Friday, December 26, 2014

for #BigIdeas2015 about reworking college

This morning I responded to Jeff Selingo's education reform forum on LinkedIn, #BigIdeas2015.

Here's what I wrote:

I have been underemployed all my adult life, but that's okay. The best things in life may be related, in some ways, to education, but satisfaction with life accomplishments are not absolutely dependent on education.

Now approaching the golden years of life, I have gathered a lifetime of useful knowledge, which I would like to pass on to the next generations. Here's why:

My somewhat unpredictable forty+ years of employment and raising children with my wife have convinced me that a broadly diversified foundation of education is absolutely worth more that its weight in gold. In modern life, especially now in our age of digital communications, there is no substitute for developing three essential educational components, which collectively constitute an advantageous preparation for successful life. Here are the three components:

~ knowing how to read, and read thoroughly with comprehension and critical analysis

~ knowing how to write, and express yourself and what you have learned

~ knowing how to communicate verbally, and accurately (for instance, without constant mentions of "like" and "um.")

In 1973, I was a confused, but fairly well-read, senior at LSU. With a concentration in general humanities, mostly political science and English, I managed to escape four and a half years of trying to figure this "education" thing out. Fortunately, that prolonged effort yielded for me a baccalaureate, which I held in my hand while launching a "career" in life insurance sales.

The life insurance phase was short-lived. But that did not, as it later turned out, matter so much.

After moving to Florida, spending the better part of a year selling policies to low-income people, I moved into newspaper advertising sales for a season, then into printing sales for about five years.

Then I decided to become a carpenter. Ha! Who'd have thunk it?

So I was, making a long story short, in construction for twenty-five+ years. I built houses, working for contractors in North Carolina where we had settled with our young family. Thus we managed to make a living, feed the kids and all that. My wife moved out of her stained glass business and into nursing shortly after our third child entered middle school.

All along the way, I was a reader, and that is the key to education--learning how to be a lifelong reader, and thereby cultivating a lifelong proficiency for self-education.

About ten years ago, I decided to enter the field of education. After taking courses part time for a couple of years at our local state university, I acquired several teaching certifications. After Praxis, student teaching and acquiring certifications in four subjects, I worked in a school for about two years in a supportive role.

Then the crash of '08 came, followed by the budget-cutting of '09. One thing led to another, and our own household budgetary requirements required that I move back into construction-related work, which is to say, maintenance. Now I fix things in 92 apartments; its a full time job, and works well with my wife's nursing career.

Eight years ago, I started writing and publishing novels; I'm working on the fourth one now, which is named King of Soul. You can find more about those writing projects and the blogs that complement them at

Also, the improvised resumé includes forty+ years of writing songs and recording them in various studios.

Here's hoping that before all this is over, I will be able to fulfill the educator role in some way. There is a lot to be said for a life that is spent in continuous reading and seeking knowledge. Knowledge of both kinds: the artistic, and the practical. I do hope to pass it on; a classroom setting could be helpful.

So, if you are considering a rework of the "college" experience, shoot me a digital note and we will talk about #BigIdeas2015. Thanks.

Glass half-Full

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Nutcracker is not correct!

During all six+ decades of my time here I've been appreciating Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker ballet suite. Every now and then, woven throughout this life I'd hear snippets of the musical adventure--dance of the mirlitons, the sugar plum fairy, snow queen, the Nutcracker Prince . . . whether spinning across the airwaves from WDAV, or sacheting through some mall soundtrack, or whirling around in my childhood recollections, maybe gliding through a Christmas scenario from some ancient yuletide celebration in days of old. Whether it be a shimmering tinsel of exotic melody that hangs upon my personal memory, or some almost-seen glimmering remnant from a collective archive of European culture, I haven't a clue.

Then last night we saw the actual ballet performed at Charlotte.

Whoa! What an experience.

As the dancers initiated their rite of midwinter reverie, my first thought was about the stage setting in their background. How much the world has changed! since Petr Ilyich first cast this musical extravaganza into the world's imagination. The immensity of the Christmas tree, the lavish grandiosity of what is obviously a mansion setting, and the quaintly sumptuous finery of the characters' costumes--these elements of the story are quaintly outmoded, and did not portend a ballet that would reflect sensitivity to contemporary political correctness.

The family depicted in the story do not seem to represent regular folks--certainly not Democrats, anyway.

I mean, they look like old-fashioned rich people, like we used to see in old British movies, all dressed in frills and formality. Maybe they're actually . . . the dreaded 1%! Or maybe even (Tchaikovsky being a Russian) they are those heartless Russian nobility types whose vast domains were enriched by the toil and sweat of peasants.

