Eric's Daily Weblog
When Champoo arrived from Thailand, the nursery compound was home to an orange cat named Harold, a once-skittish stray turned lord-of-the-manor by noted animal whisperer, Sister Tracie. When Tracie decided to move out west and take Harold along, a new kitten arrived which Champoo named Quincy. Quincy eventually was given a surname, Cat.
The Bergeson bunch has long been cynical about the anthropomorphizing of pets. However, Tracie's gifts with animals as well as the importation of a Thai love for pets through Kae and Champoo softened the rest of us a great deal.
Harold's influence on our family became apparent two Christmases ago when Lance sneezed at Mom and Dad's house.
"Oh, its the cat dander," I said.
"Cat?" Mom said. "We don't have a cat!"
"What about Harold?" I said.
"Oh!" Mom said. "I guess he is a cat."
Alas, Harold did not adjust to his new environs in Idaho Falls. His love for all cars drew him out into the street where he was hit by a car and killed.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, kitten Quincy Cat grew into adulthood in a few short months, underwent a difficult spaying, and had worked his way into the family. Quincy learned to scratch on doors to get the to open. She eventually took it one step farther, standing on the back of a precarious lawn chair to paw at the window of the office when she wanted in.
Champoo and Quincy were buddies. When Joe, Kae and Champoo went to Minneapolis for a weekend, Champoo charmed us all by presenting Grandpa with a long, detailed list of Quincy-related chores to perform in her absence. Her list was particularly rich given Grandpa's propensity for leaving long, detailed lists of chores when he leaves.
Grandpa performed his duties to a tee, of course.
Quincy Cat passed the acid test of acceptance as a nursery cat when she showed an ability to resist bedding down on soft petunia seedlings--a practice which can kill 2,000 tiny plants in one night. Failing that test has proven fatal to prospective nursery cats in decades previous.
But alas, last night when Lance and I were eating supper in town, a text message arrived from Kae:
Very sad. I called. Kae couldn't talk and handed the phone to Joe, who reported that Quincy was hit by a car on the highway. They had just buried her in the back yard.
Poor Champoo! And poor Kae. The rest of us are sad, too. But the real sadness for me is to see a nine-year-old lose a good buddy.
Although the Twins have lost their first two games in miserable fashion, it is good to have baseball back. The best news so far is the success of the new pace-of-game rules. Batters must stay in the box between pitches. A clock runs between innings and penalties are enforced if the pitcher and batter are not ready to go when the clock runs out. So far, the average time of game has declined by a whopping 11 minutes.
It is not that people are in a hurry to go home, it is more that the game sort of loses momentum both for the fans and the players when somebody like David Ortiz steps out and redoes his batting gloves between each pitch. When you look at tapes of old games on Youtube, boy did they move. Pitchers got the ball and pitched. Batters stayed in the box. These new rules are great.
I also am happy with the replay rules. It takes the outrage out of the obvious missed calls. With video technology what it is, why not use it? As for the strike zone, so far this season it seems like the umpires are doing pretty well.
Meanwhile, the Twins pitchers are not doing well at all. Ervin Santana is out for 80 games for a drug suspension. Ricky Nolasco wasn't any good yesterday, and now he is going to go in for an MRI on his elbow. The Twins' bats have been silent. That won't last, but boy, if this bunch doesn't start producing, both on the mound and at the plate (and in the field), it is time to bring up the young brats and let them make their mistakes on the big stage. The Twins have some monstrous talent down in the minor leagues, and if the big team is going to lose, why not take a chance on: 1) Byron Buxton in center field 2) Miguel Sano at third 3) Trevor May and several other pitchers with strong arms.
Frank Viola had a disasterous first two seasons with the Twins. He was 4-10 his first season, 7-15 the second. Then he started reeling off Cy Young type seasons for the rest of his career. Are young players so fragile in the head these days that they can't handle a little failure before they succeed?
I am heading into a few speeches in the next few weeks, and it helps to remind myself of speaking lessons learned the hard way over the years.
•Never use the above phrase, "like I said." Avoid it like the plague. To the person who utters the phrase, it feels like a needed apology for repeating an idea. To the audience, however, it sounds like you are quoting your immortal self. Better to simply restate what you said before in new terms. Speakers exaggerate how much actually sinks in on the first hearing, and assume the audience needs no repetition. The audience, however, is distracted by thoughts of food, the need to find a bathroom, the tickle in their nose, the latecomer poking their head in the side door, and they usually are grateful for repetition, at least if it is decently disguised by new phrasing. No need to apologize for restating an important concept, especially when the apology comes across as its exact opposite.
