Falling Stars: Not Always So Whimsical… (with The Song of the Week, 2/16/2013)

Falling Star

Everyone is all abuzz about the asteroid flyby and the meteorite strike in Russia this week, and it was quite spectacular, and scary. Some of the video footage from Russia is amazing; watching the fireball appear in the sky through someone’s windshield, burning closer and closer, I couldn’t help but think what a pants-shitting moment that had to be.

It also made me remember my own close encounter with a meteor, many years ago. I survived, just as I survived the time I was struck by lightning, though the meteor was both a lot less dramatic and a lot cooler.

I was a teenager, visiting my maternal grandparents in a backward crack in the world called Valle Mines, Missouri. They lived in a farmhouse off a rural highway with a fair chunk of land, much of it thickly forested. The forest, of course, was the good part, especially to a kid who’d retreated to the woods most of his life as an escape from a horrible life at home. The bad part was the isolation from culture, and the lack of things to do. Nowadays, they probably have a big Teabagger dance or something to pass the time.

Anyway, late one dark country night, I was out back, and for some reason I was standing on my grandparents’ picnic table. The only light was from the windows of the house, and the sky was clear. Suddenly, I saw a thin streak of fire lancing toward me. It passed about ten feet over my head, sputtering into sparks as it fully disintegrated about twenty feet away, just short of the woods. A shard of space rock crumbling to fairy dust before my eyes.

Another cosmic encounter also comes to mind. Back in 1997, Comet Hale-Bopp streaked slowly cross earth’s skies, incredibly bright and visible to the naked eye for a record 18 months. Living in town, it was tough to see because of the light pollution, but I had a wonderful visit with it one cold spring night.

We took my son, Nathaniel, who was just under a year old, on his first camping trip, to Lake Conasauga, the highest lake in Georgia, on Grassy Mountain in the Chattahoochee Forest. It was chilly, but he enjoyed the woods and the lakeshore. Our late great akita, Travis, played with us, and charged through the woods like a white rocket. Towards dusk, we retreated to our tent and snuggled in, and Nathaniel was happy. Happy until night fell, that is, and with it, the temperature.

It was like a switch was thrown. The sun disappeared and suddenly it was below freezing. And Nathaniel started crying. We bundled him in several layers of clothing, including a pair of my thick wool socks and my Polartec jacket, and nestled together deep into the sleeping bags. The crying stopped, and he was content.

He fell asleep, as did his mom. I lay there, listening to the night sounds. We had planned to hike to the top of the mountain at night to see the comet, but it was so comfortable in the sleeping bags, and so damned cold outside them. But, knowing this was my best chance, I mustered the strength. I woke my son’s mom to give her the chance to do likewise, but that wasn’t happening. She, and Nathaniel, were too content where they were.

So I pulled on my cold boots and crawled out of the tent. I let Travis off his leash and the two of us headed up the trail.

When we reached the summit, the world was spectacular. Dark ridges of forest stretched away in every direction, and the sky above was utterly cloudless and perfectly black but for its trillions of bright stars, so many stars, up high, without city lights, without smog. Just that sky, alone, would have been reason enough to clamber up that trail that night.

Hale-Bopp burned out there, a streak of star fire, huge and otherworldly, stark against that dark sky, a titan among the glittering pinpricks that were the stars. I stood there staring at it, the cold forgotten, my dog pacing and hunting night critters, for a long cosmic moment.

Back From The Jungle… (with the Song of the Week 1/30/2013)

Tim of the Jungle

…and I will tell you this…

Nyd In Shirt

…a beautiful, petite Brazilian woman wearing one of your shirts may be one of those signals the universe occasionally sends to indicate it is actually benevolent.

Long Distance Dedication

Dear Casey,

A couple of days ago, Barack Obama won his second term as President of the United States, bringing a welcome end to an interminable campaign season, allowing those of us who supported him to relax and breathe easy for a while.

I’m happy things turned out as they did, because overall Obama has been a good president. He might already be a great one had he not been constantly, stupidly obstructed by the most disloyal opposition in American history, had he aimed higher on the things he did manage like healthcare reform, and had he the spine and integrity to actually disavow the more fascistic tendencies of the Bush administration rather than embracing and exceeding them.

I hope now, with the need to worry about the next election out of the way, President Obama will step us his game and act boldly and decisively to make the changes we need as a country. I don’t doubt his ability to do so, only his resolve. He has greatness in him, now he must cultivate it.

After winning like this, it’s easy to gloat. Schadenfreude is a wickedly tasty treat, especially when the other side has relentlessly attacked your freedoms, your patriotism, even your value as a human being. I have literally seen some folks turn on a dime, going from “You are a stupid, ungodly, un-American, traitorous abomination” to “It’s not classy to gloat like that.” So if my relief at winning over people like that is a bit high-handed at times, I can forgive myself.