I thought: This is going to be a ballet about upper crust Ruskies whose prosperity was directly dependent on the Czar's authoritarian feudalism, before the Bolsheviks began redistributing the Old World's old money into new Leninist revolutionary paths of proletarian appropriation. This stageplay is not going to be an egalitarian holiday presentation. No Little Match Girl or Dickensian Tiny Tim tearjerker here.

I wasn't really thinking that. I'm a Republican after all.

But the ballet is, as it turns out, one colorful yuletide episode in a little rich girl's life. How politically incorrect is that? And if that wasn't bourgeois enough, the setting then morphs into the little rich girl's dream-- the whole second half of the show is a little rich girl's fantasy! Don't tell anyone.

Now I can understand the palace-like marbled grandiosity of the Bank of America Center interiors, which I was forced to walk through while ambling from the parking garage to the theatre. (Even though Wells Fargo sponsored the Event. Go figure.) This ballet is part of a vast capitalist plot to make every middle and lower class family just like the well-endowed family whose holiday fantasy is dramatized in the Nutcracker!

I can't believe the Democrats met here, right outside those doors in downtown Charlotte, only two years ago!

Is it a Russian plot?

That dancing Prince looks pretty nutty if you ask me. I wonder if he's somehow connected to Putin's power-grabbing aspirations!

Nevertheless, in spite of all that hog-wild rumination trying to drag my sugar plum appreciations into politically correct judgements, we had a great musical experience with the Charlotte Ballet, accompanied by Charlotte Symphony! I was thoroughly enthralled as the dancers whirled around Petr Ilyich's construct of an Old World 1%er child's fantasy, while the stage-setters did their magic under the influence of Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux's imaginative dancing mastery.

Somewhere between the pageantry of high-hatted toy soldiers and the mysteriously dissonant celesta, which accompanies Sugar Plum Fairy's confectionary grace, I found myself amazed at the "diversity" represented in Tchaikovsky's 19th-century rendering of an old Hoffman tale.

My amazement started in the first scene, with the post-modernly mechanical movements of the the Toy Doll and the Nutcracker Doll. These motions were incredibly like mime, or even hiphop. I didn't know if I was flashing on Charlie Chaplin, Marcel Marceau, or Michael Jackson.

To further complicate my prior expectations about ballet, I had to ask: Who would have thought an outlier Russian symphonist would include Spanish chocolate, Arabian coffee, and Chinese tea in his fantastic array of pirouetting spices? And then he blends them into a Czarist celebration of one family's opulent holiday festivities?

But old Petr managed to do it. Quite an amazing guy, that Russian.

From listening to his music over the years, I've gotten the impression that the composer spent his whole symphonic life trying, time after time, to perfect the delicate art of orchestral crescendo. The Nutcracker represents, it seems to me, an exotic side-trip in that lifelong dynamic project. While 1812 Overture and the Swan Lake were brilliant expressions of that quest for the perfectly constructed crescendo, The Nutcracker is a different character entirely--a wildly musical collection of divers cultural adventures, 19th-century style. Maybe that's why its seasonal popularity has launched Petr Ilyich's masterpiece of sweetness of into one of the world's most enduring classics.

Glass Chimera

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Oh, Elizabeth!

Oh, Elizabeth!
Every straight-suit conservative cultivates this fantasy
of her,
this indomitable lady whose brazen eloquence bankers yearn to
so they can
her wild-eyed policy pronouncements impotent to
in breaking-news neo-new deal doses of rolling socialist
and boundless bureaucratic, sycophantic, stultatory regulatory
But with unbridled, yeah I say unto thee unfathomable,
she sails forth as some queenly masthead of Democratic
flinging seaspray aside, sluicing salty flashes of populist
She reigns as Regulator extraordinaire, tossing all semblances of mediocre laissez-faire
while, with squeaky clean midwestern vesture she thrusts bankerly reserves
the bus, for us huddled masses of underemployed, chronically annoyed, lean and
burdened occupiers yearning to be free, so we can be
a tower
of turbulent ferment that even now doth foment in yon seething streets, with fleeting beats,  this very
You hear
it? This eloquent Liz hath spoke! and now she doth poke her legatory finger in the
being now a
While wily regulators and owlish pundulators still yet yearn to 
shower her
with love, yet she doth sally forth with that sensational senatorial
of old. She doth provoke us from her lofty tower
of power. Yeah, she doth it at this very

Glass Chimera

Sunday, December 14, 2014

You gotta respect yourself

I was in Greensboro yesterday, and visited Scuppernong Books on South Elm Street downtown, where I picked up a copy of Greg Kot's excellent historical book about Mavis Staples and the Staples Singers.
After reading 40 pages about Pop Staples and his singing family, I was very impressed with these people, and what they did with their lives. I really identify with old Pop Staples, who got his young'uns started in music back in the 1950s, when I was a clueless white kid growing up in Jackson Mississippi.
Now everybody knows that Miss'ippi mud gave birth to the delta blues.

