ON WRITING, MUSIC, CHOREOGRAPHY, THE SEASONS AND LOVE

Allegro

What does writing have to do with making love? Can the changing of the seasons really be compared to an overture? What if on some primal level, we all live by an unseen rhythmic law? This law says that there is fundamentally no difference between making love and writing or between a brilliant piece of choreography and the changing seasons. Does the rhythm of the universe expect a form of symmetry to all of life? A regulated succession of strong and weak elements or of opposite and contrasting conditions becomes the master of all we do. The seasons come and go. The music ebbs and flows. Our love is gentle, passionate, sublime and tired. Mornings, afternoons, evenings and nights fuse with the spring and summer and fall and winter of our lives. The harsh gales of November echo in the overtures of Stravinsky and Beethoven. All things are one say the mystics. Is my writing one with all things? Can I form, norm, storm and perform even with mere words.

Adagio

Far be it for me to confuse philosophy with art. Greater men than I have said that there is a unity to life. We travel down our different paths often blind to the journeys of others who walk side by side with us: This one a carpenter, this one a computer scientist, this one a teacher, this one an artist and this one a hero. If I were a rich man, lord who made the lion and the lamb, would it really spoil your cosmic plan if I were a wealthy man? We are all dust in the wind but our rhythms echo down the halls of time. The most unforgettable and amazing repetitions will resonate as long as humans walk the earth. Coded in the numerous ways we have of capturing the rhythm of our lives: Some dynamic, some peaceful, some violent and some sad. We write our lyrics, pen our verses, create our stanzas and design our choreography all guided by the unseen law of rhythm. Now we are hard, then we are soft. Now we roar and now we snore.

Scherzo

Love is kind, love is considerate, love is not selfish. The waltz was a creation of times when love was more restrained. This torrent of mine was supplanted, extending my being, your challenge. The Tango alternates patterns of space and closeness with syncopated rhythms of violence and passion. Love me tender, love me sweet, never let me go. Rock and Roll ushered in a wild abandonment of morality in the face of conspicuous sexuality. The rhythm of music often exhibits striking harmonies with the rhythm of our love lives. Can I be soft and gentle like a warm breeze but also wild and unrestrained like in the movies? What if I made love to the William Tell overture or would Shakira’s lyrics work better:

Baby I would climb the Andes solely
To count the freckles on your body
Never could imagine there were only
Too many ways to love somebody

Is it enough to alternate patterns of tenderness with patterns of inhibition? Shall I open with an allegro, then move into an adagio, followed by a scherzo and conclude with a rondo? Who would expect love to end without a crescendo? Should my love making follow the classical style or should it be more like a jazz piece?

Rondo

Whether goes my writing. I have written this in four parts to reflect my cosmic view of the rhythm of life. We form and norm and storm and then perform. Spring is the opening that brings fresh growth to our world before the bloom of summer. Summer brings the maturity and ripeness of life. Fall brings the storms and winds that signify our frailty and insignificance to the universe. Winter ends our symphony with the closure and solace that our work is done and our day is over. Our life, our work, our art, our thoughts all finished but with a hope to be reborn perhaps by someone who sees a need to continue the rhythms that we have started. Not really finality, but continuations that started before us, and will continue long after our memorials are put up. Perhaps, my headstone will have four verses or stanzas or paragraphs or perhaps like the newest greeting cards, you will be able to press a button on my tombstone and you will see a picture of me singing and dancing to a four part harmony.

Time For Questions:  

Does music teach you anything about writing?  Does music speak to you? Can writing be like a symphony?  How do you hear music?  Does it speak to you like a good poem or a good verse? What is your favorite kind of writing?  Do you ever think that the writing you enjoy could be like music?  What would it take to transform the music in your life into writing or the writing in your life into music?

Life is just beginning

What’s So Funny Today?

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On Tuesday, my writing class suggested that for the next class we should all write something funny.  I left the class and started to rack my brains for something funny to write about.  I even thought about rewriting one of my other blogs.  However, I have a goal to come up with at least one original writing each week.  The thought of rewriting an earlier blog seemed like cheating.  After a fruitless mental search, I was willing to sacrifice creativity for humor.  But not one of my 900 or so blogs struck me as funny and something that I could rewrite.  I would have to come up with a new idea.

41Ug6TO4iwLI remembered from many years ago, a leader at a support group that I belonged to advised me that I should have more humor in my life.  I asked him “Do you know any good books about getting more humor in one’s life.”  He laughed, “You can’t read about humor, you have to do it.”  The thought has often struck me over the years that it is one thing to read about things, it is another thing to do them.  Could it be, I am just a writer and not a doer?  Was it still possible that I needed more humor in my life.  Maybe a clown I am not?

I brought the subject up to my spouse Karen and she reassured me that I am often very funny.  I know that I can be very sarcastic.  Like the time that I told the woman sitting on the plane next to me that maybe the human race was going to be extinct soon like many other species.  Why did she think that we had any superior reason to inhabit the earth when many other species have already perished?  “Climate change” I told her “Proves that we cannot take care of the earth.”  She gave me a truly angry look and went back to reading her book.  I suppose she was reading some tome about “How we can save our planet in nine days or less.”  I doubt that she thought I was funny.

Over the last four years, I have laughed often about Donald Trump, Republicans, Trumpists, Trump sycophants, climate change deniers, power hungry politicians, greedy lawyers and lying real estate developers.  My top three lying groups include the aforementioned individuals.  Can you guess which are my top three?  My laughing at these groups has come from my incredulity at the things they say and do.  I could never have thought that there was so much stupidity in the human race.  Is stupidity funny?  Does laughing at stupidity give one a sense of humor or a sense of sadness?

A few hours after my writing class this week, I was stricken with some type of intestinal gas attack.  It was very painful and not very funny.  I did find some humor in this attack which I would like to share with you.  I think this might be a genuine bit of humor, but I want to know if you find it funny.  If so, I will consider this writing effort a success.  It might prove that I can find humor in my life even if it be in strange places.

gallbladder-painA year ago, (June 2020) almost to the day, I had a sharp pain in my chest.  I fell to the floor and passed out.  I know that this is not very funny but stay with me and I will get to the funny part.  I promise.  Karen thought I was having a heart attack and she called 911.  They came, attached an IV to my arm and I had my first ever ambulance ride to the emergency clinic in St. Croix Falls.  After a blood test, an Ultra Sound, an X-Ray, and a CAT Scan, they decided that I had a Gall Bladder problem.  Three hours later, I was sent home with an appointment for the next day back at the hospital to see a doctor.

I arrived for my appointment and was met by a doctor who told me that I needed to have my Gall Bladder removed.  Now, I am not against surgery, but I have often advised and written on the perils of rushing surgery.  I have spoken my thoughts many times about the hasty and frequently unneeded surgeries that the medical profession pushes on a naïve public.  Thus, I argued about the need for surgery.

My point was that they did not know what caused the Gall Bladder attack.  They had no evidence (since the Gall Bladder was too swollen to see anything) if I still had any potentially dangerous Gall Stones waiting to attack me again.  I suggested a second Ultra Sound in a few weeks when the swelling had subsided.  I was curtly advised by the doctor that they could not do another one and that either I got the surgery or not.  The surgeon was available the next day.  I decided not and left the room.

Subsequently, I was advised by friend and foe alike that Gall Bladder surgery is a breeze and I had nothing to fear.  “You don’t really need your Gall Bladder.”  Disdaining all this well-intentioned advice, I stuck with my decision to keep my Gall Bladder.  The coming year went by event free except for the Covid 19 Epidemic.  Nothing funny about that.

As I mentioned earlier, just after my weekly writers’ class, I started to get gas in my chest and a pain in my lower right side.  I sometimes get gas pains after eating but I had not eaten anything in several hours and the pain was not in my abdomen but more in my chest.  It was just under my right ribs exactly where the Gall Bladder pain was one year ago.  It continued to increase.

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By 11:30 PM, it was apparent that I was not going to be able to sleep so following some advice I read on the Internet, I grabbed a hot ginger tea and went for a walk.  I was accompanied by Karen who wanted to make sure she was around if I passed out again.  Going for a walk in Frederic Wisconsin at Midnight was very surreal.  We met only one other person.  It was a local police officer accompanied by a canine companion.  The dog acted as though we had just robbed the First National Bank of Frederic.  The police officer pulled him closer and announced that his dog was often suspicious of strangers.  I suppose an old lady and old guy out at midnight would constitute “suspicious” strangers.  We continued our walk.

