by far one of the greatest poems ever right
up there with
fucking walt whitman and
ee cummings to
by far one of the greatest poems ever right
up there with
fucking walt whitman and
ee cummings to
Suggested listening while you read this:
My apologies to Prince. I tend to like Diamonds and Pearls, though I know other efforts of his are better. Anyway, RIP to yet another great gone too soon. Also some minor typos fixed below…also some essential verses from some songs.
I’d recommend you revisit this post from time to time, because there just isn’t enough information that can be packed into something in one sitting. I just thought of a whole bunch of other things I want to put into this one, so there are a ton of edits from the original post. Enjoy, but also note people have commented on earlier versions of this one. Also, as you know, I like swear words, so scroll by if you get offended by that stuff.
Hi Facebook. Several of my friends are posting their top 10 albums of all time on their feeds, and doing it without explanation. So, just to help you to get the Russians and others to market to me properly and reach into my already depleted wallet based on what I post, here’s my list, posted all at once, and WITH explanations, because our privacy is dead and you already know everything already so the more details I give you the more I screw with your fucked up algorithms. Go on parse out all this shit.
This is not a top 10 though…#1 is not #1 of all time…these are all pretty much equal in their impact and I spit them out without thinking too hard, because I think that’s the point. Also there are 11, because everything needs to go to 11 after Spinal Tap told us so.
11. Best of Bent – Bent. This is a British duo album and is a very late entry, but for the past 10 years or so, I’ve grown to really love downtempo European duos who make the best “this is the soundtrack to my life” type music. The song Private Road tops several great offerings from this group, although Magic Love is a close contender (and a hilarious video on YouTube) and they lead me to a slew of other newer music that I listen to regularly now. Listening to related artists for Bent led me to such incredible individual artists and groups such as Ulrich Schnauss, Goldfrapp (Ooh La La was on Black Mirror!), Zero 7 (Pia did a few tracks with them very early in her storied career), Bonobo, Daft Punk, Lemon Jelly, Air, Nightmares on Wax, Kid Loco, Chemical Brothers, Boards of Canada, Röyksopp, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Télépopmusik and many others.
Bach is Dead.
10. Blue Break Beats, Volume 1 – Various Artists. The first five seconds of the first track, by Richard “Groove” Holmes solidified my love of Acid Jazz and all the funky variations, although that first track is still my favorite, and Groove has a fab version of Misty that you MUST find NOW and listen to. There are four volumes to this series, and every track makes you want to say “God Bless America” because Jazz is one of the greatest contributions to American culture I know, and the early 60s and 70s that these tracks come from are certainly some of the best. Honestly, if you have not heard Richard “Groove” Holmes, Grant Green, Lou Donaldson, Donald Byrd, Eddie Henderson and the slew of other folks in this series, you haven’t been paying attention.
9. Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables – Dead Kennedys. You all know I was an LA Punk, like a lot of you, my friends. There are a couple other selections on this list that re-affirm that. But you know, “You’ll work harder with a gun in your back for a bowl of rice a day” wasn’t just how things were then…it’s how things still are now, only of course on a much more metaphorical level. Jello rules. Also, to get a flavour of the time and place, you’d need to listen to the Minutemen (see below), X, Fear, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Suicidal Tendencies, Germs, Wall of Voodoo, Suburban Lawns, and then of course expand out to Gang of Four, Joy Division, The Cure, Siouxie and the Banshees, Ramones…oh the list can go on and on…
8. Remain in Light – Talking Heads. Really, these guys are still my favs, and David Byrne’s career has been on the come back trail yet again. Really, all of the Talking Heads albums are eligible, but “This ain’t no party. This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no fooling around.” pretty much sums up adulthood as we know it. I always think of the B52s and their first and second albums as the fabulous frilly foil to the heady Heads. Oh yeah, Devo lol. Devo dovetails in nicely with these two groups.
Bach is Dead.
7. Revolver – The Beatles. Hard to choose one Beatles album, but this one ends with John Lennon singing “play the game existence to the end, of the beginning“…and really this was the end of the beginning of an amazing musical career, everything after this was pure collaborative genius and this, along with Rubber Soul, were the bridge albums. Every 60s group is related to this, so I’m not adding in any related music. I mean if you twist my arm, then Janis, Jimi, and Jim (glad Mick didn’t join THAT club) have to be at the top of the list. Oh, and to my high school friends who insisted that Eric Clapton is God…well, ok, ok. I think it’s also good, historically, to put Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Mahalia Jackson here as related influences on 1960s rock. While Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye were going down a fabulously parallel R&B path with the Beatles, so, you know my arm is twisted and I could have listed ANY Motown song here, but Motown wasn’t an album so, PAH.
6. Sandinista – The Clash. Come ON. There are a brazillion tracks here that are awesome, but still my favorite lyric here is from Magnificient 7 “Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi/ Went to the park to check on the game/ But they was murdered by the other team/ Who went on to win 50-nil”. So it goes. Joe Strummer died at age 50, murdered by the Cancer team, so yeah, some irony there. I’m putting Michael Jackson here because he also died ridiculously young (murdered by the prescription drug addiction team), and had a much more poppy influence on me at the time. Billie Jean made me think of…
5. Lady in Satin – Billie Holiday. If you don’t know the history of this album, shame on you. Just take a moment. Stop reading. Now hang your head in utter shame for 30 seconds before you start reading again. I can wait…
Done? Welcome back. This was a recording of a 44-year old woman, addicted to Heroin, the most talented voice of her time, and still considered so today, and she was treated like less than a dog, being black in the 1920s to 1950s and knew she was about to die, and still belted out every single word in every single track to make sure people knew what had happened in her life. If you aren’t weeping on the floor after listening to this album, you have no soul. Also, sure, Strange Fruit is still her signature song, and rightfully so and it’s not part of this album…but again, knowing the context of this album, listening to her broken voice, but not broken spirit…this was quite a good bye love letter. But what else can you do at the end of a love affair? The story reminds me of Otis Redding’s Dock of the Bay (although he didn’t know his death was imminent), and David Bowie’s Blackstar (damn, David, you can’t give everything awayyyyyy, but I bet you thought of Billie Holiday at some point in recording YOUR final album knowing your time was limited).
