Sunday, June 26, 2011

Open Call

I'm hopping in the car with my father-in-law and my dog tomorrow morning to begin the trek north. We'll be in Minneapolis by Thursday night. We're in Minny Friday, and then it's back in the car Saturday, destination Eagle Harbor, Michigan. We spend most of July in the Upper Peninsula, and wifi is hard to come by, so my posts will be sporadic at best for a while.

I've seen other blogs do the guest post thing, and if anyone is interested, that would be cool. I'd love to have some guest posts for the next few weeks. I'm open to just about anything. Maybe you have an old post you want to recycle, maybe you have a great top five list for a Fast Five Friday, maybe you have some new material you want to try out. I'm open. If you're interested, I think you can just send me a post in email and I'll take care of the rest on my end. I probably won't get to any posts until this Friday at the earliest. If I have any takers, I'll try to schedule the posts before leaving Minneapolis to run while I'm off the grid.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Fast Five Friday: Teardrops On The City Edition

The music world suffered a great loss last week. Clarence Clemons, the sax player for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, passed away at the age of 69.

The Boss and The Big Man, a musical combination like no other. It's hard to explain how much I love the E Street Band. Born in the USA was the first gift I ever bought for my dad with my own money. He wasn't a huge fan, but I'd heard him say he liked Springsteen, so I was excited that we might finally have some music in common. I remember driving around Green Bay late at night with my friend Mike, driving our own Backstreets, listening to Springsteen on his boom box. I finally got to see Bruce and Clarence on their last tour. I've seen a lot of great shows in my time, but let me tell ya, the old guys put on the best show I've ever seen. I play a lot of Springsteen for my girls. It's important to me that they know the music. They may never love it like their old man does, but I want them to know it and appreciate it.

Clarence was a huge part of the E Street sound, the underlying pulse of the music, his solos turning good songs into great ones and great songs into classics. I've been listening to a lot of E Street this week, and here are the five songs where Clarence was at his very best. 

5) Secret Garden:  This song was featured in Jerry Maguire, one of my favorite movies. It's a mellow song, and Clarence brings it home in style.

4) Thunder Road: This is classic E Street. Clarence takes center stage around the 4 minute mark.

3) Bobby Jean: This is one of my favorite songs on Born in the USA. The Big Man's solo near the end perfectly captures the melancholy of this song.

2) Born to Run: Probably the most beloved Springsteen song, and with good reason. I love this video. The crowd in Barcelona is so passionate. That's what I remember about the show I saw, the passion of the crowd, people singing the whole time.

1) Jungleland: This may be the best sax solo in rock n' roll history. It's a long song, with Clarence coming in around the 4 minute mark. The solo itself is quite long, about 3 minutes, and it gets me every time.

If you're an E Street fan, feel free to share some other favorites in the comments. RIP Big Man.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Favorite Book Challenge Blogfest

I'd forgotten that I signed up for this Blogfest a while back. Time to make good.

This Blogfest is the brainchild of Teralyn Rose Pilgrim. For a full list of all the participants, check out her blog, A Writer's Journey. Here's the skinny:

*Pick your top five favorite books
*Between Jun 20 and 22, write one line of what each book is about and then write one line of why you liked it. Think of it like a twitter pitch for other people’s work. Semi-colons are cheating, but you can use them anyway.
*Go to other blogs and discuss the books.
*If you do not keep a blog, put your challenge in the comments on the day of the event.

I'm always game for a top five list. If you're a new reader, come back and check out my Fast Five Fridays. The Twitter pitch idea caught my attention, so let me see if I can pull that off.

5) Geek Love, Katherine Dunn: The owners of a traveling circus alter the genes of their children, breeding the ultimate money-making freak show.

The premise is outrageous on the surface, but it is spot-on satire if you look a little deeper.

4) The Book Thief, Markus Zusak: A young girl learns the power of the written word in Nazi Germany.

Zusak's language is unique and frequently profound, and the story is disarmingly beautiful.

3) The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger: Teen angst at it's very best.

There's nothing phony about Holden Caulfield.

2) The Road, Cormac McCarthy: A father and son struggle to survive a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Parents guide their kids down the road, but one day they must walk alone.

