Saturday, April 14, 2018

Don't Listen -- Don't Watch -- Try READING!



I have a suggestion for both my fellow "Liberals" and my "Conservative" friends (and, yes, I do have them.) Stop listening -- don't listen to Limbaugh, Hannity, Alex Jones, Ed : Schultz, Thom Hartmann or any of the dozens of voices squawking their one sided diatribes. Switch off FOX News, CNN, MSNBC and the other thinly veiled heavily spun sources of party propaganda. I have a unique suggestion... don't listen -- don't watch.... READ!!!

Policy discussion really should have no party affiliation. There are many intelligent ways of viewing the world. None of these viewpoints can be arrived at by name calling, paranoid conspiracy theories, fear, and illusion.

For those who identiby as Liberal (Progressive or just plain Democrat), I want to suggestion these sources to better understand the intelligent Conservative Viewpoint:

1. Outside the Beltway: Self described as "...an online journal of politics and foreign affairs analysis. For the most part, our views are Classical Liberal (Jim's Note: libertarian, that is): a strong belief in free trade, limited government, and respect for human rights. We aim to have informed, polite conversation about the issues we find interesting."

2. The National Review: Granted, I most often disagree with their basic premises, but their articles are well written, coherently argued and respectful.

For those who identify as Conservative (Libertarian or Republican), I heartily recommend:

1. Harper's Magazine: As described on their website, "... the oldest general-interest monthly in America, explores the issues that drive our national conversation, through long-form narrative journalism and essays." Harper's includes not only political commentary, but poetry, short fiction, book reviews, and possibly the hardest crossword type puzzle on the planet!

2. The Nation: Offered on the web as, "... the oldest continuously published weekly magazine in the United States, and the most widely read weekly journal of progressive political and cultural news, opinion, and analysis." Disambiguation -- Harper's is "general-interest" and The Nation is primarily commentary... both are the oldest in some sense of the word.

For both Lib-Pro-Dem and Con-Liber-Rep:

1. The Atlantic: If you lean Liberal, you'll think The Atlantic is conservative. If you're conservative, you'll think The Atlantic has a liberal bias. I've subscribed to this magazine for the better part of 40 years when I could afford magazine subscriptions. This magazine shares with Harper's the honor of the hardest crossword on the planet.

2. The Economist: "The Economist considers itself the enemy of privilege, pomposity and predictability. It has backed conservatives such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. It has supported the Americans in Vietnam. But it has also endorsed Harold Wilson and Bill Clinton, and espoused a variety of liberal causes: opposing capital punishment from its earliest days, while favouring penal reform and decolonisation, as well as—more recently—gun control and gay marriage." Whether you perceive the articles in The Economist as left or right leaning, will tell you more about your own bias than that of the magazine.


As a general guide, if your source of political news spends more time talking about what the "other side" thinks, you are falling for the "straw man" rhetorical fallacy and your source is trying to manipulate you. If your source of political news make the opposing side sound scary, they're using appeal to fear, and again, just trying to manipulate you. There is no absolute truth and there are many paths to happiness and prosperity. There's one sure path to chaos, and that's failure to communicate.

This Wikipedia page is a good guide to perceived bias in media. Check out your favorite sites.




Monday, January 15, 2018

A Set of Beliefs on Interesting Questions - A Response

Just in case you're expecting Buzzfeed, Reddit, or Gawker, you're in the wrong spot. This is just a humble response -- maybe an extension -- to another humbly offered blog entry:

Big Thick Glasses Blog

I encourage you to read this entry... and to think about it. In fact, read it first -- otherwise, my blog won't make much sense.

There are no dancing babies (I really don't like the dancing babies), or cute cats (I really DO like cute cats.) But I think we spend way too much time mindlessly absorbing entertaining images and much too little time in looking inward.

I'm going to split this into two blog entries. The first, this one, will offer some extensions, challenges, and critique of BTG's (Big Thick Glasses) original post, one item at a time. The questions in this blog are BTG's. Here goes.

Have we been visited by Aliens; are UFOs alien spacecrafts?