“Do they know, do they care
That it’s only ‘cuz I’m lonely, and low as can be
And the smile on my face
Isn’t really a smile at all?”
Bach is Dead.
4. The Harder they Come – Jimmy Cliff and Various Artists. An obscure 1972 Jamaican film about a country boy gone gangster in the capital, Kingston, this compilation is the grandfather of all Reggae albums, a close cousin to New Wave / Punk genres and the uncle of all Ska music to boot (although OK, Ska was around before this, their blood relationship is obvious). I still can’t pick a favorite track on this one, although my current favorite is 007-Shanty Town. I still play this whole album constantly and tear up when singing, and yes, dancing, along. You sentimental old fool, you. Just picture old fatty me dancing in my living room looking out at the Abu Dhabi skyline singing out “Dem a loot / dem a shoot / dem a wail (a shanty town!)”, then doing some ad lib in the bridge between the vocal sections at the beginning and end. Ok, now that you’ve washed your eyes out and after that image is gone, you can follow up listening with everything Bob Marley and UB40, then go check out 1980s British Ska: English Beat, Selector, the Specials, Madness, Fun Boy Three…then go back to the beginning of Ska with the Skalites aka Ska Kings of the First Wave and you’ll find a ton of obscure but danceable related tracks from dozens of artists (dem-a rude boys ya bum up de town!).
3. Duck Stab – The Residents. Never heard of the Residents? Well, forget it, then. Those who have heard of them know that I’m coming soon to Constantinople. There is no group out there (well maybe Frank Zappa, but I really honestly don’t know enough Zappa to make a qualified judgement) quite like the Residents.
2. Double Nickels on the Dime – The Minutemen. I am still in mourning. RIP D.Boon 1958-1985. #1 Love Song is just that. History Lesson Part II sums it all up nicely and everyone who I was with in my formative years at UCLA remembers the over 40 tracks on this gem. See the DKs above for related music, but The Minutemen still are my favorite from back in the day.
On the back of a winged horse Through the sky pearly grey Love is leaf-like... You and me, baby Twinkle, twinkle Blah, blah, blah E! T! C!
Lyrics to #1 Love Song
1. Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys. Good Vibrations is a great song, but this is what a great album is, and Good Vibrations isn’t on it. To all my friends and family: God Only Knows what I’d be without you.
OK, I guess I kind of lied. It IS in order and #1 is #1 for a reason.
Walking women want to see the Southern Cross at night And so they set aside a sock and tie their laces tight Yes, mournful is the melody that echoes in their heads Without a beat, they march along believing Bach is dead Bach is Dead.
Note: lifted from my FB post, and embellished here, cuz it’s fun to embellish.
What will work:
1. Before the election, non-partisan redistricting to get rid of Gerrymandering.
2. 100% public funding of elections. PACs made illegal, and Citizen’s United decision reversed through legislation.
3. Campaign period limited to three months before election day.
4. Second Tuesday in November is a national holiday called “Election Day”. Polls open Tuesday 12:00:01 AM. Polls close Wednesday 12:00:00 AM.
5. Uniform Federally Printed Paper ballots for the Presidency. Collected and sent to Washington DC for counting. State ballots for everything else. Exception for the two or so million of us who live overseas. Then, some form of secure digital authenticated transaction for voting for president, then for state candidates and issues. Just don’t contract Equifax for that. Those US Based who will be overseas on election day do paper mail-ins.
6. Absolute news blackout when polls are open. When Alaska/Hawaii polls close, the press can do their thing.
7. Abolish the Electoral college. Five times in history, but two times in my lifetime is enough to show the system doesn’t work as planned. Instead use “The Alternative Vote” for instant runoff.
Why none of the above will work:
1. Get rid of Gerrymandering? Will get on that right after we’ve put in comprehensive gun control.
2. Citizen’s United, where money is speech. It’ll always be louder than actual people actually speaking their opinions. See the Cruella DeVoucher confirmation story for more on that.
3. Trump filed for re-election literally right after he was done with his inauguration ceremony. Like, it was the same day or the next day (too lazy to look it up to confirm). He’s gamed the system so that we, the taxpayers, are now paying for his “campaign rallies”.
4. Empirical evidence showing shorter voting times in heavily Democratic districts, especially those with a minority population as its majority, has worked well with voter suppression.
5. Citizen’s United again. Three Voting machine companies have a stranglehold, and their money talks more than me.
6. The press will scream first amendment. The Supreme’s will probably take their side, because it’s a money thing again.
7. It was a good idea when populations of states weren’t that far apart from each other. Wont happen any time soon without a constitutional amendment, and that’s a pipe dream for reasons (too lazy to explain, but state government control is the key).
Thanks for playing. Factual mistakes are all mine. Comment on anything else that will work.
(I was listing my top 10 fav films in FB, and this is for entry) #2 – Rashomon – (1950). Directed by Akira Kurosawa.
Here’s a regret I have: June 23, 1986, I sat in a fold-out chair in the sports field outside of Pauley Pavilion as a newly minted (albeit 2 years tardy) graduate of UCLA, B.A. in English Creative Writing, and NOT in film, as was my original intention, even though I did make a crappy comedy movie with a couple friends when I was there (Goin’ to Hollywood City, 1984, directed by Frank Marlowe, edited by him and me – fun to make – not very funny though lolol – didn’t make my top ten all time best film list for some reason).
There was a line up of celeb speakers at UCLA that day, I guess, but I was in some kind of transitional weirdo phase, waiting to know if I was going to Peace Corps Kenya or not, and I deliberately brought some headphones and played music throughout the whole Commencement ceremony so I didn’t have to listen to all of their nonsense. Just give me this damn degree that I slaved over for almost seven freaking years (Belushi as Bluto in Animal House: seven freaking years down the drain! I might as well join the fucking Peace Corps!)!
Too bad for me, because one of the speakers was Toshiro Mifune, star of Rashomon (as Tajomaru the Bandit), in Kurosawa’s masterpiece, who was there “For his extraordinary achievements and dedication to perfection in the world of films . . . for helping to increase America’s awareness and appreciation of Japanese culture” according to the commencement program.
