The Unbeliever’s Dilemma

atheism, beliefs, religion

A new atheist ad campaign hits the New York City subways this week. A group called the Coalition of Reason is sponsoring posters declaring that "A million New Yorkers are good without God. Are you?" The campaign aims to give non-believing New Yorkers assurance that they're not alone. This seems unnecessary in New York; the anonymous donor might have spent his or her money better in some Bible Belt city, someplace where nonbelievers really do feel marginalized. But it did get me thinking.

The "million" figure comes from the famous 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, which found 15 percent of respondents claimed to have no religious affiliation. In terms of New York's population, that points to roughly a million people. While the numbers may lack precision, there are certainly millions of Americans who don't believe in God. President Obama's acknowledgment of nonbelievers in his Inaugural Address was a small but significant gesture towards recognition of this population.

But awareness campaigns can go only so far. Nonbelievers in a country dominated by religious people will always labor under the near-impossibility of being able to prove a negative.

The term "atheist" and the question "Do you believe in God?" pose an oppositional conundrum similar to what occurs when I ask, "Have you stopped beating your wife?" In asking the question that way, I'm stipulating that you have beaten your wife at some time in the past, regardless of whether you have since stopped. Similarly, if I say "I am an atheist" or "I don't believe in God," the very phrasing puts me in opposition to something I don't recognize as existing – theos, a god, a supernatural being.

Hence the term "atheist" defines me according to a belief system I don't accept; it places me in a world in which there may be an entity people refer to as "God," and in which I am something like a scientist who doesn't accept a certain theory because he believes the evidence is inadequate or has a rival theory. But that picture does not accurately describe a naturalistic worldview. In my conception, a naturalistic worldview by definition does not stand in opposition to some competing worldview. It isn't one of a number of possible theories posited to explain some phenomenon; rather it has defined a supernatural worldview out of existence. "Naturalistic" means "with reference to what is." In nature, in the world, in the universe, there are things that are. Of course, there is much that is unobservable to us, and perhaps some things that we will never observe. Still, these things are. Anything else is speculative or imaginary.

Saying "I don't believe in God" is somewhat better than using the term "atheist," because it at least refutes the superstition implied in the term "belief." But it suggests that the alternative, "believing in God," is somehow of equal logical weight. The oppositional conundrum still applies. The term "belief" itself is weighted. In its religious sense, "belief" means trusting in the existence of supernatural beings and events that one has not personally observed (and which, since they are supernatural, are also, to a naturalist, nonexistent, hence unobservable). To a pure naturalist, this kind of "belief" is an almost meaningless concept. Opposing it is like arguing with the wind.

Miracles are a prime example. These are fictional phenomena that, by definition, defy natural law, or else real phenomena that witnesses could not explain because the necessary scientific knowledge is or was not yet available. "Believing in" miracles means accepting a supernatural origin for (currently or formerly) unexplained phenomena. This was understandable in pre-scientific cultures. It is far less understandable today. Angels are another example – fictional characters firmly "believed in" by some of the same adults who are just as sure Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are made up. As with miracles, there is no logical explanation for such beliefs. Logic isn't relevant – people believe these things on faith. Thoughtful theologians often have no problem admitting as much.

Ideally, there should be (philosophically speaking) no conflict between science and religion. They operate on different mental planes. Unfortunately our terminology too often doesn't let us – believers and nonbelievers – see that. Instead we see things in terms of opposition and conflict. We "atheists" and naturalistic thinkers continue to struggle to find accurate and acceptable terms with which to describe ourselves, using a language whose very terms deny the reality we perceive.

To follow a lively discussion on this post or leave a comment, please click over to where it is posted at Blogcritics.

Theater Review: Ghost Light by Desi Moreno-Penson

Entertaining and thought-provoking, this new thriller is a nice way to begin hacking one’s way into the Halloween season.

A car horn, flies buzzing, a cheap-looking bed, a plastic, institutional ashtray – we're in a no-tell hotel somewhere in Manhattan. The real location of such a place would more likely be Queens or New Jersey, but let that go – Ghost Light isn't about reality. Quite the opposite, and doubly so. Desi Moreno-Penson's new thriller shoulders its way into the world of Hollywood and the theater, while trying to carry the weight of the occult as well (just in time for Halloween), thus tripping through our two most culturally potent lands of make-believe.

