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New Review of I Too!

March 15, 2017

My recent novel, I Too, has been reviewed by Flaxflower, a New Zealand literary magazine and I’m happy to share it with you.  It also includes a nice synopsis of the book to give you an idea of what it’s about if you haven’t read it.

There have also been a couple of reviews posted on the Amazon and Book Depository web sites but I’ve gotten a lot of reviews privately via e-mail.  Many people seem to be too shy to put their thoughts out on the web, but if you’ve read the book, do please write a review on the web where you obtain the book.

Here is a link to the Flaxflower review.

Here is a link to the book on Amazon.

Another Thing I Missed

March 12, 2017

I’m the first one to admit that I’m out of the loop on social trends.

So it should come as no surprise that I was oblivious to the fact that one of the defining items in anyone’s wardrobe these days is a pair of Kanye West shoes.  Did you know he had a shoe brand?

I didn’t until I read an article titled “’Sneakerheads Camp in Nottingham for Kanye’s Latest Shoe.”

Before we continue, you should know, as I just learned, that “Sneakerhead” is a real term.  Apparently there are people so into shoes that they have evolved a specialized language and everything.  Carnegie Mellon University in the US has a course on the phenomenon called “Sneakerology 101.”

Anyway, last month these new shoes came out and the asking price was £150, which is about $260.  In order to part with that kind of money for a pair of shoes, “devoted fans” were lining up for “several days” in order to access the limited number of shoes that would go on sale.  According to someone who was waiting in line, “As you get close to release time you get a real buzz around and people get real excited.”

The shop selling the shoes explained demand as being due to “. . . the power of the brand.  Kanye is a giant of popular culture – and he is married to Kim Kardashian – so the hype around his brand is huge.”

The article didn’t delve into the demographic of the assembled crowd but it’s fairly clear there were two classes of people.  One were those who could afford to pay that kind of money for a pair of shoes and had nothing better to do than camp out on the sidewalk in winter weather for a few days.  The other group were people who were probably used to camping out on the sidewalk in winter weather but generate their income by buying Kanye shoes and turning around and selling them.  Apparently these things are such a hot commodity that they can be resold for a more than 100% profit on the same day.  Not a bad day’s work!  I don’t know all the details of how the aftermarket works but Kanye shoes have been known to sell for “thousands of pounds.”

This shoe is priced at NZ $3,240 on the Internet

Some retailers, and Adidas, who make the shoes, in particular discourage this. They will only let you buy one pair at a time.

In case you are wondering why the shoes have such value, here is the explanation from an 18-year-old aficionado: “You need style if you are an 18-year-old boy – you look at people nowadays and everything is about what you look like.”

I do remember various “must have” things over the years, but reality has gradually made me immune to the exhortations of advertisers.

However, while I’ve been quietly living my life, a whole alternative culture of brand identity has grown up.  Around clothes in general, but definitely with shoes.   There are whole websites (and apps) devoted to notifying people of product “drops.” A “drop” is a product release.  Times were, bad, underperforming product lines were dropped by manufacturers but now hot new stuff is dropped, as if from heaven.

And once you get your hands on a coveted new drop, life really gets complicated.  I saw an article entitled “Sneakerheads:  Stop Wearing Good Shoes With Trash Outfits.”  Why should you do that?  “Because the virtues of a good sneaker are endless,” and “. . . your shoes deserve so much more than the stylish equivalent of stepping in dog shit.”

This pretty much sums it up: “And you want your sneakers to be happy, right? You didn’t shell out a whole month’s paycheck on them to make them neglected, right? If you truly want to show your appreciation for your footwear game, pay them a compliment: Style them correctly.“

The article closes with the warning: “Because even though the clothes don’t make the man, the clothes and a good pair of sneakers might.”

