Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Portrait of an Artist

Greetings All:

The photo below is of a painting I had commissioned (wow, that sounds pompous) as a Mother's Day gift.  We're not exactly the art collecting type, although my plaster bust of Elvis is proudly displayed at my office, adorned with my 1ST Cavalry Stetson, but that is a post for another day.)

Even if your idea of art is of the "Dogs Playing Poker," print is your preferred form of wall decor, you have to hand it to Katie, this is terrific.  I sent her a photo of our kids and asked her to "work her magic."  Boy, did she ever.

I learned about her when my wife had another print done.   Here's that one:

Again, I'm not an "art guy" although I wish I was because there is a lot of great works out there I just do not know about.  Still, even I can appreciate the work that she puts into these paintings and admire the final product.  (Is art a "product"?  I suppose I should have a better term, "piece" perhaps?)  This is clearly someone who is passionate about what she does.

One of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite writers, R.W. Emerson is this one:  "Nothing great happens without enthusiasm."  I think passion and enthusiasm are akin to happy and glad.  As my Dad might say, "It's about giving a damn."  Katie has all of the above.

I exchanged emails with her and had to ask her how she got into this field.  Her reply was both surprising and expected.  She commented that she had always loved art but had put it aside to pursue the regular job.  (Sound familiar, anyone?)  Then, one day when painting her son's room, she started drawing images and in that moment remembered all she loved about art.  Fast-forward a bit and that "safe job" is way back in the rear view mirror.  She does what she loves (see above :)) and does it on her own terms.  She remarked to me that she has time to be with her kids and still has time to paint.  As for the business, well, she's doing great. I think I was about a month "in the que" as our Brit friends say, awaiting this painting.

What is the morale of this story?  Is it quit your job and pursue your dream?  Well, not really.  It is instead (in my opinion and I suppose I can offer that as this is my blog) to figure out what inspires you.  It may be that you are happy as a clam doing what you do.  If so, mazel tov.  I know I am dumb lucky to have a job I dearly love that allows me to meet my obligations and still got the Camaro running (pause for cheers.)  Alas, I digress:  Step one, find what inspires you.  Step two, figure out if that is a way to pay your way in the world.  Step three, if that which inspires you will not pay the bills then is there something else you can do to to pay the bills in as little time as possible, leaving ample time to focus on what does inspire you.

About three years ago, I listened to The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss.  Truth be told, I only got the audio book because Audible had a sale and I thought it was a cool title.  I think Tim is great.  He's a guy who has traveled the world and figured out how to make money (and this is before the fame of his books) and do the stuff he likes.  If you have not checked him out, I encourage you to do so.  His bit about writing the "resignation letter" to the boss is worth the price of the audio and/or regular book.  Here's the link:

What I really like about Tim's stuff is he does not say "Do what I do."  In fact, he says the opposite. (My paraphrase:)  If you do not want to travel the world, that's cool.  Do what makes you happy.  Here's how I did it and good luck on whatever you want to do. 

So back to Katie, I think it is great that she is doing what she loves on her own terms.  Her art is great.  Here is a link to her site, check it out if you'd like.

Here's to all of us finding what inspires us,...and sharing it with the world.

Be well my friends.


Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Bix 7

 Greetings All:

It is the morning after the world (and certainly Quad City) famous Bix 7 road race, or as us locals simply call it, "Bix."  The "Bix" began in 1975 in conjunction with the Bix Beiderbecke Jazz Festival. Leon Bismark "Bix" Beiderbecke was the Janis Joplin of his time. That only was he a brilliant musician who helped usher in the Jazz age, he was also, unfortunately, a chronic alcoholic and abuser (or he might have referred to it as a "fine purveyor" of the various varieties of bathtub gin. In a tragic foretelling of future musicians, he died well before his time at 28. This was largely forgotten for many years until someone discovered his music and recognize a connection to Davenport at some time, a jazz festival was organized and musicians from around the Midwest and I presume the nation with convergent downtown Davenport to play the kind of Dixieland jazz that was all the rage in the era of rumble seats. 

