Monday, December 31, 2007

Two Books, Two Movies

As far as I'm concerned, it was a pretty weak year for films. What I mean is that beginning with spring there were almost no compelling movies playing at the theaters till the very end of 2007. Pirates III with Johnny Depp got a nod from critics and fans as better than Pirates II, but it wasn't enough to make me want to give up an evening or afternoon. I have plenty else on my plate, thank you. I took a chance this fall on Across the Universe, which was entertaining. But for the most part, I did my movie watching at home.

On the other hand, I have read or listened to a lot of very good books this year. One way to get more reading time squeezed in to your life is to listen to books while you commute. Any good library will offer plenty of books on CD or tape for those so inclined. This has been a habit of mine for perhaps eight years now, listening to audio books and lectures.

To my surprise, two books that I found especially engaging in 2007 were made into movies that have been released here in mid-to-late December. The first, No Country for Old Men, by Carson McCormac; the second, Charlie Wilson's War, by George Crile. The full title of this latter book is, Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of How the Wildest Man in Congress and a Rogue CIA Agent Changed the History of Our Times.

Crile's book is a remarkable read. Purportedly the true story of how Congressman Charlie Wilson led the charge to fund the Afghan resistance, the book is both entertaining and disturbing. Well researched and detailed, it does not drag. The scary part for me, however, is that it proves what I have always said about our federal government: It is too big and out of control.

For this reason alone it is an important book. It shows how Washington works.... or doesn't. Or does in spite of itself in some ways.

Like many books interpreting history, it may be a little overboard in crediting Wilson with ending the cold war (almost single-handedly). But the proposition is intriguing and has at least some partial merit. What he accomplished was no less than astounding.

So when to my surprise I saw a trailer for Charlie Wilson's War coming to theaters, I was really looking forward to it, and hoping they did not botch the story. Just so you know, the film was a superb adaptation. Tom Hanks was good, of course, and Julia Roberts played her role well, but the screen play is what made it all work. It would have been so easy to have gotten lost in the details and to have made a lengthy, wearisome but "important" film. Instead it was a tight story with solid performances throughout. Kudos to director Mike Nichols (The Graduate, Catch-22) and a big round of applause for Philip Seymour Hoffman whose range of characterizations is astonishing. The contrast between Capote and Gust Avrokotos is remarkable.

The film had any number of places where it could have become derailed. Instead, Nichols maintained the discipline necessary to make this a highly entertaining and thought provoking experience.

I'll save my comments on No Country for another day.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Jon Winters & the Art Scene ~ Interview Part 5

NEW TOPIC: The Art Scene

EN: What is it that fascinates you about Dali?

JW: I think Dali because he was such and is such a great draftsman. His anatomy, which I could never get close to, his many, many paintings, his detail, his thought.

EN: Dali found inspiration in the work of Vermeer.

JW: The only guy that bothered me, maybe it’s because I suffered a couple of breakdowns and stuff and I went through some tough times, not because of drugs or anything, just pressure -- Van Gogh. I understand what fantastic art he did, but his things bothered me. He was a very troubled man as you know. I could see that sickness. I could feel it. And I wouldn’t be comfortable with that guy as a role model.

I like Manet, and the Renaissance people, Monet, El Greco... I studied all those guys as I am sure you did, and I liked the Ashcan School -- Marsh, Bellows... all these guys. A good friend of mine was Don Kingman. A good friend of mine. He did the introduction to my book. A lot of people don’t know about Don. He was a wonderful Chinese water colorist.

EN: Do you know Chee at all?

JW: Yes.

EN: He’s from Duluth up here.

JW: Oh, is he... Huh. He’s quite good. He gets a lot of money for his things. Five and six figures.

EN: What’s your next project?

JW: I don’t know. I’m struggling with an idea right now. I’ve got my canvas done and background. It takes me a long time. I sit down.... trying to be different each time, hoo boy. I like to do something different each time.
I just did a thing about the American Indian. Two envelopes against the canvas. One is Seargent Ben Tall Bear, care of Browning Reservation, Veteran’s Hospital, Ward K, Montana

Then there’s another envelope to another guy, a Native American... and the only thing that isn’t painted is... I took a real stamp, a teddy bear stamp, up in the corner. And it’s titled Two Letters to Two Wounded Native Americans. And so I go from that to something else.

I just painted recently a couple weeks ago a dead tree against a big powder blue background, and the tree has many branches and from the branches are hanging many gingerbread men. And it’s called A Dead Tree With Any Number of Stale Gingerbread Men Hanging From It.

EN: What’s the strangest or funniest thing you’ve ever experienced as an artist?

JW: Probably the strangest thing I ever experienced.... I’ve collected all kinds of artwork, mostly things done on canvas, a few things of sculpture, but they’re so bloody expensive if it’s well done. I bought an enamel, an Austrian enamel, which I have in my studio. I bought it maybe 25 years ago. It’s about 9 x 12... I bought it because it’s a studio with the artist and he’s got his pallette, and he’s standing, and on his pedestal is a nude, three quarter nude, and I looked at the painting... How much is it? He said $3500, and I said "Oh my God, that’s a lot."

Now I always wanted to get something with the artist and his pallet so I said, "Let me look at this, and (in those days I didn’t need my glasses) and I said, “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. On her buttocks is an imperfection. It’s a black dot. What’s this?" And he said, “Take this glass." It’s a thick glass. And then I looked at it, -- this is at an antique show in Pasadena -- and he said, “Do you speak any German?” And I said, "No, very little." “Do you know the expression or word Difluegen?” I said, well the word flueg is fly. And he said, “That’s what’s on her butt, a fly. He took one hair of a brush and painted it.” I’m going to buy that, I said.

I love it because very rarely do people see the dot, and I saw it, and I know what it is... probably the most exciting purchase I’ve ever made.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Jon Winters Meets Billy Graham ~ The Interview Part 4

CONTINUED from Previous Blog Entry

JW: I’ve just finished a little book called “It’s No Fun Being a Protestant.” The Jews and the Catholics and the Muslims, ... It’s not sacrilegious. I don’t make fun of Christ. I tell people I’m a Christian. and kind of a paper mache Episcopalian.... The book starts out with my meeting Billy Graham, which really happened. And he said, as he came into the Green Room, 45 years ago,

BG’s Voice: I’m Doctor Graham. Are you who I think you are?

JW: I’m Spanky McFarland, Our Gang comedy.

BG: No, no, who are you? Aren’t you Jonathan Winters?

JW: I know who you are. You’re Dr. Billy Graham.

BG: May I ask, What are you?

JW: I’m Caucasian.

BG: I know that.

JW: No, you don’t. I have brown eyes. Our people got across the river first.

BG: Be serious. What denomination are you?

JW: That’s what you should have asked me. See, driver’s license says Caucasian, and other little items I’ve had to fill out. But what denomination? I’m Episcopalian.

BG: Let me ask you something seriously. And try to be serious. What do you find the difference between my being an evangelist and you being an Episcopalian?

JW: Now Billy, when we go to Yankee Stadium we go to see a ball game.

He didn’t get it.

And I said, when you go to Westminster Abbey, you go to a church second to St Peters. See, when your people get to second base, we’re already home.

