Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Bahs

So I wake up, log onto Yahoo, since it's my home page, and scan through the morning headlines, going through my routines of pages as I do. What strikes me as odd was at the top of the Yahoo! page, where it shows what the daily most searched for things are. #4 on the list was "Video Game Cheats" At 9:10AM! This means that, at the very earliest, the children (or adults) got their video games the night prior, but more likely it was first thing that morning. So barely 2 hours go by and they're already looking for cheat codes for the games. On Christmas! They're cheating on Christmas! Whatever happened to developing the skills needed to beat a game, all by yourself? Most games are constructed in a scaffolding manner, much like Donkey Kong's beams, so that, through learning and experience, you master a game. There are no need for invincibility codes or Konami codes or whatever. Now, of course, this statement is false, because there is no way you can beat Contra without the Konami code. And occasionally there are just bosses that are programmed to be impossible. Then, if the game gets in the way of the story, then it's fine to use codes to get past that area. I used God Mode at the end of American Mcgee's Alice because the last boss was impossible.

But to look up cheat codes 2 hours after opening the box? That's insane! It speaks of how life is today. People want it. Now. Without effort, without reward. Take the ladder at the very beginning of Candy Land up to the top, and make it an easy victory. Don't reorganize the company, just ask the government for bailout money. Don't study for the test, just reorganize the school system so nobody fails. In my opinion, everyone who looked up codes for games 2 hours after they got it should be taken to the "naughty list" side, and Santa should come back on the 26th and take back his gifts. They weren't appreciated.

And what, then, should we do on Christmas day, after the church services and the dinners and the gifts opening? After the games played and the conversations made and the obligatory trips to relatives, near or far. What then should we do? Because the world, on that one day of December 25th, is put in a holding pattern, with everything shut down, closed, unless you like egg rolls, not to start again until the 26th. The entire nation rests. And that's good, I guess, as long as you don't need something. Where do you go when you are sick on the 25th, and a persistent cough needs Robitussin? Or when the pain of a tooth gets so bad that Orajel and Aspirin barely takes care of it, but it's enough, but there's none to be had. Or the sudden realization that you are out of milk. The whole world shouldn't just shut down for Christmas. I'm sure there would be people out there that would love to work a day out of the year while the other workers stayed home. Take the unemployed and let them run the registers at a local Krogers. That would be enough. The rest could be handled by the people that have to work because there is no other choice.... the ER, the policemen, the firemen. Those that keep us safe and alive.

Should we celebrate Christmas as a one special day out of the whole year, or is it that Christmas should be a continuation of the rest of our lives? We should say that Christ was born that day long ago so that we could go on living. And not that the day should be at a standstill while people sit at home and wait. Most people would not agree with me, as they have friends, relatives, people around them that they can visit and go eat meals with. But, unfortunately, there are some for whom that doesn't work out. Not all of us have family close together, and there are some whose friends are just as far apart. And so, we wait. And it puts too much pressure on that one day, to treat it like the most special of days in the year, when it should be the same as any other day. And by that I mean that it should be as special a day as the rest of the year, for we are alive, and living, and loving, and participating in the life cycle which we have created for ourselves. Should this day, Christmas especially, a day when the beginning of a life is celebrated, be done by stopping everyone's lives? If that is the case, then let us set aside a day where we nap the whole day, and not worry about fancy dinners and gifts and church services. We could call it "Do Nothing Day," and it would serve the same purpose. For Christmas, let's celebrate living by living. It is the greatest gift that we have, or could give, for our fellow men.

While in the past, I have commented on how wonderful the Yule Log broadcasts on WATL 36 is, especially for people who don't have a fireplace (apartments) or who are allergic to fireplace smoke (me), I do realize the down side to this. Namely, that on Christmas day, everyone packs it up and shuts it down. HSN is on a two hour repeated B-Roll, most of the cable stations are running marathons of only one movie, shown over and over the whole day, with the stations running on automatic, and unless Christmas falls on Monday or Sunday, there is no football games on. Only Basketball, which bores me so. Football should be on every holiday, so that, if we must wait out the endless hours of doing nothing, at least we can watch football while we're doing it. The bright spot of Christmas this year was that at least The Price is Right was on, and Comedy Central ran some of their best specials. But I guess that's what the DVD player and is for. I should have had my own Phineas and Ferb marathon on my computer. At least I would have been merry.

I guess it's just me. Christmas has never been the most special of holidays that everyone else seems to regard it as. Yes, I know all about the true meanings of Christmas, and I take that to heart. But the actual living through Christmas, when everything is not so Thomas Kincaid in our house as it seems to be in others, is sometimes hard. And maybe it's just me, but changing the patterns of life, from something routine to something special, is hard. Sometimes what is the most comforting about any day is waking up and going through the motions. For at least then, there is continuity, there is some purpose about what you are doing. There must be a reason why, every Christmas, I end up getting sick (not this one, yet), my mom ends up with a migraine, and my grandmother winds up talking all day about this death and that sickness, far much more than routine days. Sometimes it's better for the same old thing to happen. When the peaks aren't too high, and the Valleys aren't too low, things are level, and much like the ocean, when that happens, it's calm and pleasant. And like the ocean, in life, when a high is reached, a corresponding low must also exist. And it's those times that are not worth going through sometimes.

I know this is not how I usually think. Standing on the mountain tops is what I strive for, even with the drops being as dangerous as they are. But occasionally, one must taste the opposite opinion, to see if it holds merit. And I see that it does. So tomorrow, I'll probably be merry and happy and epicurean as ever. But for now, the calm, continuous road is good for me.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


I sincerely hope you never pull up next to me on the road, and see me singing my lungs out in my car, much like that State Farm commercial they have on now. I look like that. I really do. Hand motions and the whole thing. And my car is the only thing that will hear me do that.

And you see the lines of people trying to get into the American Idol auditions, with ridiculous costumes and horrible voices. The high squealing falsettos and the wavering pitches, thousands of them, all going to sing for these idiot judges whose job it is to spare us from having to listen to people make fools of themselves. And maybe cut down a few dreams. It's all for the fame, the money, the popularity. It's so that people will pay attention to them, pay them a compliment. And in their heads, they're the greatest singers on the planet. Everyone should hear them belt out whatever pop song is popular at the top of their lungs, and it should be an epiphany of life changing proportions. Well guess what. It's not.

I sing because I want to. I don't sing because I want other people to hear me, because I want money, or fame, or whatever. The good singers, the ones that have made it successfully in the world and are making millions singing, or not, like Sting (whose CD we're selling at Borders. English Folk tunes with a Christmas theme), or Bochelli (whose CD we're also selling.), sing because they want to affect the people listening with a certain emotion, love, or passion, or anger, or sadness. Emotions that ring with each note, that resonate with each chord. The trick is that those emotions resonate in each of us when we sing, whether we actually sing well or not. If we are good singers, it does help. And if we are, we can affect the people around us.

If I thought that my singing would actually spur emotions in other people besides the intense desire to choke a person, I would perform. But I am, after all, and introvert, and honestly I don't care what they think of my singing. I think I sound good, and that's all that matters.

Music has always been a very personal thing for me. A song is an encapsulated expression of emotion, something to be treasured and experienced. The thought of someone just having music on as background noise, as something to have on while talking, drives me nuts. A piece of music should be listened to, the notes should envelop one's body. To reduce it to elevator music is nauseating. When I worked at the grocery stores, I always could pick up on any song I liked, and know what was playing within seconds, even if the volume was low. The songs swung me through my day, from tune to tune, until the day was done. Most of the other workers couldn't hear it or care what song was playing.

I loved playing clarinet in the bands at Heritage, at Georgia College, in the marching, symphonic, or pep bands. I received a full music scholarship for college, and it helped pay for, well, a lot of things. But I was never playing for the expectations of the audience. I played for myself. I was 3rd part Clarinet, but not because I couldn't have played the 1st parts (although, truthfully, I would have never have practiced hard enough to play the runs and the difficult stuff. It was all fru-fru anyway.), but because I loved the low, harmonic parts that were the center of the emotions coming from the song. Also, and this was the important part, I sat next to the Saxophones and the Trumpets, so if I didn't like my part, I simply switched to theirs, picking up the notes out of the air. If I didn't like a note that was on the page, I changed it to one I did like. The music was there for me to play, not for someone to tell me how it should be played.

When it comes to singing, I'm even more reserved. I'm selfish, in a way. There's very few people who have even heard me sing in a normal manner. Sure, I'll bellow out some Christmas song in the style of Sinatra, or the Chipmunks, or Marilyn Monroe, but it's never my voice, just an impression. The songs are mine to experience in my own way.

My mom and stepdad never could understand that idea. Especially when it comes to church music. "Why don't you join the choir, or sing a solo?" It's not because I'm shy (cause I'm not), but rather I don't want to share. And God knows my relationship with Him, I can sing a good Church him praising Him in my car just as well as in church. So there's no need. When I tried explaining the idea of experiencing emotions behind the songs, they just dismissed it. "But won't the power of a song wear out?" No. It won't. The emotions behind "Bridge over Troubled Waters" is as strong now as when I heard the song some 20 years ago. It's the singing of it, in my car, that enhances those feelings. It'll never go away. The ideas of "Amazing Grace" haven't diminished, and it's been sung millions of times (best sung by Whitney Phipps, here.).

