Sunday, February 28, 2010

Drop thumb

Getting better all the time. It's all about putting in the time to do the repetitions. Practice, practice, practice. There are no short cuts.

Canada 3-2 OT

Great game, right outcome! USA came back from 2-0 to send it to overtime, most respectable indeed, and we don't have to witness mass suicides in Canada. Exciting, fine game. Hockey! Never would've thunk it.

Hockey: soccer with sticks on steroids

I've never watched an entire hockey game in my life but I'm enjoying USA-Canada. Canada leads 2-1 at the end of two periods. How many periods are there, three? We'll find out ha ha. Anyway, very active, like soccer, nonstop action only with a shorter playing field, meaning in hockey there's more exchanges of opportunity. Exciting -- but I think the context makes this happen. I don't anticipate becoming an NHL fan.

The delivery of the news

I swear to the gods, I'm going to have to stop watching the news. It's not that the news is depressing, which it is, that I'd stop (the reason H stopped) but because the newscasters, with very few exceptions, drive me up the wall. They're smiling all the time. They act like they're my buddy. They're trying to be so goddamn nice. I can't imagine Cronkite or Brinkley acting this way! It's driving me crazy. I don't want to listen to chummy bullshit, I want the NEWS. The last decent newscaster I've seen on TV was Aaron Brown, who got canned by CNN. He was too old school.

O ye gods, not another book

I've been brooding about doing another book. Not a new one actually but reworking a screenplay to demonstrate what I mean by a "new form for fiction." It would be easy to do. I could include as introduction the essay I plan to write, making a package of the argument with an example of what I mean. Except for the essay, it would be grunt work -- and a tangible example of a new vertical fiction form would result. Fanatic as I'm becoming about this notion, I may do it. I could do it all over the upcoming term break quite easily. Maybe it would inspire some one. That's the only point of this exercise, to inspire a young writer to see the future in this and run with it.

I'm not committed to doing this yet but knowing how my own obsessions work, I suspect I will. I know just the screenplay to use as foundation.

LATER. Did a few pages of this experiment. It's grunt work, to be sure, but I'm not sure it's worth it. The essay definitely is worth it, and I could attach a few pages to show how it works, but to spend the time translating 100 pages this way, well, it has the ring of a fool's errand. Damn few folks probably agree with my sense of all this anyway, and if it ever happened, it would be later. In other words, if this is a real suspicion about the future of fiction, then I'm ahead of the curve.

I'd rather practice the banjo than do a fool's errand. If I were younger, I'd do this in a flash. But I don't see what the point is at my age. The essay will suffice.

Let the hosts win

I'm not a hockey fan but the USA-Canada game for gold today is all the rage. I say let Canada win since obviously the game matters much more to Canadians than to us. Why make an entire country depressed after the games? Hockey isn't all that big here. Let Canada do their thing, I say. If we lose, Americans won't even feel the difference.

A new form for fiction

I've been brooding about what to call a proposed new form of fiction based on the evolution of the screenplay. Actually it occurred to me the perfect name is staring at me. What distinguishes a screenplay is that it is story-driven, not language-driven. So in the new form, instead of "a novel by" say simply "a story by." That would do it.

More about this later. I'm thinking of writing an essay that clarifies and formally proposes what I have in mind.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Learning something new

I knew I've been given credit for coining the term "hyperdrama," though it has recently deteriorated into a label for extreme melodrama, but I didn't know this:

"The digital revolution has proved another challenging technological development which has drawn a lot of attention; through new means of communication, it has allowed geographically dispersed individuals to connect and interact, eventually brining about what has come to be called 'digital theatre'. Though experiments in this field began in 1966, as Marek Holensky, the Polish researcher, mentions in his book Art and the Computer, it was Charles Deemer who pioneered this kind of theatre when he presented the first digital play ever on the internet in 1985. It was a groundbreaking kind of play that went beyond the traditional concept of theatre, allowing its receivers to become co-authors of the work and introduce their choices and suggestions as to the course of the action and construction of the events. It was also a very special kind of play in that it could only be accessed on the internet."


Interesting. Wonder if it's true that this ATHEMOO production via the University of Hawaii was the first. Actors sat at computers at various locations and typed their lines, which appeared online, in this hyperdrama, though the term wasn't used by me or anyone else yet. No one knew quite what to call the form. In the beginning, I called mine a mouthful, "simultaneous-action theater." TAMARA, the first to gain a significant audience, was called "a living movie" -- and the producers registered the term as a trademark! Why didn't the first sonneteer think of that?

The future of books

Digitization makes possible a world in which anyone can claim to be a publisher and anyone can call him- or herself an author. In this world the traditional filters will have melted into air and only the ultimate filter—the human inability to read what is unreadable—will remain to winnow what is worth keeping in a virtual marketplace where Keats's nightingale shares electronic space with Aunt Mary's haikus. That the contents of the world's libraries will eventually be accessed practically anywhere at the click of a mouse is not an unmixed blessing. Another click might obliterate these same contents and bring civilization to an end: an overwhelming argument, if one is needed, for physical books in the digital age.

Read article.

Oregon Literary Review

Check out our new update.

Slowly, slowly but surely

The drop thumbing exercises are getting smoother, faster.

Buffalo wine spaghetti

My oh my. Had some for lunch, even better than last night naturally, and if there's a better spaghetti available in Puddle City, I haven't found it. If there's a drawback to this, it's this: this is an expensive dish to make, what with the buffalo meat and the bottle of red wine. But it is worth every penny. By the gods, the old man done good, done good. Applause, applause. Bow. More applause.


I prefer the summer Os to winter but have watched things nonetheless. I watch short track and cross country and biathon and curling. I've never been a hockey fan but the Canada-USA rematch for gold tomorrow might deserve a peek. I am not into skating, which H loves. I like Sean White and his tricks. I admire the hell out of any O athlete doing anything.

More thoughts about a new fictional form

I am convinced a new form of fiction, based on the screenplay, is a perfect match in today's reading environment, which embraces digital readers and textual brevity. I hope someone with energy and creative courage moves in this direction. What better to read on a device that scrolls text vertically than a form based on vertical writing!? All that is necessary is a loosening of the screenplay form to get the professional jargon out. But I'd keep its structure, that is, a modular structure set off by formally defined scenes (i.e. sluglines).

I also think the form needs a catchy name. I haven't come up with one.

Such a form might even increase cultural literacy since the production of ebooks is not as dependent on making up considerable expenses. The entire economics of publishing changes, and the economic model that ruined literary fiction releases its stranglehold on the way books are produced and distributed.

Of course, we need a more educated reading public as well, an entirely different issue. But the narrative economy of the screenplay has been invisible to most because the splay is like an "in house" business plan, a blueprint for a movie. I'm convinced there is a much wider market for them, if made a tad more presentable to general readers.

The democratization of mediocrity

Contemporary culture, which has become synonymous with contemporary pop culture, suggests that the arts are democratic. Anybody can play. But they aren't. This is the great theme in Amadeus. Genius is not democratic. Genius is elitist. This is the great theme in a book written by a genius arrogant madman, Ezra Pound, called The ABC of Reading. Among Pound's principles for literary literacy: Never join a book club! (His exclamation point.) But what defines contemporary literary culture more than the book club? Which is why Pound, and others, would call the culture illiterate.

Quotation of the day

“The novel has somehow been posited for us as a kind of ‘mass item,’ and if it sells only 1,500 copies is seen as a failure. I don’t know if that’s even a reasonably intelligent way of thinking.”

--Gilbert Sorrentino

According to a recent piece in the times, Sorrentino's best known novel, Mulligan Stew, one of the "best books of the year" according to the NYT in 1979, has in its 31 year life sold fewer than 25,000 copies. No other statistic speaks to the changes in the publishing industry since its corporate takeover!

As I've said here many times, I consider Sorrento's "The Moon In Its Flight" the finest short story ever written by an American. I can still remember the day I read it, and was blown away, in the wonderful long gone New American Review. M. F. Beal's "Gold" also was published there, Mary being one of Oregon's most neglected writers. How you can have a state-sanctioned anthology of short fiction by Oregon writers and not include Beal or Marilyn Krysl is, well, don't get me started.

Sorrentino in his posthumous book "The Abyss of Human Illusion":

“When he thought of his youth he could scarcely believe that his memories had anything at all to do with the absurd life he was now living, an observation, he knew, that was far from original. Somehow, he had thought that his old age would miraculously produce finer, subtler notions of — what? — life? But he was no better, no cleverer, no more insightful than any shuffling old bastard in the street, absurdly bundled against the slightest breeze.”

