Encouragement to Keep Living

Encouragement to Keep Living
by Ron Steelman
3-23-18


In my last two posts I highlighted the Principles of Humanism. As an actor, writer, director, and producer, my entire life has been all about creativity. So, it’s probably not a surprise that I have cherry-picked these two Humanist principles out of the list to begin this post:

◊ We believe in enjoying life here and now and in developing our creative talents to their fullest.

◊ We are engaged by the arts no less than by the sciences.



Who Is Austin Kleon?

My musician/artist brother, Scott, introduced me to Austin’s book, “Steal Like An Artist.” But today I’m dying to tell you how much I am enjoying his weekly newsletters. They are packed with many links and comments about art and creativity and books and films and music and, and, and, and. When it arrives I happily find numerous things that intrigue me. 

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Austin Kleon

Kleon is an artist/writer who lives in Austin, Texas. . .in the same neighborhood where that insane terrorist (locally bred) put a number of deadly bombs in places so that people would get killed. He did and they did. Clearly, Kleon and his family are still quite shaken.

The link that caught my eye in Kleon’s newsletter this week was simply the word, “Bach.” I was curious because his newsletters are filled with surprises, so I clicked it to see where it would take me. Taa-Dah! It was his short essay about dealing with all the violence we face in life, and about how the beauty of Bach’s music gives him hope.

Kleon closes with, “Artists like Bach do us the greatest service of any true artist: they give us encouragement to keep living, to keep going.”

I have no idea if Austin is at all religious or even a humanist. That doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that I believe human creativity is in all of us. Austin is extremely creative. Your creativity can manifest itself in many different ways. And this is very important, your creativity is not “a God-given talent.” It is simply a facet of your humanity. It is not magic, and yet it is magical.

At the end of Austin’s essay is a video with pianist James Rhodes that you must watch. I almost quit right after the music, but you mustn’t do that. Rhodes gives a little pitch saying that you too can learn to play Bach. He also describes the beauty of Bach’s music, why it is so beautiful, and why it makes him so happy. And it worked. Bach and Rhodes made me happy as well.

Austin Kleon’s “Prelude”

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PLEASE DON’T BE SHOCKED . . .when I say I’m an atheist

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I always like to point out to people that there are many famous atheists in every profession. To demonstrate that fact, I have prepared a short list of classical composers, many of whom were obliged to create religious music simply to pay their bills, yet they were sincere atheists. Why are there so many atheist composers?

You might expect scientists to be atheists because they haven’t found any proof that there is a God. However, I think many “creative types” may be predisposed to atheism as well. This is pure speculation on my part (or possibly the ramblings of an idiot savant). I think the creative process allows the mind to explore all possibilities – including the denial of the existence of a supernatural being. Once accomplished, that denial sure eliminates a ton of spiritual baggage.

I have included several modern atheist composers as well, just to see if you can find them in the list.

THE LIST:

Béla Bartók

Hector Berlioz

Georges Bizet

Johannes Brahms

Claude Debussy

Frederick Delius

Brian Eno

Leoš Janáček

Tom Lehrer

Tim Minchin

Sergei Prokofiev

Sergei Rachmaninoff

Maurice Ravel

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Richard Rodgers

Camille Saint-Saëns

Franz Peter Schubert

Dmitri Shostakovitch

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Richard Wagner

Vaughan Williams

Frank Zappa
(yes, he was a serious composer of modern classical music)

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Bill Murray Philosopher / Humanist?

Bill Murray Philosopher / Humanist?
by Ron Steelman

I never thought of Bill Murray as a philosopher. I simply viewed him as an actor, a top notch, one-of-a-kind, always surprising clown, who can morph into a serious character on a dime. I greatly admire his acting skills, particularly his later work. Bill MurrayWhat a screwball! He has evolved into a highly regarded actor, one able to create rich characters that reveal many layers of their humanity. He loves to never do what you’d expect of him, both on screen and in real life. I believe that’s what makes him unique
. . .and funny.

As my wife read aloud an article about Mr. Murray in the Sunday, December 2nd Arts section of the New York Times, we chuckled, cackled, and guffawed. A portion of it included an interview with Bill, which was revelatory. My take is that aspects of his personal philosophy seem very Humanist-like. Now I understand how he employs this worldview in his acting. In fact, it’s this sense of reality that makes him so funny and such a great success.

Is he really a humanist? I don’t know. I doubt if you could ever get a straight answer out of him. He’s a master at avoiding direct answers to questions. I do know he’s a lapsed Catholic who is reported to have said, “Religion is the worst enemy of mankind. No single war in the history of humanity has killed as many people as religion has.” Therefore, I think he is now somewhat post-theological (I’ll correct this if he calls to complain). In the Times article his philosophy reveals a gentle compassion towards others, and a belief in hope. Compassion and hope are two of the three pillars of Humanism: reason, compassion, and hope. Well, that’s two out of three anyway. We’ll leave the discussion of his view of “reason” till he calls to explain.

After reading the excerpt from the Times article, please watch the YouTube video below. As usual, Murray’s plan is to never do what you’d expect of him, while sprinkling a little compassion into his interpersonal communication skills.
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(Excerpts from🙂
THE NEW YORK TIMES
With Bill Murray, Just Take the Trip

By DAVE ITZKOFF
Published: November 28, 2012

…”Q. That seems to be a philosophy you apply not only to your work but to your entire life.

A. Well, I’ve made some mistakes in that area too. The more relaxed you are, the better you are at everything: the better you are with your loved ones, the better you are with your enemies, the better you are at your job, the better you are with yourself.”
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(describing his authentic self.)

A. …”I spoke about the first time I went to Wrigley Field in Chicago, and I was a big Cubs fan, and I watched all the games on TV, but when I grew up, TV was in black and white. So when I was 7 years old, I was taken to my first Cubs games, and my brother Brian said, “Wait, Billy,” and he put his hands over my eyes, and he walked me up the stairs. And then he took his hands away. [He begins to get choked up.] And there was Wrigley Field, in green. There was this beautiful grass and this beautiful ivy. I’d only seen it in black and white. It was like I was a blind man made to see. It was something.”
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…”Q. There seems to be so much serendipity in your life. Are you actively cultivating these moments or just hoping that they come to you?

A. Well, you have to hope that they happen to you. That’s Pandora’s box, right? She opens up the box, and all the nightmares fly out. And slams the lid shut, like, “Oops,” and opens it one more time, and hope pops out of the box. That’s the only thing we really, surely have, is hope. You hope that you can be alive, that things will happen to you that you’ll actually witness, that you’ll participate in. Rather than life just rolling over you, and you wake up and it’s Thursday, and what happened to Monday? Whatever the best part of my life has been, has been as a result of that remembering.”

Q. Are there days where you wake up and think: “Nothing good has come to me in a little while. I’d better prime the pump”?

A. Well, who hasn’t woken up thinking, “God, nothing good has come to me in a while,” right? When I feel like I’m stuck, I do something — not like I’m Mother Teresa or anything, but there’s someone that’s forgotten about in your life, all the time. Someone that could use an “Attaboy” or a “How you doin’ out there.” It’s that sort of scene, that remembering that we die alone. We’re born alone. We do need each other. It’s lonely to really effectively live your life, and anyone you can get help from or give help to, that’s part of your obligation.”
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…”Q. Did you ever think that the lessons you first learned on the stage of an improv comedy theater in Chicago would pay off later in life?

A. It pays off in your life when you’re in an elevator and people are uncomfortable. You can just say, “That’s a beautiful scarf.” It’s just thinking about making someone else feel comfortable. You don’t worry about yourself, because we’re vibrating together. If I can make yours just a little bit groovier, it’ll affect me. It comes back, somehow.”
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YouTube: Bill Murray on David Letterman
This clip demonstrates some of Bill Murray’s wacky philosophy:


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A couple of online comments about Bill Murray on this Letterman appearance:

“This guy is just charm incarnate. The sweetest, funniest man on earth. You can feel the shyness too, which is just like the cherry on the cake”

“This world is going to collapse in on itself when this man dies…”
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Some of Steelman’s favorite Bill Murray films:

– Moonrise Kingdom
– Get Low
– The Darjeeling Limited
– Lost In Translation
– Groundhog Day
– What About Bob
– Hyde Park On The Hudson (soon to be released. . .I’m sure I’ll love him as FDR)

Bill Murray as FDR

Bill Murray as FDR – by Nicola Dove/Focus Features

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Humanist Poetry?

Humanist Poetry?
By Ron Steelman
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I said, “Why are we doing this?”

Brother Scott said, “It’s just a gift, that’s all.”

I liked the simplicity of that. Even though I’m a devout skeptic, I couldn’t find any reason to object.

Scott said, “You pick some of the poems from the book, the ones that speak to you, and record them. Send the files to me and I’ll score some background music. We’ll put them
on a CD by Thanksgiving and Paul will take it to his dad, the poet, up in Woodstock, New York.”

I selected the poems I liked, rehearsed, and then recorded them — sitting in my pantry with beach towels masking the food on three sides. It makes a good sound booth with dead air, perfect for recording.

As I read the poems they made me think about how universal the human experience is. These poems were not my poems, yet they seemed to dig down and explore aspects of the human spirit to which we all can relate. These poems have nothing to do with secular humanism, but they have everything to do with being human. This isn’t a naive revelation about poetry, but rather a reminder to me that Humanism espouses the arts. The human creativity involved in this project is a demonstration of that philosophy.

The following statements are from  Affirmations of Humanism: A Statement of Principles. Whenever I read through the Affirmations I linger over these two statements, pondering my life, much of it spent in the arts:
“• We are engaged by the arts no less than by the sciences.
• We believe in enjoying life here and now and in developing our creative talents to their fullest.”

My response is always, “Yes, yes, yes, Arts change lives!” The more we experience music, dance, theater, poetry, literature, art — the more we come to realize that we are all one.  As Humanists:
“• We attempt to transcend divisive parochial loyalties based on race, religion, gender, nationality, creed, class, sexual orientation, or ethnicity, and strive to work together for the common good of humanity.”

Paul read two of his father’s poems. Scott read one. Plus, Scott introduced the text-to-voice character, the irreverent Glot Schpeilman. Bob’s poetry will never be the same.

Scott’s skillful musical scoring frames these poems, carefully supporting every word. His music is not background music, but rather, something called “magic.”

Enjoy.

CD Label

Turn up your speakers and play here.


CD Tracks