How Are The Guitar Lessons Coming, Brian J.?

Well, I mentioned I bought a guitar, and I tried to teach myself to play from YouTube videos and books. Which went about as well as I expected, so I enrolled in some lessons.

So for about two months now, I’ve been spending a half hour on Monday afternoons with an instructor and varying amounts of time on other days picking simple and sometimes coherent notes.

But the guitar instructor has been playing for decades, and his lessons are full of musical words I don’t know since this is just about my first music experience (aside from listening to it really loud). He would talk about chords, progressions, pentatonic scales, chromatic, and stuff, and I have no idea what he’s talking about. It sounds important, so I hope I’ll learn about it later once I’m done learning where to put my fingers at the same time.

But he did mention one word I do understand: staff.

Awww, yeah. I know all about the staff.

Hopefully, we’ll get to musical tonfa and musical escrima sticks soon, but probably not. They’re more per concussion instruments, as I’ve learned in my martial arts studies.

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So, How’s That Reading Of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Coming, Brian J.?

As I might have mentioned, I’ve been reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance off and on for a bit.

How far am I in reading it? Well, I took apart a small engine today and cleaned the carburetor.

So I’m about three-quarters through the book.

Frankly, I’m hopeful that the next chapter covers reassembling the carburetor. Because I’m afraid I’m going to lose parts if I have it disassembled too long.

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Book Report: Little Orphant Annie and Other Poems by James Whitcomb Riley (1994)

Book coverIt took me a couple tries to get through this book. A couple years ago, I stuck it in my gym bag as my carry book, and I read it at the martial arts school before class. I even read the first poem, “Little Orphant Annie”, to my children, and they were interested in the Gobble-uns at gits you eff you don’t watch out.

But I ran into an excerpt from “A Child’s Home–Long Ago”. This particular excerpt runs six pages. Which, in retrospect, is not very long, but I’m not generally a fan of long poems (the longest in Coffee House Memories, “Homecoming ’93: A Collage”, runs five pages, but it’s narrative). The long ones that really choke me are the ones written by the Romantic poets, where it’s ten pages of landscape. Brothers and sisters, I prefer paintings that have people in them, and I sure tooting need something more than a litany of flowers if a poem is going to be more than twelve lines. The excerpt of “A Child’s Home–Long Ago” starts out landscapy, with a description of the home, and I must have abandoned it before it got to describing the children and the other people they interacted with long ago. It got better, and I made it through the poem and the book.

James Whitcomb Riley rose to infamy by penning a counterfeit Poe poem, but he managed to make do on his own as a journalist and writer. His poems make great use of the vernacular, as the refrain of “Little Orphant Annie” proves out, which makes reading the poems a little fun. He’s got a good sense of rhythm and does tell little stores in some of his poems, which makes them more engaging than mere word pictures. I ding the Romantics again because I’ve started reading Keats and Shelley, who wrote only, what, sixty or seventy years before Riley, but whose poems read much older. Or perhaps Riley’s just read that younger.

Riley, relative unknown in the 21st century, must have punched quite above his weight in the pop culture of the day, though. The title poem of this collection spawned comics in the papers and a musical play made into a movie several times. Raggedy Ann dolls, which were popular up into my childhood, were named for the poems “Little Orphant Annie” and “Raggedy Man”. Crazy. You don’t get many toys or comics named after Maya Angelou or David Clewell poems these days, ainna?

So I enjoyed the book and wouldn’t mind getting my hands on a more comprehensive volume sometime. This book is a little Dover Thrift Edition, which was what we had instead of inexpensive POD and Kindle versions of classic works back in the old days. For a buck, you could get a collection of classic poems or a longer work that had fallen out of copyright. They’re still available, apparently, for just a couple bucks. Dover in the 1990s must have been the Walter J. Black of its time, with its minting money in classics and in clip art books. Like book clubs of classics, though, its main time of success must have been limited.

