A Confusing Post: Writing About Confusion

Umm…who’s that guy in the middle?

Every few months (days) or so I find myself in the middle of some type of minor existential crisis (thought spider web) of sorts. They’re not necessarily serious. It’s just usually a run-of-the-mill random string of thoughts that send me off into some kind of weird tangent.

For instance, one day I was sitting at a stoplight. (I spend a lot of time doing that.) My next thought was, “Why did they choose this color scheme for stoplights?” That thought inevitably snowballed into, “Well, color is just perception anyway, based on the way our eyes and brains process the information in front of us and the way the light reflects and I’m just sitting here obeying a color scheme that was set up by human beings to encourage order. Dogs would see it differently. I mean, I think they would. While I’m here, though, why am I here? I mean, I watched a video a few days ago explaining some laws of physics related to the concept of free will and I wonder how many atoms are in my pinky fingernail and why they chose my pinky in the first place when there are so many other deserving pinky fingernails in the world and why are those people honking at me?”

Occasionally, these spirals lead to some interesting stories that I put down on paper. (Yes, actual paper.) Most of the time, though, they’re just confusing and I know more than a few people who are convinced that I’ll have myself a small stroke trying to count protons and electrons in my pinky fingernail with no scientific equipment.

Author’s Note: I’d like to remind those people that I survived my philosophy class in college–with an A–and I’m just prone to extended thinking spells. I might also point out that the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz was excited at the prospect of getting a brain so that he could think of things he’d never thought before. Thinking is a popular, accessible, sought-after hobby.

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Dancing’s fun, too.

Now comes the part where I tell you I’m not exactly sure where I was going with all of this, because the theme here is confusion. Maybe I was just looking for some inspiration. Maybe I was looking for motivation. Maybe I was hoping for some ideas that will send me on another tangent that will help me create more interesting stories. I could also be procrastinating.

Who knows? I’m a tad confused by it all.

A New Decade/Year/Whatever: Looking Forward

I have largely avoided the debate about whether or not the new decade begins on January 1, 2020 or January 1, 2021. At least one teacher I had when I was a kid was adamant that a new decade began on a year ending in 1, so I usually went by her logic. However, unlike many other subjects, I have no strong opinions about this issue, partially owing to the fact that I’m not much of a math surgeon and most of what I say having to do with numbers should probably be reviewed by an outside source.

For the sake of this entry, however, I’m going to say that we are ending the current decade on December 31, 2019, and that we probably don’t have to worry about any Y2K type of fiasco. Moving forward, moving on…thank goodness.

So is hindsight.

Why do I say that? Well, the last decade has been interesting. Granted, it had its highlights; everyone liked “Uptown Funk” and you can buy a car from a vending machine nowadays if you’re so inclined.

A lot can happen over the course of a decade.

Still, I have to hope that something good will come of the next year and decade. 2020 is an election year, so…yeah, okay. (Skip that one. Let me check my notes.) 2020 is an Olympic year, so I’ll be expecting Simone Biles to bring home at least two dozen gold medals–possibly three. (Wouldn’t want to put too much pressure on her.) Hopefully the ’20s will be prosperous without the ensuing worldwide market collapses and Great Depression that followed the last set of ’20s.

2020 is a census year, so maybe we’ll get an accurate head count and, in turn, figure out what to do about traffic problems.

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Nah, maybe not. I should apply the wisdom that the last few decades have taught me and keep my expectations reasonable. Happy New Year, everyone! Let’s give 2019–and the previous decade–a fond farewell.

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An Observation: Deck the Halls and Take a Break

In a few weeks, 2020 will be here.

2020. Who still thinks that 2000 sounds futuristic? And where are the flying cars?!?

Hold that thought.

In any event, 2020 is a census year. I’ve been asking friends what they think the count will be in our fair city this time. My current estimate is “A LOT,” based purely on my observations regarding the infrastructure–specifically, traffic.

Especially during the holidays.