This is serious business.  I found out that there is even a hashtag #NTDenim where people who wear the wrong kind of jeans with their sneakers are photographed and shamed.  To help others from making “the same regrettable mistake.”  To help you, there are also websites and apps that “curate” all these must have things.  Incidentally, however, another website urged people not to use that hashtag because people were purposely assembling hideous insults to their sneakers and posting them “in order to be famous on the Internet.”  Another thing I missed.

In a radio interview, after being asked about his priorities, a young man said, “Don’t judge me.  I can spend my money however I like.  These shoes define who I am.”

One can only wonder, who these people are and where they go to see and be seen and what they value other than their shoes.

Try This Look Instead!

Peer Gynt (Recycled)–Auckland 2017

March 10, 2017

Two days ago, I saw an amazing play by a talented young New Zealand playwright, Eli Kent.  It was called Peer Gynt (Recycled).

I make it a habit of not researching plays before I see them because I like to be surprised, and anyway, it would have been pretty hard in this case because the play is new.  I had a vague familiarity with the Peer Gynt story by Henrik Ibsen and remember hearing the music by Grieg.  So I figured the play was going to be a modernized version of Ibsen.

The first hint that we were in for something different came when we parked the car and the attendant told us that he had seen a rehearsal and “it’s not for everyone.”  That was a pretty promising endorsement.

He wasn’t wrong.  The theatre was noticeably emptier when the curtain came up for the second act.  The triggering mechanism for the exodus may have been the closing scene of the first act in which the playwright, who is a major character in the play, is stripped and secured to a table by a group of enraged Ibsen academics for desecrating the master’s work.  The first act closes with the academics performing an impromptu caesarian on the playwright and the result is a mature but baby-sized Henrik Ibsen (complete with the cool facial hair) who, with the academics, embarks on an orgy of cannibalism.

(Incidentally, the academics aren’t the only outraged people in the play. In the second act, a full grown Henrik Ibsen himself appears and confronts the playwright and accuses him of “shitting on my work.” The playwright says he has done nothing of the sort, “I’ll show you what shitting on your work looks like,” he says as he drops his pants, moons the audience, and squats over a copy of the original play).

If all of this sounds like gratuitous shock theatre, I’ve given you the wrong idea.  I thought it was one of the most creative, innovative, timely and challenging plays I’ve seen in a long time and my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It had a really important message and spent three plus hours reiterating it to make sure you got it.

I did my research after the fact and found out that although today the original Peer Gynt is considered pretty much a classic and national treasure, original audiences were almost as baffled as we were.  The play is considered to be one of the first examples of Modernism and surrealism in theatre and Ibsen ignored a lot of conventions, like limitations of space and time and chronology.

Norwegian postage stamp commemorating Peer Gynt

Not only that, and this is what made Peer Gynt (Recycled) so interesting to me, is that the original Peer Gynt character is what we would call a narcissist today and the original play was considered to be, in part, a satire on that kind of behavior.

Eli Kent has “recycled” the story into the 21st century and created a thought provoking critique of how we approach life today.  In some respects, there are two plays in one.  One, the weird one, is about Peer Gynt and his adventures, each of which is a surrealistic mini story on self-importance and ego.  In one scene, the mature Peer is a successful porn producer and is meeting with his publicist and biographers in a Dubai penthouse.  A disgruntled former employee, who is now, somehow appropriately, a Starbucks employee, bursts in and holds them at gunpoint.  Peer lives, of course, but when she kills everyone else Peer laments, “You can’t kill him, he was going to write my biography.”

Lack of empathy and egotism show up everywhere.  After a shipwreck, Peer is floating on a door and a famous Hollywood director, clutching an Oscar, demands to be saved because “I’m James Fucking Cameron.”

But the real story to me was the one involving the character of the playwright.  He’s a twenty something loser who has decided to write the play in his own image and likeness.  He has no frame of reference beyond himself.  In other words, he’s a modern Peer Gynt.  Any reference to classical literature or history is mediated through himself and the play is only important in terms of how he sees it and how he feels about it.  He spends a lot of time talking to—make that lecturing—the audience about his deep ideas.

