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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Carlinisms, Cont.

With a nod to the late great George Carlin, I've got some questions for you, beginning with a holiday appropriate one: If a prostitute came to your door today, how would you respond to the Halloween expression "Trick or treat?" Just asking.

George and I also want to know - The last time you had mahi mahi did you have couscous as a side? While on that same subject, what would you call a defective yo-yo? A no-yo? Just a plain old yo? How come the cha-cha is not called the cha-cha-cha since there are three quick steps in the dance? And, if you only do half the steps are you doing the cha?  Is a group of dodos learning karate called a dodo dojo? If you eat M&M's upside down are you eating W&W's?

Now about those ruby slippers. If Dorothy clicked her heels and she was instead wearing cowboy boots, where would she have landed? How about pumps? Sandals? Do sandals click? Would she have ever gotten out of Oz if all she'd had were flip flops?

Got any Carlinisms you'd like to share?

Thursday, October 29, 2015

An Up Close And Personal Chicken & Egg

Pretend you're a casting agent. Which actor or actress would most challenge you with respect to typecasting? That is, which role is so clearly tied to a specific acting performance in your mind that you have trouble seeing the actor playing anything else?

This inconsequential dilemma began when my wife and I happened to see Henry Winkler interviewed in a recent documentary about Robin Williams. Our subsequent conversation about typecasting - can anyone see Henry Winkler as anything but the Fonz? - sent me into a chicken/egg loop, movie geek version. As I briefly pondered Winkler's post-Fonz fate, I reflected. Did that iconic role forever typecast Winkler? Or, were his skills as an actor not able to transcend the role? Which comes first? And, not insignificantly, how much do the people handling the careers of actors have to do with this trap that can ensnare otherwise talented people? Like say, Anthony Perkins?

When I hit the final question in this particular chicken/egg deal, the reflection was no longer inconsequential; now it was personal. My daughter is an actress.  

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Ralph To The Rescue

What was the last really thorny moral dilemma you faced? Who or what did you turn to for assistance?

Though I'm not Christian, I've often found the practice of asking myself  "What would Jesus do?" a useful tool in these situations. And I've also found it useful to substitute the names of others into that formulation periodically. Though my intent is not blasphemous, I am curious to know who you could readily insert into that question if faced with this kind of dilemma.

I'm guessing many folks turn to other religious or spiritual figures, regardless of the particular faith those folks follow. All religious scripture has astute guidance on navigating these circumstances. My most recent quandary had me consulting Emerson, probably the lay person who has most assisted me. A collection of his essays occupies the same book shelf as my well worn bible. I suspect Emerson's early career as a minister has something to do with the solace I invariably get from his words.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Alchemy Vs. Education

Without question, the biggest challenge I face developing classes on music is what will end up being on the playlists. Doesn't matter if it's a brief presentation or multi-day course, it's exquisite torture every time.

I've also observed that as soon as my playlist falls into place, alchemy occurs. Unfortunately, that pushes up against my training as an educator. I was always instructed that content - a playlist would fall under that heading - should flow from teaching objectives, not the other way around. And though it's likely those objectives are in my head  - even as I'm combing through my collection, trolling I-tunes and soliciting input from others for the playlist - if I haven't written them, well, they're not real objectives then are they? Meanwhile, precious time ticks away as I try extracting my rule-bound head from an otherwise enjoyable process.

In the end, the torture, the alchemy - even the confounded objectives - bring me such joy that raising the issue feels a bit churlish. Maybe if someone else on the bell curve told me they've ever struggled with a tension between alchemy and education, I'd feel better?

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Nomads Vs. The Rooted

Which two US States have the highest percentage of people not born in those same States? Which two have the highest percentage who were born in the States where they reside?

Although I'm certain this data is readily available - I did not Google it -  I'm equally certain the curious among us have a better than even shot getting at least one State right for each question without a research grant. This is not a trivia contest; I've been reflecting on it since my recent Road Scholars trip and wondered what your experience tells you. Counting the almost forty participants - and the two guides in the first National Park - nineteen States were represented on that trip. Over the two weeks, I made sure to find out which of these folks were nomads - i.e. those fitting the first question posed - vs. rooted. Nerdy, right? But I've found few conversational gambits as reliable as this one.