There ain't nothin' really wrong with the blues. I've spent many an hour myself singing the blues, crying the blues, being blue, and feelin' that ole E7 12-bar a-wailin' blues. Ev'body have the blues now and then, and some folks are born into the blues, spend their lives in the blues, and make powerful emotive music in the blues. But the blues is hard, and there are lifestyle choices connected to singin' them blues that can render a life that is just damned hard, too hard.

Ole Pop Staples learned his blues down in the delta where he was raised, and he played along with them wailin' boys, but when it came to Sunday morning, Pop took his wife and young'uns to church, cuz there come a time when you gotta rouse yoself outa that funky blues and do somethin' right.

So Pop Staples got his younguns started out right in the musical life, singing in church, praising God.

Few years later, when they moved up to South side of Chicago , and them Staples saw deeply into all what was going on there in that big hub city of America's stockyard-smellin' heartland, and they heard Mahalia and sang with her and all that, Pop's commitment to gospel music got stronger and stronger.

So he made sure his singing kids stayed on the gospel track, even though what they were doing sounded real bluesy, like his delta roots.

That man from the delta had a unique combination of blues and gospel runnin' through his veins, and he brought his children on board that train. There wasn't no one who would sing like Pop with his children; they were good at it. As we say in the Christian heartland, they had "the anointing."

In his book, Greg Kot mentions on page 34 that, nevertheless, their first record release was a flop. After that, a certain record company was

". . . looking for hits and encouraged the Staples to move in a rock'n'roll direction, according to Pops, but he would have none of it."

And Pops said:

". . .He wanted us to sing blues. He said Mavis could make a lot of money singing blues. I didn't want her singing blues."

Prodigy singing daughter Mavis agreed:

"I just enjoy singing spirituals."

Some time passed. Then the singing had to go on the back burner for awhile. Kot reports:

"When the Staples' contract expired in 1955, Pop returned to his job at the steel mill, in no hurry to jump back into the music business."

But that little disagreement with the music professionals turned out to be just a bump in the road for Pop and his soulful singing kids. Long story short, here's what happened later:

Glass half-Full

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Surely, He has borne our griefs

Every now and then in world news, it is reported that Muslims have taken offense because the Prophet Mohammed was insulted by some disrespectful kaffir journalist, speaker, or movie. In such cases, followers of Islam have been known to demonstrate their ire publicly.

This does not generally happen--it should not--among Christians, because our Savior has already suffered just about every insult, torture, or disgrace known to man-- when he was nailed to a cross. There is nothing a person can say or do to humiliate Jesus that hasn't already been spoken or done.

People who do not believe in Christ sometimes say that ours is a weak religion--even pathetic--because we put all our hope and faith in a Messiah who was judged to be a criminal and blasphemer and then publicly humiliated by torture and death on a cross.

The Muslim religion, by contrast, is founded on belief in the spoken word and action of a different person, Mohammed, who was a very successful man. Although he was opposed by many religious people of his day--as Christ also was--Mohammed surmounted the opposition of his enemies. In spite of his contentions against the stubborn Arab old-religionists of Mecca, he became, during his lifetime, a highly respected religious leader, revelator, military leader, judge, and founder of a world religion. Along the way he who took multiple wives, fathered many children and grandchildren, and died a natural death.

Jesus Christ, however, died on a cross after being publicly humiliated and tortured.

People who criticize Christians for following a suffering, crucified Savior think we have been misled or duped to put our faith in such a loser.

Whatever. It doesn't matter what they think. Whatever abuse, verbal or physical, was heaped upon Jesus, is to be expected in the Christian life, and we must bear that humiliation with the same dignity that Christ bore his.

And that is a major point of Christianity--learning to bear the humiliation and suffering that this life generates, even as he did.

The real frustrations and failings of our life, after all, usually center around our defeats, not our victories.

So, by going to the cross, which facilitated his later resurrection on the third day afterward, Jesus showed us how to accomplish the greatest--the most necessary--victory in life. This overcoming is obtained through facing, bearing, and overcoming whatever-the-hell trouble life throws at us, including the worst adversity of all--death itself.