One of Ms. Moreno-Penson's goals here is to explore the desperate measures people will take to succeed, and what can happen to them when they overstep the bounds of sensitivity and sense in their quests. Treachery, sex, violence – how far can it go? It all starts plausibly enough. Natalie (the intense, vibrant Kate Benson) meets Brian (the excellent Bryant Mason) in the nameless hotel. Both married (to other people), they're here for some on-the-side action. The playwright has a good ear for the uncomfortable way people talk to each other over heavy subtext, and by the time the pair find their way to bed we think we've got a pretty good idea of their motives.

Mr. Mason, who was good when I saw him Raised in Captivity, really shines in the bigger, meatier role of Brian, who is after some no-strings sex with someone outside his circle. Despite his womanizing, his own self-image is that of a truly "nice guy" – so much so that the sincerity with which he insists "I'm a terrific person" is both funny and a little heartbreaking. For her part, the sensual but acerbic Natalie, who has spent time in a mental hospital, seems to be acting out her career frustrations on the more intimate stage of tawdry sex.

Natalie: You probably have enough women dancing for your pleasure out in L.A.

Brian: Not really. I'm not that attractive.

Natalie: That doesn't matter! Don't be so pathetic. Once you're successful, everything comes…That's it. It just COMES…

Once we know that Brian isn't just an actor but a Hollywood celebrity, the dynamic elasticizes. Who is taking advantage of whom, and why? Then Natalie sees something in the ceiling mirror that interrupts their coitus, and the macabre game is afoot. Mirrors mean a lot in this tale. A prominent feature of the neat set (by Jason Simms, fresh from the couldn't-be-more-different challenge of MilkMilkLemonade) is a wall mirror in which the audience sees vaguely distorted reflections of…the audience. It's a little creepy, and makes for effective foreshadowing.

Natalie, a struggling playwright, is not the only frustrated artist. An intrusive hotel security guard (the fine Hugh Sinclair) turns out to have a creative side too. Ironically, the one character who has achieved success in the land of make-believe, Brian, is the one who has nothing to hide (except from his wife). The others coruscate through multiple layers of reality and fantasy. The big reveal turns out to be stunningly implausible, but the nonstop forward motion of the play's climactic final third, the evocative verbal storytelling, and the flawless direction by José Zayas keep the vaguely confusing story moving along. Spooky lighting (by Evan Purcell) and sound (by David Margolin Lawson) contribute buzz and crackle to the action.

In the end Ghost Light doesn't fully succeed as horror. But it accomplished something rare for me: it made me feel like a kid afterwards, thinking through the plot, trying to work out what really happened and what underlay it all. The story isn't just fantastical; it also fails to make complete sense, at least to me. But in what matters most the play succeeds overall: it entertains and makes you think. It's a nice way to begin hacking your way into the Halloween season.

Ghost Light runs through Oct. 31 at the 59E59 Theaters. Get tickets online, call 212-279-4200, or visit the box office.

Photo: Carla Bellisio

Theater Review: Disillusioned

Georgie Caldwell’s appealing performance can’t debug this magical tale’s problematic script.

Susan Hodara's new one-act has a number of the elements of a good dramatic yarn. Unfortunately it also bears the marks of an incompletely integrated and realized vision. The story has promise as a semi-fantastical tale: Bernie, a small-time magician who is seemingly friendless except for an arthritic rabbit, befriends Jane, an even more lonely orphan; in time he adopts her and trains her as his assistant. Their new act and his magic shop are successful enough to keep them in business. Alas, fate has sadder plans for the pair; the theatrical blindness our heroine affects for the magic act becomes real, and that's not the worst of it. Eventually Jane is left destitute, but in the end gets a chance for redemption.

Georgie Caldwell's appealing performance as Jane can't debug the problematic script, however. A string of clichés spoils the awkward opening section, in which Bernie imparts his hard-earned showman's wisdom to his new protégé. Scarves are a dime a dozen; Jane has a fire in her belly; Jane also, like spunky orphans everywhere, is a piece of work.

Voiceovers connecting successive scenes seem both unneeded and cheap, and some lines come out of nowhere, as when Jane tells Bernie she "never meant to break your heart," apropos of nothing I could identify. In a voiceover, after we've seen that Bernie has suffered a stroke, Jane asks, perplexingly, "How could I have known it was a stroke?" Finally, the overall structure is weighed down by a disconnected and too long scene in a shelter, where homeless Jane meets a sympathetic caseworker (Keith Manolo Embler, who, like Mr. Powers, hasn't much to work with).

