Spaghetti Junction Episode #41

 

[btx_image image_id=”24″ link=”/” position=”overlapright”][/btx_image]The Spaghetti Junction Podcast takes its name from the large boondoggle of highways found in large cities. The convoluted nature of intertwining highways is as daunting as modern life. Everything is connected, but we’re not sure how! Each week I explore some facet of politics, arts, and sports that wind and ripple significantly through our lives. You can listen to the podcast on iTunes, Podomatic, or Google play as The Spaghetti Junction Podcast. This is a transcript of episode #41: 

H.L. Mencken described conscience as an inner voice which warns us that someone may be looking. Think of me as the inner voice at Spaghetti Junction that’s looking out for you. Episode #41 poses these questions: First, Do you ever know who you are? Really? Second, The day the laughter stopped? Buster Keaton said that? Finally, Do sports and politics mix? For some its a non-sequitur. What are they watching?

MUSIC ROLLOVER

[btx_image image_id=”424″ link=”/” position=”left”][/btx_image]POLITICS

Sometime in the eighties, I discovered and then became a believer, if you will, in Sanford Meisner and his approach to acting. It worked for me; furthermore, when I began teaching his approach it worked for my students to amazing success. They became so much more available to the moment. I remember fondly how they always looked amazed when I asked them to listen and watch because the other actors will tell you who you are. In some ways, the character background work espoused by Method actors was busy work. According to Meisner, all you had to do was listen and the world will tell you who you are. Meisner did offer this qualifier: this is true when working with quality writers!

I began rethinking this Meisner phenomenon after listening to an Ezra Klein podcast recently, in which he interviewed Lilliana Mason, the author of Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity. I cannot urge too strongly that you listen to this podcast. Google The Ezra Klein Show “The Age of Mega-Identity Politics. It’s more than an hour long but time well spent, especially the conclusions discussed regarding the evolution of a new cleavage in the American Political spectrum.

If the world, as Meisner contends, tells us who we are, can we resist? Can we change our identity? Under what circumstances would we change? At first blush, change sounds possible; but, the more I read about mega-identities that have permeated our lives, I am becoming skeptical. Changing our identity is not simply flipping a switch, or parting our hair on the opposite side; it’s an entire makeover not just of how we think of ourselves, but how we dress, where we live, and what we do each and every day of our lives; more importantly, how we see the rest of the world. That’s a far more daunting task then one might anticipate. It’s why Mr. Kayne West is absolutely wrong when he says slavery was a choice because it lasted more than 400 years. There never was a choice. For many, that is true today.

Identity, it seems, is closely linked to self-esteem, there is ample evidence of that in the sports world, where so many people equate their identity with professional or collegiate sports teams. In so many cases this fandom is rabid! When their team loses they become despondent, some almost catatonic while suffering the humiliation of the defeat. Equally telling is the search for someone or something to blame: the refs, dirty play by the opposing players, or simply cheating — the ultimate conspiracy. It’s a short step to hate, and as we have seen in so many situations, an even shorter step to violence.

A telling bit of research was discussed by Klein and Mason. They did an experiment with a partisan group of people wherein two social programs were described, one very stringent, the other more generous. They randomly assigned these proposals to the people regardless of their political affiliation, telling them that it represented their party position. They were then asked to defend their choices in an op-ed piece constructing arguments for positions they did not intrinsically hold! They did so, magnificently. In another experiment, they were told that social benefits would be distributed to each member of the groups in the amount of 5 dollars per person, then they constructed alternative distributions that changed the amounts based upon the party and asked if they would support such decisions. They discovered that participants would accept less than five dollars, if their party won, despite their receiving less than five dollars. In other words, both these examples demonstrate it’s about winning, not doing the right thing. Political identities have become hugely influential.

In 1998 Franklin Graham wrote an op-ed article about Bill Clinton QUOTE. “Private conduct does have public consequences,” Graham wrote in a 1998 Wall Street Journal op-ed titled, “Clinton’s Sins Aren’t Private.”

QUOTE. ”Just look at how many have already been pulled under by the wake of the president’s sin: Mr. Clinton’s wife and daughter, Ms. Lewinsky, her parents, White House staff members, friends, and supporters, public officials and an unwitting American public.”

He continued, saying, QUOTE. ”the God of the Bible says that what one does in private does matter. Mr. Clinton’s months-long extramarital sexual behavior in the Oval Office now concerns him and the rest of the world, not just his immediate family. If he will lie to or mislead his wife and daughter, those with whom he is most intimate, what will prevent him from doing the same to the American public?” UNQUOTE.

Yet today Franklin Graham insists that because Trump denies the Stormy Daniels incident, we should take him at his word, and furthermore, it is a private matter between Donald and Melania. I think this is a rather compelling spelling of hypocrisy! Again, it’s about winning. The religious right has made a Faustian bargain with Donald Trump.

Ezra Klein suggested that we think of our minds as being truth-seeking machines, when in fact they operate more like a press-secretary, justifying our beliefs. Ultimately, this identity philosophy is about winning and losing only, because identity is tied to esteem and anything that endangers our self-esteem, we resist, especially if we are thought to be in competition and thereby at risk.

This apparently happens in Congress, too, where legislation is not a compromise between competing philosophies, but a zero-sum game where legislation is framed as one side must win, and the other must lose!

This is profoundly disturbing. What is the outcome, the endgame for this era of Donald Trump? Is it game over? Do we evolve, and if so, in what direction. If we don’t evolve, do we just slowly sink into oblivion, a footnote in the arc of history?

Miss Mason suggests that it is far too early for that conclusion. We are, she says, still in the process of sorting out a new cleavage among American Politics, and its expression is nascent. The cleavage of the 60s with its push for social justice had nowhere to go because there was no party of social justice. Today there is one. What we have today is a cultural war (incidentally, this is the 50th anniversary of Hair!) One outcome might well be a civil war, but I would hope better angels would prevail. Still, We are in the process of separating ourselves into two major groups: one, on the right, that is conservative, Christian, and white. The second, on the left, is liberal, non-white and atheist. I take exception to her characterization in that while I am liberal (for the most part), I am white (not non-white), and not exactly an atheist! I simply believe the proclamations set forth in the Declaration and Constitution matter.

The X-factor in all of this is the element of self-esteem. When so much of your identity is tied to politics, religious preference, racial integrity, and cultural identity, there is a risk when the stakes are high. With so much crossover among identities, it’s simply too much baggage to drag from one place to another. Should Donald Trump prevail, many of us will feel that our identity as liberal, multi-cultured, ethnically compassionate individuals with tolerance for people who do not look or pray as we do, is existentially threatened. Real compromise can only happen when we experience the humanity of others. That is no easy shift in this polarized environment.

There are those who pooh-pooh the cultural issues and claim that Donald Trump was and is about economics. They will point to a recent PEW research that says among non-college educated voters who voted for Barack Obama, 20% of those voters switched to Donald Trump. Trump did this by calling out the Americans as Losers, repeatedly! Not exactly the best political slogan. The difference is that he not only called them out for being losers (unlike himself), and did it repeatedly, but he also identified a reason why! He pointed to a scapegoat: Mexicans and immigrants in general. There’s more to his pitch, for sure. But this was the opening gambit that made people listen. “You’re losers (not like me) because of foreigners.”

I think the election of Donald Trump was more nuanced than landing on any of the following solely: race, economics, religion, and culture.

To be sure, There is no substantive data that suggests that immigrants and/or religious persecution are responsible for wage stagnation and the shift of manufacturing jobs outside our country for cheaper labor, or simply automation. It’s not that simple, folks. Donald Trump would have us believe that our problems are due to immigrants and religious persecution. What has Trump done to mitigate those economic concerns? A tax cut that primarily benefits big business? Reducing consumer protection? Removing restrictions on clean air? Removing restrictions on government lands? Rattling sabers in such a way as to threaten nuclear war? Sowing distrust and dissension among our allies? Undermining the integrity of our institutions, freedom of the press, and first amendment freedoms? Praising fascist regimes for anointing their leaders for life and suggesting he should be president for life?

