Another fine mess.

Dr Chuck Pearson

Before USA-Belgium

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So you are aware, universe: despite the fact that I will be progressively engaged in figuring out what our lives as a family will look like in the fall and will almost certainly not be in front of a television set at 4:00 PM tomorrow after noon due to such things [1], I cannot make any claim to living in the real world right now, because I believe this Round of 16 match between the United States and Belgium is the most important in the modern history of this program.

If the form table holds, Belgium will win. Period. The image in Brian Cook’s match preview – all the Belgian players with all the price tags that all those European clubs have slapped on them – tells it all. This is a classy, classy team, and coming in was UEFA’s dark horse to win the whole thing.

At least as regards the group standings, through six knockout matches, the form table has continually held. All six group winners who have played are quarterfinalists. I think the idea that Switzerland might defeat Argentina – in a South American World Cup – would have been abject comedy BEFORE France drew up the blueprint on how to poke holes into the Swiss defense like so much cheese. I’m sorry. The United States should not win this match.

I’m taking one step further. Going forward from Portugal in 2002, the United States has never won a match that they weren’t favored in. USA-Mexico in 2002 was the classic grudge match and didn’t have a favorite. Germany knocked us out in 2002. The Czechs torched us in 2006, and even as wild as that Italy match was we couldn’t beat them. For all the legend of 2010, the only match we won – the Algeria match – was against a team we were comprehensively better than, and it took THAT Landon Donovan goal to win it.

Our shock wins in modern World Cups were in 1994 and 2002. Ancient. History. Sure, the football we’ve played in Brazil has been as elegant and robust as ever, but it’s resulted in a last-gasp 2-1 win over Ghana – the team we were supposed to beat, a disappointing 2-2 draw against Portugal – the team that was there for the taking, and a 0-1 loss to Germany – the game we were supposed to lose.

Have we actually improved, or not?

This is the cruel thing about being a national team from North America. Nobody will ever rate CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying as highly as they should. The Gold Cup has improved from the days that we would invite a South American “guest team” to compete for our own continental championship, but it still rates behind the African Cup of Nations as a relevant continental trophy, to say nothing of the Copa America and the Euro. Everything else is friendlies, friendlies, friendlies. The rare invite to a Confederations Cup is everything to us and a glorified friendly tournament to a South American or European nation. We think a lot more about those 2008 matches against Spain and Brazil than anyone else in the world, I guarantee.

This is the cruel thing about being a national team from the United States or from Mexico. You are supposed to play in this tournament, every time. The national mania surrounding Mexico’s elimination at the hands of those [2] Dutch was nothing compared to the national depression that would have emerged if Panama had held on to defeat the United States in October and eliminated Mexico without hope of even the playoff for half a spot. Mexico has been eliminated in six straight World Cups at the round-of-16 stage. I guarantee you the Mexicans prefer that to the alternative that was staring them in the face in October. Failure to participate in this tournament is not an option. Even Costa Rica has reached a point where they feel pressure to qualify every time out.

This is the cruel thing about being a national team outside a power confederation. There is only one truly competitive tournament you compete in, where every nation sends their best players and clubs understand and appreciate the value of that tournament.

This is the cruel thing about the United States’ position. The quality of their national team is defined by their performance in the World Cup. Period.

The United States is consistently one of the top 32 national teams in the world. Potentially, the United States can be consistently considered one of the top 16 national teams in the world now. There is a success in a second successive knockout stage to this competition.

But we have been qualifying for World Cups consistently for 24 years now. We hosted this very tournament 20 years ago. Major League Soccer is old enough for college. There is a whole generation of players who has not known the United States without a proper first-division professional league to aspire to. At a certain point, the team has to prove its worth.

The United States has impressed with the quality of their play. Jürgen Klinsmann is the hand this team needed, the man who understands European professionalism and American professionalism and where the two meet. I believed that before he was hired, and I still believe that. His selections have been very solid. Even the selections we all questioned have demonstrated worth on the field.

And, for all that, so far, we’re 1-1-1. No better than .500 ball. A few people who don’t understand World Cups have grumbled that, in some endeavors, .500 ball will get you fired. They’re not wrong.

The United States needs a singular, dominant win. Against a quality European nation. At the highest level. In the one tournament that genuinely matters.

Fail tomorrow, and it’s four years before they get another shot. If they get another shot like this.