The character of Jane and Ms. Caldwell's effective performance in the role are the main strong points of this production. With better structure and sharpened dialogue, there could be a powerful story here. You can sense it, like the string of scarves hidden up Bernie's sleeve, itching to come out in shabby, multicolored glory.

Disillusioned has two more performances, 10/22 and 10/25, at Where Eagles Dare Studios in New York.

Theater Review: The Pumpkin Pie Show: Commencement

As performed by the bewitching Hanna Cheek, Clay McLeod Chapman’s monologues deliver old-fashioned catharsis in a big way.

Actress Hanna Cheek and writer-actor Clay McLeod Chapman continue their fruitful collaboration with a new edition of the long-running Pumpkin Pie Show monologue series, this time a solo shot for Ms. Cheek. Here, instead of unrelated monologues, we get three pieces that link up to portray the aftermath of a horrific event in the life of an American town that's only technically fictional.

Ms. Cheek, one of the downtown scene's leading lights, is a remarkable performer whose work continues to grow richer. Here she carefully delineates three distinct characters: a mother going through a mother's worst nightmare; a bookish high school student; and a second mother who shares the nightmare but from a very different point of view. Mr. Chapman's monologues rarely fail to grip in some way, but these taken together have a power greater than the sum of their parts.

Not just a series of absorbing sketches, Commencement builds until it takes the form of a multi-character drama with a real plot. While Mr. Chapman's pieces can be read as effective short stories, the Pumpkin Pie shows are as far from literary readings as Greek drama is from NPR's "Selected Shorts." Presented on stage, these serious stories deliver old-fashioned catharsis in a big way.

The small audience at last night's performance seemed restless at first, rustling things and shifting in their seats, perhaps from the shock of the unexpectedly wintry weather in the real world outside. But they quickly stiffened into rapt spectators as the first monologue progressed and the terrible situation of the townspeople slowly became clear. As the first mother, Ms. Cheek sits quaking like a person in the throes of withdrawal. Then, loosing her hair and slapping up a nervous smile, she becomes the insecure student who'd formed a secret friendship with the unseen main character whose actions have triggered the whole bad dream. Finally, as the second mother, she begins with studied calm, then explodes into mournful rage, and finally reaches a kind of closure through an unexpected confrontation. It's riveting stuff, and ghoulishly satisfying too.

The Pumpkin Pie Show: Commencement runs at UNDER St. Marks through Oct. 31. Tickets online or call 212-868-4444.

Music Review: Indie Round-Up – Malcolm Holcombe, Jeff Norwood, Putumayo’s España

In a minor key, Malcolm Holcombe’s grey, gravelly voice can sound like an extended death rattle.

Malcolm Holcombe, For the Mission Baby

Malcolm Holcombe isn’t for everybody. In a minor key, his grey, gravelly voice can sound like an extended death rattle. His new CD opens with the insistent plod and slightly too-loud bass of “Bigtime Blues,” with nearly unintelligible lyrics, as if Holcombe is daring you to plunge in to something dangerous. “Hannah’s Tradin’ Post,” about an abandoned gold mining settlement, drily evokes the emptiness of a ghost town. Listening to these songs, you have to lean in to understand what’s going on. This is a good thing.

On disc, you don’t get the benefit of Holcombe’s hyper-physical presence, his shaggy, almost violent guitar attack, or the full measure of his humor – for those, catch him live. But this CD, with its unstoppable beats, David Roe’s pounding upright bass, and the sere plinking of Holcombe’s 1950 Gibson J-45 acoustic guitar, is a respectable approximation.

Though his songs take traditional forms, his sound and his outlook make Holcombe a true original. His strange singing style can suggest or even verge on the abstract, but there’s a canny and fully engaged songwriting sensibility underlying that effect. He can play nice and accuse at the same time: “I ain’t got what I want / Never enough / But I got what I need… I ain’t got what I want / You have it all.” There’s lyricism in the almost pastoral “Doncha Miss That Water” and humor in the jaunty “Short Street Blues”: “Honey make some coffee, pack up the boxes / Pick your panties up off that floor / We ain’t living on Short Street anymore.”

There are themes here too – missions, a tentative sort of salvation, and “someone left behind.” The waltz “Whenever I Pray” resembles “Satisfied Mind,” but rather than ending the disc on that triumphant note, he closes it with a sad song about abandonment – which nevertheless allows that “there’s better days ahead.” “There’s one who does the hurtin’ / Two who feel the pain.” Gravelly voice and all, this troubadour has a way with a song. If a mix of the raw and the lyrical is your kind of brew, this disc should satisfy. And go see him live if you ever have the chance.

