Tuesday, March 27, 2012


If you know me well, you probably know how important recorded music is in my life.  
Ever since I had a paper route when I was a kid, I have spent a share of my earnings, regardless how meager, on an ever-growing collection of recordings.  Learning about pop music via WING radio’s Lou Swanson, Eddie Gale, and Gene ‘By Golly’ Barry, then buying some records, was the hip thing to do in the 1960s.  Whenever we went downtown, we’d walk by the studios on First Street to pick up the weekly top 40 survey and watch the jock behind the picture window spin wax and work his radio magic.  
Later on I graduated to recording music on reel-to-reel tapes.  First it was just albums, or maybe an evening session of ‘Wax Museum’ on WVUD FM.  Soon I realized I could create my own special mixes.  
Not long after, most music migrated to the eminently more portable cassette tape.  Played with those, too.  Then came digital where one listened to a silvery CD spinning away out of sight, inside a drawer, that produced near perfect sound.  No scratches.  Remember?  
Then music uploads onto computers and the ability to burn our own playlists in the CD format.  Find the right songs, mix liberally into a pleasant sequence, burn to CD, share with friends...  Now, of course, there’s iTunes and podcasts and internet streaming and, well, other stuff that even I don’t get.  
I know I’ve written about about my love of recorded music here at The Back Porch before, but today I’d like to focus on the actual listening to music.  
Much of the time, I think, we hear music in the car while conversation and traffic tension make it a challenge to actually listen.  Not optimum, to be sure.  Still, listening to music and riding in cars just kind of go together, you know?
Yes, I listen to music much here in my office while working, but I’ve taken up a new practice of listening to my music collections while reclined in bed.  I’ve got to tell you, I like it a lot. 
At times when I’ve shared one of my playlist collections with friends, I’ve encouraged them to wait to listen until an undisturbed hour is available for a sit in a comfortable chair, in the dark (candle recommended) -- maybe in a headset -- to let the music wash over them.  To me, the congruent message of the whole collection is like explicating a poem:  One listens to find ideas and melodies that dance inside that side of our brain that resounds in music.  Listening to a playlist at the computer with iTunes visualizer playing is pretty hip, too.  
But for me these days, it’s the dark room and sound.  Cindy isn’t so nuts about music and sleep, so I’ve set up the guest room with a couple of decent little speakers placed next to the bed.  I turn things down pretty far, yet high enough to feel the richness of instruments and voices.  I get comfortable and just listen.  In the dark, warm, and in the moment.  As you might imagine, I often fall asleep in the process.  I recommend it.  Works great mid-afternoon.
My newest cool thing is recording my original poetry in a song format that will play with the rest of my music collection.  Now I can insert my poems into collections of meaningful songs.  More on that later.
I do my best to stay grounded in life.  Listening to music in bed is part of that process for me these days.    
Today’s Elder Idea:  Learning about sex from porn is like learning about firearms from action movies.   
from ‘The absurd myths porn teaches us about sex’
Noah Brand and Ozy Frantz
AlterNet / posted 26 March 2012

Monday, March 19, 2012

Big stuff (misc)

Such a time last week for my life and my writing practice.  Let me count the ways... 
On Monday I submitted an essay to a little magazine in Colorado looking for thoughts on what it means in our hearts to help ‘the other.’  Seemed like a good opportunity to revisit our church’s two mission trips to post-Katrina New Orleans five+ years ago, and so I did.
The majority of the dozen or so adults who traveled south to work shared their thoughts about how it felt now, so many years later.  The essay, entitled ‘Katrina’s reach,’ totaled out at 2500 words with my first explaining what we did, then letting those who went tell their stories.  
Then I got word yesterday that the little Crestone magazine, Desert Call, will indeed publish ‘Katrina’s reach’ this summer.  I had also asked about having it published in the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio newspaper, and got a ‘yes’ on that, too.  Lots of pictures will be included in both publications. 

Most of you are aware, I hope, that I am in the process of writing a book connecting Emily Dickinson to one of my favorite places in the world, Hog Island, Maine, through the work of Mabel Loomis Todd.  It was Mrs. Todd who took on the arduous task of sorting and recopying Emily’s poetry into the three earliest editions that made it to the public between 1890 and 1896.  
Much has been written about Mrs. Todd’s work with Emily’s poetry and letters, while little has been written about her love of Nature.  It was that love that encouraged her to purchase large tracts of Hog Island c. 1909 in order to save it as one of the largest untouched wilderness islands on Maine’s coast.  By 1911, the Todd family had built a rustic family camp where they spent many summers thereafter.
Last week a couple of very special things happened re: my Hog Island project: 
First, I received an email from a woman in New York City who moderates the Facebook page for Jerome Charyn’s book, The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson.  ‘LenoreNYC’ and I chatted via email a bit, and then on Sunday she posted links to my Dressy Adventuress blog for all of their 8,000+ readers to follow.  (Deep gulp...)
For the Secret Life... page, see: http://www.facebook.com/SecretLifeOfEmilyDickinson
Scroll down a bit to find the entries about my Dressy Adventuress blog; or find that blog @ http://thedressyadventuress.blogspot.com/

Second, Chris Speh, who spent many summers on Hog Island as guest of Mabel Todd’s daughter, Millicent Todd Bingham, gifted my writing project with a great new picture of Mrs. Bingham and a series of remembrances by another Bingham family friend, a woman known in the writing only as Willow.  Thanks so much, Chris!  A handful of Hog Island lovers have read it and have thoroughly enjoyed the observations of life on the island that Willow tells.
My writing on Mrs. Todd’s Hog Island continues...
Back when I was a kid, I was smitten with the science fiction genre at a time when the Russians launched Sputnik and the US space program was not yet named NASA. 
As I recall, the book that grabbed me was Robert Heinlein’s Have Space Suit Will Travel (1958), a coming-of-age novel about a kid who just wants to go to the moon.  He gets his big chance in a soap contest, and even though he wins, he loses due to multiple winners with the same answer.  His consolation prize?  A real, working space suit.  Ergo, have spacesuit, will travel.  Sounds a bit like the old Paladin television show, eh?  
What makes this book so engaging is the real science about space travel -- written at a time before anybody ever went up there.  I’ve been taking a few notes on the science and will share copies with grandkids for summer reading.  The book is proving to still be a real favorite of mine.  

