The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir."
-----Carl Sagan The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
I find it sadly ironic that on this day marking the birth of this intelligent softspoken champion for peace, compassion, and the scientific understanding of the world we inhabit, I learn that the man who will be the next president of my country is a shallow, bellicose man who rode to victory on a platform of disrespect, hate, and xenophobia. The party that he heads is one that will deny any science if it gets in the way of thier particular religious beliefs and/or profit motive.
I fear that in the next few years much damage will be done to society and the world we inhabit. Some of it, I fear will be a long time in correcting. Some of it, I fear will be irreversible.
I hope my fears are overrated. I hope I am wrong.
I take some comfort in knowing that, despite the claims of "mandate", more than half of the people who voted did not vote for this man. If you are, like me, fearful, remember, you are not alone.
But I'm kind of glad that "Uncle Carl" did not live to see this day.
"For me, it is better to grasp the universe as it really is, than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring."
----Carl Sagan; the Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
Words are not my strong point, but here goes…
So, it’s happened again. Another mass shooting. This one is the biggest in U.S. history (though why do I fear that that record won’t stand long?).
People are in shock…again.
Voices are raised on both sides of the gun issue…again.
Politicians are spinning the event to their advantage…again.
And we shed our tears and hold vigils and comfort the survivors…again.
But take another look at that last item.
We shed our tears and hold vigils and comfort the survivors…
This time it wasn’t an audience in a movie theatre, or a prayer group or a school full of kids. It was a club that catered to the LGBTQ community. And yet, we’re still shedding tears—as we should be. But not so very long ago, this wouldn’t have been the case. In 1973, an arson attack took place at a gay bar in New Orleans in which 32 people died. The crime was never solved and it was largely ignored by the media. There have been many similar events before and since. The tragedy in Orlando is not being ignored. Yes, I know, it may be because it’s the latest mass shooting, or maybe it’s the 24-hour news cycle, but I’m watching the CBS news and seeing a young man who was at the club telling anchor Scott Pelley about the event, and he’s barely holding it together. Pelley reaches out to comfort him; not a manly pat on the shoulder, but grasping his arm and holding it, trying to be strong for a young man who is not feeling very strong at the moment. You wouldn’t have seen that fifteen or twenty years ago. You wouldn’t have seen vigils being held and rainbow flags being held up in solidarity around the world. There were no openly gay actors or CEOs or members of congress. And just a few decades ago, the only gay characters on TV or in movies were either comedy relief or mentally disturbed. Gay marriage was unheard of. LGBTQ people are being accepted by much more of the population as people, as valuable members of society, as a group that can and should be mourned for their loss. Racial minorities and women have been and are still struggling with the same issues and it is likely they will be for a while yet, but they too have made great strides (A black or woman president? Unthinkable until recently). It is easy to become pessimistic, and maybe I am naïve, but I think about how things were 50 years ago and I can’t help but wonder, are we perhaps stumbling toward grace, making lurching steps toward that more perfect union?
While it has been coming for a long time, the turnaround from a societal point of view has been sudden, almost something of a revolution, really. And tragically, in revolutions, sometimes innocent people die.
But at least now we can hold our candles in the dark and weep openly.
On the off chance that anyone is reading this.
So, we went to see The Martian the other night, and if you’re asking yourself “Should I go see this movie?” or “Should I read the book?”, the answers are, respectively, “Yes!” and “Yes! And why haven’t already read it?”
[Note I will try and do this without any spoilers; I want you to have as much fun as I did.]
Why should you see the movie? Because this is a really intelligent science fiction movie, and those are rare to come by. Andy Weir, who wrote the book, is an admitted science, space and math geek, and he did his homework He has, by the way, admitted that a dust storm on Mars is unlikely to be much of a danger to a manned mission on Mars, but this is basically a Man against Mars story, so he had to get our intrepid hero Mark Watney stranded so I’ll give him that. After all, without a bit of artistic license, no good book, no good movie and I wouldn’t be sitting here happily burbling about both of them and wasting your time. [Note: If you know anything about this movie, that should not be considered a spoiler and it happens in the first ten minutes of the film anyway. So there.] Practically all of the characters in this movie are scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and it still manages to keep the action going and (like the book) still be very funny (Okay—small spoiler; Watney is a smartass)—when you’re not on the edge of your seat. And for gosh sakes, go see it in the theatre; even a big screen TV isn’t going to give those Martian panoramas justice (you even get to see Phobos sailing through the sky if you look for it—yeah, I was). A lot of nice little touches too, like the Chesley Bonestall painting hanging up at NASA, and in-jokes to 2001 and even LotR (the LotR joke is in the book, but it’s funnier in the movie—but I’ll let you figure out why). Just go see it dammit!