Jeff Norwood, Awendaw

Jeff Norwood’s clear tenor and spare, clean guitar sound are a little atypical for Delta blues, a style which white artists often deliver with intentional gruffness. Intriguingly, Norwood’s fresh-faced sound feels more real, less studied, than the efforts of some rougher-edged bluesmen. A big part of it is the down-home sense of fun in this set of ten original songs. Instead of worriedly trying his hardest to overtake a retreating “authenticity,” Norwood writes and plays what inspires and delights him, and nothing else. Just the titles suggest this sensibility: “Bad Ass Boogie,” “Walking Catfish Blues,” “Horny Road.” The lyrics are the same; “Way up past the strip malls, back to the piney woods / Find a Horny Road somewhere baby that’s gonna do us both some good.” Sounds like Norwood could do with a visit to, because he seems to have all things sexual on his mind!

He often sings of salvation, damnation, and sex, just like an old-time blues artist, and occasionally tries too hard to be elemental (“Shake”), but hits the nail dead-on in “The Devil”: “It all seems much too easy / With Satan by your side / Once he gets inside you boy you’re down for sure.” The blues scale was meant for lines like this and Norwood matches it up perfectly. Another top track is “Kokomo,” where he lets loose with a howl, sliding his voice all over the liquid growl of his slide guitar. It’s followed by “Deep and Cold,” a surprisingly convincing paean to the peace found only in death; then the disc closes by rocking out with “Save My Wicked Soul.” It’s not that the best songs are at the end; it’s that this is that rare disc that intensifies as it goes along.

Various Artists, España from Putumayo World Music

Here’s an easygoing but fascinating survey of music from the many of Spain’s culturally distinct regions. The selections come mostly from recent albums, some by new artists, others by elder statesmen like Peret, “the Elvis of rumba catalana,” whose “Para Poder Olvidarla” is a good choice to open the disc. The song sets the tone with a typical flamenco acoustic guitar line, then flowers into an amplified jam, flowing through the decades but never losing its surefooted rhythm. Fans of the Gipsy Kings will recognize Peret as an influence on that popular French-Catalan band. Other eminences include the Galician Uxía, whose Danza Ritual features staccato, slightly sinister-sounding piano and horns; the Basque artist Xabier Lete, whose wistfully romantic “San Martin, Azken Larrosa” has a gentle jazzy flavor; and Fernando Burgos who hails from Valencia. The latest generation of Spanish musicians is represented by songs like the soulful “Lunita” by the 21st century band Calima, with its jazz-fusion flavor, and the Afropop- and reggae-influenced “Te Estás Equivocando” by Gecko Turner, who comes from the Extremadura region. Such multi-national grooves, some modern, others old, play through many of these tracks. Listening to this disc is like eating a tasty paella – lots of zesty flavors cooked into one big circular world of goodness.

Theater Review: My Life in a Nutshell by Hanne Tierney

Renowned puppet artist and OBIE winner Hanne Tierney has worked with abstraction for many years, pioneering a kind of "theater without actors." The use of actual human figures, even in the form of puppets, is new in her work. My Life in a Nutshell, her new creation at HERE Arts Center, continues the center's Dream Music Puppetry Program created by Basil Twist. It features very cool life-sized burlap marionettes, deftly quickened from the side of the stage by Ms. Tierney and two other string-pulling operators.

Jane Wang's darkly humorous incidental music (sawing an upright bass, plinking a toy piano), Hannah Wasileski's projections, and Ms. Tierney's measured narration are among an assortment of clever elements that set an evocative mood and tell a story of a thwarted love triangle fraught with and followed by various complications, including lots of death. Unfortunately the story unfolds ponderously and fails to grip. It feels as though two opposing forces are pulling the piece into a confused state: partially abstract, partially human, it is not fully anything. One waits to be engaged, but is only tickled with a succession of amusing visuals and softly humorous lines, and then it's over. I found my mind wandering a number of times, even though the show was just 45 minutes long.

Though the human characters get puppet representation, they are granted only letters for names, one of many abstract and abstract-tending ideas threading through the story (the concept of the "love triangle" gets new meaning here). Though the figure of Death speaks and has a distinct personality, he is played not by an anthropomorphic puppet but by two connected line segments, like a compass or the detached leg of a giant spider, and curiously, this makes him more interesting than the unremarkable human characters; we wait to see what his two legs will do, where they'll point, whom they'll arch over – it's vaguely horrific.