Do you know about TED, the website?  I encourage you to find it:  http://www.ted.com/index.php
Though TED stands for technology, engineering, and design, speakers they gather to talk to live audiences go off on all kinds of great topics.  Last Friday they posted a brand new lecture by Dr. Brene Brown (University of Houston) from the latest TED conference in Long Beach held earlier this month.  
As far as I know, this is Brown’s third speech with TED in which she focuses on wholehearted living.  For those of us trying to figure out what makes us tick, Brown has some definite ideas based on her years as a behavioral researcher.  Don’t be put off when I tell you her newest TED entry is entitled ‘Listening to shame.’  Cindy and I watched it three times over the weekend, and my guess is we’re not done with it yet.  Great stuff for those of us trying to make sense of our lives.... 
And then, of course, it’s really spring!  Noah and I had a great extended look at a pileated woodpecker on our walk at Englewood Reserve on Friday.  Then yesterday I put up the canopy over the back patio for the another season of porch sitting and Nature watching.  I sat out there for a couple hours last evening just to get back in touch with the world of Nature I’ve largely seen only from inside windows since November.  Oh, so grateful! 
I’m telling you, the invitation is open:  come on over for a back porch sit and conversation.  Love to have you!  ;-)
Today’s Elder Idea:  When advised it was time to leave her beloved summer camp on Hog Island behind because of her advanced age, Millicent Bingham wrote, ‘For me it feels more like pulling me up by the tap root, which goes down to the very source of life itself.  This is how I feel about the island...’

in a letter to Chris Speh’s Aunt Gertrude Sorel
21 May 1962
There are others who feel that way, too, Mrs. B....

Monday, March 5, 2012


Years ago when Cindy Lou and I bought our house, we took out a 30-year fixed mortgage that we hoped we could afford on two teacher salaries.  We did just fine, and continue to do so.  Then about ten years ago, son-in-law Mike, who is in the mortgage business, offered us a 15-year fixed re-financing that would help us reach our goal of actually owning our place sooner.  We took the deal. 
Now we have just under six years of that loan left and I have to tell you, it feels pretty good.  Knowing that we will own our lovely Maefel Lane property before I turn 68 sounds like a real accomplishment to me, even if we did pay close to $150k when we bought it, though we’re told market value now hovers around $120k.  Many homeowners lost much value in their homes through this Great Recession, while so many lost their whole house through foreclosure.  We are grateful and feel very blessed that our losses should prove to be a whole lot less in the big picture.  
Still, our current mortgage was packaged and sold, along with so many others, from one bank to another until our note is currently held by Bank of America.  And I’m not happy about that. 
I hold as a personal belief that where we spend our dollars makes a difference.  I make it a point not to shop at Walmart because of their penchant of buying cheap in China, even at the expense of American workers.  I am offended by the story of Ohio-based Rubbermaid a few years ago notifying Walmart, one of their biggest customers, that price of raw materials had gone up and that the manufacturer needed to raise wholesale prices to break even.  Walmart declined to renegotiate the contract and Rubbermaid went belly up.  To add insult to American injury, the company’s equipment was then sold at auction to a Chinese firm.  
Then there was the story of an Asian electronics manufacturer dumping big screen televisions on the American market below cost.  The sole stateside big screen TV maker went to court to stop the practice.  Walmart waded into the fray, as you might expect.  Who did Walmart support in the litigation?  The Asian manufacturer.  To restate, we steer clear of Walmart whenever possible.
Cindy & I prefer spending locally.  For those faithful readers of The Back Porch, you know that when Cindy and I selected a new car for her a year ago, we picked the Chevy Cruz, which is built in Lordstown, Ohio.  And at this point I suspect my new car, still a few years down the road, is going to be a Honda CRV, another local build assembled in East Liberty, Ohio. 
I am not a fan of Bank of America, the holder of our mortgage.  I can’t give you exact details without doing some reading, but I’ve heard plenty in the news about Bank of America fees and other unsavory practices they enact to squeeze more money out of their customers.  
It further irritates me that we had no choice in the matter.  After our loan was closed, our note went into some kind of mortgage market that ended up with Countrywide, which was then bought by Bank of America.  We turn out to be merely mute payers to a financial institution we don’t like.  
At least until today.  We got a call from Huntington Bank last week who would like to talk to us about taking over our mortgage.  They can beat the BoA interest rate by a couple percentage points and, says Columbus-based Huntington, we can keep the same time schedule to pay off the house even with a payment a bit lower.  
I must admit, the bottom line for me right now is getting our house paid off as soon as possible.  The idea of having no mortgage in six years is truly energizing.  Still, I am unhappy about paying big money to a company I don’t like.  I hope we can keep our money a bit more local with developments later this week.   
Today’s Elder Idea:  Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
Steve Jobs
image:  That’s our Maefel place during a snowier winter.  Stop by and see us!  ;-)