Friday, February 26, 2010


In almost every film featuring a parent or parents with a young child, there's a scene where s/he peeks into the bedroom to see the kid sleeping. There's something so peaceful about a sleeping child.

I've never experienced that joy but I come as close as I can get with Sketch. When I see him sleeping or napping against the pillow on the divan, I get domestic goosebumps. Don't tell my former football teammates.

A rainy Friday in the kitchen

A perfect day for spaghetti, which I haven't made for a while. It's a labor intensive time-consuming affair the way I do it. Two unorthodox necessities in my recipe: the base is red wine and tomato paste; and I use buffalo meat when I can get it, as I could this morning. So everything is assembled -- tomatoes, green peppers, onions, black olives, mushrooms, seasonings -- to slowly simmer all afternoon. Yum yum yum! To my tastes, it's so much red wine that gives it the richness. Not everyone agrees but guess what? I'M ALONE IN THE KITCHEN THIS AFTERNOON! Get to do everything my way.

The score

Progress! A great work session on the score this morning. Finished the duet, moving into a quartet, finished a section. Much progress. At last.

Not even 11 a.m. and I feel like I've put in a full day of creative work. Lots of time left to practice the banjo.

The sleepless mind

Up at this hour paying bills, writing checks, of all things. Actually I want to practice banjo but not a good idea at 3 a.m. with a sleeping woman in my bed. So here I am in my basement office, writing checks instead. A pile of bills to pay, too. It's amazing how much it costs to exist.

But this will be a full music day! While I'm down here, I'll listen to the score with earphones and prepare to attack it again, finishing the duet I interrupted in midstream. I also want to get a song good enough to record at higher quality and hear what it sounds like. I tried that yesterday before heading out and the parts where I didn't make mistakes sounded quite good. Duh. Seriously, I think I am getting the banjo sound. The Seeger strum I did half a century ago didn't have the same drive that clawhammer style has.

I always can return to bed and listen to Mike and Mike in the Morning, the best sports show on radio.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Catch up time

On the score, doing taxes, chores ... I'm behind on everything but teaching and banjo, my recent two priorities.


One of my grad students turned in a late draft of a 30 min scifi script that could have been written by a pro for Twilight Zone. Just outstanding! She has all the chops. If she has the interest and especially the endurance, she has a good shot at it. I plan to encourage her.

It's such a joy to read a script that's so good! It made my day.

Banjo strategy

By the end of class, I'll have learned 5 songs, four in class and one on my own from KP's DVD. All in G tuning. I think the first thing I want to do is learn some songs in Double C tuning, which apparently is used more in order to capo to D and play with fiddlers. At any rate, there are 3 major tunings to learn and a bunch of minor ones.

Add Double C songs that use drop thumb.

Learn the songs at a slow pace without error. Then gradually speed up.

My teacher says she occasionally gives "a single lesson" to someone ... maybe I could check in with her from time or time, or maybe it would be good to try a different teacher.

Next week we'll learn the B part of our 4th class song, which is by far the best. Very cool. I forget its name but have it on the tab.

So I'll immediately start learning a new Double C song. Also, continue all the right hand exercises I've been doing. This will keep me busy while I decide about formal lessons.

Also, there is an "acoustic jam" every other Saturday at the music store where my lessons are, and beginners are welcome, so I think I'll make that a regular part of my routine, start playing with others and learning new songs.

So we'll see how all this goes. My energy and passion for the banjo are high, much motivation.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Banjo class

Only two of us, but a different "other", so everyone but myself, who has made every class, has missed at least two. Amazing. So we got lots of individual attention tonight, began learning a new song with drop thumbing, a fine tune, and we'll learn part B next week, our last. I'll walk away with the basic skills to perfect. A wonderful class! But still not sure what to do beyond my DVD studies.

What goes around

Bill Moos, the excellent Athletic Director at Oregon who left in a dispute with Nike head Phil Knight, which speaks volumes about who actually runs my alma mater, alas alas, has been appointed AD at Washington State. Could sweet revenge be in the future?

I don't know what it will take to get Oregon on the right path again. Nothing looks promising what with Nike involved so much. Oregon reminds me of Faust, selling its soul to the devil. I miss the good old days when I wasn't embarrassed to root for the Ducks.

This is the logo on the hat I ordered, from the website Banjos rule!


Even after all these years, this Oliver Stone film is powerful, haunting, sad. I wish LaLaLand distributed more films that spoke to issues like this.

What FDR did fix a housing crisis. Will Obama do this?

Modern basketball, modern jocks

Certainly looks like a contact sport to me.

Oyster scrapple revisited

Made it for lunch the new way, with an egg wash and cornmeal, and yum! quite good. This is the way to fry it. A keeper.

Another Monterey Mary book

The author of a novel based on his own experiences left a long, interesting comment on my earlier post about my novella Baumholder 1961 and those who read it. This fellow is making a significant contribution to the history of the era and its experiences.

Check it out.

Also check out Hill's book, Voices Under Berlin: The Tale of a Monterey Mary.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sand art


The wealth of clawhammer materials out there, and how much there is to learn, is overwhelming. However, some basic skills are certainly possible and continued growth for as much as one wants, and has time, to push it. I continue to increase my passion for this learning adventure I'm on, and I hope to reach a presentable level of performance -- not that I'll perform for anyone -- before the gods decide they've put up with me long enough.

The thing to do now is keep double-checking the skills I've more or less got down and to continue working on drop thumbing, which I don't have down. I have any number of exercises to help me with this, which I can more or less mindlessly do while watching TV or whatever. I definitely have exercises to do daily. I plan to get this down.

Office hours

Did some prep at home, updating my marketing lecture. It's always fun and exhausting, especially when the students have good questions.

I managed to spend time on banjo exercises as well. I think I'll take some biweekly private lessons for a while after my class ends. At least I've been thinking in this direction. Not sure what teacher to choose, however. Maybe my present teacher can help.

A relatively free Wednesday tomorrow since my students have no writing assignment this week. They are finishing up their projects, due Tuesday in next to last draft.

I think I'll show a film tomorrow, move up next week's documentary DREAMS ON SPEC, a real life look at screenwriters trying to make it in LaLaLand.

Oregon on ESPN

The football mess debated on video here.

I blame the coach. I blamed him from day one, way back after the first game's slugging incident for not throwing the guy off the team, no questions asked. Instead it was a ban for the season that later was not a ban for the season. The coach is a double-standard wimp. Throw these jerks off the team, period. Where are the standards for behavior? It's a joke. It's an embarrassment to the university and the state.

I blame the AD also because he hasn't reprimanded the coach. It doesn't help that Nike is the secret money lord behind the scenes. The entire football program at Oregon is corrupt. Knock it down and start over. If the university Prez tried that, he'd be hung.

I swear, the best thing that could happen to university sports is to ban athletic scholarships. Make the NFL and NBA start their own farm systems, like baseball has. The university doesn't need this kind of money, athletics gets most of it anyway, because it tears down the academic standards hugely with these one-and-done clowns who couldn't care less about a university education. Sure, there actually are student-athletes but they don't need jock scholarships, they need academic scholarships.

College sports, especially football and basketball, have become free farm systems for professional sports. The whole deal is corrupt and benefits only professional sports.


Only 3 weeks of classes left. The downhill side. Today is my marketing lecture. I tell my students the truth, which can be discouraging, but I also have a few success stories from past students. In the real world, sometimes perseverance counts more than talent.

Not sure what to schedule Thursday. I have one more film to show, could move it up.

I wish H would wake up so I can practice the banjo!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Oyster scrapple

It's quite good. I'd fry it differently next time, use an egg wash and cornmeal to give it a more crispy crust (I used flour alone)...very moist inside, mild oyster flavor. Not bad at all. Not the sort of thing I'd want every morning -- I can eat pork scrapple every morning -- but definitely something I'll do regularly if less often than pork scrapple. Suggests experimenting with other flavors.


For the moment, I don't need to learn any more banjo songs. I need to perfect the four I've been working on and also do routine exercises to hone skills: left hand closed chord positions, up and down the neck; right hand single brush strokes, double thumbing, drop thumbing. When I have all this down, I can move forward to more songs. But I think it is VERY important not to get ahead of myself, to make sure I am mastering the basic skills required. So for now, old songs and exercises. And some reading ahead to what I have to look forward to.

I don't know where I'll be come October or so, but I'd really like to make a CD for friends for Xmas. We'll see if I'm presentable by then.

