2015 Faves and Raves

I cannot believe I have been blogging for over a year now, averaging about three posts per month.

My purpose in blogging is to share examples of storytelling or sharing from my own life, by way of example, for those who might be interested in writing a memoir, or for seeing how they might re-capture old memories to share with interested parties.

Below is a short list of some popular posts you may have missed, and some of my favorites which you might find worth revisiting.

My video memoir company, Storyography: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/11/20/no-one-can-stop-time-but-hearing-those-stories-again-slows-it-just-a-little/ , is another way to share stories which captures individual performance as part of the storytelling experience and not merely the words shared.

The biggest hit, which surprised me some, was “Mandatory Moon Bathing in Minnesota”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/08/10/he-was-naked-as-a-blooming-orchid/

I’m not sure why that one grabbed so much attention over others. Maybe the title intrigued.

Another relative hit was “The Best Cab Driver in Buenos Aires”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/long-may-he-ride/  which describes some of my experiences while working in that charming city.

Some of my posts are more autobiographical than others. Other posts are more opinion oriented. My favorite of these which didn’t get the attention I thought it deserved was “Greenman Died for Your Niblets”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/to-our-surprise-cheers-and-salutations-greeted-our-approach-to-the-gate-green-man-was-a-star/

Some of my posts amounted to musings about the human condition as viewed through a prism of my own experience. One example of this, which didn’t attract the attention I had hoped was “Swings”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2014/12/04/swings/ ,

or “Taxi Driver Uber Alles”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/10/01/each-second-is-a-threshold-to-eternity/ which I thought deserved more attention.

The Territorial Imperative” was about my encounter with a very assertive spider: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/08/22/i-cringed-at-the-memory-of-what-i-yelled-that-night-during-my-desperate-search-what-had-i-wrought/ .

That was a companion piece to the popular “The Company You Keep”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/08/18/to-say-this-house-was-infested-is-like-saying-forests-have-trees/ in which I recounted my futile war with cockroaches while in college.

I also published a few practical posts exploring the value of writing a memoir “The Irreplaceable Memoir”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/09/28/the-irreplaceable-memoir/

or a distillation of what I presented weekly in a workshop for job seekers on how best to find gainful employment. “The Best Solution to the Problem” was my summary of the workshop: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/09/16/the-best-solution-to-the-problem/ .

Godzilla”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/10/29/there-is-a-piece-of-godzilla-in-all-of-us/

and “The Show Must Go On” : https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/the-show-must-go-on/ share memories of my career in motion pictures.

My favorites probably fell in my recounting episodes of my life that were fun to write and (I’m told), hilarious to read. “Bad Hair Day”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/07/01/i-looked-like-a-psychotic-texas-ranger/ ,

A Knuckle Sandwich and a Side of Steroids Please”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/06/25/a-knuckle-sandwich-and-a-side-of-steroids-please/ ,

Sunny Sleepy San Raphael”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/09/16/judging-by-her-word-count-the-woman-was-winning-but-we-had-to-acknowledge-he-made-some-very-impressive-points-with-his-rare-interjections/

and “What’s in a Name, Jack”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/05/12/whats-in-a-name-jack/ are my favorites in that genre.

Much attention has been paid of late, to concussions, due in part to the Will Smith movie of that name. My post “Isn’t this Fun?” https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/11/25/isnt-this-fun/ deals with my personal experience with a concussion.

At risk of naming all of my posts, I will stop with this brief list of personal highlights. But feel free to revisit some of these and others. They all have something to offer and offer some amusement or a diversion from the tedium of the day.

Please feel free to comment or add to the conversation. I appreciate your input. Thank you for reading.

And you are welcome to visit my Storyography website at: http://www.lifestoryography.com/

See you next year.

 

Begin at the Beginning

Of course, that is what we were always told by teachers about how to start a story.

If it were only that simple.

And where would that beginning be again? Long ago and far away…

Could you be more specific?

Once upon a time… Still a bit vague.

It is generally understood that Zeno’s paradox regarding the existence of motion, of Achilles racing with the Tortoise, is in fact absurd. The paradox concludes motion is impossible because of the infinite number of distances Achilles must traverse before catching the tortoise.

However, when observing thought, that paradox could indeed be true despite its absurdity.

I once inadvertently illustrated Zeno’s paradox in a story I wrote.

In the story, a character created a Rube Goldberg contraption whereby the fire alarm could not be triggered before the glass was broken. In order to break the glass, a hammer was needed. To get the hammer, one needed a forge, which needed heat from a fire… and so on.