I wonder if those people in line for American Idol really have the ability to appreciate music for what it is. Not what it could do for them, but what the music actually says and expresses in each of their hearts. Probably not. And their shallowness will be reflected in the music, resulting in mindless drivel that makes the "Next" button on the MP3 player all the more worth important. I tried listening to the newest Train album Save Me, San Francisco, and found it full of fluff and meaningless love ballads. All the going rage in popular music. And it's such a shame, because Train's other albums, with songs like "Drops of Jupiter," are masterpieces of contemporary songwriting. Give me a good Simon & Garfunkel album any day, and I'll be happy.... singing in my car.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Book Review: The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee

The book is much like a song that, with a good hook and an interesting rhythm, starts to unravel in the end because the writer doesn't know how to finish it. The characters are very well drawn out, sympathetic and believable to a fault. The plot was folded over and over again, with turns and cliffhangers that were well thought out and satisfying. The ending, though, has the feel of the end of an old pair of jeans, unraveling and frayed.

I have been saying that it was a lot like Gone With the Wind but set in Hong Kong during WWII. And this still carries forward. I doubt that GWTW had a satisfying ending either, from what I have heard from other people. It is also very similar to _Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet_, but that book was much better, with an ending that worked.

The one element of the ending that I did like was that, in the end, Claire decided to keep on living, to embrace Hong Kong for what it was. She tended her gardens, as Voltaire described the characters at the end of Candide. We must go on living, even after the drama and the heartache. The simplicity in which Claire did this worked amazingly well. What happened to Will, I do not know. His life is revealed more in dreams and thoughts, and his fate is unknown. But I think he would have had to live his life as well. I think we all would like to have a small apartment, to live as Claire did, and be absorbed into the life of the everyday. It is the Romance of the mundane that makes life interesting. It's what most celebrities miss after their quarter hour of fame ends, or after a child star ceases to be a child. The blending in of life to life is something that never quite is accomplished. It all comes down to acceptance.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tyger, Tiger, Burning Bright: Innocence and Experience

How precisely the predator moves, balancing each step upon giant shoulders, looking for the right angle, the right moment. The grass blows lightly in the wind, and the strength of each gust is measured by a wet finger. Each minute change of the ground is studied, measure, so that the exact move be made toward the goal. And if another player should be pressured, or fall back towards the pack, the predator springs, striking with precision and a powerful elegance. How fitting then, would his name be Tiger. And how fitting also, does William Blake's poem of the same name, "The Tyger," befit the situation in which Tiger has gotten himself into.

The Tyger

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art.
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb, make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

First, the poem. Included in Blake's Songs of Experience, the poem has a parallel entry in Songs of Innocence, namely, "The Lamb." So we need to take the first line of that poem, "Little Lamb, who made thee?" and apply it to the Tyger. And I could expound upon the poem, and write an essay on it like I would have in an English Romanticism class, but someone has already done that at this link, so there's no need to reinvent the wheel. In the end, it's the line "Did he who made the Lamb, make thee?" that makes all the difference (thanks Frost). God made the Tyger, with all the predatory nature and maliciousness that Blake ascribes to it. The Tyger would just as soon rip a man to shreads, feeding on his bones, as a lamb would snuggle up to the same person, wanting to be fed. Experience (Knowledge) versus Innocence (Ignorance, for little does the Lamb know, but it will be used for clothing, food, and sacrifice to God).

So, let's ask the question. Who made Tiger? We have to look back at the beginning. What events conspired to have Tiger Woods appear on the Mike Douglas Show when he was two? Honestly, I don't know. I only have conjecture and suppositions. Certainly there was some adult broadcasting Tiger's skills as a Golfer to raise awareness, preparing him for future fame. I can only assume that his father had something to do with that. His father, Earl Woods Jr., gave an interview to an English magazine in 2002, linked here, in which he shows them around the house in which he lives alone. His house was transformed into a shrine for Woods' achievements, with the walls made of long lasting oak, and the floors made of Granite. The description of Earl's demeanor shows that Tiger's success was basically his entire life. Also, given his military background, it makes me think of the lead character in Pat Conroy's The Great Santini, a military father based on Conroy's own. Also, I would compare it to the Colonel's managing of Elvis' career. Although not overbearing, I suspect that the boundaries that Earl set for his son was very strict, boundaries that Tiger followed until his father's death in 2006. Then, like most people whose pendulum has gone so far in one direction, it snapped to the equal position the other way.

Also, when he appeared at his first professional tournament in 1996, and introduced himself saying "Hello World," it was clearly scripted, because that same week, he starred in a Nike Commercial with the same theme. The Observer article, linked above, calls Tiger "a corporate brochure made flesh." You could easily see the corporate world controlling and shaping Tiger, much as Blake's imagery, "And what shoulder, & what art.
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?" While Stanford was the original reason that Tiger wore red on Sunday's, a business contract with Nike (who's shirt he wears) now requires him to wear it that day. Therefore the color of assertiveness and superiority becomes a requirement of a superior partner. How ironic.

In the end, we could conjecture forever about why Tiger behaves the way he does. But we don't have to. The answer is in the poem. "Did He who made the Lamb, make thee?" Blake paints the Tyger as a being made by the Devil, malicious towards man, evil by nature. As if it were a being cast down from Heaven with Satan. But Blake realizes that God made the predatory Tyger just as he made the Lamb. This brings up the arguments of why God allows bad things to happen to people, why hurricanes form, why the cold virus exists...etc... As far as man is concerned, he is evil as his own will makes him. Tiger has all the perfection and skill that makes him an excellent athlete, but he also has the vices that, for whatever reason, he has been unable to withstand. While the Tyger acts on instinct, on survival, the Tiger acts with his own mind, for good or ill.

One other thing about Tiger Woods and William Blake's poetry. In Blake's philosophy, man travels from the World of Innocence to the World of Experience. Innocence is blissful, and wonderful, but it also renders the person impotent and ignorant about the world around him. Woods, per his manufactured image and the boundaries that his father set, never was able to move outside of the world of Innocence until after his father's death. He never advocated any social issues, racial equality, etc... His sole purpose was to be perfect, and to project himself as perfect. So he stayed "innocent" and was placed on a pedestal and envied by the people around him.

The people who live in the World of Experience (most adults and regular people) would become jealous of this and aspire to bring him down off that pedestal and into their own world, where Experience equals Power, Knowledge (the Eden metaphor applies here), and Responsibility. This is where Tiger needs to be, because now he has the ability to make a difference in the world. He also must be responsible for his actions. He might not have the pure image he once did, but he will be stronger for it. Sure, he might not have the money or the prestige he had before, but now at least he will have power over his own decisions. It is something Elvis should have had, but never did, and he died because of it. And Michael Jackson didn't want, and he died because of it.

You can't stay in one place, or stay pure. Everyone sins, has stains upon their image, but it makes them more able to learn from those mistakes, to gain knowledge and responsibility. Without that, we are impotent against the world. That is why God made the apple, and the Tyger, because living as Adam and Eve did prior to the Apple would give God nothing to be proud of. Tiger Woods has a chance to acknowledge his sins, accept his responsibility as a person, and athlete, a role model, and do something spectacular in this world. Let us hope he does.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Introduction: Tyger, Tiger, Burning Bright.

I was having a discussion on Facebook with someone who was disgusted about the coverage of the Tiger Woods revelations. I love these conversations, because there's a reason underneath the story that is often much more important. There's always a "why" question that lies just under the rocks, like some wriggly bug waiting to get out, scurry into the light. As in most of the movies I reviewed, it's not the story itself I find fascinating, but rather, the sociological and cultural significance behind the themes in the movie. In other words, what is the director trying to say. In the recent upheaval of Tiger Wood's life, there are questions to be asked. But not of him, although certainly he will answer them, but rather of us.

Why is it that we find this story so appealing? I want to take a look at this issue, but I have a feeling it will take more than one blog. To introduce the issues I have in mind, here is the conversation I had on Facebook, with other people's quotes in italics.

A: I just don't understand why so many are shocked, indignant, and even interested in this stupid Tiger Woods story. It's a non-story story. Not even newsworthy.

D: The interesting part is discovering why it *is* as story. Neil Postman would have an orgasm with this one. Why are sports figures put on pedestals, by the fans, by the 24 hour news media, by the talking heads at ESPN, etc... And if we believe in the perfection of Tiger Woods as an athlete, why are we so eager to destroy him as a man? What fake scarecrows are we trying to push over? Or more importantly, why is success so looked down upon, and failure regarded as so important? Are our self-esteems really that low that we must knock down the successful people in the world in order to feel better? And what makes them perfect to begin with? We all have our flaws. We wouldn't be human with out them. In this respect, the cliche of living in glass houses takes effect. Only this time, we're throwing golf balls.

