Reality and “Reality”: A New Perspective by Boris Glikman

REALITY AND “REALITY”: A NEW PERSPECTIVE
by Boris Glikman

 

Part I

Imagine if you had a friend who had the following characteristics and personality traits and behaved in the ways described below. 

Suppose that this friend considered it his sacred duty to visit you daily at your home and make a report to you of the day’s events, regardless of whether you asked for them or not. Out of the billion things that happen in the world each day, he would choose a minuscule number to tell you about. He would always be the one to decide, according to his own subjective preferences and whims, what are the most important stories of the day, and you would have no say whatsoever in those decisions. Inevitably, the stories would always be those that show the worst side of things, the worst side of life, the worst side of humanity. He would be determined to always discover and report back to you the lowest, vilest, most despicable acts of human behaviour and the most harrowing, most tragic, most horrible events that occurred that day.

In his reports, he would always interpret things in the most negative and alarmist way possible, not unlike a paranoiac who sees dire threats and perils everywhere. Not satisfied with indulging in his own paranoia, he would be intent on inculcating and infecting you too with his deranged fears and anxieties, thereby hoping that in such a way he would appear as sane. For in a world in which everyone has gone mad, it is the sane who would be considered insane.

He would pry, without any reservations, hesitations or scruples, into anyone and everyone’s business, and especially into every tragedy, every calamity, every catastrophe that befalls humanity, whether that tragedy be on an intimate, personal scale or on a larger scale. He would be fascinated and driven into raptures by natural and man-caused disasters, atrocities, massacres, explosions, crimes, fatal accidents, car crashes, murders, and fires. The more catastrophic the event and the greater the number of fatalities, the more excited he would become, the more frenetically he would talk about it, and with more enthusiasm he would pry into it. In his fascination and preoccupation with death and sufferings, his reports would bear a striking resemblance to the way Roman emperors entertained the masses with gladiator games. 

He would lack any morality or decency and would not think for one moment that he may be invading the privacy and exacerbating the suffering of those stricken by misfortune; there’d be no limits as to what he would do in order to sate his insatiable morbid curiosity. Indeed, if challenged about this, he would strongly insist that it is his God-given right to intrude into other people’s tragedies. He would then go as far as to claim that he is, in fact, providing you with a great and unique service that you should be grateful for, as otherwise you would have no idea what is happening in the world. 

Furthermore, he would be irresistibly drawn to and intrigued by power, wealth and fame, and, when not talking about the calamities and the tragedies, he would give much of his time and attention to telling you about the words and deeds of politicians, the very wealthy and the very powerful, the upper classes, royalty and celebrities.  Through the unceasing favouritism that he would show towards them in his reports, he would create an ambience of celebrity worship. Celebrities and their ilk would be portrayed by him as deities for ordinary mortals to look up to and revere, demigods whose every word and every action are heard and seen across the world.

Common people and their deeds and lives would be of little interest to him, except perhaps when they are struck by some great misfortune or when their lives end in unnatural circumstances, in which case he would condescend to giving them a few minutes of his time and attention, while displaying feigned sympathy and compassion. He would then quickly forget about them and never mention them again in his reports. If questioned about this approach, he would justify it by asserting that, no matter how cynical it may sound, the brutal reality is that it is only the deaths of ordinary people that merit mention in his reports, whereas the everyday lives of the common people are of no particular interest or importance to anyone.

This Modern World Cartoon Strip

If you were ever to ask him to not tell you about the doom and the gloom, the celebrities and the politicians, he would self-righteously retort that those are the important stories that must be told, adding as an emphatic argument clincher that in any case that’s what you really want and need to hear, even if you haven’t realized it yet. He would then accuse you of not caring about the humanity and characterize you as an egotistical, self-absorbed misfit who is out of touch with society and its values and morals.

In his reports, everything would be oversimplified and presented in dumbed-down terms. He would always depict reality in black and white terms and portray people as either heroes or villains, or as either victims or culprits, with no alternatives in between. He would never have the time nor the inclination to analyse the nuances of the events or to explore the complexities of people’s characters. His aim would never be to make you think or to make you question things; rather, it would always be just to make you accept as gospel truth the things he is telling you, to make you agree unquestioningly with his simplistic, binary views and judgements of people and events and to make you feel whatever feelings he is feeling—be it outrage, hatred, fear, anger. There would be no room left for any disagreement with his views; indeed, eventually, he would even go as far as to take it for granted that you must feel and think the same way as he does.

He would have no sense of proportion: he would blow up trivial matters as if they had global significance and would treat matters of global importance as if they were trivial matters of no consequence, if not ignore them altogether. Nor would he have the ability to look at things from a historical perspective—he would make no effort to connect the current events to events of the past or to put the current events into any kind of context. His overriding interest would be in the things happening at the present moment or which happened that very day, and that would be all he would talk about in his daily reports to you.

Sport would be seen by him as an absolutely vital and crucial part of the human existence and, regardless of what else occurred in the world that day, he would be sure to devote a good portion of his report to telling you about the latest developments, no matter how minor, in the world of sports.