We learn that he is so addicted to internet porn that he can’t function normally and he tries to get an old girlfriend to help him with the play only if she agrees not to take any credit.  He also spends a lot of time talking about the play to his mother who has a hard time figuring out what’s going on.  Like Peer Gynt, he’s a classic narcissist with no empathy for anyone, a huge ego and an exaggerated sense of his importance and talent.

Near the end of the play, Peer and the playwright, Eli, become essentially the same person and Eli is forced, on pain of death, to prove that he is special.  He goes in search of some of the characters Peer has met during the play but no one can find anything special about him.

Throughout the play there have been numerous references to getting to the heart of something by “peeling the layers of the onion.”  Ibsen appears and gives Eli an onion to peel and when he does it, there is nothing inside.  Eli can’t accept that he’s just some guy rather than the special creation he has come to consider himself.  He’s also desperate to find a way to end the play in a meaningful way and he and his mother start to read from the original to get some ideas.  The play ends with Eli asking his mother (appropriately because she is complicit in having made him the narcissistic millennial that he is) “If we all believe in the lie together, isn’t that as good as the truth?”

Sort of a timely warning for everyone around the world, isn’t it?

I Too – A New Novel

December 20, 2016
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For the past couple of years, I’ve been working on a novel which has come to be called I Too. 

The book grew out of feedback I got on my last book, Identities.  Younger people who read Identities told me they really liked its message of making the world a better place, starting with the work place.  But they felt they had limited opportunities because, for example, they were new in their careers or had a new family or mortgage and felt that they were too busy or weren’t in a position to make changes.

At the same time, like everyone else, I saw the further polarization of society along all sorts of fault lines—political, ideological, religious, racial, and also read daily headlines about growing inequality and its negative effects on society.

I Too is an attempt pull these issues together and to make people think about these issues and how they can do something to make the world a better place and a micro level.

I Too is now available from Amazon both as a paperback and in a Kindle version.

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Here is the back cover blurb:

Ben, Paul, and Ridge were best friends growing up, but after they went off to college, their lives began to diverge. When they reunite at Ridge’s twenty-eighth birthday party, they find that if they want to remain friends, they must confront some major differences.

Ridge is materialistic and career focused, and he has a glamorous and rich girlfriend, Julia. But he’s discovering Julia’s values and priorities don’t mesh with those of his friends, and she wants him to choose between his past and a future with her.

Ben’s life is completely different from Ridge’s. He teaches history at a community college but longs for an academic career at a more prestigious university. What will Ben have to give up for success?

Paul always feels like he is caught between Ridge and Ben. He shares some of Ben’s ideals but also has some of Ridge’s desire for material success. Will a mentor and a new love interest help him find the balance he craves?

Through Ridge, Ben, and Paul, author T. E. Stazyk encourages readers to challenge accepted norms and values and think about how they too can make a difference and change the world.

You can find the book on Amazon here.

I hope you enjoy I Too and share it with your family and friends.  Let me know what you think.

Time To Learn Some New Words!

November 29, 2016
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We haven’t talked about words for a while.  But that doesn’t mean that the language is in any better shape than the last time we looked.  Partly because awesome continues to be the word of choice to describe anything and everything.

awesome

Anyway, language has been in the news recently because the Oxford English Dictionary has taken to announcing its new additions to the dictionary each quarter.  I finally got around to having a look at the most recent additions and I found a lot of interesting items.

Sociologists tell us that narrative is important because how we say things reflects our underlying thinking. That’s why we have political correctness.

And speaking of narrative, did you know that “narrative” has taken on a new meaning? It used to only mean a story or account of events.  But now it is used to describe the events themselves.  “Aesthetic” is another word that has been co-opted.  Instead of just meaning appreciation of beauty or describing an artistic style, it too, now means moods, feelings or things. As in “Chloe and Tyler got into a big fight at the restaurant because she didn’t like the aesthetic.  I didn’t want to be part of that narrative so I left.”

