Wilted Lily With Pollen

Wilted Lily With Pollen

 

 

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Take Care

Simon Legree

America has never seen a party less caring than 21st-century Republicans

– Lindy West, The Guardian, 03/29/2017

This is the headline of an opinion piece in The Guardian.  Ms West’s article contains many spot-on quotes describing today’s debased version of the Republican party.  I will provide a few but suggest that you read the article in full.

I don’t know that America has ever seen a political party so divested of care. Since Trump took office, Republicans have proposed legislation to destroy unions, the healthcare system, the education system and the Environmental Protection Agency; to defund the reproductive health charity Planned Parenthood and restrict abortion; to stifle public protest and decimate arts funding; to increase the risk of violence against trans people and roll back anti-discrimination laws; and to funnel more and more wealth from the poorest to the richest. Every executive order and piece of GOP legislation is destructive [emphasis added], aimed at dismantling something else, never creating anything new, never in the service of improving the care of the nation . . .

[There is a] void at the heart of the [Republican] party, that loss of any tether to humanity . . .

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White Lily, Red Anthers

White Lily, Red Anthers

 

 

 

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Don’t Lose That Idea

Brain Pickings

I copied the following from Brain Pickings, Maria Popova’s fine website:

The current of the river of life moves us. Awareness of life, beauty and happiness is the current of the river.

Agnes Martin in Agnes Martin: Paintings, Writings, Remembrances as quoted by Maria Popova in the Brain Pickings weekly newsletter, 03/26/17

I had been fiddling with the idea of putting together a talk on creativity.  My thoughts weren’t very serious, more like daydreaming or fantasizing – who would want to listen to me talk about creativity?.  I’ve been thinking differently since reading the above.  I am 68, soon to be 69, years old.  I have a lot of experience in and knowledge about creativity that I am beginning to realize might be more than for most people.  I’ve studied creativity and am deeply engaged in creative activities.  Why not try to share?  I and I suspect a lot of others, tend to denigrate my own skills and creativity.  I have no credentials in photography other than a ribbon or two from one year at the county fair.  No art or photography degrees, no professional experience, no fame, fortune or celebrity.  I also come from Scandinavian stock and a Lake Wobegon upbringing, so I’m supposed to practice modesty and be self-effacing.

Enough of that!  I think a key to creativity is being able to recognize, accept, and do something with one’s ideas.  Don’t forget them or neglect them.  Some will be not worth pursuing, but some will be and may turn into something wonderful.  Carry a notebook or use a note-taking app on your smart phone.  I use a Samsung Galaxy Note that is great for note taking.

Consider a voice recorder.  Last week while in the midst of a two-hour drive, I was awash in ideas for blog posts.  Perhaps some were good ideas.  I had a blog post mapped out in my head, a post that would have had a lot of personal meaning for me.  The heart of the post was to have been a song lyric.  By the time I got home, I only vaguely remembered the lyrics.  I think the song was by Emmylou Harris.  I read the lyrics of dozens of her songs and could not find what I remember.  I eventually drafted the blog post, but it remains unposted because I CANT FIND THE SONG.  Drat!  If I had had a voice recorder I could have recorded the relevant information in 30 seconds.  I could have pulled over to the side of the road, but I was tired after a long day and didn’t.

Don’t lose Your Idea. It May Be a Good One.

The moral of this short story?  I lost an idea that could have been polished into something good because I did not record the idea.

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Parnell Prairie Preserve

I went out in my car around 4:00 PM.  I wanted to try to walk to the Arcola Railroad bridge from the Wisconsin side to photograph it.  No luck; there were no-parking signs along the road and the railroad right-of-way was posted with no-trespassing signs.  I could see the bridge through the bare trees.  It looked very high and impressive.  The branches were too thick for photography so I never got a photo of the bridge.

Parnell Prairie Preserve

I turned to Plan B.  I didn’t actually have a Plan B, so I extemporized.  The Parnell Prairie Preserve is just a few miles from where I was.  I’ve driven past the preserve many times and drove into the parking lot once but never stopped.  It didn’t look very impressive from the road.  So I went to the Preserve and discovered a sweet spot.  Nice trails.  Very pleasant.