A: Totally. That's the ONLY interesting aspect...why people are so enthralled with this guy's sex life. He sure as hell isn't the first man to sleep around.

D: As far as sex... it's all about the money (and the looks). Most women (and some men) are seeing all that money, and the fact that he was sleeping around with "common folk", and wishing that would have been them. I'm sure it's the same thoughts that people would have with other celebs. It's the substitution of one face for another. Most people* want Taylor Lautner (the werewolf) to be holding them instead of the girl in the movie. And all that money... it's the attraction of easy money that
would attract us to adultery.

K: A few years ago, a study showed that if we see a particular face often enough, over time our brains register that face as a friend, as someone we have an actual relationship with. This is why people who watch a great deal of TV perceive their social lives as being much richer than they actually are.

So when a celebrity dies, or betrays our morals, or has a baby, for many people it genuinely feels very personal. We're hardwired to care about familiar people, & modern media messes with this by giving us familiar people we've never actually met.

Celebrity is to friendship like pornography is to sex. The images are flipping switches deep in our brains, giving us real feelings about simulated relationships.

D: Yes... I agree completely... A great comparison... and then they use those faces to sell us stuff... like Gatorade or Sony TV's. You should hear the way some of my friends go on and on about that Dance show. As if Jakob goes from the TV screen to their beds....

R: I'm not agreeing or disagreeing with any of you, but as a member of the oh-so-hated media, let me point out exactly why "we" continue to cover this issue. Take a look at this thread. Even a discussion about why it's NOT a story generates interest, passion and debate. It's a 'talker', or a 'water cooler' story, and in the past week or so, this news has resulted in HUGE ratings for shows covering this, and a dramatic increase in the number of hits on websites like TMZ, etc. We, "the media", only feed the monster that is the public.

D: agreed...I'm not blaming the media for covering the story. the media is what it is. It was created to fulfill its purpose. And you're right... the monster is the public. The media is created by the public, much as Frankenstein made his creation. And while it is interesting to look at the story for what it is, it is also good to look at it as Neil Postman would. "The Medium is the Message." The media has a right to cover the story, based on ratings, as it is the way to succeed in a Capitalist society. So I don't blame the media for creating the issue. I find it more fascinating about "why" the public think it's a big story than about the story itself. It'd make a great research paper for Sociology majors.

A: I'm getting way off topic here...I'm with D, in that I blame the media only as much as I blame the public. My larger issue with the media concerns journalism....where does the media's need to give the public what it wants versus what it NEEDS to hear? Locally, KWTV, KFOR, & KOCO feed viewers stuff based on ratings. The Oklahoma News Report on OETA does an exceedingly better job of informing the public, for example, on what's going on at the state capitol. While viewers don't naturally LOOK for that kind of info, they DO need to hear it in order to be better informed citizens in a democratic society. Nonetheless, it's why I've longed for a media and journalist establishment NOT based on a for-profit system.

R: That's the problem A,... TV, newspaper, radio.. In the grand scheme it comes down to business & revenue. We are a business.. Just like any other. You also bring up a good point about OETA. Yes, it gives us what we need vs. what we want, but look at the ratings. A for-profit media company could not survive on those ratings or format.

I also want to take a look at the Tiger Woods situation as a form of Tragedy, the classic Greek kind, as well as through the eyes of William Blake, in his poem "The Tyger" It's amazing what a poet living some 250 years ago would see Tiger's image so clearly in a form he called a Tyger. So we'll give this a shot. It'll give me something to think about during the Christmas holidays. For Facebook people, I also want to recycle some of the Christmas thoughts I've had in the past few years. They still remain quite relevant today.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Senses of Learning

Imagine going to a college reunion, as I would have done this year, had they had such a thing at GC&SU (Milledgeville), and seeing all the people from your class, now 10 years older, with kids, failed dreams, or not, money, or not, and mostly with 30 pounds more or a half a head less. And there, betwixt conversation and speeches, wondering where the time went and how much had changed, there is the almost necessary singing of the Alma Mater, with the words printed on some programming sheet. And as it is sung, out of tune, with soggy nostalgia, would you wonder, for what are we missing? What makes the college years so utterly miserable, and yet so strongly yearned for? The days that I had my own apartment, going for my Masters degree, were the happiest days of my life, and yet, I was highly depressed. I went to Applebees every day to eat away my sorrow, and to run up my charge card.

It's amazing, the small, sensual details that reminds me of college. The things that make me yearn for the days when I was wondering about the campus from class to class. I thought about those, this morning, and thought I'd share the memories I had.

There's a certain way the college smells, in the early dawn, when Milledgeville is just waking up (well, save the students, cause they sleep till noon). But I was a morning person, and always woke up at 6 to get to the early classes, eat breakfast, go over to the computer lab (when I didn't have a computer)...etc... Squirrels there didn't seem to mind the students at all, and only ran away if you chased after them. But there were times that you sincerely wished for a good soaking rain, to wipe away the scent of living. Much as I remember playing outside after a thunderstorm in Oklahoma. It's remarkable how smells can link themselves over years of time, instantly triggering emotions of memories. For instance, I always loved walking by the Health building over near Music on my way to Clarinet Practice. They had an indoor pool, and the windows at the top of the building were open. On cold, winter evenings, the chlorinated warmth of the pool would filter out to the walkways, bringing memories of the YMCA in Bethany, with warmth that blankets your body and brings a glow to your skin, much as a cup of hot chocolate would. There is nothing so sensual as that smell.

Anyone who has been to college would immediately complain about the cafeteria food. Certainly, on the weekends, the food was barely edible. But the old Southern ladies that worked the back kitchen could fix the most wonderful Chicken Parmeshan with Noodles, and the Wok fixture made the best Caesar Salads I have ever tasted. I have spent years trying to imitate those salads. Down the street from SAGA (called that because of the company that owned the kitchen some 30 years ago, and the name just stuck even after the company moved out.), was a great restaurant called Brewers. It was a coffee shop that had soups, salads, sandwiches, and some sinfully wonderful cheesecakes. But the true divine food was served on Monday nights, when the soup of the day was Tomato Bisque. I have never tasted a liquid so golden or smooth, with flavors so wonderful. I have never equaled it, although I have tried many times. The restaurant is now out of business, and the secret of the soup gone forever.

Milledgeville is filled with old buildings, with Corinthian pillars of Neo-Greek architecture. Being in the RHA club (Residential Housing Association), I got to go inside the old Psychology building, the one that hadn't been used in years, where parts of the roof was gone, and the old, crickety stairs led up and up to places of dead knowledge. With rooms of desks and outdated psychological tools and tests, old 5" floppy disks, folders with who knows what inside. What grand design were these old towers of wisdom, now left to disintegrate. It always left me with such reverence and nostalgia for the past, even as the new computer labs left me with hope for the future, that knowledge could still exist in a world of reality TV shows and endless nights of inebriation.

But the highlight of being at college is definitely that feeling right after I walked out of the classrooms in the Arts & Sciences building feeling as if I had slewn (slayed, slewed??) killed a dragon. When the tests given were slaughtered and sliced and diced and an "A" was a certainty. Because the knowledge was there, the learning, was in my head and I had met my professors expectations. There is no greater feeling than this. And it's the feeling that I most long for now. I have talked about before, on another blog ( how much I yearn for the continuing education that we seem never to get anymore. After work, it's the mindless electronic stimulation, eating of food, and then going to bed. We never learn anything anymore. I bring this up because I had a dream last night about being at something like a college, where music, sports, intellectual conversations, etc... was happening, and I want to look at the dream further and see how it could be implemented in real life. But that will take more than just being buried at the bottom of this blog. So I will end this here and start a new one, after I have set my brain on mix and cogitate.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

White Chocolate Oreos and other Abominations

Now anyone that says "White Chocolate Oreos" would immediately start salivating, and one would think that I would too. White Chocolate, I am convinced, is what God sent down to the Israelites for Mana. So when I had a little extra cash, I went out and bought me a box of White Chocolate covered Oreos and took them home to the apartment I lived in at the time (2000, I think.) One of the essential properties of the Oreo is its dunkability. In fact, the true glorious flavor of the Oreo only appears once it is almost saturated with milk. It is this fact that made me react in dismay and horror when I realized that, because of the White Chocolate covering, the Oreos I had bought couldn't be dunked!!. They were useless to me, and being thus dismayed, I did dispose of the vile food posthaste. It is one of the rules of the Oreo that it must be dunked in Milk, and so if I can't do that, it isn't an Oreo, and therefore, is of no use to me.


Stonecrest Mall, now adorned for Christmas, is ready for the throngs of people that will venture down its hallways, with the walls echoing the screaming children who think that leaving every store must be accompanied by him or her getting a toy or candy or whatever. But this I have ranted about for years. And as they ascend the escalators from the bottom floor, they will see that the rungs are not black, but orange, and there are advertisements of AT&T wireless cell phone plans covering escalators.