Sometimes he would end his report with some lighthearted and offbeat story about the whimsical side of life, as if trying to reassure you that, despite all the tragedies and calamities, everything is still all right with the world.

He would be blind to the horrible inappropriateness of including stories of atrocities and disasters in the same report as sports stories and droll, quirky stories, and eventually you would become blind to it as well, not thinking twice about the inherent appalling incongruity of it all.

From what has been described above, it can be seen that this person would lack any emotional or intellectual maturity; be exceedingly morbid; preoccupied and obsessed with death, crime, disasters, tragedies, scandals, wealth, power, fame and sex; have no conscience or sense of objectivity; have a short attention span; be quick to anger and judgement, but would just as quickly forget about the things that were angering and upsetting him, and would move on to new things to satisfy his curiosity and titillate his nosiness. Any morality or principles this person might display would be just an act put on for his own ulterior purposes.

It would not be an exaggeration to describe his behaviour patterns as those of a voyeuristic sadist, given the way he would get big kicks from witnessing other people’s tears, pain, sufferings. Yet, not content with feeding off the misfortunes, agonies and adversities of others, he would then revel in describing them to you in great detail, taking particular delight in making you feel shocked, alarmed, fearful, outraged, angry, distressed, anguished, as well as impotent and small due to your inability to do anything about those events.

Still, he would be astute enough to realize that he cannot just keep hitting you with a metaphorical stick, and that he also has to offer you, via his reports, a metaphorical carrot. He would be aware that the way most people judge their life’s quality is by comparing it to the lives of others. And so, no matter how much you might deny it and no matter how abhorrent and unacceptable it might be to your moral values, his reports of the sufferings and misfortunes of others would, deep down (perhaps as far down as on the unconscious level), reassure you that by comparison your life isn’t so bad and inevitably make you feel better about your own life. That would serve as a strong incentive for you to keep listening to him, day after day, regardless of whether you are consciously aware of that motivation.

Through the steady, relentless barrage of his daily reports and because of his unvarying predilections for particular types of stories he would, over time, instil in you a certain underlying view of the world and man’s nature, eventually making you believe that his subjective, highly skewed, paranoid portrayal of reality is how reality actually is. In fact, you would become doubly confused: not only would you be unable to distinguish whether it is just his interpretation of reality or if it’s how reality really is, but additionally, due to you becoming so deeply ingrained with his portrayal of things, you would be unable to distinguish whether it is his view of reality or your view of reality. Effectively, the boundary between reality and interpretation of reality would become just as blurred for you as the boundary between his view and your view of the world.

You would be ill-advised to take this friend of yours at all seriously; his opinions and beliefs should be scoffed at and scorned, if not ignored altogether. He should be considered to be a hysterical fear-monger and scandal-monger; someone who should be avoided at all costs because of his unalleviatingly gloomy, depressing, paranoid and even apocalyptic perspective of things; because of his shameless snooping into the sufferings of others; for being emotionally unstable and having no control over his emotions; for being judgemental and subjective about everything; for having no sense of balance, no sense of reason and no sense of boundaries; for having the concentration span of an infant, quickly becoming bored with one story and turning to another to occupy his attention; for his unbounded and absurd obsession with power, wealth and fame, and for hypocritically pretending to care about the common people.

You would never accept his portrayal of reality or regard him to be a trustworthy authority figure who should be listened to when it comes to finding out about the world and what goes on in it, for you would clearly see how completely irrational, non-objective, opinionated and narrow-minded he is, and what a thoroughly unpleasant and dishonourable character he is, without any  principles, morals or personal standards. You would never want to be around this person, let alone allow him to visit you daily in your home, giving you his report each and every day.

Yet we all have just such a “friend” whom we welcome to our homes each and every day. We rely on this “person” for the vital information that informs our daily lives; information that influences our important decisions; information that determines our views of the world and of other people, cultures and countries, and indeed even our perception of ourselves. By willingly letting “him” tell us what to think and how to live, by readily swallowing up all that “he” tosses to us, we allow this “person” to turn us into bloodthirsty or indifferent voyeurs of tragedies and sufferings, we allow “him” to compromise our integrity and morality, and we let “him” shape our reality. It could even be said that we trust this “person” with our very lives, never seeing how blind we are to “his” methods and never realizing that “he” has us all fooled.

James Scott quote on mainstream media

Part II

In this section the issues discussed in the previous section are explored in more detail, and further questions are raised about the way mainstream mass media operates.

The first question that must be asked is: How does the media determine which stories to report to its audience? How does the media decide, out of a myriad of events that happen in the world every day, which are the important, newsworthy stories that must be told, and which stories can be ignored? What is the reasoning behind their decisions?

Given that the media either has a limited time span (in case of TV news programs) or a limited page span (in case of newspapers), the thousands of news stories that take place every day around the world need to be culled down to just a small number, so that the remaining news stories will fit exactly into a half-hour or one-hour news program, or into a newspaper of X number of pages. A very thorough elimination process must take place, during which the great majority of news is discarded; thus, the media must obviously have a method through which it winnows out the unnewsworthy stories from the newsworthy stories.

