Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: It's A Wrap

So, 2015 is in the books. Hopefully in addition to each of us being another year older we're also each a wee bit wiser. Here are just a few miscellaneous notations on the year just passed.

Let's start with the movies that moved us. The top grossing film of 2015 (so far) was Jurassic World from Universal Studios, released in June with nearly 78 million tickets sold. Star Wars Episode VII, which opened two weeks ago, is a close second with near 72 million tickets sold. The Force lives. Third on the list is another Disney flick, The Avengers. Fourth, again from Disney, is Inside Out. (You can fact check this paragraph and see the rest of the winners here.) 

When the Oscars are handed out later this winter, they will undoubtedly honor many of the famous folk who served in Hollywood during all or part of their careers. Here are some notables whom we lost in 2015, from Tinseltown to the Big Apple and the music world. Leonard Nimoy, the original Dr. Spock; Donna Douglas, whom we all loved as Ellie May Clampett; Yogi Berra, "Slump? I ain't in a slump. I just ain't hitting."; New York Governor Mario Cuomo; Lesley Gore, "It's my party and I'll cry if I want to..."; Percy Sledge, "When a Man Loves a Woman"; the one and only B.B. King; Jazz man Ornette Coleman; Omar Shariff, Dr. Zhivago; Frank Gifford; Hall of Famer and TV commentator; Anita Ekberg, Miss Sweden and La Dolce Vita; Meadow Lark Lemon of the Harlem Globetrotters; and George Barris, Hollywood's King of Kustomizers and creator of the original Batmobile.

It's also been a year for books. Carolyn Edlund, whose Artsy Shark eNewsletter appears in my inbox each morning, shared her top ten list of most read posts pertaining to business books in the art biz she serves. At the top of the list is a cleverly titled book by a body painter titled Promoting a Body of Work. If you're a serious artist serious about selling your work and making a living (if possible) through your creative endeavors, check out Carolyn's list here

I myself read quite a few good books this year. Unfortunately I do not keep a running list and January seems so very long ago. I found myself reading several books about the music culture I grew up with, including a few more titles about Dylan, as well as two about the Rolling Stones, the most insightful being Keith Richards' Life. A mentally stimulating read for me late in the year was a book titled 50 Philosophy Classics. Highly recommended. 

In the local scene one of the major events of 2015 was Mayor Don Ness' decision to not run for re-election. In the fall he released a book about his experiences these past many years titled Hillsider [Snapshots of a Curious Journey]. It's a beautiful volume, combining wit and wisdom, social and political commentary, and gobs of photos all assembled in a wonderfully accessible layout and design (courtesy Andrea Peterson). What makes the book such a good read is that the guy is so unpretentious. It's just Don being Don.

The election of Jesse Ventura in 1998 sent a message. Minnesotans were tired of politicians who talked and acted like politicians. They wanted a straight talker whose public dialogue came from the heart, not from the pollsters and handlers. Ventura's election as governor became a lightning rod for national media. How could this former WWF wrestler take up residence in the governor's mansion?

In no way would I compare the retiring Duluth mayor with former Governor Ventura other than to say neither one fits the mold of a politico. Don has become a perfect symbol of the spirit of our city, eclectic in interests, a supporter of the music and arts scene while advocating for business as well as the needs of the people. He's had a good run, and one wonders where he will go next. And he's got a clever sense of humor. Near the end of the book he jokingly announces a run for press-ident, "Because people who run for president sell more books."

I can't overlook a few of the darker clouds that passed across our skies this year. This list of ten tragedies reminds us of how fragile life is and that we shouldn't take our blessings for granted.

On that note, cherish what you have (friends, loved ones, memories)... and may your 2016 not only be a good one, but also a meaningful one. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

What Are the Odds of Being Happy After Winning the Lottery?

I've been doing some end-of-year cleaning and organizing. Last night while moving folders and files I came across an old file titled Lottery "Winners". The folder had a few newspaper clippings in it with titles like, "Lottery winner arrested again" and "Jackpot winner hits a bad stretch."

We hear the stories and maybe even know a few ourselves, about the rancorous quibbling amongst siblings when one wins big. According to this story 65% of all lottery winners are bankrupt in 15 years. Furthermore, their divorce rate is four times the national average. The story also notes that the average lottery gambler spend $700 a year on the game, which isn't too bad if you can afford it. Many cannot.

Here in the U.S. the big kahuna of lotteries is the Powerball. The drawings are held on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Today's purse is in the neighborhood of $300 million. The odds of winning are pretty slim, as in finding a specific grain of sand on South Beach. Nevertheless there will be plenty of players ponying up, even with the odds of being unhappy afterwards being so high.

Here's another reason it may not be fun to be a lottery winner. The paparazzi. Win a few million bucks and the reporters want your story. According to one Forbes article*, winning the lottery could be a curse, not a blessing. "Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it," is a fairly well-worn adage, but totally apropos.

The story cites Jack Whitaker who says, "I wish I'd torn that ticket up." Willie Seeley was quoted as saying, “There are days I wish we were back to just getting paid every two weeks.”

I had a friend who used to say that lotteries were invented by the rich in order to give poor people a dream of being rich. Why? So the rich won't be hated so much because these dreamers may become one some day.

I dunno. What I do know is that the more you own the more you have to worry about. I also know that there's a really big pot for the winner tonight. Is it O.K. to just go after the $100,000 prize?