Unemployment may be down, but most economists describe the economy as sluggish, and the repercussions from loosened restrictions have yet to be felt — its too soon. As for the Tax Cut, there is little direct uptick in wages, as much of the tax cut has gone to buying back stock and enriching the top investors and major companies. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research: QUOTE. The labor force participation rate, the percentage of civilians 16 years and older working or actively looking for work, now sits at 62.8 percent. The last time unemployment fell below 4 percent in 2000, that rate was near its all-time high of 67.3 percent. UNQUOTE. Trump is trumpeting these numbers this week and attributing it to him. The reason given for the drop, however, is that more people dropped out of the labor pool entirely. Remember, too, these job reports were once described/dismissed as rigged by Trump during Obama administration. Now, they are correct! How convenient. And, he always claimed that people dropping out of the labor force was why the unemployment rate was so low under Obama.

He hasn’t done anything, but attempt to erase the presence of Barack Obama. Issues. This is where we need to attack Trump — on issues, not behavior. Behavior gets turned inward and portrayed as attacks on people’s self-esteem. When you do that, they get angry and fight.

Up is down, and down is up, in the Spaghetti Junction. It may take generations for people to gather the impetus to change. Illustration: It took almost two generations for Southern Democrats to leave the Democratic Party for the Republican tent. This conflict is for the long haul, and we better be ready. I still trust Meisner, and fundamentally I believe we have the capacity to resist what the world wants to tell us while continuing this inexorable march toward inclusiveness. My students learned fairly quickly. I hope we do, too. It’s just right.

[btx_image image_id=”23″ link=”/” position=”overlapleft”][/btx_image]ARTS AND LETTERS

Parallels or metaphors are a powerful tool for perspective. It’s a distancing that allows us to separate the forest from the trees, to see the real underlying issues without the clutter of distracting noise; unless our reach exceeds our grasp. This was the case recently in my hometown op-ed page. I’m afraid a conservative columnist’s reach in his recent column entitled “The Day the Laughter Stopped” exceeded his grasp.

The columnist in my hometown paper attempted to trace a direct line from a Fatty Arbuckle incident, through several trials that resulted in Arbuckle’s acquittal, to the Hayes Office and movie censorship. He quotes Buster Keaton’s contemporary remark, “The day the laughter stopped” as the tragic tipping point for censorship — by the elites, he says. The implication of the remaining column is that somehow our recent White House Correspondents dinner is more emblematic of the day the laughter stopped. I’m afraid not.

This columnist seems to ignore the historical facts that included much more than Fatty Arbuckle being improperly prosecuted for manslaughter for breaking an actresses hips in a moment of intimacy, from which she subsequently died. That’s rather when the laughter started! Please, Hollywood was as rampant with sexual harassment then as today. Furthermore, this columnist chooses to ignore that the Catholic Church played a significant role in the development of this code for films. The industry tried to keep that a secret. Fatty Arbuckle is nothing more than a historical footnote to Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo. The columnist claimed that “film became answerable to the elites!” Oh, my. I simply had to answer this egregious misrepresentation of fact and consequence. Film did not have to be acceptable to the “elites”, it was Hollywood’s attempt to police themselves before an almost certain government intervention, and the process had significant input from religious centers, especially the Catholic Church. To this day, I remember as a young person my parents lamenting the Catholic Bishops inserting themselves into this censorship code.

But to suggest that the creation of the Hayes Office led to Keaton’s proclamation, while true in terms of timeline, is hardly accurate socially, or in context; and as a lead into his argument regarding the recent Correspondents dinner, it is misleading! The sanctimonious whining following the dinner is enough, already!

In the columnist’s words, “Humiliation is not funny.” No sir, it isn’t, and tell that to the myriad number of people humiliated by word or tweet from Donald Trump — on a daily basis. The writer then stretches his parallel further trying to compare school behavior among cool kids and nerds or gays (not a reference to homosexuality he says) His take away is that the queer people will rise up against the cools, as in the Christmas Story when Ralphie punches the bully.

Well, we now have hypocrisy in the building!

I do not support the lengths to which Ms. Wolf went to “Roast” a decidedly deserving administration, because I do not believe sinking to Trump’s level carries the fight in a meaningful way. Make no mistake, however, the mocking hateful rhetoric of the roast was not substantively different from Donald Trump on the campaign trail, or from the White House on his phone at 5 AM. Spare me your outrage, Sir. Where were you during the campaign and the ensuing year and a half of a crude narrative spewing from the White House, from press briefings, from campaign styled rallies and twitter accounts.

These are historic times. This past weekend was historic: Albert Pujols reached 3000 hits and Donald Trump reached 3000 lies. Another historical note, this past week was the 50th anniversary of Hair. Not much has changed, truly.

And Yes rest assured that Ralphie will rise up and punch that Bully Trump where it hurts most — in the ballot box.

[btx_image image_id=”161″ link=”/” position=”overlapleft”][/btx_image]THE WORLD OF SPORTS

We try to address issues of sports and politics because sports and politics are intertwined with so many aspects of our lives; in some ways, it’s the canary in the mine shaft. Some approach sports as pure entertainment, an escape, from the very entanglements of politics. Unfortunately, sports is about as free from politics as film or literature. It’s convoluted in the Spaghetti Junction, and everything seems to inform each other.

It was admirable that we could turn to sports to show a solidarity among Americans following the 9/11 events, trumpeting a sense of strength and resilience by participating in sport as though nothing had happened. Those terrorists could not interrupt or change our lives. We refused to let them, and we all gave ourselves a well-deserved pat on the back for doing so.

The very fact that the Saints could play in the Superdome so soon after Katrina was yet another symbol of our resilience and strength of character, again trumpeted loudly as the spirit of an exceptional people. We reveled in our self-congratulatory praise for how we handled a crisis. They were crises, and we did handle them, to our credit.

But just as the arts hold up a mirror to our real lives, so too does the world of sport. It too is a microcosm of our everyday life – whether it’s the creeping corruption, alcohol or drug abuse, sexual predation, and more… like it or not, whether we want it or not. Our values play out on a diamond, a court, a gridiron, a course, or whatever the surface may be. We are human, after all, in every circumstance, large and small.

I read an article recently by a Washington Post columnist who expressed great discomfort with sports writers venturing into political analysis – especially Sports Illustrated Magazine. He led the article with the following quip: QUOTE. There’s a famous old Woody Allen joke that: “those who can’t do, teach. And those that can’t teach, teach gym.” Well here’s a modernized version of this old saw. Those who can’t do, write. And those who can’t write, write about sports.

One of the most amazing revelations about the shameful and unpatriotic antics by NFL players who are taking the knee or even lying on the ground stretching during the national anthem has been the near-universal approval by sports journalists. The left has infiltrated the locker room, and sports commentators now all think they are social reformers and muckrakers. Fake news is now endemic on the sports pages too. UNQUOTE.

Now, this strikes me as elitist and obviously arrogant to assume a sports writer incapable of recognizing and commenting on social implications within the world of sport. They are writing about what they saw, heard, and felt. He continues QUOTE. Apparently, Colin Kaepernick and his fellow kneelers are modern-day Jackie Robinsons. By the way, Jackie stood for the flag and the national anthem. So did other sports pioneers of racial equality like Jesse Owens and Arthur Ashe. UNQUOTE.

This is a decidedly narrow construction with no understanding of the real history, the real circumstances of their assimilation or pseudo-assimilation. I guess the racial epithets endured by these athletes when they broke the color barrier don’t matter. The painful process each of these athletes experienced playing-sports-while-black is, in his mind, irrelevant to the fact they were allowed to play. The truth is they were allowed to play under duress. In this writer’s mind this is apparently irrelevant because they played and toed the line. Did they have a choice? No, West; they did not have a choice. He then writes QUOTE. The tone of nearly the entire issue is in the headline of the first story: “Stick to sports? Not possible when the passions stoked by protests and the president threaten to subsume the games themselves.” Do the editors even realize this is a non sequitur? It is the protesters, not Donald Trump, who stoked these fires months ago, and it’s the very acts of protest that are subsuming the games themselves. UNQUOTE. NON-SEQUITUR??? This is not a writer. This writer needs to read more deeply, and widely.

The protesters didn’t start this whole process; rather, it was the tendency by so many police departments to shoot and kill unarmed black men for driving-while-black, walking-while-black, smoking-while-black, or simply breathing-while-black. The players did not disrespect the American Flag so much as a call for it to live up to its promise. That sounds patriotic to me! For a major columnist with a national paper, this myopia is alarmingly narrow and bigoted. Remember his quip? Those who can’t do write, and those who can’t write, write about sports… which is exactly what he is doing because he is unwilling to think, let alone write.

