Culture

February 25, 2015

Real People: Thinking Caucasian Little Boy Questioning Wonder

This Teacher Doesn’t Make It Easy!

 

If my son knew the material,

he could tell me which material the test covered.

But he doesn’t.  Which, of course, he wouldn’t,

seeing as how he needs to learn… it.

But so far I’m fairly certain that it’s biology.

Perhaps a little about cell morphology.

A question about ‘telomeres’  (put me onto chromozones)

and the word ‘pedigree’, plus the terms ‘incomplete’ and ‘non-complete’ dominance,

I see cramped like coded messages inside of little yarn balls of inked drawings

would seem to anchor us in Genetics.  Hoorah!

So we turn to that chapter,

but only portions of it seem to be the portions of it he remembers,

that is, the portions of it he has to study,

at least, as my son sees it.

This teacher doesn‘t make it easy!

 

The teacher gives some of the material in a handout,

some in varied sections of the textbook,

a portion of the material they have all read together,

…some seemingly as short as a paragraph –

while other information he delivered as a lecture in class.

Then there’s the information from the various tests,

which, unfortunately, had to be turned back…

-“What’s the point of a test, if we can’t study what you got wrong?”

-“Dad.  Why do you have to go off on all sorts of things that don’t matter?”

And there’re quizzes, versus major tests, for which the rules are somewhat different.

On the major exams, if you perform poorly, you can re-take the test.

But meanwhile, the class moves on.

-“So which are we working on?!” I exclaim.  “The past, or the present?”

-“Dad, please!  Just settle down.”

 

All the while, we’re in a rush, of course.  Not mine, but his.

There’s chats, meetings and activities

continually being updated by texts from his friends, he takes as we study.

-“Dad!  Dad.  Why do you have to go off on all sorts of things that don’t matter?”

-“Because I’m explaining this to you while you have your head in a phone!’

-“We don’t have time now to read the whole chapter!

Just help me to answer these 10 questions.  Number one:

Some person’s son has a different blood type from either of his parents.  Is this possible?”

-“Oh yeah.  Certainly.”

‘Maybe even probable?’  I mumble.

 

Photo from Google Images

 

From the Editor’s Perch

February 23, 2015

Global Warning

Global Warning

 

First it was Global Warming, and the Seas Were Going to Rise and Drown Us.

The seas didn’t rise.  The Maldives are still there.

And Global Warming is now Climate Change.

Then a Great Shelf of Ice was supposed to dislodge from a Melting Antarctica,

fall into the water, and…  the Seas Were Going to Rise and Drown Us.

 

A little back story:  After fears in the 1970s of Global Cooling had abated,

Y2K was going to destroy civilization in the year 2000,

and then Second Hand Smoke was going to kill us.

But from there on out, the playbill got a lot more crowded,

as various performers realized  something  a lot of us fully allow

both In and Out of Government, and On Both Sides of the Question.

And that is that “A Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste”.

 

So next up, and coming soon!  are melting methane beds, from deep within a dying ocean…

expect a cold vortex pushing south, down from Canada, in between

summertime projections of starving, drought-stricken farmers moving up from the south,

a flood of undocumented aliens carrying ebola,

(insert where appropriate: the dissolution of our shorelines and possibly Manhattan)

ISIS fanatics running rampant across all of the mid-East, and thence to disseminate by air to everywhere where they might find you, and an atomically armed Iran.

 

Exacerbating the crumbling financial picture from within the European Union,

either Greece, Italy, Spain, or all three could default.  Or Germany – that economic engine – could pull out altogether leaving the whole European Consortium to collapse like a circus tent.

The High Pressure Fracking for oil in the Fly-over States, which could possibly destroy all potable water,

is also challenging the dominance of the former oil-rich countries, who came about their oil too easily,

putting their regimes in jeopardy creating more and more instability,

in a soon to be nuclear armed Near East.

While the newly created, well-paying blue collar jobs and cheaper oil in the heartland

is fuelling the rush to more fracking, even cheaper oil, and ever more CO2,

plus a lot more money-enhanced Bubbas , exacerbating the chances, Climate Change Will Occur, as it always has in the past, or that we will Be in Denial all the while we have our air conditioners turned up high.