There has not yet been credible, tangible evidence to indicate the UFOs are alien spacecrafts. Photos are invariably blurred and likewise, videos. We're like the movie character that states some insane hypothesis then proves it with the observation, "There's no other explanation." In this case, there are always many reasonable alternative explanations. 

I'm inclined to agree with BTG's summation that it's unlikely that we've been visited by alien life forms, mostly for the reason stated that we're simply not interesting enough. We've barely progressed beyond hammering coconuts with stones, or hurling stones at one another -- we just have a machine to hammer the coconut and guns to hurl stones faster!

This said, when I think of our own curiosity which drives us to study, for example, sharks, I'm somewhat more likely to believe that an alien entity might be curious about this murderous, mentally inferior, albeit clever, society. However, I don't think they'd drive their flying saucers here on the intergalactic freeway. I would be more likely to believe that an advanced intelligent life form would have found their way around time and space.

Are “Near Death Experiences” (NDEs) real?--i.e., are they an indication there is a life beyond this one?

While I don't see any reason to doubt that NDEs are "real", I think there's considerable wiggle room when we think about what they are. They seem to be inspiring and, in some cases, life changing for most people who have experienced them. They are "something".

I had an experience recently while recovering from surgery. I'll preface this with the admission that I had taken pain medication -- Tramadol, some powerful stuff -- but it was a small dose and I don't think can be the sole agent of this phenomenon.

I had fallen to sleep in the recliner in our living room... the TV was on and I was alone in the house. I woke up and felt that I needed to visit the restroom. So, I got up from the chair and began the short trip to the bathroom... but halfway across the floor, I happen to glance back at the recliner and was shocked to realize that I WAS STILL THERE! Then, I was back in the chair, realized I must be dreaming and began trying to wake up -- but I could not. A this point, I began fearing I was actually dead and this was an NDE. I had to fight to wake up. All this occurred with the clarity of everyday experience and it left me feeling confused and disturbed. This experience, while NOT and NDE, was certainly "real", but as far as meaning, I don't believe there is any deep meaning. It was just interesting.

Is there intelligent, conscious, advanced life in the Universe outside of Earth?

The Universe is so vast and our knowledge is so pitifully scant, I think we're hardly qualified to determine what is and what is not conscious, advanced life -- or even whether intelligence and consciousness has to inhabit a matter based structure. 

That there are humanoid beings with heads and eyes and arms and who walk around and communicate with words... this I doubt. Even just looking around our own planet, there are relatively few species that followed this evolutionary path. And, conversely, there are some REALLY strange paths that were taken in species that have survived for eons.

In addition, the property which we call "intelligence" has been around for only a flash in cosmic terms. There's no evidence that it's stable in evolution. The principle of regression to the mean suggests that overall intelligence will diminish and, as an aggregate, humans will become stupider and stupider, as in Mike Judge's film, "Idiocracy".

Will the human race create AGI?

I think it's inevitable that AGI will be created... but the machines themselves will do it. And, I'm not sure we'll recognize it when they do. Considering that we are only beginning to understand cognitive behavior in our fellow carbon based species on earth, I really doubt that we'll understand a silicon based consciousness that operates at a rate trillions of times faster than our own cognition. If this is going to happen, it will happen with the force of evolution and we'll be powerless to stop it.

Will we enter a post human phase where AGI machines and biological human bodies are combined in some manner (for example, like Star Trek’s “Cyborgs)?

 On this question... NO. There's just no evolutionary avenue that leads here. AGI machines would have no use for the "ugly bags of mostly water" as humans are described by an alien life force on Star Trek. 

Is consciousness generated entirely within and by the brain, or is the brain (acting as an antenna) and picking it up from a pervasive consciousness “field” of some kind?

Professor Digby Tantum, Clinical Professor of Psychotherapy, at the University of Sheffield,
has been in the news recently for suggestion human brains are connected by a sort of WiFi which allows us to pick up considerably more information that we are consciously aware of. This, in itself, is not the consciousness field, but does help explain much "intuition" or the validity of first impressions.