So, that’s the book. See, to me, I really do my homework, especially writing a book like this because you’re going to offend a lot of people. But what these people have done on television seven days a week is frightening to me... that you walk up to a man who has cancer in his right arm and you say, “Jesus is going to heal you.” And two thugs, some guys from Harlan County, catch him and supposedly the cancer is gone.

I turned to a guy the other day who is re-born, and he said to me “What are you?” and I told him -- this guy with silver gray hair on CNN or something -- I said “Why don’t you come up here to the Cottage of St. Francis and heal the cancer people there?”

“We don’t do that kind of work.”

JW: It’s not a ballpark or an amphitheater. It’s sixteen kids with cancer. You’re a phony. Get out of my way, Jack.

It’s a big business. A very big business. There’s a lot of guys who are very bad cats who are sucking it in. and the poor public... these people go, wheelchairs ... I don’t know. It’s frightening.

You don’t see Jews out there coming up to my door. You don't see Catholics. Who are these people beating on my door, asking me if I accept Christ? I said to a Jehovah’s Witness, “Do you people ever salute the flag?” and they said, “No, we don’t believe in the flag.”

Get lost, Jack. I don’t need that.

It’s a lot of strange things... people yelling and screaming, going across the stage throwing the Bible up in the air... To me it’s bizarre.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
TO BE CONTINUED
Jon Winters photo courtesy Christina Bergstrom
http://www.bergstromsphotography.com/

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Master Comedian Jon Winters ~ Interview Part 3

CONTINUED FROM http://pioneerproductions.blogspot.com/2007/12/jonathan-winters-interview-part-2.html

JW: My mother said, “Why don’t you run away. You’re not doing anything here.” So I ran away at 17 and went into the Marines. Now I didn’t get along with either my mother or my dad. My dad was a drunk... then, of course, he sobered up and became the meanest white man I have ever known.

When I got out of the Marines my mother said, “No reason to be sorry for yourself. There’s plenty of work to be done in the garden. Get out of that funny uniform.”

I was working when I was nine. She was divorced then and she said, “Forget the paper route. I’m not driving you around so you can throw a paper up on the porch. You better start washing the trucks down at the bakery." At nine I was working.... shucking wheat and cutting corn...

en: Do you follow screen printing?
JW: Only through Joe.

en: How did it come about?
JW: He and Jay (Winters, Jon's son) got together and he was showing us stuff out here. And I don’t have to tell you, for a guy that is working in acrylics on canvas it’s an entirely different field. Lotta work. Long hours... one color laid on another, on another.

So I kind of backed off from Joe, and said let’s go in a few different directions. I’m certainly fascinated by the process and really enjoy what people have done with screen work, but in the long pull it’s not my cup of tea. I don’t have the patience for that.

en: Your first painting?
JW: Hung Up On Strange Fruit

en: How many brothers and sisters?
JW: I was an only child. I took all the heat.

en: What got you interested in art?
JW: Well, the one reason is, show business has been really good to me, and I’ve tried to be good to it, do something different along the line. The one thing about art I like, and I still do: you’re in charge. Sure, you still have to answer to a gallery and your collectors and one thing or another, but basically, I sit down and I paint what I want to paint. I’m not in school any more... a professor leaning over you.

Voice change to snitty professor: I don’t care for that color you used in the background...

JW: Get out! My patience is really short. You want to sit down and discuss it as a paper mache intellectual, fine. Don’t sit down and start telling me how to paint the mountain or what I’m going to do with this man standing over the truck.

You’re in charge and you sink or swim with what you’ve done.

In film, in television, theater, sure you’ve got directors, producers, writers ... but with these people, the end result in television is, they’ve got the scissors. In art, they can’t edit your painting.

In another snitty voice: “I want you to cut that out, that thing with the horse. Cut that out.”

JW: No, we’re not cutting that out. We’re leaving it in. And if you don’t like it, take a walk.

So, the independent clown that I am, it’s not that I’m not disciplined in the movies. I’ve got my lines down, I’m on time, I know all the rules... I figure the fascinating thing for me at 77... I’ve always lived in one house, The House of Correction.

In an altered, domineering voice: Why are you wearing the overalls downtown? You just draw attention to yourself. (JW explains with an aside: "That would be my old man")

JW: Well, I’m comfortable in these goddamn things and I paid for it myself. Look shorty, you’re five eight and a half, I could drop you.

Father’s voice: Oh, you’re talking back to me.

JW: Well, I didn’t talk back until I got out of the car. It’s a book about eighteen inches thick.

Everywhere you go: “Why do you wear those shoes?” Don’t worry about it. I’m wearing them. You’re not. And you’re constantly having to defend yourself. Your religion. Your color. Your hair. Your shoes. Your painting. That’s why I say we live in a “house of correction.”

I’m a rebel and I always will be, and I’ve adjusted remarkably well. A woman said to me the other day as I got out of my car (aside again) I’m writing a book called Know the Enemy and it deals with a very simple thing, with a-holes and how to deal with them. And this woman turned to me and said, “You know, you’re crazy.” And I said, I can’t help that. Are you a doctor?

Voice change to older woman: No. I’m Mrs. Alan Bednor. I live up on the Riviera.

JW
:
How did you know I was crazy?

Older woman: I’ve seen you on television.

JW: Well, I’m crazy there, definitely. I have to be, in order to make a living. I read your book, incidentally, Mrs. Gedner, or whatever your name is, on sensitivity. Is it still the one page? Oooh. Now, are you married?

Older woman: Yes, to a very fine man. Harry McDagner, and he’s with American Tool and Die.

JW: Is he on the New York Stock Exchange?

Older woman: No.

JW: That’s too bad. The company’s not that big, is it.

Older woman: Well, we’re primarily in the Midwest and western states.

JW: Yeah, Black and Decker Hammer. OK, What was his capacity? Is he retired?

Older woman: He retired last year at 64.

JW: Was he owner of the company?

Older woman: No.

JW: Was he chairman of the board?

Older woman: No

JW: What was he, outside of straightening that Sparklitz bottle?

Older woman: Sparklitz bottle?

JW: Yeah, I’m a little fast for ya there. Maybe he was trying to make out with some chick at the computer. What did he do when he retired? Or maybe they fired him.

Older woman: Oh no, he was in marketing.

JW: What was his name again?

Older woman: Paul

JW: Tell Paul when he comes home tonight I deduct what he makes. Not bad for a crazy person. That’s the end of it dear. You get in your Plymouth and get your ass out of here.

That’s the book, my friend. It is. The minute they say, I don’t care for your comedy, always agree with the enemy, see. That gives you time to lock and load.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
TO BE CONTINUED
Jon Winters photo courtesy Christina Bergstrom

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Jonathan Winters Interview, Part 2

Jonathan Winters appeared in more than 50 films, has authored books and produced an impressive collection of original art, some of it available in his 1988 book of paintings titled Hang-Ups.

This is part two of the interview we conducted approximately 3 years ago.

en: Tell me more about your studio.
JW: Little candy cash register that sits on a box that my grandfather had, a kind of a big square chest. The cash register is from NCR. I’ve got things I’ve collected from Dayton… a picture of the art institute. I’ve got pictures of guys I’ve worked with... Art Carney, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, and paintings that Native Americans have done. I’m a collector.

