Wednesday, November 29, 2017

On Ahabs and Snow-Whites

I don't know if this is a true story or an urban legend type thing, but my dad once told me that Gershwin asked to study composition with Ravel. Supposedly, Ravel replied, "If you study with me, I can only teach you to be a bad Ravel; you are already a great Gershwin."

I wonder about what is happening in the minds of modern men and women.

I used to have a problem, on an artistic level, with the way actresses played women in positions of power -- ships' captains on Star Trek, for instance; or senators or soldiers. It always felt to me as if the women were trying to play men; trying to be, if you will, "Ravel" when they should have remained "Gershwin" when both were equally different and equally great.

Women and men are equal in their validity as human beings, to me, so, I often wonder why some women seem, in their important quest for complete social equality, to want to take on the worst of stereotypically mannish qualities. (We'll get to men, in a minute -- they do something similar.)

For instance: war is awful. War has long been a failure of men. I wish women did not want to be warriors. It feels, to me, like children looking up to the playground bully. (I also wish men did not want to be warriors, but that is our millenia-established hole to crawl out of...)

Men have a ton of awful qualities and maybe equality does not require women sharing these awful characteristics.

I know I am on dangerous ground here, but, there is nothing more profound than a mother's gentle affection. I like the idea of women being labeled "the gentler sex." I also understand that many women consider that a damaging diminutive, but, in the purest form, gentleness is a good thing. But I do get the objection: those words out of the mouths of different man can carry different intentions and meanings.

If we could all just come center, toward each other, instead of wanting to jump into each other's (ill-fitting) shoes, that would be great. I don't want men to be simpering wimps and I don't want women to be arrogant hammers. I'd like  us all to look at what is best in our respective traditional characteristics and choose those items, a la carte. But I realize that takes thought. It is easier to create a cardboard cutout of one another and imitate that.

In our quest to redefine gender roles, it is no suprise to me that some modern men seem to be imitating the sexist stereotypes (like weakness and helplessness) they helped to create and that women seem to be putting on the masks of shallow agression that the worst of us dudes wear in our worst moments.

But being "manly" (strong and self-sufficient) is, again, in its purest form (the same way being "gentle" in its purest form is) a good thing. There is something noble in the role of the "protector" or in that of the "head of the family," as long as these things are not taken as positions of shallow, bullying dictatorship. I want, for instance, my family to look to me for leadership in tough times; for them to be confident in my abilities to be a stalwart captain. In that way, I want to be the leader. That does not feel the same to me as wanting to tell people what to do. Does that mean my wife can't fill that role whenever she wants to? Of course not. And there is my point: she can do it to, without turning into Captain Ahab.

The motivation for men to become the artificial stereotypes of weakness they have helped create for women is an obvious one: It's easier to be a victim than it is to be a hero. It's easy to shirk off the social demands of being strong, especially in a time when the idea off gender roles is being challenged (sometimes in good ways, but more often in foolish ways).

In short, if my wife doesn't need to be Ahab, I don't need to be Snow White. But, as I mentioned, I am not surprised that people of both sexes tend to slide into extremes.

Some balance in this world would be great.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Who Cares How the Cookie Crumbles?

It's easy, when living in one's own head space, to assume that one is perfectly normal. A simplistic statement and (perhaps) a simplistic state. But, on occasion, one can be presented with a situation in which everyone else feels one way and he or she does not. 

For instance, I am not much good at nostalgia, especially in that I don't seem to care in the least about institutions or organizations of which I have been a part. 

My old high school? No interest since the day of graduation. My old colleges? Same thing. Sure, I remember some events fondly and memories of doing things with friends can still make me smile, but the schools were just a backdrop, to me. Somehow, that tether that holds many never attached to me. 

Not me. 
Just yesterday, a friend posted, on Facebook, that "The Great American Cookie Company" closed its stores. I worked there for a few years before graduate school. I had great friends there (many of whom I remain friends with) and we had a lot of fun. My romance with my wife, Karen, even blossomed there. Yet, I simply do not care that it closed. To me, the business had as little to do with the relationships I developed than the clouds have to do with a 747 pilot's lunch conversation. Sure, he is up in the sky, and wouldn't have been if that situation if not for the sky's existence, but the sky doesn't get credit for his conversational topic. 

It's not "Penn State" that I miss when I think of keg parties by firelight in the woods, late night talks, Saturday morning touch football games, Denny's breakfasts at four in the morning, romantic scenarios, four-hour composition sessions on the Baldwin grand piano in the empty science building theater or watching "Alf" on Wednesday nights with everyone on my dormitory floor (in some ways, the most important event of the week) crammed into one tiny dorm room... It's not Penn State, the school, I think of. It's the people. It's the life lessons learned and the impressions made. I don't feel as if I owe Penn State for that or that Penn State was, as a school institution, even any part of all that. 

My time in grad school wasn't about Rutgers -- it was about my friends; it was about in-class epiphanies; it was about evenings researching Coleridge in my room; it was about immersion in music and literature. Sure, Rutgers (and Penn State) provided the classes and the great professors (at great cost -- let's not forget, I paid handsomely for school either in dollars or in work)...but, it's the experiences I love, not the buildings or the billing office or the board... 

Maybe I feel that individualism that is so important to me; maybe I don't want a corporate or educational structure to claim any credit for my personal experiences. Either way, affection for a company or a school does not compute. If I met you  there, I might be your friend forever, but, if my respective schools close their doors tomorrow, I might say, "How about that?" and finish my bagel. That will be the most thought I give it. 

We had good times at The Cookie Company. It was also an unfulfilling, messy, and often undignified low-paying job. Why would I care that is closed? The closing of the company in no way closes the curtains on my memories of laughter, friendship, love and tomfoolery. I may still have some pride that I was a decorating wiz (many witnesses will, to this day, testify that I actually did a portrait of Juan Valdez in chocolate and vanilla icing on a giant chocolate chip cookie, once) but I don't owe the corporation for that. 