This Washington Post writer perfectly mirrors the conversation of Mason and Klein referenced earlier. His political identity and professional identity are mega-identities that overlap to the point where he cannot recognize the humanity of the protestors plea, nor the humanity of the players themselves. They are foreign to him because he is cocooned within his own echo-chamber and insulates himself by claiming they are the offenders. They are paid to play, so shut up and leave the opinionating to him. By that measure, all of us are paid to work, and work only. None of us has the right to express an opinion wherever we might be in our lives. Balderdash!

Trump brought this on by manipulating the average citizen into believing that the source of our problems was immigration, and from there he said bad deals were made, while he has failed to negotiate a good deal on anything… in the Spaghetti Junction.

[btx_image image_id=”366″ link=”/” position=”right”][/btx_image]My friends, the rot of hypocrisy is everywhere around us in the Spaghetti Junction. The long game here appears to be a re-alignment of coalitions/groups/identities within this country that directly challenges any reading of the Declaration and Constitution. Resistance is not simply a matter of voting, but being aware of the subtle slips into autocracy that we are experiencing, not only in our political world but the spheres of arts and entertainment. Perspective is a precious commodity for our collective health. We can’t afford to give up on politics because it’s tough and some people are dishonest. Challenge. Challenge. Challenge. Challenge policy rationally, not from anger, hostility, or opponent profiling. The fight is only beginning — in the Spaghetti Junction. I certainly appreciate Jeremy’s comment that I ask the questions that need to be asked. We are trying to make sense of this Trump conundrum and the challenges he presents to our country. The question that hangs over all is why will Donald Trump not call out the Russian attack on our election process? He avoids Russia, and the evidence is overwhelming.

Thanks for joining us today. If you like the Spaghetti Junction please like us and leave a comment at podomatic.com, iTunes, or Google Play. Likes and comments are coin of the realm in the world of podcasts that open us to a wider audience.

Podcast Premier!

Writer's Storm

 

The premier of The Spaghetti Junction Podcast has finally arrived, and I am excited to begin working on it in earnest.

I have written short stories, screenplays, and one novel, most of which do not satisfy me in any way. The process is satisfying; but, that’s not entirely enough. Yes, yes, yes… I know the process is what matters. I understand fully the ethic of expressing wherein the fulfillment is in the process. The theory even makes sense.

Feedback is something that is essential, too. For that reason, I have also embarked upon a podcast of social and political journaling under the title of The Spaghetti Junction Podcast. The intertwining of politics, sports, and the arts is a messy place; but, one that needs observation and comment. I shall publish an episode each week on the intersection of politics, sports, and arts. I hope to stretch my writing experience in a meaningful way, in addition to exorcising my own demons in this chaotic atmosphere of late.

In addition to the podcast on line, I shall also post a transcript of each episode. You can listen to the podcast at this link: https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/rodney-harter1/episodes/2017-07-11T08_51_44-07_00

Episode #1 follows:

 

SOUND LEAD IN

ROD: The Spaghetti Junction Podcast…!

SOUND BRIDGE ROLLOVER…

ROD: Welcome to Spaghetti Junction — At the intersection of everything; because, today, that’s how life is. Often messy… confusing, off-putting, and contradictory. My name is R.E. Harter, and I’ll be your host, asking questions at the messy intersection of life, art, sports, and politics: The Spaghetti Junction Podcast.

MUSIC LEAD-IN…

H.L. Mencken described conscience as an inner voice which warns us that someone may be looking. Think of me as your inner voice at Spaghetti Junction. Episode #1 poses three questions. First, Is bias a fake story? Secondly, why must we listen so hard to movies? And finally, What has happened to the heart of sports?

SOUND TRANSITION…

EPISODE 1, SECTION 1

There is an obsession among people today for bias, that scary little monster hiding under every journalist’s computer, ready to skew the tone and quality of an article toward a predetermined end. Bias entered my world with the expression *a right-wing media bias*, True on some levels. The argument goes as follows: Mainstream media sees the world through glasses bearing a left-leaning prescription, and news-opinion is skewed to favor positions on the left. Mainstream media marginalizes and discards the right, allowing no fair play on the media stage for competing thought.

Bias today is easily seen in the framing of news stories describing the chaos swirling around Trump. I have showed a personal bias by describing the Trump White House as “…in chaos.” Multiple examples of bias on both sides of the political spectrum are available by scanning headlines — or the absence of stories about certain events. Headlines are revealing by how titles frame the story: Ivanka Trump Is Not Happy; Everyone Gets One Scoop of Ice Cream; But, Donald Gets Two… Gone are the days of Walter Cronkite, Sixty Minutes, and Ted Koppel. Reporters during the afore mentioned era based their reporting upon fact and not ideology. Still, the prevalent cry of media bias today is strong and repeated ad nauseam — again, another bias! Do you see how easy it is?

But, everyone has one — or more — such biases. French Vanilla ice cream is a strong bias for this writer; yet, some people will not walk across the street for a free dish of French Vanilla. Biases exist in a variety of forms for a variety of things, tastes, preferences, and other items of choice.

But, critical thinking should not stop with identifying biases as a basis for discounting certain reporting; rather, we should focus on the source of this bias. What generates bias is more valuable as a reference point for discussion and possible consensus. Public opinion often discounts the why because the writer intends to discard all criticism as bias, rather than discover the truth. Bias for key lime pie should be universal as should a bias for the LA Dodgers.

Not all biases originate in dishonesty. A Dodger bias is beyond reproach.

A bias against capital punishment is very reasonable when considering the number of innocent convicts sent to death row — which seems to have little impact as a deterrent. A bias against abortion is justified by some on the basis of religious beliefs. This writer believes there is no justification for killing other than self-defense. The exposed context frames the real argument. Context matters.

Consider this context: The U.S. constitutional fabric contains a wrinkle called separation of church and state; but, the same wrinkle appears to be viewed as separation of churches – other than mine — and state. We brag about a melting pot because we have no relatable experience for assimilation. Ask first generation Irish, German, or Italian immigrants — if you can find them — about the real struggle for assimilation.

Recently, an article appeared recounting the commencement address President Trump made to the Navel Academy graduates. The Commander-in-chief claimed that no president in history has been so maligned and treated unfairly by the press. The facts are unassailable: a tsunami of bad press during this slightly more than a hundred days in office overwhelmed Trump’s administration. The context, however, is important.

Lies, distortions, changing stories, impulsive and unstable, obstructive behavior have all contributed to an impassioned scrutiny by the press. He deserves all of the attention, He is a one-man wrecking ball, stirring controversy and spreading distrust for America among the world’s leaders. The context is littered with Trump faux pas of his own making. No one decided that the strategy would be to lock arms and block anything the President attempts to do. Trump’s actions, and words, have raised serious concerns about his temperament and suitability for the job, in addition to a general lack of understanding how government works. He has no interest in the details of governance, nor the capacity to discover any major themes or ideas. He thinks he is the CEO of a large company, ordering whatever he wants done, and expecting results. If there is a problem, he is not above the back room deal of scratching a back for a reciprocal action. That’s not how government works.

This is not liberal mainstream media bias! A special prosecutor has been named – this is serious.

The right chastised Michelle Obama for not wearing a headscarf in Muslim countries, neither did the Trump ladies. The right screamed loudly because Obama refused to say Islamic Terrorism; neither did Trump. The President slammed Obama for his golfing vacations away from the White House; Trump has out spent Obama’s two terms in less than 200 hundred days! Republicans claim Obamacare is collapsing from its own weight; in reality, there are issues because Congress refuses to implement funding as designed. Republican states have balked at using the extended Medicaid funds or Medicare. Think of it in this fashion: you have a stool that will support your weight; you don’t like that it will support your weight, so you cut off one of the legs and then claim its a poorly designed stool! Republican attempts to limit voter registration among minorities has been overturned by the Supreme Court. These are inconvenient facts, not fake stories. We live in a world where ideology trumps facts. The NY Times has uncovered fake stories planted by the Trump Administration in an attempt to prove susceptibility to fake news; neither NY Times, CNN, nor Washington Post have fallen for the tactic. They vet their stories.

