If you’re not doing anything Monday …

Come to my gig at the 331 in Minneapolis at 6:30. Good night of music starting with me (accompanied by Quillan Roe, Erik Brandt, Jeremy Szopinski et al.), then the Roe Family Singers with their weekly performance, and then Becky Kapell and Matt Arthur.

Here’s a free download of a song I might play. It’s an old demo of an unreleased song. http://www.reverbnation.com/…/so…/15756703-writing-my-wrongs

Here’s the Facebook event link: https://www.facebook.com/events/716059598473941/


Following is a news release from Red Circle Agency, which I’m doing some work for. Feel free to share the article or the YouTube link.


“Redskin” Racial Slur, Declares New Hard-Hitting TV Spot, Brainchild of Native American Ad Agency Owner

MINNEAPOLIS, October 29,2014 — The spot begins with the face of a quiet, yet clearly upset African American woman, who speaks to the camera, “I am a n****r.” The actual word is “bleeped” out, as national television doesn’t allow the racial slur. Which, says Chad Germann, owner of Red Circle Ad Agency and member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, is exactly the point.

See the spot here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXZeELeE7cc

“I was tired of people avoiding what I think is the real issue. There is no word in the American lexicon that is more hurtful to the Native American,” says Germann, who set out to create a message that puts “redskin” smack in the middle of other racial slurs.

Since the start of football season, the Washington team has been a constant presence in the media for refusing to change its name, claiming “tradition” and “honor.”

“This ‘honor’ brings dishonor to the Native American,” Germann explains, “There’s so much about Native American history in America that’s ugly. People avoid thinking about all that, which is why the Washington team can get away with this.”

In partnering with the National Coalition on Racism in Sports & Media, Red Circle is hoping natives and non-natives alike will join in the conversation around the racist word. “This is a social justice issue about power and privilege, not a Native American one,” says Germann.

Germann’s tribe is fully behind one of its own. Melanie Benjamin, Chief Executive of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, is quick to praise the effort. “Like other racial slurs, this is a word that has been used on playgrounds to demean our children and make them feel shame and self-hate.  Why would the FCC ban all those other words and allow this one?  We applaud Chad for joining in the effort to bring attention to this injustice.”

Germann is out to expose that injustice with a provocative message. “We’re left with this ugly word. People don’t talk about how ugly it is. We need to talk about it,” says Germann.

Red Circle is a Minneapolis-based advertising agency that works primarily with the hospitality industry, including many Native American casinos.

The National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media is an organization dedicated to fighting racial stereotypes used in sports and media, with a firm belief that American Indians are people, not mascots.

Questions, call Chad Germann at Red Circle Agency: 612-248-2062

Tips for a Stone Age life

My wife got pregnant for the first time when she was a grad student in evolutionary biology. One of her professors told her she looked to the other primates for child-rearing role models. After all they’d been doing it successfully for millions of years by the time Dr. Spock came along.

I’ve tried to apply that primate ethic across all areas of life in the years since, following the reasoning that if it served humans well for 200,000 years — or even 10,000 years of somewhat “civilized” life — it’s probably of more value than those habits we’ve picked up during the last century. Our brains, bodies, and hearts did not evolve for many of the activities that consume our time today, which may help to explain the rampant depression, aggression, and general dissatisfaction that plague our modern selves.

So in the interest of creating a blueprint for a more Stone Age life, here are some helpful hints:

1. Avoid rectangles. The 90-degree angle may exist in nature, but if so, it’s a rare and mostly microscopic phenomenon. This is why the monolith in “2001: A Space Odyssey” was such a find. After a quarter million years of doing just fine without them, we have surrounded ourselves with straight lines and corners, and we’ve cocooned ourselves within cubes within cubes within cubes. As if our desks, tables, chairs, walls, and cupboards are not enough, most of us spend way too many minutes and hours staring into rectangles or poking them with our fingers and thumbs. Our ancestors would think we’re crazy, and it’s bringing us more pain than pleasure.

2. Get outside. It follows that the best way to rid ourselves of rectangles is to spend more of our hours outside the confines of our various cubes. We evolved to live the majority of our lives under the sun, clouds, moon, and stars, so we are not well adapted to artificial light, smooth floors, or climate-controlled environments.