Does any of this make me selfish or weird? Either way, I can't pretend affection when I feel nothing. Love and loyalty, for me, for people, not for buildings and infrastructures. I don't disparage people for being different. I almost envy my friends who love Penn State enough to spend tons of money to go back for football games... Seems like fun. just ain't there, for me. That connection between the experiences, the people and the just is not there, for better or worse... 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Emotional Sneak-Attack

One of the elements in life that can be jarring is the emotional sneak-attack. We can think, as much as we want, that we have filed our experiences into their appropriate cabinets and closed the doors; that everything is shuffled into its respective folder for permanent storage. But experiences are less like files put into a cabinet than they are like animals stuffed into cages; and a caged animal will try to get out.

I was in the car, a few days ago, when I remembered an incident with my dad, a little while before he died. He was in the early grips of dementia. My mother had needed surgery, so I went to their apartment, while she was in the hospital, to stay with him, because his mind just was not right.

That night we had numerous "conversations." One of them had been about how my father "knew what was going on" between "[my mom] and [so-and-so]." Clearly, my dad pointed out, they were having an affair. For the record, he was about as wrong as one can get: [so-and-so] is my mom's brother and, he's gay. 

But I would sit and listen and do my best not to patronize him -- to make the conversation as real as possible; to endure the sadness it brought upon me to hear him struggle with a partial understanding that he was making no sense and his efforts at defending himself as sane: "I know -- you think I am crazy..."

Finally, it was bed time. As I was getting him settled in, he began to tell me about the noises he was hearing at night; that he thought there might be ghosts in the place. My dad had always, even when lucid, had a belief in the possibility of supernatural phenomena, so I was not surprised that he now believed there might be some retirement community haunting going on.

I did my best to dismiss the sounds he was "hearing" -- a loud heater; the refrigerator motor -- and he was pretty well tucked in. As I left the room, he said, good naturedly, "Do you want to sleep in here? Like, in the bed, here?"


"I mean," he said (and pardon the direct quotation from a man of another generation who would, in life, never have discriminated against even those for whom he used politically incorrect terms), "It's not like we're faggots..."

"I know, Dad," I said. "It's not that. It's just that it is seven o'clock and I am not really tired yet."

"Oh," he said, clearly disappointed. "Well...maybe when you are tired..."

"Yeah...maybe. Good night."

Well, I didn't go in there when I was tired. I slept on my mom and dad's awful couch. In fact, it threw my back out of whack for about three months. Maybe that was payback for my insensitivity...

....because, all I could think, last week, when this event of about four years ago popped into my head, was: couldn't you have just gotten into bed with your dad? After all the irrational fears he talked you through as a kid; after all the comfort he brought you in the late hours, after a long day's work, when he would rather have been asleep? 

I can still see his face in a flashback to my childhood; I can see him in silhouette, sitting on the edge of my bed, on a night of sickness or of irrational childhood fear, looking down at me. I can feel him gently squeeze my arm and say, "If I could, I'd take this from you and onto myself, I would. I'd be sick or scared for you, if I could..."

But I couldn't inconvenience myself when he saw a monster in his closet...

Maybe a better metaphor for this is that memories are sharks down below us, cruising around, waiting to clamp onto our legs. This one got me good.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


One thing this blog has been for me is a kind of therapy. Every writer will tell you that writing is good for him. I once heard a writer ask, "How do I know what I think until I write it down?" I had this feeling all through the early phases of this blog and beyond. There have been quite a few "Hey, how about that?" moments.

Yet, there has been a long gap. The last time I wrote here was in May and before that the pieces started getting scattered.

Why? When I started this blog and was looking around for models, I would see other blogs in which people posted "sorry I have been away for so long" and I would wrinkle my nose. If you are dedicated, I thought, that won't happen.


I am not jumping back on here to make excuses, but to observe the tides of life. Or, maybe more accurately, the riptides of life.

One of the things I have always marvelled at is how often I simply forget to do major things. I am not talking about paying bills or taking out the trash. I'm talking about things like eating well and exercising; spending time with my wife; spending time with my kids.

There is always a moment of shock: that moment, for instance, when, after having lost thirty pounds, I realize that I have forgotten to keep on top of eating well and that I have gained ten pounds back. It is never about simply blowing off self-care. It's more about just getting swept away by the riptides of daily and professional life.

And that is where I have been: caught in a riptide. I know that in order to escape a riptide, one must swim parallel to the shore and allow the riptide take one farther out. To swim straight in against it is death. You have to let go the fear of being drawn out deeper into the ocean and trust in the fact that, at some point, you will be able to ride the waves back into shore; or, at least, paddle slowly back in without becoming exhausted and drowning.

I have been in a major riptide.

Since I never saw this blog as a blog about me, even when I am actually talking about me, I won't detail what has been happening. You can insert your own riptide experience in for mine and we can ponder it together.

In some ways, your problem gets worse when you are, as I am, pretty good at appearing as if nothing is wrong. But when is breaks; when the riptide is strongest, it starts pulling in others who are trying to help you. That's when it is worst. That is when something needs to be done.

Hopefully I have done it. Hopefully I won't forget that I kind of need this blog. In a lot of ways, it's my spot on the beach. But there will be a long way to go until the exhaustion passes and breathing gets back to normal.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Religion and "Mending Wall" Thinking: Part One

The kids in the high school in which I teach think it is very, very funny to push the button on their car remotes and make horns beep during class. Then they snicker among themselves as if they have pulled of the most clever -- the most groundbreaking -- of pranks.

My reaction to this is to conjure an obviously fake laugh and to declare -- with painfully evident sarcasm -- how, even after twenty years or teaching high school, this is still funny, peppered in comments about how I can't imagine it ever not being funny and fresh. "Ha, ha, ha!" I intone with the drama of a Puccini tenor... "The car alarm...never, ever gets old..." (At which point the alarms usually shut off and [I could swear this is the case] one or two students seem to turn a little ruddy in the cheeks.)

