Saturday, October 31, 2009

Helter Skelter

The Beatles’s White Album, a double album which some say was their epiphanal work and others say revealed the beginning of their end, was released in 1968. In 2003 Rolling Stone ranked it number 10 on their list of all time greatest albums. The sixth song on side three was called Helter Skelter, which psychopathic madman Charles Manson insanely interpreted as a call to anarchic revolution.

For a time the Manson family lived on Sunset Boulevard with Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys who was initially impressed with Manson's songwriting skills. They also took enormous quantities of LSD. Later, in 1969, members of the Manson Family broke into the home of Roman Polanski and brutally killed Polanski’s eight months pregnant young wife Sharon Tate and several others in what later became known as the Tate-Bianca murders.

Director Roman Polanski’s film Chinatown (1973) starred Jack Nicholson, in whose home the 1977 event which led to Polanski's arrest and subsequent flight from the country took place.

Marlon Brando at one time lived next door to Jack Nicholson. Sometimes Brando would walk over to Nicholson’s house for milk and if Jack was not home, Brando would leave his underwear in the fridge where the milk had been.

In the spring of 1973 during a Beach Boys concert at Ohio University I walked to the front and handed one of the band members a drawing which I had made in pen in ink, tearing it from my sketch book while standing next to the stage. He seemed to like the drawing and thanked me for it.

Conclusion: Based on the theory of six degrees of separation, anyone who knows me is within six degrees of Jack Nicholson, Roman Polanski, the Beach Boys, Marlon Brando and Charles Manson.

Think about it.

Trivia: At the very end of Helter Skelter there is a scream, "I've got blisters on my fingers," which most people attributed to John. It was actually Ringo's voice here. This song, written by Paul McCartney, gives evidence that he was not simply a sweet ballad-writing type of guy.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Birds, the Beasts, and the Bat

THE BIRDS waged war with the Beasts, and each were by turns the conquerors. A Bat, fearing the uncertain issues of the fight, always fought on the side which he felt was the strongest. When peace was proclaimed, his deceitful conduct was apparent to both combatants. Therefore being condemned by each for his treachery, he was driven forth from the light of day, and henceforth concealed himself in dark hiding-places, flying always alone and at night.

Moral: He winds up friendless who plays both sides against the middle.

Application: There was a World Series between the Phillies and the Yankees. The eldest brother, who lived in a far away land (Minnesota) liked to have good relations with all his brothers. Unfortunately, two brothers were Phillies fans and one brother a Yankees fan. The eldest brother tried very hard to stay neutral and please everybody. When he talked to the youngest, he said how much he loved Derek Jeter. And when talking with the others his favorite color was red and "the Phillies are something else."

I'll get back to the Aesop's fable in a minute.

One of the great things about baseball is its own fabled, and well documented, history. Some of America's greatest journalism was sportswriting. When I stumbled upon Larry Hypes' Yankees-Phillies have prior history in 1950 World Series it was a fun and satisfying read. He begins this way.

World Series week begins with another reason to cheer for the Philadelphia Phillies. On Monday evening, the “Phillies Special,” an AMTRAK charter, brought the National League champions into Grand Central Terminal. Some 69 years ago, the 1950 “Whiz Kids” arrived by train to play the Bronx Bombers at the old Yankee Stadium, right across the street from the present Steinbrenner Palace.

It was a long-standing tradition for teams to travel by rail, although in the modern era airplanes have become a necessity. Until ‘58, when the Dodgers and Giants made their move to California, St. Louis was the western-most city with a professional baseball team. No team was further south than the Washington Senators until the Braves left Milwaukee for Atlanta after the ‘65 campaign. It was a tight-knit group of teams (8 in each league and 16 overall) for many years. With expansion and now in excess of 30 pro baseball teams stretching more than 3,000 miles apart, the old train tracks are all but forgotten.

If you're a fan of this grand old game, and especially the Phils or Yanks, you'll especially enjoy the rest of the article. What's noteworthy is that the Phillies in Game One on Wednesday scored more runs than they were able to muster in the entire 1950 series. Them bats must have been cold.

Good luck, Philadelphia, but for now it's...

Woo hoo!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Lady Sings The Blues

One of the great things about the Internet is its ability to capture feedback on everything, from newspaper stories to new product introductions. I find this feature especially wonderful when it comes to books and films. Amazon.com has milked this to the max.

What the Internet is doing here is decentralizing information. Instead of being told what to think by a reviewer (who might be a shill) you have an accumulated collection of perspectives. It can be quite engaging to simply sift through the reviews. Often you get a pretty clear picture of what to expect before you fork over your bread...

My favorite site for movie reviews is imdb.com, the Intenet Movie Data Base. It has millions of reviews, including a dozen or so by yours truly.

About two weeks ago I watched the 1972 film Lady Sings The Blues, starring Diana Ross in the role of Miss Billie Holiday. I saw the film when it came out, having gone to see it because I was a fan of the Motown sound of the Supremes. At the time I knew nothing of who Billie Holiday was, but naive enough to believe the story in the movie corresponded to her life. This time around, I did enjoy the film again but in light of reviews like the following, and a lifetime of seeing this kind of movie making, I did not confuse Ms. Ross with Lady Day.

A Slap In Lady Day's Face, 6 November 2005

Author: jmorris236 from United States
When this film opened, I was a 17 year old fan of Diana Ross. I thought her fabulous and the film great. Funny how time can change perspective and viewpoint so completely. Shortly thereafter, a local newscast interviewed several musicians who had worked with Billie Holiday and were picketing the theatre where "Lady" had debuted. One said that the film was an insult to her memory, and her true life story was far more tragic than the film had suggested. More importantly, he said that Billie's music had suffered most in the attempt to film her life. He said that Miss Ross had failed to capture the essence of Billie's music, and that this film had reduced Miss Holiday's standing as the most important Jazz singer who'd ever lived to that of a mediocre pop vocalist. He implored everyone to check out the real Billie Holiday by purchasing some of her records. I had two immediate thoughts. One was, "Hmm, I thought the film was pretty good, but this guy seems to know what he's talking about". The other was, "Billie Holiday made records?" In fact, she made hundreds of records between 1935-59, but in over two hours of screen time, not one of them is even mentioned.

This review by rooprect is even more telling.

Author: rooprect from New York City
Before watching this I knew that it wouldn't be factually correct. I knew that Diana Ross would sing in her own style without trying to imitate the real Billie Holiday. And I knew that this film was hated & protested by Billie's real life associates and family. I watched it anyway expecting to enjoy it the same way I enjoyed Amadeus even though it stepped all over the real Mozart. I mean, c'mon people, if we want history we should go to a library, not a movie theatre.

But with all that said I was still horribly put off by the lack of continuity with the spirit of Billie's life. For one thing, Diana's portrayal made Billie look like a blabbering halfwit. Even in the scenes where she's supposed to be stone cold sober she acts like a flake. If you've ever seen footage of the real Billie, you know that the real Lady was a tough, sharp, smart human being. You don't survive on the streets of New York by being an idiot the way she's shown to be in the film.

I could share more but you can also check them out yourself. There were more favorable than unfavorable reviews, but this pair of comments gave me pause. What did you think of this film?

The painting of Lady Day at the top of this page, acrylic on canvas paper, was painted this past month while listening to her one-of-a-kind voice as she sang the blues.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

An Unreal Virtual Reality

We live in strange times. Last year's recession was devastating in its impact, yet the ringtone industry was flying high. There were more than four billion dollars spent on ringtones last year, I read somewhere.

