Diane Stranz on American Life

Play a Musical Instrument

Check out this short, to the point, blogpost by a man named Chuck:  Play a Musical Instrument.  Chuck’s blogpost cites an MIT study to the effect that playing a musical instrument can increase the size of the cerebral cortex by 30%.  My son’s fabulous violin teacher Colby Howe (at the Main Street School of Music) mentioned this study to me yesterday . . . except he says those results were found in adults who began learning a musical instrument no later than age 11.  This further supports my belief that it is a fundamental human right of personhood to be taught how to make music at a young age, and all discussions about educational reform simply must take this fundamental right into account.

We have public Pre-K for 3 year olds, and Dr. Shinichi Suzuki has designed a simple and effective method for group violin instruction beginning at age 3.  Would it really be that difficult to make Suzuki violin instruction a compulsory component of Pre-K 3 programs in the U.S.?

This past May I saw a news story on The View about Chinese high school and college students using IV drips to ‘get an edge on the academic competition’ (since IVs enable them to study for 12 hours straight without having to take breaks).  NO, NO, NO CHILD!  ‘Learning under compulsion takes no hold upon the  mind’ (Thomas Jefferson), most individuals need regular breaks from study in order to remain sane and ensure retention of the material being studied . . . not to mention that holding one’s body hostage in the name of ‘learning’ is not progress towards the full-flowering of human potential but yet another form of societal punishment.

I don’t agree with much of what I hear on talk shows like The View and The Talk (on the rare occasions I watch), and what appalled me greatly was the insinuation that ‘maybe American students should consider trying this IV approach.’  OMG, NO, NO, NO AGAIN!  The first century christian writer Didache said there are two ways through life:  the way of life and the way of death.   The Way of Life is expanding the intellect of children by teaching 3 year olds to play the violin and playing classical music during reading and study periods to reap the intellectual benefits of The Mozart Effect The Way of Death is hooking young bodies up to IVs in order to facilitate ‘learning under compulsion.’

Please, America, let’s not let our current economic challenges terrify us into pursuing ‘the way of death.’  We do not have to compromise our right to a joyful life in order to become economically whole, and no one should be a slave to their jobs or to their so-called ‘education.’


In Praise of Things Irish

Soundtrack:  Wolfstone, Tall Ships (from Pick of the Litter: The Best of Wolfstone); Joe Burke/Michael Cooney/Terry Corcoran, The Bells of Tipperary/Miss Galvan’s (from Piping Hot:  Celtic Bagpipe Collection); Altan, Mo Choill and Cherish the Ladies, Roisin Dubh (from There Was A Lady:  The Voice of Celtic Women)

. . . in honor of St. Paddy’s Day and the Old Tipperary Inn, lower Greenville Avenue . . .

I am primarily German from my father’s side of the family and Louisiana Cajun from my mother’s side . . . but somewhere in there I just HAVE to be an itty, bitty, tiny bit Irish or life would even be more unfair than it already is (and we all know how unfair THAT is!)   When you are living true to yourself, Creation assists you on that path by providing ‘meaningful coincidences’  and I have noticed a pattern of meaningful things taking place in my life on St. Patrick’s Day . . . and I know that is no accident, and serves as a reminder that St. Patrick’s Day is actually a holiday WORTH observing (some clearly aren’t . . . especially if they were created by Hallmark).

This past St. Patrick’s Day I attended the Texas premiere of American Violet in Hearne, Texas (www.americanviolet.com — it opens April 17) and spent the day with a good friend I hadn’t seen in 23 years.  It was a day which will clearly be one of the best I have this year, and beats ANY day I had last year! (smile) (Friday the 13th’s are always great days for me as well . . . but that’s a different blog post).

I am positive that Eden and ‘the Fall’ existed and happened in some dimension of existence beyond the 4D capabilities of earthly reality, as all myth and metaphor so exist per Carl Jung (FYI:  physicists have scientifically verified 40 dimensions, have evidence of 100 more and suspect the actual number is infinite) . . . BUT!  If I had to guess where on earth is closest in spiritual and physical reality to Eden, I just have to think it is Ireland.