Everyone knows that a critical mass of population is required in order for a civilization to advance beyond subsistence hunting and gathering. Until there are enough people to dedicate themselves to providing food, defense and housing for all, there is not free time for other individuals to develop and refine skills toward the arts and sciences.

Occasionally, I find myself caught in a Zeno-ian train of thought where I am confounded at the cumulative effort required to generate the most commonplace objects.

For instance, have you ever considered what it would take to create a paper clip from scratch? The tools and steps required to find, mine and refine the ore, fashion the wire, and bend it into a consistent, repeatable shape are astounding. It is obvious in hindsight.

But what unsung generations of inventors made it (and everything else) possible? The chain of innovation has extended to such an astronomical length, one can scarcely trace it back to the source.

And don’t get me started on the steps needed to manufacture the paper you intend to clip with the clip.

How did we ever get to this impossibly complex technological world? We swim submerged in it, day by day, hardly aware of the soup we inhabit.

Curiously, storytelling precedes our arrival to that cultural critical mass. Our earliest stories were fashioned by the hunter/gatherers eons before anyone contemplated a smart phone. And those ancestors had only ephemeral words with which to spark the imagination.

The paradox of our complex world springing from a humble story told beside a camp fire (distant in time but not in space), may be absurd but is nonetheless true. Plato in his cave could not have predicted this.

Yet a story also has a structure. To be effective, it cannot just be pieced together from Lego bricks scattered on the floor.

The effective thrust and counterpoint of a story’s rising conflict is not accomplished haphazardly any more than a random collection of notes creates a pleasing melody. The seeds of our stories lie embedded deep within our DNA.

An inverted proof of this is a friend of mine’s habit of telling a story (such as it is) by starting at nearly the end, and just before getting to the simple point of the matter, he veers off topic into a series of tangentially related anecdotes that trace matters ever further away from that receding mirage of a finish.

I have heard him go on at appalling length, with an urgency and pressured speech that barely allows for the intake of a breath, never to reach a satisfying conclusion. I suspect he adopted circular breathing techniques developed by jazz saxophonists to extend their notes.

“I called about the picnic. I would have called sooner but Sam threw your number out with the trash. Did you know that garbage collectors only work four days a week? But they get paid a lot! I once…” And off we go.

I have observed others sink into resignation and passively ride his verbal river, as if floating dreamily downstream on a holiday, while buoyed by an inner tube.

His incessant flow of words reminds me of a camping trip I took in the Rocky Mountains. The white noise created by a waterfall eventually erased the annoying disco song which was stuck in my head for days. I was finally at peace.

My friend has lived an exciting and varied life filled with world travel and interesting characters. He effortlessly injects many fanciful and extended accounts of his outlandish exploits into his unmapped detours around his stated purpose. (What about the picnic?)

One could easily listen as long as the need for sustenance or for sleep did not intrude. But unless one interrupts with a pointed question, and guides him toward the original point of the call, one suspects with time, he will single-handedly braid his intertwined stories all the way back to that primitive campfire around which the very first story was told.

And then where would we be?

At the beginning.

 

 

Be Like Me

No, actually. I think you should be like you, more than you should be like me.

Ever realize, when people talk to you, they would rather be talking to themselves? Whether they are smarter than me or less so, the dominant standard for ‘shouldness’ is that I should adapt to how they see the world.

Really?

I don’t want to. I like the way I see things. I think everyone’s life would be better if they saw the world like me. Don’t you agree?

Or would it? If we all see things exactly the same, aren’t some of us redundant?

I have known some seriously smart people in my life. Their ability to grasp concepts in a moment that I must struggle with, is humbling. Yet some of those ‘geniuses’ spend their lives barely keeping menial jobs.

Not that productivity is the standard for a person’s worth.

Some people are smart but barely able to function on a daily basis. So is what makes them so smart, the ability to get others to tie their shoes for them? Thanks but no thanks.

The standard is also not the ability to talk circles around another. That soon becomes a form of circus act. The entertainment value of talking down to those less gifted is quickly depleted.

When teaching Special Education students in Middle School, I learned the greatest barrier to their learning was learned helplessness. They were convinced they couldn’t learn. Yet they learned that it was easier not to try, than to try and fail.

However, incremental failing is how most of us learn.

Give these kids a video game and most of them could beat me at it. But they considered themselves stupid because ‘anyone can play video games’. Anyone but their teacher.

