Posts Tagged ‘Satchel Paige’

Watching and Listening

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

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beats thinking ©John Grimes fizzdom.com grimescartoons.com

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser June 2014)

“If it weren’t for electricity, we’d all be watching television by candlelight.” George Gobel

Prior to television taking over virtually every home in America by the end of the 1950’s, there were several hundred weekly and monthly magazines in America publishing multiple short stories per issue and paying thousands of writers good money for those short stories. And there were also hundreds of daily newspapers publishing short stories and serialized novels and paying well for the privilege. Before 1960, the vast majority of American novelists, playwrights, and humorists developed their talent by writing short stories and submitting those stories for publication.

By the time I sold my first short story in 1975, there remained but a few dozen monthly magazines in America that published a story or two per issue, and only a handful of those magazines paid more than a pittance, though by today’s standards those pittances were small fortunes. Television is famously known for ending The Golden Age of Radio, circa 1930-1955, but less well known for terminating The Golden Age of Short Stories that was the foundation of our literary culture.

Now in 2014, as a former voracious reader of short stories, I very rarely encounter contemporary fiction that interests me—my taste formed in a bygone era—and I will sometimes watch an episode of the George Burns and Gracie Allen television show from the 1950’s on my computer in hope of satisfying my hunger for a good short story. Alas, George and Gracie do not satisfy this craving, but their goofy shows do embody that seminal moment in our cultural history when television supplanted reading, radio, movies, live theatre, and hanging out at bowling alleys as the thing most Americans did with their spare time.

As contemporary writing continues to evolve, fewer and fewer people can discern the difference between what I used to call good writing and now call classical writing, from what I used to call bad writing and now call modern writing. In thinking about the vanishing of this particular kind of discernment, I am reminded that reading and writing of any kind are barely discernible blips on the timeline of human evolution, whereas watching and listening span the entirety of mammalian and human evolution and are as significant in our specie’s development as procreation and digestion. And that is why television is both irresistible and addictive to humans: watching and listening are what we were born to do.

“Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching.” Satchel Paige

Our ever evolving watching and listening powers supplied our simultaneously evolving brains vital information for taking action to secure food and mates and safe places to rest and sleep. Our survival depended on skillful watching and listening and the application of information we gained thereby. Advanced applications of information accumulated from watching and listening made possible the development of all sophisticated human activities, including drawing and writing and composing music and baking bread and sailing and bowling.

Watching television, however, has nothing to do with survival or giving our brains vital information or enhancing our lives. This is in small part because of what our overlords put on television for us to watch, but is largely a function of the hypnotic, numbing and deleterious effects of the medium itself. Indeed, for the likes of me, the best hour of television I have ever seen was a depressing soporific compared to taking a walk or reading a good short story or picking blackberries or playing the piano or going bowling.

“You can observe a lot by watching.” Yogi Berra

Born into a literate household in 1949, I grew up gobbling books. My parents bought our first television in 1954 to watch the McCarthy hearings, my father a publicly vocal opponent of the Korean War and therefore fearful of being added to The Big Black List of Subversives! However, my siblings and I were not allowed to watch television on weekdays and were only allowed to watch for an hour a night on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Being a kid obsessed with playing ball and riding my bike all over creation and reading books and listening to Ray Charles, I was never much of a television watcher. In 1969, when I quit college to pursue a career as a writer and musician, I decided to give up television entirely. Save for watching a few playoff games over the next forty-five years, and nowadays watching sports highlights and the occasional George and Gracie episode on my computer, I have adhered to my decision.

Why did I make that choice? To echo the opening line of Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl, with one minor change: I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by television.

A few days ago someone was showing me a few things on her smartphone and after a few minutes of gazing into the little screen while she tapped various buttons to bring up various apps, I felt my psyche disintegrating. I think it must be the way I’m wired that makes me hypersensitive to stuff projected on a screen. Indeed, the way I’m wired makes it imperative I avoid violent movies, and for that matter violent prose, because I experience the violence as real.

Did you ever see the movie Taxi Driver? 1976. I was living in Medford, Oregon, working as a landscaper and writing short stories. I was an avid moviegoer and fledgling screenwriter who avoided violent movies. One day I got a letter from my friend Rico, a psychotherapist who knew all about my aversion to violent films. He wrote, “Saw an interesting little flick you might enjoy. Taxi Driver. Check it out.”

That being the sum total of what I knew about the movie, and never thinking Rico would steer me wrong, I went to see Taxi Driver at Medford’s one and only multi-screen movie house. Why I didn’t walk out after the first few minutes when my skin was crawling and my heart was pounding to a bossa nova beat, I can only attribute to my faith in Rico. To this day, thirty-eight years gone by, just thinking about that horror movie gives me the creeps.

Whales & Predictions

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

“The grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.” Allan K. Chalmers

Sunday. The second of January 2011. My wife Marcia and I are sitting on a bench overlooking the Pacific Ocean a few miles south of the village of Mendocino, the pale blue sky decorated with flat clouds, grays and whites, the celestial artist in no mood for billowy today. The sea is relatively calm and several pods of whales are passing by close enough for us to see them clearly without binoculars, their impressive water spouts presaging glimpses of their even more impressive enormity, our excitement at seeing them giving way to ongoing joy that the leviathans (my favorite synonym for whales) are right there, sharing the world with us, and saying hello so delightfully.

We have come to this promontory above the deep to give back to the ocean some forty pounds of stones and shells we’ve collected over the last five years for the decoration of windowsills and table tops; and as we throw the pretty gifts into the depths, we send with them our hopes and intentions for the year ahead.

The news of late has been full of predictions by economists and financial prognosticators about what may befall the national and global economies in the coming year, with the dopiest among them predicting an economic recovery, the centrists predicting a general flatness in the growth graphs, and the doomsters predicting the slopes becoming so steep as to render the pyramid an obelisk. Intellectually, I side with the doomsters, and I certainly urge everyone to avoid the stock market like the plague, but I have a hunch the master manipulators, the people with their hands on the big valves, may do several things along the lines of artificially raising and lowering oil prices to keep the Titanic from submerging completely, not that the bottom two-thirds isn’t already underwater.

Locally there is palpable relief that marijuana was not legalized, the buzz being that pot prices remain high for quality boutique bud, and thus cash will continue to flow around the county, though not into the coffers of our bankrupt local government. Despite the boon of illegality, if one may call it a boon, Mendocino real estate is putrefying, with many houses being taken off the market because they’ve been on so long the perception is they must be haunted or toxic not to have sold, when, in fact, they are merely grossly overpriced. Selfishly, I hope prices tumble so the likes of us can actually buy something for the purposes of truck farming and survival in the coming era of ten-dollar-a-gallon gas, but that scenario may not take hold until 2013.

That said, the presence of so many whales and a splendiferous Red-tailed hawk swooping by not ten feet in front of us, fill me with hope that 2011 will bring myriad opportunities for fun and possibly profit.

Throw high risers at the chin; throw peas at the knees; throw it here when they’re lookin’ there; throw it there when they’re lookin’ here.” Satchel Paige on Pitching

And speaking of leviathans, I would be remiss if I did not include among my predictions an early surmise concerning the upcoming baseball season and the fate of our World Champion San Francisco Giants. Savor those words with me, will you? We Are World Champions. Yes. So. I predict our team, having fulfilled the dream of generations of fans, will play with such ferocious confidence to begin the new season that before they are felled by a mid-season identity crisis, they will be so far ahead of their nearest rival in the division that timely psychotherapeutic intervention will save them from total collapse, we will win the division, claw our way into a showdown with the Philadelphia Phillies, beat those overpaid jerks in six games, and face the Yankees in the World Series, wherein Jonathan Sanchez will pitch a no-hitter, not a perfect game, but one featuring fourteen strikeouts, five walks, and two hit batsmen, to win the seventh and deciding game.

“There is, of course, a certain amount of drudgery in newspaper work, just as there is in teaching classes, tunneling into a bank, and being President of the United States.” James Thurber

I am perhaps overstating the case to call my contributions to the Anderson Valley Advertiser newspaper work, but I do sometimes like to fancy myself a reporter, having always identified with Jimmy Olsen, cub reporter, and not the man of steel. Could I be worthy of a press pass? And I very much appreciate Thurber’s take on the varieties of human labor because having made my living as a landscaper as well as a pen pusher and a teacher and a musician and an arborist, my experience has been that each form of work requires focus and determination; and the more we practice, the better we get.

