The Changing Beat

Attributes_of_MusicMy blog has stagnated of late. There are many reasons, but the primary two are some personal issues with family members, and other writing pursuits. Either way, it’s time to focus again on this little corner of the InterWebz. To achieve this, I am starting two new features. I will continue to write more personal blogs when they strike me, but I suspect that will not be very often. Instead, I want to explore two other areas of my life and creativity; my original fiction, and my interest in music. I’ll start with the music, and get to the fiction in a future blog post. Hopefully, my dear readers, you will find something of interest.

Graphic of a digital sound on black bottomFirst of all, if you don’t already know, I have a music degree. The easiest way to explain my degree is to say I have a BFA in Vocal Performance. I have always been interested in music. My parents made me join the children’s choir at my “growin’-up” church when I was very young. I think I was only five or six. I kept singing all through primary and secondary school, and took formal voice lessons for five years in college. Since college I haven’t sung very much in a formal setting, but my interest in music has only grown. It’s safe to say I can enjoy most music. My tastes run from ancient and classical music through folk music, experimental, jazz and blues, rock and roll and up to the modern day. I like almost everything.

Over these long years, I’ve noticed something interesting about how I consume music. I tend to get obsessed with one style or, often, even just one specific group or song. I listen to that music to the exclusion of any other for a few days, perhaps a few weeks, and then it changes. I’ll find another group I love, consume them, and so forth. I usually have no idea where my tastes are going, but in hindsight I can usually tell you how I got there.

In addition to this interest in listening to music, I am also very aware of the history of music. In college there was a period when I seriously considered becoming a music historian. I tend to remember details and facts, and how one artist may have touched or influenced another. I find that interplay, the evolving web of music creation and performance, endlessly fascinating.

piano-picture-image-hd-desktop-351867Finally, I have very strong emotions regarding music. Since I’ve always been hearing music, I can often hear a song and tell you where I was when I first heard it, or how it made me feel. Music is often more than just sound. It’s an event, an experience, a time in my life that is now gone. It is all of those things and more.

So, here’s what I plan on doing. I’ve created a new Category for my blog: Music Is Manna. I am going to write blogs every week or so about music, about what I’m listening to, why it matters musically, and how it makes me feel. All of these will be under the Music Is Manna heading, so you can follow them more easily there. Also, I will be including many clickable links, like this one, to make it easier for you to hear what I’m hearing. Some of the music will be familiar to you, and some of it, hopefully, will be new to you.

Music is so powerful. Yes, we’ve all heard that before; it’s a cliche now, really. But it’s true, and I want to share that experience with the world. I’d love to hear your experiences in return. Music, to me, is manna. It is a form of food I cannot do without. It sustains me and lifts me up when I’m depressed. Just ask my wife. It permeates every aspect of my life.

Music 1And music, like manna, comes from above.

The ‘Good ‘Ol Boys’ of Gaming

4042346573_45b74490d6_oWhen I was a kid in the 70’s and 80’s, I was told directly we’d have flying cars and pick-your-features babies by “the distant future of 2000”. What I wasn’t told directly, but what was strongly implied, was that we would not have racism and sexism. Now, I’ve been trying to live for years with my non-flying car, and my children were not programmed into the computer and picked up at the BabyStore. Funny thing: I can live with both of those.

What I cannot live with is racism and sexism, and yet here it is. I was rudely reminded of that today when I heard that Anita Sarkeesian, who is an advocate for a healthier representation of women in the video game industry, withdrew from a live speaking engagement because gamers threatened to murder her and commit a school massacre!

I’m sorry for putting that in bold and italics, but I am horrified today to say I am, and always have been, a gamer. I feel like that is an embarrassing title, one that I should neglect to mention in polite society because it’s become odious. And I thought we gamers had gotten past all that when we learned what showers and toothbrushes were.

Apparently not.

In an article published on the New York Times website, the details were laid out. You can read it here.