When I used to be asked to do my Guthrie show after a layoff, if I didn't have at least a month to prepare, I turned down the gig. Of course, when it was up and running, I could do it on 15 minutes notices. But when you don't play for weeks at a time, I needed the time to make sure my chops got back to where they should be. I lost a couple good gigs because I wouldn't show up only half-prepared. Indeed, a few years ago, invited to perform at a Guthrie celebration, I found a compromise and performed only the recital/journal parts and let others do the music. Less prep time as an actor than as a musician. It worked out great.

Figuring out Monday

Need to see what student work I have to look at today. I know I have pages from an advanced student but can't recall what else. My briefcase will reveal all! Then I can plan the day.

Oyster scrapple for breakfast, the results of the experiment. How will it be?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Oregon football crashing

John Canzano has a good column about the chaos at Oregon's football program and the coach who isn't doing anything about it. I'm reminded of the Jail Blazer days, where it doesn't matter if you're a hoodlum, a thug, an aggressive sexist, as long as you have talent. The team remains an embarrassment.


Doing a lot of single string brush exercises today. It's something I can do while watching the Olympics!

Time to learn drop thumbing. I think our teacher said she'll teach it our last session. I'm working hard at double thumbing.

Quotation of the day

When you say "radical right" today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican party and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye.

--Barry Goldwater

Andrew Sullivan, conservative and gay, is one of the more interesting political commentators I've found. I say this as a progressive (most of the time) and registered Independent. Here is his take on the Republican Party today.

Chef's first thoughts

Oyster scrapple is different, especially in texture, so I won't judge this until I fry up some. Tasting while cooking, it has fine flavor. But it's definitely in the gelatin class as a loaf. Maybe try some for breakfast tomorrow and see then.


A colleague comments on The mythology of freedom:

That was the finest short short essay on the way things are now that I have ever read. Thank you.

Praise from peers feels especially good.

A glorious day to experiment in the kitchen!

Well, gonna tackle the oyster scrapple in a moment. My old friend from Pdx's glory days (80s), Eric, gave me the lowdown of the new culinary breakfast rage in Philly. I don't have an exact recipe but enough info to give it a try. I'm excited! This may be the answer to Hang Town Fry.

Major sports story

...that doesn't get the press it deserves since women's sports are second-class media citizens.

HARTFORD, Conn. – Tina Charles matched her season high with 26 points and Maya Moore added 21 as top-ranked Connecticut ran its winning streak to 66 games with a 85-53 rout of Providence on Saturday.

Kalana Greene chipped in 11 points for UConn (27-0, 13-0 Big East), which needs just four more victories to tie its own record for the longest winning streak in the history of Division I women's basketball.


Saturday, February 20, 2010


I need to work on the score. I need to do my taxes. I need to read some student papers. I need to put down the banjo now and again.


Making progress with Georgie Buck.

Working on two new songs

Recorded with the pen cam in my shirt pocket. I'm working on O Suzanna and Georgie Buck, not really presentable yet but getting close. When I actually get something right with some consistency, I'll record far better quality with a mic, wav file. But not ready yet.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Banjo day

Off and on banjo practicing, all day long thus far. Working on two new songs, one from class and one from the Ken Perlman DVD/book, which I'm now attacking with discipline. I think it's going to work out. Maybe what I need is a biweekly or monthly teacher to check me out. Hmm. I'll see what develops.

Quotation of the day

"They [the Democratic Party] couldn't sell a joint in Jamaica."

--Andrew Sullivan

And the Republicans are even more dysfunctional, with a one word vocabulary of No!

Why clawhammer banjo is so cool

A few things come to mind:
  • It has the same vibrant, ringing, driving, rhythmic "optimistic" sound that Dixieland has. Even a bluesy song sounds "positive."
  • It has a definable, recognizable style. You know what it is.
  • The banjo, unlike the piano say, is portable.
  • It's relatively easy to learn basic stuff, yet the instrument has far horizons and challenges.
  • It's a great solo instrument. Can do it alone. But it's also a fine group instrument.
  • Clawhammer is a neat name. It sounds cool to say, I play clawhammer.
  • There are far, far fewer banjos at parties than guitars.
  • All of the above.
  • More.

I'm becoming a fanatic. Will I have time to write a clawhammer opera after the other musical projects?

The mythology of freedom

In my half century plus of observing human affairs, particularly in my own country, I've seen a trend that disturbs me. Our common perception of personal freedom has increased as our real freedom has decreased. Thus we can give our opinions to millions of others on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, on cable TV shows, on home pages on the Internet; and yet in real terms, money terms, freedom of movement terms, choices of products terms, choices of health care and education and employment, our actual freedom is less than in past eras.

I've been brooding about something else recently, which speaks to this trend: the film AVATAR. AVATAR is a fantasy, even a brilliant fantasy. In it, Noble Savages defeat Big Corporations. The People win. This tale, which is as popular as any tale ever told, is financed by a Big Corporation that makes zillions on the telling, thus reinforcing its own financial power. In other words, we make the People feel good with a nice story that they are powerful even as we reinforce our own power, the very same power that decreases the options and freedom of the masses. This out-Orwells Orwell in its frightening ramifications.

I happen to have great faith in the People in the long run. There already is considerable anger in the land, though the vast majority of it is directed at the wrong enemy. Government isn't the enemy. Government, in fact, is controlled by the real enemy today, the lobbyists representing Big Corporations. We should be backing government to curtail corporate power, not misrepresenting a corporate-controlled government as being something it isn't. Government isn't too big. It's too powerless.

When real change happens, it will happen as it has always happened historically: with bloodshed and revolution. Jefferson understood this. Anyone who reads history should understand it. Even non-violent revolutions, like Ghandi's, result in bloodshed. I don't see change happening any other way. I, like many, hoped Obama might actually create a new political tone in the center of government but an obstructionist opposition has made sure this won't happen unless Obama radically rises to the occasion, walking his own talk, which thus far he has been reluctant to do. Maybe in desperation he'll come around. I'm not hopeful he will but I'd love to be surprised. Change within the system is theoretically possible but it will take an aggressive charismatic leader in charge, and Obama has the tools to do this. He doesn't seem to have the back bone or the will.

So things will continue to get worse until one day, it's bloodshed, and history plays out its usual dance of fundamental change. I don't expect to be around to witness this.

But AVATAR -- and I don't think James Cameron set out to do this or is even aware of the irony he has created -- is brilliant the way ANIMAL FARM is brilliant, by creating a mythology of freedom, a popular tale of the small guys winning against the big guys, in a form so successful that it reinforces the big guys' real power. History, as Joyce noted, is a nightmare from which we try to recover.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A chat

Ran into "Zeena" online in Indonesia and was able to Yahoo chat with her for a while. Very neat. Been a while and we caught up.

Banjo fanatic

I am REALLY digging how my clawhammer lessons are going. This is fun, encouraging, and challenging all at once. It's amazing how far I've progressed in just six weeks -- the 3 (of 10) other students still coming to class agree. What happened to the lost 7? What a waste of money.

At any rate, I still don't know what the next step is beyond studying on my own with Perlman's excellent material. I think I do need a live teacher to keep me straight, to keep me from developing bad habits. There are half a dozen available teachers but I don't know how to choose among them. My present teacher is being polite about not saying much. I'm sure it's a small community and no one wants to bad mouth anyone else ha ha. If I go with private lessons, I suppose a sensible approach is to take a sample lesson from several and decide.

I hope I get my BANJO RULES! hat before my class is over so I can wear it to class ha ha.

A great day to hobble

Ah, the sun, the sun! Sun and blue sky remain even at this afternoon hour, and the hobble from bus stop to campus was wonderful (if slow). I hope this lasts until tomorrow so Sketch and I can find an outdoor adventure.

Meanwhile here I am in a windowless office for office hours.


Reading Local: Portland gave us a nice blurb today here.

Oyster scrapple?

Actor-writer-former Pdxer EP sent me this little piece, which obviously is something I have to try:

Yes, oyster scrapple!

The latest strutter on the scrapple scene (suddenly featuring crab scrapple and vegetarian scrapple and - was it inevitable? - foie gras scrapple) has surfaced on Oyster House's brunch menu, with two sunny-side-up eggs in the entourage. It's chef Ted Manko's take on the once-resolutely pork breakfast loaf - an oyster scrapple that dawned on him at the counter of a local diner. It's hot and creamy inside, a bit of fritter in character, the oysters nicely seasoned with toasted fennel seed and cayenne pepper, its requisite cornmeal and buckwheat filler cooked polenta-style in the oyster juices. The main adjustment Manko had to make was to add gelatin to help the loaf set up for slicing: Pork bones yield it naturally; oysters, no. Dusted with cornmeal and pan-fried, it's surprisingly crisp, light, and refreshingly bright with a gentle hit of horseradish cream.

