Just a note

I have missed this site. I think I may start writing blog entries again soon. I went back and read some of my old blogs, and they honestly weren’t too bad – or at least I’m not ashamed of them.

Go figure.

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A little break

This is to say that I won’t be posting regularly to my blogs (WordPress / Tumblr / Blogger) for a while. Recovery is a little more tiring than I thought it would be, and with my return to work earlier this month, I find that I just come home and collapse into a little heap in the evenings, rather than being industrious and turning out page after page of wit and wisdom.

I’m sure that, once my recovery is mostly completed, I will return to a regular schedule. In the meantime, thanks to all who have read and commented here.

Sorting

sorting


When you’re recuperating from an illness, you find yourself with time on your hands. If you’re like me, you begin to clean and organize things. Photos and receipts and greeting cards pile up over the months and years, and it’s nice to go through them once in a while.

 

 

Receipts and greeting cards are easy to throw away, but photos are a little more difficult. I find that I’ve taken too many overexposed photos of Beautiful Scenery over the years, and it’s easy to toss most of them in the trash. When there are people in the photos, however, I hesitate, as if they exert some magical hold on me. Might some hypothetical future descendant muse over these photos, wondering at how distant and mysterious we were?

 

 

Well, hm. First of all: what descendants? Apart from a few mangy stuffed animals, I have no kids. I keep in touch with a few members of the next generation of my family, but none of them seems impassioned about family history.

 

 

Also, the sad truth is that objects like photos are not generally magical. I pull out old theater stubs and concert programs, examine them with regret, and toss them in the trash. They may have been magical for a little when then they were new, but time has taken their magic away. Photos are a little different, but even they lose their immediacy after a few decades.

 

 

How do you react when you see a photo of a distant ancestor? Curiosity, maybe; regret that you will never get to know them; sadness that things pass and people die. I think always of those family-reunion photos in which the kids are lying on the floor up front, clowning for the camera, and the older generations stand ranked behind them, with the oldest of all scrunched against the wall in back. I realized some years ago that (without ever quite realizing it) I had suddenly become one of those pale oldsters in the back of the photo – some forgotten great-uncle, what’s-his-name, the one who moved to Rhode Island and lived with another man and had no kids.

 

 

Forgotten.

 

 

Well, hm.

 

 

Get to work sorting and labeling those photos, kids!

 

 

Maybe someone will remember you after you’re gone.


 

Ukulele

ukulele


I wrote not long ago about my stupid notion that I might learn to play the acoustic guitar. Listen, if teenage rockers can do it, why not an old fart like me? But upon consideration, I had an even better idea. Why not the ukulele instead?
 
Reasons:

 

 

  • Ukuleles are smaller than acoustic guitars.
  • Ukuleles are cheaper than acoustic guitars.
  • Ukuleles have only four strings compared to six on an acoustic guitar, which ought to make them 33% easier to play.
  • Ukuleles are cuter than acoustic guitars.
  • The sound of a ukulele has far less carrying power than that of an acoustic guitar, which means you irritate less people if you play it badly.

 

 

And so forth.
 
So I shopped around online. Being a cheapskate, I bought one from Amazon for thirty-five dollars. It’s adorable. Everyone online warned me that cheap ukuleles go out of tune easily, which has turned out to be true, but it’s shiny and playable, and tuning it is good practice.

 

 

 

In a few days I learned half-a-dozen chords. I am relieved that the instrument has a soft voice; I can go in my room and close the door and strum away – out of tune or not – and not bother a soul, not even Partner in the next room. My arthritic old fingers still refuse to dance up and down the strings, but – with time – who knows?

 
(Now – would anyone like to hear a nice spirited rendition of ‘Hawaiian War Chant’?)

 

 

(No one?)


 

Death threat

death threat


My doctor talked recently about the shock of receiving a cancer diagnosis. “One of my other patients,” she said, “compared it to peacefully mowing the lawn on a summer day and then suddenly being hit by a garbage truck that runs off the road. Where did that come from?” (Amen, amen.) “But it’s not like a murder, or a death sentence. It’s a death threat. Keep that in mind. Nothing can ever be the same afterward, but it’s only a threat, not a sure thing.”

 

Once more: amen, amen.

 

To be sure, life itself is a death sentence, last I looked. But most of us manage to keep ourselves blinkered, blissfully looking the other way. Once the word ‘cancer’ enters the conversation, however, things become altogether more serious, and more real. Life becomes far more precious. Those we love become far more precious. Death is a curtain with something mysterious on the other side – maybe something nice, maybe something nasty, maybe nothing at all – but all of a sudden I have very little interest in finding out. I’m far more interested in exploring the things Partner and I haven’t done and seen, the places we still want to go. We used to joke that we’d better travel while we’re both still ambulatory. Now the joke isn’t quite so funny anymore.

 

Hunger, they say, makes food taste better. Maybe the awareness of mortality makes us realize how sweet the things of daily life are.