Why should you read the book? Because it’s just like the movie only there’s more of it. They cut out several big chunks of the book for time restraint reasons, I’m sure, but this is one movie that I would love to see the 4-hour director’s cut. In the theatre even! It’s also a lot funnier than the movie (Watney is even more of a smartass in the book). There aren’t a lot of books that make me laugh out loud, but this was one.
Oh, one thing, in the book, Watney’s faceplate is described as reflective. In the movie it is clear. I’m giving the studios this one ‘cause if you’re paying Matt Damon to be in the movie you want to see his face. (Yeah, you know that guy that shows up comic expos claiming to be the guy who played Boba Fett? Prove it!).
Now stop reading this and go read the book. Or see the movie. Whatever. Just go have fun.
[Okay, admittedly there were a number of fair lassies wearin' kilts, but this was somewhat offset by the number of big hairy guys wearin' kilts. It should be noted here that while there is some Scot in my ancestry, that was some ten or twelve generations ago, so I've never gotten the whole wearin' of the kilt thing. Nothin' against it, mind, but I'd just rather see 'em on fair lassies than big hairy guys. Anyways, back to the point of this entry....]
Yeah, live music! Aside from the traditional celtic folk groups and battling bagpipe armies, they also had some celtiod rock. Screamin' electric guitars mixed with fiddles, bagpipes and didgeridoos(!). There was also a band that consisted of one bagpipe and three guys on drums. It's really no wonder that these things were carried into battle; after about 45 minutes of that, I was ready to grab a sword and start whackin' at something.
I'm getting closer to the point here, trust me.
Many (actually most) of the bands would ask the audience to sing along to a song every once in a while. Usually just helping out on the chorus, but sometimes saying, "If you know this song, join in!" Sometimes all they wanted was a "Hey! Hey! Hey!" or some similar noise.
So why was it that I seemed to be the only one belting it out when asked?
Crivens, people! Why wern't ya fookin' singin' when they asked ya ta? Ya weren't watchin' nae fookin' television!
Er, sorry. I've been re-reading Pratchett's Tiffany Aching books with the Mac Nac Feegle and after the Scottish fair, that just slipped out.
Anyways, admittedly our culture teaches you to stop singing after grade school, or most people don't think they can't sing well--and, okay, some can't, but if everyone is singing, they'll get drowned out (especially at the celtiod rock stuff, it wouldn't matter--it was too loud for anyone to complain) Also, again admittedly no one payed to hear you sing when they came through the gate, but when the band asks you to join in, do so, dammit! Make a joyful noise.
Or at least a rowdy one.
Today, we took her to the vet for the last time.
She had been getting somewhat creaky for the last couple years, but in the last few weeks she really went downhill, and had reached the point where she looked like she might topple over at the next step. It was time to say goodbye.
Supposedly, she was a shepherd/rotwieller mix, but she was really just a good dog. I don't recall her ever chewing or tearing up anything she wasn't supposed to (except for our hearts there at the end, and that was not intentional on her part) and wasn't inclined to digging or trying to escape the yard (though given that she was reportedly 2 years old when I got her, and who knows what had happened to her in that time, perhaps she just knew a good thing when she had it). She was the dog who, if you visited us, you might not have noticed, because our other dogs seem to be either attention whores or spazhounds (or both), so she might have been lost in the background. She was just happy to see you and hopefully get petted. Aside from barking at postmen, squirrels and lawnmowers, she never made much noise (so why is the house so strangely quiet tonight?).
So, fifteen years old and I was lucky enough to have her for thirteen of those years.
We'll miss her (a lot).
Hmm...I guess since both of those dogs are gone now, maybe I'll have to change that icon--but not just yet.
When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!),
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone--wherever it goes--for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear!
Why is it that the kind of people that the world needs most seem to die, when the type of people who pollute the world with their very existence just seem to linger on, continuing to do damage and reveling in it? Several names of the latter type are springing to mind, but I won't say them here. Not because I am afraid offending anyone, but rather because I just can't bring myself to use their names anywhere near Sir Terry's.
Instead, I'll just honor a great man with some of his quotes that would probably infuriate those people.
"Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one."
"The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they've found it."
"Goodness is about what you do, not who you pray to."
"It's not worth doing something unless someone, somewhere, would much rather you weren't doing it."
Suzette Haden Elgin; A Few Memories.