A huge part of the problem is the medium in which most of us communicate – words, and the concrete value many of us place on abstract concepts.

For instance, can you grasp ‘smart’? Or ‘not smart’? How do they feel? Which one has more heft? Is a person bright because they have been enlightened?

So many words are metaphors of metaphors that if looked at too closely, a word’s meaning simply evaporates from too intense a gaze. Words are useful tools but don’t try to fix a car with one.

For all their subtle beauty, words seem to hold us back more often than not. As the avalanche of words grows, actual communication diminishes. I sometimes wonder how communication takes place at all.

Can one truly understand anyone else? Some speakers remind me of sleepwalkers groping blindly with phantom dreams. Who cares about transmitting information? Is there an app for that?

People used to worship objects. More and more, they idolize the words representing those objects. The word is not the thing.

The notes on the page of sheet music are not the music we hear, but are actually coarse symbols of that which cannot be contained or described. And there is a quality in the playing that cannot be noted. Only enjoyed.

Words, like musical notes, can only point to the glowing, ineffable variety that abounds before us .

I half suspect the animal kingdom, sensing how effectively words distance us from direct experience, abandoned words to us, less advanced humans. Animals seem to get along pretty well without our self-proclaimed ‘higher reasoning abilities’. If they spoke to us, I suspect they would tell us to stop meddling.

We humans are so good at making distinctions that we fail to embrace the whole. Then time and again we end up with the proverbial, dissected frog and deny that it could ever have jumped.

After all, who directs a flock of birds in their spontaneous, wheeling arpeggio of flight? Let me see the memo.

Our generation, so adoring of its own incessant verbiage, forgot the concept of ‘less is more’.

During WWII, my future father-in-law, wrote his bride daily while stationed in Europe. Knowing his letters would be read by others, he used encoded messages, within his text, to keep her informed of his whereabouts. Both efficient and effective, he layered his words with multiple meanings.

If economy of expression is a mark of this elusive intelligence, I accept that this long essay disqualifies me.

Nowadays, our so called ‘social media’ leaches the ‘social’ from our lives. As the output of words increases, meaning is diminished proportionately. And personal distance is also increased.

One small advance, Twitter, restricts the length of our innumerable empty declarations to 140 characters. Huzzah!

Emoticons, our new hieroglyphic mode of expression, confound me. My attempts look more like the curse words found in the comic strips than the coy expression I intended. #(:-!%!

Texting allows us to transform what would be a ten second verbal exchange into a multi-layered series of confusions, misfires and murk. Add ‘auto-correct’ to that and we are one, tipped domino away from the collapse of Western civilization.

Ultimately, it isn’t the word count, but the meaning and emotion evoked that counts.

Words can wound or open our eyes to the sublime. Who would think mere vibrations in space, something as pliable as words, could pierce a heart so deeply? Please explain exactly how that works (in 25 words, or less).

In college I had the opportunity to attend two concerts by the musical genius/trickster, John Cage. His most famous work 4’33” consists of a single musician or group, not playing their instruments for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. The ‘piece’ (such as it is) consists of the ambient sounds made by the audience, but any ‘musical’ sound is forbidden.

I never had the pleasure of witnessing a performance of 4’33”. (I just discovered there is an app allowing me to ‘play’ this piece by myself! Some might consider that self abuse.)

The first concert consisted of selections of Henry Thoreau’s writing, cut up into words and phrases and reassembled randomly to be read aloud. This reduced the words to mere sounds and sapped any coherent meaning from them. It was a real toe tapper.

Then, I saw a concert of a pianist playing Cage’s ‘Star Maps’ (the score was created by superimposing star maps on a musical scale), which was stark and coldly beautiful.

After the ‘Star Map’ concert, Cage accepted questions from the audience. After answering several cerebral questions from people ‘in on the game’, Cage called upon me.

Attempting to add to the absurdity, I asked him, why don’t avant-garde composers write music that is ‘happy’?

Pressed for clarification I added, if all sound can be considered ‘music’, why not write music that evokes positive emotions rather than leaving one feeling alienated and depressed? (Whatever that means…)

He mumbled something about his belief that such music is ‘happy’. That he closed the questioning down at that point, surprised me. Many in the audience were audibly disgusted at my jejune question.

My understanding was, the whole enterprise was a playful exploration of how our minds attach meaning to random sounds. Yet my question was treated as too insipid to be considered. Considering the context, why was my ‘meaningless’ question worth less than anyone else’s?

How could one silly question so easily puncture the hot air balloon of their elevated discourse?