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words-matter

 

I have long been a fan of the short story form.  In fact, the short story form is far harder than longer forms of writing. Making your intention clear in a limited amount of words is not an easy task. There is a long line of authors whose work I enjoy but top of the list in this regard has always been Harlan Ellison.  There are many reasons I am a life-long, die-hard Ellison fan, but chiefly, my admiration is for his ability to select just exactly the right word for every moment in his stories with never a word wasted.

 Here’s a favorite example: 

 “A foot was planted between my shoulder blades and the fist let go of my shirt, and I was booted forward onto my suitcase, which slid a few feet, carrying me as on a raft.

I fell off, rolled over and tried to sit up. Conquest, Slaughter, Famine and Death were staring down at me.”

Quoted from All the Lies That Are My Life by Harlan Ellison

 There is no need to give the reader any more detailed description of the four guys who are about to beat up our protagonist. The phrase “Conquest, Slaughter, Famine and Death” tells you everything you need to know.

 Another master at choosing just the right words is Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, who sums up this thought beautifully:

 “So the writer who breeds more words than he needs is making a chore for the reader who reads.”

 

And another famous author offers clarity on the subject. When asked his opinion on cursing Mark Twain had this to say:

“The English language is a poor enough means of communication as it is. I figure we ought to use all the words we got.”

 Notice here that he did not advise using MORE words than needed at one time but choosing the RIGHT words for what you are trying to convey at that moment.

 

 Words matter.  They can offer great kindness but also great sorrow. They can build relationships or tear down entire communities. Words have weight and meaning and sometimes great consequences. 

When you are attempting to evaluate someone’s character listen very closely to the word they choose to use.  Their choices are not casual. They are a result of a lifetime of attitudes and perceptions and are evidence of the state of their inner psychology. 

 The speaker is telling you something about who he is and how he chooses to participate in this thing called Life.  

 Words matter.  Listen closely.

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So I am one of the few oddballs who actually watches C-SPAN.  I find it to be a window into a very distant world. But a world whose actions and decisions affect us in ways we only begin to comprehend.  And sometimes those decisions have consequences that we, down here on the ground, only feel after it is too late to do anything about it.Image

In yesterday’s House Sub-committee Hearing on Copyright Regulations and Intellectual Property Law I had a moment of clarity that revealed why, when it comes to legislation about the arts, those mountain-top decision makers so often get it wrong.

The House panel was asking questions of a number of “experts” including Professor Glynn Lunney of Tulane University Law School. The question of the moment had to do with copyright restrictions applied to the music industry that used to exist but that had been recently eliminated.  The Professor was asked if the elimination of the copyright laws had any effect on “content producers” (meaning song writers, composers, music producers, etc.).

The professor cited a study that charted the amount of content produced before and after the elimination of those restrictions.  The study showed that the amount of content produced by the industry before and after the lifting of those artist protections had not changed. So the conclusion the professor and his ilk have come to is that those protections must not have been necessary!!

 WOW!! Talk about a major misunderstanding of your intended subject!!

 The inference here is that the additional protections the laws had been providing would motivate artists to produce more because income from your work is more likely. And conversely, without those protections artists will produce less music.

 This is stunningly wrong.

These conclusions are based on a business model that, I suppose, works for shoes or driveway pavers or plumbing pipe.  But artists produce because we HAVE TO!  Not just because we are getting paid to do it.  Don’t get me wrong, here. Getting paid for what you create is important.  I have always felt the creator of the art should be fairly compensated for each creation. But it is also true that we do not choose to become artists. We are called to it by something greater than ourselves.  And it is a demanding calling.

Whether you are a musician, a writer, a painter, a poet, a sculptor, a clothing designer, a novelist, a choreographer or any other type of creative spirit there is something within you that demands to be expressed.  Those who ignore that demand will pay the price, one way or the other, in personal anguish.

Artists will create whether or not we are fairly treated by society. And that is the crux of the misunderstanding of the politicians and industry experts who are creating the laws that either protect us or leave us to be taken advantage of.

As long as the politicians treat art the same way they treat widgets we will never have a system that truly understands why we create art or that values what artists contribute to society.