So maybe yes, at least, to that.

 

“97 out of 100 scientists believe excess C02 causes Global Warming.”

This is what we are told, even by the President.

What was actually determined was that,

“97 out of 100 scientists believe excess C02 contributes to Global Warming.”

 

So, say the Doubters, “Just me being alive contributes to Global Warming, as does my friend’s pug dog’s farts.”

“And the President contributes to Global Warming every time he speaks!”

And probably much moreso than me.  Nevertheless,

by the President’s measure, I’d guess we could say that he personally has caused Global Warming.

And that 97 out of 100 scientists would agree on this.

Fair enough.

 

Picture from Google Images

February 15, 2015

Editor’s Note:  I have decided to try writing my essays as poems.  This can take a bit longer.  The form of this first essay was suggested to me by a friend.  It is a Pantoum.  Hopefully the repeating lines will add to the rhetorical punch.

Bacon and eggs Gov

How Governmental Succor Undermines Home and Family

 

It’s like he’s being recruited by a gang!

This morning I fixed an onion, sausage omelet, buttered whole grains toast, and slices of orange with tea for breakfast.

And my son refused it!  He stared at it.  “I can’t eat this,” he said.

My wife and I beamed, welcoming him.  Oh! the love of home, hearth and family.   “You have to have breakfast, son.”

 

This morning I fixed an onion, sausage omelet, buttered whole grains toast, and slices of orange with tea for breakfast.

At school my son could get a bacon, egg and cheese pizza plus fruit, milk, or three to four different kinds of cereal, breakfast bars or bagels off the rack.

My wife and I beamed, welcoming him.  Oh! the love of home, hearth and family.   “You have to have breakfast, son.”

“I can get it at school.”

 

At school my son could get a bacon, egg and cheese pizza, plus fruit, milk, or three to four different kinds of cereal, breakfast bars or bagels off the rack.

“Or you could eat right here.”

“I can get it at school.”

“They let us go to the school cafeteria if we have first period study hall,” he said.

 

“Or you could eat right here.”

How is it that a bureaucrat, untucked as his dingy sheer shirt, as he reaches for the ring binder to retrieve this morning’s mandated breakfast menu, can charm our intelligent son?

“They let us go to the school cafeteria if we have first period study hall,” he said.

“Is this how the government serves us?”  I asked the ceiling fixture.

 

How is it that a bureaucrat, untucked as his dingy sheer shirt, as he reaches for the ring binder to retrieve this morning’s mandated breakfast menu, can charm our intelligent son?

To return our hard-earned money to us as fast food pork?

“Is this how the government serves us?”  I asked the ceiling fixture.

Subsidizing my son’s rash dash to be as late as he pleases?

 

To return our hard-earned money to us as fast food pork?

Offering all sorts of empty convenience

Subsidizing my son’s rash dash to be as late as he pleases?

with no more, “Good morning.”

But, “Don’t talk to me, please dad.  I’m in a hurry.”

 

Photos from Google Images

The Short Version / Reviews

February 3, 2015

Art Worlds

As I matured, it occurred to me post-discussion that often groups of people had not really been talking about what it seemed we were ostensibly talking about.  In book groups their conclusions puzzled me.  It was as if while I was discussing the text, they were shopping at Nordstorms; holding up some piece of information or impression to see if it were ‘okayed’.

Moreover, later I suspected that they didn’t really know that they weren’t talking about what they were talking about.  (Definitely, I was puzzled what they were talking about.)  Whatever!   I also suspected that they weren’t having the feelings which they reportedly felt or felt that they had felt.  Their feelings just didn’t ring true to me.  And as I aged out, I also realized that many of my teachers hadn’t lived the advice that they offered, and suspected also, that they hadn’t realized that they weren’t living the advice that they offered.  So often,  in fact, their advice was the direct opposite of what they were doing.  Didn’t they notice?  What the hell?