The Jewish prophet Isaiah foreshadowed this exemplary, salvatory role of Messiah when Isaiah presciently spoke:

"Surely, He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows!"

Several millenia later, the composer Georg Friedrich Handel included these prophetic words from Isaiah in his great musical oratorio, Messiah:

This motivates us to proclaim, as Paul did:

"Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation--giving no cause for offense in anything. . ."

Life is sad, and difficult, but our God has shown us how to get through it victoriously; this does not require taking offense at every little errant word or insult. He was our example in this forebearance. Furthermore, we have better things to do.

Glass half-Full

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Air upon a strung string

Somewhere in the world virtuoso


dance upon stretched


string strung upon neck of


Would you listen to it.

Somewhere in the world craftsman


carve upon some shapening piece so


reigns upon a great grand old hall,

if only for a moment,


ears and eyes are trained upon


person pulling passion out of

string strung on


Would you hear it if you


not that you should

of course.


wood sawn from spruce still


sublime sound to

astound our attentive eyes and ears;


fade as rapt attention in

suspension of all stress while all the


is strung upon the tender breast of



the finery and excellence you see rugged old


whose seed was slung upon an earthen floor


Creator God to raise a tree, as


will yet raise you and me

and stretch us upon his neck of time,


as gutty string doth


music to our heart and mind.

Surely we all will someday shine


in God's good time.

Glass half-Full

Saturday, December 6, 2014

This just doesn't add up

Yeah, sure, Michael Brown broke a law.

Yeah, sure, he was resisting arrest;

yeah, sure, the officer of the law was doing his duty.

But in the end, a young man, unarmed, is dead
because he stole a pack of cigarillos and then walked impudently down the middle of the street.

Yeah, sure, Eric Garner broke a law.

Yeah, sure, he was resisting arrest;

yeah, sure, the officer of the law was doing his duty.

But in the end, a young man, unarmed, is dead

because he was selling cigarettes.

This just doesn't add up.

There is something wrong here.

And it appears to be, as we say in newspeak, systemic.

That is to say, there is something wrong with the system.

Yeah, sure, the Missouri grand jury that did not indict the officer

was a legally appointed body the purpose of which was to decide

whether there was a possibility that the arresting officer had violated the law

while attempting to protect himself and the public.

Yeah, sure, the New York grand jury that did not indict the officer

was a legally appointed body the purpose of which was to decide

whether there was a possibility that the arresting officer had violated the law

while attempting to protect himself and the public.

But we have two dead bodies because of damned minuscule cigarette violations. The deathful end doesn't justify the means. There's something wrong with this picture, and the public can smell it.

Why is the deadly outcome of these two cases so much bigger, and final, than the sum of their legal parts?

A young man commits a misdemeanor or two; then he's walking along and suddenly there's a cop in his face. That's to be expected; illegal actions have legal consequences. So the cop is doing his job. But hey, a few minutes later the petty criminal is dead.

Who issued the guilty verdict and death sentence? A court of law? A trial by jury? No. It doesn't add up.

There is something going on here, something being exposed, that needs to be dealt with.

Is it racism? True dat. Like sin, it is always there in us, sometimes under the surface, sometimes in full-blown atrocity. Wherever men go upon the earth, there is, was, will be tribe-against-tribe racism.

But racism is only part of this picture; the other part is a justice system with its priorities out of whack. That's what we the people are feeling now.

Why are so many people--black and white, conservative and liberal--disturbed about the fatal outcome of these incidents?

We have a serious disconnect between the street-imposed sentence (death) and the seriousness of the crime.

That "it doesn't add up" disconnect is wired into our media-driven minds. Although we do not know nearly as much as we think we do about news events, neither does a grand jury operating without cross-examination of witnesses.

In this fortnight's perceived events, it's almost as if the vast public outcry, as jerky and fickle and circumstantial as it is, produces a more appropriate assessment of the outcome than the traditional, evidence-based system for passing judgement.

Oh surely we do not know the facts of the case as well as the grand jury. But we do know this: two young, unarmed men who had not been sentenced to death are now dead. That's the bottom line.

It doesn't add up. The system, with or without grand jury, needs somehow to be fixed, so that the punitive sentence accurately reflects the seriousness of crime.

As if that could happen.

I don't know though. . . maybe it's always been this way. Maybe there is, in truth, no justice in this world.

And so folks yearn for something better. . . the Last Judgement of a Righteous God?

I'm not excusing injustice.

Just sayin'. That Last Judgement may be the only justice some of us will ever see.

Glass half-Full