Rich Wilhelm

Posts Tagged ‘life’

2018: The Year of Taking Better Notes

In Uncategorized on January 1, 2018 at 10:20 pm

Here we have two notebooks that I made from a box that contained a six-pack of Fireside Chat winter spiced ale, made by 21st Amendment Brewery. I hope to take better notes in these notebooks.

As the end of 2017 approached, I began to feel like I had not accomplished anything all year. I was feeling like I had nothing to show for the year.

This was not an accurate feeling. Throughout the year, I continued to be a husband and dad to the best of my ability on any given day. I continued to be a news editor, even traveling to New Orleans one week to do that job. I gave tours at Laurel Hill Cemetery and I made and mailed Really Cool Notebooks to every corner of this country and beyond. I have largely shown up for the various roles and responsibilities I have in my life.

But I did realize there was something that I did not do in 2017. I did not take good notes. Days and weeks passed by in which I didn’t write in a journal, didn’t post any blog entries, didn’t really check in with myself. Which is perfectly fine, except that, as someone who someone who considers himself a writer, I ought to have done more.

Also, I didn’t read much this year. I read one book — the fascinating Lincoln in the Bardo — and that’s it.

Really, though, I read quite a bit. Nearly all that reading though, was online news stories.

Therein lies the problem. In order to try to keep up with a very weird year, I gave myself over to the task of simply trying to keep up with the ongoing saga emanating from Washington, D.C. And Mar-a-Lago. And various other golf clubs.

In short, I spent an inordinate amount of time tracking the activities of our president. But I’m done with that.

Don’t get me wrong. I am going to continue to follow the current situation, and to try to continue to voice my concerns and to figure out what I can do to make a positive contribution to our country and world right now.

At the same time though, I think I need to cut down on my grim fascination with the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. And I think I need to recover whatever part of myself I feel has been lost in the shuffle of 2017.

I’m not doing this to bury my head in the sand, but to find a way to be more engaged that simply staring with bemused horror at stories of the latest inanity.

The way forward for me is, I think, to find ways to be more positively engaged in the world around me and in the world within me. And, as this is happening, to take better notes.

If I do start taking better notes — real, pen-to-paper notes, maybe even in the “Fireside Chat” beer box notebooks shown in the photo above, that is — I will hopefully occasionally organize those thoughts into entries for this blog. I make no promises, but I’ll give this a shot.

Here’s to a productive, positive 2018 for us all!


MonkDay 001

In MonkDays, Thelonious Monk on November 15, 2016 at 12:34 am

MonkDay 001, 11/14/16

I am a fan of the brilliant jazz pianist Thelonious Monk. There is something about his music that gets deep into my soul, as great music will do. Oddly though, Monk’s work burrows deep into my brain as well. It’s hard to explain, but I can practically feel the neurons firing up when I listen to Monk.

I often listen to Monk albums on Mondays, or as I like to call them, MonkDays. Again, I don’t quite understand the logic or science behind this, if there is any, but Monk’s languid ballads and twisty-turny upbeat numbers are the perfect soundtrack for me to reset my brain for the week ahead.

After all the tumult of last week–and I will not be naming names and events here–a solid blast of Thelonious seemed to be exactly what I needed to move forward. In fact, I’m thinking that a weekly Monday evening “MonkDay” blog entry might be just what I need, for at least the next four years. But again, I don’t necessarily plan to get all political here. Philosophical, yeah. Political, probably not. At least not directly.

One unusual result of the Event from Last Week, is that many people seem to be doing some soul-searching. I’m thinking my MonkDays will be a vehicle for my soul searching. You’re welcome to join me if you like.

On that note, I will close for now, but not before noting the Thelonious albums I listened to today:

Genius of Modern Music Vol 1, Blue Note, 1956

Genius of Modern Music Vol 2, Blue Note, 1956

Monk’s Dream, Columbia, 1963

And, finally, here’s “Epistrophy,” from Genius of Modern Music Vol 1:




HooplaThon Day 2: Starship and the “Art of Listening Ironically”

In 1980s, 1985, music, Music/Memory, pop music on September 13, 2016 at 2:56 am

HooplaThon HooplaMeter Day 2: Ankle Deep in Starship’s Knee Deep in the Hoopla.

