The Xmas CDs


-Opus1

-Opus1

Once upon a time, in the year 2009, I decided to mail Xmas Cards. Then I thought about it some more and I decided to send Music CDs instead. My initial impulse was to provide the same piano accompaniment for groups of one or more that I am accustomed to provide for my family in our living room some evening just before each Xmas.

 

Then I thought about it some more and I decided that Xmas Carol music CDs are a dime a dozen, and I could instead send out music CDs of my personal improvisations, the best sounding ones of the year.

 

I scrupled at doing this because responses to my music have often included the phrase ‘that’s not music’. On the other hand, some folks have embraced its calming, even soporific qualities and have kindly added it to their listening library as a genre unto itself, a sort of silliness that can’t be found among either the studious virtuosi or the o-so-serious performers of pop music.

 

-Opus2

-Opus2

Its main strength is in not fully being there. I myself have trouble listening to my music without being distracted—by virtually anything else, internal dialogues included. It is, simply, non-silence of a nonintrusive nature. Some people want that as a part of their choice-menu of listen-ables—and some people are repulsed by my obstinacy in claiming it is different music, instead of sub-standard music unworthy of anyone’s time spent listening. And they have logic on their side, I regret to admit.

 

But it is a matter of taste—lots of different genres include aspects of questionable musicality, or even entertainment-value—and if I am not the King Of The Hill, I can still be in the pile.

 

-Opus3

-Opus3

So I don’t much worry about my shortcomings—they are unavoidable, after all, and I have to fashion a life from both my good and bad attributes, like it or not. The only regret I have is this compulsion to explain my analysis of my own motivations—I’m sure most of you couldn’t care less why ‘Chris Dunn is reluctant to publicly present himself as an eccentric musician’.

 

So, moving on, having decided to send, as pseudo-Xmas cards, music CDs of my best-sounding improvs, I began to choose the tracks. This is the hardest part. As I mentioned, it’s hard to really listen to this stuff—yet there are some that are better than others, and only careful listening will reveal the grains amongst the chaff. I’ve been recording myself for a decade or more, prior to 2009, and I had kept the better ones straight in my head because those preferable were quite few and far between. That year I felt confident that I had enough ‘listenable’ music for three CDs. That year I mailed out Opus One, Opus Two, and Opus Three—I had eleven people on my Xmas Card List.

 

-Opus4

-Opus4

The next year, I managed to match that, producing and mailing Opus Four, Opus Five, and Opus Six—I had twenty people on my Xmas Card List. And last year I was indisposed and only came up with Opus Lucky Seven—which I mailed to thirty-two people on my List.

 

-Opus5

-Opus5

This year I’m hoping to manage another three CDs—I feel that my music has progressed slightly, and has become more listenable than last year’s CDs. While I am nervous about creating a huge project with less than a month to go, I would like for people who haven’t heard my recordings to send me their mailing addresses. (My days of ‘direct marketing’ are long ago over, so don’t worry, I’m not going to sell my Xmas Card List to advertisers—plus, it’s not big enough to matter, anyway).

 

-Opus6

-Opus6

Send your name and address to xperdunn@optonline.net and I will add you to the list.

 

If you can, send me a stamped, self-addressed CD-Bubble-Pak-Mailer at:

Chris Dunn

PO Box 343

Croton Falls, 10519

(It’s a lot easier if I only have to burn the CDs and stick’em into your mailer envelope.)

 

Anyone who has gotten my past CDs will get the new one(s) also—no need to email or anything.

 

-Lucky Opus7

-Lucky Opus7

My plans for this year aren’t complete, but I’m leaning towards Opus Eight being a series of improvisations recorded during the recent Hurricane Sandy storm and power outage. I was able to video piano-improvisations from the “the Calm Before” the storm, to “Hurricane Winds”, then “Black-Out”, “Dying Camcorder Battery” (which ends abruptly on the third day of power outage) and “Power Restored”, at last. There are seven pieces in all, the better part of a CD’s storage—and I am conveniently left with two more CDs, at most.

 

Opus Nine should include “Noblest of Daughters” (A recording I made as a birthday gift for Jessy) which may be the best thing I recorded in this last year. There is also a “Cathedral” series that I was proud of, including “Cathedral Arch”, “Cathedral Dome”, “Cathedral Pews”, “Cathedral Glass”, etc.

 

Older Mailing (2008)

Older Mailing (2008)

So CD Opus Nine will be the yearly ‘best-of’s CD. I may need Opus Ten for overflow—but I might also want that last CD to present improvs that show some of my more experimental efforts. Either way, if I don’t get to Ten this year, it will only be due to lack of time. I’ve been very busy at my piano bench this year.

