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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Taken as a Child

The walls of Huron Park Grammar School were dull beige subway-tile with grout-lines worn smooth by boys like me who'd glide a finger along the joint each time they idled down the hall. So on this day when I was six, and the three first-grade classes lined up to follow our teachers to an assembly, I was especially glad that our class was along the wall so I could trace the grout-line as we walked single-file to the gymnasium. The year was 1962.

In the gym the noise level rose only slightly as we joined the other grades and were taken to the front near the stage to sit on the floor "Indian style" [which was not yet forbidden to say]. I saw my sister Kathy in the fifth grade section; my brother Paul in the fourth; and Dave in the third. I waved, but only Kathy saw and waved back. She always looked out for me. It was her job to take me to my classroom door each morning; meet me there after school; and notice me whenever we passed in between. I was a happy but insecure little kid. (I'm not sure when that changed, or if in fact it ever truly did.)

Many times I was taken as a child with other children, single file, to P.E. or library or music or art. But on this day I was not be taken to art but rather by art to another world. This day I would see Paris for the first time. No Eifel Tower, no Arch de Triumph, nor any other land mark, but "Paris" was among the words I heard the principal say before he warned us not to talk or wiggle in the dark.

The stage curtain was opened just wide enough to show a white movie screen with the side edges curled in slightly. My rump was already going numb against the cold floor when the lights went out, and haunting "Oooooos" whispered round the room, prompting a "Shhhhhhh" from chairs along the wall, and all was silent.

Then from the back of the room came the mechanical chatter of a movie projector. I was new to such anticipation, the magical sound of clicking cogs pulling plastic ribbon through pulleys and pins as the big reel on the front shared its treasure with the empty wobbling wheel on back 'til finally the darkness parted in stumbling spurts and flickering numbers counted backwards on the screen as the image came into focus and the warbling music found its tune.

In this case it was a song I'd never heard before, an overture of sorts as credits played. [Back then the credits came first.] Even now that unfamiliar tune takes me to that time and place when I sat eyes wide and watched a boy about my age, wearing clothes that seemed to me too soft to wear to school. He strolled down streets and steps and alleys, past walls and windows, older than any I had ever seen.
I wondered how he was so brave to walk alone down cobblestones as grown-ups jostled by. My sister and brothers and I walked to school in clumps that grew and split like cells as others joined from porch to porch, but this boy was alone until... well...
you've seen the movie.

Or have you? If you were born between 1950 and 1968, you may recall what I've described. If not, you can watch it now. Come join us Boomers as we relive the first time we were taken as a child by film:

That day in 1962, I was drawn into a story told without a word. I did not understand the political implications, considering the film was made in 1956 (the year I was born) barely ten years after German occupation of Paris, with parts of the city still in ruin from the war. I saw no symbolism of regimes that snuff out joy. Nor did I see the religious theme that some see as the story comes to an end.

This short film by Albert Lamorisse and his son Pascal had already won all sorts of notable awards--including an Oscar for best screen play (though scarcely a word is spoken from beginning to end). Notice how often the scene unfolds in an unmoving frame, like a painting come to life. None of this occurred to me at the time. I was simply taken as a child by art and drawn into a compelling story about companionship, loyalty, loss, and restoration.

[This 32-minute film is time well spent, but if you were not prepared to watch it now, hit your "refresh" button at the top of your browser to turn off the movie window. Listen at least to the opening song and see if you hear the notes of the timeless playground chant "Nah, Nah, Na-Nah Nah" hidden in the score. If you must use the fast-forward slide bar, be sure not to miss minutes 17 through 20. If the window above does not work try this movie link.]

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Two Words That Matter More Than We Let On

Two words are tumbling in my head. I've had them there before, and no doubt so have you. But when I tell you what they are, it's possible you'll think… “Uh-oh, that thin plank of reason he treads on finally snapped.” But there is method in my madness... or at least
there is a point to this post ....

These two words often mean no harm. They go off like an alarm in our head when we realize that whatever was said or caused the fret isn't worth the worry. We use them to console ourselves that what spilled was only milk, that there are other fish in the sea, that the grapes were probably sour, and no matter what we do or where we go, this may be as green as the grass gets. I've said these words that way before, and no doubt so have you.