Program Note: In yesterday’s initial HooplaThon entry, I noted that I’d be listening to Knee Deep in the Hoopla and writing about it for 31 days in a row. Clearly, I was delusional. After a good night’s sleep, I have realized the insanity. I’m now not going to promise any number of entries so you can clear those early October evenings you were reserving to read HooplaThon entries. We’ll just play this all by ear.


Starship’s Knee Deep in the Hoopla was released on September 10, 1985. It was the first album by just plain Starship after longtime Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship member Paul Kanter jumped ship and took the Jefferson with him.

Starship took the opportunity of a name change to reevaluate and update their sound for the mid-1980s. With a modern-minded producer named Peter Wolf–very clearly not the J.Geils Band singer–at the producer’s desk, Starship ceded most of the heavy songwriting work to outsiders and relied on Wolf to overlay the resulting songs with a slick synthesized veneer that was clearly meant to appeal to ’80s kids with a yen for technopop. Like me.

Of course, by the time September 1985 rolled around, a lot of us new wavers had passed through our initial synthpop rush and moved onto other things. Things that were a little more organic (R.E.M.) or rocked in a more traditional, if shambolic way (Replacements) or were less concerned with the state of their hair than the guys in A Flock of Seagulls. Though, of course, everyone was concerned with the state of their hair in the 1980s.

Don’t get me wrong though. Even in ’85, I continued to like artists who creatively incorporated electronics into their music. But artists like Eurythmics and Thomas Dolby had a knack for using synthesizers in intriguing ways, as something more than aural window dressing. Knee Deep in the Hoopla, on the other hand, is all about the electronic window dressing. Even when Marconi is playing the mamba, it’s an electronic mamba.

Anyway, for whatever reason, the initial release of Knee Deep in the Hoopla had absolutely no effect on me at all. I do not remember having any reaction at all to the huge breakout hit, “We Built This City” or the equally popular follow-up, “Sara.” What’s weird about this, is that Knee Deep in the Hoopla was released at the perfect time for me, as I was just about to fully submit to the fine art of listening to music ironically. Or, more appropriately, “listening ironically,” because when you’re going ironic, you do everything in quotation marks. Or more, appropriately “do everything.” But you get the point. Actually, you “get the point,” right?

Knee Deep in the Hoopla was released just days after I moved into the second floor of Johnson Hall for my third year of college at Temple University. As record store workers worldwide were stocking copies of Starship’s new album, I was getting to know Rick and Greg, two of my new floor mates, and good friends of mine to this day.

Knee Deep in the Hoopla could have been a huge talking point for the three of us, as we bonded early over music. Once we located each others’ senses of humor, we particularly bonded over the idea of listening to music ironically. That is, picking out a band or album that we might not actually be all that into and TOTALLY EFFIN’ ROCKIN’ OUT to said band or album.

In other words, “totally effin’ rockin’ out” in quotation marks.

We never explicitly said to each other, “Hey, let’s listen to music ironically.” It just happened.

Knee Deep in the Hoopla would have been a perfect “ironic listen” for us. And yet it wasn’t to be, because another band, a band whose name I am not going to reveal in this entry, loomed large, very large, in our ironic listening.

More on ironic rocking as I sink ever deeper into the Hoopla tomorrow night.

This HooplaThon is being sponsored by Rich’s Really Cool Notebooks!






The Beginning Is The Ending Is The Beginning

In journal keeping, Philosophy/Creativity, Uncategorized on July 8, 2016 at 3:12 am

Maurice Stephens House, Valley Forge National Park, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania 7/7/16

Much earlier today, I shot this photo at Valley Forge National Park. My idea at the time was that I could kick start one of my other blogs, 1 Picture, 217 Words. However, after I got home this afternoon, I attempted to write those 217 words and they just wouldn’t flow.

