Of the Backworldsmen

By , July 31, 2011 1:01 pm

“What is good? All that heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power itself. What is bad? All that is born of weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power is growing, that resistance is overcome.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche

"You great star, what would your happiness be had you not those for whom you shine?"

"You great star, what would your happiness be had you not those for whom you shine?"

When I was a young teenager, much of my non-television entertainment came from my father’s record collection. There was the Percy Faith Orchestra, The Ray Conniff Singers, The Carpenters, a very funny record called Terribly Sophisticated Songs, The 1812 Overtures, and on and on. In other words, Dad was into music he found at garage sales or was given as a Christmas gift.

One album to which I was drawn instantly was the New York Philharmonic’s recording of Richard Strauss’ tone poem Thus Spake Zarathustra. The piece opens with one of the most familiar three-note motifs of the 20th century, popularized by the Stanley Kubric cinematic masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey. In addition to the amazingly complex nature of the music, I think that as a 12-year-old I was drawn to the compelling artwork on the album cover and the simple fact that the composer and I shared a first name. I cite this album as my short-lived inspiration to become a concert clarinetist.

But as familiar and bombastic as the opening trumpet, followed by the rolling tympani, can be, it doesn’t hold a candle to the rest of the piece, which is utterly complex and dynamic, and has, in my thoughts anyway, stood the test of time. I can listen to it today and it’s just as amazing as it was to me 35 years ago.

For years I have imagined how I might use this music in a short film. I had originally scripted this as a series of aerial clips, but I don’t fly any more, and even if I did, the steady cam and open door setup really requires a crew, not just me flying a 172. I decided instead to begin filming the sky, which I had done a few years ago, the result of which is Summoning the Muse (click to view). As with the new piece, the previous piece started with the music and the inspiration it offered, and led to the filming.

My new piece is named after the second movement of the Strauss tone poem, Of the Backworldsmen. It follows the line of the music fairly accurately, in an effort to take advantage of the interplay between the two. All the footage in this film was made with my Canon GL-1, and it was all shot here at our home in Byng, Oklahoma, over the past four months.

Word of the Month: “Ponderous”

By , July 28, 2011 11:06 pm

Like a lot of writers, I tend to gravitate toward a word that I find interesting, and then use it ad nauseum. Lately I have been labeling anything I find to be slow moving or boring “ponderous,” particularly if it is attempting to express an intellectual construct, even unsuccessfully. This paragraph, for example, is ponderous.

I’m also really liking the word “plodding” lately.

Tonight I was reading about my favorite author when I was 16, Richard Bach. As is my habit, I let the internet take me places, and I eventually landed on the YouTube video of the movie Jonathan Livingston Seagull, the movie that was so terrible that Richard Bach himself actually sued the studio in an attempt to prevent its release.

Ponderous, plodding, pensive, pedantic, doggerel and niggardly, this is how I looked when I was about 16.

Ponderous, plodding, pensive, pedantic, doggerel and niggardly, this is how I looked when I was about 16.

But I was blissfully unaware of this intrigue at 16, and as a sensitive teen I became enamored of the Neil Diamond soundtrack to the movie, which was in Dad’s record collection, between The Carpenters and The Ray Conniff Singers. In November of 1979, I listened to the soundtrack over and over and, with the brilliance of magical thinking that resides in all sensitive teens, believed that it made me seem deep and interesting, and that that red-haired girl would fall for me if I just thought about her a little harder.

I know. It sounds idiotic to normals like you, but I’ll bet that someone in my audience did the exact same thing only with irrelevantly different details.

As an adult, and an experienced one at that, I now view such indulgences as fruitless and derivative. But when I was 16, it was all real and it was my entire world.

What does this mean? Does it say that all sensitive teens are idiots? Does it say that the shallowest film and music has the potential to shape the lives of millions of young people? Or was it all just a paranoid adolescent fantasy I conjured to attract the attention of one good-looking but vapid high school girl?

I have to admit that when I hear that music, even in the context of that awful movie (which I still haven’t watched in its entirety), I am viscerally drawn to those days in 1979, with my head on the phone on the floor, making a complete fool of myself, confessing what I thought at the time was love to a girl who, at the time, I thought merited it. It does. It takes me back to that moment.

“The open road still softly calls.” ~Carl Sagan

By , July 24, 2011 9:57 pm
Abby smiles as Sierra the Chihuahua sleeps in her lap as we drive through Colorado's Paradox Valley in October 2009. That drive was one of the best we have made, and was full of surprises.

Abby smiles as Sierra the Chihuahua sleeps in her lap as we drive through Colorado's Paradox Valley in October 2009. That drive was one of the best we have made, and was full of surprises.

Abby and I are spending the whole weekend together, which is unusual since I ordinarily work on Saturday. Despite the sweltering heat we are having a pretty good time. We nap and cook and piddle. This afternoon we went out to lunch, followed by the requisite shopping trip.

Presently I am teaching at the college and the vo-tech as well as working my day job, and while that’s all very exciting and fulfilling, being with my wife this weekend is encouraging a certain nostalgia for being together on the road. Add to that the fact that I have been reviewing some unedited video from our 2009 trip, Scent of the Desert, (which I intend to edit), and the open road, as the title says, softly calls.

We are already planning our next major trip, our annual October anniversary excursion, and while we haven’t nailed down all our options, it’s already sounding great. In the mean time, Abby’s daughter and her husband are coming to visit with our grandson Paul in a couple of weeks, and that’s very exciting, especially for Abby.

But when I think of all our grand times together, the grandest of them has have been our time together on the open road. It calls again.

This is one of Abby's images of me shot at Arches National Park, Utah, in October 2010.

This is one of Abby's images of me shot at Arches National Park, Utah, in October 2010.

Paradox of the Arrow

By , July 21, 2011 3:08 pm

Okay, I have been telling people at work all day about this, but no one seems to get how cool it is that logical paradoxes exist.

Imagine standing in a room with a bow and arrow. At the other end of the room is a target. If you shoot the arrow, it will travel to the target, but before it can get there, it has to travel halfway there. But before it can get to the halfway point, it has to travel halfway there. But before it can travel to that halfway point, it has to travel halfway there. But before it can travel to that halfway point, it has to travel halfway there.

At this point, instead of copying and pasting that last sentence a grillion times, I’ll just say that you get the idea. The arrow will never reach its target.

Fortunately we can instead rely on Zeno’s other paradoxes to rescue us. Apparently, the arrow is never where it is, and never moves, so instead of never getting where it’s going, it never leaves, or even goes.

I am going home now. I’ll post when I get halfway.  ;>)

In Richard's paradox, the arrow not only reaches the target before it leaves, it creates this really cool explosion.

In Richard's paradox, the arrow not only reaches the target before it leaves, it creates this really cool explosion.

Water Wings

By , July 18, 2011 9:25 pm

I made this short movie three years ago on an occasion when Abby and I went to her hometown, Ryan, Oklahoma, to see Abby’s niece Rachel, her husband Troy, and their kids Aiden and Ally, when Troy was on one of this leaves from active military service in Ankara, Turkey. I post it now for two reasons. 1) I am cleaning out the contents of some of my DV cassettes in preparation for shooting some video later in the summer, and 2) Rachel and her family are moving back to Oklahoma this month, and I thought it would be nice for the fans of the Giant Muh to get introduced to them…

The Lighter Side

By , July 15, 2011 7:16 am
Cumulus congestus clouds billow to the west of Ada, bringing only brief scattered showers to the area.

Cumulus congestus clouds billow to the west of Ada, bringing only brief scattered showers to the area.

I’ve been posting much more frequently on my teaching blog, primarily since this summer is the first time I have taught two different classes at the same time. One result of this posting is that I feel a little unbalanced in my digital life.

Both classes are going great. If there is a down side, it’s the crippling heat we have faced. It limits the amount of time we can spend comfortably outdoors, where I would like to be exploring photographic potential. At the vo-tech Monday, even though it was evening, we all got too hot in a fairly short amount of time and had to go inside to cool off before returning in time for the golden hour.

I told my kids at the college the other day that it was my goal that they look back on this class as one of the best they had during their days at East Central University. I know that’s a conceit and that a lot of professors and adjuncts probably aspire to the same thing. It got me thinking about my own college experience, and how, for the most part, I found it distant and uninteresting. Oddly, when I think about teachers who succeeded in inspiring me, only two really stand out, and both, Gil Hernandez and Ruth Dishman, were high school English teachers.

The best news of all is that my students and I are really having fun, and I hope I am giving them what they need in order to become better photographers.

Kelly, Taylor and Whitlee work with a light box in the studio at ECU. These three are the shy ones of the bunch.

