Category Archives: Writing

Fall is Here (the audio version)

Just a quick musical blog for Autumn. Fresh from 1979! (yeow) Recorded on a new, tiny little recording doohickey that I set up in the bathroom to catch some of that bathroom reverberatious vibe. Chunka-chunka!

Click here to listen to The Fall Song (1979)



Blogger out of Exile

I’m sure many of you bloggettios have been wondering: “Where has our humble narrator danced off to?” Getting sick of the loon on the front page, the saccharine sentiments regarding a baseball club from Chicago that could actually pull it off? (oh say it ain’t so, Joe… where’s the eternal optimist now?) And I’m sure a few are wondering” “hey, what happened to ‘Misty’ that sweet and fragrant and blue WordPress theme that you had (somehow) grown so attached to?” Well, Coraline came along and just won my heart. So I clicked and that was that.

The Bike Wisconsin Wrecking Crew: Me, Gregory Goodness, and Brennan (don't mess with him, he has a knife)

Anyway, it’s been a lovely, hot, frustrating, exhausting and foot grinding summer out on the road working the bike tours. We’re like carnys but with a bachelor of arts degree. I must say I had a great time working with the three criminals above. Brennan could’ve been my son, but we treated each other like equals (which is nice considering B. finagled lots of beer outta me). If it wasn’t for Greg’s muscles, we never could’ve gotten those motel bags delivered. The tent service was a huge ordeal, but Brennan made it work, and the staff and volunteers pitched in big time. Hats off to everyone.

Hey, Brennan is up in Seattle now, making his way in their school system, either as a PA or PE instructor. best of luck to the young man. Greg H. starts a course in visual something or other at MATC this fall. He latched into some government program that pays him to go to school. Go stimulus package!

Hey I’m getting into my studio more, doing some lino-cut printing and maybe a drypoint prints too. I got a new toy – a small printing press. it’s it totally cool. Now I can REALLY make some impressions. I promise to get some pics up cause I know everyone loves pictures.

Hey Mindy continues her Yoga Teacher training and is queued up to visit India late this fall. Too cool! They will hit lots of sacred locales like Dar es Salaam, Delhi, and some places way way up high in the north. With luck she’ll bring back one of those tunicky things for me.

Hey The cats are terrorizing the bird lady and her loony spouse across the street. I’m sure it’s nothing more than the occasional cat dookie in the garden. Hey, if she stopped feeding peanuts to the squirrels, I might do something about it… but those damn squirrels just come over and start digging up our garden, and our seedlings, trying to bury their stupid peanuts. The occasional cat-slain chipmunk? Hey, some collateral damage occurs in every conflict. What’s a headless grinny in the grand scheme of things. Hey There are WAY TOO MANY chipmunks in the world.

Hey I couldn’t resist this Gibson in the last year. A real tone monster and fun as hell. It has chased all the others out of the house. It’s fun as hell and makes me feel like an old folksinger… which I am! Did I say it’s fun as hell? I did? What the hell’s that all about, Hey!

Gibson J-185

Oh and as far as the Cubs go… Starlin Castro Rocks!

Hey, let’s make it a short blog this time. Later!

The Loons return to Lake Monona and the Cubs Return to Wrigley Field

Mommy loon with a passenger

The ice on Lake Monona here in Madison hadn’t been out more than 10 days when the loons started congregating again. Their carefully organized advance teams had flow up from Arkansas and Missouri along the flyway and reported that the ice had broken around Monona Terrace and fishing was plentiful for bluegills, crappies, and yearling white bass and minnows. Along my bike commute, just south of the convention center, no fewer than 3 dozen heavy bodied birds could be seen trolling about – their heads and beaks just above water in submarine fashion. Then, as if on signal they “dive! dive! dive!’ Camera spotters with telescopic lenses set up along old Law Park shoot pictures of the common loon as if they’d never seen anything like it before. But one must admit, there is a comforting and entertaining aspect to these returning birds. It means spring is making its inevitable creep north.

Click here to HEAR a great loon call

An additional returning critter is the peregrine falcon couple who have once again made residence in the nest house atop MG&E near Blair St. These tremendously fast birds are fun to watch as they work the area, readying their nest for a new brood.

