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A brief thought on writing..

June 28, 2018

A brief thought on writing, from the newspaper comic, “Pearls Before Swine.” I don’t know how to scan the comic here, so I will just type in the text.

The first four panels are just words We don’t see the main characters, the anthropomorphic Rat, Pig, and Goat.

“Today I will waste seven hours. Then I will be productive for just one hour.”

“Then I’ll hate everything I did.”

“Then I’ll think I’m a joke.”

“Then I will take out my frustration out on the person closest to me.”

In the last panel, we see the three characters. Rat, who wrote the first four panels, says, “How to be a writer, chapter one.”

Goat says, “How appealing.”

And Pig says, “When does the drinking start?”

I have a very difficult time writing nonfiction – these posts here on facebook and on my blog.

I have read about fiction authors. They struggle a lot too.. a lot more than I do, probably.

I’m guessing many writers, of either fiction or nonfiction will appreciate the cartoon. Sorry I could not scan it in here.

The Enemy of Truth..

June 26, 2018

“The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

~ John Fitzgerald Kennedy – Yale University, Commencement June 11 1962

Women, Social Change, Dating, and being a Straight Man in today’s society.

June 25, 2018

I’m trying to figure out women these days. Seems like very many women are progressive – quite liberal.

Those who are moderate or conservative tend to be either Evangelicals (conservative Protestants) or Catholics (there are lots of liberal Catholics and some liberal evangelicals of course).

There has been a continuing shift in our society, not only involving the LGBT community, but involving women – most of whom are straight.

The “me too” movement is VERY important I think, and I strongly believe that all women should be free of any sort of harassment or abuse, but unfortunately there is a down side to the movement – massive oversensitivity, so-called “micro-aggressions,” many of which are not intentional.

I don’t want to feel like I’m walking on egg shells, not wishing to unintentionally offend anyone. I don’t want to open a door for a woman and get yelled at or accused of supporting “patriarchy.”

I don’t know how many micro-aggressions there are – how many mistakes men can make – just by accident.

Ladies, can you accept that many men are good-hearted, and simply make mistakes? That we men are having difficulty with the changing natures of so many women? That men are generally more conservative than women, and we can’t help it?

So many people, not just women, seem to be offended so easily these days. I’m even feeling more edgy. The world has gotten a lot stranger and more challenging these past ten years or so.

I want to speak my truth – to say that I’m neither a Trump fan, nor a progressive. That I’m ok with gay marriage being legal, and like some LGBT people, but am sick to death of hearing about LGBT and feminist issues every day on NPR (which I mostly don’t listen to anymore) and other media outlets. And also that I’m sick of all the Trump-bashing. How long do you wish to stay exceedingly angry?

Also very very tired of and troubled by so many facebook memes – so many of which are mean-spirited. Just one example – two days ago, I went to a woman’s page here on FB, and found a meme making fun of straight white males (apparently straight white males are the enemy these days).

Honestly, my reaction to this sort of thing is “I’m a straight, white male. I’m not a racist nor a bigot, I’m semi-liberal, semi-conservative, and fuck you!”

But I didn’t leave that comment. I’m trying to take the high road. But that’s how I felt.

Seems like if you are really liberal, you can be as condescending or even as horribly mean as you want to, and this is considered acceptable by society.

I want to say that I’m reluctantly pro-choice, but favor some restrictions on abortion.

I want to say that I don’t have a problem with gun ownership, and am not greatly offended by the NRA, even though I am not a member of that organization, and not fond of guns (I prefer cameras, computers, art supplies, books, music, and guitars).

I want to say that many issues are much more nuanced and complex than most people think.

These views of mine are unpopular with many women. I’d rather be who I am and not date at all than date a woman who has a serious problem with my views, and who has views that I have a serious problem with.

It’s tougher these days for a single, straight guy – even a guy like me who almost always strives to be respectful and polite and kind.

And so far impossible for me to find a woman I really connect with. I’ve had this problem for many years. I’m politically moderate, not very interested in politics, and not affiliated with the Democrats or Republicans. Also not affiliated with any religion or form of spirituality.

