Sunday, May 21, 2017

Ukulele Zen

By Mike Nettleton 

If I was two decades younger it might qualify as a “mid-life crisis.” But since I’m not and it isn’t, let’s just call it a geezerly quirk. Or perhaps mild lunacy.

While some manly male men might express this “phase” in their life by jettisoning the Prius for a red convertible and the comfortable life-long partner for a flashy blonde trophy muffin, I made a choice that is both more and less painful to those who love me and share living quarters with me. I decided to learn how to play the ukulele. 

 Before you smack yourself in the forehead, mumble “doh!” and dredge up memories of Tiny Tim crooning “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” you should know that the humble uke, in the hands of a master is a formidable musical instrument. Don’t believe me? Go to You Tube and enter Jake Shimabukuro. After you’re able to bring your jaw back to the full upright position after hearing him play “Bohemian Rhapsody,” enter the name Tamaine Gardner. You’ll never bad mouth ukulele players again—trust me. 

While I plunk away and learn simple songs on the uke, I hallucinate that someday I'll play even 1/10th as well as those two. Or at least not put the dog to sleep on the futon when I practice downstairs. 

 Recently, I attended a ukulele workshop out in Washougal (a Columbia Gorge community half an hour east of here) sponsored by the Friends of the Library. It was led by Aaron Canwell who in partnership with his son Micah runs a children's entertainment company called Micah and Me. Find them at 

He brought a gaggle of ukuleles with him to the meeting room of the 54-40 brewery in Washougal.  Good thinking, since 35 people or so eager-to-learn players showed up and more than half of them hadn’t brought instruments.This fun strum-a-thon not only taught me some technique, it warmed the very cockles of my heart. (The cockles are right next to the left ventricle) Here’s why:

  • There were people of all ages there plunking away together—from seven to seventy and older.
  • There was a real sense of community. For those old enough to remember, it reminded me of the old folk music “hoots” where people would bring instruments and get together and sing. There was a lot of positive energy being passed around the room.
  •  People smiled, laughed and helped each other learn the different chords and songs presented by the teacher. More experienced players shared their knowledge with beginners. 
  •  Nobody even glanced at a telephone or mobile device for the best part of three hours. It was human, person to person communication. You didn’t have to click a “like” button you just had to smile at yourself and others.
Now, I’m not suggesting taking up ukulele will cure or even alleviate your ennui or induce a grin. But finding something to get involved in that puts you shoulder to shoulder with other human beings most certainly will. Give it a try. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Advice I Got in High School

Carolyn J. Rose

To pay homage to Dickens, it was the best of advice; it was the worst of advice. What teachers and adults told me when I was in high school was sometimes sound, sometimes off-the-mark, and sometimes warped by perspective and opinion.

The good advice was mostly about developing skills that would help in years ahead. Since the advice was handed out in the late 50s and early 60s, before growing concerns about self-esteem and PC, most of it came in negative form:

  • Don’t leave projects until the last minute
  • Don’t turn in sloppy work   
  • Don’t make excuses for what you didn’t do 
  • Don’t try to BS an expert
  • Don’t blame others for your faults 
  • Don’t shirk responsibility

But some of what was handed out as “good” advice veered more into the realm of opinion or personal experience:

  • You’ll never learn French because you don’t know how to suffer
  • You’re not serious enough to make it through the first semester of college
  • Don’t waste time in college learning things you won’t need to be a housewife 
  • There’s no reason to take a typing class unless you’re going to be a secretary
  • Stop complaining that you can’t take shop class and concentrate on cooking and sewing

Within a few years, women’s horizons expanded and, as a news producer facing dozens of deadlines for getting a show stacked and written, I was darn glad I’d demanded that typing class. I was also darn glad I hadn’t jettisoned my sense of humor.

If I were pressed to dish out advice to teens today, I’d spiff up the moldy oldy items from the first list. And, along with all that, I’d pass on some advice of my own:

  • Aim high
  • Feel deep
  • Plan wide
  • Try hard
  • Be kind