The Author


On the Passing of James Cotton  


I remember the way James Cotton made me feel when he performed. When his band came to town, he'd walk into my youth drama already in progress, whatever it was that week, and remind me that no matter what was going on it was all very ordinary in the scheme of things. Life was a pain in the ass, no it was agony, have another beer, this is all perfectly normal. Maybe because I was always experiencing his performances in a bar and looking right at him just a few feet in front of me, I was never watching a performance, I was hanging out with James Cotton, suspended someplace outside of time, suspended someplace inside my head. James Cotton is why I love the blues, the real blues. I think anybody can sing and play the blues, I mean sure, go ahead, try. Be careful you don't sound like a parody of your own emotions. Playing the blues is a lot harder than it seems, and that's the point, it shouldn't be hard to express how freaking hard life is. Leave it to a professional.    

I saw this talented man perform with his band so many times I stopped counting during the time I lived in a small isolated college town near the Canadian border, for a four dollar cover charge at one of the coolest intimate bars that ever existed. One time, during what seemed like my hundredth James Cotton barroom night, as James Cotton and his band were playing, a stunned ecstatic young guy was walking around the bar exclaiming to anyone who would listen, "I can't believe I just paid only four dollars to see James Cotton!!!" And the guy looked at me and described how much he had to pay to see James Cotton in Manhattan at a venue that sounded very important. 

The James Cotton Band must have always been on their way to another regular venue in Canada, and it seemed as if they stopped off in my little college town both on the way to, and from, the other venue, like a regular route that he played, and so all us regulars at that bar began to take this great music for granted. For awhile he played at our bar every other weekend it seemed, and one time I made a mental note that it was two weekends in a row. I never asked but it seemed as if the bar owners, who were from New York City, knew James Cotton. Nothing else made sense why James Cotton would play for a four dollar cover in a small bar full of college students. 

For my roommate and me it almost got monotonous. "Oh, The James Cotton Band is playing across the street again." (sigh) "Well then who is playing at Alger's?" My roommate was a beautiful young woman a few years older than me who I'll call Joanie, and we both hung out at that bar across the street every weekend anyway. When his band took breaks, James Cotton would sit at the bar with all the wild students and have a drink; that's how he met my roommate whom he pursued, every time he was in town, with such fervor for so many months that she began to avoid going there completely when he was playing there. But I'd go, and he'd see me at the bar and ask me relentlessly, "Where's Joanie? How come she's not with you tonight?" I mean he seemed really in love with her, he had it bad, although she would argue that he was just another musician hoping to have a woman at every port, that it was just lust, and I would argue that if it was just lust, why was he so fixated on only her? This became another drama. Every time I saw James Cotton between sets sitting alone at the bar with his drink, I felt sort of bad for him. And when he got back on stage and sang the blues over a woman, I wondered just a little bit about him, and took a break from myself.    

Thank you Mr. Cotton. I won't say rest in peace. Play on. Maybe I'll see you again someday. 

copyright©2017, Carol Shriver, all rights reserved. 





copyright ⓒ Carol Jean Shriver


La Danseuse by Joan Miro


I had a very long dream while sleeping late this morning about Bob Dylan:

In my dream, every day for days, I would go see Bob Dylan at his beach house and spend hours hanging out with him. It was just him and me. He had hired me to help him produce his "Bob Dylan" calendars. My job was to write the numbers, the dates, by hand in the little squares for each of the days in all the months.

It was a very tedious and boring job and so I was behind schedule because I kept procrastinating the work. Bob Dylan said he didn't care, but I felt badly about it, and so before I left that particular day I told him, "I don't like the way I'm leaving things." Bob Dylan replied, "It's OK, tomorrow we'll both be different people." I said, "Yes, we're different people with each new day."

Then one day he showed me his new music video featuring a new song he had written and produced. In this video Bob Dylan was singing heavy metal style, nearly screaming, the verses alternating between Bob Dylan singing and a guest male rapper. The visuals of the video were scenes of suffering in the world. It was a tough song about how messed up the world is. The lyrics were in keeping with Bob Dylan's best writing. Bob Dylan wanted my opinion, so I gave it. I said it was a stunning change, but effective and moving. He seemed pleased.

