a boiling page,
we etch our spells onto
the dreaming sky
Suddenly we are in a frenzy to find a good deal on a pair of kayaks. How did we get to this? Mme. Ross and I said last autumn that it would be cool to try kayaking together this year, to take on the swift Missouri River in a pair of plastic boats with a single paddle apiece, and only a life jacket to ensure our safety.
This past weekend we went to Harmon Lake, a man-made body about eight miles north of our town. There we were able to rent a couple of stand-up paddleboards (a.k.a. SUP) for an hour and we spent some good time paddling around the lake with Little Miss sitting on one or the other, trying to help paddle with her hands. I found I was able to stand on this calm water with relative ease, and I decided that I was hooked on this. I’m not a big “let’s go swimming!” kind of guy because I really think it’s boring, but I really like the exploratory feel of getting out on a craft and physically guiding it. Mastering the mechanics of paddling, steering, and turning. Standing up and knowing that I can be seen standing on a board after failing to do so when surfing last summer (which is not at all uncommon.)
Mme. Ross was also hooked. After we pulled back in at the beach she asked to try out a kayak, and we paddled back out, I on a board and her in a green kayak.
Now we’re looking to make water sports our “thing” this Summer, and in years to come. The equipment will likely pay for itself versus the rental fees, and it just so happens that we have a spare car we will gladly sell to help finance this adventure. It’s almost like the Universe wants us to do it.
Are you having your Summer adventures yet? I’d love to hear about them in the comments . . .
June 3, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a rose. It can be straight-forward, romantic, funny. What is your rose today and what is its story? Who craves the rose or shrinks away? Why? Let the prompt fully bloom in your imagination.
Have you ever considered that a robot might be doing your job some day?
How about your spouse’s job, or your parent’s job? What if only 1 in 100 were employed? Or 1 in 1000?
This morning I woke up to find a Planet Money podcast waiting for me on my phone. It’s called This is the End. Planet Money tends to clock in around fifteen minutes, so I cranked it up and set about making coffee. They’re talking about how jobs are going away in successive recessions and not coming back, because at the end of that recession the businesses that had to downsize for the recession is able to recover their lost productivity through automation. They begin to explore the idea of what a jobless future will look like.
I listen, I process – jobless automatically means poor, right? Because you need a job to earn money and buy at least the stuff you need to survive.
I can’t imagine, however, a future of widespread, abject poverty. There must be, I thought, some way for people to make money. For one thing, there’s no way a person would allow all of their friends and family to starve, or to go homeless and be beaten to death by the elements. In a way, it reminds me of my mother’s response back before the year 2000, when I told her about the government’s program to phase out analog television in favor of digital, and how we’re going to have to purchase a box for every old-style television we have that we want to watch our shows on: she said, “there’s no way they’re going to do that. They can’t do that. There would be riots in the street.”
But there were no riots; digital TV took over without much fanfare. Sure, there might be a few analog channels yet, but the technology phased us away from the old paradigm, and now we find ourselves in this future where we really aren’t all that worried about it. We watch our shows – perhaps some of us not as obsessively as we used to, but I like to think of that as “growing up and getting in step with the real world” – and the idea of rioting doesn’t even enter my mind.
I do, however, remember a certain amount of disgust over my inability to pick up digital signals no matter where I was. The television industry had failed to provide a viable replacement for analog TV, but at that point I felt like the point was moot anyway; I already had access to much better content, because guess what? Netflix had started this streaming video service that actually worked pretty well. In seamless fashion, our “revolutionary” snail-mail DVD rental service stepped in right when a lot of us needed them, and we haven’t looked back since.
So who or what is going to step in for employment?
One of Planet Money’s guests for today’s show is Andrew McAfee. He’s an associate director at MIT who studies how information technology affects business. They asked him how this jobless future might work, and what it would look like, and guess what?
He said it makes his head hurts to think about it.
No kidding, right?
Forty years out in this “ridiculously abundant economy” McAfee says that “[w]e’re going to be freed from want and from privation. . . . However, in that economy do we have prices? Do we have money? If so, how do you get that money, because you don’t really have a job in that economy; there aren’t very many of what we used to consider jobs, and that was the way we distributed the money you could use to buy things, and that system . . . works really, really, well.”