The eight letters of these two words can be strung together and spoken in love, passed from hand to hand like fallen pearls from a necklace with the promise that most things mend. They can be whispered in a sigh to soothe like a mother’s voice that lulls “There-oh-there” to the sad and sleepy head upon her lap. They can reassure as does a father's hand upon the trembling shoulder as if to say, "Never mind what they say." They can prompt the deep breath that comes when love helps us remember what matters most. I've said these words that way before, and no doubt so have you.

But these same two words can slap our senses, burst our bubble, and leave our sails slack with no hope of a breeze. They sometimes come from nowhere, hurled in the lake of life like a boulder just as the smooth skipping-stone we saved for last leaves our hand. They can sprout up from failure and success alike but seem ever rooted in the same futility. They can cripple us with the doubt and indifference of false isolation until, looking so deeply within ourselves, we're left without a prayer. Worse yet, they can leave us wondering if in the end anything matters at all. I've spoken these words that way before, and no doubt so have you.

These two words echo 'round the world, and if followed for long they lead to a corner, the conclusion that life is all about achieving--that when all is said and done, only what's said about what is done gives life meaning.
Repeated enough, these words can belittle into oblivion any moment, any deed, any person that for lack of note goes unnoticed or left uncounted is esteemed of no account.

In this latter sense, these two words are a paradox in that the more loudly we exclaim them the more likely our voice cracks and our shell gives way to show a longing for the answer. These two-words matter more than we let on. They imply that we were created not to live in isolation but communion. They explain why our greatest sense of “achievement” rests not in ownership, not in leadership... but in RELATIONSHIP.

Our lives offend God least, reflect Christ most, and serve our neighbor best when they answer the empty echo of this plea:

Who cares?
(Today was my mother's birthday. Happy Birthday, Mom! We miss you.)
[First photo is of Lahu Indian boy taken January 2008, 3 miles from the Burmese border in northern Thailand. Second photo: Do you see carved columns of isolation against a black backdrop... or silhouettes of two pairs of people standing with heads inclined to each other as if in conversation?]

Friday, April 18, 2008

When Lyrics Work Overtime

A few weeks ago, I shared the song "New Soul," that you may have heard first in a Macintosh commercial. That song and its creative music video help us understand that well-written lyrics reach beyond the page (and even beyond the lyre, the ancient musical instrument at the right from which we get the word lyric). Throughout most of the 20th Century, advertisers relied on getting "jingles" in our head to help their advertising dollars work overtime for free.

Jingles not only make lyrics work overtime... they also work over time. Many of them have become unforgettable classics in their own right. Most of them follow the same simple formula: state the name and claim of the product. "Brylcream: a little dab-l-do ya" (name and claim) Or "My dog's better 'cause he eats Ken-L-Ration." (claim and name). [Note: I could easily get side-tracked on this topic. For more see the P.S. at the bottom of this post.]

Back in the 70's, Coke found that advertisers could borrow a song that had nothing to do with a product and if it caught on, if the song made people feel good or appealed to "our better angels," it would enhance the way consumers felt about a product. The song Coke introduced was "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" (which did add their name and claim at the very end: "Coke: It's the real thing"), but it was the song itself that became a hit for my generation for years--including millions of non-Coke drinkers like me.

As long as there are radios and products to peddle on the air waves, there will be jingles, but in this 21st Century we are seeing more and more use of unfamiliar, inspiring songs draped around a product. Take the one from CVS Pharmacy, for instance. That song was also used in the enchanting film Charlotte's Web. Another great song in a commercial is the haunting question sung by Hem: "Is this the part where you let go?" used in the Liberty Mutual commercial. It shows ordinary people doing the right thing for others.

This song kept playing through my head those days we were in hospice with my mom (after returning early from Thailand). So it's no surprise that it came back to me when I was editing the video and saw the footage of an Akah man dying in his hut (it was a large "family hut" with three related families sharing it). Dr. Mary was holding the man's hand as we prayed because there was nothing else the doctors could do. One week to the day after taking those pictures, I was holding my mom's hand under similar circumstances.

The video project is practically complete. I used the following clip at the end of a longer presentation put on DVD along with the portions you may have watched on POI Youtube.

"Is This the Part Where You Let Go?"

If you watch this montage a second time, you may want to play "I Spy" with the clips. Here's a guide of what to look for.