“The fountains of my great deep are broken up and I have rained reminiscences for four and twenty hours. The old life has swept before me like a panorama; the old days have trooped by in their old glory, the old faces have looked out of the mists of the past; old footsteps have sounded in my listening ears; old hands have clasped mine; old voices have greeted me and the songs I loved ages and ages ago have come wailing down the centuries!”
Gosh, has it really been over thirty years? Where did the time go? Oh yeah, where it always goes; into the past, reachable only by memory….
If memory serves (though lately I find that memory does not deserve the generous tip it used to get), it was at a convention in Kansas City in the early 1980’s that I settled into a filksing. There in the circle was a woman with salt and pepper hair in a long braid who somehow radiated grace just sitting there. When her turn to sing came around, I was delighted to find that she could sing and play the guitar with a skill that surpassed most of the filksingers I had ever heard (and I include myself among that number—tragically, whenever I play and sing, I also have to listen to myself. I later learned that her musical talent was honed by the fact that she had been performing in coffeehouses since before I was born). Sometime during the evening, she sang The Song of the Bridgewraith, which was her take on the old folktale of the Phantom Hitchhiker, so I followed with Bringing Mary Home, another variation on the same tale. The woman looked at me and said “I didn’t know there were other songs about bridgewraiths.” To which I replied, “I didn’t know they were called bridgewraiths.”
And thus I met Suzette Haden Elgin, and like most people who had the pleasure to know her, I am a better person for it.
This is not going to be the story of Suzette’s life (you can find that elsewhere); just a few of my memories of her. Do not seek for any order—either chronological or of importance—or meaning in them. I’m just writing them down, partially to share and partially as catharsis for a deep loss. I shall try my best to keep it light.
Of course, much of our relationship centered around music. I was—and still am—musically illiterate. I play by ear (though I prefer to think of it as playing by heart). I can listen to a song and, if it’s not too sophisticated (read: hard), I can usually start playing along by the second verse, provided that the person is in standard tuning (not always a given in those days). Since Suzette came from the folk music scene, and “borrowed” a lot of the tunes she set her songs to, I was already acquainted with the music, and was able to accompany her immediately. I am reminded of a line from a song (I think it might have been by T.J. Burnside): “There’s not a word yet, for old friends who’ve just met…”, it sort of sums up what happened. I’ve only had that happen a couple of times in my life. When it does, you feel as if you are touching magic.
So we played a lot together. It even led to our putting out two tapes of songs and accompanying songbooks. The first was Dragons, Cows and Kudzu and the second was Soon to be a Major Embarrassment. Suzette came up with that title and I still think it’s one of the best titles ever (for anything—it would work well for most movies and be an honest political slogan). I pulled them out and listened to them not to long ago. They’re not half bad—by which I mean Suzette’s part is really good. The later tape was recorded at Suzette’s house by her husband George, a man who is every bit as charming as Suzette—and just as talented. Not only musically talented, but he could build just about anything, including their house, which, by the way, was an underground house.
Yeah, that’s right. Suzette and George lived in a hobbit hole, filled with books, musical instruments, sturdy furniture (much of which was built by George), home grown vegetables and a couple of large friendly hounds. I remember coming out of the house one day just as the sun was going down and surprising a herd of deer in their front yard. Realizing we were there, they bolted for the nearby woods without making a sound. Suzette muttered something about how hard it was to keep them out of the garden, but only after she, like I, had gasped at the utter beauty of the scene. She and George had lived there for years, but had never taken it for granted. They lived there until just a few years ago, when age and health concerns made taking care of the house and property too much of a burden.
I have a feeling that a lot of people thought that Suzette was older than she actually was. I know that I did before I learned better. This might have due in part to that salt and pepper hair, and the fact that she walked with a cane. The cane was due to the fact that she suffered from post polio syndrome. Try as it might, it did not slow her down. I remember one time after a convention; a group of us were going to go to a restaurant across the street from the hotel. Suzette, George and I walked across the street and when we arrived at the door to the place, we looked back at our compatriots, who hadn’t made it across the street yet (though we had all started out together). Suzette just leaned on her cane and said, “Well, I guess we’ll just wait for the young people to catch up with us.” But I think that another reason that people might have misjudged her age was, well, her wisdom. And I suppose that is why I (and so many others) will miss her. I’m sure she gave many people advice. I know she gave me some. I’ll give a few brief examples.
She once gave me piece of advice which kept me from making what would have been the Biggest Mistake of My Life. I won’t go into detail about it; this is about Suzette and not me (and admittedly, it still embarrasses me some to this day). Ask me about it. Maybe I’ll tell you. Maybe not.