•Never use the phrase "I will get to that later," or worse, "I will go over that in more detail in a bit." True as it may be, the phrase creates dread in the audience by making it seem as if the speech will go on forever. If you happen to prematurely hit upon a concept you had planned to develop later, develop it now and get it out of the way rather than announce that you are tabling the issue for later in the meeting, thus activating every audience's visceral fear that the meeting will never end.
•Never, ever read your own powerpoint presentation. By doing so, you remove all hope for a pleasant surprise, which is really what keeps the audience from getting restless. More importantly still, do not hand out a copy of your powerpoint presentation ahead of time and then embark upon a painstaking reading out loud what is already in the hands of the audience. I have been to presentations where the speaker handed out a 46 page copy of the power point presentation, only to take 45 minutes to "go over" the first six pages. I get angry in advance at the probability that the speaker will take as long as needed to finish the next forty pages, ignoring the audience's bathroom needs, hunger issues and attention span deficiencies. Even when the powerpoint-dependent speaker ends on time, I get angry at the lack of planning which gave short shrift to the last forty pages, which were skimmed in the last fifteen minutes. Or, I wish they'd just let me leave with the handout if all they were going to do was read from it.
•Never treat questions as a divergence from what you might think is the real mission––finishing the speech as it was prepared. In other words, never say or think, "now, where was I?" after answering an audience question. Instead, treat the question as a needed wake up call to get you back on track with what the audience wants to hear. Questions provide valuable insight into what the audience wants. If a query is truly outside of the realm of your speech, just say, "I don't know," and move on. But if a question merely causes you to jump ahead in your speech, go with it. If you are really prepared and know your stuff, you can surf countless questions with ease. To say "I'll get to that, just wait" is to have contempt for the audience, which, given the "get to the point" question, probably doesn't need or want to hear your entire preamble.
Of course, the fear in jumping ahead is that your whole speech will dissolve into nothing and you will finish forty minutes before the end of the hour. If you love your topic and know it inside out, however, you can go back and pick up the points you missed, if need be.
•If the previous speaker eats into your time, be grateful and end at the exact minute you would have ended if you had your entire hour. Brevity is the soul of wit. By taking more than their share of the time and forcing (allowing?) you to be brief, the previous speaker is making you more and more popular simply by comparison––as long as you don't repeat their mistake and instead respect the audience's desire to leave at the long-anticipated hour. If you know your topic, you can get to the pith of it in ten minutes as easily as in an hour.
Preparation improves improvisation, but improvisation without preparation is the stuff bad dreams are made of.
I won't predict the Twins season, except to say what needs to happen for them to have a good season:
•Right now, the team's strength appears to be its infield offense. Mauer at first must return to old form, which is more likely than not. Dozier at second must simply do what he did last year. Same for Santana at short. Plouffe has to rediscover his power at third. The team is strong up the middle: Suzuki is an excellent catcher, and can hit. Molitor has less tolerance for mental laxity than Gardenhire, so he is giving up on Aaron Hicks, the highly-talented but day-dreaming long-time prospect. They'll fill the hole with a rotating set of replacements until June 1 when they can bring up super-prospect Byron Buxton.
•By June 1, the team's strength had better be starting pitching or they aren't going anywhere. The present rotation is slightly above average on paper, but has the potential to put in a good year. If one or two starters falter, there is likely help available from the minors, and it might be somebody we've never heard of. The Twins have been slowly stockpiling pitchers, and the system is chock full of good arms.
•Molitor's approach could pay off. Changing managers gives a team the benefit of the former manager's wisdom, which they have probably thoroughly learned, and the new manager's approach, which should improve them. Molitor is of the Rick Pitino school of coaching, it appears. That is, you prepare, prepare, prepare in every facet of the game, especially those areas in which you are weak. Molitor has a theory that batting practice, which power hitters use to show off, actually harms the swing of sluggers. He is jumping on the talented young Latin ballplayers (Arcia, Vargas, Sano) in particular to discipline their practice time. He used the term "perfecting your craft," which is music to my ears.
Most Hall of Fame players turned manager aren't any good. However, Molitor got into the hall by constantly scrapping, constantly expanding on his considerable natural talent. In other words, he approached the game like most scrappy, good managers did when they played.
•Molitor wants good defense. Defense slipped under Gardenhire even as the media continued to prattle on about the "Twins' way," which was basically Tom Kelly's insistence on fundamentals. Molitor is going to employ drastic shifts (moving players to where each batter usually hits the ball), which should make the games more interesting, if nothing else.
•Molitor has put limits on cell phone use by players before games! Gotta admire that.
Watched a redtail hawk float in the high winds from the crow's nest this morning, and was reminded of this poem by the Catholic mystic poet Gerard Manley Hopkins:
To Christ our Lord
I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
No wonder of it: sheer plod makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.