Here's a story I find equally mind blowing, from BBC News, Sales of virtual goods boom in US.


Americans look set to spend $1bn (£600m) on virtual goods in 2009, claims a report.

The cash will be spent on add-ons for online games, digital gifts and other items that exist only as data.

Total spend on such items is expected to be up by 100% over 2008 and to double again by the end of 2010, said the analysts behind the report.


What kind of virtual goods are people buying? Well, a lot of game players want their avatars to have better gear, so they buy virtual bullet proof vests and weapons, I guess. On FaceBook people are buying virtual additions for their farms. I don't have a farm in Farmville, so I don't really know what they're getting. Maybe higher quality seed for the back forty? Maybe I can set up shop selling virtual sunblock to help farmers avoid getting a bad virtual sunburn while picking virtual corn.

My imagination runs down this path where a sixteen year son of missionaries to Zimbabwe is spending his allowance on virtual upgrades in Farmville while the village kids are starving and have no clean water. I try to imagine the conversation between Luke, he American teen abroad, and Ngugi, his village friend, who he wants to borrow money from in order to buy more virtual seeds. It's hard for me to wrap my mind around that one.

According to the article the virtual goods market has been growing rapidly in Asia and Europe for years. 2009 will be remembered as the year it came to America. Hmmm. Another import making us more dependent than ever on China? Maybe the U.S. can reverse this trend by printing more virtual money. What do you think?

Actually, if you wish to contribute to a good cause that helps feed hungry people abroad, check out Farms International. These are real people, doing real good, in a real needy world.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Chinatown: A Polanski Masterpiece

“The exhaustive, labyrinthine narrative is built up like a fortress around this film’s bitter heart.” ~Jeremy Kipp, Slant Magazine

Chinatown. I never get tired of this film. From the haunting music to the crisp dialogue, fabulous screenplay and Roman Polanski’s masterful direction, this film is a sheer pleasure as a work of tragic art. Here's an excerpt from Kipp's insightful review...

The dialogue by Robert Towne has become part of the pop lexicon, "Forget it, Jake—it's Chinatown!" a catch phrase for being in over your head, or for hurting the one you were trying to help. One of those classic American movies from the 1970s, when studios were churning out themes instead of properties for theme parks, Chinatown can be enjoyed on multiple levels. It's a first-class detective story about a man killed by drowning in the middle of a Los Angeles drought. On top of that, it's a disturbing parable about the pressure put on the human heart, with private detective Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) doggedly pursuing the elusive facts about Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) and her deep-seated reasons for hiding the truth from him. "You may think you know what you're dealing with," intones John Huston as the depraved millionaire Noah Cross, "but believe me, you don't."

Syd Field, author of the book Screenwriting, at one time possibly the Bible for how to write movie scripts, states that if you want to write a superior screen play study Chinatown.

But it is more than a perfect screenplay. It’s is truly a work of craftsmanship in its execution. Once you have seen it a couple times you no longer have to watch to see what it is about. Now you can begin to dissect it, and appreciate its meticulous attention to detail. I invite you to stop the movie at any spot and notice the images, the camera angles, the lighting, the effects. Every frame is a work of art.

Likewise, listen to the dialogue that accompanies these images. Every single scene not only advances the story, it reveals and conceals the mystery. The characters who appear in this film are developed with quick brush strokes through sequences of encounters, engaging banter and a story line that perpetually moves forward toward its painful conclusion.

Jack/Jake’s bandaged nose for seemingly half the film is an amusing metaphor for his character throughout: a snoop.

But it keeps coming back to the screenplay. Listen to this exchange between Dunaway and Nicholson later in the film. It’s rich.

Evelyn Mulwray: Tell me, Mr. Gittes: Does this often happen to you?
Jake Gittes: What's that?
Evelyn Mulwray: Well, I'm judging only on the basis of one afternoon and an evening, but, uh, if this is how you go about your work, I'd say you'd be lucky to, uh, get through a whole day.
Jake Gittes: Actually, this hasn't happened to me for a long time.
Evelyn Mulwray: When was the last time?
Jake Gittes: Why?
Evelyn Mulwray: It's an innocent question.
Jake Gittes: In Chinatown.
Evelyn Mulwray: What were you doing there?
Jake Gittes: Working for the District Attorney.
Evelyn Mulwray: Doing what?
Jake Gittes: As little as possible.
Evelyn Mulwray: The District Attorney gives his men advice like that?
Jake Gittes: They do in Chinatown.

Note the misdirection in this exchange a few minutes later.

Evelyn Mulwray: You really don’t like to talk about the past, do you.
Jake Gittes: I’m tired.

Dunaway then delivers yet another of my favorite lines. A little further Nicholson, continuing his probe, asks one more thing and she demurs.

Jake Gittes: What? It's an innocent question.
Evelyn Mulwray: With you, Mr. Gittes, there are no innocent questions.

Nor are there any wasted opportunities.

There are certainly a lot of great films and not everyone appreciates what this one offers up, but if you have any inclination to make movies, I recommend you study this one. There’s more here than meets the eye.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Nonsense Room (Part IV)

SHORT STORY MONDAY

It was difficult to determine whether or where to break this up. Like all decisions after the fact, it is what it is, from the way the story unfolds to the way in which it is presented.

Quick update: Greg has returned to the Nonsense Room again, and Leslie can't take it any more. Thanks for following along. If this is not your cup of tea, maybe the next story will be about toenails, or leopards, or who knows, but do come back.



The Nonsense Room
Part IV

"Damn you, Greg."

As Leslie pulled from a drawer the unopened card that she had planned to give him she marked it as the first time she had allowed herself to consider that she had made a mistake in marrying this man. The argument with which she normally consoled herself - We've had our difficulties, but who hasn't? - temporarily yielded and would not support her. She steadied herself with both hands against the counter, flushed cheeks streaming tears.

With the clack of the latch she knew him to be gone from her forever. She stared at the empty kitchen as if seeing for the first time. She hated this place now. Into the hall, to the living room, to the bedroom - Leslie stumbled from room to room without aim, the internal fever of emotions draining her of strength, until she found herself in the basement.

From off a shelf at the foot of the stairs she seized a can of kerosene which she began spilling on the carpet as she ascended again. "Greg?" she called. "I'm going for a walk. Will you come with me?"

In her hand she held a book of matches. "Greg!" she cried sharply. The half dozen matches burst into flame and fell to the floor, igniting the moistened carpet.

Leslie staggered from the house to the unfettered freedom of an open sky. There were few houses along this section of bluff overlooking the river, which had been a large part of its appeal when they chose to move here. A string of summer cabins, unoccupied this time of the year, dotted the woods where the the road dipped down to the river's edge, but the bluff itself had been long ago cleared for horse grazing and McAllen's sod operation. She walked slowly, not looking back until the she reached the perimeter of the sod farm.

When she saw the angry pulsing glow of firelight through the windows of her house, she gasped, both stunned and alarmed by what she had set in motion.

Leslie made a hasty decision to dart across the road to the nearer McAllen's rather than directly back home, needing desperately to alert the fire department. She could see a light on in the back of the house and prayed someone was at home. Leslie banged on the front door. No answer. She tried the handle and, finding it locked, despairingly crashed her fists against the door. She scrambled to the side of the house, found the kitchen door open, burst in, and called the nine-one-one emergency number.

