we think, these days, we tend to idealize ourselves. When we idealize ourselves, we deny reality -- profound reality.

We're having a hard time remembering that we are animals, I think. And I say "we are animals" with no derision; with no condescension. We are animals in the animal kingdom and we have many instincts and many natural tendencies that are part of the dark poetry of our minds and souls. These darker and less sophisticated instincts are just as profound as our capacity for love and for kindness. If Keats was right that "beauty is truth, truth beauty" then even the dark and more "animalistic" parts of us should be appreciated and respected...not denied or dismissed as sub-human. Sometimes I think we really are going to force ourselves into evolving into the Eloi.

For instance, this story. In summary, three guys broke into another guy's house and the guy defended his home by grabbing a decorative samurai sword and he went at them with it, slicing them up and forcing them out of his house. All of the men lived. The writer says:

Monday, April 13, 2015

"Soul" (Why I Don't Miss My Dad So Much)

Many of my fairly regular readers know that my dad passed away in December of 2013. Ever since then, I have been very much aware of people online and in life posting and talking about missing their deceased parents, every day -- even parents who have been gone for decades.  I see memes about the "hole" in the lives of children who lost their fathers and mothers and I feel a mix of guilt and puzzlement, because I don't feel that way.

Our view. A little bit of loss of the strings'
presence, at times, but a visual feast for the
boys' impressionable minds -- and mine.
Should I feel slightly emptier without my dad in the world? Strangely, I feel just the opposite.

I have long thought that people who have an extremely hard time with life after the normally-timed and non-tragic loss of their parents (that is, excluding those who lost their parents way too early or whose parents were eaten by escaped zoo animals) might be wrestling with regrets. I do miss my dad from time to time, but that is all. I sometimes miss his presence. For us, there was nothing left unsaid; there was no movie-plot father and son headbutting or dark competition between us. He loved and respected me and I knew it; I loved and respected him and he knew it.

So, there's that.

Corny as it may sound, though, real connections cannot be broken even by death. I think of Donne's great poem "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" and though his poem refers to romantic love (and even makes some bawdy references) the general idea can apply to familial love, too, especially when the speaker says:

Friday, April 10, 2015

A Path to Lifelong Happiness?

Olivier and Yorick
On Wednesday, I wrote about the fact that -- to cram things into a nutshell -- I seem to keep wanting to improve myself, musically, even though no one cares or is likely to reward me. Through a gradual series of thoughts since then, I realized that this kind of attitude might just be the secret to lifelong happiness.

Here's how the thoughts went. I saw a picture on Twitter of a French author who tried to kill herself (the tweet said) twice. I turned to my wife and said, as I have before -- which must be very comforting to her -- that I fully understand why people kill themselves. There have been days in especially long strings of mundane days, during which I thought: "This is it? This is my life?" I then imagine a person who feels trapped in these sorts of days; a person who sees no change coming; who has nothing to look forward to. I see, in short, Hamlet:

I have of late, (but wherefore I know not) lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition; that this goodly frame the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy the air, look you, this brave o'er hanging firmament, this majestical roof, fretted with golden fire: why, it appeareth no other thing to me, than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. 'What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Taking One's Self Seriously

At some point, I became aware that people don't take things as seriously as I do. Taking everything seriously never stopped me from being a complete clown, but, I have always taken what I do seriously. As a kid, I remember being baffled by people who bragged about "not taking themselves too seriously." If one doesn't take one's self --one's self -- seriously, what does he take seriously? I used to think.

Music, for instance...

I've watched my musical friends fall away...the ones who were musicians in high school, who smile fondly back at those days and sort of see me as a quaint reminder of the past because, as one former schoolmate put it when he ran across me at a gig, "[I] still do this nonsense." Most of them gave it up when they realized that people weren't really impressed that they walked around with drum sticks in their pockets of guitars strung across their backs. Some of them just went down different life paths.

I also have friends who kept doing the music thing, but only as a sort of casual diversion. They play for their kids; they sit with the acoustic on the back porch; they play for themselves -- which is great. To me, that is a sincere loyalty to the greatest art.

Then, there are the guys I work with: still willing to work hard; stay up late; load the car up; unload the car; practice all week; play their hearts out for three hours a night and then go back to their day job and their houses and kids and keep working hard. These are the guys who need music as an ongoing past of their lives, no matter how much it complicates things -- the guys who never got to the point where they thought that playing in a band is something one should "outgrow." In short: they still do it and they mean it.

Friday, April 3, 2015


When I am gone, I want to be like an old bank building.

In my area, there are a few old bank buildings, and, true the financial scenario, they have had many different names: TD Bank, Citizen's Bank, Wachovia, Susquehanna, Bill's Bank, Fred's Bank, The First Bank of name it.
...etched in stone. 

Each of these banks has had a parade of plastic, internally-lighted signs. Each of them has been emblazoned on the face with a hundred logos and slogans. It seems as if their names change every week as the phony, surreal financial tides of the world and of the country shift.

But a mile or two away from me, there is a bank in a "downtown" area that hearkens back to earlier days. There is a pizza place that looks like it might have been a general store; a building that was obviously once a saloon or hotel is now a hairdresser's. A railroad track that runs through the heart of the downtown area passes a small train station building (which no longer operates, since the trains that come through now are only freight) that Walt Whitman once used to get from Camden, NJ to his summer digs, a short walk away from the station.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Praise Addiction

"When you get into the end zone, act like you've been there before."
-- attributed to Vince Lombardi
This one falls into the category of "getting older." I write about that sometimes, because, like everyone on the planet, I, after all, am.

And, as I do age, I watch concepts that used to be ubiquitous become rare and then turn into complete non-entities.

Somewhere along the line, it became okay to blatantly ask for attention. That used to be considered desperate. It used to seem pathetic. Now, there's style in it. Consider the football player doing that backward bird-flap to get the stadium to cheer louder for what he has done. Consider the rock star or the rap star telling the audience, "I can't heeeeear you..."

Somewhere, in the settling historical storm that is electronic media and communication, it became okay to post memes and statements about the fact that people in certain professions get less recognition than they deserve. In my mind, it would be fine for a teacher to post how nurses get less recognition than they deserve, but it's tacky for a nurse to do it. (The fact that I need even to say this is proof that the proverbial carpet has been pulled out from under me.)

It has always seemed to me that the less recognition one requires, the cooler one is. I have always respected people who do something well for the reward of having done it well and real confidence is knowing one has done that without having to be told and without having to tell. Sure, it feels good to get external recognition, but to require that recognition just seems childish. One should appreciate praise (after, of course, considering the source) but one should not crave it or -- worse -- beg for it after, say, the age of six.