I have my own moral code, based on Christianity, Buddhism, observation, and my own experiences. I don’t sleep around or live a wild life, but I don’t practice religion either, even though I really really want to.

I suppose some guys don’t worry about what the woman they are involved with think or do about politics or religion. Some guys are more laid back than I am about these things, and some guys just want to get laid.

But I care about these things, and feel it is important to have these things, these views – some of them at least – in common. I would not be a good date or mate for a woman who is strongly progressive and/or very religious, or extremely conservative.

Are there any politically moderate women out there who are not very into religion?

I’m not sure why I’m writing this.. just frustrated, down, and having a lot of difficulty dealing with so much social change, partisanship, and nastiness.

“First Reformed” – a movie review.

June 22, 2018

I first wrote this review on facebook. I’m reposting it here. Although it is mainly intended for Christians, others who are curious about the film, “First Reformed” might want to read this post. 

Attention Christians: I know many of you get excited every time a Christian movie shows up in theaters. There is one movie out right now which you might want to skip.

This film is called “First Reformed.” The title refers to the name of a church – First Reformed Church. There are a lot of churches out there called “First Reformed.”

The Reformed Church is a conservative, Protestant, Calvinist denomination. I’d rather not get into Calvinist theology right now, or else this post would be even longer than it is. Calvinist theology is not heavily discussed in the film, so don’t worry about it.

The talk about God and faith is more generically Christian – something Christians of pretty much every persuasion will be able to relate to, at least somewhat.

The word “first” just means the first Reformed church established in any particular town.

“First Reformed” is about a severely psychologically damaged pastor of a tiny church which almost no one attends. The pastor’s name is Reverend Ernst Toller, and he is sponsored by the minister of a nearby megachurch.

Rev. Toller deals with severe depression, various health problems, alcoholism, and other assorted issues. He is a terribly broken man.

He struggles in his conversations with the pastor of the much larger church. He tries hard to counsel a very troubled married couple. He deals with an ongoing and severe crisis of faith.

The film was written and directed by Paul Schrader, the writer of such intense Martin Scorsese-directed films “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” and “The Last Temptation of Christ.”

Trust me, if you are serious about Christianity, and especially if you are a conservative Christian, I would strongly suggest you NOT watch “The Last Temptation of Christ.” You will find it to be astonishingly offensive.

“First Reformed” is mostly a slow, bleak and brooding film. There is no nudity or sex, nor tons of profanity. It is rated R for some VERY grisly images.

I suppose, if you have watched the Mel Gibson film, “The Passion of the Christ,” (some of you have seen it multiple times), then you obviously have a high tolerance for gore and scenes of brutal suffering. Maybe you won’t mind the horrific images in “First Reformed.”

Is the movie entirely without merit? No.

I’ve never been a fan of Ethan Hawke, the actor who plays the main character, Reverend Toller. In fact, Hawke for decades has been among my least favorite actors. I’ve never considered him to be very talented, and haven’t tended to like any films he’s been in. Hmm.. ok.. “Training Day,” another disturbing film, was pretty good.. but besides that.. no.

But in this film, Hawke is amazing. His is a truly excellent performance. I was quite impressed.

Also, there are some important issues brought up, including whether or not Christians should care about the environment, how to deal with a crisis of faith, how much influence should corporate interests and big money have in the running of a church, dealing with severe depression and loss, a troubled marriage.. lots of heavy topics are dealt with in this film.

How are the other actors? Amanda Seyfried, who I am not very familiar with, did well as one of the main characters, Mary, a troubled young pregnant woman who is married to a distraught man. Mary’s husband, named Michael, is played by an actor I’ve never heard of, named Philip Ettinger. He does well.

There’s a clinging woman who has fallen for the reverend. Her name is Esther. Esther is well-meaning, but she’s practically a stalker. She is played by an actress I’ve never heard of before, named Victoria Hill. Hill’s performance is rather good.

Yes, overall a solid cast. Even Cedric Kyles, a familiar comedy actor better known as Cedric the Entertainer, puts in a good performance. However, Cedric in a serious role was very distracting.

I kept thinking of him in his comedy roles – like the curmudgeon in “Barbershop,” and especially as one of the villains in an excellent comedy called “Be Cool.”

