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ARTISTIC VENTURES

By James F. O’Neil

“To spend too much time in studies is sloth; to use them too much for ornament, is affectation; to make judgment wholly by their rules, is the humour of a scholar. . .   Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider.  Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be digested. . . .  Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. . . .”  –“Of Studies,” Francis Bacon (1561-1626).

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My first research paper, as I re-call, was finding out about Scotland.  This search had to be started in sixth or seventh grade.  I discovered lakes, cities, and climate–and probably something about wool, whiskey, and politics.  I had only the encyclopedia: that’s all we had back then.  I learned the basics from that first paper.  (I have often referred to that kind of paper as “The Switzerland Paper”: about banks, lakes, and chocolates.  And that is basic.)

swiss chololate

SOME SWISS CHOCOLATE

During high school, I am sure I wrote a few research papers (“term papers”); but I recollect one in particular for an education class: I wrote about Friedrich Froebel and the founding of the kindergarten.  I may have had eight or ten sources.  Yet what I do remember more than anything else–not the long hours writing nor the time-consuming typing on my portable 1955 (manual) Underwood typewriter nor the submitting the paper, but the thrill of being in a library, a great library, doing serious research.  I delighted being in the Chicago Public Library (downtown) and also at the Newberry Library, a special place for researchers then over age sixteen. 

newberry library chicago wikipedia

NEWBERRY LIBRARY, CHICAGO 

Throughout college, the papers came and went, and on into graduate school and post graduate work: papers, papers, papers: Shakespeare, sonnets, Jesus and school administration, Arthurian romances, the G.I. Bill, teachers and in-service activities, manic depression and school administrators, chaos and adultery, public service, the aorist tense in Greek, “Poe the Philosopher,” water symbolism in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man–and more, many more.

Some papers I hated as chores; most I loved as opportunities for knowledge and writing experience.  From this, despite the grade and the time spent, I learned time-use, planning, and library skills.  More than that, I learned organizational skills and meeting deadlines.  All this was not easy; learning sometimes hurts.  (And, I am sure, there were tears of frustration–but never a late paper.)

From this, I also developed a sense of researching–and my three questions: What do I already know?  What do I want to know?  And, What do I need to know?  Where those questions came from, I do not know.  But they have always worked for me.

Of course, I had to learn documentation skills: “the old Turabian” was all we had back then.  And I learned it–and even wrote a little research handbook for students.  Now MLA, APA, and OWL far exceed anything we had–but so has the amount of knowledge increased, with electronic access to this knowledge.  How lucky I am now to see this, to use this, to be a part of global knowledge and learning.  “I just love the Internet!”

But the smell of books, walking the stacks, sitting and reading and taking notes in England at the Cambridge University Library, or at the US Library of Congress, the libraries at the University of Minnesota, and in any small-town public library does more for me than sitting at the computer, drinking coffee, doing a Google Search.  “I love the smell of a musty book in the morning!”  Nothing like doing research . . . But I found that it takes heart, organizational skills, and a sense of the past: where I came from, where I have been, what I have done.  All this enters into my questions: What am I doing this for?  What do I want out of this?  To me, that is what doing research is all about.  “What’s it to me?”

Having done professional stained-glass work, I learned the most difficult aspect of craftsmanship was not cutting the glass, not the pattern making, not the assembly–no matter how large or small the project–but choosing the right glass, the right textures, the right colors. 

glass Ready for Foil

GLASS RESTORATION PROJECT: CUT AND READY FOR COPPER FOIL, THEN SOLDER

Choosing the right glass is likened to the most difficult aspect of doing a research project: choosing the right topic.  “Choice of topic: the hardest part of all,” I say. 

