Claiming Your Deck Space

A month ago, I decided to take a break from writing about anything overtly political. I’m glad I did, as the last few weeks have allowed me to step away from the shrill pitch and tenor of our national debate about which candidate (s) is less tainted than the others. Today, I’ll covertly brush up alongside the topic, albeit briefly.

Be careful where you place your deck chair.

Be careful where you place your deck chair.

Whenever you frame things in an either/or paradigm, you severely limit possibilities for change. Merely mentioning “hope and change” won’t alter a thing, unless you open up a dialogue vastly different that the current one centered on maintaining the American status quo. To do so would require all of us (not just the “other side”) to dramatically reorient how we think and ultimately, how we live. No one (save for a few) are willing to do this. Instead, we’re left with re-arranging deck chairs, to reference one of my favorite writers/bloggers, John Michael Greer. I’d highly recommend this week’s post, about merely “rearranging the deck chairs,” once more. Better, bookmark The Archdruid Report, and spend some time working your way back through what I consider some of the most thoughtful writing out there on the interwebs, about our present malaise.

One thing that really resonated with me was when Greer touched on (in the comments section, no less) how rare it is these days to meet those “old-fashioned liberals of the pro-civil rights, pro-grassroots organization, ‘let’s roll up our sleeves together and make America a better place’ sort.” I’d concur.

Part of that is probably the fault of Mark Zuckerberg, with the rest of us shouldering our own share of the blame. Mere likes without action are never going to move the needle and stop our downward drift.

Neither will voting for four more years of what we’ve had for the past eight, or choosing a man who merely promises greatness, when most of our national vitality has been sapped by inaction and believing in quick fixes. There are no political revolutions on the horizon.

More Than Fried Chicken

Who would you consider our most iconic national figures in the U.S.? In addition to the faces on Mount Rushmore and recent presidents, what 10 to 15 names would you list for people from the past? One name that I’d include would be a man who “arrived” a bit later than most. That would be Harland Sanders, better known as simply, “Colonel Sanders.”

Sanders’ resume is a diverse and varied one. From his very humble beginnings in Henryville, Kentucky, he rose to prominence as an unlikely entrepreneur who refined a recipe for fried chicken, one that became known due his secret recipe containing “11 herbs and spices” that gave Kentucky Fried Chicken its distinctive flavor. It also allowed him to build a business enterprise that he sold at the age of 69, to John Y. Brown (former governor of Kentucky) and Jack Massey, a Memphis financier.

Today, Kentucky Fried Chicken (aka, KFC), has revenues of $23 billion, with nearly 19,000 outlets in 120 countries around the world. Not bad for a recipe for frying chicken that was forged in the backroom of Sanders’ family diner, in 1952.

Southern-fried chicken, corporate-style.

Southern-fried chicken, corporate-style.

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A Purple Friday

The obvious thing to write about today if I was following the herd, would be the death of Prince, the great purple one. Actually, I will follow the masses today, as I did want to touch briefly on the sudden end to his music career.

In terms of music coming out of Minneapolis (Prince’s hometown) in the 1980s, I was a fan of The Replacements and Hüsker Dü. I knew of Prince, but he was too commercial for my tastes at the time. In terms of popularity, he tended to curry favor with the mainstream music crowd that I looked upon with disparagement.

According to Wikipedia, Prince sold more than 100 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling artists of all-time. I knew he was popular, but didn’t know his sales were that substantial.

I always enjoy catching Purple Rain, whenever it runs in the loop of B-fare movies that show up across cable television. There’s something about him that obviously resonated with his followers. For me, his appeal was that of observing a prodigious musical talent, but from a distance. Prince’s death is similar for me in many ways to David Bowie’s—if you knew anything about music, you never were not aware of either Prince, or Bowie.

Prince is frozen in Purple Rain in my memory.

Prince is frozen in Purple Rain in my memory.

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A Good Coach

I’m not sure if the best coaches are the ones who everything came easily to, or maybe the better ones are those who had to struggle a bit and figure some things out. There are examples from both categories, so relying on the anecdotal won’t deliver the definitive on that question.

Coaches are important; that I do believe. They can identify some minor flaw, and get you to focus on positive assets while dialing down your liabilities. I’m sure we can all name essential coaches and mentors who helped us along toward success at key times in our lives.

Sometimes our lives simply get choked full of weeds and debris, and we need someone objective (bringing necessary “distance and space”) to help us unclutter, refocus, and even breathe deeply and regularly. Sort of like what Mainers and others do coming out of winter, when we rake up the yard, and clear out the detritus from winter, tidying up our flower gardens.

I was on the radio this morning, on The Breakfast Club, talking about publishing your own book with local writer, Linda Andrews, a coaching client of mine. Linda did an awesome job, talking about her amazing new book, Please Bring Soup To Comfort Me While I Grieve.

On the radio with Linda Andrews, talking indie publishing.

On the radio with Linda Andrews, talking indie publishing.

Sometimes a coach can make all the difference for us. Continue reading

The Land of Confusion

It’s Saturday (not Friday). I’ve been consistent about posting on Tuesdays/Fridays. I’ve remained steadfast about that schedule, because that’s how self-imposed deadlines work.

As a freelance writer, I’ve always been proud of delivering on (and prior) to agreed-upon deadlines. Occasionally, I’ve had to ask an editor—usually someone I’ve developed a relationship with over time—for an extension. I guess blogging and self-imposed deadlines allow some flexibility, too.