They will put advertisements on anything nowadays. The 1st and 10 lines on football shows, they sell commercial space on pregnant women's stomachs, etc... and it's a good thing, I guess, although how you would have commercials constantly bombarding you and have it make any impact whatsoever. But it does, in some cerebral way. So lets put advertisements on everything... star cases, light poles, walls, toilet seats (this toilet was brought to you by Scotts Toilet Paper!!!!), Airbags (by Allstate!), you could even have bullets have the names of local Funeral Homes! Hey, it would be effective, wouldn't it?

I want to lament the recent downfall of Sting's career as a singer. Sting's past albums have been a mix of amazing songwriting and performing (Soul Cages, Brand New Day) and banal albums of pop nothingness (Mercury Falling, Sacred Love). His live performance on 9/11, entitled All this Time, was a brilliant mix of Jazz and pop, and should have been followed with a Jazz album that would have been wonderful. But, alas, this is Sting, who has decided that medeval bard singing is where he wants to go. The latest "Winter" album has a couple of good tracks ("Soul Cake", for one, based on "A'Soulin'" by Paul Stookey of PPM fame), but the rest are performances of old English folk songs droned into a mic for no other audience but himself. And that's okay, I guess, since he has the money and can release albums however he wants to. And he is a performer, and an artist, and can create what he feels he should, but it would be nice to hear the complex lyrics and compositions that made Sting a constant on my Mp3 player.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Reviews: Maze Runner, Bill Gaither in a Box.

The Maze Runner, by James Dashner, gave me the impression that I was in the middle of a web, with all these other books and authors, all well known and famous for contributions to literature, surrounding Dashner's work. And this from an author who graduated from Duluth High school here in Georgia and is currently writing this second series. He also has written The Thirteenth Reality, which I will be sure and investigate. The book itself deals with a boy, Thomas, who regains consciousness and finds himself in a box with these other boys, who live, eat, and sleep, all to solve the mystery of the gigantic maze around them. Watching Thomas grow in the story reminded me of Bilbo, in The Hobbit, as he finds the talents and maturity he needs to become an essential part of the tale.

Dashner has a great, staccato writing style that fits in with the teenagers that fill the story. The timing is acceptable, for the most part, except at the very end, where the last chapters are rushed, almost as if there was a page limit for the book. I've always felt that there comes a moment in a book where you have to look around and sigh at a place where the protagonist is content with his world, and so are you. It's a place you don't want to leave, but yet, if you didn't, there wouldn't be a story. It's much like life. If you are in a content place all your life, you don't really have one. And any biography you might write wouldn't sell a copy. I sort of wish that Dashner had prolonged this part of the tale just a bit, so that we might languish in his world.

I kept thinking about Gary Paulsen's The Transall Saga at this point, watching Thomas evolve into a skilled hunter and survivor. And Paulsen does let the reader stay in a place for a little while before moving on. Also, and this is said in other reviews, the fight of a sustained group of boys trying to establish a culture, a system of governance, is much like Golding's Lord of the Flies. Except for these prisioners, the island has a purpose, as Thomas finds out. One of the characters, Chuck, reminds me of Piggy, as well.

But the main novel I thought about as I read it was Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game. If you enjoy reading Card, then this is a great read. I'm only giving it 4 stars (of 5) because the ending was rushed, and I didn't agree with some of the plot line. But as it is a series, the next book should resolve some of my issues with it.

Gaither Vocal Band Concert, Augusta, GA.

I put in Augusta, because it's a very large part of the journey. I don't think I ever said how much I hate driving. It's almost an unbearable task, one that is necessary because you can't get anywhere without doing it. And Augusta is 2 hours from Conyers, down a long, straight, boring road, with nothing but trees to look at and Police cars to watch out for. And that was what save me from going to sleep (I can easily go to sleep just driving to the grocery store, especially not without music or talk radio or an audiobook or something. I have to keep that corner of my brain occupied, or, if it becomes bored, it'll find the nearest place to activate itself, namely, in my dreams, which it tries to accomplish by putting me asleep.). Because we hadn't looked at the tickets until after we had left, and it was an hour and a half to the start of the concert. So I concentrated on going as fast as I could while watching for signs of Crown Vics with lights on top. :) And to tell you the truth, going 90 down the interstate feels pretty good. Gets the adrenaline pumping.

The James Brown Arena (formerly the Augusta-Richmond County Civic center) was built in 1974, in a time when domed stadiums and arenas were built to withstand massive hurricanes and were made as boxed-like as possible. Therefore, the arena was one big box with seats almost vertically to the ceiling. Did I mention how much I hate stairs? It reminds me of the Superdome in New Orleans, but shrunk in the wash. At least the Georgia Dome is comfortable.

I've been to many Gaither Concerts in my days with my mom. My job is to drive to/from the place, and be the photographer. I take pictures of my Mom and _____. Then we get the pictures developed and then signed the next time we go to a concert. The music is good, for the most parts, and it's easy to know when to take potty breaks. Some groups are better than others.

The one thing that struck me as interesting this trip were the people around us. Augustians sitting near us had never been to a Gaither Homecoming concert before. They were mainly older folks, with the unmistakable look of being country people for most of their lives, and their parents' lives as well. And that's okay, for the friendliness and devotion to God is very prevalent in the audience. (As a side note, the people at the Arena need to hire better ushers. It certainly helps if they are literate, and not half blind.)

It got me to wondering. Where are the young fans of Southern Gospel music? When the youth of today pass on their musical heritage, will it only be the music of Madonna, U2, and MC Hammer that they remember? Will folk music die out all together, with no one humming "Leavin' on a Jet Plane" some thirty years from now, when Mary Travers is but an entry on Wikipedia? The honest answer is, I'm not sure.

I do know, however, that groups like Ernie Haase & Signature Sound and the Gaither Vocal band are doing their best to promote traditional Southern Gospel music to today's generation. And it's working. Among the people performing on the stage that night was a boy singer named Logan Smith. His Myspace page says he's from Covington, and enjoys Southern Gospel music to the extent that he can sing most any song in the canon. He has traveled with the Gaither group on the Alaskan Cruise, and sings at many churches here in Georgia. His favorite songs are those sung by the late Vestal and Howard Goodman. He sounds just like them, even better than my impressions of them. I was impressed. It also showed that Southern Gospel music has the ability to attract those of the younger generations, and thereby seccuring the genre to a healthy following in years to come. Now if only Folk music could find such saviors.

One of the Gaither Vocal Band's greatest songs is "I Then Shall Live," which was written by Gloria Gaither to the tune of "Finlandia," (done by Jean Sibelius, a Finnish Nationalist). As great as "Amazing Grace" is, it never ceases to amaze me how much Christians define themselves as "wretched." Pride becomes a deadly sin. There's no need for us to whip ourselves with cat-o-nine tails as punishment for sins that we have already been forgiven for. In Gloria Gaither's lyrics, she paints a Christian as one who, having been forgiven, can now live a proud life of one who knows the virtuous ways of living and celebrates that by spreading that joy to other people. It's a remarkable song, and one that the GVB and EH&SS do as an anthem to the positive force that Christians can do for this world, if they are not bogged down in political power grabs, hypocrisy, and bringing about condemnation to the people of this world whom they are supposed to love and support.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Trick or Treating, Purgatory, and the Gates of Hell

"What's it gonna be, Pops. The candy, or your front window?" Paul Stookey spoke those words in the 1960's, and they still ring true today. I've had friends on the social sites complain about the reactions that they had with children going "trick or treating" through their neighborhoods. Complaining about the amount of candy, "only one?!?," or even having the parents do the trick or treating for the children (who probably remain safe and sound in the car, away from the evil grips of all the child molesters that live in every house.) The spirit of Halloween has been completely dispersed from the holiday itself. It's been replaced, much as it has at the Yuletide season, with commercialism, greed, and a sense of "entitlement."

We are playing a CD on the overhead system this week, Sting's If On a Winter's Night, and track 2 is called "Soul Cake." That track, called "A'Soulin," is also on the Peter, Paul, and Mary album. The idea of Trick or Treating, from amongst other cultural traditions, comes from the Great Britain celebration of A'Soulin' on All Soul's Day, November 1st. On that night, the children go around, singing the song the PP&M performed, and ask for fruit, bread, candy, coins...whatever, as homage to ancestors, loved ones, that have passed on and entered Purgatory. Each eaten "Soul Cake," a bread specifically for that day, represents a loved one leaving Purgatory and entering Heaven.

So trick or treating, at least, through this cultural origin, is a religious ritual. The candy represents lost loved ones. Yet in this country, Halloween is just an excuse to get sweets. To feed hyper children and then send them to school the next day to drive the teachers nuts, or to let the blood sugar rise and drop and then they sleep the whole day. Whichever. But the problem is that children now feel that they are "supposed" to get candy on that night. That anyone who doesn't give you candy, or in enough quality, that you have someone insulted them. They have this feeling of "entitlement." And, it's the same feeling of entitlement that kids feel when they go to Walmart and feel they have to get a toy. Or later, when they grow up, the feeling of entitlement that they have to have Health Care. As for me, I would much rather get a job, go the store, and get my own bag of candy.