Yet has this method ever been made transparent by the media and shared with its audience? Or have its details been purposely kept secret, out of the concern that if the public were informed of it, they would find it completely unacceptable? Or could it indeed be that the media chooses which stories to report in an erratic and arbitrary manner, and that there is no rhyme or reason to its decisions, other than its own subjective, idiosyncratic criteria as to what constitutes an important story?

The next question that needs to be asked is: Does the media actually give its audience what the audience want to see and read about? Does the media provide the audience with what the audience believes to be the important stories, or is it the case that the media convinces its audience that what it provides are the important stories the audience wants and needs to see? Is it the case that it is the media that makes its audience become interested in and concerned about those issues in the first place, so that the audience now believes that the media only reflects their views as to what are the important and interesting stories, whereas it is the media that originally created those views in the audience? Has the media, through its unchanging, persistent preference for a particular type of material, made its audience believe that those are the issues that are important, vital, and fascinating? Consequently, does the audience accept without question that those are the stories the media must report and that they, the public must watch and read? Or perhaps it is a two-way process, with both media and audience influencing, reflecting, and reinforcing each other’s views?

propaganda

The third question that needs to be asked is: What kind of message does the media send when it treats only the deaths of ordinary people as newsworthy, but not their lives? What view of humanity does the media convey when it devotes most of its time to the lives of the wealthy, the powerful and the famous, and only becomes interested in ordinary people’s lives when those lives end tragically or unnaturally? Surely this is an extremely elitist, harsh and unjust perspective on the worth of human life, and it seems obvious that such an attitude would never be accepted or tolerated in our ostensibly egalitarian society, yet the media gets away scot-free with propagating just such a view each and every day.

Another question that needs to be considered is: What does the media expect to achieve by repeatedly and incessantly thrusting reports of deaths, tragedies, and disasters into our faces? Why are they so intent on reporting those kinds of stories? What is it that we are supposed to feel, think, and do when confronted by stories of tragedies and deaths of people of whose existence we weren’t aware until that point? What can we do? How can we help? How can we change death? There are a number of possible answers to these questions.

The bleakest and most radical, yet not an entirely implausible, explanation is that the media is possibly doing it for its own twisted, sadistic purposes in order to induce pain, panic and sorrow in the audience, while hypocritically pretending to feel sadness. Yet surely the only thing the media feels is faux sorrow, because for the media it is just another news story, part of their job, and they quickly forget all about that story and shift their attention to another story. So, bizarrely, in that potential scenario, the media would try to make its audience feel authentic emotions, while media itself would only feel fake feelings.

An equally bleak and extreme, yet also not an entirely implausible, explanation is that the media is possibly doing it in order to allow its audience to indulge in sadistic schadenfreude at others’ misfortunes and pain, and in order for the audience to be reassured that their lives are not so bad by comparison. If this seems to be an overly dark and cynical view of human nature, it should be pointed out that even though a person might not evince such callous behaviour publicly, it is entirely possible that in the privacy of their homes and in the privacy of their minds they would act, think and feel that way. And besides, the realness of those who appear on TV news programs or in newspapers is intrinsically diminished by that very fact, for they are automatically more remote and less tangible than the people one interacts with in the outer world. That potentially gives one the license to be indifferent and uncaring towards the plight of the people in news reports.

Another possible explanation (and one that is obviously related to the explanation immediately above) is that the media is only providing its audience with what the audience itself desires. If that is the case, then it is a sad indictment indeed upon the modern society, for it means that our society wants and needs those stories of violence, murder, catastrophes to satisfy its morbidity and bloodthirstiness. It would then follow that while our society prides itself on being law-abiding and highly civilized, its citizens actually behave in ways no better than those barbaric ancient Roman crowds that avidly watched the fights to the death in the arenas.

A more moderate explanation would be that the media is possibly doing it as a way of keeping the masses law-abiding and in fear—by showing them what happens when laws are not obeyed. For example, a very common news story is that of fatal car accidents. Surely, by reporting this kind of a story, the media is also conveying, directly or indirectly, a warning that if the road rules are not followed then this is what happens. Yet, even if this is a valid explanation, it is still only a partial answer as to why the media feels impelled to keep telling you those stories of deaths, tragedies and disasters, for surely the media plays a much bigger and more complex role than just being a broadcaster of public warnings. (Exactly what that role is would, however, require another article to address.)

It should be noted that this article is not about the bias the media may display in its reporting of news, overtly or otherwise. Rather, it concerns itself with deeper and more fundamental issues: What exactly is the connection between reality and the way the media interprets and portrays it? How does the media’s interpretation of reality shape the way its audience perceives reality? How does the media affect our views of the world? Does the media have a hidden agenda to influence the minds of its audience, and if so, what are the methods they use to instil their opinions into us?

If it appears by this point that the media has interwoven itself inextricably into the very fabric of our lives, and that we have no chance of ever liberating ourselves from its insidious grasp and its inflexible power over us, then imagine if you will a utopian scenario whereby we live in a world in which the media no longer exists; a world in which the media no longer intrudes incessantly into our lives; a world in which we are no longer ceaselessly bombarded by its paranoid ravings and no longer confronted at every turn by their reports of disasters, tragedies, catastrophes; a world in which we are able to form our own view of the world based solely on our own direct, personal experiences, rather than experiencing the world vicariously via the TV news programs and newspapers and having our opinions, beliefs, attitudes and our very reality moulded by the media; a world in which we no longer sacrifice our principles, our integrity, our morality, our decency on the altar of mainstream mass media; a world in which we are free to just live our own lives and die our own deaths.

Sure, such a scenario may sound hopelessly naive and unrealistic. Yet, perhaps hundreds or thousands of years from now, it will finally be realized how the media are just carrion flies that feed off tragedies and spread the diseases of meaninglessness and misery, and how gullible and short-sighted people were in allowing the media to interfere into and mar their lives each and every day.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The final version of this piece is still to come, as I still want to work more on its language, wording, expression, structure, etc. and there are still some other ideas that I haven’t yet added to the piece. (For example, there’s my idea that, in some ways, news programs and newspapers serve the same function that memento mori served in medieval times, for they keep reminding you of death, over and over again. But whereas the medieval memento mori had a definite function in imbuing people with theological and moral lessons, the aim that the media has in talking about death over and over again is less clear and certain. It is entirely possible that even the media itself has not formulated clear and lucid reasons as to why it is always talking about death. But of course the modern man would recoil at the thought of such macabre, morbid and gruesome concept as a memento mori in our modern lives. The concept of a memento mori would be seen as macabre and overly superstitious by modern man. And yet, the modern man accepts with equanimity and without any argument the disguised memento mori that he is confronted with daily via the news. Seemingly, we live in an enlightened, modern, progressive society and yet, still, we have memento mori all around us, constantly confronting us and assaulting us via the mass media, so that their presence in our lives is even more ubiquitous than the presence of memento mori in the life of the medieval man.)

Father of 12 Inspires and Encourages Youth Through Epic Fantasy Now Shares Secrets Of His Success

Father of 12 Inspires and Encourages Youth Through Epic Fantasy Now Shares Secrets Of His Success

MADE FROM SCRATCH becomes a book with buzz.

 MADE FROM SCRATCH: The Ultimate Guide To Self-Publishing by Jaime D. Buckley

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 30, 2014 – Santaquin, UT — Jaime Buckley, Author of Chronicles of a Hero is known as a champion of the underdog. Believing each person has inherent value, he helps the world laugh at themselves, use each experience as an advantage, then encourages others to get up and try again. This same focus has turned him from youth and their parents towards bloggers and writers of all skill levels. Jaime’s alter ego Wendell P. Dipmier, the main character of his fantasy series, takes a back seat this time as the author expands his reach to the business minded.

MADE FROM SCRATCH: The Ultimate Guide To Self-Publishing became an obsession to help Indie Authors do the seemingly impossible—publish a professional product on a shoestring budget. No stranger to extreme hardships, Jaime shares his decade of experience and working against the odds, including homelessness, lack of funding and dealing with a cynical market to point out advantages many authors miss. His 21 books and prolific writing habits make him a unique role model for new authors seeking a non-traditional path. The book takes readers from idea to promotion and beyond.

“This idea started when I made some new friends at Be A Better Blogger,” remarked the author in a recent interview. “I met powerful, unique personalities—but few of them had ever published their work. With so much to offer others, I saw the opportunity to give that brilliant community a huge boost in the right direction. Sharing some personal experiences and pointing out a path most people could follow has become a specialty of mine. MADE FROM SCRATCH was written for bloggers, but it applies to writers in general.”

For digital review copies of MADE FROM SCRATCH or media interviews, contact the author through WantedHero.com or email him directly: jaimebuckley@wantedhero.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

JAIME BUCKLEY is a veteran Indie Author who started his career as a comicAuthor Jaime Buckley book creator. Husband, father of 12 and grandfather, he inspires youth and parents alike through his daily blog while designing games and reaching out to readers around the globe. Since 2005 he has donated both his comics and novels to underprivileged children and continues to engage in charitable events involving youth and youth-focused organizations. Photos of Jaime Buckley and the book’s cover available.

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Jaime Buckley
jaimebuckley@wantedhero.com
(608) 620-4376
http://wantedhero.com

 

2013 in Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 15,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

And I’ll Let That Big Old Whistle Blow My Blues Away by Jay Aymar

Jay AymarJay Aymar is a self-described ramblin’ Canadian songwriter who mixes elements of folk, roots & country music with thoughtful, often poetic lyrics. I’m thinking that he’s the natural successor to Stompin’ Tom Connors in fact. There aren’t many singers like Jay Aymar – an honest journeyman of music – and there aren’t many bloggers out there like Jay either. His blog Road Stories reveals this Gen-x troubadour’s musings on life, love and livin’ on the road. I like to think of Jay as my friend and I try to read his blogs whenever I can find the time because they’re like sitting round a campfire and listening to him wax philosophical with me over a few beers. I recently read this one and loved it so much that I told Jay and he said I was free to pass it on in any way I wished. Now, it’s true, he’s long-winded, but believe me, he always has a point, and the journey to that point is always fun.  ‘And I’ll let that big old whistle blow my blues away’ was originally published on Jay’s Road Stories blog on October 23, 2013.