Peregrine in flight

Speaking of creeping north, Baseball will finally return to the northland this weekend with opening day. To some folks in Wisconsin this means the eternal hope that a team based in Milwaukee will finally find its way into the playoffs. But seriously, opening day means that the Chicago Cubs will once again return to their ivy covered home in Wrigley Field. This year they bring some hope that was not fulfilled in 2009 when, in the 100th anniversary of their last pennant, injury and the ill-will brought on by the presence of Milton Bradley, and other distractions left them with a sub-par finish. This spring, a few new faces with some hot bats (Tyler Colvin) and a refreshed pitching staff have many of us feeling positive about the 162 game haul. Chemistry is key. With luck we won’t have to ingest too many chemicals to drown the sorrow of another lost season.

As Ernie Banks used to say so many years ago: “The Cubs do it again in two thousand ten” (wait… what will they do again?)

Avatar vs. Rascal the Cat vs. Hurt Locker

Hey, don’t get me wrong: the whole Avatar experience is just that… an experience! Hi fidelity, 16 channel, body throbbing surround sound; 300 trillion dollar special FX software (invented by the MAN himself); IMAX 3D with vomit inducing flying creature action, and the frosting on the cake — the US Army OBLITERATING the Mother Tree. Wow! I loved that! Pocahontas meets Dances with Wolves meets The Terminator meets ‘please-forgive-me-for-I-have-sinned-against-the-earth.’ The size of this shaggy dog eclipses that big rock in Australia. But those little jelly-fish things floating in the air in front of me while the Navi roamed blissfully through the branches of the mother tree… just blew my mind. Almost as good as the bad trip I had on Gray Thunder acid in 1972.

Now my father has this huge cat, Rascal, and when I visited him recently I took a close look at this cat: it has a big flat nose and is a spittin’ image of the Navi. Ha! All this technology and you copy the face of cat living in Cleveland Heights?

Rascal: Inspiration for the Navi - can you see what I'm talking about?

Navi: Based on a cat living in Cleveland Heights

C’mon, Jim. We’re on another planet not Animal Planet. You need to tune into Doctor Who now and then for ideas. Now there are some really good ALIENS.

Eduardo Paolozzi: An inspiration for the Daleks

Oh God! Its a Dalek! Run for your fishing life or you will be EXTERMINATED!

Why not something like the cat people or the cyber men or the DALEKS? Yeah, the DAAAALEKS! If an avatar could infiltrate the Daleks and then fall in LOVE with one of the DALEKS… now there is a story I’d pay 14 dollars for. Inspired by the work of the AMAZING contemporary Italian Sculptor, Eduardo Paolozzi, the Daleks send me under the futon EVERY TIME they appear on the screen – as if I’ve never seen them before. Woof!

But seriously, I mean… every one who is half his or her worth on earth would go ga-ga over a 10 foot tall humanoid thing. Tall is the thing. All famous models are at least 9 feet tall. Nuns – who rule a good part of the world – are all approximately 14 feet tall. Basketball players are tall. Abraham Lincoln was tall. All in all it’s just another brick in the wall is Tall, a tall tale. A ten foot tall creature with the face of a cat, pastel blue-green skin, great legs and a cool tale? I’m in love!

I happened to get to a theatre in the middle of the day and caught a matinée (with a really nice group of octagenarians) at the Cedar-Lee Theatre in Cleveland Heights. What a great old school theater this is. We saw “The Hurt Locker” – right after the awards deal last week.

From the Hurt Locker: A soldier approaching a bomb which he will diffuse with his hands.

Well I’d heard a lot about this picture — an excellent story, directed, no less, by James Cameron’s ex-wife, Kathryn Bigelow. The Hurt Locker is an intense film – a real story about real people struggling to do what is right in the moment they are living in. At times I felt as if I was intruding in a place I didn’t belong. At times the focus felt like it was about 12 inches wide and about 24 inches from my reality. I felt self-conscious, as if I was too close, but it was in reality, my feelings… because it was real life — not politicized, not enlarged, not pompous, not contrived. While it was clearly outside my current scope of reality, I still felt as if it was a part of me. Writing should provide new metaphors for our lives. That is why we read stories, why we tell stories, why we write stores (and I suppose, why I do this blog which somehow levels my brain and saves my sanity).

