Saturday, May 26, 2012


The Cranky Old Man asked his young daughter what she thought of the post Reality Distortion Fields (last post). She told the Old Man that, in actual truth, she didn't get it. Such honesty. The Old Man then brought up the subject with his teenage son. He phased out and left the room without answering.  So, the Old Man thought - Was the Star Trek reference that off-putting, or is reality really only one person's point of view? Reality to the young daughter - she has graduated from college and has her first real job. That's a lot to handle. The young son is off to college this fall. That's really cool.

The Old Man understands that Star Trek is a bit nerdy. And the young daughter doesn't want to join the nerd group. The young son, as all sons do, wants to chart his own course in life. Maybe, that is it. Or just maybe it is really hard to see life from any point of view other than your own.

Really. Take the word really, we use the word to death, but we do so, to express how I see it; and you should see it that way too. The online dictionary defines really as, "In actual truth or fact." The difficulty is what is actually true? What is a fact? On those two points we all have a point of view; and who is to decide who is right and who is wrong?

The daughter has a good point. Reality distortion fields are really confusing.

All this leads the Old Man to Is That All There Is?", a song written by American songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller during the 1960s. It became a big hit for Peggy Lee in 1969. Now the Old Man is dating himself, something he doesn't like to do. Bette Midler remade the song later. if that helps.

The lyrics take us through several events in a girls life which all end tragically. If you will remember from the last post, life can really suck. The repeating refrain from the chorus goes like this:
Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is
Really, I am not trying to confuse the kids. They just can't see an Old Man's point of view. Really. So, Peggy Lee has got it right. Quit worrying about distortion fields, tragedy and enjoy life. Have a ball, but keep the boozing down kids.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Reality Distortion Field

Is Summer really here? Not quite, but it seems like it. School is out for the kids. The weather is unseasonably warm. Cranky Old Man's grass is already turning brown despite his best efforts to keep it watered. The hot dry Kansas wind turns the yard into a virtual Gobi Desert - dry and dusty.

Summer is really a great time to pick up a book; and among the books Cranky Old Man is reading is Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs.

Steve Jobs is most famously known as the creator of the Apple computer, along with Steve Wozniak. But there is a lot more to Jobs than that. Famously fired from Apple, he went on to create NeXT, fund Pixar, and then recreate Apple when it was on its death throws.

Personally, Steve Jobs came across to those he came in contact with as an arrogant assoholic. Isaacson in his biography tries to tell why. In the process Isaacson gives us a unique look at how Steve Jobs saw the world.

Steve Jobs was adopted. For most of his life he did not know his biological parents and when he did find out later in life, he had nothing to do with his father. His abandonment by his parents is the one significant psychologically factor that defines his personality.  Rejected by his biological parents, he was alone in the world. Thus, it is not surprising that he would be, at the same time, both controlling and suspicious in all his relationships.

Chapter 11 of the book is titled The Reality Distortion Field, Playing by his Own Set of Rules. Isaacson defines this through Jobs' co-workers as the ability to conform reality to your own means. One co-worker explained, "In his presence, reality is malleable. He can convince anyone of practically anything. It wears off when he's not around ..."

So, what about those tinted sunglasses? If you wear a blue pair of sunglasses, does that really make the world somber and blue?

The name reality distortion field comes from a Star Trek episode in which the aliens create their own world through sheer mental force. But the idea is not unique to Star Trek's writers. Albert Einstein observed,“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”  Douglas Adams similarly speculated, “Everything you see or hear or experience in any way at all is specific to you. You create a universe by perceiving it, so everything in the universe you perceive is specific to you.” And one can go back to Socrates and Descartes for the same idea - We create the world around us. We are what we think we are, even if we aren't.

It is a confusing idea, but not if you accept it.Your perception is your reality. "I think therefore I am." Descartes says. And the Old Man would reply, I am what I think. Don't like who you are? Change your story, change your perception, change your life.

We distort reality to make the world seem a little more pleasant place in which to live. Objective reality sucks. The world is full of crime, betrayal, and misery along with the beauty, love and hope. Why not focus on the good and not the bad, the beauty and not the ugliness? Be a positive force for change and not a Negative Nancy.

