My Son Doesn’t Like to Read

December 7, 2016

books

My Son Doesn’t Like to Read

 My son doesn’t like to read.  Reading for enjoyment is a mystery to him.  Actually, sitting still for enjoyment is a mystery to him.  About the only thing he will sit still to watch are sports on TV and social media videos.

He is not ADHD.  He can spend large amounts of time working at the computer on photographs and design problems, and he can concentrate and finish his homework.  He is quite organized.  But the only times he will read is when he needs information.  And if he can obtain that information by listening, or asking a teacher or watching a YouTube video, he would prefer it.  He does not read to understand.  Gaining a deeper understanding of the life around him through reading would seem to be an oxymoron to him.  What he most prefers is being out doing activities with friends.

I’m not much worried about my son’s prospects in life.  He already runs his own business.  He makes money.  He is very active socially.  He’s well liked and well behaved.  Life doesn’t demand that he read that well.  His biggest problem is that school demands he reads that well.  And colleges demand that he read that well.

And speaking as someone who enjoys reading and does quite a lot of it, I wonder if society is best served by the emphasis our educational institutions place on reading.  I realize this is heresy and in a large part probably wrong-headed.  But, as I’ve aged and butted my head up against the world, it has occurred to me that many of the people I know, who have done quite well in life, do not like to read.  And conversely, many of the people I know, who like to read, have not done as well as might be supposed, given their abilities.

I was first struck by this while trying to create a producer for my play.  The fellow was a quite successful graduate from Stanford.  He was somewhat intrigued by the idea of play production.  But he admitted to me candidly that he didn’t like to read, and couldn’t imagine having to make it through “all those scripts”.  Another fellow I met was admitted to Stanford almost entirely on his test scores – not his high school attainments, as I think he might have dropped out.  But he had spent most of his teen years assiduously reading his way through the public library, and so seemed to have wowed the admissions people.   He, however, did quite modestly in life, and much less than I might have expected.  Then, there are others I have run across.  For example, a quite successful CFO, a sought after mechanic who had never learned to read, and the Lord knows how many quite successful salespeople.  In fact, the more successful the salesperson, the less it seemed they enjoyed reading.  It wasn’t the product understanding so much as the numbers of people you met.

On the other hand, I like to read, and find myself among many friends and acquaintances who enjoy reading also, many with advanced degrees.  But, many of these well-read friends have only had modest success in life, if that.  I’ve many well-read friends who have lived on the fringes of poverty most their lives.  And of the ones who have done better, most have achieved some success within a profession.  But, of those within a profession, it still seems that those who prefer to read have still not done as well as those who don’t, or at least as well as their gifts would have appeared to take them.  Of the doctors I know, the most successful does not particular enjoy reading.

So why doesn’t reading help us that much?  This is the question which has occurred to me – especially since I like to read.

The most obvious reason I suppose is that reading is like golf; it takes a lot of time and takes us away from the business at hand, which is applying ourselves to life.  “Always with your nose in a book,” as they say.

There are probably a multitude of reasons, actually.  But the one most dire, that has occurred to me, is that the pursuit of reading is fueled by the belief that a better understanding of the world will naturally make us more successful.  And I wonder if this is necessarily true.  What age has taught me is as Shakespeare noted:  “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”  This idea of getting a step up on life through greater understanding seems to be of limited use!  Life, as I’ve come to know it, seems to be like the weather or the stock market and confound even the most learned.  And those who do best are those who place their bets and get into the game – just as those who do best at investing are those who start.  It’s simple enough, really.

A more troubling aspect is that the notion that we can understand life more successfully through reading – gets extended by the ego of the intellectual among us into the belief than they can fully understand life, at least to the extent that they owe it to the general betterment to legislate how the rest of the less acquainted with the ‘facts’ should live.  Our educational institutions would seem to inculcate this view, if only implicitly.  At one point this was the view of the educated nobility.  Presently, it seems to be the view of everyone.

To read more of Carl Nelson, visit: http://www.magicbeanbooks.co/essays.html

 

Pulling People From Their Cars

November 13, 2016

riot

Pulling People From Their Cars

My barber, who is working with me on our latest strategy to rule my aging hair, was worried following Trumps victory.   “They pulled a fellow from his car and beat him up just because he said he’d voted for Trump!  What kind of people do that?”

I get my hair cut in this little shop about a block from home, which takes up the street side of a small frame building, about the size of a one car frame garage.  It used to be a bank, then a doctor’s office back in the60s.  The barber, who is a skinny woman with ratted hair was about as frizzed as her do.  “Don’t worry,” I reassured her.  “We are two hundred miles of thick forest from people like that.”

 

I used to live in the Seattle area.  And whereas I didn’t live around people who did things like that, I did live and work around a majority of apologists for people who did things like that.  In Seattle, they were against Hate

Well, out here, embedded with the Trumps, we are not so much… against hate.  We  just know it’s a nasty emotion and best let out only under extreme circumstances.

 

The problem probably is, that in Seattle, nice a place as it was (and still is, I suppose), having failed to do enough hating in timely fashion – there is just an enormous amount of it piling up.  So that currently, there is racism to hate, Islamophobes to hate, hate-filled bigots to hate, privileged people to hate (but who should actually be hating themselves – if they would just do their share), misogynists and homophobes and transexualophobes and corporate shills, and tools, and then self-interested people in general, plus all those people who don’t care about the planet.  I really can’t recite the whole list here.  Suffice to say, the people who seem to need hating comprise, what I would guess from polls to be, about half the United States!

But it wasn’t just what crawled across the evening news which made living in Seattle a trial over time.  They didn’t just stop at the normal things that need hating from time to time.  Nearly everything a person did or said made for politics in the big city.  And if you found yourself ‘on the wrong side of history’, the crosshairs moved to you, and you needed hating also.