I’m not just referring to road traffic, either. I made the mistake of going shopping on a Saturday and decided that I’m not doing that again unless it’s an emergency, like a sudden household chocolate shortage.

No, the shopping on a Saturday will largely stop, because I was waiting in a checkout line recently when someone decided to place their hands on me to move me out of their way BEFORE offering an “excuse me.”

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If I leave the house on a Saturday again, I’ll be wearing a huge “DON’T TOUCH ME” sign on the back of my coat.

As I looked around at all the people and all the holiday “cheer,” I decided that it was time for everyone to take a step back, breathe, and look at something nice for a few minutes.

There. Isn’t that peaceful?

We are BOMBARDED this time of year with a pursuit of perfection in our holiday plans. The perfect party, perfect gifts, perfect everything…when in reality, most of us will have a more Griswoldian experience.

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We need to SLOW DOWN for a moment here. (Unless you’re making a right-hand turn, which, for some reason, appears to be incredibly difficult. I suppose that’s a big reason why we haven’t pursued flying cars more vehemently.)

Seriously, though…stop and breathe. Simplify what you can. If it’s worth moving a complete stranger aside in order to create the “perfect” Christmas, trust me, it actually isn’t worth it.

A Tribute: To A Mentor

In 1997, Tuesdays With Morrie was published. The book, based on author Mitch Albom’s relationship with his terminally ill mentor, became a best-seller. Albom reflects on his reconnection and interactions with his sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz, who would impart his wisdom and lessons about life to his former student before eventually succumbing to ALS.

In 2007, a Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor named Randy Pausch was invited to present a lecture on his home campus entitled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” The presentation, which was very simple, straightforward, and moving, was posted to YouTube and has been seen millions of times around the world. The original title of the venue
for which he had been invited to speak was “The Last Lecture,” which took on particular significance in his case; he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and had been given mere months to live. The speech was adapted into a book that he co-authored as he valiantly fought his illness. He passed away in 2008.

Both of the men who became well-known for their wisdom and kindness had tremendous talents in different disciplines. Their commonality, though, was that of their chosen professions—they were teachers.

As I drove to work on the morning of November 13, 2019 and watched the sun slip above the Arkansas horizon on an unusually bitterly cold autumn morning, the somber thaw of the chill came when the searing tears cascaded down my cheeks as I heard the news about a teacher and mentor that so many could claim as their own.

Dr. Dan Ross, retired Professor of Music at Arkansas State University, had died after fighting repeated bouts with cancer.

We’d lost our Morrie Schwartz; our Randy Pausch.

Their illnesses, though, were not what defined them. Rather, it was how they lived their lives and inspired others to live theirs. The illnesses, in one of the glaring injustices of life, gave extraordinary weight to the words and actions they shared after the world knew of their conditions. It was the cruel impetus.

Dr. Ross was Dr. Ross long before the cancer came along—oboe master and teacher extraordinaire, with the wit and wisdom of a blunt and colorful standup comedian and inspirational leader all in one.

Musicians are a very close group of individuals. The kinship among us is unique in the familial bonds. While we compete against others and ourselves to work towards the elusive goal of perfection, we are also truly not in competition with anyone. We are generally appreciative and
in awe of the talents that great musicians possess. How can one measure artistry in ways that a foot race or a soccer match can be decided?

According to Dr. Ross, technique certainly wasn’t the measuring stick of a musician’s talents.

“No one will compliment you on your technique,” he would tell me. As a trumpet player—those of us he lovingly referred to by using a cheeky, PG-13 term—he focused on hearing me and my voice through the instrument. Receiving any kind of compliment for playing beautifully was the highest honor. Indeed, one of his most well-known “Ross-isms” was, “When in doubt, play beautifully.”

He told stories about picking out his “date” for the nights when he performed. He would scan the audience as they filed into the performance hall, looking for someone who he knew would need to hear his musical voice for the night. In one particular instance, his orchestral neighbor—who knew his pre-concert ritual—listened as he leaned over and told her, “I’ve found my date for the night.” She asked him to point her out, and he had chosen an elderly woman to play for during the evening’s performance. After the concert ended, he and some colleagues went to dinner when this woman—a complete stranger—entered the restaurant, walked over to
his table, and spoke to him.