(Photo of Bix Beiderbecke- Doyle's Academy of Music in Cincinnati, Ohio., courtesy of Wikipedia Commons, public domain,

In 1975, 84 runners took part in the inaugural big seven Road race. (To read more about the race, please visit the website and the history section-  I am not sure why it is 7 miles. Just speaking for myself, I think the experience would be just fine at four or five miles. In any event, it became seven. The race has evolved into perhaps THE major annual event in Davenport, perhaps the entire Quad Cities . According to this morning's paper (The Quad-City Times) 15,011 runners and walkers took part in the race. For those you who are not familiar with this race, it's not just 7 miles. But it's 7 miles up to significant hills in Davenport, Brady Street and McClellan night. For me the devil is in the details as in on the way back into running a Kirkwood which is a nasty little climb the price you pay for the nifty little decline about miles two and three.

These races are something I look forward to and enjoy being a participant.  I know plenty of people who watch it and have a ton of fun.  (and after all, is not that the point?  There is a reason we go to work/school and the Bix 7 is not one of them.)  Putting on the bib, the running "D Clip" (the thing in your shoe that tells your official time start to finish line) and picking out the clothes you are going to run in (that criteria was based on what was clean and in a nearby laundry basket) are part of the process of the pre-race.  I suspect for some this process takes on almost ritualistic overtones.  For me, I'm excited just to get a good parking spot.  

And I did.  It was not too far from the starting line and more important, a shorter walk from where I planned to conclude my race day activities.  (More on that later.)  It was by coincidence that I ended up parking here:

Now can you think of a better place to park for Bix?  Neither can I.

So there is the little matter of actually running the race.  As I mentioned, it is not a flat route and the hills do get your attention.  I had done some running before the race but as for actual "training," well, not so much.  I think the longest run I had gotten in was about four miles.  Olympian Juma Ikanga is quoted saying, “The will to win means nothing without the will to train.”

Now you tell me.

Actually, the race started fine.  I had run into Bill, my friend from work as we were making our way to the corral where we had to line up with the masses.  I stayed with him until the second water station, then lost him.  At that point, I settled into what I thought was a good but sane pace.  Along with the crowd and the several bands playing along the path, I had my iPhone and a variety of song.  Usually, I listen to books as when you run as slow as me, you do not need music.  However, for these kind of things, I make an exception.

So here I am chugging along Kirkwood, heading to Brady street and trying to figure out why it is so much longer on the way back.  Oh, that's right, I didn't train that much.  Oops.  I am getting to the end of my play list when thru my headphones comes The Boss singing "Born in the U.S.A."  Actually announcing that The Boss will  soon be on the mic is the haunting "DA, da, da, dadada..." notes of a keyboard I think.  At this point, I had no idea what was next on the playlist but that was all I had to hear.

At this point, the blister on my right big toe is yelling at me, "Hey MORON!  See what happens when you don't TRAIN?!  How's THAT feel??"  Thanks, appreciate it.  Then for some reason, my head swivels left.  There, on the corner of some forgotten cross street is a house with American flags on the fence with one large one, flying on a pole.  Here comes The Boss, "...I was born in the U.S.A.!"  I feel just fine and even the blister is shamed into shutting up.

Then the coolest part of the race happened for me.  Shortly after the flag house I saw a ginned-up slip 'n slide set up on the boulevard.  Despite the cool temperatures I saw several people take the running plunge and embrace the water and the fun.  I almost missed seeing the message spelled out in simple green letters.  "FOR BOSTON" 

You had to be there to appreciate the sincerity of the message.  I am so damn grateful I got to be there to witness it.  Blister, what blister?

So about 10 minutes later, it's over.  I've crossed the finish line.  Congrats to me.  As I walk (er hobble) towards the the post-race party, I see this:

Ah, the Palmer College of College of Chiropractic tent.  My wife is a graduate of this fine school and the school offers adjustments to the runners and walkers as they finish the event.  I met "Bill," whom I thought was a student (turns out he's just a really, really young looking doctor) who in a few moments rendered unto me that most magical of sounds: CCCRRAACKK!!!  In Chiropractic parlance, that is called an audible.  I call that nirvana. 

Now, off to the post-race party.  As I slurped down a Diet Coke, I run into Ed Froehlich.  Ed is a local legend and has directed the past 30-something Bix races.  He is Bix personified.  Although he had more important business to attend to, he was gracious enough to shake my hand.  I had to ask him as I gestured to the crowd.  "So Ed, did you ever envision this in your wildest dreams?"  He smiled and shook his head as he moved along.  Something told me he had something like this EXACTLY in mind.  All great leaders do.

There was the not insignificant matter of beer.  One of the drawbacks (among others) of being a slow runner is that by the time you get to the finish line, you're waiting a L-O-N-G time for cup of draft beet that is (at best) 1/3 foam.  I elected to head down to the street party and buy my beer.  Sometimes, you really get what you pay for.