However, this story came to me from two persons, who did not know each other, and had never heard this story from the other. Both were daughters of mothers with whom they were closely emotionally connected, not always for the better. Both daughters mothers died unexpectedly in the middle of the night. Both daughters said they woke at the time of their respective mother's deaths saying it felt like someone just snapped a rubber band on their neck. Clearly, this can't be scientifically verified as it would be impossible to collect a test sample, let alone to create a control group. It's disturbing, though, that both women described that experience so similarly.

Here's another anecdotal incident that suggests a strange interconnect. When I was in high school, I had a macabre dream that I was at a football game. I walk past the open backed bleachers and saw a persons detached legs... no body! I couldn't stop thinking about this strange dream. My second period class was Chemistry. I was seated just within earshot of two other students and heard their conversation. One student was relating a strange dream that under the bleachers of a football stadium, he had a found a BODY WITH NO LEGS. I was stunned... I had not told anyone about this dream. This was long before internet, or the 24 hour news cycle that might carry the story of such an actual event, and this certainly wasn't a plot line on "I Love Lucy". So... what happened here? I'll never know.

If there is a universal connection, I don't think it's "paranormal". It's just that we don't understand consciousness at all! We don't understand existence or our situation at all, so it's not surprising that we are ignorant of the consciousness WiFi, if it exists. If the human species can survive long enough, I think we will understand, and when we do, no understanding will be necessary.

One more thought -- it's seems to me that the walling off of our individual consciousness is necessary for survival of the species. If we were intimately connected with all others -- if we actually could "feel" what they "feel", then it would not be possible to make the selfish decisions necessary for daily survival. 

Is there a God (or gods)?


I'm not sure what this means. No -- I don't think there's and interventionalist God... that prayers are like letters to Santa Claus... if you just pray hard enough, you'll get your bicycle or your team will win, etc. This is a childishly egotistical belief that the Universe will change just so your individual desires or needs can be attended.

I don't think any sort of Omnipotent and Omniscient God is possible... if God is Omnipotent and Omnicient, then God can't be defined, because to define is to limit. A limited God can't be Omnipotent and Omniscient. So, God can't be defined, and therefore, I can't believe in something that can't be defined!

All this said, I feel connected (see previous question) to the Universe in some non-verbal, intuitive, inherent manner, and that all is as it should be. I don't pray FOR things... but I often try to listen. It's amazing what you hear when you shut up.

Is there life after death?; Does our consciousness continue on after our bodily death?
 

I don't know and I don't know that there's any way to determine the answer. The TV Series, "The AO", dealt with a "mad scientist" who was trying to establish contact with the afterlife by forcing NDEs on test subjects. It made for good TV, but not much of a real avenue of research.

I think Pascal's Wager is totally invalid. Belief in something such as God, afterlife, salvation, etc., is NOT a matter of decision. Just SAYING that one believes is much different that actually believing. A God that's worth believing in would certainly know the difference between the true believer and the gambler.

Regardless, I think what happens after death is not a matter of belief. I think it happens to all who die... and it will happen to me, no matter what I make up to prepare for the event. It's very comforting to think of being reunited with loved ones.

Hell is clearly a concept concocted by early religious leaders to frighten ignorant adherents into following church doctrine without question. In the Bible, Jesus never once talks about eternal damnation. In fact, Gehenna, the Hebrew word from which "Hell" is derived refers to the place where Kings of Judea sacrificed children. It was also a term for the burning trash heap maintained outside cities in biblical times and into which executed criminals were thrown -- ergo, "burn in hell".

Personally, I've rejected organized religion and "The Church". I do think there's some value in these group insofar as they serve to help the poor, sick and disadvantaged. The evil done by the few -- the mega-church, tel-evangelists, the cult leaders, and the cult of personality -- should not be expanded to condemn all churches. In my adult life, the only church that I have found satisfying is the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship which I attended for a few years prior to my move from Kansas to Texas. I coundn't find a suitable replacement in Texas and consequently stopped trying. I think a personal pursuit of spiritual growth is essential and an organization does little to advance this pursuit after a certain point... that point at which one must lead, not follow.

... to be continued...
 






Monday, August 7, 2017

Making Life Easier Part 2

In case you did not read Part 1 of this series which explains how I'm a curmudgeon and have graciously decided to share the wisdom of my years with hapless young whippersnappers... well... I don't have time to waste, whippersnapper. Go back and read part 1!