Cranky Old Man likes this idea. After all, it is at the heart of all self-help books. To make something happen, you first have to believe it yourself. Then, it will come true. So whether it is a new way of making a computer, or a new health regimen, a job, or a relationship, you have to set your mind to the task and do it in spite of everyone else. Steve Jobs in 1985, fired from Apple and wondering what he was to do next in life while standing on a bridge in Paris with his girlfriend commented, "I am a reflection of what I do." The Old Man fashions himself a writer.

"The problem" Cranky Old Man thinks, "is that reality distortion can become impractical and harmful." Take schizophrenics for example, their reality is a paranoid delusion. That is hell on relationships. Instead, we need the ability to go back and forth between our personal reality field and what is really happening out there. You have to get off the bench to play in the game, but you can't see the game unless you are sitting on the sidelines.

Image is reproduced from the cover of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. It has been digitally modified to create an inverse image as background. The image is used under the Fair Use Doctrine of 17 U.S.C 107. 

How do we see the world as it really is? Or, should we say, How do we see the world as others do? The Old Man thinks this requires the empathy gene. You have got to walk in someone else's shoes, see the world through their eyes, feel their pain. Cliches, boring as hell, still help us to understand something that is outside our own reality. But most people would acknowledge that Steve Jobs was not a caring understanding soul. No something else drove him. And this was his ability to see the final end product. Success drove Steve Jobs to see what needed to be done. Success is, in a way, like the Law of Natural Selection, what works stays, failures are soon forgotten.

Maybe, the Old man thinks, reality is what works.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Cranky Old Man is reading  A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, 1599, by James Shapiro.

The season is Summer. Summer in England in 1599 is a year of uncertainty. England is embroiled in a war in Ireland that is not going well, Spain threatens a repeat of the Spanish Armada, and the Queen, now old and frail, is uncertain in what to do.

Shakespeare has been plagiarized. A new book of poems, The Passionate Pilgrim, supposedly written by Shakespeare, has come out. The book is a commercial success, but Shakespeare does not share in the profits. He is certainly the author of some of the poems, but not all. The law being what it is in 1599, does not offer protection to the author for his works. Shakespeare, understood the vagaries of the law for he commented in 1591, "The first thing we do," said the character in Shakespeare's Henry VI, is "kill all the lawyers."

One of Shakespeare's plagiarized poems is When My Love Swears. At this point, Shakespeare had kept most of his poems for private distribution among friends. The commercial success of the plagiarized version caused him to re-issue the poem with some nuanced changes.

William Shakespeare -  When My Love Swears

When my love swears that she is made of truth
 I do believe her, though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutor'd youth,
Unlearned in the world's false subtleties.
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although she knows my days are past the best,

Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue:
On both sides thus is simple truth suppress'd.
But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
O, love's best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love loves not to have years told:

Therefore I lie with her and she with me,
And in our faults by lies we flatter'd be.

Shakespeare's changes are subtle. Line six changes "I know" to "she knows" suggesting a psychological understanding of the female mind. The following line is changed from " I, smiling" to "Simply" again implying a wisdom of the ways of lovers that only comes with experience. This follows with a revision of multiple lies to just one lie apiece each lover shares. Finally, Shakespeare changes the last line from "Since that our faults in love thus smothered be," to the simpler and less judgmental, "And in our faults by lies we flattered be."

Love is forgiving. It is not to be condemning or judgmental. We may lie in our efforts not to offend, but we must remember that at the end of the day, "I'll lie with her and she with me."

William Shakespeare was 35 in 1599. His revision of the sonnet took place some time between 1599 and 1609, when he was 45. Either way, Shakespeare was wise beyond his years in understanding the dynamics of love. The poem, written years earlier, is changed in perspective by the older, wiser Shakespeare to reflect an understanding that relationships are, after all, a matter of compromise and respect.

And a few scattered lies.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day

It is Mother's Day. Right now, everyone should be with their mother, thanking them for all that they have done, do, and will do. And, of course, saying "I love you."

Earlier, Cranky Old Man drove by the churches and the restaurants and many families are doing just that, spending time with mom. Later today, Cranky Old Man will be with his family - his wife, the mother of his daughter and son. It is good, but not the same.

Cranky Old Man's mother has been gone for many years now. Still, he can picture her in his mind with her soft brown hair, and hear her gentle voice. He can see her busily at work in the garden she loved to work, so much like her own mother. He can remember the gentle call to wake up for school and the thousands of breakfasts and lunches, and dinners that she made throughout a lifetime. He can remember, as a young boy often in trouble, that her anger was fleeting, like a summer rain. She is gone and the boy, now grown, is left only with his thoughts, wishing that for a moment he could bring her back and say, "Sorry Mom, I love you."

But that is not going to happen. So, Cranky is left with an imaginary conversation, saying all the things to himself that he should have said to her while she was alive.

Funny, it is hard to say those things face to face. I don't know why, it just is. Cranky Old Man would like to think, that even if he didn't always say the right thing, he did the right thing. The right thing is showing Mom the love you have and doing it each and every day. And it is not yelling at Mom or taking her for granted. No, that isn't quite right. It is not the absence of negative things, but the doing of positive things that demonstrate love.

The very young boy remembers the gifts he got his mom on Mother's Day. There were the flowers he cut from her garden when he had no money. The first gift he bought when he did have money was an inexpensive clay angel with wings. The boy thought it represented him, but then he was no angel.

All in all, the boy would like to think that these and other acts of kindness were good enough to express what he never said.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Contest of Wills

It is Sunday, May the 6th, 2012.

The Cranky Old Man sitting on his back porch, here in Wichita, Kansas, quite alone. When one is alone, there is no contest of wills, and that is heavenly. The Cranky Old Man insists that he is not really cranky, but methinks he does protest too much. His family insists that he is and it is their will that seems to prevail.

The family is gone, but the dogs, Tobie and Sam remain, and together, we have the day to ourselves. Where should we go, what should we do?

This Sunday, the weather is mild. It is an English summer day, one where billowy clouds shield the earth from the harsh rays of the sun. A gentle breeze stirs the leaves in the trees. The honeysuckle vine's yellow and white blooms announce that Spring is here to stay. All this suggests to me that a trip to Shakespeare's London of 1599 is in order. My trip is arranged by way of James Shapiro's, A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, 1599. To make such a trip is simple enough, pour a glass of wine and open the book. Let the breeze stir your thoughts to Elizabethan England.

In Shapiro's England, it is still Winter, for a I am reading chapter one, A Battle of Wills. The chapter begins on December 26, 1598, and Shakespeare's troupe, the Chamberlain's Men, is off to Whitehall to perform The Second Part of Henry the Fourth this Christmas for Queen Elizabeth.

Shakespeare's play, as many did, had an opening prologue and an epilogue. This is a rhetorical device, well known to public speakers. Tell the audience what they are going to hear, tell them again, and follow that up with a summary of what they heard. The rule of three is often repeated - repetition makes for memory retention.

In The Second Part of Henry the Forth, the epilogue was delivered by the actor Will Kemp. Kemp was perhaps the most famous actor of his day, a bit of a Charlie Chaplin, acting in comedic roles and always center stage. Kemp was also well known for what followed the play. This was a dance called a Jig. Today we imagine a jig as a robust dance, but back then it was more. Jigs, as Shapiro explains, were, "basically semi-improvisational one-act plays, running to a few hundred lines, usually performed by four actors. Kemp's jigs were so popular that in London of 1599, everywhere you turned, you could hear "whores, beadles, bawds, and sergeants filthily chant Kemp's jigs." The word "beadle" refers to a parish constable who was charged with the duties of charity; and "bawd" refers to a prostitute or the madam that keeps them. Thus, Shapiro suggests, those coming to see Kemp dance the jig were the riff-raff of London, those who waited until the end of the play to enter the theatre without paying their penny.

Shapiro's first chapter, A Battle of Wills, concerns the battle of egos between Kemp and William Shakespeare. Kemp had come to believe, with reason, that the audience came to see him dance and sing, and not to hear the staid and lifeless words of a lengthy play. Most plays at the time were dry and humorless. Shakespeare changed that with his wit and wisdom. His plays were topical, his words biting and quotable. The fact that the Queen herself viewed many of Shakespeare's plays suggests that the plays of Shakespeare and The Chamberlain's Men were the blockbusters of the stage.

Kemp was a member of The Chamberlain's Men and an equal owner in the profits of the company. Yet, egos often get in the way of common sense, and Kemp decided that he could take his name and his jig elsewhere for more money. He was wrong, and within a few years died penniless. Shakespeare got the last word in at the Globe.

And as for the Epilogue, take that of The Second Part of Henry the Forth, spoken by a dancer, Will Kemp:

First, my fear; then, my curtsy; last my speech. My fear is, your displeasure, my curtsy, my duty, and my speech, to beg your pardon. If you look for a good speech now, you undo me; for what I have to say is of mine own making; and what indeed I should say will, I doubt, prove mine own marring. But to the purpose, and so to the venture. Be it known to you,—as it is very well,—I was lately here in the end of a displeasing play, to pray your patience for it and to promise you a better. I did mean indeed to pay you with this; which, if like an ill venture it come unluckily home, I break, and you, my gentle creditors, lose. Here, I promised you I would be, and here I commit my body to your mercies: bate me some and I will pay you some; and, as most debtors do, promise you infinitely.

My tongue is weary; when my legs are too, I will bid you good night: and so kneel down before you; but, indeed, to pray for the queen.

Fame, as Shakespeare so well understood, depends on an uncertain audience.

In the Second Part of Henry the Forth, the words of the play center around Will Kemp's character - Falstaff, friend to Prince Hal, son of King Henry the Forth. Although Shakespeare promises to write further of him, he changes his mind. There are no more words for either Falstaff or Will Kemp in Shakespeare's plays and so his audience is gone. For Kemp, "the jig was up."

Note and afterword.

Thomas Platter, a native of Basel, visited England in 1599. The following, from his diary translated from German, describes his visit to the Globe theatre, and the premier of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.

On September 21st after lunch, about two o'clock, I and my party crossed the water, and there in the house with the thatched roof witnessed an excellent performance of the tragedy of the first Emperor Julius Caesar with a cast of some fifteen people; when the play was over, they danced very marvellously and gracefully together as is their wont, two dressed as men and two as women. ...
There are different galleries and places, however, where the seating is better and more comfortable and therefore more expensive. For whoever cares to stand below only pays one English penny, but if he wishes to sit he enters by another door and pays another penny, while if he desires to sit in the most comfortable seats, which are cushioned, where he not only sees everything well, but can also be seen, then he pays yet another English penny at another door. And during the performance food and drink are carried round the audience, so that for what one cares to pay one may also have refreshment.
 Read more from the Norton Anthology of Literature.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The French Connection - Lichier Richier

Family connections based on nothing more than a name are tenuous. This one between my great great French grandmother Anne Marie Richier and 16th century French sculptor Lichier Richier certainly falls in that category.

My connection to Lichier Richier is based on a name, a location, and an avocation. It is also based on my love of art, something passed down to me by my mother's French relatives, who like my mother, loved to paint in oils, even if it was only for their own amusement. My avocation is to create.

My great great French grandmother was Anne Marie Richier. She married Paul Constant Chevallier in 1847 in the tiny French village of Graffigny-Chemin. The village is now officially located in the region of Haut-Marne in eastern France, but in ancient times it was in the province of Lorraine. The village is a scant 25 miles south of Domremy, the birthplace of Jeane d'Arc, the patron saint of France. It is another hour to the town of St. Mihiel, famous for its battle during the First World War and work place to Lichier Richier in the 16th century. In World War I, the area was the battle line between the Axis and the Allies, between the Germans and the French, British, and Americans. It is because of that fact that my grandfather, an American soldier met and fell in love with a young French girl.

Anne Marie Richier was the daughter of Jean Thomas Richier, proprietaier rentier, and Jeane Morel. Anne was 18 years old at the time of her marriage. That tells me she was born in 1829. That is all I know for now.

The connection with Lichier Richier is admittedly stretched to its limits. Ligier Richier was the greatest sculptor in Lorraine during the Renaissance. Born around 1500, he lived in and around the town of Saint Mihiel. In 1530, he came under the protection of Duke Antoine of Lorraine, who commissioned many of his works. Ligier Richier preferred pale, soft limestone with its fine grain and few veins. This stone was extracted at Saint Mihiel and nearby Sorcy and possessed a marble-like appearance. His many works include, among others: Memorial to the Heart of René de Chalon, the Skeleton, the Pieta, Holy Woman in a Bonnet, Le Sépulcre, and the Virgin or the Lady of Génicourt. Meuse Emotions.

Le Sépulcre

Image is a section from Le Sépulcre, found in the Eglise Saint-Etienne in Saint Mihiel. Meuse Emotions.

In 1560, Lichier Richier, along with others, petitioned the Duke of Lorraine for permission to practice  in the Reformed Faith. The petition was unsuccessful, causing him to finish his days in Geneva, the city of Calvin, in 1566 or 1567.

He was, I think, like the Cranky Old Man, a man who liked to think for himself.