Once I was chairing a convention while dealing with chronic pain. I had seen several doctors about it to no avail. Still, duty called. I put on a happy face, didn’t complain and no one was the wiser. Well, not quite no one. The day after the convention Suzette e-mailed me and said “Alright Randy, what is the matter with you?” Realizing there was no point in denying my problem to a Ph.D. in linguistics who was an expert in reading body language, I told her about the pain, the doctors, etc. She asked what was going on in my life. I told her, and she wrote back saying “I’m not a medical doctor, but I think your problem is…..and what I think you need to do is….” I decided to give her advice a try (hey, she’d kept me from making the Biggest Mistake of My Life). The pain abated immediately and has never recurred.
Once I had just gone through a really low point in my life. Much of it (though admittedly, not all of it) was due to things that others had done to me. After talking to
Suzette about it, she said “Well, you should be proud that you made it through this with your dignity intact.” I’ve tried to make sure I do that ever since. I don’t always manage, but I do try. I think of it as stumbling toward grace.
In my house there is a lot of art on the walls, but not a lot of photographic portraits. But in my lab (where I play music and work on art) there are three. One is myself and my family. The second is the last picture taken of my Dad and myself together. The third is a picture of Suzette. I’m not sure she would like the picture very much. She is not really smiling, but rather looking as if she were about ready to give someone some important piece of advice. Whenever I have found myself in what Suzette would have called a hard patch, I ask myself, “What would Suzette do?” The answer is usually “Probably something a lot smarter than what I’m going to do.” Like I said: stumbling toward grace.
Finally, Suzette was always trying to make a change—make the world a little better. Her Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense books are probably the best example of that. But she never stopped. When I learned of her death, I called George and he told me that even through her struggle with Alzheimer’s, she was writing a book—about what it was like to live with this horrible disease. So more people would know. So something can be done about it. He said he was going to put it together and publish it as a limited run hard copy and then as an e-book. So maybe that’s the way to honor Suzette: Never stop fighting what is wrong.
But don’t you weep, and don’t you mourn!
Don’t you wish that you never were born!
Keep your hand on that plow—hold on!
Hold on! Hold on!
Keep your hand on that plow—hold on!
Gonna come another brand new day!
The world ain’t agonna be this way!
Keep your hand on that plow –hold on!
Hold on! Hold On!
Keep your hand on that plow—hold on!
----Suzette Haden Elgin
See this movie. Please.
In case you're not familiar with it, this is the movie about Alan Turing (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) and his team of mathematicians who developed the machine that broke the Nazis Enigma code in WWII (while trying to keep his homosexuality a secret; it was against the law in England at the time). If you're thinking that a movie about mathematicians can't be very exciting, think again. These people were racing the clock (literally) every day to try and save human lives. The movie is in turns riveting, funny and heartbreaking, and always beautiful. While some dramatic license was clearly taken (Joan Clark's own niece has said that Kiera Knightly was miscast because her aunt was "a very plain woman"), there is just too much good stuff here to miss (hey, Mark Strong not being the bad guy for a change, for example. You gotta see that!).
Besides, when was the last time you saw a movie where the protagonist is a scientist? Um, sorry, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner don't count here. Let me rephrase the question. When was the last time you saw a movie depicting the true story of a mathematician whose efforts shortened a war, likely saving hundreds of thousands of lives, helped to defeat the worst regime of the 20th century (and was gay and an atheist to boot--though the ahteism is only hinted at in the movie), and, need I add, whose work led to the device you're currently looking at.
Like I said, see this movie--if not in the theatre, later on video; You won't be disappointed.
It doesn't. But then, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyessy isn't trying to compete with the original; it is a continuation, paying lots of homage to Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (especially in the first episode), such as returning to Sagan's Cosmic Calendar. I got a chuckle as Dr. Neal deGrasse Tyson started walking toward the Big Bang, reached in his jacket and pulled out a pair of sunglasses. I also got just a bit weepy at the end as he was telling about the time he met with Dr. Sagan, who gave him a copy of The Cosmic Connection signed "to Neal, a future astronomer". After the episode, I went back to the lab, rummaged around and brought out my own copy of the same edition to show to Barbara (it is, sadly, unsigned).
I had heard that historical recreations were going to be executed using animated cartoons, and I was also skeptical about this, but it is nicely done, and very artistic. It was used in the most recent episode to tell the story of Edmund Halley's diligence in getting one the most important books in the history of science--Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica published and how it almost didn't happen (the phrase "The History of Fish" still makes me giggle--and you'll just have to see the episode or do some research to know what I'm talking about).
The special effects are much better than the original, but well, there really was no CGI back in 1979, and they aren't working with a PBS budget----which leads to my one qualm:
Commercials. The original Cosmos , being on PBS had no commercials. The new Cosmos, being on the National Geographic Channel and (surprisingly) Fox, is interrupted numerous times for ads for car insurance or deodorant. I will give them credit, though; unlike shows on, say History or Discovery, the story picks up right where it left off--they don't insult your intelligence by taking 30 seconds before a seven minute long commercial break to tell you what you're going to see and then take a minute after the break to remind you of what you've already seen (Hello! I'm watching a show about science and I do not have the attention span of a gnat!). This is one of the reasons we dropped cable. BTW, I couldn't help to notice the irony that one of the commercials shown during episodes 1 and 2 were for the big blockbuster movie about Noah's Ark, but it was dropped during episode 3. Maybe it was because in episode 2, Dr. deGrasse Tyson, in talking about (gasp!) evolution pointed out that there are over 50 million species of beetles alone. Any rational person, hearing that, would have to soon conclude that a major portion of that boat must have been devoted to just to bugs (and where did they put the termites on a wooden boat?). I've heard that a lot of evangelical Christians are (not surprisingly) upset that the show is not giving equal time to "intelligent design" or creationism or whatever they're calling it now. To them I say, you have numerous whole networks devoted to your belief system, and not once have I heard of any of them devoting equal time to evolution, so until that happens, just zip it already!
Okay, I'll get off my soapbox. The air is kinda thin up here anyway.
Finally, in comparison of Sagan to deGrasse Tyson, the former was like a favorite uncle saying, "The cosmos is an amazing and wonderful place. Come with me, if you will, and let's explore it." (I still think of him as Uncle Carl). The later is like a science geek who drinks a lot of coffee, gabs you by the arm and says, "Look! Those galaxies are colliding! Let's get closer!" The bridge of Sagan's "spaceship of the imagination" looked (ironically?) like a cathedral. deGrasse Tyson's looks a bit like the the bridge of the Enterprise. But I'd gladly take a ride on either one.
And, thinking about it, since Sagan descibed the cosmos as "...everything that is, ever was or ever will be," if you were on one, eventually I suppose, you'd meet the other.
What a pleasant thought. Hi Uncle Carl!
Anyway, here are my reasons to see Winter's Tale:
Russell Crowe as a demon
Score by Hans Zimmer
Flying horse with wings made of light
Jessica Brown Findlay
We were both weeping a bit at the end (and for me, a part of that was, well, it was over).
Why you should see it soon if you want to see it at the theater:
Nobody farts and nothing blows up, so it probably won't be there long.
Ya see, I figure this guy was so far to the right he had to lean hard to port on his steering wheel to keep his truck from falling over.
Anyway, I went to see GRAVITY tonight. Everyone has already seen the trailers and so knows what it's about (and whether they want to see it), so I won't bother telling you what you already know. There is a word that I am trying use sparingly in my vocabulary because it is WAY overused. That word is "awesome"*. GRAVITY is awesome. Visually beautiful, tense and yes, at many moments absolutely terrifying. I don't often sit on the edge of my seat clutching my hat, but I did during several sequences tonight. I'm not going to try and convince anyone to see it if they've already made up their mind, but if you're wondering, I will nudge you toward giving it a try.
This year has been interesting for movies; with the theaters filled with TV Show reboots, giant robots and yet more comic book movies, I have seen two very good honest-to-Gaia science fiction movies. Movies where you don't have to leave your brain outside. The other was OBLIVION. Very refreshing indeed.
*Awesome: filling one with a sense of awe. Examples: the rising of the sun or the moon, the night sky, seeing Saturn's rings through telescope, a thunder and lightning storm in full fury (even at a distance), the Grand Canyon, a book that changes your view of the world, a piece of art that makes you weep. Movies can be awesome(especially the first time you see them); Lord of the Rings and Terry Gilliam's early movies spring to mind. Finding a quarter is not awesome. Cheese dip is not awesome. It's good, but its not awesome.
So I just got my schedule for FenCon. When I filled out the schedule form, they wanted to know if there was anything that I didn't want to be scheduled opposite. I forgot to mention that I wouldn't want to miss anything that Charles Vess (the Artist GOH, and one of my [many] favorite artists), so I expected that I would find myself opposite some really cool demo he was doing or something.
Doesn't look like it.
It does appear that I am going to be on a panel with him, however.
I'll have to work really hard to not say something that makes me sound like a dork (those who know me know what an uphill battle that will be).