Clip #1: It did not rain a drop the week I was in Thailand so I had to use a brook in the opening clip. A few days after I returned home, they had a rare downpour in the dry season. Clip #2: Look closely—-there is an old sandal embedded in the hardened clay, leftover from the rainy season. (A foot probably got stuck in the thick mud and the sandal just hardened there as the path dried.) Clip #3: I thought it was interesting that the boys demonstrated that in their culture a vehicle's primary worth is in carrying loads of beams or bamboo. Clip #6: The small children sometimes play "sidewalk soccer" with stones. Clip #7: Look closely at the upper edge of the clip when the boy is running in slomo. You'll see a satellite dish. In the past few years, nearly every village has installed one. Clip #8: The man is wearing a "U.S. Army" shirt. Needless to say, he wasn't a GI, but the hill tribes often get cast-offs from the "irregular" bins of the many Thailand textile companies that supply "name brands" and familiar logos for the rest of the world. Clip #10: Holding this dying man's hand during prayer was all the doctors could do. Little did I know when I took that shot, that I'd be holding my mother's hand under similar circumstance exactly one week later. Clip #11: Akah woman with cataracts.
Clip #12: Behind the sad boy hugging the post is an old man smoking opium from a PVC pipe. Clip #14: Girl with soccer ball and baby. The team gave away two new soccer balls to each village. Clip #16: Detail of Akah vest on young girl. These colors and patterns are unique to the Akah tribe and they sell many handmade items like this at the markets. Clip #17: Lady in purple walked all the way up the hill by herself. It took 20 minutes. She had severe arthritis. Clip #18: Booted women coming in from the rice fields for the clinic. Clip #21: Small Boy crying after tooth extraction. He had a hard time. Afterwards, I wanted to give him something. All I had in my pocket was a penny, so I gave it to his father to give to him. They had never seen one and were very grateful. I hope they don't someday misunderstand the gesture when they find out a penny is our least valued coin.
Clip #22: I have used this girl in the window three times. I call the video file "Eyes." Clip #23: At the end of the clinic in the very far village (where they were making brooms), these girls brought us plates of fresh fruit.
Clip #24: This is the wife of our Akah translator, John. Her name is "Nut," and in that language it has only positive connotations. She and John are a remarkable couple. Clip #25: I call this clip "Number 97" because I have a photo of this Lahu woman proudly holding up her "take a number" ticket. She was thrilled to get the ticket but did not know that 97 meant there was nearly a hundred in front of her. After a few hours, she was sitting against a wall (#97 still in her hand...look closely). Her countenance went from bright-eyed to pensive. I did not notice it was the same lady until weeks later when I began editing. Her face and eyes show the wisdom and weariness that comes from shared life.

(Here are the lyrics of "Is this the part where you let go?")

P.S. I wanted to add some more examples of classic "name-claim" jingles, but as I googled the topic, I found some great related links that you can just explore for yourself if you share this interest. First was this fun post about jingles by a fellow blogger. Then was this great link to a page of nearly all the famous ad jingles through the years in WAV form for free downloads. (Once you're at that site, use the index to search other categories of jingles.) I also found this "80's" page that provides video clips of some classic ads. If you want to see a funny video clip about how jingles are a part of our culture, watch this "short." (Be sure to watch the surprise ending.) And finally, if you're really into old jingles and ad slogans... test your knowledge here. Now do you see why I put this at the end--it's practically a whole different post, but I just put up the one I wrote for the weekend. =)

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Let's Go OUT-TAKE Tonight...

We returned from Chicago Wednesday evening. It was great to see our daughter and spend time traipsing around the Windy City, but as always… it was also great to be home. For people in the Midwest, trips to the Chicago are comparable to Easterners going to NYC. I realize they would say that’s like comparing oranges and Big Apples, but there are similarities. Lots to do--famous people, fantastic shows, shopping, museums, and hundreds of one-of -a-kind restaurants.

I mentioned we ate at Ed Debevic’s. That night, the sassy waitress opened her table act with, “Hey, you! George Lukas at the end of the table! Pay attention. I’m ’splainin’ the menu, and I won’t repeat it!” (The shtick at Ed Debevic’s is treating the customers rudely. She was about the fifth stranger to make a “George Lukas“ remark since I’ve gone gray. As I was leaving, she said, “Just be glad you don‘t have that goiter thing goin‘ on.”
I laughed out loud because those were my very thoughts on the subject two years ago.) On our last day, we had lunch at the Grand Lux, which is surprisingly affordable considering how swanky it is. What a place! I highly recommend it for lunch.