Obviously, I hadn’t seen the film, and Japan was, now ironically, one of the last things on my mind, if at all, that day, so I just wanted to collect my diploma and get out and take some photos with the fam (hi late mom! Hi Laura! LYM!) and be done with it all…I guess I was kind of acting like Tajomaru that day, Rashomon’s anti-hero bandit and the center of the “police testimony” that makes up the bulk of the film, boasting about how wonderful I was and blah blah blah everyone else was phony and not as honest and noble as me… I’m not sure when I first saw this film, but I was using it as a creative exercise when I later taught in Japan, so I was aware of the film at least a good 20 years ago…hah, me teaching Kurosawa to Japanese college students…lolol. I probably DID see it at UCLA when I took a bunch of film appreciation classes.
The greatness of Rashomon is that it’s an honest look at the human vanity that exists in all of us (except for me of course…I’m completely chill 100% of the time), and how troubling and challenging it is to affirm it and embrace it. The other greatness is, the film, for its dark themes, emerges full of hope and optimism and that kind of “Keep Calm and Carry On” sensibility found in that old World War II poster (ugh, then the marketers came and ruined that brilliant story, too – but I digress).
The film plot seems simple enough – a seemingly innocuous case of three people (well, two people and a ghost…) telling their story to the police of what happened a couple days back in the dense forest outside the village … and then a fourth story from a hidden witness later on told at the Rashomon gate.
So the facts are: a woman was raped, her nobleman husband dead, and Tajomaru the bandit was involved somehow. Oh and there seems to be a dagger in there somewhere, but no one found it.
The story is framed in the hot, humid Japanese summer of 800 years ago. It unfolds at the massive Rashomon gate, a decaying 12th Century Japanese relic, built to protect Kyoto, but long ago forgotten…and in the rain, the gate teeters before us, what’s left of it, to remind us of how temporary everything is. The heat and humidity portrayed throughout the film give everything a thicker and more difficult lustre (side note: Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” – a film that fought hard to get into my top 10 but fell short – but now I can mention it here lol – was no doubt influenced by pulling in the oppressiveness of a hot humid summer’s day). There are times you can hear the cicadas and birds in the forest, providing another layer of soundtrack to the dramatic scenes as they unfold. Tajomaru’s repeated slapping the bugs off his sweaty body helps to reinforce this oppression.
A woodcutter (played by Takashi Shimura – who also starred in another fabulous Kurosawa film – Ikiru – just two years later) and a monk (played extra-lugubriously by Minoru Chiaki) seeking shelter from the rain have ended up under the gate, and sit in disbelief of the testimony they have just heard at the police magistrate’s compound. The first line in the film is memorable.
Woodcutter: 分からない。。。さっぱり分からない。(I don’t understand it. I just don’t understand it).
A roughly hewn wandering commoner comes to seek shelter at the gate, and asks the two men to relate why they are in such disbelief … and tears off some wood from the gate to make a fire while he listens to the stories.
The three (four!) stories of what happened are then recast … and here lies the vexing center of the film, as all three stories are so very different about the events that transpired. Tajomaru, the dead nobleman (through a spirit medium), the wife, and then, at the end, the woodcutter’s fourth version, all tell their versions of the story.
The difference of the four stories casts a huge doubt on ANY of the stories. Each of the three stories told to the police were told casting the teller in the most favorable light. Tajomaru said he triumphed in an ensuing sword fight, but forgot to take the wife’s expensive dagger. The wife, in a fit of shame, recalls that she plunged her dagger into her husband’s heart after he would not kill her instead. The nobleman, through the medium, says that his failure to protect his wife, and her urging the bandit to kill him to cover up her guilt, and finally the shame the entire ordeal would bring to him and his family left him no choice but to commit ritual suicide with his wife’s dagger, which was later taken from his corpse. The woodcutter says, indeed, there was a sword fight, but only after the wife insulted both men and urged them to fight to the death over her…which they did, hesitantly, and because of their supposed vanity.
The two sword fight scenes, my favorite two scenes, are very different. Tajormaru’s version is the cinematic “Dirty Harry” version, where both men are skilled at their craft and there is much swish-swashing and cling-clanging going on, as the both men thrill at the dance of death. The woodcutter’s version exposes both men as flailing cowards trying more not to get killed than to kill the other man, and there is a lot of terrified heavy breathing in the woodcutter’s version. Tajomaru kills the nobleman who has fallen into some bushes and cannot easily move to get back up. The wife in this last version stares at the scene in utter terror of what she has caused by urging the two men to fight like real men and not cowards.
But the gruff commoner hearing the stories is having nothing of the Woodcutter’s version either, because everyone mentioned the dagger, and there was nothing of it at the police station, so it’s obvious where that dagger went. The woodcutter admits it’s in his possession, and so we are left to not believe anyone.
What happened deep in that grove?
In the end, the rain begins to clear, and an abandoned baby is heard and found by the three men. The commoner immediately begins to strip the baby of all its belongings, but the woodcutter tries to intervene at such injustice. There’s a brief fight as the commoner says, essentially, you are just as much a thief and liar as the rest of us. It’s a dog-eat-dog world…fend for yourself, and he runs off into the clearing rain with most of the baby’s belongings, and an even healthier skepticism toward humanity. The monk and the woodcutter are speechless at the inhumanity. The monk is ready to throw what little faith has has left away, until the woodcutter says, no worries. He already has six mouths to feed at home…a seventh won’t make a difference and walks away with the baby in arms, his head tilted up into the emerging sunshine. The monk’s faith is restored, though it certainly teetered when he found out even the woodcutter wasn’t the most honest of men. The end.
And in this end, we are left with nothing, just four fictional accounts of a crime, that will ultimately have neither resolution nor closure. And a huge decaying gate, well on its way to the Ozymandian longevity hall of fame.
Films buffs will know of the rules Kurosawa broke: Filming up through trees directly into the sun; using mirrors to reflect sunlight onto the actor’s faces; a long tracking shot following the woodcutter in the beginning of the film as he ventures deeper and deeper into the forest glades; the three witnesses to the event talking directly into the camera, forcing you as the viewer to sit in judgement of what is ultimately un-judgeable; and rapid close-up cuts between the trio, establishing their relationships with each other through the various tellings. I found there were more than 450 edits in the film, which puts it well above average for a movie.