There was an old, decaying very large tree trunk sawed into pieces near the road.  It looked like it had been there, decaying and moldering into the earth, for a long time.  All the things that grow on or around a decomposing tree stump provide lots of subjects for photography:  vines, lichen, moss, fungi, leaves, stems, thorns.  Much texture and color.  The color isn’t as showy as in wildflower season but it’s there if you look closely.  Tiny, bright red things on stalks held over green moss.  I don’t know what they were, but the red objects shone out in spite of their tininess.  Purple and red vines.  Old, decaying wood of a deep orange.

Most of the preserve is a rolling meadow.  Last year’s meadow grasses are still standing and are a fine golden, yellow-orange color.

The red stems of sumac with buds just waiting for some sun and warm weather.  A cluster of berries ranging in color from bright red to golden brown.  The silhouettes of bare trees and pine trees on a hilltop.

 

 

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Myths and More Myths

I got an e-mail today from the Southern Poverty Law Center.  Below is the meat of the e-mail.  Note that every statement of fact is well documented.

The fear of foreigners, the belief that refugees and immigrants are dangerous, the desire to keep them out — none of these things are new. But as our Teaching Tolerance project wrote this week in an updated post, these fears are often based on misinformation and lies.

It’s a myth, for example, that immigrants don’t want to learn English. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 56% of first-generation immigrants speak English “well” or “very well,” and the demand for English instruction actually far outstrips supply.

It’s a myth that immigrants are violent or criminal. According to a new report by The Sentencing Project, immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born citizens. Higher levels of immigration may even have contributed to the historic drop in crime rates, researchers say.

In the run-up to both Muslim bans, perhaps the most widely circulated myth has been that refugees are not screened before entering the country, that banning them will keep the U.S. safe from terror.

But we know that refugees undergo more rigorous screenings than any other individuals the government allows in the U.S., and we know that no deaths in the U.S. have been attributed to people from the countries covered by either executive order in the last 30 years.

All of these myths, however far-fetched, are based on the same dangerous falsehood: that immigrants and refugees are somehow not like us. That they’re not students in search of an education. That they’re not families trying to make ends meet. That as “somebody else’s babies,” they don’t belong here.

Some of my own thoughts:  We Homo sapiens have been moving, migrating, traveling, wandering, fleeing since we became Homo sapiens.  Migration and movement are among the most fundamental currents in human history.  Migration has never been stopped in spite of numerous attempts to do so.  Migration will never be stopped.  The Romans tried.  The Chinese tried.  We Americans have tried in the past.  These attempts have never been successful.  It looks like we’re about to embark on an expensive, foolish, futile attempt to do so.  An attempt doomed from the start to failure.

Why not tear down the walls? (Didn’t a Republican president say something like this?)  ACCEPT immigrants and allow them to become a productive part of our society instead of condemning them to be outcasts on the peripheries.

 

Well, I’m not an immigrant, but all of my grandparents were.  All Americans can make a similar statement.  Even Native American ancestors came from Siberia.

 

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Wrinkles, Discolorations, Blemishes

I enjoy photographing botanical subjects that are past their prime.  Flowers, leaves, other things that are starting to show their age; wrinkles, discolorations, blemishes; such things can add character to beauty.  Perhaps I have this penchant because I am (this is hard to admit) beyond my prime and have wrinkles and age spots aplenty.  At this time of the year in my neck of the woods, everything outside is past its prime. Everything is dead.*   This morning I bought primroses at the grocery store.  Some of the flowers are starting to wilt.  I thought the wilt spots add interesting new color and texture to the already beautiful flowers.

Wilting Primrose

Wilting Primrose

* A paraphrase of Charles Dickens from David Copperfield:

I looked at her earnestly.

‘When you came away from home at the end of the vacation,’ said Mrs. Creakle, after a pause, ‘were they all well?’ After another pause, ‘Was your mama well?’

I trembled without distinctly knowing why, and still looked at her earnestly, making no attempt to answer.

‘Because,’ said she, ‘I grieve to tell you that I hear this morning your mama is very ill.’

A mist rose between Mrs. Creakle and me, and her figure seemed to move in it for an instant. Then I felt the burning tears run down my face, and it was steady again.