*Why Lottery Winners Crash After Winning Big

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Snapshot On Contemporary Advertising

Back in the '90s Michael Crichton, addressing the National Press Club, stated that television was a dinosaur on the way out. The Internet would take over within ten years.

This prediction brings to mind a whole list of predictions in which purported experts got it wrong. Chief of these is the Decca executive who vetoed signing The Beatles because "the guitar is on the way out."* (Turns out, the embarrassment of this miscalculation helped pave the way for the Rolling Stones to get signed on with Decca, whose executives did not want to make the same mistake twice.)

This week a Media Daily News story made predictions regarding advertising spending in 2016. The stats provide a fairly good snapshot regarding current media consumption.

Laurie Sullivan's article is titled Advertising To Surpass $500 Billion In 2016. That's a pretty hefty chunk of change. "Where is it all going?" one might ask. The short answer is, ad money will continue to go where the eyeballs are. Near $200 billion will go to television, despite the prediction that TV was soon going to be dead. But the internet is certainly garnering a big part of the growth in ad spending. And for the fourth year in a row print advertising is on a decline.

And yet... bookstores are still doing a ton of business with overflowing magazine racks displaying new titles every month. People keep reminding me that they prefer to hold a magazine in their lap and don't like turning the pages online. To each her own, I guess. But those handheld devices have made massive inroads and where the eyeballs go those ad dollars are swift to follow.

What I do know is that there's plenty of change taking place in the world, and for some reason we like reading articles that help us guess what will happen next. At least I do. You can read the rest of Laurie Sullivan's article here.


* EdNote: Read about more "bad calls" here in my article Who Are Your Experts?

Monday, December 28, 2015

Oops. Poor Miss Colombia

A week ago Sunday while on Twitter I noticed that the Miss Universe contest was trending. It's been so long since I watched a "beauty contest" on TV (45 years?) that I forgot they still had them. So I decided to "check in" on Twitter as it went along and went down to watch the end where they ask a final question and make their selection.

I found it interesting how people from all over the world were tweeting their support for their country's representatives. It was a form of patriotism I'd been unaw
are of before. As the field narrowed I was struck by how massive the support for Miss Philippines was. At each stage of the event the Philippines fans were acting as if their starlet were a shoo-in. She was a sure thing, so radiant and confident, and all the rest. So for the last ten minutes of the show I took my laptop downstairs to watch the crowning moment.

First off, I felt bad for Miss Colombia on the "final question" because it had to be translated into her native tongue, and then when she replied it also had to be translated back to English. Her answer was so weak it seemed apparent that either Miss USA or Miss Philippines would take the crown. But it also felt unfair, for it made me wonder if the whole translation business diluted her capabilities somehow.

Then came the moment. It's showtime... the lights were bright, and Master of Ceremonies Steve Hurvey read the verdicts. Second runner-up. Miss USA. And then.... Well you can watch it here.

The funny part is that I had flicked off the television as soon as Miss Colombia was crowned. I felt really bad for the fans in the Philippines who seemed so confident only moments before. It wasn't till four days later that I saw on Facebook what had happened. Must have been embarrassing for Mr. Hurvey. I can't even imagine how Miss Colombia felt, the shortest Miss Universe reign on record.

Congratulations, Pia.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Impossible Objects

While doing background research for a story I'm working on I revisited one of my interviews with Portuguese artist Margarida Sardinha regarding her project, Symmetry's Portal. Like artists in every field we have influences. Ms. Sardinha is transparent about hers, freely pointing backward to those whose ideas have been reconfigured in her multifaceted expressions. The January interview ended with a reference to Roger Penrose, whose fascination with geometry resulted in some interesting conundrums.

I remember being a youngster looking at a Mad magazine that had a grinning Alfred E. Neumann with one of these impossible designs. I immediately set about to trying to draw this, which is not really that difficult. Yet the effect is mesmerizing. Such simplicity, yet mind-boggling optical tom-foolery.

By means of basic techniques M.C.Escher spent a lifetime producing a vast array of impossible drawings and optical conundrums. A master illusionist, the Dutch graphic artist took his inspiration from mathematics.

Here's an example of another impossible object, the Penrose Triangle.


But what happens when you build a full-sized three-dimensional model of this bizarre idea? Well, it's not just the illustration that's batty, the real life model is even moreso. As is the composition demonstrated here:


Escher is not the only artist drawn to these kinds of optical puzzles. Salvador Dali and Rene Magritte produced some stunning visual effects of their own.

No wonder magicians have so much fun fooling us. All too often things are not what they seem. It both puzzles and entertains us, and frequently leads us to contemplate life's greater mysteries. I'm thinking here of the concept of the Trinity, a unique feature of orthodox Christianity.

Meantime life goes on... all around you, within you and without you. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Scene from The Golden Key

"Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
 I doubted if I should ever come back." 
~Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

It's interesting how events lead to other events, in real life as well as in the various trains of thought our minds wander upon. This week a story I've been mulling over led me to recall a writer whose works I'd been drawn to many decades ago, George McDonald. McDonald's writings influenced many later writers including C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Madeleine L'Engle and W.H. Auden. The two books I found most stimulating were Lilith and The Golden Key. 

In Hollywood a major objective in film making is to create memorable, unforgettable scenes with memorable lines.  We all know why "The Force be with you," is back in vogue. "I'll have what she's having" is, for example, a line that made the restaurant scene in When Harry Met Sally unforgettable.