She told him how much she enjoyed the concert, and then paid him the utmost compliment:

“I felt like you were playing just for me.”

Such was the magic of his musicianship and personality. His students were always told to play for the “little blue-haired lady” in every audience.

I am a music educator, but I was never part of the Dan Ross oboe studio. However, I was adopted into his extensive musical family, spending numerous Wednesdays enjoying his company for “Wingsday” and frozen yogurt with his students, receiving a Christmas mix CD every year filled with tracks of beautiful music, and helping myself to packages of peanut butter cookies from his stash when I waded through the cane shavings and eclectic decor of his office upon dropping by for a visit. If I needed advice, I didn’t have to ask, because he was offering it freely to a kid who happened to study music at Arkansas State University during just a few years of the nearly five decades he taught there.

I have to believe that the most unique aspect of my own stories about Dr. Ross is that they are not unique. Virtually every person who met him could share a similar story about his special ability to make you feel like the most important person he knew.

In 2017, he gave a video interview for ASU as a featured faculty researcher. He was explaining a bit about the gouging machines he had developed for double reed players. While it was a brief interview, he closed with remarks and reflections about his teaching career and his bouts with cancer.

“I don’t want to retire. I mean, when I go do classes—and this may sound stupid to you—but I explain to the students, ‘Do whatever you’ll enjoy.’ I said…in 2000, 2001, I had colon cancer, I had surgery, I had eight months of chemo, and at the end of all that, the first day of class, the fall of 2001, chemo doctor called me in, the first words out of his mouth, ‘You’re not gonna make it.’ Year and a half, two years at the absolute best. And my first thought was, ‘Boy, it’s been a quick trip.’ But my next thought was, ‘That’s okay. I’m still the luckiest person in the world ‘cause I got to do in life exactly what I loved the most. Not many people can say that. I love what I do.”

I say we were the lucky ones. Lucky to have crossed paths with such a remarkably gifted human being that we could call our mentor, our friend, and our teacher.

Rest easy, Dr. Ross.

An Observation: Generational Traditions

I’m an observer by nature. It’s what I do. I can’t help but question my surroundings, even if I keep most of those observations to myself.

However, some observations are just begging to be shared. In this case, I feel as though an explanation is warranted.

(Author’s Note: I haven’t done much research into this one, which is where all three of my faithful readers can help me.)

Instead of going into a long, detailed description, I’m just going to jump right in and leave this right here for you to consider:

I. Have. Questions.

Yes, this is bath tissue. Yes, it’s recycled, which isn’t uncommon.

Help me out here, though, with the brand name.

Seventh Generation.

Is it the seventh generation of this particular paper? Is it the seventh generation of a family business involved in the industry? OR…is it a combination of the two? I mean, are the rolls sitting in the bag talking to one another about the generations before them or their current situation?

“Umm…I thought I was going to the Kleenex factory.”

“My great-grandfather went to college. He was in a notebook.”

“I wanted to travel the world as an envelope.”

Sure, I have plenty of questions of my own. I don’t know if I feel like plunging into all of them, though. However, if anyone feels like volunteering an explanation, by all means, I’d love to hear it.

An Ultra-Picky Movie Plot Point Review: First Edition

This is the first installment in what I hope will be a (semi) regular series investigating oddly-written and/or executed plot points in familiar movies.

The first movie is brought to you by a weekend channel-surfing binge and the best in popular entertainment that 1986 had to offer–a sequel to a wildly popular movie that has become interwoven into the fabric of pop culture history.

My weekend lifeline.

Sequels are tricky. Few end up reaching the heights of the parent film that spawned their existence in the first place. Studios–often seeing the success of a particular movie–naturally hope that they might strike gold and end up with an entire franchise out of a particular set of characters and stories. More often than not, though, the result is the dreaded “Sophomore Slump.”