 

I ordered supplies from Staples on Wednesday, and the Staples truck dropped off the wrong stuff and I asked the driver “Isn’t there supposed to be a case of paper?”, but he came back later and said, “You’re right.” And dropped off my real order and took away the wrong stuff.

 

This is what a CD Xmas Card project requires:

  1.          A list of people’s addresses
  2.           A bunch of recordings
  3.          A CD burner
  4.          A 100-pak of blank CD-Rs
  5.          A ream of ‘Presentation’ paper (fancy finish, BOTH sides)
  6.          A pack of Sharpies (to write on the CD with)
  7.          Seven 12-packs of ‘Bubble-Pak’ CD Mailers
  8.          A box of Self-Adhesive Labels (ink-jet printer compatible)
  9.          An “Album Cover” graphic for the front side of the jewelcase insert
  10.         A Playlist (with track#s, Titles, durations, and dates recorded) graphic for the back side of the jewelcase insert
  11.         Replacement Printer Cartridges
  12.         Lots of free time

 

So, if you want to join the few, the proud, the ones I mail CDs to—get to steppin, ‘cause I’m already started working on it and Christmas is a-coming….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Holiday Chaos


We’re funny, in a way. If our day is less than perfect, if we have cross words with a spouse or friend, if we get sour cream on our brand new outfits or orange juice on our ties, we tell ourselves, “Well ain’t that just my luck, goddammit ” (or words to that effect) and we turn to the next piece of business before us.

If, however, it happens on Thanksgiving (or Christmas or on a wedding day or a birthday or St. Valentine’s Day or an anniversary, etc.) we then wail, “My perfect day is ruined! What a tragedy!” and we wring our hands over it and brood all the following day, or even week. We look to our friends for consolation—‘Gee, that’s a shame… and on Thanksgiving, too… golly!’

What’s funny is that we expect troubles to trip us up or darken our laughter—we know we can rarely have a so-called Perfect day. Indeed, if too many things go right as the day progresses, we start to fill with a spooky dread. We are quite sure that if all these lights are green and we got a good seat at the diner and our boss just gave us a raise and that jerk from the mail room finally got fired for spilling his cola on everyone’s mail—that the balance of the universe will not rest until we have been nailed in the ass by Karma.

One of the most frightening things in the world is perfection—if everything’s easy and nothing bars our path to the brass rings of our days, we can be certain that it will eventually balance out. Every little victory becomes a threat to our future and the bigger that balance gets, the more likely the payback will be a living hell.

So, we know that things go wrong. Things go wrong every day. Nevertheless, we insist on beating ourselves up about an imperfect holiday gathering (or, worse yet, blame those around us for ‘ruining’ the day). Mr. Spock would undoubtedly point out that a super-bowl party or a family reunion, having far more details and complications, is logically even more assured of having problems than a regular day.

So please, everybody, let the holiday be ruined—bow to the inevitable dust-ups and flubs—and try to remember that the point of a holiday is the spirit of the thing. Keep in mind that nothing is truly spoilt unless it kills our spirit.

Well, our Thanksgiving was pretty subdued, what with Claire’s dad’s recent passing—but I did manage to space out on telephoning my mom to wish her a happy Thanksgiving. And here it is Friday night and I still haven’t called.

There is an infinite imbalance in our existence. Perhaps you’re familiar with the definition of ‘running’ as leaning forward, taking a step to stop us from falling, continuing to lean forward, as we take step after step—in a sense, running is the process of starting to fall and catching ourselves over and over. If this sounds fishy to you, do what I did—I tried to run while standing up straight—it can’t be done.

Our biological workings are no less unstable—we breathe in oxygenated air, and exhale CO2 air and we mustn’t stop. Blood circulates endlessly, picking up oxygen at the lungs and nutrients from the digestive tract, then dropping off toxins and waste as it passes through our livers and kidneys. That chemical reaction must be ever ongoing, as must the heart’s cycling of the blood itself. We are a conglomeration of never-ending lab experiments, in a sense.

The universe, too, is a virtually infinite, slow-motion explosion of mass/energy that seems reliable and unchanging to us only because our lifetimes are mere sparks, single twinkles that end nearly as they begin. Our Earth is also considered pretty unchanging (although we have lately become somewhat more aware of the changeable nature of the physical world we live in).