Maybe it’s time to take a break. Truth is, I am surprised to have written as much as I have this year.

It all started with the passing of David Bowie back in January. Like millions of other people, I was affected by Bowie’s death more than I figured I might be. But it wasn’t just sadness. Reading about Bowie’s last year inspired me. I was amazed at how he used his time to further delve into his immense creativity, resulting in the profound Blackstar album.

In short, David Bowie made me want to create. And my most accessible means of creation is to write. So, I started writing, averaging a blog entry a week from February clear through the end of May. I was very happy with some of these entries, merely satisfied with others, but the point for me was that it felt good to be doing the work.

It wasn’t just Bowie though. From New Year’s Day on, we were very aware around this house that each day, week and month that passed was leading to two very concrete events that would be happening during the second week of June: Chris’ promotion to high school and Jimmy’s graduation from high school.

We weren’t constantly thinking about these events, but the knowledge was just there, and that knowledge was certainly informing my thoughts about where I am in my life and where my family members are in their lives. A certain amount of introspection ensued and I found the energy and time I needed to sort it out in the blog entries I was writing.

Meanwhile, the 2016 U.S. presidential electoral circus and various and sundry other events provided the surreal backdrop to whatever else has been going on in my life. Let’s face it: 2016 has been one of the weirdest years anyone now alive has ever experienced.

And, no, I really don’t write about Donald Trump. At all. But the very nature of his campaign has left me wanting to try to restore and maintain whatever dignity I may have lost in my own life and writing seems to be my way back to it. Not just writing–I have been working in other ways on this restoration, but some of these activities have moved at a glacial pace. In the meantime, writing proved to be a very effective outlet.

Then, Chris and Jimmy graduated from their respective schools. The things we had known would eventually happen, did.

So where do we go from here? Obviously, when September comes, things will be a bit different around here. But, for now, I feel like we have fallen into a weird dimension in which each of the four of us is in our own weird little place, with different eating, sleeping, working, and playing habits.

And, for me, the writing stopped. After the graduation ceremonies ended, my introspection dissipated, and has been replaced with a sort of vague blandness. Like it or not, I don’t seem to have much going on in my head right now.

But instead of trying to force the issue, I think I’m just going let this blog and its associated blogs be still for awhile. I’m going to attempt to chill out a bit. In the interim, perhaps I can figure out what it is I want The Dichotomy of the Dog — a title I have more or less maintained for more than 15 years now — to be once I get back to it again.

Or, maybe I’ll just have a new entry next week. Either way, thanks to those of you who have been following along in recent months. I appreciate it.


Oh, What a Week That Was

In family, fatherhood, high school on June 11, 2016 at 10:43 am


Our dog Jolie woke me up about 35 minutes ago, asking in a noisy and impolite way for a walk. I threw on the nearest clothes at hand and we set out. It was not even 5:30 in the morning.

Since I was wearing yesterday’s work clothes, I felt like I was on a dogwalk of shame, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I didn’t really have to be ashamed of much. I had made it through the week that I had been contemplating for months.

Our younger son Chris was promoted from middle school to high school this week. Our older son Jimmy graduated from high school two days later.

Oh, what a week it was. And, now that it’s over, I feel like I am a just-slightly-different person from when it began.

I began this week overwhelmed with emotion, and with a very practical list of things that simply had to be done before the first notes of “Pomp and Circumstance” played. I began this week thinking about how I’d handle the tangle of widely-varied emotions I’ve been feeling for months about all of this.

In short, I began this week thinking about myself. A big mistake, since this week clearly wasn’t about me, and it’s that realization that is making me that just-slightly-different person.

As the week progressed, things fell into place as best they could. Certain tasks were completed, others weren’t. But the ceremonies — Chris’ promotion, Jimmy’s baccalaureate, followed by his graduation the next night — all proceeded beautifully. The post-event celebrations each night — dinner at Hibachi on Wednesday, a visit to Dunkin’ Donuts on Thursday and cake and ice cream at home last night — all turned out just about right. Donna’s mom has been with us all week and my mom and sister drove up three nights in a row to be with us. I thought about my dad a bit, and how much I wish he could have been here, but his spirit was here each time someone remarked how much Jimmy resembles Dad now (right down to his stoic photo op smiles). Plus, I wore one of Dad’s ties to graduation.