I felt somewhat better by the time we got back home.  I laid down and the pain started to come back.  In a short while, it hurt too much for me to find any sleep.  I sat up and tried to read but could not concentrate.  I tried to think of something funny but still had no luck.  Funny would not come.  Eventually, I managed a long night of quite restless sleep.  When I woke the next morning, we called the local clinic for an appointment.  They gave me an appointment at 11 AM that same morning at the Frederic Clinic in town.

frederickI saw a Physician Assistant at the clinic.  He was polite and thoughtful.  He gave me some rudimentary tests.  A little prodding and touching here and there.  He then advised me to go to the Emergency Department at the St. Croix Medical Center.  He said the Frederic Clinic was not equipped to do the more complicated tests that I would need and that I should get these tests done immediately..  He suggested that it might be time to get rid of the unneeded and problematic Gall Bladder.  I was quite ready to agree.  I had managed to keep my Gall Bladder for almost 75 years.  It had a good run, and perhaps it was time for it to retire.

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Karen and I drove down to the St. Croix Medical Center, parked our truck, and walked into the Emergency Department.  They greeted us very warmly and after the usual administrative stuff and a brief wait we were ushered into a patient room.  A friendly doctor came into the room.  A few brief introductions and then he listened as I informed him about my past history with this Gall Bladder.  I conceded that I was ready to have my Gall Bladder removed. They could get the 37,000 dollars that Medicare reimburses for such a procedure.

He nodded wisely and then described the tests that he wanted to have done.  These included several blood tests and an Ultra-Sound.  Unlike the previous doctor from a year ago, he did not seem anxious to remove my Gall Bladder.  He concluded with, “Let’s wait and see what the tests show.”

57171431-cartoon-wise-old-doctor-gestures-and-emotions-After a short wait, I was brought by wheel chair into another room.  I laid down on yet another bed.  A new nurse (or was it a technician) came into the room.  I assumed that she was going to perform the test.  Someone else brought the apparatus for conducting the Ultra Sound into the room and left.  The nurse or Ultra-Sound Technician started to poke and prod me with a rod connected to the machine.  This increased my burping considerably and went on for longer than I had remembered a year ago.  I guess they wanted to be really sure this time that I needed my Gall Bladder removed.  I was resigned to this eventuality.

After the test was over, I rested in bed for about ten minutes before the friendly doctor I had seen earlier came back to see me.  He had a big smile on his face.  I figured for sure that he was thinking about his share of the 37,000-dollar operation that he was about to perform.  As they say at comedy shows, “Give it up for the Doctor.”  Or as my mom used to say, “Every dog has its day.”

“Well,” he started “your Gall Bladder looks great.  No evidence of swelling or gall stones.”  I could not believe my ears.  Was I hearing him correctly?  Something stopped me from asking if he was kidding or trying to be funny.  He looked profoundly serious.  Could they have made a mistake?  Did they really want me to keep this Gall Bladder for another 75 years?  What about the 37,000 dollars?  No surgery?  “Nope, just go home and take some Maalox and you will be fine.”  He then apprised me of the fact that I had some fat on my liver and that I should watch my fat intake more.  I wondered if he had any advice on how to get rid of a fatty liver.  How about surgery, I was tempted to ask but decided against it.

Do you see the humor here or the funny part?  It strikes me as exceedingly funny.  First they want to take my Gall Bladder and I refuse to give it.  A year later and I want them to take my Gall Bladder and they don’t want to take it.  Should I call it the “Miracle of Peake Street and the Cured Gall Bladder?”  Would it start my qualification as a saint in the Catholic Church?  Old guy goes from faulty useless Gall Bladder to healthy like new better than ever Gall Bladder?  I think some of the official Catholic saints had less going for them than this.

Well, as Porky Pig said “Th-th-th-that’s all folks!”

tenor

Rhythm and Writing:  The Beat of Life

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Allegro:  a brisk lively tempo

What does the beating of my heart have to do with my writing?  What does writing have to do with making love?  Can the changing of the seasons be compared to a concert overture?  What is the relationship between T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets 2: East Coker” poem and Stravinsky’s “The Rites of Spring?”  What does musical rhythm have to do with writing?

unnamedOn some primal level, we all live by an unseen law of rhythm.  The rhythm of the universe controls an eternal dance between the atoms and molecules that make up our existence.  This natural rhythm imparts an inexorable symmetry to all of life.  A regulated succession of strong and weak elements of opposite and contrasting conditions that becomes the master of all that we do.  Buddhists call it the Yin and Yang of being.

Springtime is upon us.

The birds celebrate her return with festive song,

and murmuring streams are softly caressed by the breezes.

Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring, roar, casting their dark mantle over heaven,

Then they die away to silence, and the birds take up their charming songs once more.  — (From Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons:  Spring”, Concerto in E Major) 

DrumsticksIn countless ways, we observe that there is fundamentally no difference between writing or between a piece of choreography and the changing climate.  Creativity is carved out of the passion that is in everything we do.  The body and mind embrace in a never-ending minuet.  The music ebbs and flows.  Our love is gentle, restrained, then wild and feral. Mornings, afternoons, evenings, and nights fuse with the seasons of spring, summer, fall and winter.  The harsh gales of November resonate in the refrains of Tchaikovsky and Beethoven.  “Summer Breeze” by Seals and Crofts ushers in the scorching days of July.  Poetry rings out in the rap music of the streets while the mellow voices of choir singers comfort the soul.  All things are one say the mystics.  If my writing is one with all things, will the tempo of my words cool, heat, soothe or disrupt the fashions of life?

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Adagio: a slow and stately tempo

Far be it for me to confuse philosophy with art.  Greater men than I have acknowledged that there is a unity to life.  We travel down our different paths often blind to the journeys of others who walk side by side with us.  This one a carpenter, this one a computer scientist, this one a teacher, this one an artist and this one a hero.  Some of us have a long journey and some of us have a short journey.  For some the journey is rough and chaotic and for others the journey is smooth and predictable.  There are slow times in our journeys and there are fast times.  The rhythm of life is never the same for any of us.

Oh, it’s the same as the emotion that I get from you

You got the kind of lovin’ that can be so smooth, yeah

Give me your heart, make it real, or else forget about it — (From “Smooth”, by Santana)

For some, life is poverty and for others it is uncountable wealth.  The rich man longs for the anonymity and slower days of the poor man.  The poor man can be heard singing, “If I were a rich man, lord who made the lion and the lamb, would it really spoil your cosmic plan if I were a wealthy man?”

9781780231075We are all dust in the wind but our rhythms echo through the halls of time.  The most unforgettable and amazing repetitions will continue as long as humans walk the earth.  Coded in the numerous ways we have of capturing the rhythm of our lives.  Some codes in music, some in text and some in clay.  Some dynamic, some peaceful, some violent and some sad.  We write our lyrics, pen our verses, create our stanzas, and design our choreography.  All efforts guided by the unseen law of rhythm.  Now we are hard, now we are brittle.  Now we roar and now we snore.

Scherzo:  a sprightly humorous movement commonly in quick triple time

Love is kind, love is considerate, love is not selfish. The waltz was a creation of times when love was more restrained.  Centuries of constrained love making has been supplanted, extending our beings, becoming our challenge.  The Tango alternates patterns of space and closeness with syncopated rhythms of violence and passion.  Love me tender, love me sweet, never let me go.  Rock and Roll ushered in a wild abandonment of morality to a tune of conspicuous sexuality.  The rhythm of music exhibits striking harmonies with the rhythm of our love lives.  Can I be soft and gentle like a warm breeze but also wild and unrestrained like in the pulp novels?  Shall I make love to the William Tell overture or would Shakira’s lyrics work better?

Baby I would climb the Andes solely 

To count the freckles on your body 

Never could imagine there were only

Too many ways to love somebody  — (From “Whenever, Wherever,” by Shakira)

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Should my love making follow a classical structure or should it be more jazz like?  Is it enough to alternate patterns of tenderness with patterns of spontaneity or should I begin with an allegro, then an adagio, followed by a scherzo and conclude with a rondo?  And what of those who expect love to end with a crescendo or those who enjoy more syncopated jazz?

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Rondo: a recurring leading theme often found in the final movement of a sonata

Whether goes my writing.  I have written this concerto to writing in four parts to reflect the universality of the rhythm of life.  We form, norm, storm and then perform.  Spring is the opening that brings fresh growth to our world before the bloom of summer.  Summer brings the maturity and ripeness of life.  Fall brings the storms and winds that signify our frailty and insignificance to the universe.  Winter ends our symphony with the closure and solace that our work is done, and our day is over.

Blog+Image+-++Seasonal+RhythmsThe rhythm of life runs through our heart beats.  It runs through literature.  It runs through music.  Great music has rhythms that exhibit great variation.  Fast, slow, moderate than fast again.  Interesting speakers have a sense of rhythm in their talks.  Have you ever heard a lecture or a sermon without rhythm?  It will put you to sleep in less than five minutes.  Writing and speaking, just like music, must contain elements of rhythm.  A heart without rhythm ceases to beat.  Writing without rhythm is boring.  Life without rhythm is death.