‘She is very dangerously ill,’ she added.

I knew all now.

‘She is dead.’

 

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Stumbling Around In the Woods

Trail On the Ridge

Trail On the Ridge

I wrote this post a year ago, March 21, 2016.  For some reason, I forgot to publish it.  Better late than never.

I went to the Wind In the Pines Nature Park yesterday.  As has happened before in the park, I was unable to follow the trails.  The trail map in the parking lot showed that to follow the route I chose, I should go left at the first fork and left again at the next T-intersection.  I didn’t find either of those things before coming to the end of the trail.  I tried to follow what seemed an obvious alternative.  The alternative was a very faint trail, but judging by the terrain I thought I was at least in the right area.  The trail faded in and out but I was always able to find some sort of trail, sometimes very faint.  I eventually came to an easy-to-follow trail marked by stone cairns.

Lo and behold, I came out in a different parking lot in a different natural and scientific area that I never knew existed.  That explains why so many signs I saw were facing the wrong direction.  The area I stumbled upon is the Falls Creek State Natural Area managed by the Minnesota DNR.  By the end of my hike, I hadn’t taken very many steps, but I ended the days with around 40 floors of vertical movement according to my Fitbit, most of it in crossing and re-crossing what I think was the same gulch in the forest, one that carried a very nice, small stream.

Most of the better photos I took were of small things.  I was often on my hands and knees or sitting to get close to the subject.

 

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Things On Stems

A few things on stems plus some odd photos.

 

 

 

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Vegetables

More lightpad photography.  See my earlier posts with flower photography  and photos of winter’s detritus for more about this technique.

More of winter’s detritus

Street Pickings

Vegetables

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Winter’s Detritus

Winter’s detritus are the bits of last year’s plant matter left over after the winter cold and snow.  Everything is dried and shriveled, but there is still a lot of character and color if one looks closely.  I walked through a community garden and filled a basket with detritus.  I took the stuff home and put together some compositions.

 

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Flowers

Artograph LightPad 930

Artograph LightPad 930

I’ve been cooped up most of the winter, so I’ve resorted to photographing indoors.  I’ve set up a makeshift studio on my kitchen table.  My two most important pieces of equipment are a Manfrotto tripod and an Artograph 930 light pad.

I was inspired to try the light pad for photography by the beautiful photography of Harold Davis and Robert Llewelyn.

I’m posting a few of the flower photos I’ve taken this year for some of which I used the lightpad.  In two future blogs, I’ll post photos of vegetables and what I call winter’s detritus.

Here are the flower images:

 

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Still Possible

The SiegeEven after a winter of discontent,  everything is still possible.,  My winter of discontent has been trivial in comparison to the first winter of the siege of Leningrad (now St.  Petersburg) as described in The Siege.  People in the book starve to death, thousands of them.  People freeze to death.  I’m over-weight and never have to worry about heating my apartment.  What do I have to be depressed about?  What, me worry?  The following, from one of the last pages of the book, takes place during the spring after the first, terrible winter of the siege.

The sun shines.  Everything’s possible now that the sun is here, warming flesh and drawing dandelions and nettles out of wasteground.  As long as you can still walk, no matter how slowly, and pause from time to time to hold up your face to the sun and let a haze of glowing red soak through your eyelids, everything is still possible.

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Kingsolver: Another Country

kingsolver-quoteThe great Barbara Kingsolver, author of The Poisonwood Bible and The Bean Tree books, published an article today in The Guardian – a call on everyone to marshal their talents and decency to fight the onslaught of hate, fear, all sorts of phobias, lies, and bad government.  I quote at length, but please read the entire article.

. . . we can’t hole up for four years waiting for something that’s gone. We just woke up in another country.

. . . Losses are coming at us in these areas: freedom of speech and the press; women’s reproductive rights; affordable healthcare; security for immigrants and Muslims; racial and LGBTQ civil rights; environmental protection; scientific research and education; international cooperation on limiting climate change; international cooperation on anything; any restraints on who may possess firearms; [any] restraint on the upper-class wealth accumulation that’s gutting our middle class; [any] limits on corporate influence over our laws.