With that in mind, I still found myself rather enthusiastically watching The Karate Kid Part II, thinking that nostalgia might win me over for an afternoon.

What did I end up doing, though? I did what I always do when I’ve seen a movie a million times. I quoted it along with the characters, then I picked it apart. Mercilessly.

the karate kid GIF
Yeah, I know. This is from the first movie. The quote fits in this case, though…so, there.

SPOILER ALERT: If you’ve never seen the movie (I mean, seriously…where have you been for the last three decades?) and you’re worried about finding out an important (ha) plot point that will ruin your future viewing experience, just stop here and visit my Etsy shop. (Visit anyway, because I could use the business. Please and thank you.)

If you’re ready to pick apart a few things, by all means, keep reading. I’m really only going to focus on one scene. I just couldn’t let this one go, even though I’ve watched the movie a gazillion times and didn’t think too much about it until…well, until I thought about it.

I’ll be talking about the storm scene.

Most of the village has taken refuge in a shelter to wait out what I can only assume is a typhoon, given Okinawa’s location. As the villagers are running for cover, the viewers watch as a small girl perched atop a ladder is ringing a bell to alert everyone to the impending danger.

Why I never thought about this, I don’t know, but my immediate reaction during my most recent viewing was, Why isn’t an adult doing this job?

Meanwhile, everyone piles into the shelter, and within a short time frame, the bell stops tolling.

My next thought?

Wait. Uhh…something’s not right here.

Rocky Sylvester Stallone GIF - Rocky SylvesterStallone NoBell GIFs

The girl? Nowhere to be seen. Not in the shelter, not ringing the bell, not running through the rain to get to safety. Of course, this does set up the hero scene to come, but no one in the shelter appears to be frantically searching for this child. No one in this small village really seems to be thinking, Hmmm. Wasn’t someone ringing the bell earlier? Where did she go?

Only after Sato’s house collapses (which leads to a Miyagi karate chop of monumental proportions–another plot point to explore at another time) do we find out that the girl is STILL AT THE TOP OF THE LADDER SCREAMING FOR ASSISTANCE. I guess we couldn’t hear her screaming earlier because of, you know, the RAGING STORM.

Daniel saves the day–even using his belt to fend off a renegade power line–to rescue the girl who has been hanging on for dear life through the wind and rain.

When they return to the shelter, only then do we see someone take the crying child into their arms to comfort her.

I’m no filmmaker, but I would think someone might have mentioned this set of details during the editing process.

I’ll admit, the movie is a guilty pleasure that did well at the box office back in the day. I will probably watch it again, but I just couldn’t help myself this time when it came to documenting my findings.

If you have any suggestions for future ultra-picky plot point reviews, please feel free to leave me a comment. I’m sure I’ll find another one on my own during my next channel-surfing expedition.

An Observation: When?

As part of my public service to the universe, I have tried my best to keep everyone aware of oddities in the way we use words.

If you’ve never visited my blog before, welcome! (What took you so long?!?) You’re about to rethink an expression you probably use all the time.

How many times have you been trying to think of when something occurred in the recent past–be it an appointment, a vacation, or one of your thumbs falling off for no good reason–when you simply shrug your shoulders and realize that your mental calendar has gone kaput?

I knew I had something going on…sometime…

What did you say next?

In all likelihood, you referred to it as–are you ready?

The other day.

Besides being vague (because, hey, it’s vague to you as to when it happened in the first place, although if you can’t remember the exact date that you lost a thumb, your insurance company will), the expression has a few other problems. The biggest problem I have with it is that it implies that there are “other” days other than the ones we’ve already established.

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. We’ve set up seven days per week to work with here. The calendar issues them on a repeating basis across twelve months, further breaking the process down to a series of numbers and month names. Therefore, we have a set number of days available in which anything can happen.

In short, there are no “other” days.

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Yeah, I know. Amazing, isn’t it?

