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.

A Cup O’ Kindness: Looking Ahead

Well, we’ve made it to that time of year in which you’re supposed to reflect on the past twelve months while simultaneously setting yourself up for failure over the next twelve.

(That’s not too negative, is it?)

If I stop to consider personal history, the first few weeks of the new year are usually marked by bitterly cold weather, some kind of sniffles, and at least one major disappointment. So, yeah…I suppose it seems a bit negative when you tend to start out a year that way.

However, what if–just follow me for a minute here–instead of viewing the upcoming year as a huge chunk of disaster waiting to happen, we just lived it day by day?

Think about it.

Yeah, I suppose this is what planning out a whole year can look like if you try to think about it all at once.

I’m not saying no one should set goals or plan ahead…far from it. In fact, I’m the last person on earth who would suggest that not developing some kind of game plan is a good thing.

confused math GIF by CBC
I’m a planner. But…math? Really?

I just know I won’t wake up tomorrow feeling as though some kind of magical change will take place simply because I have to start remembering to write “2018” on all of my documents.

So, I’d like to approach January 1, 2018 as…Monday.

tired andy griffith GIF by TV Land Classic
Okay, so maybe treating it like a regular Monday is a bad idea. I don’t have to work on New Year’s Day, so perhaps I’ll relax a bit.

I think you get the idea. If I look back at 2017 as a whole, making a generalization about the entire year isn’t going to be accurate. If I pick out specific dates, times, locations, situations…I can get very accurate.

I think I’ll follow the 2018 road day by day…with a map handy (for guidance, of course).

And what is on that map?

Be authentic. Be genuine. Be sincere.

Read. Write. Take photos.

Work. Work. Sleep (occasionally).

Plan another trip. I drove myself across a big chunk of real estate this year, and there’s still more to see.

And knit something…to get through the bitter cold.

Happy New Ye…umm, Happy Monday, everyone!

A Question: Post-Apoc-Eclipsic-Glasses

We all know what will happen on August 21, 2017. The moon is poised to steal the sunshine’s…well, sunshine.

We’ve also all heard the speeches by now about starting directly into the sun during an eclipse. I really don’t think anyone makes SPF 4,000,000 for your retinas, nor can the damage that’s been done by staring at the sun be reversed. PLEASE DON’T LOOK AT THE ECLIPSE WITHOUT PROPER EYE PROTECTION. SUNGLASSES ALONE AREN’T ENOUGH!

These won't work, either.
This won’t work, either.

(Author’s Note: I’m not a scientist, nor do I play one on TV. However, I read a lot, and I think it’s generally been agreed upon that staring directly into the sun is a bad idea no matter the circumstances.)

For several weeks now, people have been flocking to retailers to buy their special eclipse glasses so that they can look directly towards the sun for brief periods of time. These glasses have been flying off the shelves.

I did have a question, though. I’m sure this has been addressed, but what happens to all of those glasses after August 21?

I know that many of them have been decorated with the date for keepsake purposes, but how many people will actually keep them? What can you do with the gazillions of them left over after the event? I’m curious to know more, just because I’m always inclined to ask questions. Asking questions is a good thing, you know. You tend to learn stuff when you do.

(By the way, I don’t have any intentions of photographing the event. I decided a long time ago to leave this one to the experts. If I come up with a nice sunset scene or waterfall or something in the near future, though, I’ll be sure to share that photo with all six of my loyal readers.)

Anyway, may your skies be cloudless, may your viewing methods be safe, and may your eclipse experience be enjoyable!

A Monday Times Monday: The Keymaster

I have decided that I shouldn’t talk about much of anything for a while, lest the topic become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I had a conversation recently about being stuck briefly in an elevator when I was ten years old, then I proceeded to check into a hotel last week with an elevator issue that eventually caused a baker’s dozen of my colleagues to spend close to an hour–you guessed it–stuck in an elevator. (They’re fine, and I’m glad they’re fine. I’m also glad I wasn’t with them, though.)