 Have you ever crafted a very reasoned response for a discussion others are a part of, to find they listen and then carry on without a remark as if nothing had been said – as if you were a spirit which had drifted through the room, shrieked – and left, without a mention?  As an artist, have you watched artistic leaders make the most preposterous assertions without a blush to a fully accepting crowd?  If you have ever considered the artistic community – or any community, for that matter – and come away dumbfounded regarding something or other – this might be the book for you.

Self-Portrait1
As I type this, I am still incredulous that after all of the time I have spent in the art world, trying to find my way, and trying to understand the art world, that it never occurred to me to read what a sociologist would have to say about the art world.  That is, of course, they would study these things!

Well.   I’m certainly late to the game, but feel I’ve arrived.

Because, Typing and Sales 101 are two courses I’ve always felt should be in any practical educational curriculum.  Now I would have to add a third, and that is a study of the book, Art Worlds by the sociologist Howard Becker.

Howard Becker’s book is fundamentally about ‘conventions’; about a conventional thought, about a conventional activity.   Art Worlds discusses how humans utilize convention to organize and to ‘regularize’ production, so that in a professional arena, not everything need be discussed.  This is the bread and butter of Becker’s work.

In fact, very little of any accepted convention must be discussed.   Because the sources of conflict have already fought their nasty little internecine wars and spawned conventions which have been codified as standards, long before you ever arrived, or perhaps were even hatched and people do their work amongst them like fish swim in water.  Dissenters have long ago been herded off (and actually continue to be ‘hauled off’) and penned somewhere ‘beyond the pale’.

These conventions determine the flowcharts of nearly all social organizations.  But they are very apparent in the arts where it is quite necessary that something nebulous be defined so that it might be crafted and produced and then be ‘authenticated’ (which is in the art world a way of being ‘realized’) in order to be understood  and sold to its consumers.  “Art Worlds” examines just this.  But as Becker notes, “the world of art mirrors society at large”.  What would look to be a good book for any aspiring art worker to study – actually, is a good book for any aspiring human to study.  That is, if you would like to get on in life.

Harry51

This is all about getting on in life.  Becker makes no aesthetic judgments.

It's important to uphold standards.

It’s important to uphold standards.

When an arts organization tells you that they “must uphold standards”, they really can’t emphasize this enough.  Because the life of the organization, their jobs, their professional status and their livelihoods all depend upon meeting the specifications of the art product they produce.  Not to do so would be like a blind Sampson pulling down the pillars of the temple.

Becker doesn’t theorize; he observes.  “…sociology does not discover what no one ever knew before…  Rather, good social science produces a deeper understanding of things that many people are already pretty much aware of.”  Becker, as sociologist, explains the functioning of an Art World in a way that those who understand only a part of it can’t.

Art is Social

Art is Social

Becker begins his book by noting that “art is social”.  That whereas we commonly think, in our culture, as the artist being the creator of the work – Becker goes to great effort to describe the community of ‘personnel’ who, taken together, produce the ‘art’ product.  Further, he shows how the art cannot attain any stature without this community of ‘personnel’.  Nor, can it even claim to be ‘Art’.  As Becker observed, “Most history deals with winners.  The history of art deals with innovators and innovations that won organizational victories… (my italics)   Only changes that succeed in capturing existing cooperative networks or developing new ones survive…  Art worlds routinely create and use reputations.”  Art worlds regularly criticize and defend themselves, authorize membership and reject aspirants.  And they all define themselves, their places and their actions through an establishment of ‘conventions’.

My first quarter playwriting teacher might have agreed with Becker on at least this first point.  The first question our instructor asked our class was about what is the defining characteristic of theater.  His answer was that it is “social”.   Becker continues though, to extend this  observation much further than what my playwriting teacher might authorize.  In fact, Becker’s exploration uncovers so vast an area of questionable action as to make at least this art worker wonder, ‘What the hell am I, or was I, aspiring to be a part of?”

It’s a personal belief of mine that any true appreciation of reality is an ‘unmooring’ experience.  T.S. Elliot remarked, “Most people cannot stand too much reality.”  In truth, most of us fight the Alice in Wonderland, topsy-turvy quality of reality.  We really cannot stand to be a part of this.  We’d rather manufacture something with more stability.   “That is our story, and we’re sticking to it,”  is rather the nature of how we go about it.