Knockout stages of the World Cup are so tantalizing. It’s four games to a title – and not just any title, but one of THE titles in world sport, a trophy that changes lives forever. I will never forget Ian Grant writing about Watford’s chase for promotion to the English Premiership – about finishing third in a national second-division club football league! – and how he used a Harry Grant quote to set the stakes, a quote I’ll revisit here fifteen years on:

The chance of ultimate possibility kept repeating itself in his head, a mad little chant that would not stop, nor did he want it to. Too Much had explained it to him…. Everything is chance, and chance is everything, she had told him. Most people refused to believe that, because chance frightened them. But that was only ignorance. Chance contained every possibility. Of course, some of it might be bad…but a heartbeat away from what might be bad, unthinkably bad, was what might be unthinkably great, a bliss that even the gods would envy.

Ultimate possibility. Is there any greater example of this than a nation that had only ancient history at the sport of soccer not even three decades ago chasing after the greatest prize in the sport? [3]

It’s nearly impossible to conceive. Argentina, and Lionel Messi with them, would be the all-but-certain quarterfinal opponent. Dare Costa Rica dream of an all-CONCACAF semifinal, or would the opponent be the [2] Dutch and all their ruthlessness? And what kind of footballing royalty would await in a final? The Germans or the French, wanting to add to their trophy case? The absolutely irresistible Colombians, wanting revenge for 1994 – and with the player in James Rodríguez who could deliver that revenge with a spectacular volley? Or – of course, of course – the hosts, who haven’t lost at home in a tournament for longer than we’ve thought to even matter?

And yet.

And yet it would only take four games.

Four games to find a form unlike any we’ve ever seen. Four games for Jozy Altidore to fulfill his potential. Four games for Michael Bradley to rediscover his first touch. Four games for DaMarcus Beasley to become what we dreamed him to be long ago. Four games for Tim Howard to make us forget Brad Friedel or Kasey Keller. Four games for Clint Dempsey to truly become Captain America, the greatest we have ever known, maybe the greatest we ever will see wear the shirt.

It’s impossible. It’s just not time yet. Surely there are better players in the pipeline to come, for 2018 or for 2022.

And yet, what if…?

Four games. Four wins. The chance of ultimate possibility.

It starts now.

YAAAAAAAAAANKS


[1] Dear loved ones: if you see me tomorrow afternoon between 4:00 PM and 6:00 PM – and possibly after – it will almost certainly be with an earbud in my ear and with all kinds of nerves going on. Please forgive me.
[2] cheating, filthy, horrible, you-could-confuse-them-for-being-Mexican-if-they-weren’t-wearing-those-stupid-orange-jerseys, Arjan-Robben-is-the-lousiest-excuse-for-a-footballer-this-side-of-Luis-Hernandez, oh-I-hate-them-so-much
[3] You can read all the reports of that Watford season, which together I believe constitute the greatest story of a season of English football ever, and which I don’t ever tire of reading – and I don’t even support Watford! If nothing else, make sure you read how Watford’s chase of ultimate possibility ended.

Written by chuckpearson

1 July 2014 at 02:34

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Famous songs you’ve never heard #1 – Katrina Barclay

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I’ve had an idea brewing for ages and ages now, and for reasons I’ll get into shortly, if I’ve ever going to unleash that idea on the public now.

Humans who have known me for any length of time know that I’m a music nerd.  I tend to know it if it’s been released recently.  I know it well if it was released ten years ago, even more if it was released twenty, and if it was released sometime between the late 70’s and the early 90’s it’s been seared onto my consciousness.  And it’s not just top-40 that I know, either.  I grew up on modern country, so much so that what I consider modern country most folks throw into the “classic” bin.  Because of both my presence in church culture in my childhood and my collegiate (re-)discovery of Christianity, I’m far more familiar than most with Contemporary Christian music, of all kinds. Because I spent most of my undergraduate years playing around with college radio, I knew what alternative music was before alternative became mainstream. I have over 10,000 songs on my iTunes playlist, from million-sellers to hundred-sellers.  Literally.

I feel like a lot of these tracks should be a lot better known than they are.  And what’s more, my brain-dead habit – linking to tracks of songs on YouTube, because music video has always been YouTube’s killer app (even if that video just becomes the album cover just sitting there static) – isn’t possible with a lot of these songs, because they’re buried enough underneath the weight of all the other good (and not-so-good, and overhyped) music out there that nobody thinks that somebody might want to hear that song.  Or simply because, for one reason or another, nobody has thought to migrate to that part of the country and listen to what that artist has to say.

