Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Winter Street at Night

The dark look of winter fashion
tries to mute the color of the street:
too many overwrought coats of black
and brown and subdued burgundy,
all dull shades that pretend to carry
the warmth of their fabric.

But they cannot smother
the white of the snow,
the red that snaps from the flags,
the bright wet rainbow of passing cars,
or the shimmer from low streetlights
that rises from your eyes.

Monday, January 23, 2006

More blackboard poetry

There is probably a web site somewhere that collects refrigerator poetry. I have the subset of that, with far fewer words and letters, with the 2006 magnetic poetry calendar. So here's the challenge: those that have this poem generator need to start collecting and sharing. You must only use the words and letters available with the calendar -- that means no caps, no punctuation marks. Here's my entry for the day:

collect blooms which shine
and another season can fall
with gray snow
but the flowers will melt morning storms

Here's the Wikipedia entry for Magnetic Poetry:

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Music formats affect their creator's themes

A friend posted a comment on my last short blog, noting some of the downsides of music formats over the past 20 years. So, to continue the conversation...

Albums, tapes, and CDs had two other benefits that are more difficult to get in today's world of individual songs:

*Artists could tie the music together in some way: a theme, an opera, a style, a particular message.

*Artists would create musical (or even spoken) seques between songs. There are some great seques in rock: parts of the Beatle's 'Abbey Road', particularly going into "She Came In Through the Bathroom Window"; Santana's "Black Magic Woman"; Led Zeppelin and 'Living Loving Maid'; Springsteen on "The Wild, the Innocent, and the EStreet Shuffle".

Can't do those things with single songs, randomized. I've tried to recreate them by making sure certain songs play consecutively; but my MP3 player still has a distinctive gap, and sometimes an annoying electronic beep as the digital code kicks on and off...

What are some of your favorite album seques?

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Convergence equals quality?

We have gone from a full house to a kid-less house, at least for one night. Pam took Andrew down I88 today and returned him to Onondaga Dorm at Binghamton U this afternoon.
Erin, meanwhile, has learned that many social and networking events for Law School occur on Thursday night. So she has remained in Albany, had dinner, and gone out. So for now, I fill up a playlist on MusicMatch Jukebox and crank up the computer speakers….Such a change from 20 years ago. Then, I would have put an album on the turntable and tried to write in a paper journal. That could last the length of one album side, or about 20 minutes. A turntable, with a needle, connected to a 20-watt-per-channel Technics receiver, and an Onkyo cassette tape deck. The receiver still serves, tied to a 5-CD Panasonic changer we got as a Christmas present, 1989. I get the turntable out every couple of years just to play an album that doesn't seem to exist beyond vinyl; the cassette player gave up its mechanical parts long ago.

I wonder if the music recording has degraded in any way through all this electronic transference?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Marcia's funeral

Yesterday was Marcia’s funeral. The thermometer read two below zero when I got up at 7:30. Bright, sharp sunshine. The church echoed with sunlight through the windows and off the soft walls, bright columns, and warm slate floor. Brass rehearsed the two pieces, Andrew replacing me for the benediction piece since I was a pallbearer.

The church parking lot and sidewalks were covered with a thin layer of crunchy snow, mixed with ice chunks and salt. Drivers crawled carefully up the driveway into parking spots. Over 200 people filled the pews by 11 – townspeople all, each of them known to Nelson through one of a number of relationships. Rotary, town clerk, choir and church member, village board. At some point, we all got mail from the Town Clerk. Two police departments stood quietly in honor.

Marcia was his eyes. He cried for his eyes as we stood by the gravesite, our backs hunched over against the cold and the sorrow.

Monday, January 16, 2006

A dinner conversation

A friend described his job with a lending company early in his career. The company worked with car dealers to offer loans. Many customers were unaware of the financial arrangements that the dealers were making. One frequent dealer tactic was to arrange a car loan for a buyer, and then send them to the lending company to get the downpayment for the car. Frequently, the customer was unaware that the downpayment was also a loan, on top of the car loan…He also had a fellow worker who would stand outside the local bars on payday and corner people who owed money as they walked out…My friend expressed considerable consternation at how individuals can be bilked out of money by questionable methods.

