Rufus Cappadocia

Rufus Cappadocia beats the hello out of his cello
Wielding his bow whip – Whappity-Whap-Whap!
Scratching and clawing, pulling and mauling,
But lovingly like the guy in the O. Henry story.

I’ll bet that he’s sorry as soon as he’s done with
The smacking and whacking, backhanded slap hits,
He probably rubs her with oil so softly
And trembling hands and words that sound awfully
Like love songs.

A part of me wonders if she doesn’t like it
I’m judging by sounds that she makes when they’re fighting
Don’t judge me I’m not some sick sadist whose heartless
I’m quick to repel from violence that’s artless

But this guy can hit it, can hit it real good
Right in the sweet spot where pain meets the wood
And the vibrating strings where the pleasure reverbs
Through her beautiful body and elegant curves

And together they sing and both bodies ring
Flicking and clicking, plucking and

Just a Couple of Guys Who got Me Thinking

I read the obituaries in the Star Tribune every Sunday. I like to learn about the people who died. Mostly there is nothing to learn other than age, where they’re from, who died before them and who survives them. But sometimes they are much more interesting – often poignant, every so often even funny. As you can imagine, I like those best because I can get a much better sense of the person and of those who loved them. There was one in particular this Sunday – a young man named Tyler P. Thoresen.

Yesterday’s paper also contained an article about a man named Jim Moore. Jim had a rather quirky sense of humor and one day when he was younger and lamenting the fact that no one wrote letters any more, he went to a map, picked Turtle Lake, MN, then picked a typical Minnesota name – Olson, found an Olson family in Turtle Lake, and then a few times each year he would send them postcards. “Hoping to go sailing tomorrow if the old leg isn’t bothering me too much. Jim” or “Was in Paris and saw Francois and Emilie. They send their regards. Jim”

I found that just spectacular – beautiful, random and kind of touching. The Olson family loved the notes. They had no idea who Jim was, but they still got a real kick out of getting the cards. They kept every one of them. Jim developed bile duct cancer and died in January. Jim’s friend sent the Olsons a note telling them about Jim, why he had written and that he had passed away. Jim was just 38.

Tyler Thoresen was just a month shy of his 28th birthday when he died. Tyler suffered from schizoaffective disorder and like Jim, the illness eventually killed him. Tyler’s obituary paints a picture of a great guy – funny, athletic and a lover of good food. What really got me was how his family chose to begin his obituary: “Tyler Thoreson, of New Brighton, chose to end his earthly struggles on March 20th, 2012…”

Mental illnesses are often sorely misunderstood and that ignorance leads to stigma – and that stigma, if you’ll excuse my terminology, is bullshit. People like Tyler, his family and loved ones face that stigma every day, despite all the amazing work that organizations such as NAMI Minnesota – to which they have directed memorials – accomplish. That stigma is tenacious. And that’s why I so appreciated their obituary.

Tyler’s family could have used some euphemism to describe how Tyler died, but instead they just said it and said it beautifully: “…chose to end his earthly struggles…” They went on, “While he was burdened with schizoaffective disorder for most of his adult life, that is not what defined him.” Indeed. And struggles they no doubt were as he took his own life.

Mental illnesses are just that – illnesses – and not only do the sufferers and their families have to deal with the illness, but with the stigma as well. This obituary is just one more step in the right direction. Take that, stigma. Screw you, ignorance.

I didn’t know either of these guys so it’s a bit presumptuous of me to be sitting here writing about them. But they both touched me. I guess that’s how we live on after death. The rest of us learn from those who left before us – in how they lived and how they died. Life is precious – and precipitous – so let’s keep an eye out for one another, reach out to strangers, and work hard to understand them and their suffering. Thanks for the lessons, guys. Godspeed and all that.

Full disclosure: My company has had the pleasure of working with NAMI Minnesota over the last eight or so years developing their educational materials, and it’s no doubt the most important work we do.

I Know A Guy

I know a guy knows everything.
You know that guy? I know you do.
He lives right down the street from you.
No matter what you think you do,
he’ll tell you what you ought to do.

His wife, she knows he knows, it’s true:
“He says,” she says, “that red is blue.”
And certainly she’s certain, too,
That blue is blue and red is, too.

I know a guy’s done everything.
You know that guy? I know you do.
He’s done it all once more than you.
You say to him,
“I once fell from a jet airliner.
Thank god I had a carabiner,
For as I hit the atmosphere,
I passed a purple elephant ear,
Saw angels playing synthesizers,
And fans who cheered from balsa risers,
And landed on a 10-foot crow,
who brought me safely down below.”