Book Review: John Connolly's Gates

This is a book that tries to be for young adults what The Book of Lost Things was for adults. But it doesn't quite reach the character development or the lyricism of Connolly's first fantasy work. It reminds me quite a bit of the Lemony Snicket books, in that it sounds as if an adult book writer is trying to write for kids, giving them a wink wink sarcasm while talking down to them.
Overall, the characters are agreeable, the flow works, and it was a decent read.

The plus I will give him is that he went into Quantum and String Theory quite well, and fused science (the multiverse) with religion (the idea that Hell actually exists in a Multiverse dimension.). The combination of the two will enthrall and challenge readers to think of the two in a totally different way, and will wind up being talked about in Sunday School classes, at least, I hope. It is a perfect spring board for someone to begin finding out for themselves about God and Science...etc...

I hope that, in the next book, he does the same for Heaven, since the book leaves that part out. If Connolly personifies Satan in this book, he cannot leave out the personification of his opposite. And there are plenty of characters in that world, Angels, for instance, that can make a Nurd like character, and work very palpably.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Movie Review: Where the Wild Things Are

Heretofore referred to as Wild Things, because that's the name of Dave Eggers' book.

A week or so ago, I read Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, perhaps for the first time. I don't remember reading it as a child. I understand the special psychological significance it plays in children's lives, at least, those who read it in the days when playing the latest version of Halo wasn't more important. When fantasy consisted of something much more than sticking a CD in a box.

I have never been so grateful that my grandmother (my mom's mom, who lives with us now) sewed blankets as a pastime. For those blankets became the rooftops for the forts we would build. All over the living room, using the footstool and the recliners and the divans (sofas) for walls. Or the time when Chris and Brad spend the night and we built a fort all throughout our basement and going up the stairs. It's this type of fantasy worlds which tie in Sendak's book with the current movie, along with all the fantasies, terrible and comforting, that reside in our minds.

So as I said in the review of the soundtrack (which is almost vital that you get prior to watching the movie), it is what it is. Meaning, Wild Things is nothing less than a portrait of all the fantasy worlds and dreams and nightmares that exist in our heads. That, mixed with the rage of injustice, the wildness of the subconscious mind, the desire to be something more or less than human, since humans do so many things that are unjust, cruel, and wrong. Wild Things is the quest to bring Love to a world where it doesn't always survive. Where, for most people, there never is a happy ending. For those that understand, Wild Things becomes a mirror into our own subconscious minds, where monsters lurk and become nightmares, or where the core things that make us all human, good or bad, reside.

To give a simple plot review for this movie would not do it justice, this masterpiece of art sewen into a medium which would give it the most life. It was an experience for me which showed me things about myself I hadn't realized. Let me share.

The movie theatre was dark, and I was there, basically alone. I could interact with the film however I wanted, so I sang with the soundtrack, whistling and humming whenever necessary, as I watched the journey of Max (Max Records) from reality to fantasy and back. I cried at the end, something I've only done once before, Pay It Forward, back in 1999. Which, by the way, also received the same critical ambiguity that Wild Things did, for the same reasons, but more on that later.

I walked out of the theatre to the cold, windy afternoon, and walked through the mall to my car, and I became painfully aware of the jacket I had on, the black one with the Autobot symbol on it. I had been, and still am, the child Max with the Wolf costume on. But in my generation, it wasn't monsters and folk tales that I had been familiar with, drawn power from, but Transformers. Max received a false sense of security, of power, in the costume of a Wolf, with teeth, and claws, and howls. So did I, believing that if in a world where Optimus Prime lived, it would be safe. So on the playgrounds of my elementary school, I was a Transformer (or Thundercat, depending), and I had the power to save the world, to keep away bullies, to be more than myself. I wasn't just a boy. This is the exact parallel that Wild Things hopes to achieve. The blurring of fantasy and reality is all around us, whether as children, or as adults.

And that's a good thing. If you take a look at the reviews in other places, you'll find that they are either lauding a masterpiece, or offended that it wasn't a "kid's movie" and that Max should be sent to some sort of child psychiatrist, or something. From this, you can see which people took the movie in, made it a part of themselves, realized how personal a film it actually is. Those others, who have lost their childhoods and only cared about if it entertained the little ones for an hour or two while they went about their own lives, they are the ones that protested that it wasn't a children's movie. Well guess what, they're right. It's not. At least, not for them. But for those of us who are children still, with that glowing essence of innocence and childhood still left in our hearts, it was a wonderful, horrifying, transcending work that left us, for a moment, aware of the fantasy world, and how mixed up the real world is.

For those that loved the movie, try John Connolly's Book of Lost Things, which achieves the same special qualities that Wild Things does.

Will Max hang up his wolf costume, not make believe in forts and animals and whatnot? Of course not. He will just know why he does it. I will too.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Days at Arbuckle Lake

The camera of the eye is a truly remarkable machine. With each blink of the eyelid, we record the moments of our lives. It is burned on the film rolls that are stored in our heads, for us to relive in our dreams and nightmares, to pull up that unexpected flash of emotion at the smell of cherry pie or the sound of an ice cream truck. Because our films not only have pictures, but sights and smells and tastes and perceptions, both imaginary and real. Does the garden become more real as we remember it? Does the smell of the rose become more than just that as the references in our minds mingle with the recording of the encounter? Does a priori knowledge make what we've seen more or less real?

Honestly, I don't know, don't pretend to know. I've never pretended that my memories were anything more than what they were. My dreams are always just that, with certain obvious symbols that portray emotions, and the like. But sometimes, a dream is just a dream, and no amount of interpretation will make it anything else.

But we all have our memories, and although they fade and become scratched as time travels on, leaving them as faded as the oldest recordings on my VHS tapes, we still can remember them. By writing them down. By telling them to people who care (or don't). The stories that our elders have of days gone by. If only they were recorded for future historians and authors to hold in their hands, and cuddle them as soft lambskin. When people walk through the empty town of De Pew, Oklahoma, after all the people have died or moved out, leaving the town center abandoned and empty, what will they feel moving through their bones? The bike racks are empty, the lampposts with a lingering staple or two from advertisements of yard sales and the latest soap guaranteed to get your clothes sparkly white, dark as the night sets in. The bricks stand, waiting for the tornado that will assuredly knock them down. But for that time, the town still stands, and when, then, will you hear the laughter of children running down Main Street? Or the old men in short shirtsleeves arguing about the latest baseball game. Those sounds are somehow still there, locked in our heads. We know them, but they fade, as if in translucent shimmers rising up from some outlying farm where the chimney is still on, and an old farmer sits, waiting for the sun to set.

We all have memories like this. At least, I hope we do. I shudder to think what the world would be like if our children, growing up in metropolises and skyscrapers and video games violent and magical, what they will remember as they grow older and look back at their childhoods. Where are the magical places in their lives, where nostalgia takes root and grows and protects the inner memories of our younger days? I pray that someone will take them out to the country, if even for a few days, and show them the soil and the water in the rivers and the squirrels running to their nests. And the old people in rocking chairs and the gravel roads with grass growing in the middle, where tires have never tread. And the stars.... the children of our world will never see the stars. Orion will be dimmed, his sword, and the great nebulae within, left forgotten.

But I am glad that I have such memories. My grandparents, those that lived in Oklahoma City and have since passed on, had in their plans a lakehouse down in Sulphur, Oklahoma, where they would spend their days off. It was a magnificent house, built with a deck around the whole of the house (much of which I saw constructed by my dad, grandfather, and other friends as saw fit to help.) I saw the concrete poured, the metal supports lifted up, the wooden beams nailed together and secured onto the house. And on cool, crisp mornings, with the wind coming off the lake, I would go out and sit on the deck and drink orange juice. It was best in the mornings, when the wasps were still asleep. I was afraid of wasps.

Driving down to Sulphur from Oklahoma City was always an adventure. I created a game to pass my time on the road, namely, to find each one of the letters of the Alphabet on road signs and permanent housings. No license plates. I was always glad there was a Western Sizzlin' along the way, and I knew where there was a small sign that had a 'Q' on it if I hadn't found it yet. The hour drive through the small towns of Oklahoma, the signs saying Pauls Valley, Paoli, Davis, and the counties, marked off the minutes till we got to Sulphur and the Lake house. The curvy road from the main highway to the lake itself seemed to take forever. But soon there were gravel roads that connected A frames and Mobile homes to the real world, and the trees encroached upon society and occasionally you would hear the scrunchings of tarantulas as they tried to cross the road to the next field. Our lakehouse sat at the end of a cul-de-sac, with us owning all the land around it. Open the gate, and the red house stood on the left, and the boat house on the right, where the sand pit and gravel pit stood for us to make endless forts and imaginary places with. The boat house was usually filled with wasps, and so I never went in there.