Mifune, as Tajomaru, is at his best, and convincing…an actor playing a bandit who is acting as if he is a bandit. Machiko Kyo as the wife, displaying a huge range of raw human emotion from fear to shame to beguiling to panic and regret. Masayuki Mori as the staid nobelman holding himself with great honor in all the scenes, and of course Shimura’s beguiling woodcutter, turning over a new leaf in the end.
The music is a bit over the top at points, but the setting deep in a forest, a fabulous metaphor for hiding who we really are (oh, hey, that’s what #1 is all about all the time!) make this truly one of the greatest films I know.
If you haven’t seen it, even my spoilers won’t seem like spoilers after you watch the film. Each actor had to play the same scene four times in four different ways. I can’t imagine a more interesting production set and going through the paces in the small grove where most of the movie takes place. The budget was so low, they all had to live together during filming in the forest.
Oh, and a final note – about 10 days after not listening to what Toshiro Mifune had to say, I left L.A. for good. You know, because I’m a great guy and all and it was time to seek my fortune out in the world beyond, and I found it in Japan of all places.
This screenplay thing mugged me. I took five days to write 50 pages, then stopped for about eight weeks. Then I took another five to eight hours to finish it off. This is draft one. You are welcome to download, read, and comment, because I already registered it and I’ll sue the crap out of you if you steal any part of it. Hell to the yeah! Everything below is copy/pasted from FB April 28, 2020, embellished here now.
About eight weeks ago, I started writing a screen play. It kind of snuck up on me, and then mugged me for about two weeks. I got hardcore OCD during that brief time.
The good news is: The entire story is already written out all the way to the end. I love the ending…endings are usually the toughest part. Starting is always easy…finishing a project, always tough. Most of the scenes are out of my brain and on paper. The first half dialogue is completely done, the first draft anyway, with all the dialogue and it came out pretty fast and efficiently, about 50 pages done…
The bad news (??) …then it went back again into its cocoon, the rest of the dialogue not finished. The scenes with unwritten dialogue are the most harrowing, and I’m doing a “Charlie Chaplin writes the crucial scene of City Lights during an 18-month hiatus on filming” thing. The old attention span of an ant, which is the real virus circling the globe, has hit hard.
I know what’s going to happen in the rest of the story, and I know who needs to say what, and I know that’s it’s fucking good… what creation from nothing isn’t good? …outside of, say, Team Kaylie, on Netflix which I watch as one watches the slow motion smashing of a car being safety tested with crash-test dummies inside getting flung about here and there.
I’m thinking that the reason why I’m stalling, or hesitating, or procrastinating, or whatever…is that damn, those harrowing scenes, if I don’t get it right, it just becomes an absurd wasted exercise. I’m not sure. I’ve actually never written a screen play before. I’ve done skits, song parodies, and a crapload of academic writing, and the occasional poem, cuz you know, my Bachelor’s is in Writing Poetry after all…and goddammit if I don’t love good metaphors. They are preciously powerful things and I use them in my teaching all the time…that’s all I try to use.
Thing is, though, who is going to read my screen play when it’s done? Who’s going to critique it honestly, and look at it objectively and see if it has potential impact. But of course, it already has had its impact on me. I took a REALLY distant memory, fictionalized a shit-ton of it, and talked out loud to myself about all that stuff, and that the secret of the memory resides, now, with me, alone. The other two main players in that memory have passed, so I am its only herald left walking.
What to do? I need someone to un-Chaplin this, and explain why it needs un-Chaplining. FB friends, fam, acquaintances, and gamer-friends who I know next to nothing about…what say you?
Note: I’m not telling anyone anything about it until its done. Maybe I dropped some hints to a couple of people, but not much to anyone…or I also forgot who I mentioned it to during the feverish time I was writing what I could…
Note: some of the events are actually true. The characters are caricatures, of course. In the end, it’s a work of pure fiction, and I’m not sure if it’s a tragedy, a comedy, or “an undersea Western tragic-comedy musical”.
Hi everyone, some personal updates from me…
1. I turned 58 on December 1. Thanks for your birthday wishes. I share birthdays with the late great Richard Pryor, Bette Middler, the disgraced Woody Allen, and the putrid piece of shit Senator from Florida, Rick Scott, among of course many other people. Birthdates determine nothing about your future.
2. My friend and long ago classmate Charlie Williams announced that he’s leaving Facebook at the end of this month. I think it’s the right move, and it triggered something in me, and today, I’ve spent time unfollowing between 50 to 75 groups that I’ve been in on Facebook. I’ve had friends leave FB for various reasons, and, you know, by staying here, we are all contributing to…well, if you don’t know it by now, it’s not even worth commenting. It’ll be hard to leave FB because it’s one of my lifelines to family and friends. What are the alternatives to serving a billionaire who lied and cheated his way into his billions, and is now quite alright that the thing he built is one of the biggest sources of misinformation on the planet. The alternatives are serving the billionaires at twitter, who pretty much do the same thing; serving the billionaires at Instagram (aka Facebook-owned but for the younger generations); serving someone else in order to stay in touch with friends and family. No matter what we choose, it’s the wrong choice. We have no choice, so I’m thinking what to do.
3. The groups I’ve unfollowed are 80% political, with the remaining 20% various news agencies and other weird websites. I’ve kept some web comics sites, some art and design sites, and of course the UU sites, who remind me that religious points of view are embraced by a vast majority of humans and I need to keep my mind as open as possible. Already, I’m seeing a lot more posts from family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances that were being drowned out by all the other flak I had on my “news feed”.
4. I spent a good three or so years as an online adjunct for St. Thomas University, my former employer, and subsequent alma mater (Ed.D. in Ed. Leadership), and I taught a few doctoral level courses about Social Media Management, naively extolling the virtues of the major social media websites. Now I realize I was duped like we’ve all been duped. The hardest part is admitting the dupe. I actually have a lot to say about higher education and education in general, but I think I’d probably have a serious brain aneurysm if I started to do the research that I want to do. I’d be doubled over in rage at the ghetto education has become globally, and especially the anti-educational road that the USA is barreling down.