I ran into a few friends at the outdoor set up with the bars that anchor Third Street between Ripley and Harrison streets.  Although I did not make it into Mac's Tap, here is a photo of one of the coolest bar signs I know:

And with that, my Bix experience ended.  It was a wonderful time.  As far as my time, I am pleased to report I did even better (officially) than I originally thought- 1:18.50.  Who knows, maybe one year I'll break an hour.  Then I may take the next year off and watch.  Either way, I hope that if I am in town I will be a part of Bix and if you are in town, I hope you will as well. 

You don't have to win to compete.  To me, that is what makes it all worth while.  See you at the bottom of Brady Street next year.

Be well,

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Les Misérables

Greetings All!

It is the weekend and at the risk of hubris, have to say I feel a bit like Hemingway, or maybe Hunter Thompson is a better fit.  In any event, I feel that way as I am banging out this blog post while sitting outside on the porch and puff on a cigar.  I have no delusions that this exercise of a minor vice will allow me to conjure their literary powers but then again, it can' t hurt.  (And hey, it is a nice way to get this post rolling.)

This has been a big weekend with the 39th running of the famed Bix 7 road race.  That should be a post in itself and depending on how motivated I am this weekend, I hope to crank that out as well.  In the meantime, let's talk about Les Misérables.

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo 

(The above image should be in the public domain and if not I claim fair use and if that does not work, here's a plug, "Go buy the book and the DVD and the soundtrack!"  Ah, the occupational hazards of being an attorney and writing a blog...)

The show has been around a long time.  We saw it on Broadway a few days before we got married and loved it.    Here is the website link to the show:

The story, in a nutshell, is about a convict in the first half of nineteenth century France who is imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread.  He obtains parole, but finds life is not a whole lot better on the outside.  He ends up "breaking" his parole and is able to start a new life.  However, the old one keeps coming back in inconvenient ways.

Here is the link to the book, compliments of Wikipedia:

I will skip a detailed review of the story as the real point of this blog is the production I saw this weekend.  Center for Living Arts is in Rock Island, Illinois.

My friends Dino and Tina Hayz run it and it is a celebration of local theater.  Regular readers of my blog will recall I have an appreciation for theater and especially locally-produced theater.  Which leads me to this show:

In the summer, the Center has a camp for junior high and high school kids.  This year, as Dino said, "...was a game-changer."  They avoided traditional or "safe" material and swung for the fences with this show.  They hit it out of the park.

Full disclosure, my daughter and several of her friends were in it so of course I am biased.  Then again, I (gladly) sat through it again today and that was after running that little race I mentioned above.  In other words, I can say it is great, great theater.

The cast is, without exception, talented.  More significant, they all bring a passion and pure joy to the stage.  They are still honing their craft.  And yet what they have to share is amazing to watch.

This is a tough show with rough material.  High School Musical it ain't.  There is death, poverty, prostitution, war, rebellion, betrayal, abandonment, heartbreak, and that's just the first act.  Well, I am being a bit sarcastic, but you get the point.  After all, one translation of the title is "The Wretched."

Central to the story is Jean Valjean.  He is the former convict who through a positive twist of fate becomes successful.  The young man who plays him, Liam  Baldwin, brings to life the anguish of regret that Hugo put down on ink.   His nemesis, the dreaded Inspector Javert, is played with equal passion, Matthew McFate.  As for the ladies, Bethany Piottner offers a heart-wrenching performance as the distraught Fantine.  Her haunting rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" challenged any eye in the theater to stay dry, myself included.  The show was not without comic relief.  Max Moline brought down the house as the corrupt nar-do-well innkeeper, along with his wife, played by Liz Coin.  But again, the whole cast, and I mean everyone, was just super. 

I recognize this is a sad story.  At the same time, there are positive, dare I say it, uplifting aspects to the story.  Jean Valjean renounces vengeance against Javert, despite having a lifetime of accumulated rage.  Fantine's daughter, Cosette, having been dealt a terrible early hand in life draws the ace on the river and ends up marrying the handsome Marius.  At the end, Jean Valjean dies with grace.  The same cannot be said for Javert.