What kind of car did you drive?  Is it environmentally correct.  What kind of house do you live in? (Too large?  Too many windows?   Energy wasting?  Long commute?  Far from public transportation?  Near locally grown food source?  Diverse community?  Can you have chickens?  Poorly situated to capture passive solar?  Can you recycle, mulch, compost, on and on…)  What kind of work do you do?  (Are you ‘giving back’ by working for a non-profit, or a charity in order to make the world a better place… or are you in this life just for yourself?)  Are you raising more children that the planet can support?    Are you raising your children to be free of racial prejudice, sexual assumptions, the accepted mental shibboleths such as American Exceptionalism?  Are you allowing your children to go about unsupervised and possible at danger?  Are you teaching them to drink responsibly?  Are you fat and undisciplined?  Are your children fat?  Are any of your friends overweight?  What are they doing about it?   Does your cooking display a sound knowledge of the world’s diverse cultures?  Have you ever eaten fast food, and if you ever enjoyed it, what is wrong with you?  Do you have any idea what is in a hot dog?  (Don’t even get them started on the high fructose corn syrups which make up the catsup you dribble across it, or the white bread bun completely devoid of nutritional content altogether – even when ‘enriched’.)

Most of these things, by themselves, are reasonable concerns.  So are the Ten Commandments.  But at least in the Bible, there were only ten.  (Which, with the New Covenant, became pared down to just two.)  In Seattle the extent of the new commandments knows no limit.  Virtually everything a person does is commented dissected and commented upon in the public sphere.  Picture a person rising, beginning the day, working, spending time with the family then eating and sleeping – and then picture the ongoing political commentary which accompanies his/her every minute describing how each action affects the moral compass of the community as a whole.  It’s no joke that when the most progressive of this caball extend the moral commentary to its rightful conclusion – their conclusion is that humans are a moral blight upon the earth and need exterminating.  Conservatives would probably agree that we are all born into sin.  But the Progressive leading edge think that as a species, we should be eradicated like a cockroach.

And this is where the Seattle culture as a whole has fallen short.  And you have to wonder if they are really on the right side of history, as they insist upon staying alive – an obviously bigoted stance.  Their rational, I’d suppose, is that they need to live in order to cull the population of the unenlightened others.  Then they’ll kill themselves.  They promise.

 

To a God fearing culture, it’s old news that we are born into sin.  No surprise there.  Nevertheless, God appears to want us here and expects us to do our best.

Belpre May 2015

So in a God fearing culture such as it is here, embedded with the Trumps, we accept our shortcomings.  Sundays we go to church.  Other days we work to support ourselves.  And otherwise we amuse ourselves as we see fit.  We race gas-guzzling cars.  We hunt.  We shoot guns.  We run around the woods.  We fish.  We eat squirrel, deer, catfish…  We play football.  We love sports.  We fight the elements.  We drive whatever damn vehicle we want.  We dress as we want.  We live in whatever kind of house we want.  We drive as far as we want.  We cloth ourselves as we want.  And we say what we want.  The best estimate we can have of our neighbors is that they are “decent people”.  But, as a whole, we’re all sinners.  I’m afraid that’s the generally accepted community condition.

What is decent?   Well, it has very little to do with either how they’ve voted, the car they drive, whether they’ve worried about sustainable agriculture or global warming, whether or not they’ve ever tried humus and pita bread, whether their home is built to capture passive solar, whether they support LQBJTUVWXYZ rights, more whether they work- than for whom they work, and not even much about whether they attend church regularly, or are overweight.  You live around someone.  You get to know them.  And you know.  …you just know, more or less.

And so far this decency has kept us from pulling people from their cars and beating them for voting incorrectly.  It’s something to consider.

Belpre Ohio1

For books by Carl Nelson go to:  http://www.magicbeanbooks.co/home.html

Red or Blue?

November 3, 2016

matrix-pills

This November 8th, Are You Going to Take the Red Pill or the Blue One?

 

It would seem Hillary supporters and Democrats, in general, view themselves as the more intelligent, educated and successful portion of the citizenry, burdened with many poor relations.  They would view themselves as the more urbane, cultured, sophisticated and nuanced in both their understanding of current events and the world also.  Add to this that they believe in rational discussion of the facts and disdain the irrational.  You needn’t believe me!  They will tell you this.  As will the media… ad nauseum.    They also glow with rectitude, possibly because they eat ‘smart’ and exercise.

Hillary Clinton’s supporters currently say that the scandal surrounding Hillary’s e mails amounts to nothing.  There are lots of people in like positions of power who have private servers, they say.  The Clinton Foundation, likewise they say, should be commended for the good work it does.  After all, it has gotten a four star (highest) rating from the Charity Navigator in both the Financial and Accountability and Transparency categories.  And Hillary’s health is as good as it could be considering the grueling demands of her present campaign which she is determined to meet.  The majority of the negative press concerning Hillary, (which has been wholly unwarranted they explain with a sigh), has been a media creation as conceived by their Republican bosses.  As yet, I haven’t read any speculation by supporters as to how a couple such as Bill and Hillary have managed to amass a personal fortune of one hundred eleven million dollars from careers dedicated to public ‘service’.

 

However, now and then there is a glitch in the major media’s digital feeding pipe.  Other sources report that Hillary’s physical problems are most likely due to the progression of Parkinson’s Disease like symptoms… wandering eye, repeated odd gestures, mental freeze when startled, falls, and pneumonia due to swallowing difficulties.  There is a YouTube feed of NBC purportedly altering a wandering eye in a snippet of video from a campaign stop.  There is her reticence to meet with the press and to do public events.  Her crowds are shown to have been Photoshop enlarged. 