Dashing from the house, she began trotting toward home as fast as she dared, knowing a sprint would leave her winded before reaching her yard. Suddenly she stopped, whirled about and raced to the McAllen's house once more. She picked up the phone, dialing her own number this time, her breathing hoarse and laborious.

Answer the phone, Greg. Answer the phone, dear God, Greg, answer the phone.

Inside the nonsense room Greg had begun entering a new dimension of illumination, having placed himself once more under the influence of the room's spell, gradually having no awareness apart from it, no reality apart from the strange and cryptic reality of those four walls. His breathing was steady and deep as he entered the trance, knowing the meaning of trance, knowing what a trance is, feeling it and knowing it and how it gets deeper and releasing himself deeply into it; he began to have feelings of nostalgia as if somehow he were being awakened to a lost childhood. And still... further back, within himself... he sees... feels....

A palpable tension was followed by shortness of breath and expectation. At a certain point, a reversal took place and he made a profound connection between the images on the wall and the images in his mind. Not the first time he made this connection, but in previous trances he had interjected rational explanations, telling himself that these were nothing more than afterimages on the retina of his eyes. On this night he short-circuited the rationalizations, turned away from them and denied them their power.

From somewhere deep inside himself the music welled up again, beginning with wind chimes and pan pipes, music which he had previously named the Song of the Earth. And it was very beautiful and he knew he was part of something bigger than himself, something he wanted badly to be part of, and he couldn't understand why there were so many barriers in life, why everything had always been so difficult to comprehend. In the Song of the Earth he was able to lose himself, to escape all the questionings which wrapped about his mind like tentacles, to swim free in the milky waters of that earlier time, before he knew words, before he knew confusion, that age of ignorance and innocence which now appeared to be within his grasp.

The Song became loud and mighty and with his voice - haltingly at first, then with enthusiasm - he joined the boisterous throng. It seemed he had never felt so happy, and when the telephone rang, it was all part of the symphony of sound which had been swelling up within him, caressing him with sensations of heat and warmth, invigorating him with flashings of light from the dome of his imagination.

For some strange reason he had an overwhelming desire to remove his clothing, a desire which he refused to question or resist so that when his body was found, he was discovered naked, lying on his back with his head awkwardly wedged into the corner of the small room.



The fire was mentioned in articles which appeared in both the St. Paul and Minneapolis newspapers as well as the Stillwater Gazette, but with few details. While the circumstances surrounding Greg's death brought a measure of speculation regarding the issue of foul play, news reports indicated that as yet there were no charges pressed. The statements Leslie made implying that she deliberately set the fire were dismissed and attributed to her initial hysteria.

For weeks Leslie alternately blamed and excused herself, knowing that she had truly wanted to destroy him, yet knowing also she once loved him deeply and would miss him always. She did not yet know that for years to come she would become fearful in the presence of any hostile thought or emotion which she bore toward another.

One evening, in the motel room where she had taken temporary refuge, she found a strange book which had been tucked in a drawer of the endtable where Gideon's Bibles are frequently found. As she thumbed through the book -- obliquely titled The Secrets of Experience - an inscription on one of the pages captured her attention. It was a tiny pyramid, at the top of which was drawn an eye with lines radiating from it. Above the eye, the strange inscription: "En Sof."

The image unsettled her and she closed the book. However, a curiosity about the image would not leave her. Later, she attempted to again find the image, to study it further in order to learn its meaning. Being unable to find it left her greatly disturbed.

THE END

Sunday, October 25, 2009

For My Brother The Yankee Fan

His dog is named Jeter. His team is the Yankees.

Robert, my youngest brother, turned four the year we moved to New Jersey from Cleveland. I never stopped being a fan of the Indians and Browns, despite their stumblebum ways; Robert never knew such joy as a Yankees-Indians doubleheader in Cleveland back in the fifties when the Indians were a perpetual contender. It would be nice to see the Indians become contenders again, but for now it is the Yankees on the cusp of yet another World Series appearance. Weather permitting, tonight they will nail the Angels' hides to the wall of their new stadium.

As Tony and Maria sang in West Side Story
"Tonight, tonight, the world is full of light
with suns and moons all over the place.
Tonight, tonight, the world is wild and bright
going mad shooting sparks into space..."

That's what Yankee fans want to see tonight. Fireworks. Followed by dancing in the streets.

At the heart of the Yankees success these past dozen years is a guy not only talented but charismatic. True, there's not a weak slot in the entire Yankee lineup, so to be the brightest light in a city filled with bright lights is something.

What's impressive to me is how cool this guy is under pressure. Check out his fielding stats for 2009. In 1280 innings Derek Jeter only made eight errors. That is amazing. Of course his On Base Percentage at the plate is an equally compelling stat. Because he's at the front of the order, you can count on Jeter to get on base at least twice every game. Add to this his 30 stolen bases and you have a perpetual threat who keeps opposing teams perpetually on their heels.

Add to this his leadership, charm, and modest, exemplary behavior... Well, you can see why Yankee fans love their star shortstop.

Now that "The House That Ruth Built" is gone, it would be a fitting way to initiate their new home, with an American League pennant. It would be especially fitting if it were to happen tonight because one of their most avid fans is celebrating his birthday and anniversary today.

Happy birthday, bro'...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Columbine and The Savage God

Dying
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.
~Sylvia Plath


I just read this week that the number one cause of death amongst women 18-24 in China is suicide. Before we gloat about how bad it is over there, let’s consider our own numbers.

In the U.S. suicide is the third leading cause of death amongst young people 15-24, just behind accidents and homicide. And how many accidents are also suicides? Amongst children 10-14 suicide is the fourth leading cause of death.

It hasn’t always been this way.

I’d been thinking about a blog entry on A. Alvarez’s The Savage God, a book about suicide in our modern age. The title comes from a poem by Yeats. The author's was a friend of Sylvia Plath, whose poem opens today's blog theme, and includes an account of her last days. He uses this insider info as a starting point for an exploration of the history of suicide and a context for seeking an understanding of its presence in our time. Whereas most books on suicide are probably written by sociologists and psychiatrists, Alvarez is a poet.

My intentions this morning were diverted, however, by the following L.A. Times opinion piece about an article in Oprah's mag titled "Columbine, O Magazine and suicide." The opening sentences of Meghan Daum's Oct 22 editorial hit you like a shotgun blast.

The November issue of O Magazine (that's the Oprah Magazine) features a series of articles about how to be "your true self," a guide to do-it-yourself hair coloring and -- thud -- an essay by Susan Klebold. In April 1999, her son, Dylan, along with his classmate, Eric Harris, killed 12 students, a teacher and themselves in a massacre that would thereafter be known simply as Columbine, the deadliest high school shooting in the nation's history.

Daum pulls no punches as she dissects the myths that have grown around this tragic event, and criticizes the manner in which the article placed into the public arena.

And it's hard not to see Susan Klebold's essay as, if not a continuation of the myths, an extension of the impulse that causes people to repeat them. Though she comes across as a sincere and thoughtful woman, the net effect of the whole endeavor seems like a form of pandering -- to readers' sympathies and, more important, to the American obsession with "closure." We are not, after all, a culture that is particularly adept at accepting the more irrational aspects of tragedy, the randomness of death, the unknowability of a criminal's motives. Instead, we like to make sense of it all, to learn from mistakes, to erect memorials, observe anniversaries and offer up platitudes about finding peace.