A local columnist here advised Trump to use a strategy often used in civil courts: Even if your story is true, you have nothing on me.” True, we don’t have that understanding now; but, a special investigation has been named because there is enough smoke to warrant a deep look. Let’s follow the money.

How do you and I manage our daily lives while this chaos swirls about? While our country is led by a man-child who has no capacity for details of governance, and only the the most shallow understanding of history? We have to pay attention; stay in touch with our Representatives and Senators. We have little history of such diligence, since much of our electorate is apathetic.

Bottom line: We have less to fear from nuclear madmen than the fact that information in this internet age has been weaponized against the weakest link of our democracy — our average citizen, poorly educated, and poorly informed on issues that matter. It all goes back to our schools – and Betsy DeVos has no clue.

MUSIC BRIDGE…

Rod: Discovery is a remarkable thing. Learning something new energizes our mind and body in ways that are profoundly healthy! Recently, I made a discovery that makes my spirit rise somewhere over the rainbow! You laugh!

I have spent many years working in the theater, a cultural phenomenon that has enjoyed a remarkable history, as well as troubling times. Regardless of the times, the essential demand that an actor must be seen and heard has not changed. Movies and made for television films, or extended series do not seem to follow that essential core quality, especially where dialogue is concerned.

Frequently, there are stretches of dialogue that escape my ears entirely, an unhappy situation that I tried to attribute to my advancing age. Until recently…

I began rewatching movies from thirties through to the sixties and discovered that I missed nothing at all! I heard every word! Certainly our modern technology has not caused us to lose intelligibility!

I am old enough to remember the laments over Marlon Brando and his mumbling in On The Waterfront, or Streetcar Named Desire. An acquaintance who witnessed his Broadway performance in Streetcar said, “It was mesmerizing; I could almost smell the baloney on his breath.”

I have revisited Streetcar and heard everything.

We’re on dangerous ground when realism comes to mean unintelligibility because that’s the way life is. There’s enough unintelligibility in our daily lives now, we do not need to encourage more- especially in our story-telling — unless that’s the thrust of the story. Words matter; they have impact on us, and the people around us — our children!

Recently, President Trump described the Manchester bombing as perpetrated by losers. Losers. I would hope our leaders have the capacity to inspire us, not incite us with bullying rhetoric commonly found on a playground. Name calling during the primary campaign distressed me greatly: Crooked, Low-energy, Lying, Pocahontas, and more…

Words matter, and I would hope our movie makers realize that their story-telling is not enhanced by an inability to communicate.

An old Basil Rathbone Sherlock Homes movie absolutely enchanted me with its stage speech and perfect diction. If that means I’m old; so be it…

MUSIC BRIDGE…

The current sports world is awash in bigger, faster, stronger; and that
s also true of our world in general. I sometimes wonder if the heart of the games isn’t diluted by skills we don’t really appreciate or understand. The natural urge for a competitive edge has led us far afield from natural development. Science has given us drugs and supplements that perform miracles on our body. I recently read of one supplement that will give you a ripped physique and it doesn’t require that you go to the gym! Competitive sports? I don’t think so.

Baseball was always an event of gamesmanship and strategy. Can you hit it where they aren’t? Oh, pitchers were not slow, nor did they always pitch safely. We know also, that many pushed the envelope of legality by scuffing the surface of the ball or adding something extra to it – spit! Among other things. This gamesmanship added to the lore of Baseball popularity. We appreciated this imaginative resourcefulness because it didn’t change the player, it was part of the competitive game.

Football has always been violent, but somehow rugby has escaped the troublesome physical dilemma of modern football. And rugby players don’t wear pads and helmets! Football appealed to our interest with multiple options and simultaneous events with some demanding physical strength required. In this current era of bigger, faster, and stronger, the speed and size is lethal! Players are beginning to retire at an early age because they don’t want to be a mental vegetable at age 50. Admittedly, I have no real appreciation for the speed and size of the game today, compared with the physically challenging game of my youth. I marvel more at the athlete’s willingness to put himself at risk than his specialized skills. Beast mode sums up the attitude.

The spacing and ball movement of the Warriors reminds me more of the basketball I played everyday after school. Again, bigger, faster, stronger, has changed the game. I Turned on television to watch an NBA playoff game, and a game of rugby broke out. Stop me if you can, at the rim. Physical intimidation is a large part of the game, a large part of our world.

We need a competitive spirit that we can appreciate and understand. In 1963, Warren Spahn faced Juan Marichal in a sixteening inning scoreless duel. After the thirteenth inning of this scoreless game, Manager Alvin Dark asked the 25-year old Marichal if he had had enough. Cepeda remembered Marichal barking at Dark, “A 42-year-old man is still pitching. I can’t come out!”

The spirit of the game. How do we preserve it and keep it fascinating? The competitive spirit must be maintained between players, not by adding scientific enhancement. Spahn’s gut spirit against the gut spirit of Marichal, no chemical enhancement, no equipment advantage, just two men competing.

The intimidation factor of many games today reflects an unhealthy intimidation element within our social fabric. It’s not enough to be better, we must trash our opponent, destroy him, in order to really win. We see this carried over into politics…

It’s a messy place, this Spaghetti Junction. But, it’s all we have, and our attention must be focused on how it all relates, if we want to keep it all!

This has been Spaghetti Junction. Thank you for joining us. Special thanks to Podomatic, Audiojungle and music ideas, and also to Austin and the guys at Composite Creative. CHECK OUT OUR WEBSITE AND BLOG AT REHARTER.COM – THE WRITER’S STORM…

I’m R.E. Harter, for The Spaghetti Junction Podcast…

MUSIC OUT…

 

London Has Fallen

I watched London Has Fallen on Netflicks when an impulsive moment seduced me to watch a movie with dinner last night, since I was “Home Alone”.

Images can have a dizzying impact, tipping our equilibrium. It is amazing how some images unleash connecting thoughts in a frenzied rush, or eruption. (I almost said ejaculation, but decided it was one connection too far…!)

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Follow spot of headlights

SURREAL LIGHTING

5:30 in the morning is dark these days, and my headlights are like a follow spot on a darkened stage: focusing my attention precisely. The reality is I’m looking for deer; we’re approaching the season of running. I’m on the way to the fitness center for my morning spin-class, when the traffic light changes. A vehicle turns left crossing through the beam from my headlights.

It’s a tractor trailer of caged chickens unwittingly going to slaughter. Passing through my headlights, the image is surreal, awash in bright white light, and suddenly my brain is awash, too, in connecting thoughts around these unsuspecting chickens going to a slaughter that most likely is not humane – if current reports surrounding the industry are accurate.

Concern for the feelings of our food is, I’ll admit, a rather recent development, in as much as we’ve slaughtered impulsively for centuries. This too feeds the rush of thoughts triggered by this garish parade of fowl in garish white light.

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London before it fell!

London Has Fallen adds to the thoughts on slaughter, war, violence, duplicity, ego, hatred, revenge, religious fervor, and other blind emotions, and juxtaposed with Obama and his long-view of the world, they collided in my mind during a murderous spin class! My muscles screamed as loudly as my brain. The muscles won, for the short-term.

IMAGES RETURN

I am once again home alone contemplating those still surreal images from the morning darkness.

th-7
Another glimpse of London before the fall.

London Has Fallen pits The Shining Light on the Hill against the darker forces of terrorism, hatred, and religious fervor. It’s about as jingoistic as it can be, and would no doubt raise the blood pressure of anyone haling from the Mediterranean part of the world, as well as those of a certain religious persuasion living in this country now. There are classic confrontations where each side explains itself, sort of… The terrorist is avenging murder of woman and children, and attempting to change the world order. Our fearless Secret Service Agent, protecting the President from a nefarious plot to murder the world’s leaders and publicly execute our President via the internet, exudes patriotism, duty, and courage to defend our way of life. In fact, in a somewhat cheesy moment at the end the agent is drafting a letter of resignation while the Vice-President, Morgan Freeman, addresses the country to remind us of our need to be vigilant if our way of life is to survive. The Agent hits the delete button!

OH, PUH-LEASE!