Anyone who travels on (or more accurately, parks on) Mopac, IH-35, or Austin's other "freeways" is familiar with several concepts: frustration, road rage, more frustration, stupidity, and more frustration.

There is one question that no one can answer. Why does traffic on these "expressways" frequently come to a complete halt. Yes... occasionally, there's a reason. An accident has bottle-necked two lanes into one. A stalled car, or other road hazard slows traffic.

Monday, December 12, 2016

"Pick It Up" - The Stories Behind the Songs



"Pick it Up": The Stories Behind the Song

Baker's Half Dozen

Mickey Baker was, of course, a greatly influential guitarist, most famous for his Groove Records hit, "Love is Strange", with Sylvia Robinson. The song was written by Bo Diddley and features a nine note Baker guitar lick.
By the time "Love is Strange" peaked on the charts in November 1957, I had been the young, mystified owner of a Roy Rodgers motif guitar for about a year. I had already learned all the songs in the book that came with the guitar, "Red River Valley", "Home on the Range", and a dozen others.
When I heard that rippin' Baker lick, I was pretty sure that was the path for me. I wasn't sure how he made his guitar sound like that, but I knew I could pick out that lick. I did and was on my way to what quickly became an addiction to pickin' out licks.
Mickey Baker had another role in my development as a guitarist. This influence came through his book, "Jazz Guitar I", which I was given sometime around 1960. The book is not a "song" based approach, but rather just presents dozens of chords, along with a good explanation of why a G7b5b9, for example, is so named. Also, he shows arpeggios, exercises, and some jazzy licks – just what young fingers need to develop. The chords comped behind the solos in "Baker's Half Dozen" are entirely comprised of chords I learned from "Jazz Guitar I".

I Crossed the Line

A clear reference to "I Walk the Line", I intended this song to be a tribute to the Cash style. The story is of a young person who, in envy of material possessions, starts a long slide from which leads to an apparent shooting that earns him a death sentence. It's an allegory for all the decisions we make that "cross the line" and the consequences that follow.

You Could Have Fooled Me

This is an implied "cheatin'" song. "I never really loved you" is offered up to explain why the straying party feels justified in the affair. The one who is left loses not only his home, but his memories of better times – apparently, he was just deluded. Also, I wanted a groove like "Silver Wings" and the band delivered a great one.

This Time It's Different

Gotta have the killin' song. Each year for Austin's annual "Dead Sweethearts Ball", I've written a killin' song. I do not subscribe to domestic violence – it's a terrible thing. However, it is fun to write about from a safe distance. In this song, inspired by all those murder shows on tv, I hope the first time listener is led to believe that "this time he's not coming home" because he ran off with some barroom floozy. Not so, we learn later in the song. The wronged wife follows and executes that spouse and his lover. She expects to be caught and punished, but he just went a little too far. This is Waylonesque two beat/waltz in the fashion of "Amanda"… we love ya', Waylon.

Pick It Up

I've always been an admirer of O'Henry style irony in a story. In this song, I made up a character, Carl, who sells pencils on a corner. He respects money – it's hard to come by – so much so that he'll chase a runaway penny down the street. But when he uncovers a lottery ticket worth $50,000, he becomes disdainful of the value of a penny and just leaves one lying on the ground… and he pays a stiff price. There's a pretty clear moral to this story – but the song ends abruptly ahead to disclosing this moral.

Deep Fat Fried

When I was young, almost all food was prepared by frying… chicken, steaks, okra, potatoes. With the introduction of modern deep fat fryers, you might be led to believe that all food is friable. I've played a dozens of state fairs and have seen a dizzying array of deep fat edibles, from funnel cake, to deep fat fried Oreos.
Musically, this song aurally references Merle Travis' talkin' blues like "Smoke that Cigarette", or "So Round, So Firm", with a little Travis-picked intro.

