Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Art Of Noise

Donna and I went out and saw some live music with friends on Friday night. One of our favorite bands, Zach Petrini, an band that plays largely Americana, was playing at a new venue called the Ivy House in the Third Ward. It was a place we'd never been, so thought we'd check it out.

If you know me, you know I'm a music buff. I love live music because it is such an in-the-moment experience. Like theater, each show is an entirely different experience. If the band is having a good night and the crowd is into it, it can be almost a spiritual experience. (Speaking for myself personally.)

What I enjoy so much is picking out the different instruments as they play. Everyone has a critical role in the creation of it. If the bass player sucks, the whole thing sounds like crap. If the guitarist hits a couple of rough notes in a row, people cringe.

But if every member is in synchronicity, it can be downright stunning. Many of Petrini's songs have a distinct progression to them. They begin, with establishing a tempo, then have a pause in the middle and work into a frenzy near the end.
Photo credit: Jill Kenehan Krey

It is these moments when the band is fully extended, the drummer is hammering away, the bass is thrumming, the guitarist is ringing out, and the vocals are carrying the whole thing that I realize how much music is art. It is layered, textured, spontaneous and interpretive. When the audience is engaged it is a give and take thing. The whole room moves.

Years ago, I was in Milwaukee with a friend at a blues club on a Saturday night and we were listening to a band and the blues harpist (harmonica) player was just killing it. The whole band was smoking it up and it was just phenomenal. I've seen John Lee Hooker and the Coast to Coast Blues Band do the same thing at the Cabooze in St. Paul. They blew the doors off the place.

And all of it means both something and nothing. After all, some would say, it's only music. But I would argue that it fills me up. There's something about being a part of that moment. It's entertainment, sure, but like any art, it is part of the human experience and nourishes the soul. As I work to be more in the moment and deliberate, I appreciate these types of events.

Much of the quality of a show depends however on a good team at the mixing board too. The show on Friday had some serious mixing issues for the first half. At the beginning, you couldn't hear the lyrics. Then, the organ was too loud and in your face. Near the end, the drums were too prominent. It was like the sound guy was tone deaf. It made the first half of the show an exercise in frustration for the audience. Eventually they figured it out, but the issues took away from the overall experience.

Live music continues to be a way for me to appreciate those who have talents that I never profess to have. Like those who deal with graphic forms of art, I just don't get how they do it. It's nothing short of miraculous and beautiful to me.

So I aim to keep following the world of art and music, because it gives me an escape and hope at the same time.

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Hope Springs Eternal

It seems we are on the cusp of spring, for real this time. As with everyone else, this is a long awaited season of expectancy for me. The older I get, the more I need spring. This past winter was brutal, starting after one of the crappiest Novembers in a long time.

There are a few things that help ramp up the giddiness for the coming warmth.

  • Brewers Opening Day. I'm a fair weather baseball fan, but always appreciate the possibilities of opening day. Back when the Brewers played at County Stadium, I used to try and get to an opening day every once in a while. It was almost always a guarantee that it would be rainy, cold, or snowy for it, so the memories are of dressing warm, lots of beer, and more Brewer losses than wins. (They weren't very good in the late '80s.)
  • Kayaking Season. We sold our Santa Fe, SUV this past winter, so my kayak hauler of choice has become a minivan. Lord, help me. I rigged it with some roof racks that I got for a song on Amazon, so all we need now it ice-out.
  • Biking. I picked up my bike from Wheel and Sprocket today. I got it "tuned up" and had them put a new chain and sprocket on the back. Now, I'm old school. Back in the day I could get a tune up and the whole thing cost less than $60. This one cost me $179.00. The sticker shock of it just about knocked me over. I have a hard time paying that much for a CAR repair. What the heck? I guess it is just the new normal and I've got to get used to it.
  • Open Windows. In the car or in the house. I miss it and the fresh air gives me hope.
  • Walking Without Fear Of Falling. A friend pointed out that the ice this winter was the worst part. Worse than the snow, or the cold. I kind of have to agree. 
  • Fishing Season. This is probably the thing I miss the most. Alone in my kayak or together with a friend in his boat, fishing is my Zen. My friend has a new, bigger boat this year, so that's nice too. I'm not an ice fisherman, so this is my season. Unfortunately it has to wait until mid-may when the season opens.
So, it looks like we're going to make it. The last of the snow has melted in our yard and I even see green shoots around. I'm not sure, but maybe just maybe, spring is happening.

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Travelling Vicariously

Both of my kids just finished up trips to California. They are 23 and 20 years old and these trips were completely orchestrated by them. 

They planned them.

They paid for them.

They lived them.

Sarah was out visiting her boyfriend's parents in Sacramento and managed to take a side trip to San Diego and Los Angeles. Ben was out for Spring break and managed to stay at a friend's uncle's place in Oceanside. 