An excerpt from Daybreak, one of Nietzsche's most accessible books:
Learning solitude: O you poor devils in the great cities of world politics, you gifted young men tormented by ambition who consider it your duty to pass some comment on everything that happens––and there is always something happening! Who, when they raise the dust in this way, think they are the chariot of history! Who, because they are always on the alert, always on the lookout for the moment when they can put their word in, lose all genuine productivity! However much they may desire to do great work, the profound speechlessness of pregnancy never comes to them. The event of the day drives them before it like chaff, while they think they are driving the event––poor devils! If one wants to represent a hero on stage, one must not think of being one of the chorus; indeed, one must not even know how to sing in the chorus.
Worn out daily: These young men lack neither character, nor talent, nor industry––but they have never been allowed to to choose a course for themselves. On the contrary, they have been accustomed from childhood onwards to being given a course by someone else. When they were mature enough to be "sent off into the desert," something else was done: they were employed, they were purloined from themselves, they were trained to being worn out daily and taught to regard this as a matter of duty. Now, they cannot do without it and would not have it otherwise. Except: these beasts of burden must not be denied their "vacations," as they call the ideal idleness of an overworked century in which one is for once allowed to laze about and be idiotic and childish to one's content.
This guy has produced some videos which are hilarious. The video accompanying the article is not his best, but it is safe for work.
Last week, I taught three classes at a Young Author's conference in Thief River Falls. In one class were three Native boys who were full of vinegar, giggling the whole time. Like the Rez Reporter, they were from Cass Lake.
We did writing exercises. The three guys kept including phrases which contained the word "tract." Tract dog. Tract kid. They had a character, whom I won't name, who they said was the ultimate in "tract." I thought this was some kid thing that I didn't get, like most of the pop references I heard that day, but finally my curiosity got the best of me and I asked them to explain.
Turns out there is an area in town called "the tracts" which is apparently the butt of jokes.
The kids had only a little bit of the "rezzy accent" described in the article.
When I was in fourth grade, I attended Oak Hills Bible Camp. That year somebody decided to bus in kids from the reservation. It was half Native kids from the Red Lake Band and half Caucasian kids from small towns in the area. The social experiment did not work. Lots of fighting. But I made a native friend, James Downwind, who had a delightful sense of humor, a great accent which he used to make subtle jokes. Tanya Tucker's "Delta Dawn" was popular at the time ("Could it be a faded rose from days gone by?"), and I think James milked every phrase in the song for puns and jokes, most of which probably flew over my head.
Fast forward thirty years. I went up to the Red Lake Reservation to plant trees. I was assisted by no fewer than fifteen teen kids who were in some sort of work program. I didn't have enough spades for them all, so most of them stood off to the side to wait their turn and gently mocked those of us who were trying to get some trees in the ground. What really got them going was when I tried to use a Bobcat. The controls were counter-intuitive to what I had learned on the Mitey Macs. I bounced the machine all over. When I finally gave up, oh the comments. And it brought back memories of James Downwind and his sense of humor. The humor takes the form of a slightly naive observer who slices the victim up in a story which starts in reality and graduates quickly to the absurd. I wish I had an example.
While I was on the board of the Northwest Minnesota Foundation, I had many chances to visit Red Lake and meet the people and visit. Each time, I was transported to a different culture, one which exists in relative isolation only a few miles from home. And I think I had a smile on my face most of the time as the "rez humor" is a constant.
Some of you have written wondering where I have been lately. Thanks for your interest!
Running for office last summer and fall has changed the way I look at things. I am far less prone to fire off opinions on politics, or anything else, for that matter. I have no interest in restarting my newspaper column, and would be plenty happy never to see my name in the paper again.
The public mood is malignant. To engage in debate seems a waste of time, particularly about any issue of perceived national importance. Although my opinions are as strong as ever, my ire has subsided with my realization that people are not going to change their fundamental views just because I demonstrate clearly on paper (or on this blog) that their views are insane, destructive and hateful.
Even a mere reporting of daily activity seems fatuous. If you are on Facebook, you understand that everybody is reporting everything, and it is exhausting!
Aunt Olive's passing was a significant event. She is the last of her generation with whom I had close rapport. As I sorted through the mountains of her mementos, keeping those which my particular filter decided were of historic importance, I thought of the essays I could write around some of the pictures. That might happen at some later point, but some gestation is needed.
The Twins! I have ordered cable TV so I can watch. I missed them last summer when I was campaigning and didn't have cable. We'll see if they keep our interest. In the spring, we can always hope!
Meanwhile, I am enjoying the quiet of late winter in the woods. The swans are back, but there isn't enough water in the swamp for them to nest there. So, I hope for rain.