Videos I Love: The ‘Last Jedi’ teaser is here

I’m trying to breathe and not have a joy-induced heart attack, so I won’t add much more to this one.

I’m occasionally sharing some thoughts on a few videos that make me smile, make me think, or preferably do both. Read more from this special series here.

I’m trying to breathe and not have a joy-induced heart attack, so I won’t add much more to this one. Just watch and enjoy.

My grand strategy

Today I turned 43. In these later years, I perceive a small but steadily growing pool of wisdom fueling a clear philosophical perspective on the increasingly complex calculus of my life.

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Today I turned 43.

The number doesn’t bother me. When I look back on my past accomplishments, both professional and academic, both modest and respectable, I’m comfortably reminded that I’ve always been a late bloomer. The great triumphs — comparatively great — always came right the end of each chapter of my life, just when the time came for me to move on and start over somewhere else. Perhaps for someone like me, with my ambitions, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Every day begins with two thoughts: “There’s still a little time left. Relax.” and “Pretend this is your last day on earth because one day it will be. Work faster.” I stagger through the days wavering between those two sentiments.

At the end of 2014, I completed a master’s degree in U.S. history at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), topped off with a 190-page thesis — the cherry on the sundae. I never had so much fun — ask the people who know me … “fun” is not a word they ever expect me to use. During that last half of 2014, I attracted the attention of UTSA’s Communications office, which sent a reporter to profile me, perhaps to hold me up as an example to others, perhaps to highlight the interesting and intelligent people enriching and enriched by the UTSA’s wonderful History Department. Perhaps it was just my turn. Nevertheless, I was flattered and honored. I shamelessly shared it throughout social media, as I am now. “We are all very proud of you,” one of my beloved professors wrote me. My heart burst with teary pride — the rarest of my few expressed emotions.

The best part of the article came right at the beginning. The first paragraph captured the grand strategy I set out for my life: “At an early age, [Ortiz] charted the life he wanted to lead: journalist, academic scholar and author.” At some point in my twenties — not sure when, exactly, but probably as I began to seriously study history and biography — I determined to approach life with a larger consideration: “How will I be remembered?” I knew enough to know that a great legacy was constructed with small pieces, carried one small step at a time, and sometimes at first only imperfectly constructed. I held close to my heart a few simple rules. Never turn away from a challenge. Never shrink away from leaping out of your comfort zone into unknown terrain. Never decline the opportunity to fail. Never fail to learn from those failures. All are easy to say and painfully difficult to follow.

In early 2015, I was honored when Dr. Catherine Clinton, a leading Civil War scholar, asked me to assist her with some special research for a few months. Just as that ended, I was honored yet again with an offer to actually teach U.S. history to college undergraduates at Northwest Vista College and then again at UTSA in 2016. Solitary research and writing — annotated bibliographies, briefing memos, etc. — is ideal for someone as shy as me. Teaching and discussing U.S. history with 70 to 80 young men and women is not. I stood in those classrooms and wondered how I could teach these young men and women. My comfort zone was nowhere in sight. Nevertheless, I knew when I accepted the challenge that I was undertaking the most difficult and the most important job of my life. Perhaps someday I might actually be good at it (though student applause is always reassuring). These are a few of those crucial pieces of the larger something I am trying to build, just as the men and women who came before me struggled to build their own lives, faced down their challenges and fears, and took one more step forward.

My Peruvian great-grandfather was prosperous fisherman who owned a fishing fleet. His son, my grandfather, was an Army general and special forces commander. His son, my father, is a physician. My father’s son — me — is … what? I was blessed with generous, loving, and supportive parents, who always pushed my brother and me to succeed. They trusted us to find our own way within their explicit expectations. It was assumed that we would become productive and honorable men as we kept in mind who built the comfortable world we inhabited. My interests guided me toward history, literature, and psychology. My mind naturally blossomed as historical concepts, literary theory, psychopathology, and the hourly drama of news cycles all caressed, molded, and ignited my growing intellect and imagination. But I realized that some kind of structure was needed. Simply wandering through my interests was not enough — it all had to amount to something in the end, something my descendants would look back on and admire … and perhaps emulate.