So when I remembered McDonald's Lilith I immediately went to Amazon.com to order it. At the same time I decided to acquire The Golden Key as well because of a singular scene that takes place late in the story. A moment later I wondered if this particular short fairy tale might actually be online in its entirety. Answer: Yes!

What follows is a scene that long ago moved me. Forty years have passed but the impression it made remained, and I thought to share it here.

For context, the story begins with a boy who lived on the edge of Fairyland who went on a quest, to find the Golden Key at the end of the rainbow. He finds the key, but has been told he cannot sell it and must discover what it opens. In the forest he meets a girl named Tangle who has been abused and run away into the forest of Fairyland. The two continue on this quest together.

At the long last, the stair ended at a rude archway in an all but glowing rock. Through this archway Tangle fell exhausted into a cool mossy cave. The floor and walls were covered with moss-green, soft, and damp. A little stream spouted from a rent in the rock and fell into a basin of moss. She plunged her race into it and drank. Then she lifted her head and looked around. Then she rose and looked again. She saw no one in the cave. But the moment she stood upright she had a marvelous sense that she was in the secret of the earth and all its ways. Everything she had seen, or learned from books; all that her grandmother had said or sung to her; all the talk of the beasts, birds, and fishes; all that had happened to her on her journey with Mossy, and since then in the heart of the earth with the Old man and the Older man--all was plain: she understood it all, and saw that everything meant the same thing, though she could not have put it into words again.

The next moment she descried, in a comer of the cave, a little naked child, sitting on the moss. He was playing with balls of various colors and sizes, which he disposed in strange figures upon the floor beside him. And now Tangle felt that there was something in her knowledge which was not in her understanding. For she knew there must be an infinite meaning in the change and sequence and individual forms of the figures into which the child arranged the balls, as well as in the varied harmonies of their colors, but what it all meant she could not tell. He went on busily, tirelessly, playing his solitary game, without looking up, or seeming to know that there was a stranger in his deep-withdrawn cell. Diligently as a lace-maker shifts her bobbins, he shifted and arranged his balls. Flashes of meaning would now pass from them to Tangle, and now again all would be not merely obscure, but utterly dark. She stood looking for a long time, for there was fascination in the sight; and the longer she looked the more an indescribable vague intelligence went on rousing itself in her mind. For seven years she had stood there watching the naked child with his coloured balls, and it seemed to her like seven hours, when all at once the shape the balls took, she knew not why, reminded her of the Valley of Shadows, and she spoke:--

"Where is the Old Man of the Fire?" she said.

"Here I am," answered the child, rising and leaving his balls on the moss. "What can I do for you?"

* * * *
Like Antoine d Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince, it is a story for children of all ages, 4 to 104.

I know not what you seek, but whatever your dream be sure to nurture it that you might have strength to continue on your quest.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Guest Blog Post: Seeking Balance during the Holiday Season

Christmas and the holiday season bring great opportunities for gathering with family and friends. Much joy, right? And much stress and sorrow, for some.

Joy comes when we connect harmoniously with others and love flows freely. It is a time to give the gift of a smile, encouragement, and a warm friendly embrace. Appreciation for special relationships, thoughtful gifts designed to communicate love, and quality time all seem to be given in extra measure during the Holiday season.

Sorrow, grief, and the pain of strained family relationships also can surface during this time of year. Here are a few tips for seeking the balance that will help you walk this tightrope for the rest of this month.

1) Accept that this season will bring a variety and range of emotional experiences to you. Give yourself permission to feel the ups and downs. Give others permission as well.

2) Recognize people are grieving right now. You may have experienced a significant loss of some kind yourself. “Anniversary reactions”, where a holiday, birthday, or anniversary of a particular loss brings back the sadness, is a normal part of the grief process.

3) Reach out to those with whom you want to communicate your love and connection. This can include old friends, more distant family, or neighbors to whom you communicate less frequently. Remember in particular those who are lonely at this time of year.

4) Set boundaries that will help you hold to your core values. It is O.K. to say “no” to the requests and demands of others on your time, if you have other priorities. Know your own priorities. You can set limits on others and still be a loving person. Holidays certainly increase the demands on your time.

5) Understand and accept that, for different reasons, some people will respond with hostility to our boundaries, perhaps seeking to control us through false guilt. You are not responsible for how other people feel or respond to you. Your task is to understand your own boundary challenges (when to say “yes” or “no”) and to follow your own convictions in a firm, assertive, yet kind manner.

6) Communicate with love and respect at all times, even when others push your buttons and you find yourself getting angry over the selfish demands of others. Count to ten, if you need time to calm down. Breathe deeply. Excuse yourself and go into the bathroom, if you need to lower your blood pressure.

7) Refrain from giving voice to the nasty thoughts that come to your mind. Emotions are poor decision makers. Deep hurt can make us vulnerable to saying or doing stupid things. Later, you will be glad you exercised that extra bit of self-control.

8) Remember the spiritual foundation for the Christmas and holiday season you are celebrating. It is the reason you value the idea of love in the first place. It empowers you to be flexible and balanced in your approach to others, whether setting boundaries or going the extra mile.

9) Develop a grateful attitude. Be thankful for the blessings of the relationships in your life. Pass on your blessings to others, and your holiday season will bring even more joy into your life.