The house itself was filled with the knickknacks of my grandmother, who collected antiques from her family who lived in the area, and it had a life all to itself. My grandfather's bedroom was blue, with a stand of DIY how-to books on one side, and an ancient black and white TV in it that didn't work. On top of it was a globe procured in the 40s or 50s, when most of Africa was owned by foreign powers. I suspect it was my dad's globe. My grandmother's bedroom was pure pink, with a armoire and a stool that my grandmother sat on to put on makeup. And it spun around and around and around and I got dizzy spinning around on it. I have a picture of me doing that, and I'll post it here when I can find it. And beyond the deck, a path that lead down into the forest, down to the lake where a small beach was that we could go and swim a little, or throw rocks, since the actual beach was at the end of the windy road.

If you take a look at a map, Sulphur, Oklahoma is next to the Lake of the Arbuckles, a small hilly region in southern Oklahoma. The town is called Sulphur because the rocks in the area, and the natural minerals in the ground make the water coming from the cold springs near the town smell like sulfur. They even have a fountain where you can go and drink it. The minerals in the water are supposed to be very nutritious. The park used to be called PLATT National Park, and was the smallest National park in the nation. But since it was so small, it was turned into the Chickasaw National Recreational Area, demoted as Pluto was recently. The nature center sat atop the spring-fed river, and it was definitely cold water. We'd go out from the nature center and, already having our swim suits on, take our shirts off and go play in the frigid water beside the center. the river ran through the park and into the lake, where the water was warm as bath water some summers. The beach was made as water ran over the road when the reservoir was made, with sand poured on top of the edge, so if you dug below the sand, you could easily find pieces of asphalt, which was great for skipping rocks in the water. The park is still there, and one day I'll go back and visit.

The reason I bring all this up, at this time, is that I discovered something wonderful recently that made me think about my experiences at the lake house, and I wanted to record it, so happy did my discovery make me. You see, if you pull up the property charts for the original designs for the lake house, you'll see it sits on a road that has a name. I forgot what it was called, and no one would know unless they went and looked at the original plans. Well, one day, as a we were walking down the gravel road to the main one, we got to the end of the road, where the doberman pincers live (and they loved chasing you), and we noticed there was no road sign. Now, I loved looking at maps and knowing where every road in Oklahoma City went (ask my mom, I asked her a million times where each road went... :) ) So the idea popped into my head, "We need a road sign here!" I was probably 7 or 8 at the time.

So names....what do we call this street we live on? The neighborhood where my house was had names of English towns. One of my classmates, Stewart, in elementary school, his dad built neighborhoods from nothing and he named a bunch of streets after his children and family. Denzil Road would have sent chills down my Grandfather's spine (his middle name was Denzil, and he hated the name). So what to call it..... well, the road was made of rocks, so.... Rock Road.... or more precisely, Rock Drive, because the other is an ice cream flavor.

My dad got out his tools, his mountain wood saw and some yellow paint (it had to be yellow!) and we cut an arrow out of wood, pointing the way. It was one of the few positive memories I had of my father, when he was in his garage making things. We painted it and put with large letter stencils, "ROCK DR" on it. Then came the weekend and we went down there, walked to the end of the gravel street, and nailed the sign a prominent tree.

I'd give anything to have inherited that property, as it had been laid out in my grandmother's will. But life being what it is, and after my grandfather died Mema (what I called her) couldn't take care of two houses by herself. So she put it up for sale, and some doctors from Oklahoma City came down and bought it.

Fast forward... Mema died a few years back, and her house was left to ruin. But leave it to technology today to bring windows of the past into our living rooms. It is almost taken from pages of science fiction books, like Asimov, or Arthur C. Clarke. One in particular, The Light of Other Days, is amazing in this respect. Technology was found that allowed small wormholes to be opened in space and time, so that light and sound could be transmitted from anywhere to anywhere. Thus a thousand nano-cameras were positioned above the signing of the Declaration of Independence, or followed the Republicans into the Watergate Hotel. All secrets from the past were unearthed, and honesty became the only policy. A very interesting book, to say the least.

While we don't have that ability yet, there are very large cameras in space and digital cameras here at home, and Google uses them very well. So, I was zipping around Oklahoma City on my computer, looking for addresses of houses that my Grandmother (Granny, my mom's mom) wanted to see, and the location of the Trucking company Papaw (Mema's husband) worked at...etc.... It's such a marvel to travel the roads of America without having to rent a car and pump gas. So I traveled the hour drive down to Sulphur, Oklahoma, passed the Sulphur Springs park, and followed the windy road to where our lake house was. I found it, and on Google Maps, right where our lakehouse was, I saw the words "ROCK DR." written on the screen. I went to Yahoo! maps, and it's there, too. Truly amazing. People from Sulphur, when drawing up the maps for the region, probably had no names for those streets, so when they found the street sign, they recorded it on their maps, and Google took it from there. So now that street is Rock Dr. for all the world to see. It truly made my day.

Because, while Julius Caesar and his successor Augustus named months after them, and Martin Luther King Jr. has thousands of roads named after him, it's not often that you and me can simply name something and have it be named thusly. We are not God, who could say, "You are a Giraffe," and it become thus. But I have a road that I named (well, I have a brother, and he was there, too), and it is still named that, in the maps that the whole world can see, if they know where to look.

Me on the stool.... I was, up until I moved to Georgia (read puberty) very photogenic. You can see where I get my evilness from. :)

My grandfather, Weldon Denzil Pugh, whose dream it was to have a lake house, and built the decks and lit the fireworks we shot every 4th of July in the cul-de-sac. So much fun. I wrote a poem, the only poem I've ever written that rhymed, about the Lakehouse. It's below.

The Lakehouse, with Papa and Mema standing below the back deck.

The back deck. The side deck hadn't been built yet (other side)

Front of the house.

The Lakehouse

The fish drink all the water,
My Papaw would tell me
Late at night, with the moon shining bright,
On the shores of Lake Arbuckle.
He built it as a dream house,
So many years ago,
A place to stay, so far away
From diesel-engine drives down the highway.

Five o'clock in the morning,
Sitting in his kitchen chair,
Smoking cigars, humming bars,
of tunes from yesterday.

Then on the porch we'd sit,
Drinking orange juice and milk.
Watching long-legs crawl, and acorns fall
Off oak trees into the lake.

Can you throw a rock that far?
Don't the fish get full?
I asked those questions, our time passed
On the shores of Lake Arbuckle.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bouncy, Bouncy....

QT, Roly Poly, Monk By the Sea, David Gray, Where the Wild things Sing

Someday, when you're feeling low (oops, James Dean song), go to the QT and fix this excellent perk up. Go to the fountain drinks, and mix together some of the Rooster Boost Energy Drink (just a little, on the bottom for Strawberry Flavoring), then Dr Pepper, then add the Vanilla flavoring. Mix, Pay, and slurp.... sooooo good (what it does to your blood sugar is another story.)

I just went to the Roly Poly restaurant by Kroger on Ga 138 in Conyers, and got a sandwich (while waiting for my car to start, which it didn't.) wrap (philly cheese) and some of their potato salad. As one of my friends would say, OMG, you have to get some tater salad!!! It's amazing!!! I'm gonna go get a big container of it for $4.99.

Take a look at Friedrich's painting Monk by the Sea. Most Art teachers will tell you it is the magnificence of Nature (and for Friedrich, that meant God) surrounding the insignificance of man. The dark colors and angry sky suggest power and sometimes indifference to the small soul on the beach. Much like Stephen Crane's "The Open Boat." But, if you look at it another way, isn't the magnificence of Nature including the man standing on the beach? We are included in that Greatness, that God created us as he created the sea, the sky, both dreadful and beautiful. As are we. Both dreadful and beautiful. Acts of both monsterous cruelty or benefinence.

Haven't you always wanted to rewrite movie scenes, ones where you just wonder what the character was thinking. Take My Girl for instance. Macauley Culkin's character was allergic to bees. If I remember correctly, he knew he was, had an epi-pen to undo allergic reactions. Yet there he was, away from home, walking through the forest, and he sees a hive-like object on the ground. So he kicks it..... and gets attacked. And now that scene lives on for eternity in movies. And some million years from now, citizens on Alpha Centauri will watch that scene and say, "What was he thinking!!!"

Quick Reviews: David Gray's Draw the Line. On the heal of Life in Slow Motion, it looks like David wanted to intigrate the Pro Tools synthesizers to live symphony recordings. And while I appreciated the albums by Matchbox Twenty that have been criticized for being overproduced. This album actually is badly overproduced. You can't hear the words all that well, although the lyrics are ingeniously done and very Dylanesque. He needs to take this album back to the simplicity of White Ladder and New Day at Midnight. Or, better yet, there is a live album he cut in 2007, called Thousand Miles Behind which pays amage* to folk singers that came before him. He covers songs by Tim Buckley, Bob Dylan, and others that I haven't discovered yet, but will. Excellent singing, amazing lyrics, and the instrumentals are good too. So find that one somehow (it's not in the Borders database....maybe online), and listen to it, even if you're not a David Gray fan or know who he is. Although, if you do get the new album, get the deluxe edition, because the second CD has a mix of live tracks and B-sides which are really good, especially "Babylon," his most famous song.