First of all, Saint Patrick is no ‘namby-pamby’ saint.  The man’s life was a genuine and true, hard-core, rugged adventure story, worthy of comparison to The Iliad or The Odyssey any day.  I mean, show me a real man who walked his walk instead of talking a talk, and you’ve got Saint Patrick.  He practically single-handedly brought civilization to the wildness of Ireland (I’m not a huge fan of civilization over wildness, but that’s just because now we live in civilization-overkill where any genuine wildness — be it spiritual, personal or in nature — is so rare it is practically an endangered species.  Such was obviously not the case in St. Patrick’s Day and time).

And because of St. Patrick, Irish monasteries existed at the time Rome fell — which was a saving grace for humanity’s future.  Not until Thomas Cahill published How The Irish Saved Civilization in the late 1990’s did the Irish gain widespread recognition for having literally saved the intellectual and artistic fruits of civilization from destruction by the Huns (and others) after the fall of Rome.  [This is a book highly worth a read, available at any decent library if you are too cheap and/or poor to buy it for yourself.]  So thank you Thomas Cahill.

And thank you Michael Flatley for introducing the world to Irish step-dancing.  Can you imagine how much we could cut down on juvenile delinquency if we had flourishing community centers where there was ALWAYS some sort of just-for-fun dancing going on?  I know I’D be there.  I never missed a school dance when I was in high school if I could help it, because dancing is just FLAT OUT FUN.  Religious groups who ban dancing are exacerbating the very problem they seek to avoid:  why would teenagers sneak off alone and unsupervised if they could, instead, be having a blast dancing pretty much any night of the week?  Talk about re-directing premature and as-of-yet-unfocused and random sexual energy!   Really, too many religious groups are their own worst enemy . . . there is a REASON why the ‘preacher’s kid’ is usually the wildest and most out-of-control kid around. 

Here’s a link to a YouTube video of the Connemara Irish dance group (all female): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHx4guRdniE&feature=related, and here a link to classic Michael Flatley, the Lord of the Dance:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytcZIfvSWW4&feature=related.  Flatley’s much older now, of course, but my sons and I happened upon him on TV last fall (a global dance program) and he still looked pretty good.  He also choreographed a guest stint on Dances with the Stars a few seasons back which was phenomenal.  Here’s the link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YHCqwlFSHw.

The Irish brew some mean whiskey, they’ve proven to us that yes you CAN actually survive and thrive on a simple diet of almost nothing other than potatoes (if you don’t deep fry all the nutritional value out first) AND you do not even want get me started on how awesome I think bagpipe music is!  Love it, love it — oh give me a man who plays bagpipes and wears a cute little kilt to go with ’em (not all the time, but with bagpipes in hand?  Hell yeah).  If I didn’t think Mel Gibson was such a weirdo as a human being, I’d say ‘give me a peaceful version of Mel Gibson’s character in Braveheart‘ but . . . he lost my respect with that atrocious mock-Catholic movie he made a few years back, which shall go unnamed.  (To which you say, “Lord! Is it even POSSIBLE to devise a peaceful version of Mel Gibson’s character in Braveheart?” IDK!  But I can dream the impossible dream, can’t I?  It’s all good.) 

4/14/09 UpdateLet’s change that to Liam Neeson in Rob Roy, especially since the following dialogue from Rob Roy is SO ON POINT:  “Hey Rob:  ya know why Calvinists are against shagging standing up?”  “No, Carl, I do not.”  “The fear it might lead to dancing!”

Each song in today’s soundtrack is available through I-tunes, so AT LEAST go listen to the free teaser for each one, if nothing else.  They’re fabulous and there’s a wealth of fabulous Irish music just like it out there.  So quest!  And find it! 

Mo Choill reminds me of a quick story, then I’ll end.  In 1997, I was handwashing my hot red Mazda convertible on my landlady’s driveway one beautiful spring afternoon (yes, those were the heady days after my first divorce when I got in touch with my inner beatnik — sigh.  When I wasn’t holed up writing, I was driving my convertible or chatting with interesting strangers at the Whole Foods Cafe on lower Greenville in Dallas.  Not that I’d want to go back in time, but still.  Good memories).  So, I’m playing There was a Lady:  The Voice of Celtic Women on the car stereo, and Mo Choill comes on . . . and up walks my landlady’s “super christian” son-in-law (except when he relaxed and let his hair down, he was a really nice guy).  He exclaimed, “Wow!  Who IS that singing?  She sounds like an ANGEL!” 