If I hadn’t seen Cedric in these comedic roles, and doing such a good job in them, I’d probably be able to take him more seriously in “First Reformed.”

Is there a redemptive message in this film? Yes, but to get there is a truly harrowing journey.

You’ve been warned.

—–

Why did I watch this film? If you’ve been following my posts for awhile, you already know that I am troubled about spirituality, and stopped practicing Christianity back in the mid-1990’s – I had my own decades-long crisis of faith and finally had to stop. I still think about Christianity every day though.. can’t help it.

I would have stayed away from this film. I tend to avoid movies with one or more characters who are Christian (the Coen Brothers comedy, “Hail Caesar!” being an exception – it was great). But my dad wanted to see this film. He doesn’t drive, and so I took him to our local art house theater in Boise, called The Flix, and we watched what turned out to be a deeply disturbing movie.

Had I known what this movie would be like, I would have stayed home, and later gotten it for dad on DVD, or streamed it for him, and I would not have watched it.

But I wanted to help dad. I take him to movies several times a month, and he really wanted to see this one. He mainly wanted to see this movie because the writer/director was at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI, the same time my dad and mom were there. They never met Paul Schrader, but he was well-known on campus – in charge of the school paper or something like that.

I had read that Schrader had written “Taxi Driver,” another disturbing film – but a classic, and one I could handle – I’ve seen it twice. Before I saw “First Reformed,” I did not know Schrader also had written “The Last Temptation of Christ,” which I watched once, and will never watch again.

I had hoped Schrader had mellowed during the decades that have passed since he wrote “Taxi Driver,” and that’s one reason I went.

I was wrong.

If you are not hoping for a light, inspiring Christian film, if you want to inflict emotional trauma on yourself, if you want to see some rather good acting, and can appreciate a dark and very thought-provoking film, then watch “First Reformed.” You will probably find some value in it. Even I did. But I still wish I had not seen it.

a musical example of turning a minus into a plus..

June 16, 2018

So.. recently I was diagnosed with having minor osteo-arthritis in my right wrist and hand. I am, of course, right-handed.

Some days, for daily tasks, such as chopping vegetables, and holding my dog’s leash as I walk him, I wear a wrist wrap. The pain isn’t bad, but does get annoying. The wrist wrap helps a little. I like the feel of it.

Other days, no pain, but I still have to be careful what I do – no more hitting a punching bag at my brother’s house for instance, and having to be careful about what yoga poses I attempt. My Docs suggested Pilates instead.. I’ll look into that.

Ome thing the arthritis keeps me from doing is attempting to play metal on guitar. This, I have to admit, is very frustrating. I am not a skilled musician, but can play some metal riffs well. Impassioned, fast, and hard.

This.. is fun.

I listen to a lot of very creative metal – prog mixed with power metal mixed with.. all sorts of things.. such groups as Devin Townsend Project, Prospekt, Sarah Longfield, Animals As Leaders, Earthside, TesseracT, Skyharbor, Lacuna Coil..

I LOVE this stuff. And I want to play it – even a few basic riffs. I can manage the more simple parts of the music.

However, I can no longer aggressively play guitar in this way. Too rough on my wrist and hand. Even when wearing the wrist wrap.

A few weeks ago, I bought a 4 string cigar box guitar (hence forth referred to as a CBG) – NOT an instrument ideally suited to playing metal – although, if I retune the instrument in certain ways, it is possible.

The CBG is not very loud. The builder only put one sound hole in the box, and the box is smaller than those he often uses for the 4 string instruments he builds. Bigger the box, the bigger the sound, I’m guessing. Typically, the 3 string models are built with smaller boxes. But I found the smaller box 4 string to be more comfortable, so I bought that one.  I already knew a big box CBG would be less comfortable, because I bought one in 2015, but later sold it. I paid $88, including shipping for my current CBG, and for the previous one.

I still wear a wrist wrap when playing, not so much because of the arthritis, but because it feels better having a bit of padding between my wrist and the 90 degree angled edge of the box. I’d wear a wrist wrap for this reason even without the arthritis.

