Words & Music

Fiction, Music, Poetry, Reviews and the Occasional Drawing.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


All of us have moments of doubt, crises of faith or confidence that throw our hopes into disarray. Fortunately, there are graces - love, beauty, humor - that lower ropes into our pits of despair. For me, and maybe for you, one of the sturdiest ropes is music.

The only thing better than those ropes is the ladder of love. If you're lucky enough to find that ladder you might be able to climb all the way up to the surface where at this time of year you can see the daffodils. 

I got a little bit of time to kill
Won't you kill it with me
My little daffodil?

I love you baby and I always will
I'll always be in love
My little daffodil

Like a garden my love grows
In the thaw after it snows
The breath of fresh air that you bring
Turns my winter into eternal spring

I'm tired of swallowing this bitter pill
Give me something sweet
My little daffodil

I love you baby and I always will
I'll always be in love
My little daffodil

Like a river my love flows
Down the hill where everything grows
The breath of fresh air that you bring
Turns my winter into eternal spring

I got a little bit of time to kill
Won't you kill it with me
My little daffodil?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

We Don't Like That Image Of Ourselves

Some poetry from Marlon Brando, starting at 2:36 on the video below:

Our schoolbooks are hopelessly lacking
Perhaps criminally lacking
in revealing what our relationship was with the Indians
When we hear
as we've heard throughout our lives
no matter how old we are
that we are a country that stands 
for freedom
for rightness
for justice for everyone
It simply doesn't apply to those who are not white
We were the most 
monstrous people
who swept from one coast to the other
murdering and causing mayhem among the Indians
That isn't revealed
because we don't like that image of ourselves
We like to see ourselves perhaps as John Wayne sees us

Friday, April 14, 2017

Like Footsteps and Glances


Voices float, cross, melt, fade, and dissolve
like footsteps
and glances

Recognition sparks, jabs, irritates, and overwhelms
like hunger
and desire

Breezes whisper, cling, insinuate, and ruffle
like memory
and forgetting

Shadows fall, stretch, deepen, bite, and swallow
like animals
and passion

Light imposes, hints, confronts, argues, and conquers
like birth
and death

Time creeps, crawls, flies, laughs, breaks, and disembowels
like love
and hate
Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Comfort Music

Some people turn to comfort food when anxiety starts gnawing at the corners of their souls. For me, it's comfort music. With the practically unlimited resource of streaming music, I've been turning lately to the hippie bands I listened to a lot in high school but not much since:

The Guess Who, The Doors, The Moody Blues, The Animals, The Supremes, Cat Stevens, Rod Stewart, Donovan, Jefferson Airplane, Yes, Traffic, The Zombies, Mott the Hoople, T. Rex, Phil Ochs, Gil Scott-Heron, Richie Havens and even (god forgive me) Kansas.

Listening to this music is like catching up with an old friend. An old friend who has remained freakishly the same as the world has surged forward recklessly. Although most of these bands were broken up or past their prime by the time I first heard them, their inspirations in the chaotic days of the Vietnam War and the movements for civil rights, women's liberation, and gay rights, have echoes that are reverberating loudly through the regressive authoritarianism and willful ignorance of the Trump era.

One old group of friends who have retained their sweetness over the years is The Lovin' Spoonful. There is a naive grace to their lyrics about daydreams, rain on the roof, finding a lover who can be your best friend, the great relief of having you to talk to, and believing in the magic of a young girl's heart. Their song, "You Didn't Have To Be So Nice," written by John Sebastian and Steve Boone, gets to the heart of the matter. As I look back at the years slipping away behind me I feel that the most profound experience I've known is simple, open-hearted kindness. That, and finding a shampoo that could handle my split ends.

Here they are performing the song in 1965, introduced by Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits: 

You didn't have to be so nice
I would have liked you anyway
If you had just looked once or twice
And gone upon your quiet way

Today I said the time was right for me to follow you
I knew I'd find you in a day or two
And it's true

You came upon a quiet day
You simply seemed to take your place
I knew that it would be that way
The minute that I saw your face

And when we've had a few more days
I wonder if I'll get to say
You didn't have to be so nice
I would have liked you anyway
Monday, April 10, 2017

Review: What's So Great About Art Anyway?


