Vladimir Horowitz Plays Liszt: Consolation No. 3 (1987)
Did anyone play softer notes better? Look at that flat finger playing he does so often. I understand the better players get a more nuanced tone with that technique, changing back to a normal hand position only for faster passages. What do I know? Watch for the two quick right hand sweeps at the very opening.
Certainly there are those who care but are there enough? Are there enough to overcome everyone who doesn’t?
I’ve been incredibly disappointed by how poorly big companies and many people have responded to this virus crisis. Instead of rising to the occasion, most have used this crisis to cut services to reduce costs.
We have an enormous amount of unemployed people sitting at home who could take orders, answer questions about a product, or locate a package. A call center seat can be set up anywhere a person has a net connection. Like at home.
Yet every website I go to says that longer wait times must now be experienced because of the COIVD-19 pandemic. I waited for an hour and forty minutes a month ago for UPS to answer my call. What is going on here? Staff up. Use temp agencies. My company uses writers in the Philippines. Plenty of people in America and abroad willing to work.
I was in St. George two months ago at a Hilton property for an overnight stay. A kid no more than ten years old was pushing a garbage can through the lobby. I asked the maintenance man what was going on. He said that was his kid. What?
He said that they had to lay off most of their staff and they were now getting more money by not working than by coming back to work. Okay. Yet the pool was crowded with people and I know they must have had a pool guy coming in every day to maintain it.
Any janitorial company in that town would love to have another commercial account, even if it were temporary. Yet, Hilton made the decision to save money by not hiring an outside contractor. They would rather let a ten year old do what he could. Which wasn’t much.
For the first time since I have been going to Hilton properties, they stopped brewing coffee throughout the night. Reason? They couldn’t have customers serving themselves. What? Every gas station from Nevada to Utah had people serving themselves. I asked why they didn’t have coffee going when they could simply have the night clerk hand a cup of coffee to the visitor. Nope, we’ve stopped serving coffee. Another way to cut costs.
At another Hilton property two weeks ago, breakfast was in a brown paper bag: two fruit bars and a bottle of water. They could have kept their kitchen going and have someone serve, but, again, this is was a way to cut costs by using COVID-19 as an excuse.
Let me make this clear: government and large industries are now using a pandemic which will kill hundreds of thousands of people as an excuse to provide less service to save money. True, many corporations are making less money overall, but they are setting up a a future in which everybody will expect less from them. Great service will be a long forgotten dream. And creativity doing the right thing may be dead.
I’ve written how in early March (internal link) that I was at a clinic for my badly wrenched back. Seeing the full protocols in place for the virus, I asked if retired nurses and physicians were being called in to help. My doctor said no. “They’re not licensed anymore.” The nurse nodded her head. Are you insane?, I thought. That’s your kind of crisis management?
It should be all hands on deck instead of selectively picking the deck crew. To Nevada’s credit, the state instituted a limited call back program ten days later. Still, a simple step like this should have been done on the first day. And these kind of simpletons are now in charge of our lives. I’m a layman. I expect professionals to be a lot smarter and more creative than I am. A lot smarter. And I want them to prove it every day.
In truth, I don’t expect much from government but I expect great things from great companies. Yet I am not seeing that at all. Everybody is making excuses. There’s a scene from Apollo 13 in which two characters are discussing the problems they must overcome and how everything is leading to disaster. The character played by Ed Harris replies, “With all due respect sir, I believe this is going to be our finest hour.” Exactly. It will be a demonstration of how great we really are. True character is revealed when challenged or stressed. Some fold, some overcome. Be creative under constraints.
For several years I worked for a landscape construction firm. Part of my job was troubleshooting. Fixing problems that cropped up from day to day. With me doing that, there was no need to pull an entire construction crew off a job to fix a leaking valve or reset a sprinkler clock. Sometimes, the problems were much, much more complicated. Whatever.
I never had a limit on what I could spend and there was no time limit on my repairs, simply the unspoken order to get the job done, fix the problem, make the customer happy, stop their phone calls. I made all sorts of executive decisions in the field, rarely calling in for approval. I’ll relate one story.
One summer day I was to first pick up a fifteen gallon crepe myrtle at Matsuda’s Nurseryy in Sacramento. Their crew picked out a beautiful specimen in full bloom, all red pink. I think it was $75 dollars, decent money at the time for the early 90s. I loaded it onto my truck, making sure to tarp it so it wouldn’t get wind burn. I’d plant it for a customer later in the day in north Sacramento. The next stop, though, was all the way up in Cameron Hills, nearly sixty miles from our Davis yard. Sixty miles was about as far as we went, given drive times to get work done.