That’s when it hit me: we’re all going to be Muppets.
Bear with me for a moment here.
When you strip it down to the studs the only way to “make” money is to create value for someone else, or by extension, for society at large. When we create value, the money seems to roll in all by itself because we’re used to performing and they’re used to paying for it . . . so what’s left when a massive paradigm shift has taken that assumption and turned it on its head?
I have an idea – how about we go wherever we want and do something we enjoy?
I know it all sounds kind of pie-in-the-sky, but this seems like it could be the Star Trek future coming at us fairly fast: an abundant economy, no want or privation, i.e. no real need for money. So why worry about money?
It’s like the old TV, we don’t need it anymore so just let it go.
Money? Psht! What’s that?
So what do you do?
The answer to that is, you live your life the way you want. In a future where the work is taken care of and there’s no need to provide the basic needs for yourself or your family, you’re free to pursue the things that interest you. Every person will find their talent and fit in where they can do the most good, not because they’re forced to by the economic model of the day, but because they want to, and eventually because that’s what they love to do. This transcends doing right by the family, and instead places the individual in a position of responsibility to the society as a whole.
Because of this, people will probably still entertain. People will probably still write and create art, and they will certainly explore worlds without and within. They’ll research, study, and innovate. They will push the boundaries of science and philosophy ever outward, because we love to do that. We were made for that. We’re insatiable for it. The people of the future will, in fact, create value by being good and happy citizens who have the leisure to make society a better place by just . . . having fun.
I know it’s hard to imagine, but it’s a lot easier to believe than thinking that in a world where robots do all of our work, we’re left out in the cold to suffer with scant means; because that would be a world torn apart by war – a neo-luddite war against the machines and the corporate oligarchy that use them to displace the masses: those who will stop at nothing to tear the whole system apart and build a new world where they will be free to do it all over again.
That might make an interesting movie, however.
Of course the world of the future will look alien and outlandish to us – do you think our parents at our age even dreamed that we would have the things we have today – the cell phones, the Internet, driverless cars? In that light, some skepticism on the part of pretty much everyone is understandable when someone says that someday we will be largely unemployed and yet everyone will be happy and money will truly be no object.
It’s like saying we’ll have tigers for pets and they won’t eat us alive.
Beard, beard, beard. What do you do when you have just one word with which to spark a discussion?
I cut off my beard a couple of weeks ago.
It was glorious.
I have been trying to get myself into the swing of wet shaving for the past several years, with mixed results. Wet shaving is where you use a safety razor, a brush, and shaving soap to shave; and in case you didn’t know, a safety razor is one old-school tool that holds those double-edged razor blades infamous for being used incorrectly on the wrists. That’s not meant to be funny or anything, though. I totally disapprove of self-destructive acts in general.
I have been having more success of late, mostly due to the decision that not washing my face prior to shaving was proving detrimental to the experience. I’d end up looking like a crime scene, trying to stanch the blood for what seemed like forever.
I really want to get the hang of this, because in my opinion it’s beneficial on several levels. For one thing, it’s dead cheap. The razor, the brush, and the shaving mug are a relatively small investment over the long term, because they’re more or less permanent. And my razors? They’re antiques. Oldies but goodies from as far back as the 1930’s. I can get new blades for pennies apiece, and each one is good for several shaves. Shaving soap is cheap, too.
And wet shaving is not the same slapdash affair that a plastic razor or some fancy deal with five blades and a vibrating lubricant strip were designed to facilitate; wet shaving is a meditation.
This meditative act — the washing, the lubricating, the lathering, the application of the blade with almost zero pressure in carefully measured short strokes — it all demands a focus, a mindfulness that transcends all the trite little acts that comprise the modern definition of grooming;
wet shaving is its own thing.
And see, I hit upon this realization when I was shaving once prior to shaving off my beard. Attempting to round out my ideas, I texted my friend Zach and asked him for his thoughts on wet shaving. “It’s for a blog post,” I said. “The more abstract the better.” I was dipping into his fountain of experience because I knew he had cracked the code, and he was the only person other than myself that I could draw upon for some reflections regarding the art of wet shaving.