A recent review from the bible of roots magazines in Canada – Penguin EggsJay Aymar Overtime on Jay Aymar’s latest CD, Overtime:

 Judging by the maturity, sophistication and clever bent to his lyrics and delivery, he has not been resting on his laurels, such as they maybe….there is no quibble about raising him to the higher rungs on the steep ladder of Canadian singer/songwriters, not just his contemporaries but of all time.” Doug Swanson, Summer 2013, Penguin Eggs Magazine

 

‘And I’ll let that big old whistle blow my blues away’

“I was conceived in the summer of love
a little bundle of joy sent down from above
and while a half a million hippies left Yasgur with some trash
I was rockin’ in the cradle to the sweet Johnny Cash”

This is from my song ‘Seriously Delirious’ which I put out in 2011 on the CD ‘Passing Through’.

It’s 100% autobiographical and was written as a result of meeting the legendary John Prine.

My girlfriend at the time bought some tickets to Massey Hall to see John perform and somehow managed to get us backstage to meet him. Was it George Bernard Shaw who suggested being wary of meeting ones idols for fear that it will only lead to future disappointment for the fan? I believe it was.

We lined up backstage to acquire autographs, one by one. He signed my copy of Fair and Square – ‘All the best  Jay’ … John Prine.  All the Best – being a song from his comeback album The Missing Years. Still one of my favourite CD’s of all time. I rank it next to Graceland for the surprise comeback and enjoyment factor. (well maybe that’s a stretch but it’s one hell of a piece of work). While we posed for photos with him and the band we were encouraged to stick around for some food and to simply hang out. Wow! What a nice gesture. I believe my level of knowledge about his catalogue and back story was enough to ingratiate ourselves into this party for an extended hang.

Then I was afforded some time to just sit and talk with John himself.  After our conversation (during which he had learned that he was a major influence on me as a writer) he shouted out to the band “Bring these two out for a few drinks tonight and tell them some lies about us!”

“I can’t go out drinking right now but these guys could be into it Jay.”

At which point, his guitar player Jason Wilbur said he was obligated to call his wife for a long chat and couldn’t go out, however, Dave – his double bass player said “Sure…sounds like fun!”

So we went out to a local martini bar and discussed the Nashville music scene with Dave for about three hours.

So much of what happens to us in life is by sheer coincidence or luck. Dave mentioned that the go-to bass player for a few shows in Nashville (where Prine lives) was unavailable and he ran into a guy on the street that same night who tipped him off and suggested he might be able to get him in as a filler. Long story short, he’s been touring with John ever since. That’s going back about ten years now. I believe Dave’s married with children and finally taking deep breaths knowing the financial ‘wolf is finally from the door’.

At the end of the evening, he’d likely heard my girlfriend going on about my songwriting and John’s influence to the point where he took some pity on us and offered us to come along for the next show in London. Wow! What a guy.

“Just show up at the theatre tomorrow and pick up your backstage passes at the window and come join us after the show!”

Done.

We arrived in London (ON) the following day and were escorted to the fifth row from the front of the stage. Remarkable seats. I took it all in and sat transfixed like a kid in a candy store drooling over the embarrassment of riches. From ‘Hello in There’ to ‘Lake Marie’ (Dylan’s favourite Prine song) to ‘Grandpa was a Carpenter’ and on and on.

We reconnected again after the show and another great visit. It was during this conversation where the discussion of autobiographical writing came up. Writing a song specifically about oneself. The idea being that if you write a few of those songs ‘specifically’ about yourself, then you won’t have to waste precious time explaining to folks after the show exactly who you are – what your purpose is – what you’re all about…essentially.

I went home and started the song Seriously Delirious.

Verse 2
“My old man engineered that train
Like a streak bolt of lightning right through the rain
He said keep your head steady son and don’t look back
and that’s how you keep the train on the track”

After my dad (John Delbert Aymar) returned home from serving the entirety of WW2, he wanted to explore the world away from his village near Saulnierville, NS.  Still in his early twenties, he decided to head into Toronto with his cousin. The point being, whenever anyone of us has leaned on him for advice or felt down about things, he’s always said “The past is the past. Look forward. You can’t change the past. If I were to have dwelled upon the events of that war then how could have I managed to move on?”

It always seemed like such a dial-in answer for many years, but as always, these types of sentiments as simple as they appear, hold powerful truths for a reason.  I often saw my dad as the engineer of his train. He was pulling eight box cars and mom holding down the Caboose and keeping it all together. (Perhaps it’s the female spirit that looks back and keeps our history into perspective – I’m not sure, but I do know my mom was amazing at grounding us in family tradition.) So, I wrote those words about my Dad as a train engineer and made the “rockin in the cradle to the sweet Johnny Cash” reference quite deliberately – as a bit of an inside joke within the family.

You see, my dad has this old Hawaiian guitar he picked up from a guy he visited in prison. As the story goes, he visited an old acquaintance in the Comeauville jail.  During the visit, the guy wanted five bucks for his cheap guitar (evidently for a carton of cigarettes). The transaction went down and this was ultimately become the first guitar I would see in my life. 