Hence, Famous Songs You’ve Never Heard.  Because I am not literary or original, I’ve stolen the title. (One of the chapters of Lewis Grizzard’s collections of columns Kathy Sue Loudermilk, I Love You was called “Famous People You’ve Never Heard Of.” It was put together in the same vein – human interest columns about people who should have been important, for one reason or another.)

I’m going to put some effort in making this a series and drawing some songs from both my youth and my recent history out, and making this as much of a variety of music as I possibly can.

But I have an academic history.  And so I’m going to draw from that first.


 

I’m pretty sure it was Fall 2008 when Katrina Barclay wound up in my physics classroom at Shorter.  She was a transfer from Northeast Alabama Community College, a common pre-med chemistry major with an uncommon kindness and grace.  Over two years, she came through both physics and physical chemistry, and she was a really solid student, and an even better classmate – somebody who you always wanted in your lab group, who would always show good cheer and better work.  And at the same time, I always had a sense her passion was elsewhere.

I had heard that Katrina could strum a guitar pretty good, and did a pretty good job of leading worship when she was called upon (and she and I figured out very early on that we were equal parts music nerd and had a LOT of good notes to trade with one another).  It didn’t really sink in, however, until sometime during her senior year when she sat down in my office and decided I was a person worth opening up to.  She had an EP’s worth of songs together, she said.  She was going to continue to be serious about performing – she wasn’t going to slack on study, by any stretch, but she was very serious about performing and making something work in music.  There were certain things she knew. She had something to say, and she had the voice to say it.

And here is what I will tell you for certain:

If there is something to be said, Katrina has the voice to say it.

 

Three years or so on, here’s a transcript of Katrina and I chatting about making career moves (and me misspelling “no end” right off the bat):

  • Chuck Pearson
    I wish I was talking to you about careers in chemistry this creatively, because you are dang smart and I wish I had you employable in the major. Please know that I am annoyed to know end about this.
    But if you have the pipes to make music work, you should take advantage.
    (And holy cow I have played the crap out of “Time Machine”. That song. That VOICE. Dear heart.)

  • Katrina Barclay
    I literally just vocalized to mom what you typed about “Time Machine”. It seems you’re the only one who cares much about it.
    The song is literally the sound of my heart breaking.
    Austen only made me sing it twice and he was like, “I’m not making you do it again.”

  • Chuck Pearson
    I kind of get it. It’s a bit more of my technical side, I suppose. I mean, you put all the emotion into the song into it, and I get that. But you also paced it BRILLIANTLY; the timing of every note you sing, and how long you hold them – you TIMED the song to best communicate your emotions. And then you TAGGED EVERY LAST NOTE at the emotional climax. Not oversung, not undersung. IMMACULATE.
    Recorded, I don’t think you’ve ever *sung* better than that one.
    And with that much emotion, if it was me, I’d be oversinging the crap out of that.

  • Katrina Barclay
    All I can say to you is thank you and I needed to hear that about it.

  • Chuck Pearson
    I thought I’d said stuff like that before. But yes. “Time Machine” connected, and connected immediately, and connected like whoa.

  • Katrina Barclay
    I think the timing of your review is what made it so special. I almost threw in the “Time Machine” towel because it has been getting not even poor response but ZERO response. Maybe it has just been shocking people a bit. I mean, I was overwhelmed by it when I wrote it, in the studio, and listening to the finished product.

  • Chuck Pearson
    Well, like I said, having hung out with a vocal performance/musical theatre kid, I’ve been much more in tune with the technical performance stuff than the pure pop song impact. I don’t know how Time Machine relates to everybody else. I can’t QUITE say I can’t get enough of hearing it, because it it an incredibly emotional song. But I can say I play it a lot.

 

Look, there are a ton of stories that can be told about music from all sorts of different spaces that hasn’t had enough attention paid to it, the songs that the artist felt most deeply that never got an ounce of attention while the throwaway afterthought becomes The Great American Pop Song. So here’s one example. And, in particular, an example that is as breathtakingly sung as anything I’ve ever heard by somebody I actually know in real life.

Give it a couple of listens. You will not be sorry.


 

Now, if I was going to start this project anything remotely soon, I had to start it now, and I had to start it with Katrina.  Here’s why.

