T.I.L.T. #134 — The René Wells Show!

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Are you the hero of your own comic book? Or are you the sidekick? You know, are you more like Batman? Or more like Robin? More like Sherlock? Or Watson? Han Solo? Or Chewbacca?

The reason I’m asking is because recently my loving wife made the comment that she feels like our lives together are ‘always The René Wells Show’. Now as exciting as that sounds, and I wish my fictional agent would hurry up and get me that gig, what she was saying is that I am dominating. At first I was a bit hurt, and then defensive, since I feel like I very often don’t put myself first at all, more concerned about her happiness than my own. But then I got to thinking deeper, and stopped focusing on my feelings because, hey, that would be The René Wells Show, right?

I tried to understand why she would say such a thing, or feel such thing — is it really always The René Wells Show? Am I Tarzan and she’s just Jane? Superman vs. little Lois Lane? Hmmm.

At the same time as this has been happening on the home front, I’ve been observing a similar phenomenon at work, which is like a never-ending episode of Who’s The Boss. I don’t mean the 80’s TV show, but literally the ever-shifting roles played out on the stage of the work world. See, over the last two years I’ve gone from supervising some student assistants to managing a team of over twenty-five staff members. Add up all their student assistants and other helpers and volunteers, and there are hundreds of people who see me as ‘the boss’.

I have to somehow keep them all on track: I instruct, I decide, I lead, trying to balance out all their various strengths and weaknesses while hopefully keeping them motivated and happy employees as well. This is no small task which I relearn everyday because at the same time I’m playing this role, I’m also just another staff member reporting to bosses above me in the company food chain. Depending on which meeting I’m in, I’m in charge or I’m being charged so to speak.

In short, one moment I am the center of attention, the star of The René Wells Show, the next second, I’m the third spear carrier on the left, a role I literally played twenty years ago in Julius Caesar which is probably one of the greatest dramatic and historic example of Who’s The Boss. I must say, that spear-carrying experience has helped me to this day of knowing when to keep my mouth shut and pretend like I am listening and ready for action. And how to get out of the way when the daggers get drawn!

Anyway, what’s interesting is not who’s really in charge, it’s how people behave, the mannerisms they assume, the subtle and not-so-subtle changes in tone and voice that mark the role of boss vs. underling. The way authority manifests itself in style and tone is endlessly fascinating. I like to think I’m a good boss, fair and compassionate for my fellow employees, but I know that there are times more and more where I am just too tired and my patience is too gone, and I have to pull out the big gun of attitude and use the ’because I said so’ ammo.

Ironically, I find more and more that this is actually what staff wants – decisiveness and clarity. I know I appreciate it when my bosses give me that, so why does it surprise me when I have to do it? People want to know where they stand and what to do. Which may be all well and fine at work, but do I then somehow bring this energy home? Do I come home and play Lord of the Manor? Or rather King of the One-Bedroom Castle?

Truth is that in recent years I have become more decisive about what I want personally and professionally. I think for most of my adult life I was often too ambivalent about what I wanted. In the interest of avoiding conflict and trying to please others, I often metaphorically ate vanilla when I really wanted chocolate. That led to years of built up resentment and frustration of my own creation until I realized one day that if I want chocolate, then I should just say so since there is no reason not to be clear about what you want out of life. If you don’t ask, you will never receive, right? Okay, maybe once in a while the sun will shine when you want it to without saying anything, or someone will give you chocolate out of the blue, but in general, you have to make the most of whatever weather there may be and go out and get your own damn chocolate.

So now, maybe at home, even though I like to think I’m caring and loving and considerate and all that good husband stuff, perhaps I’m more decisive in all sorts of ways and manners that I don’t even realize that maybe it is somehow ‘always The René Wells Show’.

I wonder if this is how my mother might feel about my father. Is she playing second-fiddle in The Ronny Wells Show? He is a very charismatic and persuasive character, having led many endeavors both at work and at play. But then again, how did he feel when he was around his own father? Was he just one of many of children in The Raymond Wells Show? Or was his mother really in charge and it was The Hazel Wells Show? Or is my mother actually really the star of The Rena Wells Show by being so clever to let my father think it is The Ronny Wells Show? Hmmm.