I can't help feeling the same way when people join the boring chant that condemns "organized religion." I wonder how they can regurgitate the same old cliches as myriad part-time philosophers before them have, and not be embarrassed about it. Yeah, yeah...blah, blah, blah..."organized religion" is awful..."organized religion" causes wars...the world would be better off without "organized religion."

Yep -- it just never gets old. Keep pressing the button...keep making the noise. But how about we really think about this, instead of just chirping the cliches we heard and glommed onto when we were fifteen, as did the fellow in Frost's "Mending Wall":

He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well, 
He says again, "Good Fences make good neighbors."

In the poem, the man insists that fences are necessary, even when  they have no discernible purpose. He insists this because he has been instilled with the idea: "Good fences make good neighbors." No other reason. This is what he was told. 

If a farmer keeps goats next to another farmer who grows crops, a fence is a good -- even a necessary -- idea. But...what if both farmers keep sheep? What if, as in the poem, one one neighbor is "all pine and [the other] apple orchard"? What is the sense of the fence, then? 

So, even as there is some validity to the fact that fences can keep neighbors happy, it does not mean that fences are either universally good or bad. In order to see this, one must actually think things through. But...who wants to work that hard?

With religion, it is easier to look at, for a few examples, The Crusades or at ISIS or at the Inquisition and say: "See! Religion is bad!" These were/are bad things, indisputably. 

But, how about other things? Is organized government bad? Is finding like-minded colleagues bad? Are universities bad? Are all of these things not cradles of the monstrous babies who can grow up into the breakers of worlds and the takers of rights?

Of course not. Religion is just the easier target, because it has become the mantra of the pseudo-intellectual; of the seeker of the ready-made, controversially pre-packaged powerful statement: "Religion is bad..." 

And if we are calling things that cause problems like wars and persecution bad, why don't people call for an end to government? Haven't disputes over borders caused at least as many wars and atrocities as religion? How about money? Money causes wars and cruelty. Why haven't we eliminated money? What about philosophy, in general? Should we call for an end to discussion groups? -- universities?  -- web pages about a particular philosophical premise? -- deep discussions in bars? (Rumor has it, revolutions have begun in bars. And revolutions cause death and suffering...) 

The answer is that they don't call for a ban of these things because the perception is that the benefits of these thing outweigh the problems. In essence, people think that sometimes war is necessary to maintain quality of life; sometimes it is okay to ban immigrants; sometimes it is okay to tell everyone that homosexuality is perfectly normal, or a perfect abomination, depending on the philosophical trends of the time; that it's okay to be filthy rich and not help others...etc... 

But, with religion, we don't seem to want to do this. The hordes of "Mending Wall" philosophers just carry the boilerplate idea into the future: religion is bad. 

Obviously, my point is that this is a foolish generalization. So, as to not bore you with an even longer post, I will do a little question-raising in the next post: Is organized religion really guilty of more bad than good? 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Gay Man vs. Great Man

I am pretty sure I lost the respect of a professor in graduate school when I wrote a reaction paper in which I mentioned that, in that class, I wished we could read poetry that was not about what the poets were; about being a woman; about being a man; about being African American; about being Jewish; about being native American...

In my head, I was just thinking that, while these subjects are always valid and usually interesting (and necessary) for literary exploration, there really are other quite worthy (and equally important) topics in literature. Again: it is not the topic of one's place in society based on race, gender, etc. is not worthy as a topic; it is just that there is a world of other things to write about, as well.

I thought of this today because of someone I follow on social media who daily -- multiple times per day -- posts about being gay or about the struggles of LGBT people. I really fail to find any posts from her that are about anything else. I actually don't know if I ever have. you have a dog? What else did you think about today; do you and I both like baseball; maybe you saw a funny road sign or came up with an idea for how to better organize your sock drawer? Did you read a book that got you thinking about mortality?

No callousness is intended here. I consider myself lucky by the roll of the cosmic dice, in a sense, that I am a white, male, middle class straight guy. I have not had to deal with the adversity that minorities and women and various other marginalized groups have. Their daily situation in the mosaic of society must often be foremost on their minds. I do, conceptually, if not personally, understand that it must be cathartic to express their thoughts and feelings and that it must seem the most worthy thing that they can do to fight for their respective causes...

...but, I still think that a constant adherence to these things as topics might, in the end, do more harm than good. At what point does "my love is as worthy as anyone's" and "we are misjudged" and "my Italian family is always eating" become "blah, blah, blah, blah..." in the ear of the reading world? -- whether that reading world is justified or not in its reaction?

Music is the foremost thing on my mind, most days. Often, I will talk my wife nearly into a coma with stuff she is not able to relate to. She listens, politely, and she sometimes even musters some real enthusiasm when I am prattling on about how I would be able to make my sampled string sounds more expressive if I had a long-throw MIDI fader controller...but, at some point, as important as music is to me, I have to realize that if I want to get her attention when it is really important, I need to administer my enthusiasm in small doses.

The teacher who yells all of the time gets ignored. The one who yells once a year gets undivided attention when he needs it.

I care about the suffering of individuals, but it is hard not to be desensitized by repetition. If I read Frost and Wordsworth and Eliot and Dickinson and then Langston Hughes, I am likely to be all the more moved by his "A Dream Deferred" as it stands out in relief against the other subjects.

I can see being challenged over this stance. As I said, I think a professor stopped liking me because of it. But, as I often do, I need to point out one thing: "Who the hell am I?" People can write about whatever they want, whenever they want, as often as they want. I would not dream of implying they have no  right to write whatever they feel. I can only relate the effect that repetition has on me.

I am not, despite having written a column under the name, the Emperor of the World. And, if I were, I would not decree that people are not allowed to talk every day and all day about their personal situation in life or about their most cherished causes. I just think, though, that I -- just this one cat and maybe a few others like him -- would be more moved, when they do talk about them, if it happened in a more strategically-timed manner. Saturation can be suffocating.

Sometimes, I think, less is truly more.