Ronald S. Newman, Ph.D. is a local psychologist at the Lakeview Professional Center on Route 30 who can be reached at: write2balance@gmail.com.  This column originally appeared in the Hammonton Gazette. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

More Dave Barry Quotes

OK today's blog post: Dave Barry quotes. I'd like to begin with an apology to Mr. Barry because I actually have some friends who don't know who he is. I feel very bad about this because I think everybody should know he is. If you do not know who Dave Barry is, I encourage you to ask Siri.

Yesterday I was feeling a little depressed and while listening to a book on philosophy the writer was discussing existential author John Paul Sartre. Well… let's just say I switched my audiobook to Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer Is Much Faster) and almost immediately I was considerably happier. In fact, I was smiling within minutes. Because I want other people to be happy I thought it may be helpful to post a few Dave Barry quotes here by way of introduction.

EdNote: I was not paid to write this.

“The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers.”
― Dave Barry

“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be 'meetings.”
― Dave Barry

“It is a well-documented fact that guys will not ask for directions. This is a biological thing. This is why it takes several million sperm cells... to locate a female egg, despite the fact that the egg is, relative to them, the size of Wisconsin.”
― Dave Barry

“Your hand and your mouth agreed many years ago that, as far as chocolate is concerned, there is no need to involve your brain.”
 ― Dave Barry

“Gravity is a contributing factor in nearly 73 percent of all accidents involving falling objects. ”
― Dave Barry

“Don't you wish you had a job like mine? All you have to do is think up a certain number of words! Plus, you can repeat words! And they don't even have to be true!”
 ― Dave Barry

“Scientists tell us that the fastest animal in the world, with a speed of 120 mph, is a cow dropped out of a helicopter.”
 ― Dave Barry

“All of us are born with a set of instinctive fears - of falling, of the dark, of lobsters, of falling on lobsters in the dark, of speaking before a Rotary Club, and of the words "Some Assembly Required".”
 ― Dave Barry

* * * *

Click here for a list of Barry books available at Amazon.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Modern Politics: It's a Clown Show

This week we experienced the fifth in a series of GOP presidential debates and though I generally attempt to avoid getting into political quandaries, a friend's Facebook post triggered a set of impressions, so I decided to briefly touch on the topic. Dan wrote:

At this stage I have no political opinions or views to express. It's a giant circus from where I sit. Yet it's a failed circus. We need a new idea. I think a real traveling circus show might provide more structure and coherence as a political party. We should elect academically trained clowns for office. The Mooseburger Clown Arts Camp in Buffalo Minnesota might be a good start for aspiring young statesmen in the midwest. Their slogan is "You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm!" This is more than just a slogan to me; it's a vision statement. This is the type of direction, leadership, and will to power attitude required to restore this once great nation back to its former glory.

Mooseburger Clown Arts Camp is a 6-day intensive clown school designed to meet the needs of people who want to learn to be “real” clowns. America needs YOU. Sign up.

* * * *

I found it strange, yet perhaps not really so strange in the context of our modern political landscape, that the substantially cynical Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) of House of Cards made an appearance during the debates in a Netflix commercial. If you've never seen it House of Cards is the epitome of cynicism, depicting politicians as greedy buffoons. Though I've watched portions of the series I've never noticed that Frank Underwood's initials were F.U. until I saw in this spot that his campaign slogan is FU '16 along with a website.

This naturally led me to think about Marshall McLuhan's take on the impact of media on the times we live in. It was McLuhan who famously observed that mass media and communication technologies are not neutral inventions but actually change the way we are. The last half century of presidential politics has demonstrated this vividly. The first hint of it came with the Nixon-Kennedy debates during the 1960 election. Twenty years later a "great communicator" was installed in the Oval Office, a man who grew up in Hollywood and knew how to project ideas to the masses.

When one looks at this year's batch of Republican hopefuls one has to wonder, who are these people? Is the media a hall of mirrors that distorts everything? What are these people really like? How can you tell?

I think the 1960 campaign altered the terrain. Elections today are essentially manipulations by handlers. And maybe Dan is right, the best way to prepare for office is to sign up for clown camp.

It reminds me of the heart-wrenching tone in which the Broadway musical presents its poignant hit Send in the Clowns.

What's it all about, Alfie?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Dylan Love, Hollywood Style

Dylan fans are everywhere, ubiquitous as the marketing world's major brands. And in the same manner that you see Apple get its share of love in Hollywood films, so too there seems a remarkable number of films and TV shows where a segment of the soundtrack is devoted to showing a little Dylan-love.

A few years back I shared website that listed all of the films a Dylan song was used in up to that point in time. Upon reflection I believe that page, even though lengthy, was not comprehensive.

To get the best snapshot of how many films Dylan songs have appeared in I recommend going straight to the source: the internet movie database (imdb.com). imdb is a site that covers all things Hollywood, from industry news to actor and actress pages that outline their full careers, including projects currently being worked on.

If you want to really get into it, there is a imdb Pro option which includes still more information including contact info for every person connected with Hollywood. If you're a writer seeking a quote, you can get ahold of Tom Hanks' agent, for example.

Receiving the Medal
But it's the memorable use of Dylan's songs and music that's so striking here. Since 2000 a Dylan tune has been incorporated a Hollywood production nearly every month, and every other week at times. But it's been going on since the 60s and the 70s. Even the 80s featured some strong Dylan accompaniments but things picked up even more in the 90s. I've noted before how It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) pretty much pulverized me on the soundtrack of Easy Rider (1969).