By the gods, this is my weekend cooking project!

The sun, the sun!

Only this isn't the downer ending of Ibsen's GHOSTS, this is the upper morning of a day in Portland with very, very uncharacteristic sunshine and blue sky in February! May it last until tomorrow, my day off. Today, stuck inside with student scripts, though not many, I might be able to get outside a bit.

Great class last night, learned another song. I truly will miss this class. Only two sessions left. Not sure I want to pay the expense of private lessons. I have the best DVD set available, and I think I'll attack it with great discipline, an hour a day, and see how that works out. If it doesn't, I can find some private lessons to kick me in the butt. But I am very motivated now. I think I can do this on my own until the next advanced group class comes up.

I may change my mind tomorrow, but this is my thinking at the moment. I am, in fact, working on a song from the DVD, which will tell me a lot about how it compares to learning a song from a teacher. I finally have the basic down pretty well, I think. I still need to learn drop thumbing and work a lot on single string brushes. But the DVD covers that pretty methodically, too. And it's also about time to try some other tunings.

Banjo is becoming my front burner activity. When I get my banjo hat, watch out America!

Hollywood etiquette sucks

'Up in the Air' author Walter Kirn didn't receive an Oscar invite and he has taken to Twitter to vent.

"Caution to writers: Don't expect that because you write a novel that becomes an Oscar-nominated film that you'll be invited to the Oscars," he tweeted on Tuesday.


He was dreaming to think an invitation was automatic. Must not have known what he was getting into. At the same time, LaLaLand hates a bad press before show ratings, so my money is on his getting a late ticket after all. But he must be a little star struck to give a hoot in the first place.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Where the hell is Oregon?

Dozens of public high schools in eight states will introduce a program next year allowing 10th graders who pass a battery of tests to get a diploma two years early and immediately enroll in community college.
The new system of high school coursework with the accompanying board examinations is modeled largely on systems in high-performing nations including Denmark, Finland, England, France and Singapore.
High school students will first begin the new coursework in fall 2011 in schools in Connecticut, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont.


This sounds like a great program! And why isn't Oregon participating? Because Oregon has one of the most screwed-up educational systems in the country and has for the 30+ years I've lived here. Funding schools is a constant hassle, failing as much as not. So Oregon clearly is not progressive enough to do this.

Oregon has this progressive reputation, largely because of the bottle bill and other environmental issues, I suppose. But Oregon is far less progressive than its reputation in countless areas. Washington, across the river, is more progressive than Oregon, though Oregonians don't like to hear this. There's a long history in this regard. Black settlers in the Oregon territory quickly learned to flee to the Washington territory where they could own land as they could not here. And in the 1920s the KKK elected the governor here, not on race matters but anti-Catholic energy. So I don't expect Oregon to do anything progressive in education any time soon, alas.

Screaming silence

Now and again, as a moment ago, I'm suddenly overcome by the deafening silence surrounding my work. There's no warning. I'm going about my business when the realization hits me that as a writer I'm invisible, marginal, inconsequential. The hard truth.

Ladies and gentlemen! May I present A CHARLES DEEMER READER, the highlights of a long literary career!

Response: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Then I recover and usually am able, as now, to rationalize my way back into some semblance of artistic existence, noting this that or the other award I've received, or competition I've won, or good review, or fan base, or whatever distraction it takes to push the screaming silence of oblivion back into the unconscious. And I can forget all this until the next unannounced moment of truth.

More scripts

Another full day of reading scripts -- and a banjo lesson, which I'll get to on time this week! Not much time for anything else, though I'm sure I'll take a few banjo breaks.

I found a "Banjos rule!" hat. You know I gotta buy it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

3 incredible aunts

I just told the story of my aunt who was the mistress of a local mob boss in Philly. Well, I actually had 2 other incredible aunts. My dad's other sister was married like six times, all to wild men: a professional boxer; a deep sea diver; a test pilot; a jazz musician; I forget the others, but not an accountant among them ha ha. My aunt on my mother's side was a big band singer, well, until her father cursed her on his death bed, after which she became an alcoholic Catholic but no less interesting. She gave me her 78 collection of records, mostly jazz, which was a lot of my musical education.

My uncles were much more boring than my aunts. Those three aunts will pretty wild for their day.

I also had a German aunt, brought over after the war, who caused a family scandal one holiday, resulting in being ostracized thereafter, by defending Hitler (he brought jobs, the trains ran on time, there was an affordable people's car, the VW, etc). My mother never did like the fact that I drove a VW.

Some good old days are actually better than now

A few weeks ago I told a story about camping after WWII, which meant spreading a tarp in a farmer's field, and how often the farmer or his wife would deliver the gift of a pie or baked bread. No negativity, no removal, no threats. Hospitality. HOSPITALITY. When the country indeed was a nicer place.

A different kind of story. When I was shipped overseas in the Army, I spent a week with an aunt in Philadelphia. She had a boyfriend, R. I didn't know two things then but learned later: R was married and my aunt was his mistress; R was a neighborhood mob boss.

I found out on this visit that he indeed was a neighborhood "bigshot." He told me that he had alerted the local businesses that "R's nephew" was visiting and that if I wore my Army uniform, a matter of ID, I wouldn't have to spend a penny in the neighborhood. Sounded a little strange -- but it was true. My aunt worked and after she left the apt, I ventured into the neighborhood to find some breakfast, wearing my uniform. I hadn't walked far when a cabbie swerved to the curb and the cabbie asked if I was R's nephew. He gave me a free ride to a restaurant, where I had a free breakfast. And, in fact, everything in the neighborhood was on the house during my visit! It was absolutely astonishing to me. Only later, learning he was the local mob boss, did anything make sense.

It figured. R looked a hell of a lot like George Raft.

My aunt, my dad's sister, the mistress of a local mob boss!

Monterey Marys unite!

Came to the office to find voice mail from a fellow Monterey Mary, with whom I studied Russian in 1959 in Monterey, with whom I served now and again in Germany. What a trip! He called to say he enjoyed my novella Baumholder 1961 and, this is the highlight, he ordered copies for his children! In other words, here's what the old man experienced. I love it. I knew somebody had bought 5 copies of the novella recently, highly unusual, but I figured it was some bookstore somewhere run by a former Mary or something. This is even better. Giving a book to your kids means a lot of the experiences ring true. As they should. As they do. It's just so surrealistic, here and there, it's hard to convince folks it is TRUE, this is what your soldier boys were doing in the Cold War, O America.

It also was a hoot to get encouragement from a genuine banjo player (see comments below). For the first time, I am getting the right sound. Now it's about cleanliness and speed and timing. I will do this!

But I still don't know what to do in 3 weeks after my classes end. I'll see what my teacher has to say. If individual lessons, which of six available teachers do I choose? If not, I could really get into the DVD big time. I am self-disciplined enough to do this.

We'll see how the next three weeks shake out.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Olympic jocks

Incredible discipline! I love it. The women's 10K cross country is mind boggling. They all collapse at the finish line. Talk about pushing yourself.

Done with my scenes! Will enjoy the Olympics for a while, maybe read later.

I've also been watching some lectures on DVD I got from the library about Greek Classical Lit. Deciding which originals to focus on.

I love days like this because I can get a lot done without stress, as in deadlines. In other words, I have plenty of time in which to do what I need to do.

Banjo progress, slow but sure

Shot with the pen cam. I can do it better than this but mostly do it worse, so this represents more or less where I am at the moment, this after five lessons with three to go.

That time of day ...

... when I first start thinking of a second wind.

Only two more scenes to go, which I can do tomorrow morning if necessary. May devote the afternoon to banjo.

March madness

As spring approaches, I start thinking of two of my favorite sporting events, March Madness and the Triple Crown. Usually this time, just before these events, is relatively uninteresting to me but the winter Olympics changes that. Lots of sports of watch. I seem to watch more than ever. Watch while practicing the banjo etc.

Left the four hardest scenes until last. Meanwhile making a casserole for dinner, what with H gone all day.

A nice leisurely work day.

Scene workshop

Workshop scenes in class this week, which requires considerable prep work, which I begin today. They tell me it's a holiday. No bills ha ha.