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Book Report: Cat Fear No Evil by Shirley Rosseau Murphy (2004)

Book coverI read an earlier fantasy novel (The Catswold Portal) wherein a portal leads to a world of shapeshifters who can turn into cats and their relatives above ground. In researching the author, I learned she also had a mystery series with a talking cat. The Joe Grey series. This is one of the books, the ninth in the series, published 12 years after The Catswold Portal. And instead of looking like the latter was a standalone book, some of the mythos from it are creeping in.

At any rate: Joe Grey nominally belonds to a guy who lives in a small town in California, and Joe has been helping the police solve crimes because he and a couple other cats in the area can talk and reason like humans. In this case, they look into a case of identity theft and some very particular burglaries up and down the coast where a specific collectible item was taken while many other valuables are left behind. Then, a bad cat from previous books comes around without his former human accomplice. With whom is the giant black tom working now?

That’s the setup, and as the book goes on, we discover there’s a shapeshifting cat woman in the stories as well as lore, mysterious jewelry, and research done at the Cat Museum. So perhaps the series started out independent of the fantastic elements from The Catswold Portal, but by book 9, they’re working into the mythos.

The book carries a lot of series business, with subplots unrelated to the main plot of this book but continuing the story arcs of people in the books. And the writing is not high fantastic as the pure fantasy novel, but it has tendencies to be especially lush in places. Particularly in the description of what everyone is wearing in every scene.

There’s a lot of jump cutting and time shifting in the book, where one scene picks up a little earlier from the last but from a different person’s perspective. This narrative style combined with the series business and the overdone descriptions and conversations make this book longer than it should be, but if you’re really into the series and the characters, perhaps it’s just what you want.

But it’s not really what I’m looking for in genre fiction, so I’ll probably leave it alone. Unless I find a trove of them at a book sale, cheap. In which case I will forget my reservations and buy them for a time when I don’t remember that I didn’t like book 9. Maybe reading them in order would build it up more. I dunno.

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Book Report: Pocket Quips by Robert C. Savage (1986)

Book coverThis book is a small collection of quips, anecdotes, and aphorisms collected by a pastor, presumably for sprinking in sermons and whatnot. As such, it’s chock full of faith-based meditations, brief meditations, on grace, hope, love, and morality, but it also has some secular bits, too. It’s not Poor Richard’s Almanack, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s a step up from Hallmark compilations, but that’s it.

Strangely enough, though, the Grain of Salt (GoS, a term I shall use henceforth) is high, as one of his entries on Kindergarten is “(A child’s definition.) Kindergarten is ‘a garden full of children.'” Maybe not everyone is from Milwaukee, where the first kindergarten was formed/held/enschooled, or fluent in German, but kindergarten literally means the children’s garden. I used to say this in a dramatic voice when dropping my children off when my youngest was in kindergarten.

Man, that was a long time ago.

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Book Report: The Beauty of Gesture by Catherine David (1994)

Book coverThe subtitle of this book is The Invisible Keyboard of Piano and T’ai Chi, and it’s a mindful meditation on, well, being mindful. The author is an expert pianist and long time t’ai chi practitioner who explains the subtleties in each that one gains through experience and through focusing very hard on every aspect of each action involved in either. Or in everything we do. Then we can improve upon the subtleties to get closer to impossible perfection in music or kata.

The style of the book is very meditative, often poetic in its prose, and a bit meandering. I suppose that the process of reading the book, much like the process of writing it, was to be enjoyed for its own sake qua reading. Not just to glean the message from terse prose. However, it meandered a little much for my particular taste. A little richer and deeper than more contemporary mindfulness reading, it doesn’t linger too much in one’s consciousness with a definitive message that sticks.

I actually completed the book two weeks ago, but I haven’t written a report on it because I wanted to say something deeper about it, but most of it’s fallen away but the impressions I’ve left above. I’ve approached the book as someone who’s studied martial arts for a couple of years (how good I am at them depends upon your perspective–if you see what I’m doing right, I might be okay, but if you focus on where I need to improve in those subtleties–I’m not very good at all) and I’ve just started guitar lessons with my martial-arts-gleaned appreciation and patience for gradual, subtle improvement over a long period of time (longer than a couple of months, anyway). But I really don’t have much to add. Be mindful, I guess.