It’s a little bit of everything. I don’t work on an easel so much as a big drawing board. I’ve got a radio, and I paint to music, mostly from the 40s -- Duke Ellington, Count Basie. And I have a desk. I do my writing there. It’s a comparatively small area that I paint in. You go up a series of stairs, almost like a loft. I’ve got a little table there with my acrylics, and I go to work.

en: I also was a painter when I was young. In recent years I've set up a studio in my garage every summer.
JW: What kind of painting?

en: Abstract expressionism, impressionism, surrealism.... I read that you were into Dali and Magritte.
JW: I love Magritte. I’m working on a painting now. It’s a hearse, and behind it there’s a trailer with a U-Haul label on it – it’s like a cartoon really – and the caption is, “You can take it with you.” I’m very influenced by cartoonists. I’ve done some cartoons, had a couple published, one in Playboy, one in the old Saturday Evening Post.

Charlie Adams, Peter Arno, George Price, those are my guys. I’ve done a couple serious things. I’m not an activist of any kind. I mean, message stuff. There was one you saw, A New Member... It didn’t play too well in the south.

en: How did you get interested in screen printing?
JW: Joe (Petro) is a guy who knew my boy. We’ve put together some stuff. I did a
book of short stories. Put some artwork in that.... Joe’s back in Kentucky.

en: I have Kentucky roots. I’m a descendant of Daniel Boone.
JW: Southern Ohio, once you get into Kentucky....
>>> breaks into southern dialect<<< played football against Hamilton...

en: What are you doing to promote what you do?
JW: I just finished a picture this past September. It will be out in late summer. We’re in touch with each other. I’m working with Joe. I just sent him some books and he’s putting them in a shadow box kind of thing.

en: What makes your work unique?
JW: Well, that’s an interesting question. All I ever hope to do with anything is try to be a little bit different from the guy on the wall. As I mentioned earlier, I look for style. A woman turned to me the other day and said, “How much is your largest painting?” The biggest I get is about 18 x 24. And I said $25,000. And she said, “Oh my God! I never dreamed it would be that much.” Well, I said, “The painting’s a joke. The idea is worth $25,000.” And she didn’t get that, so she said, and I get this a lot, >>> alters voice << “If you weren’t Jonathan Winters, you couldn’t ask those kind of prices.” And I said, “But I am Jonathan Winters.” Why would I put Henry Walker, or Lyle Davenberger on my painting?

Sink or swim. I get annoyed very quickly. If you don't want to pay that... Now the woman is wearing heavy jewelry, pulls up in a brand new Jaguar... You’re talking to a guy who’s 77. I see these assholes coming in with all this glass on their hands bringing in a Delta flight, dickering with me... and I say, “Look, let me tell you something. You’re best bet is to go to Tijuana and get something on velvet. That would be tops $35 and a picture of Elvis.”

I’ve only painted 150 paintings in my life. They’re not all 25,000 for crying out loud. My drawings are like $500, framed pen and ink things. Red Skelton, for an 8 x 10, gets $45,000.
But you’re dealing with people. People say, “After you die do you think these will be worth anything at all?”

“Well, I sold my clothes for 200 dollars after they were worn out. Collectible people, they will collect anything. I don’t know. I can’t tell. I’ve bought paintings I never heard of the guy, he wasn’t famous. I buy things I like. I don’t care what the name of the guy is. If I like the painting, and I see some interesting strokes that he’s done with his brushes and his subject matter, I’m gonna buy it. But a great many people >>voice change<< “Unless it’s Kuniyoshi, or unless you’re talking about Magritte or Reginald Marsh or Winslow Homer, uh, I don’t know. Do you think your stuff measures up to that?”

No, I’m not in any museum, except possibly the Dayton Art Institute, and probably in the basement there, but no... Look, if you don’t like the painting, get out of the place right now. Take a walk. I just don’t have time to go back and forth with these people.

en: Is your work in galleries
JW: Not now. A guy has been on me from a gallery in Beverly Hills. They take such a cut out of you. They want 70 and you get 30. They talk about a cocktail party and some exposure, but what do you come away with? It used to be when I did a show in the 70s, they took thirty and I took seventy. But now it’s just turned around. Automatically most galleries, just 50-50.

TO BE CONTINUED

Jon Winters photo courtesy Christina Bergstrom
http://www.bergstromsphotography.com/

More artwork by Jonathan Winters
http://www.jonathanwinters.com/

Interview with the Artist Jonathan Winters

I probably first noticed Jonathan Winters in the star studded It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Throughout the sixties he made regular appearance on network television, culminating in having his own show from 1972-74. Bill Cosby called him the king of comedy and Robin Williams similarly praised him, calling him his greatest influence. In 1999 Winters was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

About three years ago I was in the mood to find some humor on the internet to lift my spirits from their mid-winter doldrums. By accident I came across some art work by Jonathan Winters, original paintings which were being screen printed by Joe Petro, a Kentucky screen print artist.

Not only did Petro have a couple of Winters’ paintings on his website, but he also had been doing works by Ralph Steadman and other famous or notorious people. Having been involved with the screen print industry, I knew the mags and pitched an article to Screen Printing magazine about the screen art of Jonathan Winters. This was eventually transformed into a cover story profiling Mr. Petro. The assignment gave me access to interview two influential people from my youth, Jonathan Winters and Kurt Vonnegut, as well as an overseas interview with the remarkable Mr. Steadman.

What follows is a transcript from the beginning of my Jonathan Winters interview, which ended up being a forty minute, high velocity roller coaster ride.

JW: How are you doing?

en: I’m doing great. How are you?
JW: Well, failing in health. Most of my problems are mental. I ... people ask me a commercial question… “How are you?” and I always say, “I’m out.” And they say, “I don’t understand.” You’d have to be “in” to appreciate that. And then they say, “Where were you?” You don’t want to know. The walls were high. We made leather purses. Little dishes. It goes from there.
Well, how are you?

en: uh... (confused)
JW: This is my comedy. You see, my art is one thing. My comedy is not really understood. Nor is my art.
(switching to a woman’s voice) What is this? What’s going on here? What are you trying to say?
(JW voice) That’s a bird with a key in its back. The title of the painting is called A Toy Bird.
(woman’s voice) I’ve never seen a bird with a key in its back.
(JW) Well, you’ve got to feed them the right thing. My painting ... My boy said you would call at eleven and you’re right on the dot.


I’ve been painting -- I didn’t do much painting in the marines... I scribbled a little bit... did a few sketches ... nothing too exciting -- When I came out of the marines I wanted to paint. I went to art school in Dayton Ohio. A small art institute there. My wife (Eileen) got her B.A. at Drake. Then she had gone to Miami of Ohio. Then she got her Masters in art history. She’s the one that got the education and she doesn’t paint at all. It’s a shame.

en: I went to Ohio University in Athens.
JW: Sure, her sister went there. I went to Kenyon. When I was there it was about 600 guys. I didn’t do too well because I wasn’t taking any art... and, I have always gotten A’s in history.... but we had to maintain a 3.2 to stay in school. I wasn’t ready for that. At any rate, I failed Medieval History. I left Kenyon after a year and went to Dayton Art Institute. It’s hardly a major university, but I tell you, you talk to a few people about education and art school is the best thing that ever happened to me. I was really doing what I wanted to do. I mean, opportunity. You go to school, smoking two joints, listening to Bobby & the Electric Wolves, and waiting for Ohio U to suit up and play Otterbein. I went to art school in ‘47, got married in ‘48, and in ‘49 got into radio
at Dayton, WING, and was a disc jockey, and continued to go to art school.