It wasn’t a perfect week. But it was a really, really good week. And it was all about Jimmy and Chris. And when Jimmy’s graduation ceremony finally arrived, I wasn’t bogged down with all of the emotional baggage that’s been weighing me down for months. I simply felt happy for Jim and not particularly sentimental about the fact that his life — and mine — will be changing as a result of this particular ceremony. Best to embrace the change, enjoy the moment and move forward.

But it was also a week about family. During last night’s cake and ice cream party, the power briefly went out in our house, which sent Chris (and, I’ll admit it, me) into momentary emotional tailspins. At one point in this [non] crisis, Chris wailed that it could be the “worst night ever.”

This led to a long and funny conversation about some of the previously “worst nights ever” our family has experienced, going all the way back to 1975. We laughed long and hard as each of the stories unfolded. Laughing at the long ago worst nights ever, while reveling in the current imperfect but nonetheless beautiful moment? That sounds like family to me.






The Moments

In Cliff Hillis, fatherhood, Laurel Hill Cemetery, marriage, Uncategorized on May 30, 2016 at 9:45 am

My younger son Chris and I were cruising down the Schuylkill Expressway early on a recent Saturday morning, one of the only times you can legitimately use the word “cruise” when describing a trip down that legendarily congested road. As we headed east, our friend Cliff Hillis was advising us to hang on to the moment, once it begins. Not to get stuck in the moment, but to catch a glimpse of the ephemeral nature of life and to realize when you are in the process of having a moment that you’re never going to forget.

Cliff wasn’t physically with us in the car, but his Song Machine CD was. Chris is slowly embracing pop music, one song at a time, so it took some repetitions of the first few tunes on the CD before we got to “Hang On To The Moment.” Once we did though, I realized that hanging on to the moment is one of the primary items on my agenda right now.

Chris and I were headed to Laurel Hill Cemetery, making “Hang On To The Moment,” a appropriate soundtrack. Imagine the infinite amount of life moments represented in a cemetery holding more than 80,000 permanent residents!

We were on the way to witness the removal of the General Meade tree, a Norway Maple more than 160 years old. This tree had shaded the grave site of General George Gordon Meade ever since his funeral in 1872. The tree was beautiful but had reached the end of its natural life.

Think about the moments that tree silently witnessed. Of course, the Meade funeral was the most famous. Meade’s body was brought to the cemetery via the Schuylkill River and President Ulysses S. Grant delivered a eulogy. But the tree was witness to hundreds of other, smaller, funerals over the course of its lifetime as well.

Once we arrived at Laurel Hill, Chris and I observed the early stages of the tree removal and then took a walk deep into the south section of the cemetery. At one point, we were as almost as far away from Laurel Hill’s gatehouse as you can get, while still being in the cemetery.

We visited the small mausoleum of William C. Dulles, a 39-year-old lawyer who had the misfortune of boarding the Titanic in 1912. Here was a man who was forced to become suddenly and grimly aware of the limited amount of moments in one’s life. How did he react? Very little is known about Dulles, so we don’t know what those last moments of his were like. We only know what is noted, somewhat oddly, on his tomb: “Died from Titanic, April 15, 1912.”

Not far from Dulles lies Charles Vansant, the first victim of the infamous Jersey shore shark attacks of 1916. He was just 25 years old when he waded into the surf with a dog 100 years ago this July 1. Again, not much is known about Vansant these days, only that his quarter century of life moments ebbed that summer day, as he was surrounded by shocked family members and onlookers.

While in the south section, we also visited the stump of another recently removed tree. It was under this one that fictional character Rocky visited the grave site of his also-fictional wife, Adrian, and contemplated the moments they shared.