One of the marionette characters, D, is an experimental artist who performs works of Gertrude Stein accompanied by bouncing Slinky-like spirals which may or may not be imaginary; again, the abstractions seem to have more interesting personalities than the people. They make us want to observe them more closely, to understand what they mean or at least sense something of what drives them.

The vision that drives Hanne Tierney and her co-conspirators has numerous fascinating conceptual facets, but has here resulted in something only intermittently interesting, and ultimately unsatisfying.

My Life in a Nutshell runs Tues.-Sun. through Oct. 25.  For more information visit

Theater: Oleanna with Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles

Would David Mamet’s 1992 sexual harassment drama seem dated today? A 2009 New York audience decisively answered no.

When I mentioned to a fellow theater writer that I was going to see the new Broadway production of Oleanna with Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles, he moaned, "Oh, I'm so sick of that play."

My colleague may have seen David Mamet's sexual harassment drama one too many times, but his sentiment struck me as more representative of the feelings of a full-time theater maven than of those of an average theatergoer. The shocked reactions of the crowd at last night's performance bore me out.

In the play, a college student named Carol (Ms. Stiles) first comes to her pedantic, distracted professor (Mr. Pullman) for academic help, then files a sexual harassment complaint against him. Her perception of what has occurred in his office – all on stage, right in front of us – seems monstrously skewed, however. And as Ms. Stiles noted last night in a post-performance bloggers' Q&A session, Mamet's script also leaves open the possibility that Carol (backed by a somewhat mysterious group of "those who suffer what I suffer") has set out to target and entrap the professor from the beginning, though the actress has not chosen to specifically play it that way.

Distinct, shocked thrills went through the audience each time Carol's attacks on John were further revealed. She certainly appears villainous, but nothing is black and white in this tale. John is far from perfect. In trying to make his points, he has told stories from his own life that seem inappropriately personal for a teacher-student relationship; he has even offered to change her grade if she visits him for more tutoring. Also, as Carol's accusations have John on the verge of losing not only his career but his family, she evinces some sympathy for him, some second thoughts.

A post-show audience talkback session with a moderator and a panel of two attorneys brought out audience feelings just as strong as when the play was new in 1992. As one of the lawyer-panelists pointed out, public policy on sexual harassment was in its infancy then, affording little protection to men against abusive or frivolous harassment claims. But although the particulars of the case might be a little less realistic now, Mamet's play – at least in my opinion – was never meant to be entirely time-topical, despite its then straight-from-the-headlines theme. Its stychomythic, stream-of-consciousness dialogue, which at times reduced Mr. Pullman to chirps and groans, gives it a slightly hallucinogenic feel, and the mysterious "group" – the uncertainty of what's really going on behind Carol's complaints – reminds me more of a Margaret Atwood dystopia than a legal drama. And that's leaving aside the deep questions raised by the play about the purpose and value of academia. The sharp performances in this production bring out the Kafkaesque universality of the story. Whether in a democracy or a dictatorship, we're often at the mercy of forces we don't understand and over which we have no control.

I imagined Oleanna might seem dated in 2009. Several hundred audience members last night proved otherwise. Some of them may have been drawn by the Hollywood star power of the cast, but they left with much to think about.

Oleanna by David Mamet, directed by Doug Hughes and starring Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles, is now in previews. It opens October 11 at the Golden Theatre.

Photo by Craig Schwartz.

Theater: Homer’s Odyssey

Handcart Ensemble should be congratulated for much about this production, and not least for seriously telling the story of the Odyssey – in most of its rough essentials anyway – in under three hours. The acting is very good and the production inventive and engaging, but playwright-poet Simon Armitage’s text, originally written for a BBC radio production, is the biggest star, simultaneously elevated and gutbucket, Homeric and homespun. Shadow puppets, glorious costumes, haunting songs, a chilling trip to Hades, and an old-fashioned, barrel-chested, egotistical hero just like they used to make ’em (David D’Agostini is Ulysses) – this show’s got just about everything. The galumphing puppets are a trip, too. Closes Oct. 18.

Theater Review: The Buddha Play: The Life of the Buddha Assembled from the Original Texts

Books, many, piled haphazardly about the floor. A comfortable, well-worn armchair. A lamp.

Unrolled scrolls of rice paper form a striped backdrop. The incidental music is by Phillip Glass and is familiar – a little too familiar for comfort? You sense right away you're about to experience something peaceful, as theater goes. But you fear that it might also be saccharine.