The film is full of those obligatory scenes where the secret service are in hand to hand combat with the terrorists and scream “Fuck you!” before finishing them off. In one spectacular chase, a terrorist on a motorcycle is trying to climb into the presidential vehicle and fights with the Secret Service hero. The terrorist hollers “Fuck you!” – not your terroristy kind of language, you understand. The driver steers the car close to the tunnel wall and says “No, Fuck you!” The body of the terrorist is separated from his body. The secret service dude looks at the helmeted head and throws it out the passenger window!

Somewhere in a ubiquitous desert terrain, the master mind of the plot is called by Morgan Freeman. The master-mind tells Freeman that he may have won this battle, but it is just the beginning of a war they will carry to the USA, and the world will change. Morgan tells the Arab to look out his window – he does and sees a blinding light, just before a smart-bomb destroys his compound and much of the surrounding buildings and people. Roll credits.

th-6
The Thames River in London

I must admit the film was suspenseful and I was inclined to look away because I didn’t want to see some of the violence. Lots of CGI as most of the land marks of London are destroyed.

One of my favorite descriptions of good conflict is right vs. right. Each side is fighting and hating because of a regrettable loss of life – women and children: innocents. Our Secret Service agent has a pregnant wife giving birth to a child he may never see because of this event.

Chickens being driven to slaughter. White light splashes against the unsuspecting caged fowl…

Enter Barack Obama and a long view of history and his presidency. Indulge me, here: Allow breaking news flashes of FBI reopening an investigation because they’ve recently discovered something – don’t know if it’s relevant; but, they will nevertheless reopen the investigation ten days before the election. Read as: Edgar Hoover lives! Now splash a breaking news banner of the Bundy’s acquittal of taking over a Government building and threatening violence. The reason presumably because the government couldn’t prove intent, despite the hours of footage where they claimed a willingness to sacrifice their lives! They were armed. This was not a sit in at a lunch counter, folks! Along the bottom of your mind’s vision put a small ribbon of text running across the screen describing Native American’s protesting a pipeline that could pollute their homes and violate sacred burial grounds. Post on FaceBook alternate team names as racist as the Cleveland Indians big-toothed logo – like: New York Jews, The Philadelphia Blacks, The California Chinks.

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White light!

Chickens being driven to slaughter. White light splashes against the unsuspecting caged fowl…

To be called a shining light on a hill, our history is checkered where human rights are concerned. There’s no denying the continued existence of The Ugly American. The Declaration of Independence and Statue of Liberty, reinforced by a constitution describe a nation quite different from reality.

I try to understand our conservative breathern. I try to understand our Libertarians. I try to understand the religious right. I try to understand business. I try to understand needs that are broad based and applicable to all involved. I try to understand leadership and vision. I just don’t understand now. The sandbox we play in is too crowded and nobody understands freedom. Freedom is not doing what you want to do when you want to do it. It’s the negotiation between peoples to live in respect of others. The freedom to piss on somebody’s grave is not freedom – it’s simply disrespect.

We say one thing and do another.

Obama (and I shall miss him in the Oval Office) put this all in perspective and pursued a long view policy which was immediately criticized unfairly for being an “apology tour.” There was no apology tour! There is only the ignorant voices that fail to appreciate reality. The Arab or Muslim world did not just rise up and start killing infidels for the heck of it! We stole their land, their oil, their countries and put in puppet leaders who further corrupted the situation. We are reaping what we have sewn.

THE LONG VIEW IS NOT A WEAKNESS

The long view is not weakness; it’s a strength born of recognizing reality and the overwhelming need to deal with that reality. This long view is the essence of why a democratic republic is desirable – if, as Franklin is supposed to have said, “you can keep it.” An intelligent, informed electorate that aspires to a virtuous governing.

Obama has been virtuous and graceful, remarkably unflappable. You mention Cicero. The President and Cicero would have much in common. Politics and philosophy. I think Cicero put politics above philosophy; and, Obama is perhaps the opposite: philosophy over politics. He has no use for the smoozing style of politics. We’re hear to do a job for the good of all. Just get on with it. He doesn’t need six months of dithering over coffee and donuts, or beer and pretzels.

How many times do we hear from athletes that one must man-up to their mistakes. I’ve heard people proclaim the litany of “manning-up” all my life. We do it when it’s convenient; reality is not always convenient. The history of the USA, relative to what we say about it, has not always been conveniently explained.

th-11Chickens being driven to slaughter. White light splashes against the unsuspecting caged fowl…

The last image is a ribbon running at the bottom of my mind: J. Edgar Lives. Regrettably.

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Getting Hurt – Yes!

GETTING HURT IS NOT ALL THAT BAD

Yes, that’s true.

Getting hurt is part of living, and the resultant healing the MOST natural evolution of life – which goes to the idea of balance in life. This is critical for writers or anyone who is contemplating a redesign of your life.

THERE IS A PERFECT METAPHOR FOR THIS CONCEPT: EXERCISE

Think about the process of exercise, fitness, conditioning; all of which are based upon hurting the body so that when it heals we are better prepared to handle the next hurtful conditioning. Many suggest also that the optimum challenge for conditioning is at about 70% – a level of exertion that is higher than the status quo but not enough to do damage to the body. Exercising at 100% capacity is a 100% guarantee your body will break down. Professional athletes exercise at greater than 70% because they demand more immediately in their profession. They are trading off injury for immediate gain in ability. There is an axiom in many sports about going “all out!” Going all out is not wise for the long haul because there is no balance.

FIND HARMONY

If getting hurt is natural, and we understand the physical side of the concept, then we must not forget the mental side of getting hurt, because we do get hurt. The healing process is what makes us stronger and better able to handle that level of hurt. Getting hurt in romance, is a must for getting stronger in living and understanding relationships. It therefore must also follow that a writer’s rejection is a necessary part of getting better at our craft. It is hard to think of rejection slips as a daily exercise, because it is very much a part of how we see ourselves; whereas, we don’t think of muscle fatigue as a slight or personal attack.

Interesting how balance in life – all aspects of life – can become confused with ego! We accept the pain of muscle fatigue in the gym, but view a criticism of our writing as an attack on our individuality and value. IF there is nothing wrong with fatigue from a spin class, why should anything be wrong with a criticism of our most recent writing.

AT THE HEART

This goes to the heart of this site’s reason for existing: the intersection of intention and reality. We must accept the jarring collisions that might occur at this intersection with the wisdom to recognize that this belongs to the balance of life which instructs us how and when to use the tools we have to maintain that balance, or harmony, thereby presenting the most promising opportunities for discovery and growth.

This is not – I repeat – this is not a call to seek injury! There is a balance between caution and bold action that will remove fear from our lives. Reckless abandon is the 100% level guaranteed to produce bodily harm, as noted above. Furthermore, seeking injury is a mindset that is narrow, and because it is so focused, usually results in some level of success! Allowing mind and body to work together at about 70% allows for a harmonious discovery of who we are, really.

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When Is a Story a Story?

When an audience of some form says yes.

That’s an obvious answer, but not always embraced for its veracity. Let’s extend this line of thinking: when is a writer a writer? When he writes; or when an audience of some form says yes? This leads me to a perplexing commentary written in a post by David Wong and forwarded to me by my son. The content was both troubling and humbling.

In summary, Wong’s post suggests that the world responds to us based upon what we have to offer; the world is only interested in what we have to offer. David Wong writes “Either you will go about the task of seeing to those needs by learning a unique set of skills, or the world will reject you, no matter how kind, giving, and polite you are. You will be poor, you will be alone, you will be left out in the cold. Does that seem mean, or crass, or materialistic? What about love and kindness — don’t those things matter? Of course. As long as they result in you doing things for people that they can’t get elsewhere.”

David uses the analogy of the troubled young man who does not understand why the good looking girls never give him a passing glance, and they are dating these jerks. Why? Because that Jerk apparently has something to offer the song lady needs. He calls our attention to an Alec Baldwin scene from Glengarry Glen Ross, for which Baldwin was nominated for an Oscar, despite this being the only scene he appears in throughout the movie.

Call it an uncomfortable truth. The scene can be viewed on two levels. Most will see Baldwin as evil, and representing all that is materialistic and insensitive in this culture. Some will applaud his uncompromising, unvarnished, and tell-it-like-it-is style as motivational!