5. I’m very thankful for my current job. I work with people from over 80 countries. I recently attended a talk at NYU-Abu Dhabi (they have a huge campus on Saadiyat Island…actually kind of hermetically sealed off from Abu Dhabi proper) and their main problem was, they spent all their time recruiting students globally, but their teaching staff come from a homogenous educational background (that being from Western Universities mostly from the English speaking countries). They have a huge disconnect, whereas our college student body comes from open-enrollment Emerati students who have the amazing value of faculty from, as I said, people from over 80 countries. The irony of it all … that’s just the tip of the iceberg… I have a lot of creative freedom in what I do, and have had many valuable working relationships here … and I’ve been humbled and reminded daily of my world view talking with the faculty and staff here. Long story short, this is the longest I’ve ever worked anywhere. I’ve had some frustrations, but I have to say, it’s the least stressful job I’ve experienced in my lifetime, and the opportunities for collaboration, whether with my Italian friend / colleague who will need my help with instructional design issues, my Jordanian and South African colleagues looking to collaborate with designing PD sessions on assessment, or the teachers who I coach from Mexico, India, Panama, Malaysia, Iraq, Nigeria, Tanzania, Australia, Pakistan, Romania…it’s been a really fabulous opportunity and I look forward to our transition to competency-based education at the college. If I write anything (and I still am not disciplined enough) it will be about the diversity of the people I work with. The government of the UAE is, I believe, doing their best to leverage the wealth that oil has brought them, and they are doing their best to diversify their economy. Of course, the road to where they want to go is bumpy, and seat belts are fastened. So far, everything I see here is forward looking, especially from my view inside the college.
6. With that said, moving to Okinawa is somewhere on the horizon, but I’m wondering if I should try to crowdsource some cash so I can have an adventure in Rwanda, first… there are still a lot of teachers who need guidance, and I wonder if there’s a place for me in or around Kigali. What do you think?
Some random thoughts from an overtired brain that will return to normal with a couple days rest:
1. Former workmate of mine used FB to document her mental health struggles. She found a huge supportive community for what she did. Taboos are being broken down, and that was a very very good thing. I congratulate her, but I’m not going to use the word “courage”, mainly from all that emerged about 18 months back, from high school mates unveiling our pedophile teacher’s shenanigans…won’t even try to process that whole thing online, but my takeaway was…these things need to be noticed and noted and honored for what they are, and the people talking need to be listened to. Now, I have two very detailed stories I COULD write about. We shall see. I’m still deciding if it’s worth processing some stuff from the past, but the Buddhist in me just laffs and laffs.
2. This workshop I’m doing this week … completely unsurprisingly … was full of new things to learn. I’m excited by that, but also, REALLY? I STILL DON’T KNOW IT ALL? I have an opportunity to get certifications to be a Master Trainer, and Master Coach, so all those things are actually short term goals that will be met within the next two years. These are things that I can do independently anywhere at any time over a huge multiverse of situations and people. Fun and satisfying work … and I mean WORK as in life’s work. Not a job that too many people are stuck in. Honestly this is one of the best places I have worked. Quite satisfied here.
3. Netflix and Spotify (not a paid endorsement). OK, thanks, billiionaires, for these two things, because we need our entertainment and all. Lately, I’ve been using my spotify app to play through my fancy Bose (not a paid endorsement) sound bar that sits in front of my Nikai TV (not a paid endorsement). The sound quality is super duper, so i spend a lot of time in my fancy mustard color armchair staring out at the Abu Dhabi skyline. I do a LOT of Zen thinking in that state of awareness. Good times. Also, listen to Spotify when walking outside on the corniche listening through my PowerBeats wireless headphones (now owned by Apple – not a paid advertisement). FB, are those enough brands to help you to shove more useless ads in my face now? Also, every word I just wrote is officially your intellectual property now, cuz that’s what I agreed to when I signed up to use your “free” service.
4. I’m sitting on a surprise announcement. Suffice it to say, I hope you have some rainy day money for early summer that you’d be willing to spend (I’ll be asking more directly for money in future, when I’m edging closer to homelessness, but things are good right now, the money goes to your airplane tickets, and no, you aren’t flying to Abu Dhabi – oh I just can’t say more). If #4 ain’t clickbait, then I don’t know what clickbait is.
Note: #4 above was a planned trip back to Moloka’i, scene of the wedding over 30 years ago. So, um, that’s not gonna happen, now, is it?
“Oh it’s a long, long time/from May to December”
The evening of September 10th, 2001, I lay on my back in the dark. I was on a secluded beach, barely 1/2 a mile long, on Tioman Island, Malaysia. The island is a two-hour speedboat ride due east off the southeastern tip of peninsular Malaysia. Take a few moments if you will, to locate the country on a map somewhere and see if you see the island. It’s shaped like a bowling pin.
OK? Let’s continue then.
Tioman is so far away from any city center that sure enough, as I had suspected, I was able to gaze up into the heavens, as I had many times and many years before when I served my country in the United States Peace Corps in Kenya. A lot of good memories flowed within and through me as I looked again at our glorious home called the Milky Way, and I could see where we on Earth are positioned within this galaxy, and I could remember again what tiny place I occupied in this universe of ours. I stared deep into that inky blue sky, savoring what might be my last chance to find such a remote place for a long time. The tide was out, and the waves provided the background music, while the salt air moved in and out of my body. I thought a lot about how good my life was, that I had a loving wife and beautiful daughter and that I could share good and bad times with them through my journey on earth. My view of the night sky was relatively unobstructed, as the waning moon would not come out until I was deeply sequestered in sleep in my air conditioned “chalet” that lie just 10 meters behind me as I gazed up. What was really exciting about that night was the anticipation of seeing a shooting star again. Our home, Earth, is showered daily with bits of ancient rock that find their way to our outer atmosphere, then, in a beautiful brief moment, they penetrate the atmosphere and tumble burning until they are vaporized. If you are good at using your peripheral vision, you can catch a star for the fraction of a second that it takes to burn up. If you are very lucky, you might even get a single second burn-up, or, for the very luckiest, a two-second show. A unique thing about this is that you are probably the only person on earth who gets this show at this particular moment, as if it’s a special gift, just for you…
That evening, though, I wasn’t alone. I had just finished the second of a two-day vacation there, with my good friends Julie and Ali Hassan (not their real names), and their good friends, another married couple Pesha and Abudu (not their real names, either), a nice young pair in their own right. At 39, I am a good 6 years older than Ali, who is the oldest of the four. They are all UK educated Malays with respectable jobs (Ali works for the Ministry of Education and I met him here in Hakodate Japan. Julie is a teacher. Pesha works for the formula 1 circuit in Malaysia and Abudu is a uni professor turned advertising man). They are, by Malaysian standards, upper middle class, though their income compared to US or Japanese standards, is quite small. I invited them to this special show on the beach, because, as Abudu had said…what are we gonna do without TV?!?! He said this in a half joking matter, but all of them are children of the media age, more than I. Ali loves his Playstation 2, and I brought him a popular game unavailable in Malaysia, but easy to get here in Japan.
