December, 2011 Archives

Doing Unto

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December 28th, 2011

The best thing about 2011 is that it wasn’t 2010. A close second, though, was the volunteer work I did. We’ve all experienced the magic of giving back. The secret feeling of fulfillment, pride, warmth and self-congratulation turns the act of giving into the very real act of receiving. A friend of mine puts together […]

The best thing about 2011 is that it wasn’t 2010. A close second, though, was the volunteer work I did. We’ve all experienced the magic of giving back. The secret feeling of fulfillment, pride, warmth and self-congratulation turns the act of giving into the very real act of receiving.

A friend of mine puts together backpacks full of food and comfort for the homeless of Detroit. She recently reported joy and relief when she noticed three people under a viaduct and three full backpacks in her car. There’s no description that can accurately tell what happens inside us during the moments following an act of kindness like this.

Although we did donate cash to her project, my acts of giving were far less overt and most likely carried less singular impact. That song and slide show above is an example of giving back. I’m giving back and so is Coldplay.

Coldplay is an internationally famous pop music group that allowed their song (The Scientist) to be used in conjunction with a slide show I shot at a bone marrow conference in Atlanta this past fall. When Coldplay’s representatives said I could borrow their song, I immediately wished my photos were better. And this is a note to my photojournalism friends; try not to judge these pictures against the backdrop of important, news-shaping images. The photos — all taken within conference room confines — are probably only meaningful to the people who attended, but these are my people.

Before I donated my time and photo services to the marrow symposium, I donated a T-shirt design that I’ve written about before. I hope I don’t come across sounding too do-goodie or anything. Rest assured, I gave and gave this year to pay back the Universe for all it has done for me. I’ll continue to pay it forward, backward, sideways and even elliptically if I can.

I come from that spiritual corner of the cosmos that feels events and physical realities can be altered by intention, actions, words and deeds. That game has one Golden Rule, taught to me by my dear mother way back when. “Always clean your room; God doesn’t like slobs.”

No, honestly, it was that whole “do unto others as you’d have others do unto you” thing.

It’s a rule common to most, if not all, spiritual traditions. Something so universal must carry at least a bit of weight. So I’ve been trying my best to do unto. Knowing that I get back whenever I give, though, I fall into one of those weird Rodney loops where I think I’m giving for the wrong reasons. I wonder if I give because I want to get. Then I start feeling bad for giving and it all goes haywire if I let it. Trying to follow the Golden Rule, I become a golden fool.

These are the times I step away from the cosmic computer and take a little break from myself. An old English professor of mine told us that if we take ourselves too seriously, we’re done for. My cure for self-seriousness invariably involves some sort of food. It’s hard to feel pompous while munching on a Rice Krispie treat.

In some ways, writing about doing good is like bragging about being modest. And everyone on the planet has the capacity to do good deeds whenever they can. I’m just thankful that the opportunity occurred as much as it did for me this past year.

Here’s hoping 2012 brings even more chances for us to prove to the world, and ourselves, that we’re good human beings.

Oh Christmas Tree

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December 19th, 2011

Well, they unstuffed me from my cardboard box in the basement and fluffed my limbs, so I guess it’s time to make merry again. So far, all I have on me right now are my ever-present lights, which they keep me dressed in all year. The ornaments will come in due course and the presents […]

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rcXmascard2011.jpg

Well, they unstuffed me from my cardboard box in the basement and fluffed my limbs, so I guess it’s time to make merry again. So far, all I have on me right now are my ever-present lights, which they keep me dressed in all year. The ornaments will come in due course and the presents underneath me, but let me take a few moments to breathe deeply, reflect on the year and sneeze off some of this dust. It’s not easy being evergreen.

First, I noticed something right away. My two younger brothers are also out of their boxes and standing proud around the house. That didn’t happen last year; I think the family was still recovering. But now three of us are stationed around the place and that’s always a good sign. Festive, yes, but it tells of the energy here. There’s even a Christmas rug in the kitchen; who the heck has a Christmas rug?

