The Graduation Caboose

On the way in to campus this morning, a train stopped me at the crossing. It was looonnnnggg, and moving slow. I was running a bit late, but I enjoy watching trains pass, especially when I’m the first truck in line, as I was this morning. I always notice the steady up-and-down movement of the tracks, the timing of the cars clicking by, the rumbling sound. I enjoy the artwork, too, of the tagged cars. The combined sensory experience creates a sort of organic music video, a moment of zen, a meditative invitation

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Eventually, the last car passed. While I waited on the crossing bar to rise, I watched the train disappearing and felt a sense of melancholy. I miss the caboose. The caboose is like the perfect ending to a story, it provides a sense of closure, one that resonates, one that satisfies us.  The engine, the cars, the caboose—beginning, middle, end. Neat as Freytag’s story structure model. Not having the caboose is untidy. It feels incomplete as if the story has no resolution.

That our graduation ceremony is tomorrow probably added to my melancholy. The passing of the train, my missing the caboose, became that long line of students who’ll file across stage tomorrow. I know there are students who’ll walk tomorrow that I’ll never see again, just as I know I’ll never see the cars of this particular train again.

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As a teacher, different students have different effects on us. A few we wonder how they made it, but for the most part, we’re proud of them all. We remember our frustration, the aggravation they caused, the late assignments, the excuses. We remember how they made us laugh, what they taught us, how they—in an odd way—became ours. They’ve tagged us in some way.

And now another train has passed. Like the artist tagging trains, we’ve left our mark on them, too, and they roll away, carrying that mark who knows where.

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As the crossing arm rises, like the turning of the tassel, I get it. It only feels like an ending. I know it’s really a beginning, their beginning. Like the cars of the train, the students will scatter, they’ll go back home, or off to careers, out in the world, another depot, another destination. They go to make their own lives. Lives that are just beginning.

The fall semester will be here in no time, I know that. Another train rolling through the gate that’ll roll out in four (okay, five) years just as it has for as long as I’ve been teaching, for as long as there have been teachers, and graduations.

I know that, but I still miss the caboose.

Take A Chance, Columbus Did!

The older I get, the smarter my parents become. Yeah, yeah, I know, there was a period of time when I’d get the dreaded computer call from Dad, too—“This blame thing’s hung up again, I can’t find my email, it’s making a weird noise.” Luckily, technology has long since exceeded my grasp. Like me, my dad now calls my son or one of the other grandkids for help.

I’m not talking about that kind of smarter. I mean wisdom smart. For instance: my brother Mark and I used to enjoy fighting. No reason, we loved each other dearly, still do, we just liked to fight. We’re seventh generation Southern and male—we were born with a certain level of violence in our DNA. And at the time, we were ripe with adolescent boy stupidity, we just needed to get that violence out of our system a couple times a day.

One day we’d been particularly violent and things kept escalating until Pop had enough. Now, at the time, we were probably poor by most any standard—we didn’t know one way or the other—and our modest house had a room with no furniture in it. Pop grabbed us both, threw us in that room, and told us to fight until only one of us was able to walk out of the room, he didn’t care which one.

Genius. Not only did we not fight, we even called a truce that lasted for almost an entire day. Yep, genius. And you know what? I can guarantee you my dad never read the first paragraph of any parenting “how to” book (he was a James Bond fan, though, and read all of those) or googled to find an article called “21 Ways to Keep Your Kids from Killing Each Other.” Nope, common sense solved everything.

If we had a big enough empty room, maybe we could take all the “divideds” in this country from the left and the right, throw them in there together and tell them to stay until only one group could walk out of the room. Yeah, you’re right, that would not end well. But, another thing I learned from my folks was if you’re gonna complain about something, you’d better have a suggestion for fixing it before you start yammering (yes, I’m looking at you, ACA repealers)! Well, I’ve been studying on it, and I have an idea.

After the current regime and present society finish draining the swamp, burning down the whole thing, or grinding it all to a halt, here’s how we start over, here’s how we really make ‘Murica great again.

First, when our young folk turn 18 they have two options—either join a branch of the armed services or spend two years in a service agency like the Peace Corps or Projects Abroad. They must spend at least a year of that overseas, somewhere other than Europe.

Next, we revamp the Electoral College. We make it a true “college” by filling it with 538 experts from a wide variety of fields—political science, civics, the Constitution, foreign policy, urban renewal, sociology, you get where I’m headed—that can “teach.”