My experience of drudgery has been limited to work I did not want to do, which, blessedly, I have largely avoided in my life. I do not consider physically repetitive work—chopping wood, shucking peas, juicing apples, washing windows, digging ditches—drudgery, but rather forms of movement necessary for the completion of tasks, movements I can think of as dances when I get into the swing of things.

“The only way to abolish war is to make peace heroic.” John Dewey

The continuing absence of a large anti-war movement in our country is both troubling to me and understandable. I went on my first anti-war march in 1963, when I was thirteen. I marched up Market Street in San Francisco with my father and a small contingent of Doctors Against The War. I carried a handmade sign that said Get Out Of Vietnam. There were several hundred demonstrators and several dozen vociferous hecklers calling us commies and traitors—Vietnam still unknown to most Americans. By 1966, however, getting into college was as much a way to avoid jungle combat as it was a means to getting a well-paid job, and most teenage boys in America knew this and were unhappy to be so threatened.

I think it is important to recall that the Vietnam War was a purely American endeavor, a war our government hoped to win entirely. But we lost. And when America withdrew from that demolished country, the supranational overlords were mightily displeased and decreed, “Never again.” Never again would the mass media report what actually goes on in corporate-sponsored wars. Never again would the corporate propagandists describe America fighting alone for freedom and democracy, but rather the lie would be about coalitions of democracies (NATO and Coalition Forces) fighting dark, dirty, desperate insurgents and terrorists in order to bring democracy to oppressed people who just happen to live on top of vast oil reserves or where it would be good to route a pipeline.

And there would be no draft, no declaration of war, no serious debates in any congress or parliament, no substantive information or truth told to the benumbed population; and the people would, indeed, be numb and dumb and desperate and confused, so much so that the fates of strange brown-skinned people living far-away wouldn’t mean anything in the swirl of trying to keep our heads above water as the Titanic (there’s that big boat again) floundered in such treacherous economic seas that a single serious health challenge could send a person or a family into poverty and homelessness.

Yet until the wars are curtailed and eventually ended, we will never free sufficient resources to solve the environmental and social problems already eclipsing the cost of imperial conflicts. Surely the overlords are aware of the oncoming disasters; or do they imagine that endless and interconnected wars will ultimately provide the framework for controlling the flow of resources in a world of social and environmental chaos?

“The artist spends the first part of his life with the dead, the second with the living, and the third with himself.” Pablo Picasso

The bulletin boards and fences in the commercial sector of the village of Mendocino are shockingly empty of content these cold winter days, vast swaths of empty space awaiting flyers advertising concerts, firewood, yoga classes, art classes, food classes, classes on giving classes, and families of four with two dogs and three cats looking for a commodious place to rent, can pay approx 700 a month, partial trade for weed pulling and folk singing. Oh not yet, my darlings, but soon such bargains may come your way if the fences on Ukiah Street and the walls of Moody’s java haven prove to be valid economic indicators.

And the one and only bookstore in our village offering new books (not mine, alas) for sale is so quiet the place might be a library; and I fear such stores will soon go the way of the dodo, weakened by Amazon and finished off by Kindles and their digital ilk.

Yet even as I predict the demise of bookstores, I simultaneously predict that quite soon the making and selling of good old bound pages covered with symbols decipherable by those who can still read will once again become the way of literature. But why in the face of such overwhelming digitalization do I predict the resurrection of the Old Way? Because I have an inkling, a hunch, a premonition, that the moment is fast approaching when we will collectively wake to find that all the newfangled digital gizmos no longer work, and that the gazillions of bits of ethereal data assembled by everyone for the past thirty years have vanished into thin air—memory clouds entirely dissipated. And thus we will have no choice but to resort to, and take pleasure in, real things.

Todd has yet to Kindleize or iPadize his books because he is a techno doofus, otherwise he surely would.