I also have short filk concert; it's only 30 minutes and I can pretty much do that with my ears closed, but I should start practicing anyway.
“?” sez I.
I open it up and find that it’s from a fellow (or is “mate” the word I want? I’m afraid my ‘strine is a bit rusty) named Peter Purchase. He had apparently tried to contact me online but only had a very outdated e-dress, but somehow managed to find me in the real world. Anyways, he had written a novel, The Albatross Necklace: The Last Voyage of the Zuytdorp, (which, despite the sf/f sounding title, I gather is a mainstream novel about the slaughter of about 20,000 Australian aborigines in the early 1700s—and BTW, why does spell check not put a squiggly red line under Zuytdorp?). Somewhere along the line in the course of the novel somebody starts singing (you guessed it) The Dragon Song, and Mr. Purchase wanted make sure it was okay if he used the lyrics and if I needed any monetary compensation. I e-mailed him back and basically said, “Sure. How does 25 bucks and a copy of the book sound?”
Now, you might be wondering why I asked for so little money. Well, here’s the kicker; he sent me a page proof of where the song was used in the novel and while the spirit of the song in the book is definitely The Dragon Song, and it still scans to The Irish Washerwoman, well, um, not one line in the version he uses did I write. A couple are close, but nothing is identical. Since he went to so much trouble to find me, I’m assuming that the lyrics have just evolved in its journey to the other side of the freakin’ planet!
So why did I ask for any compensation? Because the intent of the song is close enough that, had I learned of it (hard to figure out how that could happen), and if I were that kind of person (which I’m not) I, or any of my descendants (I know, I won’t have any, but you get the idea) could sue him over it. He paid me for permission—nice and legal.
So yesterday in the mail, I received a package. It was the book, and a rather handsome thing it is; about trade paperback size, about 400 pages of not terribly large print on heavy high grade coated paper. This thing weighs around half a pound. It has a map of the world circa 1712, and etchings from the time period. And my name on the title page giving me credit for the song I, *ahem*, sort of wrote.
And (in case you were wondering) I got paid. $35.00 in Australian dollars (that apparently being the exchange rate for $25.00 American). Mr. Purchase said that he couldn’t get a money order and a bank transfer would cost more than $35.00, so he just sent cash. Which is actually way cool. Ever seen Australian money? Maybe it’s just a case of familiarity breeding contempt, but by comparison, our money looks so boring. Australian money is in color! Each denomination (a $20, a $10 and a $5) is a different size (which must be handy for the visually impaired), it has little clear window thingies in it, and has pictures of sailing ships and airplanes and machinery and camels(?), and people I don’t recognize—well, except for queen Elizabeth on the fiver (okay, Barbara recognized Queen Elizabeth,--I didn’t), but who the heck is Mary Reimer or A.B. “Banjo” Patterson (don’t answer that; I know how to use Google)? Can you imagine America putting someone nicknamed “Banjo” on its money? I can’t. Admittedly, there is a small part of me that wonders if I’ve been paid in the Australian version of Monopoly money, but if so, it sorta seems like poetic justice, in that it isn’t exactly the song that I wrote twenty mumblty-mumblty years ago. I don’t know if I’ll try and convert the stuff to American dollars or just hang on to it. I’m sorta leanin’ towards the later.
I’m still chuckling over how far that silly song has gotten. I mean, Australia? Really? At this point I don’t think I’ll be surprised if the Curiosity Rover starts beeping it back from Mars.
I can remember watching the original series when it was originally broadcast (dimly, but still..).
The Enterprise. Coming at me. Firing phasers and photon torpedoes ('cause you know it will be).
In Freakin' 3-D!
There is no way that THAT isn't going to happen.
I have, of course thought of several other stories since I wrote this, and doubtless will be thinking of others in the days to come, but I'll just leave it as I read it then.
Hope you enjoy them.
A Few Reflections and Mostly-True stories by Randy Farran
We interrupt this very somber occasion so that I can tell you a few things about my dad, Ralph Roosevelt Farran.
Let me start with that middle name. Roosevelt. He never really liked it that much. I don’t think it was anything political; in fact politics was something that Dad didn’t talk about very much. Now that I think about it, that may be one of the reasons why so many people liked him. No, I think he didn’t care for the name Roosevelt because, well, it’s a real mouthful of a name to hang on a kid. But if you’re the son of Benjamin Franklin Farran, and you have uncles with names like George Washington Farran and Thomas Jefferson Farran, I guess the die has already been cast. At least he didn’t get stuck with a Franklin or a Theodore. He got just a plain old Ralph for a first name. A lot of people when they hear the name Ralph might think of that kid in the movie who wants a Red Rider BB gun for Christmas. I remember showing that movie to Dad not to long after it had come out, and he sat there laughing all the way through it. Then he went upstairs, rummaged around in the closet—and brought down a Red Rider BB gun that he’d gotten when he was a kid.