“That’s nice,” he’ll bleat,
“but my crow was 22 feet.”

Catch

What is it about playing catch? How can such a simple past-time be so dog-gone satisfying?

Playing catch has but two actions – throw and catch. It has but one rule that need not ever be spoken or written down (but here I go anyway): throw the ball so the other person has a chance to catch it. That’s really about it. So as competition, it’s mostly personal. It’s you against you, but you get to play with someone else, so it’s also social – an opportunity for camaraderie.

Catch moves at whatever pace you want. It’s as challenging as you decide. It can be as fast, physical, cerebral or meditative as you make it. It’s perfect, catch is. Throw. Catch. Throw. Catch. Throoowww. Catch. Throw. Catch. That’s it, in a nutshell.

I spent a good part of the weekend playing catch again for the first time in years. My boy is four and yesterday we purchased balls and mitts and already he’s smitten. I heard it all weekend: “Let’s play catch, Dad!” And me, with Cat Steven’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” reverberating in my head, said, “You got it, buddy!” And out we went.

The tenor of our catch is set by his being four. I lob the ball up into an arc that is intended to land squarely in his mitt. He catches it or doesn’t, then throws it as best he can, and I catch it, or more often, turn and run after it.

But we’re in heaven and the banter is entirely spontaneous yet practically written in stone: “Nice catch!” “Oh! In and out of the glove!” “Rule number one: Use two hands!” “I catched it!” “Gotta lean in for those!” “Squeeze the mitt!” “I’m gonna throw it way high!” “Nice!” “My bad!” “What was that?” “Whoa! Great throw, buddy!” And on and on.

Oh, and “It’s ‘caught’, buddy, not ‘catched’.” A little grammar thrown in for good measure.

In fact, catch is a teaching opportunity that never ends, and because of its very simplicity, you will never fully learn it. You can always improve and every catch is different. You can drop one, but catch allows you to learn and move on to the next catch.

And with a kid, the teaching is simply part of the action. There we are just throwing and catching a ball. It’s not like I’m sitting there explicating the importance of bike safety or saving money. And yet within the lessons of catch are hidden other life lessons about fairness, respect, effort, pride and so on. You’re talking catch. You’re learning life. “Way to go, buddy!” Brilliant.

The super upside-down through the legs throw!

All Hail the Essayist – Or Why News Skews and the Warlord [Name] Might Not be Such a Bad Guy

One thing I try to do (and often fail at) is get most of my information about important people, places, ideas and things from essayists; meaning, to me, writers who research more, take longer to consider, write in greater depth, and, generally, are less bent on convincing anyone of their particular opinion. That is not to say they are without opinion (and some great essays are very much drenched in opinion), but their opinions are, again, better researched, have more depth, and therefore generally more thoughtful. They also show an awareness and respect for opinions that don’t line up with theirs. I find that that sort of thoughtful approach generally leads to a better understanding of the depth and nuances of the subject about which they write.

Without even bothering to talk about the FOX News and MSNBC’s unashamedly biased silliness (a silliness that has it’s place, mind you, but it’s place is to entertain and not to inform), I think that, in general, news skews, and even when they are not trying to skew necessarily. It’s more a result of taking a tiny piece of a story – that which is news and so that which happened recently – and putting it out there all by itself. Even with the obligatory set-up and few paragraphs of background, the gist of the story then acts as a sort of soundbite that is ingested like a potato chip and often misconstrued as a balanced meal. Imagine a headline like “Warlord bombs tiny village – women and children among dead.” The first few paragraphs would be explanatory of exactly what happened – “Forces allied with the [Name], the [place] warlord, bombed a tiny village in [name], leaving [xx] people dead – among them [x] men and women, many of whom were elderly, and [x] children. The bombing took place during a battle the [other name] forces for…”

That is generally about as far as many of us will read, if in fact, we get beyond the headline at all. So we walk away with “Warlord is evil and [other name] forces are good.” Even if the reporting is accurate, and despite the fact that killing women and children (let alone any innocents) is certainly very, very wrong, and without my making up various scenarios where it might not be necessarily the wrongest wrong…coming to the conclusion that the  Warlord is evil might be quite far from the truth. But the news story did the best it could, and maybe buried down in the article, if it was long enough, we could find a bit more background to explain that.