I love sharing things I enjoy, so I was excited he liked the music.  I said, “She DOES doesn’t she?  This is off a Celtic women’s CD . . . ”  At which point he immediately looked horrified, backed away from me like I had the plague, and sputtered, “Oh, no:  all that Celtic stuff is the work of the devil!  You need to quit listening to that, Diane.”  Then he ran quickly into the house, I guess to avoid having his eardrums further seduced by the wicked, wicked music I was playing.  So of course I did what every good Christian should have done in the situation:  I protected that G-D CD like my life depended upon it so I’d have it around to play today while I wrote this blog post! 

Got to go pretend to be productive with my day.  Sorry this post is one week late:  I hope your St. Patrick’s Day was full of dancing and wicked, wicked music and beer and/or whiskey . . .  and the love of a good man or woman (your own, not someone else’s) (!!) (It IS possible to be moral AND fun, and by golly I intend to prove that!)

My Life Would Suck Without You

Soundtrack:  Kelly Clarkson’s My Life Would Suck Without You  (duh . . . obvious).

A cluster of ‘synchronistic’ events happened in and around Tuesday March 10th which gave rise to this blog post.  I was retooling a scene in my screenplay where a secretary and I discuss how the marriages of the attorneys I worked with were primarily about social obligation and financial obligation instead of  true love, red hot I’D-DIE-WITHOUT-YOU PASSION . . . and that got me thinking about the topic of romantic love and relationship.  (Which is dangerous for someone who’s single, right?  HA!  I agree!)

Then that afternoon my upstairs neighbor came down to say hello:  she’s a Muslim from Pakistan and she just returned home from being over there four months nursing her brother.  She has two beautiful American daughters who are in college here in the D-FW metroplex, and BOY was I surprised when she informed me one daughter traveled to Pakistan and got married two months ago.   I knew she didn’t have a romantic relationship with anyone living in Pakistan, so I, being the stupidly naive person I tend to be, assumed she went to visit, happened to meet someone she fell madly in love with, and they went ahead and got married quickly.  (I know, I know:  I’m a retard). 

No, the reality is (of course) that the marriage was arranged and the daughter likely never met her fiance before she traveled to Pakistan to get married, per her family’s instructions.   My heart bleeds for this young woman, because even though each of my neighbor’s daughters adhere to the religious restrictions imposed by their orthodox parents and Mosque, you can SENSE their passionate desire to break free  –the American passion for individual freedom having had as much, if not greater, influence on the molding of their personalities and character as their centuries-old cultural and religious traditions. 

In this day and age, an arranged marriage is A HORRIBLE THING TO DO TO YOUR CHILD!!!   Yet when I went back to working on my screenplay, it was SHAZAM!  Here we  Americans have all the freedom in the world to marry only for love, to choose our mates for ourselves, and what do we go and do?  Enter freely into the practical equivalent of an arranged marriage, by marrying someone we don’t love because there is SOMETHING ELSE WE WANT FROM THE DEAL WHICH WE THINK OUTWEIGHS GENUINE LOVE AND MARITAL HAPPINESS.  What are we, total idiots?

Then I opened my Blockbuster Online movie which had just arrived — having no idea what movie it might be, since I had to shuffle my queue randomly at the last minute because so many movies were ‘wait-listed’ and currently unavailable — and the movie is Chris Cooper starring in Married Life . . . and damn if it wasn’t just TOTALLY about all these same relationship issues.  Cooper’s character is a wealthy businessman who has a terrific wife, but he’s grown slightly bored and takes a mistress.  One line from the movie particularly resonated with me.  Cooper and his wife are visiting with grandchildren on a Sunday afternoon, but all Cooper can think about is what pretext he can use to slip away and see his new mistress.  So he tells his wife he has to go into the office because of some unexpected, pressing business matter, and here’s the narrator’s great line:  “It has always been the privilege of the affluent to use their business as camoflouage.”  OH MY GOD IS THAT SO TRUE!  And it’s BACK TO MY SCREENPLAY, because affluence was a major negative in the story it tells.

THEN the next night on American Idol (Wednesday March 11th) Kelly Clarkson sang her new song My Life Would Suck Without You,  and listening to her lyrics was like wrapping up this multi-day contemplation on romantic love in a vein I support and agree with:  choosing to be with the one you love, loving the one you’ve chosen to be with and realizing that ‘loving someone in sickness and in health’ means you do not expect your lover to be perfect.  As Clarkson’s lyrics say:   

I know that I’ve got issues, but you’re pretty messed up too:  either way I’ve found out I’m nothing without you and we belong together.  You’ve got a piece of me and honestly, my life would suck without you!  Being with you is so dysfunctional, but I can’t let you go.