There is no apparent need for my writing at this moment, so I am being less than honest if I say I’m a writer. Let me quote Wong again: “the point is that the difference in those two attitudes — bitter vs. motivated — largely determines whether or not you’ll succeed in the world.” A marketing guru once called it finding the need that hurts. I prefer the more insightful phrase “A crack in the narrative.” Truth and need – especially one that hurts – are very closely related.

The crack in a narrative was a comment I heard on a Tim Ferriss podcast. It refers to an interviewing technique where the questioning technique reveals a break in the narrative because truth comes popping through, unexpectedly, unabashed, honest, and that truth will invariably reveal a human need.

One of my writing interests is Donald Ross, and that interest actually extends to appearing as Donald Ross – he died in 1948! He was a humble incomer from Dornoch Scotland who was persuaded to come to America and teach golf, maintain courses, make clubs, etc. When he got here, he began designing courses and some four hundred courses later, he had created Pinehurst, North Carolina as the cradle of American Golf, and given the golf world the famous No. 2 course, one that did not have grass greens until 1935! Prior to coming to this country, Ross had never designed a course in his life. He witnessed Old Tom Morris design Dornoch and St. Andrews, and was apprenticed to both him and Robert Forgan – the golf club maker. He was given the job of renovating Oakley in Boton because he was Scottish, and of course golf was born in Scotland, so the Scotsmen must know what there is to know about golf. Right? Ross created it from memory and his own singular passion for the game he grew up with in Scotland. At the turn of the Twentieth Century America was just embracing golf, Donald used his particular imagination and skill to run the table, so to speak, during Golf’s golden years.

If you’re not producing something of value that is needed, you’re not producing. You can be bitter about that and make excuses to the effect that you don’t have the time or the money… neither did Donald Ross, he had seven dollars in his pocket when he arrived in Boston. He produced what people needed in an imaginative and stirring fashion, revered to this day. Produce or you have no value. Don’t make excuses. “Saying that you’re a nice guy is like a restaurant whose only selling point is that the food doesn’t make you sick,” -David Wong.

There is a counter-point to this article’s content, and I must mention this argument.

To say that this is all about making money is to miss the point. Some products produced are subtle, ardently needed, but often fly beneath the radar because we’re more interested in “flash.” Circumstances have put me in contact with amazingly compassionate individuals who work for Hospice, and whose talents enable them to care for the terminally ill. There will always be a job for them, because our world desperately needs a better way to handle the end of life scenario. This is a basic need, a crack in the narrative of life that needs attention, but gets little. These dedicated workers often fly beneath the radar, much like the truly talented teachers in our public schools. These workers don’t earn much money, but they are in demand and often used to the point of burn out. You see, the world is only interested in what we bring to the party. We have needs and assign value based on who services those needs. And really, the point is not really money, its producing a product based upon your special talents that have a place in this world.

It does give me pause that we need to see such violence on Sundays, Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays in the form of football. Look at the value we assign to that need when people sign contracts for 80 or 120 million dollars! Who is worth 120 million dollars? Really?

My troubling and humbling experience then is finding the value in what I write that people might use what I write, and use it often. It’s a journey, I suspect. I may never find that voice, or even if I do, the world might not find me. I suspect there is some luck involved. I had some very good luck in my lifetime; I just hope it hasn’t been used! It scares me when I think that I might not have that unique talent… When is my story a story? When an audience says yes. That is the sign of a journey, not an end product. It is a quest.

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When An End Is A Beginning

photos-of-deep-space-telescope-hubbleThe end of a movie or book often spawns the beginning of reflection, criticism, analysis; the ending of a life, however, pitches us out into the unknown, where reflection is often troublesome or simply too emotional to sustain. People, I think, like their reflections on life at the time of a death to be neatly tied up in church, accompanied by an invocation, eulogy, music, prayers and some form of closing that enables us to move on. As a rule, they do not like discussions, especially casual discussions, about death.

My sister-in-law passed recently, at the youthful age of 58.  Moving on has been problematic. I first met her when she was but a newly minted teenager of great energy, compassion, and humor. During the ensuing forty-four years of marriage to her sister, I have always thought of her as that young teenager, forever young and energetic. She remained so in many ways. I have experienced significant passings of grandparents, parents, and uncles/aunts; but, none of these passings has impacted me quite like the unexpected passing of my younger sister-in-law.

images-2I willing admit that much of this angst is simply my own mortality creeping into my consciousness. Still, this exercise where my sister-in-law is concerned, is not without more thought provoking experiences than earlier passings. Youth is aware of loss, but largely oblivious to the promise of mortality. The inevitability of death is obvious, but easily put aside inside the rush of youthful possibility. I have read of Galileo hypothesizing that the Bible tells us how to get to heaven; but, it does not tell us where heaven goes! This is a more mature thought, experienced after the passing of youthful blush and excitement. Consider: No one in Orange or Crimson ever truly considered the possibility of losing and walking away empty-handed; not until the final gun at game’s end. Anticipation, hope, energy or passion have a way of masking what really lies ahead.

I noted above that people do not like casual discussions of death, and I experienced the discomfort recently. Most of my acquaintances knew of my sister-in-law’s passing and knew her death came without warning, at a young age. While talking with people at this party, several of them inquired as to how my wife and I were doing. Foolishly, I told them. I don’t think they wanted an honest answer. Looking into their eyes as I laid out my existential concerns and coping methods for my wife and myself I saw a glaze slowly descend over their eyes, as they retreated to safety in the recesses of their minds. Their expectation was for me to say “Ok.” Or, they might expect me to say, “It’s difficult, but we’re coping. So, who do you like Clemson or Alabama?”

I know, I know.  You’re probably thinking it was the wrong context for those comments. Death had no regard for my context, and if they didn’t want to know how I felt, they shouldn’t have asked. They could have avoided the issue by either not mentioning it or simply saying “I was saddened by your unexpected loss. Please accept my condolences.”

The real frustration lay in the fact that I had found a way to cope! I was trying to explain where I was at this moment and why!

The basis for my comfort is that I do not consider my God to be a vengeful, helicopter God, smacking our knuckles when we make an error, or rewarding us with a star when we do something good. This vision makes no sense to me, just as I find no substance in  the idea that our lives are scripted in advance, and we simply play out the plan. All these ideas beg the question of why live at all if this is the case?

images-1There are people on the far right that publicly proclaim that Aids, famine, earthquakes, and other natural disasters are punishment meted out by God for our tolerance of abortion, homosexuality, and every other handy issue of disdain. I find these positions so primitive in thought and logic. If this is true, what did the American Indians do wrong that required punishment at Wounded Knee, or The Trail of Tears? What did so many Asians do wrong that required tsunamis and earthquakes to wipe out whole cities and  civilizations? What did the Jewish people do so wrong that required the Holocaust as punishment? What did African Americans do to warrant slavery and racism? Where was God when the Twin Towers came down?

We are the agents of our own destiny, individually and collectively – people like to stress the individual over the collective, and that is a major fallacy for me. We will be judged on how we handled what came our way; and, what comes our way is often random, or the result of our choices or somebody’s choices at some point in time. We might experience great abundance, or painful need, all of which do not come to us from a plan, but simply as the product of natural life on this physical existence.

Yes, bad things happen to good people; bad things also happen to bad people. That’s life, and we will be judged by how we cope, handle, adapt, adjust, or ameliorate our circumstance. I can’t imagine anger being part of the Creator’s makeup. A spirit that can create eternity would have a more balanced perspective of the universe, or whatever is outside what we know.

A most unfortunate and untimely ending has prompted me to a new beginning, and for that I am most grateful and appreciative.

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When is a Story a Story?

When an audience of some form says yes.

Austin James Photography
Austin James Photography

That’s an obvious answer, but not always embraced for its veracity. Let’s extend this line of thinking: when is a writer a writer? When he writes; or when an audience of some form says yes? This leads me to a perplexing commentary written in a post by David Wong and forwarded to me by my son. The content was both troubling and humbling.

In summary, Wong’s post suggests that the world responds to us based upon what we have to offer. David Wong writes “Either you will go about the task of seeing to those needs by learning a unique set of skills, or the world will reject you, no matter how kind, giving, and polite you are. You will be poor, you will be alone, you will be left out in the cold. Does that seem mean, or crass, or materialistic? What about love and kindness — don’t those things matter? Of course. As long as they result in you doing things for people that they can’t get elsewhere.”