As I reflect on this show, I cannot help but be bursting with pride for the young people who brought this story to life.  They showed a maturity beyond their years.  The stage was not a Broadway one but it was their stage.  With every note sung, young voices celebrated the beauty of theater.  The promise of this story is that something better awaits, that fate is not some chain upon your soul.  When I saw this on the big stage years ago, that message resonated.  In hearing it told by young people, it resonated more.  As it concluded, all were on stage singing the Finale.  Here are the final lyrics:

"Do you hear the people sing?
Lost in the valley of the night
It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light
For the wretched of the earth
There is a flame that never dies
Even the darkest nights will end and the sun will rise

They will live again in freedom in the garden of the lord
They will walk behind the ploughshare
They will put away the sword
The chain will be broken and all men will have their reward!

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes."

Dino made some wonderfully poignant  remarks at the beginning of the show about how a story told stays in one's heart forever.  This story, and the people who told it, told it well.  It was a privilege to be in the audience.  The title of this story may reference misery but this story, as performed, filled me with pride and joy.  Thanks to all of this production of Les Misérables, this is one story that I will surely carry in my heart forever and will do so with gratitude.  Thanks.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Always Saturday

Greetings All:

It's Saturday morning here in Bettendorf.  I trust that for those of you who have the weekend off are doing something fun and are are able to get together with family and friends.  (For those of you working, especially our service members on duty far from home, my thanks and I hope you get some time off soon.)

Ah, the weekend.  There is a universal sigh of relief when Friday arrives and Saturday morning, especially in the summer, is usually a time to linger longer around the kitchen table, have another cup of coffee, putz around online (perhaps read my blog for instance :)) and reflect that the work week is a few days away.

I was in college in the 80s and there were a myriad of bands that made a slash on MTV/college radio and then faded away, much like the flashing of a lightning bug.  One of these bands is Guadalcanal Diary.  The one CD they put out that got some traction was "Flip Flop."  Probably the one song that got the most play was Always Saturday.  Thanks to YouTube, here's the link to the wonderfully cheesy video:

(The song is not on iTunes, but hopefully soon, this is one worth having in your collection.)

One of the lines from the chorus is, "I wanna live where it's always Saturday."  Not surprising it is featured prominently in the song as it is the title.  It is a pretty simple premise- I want everyday to be a day of fun.  It is hard to argue with that concept.  This gains even more significance when we move into college football season. (Go Hawks!).  Alas, I digress, back on topic. 

However, that is not the case.  In 36 hours, most of us will be acutely aware the a new work-week looms on the other side of the next sunrise.  For most of us, that rarely triggers a release of endorphins.  In previous jobs, Monday brought a sense of dread for the piles of work that awaited.  Thus the reason that Saturdays are important.

I would be remiss not to acknowledge that today for some is not a day of casual leisure, but religions observance.  If you are an observant Jew or a Seventh Day Adventist, today is your sabbath.  Faith is an important thing for many and the concept of a day of rest (whenever observed) is a good thing.  One could argue in our over-connected technological world, "un-plugging" for a day may not be such a bad thing.  Laura Vanderkam wrote in her book, What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend, about one extraordinarily successful woman executive accountant who is also an observant Jew.  This person commented that while it was difficult to tell her boss she would not work on Shabbos, even during tax-season, it became easier for her.  When she moved into management, she made sure everyone on her team got one day off.  It really is a great concept.  We do need downtime.  (I have written about Laura's work before and here is a link to her webpage:

But riddle me this Batman:  What if there was a way that we could harness the great feeling of Saturdays and carry that with us through Monday morning?  It is something I have been thinking about lately.  I personally do not believe we want nothing but leisure.  That would lead to boredom and perhaps eventually sustained debauchery.  We are wired to work, to create, to produce.  Heraclitus wrote something that summarizes this concept for me:

"Always having what we want may not be the best good fortune.  Health seems sweetest after sickness, food in hunger, goodness in the wake of evil and at the end of longday labor sleep."

(From Fragments, Brooks Haxton, translator, Penguin Books, 2001).

So our weekend, is that modern version of sleep after the week of "longday labor."  I  choose to believe there is a way to capture and keep the fun of the weekend into the following work week.  One part of that is goal-setting, something I plan on writing on in future blogs.  However, for now, it's off to breakfast.  After all, it is Saturday.

Have a SUPER weekend!


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Halfway to 90

Greetings All!

So come tomorrow morning I turn 45 or as I have been joking (maybe half-joking) that I will be halfway to 90.  I do not know where I came up with that line but there it is.  My friend Brad commented today, "When I turned 40, I knew I was playing the back nine."  I think he is right.