Winning the Oscar for his performance of Things Have Changed (The Wonder Boys, 2001) only certified what his fans have known all along... he's one of a kind. How he does it is anyone's guess. Even as a little more than a kid he'd established himself as the king of cool. To continue wearing such a mantle as he approaches his 75th birthday is nothing short of astonishing. (Sorry, am gushing like a fan again.)

Here's that list of Dylan songs that have been incorporated into Hollywood tracks. His songs have served as seasoning for some truly rewarding films.

You can follow this link for a list of Dylan's other nominations and awards as a performer and songwriter.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. What's the soundtrack you're hearing now? Here's one of my favorites...


Saturday, December 12, 2015

Dan Hansen's Dream Nightmare

This morning I was thinking how often I write "I find it interesting that...." I half thought it might be interesting to roll up a batch of my favorite blog entries and assemble them into a book of observations called, "I Find It Interesting."

This morning I saw the following dream that my friend Dan posted on Facebook and thought it so rich in detail and cognitive meddling that it seemed deserving of a wider audience. I myself used to keep a dream diary when I was growing up, from seventh grade till I went to college. Even though I broke off from the practice, I still occasionally recorded these nocturnal diversions and twenty years ago placed a few of them on my original website at ennyman.com.

Here's Dan's unusually distinctive dream:

My powerchair had a loner control box recently installed due to a malfunction of the old one. Kaleb Anderson had emotionally blackmailed me into going to some sort of social entanglement that was "for my benefit." Of course I knew what that meant. It was backhanded Kabe-speak for "I want you there to make myself look better as I yammer on in agreeable platitudes to exotic cultivated women you'll never talk to." I knew this was going to be a sticky tar pit and I might not get out alive. But as always, just to shut him up for 5 minutes was worth risking ego death.

We exit the accessible taxi cab and entered some sort of cultural center. It was a cross between The Louvre with brown ochre carpeting and a shopping mall for David Bowie fans wearing comfortable sweaters. There were no stairs in this place, which I'm sure made everyone sparkle with diversity awareness. However instead of stairs it was an MC Escher maze-work of very steep ramps. Supposedly all these various intriguing events were taking place, of which I saw no signs of. Yet that was never really the point was it? What there was ample supply of were groups of bundled subcultures mingling within one another. They all seemed to communicate in a subdued officially uncodified syntax of auto-positive. This was coupled with steely exclusiveness in their eyes.... as if they had daddy's car keys and no-one was going to take them away. What terrified me the most were the numerous disabled people there with that same unspoken exclusiveness in their gaze. It was unclear if I were behind enemy lines or I was the enemy in friendly territory.

Immediately Kabe disappeared. (I knew exactly what he was up to.) This both relieved me in not having to witness his industrial motor-mouthed machinations, but it also provided that all too familiar hopelessness of being stranded like Tom Hanks in 'Caste Away'. I had no choice but to figure out the ramps of treachery to escape the unsettling eye gaze maze. So I tried going down a steep ramp on my own. This resulted in my wheels skid-sliding down the carpet uncontrollably, ending with my control box smashed and damaged on a hand rail. I was trying to ask for help but I wasn't able to describe the help I needed because the damn control box that had been replaced earlier had buttons and settings written in French.

Just when I thought the horror could not be out-climaxed I noticed my catheter bag flopped out on the floor. It was the size of a giant parachute laying flat and limp oozing urine all over the cultural center. People began screaming and fleeing in terror, some were frozen like petrified deer, others were angry at me like I was a terrorist who just murdered their chances of sex that night. I was getting yelled at and I snapped back, "Fine, I'll be your effing Villain!" At that point I had a nervous breakdown. My control box started shape-shifting into various console game controllers and 80's toys such as "Simon Says". I yelled out, "Can you see that?? It's CHANGING! Do you think I'm crazy?" I heard a couple female voices say, "I see it." Mostly I heard men yelling out, "Yeah, he's crazy." That's when I blacked out from system overload.

When I came to I was surrounded by lab coats and mental health specialists trying to "normalize me" Clockwork Orange style.

The End.

* * * *
I found it especially interesting how Dan wrote the title of the Tom Hanks film as Caste Away, instead of the actual Castaway. People with disabilities are treated as a separate caste in our society, and in many cultures are indeed castaways.

Thank you, Dan, for granting permission to share this dream story with a wider audience. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Secret to Finding Life's Sweet Spot



"Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." - Howard Thurman

I like the sentiment expressed here. We can often make the mistake of looking outside ourselves for answers to questions that can be only answered within. An example would be students who major in a subject not because it interested them, but because they read an article that said people in that field can make money. Life is long and if you are not into what you are doing for a living, it can be very long indeed.

Find what you're passionate about and you've found life's sweet spot.

For other thoughtful and thought-provoking quotes by Howard Thurman visit Goodreads.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Local Art Seen: Red Mug, Beaners, Red Herring

Chris Monroe is on a roll....
Thursday eve last week I was able to drop in on Chris Monroe's book signing at The Red Mug in Superior. Illustrators who can engage people emotionally are a special breed, and you can tell by fan turnout wherever she goes, Chris Monroe has the gift. 