In short, nothing stands still. We stand on a sphere that spins a full 360 degrees every twenty-four hours—and streaks a circle around the sun every 364 days or so—while a smaller sphere spins and circles us, causing tides and other periodic phenomena. Our bodies are simultaneously breaking-down and building-up chemical compounds in an effort to maintain a sort of time-release decrepitude that begins as soon as we have done our ‘breeding’—just like all the other animals in the zoo. Now that I mention it, humanity is itself a constantly shifting amalgam of Birth and Death, with Awake and Asleep dividing each of the Earth’s spins into two very different states, and with Work and Play fighting for their halves of the ‘Awake’ term.

And yet the clock crawled by almost imperceptibly last night, in a rare instance of me idling through the hours. The face in my mirror is the same as yesterday’s. We perceive the fourth dimension, Time, as a ceaselessly flowing river that our minds travel along in a single direction. And what we think of as ‘time’ is as much a mystery as it is a constant, as subjective as it is irrefutable.

This is why only those of us who paid attention in school are aware of just how confused and chaotic our societies, ourselves, and our minds truly are. I have often been dismayed at my image, that of a ‘know-it-all’, when I’m really a ‘know-it’s-all-unknown’. I have, however, become comfortable with my ignorance— I’ve reasoned that the world would never inspire such ecstasy and terror (and everything in between) if it were something simple enough for us to understand. I can’t even learn to knit—why should I think I have the intelligence to understand the universe?

And, while I’m loathe to interrupt this civilized essay with controversy, I must add that I’ve always thought that, since we can’t begin to understand our world or ourselves, what could we possibly be thinking when we claim to understand the will of who-or-what-ever created our universe? That’s just nonsensical.

Thus, for the holidays, retain that ‘calm in the face of chaos’ that we use to get through our everyday days—there’s nothing to be gained by expecting the holidays to be perfect. It’s far more important that they be merely special.

Nostalgic Self-Absorption


There was a certain Christmas Eve night, back when I was still single, when I left my parents’ houseful for some night air. It was cold—and a very white Christmas—snow covered the ground and a sprinkling of fresh snow sparkled and twirled in its fall past the street lights. I walked down Edgemont Road towards the church end (my old paper route when I was little) and all the homes seemed to spill their golden glow out onto the snow-covered lawns and trees.

Even though I had just come from a crowded house full of cheery voices and drunken laughter, those other homes seemed to cast a spell of isolation upon me. It was as if the whole world was gathering into hug-fulls of holiday togetherness behind all those windows while I walked silently by on snow-padded sidewalks.

I found it hard to bear, being without a lover on such a night. It wasn’t that I would sleep alone—or, being a man, I should say it wasn’t only that I would sleep alone that night. It was more about not having someone with which to share the goodness of the celebratory eve. But the ache of it was as strong as if there were a specific woman to go with the lacking—it seemed to echo backwards in time, tolling heavily against my heart.

I’ve often felt that way since—I recognize it now as ‘nostalgia’—an ugly word compared to the ineluctable, bittersweet bliss of sorrow it signifies. It is a yearning that requires time to acquire. That first time had to have been the earliest age at which I had accumulated enough memories— encompassed a large enough timescale—to be able to feel so distant from my earlier days. And, too, I had to have been acquainted, over time, with enough personalities that I could imagine a crowd of missing consorts, friends and relatives to put up against my solitary condition, standing on a street corner in the nighttime snow-flurries of Christmas Eve.

Call me a masochist, but I always embrace such painful wistfulness whenever it arises. Perhaps our lives, while we are living them, are too much about the ‘doing’ for us to focus on the feelings of a thing. I suggest that our hindsight has the bulk of the feeling, being at leisure to examine our feelings without actually being in the middle of, say, the conversation or, perhaps, driving to a party—or whatever. We live in our moments, but we feel in our memories.

I’ve even had the strange, occasional reversal of my feelings about a past event when, having been brought to mind off and on for years, its memory suddenly shifts into the opposite of what I’d always thought had happened!

T.S. Eliot has described this experience much better than I ever could:

“Second, the conscious impotence of rage

     At human folly, and the laceration

     Of laughter at what ceases to amuse.

And last, the rending pain of re-enactment

     Of all that you have done, and been; the shame

     Of motives late revealed, and the awareness

Of things ill done and done to others’ harm

     Which once you took for exercise of virtue.

     Then fools’ approval stings, and honour stains.

From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit

     Proceeds[…]” 

— section II, “Little Gidding” (No. 4 of ‘Four Quartets’) by T.S. Eliot

So I am consoled by the knowledge that this is not a unique failing of my own, but simply a part of the human condition.

I have always been derided for acting like someone much older than my age—but I chalk this up to the fact that I’ve put on more mileage, and on rougher road, than my critics may realize. Besides, if one were to count cigarettes (and other such bad habits) as ‘taking X number of years off of one’s life’, then why can’t they be counted as ‘additional years elapsed’’ just as easily? By that measure, I’m about two hundred and twelve.