Since my CBG is not as loud as a regular acoustic guitar, and I can’t hear it as well when I am practicing, I went amp shopping. I was thinking of getting a very cheap, used, basic amp, with just a clean setting, overdrive channel, and two effects built in – a reverb and chorus. That would have been fine. And would have cost me as little as $50.

But, my favorite amp is a Peavey Vypyr 1, which is one of many modeling amps on the market. Modeling amps have LOADS of effects and amp models and misc. sounds built in. This amp sells for $129.99.

A modeling amp is an unconventional choice to pair with my CBG, a primitive instrument, even with its very basic electronics built in so that I can plug it into an amp. CBG purists would not be pleased with me buying this amp. Oh well.

The amp does such amazing things! It is rather ironic, that, after all these years of playing, buying, and selling electric guitars, amps, and other gear, I finally bought this awesome amp.. and don’t utilize all of its features because to do so.. to reach the amp’s full potential, I’d need a regular electric guitar, and play the heavy stuff.

Yeah.. weird timing.

But I have resisted the urge to buy yet another electric guitar (I donated the last one I purchased, and either sold or donated the others I previously owned), since I can’t play the style of music I want to without pain.

Even without a standard electric guitar, I can create amazing sounds with the amp and CBG – even plug the amp into my computer, via USB port.

There’s a major downside to using the CBG with this amp though – I have to be VERY careful with feedback – that ear-splitting sound you’ve likely heard – blasting out of amps and P.A. systems when the sound mix is not right.

The CBG has electronics that are different than on regular electric guitars. Some CBG’s come with standard electronics, and those don’t create a feedback problem with amps, but those CBG’s are, as you might guess, more expensive. To buy one with standard electronics, for example, a mini-or full size humbucker pickup installed – that might cost another $100.

When I have the amp on a setting that sounds like hard rock or metal, I first have to dial back the volume quite a bit on the amp, or I get that horrible noise. And when I switch to an acoustic (clean) setting, I need to turn the volume back up on the amp. No big deal, as long as I don’t forget. If I do forget.. OUCH! My ears, for awhile, are not happy.

Here is the CBG and amp. The single knob on the CBG is the volume control. The wrist wrap and coricidin bottle slide are on top of the amp.

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So I’ll just be an odd CBG player, who likes to use such effects as a phaser (one of Eddie Van Halen’s favorite effects, if I remember correctly), or a reverse delay, which are built into the amp.

So how is having arthritis a minus turned into a plus?

Since I can’t play what I most want to play, but still feel the urge to teach myself guitar,  I am focusing on different right hand techniques than I would use for metal and most rock.

I’ve been playing finger style on my aunt’s 1965 Gibson classical guitar for awhile,

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and have decided to adopt a mostly finger style way of playing the CBG, even when I am using an old fashioned glass bottle slide.

I’m also working on different forms of music besides metal. I’m teaching myself to use a slide to play blues on the CBG (and plan on using the slide to play more than just blues – it is very useful), and am working on a bit of Celtic music. I even figured out part of “Redemption Song,” by Bob Marley. Reggae performed on a CBG – why not.

Some limitations can be a positive thing. I’m gradually creating unconventional music on the CBG – at least partially by using uncommon techniques. Most people are likely using a pick., not play finger style.

I’m even thinking of getting some banjo picks to use with the CBG – banjo picks allow musicians to play finger style, and pluck the strings more strongly without having to grow their finger nails long on their picking hand.  (For people who are right-handed, their right hand is their strumming/picking hand, for lefties, the opposite).

And I’ll be using many functions on the amp to create sounds not at all associated with cigar box guitar playing.

And this is good.

Turning a minus into a plus.

If you can’t do something you like, get creative.. this might take you in an unplanned but positive direction.

What are some ways you’ve turned a minus into a plus?

Thanks for reading.


Post script:

I don’t make any money endorsing products. I don’t like being a sell-out. I’m not being compensated for mentioning the gear listed and demonstrated below.

More info on cigar box guitar – provided by the youtube guru of this instrument, Justin Johnson:

 

Here is the only instruction book I’m aware of for 4 string CBG. I found it on amazon. It might sold on other sites though.