Sometime last year she had a chance to display a lot of her illustrations from her Monkey With A Toolbelt story at the Duluth Art Institute. Fans turned out en masse. Likewise her previous book signing here at the Red Mug filled the place to overflowing. Her work fills the walls for the rest of December and if you get a chance grab a tasty lunch while you're there. While standing in line be sure to check out the shelves behind you for last minute Christmas gifts.

Over at Beaners' Coffeehouse in Duluth we found Elliot Silberman busy sketching patrons who turned out for his show. Elliot's career as a portrait artist has taken him all over the country. Here's a shot of Elliot bringing Beaners proprietor Jason Wussow to life. You can see examples of Elliot's drawings here at Beaners throughout the month of December or at his new website

Friday evening I swung by The Red Herring to catch the opening of a three-person show there featuring work by Esther Piszczek, Ryan Lemahieu and Chris Monohan, brother of Bob Monohan, public face of the Herring. The complexity of Lemahieu's drawings if quite striking, and some of the new pieces appear to have grown in scale. Chris Monohan's work has a welcoming feel. You can find them beyond the bar on the left as you head toward the facilities in the back. Esther's decorative work is always uplifting, revealing an abundance patience that belies the energy she brings to the art scene here.  

The lighting is not the best for viewing art, but is suitable enough. Grab a cocktail and saunter around the perimeter for some eye-catching designs. 

Detail from larger piece by Lemahieu
Print by Chris Monohan 
There's plenty more to see and do this week. Bill Shipley will be giving his Tweevenings talk tonight at the Tweed. And 2nd Friday art crawl is three days ahead. More announcements can be found in the Transistor and the Twin Ports Arts Align section of Facebook.  Maybe we'll see you soon. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

A Table Talk on the Importance of Writing

I believe the ability to write is one of the most important skills that any young person can develop. I suppose I’m biased, since I am a writer and have made a living through putting words on paper.

It’s hard to believe that less than 120 years ago nearly ninety percent of our population made its living off the land. For the most part we were a rural economy. But the industrial revolution was in full swing, and in the early part of the last century an entire generation was lured away from the land to the meat packing plants, steel mills, and manufacturing facilities that sprang up in big cities everywhere.

My great grandfather scratched out his living on a mountainside in east central Kentucky. He could neither read nor write. In fact, none of my kin from the 19th century could put pen to paper other than to make an “x”, which someone else would note was “his mark.”

When my grandfather eloped with grandma in 1923, it wasn¹t until after they were wed that she learned he was illiterate. Her first task was to teach him enough reading and writing so as to be able to fill out a job application. (She had been a school teacher in a rural one-room schoohouse.) She knew all too well that the reading and writing were basic skills essential to advancement in our changing world.

What was true then is even more true today. The ability, or lack of ability, to communicate in words will either open or shut doors of opportunity. We live in the Information Age.

When you think about it, the written word is everywhere. There are a lot of people today directly making a living putting words on paper. Journalists, screen writers, broadcast writers, advertising copy writers, technical writers, lawyers, legislators and magazine editors just to name a few. But there are countless more careers which require written communication skills.

There is nothing significant built without a plan, in writing. Patents for ideas require legal documents. The abstract for your house is a fascinating written record of the history of your property. Marketing plans, business plans, documents for making loans or borrowing money, instructions for software programs or bicycle assembly -- all require the written word.

The written word is an indispensable part of our lives, even in our diversions. We read novels, stories, comics, jokes, cereal boxes, newspapers, email and all kinds of newsletters.

Apart from the career opportunities it provides, writing can also be a valuable tool for personal growth and self understanding. I often find myself quoting Martin Luther¹s advice to his barber: “The weakest ink is stronger than the strongest memory.” If you have had an experience that made a profound impact on your life, write it down. A new insight? Write it down. My brother once shared with me a profound revelation which he had gained while in a therapy group. Several years later I shared with him how that insight continued to move me, because I had recorded it and from time to time re-read it. Funny thing is that he had forgotten it completely!

Teaching our children to write may well be the most important skill we can give them as we prepare them for life. For this reason, I consider it a privilege to share some of what I have learned about how to write and how to teach writing. Maybe one of our own children will write the next Declaration of Independence, Gettysburg Address, or a Nobel prize winning novel.

For all these reasons I have written a book called Writing Lessons: How to Teach Writing and Prepare Your Favorite Students for College, Life and Everything Else. It's not yet published, but if you know someone who can help, I would sure be grateful.

I've said my piece. Now it's up to you.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Thoughts About Reality... What If It Were All Just A Mind Game?

Over the course of a lifetime we hear all kinds of strange ideas. One of them goes like this. What if I am really a butterfly and what I am experiencing as a human is just a figment of my butterfly dream? Of course it is a silly idea, but people debate the matter, and sometimes I think seriously.

A more common question is this: Does reality actually exist? That is, what if everything we experience -- see, feel, smell, hear, etc. -- is simply a projection of our minds? What if the only thing really happening is neurons firing in our brains?

Well, let's think this through a bit. When I drop my car keys, for some reason they always fall downward. When I drop my book onto the table, it likewise proceeds in a direction that corresponds with the laws of gravity. When I fall off a ladder, I somehow fail to float up or sideways and in point of fact fall directly earthward. And so does Bill when he falls. And Lucy's keys also fall earthward as does Mike's book.