By the way, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Dad for breaking that naming tradition; considering when I was born I might have been Randall Fitzgerald Kennedy Farran. [looking at brother]. Don’t laugh, Rus; you could have ended up with the middle name Eisenhower.
Now, everybody here knows that dad was a real friendly guy. He’d talk to just about anyone. Sometimes he could talk a lot. I remember one Christmas the phone rang. It was a relative calling to wish the family a merry Christmas. Only problem was, it wasn’t one of our relatives. The guy at the other end of the line had dialed the wrong number. Dad talked to him for several minutes, so I guess he’d found a kindred soul.
Yeah, dad liked to talk. He could tell stories, sometimes over and over. Like the time he met Harry Truman. And…I don’t mean some relative named Harry Truman Farran either…but the actual President Harry Truman. Or the time he got to carry Lester Flatt’s guitar. If you don’t know who Lester Flatt is, well, I feel sorry for you. Let’s just say that Dad considered it an honor. He told me that story a lot. Never mind the fact that I was there when it happened. There was a time when he would start in on a story and I’d think “Oh, god, he’s gonna tell the story about the bucket of steam again!” This, by the way, is a very funny story about hijinks during his tour in the navy, but I won’t tell it right now ‘cause it’s kinda long. But after hearing it I don’t know how many times, I started to dread it. But then one day, it occurred to me that someday, he wouldn’t be around to tell those stories any more. I didn’t think that day would come so soon. After that, I just enjoyed hearing them…one more time. And now I wish I could again…one more time.
Sorry, I meant to keep things light. I just got off track for moment.
While he was in the navy, Dad met a beautiful girl serving ice cream at a soda fountain, one thing lead to another, and after his tour was up, they got married—a fact that I and my brother and sister are very appreciative of. They bought half of a duplex—the other half having been cut off and taken somewhere else (don’t ask me why; I’m still unclear about that myself), and Dad proceeded to make additions to it. First, he put a two car garage on it (and poured a driveway for it), never mind the fact that they didn’t have two cars at the time. Next, he put a second story on top of the garage, because by this time it was getting’ kinda crowded down below, what with three kids and a dog. Several years later, he started working on a large patio out back, but before he got finished, it had turned into a family room with about as much square footage as the original half of a duplex. He might have continued, but I think by this time he was running out of yard. He did most of this work by himself. He did have some help from mom and us kids because I don’t think he knew there were such things as child labor laws. Okay, I’m joking there. A lot of the time we were “helping” by “going and watching some cartoons and staying out of the way already!”.
After building onto the house as much as he could (without disrupting flight paths, anyway), Dad still liked to build things and could often be found out in his shop working on his latest project. Like the fold-up picnic table that has seen more than 40 Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners and I don’t know how many garage sales. Or the cases that he made for a mandolin I bought, or my autoharp. But whatever the project, one thing they all had in common was that Dad built things to LAST. Yep, everything he made was very durable, and by that I mean HEAVY. I think Dad may have working under the belief that the world was going to run out of its precious supply of gravity. But then who am I to judge; after all, nothing he ever made has drifted off into space yet.
Oh, yeah, I’m going to tell you a little secret a lot you might not know about Dad. There was at one time a television show that he would not miss. No matter what project we were working on around the house, if this show was on that night, everything had to be finished and all the tools cleaned and put away in time for the evening’s entertainment. What was this show? Gunsmoke? Nope. Columbo? No. M*A*S*H? Huh-uh. It was The Muppet Show. I think his favorite muppet was Miss Piggy. No, strike that. I know it was Miss Piggy.
Later on, Mom and Dad purchased a bit more land behind the house. I was afraid that the house was going to start growing again, but Dad decided to dedicate the extra acreage to growing a garden, specifically tomatoes. Dad spaced his cherry tomato plants so that he could drive his lawnmower between them, pull off a tomato and pop it in his mouth without stopping.
Yeah, dad liked to eat. He liked to cook too, and he was pretty good at it—as long as he didn’t have roof over his head. Outdoor grilling, he was fine, but for some reason, his culinary skills failed when he walked through the door. I remember a time when Mom was sick and Dad cooked all the meals for us kids. He had made breakfast for us and Mom came downstairs and Dad complained about what picky eaters we were. Mom looked uneasily at the… crispy eggs…and runny bacon… and said something like, “Maybe they’d like it better if it was cooked.”