So, social media girl, I know you are gay and I know you support gay rights and I am right there with you. But perhaps the world wants to see you as more than a gay girl. Maybe we would like to see you as a woman. Maybe your cause would be better served if you, secure in the knowledge that everyone already knows you are gay, also showed the world you are a relatable and interesting person. It is possible to stereotype one's self. It is possible to turn one's self into a charicature.

It makes me think of an Elton John story. Everyone knows he is gay and he is admirably not shy about it, but this funny story about his 50th birthday costume is symbolic to me:

On the Parkinson Show, Parky once told [Elton] that his favourite costume was the Marie Antoinette one Elton wore in Australia. Elton had indeed donned a powdered wig and make-up to match, complete with beauty spot. But before he could get any further, Elton snapped back: "Marie Antoinette? That wasn't Marie Antoinette. It was bloody Chopin!"  They both roared with laughter, and Elton grinned ruefully: "To me, I thought I was Chopin. But everyone else in the world thinks I'm Marie Bloody Antoinette. That could be the story of my life!"

Maybe that is why Elton cut down on the costumes over the years; an echo of Emerson's old "what you do speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say." Elton is a role model for reasons even a dumb straight guy like me can relate to; for me it comes down to his competance as a piano player and the beauty in his heart that comes through much of his music. When think of Elton, the first thought I have is not, "Gay man;" the first thought I have is, "Great man." Somehow, I think that is better.

Worthy causes are worthy causes. But even I get tired of music after awhile and want to talk about something else.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Sound of Sincerity

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a performance of The Sound of Music at the high school in which I teach. It was a very good production by a very small school with very limited resources. I was proud of the kids.

But, in the end, driving home, I found myself feeling a little sad. It occurred to me that our contemporary society could would never produce a play like this. We the play, still, because it is a classic, but the conditions and the climate today are not ones in which such open, unashamed sincerity is tolerated

We don't do plays about upstanding resistors of oppression being saved by heroic nuns. We don't write Richard Rodgers melodies and Hammerstein lyrics about "brown paper packages tied up with strings" and "wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings." We don't do sincere piety. We, quite simply, don't do unapologetic beauty.

We do zombies. We do games of thrones where the rules are rape and war and deceit. We do drug dealers and prostitutes. Our pop songs (and even our country songs) are about infidelity and, sometimes, misogyny. We make TV shows about prime ministers having sex with pigs. We do dark and depraved like champs.

This is not to say that we don't produce intelligent shows. I even like the zombie shows. I'm watching a pirate show that is full of naughtiness and violence, so there is a place for it, in my mind.

It's just that I can imagine a play like The Sound of Music being written -- let alone, produced -- today. The soil is different, so the stuff that grows out of it simply cannot be the same and in the circle that exists, people don't want to consume the old crop. (I am tempted to go into an even more extended metaphor about organic crops and what we eat today...but...)

We can argue the particulars all day, but something had to be right about a world from which plays like The Sound of Music sprang. I don't mean this in a golden-age sense. I am not saying the world was, overall, better, because, God knows, from a lot of people's points of view -- especially minorities -- 1965 certainly was not a better time. I am just arguing that something was better; something fueled the production (and popularity) of such a play that does not seem to be there today.

I am not sure what has been added to the soil of artistic farming that has changed things. Cynicism? A desire for "coolness"? Whatever it is, it has made our productions slicker, faster and hipper...but, somehow, colder and bleaker.

Something made this old play about the Nazis focus on the beauty of human resolve and courage and not on the darkness of human nature. We all know both can come out of writing about such a turbulent time. What was it that made things seem to go the other way in 1965? What produced such sincerity and warmth?

I'd be grateful for anyone who can prove me wrong. Give me some examples of that kind of beauty, innocence and sincerity in something more recent.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Chris's List of Time-Saving Internet Revelations

What if I told you that I could cut down your Internet reading time by two-thirds? What if I said that most of the stuff you read online is just the same present in a different package? Well, friends, with my handy-dandy list of facts gleaned from the Interwebs, you can ignore, statistically, 80% of the articles your friends post on social media and still have all of the info, therein, safely tucked into your greedy little (or, as you will see, arguably, gigantic)brain.

Yes, that's right -- all of the knowledge for a fraction of the time-investment. 

How much would you pay for this kind of efficiency and convenience? $20? $30? $50? Five-thousand dollars? 

Well, for an unlimited time only, I am offering this precious information for the incredibly low price of "free." That's right, friend, you heard correctly. Free. Below is the summation of all of the information from all of the social media shares that exist on the Internet. 

Imagine, getting your life back. Imagine not having to get fired up by clickbait or feeling the obligation to share everything you read as if you are imparting knowledge of any kind. Simply share this one list of Internet facts and you are off the hook for at least the next fifty years. 

Are you ready? Are you super-dooper ready? Okay, here it is. All of the wisdom of social media sharing in one list of (as far as you know, because you are not, let's face it, going to look any of this up) proven (yes, "proven") facts and discoveries. With out further ado (whatever the hell "ado" is in that context) I give you: 

Chris's List of Time-Saving Internet Revelations 
(or CLOTSIR, if you are really pressed for time)

Fact, the First: 
Every bad and anti-social habit you have is an indication that you are smarter than everyone else. 
Are you a slob? Disorganized? Do you curse like a sailor with a hangnail that has been pierced by a toothpick that's been dipped in whiskey? Do you manifest your total disregard for the people around you by being self-centeredly late for every single appointment and appointed meeting time with friends? Neurotic? Bad grooming habits that cause you  to leave memories of low tide at the North Jersey shore behind as you leave every room? Don't worry! You are just more intelligent than everyone else! If it's broke, don't fix it, my friend. You are better than those who pull themselves together and regard others and themselves with a modicum of respect. Don't go changin' to try to please us common folk. 

Fact the Second: 
Science excuses you from all responsibility in your interactions with others.
Yes, that's right. Rest easy, you arrogant, egotistical, selfish bastard. You have a condition. Do you punch your little sister in the face for chewing her cereal too loudly? Relax. She had it coming; or, at least, she should forgive you because you have "misophonia." How can you possibly be expected to be nice to people who are forced to eat in proximity to you? There is a whole litany of responsibility-canceling debilitations out there, so take advantage!

