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Number of posts: 201
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By David Evans:
How hard can it be to learn to play a musical instrument as an adult?
Let me tell you, it’s the most difficult adventure I’ve ever set out on in my relatively long and happy life.
When I was en route to take my weekly piano lesson a little over a week ago, I heard a preview of an upcoming show on NPR’s Science Friday about Gary Marcus who has written a book on what I have been living for the last three and a half years, beginning with alto sax in the fall of 2008 and piano in the summer of 2010. Thanks to the miracle of the program’s “archives,” I could listen to the 30-plus minute account over and over again on Saturday morning. I then downloaded Marcus’ book Guitar Zero, The New Musician and the Science of Learning.
Although I now live in retirement in the mountains of eastern West Virginia on the western edge of the Shenandoah Valley, I have always felt the tug of the hill country of Appalachian Ohio along the Ohio River where so much of my DNA is buried. My folk grew up in that land along the Ohio River east of Cincinnati, the descendants of people who had come into Shawnee country in the early 19th century. I feel strongly about family ties and links to the past and am always fearful that we are not doing enough to ensure that our children also know those who came before us.
In Markets We Trust
Like many undergraduate students forced to take Economics 101, I was fond of quoting Thomas Carlyle, the 19th century Scottish writer, essayist and historian, to describe the discipline of economics as “the dismal science.” The term reportedly was inspired by T.R. Malthus’ gloomy prediction that population would always grow faster than food, dooming mankind to unending poverty and hardship.
Even though my classroom economics is now nearly 50 years old, some of the hair-hurting dismal nature of it is coming back as I struggle to even listen to some of the “highlights” of the Republican debates.
“Don’t make something unless it is both necessary and useful;
but if it is both necessary and useful,
don’t hesitate to make it beautiful.” — Shaker dictum
I had the great fortune this past weekend to attend a class on Shaker boxes given by Chris Brooks at the John C. Campbell Folk School in far western North Carolina. In the short time at Campbell, a special place of “big magic” as my friend Robin describes it, a small band of us who are interested in such things nudged around Chris beginning on Friday night to learn a bit about the Shakers and their way of life.
Recession Gift Ideas
In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens confronts a terror- stricken Scrooge with a vision of a dark future of gloom, alienation, and a lonely death that no one grieves:
”Ghost of the Future!” he exclaimed, ”I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart.”
And as we all know, Dickens allows Scrooge to recognize his evil ways and to exchange his miserly and miserable life for one of love and care for his family and fellow men.
Them vs. Us
A friend of mine who reads everything he can get his hands on sent me the following review of Barbara Tuchman’s 1978 A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century:
In it, the author of The Guns of August writes about a peasant revolt in France in 1358 that began in the village of St. Leu and spread throughout the Oise Valley. At one estate, the serfs sacked the manor house, killed the knight, and roasted him on a spit in front of his wife and kids. Then, after ten or twelve peasants violated the lady, with the children still watching, they forced her to eat the roasted flesh of her husband and then killed her. “
That is class warfare.
Arguing over the optimum marginal tax rate for the top one percent is not.
In a week when we got clobbered again by a wild Wall Street ride — worse than my blood pressure without meds–and stories of debris the size of a school bus falling out of the sky, I think we’re all due for some humor! And I didn’t even mention the shenanigans of our lawmakers… yikes!
So tonight after dinner, my wife delighted me by pulling out an old Red Green video. Some people doubt my sense of good taste laughing along to this old geezer from Canada who is head of the PBS Possum Lodge series. Every week he’s joined by a flock of fellow madcap loonies who use a lot of duct tape, invent imaginative contraptions that seldom work as planned, and try to come up with questionable schemes to make money.