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There are many tutorials on youtube, even though 4 string CBG’s are far less common than 3 string CBG’s. I got a 4 string because it is better for finger style playing, has a fuller sound, more tuning possibilities, and I can play more songs and varieties of music on it than I can on a 3 string. I tried a 3 string over a year ago, and didn’t care for it.

The builder of the CBG I bought is called Weeklyhouse. He is on eBay. He sells mostly 3 stringed CBG’s, but some 4 strings as well. He does not sell any CBG’s with standard electric guitar electronics. He sets the string height (action) on his guitars low enough that they can be played with either fingers fretting the strings of the instrument (what the left hand does if one is right-handed) or using a slide.

Some builders make their CBG’s with high action, so that only a slide can be used. Ask a vendor if you are not sure about what sort of playing their CBG’s are intended for.

Here’s a demo of the Peavey Vypyr 1 (I’ve been a fan of Peavey guitar and bass amps for many years). This is a very complex amp, and tricky to program. I’ll just be using the stock settings for now, instead of learning how to program my own. It sounds awesome right out of the box.

The World Tree, the Heart of the World.

June 4, 2018

The World Tree can be found in Boise, and anywhere you look.

I remember reading a bit of “Black Elk Speaks,” a Native American literary classic. Black Elk said that he felt the heart of the world was at a certain part of his reservation, and yet, it was everywhere, at the same time.

I take that to mean that as individuals, it is where you are at, where you find it, and it doesn’t have to be at a Native American reservation somewhere, or way out in the wilderness. It can be a particular tree, in a park, in town, near sunset. The world tree is here, too.

Image may contain: sky, tree, cloud, grass, outdoor and nature

The perfect dog for the practicing Buddhist.

May 22, 2018

Buddhism, virtue, and dogs..

Although I have studied enough Buddhism to determine that I am not a Buddhist, I still think about Buddhism sometimes.

I have come to the conclusion that the Miniature Schnauzer (although I am not Buddhist, I do own one of these dogs) would be a perfect breed for the serious practitioner of Buddhism, and anyone else who is dedicated to cultivating the virtues of compassion and self-discipline.

Here are my thoughts on this subject, which I first posted on my blog, wandering-spirit.com The post is entitled, “The perfect dog for the practicing Buddhist.”

Even if you are not a Buddhist, as I am not, you might still find this post worth reading, especially if you are interested in character development, and in dogs.

Buddhism is about challenging oneself. Working on one’s patience. Working on acceptance and developing the wisdom to figure out what one can change, and also learning if what one can change is worth the effort. In short it is about wisdom, balance and acceptance.

I have a Miniature Schnauzer named Tucker. Through experience, and from what I’ve learned since I bought a Schnauzer three years ago, I can tell you this breed is perfect for the devoted and practicing Buddhist, and anyone else wishing to put in the thought and effort needed to with learn what can be changed, what cannot be changed, accepting what cannot be changed, and mustering the effort to change what can be changed.

The Miniature Schnauzer, as I have learned through research, and especially experience, is a difficult breed. It possesses the unfortunate combination of intelligence and a VERY strong stubborn streak.

This, as you might guess, is a very bad combination. A stupid but complaint dog might not learn much, but at least will work with you. A smart and compliant dog will be a joy to own and train. A smart dog with both intelligence and a very independent streak, one that has a stubborn and willful nature – this is a difficult dog to own and work with.

A dog of this breed can easily understand what you want it to do, and also decide whether or not it really wants to do what you want it to do. Often, it will decide it will do something other, anything other, than what you wish for it to do.

I seriously doubt you will have such trouble with certain gregarious breeds as a Labrador or Golden Retriever. There are many reasons why these two breeds have remained, for many years, two of America’s most popular breeds. It is in part because of their friendly nature, intelligence and agreeable disposition.

Is it no wonder that these dogs are generally the main two breeds used as seeing-eye dogs?

A Miniature Schnauzer, I sometimes think, in my darker imaginings. would happily lead a blind person into traffic or off a cliff, if it felt like it. Not that these dogs are evil, it is just that they have their own minds and do as they please, even if they are fairly well-trained. They, or at least my dog, is also very easily distractible.