Then, every year at election time, we have a lottery. We draw, at random, from every US citizen that has a social security number and is between the age of 35 and 75. Party affiliation, gender, ethnicity, location, status, none of that is considered. We select enough people to fill each seat of the House and Senate plus seven more. The “new draftees” spend two years studying in the Electoral College. Those that pass then serve in Congress for eight years. From those members of Congress, they select seven by vote among the rest of Congress to act as a Presidential Committee. The one with the most votes is Pres, the next most is VP, etc.

In return, we re-route a few tons of our tax dollars (they must have piles of it just sitting around up there somewhere, right?) to insure that each draftee’s regular job (and that of their spouse) is held for them until their service is complete. They still draw the same paycheck, with cost of living increases, and all their other expenses are covered. At the end of ten years, they go back to their prior life—no insurance for life, no paycheck for life, no going to work as a lobbyist, just a working stiff like the rest of us.

Crazy right? Crazy like a fox. Come on, take a chance, Columbus did! Sure, there’s a chance we end up with a bunch of arrogant, self-serving, narcissistic windbags running…wait a minute, that’s a bad example. Sure, there’s a chance we might end up with a couple of, let’s say interesting individuals representing us for a year or two, but it can’t be any worse than what we have now, can it? I’d bet you’d get a lot more common sense decisions being made.

Talk about a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” there you go. Something’s gotta give. The center cannot hold, and it seems more and more that the center has disappeared altogether.

Another thing I learned at home? Always be kind, treat people decent, if you can help out somebody in need, you help them. Period. Maybe my idea is far-fetched, so let’s start by treating each other decent, with respect. Yeah, I’m an old hippie. Yeah, I think we need a whole lot more Love and a lot less litigation. I’m betting there are a lot more old hippies out there, and new hippies, that feel this way, too. So, stand up, Tribe. Speak out, Tribe. Make it better. Make it better one person at a time. It’s contagious…

Peace, y’all.

An Old Hippie on Inauguration Day 2017

Well, here we are, Inauguration Day, 2017! I don’t know about you, but I am one excited old hippie! It has been decades since we’ve had the opportunities before us that I see now. It’s a day of renewal, a day of hope, a day of opportunity.

Wait a minute, you’re saying. Who are you and what have you done with the real old hippie?

Nope, it’s me. Let me clarify a couple of things. At the very beginning of the latest election season (what was that, like 2012?) I said the best thing for ‘Murica would be Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump as the two choices come November. Said it publicly on several of my social media pages. Meant it then, mean it now. And I’ll admit I did not vote for Trump. I do my research, throw out the severely biased chatter, and after all that, I ask myself, would I like to have this candidate to my home for a conversation, would I be comfortable with that? Would this candidate make decisions that align with my personal philosophies? Given that I have a wife, am responsible for a baby girl, have a sister and a mother, have many friends of a variety of races and ethnicities and persuasions, I couldn’t say “yes” to those last questions without violating my own personal morals and ethics. That’s just me, doesn’t have to be you. Read on…

Websters defines “hippie” as “a usually young person who rejects the mores of established society…and advocates a nonviolent ethic; broadly :  a long-haired unconventionally dressed young person.” We all (well, those of us old enough) remember that it also meant you had a healthy distrust, or at the least, skeptical view of, the government in general and politicians in particular. Take out the “young” part, and that’s me. Always has been. For me, Sanders and Trump were the anti-establishment options. The least “politician-like.” The Republicans figured that out. The Dems let me down. But that’s another blog post altogether…

So here’s my point. A lot of the old hippies “sold out to the man” somewhere along the way. It’s cost us, it’s cost this country. And it saddens me. But I’m excited for the coming years. It’s time for a hippie revival (I call copyright on that—future band name)

The division in society right now has grown to the levels of the Sixties. But that was a terrible time, you say, protests, violence, upheaval. Yeah it was. People engaged, got involved, spoke out, demanded change. And you know what, I’ve not see this many people “vowing” to hold the incoming administration accountable, “vowing” to stand up, to speak out, to get involved, since the Sixties.

That era, those actions, those protests by all those “dirty commie hippies” produced an unprecedented level of social advances, it encouraged learning and exploration (remember those guys on the moon? We did that!), and the art! My opinion, but the Sixties and early Seventies gave us a big chunk of the greatest literature, music, and visual and performance art this country has ever produced. At the very least, Saturday Night Live (debut –  1975) has improved. They’ve skewered every President since ’75, but since Ford, they’ve not had all that much material to work with.