Speaking of unique dining experiences, before viewing the featured Youtube clip below, I should warn you that the end of the video alludes to an unusual menu item I learned about in Thailand. (You may want to see the Parts I and II and the clip called "A World of Class" to provide a context for these“out-takes.”)

Though the medical mission trip and the video are not simply a"cultural experience," it was my hope to touch the five senses in providing a "sense" of Thailand and the hill tribe life as well as the team’s experience. Even “out-takes” can help do that. As explained on the Patterns of Ink Youtube page, I mean no disrespect to the people seen in the out-takes. These are just "moments" that were not usable in the main video. Toward the end of the clip our Akah friend, John, provides a TASTE of the culture he has known all his life.

At one Lahu village, I was confronted by several barking dogs as I took pictures of the hut they had been sleeping under. It was the first and only time dogs (and we'd seen hundreds of them) barked at me. John said, "See this is what happens when you don't eat dog. Too many watch dogs--not enough to watch." [He gestured toward huts with nothing fit to burgal.] “Whenever one of my Lahu friends has a dog go missing, they think I took it to eat.” He laughs, and I ask. "So they don't ever ask you to watch their dog when they're out of town. He replies, "No. Dey don't ask me dat." [He laughs again.]

"Do you name your dogs?" I ask. "No. Just call dem 'dog' we don't keep dem dat long to get to know dem." (I wish I had videotaped that exchange. It's funny to hear him tell it. As you know from past posts, we have a pet Westie named Kip. We are very attached to him. Millions of Americans spend billions each year on pets. That "cultural fact" is equally hard to grasp for the Akah.)

In the Akah villages the only “kept dogs” are raised for food--just like other small livestock. The dogs don't interact like pets with the humans around them (any more than the chickens and pigs do). They are a wild looking non-breed. You would not be tempted to pet these animals if you saw them. (If you'd rather not watch that part, it does not come in the video until the last two minutes.)

"Some Out-Takes and Cultural Delicacies"

I first met John in my office last summer when he was visiting the states. He speaks English, Akah, three dialects of Lahu, and Chinese well enough to converse when he crosses the border to visit Akah tribes there. He does understand our American sensitivities, which is why he considered my question hard to answer.
(The original “field draft" of these thoughts are in the January archives.)

Monday, April 07, 2008

Look Out for Those Goo-Goo-Googly Eyes....

As mentioned in the previous post, we're in Chicago for a few days. The girls are strolling "the Magnificant Mile" all day. I'll be meeting them in a few hours at Ed Debevic's. I enjoy Chicago but had little desire to step in and out of all those stores. We'll be doing some sight seeing tomorrow, but today I stayed back to relax and catch up on some on-going revision work. On a break from that work I read a bit of news that prompted this quick post.

Click the arrow in the lower left of the screen below if you'd like to hear a song directly related to this post as you continue to read on:

Long before there we had "a computer to GOOGLE in or WINDOWS to throw it out of" [to clean up the old expression], the word google had a different meaning, derived in part from the old German word for eye: ogle (from which we get the term goggles) but it really means to stare at, (which may explain why the Brits used to call television the goggle-box). I could go on and on with the etymology, but I digress...

To google meant to be
ogling something, rubber-necking, peeking in on, poking one's nose in other people's business. In fact, there was a comic strip called "Barney Google" which inspired the song playing from the screen above: "Barney Google with the goo-goo-googly eyes." To have "googly eyes" implied that they were bulging out the way cartoonist show improper interest.

But now, of course, the verb google has an official new meaning found here at Mirriam-Webster: "to use the Google search engine to obtain information about (as a person) on the World Wide Web."

I could have written these thoughts without the help of Google, but I could not have added these links of interest. I like using Google. I wrote about using Google Earth in this January post. We used Google Map to get to our motel yesterday. At the end of the directions, it showed a picture of the motel. "Cool," we thought. We also got directions to Lou Malnati's (a great pizza place near my daughter's college). There at the end of the map was the picture from that link. "Cool," we said again.

So I say all this to confess that I'm a fan of Google, but... and let's make that a BIG BUT... let's make that a REALLY BIG BUT...