Have no fear. Evan Brenner's one-man play, produced and directed by David Fuhrer, is a simple piece of theater, but not simple-minded. Mr. Brenner plainly and engagingly recites from the oldest Buddhist sutras, known as the Pali Canon, recounting the life of Siddhartha Gautama, who became forever known as the Buddha. He brings the characters alive, not histrionically, but through measured, focused, artful talk and movement.

The Baruch Performing Arts Center's Nagelberg Theater may be the most subterranean performance space in New York City. The staircases seem to take you down forever. (Magically, though, there's cell phone service – it's a very modern space indeed.) Its depth seems appropriate for the deep thoughts on stage. Yet there is an inherent discrepancy between the tension and catharsis we typically expect of Western drama, and the meditation and lack of goal-orientation that characterize Buddhism and its teachings.

And indeed as the play begins it feels more like storytelling than "drama"; but it slowly becomes suspenseful in spite of itself. Gautama does not take lightly his decision to leave behind his rich inheritance and "go forth" as a seeker of salvation. And after he has achieved Nirvana he continues to live in a warlike world, with followers, family – and the Devil periodically prodding him away from his path.

Hong Sooyeon's ghostly, effective lighting and the music cues assist Mr. Brenner in pushing the mood gently from dark to light, calm to questing. Yet despite a devastatingly violent turn of events, there is little sense of tragedy. After all, everything that lives must die.  And not everything must suffer; those who have little dust in their eyes may learn to achieve the cessation of suffering, and hence salvation.

And so there may be an affinity between theater and the Buddha's teachings after all. Seeing a well-made theater piece, we do let our sufferings cease, at least for a time. The talented Mr. Brenner's story-time piece blossoms into a humble, graceful, and worthwhile teaching. And a really nice way to spend an hour and half.

The Buddha Play runs through Nov. 1 at the Baruch Performing Arts Center. Tickets online or call (646) 312-4085.

The Time Traveler’s Life

Over the summer I traveled back in time.

To my brother’s place, to be exact.

He lives in a college town, but we weren’t there to teach or learn; we were there to make an album. The recording studio was pretty state-of-the-art. My brother isn’t.

He doesn’t have a digital recording device or MP3 player.  Or a computer at home. Or cable or satellite TV (though he does have an idiot box on which he can watch rented movies).

He doesn’t want these things.

He reads books he borrows from the library. I went with him to the creaky, homey old library a couple of times, to take advantage of its free wireless internet. I don’t live in the past (unless you count the fact that I don’t have a smartphone yet). I’d brought my laptop. I’m a freelancer and I have to stay in touch even when I’m away from home, in case any work comes up. And I have to be able to do the work, if it does. Managing your time effectively as a freelancer can be difficult (although there is helpful advice on but it becomes even more difficult when you can’t work when you need to.

More amazingly, for someone who lives in a small town in Vermont, my brother doesn’t have a car. He walks to the school where he teaches. He takes commuter buses up and down the state when he wants to go somewhere. He rents a car now and then when a big trip is necessary.

On reflection, though, that doesn’t conform to the theme of living in the past. It feels more like living in the future. But that’s a story for another – a future – day.

After our studio sessions, back at his house, we went even further back in time: to our childhood, when we read books about dinosaurs. Only in those days there were maybe ten or twenty dinosaurs pictured in the books. Paleontologists have since discovered many, many more dinosaurs. I realized with amazement, paging through my brother’s thick, heavy new dinosaur book, that every dinosaur we knew of as kids – tyrannosaurus rex, trachodon, triceratops, allosaurus, ankylosaurus, what used to be called a brontosaurus – is now known to be a whole family of sauropods, dozens or hundreds in each group.

Makes sense when you think about it, with evolution working on these creatures for tens of millions of years.

So there we were, two guys in our 40s, reading books about dinosaurs. Just like when we were six, seven, eight years old. Traveling back in time.

After our second and final studio session it was Friday night, time to celebrate having completed the basic tracks. I wondered if the brewery in town had a Friday night tasting. My brother had never been to the brewery at all, though it was practically in his back yard. It was about time. Sure enough: Friday night tasting! Complete with a cask ale. So there we were, standing at the counter in the brewery, drinking cask ale. Traveling back in time alcoholically too.

So here’s to both kinds of dinosaurs – the ancient beasts who once roamed the planet, and the humans who stay just a little bit behind the curve, taking things a little more slowly, leaving time to contemplate.