I think it's true that we like the idea of easy answers and closure for everything so we can keep on smiling. Daum's commentary on the Klebold article suggests that real life isn't always so neatly packaged.

Sources of suicide stats: http://www.teensuicidestatistics.com/
http://www.familyfirstaid.org/suicide.html

CLICK ON PHOTOS TO ENLARGE

Friday, October 23, 2009

Amazing Examples of Computer Generated Art

More than two decades ago I was introduced to a concept called hypertext which enabled a person to read a series of pages in non-sequential order. It was a Mac world thing at that time. Then, I discovered the Internet, and it's infinite array of possibilities. You can start at any page, and keep clicking and moving and never come back to that same page again, forever. (This is why you need to bookmark pages sometimes.)

I find Twitter especially fascinating because at any given moment you have oodles of suggestions regarding places to go, things to explore on the web. Using tools like TinyURL or Bit.Ly you can compact long addresses into very brief scripts so as to stay under the 140 character limit of a Tweet.

Because of size of the community, there are all kinds of people on Twitter, with all kinds of interests from art to zoos, writing to programming, marketing and making money to real estate sales. So, when you open the page there are these people perpetually sharing quotes, thoughts and usually links to somewhere else. This is how I stumbled up the following link to Smashing Magazine.

If you follow the link you will find 45 amazing examples of code generated, algorithmic abstract artworks and CG artworks. The title of the piece at the top of this page by Mark Knol is Generative War which the legend says was created with actionscript. A fast Internet connection is helpful because of the quantities of images on that page, but however long your download it will be worth the wait.

If I ever come back in another life, or can clone myself in this one, I'd love to explore more fully the possibilities of computer generated art. (I am still in love with laying pigment on surfaces for now.)

As for the possibilities of hyperlinking, back when I created my first website I built a hyperlinked virtual Labyrinth. Fascinated with drawing mazes and labyrinths from my youth, it seemed to me that each web page was like a room in an enormous, infinite castle. The links are doors which bring you to other rooms. Like the hidden connections from corner to corner in the board game Clue, the rooms do not always reside adjacent to one another spatially, if you know what I mean.

Anyways, here's a link to my first web page, and the door to my Labyrinth.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bad Calls

In Game 4 of the playoffs between the Yankees and Angels Tuesday, the visiting Yanks did something different this time. They chose to eliminate the nail-biting by simply pulverizing the competition and settling the outcome early. I’m sure their fans appreciated that.

The game was significant for other reasons, however, besides the score. The umps made several really bad calls that were dreadful enough to result in howls of astonishment. Chico Harlan of the Washington Post described it this way:

On a fourth inning pickoff play at second, a diving Swisher was tagged out but called safe. Shortly after, Swisher was called out for leaving early on a tag-up play from third, the erroneous judgment of a third base ump (Tim McClelland) who wasn't even looking at the third base bag during the play.

By the time the game reached the fifth inning, pro-replay fans had already been armed with enough ammo to last the winter. Even so, McClelland was responsible for one more puzzling call. With the Yankees trying to build their comfortable lead -- Jorge Posada on third, Robinson Canó on second, one out -- Swisher hit a comebacker to the mound that trapped Posada in a rundown. Posada eventually retreated toward third; in fact, he and Canó both stopped just feet away from the bag, as if huddling around a campfire. Catcher Mike Napoli tagged both of them. McClelland ruled Posada out and Canó safe.

Speaking after the game, McClelland admitted he was responsible for a pair of missed calls. He thought Swisher left the base early in the fourth, and he thought Canó had his foot on the bag in the fifth. Replays he reviewed after the game proved otherwise. "I'm just out there trying to do my job and do it the best I can," McClelland said. "And unfortunately there were two missed calls."

Tim, I understand how you feel. I was an ump once and yes, I still remember my two worst calls from 40 years ago. I was seventeen, loved baseball and knew the rules, so I’d been asked to be a Little League umpire.

My worst call came on a windy day at Hamilton Field. The infield was dusty and the count two balls and a strike. Just as the pitch was released, the wind threw grains of dirt into my eyes so that I was temporarily blinded. I could see that the ball, when I got my vision back, had gone over the backstop so naturally I assumed (don’t EVER assume when you are an umpire) that the kid fouled it off. I shouted, with confidence, “Strike two.”

The reality is, the ball had hit the plate and gone over the backstop. And everyone saw it as plain as day, except the ump. The parents went berserk. Naturally, when I discovered what had happened it seemed only right to change my call to make it correspond to reality. Then, the other team’s went berserk, and trust me, there are very few closets to hide in on a baseball diamond.

My second bad call went like this. The batter hit a dribbler to the right side. The first baseman came forward to get it, picked it up clean and swung around to tag the runner on the back as he sprinted past. I made a mistake, however, by not running out toward the mound to get a better angle on the play. It looked like he tagged the runner, but from where I was standing he might not have done so. I called the kid out.

The first base coach and the manager arched they backs in amazement, shouting, “He missed him by a foot!” Whereupon, having failed to learn from my first bad call experience, I changed the call to “Safe!” I cringe to think of it. When you change a call there is No Mercy.

Fortunately, neither of my bad calls or ump McClelland’s had an impact on the outcomes of their respective games. I know for a fact that if they had, one of us might have been scalped… or worse.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

All Aboard! Random Thoughts On Trains

My earliest memory with regard to trains is from when my mom used to bring my brother Ron and I to Mrs. O'Ligney's in Cleveland while she was finishing nursing school. There was a steeply sloped back lawn that dropped off to the tracks behind the row of apartment houses. We were not allowed to go down to the tracks where the Rapid Transit would fly past, but I had not learned this till after I'd gone down there once to see the trains up close. I was maybe three or four at the time, and I could tell by the look on her face, when I looked up into the yard, that something was wrong.

For many people railroads are endlessly fascinating. At age eight I crossed the continent by train with my grandparents, from Cleveland to Reno. This experience cemented my own fascination with railroads.

For a long time one of my favorite films was Runaway Train starring Jon Voight, Eric Roberts and Rebecca De Mornay. After setting up Voight as something of an existential hero, the rest of the film is one long train scene, a wild ride on a runaway train, a suspense-filled adventure as well as a metaphor for life.

If you think in terms of the history of the world, railroads are a relatively new invention. When they were first being used to carry passengers in the 19th century, editorials were written about the dangers of going faster than 25 miles per hour. It was feared that by going this fast the air would be sucked out of your lungs and kill you.

Trains do have the power to kill, however, and are not to be trifled with. In a collision between an auto and a train, the train seldom loses.

The father of a friend of ours from Switzerland used to be a railroad engineer in Europe. It's not all roses and glory, for a regular part of the job includes having to deal with suicides who choose a railroad track as the place to go. This friend said that he could always tell when his father had hit someone because the man did not talk at dinner for a couple days. He was never unaffected.

But here's another story Claude told which had a brighter ending. One evening after dark his father's train came around a bend only to see directly in front of him an old man on a tractor pulling a wagon of hay. Trains are so heavy that the momentum makes them near impossible to stop and the train struck the tractor dead on, grinding to a halt quite past the intersection. Claude's dad grabbed his flashlight to go out and search for the fellow on the tractor. Tractor and wagon parts were strewn about, but there was no evidence of the old farmer. After a futile search he grimly walked back toward the engine with that single brilliant eye of light beaming from its front end. All of a sudden he heard a slight gasp and he looked up. There, clinging in absolute terror and frozen with fear, was the old farmer who had managed at the moment of contact to find some way to grasp the front of the engine.