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But that’s not the important narrative woven into the list of new words.  A good example of new words reflecting who we are is the large number of words on the list that are from foreign languages.  Globalization means we are more widely exposed to other cultures and words that work well get readily adopted.

But if the words we use are an expression of who we are, we might be concerned that of the almost 200 words on the list, over 10% refer to food or cooking.  And a lot refer to shopping or consuming.  More on that later.

There are some interesting surprises as well.  For one thing, there aren’t as many technology neologisms as there have been on past lists.  And there are some totally legitimate made up words such as Flerovium and Livermorium.  They are new elements that have been discovered.  Now you know.

Another interesting thing is the words on the list that I thought would already be in the dictionary—like fine tuned and shoplifting.  And what took jagoff so long to make the list?

There are some words that I don’t think are going to last into future editions of the dictionary. One example is Yoda, which means a smart person, expert or guru. Another is fuhgeddaboudit, which most people think was Tony Soprano’s go to word, but it was actually properly explained by Johnny Depp in Donnie Brasco which predates The Sopranos.  Check it out here!

I’ve selected a few of the words on the list to share with you and to explore the narrative and aesthetic around them.  So you too can get a feel of the state of English.

Biatch–n. This is supposedly used by people too polite to say “bitch.” I don’t understand the distinction, especially because the origin is rap music.  For those of you who want to use it and its nuances, the Urban Dictionary informs us that the state of being a biatch is biatchitude.  And exemplary biatchitude is known as biatchitudestein.

Balut–n. You don’t want to know. This word is both from a foreign language (Tagalog) and technically about food, although you might not agree.  It’s a duck egg that is just about to hatch that is cooked and, er, eaten. Basically, its part egg, part duck.  Use your imagination.  It made the list because it’s a popular gross out food on reality TV shows like Fear Factor.

Bodoh–adj. Another foreign word (Malay) and one you will definitely want to use.  It means stupid.  Sian bodoh is a wonderful multilingual insult which has the huge advantage of probably not being understood by the person it’s directed at.  Sian means boring in Hokkien so combined with bodoh it packs a nice one two punch.  It also has a nice ring to it.  Use it wisely.

playing-stupid-again

Chefdom–n. A truly frightening cooking word.  Or maybe it’s just bodoh. It means being a chef.  If, like me, you think there are too many chefs and chef programs on TV, you are probably worried about all of chefdom banding together. Remember, they have knives.  Lots of them.

Kindsa–? You know how you cringe when someone writes “I could of  . . .” instead of “I could have?” Kindsa represents the elevation of that sort of thing as a word in the OED.  If you haven’t figured it out yet, it means “kinds of” as in “Like, I’m so into all kindsa words.”

Non-apology–n. If the words we use reflect the way we think, be afraid, be very afraid.  Meaningless apologies are now so de rigueur, that we need a word for them.

Shopaholism–n. See non-apology.

Shoppertainment–n. Times were, shopping was something you just did in order to acquire things.  Now our attention spans are so short and we’re so bored that retailers have come to believe that we need “an entertaining in-store shopping experience” and there are consultants who specialize in helping stores with “experiential retailing.”  I wonder if Black Friday shootings in the US qualify.

Skronk–adj. A term to describe music that is dissonant, grating or irritating.  Why has it taken this word so long to find respectability in the dictionary considering how often it can and should be used?  Also applies to some news reporters and radio announcers.  Also an integral part of shoppertainment.

Squee–n, v. Essentially a squeal, usually of delight.  I don’t know if this word came about as a result of text language because it’s easier to type than squeal or what.

Upcharge–n.  A euphemism for paying more for something.  Also known as “accessorial charges.” It’s a fancy way of saying you pay more for extra cheese on your pizza.

Vom–n, v. Like bodoh, I’m going to be using this one! Take a guess.  It is short for vomit and is a wonderfully versatile word.  As in, “there was vom on the floor after the party.”  Or “I vommed when I saw that guy eating balut.”  I like it because there was no need for yet another word for vom, but it’s always nice to have one.