. . . We’re in new historical territory. A majority of American voters just cast our vote for a candidate who won’t take office. A supreme court seat meant to be filled by our elected president was denied us. Congressional districts are now gerrymandered so most of us are represented by the party we voted against. The FBI and Russia meddled with our election. Our president-elect has no tolerance for disagreement, and a stunningly effective propaganda apparatus. Now we get to send this outfit every dime of our taxes and watch it cement its power. It’s not going to slink away peacefully in the next election.

What is to be done?

. . .wear something on our sleeve that takes actual courage: our hearts.

I’ll go first. If we’re artists, writers, critics, publishers, directors or producers of film or television, we reckon honestly with our role in shaping the American psyche. We ask ourselves why so many people just couldn’t see a 69-year-old woman in our nation’s leading role, and why they might choose instead a hero who dispatches opponents with glib cruelty. We consider the alternatives. We join the time-honored tradition of artists resisting government oppression through our work.

Kingsolver continues with what to do for journalists; consumers of art, literature, film, TV and news; teachers; scientists; women suffering from sexual assault or body image disorders; Facebook users; workers.

As she says we must all

refuse to disappear. We keep our commitments to fairness in front of the legislators who oppose us, lock arms with the ones who are with us, and in the words of Congressman John Lewis, prepare to get ourselves in some good trouble.

Trump’s election is not the continuation of normal American politics.  We all need to step up.  I can do my part, even if it is a small part, by writing more regularly in my blog about politics and current affairs.  Today, for example, I can write about and link to Kingsolver’s article.

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The Mighty Pen

Keep Me Singing

Keep Me Singing

From Van Morrison’s The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword:

You’ve got to live by the pen ’cause it’s mightier than the sword
You’ve got to live by the pen ’cause it’s mightier than the law
Every man is me, every man is you
I can’t tell you what you have to do
You’ve got to live by the pen ’cause it’s mightier than the sword

westFrom Lucinda Williams’ Word:

Screaming and throwing your weight around
My words choose knowledge over politics
You can’t kill my words… they know no bounds
My words are strong and they don’t make me sick.

They still remain my only companion
Boiling truth to the very end
They’ll never ever completely abandon
Ever give up the paper and the pen

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Lucky Accident

I bought mums at the grocery store a few days ago.  When I was putting them in a vase, all the petals of one flower fell off in a bunch and plopped onto my kitchen counter.  I just let them be, something I often do with messes in my kitchen.  The next day I noticed that they looked striking sprawled on the counter, so I set up my tripod and snapped a few shots.  Here is one.

Painted Mum

Painted Mum

 

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Gone Too Long

For most of the last four months, I’ve been inactive with some sort of undiagnosed illness.  My doctor can find no cause – all my tests come back normal.  The conclusion:  it’s all in my head, although it sure feels like it’s in my body.  Anyway, I have posted very few blogs during this time period and have not taken many photographs.  I have done some, so I’ve decided to post my best shots from the last few months.

I think I’m going mad, Ted [obscure line from the Britcom Father Ted]

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Going To the Movies

popcorn-boxMy earliest memories of going to the movies are of total chaos.  Imagine a large, old-fashioned movie theater on the main drag of my hometown during a Saturday matinee for grade schoolers.  The theater is packed.  There is a cartoon, an episode of a cliffhanger serial like Buck Rogers (to be continued the next week), then the main feature, often a black-and-white western.  The kids are not quiet.  When they finish their popcorn, they fold the box flat and sail it out over the crowded theater.  Soon the air is filled with gliding popcorn boxes.  The noise and chaos didn’t bother me at all.  Oh, but it was fun!

Yesterday I started watching the Stars Wars movie that is first in the series in chronological order.  I star-wars-textwas surprised how poor it was, dependent heavily on special effects and quirky characters.  The plot was as weak as day-old coffee and so lame that even the good actors couldn’t overcome the hackneyed dialogue.  I could only manage thirty minutes of the movie before turning it off.  There are a million better ways to be bored.

I often start a movie without finishing it.  A waste of money for sure, but also for me an indication that there are not many decent movies being made these days.  I’m not interested in movies based on comic book characters, so that excludes seemingly half the movies made these days.  Include the re-makes and there doesn’t seem much room left for original movies.