Much more can be shared, but for today I think this will be the end of the line.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Aberdeen

While cleaning out files from a few drawers I came across a list of places named Aberdeen which are located outside the U.S. Seemed like just the kind of useless information that everyone would be clamoring for so I decided to post it here this morning.

But first, a little research. I was wondering how many different cities named Aberdeen that Bob Dylan, who released the first Christmas album in his life just this month(rated zero stars by one reviewer), had put on concerts at. On July 20 this summer his Never Ending Tour stopped in Aberdeen, Maryland, with John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson. Dylan played Aberdeen Scotland on September 16, 2000.

Well, enough of that. Here’s the list you’ve been eagerly anticipating of non-USA Aberdeens, courtesy Robert Lookup.

Aberdeen, Saskatchchewan (just NE of Saskatoon)
Aberdeen, Jamaica
Aberdeen, Andaman Islands Bay of Bengal
Aberdeen, Sierra Leone
Aberdeen, Australia
Aberdeen, South Africa
Aberdeen, Hong Kong
Aberdeen, Scotland
Aberdeen, Guyana, South America
Aberdeen, Tasmania
Aberdeen, Nova Scotia
Aberdeen, Ontario
Aberdeen, British Columbia
Aberdeen, British Columbia (not a duplicate)
Aberdeen, Antigua

For the record, the eight stateside Aberdeens can be found in Idaho, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina and Washington.

If interested in purchasinga ticket from the 16 September 2000 Dylan Concert in Aberdeen Scotland, it might still be available.

Info on Dylan portrait at the top of this page: 2' x 3' acrylic on masonite, completed 10-18-2009.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Nonsense Room (Part III)

SHORT STORY MONDAY

The house that Greg & Leslie Moore had found a in Stillwater was turning out not to be a home. In the spring, when they moved an old refrigerator, they found some kind of secret room which Greg had found endlessly fascinating. Leslie had an eerie unease about this fascination.

The Nonsense Room
Part III

Nightly, for more than seven weeks, Greg gave himself to the closet, an activity that left him both stimulated and disturbed. Never once in that time did he find again a phrase, symbol or inscription which he had previously encountered. This proved to be a frustration only when he allowed himself to become obsessed with seeking such a thing.

What frustrated him more was that the meanings of the texts almost seemed to make sense, perpetually holding out the promise that a measure of persistence would yield a treasure of understanding. But there was no reward. No treasures of understanding were grasped.

From time to time he stepped back to take in the whole. He looked for and sometimes found constellations or clusters of word groupings, but like the initial image which captured him in the beginning (the trilogy of pyramid, Eye and script) the relationships he recognized so clearly only moments before seemed to have receded from view and became impossible to locate or manufacture again.

There was a common mystical quality to the inscriptions he read. Phrases such as,
"There is not a more crucial notion of force"
and
"determinism, theism and some brands of physics"
and
"it is God alone who coordinates created effects"
and
"towards which the human feels at once attraction" seemed to suggest something of cosmology here.

The phrases at first appeared arbitrary and unrelated, other than the common thread of metaphysical suggestiveness. This last phrase invigorated him because he saw that the word "attraction" must be followed by the words "and repulsion." The sudden insight made him dizzy. It was as if he had come into close proximity with something so extraordinary he was incapable of apprehending it.

Upon reflection later he might have said it was as if his consciousness, his inner ability to comprehend meanings, were somehow like a series of out of focus lenses which, if brought into harmony, would provide a clarity of inner vision like nothing he could have ever imagined. It seemed as if the shifting of these lenses into synchronicity was accompanied by a tingling sensation inside his skull and - here he couldn't be sure for it was so vague and foreign an experience he didn't know what to make of it - some kind of aural musical accompaniment not unlike wind chimes and pan pipes. Something deep inside him - from his soul? from his subconscious? - was being awakened, and this awakening was accompanied by both anticipation and an uncanny foreboding.


Their last meal together began with a long silence. Leslie had determined not to speak until Greg made notice of her muteness. When she finally caved in, she was incapable of concealing her exasperation.

"Don't you remember what day this is?" Her eyes avoided his for fear of his answer.

He stopped chewing but made no reply.

"Greg, talk to me. What's happened to us? I don't even know you any more."

He looked down at the floor. "It goes both ways. There are things I'd like to talk about with you, too, but I know you don't want to hear it."

"You always twist it, don't you. Like I'm the big bad bitch and you're Mister Wonderful."

"I'm not Mister Wonderful. But I'm not the only one shutting people out. Look, I'm sorry I forgot our anniversary. Will you forgive me?"

"That's not what this is about," she said sharply, tears brimming in her eyes.

He pushed his chair away from the table, stood and walked haltingly to the sink, trying to read her with small, discreet glances.

"You're not going in there again tonight. Not tonight." It wasn't quite a question; she was pleading. She stood up, half uncertain as to what she should do, whether to rush and cling to him or to flee.

He nodded as if considering her words, noisily scraping his plate and rinsing it.

"Why don't I run to town and get a video. Is there anything in particular you've been wanting to see?"

He turned away from her and walked from the kitchen without looking back.
CONTINUED

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lady Day

"I can't stand to sing the same song the same way two nights in succession, let alone two years or ten years. If you can, then it ain't music, it's close-order drill or exercise or yodeling or something, not music." ~Billie Holiday

About two weeks ago I painted this image of Billie Holiday, and have been looking forward to sharing it here. But I wanted to wait till I'd seen the film Lady Sings the Blues before sharing. Yesterday I finally saw the film, but during the in-between I was doing a little reading about the famous jazz vocalist and discovered a few additional things worth sharing besides the new painting.

The first is the quote at the opening of this blog entry. It could easily have been lifted from Dylan's Chronicles. This creative approach to every single performance has been one of Dylan's mainstays as an artist. And to some extent this has been the nature of my own art. Each experience in the studio is a performance, and I feel compelled to explore, to not be limited by a style, an expectation, or even my own lack of technical facility.

But the more important connection between Lady Day and Dylan is that both were discovered by one of the great forces behind the music scene, John Hammond. Check out this list of musicians he discovered or whose careers he furthered: Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Teddy Wilson, Big Joe Turner, Pete Seeger, Aretha Franklin, George Benson, Bob Dylan, Freddie Green, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, among others. A tip o' the hat to Mr. Hammond, who dropped out of Yale to pursue a career in the music industry.

Here are some quotes from the great lady of jazz, and maybe later this week I'll have time to make a few comments about the film Lady Sings the Blues. You can see from even these few brief remarks that she was no lightweight, but a serious artist. Wish I coulda been there to see her.

• "Somebody once said we never know what is enough until we know what's more than enough."

• "Don't threaten me with love, baby. Let's just go walking in the rain"

• "If I'm going to sing like someone else, then I don't need to sing at all."

• "I hate straight singing. I have to change a tune to my own way of doing it. That's all I know."

• "If I don't have friends, then I ain't nothing."

• "If you copy, it means you're working without any real feeling."

• "I'm always making a comeback, but nobody ever tells me where I've been."

• "I never had a chance to play with dolls like other kids. I started working when I was six years old."

• "No two people on earth are alike, and it's got to be that way in music or it isn't music."

• "Singing songs like 'The Man I Love' or 'Porgy' is no more work than sitting down and eating Chinese roast duck, and I love roast duck."