Questions about content?

Questions about content?

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Bands That Suck

Indie rock is something I’ve blogged about before. The DIY mindset that permeated the period between say 1979 and 1995, pre-interwebs, was a unique one. If you happened to have tapped into it in some small way—simply as a fan, or perhaps a DJ, let alone as an actual band member—you know that it’s something we’ll never replicate again.

Jon Fine played in what he’d call one of the “weird bands” of that period, first with Bitch Magnet, then later with some bands even less well-known (like Coptic Light and Don Caballero). It’s not like Bitch Magnet’s a household name, but in the world that counts Black Flag and Sonic Youth as the best-known of a group of bands that were all a bit off-center, the period was worth recounting in some detail.

"Your Band Sucks: What I Saw at Indie Rock's Failed Revolution (But Can No Longer Hear)", by Jon Fine

“Your Band Sucks: What I Saw at Indie Rock’s Failed Revolution (But Can No Longer Hear)”, by Jon Fine

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No Reason

Driving home through yesterday’s midday deluge, I decided to tune in MPBN’s Maine Calling program. The topic was “The consequence of paying our teachers poverty-level wages,” at least that’s what their Facebook page indicates. I joined at some point, about 20 minutes into the program.

One of the guests on the show was Tayla Edlund, who was chosen as Maine’s Teacher-of-the-Year for 2015. She teaches third grade in Cape Elizabeth.

The show’s host, veteran journalist Keith Shortall, posed a question that basically captured an idea that well-to-do places like Cape Elizabeth—the top-ranking Maine community by income—are likely to have greater parental involvement. Anyone that knows anything about socio-economic data and education wouldn’t have had any problems with Shortall’s premise. Here is but one study on the subject.

Socio-economics affects educational attainment.

Socio-economics affects educational attainment.

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April Baseball

Like most members of Red Sox Nation, I was disappointed that Monday’s season opener in Cleveland was postponed due to cold weather. Baseball and 30 degree weather don’t make for optimum conditions. Having grown up playing baseball in the cold and pitching in some brutal weather in Aprils past during high school and college, I concur with the decision, and hopefully, the boys can get at it this afternoon, in Cleveland.

Listening to afternoon sports talk, on-air personalities on WEEI, yesterday. Dale Arnold, Michael Holley, and Jerry Thornton, questioned the postponement of the game, indicating that Tuesday’s weather won’t be much better. Having Cleveland host a home opener in April is always fraught with cold weather possibilities, but their fans are entitled to see their baseball team host an occasional home opener. The Tuesday forecast at Progressive Field is calling for sun and 34 degree temperatures, sans yesterday’s wind along with rain and snow showers.

I don’t envy Cleveland’s hitters getting jammed by a David Price fastball. The Sox batters are also facing a tough pitcher in former AL Cy Young winner (in 2014), Corey Kluber. On paper, it appears that it might be a low-scoring affair. Hopefully the Sox packed their thermal undergarments and balaclavas.

Wearing the mask. (Getty images)

Wearing the mask. (Getty images)

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Laughing and Raging

I don’t pretend to know what a writer like Jonathan Franzen’s (or Stephen King’s for that matter) life is like. However, there are glimpses into a writer’s mind offered by others.

In the case of Franzen that look-see comes courtesy of Phlip Weinstein in Jonathan Franzen: The Comedy of Rage, a new book that proposes to be a “critical biography,” joining elements of a biography with those of literary criticism. Franzen may be a writer of fiction mainly, but his fiction emanates from his life. Weinstein unpacks elements of that life—his family and Midwestern upbringing being just two examples—and offers up themes and the motivation for Franzen’s critically acclaimed novels and nonfiction work.

Weinstein developed a friendship with Franzen when the latter returned to his alma mater, Swarthmore College, to teach creative writing seminars. These seminars took place just prior to publishing what would be Franzen’s second novel, Strong Motion.

This period in the 1990s was just prior to Franzen’s move to become arguably America’s best-known literary figure (as opposed to merely, America’s best-known, best-selling writer) at the end of the 20th century and entering the 21st. It was also before Franzen dropped what would become his coming out work, The Corrections, released in 2001.

There’s been a lot written of and about Franzen, from his well-publicized dust-up with Oprah (whom he was critical of), and the invite to come on her show; he ended up being dis-invited as a guest, This was right after The Corrections came out. I mean, who the hell disses Oprah, right? Weinstein details this and some of Franzen’s contrition that came later. I think this and a great deal of other things that he’s written—like his essays for The New Yorker, as well as his stellar nonfiction—has elevated Franzen as a prominent and important cultural player.

Making the cover of Time Magazine.

Making the cover of Time Magazine.

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Randomness #1

After more than 12 years of blogging, I’m not sure what it is that I want to write about anymore. For more than a decade I’ve written about books, politics, self-help, workforce development, aging—and a host of other topics. Lately, I’ve been posting frequently about America’s spiral downward towards something less than we are as a nation. Honestly, I don’t know what we’ll be as a nation  in another five years, let alone 20. I’m guessing I won’t be enamored with the visual.

I don’t want to write about that today. Politics is off the table, too—I’ve decided to take a break from weighing-in on anything political.

Sports is a topic that many people like to talk and debate. These days, it often seems like the flipside of politics, at least in the greater-Boston market.

So for today, I’ll just pick a few random things I’ve observed over the past week. Continue reading