I'll admit it was weird knowing that they were both in the same state, over essentially the same period of time. It was also sort of comforting in a way, knowing that they were within a few hours drive of each other if anyone should have any issues.
It is well known that San Diego is maybe my favorite city in the US. So when Sarah mentioned she was going there, I wanted to tell her all the places to see. I might have mentioned a couple of things that I thought were important, but ultimately, these trips are up to them. She made it to the San Diego Zoo and saw the pandas. She also made it to Balboa Park for the cherry blossom festival, which was beautiful in its own right.

Ben made it to Oceanside and from there took an Uber to various locations nearby. Then, later in the week, he took the Greyhound, alone, to Los Angeles to visit a friend from high school. That little side trip almost put my wife into cardiac arrest. The thought of my son navigating the streets of L.A. on his own, makes me both proud and terrified. At least my daughter is with her boyfriend. ALONE! In LA!

Seriously though, it was great getting text messages from them about their travels and adventures as they were living them. We were able to relive part of our own youth as we read them.

If there is one take away from the week, it is this. 

Our kids figure it out.

I did it when I was 23 too. It was a trip that is the basis for my chapbook, On a Road.

We've raised them with a suitcase in their hand for the most part. We've driven and flown thousands of miles with them in an effort to show them there is a big wide world out there. 

They have come to an age where they are taking travel matters into their own hands. 

And while it makes us happy and proud, there will always be a level of concern and worry that goes along with it. 

I guess that's called being a parent. 

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Restoring Wetlands And My Faith In Humanity

Nothing like clomping through a muddy farm field in March to restore my faith in humanity and remind me how much I like my job. I did just that today as part of a "field trip" of sorts for me and a fellow GIS guy as we followed our friend around for most of the morning.

Alan works in our Land Conservation department and was scheduled to do some GPS data collection as part of his work with the Waukesha County Land Conservancy. Megan, the woman in charge of the project told us the land we were walking on was 57 acres of farm land that was being restored to a wetland.

These wetland restoration projects involve a lot of factors including removing existing drainage ditches, clearing invasive species, planting native plants, etc. Then once the wetland is restored, the wildlife follows.
A Drone Selfie (aka a Dronie!)

So while the main function was to "GPS some points" and learn about how that ties into the mapping, I was more interested in the overall project. It gives my heart great satisfaction knowing there are agencies like the WCLC and people like Megan and her intern Abbie, that are passionate about birds, groundwater, flora and wildlife that is supported by a sound wetland.

As we walked the property, I heard the loud calling of the cranes, saw a hawk circling overhead, saw many deer prints and even heard an owl. It was positively heavenly. Because I live in the city, these are sites and sounds I don't get to hear near enough. I often forget these places exist within 20 minutes of my home. I need to get out more.

GPSing a Well Head.
The other cool part of the day was my coworker flying our drone over the property and taking photos and video. The video will help show a "before" shot of the land from a bird's eye view. They are pretty cool devices and have created another way to collect spatial data at a low cost. The thing was noisy but fun to watch. It got some great footage which I've embedded here.

I can honestly say in 22 years of working at the County, I've only been "in the field" about three times. I realized today how important it is to get out once in a while and see the land I've mapped for 22 years. It is really great to see projects like I saw today and know that GIS plays a small part in helping projects happen.

And I'm still convinced I have the coolest job a guy can have.

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 17, 2019

My Alter Ego

In the ebb and flow of my "other full time job" as a writer/poet, there seems to be a lot going on in the world of poetry lately. As we approach April which is National Poetry Month, I thought I'd run down a little of what's happening.

  • I was asked to fill another year term as Poet Laureate for the Village of Wales. My term was initially scheduled to be up at the end of April. They claim to like my work and my initiatives and asked me if I'd be willing. Of course I agreed. Looking forward to another great year.
  • As part of year two I have a couple of new things I'd like to do to try and increase the awareness of poetry in the. My first thought would be to get the poetry I read at the board meetings every month onto the Village website. 
  • The other idea involves installing "free poetry" dispensers at area coffee shops, bookstores, libraries and other meeting spaces. I heard about the idea being started in Duluth and thought it would be cool at the local level here. See more here

