[Embedded videos are still not working; I'll fix this when and if I can. In the meantime, clicking the links provided will take you to the videos on YouTube.]
During our recent visit to the Netherlands with our Swiss grandchildren, we enjoyed a visit to the Openluchtmuseum (Open Air Museum) in Arnhem. As far as learning Dutch history goes, the kids might benefit from another visit in a few years. But when it comes to having fun, they got what they came for.
The museum occasionally features concerts and other events, and very near the beginning, the theatrically-minded of our crew were hooked. Not that this sign explained much to us, though our eyes lighted on the word "Annie." The sound of singing drew us like a magnet. Well, most of us. Porter and Joseph spurned the SRO crowd for comfortable chairs and some man-to-man discussion time in the wings.
I'm not much of a fan of Broadway musicals myself, but I was intrigued by the familiarity of the music. Later, I concluded that there's a similarity among musical theater numbers that makes them nearly indistinguishable to the non-initiate, especially when the lyrics are in a foreign language. At the time, however, all we could conclude was that this was defnitely not the Annie we were expecting.
Since the version we saw was designed for children, it was shorter, and presumably cleaner—in any case, even the most multi-lingual of our grandkids doesn't know enough Dutch to deciper the lyrics (and he wasn't listening). This particular song, however, is a powerful earworm, and certainly made an impression. All the children enjoy play-acting, and the three-year-old, especially, treated us to many subsequent performances of her version, in which the title morphed—understandably, for one who speaks English and German—into Jah Sister, Nah Sister. The only part of the original they maintained was this refrain, but it spawned endless variety. You'd think I'd have had the sense to video at least one of the innumerable performances, but I didn't.
In one of the early episodes of the TV show Monk, Adrian Monk's assistant, Sharona Fleming, explains, "I never vote; it only encourages them."
I believe that informed, intelligent voting is the duty of citizens in a democracy. I really do. But having arrived at (primary) Election Day, I'm inclined to sympathize with Sharona.
Take the school board race, for example. I don't need anything more to make me over-the-top thankful that my era of intimate involvement with the public schools is long over, but the priorities of this year's candidates reassure me that I would still be bashing my head against the wall it it weren't.
What are the hot-button issues for the candidates in our safe, mostly suburban school district? School safety, mental health counselling, vocational education, and getting rid of standardized testing. They're so consistent on this that the one guy who is a little different may well get my vote—despite his bizarre rant about how he doesn't want to carry a gun, as if he can't tell the difference between allowing someone with a carry permit to bring his own gun onto a school campus, and somehow requiring all teachers to carry guns. (To be fair, teachers are asked to do so many things besides teaching these days, I can understand his paranoia a little.)
I'm all for vocational education—in which America as a whole needs to do a much better job—but could we not have at least one candidate who is concerned about academics? Who will make a priority of offering our students a first-class, high-quality education? If their top concerns for our schools are safety and mental health issues, then it's not an educational institution we're running. I don't know what it is, but it's not a school.
The other races aren't much better. Looking through their campaign literature is an exercise in, "Nope, not that one. Not him. Not her. Certainly not that one. Oh, look, one who doesn't completely vilify her opponent, how refreshing."
If it's my duty to vote, isn't it someone's duty to provide candidates worth voting for?
As usual, jet lag is kicking me on the return trip. (The outbound trip is much easier, for several reasons.) I had thought I was over it the first day—but it turns out I was only so exhausted that sleep came at any time, any place. :) But it's getting better. Gradually, my wake-up-and-can't-get-back-to-sleep time has stretched from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. to this morning at 4:30 a.m.—almost normal. I knew there was no hope of getting back to sleep today, because I woke up thinking about how far away our children and grandchildren are, and how much that not only hurts now but potentially makes life difficult years from now if we don't get hit by a truck but have to face becoming too old and infirm to live independently. a sad situation many of our friends are currently going through with their parents.
Lying in bed awake was not producing any solution to that problem, so I got up and went to work. And one of the first things I ran across, on a totally and completely unrelated search, was this song: "The Missing Piece," by Cherish the Ladies.
Yes, I cried.