The night sky induced a state of semi-dreaminess in the five of us as we lay there. A long silence was split by Pesha, who asked where the moon was. I said that it would be coming out later in the night. In a surprised voice, she said to me “how do you know that?” and my answer, after thinking back to my Kenya experience, was “I just know.”
I didn’t really realize how much Kenya was in me. One thing I learned there was the pulsation of the moon. I pretty much know whether the moon is waxing or waning. I pretty much know it’s cycle of rising later as it wanes and earlier as it waxes. I love seeing the crescent of the new moon, too. It reminds me a lot of the small ornament on top of the Witu village Mosque. Seeing the crescent is one of the most magical parts of moon watching, almost as if being present at the birth of a new child. Living in that darkness in Kenya made me appreciate the short life that we all have, and makes me live each day as if it might be the last. Work hard, play hard, love hard…the human condition.
After being on our backs in that inky, milky darkness in a half dream state for about 30 minutes of the greatest of all TV shows, the four of them decided to turn in for the night. Our trip back to Kuala Lumpur the next day would consist of a two-hour boat ride back to the mainland, followed by a six-plus hour bus ride, so they wanted to get their beauty sleep. I, however, took pleasure that I could be in solitude with the Milky Way for a few minutes longer, free of all the stresses of everyday life, and the eventuality of returning back to Japan to work. I took my time, hoping to glance a passing satellite, and follow it on its lonely journey across the face of the sky..but no luck. A few airplanes whispered across at 35,000 feet, and their blinking red and white lights heralded their passing, transporting people and families from one experience to the next through the secret night. I looked up again at the Milky Way splotched like a faint cloud behind most of the other distant specs of light dotting the sky. I looked at Pink-brown Venus, our next door neighbor, the brightest light in that night sky. It was so peaceful and beautiful. There I was again: standing tangent to the earth, waiting to leave the gravitational pull and drift into and through that vast expanse of gas and dust from which we all have come and must return. I’ll never forget it. I’ll never forget my time in Kenya…or those brief 48 hours on Tioman, where I got to see a Kodomo dragon slink away into the bush, a truly giant, and disappearing, species of lizard unique to the region.
“But the days grow short, when you reach September”
The next day, September 11th was different. It consisted of a two-hour ride on a larger boat. I shot some video of my four friends, and they made fun of me and we all had a good laugh. We ate cookies and chips and drank our bottled water. We waved at a few ships of the Singapore Navy resting at Tioman before pursuing, in conjunction with the Malaysian Navy, the South China Sea pirates, who roamed the area southeast of Tioman. We watched as we passed by islets tinier than the 6 mile by 2 mile Tioman. I dreamed of building a secluded house with a giant NO TRESSPASSING sign on one of the tiny drops of rock outcropping and establishing the Republic of Larry, population 3, and 3 cats. It was a nice fantasy. We arrived at the jetty town and waited another two hours for the bus. I did some quick email to people, bought some little gifts and said farewell to Tioman. During the sleepless six hour bus ride back to KL, I played a game that Ali had beamed me through his Palmtop, a game called “helicopter rescue”.
“When the autumn weather/turns the leaves to flame/ One hasn’t got time/for the waiting game”
In the game, I was the daring helicopter pilot, rescuing good guys who were jailed up and guarded by bad guys and their rockets, missles, tanks, planes and all sorts of bad guy things. I could advance to the next round by rescuing at least 9 of my 12 compatriots. I had six hours to play the game on the bus. There were so many maneuvers to learn in those six hours. The copter rising from the ground, fast forward, slow forward, hover, slow backward, fast backward, shoot straight, drop a bomb while hovering, safe takeoff, safe landing. I would lose a guy if they shot down my helicopter, or if I landed in the improper position. There was a line in the game that I could pass which was the safe zone. The enemy planes couldn’t shoot me if I were past that line. My little stick guys would rush out of the copter and into the headquarters building if I landed safely in my safe zone. I could only help four at a time, and had to return through hostile territory to help the others to safety. I worked my way up to being able to rescue 12 guys in each of three rounds before my three helicopter lives were used up. In six hours, I managed a score of over 1000 points.
At one point during the game, we stopped to rest for thirty minutes at a roadside rest stop. Malaysia has better than Interstate quality roads these days. They are 4 lane divided highways with large shoulders that band up and down the western side of the peninsula. The rest area was full of Chinese Restaurants and background music of Malaysian Pop Bands played REALLY LOUD. The bands were trying their best to imitate American pop bands, I suppose, and they pretty much sounded like them, only they sung in Bahasa Malaysia, the Malay language or in Chinese. I bought a mask from Sarawak, which is on the Island of Borneo across the South China Sea. There had been some ethic killings on Sarawak recently. People getting decapitated and whatnot nonsense. It’s a cheap tourist mask, to be sure, but I like the colors and patterns, and I’m collecting masks now that I bought one on my trip to Bali, the Hindu enclave in the world’s largest Muslim nation, in 1999. That was it for the bus ride. We got back to KL, said goodbye to Petra and Abudu, who disappeared back into the city of 2 million, and took the subway to a taxi and back to Julie and Ali’s. I showered off all that salt water, and dressed for my looming airplane ride: brown slacks and a long sleeve button down greenish shirt. Airplanes get cool and dry on long routes, and I was scheduled for a six and a half hour redeye commencing from 1:20AM on the 12th.