In some small way, this blog is an expression of that grand strategy. I’ve written about and shared with my readers my love of podcasts and photography, of the Civil War and fiction writing. I’ve shared with them a plethora of strange stories and documentaries, thoughts about Hemingway, rum cakes, books, and TR. They’ve experienced my passion for “Miami Vice”, Elvis, a Louisiana woman fleeing Union invasion during the Civil War, and a Cuban woman who disguised herself as a man and savored every moment of that same brutal war. Each piece fits into the larger plan.

In these later years, I perceive a small but steadily growing pool of wisdom fueling a clear philosophical perspective on the increasingly complex calculus of my life. Every failure becomes simply the moment when a fresh opportunity is revealed to me. Every hard-earned success merely offers a better vantage point on the harsh terrain ahead. As I move into this new year, from my new vantage point I can take in a horridly-jagged landscape stretching out before my eyes, seemingly endless, on into the horizon. But that far-off horizon is gleaming. The shimmering edges are only now in sight, the barely-perceptible glitter drawing me forward, igniting the ambition filling my heart, and steeling my spirit for the disappointments, setbacks, wrong turns, and frustrations darkening the journey.

My grand strategy, glowing in my soul, burned into my mind, never leaves me. The sweet promise of a final victory — a life well-lived — is my last thought as sleep and dreams wrap their arms around me and carry me away into the silent night.

Videos I Love: The ‘Ali’ movie trailer

Love it or hate it, no one can deny Will Smith’s evident determination to at least evoke ‘The Greatest’ in all his cultural and egomaniacal glory, standing up to the Vietnam-era war machine, ravishing beautiful women and inspiring millions of fans.

I’m occasionally sharing some light thoughts on a few videos that make me smile, make me think, or preferably do both. Read more from this special series here.

Michael Mann’s thrilling 2001 docudrama on world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali was celebrated by many for the accuracy of its fight scenes and criticized by many more for its vivid portrayal of its complicated hero. I tend to forgive some its historical flaws out of admiration and respect for the film’s overall accomplishment: powerfully illustrating Ali and his era for younger Americans to ponder.

“Ali” carries extra favor with me because it introduced me to incredible music from Sam Cooke, Mighty Joe Young, and Johnny Farmer.

Love it or hate it, no one can deny Will Smith’s evident determination to at least evoke “The Greatest” in all his cultural and egomaniacal glory, standing up to the Vietnam-era war machine, ravishing beautiful women and inspiring millions of fans.

Smith can also be commended, if nothing else, for refusing to be eclipsed by the dazzling constellation of movie stars from one end of the film to the other — without a doubt the best cast Michael Mann ever assembled, an assertion this trailer beautifully confirms.

Full disclosure: I’m easily entranced by anything that includes Michael Michele.

Kate Stone’s Civil War: The entire special series

Read Kate Stone’s amazing stories as she defiantly faces Union soldiers, escapes across a Louisiana swamp, falls in love with Texas, and watches the Civil War rip her country and her family apart.

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From May 2012 to November 2015, a special series from Stillness of Heart shared excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, who chronicled her Louisiana family’s turbulent experiences throughout the Civil War era.

She defiantly faced Union soldiers, escaped across a Louisiana swamp, fell in love with Texas, and watched the Civil War rip her country and her family apart.