The customer was a problem. They had repeatedly called about minor things in their new landscape, like drip emitters coming off their tubes. Which turned out to be usually from their dog doing it. We had pulled construction crews off of other jobs to go fix these details and it was getting very tiresome. Now, I was sent up to fix whatever had gone wrong this time.
As I rolled up to their house, I noticed the couple was at their window, and then out the door, even before I parked. Never a good sign. I got out and started fixing the tarp over the tree. The owners saw the tree and were interested. I pulled the cover off the tree and started talking it up. I knew exactly what I was going to do. The couple got more and more invested in the tree as I described it. Finally, I said, rather sternly, “All right. You can have this tree for free. I won’t plant it but I will place it wherever you want. The condition is that you never call our office again.” They excitedly nodded and agreed, saying they could have their gardener take care of anything that developed. I left them happy and then returned to the nursery to get another tree.
I told John about what had happened when I got back to the office. I normally never bothered him about how I got things done but that kind of talk to a customer was not how we built our reputation. He was hard at work with paperwork as I related the story. A mild grunt was all I got from him and he never looked up from his desk. Later, the vice president asked why we were getting billed for two identical trees on the same day. I told her what happened and she looked aghast. I asked her if they had called again. She just shook her head and I went on to other errands.
Later, I asked her about our advertising budget because we didn’t seem to advertise, I only noticed that we printed up pamphlets about the company. I knew over 90% of our work was from referrals but not much more. She said, “Your salary is our advertising budget.”
And that’s it, isn’t it? Put money into service and customer relations, not a billboard. Not an advertising campaign to say how great you are when all that is is show. Like the customer survey emails that are never responded to. They say they want your comments, but not really. Not if you have a suggestion or are critical.
Great companies do great things. They take action, they progress, they expect their people to innovate and get better. Nowadays, most international companies don’t even pay for Caller ID. I can’t tell you the numbers of important calls I have missed because some company like DHL or FedEx or Globalstar has decided not to pay for that service. Now, their calls appear to me as spam, I don’t know anyone in Wichita. Do I?
Yesterday, I returned the call of a physician’s office, only to have it ring until the call was disconnected. Not even voice mail. A doctor. Can you believe that? This is the same doctor last year who I found out did not have an answering service after hours. Or another on call doctor. I only stayed with her out of laziness from finding a new specialist, which, trust me, with my particular problem, is a long and tiring hunt. Anyway, my Dad and his colleagues all covered for each other on nights and weekends and believe, me, you could get hold of them at two in the morning if your baby had a terrible ear ache and you were deathly worried. Now, e-mail and voice mail, if you can get to a voice mail box, sail away into the ether.
Where are we going with this? Why aren’t we getting better? Why can’t we be more creative? Aside from front line medical people, the rest of corporate America and government seem bent on profiting by this crisis by reducing staff and services. We are institutionalizing an uncaring attitude into the fabric of life. Yes, there are people who care. But are there enough?
I’m still settling into my new home town of Pahrump, still rockhounding, still going to new places. I have fairly decent broadband so my contract writing and editing can go on. Speaking of that, you should instantly see what needs revising here in this opening paragraph:
“Brain damage” is a broad term that refers to various injuries to the brain. Sometimes, the injury can be mild and goes away on its own. But very often, a head injury can lead to more severe, long-lasting, or extensive damage, requiring costly treatments.
“Brain damage” broadly refers to various brain injuries. A mild injury may go away on its own. Many injuries, though, are more severe or long-lasting, requiring costly treatments.
Yes, the original paragraph is friendlier and more conversational. We need to get the reader to the next paragraph, however, and quickly. We want them immediately into the post or article to continue reading. Before they move off. Later, the article can transistion to a friendlier style.
Everybody differs on how to write and edit but an economy of words is rarely argued against.
I’m happy if I can write three good paragraphs in a row. In my now dead book project of 60,000 words, I probably had 11 or 12 instances in which I produced a set of three good paragraphs. I still liked the work overall but only those groupings approached what I’d call memorable writing or perhaps great writing.
Certainly my book did not compare to what the great writers produce routinely page after page. What’s happening here? Shouldn’t I have more to show after writing for work and publication since 1994? After all, I have practiced and struggled and endlessly edited and researched and read dozens of great writers. Yet, I’m happy to achieve only three good paragraphs in a row? Shouldn’t there be more? Perhaps not.
Practice does not necessarily lead to greatness. Ray Bradbury advocated writing several thousand words each and every day but that only leads to better discipline. Hunter Thompson once wrote that before he went into a coffee shop, he stole a newspaper, “just to keep in practice.” I can’t do that. I’m not that witty. I don’t have his imagination or his life experience to make a casual remark like that seem funny and convincing. Your high school English class won’t teach you that and Journalism School won’t teach you that.
