Archive for the 'Musings' Category


life is good in california

I’ve probably drunk more rum and tequila in the last week than I have in the previous ten years. Must be something in the California air that makes me crave strange, fruity drinks. I remember one rum soaked afternoon where I told the waiter that I didn’t care what he brought me as long as it was blue. I have a vague memory of it tasting like banana. Blue Banana? Who knows?

I have made one hell of a lot of candles.

Haven’t been near a computer much. Right now I’m stealing time on my little sister’s office computer (naughty, naughty Smith) to write this. I know I have quite a few comments to respond to, and I will get to them, but right now the candles are calling.

I’ll be home on Wednesday. It occurred to me that writing a post about my fear of flying might have been bad Karma, but what’s done is done. If you never see another post from me, you can draw your own conclusions.



Fear of Flying

It’s not really a fear of flying.  It’s a fear of crashing.  At maximum takeoff weight, a jetliner can weigh up to 750,000 pounds, and the only things keeping it in the air are two thin pieces of aluminum and the theory of aerodynamics.  Somehow the idea of ending my life in a ball of fire and twisted metal with my arms and legs and entrails spewed all over the side of a mountain gets into my already over active imagination and does its worst. 

Of course, the worst part wouldn’t be the crash itself.  Chances are I wouldn’t even feel a thing.  It’s the anticipation that would be so awful.  The airlplane hurtling out of control.  The engines screaming.  The passengers sreaming.  G forces crushing you against your seat.  And worst of all, you have several long seconds, maybe even minutes, to be truly, truly terrified at the horrible death that you will soon be experiencing.

Yup, that’s me.  Steve Smith: afraid–no, make that terrified–to fly. 

By now my family has gotten used to the unpleasant change in my personality the day before I have to fly and they just stay the hell away from me.  The night before I fly I always have one of two recurring nightmares.  One is where the plane is jockeying down the highway, dodging cars and trying to find an opportune time to take off.  Once it does, it always attempts to fly under a bridge, but I always wake up just before the plane hits the bridge.  In the other dream, I am sitting on TOP of the plane as it’s cruising at 37,000 feet, desperately looking for something to hang on to.  It’s always one or the other, and to this day I have no way of knowing which one it will be, or why.

But I do not let my fear of flying prevent me from flying.  I would simply miss out on too much.  And, if the truth be told, I’ve gotten better about this as I’ve gotten older.  Now I’m only afraid of the takeoffs and landings.  The bit in between I’ve more or less learned to be ok with.  Usually.

Not this time.  For some reason, the plane hit an unusual amount of turbulence soon after takeoff and for the next hour I sat clutching the arms of my seat.  I did notice that none of the other passengers seemed terribly concerned about the extreme danger they were in, but I attributed this to the fact that they were simply too stupid to realize that they were all about to die the aforementioned fiery death.  As the plane bounced around the airpockets like a ping pong ball in a lottery machine, my mind was simply singing with fear.

Then a happy thought found its way into my terror stricken brain: alcohol.  They don’t serve Bushmill’s on Jet Blue, sadly.  But desperate situations call for drastic measures, so I settled for Glenlivet.  The flight attendant also seemed blissfully ignorant of our shared peril.  He beamed a perfect toothpaste commercial smile at me as he brought my drink.  “Does this happen a lot?”, I asked.  “Oh, sure, just some turbulence.  Nothing to worry about.  Happens all the time”.  Another megawatt smile, followed by a curiously knowing look. “I’ll keep your tab open.  We’ll settle up just before we land.” 

By the fifth Glenlivet, I noticed that the pilot’s flying skills had improved considerably, and the airplane was cruising along quite nicely now, thank you very much.  I had Thomas Tallis on the headphones, and Arthur Conan Doyle in my hands, and a newfound serenity about flying.  I think I’m on to something here.

While Googling for pictures for this post, I came upon this rather interesting article, which in fact puts the whole fear of flying thing into perspective.  I agree with almost everything the author writes. 

Except for the part about alcohol.  Maybe they’ll even serve Bushmill’s on the next flight.