Katrina is overdue to record a full album – her first since “In Your Shoes” in 2010.  She has the songs ready, and she’s pursuing the funding to make the work happen.  (I have heard a couple of these songs. I am being entirely selfish here. I desperately, desperately want to hear them recorded professionally.)  There is an IndieGoGo fundraising page for this purpose. She’s not quite halfway to her (relatively modest, IMO) goal, and there’s a week left in the campaign.

I’ve tossed a few pennies into the project. I really wish you’d do the same.  I believe in what Katrina’s doing, and I think given a listen, you’ll believe in what she’s doing as well.

I think there’s a ton of music that’s worth unearthing out there.  Each of us have local independent artists in our universe who deserve far, far greater exposure, and deserve to get some of our disposable income as well.  May we all do better in giving artists the capacity to do art, and to get paid for it.

And in the meantime, Katrina, please keep singing. That VOICE, dear heart. That. Voice.

katrina_pines

Written by chuckpearson

27 June 2014 at 22:53

Next stop: Tennessee Tech

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ttufooter

At long last.

I’ve been offered a position teaching physics at Tennessee Technological University for 2014/2015. The primary responsibility is the trig-based physics sequence, also known as “that thing I’ve taught for the last 14 years of my life and I hope I’m pretty good at by now.”

I’m incredibly grateful for Steve Robinson and his department, which is pretty dang teaching-centered for a regional university. In terms of being my flavor of “engaged academic”, I might be going to the best place I could possibly land. It’s very evident that I have a lot to learn from these folks, and I’m going to be busting it next year to learn as best I can. In many ways, next year will be a hard reset on my career, and how things play out from there is still anybody’s guess.

I’ll save other observations and implications for later. But, for certain people who frequent this space, here’s the most important news:

2014-05-15 08.08.43

AWWW YEAH IT’S THE PEARSON AND PIRKLE EXPERIENCE COOKEVILLE TENNESSEE HAS NO IDEA WHAT’S ABOUT TO HAPPEN TO IT LOOK OUT YOU GUYS AND I MEAN IT JUST LOOK OUT

(Everybody pray for Richard Pirkle and his family.  They have to deal with me now.)

Written by chuckpearson

5 June 2014 at 18:38

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Songs for Sunday Morning, Year 2

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I completed a full year of Songs for Sunday Morning back in March, and I think I only missed one Sunday early on in the process. If you want to check up on me, you can see that archive of links for yourself.

I’ve kept up the discipline without updating the link archive, so I’ll actually transition this to a new page. The rules remain the same: the target is a reflective song appropriate for the day, regardless of whether it’s modern music, old-school CCM or Jesus Music, or a pop song that I’ve coopted for spiritual purposes. The post will be made on Facebook and Twitter every Sunday morning, with the #forSundaymorning hashtag (so you can search for ‘em too!), and links to the songs will be stored here.

I expect you’ll find in this list hints of my year of transition in what I’ve selected, too.

Carrying on…

June 8, 2014: Rich Mullins – “Brother’s Keeper”
June 1, 2014: Five Iron Frenzy – “Every New Day”
May 25, 2014:  Ralph Stanley featuring Judy and David Marshall – “When I Wake Up To Sleep No More”
May 18, 2014:  Steven Curtis Chapman – “The Great Adventure”
May 11, 2014:  Sixpence None The Richer – “Sister, Mother”
May 4, 2014:  John Farnham – “You’re The Voice”
April 27, 2014:  Vigilantes of Love – “Resplendent”
April 20, 2014:  Matthew Ward – “Easter Song”
April 18, 2014 (Good Friday): Marty McCall – “Why Have You Forsaken Me?”
April 13, 2014:  The Choir – “Merciful Eyes”
April 6, 2014:  Andrew Osenga – “Until You Provide”

Written by chuckpearson

27 May 2014 at 00:37

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Say goodbye to neverland

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Soundtrack:

No, you can’t go back or defy the clock
Brace your mind for impact; let your soul absorb the shock
It’s a turbulent, unfamiliar atmosphere
Footprints in the garden; you’re not the first one here

2014-05-12 15.50.04

No, you don’t have wings; t
hat was just pretend
Blistered feet keep moving, give your spirit to the wind
Mournful chimes ring true; still a hopeful song resounds
Way down deep inside you, you can hear it even now

Breathe in, breathe out, heart don’t fail
Embrace the moment
Shadow of doubt never prevail
Alas, you know it