Orwell’s first novel is wonderful and depressing at the same time. In his twenties he wrote a work that I cannot and will never match if were to keep practicing for another hundred years. Great writing involves not just practice, intelligent and diligent research, fretting over word selection over hours or days, but inspiration and insight as well. I understand there are comedian schools but I doubt they will produce a Mark Twain, a Will Rogers, or a Jerry Seinfeld. Practice all you want, but realize there are other things at work with great writing.
I consider myself a draft horse rather than a thoroughbred. Like a Clydesdale or a Friesian, I can pull my weight and get the job done. I finish my assignments. Like a Friesian sometimes used for dressage, I can be showy at times but I am still a draft horse. As working writers, we need to be proud of what we do, even if we can never measure up to our heroes.
Too often practice is said to be the way to greatness when that may never be enough. If you look at long distance runners, every one of them is trying equally hard. If you look more closely, though, many have genetically superior physical characteristics which help them push into elite, world class status. A different body type exists for most athletes and you’re not going to be a superior volleyball player if you are a male who is 5′ 4″ tall, no matter how much you practice.
The thing is, get better at what you do. Meet deadline, meet word count, listen to your editor. Produce clean copy. Double and triple check your research. Pare down word count.
With the exception of the Corvette, the early 1960s produced a number of stodgy looking American vehicles until the 1964 1/2 Mustang came along. Where did that design come from? Completely different, beautiful looking, instantly popular. A design later destroyed by people who had to fiddle with it. The same weight of sheet metal as in a 1964 Dodge, yet much better looking. Same thing with words. We all have equal access to them, but who is better at making them go together? This is beyond practice and into art.
In the Eiger Sanction, Clint Eastwood’s character named Jonathan and his climbing partner are stuck on a mountain wall that has completely iced over.
Andrei, a Frenchman, remarks to his fellow trapped climber, “Johnathan, you’re very good. I have really enjoyed climbing with you.” “We’ll make it,” comes the encouraging reply. “I don’t think so,” says Andrei. “But we shall continue with style.”
Indeed. For what is more important in the face of death or an impossible situation? I want to tie this into mental health and the invisible, iced over mountain that so many of us are stuck on.
Mental health problems aren’t often visible. People that mumble incessantly, talking to themselves or to people that aren’t there, are clearly disturbed. That shows. People too depressed or anxious to go outside may give up on hygiene and present a ragged appearance when they do go out.
For most of us though, we keep up appearances. We keep ourselves clean, work if we can, get groceries, drive around, and run errands. What else can we do? Who would do these errands for us? We can’t be a burden on anybody else.
Unfortunately, this outward appearance of normality completely fights against our inward struggles and nightmares. The more we try to appear normal, the less people think we have problems.
I remember walking in San Francisco toward the Embarcadero Plaza one year. A completely disheveled street person was sitting on the sidewalk as I went by, asking for a handout. I ignored him, although I am normally prone to charity.
He yelled after me in a very angry voice, shouting about how I would like it to be where he was, sitting on a sidewalk like him. I closed my eyes and kept walking.
For several days before, I had some of my worst nightmares, which I have written about before. (internal link). Bloody, violent, suicide inducing nightmares, which have come and gone since October of 1988. Chronic, along with an induced anxiety in the day that is often unbearable. Would he trade his life for mine if he saw what I had seen? Too often, what I continue to see?
Appearing completely normal, and fighting to keep that way, those of us with mental health problems erase all indication of what we are going through. We have no credibility with the outside world as to our condition, we look just fine.
I don’t know what to do about this. I can’t worry people with descriptions of my nightmares, I can’t relate my anxiety, and believe, me, therapy doesn’t do any good for a condition that has gone on for decades. Although, yes, I am still seen by a psychiatrist. I hold out hope, still, like playing the lottery.
There’s an odd sounding theory in the law called the eggshell skull rule. Let me quote the Pepper & Odom Law Firm (external link) before getting into this.
“The basic principle of the eggshell skull rule is that the Defendant in a civil case must take full responsibility for all the damages that they caused to the victim, regardless of the fact that the particular Plaintiff was more susceptible than a normal person may have been.”
“This is a very important rule when it comes to personal injury claims and it shows up all the time in car wreck cases. For example, if an older person is rear-ended while sitting at a red light, and they suffer a broken back because they have weaker bones – whereas a younger person may only have suffered soft tissue injuries in the exact same situation, the person who hit them is still responsible for the full extent of the damages they caused.”