In every story there is a stick or an arm or a hand which reaches out and either draws you in or keeps you at a slight distance. We need this so we can maintain our own place, our personal definition and yet be near enough to ‘hear’ and ‘see’ the new myth, the new metaphor. That distance allows us to stay at a safe distance, to keep emotions in check, or to enter into it deeper if we care to (or dare to). When a human voice is not available, the technology — the word on the page, an image on celluloid or video, or the virtual world of the internet provides a medium for transmitting the stories.

Technology, while an essential element of life in the new millenium, has one huge drawback: it allows us to remain distant, anonymous, remote. Cell phones are great if you are stuck in the fog on a dark road or need to transact business 24/7, but not a good thing when it replaces being face to face. A radio controlled ‘drone’ aircraft, bombing suspected terrorists is good when it protects the lives of soldiers, but bad when it dehumanizes killing, like a video game. Video games are fun for young kids, but unhealthy when they swallow up the precious hours of our youth in damp cellars, becoming numb, blasting away at virtual enemies. The games become nothing more than early training for the defense department. And in the case of Avatar the film seems to be an over-used cautionary tale cloaked in 300 million dollars of technological bling. Sure, it looks good, but what’s new about it? What’s new about the story? During a time when we have too much information pounding into our retinas, our ears, or senses, we need rich, organic stories to remind us what being human is all about. We need stories of loss and love and comedy and foible and imperfection told to us by the human voice or a word on paper. We need a small room with seven actors rambling on to a crowd of thirty-one on a Friday night in Madison, Wisconsin or Chicago Illinois or Omaha, Nebraska. We need a back-yard fence and the neighbors talking. We need to cut off the WI-FI at the Cafes, leave the laptops at home and get back to talking to each other. At this time we don’t need substitutes for reality, we need the warm breath of the next human.

So get out on your bicycle. Feel the spring breeze. Take out your ear buds. Listen for that sound, that story… that’s a human talking. Don’t miss it.

The Antidote for Campaign Deformation

Time for a day ramble.
A lot of things have my grundies in a twist. This whole Supreme Court ruling whereby trillionaire corporations can stuff the airways with the issues that they want rammed home during election years is beyond me. Not to sound too simplistic, but did someone spike the Justices’ Ensure over the lunch hour? Someone must be behind the bench goosing under those silky robes. Freaky droids in black! I’m sure there is some logic (in their graying brains), but hasn’t campaign finance reform been on the radar for like 25 years?

Hey, I love the new style!

Oh I’m sure that monolithic health care and pharmaceutical corporations will spend their mountains of Benjamins on ads promoting health care reform, raising taxes on the haves, a viable public option for uninsured, and against big bonuses for millionaire CEOs. If you ask me, it’s the new Trojan Horse. Keep an eye on those long, exquisitely produced commercials against everything that the president and the Democrats are working for, credited to some innocuous sounding group like The National Trust… now that wouldn’t be Merck or Exxon, really? Really.

Warning people as this may come as a huge shock: don’t believe everything you see on TV and read on the internet. I must warn you that there is a possibility that what you are reading here is not really dependable either… nahhhhhhhh. You can believe yer Papa. As soon as you disconnect yourself from big Oil, you become a legit resource. I’m pretty disconnected, not totally, but closer. Come a little closer… just come, come take a look.

Oil Drilling on Lake Monona, 2010 (another GOP program)

Speaking of which, the days are getting longer! Temps are slooooooooowly creeping over 30F. We’ve had a little snow – which really jams up in the fender by the chainstays. Last night, when I got to my driveway, I had to walk ‘er up cause the wheel was stuck tight! Whapped it with a broom and now it’s fine.

Statue of Liberty Sunk in Lake Mendota (another GOP program)

And oil rigs have popped up on Lake Monona and Lady Liberty has re-appeared on Lake Mendota. Birds are scarce at the feeders. Crows are cruising. The commute is sweet with the slightly moderating temps. I’m off the studded tire bike, preferring my 650B Takara – which handles the ice and snow pack perfectly. At 6PM the light is perfectly surreal. That far away sun is fingering along the west, smudging the clouds with copper and saffron and Tumeric, hanging just a few seconds longer each day. The capital dome is red this month, and the MGE stacks send their steam trails down wind just a little less each day. Tiny dogs are out walking their owners. Ducks chatter below the Yahara bridge and the tattered coats shuffle in line for their free meal at Ingersol and Wilson. Blinkies blink and stop lights wink and maggots sink on the end of tip ups. I love that garlic fog by the noodle place. You honk, I wave; you honk cause you are pissed at the biker, I keep waving.