So a book like Becker’s “Art Worlds” – which can leave this artist/reader feeling unmoored – to my mind, is quite a book indeed.

Photos by Carl Nelson

Alien Abductions Are Loud, Bright Affairs

Alien Abductions Are Loud, Bright Affairs

 

War is Hell, Civilian Life is Worse

January 21, 2015

schn00dles:

This is the first post I’ve ever reblogged. It’s timely, or rather ‘past time’ly.

Originally posted on Transitions:

Kandahar Airfield“the story does not end on the battlefield. For most, the story has just begun.” – Jessie Odom

Many veterans struggling to reintegrate back into civilian life report that although war is hell, civilian life upon return is worse. Some veterans see combat as a high point in their life, wishing they could go back to an experience that should have been their worst. This social experience is a suicide risk for the roughly one third of veterans who do not make a successful transition to civilian life.

The social source of this suicide risk for veterans in transition can be illuminated by Elwin Humphreys Powell’s concept of ‘anomie’ in his book, The Design of Discord. Anomie occurs when an individual is unable to derive a sense of meaning or purpose from one’s social environment. According to Powell, a central area of life where actors find purposive action is…

View original 983 more words

Poesy

January 17, 2015

Deflated Christmas Decorations3 Deflated Christmas Decorations1 Deflated Christmas Decorations6

The Souls of Inflatable Christmas Creations Escape to Animate Strangers

 

I know I’m always stirred when the cosmos grips me,

like kids at Christmas,

wandering in a new snowfall and remarking

to whoever’s there to hear.

 

He circled me twice.  “You get that for Christmas?”

“Bought it for myself.  It was a present for myself,” he said, revolving.

He rode a red mountain bike

on larger tires than I’d ever seen…

“If I hit one of those cracks in the sidewalk?  I don’t even feel it.”

He spiraled, while continuing to talk.

“I can’t walk.  It hurts my ankles.  I have type two diabetes.”

Then, pulling out, “I’ve lost 60 pounds,” he called back.

 

Meanwhile, a fellow on a shiny silver Harley drives through,

and then back again through, on his way, the other way, still smiling,

that early Christmas afternoon, while I was out walking.

The outdoor lights still hang, some sagging,

and the comic, inflatable creations were puddles of fabric.

Peanuts Snoopy

Photos from Google Images

Culture

January 10, 2015

2014 Best American Poetry

 

How to Read a Poem?

(You may need help.)

 The current state of Poetry is that there are a spate of aspirants and a dearth of audience.  There is also a spate of hierarchy and a dearth of quality.  You needn’t read much further to deduce this latter than the current “Best American Poetry 2014”.  I’m two thirds the way through my reading of it, and I’ve come across four poems I’d read again, none especially timeless, and yet, nearly to a person their bios detail honors, awards, recipientships, publications, fellowships, and prestigious academic positions up the yin yang.  The introductions and bios run for pages and pages.  Topically, the poems run the same playlist as People Magazine, Facebook and the tabloids.

So.  Here we have me, just one person – some tiny little non-entity, who writes poetry with some small success with a nearly non-existent audience, from a fly-over state, – versus, them, who apparently write poetry with great success and a virtually non-existent audience also!  And I find them seriously lame.  But who is to know?

In many ways the situation of Poetry has parallels with the situation of Jazz.  Each suffers a dearth of (earthly) success, but a spate of aspirants.  And the reaction of the general public, to each, is to toss up their hands.  However, each, as the years pass, spawn their aspirants and their fanatics.

I mention Jazz because of this piece by Adam Gopnik, (which I am just going to crib shamelessly from the New Yorker), discussing the work of the American Thinker and Sociologist, Howard Becker:

 

“Tristano taught simple ways of solving puzzles that come up in improvising – for instance, ways of adding flatted fifths and minor ninths to otherwise too familiar chord sequences.  “He showed how to create an essentially unlimited set of possibilities to work with as I played through an evening in a bar,” Becker recalls.  Jazz solos, he learned from his models, were concocted almost entirely “from a small collection of ‘crips,’ short phrases that can be combined in a million ways, subjected to all possible variations.”  The lesson that social performance, even of the highest kind, was more a string of crips than an outpouring of confessions remained at the root of Becker’s understanding of the way the world works.”