Fact, the Second and a Half: 
It is not a flaw, it's a condition!
Can't play the guitar even though you have been taking lessons for 32 years? Used to be you had to worry that you had no talent. No longer! There's a condition for that: amusia. It's not your fault and, strictly speaking, it is not a flaw or lack of talent. It is a condition! Whatever you  may not be good at, trust me...if you didn't have that condition, you'd be shredding "Eruption," as we speak.

Fact, the Third:
You are one of the only people on earth who can get 10 out of 10 questions right on most quizzes.
If being a sloppy, lazy, foul-mouthed disorganized ne'er-do-well isn't enough to convince you you are a genius, just take one of those impossibly (and, in no-way tied to getting information about your Facebook account) quizzes to prove it! (Helpful hint: Don't doubt yourself. No, those questions were not comically easy. Not for everyone, that is. For a genius like you, however...) Don't forget to share how brilliant you are, even if you are not smart enough to know that sharing your Facebook info means revealing your deepest darkest Internet secrets to some insidious information gathering system that will be used later when the New World Order of Binary Human Control takes shape...

Fact, the Fourth: 
The less work you  do as a parent, the better your kids will turn out. 
While this may be true for idiots, we need to keep in mind, that no one is an idiot, as is evidenced by the facts above. Therefore, since each and every one of us is a genius, it is important to remember that we all worry too much and do too much for our kids. We need to stop trying to be great parents because it just causes us too much stress. High standards for raising human beings is so 1985; it's such a mood-killer. The solution? Readjust and reevaluate our involvement our kids' lives? No. No time for that. This calls for a "one-eighty." Instead of balancing and stepping back, we should just let the little devils crash and burn. After all, we didn't wear seat belts when we were kids and we lived...

Fact, the Fifth:
Whether or not you had a wonderful childhood is directly connected to the memory of certain key details. 
No, I don't mean this in some hokey metaphysical or deep psychological way. I mean, if you can remember having a Hong Kong Fooey lunchbox; if you had a banana seat on your bike; if you remember listening to the radio for your school's winter-closing number, you had a happy childhood. Never mind that Mr. Budgenick, next door, used to lure you into his basement with Doritos, sit disturbingly close to you on the love seat and watch reruns of "CHiPs" (all the while muttering breathy phonemes about Eric Estrada's uniform pants under his breath while shifting uncomfortably around in his seat) and tell you not to tell anyone. If you can remember rotary phones and Nikes with the red swoosh, you were a happy kid! No fuss, no muss!

Fact, the Sixth:
Something horrible happened...
...but, why read about it? It happened. Are you that dark? Is reading about it time well-spent? No! Move on. I have provided all the info you need.

Fact, the Seventh: 
She showed up at the swim party with no bathing suit; what she did next will (not) blow your mind. 
Really. It won't. She probably borrowed one. You time is more precious than this, my friends. (And, seriously, have some dignity.)

Fact, the Eighth:
There is a superfood for that. 
Just pick one. Bananas? Whatever. Pick one and will it to work. Your chances are excellent that you can cure a disease that is developing in you or that you will lose 700 pounds within a week. Don't bother with research. Just eat something with an exotic name -- like "acapotetia" -- to the exclusion of all else, and your problems are over. Better still, blend it up in a blender shaped like an egg (with some spinach) and drink it. That simple act, and an exercise routine, six days a week, will cure you right up.

Fact, the Ninth: 
You  are going to die of a horrible disease that is cropping up in your area of the country this season.
Well, to be fair, not if you eat chia seeds. Never mind.

Fact, the Tenth:
You are right. 
Just be confident. After all, you are a proven genius, no? Just rest assured, without investing the time and effort of searching for or reading articles to confirm your biases. Let it suffice to say that there is one out there. You, my friend, are right. Conservatives? Evil. Liberals? Evil. Police? Evil. Police? Good. The Interwebs are like an enchanted bag that produces the object of your wishes. You wanna be right? Voila!

...and there you have it. In a short, fifteen-minute reading session you have gained all the knowledge there is to gain from social media article sharing. Now, you can go spend time with your kids. Not that. Let the little spineless slobs suffer the consequences of their actions. Do something for you, because, whoever you are, your selfishness means you are really intelligent.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Why It Was Better When Women Stayed Home

Okay, okay...I am guilty of my first "clickbait" post title.

Let me explain:

About ten years ago, I found an article that had reputedly come from an old home economics book from the nineteen-fifties. In it, women were instructed to basically be servants to their poor, hard-working husbands. (, today, says the article is unverified...may or may not be real. Some accounts say it was from Good Housekeeping; the image below says Housekeeping Monthly.) I brought the article into a college class I was teaching at the time to use as a writing "warm-up" topic...

The discussion that came out of this was interesting and most unexpected. One young woman raised her hand and said that, while, of course, the condescending language and ideas in the piece were absurd, the idea of the "homemaker" was not a bad one. She pointed out that, with all the work to be done, one person taking care of the domicile while one went out and made the money was, actually, an ideal situation; very efficient and practical. She also said that it was not absurd, then, for the woman to be expected to make dinner and do all other home-related jobs.

This lead to a more controlled discussion than you might think.

The conclusion was one that, from a modern perspective, lead to the class more or less agreeing that it made sense for someone to take care of the house and someone to bring in the dough. Of course, the respective "someone" does not have to be either the man or the woman by default. Today, we do see increasing numbers of men staying home while the women work...

What I think is that the old setup was, indeed, better. Not because the woman stayed home but because someone did. A house is a big responsibility. It is logical to run things that way.

Now that we have (almost) gotten over the idea that the man has to be the worker and the woman has to be the housewife, maybe we should go back to the "homemaker" concept as a goal. If one person makes enough money, be it the man or the woman, the other really should stay home. It makes sense. It is (was), I think, a better way to run a household.