To feel the rhythm of life,

To feel the powerful beat,

To feel the tingle in your fingers,

To feel the tingle in your feet. — (From “Rhythm Of Life,” 1969 Motion Picture Soundtrack, Song by Sammy Davis Jr.)

Our work, our art, our thoughts, and our lives are concluded with a hope to be reborn again.  We wish that someone will see the need to resume the rhythms that we have started.  Never a finality to our rhythms.  Only a continuation that started before us and will continue long after our memorials are put up.  Your headstone may simply have one verse on it or possibly it will be like the newest greeting cards.  They will walk up to your grave and press a button.  You will appear with a menu of options, and your visitor can select a video of you either singing or dancing or perhaps reading one of your writings.  Everything will have a four-part harmony.

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Time For Questions:  

Does music teach you anything about writing?  Does music speak to you?  Can writing be like a symphony?  How do you hear music?  Does it speak to you like a good poem or a good verse? What is your favorite kind of writing?  Do you ever think that the writing you enjoy could be like music?  What would it take to transform the music in your life into writing or the writing in your life into music?

The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life: Literature

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I am definitely biased when it comes to literature.  Without reading, books, magazines, articles, stories, plays, parables, and fables, I do not know what my life would be.  There are few things that enrich life more than the written word.  Movies, plays, and videos would be nothing if there were no words to go along with them.  Even sports and athletic events are heavily dependent on the written word.  Talk show hosts, TV actors, comedians and many other performers hire dozens of writers to script plots and routines that are the life blood of the entertainment industry.

I woke up this morning thinking how to convey the value of literature.  There is so much that I could say.  There is so much that needs to be said.  The question is how best to do justice to the world of literature and to keep this blog from becoming a book.  The thought came into my mind, that literature is everything to me from A to Z.  This gave me the idea to use the alphabet as a device to convey the importance literature has had for me.  But more importantly I want to inspire you as I have been inspired by the many books that I have read over the years.  I want to briefly touch on how they have enriched my life.

For each letter of the alphabet, I will try to note a few authors or books that I have read and what they have meant to me.  Some of my authors will be fiction writers, some poets, some non-fiction writers but each has left me with a piece of the puzzle.  The puzzle I refer to involves the existential quest to find the meaning of life.  I suppose that I may never find the meaning, but literature has helped create many of the puzzle pieces for me.  I am still struggling to put them all together.  The process is more fun than getting the finished puzzle.

A –

Aesop, Alistair MacLean, Agatha Christie, and August Wilson.  A few of the many authors whose writings have enriched my life.  From drama to morals to spies, I am sure that everyone has been exposed to these writers, perhaps without realizing it.   Numerous shows and movies have been based on their literature.  A is a good place to mention the following question, “What is the difference between someone who does not know how to read and someone who knows how but does not read?”

61aJkCcMlhL._SL500_Several of my stories have been influenced by Aesop’s stories.  When growing up, I loved reading stories of foxes, rabbits, scorpions, and other animals that Aesop used in his writing.  His parables and morals still guide my life in a myriad of ways.  I watched a few of August Wilson’s plays that were performed at Penumbra Theater in St. Paul, MN.  It was my introduction to the world of African American literature which was sorely missing in our education system.  For a good escape into the world of murder, drama and spies, MacLean and Christie cannot be beat. On countless rainy and often sunny days as well, I have curled up and said, “To hell with the world.  I am dropping out for a few hours into a world of fantasy.”

B –

I could speak of many authors here but nothing in literature has spawned more stories or ethics or plays or even religions than the Bible.   If you peruse my blogs, you will find at least a dozen stories that I have written that have been based on biblical sources.  There are many authors involved in the Bible.  The Bible notes for different books either who was the author or who they think the author might have been.  In many cases, the authors are unknown.

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Is the Bible fiction or non-fiction is a question that would create great dissention depending on who you asked?  Many would say that the Bible was the literal truth given by God to prophets to pass down to humanity.  Others would say, it was a series of stories that were embellished in the telling.   Neither of these issues ever bothered me.  The point is that the Bible is one of the greatest books in history, if not the greatest.  It has history, drama, murder, sex, morals, and good advice all wrapped up in one binder.  Read it and you will see why some people say that it is the only book they read.

C –

392278aCamus, Eldredge Cleaver, and Cervantes could not be more different.  Camus the existentialist.  Cleaver the revolutionary.  Cervantes the dreamer.  What puzzle pieces they inspired in me.  Hard to find out how they fit together but in the grand scheme of things, I would not leave any of them out.  Cleaver wrote, “Soul on Ice.”  One of the most inspiring prison writings ever written.

“From my prison cell, I have watched America slowly coming awake. It is not fully awake yet, but there is soul in the air and everywhere I see beauty…. I was very familiar with the Eldridge who came to prison, but that Eldridge no longer exists.  And the one I am now is in some ways a stranger to me.”  — Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on Ice, 1968

Camus helped me to understand Existentialism from an applied perspective.  A great deal more helpful than a strictly theoretical understanding.  Cervantes created a character that I would like to be.  A man forever hopeful and willing to battle the world regardless of the forces arrayed against him.  A man willing to “dream the impossible dream.”   If only, I can retain Quixote’s optimism until the day I am no more.

D –

Dostoevsky, Dickens, and W. E. Deming.  I knew Dr. Deming personally.  I had dinner with Dr. Deming and took several clients to visit him at his home in Washington, D.C.  I helped out at several of his five-day seminars.  My first job after completing my Ph.D. degree was attained by reading his book, “Quality, Productivity and Competitive Position.”  A tour de force that would revolutionize American business.  A book that told me that 95 percent of what I learned in graduate school was wrong.  I learned more from Dr. Deming than I learned from all the great professors who wrote so many of the textbooks that I had been studying for 5 years.  Dr. Deming told me I wasted my time.  I was loath to accept his finding but gradually came to realize that he was right.  Eventually, the blinders were lifted from my eyes and I could see the truth of American business.  The truth that Dr. Deming had tried to share with the world.

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I cannot say that I have read all of Dostoevsky’s or Dicken’s works.  What I can say is that few writers I have read have been more articulate about the human condition than these two authors.  They are natural born psychologists.  Their insights into people are so profound that it seems a mystery to me that anyone could as accurately portray humanity as they have done in their writings.  It is not really stories that they tell so much as creating a picture of the inner souls of their characters.  It is easy to describe the outward characteristics of a character but much more difficult to portray their inner characters.  Both Dickens and Dostoevsky portray humans at their best and at their worst.  Reading either of them is better than reading a textbook on human psychology or taking a Psych 101 class.

E –

Jacques Ellul.  Jacques wrote the “Technological Society.”  I read this book in 1982 when I started graduate school.  There are many books that describe the “what” of technology.  Books that talk about computers, software, hardware, and the impact that they will have on society.  The central premise of Jacque’s book is this:  “In our technological society, technique is the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity.”  Not exactly what we read about or think about when we hear the word technology.

But technology is technique.  It is not simply something electrical or digital.  Technology is a philosophy of life.  Ellul showed me the deeper meaning and relationship between life and gadgets.  Society is influenced by technology in more ways than I could ever have imagined.  Understanding technology has given me the ability to appreciate both its pro’s and con’s.  There is always a downside as well as an upside to new gadgets, particularly things like social media, the internet, and computers.  Each of these technologies have impacted our lives both for good and bad.

F –

BondAnatole France and Ian Fleming.  I discovered Fleming’s books on James Bond, after I saw the hit movie “From Russia with Love.”  I subsequently read every one of Fleming’s books and have seen every movie in the Bond franchise.  I loved the character so much I continued to read “Bond” books even when they were written by other approved writers.  I was attracted to the character who was everything I wanted to be.  Handsome, rugged, dashing, brave, a man’s man and a woman’s man as well.  I will never forget the line from one of Fleming’s books, “Boredom is the worst curse of all.”  Eventually, I outgrew James Bond but there will always be a part of me that wonders what it would be like to live in his world.

France on the other hand gave me a different view of the world.  I read several of his books during the early seventies when I was in my socialist learning stage.  I identified with many of his ideas.  France was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1921.  His books were often both ironic and satirical.  He approached subjects steeped in religion with a perspective that might have seemed atheistic.  He challenged us to think of God and Satan and their relationship together.  I think many of my blogs have been influenced by France.  Particularly my blog titled, “A Conversation between Satan and God.

G –

Grendel-2007-Beowulf-movie-Crispin-Glover-cJ. K. Galbraith, Goethe, and John Gardner. Perhaps my favorite story as well as my favorite opera are based on a man selling his soul to the devil in return for some privilege. Goethe wrote the story and called it Faust after a learned man who wanted more than knowledge.  Gounod did the opera based on Goethe’s story.  Many other stories have been based on the idea of a bargain between Satan and humans.  One other that I have always liked was “The Devil and Daniel Webster.”  It told the story of a New Hampshire farmer who sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for success.  When the devil came to collect his due, the farmer called on Daniel Webster to defend him.  This story ended happily as opposed to Goethe’s story which has a tragic ending.