My next conversation had to do with my memory. I have a very strong autobiographical memory. It’s not something I can explain, and it’s not Marilu-Henner-style perfect, but it’s pretty good. However, I did mention–during two separate conversations about the issue–that I can misplace my keys just as easily as the next person. Laugh, snicker, chuckle. I was quick to recall that the last time I had locked myself out of the house was in 1998, when I didn’t have the option of grabbing a cell phone to call anyone for help. That afternoon, I tried the credit card trick…something I had only seen in movies. I was shocked when the door popped right open. I ran in the house, grabbed my keys, and I was on my way.

Yes, I was on a nearly twenty-year winning streak when it came to locking myself out of the house.

That is, until this morning.

Ghostbusters  GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Yep, I finally did it. Walked right out the front door, pulled it shut behind me, and immediately realized where my keys were…on the sofa. The credit card trick wasn’t going to work on this one. This time, though, I had a cell phone, sent a few messages, and found a locksmith.

This whole situation brought me to two conclusions:

  1. My memory isn’t good for anything more than a side-show attraction at social gatherings, and…
  2. I’m in the wrong business. Locksmiths make good money. And for good reason.

You can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll be paranoid about where my keys are tomorrow morning.

On the photography front…I haven’t taken many new photos lately, but I did catch a pretty nice sunset a few weeks ago.

More from the fence. Sometimes, you don't have to look beyond the backyard for photo opportunities.
More from the fence. Sometimes, you don’t have to look beyond the backyard for photo opportunities.

I think I’ll take the camera out again this evening, though, to try to let this Monday-est of Mondays drift away…

An Observation: The Covfefe Conundrum

A lot of people have been having fun with the whole covfefe conundrum because–let’s face it–fun is fun. Entire websites are devoted to similarly hilarious text errors from everyday exchanges. I know that I’ve laughed so uncontrollably at autocorrect mistakes in the past that I thought I would have to seek medical attention.

Anyone on the world’s stage should expect to be under constant scrutiny, especially if social media communication is a yuge part of your daily routine (chuckle). Unfortunately, anyone within a few feet of a cell phone nowadays is at risk of becoming a YouTube sensation for little or no reason other than humiliation-style entertainment in this here internets day and age.

However, I think some of the real humor in this situation is that this particular error probably could not have been an autocorrect or predictive text mistake. In the context of the intended phrase, predictive text most likely would have changed covfefe to coverage. I did an experiment with my own autocorrect (typing in the first few letters of the word without any phrases surrounding it), and I ended up with the words coffee, covering, cover, and, oddly, even covfefe (But only because I’ve been using it too much lately. Not to worry…the little squiggles still appear under the word.).

Whether you agree or disagree with the president’s policies or philosophies, I think everyone can agree that he definitely marches to the beat of his own drummer. I would imagine the idea of an electronic device trying to correct his spelling wouldn’t appeal much to him, so my opinion (just my opinion–not fake news, alternative fact, etc.) is that he turned off the autocorrect/predictive text function (something I’ve wanted to do with mine about a thousand times a week).

Plenty of people seem to believe that this gaffe has received too much unwarranted attention, but you don’t have to go too far back to find out just how much, well, spelling counts. (So does math. Math always counts. Haha. Back to what I was saying…)

Here’s a brief list of a few well-known word issues that received plenty of attention despite occurring before the internet became the all-encompassing, speed-of-light source that it is today:

  1. The Great Potatoe Incident. Remember that one? Does a former vice president come to mind?
This spelling was popularized circa 1992. I saw this sign in 2010.
This spelling was popularized circa 1992. I saw this sign in 2010 while traveling.

2. Strategery. Okay, I’m going out on a limb with this one since it was a Will Ferrell impersonation, but the reason it became an iconic pop culture reference is because it was not beyond the realm of possibility.

will-ferrell-george-bush

And, finally…

3. Nuclear. As in, nu-kyoo-lar. Yeah, this one’s not so much a spelling issue, but it was worthy of the list. Strategery was born of pronunciations like this.