“The days dwindle down/to a precious few”
My bags packed and my body and mind refreshed, we went to an outdoor restaurant in the late evening. It consisted of stalls selling Indian, Iranian and Malay specialties. There were about 40 tables under a covered area. The menu signs were all in English, my favorite one said “we guarantee you fast service, no matter how long it takes!” Most of the signs, though, I couldn’t read as they were in Arabic. Most likely passages from the Koran, I assumed. I had some tandoori chicken and butter chicken with a scrumptious bit of roti bread, round, fat and very nice, to sop up all that buttery oil and curry. To top it all off, I had a mango lassi served, incredibly, in one of those two and a half liter beer steins you see if you drink in a beer hall anywhere in Germany. There was no way I could finish it. At the table next to us were two guys, one a Malay and the other, his friend, looked of Chinese extraction. It was gratifying to see, really, that Malaysia is a multi-linugal, multi-cultural society where freedom of religion is a very important part of the country, despite the rise of Muslim fundamentalism in some of the poorer northern parts of the peninsula. They were chatting in English to each other on this sultry night. Julie , Ali and I were all a bit tired from our trip to Tioman. Then, the Malay guy’s cellphone rang, most folks here have Nokias…they are everywhere and they are all manufactured here these days, along with most computers and hi tech stuff. We tried to ignore him as he talked, but he kept saying something about how first one plane hit, then another hit in the other building. Anyway, we were finished eating that delicious food, so I paid and we left…I had a cab to catch to the airport, which was still another hours’ drive away from where we were.
We drove over to Julie’s aunt and uncle’s house. They lived in a luxurious apartment in a part of KL where all the embassies are. The richest and most sumptuous part of town. Needless to say, Julie’s uncle is a very successful businessman. I was surprised, because I had met her aunt a week earlier, though I didn’t know it at first. The aunt had given me a ride to the Petronas towers, the second tallest towers in the world (China now has the tallest tower, in Shanghai, I think), which contains a gigantic, American style, American class shopping mall, all of six floors and possibly over 150 shops, including a 12 theater cineplex where I saw Kubrick/Speilberg’s A.I. for 3 US bucks. A.I. is set in a fictional futuristic New York City. The reason I didn’t recognize the aunt at first was that her head was uncovered. She wasn’t wearing the head covering that most devout Moslem Women wear in Malaysia, probably because she wasn’t out in public and maybe hadn’t expected us. She had beautiful long black hair, with heavy accents of gray, for she was, after all, somewhere in her early 60’s. Seemed a pity to keep that beautiful head of hair covered up, but that was her belief. I wondered why Julie never wore one, but her generation is obviously more liberal in its tolerance system. As we came in to the apartment, they led us to sit down and switched on the TV. They put CNN on. That’s when I saw first one plane hit, then another hit in the other building. Within 5 minutes, it was time for me to get into the cab for the drive to the airport. I stood outside with Julie, Ali, the aunt and uncle. My body was shaking. It was about midnight in KL, exactly 12 hours later than the real, non-A.I. N.Y.C. I shook Julie’s uncle’s hand, it was warm and firm. The aunt let me shake her hand, too. I said goodbye to Ali and tried to shake Julie’s hand, but she gave me a hug instead. I almost forgot to wave goodbye as the cab pulled away, because my body was still shaking. I tried to fix their four faces in my mind as I left. They were smiling, and I was smiling, or I imagine I was smiling, I can’t remember.
As I drove to KL International Airport, I couldn’t think of anything. We drove by the two towers, the Petronas towers. They were standing, the second tallest buildings in the world, the tallest twin towers in the world, encircled on several floors with beautiful lights, which nevertheless paled in comparison to Tioman’s magical milky way light show, but still, beautiful for their manmade attempt to recreate nature’s profound glory. The darkened highway was empty and we zoomed at 120kph, past Mosques silhouetted against the night sky, past neon signs in Chinese, Malay and English, with the occasional Tamil sign here and there, for there is also an Indian minority here. Just inside the lobby of the airport, again, were huge televisions, all tuned to CNN, and all surrounded by people watching first one plane hit, then the other hit the other building. I went to the toilet, which was situated next to a small prayer room for Muslims. My stomach was suddenly not so good. My appetite was gone. Later at the departure gate, I stood in line with the other Japanese returning to Nagoya. Next to our gate, we had to pass by a bunch of white South Africans heading back to Cape Town. Everyone boarding both flights was getting patted down in a newly meticulous search. First the arms, then the back torso and back legs, then the front torso and finally the front legs. I was asked to open all of my bags that I was carrying on the plane. I had to open a box of three clay cups I had bought for my family in the Petronas Towers mall a few days earlier. I had to unzip every pocket in my camera case, and pull out my video camera and show them that my telephoto lens was a telephoto lens. Then, as I entered the plane, I had to show my passport again, with its gold embossed cover, eagle with the thirteen olive leaves in one claw and thirteen arrows in the other claw, inky blue on the cover, like the night sky of Tioman. “Passport” above the eagle and “United States of America” in italics underneath the eagle. Then we, me and a plane full of Japanese and the sprinkling of Malays (the pilots, too, Malay as this was Malaysian Airlines) went shaking, or singing, up into the milky way obscured sky, turned to the northeast, I could see out of the left window seat near the rear of the plane those two towers again, such tall towers they were, twin towers, among the tallest in the world. Then, those two towers had passed away.
“And these few precious days/I’ll spend with you. These precious days I’ll spend with you.”
*Quoted lyrics from “September Song” Weill and M. Anderson
This morning I had a (one day late) 15-minute zoom-enabled 30th Anniversary “breakfast/lunch” with my lovely, cheery, and ever-energetic wife. Me in the UAE and she in Japan. Thousands of km apart…
To be honest, the sadness of the pandemic and the rush to open things 17 months before there’s a chance of a vaccine… just a bit too much for me.
I don’t usually wear my heart on my sleeve, but it’s aching right now.
For your convenience: a glossary of Dr. Larry-isms (I paid 70k for those damn two letters, let me have my vanity!), aka, my favorite ways to make quick notes or comments on shit that scrolls through the FB feed. BTW, fuck Zuck and fuck FB, but this is my only soapbox so there’s that. Make sure you print this out and tape it to the front of your computer / tablet / smart device for your reference. Print it out now before you read it. Stop stalling and print the damn thing…you know copy/paste into something and hit print. That color laser printer in the corner needs some use. If you want, color each point below a different color for variety, and you know, all that printer ink just sitting there. Jeez, go on eat some cheetos too, but watch out there’s onion powder in ’em. Or just watch this, instead, do I need to tell you everything?