• "Sometimes it's worse to win a fight than to lose."


Portrait of Lady Day, 16"x20", acrylic on canvas paper.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Book That Changed History

This past week I’ve been listening to an audio biography of Robert Kennedy by Evan Thomas and just yesterday reached the chapter dealing with the Cuban Missile Crisis. RFK later published a book based on his memoirs during this crisis called 13 Days, which led to a pretty good film by the same name.

13 Days is about a critical moment in the Cold War. Robert Kennedy was Attorney General at the time, with his older brother John serving as President. The adversary during this critical juncture in history was Nikita Kruschev. When it was discovered that the Soviets had begun setting up nuclear missiles in Cuba, the president and his team of advisers had to determine what course of action to take.

It was decided that the president would go about “business as usual” so as to not alarm the press or the public, while his brother RFK led the brain trust that would work out scenarios and a path of action. Amongst this inner circle were Adlai Stevenson, McGeorge Bundy, Dean Acheson, Dean Rusk, and trusted friend/aide Kenny O’Donnell.

Several important events preceded the crisis: the Bay of Pigs debacle; the building of the Berlin Wall the previous year, which revealed the nature of their adversary; the riots in Oxford Town several weeks previous when James Meredith was to be enrolled at Ole Miss, which showed Bobby how inept and unprepared the military was for a crisis; and the January publication of Barbara Tuchman’s Guns of August, which spent 42 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and which both JFK and RFK had read. This is a book that changed history.

The insights from Tuchman’s tome had a riveting effect on RFK when the brainstorming began and he perceived how hawkish men like Dean Rusk and the others were. In evaluating courses of action, Berlin was not a city with free people inhabiting it, but rather a bargaining chip. What’s worse, the Pentagon agreed that it was highly unlikely a pre-emptive strike would take out every missile silo in Cuba, so we would most likely lose at least one and maybe more major U.S. cities.

Tuchman’s book, primarily a description of the first weeks of World War I, was the wakeup call. Tuchman showed how the drums of war create their own momentum. Because of this book Bobby was probably the first to understand that military action very likely could lead to World War III, something no one in a nuclear age could ever hope for. And as a result, the brothers dug in their heels against being drawn down that slippery slope by overly-confident military exuberance.

As an aside I thought the following anecdote from the RFK biography was amusing. The magnitude of the resistance to the integration of the University of Mississippi had an unsettling effect on RFK. The violent clash at Ole Miss left two dead including a French journalist covering the story for a London paper. 48 soldiers and 28 U.S. Marshalls were wounded by gunfire. When a few weeks later he learned that there were nuclear warheads in Cuba aimed at the United States, the younger Kennedy quipped, “Think they could hit Oxford?”

This morning I want to thank God for Barbara Tuchman and her efforts to put down in lines the insights she’d gained from her dedicated research. This incident is living proof of the power of the written word. It is not a stretch to imagine that her book saved many lives, if not the world.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Stepping Out

"Many lives remain unfulfilled because of a lack of courage in affirming one's inner convictions in spite of all obstacles." ~Paul Tournier

There is a story in the Gospels about Jesus walking on water as the disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee in a boat. In Matthew's version of the story, these guys are terrified and think Jesus is a ghost. Peter impulsively says, "Lord, if it's you, tell me to come to you on the water." Jesus invites Peter to come, and then after a couple steps the experienced fisherman sinks, but gets saved from drowning in the turbulent sea.

Now whatever your stance toward miracles (whether you believe them or not), I've often thought this story makes a great metaphor for our approach toward life. I've applied it to myself in the following way.

The boat in which my life was launched into the deep (adulthood) was shaped in my youth. The way I interacted with the world was always from within the safety of the shell of that boat. The boat protected me. In Freudian terms, my boat was constructed of defensive mechanisms that kept me from being hurt by others, kept that tender inner self from getting hurt.

The boat conveyed me through life and was useful for me. But there are certain points when, if we want to engage another, we must leave the safety of our boats. This involves risk. This involves becoming vulnerable. It is something a bit fearful and outside our comfort zone.

What are the inner walls that hold you back? In what ways have you restricted your own personal growth and full engagement with life by staying within the "safe" zone of your controlled environment? Maybe miracles only happen when we first dare to step out.

"To live into the future means to leap into the unknown." ~Rollo May

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Kindness

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle." ~Philo of Alexandria

One of the toughest jobs in America is parenting. Not that kids are the problem, per se, but that the responsibility never goes away. And the demands at certain times. And the more you care, the more you can worry about whether you did this or that right, etc. Add to this the financial responsibilities and you have a handful of additional concerns. Fortunately, there are two of you...

Unfortunately, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 13.6 million single parents in 2005 with approximately 21.2 million children under 21. A majority of these are single moms, but there are dads who had to carry this burden alone, too. Quincy Jones wrote that he and his brother, for example, were raised by his father when his mom had been institutionalized for mental illness.

An encounter I had yesterday made me think of all the lives we touch on a daily basis in which we do not know the back story. Single parents, people fighting with cancer (FYI, it is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month) or abuse, or economic hardships, loss of a loved one.... We may not know what's going on, but we can help ease things a little by kind words and gestures.

In the case of single moms or dads, if you're close to someone in that situation, maybe you can give the mom or dad a little break by taking their kids to the park or swimming sometimes. My brother and I did this for a single mother of four when we were young. It was the one afternoon a week in which this friend had any time to herself. Susie, my selfless better half, has been involved in the Mentor Duluth program in our community, a program designed to help young people get linked to healthy adult role models. Many are from broken homes, all are reaching out.

But you don't need a program to role up your sleeves and pitch in. Here are a few quotes to mull over as you go through this day. May it be special for you as you look for new ways to lighten anothers' load.

"When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people." ~Abraham Joshua Heschel

"The best portion of a good man's life - his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love." ~William Wordsworth

"A bit of fragrance always clings to the hand that gives roses." ~Chinese Proverb

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Conviction Is Worthless Unless Converted To Conduct

“Conviction is worthless unless it is converted into conduct.” ~Thomas Carlyle

“Whereas mysticism placed the emphasis on the journey inward, Luther stressed the importance of breaking out of the self into the service of others.”
~Donald Bloesch


Two good quotes from my quote book, which when woven together address the issue of solipsism. When our lives revolve around ourselves, we are missing the point of Christian faith, says Bloesch. And Carlyle's comment nudges us to make our walk keep up with our talk.

Dylan gives it to us this way, one of my favorite songs from his critically acclaimed Oh Mercy album, 1990.

What Good Am I?

What good am I if I’m like all the rest,
If I just turn 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 had every chance and yet still fail to see
If my hands are 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 ?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Is Life Worth Living?

Albert Camus opens the preface of his book The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays with this statement:

“For me ‘The Myth of Sisyphus” marks the beginning of an idea which I was to pursue in The Rebel. It attempts to resolve the problem of suicide, as The Rebel attempts to resolve that of murder, in both cases without the aid of eternal values which, temporarily perhaps, are absent or distorted in contemporary Europe.”

It is an intellectually honest inquiry. In a post-Christian world, when God has become a meaningless concept and the Bible a neglected guide to ethical behavior, where do values come from? And even more fundamentally, is life worth living? Hence Camus’ essay begins, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.”