 There are also maverick news sources which pop-up here and there which give a much different view of what is occurring both here and abroad.  They show a Europe whose cities are under siege from a flood of immigrants.  They show a leader defending Brexit.  They show people describing perpetrators of terrorist attacks as Muslim.  They show scientists and reporters with graphs and charts which deny that Climate Change is primarily a humanly caused crisis.  They contradict the current governmental and media opinion in numerous areas such as, gun control, religious freedom, women’s equal wage, abortion and the fetal parts market…  It goes on.  Wikileaks seems to have shown a huge light both on the lax security of Hillary’s home server, and also for its use as a way of directing monies to the Clinton Charities which would seem to have been more likely a money-for-influence ‘laundering’ operation.  Regular updates by former highly connected people such as Dick Morris, Chief Political Advisor for both Bill and Hillary for 20 years, would seem legitimate – though they come to us via the offices of the National Enquirer. 

 We get these glimmers of contradictory information which break through the major media boilerplate, but are they true and real?

 

Hillary fans are also strong supporters of government intervention (i.e. coercion).  It is Trump supporters who are generally the ones ‘intervened’ with – ‘for their own good’.   Hillary supporters see Government as a force for progress, “on the right side of history”, and well worth the taxes we all should pay.  Their opponents on the contrary see Government as a farce for progress marching ineluctably towards a dystopian end.

Which side of the struggle do you side with?  Which side do you believe?  Which is presenting reality, and which the dream?

For myself, I generally side with the Volunteers, and fight the Coercives…  No matter how pleasant the Coercives’ pitch, the sound of their voices, the sweetness of their personalities, their charisma, or how much good they purportedly do or the ends to which they are purportedly headed, such as the ‘right side of history’… I don’t like coercion.

 

You ever have to get your hands dirty?  Say, while doing some septic or foundation work.  And you look at a particular difficulty and think, ‘This is going to take a BIG hammer.’

 

Donald Trump , Hillary’s people say,  grabs and deplores women, is poorly informed, rarely reads and is an entirely selfish, narcissistic, authoritarian, billionaire megalomaniac – who probably is not worth a fraction of what he claims and is mentally ill.   This is all delivered up within a yummy mix of charges including racism, misogyny, bigotry, fascism, sexism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, and of just plain base, obtuse, boorish bullying.  On top of this he is afflicted with incredibly bad hair and just being an all-over, absolute, ‘just total’, asshole.

 

This sounds like a really BIG hammer, to me! 

 

 

For more by Carl Nelson, visit:  www.magicbooks.co

Embedded with the Deplorables

October 28, 2016

belpre-trump1

I wished my cousin in LA a happy birthday on Facebook the other day.  He thanked me and asked how life was in a “battleground state”.  I told him it was pretty quiet, pleasant actually.  For the most part it’s just people going to work and coming home.  It’s very hard to get people around here to riot!

belpe-trump3

There are kids playing between the parked cars and riding their bicycles, and one who practices his trombone on the front porch.  When a crowd or four gather, they may entertain a grievance for a while.  But it’s usually just long enough to politely disengage so as to couple up with another bunch and discuss high school sports, or job stability.  Now and then the women will chatter about irresponsible behavior, and both sexes can get going about the high school coaching staff.  But mostly it’s about meeting someone or other’s niece who is related to someone else or other and discussing exactly which portion of the various clans they represent.  When they do discuss the federal government, it’s usually with a pained expression.

belpre-trump2

To read more by Carl Nelson, visit:  www.magicbeanbooks.co

Getting It Into the Air

October 24, 2016

tintin-swimmingpool1

Once I had decided upon becoming a writer, I still had to make a living.  Just as the Zen Master must still chop wood and haul water, so I drove a Metro Bus part time.  One day, as I was passing through a Seattle suburb, I stopped outside a shopping center for this matronly lady to climb the stairs.  As she dug in her purse to locate her fare, she eyed me to say, “You look awfully tired.  You must work awfully hard.”

“Actually,” I said, “I work only three and half hours a day.”  (Beaming with pride.)

This flummoxed her.

‘Good work, Carl,’ I thought.  ‘You’ve stalled another conversation.’

And since I find enduring embarrassment very hard, I added:

“If I work more than three and a half hours a day, I get these terrible rashes!”  I rubbed my forearm sincerely.

“Oh!”  The woman exclaimed, visibly relieved.  “My aunt had that.”

I love pretense and flummery.  I love spin.  I love taking the day to day quotidian, the endless repertoire of repetitive detail and action which make up the “grit and slog” of our seemingly endless human condition and giving it wings.  Or, as my playwrighting teacher used to describe it: “getting this thing up into the air.”

Not so far up into the air as you lose all connection.  You don’t want to leave home.  No one does really.  You just want to get it far enough off the ground so as to realize some possibilities – to reveal a horizon.

As a writer, politician, actor, salesperson, to successfully practice your profession, you must have the knack for engaging your audience’s imagination.  Perhaps the impulse is native, or perhaps it comes from being raised in a situation so mired in the actual that a person can’t stop striving to ‘get some air’, even after they’ve broken free.  The urge remains.  Or, more probably, the urge is an amalgam of both.  But, in a writer, the urge can be so strong, that the actual effort of making something ‘practical’ happen gets in the way, takes too much time and attention, absorbs too much of one’s energy.  I’m reminded of the cartoonist, Scott Adam’s (Dilbert) testimony, that when he asked writers why they chose the profession they did, the majority answered by saying, “I’m lazy.”

I remember reading of it being said about Whitman, arguably America’s greatest poet, that Whitman was undoubtedly “the laziest person” the speaker had ever met.  Though no doubt, he labored over his masterpiece, Leaves of Grass, unceasingly, revising, adding, and then adding again, throughout his entire life – otherwise, he was as he describes himself.  “I loaf, and invite my soul.”

I have noticed, (and in case I haven’t, people close to me, like my son, have pointed this out), that I would appear to avoid work, shirk a laudable profession, and am otherwise devoid of much practical ambition.  From my point of view, it seems astonishing that they cannot see that I literally am working all of the time – all the while they are talking of vacations they are going to take, or just returning from, or of the fun they’ve had playing, with their boats, off-road toys, RVs, or camping, climbing, skiing, surfing, watching sports, drinking, having wild sex or travelling.  The diversions others participate in astonish me in their multiplicity, repetition, and time consumption.  Also, given that so many of them complain about their jobs all the while – gives it an air of lunacy.   Nevertheless, it appears they are right and I am wrong because like in so many areas, there are more of them than there are of me.  It’s a democracy!  The dictionary is a democracy.  Right and wrong are whatever it is said they are.  (Only the word roots remain.)