Bartender, Tell Me

Overheard in a bar as I was setting up for a gig: "Hey, bartender… where's the liquor store?" It just seemed like a button waiting to have a coat sewn onto it…. so, I took it upon myself to write that song. Also, this song is a recollection of how the lyrics of country tunes suddenly take on deep meaning when you find that you're the flapper on the chicken wing of love.
The groove of "Bartender…" is the result of a study of Willie Nelson's early shuffles such as "Undo the Right"… drums and bass settle into a nice shuffle, held in place by the piano. The rhythm guitar hits evenly on every beat, as opposed to the usual 2-4 accents. It's a difficult groove to establish and the entire band does a great job with it.

Note to Self

Once again, if you listen to you audience, you'll pick up some song titles. One night, during a gig with The Texas Hummingbirds, my bandmate, Karen Poston, announced to the crowd that we would be back the following week. I heard a disgruntled girl, clearly expecting something more than the stripped down, "family singing" group that was the Texas Hummingbirds, say a little too loudly, "Note to self: don't go." Although the lyrics have nothing to do with drunk sorority sisters, her calendar commentary became the hook line of the song.
That's not all, though. I've always remembered to introduction to the early self-help book, "I'm OK, You're OK", in which the author tells a story of a potential reader who refuses to read the book, saying, "I ain't livin' nearly as good as I already know how." The character in this story KNOWS better, but he's like dieter with a quart of ice cream in the freezer… he just can't stop himself.
T Jarrod Bonta establishes the song's groove with a piano lick similar to that in Gene Watson's "14K Mind". This is topped with a little Les Paul inspired intro lick.

(Chicken Pickin') the Hen, Pt. 1

This is the one song on "Pick It Up" that I didn't write, but, in a way it's the inspiration for the entire project.
I first heard this song when I was surfing the web for tunes that were issued on Stan Lewis' labels, Jewel and Paula. I found "The Hen, Pt. 1" on YouTube and it just blew my socks off… a great B-3 led funky tune with sax lead and a great jazz/blues guitar solo. However, there was no clue as to the players except the mysterious Louis Chachere on B-3.
So I dug around for additional information – where it was recorded, when it was recorded, and who were the other players. I had assumed these were New Orleans guys… possibly associated with The Meters, or some other well know funk-masters in a hired gun role.
Finally, I got a tip when I learned that Louis Chachere had produced a single by a late 60s girl group called "The Trinikas" – and that it had been recorded in Kansas City at The Cavern (recording studio), the same studio in which I had recorded in 1970. A little further digging revealed that Chachere had played regularly at a club in KC during that time. The guitar player was none other than Calvin Keys, and KC veteran, Dwight Foster played sax. The drummer was known only as "Woodchuck". I don't know how let slip by the opportunity to hear this band at the time.

Wrong John

Yet another club experience. Small crowd… I asked if John was there and 12 of 18 people responded. But each was the WRONG JOHN. It has nothing to do with selecting the correct restroom, by the way. Yet another parable about fixing yourself before you think another relationship is going to do the trick.

I Am, Therefore I Drink

The Latin translation would be "Sum ergo Bebe" and it just follows as a corollary to Rene Descartes' "Critique of Pure Reason… I think therefore I am." I assume a little intelligence on the part of the listener, since there's not a lot in this song. My favorite part is the bridge which explains the many reasons a person might drink. We generally leave out the coda when we play this live since the lyrics are too hard to remember.

It's Not What I Need

I bought at Fender Jazzmaster a couple years back, knowing I really didn't need this guitar, but I'd always thought it was Fender's best design. It wasn't really a bad choice, but the same mechanism that resulted in inducting this guitar into my twang arsenal can lead us to eat/drink too much, buy those impulse items at the store, get into questionable relationships and so on… you get the picture? If not, listen to the song.

Barely Legal

"Barely Legal" was originally created for a Bear Family compilation. The requirement was that each song had to have "Bear" in the title. I don't know why it didn't end up on the comp, but I think it makes a good addition to "Pick It Up".

That's What Friends are For

I wrote this just because I thought it was funny. I wanted a Carl Smith "Hey Joe" type tune. I often poll the audience after this song to ask which men and which women can identify with this tune in which a guy offers to look after his friend's sweetheart – his motives are questionable. No one ever raises his or her hand. I tell the audience that this confirms my hypothesis: "All men are liars, all women are angels."
Musically, this carries on the Tunesmith's groove, along with a Maddox Brother's unruly studio mob hollering during solos.