Going out to see a movie used to be one of my favorite things.  When I lived alone in Washington, DC and had yet to make any friends, I went to the movies at least once a week and enjoyed myself even if the movie wasn’t very good.  Now I never see a movie in a theater.  It’s not because there are no movies I’d like to see (not many but there are some),  it’s because the sound is often overwhelmingly loud, an assault on a person’s senses.   So I no longer subject myself to movie theaters.  I wait until I can get the DVD from the library or from the one-and-only, surviving DVD rental shop left in town.  I may never again set foot in a movie theater.

There is a lot of junk available on the internet.  Truly awful movies that exploit all possible human weaknesses.  I’ve gotten sucked in by too many such movies.  In my defense, I can say that I’ve rarely if ever finished any of the trashy movies, but I have to guard against temptation.

tempted-mouse

 

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Punk in 1970s New York

city-on-fireI’ve recently read or watched two items that involve the punk scene (or should I say punk-rock scene?  I’m not sure.) in New York City in the mid-1970s:  The book City On Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg and Spike Lee’s movie Summer Of Sam.

City On Fire is a long book, almost 1000 dense pages.  The nexus of the plot is the murder of a young woman in a New York park on New Year’s Eve 1977.  The book describes in great detail the lives and relationships of the people who were involved in one way or another with the murdered woman.  It jumps back and forth in time from the early sixties to the start of the 21st Century while also jumping back and forth between characters.  Many of the characters are punks participating in the New York City scene that apparently started in the mid-1970s.  I cannot speak from experience about any aspect of punk.  During that time period I was moving in the opposite direction; exploring bluegrass, country, and mountain music.  So while the punks in this novel were moving away from the musical (pop) mainstream and finding punk, I was moving away from the mainstream and finding bluegrass.  Given what I learned from the book and movie, I’m glad I moved in that direction.

City On Fire also covers the massive and  complete blackout in New York City in the summer of 1977.  Some of the book’s climactic events happen during the night of the blackout.

summer-of-samThe movie Summer of Sam uses the background of the Son Of Sam serial killings to depict life in New York when David Berkowitz was on his killing spree.  It focuses on the punk scene and on life in the city’s Italian neighborhoods.  City On Fire presents more of a political and artistic picture of punk as a search for a sort of anarchistic freedom.  Summer Of Sam, in contrast, focuses a lot on the sexual goings-on within the punk and club scenes.

I’m not sure I would recommend watching the movie or reading the book.  I was often irritated at the book’s author for jumping around so much.  I kept wanting him to stick to the plot line in which I was engrossed.   Eventually, I just wanted him to wrap things up and tell me what happened to all the characters whom except, I think, for one, were strung out on drugs or alcohol.  They were all drinking excessively, strung out, shooting heroin, dropping pills, sometimes doing it all in one day.  I did not think it was possible for a person to use as many drugs and as much alcohol as some of the characters.

Watching the movie left me feeling like I had besmirched my soul.

eye-and-tear

 

 

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Fast Art

Teju Cole in the essay Double Negative from his book of essays Known and Strange Things, says that

Photography is a fast art now, except for those who are too old-fashioned to shoot digital.  But for most of the art’s history – until about fifteen years ago – most photographers had no choice but to be slow. . . .   A certain meticulousness was necessary for photographs, a certain irreducible calmness of temperament.

Creating a good photograph is not fast, especially if the photograph is in the genre called “fine art”.  (Who decides whether or not a photograph is fine art?)  The only time shortened by digital photography is development time, what I consider feedback time, the time between clicking the shutter and seeing the photograph.  Whereas in the film era, I dropped my film off at the camera store and came back a couple days later, I can now see the digital photo within seconds of activating the shutter.  A good digital photographer takes no more or no less time before clicking the shutter than a good film photographer.  A good digital photographer then often takes considerably more time with some sort of processing software to complete a photograph.  A good photographer is just as meticulous – if not more – in the digital world of today – then when shooting film.

Photography has always been a fast art; that is one of the reasons I’m attracted to it.  I used to draw.  I found drawing too much of a slow art.