3. Spend time with animals. We are fortunate to live in a rural area, where we are caretakers of two dogs, a cat, 17 chickens (or more in the spring), two horses, and two goats. I love to sit in a chair in the evening to watch the goats devour buckthorn and the chickens fly into their trees for the night. There’s also nothing more amazing than a 1000-pound animal letting you ride on its back. For thousands of years, life was a zoo. Our primate cousins were surrounded by bird song, insects, and fellow mammals — friends, foes, and food. As our ancestors became sedentary and civilized, they domesticated other species for companionship, work, and dinner. Most humans until recent times lived among goats, sheep, cows, horses, dogs, chickens, ducks, or pigs. It’s in our nature to be zookeepers, so there is great joy in feeding them, petting them, and riding them. Butchering and cleaning up, not so much, but it is the price you pay for a happy human life.

4. Walk. A daily walk is the only anti-depressant most of us need. Many years ago I read an essay by Kosuke Koyama titled “3-mile-an-hour God,” which pointed out that in the Hebrew scriptures, Yahweh led the Israelites on a 40 year walk in the wilderness. Walking is in our nature — especially outdoors. We also may have evolved to run, but it hasn’t been quite as essential over the last few thousand years. The residents of “blue zones,” those regions where people are more likely to live to be 100 (as described by author Dan Buettner), are not big on cardiovascular workouts, but they do tend to walk. Pumping iron in a gym or running on a treadmill while watching Netflix is all well and good, but it hasn’t passed the test of time. It’s only been a century or two that we’ve traveled faster than a horse can gallop. Part of our craziness may be due to the fact that we haven’t had time to adjust to speed, so the more time we spend going 60 in a car or 500 in a plane, the more we need to practice other Stone Age behaviors.

5. Eat whole foods. I’m not a big paleo diet guy because I think it’s often based on a masculine fantasy that human life was more about chasing big game than it was about digging in the dirt and picking vegetables. I’m also fine with bread, gluten, sugar, and pretty much everything else in moderation, and I admire vegetarians and vegans (though I haven’t made that leap myself). The paleos and I agree, though, that the best foods are those with the fewest ingredients, especially those with one: fruit, vegetables, nuts, meat, grains, seeds. The worst foods, I’m pretty sure, are the ones with a Latin laundry list down the side of the box.

6. Speaking of digging in the dirt … gardening and foraging clearly make the list of timeless human activities worth pursuing. I’m not a good role model on this one, but I do pick a batch of fiddleheads and tap the maples most years in the spring, make applesauce in the fall, and plant a poorly-tended garden in the summer. I also find lamb’s quarters tastier and easier to grow than spinach or lettuce.

7. Don’t read so much. I love to read, and I’d never tell anyone to give it up (just ask my kids), but we don’t have to be slaves to it, and in fact, reading can keep us from a more essential human activity: talking to each other. Books are not essential to human happiness. The Internet (including blog posts like this one), even less so. Many vibrant cultures thrived without books, though not without oral tradition. We lived just fine without reading and writing for most of human history, but not without speaking and listening. Read in moderation; talk in excess. (Or doing both in excess is probably okay, too.)

8. Turn off the music. Silence is golden, and recorded music is only 100 years old. This may not sit well in an earbud society, but it’s crazy to live with a constant soundtrack. In fact, playing music in the background may actually cheapen it; focused listening is more respectful of the art and artist than continuous hearing, and it allows more time and attention for silence, wind in the trees, waves crashing, brooks babbling, and bird song. I love music, but it’s best enjoyed live or savored in small servings.

9. Just do it. Sex, of course, predates the primates, the rectangle, language, music, and even legs. The most important modern convenience is therefore birth control. We no longer have the luxury of being fruitful, multiplying, and filling the earth. It’s already past its carrying capacity, so enjoy the modern luxury of the vasectomy.

10. Swim. Water is life. It’s where we all came from. We need to drink it, stare at it, and splash around in it as often as possible — especially in rivers, lakes, ponds, streams, and oceans.