California redux

I’m off to California for ten days. I may or may not blog, depending on my mood, and whether or not I can browbeat my little sister into letting me use her computer.

I will probably make a lot of candles by day, and party my ass off by night.

For those of you who care, I have responded to just about everyone’s comments. As always, please know that I am always thrilled when someone leaves one, even if I am at times slow to respond.

One notable exception is the Be Afraid post. This is mainly because I honestly and respectfully differ with some of the comments. This is not to say they’re not valid or well put; they are. Nor is this to say that I don’t welcome differing opinions, I certainly do. As many of you know, I love debate.

But I do feel as though I need to think this issue through a little more before I respond. The comments were obviously well thought out, so I feel I owe it to those who commented to leave equally well thought out responses. So I’m going to ponder this issue a bit more, probably while lounging on some California beach, before I return and run logical circles around all of you. 😉

Assuming, of course, I ever return at all. 8)



Drawn to art

There are three things I have always wanted to do before I die: skydive (at least) once, learn to play Brahms on the piano, and learn to paint. Having recently turned 46, I’m at a stage in my life where I realize that the ride is half over, so if I’m going to do any of these things, it had better be soon.

It is highly unlikely that I will be able to do all three. While I don’t think there’s anyone who loves music more than I, and even pride myself on a rather extensive knowledge of classical music, I have found, through hard experience, that I have no musical talent whatsoever. Frankly, I have a better chance of meeting Brahms than ever playing his music. Some of us are just born to listen.

I intend to take up skydiving just as soon as I can get over my fear of flying. I do fly, when I have to, but I loath the experience. In fact, it’s my very hatred of airplanes that makes me think I can do this: I hate them so much I honestly think I’ll jump out of one just to get away from it.

But for the moment, I’ve decided to try my hand at the third, somewhat more realistic goal: learning to paint.

A good friend of mine introduced me to Edwina, a 70 something art teacher from England. Edwina is, to put it mildly, a hoot. Barely five feet in height, she has so much energy she simply dominates the room with her presence. And she talks exactly like one would expect a 70 year old English art teacher to talk. Combine the voices of Queen Elizabeth and Alfred Hitchcock, and you’ve pretty much got the idea.

Edwina suggested that I start off a little more modestly, using soft pencils, so I could see if I had any aptitude for this before I invested in oil paints, which can be pretty pricey. A $20 investment got me 3 soft lead pencils, an eraser, an easel, and a sketch pad, and I was ready to add second rate artist to second rate poet on my resume of dubious accomplishments.

My first attempt was not what one might describe as an unqualified artistic triumph. If you click the pictures, you’ll get a better view:

Edwina was not impressed. “Oh, NO!” she rebuked me, clearly horrified that she had allowed such an imbecile into her midst. “Young man, you’ve got it all WRONG! You’ve got to go for the SHAPE of the thing! Don’t worry about the details! It’s the SHAPE that matters most at this stage!”

Oh, ok.

I made a few more attempts at the pipe. I could tell that Edwina was finding it something of a challenge to come up with anything positive to say about my efforts. “Ummm, that’s…..a little better.”

As the evening progressed, so did I. After several more attempts, I finally managed to come up with something that looked kinda sorta like a pipe:

Finally by the end of the evening, I actually got Edwina to say, “Now young man, THAT’S more like it! Maybe you have some hidden talent after all!” Yeah, she really talks this way.

And I finally finished up with this:

No, I don’t think I represent much of a threat to the legacies of Mssr’s. Monet and Renoir. But it was fun, and gratifying to learn that after only two hours I could create something with my own hands that somewhat resembled the object I was trying to draw. I needed this.

Now, where’s that parachute?



be afraid. be very afraid

I don’t normally write a post strictly about something that someone else has written, but once in a while someone says what I’ve been thinking better than I could say it myself.

In today’s Boston Globe Perry Glasser, who coordinates the professional writing program at Salem State College, writes an op/ed piece entitled “The Dance of the Bees”, which really hit home with me.

Those who have read this blog for awhile are familiar with my dismay with the teen and twenty-something generation. One emailer accused me of “hating” teenagers.