I have never chosen anything dumb or stupid; I have chosen (for the most part) wisely.  Not everything came back an A, of course.  Can’t have all A’s.  But can’t have all gold medals, can’t always win the Super Bowl, can’t always be #1, and can’t always be perfect.  However, I have learned I can do my best, and have that sense of accomplishment (relief?) when I submit the project.  AHHH!  Done.  And on to the next, for there is always a next–no matter how big or small, no matter in school or on the job: “Look this up for me, will ya’?”  “You have a paper due . . .”  “I need to find . . . Can you help?”  “As a member of this parent-teacher committee, . . . ”

“Hafta’ what?”  Know facts.  Document.  Have opinions.  Present feelings.  Solve problems.  Search.  Learn.  And make a presentation: to the family, a board, a committee, a boss, a reading club, a course instructor, a hearing officer, a judge–on and on and on.  There is no easy way.  And it all begins with the basics, with “My Switzerland Paper.” 

And these are my thoughts today on doing research.

©  JAMES F. O’NEIL  2019  

PS: All of the above is rated at the 6th grade reading level: my computer figured that out; but I used to know how to do it without the computer.  I researched it . . .    

PPS: I was once told that a “good” 1500-word paper takes about 40 hours–plus typing–from choosing the topic to the last bit of punctuation.  (Getting it right takes time.)

 

 

“We are such stuff / As dreams are made on, and our little life / Is rounded [completed] with a sleep.”  –Shakespeare.  The Tempest 4.1.156-58

“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.”  –E. A. Poe

“Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream . . . life is but a dream.”  –Children’s rhyme

“The dream is the small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens into that primeval cosmic night that was soul long before there was a conscious ego and will be soul far beyond what a conscious ego could ever reach.”  –C. G. Jung

[Music: The Everly Brothers, 1958] :  “Drea-ea-ea-ea-eam, dream, dream, dream … Drea-ea-ea-ea-eam, dream, dream, dream … Whenever I want you, all I have to do is / Drea-ea-ea-ea-eam, dream, dream, dream … Anytime night or day / Only trouble is, gee whiz / I’m dreamin’ my life away … Drea-ea-ea-ea-eam, dream, dream, dream…”

“A dream is a personal experience of that deep dark ground that is the support of our conscious lives, and a myth is the society’s dream.  The myth is the public dream and the dream is the private myth.”  –Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth.

[Music: Man of La Mancha, November 1965] :  “The Impossible Dream” : “To dream the impossible dream / … To bear with unbearable sorrow / … To right the unrightable wrong / To love pure and chaste from afar / To try when your arms are too weary / To reach the unreachable star / This is my quest, to follow that star, / No matter how hopeless, no matter how far / … And the world will be better for this…”  Songwriters: Joe Darion / Mitchell Leigh.  “The Impossible Dream” lyrics © Helena Music Company

“Wishing and hoping come directly out of the function of dreaming and making myths.”  — Rollo May, The Cry for Myth.

[Music: “I Dreamed a Dream” is a song from the musical Les Misérables.  It is a solo that is sung by the character Fantine during the first act.  …  The song is a lament, sung by the anguished Fantine, who has just been fired from her job at the factory and thrown onto the streets.  See Wikipedia for more history and analysis] :  “I Dreamed a Dream”/Anne Hathaway :  “There was a time when men were kind … There was a time when love was blind … And the world was a song … And the song was exciting.  There was a time…  Then it all went wrong.  I dreamed a dream in times gone by / When hope was high and life worth living / I dreamed, that love would never die / I dreamed that God would be forgiving…  I had a dream my life would be / So different from this hell I’m living / So different now from what it seemed / Now life has killed the dream / I dreamed.”  Songwriters: Alain Albert Boublil / Claude Michel Schonberg / Herbert Kretzmer / Jean Marc Natel.  “I Dreamed a Dream” lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

“Dreams are a private application to one’s life of public myths in which we all are participants.”  –Rollo May, The Cry for Myth.

“What happens to a dream deferred?  / Does it dry up / Like a raisin in the sun?  … / Or does it explode?”  –Langston Hughes

LET THE DREAMS BEGIN! 

“Hold fast to dreams / For if dreams die / Life is a broken / winged bird / that cannot fly. . .  Life is a barren field / Frozen with snow.”  –Langston Hughes, “Dreams.”