Banjo breaks through the day, I'm sure. Making definite progress. I have a very good book-DVD, which I may focus on after class is done (3 more sessions), rather jump into another class. We'll see. I see what my present teacher recommends.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Opening ceremony

Finally watched the Olympics opening ceremony, which I'd recorded. The best I've seen! Most commentators hold up China as the gold standard here but I thought China's opening ceremony was overkill, too much unfocused diffused energy. Here, in Canada, the focus was clear, the story being told clear, the effects spectacular but always serving the story -- just incredible. Loved it. Go, Canada!


Woke up visualizing the banjo again and am eager to try out what I was seeing -- except H is still in bed and will be for another hour or more. But I may have solved a remaining minor tech issue in my "attack." We'll see!

The relationship between visualization and physical action is fascinating. I hear jocks do this all the time -- visualize the ski jump, the final TD drive, whatever.

First goal today is to finally finish the duet in the score, where I stopped a week or more ago. Get back in the groove. And, of course, practice a lot of banjo.

Snooping around for a class after this one, I stumbled upon a string band class. Might be interesting. 8 weeks, 3 instructors, usually about 30 students, learning to play together, banjo, guitar, fiddle. Getting details on it.

Damn, I want to play banjo right now and try out this technique I visualized!

On the plus side...

On a cold and windy February night, a man who gave only his first name walked up to the Al-Farooq Islamic Center in south Nashville and handed a gallon of stain-blocker paint and a bag of brushes, rollers and rags to a Somali man standing in the parking lot. Tim, an East Nashville resident, said he did the first thing he could think of when he drove by the center Wednesday and saw the words “Muslims Go home” and a crusade-style cross spray-painted in red across the front of the center, which doubles as a mosque.
“When I saw it, I just broke down crying,” the self-described unemployed truck driver said. “I went straight to Home Depot and bought a gallon of paint.”


Saturday, February 13, 2010

William Saroyan

Just rec'd an interesting email.

Dear Charles,

I just watched your "Deconstructing Sally" film and loved every minute of it. You're a true storyteller—in film, no less.

We met in the early '70s in Eugene....Here's something I'll never forget—you were the one who turned me onto William Saroyan. To this day he's still my favorite author. I even met him a couple of times in the '70s, once in Fresno and once in San Francisco. I wrote an article about each meeting and both articles were published in Writer's Digest.

Now the Saroyan story is very cool. That's why we recommend writers. His turn to continue the process, as I'm sure he has.

He's a writer himself. Joseph Sutton website.

Avatar II

James Cameron is an elemental film storyteller. He knows how to define clear good and bad guys, how to crank up a story over the long haul, how to deliver a happy ending.
TITANTIC fulfilled this promise and so does AVATAR.

This said, I'm not a fan of the latter. The 3D was engaging for a while but in the end I would have sacrificed the visual 3D for getting rid of the glasses. Since I'm not a great fan of the action genre, the action scenes went on far too long for me. I got bored early. The story was, well, generic and predictable, a story told often enough successfully in the past that it was sure to work yet again. I guess we'll always be attracted to the Noble Savage. All in all, there may have been a 90 minute movie in these two and a half hours that could have held my interest.

Far more interesting is the film as cultural phenomenon. I hope this is not the future of filmmaking. As a matter of fact, I feel like the remedy to AVATAR is to watch, as soon as possible, something like THE LAST PICTURE SHOW or WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, which I happen to be taping soon. I feel like running to the nearest basement theater to see an Albee play in the round playing to a full house of 100.

Well, at my age I hardly need another reminder that I do not share the tastes of the mainstream. Cameron is skilled and knows his audience. I just happen not to be a part of it.


Finally getting around to seeing this, in the morning at the most advanced tech theater in the area. Go the whole hog. Frankly I'm worried because it's long, I'm easily bored, and I've heard the story is weak. But I'll give it a shot.

Later want to put in time on banjo. I still have some bad early habits to fix.

The score still calls. Ah, me.

Friday, February 12, 2010


A surprise check today, not a lot but enough to spend ha ha. They frequently surprise me.

Reason for hope


Once again my energy level crashes big time on a Friday afternoon. But I had a good morning of work.

A shooting spree at the Univ of Alabama has arrested a female suspect, which is very unusual.

Winter Olympics start tonight. I love the Os but the summer more than winter. Have to root for Apollo, though!

Big day Monday, dealing with scenes to workshop in class during the week. Meanwhile my time is my own and I'll get as much done as energy permits. But being old is sure not like being younger in this regard. In retrospect, I don't see how I got through the Sally video, the last obsessive project I was involved in. I suppose it was mind over matter and another obsession might do this again. But my obsessive days also may be over, which doesn't upset me.

I got H flowers and candy for VDay, which arrived and the flowers are starting to bloom, pink lilies and blue something else, quite nice if I say so myself. She hasn't let me try the chocolate yet ha ha.

Gave up on my attempt to understand space time physics math equations. Been away from it far, far too long. Astounding what I used to know that today I haven't a clue about. My Russian is embarrassingly rusty as well.

But I play better banjo than ever, or at least I'm getting there. And I have a large literary archive I'm proud of. So it's not all lost skills ha ha.

Some folks find my zero sum universe theory depressing. Well, if you are a Christian believing in Grand Design, "God knows why" etc, yes, you would be critical of it. But I don't believe God worries about us at all. Why the hell bother?

The reason zero sum has positive effects is that the media so much concentrates on negativity, the negative news, that we have to embrace the positive to climb back up to zero. The news reminds me, at least, of all our greatness -- and the more negative the news, the more greatness I recall to cancel it out for a zero sum.

Zero sum, in this culture, is optimistic!

My 3rd clawhammer song

Music, music, music!

It's music day. Practice the banjo, work on the score. I also am starting to shop around for alternatives to continuing my banjo lessons, which end in three weeks. I love my teacher and have to inquire about private lessons. There are half a dozen other teachers in town, a large number. I'll think of something. I don't want to spend a ton of money, of course, but I think I can work something out. The teacher won't be doing an advanced class for a while apparently. I'll take it if I can when she does.

I still haven't finished the present duet on the score. Need to do that.

Cops and bullets

I have great sympathy and admiration for the police. I can't think of a more stressful job in today's society. At the same time, here in Portland we appear to have an unusually large number of cases in which the police shoot at, and usually kill, unarmed citizens. A hearing is held, the police are exonerated, and citizens protest.

I don't understand why this has to happen. If we can put down a raging lion or rhino in the jungle with a dart, surely the police can put down a raging human without killing him. Technology should be able to solve this problem. I can understand the police responding to a threat, particularly given the considerable stress of their job and the large number of instances when they're fired upon at a traffic stop and such. But aren't there alternatives to shooting real bullets? Can't they subdue a threat, like a raging rhino in the jungle, without killing them?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

An early start

Reading the remaining student projects early this morning. Need time to do other things to prep for class.

Busy, busy.

More crackdown and violence in Iran today. Bloggers covering it. There's so much good humanistic energy in the opposition movement there, who in their right mind would want to bomb Iran, as folks from McLain to Palin have called for. Of course, we have a long, long history of alienating homegrown democratic protest movements, one of the terrible ironies of our foreign policy since McKinley's dream.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Iran: "Death to the dictator!"

Approaching senility

So I'm watching TV when my wife asks, Don't you have banjo class tonight? Right, I reply. What time? 7. Are you sure? 7 to 8, I say. H says, I think you leave earlier than that. Really? I say. She looks the class up on the Internet and says, Your class starts at 605. It's 540 and I have a long drive!

Well, I made it a little late. But I can't believe this. How can I forget when a class I love so much starts? A little scary.


A few more scripts to evaluate but I'll do them tomorrow morning -- I've run out of steam, need to strum the banjo, get a second wind, and go off to my lesson.

Got more done today than I expected to actually.

Friday I need to get back to the score and finish this duet rattling in my head.

Green Wave Energy

This company has a wind-solar outdoor light system that, as shown on CNN a moment ago, is pretty impressive. This is the kind of creative entrepreneurs we need to encourage in this country. We need the green Edisons and Wright Brothers. Maybe they're all in China.

Climate QED

The problem is that more severe winter weather tends to confirm rather than contradict climate change theory. Warmer overall temperatures produce moisture, which in winter tends to produce snow. Climate scientists have long predicted more turbulent winter weather as a result of climate change. And by the way, last month was the world's warmest January on record.

This won't keep conservatives from taking cheap shots at anyone who wants to deal with climate change, but it's worth knowing that this particular attack line is particularly cynical and wrong-minded.


Plowing ahead

Making progress on script drafts. Some good ones, some not so good ones.

How do we know what we know?