So, yes, a walk through Laurel Hill can be a reminder to hang on to the moment. But of course, you shouldn’t need a  graveyard stroll to get what Cliff is saying in his song. Each time our life changes in some way, we’re invited to hang on to the moment.

The day I met Donna.

The day Donna and I got married.

The days that our sons Jimmy and Chris were born.

The day my dad died.

These, and some more private to mention here, are the days when I was being gently told to hang on to the moment. I’ve tried to listen and do just that, but the moments get so slippery after awhile, it can be hard to hang on, especially as the mundane details of everyday life threaten to swallow up every waking moment, including those when one ought to be sleeping.

During the next two weeks, we will celebrate the end of Chris’ middle school career and Jimmy’s high school graduation. Moving on to high school and college will surely bring changes for our boys–changes that we can tell have already begun–and life will never be the same for any of us.

It is an exciting time. A sad time. A scary time. A time of change and growth and opportunity. A time during which I want to wrap my wife and our sons up in a huge hug that lasts a long time, even as Donna and I wave the boys in the direction of their futures and just tell them, “Go for it, whatever it is.”

And it’s a time to hang on to the moment.

Too Much Thyme on My Hands

In fatherhood, journal, journal keeping, marriage, not quite Walden, Philosophy/Creativity on April 3, 2016 at 2:26 pm



Earlier this week, Donna and I made two dinners in a row that featured fresh basil. As often happens when I’m dealing with herbs and spices, my mind drifted to an essay I wrote quite a few years ago called “Too Much Thyme on My Hands.” It was about spice racks and about having too much/not enough thyme/time on one’s hands.

Plus, it gave me permission to craft sentences that involved multi-level spice/Styx lyrics puns. Now, that’s high concept.

I had to search hard on my old blog website, but I finally found “Too Much Thyme on My Hands” back among my February 2009 entries. I am posting it below, since time and what I do — and could do — with it has been on my mind quite a bit lately.

For now, I am posting this exactly as I wrote it. “I’m just going to leave this here,” as people seem to be fond of saying on social media these days. I will note, though, that the 11-year-old and 6-year-old I mention are now 18 and 13, headed off to college and high school in the fall. That’s what time does, you know.

As for me, the fact that I originally wrote the following piece seven years ago says everything I need to know right now about the acceleration of time.

I don’t really subscribe to the whole “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” philosophy. I think it’s way too simplistic. But one thing I do know: generally speaking, men dig spice racks; women, not so much.

I vaguely remember when Donna and I got married and set up housekeeping in 1992. I mentioned the inherent coolness of having a spice rack in our kitchen. Donna was decidedly noncommittal on the issue. As it turned out, Donna thought that the idea of a specific rack for spices, to be displayed on a kitchen wall, was kind of silly.

Since that time, most men I’ve spoken to on the spice rack issue have admitted to their enjoyment of the concept, while most women have expressed opinions similar to Donna’s. There are exceptions, of course, in much the same way as there are women who actually enjoy progressive rock band Rush, despite the oft-told-tale that Rush is very strictly “a guy thing.” (In fact, it was a Rush concert review in which I first encountered the phrase “sausage party” to describe a group consisting entirely of men.)

Anyway, I bring all this up because today Donna and I cleaned out a cupboard in our kitchen. The cupboard contains a lazy susan which had gotten overrun through the years with all manner of grocery products, including quite a few little plastic jars of various spices. When we did our cleanout today, Donna and I established a few policies in order to be consistent in what got discarded and what did not. We determined that any spices that were opened but did not contain any discernible “sell by” or “use by” date would be thrown away, in order to most successfully achieve the goal of cleaning out this little corner of our kitchen as much as possible.

While doing this cleanout, we found at least three (and maybe four) opened, but undated, containers of thyme. Clearly, we had too much thyme on our hands, though it was a mystery to us how we actually accumulated all this thyme. However, adhering to our pre-established policy, which we believed to be sound, and not knowing when the next time we’d use thyme would be, we ditched all the thyme. Now, we have no thyme in our house.