Now, I won’t say that everything that Dad cooked was inedible, but it was…an adventure. One day Dad and I were home by ourselves and Dad asked me if I’d like a Reuben sandwich. I told him that sounded good. When he was done fixing them, he called me in to eat. Now, at the time that this happened, I was old enough (and polite enough) to not point out that when most people make a Reuben sandwich, they use rye bread and not white, thousand island dressing, and not mayonnaise, Swiss cheese, and not cheddar, and corned beef, as opposed to ground beef. I guess he thought that Reuben sandwich was defined as: “a grilled meat and cheese sandwich with sauerkraut on it”. It was still pretty good though, even if it only had one ingredient right out of five. Guess that proves I’m not that picky an eater after all.
Well, I think I’ve had enough fun at Dad’s expense, so I’ll leave you with a couple of last thoughts. First, Dad’s last moments were spent with a cup of coffee in his hand and a dog in his lap. I can’t think of very many better ways to go--provided the dog in question isn’t a Great Dane or a St. Bernard or some such. That might be uncomfortable.
My final thought is this: I live in Tulsa now, and the local newspaper has for the past year been daily printing quotes from Will Rogers. The day after Dad died, ironically, this is the quote they printed. Just a few words that say it so much better than I can:
“What constitutes a life well spent, anyway? Love and admiration from your fellow men is all that anyone can ask.”
Dad had had a heart attack.
After some odd behavior from the dog, my Mom found him unresponsive and not breathing (not that she could detect, anyway). She called EMSA, and they rushed him to the hospital, where it was quickly decided that they were not equipped to handle the situation. They were going to life-flight him to Joplin (just an hour away by road), but they're still rebuilding after last year's tornado, so they instead sent him to Wichita (two hours away).
By the time they got him there, he was pretty much on complete life support. While he never regained consciousness, at first he seemed to respond to certain words said in his presence, but that tapered off. After four days, the doctor told us that if he did wake up, he most likely would be physically impaired and and the likelihood of brain damage was fairly certain. The decision to remove him from life support, while agonizing, was unanimous. If you were ever lucky enough to meet my Dad, you know that he would not want to continue on in that condition. So, on August 18, at 4:58 p.m., my Dad died. He always did know when quittin' time was.
Most of you reading this never met him, but if you know me, you should know that Dad was a major influence on the things you might know me for. Some of the earliest memories I have are of him playing the guitar and singing songs, and of course, later on, when my family started spending summers going to Bluegrass festivals, so I owe him for my love of music.
As for art, I believe that Dad gave me my first art lesson. I remember once, when I was very young I was drawing a picture and it looked a lot like the pictures that all kids of that age draw: the sky was a blue band with the sun a spikey yellow circle below it. He asked me why I drew the sky that way. I don't remember what answer I gave him, perhaps because that's the way everyone drew the sky. He told me to come outside with him. I did so and he pointed at the sky and said, "See? The sky all the way to the ground!" Suddenly I understood what a horizon was (though I didn't have a word for it, yet). The main idea (though I didn't realize it at the time) was, don't draw what others do; draw what you SEE. This, coming from a man who never made it past the eighth grade (not by his choice; I think he would have preferred school to working on the family farm, but my grandfather had other ideas). I tried to explain this wonderful concept to my fellow students when we would do art in school, but they never seemed to get it. They just couldn't SEE. (BTW, the blue crayons were the first ones that I used up in the box, because, let's face it, there's a lot of sky).
Later on, I discovered that like my Dad, I could see things in three dimensions and translate that to paper. It was useful to my Dad because he did a lot of construction. It was useful to me because , well, I did art. But I was amazed when I found out in high school that not everyone (in fact, a lot of people) can't. I couldn't explain to them how I did it, I just could. I never really inherited his ability to build things like he did, or do electrical work, But the things I did inherit have helped me so much. I don't think he ever understood my fascination with dragons and spaceships, but he never stopped encouraging me.
Dad was rarely ever sick with anything more than a cold or flu, and he was active right up until the day he died. The day before he had been out mowing lawns and making repairs at my sister's house, so that's why it has come as a shock to all of us. As far as we can tell, the last thing he knew he was sitting in a chair with a cup of coffee next to him and a dog in his lap. I can think of a lot of worse ways to go (especially considering he had been a fireman for 27 years).
If anyone is interested, I'll post the funny stories that I got up and told about him at his funeral (because Dad was a funny guy and would rather go out on ripples of laughter than a flood of tears).
Bye Dad! You're gonna leave a big hole in the world.