He must have misunderstood me, however, because he came back at me with a sort of how-to — his process of shaving. This is what I mean about meditation, after all: it’s a process and I knew Zach had it down to the letter, but up to then I hadn’t realized how much I didn’t know about the process of wet shaving. Where I had researched, he must have pored over and sifted through the whole Internet. That’s what he does. He had developed his own recipe for shaving oil, for Pete’s sake, and that’s also what he does!
I replied to his email to tell him that I was looking for something more reflective, more abstract. He said he would get back to me, but he hasn’t yet. In the meantime, I did the only thing I could do with what he had sent me:
I shaved off all of my facial hair.
I left my eyebrows, of course, but I got everything else. I followed the spirit of Zach’s how-to to the letter, and afterward I felt just like Andy Dufresne in the Shawshank Redemption; like I had just crawled through a river of crapola and came out clean as a whistle on the other side. I had found the missing links in my clumsy attempts to shave vintage-style, and I could practically hear Morgan Freeman narrating my triumph. It doesn’t get any better than that, folks!
Not that I have any problem with beards. I had this Lemmy thing going on for the last couple of years: the muttonchops with the attached moustache. I’d call it the ol’ Burnsides, but it just didn’t get that bushy. I’d love to grow one of those thick, bushy beards, but my hair doesn’t grow like that; it grows straight and is fairly thin. I think I’d do well with a thin beard, but right now I’m sporting what I like to call my “Summer-face”, and it does get people talking at work. I showed up that Monday morning for the department meeting and I could tell when The Sarge saw me that he approved. Everyone had something to say. Joltin’ Joe told me that I had dropped ten years, and I told him I appreciated that, seeing as how I’m pushing forty. Carlos said I was messing with his head; every time he saw me he thought I was a new guy.
curling ferns —
fractal green echoes
of living lace
The rain came down in buckets this weekend, and with it came something akin to an Autumn chill, as though winter was sullenly pouting at having been flouted, thus missing out on being given its full frigid due.
There may yet be some advantage to this global warming trend, depending upon where you are . . . even if it is just a cyclical bump and not an apocalypse — not that I’m taking sides.
The rain, however, is just as bad as — if not worse than — three feet of snow on a weekend where I was constantly running between the house and garage for two straight days, unable to put anything warm on my feet because the only thing I can get around comfortably in are my new flip-flops . . . and so with some muscular issue as yet unidentified and unaddressed in my left foot I found myself on my feet all day, for three straight days as we worked on renovating this downstairs bathroom.
Needless to say, my foot does not feel any better this week.
We did, however, make great strides. in the tear-down the weekend prior to this past, I was forced to flip an outlet around to the opposite plaster-on-lath wall; to re-plumb a new shower drain from scratch in order to replace the ancient copper waste pipe that had been eaten away by time and drain cleaner; re-solder the shower water supply pipes to accomodate the new faucet handle; not to mention the dozen or so runs to the home improvement store to get this fitting or that valve.
After that weekend was over, all I could have told anyone was that we managed to tear the bathroom down to almost nothing.
This past weekend was better, though, and continues to improve as we do a little each day. We drywalled, taped, and mudded the walls. We put down cement board and tiled the floor. Last night we grouted the tile.
And through all this, all I can think of is having a toilet ten feet from my office door again. Like how inconvenient is it to have to have to ascend and descend two flights of stairs every time I gotta take a whiz, especially when I drink enough coffee in the morning to justify hiring an in-home barista?
It’s enough to put a guy off his joe.
And I’m wondering too, whether I can build up the steam to keep going after it’s done, to pursue this or that home improvement project so that this place can eventually be sold at a massive profit, perhaps that can get us into a nice little place in the Pacific Northwest — only time will tell but I’m on a mission to keep the ball rolling in that direction.
A while back, Rob was bitten; not by a radioactive spider but by an idea to post a weekly article about a few songs that he really likes. There are so many possibilities that the series could go on forever, and so Saturday Jams was born.