Noodle as Editor

Perhaps the reason the majority of poems in the 2014 Anthology seem lame to me, is because I don’t understand what these Poets are doing.  One Poet, Tony Hoagland, whose poem, “Write Whiter” was included in the Anthology, and who has always seemed to me to be preternaturally discerning, wrote this about his poem in his bio:

 

“I don’t consider “Write Whiter” a great poem, nor an exceptional example of TH’s volcanic talent.  Someone easily could have written it.  However, it defines, like a station of the cross, a place in the conversation we are having; its ticket needed to be punched, and so I punched it.”  (italics mine)

 

Perhaps what these poets are doing is playing crips of tunes cribbed from People Magazine and the other ‘Glossie’ Media.  Not being cognizant of the crips – or perhaps being too cognizant of the crips and the source material as heavily clichéd, trite and intellectually shamless leaves me passe’ (to say the least).  Neither their ‘crips’, nor their placement of them, hold the charm for me apparently as they do for their true believers.

But what aggravates me no end is of the beautiful sound, rhythm and meaning which is either abandoned or not even considered in order that the included poem and poet become an included part of the current ‘conversation’.   Most of the beauty (and enjoyment) of poetry is tossed aside, in order to make the secret handshake, pay the coin of the realm, and be taken in by this secretive league of poetry Brahmin.  I’m all for social organizations, but not when their bent is to go about ruining art.

Hey!  I get indignant.

 

Or – perhaps I don’t understand what Art is?  (This realization really chills me…)

 

(Hey!  You don’t care.)  (smiley face)

 

…and I just like Beauty.

 

Culture

December 30, 2014

Putin

The Russians Get There First

Leafing through this month’s Commentary magazine, I came across James Kirchick’s review of Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia by Peter Pomerantsev, a television producer who was attendant to much of the political doings in Russia during the first ten years of this century.  Apparently the thrust of this book is to chart the accomplishments of Vladislav Surkov, Putin’s political general.

Kirchick writes: “He is the “political technologist” responsible for the concept of “sovereign” or “managed” democracy – a post-modern apparatus of fake parties, fake parliaments, and fake dissidents.”  … “The man’s “genius,” Pomerantsev writes, is to “use the language of rights and representation to validate tyranny.”  …”Pomerantsev writes, “The Kremlin’s idea is to own all forms of political discourse, to not let any independent movements develop outside of its walls.”  The state throws support to transgressive artists while simultaneously funding the Orthodox Church, whose leaders protest those very artists’ exhibitions.”  …”The Russia Pomerantsev paints is a morally corrupt bizarro world that actively discourages integrity of any kind.”

Photo from Google Images

Culture

December 21, 2014

audience4

The Audience is a Mob

One of my favorite Sammy Glickisms is, “Talent can get you just so far,” he said.  “Then you got to start using your head.”

One of the things I seem to have to keep learning, and re-learning, throughout my life, is that people take themselves seriously.  This isn’t easy, and isn’t easy especially for a writer to do.  No matter what is said about a character inhabiting a writer’s head and taking over control of their pen – we all know who is calling the shots.  Writers may play about with psychosis, but in the end, it’s still their psychosis.   (This might be one reason I’m often amused by the claim that reading fiction broadens one’s horizons.  Fiction, or any work of art for that matter, is probably the most totalitarian thing out there, with perhaps the most limited view of life available – currently in print.)  Writers do with characters as they please.  They do not need to take their characters ‘seriously’.   That is, the characters have no power over them.

 

On the show, “I Love Lucy”, (which is problematic, by the way), Ethel and Fred and Lucy and Ricky all have their flare-ups, their fights and wars.  But, in the end, another portion of their nature appears, goes to work, and resolves the situation amicably.  This is what can happen when people don’t take themselves too seriously – another portion of their personality can go to work.   In real life however, real people take themselves real seriously.  One clash with your real neighbor, and that could be the end of things.  Two clashes, and it’s probably a cold war.  Three, and “we will see you in court”.

audience6

Why do I say all this?