Accurate – something that is way the fuck true. So true that you don’t even have time to shave. So true that that Japanese curry just needs a little more red chili powder so the burn in your mouth extends beyond each spoonful, although, hell yeah that piece of meat is better consumed via those aluminum chopsticks you just bought a few weeks back. So true that Patsy Cline and Lynyrd Skynyrd and Buddy Holly and Jane Russell would approve. So true that even Robert Mugabe would concede that everyone being a multi-mega-trillionaire just wasn’t helping.
Current Mood (and variations) – OMG I’m so fucking happy to have added a new pattern into my repertoire. Happy New Year 2020! A NEW DECADE! Just there’s literally a bug in the system and it has literally given us pause to gauge our mood. Shit, what’s gonna happen next? Is this just a 30-minute sitcom that will have resolution? OK, actually 22 minutes because of the fucking marketers…
A pause! A time to reflect! I mean, yeah, I grew up on sitcoms, so everything should be resolved quickly. Who isn’t having mood swings right now? Among all my FB brethren and sisthren there are the pray-ers, the drink-ers, the meme-ers, the political-ers, and the ones I least understand, those who keep it strictly personal with photos of their dogs and cats and living room furniture. Well fuck all that, I’m gonna cuss because there’s empirical research showing I’m a goddamn genius for doing so. Moody? Foody? Goody? Broody? This one I’m gonna milk for a very very long time.
Framing – George Lakoff. George Lakoff. George Lakoff. George Orwell. George Orwell. George Orwell. Lev Vygotsky. Lev Vygotsky. Lev Vygotsky. What do a modern day linguist, an anti-fascist fighter in the Spanish Civil War, and a Soviet educational psychologist have in common? Language is a way to make sense of a world where there’s no sense, until you dig down and see how language itself has been used and is still being used to bend minds, and souls, and morality, and pineapple on pizza. As a language teacher who has always paid attention to the “whose English, exactly, are we teaching?” debate, and keeping in mind Orwell’s lament of the death of hundreds of other languages as the worst legacy of colonialism and hegemony… well shit…sticks and stones may break your bones, but you are fucking wrong to think names will never hurt you, moron. STAY THE FUCK INSIDE.
Kwaheri – Kwaheri is Swahili for “Goodbye”. Straws aren’t destroying the earth, corporations are, and we are all complicit. Dire predictions, animal extinctions, stuff lost forever, like tears in rain … it’s all kwaheri, though it used to be adios.
Pearls – (found in many different phrased ways). Clutch clutch clutch. Remember, in these times, there is no bottom. None. NONE. Almost every day something even lower happens. Because of this new given, nothing that happens from this moment forward should surprise you. Those who want to see the world burn are also dragons, sitting on their piles of gold, the worst hoarders of all, and we are supposed to admire their success. Well, you know what? Framing. The rest of us are their servants in one way or the other. Deep inside me there’s an optimist, but like that speck of dirt that causes oysters to secrete whatever the fuck they secrete to form a pearl, that’s pretty much where I am personally. Also, I really was getting into the XFL because fuck the NFL. I will never learn, will I?
PSA – Public Service Announcements are usually sometimes actual real important serious things…or they aren’t. If you know me and my sense of humor, you’ll be able to tell them apart. It’s really my shorthand for saying… do you really NOT have the basic common sense and decency that this post is flagging? What the ever living fuck is WRONG with you? I think it’s me being Calvin and ranting at all the injustices I PERSONALLY AM SUFFERING. It’s maybe the sociopath in me (I have strong genes in that area sherioshly). Anyway, it’s something that you should take note of.
Zen – Use this as reference
Face it: the contradictions in the human condition baffle as much as they entertain. They make waffles as much as they use sump pumps on sailboats headed to St. Croix. You either try to connect it and control it, or you realize that all is well because nothing is under control. It’s why I’m a left-handed-ambidexterous Unitarian. Now go enjoy your snickers.
I did not eat tacos today. On taco Tuesday. On Cinco de Mayo. Forgive me. I had chocolate pudding And a can of Coke Zero Instead.
Down ahead of us at the junction There is a man standing, gesturing ambiguously What meaning he is attempting to communicate Can neither be told nor known exactly Though we are aboard this train, passengers by association We have forgotten its' destination (My Canadian friend emails About her recent visit to Auschwitz) We have forgotten a lot of things before us About that man standing, gesturing ambiguously And we have forgotten who Is at the control of the engine of this train A glance out of the train window and behind Reveals a dusty, ashen gray A conflagration of black and white and blood red and the blues A contamination of hate clouds the windows, obscures us from seeing The man's arms are moving But how to interpret the signal Puffs of smoke as if from a starters pistol But we defer untrained for these Olympics No dais to distinguish the 1-2-3 (all aboard!) We lurch and I grasp the safety handle And pull toward me what is most important (my girls) And misty-eyed from fear and grief We hope beyond hope that this train won't move on (the horns sound) Toward that junction And on to the next gray, loveless destination
Never mind the small apartment,
Or the vermin infestation.
Those things mattered little or not at all.
He did not care - for such trifles.
Ignoring. Ignored. Ignorant.
No. The time came when Mr. Wonderful was obliged to find his way through to the
Gateway Arch, St. Louis, Missouri: The Gateway to the next world!
Rather than walk, or drive, or take the train, or commute
Everyday, he chose just a single trip to Missouri.
My guess is, it was in the unmarked white panel van,
Adorned with nothing at all, parked facing away from outside the crematorium.
In fact, it’s not a guess.
Nothing about Mr. Wonderful was left to guesswork: only the appearance of the
Sadness that kept pulling him away from me, from us.
By most accounts, his Art spoke for him.
Unrepentantly unpracticed scribbles labelled “Green Eyes”, “The Red Lady”, “Self-Portrait”.
Throwaway-able: one and all. “Professional Art”, Greg, his neighbor, said.
Really, though, “Self-Portrait” expressed it well enough: a head with an
Empty face. Greg and Jane and Brian, all explained it:
Mr. Wonderful was charming, but ultimately you would notice,
As always, him holding something away. His face: Expressionless-in-Practice.
Isolating. Isolated. Isolation.
Not once could he face it, face us; so my brother and I, we helped push him.
St. Louis, Missouri - pushed his expressionless body through The Gateway to his next world.