At any rate, I find myself working all of the time: listening, reading, chatting, taking notes, writing, trying to figure out why things are as they are and puzzling about how to take that story or poem a little higher, squeeze it a bit more.  Even sending stuff off is tedious.  Vacation spots bore me.  Adventuring makes me wonder, ‘What am I doing here, stuck on a cliffside?’  Give me a quite room.  Help me lift this stuff up into the air.  Some trouble free, uninterrupted time.  That’s what I like.  If I had a million dollars in the bank, that’s where I’d leave it.  That’s where it’s working for me just fine.  I’ll eat the same thing for breakfast as I had for dinner, thanks.  Very little variation in my outer world is best.  My inner world?  Now here is where I take flight, break free, imagine other people and worlds.  I don’t have time to watch endless football.  I’ve got it!  They try to possess the ball and move it to the goal line, and they wear different colored uniforms.

There you go again Carl.  You’ve stalled the conversation.

To see more of Carl’s work, visit: http://www.magicbeanbooks.co/home.html

 

The Unauthorized Use of Something I Read

September 16, 2016

business-school-presentation

https://www.amazon.com/Complete-Guide-Business-School-Presenting/dp/0857285149/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1474034530&sr=1-1&keywords=the+complete+guide+to+business+school+presenting

 

A Facebook friend, Stanley K. Ridgley, PhD., has written The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.  I was so taken by an excerpt of the book on the speaker’s use of the ‘Pause’, a teaser which Stanley had posted online, that I purchased the book.

The author mentions in his introduction that he has: “resisted the pressure to water down this book, to move its focus from you, the business student, and to “connect” it to a broader spectrum of people”…   So.  My use of this book is entirely unauthorized, and whatever calamity ensues is entirely of my own doing but has probably already happened in the poetry world.  It’s a crazy place.   Nevertheless, I figure I could find some of his tips useful for emceeing The Serenity Poetry Series which I run out of a Vienna, West Virginia coffee shop.

Since I am suspicious that life is largely a business situation and that poetry is just life in clearer focus – what have I to lose but some ignorance?  And perhaps I might gain some audience!  Poetry is about as hard a place to draw an audience as West Virginia.   So we’re doubling down here.

Right out of the chute the author quotes the words of Communication coach Lynda Paulson that,” what makes speaking so powerful is that at least 85 percent of what we communicate in speaking is non-verbal”.  She also notes that, “Most people can read and comprehend more content in half-an-hour than you could ever get across in the same time through speaking.”  In other words, as Ridgley notes, a presentation is a “show”, the star of which is “a project or idea (that) has a champion who presents the case in public”.   So it’s not the information so much as the impact of a “personal presence” which makes your presentation.  You communicate, Stanley continues, in “words and actions designed to make your audience feel comfortable – and heroic.”

 “Yes, heroic.  Every presentation – every story – has a hero and that hero is in your audience.  Evoke a sense of heroism in your customer, and you win every time.  Evoke a sense of heroism in your presentation audience, and you win every time.”

Bad presenters Stanley notes, “act as if your words carry the message alone.  A part of you actually believes that it is the force of your argument, your compilation of facts, your detailed spreadsheet that will carry the day.  Because that’s the way it should be, right?  As a result, you push the presentation outside of yourself.”  Doesn’t nearly all of the boring poetry you’ve heard read have poets who believe this?  That their words have created a little machine which just needs plugging in?  While the audience watches – supposedly enchanted – as it achieves nothing?

rube-goldberg-machine1

A little later on in the book our author writes, “…you are there to persuade your audience and call them to action.”   These are troublesome words to the poet, if they are to believe as Auden says, that “poetry makes nothing happen.”  What can a poet persuade our audience of?  And once he/she’s persuaded them, what is she/he to ask them to do?  And how should they go about doing it?

Well I’ve pondered this, and here is a thought.

I would suggest that the action of a poem is to provide insight.  As the poet William Carlos Williams famously summed it up in “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower:

“It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.”

And I would suggest that this is also how we should interpret Auden.  That the essence of insight is in making ‘nothing’ happen; that insight is ignorance giving birth to realization.

 Scott Adams, of Dilbert fame, wrote that his years in the world of business were useful to him as a cartoonist in many ways.  One was that it taught him to distill an idea to its essence, which he says is crucial to cartooning.  Well, distillation is important to poetry also.

There’s a saying that “poetry is memorable speech”.  I would call memorable speech which carries insight that demands action –  a slogan.  So I would suggest that the poet reader needs to find the slogan in each poem and urge their audience to consider and embrace it, until those words turn themselves on to glow like a light bulb.

robet-bly

Robert Bly is held by many to be a mediocre poet.  But as a reader and speaker for poetry, he has probably been the most successful poet/personality of his generation.  From his performances you might rightly think that he has read Ridgley’s book.  He speaks proudly and  energetically, building to his goal which are the poetic lines bearing the insight of which he’s spoken.  He recites these lines almost as if displaying a glowing Arc of the Covenant overhead for all to behold.  He insists on their power.  He invites his audience to feel this power of insight themselves, to hold it and to project it.  His job, as he discharges it, is to charge his followers with the joy and power of insight.   He performs the task well.  Whether the insight is up to Robert’s claims is where the poet/critics come in with their knives.  But for the time being, Bly holds the stage, the poet is a heroic figure, and greater insight is the heroic task and joy of his audience.