Well, it’s because that as a writer, and especially as a playwright, who with maturation has the opportunity to experience an audience and mull their reactions – you begin to see that you are strung between two poles.  On the one hand is the situation of you as the talent and as the creator, whose delight is to take characters and run them through their paces, place them in situations, raise the stakes, swing for the fences!  No subject is out of bounds.  No outcome is beyond the pale.  No emotion is suppressed.   No remark need go unmade.  All is made up and needn’t be taken seriously.  But what if this did happen?  That is always the question posed.

On the other hand, there is the audience who are very real, and whom each and every one take quite seriously.  You not only have to capture their interest…  that is, change their focus from their own very serious concerns to immersing themselves in your own conceit.  This is damn hard in and of itself.   But you also must be very careful not to press any of their buttons, that is, to challenge their personal ideology – or they will close you out.  You will lose their participation.

Well, Whitman noted “I contain multitudes”.  And Lincoln remarked, “you cannot please all of the people, all of the time”.  So if everyone is a crowd, and you can’t please everyone- where does this leave the poor playwright?

The trick is it seems, is to find something a sizeable crowd either hates or loves to the exception of whatever else transpires, and trumpet that boldly and with a sense of urgency.  It could be that, “Racism is a profound evil.”, or “Poor people deserve respect.” or, “Don’t be a prude.” or any number of the current shibboleths that hold sway over the makeup of the current theater audience.   In other words, you must use every trick and caboodle at your disposal for turning the theater audience into a mob; a nice mob – you don’t want them trashing the place for goodness sakes – but a mob, nevertheless.

audience1

I experienced an excellent demonstration of this.  At the party following a production of my own, a good friend of mine, using the actors cast, put on a roast of a scene in the play, “Saving Harry”.  He took the scene, which involved salesmen at a large metropolitan dealership, and transposed it to hicks in the rural South.  I loved that scene.  It was a favorite of mine.  And I think the audience enjoyed it also.  But their reaction was fairly muted, throughout the production.

Transposed, the same scene was hilarious.  It got a huge reaction!  And I added a lot of the laughter myself.  I enjoyed it very much.  But what it did was to change the audience from individuals who could think and consider – into a broadside against rural hicks, creating a roaring, rolling mob of ridicule.  And I roared myself.  There’s no getting around it.  But it stands in my life as a very firm lesson.  The audience is a mob.

Why do I take the time to remark on all this?  It’s all just theater, right?

Well, as Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage…”

Photos from Google Images

Culture

December 17, 2014

amish beards2

My Amish Beard

 When I reached sixty-five, and I began working out of my home office, I gradually stopped shaving.  Shaving is a bother.  It adds another task to the day.  And once you have failed to shave for a few days, (okay, a week or so), your beard becomes like a lawn which has outgrown the mower.  The shafts of the grass get long and tough.  And you need the weed whacker.  The razor no longer cuts it.  Snipers are a rough tool.  And electric devices either bog down in the thick hairs or begin tugging and yanking.

My beard trimmer bogged down.  So I tried the new razor I bought.  I began with the moustache, but quit after the work bogged down too.   All of which left me looking like a Mennonite.

amish beards3

Now I’ve always felt this was such an odd way to wear a beard, that the people who did so must be quite odd themselves.  But, really, I feel about the same.  And though the wife calls me Enoch, from time to time, she likes it!  She never liked being poked by my moustache hairs.  She says she always enjoyed the shape of my mouth.

And these beards are handy in wintery Ohio as a pair of mittens, when on my walks.  So I did a little research.

Apparently, the first Amish were persecuted in old Germany by the military types whose fashion then was to wear elaborate mustaches.  So the Amish declared themselves by refusing to grow mustaches.   The carry-over of this habit continues to this day.  In addition, the beard is allowed to grow longer once a man marries.  Hmmmm…  I’m married.

amish beards1

Photos from Google Images


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 318 other followers

%d bloggers like this: