The Manhattan Project--2016 A to Z Theme

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Monday, June 27, 2016

How Good Were "the Good Old Days"?

         Oh for the good old days when life was simpler and more fun and the world was a better place than it is now.  Looking back it seems kind of nice to be a kid and let my parents worry about the bills and all of the logistics of keeping things going.  All I had to do was just play and enjoy my life.  Life was so much easier back then.  Or so I've heard people say.  But in reality was the past really all that good compared to now?

           I guess a lot of young people roll their eyes when older folk reminisce about how much better things were in the past.  When I was a kid I enjoyed hearing the stories of the youths of my parents and grandparents, but those older times didn't sound all that much better.  What would have been so great about walking three miles to school in the snow?  I doubt that my parents actually had to do that, but it's one of those cliched stories many of us might have heard at one time or another.

           When I was a kid our family wasn't necessarily wealthy, but I didn't ever go hungry and we always had a decent place to live.  Christmases were abundant times and summers were easygoing and gay.  And back then "gay" meant carefree and happy.  There were things to worry about when I was in elementary school, but nothing especially major as far as things in my immediate world.

           The years of junior high and high school brought with it a few concerns, but not much that couldn't be kept in check without too much effort.   I may have been tottering on the cusp of adulthood and yet I could still be stupid and get away with it without too much rigmarole.  Essentially I was a good kid and most everyone else I knew back then was okay too.  A few were outstanding, while some of us had our shining moments that stood out among the typical mundanity of everyday life.  Glory days for some and boring days for others and for the many of us they were just the days to get through in order to get where we were going in life wherever that was.
           Were "the good old days" really all that great?   I remember worrying about getting drafted to fight in Viet Nam.  A lot of guys my age went and thanks to a draft number near 300 getting drafted was unlikely in my case.   I stayed home and muddled my way through some college. Fighting a war was not something I wanted to do and thank goodness I didn't have to go, but still it was something I worried about to some degree.

           Then before I knew it the whole being a kid, a teenager, and a confused youth was over and I was an adult.  Somehow being grown up didn't seem all that different in a lot of ways.   Now I had that privilege of being able to look back upon my own good old days.  The older I got, the older those days got until the past became dreamlike in many ways and often a unreliable source of history because it was the past of which I was a part of in some manner of speaking.  Since leaving those good old days I often have to relate to them through things I read or see on television.   I'll watch an old movie that takes place when I was younger and often think to myself, "I don't remember it quite like that."

          The past seems like an interesting place to visit, but I'm not sure that I'd want to live there.  It's not that my memories are bad.  Far from that, my memories are good for the most part.  But those memories are skewed because they are my memories.   If I could go back in time to see what the past was like, there are many points of history I'd want to see.  However the places, people, and times of my past are of special interest to me.  Were they really like I thought they were or was there a lot that I missed that would be important pieces of my personal puzzle that would be of great significance to know?  In many ways I think the actuality of it all would be that my life was even better than I remember.   It's been a good life.  Maybe the days of the world weren't always the best, but my old days were just fine.

          Do you remember the past as "good old days"?     What was particularly good or bad about your own past in comparison to the state of the world and culture at that same time?     Is there another time in which you'd prefer to live over the present?

           This post relates to the theme of my upcoming Battle of the Bands on Friday July 1st.  I'll be presenting two different songs--one which is named in this post--by two different artists who worked together at times and had somewhat parallel careers.  One reached megastardom while the other was known to a number of music fans only having a modest success until his passing in 2015.  Give a guess if you like, but be here on Friday for the answer.

Photo credit:

Friday, June 24, 2016

Looking Back (#FlashBack)

It's Flashback Friday - a time of the month where you can republish an old post of yours that maybe didn't get enough attention, or that you're really proud of, or you think is still relevant etc. This blog-go-round is hosted by MICHAEL G D'AGOSTINO FROM A LIFE EXAMINED--THAT'S WHERE YOU'LL FIND THE REST OF THE PARTICIPANTS OR TO JOIN UP YOURSELF.

The post I've chosen for this month first appeared on
Tossing It Out on Friday, April 29, 2011. To see the original comments to that post you can click on the title below to be taken to the original post. My reason for choosing this particular post, besides it being as relevant now as then, is that it is related to my next Battle of the Bands post which will appear on next Friday July 1st. ..

Your Yesterdays

"Refuse to write your life and you have no life." - Patricia Hampl

        Your past is the wellspring that supplies all interpretation of who you are and what you know.  A writer who attempts to shake his past becomes a mere amalgamation of the thoughts of others.  In the end that writer who tries to reject his past is merely a poseur who has betrayed his own true essence and is little more than a puppet master of word manipulation.

"Every author in some way portrays himself in his works, even if it be against his will."    ~Goethe

           Good or bad, everything that has happened to us in our lifetime shapes our world view.  We are who we have been and what we have known in our lives.  In natural writing this will come across organically and without shame.  No matter how much we try to force our words our true self is hiding somewhere within.  

"Everybody needs his memories. They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door."--   Saul Bellow

             Sometimes I hear people saying that they don't want to talk about themselves, they just want to write.  But why do we read a particular writer?  Sure it's the story and the writer's skill, but isn't it also the style?  The style comes from the writer's unique voice and the uniqueness of the writer's voice comes from who that writer is.  That writer persona has been formed and molded from the memories and experiences of the author.  If you want to be known as a writer, then you must speak in your own unique voice.

"Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days." --   Flannery O'Connor

         We sometimes hear the protest, "But my life isn't interesting--I've never done anything and nothing has ever happened in my life that's special!"  Therein lies your mission.  You've witnessed plenty in your lifetime. You've got plenty of data stored in your memory banks.  Now it's up to you to put it together into something interesting.  Like the letters of the alphabet can be formed into an infinite number of words, what you know can be put together in countless ways and told over and over.  No one has seen life from your unique perspective.

"The man who writes about himself and his own time is the only man who writes about all people and about all time." 
 George Bernard Shaw

Still the stubborn cry may be raised, "I can't keep writing about myself--my readers will get bored."  But perhaps you're confusing the uniqueness of your personal story and the shared experience of the human story.  We still read the great authors of the past because they tell a story that still applies to us in our age.  The settings, the nuances of language, the customs may have changed but the emotions and needs are much the same now as they ever were.  If we can successfully write our own story into the story of humanity then we have accomplished one of the main goals of being a writer.

"Everything one invents is true..." 
        -- Gustave Flaubert

        In one final attempt at argument you might say, "But I want to write fiction. I don't want to write a memoir or about anything that is true."

        It's still about you. Even if what you write is the most extreme fantasy, science fiction, or any other form, you are still part of the story. The story you tell is an extension of who you are and what you know and what you believe. If it's not these things, then what is it? Fiction? There is no real fiction, only fictionalized accounts of that which is true. If this is not the case then the story is not to be believed and the author is a liar.

"In a very real sense, the writer writes in order to teach himself, to understand himself, to satisfy himself."
-- Alfred Kazin

         Often on Tossing It Out as well as my memoir blog Wrote By Rote I have written blog posts based on my life and my experiences.  I don't worry too much whether the readers want to hear about what I think or what I've done in the past.  My main concern is whether it has been written engagingly enough for readers to want to read it and to be entertained in the process.  There are times when I might want to attempt to teach a lesson or even persuade a side of some opinion.  Like any writer, my goal is to please my audience, but since I am the first member of my audience who reads what I have written, my primary goal is to please myself with my work.  If you are not pleased with your writing then you need to write until you are pleased.  Always be honest with yourself.

           Do you think that at its deepest level all of your writing is essentially about you?      How easy is it for you to write without injecting your personal opinions or do you think it is possible not to do so?    Would you rather read something that shared your opinions about issues or something that is very much in opposition to what you believe?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Should Some Things Stay As They Are? (#BOTB results)

Is It Almost Sacrilege to Tamper with Tradition?

       If it were up to some folks, things would always stay the same.  Over the decades we've seen updates on Shakespeare, Beethoven, and even the Bible.  Some might argue when a story is a good enough one then it doesn't matter how you tell it as long as you tell it true.  Others might bemoan the idea of taking a beloved classic and putting a different twist on it.   Beethoven's Fifth Symphony disco or rock style?   Really?   But actually it did kind of work didn't it?

        There might be some musical works that might be better not tampered with.  Do we want to hear a rock version of Debussy's "Claire de Lune" or an up-tempo jazzed up version of Schubert's "Ave Maria"?   I'm not sure, but I won't pass judgement until I hear a well done version of either if that ever happens.

        The recent mash-ups of 19th century novels such as Pride and Prejudice with an inclusion of zombies and other popular literary works done in similar ways were fun (though I've heard the film version of PP&Zombies wasn't so great), but probably more novelty than any real literary breakthrough.    

        We've come to a time where almost anything goes when it comes to the arts--or it's at least worth giving the change up a try.  Jazz and rock  have probably broken more musical barriers then any other music form, but musical artists in all genres have explored the possibilities of what can be done with music.  The question for some still remains--should you mess with a musical work that was outstanding in its original incarnation?

Sigmund Romberg's Musical Masterpiece Goes to Battle

       My most recent Battle of the Bands contest put a sultry 1930's style jazz version of "Lover, Come Back to Me" that was closer to its intended light opera style up against a swinging upbeat big band jazz arrangement from the fifties.   Either way you look at at the song works well in both styles.  After all, a darn good song is a good song no matter how you play it.

         The voting bore this out well I think.  Each version had its fans which resulted in a nail-biter of a musical battle.   There were turn-offs as well as big pluses to each version depending on the ears of the beholders.  Some preferred the energy of Brenda Lee while others found her version "Las Vegasy", but most agreed she did a good job.  Other listeners felt that Tamar Korn and Gaucho captured the essence of a musical era with their slowed down version.

         In the end I was left with--are you ready?--a tie!  What this means is that I get to break the tie with my vote for my favorite.  I've got to go with that forlorn sound of Gaucho which seems more appropriate to the lyrical content of the song.  The lyrics work for either style, but to me it's more of a sad song about the singer yearning for a lost lover.  And I loved that smoky speakeasy sound of the jazz ensemble.   This was some wonderful music.

         This made for a great battle and kind of a tiring one.  After that I need a slow song to wind me down.

Final Vote Tally

Gaucho           14

Brenda Lee     13

Next Battle Will Be Next Friday July 1st!

          Hopefully you'll enjoy this next Battle of the Bands post.  Between now and then I'll have a couple of posts about looking back and reliving old memories.  My previous Battle may have dealt with an old song in old styles, but my next Battle will consist of two different not as old songs that were released in the 80's a couple of years apart.   The songs will deal with the topic of living in the past and neither one is by Jethro Tull.   Both song artists have ties to one another.   One artist became a huge star while the other remained only a regional favorite.  You're free to take a stab at guessing any part of this upcoming battle or you can just wait for the fun to begin next Friday.  Please don't miss this one!

           Do you enjoy twists on musical classics?   What is your favorite re-imagining of a popular literary work?    Would you prefer that something that works well not be tampered with?  

Monday, June 20, 2016

How Big Is Your Ego?

English: Then President of the United States o...
 Then President of the United States of America, George W. Bush invited then President-Elect Barack Obama and former Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter for a Meeting and Lunch at The White House. Photo taken Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009 in the Oval Office at The White House. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

       Summer's ego is flaring with a vengeance in the southwestern U.S.   Predictions are that we in Los Angeles will be seeing unusually high temperatures for the next ten days or so.   Forecasters are saying that places like Las Vegas and Phoenix will be seeing temps in the 120 degree range.  Not especially unique for those folks who live there, but damn hot any way you look at it.  And summer of 2016 has barely begun.  What does this bode for the upcoming months?

        One thing we in the U.S. are facing is a heated political climate with an idiosyncratic presidential race ahead of us.  The primaries were kindergarten stuff compared to what we might be seeing in the months ahead of us.  Divisiveness of the parties and the nation as a whole may set tempers flaring and nasty words flying.

        Plenty is said about the over-inflated ego of Donald Trump.  No denying that the guy has a super big ego.  What public figure doesn't?   Bill and Hillary Clinton both have such humongous egos that one can only wonder how they can stand each other's company.  The ego of Barack Obama shows an air of superiority that gives him a sense that he's talking down at us or lecturing us. Even the good out boy presidents like George W. Bush or Jimmy Carter are driven by ego otherwise they would have never made it as far as they did.

        An egoistic Fidel Castro fueled a revolution to overthrow one dictator's grandiosity to replace it with his own bloated self-image that expected total allegiance or else from the citizens of his nation.  Recently, the passing of Muhammad Ali reminded us of the swaggering young Cassius Clay who pronounced "I am the greatest" and charmed much of the public with his egotistical antics. By no means was I a fan of Ali, but I will admit I was amused by his early escapades before he changed his name and became what some feel was a traitor to his country.

       We are entitled to our opinions just as we have a right to brand ourselves in whatever way we wish.  Criticism can be expected when we put ourselves in the public eye, but when we attack another we are attacking ego and that is like going for the throat.  Backlash can be expected from some while hurt might be the outcome for others.   Even those with the most fragile egos will usually make some attempt to defend their pride, their image, and their sense of self-worth.   My opinions reflect my own ego and when someone attacks my opinion, they are attacking a certain part of who I am.

        Openness to discussing differences is a good thing as is amicable debate concerning why one party believes what they think is right.   If we are open to listening to each other rather than jumping to the conclusion that we have the right answer and nobody can come up with a reasonable counter argument, we might end up learning more about others as well as ourselves.  There are some points, especially those dealing with preference, where there is no right or wrong, but merely a difference of opinion.   If I were dictator of the world, it might be assuaging to my ego for a while, but eventually that world would likely get pretty boring if everyone else were forced to share every opinion that I have.

        This will be the last post in my "Love and Ego" series in the official sense, though this blog will always be some reflection of my own ego and a study of ego in general.  And love will always make appearances here, especially in the many more songs of love that I have in waiting for future Battle of the Bands blog posts.

         Love and ego are ever present with all of us.  Just as the heat that scorches us here in Los Angeles affects the moods and attitudes of those of us who have to deal with feeling the burn (I'm talking climate here), love and ego will shape the directions we take in our lives and influence the way we treat others.

         Between love and ego, do you think one force tends to overpower the other or do you feel there is a parity between the two?    Do you feel that your ego is strong or do you tend be a relatively acquiescent person?     Can you think of any politician without a strong ego?  If so, explain why you think this.