I have a Miniature Schnauzer, and let me tell you, my dog Tucker is a daily challenge. It is true this breed makes for a very good watchdog.. an overly good one perhaps. Any stir of the branches of our Blue Spruce by the wind, perhaps any fluctuation in temperature, and good oi’ Tucker, our three year old Schnauzer will bark like he has lost his mind. A flurry of activity by our woodland denizens, the grey fox squirrel, commonly found in Boise, will send Tucker into a state of conniption.

This is especially fun for night people like myself, who need to sleep well into the morning, or even into early afternoon in order to get enough rest. The people who I live with are usually kind and attentive enough to leave the blinds closed until I awake, so that my slumber will not be disturbed by a frantically and ecstatically barking little dog.

He doesn’t need visual stimulation, though. Even with the shades drawn, he will bark at the slightest noise.

So why is this breed excellent for practicing Buddhists, and others who desire to gain mastery of themselves – who sincerely want to cultivate virtues not unique to Buddhism, such as compassion for oneself and others, patience, and acceptance?

The Miniature Schnauzer presents daily challenges that allow us to work on these difficult in order to cultivate virtues.

There are some Schnauzer owners who, Buddhist or not, possess a kind, and above all patient temperament that enables them to naturally have the fortitude to effectively train this breed. A few Schnauzer owners might even find such a process fairly easy, though I doubt it.

As for the rest of us, owning, caring for, and training a Miniature Schnauzer is no easy task. These dogs are very willful, stubborn, and difficult. It takes quite an effort, and a goodly amount of incentive training (using treats) even to get this little breed to even play fetch. Four retrievals of his his most beloved toy, and our little doggie has lost interest.

Getting this dog, should it have a perch near the front window, not to bark at a mail carrier, UPS driver, anyone who wanders into our cul-de-sac by mistake, an errant squirrel, or even a branch of a tree that has the audacity to move a few inches in any direction, whenever the slightest breeze blows, will be practically impossible.

I, as of yet, do not know how to train this nature to bark, out of a dog. Schnauzers, the only terrier breed not from England, have been bred to be watch dogs. But they are so overexcited that they will bark at noises or other stimulation no human can ever perceive.

Not only that, but they are difficult on walks, will often be ornery when their owners change walking routes, will initiate conflicts with other dogs, both large and small, even if those dogs are on a leash, and across a wide street, and will even lie down or put their paws over a leash if they are not happy about where they are lead.

They also, as far as I can tell, don’t seem to get along with other dogs, except that they somehow recognize other dogs of their breed. I have, eight times, taken my dog to a park specifically for small dogs. He has never had any difficulty with any dogs of his breed. But other dogs, yes.

In fact, other dogs don’t tend to like him. Four out of the eight time I have had Tucker to a park for small dogs, other dogs have singled him out. Only one little dog charging after him often leads a parade of other dogs in its wake.

Perhaps other dogs can sense that Schnauzers are difficult, and that is why Schnauzers are targeted. Perhaps not, maybe it is only my dog. I don’t know.

But this is a great dog for anyone who wants to take up the challenge of mastering his or her own emotions, before mastering a dog.

Perhaps, for most Schnauzer owners, working and living with this sort of dog is a lesson of acceptance more than anything else.

And certainly a lesson in patience.

Why do I bring up Buddhism? I forget which book I was reading years ago, I think it was more a book on writing than a book on Buddhism. But the author was a Buddhist. She was explaining how difficult the writing process was for her (something I can certainly understand, for my own writing process and practice is not easy) and her Buddhist instructor told her to, “let your writing be your practice.”

For those of you unfamiliar to Buddhism, let me say that being a practicing Buddhist is not easy. One must challenge oneself, for without challenge, without struggle, there can be no progress. I think this is true of life in general.

And Schnauzers certainly present lots of challenges. To be a responsible dog owner, regardless of what breed of canine one owns, is to be presented with many challenges. And to be a caring and responsible owner of a Schnauzer is to be presented with even more challenges than owners of many other breeds face.

Therefore, I think that for the serious practitioner of Buddhism, and any other person who is seriously devoted to developing his or her character, increased levels of tolerance, compassion, and patience, a Miniature Schnauzer is a perfect breed.