There's a sadness woven throughout Irish music, despite the gaiety of many of its songs. Naturally, this song of family far away and of the expat's dilemma—homes in two countries and yet a stranger to both—moved me especially this morning. Like most music of this sort, it also dredged up other sorrows, present and ancient, from family visits recently postponed to the loss of loved ones almost half a century ago.
We need such moments of grief and remembrance, and that's one of the strengths that make Irish music what it is.
Then it's time to move on and get to work. (After writing about it, of course. That's how I cope.)
The infamous Blue Screen of Death is all too familiar to my generation of Windows users. It may be that blue screens are now causing death in a different way.
This Popular Science article reports that prolonged exposure to blue light can cause irreversible damage to the cells that allow us to see. (And truly, I thought of the Blue Screen of Death analogy before I noticed that the article's author did, too.) That would be light from our televisions, computers, phones, e-readers, and even increasingly popular LED illumination.
Catastrophic damage to your vision is hardly guaranteed. But the experiment shows that blue light can kill photoreceptor cells. Murdering enough of them can lead to macular degeneration, an incurable disease that blurs or even eliminates vision.
Blue light occurs naturally in sunlight, which also contains other forms of visible light and ultraviolet and infrared rays. But ... we don’t spend that much time staring at the sun. As kids, most of us were taught it would fry our eyes. Digital devices, however, pose a bigger threat. The average American spends almost 11 hours a day in front of some type of screen, according to a 2016 Nielsen poll. Right now, reading this, you’re probably mainlining blue light.
Obviously, more research is needed before we panic about this. But maybe it's time I stopped putting myself to sleep by reading on my Kindle, or playing a move or two in Word Chums, or praying through our church's Prayer Chain list. They say you should turn off "devices" an hour before bedtime, because the blue light can keep you from falling asleep. That's never been an issue for me. But damaging my eyes? That's a much bigger issue.
Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t: Why That Is and What You Can Do about It by Steven Pressfield (Black Irish Entertainment, 2016) (This subtitle is for the Kindle version. The paperback subtitle is And Other Tough-Love Truths to Make You a Better Writer. Don't ask me why.)
I hate this book. That's why I'm considering buying my own copy.
Our grandson received a Kindle for his birthday, a rite of passage in his family. Fortunately, he didn't mind in the least that it was a used Kindle by the time it was placed in his hands. I took full advantage of the temporary access to his father's library of e-books during the weeks it was in my possession, devouring six books, one of which was this title. Thus I read it quickly, and do not have access to the notes and quotes I would normally have for writing a review. But here's what I remember:
- The language doesn't get any better than the title, and lacks the courtesy of the asterisk. This shouts unprofessionalism as well as rudeness.
- There are 119 chapters in this 208-page book. You can guess the length of most of the chapters, which read more like Facebook posts than book chapters. This was actually handy for reading in the few spare minutes I could snatch during our recent cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam, but it made the book—not the boat ride—choppy and disorienting.
- Pressfield has very definite ideas about how a story must be written, and reading his prescription my immediate reaction was, "If this is the way books are supposed to be written these days, it's no wonder I find very few that I like."
- He sees little to no difference in how to tell a story, whether writing fiction or non-fiction, books, TV, movies or advertising copy. That's another reason for me not to like modern books. There's a reason I far prefer the written word to film.
- Pressfield sprinkles his book liberally with movie references, which of course leaves me completely at a loss as to the point of the illustration he is using.
- He has a style reminiscent of Ann Voskamp, which I know recommends him to many people, but not to me. I find her writing disorienting and not particularly helpful.
- Basically, the book was annoying to read, often confusing, and seemed to speak of a world totally foreign to my own.
So why on earth am I considered purchasing Nobody Wants to Read your Sh*t?
Because I think it has something to say to me. I think I can learn from it.
One place I agree with Pressfield is that all writing is storytelling. Much of speaking is also storytelling. It's a skill everyone should learn, and while I've picked up some experience flying by the seat of my pants, I'm a babe in the woods when it comes to the art itself. Pressfield, who is a successful writer of fiction, history, and self-help books as well as movie and television scripts, clearly knows much that I'm not even aware that I don't know.