Another friend replied, well, yes…But I have a hard time coming up with too much sympathy for individuals who put themselves in those situations. They have some responsibility for their choices, and need to be aware of what they are signing or agreeing to. They don’t have to buy that car, or enter into that contract – they signed it, they are accountable for it.

Contrasting viewpoints. And a basic conflict that government faces: how can we protect people from themselves? We live in a capitalist society where our individual livelihood depends upon performing some function that gains us money. A company lends money to individuals who pay it back with interest – thus gaining a profit. What is the responsibility of that company to educate the individual about the contract or agreement and make sure the person knows the fiscal risks, or his own ability to pay?

We, as a society, could determine that we need to protect individuals from hurting themselves by making poor decisions. What is the cost of that protection? Using the above example, what if we wanted to do something that restricts a lending company from certain tactics. There is a cost to writing the laws, setting the rules, printing and filing contracts, and creating a team of people who oversee and enforce that protection (a government agency, the courts, enforcement means such as police, etc.). What is the return to that investment? When is it too much?

How far do we as a society go to keep individuals from failing?

Sunday, January 08, 2006

That First Blackboard verse

It has a limited vocabulary, but the 'magnetic poetry' calendar does include enough words to create something. My first creation, for what it's worth:

easy melts that storm,
the sun shines
another love season blooms:
collect blue sky and believe

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Blackboard Poetry

I received a calendar for Christmas that includes a magnetic poetry board as an appendage. The words were all connected together in a single sheet, and I need to tear them apart. Right now some of the words are flying solo, black letters on a white rectangle, all scattered across the square black background. They drift askew as if they are floating by on the tide, tipping one way or the other. Other words are still in strips, slapped in a row in the bottom corner. The strips make interesting vertical lists:

make want when light snow;
which would spring winter while sizzle shiver.

So far, I haven’t created enough room on the board to put together a cogent verse. It would be more fun if I could shake the board to randomly rearrange all the words, as if it were a Boggle game. The results might be better than my own attempts at poetry.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Making God Laugh

You hear words or phrases repeated within a short period of time. Things you have never heard before, but are not new or unique. Does it mean something? Are there messages in these connections?

Pam recently gave me a recording of Billy Collins reading his poetry. It was recorded last spring in New York. During some of his banter between poems, he quotes a friend who had told him the following line: How do you make God laugh? Make a plan.

I asked a pastor friend if he had ever heard that joke. He smiled and said that he has it on a plaque in his office: Make God laugh. Make a plan.

I am reading Semaphore by G.W. Hawkes (a plug for Lycoming here: he heads the creative writing program at the College). Last night, I read this passage:

“…but time had taught him that Time decides. His father had said it once: Man plans; God laughs.”

Why would I run across this line twice within a week? A line, or joke, or phrase, that I have never heard before? It clearly is an old chestnut, probably spoken from pulpits worldwide for eons. There are plenty of pithy, interesting phrases that I have never heard or for which I am not familiar. But why this one, now?

Far too deterministic. But I no longer discount this type of connection….

Monday, January 02, 2006

The Role of Journalists

The media is full of their ‘end-of-the-year’ lists and summaries. Much of the material is about the natural disasters during 2005: the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the Asian earthquake, New Orleans floods.

Some months ago, I wrote briefly about the disconnect frequently felt by people when hearing of major catastrophes. The impact of these events feels overwhelming, numbing, and we don’t know how to react as individuals. How can we possibly help so many people? We have different levels of empathy that is inversely proportional to the scale of the event.

A columnist from the Helsinki newspaper had an interesting perspective on the role of the media in this. The above title is a link to the full article, but here is an excerpt:

Physical or psychological closeness is an important criterion of news. Journalists do not make news items simply of what is large and important, but also about matters that touch them and touch their audience or readers. In the case of the tsunami, the dreadful fate of the Finns naturally left nobody unmoved.

And yet responsible journalism demands something more. The task of foreign correspondents and reporters is to help the readers to see the world in a broader context. To provide an opportunity to feel strongly about matters that are more distant and less familiar.

The writer, the journalist, the broadcaster are not just purveyors and repeaters of the news. The media should bring more to the story than just the facts: the truth can be told in other ways, in other images, using different words, even if the truth has different definitions for different people. There is a difference between fact and truth.