2014-05-12 15.49.34

Now he’s at your door; there’s no place to hide
Pay the tax collector ‘cause he won’t be denied
No, you can’t return to a world of innocence
Think of all you have learned; time to take your medicine

Breathe in, breathe out, heart don’t fail
Embrace the moment
Shadow of doubt never prevail
Alas, you know it

No, you can’t go back or defy the clock
Brace your mind for impact; let your soul absorb the shock
It’s a turbulent, unfamiliar atmosphere
Footprints in the garden; you’re not the first one here

2014-05-12 15.58.41

Breathe in, breathe out, heart don’t fail
Embrace the moment…

Written by chuckpearson

12 May 2014 at 21:04

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I owe the universe an update

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…but yeah, the right sidebar is updated. And the news for the reason is hitting the press.

The trajectory of the semester became progressively more and more obvious as it moved forward, but now it’s official.

And honestly, the week has been a whirlwind as we figure out what’s next.

Stay tuned, everybody.

Written by chuckpearson

9 May 2014 at 03:56

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On endings, and being a horrible professor

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I have been continually waiting for the final-exam adrenaline to kick in, the way it almost invariably does.

It’s not arriving.  I’m seriously starting to believe it will never arrive.  Not at the end of this spring semester.

Over the fourteen years that lead up to this, I have often been incredibly guilt-wracked for what I’ve left undone, what I’ve done imperfectly, at every loose end that could have been explained better or could have been assessed better or could have been written better or could have been could have been could have been.

That’s not happening this year either.

This may still be leftover shell-shock from exactly how this has ended, and how deeply my students have been impacted, and how many questions are still lingering about the future of just about everything, and and and.  And this seems to be my mentality right now; this is desperately undone, this time of our lives, and yet at the exact same time it is very much done and one way or another there are a lot of people preparing to go a lot of separate ways.

It has occurred to me, early and often, that right now if I only care about doing my job – that designated, professorial job that I got hired to do here – and I relentlessly focus on my job, there will be a lot that I miss.

That doesn’t mean that I blow off every last thing I have intended to do.  (Yes, I’m still giving my finals.)  But it also doesn’t mean I chase people off and just stick with my standard finals-week agenda of hiding out and staying invisible until the moment the final is given, either – and certainly not if somebody just wants to come talk, or if I want to just seek somebody out to talk.

There is a lack of discipline in what I’m doing right now that, by every one of my standard metrics, is failure.  Things are happening that I would have once beat myself up over and declared myself a horrible professor over that I’m simply letting go now because of the sheer number of people that I can see now and I don’t know when I’m going to see again.

(It also occurs to me that this is potentially a longer-term problem when it comes to seriously doing my job best and most efficiently.  I’ve been trained over a very long time that you do your grading in a solitary place, where nobody can see how you’re doing the assessment, and there’s a ton of other academic work that is quiet contemplation, done alone.  Through the miracle of the last two decades of my life, a person who was once hard-wired to be an antisocial nerd has now gotten re-wired to be around people, and to ache when he has to be alone, and to cherish the social and interactive tasks involved in teaching.  It occurs to me that there is a serious work that I can do to make how I assess learning more interactive and more meaningful to me, and that will be important for the next phase of what I do.)

Simply put: finals started today, and finals will be given tomorrow, Monday, and Tuesday, and then that’s it.  That’s all the time that’s left.  The heartache is real.

My usual coda on my semesters is a spiritual discipline: “pray for me, pray for my students.”  It is a serious work, to pray that the stresses my students are under will stay minimized and the understanding will come clear, to pray that I take the work of final grades seriously and soberly and make the right decisions.  I don’t understand the theology of that work; I once pretended to.  I don’t get what God does in a brain to answer that prayer, and it’s mystery to me, but I still believe in that work and I still ask for that from those of you who believe in such things.

I have never wanted you to do that for me more deeply than I do now.  Please pray for me – and not just for me, but all my colleagues.  Please pray for my students – and not just my students, but all the students of this place called Virginia Intermont College, that they do their last work with peace over what their future holds.

And if you are a student, please know that I am not so busy – with anything – that I can’t be interrupted to hug you and say goodbye, when that time comes.  Please know that.

I have always said this as a joke: The best things about semesters is that they end.

I can’t say that this year.  This is not a good ending.  This is heartbreaking.

Final exams.  Here we go.

Written by chuckpearson

26 April 2014 at 02:07

Posted in Moveable Type

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