It’s been a little while since I hit the keys looking to post Saturday Jams; in fact, I’m almost certain it’s been over a year. Times of late have been turned upside-down in the Clan Ross household as a project to remodel the downstairs bathroom went from a pie-in-the-sky single weekend to a multi-week project involving all the snags and complications that Murphy’s Law has been willing to throw at us. Still persistent, ever intrepid, we now surge forward full steam with the project, as yesterday we laid the subfloor, screwed up sheetrock, did some taping and mudding, and made plans to hide the fact that the corner for the shower is nowhere near square.
So this morning I have been inspired to diversion, and as I have long believed there are few better diversions than writing. The truth is, Saturday Jams has been held up by a lack of time to brainstorm and research the list of musical topics I have at hand, but today I have a few fresh gems that have turned up as if by magic, as though the Universe is pushing me — exhorting me — to get back to writing sweetly phrased copy about all the lovely music the world isn’t trying to shovel down your throat!
And as the remodeling carries on, in the spirit of remodeling, I figure it’s good to talk about taking something old and turning it into something new. It’s a curse for all budding musicians out there that most of them out there start out not knowing how to make their own songs. You pick up an instrument, and you learn to play it bit by bit, either on your own or with friends, or by taking lessons. All of these are good things, although I feel that learning to read traditional sheet music at the beginning of instruction can cripple your ability to improvise. A lot of great musicians learn to play by ear!
So as beginners, most musicians play the songs they already know, and although some get together specifically to form cover bands, most of them don’t plan to get famous playing covers. The Interwebs strike again, however, to say that the old paradigm is not the new. YouTube spreads hot covers like crazy, and the next thing you know, that post on Facebook that some middle-aged friend just thinks is cool to share is actually a type of commentary on how the old structures have been broken down and they refuse to admit it.
Commercial music is mostly bunk anymore, I say, and even those artists like to use the old songs to make new.
On the other hand, Steve’n’Seagulls is a band from Finland (I think) that looks like Appalachia and plays some of the best songs in a way that makes them fresh again. Every member of this band is infested with rhythm, and they feature the tightest folk instrumentation I have ever seen, enthusiastically playing the most out-of-character songs, which is a recipe for awesomeness.
Then, hailing from the luscious, surfable shores of Croatia (okay, maybe not the shores — I don’t know, but I had to mention them) are cellists Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser, who seem to play whatever the heck they want and rock off the roof with it. They are known as 2CELLOS and their website states that “2CELLOS have no limits when it comes to performing live and are equally as impressive when playing Bach and Vivaldi as they are when rocking out AC/DC.”
They provide effortless proof with a segue from Rossini to Iron Maiden. You’re gonna love this:
. . . indubitably, a tutorial on how to destroy a cello bow; one wonders how much of their budget is dedicated to replacing them.
Understand that I just want to post one video per artist, and if you like them you can click through to their website or hit YouTube to find more. Or, you can do what I do: watch the first one and keep clicking on another at the end until you realize you’ve just watched about a dozen different artists already; this is how I discover them. But each time I put a video on this page, it’s because it’s possibly more awesome than the video I had picked out before, but I was tempted into watching another.
Does that make me a sucker?
The final piece, a push to get off the page but not a decision made in haste, features Hawaiian ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro playing a Beatles cover. It’s not a “fun” video like the other two, but that doesn’t mean this guy’s talent didn’t blow me away, and he has published 13 albums since 2002. It makes me wish I had the time to pull my ukulele down from the wall more often:
I’ve got to make the time, that’s all there is to it.
As I finish this, I realize that this isn’t the first Saturday Jams to feature cover songs; almost two years ago I published How to re-make it in the Biz. If you need more tunes for your fix, there’s a couple more videos for you there.
Just remember that when it comes to making music, the only limitations are in the mind — no instrument, no song, no note is sacred. Truth is related by the artist who just serves it up in their own voice, with their own hands and the instrument in them.