11. Climb. We owe it to our primate relatives to use our opposable thumbs for their original purpose. In the absence of a good climbing tree, we can be satisfied with a ladder, a hill, a mountain, or a building. It’s natural to get up high and survey our surroundings.

12. Have a beer. We’ve been doing it for several thousand years, and some argue that it’s what made us settle down into agricultural communities. I won’t call it essential, though, and it’s inherently dangerous, so as with other dangers like books and music, enjoy it in moderation. We tell our kids that nothing good happens after midnight, and we should tell ourselves that nothing good happens after the third pint, the second martini, or the first bottle of wine.

13. Sleep a lot. A friend and I once spent three months camping, fishing, foraging, wandering around, and sleeping a lot. I’m pretty sure our ancestors did the same. Life outdoors is intense and tiring. The eight hours of sleep rule is a guilt trip imposed by religious and corporate interests. Relax and enjoy life. Sleep when you’re tired. Get up when you’re not.

I’m sure there are more I haven’t thought of, but any human activity can be put to the same test: If it’s been around for ten thousand years or more, it’s probably essential for a happy and healthy human life. If it’s less than a century old, it’s probably not. Generally speaking, the older the better, e.g. walking is better than driving, sex is better than pornography, books are better than movies, beer is better than meth, and pistachios are better than chips and dip (as painful as it is to admit it).

Most of us — myself included — are not going to move to a wigwam or get rid of our cellphones, but when modern life starts causing us more stress than satisfaction, our bodies may be telling us to get outside, go for a walk, talk to someone, get our hands dirty, or savor a drink of water.

Stop saying this:


I posted the above yesterday, with a link on Facebook saying only “This.” I received a comment from my friend Debbie Blue, who clicked on it hoping to find a rant, to which I reply that it was a rant — and a very pithy one at that.

But just to be a good friend, I decided to follow-up by editing this post into a more thorough rant on the Internet, the meme, and the slavery to fashion that infects our doomed age.

In case you missed it, “this” has become an Internet meme. You link to something and type that one word, which is shorthand for “This is the coolest/funniest/stupidest/most interesting/relevant/earth-shattering thing I’ve EVER SEEN on the Internet IN MY WHOLE ENTIRE LIFE (in the last five minutes).”

It’s trendy, and therefore annoying and boring.

This. has. also. gotten. old. You’ve probably seen it just as often. It’s another shorthand method of accentuating the importance/relevance/humor/stupidity/coolness/earth-shatteringness of whatever it just took you five seconds to type.

Then there’s “2” for “too/too” and “4” 4 “for.” Don’t tell the tweeters of my generation, but they’re the only ones still using texting shortcuts. The kids have figured out that if you can’t say it in 140 characters without abbreviations, you’re not trying hard enough.

Coined by the famous evolutionary biologist, atheist, and Internet celebrity Richard Dawkins, a meme is a cultural idea or phenomenon that spreads via imitation. In other words, it’s a trendy word for “trend,” a fashionable word for “fashion,” a description of a cliche that has become a cliche. In other words, “meme” is a meme.

Using memes violates the first of George Orwell’s six rules for writers (still the best advice a writer can receive): “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.”

The unfortunate reality of the Internet age: As soon as a trend is born, it is everywhere, and therefore old. Call it a type of Benjamin Button syndrome: Everything on the Internet is born old, but instead of getting younger, it just keeps getting older. If something is repeated once, it will be passé by the end of the news cycle.

And yet we scroll and click and post and tweet and read and type in desperate hope that something we see or say will not wither and die as soon as we log on or hit send. We’re slow learners. There was nothing new under the sun three thousand years ago, and even if something new were to appear today, it would be impossible to find in the dung heap of the Internet.

On the other hand, it is a charming characteristic of our culture — the way we Americans can always find a new rebellious fashion, even if it requires covering our bodies with bad art, stretching holes in our earlobes the size of silver dollars, wearing a dress made of meat, or toddling around with our pants around our ankles.

Traditionally, individuals outgrew their preoccupation with trends and fashion between the ages of 18 and 25, when most would realize that no matter how hip they tried to be, someone else was one step ahead.