A fascinating journey from the Christian right to libertarian:

It took crossing both oceans, a comprehensive study of the history of religion and government, and four years of college to change my perspective. As someone who moved from one extreme to the other, I can tell you the one thing that saved me was the conservative impulse to be self critical, to avoid hubris and arrogance. The other was my parents teaching me to love science.


This is precisely why some parents fear college or claim colleges are leftwing propaganda factories for their children: minds get changed. All institutions have areas of political bias but the university more often than not lives up to the goal of academia to teach an accurate history of the life of the mind in all its explorations and journeys to understand the world around us. Science has done a better job than other departments because in science and math, there are accepted tests for what is shown to be so and not shown to be so. This is more problematical in the humanities. Indeed, one of the reasons I love teaching screenwriting, and much prefer it to teaching playwriting or fiction, is that there is an area in which it's clear what "wrong" means. It's like teaching sonnet writing. If you turn in 15 lines, it's not a sonnet.

This country retains its long love affair with anti-intellectualism, and that's just too bad. Maybe it comes from our roots and the importance of frontiersmen, those who could do labor being more important than those who could think clearly. But we used also to have a tradition of the marriage of both, the blue collar intellectual, the longshoreman as philosopher, and this seems to have been lost as we became more specialized. And once you define the news media as entertainment, you commit yourself to playing to the lowest common denominator.

I really do want Palin to run for president. I want to learn how many votes she'll actually get. As depressing as this may prove to be, I want to know.


Watch 24/7:

Busy, busy

Looking at first drafts of projects today and next Wed., making for full days. And banjo lesson in the evening. Tired just thinking about it ha ha.

But it's also a good day because if I stick to it, I have the hours to do it. It's not a rushed day, in other words.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Tues afternoon quarterbacking

4 plays stick with me from the Super Bowl. 2 positive plays for the Saints, 2 negative plays for the Colts.

Why, after a goal line stand, did the Colts do three RUNNING plays and have to punt? They were short passing at will all game long. This gave the Saints a field goal before halftime.

Why did Manning throw the interception? This was his fault, though he seemed to deny it by saying Porter made a great play. Hell, Manning practically threw it to him. This was a definite lapse from a gifted quarterback. His bad, period.

The onside kick to start the second half! Wow! And going for the two point conversion -- and then making the challenge.

The Saints deserved to win. But if Manning had not thrown the interception, the game might have gone overtime.

The Saints deserved to win. But the Colts didn't help their own cause with these two lapses.

A final book?

I doubt if I'll do this but I might snoop around to see how feasible it is. I have no more novels or plays to write but I might have a nonfiction book left in me, a look at McKinley's dream from a couple of perspectives, such as Henry Cabot Lodge's formal isolationism and Mark Twain's bitter satire against McKinley. More and more, I think this moment in 1898 is the quintessential American moment, a Christian vision to save and civilize heathens (i.e. Filipinos) from themselves. It's not much of a stretch from this to trying to set up democratic governments in the Middle East. The Save the World syndrome, and not seeing it as arrogant and racist but as Christian good works.

McKinley started it, with his visitation from Christ, and no one lambasted the moment better than Twain. This is a story too little known. My model would be GENESIS ANGELS, that kind of short poetic treatment of a moment in history. I'd have three major players, McK, Twain, Lodge. It could be done in under 200 pages, and I know the history well enough to direct my research efficiently.

I'll snoop around and see how hard this would be. I don't want a long time-consuming project that I might not live to finish. I want to see light at the end of the tunnel on day two ha ha.

But I definitely have been interested in McKinley's dream for decades, since it played a minor part in my co-authored history play A BROWN MAN'S BURDEN (written with historian Mark Falcoff). It's the very birth of American do-gooder imperialism.

A screenwriting career

Someone made an appointment to pick my brain at office hours. Middle aged, in medical profession, midlife crisis, wants to switch careers and become a screenwriter. Right. Even if he's learned the craft well, it's a crap shoot. If he's really serious, I suppose I'd advise finding a job in his current field in L.A. and go from there, assuming he knows the craft already. If not, stay where he is and learn it from here. Enter the important contests. Do well in one and you have a glimmer of encouragement.

Folks don't realize what a tough field it is and what a crap shoot to boot.

Live video

From a reference in an article I was reading, I discovered a mind-boggling website featuring live streaming video, called I don't even know where to begin. Movies, sports, music, it appears to have everything imaginable. I stumbled upon all 156 episodes of the first five years of Twilight Zone, for example. It's not organized in a way that readily communicates everything you want to know, like what movie you're watching, but this definitely is a site to explore. I want to see what live sporting events are available. And old movies and tv shows. Mind-boggling, in my dinosaur eyes.

Quality control

Since I don't measure anything when I make scrapple and do everything by feel and sight, my quality isn't consistent. This last batch, for example, which I finished at breakfast, was too moist. Probably too much fat rather than not thickening enough. I recall thinking that when I made it. Too much fat. The taste, however, was better than average. A tradeoff, perhaps.

Probably make the next batch on Friday.

The writing habit

"Retired" or not, I woke with most of a poem in my head. A harmless distraction, I suppose. Here it is, finished later this morning.


...died from a heart attack while making love to his wife.
News item


If I die in your arms
quite literally so
under no condition blame yourself


Even if our eyes are locked
despite the contortions of my face
which make me look inhuman

If I am panting, drooling,
and would seem to be
in excruciating pain

If I gasp and cry out,
even if I weep
or speak utter nonsense

Do not despair for a moment

Even if at last I am too heavy
on you, difficult to get out from under
dead wood on a wet beach

and then so still, so silent
it takes you a moment to realize
this is it, this is how it ends

even if examples worse than this
prove true, even if anything
do not despair, and know this

some things we will never comprehend
I died a happy man

--Charles Deemer

Monday, February 08, 2010

My 2nd clawhammer song

My 1st clawhammer song

Dog day afternoon

Not really. But there's a bit of sun and I need a break from student papers, so Sketch and I are going to our favorite doggy park in West Lynn, a nice drive, a nice adventure.

A blog is a promise

"A story is a promise," writes Bill Johnson in his book of the same name about storytelling. I think a blog is a promise, too -- or should be. It's a promise by the writer to add contributions on some kind of regular basis. Several times I've become attached to blogs whose writers made daily, or almost daily, entries, only to have the writer suddenly disappear for days, weeks, even months at a time. Needless to say I deleted them from my list of blogs to visit but nonetheless, I felt some unspoken compact had been violated. It suggested corporate behavior to me: I became attached to Maple Mocciatos at Starbucks when they introduced it, then a few months later they dropped it for lack of interest or something. At the very least, bloggers who are going to scram should give warning.

Surrealism in politics

Imagine a presidential debate between Palin and Obama. Talk about surrealism in politics! The VP debates gave a hint as to how it might go but Obama is cooler, wittier and more able to think on his feet than Biden, so it's fascinating to wonder how he might react to some of Palin's inevitable moronic moments. Mind-boggling to think about.

Mardi Gras starts a week early

P.S. on incredible memoir

Spike Lee bought the rights and will do a film. Perfect. I hope I get to see it. If done right, this story/film could win an Oscar. It's got all the ingredients, both heartfelt and profound, sentimental and serious, mysterious and awesome. I wish I were writing the screenplay, of course, but in Lee's hands the material should be very safe indeed. This really strikes me as a winner.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

New Orleans party time! 31-17!

And they earned it. A clean great hard fought game.

Say who?

I like The Who. However, I don't like rock concerts at halftime of football games. I like marching bands, that's how much of an old fart I am, and why I prefer college to pro football (and high school better than college). But the Super Bowl has become its own genre.

However this is not the best sporting event on TV today. The indoor Boston track meet was, rebroadcast from yesterday. The men's and women's 3000 and 5000 meter runs were the sporting highlights of the day for me. Galen Rupp came in 4th, significant because he ran his best time. He's going to be a bigger star than he already is.

I don't like the sprints, however, Give me the middle and long distance races. Strategy, stamina. I love it.

The Colts look to me like they're going to win, but I suppose anything could happen.

What a terrific game! Saints lead by 7 with less than six mins., Colts ball.


My blackeyed peas are extraordinary! Let me see if I can remember what I did.

  • I soaked the peas over night.
  • In the morning I drained them, added 2 cans of chicken broth. Seasoned with Italian seasoning, paprika and a bit of chile powder. Started simmering.
  • In a separate pot, began boiling the hell out of a ham hock.
  • To the simmering peas added chopped onions, chopped green pepper. Added two sliced precooked cajun sausages.
  • Added a can of diced tomatoes.
  • After several hours, took the hamhock and cut the meat and some fat off, chopped, added to peas, along with some broth from its pot.
  • Let it all simmer to reduce the liquid.
  • Dug in. Incredible!