I'll go first - surprise, right? - but I'm looking forward to your non-researched guesses. Top two nomad States = California & Florida. Top two rooted States = Oklahoma & West Virginia. Full disclosure: My wife's family is from West Virginia and my totally non-scientific guess is partially based on that infinitesimal sample and the rooted-ness therein. But, I further grounded my guess when the West Virginia couple from my Road Scholar trip told me they were indeed both born in almost heaven. And I didn't have to sing John Denver's song - they knew exactly what I meant.

Come on, even folks who complain the questions in my blog make their head hurt can jump in the pool on this, no? Just promise you won't cheat - that will upset this rooted blogger.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

A Lesson From Freddie

"Being a writer is always about being a reader first." Matt Bell

I'm usually not fond of absolutes. But for me, the "always" in that sentence above is beyond dispute. And in my experience, replacing the words "writer" and "reader" with "musician" and "listener" does not alter the fundamental truth of the sentence one bit. Although I'd enjoy hearing from writers or musicians on either Bell's formulation or my corollary, I'm equally interested in anyone's views on this subject.

Without fail, each time I think I've been exposed to the "best" version of a particular great song, someone upends my expectations. Most recently, for the first time, I heard Freddie Hubbard play the majestic Jimmy Van Heusen composition called "But Beautiful" - oh...my...goodness. I've often fantasized that in my next musical life, I'd learn trumpet. Maybe doing that would allow me to mimic Hubbard's exquisite phrasing on Van Heusen's great tune, or capture the tone Miles Davis gets on "My Funny Valentine", or copy a few of Woody Shaw's phrases of improvised magic from his take on "It Might As Well Be Spring". What a musical life that would be.

Fantasy aside, I'll settle for using the lessons all three performances of these timeless songs have taught me in my continuing evolution as a jazz guitarist. In addition, I'll continue listening and reading until I become the best musician and writer I can be.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Rationalizing Those Rational Lies

rationalize: to ascribe (one's acts, opinions, etc.) to causes that seem valid but are actually not the true, possibly unconscious causes.

Ever notice the similarity/connection between the psychological expression rationalize and the two words rational lies? Yeah that's about the story for me when it comes to the amount of time I've spent watching movies in my life. My latest neat rationalization started something like this.

Before going to see Steven Spielberg's latest film - "Bridge of Spies" - I made sure it had its share of bona fides. Based on actual events - cue the "I'm learning history" rationalization - and a Director and star (Tom Hanks) with politics that match mine. Consequently, the story being told would likely lend itself neatly to a tasty dose of confirmation bias. So far, so good. But those things alone would not have been enough if I couldn't also tell myself I'd extracted something of longer lasting value from another two hours spent on my butt. And that's where a rational lie comes in handy.

Throughout the film, the Russian spy Rudolf Abel - a stunning performance by Mark Rylance - when asked if he is worried or nervous about the events unfolding as he is arrested, convicted and sentenced to jail, responds "Would it help if I were?" I've decided that if here on in I use this simple but effective phrase to help me cope better, then my time was well spent. Was your last rationalization as well constructed as that one? I'm available for lessons, if anyone is interested.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Curiosity, Not Narcissism (An Experiment)

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2015/07/my-glass-half-full-experiment.html

I was gratified and chastened when a reader asked for the update mentioned in my July 19 post above; I'd forgotten I made the promise to report back on this experiment after three months.

Of the twelve people I interviewed to ask my question "Which trait of mine do you think most attracts others?", 33% of the responses matched the trait I'd predicted - my energy. And though none of the responses from the other eight people surprised me, the fact that no other one answer was duplicated did. Did anyone else - aside from the reader who asked for this update and also told me her results - try the experiment with us? Did any of the answers match what you thought people would say? Any surprises?

If you decided - as I suggested you could in the original post - to replace the word "attracts" with "repels" in your question, I'm equally curious to know the results. I plan to continue the experiment and hope you'll join me. No more promises about when my next update will be.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

It Was A Very Good Choice

When a college where I teach part time decided their New Jersey themed program needed a music component, they asked me which Jersey boy I'd like to feature in my 90 minute segment - Sinatra or Springsteen? I, of course, gave way too much thought to my answer.

Many of the songs Sinatra sang during his remarkable career have been mainstays of my guitar repertoire for almost 30 years. "All Of Me", "In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning", "Night And Day" and many more are now deeply woven into my musical fabric. Sinatra's song choices were nearly impeccable and he was a superb craftsman who acknowledged a musical debt to Billie Holiday. His legacy is secure.
 
The date of Springsteen's birth and mine are exactly two months apart. We both grew up playing in bar bands across NJ. Although the last full length Springsteen recording I bought was released in 1992, I never fully stopped listening to him; one of the last "new" songs I learned and then sang with a band was "Streets of Philadelphia" and for my money "The Rising" (2002) stands tall alongside his earlier work. His shows are deservedly legendary, his anthems powerful, and he is a ferocious, if underrated guitarist.

"These songs completed a circle, bringing me back to 1978 and the inspiration I  got from 'The Grapes of Wrath'. Their skin was darker and their language had changed but these people were trapped by the same brutal circumstances."  I'd already told the college my decision and started the development of my presentation long before I came across that Springsteen statement in "Songs", a 1998 collection of his lyrics from 1973-1995. What Bruce said - as a description of how he came to write "The Ghost Of Tom Joad" in 1995 - simply confirmed I'd made a very good choice.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Act Three

Each time I settle on a useful metaphor for where I am in life, something better occurs to me. Although I suspect I've got less company on the bell curve than usual this time, I'm also reasonably certain I'm not alone. So, what metaphor describing the arc of your life has most recently resonated with you?

Of late, Act Three seems most apt for me. Given my age, it's realistic, although not bleak - Act Fours are not unheard of. And there's something majestic about third acts. Big things often happen - think Shakespeare. Of course, metaphors require parameters to be useful. No regular reader will be surprised to learn I have a few.

* Re my passions: In Act Three I'm shooting for listening to music that can help me grow as a musician or lyricist, sampling as many new authors as I can - returning to an old one only if the last book of theirs I read moved me, discriminating more about the films I watch.

* Re conversations: As Act Three proceeds, I'm aiming to speak less, use more pure questions, be mindful of elevating the discourse by avoiding discussions of people and events, concentrating instead on conversations about ideas.

* Re creativity: In my third act, all energy must be aimed at fine tuning my creative voice. In addition, I will make more space for collaboration, something I neglected in Act One & Two.

How about you? Although I've reflected on it, I left out the Act Three parameter about relationships - a future post, perhaps. I'm also not treating the above as goals; more like I'm shaping my life as it unfolds.

Monday, October 19, 2015

THE Bete Peeve/Pet Noire

bete noire: something that a person dislikes or dreads; a bugbear. 

Let's face it - French just makes things sound better than other languages. This goes for food  - even if you didn't know what they were wouldn't you pick a croissant any day over a bratwurst? for clothing - I bet a beret entices even people who otherwise eschew haberdashery, even for things you dislike or dread. Come on, admit it - doesn't bete noire have so much more snap than pet peeve?

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2014/01/a-crab-out-of-water.html

A list of my bete noires - begun sometime ago to assist me writing future posts for my crabbiness series - has since gotten quite long. But reviewing that list recently, I realized lip syncing needed a post of its own. This all-too-common practice - a bete noire surpassed in my mind only by poseur DJs who fancy themselves musicians, especially those who lip sync - can get me so incensed I sometimes appear irrational. Silly, I know but who out there hasn't at least once appeared a bit cuckoo? Was it one of your bete noires that triggered you?

The good news: The next time I watch someone lip sync - or run across a moronic DJ doing it - I've got a cool sounding expression for my annoyance. Maybe this can assist me to be more measured in my response? Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Gratitude

Sitting down to capture my reflections on a completely different subject, I glanced at my reading space, located directly adjacent to this laptop. In that instant, I flashed to how my surroundings could quickly deteriorate if I lived alone - not a pretty picture.

The space is usually more contained. My wife has been away only two days. So how did my reading and writing materials expand so quickly that they now occupy a good portion of this room? Am I that reliant on someone else to moderate my tendency toward clutter? Are you?

It's possible the mess would have escaped my attention and my original reflection would have been today's post had I not earlier this a.m. finished a Times article about a NYC hoarder. Doesn't that perfectly demonstrate the value of reading? My empathy for the lonely life and death of George Bell - brilliantly reported by N.R. Kleinfield and photographed by Josh Haner - probably contributed to that glance at my reading space. In turn, I experienced gratitude for a life that includes someone who helps moderate my excesses. Next? Spend a minute and get my space under control. The rest of this glorious fall day awaits.

Friday, October 16, 2015

California Girls

While developing my continuing ed class on the intersection of movies and music, I had to think hard about which films to include. In the end, I ended up using no movies for that course from the genre that film critics call "biopics". Well known examples of this genre would be "Bird" or "Ray" or "Walk The Line", three movies that respectively depicted the lives of Charlie Parker, Ray Charles, and Johnny Cash. Many biopics have good moments but for me, just as many fall flat. Often they are overly dramatic or unimaginative.  

"Love and Mercy" - the recent biopic about Brian Wilson - is not without its faults. In particular, a few of the scenes that depicted his second wife rescuing him from his unscrupulous therapist struck me as over the top. This was not the fault of Elizabeth Banks, the actress playing Wilson's wife, or Paul Giamatti, who portrayed the venal Eugene Landy to menacing perfection. In my view, the script or the direction - or a combination of the two - let down both these talented actors.

But this biopic would have been included in my course had I seen it before beginning my development:
* The imaginative, seamless way Brian Wilson is played by two gifted actors - Paul Dano as the young genius losing his grip and John Cusack as an older Wilson under the thumb of Landy - is thrilling.
* The Wrecking Crew - a remarkable group of 60's studio musicians who played on many Beach Boys recordings - gets their due. One of my favorite scenes involves drummer Hal Blaine reassuring an insecure Wilson about tracks that would ultimately become the masterpiece called "Pet Sounds".
* Brian Wilson's glorious music is front and center. I wept when Dano crooned "Caroline, No".

You need not be a Beach Boys fan to enjoy this movie. If you've seen it, tell me if you agree. If you haven't, I recommend you do. Then tell me what you think. And everyone - tell me which biopic about a musician has moved you. My next delivery of that course is still a few months away.            

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Schadenfreude Mirror

schadenfreude: pleasure derived from the misfortune of others.

That German word - literal translation per Wikipedia = "ham joy" - is very useful. My first thought recently hearing someone describe an obituary as "fascinating" was what an odd choice of adjective she'd used. Then as I reflected further, I realized how many people I've known who are indeed fascinated by obituaries. Are obits your frequent path to schadenfreude?

Then I turned around the mirror. I wondered - Are us older folks more likely to read obits than young people? Intuitively, it would seem so, but they're not my thing now; never have been. However, me being jarred by that fascinating adjective does not mean schadenfreude street is unfamiliar to me. My brake foot and rubber neck have intersected more than once. Sometimes I'm able to recall more details about the gory deeds of some serial killers than wholesome information about people who ennoble the spirit. Etc., unfortunately.

Not long ago I read a comment attributed to Gore Vidal, a favorite author of mine for many years. Vidal said in order to be happy it wasn't enough that he was wildly successful; other authors also had to fail miserably. If Vidal really felt that way - he was known for provoking controversy just for the sake of it - then he's got me beat in the schadenfreude sweepstakes. How about you? If you're above it all, it's probably better the rest of us on the bell curve don't hear about it. No hard feelings.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Interview With The Bookworm

Why not just a book blog, Pat?

Don't want to be locked into a blogosphere niche.

But what percentage of your posts end up being about literature anyway?

Haven't specifically calculated but I'd estimate about 20%. So what?

Seems like a high percentage for a blog that doesn't want to be a niche. Moving on, why only posts about books you like?

Until I finish my own book, who am I to publicly bash someone who has? Anyway, the people really close to me know about books that haven't moved me, especially when those same people recommended them. Also, instead of being negative, the remaining 80% of my reflections might possibly entice readers to whom books are not that critical.   

OK, I surrender. What has most recently moved you?

Now there's a good question. Try "Station Eleven" (2014) by Emily St. John Mandel. It's a page turner in the best sense of that expression.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Go Outside And Play

How often did your parents say to you - "Go outside and play!"  Don't you wish someone would periodically say the same thing to you now?

Sometimes when I've been in my head too long, I do in fact say those exact words to myself, although not aloud. Strange as it sounds, it actually works. Often the self-admonishment will prompt me to simply take a walk - to the library or the local coffee shop or I'll indulge in some aimless meandering. Any of these seem to do the trick. What do you do when you go outside to play?

Perhaps this need to go outside and play partially explains why some people prefer a temperate climate year round. But I don't mind playing outside in New Jersey winters. Also, giving up winter would additionally entail giving up autumn, my favorite time to go outside and play. This time of year, I need no prompting, parental or otherwise.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Warning: Bragging Ahead

What's the closest contact you've ever had with a President?

My answer is easy - handling currency. But the ambitious and talented young man my daughter has been dating for four years recently gave me one degree of separation bragging rights. He and several other young entrepreneurs were guests in the oval office last Wednesday. If you're interested in learning more, visit the website of the NYC-based company he founded and look for details on the Labor Summit hosted by the President and Secretary of Labor on October 7.

www.managedbyq.com

As astounded as I am by this young man's precociousness, it wouldn't mean a thing if he wasn't good for my daughter. But his values are solid, he is supportive of her chosen path and his instincts about people are often spot-on. I can take no credit for any of this or for who my daughter chooses to date, for that matter. But I can be grateful for both. Bragging is so uncool. But one of the clear consolations of being old is how much being cool does not matter.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Bless Me Father

Unless someone makes a comment online or off, I'm never sure who reads these reflections regularly. At least for today that's good because of the confession herein. If I get lucky and several people close to me don't read this - or decide not to tell me they did - maybe they won't call me on my shit. Here goes.

Despite an occasional snobbish protestation to the contrary, I too am able to be influenced by pop culture. Two recent experiences brought this into sharp relief.

The first was an audio lecture at the Alamo museum. Among the many moving displays there was a rifle that Fess Parker used when he portrayed Davy Crockett on TV. Before my holier-than-thou persona had a chance to dismiss this pop ephemera, the lecturer whispered a convincing case about how this prop has served as an entree for people who might otherwise not have been interested in Davy Crockett's martyrdom or the Alamo at all. Strike one against Pat the snob.

Then, "The Secret History Of Wonder Woman" (2014) by Jill Lepore blew me away. This remarkable book is wrapped in a pop culture package of the highest order. But, isn't it wholly plausible someone would be drawn in by the comic book and then become enthralled by the way Lepore braids the history of feminism into her narrative? I can easily envision this book opening a whole new world for someone. If it takes fake guns or comic books for people to get hooked, who am I to gripe? Strike two.

But the batter wasn't out until these recent experiences reminded me how I was introduced to my all time favorite jazz composer, Thelonious Monk. That's right, pop goes the culture. While still in my jazz infancy in the early 80's, my brother bought a double album called "That's The Way I Feel Now". Many rock names familiar to me - Donald Fagen, Peter Frampton, Joe Jackson - were featured playing Monk's idiosyncratic compositions on that record. I was hooked and soon after searched for the originals. Care to join me in the booth? When in your life has a pop culture phenomenon taken you to the source?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Liar, Liar

Although I try to keep an open mind, there are subjects that just don't interest me much. Like say, comic books.

"The Secret History of Wonder Woman" (2014) is fascinating, salacious and educational. William Moulton Marston - Wonder Woman's creator and the inventor, if not patent owner, of the lie detector - was brilliant, quirky and totally shameless. I lost count how many times this Harvard PhD (psychology) re-invented himself. The three women who inhabited his alternate universe were feminists, as well as Marston's collaborators and co-conspirators. Somehow, author Jill Lepore manages to juxtapose the story of 20th century feminism with the history of a comic book without ever missing a beat. The research she did to re-construct the Marston family's secretive funhouse is staggering. And Lepore's prose is nearly flawless.

It would be difficult to over-praise this book. I was re-introduced to Margaret Sanger's early 20th century crusade for birth control via the mother of Marston's two middle children; she was Sanger's niece. I learned the backstory of the Supreme Court's landmark ruling (Frye vs. United States) on the inadmissibility of the lie detector test (did I mention Marston was also a lawyer?) I was exposed to the innocence of mid-20th century America in the chapter "Comic Book Menace" when Batman was considered a threat to public safety because he brandished a handgun.

What was the last book you finished about a subject in which you had no interest? Did it knock you out as much as "The Secret History of Wonder Woman" did me? Comic books; go figure.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Progress ...

On this otherwise unexceptional day, i.e. I have few commitments, it's not a holiday or an anniversary of any kind, a provocative question came to me out of nowhere early this morning: What am I most afraid of?

Now it would probably be wise to let this too-existential-for-a-blog-post-of-a-few-paragraphs question pass. I've done exactly that several times over the last four and a half years. But as I reflect on it, today seems like as good a day as any to throw caution to the wind. Anyway, in this moment my answer is clear. I'm most afraid of passing through this world unnoticed. What are you most afraid of?

In my blog infancy, an early follower suggested I sounded depressed in these musings. I was not at all depressed then nor am I low this very moment. It's a nice day. I plan to take a walk shortly, return home and play my guitar, read. And what I'm feeling right now is less afraid about sounding real here - even if that means some people stop reading me - vs. when I began blogging in 2011. So, if you don't want to answer the question about what you are most afraid of, how about this: What are you less afraid of now than you were four years ago?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Did I Hear You Right?

Question: "So, what are you working on now?"

Answer: "I'm writing a book about salt."

I'm trying to imagine what my gut reaction would be if I were a new book agent, having an initial lunch with an author and my first question to him was answered that way.

"Salt: A World History" (2002) is a wonderful read. Author Mark Kurlansky skillfully transported me from Ancient China to the city-states of Venice and Genoa long before Italy was a unified nation to the present day Caribbean. And every chapter featured at least one recipe - accompanied by the story behind it - each illustrating the critical role salt has played in world cuisine. It was fascinating to be re-introduced to history via this commodity most of us take for granted.

All the same, each time that imaginary Q&A popped into my head I got a little sidetracked. How would you react to that answer if you were Kurlansky's friend? Sibling? Spouse? I'd love to eavesdrop on a conversation like that.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Buddha In San Antonio

Strolling the River Walk in charming San Antonio this past week with my wife, I reflected on a tension. There are so many places I still want to see yet, time is finite. For a brief moment I abandoned the present and morbidly wondered if this might be the last time I get to enjoy San Antonio.    

If that turns out to be the case, no matter; I'm fortunate to have had this one opportunity. And my short visit to glass half-empty land aside, I was otherwise fully present and enjoyed the city immensely. In particular, the Alamo blew me away. Was my heightened appreciation and excitement - something my wife noticed and commented on - somehow connected to my earlier un-Buddha-like wondering? In other words, was my premonition about never returning to San Antonio intensifying my experience of the city? Any of this sound familiar?

If you get a chance, visit San Antonio. And try getting off the River Walk when you want to eat. Use Yelp or some other means to find good local places. Our favorite - Rosario's.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Dear Ursula

"A lot of genre writing produces a commodity and there are readers who want that, and that's fine. But there should remain a large and noble place for the writing that is not meant to sell but to be itself."

Since reading it, I've been mulling over those two statements made by author Ursula K. Le Guin in the September 25 issue of The Week. Though Le Guin is well known, she's not a superstar. Consequently, I'm optimistic she'll respond to the questions below that I've posted to her website. Your answers are equally welcome and will be solace if Le Guin ignores me.

How would you define genre writing?

If the words "music" and "listeners" replace "writing" and "readers" does the formulation remain valid? If no, why not? How about if the words "movies" and "viewers" are used? 

Is writing (or music or film) that is "... not meant to sell ..." the only writing (etc.) that can "... be itself ..."? How does a writer (musician/filmmaker) know when they are creating something meant to "...be itself ..."?   

Thursday, October 1, 2015

John's Story

In the church bearing its name, there's a plaque called "Heroes of The Alamo". Alongside an alphabetized list with entries like Crockett, Davy; Tennessee, the last of the 189 names reads as follows:

_____, John; a freedman.

In the gift shop I searched for information on this man as well as more on Stockton,William; New Jersey, a NJ name familiar to me and the only hero from my beloved home State. The latter was easy to locate. As I'd surmised and suggested to the docent, the New Jersey hero was a relative of the Stockton who signed the Declaration of Independence. In a gift shop book bearing the same name as the plaque in the church, I learned Stockton was eighteen years old when he died at the Alamo. His family lineage is detailed and his young wife's name is included. In that same book, John is listed. Just one fact was documented: His unnamed master left him at the Alamo mission before Santa Ana's siege. At that moment, it struck me as unlikely that John was this hero's actual name.

Historians select events from a stream and fashion them into narratives that we call History. But there are many events to choose from, and many ways to craft them into stories. What was "John's" story? If there is more to be known, I plan to find out, starting soon after publishing this post. If you'd like to learn with me, let me know. If I don't know you, leave me your e-mail as a comment and I'll get back to you with whatever I uncover. If I do know you, just tell me you're interested in this piece of history.