When you are a kid, birthdays mean presents, cake and fun.  When you are a teenager, every year brings another right or privilege until the big one (for some) 21.  After that, well there is the slow movement towards middle age.  I think it is fair to say that whether I like it or not, I am there.

We live in an interesting world.  We celebrate youth and take notice of when someone young does something impressive.  Just this past weekend, a 19-year-old won the John Deere Classic.  Perhaps the most famous young person was the election of John F. Kennedy as President.  When he was assassinated, he was forever frozen in time, the, "young man in the White House."  James Dean's death took on extra dimensions of iconic status because he died so damn young. 

I recall years ago reading the book, Logan's Run.  The story, set in the future, involved a world where death at 21 was required, called sleep.  If you rebelled, you were a runner.  Enter the Sandmen.  More than a police officer, a state-sanctioned executioner whose job was to kill those who ran with a weapon that caused horrific pain.  One of the characters was Ballard, someone whose time crystal in his hand did not signal his time to die.  He was the "old man" at 42, a double lifetime.  Well, I'm past even that double lifetime.

As I type this, I cannot put my finger on exactly what I feel about being halfway to 90.  Of course, I look back and think about opportunities I missed, things I did not pursue, choices made.  Then I also realize that there is no going back, no do-overs.  When you hit my age, you are likely to have someone younger than you that you report to, work for or at a minimum is a customer.  For some people, the changes in technology have pushed people from a factory job to a new type of work that is far from what they knew before.  That can be hard.  I am fortunate to have a job I enjoy.  Of course, my current supervisor is younger than me.  So was the last one.  Such is life. 

There are any number of opinions about aging out there.  "50 is the new 30!"  "Grey is great!" Blah, blah, blah.  The simple fact is tomorrow is a day that marks the beginning of my 45th year on this planet.  (And thanks, by the way, Mom and Dad.)  I am not going to worry too much about it and have every intention to enjoy the day, reflecting on my good fortune and all the wonderful people I have in my life.  I will joke about being halfway to 90 and my friends will laugh, at least at first.  However, I'd be lying to say that I will not be glad come Saturday morning to know that a birthday is a year away.  I also know this morning will be a whole lot better than other day afters in the past.  Maybe I'm growing up in other ways as well...

I also think that birthdays can be great milestones for what one wants to accomplish in the next year.  I am working on getting better at goal-setting and this is something that I feel compelled to get serious about.  After all, I'm not a kid anymore.  More to follow on this subject.

Life is what you make it.  There are countless stories of people (Col Sanders comes to mind) who did fantastic things later in life.  There are men who are released from decades in prison and go on and create positive change in the world, redeeming their past ill deeds, ill deeds of reckless youth, I might add.  I don't plan on opening a fast-food empire but I refuse to believe that I have less control over my future now than when I was 25 or 30.  Truth be told, I like my life a whole lot more now than back then.  As Brad said, I am on the back nine, but it is a real pretty course.

I'll close with a few lines from our friend Jimmy Buffett and his 1977 song, Changes in Lattitudes, Changes in Attitudes.

"Oh, yesterday's over my shoulder
So I can't look back for too long
There's just too much to see waiting in front of me
And I know that I just can't go wrong."

I think that is about the best way to approach any day, birthday or otherwise.  Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Seek First to Understand

Greetings All:

Saturday evening, as we were leaving the restaurant we were having dinner, the news broke that George Zimmerman had been acquitted of charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter.  I strongly suspect that if you are reading this, you have both knowledge on and an opinion of this criminal case- specifically the outcome.

I debated whether or not to write on this subject.  I purposefully try to write about things that I find positive, be them of a trivial or serious nature.  There is plenty of "bad news" out there and even more websites/cable channels/Facebook posts to address them.  However, I am going to wade into this subject as it has been on my mind for a while.  In specific, there is the issue of what provoked the fight between Mr. Martin and Mr. Zimmerman that left Mr. Martin in the company of angels and Mr. Zimmerman acquitted in a court of law yet guilty in the court of public opinion, at least certain circuits.

I did not follow the trial.  I'd catch glimpses of it here and there, the way a traveler glances at a monitor in the airport to confirm the correct gate.  Yet I mostly tuned it out.  Perhaps it was because of work and life and other obligations.  Or maybe it was that I did not want to deal with the fact a child was dead and I am a parent.  Mr. Martin and Mr. Zimmerman's mothers both took their turn in the witness chair.  Maybe my apathy to the trial was a way to hide my uncomfortableness in acknowledging a few painful facts:

1.  Someone died; and
2.  Another person (with or without justification) caused it.

In any event, the jury came back with a verdict.  I am glad that there has been almost universal acceptance (albeit grudgingly from some) of the decision.  I was profoundly impressed with how Mr. Martin's parents were stoic in their comments about the process.  I wonder if my child was theirs if I would be so noble.  I highly doubt it.