The bug bit me in show business. My art at the time was so commercial, so commercial it was sad. I would have been good if I was going to do industrial drawing or be a commercial artist, which I wasn’t. I’m not a commercial comedian, so I certainly wasn’t going to be a commercial artist.

I didn’t find a style until I was well out of school. In the early 70’s I really got down to painting. I was working on the road, in gin mills and night clubs and stuff, but when I’d come home I’d paint. I think I had my first art show in ‘72, here in Southern Cal or LA, and I have been painting ever since.

TO BE CONTINUED

Jonathan Winters site:
http://www.jonathanwinters.com/

Catch a couple minutes of Jonathan Winters in person here on YouTube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHOy5gBJIm0

See the work of screen print artist Joe Petro here:
http://www.joepetro.com/

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Adjustments

While home with my family over Christmas a few years ago we went bowling one day. It proved to be an interesting experience at the lanes. My brother bowled the best game I've ever seen him bowl (220's) and I surprised myself by barely getting over a one hundred in my first ten frames. I wondered if anyone would believe I bowled in the 180's my last time out. Fortunately, I found my mark and got the swing of things with a 191 and a 183 in the second and third games.

During the second game my brother -- who happens to be a psychologist -- had turned and, smiling, said, "Adjustments," as he lifted the ball up to his chest. He layed it down smooth and bowled another strike. I agreed with him, that it was a matter of making adjustments, finding your mark, laying the ball on the spot on the lane, observing the results and adjusting accordingly.

In the third game, he again smiled and made the same remark. I realized then that he was not speaking of bowling, but offering a piece of wisdom, as if to say, "This is what life is, the making of adjustments." He only spoke the one word, but I heard with clarity his admonition. When life isn't working, we need to evaluate and adjust accordingly.

From time to time most of us bring our cars to a mechanic to have adjustments made so they will run better. A tune-up or "carburetor adjustment" helps the engine to run the way it was intended. In the same way, our lives need periodic tune-ups or adjustments, to help us accomplish the purposes for which we were created.

The word adjustment is an interesting one. It means "to bring into agreement." On many levels we need to apply this word to the various compartments of our lives, whether relationships, careers, parenting or our quests for personal meaning.

Ultimately, growth is a process, the process of making adjustments.

For more insights on living and excerpts from my book Nightfall: A Time to Reflect at the End of the Day, visit my website at http://www.enewman.biz/reflect.html

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Man and the Birds

Unable to trace its proper parentage, I have designated this as my Christmas Story of the Man and the Birds. You know, THE Christmas Story, the God born a man in a manger and all that escapes some moderns, mostly, I think, because they seek complex answers to their questions and this one is so utterly simple. So for the cynics and the skeptics and the unconvinced I submit a modern parable.

Now the man to whom I'm going to introduce you was not a scrooge, he was a kind, decent, mostly good man. He was generous to his family and upright in his dealings with other men but he just didn't believe all that incarnation stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmas Time. It just didn't make sense and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn't swallow the Jesus Story, about God coming to Earth as a man. "I'm truly sorry to distress you," he told his wife, "but I'm not going with you to church this Christmas Eve." He said he'd feel like a hypocrite. That he'd much rather just stay at home, but that he would wait up for them. And so he stayed and they went to the midnight service.

Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper. Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound. Then another, and then another. The strange muted sound was sort of a thump or a thud. At first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They'd been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window.

Well, he couldn't just let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter, if he could direct the birds to it. Quickly he put on a coat, galoshes, tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on a light, but the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them in. So he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide open doorway of the stable. But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them. He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms. Instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm, lighted barn.

And then, he realized that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me, that I am not trying to hurt them, but help them. But how? Because any move he made tended to frighten them, confuse them. They just would not follow. They would not be led or shooed because they feared him. "If only I could be a bird," he thought to himself, "and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to safe, warm ...to the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand."

At that moment the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind. And he stood there listening to the bells - Adeste Fidelis - listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. Then, the man who just a few minutes ago had thought Christmas such a ridiculous folly, felt understanding dawn in his spirit. and slowly sank to his knees in the snow.

"And they shall call Him: Wonderful, Counselor, the Prince of Peace, the Almighty God, the Everlasting Father." ~ Isaiah 9:6
Narrative by Paul Harvey

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Go Browns!

"Browns fans, this was a day your team made you proud. It was a day when they proved worthy of your loyalty that has never wavered through rain, sleet, snow or a move to Baltimore." ~ Terry Pluto
Dec. 16, 2007

Pluto is a sportwriter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. And he is a fan of the Cleveland teams that I grew up learning to love. Till I was twelve I lived in Cleveland, then moved away, but the Indians and Browns continued to live in my heart.

OK, so we have not had much to cheer about for a while. Like, a very long while. The Indians came surprisingly close to representing the American League in the World Series this year, which was good. Then the walls crashed in. But they gave us a thrill.

Most people do not remember how dominant the Indians were in the 1950's. When my parents brought me home from the hospital in 1952, they named my four teddy bears after the Cleveland Indians starting rotation. My favorites were Feller and Lemon, one of the best one-two combos ever. In 1954 the Indians were the first team in baseball history, and the only team since, to have a pitching staff with four twenty game winners. The Tribe, as they are affectionately called by fans, won a pennant that year and came in second at least a half dozen times during that decade. Then, the bad thing happened.

Terry Pluto wrote a book about it, actually: The Curse of Rocky Colavito. (Thanks, Terry!) It is a book about how the team management decimated a good team for money, and about how the bad behavior of that team owner resulted in a perpetual cloud of bad luck to hang over the city and it team of perennial also-rans. It's an entertaining book for all Indians fans and I recommend it heartily. It helped explain why there were no Indians on the team when I went to the 1963 All Star Game in Cleveland's municipal stadium, and why there were no fans at so many of the games I went to at that time as a kid.

But today, we're talking about the Browns. The Cleveland Browns, one of football's great traditions, have been having a surprisingly good year. Like their baseball counterpart, the Browns have likewise had a disappointing history these past four decades. The glory days of Jimmy Brown and Leroy Kelly, Lou "the Toe" Groza, Frank Ryan, Paul Warfield, Bobby Mitchell, Gary Collins... well, it may have been a long time ago but the precious memories are very present. The legacy since that time includes a three year stint when we had no Browns at all. The team had been moved to Baltimore. Ack!

Well, we all know that the Browns are not Super Bowl bound because, ahem, our former coach Bellicek has built one heckuva a dynasty up in New England, if those Colts in Indy don't squash us first. Nevertheless, it's exciting to watch a team that has the potential to win every week, like they're supposed to. It's been a long time since I have read "the latest line" and found our Brownies actually favored almost every week. Woof! Woof Woof!


