Next Week

This time next week, I’ll be on my way to Sedalia for the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival.

Yes, there’s an actual, in-person festival happening this year.

Is this a good idea? Well… On one forepaw, it is Missouri–which the Mayo Clinic says has the 40th lowest percentage of the population fully vaccinated. And we won’t even talk about masking.

On the other forepaw, the performers and audience are coming from all over the world. I suspect as a group they’re going to be more highly vaccinated than the people who live there. And there’s nothing stopping me, or anyone else in attendance, from wearing a mask.

In truth, the exposure risk seems on a par with what I experience dealing with the public every day at work.

So there’s that.

To be honest, I’m no more immune to the lure of “Get out of the house and do something normal” than anyone else. But this isn’t solely an exercise in COVID denial.

The cancelation of the 2020 festival was a big disappointment, even more so than the reasons why canceling everything else that spring and summer disappointed everyone. That was, if you recall, the Year of the Woman, marking the hundredth anniversary of women getting the vote in the US. And the Sedalia festival was going all-in on the theme, emphasizing female performers and composers.

And on a more personal level, 2020 was going to be the year the SJRF’s Ragtime Kid program–funded by donations to the Foundation in Dad’s memory–would debut. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

We used the time to refine our concepts, figuring to go live with the 2021 festival. Which also didn’t happen.

So now we’ve got 2021 and 2022 Ragtime Kids to introduce. Somebody’s got to be there to represent, right?

As if three-plus days of good music and catching up with friends we haven’t seen in three years isn’t enough incentive to attend*.

* And, of course, Sedalia is just about halfway between Kansas City and St. Louis. That’s prime BBQ country; hard to resist for a family that travels on its stomach as much as mine.

All of which is a long-winded lead-up to letting y’all know that there won’t be a Wednesday post next week. I’ll do my best to cue up a Friday post so nobody feels fuzzy-deprived, and I expect everything to be back to normal on June 8.

And, of course, this is also a commercial message, reminding you that the Foundation will still cheerfully accept donations in Dad’s memory and use them to support the Ragtime Kid program. Contact information is here.

A Dream and a Nightmare

You decide which is which.

Story the First: I dreamt I had moved to a small town somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Not so small that it couldn’t support a community orchestra, however. Because I joined the group when the organizers came around.

Our first concert–some indefinite period the future–was going to be an all-Bernstein program. We all show up for the first rehearsal, and it’s obvious that, while some of us might* be accomplished musicians, as a group we don’t have Clue One what the heck we’re doing.

* Strong emphasis on the “might”.

So we start setting up our instruments, looking over the sheet music, and all the things that occupy musicians’ time while they wait for the conductor: calling our loved ones, making dental appointments, playing Wordle, and so on.

Someone steps onto the podium and taps his baton for our attention.

There’s a mass intake of breath. Our conductor is none other than Leonard Bernstein himself*.

* For the record, I’m well aware Mr. Bernstein died more than three decades ago. Tell that to my subconscious.

In some little Podunk town. For a community orchestra that had never played together before.

Leonard Effin’ Bernstein.

We all clearly knew disaster awaited us, but when Leonard Bernstein tells you to play, you play.

I consider it a blessing that I woke up just as the baton swept down to launch us into West Side Story.

The moral here should be obvious. Should be.

“Don’t reach for the stars; they’ll come to you.” Nah. “Follow your leader.” Nuh-uh. “Practice? Who needs practice?” Uh…

Story the Second: As I’ve mentioned before, I have mixed feelings about Google Assistant’s Commute notification feature. A couple of days ago, I was leaning decidedly toward the negative, thanks to a notification foul-up of epic proportions, but unimportant details.

So I was ranting in a generally Maggie-facing direction; a rant which began “Have I mentioned how much I hate Google?”

When I ran down, I picked up my book and flopped on the bed next to Maggie and started to read. And then, because I do have my occasional episodes of mush, I turned to her and said, “No matter how much I hate Google, I love you more.”