Try as we might, we can never discover or invent the next big thing. We were into that band way before everyone else (but after all those other idiots). The sad irony of cool is that it’s always more about following than leading, more about being a white sheep than a black one, a trendfollower rather than a trendsetter.

I can relate because I was one of the best. In high school, I showed up at a party in a poor imitation of a Joe Ely album cover, wearing a pair of wraparound shades, a Stetson cowboy hat, a bolo tie, and a tweed sport coat. As a freshman in college, I had a New Wave proto-mullet and wore a trench coat with Army fatigues, and I once attended a dance wearing tie-dyed thermal underwear — tops and bottoms.

For me, the revelation came at age 20, when I caught a glimpse of my sophomoric self in a mirror wearing an orange mohair v-neck sweater and a pair of zipper boots I’d picked up at Goodwill. I exchanged my unique thriftstore duds for what at the time was the least original outfit I could think of: Levi’s, a t-shirt, and a plaid flannel — which in 1983 was not an ironic statement but simply the way Minnesotans dressed.

Apparently many others of my generation in the Midwest made the same discovery around the same time. In the mid 1980s, when I spent a few months in the Bay area, it was all blue hair, black leather, Doc Martins and The Smiths, but back home in the Twin Cities, after a short-lived punk era, it was flannel shirts and The Replacements (though to be honest I never cared much for them).

My generation was uniquely situated to become suspicious of trends. We had watched our older siblings — the hippies — morph from flower children into  Reaganite yuppies. When we finished college, all the jobs were taken by the boomers ahead of us, so we were the original underemployed slackers — not by choice but by necessity. We were cynics with temp jobs and finely tuned poser detectors.

Fewer and fewer Americans are outgrowing the desire to be hip or cool, and the Internet is just one of many examples. On a drive across South Dakota and Wyoming last summer, I saw countless old fogies tooling around on Harley Davidsons, wearing Harley Davidson t-shirts and Harley-Davidson bandannas and leather jackets. I ran into a Harley grandma at the grocery store just yesterday.

I want to tell all the old guys sporting earrings that it’s just not working. The poor fellows don’t seems to notice that they’re screaming, “Hey! Look at me! I may appear old, but I’m cool too!”

I remember as a young man imagining Mick Jagger doing his thing with the lips and elbows at age 40. We all assumed that The Stones and Dylan and the Beatles would fade away like Douglas MacArthur, because that’s what people did back then. They grew up and put away childish things (to quote one of the fuddy-duddy writers they read). It never happened with Mick, though, and it never will. Something changed forever with the rock and roll generation.

No wonder the Internet generation, the millennials, have a permanent ironic stance (or limp). They can’t risk sincerity for fear that their true confession was interesting ten minutes ago. Every statement is like brand new blue jeans already faded and tattered by a machine in a sweatshop somewhere.

The youngsters’ desire for something that lasts can be seen in the retro revival, but when the old is the new style, it’s just another exercise in peeling onions. When you get to the end, there’s nothing there. God bless them, but it’s hard to find authenticity in a warehouse of theater costumes.

It may be that growing up is simply giving up relevance and renouncing fashion in favor of the timeless. Lately I have been thinking about my mom, who died a year ago, and the fact that her generation has almost expired, leaving us with a nation of eternal teenagers desperately seeking relevance.

With the short half-life of today’s memes, we are unable to notice — much less focus on — the only things that matter.

It may seem like nothing, but our obsession with trends is a symptom of a fatal disease. As we buzz from one dead flower to the next, we don’t notice the world ending.

Not as lazy as I appear

They say Soren Kierkegaard, when he was hard at work on one of his many philosophical tomes, used to slip off to the theater so the townsfolk would think him an idler.

I’ve never had much in common with SK, except maybe the appearance of being lazy.

Today, however, I found out I have not been as lazy as I’d thought. I requested a list of all the courses I’ve taught over the years (mostly from 1994 to 1997 and 1999 to 2006), and it turns out I have well over 10 years’ worth of college teaching credits dating back to 1994, when I finished my Master’s. That doesn’t count miscellaneous courses I taught in New Zealand or at St. Cloud State.