I’m not trying to start a political debate here. Hey, we all make mistakes. I do think it’s been a nice, humorous diversion from the day-to-day madness lately.

Speaking of diversions…on the photography front, I’m hoping to take advantage of some beautiful new landscape opportunities in the next week or two, so check for updates! In the meantime, you can check out my current inventory of prints in my Etsy shop.

https://www.etsy.com/shop/MeticulousObserver

An Observation: Air Mail

I recently placed an order for a couple of new lens hoods to fit my relatively new camera lens. I am happy to report that they arrived in a timely manner, packed neatly into a lightweight box.

I open up a box I’m expecting to receive, knowing exactly what is supposed to be in it, and I find exactly what I should find.

So, you’re probably asking yourself one question.

What’s the story here?

(I’m only assuming you’re asking that question. You might just be skimming through this blog post as a way to pass the time. You might not be paying much attention at all, which means I could type anything and you wouldn’t really read it. I could go on a poor spelling spree and you wouldn’t even notice. I would notice, though, so I won’t do it. Moving on…)

Here’s the story.

One of my favorite parts of ordering online is the anticipation of receiving a very useful by-product (of sorts) of shipping.

To put it simply, half the fun is opening up the box to pop the bubble wrap.

I was highly satisfied with my lens hoods, but slightly disappointed in the packing material:

Awesome lens hoods...but not quite bubble wrap. I just discovered that these are called "air pillows." Guess you do learn something new every day.
Awesome lens hoods…but not quite bubble wrap. I just discovered that these are called “air pillows.” This brand is aptly named “Sealed Air.” Guess you do learn something new every day.

I believe that the greatest packing material ever invented is bubble wrap. Bubble wrap does its intended job very well, but it also has a remarkable capacity to act as a stress-relieving agent.

You ever notice that if you spend a lot of money on a gift for a kid, they usually end up ignoring the big-ticket item and spend a few hours playing with the box? That’s kind of how I feel about bubble wrap. I haven’t actually tried popping the air pillows, but I just don’t think it’s going to be as much fun. Besides, there were only something like seven air pillows in the box. Bubble wrap is packaged in increments of gazillions.

Say, do you think the bubble wrap manufacturers ship bubble wrap wrapped in…bubble wrap? Is that another “divided-by-zero” paradox that could destroy the universe?

Maybe it’s just time for me to go use the lens hoods.

A Nuisance: Inconsequential Information

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about getting a pet. However, I always stop short of actually bringing one home when I start thinking about all that you have to deal with, like picking up after a small animal takes a trip to the “bathroom” or keeping their food dish fully stocked at all times. (Well, okay…it’s not a matter of simply keeping the dish full. Have you known a cat to be fully satisfied with their food dish? They won’t eat any of it unless each piece is completely fresh, touching the side of the bowl at a specific angle, and heated to the exact preferred temperature, which changes from day to day. And dogs? They’re more like faulty vacuum cleaners, picking up bits here and slinging pieces there and…where was I?)

Keeping up with the spam comments on a blog is kind of like staying one step ahead of a small animal.

You! Go away! (Meme from animal-animal-animal.blogspot.com)
At least he asked politely. (Meme from a Google search that ended up at animal-animal-animal.blogspot.com. Catchy name.)

Every time I mention the word “spam” in this post, I’m probably attracting another spam comment that I’ll just have to sift through and delete. Therefore, I’m going to replace that word with something else. Let’s see…how about…Inconsequential Information!