I guess we’re all stars and bit players in one way or another, and depending on the day and the age and the stage we find ourselves in, we boss or we are bossed. Maybe before I know it, the roles will reverse at home and I will be lucky to have a cameo in The Diana Wells Show!

Hmmm. Maybe I should never have written this T.I.L.T. . . . Guess I’d better get back to The René Wells Show before it gets cancelled!

T.I.L.T. #133 — Opera Writer Man!

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The other day I was at work and I had some opera music playing in the background. I like to listen to music when I am working because it calms and relaxes me as I deal with my day job’s stresses. I tend to listen to instrumental jazz or symphonic classical music. In short, things without words, because that way I can concentrate on the words involved with my work.

One of the major components of my day job is communication. Would you believe that on average the last couple of years I sent 12,000 emails annually? Sent, not received, sent. That means I write that many mails. And I don’t mean I write one mail and send it 12,000 times. I mean 12,000 individual mails. Broken down over the average number of working days per year it’s about 60 a day.

Damn, I wonder what the word count total might be? Add T.I.L.T. and my novel project to the list, and let’s not forget personal emails and texts and postings, and well, I write a lot of words, words, words all day and all night so when I’m writing in some form, I like to listen to music with no words at all.

Or, to be specific, at least not words I can understand. See, I also like to listen to French rap or Cubano café music, both which have lots of words, but since I don’t speak the languages, most of the time I have no idea what they are saying. Which is a real shame, since I grew up in Spanish-speaking Texas and studied French for five years. You’d think clever me would be fluent, but nope, they’re just nice and familiar and I like the way they sound, hence the words don’t seem to count and distract me when I am focusing on other words.

That’s the essence of my music preferences: when doing something without words, like driving or cooking or running, I love rock and pop and all sorts of poetry disguised as music — I do love words after all. But when I’m reading or writing or editing any sort of document, I don’t want any more words in my head. There’s only so much data processing my old head can handle!

Maybe someday technology will catch up and Apple will invent the iBrain, connected to the iCloud,so I can iRelax and let T.I.L.T. write itself, but until then I’ll need to make do with what I got even though iTired!

Anyway, recently one weekend while enjoying cooking a mega casserole with wonder wifey, a live broadcast came on the radio of the New York Metropolitan Opera. Being a big fan of New York City, it was somehow exciting to know it was happening live. To hear the people clap and the announcers explain the story scene by scene, and to imagine being there, in New York, at the Met, and dreaming of maybe getting to go and see it live someday, all while having fun cooking with wifey, it was a really cool experience. And somehow since then, I’ve been hooked on opera.

I went to the Met website where there is a treasure trove of ultra-quality recordings to watch and listen to if you want to pay for it. But there are also tons of free stuff of pretty great quality on YouTube or countless internet radio stations, so I’ve not been lacking for sources to listen to opera.

Anyway, so there I was at work, writing away, and listening to opera because if you can understand what they’re saying you are either a genius or Italian or an Italian genius and I don’t know where one word ends and the next one begins and don’t care — I just know the human sounds and pure emotions they produce are literally breath-taking because, well, you gotta be able to breathe if you can sing like that!

I was enjoying myself and humming along when one of my colleagues came in and check with me about some thrilling work issue. They started talking and then stopped mid-sentence, eyebrows raised in surprise, and said, “Opera? You listen to opera? I’d never have  guessed you to be an opera guy.”

I explained how I like all kinds of music with no words, and so on, but while I was talking my mind was asking myself what that meant: ‘never have  guessed you to be an opera guy’.

Just what did that imply? What do you think of someone who listens to opera? What do you think of opera in the first place? Do you think of snobby, rich people? Or educated, cultured aficionados? Just what was my colleague trying to say? That I wasn’t snobby or rich? Well, that’s true. Or at least I hope it’s not true. I mean the snobby part — I’d love to be rich so I can go to the Met of course and show off my wifey wearing the last fashions of Fifth Avenue and Tiffany’s. Wait a sec . . .  Hmm.