So yes, It’s a day of renewal, a day of hope, a day of opportunity. Speak out, make art, compose, write, protest, organize, march, get off social media once-in-awhile, get involved and make a damn difference in somebody’s life, in society. Forget “sides,” I don’t care which side you’re “on,” do something to make somebody else’s journey a little better. Suspend your narcissism occasionally. If you can’t kill your ego, at least turn the volume down. Let your light, your vision shine through instead. Make it better.

Look, we are all moving toward enlightenment, some are just at different points along their path. As such, we should all hope and wish for each of our fellow sentient beings, which does include Trump and all his supporters, to continue along their path toward enlightenment. I also believe, in true old hippie fashion, that it is our moral duty to help others first and foremost. That includes someone with Trump’s proclivities and penchants for the mundane and base things in the world. We can still hope for them, send them positive wishes and energy. And oftentimes, helping them along their journey means holding them accountable for those traits detrimental to their achieving enlightenment.

The first steps? Remember we’re all in this together. Be accountable. Be present. Be intentional. Be active. Most importantly, be kind!

Peace and Love, y’all.

What’s New for 2017?

Well, quite a few things, especially since ye olde blog has been on hiatus for a while. So, it’s coming back – that’s new. Given the current Status Orange in the U. S. of A, and that the blog title is “old hippie in a new world,” I should have plenty of material to work with in the coming months. And there’s a new website in the works. There’s been an addition to the fam, so there’ll be some thoughts on that from time to time. Oh yeah, there’s a new “project” that looks like it’ll be out later this year. Let’s start there…

It’s an odd thing, but something I’ve been working toward for quite some time. There have been two constants in my life for as long as I can remember – music and literature. I’ve never really been able to separate the two. Y’all know I write, record, and perform original music with Flatland Tourists and most of you know I’ve got a couple books out as well (one under a pen name). I’ve always wanted to somehow combine the two. After a lot of writing time and several query letters, it looks like it’s gonna happen.

The project will be called Tattoo Stories. It’ll include two “media,” an audio CD and a book. The book will include short stories influenced or inspired directly from music (other artists, and yes, of course it’ll include the story that won the Thomas Wolfe Fiction Award–that story came from a line in a Shovels and Rope song!), “narrative” poems of mine, song lyrics from new original songs of mine, and short essays offering sort of an annotated bibliography discussing the connections. The audio CD will include those “narrative poems” as spoken word pieces with musical accompaniment. Think: Minton Sparks. It will also include “songs” in the more traditional format. Literature (most by other writers with a couple of “companion” pieces where I offer both a song and a short story on the same subject or theme) has inspired or influenced all the songs in one way or another.

I’ll get you started by including the lyrics to one of those “companion” pieces. Here’s the lyrics to the song version of Tattoo Stories. It’s told from the short story’s main character’s point of view.

Tattoo Stories

I got the first one back in '69, 
I was on R & R with a buddy of mine.
We thought they might protect us from the storm.
But Hamburger Hill, well it was a hard sell
and the jungle was thick where my buddy fell.
I got his tags and these roses on my left arm.
This one here's for my first wife.
I loved her so much that I married her twice.
Lord it broke my heart, when she had to leave.
But she was a saint for what I put her through,
For the things I did, well I'd have left me too.
Every wrong to her I done, is in this sleeve

Tattoo stories, like words that rhyme
Sometimes the meaning hides between the lines
Just a moment from your life that won't ever let you go.
Tattoo stories, a place in time,
That only you can go.
Tattoo stories, painted pictures of your soul.

I had a son, meant the world top me.
He said "New York City is the place to be."
He went to work one sunny September day.
Then the whole world came crashing down
And I'm still here but he's not around.
This one's for all the things, I never got to say.
Now the lines are fading but to me it's clear
why I spent all those hours in the tattoo chair.
I got something to show for all the things I've been through.
So when you look at me you better stop and think
'cause all our lives hang just on the brink, 
there's really not much difference between me and you.

Tattoo stories, like words that rhyme
Sometimes the meaning hides between the lines
Just a moment from your life that won't ever let you go.
Tattoo stories, a place in time,
That only you can go.
Tattoo stories, painted pictures of your soul.
Tattoo stories, painted pictures of my soul.

Twas the Night Before Finals

Twas the Night Before Finals

K. Winchester (with apologies to Clement Moore)

Twas the night before finals and in the library
Strange students appeared for last minute Hail Mary’s.
Study rooms were booked from morning ‘till night
In hopes last minute cramming would teach and enlight.