Pick It Up, Epilogue

This record was seriously delayed by an accident that left me unable to walk for a several weeks… but I recovered, a little worse for wear, but pretty mobile. Anyway… it's good to be alive.

-Jim Stringer

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Groove 101

Stringer's Groove 101

These are songs that, to my way of thinking, really drive home the concept of "groove", and I think all players, beginner and experienced alike, could learn from studying just how this feel was created in each song.


1. "You Can't Sit Down", 

Phil Upchurch. From the first trumpet screech to the last chord on the B3, this recording JUMPS!!! Everytime it listen to it, I get the same old chill that I got the first time I heard it. It sounds LOUD, and wild and yet extremely well played. I know every player in the band understood exactly what the objective was and did not have to be told how to achieve it. One of the my favorite things about the performance is that after the drum solo, the drums stop and the organ brings that band back in! Great turn around on the cliche.

2. "Honky Tonk", Bill Doggett.

 A masterpiece of understatement. Beginning with the most ubiquitous blues guitar lick of all time (da-DANG-da-DANG...), then a whole chorus of just the organ pumping chords beneath that lick. Billy Butler and Clifford Scott play scorching solos, paradigms of the genre, but the groove never gets in the way... always just drawing you further in. Most musicians lean too hard when they try to cover (or copy) this tune like they're sawing logs in the hot sun, when they should be sittin' on the porch drinkin' a big ol' mint julep.

3. "Hideaway", Freddy King. 

Once again, a masterful bit of understatement. Drummers -- this is what a back-beat double shuffle should be -- not a bunch of cymbals ringing, nor a snare drum resounding like colliding trains! I love how the piano punctuates, but never takes over the groove, which happens all too easily. And of course, there's the Peter Gunn straight 8's forced over the shuffle. A really brilliant band effort.

4. "Mustang Sally", Wilson Pickett and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section

Overplay can make a song into a cliche. But in my experience, there are few players that can capture the relentless, but subtle groove established by Roger Hawkins ever in the pocket, and never over the top drumming, enhanced by Jimmy Johnson's guitar riffing. I saw Wilson Pickett live several times and though his show had the energy of a tent revival, the traveling band could never quite match the subtle mastery of the Swampers.

5. Love and Happiness, Al Green

A close call here... "Take Me to the River" is a great groove also, but I think this track is carried more by the song structure, whereas "Love And Happiness" stands on just the groove and is harder to reproduce in its delicate balance in tempo, interplay between Teenie Hodges riff, and Howard Grimes drums, smooth as an ice rink. Not technically part of the "groove", Teenie Hodges eight note intro lick, simple and memorable, sets up the whole song. Maybe guitarists should more often ask themselves, "What would Teenie do?"

6. Rip it Up, Little Richard with Earl Palmer

My experience playing this song is the the drummer will start banging on cymbals -- because after all, we're rippin' it up, right. But Earl Palmer on drums is the key to this groove... he does it with his snare drum until, restraining from cymbals until the sax solo. Bassist Frank Fields and guitarist Edgar Blanchard, both Dave Bartholomew alums, pretty much follow Palmer's lead and create yet another relentless, yet restrained groove. Few bands have the discipline to apply themselves as one to create such a memorable groove. "Lucille" is a close challenger for this list, again, largely due to Palmer's incredible New Orleans beat. Also, Little Richard's piano is a strong contributor. Also, interestingly, The Everly Brother's version of "Lucille" is a contender largely due to the incredible ride cymbal pattern -- likely Buddy Harman. In addition, the track is adorned by a pedal steel solo!