Anyway! Or was my colleague somehow surprised that I might like educated, cultured things, or perhaps that I might indeed be educated and cultured? What kind of music would not surprise my colleague’s notions of what a guy like me might listen too? Death metal perhaps? I do like to wear black.

It reminded me of a funny story about a guy I went to theater school with. He was also studying music, specifically opera, and so had to practice singing very loudly. He found one of the best places to do this was in his car while he was driving, because who could he disturb? He had a convertible and drove with the top down blasting opera at insane volumes and sang along. One time he pulled up at a red light next to an old man who had his windows rolled down. The first moment he stopped, the old man turned and scowled at him with disgust at listening to music so loud like he was some sort gangster or neighborhood menace. But after about five seconds the old man’s face melted into a smile as he recognized it was opera music my friend was singing and blaring at decadent decibels. The old man clapped and shouted, ‘Bravo!’, as my friend drove off to wherever the fat ladies sing.

In short, at first the old man also would not have thought a guy in a convertible blasting music would be an opera guy. It just goes to show you, you never know who likes what and why. Nor should you try to guess.

It really shouldn’t be surprising for anyone who really knows me. I worked on a couple of operas back in my theatrical career. When I was a kid, I was actually in an opera at the Houston Grand Opera. I was just an extra playing a servant who had to walk on carrying a big tray of glass jars, praying I wouldn’t trip and fall and crash into the fat lady singing like she had a cat in her throat. At least that’s what it sounded to me like back then, but, well, taste do change as we grow up, don’t they?

So, yes, call me Opera Writer Man. Hmmm. Maybe I should write T.I.L.T. the Opera! Starring me and wifey! No, wait, that wouldn’t work, I would need a fat lady. Hmmm.

T.I.L.T. #132 – ARE YOU TRENDING?

One of the most challenging and fun things to do when writing a weekly blog-podcast is to figure out what you’re going to write about. People often ask me how I come up with my ideas. The truth is quite simple, it’s whatever is trending in my mind that week. I’m not quite sure when the word ‘trend’ started being used more as a verb than a noun, but I have a feeling it developed rapidly the last decade as surfing had less to do with water sports, just like texting, tweeting, and blogging eclipsed the age-old communication form known as writing.

The amount of information we consume has dramatically increased in recent years due to the unstoppable rise of the internet and smart gadgets of all kinds connecting us more and more to a world beyond our immediate surroundings. We’ve come a long way from smoke signals, pigeon carriers, the printing press, the telegraph, the telephone, the radio, and the television. Now we live with streams and clouds which have nothing to do with water, and are made of all kinds of bits of big data, which we somehow try to make sense of when we try to find things to talk about.

So when I sit down and try to filter this flood of information into a weekly column I do two things: I ask myself what is the main thing in my mind this week and what is the main thing maybe in other people’s minds this week. In short what is topical to me and what might be topical to others. The first part is pretty simple where I have a conversation with myself something like this:

So, Mr. Writer-Man, what’s on your mind this week.

SHH, I’M SLEEPING.

But it’s time to write T.I.L.T.!

ALREADY? HAS ANOTHER WEEK GONE BY?

Yes, and you’re one week closer to death.

THANKS, NOW I’M AWAKE.

Good, you know the secret to writing is ‘butt in seat’ so get with it.

BUT BUTT IN BED IS SO MUCH NICER.

But what about your fans? You can’t let them down — it’s Friday.

I HAVE FANS?

According to website stats, yes.

HMMM. I THINK 95% OF MY TRAFFIC IS WIFEY WHO’S STILL SLEEPING HAPPILY IN BED.

Come on, get with it!

ALL RIGHT ALREADY, I’LL WRITE ALREADY.

So, what’s on your mind this week?