A remarkable memoir!

Dr. Ronald L. Mallett
Thunder's Mouth Press, 2006, 215 pages

As a kid, Mallett read and loved science-fiction -- so when his beloved father died when he was just 11 (if I recall), he vowed to learn how to build a time machine so he could go back and see him and also change the health conditions that killed him.

What is extraordinary is that this motivation drove a black kid in the projects to overcome all odds and become a theoretical physicist. Today, in science, time travel is not the joke it was through most of Mallett's career -- it is taken seriously. Mallett kept his goal and his lifelong motivation close to the vest for decades but now, recently, the cat is out of the bag and he and his colleagues get closer to his goal. As I understand it, theory now says time travel is possible but creating the "machine" to do this is a great challenge.

Now think of this. A black kid in the projects loses his dad. He decides he'll learn how to build a time machine so he can see him again. He becomes a physicist at a time (beginning in the 50s) when black physicists were few and far between. He lets his research interests be directed by his goal, to travel back in time, so he concentrates on Einstein's theories of gravity, curved space, black holes, worm holes. He comes up with equations that his peers accept. He publishes papers on the subject after learning that others also are interested in time travel, it's nothing to be worried about any more (being called a "crackpot" could have ruined his career).

Mallett teaches at the Univ. of Connecticut and I emailed him today to inquire about the film rights. I assume Hollywood has picked up on this story, especially since many magazines around the world have and a documentary was even made about him. Somehow I missed all this. So I want to know where the movie stands. And if by chance, none is in the works, I'm going to see if I can cut a deal with the man and write the screenplay myself.

This is one of the more inspiring and incredible true stories I've heard in years.


Been watching this film, multitasking since I've seen it so many times. What a hoot of a movie! Maybe the funniest film about screenwriting ever made. Full of inside jokes.

Darwin's humanity

Randal Keynes
Riverhead Books, 2001, 430 pages

This is a book that focuses not so much on Darwin's theory of evolution but on the personal price he paid for it. He well knew the controversy it would begin, which caused him to delay publication until forced to when other scientists independently formulated the natural selection process. Darwin also wrestled with personal conflicts about the strong Christian belief of his wife, whom he adored, against his own growing doubts; and the terrible loss of a daughter, which also made him question life's ultimate meaning. Darwin was anything but an enthusiastic salesman for evolution: he came to the theory because his studies and data, the evidence, brought him there, even though by temperament he would have preferred to lead to different conclusions.

This is a book that should be read by those who question evolution as scientific propaganda. Darwin paid a deep personal price for his scientific courage, to go where the facts took him, no matter what the belief system of the time had to say. This is a moving story about an important discovery.

Super Bowl Sunday

Blackeyed peas and hamhocks on the stove, simmering away. But H has previous meetings today, which tells you something about certain women and football ha ha, so will miss most of my Super Bowl party of one. Well, two, can't count sketch out, especially if I sneak food to him. Actually I think there are anti-Super Bowl festivities planned hither and yon.

My most memorable Super Bowl parties were at Nobby's in the 80s. After a season of predicting games, a big Thanksgiving-like feast on Super Bowl Sunday would wrap up the year. The winner of hundreds of dollars would be announced, often a woman to the chagrin of many of the guys, and the game was usually boring but the party strong. I never did so well in these game prediction affairs. But I was damn good at partying.

I don't know why they have the game so damn late. More time to hype, no doubt. It gets worse every year, and actually I myself have boycotted the game in recent years, not caring who won, but I'm a great fan of Manning and I love the Saints story, so this is a winner no matter what turns out.

And you can watch football and practice the banjo at the same time.

Fantasy politics

Palin's political strategy comes straight out of Orwell. Begin with a lie, and then correct it. Thus, something like, The President should quit insulting the troops. Not only has Obama never insulted the troops, more than any president in recent memory he has been visible in his support of the military and their families, meeting coffins, visiting cemeteries and families, fighting for VA rights. But Palin's lie, and her criticism, make some (many?) folks believe our president insults the military.

In her speech, she told the same tired story about Obama and his teleprompter, and this after he was incredibly impressive WITHOUT notes of any kind in the way he answered questions and returned fire with the GOP. It was a command performance by a man thinking on his feet with an incredible stock of data in his memory. The very opposite of Palin's insinuation (she who had her own notes scribbled on the palm of her hand for a lightweight Q&A after her speech!).

Tell the Big Lie and people will believe it, straight out of Orwell.

Encouraging feedback

The best thing about my "first clawhammer song" recorded below is not what's wrong with it but what's right with it. It sounds like a banjo! The clawhammer sound is there, as it is not quite there with the Seeger strum technique I learned decades ago when I first picked the instrument up. I'm making quick progress because my left hand is already there, more or less, so I just need to master the clawhammer strum. And this recording was done with a smaller fingernail than I'd prefer, having torn it. So my classes definitely are encouraging, I think I'll get this technique down.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Sullivan's fear -- and its justification

If you are one of those people who think this person cannot become president of the United States, think again.

Two lines stood out for me. The first is a sign that she believes and her followers believe that she has a divine destiny. She is Esther, with a touch of martyrdom:

"I will live, I will die for the people of America."

The second was the Dolchstoss attack on the duly elected president of the United States:

"We need a commander-in-chief not a professor of law."


I thought I was watching a scary political thriller like Manchurian Candidate when she said I will live, I will die for the people of America. This lady really has delusions of grandeur. This is what makes Sullivan right about her being dangerous.

But surely the media make much more of this than it really is, right? I mean, the majority of Americans aren't this stupid, are they? Let's have a head count and find out. I hope she runs for president. And if she doesn't, if she's stubborn and individualistic, maybe she'll hurt the Republicans -- or force them to move toward the center to distance themselves from her (fat chance).

Live blogging

Andrew Sullivan's live blogging of Palin's speech was more interesting than the speech itself. Sullivan, a former conservative whose hero is Reagan, gay, Catholic, bright, is an interesting commentator. He also has become one of the most vocal critics of Palin and is, in fact, terrified of her potential to harm this country. In a way, I hope she is the Republican nominee in 2012 so we can get this show down over with. Then I might still be around to see the results. But it's astonishing to see all this only one year after such an historic election -- although "all this" well may be grossly exaggerated by the media. Yes, let's have a show down, let the right fringe put up or shut up.

Highlights from Sullivan:

9.30 pm. The first mention of the debt after half an hour. This is a brutal, take-no-prisoner attack on Obama. She's running for president.

9.33 pm. Again, she's reprising fantasies of her alleged record in Alaska as fiscally conservative and reformist. "Get government out of the way." On healthcare, she favors meaningful "market reforms." The same old "across state lines purchases" and tort reform. That's it. Nothing else.

9.42 pm. Now the resentment. "Considering a candidate's children fair game." She's railing against the "elitists". Her invocation of Ronald Reagan is, to me, sickening.And in the peroration, the key proof of her being a genuine person: her son, Trig, and people with special needs. That has gotten the biggest applause of the night. It will be code for banning abortion. And she will be its talisman.

9.46 pm. There is no question in my mind that Palin is the leader of the opposition in this country. And there is no question in my mind that she is the leader of the Tea Party movement. Listening to her completely content-free rehash of every Fox News truism, underlined with the classic claim that Obama is on the side of the terrorists and is incapable of being commander-in-chief. Cheneyism is behind her.


9.51 pm. She says that the key to the future is to seek "divine intervention." Reliance on the Creator. Maybe God can balance the budget.

9.56 pm. Her plan: support those who understand the foundation of our country. Free market principles, hard work, and then in national security: "We win. They lose." By they, she means, I think, Islamism. But how do we win? Does she think we "won" under Bush and Cheney? Again, there's nothing here but slogans and cliches - no specifics, no proposed cuts, no actual strategic arguments in foreign policy. Just fight our enemies and win.

My favorite summary after the speech: a cogent speech for a policy that was incomprehensible.

Four lessons

Faster, cleaner, we'll have something. But so far, I'm pleased.


Although the first symptoms of my aging have been physical (everything aches), the adjustment is largely mental, psychological. I've always been a prolific, obsessive, hard working writer. Now I just don't have the energy for it. I'm good for a few hours in the morning, then I need a nap or rest. I still am able to psyche myself up for my afternoon classes but when class is over, I feel ready to crash, which is to say, teaching takes more out of me than it used to. (At the same time, I enjoy it more, perhaps because there is less competition as my writing energy declines.)