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West Coast Blues

I watched the movie Devil In a Blue Dress in 1995.  The movie is based on the book of the same name by Walter Mosley.  It is the first book in the Easy Rawlins series of mysteries.  The book and movie take place in Los Angeles in post-World War II 1940s.  The movie soundtrack is music from the period, and it’s from that soundtrack that I first heard examples of West Coast Blues.

The West Coast Blues is music of the African-American exodus from the Jim-Crow south.  As described beautifully in The Warmth Of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, African-Americans from the western part of the former slave states migrated to California.  The musicians, particularly those from Texas, played important roles in the West Coast Blues.

West Coast Blues are very different from but much less familiar than the Chicago Blues.  I am not a musicologist, so be careful about quoting me as an authority on West Coast Blues.  With that caveat, I think West Coast Blues owes more to the jazz and swing dance music of the era than Chicago Blues.  Musicians from the Mississippi moved tended to move north towards Kansas City and Chicago.  Chicago Blues is more tinged with gospel and the country blues of the Mississippi Delta region south of Memphis.

Here are some songs you might check out.

Good Rockin’ Tonight – Wynonie Harris

Blues  After Hours – Peewee Crayton

Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Cryin’ – Louis Jordon

Ain’t Nobody’s Business – Jimmy Witherspoon

Old Time Shuffle Blues – Lloyd Glenn

T-Bone Jumps Again – T-Bone Walker, an example of Jump Blues

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Series, Series, . . .

Careless In RedI finished another Elizabeth George novel today, one in her series of mystery novels.  I’m stuck in the series.  I ‘ve often been stuck in such series and have churned my way through many of them.  I like best the ones wherein the novels in the series are sequential and characters change and develop from book to book.  One of the best such series going today is the Easy Rawlins series of mysteries by Walter Moseley.  I’ve also liked some series that are not sequential and in which the protagonist(s) are the same in every book – they just do their thing and don’t change from book to book.  One such is the Lew Archer mysteries by Ross McDonald.  Coincidently, both the Archer and the Rawlins mysteries take place in southern California in the mid-twentieth century.

Other than mysteries, I’ve been engrossed in series with military themes, the most notable of which take place during the Napoleonic Wars and have British heroes:

  • The Aubrey–Maturin series, by Patrick O’Brian, about the British navy in the age of sail
  • The Hornblower series, also about the British navy in the age of sail, by C. S. Forester
  • The Richard Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell.  Sharpe is a rifleman in Wellington’s armies in India, Spain, and eventually at Waterloo.

I could list lots of others, series by A. Conan Doyle, Martha Grimes, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham,  E.E. “Doc” Smith (science fiction that my brother and I were plowing through at the same time), John D. MacDonald with his Travis McGee series, Rex Stout with Nero Wolfe, and on, and on, and on.  I know I’ve read others, but you can’t expect me to remember them all although I did just remember some from my high-school days; the adventure yarns of Alistair MacLean and Ian Fleming’s James Bond books.  If I go back a bit further I would have to throw in series for young readers like the Tom Swift books and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan books.

I have to stop writing.  I keep remembering other series.  I’ll never finish this post unless I just come to a full, abrupt stop.

What series have you enjoyed?

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Spider

Old Prison Guard House

Old Prison Guard House

I live in a condominium development on the site of a former prison built around 1860.  The outermost prison walls still stand, part of which is what looks like a guard post.  I’ve included a picture of the guard post as it looks during the day. Spiders, with their impressive spider webs, take over the guard post after dark.  It’s probably a great spot for a spider since the lights attract lots of bugs.  Here are a couple of photos from the last few days when I’ve walked past the guardhouse on my way home after having a beer or two downtown.

Spider and Its Home Sweet Home

Spider and Its Home Sweet Home

A Spider's Lair

A Spider’s Lair

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I Still Can’t Sing!

I’d like the share more from Daniel Levitin’s This Is Your Brain On Music.  Yesterday I shared some of Levitin’s thoughts on the chasm between performers and listeners.  What I quote today shares that theme.

. . . in every society of which we’re aware, music and dance are inseparable.