 If any of you out there are brave enough to contact Professor Lunney, please explain this to him.

Tara Sitser, Proud Singer/Songwriter 

Los Angeles, CA

January 19, 2014

The Sitser Siblings at 6, 9 & 10 years old

    “We don’t see the world the way it is. We see it the way we are.

Talmud

As small children we decide what is real based on what we learn from our parents, teachers and from the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  Those lessons transform in our minds to become what we perceive to be facts. Those “facts” become a map in our consciousness that guides us through future decisions.

The problems begin when circumstances change and the map in our head remains the same.  We begin to act on our assumptions about reality rather than on what actually exists.

When results don’t match our expectations it’s time to re-evaluate the map.

If you find yourself bumping into walls stop and take a fresh look around.  You may find the route you’ve been traveling is no longer there.  You might also find new doors in what use to be solid walls.

Don’t go through life with an outdated map.  You’ll miss a lot of great scenery.

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.”

Actually – not true.  This one phrase has been said so many times by so many people for so long that most people accept it without thinking.

Here’s the thing:  YOU ARE NOT ENTITLED TO AN OPINION ON A SUBJECT ABOUT WHICH YOU KNOW NOTHING !!

If a patient is about to have brain surgery you are NOT entitled to an opinion on which technique ought to be used unless you are a brain surgeon.  If your pet dog is chewing up the furniture you are not entitled to an opinion on why he is behaving this way unless you are well versed in canine behavior.  If the political pundits are arguing the merits of a proposed amendment to the Constitution you are not entitle to an opinion, pro or con, unless you study the facts, learn the history behind the amendment, research the possible consequences of it and understand the legislative process used.

I could come up with six more examples but you get the point.  Here is the corrected version of this all-too-familiar but incomplete phrase:

 Everyone is entitled to his own INFORMED opinion.

So the moral of the story is:  Don’t feel compelled to throw out an opinion just because everybody else is spouting theirs.  It is perfectly valid to say “I am not currently qualified to have an opinion on that subject. Let me do some research and I’ll get back to you.”

(With thanks to Harlan Ellison for the inspiration.)

This is an except from Tara’s upcoming book with co-author John Glass, “Speaking Truth: Words That Matter” which will be published later this year.

One of the most valuable sentences I have ever come across is this:

“Let me see what I can learn.”

When you feel resistance to doing something that you know you must do, say to yourself, “Let me see what I can learn.” If you are feeling bored and think there is nothing going on, look around and try this perspective on for size: “Let me see what I can learn”.  If you find yourself procrastinating because you are afraid to face a task, tell yourself, “Let me see what I can learn.” Maybe there is a reportImage: Fork in the road you need to read that you have been avoiding. Or you find yourself in a conversation with someone you don’t know well. Maybe you have to tackle doing something unfamiliar and are afraid you won’t do it well so you’d rather not try. Tell yourself, “Let me see what I can learn.”

This technique works especially well when other people are involved in the scenario. At a party or gathering of any kind if you find yourself seated next to someone you might not have chosen to speak with or who maybe doesn’t , at first glance, look like someone you wouldn’t find interesting, tell yourself this: “Let me see what I can learn.” (Everybody has a story. Try it. You’ll be surprised at the riches you’ll unearth!)

If someone asks you for information you don’t have just say, “Let me see what I can learn. I’ll get back to you.” Boy, oh boy! Do I wish all customer service personnel were taught to do just that!

This one sentence can help you push past your reluctance and fear. It opens up otherwise unseen avenues for exploration that will motivate you to plunge right in. Now you have a task in mind for yourself that will lead you forward in any situation. “Let me see what I can learn.”

“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t possibly live long enough to make them all yourself.”  — Martin Vanbee

 This little story came to mind today as I found myself, for the second time in two days, the lucky beneficiary of someone else’s experience. 

A small village had a system of plumbing pipes that had, for many decades, been maintained by one man.  Yacov had spent his years in the central control room learning the intricacies of the pipes and keeping the system running smoothly.

As is often the case, new technologies come along that interfere with the old ways.