I am, to summarize, a mere shadow of what I was only a few years ago. An old story.

So I seem to have the perfect projects for this decreased energy level because both are less obsessive to me than writing, i.e. the opera score and banjo practice. And I'm reading more because I have the time to and enjoying the hell out of it.

For every thing there is a season etc etc etc. There's nothing new under the sun etc etc etc. Nature wins etc etc etc. Cliches are cliches because they are true.

Just ask

I have an invisible stat counter that, among other things, tells me how folks get to this blog. One of the more interesting searches to get here happened this morning. In Jakarta, someone searched for "interpretation 'The Stiff' by Charles Deemer."

I'm fascinated by this. First, it's a one-act farce that's pretty much been ignored since I wrote it some 40 years ago but I still think highly enough of it to include it in my reader. So I'm thrilled when anyone notices it. Second, I don't understand what's so hard to understand. It's a farce about politics. You laugh or you don't. Third, anyone who can find the script online should be able to find my email address. They should just ask.

But this was the most interesting search trajectory since "bars in Baumholder."

You can read The Stiff here.

Geezer blogs

Just read an article about a study that reports blogging is very uncool among the young. Only demographic where blogging is on the rise is among "geezers", who are defined as "over 30." Now there's a statement about the youth culture for you! What does that make bloggers over 70 like myself? Invisible? Irrelevant? Dead?

Actually the best blogs, manned by folks over 30 I'm sure, are a new form of journalism, sites like Art Scatter and The Daily Dish. Cyberspace lets good journalists/observers/critics, like Bob Hicks and Andrew Sullivan who host the sites above, spread their wings in a way limited print space never did. This is the sense in which social and political commentary has improved since the Internet. Of course, given how easy it is for anyone to comment, there's also many, many tons of crap available, the junk mail of cyberspace. But great stuff is there to be found.

Let the kids twitter and let geezers use the blogs in a serious manner. Said the dinosaur.

Missed mornings

I miss my closest male friends, all of whom I've outlived, most on Saturday mornings because that's when I'd often have an early breakfast with one of them. These affairs could last several hours, full of good talk and sharing and a lot of laughter.

My Saturday mornings are not the same since their passing.

Still worried about an encroaching illness. Being guarded, careful. Yesterday I ended up making some progress on the banjo, so the day ended better than it started.

I'll start cooking for the Super Bowl this afternoon, I think. Some prep work. Otherwise trying to have a quiet day, guarding my health.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Disappointing day

Lost my energy, feeling like an illness is coming on, and so all I got done today was a bit of banjo practice and some shopping for Super Bowl goodies. But mainly dragging, just dragging, my slow ass through the day.

Mind in the morning

I've always had a cooperative dream life. That is, instead of weird dreams begging for interpretation, the dreams I recall are always scenes from whatever story I'm working on -- so that I wake eager to write them down, going to my work desk feeling more like a secretary than a writer.

Even on non-writing projects, my dreams plug into my life. Waking this morning, for example, "I ache, therefore I am," I saw vivid visualizations of banjo exercises I've been working on, learning single note brushes. I'll actually do these exercises later in the day and I have no idea if seeing them in my mind helps me learn them, but that's what I awoke to. Soon, however, my mind had slipped into my musical score, and I began working out the structure of the next 16 bars of an old man, ghost of wife, duet I've been working on. The next writing I'll do on the score, hopefully today.

So my dreams continue to cooperate. Maybe there are hidden horrors that haven't risen to consciousness but this is what I remember when I wake up.

I later gave some thought to the Super Bowl. It will be a great game because either team winning will be a great thing, either a celebration of Manning's extraordinary mental and physical gifts as a quarterback, or the poetic justice of the Saints completing the feel good sports story of the year. As long as it is a clean, hard-fought game with nothing weird, this should be a Super Bowl to remember.

I decided to make special blackeyed peas for the day, something a little fancier than what I typically do. I look forward to Sunday. Until then, I have two good days to get a lot of work done on the banjo and the score.

As long as I keep Voltaire front and center, tending my own garden, life is good. It's in the broader perspective that garbage enters the picture. Just as V has it in Candide. Because "it's the worst of all possible worlds" is as much a satire as the other.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Office hours

I froze my ass off hobbling to campus from the bus stop, Wind chill is the killer. Nice to be in my warm office, and a quiet one at that. Read midterms in class today, a celebration of progress.

Energy to get lots of banjo practicing done over my weekend but also will return to the opera score. This new rhythm has been working out for me.

The reader's arrival goes into the whimper category, as expected. But it's the best thing I've done in a long time. Its effect feels very liberating.

Despite how much I enjoy teaching, I do rather wish I was living in a small town in a climate that was warm year round. Pipe dream. The Sun Man Cometh ha ha.

Not with a bang but a whimper

Eliot told us how the world ends but many other things end more quietly, more invisibly, than we might imagine. Careers can end this way. Marriages can end this way. Personal motivations and dreams can end this way.

Now and again, of course, something can end with a bang. The marriage that inspired my video Deconstructing Sally ended with a bang that still echoed decades later, which was the energy behind making the work.

All things considered, it's probably healthy that most things end with a whimper. Whimpers are more survivable than bangs.

Insurance companies

The largest homeowners insurer in Florida is canceling the policies of 125,000 of its most vulnerable customers beginning Aug. 1, halfway through the 2010 hurricane season.

The company, State Farm Florida, began sending out cancellation notices this week to nearly a fifth of its 714,000 customers, most of them in the state’s hurricane-prone coastal regions.

A spokesman for State Farm said the decision was the direct result of its failure to win a 47.1 percent rate increase from state regulators.


In other words, you play my way or the highway.

I am mystified by folks who insist corporations like insurance companies have your best interests at heart. The right, much of it, strikes me as having the right emotions (frustration, anger) but the wrong enemy.

Banjo lessons

Only two of us in class last night, which makes me the only one who's been to every class. I wonder if this is generational. I'm the only old fart in class.

At any rate, it was cool because we got lots of individual attention. Two highlights: the teacher identified a subtle bad habit I'm developing and need to correct; and she taught us an advanced technique, which gives me plenty to work on this week. Plus I'm also going through the DVD/book I used the first time around, which is more helpful this time than before since I have a live teacher to whom to ask questions that clarify matters.

So all is going very well so far. Real progress. Alas, there will be no advanced class immediately following this one. She says she needs several beginning classes from which to draw enough advanced students, so it might be six months or a year before she offers another one. I'll be there if it's on a night I'm not teaching.

Five more midterms to read. Today in class we celebrate what they've learned rather than focusing on what they still need to learn. A midpoint party of sorts. Then back to the hard work.

Tomorrow I'm already calling banjo day. Lots of energy to practice and improve.

I thought about catching the last half of First Wednesday after class last night but just didn't have the energy to drive across town and do that, then not get home till almost ten. I was in bed by ten.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The new dance

There's a new dance of citiizenry, new steps in being an involved citizen. This is a major change from what it used to mean to be a citizen. The change, interestingly enough, is in the direction of greater visibility but less real power.

It works this way. It used to be that politics, like religion, was pretty private. The secret ballot was sacred. I can remember my parents trying to guess if new friends were Democrats or Republicans! It was bad form, bad manners, to ask. Folks who flaunted their politics with lawn signs were the exception, not the rule.

An advantage to this was that you could make friends easily with folks with whom you had political disagreements -- because the disagreements were never visible.

Today everyone is asked to have a public opinion about everything. It's a big deal on news shows to broadcast the views of citizens. The rub is, so what? In fact, we have less real power than ever before. Corporations rule most of our lives, and government comes in a distant second. What we buy, what products are offered to us, what choices we get in the marketplace, all the accouterments of our lives, are determined by corporate marketing departments. If we actually want something in numbers, like cars that get better mileage, it takes forever for the message to invoke change.

The way we take control over our lives is almost to drop out: to refuse to be a consumer in the mainstream.

And yet, we have our views broadcast to millions as if they actually meant more than a single powerless opinion.

I prefer the way my parents had it. People kept their political beliefs to themselves. Corporations had not taken control of our lives yet. Family restaurants outnumbered chain fast food joints, by many times over. Indeed, one of the real joys of traveling used to be to discover all the little family restaurants with regional cooking. You can still do some of that but main street now has the same fast food places offering the same menu in huge numbers. None of those existed half a century ago. They were all individual, personal family restaurants, not monolithic corporate restaurants.

Of course no one is boycotting these places.

"What the people expect, they get. What they get, they deserve. Always." --The Stiff, a play by Charles Deemer