THE WORLD IS ONLY INTERESTED IN WHAT WE OFFER

David uses the analogy of the troubled young man who does not understand why the good looking girls never give him a passing glance, and they are dating these jerks. Why? Because that Jerk apparently has something to offer the young lady needs. He calls our attention to an Alec Baldwin scene from Glengarry Glen Ross, for which Baldwin was nominated for an Oscar, despite this being the only scene in which he appears.

Call it an uncomfortable truth. The scene can be viewed on two levels. Most will see Baldwin as evil, and representing all that is materialistic and insensitive in this culture. Some will applaud his uncompromising, unvarnished, and tell-it-like-it-is style as motivational! Inspiring!

AN UNCOMFORTABLE TRUTH

There is no apparent need for my writing at this moment, so I am being less than honest if I say I’m a writer. Let me quote Wong again: “the point is that the difference in those two attitudes — bitter vs. motivated — largely determines whether or not you’ll succeed in the world.” A marketing guru once called it finding the need that hurts. I prefer the more insightful phrase “A crack in the narrative.” Truth and need – especially one that hurts – are very closely related.

The crack in a narrative was a comment I heard on a Tim Ferriss podcast. It refers to an interviewing technique where the questioning reveals a break in the narrative because truth comes popping through, unexpectedly, unabashed, honest, and that truth will invariably reveal a human need.

The Actor
Austin James Photography

DONALD ROSS

One of my writing interests is Donald Ross, and that interest actually extends to appearing as Donald Ross – he died in 1948! He was a humble incomer from Dornoch Scotland who was persuaded to come to America and teach golf, maintain courses, make clubs, etc. When he got here, he began designing courses and some four hundred courses later, he had created Pinehurst, North Carolina as the cradle of American Golf, and given the golf world the famous No. 2 course, one that did not have grass greens until 1935! Prior to coming to this country, Ross had never designed a course in his life. He witnessed Old Tom Morris design work at Dornoch and St. Andrews, and was apprenticed to both him and Robert Forgan – the golf club maker. He was given the job of renovating Oakley in Boton because he was Scottish, and since golf was born in Scotland, the Scotsmen must know what there is to know about golf. Right? Ross created it from memory and his own singular passion and imagination for the game he grew up with in Scotland. At the turn of the Twentieth Century, America was just embracing golf, and Donald used his particular imagination and skill to run the table, so to speak, during Golf’s golden years.

If you’re not producing something of value that is needed, you’re not producing. You can be bitter about that and make excuses whereby you don’t have the time or the money… neither did Donald Ross, he had seven dollars in his pocket when he arrived in Boston. He produced what people needed in an imaginative and stirring fashion, revered to this day. Produce or you have no value. Don’t make excuses. “Saying that you’re a nice guy is like a restaurant whose only selling point is that the food doesn’t make you sick,” -David Wong.

WAIT! THIS IS NOT THE WHOLE STORY

There is a counter-point to this article’s content, and I must mention this point of view, too.

The Writer...
Austin James Photography

To say that this is all about making money is to miss the point. Some products are subtle, ardently needed, but often fly beneath the radar because we’re more interested in “flash.” Circumstances have put me in contact with amazingly compassionate individuals who work for Hospice, and whose talents enable them to care for the terminally ill with extraordinary compassion and patience. There will always be a job for them, because our world desperately needs a better way to handle the end of life scenario. This is a basic need, a crack in the narrative of life that needs attention, but gets little. These dedicated workers often fly beneath the radar, much like the truly talented teachers in our public schools. These workers don’t earn much money, but they are in demand and often used to the point of burn out. You see, the world is only interested in what we bring to the party. We have needs and assign value based on who services those needs. And really, the point is not money, its producing a product based upon your special talents that have a place in this world.

It does give me pause that we need to see such violence on Sundays, Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays in the form of football. Look at the value we assign to that need when people sign contracts for 80 or 120 million dollars! Who is worth 120 million dollars? Really?

Man in stormMy troubling and humbling experience then is finding the value in what I write that people might use what I write, and use it often. It’s a journey, I suspect. I may never find that voice, or even if I do, the world might not find me. I suspect there is some luck involved. I had some very good luck in my lifetime; I just hope it hasn’t been exhausted! It scares me when I think that I might not have that unique talent… When is my story a story? When an audience says yes. That is the sign of a journey, not an end product. It is a quest. Calling oneself a writer becomes a destination, and as with all destinations, the story is really in the journey. When is my story a story? Perhaps, today.

Your thoughts?

Getting Off the Proverbial Duff!

_DSF2208
Photo by Austin James Photography

I AM NOT BY NATURE LAZY

As remarkable as this may seem, Yogi Berra is a writing guru who has helped me solve a thorny problem of perspective.

I’m not by nature lazy; although, I can fall prey to bouts of procrastination. The former is a potentially serious behavioral issue, the latter symptomatic of a fear or problem not yet faced. There is a difference. I think I recognize the difference between the two attitudes, and feel safe in my assertion that I am not lazy. I have been forced on occasion to do some heavy lifting on my own, and was more than capable of carrying the load, one foot in front of the other, gutting it out, doing what was necessary. Based upon these experiences I allow myself to assert that I am not lazy.

A recent change in tack, and I’m here referring to the sailing vernacular, is one in which I have endeavored to reinvent myself as a writer, a course that has produced a different kind of procrastination, a different specie of sitting on my duff, and until recently, I have not found a solution for this brand of sitting on one’s duff. I don’t mind saying I feel rather like a “duffus” – a term we used to describe ineptitude when I was young – and for falling prey to this malady.

WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW. WRITE FOR YOURSELF.

Stories are about problem solving. Stories tell us how to live our lives. Show don’t tell. Conflict – a world turned upside down. A Heroes Quest. Story arc. Character arc. Three act. Four act. The terminology is dizzying. Through it all it seems to me that what makes a story is a crack in the narrative, story plus emotion, a moment of realization, internal and external conflict. We are hardwired for rising expectations and questions. The unsolved, the unanswerable is intriguing to us. We need to know more.

Consider this: I recently watched a documentary on the Kamikaze pilots of Japan. The entire undertaking was a terrible waste of men and machine, but it did give the Alies pause, and perhaps more than anything else convinced military leadership that the atomic bomb would really save lives. It was fairly interesting, as documentaries go, until the very end, when something irresistibly powerful grabbed my imagination. Can you possibly imagine what could be that powerful…?

I suspect I have your attention!

_DSF2222Near the end of the documentary, when Japan is about to capitulate, the commander of the Kamikaze squadrons is devastated by his failure to cripple the allied aircraft carriers and thereby crack the air-superiority of the Allies, and perhaps forestalling an invasion of the homeland. The Kamikaze flights are cancelled. There is a side bar on one young pilot who was in his plane, having made his final goodbyes to wife and family night before, was sitting in his plane waiting for takeoff when the flight was cancelled. Ho-hum.

The commander of the Kamikaze’s – whose name I do not remember – asks for volunteers to accompany him on one last attack on Allied ships at Okinawa. There are approximately twenty-four volunteers. The next morning they take off for one last historic face-saving, ancestor-honoring attack on Allied ships; but, they never arrive, never attack the ships, and are never heard from again!

Wow!

I SAT STRAIGHT UP IN MY CHAIR.

 There’s a story! I watched almost ninety-minutes of this video without being really moved until this moment – a crack in the narrative – that raises more questions than were answered in the previous sixty-minutes. This is very much akin to seeing a multiple car wreck on the highway and trying to resist the need to look, to see, to know, to discover what rising action is unfolding. You can’t. That was it. That was story telling hook writ large. The only interesting narrative in the whole piece and it’s abandoned for final credits!

What does this have to do with getting off my proverbial duff?

First, I have heard the adage “Never let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” It is a most alluring trap, this need to get it exactly right, to be perfect in your telling of the most  important story ever – the one you’re writing at the moment. I have spent years, literally, working on a story that is more than a good idea, but finding the right way to tell the story has given me fits of frustration. It had to be perfect in its shape. The more perfect I attempted to shape its contours the more vapid it became – vapid is probably too harsh; but, I can say that of my work. I have put that project on the shelf on two occasions, and its not yet finished. Sometimes, an idea is just that – an idea, even a powerful idea. An idea does not a story make.