It had painted palm trees and various birds and a Hawaiian sunset on the front of it. It was a Spanish guitar with nylon strings. It seemed more of a prop or a toy then a real guitar. My earliest childhood memories are of my dad popping his collar, pretending to play that guitar while gyrating his hips like Elvis – screaming ‘YOU AIN’T NOTHING BUT A HOUND DOG’  in front of all of us. I was transfixed.

I remember the very, very first record player was a small stand alone player with just a few records in the rack below it.

Johnny Cash’s Greatest Hits sat amongst the few gems. I believe it was of his early Sun recordings and it was incredible.

For the longest time, it all just made sense to me. The cheap guitar from a guy in prison – was that Folsom Prison? The train songs the rockabilly beat. The joy it brought. It taught me so much.

That said, our family was not even remotely into country music.

My dad’s true passion was swing jazz and crooners. At 92 he can still sing Nat King Cole’s Mona Lisa and send the shiver up the spine of anyone who’d care to listen. The only reason that album ever made it into our house was through my brother Dave (likely) or Bob (also likely).

So as time marched on, I learned that it was all connected. Everything. Prine was influenced by Cash. Cash didn’t really do time in prison other than for a few public intoxication’s. Our family guitar was from a guy in prison. I eventually discovered the epic Live from Folsom and Live from San Quentin Cash albums. I eventually discovered the entire world of fiction based on these themes – from Voltaire’s Candide to Crime and Punishment …oh hell…it goes on and on. From learning about Mandela to watching movies like Cool Hand Luke.

It can seem like a romantic notion in some ways to think that Johnny Cash performed for the incarcerated. A selfless gesture indeed. Those live recordings capture the palpable energy of a man in his prime, singing to those without a lot of hope.  What could that be like? Wow…only Cash could have pulled that off.  Until it was asked of me. I said ‘ABSOLUTELY YES!’

Wait…what? Really? What just happened?

Early last week I received an email from Jill Zmud, a talented folk songwriter, community activist and all around cool girl from Ottawa, ON. She coordinates a program called Art Beat which connects folk musicians with local schools and hospitals (for starters). During a previous conference, for example, I volunteered to discuss ‘FOLK MUSIC’ and ‘SONGWRITING’ and ‘LIFE ON THE ROAD’ to about 60 grade 7-8 students at a southern Ontario elementary school. It was amazing! As always, these gestures always pay us back ten-fold. The discussion with the kids slowly turned into me talking about how folk music has always represented the underdog.

“You kids want change? How we gonna do that? Folk music?”

and the kids screamed out “YEAH!”

“OK… I propose we have big speakers playing music during lunch break in the cafeteria! Why don’t we have music playing during lunch?” Who wants music?”

Repeat after me “WE WANT MUSIC…WE WANT MUSIC!”

“LOUDER…STOMP YOUR FEET…I WANT YOU TO ALL STOMP YOUR FEET AND SCREAM SO LOUD THAT THE PRINCIPLE WILL COME UP HERE AND FINALLY LISTEN TO US!”

And they did. And the principle arrived at the door a few minutes later. Strapped with my guitar, I whispered to him in the hallway, ‘Just play along, I’m teaching them how to protest!”

And he was brilliant. He stormed into the classroom to become a perfect foil.

“What’s all this about?”

“We want music in the cafeteria during lunch hour!”

The kids laughed, the teacher laughed, I laughed and I had them sing my one and only children’s song ‘Apple Pickin’ and we all walked away richer for the experience. I’ve often thought if I were to retire from music, teaching would be such a noble profession.

Art Beat had worked it’s magic. Everyone benefited from the experience.

Now this time, Jill’s Art Beat email was a bit different. “Jay, we’ve been trying to have a correctional facility sign up for Art Beat for many years…and it finally happened! They’ve agreed to let a performer come in and sing! We thought of you immediately.”

“Why did you think of me Jill? Have you been looking through my past? lol…”

“No we were just discussing your record and …”

“My RECORD! How did I know it was illegal to smoke weed in Cuba?”

“No Jay, your latest record – OVERTIME

“Oh yeah…of course – Overtime!” (Thank you Tommy Chong)

I guess word had spread a bit about my Johnny Cash fixation. Playing tributes on occasion and singing Cash songs long – long before he was cool again. In fact I remember singing his songs during the late 80′s and early 90′s when people would grimace. Yes, there was a time for a while when he was dismissed and this always seemed strange to me.

Regardless, I agreed to perform in the Brampton Correctional Facility last Thursday as a part of Art Beat.

Without thinking about it too much, I simply romanticized the task at hand and embraced the concept.

Hey Aymar (I said to myself), you’ve been singing about this stuff for so long, now it’s time to embrace the fact that the river has led you here. This amazing journey has actually brought you to this place. Ok here we go.

I arrived at the front desk on Thursday at 1pm. Without giving this any thought whatsoever I mentioned my name and purpose and they led me to the recreation room. In came the men who sat in a circular format in front of me. Several guards were on hand to brief me in a room prior to the concert.

They introduced me as a Canadian songwriter who tours ‘all around the world’ and ‘has just finished a 120 show tour’ which was all true, but it seemed to really give the guys (perhaps) a sense that I WAS Johnny Cash as someone immediately screamed out “CASH!”

As I prepared for the first song, the warden leaned into my ear and whispered “You’ll be fine son…they’re an appreciative audience!”

As I was about to hit the first chord, I looked up and saw the crowd. Something happened when I looked into the faces of the guys staring at me. I was grief stricken. Can’t explain it. I began to tremble on the inside. This wasn’t a nervousness or fear, but in fact a deep, deep feeling of empathy. I didn’t know what to do. I hadn’t prepared for this. After thousands of shows in my life, I’d never felt this stuck. This feeling became overwhelming. This wasn’t a fucking joke – nothing about this was like Johnny Cash in Folsom….my dad buying a guitar from a guy in prison…Cool Hand Luke. Those fantasy images were just that. Fantasy! This was reality – I was in the middle of it – and I was suddenly grief stricken by the stark realness of it all.

Behind the men was a booth where two guards watched the proceedings from above everyone. It was all cool and controlled. I played my first original song then quickly got back to the CASH request. I said ‘Who was requesting Johnny Cash?” Someone from the back raised his hand. I said “Ok man, how about A Boy Named Sue!”

And off it went. During that Silverstein classic is a verse where the father ‘took out a knife and cut off a piece of my ear” …at which point everyone laughed out loud and FINALLY the tension was cut.

I was beyond relieved.

I looked up into the tower and saw two of the guards clapping and dancing a bit which eased my mind a bit more.

Then I asked if there were any guitar players in the crowd. Someone yelled out “Honky-Tonk!”

“Where’s Honky-Tonk?”

And he was right there off to the side. Humbly raising his hand.

“You feel like playing a song for everyone Honky-Tonk? Who wants to hear Honky-Tonk?” The place erupted and much like the elementary kids pretending to protest,  the guys began chanting “Honky-Tonk! Honky-Tonk!”

It was just then that I realized I may have been breaking protocol but they allowed Honky-Tonk to come and join me for the rest of the show. He was escorted to a room where his guitar awaited and arrived ready for showtime. He was a great player and was happy to sit back and simply accompany me with some picking on the songs.

Then, as though time evaporated, I looked up at the clock to realize the concert was over and my John Henry was required for a few pieces of paper.

Before I left, the staff and I had a brief conversation about ‘simple gestures of kindness’ in this type of environment. On how there may be an outside chance that ONE inmate may have seen light in all of this…a seed may have been planted in some soul…enough to hold on to…HOPE. I welled up.

I finally made it out to my car – shaking. I sat in the parking lot for twenty minutes, closed my eyes and said some prayers to the great universe asking for my own redemption. “Save those souls and give them hope. Thank you for bringing me into this world with all of the advantages of love. Thanks for allowing me to have the opportunity, strength and gift to do this.”

Then I thought about my own dad. Not the guy from “A Boy Named Sue” but the guy who stood up in front of me with his Hawaiian guitar, shaking his hips, screaming “HOUND DOG!” That guy. The same guy who said “Never look back – you can’t change the past”, the guy who provided for his eight children day in a day out without ever complaining. The loyal husband and father who kept us all on the straight and narrow. The same guy who bought the record player for his family (when we didn’t have a lot of extra money) so he could play his trad jazz and we could play our rock and roll.

I left the parking lot and drove to the four day conference where like-minded folkies had converged on a hotel in Mississauga.  Remember: GIVING BACK – PAYING IT FORWARD -this is all run of the mill kind of stuff for people in this community. It’s all part of the tradition. It’s part of the spirit. I felt safe here amongst this tribe. There were times over the weekend though that I couldn’t ‘shake’ the feeling of what had transformed me during that prison concert. In fact, there were times when I couldn’t stop smiling about it – and times when I couldn’t hide my grief. Never have I carried around so many mixed emotions from one incident.

Upon my arrival home the first person to call me up was my dad.

“Good morning son, I just wanted to know how the concert in the prison worked out?” I gave him detailed account of the events and asked “Dad, I’m not sure why I have these mixed emotions about it all? It’s like I don’t understand how I feel about what happened? Strange isn’t it?”

“It’s not strange at all. I really did expect this. Sometimes we don’t have answers for how we feel.  Just move on. It’s over!”

Just like the song:
‘Keep your head steady and don’t look back
That’s how you keep the train on the track’

In a few short months, I’ll be back at home sharing Christmas with the family. We’ll enjoy music and laughter once again.

As always I’ll be performing a local show, only this year I’ll have a new song to be added to my repertoire: John Prine’s Christmas in Prison. Dedicated to my Dad, Prine and his band, Cash, the Brampton Correctional Facility, Art Beat, Folk Music Ontario and the great healing power of music.

Next stop…

FURTHER DOWN THE LINE.

Scully Love Promo Nominated for a Super Sweet Blogging Award

Super Sweet Blogging AwardOne week ago today, I had the pleasure of being nominated by Easter Ellen of Overcoming To Becoming for something called a Super Sweet Blogging Award.  Now, it’s been quite a long time since I’ve been nominated for any kind of blogging award, so I’ll take it, with gratitude! Thank you for the nomination, dear Easter!