One day the village elders came to Yacov’s house to inform him that they had decided to install a new, computerized system to run the town’s pipes. His services were no longer needed. Yacov smiled at them, accepted their decree and went back into his home to brew a pot of tea and enjoy the view of his garden.

Several days after the new system had been brought online the plumbing in the town failed.  None of the technicians could figure out what was wrong. Nobody knew what to do.  After a few days of listening to the townspeople’s complaints, the elders gathered at Yacov’s front door and begged him to please come fix the pipes.

With a small smile on his face and a glint of something in his eye, Yacov agreed.

Back in the control room the elders stood in silence watching Yacov as he stood very still for many minutes. He looked. He listened. Then he took a wrench in his hand walked over to a junction and tapped twice on the overhead pipe.  Lo and behold! the system began to run again.

Later that day the village elders received a bill from Yacov charging them $2000.12 for his services.  Outraged, they once again assembled at Yacov’s front door, this time shouting at him and asking how dare he charge them this enormous amount when all he did was to tap a couple of times on a pipe!

Yacov’s smile was wider than the village square as he said to them, “The 12 cents is for the tapping. The $2000.00 is for knowing where to tap!”

My last post titled “Are You Sick Of Highly Paid Teachers?” generated quite a bit of buzz. At last count 122 comments on Newsvine.com  [http://tinyurl.com/hue99jl]

Although clearly labeled satire there were those who took the piece at face value and went to great lengths to argue with what they thought the article was saying. Others expended a lot of energy talking about the “privileges” of being a teacher (short hours, 3 months a year off, etc. ) and asserted that teachers need to step up and shoulder their fair share.

Without re-hashing the conversation (you can read all the comments and my replies on my Newsvine page by using the link above) let me just say that, when read as intended, what is offered is a sarcastic title with a Stephen-Colbert-style text that actually DEFENDS teachers and shows what nonsense it is to think that teachers aren’t already shouldering more than their fair share for far less than they ought to be paid.

Sarcasm:  Stating exactly the opposite of what you mean.

Satire: Using humor to show that a point of view or behavior is foolish.

Just recently I’ve seen a number of examples of sarcasm and satire that got interpreted by the viewer as though they were serious statements and a truly surprising misperception of a song lyric that really threw me for a loop.

The focus here is accepting that sometimes the world looks so completely different to the person standing next to you as to be unrecognizable.

The song in question was written by my good friend, singer/songwriter John M.  The title of the song is “My Mother In Me” and is, to most listeners, an ode to his mother listing the many ways John’s mother contributed to what is good and right in his life.

“She taught me how to walk in the light and live by the golden rule

And sometimes how to stand and fight. My momma didn’t raise no fool.

What you see is what you get and if you like what you see

Look a little closer – That’s my Mother in Me.”

Someone took great offense to the song hearing – I know not what or why – that it was an insult to mothers.  (??!?)

(By the way, it’s a great song. Click on over to John’s web site and give it  a listen.)

It seems a great many people these days are looking at what they want to see rather than what is actually in front of them. Others project from within themselves something that isn’t there. Still others, I am told, have a physical brain configuration that makes them incapable of perceiving satire and sarcasm.

How do you talk to someone who is convinced of a reality that your senses and the best evidence available tells you doesn’t exist?  Our perceptions are a result of the long chain of choices we’ve made up to this point in our lives.  To change how you see something requires that you back-track and reassess previously held beliefs.   (Education, by the way, is a big part of how we’ve come to hold our current beliefs. If you have the ability to think critically and analyze your reality rather than just react to it thank a teacher.)

There is an old Jewish saying that goes like this:

“If one man tells you you are a horse ignore him.  If two men tell you you are a horse think about it. If three men tell you you are a horse – buy a saddle.”


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As a member of the Americana-Folk/Rock band, John Zipperer & Friends, Tara performs in around Los Angeles, CA (with an occasional out-of-town appearance). Come see for yourself why John Zipperer's CD "Full Circle" has been on the top 25 of the Roots Music Report Album Chart for over a year!

Tara Sitser - Author / Singer/Songwriter

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