Posts by WarrenBluhm

Wordsmith, journalist and podcaster, Warren is a reporter, editor and storyteller who lives near the shores of Green Bay with his wife, two golden retrievers, and a couple of cats.

The Parable of The 27 Failures

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Blam! With a swing of the bat, a hard spherical object reverses direction and is sent hundreds of feet across the air, landing behind a wall. Thousands of witnesses erupt in happiness, praising the wielder of the bat. This is the ultimate achievement in this game, or at least the one with the most instant gratification – the ultimate achievement is probably pitching the perfect game, preventing 27 consecutive opponents from connecting with the spherical object in any meaningful way.

The appeal of baseball may be its lack of a clock, although it has its own deadline in a sense: You must score more runs than your opponent before you run out of opportunities to fail. You’re allotted up to 27 failures, and you only need to succeed a comparative handful of times (few teams ever get as many as 27 base runners in a game) to win the contest. You don’t know exactly how much time you’ll have before the 27th out, which is closer to life than games with a clock. In life, you usually don’t know when time will run out, either.

In life you’ll likely fail more times than you succeed – how many potential mates do you meet before marrying one, how many job interviews before landing one, how many great books rejected before finding a publisher – and you usually don’t know how much time you’ll have; you just keep going until you run out of opportunities.

Don’t be overly concerned when you swing and miss; step back up to the plate and give it another go. With persistence, you’ll connect enough.

[Photo © Michael Drager – Dreamstime.com]

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Reconnected with the joy

audio-technica

I’m enjoying two new acquisitions: “Portfolio of Ahmad Jamal,” a brilliant jazz double album found while sifting the bins at an antique store, and the Audio-Technica 120 I left on my Amazon Wish List for about four years before finally pulling the trigger this week. I don’t know what took me so long.

Since my beloved vintage Dual turntable gave up the ghost a few years ago, my computer has not been connected to a source that can play vinyl, the format that comprises a huge percentage of my collection. We hooked up a turntable and sound system when we finished the basement family room a year or so ago, but I spend more time sitting at this keyboard, and I have made do with the vast array of available digital offerings.

But sometimes you want to dip into your own collection, right? After all, there’s a reason you collected that music in the first place. A lot of my stuff is stored on hard drive and CD, but most of it is not.

Anxious about the price tag on the Audio-Technica, I caved in and bought a $60 turntable from a big-box store and quickly relearned the meaning of the old adages, “You get what you pay for” and “You can’t afford to buy cheap.” Building a machine that draws the sound from these discs properly takes some craftsmanship worth paying for.

By the time I got to the end of the first track of the Jamal record, I was reunited with the joy. My work slows down when an especially memorable track rolls by, but that drawback is balanced by the harmony and speed of my work when I’m in the zone and typing to the rhythm.

I’m aware that at least one of my regular readers has lost the ability to hear music anymore. I can’t imagine what that’s like; he’s written how he hears music with his memory, which I think is good for sanity’s sake.

Music is the expression of a soul’s happiness – I suspect all creative work is. Even the darkest works bring comfort when they connect, the comfort of knowing that at some level, someone else understands.

The scary season is upon us

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It’s really kind of annoying at this stage; the only frightening thing would be if it works.

Social media and traditional TV are awash with people screaming about how this politician or that one is corrupt, dangerous, possibly criminal, definitely evil, and possibly Satan himself.

Aside from the possibility that most of the ads are accurate and most of these people really ARE evil, it’s an orgy of fear mongering, and I must roll out the old standby from H.L. Mencken: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

The goal, of course, is for the populace to surrender its will and its freedom and let the fear mongers lead us to safety, which more and more these days is the safety of the cage.

The bottom line for me is the extent to which, in past practice, the person asking for my vote has demonstrated a commitment to liberty and the notion that no one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being or delegate the initiation of force to anyone else. There’s pretty much no one in the political realm who buys into the latter notion, and few are even talking about liberty anymore, but I sometimes see glimmers of hope through the waves of imaginary hobgoblins.

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The place where 41 begins

41 begins

Saturday was a rare day trip for us – we haven’t often ventured so far that we need to ask someone to let the dogs out midday. We left the house at 6:30 a.m. and got back around 8:30 p.m.

The goal was mostly leaf peeping in Upper Michigan, with an added “bonus” of our first snowfall sighting of the season.

41 fall snow

Fortunately, it was a sunny day and we saw no flakes in the air, just on the ground just north of the Wisconsin-Michigan border.

But part of the joy for me was fulfilling a long-held desire to see the beginning (or end, as it were) of U.S. Highway 41, the blue-collar workhorse of the old highway system preserved in folklore (the Allmans’ “Ramblin’ Man” was born on a bus rolling down it) that still exists – much of it converted to interstate highway now – carrying travelers and cargo from the shore of Lake Superior in Copper Harbor, Michigan, to Miami, a distance of just less than 2,000 miles.

The last few miles before our destination was a beautiful winding and hilly stroll through mostly unspoiled forest that was awash with the yellows and oranges and reds of this particularly vivid autumn. Rewarding us at point zero was a sign denoting The Beginning of U.S. 41, built by a man named Byron Muljo, described as a “plow driver, sign foreman, maintenance foreman and road commissioner” for Keweenaw County, which is one of the most lovely corners of the universe I’ve ever been.

41 sign

Why did I have to see the beginning of U.S. 41? I like origin stories – I’m fascinated by beginnings and the contrast between quiet starts in gorgeous countryside and the huge industrial workhorses they become. There’s a power in such places – a power in quiet beginnings – maybe that’s why I like to start the day sitting and reflecting in this chair.

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All I know is words

all i know is words

All I know is words. I can feel their rhythms, sense the way a master of words manipulates them, and appreciate a turn of phrase created with care.

“Manipulates” is a good thing when the purpose is to help the reader see or understand something. “Manipulates” is a bad thing when the purpose is to help the reader fear something that need not be feared.

“All I know is words” – that statement began as an expression of frustration, even sadness, but words unlock everything. The words teach us all that we may need to know. Gestures and signs only get us so far and can be misread – but words can help you understand the nuances. Signs and gestures can help understand the how; the words dig deep to the why.

“You’re only an English major?” say the skeptical. But understanding the words and how they work together leads to everything else. Few things are as powerful.

Beware the glowing box

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Beware the glowing box that mesmerizes you and seizes your attention. You wake with a clear mind and focused purpose, and it scatters your thoughts to the wind.

Set your mind on the day’s tasks before you activate the electronics, and don’t let the bells, beeps and whistles drag you off-course once you hit the “on” switch.

. . . But then, of course, it’s too late. You already hit the “on” switch, and you’re reading this. Quick! The “on” switch is also the “off” switch. Go on: All this will be here waiting when you return.

Dejah is 5

Dejah 5th anniversary

It’s been five years since Dejah Thoris, Princess of Mars entered our lives. We named her before we set eyes on her, because I was so taken by the “failed” John Carter movie that I wanted to be able to recruit believers to the film when I explained why we named our dog Dejah.

It turned out to be a perfect name. She is a fiercely independent creature (although not very fierce in and of herself) and clearly not of this planet. That became clear within a month, when she needed emergency surgery to remove her diet of pebbles, mulch and other foreign objects.

It turned out that Willow The Best Dog There Is did not want an adopted sister, no way, no how, but even she has been won over – mostly. We have had various combinations of pets through the years, but this pair may be my favorite.

Much has changed in the past five years – for one thing, that first-day photo was taken in the halls of the Door County Advocate, from which I was cast by corporate bean counters a couple years ago – but Dejah has always been loved, free, and just plain nuts.