It was then that I realized that the calendar project was just a way to check me out, to find out if I was someone whose opinion he could trust. I told him, "All you had to do was ask." He said, "I had to be sure." Then I said, "I will always tell you what I think; I will never tell you what I think you think you want to hear because I have no way of knowing what you think anyway." Bob Dylan looked simultaneously relieved and saddened by what I had said.

Then I told him, "You are no more unfathomable than anyone else because everyone, even those close to us, are unfathomable because no one can ever truly see into another person; there is always the vast unfathomable because we are all unique within ourselves." Then I woke up. More things happened in the dream, but those things are rather personal, but all of it decent, and the entire dream gave me a warm comforting feeling.



Big Black Box

copyright ⓒ 2010 Carol Jean Shriver


"Neil's Room" photo copyright ⓒ 2010 Carol Jean Shriver

The other night I was up extremely late watching a movie channel when, in the middle of a dramatic scene, my 32-inch Cathode Ray Tube television snapped "ZAP!" into my headphone encased ears and the screen went black with a thin white zig-zag bolt. The smell of burning wires lingered in the air. 

I sat there staring at it with my headphones still on. I picked up the remote and pushed the buttons a few times as if giving it CPR from across the room. Nothing could bring it back.  

It felt like I had received an important message from the beyond, but I was too dumbed down by my hours of watching television to grasp its meaning. 

Unable to motivate myself to get up off the couch, I picked up a Time magazine, immediately flipped to the "Milestones" section, and read how Mitch Miller had died at the age of 99. 

Mitch Miller. I had not thought of him in years. Black and white memories on a big black metal TV. I was very young. Sometimes the very young remember things the best. 

Mitch Miller was a handsome man with a mustache and beard smiling broadly and waving a conductor's stick, a little ball bouncing on top of song lyrics at the bottom of the screen, the TV bursting with forthrightly happy and old fashioned songs that seemed old fashioned even to me then, but there was something really comforting about that. 

I was a little girl and I loved Rock and Roll, but I also loved Mitch Miller. It seemed perfectly normal that Rock and Roll had nothing to do with Mitch Miller, and Mitch Miller had nothing to do with Rock and Roll. If you were unhappy about something, Mitch Miller's music would force you, against your will, to be happy.    

I'm holding the Time magazine in the air in front of my face because I've put off getting reading glasses and I'm reading a "Milestone" about Mitch Miller that is written by a guy who starts off by admitting that Mitch Miller's music and TV show were "before my time" he writes. I'm really not that old and I remember Mitch Miller, so how could Time magazine not find someone my age or older to write about Mitch Miller's life?  

I continue reading what seems like an adequate summary, but it feels like something I might read from Wikipedia. Or maybe it's just me. Maybe I've read too many Wikipedia articles. 

Whatever is going on, reading this "Milestone" makes me feel sad, not because Mitch Miller has died, but because I feel so far away from what I am reading in the magazine. It's as if the author of the "Milestone" is writing about Mitch Miller from a million miles away.   

The author calls the Sing Along With Mitch show "impossibly ancient and naive today." 

What does "impossibly ancient" mean? Stonehenge seems ancient, but is it "impossibly" ancient? The writer draws a direct line of evolution from the Sing Along With Mitch show to American Idol. I must be "naive" because I don't watch American Idol

But this past Spring and Summer, I spent months watching oil gush into the ocean in the Gulf of Mexico. I spent months watching oil experts and politicians and environmentalists. I watched birds smothering to death in oil. I watched a young woman hold back tears when a reporter asked her how she felt about the future. I watched people talk about toxic dispersants and how this is worse than the oil. 

Looking for other things to watch, I watched how giant pythons and huge reptiles are multiplying and invading Florida because stupid people tried to make them pets. I watched how they're blowing off the tops of mountains in Appalachia to get to the coal. 

I watched an HBO documentary called "Gasland" which explored how hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," to get natural gas out of the earth's bedrock, decimates large areas of the surface of the land and contaminates ground water. 

People who allowed the gas companies to drill on their land can now light their kitchen faucets on fire. So these people don't use their plumbing anymore. The gas company remedied the problem by providing them with a big tank of water in their yard. 

Other people who cannot light their faucets on fire worry about the hundreds of unknown (even to government authorities) chemicals that were pumped deep into the earth near their homes during the fracking process, and if those chemicals might make them sick someday. Some of these people are already getting sick, but nobody cares because they are just plain folk who like living in rural areas.   

I watched how these huge gas companies have already crossed the border from Pennsylvania into New York State and are making their way east. They are hell bent on drilling for natural gas in the Catskills, north of New York City where all of New York City's water comes from. 

The looming threat of contamination of the water supply to six million people in the New York City area is even more disturbing to me than the oil and toxic dispersants in the Gulf because no one seems to know about it.  

Whenever I try to tell people in New York City about this threat to New York City's water supply, their eyes glaze over. There seems to be a disconnect, as if their water does not come from the earth, but originates from some mystery place in "The City," and "The City" would never let anything bad happen to its water. 

I feel like I'm talking to people from a million miles away. They see my mouth move, but they cannot hear what I am saying. My voice is drowned out by all the information that is already in their heads. How can I get angry at these people when they are too busy to watch something on TV that I had the time to watch? 

After I watched "Gasland" on HBO I wanted to get off the couch and start an awareness campaign. Instead, I got on the Internet and wrote to Mayor Bloomberg's office, something I have never done. A few days later, I received a response: a reassuring, well composed letter, so I can't be the only one who wrote his office about this threat to New York City's water.

I searched the Internet and found an organization in the Catskills that is trying to stop the gas companies from drilling in the Catskills. This organization is aimed at people who live in the Catskills. I wondered why they aren't alerting all these unaware city people here in New York City that their water is in danger. I signed up for their newsletter. I found out that many people in high New York State political offices support the gas drilling because it would bring billions of dollars to New York State.

I wouldn't know any of this if I had not been watching my TV. But I wouldn't know any of this if I had only been watching my local news here in New York City, or the SyFy channel.

After I learned all I could about gas drilling in the Catskills, I went back to watching TV.

I started staying up really late watching obscure movies that they don't show except late at night. I couldn't stop watching these movies, night after night. The more obscure the better. I wasn't sure if I was looking for something or running away. It felt like I might be doing both at the same time.

One night I watched a movie called "Blindness." Everyone in the world suddenly goes blind, except for one woman. It made me feel better for awhile. I highly recommend this movie.

The very long and extremely hot summer ended with a tornado in New York City. Countless tall beautiful trees got pulled up by their roots in my neighborhood. My neighborhood looked like those neighborhoods that get on TV after a bad storm. After months of watching far too much TV, I watched my torn up neighborhood on TV. 

I would love to travel back in time to when Mitch Miller was on TV. Things seemed simpler then. There were a lot of horrible things going on then too, but the horrible things were treated with more respect. People felt like they could trust the news. News was called "news" and not "the media." Look those words up in the dictionary. There is a vast difference between "news" and "media."

Of course when we look back now at what was really happening, most people, including journalists and reporters, were ignorant about many things.

For example, only a tiny minority really believed we could destroy the planet simply by continuing to exist in the manner in which we are existing. Most people thought the only way the planet could be destroyed was by atomic bombs. Mention "the planet" back then, and people would think of getting off of it and going to the moon.

But Walter Cronkite was in Vietnam, reporting from the field until he could no longer, in good conscience, stay neutral about the war. The nearly universal trust that American people had for Walter Cronkite was a rare thing. Perhaps that is "impossibly ancient."

The nightly news was a regular account of how many American soldiers had died that day in Vietnam, and how many on the other side had been killed. The Vietnam War unfolded before our eyes on black and white TVs, but the death depicted at dinnertime was blood red. Perhaps that is "impossibly ancient." 

I don't know what I was looking for this past Summer and Fall when I was watching so much TV, but I know it started with the oil gushing into the Gulf. I watched because I just wanted the oil to stop; and then I couldn't stop watching.

It was not a total waste of time. It was a lot like shopping. Lots and lots of junk, only a few useful things worth the time to search for, followed by a sense of exhausted emptiness, and an awareness of time I can never get back. 

The writer in Time magazine sums up Mitch Miller's life by saying, "Long before the Internet and video games, Miller showed that TV was a device that people were going to want to interact with." The writer seems to make a direct connection from Mitch Miller on TV in the 1960s, to the Internet and video games.

Still holding the magazine in the air in front of my face I peered around it at the looming dead 32-inch TV in my living room. Interact? I think I just killed it.

I understand what the writer assigned to summarize Mitch Miller's life is attempting to say, but he is treading in deep water and can barely keep his face afloat; maybe too many hours on the Internet has dumbed him down the way too many hours watching TV dumbs me down.

You can watch TV on the Internet, but the Internet is not TV. Video games are not TV. I understand the urge to connect the dots between Then and Now, to create a history for what is happening now in order to make sense of it, and therefore try and give value to where we are now.

Appreciating what has come before, and how things have changed, is necessary for us to learn and evolve, but if you must attach something in the past to something in the present in order to give the thing in the present value, maybe the thing in the present is not as valuable as you thought it was. Value has its own voice.

Mitch was not into make-believe worlds in which people make believe they are make-believe people killing other make-believe people. Mitch's TV show did not appeal to mean-spirited competition, or seek to find the next new Pop Star. I doubt that Mitch would be pleased to see so many people, on the street, on the trains, on the buses, heads bowed down peering at little devices, their ear pieces engulfing them in their own private bubbles.

Mitch wanted us to sing along at home, together, as a family, with him. Mitch used the TV to reach out to us. He gave us a bouncing ball so we could keep track of the rhythm and the lyrics. He tried to bring a little lightness and happiness into our lives. 

Mitch was into music, and he wanted us to be into it. When watching Mitch Miller on TV, it was easy to imagine many thousands of people watching the same show at the exact same moment. That's the way TV was, then.

Most households only had one TV and so everyone had to agree on what to watch, or just go along with the decision maker. If you wanted to watch, you had to pay attention. There was no recording the show, no rewind, no freeze frame.

In most areas of the country, there were only three channels, the three major networks, and so only three nightly news programs. You knew that maybe a third of all the people in the country who had a TV might be watching the same news as you at that exact moment. 

With only three TV stations, there were a limited number of programs to watch. Some programs came on only once a week, like the Ed Sullivan Show. Sometimes the Ed Sullivan Show featured, to my delight, Rock and Roll. When the Beach Boys were on the Ed Sullivan Show it felt like the entire country was watching. When the Beatles were on the Ed Sullivan Show we knew the entire country was watching. 

The entire country, in reality, was culturally imploding, or exploding, depending on your point of view. But at least we could all watch it together.

The TV connected everyone's family to millions of other families because everyone was watching the war in Vietnam, the riots and the fires in the cities, the assassinations that seemed to come one after another in quick succession, the funerals that followed the assassinations, the rockets being shot into orbit above the earth, the landing on the moon. 

And for a few years, we also watched Mitch Miller try in earnest to counter the insanity which is, and always has been, the world. 

We watched it all, together, then.

My fondest memory of Mitch Miller is listening to "The Bear Went Over The Mountain" while I rocked with innocent and wild joy as a child on my spring suspended "Old Brownie" rocking horse. The following version by Roger Mcguinn conjures for me the same warm and delightful feeling I had back then:

If anyone out there can find Mitch Miller doing "The Bear Went Over The Mountain" please leave the link in a comment below. So far, I can't find it. But I found Mitch on YouTube, minus the bouncing ball:

YouTube - Sing Along With Mitch (4 of 4)



 Copyright © 2010 by Carol Jean Shriver

                 Photo Copyright © 2010 by Robert Hewitt

"People can you feel it?  
Love is everywhere!" 

No I did not feel it, and no, love is not everywhere, and if it was at the United Palace Theatre in Manhattan on Tuesday, March 16, 2010 where the Allman Brothers Band were telling us it should be, it was well hidden.  

"People can you feel it? Love is everywhere!" repeated over and over. It was like a hammer on my head. I was in the balcony where almost everyone was seated still as a photograph. Maybe they felt the love in the orchestra section, but I have my doubts. A few people were standing in the balcony, trying to feel it. I tried to feel it too, but I just could not. I felt annoyed by the song, but mostly I just felt sad and wished it would end.  

"Revival (Love is Everywhere)" was written in 1970 by the Allman Brothers' Dickey Betts. It played on the radio for years like a broken record, but at least it was the 70s. The dreams from what we now call "The 60s" woke up and climbed into reality in the 1970s, and a lot of that reality was just wild and crazy. A song that kept demanding us to feel love everywhere still made some sense playing in the background throughout the 1970s, especially after the Vietnam War ended.  

A song like "Revival" could make sense now, in 2010, maybe in a church. The song's title, "Revival," certainly indicates its intention to try and make us feel something we have forgotten how to feel. Manhattan's United Palace Theatre does in fact function as a church when it is not a performance venue, but those who were there to hear the Allman Brothers were probably not thinking too much about this.  

As "Revival" closed the first set I felt relieved that the song was over. People noisily got up to go to the bathroom or visit with their friends, just like any other concert. The beer drinkers got more beer. Some people stayed in their seats.  

My lingering inner discord from the demands of "Revival" was temporarily eased with the opening song of the second set. Howlin' Wolf's "I Asked For Water (She Brought Me Gasoline)" was sung by James Blood Ulmer who also accompanied with guitar. It is a song about loss, grief, and pain. James Blood Ulmer sang it with pain, and all the guitars were in pain. Listening to it made me feel much better. From what I observed of the audience, I think it made a lot of people feel better. Even the musicians on stage seemed to feel better.   

I am not writing this as a critique of the show. The Allman Brothers are extraordinary, their rich and meaningful history and accomplishments are inarguable. I am writing this because I cannot stop thinking about how wrong it felt to hear "Revival" and how right it felt to hear "I Asked For Water (She Brought Me Gasoline)."      

When the show ended and the lights came on, everyone got up and made their way out of the theater. People were scattering back to their lives. The party was over. I stepped out into the cold. I'm not sure I got what I came for. I'm not sure what I was even looking for. I usually do not feel this way after a concert. Maybe it was just me who felt this way. "People can you feel it? Love is everywhere!" still paced in the back of my head. Maybe that was the problem. 

I see the suffering in this country and the world. I see the corruption that is everywhere. There is so much that is wrong. I have fought my own horrible battles, and struggled not to become jaded. I know how subzero it truly is for so many people who are really struggling, people for whom going to a concert is not even on their radar, people who think I am rich for being able to afford to pay for a ticket to any live performance. When I am on my way to a concert and I see a homeless guy in the train station with cardboard shoes, it scrambles my head.  

Studies have shown that people who go to live performances on a regular basis live longer healthier lives. This is attributed to the healthy release of emotions that takes place when you go to a performance. But I felt a chill as I left the United Palace Theatre. It was not just the night air. It seemed to me that some sort of collective cold from inside had followed me outside. I pushed this out of my mind, preferring to believe that I must be projecting my own feelings onto everyone else.  

While riding the train home, a fellow concert attendee recognized my companion and me as also having been to the concert. Instead of talking about the concert we all talked about what stops we were getting off at. He was going all the way to the last stop. He said he has a house out there, as if the house were a woman he wasn't sure he could afford. Then he told us about his business. He makes furniture. I said I was in the market for a new desk, one with lots of space. He said his business only makes very high-end made-to-order furniture for very wealthy people. I was not offended. I wouldn't want to look high-end anyway.  

He continued. This guy was in the mood to talk about things on his mind and the biggest thing on his mind was his business and how dramatically orders have dropped. He said he couldn't believe it, never thought it would come to this, that even the wealthy people were buying "crap" from China. He said, "It's a throw-away society all up the line!" Nobody wants quality anymore he said. Nobody wants to spend the money.  

He said he usually takes at least a month off in the winter and goes to the Caribbean, but not this year, he has to stay for the business. It occurred to me that maybe the real reason was that he just could not afford the trip, but I kept quiet.  

Clearly this guy was disturbed by what was happening in the world. He said, "I'm a dinosaur!" And he was clearly scared of becoming extinct. It occurred to me that it had probably occurred to him that he might have to leave his nice home, start over somewhere else, but he had no idea where he would go or what he would do. He didn't say any of this, but it ran through my mind. 

Normally, I would not feel badly for a guy like that. But he seemed like a good guy, he was proud of his work, and he talked about his employees with respect. And now he feared that it was all going to come to an end. 

As I listened to him I started to think that maybe the chill I had felt at the concert really was a shared experience, and not just my own. This guy on the train had nothing to say about the concert we all had just been to. Instead all he could talk about was how much things had changed for the worse. I imagined that this guy on the train was probably at least as annoyed by "Revival" as I was.  

Now is much different than 1970. Now "The 70s" seem like the dream. Now is a place none of us could have imagined. Isn't that always the way it is? Now, in 2010, love is definitely not everywhere. I look at people's eyes on a train or in the street and I see fear and desperation, or a vacant stare. Most people look exhausted.  

But through the haze of exhaustion, even though most people are just trying to get through the day, it seems to me that everyone is aware on some level that the world is entering into a new era, not a revolution, but a crisis of epic proportions. It is like dull background noise that keeps getting louder. That is what I feel, and I have no idea what to really do about it. I'm exhausted too. I know the best are doing their best, and the worst, well, they got us into this mess, didn't they? It is hard to know who to trust.    

People are distrustful of government, doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, insurance companies, banks, schools, supermarkets, pharmacists, pharmaceutical companies, cable companies, phone companies, Internet providers, cell phone companies, car companies, any product made anywhere, the food supply, the water, the police, and the United States Postal Service. 

As the situation grows worse, people start thinking more of their own survival. Be sure and check your grocery bags and make sure nothing is missing before you leave the grocery store because even the cashiers are skimming you because they could use the extra cash.  

People can you feel it? Distrust is everywhere. 

I meet a lot of people who tell me about their health problems. Sometimes people talk about their bodies the way they talk about their cars. They casually tell me something like, "My doctor tells me I have a leaky valve." I say, "That may be fixable." They say, "My insurance won't cover it," or "I can't take any time off from work." If the person is driving a nice car and lives in a nice house, I say, "If you don't get it fixed, you may not be able to work." 

Then the look comes. They finally make eye contact with me and it is not good. They are scared. Really scared. They have not made the shift in priorities yet. They still think we live in a world where if you can have a nice house and a nice car, then you should also be able to have a job that gives you time off for medical procedures and health insurance that covers everything. Some people can still have all of this, but increasingly more people cannot. "Spend your money on your body," I say, "and feel lucky that you can." 

We also worry about the health of our planet. Some people worry more than others, but no matter how hard we might try to deny or hide from it, the biggest collective fear of all that can no longer be ignored is the fact that we have, as a species, put into motion the destruction of our planet.  

The only thing that could make it right again would be some unimagined technology, and over a thousand years of leaving the earth alone to recover. We are the first people alive on earth to experience this realization, to know that this is the legacy we have created for the future.   

People can you feel it? Fear is everywhere.  

At no other time in human history has the destruction of the planet we live on seemed so hopelessly irreversible. Even the threat of nuclear annihilation during the Cold War held the hope that we could avoid it somehow, if only world leaders could come to an understanding, if only we could prevent the button from being pushed accidentally. We've been doing OK so far, and so we don't worry about that so much, even if we should.  

We now know that our planet is already dying a slow premature death, but it seems impossible to reverse. We are struggling to maintain the civilization that we have come to take for granted, a civilization dependent on the continuous plundering of our planet. How do we prevent world economic collapse and save the planet at the same time? How could we have allowed our economic system to be so nakedly vulnerable to greed, one of the most basic human traits? How could we have allowed greed to infect and infiltrate virtually everything we depend on for our survival, from our food to our health care to the air we breath and the water we drink?   

I think a lot of people are still in denial. Those people who have escaped being personally affected by the health care crisis, the economic crisis, the environmental crisis, or any of the many crises that are going on, many of those people would rather not look at what they do not want to see. And so they look inward at their own lives, because to look outward would ruin their view.  

In time, everyone will be affected one way or another. In time, we will be in a much worse mess than we are in now. As they say, "It's going to get worse before it gets better." And that is what needs to happen.  

The hardest thing for us to do, whether as individuals or as the human collective, is to hope. Hope feels false unless we first feel hopeless. I think we have been entering an era of hopelessness that transcends all previous eras of hopelessness. Until we collectively face that this is happening, and are collectively honest about why this is happening, positive change will not happen. Without positive change there can be no meaningful hope.  

There is forty years between 1970 and 2010. I wonder what the next forty years will bring. I wonder how long it will take before we joyously listen to a new song that says: 

"People can you feel it? Hope is everywhere!"



Solo Drum 

 Copyright © 2010 by Carol Jean Shriver

                             Photo Copyright © 2004 by Robert Hewitt  


(Reposting on May 27, 2016, with warm affection for Prem N. Chopra, my new inspiration who has brought me back to writing.) 


Years ago, I chose a graduate program in mass communications because I was personally driven to understand it better and to delve into the relationship humans had with it. Mass communications, in all its forms, is the way humans connect with each other as a multitude, as a society. 

One of the first mass communications was a drawing on a cave wall. Cave drawings and paintings were first created more than 30,000 years ago, and some experts believe cave drawings date back to over 40,000 years ago. Now picture Times Square in New York City at night. Picture yourself on the street, the immense video walls surrounding you, towering over you, as you walk inside the enormous cavernous onslaught of messages of the skyscrapers' cave.  

Another first mass communication was distant smoke rising into the sky, a signal from the tribe. The earliest known sites where humans used fire date back to between 200,000 to 400,000 years ago. Maybe the smoke was a reassuring sight to guide one back to camp after a day of hunting. Or maybe the smoke was a warning. Now imagine yourself channel surfing your television. What are you looking for? 

Around 6,000 years ago, as far as we know, humans started making drums. The beating of a drum became a significant form of mass communication in all parts of the world. It is easy to imagine that if humans were drawing in caves 30,000 years ago, they may have been creative enough to beat two sticks together to create pleasing and meaningful rhythms, if for no other reason than to imitate what they heard and felt inside their chests. The oldest drum of all is the one inside the body. You are born with it. For as long as your body is alive, it has a rhythm. You do not live in a cave, but this you can relate to, right? Drums. Music. Songs.

When I was a little girl, Simon and Garfunkel's "Sounds of Silence" was a hit on the radio. I first heard it on my fuzzy toy black poodle transistor when I was supposed to be sleeping. I told my mother about it, and she told me to let her know the next time I heard it on the radio so she could come listen. So I did. After I'd been put to bed for awhile, the song came on my poodle radio. I called out "Mom!" and she came into my room and sat on the edge of my bed and became engrossed in the song. 

Shortly after, my Mom and I went to the one major record store downtown. My Mom talked to the clerk, and then she bought the whole album for me. Although my big brothers' albums were already a major part of my music life and I used my allowance to buy 45s at our neighborhood Woolworth's, Simon and Garfunkel's "Sounds of Silence" was my very own first adult album, a world away from "Peter and the Wolf" and my other children's records.

Looking back over my life, Paul Simon's song "Sounds of Silence" resonates as the theme of my life in that everything I set out to do that is of passionate importance to me is an effort to break the Silence, wherever it may dwell, including inside myself. I have been doing this instinctively, automatically, and I do not know why, or where this came from. My need to do this did not originate from Paul Simon's song. His song simply spoke to me. 

During my first year at graduate school, while driving back to my apartment outside the city of Syracuse after a late night at Bird Library, "Sounds of Silence" came on my car radio. It was pouring rain. I was on a dark country road and could barely see. It had been awhile since I had heard it, so I turned up the volume on "Sounds of Silence." 

Driving in the darkness I suddenly saw a vision in my mind of the entire world, masses of people everywhere, leaders of countries and homeless people, ordinary people and famous people, poor people and rich people, people who do good things and people who do bad things, all hurting in some deep way, all struggling to be heard, but none of them able to hear anyone else, everyone trapped within their own self while desperately trying to be heard, everyone drowning in Silence. And this, I suddenly realized, was the original source of all pain, and of all that was wrong.

This vision of deafening silence in masses of gaping pained faces gripped my gut and I sobbed suddenly, hard, and uncontrollably as I looked into the darkness of this vast and unfathomable truth. I kept driving, my vision blurred by my tears and the pounding rain that my windshield wipers could not keep up with. I wished I could save them all, I wished there was a way to break the Silence. I wished there was a way to stop the pain of the whole world. Like a little girl, I wished with all my aching heart for something I knew was impossible.

I was finally in direct emotional contact with my life's mission while simultaneously in direct contact with the utter futility of my mission. As Simon and Garfunkel's "Sounds of Silence" kept playing on the car radio, the bottom kept dropping, farther and farther away. It was as if I had been hanging onto something for a long time but my grasp had been in vain, and now I watched it fall into oblivion as I gripped the steering wheel, making my way through the deluge of rain lit only by my headlights. 

But somewhere in the watery light I saw hope. A dim light in the darkness. Maybe breaking the Silence in the smallest ways could make a difference; maybe even a tiny difference was better than none. I would go on spending my life doing this in one way or another, no matter how small, no matter where I went or what I did, during the speck of time that was my life. I could not stop crying until the song ended. 

I have never forgotten that moment. I never before knew that I could be so gutted of myself, so filled up with compassion for the whole world, so aware of that much pain; the pain of all who were living and of all who had ever lived before, and the pain of all who were yet to be born.  

But as amazing as that was, it was too much to hold for longer than a moment. If I ever allow myself to feel that again for very long, if I were even able to do that, I feel I would be drowned by it. I might not be able to make a sound at all.