 

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BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

Destry Rides Again is a 1959 musical “comedy”–a Western with music and lyrics by Harold Rome and a book by Leonard Gershe.  The play is based on the 1939 classic film of the same name, starring Marlene Dietrich and Jimmy Stewart.  The musical starred Dolores Gray and Andy Griffith.  Tom Destry (Griffith) abhors guns but becomes sheriff of the town of Bottleneck.  There, The Last Chance Saloon singer, Frenchy, proves a distraction in his mission to bring the bad guys to justice.  Poker, swindle, shooting, murder, and “bad women” form the substance of the drama–somewhat of a “classic” Western.  As the story goes, the character Gyp Watson has been arrested for the murder of Sheriff Keogh early in the play.  [See Wikipedia and other sources]

[The video clip is “Are You Ready, Gyp Watson?” performed on a TV variety show, featuring the original 1959 Broadway cast.  The great Dolores Gray appears as Frenchy, and Michael Kidd did the choreography.  Songwriter Harold Rome’s counterpoint melody inspired Kidd to turn this into a major dance number, which contributed to his winning the Tony Award for Best Choreography.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BG4Mjq0H6Ic

I had never heard of the play nor heard the music until I was in college “back then.”  I was attending a men’s college, a small Roman Catholic seminary in Missouri.  Part of our curriculum, and a large part of our spiritual life, was song, and Gregorian chant.

Haec Dies Quam Fecit Dominus gregorian

Songs and hymns during liturgical services took place almost daily with the entire group of students.  One of my classmates, Ray Repp, approached me one day with an offer to join him and a few others to have a musical audition in a classroom.  He wanted to start a group to perform for the students.  Ray got us together, worked us, found us music, chose us a name, and set up a practice schedule during our free time.  We would sing when the school had time allotted for various entertainment activities, like one-act plays, songfests, movies, and amateur nights.

The Princetons were formed.  We were a timely group, with our musical repertoire for the ‘60s:  “Lemon Tree” “The River Is Wide, I Cannot See” and other ballads requiring good voices and one guitar.  And, of course, Gyp Watson’s funereal hymn which I still hum–and cannot ever get out of my head!  “Are you ready, Gyp Watson?  Are you ready, for to die?  Are you ready, Gyp Watson, for the last big roundup in the sky?”

And The Princetons had their “outfits”: black pants/trousers, black shoes, and white shirts, sleeves rolled up twice.  However, the distinguishing feature had to be our haircuts.  “Seminary” haircuts?  That would never do.  Not military cut, either.  Better, the “Princeton” cut:

princeton classic haircutA Princeton haircut–an Ivy League, or Harvard Clip–could be a kind of crew cut with enough hair styled on top for a side part.  Many individual variations came about.   

The hair on the sides and back of the head is usually tapered, short to medium.  (An Ivy League is traditionally groomed with hair control wax, sometimes called “butch wax”–a bit stronger than Dapper Dan pomade used by Ulysses Everett McGill in O Brother, Where Art Thou?)

princetons haircutsFAMOUS WEARERS OF PRINCETON HAIRCUTS

The Princetons of St Louis had their time, and made their mark.  And it was fun.  Ray thought we were good–and wanted us to make a recording of some of his music.  We did go to a small recording studio in St Louis and sang our best.  A tape was made.  Each of us had to contribute dollars for the master to be sent to various radio stations and critics.

Peter, Paul, and Mary, the Kingston Trio, and other groups were similar in some respects.  (Some memory tripping here: the Brothers Four, The Limeliters, The Chad Mitchell Trio, The New Christy Minstrels.)  “As noted by critic Bruce Eder in the All Music Guide, the popularity of the commercialized version of folk music represented by these groups emboldened record companies to sign, record, and promote artists with more traditionalist and political sensibilities.”  We certainly were in good company, but were not very popular.  And so ended my “semi-professional” music career, though I did not cease to sing. 