But it is only in the last five hundred years that music has become a spectator activity – the thought of a musical concert in which a class of “experts” performed for an appreciative audience was virtually unknown throughout our history as a species.  And it has only been in the last hundred years or so that the ties between musical sound and human movement have been minimized. . . . The polite listening response, in which music has become an entirely cerebral experience . . . is counter to our evolutionary history.  Children often show the reaction that is true to our nature:  Even at classical music concerts they sway and shout and generally participate when they feel like it.  We have to train them to behave “civilized.”

In jazz, “Bebop developed as the younger generation of jazz musicians aimed to counter the popular, dance-oriented swing style with a new, non-danceable music that was more of a “musician’s music” that demanded close listening.” ∗

And as Levitin describes,

Classical music as most of us think of it . . . has diverged into two streams.  Some of the best music in that tradition is being written for films . . . and is only infrequently the object of directed listening, as in a concert hall.  The second stream is twentieth-century art music, much of it challenging and difficult for the average listener . . . .  Contemporary “classical” music is practiced mostly in universities; it is regrettable listened to by almost no one compared to popular music; much of it deconstructs harmony, melody, and rhythm, rendering them all but unrecognizable; in its least accessible form it is a purely intellectual exercise, and save the rare avant-garde ballet company, no one dances to it either.

dance_and_sing_poster-r4298727ac34f4914894ac5b0ffc3ee93_0uf_8byvr_324So , what to do?  I suggest we dance and sing!

 

∗ Wikipedia entry on “Bebop”.

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Peanut Butter

Peanut ButterAs everyone realizes, peanut butter is the staff of life.  Without it, society as we know it would collapse.

 

 

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I Can’t Sing!

Brain On MusicDaniel Levitin, in This Is Your Brain On Music, asks “why is it that of the millions of people who take music lessons as children, relatively few continue to play music as adults?”  He answers the question by describing the many people who say to him that

their music lessons “didn’t take.”  I think they’re being too hard on themselves.  The chasm between musical experts and everyday musicians that has grown so wide in our culture makes people feel discouraged, and for some reason this is uniquely so with music.  Even though most of us can’t play basketball like Shaquille O’Neal, or cook like Julia Child, we can still enjoy a friendly backyard game of hoops, or cooking a holiday meal for our friends and family.  This performance chasm does seem to be cultural, specific to contemporary Western society.  And although many people say that music lessons didn’t take, cognitive neuroscientists have found otherwise in their laboratories.  Even just a small exposure to music lessons as a child creates neural circuits for music processing that are enhanced and more efficient than for those who lack training.  Music lessons teach us to listen better, and they accelerate our ability to discern structure and form in music, making it easier to us to tell what music we like and what we don’t like.

I’m glad to know that the many years of piano and cello lessons I had, and the excruciating (for me) experiences of annual piano recitals were not wasted.  And I have come to realize that I can sing, just not very well, but good enough to benefit from the emotional value of music.  Levitin writes that “music increases the production of dopamine . . .  [and] is clearly a means for improving people’s moods.”

Sing On!

Keep_On_Singing

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Jingo

I watched two movies over the weekend, one that posed a difficult moral and ethical issue, the other that trashed the same issue in a gush of jingoistic nationalism.

Eye In the SkyI first watched Eye In the Sky with Helen Mirren.  Its plot involved a potential drone-launched missile attack on a house in a congested, urban area in Nairobi. At the moment of launch, surveillance intelligence revealed that two suicide bombers were in the house and about to proceed on their missions.  Surveillance also showed a young, innocent girl just outside the house.  The dilemma was whether to launch the strike that would abort the two suicide missions and likely save up to eighty lives but would likely kill the young girl, or cancel the strike and save the young girl but risk having the suicide missions carried out.  The movie shows that there is not an easy answer.  It doesn’t provide an easy answer.

London FallenThe second movie was London Has Fallen.  This movie begins with an actual drone-launched missile attack on the compound of a rich terrorist and arms dealer in rural Pakistan.  Surveillance clearly showed that there was a wedding in progress with many guests – children, women, innocents.  With no discussion, the attack is carried out and many innocents are killed.  The terrorist and his sons survive and plot diabolical revenge with an attack on London that plays out like a coup d’etat.  The Rambo-style hero rages unscathed through thousands of bullets, grenades, and rockets and eventually saves the day and rescues the U.S. president who behaves like a true American hero.  It was nothing more than jingoistic nationalism:  we’re the good guys, they are the bad guys, even though the initial missile attack was just as barbarous as the revenge-driven attack on London.  The issue of collateral damage from the first attack was never addressed.