Now if the whole thing going on with every single person in the world were similar in all these particulars, how could what my mind conceives be identical to 7 billion other peoples' experiences? I would suggest that it's pretty good evidence that there is a reality outside of our imaginations and inner selves. Our perceptions feed us the same information about the world we live in because that is how the world really is.

If it's all in our individual heads, then why do we all invent clouds or stars or a globe with seven continents? If our external world is imaginary, why don't we live in different worlds? Mike could live in a world that is all earth with little springs of water quenching thirst, and Doreen could live in a world that is all water and she has gills, so she lives swimmingly. And Marta lives in a world where no one ages past 30 and no one ever gets hurt and everyone is happy.

But that's not what we're seeing and experiencing. I talk about a blue sky and everyone who can read this knows what I am talking about. Blue skies are something we've seen and experienced because the outside world we share will be there for our grandkids as much as it is here for you and me. If the world were all but a projection of my mind, the Browns would win the Super Bowl every year and the weather in Duluth would serve up a longer growing season with shorter winters. What I perceive is the same as what you perceive because, drumroll please, ...... it really exists.

Why is it that only extremely educated people seem to stumble over what is obvious even to children? While it's true that things are not always what they appear to be -- take for example the experience of vertigo where pilots feel like they are sideways or upside down -- for the most part, the way things seem to be is the way they really are. (See my 2013 blog post about Strength from the Void for a little diversion on counter-intuitiveness.) And whether we're here to experience it or not, here to see it and write about it or not, the real world we live in would still exist.

Here in the U.S. today is Friday. For all of us, whether it feels like a Friday or not. Enjoy your weekend and make the most of it.

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EdNote: Painting at the top of page is titled "Kentucky" by Ed Newman. Acrylic on Rand-McNally map of Kentucky, approx. 11"x 15". Drawing, ink on paper, is titled "21st Century Schizoid Man."

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

December Twin Ports Art Happenings

Here's my guarantee: If you can't find some original Christmas gift ideas by attending some of the events in this list, then I'll eat my drawing of a hat.

OK, so if you're from out of town and can't be there, I get that. Your second best plan will be to check out some of the local arts and craft events in your own home town. Creative people are everywhere to be found and I'm sure you will see something you haven't seen before, that will bring a smile to someone's face.

Here's a list of happenings for December, most of it courtesy Esther Piszczek.

The Red Herring Lounge
December 4, 6-9 p.m.; 208 E. 1st Street;
Group Opening: Ryan Lemahieu, watercolor/pen & ink, Chris Monahan, monoprints, Esther Piszczek, Zentangle (R) Inspired Art, Friday,  Art will hang Dec. 4-Jan. 5.
Listen to Where's Art with Annie Dugan, Duluth Art Institute Executive & Artistic Director, on KUMD, here!

Art Noel ~ A Merry Holiday Mixer
Friday 4:00pm - 6:00pm
Art on the Plaza
126 Belknap Street in Superior, in the Plaza

Lake Superior College Student Art Exhibition
Monday, December 7, 5-7 p.m.
Opening Reception Lake Superior College, 2101 Trinity Road, Exhibit Details: Monday, 12/7, 12-9 p.m.; Tuesday, 12/8, 8 a.m.-9 p.m.; Wednesday, 12/9, 8 a.m.-9 p.m.

Over 100 works on display for 3 days only! Including ceramics (by Esther P and her talented fellow students), jewelry, metal arts, sculpture, design, drawing, painting, photography.

Pierce & Piszczek Fine Pianos
Friday, December 11, 6-8:30 p.m.
405 E. Superior Street Featuring Esther's Zentangle (R) Inspired Art and UMD Professor Ladona Tornabene's, Ph.D., nature photography amid many beautiful pianos.

More Art Receptions (organized by date)

Red Mug
Thursday, December 3, 5-7 p.m.
Chris Monroe, author, illustrator, cartoonist
916 Hammond Avenue, Superior

Beaner's Central
Thursday, December 3, 6-9 p.m.
Elliot Silberman, portrait artist
324 N. Central Avenue
At the opening Elliot plans to do a number of demonstrations. His approach to portrait drawing is both educational and fun to watch. The exhibition features a cross-section of the public as seen through his eyes, from New York, Florida, Arizona, and the Midwest.

Pizza Luce
Kristina Wheatman, Eclectic Collection Art Show
Opening, Thursday, December 3, 7-9 p.m.
Art will hang Dec. 3-Jan 5
11 East Superior Street

PROVE Collective
Plys With Purpose 
Closing reception, December 5, 6-10 p.m.
In-Person bidding ends 9 p.m.
21 North Lake Avenue

Zeitgeist
222 E. Superior Street
Café: paintings of the late Mark Arvilla, on display through January 2016.
Atrium: Amber Burns, Northern Force, Monday, December 7, 7-9 p.m.

Benchmark Tattoo
Apprentices Jeremy Souders & Kyle James, tattoo flash paintings, Counterculture, 1831 E. Eighth Street

Studio 15
Group show featuring holiday gifts from local artists including Todd Olson’s origami, Dawn Clemons’s fiber arts, Nina Holtz’s ceramics, Janet Billig’s paintings, and jewelry by artists Richard Rosvale and Joe Thoennes.
15 N. 3rd Avenue W.
New holiday hours: Mon-Wed: 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; Thu. 1-5 p.m.; Fri-Sat: 1-4 p.m.