But we would need get over two difficult hurdles: greed and stereotype. Are we capable of deciding when we are making enough money to give up an income? Can we escape the old gender job-assignments? Some of us can, but maybe anyone who has the means should try. I know that if I started to list the benefits of the worker/homemaker model, this piece would run much, much longer.

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Self-Importance Furnace

I have been listening to a lot of podcasts, lately. Most of them are about music and music production.

If I were the scientific type, I would calculate seconds and figure out exactly how much time is wasted in "deference." But maybe you will take my word that it is "a whole lot."

At first, I was vaguely aware of it, but, now, it has become the proverbial sore thumb. I started listening to other podcasts, just to see if it was something particular to music people, but, alas, no. Let me explain before I get even more annoying:

Does anyone have the backbone just to actually assert his or her opinion about something? I swear that every single time a person on the podcasts I listen to explains how he or she prefers to do something, they make sure to mention -- as if it is a boilerplate requirment --  that it is "perfectly fine" to do it another way; that other ways work; that the person is not saying not to do it another way...

In the meantime, valuable seconds of a half-hour podcast are wasted. Again, maybe someday I will calculate.

At the same time that this shows a lack of backbone -- a kind of empty stab at sensitivity -- it also shows deep egotism. Do they think that because they like to write music on the computer and not at the piano or on the guitar, that I am going get all nervous and change my way of working? -- that I am going to be ashamed that I am not doing it the way do and change my work methods? Do they think I need to be coddled and comforted? Well, I do not...nor does anyone else.

To use the popular phrase, we need to "get over ourselves." How important we all think we are? But what did we expect to happen when we handed the general populace 24-hour cameras and social media accounts and the ability to share themselves with the world before they even brush their teeth in the morning? -- before we created photo-filters that make a family trip to the beach (which really entailed six back-seat fist-fights, numerous greenhead fly bites, endless child whinings, numerous parent meltdowns and wet sand in the balogna sandwich...) look like a gauzy, film-scored quest into Faerie? When we are able to represent ourselves as perfect in bytes of sound and image, we start to believe in our own sleight of hand; we actually start to think we are special.

We really are not. And we are allowed to have opinions because those opinions don't have the weight our egos assign them.

Once, after a Phillies game I went to with my uncle (when I was a kid), I said, "Man. Every time I go to a game the Phillies lose." He responded: "What makes you think you are that important?" A wonderful lesson.

Yeah, I know it is a modern cliche, but...we really need to get over ourselves.

So, please, podcast celebrities, stop wasting my time and stop feeding your self-importance furnace by reassuring me that I don't have to do what you say. That's a given, trust me.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Why Biting Your Children and Offering them Cigarettes Can Be a Good Idea

Dan: I can't kill him! [Lord Lambourne] brought me up! Just like a father.
Yellowbeard: Oh, you mean he's beat ya and kicked ya and smashed ya in the teeth?
Lord Lambourn: Yes...
Dan: No!
Lord Lambourn: No.
Dan: He's been kind and gentle.
Yellowbeard: What kind of a father is that? Kill him!
 -- Yellowbeard, 1983
Being an effective parent is a matter of perspective, really. I am reminded of the absurdly comical scene above by memories of my mother, who both bit me and offered me a cigarette before I was ten. It was, in both cases, "good parenting."

The first scenario was simple. I bit her. She bit me back. I never bit her again. Years later, my son slapped me. I slapped him back. He never did it again. Was it wrong for us to do these things to our kids? Isn't hitting wrong? (For the record, I never, not once, hit my kids as discipline, outside of that scenario.)

As did many people of her generation, my mom smoked. She knew it was not good for her, but at the time she started, as a teenager in the fifties, word was not that strong, regarding smoking. She started and she was addicted... When I was little, I asked her what it was like to smoke. She said, "Wanna find out?" and offered me her cigarette, instructing me to "breathe  in deeply."

I nearly coughed myself into a seizure. I never touched a cigarette again. (She quit, a few years later -- "cold turkey" [what the hell does that really mean, anyway?] -- when I came home from school after a lesson on the dangers of smoking and begged her to stop.)

In the age of judgmentalism and public shaming, we set inflexible rules. We watch each other. What if a neighbor walked past my house today and looked in the window and saw me offering a cigarette to my eight year old son? -- or if I were walking home after picking my eight-year-old son at school and I employed my mom's perfect technique? Someone would call the division of family services and I would be in danger of losing my kids.

Dangerous times... Big Brother is not watching... We all are watching each other, fingers hovering over various buttons...

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Flies on the Steering Wheel

Like the fly on the wheel who says
"What a lot of dust we’re raising"
Are you under the illusion
That you’re part of this scheme?

- Neil Peart, "The Stars Look Down."

We have been duped by the doors that modern technology has opened into thinking we have way more power than we do. The new "opiate of the masses" is the impression that because we can, say, write a blog or post about social issues on social media, that we can "make a difference." We are all scuttling around -- all of us writers and socially conscious tweeters and Facebookers -- dumping our energy into the garbage bin. We click "post" and we feel as if we have contributed to the well-being of humankind, for the day. 

We have not. It is a drug. It lulls us into not acting in the way we should to help our fellow humans. It is a distraction; it is what we are doing while real opportunites for doing some thing meaningful are slipping away.

I recently wasted a large portion of intellectual and emotional energy on a Facebook discussion about a political issue. As I was wrapped up in it, I stopped and asked myself: Why am I doing this? Why am I investing time and emotional energy into this discussion? What's the payoff? The truth is, I was participating because I am Peart's fly arguing with some other flies. In point of fact, the only measurable results I have seen come out of conversations like this have been ruined relationships. I know tey say you shouldn't say this, but, "Never again."

Even this blog -- I love to write it. (I sounded like Donald Trump just there...ha!)  I have some excellent, consistent, intelligent followers. I have made some very cool "friends" through blogging; friends from many parts of the world. I appreciate that very much. But I have, long ago, dropped the illusion that what I say here has any impact beyond earning head-nods from those who would probably agree with me, anyway -- which is why they come back, really.