Which leads me to this:  Dr. Steven Covey.

I am a big fan of him.  His works are great and I would argue they apply to just about anyone.  Here is link to the 5th Habit from his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People that I think is tragically on-point for this matter.

I think this is so meaningful that I am including with this post the actual comments from Dr. Covey.  Please take a moment and read, thanks.
"Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
Communication is the most important skill in life. You spend years learning how to read and write, and years learning how to speak. But what about listening? What training have you had that enables you to listen so you really, deeply understand another human being? Probably none, right?

If you're like most people, you probably seek first to be understood; you want to get your point across. And in doing so, you may ignore the other person completely, pretend that you're listening, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation or attentively focus on only the words being said, but miss the meaning entirely. So why does this happen? Because most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. You listen to yourself as you prepare in your mind what you are going to say, the questions you are going to ask, etc. You filter everything you hear through your life experiences, your frame of reference. You check what you hear against your autobiography and see how it measures up. And consequently, you decide prematurely what the other person means before he/she finishes communicating. Do any of the following sound familiar?

"Oh, I know just how you feel. I felt the same way." "I had that same thing happen to me." "Let me tell you what I did in a similar situation."

Because you so often listen autobiographically, you tend to respond in one of four ways:
Evaluating:You judge and then either agree or disagree.
Probing:You ask questions from your own frame of reference.
Advising:You give counsel, advice, and solutions to problems.
Interpreting:You analyze others' motives and behaviors based on your own experiences.

You might be saying, "Hey, now wait a minute. I'm just trying to relate to the person by drawing on my own experiences. Is that so bad?" In some situations, autobiographical responses may be appropriate, such as when another person specifically asks for help from your point of view or when there is already a very high level of trust in the relationship"

So where does that leave us?

I would suggest that in light of this tragedy that we all pledge to commit to practice this habit as much as possible and with as much sincerity as possible.  I would also throw this out, for what it is worth:  There are sometimes where there is no space, no time to understand.  Napoleon is credited with the quote, "I can give you whatever you want, except time."  At the tragic, final conclusion of the confrontation of Mr. Martin and Mr. Zimmerman there was neither time, nor space to seek understanding.  If we want to first understand, then I would argue a part of understanding is to recognize when there is neither time nor space to understand and re-engage when both, or at least one, is available.  Thanks for reading and be well my friends.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Poet I Just Discovered

Greetings All:

The photo above (public domain usage claimed) is of a poet I just learned of- Octavio Paz.  As I have mentioned before, I appreciate my local public library.  One day I was in there picking up some books I had requested and I swung by the new arrivals.  One was The Poems of Octavio Paz as edited and translated by Eliot Wienberger.  I regret that despite four years of exposure to a liberal arts education at a great public university (The University of Iowa, Go Hawks!) I regret that I did not (ahem) spend a ton of time reading and a whole lot more in...other pursuits.  (If I could have double-majored in student government and fraternity I would have been Summa cum laude, alas, such is life.)  As a result, I find myself looking for opportunities to read the stuff I should have checked out years ago.  Oh well, better late than never.

I had never heard of Octavio Paz.  However, I thought anyone who could get a book of almost 600 pages of edited work had to be worth checking out.  It was.

First, a bit about Mr. Paz.  He is acknowledged as a great poet of Mexico and the world.  He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1990.  Here is the link to his acceptance speech:

I just read it, albeit briefly, and was impressed with both its humility and frankness.  Here's a taste:  "Ours is the time of profane history, an irreversible and perpetually unfinished time that marches towards the future and not towards its end."

If you think he was not exactly a conservative, you'd be right.  In fact, he would likely be considered a leftist.  Born in Mexico in 1914 to a family active in journalism and politics, he gravitated to the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War.  He had an early (and likely comfortable) career in diplomacy, but resigned to protest the Mexican government's harsh repression of a student protest in 1968.  I am not going to delve much into his politics but feel I should offer this as a starting point to understand the man.  If you would like to learn more, here is a link to his bio:

As to his writing, I think it is terrific.  I suspect it reads and almost certainly sounds better in Spanish, but the English translation is great as well.  Here are a just a couple of lines that offer a glimpse into his work:

From his poem Salamandra or in English, Salamander:

"Is not beauty enough?
 I know nothing
I know what is too much
not what is enough
Ignorance is a difficult as beauty..."