The entire series of excerpts is collected here.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences. You can read the entire journal online here.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

From 1861
May 15: Death in defense of the South
June 5: The stir and mob of angry life
June 18: Whipped unmercifully
July 1: They thought me so ugly
July 4: The blood of her children
July 26: Gallantly fought and won
Aug 24: The fevers
Sept. 27: The war inches closer
Oct. 19: Gladden our hearts
Nov. 27: The noble, gentle heart
Dec. 22: Rainy days

From 1862
Jan. 6: Sad Christmas
Jan. 8: Happy birthday
Jan. 16: They close in and kill
Feb. 1: The little creature
Feb. 20: Victory will be ours
March 1: A perfect love of a lieutenant
May 9: Burn our cities
May 22: Fashion is an obsolete word
May 23: The sleep that knows no waking
June 6: Trembling hearts
June 20-30: Capable of any horror
July 5: The fire of battle
Aug. 5: Beyond my strength
Sept. 23: Tragedy after tragedy
Oct. 1: His sins against the South
Nov. 7: A lady’s favors
Dec. 3: She was heartbroken

From 1863
Jan. 1: Preparing to run
March 2: Hoodoo woman
March 11: It made us tremble
March 22: The pistol pointed at my head
April 10: Tears on my cheek
April 15: A horrid flight
April 21: The greatest villian
April 26: Flaming cheeks and flashing eyes
April 27: The glory of the family
May 2: His father’s sins
May 3: Baffled beasts of prey
May 22: Useless to resist
May 23: Southern hearts
June 3: Like mad demons
June 15: On the road for Texas
July 7: The dark corner
July 12: The dirtiest people
July 16: Scowling, revengeful faces
July 26: Despondent and chicken-hearted
July 29: Makes us tremble for Texas
Aug. 3: Lose our scalps
Aug. 10: Conquer or die
Aug. 16: My pen is powerless
Aug. 30: They call us all renegades
Sept. 1: It makes us shiver
Sept. 14: Years of grinding toil
Sept. 20: Destroyed by the Yankees
Oct. 2: Two distressed damsels
Oct. 8: This is too disgraceful
Oct. 29: The heart of a boy
Nov. 1: Credulous mortals
Nov. 7: A fear of bad news
Nov. 13: Pride must have a fall
Nov. 15: So little to eat
Dec. 10: Nobly and fearlessly
Dec. 12: Alone in a strange land
Dec. 19: A charming little woman
Dec. 24: A sad 1863 ends

From 1864
Jan. 4: A noted flirt
Jan. 7: Trouble and distress
Jan. 13: The first desideratum
March 8: The mournful whistle
March 20: The petted darling
April 15: A besom of destruction
May 5: The easy conquest of Texas
May 7: To every young lady
May 18: To kill and destroy
May 25: Our best fancy yellow organdies
May 29: That land of desolation
June 1: The breath of flowers
June 14: Strangers in a strange land
June 19: Those terrible battles
June 26: Callous to suffering and death
Aug. 23: We enjoy our ease
Sept. 2: Lazy and languid
Sept. 5: One grand holocaust
Sept. 10: Too disgraceful if true
Sept. 27: The flower-wreathed scepter
Oct. 15: Fairy castles in the air

From 1865
Jan. 29: Kindly bestow them
Feb. 1: Our soldiers were powerless
Feb. 12: One of life’s greatest trials
Feb. 13: Peace blessed peace
Feb. 15: My escorts were disgusted
Feb. 21: Our only hope for peace
March 3: The most enjoyable life
March 9: Full of life and fun
March 24: Eager for a fight
March 30: Its spring decoration
April 1: Out of time
April 7: A blow on my heart
April 16: He would do anything
April 23: God spare us
May 7: Lounged and gossiped
May 9: We fear it cannot last
May 15: We will be slaves
May 17: Restless and wretched
May 20: A fever of apprehension
May 21: A piece of amusement
May 27: Only sadness and tears
May 31: The grand crash
June 12: Words are powerless
June 25: Civilization commences again
July 2: He deserves killing
July 13: It is unavoidable
July 18: A man-flirt is detestable
Aug. 14: No disorder
Aug. 26: Astonish the natives
Sept. 3: Our pleasant Tyler life
Sept. 11: The very poorest people
Sept. 21: A state of insubordination
Oct. 10: The bitterness of defeat
Nov. 16: At home again
Nov. 17: How many idle hours

Epilogue, from 1867 and 1868
I was young again

Illustrating the heart in a million different ways

Some friends have told me how much they love the photos I include with most of my posts.