David Ogilvy, founder of one of the most influential ad agencies in history, wrote in his autobiography about coming to America in the late 1930's and being astonished to discover that so many Americans still went to church. Here a majority attended weekly services, and many more than one. In England, where he originated, church attendance was no more than 3% if that.
This is the milieu within which writers like Camus and Jean Paul Sartre found themselves. Add to this the horrors of want and war that ravaged the European continent, and from where do we derive our answers to life's big questions?

In 1942 Camus wrote his essay on the myth of Sisyphus, whom he used to exemplify the existential hero in the midst of an absurd reality. Sisyphus, whose life was not the epitome of sainthood, had been condemned by the gods to an eternal fate of having to roll a large boulder up a hill only to have it roll back down again, an absurd an meaningless task. (I think here of Paul Newman's assignment to dig a hole and re-fill it in Cool Hand Luke, another story about an existential hero.)

It is a variant on Nietzsche's concept of eternal recurrence. Except that in Nietzsche's equation, we have the power to choose our fate, must use our will to create our destiny, and in Camus' bleak equation the task of living is endlessly futile.

So where does Camus take this image of absurd fate? In his essay, he notes that for a brief time, Sisyphus has to walk down from the mountain to retrieve the rock, and for that brief space in time there is respite from his suffering. Moreover, he can use that walk down the mountain to smell the flowers, to appreciate the vista, to take deep gulps of fresh air into his lungs. In other words, even in the midst of a hard lot there are moments we can treasure, and when we put our minds to it, we can discover more of these than we realized.

This is not Christianity by a long shot. But Camus is offering something here for the post-Christian man wrestling with meaning in the midst of yet another absurd world war.

Christians look to the Bible as a source of light to illumine the way in an otherwise dark world, may not understand where writers like Camus and Sartre are coming from, but many there are who do wrestle with such questions. Camus is to be commended in that he himself was attacking head on the major questions and not just playing word games or the mind games of radical skepticism which doubted whether the sun would come up tomorrow.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Nonsense Room (Part 2)

SHORT STORY MONDAY

Picking up where we left off, the home Greg and Leslie Moore found in Stillwater MN was an enormous handyman's special with an appealing price and a strange history. "People get deranged in that house," the grocer told Leslie at Thanksgiving. "The place either finds 'em cracked or leaves 'em that way." When they moved an old refrigerator in the spring, they found a door.


The Nonsense Room
Part 2

"Where do you think it goes?" Greg said.

Leslie reminded him of the rumors that circulated in town regarding the house.

Using a hammer and chisel, Greg mangled the hasp. As he turned the knob the motor kicked in on the fridge, giving them both a fright.

The room was little bigger than a closet, no more than four feet deep and perhaps six feet wide, the walls and ceiling completely overspread with pictographs, calligraphy, scribbles and assorted mystical inscriptions seemingly as countless as the stars.

"It gives me the creeps," Leslie said.

Greg found the writing on the walls intriguing, but he didn't say anything. After Leslie had gone to bed that night, Greg found a lantern that he could set on the floor to study the closet room in more detail.

For a long time he simply stood scanning, taking in the big picture, much as a man might take in the immensity of a night sky upon his first experience of it away from the bright lights of the city. His first impression, which he suppressed - reasoning that it was impossible - was that it was infinite, that the closet scribblings simply had no beginning and no end.

Even his initial cursory study of the closet's walls instilled in Greg a sense that there were relationships amongst the clusters of words and images. He was reminded of the early cave men who studied the celestial heavens, noting and naming its constellations. Sections of the closet seemed to contain whole galaxies of graffiti.

What first caught his attention and attracted him to the room's details was a tiny pyramid on the far wall opposite the door at the top of which was drawn, with a fair amount of exactitude, an eye with lines radiating out from it. Above the eye, in a medieval German script, were the words, En Sof. Greg was on his knees inside the closet studying the detail in the pupil of the eye. Upon closer inspection, he observed that the spokes which shot out from the eye were in actuality lines of fine print, much of it readable, though some too minute or too poorly scrawled to decipher.

With both apprehension and wonder he became absorbed with reading bits and pieces of text, some of it hinting toward meanings, albeit obscure ones at best, but most of it elusive and cryptic. Thus he read, "an esoteric religiosity of the Unconscious"and "Powers, the abyss, Numen and Tremendum" and "This is the God that the sense of the sacred feeds upon" and "This same God is often shown in an opposite way" and "Infatuated with the awesome and the fascinating" and "in speaking of Him we celebrate our ignorance."

There were also Latin and Hebrew texts, hieroglyphic symbols, and codified images which appeared to have some sort of ceremonial significance.

What happened after that began to disturb him. It was the pyramid with the eye and the inscription En Sof which first captivated him, and he returned to his knees in order to find it, but could not, and it frustrated him. It had been a small icon for sure, but not so small as to be impossible to locate again, and he began systematically examining the region of the closet where he had first observed it, to no avail, and it set his nerves on edge so that the night's sleep which followed proved fitful and unsatisfying.

Before leaving for the bank the next morning (he worked as an auditor there) Greg resisted a strong urge to return to the closet room for "one more little peek." This did not relieve him of its influence, however, as he spent much of his day distracted by the effects he experienced in the closet the night before.

"Honey, I'm home," he shouted that evening upon coming in the door. Hearing no greeting in reply he tensed up and walked hastily to the kitchen. "Leslie?" he called again. He hurried to the closet room and was opening it just as his wife entered the kitchen from the yard.

"Is something wrong?" she said.

"I, well, you didn't answer when I came in. I just-"

"What would I be doing in that stupid old closet?" She recognized by the uneasy fear that revealed itself in his face that the closet had made an impression upon him as something dangerous, something to be reckoned with. This realization made her uncomfortable.

All through supper he was absent from her, waiting to be finished with the task of eating. What he found dreadful was the role-playing, pretending nonchalance about both what had happened and about his plans for the evening. When the dishes were washed he proceeded to the closet room. She said nothing to dissuade him.

He set about directly to locate the original Eye with the words En Sof above but his determination was only half hearted. Instead, playing explorer-philosopher Greg began reading again the varied and unusual collage of inscriptions, at first casually, and then with a growing desire to comprehend. Unfortunately, the sentences fluctuated between legibility and illegibility, leaving him with only partial meanings and suggested texts. Nothing was complete, nothing wholly cohesive.

CONTINUED

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Start Spreadin' the News...

Congratulations, Yankees fans. Good luck in the next series...

The Journals of Andre Gide

"Too many projects in my head. And desire to work on all of them at once." ~Andre Gide, Journals, March 6, 1927

A literary critic once observed that in a mountain range composed of the great Nobel Prize winning authors of the first half of the 20th century, the three highest peaks would be Thomas Mann, James Joyce and Andre Gide. How quickly people fall into the shadows of history and become forgotten. The influential French writer of more than 80 books of fiction and non-fiction, who sat at the center of French literary circles for decades one hundred years ago, is today pretty much an unknown in most circles.

Several things stood out for me regarding Gide's work were that his writing was beautiful, his themes profound and his range as vast as the landscapes of this world. A complicated and gifted man, Gide was to literature as Dylan today is to music. Neither would be happy to get tagged in a specific category or style. Both were perpetually exploring. Each continued to produce original, honest work over long, significant careers.

If you are a writer, of any stripe, I commend to you The Journals of Andre Gide.

I myself have kept journals for more than three decades, beginning in 1974. (I do not count here the dream diaries I kept in junior high and high school.) It wasn't till I discovered Gide's journals that my own began to deepen.