- At the most trivial level, learning the art of storytelling will give me a new and fun way to look at books and movies, trying to puzzle out the patterns and techniques used to create the story line.
- Since all writing is storytelling, knowing the techniques—even if I reject some of them—should help me make my own writing more interesting.
- It might even help my speaking, since I've been told more than once that when I try to tell a story without writing it down first, I put in too much unnecessary and confusing detail and background, leaving listeners just wishing that I would get to the point. It's not good storytelling to bore the audience.
Well, I've pretty much convinced myself. Now if Amazon would just run one of their special $1.99 sales....
From J. R. R. Tolkien, in The Return of the King, Appendix F.
In those days all the enemies of the Enemy revered what was ancient, in language no less than in other matters, and they took pleasure in it according to their knowledge. The Eldar, being above all skilled in words, had the command of many styles, though they spoke most naturally in a manner nearest to their own speech, one even more antique than that of Gondor. The Dwarves, too, spoke with skill, readily adapting themselves to their company, though their utterance seemed to some rather harsh and guttural. But Orcs and Trolls spoke as they would, without love of words or things; and their language was actually more degraded and filthy than I have shown it. I do not suppose that any will wish for a closer rendering, thought models are easy to find. Much the same sort of talk can still be heard among the orc-minded; dreary and repetitive with hatred and contempt, too long removed from good to retain even verbal vigour, save in the ears of those to whom only the squalid sounds strong.
I first noticed it when Porter was working with coworkers from India, part of the great outsourcing/offshoring boom in the early part of this century. He had discovered that he could never make more than one point in an e-mail. If he asked two questions or brought up two subjects—let alone a list of several—his correspondent would respond to one of them, usually either the first or the last, and completely ignore the rest. At the time, I blamed it on the language barrier.
Now I don't know what say, because it happens all the time, with people for whom English is as native as language can get. Over and over again people seem to be missing everything after the first paragraph of an e-mail.
Could it be a Twitter Effect, and people just can't take in more than 140 characters at a time? Have our attention spans degenerated so drastically? Are we perhaps just so busy, hurried, and harried, trying to accomplish too much in too little time, that we can't take time to read carefully? I think of doctors, nurses, teachers, and others who complain that they are so rushed they can no longer do their jobs properly. It may be those in the helping professions who feel it first and foremost, but it's no doubt true of us all.
Should we, perhaps, call ourselves a post-literate society? Once upon a time, not that long ago, literacy was not taken for granted. It wasn't until 1940 that the U.S. Federal Census stopped asking people if they could read and write. But thereafter, every schoolchild was expected to learn to read and to write, and libraries flourished.
Now, I'm not so sure. Schools still teach reading and writing, but are we now creating graduates who can read, but don't? So many people never touch a book after leaving school! We've gone from reading solid, well-written, even scholarly books, to "beach reads," to newspapers and magazines, to USA Today, to blogs, to Facebook and Twitter, click-click-click. From long, newsy letters to e-mails to Instagram and Snapchat.
Certainly, there have been gains with each step. But we've also lost something important. I know people who can read very well, but have no patience with an e-mail that is longer than a few sentences. At least I don't need to worry about offending anyone with this blog post—the guilty won't get this far. :)
Ah well, one must move with the times. Pardon me while I go snip an e-mail into bite-sized fragments.
We're home after a month overseas, and it's raining.
Europe has been experiencing a drought so severe that our Viking River Cruise devovled into a Viking Bus Tour. Looking over the California-brown land of the Netherlands, Porter—who had lived there for four years in the 1960's—recalled that he had never, ever seen Holland as anything but a lush, green country. His only concern about the weather for our planned adventure there with Janet and her family was that it would be a soggy affair, because "it's always raining in Holland."
Except that it wasn't. We had five beautiful days of almost unprecedented sun, accompanied by almost unprecedented heat.
And then, finally, it rained. The grateful grass took notice and stood up, acquiring a green blush overnight. It also rained some during our subsequent visit to Switzerland.
It wasn't until tonight that I realized why it the experience was somewhat disorienting. It rained in Europe much as it rained in America's Northeast when I was young. That is to say, I relearned what umbrellas are good for, and more than half the time didn't bother with one anyway. I got a little wet; I soon got dry.