When you think about it, is it any wonder we had too much thyme on our hands? I mean, when I think about my life over the last five or ten years, I think about how we’ve often gotten so caught up in getting from the beginning to the end of any particular day that it’s become easy, very easy, to lose track of both the thyme, and the time, that we really have.

The result of all this, it seems, has been this unbelievable acceleration of time, in which Donna and I have suddenly been homeowners for more than ten years, and we’ve got kids who are 11 and six years old. And, of course, we take a peek in our cupboard and discover at least three, and maybe four, separate containers of thyme.

I believe this is what noted singer/songwriter David Byrne was referring to when he wrote,”Well, how did I get here?” in the Talking Heads song, “Once In A Lifetime.” Interestingly, Byrne was much younger when he wrote that than I am now, but he was clearly onto something.

So. How to deal with the loss of all that thyme? And time? First of all, it’s a good idea to reflect on the notion that the time I’ve spent being married to Donna and raising Jimmy and Chris with her hasn’t been lost at all. It has been time very well spent. Also, I’ve realized that the time I have left from this moment (spent with the amazing music of Thomas Dolby, a glass [or two] of wine, a pen and a notebook) onward is to be savored, much like thyme, used in a particularly good recipe, is meant to be savored. Of course, we no longer have any thyme in our kitchen, but we can pick some up at the supermarket the next time we need it. That is the huge difference between thyme and time.

Not Exactly an Easter Message, Though I Wish You a Happy Easter

In journal, journal keeping, Philosophy/Creativity, Writing on March 27, 2016 at 8:18 am


This is not exactly an Easter message, though I am writing it very early on Easter morning, while listening to what has got to be one of the greatest collections of classic country music ever assembled, released at a time when the songs were still new.

I’m no preacher, so it’s not for me to say what Easter means to anybody. I can’t even claim to be “spiritual but not religious” at this point. I am just a guy who is, to paraphrase my grandmother, “middle-aged and dumb and tryin’ to get along.” In her phraseology, it was “young and dumb and tryin’ to get along,” but the tufts of gray hair I leave behind after every visit to Hair Cuttery have thoroughly convinced me of my middle age. And I’m actually cool with that.

This is, however, sort of a follow-up report on my Lenten season.

Back when I was a Catholic grade school kid, a huge component of Lent was “giving something up.” There were reasons for this giving up of course, though I honestly don’t remember the degree to which I understood these reasons. All I knew is that no matter what I tried to give up, my Lenten resolutions were doomed to fail, sometimes even before the ash on my forehead had completely disappeared.

My giving-things-up-for-Lent track record is abysmal. At least until this year.

I did not exactly attempt to give something up over the past 40 days. However, it was around the beginning of the holy season that I made a decision to ease up on dread and fear. And anger. And despair. And panic. And deep existential angst. Etc.

I didn’t do this for Jesus. I did it to preserve my sanity. That sounds a tad overdramatic and it probably is, but there is truth to it.

I can’t candy coat it, so I’ll just say it, in the same way I said it several blog entries ago: my life has been challenging in recent years, for many reasons. This is no way makes me unique. My response to the challenges — fear, anger, dread, panic, a gradual withering of my sense of humor — hasn’t exactly been unique either. This is all part of the human condition and I am about as human as possible.

Not unlike Taylor Swift, I’m not convinced that I’m out of the woods yet. In fact, I know I’m not. The challenges remain and they’re still big and scary. But earlier in the year, I did make the decision to at least try to combat the despair, anger, dread, panic, etc. The only weapon I could muster for this task was to take a lighter approach to it all. I was going to stop worrying about not being the Very Best and instead begin to work positively toward the Somewhat Better.

Not coincidentally, this change in approach coincided with the revival of this blog. I’ve posted here at least once a week since I decided to break out of the loop in which I’d been stuck. I’ve always known that writing — whether I’m writing about these issues or about some interesting person now buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery or about my own nerdish tendencies — has been a touchstone of my mental health. When I’m writing regularly, I’m happier and better able to deal with life. This is simply how I’m wired.

The turning point was find the time, amidst the dread and the panic, to write. To actually do the thing — or, at least one of the primary things — that keeps me sane.

