Rich Wilhelm

Posts Tagged ‘philosophy’

16 Posts from 2016

In Uncategorized on December 29, 2016 at 7:03 am

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A late December evening, 2016. I add a little stronger peppermint to my peppermint mocha, listen to the most recent works of Wilco, Bob Dylan, and the late great Leonard Cohen, and contemplate my year by strolling through the last 12 months worth of entries in this blog.

Earlier today, the editor of the magazine for which I write (ASTM International’s Standardization News), created a list of the Top 16 stories in this year’s issues. This has given me the idea to do the same with my 2016 blog entries.

As it happens, I sat down at my laptop nearly 40 times this year to say something via Dichotomy of the Dog, so I had to stop and consider which 16 entries might be my favorites, the ones that sum up the year. But the 16 that I link to below–in Casey Kasem countdown format–tie my 2016 together about as well as anything else could.

There is a fair amount of introspection going on in many of these entries and I’ll be the first to note that I am not, of course, the first to note these sentiments. But getting all this down in writing seemed to take on extra importance for me this year, and I’m glad I did it.

If you happened to read some of these entries as I posted them this year, thank you! I truly appreciate your time!

Finally, a warning: a few of these entries are silly. But now more than ever, maybe we need silly.

16. Knee Deep in Knee Deep in the Hoopla. The first entry in a ridiculous and abandoned series of entries written while listening to Starship’s infamous Knee Deep in the Hoopla album. Just because I abandoned this idea does not mean I won’t return to it someday.

15.There Is No Way In Hell I Will Ever Vote for Donald Trump. My political statement of the year. I stand by it, and always will.

14. MonkDay 002. My first blast of post-election weirdness.  More weirdness lies ahead, I’m sure.

13. raspberry strawberry lemon and lime what do I care (Happy Birthday Bob Dylan)  Just a quick few lines, dashed off on Bob Dylan’s birthday. I was happy to be writing about a living musician for a change.

12. Too Much Thyme on My Hands. Originally written years ago, this resonated enough with me this year that I wanted to revive it.

11. I Dream of Hall and Oates. I may have offended John Oates.

10. Sunday Morning Beury/Sunday Morning Lorraine. Chris and I visit cool old buildings, take photos.

9. Shiny Happy People Revisited. Or, “Why I’ll Never Hate ‘Shiny, Happy People’ the Way Some Hardcore Fans Hate ‘Shiny, Happy People.'”

8. Row.And.Stop. Memories of my ninth grade typing class, one of the most useful classes I ever took.

7. Bono at WaWa. Self-explanatory.

6. Laurel Hill Tales #002: Augustus Goodyear Heaton. Some thoughts on one of my favorite “permanent residents” at Laurel Hill Cemetery. Author of “The Amorous Numismatist.” If you like this entry, try William Duane, an early American journalist whose story is relevant to our current sorry state of affairs.

5. Oh What A Week That Was. The week Jimmy graduated high school and Chris was promoted from middle school to high school. A big week.

4. The Somewhat Better. Trying to figure things out and learning to live with a life that might not be the “best” it can be, but is better than it was.

3. Kids Take You Places. In which Chris and I visit abandoned spots and I think about other places he and Jimmy have taken me.

2. The Moments. A song by my friend Cliff and the removal of an ancient tree remind me to “hang on to the moment.”

1. Dear Eighteen-Year-Old at the David Bowie Concert. Of all the celebrity deaths this year, Bowie’s hit me hardest. Though Bowie was so much more than a “celebrity,” of course. Writing this just after Bowie’s January death paved the way for everything else worthwhile that I wrote this year. Also, devastating to think that I needed to write this way about both Prince and Merle Haggard this year as well. Don’t let anyone convince you that the death of an admired artist of any sort won’t have an effect on you.

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MonkDay 001

In MonkDays, Thelonious Monk on November 15, 2016 at 12:34 am
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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 4: Starship Versus a Nap. Starship Wins!

In 1985, memoir, Music/Memory on September 15, 2016 at 1:06 am
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HooplaThon Day 4 HooplaMeter: The Hoopla is beginning to feel like quicksand.

Back on Day 1 of this adventure, I noted that one of the reasons I was launching this Starship enterprise was to battle back my recent instinct to take an early evening nap, from which I subsequently wake up at midnight and can’t get back to sleep.

Tonight is one of those nights. The sleepy siren songs are calling me, and yet Starship is calling me louder, telling me that you can’t build a city on rock’n’roll–or any other foundation really–if you’re sound asleep before your 14-year-old kid is, and then wide away in the wee small hours. So here I am, freestyling it. That’s right–it’s straight from my brain to the keyboard tonight.

The thing about Starship and “We Built This City” and Knee Deep in the Hoopla, is that there really is so much to say about it all. It’s all about what constitutes bad music, what good versus bad taste is, what the ’80s were like and how bands that started in the ’60s coped with being middle-aged rock stars in the era of Prince, Madonna and Michael.

It’s about synthesizers and power ballads; selling out and buying in; the meaning of “hoopla” then and now; ironic listening. It’s about Marconi and mambas.

So, OK, let’s start with those mambas. You’d think Marconi would be playing a “mambo,” but it sure as hell sounds like Mickey and Grace are singing “mamba.”

Thanks to my dad, I know a thing or two about mambas. I know that there are green mambas and there are black mambas.