 

 

And I am lucky: lucky to have had a life full of beautiful things, lucky to have known so many crazy difficult wonderful people, lucky to have traveled to so many places, lucky to have found Partner, lucky to have him with me at this awful time.
 
Most of all I am lucky to have Partner in my life. I am lucky to have someone to love who loves me back.

 

How could I ever want to give up so many lovely things?

 

From A. A. Milne:

 

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”


 

Thinking, fast and slow; or, Nancy Grace and Dan Abrams

fast and slow thinking


 

In his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” Daniel Kahneman posits that we humans, as mammals/primates, have two different decision-making systems in our brains. There’s a “fast” system, which does quick evaluations on the basis of likelihood and present evidence, and makes a quick decision. There is also a “slow” system, which takes time and evaluates more carefully.

 

 

 

The “fast” system is useful for emergencies. The “slow” system is useful for – well, just about everything except emergencies.

 

 

 

Sadly, most of us use the “fast” system for everything, which means that – for us – the obvious reason seems always to be the right reason. Even more sadly, we rationalize these “fast” decisions: we take our quickly-drawn conclusions and try to justify them mock-logically.

 

 

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it’s just silly.

 

 

 

Which brings me to Dan Abrams and Nancy Grace.

 

 

 

For whatever reason, ABC’s “Good Morning America” often uses these two as tandem commentators on court cases in the news. Dan is reasoned and careful and takes the law into account. Nancy, on the other hand, always knows immediately who’s to blame and mocks Dan for not following her lead.

 

 

 

See? Dan is slow-thinking. Nancy is fast-thinking.

 

 

 

It’s sickening to watch, sometimes. Dan is reasoning through a case, and Nancy will accuse him of “sitting in his ivory tower.” Obviously (for Nancy), the guiltiest-looking person in the room must be the perpetrator. Right?

 

 

 

No, Nancy. Not right. Lots of innocent people are in jail right now because of thinking like yours.

 

 

 

Nancy used to be a real court prosecutor. Now she’s just an imaginary prosecutor, allowed by ABC to pontificate on cases about which she (and the rest of us) know next to nothing. I’m glad she’s not in the real legal system. She’d do a lot of harm there. I’m sorry, however, that ABC gives her a platform on “Good Morning America” to hold forth on these “he looks guilty, so he must be guilty” views. I’m sure there are viewers who consider her an authority, and think: if Nancy Grace says/believes it, it must be true!

 

 

 

But it ain’t.

 

 

 

She’s a dimwit in love with her own opinions who has forgotten how the law works. She wants opinion to be law.

 

 

 

That’s a creepy thought.

 

 

 

“Good Morning America” really shouldn’t give her this kind of exposure. Except, I’m sure, that she’s good for ratings, because fast-thinking quick-judging viewers like to hear her expound on her ill-judged beliefs, which agree with their own.

 

 

 

(Sigh.)


 

 

Domenico Scarlatti

domenico scarlatti


I love complete sets of the music of my favorite composers: Mozart, Beethoven, Bach.  A clever little company, appropriately called Brilliant, has discovered a formula for marketing these: license low-cost but serviceable performers (mostly European), pull everything together, put it all in low-cost but serviceable packaging. It’s hard for a natural collector like me to resist these. Sometimes I browse their website and find myself drawn to seventeen-CD sets of the music of people I never heard of.

 

Most recently I bought the complete keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti. Mister Scarlatti was the son of a prolific Italian opera composer; Scarlatti Junior moved to Spain where he concentrated on keyboards, writing nearly six hundred tiny sonatas. (I fondly remember Peter Schickele’s comment about giving someone the complete Scarlatti sonatas “recorded on convenient 45RPM records and sent out one a week over a period of thirty-five years.”)
 

 

These sonatas, if you don’t know them, are lovely. Each one is a perfect little jeu d’esprit, turning perfectly ordinary scales and arpeggii into something different and new. Some of the sonatas are jumping-bean sprightly; others are grave thoughtful little quasi-marches. Some die away into series of melancholy chords, and others tromp all over the place.
 

 

Keyboard players (even sub-amateurs like me) know the pleasures and perils of these sonatas; they run up and down the keyboard, often forcing the player to cross hands so that the left hand is playing on the right-hand keys and vice versa. Scarlatti famously said that he had ten fingers and saw no reason not to keep all of them busy.
 

 

Five hundred fifty-five sonatas is a lot, as Schickele reminded us. If you listen to more than half a dozen of these sonatas in succession, your ear will get a wee bit numb. But taken a few at a time, they are wonderful.

 

 

 

This is the soulful B minor sonata, K. 27, played by the late Russian pianist Emil Gilels. It’s one of the slow ballad-like ones; Gilels plays it on a modern piano rather than the more traditional harpsichord, which makes it even richer and more mournful.

 

 

 


 

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