Keep Trying No Matter What


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I write a lot. Blogs, Kindle Books, things that I shoot out onto the worldwide web and then…nothing much happens. So I do it again. And again. Two or three people notice. Every month I sell two or three books. I’m actually losing money at it, because I’m using Amazon ads to boost sales. So far my book Retire Cheaply and Finally Relax has been seen 140,000 times, resulting in three sales. Hmm. I spent $35 to earn $9. Not much future in that.

 

But I will not give up. I will continue to promote these books and blogs because…what else am I gonna do? I’m retired, living on the other side of the world. Last time I checked, I was unemployable. In the years before my last attempt at holding a teaching job, I kept proving and reproving that fact.

 

I’m good at hanging out and doing what I want to do, which isn’t much. Today I accomplished shockingly little. I met with friends and swam a kilometer at my swimming pool. I took a nap. I wrote a couple of blog entries and painted a very small picture. I took a short walk. I spent far too much time scrolling through Facebook, posting funny pictures which I copied from other people’s posts.

 

No, I can’t do any less. If I had some inspiration to try something else, I might be able to do more, but first I’d have to have some guidance as to what that might be. You can’t just do more of the same things you’re already not succeeding at. Well, you can, but that would be obsession. Compulsion. Insanity.

 

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Facebook Exile


Time Out for Naughty Posts

 

 

I tried to post two vintage 1920’s pictures of naked women on Facebook and was blocked from using that service for three days for violating their “Community Agreements.” A computer ratted me out, recognizing nipples. In my three day fast, I’ve been prohibited from sharing likes, posting new items, or sharing the posts of others. I feel like a citizens band radio addict who’s had his microphone impounded.

I wish I could say my time-out has fostered a mini-renaissance in writing and reading, but it hasn’t. I guess this proves that what’s left of my attention span is permanently fractured, reduced to fragile shards that cannot be swept up and reassembled. There’s nobody home anymore.

My menagerie of funny photos cries out from my desktop folder, demanding to be shared with the hypothetical thousands of “friends” I have. Since I post too much every day, no one has noticed my absence. This is what it will be like when I finally die. My Facebook feed won’t feel any different to most users, my blog subscribers will simply no longer receive emails about new posts, and it may take several years until anyone notices that I’m no longer at the helm. Pictures I’ve unearthed of silent era starlets and corny 1950’s ads will be discovered long after my ashes have been absorbed by the nearest palm tree here in sunny Thailand.

 

 

Boring Blogs


 

 

 

I just discovered an old American who also lives in Thailand who writes a blog. So do I. He’s an even better writer than me, his output is voluminous, and he illustrates it with many good photographs, just as I do. He’s nine years older than I am and has had a varied and interesting life, just like me. I tried to read his blog and became overwhelmed by the sheer mass of it. His entries are thousands of words long. He’s been writing this blog for twelve years! It’s as thick and dense as War and Peace!

No, even I who have so much in common with my blogster elder brother couldn’t scratch the surface of his retirement output. I’m afraid I too have become a tiresome old fart. I’m the garrulous grandpa you meet at a family barbecue or social event and eventually make an excuse to distance yourself from because he won’t stop talking.

Most blogs I try to read are written by young people, twenty and thirtysomethings who are usually drifting around the planet on their parents’ dime, writing about their travels. I can’t read their blogs, either. The points they make are obvious and sophomoric.

Young people also write a lot of “lifestyle” blogs where they opine about the rules of success or building good “relationships.” When I read that last word, I know it’s time to move on.

When I hear the word “relationship” I brace myself for “couples counseling,” and “intimacy.”

What have we become? Tiresome boors who can’t even enjoy the leisure and privilege we grew into, surrounded by billions of people who have to defecate outside and carry water and firewood back to their hovel.

We peck away at our laptops with great purpose and then divert ourselves by watching Netflix.

Save Your Nostalgia


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There’s a Facebook meme out there about Walter Cronkite, reminding people that there used to be programs on TV where a grandfatherly character (white, non-Jewish) read news you could believe in. This is nostalgia for a time when roles were clearly defined. Yes, Walter was a professional journalist. He was paid a salary to do his job. He had a support staff.

Today we get the news from each other. It’s a vast rumor mill that shares and likes memes, photos, and fragments of text. There are a very few “content providers” who actually write their own material. Most of us simply share, copy and paste. Some link to legitimate news sources, but most of us would rather argue with each other than cough up a subscription to the Times.

Remember, the same people who gave us the Vietnam war and the Invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan were complicit with the networks. I never saw Walter Cronkite interview Noam Chomsky. It was a square world back then, and we brought democracy to the rest of the world one bomb and a time. We dropped so many bombs on Laos over ten years that it surpassed the total explosives used in World War II. It averaged out to one B-52 planeload of bombs every 8 minutes. I don’t remember CBS news reporting that when it was happening.

Today, even though I live on the other side of the globe, I subscribe to the New Yorker. They send me my magazines, albeit a week or two late. It’s a lot smaller than I remember it, as it’s continually shrunk over the fifty years I’ve subscribed. Now I have to use reading glasses and sometimes a magnifying glass to read the small type font. I have to use a bright reading lamp. Still, it takes me four hours to read an entire magazine. There’s real substance there. And no, it doesn’t make me want to return to the States.

These Foolish Things


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Martin Luther wrote this to a friend in 1530: “Whenever the devil harasses you thus, seek the company of men, or drink more, or joke and talk nonsense, or do some other merry thing. Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, aye, and even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences with trifles.”

 

As a boy on New Year’s Eve 1912, nine year-old Louis Armstrong snuck into his mother’s bedroom and borrowed a pistol from the pocket of one of her customers. His mother was a prostitute, his father had abandoned the family, and they lived in a rooming house in the Red Light district. Armstrong fired the gun at midnight to celebrate the New Year, but lucky for all of us a policeman happened to be standing nearby and arrested young Louis. A judge sent him to the Colored Waif’s Home. On the way there the driver said “Don’t look so sad, son. This is a good place. We have a band. What instrument would you like to play?” Armstrong’s eyes brightened. “The drums!” he said. “Well, we’ve already got plenty of drummers, but we need someone to play the bugle when we raise and lower the flag. You think that might interest you?”

 

Within a few years Louis Armstrong was playing trumpet in New Orleans brothels He was in the right place at the right time for it was there and then that Jazz pretty much took shape. He is certainly the person most responsible for its popularity across the globe. Bing Crosby, who was the most popular singer of the day said that he thought Armstrong was the best singer alive.

 

Billie Holiday sang like Armstrong played the trumpet. Jimi Hendrix said he wanted to play the guitar the way Little Richard used his voice.

 

In 1955 in New Orleans, Little Richard pretty much single-handedly invented Rock and Roll in much the same kind of way Armstrong had forty years earlier. His first big hit was a sanitized version of a dirty song he had been singing for years to entertain the kind of people he hung out with, prostitutes, drug dealers, and petty criminals.

 

Until he sang at a high school talent show, nobody at Hume High noticed Elvis. Before his appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, the Hillbilly Cat had been driving a truck. Elvis told interviewers that his singing idol was Dean Martin. Dino had obviously modeled much of his style on the crooning of Bing.

 

The real mystery is where did Bing come from?

 

Bing was not born in a brothel in New Orleans, but to an Irish working class family in Spokane, Washington. He was well-educated and briefly attended law school before deciding to drop out and become a musician. He played the drums pretty well, but his crooning and his intelligent use of the newly developed microphone was what set his apart from his peers.

 

Within a few months of arriving in Los Angeles he was the talk of the town. He easily transitioned from microphone to motion picture camera, and led the way for Sinatra and Presley to do the same. Even though modern day listeners think of him as a square, Bing thought of himself as a proto-hipster.

 

In retrospect, all these developments seem unlikely. Culture and new ideas leap in unpredictable spasms.Until Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, Bing Crosby’s Christmas album was the highest selling album in history. Quincy Jones produced Thriller and it turns out he and Ray Charles had been roommates in Seattle, after the blind pianist arrived after getting as far away from Florida as he could by Greyhound Bus.

 

Decca records rejected the Beatles, deciding they had little to offer. George Martin proved otherwise. Aretha Franklin really took off artistically when Jerry Wexler of Atlantic records understood and appreciated the real depth of her talent. Otis Redding was working as a chauffeur when he wrote and recorded “Respect.”  Two years later Aretha had the mega hit, but Otis did it proud, as well. Marvin Gaye was a session drummer at Motown in Detroit when one day he filled in for an absent singer.

 

There’s a line in the Bible, “God chooses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.”  Even if you don’t believe in God or the Bible, you’ve got to admit that the delightful surprises Fate unleashes as it twists and writhes its way through Space and Time give us cause for hope. Nobody has any idea of what’s really going on. We might as well expect to be pleasantly surprised.

 

NOTHING STOPPING ME


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the author thinking about nothing

It occurs to me that living in Chiang Mai, Thailand hasn’t really hampered my ability to be creatively productive. If I’m not writing or performing to the best of my ability, I can’t blame it on location. If I were hiding in a furnished room in Los Angeles, hunched over my laptop and drinking coffee from a paper cup (not Starbucks, too expensive) chances are my phone wouldn’t be ringing with offers from publishers, studios, or agents.

At the age of sixty-seven, I probably wouldn’t be going to parties a lot, either. The nightclub crowd would be unaware of my existence. Maybe I could pass myself off as Harry Dean Stanton’s younger brother, or Tommy Lee Jones’ cousin. A-list geezers.

 

 

THE DESIRE FOR CELEBRITY


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I taught for many years, mostly at the University level, but most recently I taught high school students in Paraguay. Since this was an English conversation class, I was attempting to get them to talk about anything, rather than to just listen to me talk at them. I asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up.

 

All of them said “famous.” Some wanted to be movie stars. I thought that odd, because in humble Paraguay we were far removed from Hollywood or any important cultural center.  When celebrity culture grew like a malignancy back in the eighties, I thought this would be temporary, but almost forty years later its spread to infect most of the organism. Maybe social media and smartphone use has something to do with it, but the desire to stand out from the crowd by becoming famous is now thought of as admirable. It’s a legitimate goal for anyone who can afford to take the plunge.

 

Wanting to be famous is the desire to be loved by strangers. Based on the values we ostensibly hold and attempt to teach our children, this seems an odd goal to set for oneself.

 

In Paraguay, almost no one I met had ever been anywhere else. The super-rich visited Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida, and then went shopping in fancy malls. Often fifteen-year old girls would go in a group, chaperoned by a rich aunt. I suppose it’s normal for teenagers to be impressed by celebrities, and to want to be more like them, but it seems from the perspective of this retired American as if the whole world has become a shallow teenager.

 

When I taught in Thailand, I was teaching classes in performance for broadcasting at the University level. The students there all hoped to become celebrities. Thailand doesn’t have much a movie industry, but they crank out lots of daytime dramas to air on television. Nobody pays them much mind. They don’t want to be Thai TV stars, they want to be International movie stars.

 

Even though their English language abilities were often minimal, many of my students were very cute. In Thailand, boys and girls both aspire to the same level of cuteness. Even though Hello Kitty was invented in Japan, it seems to have found a permanent home in Thailand, where cuteness at all costs is the national motto.

 

Cute and sexy aren’t the same thing. In fact, they’re almost opposites. If your path to being famous depends on being super-cute or super-sexy, you’re in trouble, because there are more people on that road than it can handle. Time is of the essence, and it’s always running out. Better get there at just the right time and don’t dawdle!

 

Maybe someday young people all over the world will snap out of it and decide that their goal is to be kind, to develop charity in whatever situation they find themselves, to learn diligence and patience, but most of all to see service towards others as a lofty goal all in itself. Screw being famous.

 

Maybe they will realize that the desire to be loved by strangers is an artifact of a sick culture based on voyeurism.