I had always loved to sing, was always told I had a good voice–good enough for church choirs, high school chorus groups, and men’s choirs and choruses.  I sang the full range from young castrati-type soprano (with a Michael Jackson voice) to first tenor, like that of my Chicago Opera-singing friend, Jimmy Pappas [from Pappas Ice Cream Shop]  (who helped me love classical music and Lakmé and La Boheme, among other operatic works), to second tenor.

I have sung in Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Arkansas, Washington, Texas, Florida–at churches and sporting events, at weddings and at funerals.  I can still be “choked up” at “O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave // O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

All this has been good.  I have had few bad experiences with song, or with reading music, or with hitting the proper notes.  There is, however, one forever-lasting impression of my place in the music world.  Once, in mid-life, I answered an ad, a call for auditions to the Florida Symphony.  I submitted all the proper paperwork, and found my way to the audition hall.  I was dreaming of tuxedos and travel and concert halls.  The audition practice began with Handel’s Messiah.  Some members of the chorus I already knew; some were like me, novices with the chorus, trying out, trying it out.messiah for satb

I knew I had to banish thoughts of black ties, patent-leather shoes, tuxedo tails when I realized pages of music were being turned–and I had not gotten there yet.  More tries.  More pages and notes and directions than I had ever experienced.

“Buddhism considers humility a virtue that must be won through a long process of self-observation.  It requires a healthy measure of self-confidence and courage to achieve a realistic and humble understanding of the self.”  (Sam Keen)

O say can you see how humble an understanding of myself I had at that time?!  At the break, I told the director that I could not do it.  End.

I am a hoarder, an addict, a collector: once upon a time, I probably had a thousand music CD’s, long after I had a record collection of classical and other music, choruses and operas included.  Downsized now, I still surround myself with music as much as I can. 

And, from time to time, Poor Jud Fry in Oklahoma, Tony in West Side Story, Gyp Watson, and a few other characters bounce around in my life–coming from I-don’t-know-where.  Though I am glad I have them to remind me of my days of song, and my brief musical career, and to bring me such memoriesofatime.

©  James F. O’Neil  2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

“If you don’t understand, ask before it’s too late.”  –Anon.

Once upon a time, as the story goes, there were three bears, a Lorax, and seven dwarfs.  They all planned to sit down on the forest lawn one late spring morning for a leisurely brunch, complete with honey, biscuits, green eggs and ham (this was a typical New Orleans Brennan’s-style meal), and some good apple pies baked by the old hag who also built gingerbread houses.  Well, because of the whims of Thor and the other gods, the brunch party was called on account of rain.  But they all lived happily ever after, for they knew behind every rain cloud there was a silver lining.

THE END.

SO IT GOES.

HEIGH, HO!

Narration is to entertain, by storytelling, with a beginning, a middle, and an end.  Mostly.  There is FACTUAL narration and FICTIONAL narration.  (Some get them mixed up.)

FACTUAL presents a sequence of events (and people involved) as they are, CONCERNED WITH TIME AND ACTION.  The events have significance or meaning to the teller of the tale, even though he or she may not have been directly involved in the event (what I might know from a historical happening). 

(Sometimes, though, narration or storytelling is used to make a point, or even to make an argument, as in a parable, a fable, or in a sermon [or at a political rally]).  In telling, tellers capture and use DETAILS and organize and present with FEELINGS and EMOTIONS, yet ordering with reason-ableness.  (A reader or listener wants to hear or read details that emotionally involve–“Yeah!  That happened to me!”; details that are understandable; details that present a sense of time and past-ness to make it all ring true–memoriesofatime)

TELL A GOOD STORY.  BE HONEST AND TRUE.  PUT IT ALL IN GOOD ORDER: incidents, anecdotes, memories, nostalgics, milestones, autobiography, biography, family history. 

Jean Piaget told some teachers once upon a time that most people usually do not reflect upon their lives–and maybe cannot–until they are 18 or 19.  (He said some writers need to be taught how to reflect.)

Finally, once upon a time, the author Flannery O’Connor remarked that anybody who has survived childhood (the 18 or 19 mentioned by Piaget?) has enough information about life to last (to write about?) the rest of his or her days.

THE END.

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