Like the constant barrage of economic figures tossed our way – “the biggest drop in unemployment since 2008” – these sorts of news stories are but a tiny slice in time and provide absolutely no context. “But 2008 is only four years ago and our country is 235+ years old – our economy even older, how does the biggest drop in the last four mean anything whatsoever, beyond the fact that five years ago we had a bigger drop?” It’s like peeking through the blinds of a ballroom for three seconds and walking away thinking you have some idea of what took place that night at the ball.

To those who would argue, “I’m busy. I don’t have an hour to read an essay on that.” I would contend that if you skipped the news and saved that time up, you might find that you do have time enough to read the essay and gain a much better understanding of the subject. And you pick and choose. We are so inundated with news now that we sometimes feel like we need to know what’s going on everywhere. You can’t. So pick your battles. If you have strong opinions about something – focus there. If you’re of a serious political bent – know all sides of the argument inside and out. If you love American history or have family from from Eastern Europe and are concerned about what happens there – read essays on American History and/or Eastern Europe.

Obviously, I’m making this all sound rather easy and of course it’s not. A person needs to know where to find the essays, then get to know those who write on those subjects, then actually sit down and read them. And work went late, and the kids have homework and hockey, the lawn needs mowing, the in-laws are coming … so flipping on the television news, turning to your Google news (which is in a constant state of tailoring – deciding for you, thank you very much – the news stories you see) or glancing at the newspaper (if you are among the dwindling few who do), it seems is all we can pull off sometimes.

And yet, now, at a time when the complexity of our world seems to be expanding exponentially (or is that just a result of our internet-abled seeming awareness of absolutely everything?), our main source of information is the most simplistic imaginable – the 24-hour news station. The great dumbing down began in earnest in the last couple of decades and it’s taking hold. NBC News “In Depth”, I remember I timed some years back, was about four minutes long. In depth, indeed.

Focusing on essays rather than the general popular news outlets also allows you to miss out on all the news stories that we are bombarded with that really have no impact whatsoever on our lives – or most anyone else for that matter. “There’s Pink Slime in our Fast Food!” Wait a minute, fast food’s not healthy? “Snooki’s Pregnant!” Wait a minute, Snooki’s a girl?

And beyond that, grisly multiple murders are grisly and horrible, but if it happens a thousand miles away, beyond hearing about it, should I, or better yet, do I need to know more? Are the details relevant to me? Or are there better ways to spend my time than hearing about how “the gunman entered the building through a back door and went first up the stairs to the office of his former boss who was on the phone with his wife wearing a shirt with the company logo when the gunman opened fire and shot the 48-year-old father of two eleven times leaving behind a grisly scene of…”

There was a time when essayists were the bee’s knees for a larger share of the literate public, and the essay itself, considered one of the great forms of writing. And while among a small population, that may still be the case, essays have fallen out of favor for the general public. We modern folk like everything, information and learning included, to be quick, convenient and easy to chew – not unlike pink slime.

But there are always great essayists writing and we have oodles of them right now – and some of them decidedly hip! The late David Foster Wallace made much of his name with his book of essays, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” – which was great fun! I’m currently reading “Pulphead” by John Jeremiah Sullivan, and have gleaned a more intelligent and thoughtful understanding of Christian Rock (of which all I used to be able to say was – ha ha – it’s an oxymoron), reality tv, Michael Jackson and Constantine Rafinesque (Who? Exactly.). My Atlantic and Harper’s magazines arrive monthly and keep me in good essays throughout the years (the latter skewing pretty liberal; the former a bit more centrist).

So it’s not all smarty-pants whatsoever. Essays can be great fun!

But I still do contend that if you want to understand something in some depth, you need to approach and study it in some depth, and essays provide that opportunity while being entertaining in the hands of those who know what they’re doing. And they’re not as long as non-fiction books!

So all hail the essayists. Let’s make them rich and famous rather than Snooki and the mass murders, and make ourselves as informed as we are opinionated.

The Clash of Humanity!

Had a stressful little turn in Target – the kids with their ever-present sense of entitlement and incredible lack of thankfulness being the stress-makers – that led us after to the Roseville Library to drop off “The Blind Assassin” – brilliant; and “Toward the End of Time” – mostly great but a bit much about the old guy’s lower extremities. I pulled into the parking lot and dropped into one of about 11 unused handicap parking spots in front of the door (totally not my m.o., by the way – i’m usually the guy who gives others the dirty look when they do that), left my car door open in a sort-of “hey, don’t worry, i’m just dropping these here books off and will be out of the way before the 11th handicapped driver pulls up for sure”, but ran headlong into a puffed up gentleman who shouted at me. “Those spots are not for dropping off books!” He was absolutely right, of course, as it’s illegal to park there. I noticed then also that there was no book drop off there anymore.