1) To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee: A young girl comes of age in the Depression-era South.

Scout and Atticus are two of the most memorable characters in literature.

You don't have to do a full five, but how about a Twitter synopsis for at least one of your favorites, and another Tweet explaining what you love about it.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Life's Rich Pageant

Happy Father's Day to all the Dads out there. If you're a Dad and you love the E Street Band, make sure you play some for your kids today. RIP Big Man.

This is the first Father's Day without my dad. I know it's trite to say things are bittersweet, but man, that word just works, why resist using it. Today is a bittersweet day. I love celebrating Father's Day with my girls, but it's hard not to miss my dad. Sorry for being so personal, but the blog is that kind of outlet for me. I want to share a story about my dad, a story that I shared at his memorial service in January.

My dad wasn't a big talker, but he taught me a lot of things through example. One of the best lessons my dad ever taught me was on the golf course, and I think it's a perfect example of what a great Father he was.

My dad was in a league one year, I think I was 11 or 12. One of his teammates couldn't make it, so my dad asked me if I wanted to fill in. I wasn't sure at first, but my dad assured me my game was up to it. My dad knew my game well, so I agreed. I even started to think I might actually be an upgrade for his team.

Golf is a uniquely humbling endeavor, and to say I didn't play well that day would be an understatement. It was bad from the get-go, one terrible shot after another. It was like I'd never picked up a club in my life. With each shot I became more and more frustrated. I was really holding things up, and I kept expecting my dad to tell me to pick up my ball, put me out of my misery. Instead he encouraged me through every shot. There was no talk of quitting, only of moving forward and doing my best on each and every shot. When it was finally over I'd shot a 99 - for nine holes. I felt like I'd let my dad down, but he told me everybody has bad days, you have to leave this one behind and do better the next time. It's one small moment, one shared over hot dogs in the clubhouse, but that lesson stuck with me, and not just on the golf course.

There were a lot of little moments like this with my dad: sitting in boats waiting for fish to bite, standing around tee boxes and greens, during commercials while we watched football. You had to be on your toes with my dad, you never knew when he might slip in some wisdom. You put all these little moments together and my dad taught me how to be a man. His memory will help me be the best man I can be.

I miss you Dad. Happy Father's Day.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Fast Five Friday

This week's Fast Five was inspired by LeBron James. I thoroughly enjoyed watching LeBron and the Miami Heat lose in the NBA Finals. As if that wasn't fun enough, LeBron proceeded to put his foot in his mouth in the post game press conference, reminding all the haters that their lives are still pathetic and his life is still outrageously awesome. I consider myself one of those haters, and while LeBron almost certainly has a point, I loved being a hater this year. In fact, I loved it so much, I'm going to keep right on hating LeBron and the Heat next year.

LeBron got me thinking. He's not the only famous person I love to hate. Before I continue, please let me explain. Hate is a strong word. I don't really hate anyone. When I say I hate someone, what I mean is that I really, really, really, really, really don't like them. Now that we have that out of the way, let me present five people who I love to hate.

5) LeBron James: You have to have villains in sports, and LeBron is a great one. The only problem is, LeBron thinks he's a hero. The guy doesn't understand his role. Who knows, if LeBron accepts being the villain, I may actually start liking the guy.

4) Donald Trump: I'm not going to lie. I watched the first couple seasons of The Apprentice. I found Trump's schtick mildly amusing, the whole "You're fired" thing. I grew tired of the constant self-promotion, and now I can't stand the guy. He took things to another level with all that birther nonsense.

3) Snooki: As far as I can tell, Snooki has no discernible talent, other than getting drunk and making a fool of herself. I guess that's all it takes to be famous these days. To quote the maitre d' in Ferris Bueller, "I weep for the future."

2) Sarah Palin: I truly hope we have a female President in my lifetime. I'll be seriously disappointed if it's Palin. She's one of these politicians who feels the need to define what it means to be a "real" American. Somehow I don't think I'd pass her test.

1) Ryan Seacrest: Is it ironic that a guy with no talent hosts a popular talent show? In all fairness, I may hate Seacrest so much because I can't stand American Idol. The best thing about Seacrest is that Kathy Griffin makes fun of him all the time.

Let me know what you think of my choices. Agree? Disagree? Who do you love to hate?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Inspiring Words

I don't know about you, but I have a hard time remembering where I hear or see things these days. Was it on the news? Did I see it on Twitter? Did I read it on someone's blog. Hell, did an actual person tell me something in an actual conversation? So many different sources of information, they all seem to blend together after a while. 

Someone, somewhere, wrote or said something about Toni Morrison's commencement address at Rutgers University. I remember being interested at the time, I've always been a big Toni Morrison fan. I saw hear speak when I was a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin. She spoke at the basketball stadium, and with all due respect to the Badger b ballers of my day, it was probably the best thing to happen in that building during my time in Madison. I made a mental note to look into it further when I had more time.

While I was looking for video of the speech, I came across this excerpt:

I have often wished that Jefferson had not used that phrase “the pursuit of happiness” as the third right — although I understand in the first draft it was “life, liberty and the pursuit of property.” Of course, I would have been one of those properties one had the right to pursue, so I suppose happiness is an ethical improvement over a life devoted to the acquisition of land, acquisition of resources, acquisition of slaves. Still, I would rather he had written “life, liberty and the pursuit of meaningfulness” or “integrity” or “truth.” I know that happiness has been the real, if covert, goal of your labors here. I know that it informs your choice of companions, the profession you will enter. But I urge you, please don’t settle for happiness. It’s not good enough. Personal success devoid of meaningfulness, free of a steady commitment to social justice, that’s more than a barren life; it is a trivial one. It’s looking good instead of doing good.

I wonder if the kids at Rutgers were inspired by these words. I know I was.    

Monday, June 13, 2011

Thoughts on Dirk and LeBron

I wouldn't say I was a big LeBron James fan when he played for Cleveland, but I was trending that way. The man is a freak of nature, a truly awesome combination of size, speed, and strength. As a basketball fan, it's impossible not to admire his game. Cleveland sports fans haven't had much to cheer about through the years, and I would have been happy to see LeBron and the Cavs bring a championship to the city.

As a fan of a small market sports team, I was irked by the way Lebron left Cleveland. Then LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh had their little dance party before the season, talking about 5, 6, 7 championships, like the first one was a mere formality. It was just too much. For the sake of all that is good in sports, LeBron and the Big Three had to be denied.

Nobody expected the Dallas Mavericks to be the team to deny LeBron and the Heat. I'm no Mavs fan, but I badly wanted them to win. I cheered for Dirk and the Mavs with a surprising intensity. Dirk is the anti-LeBron. He could have bailed on his teammates the way LeBron did, joined a team with a better chance of winning. Instead, he stayed with a team that supported him and put in the work needed to become a champion. Who knows, LeBron may wind up winning more titles than Dirk. If I had to bet, I'd say he will. No matter how many titles LeBron wins, his success will pale in comparison to what Dirk accomplished this year.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Fast Five Friday

Sometimes in life, a piece of art can be so bad, it transcends the boundaries of all rational taste to win over even the most jaded of hearts. One of those times happened this week for the Riley family.

Like their parents, my daughters are big movie fans. They're very interested in older movies, so my plan this summer is to show them a bunch of movies from that golden era of film, the 80s. I searched Netflix for something I could stream, but the girls had seen most of the movies available. One movie did catch their eye though, Mac and Me. I had never seen M & M, but I did remember hearing it was outrageously bad. I was intrigued.

Mac and Me is the touching story of a young boy befriending an alien. Did I mention this movie came out after E.T.? I'm pretty used to product placement in movies nowadays, but man, I've never seen a movie with so much blatant advertising. It's like the advertising arms of McDonald's and Coke decided to make a movie. I could probably go on and on, but simply put, Mac and Me is quite possibly the worst movie ever made.

Here's the thing. I loved it.

My daughters were initially confused. How could I love a movie that I thought was one of the worst movies ever made? It is indeed complicated. With time, I know they will come to understand the beauty of a movie that is so bad, it's awesome.

Hollywood has given us any number of bad movies over the years. Not all of these bad movies are able to break the barrier of good taste to become classics. Today I present five films that are so bad, they just might be brilliant.

5) Weekend at Bernie'sYou have to love a movie where everyone is too dumb to notice a couple of guys lugging a dead body around. Don't even get me started on Andrew McCarthy.

4) Howard the DuckThis movie was thoroughly trashed when it came out in 1986. Of course, on the heels of Back to the Future, Lea Thompson could do no wrong in my eyes.

3) BreakinThis movie capitalized on the burgeoning breakdancing craze. I couldn't dance to save my life, but a buddy of mine could do a passable moonwalk. I still have fond memories of riding our bikes downtown to see this one multiple times.

2) Mac and Me: I think I've said enough.

1) RoadhouseThis is the awesomely bad movie by which all others are judged. To this day, if I come across Roadhouse on TV, and it happens quite a bit, I can't turn the channel.

Please feel free to comment on any of these fine films. For all of you who love truly bad movies, make sure you tell us what they are so we can watch them too.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Technology Is Messing With My Brain

I almost had a meltdown in the Scottsdale Hilton this past weekend. Not long after we had settled into our room, I called guest services to get the password for Wi-Fi access. I was on hold for way too long, but that's another rant altogether. I finally got the info and successfully logged on. That's when things went sideways. Not since the days of dial-up had I waited so long to reach my desired web destinations. My connection was slower than one of my middle school students going to their next class. I thought I was going to lose my mind.

The thing is, this wasn't the first time I've lost my patience with technology. In fact, it seems to happen quite frequently. My computer at work acts up so much, I'm afraid I might fling it across the room one day during class.

"What happened at school today honey?"
"Well, Mr. Riley threw his computer out the window because he couldn't get YouTube to play this cool double rainbow video he wanted to show us."

It's not just that I'm reliant on technology, that almost goes without saying nowadays. Technology is so fast now, I expect instantaneous results. I want my computer to give me a list of every single document mentioning Anthony Weiner's penis, and if it takes longer than the blink of an eye, someone's head needs to roll.

I wasn't always like this. Hell, I didn't even use a computer until I was 18 years old. In the last 5-10 years I've noticed a change. The exponential increase in technological speed seems to directly correlate with my decreasing level of patience with said technology. Sometimes I feel like we may be living through a permanent evolutionary change that is wiping out the human brain's ability to wait. Or maybe it's just me.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Fast Five Friday

My last post was about gender bias in reading. I was responding to a list put out by Esquire, 75 Books Every Guy Should Read. The list included one woman, which is utterly absurd.

Even more absurd were the recent comments by VS Naipaul. In an interview with the Royal Geographic Society, Mr. Naipual said there are no women writers who he considers his equal. Apparently female authors are too sentimental for Mr. Naipaul. In fact, Ol' VS insists he can tell if a book was written by a man or a woman in the first one or two paragraphs. Try this little quiz and see if you can too. Full disclosure, I took it this morning and got 5 out of 10.

All this talk of gender and reading this week got me thinking about my favorite books. I admit that many of my favorite books are written by men. Let those of us free of bias throw the first stone. I have read many great books written by women, and I will continue to search out female authors. I am, after all, a work in progress. It seems fitting that this week's Fast Five be my top five books written by women.

5) Case Histories by Kate Atkinson: This is a literary detective novel. The detective, Jackson Brodie, deals with his own family troubles as he investigates three gruesome crimes that ripped families apart.

4) Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison: We follow the protagonist, Milkman, on his journey to find his identity as a black man in 20th-century America. As the title of the book implies, Morrison's writing is truly lyrical.

3) The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri: Immigration is a central theme of this book. A Bengali couple moves to the US, and the story focuses on the religious, social, and ideological conflicts that arise between the parents and their son.

2) Geek Love by Katherine Dunn: This book is twisted, and I mean that in the best way possible. Al and Crystal run a traveling circus. When business goes bad they start breeding their own freak show. As social commentary, this book feels more relevant to me now than it did the first time I read it.

1) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: This isn't just my favorite book written by a woman, this is my favorite book, period.

Alright people, let's hear it. What are favorite books written by women? Doesn't have to be a full top five, could be just your favorite, whatever works for you. If you happen to take the quiz, I'd also love know how you did.