This is but a small sampling of the new words in the dictionary.  Have them ready when you do your Christmas shopping and buy all kindsa stuff. Watch out for the shopaholics who might be squeeing over the shoppertainment and don’t get upset by the skronking PA system or the biatch behind the counter who gives you a non-apology when you question the latest upcharge.  Don’t buy any bodoh gifts and whatever you do, don’t vom if a chefdom tries to get you to sample some balut.

 

Peter Clifton-Sprigg 1954 – 2016

October 29, 2016

I have a lot to say, but don’t know where to start.

Yesterday I went to a friend’s funeral and I don’t feel like I’ve been to a funeral.  For one thing, we had some time to get ready for it.  Just before Christmas last year, Peter had been told that he only had a few months to live.  So we knew we’d be going to his funeral, we just didn’t know when.

And he wasn’t shy about reminding people that it was up and coming.  Lately he would introduce himself by saying, “I’m Peter and I’m dying.”

That by itself was a new experience for me.  Usually when people are terminally ill, it’s the elephant in the room.  But Peter made it a totally acceptable topic of conversation.  More than that, he inspired everyone with his courage, humanity and determination to get the most out of whatever time he had left.

I first met Peter in 2011 when he was on the faculty of a horticulture school that would bring its students out to CUE Haven to plant trees and help us with maintenance work.

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Peter was one of three faculty members and I mostly remember him as the one who would insist that the students take extra time and make everything just right and to his credit, the culvert drainage boxes he helped build on the walking track have stood the test of time.

Unfortunately due to funding problems, the school’s priorities changed and they haven’t been back to the farm since 2013 and we lost touch with Peter and his colleagues.

In June this year, Joan, one of the other teachers, contacted us to tell us that Peter had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and he wanted to bring his wife out to CUE Haven to show her the work he and the students had done.

We arranged a time to meet up. We didn’t know what to expect and were shocked.  Peter was on crutches and unable to eat most solid foods.  Because the cancer was in his bones, he was at constant risk of fractures.  Nevertheless he took off and insisted on walking the entire track from the top of the property back to the house.  We also planted celebration trees and he insisted that we pick out a special tree to plant as a memorial tree for later.

We happened to show him an area where we are planning to put some benches and artwork. That’s when Peter’s wife told us that he had won numerous awards for his garden designs in the UK and Peter said that he would like to design the area for us as his gift to CUE Haven.  A few weeks later he came back a couple of times and mapped the area and drew up a professional plan for us to use.  He even set up an office in the field!

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In his last few months, Peter decided that he was too busy to give up.  He had been a karate teacher for the past few years and one of the things on his bucket list was to get his black belt.  He was awarded the belt on September 1.  He also did a tandem sky dive to raise money for the West Auckland Hospice where he spent his last days.  He generally refused to go to the hospital, in spite of serious medical complications, on the grounds that time in the hospital prevented him from living life.

Yesterday at the celebration of Peter’s life we saw pictures of his life and listened to some of his favourite music.   Yes, Led Zeppelin’s In My Time of Dying and Stairway To Heaven made the list—and the ceremony ended with Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond.  There was also a guest video appearance by Peter himself—and he was there physically, too, in the wooden coffin he’d designed and built himself in the past few months.

The funeral home was filled to capacity and there was a stream of people describing how Peter had positively impacted their lives.

The ceremony was called “A Celebration of Life,” and I know that is the new euphemism for “funeral.”  But this really was a celebration of a life well lived.  And a life that will continue to positively influence a lot of people.

Peter’s attitude was an inspiration—in a world where we seem to be afraid to discuss issues like death and dying, he confronted it head on.  Usually we don’t have candid conversations about these topics.  But Peter made it comfortable.  When he could no longer eat solid food and had to feed himself through a device installed in his stomach he thought nothing of pulling up his shirt and showing you how it worked.  He treated his illness as something that was happening to him and that was part of his life and not something to fight but to live in spite of.  He had been a missionary in Uganda years ago but was constantly questioning our place in the universe and had come to view death as just a step in a larger spiritual journey.