(Source- from page 201 of Weinberger's book) 

Here are a couple of more lines from the same poem (p. 199, Weinberger):

"Twenty years ago Vasconcelos told me
'Devote yourself to phliosophy
It won't give you life
but it is a defense against death."

Or how about this line-

"I do not write to kill time
nor to revive it
I write that I may live and be revived."

This poem was from earlier in his career during the years 1956-1961.  The Cold War was in full swing, revolutions took place, some crushed, some successful, hope and fear stood on the same street corner of history, awaiting which bus society would pull up for each, perhaps both, to board.  Later in his life, he still wrote with passion, but perhaps aided by age and perspective, he took on a different tone.  Here is the concluding lines to Arbol Adentro or in English, A Tree Within:

"Perhaps to love is to learn
to walk through this world.
To learn to be silent
like the oak and the linden of the fable.
To learn to see.
Your glance scatters seed.
It planted a tree.
I talk
because you shake its leaves."

I am no literary poet and I make no claims to be an expert on Mr. Paz's work.  (After all, I just learned of the guy and was on vacation for a week.)  These are just my thoughts on a writer who (I think) has something to say.  I suppose I could throw out the standard line, "Oh, how I wish I had discovered him sooner..." but that would not be true.  If anything, what little maturity I have obtained since college may make his discovery more valuable now.  After all, you can buy a toddler a ten-speed bike, but all he can do with it is spin the wheels until he grows into it.  In any event, I like the guy's work and I hope you will too if you read his work. 

 I would like to close with one of the earlier lines of his Nobel address, as I believe it goes to the core of his writing:  "Grace means pardon, forgiveness, favour, benefice, inspiration; it is a form of address, a pleasing style of speaking or painting, a gesture expressing politeness, and, in short, an act that reveals spiritual goodness." (see previous citation please).  For a man who had definite, perhaps unforgiving political stances, who talked truth to power, he also had a side of gratitude.  As I read Paz I will not forget the source of his writing, his surroundings and his criticisms of the world, but also his ability to value gratitude.  I hope to read more of his works for anyone who can write like him and draw from such diverse inspirations is worth experiencing.

I am curious as to what you are reading or listening to, music, checking out online from an artistic standpoint.  As I mentioned, I am making up for lost time.  Please add a comment to this post and feel free to share it, thanks.  Have a great rest of the week and summer!


Monday, July 8, 2013

Ben Franklin's App

Greetings All:

We recently celebrated the 4th of July, a day known as our nation's birthday and for many a (this year) four-day holiday.  It is a time to attend a parade, watch fireworks, get together with friends and family and celebrate our nation's independence.  I also think it is worth recalling that Ben Franklin not only signed the Declaration of Independence but also lended counsel to the author, Thomas Jefferson.  Franklin's mark on early American was as deep as it was wide.  He was an inventor, a civic leader, an academic, a diplomat, a radical, and perhaps above all else, a writer.  His wit was sharp and to this day, his quotes are readily stated.  I have seen (and used) this one recently:

"They who would give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

However, for the purpose of this blog post, I wish to focus on the following Franklin quote:

"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing." 

I would argue Franklin did both.  His accomplishments are many and his writings are worth learning and sharing.  He never commanded troops in battle and was mocked in London.  Yet they LOVED him in Paris, especially the "les belle dames."  Nicely done, Ben.

Keep in mind please that he did all this without a smart phone, lap top, computer, typewriter or even a ballpoint pen.  He did it with a quill pen and ink on parchment, that's it, that was his app.  I have no doubt that he would love what Bill Gates and Steve Jobs came up with.  And yet, they never saw it, never hit "send" or downloaded "Words With Friends" or any of the other thousands of apps out there.  He had one- his brain.  Guess what?  So do we.

I am not saying that I or anyone else is on the same league with Franklin, of course not.  He was truly one of a kind.  Then again, so are you,...and me.  

I mention this for I am beginning a project that I am going to be rolling out on this blog about an idea I have for goal-setting.  As an introduction, I take my inspiration from Mr. Ben and how he used the 18th Century app, a pen.  

It worked for him and I bet it can work for us too.

Until next time, be well my friends.