Like many people, I would like to be more successful, more famous, and more admired.  Would I sell my soul to the Devil?  There have been times in my life when I would gladly have sold it.  I am at a point now where fame and fortune do not mean as much.  If I have a soul, I will depart this world with it intact.

J. K. Galbraith was a noted economist and Harvard Professor.  In his book, “The New Industrial State,” he supported much of what Dr. Deming had to say about American business.  I was particularly struck by Galbraith’s denunciation of MBA programs.  Deming also detested these programs and argued that they were destructive for American business.  Galbraith has been lionized and villainized.  Anyone with the audacity to challenge the inherent greediness of Capitalism cannot expect to win friends.  My thinking on Capitalism reflects what I have learned from both Deming and Galbraith.

John Gardner wrote several of my favorite stories.  He was a professor of literature well known for his writing and critiques.  Just when I thought I could learn everything from philosophy, I find a writer who mercilessly skewers philosophy with a character based on Socrates.  Agathon is a wise cynic who knows all about the world but nothing about life.  Gardner also wrote “Grendel” which was the Beowulf story told from the perspective of the beast.  Gardner had a unique way of turning things inside out and getting you to see an entirely different perspective.  His books often dealt with issues of morality, freedom, and justice.  From Gardner I leaned that life is seldom simple and when we look at the world it becomes complex and contradictory. 

H –

Chris Hedges.  Hedges wrote the “Empire of Illusion.”  This book portrays the American Dream as an illusion.  Hedges disparages the idea that America is exceptional and that we live in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  The book was published in 2010 and clearly outlines the descent of America into Trumpism.  On its webpage, Amazon summarizes the main theme of Hedge’s book as:

“A prescient book that forecast the culture that gave rise to Trump — a society beholden to empty spectacle and obsession with image at the expense of reality, reason, and truth.”

No society can make progress if illusions and fantasies guide its policies rather than truth and knowledge.  America today seems to be sorely lacking in truth or knowledge.  Morris Berman another critic of American culture gave up on changing anything in this country and moved to Mexico and off the grid.  I question every day pre-Trump and post-Trump whether America is on an unstoppable downhill slide and if there is anything I can do about it.  Will I be able to help make a difference and steer this country towards the dreams and values that it was founded on?   I wrote sixteen Anti-Trump articles dealing with the menace and danger that he held for America.  A president who represented everything that was bad for the future of our country.  He lost the election but how can anyone forget that 75 million Americans voted for him.

I –

0b243a477fd3257de4b036b2c7e4e52bIvan Illich and Washington Irving.  When I was in my undergraduate program in education which I started in 1971, I decided to read as much of the counter-education literature that I could find.  My most memorable readings were “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by P. Freire, “How Children Fail” by John Holt and “Deschooling Society” by Illich.   I have read many more books on education since the 70’s but it seems to me that nothing new has been added to the schooling critique leveled by these educators.  Schools are still failing students and society.  Educators are like fish.  They live up to the Chinese saying that “The fish are the last ones to see the water.”  I have written numerous critiques of the education system in America as have many other educators, but nothing changes.  The solutions to the problems that ail our education system are rooted in a theory of education that was appropriate 100 years ago but is now obsolete.

School prepares people for the alienating institutionalization of life, by teaching the necessity of being taught. Once this lesson is learned, people lose their incentive to develop independently; they no longer find it attractive to relate to each other, and the surprises that life offers when it is not predetermined by institutional definition are closed.” ― Ivan Illich,

Washington Irving wrote my favorite ghost story.  The “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” still scares and thrills anyone reading it.  Sit outside in the fall just before Halloween on a dark night in the woods and read this story.  Keep looking over your shoulder in case the Headless Horseman is out for his night ride.  Perhaps you will see Ichabod Crane running pell-mell through the woods to escape the Horseman.  This is only one of many great stories that Irving wrote.  I learned to brave the night woods knowing that I was a friend of Irving.

J –

The-12-Personality-Archetypes-Which-One-Dominates-YouCarl Jung was one of the many theorists I studied at the University of Wisconsin for my M.S. degree in Counseling.  Carl Jung was one of the acolytes of Freud along with Alfred Adler, Wilhelm Reich, Otto Rank, and his daughter Anna Freud.  Each follower eventually broke with Freud and founded their own school of psychology.  Jung started the most esoteric and enigmatic of these schools.  His philosophy or methods are called Jungian Analysis and appeal to many people due to his emphasis on the interpretation of dreams, archetypes, and symbolic behaviors.  Jung gave me an appreciation for the elements in life that we might simply write off as useless or meaningless.  To undergo a dream interpretation can be a very life changing experience.  I discovered that there is no single path to self-awareness and psychological health.  Different schools of therapy appeal to different people and each may be effective.

K –

41mABQ-2vlL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_John F. Kennedy, Ezra Klein, and Daniel Kahneman.   What do a President, Journalist and Nobel Prize winner in Economics have in Common?  I learned from Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage” about what integrity really means.  Kennedy may not have written much of this book but the lives of the people he shares puts an exclamation point on the values that JFK had for this country.

I read Kahneman and Tversky’s “Judgement Under Uncertainty” in 1982 when I was in graduate school for my Ph.D. degree.  Years later they would win the Nobel Prize for Economics after having totally changed the way we think about and understand human economic behavior.  Much of the theory I was exposed to in graduate school was proven wrong by the research that Kahneman and Tversky conducted.  I learned a new way to think about economics and organizational behavior from this book.

Klein’s book “Why We’re Polarized” takes a more nuanced and data driven look at the gap that is separating Americans today.  He avoids the nauseous palliatives and bromides offered by so many writers on this subject.  You could fill an entire library bookshelf with all the authors telling us why Americans are divided and angry and how we can solve the problem.  Almost all see the division as a major problem.  Not Klein though.  He suggests it might be inevitable.  His book is laced with data proving that this divide did not just spring up with Trump but has its roots many years before Trump was on the radar.  One might say that Klein proves the adage that, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.”

So what do these three authors have in common besides a last name that begins in K?  The answer is that each man has helped me to think about life in America and what it could be with more intelligent reflection and commitment to the values that our Founding Fathers promoted.  Economics is worthless without social commitment and social commitment is shallow without a strong economic system.  The principles of economics are not iron clad laws but continue to be better understood.  No doubt many years from now, we will see much of our economic decision making through a new set of lenses.  Kahneman has been a major force in the evolution of economic thinking.  Kennedy and Klein show us what is possible with integrity and intelligent thinking applied to politics and governance.

L –

795355R. D. Laing and Fritz Leiber. Do you know Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser?  If not, you are missing two of the most interesting and funny characters in the genre called Sword and Sorcery.  Fritz Leiber coined the phrase “Sword and Sorcery” and helped birth an entire new form of literature.  When we think of fantasy, most often we think of Lewis Carroll’s, “Alice in Wonderland.”  This classic story is imbued with fantasy and magic, but no one actually does any magic in the story.  Magic is limited to Alice’s dreaming.  Many fairy tales have more actual magic than Alice in Wonderland.  Tolkien’s “Hobbit and Ring Trilogy” come to mind.

When we think of Science Fiction, a more modern form of fantasy, we think of Star Wars and stories that blend fantasy and science.  Sword and Sorcery is different.  It blends heroic fantasy with magic.  Magic is the exact opposite of science.  The Marvel character, Dr. Strange is one of the few Marvel characters to blend fantasy with magic or the occult.

“So tell me, giant philosopher, why we’re not dukes,” the Gray Mouser demanded, unrolling a forefinger from the fist on his knee so that it pointed across the brazier at Fafhrd. “Or emperors, for that matter, or demigods.”

“We are not dukes because we’re no man’s man,” Fafhrd replied smugly, setting his shoulders against the stone horse-trough. “Even the duke must butter up a king, and demigods the gods. We butter no one. We go our own way, choosing our own adventures—and our own follies! Better freedom and a chilly road than a warm hearth and servitude.” — “Swords in the Mist”

R. D. Laing was a psychologist.  When I was in school for my graduate degree in counseling psychology, as I often did, I sought out the unconventional theorists.  Besides Wilhelm Reich, and Thomas Szasz, Laing was one of the most unconventional thinkers in the field of psychology.  Much as Thomas Kuhn became a target for many in science because of his radical thinking on science and paradigms, Laing also became the target of many in his field who felt threatened by his critique of psychology.  And well they should have for Laing challenged some of the major theories prevalent in the field at his time:

“Laing maintained that schizophrenia was “a theory not a fact”; he believed the models of genetically inherited schizophrenia being promoted by biologically based psychiatry were not accepted by leading medical geneticists.   He rejected the “medical model of mental illness.”  – Wikipedia

To go where no man has walked before, one does not have to go to Mars or another planet.  There are plenty of places in the human mind where few dare tread.  You go to these places at a risk to your sanity and reputation.  The status quo must protect itself and people who move to a different drummer or question common assumptions are treated as an invading virus that must be eradicated.  The normal system has no room for mutations.  You will be barraged by assaults from those in the system who have no desire to change.  Vested interests will marshal their big guns to eradicate you if you think differently.  You will begin to question your own sanity.  Only the strong can survive.