THE INTERNET IS OVERRUN WITH SELF-HELP GURUS of all stripes, some are incredibly perceptive and inspiring, others are somewhat jaundiced  in their perspective. I have watched seminars, read papers and newsletters of all brands that claim to have the silver bullet for crafting and selling your book. The DIY phenomenon is a remarkable development.

One recent seminar I listened to claimed to have the formula for writing and publishing a book in one week. This I had to hear. It’s true that one could achieve the publication of a book in that amount of time; the likelihood of creating a profitable book is something else. Still I listened to the process. His first step was to find a need that hurts, or scratch your own itch. I have been well-schooled in the philosophy of write what you know, and write for yourself. 

I DISCOVERED AN IMMEDIATE CONTRADICTION for me, one which I had not given time to consider at all. His starting point was writing for profit, that is, his principal goal is to sell books, in which case writing what you know may not be shared by a lot of people – maybe no more than 10 or 20! There’s not much profit there. Therefore, finding a need that hurts, or an itch that itches makes brilliant sense. It’s also well expressed metaphorically as a need that hurts. The remaining steps to publication were fairly standard and not especially remarkable save for the mentioned resources needed to handle this lightening speed.

I soon discovered that finding the need that hurts was also a charming trap, much like the perfect anything. Laziness is one thing; but, procrastination is quite another. Laziness might well be damning, and for many people irreversible; but, procrastination, I have learned, is symptomatic of a deeper issue, a deeper fear. There is a cure, however, and I will share that cure with you today. The cure is curtesy Yogi Berra!

That’s right. The New York Yankee Hall of Fame catcher… and sometime humorist.

THERE ARE TWO BERRA-ISMS THAT ARE PARTICULARLY TELLING.

The first is “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else.” It is the somewhere else that we should remain open to and receptive to in our journey. Once again, holding on to the perfect when discovered alternatives might be light years ahead in relevance, interest, and marketability are trumpeting a sea-nymph’s call to adventure, if however slight and distant. We have to listen as writers. Or, as Yogie would say, “You can observe a lot by just watching.”

The second writing tip from Yogi is this: “Think! How the hell are you gonna think and hit at the same time?”

I have laughed at his remark on many occasions, but Yogi will have the last laugh because it’s basically very true. Think too much and you will end up in trouble. Think too much before the pitch and you’ll be frozen when it happens. Think too much after the pitch and the next will catch you off guard. Hitting is instinctual. Writing is our life turned instinctual, where connections are born on the fly and incubated over time. The impulse to create is born of a moment with attendant references and connections that are produced only by an emotional and internal confict.

MY SOLUTION TO MY MALAISE IS NOT TO THINK.

 My job is not to create a need that hurts, but to discover the need that hurts, and who am I to say what needs have a threshold of pain that reverberates across the greatest numbers of people. It’s a road trip. You have a destination in mind, but along the way you will discover the need that hurts among the greatest number of people and then mastering that discovered need after mastering who you are, connections are made across many ideas that just might develop into one remarkable story.

THAT’S WHERE I AM

I must no longer worry about that need that hurts, I’ll find it if I dig. Ben Hogan was fond of saying that he dug his game out of the ground. His practice ethic was legendary, as was the flight of his ball, the movement of his shot. I’ve read that one can not understand unless you saw it. Dig your story out of the ground. Don’t look for a specific story with laser focus, be ready to find a crack in the narrative that grabs and continues to raise questions that demand answers.

I’ve discovered this today while writing and reading. This post has been dug from the ground, and it’s only fitting that we close with another writing tip from the narrative master, Yogi Berra: “I want to thank you for making this day necessary.” — On Yogi Berra Appreciation Day in St. Louis in 1947. 

Harter here!

A Troubling Exercise In Justice For Brady

football stadium
digidream grafix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Justice is an exercise we sometimes avoid for fear of opening a can of worms. Our rationalization is maybe no one will notice- as in a troubling exercise in justice for Brady.

I have a pet peeve: it’s called cheating. Most of us I suspect feel the  same way. Sometimes cheating is a blatant disregard for the rules, and that is not hard to miss. The NBA calls it a flagrant foul. But there aren’t just flagrant fouls, there are degrees of flagrant. There are flagrant fouls 1 and 2, the second could well earn you a one game suspension. We have degrees of cheating… that is a mistake.

It happens all the time, athletes bend the rules for the purpose of an advantage. It seems to me that if you need to bend the rules, it’s because you basically don’t believe you can win fairly, or that in some way you as an athlete are being left behind. Your talent and skill are no longer enough; you need an edge, an equalizer. The more edge we need the more likely we are to cheat. If our livelihood is involved, the temptation maybe irrepressible- witness sports and steroids.

Courtesy Bigjom at Freedigitalphoto.com

Since the beginning of baseball, pitchers have sometimes doubted their ability to throw an assortment of pitches whose trajectories or movement are unpredictable enough to result in either strikeouts, easy fly-outs, or weak groundouts. The various legal choices of pitches are never quite enough, and pitchers may resort to putting something on the ball that will change its trajectory or behavior. The rules prohibit such practices. Does it stop them. No.

We understand there are rules regarding “carrying” the basketball, or the number of steps one can take without dribbling. When I was a youthful player, “traveling” was a frequent call, as was “carry.” The game has evolved from a strategy of spacing and finding the open man to “Stop this freight train if you dare.” The logic, I imagine, is that I’ll move so fast the refs won’t have time to notice and the defense will be too intimidated by the speed and size of me to stop it – nobody wants to get hurt!

We all understand that football is a violent game and because it involves tackling and blocking the likelihood of injury is high. That likelihood escalates when the mindset of assassin creeps however clandestinely into the players head. Recently, a host of players, coaches, and one team were penalized for the purposeful use of bounties on specific players. If the targeted player left the game because of injury, the perpetrator was rewarded with a bounty payment. The players and coaches were soundly disciplined with fines, suspensions, and much talk about the integrity of the game.

I don’t believe it. One way to win today is to knock out your opponent. Don’t bother with beating him, send him home for a vacation. Grown men, most of whom are theoretically college educated – yes, I’m writing that with a straight face; that’s another post – are willing to risk the increased likelihood that too many head injuries will render you incapable of enjoying your signing bonus, may render you incapable of knowing who you are or where you are. The money invites a win at all costs mentality. The games are slowly eroded in spirit until they become gladiatorial and ultimately a war – take no prisoners. We like to identify with our sports heroes, and that was easier in the days of knuckleheads, rogues, and rascals. Our heroes were flawed like us, and not otherworldly or superhuman. Arnold Palmer had a swing that defied his greatness – “That was a remarkable shot, for that swing”. I remember my father practicing that swing, trying to look like Arnie. Never did, but that didn’t keep him from going to the course every weekend with aspirations that this weekend wil be the break through, it all come together.

Frankly, I think baseball needs Pete Rose – the rogue, rascal, and knucklehead. He bet on baseball and its prohibited. He never bet against himself, and I cannot imagine Pete Rose losing a game on purpose. Charlie Hustle is not wired for that state of mind.

Rory McIlroy and Jordan Speith are too nice, too cool, too methodical. They are gentlemen in a gentleman’s game, but they’re almost unregcognizable, despit hitting the ball a ton of yards.They are machine like and that does not inspire identification, awe maybe of the power… but, how do we identify with that?

Our professional sports have crossed a line brought on by everyone being bigger, faster, stronger, and the insidious growth of a win at all cost focus. You’ll notice that no one ever says, “It’s only a game,” when they are winning. Philosophy seems to be a refuge for the loser!

imgres-1The use of steroids in sports has been a most troubling scenario. Sports leaders have cracked down on the use of performance enhancing drugs, but there are always new ways to outwit the “sheriff.” There is a new game on the horizon, however, that is troubling. I refer to Tom Brady and the overturning of his suspension. The problem for me is that there has been no judgement of guilt or innocence. The punishment has been thrown out based upon a technicality, not a judgement. No where in the arbiters decision does he address guilt or innocence. So we duck the win at all cost question, yet again. Some argue that the deflated balls had no impact. Players do; and if they think it does and attempt to circumvent the rules, it’s still a problem. What other rules will they duck under or around. Win at all costs distorts the value of sports and the ethics of all games.

Someone needs to take a stand. Like fossil fuel, too many people make huge amounts of money for needed change to occur.

I’m just sayin’…

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