...BUT when I read this article today, it was like reading a chapter from Orwell's 1984 and Big Brother was coming to our neighborhoods. Have you heard about this? Did you know that Google may be taking pictures of our houses to be included in their mapping program? A couple recently threatened to sue them for taking pictures of their house and yard on private property:

“As the 'Street View' images show, a Google vehicle--outfitted with a roof-mounted camera taking 360-degree images--drove down the gravel path and onto the paved driveway leading to the McKee home. The Google car continued past the steps leading to the McKees's front door ... Taking photos all the time, the Google vehicle was squarely on private property....” Because the Google van was on private property, they deleted the photos from their map tool, but evidently, pictures of our homes taken from the public street will be fair game.

Not cool! It seems that our friends at Google are beginning to live up to the original meaning of their name, which prompts this question: Just because technology makes something possible, and just because the law makes it permissible... does that make it advisable?

I for one don't want Big Brother or Google--or Barney Google for that matter-- snooping around my house. Maybe I'm over-reacting, but be on the look-out for Google looking in. I don't think I'll be smiling the day I see those goo-goo-googly eyes.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

All Else

“Who else
but the wholly shattered
can make the broken whole?
What else
but sorrow-spattered
love can drench the soul?
When else
but dark can light be willed?
Where else
but at the brinked abyss
are ancient echoes filled?
Why else all this?
How else can it be spanned?"
He sighed and raised His hand.
"All else
is disregarded hint,
scribbled reason, mumbled rhyme.
All else
amounts to pocket lint in time....
No other else—
on that He does insist.”
His hand went to His heart to point the way.
Like stones they missed
all else
He had to say.
.© Copyright 2007, Patterns of Ink
This was originally posted at the beginning of the Lent. In "religious" seasons some people feel alone or indifferent or isolated in a shell... like this snail...so close to the truth it seems impossible to see. The lines above pose the standard journalistic questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How? in 100 words. In case all the "elses" made the lines more of a riddle than I intended, here they are with explanatory links:

“Who else but the wholly shattered can make the broken whole? What else but sorrow-spattered love can drench the soul? When else but dark can light be willed? Where else but at the brinked abyss are ancient echos filled? Why else all this? How else can it be spanned?” He sighed and raised His hand. "All else Is disregarded hint, Scribbled reason, mumbled rhyme. All else amounts to pocket lint in time….No other else— on that He does insist.” His hand went to His heart to point the way. Like stones they missed all else He had to say.
1 Timothy 2:5-6 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all....
It's Friday but Sunday's comin'!
Originally posted 4/6/07

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Sneak Previews of Our Thailand Trip

[I know, I know. I’ve not yet posted the final installment of “Words Fitly Spoken” [a study of this year's political rhetoric through the lens of Aristotle’s elements of persuasion]. That post is in the "draft" hopper, but I’ve had my mind on completing a major project in the next several days. Thanks for your patience.]

As most of you will recall, I was asked to accompany a medical missions team to Thailand this past January in order to make a documentary of the work this team has been doing for ten years with the hill tribes of the Chiang Rai Province in extreme northern Thailand—in what’s called the “Golden Triangle[known for its opium trade] between Burma [Myanmar], China, and Laos.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had been working on the initial video presentation, and that additional work was still ahead. Well, this week I've spent my evenings beginning that additional work with hopes of completing it over Spring Break [next week]. I also said that I'd eventually link video clips of that trip to my blog.

Doing this required branching out of our comfortable blogosphere to set up a Youtube channel. It took a while, but I figured it out last week. Since the two sites will often work in tandem, I used the same name. Please check out (and bookmark) Patterns of Ink on Youtube.

I wish I could upload higher "image" quality. These are grainy facsimiles of the actual high-def footage, but you'll get the idea. Shortened versions of Part I (8 min.) and Part II (7 min.) of the initial presentation are below this post, but it may be easier to watch them from the POI Youtube page (where you can click on "ABOUT THIS VIDEO" for details about each clip.The Youtube site will also have other clips as I get them done.)
"The Hill Tribes: A Timeless Mission" Part I

(Double-click on the arrow in the center of the screen. Stop or replay clips on this page by hitting the "refresh" button, or watch this and other clips at Patterns of Ink on Youtube.

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"The Hill Tribes: A Timeless Mission" Part II

From Bangkok to the Hill Tribes: A World of Class

I finished this Storyline last night. It is a brief study in cultural contrasts--not so much the contrast between Asia and America--but those found within Thailand itself, primarily in the area of modern architecture and the art of "weaving huts" of the Lahu Tribes near the Burma border.

Offshore Jones Act
Offshore Jones Act Counter