Oh, and on a trivial note: This book was my carry book for a while until I set it on my chairside table to finish it off, and I replaced it with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (no longer my carry book, but now on my chairside table to finish off). As I finished this book, I found a reference to the Pirsig book. So thematically, they share something in common, and David knows it.

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The Spider Flowers of Nogglestead Are Blooming

A heavy fog laid some dew upon the spider webs stretched between the canes of defunct butterfly bushes around our well head yesterday:

They sort of look like ethereal flowers, ainna?

I was going to look for a photo contest to enter the shot into, but the iPhone camera isn’t that good for that thing. I used to carry a pocket digital camera just for that sort of moment, but I’ve stopped because I didn’t encounter that many moments. Perhaps I should stick it into my pocket again nowadays, especially as I’ve discovered oversized carpenter jeans in the days where I’m not going Grant.

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Lileks Recycles My Schtick

Brian J., March 2012

I went into the nursery last week, and I asked to see the Lileks.

“What?” the man asked.

“The Lileks,” I said. Well, it’s not what I tried to say, but that’s what it sounded like.

“Oh, the lilacs,” he said.

Lileks, today:

Also: next door neighbor is out back for a smoke, waves to me in the dusk, asks a favor. I come over.

“What’s up?”

“We have a dear sweet old lady coming over for dinner tomorrow,” he said. “And she just loves Lileks.”

“Well I would be honored to drop by and pay a visit,” I say, thinking as long as you’re not asking me to stay for the whole dinner, sure – pop in during dessert, surprise the old lady.

“I mean the lilacs.” He points to the bushes. “I wondered if I could snip a few.”

I included a picture in 2012 of the lilacs I hopefully planted around our propane tank. They lasted a couple years. Then we had a couple years of years of sunflowers. Then a year of tall grasses that I thought were sunflowers when they sprouted, but clearly they lacked, you know, flowers. This year, I went with hydrangea bushes. Which are almost already dead.

One of the reasons we moved to Nogglestead was to have more space for gardening, which apparently here at Nogglestead means “Making room for the Bermuda grass.” I’m beginning to wonder if that will be one of the reasons we move out.

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I Would Have Titled It The Blair Switch Project

On the way into church this morning (for my children’s school’s closing chapel, not because I attend services several days a week, although I guess attending school chapel means I sometimes do attend a couple times a week), I passed the book Creative Correction by Lisa Whelchel displayed outside the library.

“Is that the actress from The Facts of Life?” I thought. It is.

They probably didn’t call it The Blair Switch Project because its creative choices extend beyond birch or pine?

I probably could have used this book back in the days before my children could be tried as an adult, which is far too soon now.

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Transgenre Music

Jack Baruth led me to my newest musical obsession: Leo Moracchioli’s metal covers.

Baruth posted this cover of “Sultans of Swing” and talked about it at length on his blog, especially the payment scheme for using the material–or not:

I’m gonna tuck the rest of the post below the fold because it’s got a pile of embeds, and I don’t want to slow your browsing experience down if you’re just browsing. Continue reading “Transgenre Music”

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Wherein Brian J. Fails a Wisconsin Quiz

The “quiz” list? Wisconsin bucket list: 20 things you have to do.

Brian’s score? Not so good:

  • Devil’s Lake State Park
  • Lambeau Field
  • Door County
  • Taliesin
  • House on the Rock
  • Elroy-Sparta State Trail
  • Ishnala Supper Club
  • Duck ride in the Wisconsin Dells
  • Milwaukee breweries
  • New Glarus Brewing Co.
  • Green County cheese
  • Wisconsin River paddling and camping
  • Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
  • Ice Age Trail
  • Cranberry country
  • Holy Hill
  • Waaswaaganing Indian Bowl Living Arts and Culture Center
  • The Northwoods
  • Great River Road
  • American Players Theatre

Although, in my defense:

  • Most of the time I lived in Wisconsin, we were poor, and I was not of drinking age for brewery visiting.
  • I have seen the basillica on Holy Hill in the distance.
  • If you count excursions to the Kettle Moraine State Forest, I’ve been on the Ice Age Trail, maybe.
  • I’ve been on part of the Great River Road on my trips to La Crosse and Fountain City.
  • I’ve been through the Northwoods, but my grandfather’s cabins were across the Michigan border.

