Buffalo’s Mystically Magic Resurgence

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With twin Romanesque columns towering over either side like two rooks joined at the hip, Henry Hobson Richardson’s 19th century creation looms like full scale Gotham City prop. Traveling along a long-abandoned side road that circles the vast complex, one sees up close the details from the decades of decay. Unattended since 1994, New York State left what remained of the old Buffalo State Asylum to the elements.

The wind-swept snows of Lake Erie would take its toll on the buildings as well as the 200 acres of once elegant grounds laid out by none other than Frederick Law Olmstead. Western New York’s famous winters have only enhanced the eerie feel of the place. Built in oversized fashion from garnet-colored Medina Sandstone and industrial-red brick, the institution carries the burden of its initial purpose.

Elisabeth Stevens once wrote of the building (The Baltimore Sun, Saturday, August 11, 1979, page 7), “…one can conveniently imagine the character such as Mr. Rochester’s wife (in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte) screaming wildly at one of the uppermost windows of the twin, medievalizing towers of the central Romaneque-style building.”

Yet, for all this creepy sensation, Richardson’s realized vision remains alluring. “It’s haunted. There’s a history here that you have to experience,” says Kelly Reitnour of Continue Reading “Buffalo’s Mystically Magic Resurgence”

Here’s How to Get the Latest… on Everything

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Kids are great. They offer so much. They give you a reason to excel. They force you to look deep inside yourself. They make you laugh, smile, and (sometimes) cry, but, always leave you filled with a sense of satisfying purpose.

They also do one other thing. Kids, especially those that are a little older but not too old, act like a canary in a coal mine.

Now, before you get to scrunched up in your high heels, I don’t mean they’re something you can use as a sort of human shield. (Truth be told, when they were very young, just before they went to sleep our children would often ask us why we had them. Even before Betsy could break an adoring smile, I blurted out my quick, simple, and direct answer: “To be there so the monster could eat you first.” Soon after, Betsy insisted that only she tuck the children in for the night. I love it when a plan works.)

Here’s what I really mean. They may be the clue to the Fountain of Youth. Kids act like a canary in the coal mine of popular culture. We weary parents, consumed with matters of far greater import (something about “food, clothing, and shelter”), find we cannot keep up with modern culture. Like canaries, kids have an innate ability to smell what’s coming before the rest of us.

You know what I’m talking about. One day, you know every single record on the Top 40. The next day, you find out there’s no such things as records anymore. Heck, there’s no such thing as “Top 40” anymore either. Everyone has their own personal playlist on Spotify.

How do you react to this?

At first you resist. “That’s not the way we did it in my day.” Then you come to realize it is the way you did it in your day. Only better.

You used to make your own playlists. You put your favorite songs on cassettes. You called them “mix tapes.” After all that hard work, you couldn’t help but feel amazed the first time you listened to your new mix tape.

That feeling didn’t last long. You got bored with them really fast because the songs always appeared in the same order. So, you went back to listening to the radio. The radio might not play all your favorite songs, but at least the anticipation of not knowing what song was coming up next would keep you interested, if not excited.

Close your eyes and imagine combining these two wants: all your favorite songs coming at you in a random order. It’s the best of all possible worlds. Sirius Radio attempts to offer this, but, then again, it’s Sirius Radio. Personalized playlists on platforms like Spotify truly do offer the best of both worlds.

And, if not for your kids, you’d never know this.

For those of you who are still bothered by the canary metaphor, allow me to offer a more erudite analogy.

Children are like the Plato’s shadows. You know the shadows I’m talking about. They’re the ones that reflected on the walls in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. It’s from one of his most-read works: Republic. You might remember Plato’s Republic as that thick book you didn’t read in college. It’s probably most famous for convincing people they didn’t need to take philosophy courses.

Anyways, Plato presents the Allegory of the Cave through a dialogue between his brother Glaucon and Socrates, who acts as narrator. He begins by describing the inhabitants of the cave. They are prisoners, forever chained to the wall of the cave. They cannot see the activity going on outside the cave. They do, however, see the shadows of that activity reflected on the cave wall.

Only, they don’t understand the shadows are only shadows. They think the shadows are the reality. In a way, for the prisoners, this doesn’t matter, for the shadows – real or not – do show what’s going on outside the cave.

In a way, parents (or, for that matter, all adults) are like prisoners in Plato’s Cave. The duties and obligations of everyday life bind them like prisoners. These chains make it impossible for them to see what’s happening in the outside world, especially popular culture.

We’ll tweak Plato a bit to say adults once kept up with popular culture – when they were kids. But now, as adults, they’re shackled. They’re unable to keep abreast of the latest. And not just in pop culture, but in fashion, interior decorating (or is that the same thing?), and technology. At most, all they can see are the shadows.

And the shadows are the kids. Kids have idle time. Their naivete allows them to disregard standard operating procedures of life. After all, they’re not of age and aren’t yet expected to have memorized life’s operating manual. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to run life’s machinery. It just means they haven’t been formally trained.

To fill this void, curiosity leads them to explore (often strange) new options. This is the behavior represented by the shadows on the cave wall. These shadows introduce adults to new ways of doing things. Watching what the children do helps adults keep up on the latest.

Every once in a while – and here’s where the Allegory of the Cave is most revealing – an adult breaks free of his bondage and re-enters the world of youth. But, as Heraclitus said, “You cannot step in the same river twice.”

For those of you who have had enough of Ancient Greece, that’s what Ella Winter meant when she asked Thomas Wolfe: “Don’t you know you can’t go home again?” Thomas Wolfe – not the same person who wrote The Right Stuff – asked Winter for permission to title his last book You Can’t Go Home Again, which was published posthumously in 1940.

Like Plato’s escaped prisoner, that adult who attempts to re-enter the world of youth quickly realizes the modern world is much more complicated than the kids make it seem. That adult accepts there remains only one safe space – living in the cave with the shadows. Alas, the Fountain of Youth remains elusive.

And that’s why we adults rely on our kids to run the VCR (or DVR or Hulu or On-Demand or what ever they call it now).

Are You a Laurel or a Yanni?

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A few days before it went viral, Peter asked Betsy and me to listen to something and tell him what we heard. This was the now famous “Laurel/Yanni” audio illusion.

An audio illusion is like an optical illusion. You use your eyes with optical illusions and your ears with audio illusions. With optical illusions, the same drawing reveals two completely different pictures. What you see depends entirely on what you’re looking for. In an identical way, an audio illusion contains one string of sounds. You hear what you want (or expect) to hear.

In the case of the Laurel/Yanni audio illusion, listeners convince themselves the string of sounds says “Laurel” or “Yanni.” Although the sound is the same, different people hear different things. Some people (like Peter) can hear either one, depending on what they’re listening for.

And therein lies the critical lesson of this latest internet sensation, the audio version of the Continue Reading “Are You a Laurel or a Yanni?”

Ode to a Fallen Tree

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I remember buying it. It was, maybe, eight inches tall. Despite its size, it formed the perfect shape of a tiny Christmas tree. It didn’t look like a Bonsai Tree. Its needles were full size, out of scale and too big for a Bonsai Tree.

The little blue spruce wasn’t the only tree I bought that day. It was the fall of 1986 and my house was brand new. I had no furniture of my own. I had no family of my own. I had no lawn, no landscaping, no home, really.

I was in the process of making my house a home. The first thing I needed to address had Continue Reading “Ode to a Fallen Tree”

The Problem with Ambition: Sometimes You Don’t Need It to Succeed

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We often think of ancient Rome as a patriarchal society. That may have been true then, but from what I’ve seen, in Italian culture it’s been the women who run things. Whether its grandmothers, mothers, or wives, they represent the backbone of the family and the community. Sure, it seems like the men are in charge, but that’s exactly what the women want them to think. In reality, if the men are the pillars, it’s only because the women are the solid foundation.

Do you recall one-word themes of your youth that have forever shaped you?

Growing up, my grandmother regularly imparted to me and my brother her formula for success. It wasn’t enough to possess talent, you had to possessContinue Reading “The Problem with Ambition: Sometimes You Don’t Need It to Succeed”

Do These 5 Easy Steps When Writing a Press Release and Good Reporters Will Respond Every Time

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Would you be interested in discovering a system that gets you and your business mentioned in the media on a regular and consistent basis? Read this story and I’ll reveal that system. I’ve used it and can tell you it works.

How would you feel if I told you this system is so simple its steps can be counted on one hand? Read this story and you’ll experience the ease with which these steps flow from each of your fingers.

Why is it important you learn this system, commit to it, and practice it regularly? Read this story and see first hand how this can change your personal, professional, and avocational life.

Remember Your First Time?
Remember how you felt the first time you saw your name in print, watched yourself on Continue Reading “Do These 5 Easy Steps When Writing a Press Release and Good Reporters Will Respond Every Time”

5 Tactics of a Winning Little League Coach

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I never asked to be a baseball coach. As you might recall (see “A New Beginning,” Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, April 27, 2017), baseball and I have had a strange – and sometimes strained – relationship. You could understand my reluctance to agree to play the part of assistant coach for my son’s T-Ball team. Still, it was only T-Ball (how hard could that be) and it was my neighbor who was the head coach. He needed help, so, as any good neighbor would, I readily assented to assist. But, then, the unexpected happened.Continue Reading “5 Tactics of a Winning Little League Coach”

Sinclair Bashing: Talking Points Attacking the First Amendment or Merely Competitive Mudslinging?

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“It was a lovely day for strolling along the seashore. Men were sleeping on the sand, some of them sleeping forever. Men were floating in the water, but they didn’t know they were in the water, for they were dead.”

Ernie Pyle wrote those lines in his column describing D-Day in 1944. He was the most popular – and memorable – war correspondent during World War II. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1944. The following year, with the European Theater of Operations coming to a close, Pyle relocated to the Pacific Theater of Operations. There, on April 18, 1945, on the island of le Shima, Ernie Pyle’s pen fell forever silent. Covering the Battle of Okinawa – the last major battle of the War – the 44-year-old journalist was killed instantly in a hail of Japanese machine-gun fire.

President Harry S. Truman eulogized Pyle saying of the columnist, “No man in this war has Continue Reading “Sinclair Bashing: Talking Points Attacking the First Amendment or Merely Competitive Mudslinging?”

Say “Yes!” to Life

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As any good soul of the space generation would, I leapt at the chance when the Kodak Center offered tickets to see William Shatner host a screening of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. As with 2001: A Space Odyssey’s Keir Dullea last year, (see “Exclusive Interview: 2001: A Space Odyssey actor Keir Dullea one-on-one with Sentinel Publisher Chris Carosa,” Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, January 26, 2017), I had hoped to score an interview with the man who first portrayed Captain Kirk. Alas, our schedules didn’t allow it.

Catarina, perhaps feeling slightly sorry for her Continue Reading “Say “Yes!” to Life”

The Difference Between a Reporter and a Columnist

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I interviewed a prospective intern the other day and she asked a very interesting question. I was explaining how, because our vast publishing empire does so many things – from print to digital, from text to video, from social media to books – we have the flexibility to design an internship program customized to her specific needs and wants. I asked her, “What should you have on your resume that would most impress your future employer? Chances are, you can get that by interning here.”

She was contemplating a different question, though. Something I had told her about what I do intrigued her, and she wanted to explore that. So, instead of answering my question, she asked me one of her own.

“What’s the difference between a reporter and a columnist?”

I leaned back in my chair. Wow, I thought, what a great question!

I had told her I did both. She wanted to know specifically how the two journalism functions Continue Reading “The Difference Between a Reporter and a Columnist”