WORK. BILLS. WORK. RUNNING. WORK. THE WEATHER. WORK. WIFEY. WORK. AND MORE WORK.

You think about work a lot.

I WOULDN’T CALL IT THINKING.

What then, obsessing?

NO COMMENT.

Then why not write about work?

NO THANKS, IT REALLY ISN’T VERY INTERESTING AND WRITING IS A WAY FOR ME TO ESCAPE WORK. IT’S MY TIME.

Ok, so you could write about bills, running, the weather, or wifey.

BILLS ARE BORING. I WROTE ABOUT RUNNING TWO WEEKS AGO. AND I WROTE ALL ABOUT THE WEATHER IN A PAST T.I.L.T. LONG AGO.

What about wifey?

SHE’D LOVE THAT, BUT THEN AGAIN, MAYBE NOT — DEPENDS ON WHICH SIDE OF THE BED SHE GETS UP ON TODAY.

Right. No comment.

HMMM. WHAT TO WRITE. . .

And on and on I go talking to myself in circuitous fashion until I ask myself the next question:

So what’s on other people’s minds?

NO IDEA, I’M NOT A MIND READER. OTHERWISE I WOULD KNOW WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT WIFEY.

Ask Google?

ASK GOOGLE ABOUT WIFEY?

No, no, ask Google what’s on other people’s minds.

YOU MEAN GOOGLE IT? ANOTHER ONE OF MY FAVORITE NEW VERBS.

Exactly.

OK, GOOGLE, WHAT’S ON OTHER PEOPLE’S MINDS?

So, what did it say?

A BUNCH OF CRAP WHICH MIGHT HAVE BEEN ONE OF THE WORDS ‘WHAT’S ON OTHER PEOPLE’S MINDS’. HMM.

You need to see what’s trending on the internet.

RIGHT. TRENDING, THAT VERB AGAIN. OK LET’S SEE . . .

Well?

EVEN MORE CRAP.

Such as?

I’M EMBARRASSED TO SAY.

Why?

BECAUSE I JUST ENDED UP WASTING ABOUT FIVE MINUTES OF MY LIFE WATCHING A BUNCH OF WEDDING BLOOPER VIDEOS.

Wedding bloopers?

TOP HIT ON BUZZFEED.COM!

Why are so many people looking at wedding bloopers?

NO IDEA, I GUESS WE LIKE WATCHING OTHER PEOPLE’S PERSONAL DISASTERS.

What about Google news? What’s on there right now?

FERGUSON. DRUNK SECRET SERVICE. RACIST FRATERNITIES. ISIS. BOKO HARAM. IRAN. ESSENTIALLY EVEN MORE PERSONAL AND PUBLIC DISASTERS.

Sounds depressing.

I KNOW, MAKES THINKING ABOUT WORK TOO MUCH SEEM PLEASANT.

Wouldn’t you rather think about wifey?

ALWAYS. BUT I STILL DON’T KNOW WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT THIS WEEK.

Maybe you should write about trying to figure out what to write about?

THAT DOESN’T SOUND VERY INTERESTING.

You know, you could write about how you talk to yourself.

THAT’S EVEN MORE EMBARRASSING.

Is it? I’m sure everybody does it.

YOU THINK?

I do.

I DON’T KNOW, I MEAN, I LIKE TALK TO MYSELF ALL THE TIME.

I know.

OR EVEN WORSE, I TALK TO OTHER PEOPLE WHO AREN’T EVEN HERE.

You mean, like an imaginary friend?

NO, I MEAN LIKE REAL PEOPLE I KNOW.

But why do you talk to them when they aren’t there?

I IMAGINE TALKING TO THEM.

About what?

WHATEVER I WANT TO TELL THEM.

Then why not just tell them for real?

THAT’S THE POINT, IT’S LIKE I’M REHEARSING ALL THE TIME, PRACTICING JUST WHAT I WANT TO SAY AND HOW I MIGHT WANT TO SAY IT.

But how do you know what they’re going to say?