Not true. My job brings me in constant contact with older teens and younger twenty-somethings, and I sometimes find their brash way of looking at the world refreshing. But I do feel that this generation, as a group, has been duped into thinking that they will be regarded by their peers as a lower form of life if they don’t have:

  1. A cell phone
  2. An iPod
  3. A Facebook or MySpace page.

Glasser’s piece reflects my own anxieties about this generation. Simply put, these are the people who will be running the joint when I’m ready for the nursing home. Read Glasser’s piece, and be afraid.

Be very, very afraid.




Pascha nostrum immolatus est Christus
(Christ our Paschal lamb is sacrificed)
-Dominica Resurrectionis (Gregorian Mass for Easter)

These words, originally from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, form the entire Alleluja section of the Gregorian Mass for Easter, written some time in the 10th century. Or, should I say, written down some time in the 10th century, as the Mass itself is undoubtedly much older than that.

I love Gregorian chant. I love how this music floats down through the mists of time, envelopes me in its seductive, meter-less rhythms, and carries me away to a world of monasteries and mysteries. It is spiritual and mystic, and very, very, beautiful. The haunting melisma in the word “immolatus” (sacrificed) still sends a chill up and down my spine every time I hear it.

Easter is a very different holiday from Christmas. Christmas is a holiday that even an atheist can get into, if he so chooses. Uber-atheist Richard Dawkins admits that he “likes singing Christmas carols”, and describes himself as a “Cultural Christian”. Apart from the fact that Christmas has been secularized and commercialized almost beyond recognition, Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. Nothing especially remarkable about that, really; we celebrate the birthdays of lots of people: Washington, Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., for example. It does not require a belief in divinity to celebrate anyone’s birth.

Easter is very different. Unlike Christmas, one cannot separate the the holiday from its religious underpinnings. What is being celebrated here is no less than the idea that someone was resurrected from the dead. While one can believe that Jesus lived without being divine, one cannot believe that Jesus rose from the dead without believing in the divine. You either believe it, or you don’t. The only middle ground is agnosticism.

Personally, I guess I fall into the agnostic camp on this one. I’ve reached a point in my life where I’ve shed many, but not all, of my religious beliefs. Like many people nowadays, I find little that is appealing, and much to be deplored, in religious orthodoxy. But unlike the atheist, I am not prepared to state that something cannot exist beyond the capability of my five senses to understand it. There is much in the universe we will never understand. The unseen can still exist.

As far as Jesus goes, he lived during a time when eschatological “prophets” were a dime a dozen. Yet while the rest have all been forgotten, he somehow inspired a group of men to spread his teachings, even to the point of sacrificing their lives in the process. He quite literally changed the world forever. Divine? I don’t know, but he clearly had something going for him. The real sin is that Christianity has strayed so far, so often, from the teachings of Christ.

But I still love Gregorian chant.

Happy Easter, to all those who celebrate it.



Cleaning up some odds and ends…

It has been pointed out to me that the link to Joe Fitzgerald’s column in my “Real Meaning of Christmas” post no longer works. Since the column is the whole point of the post, this obviously presented a problem. Because I feel so strongly that Joe’s message is an important one, not just during Christmas, but–perhaps especially–throughout the rest of the year, I have removed the broken link and simply inserted the entire text of the column. The column originally appeared in the Boston Herald. Sorry it took so long to fix this.

Speaking of Christmas posts, I have to admit I was rather surprised at the lack of response to my Christmas Eve post.  I would have thought that a crucified Santa would have provoked a few more people, even if it was just to tell me what a blasphemous bastard I am.

Also, as I am just now pulling out of yet another extended period of blogslackery, many comments which were kindly left by readers have gone unanswered. While there were personal reasons as to why I let things slide around here, I wish to apologize (yet again) for my inattentiveness. For those of you who actually give a shit what I have to say, all comments have now been replied to.


taking up a glowing cinder with the tongs and lighting with it the long cherry-wood pipe which was wont to replace his clay when he was in a disputatious rather than a meditative mood" ~ Dr. John H. Watson ************************
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