P.S.  My mother informed me this morning that March 21st is officially “Single Parent Day.”  So, here’s a shout out to all my fellow single parents.  Don’t forget that, in the immortal words of Benjamin Franklin,  “Beer is the evidence that God loves us.”    (As is wine, Jack Daniels, Gilbey’s . . . pantry staples one and all.)

Tapestries of Art will Change the World

Soundtrack for this Blog Post:  Ambrosian Junior Choir singing Suo Gan from the movie Empire of the Sun; Yo-Yo Ma playing Gabriel’s Oboe from The Mission; Jay Ungar’s Ashokan Farewell from Ken Burn’s documentary The Civil War

Why each of my blog posts from now on will recommend a ‘soundtrack’ to be played while reading the post, and, possibly, even quote a poem and/or painting and/or work of classic literature you should reflect upon as well:  Dorothy Day said that ‘Beauty will save the world,’ all true art contains beauty in abundance, and I believe in the transformative power of both beauty and art.  The purest form of beauty, in my opinion, is God’s natural Creation unadulterated by man (i.e. the beauty of nature, in all its wildness) — but art is God’s spirit expressing itself through man, so art is also a vehicle for beauty.

I especially believe in the transformative power of TAPESTRIES of art.  What is a Tapestry of Art?  It’s an interwoven blend of more than one art form in which the experience of the whole becomes exponentially greater than the sum of its parts (i.e., experiencing multiple, interrelated art forms at once can open dimensions inside you FAR beyond what experiencing one artform alone does) (being who God created you to be is all about nourishing, expanding and expressing your inner life — so, no, memorizing Bible quotes is NOT where it’s at).

This is why people are so affected by movie soundtracks:  because if you experience a song which just FITS with the scene you are watching, you are experiencing two powerful art forms at one time:  music and film.  This is why I also cannot complete a screenplay without also recommending a specific soundtrack to go along with it: the music which goes along with the story is not some random, unimportant part of the film that is best left to the discretion of someone else.  I am the artist crafting the art form which is my film script, and crafting the soundtrack is as much a part of my art as the story itself.  (At least this is how I feel.)

The Art Tapestry Project

Along these lines, I eventually plan to create, using artists who live and work  in my own community, The Art Tapestry Project:  a poet writes a poem, then a musician writes music inspired by the poem and records it — then a painter creates a painting inspired by BOTH the poem and the music.   The resulting collaborations (13 to 20 in number) would be published in a spiral bound booklet with a CD for the music.  When lying flat and open, the poem would appear on the left, a color reprint of the painting on the right, and the recipient of the Art Tapestry experience would listen to the relevant CD track while reading the poem and reflecting on the painting.  AMAZING EXPERIENCES would follow, I am positive.   (I contribute this idea freely to the public domain: feel free to rip it off and do it in your own community.  Go art!)

My first experiment in this direction was having Dallas painter Larry Harran paint while listening to a recording of Bach’s St. John’s Passion, then we exhibited the final product at a performance of St. John’s Passion by the Dallas Bach Society (this was in 1997).  It was totally awesome, and led to the inspiration for the Art Tapestry Project described above.  But soon thereafter is when God led me into being REALLY REALLY poor — to the point where my second husband Jeff and I were actually homeless for a short period of time — so all of those cool ideas had to be shelved . . . UNTIL NOW!  WHOOPEE!    (If I can figure out how to digitize pictures of Larry’s art, I will eventually try to add them to this post.)

That’s all I have to say for today, but I will definitely write more on this topic in the future since it is so important and foundational for positive world change.  It is not really political activists who will change the world, but ARTISTS and LOVERS and — especially — the LOVERS OF ARTISTS!!  (smile)  I have been an activist at times in my past, and plan to be again in the future:  so I’m not condemning activism.  But to place activism above truth and beauty is like trying to get the tail to wag the dog.  (And by all means go watch Barry Levinson’s 1998 movie by that name — Wag the Dog — starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro.  ESPECIALLY if you want fuel for political activism!)