The picture above is courtesy of the web and is listed as part of the public domain.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

An Ode to Vacation

Greetings All:

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been away from the blog for a while.  The last couple of posts were poems I wrote, so it has been a while since I offered up any commentary.  I suppose part of this absence was due to a lack of motivation (there is always time to do what you really want to do so I will not offer that lame excuse).  For me, part of writing is finding something that I think is worth writing about that I think/hope may be of interest to others.  I hope this topic is one that you ALL  with relate to and like...VACATION!!

I just got back from San Diego.  It was awesome.  Along with another family, we spent a glorious week there in a rented house that was very, very nice.  Now to be to completely candid, it was not perfect.  There were times when I looked at the house from the deck and in seeing the chipped paint on the windows and the railings caused me to think of the last days of Adi Amin in exile.  Still, it was a great place.

San Diego has a lot going for it.  For openers, there is this thing ocean.  For those of us who have grown up and/or have spent time in the Midwest, oceans are not exactly close.  Some of us have spent some time in a place with plenty of sand, but not much (or none) surf.  This place has both. 

Of course, the water is not exactly like the Caribbean Sea.  In fact, it is damn cold.  At one point during one of our outings to the ocean, I felt like I was going through SEAL training.  Of course, my youngest daughter was thrilled to be in the water and would have stayed all day.  Still, once you're in the water, you might as well enjoy it.  After all, back home there is no water.

San Diego also has a vast number of attractions.  The Zoo is without question, a great place to spend the day.  The fact that it is only one of only four zoos in the U.S. with Pandas.  We got to see them for about a minute and it might (sadly) be a once in a lifetime experience. 

So notwithstanding that you spend a day traveling both ways, it was a great, great trip.  Vacation was wonderful.  I did not think about work and whatever awaits tomorrow in the inbox, well, it's not milk, it did not, nor will not go bad.  Of course, coming back involves grass needing to be cut, clothes to be washed and the various other things that come with being gone for a week.  It is so worth it.

My point with this blog entry is the following:  Take vacations!  Of course, do not max out a credit card on a trip you cannot afford.  At the same time, remember that cemeteries are full of irreplaceable people.  There is always something that may seem urgent but is not that important.  With a bit of planning, you can not only pay for the trip in advance but also let your co-workers and boss know that you are going and will be back in a week, or two.

This is an ode to vacation.  I am glad I went.

All the best,

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A 4th of July Poem

Greetings All:

I hope the summer is treating you well.  I've been away from the blog for now three weeks and I plan to get back to it on a more regular basis.  In the meantime, here is a poem I wrote this morning.  Happy 4th of July everyone!

Greetings All:

I've been away from the blog for now three weeks and like to think I have a fairly good excuse.  Come this weekend, I plan to get back to it regularly.  In the meantime, here's a poem for the 4th of July.  Happy birthday America!

The Pen Trumped the Crown

One July years in our past;
When some doubted our cause would last;
Jefferson put down with ink;
Words that caused the world to think.

To think that freedom was worth the fight;
To risk the wrath of King George's might;
To march into walls of screaming lead;
Stepping forward past the wounded and dead.

So what again was this fight about?
What caused Patrick Henry to shout?
Was it just about paying a tax?
Or had they been pushed to to the max?
Tired of being told how to live;
Of rights the King would not give.
So on this day they said, "No more!"
We're done waiting for fairness to reach this shore.
We will not ask for our rights.
We may lose, but we'll fight.

And fight they did for many years;
Through mud and loss and death and tears.
Yet there was no quit, the resolve was strong;
And showed the world we did belong.

To this world as a nation free;
Where only ambition limits what one can be;
As a place where a person can pray;
Without fear of being dragged away.
Where the majority rules, but not as an enraged mob;
Where the poorest has the same rights as a Steve Jobs.

We are not perfect, there is still work to do;
To make the ideas of the Declaration for all true;
But no nation has moved so far, so fast;
To achieve freedom and make it last.

So on this day, let the fireworks fly;
Alighting bright the night sky;
Turn on the grill and fly your flag;
Watch the kids play while grandparents point and brag;
Go to the parade and have fun;
Just take a moment to recall how it all begun.

When a group of patriots did declare;
They would be free and did not care;
What the cost, what the price;
Knowing only full commitment would suffice.
In the end, they carried the day;
Freedom was won, the Redcoats sailed away.

Happy birthday America, enjoy this day!
But let's also pledge to not let our Founders' down;
Keeping the pledge that it true-the pen is mightier than the crown!

Be well my friends (and safe this holiday weekend!)