This is not to say that a conversation and a kicking around of the finer points of a topic are not useful. It is a worthwhile activity. But it is arrogant to think most of this is anything more than just a water-pistol squirt into the ocean. 

I recently saw a quote attributed to Mother Theresa:
"If you want to change the world, go home and love your family."
I have been saying things similar to this for around six years now, on this very site. We need to stop being sucked into meaningless "dialogue-ing" on social media and look to our neighborhoods, our children and our friends. That is where we can make a difference. We can make a difference by volunteering locally, by becoming teachers and couselors, but not by sharing memes and getting into scraps with people over Trump's administration.

We are, indeed (and I have been there, too), all that fly on Peart's steering wheel in the opening quotation. This sets the perfect stage; we think we are contributing to change, so that those who would take advantage of us can use the time to plot. At the risk of overdoing metaphors, the dogs have been thrown a steak (the Internet) and we canine fools hunch down and blissfully devour as life goes on outside.

Sure, I will keep writing what I think, but not because I believe I am in control of the wheel -- because I am the sort who has to express his ideas and because I hope to raise interesting questions that might -- just might -- contribute to something positive.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Trump's Mouth-Breathing Lumpen and Frederick Douglass

Just so that you are aware, there are people who actively discourage the pursuit of truth and clarity -- who openly argue that the truth should not be presented if that truth works contrary to what they believe is the appropriate cause. I am not talking about ruffians standing in back alleys, menacingly patting their open left palm with the barrel of a Louisville Slugger. I mean smart, well-meaning people.

A young man who I respect very much for his intelligence and for his kind heart told me I was wrong to have pointed out an illogical sign being carried by a woman in the Women's March. His reason was that the cause was just, so I shouldn't have done that. "There is a time and a place for this kind of criticism." My response was that the time and the place to pointing out bad argument is always.

The motive for his point of view is not evil. In a way, it is a soft version of the ends justifying the means philosophy.

Trump and Spicer, for instance, with the statements about Frederick Douglass... Confirmation bias makes it easy for a guy like me -- who really, really, dislikes and holds no respect for Trump -- to take these statements and add them up to the fact that both of these guys (Trump and Spicer) think Frederick Douglass is a living, working statesman or activist or something... I would love to have that ammunition against him... Really. But the truth is the most important thing. In a time of misleading information; with an Internet that is crawling with both intentional misdirections and lots of mistakes in reporting and analysis, we need to fight for clarity and truth.

The Atlantic (a pretty reputable rag) quotes Trump thusly:

“I am very proud now that we have a museum on the National Mall where people can learn about Reverend King, so many other things, Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice. Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and millions more black Americans who made America what it is today. Big impact.”

I have said it before: Trump's biggest problem is that he is moronic in his expression. He sounds even more idiotic than he really is. He buys himself thinking-time with canned phrases, like "done an amazing job" and "big impact." But there is nothing conclusive about his phraseology here. "who's done an amazing job" is weird, for sure. When talking about a historical figure, I would say, at the very least, "did an amazing job." But he's Donald Trump. He tries to riff with words when he doesn't have the ability. He's like a middle school sax player trying to sit in and improvise with Miles Davis's band. (Like Ferris Beueller: "Never had one lesson...") And the Atlantic rightly points out that Douglass's recognition actually is growing... Saying it is doesn't necessarily mean Trump thinks Dougass is out there kissing babies. (But, hang in there -- this is not an article written in vindication the Donster...)

Spicer, next. When asked about it, he said... 

"I think he wants to highlight the contributions that he has made," Spicer responded. "And I think through a lot of the actions and statements that he's going to make, I think the contributions of Frederick Douglass will become more and more."

Again, a bumbling, awkward, inarticulate response from our administration. The unbelievably awkward last sentence makes it sound like Douglass will do more...but I still think it is only idiocy in the speaker. The "he" in the previous sentence could easily be Trump. I think what Spicer would have said, if he had three or four brains cells exchanging any kind of electrical charge, would have been, "I think the contributions...will become more and more apparent" -- because of the statements Trump will make. 

Is this defense of the administration? Is this helping them out -- saving them from  the stigma of not knowing who Frederick Douglass was? (Note the past tense.) No. It's worse than that.

If I look as a job posting, it probably includes the stipulation that applicants have "good communication skills." So...shouldn't the presidency have the same, like, a baseline skill? 

We are being led by an administration who speak like sixth graders who get D's in Language Arts. They are the guys who get put into remedial English when they get to college. They have leaned to finagle and push and evade their way into success by either not talking and just acting or by fast-talking enough to make listeners thing, in common conversation, that they just missed the point... 

This crass lumpen of oafish mouth-breathing mumblers leads our country. That's the horror of it. Knowing or not knowing who Frederick Douglass is is the least of their (or our) problems. They cannot communicate their ideas with any semblance of clarity. 

This is what should keep you up at night: Donald Trump is going to hold phone conversations with world leaders who have their own armies. That's the horror of it.  

And this is why I pursue clarity and why I attack bad reasoning and communication. Thinking otherwise keeps us on the surface level and can keep us  from uncovering the deeper issues...

Thursday, January 26, 2017


When one thinks about it, the science fiction writers are really the only people -- despite all the mystic mumbo-jumbo of the millennia -- who have effectively predicted the future. Bradbury, alone, predicted the big screen TV and ear buds in his Fahrenheit 451.

I have seen the storm clouds for years now and I have referenced them in many posts. One of the things I have seen is that Orwell's predictions have begun to come true. Maybe he should have called the novel 2017 instead of 1984, though it would not have been as neatly poetic for a book written in 1948.

But we should not make the mistake of thinking that Donald Trump is the problem, here. Once again, he is the symptom; the symptom of a world that has allowed itself to use misinformation as a tool and to become its own Big Brother. We, the people, are the entity that shuts down dissent. We are the ones who are now condemning, say, peaceful protest. We are the ones who swarm, like ants over melting chocolate, over those who don't agree. All a power-hungry administration needs to do now is to jump on the wave.