You take people as you find them. That’s the conclusion. That’s the point of law. Appearances aside, you take the whole person as you find them. Without appearing so, some people are more prone to damage.
You need to be kind. We all need to be kind. We don’t know each others’ lives, what stress they are under at work or if they just had a death in the family. Or a history of mental health problems. We need to be kind. There’s too many careless people in the world running people over.
“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”
Worse, though, are the mean and cruel. Management at my apartment here is like that. They won’t kick a puppy when no one is looking, I think, but they will do violence to the truth if their job depends on it or if they are just feeling like it. Like that woman who told me what I had seen was in fact an opinion. She told me that behind my back. As I was walking away. (internal link) No guts to say it to my face. It is this lying and tearing down of things that is so easy.
It is far easier to be destructive than constructive. You can burn down a building with one match what it took a year to build. Similarly, lying is easier than admitting a mistake. Being mean and cruel are like running downhill, there’s no effort involved. Compare that to being positive in the face of difficulty, that is like running uphill.
Cruelty has inherent power that kindness lacks. Kindness and good acts should be effortless as rain falls to the ground, however, most good works require some kind of deliberate, conscious, willful effort. Meanness is too often a thoughtless impulse, an immediate reflex, for the more inculcated, like Ribbentrop or this apartment’s staff, a way of life.
The mean have no interest in building up or caring. You have to care to be kind.
I continue, however, without as much style as a Frenchman. I never looked good in a beret. I try to make up for it, though, by watching early Bridgett Bardot movies. My mountain wall is not quite iced over yet, but until then, I am still setting anchors and handling ropes as best as I can. If only people knew. If only people knew how many others are like me. Don’t worry, we won’t worry you. But please, be kind to everybody. Please. Thank you.
‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’ Lewis Carrol, Through The Looking Glass
I live at a large senior apartment complex in south Summerlin called Carefree Senior Living.
We’ve just been informed that a COVID-19 case has developed here for the first time. This notice was posted in 8 point type on green paper in the mailroom. Unreadable. The type is so small it could be a warranty registration card printed on Christmas paper. Normally, an important notice gets taped to the door of the more than 400 units here. That’s because many residents check their mail only once a week. It’s important, therefore, to post notices on every door when something major happens like a water shutoff or service to the fire alarm system. In this life or death case, a barely legible notice got posted in one part of the complex. I asked one resident in the parking lot here if he had read the notice and he said no. He said he was basically shut in and only visited the mail room now and then.
There may be 500 to 600 residents here, I know the average age is 77 because Carefree released that number some time ago. We’re listed as a “vulnerable community” by the State of Nevada and there are numerous and specific restrictions on what activities can now take place. The clubhouse is shut down, the pool restricted, previously completely shut down, no bus service any longer, no breakfast, and the list goes on. So be it.
In their notice they described the fault as probably being from residents not masking up. However, front office staff never masked up during the first few months of this crisis, while most of us residents were doing so. Only the maintenance staff has faithfully masked up from the start. Congratulations, Bambi and Sam. In fact, I donated masks to the front office when they became available and never saw staff use them. Maybe they gave them to residents, I don’t know. I sure know they weren’t using any masks of any kind. I always masked out of an abundance of caution, even with the experts disagreeing. Why risk the residents when wearing a mask is so simple?
Ken Templeton, the absentee owner of the complex, wrote in the latest monthly apartment newsletter on the importance of masking. Yet his staff never masked up. To be fair to the complex, one case may not be considered serious given the large number of people here, however, testing has just begun in earnest. Yet, staff has never followed best practices and now we are getting blamed. This is inexcusable.
I care about the residents here. Asking that my name not be mentioned, I donated toilet paper whenever I could, I donated masks at great expense when some finally became available, and I donated $200 to help residents pay for Lfyt and Uber rides since the bus was shut down. Many people here are on fixed budgets. I care about these people. Many remind me of my parents, now passed.
When I got back from Pahrump this afternoon I saw that the letter had been put in each resident’s mailbox. It was full of nonsense and blame. I was so mad I marched into the office and yelled at the staff for their failure to mask up during this time and for now blaming the incident on the residents. Having said my piece, I started to walk out when the lead manager said behind my back, “Everybody has their opinion.” I totally lost my temper and started screaming. An opinion? If I see a neighbor’s dog crap on my lawn, that is not an opinion when I confront the owner. It’s a fact. Opinion, hell. As Dr. Frasier Crane famously asked Woody on Cheers, “What color is the sky in your world?”
I have seen for months now the front office people going without masks. Every time I went in I was masked up. These are facts, not opinions, and nearly all residents here have seen the same thing. Opinion, hell. This is a way for them to blame others for their bad behavior. It is sickening and I am glad I am moving. No doubt this is a coverup for legal reasons. And also because they don’t really care for the people here, just for that monthly rent check.
Templeton himself is undoubtedly the cause of this poison. This owner has never responded to the four times I tried to communicate with him. I even sent him snail mail on one occasion about the lack of security cameras. No response. Nothing. Nada. And I gave him my full name, apartment number and phone number every time. He missed the last two community meetings here at the complex, much to the disappointment of everyone. Everyone had questions for him, he didn’t have the time. And this ruinous behavior filters down to the people he employees, at least the front office staff. Who, unfortunately, come into contact with the most residents.
The next example is of bad revising, in which some unknown scriptwriter revises the book of one of the greatest minds of the 20th century. The arrogance and gall of this writer is appalling.
“The novel’s utopian vision, with its ugly flares of racism and misogyny, also required renovation. ‘The book’s hugely problematic,’ Wiener said. So the show pivoted toward equality, race-bending and gender-flipping several of the supporting characters.”
This paragraph relates to a new miniseries which is bringing to life the book Brave New World. The New York Times, incredibly, quoted that writer’s drivel.
If you’ve read Brave New World, I’d suggest reading Huxley’s set of essays in Beyond the Mexique Bay, particularly ‘Copan.’ It is masterful creative nonfiction (external link), with Huxley speculating and ruminating on many themes besides a drugged out future.
On comparing the view of Christ in Central America to that of our Western World, Huxley casually rattles off phrases like “numinoisty is in inverse ratio to luminosity.” Can that screenwriter match that writing? Would he understand that essay at all?
Huxley is challenging. He was formidably educated and conducted provocative, mind-enlarging discussions. He wrote for the well read who had been brought up with the classics and who knew Greek and Latin.
As with all difficult writers, however, the internet has made him more accessible than at any other time. While reading his writing online, you can look up his references and allusions as you go.
To read the uncensored Huxley is to know the true, full man of his time, not the man we want to manufacture today.
It is an absolute tragedy that young people will watch this bilge and think this film represents the book.
It is a continuing tragedy that our history is being erased to fit the times, that our society, our great achievements, and yes, our great writers, are all being brought low to satisfy our present day short attention span culture, with its attendant political correctness.
Henry Ford once declared that history was bunk. That’s not a bad quote from a semi-literate. But to have academia embrace that thought is a breaking down of our most bedrock intellectual principles. It does violence against reason.
Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. We’ve heard that maxim since third grade, it’s accepted wisdom. Inviolate. Yet, how do we learn from the past if we alter its record? A bumper sticker once read: “Seat belts, helmet laws. What next, comrade?”
Huxley’s Doors of Perception led me to try LSD. His experiences with that drug while it was still legal were beautifully expressed. So much so that I had the confidence to try it when the right opportunity presented itself.
I’m waiting for that book to be banned. For their own good, we can no longer let young people make free, risky choices. We want to take away all risk today. Look at our colleges.
They have gone from trying to protect a young person’s physical health to protecting their mental health and their emotional state.
Dare to read. Dare to decide. On your own.
I have a suggestion for those crippled screen writers. Work on your own writing instead of tearing down the writing of someone else. Someone you will never equal.
Here are just two paragraphs from Beyond the Mexique Bay, a travel book into the land and mind of a distant place. Numinosity, by the way, refers to something invoking a strong spiritual feeling, perhaps of the Divine. . . .
Esquipulas is the home of a Black Christ of such extraordinary sanctity that every January pilgrims came, and still come, from enormous distances to worship at his shrine. It seems that in the eyes of all the aboriginal American races, black is traditionally a sacred colour; so that what draws the worshippers from as far as Mexico in the north, and as Ecuador in the south, and even as Peru, is probably less the saintliness of the historic Jesus than the magical sootiness of his image. With us, black is symbolical only of grief. The black uniform of our clergy is a kind of chronic mourning that is meant, I suppose, to testify to the essential sérieux of their official character. It has no magical significance; for on all ceremonial occasions it is discarded for a praying costume of white linen, or of cloth of gold, or of gaudily embroidered silk.
But though black is not with us a sacred colour, black images of exceeding holiness are none the less fairly common in Europe. The reason, I suspect, is that such statues have a somewhat sinister appearance. (The Holy Face of Lucca is very nearly black and,
with its glittering jewelled eyes, is one of the strangest and most terrifying sculptures ever made.) In Otto’s terminology, black idols are intrinsically more ‘numinous’ than white. Numinosity is in inverse ratio to luminosity.
Last thought. Do you think our idiot screenwriter could ever pen something like this?