Still, not a very good showing.

But I have ridden the 23 bus through The Core in Milwaukee daily. Which is something not many people can say.

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That’s Not A Bus Strike

Madison County bus strike possible, agency chief says:

Madison County’s transit agency is preparing for a potential strike by its 200 or so bus drivers amid a stalemate in negotiations on a new contract, the agency’s chief said Wednesday.

This is a bus strike:

Excessive speed played a role in Tuesday’s crash of a Milwaukee County Transit System bus on the Marquette University campus, officials said.

The 59-year-old male driver of a route 12 MCTS bus lost control about 5:15 p.m. Tuesday along West Wisconsin Ave. and the bus crashed into Johnston Hall on the Marquette University campus, just east of Gesu Church.

For the record, I did not take the 12 to get to Marquette. I took the 23.

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A Classy Joint Brian J. Shall Probably Not Visit

Sip & Purr cat cafe opening June 1, and you’ll have to pay to cuddle with kittens:

The first cat cafe in Milwaukee, Sip & Purr, has set its opening date.

Customers will be able to cuddle with kittens, if that’s what you’re into, starting June 1. The cafe at 2021 E. Ivanhoe Place will have coffee, wine, snacks and, obviously, cats.

The cafe itself will be cat-free. Felines will stay in the Cat Lounge, where customers can choose to bring their small bites and sweet treats. Cats at Sip & Purr will be available for adoption from the Lakeland Animal Shelter.

Honestly, I don’t suppose it will last until my next trip home. And I’m not sure I’d want to explain to my beautiful wife about my visiting a cathouse. And even if I did, she’d be mad if I went without her.

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Brian J. Stays At The Classiest Joints

Is this the place where you stay when you go to the Wisconsin Dells, Brian J.?

Wisconsin Dells water park melee erupts after chair taken from group’s table:

A brawl that broke out at a Wisconsin Dells area water park on Mother’s Day with people throwing chairs, garbage cans and food started when someone took a chair from another group’s table.

The melee at Mount Olympus Water and Theme Park was captured on cellphones and video of the mayhem over something so minor was posted on social media.

Yes, yes, it is.

I’ve always maintained that I always live on the bad side of town because it automatically becomes the bad side of town when I move in. Well, I’ve always said that about my brother, but it probably holds true for me, too.

(Link via Knuckledraggin.)

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No, He’s Not


Sorry, the candy caught my eye on a Sunday, and that’s what popped into my head.

You know, I bet chocolate communion wafers would put some people in the pews.

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Book Report: The Best of Wheat and A Little Chaff by Leah Lathrom (?)

The Best of Wheat title page

Instead of the cover of the book, I’ve posted here the title page of it, which includes a photo of the author. A brief preface tells you about her life, and it reads like it was put together by her preacher. Born in the 1800s, Mrs. Lathrom grew up in parts of the Middle West (and lived in a sod house for a time), married, raised some kids, and then went blind. As she did so, she wrote poems. Most of these are from later in her life. She dedicates some to family members to celebrate their graduation or to memorialize them. Many are of her relationship with God and hoping to inspire others to get to know Him.

Overall, some good moments, but the real strength of them comes from the fact that normal people, especially older women, expressed themselves in poetry and shared them with others (see also Ideals magazine). Clearly, we’ve lost something in transitioning from ordering thoughts in lines and rhymes to putting a little text on a picture.