7. Cleanup Woman, Betty Wright, Clarence "Little Beaver" Hale

This track is such a great example of dividing the groove. The guitars and bass are rhythmically complex -- so the drums must be simple. I would listen to this groove played without any vocal or horn section for the entirety of the song -- it's that fascinating. Players who have tried covers of "Cleanup Woman" know how difficult it is to hold tempo throughout. If this gets even a tiny bit faster or slower, the dancability is ruined. Guitarists "Little Beaver" and Jerome Smith (KC and the Sunshine Band, believe it or not) establish the groove, but it would become tiresome if the drums didn't hold it down. Interestingly, Betty Wright recorded a lot of material, and though she has a beautiful voice with a 4 octave range, but she never recreated the magic of this track which though associated with her name, was not actually about the vocal, lyrics, etc.

How to Make Up a Story for Kids (and Grandkids)

How to Make Up a Story for Kids (and Grand kids)

by Jim Stringer on Sunday, April 4, 2010 at 3:59pm ·

How to Make up Stories for Your Kids (and Grand kids) 


I'm going to tell you how to make up stories for your kids, grandkids, etc., that they'll love and will forever etch out your place in their lives. In addition, these stories will put ‘em to sleep at bedtime, and keep them as quiet as a Packard straight-eight when in the car. 

I don't have an English Degree... never wrote a novel. My skills in this department were initially garnered from my Dad who told me similar bedtime stories when I was a kid, permanently damaging my mind, no doubt. I then honed this creative cutting edge with stories for my own three kids. Now I’ve extended into grandkids, nieces and nephews… even other people’s kids, so watch out. 

This is a recipe, or a template, not a fill in the blank. You have to make up the characters, plot, dialog, etc. It requires little or no skill, effort, imagination or intelligence… perfect for the average, worn out, nearly brain-dead working parent. 

1. The characters 
First and foremost, the characters are your kids. If you have two or more kids, they still need all to be in the story. It’s no harder for the most part. 

Second, each kid has an animal friend. My own kids had Morris and Nadine D’Taquinbunee (Rabbits of French extraction), Paul and Pauly Possum, Randy The Squirrel… grandson Cooper’s best friend is Alan the Alligator. They all live in the neighborhood and go to the same schools. 

Third, they meet others, most often elves or other animals. They are usually a little skeptical of these new acquaintances, but always make friends. 

2. The Setting 
It always starts in the morning at home. Main character decides to go to animal friend’s house to cook up some activity. The story may leave the home setting – if they do leave, then the more insanely removed from home, the better. One of my kids Morris and Nadine stories always started with a ride on a green Honda motorcycle to a little grassy spot where Morris and Nadine liked to hang out. Cooper and Alan the Alligator often travel on flying jet skis to underwater locales, other planets, etc. However the plots are always equally mundane. The Story ALWAYS ends with the kids saying goodbye to their animal friend, and always involve eating dinner, getting ready for bed and going to sleep. The stories don’t end (like “they lived happily ever after”), they just go to sleep and wake up the next day, in the next story. 

3. The Plot 
As mentioned in #2, mundane is perfectly fine. They may go to the bakery to get a donut, look for colored rocks, learn a dance, make up a song (I’ll have a future note on writing songs for your kids), build a fort… or any of the things your kids have actually done that day. In one of my recent stories for grandson, Mason, we went to Allen Field House at KU, just as we had actually done that day… but in the story, they asked him (and his animal friend, Ollie the Otter – he likes otters) to play on the team to take an injured players place. Of course, then they came home, ate dinner and went to sleep.

4. Don’t be bound to outcome 
Probably, you won’t even have to make up much of the plot… your kids will continually chime in with, “…and then they…”. Just go with it… repeat what they said and add another line like “…and you know what they saw?” They’ll probably tell you. It’s not Steinbeck. 

5. Names 
For some reason, animal friends in my stories often have alliterative names (Alan the Alligator, Ollie the Otter) and the kids seem to like that. However, the elves and development characters usually have more forgettable (you don’t have to remember them from story to story), but ridiculous names. Elves might be “Pffflllght” (Bronx cheer), Poohpocklenut, Ba-dip-ba-dip-ba-dip-Bill, or Jeeeeeeeeeeyum (say ALL the long e’s.) It makes ‘em laugh. 

6. No-no’s 
Nothin’ scary -- at least not really scary. The ghosts turn out to be friendly; monsters invite them home for Chinese checkers, etc. 