 

For books by Carl Nelson, visit:

http://www.magicbeanbooks.co/home.html

The Serenity Poetry Series

September 6, 2016
PoetsPoetry Readings Have a Long History

One of the more memorable evenings I’ve spent in stage theater occurred at a small forty person theater in Seattle called the Odd Duck.  A playwright, whose name I can’t recall and wouldn’t tell you if I did, had written a piece for the playwright’s group show.  His stuff was very watchable, but violent, bloody and transgressive.  It was also highbrow and stuffed with old Greek myths, all in all a bit crazy.  The playwright himself was somewhat likeable, but largely an ass.  And not only was he an ass, but he worked at it.  We’d go out drinking and he’d work his magic to get us kicked out of the bar.

Of course, he was left to direct his own piece for the show.  No one else would do.  And he ended up firing several of the actors, finally using a last minute replacement, who took on the role because he didn’t want the evening to suffer as a whole.  The short version is that they got in an unspoken argument on stage regarding the phrasing of a line of dialogue.  The playwright, (as I remember), wouldn’t feed the substitute actor the next line, until the actor would say the last line as the playwright felt it demanded.  This went back and forth, with missteps and false lines for a minute or so until the new actor said “this is bullshit” and  the playwright tossed some food at him.  The actor tossed it back.  A French fry flew out into the audience and hit me.  So I picked it up and tossed it back, striking the playwright on the nose.  He turned to the audience and glared at me.

I remember thinking, in a gleeful moment, that this was making all of the big theater productions feel like canned vegetables.

            For ten years or more I frequented playwrights groups regularly.  Actors would read our scripts and then the clutch of us would discuss what seemed to work and what didn’t.  Then, we’d re-write, or not.  Then have it re-read, or not.  Then seek a staged reading, or not.  Then seek a production, or not.  Then seek a better production or not.  All the while internalizing critiques and struggling to make the work better (more re-writes).  The theater is exhausting.  When you witness a musical production (one of the most arduous stage endeavors undertaken) which has finally made it to a prominent stage, you have to wonder what the hell they have left to sing about?  And how they even have the breath left?

The trick is that they work for the parts of the experience you don’t get paid for.  They work the parts without immediate remuneration or audience approval.  That’s where the fun is.  That’s what keeps them going.  (The rest is ego.)  That’s what kept our group of unsuccessfully realized playwrights working.  We were having group sex with each other’s talents.

(Scot Adams in his book, “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big”, nails this in Chapter 6: Goals Versus Systems staring page 30.  I recommend it.)

Aside from all of that, the process of dramatic production is one of constantly preening the narrative so that it meets expectations.  What kind of expectations?  Well, the expectations of others.  The audience has goals.  The audience has expectations for delight, surprise, the exercise of favored emotions, commanding characterizations, heightened dilemma, and a through line which embraces a widely favored public narrative – all of which is either at war or at least in a small struggle with the artist’s very individual, specific take on the world.  You cannot remove the politician from a popular piece of work.  Huge numbers of people all claim (honestly, I would suppose) to hate politicians.  But politicians are the only persons large groups of people will listen to in large groups.  Inside of every successful artist is a successful politician.   They aren’t necessarily likable, or positive influences, but they can claim the support of a vast segment of the population as a group.

The general public opinion of artists who are not successful is that they aren’t any good.  But from my years of experience I’ve found that people rarely persist in doing something they aren’t any good at.  (I was pleased to read that Scott Adams, of Dilbert fame, agrees with me.)  And there are a vast number of ‘not very good’ artists out there, persisting.  From my years of experience with artistic habituates, I’ve found that nearly to a person, each artist held a shard of genius… possibly a very slender one, at times no more than the thinnest, near invisible gossamer thread.  But that winning at theater is more a game of poker.  You need at least five good cards which augment one another – plus to cop another phrase from Scott Adams again, ‘the X Factor’.  There has to be something about your work which grabs and energizes a particular set of fans.

Talent plus the X Factor is a rare occurrence.   But talent alone is not.  It is literally everywhere.  And this is what unheralded groups of like minded, unrealized artists mine.  They mine one another’s talent, and cast themselves as each other’s audience.  They enjoy the experience of utilizing their talent and enjoying the products of talent.  That’s not a goal, but it’s the system of these small groups of artists who meet and work and persist.

In Seattle, during my time, there were several groups of theater people who would meet to conduct staged readings of new work.  Most of the groups were formalized with a inner cadre of either officers or first rank members.  They received the readings.  Lower members on the totem pole received readings of lesser length and when chosen.  The goals were to produce work of the first rank.  Their goals were to get plays into the local theater or even more prestigious places.  They rarely put up productions of their own.  And you needed to pass muster to join.

Then, there was my favorite group.  It had no officers.  It generally had only one or two members who had taken it upon themselves to do the administrative and organizational work necessary to sustain the group.  And they generally emceed the meetings.  There were no dues, no officers, no qualifications to join – except that you had to be there.  (One fellow brought in a pretty good play written while living on the street.)  Anarchism was the politics.  The meetings were pretty much “Hello.  Who have we got with something to read tonight?”  Playwrights would raise their hands.  One would be picked and he would pick some actors from the audience and hand them a script.  And then, “Showtime!”  If the script worked, we had fun.  If it didn’t work, oftentimes the discussion was better.  Even conversation is a chance for writers to show off their wit.

What was the track record?  The prominent personalities in the local theater world in town vied to become leaders of the more formal organizations.  And those who reached prominence in these organizations were constantly badgering the theaters in the press about using local writers.  They all had lofty goals and big ambitions.  But these goals were not reached, their ambitions unrealized, and the organizations collapsed.  Five years was about the life span.

My group had no goals, other than to meet and do original theater.   We put on 3-4 shows a year, very few of which were ever reviewed in the local weeklies.  We were referred to as amateurish, without standards, and the artists who came through the group and eventually rose to prominence, nearly to a person, never mentioned our group in their resumes.  But, as I was leaving Seattle, our group still throve, about twenty years along.  And the majority of the local writers who eventually were produced in our regional theater, passed through our group.  This information wasn’t and still isn’t generally shared.