That’s counting the smoking, the drinking, the drugs, the running, the lifting, the worrying, the illnesses, the cancer, the transplant, and the work—work of years without vacation, work through weekends, work of 24 hours duration, the work on algorithms until my head was a cloud of algebra, the tensions of work in a family business—and the stress of parenthood, and the chaos of networking with the subculture that was a part of life for my generation.

But it’s more than all that—lots of people’s lives are a trip through the wringer—it’s also a matter of my being a ‘delicate flower’, easily shocked, easily tired, easily hurt, and quick to assume guilt. Loud noises create gouts of adrenalin; bright, flashing lights cause massive migraines; talkative chatterers make me dizzy with confusion. I was born a sprinter, but any extended efforts are always tortuous to me—my endurance is ephemeral. It’s not that I dislike excitement—I love to be caught up in things—it’s just that I can only take it in small doses.

Being different has always been a given—I’m not quite certain of the exact reasons other people see me as unusual. What I came to recognize, with maturity, is that everyone is unusual. As a kid, I took for granted that other people were all the same—well, they all looked at me funny—and I didn’t know much else about them. What a waste of my school years, thinking I was outside of unanimity, rather than a unique element among an entirety of ‘unique’s.

But the time is past. Whatever I want to blame on my parents, my teachers, my schoolmates, my siblings, or my business associates—that is all in the rearview, for good or ill. I’m a middle-aged man in a privileged society, supported by others, challenged by nothing more difficult than wiping my backside or picking up stuff that I drop on the floor. I’ve lost all four grandparents, my father, my aunt (his sister), one sibling, and a father-in-law. I’ve also lost many friends, some to illness, some to suicide, some to insanity. If I was ever going to relive parts of my life (as if anyone could) I am rapidly losing cast members. And those that remain are better appreciated than confronted. In short, I must take responsibility for myself—for who I am, for what I’ve been, and for whatever happens next.

There is a tragic shadow over the middle-aged—we remember old plans, erstwhile ambitions—things we meant to reach out for, but never had the time. And it isn’t until we are past the age of becoming that we clearly see that past as a golden dawn, a time when adults were eager to help us make a good start, when we were still young enough to be prodigies, when we were forgiven our lack of experience and understanding. Those privileges are for the young—we who have lived the ‘meat’ of our lives aren’t necessarily finished with living, but we are finished with beginning.

This is our burden—to know about singles bars, but be unable to hang out in one without the word ‘creepy’ being involved; to love the thought of taking college courses yet be without any chance of being an intern or junior associate after graduation. The ideal is that anyone can do anything, regardless of age. But the reality is that a mid-50s-aged law school graduate is not going to be chosen by HR personnel used to inexperienced, energetic hot-shots barely out of their teens. After 35, or 45 (I forget which) one cannot even join the army—the universal ‘plan B’ for every disadvantaged youngster.

I find my life history quite interesting—but I can never seem to write it down in such a way as to make it interesting to others. This suggests that my appraisal of my ‘adventures’ is biased and I simply don’t want to admit that my life has been unexceptional. But there is always an inner voice that tells me I just don’t write it properly. So those are my choices: I’m either living a meaningless, empty life, or I’m a really bad writer.

Happy Turkeyday, Evabody!

Veteran’s Day


Sunday, November 11, 2012            7:45 PM

Okay. Sunday night. Veteran’s Day. The real date, although tomorrow is the observed holiday. That ‘eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1914’ still gets me—you see, I’m reading “Fall of Giants” by Ken Follett and, while it is historical fiction, there is nothing fictional about his description of the callous decisions of so many nations’ leaders to send millions of young boys to their death. To have a fancy 11th this and 11th that—it’s just typical of the stuffed shirts and nobility of those times to try and aggrandize even the ending of the needless slaughter.

Still tens of thousands without electricity in the NYC Metro Area. Funny how it’s always the low-income neighborhoods that see this kind of neglect. Is there a rule or something? Can’t we at least hand out a bunch of those keychain flashlights that are given out at conventions, just so they can see their way up the stairs? They can’t be that expensive.

I see the news reports of General David Patraeus resigning over an affair—or is it two affairs? Two ladies having an email flame-war over him, something like that? When I first saw this story on the CNN crawl, I thought, “What the hell is the FBI doing investigating the head of the CIA?” But then I remembered a story in the NY Times from a day or two before—that Patreaus was having some trouble due to using military paradigms, but the CIA had always been a tightly knit group, leery of outsiders, used to being treated like a club more than an agency—and definitely not into military-style leadership.

So that made me wonder if the whole scandal thing was just their way of dumping their new boss. If a guy can’t hide his affairs how can he keep America’s more important secrets, eh? But I sympathize with Dave—being married and having two other women fight over you—you know that won’t end well. Still, I think the CIA has a lot of nerve copping a ‘tude—9/11, WMDs in Iraq, Arab Spring, Heavy losses in Afghanistan—will they ever warn us in advance of disasters instead of making excuses after the fact? Do spies even make sense in our present day? Surely very poor spies who do nothing useful can be considered redundant. Maybe they should start poaching personnel from the FBI.

I think a ‘sea-wall’ protecting Manhattan and environs from rising sea-levels and more powerful storms would be an excellent WPA-type project for creating jobs. Infrastructure nationwide should be considered as a part of the unemployment problem—roads, bridges, schools, whatever—and it increases the value of our assets to ‘put some work into the house’, as it were. And this time, along with a salary, we could offer workers credit towards tuitions—so they can get better jobs than pouring concrete, you know?

Just a thought…Image

Let’s Speed Things Up!


ImageThese past few days have given me time to think. I’ve realized that the changes we really want are always hung up in the legislature. Why not hold a referendum on tax hikes for the rich? Is it because everyone already knows there are too few wealthy voters to defeat such a referendum?

“Sometimes,” I can hear the legislators and lobbyists intoning, “the public must be protected from its own impulsiveness. Such issues should be frozen by our endless deliberations for the good of the country.”

What, I’ve always wondered, is the difference between electing a representative and holding a public referendum? In a sensible world (I know, don’t get me started..) we would have all the issues that have lingered too long in the Legislature be automatically put to a public vote—let the people decide the issue and get on with other business. But that doesn’t happen.

My guess is that putting an issue into a referendum is something determined by the same people that block these laws in the House and Senate.  Decriminalizing drugs, gay rights, women’s reproductive rights, etc. are measures that seem easily doable. Yet there are other questions that might not suit me: ‘Should we bomb Iran?”; “Should we send troops to Syria?”; “Should we close our borders to immigrants from the Middle East?” –those sorts of questions would make me very nervous.

So, perhaps it is useful to have a deliberative legislature that doesn’t pass any laws until a great many voices have been heard—even, perhaps, until public perception has matured or morphed into a more enlightened point of view. The ache I feel over tragically (to me) unjust policies that see no movement, year after year, is stronger than my easy patience with legislators who introduce (to me) unjust and ignorant bills, knowing it probably won’t go anywhere.

Both sides of the question have their pros and cons. Like the Electoral College of recent interest, the Constitution put a great deal of power in democratically elected office-holders. Regardless of what these candidates said during a campaign, their job, once elected, was to actually put themselves at a distance from the throng, considering not only what the people wanted, but the consequences of implementing those desires—to the poor, to the rich, to the merchants and the consumers, and so forth—and what effects over time, good or bad, might be foreseen.

Once we cast our votes, our officials have no requirement to ask our opinion of his or her decisions—we select a representative and our relationship is over until next election. I will pause here to point out that this isn’t absolutely true—there are impeachments, votes of no-confidence, and such. Also, our officials are not forced to react to our input, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have offices to visit and meetings with community leaders and so on—a good Representative or Senator will not wish to cut themselves off from their constituency (and there is the eternal issue of ‘next term’.)

So we voters do not exactly get to vote for what we want—we get to vote for a person we hope will act in our stead. Whether we approve of the performance of our elected officials or not is a moot point. We can vote for someone else in a few years—that is the only control we actually have.

And as for the candidates we get to choose from, well, we don’t get a resume of every adult in our state and then choose the one we like best. We have party machinery that does a vetting process. We are ‘given’ our candidates by the party organizations that pre-digest our electoral food-candidates. The Primary Race contests in such cases are presented as ‘voted on’ by party supporters—but the entire menu of candidate-choices has been pre-filtered by a small group of people who invest each political party’s infrastructure.

As voters, our control over our destiny is, in fact, severely limited. Still, we brag about our tightly held self-determination—assuming that we have final say over anything and everything important.

But don’t be alarmed by this bit of paradox—the true lack-of-control we have over our legislative process is balanced by our, let’s face it, utter sloth in areas such as ‘knowing the issues’, ‘seeing both sides’, ‘reading the bills’, and even ‘voting’. So forget what I said about referenda—I suppose representatives are the lesser evil. And as for electing more intelligent candidates—well, I didn’t run for any office—did you? A person would have to be crazy… ah, slowly breaks the dawn! I leave you with the question made popular by the comic, Dom Irrera, “I don’t. Do you?”