There was a second of silence, perhaps a sliver of a second more, as she prepared to say, “Aww,” and then a voice was heard from the bookshelf where my phone sits while charging.

“I can’t feel romantic love but I think you are wonderful.”

Yes, my phone had misinterpreted “hate Google” as “Hey, Google” and thought I was addressing her*.

* Yes, I do consider my phone to be female. And I have no intention of analyzing why.

While I suppose it’s a relief to know that my phone has no desire to supplant my wife in my affections (yet), I’m not entirely sure I needed to know that I am a figure of wonder and (I suppose) awe.

Talk about inflating one’s sense of self-worth.

And, no question about the moral here: Big Brother is, in solemn truth, always listening.

An Extended Response to a Recent Comment

There are stories everywhere.

“Why did this happen?”

“How did it go down?”

Answer the reporters’ traditional questions–who, what, when, where, why, and how–and you’re telling a story.

Interesting point, though: you don’t need to answer all of the questions to make it a story. Sometimes each answer is its own story. And each story leads to more questions and more stories.

As a writer, it’s my job to tell stories. And because I write fiction, I’m supposed to make up those stories.

Every story has a starting point. Even the fictional stories. Maybe it was the who: many writers start with the characters and watch them interact. Sometimes it’s the what or the how: where would a locked room mystery be without the what and the how?

Just to be totally clear, darn near everything I write here on the blog is a story. And, guess what? Most of them are at least somewhat fictional. If I start with a news story, and I don’t know the answer to one of those questions, most likely I’m going to make something up. Because you (usually) don’t tell a story by not answering questions.

Put it another way: “How can you tell when a writer is making something up?” “He’s writing*.”

* A more accurate answer would be “He’s alive” but that doesn’t call back to the old joke about lawyers as well.

Because I’m the only person telling stories on this site–ignoring the ones that you all tell when you comment (remember what I said about stories leading to more stories?)–they have a number of common elements; if you read for a while, you’ll see similar word choices, subjects, and tonalities cropping up again and again.

My tastes run toward snark and satire, so when I have to make something up for a story, chances are I’m going to come up with something intended to trigger a smirk or a snicker.

What constitutes humor, snark, satire, and parody is heavily influenced by culture. It’s easy to miss those elements if you’re coming from a different cultural matrix.

One important point: making up answers for “why” can be risky. Oddly enough, some people take offense when certain motives are attributed to them. That being the case, I try not to fictionalize human motivations when writing about stories I’ve picked up from the news.

The key word in the previous sentence is, of course “human”. Cats, by and large, are unwilling to go to the hassle of filing lawsuits and–Grumpy Cat notwithstanding–don’t have money to pay lawyers.

Another One

Can you stand another music post? If not, feel free to skip today’s post. I promise I won’t be offended.

It struck me the other day that there’s a medical crisis on our hands. It’s not as flashy as the current pandemic, but it’s been slowly building for the past eighty years or more.

Tony Bennett, of course, left his heart in San Francisco.

Sammy Kaye, Charlie Spivak, Jo Stafford, and the gods only know how many others left their tickers at the Stage Door Canteen.

And that only begins to cover the extent of the problem.

Pepe Llorens’ heart is in Barcelona. Nadia’s is in somewhere California–or perhaps scattered in pieces around the state. Want to check Herb Jeffries’ cardiac health? Better head for Mississippi.

It gets worse.

Edmund Hockridge deposited his heart in an English garden, Linda Scott abandoned hers in the balcony of her local theater–last row, third seat; if she ever wants it back, at least she knows where to look for it. And poor Ernie Tubb left half of his in Texas and the other half in Tennessee.

I could go on, but you get the gist.

Eighty years of research and yet medical science has yet to find a way to keep singer’s hearts in their chests where they belong.

It’s a crying shame.