M –

Miyamoto Musashi, C.W. Mills and Yukio Mishima.  Two out of three in this group are Japanese.  I wonder if there are more last names starting with M in Japan?  Musashi was the greatest swordsman who ever lived.  He wrote philosophy with his sword.  His “The Book of Five Rings” blends swordsmanship and strategic thinking for anyone who wants a practical philosophy for success.  Some people talk about success but Musashi put his life on the line over thirty times fighting opponents in duels to the death.  His ideas about life and death are forged in a crucible of reality that few of us could ever comprehend, much less undertake.

miyamoto_musashi___vagabond_by_asi4abarai_dd23c8p-fullviewMishima was an author, poet, actor, and modern-day samurai who wanted to reinstate the Bonsai spirit in Japanese Culture.  After WWII, Americans occupied Japan and did everything they could to drive out the Samurai attitudes and policies that dominated Japan the previous fifty years or so.  Mishima created a group of followers who thought that they could overthrow the elected Japanese government and restore the old ruling order.  He greatly overestimated support for his ideas and after a failed rebellion he committed Seppuku or Hari Kari as it is also known.  I read a few of his novels and came to appreciate his writing and even his politics to some extent.  In his “The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea” he states that “living is merely the chaos of existence.”  He has also noted that “I still have no way to survive but to keep writing one line, one more line, one more line….”  A sentiment that I think anyone serious about literature would surely appreciate.

C. W. Mills was a sociologist, professor, and author. He became famous for many of his writings on Organization Theory.  By the time I was in graduate school, pursuing my degree in Organization Theory, he was no longer a popular theorist.  His writings were no longer mandatory readings.  I suppose I chose to read him since he had long since fallen out of favor.  My habit again of looking at those who are lepers in the establishment.

Mill’s, “The Power Elite” dispelled my nascent socialist leanings by clearly disputing the idea of a cabal of rich capitalists plotting to take over the world.  The ideas he had on bureaucracy as internalized social control had also been expounded by Max Weber.  When I was employed as a consultant at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard in 1989, I augmented the prevailing quality theories I endorsed with the theories of Mills and Weber.  Mills died in 1962 at the age of 45 and Weber died in 1920 (Of the Spanish Flu) at the age of 56.  Neither man lived a long life, but their ideas were as valid in the 1980s, and even today as when they were written almost one hundred years ago now.

Conclusions:

I am halfway through the alphabet, and I realize that this blog is much too long.  After writing A-M, I do not think either you are I have the fortitude for N-Z.  I will offer to send you my list of authors for these letters.  People like Nietzsche, OSHO, Plato, Poe, Roddenberry, Idries Shah, Tolkien, Twain, Voltaire, Alice Walker, Mary Wollstonecraft, Yeats, and Emile Zola all made a big difference on my views of the world and thereby on my life.  But for now, this is enough.  If I have not yet convinced you of the importance of reading and literature both for pleasure and for learning, I am doomed to a hell for poor writers and debaters.  It will fall to a “better man than I” to convince you that reading is essential for a good life.

What is the difference between someone who can read and does not and someone who does not know how to read? –  Answer:  NOTHING!

 

 

 

 

Mentors, Muses, Role Models, and Shooting Stars – Part 1 of 2

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Why do some people achieve success and happiness while other people flounder on the shoals?  One man/woman becomes Prime Minister or President and their brother/sister becomes a drug addict.  I suppose there are many reasons and many that we can probably do nothing about.  Some things are beyond our power to change.  However, there is one reason that contributes to success and it is in our power to modify or amplify.  I speak specifically of the ideas or concepts in the title of this blog:  Mentors, Muses, Role Models, and Shooting Stars.

In 1983, I joined the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD).  I was still in graduate school working on my degree in Organization Development and it seemed useful to join a professional organization that represented my career goals.  As a member of the ASTD, I attended monthly meetings and eventually submitted several articles to their magazine for publication.  One of the most interesting projects I volunteered for was to help establish a “Mentoring Program” for young upcoming professionals in the field of Training and Organization Development.  This project together with a Human Resource Development organization that I started for students at the University of Minnesota were some of the high points of my academic career.  Grades did not count for much to me except to get credits that were needed to graduate.  Helping people was truly gratifying.

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Mentors:

A “Mentor” can be defined as: “A trusted advisor.”  Someone with more experience who knows the ropes and takes a less experienced person under their wings to help guide them through the Scylla and Charybdis that are lurking in most organizations.  This can make the difference between success and failure.  I have found myself over my head several times because of not properly understanding a new boss or company politics.  downloadOnce, as a new employee, I was attending my first department meeting with my co-workers and supervisor.  I deemed it prudent to keep my mouth shut and observe.  At the end of the meeting, my supervisor turned to me and noted, “Well, John, you haven’t said a word.  What do you think?  Give me your honest opinion.”  I took her at her word and gave her my honest uncensored opinion.  Big mistake, as I am sure you knew.  Turns out my boss only liked “Honest Opinions” when they agreed with her opinions.  A good mentor would have warned me of this peril before I put my foot in my mouth.

A good mentor can do a great deal more than simply alert you to pitfalls.  A mentor may share information about his or her own career path and what helped him/her to become successful.  A mentor can provide guidance, motivation, emotional support, and coaching.  A mentor may help with setting goals, developing contacts, and identifying resources that will help you to get ahead.  I personally believe everyone should have a mentor.  In addition to career mentors, there are mentors who may help you with your hobbies or any other activities that add value to your life.  Having a mentor is not all about careers and jobs.

How does one find a mentor?  Some organizations have mentoring programs and match up new employees with seasoned veterans.  A friend of mine at the ASTD and I worked together on the aforementioned mentoring program.  We put together guidelines to help companies establish their own in-house mentoring programs.  I was quite surprised and pleased when at an ASTD awards banquet, we were acknowledged for the mentoring program that we had developed.

Mentors can be formal or informal.  In 1998, I was “adopted’ by an older gentleman named Gordon Backlund when I started working at the Metropolitan Council in Minnesota.  He came up to me after a meeting and announced “I see you know nothing about politics in a government organization.  I am going to teach you.”  I was grateful for his offer.  Gordy taught me a bunch about how to survive and we became good friends in the process.  He was an informal mentor since the organization did not have a formal mentoring program.  It would be great if every organization had a program, but most do not.  In the latter case, it is up to you to find a mentor.  If you care about your success in life as well as in business, you will find a mentor or mentors.  The following is a particularly good video with some tips on “how to find a mentor.”  There are many other good videos on the subject and even some good TED talks on the topic.

Here is a great video on how to find a mentor by Marie Forleo

 

Muses:

A muse in ancient Greece was the name for the nine goddesses who presided over the arts and science.   A muse for me is someone who inspires me.  Since I think of myself as a writer, a muse is someone who can inspire my writing.  A muse indirectly motivates imagesme by giving me support and stimulation to be creative.  I was thinking back over the years that I have been writing.  My first paid article was in 1983.  It was published in a San Francisco Men’s Journal.  My piece was called “The Three Types of Male Intimacy.”  I was paid about 25 dollars.  It was not much but it felt like a start.  I have since published about 40 journal articles, three books and over 600 blogs.  It is a good thing that I never quit my day job since I could barely pay my monthly entertainment bill with the proceeds from my writing.

In 2010, I met Dr. Carolyn Wedin.  She was a retired English Professor Emeritus from the University of Wisconsin.  She had started a writing class in Frederic, Wisconsin.  I joined the class and thus began my honest efforts to become a writer.  I say honest, because until then I had not engaged in professional efforts to improve my writing skills.  Anyone who says that they are a writer, artist, singer, sculptor, musician, or chef and does not engage in some form of professional development is in my humble opinion, not serious about their craft.

My partner Karen has played the piano since she was a little girl.  She plays well enough to be asked to play both piano and organ at church when the regular pianist is out sick or on vacation.  About 15 years ago, we were visiting in Mountain View, Arkansas when Karen noticed someone on the “Pickin Parlor Green” playing a small acoustic wooden lap instrument.  She enjoyed the sound and also thought how easy it would be to pack up and carry such an instrument.  Pianos and organs do not lend themselves to easy carry or transport.  She inquired as to what the instrument was and was told that it was a Mountain Dulcimer, also known as an Appalachian Dulcimer.  Deciding to try one out, she purchased an inexpensive dulcimer on eBay for about 100 dollars.