They came with their coffee and eyes blood-shot red
While nightmares of summer school danced in their heads.
The librarians in reference and tutors in wait
All sat and wondered why they started so late.

When up in the stacks there arose such a clatter
I stopped grading papers to see what was the matter.
Past Darwin and Voltaire and Dickens I flew
Near the third floor balcony, they came into view.

In the light beaming through a small window pane
I watched three freshman frat pledges, searching in vain.
They all stood looking at a pile on the floor
One then exclaimed, “I’ve never seen these before.”

Soon another pledge mumbled, with a dazed look,
“I’ve heard rumors of these, I think they’re called books.”
They stared down in wonder, amazement, and fear
One asked, “Bra, what else you reckon they got in here?”

Then around the corner a librarian came
She whispered the services, each by their name:
“There’s reference, periodicals, even I.T.
Tutors for writing, for science, and psychology.
There are spaces for study, even private rooms
But you waited, and waited
And now you’re probably doomed.”

The frat boys all paused to consider their plight
Remembering the gaming and drinking and parties all night.
They smiled and grinned and one of them danced
With three hours ‘till closing, they still had a chance.

 

They scrambled and hustled and tutors they found
Passing was possible if they just buckled down.
“We’ll learn by osmosis all we need to know
One trip to the library will make our knowledge grow!”
But the building soon closed and exams fast approached
The tutors had tried, they’d begged and they’d coached.
The frat boys and the others who so late came
Had no one on campus but themselves to blame.

 

As they walked through the quad it was easy to tell
The odds were quite high that each of them would fail.
But as they strolled away I heard a prayer on the breeze:
“Just let me pass ‘cause C’s get degrees!”

The REAL List Parents of College Freshmen Need

Today is “move-in day” for freshmen on our campus. Naturally, there are moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, brothers and sisters everywhere. In the past, I always liked to ride my Harley on move-in day. When the crowds were at their peak, I liked to cruise around campus—pipes bellowing, pony-tail flowing, tats showing—and pull up at the sidewalk where the upperclassmen were helping the freshmen and their parents tote far too much stuff up the stairs. The parents eyed me suspiciously, especially those with daughters. We’re not that large a University; at least a couple of the upperclassmen would know me and let the worried parents know that, not only was I an employee, I was a teacher. I try to always be mindful of the gifts life gives each day. The look on those parents’ faces kinda makes me feel like Christmas morning.

But this year, well, it’s the hottest day we’ve had all summer and the humidity is somewhere around 118% (what? I was an English major), and they’ve closed the road that goes nearest the girls dorm, so I decided not to ride the scooter. In the spirit of tradition, I decided the least I could do was trek around campus, see how things were going.

There are parents and grandparents and siblings everywhere. Ev-ry-where… But, this time, today, I noticed a different look on their faces. I knew this one, too. It struck me that I’d been on all sides of their equation (I have no idea why all these “math-ish” terms keep appearing). I’d been a student, I’d moved my son into his college dorm, and now I’m a teacher—someone somehow, in some ways, “responsible” for these kids for the next four years. Yeah, I know, that’s an unsettling thought, especially for me, but hey, life’s a journey and this is the wrong turn dimly lit alley we’ve taken, so let’s just go with it for now. It’s scary turning your bay-bay over to any one, least of all the likes of me and all the other “unknowns” awaiting them on campus (remember Animal House?)
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I know, I know. Last night I was talking to my son and one of his good friends, a friend he grew up with, one I knew well, now grown and married. We were going to a concert (yes, I am an Old Hippie, but I was not the oldest hippie at the show), having a few beers before the show, catching up on life. I asked about his kids. First words out of his mouth—“I never knew I could love somebody as much as I love them.” I know, I know. Now imagine dropping them off at college, at the doorstep of unknown, and driving away. It’s tough.

A few years ago, I posted a piece here called The REAL Top Ten List Every College Freshman Needs. While that list still holds true (and is worth a read, hint, hint), it dawned on me as I saw the looks on the faces of both parents and kids that maybe the parents of college freshmen need a list, too. And like I mention in the “for freshmen” essay, there are plenty of them out there. The parent of a college freshman really only needs to know one thing, though, not ten.

It’ll be okay.

Sure, your kid is going to change. But so are you. They’re still gonna mess up in big ways. Some of them won’t finish. Some of them are gonna get their heart broken. It might take some six or seven years, or longer, to graduate. Some of them are gonna drink too much, party too hard. Some of them are gonna change majors three or four times. But they’re gonna see things, do things, experience things that make them grow, that make them see the world in a different way. Maybe not your way, maybe so. They’ll come back a different person, but they’ll be a person, a real, live, (semi) independent (hopefully) person. And that’s a good thing.