I recommend Eye In the Sky.  It’s a simple plot that keeps you on the edge of your seat and starts you thinking.  Don’t bother with London Has Fallen.  Not only it is a gush of jingoism, the plot is unrealistic and illogical.  An embarrassing movie.

Helen Mirren(P.S.  Helen Mirren is 71 years old, way past the age of retirement in the U.S.military, but in Eye In the Sky she plays a very fit-looking colonel.  I think she’ll continue to entertain us with great acting for a long time to come.)

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Can’t Go Back

The last time I wrote about drinking and listening to music, I was drinking beer, probably a good IPA.  Tonight I’m listening to music and drinking herbal tea.  It is great herbal tea (Honest Ginger Oasis), but, honestly, it’s not beer.  I’m trying to limit myself to drinking beer only one day a week.  That’s Mondays when my good friend Nick tends bar in the tavern I used to frequent.  Since I can only drink once a week, I no longer can say I frequent the place.  I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

field songsAnyway, the music is great.  It makes up for the absence of beer.  William Eliot Whitmore, who I just discovered a few months ago.  He’s a guitarist, banjo picker, singer, blues man, and songwriter from Iowa.  I’m listening to the album Field Songs from 2011.  Field Songs is a spare and simple album with just Whitmore accompanying himself on guitar and banjo.  The notes about the album in iTunes calls his voice a thundering instrument.  I don’t know about that, but it sure is nice to listen to.  I especially like the banjo songs.

I have one of the songs, Can’t Go Back, from his most recent album, Radium Death from 2015.  On this album, he plays with a band.  This is one of those songs that I’ve listened to over and over until I’ve figuratively wore out the grooves on the record.

Now that it’s June, here’s what we’ll do
We’ll howl at the moon and patch the old canoe
Put it down in the water, let it take us where it may
Head downstream and (just) float away

He has some stuff on YouTube.

 

 

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Shades Of Green

The current assignment on Outdoor Photographer is Shades of Green.  I remembered that the focus was on the color green, but forgot that it was an outdoor photography assignment.  I took my photo indoors using artificial lighting.  He is my photo of slices of lime on a bed of spinach on a light pad.

 

Shades Of Green

Shades Of Green

 

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About Boomers

Micheal Kinsley, in Old Age:  A Beginner’s Guide, says that

in a boomer culture that celebrates youth, you no longer qualify.  Ouch

I’m posting this as a heads-up to all those who no longer qualify as youthful.  I don’t include myself because I’m only 68.  Surely I’m not old?

Here are another few words from this morning’s reading:

As big soft buffettings come at the car sideways

And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

from Postscript by Seamus Heaney

 

 

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Essays and Poems

Yesterday while at Brueggers, I read 4 Ways To Make Space In Your Brain To Create by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West.  The first of the four is daily Morning Pages.  The Morning Pages technique was described by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way:  “[Morning Pages] are three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness.”  I have found that for me, using an online journaling website (Penzu) is better for stream-of-consciousness writing.  My longhand writing is so bad and tedious that it gets in the way of my stream-of-consciousness.

Another of the four is from Ray Bradbury’s Zen In the Art Of Writing.  It is to

Buy a book of poetry and a selection of essays (perhaps some from a previous decade). Read a few every day to help your mind foster a state of creativity.

I will never turn down an excuse to visit my local, indie bookstore and buy a book or two.  So I bought Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems and a small book of essays by Michael Kinsley, Old Age:  A Beginner’s Guide.  This morning I added reading an essay and some poetry to my morning routine.

Old Age:  A Beginner’s Guide is targeted at Baby Boomers of which I am one.  I read the foreword by Michael Lewis and the introduction by Kinsley; no essay yet.  The introduction ends with

If you want to be remembered as a good person, then be a good person.  Who knows?  It just might work.  But start now, because if you’re a boomer, time is running out.

If you want to know about the other two 4 Ways To Make Space In Your Brain To Create, follow the link to the article.

 

 

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