The Roseville Library – which was recently rebuilt and features a mostly featureless interior and like so many other libraries now seems to want you to know it as a big space with computers with the actual books relegated to elsewhere – moved my book drop. I jumped back in my car, stung and a bit embarrassed as I’m not the guy who takes spots from handicapped people (have I made that perfectly clear?), whipped a u-turn and parked, actually closer to the building, in a drop off zone. The puffed up guy was pulling out of his spot, considerably less puffed up, and our eyes met again. He rolled down his window. I walked over and he actually apologized, “I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s just that my own mother…” I stopped him. “Man, you are absolutely right. Don’t you worry about it.” “There’s a drive up drop-off right over there,” he said, helpfully. “There is?” I asked. The Roseville Library folks decided to move that from the convenient and obvious front to tucked way in the back. “Yeah, right over there.” He pointed.  “Thanks!” I said. And we parted.

Despite the discomfort, I loved the exchange. Now, for some reason, he was embarrassed. And yet I was embarrassed before. It ended so well. I practically had a new buddy -the same guy who looked like he might drop dead of an anger-induced aneurysm just moments before I was now patting on the shoulder through his car window.

After I used the book drop-off, I went back past where he was parked and noticed that he was in one of the spots “saved for vans and car pools only” right next to those spots for handicapped drivers. But I was cool with that – he had a couple of kids with him – and that constitutes a car pool (among other things) by my measure.

I love people, but

I think I’ve had an epiphany of sorts – or maybe I was just able to put into a simple, tidy little phrase something I’ve known all of my life, but haven’t quite understood so simply. That is, I love individuals, but I don’t care for groups of people. In fact, I really don’t like groups of people much at all. I may even hate them – mostly. This is why I’ve always said, and with some weird pride, “I’m not a joiner.” I would often then go on to enumerate that which I will not join: I don’t want to be a part of your religion, book club, biker gang, ultimate frisbee team and so on and so on. It is not that I don’t like those in and of themselves, but I do not want to be a part of them. But at the same time, I love the individuals who make them up. Well, not all of them of course, but would give them all the benefit of the doubt, not as the group, but as individuals, in the beginning.

I am definitely suspicious of groups. They are unnerving for a host of very good reasons: They are dangerous; they are often possessed by mob mentality (even in small groups); they are often self-righteous; they allow individuals to be lazy and force others to pick up their slack, they are physically large and can lose control of that physicality, and on and on. Think groupthink. That is not to say that I am some sort of whacked-out every man for himself libertarian, or rugged individualist (whatever that means) as I’m really not all that rugged and I do love those I love dearly – my family, my close friends and co-workers – and I love to be around them. I even understand the need for and desire to help one another as individuals and even as a society (big group, that one).

But still I chafe at the little trappings of groups; god save me if I have to dress like a group of people beyond whatever I would normally choose for myself; scheduled and regular meetings I am certain each knock a good 20 minutes (beyond the wasted time of the meeting itself) off the end of my life; I can feel my ultimate demise inching toward me each time I am forced into a group experience not of my choosing. Little bits of me die within.

And I wonder even at the logistics of it all! How on god’s green earth do people round up large groups for biking, or ultimate frisbee, or to re-enact some bygone battle with muskets and period outfits(!) for that matter? That is a great mystery to me, but then again I am imagining 45 me’s at the end of the phone line receiving the invite: “Hey, wanna come out and meet a bunch of us at…” Nope.

But let me say again, I’m not anti-people – just anti-bunches-of-people. I’m also averse to concerts, sporting events, bullfights – wherever great hoards of humanity pile into a confined space. One could be crushed! I love the idea of Woodstock, but would have blown my head off to have had to be there for more than 15 or so minutes – even clean and sober; add some acid or mushrooms or even whatever weed they were smoking back then to that experience and I might have simply physically honestly exploded into individual atoms rather suddenly, simply ceasing to exist entirely.

People who know me gave up long ago inviting me to join anything. And I don’t think they love me less for it. I think they, as individuals, accept that. As a group, they could turn up at my door in the middle of the night with pitchforks and torches and stakes and demands of my skills for ultimate frisbee every other Thursday down at Como Park – rain or shine! What a nightmare!