  • I will be the featured poet along with Jane McCarty Osypowski at Suzy's Steak and Seafood restaurant in Portage as part of their Poetry in Portage series. This is a great way to increase my reach and get some good exposure. Looking forward to hearing Jane's work as well.
  • Last night I attended a poetry collection for a friend and colleague, Cristina Norcross. Her book Beauty in The Broken Places has some great work on her struggles during a tough time of her life. (On a side note, it was released by Kelsay Books, the same press that my book will be published on.) She is one of many that I look up to as someone who does a lot for the craft. She is editor of Blue Heron Review online magazine as well as an accomplished poet with multiple books. I always enjoy supporting other writers and poets, because I know how great that feeling is.
  • The contract for, Thoughts From A Line At The DMV, is all signed and sent off to the publisher. I am going through the manuscript to make sure it is in good order. I Still don't have a release date, but will post it when I know it. I hope to showcase a sneak peek at a few up in Portage. 
  • I have a few cover ideas for the book, including using artwork from my Facebook friend and St. Paul native, Walter Jack Savage. I love his work and would be ecstatic if the publisher chooses to use it in some form.
  • The Mama D's poetry series continues to roll. This coming Wednesday features Lisa Marie Brodsky reading from her book Motherlung as well as some of her other work. This series has become part of the duties of the poet laureate position. If you're a poet and interested in reading, please contact me.
  • I continue to submit poetry to various magazines and have a couple of contest entries that I am super hopeful about. These keep me going.
Lots going on. 

All of it good. 

If you get a chance, check it out.

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Fostering Future Literaries

Yesterday I took part in a Young Adult Writer's Conference at Carroll University, across the street from where I live. Last fall, a friend, Bob Goswitz, author of Dragon Soldier's Good Fortune, asked if I'd be interested in volunteering to help and I thought it sounded like fun. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I am always eager to help other writers succeed.

To put it in perspective, these are Middle School writers who chose to be there as an option. This weeded out the kids who wouldn't be engaged because they didn't want to be there, which makes it a little easier. There were 25 groups or so of 12-15 kids per group. It was a huge undertaking.

We started the day by gathering in the main auditorium for a keynote interview with a successful author of middle grade books, Ali Novak. She gave an inspiring talk on how she started by posting her work to WattPad and before she knew it she was getting hundreds of thousands of readers. She's written 4 books and she even has one that is being considered for making into a movie. Her success makes me look like a mere mortal.

From there we broke into our groups. I was tasked with trying to get to 10 different groups over the course of the 4 hours of writing time. The goal was to have each student get enough of a start on a story for entry into a group publication which would be printed and given to each student.

I have to admit it was an interesting study in watching how students work in 2019. Almost every student had an iPad and many had a cell phone as well. While most worked hard typing in their stories, I saw a few that were distracted by their phones or videos/websites on their iPads. Snapchat, Facebook and texting was all part of the underworld. These are distractions I never had as a kid. The closest I had was a passed note.

But as I said, the classrooms were focused for the most part. It was funny because some rooms were nearly dead silent, and others buzzed with the hopelessly distracted socialite kids. The whole day was a reminder that teachers are a special breed and I am not among that breed.

That's not to say I didn't enjoy working with the kids. There were some incredibly rewarding moments. Like with the three kids that asked me to read their work and give them feedback. I used the opportunity to give them praise where I saw good lines and correction where they needed it. And I have to tell you I was surprised at the quality of a couple of their pieces. Stories of zombies, body image as it relates to social acceptance, some poetry, kidnapping and jail and lots of others. Good stuff.

And then there was the moment when we were walking back to the auditorium and a little guy named Justin and I struck up a conversation. After a few minutes, he said, "Could I get your autograph?"

Well, shucks, sure kid!

I scrawled out a note that just encouraged him to keep writing. He said he'd always wanted an autograph from an author. It was sorta humbling.

At the end of the day, Bob Goswitz and I had a chance to go on stage and field some questions from the whole assembly of kids. They asked some great questions, despite the fact that Bob and I are essentially deaf and had to ask them to repeat each question. (Ambient noise didn't help, though.)
Post Conference Author Q & A with Landwehr/Goswitz

It was another day of sub-atomic micro fame as I like to call it. But this one was rewarding in ways I didn't expect. I came away feeling like if there is even one student in the group that came away with a passion for the craft, we'll have done our job.

I also wish I had this opportunity as a kid. What a great chance to soar. Who knows where I would be if I had that level of encouragement at that level?

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Trying Not To Act My Age

I write this from the home of my father and mother in-law's living room. We are here in small-town Gorham, New York for a 3 day visit with my wife's parents. It is a big trip, a 12 hour drive. We didn't make it back for the holidays and wanted to get back. Her mother is battling dementia and has good days and bad days.

I came into the weekend with great apprehension. Frankly, I was worried that she wouldn't remember me. There are days she doesn't remember her daughter or her husband. So, to bring "the son in-law" who she hasn't seen in over a year, I was expecting the worst. Couple that with some stories of her getting flustered and angry and, well, I had low hopes for the weekend.

Well, it has been a really good stay. Really good.

We have had some good laughs as a family. My mother in-law has been extremely pleasant to be around. Of course there are the repeated questions, "How old are your kids, now? How long does it take you to get here? Where do you live, again?" I also went from being Jim, to "the tall guy" to someone she didn't know or want to.

I knew these moments would happen and both my wife and I answer with politeness. We are here to enjoy her company and to love her. There are moments of great clarity and tenderness mixed in with those of confusion. Dementia is a horrible disease and something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.

Then, last night we had dinner with a friend who went to college with my wife. I haven't seen her in nearly 29 years. She is a university professor with a specialty in deaf geography. (Studying the evolution of American Sign Language, from European to America. We had a nice dinner filled with laughter, reminiscing and catching up. We picked up where we'd left off.

But the weekend has reminded me of my mortality and my own aging as well. I've taken a couple of long walks down the country roads of my wife's hometown and it has caused a little introspection. As I passed her old house, I thought of the memories and times we had there with our kids and their cousins.

As I walked, Rod Stewart's song, Forever Young came on and I thought it was incredibly ironic given all that I'd been a part of over the past few days. None of us are getting younger. Yet, age is also a state of mind, and that is as important as any of it. Despite a few nagging owwies, I still feel young. And there were some great lyrics to the song.

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you

-From, "Forever Young," by Rod Stewart.

Later, I got an ear worm from another band, the Chameleons. It is weird how these things come into my head, but again, the song had some poignant lyrics for my weekend.

Where are we?
First and last, bound together in our past
Much too cruel, much too fast
Much too quick to anger
I suppose, years ago, years ago
I might have known
I suppose
Years ago
Traps laid bare in my face
Said to keep me in my place
Waved goodbye to the child
and life it seems is colder
-From, "Thursday's Child" by, The Chameleons
So as I drive back to Wisconsin, I will have much to ponder. Not the least of which, is enjoying time with family when I can, taking care of my health and my spouse and making the big trip when the big trip needs to be made.

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Creative State

I sometimes hear people say, "I'm not creative" or "My brain doesn't work the same way as creatives do." I am still trying to figure out if this declaration is legitimate or just a cop out, a sign of laziness.

And I think I've come to the conclusion, that it may be very similar to the thought that "I've never been good at math," a thought that I often fall back on. In my own situation, I can write a ten page paper without a second thought. 

But ask me to divide a fraction or figure out a decimal and you'll see a slow and steady glazing over of the eyes followed by a wrinkling of the nose. I remember looking at my son's calculus notebook in high school and instantly rocketing him to the status of genius, compared to his flunkie dad. Does my lack of math skill make me a bad person? No. Just gifted in different ways.

And I do mean gifted. I feel everyone has gifts in different things, and not just tangible skills like reading, writing, arithmetic, but even skills of the interpersonal or communicative sort. These skills carry as much weight in the real world as some of the head skills, IMHO.

Because of my involvement in my writing circles and my friend group, I am surrounded by creatives of all sorts. Just a few of them here:

Sara: is an artist that not only is a beautiful, loving person, but an artist whose gift of blending colors and lines is positively breathtaking. She experiments with mixing photography and paint and it makes for some stunning pieces. My idea of color blending in dark blue pants and a light blue shirt. People with an artistic eye like this see the world differently.

Mark: is a community theater actor/thesepian whose comfort level and confidence on stage almost precedes that of his real life. Something in him changes when he gets in front of the spotlight. He emotes, sings, dances and makes it all look easy. The thought of going up there like that sorta mortifies me.
Summer: is a writing colleague that has not only written half a dozen YA fantasy novels, but has written Fan Fiction that has seen sales levels that I can only dream about. This past week her numbers on Kindle surpassed 100,000 books sold, with 60,000 of those coming in the past year. Phenomenal. She is one of those people gifted with words for a compelling story and a knack for pushing out books. She gets it.

Nick: is a musician friend of mine that is proficient at multiple instruments. Guitar, harmonica, organ and drums. He's got a great voice and can write his way around a song better than most. This ability to play an instrument while singing is like trying to rub your belly and pat your head. I can barely listen to music and walk at the same time. Gifted beyond belief.

Brandon: is a photographer friend whose pictures rarely fail to drop my jaw. His knack for spaces, perspectives, shadow and light is nothing short of a gift. He sees things other people do not.

This list is not meant to leave others out. I know far too many to list. You know who you are. This short list though, does give a good feel for the breadth of styles that creativity can take.

Even cooler are those artists who are gifted at two forms. Many of my writing friends are not only  great writers, but really good artists. These hyper-creatives are from another planet, I think.

Creativity, like math skills, is something everyone is capable of, in my opinion. I think those that tap into it with curiosity and a desire to be better at it can become better at it. I also think that there are some people with innately better propensities for expression and creative output. It doesn't make the rest of us that don't any worse, but it sure helps me appreciate them even more.

Blogging off...