If teaching is an art form, then teaching art must be its masterpiece. Rachel Branham makes a compelling case for the benefits of art education in her graphic memoir, What's So Great About Art Anyway?.

Choosing the graphic novel format to tell the story of her "Teacher's Odyssey," Branham perfectly illustrates the benefits of visual art in the communication of ideas. One of the ideas she champions is the liberating effect of art education on young and impressionable minds. She writes, "Art education is fundamentally based on play, on discovery and investigation - and having meaningful experiences!" 

In ways that have both advantages and disadvantages, there are no right answers in art.

Concepts like success and development are hard to quantify in the arts but childhood development has been studied extensively and the place of the arts in human growth is well documented in these pages. The section on cognitive science and Viktor Lowenfeld's definition of developmental stages as reflected in children's drawings, is fascinating and, due to Branham's illustrations, fun to read.

Although most of the book is devoted to art education, Branham also addresses education in general: its history, evolution, and place in society. While the value of good teachers is generally appreciated, support and understanding of their role in society is often overlooked.

What's So Great About Art Anyway does a great job of showcasing the ways art education benefit cognitive and social development, but it also sheds light on what it feels like to be a teacher in America today. Here is Branham's description of the school as workplace: "The atmosphere feels fraught with anxiety and body odor. The same tensions tug at the students, and the same concerns poke at the teachers. It's the same everywhere. The institution of formal education has hardly changed since its inception."

Recently, I attended to a wine-tasting party (think Tupperware party for drunks) where the rep from the winery was a teacher who, like 60% of American teachers, has a hard time making ends meet on that salary alone. Branham points out that in Finland "teachers' wages are comparable to other prestigious occupations, like lawyers, doctors, and engineers" and that "there's no shortage of teachers in countries who have invested in their training and ongoing support." In America, teachers' salaries have been declining since the 1990s and they now earn about 20% less than other college graduates who are similarly educated. The attrition rate of teachers in America is double that of countries like Finland, Singapore, or Canada.

The elephant in this book's room is our nation's current civil cold war. Teachers are on the "liberal" side of this war just as cops are on the "conservative" side, regardless of the individual beliefs of members of those professions. As long as both houses of Congress, the White House, and most governorships and state legislatures, are in the hands of Republicans, teachers will be seen as the enemy. De-regulation of the private sector, removing oversight of police departments, and a steadfast refusal to even audit the Pentagon are will be offset by draconian federal government involvement in classrooms and wombs.

Art, like teaching, is a suspect profession to the party in power today. As Eve L. Ewing points out in the New York Times, President Trump's proposal to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts has more to do with authoritarian politics than with economic concerns, as the money saved would equal 0.004 percent of the federal budget. Not for nothing does our president "love the uneducated."

In dark days, like the ones we're living through, art is often seen as frivolous, but wise people understand that these are the times when art serves its highest purpose. Leaders from across the centuries and the political spectrum have added their voices in support of the arts:

“The arts are essen­tial to any com­plete national life. The State owes it to itself to sus­tain and encour­age them….Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the rev­er­ence and delight which are their due.” Winston Churchill

"The life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction, in the life of the nation, is close to the center of a nation's purpose - and is a test to the quality of a nation's civilization." John F. Kennedy 

"The Arts and Sciences, essential to the prosperity of the State and to the ornament of human life, have a primary claim to the encouragement of every lover of his country and mankind." George Washington

Get your copy of What's So Great About Art Anyway? from Teachers College Press, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble.

And don't forget to tip your bartender and waitstaff. They might be teachers.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

I Make Myself Sick

I make myself sick
When the will to keep going evaporates

I make myself lie
When the truth becomes unacceptable

I make myself quiet
When every sound is a call to arms
When every word is the tip of a blade
When every heartbeat is a betrayal

I make myself a hunted beast
With self-inflicted scars

I make myself a fairy tale
With wings but with no moral

I make myself old
When I confuse youth with age
And action with accomplishment

I make myself immortal
Then I curse the weight of time

Above it all
My light-hearted fairy princess

I make myself something that isn’t me
When I forget I love you