Yes, it’s an expression. I get it. For some reason, though, it’s my self-appointed job to point out expressions that need some assistance. (I took on this burden out of the kindness of my heart. It’s tough, but someone has to do it. I think. Even if they don’t, I felt like it, okay?) This one is a challenge sometimes, because you could try to name the day you think the event in question happened, but if you’re wrong, then you know you’re not being truthful.

Just know that you do have choices, however, and that you don’t have to go out and create “other” days.

I just felt I needed to bring it up since I was thinking about it the other day.

A Study in Chaos: Move It

There’s no greater litmus test for the performance of your chosen brand of deodorant than moving twice in the South in one summer. It’s also an excellent test of your patience, general physical condition, and level of sanity (see also: crazy).

The only people who should be undertaking such quick-succession moving adventures are professional movers and college students. Well, I’m very obviously not a professional mover, and I graduated from dorm living quite a few years ago, so you’re probably thinking, “What possessed you to do THAT?!?” (Although you could be thinking about what to make for dinner or how to MacGyver your way out of an isolated mountain cave should the situation arise. I don’t know. I’m not you. Since you’re here, though, I’ll explain my scenario.)

It starts with stuff. Lots of stuff. And when you need to go somewhere else to live, you have to have a place to put all of that stuff–usually on a deadline.

As one deadline approached (see also: end of lease), I found a place that would take me and my stuff. All the while, I had it in my mind that I would also be looking for a permanent place for me and my stuff, which I anticipated might take a few months at the least.

Yeah, that’s how things work for most people.

I’m not most people. If it can be made as complicated as humanly possible, I’ll take that path.

The day before I made the move to my “supposed-to-be-there-for-a-few-months” residence, I found a “gee-I-like-this-place-I-think-I’ll-buy-it” residence, which meant another move within approximately one month.

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My friends were supportive. I believe the magic quote was, “Only keep out what you need to survive.”

So, me and my stuff did just that. (Sorry about the grammar. Me and my grammar are tired.)

Move No. 1. A long, sweaty Saturday. Stairs at both places. Deodorant status = NOPE. Although I had hired movers for the first trip–and they did a wonderful job–all of the little things end up being the most frustrating parts of a move. Once you’ve made twelve trips up and down the stairs for laundry detergent, vacuum cleaners, and socks you just knew you’d never see again, you begin to question your life choices (and the stability of your calf muscles).

First casualty of the first move–an end table. Snapped leg. However, there’s some mighty fine glue on the market these days, and the table was salvaged. It’ll limp for the rest of its life, but it’s still with us.

I navigated around boxes for a few weeks, reluctantly sighing each time I knew I had to dive into one for something I needed for survival, like a fork. A fork at the bottom of a pile of boxes.

Where are my towels? Oh, they’re in a box? Labeled “BREAKABLE”? Yeah, okay, it was late.

You see, when you start to make a move, you carefully pack each of the first dozen or so boxes. Then, when you realize you’ll never find everything again anyway and that you’re going crazy trying to Tetris your way through the process, shoes and light bulbs become roommates with VHS tapes (yes, really) and coffee pods.

Just as I had begun to figure out which light switches operated the major illumination devices…it was time to go again. This time, though, it would be a mile-long bucket brigade of sorts, as I had found a place in the same neighborhood as the temporary residence.

Move No. 2. Stairs at both places (again…whyyyyyyyyy). Deodorant status = USELESS/ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!? First casualty of the second move–decorative plates for the end tables. No amount of glue was fixing those. I’d moved them a few times over the thirteen years I owned them; alas, the thirteenth year was the unluckiest, and it was time to bid them farewell. I found them smashed in the bottom of a box marked “FRAGILE” with a “THIS SIDE UP” arrow pointing the opposite direction of the eventual resting position of the box.

My fault. Oops.

However, all things considered, me and my stuff are settling in for a while.

The litmus test on the deodorant told me that it’s time to switch brands…or, you know, NOT MOVE AGAIN FOR A WHILE.