Presently I run the Serenity Poetry Series at a coffee house in Vienna, West Virginia.  My goal is to create a place, much like that theater group of mine in Seattle, where we all have ‘skin in the game’.  Anyone who loves the memorable, decorative, clever, or verbally notable for one reason or another is welcome to attend and share.  (You may even attend if you don’t.)  They might share poems, writings, song lyrics, or even jokes.  They can be yours or others.  Your artistic goals are your own business.  But the enjoyment is ours.  There is no audience to speak of, and this is not a career move.  There’s no fame in it – just artists showing off and exercising their talents.

There’s no audience in it, except us.  And there’s no money in it, except ours.  But to quote Scott Adams again:   “…we all know that money distorts truth like a hippo in a thong.”

And we’re all wondering to see what an audience would do!  Drop by if you’re in the area. We meet the second Friday of every month, 7-9 pm, at the Serenity Coffee House in Vienna, West Virgina.

(If you would like to see more of Carl Nelson, visit:  http://www.magicbeanbooks.co/home.html  )

 

Getting Older, the Veneer Wears Thin for a Curmudgeon

August 27, 2016

Old Person2

Just as our bodies fail us, so do our minds and our personalities.  Our charm gets frayed, or takes a few hours off, or leaves us altogether.  Or the glitz which made the more determined aspects of our personalities less pointed and uncomfortable has fallen away, like paint from a splintery bench.  We’re isolated.  The difficulties of minor tasks get exhausting.  Small mishaps make us irritable.  Dropping things gets to be a chronic condition.  Our patience has worn thin, along with our skin and hair, finances and near everything else.  And what used to be a simple matter of bending over and picking the thing back up is now something more like snagging the prize with one of those toy scoops.  But the energy expenditure is enormous.  The small envelope you dropped weighs but several ounces, but getting yourself down and up can be a matter of lifting several hundred pounds.  Each new day, an hour or two in, and you begin to mutter that you are “too old for this!”

The younger bunch blaze ahead heedless.  The wisdom which has taken you so much time and effort to assemble is well…  “outdated”, as if you were a floppy disc.  Having to explain things to someone who is not interested would seem to be a fool’s errand. “Those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it.”  Young people will agree with this statement and repeat it – to the elderly.  The ironies of life just pile up, as you age.  It should be fodder for the evening news:  “Three irony pile-up on the Interstate this afternoon.”

And along with the humiliation of age comes the paranoia.  It isn’t uncommon for older people to turn on their caregivers, or accuse the helpful relative of stealing, when in truth it’s the elderlys’ faulty memory.  It’s not uncommon for a particularly willful and irascible spirit to expunge dutiful children, who have cared for them for years, from of their wills only to be infatuated by strangers, the ingratiating carpetbagger, a sympathetic acquaintance, neighbor, or give everything to some sketchy charity or balmy vision, or perhaps even some fellow they met in a bar.

Or the relations, friends and caregivers (even that ‘fellow in the bar’) might be taking advantage, being abusive or even stealing.   It’s not paranoia if it’s really happening!  The elderly can easily end resenting everybody and everything who had anything to do with them before they died.  Or they can die, befuddled, bruised, or kicked out into the snowy cold, but still loving and revering the villains who took them for a cleaning.  If your memory were just better, you could keep it all straight or sort it out.

What’s especially fun is arguing with your mate about what ‘actually happened’, when neither of you accurately remembers.  It can swallow the few remaining years.

Dying isn’t easy.  It’s a catastrophe.  There is no fix.  It’s the final loss of all control.  It’s the universe making a pie of you.  You’re gonna be something’s dinner, even if you’re of the progressive sort and are buried in burlap with mulch and an apple seed.  It’s humiliating.  And getting old is the humiliation express.  Next stop the hospital.  It’s life’s effort to completely wear you out, discharge that last bit of energy, spend the last ray of hope, nullify all desire, and prevent coherent thought and speech.  Your body will be in the hi-anxiety of total disarray with all systems failing, while your audience is scouring your slurred words and facial demeanor for those life lessons of wisdom, patience and universal love.  That priceless gift which only a life well lived can give.

Well, it may have to come from somewhere beyond the grave, or perhaps in some sleeping visitation.  Or maybe someone will just have to make this shit up!  Because getting old is like an avalanche and very hard to tip toe through with charm.  We are drowning people clutching for a life ring.  “Getting old is not for sissies,” Art Linkletter once said.

The good news is that, from my experience with loved ones and friends, most go out as the same person they lived from day to day.   If your wife doesn’t like your tie, she’ll probably still want to change it for the funeral.  If you were kind of mum in life, you’ll most likely die silently or with a whisper.  Or, if the emotionally volatile sort, expect lots of flower and tears – especially if big money is involved.  You’re choosing your last words and the ‘death spin’ now as you read this – and don’t even know it.  Ha, ha!

Okay.  Enough said.  Thanks for your time.  I realize that I can be a little grouchy.  (It’s the cancer… very painful.)  Just thank your lucky stars that I didn’t start talking about my last talk with the doctors!  It’s good of you to stop by.  Be seeing you.  Could you close that door firmly on your way out?  It has a tendency to swing back open.

(If you enjoyed this essay, you might enjoy these other offerings at http://www.magicbeanbooks.co   )

American Home Life

August 17, 2016

Home life

A Modest Lack of Proposal

 

It’s harder to imagine Hillary Clinton not running for President than her candidacy.  She pretty much outlines the nature of a ruthless political animal in the current political age, where one’s accomplishments for office are that you have held a previous office – or a relationship to that office, and your ‘vision’ is whatever triangulates for a plurality of the Electoral College.

But in trying to imagine Donald Trump as an actual candidate for President, it’s hard to quell the fear of having landed in a parallel universe.  The idea of ‘the Donald’s’ candidacy is preposterous, and the performance outlandish.  But the result is success.  Where has this creature come from?