Not to get all Lion King, Circle of Life on you, but here’s the thing. That concert I mentioned last night? My son got us the tickets. Got us upgraded to box seats. He bought the beers. Owns his own home. Hasn’t asked for money in a long time. Met some folks he works with and they all bragged about him (did I mention the bands were fantastic?). It was a great night all the way around. Did I also mention I dropped him off at college one day? That he made plenty of bad decisions over the next five and a half years before he graduated (finally). That I missed him terribly while he was away?

See. It’ll be okay, parents. They’ll be okay.

Until next time, Peace!

The World Cup Has Started…

According to every news source imaginable—it’s all over the Innerwebs, from social media to porn sites, every TV news outlet (I heard Fox News is blaming Obama for Spain’s defeat), even front page above the fold of the local newspaper—this thing called the World Cup has started. Apparently, that’s a big deal. Apparently, it’s a big soccer tournament.

Being of a certain age and growing up as a true American, I know very little about the sport. But, I am the inquisitive type, so, when it came time for my cardio session at the gym this afternoon, I decided to dial up the game, or match, or walkabout, whatever they call it, on the treadmill’s TV monitor. I figured, it’s sports, I’ve got 30 minutes, how hard could it be to figure out what was causing all the fuss?

I set the timer, set the duration, settled into a steady jog, and began my study. The green team was playing the white team. I don’t know where they were from, I had the sound turned off and was listening to Neil Young’s “Harvest” on my iPod, but the two teams seemed to be evenly matched. Really evenly matched. Amazingly evenly matched. That helped me to figure things out pretty quickly.

About five minutes into my workout and at what looked like 24:16 minutes into the soccer contest-slash-event, my hill section started and neither of the soccer teams-clubs-groups had scored yet. By the seven minute mark, my breathing fell into a routine. Still no score. Things got a little fuzzy for me around the 8 minute mark and I think I either dozed off or entered some dream-like state of Zen nothingness.

At the twelve-minute mark, the nice lady wearing far too much perfume on the treadmill next to me nudged me awake with a gentle tap on my shoulder. It must have been the raised consciousness of the Zen thing that allowed me to absorb the intricacies of the sport without realizing it, because when she touched me, I knew exactly what to do.

I flopped off the back of the treadmill and writhed on the floor with all the dramatics I could muster. My exposure to the sport was brief, so I drew on what I’d learned from all those hours watching wrestling as a kid. Everybody gathered round. I grabbed my right ankle, then my left knee. I reached for my elbow, my hip… I would have reached for my pride but after watching for only a few minutes, I knew pride was not a requirement. They brought over the stretcher, loaded me up (I screamed in agony every time they touched a different appendage, just to make sure), and carted me out of the way. Most of the folks went back to their workouts while the staff checked me for injuries. After an appropriate amount of time passed, I told them I would fight through the pain, that I had to get back to my workout. I jumped up and sprinted to my treadmill as the patrons cheered wildly. I started the machine, went directly to the hill section, and even increased my pace. Fifteen minutes later, when I saw the words “You Have Successfully Completed Your Workout” appear on the monitor, I dashed off the machine, both arms high above my head, and ran in circles around the entire gym, screaming “GOOOOOAAAAAALLLLLLL” into everyone’s face.

Now you’re probably thinking, naw, he didn’t really do that, but then you’re also thinking, well, I don’t know, Winchester’s a little unbalanced and he did have two sections of Freshmen last semester…

Relax, I made it all up. I had to, thirty minutes on the treadmill is a long time, and it was a hill workout. I did give the sport a chance, I really did, but it was sooooooo boring. I’d rather watch golf. At least with golf, somebody scores every few minutes, or hits it in the water, or beans a spectator, or you see an alligator, something happens. I checked the scores in the paper the next day. The final of the soccer gathering I watched? Zero to zero. Zero. To. Zero. I… it’s just… if… like those two teams, I got nothing.

I know, I know. Futbol is the world’s most popular sport, and it’s growing in popularity every year, even right here in America. Yeah, keep telling yourself that, soccer fans. You can have it, world. Me? I’m good. I tried it. Been there, done that, don’t need the t-shirt. And as for my next hill workout on the treadmill? I heard NASCAR has its own TV channel, maybe I can ferret out the appeal of turning left all afternoon.

Until next time…
Peace.

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