Check out this 1963 Cleveland Browns football card. Them Browns was great, weren't they?


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Holiday Ups and Downs

COPING WITH HOLIDAY STRESS
by Dr. Ron Newman

When you think of the Christmas Holiday season, what comes to your mind? Some people get excited about the decorations, music, presents, or the real "reason for the season." Others, however, get anxious about potential family conflicts, frantic busyness, crowds and long lines at the shopping mall. It is not unusual for people to have mixed emotions, including loneliness, depression, and grief over lost loved ones who will no longer be physically present to share in the holiday spirit.

What follows are some principles that may help you have a more enjoyable Christmas season.

A) Strengthen Relationships.
The holiday offers a unique opportunity to rebuild relationships. Recognize the value of those relationships, and focus on those relationships that you want to strengthen -- perhaps for the other person's benefit as well as your own. Even if you are experiencing your own sense of loneliness, resist the temptation to isolate yourself. Reach out to others who may have a similar need. The most meaningful experiences in life are in the context of our relationships with others.

B) Learn to say "No."
We often become overwhelmed at the holidays because of our difficulty in saying no to people. We sometimes allow others to determine how we use our time. Being assertive regarding those situations is necessary for our own sanity. This guideline is meant to help balance the goal of building relationships, but is not intended as a rationale for unhealthy isolation of oneself.

C) Practice Forgiveness.
Holidays can remind us of the unresolved conflicts we have with others. In the spirit of Christmas, we can sometimes face those relationships in a new light as we seek tounderstand, accept, and let go of past hurts. Or perhaps it is a good time for us to approach someone we have hurt to offer our own apology and seek reconciliation. This may not always be possible or advisable, if the other person is not "safe," but in most relationships there is room for more mercy.

D) Maintain a Sense of Humor.
If we take ourselves or others too seriously, we risk losing our own positive attitude about the holidays. A merry heart is good medicine. Learn to laugh at the long lines,forgotten presents and last minute shopping, etc. A negative attitude will only bring you down, but will not change the circumstances you are in.

E) Maintain Good Health Habits.
As with any stress management program, you want to get sufficient exercise, adequate sleep, and a balanced nutritional intake (beware of the excesses). Holidays are fraught with temptations of all sorts that can throw you body off balance and make the holidays less satisfying.

F) Sing and Enjoy the Music.
Music is good for the soul, and singing has many psychological as well as physical benefits. For one thing, it cleans out the stale air in your lungs! It has the ability to stir up every type of emotion, but during the holiday season it's good to be reminded of a more optimistic outlook on life.

G) Thoughtful Planning.
Goal setting and making plans to achieve those goals are necessary elements to success in life. The same is true regarding our success in navigating the pitfalls of the holiday season.

1. List your goals. Brainstorming all that you want to accomplish can be a helpful first step in this regard. This should include relationships as well as tasks.

2. Prioritize your goals. You want to be clear what is most important to you, otherwise you may end up doing what is easiest first, and not have time for what is really your highest value.

3. Remind yourself repeatedly of your goals. Put them on the refrigerator, on the calendar, in your daytimer, or whatever works for you. Just donít forget them, which is our tendency if we don't have a system to remind us.

4. Delegate when possible. If time management is particularly difficult for you, delegation of responsibilities becomes very important. Perhaps you do not have to buy all of the presents for everybody, or you do not have to cook the entire meal by yourself!

The above principles can help you enjoy your holiday to the fullest extent and avoid those inherent pitfalls.

Merry Christmas!
Ronald S. Newman, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in New Jersey withover 20 years of experience in the mental health field. He has been a popular speaker both in New Jersey and in South America where he makes annual trips for the purposes of teaching and training. This article originally appeared in Ecobyte.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Look Now, Pay Later

This just might do nobody any good. At the end of this discourse a few people may accuse this reporter of fouling his own comfortable nest, and your organization may be accused of having given hospitality to heretical and even dangerous thoughts. But the elaborate structure of networks, advertising agencies and sponsors will not be shaken or altered. It is my desire, if not my duty, to try to talk to you journeymen with some candor about what is happening to radio and television.

Our history will be what we make it. And if there are any historians about fifty or a hundred years from now, and there should be preserved the kinescopes for one week of all three networks, they will there find recorded in black and white, or color, evidence of decadence, escapism and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live. I invite your attention to the television schedules of all networks between the hours of 8 and 11 p.m., Eastern Time. Here you will find only fleeting and spasmodic reference to the fact that this nation is in mortal danger. There are, it is true, occasional informative programs presented in that intellectual ghetto on Sunday afternoons. But during the daily peak viewing periods, television in the main insulates us from the realities of the world in which we live. If this state of affairs continues, we may alter an advertising slogan to read: Look Now, Pay Later.

Edward R. Murrow, Keynote speech
RADIO TELEVISION NEWS DIRECTORS ASSN. convention, Oct 15, 1958

Edward R. Murrow was a serious reporter. He made a choice at some point in his life to stand true to his convictions. This put him at odds with a culture that seemed awash in distractions, concerned more with happiness than values.

I was only six when Murrow gave this speech, but it has been preserved for us in George Clooney's "Good Night and Good Luck." Like the little boy who exclaimed that the king had no clothes on, or the Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke, Murrow stood against the tide of history. One hopes that by speaking truth, one can actually make a difference. Too often it feels futile.

Almost five decades later, and our appetite for amusement and diversion seems to continue unabated. For example, the amusement park industry generates more than 24 billion dollars a year in revenue. The average large pask generates one hundred million dollars a year.

The entertainment industry generates more than 30 billion a year, and the mammoth sports industry generates more than 210 billion, not including the quarter trillion dollars spent on sports betting.

Yes, we love our distractions.

This is not an effort to create an eleventh commandment ("Thou shalt not have fun") but it is an effort to encourage us not to forget the less fortunate in our communities and in our world.

“The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.” ~ Eccles. 7:4

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Beauty for the Ears and Mind

Henry Wiens, a Midwest pianist, recording artist and founder of Quiet Heart Music, is not “just another piano player.” After years of receiving letters and calls from grateful listeners coping with grief, chronic pain, and stress, Henry recognized that his music had significant healing potential and began to distribute his CDs to nursing homes, hospices and hospitals across the nation. For more information about Quiet Heart Music, visit http://www.quietheartmusic.com/

An interview with Yamaha recording artist Henry Wiens.

Ennyman: Why does music have such power to reach so deeply into peoples' hearts?
Henry: Music is like beauty for the ears and mind. The answer to why people are moved by beauty is rooted in what it means to be human. For me, creating and listening to music is linked to expressing love for everything that is beautiful about life. As a listener, I respond to what I "read between the lines"; as a composer-performer, I try to express that love & beauty to others. Any power that music may have to touch others is rooted in the authenticity and depth of the artist's expression.

As people experience music throughout their lives, they build up associations with that music which reinforce each other. Hearing a familiar melody will bring past experiences to life. For example, hearing a song that you danced to when you were 18 and in love will probably elicit some of those good feelings even decades later. Hearing a song that was sung in church while you were held on your mother's lap may bring comfort the rest of your life.

