I am slowly working on the new novel, the one filled with all the sex and violence you can handle (and desire)–and probably more–but I haven’t been writing it that often.
And obviously I haven’t been blogging much.
And I still don’t have a post for you.
But I do finally have the desire to share this video of a speech I gave at one of my beloved toastmasters competitions back in 2012 and in doing so finally pull back the curtain on my never-requested-but-just-the-same-deliberately-hidden appearance. I don’t have the hair or beard these days, but yes, the rumors are true, I am still that good looking. 😉 (for the ladies.) (Fellas: sorry, but you shouldn’t need an emoticon to calm you down.)
Oh. And Happy Birthday…Djyaa-nit.
I don’t care if any of you watch Whiplash—I care if filmmakers do.
Sure, it could’ve been better. I have no context for jazz music. I want to like it and know why I like it, but I don’t. Adding a few scenes which dropped subtle hints that answered “why jazz?” would’ve only made it better. But when I grin like a fool, shake my head in disbelief, write when it is past my bedtime, and what’s more, when I only gave half my attention to the film’s last forty minutes because the other half was busy re-budgeting my time and money towards future music instruction, I know someone just made an effing fantastic movie.
I wanted to be really edgy with this review of Keaton’s Best Picture-winning Birdman and use “circle-jerk” in the opening sentence. Then something told me that I might not be the first wannabe movie critic to use this adolescently pejorative gimmick to describe this film. Googling “birdman circle-jerk”, I confirmed my suspicions. Oh well. As another similarly themed saying goes, if you wait, you masturbate.
My new co-workers are one of the least movie-watching crowds I’ve ever labored alongside. There are moments, you can imagine, when this circumstance causes me to question my love of movies. I’ll ask myself, “Have I been wasting my time?” and “Is there more to life?” However, as time goes on, the moments shorten and the doubts disappear.
After watching Birdman, though, ironically my questioning clamored to deafening levels.
Forget that a movie about a movie star won best picture. The only question that ran through my head for the duration was whether or not an expertly made film depicting the ups and downs experienced by the people behind the stage and screen has any inherent metaphorical value for me. Put another way, “Are celebrity’s problems really the same as my problems, only amplified by fame and fortune?” Or yet another, “Does every human being live on a ledge from which they jump, sometimes falling, sometimes flying?” To all these questions I answer, “No.” I say, just like with the quickly-fading-from-view 50 Shades phenomenon, the difficulty with this movie is remembering that I don’t have to let these people frame the discussion. Despite every effort on all our parts to turn celebrities into gods, they are not gods. But remembering this is admittedly challenging because they are rich. And that means they must know something I don’t, right?
Prelude to this review’s conclusion: Today I can’t recall what BDSM stands for. And while right now I feel like I may be able to identify with the major motif of Birdman, even admiring all of its on-point updates to the reigning annal of contemporary social history Forrest Gump, I know that tomorrow I will look forward to the new Mad Max.
Conclusion: As always Hollywood, less talk, more work.
“Large keyboard instrument that produces soft and loud (Barron 95).”
At seven feet long, six hundred seventy pounds, and taller than a toddler, it demands attention. But for a few aesthetic nuances, there is purpose in every handcrafted stationary and moving part. Equally beautiful and functional, the black behemoth exemplifies creativity. Neither do its origins disappoint. Cristofori’s problem was monotony. The harpsichord produced one sound. The strings were plucked. No matter how hard or soft the musician pressed down on the keys, the resultant volume was the same. But life’s spark would not let the matter rest. He sought both soft and loud, and henceforth created a new connection to the Infinite.
Mystifying in its identical name, the keyboard these words are typed on sits atop a wooden table in a room whose walls and closed blinds seem inclined to constantly advance inward. The piano keeps them at bay. Its weight symbolizes its persistence to preserve its place in this world.
The words begin to grow short. The afternoon advances. The man approaches confidently, if lazily. As he steps around the bench, his body brushes against the hanging blinds. He pulls his hand up short of the light switch. As if unable to contain a joyful secret, the swinging blinds reveal the sun is shining. He opens them and smiles.
There is nothing, I mean nothing, that compares to playing the piano in the light of the sun.
*Barron, James. Piano: The Making of a Steinway Concert Grand. New York: Times, 2006. Print.
He whistled loudly as they approached the grocery store.
“What song are you whistling, Daddy?” H- begged.
“My Favorite Things,” he answered.
“Oh,” she said, not familiar with the tune.
“All aboard!” he called, signaling it was time for her to hop on the front of the cart if she was going to.