Where the Wild Things Are Soundtrack: It is what it is. It is sung by Karen O and the Kids, along with what a reviewer called "primitive folk music." It reminds me a lot of Sufjan Stevens style of folk. Pan flutes, piano, guitar, some with a modal melody (meaning, in Tom Leher's dictionary, that they play a wrong note every now and then), and the laughter of kids. It is the raucous melody of children playing on the playground, the screams and shouts, first annoying, then infiltrating towards something nostalgic and wonderful, that sparks our imagination. In short, the Soundtrack puts into sound what the book puts into words. And hopefully, what the film will put into a colorful and meaningful piece of art. To me, the film should not be just a children's flick, but something that reaches into the hearts of adults and finds what remnant of childhood each of us still has left.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Kenny on the Mountaintop (last one)

I've always thought that everyone had the ability to stand on the mountaintop. If you look at Caspar David Freidrich's painting Traveler on a Sea of Fog, which is my favorite painting, you see a man calming looking out into the distance at far peaks, after having reached the cliff tops. It's an amazing work. The man himself, just like Howard Roarke standing atop of his masterpiece at the end of The Fountainhead, or Frankenstein at the top of the Alps, has a clear countenance. He has achieved the pinnacle of human thought, and it's this that I want to talk about, to end this series of individuality. Because, like I said, I always thought that anyone could reach this state of being. I have found out that not everyone can, and there are reasons why.

Maslow, a prominent sociological figure, made a pyramid called the Hierarchy of Needs. The premise is that people must fulfill basic needs before moving on to mental and spiritual needs. At the bottom, are food, water, shelter, etc..., Then social needs, happiness, a job, friendship, biological reproductive needs...etc..., and at the top, is total mental and spiritual awareness, something he called "Self-Actualization." And I've seen the people who are mentally aware of themselves. You can tell, it's like they have their eyes open. They are the people that have the ability to reach the mountaintop, the top of the pyramid. They are the individuals that I have talked about in past blogs.

When I ended the last blog, a friend of mine commented that the individuality that I was talking about was not always attainable by all people. The reason, she said, was that not everyone in the world has the same mental capacity and ability to reach the upper stages of Maslow's pyramid. Of course, there are numerous reasons for this, not all of them known to us now. But as the pyramid shows us, if people are not able to achieve basic physical needs - food, shelter, water - they cannot be expected to cogitate on the spiritual world, or deem any sort of meaning in exploring the innermost consciousness or in achieving individuality. In fact, they probably would shun away from such an idea. A person who has been without would not be independent, but dependent on whatever entity would come about to provide them with the basics. This entity could be something known, as a government or charity organization, or it could be supernatural, such as provision given by God.

Government as Entity

The Government has become an primary entity that provides people with the basic steps outlined in Maslow's pyramid. They provide protection (military), bread and food (Welfare and other subsidies), shelter (HUD, Fannie Mae, other Government programs for low-income housing), and other things as well. In some instances, I feel, the government has a right and an obligation to do these things. The government's main responsibility is to protect its citizens from outside threats, and we have the greatest military force ever assembled to help us do that. It also should provide certain basic services for those that absolutely could not afford or be able to live without them (SSI, for instance). This is what the life and liberty parts of the Preamble to the Constitution talked about. It's the Pursuit of Happiness that gets a little more difficult, and is what takes me into my argument.

To me, the "pursuit of happiness" is the liberty to pursue the path of independence. To achieve "The American Dream" as it were. Because it is precisely the American Dream that makes this country as amazing as it is. It is not to be rich, necessarily, or completely successful. Happiness, as I believe the writers of the Constitution saw it, was to have the independence to control one's own life, to live out that life at one's own choosing. In today's capitalist market, that does tend to equate with financial success and wealth, but it doesn't have to. The Constitution doesn't say that we are guaranteed this, because in order to climb up Maslow's pyramid, we have to do most of it on our own. The Constitution simply says that the government has an obligation to start us off. To provide the foundation for individuals who have no foundation to start with. But that is all it is supposed to do. To provide any more, or to expect recompense, is to exert itself onto the individual more than it should. When an individual climbs up to the pinnacle, and finds that an organization is there waiting for him to serve it, then we have eliminated self-actualization and replaced it with another entity. We have become enslaved to the people that are providing for us. Much as the Pharoah was God and ruler to the people of Egypt, so are the organizations and entities that sit atop Maslow's pyramid, waiting to be served and depended upon. It is we that give them the power over us, it is our sanction that allows other people to give us direction in life. And since I'm talking about the Government first, let's look at how the Government takes the pinnacle of "Self-Actualization" and makes it into its own Mount Olympus, for us to be dependent upon.

Looking down from the tower high above London (600 years A.F.), Mustapha Mond smiles in the knowing way that he would have, seeing the horizon of a city filled with happy people. The unhappy ones, like Bernard and Helmholtz Watson, he had banished to Iceland, where independent thinkers would not upstage the world government by challenging the collective laws. The city languishes in amusement centers, drug supplemental centers (places where they give people free drugs, called Soma), and churches (which are little but gatherings for orgies of habitual pleasure). All this, of course, takes place in Aldous Huxley's novel Brave New World, where Mustapha is the leader of the European area of the World. The government of this Dystopian world rules through providing its citizens with everything. From the basics to everything they would need to attain happiness, even to the genetically controlled DNA makeup in their bodies. The provide recreation, sex, drugs, anything except material that would cause those who could think the desire to do so. All education is done through osmosis and sleeping chambers, and during the day, the children are taught the skills necessary to be happy, from games to sexual discoveries. There is no poverty, no unhappiness in life, and death is simply done in chambers where the elderly are "soma'ed" until their bodies stop functioning.

Obviously, today's government doesn't rule our lives like this. But it makes sense. Why would a government rule by fear, such as in Orwell's 1984 or in places like the Romulan Empire (Star Trek) when they can rule by happiness. Give the people everything they want, and then eliminate the need for anything else. There would be no desire to think outside the box, because it would not occur to them that there was an "outside." A government that would do this has ultimate control over the people's lives, and there would be no one to question them. For those who control your life have power over it.

[ As a side note, there are many dystopian novels and programs that will further deal with this issue. Among them:

Andre Norton Outside
Movie: Logan's Run
Ray Bradbury: "The Pedestrian"
Frank Bonham The Forever Formula
D.J. MacHale Pendragon Book 7: The Quillan Games]

The government does provide recreation, happiness, and passivity to all it's citizens, if they choose it. Certainly there is no more addicting game than the lottery to blow your life savings on, trying to get an even bigger life savings. There have been proposals made to provide Underground Atlanta with Casino type machines that would support the economy there as well as provide funds for the Georgia Lottery. There are also instances of medications like Viagra being paid for through government health care programs. Now, with the proposal of health care reform under the current administration, it will be easy to get Prozac, Viagra, Zoloft....anything to make us a happier nation. And, I am sure, the government will have no problems giving those medications out, as it will neutralize the unsatisfied and quell the bitter. Soma, as Huxley called it, is not so far away.

A government that provides happiness does it at a price. The dependency on the government to make you happy takes away your independence, and keeps you from reaching that last level of self-actualization. If you have the American dream handed to you, you have achieved nothing, and so that is what it's worth. Working to achieve your dreams, even if it might be harder, is worth the sweat and toil, because the rewards will be yours. And of course the government will try to take that away from you, because it wasn't given to you by them, so you should give it to them instead. This line of thinking runs right into Ayn Rand's philosophies, so I'll let her finish where I was going.

The proper government is one that interferes as little as possible in the private lives of its citizens. The only thing the Constitution gives them the right to do is to allow citizens the "pursuit" of happiness. It cannot and should not give it to them. Let the people fail. Let the economy tank and see hard times come about. Apart from providing the basics of Maslow's pyramid (shelter, food, water), the Government should let the economic system fix itself. The lessons learned from failure can only make the human race stronger, more durable. Today, it is soft, weak, whining. I see too many stories where 911 was called because the people at McDonalds gave them the wrong burger. I have witnessed the depravity of the human condition on Judge Alex. Makes me wish for a second Noah flood, so sickening are the people that appear as specimens of our society. They are the ones that need hard times so that they can learn what their grandparents learned at the turn of the 20th century. And these are the people I thought could achieve individuality and self-actualization. I realize that this will never happen as long as the government continues to provide economic security and superficial happiness to its people.

Education as Tool

"Give a man a fish, and you've fed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, and you've fed him for a lifetime." A popular quote in education circles. Something that makes teachers all warm and fuzzy inside (in return for not being paid what their worth). I know I've looked at Education in the previous blog or two, but there's something I wanted to touch on in regard to the Government (or the Church, as private schools go) as Entities in place of Self-actualization. Public education here in America, while being some of the best "free" schooling in the world, has its drawbacks. I mentioned in the last blog the Biblical verse about "diligently seeking." I heartily approve of this for almost anything that one does. But I hardly call what public schools think is education "diligent." It is as if a giant spoon is coming to each child and force feeding them information, to simply be regurgitated onto some standardized test, before forgotten thereafter. And what is effective in Huxley's novel is clearly not effective here. We can't just download the information into children's heads and expect them to become productive, knowledgeable citizens. They have to want to learn it. They have to seek knowledge out and combine it with a priori knowledge. Else it becomes lost in the mess of consciousness and subconscious yearnings.