Ennyman: When did you first realize that your music had power to alleviate suffering and/or bring healing to hurting people?
Henry: My parents took me to sing at the local nursing home with others from our little country church, from the time I was about 9 years old. I saw elderly people who couldn't even speak trying to sing along with songs from their childhood. I saw that their souls were stirred, their faith strengthened and their joys rekindled. Starting around the age of 12, I began playing a pump organ at the "home" with this group led by my preacher father.

In the middle & late 90's, I got an amazing number of letters from people around the U.S. who had purchased my 1st CD, "The Quiet Heart", which was then distributed by a now-defunct record label called ColorSong, based in St. Paul. Some of them told how their loved one's passing was eased by my music. Some hospices called me for additional copies for their patient rooms. Most often, though, the letters told about listening to this CD over a period of months or even years after a bereavement. They wanted to thank me for the gift of music that had helped them through their darkest days, weeks, and months. The # of these letters reached critical mass around 1998, and led me to focus on music that heals. These letters also resonated with my own grief, having lost my father in 1994 and my closest friend in 1997.

Ennyman: Are there things you do consciously to make your music more effective in bringing comfort?
Henry: I try to choose songs that are already meaningful to people. I could compose original solo piano music in a soothing style, and I may do that someday. But because this music is wordless, I want to harness the meaning and significance these songs already have in the listener's life.

As I have written elsewhere, I consciously try to create a space to experience the feelings of loss. I do this by playing in a way that is deliberately unhurried. I believe this slower paced music helps to facilitate a deeper, reflective state of mind where memories of a loved can be savored. Some may think that the grieving should listen to music that is happy and distracting. There may be a time and a place for that, but I think there is generally too much hurry and distraction, and not enough opportunity to experience the memories that eventually bring healing.

Ennyman: How did you first become interested in music? What inspired you to take up a career in music?
Henry: I grew up in a home where my mother and older sister played the piano at home and in church. Our family would sing hymns around the piano. When I was 11, my mother said I should take piano lessons. I was reluctant to start, but enjoyed it almost immediately. I had a flair for improvisation, so much that my piano teacher told me -- after about a year of lessons -- that I would be a jazz pianist someday. Since my dad was the preacher and my mother was the choir director, I became the official pianist of our little church in 7th grade -- the 1st of many unpaid positions!! The simple hymns and gospel songs we sang week after week became fertile soil for improvisation. I had countless opportunities to play the same songs different ways, which was a lot of fun, compared with playing those boring notes on the page.

When I was 12, I heard a southern gospel group from Tampa, Florida, called the Rebels Quartet. Their pianist, "Little Jimmy Taylor" really fired my imagination with his playing. I made a point of meeting him after the concert -- a very rare event in our isolated Upper Michigan community. I told him I wanted to play just like him when I grew up.

When I was 15, I won 2nd prize in a local talent contest and got to shake hands with Miss Teen America and a couple of Green Bay Packers. Guess which impressed me more? Anyway, that kind of positive reinforcement motivated me to practice that much more.

While in my early 20s, I was very involved as an accompanist at a church in my college town. One night after choir practice the pastor's wife asked me "Have you ever thought of playing piano with performing groups that travel full-time"? Something clicked inside when I heard that and I soon decided to pursue such an opportunity. This led to living on a bus with a gospel quartet for 3 years, performing across the country in churches, nursing homes, schools, jails, etc. This led me back to college to study music theory and composition which equipped me to work for many years as a producer and arranger of many recordings for a wide-variety of artists. I also arranged hundreds of songs for publishing, mainly church related. And all of this goes back to that pastor's wife's comment after choir practice!

Ennyman: Who are your sources of inspiration?
Henry: On a personal level, I would have to say my loving father, who died in 1994, my 97 yr. old mother who still sends me daily e-mail, my wife of 36 years, Dr. Lisa Wiens, and our 4 daughters. Our pastor, Ken Johnson. Many dear friends. The late Tom Fitch, music minister at Park Ave. church, was very inspiring, right up till the end of his battle with cancer at the age of 45.

Andrae Crouch has been a huge influence musically and spiritually. I have always loved a lot of black gospel music. This "gospel" flavor is discernible on certain songs from my new CD, "Wind Beneath My Wings"; particularly, check out “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.”

Fernando Ortega's music is very beautiful, sensitive, creative, reflective. I love his Hymns & Meditations project. This is closer to what I'm doing today with music that heals.

Ennyman: You seem to enjoy being improvisational. How would you compare improv to coloring outside of the lines?
Henry: Improvising is the heart and soul of what I do. A painter works to communicate his unique way of seeing -- "Here's how I see it". When I make something new out of a familiar song, I'm saying: "This is how I hear it". Great painters go far beyond the literal re-creation of what is seen. After all, anyone can take a picture -- though a gifted photographer can take us beyond literal images, too.

Just playing the notes on the page is comparable to coloring inside the lines or paint by number. If I'm looking at notes, the written music merely reminds me of the literal melody; it serves as a point of reference for improvisation.

Ennyman: Everyone has certain motivations . (such as teaching, selling, helping.) What are your personal motivations that make you feel most fulfilled when you are doing them?
Henry: In the first place, creating the music is its own reward. Listening to a CD that represents months of improvising and pruning musical ideas is mostly a joy. (perfection is elusive!) The feeling is, "Wow, that really is beautiful!" But the greatest reward comes later when you learn that other people are also moved & inspired by the music; then I know they have felt and heard something like I hoped they would hear. I have a strong desire to encourage and help other people, especially those with grief and pain. I hope this music embodies love & mercy.

Ennyman: If you had not gone this direction with your life, what would you be dong now?
Henry: I would most likely be teaching math in a high school or college. I was certified to do that in 1973 in the state of Michigan.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

It Happened One Night

"Just ask me and I'll show you the scars" ~ Bob Dylan

So I did a short stand up routine last night at the Dubh Linn, an Irish Pub here in downtown Duluth. It was "open mic" night, which they do every other Monday I guess. I've been scribbling ideas for comedic material the past month since getting bit by the bug. My goal was to assemble a modest routine and take a stab at it in January. But hey, things don't always go as planned. When I walked in the room, the MC asked if I was going to perform. It seemed like I was the only one there who wasn't, so I caved in. That's how peer pressure works.

Sometimes when you have insomnia your mind travels down some amusing tributaries. One night, while doing a little mental rambling, I began cultivating humorous anecdotes about my various scars. I figured that I could just talk about my scars and it would be enough material to fill a routine.

My real aim was just to see what it was like standing on the stage with a bright light in your face. It's a little different than your living room. More like an interrogation scene at the cop station in the fifties.

I began with that very painful scar which I received on my heart when my father called me stupid in front of the whole neighborhood. Actually, I began by talking about the Darwin Awards, which are famously given to people who do really dumb things and eliminate themselves from the gene pool. Well, in listening to an audio book about the fourth annual Darwin Awards, the very first story is about a guy who jumped out of a moving car.

