Wednesday, January 31, 2007


I've been teaching Sunday school for seventeen years now, starting from right after I graduated from college. Since then I've become an expert. I've written a huge amount of curriculum myself (including a one-year trip through every book of the Bible, something that I was delighted to recently find out was still on the shelves of at least one former student who's a minister).

But being an expert and being considered an expert are two different things. That's why it's cool that tomorrow I'll be flying, at a decidedly ungodly hour, to Birmingham, Alabama, where I'll be at the conference for the team of people who will be writing the next round of stuff for Student Life Bible studies, one of the largest youth ministry resources around. So, at least several words I write will be getting to four thousand churches in all fifty states and forty countries.

Boundaries expand!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


What if you said this of your CEO: "Man, he was a great leader. He had great leadership skills, he brought people together, he had a wonderful vision, he took the company into new territory, he was able to balance the stockholders and the board and the senior management. Of course, he wasn't all that great with numbers, so that's why we lost seventeen million every quarter for three years, but man, what a CEO!"

So, hear me well. Music is melody, harmony, and rhythm. If you are missing one of those elements, then no matter how "good" you are, you are not good. A "good" musician who cannot execute a basic rhythm is not a good musician. And that is that. Thank you. Goodbye.


Richard D White has a new book out about Huey Long, the Lousiana governor who got rid of old corruption by replacing it with newer, better corruption.

His brother Earl, who was guv after Long's assassination, said, "Someday Louisiana is going to get good government. And when they do, they ain't going to like it." That's the Earl Long who in the fifties got on live TV and then started spouting obscenities. His wife (Blanche, for those keeping track of the Southern name index) responded by having him committed to a sanatorium. How did he get out? By firing the superintendent, who was after all a state employee.

Ahh, politics!

Meanwhile, there's an operatic irony behind Huey Long's death that I've never heard played up. It turns out that he probably wasn't shot by his assassin. The most plausible version of events says that his guards, in defending him, let loose a stray bullet that wounded him. The wound wasn't immediately fatal; he went to a hospital where he died two days later, after a doctor, the hospital's chief of surgery, botched the simple operations required to save him. Long, who notoriously appointed people to high positions based on loyalty rather than competence, had installed the doctor only a few years before.


He's a good man, that old Mr. Browning.
But his verse is so gosh-awful-sounding.
The scansion's all right,
But the diction! Good night!
Aack! Ugh! Hmph! Grr! Bleaugh! Help! Quick! I'm drowning!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Most instrumentalists practice scales. (At least the good ones do.) If you're a drummer, though, there's no such thing as a scale: a drum only has one note. So, drummers practice rudiments, basic patterns and combinations that form the building blocks of the rhythms they play.

The first rudiment I learned about was in elementary school, where we heard that drummer boys in the Revolutionary War were right around our age, and, not knowing their right from their left too well, remembered the basic roll (Brrrrrrrrrr! the one you hear right before the national anthem, or before a guy gets executed in a historical movie) by saying "Mom-my-Dad-dy" along with the R-R-L-L pattern.

Today I'm thinking of the paradiddle. Besides having a delightful name, it's a useful rudiment. It's simple but just-hard-enough so that the average drummer knows it in his sleep but the average non-drummer has a hard time even picturing it. The pattern is R-L-R-R, L-R-L-L. See if you can train yourself to tap it out.

I'm always surprised at musicians who know a little or a lot about theory but don't have any idea how it plugs in to making music. For instance, even though the paradiddle (I just love saying that word!) was developed long before rock music, much less funk, drummers use it (and its variations) all the time. Take a look/listen. I've used the immensely helpful Scorch plugin here; it's safe (from the reputable Sibelius music company), downloads immediately, and consists pretty much of two fonts that allow you to see and hear and print music. You can press the play button and hear the written music as it goes along.

Interesting, eh? You've heard that beat a thousand times, and never knew it was based on the paradiddle.

Looking more closely at it, you realize why drummers are drawn to M. C. Escher. It's symmetrical, but in an intriguingly interlocked way. It reminds me of the Escher drawings in which the negative space of an object transforms into an equal and opposite positive thing of its own, using the originally foregrounded object as background. Get it?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


one year ago we were still trying to get your body stabilized.

two years ago we'd been married for nine months.

three years ago we were engaged.

four years ago i had cancer.

five years ago, we met.

i met my wife. you met your husband. we locked eyes and talked for hours at a bookstore cafe. happy meeting-anniversary.

Monday, January 8, 2007

apples and twists

From the pen of Tennessee Williams:

If you are happy, I will give you an apple. If you are anxious, I will twist your arm. And if you permit me to, I will be glad to hold you close to my heart forever and do you no harm. If I am happy, you will give me an apple. If I am anxious, you may twist my arm. And if you would like to, I would like you to hold me close to your heart forever and do me no harm. This is a bargain; only two can make it. This is a covenant offered with desperate calm, it being uncertain that lovers can drive out demons with the gift of an apple or the twist of an arm.