This family has spent the past year distancing themselves from 2010. That year was a plague. 2011 was the cure. There were weeks on end when no one came down into the basement, except the dogs tended by a family friend here and there. They traveled all over the place, (the family, not the dogs). They visited New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Canada, Oregon, Seattle, North Carolina, Kentucky, even seeing some small towns in Ohio. Some quick stops in DC and Philly also kept them away from home. It was good to see them out and active again. That’s the Curtis family we know and love. Although did they bring me anything? Hello! Ornaments?

Their youngest took up a new sport, lacrosse it’s called. Don’t ask me what it is but she loves it. She also went back to her go-to passions of acting and diving. The kid’s amazing. As beautiful as she is long, she even beat her sister onto the Michigan roads and now drives everywhere. We hear a lot of singing going on upstairs and it appears that both of them are taking voice lessons.

The older teen is looking to leave and has been examining small liberal arts colleges, emphasis on liberal. Acting has been her passion, working behind the scenes as well as in the spotlight. Marching band and leading various progressive groups keep her busy. So much so that when our city mayor said something dumb and hurtful, she organized a protest and ended up on CNN, The Huffington Post and lots of other places too. If you’ll allow a tree pun, she’s really branched out!

The mother or wife or whatever role she’s playing was always, always busy this year, thank goodness. She takes pictures of everything; weddings, seniors, families, even semi-naked housewives, but we’re not supposed to know that. It looks like she has a nice breather for now until the photo season starts up again. So she decided to remodel their home office. I hear dragging and banging and smell painting right up above me lately.

The guy who lives here looks a bit different this year, but he has a smile and that’s all that really matters. He hoisted my heavy trunk up the stairs so he seems to be faring rather well. From what I can gather, he’s been doing some charity work here and there, writing a lot too, but mostly just going through the process of getting better. It may seem slow to him, but wow, what a difference a year makes!

Look, I gotta get dressed and spruce up a bit. Get it? Spruce up! So I’ll let you go. If the family doesn’t say it, I want to wish you a great holiday season from all of us: fake trees, dogs, messy rooms and humans. Have an amazing 2012 and try, unlike us trees, to live outside of the box.

Some Random Thoughts While Listening To The All-Christmas, All-The-Time Radio Station

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December 10th, 2011

Does it make any sense to you that in Do You Hear What I Hear? when they talk about a child shivering in the cold, the best answer is to bring him silver and gold? I don’t know how you raised your kids, but if my daughters were cold, I’d cuddle them or bring them […]

Does it make any sense to you that in Do You Hear What I Hear? when they talk about a child shivering in the cold, the best answer is to bring him silver and gold? I don’t know how you raised your kids, but if my daughters were cold, I’d cuddle them or bring them a blanket or two. Storing treasure around them is just bad parenting.

I always thought it was a bit odd that Burl Ives, in Holly Jolly Christmas, made a provision for those who weren’t listening — at first — to his song. So here, I offer my own version:

We had a debate, soon before Dad died, about Up On The Housetop. I was certain the phrase was “Up on the housetop reindeer paws …” He said I was silly and that reindeer have hooves, not paws, so obviously it was “reindeer pause.” We didn’t have search engines, smart phones or even the Web back then, but if we did, Dad would’ve been proven right. Every time I hear that song, I score one for my own Father Christmas.

Speaking of Google, I was shocked when I looked up Oh Tannenbaum. Did you know there was an Operation Tannenbaum during World War II? It was a planned, then canceled invasion of neutral Switzerland by the Nazis. True story, at least according to the always accurate internet.

You know marketing has gone a bit haywire when you look up the lyrics to Good King Wenceslas and you run across this banner-ad again and again: Catheters for every need, no out-of-pocket costs! The good king must’ve had a problem that the medical supply industry latched onto.

Certainly it’s not just me who misunderstood song lyrics. As a very young boy, I gleefully sang about dashing through the snow in a “one whore-soapin’ sleigh.” Not ever hearing the word “whore” before, I didn’t know enough to be embarassed by the song.