I DON’T. THAT’S THE PROBLEM. I HAVE TO GUESS. AND SO I RUN THROUGH THE IMAGINARY SCENE OVER AND OVER AGAIN WITH VARIATIONS ON THE SCRIPT BASED ON WHAT I THINK THEY MIGHT POSSIBLY SAY VERSUS WHAT I MIGHT POSSIBLY SAY.

So you basically talk to yourself.

YOU WOULD KNOW, RIGHT?

Right. Does it help?

TALKING TO MYSELF?

The rehearsing part. Do you then end up having the conversations for real at some point?

SOMETIMES. BUT SOME THINGS I REALLY WANT TO SAY TO PEOPLE, YOU JUST CAN’T SAY TO PEOPLE.

Why not?

I MIGHT OFFEND THEM.

So?

I DON’T WANT TO END UP BEING A PERSONAL OR PUBLIC DISASTER.

Wimp.

YOU KNOW I HATE CONFLICT.

Chicken.

HEY NOW, WATCH IT.

Coward.

CUT IT OUT!

What are you going to do about it? Stop talking to me?

. . . . . . . . . HMMMM.

Seriously, though, when you do have conversations for real, ones that you’ve rehearsed ahead of time with yourself, does it ever go like you imagine it will?

NEVER. WHAT SOUNDS GOOD IN MY HEAD SOMEHOW FALLS FLAT IN REALITY AND PEOPLE ALWAYS SAY AND REACT IN WAYS THAT I CAN’T PREDICT.

Then why do you rehearse?

I HAVE NO IDEA. TOO MANY YEARS IN SHOW BUSINESS I GUESS, MANUFACTURING ARTIFICIAL REPRESENTATIONS OF IMAGINED REALITIES. IN A WAY, IT’S LIKE MY MIND IS ITS OWN INTERNET, FULL OF CRAP, TRENDING ON ONE THING OR ANOTHER, OVER AND OVER AGAIN TRYING TO HAVE A SAY AND MAKE SOME SENSE OF IT ALL. OR MAYBE JUST TO ENTERTAIN MYSELF.

Well, I guess even non-showbiz people do the same thing.

YOU THINK?

I do it all the time.

BUT YOU’RE ME.

I am?

AREN’T YOU?

Perhaps. But maybe not the showbiz you.

I HAVE MORE THAN ONE ME?

Doesn’t everybody?

HMMM. MAYBE. I GUESS WE’LL HAVE TO ASK THEM.

For real or in your imagination?

BOTH. THAT WAY I’LL KNOW IF WHAT’S TRENDING IN MY MIND IS TRENDING IN THEIR MIND.

Sounds interesting.

WHO KNOWS. ONLY ONE WAY TO FIND OUT.

How’s that?

BY STOPPING TALKING TO MYSELF AND START WRITING.

Sounds like a plan.

YUP.

Cool.

UH-HUH.

Right.

WRITE.

Okay, then.

OK, THEN.

Who gets the last word today?

YOU?

Or me?

T.I.L.T. #131 – BREMEN TERROR MUSICIANS!

Red alert! Red Alert! Suspected terrorists in Bremen!

Last Saturday the never-ending global war on terror showed up in the provincial city of Bremen where I live. For those of you not familiar with Bremen, it’s in the northern part of Germany and is a relatively peaceful home to about a half-million beer-and-bratwurst loving people. It’s perhaps most famous for the children’s story The Bremen Town Musicians, which tells the tale of a disaffected and disgruntled group of animals (donkey, dog, cat, and rooster) who team up to pretend to be a monster and scare off a gang of bandits planning to rob the town. The story has become the symbol of Bremen which you can see in a beloved local statue as well as every other imaginable art form in the shape of a bizarre-looking pyramid: the donkey is the base, then comes the dog, on top of the dog is the cat, and then the rooster is the peak — all of them screaming in unison with wide-open mouths to monstrous effect.

Bremen is also famous for its Werder football team and Becks beer, which when added together in large quantities can lead to occasional violence when rival football hooligans come to town. But terrorists? In Bremen? Really?

I lived in London in 2007 and was a regular commuter when the underground rail and a couple of busses got blown up. I was lucky enough not to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, but when I heard of a terrorist threat, that’s what I think of: bombs blowing people up — scary stuff.

So what was the terrorist threat to Bremen? Was someone planning to blow up the statue of town musicians? Or the Werder football stadium? Or God forbid, the Becks brewery? Nobody knew at first, of course, because the only thing that gets initially publicized when it comes to a terrorist threat is that there is, well,‘a threat’. I find this the most terrifying thing of all: an unknown, unquantifiable warning to LOOK OUT — SOMETHING BAD MIGHT HAPPEN! Well, gee, thanks for the news. I’ll be sure to keep my eyes open for worst fears of my imagination!

I understand that the public officials charged with guarding our safety can’t reveal details too early in order not to tip-off the suspected terrorists, but when they announce a threat and then roll out masses of armed forces as happened in Bremen last week, I think, maybe, just perhaps, the terrorists may catch on to the fact somebody is on to them.

Thankfully, nothing bad happened last Saturday except the harassment of innocent Muslims at a local Mosque and other ‘foreign-looking people’ in a big public housing estate around the corner from where I live. What were the anti-terrorist troops looking for in terrifying fashion? Turns out it was guns, automatic machine guns to be exact. Apparently some spy heard that some suspects were getting a bunch of guns and planning an attack somewhere in Bremen. Given the recent horrific terrorist shooting attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, it seems reasonable enough to warrant a response.

But it also got me thinking. Would such a thing even be considered a terrorist threat in a place like Afghanistan or say Washington D.C.?  Anybody who has read a paper or looked at the news in the last decade can easily associate guns and violence with Afghanistan, but did you know that per capita the capital of the US is one of the most gun-violent place in America? It has circa 16.8 gun deaths per 100,000 people. All of Germany together has a rate of 0.19 with a total of circa 180 gun deaths for the whole country. Compared to the circa 10,000 in the US every year Germany is one safe place.

Now before you think I am going to go on an anti-gun-anti-american-liberal-socialist-loving rant, which I know will upset some of my good friends back in Texas where the right to carry a concealed weapon is considered a sacred inalienable right for everyone even illegal aliens, I’m just trying to point out that given all the regular shooting sprees all over the US, it makes one wonder just what is a terrorist threat?

Don’t get me wrong: global terrorism is a real danger, killing nearly 18,000 people all over the world in 2013 alone. But considering that there were circa 10,000 gun-murders in only the US in 2013, it kind of makes you think. Add to that all the other annual-murders-by-gun of even more gun-happy-civilized places like Venezuela with 11,000, or Colombia with 12,000, and let’s not forget Brazil with a whopping 35,000, you kind of wonder what all the fuss about global terrorism is.

Note to self: scratch South America from list of places to go for romantic getaway with gun-fearing wifey. Heck, scratch all the Americas except perhaps Canada – less than 200 gun deaths a year — paradise!

Do any of these gun-loving-gun-killing countries announce a terrorist threat and roll out the troops when they suspect somebody might use guns to wreak havoc? You would think given their gun-murder rates they would be in a constant state of terror and live in a constant police state. Hey, wait a second . . . HMMMM. The last couple of times I was in the US I did see very-heavily-armed law enforcement all over the place all the time . . . HMMM. Now that really is terrifying!

Maybe, just maybe, Germany, has it right. We have even less gun deaths than Canada even though there are more than twice as many Germans as Canadians. Maybe announcing a terrorist threat and doing a military-style sweep just because there might be some suspected guns is a good thing. The rest of the time I almost never see police out and about. Maybe that’s the secret of the Bremen Town Musicians at work: you all get together and make a bunch of noise when there’s a real threat and get rid of it so that most of the time there’s no real threat at all.

Note to self: spend next romantic holiday with wifey safely at home in Bremen reading local educational children stories while listening to the local bar around the corner cheer for Werder and enjoy sipping a cool local bullet-free Becks beer.