Now I must go work on my bathroom — before and after photos yet to come.
grounded, left for dead —
It may be difficult for people who know me to believe this, but it feels like I am always on the brink of giving up — like I’m that close to giving up on everything, out of sheer frustration. Something keeps whispering, “forget it, dude. Take the blue pill. Tune out, step in line. Everything will be so much easier if you just put on the autopilot.”
I’m pretty sure that’s not true, though. The quittin’ part of me wants me to believe that following “the program” is easy, but the fightin’ part of me keeps telling me to look around and remember what I see: there are all these people who have been left behind by time’s passage, more or less mired in this mindset that keeps them from being able to move forward with their abilities, trying to slog it out until . . . what?
They failed to prepare, like the grasshopper who had to lean on the ants to get through the winter. They can’t work competently in the modern framework, but rather keep doing the same thing they were doing in their youth, with no consideration for what happens to them when they’re run aground by time and circumstance.
Forced into retirement, as it were, by the march of progress. Where’s the incentive for the ants to carry them to the finish line?
I will not be that guy. I refuse to go softly into anything. Indeed, I am on the brink of quitting, but I’m really just looking down. My foot tries to tell me I can’t run anymore, but I won’t let it tell me it’s the end of the line. We’ll see what happens when it stops hurting. Something keeps telling me I should give up on writing too, but I’m obviously too stubborn to let that go.
Sometimes it seems no matter how advanced humanity becomes, the elements of our lives will always boil down to the basic set of behaviors that early humans must have used to survive and thrive where they lived long ago. With little more than rough-hewn tools of wood, stone, horn and bone, they began carving their name into the surface of the earth. First we put our initials on this tree of life, and then over time the graffiti proliferated until it was hard to see the tree for all the carving on its trunk —
only the tree is still there.
The wilderness remains
beneath the hard, slick veneer —
the software layer —
of the modern day.
We think we’re smart;
and we conquered with concrete
the hardware of life
that made us this way.
We tear it to bits,
inputs for the machines
that give us the warm fuzzies . . .
and we conquer all
I find that society itself is a denial that this is a savage world, and that lasting, inner peace is something that must be manufactured whole-cloth within each of us; because in truth every moment of peace is a win that cannot last too long. Flexibility and resilience are two of the most valuable virtues one can possess, and analytic introspection the highest skill; yet these aren’t enhanced by our educational systems. They must be self-taught, and thus we find ourselves living in this lie, that school has all the answers to making it in the real world.
Don’t forget about the old school. This world we’ve built is no safer than the one it was built over. There are predators all around, and you’re always being evaluated as potential prey. Learn to roll with the punches and change direction as necessary. Discover community with others nearby.
And of course, don’t take yourself too seriously. There is no inner peace until we choose to find it within, in spite of everything we dislike about the world and the way it works.
long enough to dream,
turned to stone;
awareness returns once more
yields a lighter shell
Several weeks ago, I told myself I would do this. I would broach “shadorma”. This is a poetic form that — to me — appears to share many characteristics with certain languages: Elvish, Klingon, Dothraki, et cetera.
I’ll admit that I’m kind of a language freak. While I don’t have the time or leisure to study or practice full-on the scholarly art of linguistics, I do my best to pick up and retain what I can. I don’t, however, tend to mess around with synthetic, or constructed languages; that is, languages that have been invented, rather than evolving naturally from preexisting languages through everyday use over time.
In any given fiction-based media format, an imaginary language can be named, described, and used as a tool for world-building with little more than a few fabricated words. This is the easy route, and there is no shame in delving any deeper than that. The creator in question is, after all, writing a book, script, or screenplay; there are other considerations that take precedence, and that language is only one component of a window dressing that must at some point move the product.
And what is this product the author seeks to move? Is it blocks of glorified wood pulp? Volumes of the under-appreciated written word? Or is it the imagination? The heart? The soul? You can’t achieve the latter bits by micromanaging the mechanics of a language nobody speaks, while letting the other details become shadows by contrast. So most fictional languages never achieve synthesis, and they really don’t have to. That’s the realm and bailiwick of theoretical linguists, after all.