Now that I’m older and supposedly wiser, there are misunderstandings that I think I’ll just let lie. The song, Back Door Santa is chief among them.

No, I never fell into the Harold Angel trap but I did honestly think Rudolph would go down in his story. I had and still have no idea who the old man is whose hat we’re supposed to put a ha’ penny into. Does the real Parson Brown bear any resemblance to a snowman? Does Parson White? And finally, does figgy pudding sound as disgusting to you as it does to me?

Thanks for reading,

Round John Virgin.

Quick Everybody, Blame The Media!

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December 4th, 2011

Herman Cain dropped out of the presidential race and blamed the media for hurting his wife and family. You would think the four or more women accusing him of sexual misconduct would have had something to do with it. Or maybe it was his extreme lack of policy knowledge about Libya, his 9-9-9 plan hurting […]

Herman Cain dropped out of the presidential race and blamed the media for hurting his wife and family. You would think the four or more women accusing him of sexual misconduct would have had something to do with it. Or maybe it was his extreme lack of policy knowledge about Libya, his 9-9-9 plan hurting the poor or possibly his comment about “Uz beki beki beki beki stan stan?”

But no, it’s the media’s fault. Darn news media, reporting what he says and sharing it with the people. The media should know better than that.

On Cain’s website there is a terribly written, typo-laden diatribe calling one of his accusers a “loser.” I would link to it, but it’s so poorly done, I just can’t bring myself to send anybody there. Ol’ Herman is blaming everybody but himself.

I’m not sure when people in this country started blaming the media for everything, but it probably began back about 1690, when the first newspaper, Publick Occurrences, was published. It’s not much of a stretch imagining Cotton Mather telling Foxe Newes, “a wytch made me commit adultery in my heart.”

No, the media shouldn’t be held blameless. But neither should the candidates. Both are fallible, extremely so. Apparently you can have an affair with someone more than a generation younger than you and still be a presidential front-runner, as is the case with Newt Gingrich. As long as you say you did it for the good of the country — as Gingrich claimed with a straight face — everything is forgiven. At the time of that particular dalliance, Newt was busy chasing after President Clinton, who was also having one himself. Ah, the affairs of state.

The news media itself has had some impressive gaffes, ranging from the Dewey Defeats Truman headline, to the more benign MSU Gives Head Job To Williams. Incidentally, I was sitting right next to the older, bespeckled gentleman who typed out that little nugget back in 2000. Boy, do I wish I could’ve clued him in, but I was busy racing against a photo deadline and never saw his page before it went to press.

And that, believe it or don’t, is the biggest problem with the media today. It’s not “gotcha” journalism as Sarah Palin called it, but the lack of resources — both human and otherwise — as newsrooms pop out of existence on a daily basis and the CEOs who “oversee” them, take the money and run. You can’t blame the news media when, in many cases, there is no media to blame.

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rcwoodcut.jpgGovaert Bac woodcutWhat about social media? Take the case of our ridiculous mayor here in Troy, Michigan. It was a blog that broke the story of her extremely homophobic comment on facebook. Certainly you can’t blame the media for something our anti-gay mayor actually wrote herself.

In the broadest sense of the word, “media” includes television shows and movies too. Jersey Shore would be considered “the media” as would Harold and Kumar. I am making a choice, right here, right now, to believe that when folks like Herman Cain or Sarah Palin blame the media, they are referring to Snooki and The Situation. Because that’s about as ridiculous as blaming stressed-out, under-paid journalists who are as worried about their jobs disappearing before the holidays as they are about right-wing nut jobs trying to smear their reputations.

If the Republican presidential candidates want to blame the Kardashians for all of America’s woes, that’s fine by me too.

(Rodney Curtis is a licensed blogger, recovering journalist, author, educator, photographer and crackpot. His views are barely his own, let alone ReadTheSpirit’s or anybody else’s.)