I am grateful to have this outlet. And, if you’ve been following this blog in recent weeks, or just stumbling on the occasional entry, I am grateful to you as well! Your time is your most precious commodity and I truly appreciate the time you spend with the words I bang out here.






Shiny Happy People, Revisited

In love, marriage, R.E.M., Uncategorized on March 12, 2016 at 4:02 pm

IMG_1027It was 25 years ago — March 12, 1991 — that R.E.M. released Out of Time, their seventh full-length studio album. It proved to be a career-changing release for the band. Not only that, Out of Time became the soundtrack to a pivotal time in my own life. This was true of R.E.M. albums before and after Out of Time but probably never more so than it was with Out of Time.

I don’t always remember where or when I bought some of the albums that have grown to be my favorites, but I remember very well the late afternoon — or maybe it was lunchtime? — that I acquired Out of Time.

No, it was definitely late afternoon. In any event, I know exactly who I was with when I bought Out of Time. I was with my girlfriend, Donna.

This was new to me. The whole girlfriend concept, that is; I had bought R.E.M. albums before. Donna and I had been on our first date just a few weeks earlier and everything was new to us when we walked into Sounds of Market that afternoon. New, but already promising.

We walked deep into Sounds of Market, a Philadelphia institution kitty-corner from the monolithic John Wanamaker building, and quickly found Out of Time, which was the object of our quest. The album was available on both CD and vinyl and I pondered which format in which to buy it. I briefly considered buying one of each, but oh, how indulgent and ridiculous that seemed! I opted for the CD, which was, after all, the audio wave of the future.

Regrets, I’ve had about three dozen. Not buying Out of Time on vinyl that day is one of the minor regrets worth mentioning.

Early reviews indicated the Out of Time was R.E.M.’s “love” album, and in their 25th anniversary retrospectives, musical pundits are still calling Out of Time R.E.M’s love album. But, in typical R.E.M. fashion, Out of Time presents few straightforward looks at the subject matter du jour. You’ve got your obsessive love (the massive hit, “Losing My Religion”), your dark love (“Low” and maybe “Country Feedback”), your uncertain love (“Me In Honey”). Out of Time is a gentle album, a retreat from the rockier tracks on their previous album, Green, but it’s not necessarily an easy album. Love is, after all, awesome but complex.

Out of Time is deceptively complex.

One song does seem to be fairly on-the-nose when it comes to expressing the basic concept that love can bring happiness. That song is called “Shiny Happy People.”

Many serious R.E.M. fans loathe “Shiny Happy People.”

I do not hate “Shiny Happy People,” but consider the context. It was purely coincidental but, the more I was listening to Out of Time as 1991 progressed, the deeper Donna and I were falling in love. As far as I was concerned, Donna and I were the shiny happy people Michael Stipe, Mike Mills and special guest Kate Pierson were chirping about. And I was totally OK with that.

I’ve often pondered the hatred that people have toward “Shiny Happy People.” I think some fans just dislike because it is quite atypical of the R.E.M. sound that they grew to love as 1980s college kids. This simply wasn’t what R.E.M. was supposed to sound like. I believe that even today, there are fans of R.E.M.’s ’80s work who have never recovered from the betrayal of “Shiny Happy People.”

Of course, there are people who might not have cared as much about  R.E.M. as serious fans, but still hated “Shiny Happy People.” I think, for those people, it wasn’t the “happy” that annoyed them so much as it was the “shiny.” Most people are generally in favor of the happiness of others, but nobody really enjoys watching other people flaunt their happiness. You know, being all shiny about being happy.

But that’s what we are at the beginning of a good relationship, don’t you think? Shiny and happy. We want other people to know that we’ve found love, and occasionally, most of us can be kind of obnoxious about it.

Donna and I are still together, 25 years to the day that we entered Sounds of Market for me to buy Out of Time. To be honest, the “shiny” that we were feeling that year has faded a bit. A quarter-century of life and love and all that entails will do that to two people. We’re slightly tarnished but we can still see and feel the happiness.