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Karen tried playing it for a while on her own.  She purchased some instruction books and starting plinking away.  Not having much success, she came to the conclusion that she needed instruction.  She found a good instructor and continued with her until we retired.  We then moved to Wisconsin and Arizona.  Nevertheless, other dulcimer lessons have continued for many years.  We go to at least two music camps each year.  One is in Mountain View, Arkansas and the other is in Bardstown, Kentucky.  We often attend the Minnesota Blue Grass and Old Time Music Association (MBOTMA) summer festival where they offer classes and practice in a variety of instruments.  There is also lots of practice time in what are known as music jams.  These jams are events where musicians self-organize into groups with many different skill levels.  There will be people playing guitars, violins, mandolins, banjos, dulcimers, harps, and numerous other string instruments.

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For several years, Karen was tentative before venturing out into her first music jams.  There is a definite etiquette that one must learn before joining a jam session.  Karen soon found a group of women in Tucson who were called “The Tucson Dulcimer Ensemble (TDE).”  They practice every two weeks and do a few performances each year.  The sessions they hold are both training and practice with a good dose of inspiration thrown in.  Karen has become more confident since playing with the TDE and is now a good enough player to be asked to do solo performances.  Where once she dreaded the thought of playing solo, she now looks forward to the challenge and I suspect, the applause.

But what of a muse?  Do we really need one?  Who was or is my muse for writing?  This past year Dr. Wedin had a series of illnesses and accidents rendering her unable to continue the “Write Right Now” classes that she had started.  Some of her students who have attended them for many years volunteered to take over, but it was not the same.  It is hard to describe Carolyn’s style of encouragement and critique, but I venture to say it is unique.  She inspires without criticizing.  She encourages without demoralizing.  She suggests without demanding.  When you have finished a session with Dr. Wedin, you have new ideas and a renewed motivation to go home and write.

Perspiration or Inspiration: Which is more Important to the Writer? —-A blog I wrote a while ago

 

Missing Carolyn and her inspiration, I went into a downward spiral.  I considered giving up writing.  I had said it all.  There was nothing else left to write about.  I had exhausted all my ideas and creativity.  I was finished.  I was kaput.  My writing days were over.  That was when I realized that Carolyn had been my muse.  She was my inspiration for what I think of as my writing in Creative Non-Fiction.  Part of me knew that Carolyn could not continue teaching.  No one lives forever and all things eventually change.  The Covid-19 Virus will probably put the finishing touches on the writer’s class for this summer: “Oh, what will I do?”

MV5BOWIzZGUxZmItOThkMS00Y2QxLTg0MTYtMDdhMjRlNTNlYTI3L2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjc1NTYyMjg@._V1_“I do not know what writing awaits me,

I only know I must be brave,

And I must face a life that dates me,

Or lie a coward, a craven coward,

Or lie a coward in my grave.” 

 (A slight modification from “High Noon” by Frankie Laine)

Taking advice from this old Frankie Laine song, I must find a new muse.  We all need a “little help from our friends” or someone who can guide and inspire us.  They say that the truth will set you free.  I know not about the truth, but I do know that when we understand something it gives us the freedom to make good decisions and choices.  Since I realize how important a muse is to my writing, I must decide how to find my next muse.

Looking at an obvious source for a muse, i.e., the Internet, one finds that most topics treat the subject as an exercise in finding your personal creativity either by looking inward or by researching a range of resources including classes and educational activities.  Searching Google for help in finding an actual real person as a muse, I did not find anything especially useful.  I did find numerous articles like:

  • How to Awaken Your Muse to Spark Your Creativity
  • Learning how to find your inner muse
  • 7 Tips to Awaken Your Creative Muse – Can-do-ideas

By the way, I got the same results on “YouTube” but I did find an interesting song by Them Coulee Boys called “Find Your Muse.”

I don’t want to find my “inner” creativity.  I want to find a real person like Dr. Wedin, who can inspire and challenge me.  Telling me to find my inner muse is similar to telling an athlete to find their “inner coach.”  This is a great idea up to a point, but I am sure that most musicians, athletes, and other artists would much rather find another human being as a coach or mentor.  It is wonderful to be able to talk to someone who has a different perspective and who can talk back.

The search for a muse does not have a single starting point or a definite ending point.  Much like mentors, muses will come and go in the life of an artist. The quest for a muse is like looking for the love of your life.  They may be just around the corner or they may be on another continent.  The one thing I am sure of is that unless you are seeking, you will probably not find one.  There is a Zen saying that goes like this, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I have a feeling that the same is true for finding a muse.  When you are ready, your muse will appear.  But being ready means having your eyes and ears and heart open.  That is what seeking is all about.

In Part 2, I will describe how a Role Model and a Shooting Star can help you in life as well as in your career. 

My Four Best of Everything – Part 1

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Have you ever gone to a concert where the performers asked you to join in?  Well, I am asking you to join in today and contribute to my blog.  This week I am doing what I call my four best of everything.  Everything that matters to me anyway.  Perhaps I should say it is my four favorites of everything because best is such a qualitative term.  There may be little difference between the word favorite and the word best, however, using the term best is more provocative and usually ends up in arguments or debates.  Since I do not want to be judgmental, I will use the term favorites in the text of this blog.

I am going to share with you my four favorite fiction writers, my four favorite non-fiction writers, my four favorites writings/stories (both fiction and non-fiction) and my four favorite ideas.  After I list each of my favorites, I will provide a short explanation of why I like this writer or selection so much.  Each of my favorites are listed in no order or preference.  Asking me to pick the “best” of any of these would be impossible.

I am sure that each of you reading this will have some ideas concerning your favorites in these areas.  Like the concert performer inviting you to join in on song, I invite you to put your ideas or thoughts concerning your favorites in my comment sections.  The more the better.  Don’t be shy.  Use any language you want to share your ideas with the rest of the world.  Let us know what you like and why you like it.  Plenty of room in the blogosphere.

My Four Favorite Fiction Writers:

Mark Twain: I started reading Mark Twain when I was in grade school and fell in love with his short stories.  Later I graduated to his novels and then some of his commentaries.  I love his ability to combine satires with humor.  He had the ability to send a message about life while still making his reader laugh.

the war prayer

“O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst…”  — Mark Twain, “The War Prayer”

Kurt Vonnegut: My first book of Kurt’s was the novel “Cats Cradle”.  I am not sure if you would call it simply satire or more nihilism, but I was 18 when I found his pick and was just doing into the military.  I could not wait to read the other novels that he wrote, and I binged on Kurt for the next year or so.  I think I may have co opted many of his ideas as they became my ideas for much of my life.

“Perhaps, when we remember wars, we should take off our clothes and paint ourselves blue and go on all fours all day long and grunt like pigs. That would surely be more appropriate than noble oratory and shows of flags and well-oiled guns.”  — Kurt Vonnegut, “Cat’s Cradle”

Anatole France: I discovered France about five years after Vonnegut.  A very different writer but also with a keen sense of social justice and injustice.  I loved “Penguin Island”, “The Revolt of the Angels” and “Thais.”  How these stories shaped my thinking about life, I will never know but I am sure that they fueled my already growing skepticism about life, good, evil and truth.

“No, let us not conquer the heavens. It is enough to have the power to do so. War engenders war, and victory defeat. God, conquered, will become Satan; Satan, conquering, will become God. May the fates spare me this terrible lot!‎” — Anatole France, “The Revolt of the Angels”

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Edgar Allen Poe: Yes, it is true, sometimes I do read material that is simply escapism.  My favorite genres for many years were science fiction, science fantasy, horror and murder mysteries.   I am pretty sure that I read everything that Poe wrote.  I found many other fiction writers that entertain me but only Poe could blend horror, mystery and the foibles of humanity to create the strange stories that he wrote.

“He did not perceive that my smile now was at the thought of his immolation.”  — Edgar Allan Poe, “The Cask of Amontillado”

My Four Favorite Non-Fiction Writers:

Thomas Jefferson: Call him a Founding Father.  Call him a hypocrite.  Call him a racist.  Call him whatever you want, but no one has ever in my mind approached his depth of intellectual vigor in terms of delineating the necessities for a truly just society.  You need to separate the man from the message.  The message that Jefferson left us was sublime.  The man himself was not up to the message but that does not diminish the message one iota. 

“Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.” — Thomas Jefferson, “A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge”W. E. Deming:

Dr. W. E. Deming:  Dr. Deming is the only one of my favorites that I have had the pleasure to not only meet but to also work along side of.  He was cantankerous, irascible and cynical.  He was also brilliant, compassionate and a true humanist.  His vision for humanity was a workplace that embraced both the scientific method with a love for all employees.  Dr. Deming spent most of his teaching and consulting life dedicated to making his vision a reality.  I had the privilege of working alongside Dr. Deming several times.  He taught me most of what I now know about organizations and how to continuously improve them.