So, Orwell was right, he just did not see all of the picture. The populace are the grass-roots of the Big Brother government. We have become an entity that is willing to smother the  individual; to accept and even to encourage misinformation when that misinformation serves our purposes. In other words, it isn't that Big Brother forced us to our knees; it is that we have become mentally lazy and even willingly deceived/deceptive when it comes to facts. Perfect timing for a less-than-honest administration to show up; like a bird of prey exploiting the weakness of a dying desert animal.
"For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable – what then?” -- Orwell, 1984
It seems to me that the  mind is most controllable when it allows itself to be. Yes, it can be broken when it is strong, but why not just do it when the time is right; when our innate sense of truthfulness is in flux; when the paradigms we have depended on forever are crumbling around us?

Is 2+2, 5? Well, it sure as heck has been for a long time. But, what if we call the numbers something different? What if the first number two identifies more as a seven? What if we decide that the equation only works if the numbers represent similar things?  What if we don't really think 2+2 equals five, but we are wide open to discussion about the idea because the person who thinks it is is scary? -- or can hook us up with things we want? -- or shames us into saying we believe it? -- or threatens what we love if we don't agree?

Welcome to 2017. We need to not be Winston; we need to be Captain Picard. If there are four lights, there are four  lights, come hell or tsunami.

Help the world. Share this. Use this hash tag: #read1984now.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Garbage In; Garbage Out

It's rare, but things can be simple. Like, some kids grew up on lyrics like Neil Peart's words to the song "Grand Designs":

A to B --
Different degrees...
 So much style without substance
So much stuff without style
It's hard to recognize the real thing
It comes along once in a while
Like a rare and precious metal
Beneath a ton of rock
It takes some time and trouble
To separate from the stock
You sometimes have to listen to
A lot of useless talk
Shapes and forms
Against the norms -- 
....So much poison in power
The principles get left out
So much mind on the matter
The spirit gets forgotten about
Like a righteous inspiration
Overlooked in haste
Like a teardrop in the ocean
A diamond in the waste
Some world-views are spacious --
And some are merely spaced
Against the run of the mill
Static as it seems
We break the surface tension
With our wild kinetic dreams
Curves and lines --
Of grand designs... 

Other kids grow up with lyrics like those of today's country hits, like these, from Jason Aldean's in-depth philosophical treatise on Friday night throw-downs,"Light's Come On":

You’re a crack-of-dawn, Monday-morning (coffee strong)
Poured everything you got into a paycheck Friday night
You’re a plow with stroke diesel, backhoe-riding king of beers, 18-wheeler
(Driving, living life in between the lines)
Of clocking in and quitting time…
But then the six-string circus comes to town
We hang them speakers over the crowd
When the lights come on, everybody’s screaming
Lighters in the sky, yeah, everybody’s singing
Every word to every song to a girl to take it home tonight
When the lights come on, everybody’s feeling
A hallelujah high from the floor to the ceiling
Yeah, the drink that we’re drinking, the smoke that we’re smoking
The party we throw, it’s going all night long

I'll let you work out what the results are/could be. If you listen/listened to lyrics like the first example, you should be fine. If the second, feel free to email me for a handy list of interpretive guidelines.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Of January, 20, 2017 and Matthew 1, 8:6

As we approach the inauguration of soon-to-be President Trump, I hear the conversation shifting. I hear people chastising others for hoping Trump will fail; saying that if he fails we all suffer. True, I suppose.

I hope he brings us joy and prosperity. But, in fact I have no idea how he will actually do as President. In the end, I don't much care. I am dubious as to how much good or harm one man -- even the most powerful man in the country -- can do. I think that when a president does well, it is a combination of his efforts, the efforts of the rest of the government officials, the efforts and choices of the populace and of the circumstances of his given historical time. So, Trump could well be the president when things go well or he could be the president when things go due south on a jetski.

But, as I say, I really don't care. It is in the hands of fate (and of both the good and bad, hard-fighting elected officials) now.

What I do care about is that Trump's damage will be bigger than what he does as president. He is already a symptom of a dying culture. He is already a sign that any sense of manners, propriety and class are fading out of the American consciousness.

Now, our children will have a crass, loudmouthed, misogynistic egomaniac as their president. He is now the symptom of a societal sickness; on January 20th, he will become the cause of further decline. He is a bad example for our kids; for our people and for the world.

For me, it is not a question of agreeing or disagreeing with his politics. No, I really don't want to play the fiddle with a smile of self satisfaction on my face while Rome burns. But you will never hear me say that Trump is a good president. Not unless he becomes, all of a sudden, a gentleman. (For God's sake -- not, at least, until her pretends to be one, like some of his predecessors did. No, I am not kidding. It's like the difference between the student who fails but at least pretends his studied so as to show the teacher some modicum or respect... )

For a nut like me, being a gentleman is important. For a nut like me, sports figures and celebrities do have a responsibility to be role models. So, especially, does the President of the United States.

I know many Christians voted for him. I'd like to remind him of Jesus's words, in Matthew 1, 8:6:

"But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea."

Trump has shown us all dishonesty; a lack of compassion and a disregard of feeling for the unfortunate. His business practices are questionable, to say the least. He shuts down questions by raising his voice. He openly seeks to suppress truth by working to circumvent answering the press. He is a poor example for our kids. 

If we see a new era of prosperity, I will not change my opinion. Wealth is not cultural prosperity -- not all of it, anyway. Art, collegiality, manners, compassion, kindness...these are the things that foster prosperity. We can become a country of 98% millionaires under this administration and not become the least bit dearer in the eyes of God; or in the eyes of any gentleman or true lady; or in the eyes of history. 

To me, a "great" America is one in which respect and comportment are the currency of daily social commerce. Trump only knows one kind of currency. (If only we knew if he pays his taxes on it. as we have done with every other president...)