Kelly, Taylor and Whitlee work with a light box in the studio at ECU. These three are the shy ones of the bunch.

Pray It Won’t Happen

By , July 12, 2011 4:23 pm

“Governments tend not to solve problems, only to rearrange them.” ~Ronald Reagan

I am against prayer in the schools, but not for the reason you might think. You might think that I oppose it because of my staunch atheism, but no. I am against prayer in the schools because I am against the idea of a government, any government, telling my children, or your children, how to pray or worship.

Doesn’t anyone else think it is the church and the family who should be teaching our children our traditions, and that the public schools should stick to reading and math?

The advocates of prayer in the schools have a tendency to oversimplify issues, both in conversation and in laconic messages like bumper stickers and blog subheads, such as, “Where was God during Columbine? He wasn’t allowed in the school.” The obvious message is that prohibiting prayer in the school led to the massacre at Columbine High School in 1999 and if children had been directed to pray every morning, it would not have taken place. It doesn’t occur to those advocates that it was erosion of the church and family, not the practices in the public schools, that led to Columbine.

It’s also odd that these same advocates don’t seem to recognize that even within a specific religion, there are sects and sub-sects, and they agree on surprisingly little. Who would decide which prayers to say? Maybe they could take turns. Would you be comfortable with your children saying the Ave Maria one day, then reciting from the Koran the next?

A peculiar twist to this is that conservatives, those who typically advocate a strong, usually Christian, presence in American public schools, are also outspoken advocates of smaller government. How can you say your want government to leave you alone and respect your rights and simultaneously ask that same government to take such a huge hand in educating (indoctrinating) our children? That’s the rub, isn’t it? It’s not that anyone thinks the public schools would do a good job praying. It’s that religious people want to indoctrinate others using the power of the public schools.

Prayer can be a very meaningful, beneficial practice, but it is definitely best left in the hands of the church.

Finally, Some Real News

By , July 8, 2011 10:37 am

The United States is fighting two wars. The global economy is in tatters after three years of recession. The environment is endangered by humanity’s arrogance and short-sightedness. Drought cripples the south. Floods cripple the north. Unstoppable diseases kill millions.

But what is in my Facebook news feed?

XXX is at Krispy Creme.

XXX made kitty litter cake.

XXX is so glad it’s Friday.

I swear to cow, I am about five more shallow, vacuous posts away from deleting that damn account.

Oh, and I also learned from Facebook that today is Cow Appreciation Day. I better get word to the 41,000 children who will starve to death today.

I'm just sayin'.

I'm just sayin'.

Napperous Terror

By , July 6, 2011 10:39 pm
The dream dominates the dreamer.

The dream dominates the dreamer.

Nap dream: I look out the front window to see a white Lockheed C-5A cargo jet fly by. A few seconds later it is followed by an orange one, which is apparently equipped with a STOL system, because it noisily hovers over the power lines in the front yard. It dips its right wing and slowly flies across the house toward the back yard. I feel certain it crashes. I try to open the front door, but to my annoyance, Abby has rearranged the living room and put a piece of furniture in front of it. She then explains to me that Petey the dog lives in our house, but we have to protect him from a dog outside that is exactly like him except for having tiger stripes. I finally go outside to find that without our knowledge, the road on which we live has been stripped out and is in the early stages of being resurfaced. I feel concerned that we won’t be able to leave the driveway. I take my digital Minolta to photograph it, but when I release the shutter it makes a sound like a 1967 Nikkormat with low batteries. This noise frightens the Mexican work crew working on the road, and they all flee in terror.

Laugh at this, Consumer

By , July 5, 2011 10:36 pm

I have no problem with people using money and property to get what they need; food, clothing, shelter, education, transportation. To some limited degree, I can even appreciate the value of entertainment. What I don’t appreciate, however, is a thirst we have come to know as conspicuous consumption. And I particularly dislike being pressured into participating by being belittled or mocked. The mantra of consumption has become, in recent years, “buy this or you are not good enough.”

The latest incarnation of this, which I cite only as example because it is only a link in the chain, is the iPhone. I read someone’s post the other day – and it wasn’t even an ad – talking about the features of the iPhone and how much better it was than the previous iPhone version. At the end of the review, the author said, “If you don’t like it, I guess you could go back to your Motorola Razr.”

A phone that's just a phone? And is from 2005??? Hang your head in shame, and while you're there, check out how small you penis is.