Add to that 10 years’ worth of work as a journalist (6 as editor, three as full-time reporter, plus days, weeks, and months here and there as a columnist, part-time reporter, and interim editor), and it appears that I have been gainfully employed for 20 years — in spite of the fact that I’ve been a grad student for the better part of the last year.

So at this point I am giving myself permission to stop feeling bad about going back to school and not contributing much (beyond my TA’s salary) to the family budget. I guess I’ve been pulling my weight after all.

Rich in trees

Diane and I have plenty of money, but we’re downright rich when it comes to trees. I’m 51 years old, so nothing much surprises me anymore, yet every day I marvel at the trees.

We have oaks — red and white — some old and gnarled like the rest of us, congregations of them on the hillsides, others young and solitary in the fields.

We have basswoods, or lindens, some three feet in diameter, others in thick clumps, falling down one at a time like matchsticks in a children’s game.

Ash grow everywhere, but the one in the middle of the woods is as big as any I’ve seen, a granddaddy of a green ash.

We have walnuts, with leaves growing opposite from a common stem, a kaleidoscope against the blue sky and white clouds.

We have elms — slippery and American. Some grow in the open, their branches veering up and out like a vase. Others grow in the woods, reaching out of the understory.

Close to the river, where the floods come up each spring, grow twisted willows and silver maples. Their lower branches reach down then curve out toward the river to catch the sunlight. Their yellow leaves float down the river in the fall. Rows of silvers planted long ago by our farm house give us sap for syrup in the spring.

In the woods are sugar maples — a handful of old ones and hundreds of saplings springing up to take their place. In 50 years they’ll dominate the drier parts of the lower woods.

We have ironwoods that make a ceiling under the roof of oaks. The sun comes through the soft leaves, and a rich green light glows. Where the ironwoods grow, few buckthorn or prickly ash clutter the forest.

We have pines — red and white. The reds, planted before we moved in, struggle to survive, but the whites, most of which we’ve planted, seem to love it here. Some grow three feet a year, and in no time are taller than a house.

We have spruce and fir, but only a few, and quaking aspen by the thousand.

We have towering cottonwoods with massive trunks. We have box elders, sprawling and sprouting shamelessly.

We have woody shrubs: alder, elder, hazel, juneberry, gooseberry, sumac, and others I can’t name. Someone who lived her before us planted lilacs, honeysuckle, crab apples, and hawthorne. We’ve added apples, cranberries, plums, and cherries. Wild cherries grow in the woods, wild plums in the fields.

We have tamaracks that Dana planted, and red cedars that were a gift from my brother-in-law. Another red cedar showed up in the hayfield one year and is now 15 feet tall.

A few common Minnesota trees don’t grow on our property: white cedar, big-tooth aspen, jack pine, red maple.

I don’t mind. We’re rich enough.

I’m a TP parent

Yesterday my 17-year-old son Leif wore a t-shirt to school that said, in ironed-on, upper-case letters, “FEMINIST.” This morning I woke up to this:

tp photo

Coincidence? Well, yeah, probably.

In my experience, it’s usually friends, not enemies, who toilet paper someone’s yard.

It reminds me of my first experience with the TP treatment. I was only 11 or 12 at the time, and most of my friends lived far away, so it was certainly the friends of my older brother Jeff who were to blame.

My father, for some reason, made me clean the mess up, and the injustice of it all still burns to this day. Rest assured that I will not be the one to de-TP our trees today. Leif is sound asleep at 9 this morning, but as soon as he awakes his mission will be handed down from headquarters.

Since it was probably Leif’s friends who are the culprits, I considered going on Twitter and pretending that I have a motion-sensitive security camera, so I know who did it.

These are the sorts of things I think about on my morning walks: bringing justice to (or wreaking vengeance upon) all who have wronged me.

But today I am in a merciful mood. Kids will be kids, and as long as I don’t have to clean it up, I won’t be offended — even though one of the trees dressed in bathroom tissue was recently planted in honor of my mom.

And I will take some satisfaction in the fact that they also hit the white pine we planted in honor of Dear old Dad, whose 40-year-old injustice has finally been punished.