Easter is a Christian writer, poet and a beautiful soul who inspires her readers through her life stories and poetry. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing her online for many years and have read her blog quite often. She is an honest, intelligent, kind mother of four who hasn’t had an easy life but she has never succumbed to anger, self-pity or bitterness.  Instead, she has fought her battles, soldiered on and continues to turn to God for His support and guidance as she continues along her life’s journey.  Easter is a Christian whose light shines from within by the example she sets in her own life.  While I’m not a Christian, I enjoy her writing very much.

I confess that I don’t read as many blog posts as I’d like to because of time constraints, but the blogs that I’m nominating are all blogs that I have read and enjoyed quite often and their authors totally deserve to be recognized for their consistently interesting, thoughtful, entertaining and inspirational content.  I don’t expect any of them to carry on and participate in this Super Sweet Blogging Award post-a-thon, but if they want to, that’s great!

Your time online is precious, I know, but if you’re looking for some wonderful bloggers to follow, please take note of my suggestions.

Here are the steps you need to take now:

1. Thank the Super Sweet Blogger that nominated you.

2. Answer five super sweet questions. 

The 5 sweet questions:

Cookies or cake? — Very tough decision, but I’ll have to go with cake. There are so many kinds of cake that I adore including chocolate layer cake, carrot cake with caramel icing, peach torte with whipped cream, red velvet cupcakes, lemon cake, almost any kind of cheesecake, you see where I’m going with this!

Chocolate or vanilla? — Chocolate all the way, baby!

Favourite sweet treat? — Brownies, with icing of course!

When do you crave sweet things the most? — At that time of the month, ladies.

Sweet nick name? — Christine Jellybean

3. Include the Super Sweet Blogging award image in your blog post.

4. Nominate a dozen other bloggers. The following list is in no particular order. You all have fantastic, interesting blogs. 

Here are my choices to nominate for this thoughtful award: (and all of you deserve it fully!)

Easter Ellen from Overcoming to Becoming

Robyn Gibson from Up With Marriage (Note: I’m not married nor ever have been, but this is still a very thoughtful and provocative read for anyone who is in any kind of partnership, romantic relationship or simply wants to be the best person they can be for a relationship in the future.)

Dr. Samita Nandy from Fame Critic

Deborah Kimmett from One Funny Lady

Cheryl Hiebert from Sacred Journeys Healing Arts Centre Ezine

Dawn James from Raise Your Vibration

Jim Barber of Jim Barber Writing Services

Jeff Brown from Soulshaping’s The Soul Blog

Jay Aymar from Road Stories

The Swede from A Swede Talks Movies

Dan Stone from First A Dream

Steph VanderMeulen from Bella’s Bookshelves

A big, heartfelt thank you to all of you for writing really interesting blogs!!

All my best,
Christine

How To Link An Image Within Your WordPress Blog Post

I was recently asked by a client how to link an image she’d chosen for a blog post back to its original source.  This is a very good question and one that I should be thinking about myself when using images for my own blog posts in the future!

I write a lot of reviews and share them on my blog so I generally haven’t worried about crediting the source for the book cover, CD cover or DVD cover I choose to represent my blog post because I’m essentially promoting the author or creator of the work itself.

However, it is very important to be sure that you have permission to use a photo that isn’t yours that you find online through a Google search.  You should always give a photographer credit for his or her photo at the very least, but if you can find out how to contact them to get permission to use it, then do it.  You can also use Creative Commons or Google Advanced Image Search to find photos that allow you usage rights and this is a very smart practice.

Here are the steps you should follow to link an image back to its original source within your WordPress blog post:

  1. Go to Google.com and type in the name of the book or keywords describing the type of image you’re looking for.  (You can also go to Advanced Google Image Search at http://www.google.com/advanced_image_search and type in your keywords and then scroll to the bottom where it says usage rights and click on the dropdown menu to select free to use or share, even commercially and then click on the Advanced Search button.  This will give you images that the public is free to use.)
  2. Then click on Images on the left side of the Google page.
  3. Choose an image that is large or of high resolution if possible as it will be clearer and easier to read when someone clicks on it.
  4. Click on the image.
  5. Right click on the image again and save the image as a .jpg file to your computer.
  6. In the top right corner you’ll see Website for this image.  Click on that link and it will take you to the website where the image originated from.
  7. Copy the link.
  8. Go to your blog post under Edit Page.
  9. Choose where you want to add your image within your post and put your cursor there.
  10. Click on the Add Media Icon beside Upload/Insert just above the dialogue box (in WordPress).
  11. Upload the photo to the Add Media box, choosing what alignment you want and what size file you want.
  12. Paste the link from the website into the Link URL box.
  13. Click Insert into Post.
  14. Click on Update Post under the Publish section of your blog.

Photos and/or graphic images are a very important part of our blog posts, especially now that Pinterest is so popular, and we can post our blog images to it in order to drive more traffic back to our blog or website.  So let’s make sure that we get permission to use those images that we find on the Internet and everyone will be happy!