Whoa. Now, you probably think that is stupid. He was killed, and it was certainly a dumb thing to do. But when I did it, and I was twelve at the time, jumping out of a convertible on the way home from a Little League game, when I did it, it sure did not seem that stupid to me at the time. I just thought I would hop right out and up onto the yard and say hello to the girl I liked and it would be very cool. To my surprise, I slammed into the asphalt like a wet noodle being whipped against a table. Except there were these large limestone rocks and gravel there, which made the experience a tad less palatable. It was at this point that my father came running across the yard shouting, "You stupid!" Followed by a less shrill, "You could have been killed."

About forty-five years later, I realized that sometimes dads are right. Duh.

It took me quite a while to get over that hurt. Needless to say, I don't think Robin was impressed as I hoped she would be.

As for the rest of my scars, or rather, my routine.... well, according to the limited feedback I received I have to shorten my setups. I could also probably use some punch lines. Some funny material would help a little, too.

We'll keep you posted.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Titanic

Titanic. Reflecting man's immense ego, his confidence, his effort to "make a mark in time." How dark, how tragic. Cameron's movie showed the human side of the tragedy, yet faithfully re-created the event itself, in all its dark horror.

The movie had shortcomings for me. Primarily, the lead character, DiCaprio, as Jack Dawson. He was too happy-go-lucky. The actor did not, probably could not capture the the spirit of a real artist who has seen the depths and embraced the wind. Carefree spirit he was, but he did not strike me as one who had "really lived." He came across as hollow... his tone, his voice... In other words, the actor was inadequate to his task.
Nevertheless, audiences can be forgiving and in this case, in the presence of such a 'big' well told story we overlook the shortcomings, desirous to be swept away in the event. And Titanic is such an event. It's re-enactment is an event. And the audience, without risk, without shame, without cold or pain, could say, "We were there. We know what it must have been like. We were there."
Yet, we were not there. For had we been there, our lives might have been altered. As spectators it is too easy to turn the page... to continue on our course. For true and lasting change, we must perhaps experience our own personal Titanic.
Journal Note, January 31, 1998


It proved to be a stunning disaster. The RMS Titanic was a British registered four funnelled ocean liner built for transatlantic passenger and mail service between Southampton and New York. As we all know, she never completed her maiden voyage. On the night of April 14th, she struck an iceberg at approximately 11:40 PM and sank just 2 hour and 40 minutes later.

At the time she was the largest vessel on the seven seas, 882 feet 9 inches in length, and more than 46,000 tons.

On April 10th 1912 the Titanic set sail from Southampton with 2,200 passengers and crew, four days later the Titanic collided with an iceberg and sank. 1500 people died and 700 survived.

The website link below contains unbelievable amounts of detail on this historic event, telling the individual stories of every single person on this ship, the survivors and the lost... and the story of the great ship itself, so full of promise and a perpetual emblem of shattered dreams.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

Don't know why I had this thought a few days ago, but I decided to see what I could find about the notion by doing a little Googling. Evidently, the roots of the question come from an effort by medieval thinkers to apply logic and rational analysis to heretofore "spiritual" questions. These efforts toward increasing specificity resulted in making a mockery of the subsequent discourse.

Here are a few notes from my research about this important question:

“Scornful description of a tedious concern with irrelevant details; an allusion to religious controversies in the middle ages. In fact, the medieval argument was over how many angels could stand on the point of a pin.”
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. 2002

The question "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" is an example of an ontological argument - one which cannot be proven, as it has no basis in scientific fact. It has also been at times used as a trite dismissal: of medieval angelology in particular, of scholasticism in general, and of particular figures such as Duns Scotus and Thomas Aquinas. Another variety of the question is How Many Angels Can Sit On The Head Of A Pin?
Wikipedia, December 2007

The question "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" is associated with medieval theology of the Scholastic school, the best-known representative being Saint Thomas Aquinas, the 13th-century Christian philosopher (and a Dominican monk). I'm not sure that Aquinas originated the question; maybe someone with a better grounding in Catholic thought can help us out. Nowadays the question often appears when someone is ridiculing theologians, but I believe the drift of the original discussion about angels and pinheads concerned infinity and different kinds of being. Something like this: Angels aren't spatial, and so an infinite number of them could occupy a point.
R. Berg, blog entry, 2002

Well, now you know where the saying comes from. And maybe you didn't really care... or maybe, like some of us, you get a thrill from knowing that there are still mysteries in life that science can't explain.

That Nasty Cold

"I've come down with that nasty cold that has been going around. Burning sore throat, congestion and general misery, tired... Have not felt productive. That hot shower felt nice, though."
Journal note, January 18, 1998

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Silly Little Ditty

What can you do? What can you do?
Stomach in pain, Susie's back, too.
It's the same old refrain on a different shoe;
Uncertainty's the thing that makes me blue
so we muddle about in our mucky slough.
If 'twere fever I might make a stew
(Cabin fever'd send me to Malibu!)
But as it is, I only wish I knew
'Cause this tummy ache's gonna make me boohoo.
When it all goes away, when the pain is through
There's gonna be one big hullaballoo
Unless, of course, this is my Waterloo,
In which case I'll fulfill my rendezvous
with destiny. Oh, poo.

Journal note, January 16, 1998

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Money

To have it is a perceived blessing, but what is it people really want? It would seem that what people want is freedom from want. Want, once experienced, creates a corrupting fear of want, and money is needed to muffle that fear.
January 14, 1998

It is interesting to think how two people can be in similar experiences, struggling to get on their feet financially, and one is comfortable and confident, the other desperate. The former does interviews well when seeking employment. He or she has hope, believes things can get better. The other may come across badly because of the inner paralysis that makes conversation unnatural.

The issue in part is faith and hope.

But what about those in abject deprivation with nothing to look forward to? Some escape into alcohol or drugs or other self-destructive behaviors. And some continue to live with dignity. How and why does this happen?

In the thirties much of the generation that went through the depression were left with scars afterwards, an insecurity or fear because they experienced a measure of what it's like when the bottom drops out. Despite the wealth later accumulated, many remained anxious because of what they had been through. Even with great vaults of money some remained insecure. How much is enough?

In truth, there are no guarantees about tomorrow, so that at a certain point we have to let go. Let go of those niggling anxieties, keep moving forward and trust that we will be there to greet it when it arrives. The best way to do this is make the most of today. Avoid or pay down your debts, save for the morrow and be generous with the rest.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What Good Am I?

The season of Christmas is often associated with charity and is a time of giving. All too often, after the holidays we go back to our usual ways, neglectful of the spirit of this selfless season. In thinking about those less fortunate than us, I am reminded of this poignant song by Bob Dylan from his critically acclaimed 1989 album "Oh Mercy."

What Good Am I?

What good am I if I'm like all the rest,
If I just turned away, when I see how you're dressed,
If I shut myself off so I can't hear you cry,
What good am I?

What good am I if I know and don't do,
If I see and don't say, if I look right through you,
If I turn a deaf ear to the thunder in the sky,
What good am I?

What good am I while you softly weep
And I hear in my head what you say in your sleep,
And I freeze in the moment like the rest who don't try,
What good am I?

What good am I then to others and me
If I've had every chance and yet still fail to see?
If my hands tied must I not wonder within
Who tied them and why and where must I have been?