Changing tracks (sorry).

Anyone else remember the Andrews Sisters “Three Little Sisters“?

The punch line of the song is the one about “tell it to the marine“. But in which sense?

The original meaning, dating back to at least the early 1800s, implies “because nobody else is dumb enough to believe it”. But the more recent American implication–circa 1900–is “because they’re the only ones who can do something about it.”

So which is it: are the girls going out on the town, or entertaining the troops at home?

Either way, it’s not a flattering portrait of those teenagers.

Of course it’s possible the song doesn’t know the whole story. Maybe whatever it is the young woman are doing is fully consensual, and the magazine bit is just a cover story for the girls’ parents, the armed forces censors, and anyone else who might get their hands on their letters.

Remember, no email or social media in 1942.

Now that I think about it, the song does say they’ll be “true until the boys came back”. Not a word about their plans for thereafter.

Let us not forget that Kerista was founded in the mid-Fifties. The philosophical underpinnings didn’t come out of nowhere.

I’m sure it purely coincidental that the founder, John Presmont, was–if contemporary accounts can be believed–an Air Force officer during World War 2. Still…one can only wonder how the Summer of Love might have evolved had there been four little sisters.

How to Tell

We all do it. No, not poops. I mean, yes, we do, but that’s not what I was going to talk about.

I mean, we all narrate our existence to ourselves.

It might be retrospective, speculative or projective, emotional or reactive, or simply an assertion that we’re present (the most basic form of “I think, therefore I am”).

“I should have gotten the chicken instead of the fish.”

“Should I do the laundry before or after I order the pizza? Is the delivery guy going to care if I have to answer the door in my PJs?”

“Ugh, it’s too early to be awake. Could I get back to sleep if I called in sick to work, or would it just be easier to go in?”

“I’m bored.”

Something else we all do: we edit our narration.

“Okay, once I finish the dishes, I can kick back and watch TV. No, I’d better check my email and pay the credit card bill first. So that’s dishes, bill, email, and then TV.”

But there’s something we don’t all do.

I was musing about internal narrations yesterday (see “I’m bored” above) and I realized that I was copyediting my narration.

That’s right: I was changing punctuation and digressing to decide whether certain words should be capitalized.

Worse yet, at the same time I was also doing a style edit.

“Is it funnier if I send out for pizza or Chinese food?”

“Is chicken versus fish too cliched, or should I go with it because it’s a cliché?”

Maybe I’m wrong about this. Maybe everyone style edits their thoughts.

But I suspect that it’s a limited few of us.

Mind you, I’m not talking about editing an imaginary conversation– “Just wait until I see that louse! I’m going to give him a few choice words!” (because of course you want to have the perfect zinger ready when the louse in question walks in)–but all those other bits of narrative running through your head.

I submit that if you spend five minutes arguing with yourself over whether the internal rhyme in “It’s too far to go by car” is distracting and you should just think “It’s too far to drive” while you’re planning your vacation, you’re either already a writer or you should be.

Onward

(aka Short Attention Span Theater 18)

True story.

I was coming home from work the other day–along Richmond Parkway, as it happens–when I witnessed what was, if not the stupidest driving maneuver ever, certainly one of the top ten.

Picture this: I was waiting at a red light, fourth car in line in the right lane. Two cars in the left lane. Nobody in the left turn lane. There’s a small bunch of trees on the corner to the right, which means you can’t see into the cross street until you’re actually in the intersection.

And coming up from behind me is a Mini of some sort*, zipping along at the speed limit, which happens to be 50 along there.

* I think it was a Countryman, but I’m often clueless when it comes to vehicular makes and models.

The driver wasn’t showing any sign of slowing down, and I was starting to get nervous. One doesn’t think of a Mini as “looming”, but this one was unquestionably looming in my rear-view mirror.

And then it veered to the left.

Without slowing down, it slewed across the width of the street into the left turn lane and stormed straight through the intersection, back across the full width of the street to the right lane.