An Observation: Driving Thru Drive-Thrus

We live in a world in which you can find millions of pieces of information with the single click of a button.

Need to know all about geothermal power plants? CLICK! DONE! Want to make a scrumptious Baked Alaska for your dinner party? CLICK! RECIPE! JUST ADD CHEF! Traveling to Aunt Gertrude’s new house? WHAT’S HER ADDRESS? CLICK! HERE ARE ALL THE ROADS!

You can even get ahead of lines in some places. I’ve done it before when I needed a haircut. You can actually check in ONLINE. Pretty neat stuff.

Not only can you access seemingly unlimited information these days, but you can also control chunks of your day simply by pressing a button…unless…

Sigh.

Unless you’re scrambling to pick up a last-minute meal at the drive-thru.

The technology revolution wasn’t going to eliminate every hassle. Let’s face it, a lot of times the technology IS the hassle. Still, one might believe that all of these technological advances might eventually lead to a better experience in line at the drive-thru.

Not necessarily.

You see, it’s dependent on people, like everything else. It’s dependent on people in cars following the unwritten etiquette of the drive-thru.

Wait…there are rules?!? Where?!?

The servers, cooks, cashiers–they have a pretty big job during high-volume times. As a consumer, you can do your part to keep the line moving efficiently by taking a few pieces of advice and applying them to your next drive-thru experience.

First of all, just put down the phone, please. You can look up the history of coffee filters later. Instead of googling how much Bugs Bunny weighs or watching that video of the baby goat that your third cousin twice removed said you just have to see, pay attention to the movement in the line and respond accordingly. Paying attention to the task at hand keeps things running smoothly.

Here is my next suggestion–and this is the big one:

Do your part to keep a reasonable distance between you and the bumper in front of you.

I cannot stress this one enough.

Unless you have a self-driving vehicle that can regulate distances, you have to make adjustments.

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There’s a fine line here, though. While you don’t want to be close enough to the next car bumper to be able to read the driver’s odometer, putting a three-mile gap between the two cars isn’t very helpful, either. When someone does that, you’re soon an uncomfortable foot and a half away from the speaker, having to face the awkward scenario of either yelling your order and risking the miscommunication or waiting to pull forward and saying, “Hello?” to a silent speaker to make sure the server is still ready for it.

Finally, please be patient. I know, it’s tough sometimes, and we’re all on tight schedules, but getting irritated won’t help anything. Keep the end goal in mind–FOOD.

These are just a few more pieces of information to add to the gazillions of pieces of information you can find just about anywhere.

An Observation: Fancy Inspirational Thoughts

I’ve finally found a way to balance my love of photography with my need to write sarcastic statements. The whole concept was looking at me every time I opened any of my social media accounts.

Inspirational humor.

Place any statement on a beautiful background and it becomes inspirational, right? Even if the grammar and spelling are suspect, the pretty picture makes it all better (but correct grammar and spelling matter, so I’ll be really careful, because that’s who I am and this sentence is a really bad example of grammatical correctness so I should probably move on with my other thoughts). Why not have a little fun with it?

Natural beauty is all around The Natural State–hence the motto, “The Natural State.” You’ll never run out of photography options. Take, for instance, these photos from Northwest Arkansas. You have choices–street scenes, forest scenes, water scenes–that you couldn’t possibly fit into just one day of your expedition.

Buffalo Point, Buffalo National River, Arkansas.
Summer Street Scene, Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
War Eagle Bridge, War Eagle Mill, Arkansas.
Forest Scene Near Thorncrown Chapel, Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

Lovely, right?

I can’t be this serious for very long, though. So, I’ve added some “inspirational” messages to some of my photographs to satisfy the need for humor.

It’s true.
Also true.

One part peaceful, another part goofy. It’s the least I can do to contribute to humor while exploring different locales with a camera lens.

Don’t they all look so fancy? That’s a word I need to start using more often–fancy. It’s just so…fancy.

I will do my best from this day forward to contribute further to the advancement of fancy inspirational humor. Any thoughts?