“To manage, one must lead. To lead, one must understand the work that he and his people are responsible for. Who is the customer (the next stage), and how can we serve better the customer? An incoming manager, to lead, and to manage at the source of improvement, must learn. He must learn from his people what they are doing and must learn a lot of new subject matter.” — Dr. W. E. Deming, Out of the Crisis

00oshoOSHO: His given name was Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.  OSHO was a religious teacher from India.  He wrote numerous books on life, religion and spirituality.  He also gave talks and started several communities for his followers.  His books and talks were full of insights and stories to make you think and question your own life.  OSHO became infamous when he tried to start a community of acolytes in a rural area of Oregon.  The town OSHO started was called Rajneeshpuram.  It became a target for locals who thought that their community was being taken over by a bunch of cultists.  Things went south when some of OHSO’s devotees exceeded authority and tried to retaliate against the local community.  This is perhaps another case, where the man did not live up to his message.  Nevertheless, I have never found any spiritual writings that are as profound and thought provoking as OSHOs.

“Never belong to a crowd; Never belong to a nation; Never belong to a religion; Never belong to a race. Belong to the whole existence. Why limit yourself to small things? When the whole is available.” — OSHO

Daniel Kahneman: I first read Kahneman and Amos Tversky’s book “Judgement Under Uncertainty” in 1982.  Twenty years later Kahneman won the Nobel Prize for Economics.  Tversky had died in 1996.  Their research and work challenged the very bedrock of economic decision making since they attacked the assumption of human rationality that prevailed in modern economic theory.  I completed my Ph.D. degree and went into management consulting.

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One of the key foundations of my consulting was based on the work into heuristics and biases that were described in “Judgement Under Uncertainty.”  Corporations could make some brilliant decisions but too often they were guided by fallacies and misconceptions that relied more on emotions and prejudice than good data and facts.  Today, economics has taken a giant leap forward in understanding human decision making based on the work of Kahneman and his many followers.

“Searching for wisdom in historic events requires an act of faith—a belief in the existence of recurrent patterns waiting to be discovered.” — Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, “Judgment Under Uncertainty”

I hope you have enjoyed or at least found my list of favorites interesting.  I will follow up with Part 2 which will deal with my four favorite “Writings” and my four favorite “Ideas.” 

Now it is your turn to list some of your favorite authors or speakers or books in the comments section.  I am looking forward to hearing what some of you have found interesting and why you found them interesting.

 

 

Dragons I Adore

As part of a writing assignment, I describe one of my favorite hobbies.  I love to collect interesting and unique dragons.  Dr. Wedin, our writing instructor, asked each of us to do a short piece on any hobbies that we had.  The following is my contribution to this assignment for our writing club.  I have included a few of my dragons. 

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I collect dragons.  Dragons are popular in many world cultures.  Three countries have dragons on their national flags.  Many more places such as Moscow also have dragons on their flags.  In China, the color of a dragon is symbolic.  Red, yellow, green, black, purple, white or gold, they all have different meanings.  A purple dragon represents love and romance.  A gold dragon symbolizes wealth and prosperity.  A white dragon is an omen of death.  There are nine types of Chinese dragons.  Some fly, some live underground, some have horns, and some are spiritual.  Dragons in China are generally benevolent or helpful to people.

In Western culture, dragons are usually depicted as evil.  We are all familiar with Saint George and the dragon and of course the famous Smaug in Tolkien’s story, the “Lord of the Rings.”  Throughout medieval history, one of a knight’s principle roles was to rescue women from dragons.  Why dragons loved to steal women is a good question since I have never heard of a dragon that ate a woman?

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While most people regard dragons as mythical creatures, some people believe that dragons once really lived.  There is some evidence of this in the Bible.  The Book of Job, chapter 41 — seems to describe a dragon in great detail:

“I will not fail to speak of Leviathan’s limbs, its strength and its graceful form. Who can strip off its outer coat? Who can penetrate its double coat of armor? Who dares open the doors of its mouth, ringed about with fearsome teeth? Its back has rows of shields tightly sealed together; each is so close to the next that no air can pass between. They are joined fast to one another; they cling together and cannot be parted. Its snorting throws out flashes of light; its eyes are like the rays of dawn. Flames stream from its mouth; sparks of fire shoot out. Smoke pours from its nostrils as from a boiling pot over burning reeds. Its breath sets coals ablaze, and flames dart from its mouth” (NIV).

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In Indonesia, you can still find a live dragon known as the Komodo dragon.  It does not fly or breath fire, but you would not want one as a pet.  The Komodo dragon is actually a species of lizard, but who knows, maybe the Komodo dragon is a descendant of some long dead dragon that once roamed the world with dinosaurs.

I am fascinated by the variety of dragons.  Some are cute and cuddly.  Some are mean and ferocious.  Some are noble and dignified.  Some are evil and malignant.  You can find a dragon to represent just about any value or virtue that is important to you.

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My dragons keep me company and help reflect my different moods.  I have dragon paintings, dragon sculptures, dragon paper weights and a computer dragon which watches over me while I am writing or engaged in some internet search.  At night, my dragons keep the evil spirits of the world from entering my house.  They are my guardians and my friends.

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When I pass from this world, I hope my wife will bury my dragons with me.  I will need to take them to the next world to begin a new adventure with them there.

Time for Questions: 

Do you collect anything?  Why or why not? If so, what do you collect?  Why did you choose these to collect?  What is the most fun for you in terms of collecting?

Life is just beginning.

You can’t take it with you, so who will you give it to?

The Best Writing Club in the USA!

author-at-work-1170x716Big News!  They are going to make a movie about a writer’s club.  They made the movie “The Book Club” staring a host of elderly semi-retired actresses and now they want to make a movie about a writer’s club.  I am volunteering our club.  It is the best writing club in the USA with so many talented writers.

“Poppycock” you say!  “There are hundreds of writing clubs across this country and there are more talented writers than there are spaces on the Times Best Seller list. What makes your writing club the best?”

“Thank you for asking.”

Well for one, our club has the greatest teacher in the entire world.  She is a retired Professor Emeritus (Whatever that means) and you would never (even if you looked high and low) find a better writing teacher.  I will say more about our instructor later and why she is so great.

Now you may not know too much about a writing club or then again, you may think you know a lot.  Perhaps you think you know why someone would join a writing club.  If you are a non-writer, the usual reasons that come to mind are:  Fame, fortune and the power to influence thinking.  These are certainly lofty goals and one that anyone might be forgiven for believing worth pursuing.  They are not our reasons though.  We meet for two hours every week during the best weeks of the year in the mid-west to share our stories and to listen to the stories of others. Our goals are not so egotistical or grandiose as fame and fortune.

What makes a great writing club besides a great instructor?  You could define a writing club by its demographics.  Ours is primarily comprised of elderly retired folks of mixed German and Nordic backgrounds.  Women outnumber men in our club by a three to one ratio.  We are middle class people with about fifty percent of us having a college education.

A more interesting way to define a club is by its type of writers.  I believe we are unique in this area.  Why are we unique?  The answer is simple.  Most of us are too old to give a damn about fame and fortune.  We will probably not live long enough to enjoy any new-found wealth or fame anyway.   Our average age is probably close to 75.

There are three types of writers in our club.  We have nostalgia writers, fiction writers and persuasive writers.  I put myself in the last category.

Nostalgia writers in our club often write stories about memories and friends and relatives that are long gone.  It might be stories about growing up on the farm.  It might be stories about life in the St. Croix valley.  It might be stories about the old school days when there were one room school houses.

Nostalgia writers love to share their bygone days with younger relatives and other people.  The times and days they write about might not interest too many people, but there is little worry about that.  A writer writes for themselves often more than other people.  The accuracy of their memories might also be tainted with the passage of time but often these memories are so funny and colorful that no one in our club really cares about how accurate they are.  Maybe the story happened in 1957 or maybe it was 1947, it really does not make any difference to those of us listening.

The fiction writers in our club delight in telling involved and esoteric stories about themes that came out of their fantasies or some whimsical vision they had.  However, our fiction writers are no starry-eyed idealists.  They are under no illusions that they will make the best sellers list with their stories.  They are also not motivated by fame and fortune.  We have tales of frogs, sheep, goats, aliens and humans who have adventures that you could only dream about.

In the six or so years, that I have belonged to the club, I have heard many fabulous stories of people, animals and events that were totally imaginary.  Sometimes, Carolyn our instructor will give us an assignment like writing about a cow in Norway that prompts our creative powers.  The results are stories written not for the best seller list but to exercise our brains and to employ our imaginations.  Most of these stories will never find their way into publication (excepting our fabulous local paper which weekly features the writings of various club members).  We do not get paid for getting published, but we are more than happy to share our stories with a wider audience.  There may be a Hemingway or J. K Rowling in our club, but no one puts on airs or has pretensions of grandeur.  We leave it up to the Gods to decide who will become immortal.

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I should tell you about the final group of writers but first, before I forget (It happens quite frequently with age) I want to tell you about Professor Carolyn Wedin, our writing instructor.

Now the typical idea of an English teacher sends shivers down most anyone’s spine who has ever been in school.  Grammar, punctuation, spelling and syntax are enough to make the hardiest soul give up the idea of becoming a writer.  But even worse are critiques such as: “That is shoddy writing, that is the poorest piece of writing I have ever seen or where did you steal those ideas from.”  Destructive comments such as these happen often enough in school to make any normal person hate English and writing.

Carolyn has the unbelievable ability to encourage all of us to keep writing.  She makes each of us think that we are wonderful writers.  She motivates us to be better writers with gentle ideas and suggestions rather than harsh criticism or comparing our work to others.  She seldom ever worries about syntax, grammar, spelling and punctuation.  I have often sat and listened to what I thought was a horrible piece of writing only to hear Carolyn provide ideas for improvement and say little or nothing that would smack of condemnation or disapproval.  I marvel at her patience and endurance and compassion. In the end, Dr. Wedin is teaching us not only to be better writers but also to be better people.  Judge not others less ye be judged yourself.

So now we come to the final and last category of writers in our club.  It is the category I put myself in.  These are the writers who write to persuade others.  The people who think that something they say can make a difference in the world.  We want to change the hearts and minds of people.

Speaking for myself, I write social and political satire with the goal of helping other people to better see and understand the foibles that our culture often pursues.  You may think this is a narcissistic goal or perhaps a naive goal and maybe it is.  One thing is certain.  It will never garner me fame or fortune.   But (you should know by now) that is not why we write.

As any writer will tell you (Paraphrasing the great French National Anthem):

Writers! Form your battalions!

Write On! Write On! Write On!  Write_On_logo

Time for Questions: 

Do you write?  Why not?  Have you ever tried writing?  Would you like to be a famous published writer?  It all starts with your first sentence.

Life is just beginning.

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”  — Madeleine L’Engle

Perspiration or Inspiration: Which is more Important to the Writer?

100writing3Inspiration or perspiration, perspiration or inspiration, which is more important?  Is inspiration the mother of writing while perspiration is the father?  Some weeks, I am going to write a blog on a subject that I have been thinking about for many years when suddenly out of the blue, I get some crazy thought and I feel impelled to write my blog about this sudden flash of insight.  These insights might come from something I heard from someone, some bit of news, or just an impulse to write about something.  Inspiration has provided the content for about 1/3rd of my blogs.  For the other 2/3rds of my blogs, the ideas come from perspiration. I sit, sweat, read and do research on the subject.  (Here is a song to listen to as you read my blog this week:  Jeremy Secrest – HELP! I’m Writing A Book! Theme Song)

Perspiration quoteSome writers will tell you that writing is hard work and that perspiration is THE key element of the writing craft.  They will tell you how they get up every morning and sit down in front of the keyboard and start to write. It will not matter what they write as long as they write. They may grind out one or ten pages each day this week. They discipline themselves to do this day after day, week after week and year after year.  If you think about it, this will produce a prodigious amount of work.  Think 3 pages a day for 365 days and you have put out about 3 novels.  Think doing this for ten years and you have put out about 30 novels.  With good writing and a bit of luck, you just might find one of these pieces of works makes the NY Times Best Seller Lists or the Amazon Top Ten or perhaps the Oprah Book List.  Once you have broken through with your writing, you have simply to reap the benefits of recognition and acclaim.  Many writers simply become “one hit wonders” while others capitalize on a “formula” to keep churning out hit after hit.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”  ― Ernest Hemingway

stephen-king-books-collectionStephen King tells the story of how and why he wrote the Bachman books.  After achieving much fame and fortune with his suspense novels, he decided to see if he could start over again and achieve popularity and success under a new name.  He published three or four books under a pseudonym as Richard Bachman.  The books (Which I enjoyed very much) were nowhere near as popular as his King novels but before he could finish his experiment, he was outed.  The books were then re-released as “The Bachman Books” by Steven King and of course, their sales skyrocketed.  Perhaps with time, King would have been able to duplicate his former success, perhaps not. I have read many works by many authors which I think should have become best sellers but did not.  Hard work and perspiration for an author does not simply transfer into major book sales.

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”  ― Stephen King

passion-is-your-inspiration_380x280_widthInspiration will sometimes take a writer where mere perspiration fears to tread.  In my weekly writers group, I sense that many of the authors rely a great deal on inspiration for their themes.  The idea of perspiration is anathema to some wordsmiths. Why “force” yourself to write if it is not fun or if you do not feel really excited about the idea.  According to this school of thought, writing should be a pleasure.  You do not subscribe to a weekly time frame of when to write or a quantity to write. You simply write when you feel moved by the spirit or impelled to write by the muse of writing.  Writing like this flows more naturally because it seems to come from somewhere other than the brain.  Perspiration writing is driven by intellect and discipline but inspiration writing is driven by the heart and by the soul.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”  ― Maya AngelouI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

One of the most famous examples of inspiration writing must surely be Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  It was written on the back of an envelope while he was on a train going to the recent battlefield to give a testimonial to the men and women who fought and died there.  Two hundred and seventy some odd words depending on which of the four versions you read (Computers and exact copies for things were not as prevalent in 1863 as they are now) and it has become one of the most famous and well known pieces of writing in the history of humanity.  You never get tired of hearing this speech or reading it because it truly reflects the soul and spirit of this great human being.  Full of repetition and redundancy, it nevertheless achieves a magnificence that can only be attributed to the power of inspiration.  No Madison Avenue ads men or White House speech reporters had a hand in the words that Lincoln spoke that day.  We tremble in horror at the very idea.

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”   ― Robert Frost

There is an entire school of inspiration writing.  Go ahead and Google the theme and you will find over 387 thousand hits on the subject. There are numerous books, programs, quotes, articles, courses and even software that will teach you how to be an “inspiration” writer.  Paradoxically, the Father of writing is much less popular. When I type in Google “perspiration writing” I am only able to find 1,090 hits on the topic.  Apparently sweating is a lot less popular as a writing motive than inspiration.

“If genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration, then as a culture we tend to lionize the one percent.”  ― Susan Cain,

When I wrote my blogs on Immigration, I read over a dozen books on the subject before I started to write. I read pro-immigration books, anti-immigration books, history of immigration books and some textbooks on immigration law.  The result of this research was a three part series on Immigration.  I am very proud of this work.  I put a lot of time and effort into the writing in the hope that it would reflect an intelligent and actionable manuscript.  I wanted to produce a piece of writing that might help people who were thinking about this subject and wondered what we should do about it.  I even created a t-shirt that read:  “Necesitamos una política migratoria justa.  No es una política anti-inmigración.”  Translated, it means “We need a fair immigration policy. Not an anti-immigration policy.”  I wanted to express an opinion that would be understood by much of the Latino population in Arizona where I live in the winter.   (See my blog titled: My Take on Immigration – Part 1 of 3 Parts)

quit piddling and writeThere are those who would say that writing must be comprised of both inspiration and perspiration.  Writing they say is 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration.  Such formulas are more easily quoted than done.  Many the author who has had a brilliant idea and then waited years for another spark of brilliance.  The great science fiction writer Ray Bradbury wrote at least 27 novels and more than 600 short stories and yet is primarily remembered for one novel:  Fahrenheit 451.  It is rare indeed for many scribes to be remembered for even one.  There is a large degree of serendipity that goes into any popularity that does not seem to be captured by effort alone.  Think of all the books that were written on the O. J. Simpson Trial.  There were over 7 thousand books dealing with various aspects of this case.  How many of them can you name or remember?  One might argue that most if not all of these tomes were written based on the sordid idea of making money.  Whether any of them were guided by pure inspiration is a question that probably cannot be answered.  Nevertheless, there is little evidence that even adding inspiration will make a successful book.  The Goddess of Success seems to be very fickle when it comes to writing.

“The moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS. That – with the squalid cash interpretation put on the word ‘success’ – is our national disease.”  ― William James

esq-ernest-hemingway-082411-lgYou and I may never be a Hemingway or a Faulkner or a Stein or even a “best seller.”  What really matters is that we share our joys and fears with the world and bring passion and conviction to our effort.  If we can do this, then the question of inspiration or perspiration will fade away like Mc Arthur’s “Old Soldiers.”

Time for Questions:

Have you ever wanted to write something?  When will you start?  Did you write today?  Why not?  What is holding you back?

Life is just beginning.

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
― 
Toni Morrison

 

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