 

I would propose that ‘the Donald’ has been living here among us the whole time.  He or she comes home from work every day.  He or she sleeps in the same bed and we share the same bathrooms.  And when possible, we eat at the same tables and discuss the same budget.

For his supporters, I would propose that ‘the Donald’ represents the owner, the boss, the division manager, who has defined how success looks and acts.  For ‘the Donald’s’ detractors – who would claim the Blue States and who pride themselves upon their moral conscience, their educational degrees, their better salaries and their higher intelligence, status and overall enlightenment  – I would propose that ‘the Donald’ is representative of the crude atavistic impulses – their ‘second natures’ which have propelled them there.  That is, that Donald also represents for them the owner, the boss, the division manager, and the hoary roots of the upwardly mobile – which they deny to see in the mirror each day.

 

Ideally, the reason we head off to work each day is to earn a living and to realize our abilities in a way that contributes to our society and our own development.  This is a good start.  But when one does get to work, one find that modern products are quite complex.  A lot of tasks need doing to create these products, get them to market and sell them.  Our ideal person doesn’t necessarily command their ideal job.  And their ideal portfolio/resume doesn’t necessarily land them this ideal job.  What lands them this job is what I would call their “job charisma”.

Charisma has been at least partly defined by sociologists as the judgment by others of the number of people who would bend to your opinion or bow to your lead.  Whoever is in a position to place our candidate is looking for that person who can lead a project to success, whether it be a simple, one person task, or a complex, highly technical collaboration of unusual minds.  In other words, what entices an employer to grant you the job opportunity you would like is their judgment of your leadership ability in this particular area.

For this reason, (and I suppose many others), being the leader is a very sought after position.  Corporations, the military and Ivy League schools all scour the landscape for the newest crop of leaders with which to fill their ranks.  A body of leaders would seem to be most effective and lead the organization to greater success.  In turn, the candidates all try to present themselves as leaders.  Leaders get to do what they want.

 

What does leadership, and in some sense popularity, entail?  Leaders generally share the same personal qualities of us all.  We can empathize and be charmed by them.  They can be generous, humorous, good natured, and warm.  But the character of a leader is defined by their priorities.  A leader might be all those things as you or I, and perhaps be even better endowed with any of these qualities than you or I, including charity and selflessness.  But what defines their (and our) character are priorities.

For example, many sales firms subject their job candidates to a personality inventory.  They are looking for candidates who like people, who enjoy understanding people, and who like bonding with people.  This would mark their category of say, ‘relatedness’.  Another category would be an assessment of the candidates’ desire for achievement.  Are they extremely competitive?  A good sales person would be that person whose ‘Achievement’ priority is higher than their ‘Relational’ priority.  This makes the difference between the employee who loves to chat with clients, and the employee who enjoys the time spent but also is always looking for that way to ‘close the deal’, to retail the relationship.  It’s the difference between making a lot of friends and making a lot of sales.

 

When he or she heads out of the home to their employment, their success in the outer world will depend in a large part on their ability to project leadership.  But in its barest essentials, leadership can appear grotesque – even monstrous.  No one in a sales firm would want for the common public to witness their in-house activities or be a fly on the wall of their in-house culture.  The bosses are extremely aggressive.  They are extremely competitive.  They do not countenance insubordination.  They make extreme demands.  They do not admit to being wrong in any significant sense.  And at the furthest end of the spectrum, they define what is true and what is false.  What is true is what they say is true.  What is false is what they say is false.  These two things can do a switcheroo at any time.  The question most pressed upon every employee is whether they “embrace the company vision” and whether they are “personally invested”.  Anything short of this is treasonous.

To survive and thrive in these environments, the culture must become second nature.   You must react, just like in competitive athletics, without thinking of these basic tenets:  You always put on the pleasant face.  You never surrender your standing.  If someone professes to know something you do not, and you cannot top them, then you ignore them or change the narrative.  You do not wander into areas where you might be vulnerable, or which are populated by the vulnerable – for example, in the business world it would be the ‘arts’ or poetry.  You aggressively limit the conversation to your strong areas.  You aggressively control the narrative, while loyally parroting the narrative of your superior.  You must worship the hierarchy.  Those above you, you listen to.  Those below, you patronize.  Your equals, you compete with.  If the boss says something which immediately contradicts what they’d said before – it doesn’t matter.  The best you can ask for is ‘clarification’.  But don’t ask more than once.  Otherwise they might not think that it is because the thought behind it is too difficult or requires remedial explanation.  If you ask more than once, they’ll either flirt with the idea of you being either insubordinate or a dullard.

Donald Trump is the public embodiment in probably its most pure form to date of all these strategies.

 

A problem arises when these employees return home.  What has become second nature is not left at the office.  If a mate suggests a failure, they either ignore it, or demean the origin.  They don’t admit to contradictions.  They assume leadership in all areas.   If it isn’t granted, they stand in the midst of the activity until it grinds to a halt without their direction.   They ask, delegate and command without a thought.  It has become their way of conversing.  They do the deciding.  They establish whatever conversation they will listen to.  They drive the narrative towards the result they want.  They retail affection.  They accept generosity as their due, and try to tweak it for a little more.  Eventually, the goal of our employee’s second nature is to make everyone of the household an employee of their personal brand, a helper towards their achievement.  It easily happens that the second nature strategy of outside occupations becomes a family tradition and a root nature of the family in a way that travels down generations.

This whole scenario can become toxic to the family and even lethal to its members.  Once a mate or family member decides to “be all they can be”, it becomes a race to see who can love each other the least, (all the while claiming the opposite).  As Donald Trump himself remarked about his older brother Freddy, an airline pilot with a fun-loving nature, who died as an alcoholic at the age of 43.  “For me, it worked very well,” Mr. Trump is quoted as saying in the New York Times.   “For Fred, it wasn’t something that was going to work.” … ‘The Donald’ ended by saying, ““He’s like the opposite of me.”

