My column in the Aiken Standard today.


Duet For One

There is a wonderful little violin work by Niccolò Paganini called Duet for One. I first heard about it as I was listening to an equally wonderful podcast called Classical Classroom. If you haven’t checked out the podcast or the piece, you should do both.

Rachel Barton Pine, who plays this piece magically herself, described the technical skills needed to play this piece as “like patting your head and rubbing your stomach times one thousand”. Interestingly, one of the reasons that Paganini himself could write and perform pieces like this that were so technically difficult was because he had Marfan Syndrome, which lent a remarkable suppleness and dexterity to his joints and long fingers and therefore enhanced his ability to reach and stretch and master his instrument. That is another story for another day.

This piece, played by one performer on one violin, quickly sounds to the listener like a duet between a guitar and a violin, thus the title. The composition is crafted to fool us into thinking that we are hearing two things at once, though the sounds that are reaching our ears come from only one person playing one instrument. It’s a remarkable feat and well worth your time to listen to it.

We do this ourselves in the modern world, don’t we? No, not composing astounding musical compositions, but fooling the world, and sometimes even ourselves, into thinking that we are two different people. I can think of no place that better illustrates this than the world of social media.

Take Facebook for example.

All of us (present company included, I’m afraid I must admit) post things online that are exciting, different, flashy, colorful, out of the ordinary, and designed to capture the imagination of those who might glance our way. We are, sometimes justifiably, proud of what we do, the people we hang out with, the places we go, and the things we do. We want to share, to amaze, to educate, to notify others that we are exciting, funny, adventurous, dynamic people. The glamour, the food, the exotic places, the clothes, the cars-all tend to make us look like we are constantly on the go, with day after day of excitement in our lives and never a dull moment to negotiate.

Our normal lives?

Hotdogs, microwave pizza, movies on Netflix, and falling into bed exhausted by ten PM.

Oh, make no mistake, there is nothing wrong with Netflix (House of Cards fans unite!), and an early bedtime is as  wonderful as partying until dawn when the day has been long and difficult.

We are, most of us,  normal people living normal lives who sometimes feel compelled to present ourselves as the most melodious of duets, when the single line of our lives is as wondrous a melody as God in heaven has ever composed.

Duet for one, or solo performance of a lifetime?


It’s July Fourth weekend here in the states and we are ready to celebrate. That means music, hotdogs, grilling out, swimming, vacationing, road trips, and being with friends and family. We love to eat BBQ, salute our flag as it waves in the breeze and finish off our nation’s birthday celebration with fireworks.

Celebration is as old as man himself. Why do we celebrate? We are happy, we are thankful, and we want to give some of that good feeling to those we live with and work with and care about. We want to give thanks to our Creator.

We celebrate the changing of the seasons, firsts in our lives (births, marriages (hi love in Milan!), victories on the battlefield and breakthroughs in the laboratory. We celebrate milestones. What is more exciting and more deserving of celebration than baby’s first step, first word and first birthday? We celebrate achievements. We get baptized. We graduate, we get doctorates, we earn another stripe.

We also need to celebrate the darker times, because they make us that much stronger. We celebrate not the death of a loved one, but the life that they so fully lived. We celebrate the mistakes we make, because we learn so much in making them. We celebrate defeats, because we know that rising from the ashes, living to fight on another day and becoming smarter and more seasoned is the long-term reward that we get for the short-term sting of the setback.

How do we celebrate? Parties, music, dancing, cake, BBQ, fireworks, poetry, monuments, bands, twenty-one gun salutes, and works of art that share the celebration with generations for centuries after the revelry has died.

Now, some might say that in America, as we approach this 241st birthday party for our nation, that we are hard pressed to find something to celebrate. We are divided, we are pitted against each other and we are struggling to remember what made us who we are.

I would say to those who try to dampen our spirits and forego the celebration that it is in the darkest times that we need to burn the candles on the cake of freedom the brightest. We need to let the white hot intensity of democracy sear itself into our eyes and our brains so that it can never be extinguished. We need to follow the example of our beloved Lady in the New York harbor and raise the torch of freedom high enough so that everyone who needs that taste of liberty can see it and follow it home.

Yes, even in the darkest times, we celebrate.

Happy birthday, America.


More Than Words, Redux

I can’t believe I’m even having to write this, but here goes. 

Words matter. 

Words inspire: 

I have a dream.

Words heal: 

Today is a day for mourning and remembering.

Words hurt:

Words about sexuality, bodily functions, bleeding from orifices mentionable and unmentionable, grabbing them by the p—, moving on her “like a b—-“, hitting on, compulsively kissing. 

Words can be gifts. 

Words can be tools. 

Words can be powerful weapons. 

Words can shame. 

Words can affirm. 

Words have launched revolutions and created bold experiments in democracy. 

Words can take us, very quickly, from wondering what is going on in someone’s mind to the shocking revelation of what is really there. 

This is about oh so much more than politics, my dear readers. 

This is about simple human decency. 

This is about respecting the worth and dignity of every human being just because they do indeed have an inherent worth. 

This is about keeping private things private, intimate things intimate, and dangerous things contained. 

This is about social order and common decency and relationships in societies and institutions that are built on trust and cooperation and compromise and goodwill. 

This is about building up, not walling off or tearing down. 

This is about unsullied generations unborn and what we owe them, not flawed generations past and what they might owe us. 

This is about being more than Democrats or Republicans or white or black or northerners or southerners or Muslim or Christian or Jew. 

This is about more than nationality and pride. 

This is about being decent, forthright, respectful, restrained, dignified human beings. 

Listen to me, a humble writer who has made more than his share of mistakes using the spoken and written word. 

Words matter. 

Words matter. 

Words. Truly. Matter. 

Mind Matters

I’d like to show you my first article in a new ongoing mental health column in the Aiken Standard called Mind Matters. 

Please read and share widely, as I think we would  all benefit from educating others about mental health stigma. 

Thank you!