And, again, all thanks to Dad, I know that the black mamba is the most poisonous snake on earth. Even more poisonous than the cobra.

This is the kind of information Dad was prepared to offer anytime, anywhere. I think he would most often talk about mambas when we were walking through the reptile house at the Philadelphia Zoo, but I have a feeling that there were random moments throughout my childhood when Dad would discourse on the awesome, overwhelmingly venomous, way-more-deadly-than-the-cobra great black mamba.

So, oddly, when I hear “We Built This City,” I think of Dad. I have no idea what Dad thought of the song but I can almost hear him exclaim, “What the hell is Marconi messing with a mamba for? Doesn’t he know how freakin’ deadly they are?”

I’ve been thinking about Dad this week anyway. I always do when I drive his Jeep, which I’ve been doing this week. The radio/CD play doesn’t work–even when Dad was with us, he claimed the CD player only worked when the temperature was plus or minus two degrees of some number. When it did work, the only CD he listened to in the Jeep was Led Zeppelin Live at the BBC. And maybe the Ry Cooder film music compilation. But definitely not Knee Deep in the Hoopla.

Anyway, I’ll listen to my portable CD player sometimes in the Jeep, but there are times when the silent commute is nice. Contemplative. Except this week, all I can contemplate is Starship. “We Built This City.” Knee Deep in the Hoopla.

I’m working on theories about all this. “Looking for clues,” as the late, great Robert Palmer once noted, though I doubt that Starship was among his concerns.

There is some kind of unifying theory that explains “We Built This City” and Knee Deep in the Hoopla. And one of these nights, during this HooplaThon, I’m going to crack that code. It’s not looking good for me revealing any of my revelations tonight, but soon. It’s all going to happen. Nothing’s going to stop me now. Because I’m layin’ it on the line and it’s not over ’til it’s over. But for tonight, it’s over.

As always, I’d like to thank my sponsor for the HooplaThon, Rich’s Really Cool Notebooks!

 

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
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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.

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

HooplaThon Day 1: Just the FAQs

In Uncategorized on September 12, 2016 at 12:51 am
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HooplaThon Day 1: Just dipping one set of toes in the Hoopla.

Welcome to the HooplaThon. You probably have questions. I have answers.

For reasons that I will attempt to delineate, I have decided that for the next bunch of days, I am going to attempt to write a journal entry while listening to side 1 of the 1985 Starship album, Knee Deep in the Hoopla. Then, while playing side 2, I will craft the journal entry into a casual essay on this blog.

Why, oh why, do I want to take on this ridiculous task? Glad you asked.

I have my reasons, the first being as a way to confront a statement that I often hear, but don’t really believe: “Life is too short for bad music/bad movies/bad books/bad art/bad sports/etc.” I feel like this Hoopla experiment is a way to test that theory with a daily dose of Knee Deep in the Hoopla, an album that contains the song “We Built This City,” which often tops polls as the worst song ever recorded.

So my thought was, why not spend some time with this musical product (the use of the word “product” is quite deliberate) that is often deemed “bad” and see what results from my nightly listening experience. Will I find that life really is too short for bad music?

But that leads to another question: Is Knee Deep in the Hoopla truly bad music and is “We Built This City” really the worst song ever recorded? Or do the album and song simply have bad reps?

The fact of the matter is I could be listening to Coltrane’s A Love Supreme every night. Maybe that would inspire some glorious damn prose to come flowing out of my mind. But that’s not the point. The point is: where will prolonged exposure to Knee Deep in the Hoopla lead me?

Also a question: what exactly is “hoopla” and can it really be quantified? How does one get knee deep into it and does one in fact know that they are precisely knee deep in it?

Some readers might wonder: is there some kind of political agenda going on here? The answer is a unequivocal, “Well, yeah, now that you mention it, maybe there is.” After all, has any American year been more filled with political hoopla than 2016? Actually, I am thinking about hooey here. Clearly no year in American history has been filled with as much political hooey as this year. But hoopla is happening too, and we’re all knee deep in it at the very least, whether we want to admit it or not.

Trump is the king of hoopla and the king of hooey as well. Contemplating a Trump presidency awhile back, I realized that I’d rather be compelled to listen to “We Built This City” every single morning for the next four years than to wake up knowing the Donald Trump was president. So there’s that.

What else is this about? It could be about anything really, as long as the tangents wind their way back to Knee Deep in the Hoopla. It’s about spurring me to write every night and its about figuring out a way to avoid the early evening naps that end up wrecking my sound sleep hours later. Maybe writing these entries will be a way to “rock myself to sleep,” as Grace Slick sings, with the help of Quiet Riot’s Kevin DuBrow, on Knee Deep in the Hoopla.

So, finally, how will this work? As I stated at the beginning, each evening, I’ll scribble thoughts in my specially designed Knee Deep in the Hoopla notebook, provided to me by my sponsor for this blog series, Rich’s Really Cool Notebooks. Then, while listening to side 2, I’ll type up the journal entry I just wrote, hopefully crafting it into something semi-coherent.

If there is a point or points to this project, perhaps, it or they, will emerge as I compile the entries. To quantify the project, I’ll add a new Hoopla to the official HooplaMeter (see photo above) with each new entry.

So, join me if you’d like. I hear Marconi is about to play the mamba.

 

The Beginning Is The Ending Is The Beginning

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

 

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

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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

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Patrick F. O'Donnell

writer, editor, general wordsmith and scribe

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