Some of my favorite Inconsequential Information comments include variations on the following:

  1. “I really like your layout/design.” Hate to break it to you, Inconsequential Information-er, but this is a template. It’s pretty much a dead giveaway that your information is inconsequential. (If anyone really does have some advice on blog decor that might help me out a bit, just let me know in a real message.)
  2. “Eeaarrnn mmoonneeyy wwrriittiinngg ffrroomm hhoommee.” Yeah…umm, that one speaks for itself.
  3. “Your website has the potential to go viral you just need a boost I can get you 500 followers…” I don’t think “viral” is a phenomenon you can force. And I like to make my own friends. But thank you for that Inconsequential Information.
  4. “I’ve hat read togetherness with partial enthusiasm work the run bench looking guesses you happy the afterthought.” Yes, some of my Inconsequential Information has been this easy to read. It’s like throwing darts at a dictionary. Delete.

I suppose it’s time to sit back and see what kind of Inconsequential Information appears next.

A Few Thoughts: Space, Time, and Writer’s Block

I guess I’m the new kid on the writer’s block.

Typically, I’m not at a loss for written words. However, right now, I can’t seem to find them.

Let me clarify…I can find words–don’t get me wrong–but I can’t find the ones I’d like to use. (I know how to use a dictionary. And a thesaurus. It’s just not working for me. Maybe it’s time to resort to alphabet soup…)

As a self-proclaimed Meticulously Observant Observer, the very thought of putting this very thought in writing brings forth a few questions. For starters, is writing about writer’s block the literary equivalent of some kind of mathematical space and time paradox? The kind that can destroy the universe, according to “Back To The Future” theory?

Or, is it like…

Okay, yeah, I am NOT COOL with this!
Okay, yeah, I am NOT COOL with this! (Meme courtesy of the internets–this one’s been floating around for a while and if anyone can identify the original source, I’d like to give them credit…although after dividing by zero they might not be able to accept that credit…)

Let’s not go there, shall we?

But…if a writer writes about having problems with writing, does it automatically open up some kind of wormhole or unleash bad karma or exponentially increase the likelihood of writing a run-on sentence? (Oops.) Will the planets collide or something? Help me out here, science people!

I need to consult my science expert.
No, I need a real science expert. (Another meme courtesy of a Google search and a classic SNL skit.)

I really don’t want to jinx myself. In fact, I’m feeling a bit nervous about hitting the “PUBLISH” button, but I really need to find some new material! I thought that perhaps bringing this issue out into the open might help generate some new ideas.

Either that, or an entire city block was just swallowed by a massive sinkhole.

I’m just gonna step away from the computer now. (I was never here…you didn’t see me…)

An Observation: The Write Stuff

I’m sure any handwriting analyst would have a field day if they looked through my journals.

Have you ever taken the time to really look at your own handwriting? I look through old college notebooks and I’m stunned at how sloppy it’s become over the years.

What it really boils down to, though, is that I currently have two main styles of handwriting:

  1. The “I Have Plenty of Time To Write Because This Isn’t Too Important” style, and…
  2. The “I Have The Best Idea I’ve Ever Had In My Life And My Writing Can’t Keep Up With My Brain” style.

Behold…Sample No. 1.

Neat, orderly, legible. Just like my writing all the way up through college.
Neat, orderly, legible. Just like my writing all the way up through college.

While it’s not as neat as my handwriting would have been when I was, say, 14 years old, it’s still dramatically better than the stuff I usually write down most of the time these days.

And that brings me to Sample No. 2.

Starting...to...trail...off...
Starting…to…trail…off…

This one just screams, “Ohmygosh! I just saw someone holding a sign by the side of the road and what if they were part of a traveling band and this would make a great story idea so I’d better write it down before it slips my mind and what if they also didn’t own a pet–just a plastic cactus–as one of their little personality quirks but they actually fed and watered it and dsifouwnoiuwn…”

However, I have recently begun wandering into some new handwriting territory. There’s the “Quirky Thought But I Still Have To Write It On Whatever Scrap Of Paper Is Within Reach” style…

Sloppy, written on a scrap of old wrapping paper, and definitely wandering into absurd territory...
Sloppy, sideways, written on a scrap of old wrapping paper, and definitely wandering into quirky territory. (Is square root beer a thing? Someone needs to let me know. Whether it is or not, the idea materialized and I guess I just had to write it down.)