It’s now become apparent that, in spite of a generally egalitarian approach to the world held personally by many gamer-guys, there is a small but vocal – and apparently violent – male segment of the gaming community that thinks women ‘gittin all uppity’ and ‘actin’ like they’s got raits’ exists.

I don’t even know how to process this, because I am disgusted.

People, if you are a gamer and you feel this way, get therapy! If you know someone who is a gamer, especially a young man, please talk with them. The very industry you love needs females to join the ranks: Gaming isn’t a Gentleman’s Club. Women have every right to expect an industry that portrays them respectfully. After all, who really thinks that this is OK?avengers pose

And if you do, you really need to examine your priorities, because you’re a Good ‘Ol Boy in the very worst possible sense.

Rant Ends!

Brothers

The Hoffman's, about 1985

The Hoffman’s, about 1985

I am the middle of three brothers. We have never been close. The family we grew up in, our parent’s dysfunctions, our age differences (we span nine years and I’m right in the middle), our own personal issues – all of these have led us to misunderstand each other. They misunderstand me, and I surely misunderstand them.

I have sent both of my brothers to the hospital in the past. My older brother was when I was just a few years old by hitting him in the face with a snow shovel (in summer, no less), and my younger brother was when we were young men during a scuffle. I promise they were both accidents; I didn’t mean to hurt them.

I have tried very hard in my life to avoid hurting anyone. My need to avoid hurting people borders on the pathological. I have a long list of failed attempts – many of them girlfriends – which are a testament to my social awkwardness. To this day I feel guilt and remorse for the way I treated several people. In my heart, I rarely have malicious thoughts. It just isn’t in my nature to want to harm others.

This doesn’t mean I’m perfect. If you wrong me, I hold it inside and let it fester until it makes me sick. So basically, if you harm me, I’ll punish you by harming myself even worse. I know, it doesn’t make any sense. Try living in here.

I also have a habit of coming across to people as arrogant or conceited. We’ll talk more about that in a moment, but trust me when I say I never feel arrogant or conceited. Usually I feel weak and confused, or inept and graceless. Never arrogant. I just come across that way. Call it my personal superpower.

I might have a condition known as Asperger’s Syndrome which makes it hard for me to understand other people’s feelings and emotions. It’s never been diagnosed in me, but my son has it, and it’s often hereditary. Asperger’s kids also often have issues with gross motor control, making them physically clumsy. This condition also makes it hard to read and respond properly to social situations. I might sound arrogant because I’ve read a situation wrong, and I’ve responded inappropriately. But there could be another cause. Please indulge me while I tell you a story.

When I was an infant, my mother noticed something wrong with my eyes. After being examined by an eye doctor, I was diagnosed with Strabismus, a disorder where the eyes fail to line up. In my case, my left eye was fine, but my right eye would turn outward. Sometimes this is called ‘walleye’. The doctors tried to correct the problem but, for a variety of reasons, their efforts failed. When I was 16 years old I had this condition surgically corrected, leaving me legally blind in that eye, but fairly normal looking.

So going into elementary school I was physically awkward, socially crippled and visually different from the other students. Oh, and I was a scrawny runt.

boy-child-being-bullied-by-two-other-boysThings went OK until about fourth grade. That’s when many of my classmates seemed to notice I was different from them. Between fourth grade and 11th grade, I was heavily bullied. I know some kids have had it worse, and this isn’t meant to be a pity party for me, but bad things happened. I was pushed down stairs, had my fingers slammed in lockers, was poked and stabbed with pens and pins and forks. I had my lunch knocked to the cafeteria floor several times, and I was openly mocked and laughed at in the halls and the classes. I was called every name you can think of. I was ‘pantsed’ (had my pants pulled down) in front of a group of cheerleaders. It was ugly.

If you can imagine for a moment what that was like, you can understand that I had, and still have, serious self-esteem issues. I felt there was nothing I had to offer the world, and nobody wanted me in the world with them. Three different principals at three different schools told me I needed to “just stand up to the bullies”. This was the late 1970’s and 1980’s: There were no anti-bullying campaigns. In fact, several of my teachers encouraged the bullying. My gym teacher told a bunch of the boys that he didn’t care if they picked on “faggots like Hoffman.”

I only had one asset, one thing that I could trust and rely on. I’m fairly smart. You might be thinking that’s a good thing. The poor, bullied kid had something he could be proud of. In a sense that’s true, because it was what eventually helped me to compensate for all my other issues. But it had a downside as well.

You see, the bitter irony here is that the only thing which made me special is the one thing that has alienated me from my brothers. Please read that again, so you understand where I’m going here.

And let me be crystal clear as well: My brothers are smart, too. I am not insulting them in any way. But they had other gifts they could rely on, so they didn’t need to rely on their raw intellect to get by in life. They had a toolbox with many tools in it. They are clever as I said, but also both are good with their hands. And they have a grasp of the world at a physical, practical level that blows my mind. They can fix things.

Me, I had one tool. That was it. I had to use my brains or get outta Dodge, and since I’m not the suicidal type, I went to college. Now I write, and I think I do a fair job of it.

But I feel to this day that neither of my brothers really appreciates my college success, or values the stupidly large and mostly useless database of facts and concepts I can draw on. I suspect they believe that when I spout facts and opinions I’m lording over them. That somehow I’m acting ‘uppity’ or superior in some way.

I am not. I never, ever have. I am a 13 year old boy crying in the bathroom, hoping nobody hears me so I don’t get beat up again. I am an 11 year old hiding my face because the teacher dumped my desk onto the floor just to embarrass me. I am a 12 year old boy begging my mother please, please not to make me go to school anymore. I am still that boy inside. I will always be that boy.

misc 00003

My older brother with my father near the end of my father’s battle with cancer

Recently I wrote a story about a painful period in my life, the death of my father, and my brothers were hurt by it. I thought they would understand what I wrote about our father, and my experiences dealing with his death, one way, and they saw it another way. But it was never meant to be hurtful. I was having a reflective moment, and wanted to write down some thoughts and feelings about my father, and about my personal loss.

I am hoping my younger brother will understand this. My older brother and his wife, well, I am afraid too much damage has been done. But I have to try, as awkward and clumsy as my attempts may be. I need to say for the record, and publicly, that I am sorry for hurting them. But I must also ask them to understand this might happen again. I need to write what’s inside of me and sometimes that will involve powerful, volatile, dangerous feelings. That’s what writers do, and that’s how I need to heal.

But how can I write honestly about the world around me if I am not allowed to call it as I see it? My brothers may not have been the way I portrayed them in that story, but am I wrong for writing how I felt, how I experienced them? In this politically correct world of ours, are my feelings really invalidated because they might be hurtful to someone else?

I am very sorry to have caused anger and pain in my brothers, but the story is my story, not theirs, and I stick by my experiences. There is a very fine line between a true story, and a story written about a true experience. I am  not a journalist and I am not a historian. I am a writer, and I draw on my life for experiences. What I wrote was true, from my point of view. That it was hurtful, or had factual errors, was an unintended and unforeseen consequence, and for that I truly am sorry. But I must write what is true for me, and pray that they can understand.

My name is Matt, and I am a writer. Please forgive me for that awkward, difficult truth.

Giving Thanks

My latest article on The Good Men Project was just published today. Please read it here. When you’ve read it, please “like” it and share it with others. I’d also love to get your thoughts, so please comment!

This is what I am thankful for today. After more than a year working on my writing, I am finally starting to reach a wider audience. All I want to do as a writer is to reach others, share thoughts with them, and learn all I can. This world amazes me, and I’m curious what will come next. Aren’t you?

Thank you for taking a few steps on this journey with me.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Good Men Project

I’d like to invite you to read my first published article on The Good Men Project. It’s about having purpose as a man in this modern world of ours.
Please take a moment to read it, and comment. Then please “like” the article, and share it with others! It would mean a great deal to me and my family if you did, and would help in my quest to become a published author.
I am filled with stories I want to share with the world. This is an important step on that road to Respectable Author-hood.
Cheers!
Technospiritualist

Bang, Bang

reading-shootingTwo men died in my city of Reading, PA on Monday, November 4th. They were shot to death by a citizen after they robbed a convenience store. To quote a local gun merchant, “He who lives by the sword shall perish by it,” a paraphrasing of Matthew 26:52 from the Bible.

I’ve been thinking about this tragic incident often in the past two days, and to my mind it is a perfect summary of the gun control debate that has raged in America for decades.

There are those here in the US who think anybody should be able to buy a gun with little restriction, arguing that by owning guns, one is safer.

The flip-side of the debate runs that if guns were heavily restricted, there would be fewer of them, and thus fewer deaths.

There is data to support both sides of the debate to some extent, and it’s very difficult to know which side has any advantage in the court of public opinion. The Gun Rights people, however, certainly have some political clout. They have the 2nd amendment of the US constitution to lean on for starters. They also have 230+ years of history and precedent to back them up. And they have the NRA, the National Rifle Association, which is one of the most politically robust lobby groups in this country.

The Gun Control groups, however, have some strength of their own, with growing demographic and study data showing that an increase in guns (legal or otherwise) in an area increases the amount of gun-related deaths. This is especially true in homes, with many studies showing more gun deaths of children in homes with guns.

And that brings me back to the two men who lay dead on the sidewalk on Monday.

Those who support Gun Rights will argue this is a perfect example of why gun ownership makes our streets safer. The man who killed the robbers – andgun-control there is no question they were criminals since several witnesses can verify they had just held up the store – was a concerned citizen and a friend of the store owner. He had approached the store, witnessed the robbery, and waited until the robbers exited the building. Indications are he challenged the two young men, who then drew guns on him. He, a licensed gun owner with a permit to carry a firearm, then pulled his own weapon and shot both men dead. The Berks County District Attorney, John Adams, has affirmed that he will not press charges against the shooter since he acted within the law. This, the gun lobby will argue, is exactly their point in preventing heavy restrictions on gun ownership, and it is a very strong argument.

gun death statsThe inverse argument by supporters of Gun Control would run something like this: Three guns were involved and two men killed. How many men would have been killed if there were zero guns at the scene? It is unknown at this time whether the guns the robbers pulled were legally owned or not, but all bets are that they were unregistered or otherwise illegal. If gun sales were strictly controlled, there would be fewer guns available for criminals to use, so logically less gun violence and less need for citizens to walk around armed. This also is a strong argument. Both sides have valid points.

So where does that leave us? Two men are dead, and that can’t be changed. They were both young, 18 and 24 respectively, and who knows what they might have accomplished in the years to come. But even their family members have admitted they were headed down a dark path. They were moving the direction of so many other young men trapped in decaying urban environments. Perhaps they were dealing or using drugs. Perhaps they just wanted fast cash. It may never be known, and it’s not truly important right now. They are both dead.

There is little doubt that other young men who might be considering robbing a store here in Reading will think twice about it, at least for a little while. If I were a local shopkeeper, I would breathe easy for a few weeks.

But the bottom line is this: Nothing will change because of this violent exchange. The underlying conditions that cause so many of our young people to resort to crime aren’t going away anytime soon. There is no political will to fix our broken system, and we are awash in guns, both legal and illegal. Unless we reduce the number of guns on the street and/or reduce the conditions that drive crime, this situation will stay the same and more young men will die.kids-and-guns-80793284813_xlarge

When will America choose to put her house in order, however that may look? How many of our young people need to die before we will act as a country unified and fix our problems? How long before we shout with one voice, “Enough!”