Art Fairs, Gingerbread, and Opera!

The Magic Flute
Friday, December 4 and Saturday, December 5, 7:30 p.m.
Weber Music Hall, UMD, 1151 University Drive; General Admission tickets: Adults $10, Seniors $8, UMD Faculty/Staff/Student $5, Student $5, UMD student $3
Alice Pierce, Director of Opera Studio, UMD

Get it Local Gift Fair
Saturday, December 5, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Peace Church, 1111 N. 11th Av. E, Duluth
For artisans and non-profit organizations within the municipal boundaries of Duluth and Superior only. Organized by Wendy Grethen, WendyUpNorth.com.

Duluth Fiber Handcrafters Guild Fiber Fair and Sale
10 a.m.-3 p.m., The Great Hall, Depot, 506 W. Michigan Street

Pepperkakebyen, Gingerbread City
Open Saturdays and Sundays, 1-5 p.m. November 21-December 13
Nordic Center, 21 Lake Avenue
If you've never seen this, it's a must see. Over 150 gingerbread houses. Donations appreciated.
Organized by Dr. Alison Aune, Art Education Professor at UMD. (Thank you to Annie Dugan for her wonderful Art podcast, which contributed to this update, see KUMD link above!)

Handel's Messiah
Two performances hosted by Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra

Cool Yule Holiday Show
Washington Galleries and Studios. December 12.
315 N Lake Ave, Duluth, Minnesota 55806

Classes
Zentangle (R) and Wine  (Apparently not a children's drawing class.)
Wednesday, December 9, 6-8:30 p.m. Master Framing Gallery, 1431 London Road, $35; $10 for supplies; lead by certified Zentangle (R) teacher Esther Piszczek.

Around the Corner (Courtesy E.P.)

Contemplative Meditation Meets Zentangle (R) Always wanted to meditate, but can't sit still? Or, are you a long-time meditator looking for a new approach to entering a quiet, centered space? Join us for a six-hour retreat where meditation melds with art. Various meditation techniques will help us enter a quiet, centered space to create beautiful, intricate line patterns 'one stroke at a time' using the Zentangle (R) method of pattern drawing. No previous drawing experience is necessary.

Saturday, January 30, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., McCabe Renewal Center, 2125 Abbotsford Avenue, Duluth Suggested Donation: $70 (included supplies to take home) Bringyour own lunch. Snacks and beverages will be provided. Facilitators: Episcopal Priest Cindy Peterson-Wlosinski and certified Zentangle teacher Esther Piszczek To Register: Call the McCabe Renewal Center, 218-724-5266 or email McCabeCenter@msn.com Artist Profile!

Woman Today, December Issue, Page 24, Pam Rouleau, Replicating Life in Miniature by Esther Piszczek

Meantime, art goes on all around you.  See you tonight.

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Note: Image at the top of the page is titled Blue Van Gogh by Ed Newman and is available as a limited edition reproduction. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

After 40 Years on the Road, Elliot Silberman Is Getting Off

When Elliot Silberman notified me that he is giving up life on the road, it was only natural to ask why. "Man-o-pause," he replied.

Seemed like a good way to introduce his new art exhibition at Beaner Central during the month of December. The opening reception for Duluth artist Elliot Silberman is slated forThursday Dec. 3, 6:00 p.m.—9:00 p.m. For the month of December Silberman will be showing a collection of 5-minute portraits from his travels to art and craft shows and Renaissance Festivals around America for the past four decades. At the opening he will doing live demonstrations.

Elliot's approach to portrait drawing is both educational and fun to watch. The exhibition features a cross-section of the public as seen through his eyes, from New York, Florida, Arizona, and the Midwest.

Silberman has many passions including fishing, making music and Dylan. Over the past 19 years he has been the Master of Ceremonies for the annual Battle of the Jug Bands at Amazing Grace each Memorial Day weekend.

Silberman began doing portrait drawings more than forty years ago here in Duluth. “There were no arts and crafts shows in the early 70's,” Silberman explained. “Sidewalk sales, Canal Park, West Duluth Days celebration, the Folk Festival – these were really the only ones. I don’t recall having much of a display. Just two chairs, and a small easel with one framed sample on it. I charged $1 back then, happy to get it. Never did make more than $30 a day at Canal Park.” Eventually he branched out by taking the skills he had been honing to the road.

“Why am I finally coming home and leaving this life on the road? Man-o-pause. A change in life,” he says. For the rest of the answer, you will have to ask him yourself Thursday, Dec. 3rd at Beaners Central, Coffeehouse and Gallery.

Can't make it to Thursday's opening? Visit his new website to see examples of his work. Or to simply get in touch.

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Tweevening Lecture Series Continues Tonight
Tonight at the Tweed Museum of Art Bill Shipley will talk about the work of the late New York sculptor Leslie Bohnenkamp (1943-1997) whose work in paper and fiber is part of the museum's permanent collection. Bill Shipley is an expert on the artist's work and history and also represents the artist's estate.

Friday at the Red Herring
There will be an opening reception for a three-person show featuring work by Ryan Lemahieu, Chris Monohan and Esther Piszczek. Details here.

Thursday at the Red Mug
Chris Monroe will be having another event at The Red Mug in Superior from 5-7 p.m. The show is titled Creatures Were Stirring. Sounds cool. Seems like everyone loves Chris's illustrations. Her books are fun.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Check it out.