But tonight we are back in Florida, and it is RAINING. The water is pouring out of the sky so fast that the gutters overflow before the flood has a chance to reach the downspouts. Any minute now I expect to see the Maid of the Mist cruise through our back porch. Then again, maybe I missed it when a lightning strike, so close that the bottoms of my bare feet tingled, sent us scurrying back inside.
If in the Netherlands we didn't bother with umbrellas because they were hardly needed, in Florida we don't bother because after 30 seconds one is soaked to the skin anyway.
Now that's rain. One night of this and all the cruise ships would be back in business.
I try hard not to judge a president, for good or for ill, until years after his term has ended. History does much to clear the clouded lens of the present, and more than once a person I've judged as good has turned out to be a lousy president, and vice versa. But I think I can say that if Americans, and the American media, are waking up to the fact that danger from Russia did not go away with the end of the Cold War, that's a good that might last. We need do the same with China and a few other countries, too.
Does that mean we should hate these countries and view them as our enemies? Of course not. On the personal level, meeting, loving, appreciating, and valuing other people and cultures is the road to peace—not to mention to learning, growth and a lot of fun.
But at the political level, it's important never to forget that other governments, even at their best, have the interests of their own people in mind, not ours. And that's a good thing; that's their job. It's our government's job to look to the interests of our country and our people, and that is the messy business of diplomacy—including but not limited to economic policy, military strength, espionage, cyber security, foreign aid, political rhetoric, looking for the win-win even with our enemies, compromise, and all the complex art of statecraft.
Does that mean we should give our government a free hand to use whatever tactics will get the job done? Absolutely not. Free and democratic countries must face the world with one arm tied behind their backs, not resorting to immoral behavior even if it's used against them, just as the police are not allowed to use criminal behavior to catch criminals. It does mean, however, that we must be the more vigilant and active to use all legitimate means to further our goals.
It is what Scottish author and philosopher George MacDonald called, "sending the serpent to look after the dove," a reference to Jesus' admonition to be "wise as serpents and harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16). Innocence with knowledge and wisdom is strong.
The University of Rochester is the alma mater of three quarters of our immediate family. I've never had much of what they call school spirit, but I do occasionally read our alumni magazine and marvel at both the good and the terrible things going on there.
The May-June issue was exciting because of—you'll never guess it—sports. Yes, the UR made the news in the only sport I care at all about: quidditch. .
Back in 2013 we attended Quidditch World Cup VI, held in Kissimmee, Florida, to root on a different UR team, the University of Richmond Spiders, and their seeker, Kevin, and his teammate Layla. We had a great time and I wrote about it here.
The Quidditch World Cup is now up to XI, and has a new name, the US Quidditch Cup, since the former name has been taken over by another contest, held this year in Florence, Italy.
Although Kevin and Layla would no doubt have preferred that the Universtiy of Richmond have won the championship, I'm sure they'll be happy that another UR beat the UT Austin players, who in 2013 had distinguished themselves not only by winning, but by their decidedly unsportsmanlike behavior. As I wrote back thenk
University of Richmond vs. University of Texas (Austin). Texas went on to claim the overall championship, so the object of catching the Snitch here was to end the game before the point spread could get any bigger. I wasn't happy that Texas was so successful, because they have apparently forgotten that the game is supposed to be fun for everyone.They play hard, rough, and mean; early in the Richmond game, one of their players smashed a bludger (dodge ball) point blank into the face of one of Richmond's best Chasers and sent her to the hospital. His teammates said he's known for doing that. It wasn't even a penalizable offense, so I think a rule modification is in order. Some temporary pain is within bounds; deliberate infliction of injury is, well, unsportsmanlike, in the old sense—all too much like "sports men/women" these days. (After the passing of time, and three medical exams—paramedic, urgent care, hospital—she was pronounced fit to play again. Fortunately the games were far enough apart that the Texas bully didn't ruin her entire day.)
Sadly, only one of the University of Rochester team members was on the team that participated in this year's international Quidditch World Cup, and only as an alternate. (The Americans won, by the way.)