Some friends have told me how much they love the photos that accompany most of my posts. Their compliments honor me.

I don’t consider myself a photographer, just someone who loves interesting patterns — the more abstract and colorful and contrasted the better. I tend to find beauty in everything I see.

My simple Tumblr blog collects and displays the best of the art I’ve used on Stillness of Heart, along with a variety of other odd photos, gifs, and videos.

Follow me on Tumblr, and enjoy.

A bow to the King

Elvis Presley was born this week on Jan. 8, 1935, and died on Aug. 16, 1977. What he gave us will live forever.

It’s a feeling that can’t be denied. Sometimes you just have to submit to his reign. The King, who was born on Jan. 8, 1935, and died on Aug. 16, 1977, can dominate your consciousness, infusing his spirit and vitality into your heart and soul, adding an extra sparkle to your days. He shines that spotlight in your eyes, slaps you right across the face, reminds you to wake the hell up, look around, forget the pettiness of everyday life, and savor the world around you.

You have no choice but to sit back with him, laugh at the stardom, laugh at any notion of legacy and fame, and listen to some great music from a true American original. Don’t the fight the urge to do some affectionate impersonations, or just watch Johnny Cash, Jim Carrey, Eddie Murphy, and Val Kilmer do their own.

Several years ago, the National Portrait Gallery recorded a short but very informative introduction to the fascinating and bizarre meeting between Elvis and Richard Nixon (above). Also, Legacy Recordings released a magnificent series of podcasts exploring the rise of Elvis, his gospel roots, his comeback performance in 1968, his 75th birthday, and his Vegas years. Links are included below, along with a few Elvis performances. Enjoy.

1. ELVIS: THE EARLY YEARS Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
2. ELVIS: ULTIMATE GOSPEL Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
3. RELIVING THE ELVIS ’68 COMEBACK SPECIAL Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
4. ELVIS 75 Parts 1 through 20
5. ELVIS AND VIVA LAS VEGAS Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

SONGS
1. LOVE ME TENDER (Live) Elvis Presley
2. BABY WHAT YOU WANT ME TO DO (Live) Elvis Presley
3. HEARTBREAK HOTEL Elvis Presley
4. MERRY CHRISTMAS, BABY Elvis Presley

2014 in review

Thank you for making 2014 the best year ever. Read the year-end WordPress graphical roundup.

Thank you so much for making 2014 Stillness of Heart‘s best year ever.

Here's an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Videos I Love: Musical medicine

This music never failed to re-energize me.

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This music never failed to re-energize me.

I’m fighting off a cold. I haven’t been sick in more than year. I spent today pushing myself (and only occasionally succeeding) to compose a literature review so I’m not looking at an unfinished thesis in early November and wondering how I wasted six months.

I’ve dutifully taken medicine and had lots of juice and warm pho (noodle soup with chunks of eye round steak and brisket, lemon chunks, cilantro, basil leaves, and bean sprouts).

I’ve also enjoyed some oldies to keep me awake, just slightly dancing with my shoulders so no one notices. This music video has always been one of my favorites. I love how he drops in Tupac so perfectly.

Back to work.

A copyright issue required the creator of the video below to mute the sound. Fortunately, the remix survives here.

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I’m occasionally sharing some thoughts on a few videos that make me smile, make me think, or preferably do both. Read more from this special series here.

Videos I Love: Life swirling around me

Leave it to “Mad Men” to again capture life’s sadness, loneliness, and joy in seemingly simple and definitely beautiful moments.

Leave it to “Mad Men” to again capture life’s sadness, loneliness, and joy in seemingly simple and definitely beautiful moments.

One of their new teasers for the final season did just that. It looks like what I feel as I walk through life swirling around me.

I’m occasionally sharing some thoughts on a few videos that make me smile, make me think, or preferably do both. Read more from this special series here.

Happy New Year

May 2014 be one of the best years of our lives.

Happy New Year, my old and new friends. I wish you all well. May 2014 be one of the best years of our lives.

Write me and tell me more about yourselves.