On the other hand, Tolkien was a lifelong scholar of ancient European history, specializing in Anglo-Saxon epics and languages. He invented fourteen languages, and from them came stories of Middle-Earth, whose very creation sprang from a single word spoken by Eru Ilúvatar.
“Ea!” — Let it be! (I imagine it sounds like the German “ja”, which would be appropriate.)
The Klingon language started as twelve words created by James Doohan (“Scotty”) for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. When Star Trek III rolled around, linguist Marc Okrand — a specialist in Native American languages — was asked to make a real language for the Klingons to speak, so he took those dozen words and created a lexicon and grammar that eventually became The Klingon Dictionary and two more books on the Klingon language. Coincidentally, Okrand has been quoted as saying that others have achieved greater fluency in the language than he. Considering the Star Trek franchise’s fan base, this is probably the most living of synthetic languages.
A cashier once tried speaking to me in Klingon at a Radio Shack. Maybe he thought I looked the type, but I was mostly confused and sought a hasty exit.
Dothraki was one of those languages that were thrown in for an added feel of reality by George R. R. Martin in his novel series A Song of Ice and Fire, but when HBO started production for Game of Thrones they vetted the creation of a solid language to linguist David J. Peterson, who delivered about 3,400 words (only half of it before filming began, though,) and a grammar inspired by both dialogue from the novels, and several real languages. Unlike Klingon, it sounds really cool and probably wouldn’t be nearly as hard to apply to the real world . . .
Except there’s no way to say “thank you” in Dothraki — which makes less sense than you might think if you’re familiar with that fictional culture.
What does all this have to do with a poetic form called “Shadorma”?
Shadorma was created by someone, but we don’t really know who. The mystery behind its creation is something that people usually write about when introducing the form. Often, they quote a part of the brief Wikipedia entry that says that shadorma allegedly originated in Spain and was revived and popularized somewhat recently, but that there’s no evidence of the form or its moniker ever existing until its recent “revival”. That does nothing to mitigate the fact, however, that shadorma is here and people like and use it. Some people write that it may be a hoax or a lie, but is that a useful way to introduce this form to someone?
Like the aforementioned languages, shadorma is clearly inspired by some extant forms of its kind — the Americanized haiku (three lines in 3/5/3 syllables) and the tanka (a haiku plus two more lines of the longer length — 3/5/3/5/5 or 5/7/5/7/7 for American and Japanese forms, respectively) because of its form: six lines, in 3/5/3/3/7/5 syllables. Twenty-six syllables in all, almost doubling the length of a Japanese Haiku. One could imagine several methods by which the form may have been a hybridization of the aforementioned forms.
A little extra room makes a whole lot of difference. The form gives the poet some more wiggle room for the picture they want to paint, which in a synesthetic way explains why it has started to become popular: I’ve read enough double haiku posts, where the author writes two haiku that work together to make one image. Most people won’t go outside the rules with haiku, though, because that’s a form rife with querulous rule-mongers and exasperated rebels. The shadorma, then, would be a natural draw for someone who cares about the fact that a single haiku is meant, as a rule, to stand alone.
The most striking and interesting feature of the shadorma is that as its fictional past is untied to the forms that clearly inspired it, all the rules that attend to those other forms are allowed to fall away; and that’s not only super-convenient but it’s also extremely liberating. You aren’t required to use nature as your subject. You don’t have to have the “cutting word,” which as I understand it is not a word in truth, but a form of punctuation. You can rhyme, if that works for you. You can write a piece in multiple shadorma, and forget the tanka tradition of haiku-plus-opinion . . .
Not that the rules have ever applied to me!
At the end of the post, I don’t really care where shadorma came from. The fact that someone made up this form just makes it like any other poetic form, although most people lay claim to their creations; even if they do so only after it’s proven useful to others, so as to avoid embarrassment by being tied to a flop. My only beef with the shadorma is its name. Though a bit of imagination might attribute a Middle Eastern influence on the name via traditions of the Moors in Spain, it’s really just gibberish, as far as I can tell. It doesn’t feel right in my mouth, but maybe that’s just the newness of the word; if I had been its creator, It may have been called a “cuadrito”:
A little painting.
The most epic cut of the most epic TV show intro ever: