Sunday, February 21, 2016

On Modern Strife

Wow, I’m stunned. Just stunned. And I really don’t know what to say or how to say it. So, what do I do? I try to write about something that has plagued this country for ages. I really don’t know how it is going to go but this topic has been gnawing its nasty little teeth at the back of my mind for quite some time and I suppose it is about time I address it. So, here goes.
            Yesterday I was sick and spent most of the day lying in pain and loaded up with all types of cough and cold medicine. I’m better today as I write this. However, during my interim, I had endless hours of television to watch. Mostly I watched “How the Universe Works” as narrated by Mike Rowe. I like this sort of programing. It lets me know that there are larger things in the universe, galaxy and solar system, than me. It grounds me and gives my life a perspective I don’t normally have. However; as the day waned and darkness took over the hemisphere where I live, I lost control of the remote to my wife.
            She flipped channels for a while and then settled on the movie “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” with Kathryn Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poirtier and Katharine Houghton. Sure there were more in the cast but those are the four main characters. It’s an amazing movie and one I know my wife and I have watched at least a dozen times. Yet each time I see the film I walk away with a new perspective, a new thought or idea. The film makes me think. A lot.
            Also; my wife was flipping to a re-airing of the Grammy awards. Now, as a general rule, I avoid any and all award shows. Especially ones where people just give themselves awards. So, when one show was on commercial, the other show was flipped to and watched. Which means I could tune out the awards show and become attentive when the movie was on.
            The movie… I have two favorite scenes in the movie.
            One of them, I’m sure is everyone’s favorite scene. It is at the end, where Spencer Tracy makes his speech about his feelings towards the interracial marriage of his daughter and all the crap the couple would receive from a world full of ignorant people. SPOILERS: He was for it for the simple reason the two people loved each other.
            My second favorite scene is where Sidney Poitier says to his father “You see yourself as a black man, where I see myself as a man.”
            I like to tell myself this is the line in the movie that won the writer “William Rose” his Oscar. But most likely, the gold on the statue was poured for the ending speech alone.
            We, as a country that is, have tried for over 70 years to try and put race relations to rest and it seems to me that in 1967, when Sidney Poitier said that line to his father about seeing himself as a man, we were on the path to equality and understanding.
            Now, fast forward to 2016, with the horrific utterings of the word “racism” at the drop of any hat or misconceived slight, we are all guilty.
            Guilty of not learning from the past. Guilty of not learning. Guilty of even the slightest prejudgment. This is not just blank on blank prejudice. (Insert your own race or creed in the blanks).  It seems to go deeper.
            Not just in our neighborhoods or cities. Nor is it a national problem. This seems to be an international problem. We have elected and non-elected leaders telling us that our problems come from this type of person or that type of person. We even have self-important people with access to social media and millions of followers talking about slights based on race. All of these actions seem to be step backwards and not forwards. It all hurts my head and worse, it hurts my heart.
            In a country where marijuana is legal, where homosexuals and lesbians can marry each other, where an African American man has been elected not once but twice to the presidency and even where a woman is running for president, we are still mired in the sins of our fore-fathers.
            I say for-fathers even though I come from a turn of the 20th century immigrant family. Yet, this is my country and I’m proud of it. I’m just not proud of the actions of some of my fellow countrymen.
            This also makes me sad. I thought we were better than this. I know we are better than this. We have to be in order to survive.
            Which brings me to one of the performances on the Grammy’s. I don’t know the artists name nor would I write it if I did. However; his lyrics and song made quite an impact on me. He came out in handcuffs along with his backup singers and dancers. They were also dressed as inmates. I understand the point he was making. I also understand that as an artist you have the freedom to express your feelings, good or bad, in your art. I also know that there seems to be a great chasm between crimes and criminals in our justice system. A system that is not perfect but it is a system that has changed over time. Slowly it seems but there has been change.
            There are actions that are not excusable committed by people in voice and power that make me ashamed to call myself an American. However; I’d like to think that as our country grows older, we also become wiser. I hope that one day, like the great actor Sidney Poitier said “You see yourself as a _______man, while I just see myself as a man.”
            Or, in the lingo of the new enlightened world “You see yourself as a _____person, while I see myself as a person.”
            After all, we are all people and we are all sharing this journey together and while we may not get out of this journey alive, it’s easier and nicer to be together through the joys, the pains, the success’s and the travails of life than struggling through our own misguided prejudices.

            Have a great week. And remember, try and understand and love your fellow travelers. We all deserve a little of both.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Reason not Excuse

Last October, okay, maybe it was September; I received a jury inquiry letter on my front door. I assume it was put there by the local deputy sheriff. It is after all, their job to do such things. I quickly filled out the paperwork and turned it in. And then my waiting began.
            In December, when I still had not heard anything from the clerk of courts, I called them to inquiry about the status of my potential of being a juror. I was informed by one of the clerks that the paperwork I’d filled out and turned in was for the year 2016. I was relieved. Then, in the midst of January I received a subpoena for the month of February. Upon my first look at the paper I was a bit elated. Which is an emotion most people don’t have when they get summoned for jury duty.
            You see, I’ve been a voter for over thirty years. Local elections, state elections and federal elections; I’ve tried to vote in all of them. As a matter of fact, I believe I’ve only missed one turn at the polls in all that time. In all this time I’ve seen friends and family get called for jury duty. I was always a bit stunned I had never been called. I want to serve on a jury. Not to judge the innocent or guilty, I just want the experience. I want to be part of the judicial process in an impartial manner. Hear the stories from both sides in a legal and litigious manner. Talk over the facts with the eleven other jurors. It just seems like it would be a pretty cool experience. Well to me at least.
            Now, through this entire hurry up and wait experience, I finally received a new turntable to play my albums on. Okay, the turntable isn’t really new. It’s an early 1980’s Sears model. It needed a new belt and the needle was bent so I ordered both from a large online retailer. The belt arrived within a week and when I put it on the machine it fired right up. I then tested the bent needle on The Blues Brothers “Briefcase Full of Blues”. The music sounded amazing blasting through my JBL studio monitors.
            This small addition to my office has actually improved my work productivity. Since I don’t want to leave my office and working while spinning your favorite records is a great way to lose yourself in the pure enjoyment of music while you work. Seriously, you spend about twenty five minutes of working, then get up, flip your record, drop the needle and go back to work for another twenty-five minutes. You literally get a break from work while choosing what you want to listen to while you work. It is quite pleasing.
            As of the writing of this blog, I still have not gone through all the records I have in my office, let alone what I have hanging on the walls in picture frames. I’ll get around to pulling them off the wall one day and putting them on the turntable for endless hours of listening pleasure.
            Amongst this mess of jury duty and record listening, I was asked to perform in another play. Much like the one I was in a couple years ago. I get to play an angry, abusive father and husband. Basically, I get to be the bad guy. Again. Which is cool. I know it seems almost stereotypical but at least it is something I can do. As a matter of fact, my first practice is tonight, after my doctor’s appointment. An appointment that is going to be primarily dealing with my heart.
            Oh? You didn’t know about my heart? It’s swollen. Inflated. Inflamed if you will. Which means, to me that is, I care too much. I need to stop caring about anything and everything. I’m the Grinch at the end of the movie and I need to get back to being the Grinch at the beginning of the movie. But in all seriousness, I do need to take care of my heart better. I’ve spent too much time in the hospital as it is and I don’t want to spend any more time there than I have to. Seriously, who does?
            On top of this, I’ve got two stories being published this year, and I’m also scheduled to do another public reading. A reading of a story I have not written yet. We’ve already had two meetings about this event and a third is quickly approaching. So I guess I need to get busy.
            I’m sure you’re asking yourself right now, “Why is Skip divulging all this information?” The answer is simple, I missed last weeks blog and I barely have time to write this blog. So I figure I’d give you guys, my dear readers, the opportunity to see what sort of insanity is going on in my life. This blog is not an excuse, it is a reason why I have not written much lately. I just seem to be so busy that I can’t even find time to sit down and be creative.
            It seems to me that my experiment of slowing down has failed and I need to reinstitute a new practice. If I can figure out how to implement that new practice I’ll let you know. Or, if you have any suggestions, please let me know.

Have a great week.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Lennon to Newton

Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky. –John Lennon
            We live in quite an amazing time. Instant everything it seems is at our fingertips and yet we still don’t know what is in our own oceans; or the full workings of quantum mechanics; or even how large our universe really is.
            Some say our universe is 46 billion light years in length and still growing. To put that in perspective, a photon, which is a particle of light whom I think I’ll call Gregory, if leaving our sun at this very moment and traveling at the speed of light, as is Gregory’s nature, then he would have to travel for 46 billion years just to reach the current edge of space as we believe it is now. I think Gregory should pack a picnic basket of food for this journey. However; since our universe is still growing, there is very little hope that Gregory would actually reach the edge of our known universe.
            I know, it stills seems a bit hard to visualize the immensity of the universe. So, hmm, okay, how about this, our galaxy, the Milky Way contains over 100 BILLION stars. You know, like our sun. Only some are larger, some are smaller but they exist. They are there. You see them every night you look up into the sky and make a wish. No, you don’t see all of them, you can’t. That’s like saying you can see your entire city from sitting on your front porch. You can’t do it. But, you can see some of the buildings near you. So, imagine our galaxy is the size of a grain of sand on a beach, how would that compare to the scaled down size of the universe?
            That answer is quite interesting. The universe would be the size of a cathedral. But how big is a cathedral? Well, Saint Peters Basilica in Vatican City is almost 50,000 square feet on the inside. Now, considering your average house in America is about 2,400 square feet you’d need about twenty one houses to even come close to the size of that Saint Peters interior space. That’s pretty big. I know from firsthand experience. Now, fill up every dump truck in the world with sand and then unload all that sand inside the cathedral. Can you imagine it? The entire basilica filled with sand from the floor to its 136 foot tall dome. That is a lot of sand. Also, I’m sure the Pope would have you excommunicated, exorcized, condemned, evicted, arrested, flayed, drawn and quartered, beheaded and burned at the stake but this is a mental exercise so none of that is going to happen.
            So, we’ve filled Saint Peters up with sand, because Saint Peters represents the size of the universe, and each grain of sand represents a galaxy. Now, somewhere in one hundred and sixty-five million cubic feet of sand lies our own grain of sand, the Milky Way. (That number is based on the fact Saint Peters dimensions are 730 feet long, 500 feet wide, 448 feet tall. With the exception of the dome which is 136 feet tall.) So, yeah, it’s almost inconceivable as to the size of the universe in comparison to us, but I hope this visualization gives you a good frame of reference.
            Now, another interesting fact is that less than fifteen percent of the smartest people in the world believe in God and the creationist story. (I say story here because I have yet to see evidence to prove the biblical tale.) This intrigues me. You see, I don’t think being smart, curious and eager to learn should be cause for a person to lose faith in religion. That is, if you had faith to begin with.
            Also, over the past few decades, scientists have started to give the theory of a multi-verse credit. No, there is no concrete proof or evidence that there are more than one; however; when you look at the universe, life, planets, suns, atoms, and everything, there is no such thing as one of anything. Even singularities, black holes, we know are not singular. Nope, they seem to be as plentiful as the galaxies they fuel, create and destroy. Which is kind of funny, because in a biblical sense, there is always more than one of anything; I’m not saying that this is a coincidence or even inferring it. This is just the way my brain works. It compares information.
            Where does this leave us? Well, we live in a pretty big place and a small piece of ground and go about our lives dealing with petty issues as if they are the most vital of all details in the grand scheme of things. When in truth, they aren’t.
            Even our loves, our wars, our trials and our success’s really don’t matter on a cosmic scale. I mean, think about it, our universe is almost 14 billion years old and we, mankind, have only been on this spec of space dust for about 2 million years. There have been births and deaths of entire galaxies even before we came around. Hell, even entire species on this planet have come into existence and then disappeared before we even started grunting at each other and bashing each other’s heads in with rocks and sticks.
            Yet when we finally did come into existence and when we finally calmed down, started building, communicating to each other and try to figure out why we were even here in the first place we came up with some pretty crazy ideas. Don’t believe me? Check out the Norse mythological gods, or the Greek ones or the Egyptian gods or the Native American Gods or any race that was around before Christians started spreading their news across the globe.
            Which is funny to me, because it seems that every time I read up on a religion or belief system that can be traced back before Christianity started, they seem to have some sort of creationist story in place; like some native Americans believed in a pair of feathered serpents whose very thoughts became reality and that is how the earth was created. In Greek Mythos chaos reined until love was born and order followed in creation. In Africa, one tribe believes the god of the sky lowered a chain down to the waters and a boy climbed down the chain and started dropping sand into the water to create the continents. I could continue on and on with different examples of creationism, but I don’t need to, you can do some simple web searches and come up with as many as you want.
            Through all these stories the Christians evangelized their own version of creation. They converted a lot of people to their way of thinking. Those old belief systems, those religions soon became myths in the light of the new truth.
            Now, in the 21st century, the Christian creation story is coming under scrutiny by the scientific community and losing. Okay, to be honest, this is not a 21st century predicament. This is only one of many biblical stories that have fallen under the logical thinking and testing of a systematic method. I believe most faith will fail when approached by logical means. But, then, Faith is not logical is it?
            No, how can it be? Hell, being human is not logical when you think about it and faith based systems are never logical. They can’t be. Because faith is more than logic, more than facts, more than understanding the how or they why of things; no, faith is more than the codified knowledge of all the genius’s in the history of mankind.
            Faith is the one thing that tells us to stand our ground when logic tells us to flee. Faith tells us to forgive when logic tells us to cut ties or seek vengeance when we are wronged. Faith affords us grace when logic tells us we deserve nothing. Faith fills us with hope when logic tells us there is none. Faith tells us there is something more to our lives and the existence of our universe when logic tells us we are doomed to die in a fiery crash with the Andromeda galaxy. Faith contradicts science without explanation or reasoning and in some cases, faith has given us miracles that science can’t explain.
            I understand the science of our creation. I accept it. I welcome it in fact and, I am continually fascinated by each new discovery we make. Faith however tells me that there is a great creator somewhere, some when and somehow making sure everything worked when this all started.
            Faith is the one thing I seem to have left at the end of the day, when I’ve read all I can, when I’ve written what I needed to, when I’ve worked as much as I could and when I doubt the future, the past and even my present. It is there, to assure me, to tell me I’ll be okay and so will you even in the light of all evidence to the contrary.
            Yes, I do believe in a scientific creation of everything, yet I also believe there is a larger force at work. One that started it all, I choose to call that force God. It is a belief I struggle with everyday and I’m sure a belief I will struggle with for a long time, however, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because if I didn’t struggle with it, I wouldn’t hunger for knowledge or have the drive to learn, to understand, to question just about everything in existence and if I didn’t have that, my life would be pretty damn dull.
            So I guess what I’m saying is, I believe in a creator, but I don’t necessarily believe in how the story has been told.
            Have a great week.

 This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being....This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God -Sir Isaac Newton