“Slightly Tarnished Happy People” never would have been the hit that “Shiny Happy People” was. But it demonstrates nicely the complexity of love hinted at by Out of Time.








The Somewhat Better

In journal, journal keeping, not quite Walden, Philosophy/Creativity on February 21, 2016 at 12:38 pm


For the third Sunday morning in a row, my dog Jolie has assured that I am wide awake far ahead of the rest of my family, giving me some time to sit down and type a few words. If Jolie is any indication, I should have this early Sunday morning time slot available for months to follow.

When I started this new set of entries/essays/whatever, the idea was to distill some of the wisdom that I’d woven oh-so-poetically into the prior week’s worth of daily journal entries. The conundrum is when the daily entries become every-couple-day’s entries, largely devoid of anything approaching coherence, let alone wisdom. This problem is amplified when one of the few daily entries has the word COMPLACENCY splattered across it:


Now, granted, I stuck the Star Wars guy–though I’m thinking he’s a bad guy–there to slay my complacency with his light saber, but still…complacency. I also wrote the word INERTIA in large letters on the same page.

The fact is, complacency and inertia have played huge roles in my life recently. But I’m working on it. I am working on the Somewhat Better version of myself.

Some of you might think that going for Somewhat Better isn’t very ambitious. That maybe I should go for Very Best, like the owners of the restaurant my son Chris and I visited in Pottstown, Pennsylvania yesterday morning. The Very Best restaurant recently closed its doors but it existed for nearly 100 years in Pottstown. It seems safe to say that the Very Best would not have lasted that long if it had been called the Somewhat Better.

People, though, are not restaurants.

Don’t get me wrong: striving for personal excellence is a wonderful thing. This kind of striving has inspired all manner of astounding human accomplishment in the arts, sciences, sports and elsewhere. Unfortunately, it has also inspired every inane striving-for-my-Very-Best coronation song that American Idol winners have sung, as well as other entities and events even more heinous than those songs but that does not dilute my point: striving for Very Best can be a good thing.

Me though? I am sticking with Somewhat Better. At least for now. The reason for this is simple: Somewhat Better gives me goals I can see, not too far ahead of me. Destinations I can reach, and then perhaps move beyond.

I will be honest here, without getting bogged down in detail: I do not feel that I have been Very Best–in any particular area of my life–for years. In short, I have fallen short.

Lately though, I’ve realized that falling short hasn’t necessarily been the problem. The problem is the effect that falling short has had on my confidence and on my ability to fight back against a nagging complacency that has settled in around me. Sadly, I’ve often directed the frustration that this has caused me in the wrong directions. In a sense, I’ve often used a passive-aggressive version of the Dark Side of the Force to combat this dilemma and therein lies my problem. It’s all been in my approach.

Now, though, I feel like I’ve turned a corner. I’ve been attempting to confront the demons, such as they are, with a lighter touch. Instead of letting the anger and frustration calcify into rage and despair, I’ve tried to tap into the happier undercurrent of my life, which has been there all along. Maybe replacing a Star Wars bad guy with a Star Wars good guy to tackle the complacency and inertia.

I am talking about the time I spend, individually and collectively, with my wife and two sons, as well as other family members and friends. The strolls through Laurel Hill Cemetery and, occasionally, other places that inspire me. The time spent sipping coffee, listening to Trini Lopez Live at PJs and Three Dog Night–Their Greatest Hits, and tapping out these thoughts in this messy room on this late February morning.

So many great little moments happen in our lives and it is up to us to appreciate them. Cherish these moments, both monumental and tiny, for their very existence. At the same time, realize that it is the positive, life-affirming moments that give us the strength to tackle, in a positive way, the central challenge of life: not necessarily to be Very Best, but to gradually be Somewhat Better.

That’s about all the wisdom I’ve got for today. Now, if you’ll excuse me, it is early yet and I have a bit of Somewhat Bettering to do before the day is done.



Patrick F. O'Donnell

writer, editor, general wordsmith and scribe

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