At any rate, it did take me a couple runs to get through the volume. I had it on the table for football game browsing, but that tailed off. I had it on my dresser for evening reading-on-the-deck-at-sunset sessions. But what finally helped me push through it was bringing it along with a fairly dense carry book (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) to my boys’ basketball practice. Two carry books might become my new standard practice. Maybe a little cart with a couple dozen selections that I can wheel wherever I go.

Oh, and one more thing about this book: I went looking for a link online, and I learned there is also a Volume II.

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Book Report: Iroshi by Cary Osborne (1995)

Book coverI bought this book a couple weeks ago with the others in the trilogy and got right on it. It’s a short book (216 pages, which is short for modern books, and I do tend to think of this pre-turn-of-the-century book as modern), so it wasn’t daunting as far as reading it (sometimes, I admit, I pick up a book and think, do I really want to spend the next couple of weeks reading this?).

All right, then. The book is about a swordswoman trained in Kendo and some other martial arts. The book starts with her arriving at an out-of-the-way planet and looking for ruins, and then it delves into her past in flashbacks: She’s from a poor family whose father abandoned the them, she went to Earth, the nominal center of a fraying empire, to study with a master. The master was attacked by ninjas as the result of an old mysterious conflict, and when he could teach her no more, he sent her on her way with a sword, and she became a mercenary and a bit of a legend. Now, she finds ruins and finds the spirits of an alien race, and they offer to ‘join’ with her in building a guild to help humanity keep from destroying itself.

Then we fast forward ten years, and the guild is established, and she heads back to Earth to keep the government from moving its seat to the planet with the ruins. There, she discovers the old master’s quarrel was with his own sons whom he disowned because they got involved in organized crime. And they begin their final assaults. Which Iroshi defeats, and part one of the three books ends.

It’s a rather scattershot affair. It’s broken into several parts, with the first being her search for the temple punctuated by flashbacks; then, Part II jumps ten years into the future when she’s been building up this guild of fighters (called the Glaive). There’s sword-fighting, there’s politicking and intrigue, there’s a brief reunion with her father, and then there’s a large ninja assault and some space battles. I don’t think it hangs together all that well.

And it’s the beginning of a trilogy.

I’ll have to jump on the other two books soon so I can sort of remember what’s going on in them and because it’s probably not something I’ll return to after a couple of years with any eager anticipation.

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Good Album Hunting, May 9, 2018: Ozarks Treasures Antique Mall

I had a couple of minutes to kill before picking my children up from school yesterday, and instead of going to Hooked on Books and spending a couple minutes browsing the dollar books, I went to a nearby antique mall to browse.

Which led to buying some records, and often for more than a dollar each.

I got four for a total of like ten bucks.

The list includes:

  • Just Sylvia by Sylvia because I get Internet celebrity when I buy Sylvia albums.
  • Another Place by Hiroshima. They must have had some sort of following here in Springfield, since their LPs show up from time to time. Since the band itself has been active from 1979 to now, I guess I’ll have to get some of their work on CDs.
  • Billy Preston & Syreeta, a collection of duets from the eponymous R&B singers.
  • Who’s Fooling Who by R&B group One Way (definitely not to be confused with One Direction).

Note that the last features a woman in lingerie on the phone:

This is not the first record in my collection with that motif:

You might think to yourself, “Brian sure buys a lot of records with pretty women on the cover,” and I’d like to remind you of what I said in 2013:

If “pretty woman on the cover” were the only criterion, though, I’d own a lot more Sylvia albums today.

<moment of self awareness>Oh.</moment of self awareness>

In my defense, my accummulation of records is reaching such a level that I can find numerous motifs in them.

For example, take the back side of the One Way album:

The two cigarettes and two wine glasses motif appears on other albums such as:

Jackie Gleason presents Music for Lovers Only and:

Music for Romancing, which also features a woman reclined.

What was my point? I am not sure I had one. Although I’m pretty sure I need to get to building the record shelves that I’ve been promising or threatening for over a year now.

(For more motif comparison in record covers, see this and this. I’m no LP Cover Lover, except that I am. And I can see the blooming things, unlike the thumbnails of the cover art one sees in computer-based music players.)

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