And the “Yeah, I’m Done” style…for the days when writer’s block strikes.

Hey, at least I wrote something.
Hey, at least I wrote something.

If my handwriting starts to morph into Morse code, it might be time to start recording my thoughts.

An Observation: Musical Keys

I believe that everyone needs to have at least a basic knowledge of musical language and terminology…just as a matter of being informed individuals.

If you work someplace that sells instruments–even just as a side item–it becomes pretty important to your job.

Do I expect everyone to know complex music theory concepts? No. You don’t have to be an expert like this guy…

This story is a small example of a time when the universal language of music didn’t seem quite so universal.

When my brother was in high school, he had begun to show a tremendous aptitude for playing whatever musical instrument you put in his hands. During my senior year and his junior year, we were performing a marching band show in which he would be playing a trumpet solo. However, in the original tune that we were covering, the solo was performed on a harmonica.

After speaking with our band director, he decided to give the harmonica solo a try. They weren’t sure whether or not it would achieve the intended effect (ultimately, it was too quiet to project well enough in a football stadium), but it was worth giving a new instrument a shot.

Not all harmonicas are created equal. While my knowledge of the instrument is limited to a mild mid-90s obsession with all things Blues Traveler, I do know that harmonicas are built in different keys, much like other instruments. My brother needed to find a harmonica in a very specific key for this solo. So, one Saturday, the whole family headed out of town to visit a music store in search of a D-flat harmonica.

(D-flat is important to my point here, so pay attention.)

We ended up in a relatively small store in a relatively small town that sold relatively unrelated items. The glass counter near the cash register just happened to contain several harmonicas.

“Can I help you?”

The salesman had long gray hair pulled back into a pony tail. He was wearing a blue t-shirt and jeans full of holes. He certainly looked like a rock musician–someone you could talk to about things like chord changes and key signatures–so we didn’t think this was going to be a difficult transaction.

“Yes,” my mom said. “He’s looking for a D-flat harmonica.”

My brother was already engrossed in scanning through the glass case, trying to find it himself.

“Umm…wow. I don’t usually hear that much. Umm…let me look through what we’ve got.”

The salesman opened the case from his side and started looking at labels on the side of the cases. He picked up several, looking confused.

“Ma’am, I don’t have anything like what you’re talking about. The letters on the side don’t match what you’re saying.”

“Oh, so you don’t have a D-flat?”

“Well…I have a D-B.”

Pause.

My brother started to get that look on his face…a mixture of disbelief, shock, and “well, at least they do have what I’m looking for even if they don’t know it.”

Mom spoke before he could.

“Can we see that one?”

He handed it to her.

The label said it all–Db.

“Yes, that’s a D-flat. That’s what we’re looking for,” she said.

“You said D-flat. This is a D-B. Are you sure?”

My brother sighed, then spoke up.

“Yes, sure, we’ll take the D-B.”

There’s a lesson to be learned from everything.

Here’s a short lesson from this interaction (in case you ever find yourself in such a situation):

1. A flat sign looks a lot like a lowercase “b.”
2. Should a sharp sign also become part of the conversation, it looks like what those of us who once used a rotary or touch-tone phone referred to as a pound sign, and what today’s youngsters only know as a hashtag. (See also: #SharpSign)
3. That D-B harmonica ended up sounding remarkably like a D-flat harmonica.

This sounds remarkably like a mess. Don't try it at home.
This? This is a C piccolo with a trumpet mouthpiece. It sounds remarkably like a mess. Don’t try it at home.

I relay this story not to insult anyone, but merely to educate the uninitiated. So, before you start looking for videos online to learn how to play that F-hashtag chord on your new guitar, take a moment to brush up on the basics.