He watched and heard her begin an open mouth hum as she attempted to demonstrate her own Christmas spirit notwithstanding a deficit in whistling ability. Chuckling, he pushed the cart into the store and began searching for beautiful women whom he could make smile with the assistance of his little helper.
“I said humming to town,” H- said, laughing innocently as congestion in the baking aisle halted their progress.
“What’s that?” he asked.
H- then proceeded to hum the chorus of Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. Afterward she again giggled and said, “I said humming!”
Squinting and with a cocked head, he looked at her in disbelief and thought, “Surely she knows when she hums no one hears the words?”
“Oh yeah?” he quickly said before the moment passed.
Progressing now to the cereal aisle, another repeat of the chorus was followed by, “That time I said coming.” More humming and another laughing explanation. “I said humming again!”
“Man, I can’t believe they don’t have any corn flakes.”
“Santa is probably humming to the reindeer as they pull his sleigh,” she said thoughtfully, unconcerned with the moment’s dilemma.
“What?” he asked, rising from the crouched position where he had just verified the awful truth that he’d have to get creative to make the cookies.
“I said,” she labored, “Santa is probably humming to the reindeer.”
“A wordsmith is born,” he thought smiling, unable to hide his pride.
Dear Stereo Makers,
How many times have you ever broken a nail with a hammer? Or how many times have you sat on a chair and had the chair just simply break? I know! I know! How many times have you turned on a faucet and the water came out so fast that it put a hole in the sink? No, better yet, how many times have you read a book so fast that it broke?
Then why, for the love, do you sell a product which allows me to turn up the volume so loud that it breaks my speakers? Why? Surely there’s a way you can prevent this. Surely you can put a line on the knob that lets me know “any louder now, Bub, and you might break your speakers”. I would obey. Promise.
Thank you for reading. Just do better.
PS – If you’re interested, I ended the affair. The End.
Church-going Christians: Probably want to skip this one. Or maybe you are my target audience. It’s difficult to say.
Because the topic is endlessly fascinating to me, I have read John P. Meier’s A Marginal Jew series–the first four volumes–and I am anxiously awaiting the concluding fifth volume. I am also one book in to N.T. Wright’s New Testament and the People of God five volume series. These books center themselves on the question “What does the historical record say about Jesus of Nazareth?” I believe them to be intellectually honest, and I have found great comfort and value in them. As an added bonus, I am fairly confident that I understand who Jesus of Nazareth was and thought he was much better than before. So much so that I have recently begun to hunt for a church which I think I could stomach attending week to week.
You should see the looks on the generally elder crowd’s faces when I tell them I’ve been away for a decade. They are so thankful that I’ve returned. It’s a little hokey but feels good nonetheless. My biggest complaint about modern churches is their music selection. It’s horrible, just horrible. I have never sat next to a person who didn’t agree, either. Because I’m older and can only attempt this adventure with authenticity, I let a guy know that I missed the Baptist Hymnal of my youth. He tells me, “You’re in luck!” It seems there is a Sunday School type class that sings the old hymns because there are others like me. Another vote for opening my big mouth, I think.
Yesterday, however, I discovered I should just sit quiet from now on. While the packed room did sing one (1) traditional hymn, I was sure that before the hour’s end I would be the only one not grasping St. Peter’s welcoming hand at the pearly gates.
Social decorum demanding obedience as it does, I remained in the room.
Skipping to the end, what did the well-meaning old timers want to debate for the hour we had together? Whether there is such a thing as unpardonable sin–a sin which is so awful that even Jesus’ saving power can’t redeem the perpetrator’s soul. (Consensus – There might be one, but don’t worry you can’t commit it inadvertently.)
The only thought that occupied my mind for that hour was, “Who gives a shit?”
The sermon was pretty good at least.
Jessica’s little legs hung off the side of the hospital bed as she sat alone with her mother. Looking directly into her mother’s eyes, Jessica used all her energy to not cry and seemed unaware that her left heel rapidly tapped against the side of the bed.
Just before her last breath, Jessica’s mom told her, “Make sure and practice for me, okay? Your dad loves that piano.”
After the funeral Nick tucked Jessica into bed and leaving the lights off, poured himself a drink.
The next morning a sloppy and slow rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” aroused him to the full force of a hangover.
“Just stop, Jessica,” he groaned.
Slowing and softening just a bit, she pretended not to hear.
“I said stop!” he roared.