As a tool for the government, public education works only half the time. In general, the government sets the curriculum (both stated and unstated) and the teachers do their best to fulfill this. While I could go into a tirade of the political bias of teachers and the liberal leanings of teacher organizations, I won't, because there are too many blogs that deal specifically with this. But if children are taught that the government is here to provide us with everything we could ask for, as if citizens had a right for the luxuries that our anscestors worked so hard for, then children will learn that individuality, that hard work and diligently seeking anything, isn't worth it, because the government will provide everything that is needed. Therefore, self-actualization isn't necessary.

Where education fails in our system, is that it does not provide the students with the skills to do anything with their lives outside of school. True, there is some minimal vocational training going on in some of the schools (Rockdale Career Academy, for instance), but it is certainly looked down upon by those that matter. A vocational degree is often looked at as something that the delinquents get because they do not or could not go to "college." The true path is to graduate with a "college prep" diploma, and then go to college and get a "liberal arts" degree. This is the most highly looked upon path. Then a student can go to med school or law school or wherever. Being an auto mechanic, or a welder, or a plumber, or someone that works on Air Conditioning, that is not a job for a "civilized person." Our public school system treats those careers in this manner. Therefore, everyone that graduates from high school might know how to type, but nothing else useful. And then we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to specialists that keep our machines running and our lives comfortable. We should be able to do it ourselves. But there is no way to learn these skills outside of our parents' teachings.

Therefore I propose that every student in public school take a "Life Skills" course, where private enterprise comes in, teaches everyone how to do basic maintenance and skills that are needed to become self-sufficient (unless a transmission blows). Changing oil, changing the wiring in an electrical socket, wiring a ceiling fan, the parts of a lawn mower, balancing a checkbook, etc... Do what Home Ec. is supposed to do. Sure, taking AP courses and Comparative Literature and Calculus is important, but living life is equally so. We must teach our students to seek diligently their goals and dreams, to improve their lives, to improve all of our lives.

Among the most important things that schools today must teach their students is information literacy. In today's world, reading is not enough. Technology has progressed us beyond simply a reading culture. Now, we use visual communication far more than mere words. Postman's ideas in Amusing Ourselves to Death, that the medium is the message, is as important as what is said. They must learn how to use the information gathered from the Internet, from TV, from the news, and apply it to what they already know. They must interpret the data being flooded in to their brains. This, and only this, will allow self-actualization to occur. I find it surprising, given the amount of revolutionary technology that has been developed since the 1990's, that school curricula have not included information literacy into their requirements. In fact, most schools are languishing behind with out of date technology and limited ability to use what they have. I had a teacher complaining to me about, while she was in a brand new school, made with the most up to date equipment they could get, had no computer in her room. She wondered where all the funding went. Controlling what children learn, and what they don't learn, is the critical tool that any Entity uses to keep themselves at the top of Maslow's pyramid. This includes any government (whether on purpose or subconsciously), or the Church, past, or present.

The Church as Entity

It's amazing how hard it is to write this section. All during my attempts to think this through, I've had to separate the "Church" entity from God as Entity. Because certainly God is one. And there certainly is a difference. In my beliefs, God is the only Entity which accepts mankind climbing as high as he can. Note that obviously God does not want man to climb to an equal footing as He, as the Tower of Babel episode doth explain. But climbing to as high a summit as man's mind will let him reach, this is perfectly acceptable, and even desirable. What would Man be, having been made in the image of God, if he could not reach his full potential? Why would God want to prevent His creation from becoming the most it can be? Therefore God as Entity is perfectly suitable to sit atop Maslow's pyramid of Needs, because God does not supplant Self-Actualization, He merely enables it.

The Church, on the other hand, has for centuries been a force that has kept mankind from reaching his full potential. Even in Biblical times, the Christian church was wrought with problems. Each letter that Paul wrote to the churches of Asia Minor contained issues that the Church faced at that time. The concept of a church, in the way that man has conceived of it, is simply another power heirarchy, where people congregate, and men in leadership roles have power over those below them. This is a perfectly acceptable idea, as William Golding demonstrated in Lord of the Flies. Some sort of leadership structure must be maintained, for those who have not yet reached Self-Regulation (which also cannon happen without self-actualization), need the guidance of those wiser than they. Plato saw it, in The Republic, and America's founders realized this as well, else they would not have made a Federal government at all.

The problem arises when the people in power try to keep mankind from reaching his full potential by withholding necessary steps in Maslow's pyramid. The Church has, for centuries, done just that. It is ironic that, in the Middle Ages, it was the Catholic Church that preserved the knowledge of the Roman Empire while keeping it from the general population. This is done most effectively by not teaching everyone to read. In the Middle ages, with books not readily available, and education handled by the richest private schools, or the clergy, a very small percentage could actually attain the knowledge passed down by their ancestors. Most of those people were either in the clergy or in places of power. Therefore keeping the general population illiterate was most advantageous. This method of control is similar to not wanting slaves to read in America during the 1800's. In this most direct example, the Church of the Middle Ages kept mankind from climbing to the apex of his abilities.

But what about the Church today? Certainly, thanks to Gutenburg, books and other media are quite common. And Martin Luther founded the Protestant movement, where every individual being has direct communication and a relationship with God. In a sense, Christianity should be a Libertarian religion, with each individual having a relationship with God, and seeking to know him better through the scriptures, through other people (church), and through the miracles and wonders of daily life. But more often, I see the power structure of a denomination or an independent church rising up to take the place of individual thinking. In the Baptist denomination, people have long been forbade to dance. In my own family, my grandfather found card playing sinful, but had no problem dating after he was married. Recently, church groups have formed political parties (such as the moral majority) to actively back candidates. It seems to me that churches need to spend less time on telling people what to think, and more time instructing people on how to pursue a relationship with God based on the Bible. Yet we have pastors such as the Rev. Jeremiah Wright preaching from the pulpit that 9/11 was revenge on white people, and such theories. We have pastors telling their congregations who to vote for, and how to decide on amendments and laws and such. Show us the Bible passages, and let us make up our own minds. If we are wrong, then let that be between God and us.

And it goes beyond that. As I have said in a past blog (Adding Points to the Compass), I found "collectible bookmarks" in all of Borders' copies of The Golden Compass basically saying how Pullman's works were sinful and Athiest (true, Pullman is an atheist), and then gave a web site that continues with this line of thinking, linked to a church that passed out the bookmarks to people who requested them. It was an underhanded ploy not meant to be in a bookstore. If the church in question wanted to have people outside our bookstore handing them out, let them go ahead. Or publish a book decrying the philosophies of Philip Pullman, and I'll be glad to put it right next to it. But placing unauthorized material inside the books without our knowledge.... that is beyond the pale. Why not put pro-Jewish bookmarks inside of Mein Kampf, or anti-pedophilia pamplets inside of Lolita? Let the people read as they choose, and decide for themselves what to believe, and let the final judgement be for God.

In the end, it is always up to the individual to decide. I have this theory, and Galileo would agree with me, that if churches let people decide what they want to believe for themselves, that religion would slowly fade away. They are scared that self-actualization would bring about groups of people who don't see the empirical evidence of God, and therefore believe that he doesn't exist. They are afraid of losing their power and influence over all those people who don't have the ability to self-actualize. The church would stand, as Mustapha Mond did, atop the tower in London, and fear for the people below actually being able to think for themselves. And the less people that actually could do that, the better off the Church would be. I am not saying that those Sunday School teachers that I have mentioned in the past were deliberately trying to brainwash us, keep us from questioning the tennants of Christianity, in the fear that we might not find them to be true. But I am sure that somewhere, Church officials would rather us not question the prinicples of their denominations, for fear that we might find that we can believe and worship God on our own.

I wonder though, what God would feel like, if He looked down upon the world and find that Mankind had truly advanced to the point where they were all self-aware. What if God didn't need to do anything, as we had achieved all that he had wanted. (Of course, this isn't going to happen.... however....) I remember, in my youth, playing a game on the Super Nintendo called Actraiser, and, coming to the end of the game, the Angel tells us (the player actually being "God,") that isn't it every Diety's wish for the people that live under them to not need them anymore? For God to be proud of us for reaching the pinnacle of our abilities, to all reach the top of the mountains, and look out unto Paradise. Yes, I think God would be very proud indeed.

I'm gonna move on to other topics, silly and profound, and say good bye to Kenny and Butters and the rest. Honestly, I'm not really a big fan of South Park, but I appreciate the legitimate questions they raise. A note about these last few blogs. There will come a time, undoubtedly, when my opinions change, and I will believe differently than this. If you ask me now, do I believe all that I have written, I will answer, "Probably." But as Emerson said, minds can be changed. If I contradict myself...then fine, I will contradict myself. But for now, this will do.