Being around Peter helped put things in perspective.  When explaining his desire to get the black belt, he said that he wanted people to say, “If he can do it, what’s stopping me?”

Here’s Peter making the local news and talking about making the most of life.

Peter, we look forward to telling your story to future visitors to the platform you have designed.  You will always be remembered at CUE Haven and by all the others you have touched.

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He who binds himself to a joy
Does that winged life destroy
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise

–William Blake

Another Sign It’s Time to Go Home

September 21, 2016

American novelist Erma Bombeck wrote a hilarious book titled When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time to Go Home.  The big news in NZ is all about a French tourist who has been hitchhiking around the country, and although he doesn’t seem to know it, is looking suspiciously like his passport photo.

One of the more popular ways to travel in NZ is backpacking and even in the big cities there are all sorts of backpacker hostels.  Seeing people of all nationalities trekking alongside the roads with big packs is a normal year round sight.

Although there are many options, a popular way for backpackers to see the country is by hitchhiking and when my wife and I are travelling around New Zealand we routinely pick up hitchhikers.  So hitching a ride from just about anywhere in the country is usually not a problem as long as you look half way human.

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Enter this French guy who has been in NZ for an unspecified period of time but who supposedly has been making a career out of backpacking around the world and has so far visited 70 countries.

To me, that would make him a fairly savvy traveller, considering that he’s survived 69 other countries where hitchhiking is probably not as easy or safe or accepted as it is here.

So what we can’t understand is why he has ended up as national headline news this week and with a bill of $3,000 for damage to road signs that he inflicted in a tantrum as a result of not being picked up for four solid days. In court, he claimed that no one “even offered water.”

To clear up some of your obvious questions, no he is not weird looking and no he was not hitching in some godforsaken corner of the country. He was in one of the most popular tourist sites in the South Island.

He claims quite simply that he was ignored for four straight days and admits that in frustration he did damage some signs but not to the tune of $3,000.

Worst of all, he now claims that New Zealand is the worst country he has ever been in and should be renamed “Nazi Zealand” and that the worst aspects of the US were better than NZ.

Oh, my.

As is usual with unusual media stories, this one is crying out for some back story.

Locals who were interviewed said they had in fact seen him wandering around but didn’t think he was hitchhiking because he didn’t have his thumb out.

Other locals claim that he was seen with a finger, which was not his thumb, being displayed at passing motorists and someone called the cops when they saw him lying in the road. Apparently he mouthed off to a Department of Conservation officer and was seen acting “strangely” at other times during the four days.

I can’t help feeling that if one has hitchhiked through 70 countries one would probably have developed a fairly broad understanding of human nature and would have developed an ability to cope with the unexpected and also get along with a variety of people.  And also have the ability to get a ride in a popular tourist spot in less than four days.  You kind of have to wonder what went wrong.

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What is also interesting is his suggestion that NZ be called “Nazi Zealand” because of his treatment at the hands of the justice system. I have to believe that in his travels he would have picked up some sense of the way people view and interact with law enforcement in other countries.

And he should have realized that to get a $3,000 fine in NZ he had to do something pretty bad. Or at least make a lot of people very mad.

After all, NZ is the country where earlier this year a woman protesting the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, threw a rubber sex toy (aka dildo) at the Minister of Economic Development.  As she tosses the dildo she yells “This is for raping our sovereignty.”  It was a perfect shot to the nose, and as American comedian John Oliver said, if you did that in the US, you’d be dead before the dildo hit the ground.  She wasn’t charged with anything and you can see the footage here.  As the security men escort her away she’s actually looking around for someone to get arrested by and the minister seems to be having a chuckle over it.

So as I was saying, there is some backstory to this French hitchhiker story that we’re not getting and I’d love to know what he did to make everyone so mad.

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