Confused and unused to him yelling, she pulled her delicate hands from the keys and as he rapidly approached instinctively raised them to protect herself from the blow that never came. The sound of the piano’s keylid slamming shut opened her clenched eyes just in time to see him turn towards her. She stared right back at him. Embarrassed, ashamed, and now uncertain of what he was capable of, he hurriedly walked away. She turned back to the piano, lifted the keylid, and began to practice.
As he whirled around in disbelief, he felt an unnatural warmness come over his head. He raced to the bathroom. She heard him try to cover up his sickness with coughing. His head pounded as he walked from the flushing toilet to where she was in the living room.
“What did I tell you?” he barked.
This time as he reached for the keylid, the little girl was ready. Matching his determination but not his strength, she pushed back against it with both hands, arms locked.
He let off long enough for her to remove her hands but still closed the lid.
“I don’t want to hear that piano ever again,” he said.
Her face always flushed red before the tears came and this time was no different.
“But mommy told me to practice!” she said as she lifted the lid and, again, began to practice.
If you’ve seen Cold Mountain, then you’ve been introduced to Sacred Harp singing. It’s also called Shape Note singing. Essentially, it’s this ol’ timey acapella singing where the notes are shaped like squares, circles, diamonds, and triangles and named fa, so, la, and mi. The singers sit in a square (tenor, bass, soprano, alto) facing each other. You can view a video of it here. In any case, one day I was reminded how much I liked the sound of it and used the interwebs to see if anyone in Denver actually still does it. Sho’ ’nuff, they do. So I took H- last night.
First, it was a beautiful church. But the attendance was much lower than I expected. There were eleven of us. Well, including H- there were twelve. Eleven adults, one child. But what a child. If you haven’t watched the video linked above, now is your second reminder and link.
The way the session worked was we just went around the square and chose songs. Usually a person stood up in the middle and “led” the singing. This isn’t absolutely necessary, but it is common and helps everyone stay on time.
Being sharp and displaying perfect innocence, H- was sure to spell out her first name for the group between the first and second songs and her last name between the second and third songs. And this without even being asked. Endearing is a little weak when it comes to attempting to describe the scene with words.
Next, H- noticed that a participant stood in the middle of the group and asked if she could do it. A kind old woman offered H-, “You can stand with me when I do it.” And H- did–foot tapping and all. (If you’re not in tears at this point, please dial 911). A few songs later there was a delay in anyone standing up to approach the middle of the square. H-‘s response was to fill void. She is so smart. Can you picture it? Use everything I’ve shared with you about this little girl and just imagine her responding to the group’s inquisition, “What are you doing?” with,”Someone needs to stand in the middle.” This child has no fear. Do you remember what that was like? Can you remember? I can’t remember it, but I can report that witnessing it is a gift from God.
Shape note singing. Who would’ve thought it would beget a miracle?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I get it. People generally wouldn’t say MJ was a mature man. But then again, no one really knew him, did they? Just like no one knows Sam Smith. So, taking their respective singles as simply stand alone art, I see no reason that the man who built Neverland for real shouldn’t get a fair shake.
Have you ever read the lyrics to the number one single “Dirty Diana”? I feel like I have memories of watching the video from childhood, though I can’t place from when or where. I know I certainly didn’t know what the song was about until about a decade ago. Then I was shocked. Who knew he ever sang about such things?
Contrary to Smith, MJ’s masterpiece lacks introspection or self-reflection. It starts slow, builds, and then reaches a climax all the while admitting a terrific weakness of character. For my money, it is perfect art for the precise reason Tolstoy was leery of music’s power. Tolstoy once wrote, “Music transports me immediately into the condition of soul in which he who wrote the music found himself at that time.”* (Since reading that, I haven’t been able to get that concept out of my head. Good art makes the listener/viewer feel the way the creator felt. Nice. Simple.)
And just like Smith, there is something in MJ’s voice that sounds personal. These are two clearly torn artists. But unlike young Smith, not-quite-as-young Jackson didn’t feign insecurity or doubt about his station in life. He knew the score. And that was in 1988, which was a few years before Smith was born. Point being, when will we ever learn? Jackson didn’t want to do it, but did. Smith did it and now questions his decision. Me? I’m with MJ on this. At twenty-two, Smith is too old to waffle. Ignorance is not bliss. You knew what would happen. Grow up. Everyone has to.
I guess I’m just bothered because I liked the song. And I wasn’t alone in liking it. But then I saw that it wasn’t what I thought. And I don’t like being taken. Argh!
*Tolstoy, Leo. Master and Man ; The Kreutzer Sonata ; Dramas. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1904. Print.