Nobody gets hurt unless it’s a scrape on the knee that your main character actually received that day… you get the picture. 

Nobody gets lost, at least not that they can’t find their way out of easily. 

Don’t moralize… you can work some good behavior into the plot, but these stories should be fun. They’ll spot the propaganda (besides the eating dinner and going to bed at the end of the story.) 

7. Series 
Kids also like continuity. The characters can remember things they did in other stories, meet some of the same characters, visit the same places, or draw on their experience from other stories. Repetition makes your job easier, and they’ll help you because they’ll remember every tiny detail! 

8. Finally, some hints for props 
My kids like motorcycles, bicycles that turned into jets, bicycles that turned into horses (particularly magic, talking horses), skateboards that turned into space ships. They also always like finding hidden things, no matter how mundane, although these everyday items often turn out to be magic. 

Also, the kids like having things from their real, everyday life thrown in randomly. Like, Mason’s shirt gets wet swimming with Ollie Otter, so he puts on the new shirt his mom bought him that day. 

The perk for you, the parent, is that telling stories to (with) your kids will make you closer… and they’ll like you a little more. Make your bedtime stories a little more boring and the kids will go right to sleep… make the car stories longer… you’ll have the quietest ride of your life. Good luck. 
--Reprinted from my original "note" on Facebook.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

After the 2016 Election

Yesterday was election day and today, I'm immensely depressed. Songwriter that I am, I often find inspiration in loss -- and today, I'm inspired, therefore, I write.

The results of the "election" verify what we've suspected -- our country is deeply polarized. It's hard to imagine a more clear cut choice that Trump vs. Clinton. The results clearly delineate the two sides and it's very evenly divided -- the popular vote was roughly 50%-50% with Clinton slightly ahead.

By examining the exit polls:

If you are a white woman with a college degree, you voted for Clinton, 51% to 43%. If you are a white woman with no college degree, you voted for Trump, 62% to 34%.

If you are a white male with a college degree, you voted for Trump, 54% to 39%. If you are a white man with no college degree, you voted for Trump 72% to 23%.

ALL other groups sampled, women and men, college or no college, voted overwhelmingly for Ms. Clinton.

For the record, I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary, and in the general election, I voted for Ms. Clinton. Clearly, I'm out of step with my peer group -- college educated white male.

I have voted for the progressive candidate in every election of my adult life. I would follow this path again without question and I just can't understand why this is not, by a large measure, the majority position.

So... here's the subject of my rumination: why have I been so consistently out of step with the majority in my peer group?

The first clue lies in the fact that I'm writing a blog, unlikely to be read by anyone (other than myself when I look back to see how clever I am), and equally as unlikely to sway anyone's opinion. I should be out forming my fantasy football team (whatever that entails), making business deals to fatten my investment portfolio, shootin' some animals, spittin' on the floor, swaggering. Pretty large clue.

Second clue -- I have chosen for a large percentage of my life to study, write and perform a music often associated with uneducated, white men. I have a particular distaste for mass marketed music of the past 20 years. Only a musician who has chosen this trail can appreciate how isolated is this route!

And third, I'm 68 years old, three grown children, five grand-kids, one on the way... and still seeking relevance. One of the stunning revelations of aging -- not that your body and mind can fail, that you get wrinkled and saggy. Yes that.... but the isolation you feel from your culture. I don't "get" new music; most modern movies seem trivial and uninteresting; great new literature is seemingly non-existent. And conversely, younger people don't get my lyrics or my music; if they read my blog entries, they lose interest after a few sentences (ironically, if this applies to you, you'll never read this sentence); they've never even heard of the people who have shaped my life, or the events that swept me up and dropped me where I stand now.

So... I can't understand how this election was not a clear choice for Hillary Clinton. How could this result possibly follow in a society to which I belong.

And there's the last clue to the source of my feeling of isolation -- that I continually expect reason to prevail. That superstition, bias and prejudice will recede. That people will make choices based upon enlightened self-interest, anticipated consequences of their actions, and willingness to accept delayed gratification. That critical thinking will displace knee-jerk reactions.

That's why I remain, as always -- 

Jim                                       vs.                            Jim's peer group