Fanfare of the Pegasus

Greg and Saturn Get Some Friends

This Saturday had already been set aside as a family day for us, but given Friday's events at Sandy Hook Elementary, the chance to hang out with our two little boys meant much more that usual for my wife and me. The five year old  - we'll call him Connor -- and the three year old -- we'll call him Eamonn -- love a good weekend morning filled with new experiences.  Our two tasks for the day: purchase and set up the Christmas tree, and visit a fish farm to stock the new fish tank.  The tree tradition is exciting without fail, but what really made the day was going fishing.

We like animals in the family.  We have two cats (Ella and Barisha) a dog (Lou, written about elsewhere), and several fish.  It was either fish or a rabbit, and I'm holding out until Easter if I can on the bunny.  As for our fish experiences, we had a fish bowl -- the old school sort -- and, sadly, Connor went through a series of goldfish, all of whom our older son named George.  So there was George One, George Two, then George Three.  After Three passed away, we switches to the more hearty guppy, and settled in nicely for several months with Greg and Saturn.  My wife, who has a knack for picking up things here and there, managed to snag a 20 gallon tank that was being thrown out, scrubbed it out, set it up, and, for a time, Greg and Saturn lived in a spacious setting.  They seemed to enjoy the setup.

But today we were on an adventure not to PetSmart or MegaPets or PetSupermarket, but to the funky, distinctly South Floridian Neighborhood Fish Farm, located right in the middle of the suburbs.  I gather that when the Fish Farm opened for business in 1971, there were no neighbors.  So you get off a generic freeway exit, hit a few lights, turn into a plain looking middle class street, except there's a fish farm there.

The older boy, Connor, threw himself into the choosing of fish completely, and he tagged along with his mother for the whole time.  My wife had a goldfish as a kid, and as adult she kept tidy, well-run tank in her office at work, so they had some serious business to discuss.  Although they were choosing guppies, there were many varieties of millionfish in the open-air tanks.  They also intended to get a plecostomus, which I learned today is a sort of sucker fish that eats tank-stuff and helps keep everything cleaner.  As you can see, part of the fun of keeping fish is in learning the different species and varieties -- sort of like kids do with dinosaurs.  Connor also enjoyed checking out the different types of koi, which he recognized from many of the waterways at Miami Metro Zoo.

The younger boy enjoyed the fish for a time, but became more concerned with racing up and down the lanes between the tanks, hopping from cinder block to cinder block, and checking out the wide selections of puddles and mudholes.  He also enjoyed the oldies station to which the PA system was tuned, as evidences by his dance performance to "Stop! In the Name of Love".  After exactly 30 minutes, just five minutes shy of how long it takes to pick out eight guppies and one plecostomus, Eamonn threw a tantrum and had to spend the rest of the visit in Van Time Out.

Back at the house, I whipped up a batch of PBJ sandwiches and sliced some bananas for Little Men Lunch, while my wife and the boys rearranged the tank with some new plants, an air stone, and let the water temperatures balance out.  This made for the most tension of the day: fishy anticipation and low blood sugar.

During lunch, Connor gave names to all the new guppies: Bubble, Mal, Mattie, Mergred, Mowli, Radenad, Red, and Sally.  The plecostum, he named Big Ray.  So we have a sucker fish named Big Ray.  That's the kind of surprise that awaits you on a day set aside for family adventures. That's all for today, though.  I've got some colored lights to string on the tree.

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PN 225 - Hari Kunzru - 'Gods Without Men'

Novelist Hari Kunzru (The Impressionist, Transmission, My Revolutions) talks about his latest book, Gods Without Men, UFOs, Death Valley, and where mysteries might still lurk in the complex systems of the world.

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Hari Kunzru

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Reader's Notes - Why Jazz Happened

One of my very favorite jazz blogs is JazzWax, a creation of Marc Meyers, who also writes for the Wall Street Journal.  Meyers has a new book out from the University of California Press, Why Jazz Happened.  He's also come out with a series of videos and blog entries to explain many of the ideas behind his social history of the music.  You can check out JazzWax for a full treatment, or simply watch the first video below.  Meyers and Why Jazz Happened will be the subject of Passing Notes next week.

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Art (Perry) and Writing

I imagine that I first met Art Perry some evening at a junior high school basketball game, in the context of Art’s being the new stepfather of one of my hoops teammate and childhood friend.  Art was a good guy, we all knew, if you can really know anything at all in 7th or 8th or 9th grade.  I look back on myself back then and I marvel at what an idiot I was about many things – girls and relationships, the size and complexity of the world, and which adults I should pay attention to and which I should not.  But Art was a guy I always paid attention to.

Once I reached 10th grade, I started talking with Art – Mr. Perry – who taught English at Mt Blue High School.  Oddly, I never took an actual class with him.  I spent one day in his popular creative writing class – I’m sure he pulled some strings to get me into that section – but the older students really intimidated me.  I cared so much about writing – my writing, My Precious – that the thought of exposing that passion to my schoolmates was unbearable.  So I pulled out of the course.  Idiot move, looking back.  But I believe I explained my fears well enough to Art, so he suggested we do an independent study together.

Over the weeks and months of that independent study, Art would sit with me and we’d talk about whatever science fiction or fantasy or horror story I’d written – following my heroes Isaac Asimov or J. R. R. Tolkien or Stephen King – and he’d help me with my dialogue, with description, with developing scenes.  He corrected my mistakes encouragingly, asked respectful questions about how I’d constructed my characters and plots, and, when all was said and done, sent me on my way to write another draft.  It was, I later learned, very much the way an editor sits with any writer and goes through a work in progress line by line.  I learned much about how to use language effectively.  And now, as a teacher, I understand that this process – line editing – is one of the best ways to improve your writing.

Through the years, Art worked hard to create opportunities for student writers at Mt. Blue to learn the craft.  He arranged to have a couple of personal computers set up in a special room – the Writing Lab – and convinced the principal to let some of us out of study hall to go there and work on our stuff.  I would hang out with some of the older kids – one guy was writing a play – and talk about stories and books and tell jokes.  The Writing Lab – in actuality, probably just a storage closet with a couple of Apple II machines – was our space.  For a time, Art also convinced a group of us to put out a student newspaper – really a stapled together stack of purple-on-white dittos.  Again, I see now the care with which he put all this together.  Attention to craft.  Creation of community.  Occasion for publication.

I imagine now that the English teachers at Mt Blue looked after their budding writers – shepherded us through – and I remain always grateful for what lasting, substantive lessons taught by Kathy Lynch, Joanne Zwyna, Art Perry – and especially Beverly Bisbee, the teacher Art put me in contact with who helped me figure out what I really wanted to do with words.  I heard about Art’s battle with cancer from Bev Bisbee, and heard of his passing from my old friend Dave, who had him as a student.  No doubt scores of colleagues and former students will find their ways to express their gratitude for the lessons Art passed on and their grief at his passing.   That so many of them will express these sentiments so eloquently is certain proof of his skill as an educator.

What else is there to write? Art Perry was a graduate of Bowdoin and Middlebury, a lover of skiing and so many Maine things, a solid citizen, a good family man.  Back in the day, he was a guy we teens all liked, even though, at the ages we were, we found most adults domineering and tedious.  And Art Perry stayed in touch – even in my thirties, I was always sure to get a nicely typed reply from him whenever I sent a letter.  I trust that he’s free of pain now, and resting lightly in whatever realm beyond that he might have imagined for himself.  I trust he’ll read what I’ve written -- one last letter to him -- and make a few encouraging corrections in the margins.  I wish him lots of fine books to read, clean fresh paper in a well-lighted space, and all the pens and pencils he could want.  Thanks for everything, Teach. 

Video Jukebox - Ben Wendel

Saxophonist, bassoonist, and composer Ben Wendel is featured this week on the V-Juke.  Wendel is a prolific collaborator across genres, one-fifth of the group Kneebody, and a Grammy nominee for that group's collaboration with Theo Bleckmann, 12 Songs by Charles Ives.  We've got nine videos for almost an hour and a half of pure Wendel.

Ben Wendel will be a guest this coming Sunday on Segment3 -- tune in at 2:05 pm on 88.9 FM WDNA, for the full feature, focusing on his latest album, Frame.

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PN Unscripted - Charles Burns

Comics creator Charles Burns talks about The Hive, the second book in the trilogy he's working on, the influence of Tintin, his work on Fear(s) of the Dark, and why comics appeal to him as a storytelling medium.

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Charles Burns

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Reader's Notes - E-reader Readers Read More

From Ariel Bogle's Moby Lives blog at Melville House comes a brief but pithy synthesis of several studies about changing reading habits -- or perhaps purchasing habits -- out there in the public.  Although I've written from time to time here about the shift from the printed page to the electronic screen, I've certainly never been alarmist.  In my experience -- as an educator and a person whose worked around books my whole life --  digital books are transforming reading in a similar way that digital music transformed listening habits.  From the consumer side of things, digitized books are less expensive, more portable, and there's much more variety available in digital libraries and bookstores.  At any rate, check out Ariel Bogle's piece at Melville House for the numbers and trend analysis.  Keep in mind that Melville House releases a fair number of digital books -- but who doesn't these days?

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Sunday Time Warp - Playlist 12/9/12

One Love, Louis Durra, Rocket Science
Stuffy Turkey, Greg "Organ Monk" Lewis, Uwo in the Black
Autumn Nocturne, Sonny Rollins, Sonny Rollins & Co. 1964
Lonnie's Lament, Ben Wendel, Simple Song
Nothin' But Trouble, Charlie Hunter, Charlie Hunter
102%, The New Mastersounds, Thirty Three
Fire, Chris Cortez, Aunt Nasty
Caravan, Chris Cortez, Aunt Nasty
Aunt Nasty, Chris Cortez, Aunt Nasty
Blackbird, Brad Mehldau, The Art of the Trio

Unsquare Dance, Dave Brubeck, Legacy of a Legend
Three To Get Ready, Dave Brubeck Quartet, Time Out
Travelin' Blues, Dave Brubeck, Quiet As The Moon
Hard Times, Ray Charles, Martin Scorcese Presents the Blues
Soul Dressing, Booker T and the MGs, The Very Best Of
Your Friendly Neighborhood Sugarman, The Sugarman 3, What the World Needs Now
Uncle Underpants, Dan Pratt Organ Quartet, Toe the Line
Tanqueray and Tonic, Jesse Fischer and Soul Cycle, Retro Future
Freedom Jazz Dance, Both Worlds, Don'tcha Hide It

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Segment3 - Chris Cortez

Guitarist, composer, and producer Chris Cortez talks about his new album, 'Aunt Nasty,' and the necessity of walking the boundaries between pop and jazz.

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Chris Cortez

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