What good am I if I say foolish things
And I laugh in the face of what sorrow brings
And I just turn my back while you silently die,
What good am I?

Copyright © 1989 Special Rider Music

Monday, December 10, 2007

Music Brings Comfort and Healing

Music is one of the more fantastic gifts of God. It lifts the soul on wings to ethereal inner spaces. Nothing more effectively breaks life’s monotonous hold on us, transporting us to the portals of paradise. How do musicians and composers do it? From nothing & emptiness they bring forth combinations of sounds, melodies, themes, so pregnant with feeling it seems an inexplicable mystery. Rainbows of sound, trembling with life, causing our hearts to break open with rapture, or sweet sorrow. ~June 30, 1993

Whether providing comfort for grief, inspiration for action, relief from stress, or alleviating pain, music pierces the core of our beings like nothing else. If you or someone you know is grieving a loss or going through hard things, you might find healing power in the music of Henry Wiens.

According to one consultant who sent this testimonial: From a consultant: "Henry Wiens' soothing and relaxing improvisations on 'The Quiet Heart' have a unique way of quieting and speaking to one's soul. His sensitive and unique musical touch provides the listener an oasis of contemplation that leaves them refreshed and comforted."

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Orlando Interlude

Wednesday morning I flew to Orlando for several days on business. Guess what? It is a little warmer there than here. When I was checking in at the Orlando airport to return home this morning I said I was going to Duluth, and the lady says, "Oh, Mini-tundra." I wasn't sure what she said and she repeated it. Then she said they call Minneapolis "Tundra" and Duluth "Mini-Tundra." It was 80 degrees there yesterday. Tonight it's two below here. It's easy to understand why snowbirds fly south for the winter.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Front Page News

One of the exciting achievements of my childhood was winning the Grotto Circus Contest in 1961. The contest was designed as a promotion for the Grotto Circus which was coming to Cleveland. The aim of the contest was to guess the number of animals and people in the circus. Whoever guessed the closest would win $250 and four tickets to the circus.

I well remember lying on the floor with pencil and paper, making lists of the various kinds of animals in the circus and their quantities. Having never been to a big circus like this I would pump my mom for what kinds of animals they had in a traveling circus. For some reason she said there would be pigs in the circus and I put down 32, which in retrospect is quite a hilarious number of pigs. Well, the only thing we were to submit was the total. Lo and behold, I was one of four winners, and to my great surprise there were no pigs in the circus.

Winning had its perks. The Maple Heights Press sent a reporter to our house to take my picture and write a story which appeared on the front page the following week. “Eddie Newman, 8, was one of four who turned in perfect scores of 288, which represents the total number of workers, performers and animals it will take to stage the 32nd annual Grotto Circus, which opens in Public Hall tomorrow.”

“Eddie, about as affable a towhead as you’ll ever find, was all smiles when the Maple Heights Press informed him.”

Aw, shucks, that's sweet. But what’s a towhead?

According to the paper, “He admitted that his answer was ‘just a guess,’ though he had attempted to arrive at the answer scientifically.” You bet I did.

My mom told the reporter that the money was going into my school savings account. "For college," I interjected, adding that I was planning to study fossils and dinosaurs.

To this day I am uncertain how I ended up winning $87.50 since $250 divided by four is $62.50. Maybe I got a bonus for being so cute. One thing for sure, the circus was fun. And I learned early in life that sometimes when you go after something, you really can win.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

A Trip to the Morgue

This is a follow up to yesterday's blog entry regarding Jon Lacore's short term medical mission to Haiti's impoverished Cite Soleil.

Jon's most memorable moment in Haiti was far from his most enjoyable. On Thursday he and Chris, a volunteer from Vermont, joined Father Rick on his weekly trip to the morgue. “I’d seen dead bodies in Iraq,” said Lacore, “and you learn to distance yourself emotionally.” But the morgue in Cite Soleil was so inhumane that he and Chris were stunned. The bodies were just thrown into piles in a semi-refrigerated room. More stunning still was the selfless service of Father Rick and his staff.

“Every week the nun and priest that we worked with go to the morgue to collect the bodies of babies and adults that have been found on the side of the streets. They bring paper mache coffins to bury them in. They fill these coffins with about 10-15 babies in each one. When there are no more babies they put adults in the remaining coffins. We filled 20 coffins,” he said. “About half were babies, and half were adults.”

Jon shared that he and Chris talked rather casually while driving to the morgue, but after seeing the piles of bodies and carrying them to the coffins, returning to the orphanage was another story. They were silent and reflective afterwards. Jon is still processing what he experienced, as am I though I was not even there.

“We took the coffins out to a designated area where some men went ahead of us to dig graves," he said. "We buried these coffins while Father Rick performed a Catholic burial ceremony. It was the most disturbing moment and yet I was very glad that I did it because it opened my eyes to the unbelievable selfless service of the parish we worked with. They wanted to give a human touch to the poor and destitute who die in the streets of Port Au Prince without families to care for them, or anyone for that matter.” For two decades or more Father Rick has faithfully returned to the morgue each Thursday to show respect for and dignify the deaths of these unknown and unnamed Haitians.

There may be as many as one billion people living in abject poverty in this world. May those who are devoted to the task of alleviating a measure of this suffering be encouraged and blessed.

A Baby Ripped Out His Heart

"When we took off from Port Au Prince we had been deeply immersed in the Haitian culture and the appalling poverty, crying, starving orphans, and near complete hopelessness. The day before leaving to come back to the States I spent a portion of the day at Mother Theresa's Orphanage with Beth and Chris just holding babies, changing diapers and playing with the toddlers. One baby ripped my heart out and kept a piece for herself. A piece I was glad to leave behind. She was maybe 1 year old and so frail and so beautiful with one small earring in her left ear.
Jon Lacore
http://www.jdlacore.net/

On Thanksgiving my blog entry here dealt with how we take so much for granted as Americans. It is almost impossible to convey this in just a few words. Images and stories and, best yet, a period of time spent in the presence of Third World poverty will all conspire to break your heart if you allow it.

We have all had glimpses of it. We all know there is need out there, that there are people hurting in ways we can't even fathom. But because we do not know how to react to it we tend to shut it out.

What prompted my Thanksgiving day entry was seeing a presentation of images from Haiti's Cite Soleil, an impoverished section of Haiti on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. Jon Lacore, the son of some friends of ours, had just returned from a nine day trip to The Haiti Orphan’s Project and shared some of what he had seen and experienced there. (http://www.haitiorphansproject.org/)

Thursday of this week I followed up by having lunch with Jon who said, "After seeing Haiti I have decided to focus much more of my attention on that country due to it’s extreme poverty unlike anything I have seen before."

The twenty-five year old has seen a lot in his short life. At thirteen he was involved in a summer mission trip to Pakistan, followed by shorter but similar trips to Nicaragua and Trinidad. As a medic in the U.S. armed forces he spent nine months in Bosnia, and most recently 16 months in Iraq where, among other things, he served as a medic responsible for providing emergency medical treatment for the base, clinical duties for the soldiers and civilians on base, and aid at the trauma center for mass casualty incidents.

Even with this background, nothing had quite prepared him for what he experienced in Haiti.