Of special value are all the ways in which we glimpse the inner workings of the mind of a great writer. We often see only the finished work, and seldom see the great inner battles that preceded the final presentation.

Here are a few quotes from these pages.

"Get in the habit of gathering the idea as soon as it is formed; and cease to let it ripen too long on the branch. Some of them, under this treatment, have become soft. When the brain that bears them is itself ripe, all its fruits are ready to be gathered." 2 October 1927

"This morning, as soon as I awake (much too early) my brain, despite me, begins to construct sentence. Some of them are quite well turned out but mean nothing. There are some that I should not like to lose, that I try to learn by heart, to remember; and it's all up with sleep.

"Good God, how complicated everything is becoming! Lines in all directions; and no guidance. No way of knowing what to believe, what to think!" 3 July 1927

"I have never produced anything good except by a long succession of slight efforts." 24 October 1915

We all have different purposes in our journaling. For some it is just keeping a record of one's days. For others it might be a tool for self-analysis. In 1990, when I came across the following statement in Gide's journal, I found it so liberating that I put it inside the front cover of my own: "It is a mistake to intend to write only very important things in a journal." This mistake leads to paralysis.

Journal writing is a great way to prime your pump, and to produce fodder for future projects. The journals of great writers also offer great rewards. Gide, in this writer's opinion, is perhaps as good as it gets.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright

On Simon & Garfunkel’s last album together, Bridge Over Troubled Water, there is a quiet, tender song called So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright. At the time it came out I knew nothing of who Wright was, and though the tune was nice, I never really got what it was about.

Off Topic: One of my favorite tunes on the album was The Only Living Boy In New York, which seemed to contain the somber alienation of youth theme into yet another haunting reflective space, something Paul Simon’s music did easily and well. But for now, our topic is the architect.

While in Sedona, AZ this past spring the Chapel of the Holy Cross (right) which Frank Lloyd Wright designed was suggested as an attraction not to miss. Turns out that last night while gathering more information on this building I discovered that the Chapel, which was quite striking, was not designed by Wright at all, but rather by a student inspired by the great architect.

Here are a few more things I learned. The great architect was also an author of 20 books. Also, Wright’s birth name when he entered the world in 1867 was actually Frank Lincoln Wright, but he changed his middle name to Lloyd during his teen years after his parents’ divorce.

By the time I’d moved to Northern Minnesota in 1986 I was quite familiar with some of his innovatively designed homes. Little did I know that right here in my back yard was a gas station designed by Wright. Of his more than 500 buildings, this was his only filling station. (It wasn’t actually in my back yard, but down the road a piece in Cloquet. I drove there and took a few photos, including this one.)

So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright

So long, Frank Lloyd Wright.
I can't believe your song is gone so soon.
I barely learned the tune
So soon
So soon.

I'll remember Frank Lloyd Wright.
All of the nights we'd harmonize till dawn.
I never laughed so long
So long
So long.

CHORUS
Architects may come and
Architects may go and
Never change your point of view.
When I run dry
I stop awhile and think of you

So long, Frank Lloyd Wright
All of the nights we'd harmonize till dawn.
I never laughed so long
So long
So long.

If you want to find out what the song is really all about you can read the interpretations here. In the end you may know less than you knew to begin with.

As for Mr. Wright himself, the Wikipedia overview appears fairly accurate. His personal heartbreaks did not keep him from achieving his ultimate dreams.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Reflections on the Sixties

One reason a show like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous with Robin Leach was popular was undoubtedly because the audiences were neither rich nor famous themselves. Leach, the host, also had an interesting accent, which did not hurt the ratings either. In other words, people like watching, or reading about, experiences different from one's own.

This might be why war books like my father-in-law's memoirs And There Shall Be Wars have such appeal. Even within the context of the war two veterans will have differing experiences, and perspectives.

So it is that the Sixties was an experience which we all experienced, yet all experienced differently. As veterans of the Sixties, we had some shared experiences, but being in such a range of spaces and places, there is much which may be uniquely our own and occasionally, as those are shared, we gain additional illumination as regards our own experience. These diverse shared experiences not only help us connect to others, but also assist in our own self-understanding.

Christella, who has recently made contributions to this blog, started blogging this summer to share memories from her seven decades of life experience. Her writing is rich with life and you might wish to bookmark it for future returns. This week she has been sharing some of her memories of the Sixties at her own site which she has called Meandering Moody Memories. It's worth a visit if you have some time and is what prompted me to grab this off my original website to post here today.

In 1993 I wrote an essay called "Reflections on the Sixties" for a book that someone was trying to assemble for publication. AOL was just emerging and everyone there was thrilled by the power of connecting with so many others. I remember one AOL virtual community that had a former member of the Sixties band Strawberry Alarm Clock in it.

Several years passed and I was contacted again by this fellow who had me sign something that gave him permission to publish what I'd written, but I never learned what became of the project or whether it ultimately found a publisher.

Reflection on the Sixties

"No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

"At other times it feels like being mildly concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me."

These are the words with which C.S. Lewis opens
A Grief Observed, his personal reflections on the loss of his wife Joy Davidson. Can it be that our nation itself received this same concussive blow on the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963?

I find it interesting that C. S. Lewis, Aldous Huxley and John F. Kennedy all died on the same day in 1963. The deaths of Lewis and Huxley, whose personal lives were more remote from most of us, were eclipsed by the dramatic assassination of our president... and the subsequent events surrounding his passing.

There have been few more powerful events in our personal histories. Television brought this president into our homes like none before him. His PR-created persona made him out to be more than a man. He was a mythological god. He rode a white horse. He was a knight in shining armor. With the vitality of Youth, he provided a euphoric hope that seemed necessary after two world wars, a major depression and the brooding tensions of the Cold War.

I was in sixth grade that day, Stafford School, Maple Heights, Ohio. There was an announcement over the loudspeaker that we were all to go to the auditorium for an assembly. This was the same room where we assembled to see men from NASA demonstrate how a rocket would within the next ten years carry men to the moon.

As we shuffled along toward the nearly filled assembly room, I was distracted by a janitor who was stepping in from outside. I remember the grey November sky. And the janitor's tears, the janitor standing there, cap in hand, tears streaming down his wrinkled cheeks, looking back toward the flag he had just lowered to half mast.

I don't remember the assembly, or much of anything else. Only the image of that janitor weeping.

Few people knew it then, but that day was a portent of difficult times ahead for America. Medger Evers, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, Kent State, My Lai -- the decade, stained with blood, left a generation of parents concussed and children confused.

Wrote Lewis in
A Grief Observed, "I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in."

And when Nielsson sang: "Everybody's talkin' at me, I can't hear a word they're saying"... did we not find a resonance in our hearts because we, too, were grieving? What was it we had lost? What is it we were looking for? What was Joe Buck looking for? What did Joe Buck find?

I believe it was Gurdjieff who compared life experiences to the food we take into our stomachs. Eventually the food is digested, but it takes time, and some foods longer than others. Likewise, our experiences take time to digest before they are assimilated to nourish or poison us.

Even though more than 25 years have passed, sometimes we still don't know what to say about what we saw and heard and felt. We are still processing our experiences. While some of the experiences were uniquely ours, many were shared. For this reason it is my conviction that when we have gained a measure of understanding, we have a responsibility to share the light we have received. In this way, our pain becomes redemptive, a healing influence in an otherwise broken world.


copyright 1993 ed newman