About fifteen seconds later, the light changed to green–which means it had to still be green for the cross street when the idiot went through the red–but nobody moved for a good ten seconds, too stunned by the sight we’d just seen.

My immediate reaction was that the driver must be the same kind of idiot who gets his first vaccination and immediately stops wearing a mask.

On reflection, I think that’s too gentle an assessment. More likely, he hasn’t gotten vaccinated, won’t get vaccinated, and threatens to sue businesses that require customers to be masked because he thinks makes spread disease.

Moving on.

In the interest of keeping you informed of the doings of Xathanael Todd*, I bring you this excerpt from a letter I received from his father on Monday.

* Previous mentions are here and here.

“April 23rd, 24th, and 25th will be Xathanael’s final theatrical performances before graduating High School.

On The Fringe Children’s Theater in Vallejo is presenting an online production of Elephant and Piggy: We Are In A Play. Xathanael has been working there as Assistant Choreographer and Music Director. He is also starring as Gerald.”

Unlike the earlier performance noted above, this production will, in the spirit of the times, be streamed online. Tickets–a mere $5 each, though you can pay more if you wish–are available through Showtix4U, so even those of you who don’t habitually frequent Fairfield, California can attend.

I’m trying to figure out whether I can get some time off one of those days. Working evenings does have a down side.

As you may have gathered, yes, I’m back.

Late March or early April is generally when I post my “State of the Fourth Estate” summary. Last year, I was hoping to send out Demirep to my beta readers in June. I actually beat that estimate. The draft went out in mid-May.

Since then, I’ve written a grand total of zero words of fiction.

What I’ve found is that I need a certain minimum amount of structure in my life in order to write. And even after I returned to work after the lockdown, I had no routine. Schedules changed frequently, responsibilities shifted on a weekly–sometimes daily–basis. And then there were all of those one-off disasters falling into life, both political and personal.

Finally, however, life and work are settling down. I’ve made plans to carve out regular writing times. First for the blog, then for the novels. It’s going to happen. I’m going to make it happen.

Moving on again: see you Friday.

How’d I Miss That?

I freely admit to being a bit slow. Somewhat oblivious, even.

But even so, I can’t believe it took me almost forty-five years to spot this.

Still, as far as I can tell–a quick web search, a perusal of the relevant Wikipedia article, and a consultation with a couple of people with a grounding in the music of the mid-seventies–nobody else has noticed it either.

Which really surprises me. Forty-five years and nobody has noticed that “Take the Money and Run” can be read–heard?–as a lesbian story?

Stop laughing. I’m serious.

Check out the lyrics.

Every person mentioned in the song is mentioned with a pronoun. Except for one.

“…shot a man while robbing his castle”

“Bobbie Sue…she slipped away”

“Billy Mack…he knows just exactly what the facts is”

But Billy Joe is always referenced by name. The song wouldn’t change an iota if their name was spelled “Billie Jo”.

Still think I’m crazy?

Okay, maybe I am. Granted, certainly, Steve Miller isn’t noted for being the most socially activist musician out there. Not now, not back in the mid-seventies.

But, still, I can’t help picturing some record company executive taking a look at a proof of the lyric sheet for the Fly Like an Eagle album and choking. “Stevie-baby. Love the album, but this one song? Just can’t do it. Two chicks in love? Totally kill sales in the Midwest. Look, just make one of them a guy. Whatdya say?”

Perhaps that’s overblown. Heck, maybe Mr. Miller himself didn’t realize the implications of his lyrics–there’s a well-known story that when author Isaac Asimov confronted a critic over his interpretation of one of Asimov’s stories, the critic replied, “What do you know? You’re only the author.”

Still, as a writer, I’d like to think Steve Miller’s been slipping this bit of (none-too-effective) subversion past listeners for more than four decades. Fiction is far more fun than boring Reality.