Takara 650B Snow Collector

I love that long stretch behind Monroe where the ghost of America’s Railroad still lurks. Run Rabbit, Run! Watch me crank up the Glenway hill, watch me puff, hear me huff. The burger smell at Village Bar. Gas prices are up at BP. Watch our for the ice on Waverly. A Dog barks hello… the cat silhouette in the window. Hey Janie! I’m Home.

Biking home: beats the hell out of Campaign Deformation.

Winter Olympics Preview

(PWNI) Dateline: Vancouver, BC, CA.
The Winter Olympiad in Vancouver is right around the corner, and the Notebook wanted to do a quick preview of the games for you olympinuts. You’ll be happy to know that the TV network that will be broadcasting the games has already lost millions of dollars on the event. Rumour has it that it will be broadcast commercial free!

Here are some highlights: skier Lindsay Vonn, cute guys figure skating, really young girls figure skating, hockey, downhill skiing, cross country skiing, Russian guys cross country skiing with guns, whack ski jumpers, totally whack kids on ski boards and skis flying through the air doing even more whack tricks, defying doctors orders, and talking really krazy. Oh and Curling too. Oh and guys laying on top of other guys on tiny sleds going super fast down icy tracks. It’s all awesome and it’ll be cold and if the Canadians are lucky, there will be a few inches of snow too (and Labatts beer).

As a preview, we present a portrait of some of America’s hopefuls:

Apollo Anton Ohno, Rachael Flatt, and some hockey player who is missing his teeth. Do you have your favorites? If so, let the Notebook know. Until then we will be yelling: “Go USA! Go Albania! Go Kashmir!”

Change the World with Three Cups of Tea

Greg Mortenson at the Gultori School

If we are lucky, once every year or so we will hear a story that will strike at the very core of our soul. If we are really lucky. Usually, that story only comes along every 10 years or more – a story or the mission of an individual so powerful that it becomes truth, the essence of what it means to be a member of the human race… the definition of what living should be all about… a tale so powerful that all I want to do is tell everyone I meet about it.

I don’t know where I first heard about Greg Mortenson, but the extended interview on Bill Moyers PBS show filled out the details for me. Mr. Mortenson, an unassuming and soft-spoken mountain climber who, after a failed attempt to summit K2 in Pakistan, got lost and wandered into the tiny remote village of Korphe. The residents there took him in with kind words, a plate of food and cup of butter tea. They welcomed him, as the Koran would instruct, into their tiny home to recover. Later, when he witnessed 80 children, meeting in an un-sheltered area to practice their school lessons – in the absence of any instructor – he discovered his mission: to build a school for Korphe so these smiling children could have a sheltered place to hold their classes. Little did he know that it would be the first of hundreds of schools he would help build.

Korphe School, Korphe Pakistan

The ongoing story of Greg Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute is both remarkable and incredibly inspiring. The lengths that this single person went through to succeed is both harrowing and miraculous. Nearly every time he encountered dangerous situations – whether they were suspicious local leaders, warlords, or Taliban groups – he successfully diffused the situations when they discovered that his reason for being in their area was to improve the education and welfare of their children. On many occasions powerful local elders and leaders (what US government leaders would often define as the enemy or potential terrorists) would seek out Mr. Mortenson to help them get schools built in their villages. In time, despite being an American citizen, Greg Mortenson came to occupy a place of honor in the eyes of Pakistanis and Afghanis – despite the path that our military was set upon in their part of the world. His belief was that education provides an alternative path (from the radical Taliban) for young men in these countries, and educating young women enhances the health of local communities.

These books do something that western media has not been able to do for me: paint an honest portrait of the world of Islam and the citizens of these misunderstood regions. These people, from dozens of different tribes and cultural backgrounds, are incredibly diverse, warm, generous, and giving people. Their greatest wish is for their children to be healthy and a chance for them to receive an education.

Do your soul a favor and read Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, and follow that up with Stones into Schools by Greg Mortenson. The If the spirit moves you, consider contributing to their program, but enter it with an open mind and drink in the power that building a school creates. And let’s hope that the generals and majors read these stories as well. Books will always trump bombs when it comes to mending hearts and minds.

Greg Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute website
Three Cups of Tea

Click here to find out other ways to Help Build Schools