But what then is capital punishment but the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal’s deed, however calculated it may be, can be compared? For there to be equivalence, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in private life. -Albert Camus, writer, philosopher, Nobel laureate (1913-1960)
Recently I heard about a bunch of WWII German POWs who had been incarcerated in a camp in the Arizona desert in 1943. A lot of them had been U-Boat sailors and wanted to get back to the war and continue sinking Allied ships. They feigned a great interest in volleyball and convinced their American guards to give them shovels so they could improve their playing surface. What they were really doing, though, was digging an elaborate escape tunnel.
“…how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”–John Kerry before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 23, 1971
When will these godawful wars end and what’s with this current pack of politicians and wannabe warriors who are competing to see who can be the most bellicose? If you liked the results in Iraq and Afghanistan, you’ll love Iran and Syria.
This past Saturday I went to a book signing in Staunton, Va, some 70 miles from where I live. I wanted to meet the author who has written Vietnam Mailbag: Voices from the War 1968-1972.
“All know that the drop merges into the ocean but few know that the ocean merges into the drop.–Kabir, 15th century Indian mystic philosopher and poet.
He told me while seated at the kitchen table that she was no longer responsive.
When I stopped by to give Ben a small bowl turned from wood salvaged from the downed White Oak tree where Stonewall Jackson held prayer services during the 1863 campaign in the Shenandoah Valley, a lady I did not recognize answered the door. She told me Ben was in the kitchen.
According to Ogden Nash, “A door is what a dog is perpetually on the wrong side of.”
Early in the mornings — I mean early like 5 a.m. — Abbie and Milo, two of our younger “pups,” decide it’s time to go out. In the past, I’ve addressed them as “you guys” and told them to go lie down and put a sock in it. But not anymore. I usually just get up and let them out, saying, “Alright boys and girls, go do what you have to do, but don’t expect me to wait up for you.” Hank, the grand old man of dogs, just lifts his chin off his bed and wishes the commotion would die down so he can go back to sleep. After all, he’s a “good boy” and knows breakfast ain’t going to happen anytime soon.
As I grow older and more protective of my time and those I keep company with, I ran across a story that astronomers at the cash-strapped Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence Institute in northern California are poised to resume the quest for life elsewhere in the universe, after raising more than $200,000 from private sources to restart a key array of telescopes.
According to news reports, the institute was forced to put the hunt on hold in April, after cash-strapped governments decided they could “no longer afford to pay the interstellar phone bill.”
“Upon discovering my entire solution to the attainment of immortality erased from the blackboard except the word ‘Save’”
As we prepare for the weekend visit of an old high school pal Paul, my wife Jody has kicked into full entertainment mode and is excitedly planning menus for Friday and Saturday dinners. This is a noteworthy visit since Paul will be introducing us to his new special lady friend Diane.
Paul’s late wife Donna, affectionately known as “Ditdah” to those privileged to have been part of her life, slipped away into the great mystery nearly three years ago just this side of Thanksgiving.
I read recently that it was this week in 1974 that the Frenchman Philippe Petit stepped off the edge of the World Trade Center’s north tower and onto a wire he’d secretly strung across to the south tower. He spanned the void eight times between the towers for a total of 45 minutes, seemingly walking on air like an angel as crowds gathered to watch, nearly a quarter of a mile below him.
I remember this astonishing high-wire act, but the idea of actually being so high off the ground and so unprotected did anything but inspire me to think up high adventures of my own. Like most others, I was content to be in the crowd below as an observer …
From the ruins of these skyscrapers, President Bush swore that those responsible would be hearing from us very soon. And now a decade later, that’s all we are still hearing, as we continue still fighting in Afghanistan and still losing and still taking so many lives.
“The eastern world, it is explodin’
Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’
You’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’
You don’t believe in war, but what’s that gun you’re totin’
And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin’”
So linger the lyrics of P.F.Sloan’s accusatory ’60s song “The Eve of Destruction” as the world today seems to be a universal battle zone.
I recently read a story in The New York Times by Sebastian Junger entitled “Why Would Any Soldier Miss War.” Junger spent time with a platoon of Army infantry at a remote outpost in eastern Afghanistan several years ago. After the deployment he was surprised that only one of the soldiers chose to leave the military at the end of his contract.
I must admit that I’m drawn to reading obituaries.
The people who write them, especially those who write for the New York Times, are gifted beyond my dreams. I read them mostly for a window into worlds that I do not know. In my humble opinion, these writers have the best of assignments …
Although I should have known more about Bill Evans, (August 16, 1929–September 15, 1980), the American jazz pianist, whose impressionistic harmony, “colorful” chords, and inventive interpretation of traditional jazz repertoire influenced and inspired a generation of younger pianists, I confess to not knowing much about him ‘til recently. And now we’re about to celebrate both his birthday and his death, a span of just over 50 years.
Just this weekend I read that Benjamin E. Mays was born to sharecroppers (and former slaves) in Greenwood County, South Carolina, on 1 August, 1895.
Shame on me, but I had never heard of him. Turns out he was the youngest of eight children, a true American success story, growing up in poverty and ultimately becoming one of America’s most influential educators. He was dean of Howard University’s School of Religion from 1934-40 before assuming the presidency of Atlanta’s Morehouse College.
“When I was a young boy, my little sister drowned, and it was essentially my fault,” the American journalist William T. Vollman told The New York Times. “I was 9, and she was 6, and I was supposed to be watching. I’ve always felt guilty. It’s like I have to have sympathy for the little girl who drowned and for the little boy who failed to save her–for all the people who have screwed up.”
I’ve been carrying around in my head these past couple of days the news of the death of a former colleague…
I can’t remember her face very well. It has been years since we last saw one another and we have both obviously aged so she probably doesn’t look much like the young woman I had once known, anyway.
But I could hear her voice still ringing lyrically in my head.
“Love is not all: It is not meat nor drink
nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;…”
On the third of July, the dog days of summer, 40 days of especially hot and humid weather with little rainfall, officially began. The name comes from the ancient Greeks who believed that Sirius, the “dog star,” which rose with the sun at that time, was adding to the sun’s heat. They also believed that the weather made dogs go mad. The Romans tried to appease Sirius by sacrificing a brown dog at the start of the dog days.
All real “foodies” know that Moses actually carried 11, not 10, Commandments down from the mountain.
When I was a recent widower with a 16-year old daughter in the early 90s, I had more than a few decisions to make, not the least of which was what we were going to have for dinner that night. An equally significant decision, or so it seemed then, was whether to take early retirement from my federal government job in the Washington, DC, area.
Gilda Radner’s 65th birthday was a few days ago. She was born the same year as my late wife Lilian. Both had terrific senses of humor and both were taken from us way too soon. As Gilda wrote in her autobiography: “It is so hard for us little human beings to accept this deal that we get. It’s really crazy, isn’t it? We get to live, then we have to die. What we put into every moment is all we have… What spirit human beings have! It is a pretty cheesy deal – all the pleasures of life, and then death.”
From Hull House to Yonder: An Essay on the Rhetorical Link Between Jim W. Corder and Jane Addams
A few years back I was introduced to the work of Jim W. Corder, the late TCU professor of English and Rhetoric, who was raised dirt poor during the Great Depression in West Texas. His ideas – especially in his classic book, Yonder: Life on the Far Side of Change – focus on how to make sense of the past, both personal and in general, and seek ways to better understand the momentous changes we have studied and even witnessed in the tumult of the 20th century and into the present.
It was at least a week after the accident that the doctor was confident enough to venture the guess that the foot would mend well enough so that he could walk again without some support. All he could remember was the initial moment when he knew something very bad had happened, but there was no pain… yet.
Driving home, I couldn’t help but keep thinking how that poor lady dealt with reaching into her grief box and tossing out a rose thorn every time she had a pretty good day and didn’t think all the time about the loss of her 20-year-old daughter who had taken her own life.
In summing up our week-long class at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Tennessee, Michael touched again and again on what a box is and perhaps isn’t and how it can be used.