A phone that's just a phone? And is from 2005??? Hang your head in shame, and while you're there, check out how small you penis is.

Oh, ha ha ha. We get it. The small, lightweight, smart-looking Motorola Razor, the cellular telephone to lust after and have in 2005, simply was not good enough… or rather, you were not good enough if you still had one.

Of course, throughout the history of consumerism there has been a tendency to let our possessions define us, but it has been my observation recently that it has gotten alarmingly intense and pervasive.

Wait, wait, wait. I know. I know that before the 4G touch-screen multi-purpose and multi-tasking mobile device came along that no one was safe, that no one got any work done, that no one ever talked to their families, that teenagers disappeared without a trace in droves, that businesses were unable to function under mountains of paper and delays, that nations fell to pieces, all because we didn’t, each and every one of us, have a phone/computer/camera/camcorder/game console/office machine in our hip pocket. In fact, if there had been iPhones in the pockets of Leonid Brezhnev and Ronald Reagan in 1982, nuclear war could have been averted.

It was literally impossible to live without an iPhone.

Seriously. How did we do it? It must be a matter of critical importance to have a phone in the possession of every human being on the planet, or people would never put up with $200 a month phone bills in the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Or how about this absolutely brilliant fact from the United Nations, as quoted from the London Telegraph last year:

India’s mobile subscribers totalled 563.73 million at the last count, enough to serve nearly half of the country’s 1.2 billion population. But just 366 million people – around a third of the population – had access to proper sanitation in 2008, said the study published by the United Nations University, a UN think-tank.

Okay, consumer. You can mock me all you want. Write cheerful op/ed pieces in the Portland Oregonian or the Denver Post about how “psychologists say” that communication is a vital form of human endeavor. But the next time you see someone talking on an iPhone at the office or a convienience store or the mall or a ball game, sneak up behind them and listen to their conversation for a minute. If what you hear doesn’t hammer home my point in 4G clarity, by all means go back to your Facebook page and please, please never visit this site again.

Unexpected Visitors

By , July 5, 2011 8:20 am
This thunderstorm to our south was windswept and starting to form mammatus clouds under its anvil.

This thunderstorm to our south was windswept and starting to form mammatus clouds under its anvil.

I worked much of yesterday to create product for both the daily and the web site. It’s been hot and dry, such that many counties in Oklahoma have issued outdoor burn bans. Our pastures have gone from spring green to summer brown, and as such are reminding me of growing up in the dryer, hotter southwestern part of Oklahoma. Still, there are signs of hope and life. Last night instead of going to the park for fireworks or shooting off my own at the risk of starting a grassfire, I took my assault rifle down to the pond (which is completely dry right now) and shot about 75 rounds. I have some old aluminum pots on the far bank, and it’s fun to hear them clang when I hit them.

After shooting my gun, I ran inside to grab a camera to photograph a beautiful sky. It was a thunderstorm to our south, and while it was beautiful, it was also a cruel tease, since we got no rain from it at all.

Then this morning, as I got ready to make breakfast before going to the college to teach, I heard the dogs barking at something out front, so I looked out the front door to see a whitetail deer eating pears from Dorothy’s tree. I grabbed a 300mm, but only had a few seconds to shoot him before he bolted. It was an unusual sight because we normally only see them in the late evening.

A young whitetail buck moves through our north pasture this morning.

A young whitetail buck moves through our north pasture this morning.

“90 Percent of All Sneakers Are Cool”

By , July 3, 2011 2:06 pm

In 1992, I bought some surplus VHS video cassettes at the Ada Public Library. Three of them were called Best of the Fests, which were collections of films from film festivals. On one of those was a 1988 short film called Spartacus Rex. It was the best of the Best of the Fests, and I have been enjoying it and occasionally quoting ever since.

Over the last couple of years I’ve been trying to find it online to share it, but I have only been able to find short clips and outtakes, not the entire 16 minute film.

It was made by Loch Phillipps and Caroline Skaife, who I assume are also in the film. Ownership of it is currently claimed by Offramp Films, although it is entirely possible that they let the Copyright, which lasts for 18 years, expire, and it it is in the public domain. I have decided to put the entire film here, because I think it is very funny and exceptionally creative. If its owners ask me to take it down, I will without protest, but at the same time it would be my hope they would offer the whole film for sale on iTunes, just because it’s too good not to share.

Since it is over 300MB, it may take some time to load. Check it out. I think you’ll like it as much as I do…

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