But my thoughts turn to my many friends, and even my enemies, on the right. I’m glad they lost, certainly, but it’s not entirely for my own benefit. I’m glad they lost for their benefit as well, though they won’t agree, and many of them won’t even be able to see through their grotty filters well enough to understand that I wish them well and hope for the best for all of us. I care about them. I respect them, or at least those who haven’t thrown away any right to respect (like any of them who calls Barack Obama a nigger, for example). And I, and most of us progressives, actually want to work with them towards the common good. Obama wants to, and last time they turned his sincere desire to reach across the aisle into a tactical failing. I hope, after the message they were  just sent by the American people, the conservatives in congress accept a working relationship with the president this time instead of holding their breath until, as it turns out, the country turns blue.

So, Casey, could you please play “Land of Hope and Dreams” by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band for my friends on the right? I hope they’ll leave behind their sorrows, let this day be the last, tomorrow there’ll be sunshine, and all this darkness past…big wheels roll through fields, where sunlight streams, and we can all meet in a land of hope and dreams…

Sincerely,

Tim in Decatur

Tim, here’s your song. I hope your friends take this opportunity to reevaluate things, and that for the next four years and beyond, all of us can start actually working together toward solutions that help us all. And remember, we all need to keep our feet on the ground, but keep reaching for the stars…

We Take Care Of Our Own (Song of the Week, Election Day 2012)

There’s a sickness creeping up on us. Grab your brain, your heart, your soul, and help us beat it back.

Vote Obama. Vote Democrat. Give in to your higher angels, not your petty demons.

Hush, Hush, Hush, Here Comes the Bogeyman… (Song of the Week, Halloween 2012)

I love Halloween.

Reflecting that, our song of the week is  “Hush, Hush, Hush, Here Comes the Bogeyman” from 1932, by Henry Hall’s Orchestra with vocals by Val Rosing. Enjoy.

Childish Things

Hearing this week’s song of the week today brought to mind a discussion I had with another writer on Facebook a few weeks ago. The release of World of Warcraft‘s latest expansion was nigh and, as many of you know, it was introducing the pandaren as a playable race. The pandaren are basically kung-fu pandas, mystical shaolin-style monks, and their homeland is based heavily in eastern cultural tropes. (They also predate the Kung-Fu Panda movies by several years).

Now, I haven’t played WoW in many years, but my son still does occasionally, and I’d watched him play some of this content during its beta testing. It was fun stuff. the pandaren had a lot of charm and character, their abilities were clever and different than the stock WoW fare, and the world-building for their lands was gorgeous and epic in its scope.

Anyway, this writer snorted derisively at any grown-ups out there who were actually looking forward to playing panda warriors. Why? Because pandas are cute, naturally, and only children could conceivably want to play such cute creatures. I challenged him on it, because not only do I see the pandaren as neither more nor less intrinsically ridiculous than elves, dwarves, gnomes, or any of the other fantasy races you can play in WoW and similar games, but I think a fantasist attacking other people’s fantasies rather unbecoming. This writer makes his living writing face-to-face roleplaying games in which the players pretend to be monsters (as indeed I used to when I was a writer for White Wolf Games). Quite a few people would consider that sort of thing childish.

I wrote:

I just have an innate negative reaction to arguments that denigrate the tastes of others in ways like calling them “childish,” when as far as I’m concerned pretending to be a kung-fu panda is no more ridiculous or childish than pretending to be a stalwart shaman cow. Or a magical mystical mummy, for that matter.

He wrote:

I *completely* accept that the pandaren might be considered cool by players of a given age range, those of commensurately immature taste, and those who engage them as part of spending time with their kids, and I hope you’re right that those folks enjoy playing the hell out of it. But it’s not for me, play-wise, nor for the adults with whom I game on the regular…Pretending to be a bouncing anime panda-person may not be more ridiculous than pretending to be a shambling mummy, but it *is* more childish, and there’s just no way around that.

Note the pointless zealotry, the refusal to accept that any mature adult might be able to enjoy playing these fantasy creatures, while playing other fantasy creatures is presumably quite adult. Pandaren might be enjoyed by players “of a given age range” or “commensurately immature taste” or those playing alongside their children. He couldn’t just take a reasonable step back and think, “Maybe an adult might enjoy this simply because it’s fun and they get a kick out of it.” He had to insist that an adult who liked this sort of thing was not the proper sort of adult at all.

I replied:

To personalize it, I think the pandaren are cool, and were I still playing WoW I’d be looking forward to playing one. To therefore say that only people of a certain age range or “commensurately immature taste” can find them cool is insulting. I seriously doubt my tastes are any less mature than yours, and in fact the tendency to argue the “maturity” of such things seems to me an immature one.

As C.S. Lewis put it, “When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

But, to be agreeable, I’ll cede your point that making believe you’re a scary monster is much more grown up than making believe that you’re a panda-esque warrior. Because what the hell.

Don’t try too hard to be a grown-up, folks. It’s something that happens naturally in its course, and it has nothing to do with whether you can still have fun or not.

Here’s James McMurty with our song of the week…