To see all of Carl Nelson’s published work, (plus that of others), visit: http://www.magicbeanbooks.co/home.html

Book Report

August 11, 2016

Noodle as Editor

I’ve finished five books of late, and I’m patting myself on the back.  So many periodicals arrive daily that I found I wasn’t finishing the books I’d purchased.  So I have made the effort and here is my report.

A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman:  This is an English translation of a current Swedish bestseller.  It’s a marvel of sweet and sour.  Ove is the sour.  His works are the sweet.  Very dark humor is pitched perfectly for some hilarious moments.  A woman friend recommended this and it got snatched away by my wife midway through my own reading.  I finally pulled hard enough to get it back, and it was worth the effort.

The book is pumped with warmth, infused like steam heat, perhaps because we are in cold Sweden.  It is not sentimental.  Every feeling is earned honestly.  But the book seems of a type with some other current bestsellers which are cooked with a lot of cream.  Rather than thin soup, we are fed a rich bisque.  Not something you would want to have every day, but which can mark off a fine experience.

I wonder at the irony of a story coming from such a PC culture, of a hero who is so anti-PC, swimming in a bisque of such creamy texture.  The feeling function is highly prized in this one.

https://www.amazon.com/Man-Called-Ove-Novel/dp/1476738025/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1470935877&sr=1-1&keywords=a+man+called+ove+by+fredrik+backman

“Ralph Marlowe” by James Ball Naylor:  I was driving through the rural town of Malta, Ohio to the town of McConnelsville, Ohio just across the Muskingham River, to attend a concert by Marty Haggard (Merle’s son).  I noticed a small historical marker.  It marked the town of Malta as the home of the writer James Ball Naylor, who wrote this bestseller circa 1900.  The story takes place downriver in the town of Stockton and concerns a young man on the lam from a bad experience who takes up with the irascible town physician, first as the pharmacist and then as his partner physician.  There’s a lot of stock characters, (though they are ‘taken from life’), whose rustic tales leave one wanting.  But the narrative has drive and the lead character, as the whole menagerie admits, is a natural leader.  He’s a pretty stiff fellow though, a hair-splitting moralist – but by the books end, I closed it on good terms.

https://www.amazon.com/Ralph-Marlowe-Tribute-James-Naylor/dp/0983234272/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1470935997&sr=1-1-fkmr0&keywords=Ralph+Marlowe+by+James+Ball+Naylor

“Excellent Women” by  Barbara Pym:  Her name keeps popping up here and there in my reading, so I decided I had to sample something.  This is a very low key but well written ‘comic’ treatment of the life of an unmarried clergyman’s daughter in immediate post WWII Britain.  The comedy is language prompted and reserved, and the intelligence behind it quite pronounced.  And the through line of the put-upon selfless personality is classic.  No good deed or good person goes unpunished.  If you enjoy hearing the ironic thoughts of a person ignored, even as her companions speak to her, this is your book.

https://www.amazon.com/Excellent-Women-Publisher-Penguin-Classics/dp/B004OYD1QI/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1470936071&sr=1-2&keywords=excellent+women+by+barbara+pym

“The Mullah’s Storm” by Thomas W. Young:  Okay.  I kept sneaking back to this one when some of the non-fiction I’m plowing away on got too dry.  A plane goes down in Afghanistan with a high value prisoner aboard.  The second in command is left alive along with a female translator to get this Mullah to a safe place.  The Taliban though have other plans.  So has their prisoner.  It’s a hard marching narrative whose author knows those hills and defiles apparently.  The quiet relationship between the narrator and the female translator is the defining interest apart from survival.

https://www.amazon.com/Mullahs-Storm-Parson-Gold-Novel-ebook/dp/0399156925/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1470936114&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Mullah%27s+Storm+by+Thomas+Young

“Hillbilly Elegy” by J. D. Vance:  After having moved to Appalachia from Seattle, I’ve been doing my due diligence.  This book is right up there, but it doesn’t need my good review.  It’s already made a lot of noise.  The culture he describes pretty much is as I’ve witnessed, save his background being a little further up the scale, over the top and down the other side.

Some local traits, which have particularly ground on me, look to be a culturally wide phenomena from what Vance relates.  Kinship ties trump everything, especially common sense.  And the child rearing is ‘free range’.  Vance relates the tale of one of his uncles when a child was asked to leave a store because he was unchaperoned and playing with the toys inside.  The grandfather and grandmother walked into the store, destroyed toys, trashed the shelves, and threatened the store employee with grievous harm – all because the man had disciplined their son to protect his wares.

This is further up the scale, but spot on in style from what I’ve witnessed.  And if you consider that a person’s closest family member is themselves – you might understand how stubborn and refractory to correction people around here can be.  It’s an ethos which travels across class lines.  You’re fur’ em or agin’ em first.  Later on, if pressed, they might consider an outside perspective – if only to argue against it and to suggest some previously unvocalized injury.  You couple this with gossip and intermingled family trees which span a multitude of generations – and you’ve got fertile grounds for simmering feuds and bad feeling all around.  It certainly doesn’t help fix things!

I’ve been working pretty hard at never meeting any of my son’s friends’ parents.  My son is pretty savvy at social navigating.  I’m not.  But I’m pretty big, 6’8”, and do best when I just keep my mouth shut.  One day my son said while leaving Home Depot, “Dad.  I think that they are afraid of you.”

I nodded.  We were off on the right foot.

https://www.amazon.com/Hillbilly-Elegy-Memoir-Family-Culture/dp/0062300547/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1470936165&sr=1-1&keywords=hillbilly+elegy+by+j+d+vance

“The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins:  Okay.  I’m only in five pages.  But my wife swears by it, says it‘s a great read.  And I’m hooked so far…

https://www.amazon.com/Girl-Train-Novel-Paula-Hawkins/dp/1594634025/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1470936199&sr=1-1&keywords=the+girl+on+the+train+by+paula+hawkins

Meet you at the back cover.

For more ideas, visit:  http://www.magicbeanbooks.co/home.html


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